What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Katherine Center’s newest novel What You Wish For is fast-paced, engaging, and whimsical. Even though it deals with heavy topics, Center manages to share the message that choosing joy in the midst of difficult and painful times will help you heal.

Samantha Casey is a school librarian. She has been in Galveston, Texas for only a couple of years, but in this short time she has managed to carve out a life that makes her happy. Sam loves her job, the kids that come to visit her in the library, and her school family. Her new school fits the new Sam: colorful, fun, engaging, and full of personality. After disaster strikes the school, Sam finds herself floundering. The new school year has been thrown into chaos, but with the hiring of Duncan Carpenter, Sam is hopeful that the school will begin to heal.

Sam knows Duncan. Well, she knew the old Duncan. The new Duncan is rigid. He lives by rules and regulations. He believes that he needs to upgrade the school because the way it is now is only asking for bad things to happen. The old Duncan did not care about rules. He was the cool teacher, the one who juggled, wore funny clothes, and advocated for anything and everything fun. Sam had the biggest crush on lovable old Duncan, but the old Sam was too timid. She has changed so much in just a couple years and is hopeful that she can turn Duncan back into the fun-loving man she remembered from before.

Sam and Duncan couldn’t be more different now. Duncan only wants to protect the school even if that means that he has to destroy it. Desperate to save the school, Sam and some other teachers work to remind Duncan of the joy he used to feel. While helping Duncan remember who he used to be, Sam finds herself wanting to know him again.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Healthy Conflict: Books on Communicating

I buy books for the non-fiction section, specifically in the 100s (in Dewey Decimal numbers, this means philosophy, psychology, spirituality and self-help). Sometimes this means that I see books or buy books in my section that send me down a rabbit hole of discovery; most recently I accidentally ran across a 2008 self-help book called Feeling Good Together by David D. Burns. Burns popularized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which can make a big difference in the treatment of depression and anxiety, and in this book he gives his advice as a therapist on how to build better relationships with our family and friends. He focuses mostly on the principles of good communication, and how to talk to each other to build more trust, goodwill, and understanding.

I really liked how evidence-based it was, citing lots of examples of actual patients he’d worked with and how their problems had developed and been addressed in therapy. I also appreciated his realistic outlook. He was never afraid to point out times he’d also said the wrong thing, which made it easier to believe his recommendations for good communication. And as recommendations go, they’re kind of hard to swallow: first, you can only focus on changing yourself and the way you think and respond to people. There’s nothing you can do to change the other person you’re clashing with, and trying to change them will only make them dig in their heels and fight back harder. If you change yourself, your perspective and your approach to them, however, they’ll feel more able to meet you halfway as you express humility, respect, and open-mindedness. The most important thing you can do, he says, is to acknowledge how they’re feeling and find some truth in what they’re saying, while sharing, respectfully, how you’re feeling. It’s surprisingly hard to do! Luckily he includes lots of exercises, tables, and journal prompts to help you practice. He also devoted a lot of time at the beginning to discussing whether improving the relationship is really what you want or need, which also shows his realistic understanding of people.

It was a fascinating read, with some helpful concepts, and it made me look for more books on how to resolve conflicts and build better relationships. Here are a few published more recently that touch on similar themes, which I think are also worth checking out:

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out by Amanda Ripley

Compassionate Conversations: How to Speak and Listen from the Heart by Diane Musho Hamilton

Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How We Heal by Benjamin E. Sasse

Empowered Boundaries by Cristien Storm

De-escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less by Douglas Noll

Buddhism for Couples: A Calm Approach to Relationships by Sarah Napthal

Get Graphic Series: Dancing After TEN by Vivian Chong

The Get Graphic Series continues with a memoir by Vivian Chong. Dancing after TEN  tells the story of how Chong suffered a severe medical reaction which caused her to lose her eyesight.

It begins with an island vacation Chong takes with her current boyfriend and his family. A couple days into the vacation, Chong becomes ill. She takes ibuprofen in hopes of relieving some symptoms, but they become worse. Chong is then airlifted from their tropical paradise to Canada. The doctor’s discover Chong is suffering from TEN (toxic epidermal necrolysis). As her condition worsens, the doctor’s place her in a medically induced coma. When Chong wakes up, her life is changed forever.

After undergoing a cornea operation, Chong begins to draw her memoir. She invites the help of fellow artist, Georgia Webber, to fill in after Chong begins to lose her eyesight again. Throughout the novel, the reader can see the difference between Chong and Webber’s illustrations. You can see and feel the vulnerability Chong had while struggling to draw. Her illustrations coexist with Webber’s creating a beautifully told narrative.

Memoirs and biographies are similar in way they tell the life story of a person. What I love about memoirs more than biographies, is the author relies heavily on the emotional factors of their life. Dancing after TEN offers us the facts, but Chong also provides us with emotional dialogue. She shares with us her breakups, her physical insecurities, her worries about the future, and more.

Dancing after TEN  is a great example of how someone can experience a tragedy, but can come out dancing in the end.

 

Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny

Katherine Heiny’s novel doesn’t fit into a neat box. It starts out as a rom com; it’s a fairly predictable pairing  of two attractive, charming people, surrounded by their eccentric friends.

Jane and Duncan meet, have a relationship of sorts, and break up, which isn’t fatal to HEA (Happily Ever After). However, the book begins to take a darker, messier turn. This is when it really starts to get unpredictable and  much more interesting.  Jane, a grade school teacher in a small Michigan town, gets some of what she wanted but not necessarily in the way she wanted.

A highlight is Heiny’s skill in capturing kids and adults with  delightfully brief character sketches or with  telling anecdotes.  I looked forward to the work life passages, and the insight into the second- grade mind. Boyne City is populated with  quirky residents and Heiny has fun with the dynamics of rural life.

It turns out that, perhaps, the most pivotal relationship of Jane’s life is with Jimmy Jellico. He’s a sweet and naive man who nominally works for Duncan in his workshop.  Jimmy has always had difficulty understanding how to navigate in the world, and hasn’t mastered even the most basic of adulting skills. Jane becomes more and more involved in Jimmy’s daily life, and despairs that he’ll ever find a love of his own. Jane’s friends, family and co-workers are very imperfect, as is Jane, but they evolve and create a fascinating community.

Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough

Once a cheat, always a cheat.

Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough is a twisty psychological thriller that tells the story of a crafty second wife who will do anything to come out on top.

Marcie is determined. Determined to keep her husband interested in her so he won’t leave her. Determined to keep the life of luxury that she currently has forever. Determined to never end up back the way she started. Marcie has secrets and those secrets could destroy the life she’s created. Lucky for her, Marcie has had years of practice keeping those secrets and the stakes are even higher for her now.

Marcie worked hard for her marriage with Jason. Never mind the fact that Marcie and Jason’s relationship began as an illicit affair and that she is much younger than him. When she moved to Savannah, Georgia to start her new life with Jason, she had to deal with backlash from his ex-wife, their joint friends, and the people that Jason works with. Her new life filled with country clubs, yachts, and giant houses is getting harder and harder for her to maintain no matter how hard she tries. Her relationship with Jason is becoming strained as well.

Their relationship becomes even more strained when Jason’s boss comes home from his trip to London with a brand new wife in tow. The new Mrs. William Radford IV has some big shoes to fill and she is definitely not what everyone expected. Keisha is gorgeous, young, attractive, sexy, reckless, and black – and most importantly she quickly takes over Marcie’s place as the beautiful and best looking second wife.

Marcie begins to feel uneasy when she notices the spark between Jason and Keisha. The two have an instant magnetic connection that puts Marcie immediately on edge. She starts working harder to keep Jason’s interest, but nothing she does seems to be working. Keisha and Jason begin to get closer and closer while Marcie tries to destroy the bond the two have cultivated from the inside. Marcie decides the only way to survive is to get revenge on the two. Insecure in her relationships, Marcie knows that if she loses Jason, she will find herself struggling to maintain even a fracture of her current lifestyle. She may have married into Jason’s world, but she will never truly be a part of it. How dare Keisha try to steal her life from her! Keisha has no idea who she’s messing with.

This book is also available in the following format:

Ace by Angela Chen

“The words are gifts. If you know which terms to search, you know how to find others who might have something to teach.” 

In the world of relationships and identities, asexuality is relatively unknown, but it’s vitally important. To understand why, read Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen.  Journalist Chen uses her own experiences as well as those of a diverse group of asexual people to explain what asexuality is and how it feels, and also to expose some hidden truths about ourselves and our societies.

First things first: what DOES it mean? To put it simply, someone who is asexual doesn’t experience sexual attraction. There are as many different ways this works as there are asexual people, but that’s the main point to remember: no sexual attraction. If you’re puzzled, have never heard of this before, and are wondering if I’m just making this up, check out this book, or The Invisible Orientation by Julie Decker, another vital text on the subject, available through interlibrary loan.

To paraphrase the publisher: Both highly readable and unflinchingly honest, Ace uses a blend of reporting, cultural criticism, and memoir to address the misconceptions around the “A” of LGBTQIA and invites everyone to rethink pleasure and intimacy. I personally think that description is spot-on: Chen clearly conducted rigorous research to write this book, but she balances the academic language with personal stories that bring the theoretical ideas and big words into the real, practical world. This makes it easier to understand the tough concepts she introduces, like how gender and race intersect with sexual orientation. Most importantly, she makes it clear that her goal is acceptance and freedom for EVERYONE to build the life and relationships they want, without judgment, pressure, or shame.

You don’t need to be asexual yourself to benefit from this book; you just need to have an open mind. My hope is that if you don’t already know about this word and the diverse and beautiful community it represents, you’ll be intrigued, validated, or at least better informed by learning more about it.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

A life no one will remember. A story you will never forget.

The tagline for V.E. Schwab’s latest book The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of the best I’ve seen at perfectly distilling a book down to its essence. V.E. Schwab is mostly known for her children’s and young adult fiction that she published under the name Victoria Schwab, but The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue  is a wonderful addition to historical fantasy for adults that you’ll want to cozy up and read as soon as you can get a copy.

France, 1714. Addie LaRue is desperate. Growing up in a small town in France, Addie thought she had successfully avoided marriage until she is promised to a man with young children. Knowing if she marries him she will be live and die in this same small town, Addie manages to slip away before her wedding. Stumbling in her desperation, Addie kneels in the woods and prays for freedom to a god who only answers after dark. This god, or is he a devil, answers Addie’s call and makes a deal with her that she so desperately wants. Over time, Addie learns the limits of the deal and regrets it: she will live forever, but she will be forgotten by every single person she meets. Every time they turn away, every time they close a door, Addie will slip from their memory, a person or a thought always just out of reach. She will spend her years traveling the world, never quite feeling at home anywhere, and never able to make her mark on the world. Addie must get creative in order to leave her legacy as she visits artists of all types and notices that the seven freckles that dot her cheeks can be found throughout history, like a scattering of stars.

Flash forward 300 years. Addie is searching for something new, anything new that will shake up what she’s already discovered in her 300 years. Walking the streets of New York, she yearns. Suddenly, Addie finds a bookstore that she has never seen before. In it, a boy named Henry will change her life with three little words, ‘I remember you’.

Those three words. How is it possible? Did Luc, the god who made her deal, mess up? He must have. She yearns to be remembered, yearns to belong to someone. She has found the one her soul has been searching for after 300 years. Both Henry and Addie have been yearning for years to not be alone, though Henry’s life has been considerably shorter than Addie’s, but his desire is just as strong. Wanting to feel that connection while they have been alone for all this time is something pressed deep into their souls. Addie and Henry are fearful of what they’ve discovered, that fear running strong in Addie as the anniversary of her deal approaches. Knowing that Luc may show up at any second, whenever the mood hits him, Addie is desperate that Henry remember as much of her life as he can before Luc makes him forget.

This novel tore me apart. It’s not a thriller or a swift ride through the characters’ lives. Instead Schwab introduces both Addie and Henry’s lives in a wonderfully leisurely way, one where readers get to know the characters as they work through whatever newness they uncover. Schwab mixes the past with the present, switching between long stretches of Addie’s 300 years with Henry’s exquisitely awkward and painful shorter life. These moments are presented in a way that tugs at your heart as you wish for peace and comfort for both Henry and Addie in the end.

This book is also available in the following formats:

They Went Left by Monica Hesse

Monica Hesse is one of my favorite young adult authors, my go-to when I need historical mystery fiction. Warning: her books cover heavy topics, which may not be something that you can handle right now.  Somehow I missed her newest release that came out in April 2020, so I spent a weekend reading They Went Left . This book discusses the Holocaust, World War II, and surviving post-war.

They  Went Left by Monica Hesse begins with the liberation of concentration camps in Germany 1945. The soldiers who liberated told the survivors that the war was over, but it didn’t seem like that to them. Eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman is in a hospital trying to recover and heal, so that she can start searching for her younger brother. Her mind and body are broken, but she must find Abek. Abek and Zofia were separated three years ago from the rest of their family. Abek and Zofia went right, while everyone else went left to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Their parents, grandma, and their Aunt Maja all went left. When Zofia and Abek were eventually separated, Zofia promised to find him again, no matter what.

Flash forward three years and Zofia feels the deep urge to find Abek. Relying initially on the help from others, Zofia travels to various places across post-war Europe desperately searching for any sign of Abek. As she searches, Zofia slowly begins to rebuild the remains of her destroyed life. Her mind and body begin to heal as she looks for answers and starts to open up to other survivors.

This book is also available in the following format:

Reese Witherspoon November Pick – ‘Group’

Reese Witherspoon has selected Group by Christie Tate as the November pick for her book club.

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

The refreshingly original debut memoir of a guarded, over-achieving, self-lacerating young lawyer who reluctantly agrees to get psychologically and emotionally naked in a room of six complete strangers—her psychotherapy group—and in turn finds human connection, and herself. Christie Tate had just been named the top student in her law school class and finally had her eating disorder under control. Why then was she driving through Chicago fantasizing about her own death? Why was she envisioning putting an end to the isolation and sadness that continued to plague her in spite of her achievements? Enter Dr. Rosen, a therapist who calmly assures her that if she joins one of his psychotherapy groups, he can transform her life. All she has to do is show up, and be honest. About everything—her eating habits, childhood, sexual history, etc. Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: “You don’t need a cure, you need a witness.” So begins her entry into the strange, terrifying, and ultimately life-changing world of group therapy. Christie is initially put off by Dr. Rosen’s outlandish directives, but as her defenses break down and she comes to trust Dr. Rosen and to depend on the sessions and the prescribed nightly phone calls with various group members, she begins to understand what it means to connect. Group is a deliciously addictive read, and with Christie as our guide—skeptical of her own capacity for connection and intimacy, but hopeful in spite of herself—we are given a front row seat to the daring, exhilarating, painful, and hilarious journey that is group therapy—an under-explored process that breaks you down, and then reassembles you so that all the pieces finally fit.

This book is also available in the following format:

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The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz

The world right now is uncertain. I find myself longing for times when family and friends could get together without care or worries. In an effort to feel more of that carefree spirit(without actually getting close to people), I have been searching for more books to read about families. Cue: literary generational fiction.

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz tells the story of Ellie and Brick. In the 1950s, Ellie and Brick are growing up in Clayton Valley, Ohio. Ellie wants to marry Brick McGinty. She wants to go to nursing school. It seems Ellie has finally figured out how she can get what she wants, even if her grandparents don’t approve.

Brick may be a basketball star at his high school, but he has big plans to go to college on a scholarship to play basketball. That is his chance to escape his abusive father, to be the first in his family to attend college, and to become a man that he can be proud of. Ellie and Brick are determined to succeed together and start a new life in a new place.

Their plans fall apart when Ellie finds out she is pregnant. Realizing that their big dreams will have to be put on hold, the two switch gears and begin to build their family. Ellie and Brick quickly discover that this new life is full of ups and downs. They have to rely on each other and work together to provide a stable and loving home for everyone. Just as they seem to settle back into a rhythm, someone knocks on their front door and delivers news that has the power to destroy their lives.

The Daughters of Erietown follows the evolution of women’s lives over fifty years. While each person in this story may have their own secrets, others have the power to reach out and destroy the precious balance that they have created. This novel discusses the known and the unknown, the whispers that may be true or not, and how you choose to deal with them.

This book is also available in the following formats: