The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Pregnancy is a taboo subject alongside conception in today’s society. Even though this is something that people go through on a daily basis, anything surrounding pregnancy is seen as something to be kept hidden and not talked about. Joanne Ramos takes this topic and expands upon it in her debut novel.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos feeds upon the desire of wealthy women to have a baby, but still be able to keep their figure, work full time, and not have to rely on a partner to have a baby. Mae Yu, an ambitious businesswoman looking to find her way in the business world, proposes a new plan to give these women what they want: Golden Oaks. Golden Oaks is a luxury retreat nestled, and somewhat hidden away, in New York’s Hudson Valley. This retreat caters to basically every woman’s pregnancy need: massages, personal trainers, meals catered to their exact nutritional needs, and a community of pregnant women going through the exact same process that they are. Sounds perfect, right? There has to be a hidden secretive side at Golden Oaks and sure enough it starts to surface.

The women at Golden Oaks aren’t just regular surrogates: they are ‘Hosts’ at ‘The Farm’ as they call themselves and Golden Oaks. These hosts are promised a very large, lucrative payday when they deliver their children for the clients. The downside: they are trapped at Golden Oaks for the full nine months, they cannot leave the grounds, their movements are monitored 24/7, and they are completely cut off from their former lives. Sure, they have access to computers and video chats with their families and friends, but those calls are monitored and visitors are not allowed. Despite all these restrictions, and partly because they are not disclosed up front when hosts are brought to Golden Oaks, some residents choose to dedicate their lives to the Farm and carry multiple babies for the same women.

Struggling to provide for her daughter, Jane is having trouble holding down a job. When she hears of Golden Oaks through another family member, Jane soon finds herself signing up to carry someone else’s baby, despite the fact that she has a very young daughter at home. Jane, a young immigrant from the Philippines just trying to find a better life, commits to being a ‘Host’ at Golden Oaks and finds her new life to be structured in a way that makes her uncomfortable. As she begins to doubt her choices and wants to go back to her former life, Jane realizes that she must reconnect with her family on the outside. Facing the possibility that she could lose the fee she was promised with the safe and healthy delivery of the child she is carrying, Jane is forced to go to the extremes to get what she wants.

This novel forces readers to question what we consider to be motherhood and all the messy moral, monetary, and reproductive questions that circle the ability to get pregnant. The topic of what women are willing to do to become mothers and how far businesses are willing to go in order to help them happily fulfill their futures is a major component of this book. Give this book a read (or listen) and let me know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Force by Don Winslow

I find most of my reads while I’m looking through journals at work or when patrons suggest authors to me that I should try. Don Winslow came to my attention both ways. One day I saw his newest book in a journal I was flipping through. The next day a patron came to the desk and, through conversation, suggested I should try one of his books. As I’m a believer in coincidence, I knew I needed to give him a try.

Wanting to start with a standalone first to see if I liked him before I dragged myself into yet another series, I decided to start with Winslow’s newest standalone, The Force . This book is a fantastic representation of Winslow’s crime writing abilities. He is a gifted crime writer, proving that he really understands the subject matter that he chooses to write about.

In The Force, readers are brought into the world of Denny Malone and the mean streets of New York. Malone says at the start of this book, ‘Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true’. If you knew how your life, your job, or your relationship was going to end at the beginning, would you change your decisions? What about at the end of your career? If you could go back and change, would you? At the beginning of this novel, Malone finds himself contemplating all the decisions that he has made throughout his life. This book serves as a glimpse into everything that happened in Malone’s life that led him to where he is now.

Denny Malone just wants to be a good cop. When he started work as a police officer, all he wanted to do was make a difference for the public that he served. Now Malone is the king of Manhattan North. Working as a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant has changed Malone from the straight and narrow cop that he started out to be to his current position as the real leader of what is known as ‘Da Force’. Malone is a cop who knows that there are lines that, once you cross them, can never be uncrossed. Knowing that doesn’t stop him from crossing those lines, a little at first and then bigger and bigger. People in Manhattan North, cops and the public alike, know not to mess with Malone or his team because he isn’t afraid to use his position of power to get what he wants.

While Malone is working to clean up Manhattan North from drugs, guns, and gangs, there is decidedly some shady activity going on behind the scenes. While Malone and his team are credited with the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history, some(okay A LOT) of their actions surrounding said bust were not 100% legal. Since that bust, Malone and his partners have stolen millions of dollars worth of drugs and cash. If word got out of what they had done, they would all be in a great load of trouble.

Malone is going about his daily life surrounded by other corrupt cops, politicians, lawyers, and judges just struggling to provide the best for the public, his family, and himself. Called into a meeting that quickly turns sour, Malone is faced with a choice that, no matter where he turns, will end badly. He finds himself balancing on a thin tightrope being pulled in multiple directions. Malone must choose who to betray: his family, the woman he loves, his partners, the police force, or his brother. Will he end up betraying them all? While Malone finds himself going through this struggle, the city he loves so dearly, New York, is on verge of collapse. A racial confrontation between the police and the public could destroy the city, let alone the nation.

The topics covered in this novel are incredibly relevant to today.  Several of the events discussed within happened in real life. I really enjoyed how Winslow pulled events from today’s headlines and incorporated them into the fictional world that he created for Winslow and his fellow police detectives. Read this book and let me know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

What would you do if you were stuck in a remote lodge in the middle of winter for a long weekend? This lodge has hiking trails, a library, fireplaces, and other outside activities. Sounds pretty idyllic, right? I thought so! Author Shari Lapena takes every bookworm’s dream weekend getaway and turns it into a nightmare in her newest novel, An Unwanted Guest. Fans of murder mysteries will want to read this book as Lapena crafts a book with descriptions similar to an Agatha Christie novel.

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena tells the story of a group of people headed to a cozy mountain lodge named Mitchell’s Inn in the Catskills for a perfect weekend retreat. Things start to turn dicey on the drive to the lodge as a winter storm starts to barrel down on the area. Once everyone is settled at the lodge, they all settle in for various romantic, relaxing weekend activities. As events unfold, it becomes obvious that each person is not what they seem. When planned activities come to a screeching halt as the weather increasingly becomes worse and worse, the guests are forced to rely on each other for companionship.

As more and more guests arrive at the inn, they greet each other with interest, wondering about their reasonings for being there, but not wanting to get involved. The weather keeps guests and limited hotel staff stuck inside the Mitchell Inn without any hope of rescue from the outside. Waking up to a horrifying scream the next day, guests discover a dead body laying at the foot of the stairs. As the weekend progresses, the situation further deteriorates out of control with a frightening new truth coming to light. There’s a killer in their midst. None of them can escape. There is nowhere to run. They’re trapped, desperate for help, and finding that their trust in others is quickly slipping away. Searching for the truth, tensions run high as they all try to find out who is the killer and, most importantly, stay alive!


This book is also available in the following formats:

You Belong to Me by Colin Harrison

I tried expanding out of my comfort zone to read a nonfiction book and quickly fell asleep. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started it before I went to bed… As a result, the next day, I turned to the next book on my list, a suspenseful thriller by Colin Harrison called You Belong to Me. This book started out slow for me, but quickly picked up. If you decide to read it, I urge you to stick with it. This piece of literary fiction tells the tale of old maps, immigration troubles, lost loves, hit men, obsession, murder, and betrayal. I loved it. It was riveting.

Paul Reeves works as an immigration lawyer, a fairly successful one at that. His boutique firm handles cases for famous people, successful businessmen, and large companies working with foreign nationals. Paul may like his job, but his real love is maps. His passion is collecting old maps of New York. Seeing the city change throughout the years through a print record gives him chills. As he’s walking the streets or looking at his maps, he can see, in his mind’s eye, New York growing, changing, and morphing into the city that he lives in today. Paul can frequently be found at auctions throughout the city bidding on different New York maps. He attends an auction one afternoon with his neighbor Jennifer Mehraz. Jennifer is the beautiful young wife of an Iranian financier-lawyer, a man who has the best things in life and knows what he wants. Jennifer’s husband knows how to complete deals and expects his life to keep going the way that it is. Halfway through the auction, a man in soldier fatigues appears and Jennifer’s entire demeanor changes. She abandons Paul and takes off with this mystery man.

This man who showed up out of the blue to see Jennifer is a long-lost love from her past, from when she used to live in Pennsylvania. His arrival sets off a frightening chain of events that entangles Paul, Jennifer, her husband, the mystery man, and a wide variety of other people in a messy dangerous game. Jennifer, remaining somewhat tight-lipped about this mystery man, leaves those close to her very confused as they try to figure out just who he is and how they are connected. Her husband, being Iranian and very important in his chosen work field, feels her dalliance with this mystery man as a major embarrassment and wants the whole situation to disappear, no matter the consequences nor the expense.

Paul has more than Jennifer and her possessive husband to deal with though. He is desperate to get his hands on one of the world’s rarest and most sought after maps. Paul thought it was out of his reach until he was directly contacted by the seller with an offer for him to buy it. Before he can put in his offer, another buyer swoops in and buys it right from under Paul. He’s furious about this incident and is desperate to figure out who this mysterious buyer is. Paul will do anything to get that precious map into his possession, especially since it was promised to him and therefore should belong to him.

I enjoyed this book, even though it took me a few chapters to get hooked. The characters are very compelling and developed well. There are multiple story lines throughout this book that kept me hooked while I was reading. Every character has their own personal problems to work through, but they each remain entangled together. I enjoyed watching each character’s story grow as the plot developed.  Harrison has written several older books that I’m hoping are just as riveting as You Belong to Me was. I’ll let you know!

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:

Black Irish by Stephan Talty

I have a fascination with serial murderers, the grislier the better. I snatch up books about them as quick as I can, but veer away from television shows because they seem too formulaic and predictable. The books that I have read/listened to recently have all been reliably gritty and suspenseful. I stumbled upon Black Irish by Stephan Talty a week ago and loved it.

Black Irish is delightfully gruesome and mysterious. Absalom ‘Abbie’ Kearney is a detective in South Buffalo. Even though her adoptive father is a revered cop, Abbie is considered to be an outsider in this working-class Irish American area because of her dark hair, druggie mother, mysterious father, Harvard degree, and a myriad of other reasons. Her troubled past makes her current life in South Buffalo difficult as she works to earn the trust and respect of everyone in ‘the County’. The County is full of fiercely secretive citizens who look out for their own and shun outsiders. Digging for the truth or trying to find out about her past is nearly impossible for Abbie without the help from accepted local Irish good-ol’-boy cops and detectives. Because of this, Abbie works even harder to prove herself to be more than capable and worthy of her badge, much to the chagrin of the locals.

When a mangled corpse is found in a local church’s basement, the very church that Abbie herself attended, the County finds itself unnerved. A message seems to sweep through the area. While Abbie is the lead detective on the case and is running the investigation, she finds that other detectives, and more importantly the locals, are taking it upon themselves to solve the case. The code of silence and secrecy that began in Ireland still exists in the County, making Abbie’s search for the killer even more difficult. This secrecy stonewalls her everywhere she goes, even at the Gaelic Club which her father frequents. Shaking down leads is difficult and Abbie soon finds herself receiving vicious threats and warnings.

The killer has a clear signature and with each passing day, Abbie thinks she is getting closer. With more people murdered, Abbie finds this case consuming her. While working to solve these crimes, the killer is slowly circling closer and closer to Abbie, until finally dropping into her life. Abbie is left to dig into her own past, her family’s past, how everything is related to the County, and also how the County’s secrets just may end up destroying everything in which the whole community believes.

This book hooked me from the start. The narrator uses different accents for each character which made them all easy to follow. Stephan Talty has woven a masterful examination into the cone of silence in closed off neighborhoods, even when that code hides dangerous, murderous pasts and people. I greatly enjoyed this book and can’t wait for more.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis alternates between the present day New York City and 1952 via the lives of the women who live at the Barbizon Hotel. In 1952 it was known as the Barbizon Hotel for Women, catering to young, single women who aspired to be secretaries or models. Darby comes from Ohio to enroll in the Katharine Gibbs College, which taught young ladies business skills and etiquette. Very soon, she becomes friends with Esme, a maid, singer and aspiring actress. When Esme encourages Darby to perform with her at a jazz club downtown, Darby’s world view changes radically; she discovers passion – creatively and romantically. These chapters are tinged with nostalgia and a sense of impending tragedy. Davis does a marvelous job of immersing the reader in a very different era, with different assumptions for women – and she does it with a subtle, realistic way.

The chapters set in contemporary New York feature Rose, a journalist for an online magazine, and a current condo dweller at the Barbizon. As her own life falls apart, she becomes fascinated by the earlier inhabitants – some of which still live at the Barbizon (in rent-controlled apartments).  Rose wants to tell the forgotten story of these women, but needs the hook of a fatal accident more than 50 years ago, to get the interest of her editor.  She doesn’t want to exploit Darby, who just wants to be left alone,  but, in the end, that is what she does.

Rose herself undergoes a transformation – from a woman who had a successful career, and a rising politician for a boyfriend to someone who is in the process of losing her job, her home and her father. Ultimately, she comes through it all a wiser and more independent person.

You by Caroline Kepnes

You by Caroline Kepnes is a tale of unrelenting passion, love, and desire told through the eyes of a smitten young man. Joe Goldberg works in an East Village bookstore. His life is changed (such a cliché, I know, but just wait) the day Guinevere Beck, a young aspiring writer, walks into his bookstore. He instantly wants to be with her. Everything about her appeals to him: the way she walks, the section she visits in the store, the fact that she doesn’t check out ‘normal’ books… She’s super sexy, tough, smarter than any other woman he knows, and is drop-dead gorgeous. He has to have her.

Striking up a conversation with Beck gives Joe just enough information to see that he is perfect for her. She just doesn’t realize it yet. Joe has to find a way to convince her and to, most importantly, learn more about her so he can become her perfect boyfriend. In his quest to learn more, Joe realizes that there is more to Beck than he initially thought, that she isn’t quite as perfect as she seems to be.

Joe is obsessed with Beck and the more he gets to know her, the more he needs to be with her. Beck has her own life separate from Joe. He doesn’t want to push Beck too hard to get her to be in his life as much as he wants her to be. Joe must be clever and soon his cleverness pays off. Each becomes obsessed with the other, a situation that has the possibility to abruptly spiral out of control, to even turn deadly.

You has the haunting, thrilling, psychological messages of a good suspenseful romance. The sociopathic voyeurism and manipulation that runs rampant throughout this book had me honestly feeling a little bit paranoid. Seeing the lengths that Joe went through to learn about Beck and how sneaky Beck was made me question my social media use and whether I’m using it too much. I also questioned whether I was simply connected online too much and whether I needed to start unplugging from the internet more often. The differentiation between what we consider to be our private and our public lives, as well as the ease that those lives can be monitored by outside forces and even hacked, were all things that I thought about as I was reading this book.

This psychological thriller creeped me out. In a good way. I have read many, many thrillers from the victim’s perspective. Said books are always about their quest to find out who is stalking them or hurting them or who is leaving weird things for them. These books may also be from the point of view of family and friends who are looking for the missing person. I had never read a book from the other person’s point of view, from the point of view of the person who is completely and thoroughly obsessed. I loved and was simultaneously repulsed by this book.


This book is also available in the following format(and that’s the one I listened to it in):


The sequel to this book was released in 2016. It’s called Hidden Bodies and it continues into the exploration of Joe’s life. I’m hoping the sequel digs more into Joe’s past and gives us more of an idea of why Joe behaves the way that he does.


 

Copper

copperCopper tells the story of an Irish-American boxer turned cop named Kevin Corcoran, who after returning from the Civil War finds his wife missing and his young daughter murdered in their home. Corcoran keeps in contact with two of his soldier friends: the son of a rich industrialist and an African-American physician. These three are linked together by a secret that happened on the battlefireld, one that changed the future of their lives forever.

Right off the bat, Copper is fast-paced and running you through the streets of Five Points, the immigrant neighborhood in New York full of lawlessness, deceit, and murder. Kevin Corcoran, or Corcy as his friends call him, frequently finds himself having to solve the many murders that happen in Five Points. Corcoran never lets a case close without finding the true killer and getting vengeance for the families left behind. The entire time he is solving crimes for the police department, he is also looking for any clues into his wife’s disappearance and his daughter’s murder, asking people in the streets and looking for anyone who saw them before they died.

This television show hits every aspect of tv that I love: romance, murder, mayhem, secrets, espionage, politics, etc. This is 1864, so Copper deals with slavery, Lincoln’s election, spies for the Confederacy and the Union, lynchings, upper and lower class struggles, immigration, murder. Just when I thought I had this show figured out, I realized that the characters had far more depth and far more secrets than I ever realized.

How to Be a Grown-Up by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

How to be a grown-upCo-written by Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, How to Be a Grown-Up is a fascinating peek into upper class New York and the world of start-up websites – in this case, one for upper class babies and their parents. More than a little absurd, this world of over-consumption and ambitious, yet inexperienced, young bosses is the one in which Rory finds herself – after her husband, an  aspiring actor, dumps her.

Kraus and McLaughlin are the authors of The Nanny Diaries,and there are definite similarities – in the dynamic between the very rich and those struggling to get by. Some of the scenes do seem to be written filmically; we can almost see a  Scarlett Johansson or Anne Hathaway-type breaking her foot as she juggles the impossible demands of her tyrannical bosses and the equally formidable demands of her two children, while teetering on five-inch heels.

The most successful part of the book is the satire of the workplace – the two young entrepreneurs in charge of the start-up dress in the skimpiest of outfits no matter how cold they are, and regard “things” such as wastebaskets and a work space as unnecessarily retro. It’s satisfying to see the tables turned, and  Rory’s experience and know-how are acknowledged as valuable.

If the authors had focused more on the work aspect of the book and less on the inexplicable choices Rory makes in her personal life, the book would have, in my opinion, been better for it. Still, it’s a revealing and interesting look into a very fast-paced world, not well-known in Iowa – even in the metro Quad-Cities.