Book reviews

Big Decisions

Jason and I both grew up with dogs and cats. The apartment we were living in when we first got married did not allow dogs, but after a year of living there, we were friends with the owners and they allowed us to get a dog. Our Sydney Bean. When we bought our first house, we got her a brother, Oliver.

That was 20-something years ago and dogs, unfortunately, only live 12-16 years or so. After both dogs had passed, we adopted a puppy and I was horribly allergic. I had known that I was allergic when I moved out of my parents’ house and my asthma and chronic congestion cleared up, but after living with our dogs for 16+ years, I thought I was ok with that breed. Turns out I was not.

Over the last 6 years, I have had every kind of allergy treatment I can find from traditional shots to homeopathic sublingual drops to NAET. My seasonal allergies seem to be cured, but my allergies to dogs remains.

Last year, I decided that I wanted to do something to get dogs out of shelters. After talking it over with my family, we decided to foster dogs. We have fostered 7 dogs in the last year and each one was so cute and so special. Since we don’t have a dog of our own, we have been able to foster dogs that are ill. We have fostered two dogs that had canine influenza and one that came to us with kennel cough. These were dogs that were scared and alone in shelters, not feeling well. They were in quarantine so as not to expose other animals to their sickness. They were not being shown to prospective adopters and their time was running out. The rescue we work with was able to step in because we don’t have a dog and thus can foster one of these scared, lonely, sick animals.

We changed our Mother’s Day plans to pick up this little guy in Brooklyn on Mother’s Day. He had lived with two other dogs and a homeless man. He had kennel cough. He was so scared and shaking when we went to pick him up. It pained me to have to keep him a carrier all the way home, although he didn’t let out a peep.

When we got him home and walked him, he just kept looking up at us and smiling and wagging his tail. He knew we had rescued him. He was grateful.

He was skin and bones. We could barely get him to eat. He was very timid, but he would sit on my lap or my daughters’ laps and fall asleep if we pet him. His fur was matted and sticky and stinky.

We bathed him and spoiled him with treats. We cut the mats from his fur. We bought him toys. We laughed with glee when his ball rolled down the stairs and he ran down the stairs after it – he had spent a week afraid of the stairs!

Over the last two weeks, he has wiggled his adorable way into our hearts. AND I am not allergic to him. We would love to adopt him.

But we are torn. If we adopt him, then we can no longer foster the sick dogs that no one is seeing, the dogs who are sick and scared and alone.

We have the opportunity to find this little guy THE PERFECT HOME. There are hundreds of people on the waiting list for a dogs from the rescue we work with and in the past, we have been so happy about the people they find to adopt the dogs we fostered and we have kept in touch with the people, and they send us pictures and updates about their dogs.

It’s a tough decision. Please pray that we make the right decision.

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Book reviews

Life Skills and Empowerment

Piper has walked dogs in our neighborhood for years and last year she cut grass for several neighbors. But this year, she decided that she was ready for something more.

Piper’s very most favorite place to go is a small cafe in a nearby town that serves juices, smoothies, salads and acai bowls. If I ask the girls if they want to go out for lunch, Piper always wants to go there. In April, she called the cafe that she loves and asked if they were hiring. They were! She created a resume and sent it to them, filled out the application and had a talking interview and a working interview and she got the job! She loves it! It’s such a positive place with such a good vibe that I could not be happier about her first job.

The owner of the cafe writes positive messages on a door in the cafe each week.

Since we homeschool, the girls have had the opportunity to take classes that interest them. Two years ago, they were interested in learning American Sign Language and took several classes at our community center school. They enjoyed it so much that they decided to expand their knowledge and take a class last semester at community college. One of the requirements of the class was to attend a deaf event. Both of my girls and a group of friends attended an event called Deaf Chat Linden and they liked it so much that they now go regularly.

Last week, Piper was at work and a woman came into the cafe. She signed the sign for “9” and then said, “Greek”. Piper realized that she was hearing impaired, so she stepped in and finger-spelled “Greek”. The woman was happy and excited and relieved. She was able to give her order in ASL and Piper was able to ask questions in ASL. Both Piper and this woman were empowered.

I could not be more proud of her.

Book reviews

We Are Here Now

A year ago the idea of the girls working and going to community college overwhelmed all of us.  We liked our routine.  We liked our comfort zone.  We were happy with the life we had been living for the last few years and we didn’t really want it to change.  But we knew that in order for the girls to grow as people, it needed to change.  They started community college.  Allie got a job at a store in the mall.  They made new friends.  They did well in their classes.  The store Allie worked at closed at the end of March (yet another learning experience) and she found another job, this time at a day care center (which she LOVES!) and this lead to more friends, more new experiences.  A month ago, on a whim, Piper called her favorite cafe that serves smoothies and juices and Acai bowls and salads and inquired if they were hiring – and they were!  And she went through the interview process and she was hired.  She has had the best month working there and we have seen such a difference in her confidence.  They both got straight A’s this semester in community college.  I don’t mean to brag. But…

We are here now.  We are at the next step.

Piper is still not ready to get her learner’s permit.  And that’s ok.  Our pediatrician has advised us not to rush her and that seems like good advice.  That means that I will stay at the library longer and not look for a job with more hours until she can get herself to work and school on her own.  And I am ok with that.  I love my job and the people I work with.  Working with the general public can be trying at times, but since I only do it three days a week, it’s really not that bad.  It also means that I am getting a new car!  I was holding on to my beloved Prius so that Piper didn’t have to learn on something brand new, but since she is not ready to learn yet and my car is 8 years old, it’s time for something new.  I want a Honda Fit.  There are 13 people who work at the library and 6 of them have a Honda Fit; three others have Honda Civics (one has a Subaru, one a Toyota Camry, I have the Prius and one has a Chevy).  All the Honda owners are all really happy with their cars.  I want a hatchback and not a sedan, so the Fit it is!  We have been joking at work about what color I will get and parking them all together.  There is an orange, a yellow, a red, a blue, a black and a silver.  I am thinking about getting white.

My life looks so different now than it did a year ago and even more different than it did two or three years ago.  I was so worried about what I would do with myself once the girls no longer needed me for lessons and playdates, but my days are full.  I work three days a week.  I clean and cook and shop.  I read.  I talk to friends.  I meet friends to walk or get coffee or lunch or go antiquing.  I Bookstagram.  I go to book events.  I foster dogs.  I do yoga.  I meditate. I paint furniture.  I work on projects for my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary next month.  I plan trips for Jason and I to go on (now that the girls no longer want to travel with us).  My life is full.  

We are here now.

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.

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.