4 star reviews, Book reviews, contemporary fiction

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

4/5 stars

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This book opens with Zach hiding in a closet with his first grade class, their teacher trying to keep the kids quiet as a gunman rages through the school.  The kids hear the pops from the gun.  Finally, the police come and escort the teacher and students to a nearby church, but not before they see the blood sprayed over the halls and students laying dead on the ground.  Without giving too much away, this book takes you through the aftermath as one family heals from this terrible tragedy.

I thought this book was excellent and very well done.  I think it showed parents whose grief consumed them in a realistic way and who didn’t have anything left to give their child.  I think it was very real, with very flawed characters.  I am sure it is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time.

This book was narrated by 6 year old Zach.  In some ways, I found his innocence made it easier to tackle difficult topics, because although the reader understood what was going on, Zach did not seem to.  I also found that I love reading children’s views and perspectives of family life.  A book narrated by an adult would never have mentioned some of the mundane details this book mentioned, but those details added so much to the story and gave an accurate picture of the family and what they were like as individuals and together.

****

School shootings were not the issue they are now when I was growing up in the 1980s.  I am always asking myself why?  What changed in our society?

I do not subscribe to the philosophy that it is additives in our food.  Or

We are more stressed as a society.  The population has doubled since I graduated from high school in 1990, I think more people fighting for space can definitely bring us closer to the end of our ropes.  We have also become more scheduled, we do more and we have our kids do more activities and that adds strain to our days.  The special effects for movies and videogames lend themselves to more spectacular violence, so there is that.  There used to be homes for mentally ill people and that was not positive, but the alternative does not seem to be either; I think we need to find some common ground where there is government sponsored help for the mentally ill (government sponsored because once the mentally ill individual becomes an adult, they would no longer be on their parents insurance and the parents may not be able to afford the care).

I am not a proponent of taking away guns.  I think any regulation in this area will lead to people getting guns through the black market.  I am not a fan of the NRA because I feel that their stance on things is pro-gun manufacturers more than pro-gun owners and quite frankly, I think the NRA gives gun owners a bad name with their statements supporting guns that look like cell phones or plans to build guns being readily available.

I think one of the biggest issues and I know this is going to be unpopular, but one of the biggest issues is parent involvement.  I think a lot of parents have a lot going on and they are just not involved with their kids and don’t know what is going on.  It could be a mental health issue or a case of bullying pushing a kid too far or a case of a kid who feel ostracized or wants attention.  I don’t believe you have to be mentally ill to want to harm other people, I think there are times when a mentally stable person can be pushed to that.  I think if parents made more time to talk to their kids and heck, spy on their kids, that could make a difference.  Not that I am blaming parents for this, but I think it’s part of the equation.

I think we need to ask ourselves what has changed in our society in the last 25 years that could have lead to school shootings being such a prevalent issue and take measures as a society to change those things.

 

 

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4 star reviews, Book reviews, Women's Fiction

The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld

4 stars

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When Becca was 15, she had cancer and her friends made her a tape where they all acted out Saturday Night Live-type skits to cheer her up.  Now it’s 25 years later and they have a reunion, each friend is in a different plant with different issues.

There were things about this book that I LOVED: I loved when Becca and Nolan first met; I loved that the book takes place in and around New York City, which is where I love.  I thought Becca and Nolan’s characters were very realistic and very well developed and brought up some very interesting points regarding what a spouse has a right to say and have an opinion on and when they just need to be supportive.  I thought Seth’s character and Lexi’s characters were also very real and believable and sympathetic.

This book was different than anything I had read before and my husband and I had some interesting conversations because of it.

 

4 star reviews, Book reviews, Women's Fiction

Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman

4/5 stars

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Frances is a stay-at-home mom who likes to take care of people – she takes care of her whole LA neighborhood – and one day she accidentally catches her neighbor having an affair.  At first, I was like, who cares?  But the writing in this book was so good and I LOVED Frances’s funny, self-deprecating character and there was just so much honesty about competitive moms and bratty kids and drunk husbands, that I couldn’t put it down and before I knew it, I DID CARE.  There was A LOT MORE going on here than I originally thought.  There is a lot of honesty about life in this book, told in a very funny way.  I highly recommend it.

* * * * *

The last few weeks of summer, I really didn’t read that much.  I was so busy with family and friends, getting in beach time and making the most of the last few weeks of summer. Why does summer seem to just go so fast?  It seems like one day I am talking to a friend about all the things we will do this summer – beach days, bonfires at the beach, backyard bbqs, drinking margaritas on the deck while listening to Jimmy Buffett, concerts in the park…and the next thing I know it’s Labor Day weekend and we have done maybe half those things if we are lucky.  But we did have a great summer, for that I am grateful!

If I am totally honest, the other reason that I have not been reading as much as I usually do is that a friend recommended I try watching Harlots and I am totally hooked!  Like obsessed!  It’s kind of a weird show to admit that you love, but there you go.  I am fascinated by a world in which 1 in 5 women were prostitutes, where a mother sells her daughter’s virginity and looks for wealthy “keepers” for her daughters while they turn tricks for her.  I can’t decide if I like Margaret Wells or not.  I despise Lydia Quigley and I love Nancy Birch.  It’s just so good.

In addition to Harlots, my husband and I were obsessed last fall with Ozark and we are once again obsessed.  The new season is not as good as the first, imo.  I liked Laura Linney’s character in the first season so much and I don’t like her now.  Did anyone else think there was a nod to Love Actually when she was talking about her brother and his mental illness and how difficult he was?  I almost thought it was a continuation of Love Actually for a moment!

My girls started their college classes.  They are both attending community college, which we thought was a good transition after homeschooling.  Neither of them really knows what they want to do yet.  Also, I have friends who teach at big universities who have said that community college is so much better for the core classes because there are only 30-40 other students in the core classes at community college, whereas at big universities they are taught in lecture halls with hundreds of students.  So that has been an adjustment for all of us.

We’ve been watching a lot of movies lately.  I am thrilled that the girls still watch movies with us.  We have watched Adrift – which was excellent; Tag – which was hilarious; and, of course, The Book Club.  Our girls watched Blockers together, but said it wasn’t appropriate to watch with parents, they did say it was good, so we want to get that one night.

My husband has also been asking me out on dates, which has been really fun.  The girls have late classes on Tuesday and Thursday and are not home for dinner.  My husband has been calling me in the morning and asking if I want to go get sushi or go to our favorite vegan place or go for a late day hike.  It’s been really fun!!  I feel almost like we are dating again!!

Fall is my favorite season and I am so looking forward to making soups and stews and wearing sweaters.  I am looking forward to crisp air and the leaves changing.  We have several hikes planned.  And I am looking forward to reading a lot more!!

 

4 star reviews, thriller

Lies by T.M. Logan

4/5 stars

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My Review:

Riveting, enthralling, captivating, fast moving thriller

I liked Joe Lynch, he was a nice guy, if a little meek and mild, but he is a good dad and and a nice guy.

The whole story was crazy and kept me up late and had me thinking about the book during the day, anxious to get back to it and find out what happened.

Joe thinks his wife is at work, but he and his young son spot her car in traffic, then see her turn into a hotel parking lot.  They follow and Joe gets into an altercation with their family friend, Ben just as his son has an asthma attack.  When Joe returns to see if Ben is ok, Ben is gone.

Ben’s wife reports Ben missing.  But Ben starts sending Joe shocking messages that he is going to take everything from Joe.  But, since Ben is missing, Joe becomes the suspect behind Ben’s disappearance because of the altercation at the hotel.

My heart went out to Ben and I was rooting for him the whole time, but could not predict what would happen in this book.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes psychological thrillers.

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

From the Publisher:

WHAT IF YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS BASED ON LIES?
When Joe Lynch stumbles across his wife driving into a hotel car park while she’s supposed to be at work, he’s intrigued enough to follow her in.

And when he witnesses her in an angry altercation with family friend Ben, he knows he ought to intervene.

But just as the confrontation between the two men turns violent, and Ben is knocked unconscious, Joe’s young son has an asthma attack – and Joe must flee in order to help him.

When he returns, desperate to make sure Ben is OK, Joe is horrified to find that Ben has disappeared.

And that’s when Joe receives the first message . . .

 

4 star reviews, contemporary fiction, romance, thriller

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia

4.5/5 stars

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From the Publisher:

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

My Review:

4/5 stars

I loved this book and read it in one day–I don’t remember the last time I did that!

This book was like The Great Alone meets Magic Hour (both by Kristin Hannah) with a little Child Finder by Rene Denfeld.

Lucas and Josiah Blackthorne disappeared from society ten years ago and were assumed dead.  Then Lucas is caught robbing a store.  He is violent and nonverbal, so he is sent to a psychiatric facility where he meets Maya who is a speech therapist, wrestling with her own demons.

 

Beautiful setting of the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, a strong female lead character, a thrilling escape, a captivating mysteray and a little romance…this book has everything.  This book also explores issues of mental health in our society and how one action can have a snowball effect and affect people for decades.  I also felt that the author made a statement about power and people who think differently or want different things than the norm.  I thought these issues were well thought out and presented and encouraged deeper thought for the reader.

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

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

4/5 stars

I was very fortunate to get an eArc of this from Netgalley and Park Row Publishers.

I LOVE Mary Kubica’s books.  I have read them all and I loved them all.  Pretty Baby was her most unique book, different than anything I had read, but When the Lights Go Out might be a close second, if not the most unique book I have read of hers to date.

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Jessie Sloane’s mother is dying of cancer.  It was just her and her mom.  No dad, no real friends, no extended family.  So it all falls on twenty year old Jessie when her mom dies.  The stress of it all is too much for her.  She has no support and things begin to spiral out of control.

This book is a two-part narrative, with Jessie telling the contemporary story of her mother’s death, but there is another story at play: a woman’s journal entries from the late 1990s.  The journal entries tell a beautiful love story.

This is a book that can go in a lot of different directions.  There is a lot here to think about.

I enjoyed this novel immensely.  I would have liked it to have gone into more detail on certain things – but hopefully, it will give someone else the idea to flesh those parts of the story out more.  Without giving too much away, I would say that this is a story about life and family, love and struggle, what we do for love and how we identify ourselves through our relationships.

It is a very powerful novel and one that would be GREAT for book club discussions.

 

 

 

4 star reviews, thriller, Women's Fiction

Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia

4/5 stars

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Recently, I received a galley copy of Mindy Mejia’s new book, Leave No Trace, which is coming out September 4.  I had never read anything by Mindy Mejia and I absolutely LOVED Leave No Trace, so when I saw that she had another novel, I knew that I wanted to read it.

This book is about Hattie, an 18 year old girl who is wise beyond her years, growing up in a rural farming town in Minnesota and dreaming of moving to New York City.

My Review:

This book opens with Hattie attempting to run away.  The next chapter is the discovery of her dead body.  I have an 18 year old daughter and I almost put this book down because it hit too close to home.  But I LOVED–like I can not stress enough how much I LOVED “Leave No Trace” so I persisted.  And I am so glad that I did.  This book is a wild ride.  I thought I had figured out who murdered Hattie, but all I can say is: Read to the very last page.

This book is told from the point of view of three characters: Hattie; the chief of police of their small town and her dad’s best friend, Del; and Hattie’s teacher who also directs the school play that Hattie stars in, Peter Lund. I will be honest.  I did not like Hattie.  I think she was a sociopath.  She played people and was extremely self-centered, she had no feeling for other people.  But I really did like both Del and Peter and I found them sympathetic characters.

This book is different from other thrillers in that it takes you deep into the many layers of a sociopath’s personality.  It was also shocking in parts.  If you like thrillers, don’t miss this one and pre-order your copy of Leave No Trace or put in your library hold today!!

 

 

From the Publisher:

No one knows who she really is…

Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good girlfriend. But Hattie wants something more, something bigger, and ultimately something that turns out to be exceedingly dangerous. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death, the tragedy rips right through the fabric of her small-town community.

It soon comes to light that Hattie was engaged in a highly compromising and potentially explosive secret online relationship. The question is: Did anyone else know? And to what lengths might they have gone to end it? Hattie’s boyfriend seems distraught over her death, but had he fallen so deeply in love with her that she had become an obsession? Or did Hattie’s impulsive, daredevil nature simply put her in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading her to a violent death at the hands of a stranger?

Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to death.

 

4 star reviews, Book reviews, Childrens' Books, Yoga

Let’s Play Yoga by Márcia De Luca + Lúcia Barros

4/5 stars

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I began practicing yoga to get back in shape after my second daughter was born and it changed my life.  I have struggled with an eating disorder since I was 12 years old.  I had never found an exercise routine that I liked enough to really stick with for more than a few months.  But yoga was different.  I toned muscle, but it also felt good.  Really good.  So good that I found myself wanting to do it and missing it if I didn’t do it.  I found myself able to breathe deeper and aware of my breath all the time.  I found myself calmer and more at peace when I practiced and feeling a little harried and crazed and unfocused when I did not practice.  I have had a regular almost daily practice for over sixteen years and I sing the praises of yoga to all who will listen.  I have turned my husband – who had never exercised outside of the occasional bike ride and one of my good friends – who had felt they couldn’t do yoga because they weren’t flexible enough – into devotees too.

So, when I saw books aimed at turning kids on to this amazing form of exercise, I was like, “Yeah!  Right on!” and I wanted to know more.

Let’s Play Yoga is a very cute book.  It starts out by explaining that ‘yoga’ means ‘union’ and that we are all stronger together.  It then goes on to explain that yamas are things to avoid – a lot of candy, bad thoughts, etc. and niyamas are things to do more of – like exercise and thinking positive thoughts.  I loved this simple explanation and I admit that even after all of these years practicing yoga, I never understood yamas and niyamas so clearly.

Let’s Play Yoga makes yoga a game kids can play.  It starts with ten rules, such as not being violent, telling the truth, right use of energy and not being jealous.

Then the authors created stories to go with the poses.  So Tadasana or Mountain pose, becomes Tada and is the story of a girl who stands tall like a mountain.  Then there are examples of how kids can stand tall and how it helps them focus and balance better when they practice this pose.

I thought it was a cute book and a cute way to teach kids about yoga.  I loved The Ten Basic Principles or Rules of Yoga – -those are such important lessons for all of us to learn and I can always use a reminder.  I also loved that the book explained what Sanskrit was and used the Sanskrit terms for the poses in the stories.  This book not only teaches the basics of yoga, but also presents ways for kids to bring yoga into the rest of their lives or as yogis say “off the mat”.

Credit line: Let’s Play Yoga! How to Grow Calm Like a Mountain, Strong Like a Warrior, and Joyful Like the Sun © Lúcia Barros and Márcia De Luca, 2014. Illustrations © Bruna Assis Brasil, 2014. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com

You can purchase this title on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or wherever books are sold.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Experiment Publishing for my copy!

4 star reviews, Book reviews, Cookbooks, Health, plant based

The China Study Cookbook: Revised and Expanded by LeAnne Campbell

4/5 stars

I have been a vegetarian for more than 30 years.  In the last few years, the emphasis on healthy whole foods, plant based diets and organic foods have really made being a vegetarian so much easier.  About a year ago, my daughter introduced me to a vegan vlogger Ellen Fisher and her sister Hannah McNeely, who is also an ethical vegan.  I love their videos and they have inspired me to eat less dairy and less eggs and less fish (I am not quite there yet as far as finding enough dinner recipes that my whole family likes, but I am completely vegan 3-4 days a week and vegan until dinner the rest of the week).

A few weeks ago, Ellen mentioned The China Study in her video and when I saw this cookbook pop up on Netgalley, I knew I wanted to check it out and hopefully find more dinner recipes!

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Eating a whole food, plant based diet greatly reduces risks for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

One of my concerns about going completely plant based is protein.  As a vegetarian, I rely on eggs and fish for some of my protein (legumes, seeds and nuts provide some as well).  What I learned from this book and others, however, is that Americans consume too much protein and that actually increases risk of cancers.

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The first recipe I made from this book was Dominican Rice and Beans with Fresh Salad, which the author says is her sons’ favorite meal.  We liked it a lot, although this style of cooking greatly reduces oil and salt and that was a big hit for us in terms of flavor.  We added some hot sauce, but we really wanted to add salt.  So that is something we need to think about in terms of how we want to adjust – do we want to add salt or get used to using less salt?  I have gone salt-free before and it takes a while but eventually I did get used to it and found the food flavorful enough.

The second recipe I made was the Baked Tofu which used coconut aminos and we found to be perfectly flavorful and one of the best recipes we have ever used for baked tofu.

I was eager to try some of the baking recipes, because I always want baked goods but am always trying to eat healthy.  I made the Blackberry Lemon Tea Cakes (I subbed raspberries because our raspberry bushes were thick with fruit).  We also tried the Almond Topped Blueberry Coffee Cake.  We found both to be very good, but to taste a little healthy, which we actually appreciated because it gave us the sweetness we craved without feeling overly decadent.

I have also tried some of the salad dressings, as I am trying to get away from my kale massaged with oil and salt and garlic.  I liked the Lemon Tahini dressing and the Asian Ginger dressing.  I have to get the ingredients for the Mango Azteca Dressing so I can try that one.

If you are interested in reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes and are open to eating less salt and oil and more whole food plants, then you should check this book out.  Yes, some of the food is slightly less flavorful than what you may be used to, but you will undoubtedly feel better eating it.

4 star reviews, Book reviews, Cookbooks, Health, vegan

Vegan Yack Attack On The Go by Jackie Sobon

4/5 stars

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I hope that those of you who follow me because we share a love of fiction will not mind if I review some vegan/vegetarian books and some yoga books.

I have been a vegetarian for 30 years and lately, more and more I am finding that I don’t want to eat dairy or eggs.  I know that part of this is that being a vegetarian has changed so much in the last ten years.  More and more people are eating healthier, organic and plant based – it’s no longer just for crunchy hippie types.  There are tons of blogs and cookbooks for plant based dishes and the innovation has been amazing!  Thirty years ago, at 16, I lived on vegetarian chili, pasta, salads and peanut butter sandwiches.  Now there are so many amazing and delicious recipes and more and more I am finding that I don’t want to eat dairy and eggs because there is just no reason to and I feel better when I don’t.

I will say that I don’t judge other people for eating meat or dairy or eggs.  I think we all need to do what makes us feel our best and I think often there is a learning curve with that.  I will also say that although I do follow a plant-based lifestyle, I don’t follow it blindly, I do my own research and I do what makes sense for me and for my family.

There are so many different ways to eat – paleo, vegan, raw food, Mediterranean – and they all claim to be the healthiest for you.  How are you supposed to know what is really the best way to eat?  Everyone agrees that more plants and less meat; more whole foods and less processed foods are healthy so start there.  Then listen to your body.  Moderation is key.  Drink plenty of water.  Move around more.  Anything that seems extreme is probably not the best idea.

I am so happy to be part of the book review community and when I signed up for Netgalley, I never thought about the possibility of reviewing vegan and vegetarian books or yoga books, but those are things that I am passionate about, too and so I hope you will bear with me.

My Review:

Some of the things I LOVE about this book: There are bulk cooking recipes, 30 minute recipes and lunch box recipes!  As a busy mom who tries to eat healthy, I appreciate being able to make food ahead of time or quickly.

My daughters and I tried the Recovery Smoothie which is like a decadent chocolate milkshake and soooo good and creamy and delicious!  I also made the Lentil Balls with Zesty Rice and my husband said to put it in the rotation!  My daughter is dying to make the Pumpkin Maple Donut Holes but she’s decided that sounds very fall-ish so she is forcing herself to wait until fall.

The Cauliflower Curry Grill Packets, Campfire French Toast and Campfire Banana Splits seem like they could be fun for camping.  We are going to a vegan potluck soon and I am planning to make the Peanut Butter S’Mores Dip.

I love the author’s take on ethnic dishes like Kluski – like the author’s father, my father is Polish, too, and I was excited to have a vegan option for this!  I was also excited to have vegan recipes for hearty fall and winter meals like pot pies.  I find it’s easy to be vegan in warm weather when fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful for salads and it’s a little more of a struggle when fall hits and there are not a lot of stick-to-your-ribs hearty meal options…but innovative folks like Jackie Sobon are creating delicious, hearty vegan recipes and for that, they are my heroes!

I would like to thank Netgalley and Fair Winds Press for my copy!