The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

   The Most Fun We Ever Had  by Claire Lombardo tells the story of multiple generations of one family. The two people at the head of the family have been deeply in love for over forty years and aren’t afraid to show affection. Their four daughters may grow weary of their constant love, but this novel highlights each person’s connections to the other and how old rivalries may have the power to shatter the carefully built lives they have all built over the years.

Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson met and fell in love in the 1970s. Growing their marriage and their family, the two don’t have any idea the paths that their lives will travel down.  In present day 2016, Marilyn and David have four daughters who couldn’t be more different than each other: Wendy, Violet, Liza, and Grace.

Told through a series of flashbacks that eventually line up with the present, readers are privy to the ever-expanding lives of each member of the Sorenson family. I listened to the audiobook version of this book and enjoyed the many characters as they allowed me to form a more three-dimensional, multi-faceted portrait of the family as a whole.

Wendy, the oldest daughter, spent years dealing with body issues, was widowed young, and has found the only way to gain comfort in life is through increasing amounts of alcohol and lithe younger men.

Violet is Wendy’s Irish twin. Born less than a year after Wendy, Violet had big dreams of being a lawyer and was able to become one. Soon after though, Violet switched gears to being a stay-at-home mom and circumstances converge to bring her self-doubt, family issues, and anxiety to all time highs as her biggest secret comes back to haunt her.

Liza, the third daughter, has finally become a tenured professor. If only her boyfriend would get help for his depression and leave the apartment, Liza’s life would be infinitely better. When Liza discovers that she’s pregnant, she is forced to confront whether or not she and her boyfriend actually work together anymore.

Grace is forever the baby. Born nine years after Liza, Grace is struggling to find her place. After an innocent lie gets bigger and bigger, she finds herself having to settle down and live in the lie even though it’s eating her up inside.

The arrival of teenage Jonah Bendt into the Sorensons’ lives upsets the delicate balance the family has been living for years. This novel follows the first year after Jonah shows up, as well as flashing back to many other years and life-changing events that helped form them into the people they are today. Marked by the highest highs and the lowest lows, the Sorensons’ pasts are forever tied together even if they want to be separate.


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Mobituaries by Mo Rocca

It might seem a bit morbid to be reading a whole book of obituaries, but in the hands of Mo Rocca it becomes a chance to celebrate the contributions of these people, many of whom are nearly forgotten footnotes to history. Mo teases out interesting little-known facts, explores backgrounds and upbringing, delves into personality quirks to paint a dynamic, multi-faceted portrait of each subject.

Some of Mobituaries more famous subjects include Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet “Common Sense” helped fuel the American Revolution but died in obscurity (apparently he wasn’t a very pleasant person and had no friends by the time he died); Audrey Hepburn who grew up in Holland and nearly died of starvation during the German occupation in World War II (although Hepburn was not Jewish, she felt a close kinship with Anne Frank who was the same age as Hepburn); and Billy Carter who, briefly, became almost as famous as his brother Jimmy and cultivated a country bumpkin manner that hid a sharp and thoughtful mind (there is an interesting quote from President Carter regarding his brother that kind of sums up their relationship). There’s Lawrence Welk who, despite what you think when you hear his accent, was not German at all, but born and raised in North Dakota; and Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins, who overcame great hardship and exploitation to become astute businessmen and raise large families.

Mobituaries also looks at the less famous that should be remembered for their contributions such as Elizabeth Jennings who has sometimes been called the Rosa Parks of New York City for breaking the color barrier on streetcars (among other accomplishments) or the first African American men elected to Congress (if you think that must of happened in the 1950s or 60s, you’re wrong; it happened in 1870).

And it’s not just people! Mo pays tribute to the station wagon and it’s demise, the disappearance of the country of Prussia and medical practices that have been debunked among other subjects. He includes the sad deaths of the Live Oaks of Toomer’s Corner, two famous trees that stood at the entrance of the University of Auburn’s campus. A center for celebrations when the Auburn Tigers won a game (especially against bitter rival Alabama), they were poisoned by a jealous Alabama fan and despite great effort, the trees perished.

Throughout the book, Mo is calm and non-judgmental, a good interviewer and listener, always with a dash of humor. He seems to be delighted in finding quirks and celebrates the courage and determination of many of his subjects. You’ll find lots of history and trivia in this book as well as an exploration of that strange creature, the human, with all their flaws and strengths, in good times and bad.

I also highly recommend Mo Rocca’s podcast, also called Mobituaries, where he reports on these stories and many others.

Outfox by Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown is a well-known and prolific author of romantic suspense. She is also one of my go-to authors when I’m not sure what I want to read, but I need something that will keep my attention. Her latest kept me engaged from start to finish and had an ending that I didn’t see coming.

Outfox  by Sandra Brown tells the story of one man’s quest to capture a serial killer and another man’s desperate need to never be caught. Drex Easton has been hunting a serial killer for most of his adult life. For 30 plus years, he has been struggling to find a man that he last knew as Weston Graham. Weston is a sociopathic conman who has assumed many names and even more disguises over the past thirty years. So far, he has lured and tricked eight wealthy women out of their vast fortunes. These women then disappeared without a trace, along with Weston. Looking into the disappearances, the only commonality Drex sees is that a new man comes into each woman’s life before their disappearance. The man, who Drex believes to be Weston, then vanishes and leaves behind no trace that he even existed.

Drex is convinced that each of these women have been murdered and that Weston is the mysterious man responsible. Every time he gets close to capturing Weston though, he slips away, leaving Drex frustrated and with another dead woman left behind. Using countless tools at his disposal, Drex is now convinced that he has finally found Weston and is working hard to gain his trust.

Jasper Ford is attractive and charming. Having just married a successful businesswoman significantly younger than him named Talia Shafer, Ford ticks off many of the things that makes Drex believe that he is in fact Weston Graham. Desperate to save Talia from death, Drex moves to the town where the couple lives and begins insinuating himself into their lives. He starts surveillance on their house, posing as a neighbor researching a new book that he is writing. The closer Drex gets to the couple, the more he becomes convinces that Jasper is in fact that sociopath that he has been hunting for years.

Drex has only one chance to catch Jasper Ford and prove that he is in fact Weston Graham, but the attraction that he feels towards Talia threatens to destroy all the hard work that he has put in. Relying on help from his friends and hiding from the ire of others, Drex works diligently to prove Jasper’s guilt and Talia’s innocence.


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Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey

Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey caught my eye the minute I saw the cover illustration and read a quick summary of the book.  I’m a huge fan of the traditional “cozy” mysteries and this book, first in the Manor Cat Mysteries series, takes place in rural England during the spring of 1912.

Lady Cecilia Bates spends the majority of her time on the grounds of her family’s estate, Danby Hall, living a life of leisure by assisting her mother, the Countess of Avebury, with parties and other domestic duties.  Her family’s estate is run like clockwork by a household of servants who cater the the family’s every whim.  Cecilia lives here with her brother, Patrick, who is the heir apparent of the estate.  To an outsider, Patrick seems an unlikely heir, as he would much rather be alone with the exotic plants he lovingly cares for in his laboratory.

As Danby Hall has increasingly become more difficult to maintain with the family’s finances, a glimmer of hope arrives in the form of Miss Annabel Clarke from the United States.  She, along with her vast wealth, arrive for a host of parties with the hope of an engagement to Patrick Bates who will become Earl of Avebury in years to come.

Immediately upon Miss Clarke’s arrival, an elaborate dinner party celebrates all that is best of Danby in order to impress the American heiress. What the residents of Danby Hall did not count on was the murder of a guest by poison just as drinks were served!  The victim is a renowned naturalist in between explorations who was making a quick stop at Danby Hall, but it quickly becomes apparent that maybe the poison wasn’t meant for him.

Lady Cecilia, along with Miss Clarke’s maid, Jane and her stowaway marmalade cat Jack, hit the ground running in an attempt to find the culprit and save Danby Hall from further scandal.  With the amateur sleuths finding clue after clue within the house, evidence points to someone close to the family or someone attempting to capitalize on the family’s dwindling fortune.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey.  Some of the twists and turns were to be expected, but the mystery kept my interest and was a true “cozy” mystery.  My only criticism is that I would have liked the manor cat, Jack, to have more of a starring role.  Maybe he will in the second installment, due in the summer of 2020.

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

I had not heard anything about this book before I checked it out on OverDrive, but the plot appealed to me right from the beginning as it’s a twisty thriller with a noir feel. Mysteries abound in Lippman’s newest book as a housewife decides to upend her entire life in order to make a new name for herself.

Lady in the Lake  by Laura Lippman is a psychological thriller mixed with elements of classic crime noir set in 1960s Baltimore. Madeline ‘Maddie’ Schwartz is a housewife, happy with her pampered easy life. Well, she was satisfied with that life up until this year when she decided to leave her eighteen year marriage to start over and live a passionate life that was more meaningful.

Starting a new life, Maddie wants to make a difference. After learning of a young girl’s disappearance, she decides to help police look for the girl. Using those interactions as a step-up, Maddie works her way onto the staff of the city’s newspaper, the Star. Trying to make a name for herself, Maddie is on the lookout for a story that will help her rise to fame. She finds the story of a missing woman whose body was found in the fountain of the park lake and decides to investigate.

A young African-American woman who enjoyed a good time, Cleo Sherwood disappeared one night. No one seems concerned with how the woman ended up there, so Maddie begins to dig into her disappearance. Cleo’s ghost is not happy with Maddie poking around into her life and death. She just wants to be left alone.

This book changes perspectives between many different characters as readers learn about the characters on the periphery of Maddie’s life. As she looks into Cleo’s murder, Maddie investigates a wide number of people, but fails to truly see what lies right in front of her. Her inability to see this leads to dangerous consequences for herself, those closest to her, and the people she comes into contact with on a daily basis.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend that you listen to the audiobook version of this book. Since this book jumps around to multiple points of view, the narrator is able to add different accents, dialogue, and authentic speech to each character. This definitely made the listen more than worthwhile and helped me keep the multitude of characters separate in my head.

Lippmann based the crimes that occur in this book on two real-life disappearances. If you’re interested in learning more, Lippman did an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered that covers her inspiration.


This book is available in the following formats:

When Less Becomes More : Making Space for Slow, Simple and Good by Emily Ley

Among the numerous books recently published on decluttering, minimalism and general advice on simpler living, When Less Becomes More is the latest entry in a long list of books with techniques and tips to make our lives more meaningful and simple.  I always seem to gravitate toward checking out these types of books, which all have practical information coupled with inspirational advice.  Emily Ley, who began creating planners and has expanded to books, has many helpful stories and antidotes that she has learned throughout her life and now is sharing with her readers.  She divides the book into multiple chapters each dealing with a certain issue and how to take small steps to enjoy things in moderation but without having them first and foremost in your life.  Below I’ve highlighted a few sections of the book and these include Ley’s personal stories peppered in between her advice.  She gleans a lot from her own life and how she built her business and other stories, which is helpful and makes her more relateable to her audience.  My only criticism of the book is that it would be more effective if she included more concrete tips of how to achieve these ideas / themes, no matter your personal situation.

Rush – With all the commitments that women have these days, Ley suggests saying a polite but firm, “no,” to things you are not passionate about and to question where you put your energy and priorities.

Technology  – Ley asks if there is beauty in a more analog existence and provides examples of times you may be able to turn off technology and do more connecting to the world and people around you.

Noise – Not only physical noise, but the noise you create with a busy life.

Wellness – Taking cues from your surroundings and yourself, focusing on what is best for you, both inside and out.

Chasing – Finding contentment with what is already around you and knowing when enough is enough.

As with many of these types of books, some of the suggestions and examples are clearly not for everyone.  In my opinion, these are good ideas but not everyone’s road to a simpler, more meaningful life will be the same.  Some of these tips are not feasible for everyone and some are easier to implement in your life.  When Less Becomes More has some good takeaways, similarly to other books in the genre, and are clearly the author’s take on this timely subject.  Even if you do not choose to do make every lifestyle change, this book is a good introduction to leading a not so hectic life.  If you are interested in jumping on board or if you are already familiar with the concept, When Less Becomes More is more reinforcement!

 

 

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Recently I’ve been reading books about sisters and how their relationships change over many years. Jennifer Weiner is one of my go-to authors for when I ‘m looking for books about sisters. Her newest book, Mrs. Everything, takes the idea of nature vs nurture and expands upon this to how the world changes us or if we change irrelevant of our surroundings.

Mrs. Everything  by Jennifer Weiner discusses the lives of two sisters, Jo and Bethie Kaufman. Jo and Bethie grew up in 1950s Detroit in a house with both parents. Their perfect house and family has very defined roles for everyone living in it. While the two girls may seem to fall into cookie-cutter expected roles, to limit them to those expectations is to further restrain their future possibilities. Jo is a tomboy who loves books and chooses to rebel in ways that make their mother increasingly worried. Bethie is a pretty, beautiful, and feminine good girl, the utter opposite of Jo. She wants to live a traditional life, like their mother, and takes pleasure in the power that her beauty gives her over others. The girls couldn’t be more opposite, but they both have ideas of what they want to do with their lives. Their parents treat both girls differently which results in them building barriers between the two and not having as deep relationships as they could have had.

Once they leave home and start trying to figure out what they want out of life, Bethie and Jo begin to change. This book has strong themes revolving around abandonments, rape, betrayal, same sex marriage, sisterhood, emotions, history, heartbreak, drama. It’s hard to water this book down into one short blurb, since it covers such a long period of time navigating changes throughout both sisters’ lives (and the people they choose to surround themselves with). This book may seem like it has too much going on at once, but stepping back and realizing that multiple themes happen throughout regular lives anyway, this book becomes easier to read. Mrs. Everything is a feminist manifesto, a family saga, a piece of women’s fiction full of drama and woman power as these two sisters struggle to be everything to everyone as they try to figure out who they are to themselves on the inside.


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Know My Name by Chanel Miller

This memoir is not one for the faint of heart. It deals with graphic descriptions of rape and sexual assault and can be triggering to readers. This book also talks about how rape is handled in universities and colleges, as well as how victims are treated within the criminal justice system, by the courts and police, and by the public who, not even knowing the victim’s name, still passed judgements on her actions. I highly recommend you give it a read (or a listen) and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller tells the story of Emily Doe. Emily became known to the world when her victim impact statement went viral during the sentencing stage of Brock Turner’s trial. Brock had just been sentenced to only six months in county jail after he was found by two bicyclists in the midst of sexually assaulting Emily on Stanford’s campus. Millions read her statement and it was translated into many different languages as the world finally heard from the woman at the center of the case.

After years of being known as Emily Doe, Chanel Miller decided it was time to take control of her story and her name.  She began writing Know My Name as a way to tell the story of her trauma and how she is working to rise above and change the world. Chanel thought that her case was perfect and there was no way her rapist would not be sentenced for a long time. Turner ran away from the crime, there were multiple eyewitnesses, and physical evidence was collected and immediately secured from both her body and the scene.

The aftermath of her rape and the resulting trial threw Chanel down a spiral of isolation and shame. When she realized the oppression and negativity that victims face all the way from the worst to the best cases, Chanel realized that these reactions only make victims coming forward less likely. Throughout this novel, Chanel discusses how this culture is set up to fail and let down victims, but protect the perpetrators. With her family, friends, and attorneys backing her up, Chanel works hard to find herself again and to work through the suffering and intense trauma that are omnipresent.

The Davenport Public Library owns a copy of this book as an audiobook available through OverDrive or through our Libby App. I listened to this book and encourage you readers to seek out an audiobook version as Chanel is the narrator. Hearing her break down while reading certain parts of this book brought me back to when this story was all over the news and shed new light onto what Chanel was actually going through.


This book is also available in the following format:

The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson

Do you ever have a feeling that people aren’t what they seem? That they are keeping something from you? This is the premise of Allison Dickson’s book The Other Mrs. Miller where a woman who hardly leaves her house becomes increasingly more suspicious of the people in her life.

The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson tells the story of two women watching each other and the consequences that follow.

Phoebe Miller hardly leaves her house. She doesn’t see the point. Living on a cul-de-sac affords her the opportunity to watch her neighbors in relative peace, so when a car starts showing up on a fairly regular basis outside of her house, she immediately becomes suspicious. Why does the driver keep showing up? What business could they possibly have on her cul-de-sac? Could they be wanting to get information out of her because of her family?

While Phoebe’s family may be infamous, Phoebe herself is uninteresting. She’s an unhappy housewife who has gained weight in the past couple years due to her love of ice cream and wine. Phoebe and her husband don’t get along very well with issues becoming more and more present every day. Not really knowing how to make things better with her husband, she keeps going on with her daily life knowing things will eventually work themselves out.

Phoebe is soon distracted when a new family moves in across the street. Drawn into their web, Phoebe finds herself wanting to know more about the Napiers: the doctor husband, the bubbly and energetic wife Vicki, and the handsome college-bound son Jake. Leaving her house to introduce herself to the new neighbors, Phoebe quickly finds the companionship she has been lacking with the Napiers. While she is enjoying having a new friend and is coming out of her shell more, Phoebe is growing more and more distracted from the things that she really should be paying attention to, like the car that’s been showing up outside of her house. Her life becomes more unpredictable, leading to a climax that will have readers on the edge of their seats.

This domestic thriller kept my attention from the beginning with secrets and plot twists popping up until the very end. Check out this book and let me know what you think in the comments!


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Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Have you ever been to a renaissance faire? I spent quite a few summers growing up going to the local faire with my family. I was fascinated that there were people who made this their life for the whole summer, but had other lives outside of the faire. Faires serve as ways to experience the past, but with the knowledge that you can go back to your regular present life!

Well Met by Jen DeLuca takes the concept of past vs. present and runs with it. Willow Creek, Maryland is a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Trying to keep anything quiet can be pretty difficult, but there are charms to living in such a small area. Emily is having a hard time seeing the positives, but she’s working on it. Emily moved her entire life to Willow Creek to help her sister recover from a bad accident. Being dropped into this new life, she works hard to alleviate any stress on her sister by making lists to navigate her new life. Instead of working two jobs, Emily spends her days running her sister to appointments and chauffeuring her niece around.

Driving her niece to the high school one day, Emily soon finds herself volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire so that her niece can participate. Emily bumps into Simon, an irritating schoolteacher who is in charge of the volunteers. While they don’t initially get along, Emily is forced to keep working with Simon since the faire is a huge part of his family. The faire is very important to Simon and Emily’s joking approach to the whole experience, plus her insistence that some aspects of faire should change, only further work to irk and anger Simon.

Once faire begins however, Simon slips into a new persona. Gone is the stuffy English teacher and in his place lives a completely new, and likeable, person. This new Simon flirts openly with Emily as she works at the tavern in her revealing wench outfit. The drastic difference between the two confuses Emily. Is the attraction she’s feeling towards Simon at the faire real? Or is it just part of their characters, the part of faire that Simon is always telling them that they need to portray?

Emily is more confused than ever as she works to figure out what she is going to do after the summer is over and her sister has recovered from her accident. She was only supposed to stay in Willow Creek until her sister recovered, but the more time she spends in the community, and the more she gets to know Simon, the more Emily is thinking that she might want to make a permanent home in Willow Creek. But should she? What about Simon? Where will she stay? Will everyone in Willow Creek grow to accept her?