Progress

Here it is, the end of April – I figure this is a good time to do some reflection and think about how I’m doing with my 2017 goals. Each year I pick some area of my life to focus on and develop. This year I chose two things. One – I want to be more connected. Two – I want to be intentional about how I spend my time. These are just the goals. In order to achieve the first goal I started a book club and a blog. Each of these things gets me out of my little bubble and forces me to be more open and honest about my true self.

The second goal is an ongoing process which is always a challenge. If I had my way, I would read all day, alone in my own world. But, I have made some progress with this, and it is all because I am keeping myself in check. So many times, I am asked to go out for drinks or for lunch, and I automatically say no. It’s not that I don’t want to or that I don’t like the person who asked, it is just that I am programmed to choose to be alone. Normally, if I go, I have fun and enjoy myself. It’s that initial response that gets me in trouble. So, this year, I’m forcing myself to stop giving the programmed response and saying yes. (Mark is enjoying this year’s goal.)

I’m also forcing myself to express myself creatively. This doesn’t come natural so I have to set aside time and make myself do it and be ok with the result.  I’ve always wanted to do an art journal but I am such a perfectionist that I always put it off for another day. This month, I pulled out that empty journal that’s been in my drawer for years and opened it for the first time. It’s not perfect – put I made that first step! Here’s a couple of pages that I did.

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As much as I hate to admit it, I’m getting older, and there is so much I still haven’t done. Time is valuable. All those things that I have neglected to do will never happen unless I intentionally make them a priority. For instance, my health. I have spent the last several years being angry about my poor health. How stupid is that? That isn’t helping. So I have to work harder than some people to be fit  – so I can’t eat junk or drink sodas – so I have to go to the doctor more often – It’s a small price to pay to feel good and live longer. I’m not saying it’s easy; I fail almost daily. It’s a never-ending battle.

This month I’ve made a lot of progress. I think I’ve even surprised myself. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it. The things I’ve done may not seem like much, but it’s huge for me. I feel like I’m coming into myself; I’m actually proud of myself and who I am. It has taken me a while to accept this messy, imperfect self, but she’s not so bad.

I am actually looking forward to seeing what else I discover about myself in the next few months.

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Burntown

Jennifer McMahon’s newest novel, Burntown, is the first of her novels I have read.  She is a known mystery writer who I had always meant to read, but hadn’t. (The Winter People is on my TBR list!) I was graciously granted the opportunity to read this novel through NetGalley. I requested it purely based on the author and my wish to read her work. I had no other expectations going into it so you could say I was confused once I started reading. This is different.

The publisher’s summary:

Ashford, Vermont might look like your typical sleepy New England college town, but to the shadowy residents who live among the remains of its abandoned mills and factories, it’s known as “Burntown.”
 
Eva Sandeski, known as “Necco” on the street, has been a part of this underworld for years, ever since the night her father Miles drowned in a flood that left her and her mother Lily homeless. A respected professor, Miles was also an inventor of fantastic machines, including one so secret that the plans were said to have been stolen from Thomas Edison’s workshop. According to Lily, it’s this machine that got Miles murdered.
 
Necco has always written off this claim as the fevered imaginings of a woman consumed by grief. But when Lily dies under mysterious circumstances, and Necco’s boyfriend is murdered, she’s convinced her mother was telling the truth. Now, on the run from the man called “Snake Eyes,” Necco must rely on other Burntown outsiders to survive.
 
There are the “fire eaters,” mystical women living off the grid in a campsite on the river’s edge, practicing a kind of soothsaying inspired by powerful herbs called “the devil’s snuff”; there’s Theo, a high school senior who is scrambling to repay the money she owes a dangerous man; and then there’s Pru, the cafeteria lady with a secret life.
 
As the lives of these misfits intersect, and as the killer from the Sandeski family’s past draws ever closer, a story of edge-of-your-seat suspense begins to unfurl with classic Jennifer McMahon twists and surprises.

So. Yeah. A lot of things to process. I wasn’t sure what to make of this one.

When I read a mystery I expect a certain pattern; you introduce your characters and the plot and then provide clues along the way to keep the reader engaged. This story spent a lot of time on character development before getting into the action. Not to mention one of the main heroes isn’t introduced until the middle of the story. There were some suspenseful moments leading to the climax that I enjoyed. By the end, I was engaged and surprised, so I think all the elements of a proper mystery were there but maybe it’s  just a unique style I am not used to.

I thought the depiction of mental illness and homelessness was done well; although, I have to admit, I didn’t realize Lily had a mental illness right away. I think that had to do with the fact that I was so focused on trying to figure out the plot that I missed important cues understanding the characters.

I’m not a fan of the supernatural, but I didn’t mind it being in this story. I thought it lent a good thrill factor. I think she could have added even more of that and it would have added to the mystery!

All in all, I enjoyed the book. I will definitely read her other work. Now that I’m familiar with her style, I will be prepared for a little crazy. (That’s not a bad thing!)

Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

Every Last Lie

Mary Kubica published her first book just 3 short years ago, in 2014. The Good Girl became a bestseller – and I eagerly devoured it. I was thrilled (pun intended) to find an author in the thriller genre who could write well without being cheesy. Since then, she’s churned out three more thrillers, and she’s grown to be a favorite author in that genre. Personally, I didn’t care much for her last two books, Pretty Baby and Don’t You Cry, so, I gotta admit, I was apprehensive about this one.

The publisher synopsis goes like this.

Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon. 

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit. 

Told in the alternating perspectives of Clara’s investigation and Nick’s last months leading up to the crash, master of suspense Mary Kubica weaves her most chilling thriller to date—one that explores the dark recesses of a mind plagued by grief and shows that some secrets might be better left buried.

Oh. My. Lanta.  This book got me. It gave me all the feels. The synopsis doesn’t mention this but she had just had a baby 4 days before! So here she is– hormonal, sleep-deprived, and overwhelmed — but then she has to deal with losing her husband in this way. I can’t even. She made so many mistakes in handling this, but who wouldn’t? On top of all that, her mother has Alzheimer’s, her dad tries to help but he has his own worries, and the dental practice her husband owned is struggling to stay afloat. The troubles mount up one after the other as you read and this poor woman can’t catch a break. My heart broke for her. I caught myself praying for this woman numerous times before I realized this is FICTION.

I liked the alternating voices telling the story; I think it added to the suspense. I was engaged from the beginning. I also felt like I was getting to know the characters on a personal level. I sympathized with both of them this way.

To sum it all up, there are a few things left unresolved at the end, but it could be intentional. If anybody knows Ms. Kubica, give me her number. Drinks are on me! In all seriousness, though, I raced through this book so fast because I couldn’t wait to get to the ending. It is highly likely that I could have missed key details. (Maybe I should read it again.) If you are a fan of Paula Hawkins, Gilly Macmillan, Kimberly McCreight, (and yes, I’ll say it) Gillian Flynn, then you’d like this one. I think this one will surpass her first novel.

Goodreads rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I received an advanced copy of Every Last Lie from NetGalley, which is why I’m able to provide a review before it is released. You can purchase this book on June 27, 2017.

 

 

The Other Widow

I’m going to be honest right up front. I picked this novel for our book club strictly for the author. I read Susan Crawford’s debut novel, The Pocket Wife, on vacation a couple years ago. It was a fast-paced psychological thriller; something I craved after the massive popularity of Gone Girl. So, I was not expecting her next novel to be a slow, layered, character study of women and the impact of deception in their lives. It’s almost as if she got too caught up in the character development and didn’t take the time to put together a satisfying plot.

The premise of The Other Widow seems like it could work. It begins with a tragic accident in which three women are individually affected and presented their perspectives in alternating points of view. Then, she threw in a little mystery to bring these three women together. It was disjointed, in my opinion. I had to keep going back to reread certain parts to clear up my confusion about the story. There are so many secondary characters and situations that detracted from the main plot. In the end, I still had unresolved questions.

My book club group agreed that there was just too much going on. We would have liked to see less red herrings and more focus on the central characters. It was difficult keeping all the clues straight, only to find that the clues weren’t important to the story at all. I was actually quite frustrated by that at the end of the book.

I think her writing is good, don’t get me wrong. I just thought maybe this shouldn’t have been marketed as a thriller. To me, it would have been better to market this as a “women’s fiction” about the psychological impacts of grief, deception, infidelity, and obsession. It wasn’t fast-paced enough to be considered a thriller.

One interesting thing about this book is that there are 3 different fonts used; one for each woman’s point of view. I thought it was a nice way to emphasize their individual personalities.

I probably won’t be recommending this one to anyone. If you want to read a good thriller, pick up her first novel, The Pocket Wife. (Come to think of it, why didn’t I just pick that one for the book club?)

Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Our wine selection for this meeting was appropriately named “Tall Dark Stranger” to tie in with the mysterious man following our protagonist. It was a delicious Malbec from Argentina which I will definitely be buying again! You can find it at Target.

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Spring into reading!

Oh, how I love spring! Everything is fresh and new; the days are longer, birds are chirping and daffodils are blooming everywhere. I like to take this time to mentally recharge. I am lucky to live in a beautiful old neighborhood with hundreds of trees (which means hundreds of birds, squirrels and other “critters”) so I like to sit on my back patio at dawn and dusk. It’s so relaxing to get back to nature and all the sights and sounds that come along with it. One of my favorite things about April is that my azalea bushes and dogwood trees start budding. I never knew how much I loved nature until I moved to this neighborhood.

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As I begin to venture outside I start feeling the itch to read books in tune with the season. When I think of the type of book that would be preferable this time of year, I think of books about renewal or change, set in beautiful landscapes with elegant prose. I also think light-hearted, easy-reading is best (for some reason). I know a lot of us take road trips for spring break so it’s nice to have a quick, fun read handy for things like that.

I put together a short list of some of my favorites that I thought you might enjoy reading this spring.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George – This is one of my all-time favorites. I mean, a floating bookstore with a man who prescribes novels like a medicine for those who visit? I was smiling the whole time I read this one. This is tailor-made for book lovers like me.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty – This is another one of my faves! It might be good for those who have been married for awhile and have found themselves where they never thought they’d be. It will make you want to find your inner 28 year old self and ask some hard questions. We tend to forget where we started from.

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomon – This is just beautifully written. I am drawn to stories with interesting characters in a lovely setting, but particularly when it’s in the English countryside. (Think Downton Abbey…) I don’t know about you but whenever I think of spring, I imagine rolling hills of wildflowers and lush green grass like you’d see in the English country.

The Language of Flowers  by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – This is an obvious choice (flowers=spring), but I genuinely loved this book. Not only does it contain elaborate descriptions of flowers and their Victorian language to convey romantic expressions, it is, at its core, a moving story of survival and change.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – A secret garden, an old book of fairy tales, and a mystery? Sign me up! Kate Morton is one of my favorite authors and this is my favorite novel written by her. I think it is a wonderful book to get lost in as you lay in your backyard hammock.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Because, Pemberley. As I mentioned, I think of English countrysides when I think spring, so naturally this book came to mind. It is light and witty and fun. Even if you’ve already read it (most of us have) it doesn’t hurt to revisit the classics from time to time. I am currently listening to the audio version read by Rosamund Pike and it is quite entertaining. Highly recommend.

 

If you like a little more edge, here’s a couple of my favorite suspense novels that might be good spring reading:

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin – Yeah, I obviously picked this for it’s title. But…it is so good! This is not cheesy, run-of-the-mill suspense. If you’re in the mood for a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing, pick this one. You won’t be able to put it down.

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight – Another psychological suspense story set at the end of the winter. What makes McCreight’s books different is the way she structures her novels. She tells the story through different mediums; emails, newspaper articles and comments on social media (Ha!) It makes for a quick read without losing your interest. (Perfect for vacation!) I also recommend her first novel, Reconstructing Amelia.

BONUS PICK:

If you are looking for a challenge, try “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante. This is the first of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. It is a complex saga telling the story of two friends who grew up in Naples, Italy in the 1950s. The writing is perfect. I was captivated by these characters. If you’re looking to be swept away by a lavish, spellbinding story, this is the one for you.

I’d love to hear from you. Be sure to comment and let me know what you are reading this spring. My husband and I will be visiting some nearby hiking trails in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois to explore and enjoy nature before the heat and humidity of summer hits.

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Our dog, Maverick, is just as excited about the springtime activities! That means more walks and frequent visits to the local dog park.

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When Breath Becomes Air

 

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One of my stretch goals this year is to read more non-fiction, particularly memoirs. I kept hearing this book mentioned on podcasts and saw it on several “must-read” lists, so I chose “When Breath Becomes Air” for my first foray into the memoir realm. I am so glad I did!

Paul Kalanithi was a 36 year old neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer right as he was completing his residency. The journey he goes through, from acceptance to denial (yes – he goes through the grief process backwards) is tragic, yet somehow inspiring. He was courageous without even meaning to be. For so many of us, a death diagnosis would be enough to knock us down and make us give in to the cancer. This guy was different. He kept living.

This book will make you see life in a different way. Kalanithi always wondered what makes a meaningful life and made it part of his life’s mission. He searched for meaning in literature, in science, and in the brain, and then by being a patient facing his own mortality. What he found the most challenging was trying to figure out what makes life worth living in the face of death. His writing is beautiful. I will be thinking about this man’s life story for a long time to come. I urge you to read this. You won’t be sorry.

I will be recommending this to everyone. Heck, I may just buy a copy for them.

Goodreads rating: 5 stars