4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, Women's Fiction

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

4.5/5 stars

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I love books about people on the autism spectrum.  I feel like their personalities magnify universal truths that we can all relate to.  Annika meets Jonathan when they are both students at the University of Illinois.  She is on the autism spectrum, but she doesn’t know it.  Social situations behoove Annika, but both she and Jonathan are aces at chess and they fall in love.  Jonathan doesn’t mind if she’s a bit different.

He graduates and moves to New York to be a stockbroker.  He eventually marries someone else, while Annika is still in Illinois, pursuing a Master of Library Science degree.

Ten years later, they meet again, and try to have a relationship once again.

The author did a tremendous job of showing the reader what someone with autism goes through, how they want to be loved and accepted and just don’t always understand how social situations work and how that is very difficult.  This was a lovely story, with plot twists that I never saw coming.  This is not just your average love story–there is A LOT MORE HERE.

I recommend this to anyone who loved Eleanor Oliphant by Gail Honeyman, The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, or The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison.

I received this book from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review.

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Book reviews

Monkey Temple by Peter Gelfan

4/5 stars

I received this book from Ryder Author Resources in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis:

A coming-of-old-age adventureTwo longtime best friends and rivals, determined to “not go gentle into that good night,” set off on a final road trip. Their efforts to face past failures and give meaning to their dwindling futures change their lives forever but not at all as they had envisioned. It’s a buddy story with strong female characters and plenty of dark humor as the dreams of youth collide with the realities of a life lived.

My Review:

Reading this book felt like talking to my parents’ friends about some of their experiences in the 60s and 70s. The meandering tales of New York City’s East Village, Paris and London in the 60s and 70s that were formative for this merry band of friends is reminiscent of Kerouac or Orwell. This fun loving, introspective group does not want to be counted out yet and so set off on an adventure of a lifetime. When they first come across The Monkey Temple they are not sure what it is (a falling down chicken coup?) but soon become invested in mortgaging it and it becomes something that makes them passionate and reminds them what it means to be alive. A good read for anyone who feels their youth is in the rearview, but wants to remember that they are still alive.

contemporary fiction, thriller, Women's Fiction

The Liar’s Child by Carla Buckley

3.5/5 stars

This is the first ARC that I wrote away for and received!! Thank you, Ballantine Books – Random House!!

The first book I read by Carla Buckley was The Good Good-bye and I loved it so much that I ordered her other three books and read them all too! She writes about families in peril, families with ill children, parents who take their eyes off the road for a second and tragedy strikes, major flu epidemics and how that effects families. As a mom, I relate to her characters and their issues.

This is a powerful story of how mental illness effects families, how sometimes it may look like someone is not doing their job, but they are doing the best with what they have, the best they can in their situation. It’s about a father’s love, that doesn’t necessarily look the way we think it should. And, ultimately, it’s about how far we will go to protect the people we love.

The Liar’s Child is about a family where the mother is mentally ill and in addition to her mental illness, she has a shopping addiction which leaves the family with little money. They live in a crappy apartment building and the kids are often left to their own devices. The 12 year old daughter, Cassie, gets into a lot of trouble and the 6 year old son, Boon, is emotionally distraught. The father does the best he can, but must work long hours to pay the families’ bills, much of which the mother spends on online shopping.

Sara Lennox is in the witness protection program and the government puts her in the apartment next door to Cassie and Boon. She observes their family and how the kids are left to their own devices. When a hurricane is heading toward the Outer Banks and the kids are left alone, Sara takes her with her as she tries to escape the island and more.

Personal

The Incarnations of Motherhood

There are many incarnations of motherhood.

The joyous, nervous, nauseated expectant mother.

The sleep-deprived mother of a newborn who never knew her capacity for love while at the same time feeling resentful for having to put someone else so far ahead of herself.

The harried, stressed, exhausted mother of a toddler who longs for naptime and bedtime, but misses that sweet, sticky child when they are sleeping.

The mother of elementary aged children, always trying to keep up with their projects and assignments, their friends and activities, their moods and their needs.

The mother of junior high aged children who tries to impart advice upon deaf ears while their beloved child rolls their eyes at her as she tries so hard to stay active and aware of their lives.

The mother of the high schooler who struggles to maintain a balance between being their friend so they will confide in her while also being their mother and praying that she has done a good enough job and that they will make good choices and decisions.

The mother of almost-grown children who gives advice and guidance while also taking a step back to let them make the choices and take the next steps in their life.

Each incarnation has had its difficulties and its rewards, its struggles and its beauty. I feel so blessed every single day to have been here for this journey and I pray every day that we all get to continue to take it together, even if together means miles apart, in different states or countries, even.

Before I had children, I had about a 25 minute commute to the school where I taught and on that commute, I would pray. I would spend time talking to God. When I was pregnant with my oldest, I would pray every day for her health and safety and I would think, I can’t wait until she’s born so I don’t have to pray for this….until one day I realized that I would be praying for that health and safety and happiness for the rest of my life.

And I am blessed to do so.

Book reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller, Women's Fiction

Forget You Know Me by Jessica Strawser

3/5 stars

My Review:

Molly and Liza have been friends for a long time.  After Liza moves away, things are strained between the two women.  While Molly’s husband is away on business, the two women agree to Facetime each other one evening after Molly puts her kids to bed.  When Molly leaves the room to check on one of her kids, Liza sees a man in a mask enter the room where Molly is and then her screen goes black.  Liza drives all night to get to her friend to help her, but Molly is cold and unappreciative when Liza gets there.

This book explores a friendship that was close at one time, but has changed over time.  It also explores a marriage that has some issues.  This book explores the things that go unsaid in a relationship and how that can be isolating and effect what was once a close relationship.  I thought it was good, but it got weird in some parts in a way that I didn’t find believable, which is why I am giving it 3 stars.

I would like to thank Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for my copy in exchange for my honest review.

From the Publisher:

Molly and Liza have always been close in a way that people envy. Even after Molly married Daniel, both considered Liza an honorary member of their family. But after Liza moved away, things grew more strained than anyone wanted to admit—in the friendship and the marriage.

When Daniel goes away on business, Molly and Liza plan to reconnect with a nice long video chat over wine after the kids are in bed. But when Molly leaves the room to check on a crying child, a man in a mask enters, throwing Liza into a panic—then her screen goes black.

When Liza finally reaches Molly, her reply is icy and terse, insisting everything is fine. Liza is still convinced something is wrong, that her friend is in danger. But after an all-night drive to help her ends in a brutal confrontation, Liza is sure their friendship is over—completely unaware that she’s about to have a near miss of her own. And Molly, refusing to deal with what’s happened, won’t turn to Daniel, either.

But none of them can go on pretending. Not after this.

Forget You Know Me exposes the wounds of people who’ve grown apart, against their will. Best friends, separated by miles. Spouses, hardened by neglect. A mother, isolated by pain. The man in the mask will change things for them all.

But who was he?

And will he be back?

4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller, Women's Fiction

The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald

4/5 stars

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We know from the description that Olivia falls and is brain dead and pregnant and her mom wants to know what happened the night she fell and if she was pushed.  I stayed up way past my bedtime to find out what happened that night!

This book is fast-paced, with hooks at the end of chapters to make you want to read the next chapter.  I don’t like thrillers where you feel that these things could never happen in real life, this book was not like that.  Everything in this book seemed plausible, like it really could happen.  I also really liked that there were so many different possibilities and what happened was not revealed until the end.

This was Christina McDonald’s first novel, but it really does not read like a first novel.  It reads as though the writer has a lot of experience knowing what works and what doesn’t and how to hook readers.

As the mom of two teen daughters, the thing I did not like about this novel was that the mom didn’t really know her daughter as well as she thought she did.  That made me look hard at my girls and my relationship with them and whether or not I know them well.  They have both just started college and that is a big adjustment with the possibility of new friends and new situations and I just hope they make good choices.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Gallery Books for my copy of this arc in exchange for my honest review.

From the Publisher:

Description

5 star reviews, contemporary fiction, thriller

No Exit by Taylor Adams

5/5 stars

College sophomore, Darby Thorne, planned to spend Christmas alone at UC-Boulder until she got a call from her sister that their mother was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. She tried to beat a blizzard home, but wound up having to stop at a rest stop for the night because the roads were impassable. There were two young men and an older couple already at the rest stop. Darby was trying to get a cell signal in the parking lot to tell her family where she was and that she would not make it home that night, when she saw something in the back of a van in the parking lot. A van that must belong to one of the people in the rest stop.

This book was INTENSE. This book set the new bar for thrillers.

I had actually thought I needed a break from thrillers because they were getting predictable and not holding my interest. I had heard great things about this one and had a few days before my next buddy read began when the box from Baker & Taylor came in at work, so I quickly cataloged it and brought it home. And stayed up until 2:30am reading it!!

If you like thrillers that are intense with a lot of action and reliable, strong, female leads, then read No Exit.

4 star reviews, contemporary fiction, Women's Fiction

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

4/5 stars

I was almost done with this book and I thought: I am so grateful that Abbi Waxman has another book coming out in July (and I actually have that book in my Netgalley queue right now!!).

I absolutely love Abbi Waxman’s unique, quirky voice. She is witty and funny and sarcastic and with that she tackles difficult topics. She shows how we have to keep breathing and walking and moving forward and laughing even when life is hard and messy.

The Garden of Small Beginnings is the story of Lillian, whose husband died in a car accident in front of their house almost four years previous. She had an infant and a toddler at the time. She fell apart. She had to be hospitalized. Thank God for her sister who swept in and took care of everything. She and her sister are super close (as I was reading the book, I kept hoping that my girls will have a relationship like Lillian and her sister Rachel do when they are adults).

Lillian is an illustrator and even though the textbook publisher she works for is going under, she manages to land a job illustrating an encyclopedia of flowers and vegetables for a seed company. She agrees to take a gardening class taught by one of the seed company’s owners. She can bring her daughters and her sister wants to tag along, too. At the class they meet an assortment of people: a retired banker, a surfer, two retired teachers and a single mom from the projects. The teacher takes a liking a Lillian and she realizes that she is attracted to him as well, but she is not sure if she is ready to date yet. Together with their teacher, they form a bond, helping each other plant gardens at each of their homes, and being there for each other through big life events. It made me long to take a gardening class and hope I would become friends with all of the other participants.

If you have a sense of humor, you will like this book. If you are a mother, you will like this book. If you like books about messy life stuff, you will like this book. I really enjoyed it and I would not mind being friends with Abbi Waxman — I bet she is a blast to hang out with!!

4.5 star reviews, Book reviews, History, Non-fiction

Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth

4.5/5 stars

There is A LOT to discuss in this book. It makes an excellent book club book.

Like the previous two books in the series, A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times and Farewell to the East End, this book is about Jennifer Worth’s experience as a nurse-midwife in London’s East End after the Bltiz, when the area was deeply impoverished but the tough Cockney residents who had been there for generations were committed to sticking it out.

This book shows the reader the pain of tuberculosis and losing one’s children and siblings to TB, being a carrier of TB and the devastating effects of the disease. This book explores the controversial topic of abortion and shows just how complicated of an issue it is. There are many other stories of residents of the East End, stories about a way of life that no longer exists in an area that no longer exists. I am so glad that Worth took the time to write them down and preserve them.

These books are about women. Hardships women face. How strongly women love. How women are taken advantage of or abused by men. How strong women can be. How empowered women can be. How women can lift each other up or destroy each other. Although some of the subject matter in these books is difficult to read, there is a feeling of being part of a sisterhood that is so pervasive and strong and uplifting. These are very powerful books and I recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about what women’s lives were like in the 1900s in London.

4 star reviews, History, Non-fiction

Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

4/5 stars

I absolutely adore the PBS series Call the Midwife. I love the simple, wholesome way of life and the way they live their faith. I love seeing how people lived in a poor London ghetto in the 1950s and 1960s. I also love it because I feel like I get a glimpse into what life was like for my parents, who were in their late teens/early twenties in the 1950s and 1960s.

I LOVED the first book in the series Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth. After reading the first book, two of my real life friends said they would be interested in reading and discussing the second two books with me.

Shadows of the Workhouse is the second book in the series. It was difficult to read and very depressing. In the nineteenth century poverty was a huge concern in England. The Act of 1834 proposed workhouses to house all of the poor – the old, the sick, the chronically ill, the mentally impaired, children, as well as able-bodied men and women who could not find work and were therefore destitute. In order to ensure that this was a “place of last resort” the Act had conditions where the workhouses should not be pleasant, husbands and wives were separated, children were separated from their parents – in many cases never to see one another again. It was inflexible and harsh. People lived in fear of the workhouse and when someone found themselves unable to feed their children and had a child starve to death, they would have no choice but to knock on the workhouse door, knowing they may never again see their children. Everyone was given a cot, a rough Army blanket, rough unflattering clothing and three meals per day, though the meals were sparse and not very good. Discipline and punishment were harsh, often abusive.

This book tells the story of several people who lived in the workhouse. Jane was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man and a servant girl. She never knew either of her parents. She had a fun spirit as a child that the workhouse master broke. It was horrifying and devastating to read. I only stayed with the book because one of my friends pointed out that if we want to make the world a better place, we need to be aware of all the facets of humanity, we can’t turn a blind eye to bad situations. Reading this with two friends definitely helped.

This book also tells the story of Peggy and Frank, an orphaned brother and sister who lived in a workhouse. A fish coster – someone who sells fish in an open-air market – comes to the workhouse to get a boy to work with him and help him and the Master of the Workhouse picks Frank. I found it fascinating to read about the life of a coster and how they go about their business. I found Frank’s story to be motivating and inspiring. The relationship between Peggy and Frank challenged by boundaries in a way similar to “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” by Brynn Greenwood and made me think, once again, that you can’t judge someone unless you walk in their shoes.

Another story was about how one of the nuns was accused of shoplifting and how that affected the convent and the community.

The final story was about a man whose father had died when he was young, in the 1800s. It told the story of what growing up poor in London in the 1800s was like and went on to show how the British military recruited poor young boys. As I read this story, I thought about how wonderful it is that Jennifer Worth wrote these books about people’s lives in a time gone by, stories that we would never know about otherwise, a way of life that is so different from how we live a century later and yet we can learn so much from how people lived in the past.

Although this book was difficult to read and depressing, I am glad that I read it. I really appreciate the two friends who read it with me. It really helped to have someone to sound off with about how upsetting things were in the story and to bring positive perspectives to light.