Virtual Book Club – ‘The Institute’ on September 16

Have you joined the Virtual Book Club yet? On Wednesday, September 16th at 2pm, Virtual Book Club will be discussing The Institute by Stephen King. This program meets virtually every week to discuss a book using GoTo Meeting. Information about how to join is listed at the end of this post.

Curious what The Institute is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents, telekinesis and telepathy, who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, like the roach motel, Kalisha says. ‘You check in, but you don’t check out.’ In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don|t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute. As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Virtual Book Club – The Institute by Stephen King
Wed, Sep 16, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)

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I Know You Know by Gilly MacMillan

Gilly MacMillan released her first book, What She Knew, in 2015. I have been a fan of her books as she writes thrilling psychological suspense. I read a lot of books in this genre, so I know that although many people write thrillers, it takes a lot for them to succeed in crafting a story where readers do not guess the ending. MacMillan’s 2018 release I Know You Know ended with a twist that I didn’t see coming.

I Know You Know is the story of the murders of Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby that happened twenty years ago. The city of Bristol was rocked by the murders of those two young boys whose bodies were dumped and subsequently discovered near a dog racing track in town. Police believed that they found the man responsible and successfully convicted him, but years later, residents around town still have questions that have never been answered.

Cody Swift was best friends with young Charlie and Scott all those years ago. He isn’t satisfied with the conclusion that the police came to and decided to head back to his hometown of Bristol to seek out the truth himself. Cody is planning to record his findings and release them on his new podcast, Time to Tell.

At present at a construction site near where the boys were discovered twenty years ago, human remains have been found. DI John Fletcher, one of the police who found the boys, is left to wonder if the remains found have any connection to what happened to the boys.

Charlie’s mother Jessica Page is not thrilled that Cody is back in town poking through old wounds. The remains just found are also bringing the police back to her door. Jessie has secrets that she would like to stay hidden, but Cody seems determined to shed light all over her past. Jessie isn’t the broken woman that she was all those years ago. She is now married with a 16-year-old daughter and has no desire to relive that trauma from so long ago.

This novel transitions back and forth between both investigations: the original about the boys and the new one focusing on the recently discovered remains along with the possible connection to the boys. While I enjoyed the back and forth between the two as well as the addition of the podcast format, I did have trouble differentiating between the past and the present while listening to the audiobook. The print version highlights the parts about the old case, but that did not translate to the audio, and as a result it was sometimes difficult to tell when something happened. I adjusted to this issue and was able to finish the book, but be aware if you decide to give this a listen!


This book is also available in the following formats:

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.


This book is also available in the following formats:

That’s What Frenemies Are For by Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell

Making friends as an adult is difficult. Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell talk about the delicate balance between friends and enemies, as well as the different lengths that people are willing to do to in order to make friends in their newest book, That’s What Frenemies Are For. Hidden motives abound for all in this novel that grabs you by your private school, Manhattan socialite education and refuses to let go.

That’s What Frenemies Are For by Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell talks about how easily influence and cache in different groups can change as readers follow the life of a Manhattan socialite who finds the next biggest craze in the form of a peppy spin instructor and an underperforming fitness studio. Her decision to rehabilitate the studio and the instructor in order to impress her friends and get back her social cache proves to turn into more than she can handle.

Julia Summers has it all: two children who love her, an adoring husband with a successful job, an apartment in the city, and a house in the Hamptons. Having finally made it to the top of her friend group, Julia influences almost everything the group does. Nothing happens without her approval or without her knowing about it. As a result, Julia is stunned when she finds others in her friend group suddenly vying for her position of power and cutting her out of decisions. When everyone starts to head to the Hamptons for the summer, Julia’s family is stuck in the city when catastrophe hits their Hamptons’ house.

Stuck in the city for the summer, Julia is desperate to reinvent herself before her friends come back. Looking for the newest fad, Julia finds Flame. Flame is the biggest new elite fitness craze that has the possibility to be even better if they just changed a few things. While going to Flame, Julia takes classes from Tatum, a giggly, energetic instructor who Julia decides to transform in the guise of improving Flame’s profit margin and helping to get the word out about the business.

Julia takes on the task to overhaul Flame and Tatum, but in a sneaky way that she hopes isn’t completely obvious to everyone around her. Things slowly start to spiral out of Julia’s control when she discovers that Tatum isn’t as docile as she initially thought. Julia’s comeback doesn’t go as expected and Tatum starts to take over everything herself.

With Julia’s relationships with her friends in turmoil, Julia turns to her family for comfort. Much to her surprise, her husband’s business goes belly up in a most unexpected way. Left with almost no support system and friends who have completely turned their backs on her, Julia has to rethink everything that she had previously held so dear. What does she really want out of life? What is most important to her? Is her perfect life worth it?

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky

I’m not going to lie: the cover of this book is what caught my eye and convinced me to read it. I know, I know, we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers. With so many books in print, the options can be overwhelming though! When it comes to picking out my personal reads, if a cover catches my eye, I’ll read it. It’s yet to let me down so far especially with my latest read by Barbara Delinsky.

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky is a captivating read that kept my attention from beginning to end. There are multiple important current issues discussed throughout this book that can have implications in everyday life. Social media, internet hacking, identity theft, the press, trauma, and secrets are all major themes that the characters in this novel find themselves battling with. This book cautions against becoming too complacent and making sure that we travel outside our comfort zones.

Mackenzie Cooper thought she had it all: a loving husband, a job she loved, a wonderful family, generous friends, and a daughter she adored. In one moment, it was all taken away. Driving her daughter to a play date, Mackenzie took her eyes off the road for just a moment to check the GPS. That glance away changes her life forever. Having lost everything, including her privacy after the intense media coverage surrounding the accident, Mackenzie runs away. She now lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid. Living in a small house with her cats and dog, Maggie has a new job and new friends. She just wants her new life to stay separate from her old life. That means that she can’t risk revealing too much. Her work as a makeup artist at a luxurious local spa allows Maggie to spend her day helping clients hiding the things on their skin that they wish would disappear. She’s a master at her job.

All Maggie wants with her new life is to stay under the radar and keep her probation officer happy. With less than a year left, she is so close to being completely free. Things are going slightly too well for Maggie though when she realizes that she isn’t the only one in this quiet Vermont town with secrets. A local teenage boy, the only son of one of Maggie’s friends, is thrust into the national spotlight when he is accused of hacking a powerful man’s Twitter account, numerous other Twitter accounts, and the local school’s system as well. Maggie has no idea what to do: should she protect herself and pull away or step up to help since she has experience dealing with this type of situation? Either decision will have far-reaching implications for Maggie. As the truth behind this teenager’s actions begin to come to light, Maggie increasingly finds her own newly constructed life unraveling at her feet. She knows that her friend probably just needs to be comforted amongst this sea of chaos, but Maggie truly has to decide how far she is willing to go to help.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

I’m a sucker for a book with a gorgeous cover and a British audiobook narrator. The Cactus by Sarah Haywood had both of these and I knew I was a goner. I mean, look how gorgeous this cover is!

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood tells the story of Susan Green. Susan is very particular in how she wants her life to run. Everything around her is perfectly ordered. Anything out of the norm presented to her must be weighed carefully by Susan to assess the pros and cons before she decides to either add it to her life or banish it completely. Emotions are one part of daily life that Susan just doesn’t see the point of because they are unpredictable and don’t fit into her perfectly ordered existence. They’re messy. Susan doesn’t like messy.

Susan has the perfect flat for one, a job that lets her logical side run free, and a longstanding, as she calls it, ‘interpersonal arrangement’ that has been going on for 12 years. This arrangement provides Susan with all the cultural and more intimate personal relations she feels she needs. With all this perfection and order, something is bound to go awry. And sure enough, Susan is soon faced with changing circumstances she can not control.

Susan’s mother unexpectedly passes away. Her mother’s will leaves Susan angry and confused as it details that Susan’s lazy and spoiled brother is given the larger share of everything. Susan also learns that her ‘interpersonal arrangement’ with Richard has resulted in her becoming pregnant, a fact that knocks her off course.

Susan is losing control. Despite her best efforts to curtail her brother’s efforts and to deal with her pregnancy, nothing seems to go her way. As her due date looms closer, the circumstances with her brother seem to be getting more complicated and do not clear up the way that she had hoped. Soon everything comes to a head and Susan finds herself looking for help from the most unlikely of people in the oddest of ways. Susan discovers things about herself that she previously didn’t know. This self-discovery amidst her mother’s death and unexpected pregnancy allows Susan to find the strength to move forward and create a different life.

This book reminded me a lot of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, so much so that I had to consciously remind myself that these were two separate books. If I had read them back to back, my confusion would have been great! Both main characters seem to have Asperger’s Syndrome, have difficulty relating to others, and have complicated personal and professional lives. Definitely recommend them both.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Growing up, I always wished that I had an identical twin sister. I blame The Parent Trap movie for that wish. Having someone who looked exactly like me who would be there to trick our friends and family into thinking they were the other person sounded like so much fun. I met a set of identical twins in middle school, realized just how confusing that would actually be, abandoned that desire, and stuck with my normal, not identical, siblings. A lot easier that way. I had forgotten about my twin sister desire until I picked up The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand and got a glimpse into what it is like to have an identical twin as an adult.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand tells the complicated stories of Tabitha and Harper Frost. One twin lives on Nantucket, while the other lives on Martha’s Vineyard: a distance of only two and a half hours away by ferry. Yet that two and a half hour separation is widened by years of disagreements, arguments, and resentment that continuously builds because the two never talk to each other. While the two may look exactly like each other, that doesn’t mean they are alike AT ALL. Their personalities, life decisions, and clothing choices only prove to illustrate this point.

Harper and Tabitha have spent their entire lives trying to separate themselves from the other twin and from their other parent. You see, when Tabitha and Harper were young, their parents divorced and each parent took one of the twins to live with them year round with vacations thrown in so the other twin got to see the parent that they didn’t live with. This awkward situation left the twins with some major resentment towards each other and weird interactions with the other parent.

A major family crisis forces the two women together after many years apart. This forced reconciliation sounds like a recipe for disaster, but add in the twin’s mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter and things are bound to get interesting. Each twin’s personal life keeps forcibly making itself known to the other twin which results in confusion amongst others as they try to figure out which is which. Tabitha and Harper may not want to have to band together through this family crisis, but they sure know how to appear like they like each other. These false appearances can only last so long though and the twins are soon forced to turn to each other for real.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

I find myself frequently wondering about the lives of celebrities and political figures outside of the spotlight. While I never wish to live their lives overrun with media attention and constant scrutiny, my desire and curiosity about their normal day-to-day lives still lingers. Books and documentaries are one way that I am able to satisfy my curiosity to learn more, so I’m always on the hunt for more.

Pouring over OverDrive recent releases, I found Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. I remembered hearing one elderly relative refer to the Bush family as the Bush Dynasty and as a result, the Bush twins lived in my mind as royalty. After all, both their grandfather and father were presidents, so that must mean they would grow up to be presidents too, right? My young mind always wondered what it would be like to grow up in such a politically minded family where the whole world had a vested interest in all of the decisions your father and grandfather made on a daily basis.

Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life was an intriguing look into the lives of former first daughters Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. When they were very young, they watched their grandfather become president. The stories the twins tell of their grandfather, though, are less of him being president, and more of him being a doting grandfather who just wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. Twelve years after their grandfather became president, the twins were right back again watching their father take the oath.

Living a life with their father as president meant that Jenna and Barbara had increased security. Secret Service agents followed them around throughout their college years (College was hard enough! I can’t imagine having to check in with Secret Service agents continuously!). The paparazzi and Secret Service agents seemed to control and follow their every movements. Every teenage mistake they made could be found splashed across the national headlines the next day.

Despite the constant attention, Jenna and Barbara worked hard to form their own individual identities separate from their father’s and grandfather’s histories. They were still trying to figure out what their futures would look like, still forging friendships and intimate relationships, even with the extraordinary circumstances that ruled their day-to-day lives. This book provides a glimpse into the little known and seldom discussed personal lives of political families and the impact being born into a political dynasty has on the young children involved.

Jenna and Barbara fill this memoir with equal parts political and personal, funny and poignant stories of their childhood, young adult, and current lives within the Bush family and the greater world. Their lives may not have been the typical American story, but it’s all they knew. As the tagline of this book says, the Bush twins lived a ‘wild and wonderful life’ that was piled full of adventures, bonds, love and loss. I enjoyed the broad-sweeping stories present in this narrative that covered everything from their childhood to their current lives.

If you get the chance, I recommend that you listen to this book as an audiobook. Both Jenna and Barbara narrate their respective sections with their mother narrating at the very beginning. Hearing their voices lent both more credibility and a sense of relatability as each sister told of the events that forged them to become the people they are today. I really enjoyed seeing history through the eyes of the Bush twins as young children, then teenagers, and then young adults.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Have you ever looked at the cover of a book and knew that the story was going to hook you? That’s how I felt when I saw The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. Swirling fire, a deep red cover, and a bold font all signaled to me that the content of this book was going to leave me wanting more. Shreve exceeded my expectations with this novel.

The Stars are Fire is a piece of historical domestic fiction that focuses around the Great Maine Fire of 1947. This real event is given a fictionalized twist as Shreve tells the story of Grace Holland’s attempts to survive and rebuild after her life falls into ruins around her. After a summer-long drought, fires began near Bar Harbor and started ravaging the coast of Maine. People were left wondering where to escape to and hoping that the closeness of the sea would spare them from the brunt of the fire.

Grace Holland lives with her husband Gene and their two small toddlers. Five months pregnant, Grace is left to protect her children on her own after Gene leaves her to go help fight the fires. Grace and her best friend, Rosie, race to the sea with their four children to try to survive the flames. Keeping their children alive is their only priority as Grace and Rosie watch in abject horror as their houses and the community that they have grown to love bursts into flames. Hunkered down in the sand by the ocean, Grace fights to keep her children alive, sacrificing her own body to do so.

In the morning, Grace finds herself and her children wonderfully alive, but their lives have irrevocably changed. They’re penniless, homeless, and without a father or husband. Gene never returned from fighting the fires and no one knows where he is. Facing an uncertain future, Grace is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers until she either finds Gene or her mother or gets a job to support herself. Grace has to make a new life for herself and her children, something that both frightens and excites her since her life with Gene was not the most loving or supportive. While she has suffered great losses, Grace is able to move forward, find new happiness, and discover all the things she was missing when she was living with Gene. Just when she is settled into a new normal, something out of the blue happens and Grace is forced to be braver than she ever was before.

I really enjoyed this book. It was the first Anita Shreve book that I read and the first book in a really long time that had me wishing it would have been longer. There were so many characters whose backstories I was yearning to know more of and the ending had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. This book is set up so well that Shreve could easily spin it into a series. Here’s to hoping she does!


This is also available in the following formats:

Escape by Barbara Delinsky

What would you do if one day you woke up and realized that the life you were living was not the life that you wanted for yourself? Walking into work and having that one bad day, that one interaction, that pushes you over the edge? How would you handle it? Would you try to work through it? Talk to your significant other? Would you take a much needed vacation? Quit your job? Start all over in another city with another job and another family? All of these are questions that Barbara Delinsky tackles in her novel, Escape.

Escape tells the story of Manhattan lawyer Emily Aulenbach. She is 32 years old and has been married to another lawyer, James, for the last seven years. Emily has become increasingly frustrated with her life, both professionally and personally. In law school, she dreamed of representing victims of corporate abuse and campaigning for the little guy. Always the idealist, she hoped to brighten the world. Now she sits in a cubicle alongside hundreds of other lawyers in their tiny cubicles, a headset plastered to her ear, talking to victims of tainted bottled water. You’d think that this would partly be Emily’s dream, except for the major fact that she is on the bottler’s side, NOT the victims.

After a particularly devastating interaction with a victim, Emily has had enough. She packs up, leaves town, and just drives. Looking for a purpose in her life and an escape, she meanders aimlessly and eventually ends up in the place that gave her great joy ten years ago. This small New Hampshire town is rife with good and bad memories. Emily has to find a way to deal with both, interact with the people from her past, and convince her husband and family that she’s okay and not crazy. By putting her happiness first, Emily’s selfishness reverberates throughout all the lives of the people that she knows. She must work to find her center and to decide what she actually wants. Add in an animal refuge, a former lover, and someone in desperate need of legal advice and Emily’s escape brings up some dilemmas that she cannot run away from.

This book did not go the direction that I thought that it would, for which I am very grateful. I have read too many novels where the main character decides that she needs a complete do-over and throws her entire life into shambles trying to find herself. Delinsky goes another route of self-discovery that still hits all of the necessary emotional highs and lows, but thankfully misses all of the predictable actions. This was my first Delinsky read and I am quite ready to pick up another! There was nothing that didn’t delight me within this novel.


This book is also available in the following formats: