Title: The Regulars

Author: Georgia Clark

A Fantasy More Than Skin Deep

Clark has penned a fun and thoughtful fantasy with more than skin deep implications centering on three close friends who are mysteriously offered a pretty potion that when taken orally transforms them into the most drop dead gorgeous versions of themselves, the ones they could never imagine themselves becoming even in their wildest dreams.

Now that that Evie, Krista, and Willow are beautiful, they need to navigate the world in their new forms while being treated quite differently than they were before. Evie is the primary protagonist who appears to be the glue in her circle of friends, the one with her feet most firmly on the ground as she tries to find her place in the cutthroat world of fluffy women’s magazine publishing.

Yes, this story is a stretch and the transformation itself is a disgustingly grotesque process that no one would want to live through. These twenty-something women agree to take on this experiment having no idea of what the short or long term effects are. They suffer through the changing back into their regular selves several times over until they each make their final decisions as to how they want to live their lives and on whose terms.

The book coincides nicely with telling societal questions asked many times over throughout the years. What would you do to be beautiful or thin or rich or any of the things that are seemingly out of reach and therefore coveted all the more? Would you do whatever it takes even if it meant putting your health, well- being or relationships on the line? It is hard to know how we would answer though I have heard more than a few people answer in the affirmative without any realistic idea of what they were agreeing to

This story comes with a warning. Be careful what you wish for because along with it, you just may find problems you didn’t anticipate and a longing for a life you didn’t appreciate nearly enough.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: The Trespasser

Author: Tana French

A Slow, Simmering Intelligent Thriller

Antoinette is the lead detective in the mysterious murder of a young woman, one who she swears she has met before. There is a somewhat promising suspect and one of her colleagues seems hell bent on her charging him and closing the case but Antoinette will not be cowed by anyone she does not trust and she trusts no one. Tough and unrelenting, Antoinette is a scrappy personality who has learned to rely only on herself. This case however as her stumped. It nags at Antoinette in disturbing ways and by the time she has it figured out, she is in way over her head.

It took a while to get past the unfamiliar rather heavy-handed cultural lingo and move into the meat of the story, not unexpected or unusual from an Irish writer, but reading as an American, I needed time to find my footing with the language which further slowed the pace.

French has written a sophisticated psychological thriller but the problem for me was it never moved past simmer. It was slow moving from start to finish. I was endlessly frustrated with the pace and the feeling that the story was moving around in circles. I would have loved to see about 100 pages trimmed and a quicker path to the ending. The ending itself was appropriate and mature but lacked the kind of fanfare that some may be looking for.

BRB Rating: Read It but only if you don’t mind a slower pace.

Title: The Secrets She Keeps

Author: Michael Robotham

Publication Date: July 11, 2017

A Fresh, Taut, Un-formulaic Thriller

What if you wanted something so badly, you would do anything to get it? Agatha only wants to be a wife and mother. Pregnant and single she idolizes a fellow pregnant mother from a distance, one whose very life she covets.

Meghan, pregnant with her third child is everything Agatha dreams she could be if only she were that blessed. She stalks Meghan with a fiery passion eventually befriending her, but what is her real motivation behind this relationship?

The drive toward natural motherhood takes an intense front and center role and drives behavior in this dark psychological thriller. Lives are scoped and perceived in ways that have nothing to do with reality. This is one of the central themes that plays out in two interesting ways, one through the perception that Meghan puts forth with her successful mommy blog while she is put down and ridiculed at home by an insensitive and over-stressed husband. The second has to do with the endless misconceptions Agatha has about Meghan’s life and who she is in comparison to her own life and her many serious unresolved issues.

What you get is a fresh, taut, and un-formulaic thriller that keeps turning up the heat right until the end. You also have a pair of female protagonists who are smart, shrewd, and oh so clever while being given almost no credit for these traits from the men who are most definitely not their equals. Being that Robotham is a man who is writing women, this just might be the most interesting reason of all to read the book.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: My Not So Perfect Life

Author: Sophie Kinsella

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

You Cannot Brand and Sell the Things That Matter Most.

Katie really wants to make it in London. She has a junior level job in branding and marketing at a prestigious firm, plenty of talent though no one seems to care, and a boss who is a nightmare on wheels. Hailing from the country, Katie works extra hard to shed her Somerset image and refine herself in all ways that seem to count. Then, out of the blue, Katie is fired from her job and left without a clue as to what to do next.

After returning home to Somerset to lick her wounds, her father and step mum present her with a latest business venture full of promise and potential. Katie agrees to help them for a brief period while she searches for another London job. During this time, Katie’s ex-boss makes an appearance and Katie learns a valuable lesson that things are often not what they seem to be.

My Not So Perfect Life is chock full of lessons in the vein of ‘the grass is always greener’ and things aren’t always what they seem’. Social media curation and the addictive lure of the screen plus buying into false notions that everyone else is living the perfect life except for you are heavily explored by a kind hearted protagonist that you will root for.

Lively, lighthearted, and thoroughly entertaining, My Not So Perfect Life is filled with valuable life lessons and useful reminders. You cannot brand and sell the things that matter most.

BRB Rating Read It.

Title: The Stars in Our Eyes

Author: Julie Klam

Publication Date: July 18, 2017

Twinkle Twinkle

Klam has written a funny, lighthearted book on why we lust after celebs and what it says about us culturally as well as individually.

Peppered with personal celeb encounters from her contributing friends, this somewhat scattered celeb sociology study actually names names. It is an enjoyable read, however nothing earth shattering is revealed.

The Stars in Our Eyes stays on the surface, there is only so deep one can dive with this subject matter. The nature of celebrity has changed over the years with the progression of technology, this is stated several times throughout the book. I think most adults over the age of thirty-five know this already.

Overall, this is a quick, fun read. It is far more nutritious than picking up a tabloid.

BRB Rating Read It.

Title: Falling

Author: Jane Green

Help, This Book Has Fallen and It Can’t Get Up

Emma and Dominic, what a fantastic couple, right. How convenient that she moves into his cottage-for-rent and he lives right next door, and is both hot and available. He has already proven he’s fatherhood material since he is the sole parent of a six year old son, Jesse, whose irresponsible, party-girl mother walked out on them both when Jesse was a baby.

English born Emma has had it with a string of failed romances after forging a successful career in banking. She moves to Westport, CT. to forge a quieter, more meaningful life. She shows a passion for interior decorating and ba-bam, she immediately has wealthy clients to work for. Presto career change-o. She is however thirty-seven years old and absolutely must find love before it’s too late. Will our heroine hook up? Oh, and will the extended family fall in line and behave?

Really?

Look, I love a good romance just as much as the next person but this story, though mildly entertaining, came across as trite and ridiculous. Something unexpected does occur at the end of the book and I suppose it was meant to rock our world but honestly, it was too late at this point to change direction because in the end, everything falls into place just as expected. This novel never shed its formulaic template. The silly little reference to a very famous song as the last lines of the book sum it up. This is one to skip.

BRB Rating: Skip It

Title: Hunger

Author: Roxane Gay

Publication Date: June 13, 2017

Gay has written a very compelling memoir of her body and what is like to live inside of it. After a horrific traumatic event suffered at the age of twelve which was relayed to no one, Gay recounts how she made the decision to build a fortress of flesh around herself so large that she could never be hurt again.

As you can imagine, this backfired in numerous ways and has caused a life of pain so profound that unless you have lived similar circumstances, is unfathomable. I could not help arriving at the conclusion several times over while reading that no one would ever choose the hell on earth that Gay has suffered over the years simply by inhabiting a body that is too large for this world yet each time Gay has lost any discernible amount of weight, the weight of vulnerability was too great a hurdle to overcome and she would gain it back again. My heart breaks for her but I want to be clear that I do not feel pity in the sense that I believe she is powerless nor do I believe for a second that that is what she is after.

What happened to her should never happen to anyone and reading her story will hit a visceral nerve that is uniquely ours. Her writing is honest and raw and gritty and real.

I do believe though that the power to be the size we choose rests solely with us and us alone and this book reaffirms that belief for me. In other words, if Gay could become this large, then she can without a doubt lose that weight and become physically smaller. She may never choose to do so and that is her choice. However, even in the retelling of something so horrific, I found a message of hope.

Gay writes about how the bigger you are the more invisible you become however I wonder how many in her life feel that her issues automatically trump theirs, no matter what they are and by that preemptive, she is actually larger than life? What kind of problem could anyone else have or how bad a day could anyone have compared to what she has to live with day in and day out? She has become untouchable and almost otherworldly. For a woman with so many talents and so much to offer, it seems that we all lose out. This was for me, the most tragic revelation. There is more than one way to leave this earth.

Gay does a remarkable job of reminding us just how complicated and complex people are. Throughout Hunger, I couldn’t help wondering what it truly cost her in keeping her secret from her family for so long. This was one of the areas I was most interested in learning more about because though I could understand her motivation from a logical, not having lived her life perspective, I wondered if things would have turned out much differently if she had confided in them early on? I am a firm believer in secrets such as the one she kept being one of the most destructive forces in life. Again, my heart breaks for this woman and I wish her peace and love.

Gay is a gifted writer and luckily for us, has chosen to communicate through the written word.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: Turbo Twenty-Three

Author: Janet Evanovich

Truckloads of Frozen Fun

I have been reading the Stephanie Plum series for so long that I often forget where I left off. Last one read was number twenty so I need to go back and pick up twenty-one and twenty-two. No matter because even though it’s a series, each book is a stand-alone with its own unique adventure and enough character backstory to get the drift.

Turbo Twenty-Three starts off with Stephanie and Lula eerily discovering a dead body left in a stolen ice cream delivery truck. The unknown body was dipped in chocolate and covered in nuts before being frozen stiff. Stephanie goes undercover at the ice cream plant for Ranger who is hired to rework the company’s security. Danger lurks around every corner when the company’s foreman is also found dead after being locked in the freezer, the one that is supposed to open from the inside.

The usual hijinks ensues along with Lula’s comic relief, Grandma’s new boyfriend, a sexy encounter with Ranger at Disneyworld, and a promise of engaged to be engaged by Morelli. The junk food orgy is alive and well and this time topped off with chocolate, nuts, whipped cream and a cherry.

BRB Rating: Read It

JULY 2017 BOOK OF THE MONTH

Title: Lincoln in the Bardo

Author: George Saunders

Publication Date: February 14, 2017

The Thinnest Line

The afterlife party is alive and well in this fight to save young Willie Lincoln’s soul after he dies from a bout with Typhoid. His father, the President spends an inordinate amount of time holding Willie’s body in the crypt while beyond the wall of life, a few do-gooder souls rally for redemption and act to move Willie out of the place known as the Bardo, a purgatorial type of holding ground where children have been known not to fare to well. President Lincoln is unwittingly used as a pawn in achieving the goal of moving Willie along to his real final resting place as spirits enter and exit his body at will, sometimes simultaneously. This in and out of occupying Lincoln’s body offers some of the story’s best revelations.

Told in Greek chorus or scripted style with a cast of colorful characters from all walks of life. The theories regarding whether we leave this earth with all our unresolved issues fully intact is a fascinating exploration unto itself. The spirits are shapeshifters yet remain recognizable to one another in all of their forms. The silent spirit of connection exists as death is the greatest of equalizers.

This widely imaginative and somewhat crazy tale mixes a factual historical event with a kind of creativity that seems well, otherworldly.

BRB Rating: Own It (There are many relatable and applicable lines that you will want to revisit again and again).

Title: First Comes Love

Author: Emily Griffin

Blood, Water, and the Ties that Bind

Meredith and Josie are sisters inextricably joined by blood and the defining death of their beloved older brother fifteen years earlier. They are very different people who often do not get along. They are also extremely judgmental of one another and their life choices, especially uptight and touchy Meredith, who literally finds fault with everything Josie says and does. Josie, the more free spirited of the two is more likely to extend the olive branch, yet she too harbors a rigid resentment over Meredith’s life choices

Both Meredith and Josie come to a major crossroads in each of their lives and could really use the support of one another as they continue to strive to find common ground, often failing as one misunderstanding after another compounds and additional resentments mount. The anniversary of their brother’s death brings to a head old wounds and secrets that have acted as a stop gap to each of them being able to move forward in their own lives.

The good news is that they never give up and both of them see the benefit of their shared history as they discover that their bond is strong enough to withstand multiple attempts at forging a stronger alliance.

This is ultimately a story of forgiveness, new beginnings, and the ties that bind, not just blood ties but also those born of choice. It’s a story steeped in multiple perspectives and points of view. It will not blow you away with any earth shattering insights and it’s somewhat sappy and overly sweet in spots however it is told in a solidly entertaining format.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: New Life, No Instructions

Author: Gail Caldwell

Memoirs are a Slippery Slope

I recently wrote that one of the reasons I am wary of reading memoirs is that in the wrong hands they can convey messages that I am certain an author would have no intention of conveying. Self-absorption, entitlement, lack of dimension, and a general lack of understanding the meaning of truly serving others which comes from something other than penciling in volunteerism on a calendar when and if a cause suits you are what come to mind after reading this mid-life lament.

I love insights, wisdom, and life lessons truly earned and learned which is why I’ll continue to read memoirs. The ones I have loved, I have really loved. Jeannette Walls wrote a stunning memoir called The Glass Castle. Andre Agassi wrote a great one, full of genuine, innermost feeling. Bruce Springsteen’s was phenomenal, such a natural extension to his iconic body of work that I actually can no longer imagine his haven’t written it. The only saving grace for Caldwell’s memoir is that there are some stellar standout insights peppered throughout however they were not enough to save this ho hum, why-should-I-care story. We all have one to tell but that doesn’t mean it should be published.

Caldwell is a good writer but she isn’t a great one. Her story centers on her lifelong battle with Polio which she contracted as a child and decided to make one of her most defining qualities. I am not sure what good can come from honing a disease as a pillar of who you are and it certainly did her no favors here. The rest of her story is about the monumental task of undergoing hip surgery in her sixties with no husband, significant other, children or other family to care for her during both the surgery and long convalescence. She gets by with a little help from her friends, the ones she has had to cultivate in the absence of the more traditional familial surroundings.

Dogs factor heavily into her story, particularly Samoyeds, her breed of choice but if you love dogs then go read books about dogs. Caldwell makes a choice to own them yet her yammering on about how hard it is to train them seemed like nothing more than useless bragging along with a whiff of desperation in validating her life choices. Is she trying to convince the masses that her days are filled with worthwhile pursuits?

Memoirs should offer more than they take and leave the reader in a better place. Caldwell’s lacked perspective and tragically fell far short.

BRB Rating: Skip It

Title: What Alice Forgot

Author: Liane Moriarty

Accidents, Dumb Luck, and Second Chances

This is the fourth Moriarty novel I have read and it is by far my favorite to date.

Alice Love is an over-involved, harried mom of three. She has one speed and it is go, go, go. She has forged a career in kids, bake sale, charities, and relentless self-grooming. On the brink of turning forty and in the throes of a messy divorce from the once love-of-her-life, Alice’s usual spin class turns into a life altering event when she falls and hits her head.

Upon coming to, Alice forgets everything about her life since the age of twenty nine. She awakens thinking she is pregnant with her first child, who is now ten years old and believes herself to be madly in love with her husband. She has no recollection of her kids, her current boyfriend, or any of the acquaintances she has made over the last decade.

Alice once again becomes who she was prior to her own private rat race only to find that everyone around her has changed. She is appalled at who she has become and cannot fathom why she and her husband are splitting up.

As she fights to regain her memory, she manages to disarm those around her with her kindness and simplicity towards life. She reverts back to the person she was before her life got so crazy, before her successful husband became so distant. But, what will happen when those memories come back? Will the other Alice return too?

Told by Alice with interjecting viewpoints from Alice’s sister Elisabeth who is in the throes of fertility treatments and Alice’s beloved grandmother who is contemplating a new love after years of pining for a lost one, this story of familial ties, second chances and rewriting old wrongs will have you guessing till the end what the outcome will be.

Relationships take on a life of their own. There is plenty of heart, soul, love, and laughter anchored by the weight and solidity of love, marriage, and shared history.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: Pride and Prejudice

Author: Jane Austen

Marriages and Mishaps

Read above the words to get the maximum impact of this delightfully wordy romp through polite English society in the 1800’s where marriage was a woman’s only option and the heady weight of familial financial obligations was as big a part of consummation as the union between two.

Headstrong, intelligent Elizabeth Bennet refuses to cow. She will have her say and refuses not to be her own girl. Her meeting with the wealthy, opinioned Mr. Darcy begins a battle of matched wits that extends throughout the entire novel. Meanwhile her closest sister Jane bemoans the affections and intentions of her intended Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth’s three younger sisters make up a cacophony of noisy voices with no substance, especially Lydia, the youngest who like her insufferable mother prattles endlessly on about nothing of substance. Lydia’s race to the alter succeeds all of her sisters and to her utter detriment. She is the original Bridezilla.

However, Elizabeth’s father, though having long lost his own marital spine, favors Elizabeth and Jane with good reason and it bodes well for them both. This is the place where marital intentions, matches, meddling, and true happiness exist side by side. This story really does have it all. The best and worst of people is paraded about in Sunday finery. You can be an alien among your own blood relatives. Laid out side by side are marriages and matches made for every reason.

It is a literal feast of women, words, witticisms, and whining. But, it is a timeless tale that is easily relatable to modern times.

BRB Rating: Own It. It’s a classic.

Title: The Grownup

Author: Gillian Flynn

A Grown Up Ghost Story

Our sassy unnamed narrator opens this very short ghost story with perhaps one of the best lines I have ever heard. In fact, this may just be my most favorite book opener and if you have already read The Grownup you know just what I am talking about. It’s a grab and go line.

Our young heroine has grown up trained as a con artist by a street smart and resourceful mother and has to this point held a number of questionable, possibly somewhat illegitimate jobs. A colorful array of positions exposing her to a colorful array of characters. Life is not dull, nor is it exactly stable.

Susan, a wealthy forty something year old woman walks into Spiritual Palms, a tarot card reading facility which also offers “other” services taking place in the back room. She wants to hire our narrator, who deftly works both up front and in back, to spiritually cleanse the house she lives in along with her son and stepson. It’s the stepson that has her worried, he’s a bit of an oddball and Susan seems scared to death of him as well as the house she claims she has no desire to live in. An unseen husband who travels extensively adds to Susan’s intense anxiety but how he figures into the story remains to be seen.

As our narrator makes her first visit to this supposedly haunted Victorian and learns more about Susan and her family along with the house’s history, she starts to believe that maybe there is such a thing as ghosts. Told with wry humor, this unique ghost story begs the question: Can a con artist be conned?

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: Into the Water

Author: Paula Hawkins

Publication Date: May 2, 2017

Secrets Linger in the Deep Water but Do Not Wash Away

A tale of a long ago drowning which sparks a history of subsequent drownings in the same place, all women kicks off this latest by Hawkins. The latest drowning, a woman by the name of Nel Abbott who leaves behind a troubled and defiant fifteen year old daughter, sparks a kind of madness in a town filled with secrets.

Shortly before Nel dies, her daughter’s closest friend Katie also drowns in the same pool. The reader is left to figure out if these deaths are in some way related. As the police investigate the deaths and the town mourns those lost, Nel’s sister Jules moves into her home to care for her niece. Jules also has secrets of her own as well as a troubled history with her childhood home. Estranged from her sister at the time of her death, unhappy memories come flooding back as Jules must come to terms with her own reality.

This is a far more complex and less straightforward story than The Girl on the Train. There is a larger cast and it does take a while to put them all in their place. I am glad that Hawkins went a different way with this story though I did not care for it nearly as much as TGOTT. It shows her range as a writer while adding a touch of mysticism, folklore, and ghost story. However, it did seem to move in too many different directions and lacked that connect the dots factor that packs a final wallop in the end. There were also several characters that unsatisfyingly did not seem to get their comeuppance which was disappointing.

In spite of all this, it is worth the time as long as you do not allow in any prior expectations based on her previous book.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: Home

Author: Harlan Coben

A Winning Narration

For those who love a good Myron Bolitar mystery, you will love this latest one where Win actually narrates several chapters. Myron and Win team up once again, this time to find two kidnapped and missing-for-a-decade teenage boys, one of whom is related to Win.

Two six year old boys on a nanny supervised playdate were snatched from one of their wealthy Alpine NJ homes. Long after the trail has gone cold, Win, who has never given up the search though he’s been MIA for quite a while, thinks he finds one of the boys in the UK. Age progression being an inexact science has everyone wondering whether this is the same kid and the kid is not offering much to go on. The found teen’s parents, now divorced appear to be hiding secrets of their own.

Myron in the throes of planning his wedding to the love of his life commits to solving the mystery once and for all and giving a modicum of peace to Win’s beloved cousin Brooke, the mother of the still missing boy. It’s definitely personal.

Well, in typical Coben fashion, nothing is as it seems but the truth will come out. Home is filled with Coben’s usual humor, witticisms, plenty of snark, and the colorful array of recurring characters we’ve come to love. I also loved seeing more of Win’s personality coming through from his own perspective. A winner!

BRB Rating: Read It.

Re-review: Coming July 11, I decided to repost this at the top of the page. Great summer beach read.

Title: Watch Me Disappear

Author: Janelle Brown

Publication Date: July 11, 2017

The Spouse is Always the Last to Know.

Billie is a restless soul, married to a lovely man who works around the clock to provide for his family and has a fifteen year daughter, Olive, who is naturally pulling away from her parents to establish her own identity and struggling with some pretty heavy issues.

Billie is also needy and constantly in search of center stage, something to add excitement and pulse to her mundane life as a trendy northern California housewife whose role as class mom is swiftly coming to an end. She is also a quintessential introvert, one that requires a decent amount of alone time to recharge.

Billie plans a solo hiking trip to a place in a place called Desolation Valley. When she fails to return home, she is declared dead and Jonathan and Olive must adjust to a life without her.

Jonathan decides to quit his job and write his and Billie’s love story but he is forced to face the possibility that their idyllic life was not at all as it seemed when facts about Billie’s past surface and the woman he married is called into question.

The husband is always the last to know.

Billie has been harboring several world rocking secrets, a few of them imparted to Jonathan by way of Billie’s best friend Harmony, a clingy woman who makes a very obvious play for Jonathan’s affections after Billie is out of the picture. In addition to this Olive has been having visions of her mother leading her on a quest to find her.

Watch Me Disappear is full of twists as the reader is led on a path to wanting to learn the truth about a very complex character and the truth about what happened to her. The pacing is even and suspense is built slowly till the final pages leading up to a satisfying finale.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: The Winter Girl

Author: Matt Marinovich

The Thrill is Gone

Scott and Elise are as disturbing a young married couple as you can imagine. Both are severely underemployed, uncaring, unfeeling individuals who are living in Elise’s terminally ill father Victor’s house in the Hamptons while waiting for him to die.

During his stay, Scott becomes obsessed with the house next door, believing it to be unoccupied yet with an unknown presence lingering within its walls. He begins to boldly show up and soon gains access to the house and its single inhabitant.

Soon, Elise and Victor’s connection to the house and its inhabitant is revealed and then things take a very strange and dark turn for the worse.

The characters all lack any redeeming qualities and as such there simply isn’t anything to balance out this very weak story. The saddest part is that because the plot line is so ineffectual, any level of suspense is foiled. There was no buildup and no anticipation except for moving on to another book.

I would never tell someone what to read but my recommendation is to skip this one altogether. It just isn’t worth the time.

BRB Rating: Skip It.

Title: Find Her

Author: Lisa Gardener

A Victim/Survivor’s Tale

Flora was a young college student enjoying spring break on a Florida beach when she was abducted by Jacob, a sick twisted sex offending serial killer. Flora is alternately tortured, starved, raped and kept in a pine box for prolonged periods as Jacob moves from state to state as an independent long haul trucker. Her ordeal lasts well over a year. When she returns to society, she does so as a severely abused woman bearing no resemblance to the girl she was before. Equipped with a new set of survival skills, a refusal to speak to anyone about her ordeal and a penchant for the vigilante lifestyle, Flora becomes obsessed with following stories of newly abducted young women.

D. D. Warren is the lead detective with the Boston PD. She is trying to find three missing young women whose cases appear to be linked when Flora is abducted again, this time from a local bar, and found bound and naked in her abductor’s garage after killing the prime suspect (I told you this girl has some skills).

After Flora gets abducted a third time (whatttt???) D.D. starts to piece together Flora’s connection in these cases and a bigger picture begins to emerge.

Interwoven with flashbacks from Flora’s original ordeal, a victim’s mindset sets the stage for this psychological thriller that holds suspense right through till the last page.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: Woman No. 17

Author: Edan Lepucki

Publication Date: May 9, 2017

Art, Baggage, and Inappropriate Relationships

Newly separated Lady is a writer living in the Hollywood hills. She is working on a memoir about her selectively mute teenage son while single mothering a toddler. Enter Esther or S as she prefers to be called, a performance type artist. She is currently working on a project where she impersonates her mother for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, right down to her alcoholic based tendencies . She shows up on Lady’s doorstep, eager to work as Lady’s live in nanny.

Both women are initially wary of each other as they tiptoe around their roles and it’s not long before the boundaries of propriety are breached. S takes up an arguably inappropriate relationship with Lady’s son Seth, a product of her first marriage and the child with whom she has a possessive hold on. As the two women get to know know each other better, they realize that they have more in common than realized in spite of their twenty year age difference. Both have mommy issues, drink too much without thought of consequences, and both continue to make serious missteps in their daily lives. Perhaps S can be excused as a millennial still trying to figure things out however Lady is just plain sad. Neither one has clue as to what she wants.

Competition, jealousy, and immaturity abound in two creative types that cannot seem to get it together. The story really goes no further than this and there is no big reveal at the end. Read it for the interesting and lively twenty first century insights and life lessons. There is not much of a plot and the story is slowly paced however the writing is sharp and filled with sarcastic wit.

BRB Rating: Read It but only if you’re a die-hard reader

Title: You Will Know Me

Author: Megan Abbott 

Tension Remains High Throughout This Dark Ride Through the World of Competitive Gymnastics.

Sixteen year old Devon Knox is an Olympic bound and extraordinarily gifted gymnast training with one of the most prestigious coaches in the country. Her days are filled with long practices and the minutiae of her sport. Her parents have second mortgaged their home and continue to tirelessly raise funds to pay Devon’s way. The other girls on the squad look up to Devon as a hero but also harbor their quiet insecurities and jealousies. The squad parents are some of the most frightening people you will ever meet. Devon’s mother Katie is written as the most level headed and grounded of all the adult character, however she is struggling with her marriage and a husband who has a severely single-minded focus to seeing his daughter succeed at any cost. Eric Knox is head of the gymnastics gym boosters and relentlessly driven to get Devon everything she needs. Devon’s goal is definitely not all her own.

An unfortunate and untimely death within their gymnastics community rocks them all to the core as secrets and lies are exposed and Katie struggles to comprehend what happened that night and what it means for the goal they have all sacrificed so heavily for.

Abbott paints the sinister side of teenage girls and their unique complexities better than anyone and this story is no exception. Often driven by parents with sinister agendas, these girls are on a high wire without a safety net, Nuances run deep as to what it really means to pursue a goal to the exclusion of all else along with the often undesirable consequences that go along with it. In the context of the world of competitive gymnastics, this taut thriller keeps the suspense going from start to finish.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

Author: Ramona Ausubel 

Money is a Magnifier

I will admit that what attracted me initially to this book was the title. After reading the inside of the jacket, I was intrigued by the prospect of a story that centered on a couple in their early thirties who were both from very wealthy families and did not have to work for a living or want for anything…until the money ran out.

Fern and Edgar are living large on the wealth built from Edgar’s father’s steel operation and Fern’s old family money. They summer on Martha’s Vineyard with their three children and live a life of ease and plenty.

After both Fern’s parents are deceased she learns that there is no more money in her parents’ estate and Edgar faces the prospect of having to work for his father’s company, an idea he morally detests. Edgar hates what his money represents yet he is terrified to face life without it.

Both Fern and Edgar’s answer to their dilemma is to run and each plans a solo trip without the others knowledge leaving their three young children alone for several days. The strain on their marriage is evident however the choices they make in the present really take an odd turn and I struggled with the bizarre choices each of them makes during their crisis of conscience. The storyline revolving around their oldest child as caretaker of her younger siblings and confused young girl also takes a strange turn that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story.

Money ideals and the war between new money and old money and all the attitudes and paradigms that go along with it figure prominently in this tale of two rather one dimensional adults who are finally faced with having to grow up and put there pseudo deals to the test. Both Fern and Edgar have to rise above their parents notions and core beliefs about life and figure things out for themselves.

It was not nearly as good as I had hoped and I can’t say that I will be left with any memorable impression of this book.

BRB Rating: Skip It

Title: Swimming Lessons

Author: Claire Fuller

Publication Date: February 7, 2017 

Ingrid is just twenty when she meets Gil, twenty years her senior and a writing professor at the university she’s attending. She has grand yet rather vague plans for her future but after falling hard for this crazy eccentric and somewhat absent-minded man with terrible judgement, Ingrid finds herself married, pregnant and utterly alone as Gil continues his cavorts and conquests.

After Ingrid’s mysterious disappearance when her two girls are ten and sixteen years old, Gil is faced with not only his own mortality but the weight of his indiscretions. Before leaving, Ingrid bares her soul to Gil in the form of multiple letters which she hides for only him to find in the pages of carefully chosen books. This is the only form her true feelings about her marriage take. We are unclear throughout the book whether or not Ingrid is still alive or whether she drowned as most people think she did. The only person who questions her death is her youngest daughter Flora.

Gil’s character will be obvious to the reader as he is self-serving and exploits Ingrid’s lack of sophistication. One of the most bothersome parts of the book was Ingrid’s refusal to fight to finish her degree, something she was painfully close to completing. Gil suffers from afflictions that go beyond the scope of the story. I believe that he did truly love Ingrid and that her absence had a profound effect on him from which he could not recover. Even so, Ingrid never appears as anything more than one of his unfortunate victims.

Strong and prevalent themes regarding the dark side of motherhood along with the dissatisfaction that comes with being nothing more than a wife and mother along with the regret of leaving dreams and other pursuits on the table, weigh heavily. In Ingrid’s case her choices were made well before she was ready. The burden of her regret and her own vulnerabilities trigger compassion. At the very least, there is understanding that her story is not black or white but filled with many complex layers.

Beautifully written and lyrically paced.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Difficult Women

Author: Roxane Gay

Visceral, Raw, and Brimming with Emotion

This collection of short stories depicting the complexities of a woman’s mind and heart are written with a clear lens pointed towards their innermost thoughts. There are prevailing themes of brutal abuse, sex, love, and male dominance weaving their way in and out of these tales.

The evisceration of wild game sit in strange juxtaposition with the women whose lives have been gutted in some way by tragedy and exposed as fragile beings who are fighting to regain their foothold on a tenuous existence.

In I Will Follow You, two sisters refuse to leave each other’s sides after a harrowing ordeal of abuse and become a package deal when one of the sister’s marries. The Mark of Cain is about a young woman’s secret knowledge that the man she married likes to swap places with his identical twin brother. The ending is reflective of one of the most obvious consequences. Requiem for a Glass Heart is a fantasy piece about a stone thrower who falls in love with a woman made out of glass. Break All the Way Down illustrates a mother’s anguish after losing her only child to a violent and horrific accident. She seeks out pain and abuse as much for self-punishment as a way to stay tethered to the world while simultaneously refusing to accept love and forgiveness until a new child enters her life.

Broken and damaged women come forward to share their experiences and tell their stories. Endings with no real resolutions speaks to the imperativeness of protection and guardianship of self. The women in these stories have suffered, in many cases by the hands of cruel men. Who they become in the aftermath of their horrors were some of the most fascinating parts of their stories.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Wait, What?

Author: James E. Ryan 

Publication Date April 4, 2017

Asking the Right Questions

Five essential life questions are the theme for this mega short, commencement speech-cum book that addresses the art of asking the right questions in order to get the best answers.

The Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education might be well poised to consider how critical certain questions are to our ability to communicate, practice empathy, and generally connect with other human beings but his real life examples felt trite and overly sentimental. This book may have been a good idea to some but it needed a lot more work in order to make it viable.

Asking good questions is an interesting topic that should be further explored. In addition, it is a critical component of good communication skills and a precursor to listening well. This book serves as a useful reminder to always consider asking the best questions and to remain forever curious and engaged enough to ask in the first place.

However, the topic felt oversimplified in Ryan’s hands and this middle-aged Dean sharing his privileged life experiences and waxing on the utter awesomeness of his wife got in the way of his message. Still, applying these questions to your conversations and having a little fun with the process make reading this book worth your time.

BRB Rating: Read It (it’s a very quick read and will offer good questions to practice in your next conversation).

Title: The Underground Railroad

Author: Colson Whitehead

A Paradigm Busting Masterpiece

The pre-civil war story of a young woman’s inferno driven desire to escape slavery. Cora’s journey from plantation to the life she dreams of via the Underground Railroad system is riveting from start to finish.

As Cora journeys from state to state she is haunted by the mother who made her escape years before and left Cora all alone in a cruel world. While being ruthlessly hunted by a particular slave catcher priding himself on his record, she learns the harsh lesson that more than one type of slavery exists and that the bonds of oppression can take many different forms.

I cannot imagine a better story being written on this topic. It is rich in history but with the individual perspective sewn tightly in. Man’s abject cruelty takes center stage. The threads are drawn concisely from Cora’s experiences to present day injustices so that the reader is easily able to connect the dots if he or she chooses to do so.

Cora’s trip of a lifetime and those she encounters along the way factor prominently as she labors to carve out a life on her own terms.

BRB Rating: Own It

Title: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Author: Mona Awad

 A Dark and Somewhat Shocking Depiction of an Obese Young Woman and Her Fragile State of Mind.

Lizzie’s journey from teenage school girl into her twenties is fraught with anxiety over her size. One of the central themes is how she is treated by the men in her life and how she interprets their attention. As she moves through young adulthood and the story skips around somewhat disjointedly through points in time, we see Lizzie as both very overweight and also thin after losing a significant number of pounds.

No matter Lizzie’s size however, she never manages to cultivate her own voice or stand up for herself resulting in deep seated anger and always simmering resentment. Early slights and mistreatments cement in her mind a pervasive lack of self- worth as she continues to attract people into her life who trigger her insecurities until every person she encounters is viewed through a veil of mistrust whether they are worthy or not.

Lizzie can come across as unlikable and petty though her suffering is immense. Her basic needs have never been met and due to this, an inability to fully evolve to a higher plane ensues. Because she lacks so much, she cannot be available to others. In all her relationships, friendships and even her marriage, she never achieves true intimacy and connection. Lizzie exists solely in her head where she winds up is right back where she started, older, wiser, but no less miserable.

Awad’s dive into the musings of our minds is spot on and often disturbing. Her talent for homing in on popular cultural memes such as many overweight women’s penchant for choosing bawdy, chunky, colorful matching jewelry as a distraction mechanism and the futility of cardio equipment at the local gym and its addiction crazed seekers is one hundred percent relatable. Recommended for perspective’s sake alone no mater your size. There is much to relate to here.

Deeply analytical and questioning but lacking appropriate application to figuring out her own life, Lizzie is a woman who never learns how to be comfortable in her own skin.

BRB Rating: Read It

 

Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Starr Power

Starr Carter is a sixteen year old living in the ghetto but attending a prestigious school not far away. Her ability to straddle these two worlds makes her one of the most endearing characters I have ever met. As one of the few black students in her school, Starr learns early to restrain herself and battles to remain her true self while still fitting in. She has affluent friends, a white boyfriend, and is well liked.

At home, Starr is the product of two parents who love and support her and who also work hard to give her and her brothers opportunities that they did not have. Though they live in a depressed neighborhood, there is a solid sense of community, love, and spirit.

On one fateful night Starr is the sole witness to the brutal shooting of her unarmed childhood friend by a confused and misinformed police officer after they were returning from a party. This is the point where Starr’s two worlds begin to collide as she is faced with a critical decision to speak up and fight for justice or lay low and live with fear and injustice.

Starr’s inner struggle to merge all parts of herself and integrate into a world she is comfortable inhabiting is akin to watching a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon to take its rightful place in the world as a butterfly. It is one of the best parts of the book. Thomas shows us decent people trying to make a life for themselves and their children amongst gangs and gang mentality. They are unsung heroes living with a real danger and uncertainty in their day to day lives that some are privileged not to have to experience. Starr is the bridge that connects these separate worlds.

Racism and the racial divide are the prevalent themes addressed in The Hate U Give and the ongoing ways this affects all of us. A lack of justice and consideration for certain races is not only blatant but Thomas shows just how incomprehensible it is to expect a young girl to shoulder such a horrific burden yet be expected to walk through life as if nothing happened and nothing is wrong. Starr is a human being with so much heart, I dare anyone not to fall in love with her. Her strength and resilience are inaccessible to many yet she never holds that against them.

I could not put this book down. Told with humor, poignancy, and a sharp wit, The Hate You Give should be at the top of everyone’s reading list.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: 1984

Author: George Orwell

 Depression and Draining Despair=Dystopia

Orwell’s dystopian world or what is known as a negative utopia is a world devoid of hope but it didn’t start out that way. We can see through protagonist Winston’s eyes that the world wasn’t always filled with unthinking, unfeeling automatons whose only goal is the avoidance of pain. In the beginning, we see flashes of hope through his silent plotting to overthrow Big Brother even without a speck of a plan, his finding of love and companionship with Julia, the young woman who acts as a promise to a better life, even the flowers that grow in the vast expanse of ugly barrenness are a hint of hope.

However, Winston’s world serves to narrow language to such severe parameters with the sole intention of controlling thought and systematically through torture and brainwashing, dehumanizing the individual while reducing life to a series of tasks benefiting only the ones in power. It is only a matter of time.

Truth exists only insofar as what the government dictates is truth and can be altered at will. In other words, there is no such thing as truth. Consequently, there is no such thing as memory and anyone

The concept of doublethink is offered up as the holding of two contradictory beliefs in one mind simultaneously while believing both of them. It is a phenomenon of both conscious and unconscious thought. This hits particularly close to home and I dare anyone not to be able to cite several examples in their own lives.

Dystopian societies have been written about before and the various means through which humans are stripped of their humanness, individuality, critical thought and ability to feel for another. We see examples of this playing out in all developed societies across the world and it cannot be denied. If 1984 is indeed a warning to us all, message received but there is no good news here. None at all.

BRB Rating: Own It. You’re going to need to refer back to it.

Title: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Full Circle Beasts

The Manor Farm aka Animal Farm aka The Manor Farm is a place where “all animals are equal” (pg. 25). Isn’t this one of the things that binds us to one another?

A farm animal revolution led by two headstrong pigs to overthrow their human leads to a promise of equality to all who have wings and walk on four legs, regardless of what kind of animal they are and what their capabilities may be. Promises of abundance and plenty abound if only all the animals will commit to working hard for the good of their new farm. A list of commandments to be adhered to by all is the new credo in which to live by.

You can imagine how quickly this all goes south with the two leaders butting heads until one is outed and the other gets a little too big for his britches, the same britches that are expressly forbidden until they’re not.

A work camp is created and suddenly equality becomes an antiquated notion that gives way to a new commandment: “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” (pg. 134). Orwell has a knack for assigning to animals some of the worst human traits, making it infinitely easier to connect the dots to our own realities.

The erasure of history according to convenience is a recurring theme in Orwell’s writing and perhaps the darkest and most disturbing component of the totalitarian model.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: Vaccine Illusion

Author: Tetyana Obukhanych, PhD

The Historical Myths of Vaccination from an Immunologist’s Point of View

Warning: there is far more science, statistics, and vaccine history than a diehard pro-vaxxer will be able to handle in this recounting of how vaccines actually work opposed to how our immune systems are designed along with some fascinating vaccine historical facts. The book itself lacks a particular focus and reads more like a sampling of a variety of aspects pertaining to vaccines, immunity, and immunology along with Obukhanych’s own personal journey to enlightenment and a deeper dive into the subject matter due to personal concerns. It is however a short enough read, more like a lengthy article that can easily be polished off in a day and is a useful starting point to further research.

In this short, more than adequately referenced book on the breakdown of vaccination from an immunology stand, one can begin to dismantle many of the vaccine myths the public is fed every day throughout our public health system agencies, politicians and the poorly trained doctors who administer them.

Obukhanych also uncovers facts about the outright refusal to conduct adequate scientific studies and the sell-your-soul approach that so-called scientists in her field must take if they are to make a living. She offers some alternative treatments to priming the immune system and ensuring its health as well as provides reservoirs of research studies and papers and the links to back them up. There is simply no excuse whatsoever for vaccine ignorance in today’s day and age. Vaccine Illusion is a call to action to further reading on the subject of vaccination. It’s an education you will not get from your doctor or from mainstream media.

It ultimately comes down to this. How much is your life and the lives of your loved ones worth to you. Do you value human life at all? If so, then this is art of the required reading in order to protect yourself and your vulnerable family members against a system that most definitely does not have your best health or interests at heart.

BRB Rating: Read It and don’t knock it till you do.

Title: Watch Me Disappear

Author: Janelle Brown

Publication Date: July 11, 2017

The husband is always the last to know.

Billie is a restless soul, married to a lovely man who works around the clock to provide for his family and a fifteen year daughter, Olive, who is naturally pulling away from her parents to establish her own identity and struggling with some pretty heavy issues.

Billie is also needy and constantly in search of center stage, something to add excitement and pulse to her mundane life as a trendy northern California housewife whose role as class mom is swiftly coming to an end. She is also a quintessential introvert, one that requires a decent amount of alone time to recharge.

Billie plans a solo hiking trip to a place in a place called Desolation Valley. When she fails to return home, she is declared dead and Jonathan and Olive must adjust to a life without her.

Jonathan decides to quit his job and write his and Billie’s love story but he is forced to face the possibility that their idyllic life was not at all as it seemed when facts about Billie’s past surface and the woman he married is called into question.

The husband is always the last to know.

Billie has been harboring several world rocking secrets, a few of them imparted to Jonathan by way of Billie’s best friend Harmony, a clingy woman who makes a very obvious play for Jonathan’s affections after Billie is out of the picture. In addition to this Olive has been having visions of her mother leading her on a quest to find her.

Watch Me Disappear is full of twists as the reader is led on a path to wanting to learn the truth about a very complex character and the truth about what happened to her. The pacing is even and suspense is built slowly till the final pages leading up to a satisfying finale.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

Author: Alice Hoffman

An Extraordinary Story of Fire and Water

Just before the turn of the century, Eddie and Coralie are two souls living separately in their own private hell.

Eddie is a Russian immigrant, landing in Manhattan under the harshest of circumstances. His beloved mother was killed before leaving his country and he and his father, a tailor, are left to survive the harsh conditions of city factory toil. Eddie forsakes his names and his past but learns a valuable lesson. You can never outrun who you are and where you come from.

Coralie is a young woman living and working in The Museum, a Coney Island freak show that inhabits the odd, the mysterious, and the unexplained. Coralie herself is a feature in the show, groomed since childhood and possessing her own physical deformity that only adds to the story’s magic. Her father, the creator of the museum, is a cruel and unjust man who takes what he wants with no regard for others. Coralie must learn the hard way to face her story, find her true self, and claim the life she wants to lead in spite of the man who stands in her way.

Eddie and Coralie’s fateful meeting in the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory and over a young woman’s disappearance is a slow burn itself, leading them both to a love neither of them thought they ever deserved.

Fire and water are the primary elements at play as the climax plays out in a second blaze that threatens what Eddie and Coralie hold most dear.

Love, loyalty, good, and evil are lines drawn in this beautifully written elemental love story between two fated souls.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

“So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”

The above line is my favorite in this hilarious story about the earth’s destruction and planetary outer space, whom controls whom, and who is really running the whole shebang. Perception is the key ingredient as earthman Arthur is ripped from his planet just before it is to be destroyed. Ford Prefect, the almost Betelgeusian who rescues Arthur opens to him a whole new world that will rock Arthur’s current one.

They hitch a ride on the Heart of Gold spaceship which is occupied by spaceship stealer Zaphod Beeblebrox and voice of reason Trillian along with a melancholy machine named Marvin, a depressed robot who isn’t aware of how funny he is which makes him even funnier.

Hilarious hijinks ensue as an adventure takes place for the above characters unlike any other. This is brilliant-as-the-stars comedy sci-fi.

BRB Rating: Own It. It will pick you up when you’re feeling down.

Title: The Idea of You

Author: Amanda Prowse

Publication Date: March 21, 2017

Pour Some Sugar on Me.

Open up a big bottle of maple syrup and glug it down. See how you feel. This is the impression that The Idea of You left with me. Lucy is forty with a brilliant career who wants desperately to have a baby when she meets slightly older Jonah at a baby shower, of all places. The two of them hit it off and get hitched. Lucy leaves her sleek and modern digs and moves into Jonah’s character rich older home. They immediately start trying to conceive.

Several miscarriages later, and just in time for Jonah’s sixteen year old daughter to move into their home, the newlyweds hit a rough patch. Lucy continues to work but nothing means much to her if she cannot have this kid. Jonah seems disinterested and what’s worse, sweet Lucy is thrust into the role of horrid stepmother. No matter how hard she tries, her step daughter just won’t come around. Lucy is also harboring a secret, one that greatly informs her narrow-minded baby desires and also her relationship with her mother.

I could not relate to Lucy’s character and hers and Jonah’s overly theatrical, smarmy relationship truly detracted from feeling any sympathy for these characters whatsoever. The dialogue between these two characters sounded completely disingenuous and bordered on ridiculous. On more than one occasion I was tempted to forgo finishing the book. I soldiered on because I rarely choose not to finish a book, a flaw of mine.

Lucy has an ongoing fantasy talking to her mythical child that is interspersed between chapters. It is all sweetness and light, completely one sided and unrealistic. I was unimpressed with the way this subject matter was handled and was surprised to learn that the author’s catalyst for writing this story was her own experience with miscarriage. The serious nature of this topic warranted a far more relevant storyline, one that wasn’t trite, mired in fantasy and dressed up with bows and ribbons.

A disappointing read.

BRB Rating: Skip It

Title: The Best of Adam Sharp

Author: Graeme Simsion

Publication Date: May 2, 2017

A Compositional Score on Romantic Relationships

Adam Sharp is talented piano playing musician who works as an IT consultant. At the age of twenty six, he meets Angelina, an actress and novice singer. Angelina quickly becomes “the love of his life.” Every song reminds him of her.

Though there is a separation, fast forward twenty two years and Adam has built a 20 year relationship with Claire. He still works as a consultant and still sporadically plays the piano. He is a musical encyclopedia of song living in England. Angelina’s second marriage produces three children.

As Adam approaches fifty his relationship with Claire has grown stale. Out of the blue, he receives an opportunity to reconnect with Angelina. Will he accept?

This is where things really get weird.

Adam is thrust into the inner workings of a marriage on the rocks at the same time as he is trying to figure out his own relationship and where it stands. He tries to draw from others’ experiences but falls short again and again.

Music is the vehicle that drives Adam’s and Angelina’s convoluted love story and the lifeblood of their union acting as an intensifier for emotions that become so entangled they are impossible to decipher. Watching Adam struggle with truly understanding not only his own culpabilities but the innermost dynamics of another relationship makes for a satisfying story.

Simsion dives deep into the analysis of a marriage at risk as he simultaneously moves the players in this love triangle until it all makes sense.

After reading and loving both The Rosie Effect and The Rosie Project, Simsion is cemented as a gifted storyteller with a book that totally stands on its own merit.

BRB Rating: Read It

 

Title: Middlemarch

Author: George Eliot

Changes Abound in a Provincial World

Originally published in eight parts from December 1871 to December 1872, Middlemarch is ultimately a story about change and how deeply it is resisted by inhabitants who cling to the polite rules of society and social mores of their time. It is also about relationships and just how archetypal they can be.

Dorothea is so young and hungry for knowledge, unlike her more superficial peers, including her own beloved sister, she cares deeply for humanity and wishes most of all to be of service. Levelheaded but still refused her due by her male associations. Her agreement of marriage to a much older, learned man becomes her biggest misstep in her ideological world.

Lydgate is a young idealistic doctor, just starting his practice in a new town. He is singularly focused and rigid in his views on women until he meets the beautiful Rosamond and learns what it is to be dismissed as the master of her wishes and behaviors. Rosamond is only concerned with her petty wants and needs and the discord in hers and Lydgate’s marriage resonates loud and clear through the years.

Bulstrode is the disgraced religious banker whose shady past comes back to haunt him in his present day ministry and threatens to upend the respectful persona he has come to perfect.

Mary and Fred are young lovers who dance around each other though they have long ago declared their love and preference of one another. Fred suffers from a severe lack of confidence and must grow to prove his worthiness to Mary.

These are the major players in a beautiful, well rounded, and heavily referenced story that is full of flawed characters acting out their lots in life in the only ways they know. All are victims of their circumstances and the time. When change does inevitably overtake them, each character sits at a crossroads of their own making. Some recognize the need to act and others do not.

Eliot finishes her masterpiece with a satisfying finale and reminds us all that what we think we know may be the furthest thing from the truth. The town of Middlemarch and its inhabitants are a microcosm of civilized society, the very one many of us live in today.

Recommended to anyone with maturity and a strong sense of commitment. This is one for your book collection but makes sure it gets read.

BRB Rating: Own It

Title: The Marriage Pact

Author: Michelle Richmond

Publication Date: July 25, 2017

A New Meaning for Ball and Chain

Coming this summer, one of the stranger pieces of fiction I have picked up lately. This psychological suspense thriller introduces Alice and Jake as newlyweds who are recommended by one of Alice’s clients to become members of a very exclusive club.

They naively enter into The Pact, a strict members only alliance centered on strengthening the marital relationship. Alice and Jake are all in. Alice mainly because she never back down from a challenge and Jake because he is head over heels in love with his new wife and will make any commitment to keep her.

There is a must read manual which acts as the Pacts code of ethics and literal bible. There are rules and regulations, some so stringent that they seem set up to provoke failure, and there are consequences, some so severe that they are inarguably tortuous and barbaric.

Jake and Alice are about to find out just what they signed up for. As they desperately try to navigate their new relationship and find their own way, they quickly learn that the Pact will not let them be and that there is no leaving this group once they signed on the dotted line.

The plot is an intriguing one but the story does go too far. At times, it borders on ridiculous. Then again it begs the questions: what is it that makes people compliant to the most outrageous things and why do we so easily option out our critical thinking skills when that is the very thing we most need to survive? The ending might not be expected which is a good thing in this case and lent strength to the plot however do not go looking for a tidy wrap up to this story. You won’t find it here. I did not love the story however I do see its value in bringing to light a few critical questions and for this reason I am recommending it, particularly to those engaged or newly married.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: As I Knew Him My Dad, Rod Serling

Author: Anne Serling

Didn’t Think I Could Love The Man Even More…

But, after reading this book by the daughter that both loved and worshiped her father, I do. This book is a love letter from Anne Serling to her father Rod, the same man whom I call my hero. He is also my answer to the question who would you most like to be seated next to at that fantasy dinner party, dead or alive.

The opportunity to observe the man from the perspective of his own child is a true gift. Serling’s teachings, talent, and integrity shine through as we are taken on a tour of his early childhood, his military tour of duty, his days at university, his marriage and his role as a father. He is just as I thought he would be from his daughter’s perspective. Serling talks about her father’s struggle with creative control over the content of his work, censorship as it pertained to television, and his mounting frustrations as a writer. He was in constant search of meaning right up until the end. His daughter also recounts her difficulties with the profound loss of her father, a man who she very poignantly communicates, was small of physical stature but ironically larger than life.

If you love Rod Serling, his work, and all the wondrous and wonderful episodes of what is in my opinion, the greatest television series to ever grace the airwaves, I cannot recommend this book enough. Thank you Anne Serling for sharing this wonderful story with all of us.

BRB Rating: Read It or Own It.

Author: T. R. Ragan

Publication Date: March 14, 2017

Vigilante Mom in a Race Against Time

*Please do not read this review if you have not read the first two books in the trilogy Furious and Outrage. It contains spoilers.

Wrath is the third and final book in the Faith McMann trilogy. It picks up fast, right where Outrage left off. I recommend reading the first two in the trilogy before this one because not much background is given and you will not appreciate the full scope of the story without reading them first.

Faith McMann’s son, Hudson has just been safely returned to her thanks to her brother and father, who headed a mission to find him and bring him home. After trying to escape ruthless traffickers, Hudson along with another boy were left to fend for themselves in harsh conditions while still being stalked.

Faith’s daughter however is still missing and as time runs out hope of finding her, Faith doubles down in her resolve to bring her home by joining alliances with a vigilante group of concerned citizens, many with specialized combat training.

Beast, Rage, Faith’s parents and siblings are all back along with a caring police detective to hunt down and stop a vicious child trafficking ring whose reach extends to the top of some of the city’s most respected leaders.

Outrage did feel a little more rushed to me though I did appreciate the fast pace and the quick read. After reading all three in the series, its ending is as I would have expected. Ragan brings to light the very real and harrowing world of human traffickers of the worst kind, those who prey upon children by forcing them into a life of forced sex and crime. Faith’s character as a school teacher mom turned ruthless vigilante offers a glimmer of hope and comfort that people can make a difference.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: Every Dead Thing

Author: John Connolly

A New Charlie Parker Fan Is Born.

Every Dead Thing is the first book in the Charlie Parker series, and also my tough initiation into the stark raving horror that awaits the reader almost from the outset.

Being a big Patrick Kenzie fan, one of Dennis Lehane’s most famous recurring characters, I immediately have a soft spot for Charlie who reminds me so much of Patrick however Connolly’s depiction of murder, death, and violence is considerably more gory and graphic than Lehane’s. The explicit horror scenes of Every Dead Thing was hard to come to grips with however the writing was so incredible that I found myself soldiering on till the end.

This story could have easily been divided into two books. I was confused as to the detour it took in solving the first murder mystery. It begins with Charlie finding his wife and child brutally murdered and it ends on that line however there was an alternate road taken to solve an unrelated crime that truly seemed to be a completely separate story albeit with some of the same characters including Charlie himself.

Back on track with the story, Connolly’s generosity and expansiveness with his scenes will have you completely satisfied if not overly so. But, where other authors would have hold back, Connolly forges full on ahead. There is a mystical air enveloping the story and the rich historical history of the setting, New Orleans could be a character in its own right. You will feel a sense of the story not being over when there are literally just a few pages left. The action, suspense, and yes even the gore take you right till the end as Charlie fights to find a reason to go on by bringing a vicious serial killer to light.

Within this genre, I would argue that Connolly writes among the very best.

BRB Rating: Read It.

 

Title: Born to Run

Author: Bruce Springsteen

Publication Date: September 27, 2016

Like a Springsteen Show in Book Form

This for me, is one of those rare books that I feel almost intimidated to review. I have been a Springsteen fan since high school, a very long time ago. I was not however a die hard fan, one who collected attended shows like notches on a belt but rather one who has her own very fond, indelibly etched, and unique memories of what this man’s music has meant to me.

Reading Springsteen’s story is like a continuation of that love and admiration. It brought those old memories back again in the best possible way. Now that I have read it, I can’t imagine his not having wrote it. It seems a natural extension of a body of work that as impacted so many in such a profound way. It took Springsteen seven years to complete this book and I cannot think of a better legacy and tribute to those he loves and honors, including his fans.

Springsteen gives us to honest to goodness, real and raw look into the man undergoing each stage of his life. Each chapter is its own separate story. His willingness to tell the truth, even the ugly parts make everything strangely beautiful. His courage and generosity cannot be denied.

I don’t care if you aren’t a Springsteen fan, please read this book because this is an example of a life fully lived, one that has been beaten and kicked around yet still stands strong, perhaps even stronger because of it. Legendary and full of beauty and pain, this story will stand the test of time.

BRB Rating: Read it. If you’re a fan, this is one to own.

Title: Try Not to Breathe

Author: Holly Seddon

Publication Date: February 23, 2016

A young woman lies in a persistent vegetative state after being attacked fifteen years ago at the age of fifteen.

One of the most interesting facets is that Amy seems to be rather lucid behind her outward appearance. Though she cannot communicate verbally she does so through brain activity and her thoughts. The problem is that she is still just fifteen years old with no immediate recollection of her attack and no realization that so much time has passed.

Alex, an alcoholic journalist with a tenuous grasp on her life takes on Amy’s story as a shot at redemption and attempts to solve her case and bring her attacker to justice. Along with Amy’s old boyfriend, Jake who is undergoing serious marital problems along with the impending birth of his first child. He and Alex form and unlikely alliance as they piece together a mystery that is more than a decade old.

Alex and Jake alternate narration of the story in the present day as Amy fills in the past building to the ending’s big reveal. As Alex and Jake move closer to finding out what happened to Amy, they realize that there are certain people who do not want Amy’s story told.

The story retains an interesting premise however Alex’s character does feel like a rip-off of Rachel in The Girl on the Train. I recently mentioned in a review for Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Time that I was fine with the story’s similarities with a certain blockbuster nineties movie but here the character parallels between Alex and Rachel felt forced. I also question the title which seems to have nothing to do with the story.

Though a somewhat entertaining quick read, this is not one in the thriller-suspense genre that I would rank high enough to offer a read it rating unless you’ve got time to spare.

BRB Rating: Skip It

Title: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Author: Stephen R. Covey

Wise Teachings for Building a Solid Foundation

Based upon those unchanging universal principles come the behavior changing teachings of leadership expert Stephen R Covey. In the same vein as leadership development and personal coaching, Covey takes us through paradigm shifting as it relates to our unique perceptions in seeing the world and operating through our own pair of rose colored spectacles. Gleaning examples from his own life, he offers up relatable scenarios and illustrates how changes can maximize our relationships in any realm be it personal, business, spiritual, etc.

Much like Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, this is not a book to be read just once. It is more a practice than a once read through and the exercises that are encouraged are more a part of actionable results than simply reading words on a page or listening to an audio production. The seven habits are deeply layered and multifaceted. It is information best digested bit by bit, over time. It needs time to sink in.

Covey at times comes across like he has figured it all out but as he assures us in his afterword he struggles with the seven habits every single day. If you are looking for a way to maximize your potential in any realm of life and are completely confused as to which program to sign onto, I highly recommend you start right here with this book. It has become this genre’s bible of sorts and for good reason.

BRB Rating: Own It.

Title: Making Local Food Work

Author: Brandi Janssen

Publication Date: April 15, 2017

This Little Piggy Went to the Market

A food anthropologist digs deep to unearth how food is grown, how it gets to us, and the myriad of problems and issues that crop up along the way. Credit is given to the proper recipients as the farmers and their hires are brought to the forefront as opposed to us greedy consumers who think we are doing the entire world a favor by buying local and organic and screaming about it from our social media based mountaintops. It is never that simple and Janssen shows us that is certainly the case here.

Since she has focused on both the local food and industrial food systems in a side by side, coexisting at once as they do in what we call real life, she is able to illustrate how these separate systems have the ability to complement each other and that neighbors are neighbors, no matter who they grow for. Most of these farmers however, are striving for peace and abundance for all.

If you are a parent of school age children, take note of the farm to table program which Janssen was intimately involved in. There you will see just how many details go into making a program such as this one a success. I was surprised at things like produce uniformity, easy accessible portion control, food safety responsibility, and food grade shipping containers were all things that are easily overlooked when the brilliant idea of serving local, organic fruits and vegetables in schools strikes. The logistical issues alone are mind boggling.

Farming and food production are no joke nor are they an elitist hobby.

I loved the full view Janssen gives us food romanticizers and the part socioeconomics and societal position play in our food choices. The tales told of the workers realities in a wheatgrass juice company juxtaposed with the business’s customer base is a tale about socioeconomic position and what is valued by those who have versus those who don’t. It is a compelling story in itself.

If we truly want to be in touch with our food and know where it comes from and through whose hands it passes, we need more information like Janssen provides us. A must read for all those who eat and plan to keep on doing so.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Barbara the Slut and Other People

Author: Lauren Holmes

Youth is a Tightrope

Another collection of short stories down and another book I have been waiting to read for over a year now read.

These stories are a Girls tinged low grade rant about the unique complexities of millennial mundane triviality. These trivialities make up the bulk of life for these everyday young women. Their stories are steeped in humor, wry and somewhat heartbreaking. The lenses upon which they view the world are easily forgotten once past a certain age however no less compelling as they live through it.

In Desert Hearts a recent law school graduate discovers that her choice of profession is really not hers at all. Her interim job selling sex toys is the start of her rebellion. Pearl and the Swedish Guy Fall in Love showcases the bloom coming right off that rose as new infatuation gives way to complete and utter distaste. New Girls pits hierarchy and jockeying for social status among female peers against true friendship and connection. An insane rite of passage for far too many young girls. My Humans offers a dog’s eye view of male-female relationships. Endearing and funny. Who doesn’t love an animal with a voice? Barbara the Slut, the title story, uncovers the irrational and brutal process of the merciless attempts to strip a single high school girl of her dignity in ways males could not even fathom having done to them. Violent and raw, I was praying Barbara could hang on until she got out and got a fresh start. This one is both scary and disturbing.

This is a relevant and unique collection about lives that on the surface look nothing like their underbellies.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: The Underground Culinary Tour

Author: Damian Mogavero

Publication Date: January 17, 2017

Restaurant Analytics versus Good Ole Gut Instinct

In this well written and well researched guide to what the author, a restaurant analytic software engineer and salesperson, refers to as the New Guard versus Old Guard way of running a restaurant from an owner’s perspective, the underground culinary tour emerged

The New Guard refers to those savvy restauranteurs who value analytics or data on every single metric that can be measured. They will avail themselves to the author’s innovational software and use it to their best advantage in the fickle, trend heavy world of the dining out industry.

The Old Guard refers to the old way of doing things which is basically summed up as relying on gut instinct rather than hard data to examine trends that can make or break a business’s bottom line.

These metrics examine all areas of a restaurant’s overall performance from server competency to ordering to avoid waste and maximize profits.

The underground culinary tour refers to the bacchanalian bus tour from restaurant to restaurant over the course of two days. The restaurants were chosen based on their standout qualities and the chef/owners chosen to be part of the tour were also chosen based on their rising star. The author acts as the tour’s co-host.

Put all these elements together and you have The Underground Culinary Tour, a disjointed and perhaps audience confusing book.

The author is perfectly poised as the happy recipient of selling his brand because as far as the book goes, he has no competition. He offers several case studies of restaurants and restaurant groups who have used his software to overwhelming success. In spite of this, gut instinct should not have been as downplayed as it was because running a successful business does take listening to your gut to some degree.

Some of the case studies were guilty of oversimplification such as the one depicting a server who was scared to open bottles of wine table side and therefore never sold any and her complete 180 degree turnaround.

The sales pitch came through loud and clear. This is not an objective point of view, however warranted it may seem. Mogavero also is fond of industry name dropping which becomes obnoxious after a certain point.

Overall, it is always interesting to look into the inner workings of an industry you are not a part of, at least this was the case for me. I was also intrigued at the level of customer manipulation that occurs during the act of dining. Good to know what to look for from the customer’s perspective.

BRB Rating: Unless this topic interests you, Skip It.

Title: The Rosie Effect

Author: Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Effect picks up where The Rosie Project left off though it is not imperative that you read in order since enough background is provided in the second book for a sufficient amount of backstory.

Don is off on a new adventure along with his new wife Rosie. After being married for 10 months and now living in New York, Rosie announces that she’s pregnant. Don has a very human overreaction but quickly regains his control. His scientific methodical approach to pregnancy delights everyone except for Rosie. Can Don handle the realities and responsibilities of being a husband and father? Rosie seems to be having her doubts.

Surrounded by an adorable cast of mostly friendly and supportive characters who really have Don’s back, he embarks on multiple adventures of misunderstanding that shed new light on the challenges of being socially inept and among the thinking disordered. Just like in the Rosie Project, Simsion ensures that pity for Don is never a primary emotion however rooting for Don is. The fallacies and flaws of all other characters shows us over and over that all of us suffer from handicaps, no matter who we are.

A great story with lovable characters and a strong uplifting message in spite of human limitations. This is a great read.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: The Rosie Project

Author: Graeme Simsion

Autism Spectrum Disorder manifests in as many different ways as snowflakes. No two individual’s display the same characteristics in the same manner and combinations of attributes are endless making it one of the most poorly understood disorders of our time. Though not alluded to in definitive terms, Don fits the criteria for a high functioning autistic. He knows that he is wired differently though he is unsure why. His lack of connection to the origin of his affliction or even what to call it was one of the most interesting aspects of the story. He is a brilliant genetics professor with a promising career and a life that is so neatly attired that it practically runs itself. His desire to compartmentalize major life decisions into organized “projects” complete with their own agendas and timelines seems rather endearing.

This book is about one of Don’s many projects, finding a suitable wife. Don’s criteria is steep and it is clear that although hard not to root for Don, there is no way any woman could possibly clear all his required hurdles. Along comes Rosie who right off the bat is deemed unsuitable for a project she has no interest in. As Rosie the real woman collapses Don’s carefully balanced house of cards, we learn that there is far more to Don that meets the eye.

As Don embarks on a brand new project to conquer his social ineptitude, he learns that those around him are imperfect in their own ways but trying to do better and that he is more than he has allowed himself to be. A logical love story wired for success. It’s for anyone too smart for fairy tales but believing in practical romanticism. You can’t help but love these characters.

I see Emma Stone as Rosie in the movie adaptation.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: How Not to Hate Your Husbands after Kids

Author: Jancee Dunn

Publication Date: March 21, 2017

Marital Spate May Lead to Hate

Marital relationships after kids take a hit, a really big hit. In most cases no one even bothers to tell you it’s coming. Personally, I fantasized about killing my husband in his sleep after our first child was born so sleep deprived and hormonally unbalanced was I.

In Beyond Mars and Venus by John Gray showcases the sexes’ hormonal differences and how to maximize our best hormonal states in order to improve romantic relationships between the genders. Dunn adds to the conversation with How Not to Hate Your Husbands after Kids by throwing kids into the mix. I mention both books together because I read them simultaneously and it gave me a fortified perspective on what it takes to maintain solid marital relations across all pertinent categories. However, I did find research discrepancies between the two books For example, Gray makes the argument that housework is best completed primarily by the woman and that fairly splitting it causes men to end up too far on their feminine side which ultimately hurts the relationship while Dunn’s research seems to point to the best scenario being a more equitable split. Who’s right?

I’m afraid that there is a fair amount of trial and error to find what really works in our own unique relationships so take what you read with some healthy skepticism.

Drawing from a number of experts, not just in marital relations but also feminist ideals and organization (physically organized living spaces have a huge impact on marital health), Dunn cobbles together a happy home life narrative in which she willingly and at times not-so willingly makes herself and her spouse experimental guinea pigs. Through the expertise of others as well as the always useful and delightful-to-read anecdotal case studies of her family and peers, she pinpoints the marital pitfalls that become overwhelmingly intensified once kids or even a kid enter the picture. She then attempts to diffuse the ever present damage done by utilizing a number of tried and true tools and techniques that all need to be in regular rotation and practiced daily in order to make any kind of headway.

Dunn’s self-deprecating brand of humor lightens up the heaviness of this huge load called marriage and raising kids. She is a trouper, a good spot, and seems like an all-around fun kind of girl.

What it takes to build a healthy marriage cannot be overstated. It takes a Herculean effort and monumental consistency to maintain it. Read this book, laugh along at the relevancy in your own relationships, and hopefully use the information as it was intended them better. I need to take my own advice too.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Big Little Lies

Author: Liane Moriarty

Big, Bigger, Biggest

Moriarty does this genre bigger, bolder, and better than just about anyone. She writes page turners that people love to read. Big Little Lies is a crushing, bulldozer ride through the Mommy (and sometimes Daddy) elementary school hierarchy. Jockeying for position are a vast group of differing personalities, often archetypal in nature.

Gutsy, vivacious, and loyal Madeline is not afraid to speak her mind. Kind, sensitive, and stunningly beautiful Celeste often appears distracted yet is hiding a dark secret. Shy, easily intimidated, single-mom Jane is battling past demons that still threaten her sense of security. All three women band together to form an unshakable alliance that puts some of the other parents ill at ease. When a tragedy befalls this close knit community, more secrets are revealed adding to the already heightened drama. Individual journalistic interview entries fill in some of the backstory while building up to the show stopping scene at the end.

Certain scenarios may be hard to swallow such as the loyalty between certain women compared to the cattiness and inappropriate behavior of others yet Moriarty has crafted a fine story that will have you riveted all the way through to the end.

Big Littles Lies tackles some tough but relevant relationship themes while keeping it entertaining and juicy.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Ill Will

Author: Dan Chaon

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

A Strange Mix of Satanic Worship, Drownings, and Serial Killings

I read Await Your Reply eight years ago and came to a delayed appreciation of the complexity of Chaon’s characters as well as their impending sense of doom. Chaon again plays with time frame in Ill Will as two stories are woven together with the common denominator being the main character.

Ill Will gives us two murder mysterious to solve, one from the past and one present day involving a string of male drownings that seem to point to an alleged serial killer on the loose.

Dustin Tillman is a psychologist in private practice whose wife has recently died of cancer. His youngest son has a serious drug problem and is losing his grip on reality as his eldest on begins to remove himself from a family he no longer want anything to do with. Dustin spends most of the book checked out from the dismal state of his own life and the unraveling of his family.

Dustin suffers from a kind of dissociative disorder which has plagued him since he was a child. As he is led by an exceedingly obsessive and inappropriate patient to begin a private investigation into the recent drownings, the plot moves Dustin towards becoming a possible suspect in the grisly murder of his own parents when he was just ten years old. His aunt and uncle were also murdered along with his parents and his female twin cousins are estranged, one siding with Dustin and the other carrying an alternate theory of what happened that night along with some of the answers to our questions. His adopted brother was framed for the murders and having recently being released from prison, haunts Dustin as he seeks out contact with Dustin’s son.

This is a dark, disturbing, and visually gruesome story. Editing takes a wild turn as sentences literally fall off into nothingness and the reader is left wondering if they missed something. Formatting also takes a very strange turn. The end is murky and the reader is left with the task of answering their own questions which may lead to anxiety and frustration. The buildup to a satisfying suspense thriller ending was a letdown. Chaon is a gifted writer however this book will not be to everyone’s taste.

BRB Rating: Skip It unless this genre really is your jam.

Title: Man’s Search for Meaning

Author: Viktor E. Frankl

Freedom of Will

The most beautiful book I have ever read. I am not sure I can do this book justice through my review but here goes.

I was recently listening to an interview with Cheryl Strayed author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things where she was taking about how there can be incredible beauty in the ugly. This makes me think of Man’s Search for Meaning, a life shifting book if there ever was one. Frankl’s autobiography of his three year’s spent in various concentration camp during Hitler’s reign in the second World War is the catalyst for his life’s work in Logotherapy, a form of existential analysis which literally means finding the meaning of one’s own life.

I had the opportunity to read, along with his incredible story, a collection of his selected letters, speeches, and essays. Going back to another relevant point in Strayed’s interview she mentioned at one point that regardless of what we are going through in our lives, whether we live in a concentration camp, are dirt poor and struggling with feeding our families, or raking in the dough, we have a responsibility to live a meaningful life and that meaning can neither be denied nor taken away. Frankly reminds us that man’s greatest dignity lies in his freedom of will, his ability to choose his response no matter what the circumstances are. The reader knowing what Frankl has lived through can deny nothing he says because he already knows that it is rooted in truth.

Frankl’s words “the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best” are eerily relevant to today’s world and its current state and no doubt will be relevant for decades to come.

He also coined the term “autobibliotherapy” or healing through reading.

BRB Rating: Own It and Read It again and again

Title: Beyond Mars and Venus

Author: John Gray

Publication Date: January 24, 2017

Advice and Skills for Marriages of Today

I’ll admit that I have never read John Gray’s book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus though I think over the years I have gotten the general gist.

Beyond Mars and Venus is next level advice for the way male-female relationships exist in today’s world. We learn a lot about hormones, mainly testosterone and estrogen, how they affect each of us, how they affect the opposite sex, and how they affect our relationships overall.

Since our world has shifted from primarily Role Mate relationships, one where the man was the sole provider and women were the home and kid caretakers to a Soul Mate relationships where both genders are bringing home the bacon or roles have completely switched, a new set of rules applies to bridge the complex gap between male/female relationships. This book offers a new set of skills and insights into how our relationships have changed over the past twenty-five years.

List intensive and often overly repetitive, it was difficult to stay onboard at times. My husband flat out refused to read the book so explaining theories and exercises became tedious and no fun at all. Perhaps attending one of Grays workshops along with my partner would have been a better idea? He also boasts an impressive website that is run by himself and his daughter. Maybe spending some more time there would help to gel the concepts put forth in this book. There were a number of fascinating insights and aha moments however I vacillated back and forth between engagement and annoyance. I was not enamored at some of the qualities that are bestowed upon males yet lacking in females. During these times, I began to think that this book was over simplifying something far more complex, trying to put things into a neat little box. I will not deny Gray’s research and life’s work however he appears to me a male who spends a lot more time on his female side than his male side despite what he says in the book. Maybe this somehow muddies the waters, so to speak.

I am now finishing up Jancee Dunn’s How Not to Hate Your Husband after Kids and she has also done an impressive amount of research on the topic of male-female marital relationships. Some of her findings such as the housework split between the two genders conflicts with the research that Gray puts forth in his book. So who’s right?

If you are truly interested in the topic of marriage and male-female relatedness, I would recommend this book. There is enough here that is engaging and who among us could not use better skills when interacting with our spouses? However, I would make sure you are reading others on the topic as well. Some of Beyond Mars and Venus just wasn’t relatable.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Written from the perspective of three women with chapters broken down by date and time of day, The Girl on the Train offers a suspense filled time-line almost as an ancillary character in this unfolding drama that will have you on the edge of your seat. Fast-paced and edgy, this is a wild, off-the-rails train ride.

Newly divorced and an alcoholic to boot with periods of blackouts that inhibit her from remembering pockets of time and increasingly important events, Rachel rides the train to and from work each day. On it she passes the suburban neighborhood and the house she used to live happily with her husband until the day when her husband Tom’s extramarital affair had him divorcing Rachel to marry Anna, his mistress. Tom and Anna set up house in Rachel old home, the one she was forced to abandon.

A few doors down live a couple whom Rachel has affectionately named Jess and Jason, though she does not know them personally. During the train’s daily stop in this town, Rachel often witnesses what she has deemed the perfect couple sitting on their balcony and fills in the blanks of their idyllic life together, a life that in reality is nothing as Rachel imagined.

When the news reports that “Jess” whose real name is Megan has gone missing and that her husband is the number one suspect, Rachel feels she has to get involved in the case, especially since she witnessed something that happened with Megan just before she was gone.

As Rachel struggles to control her drinking and recall the snippets of memories that cause her a strong visceral reaction, she becomes more and more convinced that she holds the key to solving the mystery of Megan’s whereabouts.

“Beautiful sun, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in.”

I loved the above quote, delivered early on in the story, which gives us a strong view of the space Rachel occupies in her mind. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is that out of all three women, Rachel is the only one desperately trying to face up to the terrifying facts of her life yet she battles the inability to physically recall these events and visceral impressions are the only thing she has working in her favor. Conversely, Anna and Megan refuse to examine their lives for what they really are but would rather exist in a state of denial. When both women’s hands are forced, the resulting consequences are dramatic.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Worth It

Author: Amanda Steinberg

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

Shed the Shame, Drop the Blame, Play the Game

Merge the topics of women, self-worth, and money together and I am there. This alone is one of the main reasons I loved Steinberg’s book Worth It. Just the fact that someone is writing and speaking out on this topic is huge. Steinberg is the founder and CEO dailyworth.com, an online financial site for women. I have been a member for about eight months greedily consuming the useful articles and tips so that I can better face my own money story.

Worth It is a useful and unique to women compilation of getting clear on our money story, releasing any shame and blame around that story, building on positive self-worth through the main artery of saving, managing our money, and staying consistent by staying in the game.

Her advice is straightforward and no nonsense but not too tough love. Forgive yourself for your past money transgressions and it’s never too late to start increasing net worth are frequent refrains. She offers a number of helpful resources without being overwhelming.

Though she offers several real life women and money stories, I wish she would have been more representative and inclusive of those women whose situations and experiences fall outside the white life of privilege that stands out among these pages. However, I do believe that much of the knowledge she imparts can be applied to other financial situations and I plan on putting it to my own test.

Again, simply getting this topic into the mainstream is a very big deal. As Steinberg states; “Let’s share financial information as easily as we share tips on restaurants ad child rearing.”

With two-thirds of US wealth in the hands of women by 2030, it is about time we opened the dialogue.

BRB Rating: Own It

Title: Leaving Time

Author: Jodi Picoult

Reading Time

I loved it. I also love elephants. I appreciated the research and science behind this incredible species of animal but the story…oh the story. I can understand the upset over the comparison to a well-known movie however this single aspect of the story worked so incredibly well that it begs the question: why can’t more than one of this type of story exist?

Picoult is a master at researching a real-life topic and weaving a story around it. Leaving Time is an incredible effort by one of my favorite authors. The subtle hints along the way pointing to the larger picture were easy to miss but they made the ending far more impactful. Yes, there was a lot of subject matter to attend to: elephants, the paranormal, mental illness, loss and love but in the hands of the right author, it all becomes a masterful dance.

Jenna Metcalf is looking for her mother who disappeared after an accident when Jenna was three years old. Alice, Jenna’s mother, a scientist studying elephant behavior, resided along with Jenna and her husband at an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. At the time of the accident, when one of the sanctuary employees was killed, Alice’s mysterious disappearance had even the police detectives stumped. Ten years after one of the detectives had left the force, becoming an alcoholic private investigator, Alice’s case was still unsolved. Now living with her maternal grandmother thirteen year old Jenna, seeks him out and “hires” him to help her find her mother. She also enlists the help of a former famous psychic whose public fall from grace finds her performing two-bit readings in her cramped apartment.

The story is told in the alternating voices of Jenna, Virgil the detective, Serenity the psychic and Alice. Alice’s chapters act as an anchor, slowly revealing the story of what happened all those years ago and bringing to light how this mother could ever leave her child.

This story is for everyone, no matter what you believe. Part science, part story, part magic, Picoult is so darn good at what she does which is make us believe in miracles.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Coup de Foudre

Author: Ken Kalfus

Love at First Sight

What can I say, the entire collection is brilliant. Coup de Foudre is what I would call foundational literature.

In the title novella a prominent political figure sexually assaults a hotel chamber maid, someone, he himself deems insignificant enough not to matter. His letter making amends after the fact is pure folly but his consequences are well deserved.

In The Moment They Were Waiting For, an execution sets off a new era of oblivion.

In Borges’ Library, we learn that reading is a solitary and intimate act that is subject to wrongness. “This is what haunts us, quietly and individually. I don’t know what my neighbor reads; nor would I ask her. I do know, however, that she broods over the story. Perhaps I’ve made it up and told no one.” “I take a deep breath before returning to my reading, inhaling nothing but the decomposing elements of read and misread books.”

Square Paul-Painleve pits obsessive superstition against a young man’s desire for love. In Mercury, a second grader is the unwitting catalyst for his teacher’s termination.

Dementia mixes with extreme hatred giving birth to a terrible outcome in Shvartzer.

An esteemed doctor’s complete fallibility along with the dysfunction of the medical industry is exposed through the failing eyes of one astute patient in Laser.

These stories are bold revelations of human depravities that masquerade daily as normal behavior. Bitter, acute, biting and sharp, Coup de Foudre will make you stand up and pay attention if only for a little while.

BRB Rating: Read It, maybe even twice

Title: Mercies in Disguise

Author: Gina Kolata

Publication Date: March 21, 2017

One Family’s Genetic Roulette Wheel

Science reporter Gina Kolata follows the Baxley family through their navigation of a discovered highly heritable mutated gene that belies a brutal and fatal neurodegenerative disease with no cure. This highly charged story starts with Amanda Baxley, one of the family members whose grandfather, father, and uncle all succumbed to the terrible illness known as Gerstmann–Sträussler–Scheinker syndrome (GSS). Amanda is one family member who chooses, in her twenties, to be tested for the mutation so that she may plan accordingly. The opening is a cliff hanger, leaving off at the point where the test results are in and she is about to discover her fate.

What are the implications of having this knowledge ahead of time? Would you choose the same path as Amanda?

Next, we are taken to eastern highlands of New Guinea in the 1950’s where a small group of scientists attempt to track the origin of a strange and similar sickness that resembles a combination of both Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s but with decidedly different characteristics.

The shunned scientific hypothesis regarding distorted proteins that could be inherited through gene mutation finally gave way to the groundbreaking realization that this hypothesis proved to be correct.

Meet the Baxley’s, a high achieving, morally pious Baptist family living in a small town South Carolina. A family full of doctors and medical professionals, they pieced together an unlikely puzzle to discover that their family carried within its walls, this rare gene mutation that could be diagnosed with a blood test.

Part narrative non-fiction, part scientific inquiry, and part human interest story, Kolata traces one family’s destiny through the story of a courageous young woman.

BRB Rating: Read It

WINTER RELIEF

Title: Summerlong

Author: Dean Bakopoulos

A Long Hot Summer

A marriage gone off the rails takes center stage in this thoroughly entertaining novel about whom we choose to love and why and the endless ways we toil to tear it all down.

Claire and Don have reached the precipice of forty. They have two young kids, the eldest not quite yet a teen, headed for a financial hardship that will rock their world.

As summer befalls their Iowa neighborhood, the mercury rises to create the perfect storm for the emergence of two much younger characters and the opportunity for both Don and Claire to sow some wild oats. Raw needs are exposed like nerve endings masking deeper desires that go unheeded.

Add one all-knowing and secret keeping old woman to further complicate matters.

Bakopoulos is spot on. His characters are as embarrassingly real and relatable as they are cringe-worthy Between Don and Claire, readers will find Don the more likable of the two even in the midst of making some very bad decisions. Claire, his insecure and vain wife lives in a perpetual whine about all she has been missing since becoming a wife and mother. Fixated on whether she is still attractive enough to compete with the twenty year-olds in this suburban college town, Claire’s flaunt-it-at-the town-pool mentality incites the worst kind of bad mother judgment as the kids are left to fend mostly for themselves while their parents seriously flounder.

The end unravels majestically and perhaps with a glimmer of something that could be defined as hope as major insights are collected like fireflies along the way. Summerlong is a great summertime or anytime read.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: A Drink Before the War

Author: Dennis Lehane

A Tough and Gritty Debut Novel

How did I miss the first in the Kenzie-Gennaro series I have such fond memories of reading? I love this author in much the same vein as I love Harlan Coben’s work.

Rough and tumble private detective Patrick Kenzie accepts a job from some really crooked politicians. Kenzie’s mission is to locate a black cleaning lady who has supposedly stolen implicating statehouse documents during her tenure.

Kenzie and his partner Angela Gennaro soon find themselves in the midst of a gang war as they uncover crimes of extortion, child prostitution, and homicide. It’s a race against time as racial tensions and incidents escalate to a boiling point, keeping Patrick and Angie rooted in place until the last man standing.

Full of both heart and grit, the dark underbelly of racism and corruption is illuminated and exaggerated to show the absolute horror of this unholy union. Kenzie’s wry humor and sarcasm offer a much needed buffer to the depravity he faces down daily.

Full of enough bad guys to ruin anyone’s hope for a peaceful world, Kenzie and Gennaro show us that good can still prevail in the face of dire circumstances.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: The Perfect Stranger

Author: Megan Miranda

Publication Date: May 16, 2017

Burrowing Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole

Journalist Leah Stevens has left her home and thriving career in Boston after taking the fall for a secret scandal. Her only friend Emmy, convinces her to move with her to Pennsylvania for a fresh start. Leah agrees and she does start over, this time as a high school teacher.

On one fateful day, a young woman is found by the lake in front of Leah and Emmy’s home. She bears a striking resemblance to Leah. A fellow teacher at Leah’s school is the primary suspect. Then, Emmy suddenly goes missing as Leah starts receiving disturbing email messages and calls.

Leah enters into a romantic relationship with the lead detective on the case. As the case becomes more complex, he begins to doubt Leah’s word. Against judgment, she uses her investigative skills to piece together a mystery so deep that it takes her back to her first encounter with Emmy years ago.

Leah races to piece together a puzzle, one she was blind to due to her intense emotional need for human connection. As she commits to the process, other unresolved pictures begin to take form.

What I loved about Leah is her willingness to keep burrowing deeper down the rabbit hole. She is a woman used to being abandoned and though it has become her Achilles heel, especially in terms of trusting others, she is willing to face the truth at all costs.

Full of all the things we love best in a suspense thriller, a mystery to be solved, a protagonist you won’t stop rooting for, and all the spine tingling twists and turns we come to expect from this genre.

Highly recommended, fast paced, and satisfying.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: 32 Yolks

Author: Eric Ripert

Publication Date: May 17, 2016

Another Chef’s Ego Sized Journey Down Memory Lane

I believe that it is a celebrity chef requirement to have penned (or more aptly hired a ghostwriter) at least one book detailing his personal rise to fame. The celebrity chef story has become but a bullet point on a resume. Eric Ripert is no exception. If every one of us penned our life story and attempted to publish it for the sake of sales, there would be a lot of boring books out there. The only chef memoir I have ever read that impressed me was Anthony Bourdain’s and he actually wrote it himself. I believe he was also the one to start this chef-as-writer trend.

Ripert’s story extends back to his humble beginnings. He recounts life with a narcissistic mother and abusive stepfather and how his passion for cooking was ignited. His respect for quality of ingredients and presentation was honed at a young age, learned from his mother who always insisted on the best of everything and his grandmother, an untrained intuitive cook. The reader is led along a slow, arduous journey through personal family details, culinary schools, his early days cooking in restaurants along with all the abuses suffered, self-inflicted and otherwise.

Noteworthy, life altering stuff happened to him as it does to us all. We all have a story however our stories don’t necessarily require a book.

His accepted abuse at the hands of his mentor chefs, one in particular, bring to mind a beaten dog who blindly returns for more and more. This abuse ranging from physical to mental runs rampant in the culinary world but it doesn’t make it right. I did find the all-consuming deep dive into his craft somewhat fascinating. What does it really take to be the best at something and what are the consequences of paying that price? The problem is that for someone with so much inner drive, I don’t buy that he could not search out kinder, well-adjusted educators.

Ripert exists as two sides of a coin, paying the price for culinary greatness with the currency of abuse, PTSD, untold stress, loss of self-respect, and diminishing health. That is too high a price to pay for something that I believe could be achieved other ways.

Ripert’s story is really more of a production, not a book. I could feel the lack of his presence in his own story, one that was ultimately written and in this case, audio-performed by an actor.

Chalk this up to yet another outrageous chef’s tale about “what it took” to get to their exalted status.

BRB Rating: Skip I 

Title: Mrs. Darcy and The Blue-Eyed Stranger

Author: Lee Smith

A Collection of Jewel Toned Prisms

The short story is not my most favorite format however in the hands of Smith, it was a perfectly balanced and masterful dance. The lives of ordinary, rather invisible people are brought to life and given a voice and an extraordinary one at that.

Themes such as ageism and marginalization are explored from the victim’s perspective such as in my favorite story, The Happy Memories Club, where an intelligent and astute resident of a retirement home is made to suffer the indignities of society’s perception of our aging members by an insensitive staff as the dynamics of high school click hierarchies plays out among her peers. Her escape through her own writing is her daily salvation.

In Big Girl, a young woman’s fantasy husband turns out to be an insufferable louse. She makes a critical decision not to be a victim any longer, no matter her physical appearance, and tells her own story with humor and a whole lot of heart.

The title story, Mrs. Darcy and The Blue-Eyed Stranger introduces us to Mrs. Darcy, an aging widow with a special gift that her three daughters cannot understand. Their condescending treatment of their mother in the name of good intentions is cringe worthy.

All ages and walks of life are represented in this collection with a common thread of humanity that runs through the protagonists and will have you rooting for each and every one.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: Her

Author: Harriet Lane

 Cat and Mouse Game

A cat and mouse game between two women will entice but a poorly constructed motive and a far too risky ending that doesn’t pan out could easily frustrate and disappoint.

Polished, successful artist Nina recognizes Emma, a beleaguered and pregnant mom to a toddler from a storefront window. Under false pretenses, Nina befriends the overtired and unfocused Emma. What follows is the unfolding of one woman’s warped history and her misplaced aggression coming to roost.

Lane is a talented writer whose insights into the mundane aspects of motherhood, disappointments, and dreams unfulfilled are remarkably relevant. If you have ever lived in the space occupied by these characters, you will undoubtedly recognize yourself. Her poorly constructed story however was not believable. The lack of conflict and a more level playing field between these two women was regrettable. You might think you know where the story is leading and be excited to find out but the road to disappointment might be paved with a desire to be set apart from the rest of the sub-genre in a way that ultimately backfires. Finally, the ending was terribly disjointed and overreaching.

This story took more than its share of creative license but it was not written with the reader in mind.

BRB Rating: Skip It

Title: Things We Set on Fire

Author: Deborah Reed 

Shattered Secrets

A long ago decision made between a husband and wife has dire and unforeseen implications for their children.

Wife and mother Vivvie made a critical choice thirty years prior that deeply affected her role as a mother and her relationship with her two daughters Elin and Kate. Now estranged with Kate and mostly incommunicado with Elin who lives across country, Vivvie gets a phone call that Kate has overdosed and that her two young daughters need a place to stay. Vivvie opens up her home to her granddaughters while calling Elin for backup.

As Kate’s story unfolds and what appears to be the truth about her condition is actually something else entirely, Vivvie must relive her deepest fears for her children and relive the most painful decision she has ever made.

Elin returns home with her own life altering problems accompanying her. She is newly introduced to two young nieces, the eldest bearing a remarkable resemblance to her own face that serves as a painful reminder of a long ago romantic relationship that ended with no real closure. Her relationship with the sister she never understood is tenuous as she navigates a broken bond with her mother.

These women are all complex and deeply stubborn but their hearts are huge and their capacity for healing will give you hope. A beautiful story about life, the choices we make and the consequences we live with.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: The Fates Will Find Their Way

Author: Hannah Pittard

Duel of the Fates

A sixteen year old girl’s mysterious disappearance calls to mind a nonstop fantasy in the minds of her male schoolmates that transpires the years, well into their adulthood.

Nora Lindell is a popular high schooler, a heartbreaker and when she is gone, the neighborhood boys experience a loss so profound that even they don’t realize its far-reaching consequences, touching the lives of all they come into contact with including their own future wives and children. A refusal to leap from boys to men plays out in  all the ways we can imagine. Society suffers. We all suffer.

Over the years, remembrances occur perspectively in the collective voices of this boys’ choir, rumors abound and the memory of a lost girl is kept alive in only the way an age-preserved human can be.

This is a story about our sketchy memories of the past, the inability to compete with a ghost, and the endless ways we can become distracted from our own lives, preferring endless fantasy to reality. Fantastically woven and haunting in feeling.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Blackout

Author: Sarah Hepola

Weak with a Promising End

Seemingly immune to humiliation, Sarah Hepola recounts in this memoir of excessive drinking and gross lack of judgment, her journey through the rigors of alcohol abuse. The Paris incident was positively chilling in how far her disconnection extended in that state.

Hepola defines herself as a blackout drunk, offering up a definition and going on to describe exploit after exploit where she acts reprehensibly, forgets much of her antics, and walks away from each episode seemingly unscathed only to rinse off and repeat the process over and over again.

Friends fill in many of the missing holes in her memory though I marveled how this woman had any friends at all during the time she drank. Hepola comes across as one of the most self-centered and exhausting people on the planet, much like a Sex and the City’s self-indulgent and wasted Carrie (sorry SJP).

Hepola herself alludes to the lack of personality development that comes with starting to drink heavily at a young age (in her case I believe it was 12 or 13) and that sums up her stunted personality perfectly, lasting throughout her twenties and thirties until she finally stopped drinking altogether.

The hard and embarrassing parts seemed to have been lived and repeated even before the book was written so penning a tell-all of this magnitude felt somewhat anti-climactic. Hepola mentions several times the lifelong goal of her becoming a published book author. Her motivation behind publishing this book seems somewhat suspect. I did not get a sense of catharsis or a desire to help others but more that she bought into the notion that this was a story she had to tell and happened to have the connections to pull it off.

Hepola fails to offer up the insights and knowledge that Caroline Knapp did in Drinking: A Love Story though the two books have been recently compared. Throughout most of this book, I struggled mightily to find anything about Hepola to like. Even fictional characters such as The Girl on the Train’s Rachel and Blame: A Novel’s Patsy, both blackout drinkers inspired fondness in spite of their shortcomings.

Hepola’s early days of sobriety are the mark of a fragile fledgling fighting to find its way. She tackles sober online dating emerging into face to face dating and restrings fragile relationships suffering from years of her neglect. It’s as if she learned how to be a fully evolved human being all over again.

After nearly giving up hope of any kind of redemption, about eighty percent through Blackout, Hepola’s voice changed for the better. Finally, I could see the person behind the booze. The arrogant mask slipped away and a real face emerged. This for me, was the turning point and the take away.

There are far better books to read of this genre, both fiction and non-fiction and I don’t believe this story will advance what we know about women and excessive drinking but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Hepola emerged as worthy of her loyal support system. For that, I’m glad I saw it through till the end.

BRB Rating: Read It (at least as a cautionary tale to binge drinking and the effects of)

Title: The Girls

Author: Emma Cline

Publication Date: June 14, 2016

Spectacular Sensorineural Overload

Cline’s tale of a lonely teenage girl on the brink of disaster when she finds a group of homeless vagrants who commune under the influence of a Manson-esque cult leader.

Evie Boyd is just fourteen years old when her parents’ divorce. Her ne’er-do-well father falls for a younger, flashier woman. Her mother is the kind of woman whose complete lack of self has doomed her to a life of male servitude, including bankrolling their useless pursuits. She is too busy being indebted to the parade of losers she is desperate to have fill in the gaping hole in her life to notice the critical juncture to which her daughter has arrived. This proves unfortunate as is the horrendous examples she sets for an impressionable teen.

Evie is in need of some sound adult guidance. Having literally just lost her best friend to a competitive new best friend,  (ahhh the trial and tribulations of the American teen girl, a veritable minefield really) Evie gloms onto this vagrant group setting her affections on one girl in particular, nineteen year old Suzanne. Suzanne is dark and complex and just mysterious enough for Evie to literally fall in love with. Once the spell is cast, it remains nearly impossible to break.

Evie goes to live part time with this cult at their filthy ranch. Cline’s endless descriptions of the rot and detritus permeating all aspects of this life are on point, if not overwhelming. Told through Evie’s eyes, everything takes on a fresh coat of sensory sheen that becomes almost assaulting at times.

We learn about a horrible crime at the beginning of the story, when we are introduced to Evie as a grown middle-aged woman, one with a reputation that still haunts her to this day. Told in a back and forth format between present day and past, we slowly piece together Evie’s role in the event and where she has gone from there. The saddest realization of all may just be Evie’s lack of evolution as she moves from adolescence to middle age.

Fantastically written and bristling with grizzly energy. Evie’s allusions to her own homosexuality pays homage to her utter confusion as to who she is and her place in the world. Evie is a girl on the brink of discovering her own power in the world and all the ways she can be played. An unbelievable debut.

BRB Rating: Read it

Title: Fool Me Once

Author: Harlan Coben

Publication Date: March 22, 2016

Lies and Betrayals

Maya Stern is a soldier through and through albeit one suffering from intense PTSD based on a military incident where her actions led to fatalistic results. Now back home, her husband Joe has recently been murdered in an alleged botched robbery. Her beloved sister was also murdered six months prior. Maya is working hard to hold it all together for her two year old daughter but seems to be losing her tenuous grasp on reality. After seeing a postmortem video of her husband on her nanny cam, Maya starts to piece together a mystery that involves her sister and her husband.

Maya is not afraid to put her own life on the line to uncover the truths hiding in plain sight.

Fool Me Once tells the story of a woman who is hard to fool yet still retains certain vulnerabilities to be exploited by the wrong people.

Coben’s story is a winding road, full of plot twists that will have you riveted till the end. Great fun to read.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Lily and the Octopus

Author: Steven Rowley

Jumping the Shark and Dog-like Loyalty 

Jumping the shark is the term I like to use when something has gone round the bend of believability. I usually attribute the term to TV series that lost their way in the writers’ room, probably due to rating stress.

This term seems to fit here as well, especially with the nod to all things nautical starting with the Octopus itself. But, it is the Fantasy Fight Scene to which I specifically refer. If you have read the book, you’ll know what I mean.

Lily is the lovable Dachshund belonging to Ted, a forty-two year old man who appears to have much of his life left yet to figure out. Ted is recovering from a recent breakup. His long time love, Jeffrey, was unfaithful and Ted being a rather slow to react kind of guy, hung in for several years past the point of it not being OK with him. This is Ted. He is a wishy-washy, privileged, whiny homosexual man who did nothing to dispel unfavorable stereotypes for much of the book.

Lily is Ted’s redemption in all ways. Lily is redemption for us all. The octopus that grows ever larger upon her head is a tumor, one that robs Lily of her capacities almost from the outset. Lily’s illness will break your heart.

Before what I refer to as the Fantasy Fight Scene aboard a boat, no less, I was growing bored of Ted and his lack of color. I was tired of his all-consuming obsession with his dog which masked his intense fear of living and also with his immaturity and denial. His luxury job as a freelance writer who worked from home did nothing to endear. I was growing evermore critical of Ted and found it unbelievable how he could even support himself since he did little more than whine and travel.

Then came this scene and I honestly didn’t know what to think. I did not believe that Ted had taken leave of his senses nor did I believe he was mentally unstable even though he ascribed monstrous, human-like qualities to the octopus so I was left with a big WTF?

Then the scene was over and things suddenly came into focus. I won’t talk about the next scenes and what they entailed but suffice it to say that they were as real and gritty as it gets and yes, the Ted I was waiting for finally emerged.

The rest of the book was magical. Put one foot in front of the other. Get through minute by minute. I now saw Ted as a man who has struggled and his struggles made him human. My judgment was gone.

There was so much more here than tears for me. I went through a rainbow of emotions, many in contrast to one another.

In the end, it was worth every page. Whether you are a dog lover or not, read it. Animal lovers are an easy draw but this book is for everyone.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Making Local Food Work

Author: Brandi Janssen

Publication Date: April 15, 2017

This Little Piggy Went to the Market

A food anthropologist digs deep to unearth how food is grown, how it gets to us, and the myriad of problems and issues that crop up along the way. Credit is given to the proper recipients as the farmers and their hires are brought to the forefront as opposed to us greedy consumers who think we are doing the entire world a favor by buying local and organic and screaming about it from our social media based mountaintops. It is never that simple and Janssen shows us that is certainly the case here.

Since she has focused on both the local food and industrial food systems in a side by side, coexisting at once as they do in what we call real life, she is able to illustrate how these separate systems have the ability to complement each other and that neighbors are neighbors, no matter who they grow for. Most of these farmers however, are striving for peace and abundance for all.

If you are a parent of school age children, take note of the farm to table program which Janssen was intimately involved in. There you will see just how many details go into making a program such as this one a success. I was surprised at things like produce uniformity, easy accessible portion control, food safety responsibility, and food grade shipping containers were all things that are easily overlooked when the brilliant idea of serving local, organic fruits and vegetables in schools strikes. The logistical issues alone are mind boggling.

Farming and food production are no joke nor are they an elitist hobby.

I loved the full view Janssen gives us food romanticizers and the part socioeconomics and societal position play in our food choices. The tales told of the workers realities in a wheatgrass juice company juxtaposed with the business’s customer base is a tale about socioeconomic position and what is valued by those who have versus those who don’t. It is a compelling story in itself.

If we truly want to be in touch with our food and know where it comes from and through whose hands it passes, we need more information like Janssen provides us. A must read for all those who eat and plan to keep on doing so.

BRB Rating: Read It

Title: Things We Lost in the Fire 

Author: Mariana Enriquez

Publication Date: February 21, 2017

*”Men, the Macabre, and Masks”

I listened to Christmas carols while writing this review. Happy, uplifting holiday music. This book is a collection of stories that lies in direct contrast. For this reason alone, I recommend it.

There is not one single feel good story in the entire bunch. Instead, the darkest of underbellies are exposed as a putrid, rotting stink. Things We Lost in the Fire is all about the places desperate people live in body, mind, and spirit.

The stories are short lived, loaded down with allegory and unresolved. No peace is offered. The title is the name of the final story, a gruesome tale of women rising up to take their power back from the men who lord it over them by setting themselves on fire. What began as an act of violence against them, in the end, became their redemption.

Stories such as The Dirty Kid, Under the Black Water, and Green Red Orange, all tell of people lost in all the ways possible, none of them favorable.

Recommended simply because in its starkness and bleakness, we are reminded that life is often un-pretty.

BRB Rating: Read It

*Post title quoted from: The Twilight Zone/The Masks 1964 S5/Ep.25

Title: After Perfect

Author: Christina McDowell

If nothing lasts forever, what kind of foundation must reside within each one of us to weather that storm?

Christina McDowell lost an entire childhood to a lie, one that was perpetuated by the father she worshipped. When her material world came crashing down, she was devastated to learn that so did the idyllic family life she had so grown accustomed to.

McDowell grew up leading a charmed life. Born into the elusive one percent, her life was a fairy-tale of riches that afforded her and her sisters the kind of luxuries most could only imagine, if even that.

When McDowell was just eighteen years old, her father went to prison for fraud. The lies and deceptions that had already started to reveal themselves clamored louder and louder as the thickness of blood and loyalty quelled the rising tide of truth until even this was no longer possible. Her father’s list of betrayals against her and her sisters along with their mother is shocking and unfathomable yet McDowell is careful to show all sides of the man she loved so much even as she struggles to find her footing. She stumbles hard but never falls.

As she fights to keep her family together she comes to a crossroads and in the most poetic way must choose the kind of life she wants to live, on her own terms. It is both the greatest opportunity for growth and one of the most frightening prospects to consider.

Rare is the personal story that takes on such a life of its own that I could not imagine it never being told. This story left me in a better place after having read it and grateful that I did. Through McDowell’s careful and considerate prose, her catharsis offers something for all of us, no matter our walk of life. One of the final scenes in the book takes place in a prison where McDowell shares her story with a number of inmates. Such a powerful scene brought tears to my eyes and reconfirmed the human connection.

I would recommend After Perfect to anyone living in our material world. Its reminder of what is truly important against what is essentially meaningless cannot be overstated.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Title: A Window Opens

Author: Elisabeth Egan

A Winner!

Insightful, introspective and oh so much fun to read, A Window Opens meets at the crossroads of a mother’s middle aged definition of “having it all” and realizing she can’t.

On the crux of turning forty, suburban minded mother of three Alice Pearse finds herself in a financial tangle when her husband fails to make partner at his law firm. Momentarily stunned when she realizes that her beloved part time job isn’t enough to hold down the fort, Alice recovers by finding her dream job working for an up and coming, cutting edge book café.

But what looks like a dream on paper seldom turns out to be in real life. Now Alice must juggle the demands of motherhood with her new demands at a job that perhaps expects way too much. In addition, Alice is struggling with the seriously progressive illness of a beloved family member and a husband dealing with his own middle-aged crisis. Something has got to give.

Told with warmth, reverence, and a stealth like focus on the things that go unsaid as meaningless niceties take their place, Alice stands for something better as she races to hold it all together. You will cheer her on as she reminds us that nothing is ever as it seems.

Highly recommended for every urban and suburban mom who knows fully the impossible task she faces each day but gives each day her all in spite of it.

BRB Rating: Read It.

 

Title: Truly Madly Guilty

Author: Liane Moriarty

Publication Date: July 20, 2016

What the hell happened at that innocuous backyard barbecue?

The complexity of female friendships is a topic I find endlessly fascinating and Moriarty’s command of this topic as a central theme in her books is one of the best. It isn’t that I don’t believe it is possible for two females to have nothing but love, admiration, and pure utter joy in each other’s successes. It’s simply that I reserve judgment on a case by case basis. Our societal training goes against this as well. That is some powerful training. I don’t think it is simple at all.

Truly Madly Guilty explores this topic by shining a light on the complicated friendship between Clementine and Erika. Along with a hefty dose of parental judgment by a childless couple (never cared much for these kind of people), marital relationships, sex, and a single incident with a slow buildup that will have you wondering just what could have gone so horribly wrong at a neighbor’s backyard barbeque.

Clementine is a successful cellist embarking upon the audition of her career. She is a lighthearted free spirit with two young daughters. Her husband Sam is the doting, more maternal of the couple. Clementine’s and Sam’s marriage is about to hit the rails.

Erika is the uptight, regimented daughter of a hoarder whose unstable childhood with a mentally ill mother still has her traumatized. With therapy she has learned to set strict boundaries with her mother who is still unfathomably manipulative towards her daughter. An accountant who also married an accountant, Erika likes to run a tight ship in all aspects of her life however trauma has a way of playing out in secret and Erika’s secret is about to be revealed.

When Erika and her husband approach Clementine with a serious request, Clementine is flooded with early feelings of a forced friendship with Erika, one perpetuated out of pity by her mother and one that was not chosen freely by Clementine herself. The layers and years peel away to the very core of this long time friendships that is not at all as it appears to be. Clementine opens a dialogue on the statute of limitations on ending a friendship after a certain period of time has passed and how it may just be easier to keep the status quo. Is this always the case?

Lots of food for thought here. Told in a format that keeps revisiting the day everything changed until we finally have the full story from all of its angles, it takes us right to the end. Satisfaction guaranteed.

BRB Rating: Read It.

 

realfoodfakefood

Title: Real Food Fake Food

Author: Larry Olmstead

We’re Victims of Food

Victims of food, we are all victims of food. I could be wrong but I’m not. After reading Olmstead’s heavily researched expose on food that is real and food that is anything but and how to spot the difference (sometimes you can’t) and after journeying through my own call to truth to the horrific world of EVOO, I no longer see out of the same lenses. I also spend far more on food than I ever thought I would. In addition, I spend far more time researching, shopping, preparing, and cooking as well.

Truth is, a book like this shouldn’t have to exist at all but sadly the need for more work such as Olmstead’s is a critical counterpoint to the adulteration of our food supply and the far-reaching damage it does to all of us, both consumers and real food creators alike.

Each chapter covers a specific food such as cheese, wine, beef, and olive oil. From there Olmstead gets up close and personal with these foods as they hail from specific parts of the world and outlines the subtle and not so subtle nuances that make them special and calling out the imposters as even more heinous. He also names names, a practice I wholeheartedly believe we need more of in every area of fakery. Why are we protecting the frauds?

Olmstead ends each chapter with steps that the consumer can take to better ensure that they are indeed getting the real thing if that is a concern for them. It should be to all of us as it impacts our health, pocketbook, taste, experience, and the livelihood of those painstakingly creating the real thing. Cheap fillers, one of the many methods of fakery, can range from toxic, life threatening substances to those that threaten our long term health and optimal functioning.

The takeaways are simple too. A couple of my favorites are:

The wider the appeal of a particular food, the more prone to fakery it will be. This also goes for food that is the most expensive.

Foods with categories listed as ingredients (i.e. natural flavors) will most often contain ingredients that none of us should be eating. Avoid these like the plague.

Price points can be a strong indicator of real vs. fake but not in every case.

At this point in time, hardcore investigative journaling is the best mainstream option we have for critical information regarding our food industry, including sourcing, manufacturing, restaurant practices, and marketing. Those who question these journalists’ expertise are nothing short of ridiculous. Who better to shed light on this topic but a food journalist, especially one that cares?

Though upsetting and depressing, thank goodness for books like this.

It is always better to know so let in the light.

BRB Rating: Own It

paradigmfalls

Title: Paradigm Falls

Author:  Brian Galloway

Publication Date: August 23, 2016

Philosophical Deep Dive

What if everything you know to be true is false? What would you do? Would you accept or even embrace it? Or, would you rail against it, violently and aggressively defending views which you hold as law even though you have no proof that they are real, true or even yours to begin with? How did we begin and how do we end?

Consider these quotes from Paradigm Falls:

“Your thought is the force that causes all human events.”

“Your expectations, change your behavior, and can make it more or less likely that you get what you want.”

“Doubts are beliefs and expectations in things you don’t want.”

Galloway myth busts our most common perceptions, ideas, and misconception as he attempts to topple by awareness those very institutions to which we owe our basest foundations of knowledge by calling them out for repression of information. We are at a crossroads. In this point in time we are faced with an onslaught of lies fed continuously to us through politics, organized religion, educational institutions, and the media. It is up to us to seek the truth or suffer the consequences.

Using both philosophy and science as his mediums, Galloway does a thorough deep dive into the rationale of truth and perception and how we come to believe what we think we believe, how our thoughts are shaped, and how they persist as if our very lives depend upon them. For some of us, they actually do.

At times almost poetic, this fascinating and widely meandering book calls us to fully become what we are meant to be, human beings capable of higher thought.

I would recommend this book to anyone with a baseline level of intelligence and inquisitiveness. Unfortunately, a book such as this one will never make it into the mainstream due to its heavy nature and minimum reader requirements. Regardless, if you have ever found yourself wondering what lies beyond the status quo and what it would be like to live a life outside of fear, this book may be for you.

BRB Rating: Read It

thecouplenextdoor

Title: The Couple Next Door

Author: Shari Lapena

Publication Date: August 23, 2016

More Story Than One Story Can Handle

There is so much going on in Lapena’s suspense debut, The Couple Next Door. The story centers on an infant kidnapping while the parents are attending a dinner party next door. As if that weren’t enough, we have the next door neighbors doing bad and nasty things with a hidden camera. We have two parents with seriously questionable priorities. We have many dubious creatures surrounding these parents. We also have a mother with a horrifying mental disorder, long kept hidden, that appears to have been retriggered with the stress of both childbirth and her child gone missing.

There are many twists and turns since the police questioning never lets up and the parents, Marco and Anne Conti are their prime suspects. Soon Marco and Anne are pitted against one another as secrets about each of them come to light, ones that they have kept from even each other. They are not the brightest people however they are both under extreme duress.

It is likely that you will figure out the plot twists before the main characters do. The story is an easily followed line however it is less likely that you will figure out just how all of the characters factor in until the end. The plotline was slightly disjointed but I did appreciate the lack of loose ends which is a bust to many similar novels. The ending ties together information revealed in the story that could have gone nowhere. It will throw you for a loop.

Easily a single session read, The Couple Next Door is fully entertaining.

BRB Rating: Read It

didyoueverhavecover

Title: Did You Ever Have a Family

Author: Bill Clegg

Real and Raw

Family…The word alone can break your heart. This short powerhouse novel about loss so profound it transcends words is both tragic and uplifting.

A time of new beginnings and the eve of a wedding marks the deaths of June Reid’s daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend. A freak accident in every sense of the word takes them all while sleeping under the roof of the same house. June is the only survivor and is taken on a journey far away from her home, her brokenness becomes a palpable thing to those protective new people that surround her.

Lydia is the grieving mother of June’s boyfriend. Once good friends with June, she is left alone without that friendship to face the judgmental small town gossip she has suffered for years. Lydia is the embodiment of a modern day Hester Prynne, a marked woman with no shot at redemption except from perhaps the young boy Silas who harbors a soul crushing secret in which Lydia can be the only recipient.

A true circle of life tale, one that will echo with the ripples it leaves behind.

BRB Rating: Read It.

everybodyrise

Title: Everybody Rise

Author: Stephanie Clifford

NYC “Polite” Society

A story about a bunch of insufferable bores and the girl who desperately tries to fit in with them. Evelyn Beegan is an on-the-fringe outsider. She is from a wannabe southern family with some money and influence but not nearly enough for the crowd she aspires to. She goes to the right school, massages the right shoulders, and possesses some of the right friends. In spite of a belligerent mother who pushes her to rise, Evelyn still falls short. When she makes critical and tactical errors with the current queen bee of the moneyed New York social scene, Evelyn finds herself in a bad place and the real friends she has tossed aside aren’t there to break her fall.

Will she ever get back up?

This is a slow and rather dull read until certain point where things begins to pick up and finally become interesting. Still, the book was not worth the hype and the publishing world continues to confound at times like these. I am glad I put off reading it until this year. I almost abandoned this one altogether but was in the end, glad I stuck it out. It does have redeeming qualities. However the story and the writing itself were not enough for me to recommend this one.

BRB Rating: Skip It. 

thesurvivorsguide

Title: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness

Author: Maddie Dawson

Publication Date: October 25, 2016

Family Matters

Nina Popkin just wants to know where she came from. Adopted before the age of two, she has recently buried her mother and at thirty-five is reeling from loneliness. As she confronts a crisis of conscience, she meets much older Carter and his fifteen year old daughter Indigo one fateful night in front of her business. Nina and Carter begin a romantic relationship in the aftermath of his failed marriage. Nina takes on moving into Carter’s home after his wife moves away. She also takes on the role of stepmother to two teenagers, ferrying them around and cooking family meals while trying to be a sounding board for their angst in the absence of their selfish mother. At the same time, she learns she has a sister who was also adopted at birth and shortly thereafter discovers her birth mother’s name and identifying information. Nina has found her family but do they want anything to do with her or each other?

Nina is both lighthearted and funny, possessing a humorous bent that serves her well as a rallying cheerleader to a reluctant sister, a sullen teen, and a birth mother so haunted by her past secrets that she fears even meeting her two grown daughters. Nina’s doggedness without expectation puts the reader squarely on her side as navigates fighting for the family she never had though some of her choices seem miscalculated.

There was little felt connection between Carter and Nina which made it difficult to root for their relationship, especially since it is Nina who is burdened with most of the life changing issues while Carter appears to want to bury his head.

Life gets shaken up and in the settling back down Nina comes to several realizations about her life and what she wants from it. It wasn’t a favorite but still a solid story.

BRB Rating: Read It

caregivingcover

Title: Cruising into Caregiving

Author: Jennifer L. FitzPatrick

Publication Date: September 27, 2016

A Fantastically Rich and Resourced Guide to Elder Caregiving.

I’ll admit I was intrigued when this book came across my queue however I hesitated because I didn’t really want to read it. I have my own preconceived notions about caregiving, many of them negative. Also, since I am not a caregiver myself and do not plan on becoming one, why did I need to read this book?

As it turns out, I am glad I did. FitzPatrick, a gerontologist with over twenty years’ experience, has a way of breaking down caregiving, defining its roles, and addressing all the parts that no one cares to discuss. Her impartiality regarding all the nuances of human emotion and the variety of ways they can play out in the pressure charged world of caregiving cannot be overstated. I highly recommend the book for this reason alone.

But there is more, her list of resources is second to none and just knowing that this vast array is available is enough to want to own this book. All of these resources are available in one handy place and could be used to help another lost in the uncharted waters of elder caregiving. In a care giving scenario, this guide will be referred back to over and over again.

The nautical comparisons were silly but effective. The only chapter that I wasn’t thrilled about was the taking care of yourself advice towards the end of the book. Much of her advice is based on worn out and archaic advice regarding exercise and nutrition and would have best been left out. She speaks in generalities and offers basic guidelines however this further hurts her lack of credibility in these areas.

Overall, this guide will have positive far reaching effects for primary, secondary and tertiary caregivers and all those whose lives they touch.

BRB Rating: Own It

 

thestranger

Title: The Stranger

Author: Harlan Coben

Run When the Stranger Comes to Town…

What he is about to tell you will shatter your world. A mysterious stranger approaches Adam Price in an American Legion hall and whispers in his ear a terrible secret about his wife. Adam knows it’s true and his world begins to quickly unravel. After his wife disappears, Adam begins to piece together the dark story about not only his life but the lives of those he lives among in his privileged suburban town. As others are also visited by the Stranger, Adam must figure out what the connection is between all their stories

Coben’s story about an all-American good guy and all around awesome Dad will have you rooting for Adam as you try to piece together the mystery. The good news is you won’t and that level of complexity is what we have come to expect from Coben. Exposing the dark underbelly of the elite suburban family is something Coben does best.

The Stranger does not disappoint.

BRB Rating: Read It

 howtochangealaw

Title: How to Change a Law

Author: John Thibault

Good Overview of the Law and How to Effect Policy Change but Lacking in Full Disclosure

This book serves as an overview to the online platform ilobby along with many resources on how to become more involved at all levels of policy making. I love the concept. The site however does have a ways to go to appeal to a wider audience.

One criticism of this book is simply that it mostly reads as a set of directions for navigating Thibault’s website, ilobby.co, a political lobbying and debate network which still appears in its infancy stage. You actually do not need to read the book to figure out how the site works. You can simply go to the site and click around which you might do anyway if this topic interests you, saving you some time. The book however does offer a list of resources so depending on how deeply you want to immerse yourself in the issues you care about or say you care about, you can decide accordingly.

Another criticism towards this book is that although it is possible for any individual to effect policy change, the issue itself does weigh heavily. No ten year old is going to change vaccine policy for instance but she can get a law passed to save the trees in a park by her home. I use the example of a ten year old because Thibault references one in the book to illustrate how anyone can change or write a law. Some issues are far too charged and contentious for the average Joe to undertake unless they align themselves with a firmly established organization that has money and clout behind it. This went unmentioned in the book, possibly in the hope of getting maximum reach for ilobby signups for which Thibault is the creator.

I recommend reading this book in spite of the above criticisms because most Americans believe they are powerless to effect change and are completely at the mercy of their elected representatives. I love the proactive approach this avenue takes especially when the alternatives include blindly voting for a candidate, calling legislative offices, or signing petitions. These all feel like ineffective and isolating strategies that seldom seem to be met with anything more than a derogatory pat on the head or useless lip service. We spend more time looking for others to validate out positions than actually doing anything to further our cause. How to Change a Law’s contribution to getting off of our ass(es) and actually doing something cannot be overstated.

BRB Rating: Read It 

thenext

Title: The Next

Author: Stephanie Gangi

 Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Gorgeous.

Publication Date October 18, 2016

Love, Loyalty, and Letting Go

Come and taste the rainbow of traits glistening in this beautiful tale of love and loss and how neither, once created, can be destroyed.

Joanna DeAngelis spends her final days of life obsessed and cyber stalking her ex Ned, the much younger love of her life who suddenly left her with no explanation, moving on to a new life with another woman.

Ghosting a terminally ill woman has got to be some kind of crime.

Not to worry because Joanna may be gone but she is definitely not forgotten. Nor will Ned get the chance to forget her. As Joanna’s two grown daughters are left to pick up the pieces after their mother’s death and while still mourning her loss, Joanna gets her revenge on Ned a la after life style.

Beautifully told with magical insights woven like tapestry throughout, this is not a story of revenge but of life and love in all its forms, beautiful and ugly. The soul saving loyalty of a dog figures prominently and acts first as a bridge connecting the physical world to those we cannot see and then as a beacon, guiding the way home.

I loved it.

BRB Rating: Read It 

 fractured

Title: Fractured

Author: Catherine McKenzie

Publication Date: October 4, 2016

A Famous Author, a Stalker, and Town Busybody Walk into a Bar…

This sets the stage for the latest novel by Catherine McKenzie which takes a newly minted blockbuster novelist and moves her to the small, very tight knit Cincinnati community along with her husband and twins to evade a privacy decimating stalker who seems to know no bounds.

Julie Prentice arrives at her new home traumatized and trying to find her way back after a series of unsettling events. Things seem idyllic enough at first as she is welcomed by the self-appointed mayor of her street Cindy, a privacy decimating stalker in her own right. Julie befriends John who lives across the street through a shared passion of running and similar schedules.

Things quickly take a nasty turn and Julie finds herself in a similar situation once again as strange things start to happen. As Julie takes precautions to protect herself and her family, her relationship with John crosses a line. Julie finds herself once again isolated and ostracized by neighbors who seem to turncoat overnight.

McKenzie alternates between Julie and John’s viewpoints as well as both present and past points in time. In the present, we know that a serious crime has been committed involving a murder but we don’t know who the victim or perpetrator is until the very end. It is not at all likely that the reader will figure it out ahead of time which adds to the quality of the story. As the gap between yesterday and today is slowly closing in, critical pieces are slowly doled out building suspense right up till the last few pages.

Sometimes things are exactly what they seem to be and sometimes they are anything but.

Fast paced and frenetic, McKenzie does a masterful job and keeping the story moving forward and keeping the surprises coming without any missteps. Considering that she has been has been quoted as writing Fractured without an outline, I am impressed.

BRB Rating: Read It 

 lifeunexpectedTitle: Life Unexpected

Author: J. A. Stone

Publication Date: October 18, 2016

Life with Hospital Corners

Corey Bennett has just suffered tremendous loss with the death of her cancer stricken husband after losing both parents just a short time before. She works for a successful Atlanta law firm and after taking care of her ill husband, throws herself back into work instead of facing the myriad of unanswered questions regarding her life and where she is headed. A forced vacation sends her to the beloved beach house of her youth where she sexually reconvenes with a childhood friend.

This brief encounter finds Corey not only widowed but pregnant as well. She finds herself in the position of having to make a difficult decision, one that will seriously impact those closest to her. The decision is not a sound one and Corey’s character and intelligence are called into question. This makes her rather unlikable and not easy to root for.

Corey never has to wait long for any problem to work itself out. Even in the face of great tragedy her life seems neatly gift wrapped when one solution after another parades itself before her. This is not how life works and though this is fiction, the story comes off as trite. It seems almost disrespectful to what real people face in the wake of the same challenges.

I would have hoped that an author with this much life experience could have written a more realistic, more meaningful story. There is some leeway given for this being a debut novel but still chalk this one up to a beach read only.

BRB Rating: Skip It

smallgreatthingscover

Title: Small Great Things

Author: Jodi Picoult

Publication Date: October 11, 2016

Sticky Subject Courageously Loaded

Ruth is a successful labor and delivery nurse happily working in a small hospital and raising an upstanding son. Her work is not merely a job but a spiritual calling and Ruth transcends both competency and experience. Her calling is a gift. An unexpected encounter with first time parents who happen to be active white supremacists puts Ruth in a horrendous position because she is black. A tragic event jeopardizes not only Ruth’s job and license, but her very name as she prepares to go on trial for a crime she did not commit.

Her court appointed attorney lobbies hard for Ruth’s case as she believes herself to be immune to color and race. She wants Ruth to have a fair trial and feels she is the best person for the job. Therefore, Kennedy’s defense involves not acknowledging that the incident had anything to do with race at all. The huge white elephant in the room is not to be remarked upon. Ruth vehemently disagrees with Kennedy’s strategy as the women fall into an uneasy friendship.

Turk is the young father whose fateful path collides with Ruth’s. A warrior for white rights over all, his extreme and violent point of view blazes its hateful path through Ruth’s world, affecting everyone in it.

This is a story of race, division, and relationships. It is about our differences and what sets us apart alongside all of the ways in which we are the same. The poetic justice meted out at the end of the story offers the kind of twist that is meant to upend everything we believe about racial equality and the rights of others. Where do we go from here? In asking the right questions, there isn’t a single one of us who would fail to realize how firmly entrenched our belief systems are, even when we’re not consciously aware of them.

The subject of racial equality and equity are clearly presented courtroom style. The elements that constitute a trial win and who truly benefits from that outcome are also explored. As the story tells, there will be those who will rise above and truly change and those who will succumb to their hate and perish.

This is a timely book about a historically critical topic. Normally, when I finish a book, I simply go back to my life even if the story has had a profound effect on me. This book seems more a call to action, maybe even an invitation to start the kind of discussion most people would shy away from. However, I do not believe that a book in and of itself is enough.

What more can we do to ensure a discussion takes place? I am willing to bet that there are a sea of us who are wondering the same.

BRB Rating: Read It. Also, don’t skip the Author’s Note at the end.

thegirlbeforeTitle: The Girl Before

Author: JP Delaney

Publication Date: January 24, 2017

Obsessive Love Gone Wrong

Two young women with eerily similar looks each tell their own story about how they came to live at One Folgate in a state of the art minimalist home built by an obsessively controlling architect in exchange for their privacy.

Emma is the girl before who is trying to move on from a violent attack that took place in her apartment while she was alone for the night.

Jane is the young woman who occupies the house right after Emma. She has recently lost a child and is still raw from the experience. Looking for answers and a fresh start, she agrees to the lengthy and arduous application process, resulting in a final approval interview with the architect Edward.

Both women give up their privacy and allow themselves to be controlled by Edward in exchange for living in the house as caretakers. The draw is that the rent is so low. The women also both enter into a romantic relationship with Edward which is nearly identical in nature.

Told in a back and forth format between Emma and Jane, the story is mainly centered around Jane’s obsession with finding out what really happened to Emma as she comes to grips with becoming her replacement.

The elements of the story did not fit together seamlessly. Jane’s detecting and interviewing both the lead officer on Emma’s case as well as Emma’s therapist had a strong ring of falsehood that detracted from the storyline. It was also difficult to reconcile Jane’s character with being portrayed as somewhat sensible and levelheaded but continuously making one stupid decision after another. I did not experience the heightened level of anticipation just before the climax. I felt more a sense of disappointment in the ending and the way in which all the story lines played out.

Overall, a solid storyline whose individual pieces did not live up to the lofty whole. It needed some major plot tweaking. The Fifty Shades of Grey references were a bit eye-roll worthy however some might find them titillating. It is hard to fathom women being portrayed as so incredibly dimwitted. Main characters were mostly portrayed as extremely un-nuanced. This is a very quick read with short, alternating voice chapters that accelerate the pace.

BRB Rating: Skip It

themiddleclasscomeback

Title: Middle Class Comeback

Author: Munir Moon

Great Theories. Great Ideas. What about Reality?

I love the idea of a middle class resurgence led by women, technology and the earning power of millennials in spite of stodgy old government. The Middle Class Comeback is a hopeful message and for that I am grateful after the continuous disappearing class rhetoric we have been listening to for the past decade.

However…

The on paper ideas presented by Moon, though insightful, still need to be propagated by massive governmental changes.

Changes don’t happen fast…or easy. There would be a ton of resistance to any one of Moon’s plans. The proposals came across as idealistic because, let‘s face it, who is going to initiate all this change and when?

Perhaps the message is that change is a coming by default. A new order is marching in as the old and outdated are more likely to retire and die off rather than getting voted out of office.

What happens in the meantime?

I completely agree that we need to make over Congress first. Watching the Presidential debate was an exercise in change futility as Clinton is spouting the same tired rhetoric, the same empty useless promises. Trump comes across like a deviation but if he gets in he will have eight million favors to fulfill and not one of them will be to the middle class.

The message is one of hope and that is great news but for those of us in the know better, things will continue to get worse before they get better. I was only marginally cheered by the message.

I hope I am wrong but this book is a mere tip of the iceberg.

BRB Rating: Read It

Outrage

Title: Outrage

Author: T.R. Ragan

Outrageous

Publication Date: September 20, 2016

T.R. Ragan dives right back into the murky world of child trafficking with her heroine Faith McMann taking center stage along with her posse of bounty hunters and extremely able bodied family members. The evil doers reveal themselves to be even more sinister this time around as the stakes grow higher for this vigilante mom to rescue her two children who were brutally taken from their home as Faith was forced to watch.

You will root for Faith, her friends, family, and children every step of the way.

The story is fast paced and full of the kinds of twists and turns that will have you devouring this second book in the Faith McMann trilogy in no time. Adequate background is offered if you happened to miss the first book, Furious. If you haven’t yet read it, go back and grab a copy. It’s not common to see the victims rise up and fight back. I cannot wait for the third installment but I am also going to miss the hell out of this series when it is over.

BRB Rating: Read It

 onlydaughter

Title: Only Daughter

Author: Anna Snoekstra

Missing Person, Assumed Identity

In order to keep from being arrested for shoplifting, a troubled young woman steals the identity of a young girl gone missing eleven years ago. The now cold case is reopened with renewed interest. What really happened to Bec, a sixteen year old who was here one day and mysteriously gone the next? What is it about Bec’s family, her mother, father and twin brothers that is so unsettling?

As a young woman tries to integrate into a new and disturbing family while keeping her story straight and not revealing too much, the truth behind Bec’s disappearance rises to the surface. Questions, previously ignored, come to light as answers that have been there all along are finally revealed.

Though filled with amazing potential to be so much better than it was, the story was a bit of a letdown. Told in the alternating voices of past Bec and her present day replacement, the seemingly small incidentals got lost in the bigger details. What did Bec find in her brother’s backpack that was so disturbing, it had her fleeing her house instead of taking her siblings to the water park as promised? By the time I got around to finding out, I had forgotten all about this critical scene that could have been potently used to build suspense.

BRB Rating: Read It 

achespainlove  Title: Aches, Pains, and Love

Author: Kira Lynne

Dating Advice for the Chronically Ill Set

I was immediately attracted to the subject matter of Kira Lynne’s Aches, Pains, and Love. Suffering from chronic pain and illness does throw a big wrench into dating and intimacy and if you are a sufferer, no doubt this is something you think about quite a bit if you are in the market for love, dating, or just mutually satisfying sex.

How to navigate a relationship in the throes of chronic pain and illness flares is something that all sufferers will need to navigate at one time or another no matter how established or unestablished their intimate relationships are. Learning early on how to care for yourself, set up appropriate boundaries and stick to them as well as love yourself enough to get your relationship wants and needs met are some of the points covered in the book.

Unfortunately, the preachy tone and redundancy of the advice were hard to take and slowed the pace. This book could easily have been half as long and still said everything it needed to say. The book has a strong cathartic-to-the-author feel and perhaps the repetitiveness is due to the author’s passion for her topic due to personal circumstance. This is understandable however I would have rather seen this book as an article, even in multiple parts. There are exercises however the ineffectiveness of a workbook in a book cannot be overstated. It never seems to translate as intended and only appears as a good idea in theory.

Again, the subject matter is the best part of the book. It is an area that deserves more attention as chronic pain, illness and autoimmunity are far bigger issues today, covering a wider age demographic than ever before.

BRB Rating: Read It (I would suggest skimming to get the highlights if short on time because the overall message is important)

  BuzzBooks2016FallWinter

Title: Buzz Books 2016 Fall/Winter

Author: Publishers Lunch

So Many Books, So Little Time…

I flew through Buzz Books 2016 Fall/Winter by Publishers Lunch and am so excited about several of the promising summaries and excerpts I have  read such as The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff, News of the World by Paulette Jiles, The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena, Commnwealth by Ann Patchett, Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple, Little Nothing by Marisa Silver, The Wangs vs, The World by Jade Chang, History of the Wolves by Emily Fridlund, The Next by Stephanie Gangi which is next on my reading list, The Nix by Nathan Hill, Things We Have in Common by Tasha Kavanaugh, Mischling by Affinity Konar, Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba, one of several on the subject of Nazi occupied France during WWII and Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra a suspense thriller which I am also very much looking forward to reading.

This edition is chock full of some promising writing and I cannot wait to dig in.

BRB Rating: Read It.

Joyful

Title: Joyful

Author: Toks Adebiyi

 Eerily Dogmatic

I am not a fan of organized religion in general and Joyful is heavy on one man’s religious dogma that manages to bleed into all areas of life. The book has a heavy “this is the price to get into heaven feel”. Joyful is about how we should all live and what is right and wrong behavior based on one man’s journey along with his cultural upbringing which I found impossible to relate to. It pretty much sucked any joy out of reading this book.

Mercifully, it is very short.

The author is Nigerian born and there are some minor language barriers here and there but the bigger barriers lie in context and meaning. It is not always easy to discern what he means perhaps due to cultural misunderstandings such as funding your parents regularly even if they don’t need it.

His advice on diet is a sore spot because the author fails to realize that there is no one diet for every person and his strong stance on eating raw or uncooked plant matter could cause serious health issues in the wrong people.

Live your life as you choose but keep your advice to yourself and stop speaking to what you do not know would be my advice to Adebiyi

My advice to anyone who hasn’t read this would be to skip it. Take it as you will.

BRB Rating: Skip It

  reclaimyourbrain

Title: Reclaim Your Brain

Author: Joseph A. Annibali

Not the Last Word on Brain Health

Annibali is the head psychiatrist for the Amen Clinic in Virginia. The clinic founded by another psychiatrist, Daniel Amen specializes in the treatment of a number of brain affecting disorder such as ADD, ADHD, OCD, PTSD. Anxiety, and Autism through their tool, SPECT Imaging. Since the field of psychiatry is the only field to base diagnoses on not a single stich of testing, this is indeed pioneer work.

The book itself is filled with many case studies of Annibali’s patients and the work he has done to heal their brains. Unfortunately, his description of his patients’ myriad issues is both over simplified and overstated, leaving many more questions left unanswered. His seemingly first-line use of serious psychotropic medications and the irresponsible downplaying of their inexhaustible list of serious side-effects without allusions to these long term and possibly permanent effects is disturbing. He is also heavy into supplementation at higher doses (The Amen clinic sells most of the recommended supplements which is a conflict of interest for some of us) which may be unhelpful and cost prohibitive.

This book should be accompanied by reading Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic and also Kelly Brogan M. D.’s A Mind of Your Own (reviews for both can be found on the Reviews page) so that the reader will have a fuller picture of the downside of medication and what a person can naturally do to boost brain function. Yes, Annibali does talk about lifestyle strategies in the book but his playing both sides of the allopathic and holistic medical fence can be confusing to some. Brogan eloquently speaks of this phenomenon in A Mind of Your Own.

The case studies presented have a high level of relatability and I believe most people reading will recognize themselves at some point but the described pie-in-the-sky success of all these cases rings very one-sided, possibly inaccurate, and judging from the resistance of some of the disorders he treats, false to my ears.

Easily skippable but if you take it in the vein in which it is written, that of a practicing psychiatrist who puts medication on a pedestal or perhaps has pharmaceutical industry ties, there is some useful information and it is fascinating to read about what can go awry with the brain and why it happens.

BRB Rating: Skip It or Read It (but do so with a grain of salt in regard to treatment protocol or in other words do your own research).

   TheWhole30

Title: The Whole 30

Author: Dallas & Melissa Hartwig

A Tried and True Food Manual

The Whole 30 is your definitive guide to the Whole 30 program. This book covers everything you can think of and every question you will have regarding this unique and special program.

It is also a kick ass stand-alone guide to real nutritional advice backed by real nutritional science and a whole lot of tested and anecdotal food psychology.

Your Whole 30 will go much smoother if you read the book first. Planning is critical and the book covers all stages of planning from start to finish. Don’t do what I did and attempt the program by simply culling information from the Whole 30 website. It is far more difficult to pick up partial, disjointed pieces of information and think you have it all under control. Trust me, you won’t. Some unknown thing will inevitably come up to knock you off track either purposefully or un-purposefully.

If you are already accomplished in the kitchen, you will breeze right through the kitchen set-up, how to boil water, and recipe section. If not, these sections will convince you how utterly doable meal planning and execution really is and how it can easily fit into the busiest of days. We are all busy. Could we finally put to rest the ridiculous competition?

Lastly, though not a cookbook (yes, there are far more visually appealing Paleo-style cookbooks out there), there are some damn fine recipes available in The Whole 30. You can use this book alone and get through the entire month deliciously.

Great resources, plenty of support, what more can you ask for?

BRB Rating: Own It

   itstartswithfoodTitle: It Starts With Food

Author: Dallas & Melissa Hartwig

Solid, No Fault Nutrition and The Reason Why

It Starts with Food offers basic, cutting edge nutritional science coupled with a good dose of eating psychology. It is full of great information that you will reference many times over so you may want to own this one. For anyone about to embark on a Whole 30, I strongly recommend reading either this book or The Whole 30 first.

After two Whole 30’s attempted solely by culling a lot of information from the website and forums, I see the value of reading the book first in hindsight. Yes, I was able to cobble together the gist of the program but I was not nearly as successful as I could have been.

It Starts with Food covers pretty much everything and anything you can and cannot anticipate on the program all in one convenient place. There is information that overlaps both books and if you read them both, you will read some information twice but that only serves to reinforce the lesson, a plus.

It Starts with Food will give you the reason behind the food and why certain foods that may seem healthy are actually anything but. The authors have nailed it with facts that are backed up by not only the (not rocket) science but also by field experts. I definitely got the sense that “it takes a village” delivered.

BRB Rating: Own It

 missingpresumedcover

Title: Missing, Presumed 

Author: Susie Steiner

Lackluster. Meh.

Release Date: June 28, 2016

Edith Hind is a young, beautiful Cambridge graduate who suddenly goes missing.

Her father is a prestigious surgeon with impressive connections, the kind that keep the investigating officers on their toes.

Manon Bradshaw is one of the prime investigators on the case. This story is really about her and her messy love life interspersed with work tales.

This makes for a very disjointed story line that doesn’t quite seem to go together. The buildup is very slow and rather unexciting. The climax is disappointing, almost coming off as a non-event. Overall it was not the worst story I have read and it was well written enough but there are much better stories competing for your time.

BRB Rating: Skip It 

thelastone

Title: The Last One

Author: Alexandra Oliva

A Modern Tale That Will Knock Your Socks Off.

Release Date: July 12, 2016

Oh how I love the feeling of true excitement over a story. I also love the ones that I spend time thinking about even when I am not reading them. I don’t feel this way often but I did with The Last One, a story about a televised realty completion mixed with a population thinning real-world plague.

Twelve contestants are chosen for a no holds barred, budget busting reality extravaganza that will test their physical and mental merits to the limit. The show is not above somewhat cruel tactics or elaborate mechanical props designed to mimic the real thing. Each personality is carefully chosen from a particular demographic and the group could not be more diversified. A young woman called Zoo turns out to be the fan favorite. Zoo alternates narrating her unique experience with the voices of the other contestants as they navigate their way through group and solo competitions down to a last man standing finale.

The contestants are cut off from the outside world and everyone in it. They have no way of knowing what’s real and what isn’t. From both their skewed perceptions and over exhaustion, their mind continuously plays tricks on them as the lives they once knew slip away without their awareness.

Truly one for the ages Gutsy. Creative. Part adventure, part sci-fi, The Last One has far reaching appeal. Recommended for anyone who loves reality TV, lots of snark for show, and the almost super natural.

BRB Rating: Read It

the shallows

Title: The Shallows

Author: Nicholas Carr

What is the Internet Doing to Our Brains?

An exhaustive and at times tedious look at the way our brains process information in the age of digital information overload. Yes, our brains retain a high level of plasticity and they are changing as we speak to adapt to the constant digital onslaught. The ways in which we read, process, write, and interpret are all evolving into a more shallow existence. The pros and the cons are weighed and perhaps the ultimate warning that digital auto-regulation (my term as far as I know) is the most critical factor in managing the digital chaos that permeates our lives to the degree that none of us can fully escape even if we wanted to.

Highly recommended for all, especially the Millennials and the TBD’s (age 10 and younger) who are growing up fully indoctrinated into the digital era with no frame of reference to a time before. Carr reminds us that there is a price to pay for top speed information processing and that our brains have not yet evolved to the point where that price is null and void.

BRB Rating: Read It

thenest

Title: The Nest

Author: Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Well Written, Well Read

The Plumb family has its problems but what family doesn’t? Their deceased father has left each of the four Plumb children a small but significant nest egg but their executor mother has saw fit to use it to bail one of them out of a legal situation. Now the rest of the kids are counting on their one ne’er do well sibling to do the right thing and pay them all back. Money as a personality magnifier always makes for a fascinating topic.

The entire Plumb family has issues, real ones, the kind that we can relate to which makes the story that much better. Sweeney’s masterful storytelling and sound structural construction make The Nest a pleasure to read from cover to cover.

BRB Rating: Read It

benningtongirls...

Title: Bennington Girls Are Easy

Author: Charlotte Silver

Horrid Little Shits

Bennington, that liberal arts college in southwestern Vermont is churning out a seemingly endless bunch of clueless twits known as Bennington Girls. I don’t think you would want any one of them associated with your school. I suppose it’s too late now. There are many girls having gone to different schools who are like Cassandra, Sylvie, Gala, and Pansy, some of the story’s principal characters but the idea of them all congregating in such close proximity past the holding cell known as college is chilling. They are horrible to each other as well as the rest of humanity. Over-entitled, lazy, resting on both laurel and fast fading looks, they have delusional notions about what the world owes them and zero gratitude for the things they take for granted.

The story is centered on two best friends who experience a seismic falling out after they mistakenly believe that their longtime relationship can withstand the rigors of roommate-dom after college. Their circle of friends factor heavily in crafting a story about young twenty-somethings bumbling their way into life in the big city after the protective shelter of school is lifted. Their every petty thought is expertly recorded and often match their bad behavior. Aimless and useless until life decides to land enough blows to where they actually start to get it. Where do these girls come from?

Silver writes some amazingly insightful passages that make the book worth the sometimes slow pace. Seeing the world through the eyes of a Bennington Girl is not an experience I would want to repeat and listening to any one of them ramble on in either word or thought is the epitome of dull.

Recommended for all the vicarious parents, the ones who put all their eggs into that “right college” basket and all the over-privileged and nauseatingly entitled kid out there who think that their every want in life will be easily met.

BRB Rating: Read It

inkandbone

Title: Ink and Bone

Author: Lisa Unger

Release Date: June 7, 2016

Intuition’s Way

A young girl has mysteriously disappeared while on a vacation hike with her father and brother. After nearly a year missing, her mother is the only one who cannot give up the search for her missing daughter. Hiring a private investigator who works with a well-known psychic from the area where the crime took place, the search which has long been considered a cold case, is kept alive by a mother who won’t quit.

The psychic’s granddaughter, Finley is the one who is getting the reading on this case. Finley has recently moved to town to live with her grandmother. A sharp intuitive who sees dead people as regularly as she sees the living, she is conflicted on how to use her gifts and unsure about whether she wants to use them at all. At her grandmother’s urging Finley reluctantly agrees to work on the case.

This is a powerful suspense novel with tension building in all the right places and taken right to the bitter end as Finley learns a valuable lesson about paying attention to the needs of those no longer living. The aspect of divine feminine energy in the form of intuition is a fascinating theme as is the importance of letting go. This is hair standing suspense at its best. Seriously worth the read.

BRB Rating: Read It

mygirlcover

 My Girl

Jack Jordan

Release Date: July 4, 2016

One Sick Story

Someone is terrorizing Paige, a woman who lost both her fourteen year old daughter to a brutal murder and her husband to suicide. No longer able to cope with her loss she turns to heavy drinking and pills to dull the ever present pain she feels. She starts to notice strange happenings about her home that she couldn’t possibly have caused, even in her inebriated state. No one believes her.

The trauma heaped upon one woman in such a short time span is overwhelming. There is a second story involving again heaps of trauma piled onto a single person. It was definite overkill. Much of the story retained a level of non-believability at times bordering on the ridiculous. The scene where Paige visits a dangerous place looking for answers regarding her husband’s death were just left hanging so that the original scene appeared nothing more than filler.

Overzealous and perhaps overly concerned with shock value, the story lacked dimension and character and plot development. The book is mercifully short but I would have opted for greater length over what the story lacked.

BRB Rating: Skip It

anythingforher

Anything for Her

 Jack Jordan

Release Date: May 16, 2016

Remind Me Never to Leave My Coat on the Host Bed at a Party

I read both recent Jack Jordan novels back to back. Lately I have been attracting the dark psychological thriller genre. I may need a break after reading Anything for Her.

Anything for Her is the story of a picture perfect family in the aftermath of a horror story. Brooke Leighton is eighteen years old and tormented by the events of a terrible night in which people lost their lives. Her mother Louise is hiding her secret along with a terrible one of her own, also stemming from “that night”. Life for the Leightons is clearly defined as before that night and after. Michael, the patriarch was a successful business man before that night but afterwards is being investigated for fraud and embezzlement. Oh, and since Louise, his once sexy, game-for-anything wife has done a complete 180 after that night, Michael decides to add sleazy adulterer to the list by sleeping with Louise’s sister, justifying it because his wife will no longer put out. The story rather ridiculously implies that people are like light switches, either on or off.

Suicidal and desperate, Louise decides to flee their London town home escaping to the countryside for some time alone to think, leaving Brooke and her ten year old son to fend for themselves. Shortly thereafter Louise is stalked by an intruder who mysteriously and easily enters her home and yard, leaving telltale dead baby robins all over the place. At the same time, Brooke is also being stalked back in London.

The story gets even more unbelievably bizarre from here.

The reader is beaten over the head with the promise of finding out what happened “that night”. Instead of building tension and teasing appropriately, the effect of the relentless buildup was obnoxious that I nearly lost interest altogether. Louise’s character was written in such a way that no mother I know would be able to relate. Her complete lack of judgment in handling the details of that night puts her daughter in extreme danger and causes her even greater trauma. Laughably, Louise’s profession is that of a therapist. Brooke’s decision to call her mother for help that night was the worst decision she could have made. Stupidly, Louise decides to keep a written account of what happened via a journal as a ridiculous attempt to assuage her guilt.

I’ll give you one guess as to whether or not the diary is found out?

By the time I got to the big reveal, I was thoroughly disgusted and even put the book away for a while. There was no “can’t put it down feel.”

Immature characters that didn’t ring true, a plot that completely jumped the shark, and unresolved story lines that go nowhere makes this one to skip.

BRB Rating: Skip It

jabjabjab

Title: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

Author: Gary Vaynerchuk

Coffee Table Worthy and an Actionable Read

This is not just another book to proudly display on your coffee table though it certainly deserves a spot there with its sleek, colorful design and glossy thick pages. The hardcover version is a little too chunky to hold in one hand and read while in motion but don‘t let that stop you from purchasing yourself a copy.

No matter what becomes of the main media digital platforms that are highlighted in this book, the content and overall message will remain evergreen. This means that you can apply the basic recipe of this book to any other platform that isn’t yet in existence as well as keep up with the ever evolving changes to those that do exist.

My favorite part were the color commentaries. There you get the opportunity to see just what works and what doesn’t depending upon the business and the platform utilized as well as practice the skill of execution recognition. Great lessons.

Bursting with straightforward, concise, and usable information, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook delivers with a one two punch.

BRB Rating: Own It

 trustmeimlyingTitle: Trust Me I’m Lying Confessions of a Media Manipulator

Author: Ryan Holiday

Read All About It…Unless You Want the Truth

Those major online news blogs are full of shit more often than you know. So we can’t trust the news, tell me something I don’t know. Holiday actually does and it is worse than I even knew. I would be more enlightened by what is happening in the world by just by stepping outside my front door and taking a deep breath or meditating on it.

The total abuse of the online system and the myriad of ways it can be and is manipulated makes for a nauseating read but much like a slow motion car crash, it is hard to look away. Holiday openly admits to his own manipulations, all for seemingly good causes, but points to his conscience as reason for exposing the nasty little secrets that plague the ultimate drive for page views at all costs. Then, he details some of those very real costs before telling us that it doesn’t matter to those pulling the strings. The machine will go on and the monster will continue to get fed regardless of the suffering and destruction until we, the consumers rise up and insist on truth and transparency. If you read anything at all online, read this book.

I won’t hold my breath.

BRB Rating: Read It.


buzzbooks2016

Title: Buzz Book 2016 Spring/Summer

Author: Publisher’s Lunch

A Delightful Guide for What to Read Next

Planning what to read is a habit I have long employed. It may not be the way for everyone but it works for me. Buzz Book makes it easy if you like to target your reading search on what is new and buzz worthy. Books are categorized according to fiction both from seasoned and debut authors as well as non-fiction. Excerpts are included for every book listed as well as the opportunity to link to most of the full galleys. Even if you don’t read a single listed book, the overview on what is up and coming is a great bonus for anyone immersed in the book world.

BRB Rating: Read It

imaginemegonecover

 Imagine Me Gone

Adam Haslett

Hello Darkness My Old Friend…

We hardly ever get to see an up close look at depression romanticized in as beautifully naked a way as in Imagine Me Gone. This is the story of a family whose dynamic seems to be written in the stars before they even come together and how they navigate the encompassing depression of John and later on Michael, the eldest child. The family interplay was what attracted me to this book in the first place. I wanted a perspective on how an entire origin family copes with a sinking, progressive illness.

Margaret and John find each other at a party and just as they are about to be married, John’s debilitating mental state flares and claims the unprepared Margaret as its accomplice. They have three children, Michael, Celia, and Alec. Each chapter is told in the alternating voices of Margaret and her three children. Michael suffers from the same affliction as his father and it is long held within the family as each member defines his and her role and ways of coping. Michael himself pens the loudest chapters with a riot of color and confusion so expertly woven as to give a real sense of the insane cocktail of drugs he has taken for many years.

As the years go by Margaret, Celia, and Alec become cemented in their stance on the best way to deal with Michael’s illness and Michael’s full awareness of his tenuous hold on reality, the climax occurs with Michael and Alec sharing an isolated wooded cabin in a last ditch attempt to wean Michael off the drugs that have since laid claim to his existence. After reading this chapter loop back around and reread the first. It will all make sense.

This was not an easy read but there were scenes of pure brilliance that I will remember long after reading this story. It is a profoundly sad one but not without its triumphs. It is worth the time. Definitely recommended.

BRB Rating: Read It

 watchingedie

Watching Edie

Camilla Way

Release Date: August 2, 2016

Girls Gone Bad

Watching Edie serves up two young female archetypes, alternating narration between them while in their teens, then later in their early thirties,

Edie is beautiful, careless, and easily makes friends wherever she goes. Destined for popularity but uninterested in its confines, she befriends the lonely, socially awkward Heather. Her utter obsession with a local bad boy alludes to the depth of Edie’s dysfunction though it is hard to reconcile past Edie with present Edie.

Heather is the kind of girl no one becomes friends with, except for Edie. Deeply traumatized and troubled over events surrounding the death of her younger sister, Heather cannot even count on her own parents, especially her mother who retains an ever simmering level of hostility and scorn for her only surviving child. Always eager to please the best friend she worships, Heather puts herself at peril by way of Edie’s transgressions.

The story is divided into before and after points of time with Heather’s perspective of the events occurring just after the girls became friends and Edie charged with detailing present day. After a long estrangement over a crucial event that is the crux of the suspense, Edie and Heather were estranged for almost twenty years. One day, Heather appears on Edie’s doorstep acting as though nothing has happened. Deeply suspicious of Heather’s behavior, Edie begins to wonder if Heather is stalking her and why?

These two young women are ticking time bombs each in her own way. It is always refreshing when young women are not portrayed as these two. It is indicative of a too easy draw. All the women portrayed in the story including the secondary characters are struggling with deep unresolved issues that cause them to critically misstep and continually make very bad decisions. The men are portrayed as either good or evil. I would have liked to see more diversity in all of these characters.

The hook is the understanding that something profoundly terrible has happened and the reader is sure to want to know what it is but the lack of plot development and too many unresolved sub-stories take the focus off the main story and muddy its details. The makings of a much better story are there` though this would have been an admirable attempt for a debut.

What makes a suspense novel such as Paula Hawke’s The Girl on the Train so compelling is the depth of Rachel’s character and that all roads lead to building suspense in a way that aligns with the story, not the case here, where instead of building suspense there was merely a disconnected waiting to find out what happened since time had already been invested in the story.

If you like this genre, this is a quick and easy read and may be an interesting comparison to others in the same category but if you are looking for true spine tingling, can’t put it down suspense, look elsewhere.

BRB Rating: Skip It

theobstacleistheway

The Obstacle is the Way

Ryan Holiday

Feel It, Do It

Stoicism teaches us about working within the natural order and getting it done in spite of the snafus. Drawing on the inspiration of many of our famous forefather stories, this little book is a great reminder to quit whining and get out of our own way. Acknowledging that what we might think is our door may in fact not be, the obstacles which are the only guarantee may be just the kick we need to wake up.

Short concise chapters with many relatable examples, this is an appreciable read for those who are capable of learning, unlearning, and re-learning.

BRB Rating: Read It

 themeltmethod

The MELT Method

Sue Hitzmann

Sue Hitzmann does an impressive job of culling the science behind her theory behind her unique method of compressing, releasing and rehydrating connective tissue in a hands-off approach that works with the body, not against it. I have known anecdotally for years that “ironing myself like a shirt” to borrow Sue’s phrase, on a hard foam roller and creating even more pain to get out of pain doesn’t work and is a stupid idea to boot. Yet, how many health and fitness professionals would advise us to do exactly that. Though the primary tool in MELT’s arsenal is a roller, it is nothing like the hard ones found in gyms and physical rehab centers everywhere

The book is lengthy and somewhat tedious to read all the way through but still worth the effort in order to get the bones of this program. I appreciated her own story and all the background regarding how she created this method. I believe that enough people would be interested in the backstory to warrant putting it in the book and the science behind it is absolutely critical because it offers credibility as to why this method works. Still, simply reading won’t be enough to learn the technique and the many positions required to MELT yourself from head to toe. It was awkward to fashion my own foam roller by rolling my yoga mat over my hard roller and duct taping so I could practice the moves while holding the book with both hands. I will say it again, awkward.

There is a lot of redundancy as many of the movements are repeated in various sections of the book so you may find yourself reading and rereading yet still having a hard time remembering the sequence of directions for your practice.

Think of this book as more of a reference manual rather than a quick and easy instructional read. If you are after the latter then you better get your hands on one of her DVD’s or attend a MELT workshop or class both of which can easily be found on her website. A better way to learn this method might be to take a class/workshop or two first, then purchase the book for future reference however that does require a cost commitment in addition to Sue’s own foam roller and soft therapy balls also for sale on her site though Amazon does sell similar versions for far less.

If this method works to get you out of and keep you out of pain, stiffness, and immobility, it has done its job and deserves a place on your bookshelf.

The method is based in scientific efficacy but I can say with certainty that even when done correctly, it won’t work for everyone. Pain is far too complex an entity with many etiologies. Keep an open mind, take what works, and keep searching for your own method.

BRB Rating: Own It

soyouvebeenpubliclyshamedSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

 Jon Ronson

Deep Diving

I recall reading The Scarlet Letter in high school. It made me think about the social mores of the time that had Hester Prynne shouldering all the puritanical blame ignorantly meted out by her affair with a man of the cloth. I supposed her shaming was to go on for as long as she breathed. That red letter pinned to her chest was harsh but there was no internet in which to torture herself when she was alone in her house. At least, when she was alone she could get a break.

Today’s internet-style shaming is a cruel mutation more on a par with Cersei’s shame walk on Game of Thrones. The crowd mentality was whipped into a frenzy that morphed into something else entirely. Human forms appeared in front of her that were no more human than the animals they had become. No one could step in to offer assistance. There was nowhere to hide and even one’s home could not provide a wholly safe haven.

Our intolerance and cowardly attacks on those who dare misstep in any way have become more vicious and rabid than ever. There is no such thing anymore as a stupid, ill-conceived joke or the privacy in which to voice it. You are not permitted a mistake of any degree or the ability to apologize for lesson learned. No amount of community service will let you off the hook.

The shamings described in Ronson’s book take place on the internet and run the gamut from plagiarism to fudging factual history to flipping off a sacred veteran memorial. They are treated with a firing squad like mow-down designed to decimate. It spills over into their everyday connections with the people who know them until every line is blurred. It is an endless game of cat and mouse with no role reversal allowed. After it all dies down, it can start up again at any time because nothing is ever gone on the internet and bored people love to stir up shit. Search engine algorithm breaches are designed to mitigate the damage done and this becomes an expensive endeavor with no real guarantee of working.

What is the antidote then to shame and the ability to become shamed by complete strangers? The inability to feel shame makes someone a sociopath, does it not? Ronson seeks to answer the question but openly comes up short. There doesn’t seem to be an answer outside of someone just not caring at all and how often is that the case.

Fascinating if a bit haphazard in its organization Ronson has definitely hit upon a crucial conversation. I would love to see a follow-up that is more focused in its approach and with Dr. Brene Brown’s research on shame featured prominently.

BRB Rating: Read It

wherewefall

Where We Fall

Rochelle B Weinstein

Squeezing Toothpaste through a Pinhole

Publication Date May 3, 2016

An attempted suicide early in the story throws a tumultuous marriage into further turmoil. This marriage exists as part of a long ago started love story that has never been resolved. As one angle’s mental distress took precedence over this threesome critical secrets were buried deep and each of the three players went off to lick their wounds, each in their own way.

Told in the alternating voices of the three principal characters along with the sole offspring of Abby and Ryan, the gaps are slowly filled in for the reader as we wait for the characters to finally reach out of themselves toward real growth.

Somewhat slow-moving and dull with no real discernment between each separate voice, the story lacks luster and seems forced. An ending that doesn’t seem well thought out after the many years that two of the characters had stayed together and the reasons behind their dogged refusal to separate although they should not have ended up together in the first place appear like a last minute one eighty for dramatic effect. The author makes her case for the proper treatment of what she deems mental illness but her beliefs may not be scientifically documented and a fictional platform can be a dangerous thing (see review for A Mind of Your Own). The truth is we are never clear on why Abby suffers the way she does.

Where We Fall unfortunately falls short.

BRB Rating: Skip It

25817475

A Mind of Your Own

Kelly Brogan, MD

There is No Pill for Your Ill

This book may very well be one of the most important books of this time. As those of us who have inherently known for a while that our modern medical system is fundamentally bankrupt and has absolutely nothing to do with the care of our health. Big Pharma, Big Agra, and Biotech have declared war on our ability to grow and maintain our health of body, mind, and spirit. Brogan, a practicing Psychiatrist specializing in women of child bearing age has some pretty impressive street cred. It is indisputable that she knows her stuff and can argue the science in her arena and quite possibly well beyond. She is also that rare breed of doctor that actually reads the latest literature in her field and voraciously at that.

A Mind of Your Own challenges not only the status quo belief that depression is due to a chemical imbalance and is usually determined by one neurotransmitter (think we can all guess which one that is). Known as the monoamine hypothesis, there has not been one single study in six decades of scientific research that has shown this hypothesis to be true. Not. One. Single. Study. This should cause outrage among those of us who have been fed a bill of goods by perhaps well-meaning/perhaps not doctors who have acted as nothing more than the legal drug pushers of our society. The science paints a chilling picture of what psychotropics can do to the brain and even scarier is that we don’t know that some of these changes aren’t permanent. In the words of Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epidemic, by taking an SSRI you are literally changing your brain, possibly forever. It’s like paying a visit to the Hotel California, “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Checking out is not so easy either, you will learn about discontinuation syndrome, what it is and how your agreement to start taking an SSRI can easily guarantee you’ll be on them for life.

What about all those televised commercial and print ads that simply state that the monoamine myth is true? TV would never show something that wasn’t true. Would they? Brogan addresses the complex problem of direct to consumer advertising and how it has perpetuated dangerous beliefs and assumptions about what is means to suffer an affliction of the mind. Brogan backs us all assertions with a body of science that cannot be refuted unless of course you are prone to excessive repetition with no attempt at rationale.

I know how difficult if not impossible it is to deny long held beliefs that have sustained us over so many years. Some will be unable, paralyzed by their fear that the sky is falling and the walls are closing in. Trust me, it can be done as Brogan herself did it. You don’t get to her place without a good backstory. Those of us who would love to see the whole precarious house of cards come tumbling down, cheer on books such as this one.

There are plenty who insist that Prozac or some other SSRI changed their lives. How could anyone refute that N of One? Brogan offers an explanation for this but doesn’t stop there. She offers a safe and sound lifestyle plan with a simple request of try this first, you might be shocked at the results. It cannot be that easy, could it? For millions of us, yes it could and it should be the starting point for all. Dietary changes comes first along with suggestions for supplementation and a discourse in everyday exposures to toxicants within our control. Will this solve all of the mental health issues, no of course it won’t but as Brogan mentions, and our society’s intolerance for suffering in any form, for any amount of time has caused a collective crisis of being. We have journeyed far from our ancestral birthright and it’s not good. The recipes offered are simple and easy to execute. If you already cook regularly and follow a Paleo type template, these will be old hat for you. If you are making the switch from the Standard American Diet (SAD) and feel somewhat overwhelmed, the suggestions and recipes offered will provide a spring board to getting started. Brogan offers the advice she doles out in her practice all for the price of sixteen dollars and change.

I strongly recommend reading A Mind of Your Own with an open mind and if you can swing it, an open heart as well. Then, put her suggestions into practice. Do your own research. Commune with yourself and learn the truth for yourself.

We are not broken.

BRB Rating: Own It

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The Weekenders

 Mary Kay Andrews

Summertime Murder, Mayhem, and Love

Part murder mystery, part love story, The Weekenders is a lighthearted tale about love, loss, betrayal, family bonds, and the secrets we keep.

Riley Nolan has her hands full as she disembarks the ferry to Belle Isle on Memorial Day weekend. The island founded by her ancestors where she has summered all her life holds many fond memories but this is the weekend that she and her estranged husband Wendell plan to tell their twelve year old daughter that they are divorcing. The problem is that Wendell is a no-show. Frustrated and angry, Riley arrives at her home greeted by a foreclosure notice on the door. Without Wendell to answer any questions, a blindsided Riley attempts to piece together the details of a marriage and life gone horribly wrong. With the help of her closest friend, she launches her own investigation while dodging the bullets fired at her from her opinionated-to-a-fault mother and overly bratty daughter.

Riley is likable character who comes across as smart and savvy despite being completely snowed by a self–serving, advantage-taking, opportunistic husband. There were a couple of missteps in regard to Riley’s ignorance regarding Wendell’s behavior though the excuse offered might be both plausible and relatable. In the end, it did not detract from the overall story. Surrounded by a colorful cast of characters, she fights her way back to herself while rebuilding her life on her terms.

An evocative summertime read, spirited and fun.

BRB Rating: Read It

Furious

Furious

 T. R. Ragan

Gutsy Child Trafficking Thriller

This is the first book in the new Furious series by T. R. Ragan (I cannot wait for the next). Faith is a character like no other. After witnessing the brutal murder of her husband and having both her young children kidnapped from their home, left for dead Faith mounts her own investigation into what could have happened to her children. She describes a red hot anger building inside after the attacks and decides on the spot that she will not play victim and sit aside while waiting for answers that may never come. After meeting two key players in an anger management class who offer her their unique resources and with the full support of her family, Faith mounts an attack of her own and she will not stop until her children are safely brought home.

Filled with likable characters with a don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover feel that you will want to see again and again, including one with a strong Lisbeth Salander feel (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Ragan paints with real depth in terms of who these characters are, where they are headed, and where they will end up.

Furious is an exciting cat and mouse chase that goes deep into the horrific underworld of child trafficking and incites your own furious outrage. Read it and then look forward to the next installment.

BRB Rating: Read It

girlsguidemoveon

A Girl’s Guide to Moving On

Debbie Macomber

Cheap and Cheeky Chick Lit

I like a quick, romantic, lighthearted read as much as the next (mostly female) person. I do however need to insist on some semblance of thought and intelligence as a prerequisite. This book was indeed a poor choice.

Nichole and Leanne are mother and daughter-in-law, both newly divorced from Leanne’s husband of 30 years and her son, once married to Nichole. They put together a quickie advice guide to navigate them through the perils moving on from two men who were clearly unworthy of their affections. They are close friends and practically roommates whose new apartments are conveniently located right across the hall from each other. They immediately meet two eligible bachelors, a Ukrainian baker for Leanne named Nikolai, whose butchering of the English language and heavy accent have him sounding like a whiny three year old instead of a grown man who is in the process of learning the English language. His immediate overbearing possessiveness of Leanne and his insistence that she behave only in the way that he deems fit makes their relationship come off as mother and toddler son.

Kind, straight-laced Nichole meets rough around-the-edges, done-hard-time, tow truck company owning Rocco. He is the stereotypical big, tough guy who don’t dance and a bit of a Neanderthal. He is obviously just waiting for a Nichole to come along and melt the iceberg lodged over his heart but not before resorting to Nikolai type tactics.

Will new love prevail even as their exes are trying to win them back? A cruel twist of fate occurs that threatens both their tentative new unions.

The characters are nauseating, the dialogue even more so. If you love mindless chick lit, then by all means indulge but unless there is literally nothing else to do and this is the only book around, skip it.

BRB Rating: Skip It

sleepsmarter

Sleep Smarter

Shawn Stevenson

While You Were Sleeping…

100% Readable. 100%-Plus Implementable. Sleep is a vital nutrient and this book is totally digestible. Sleep Smarter stands out from all the others in its genre. Written in Shawn’s own familiar and friendly voice (themodelhealthshow.com), it is chock full of the latest research regarding the importance of sleep for every single aspect of our health and teeming with easy to execute tips on how to get a better night’s sleep, starting TONIGHT. Shawn lays it all out in an easy-to-read and relatable format that will magically appeal to the widest of audiences. The 14 day sleep makeover at the back of the book offers a simple day by day sleep plan of action to create a healthy lifelong habit.

The entire point of a book like this is to use it to our best advantage by taking action. I have already implemented several of his steps that have noticeably improved the quality of my sleep and have brought the first step of awareness into the areas I struggle with so that I can begin to address them. Remember: you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.

You will blow through this book in no time and get excited about trying Shawn’s simple strategies. The energy and love that went into bringing awareness to a subject that has not gotten the attention it deserves is palpable. Get this book. Read it. Own it. Work it.

BRB Rating: Own It

InfectiousMadness

Infectious Madness

Harriet A. Washington

Disjointed Agenda

It would have been nice if Washington could have managed to stick to ethical investigative journalism and perhaps kept to the topic at hand, the theory of how various pathogens may cause mental illness. It would have been a lofty goal because the topic itself is so vast. But Washington did a poor job of even trying. My one burning question is who the true author of this book is because something stinks.

Deviating from the subject over and over, Washington seems to have multiple axes to grind such as her outrage over the pharmaceutical industry’s corporate power plays and their penchant for putting profits before health, denying many citizens of underprivileged countries to suffer some of the worst fates imaginable due to their better-than-average chances of contracting the most horrific diseases imaginable. She barely utters a word about the myriad of environmental issues that potentially cause these diseases while once again touting the imagined efficacy of non- existent vaccines that might not be made available to these populations even if they did exist. There are also plenty of US citizens who are also denied potential life-saving medications due to economic position or lack thereof and some of them are even white. None of what she expounds is news and her outcries had little to no place in this book, a book that is supposedly about pathogens that cause a neuro-psychiatric presentation, not about the groups of people denied healthcare and not about one size fits all vaccination to save the world from every medical bogeyman imaginable.

In regard to her vaccination as sure fire prevention for everything from measles and polio to Tourette’s and even Autism itself, one of the issues that absolutely needed to be included in her conversation of how certain pathogens can cause disease in some individuals but not others gives leverage to vaccines as a potential cause, not prevention of these illnesses. If an immune system can be negatively compromised by a vaccine, then it could be assumed that the failure of one’s immune system to resolve a viral or bacterial episode might result in the body continuing to make antibodies to an infection no longer present, resulting in an auto-immune attack that could take the form of many of the diseases she lists. If vaccines can harm a developing fetus and we should dispense with vaccinating all pregnant women yet protect those unborn children by vaccinating every single living human regardless of their circumstances, why is it that those same vaccines could not harm a newborn, toddler, or adult? This backward logic has to stop once and for all. Washington’s misconceptions and unfounded fears surrounding vaccines and how the immune system actually works along with her complete disregard over the fact that one size does not fit all does a real disservice to society.

Wait a minute, what is this book supposed to be about again? I forgot. The title is catchy but I cannot recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how it may be possible to catch mental illness, much like we catch a cold. There are far better sources available providing accurate information that hasn’t been skewed by unseen conflicts of interest. I recommend starting with what the objective scientific literature has to say. This book unfortunately will do little to advance research in this field.

BRB Rating: Skip It

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You Were Born Rich

Bob Proctor

Lessons from a Master Coach Extraordinaire

Drawing directly from the universal laws along with the teachings of his mentor Nathan Hill, Proctor’s lessons have me coming back again and again to drink in his put-to-use knowledge and actively seek to change my own self-limiting paradigms. Not everyone working in this space resonates but Proctor is different. His intensity is infectious and his conviction unwavering. In a sea of negativity and an utter lack of belief in miracles, a solid antidote exists.

You Were Born Rich takes those universal laws and breaks them down by way of stories that illustrate what is possible when belief mixes with required action. Chapters are meant to be read multiple times and slowly in order to fully digest the message. This book is a guide to be referred back to again and again. Own it!

BRB Rating: Own It

Historyof the Rain

History of the Rain

Niall Williams

Saturated and Redolent with Life

Ruth Swain suffers from a mysterious illness that has her teetering on the brink of her known life and the next. She is confined to a bed and books are her window to the outside world. Through stories reaching back to lost ancestors, she seeks to know the father she has lost by tracing his lineage. Ruth strings together a narrative from her father’s stories and from her own shadowy memories of the brother she has lost.

I found this to be an excruciating read. The story commanded full focus during a time when I had anything but. I struggled to stay with it because there is so much depth. The writing is exquisite, bountiful, and rich. Ruth is as hopeful a young girl as can be imagined in the face of a family curse so pervasive, much like the rain that never seems to stop. A family is washed away leaving a strength in those left behind that is unparalleled.

BRB Rating: Read It

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Million Dollar Women

Julia Pimsleur

Great Business Advice for Any Woman

In Million Dollar Women, Julia Pimsleur offers plenty nuggets of wisdom that apply even to those women entrepreneurs who aren’t necessarily ready or willing to take the next step into the big leagues and grow their businesses beyond the million dollar mark. Therein lies the beauty of this book. It furthers the empowerment of women in any situation and has the potential to advance the progress of all women in the workforce.

Some of the sage advice that Pimsleur wisely offers in a straightforward, and digestible way include valuing preparedness over attractiveness and clearly identifying your allies, foes, and frenemies while reminding women that they are their own best asset. Case histories are examined via interviews with successful women entrepreneurs to showcase what success looks like and how to avoid certain pitfalls. She herself generously tells her own story of being a new mom while starting a language learning program for kids and all that entails, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Business journaling exercises in the back of the book are useful starting tools that will help to clarify goals and keep them on track. They are also designed to identify and troubleshoot weaknesses while building on strengths.

Part coaching, part cheerleading, and a bit of tough love, Pimsleur covers all the basis in a comprehensive format that is easy to read, inspiring, and honest. I would recommend this book to any woman entrepreneur regardless of how big she wants to go with her business.

BRB Rating: Own It

Check out this review here.

TheNightingale

The Nightingale

Kristin Hannah

Amazing World War II Fictional Drama

During Hitler’s WWII reign, Nazi occupied France undergoes changes unrecognizable that deeply affect each and every citizen. The war torn tales of two sisters are intertwined as they find their acts of selflessness and the grave danger they are in becomes way of life. Peril befalls them both as they try to stay alive and protect their family and friends in the hopes of one day reuniting with those they been separated from.

Vianne is a young mother living an idyllic life with her husband and daughter in the French countryside when her husband is suddenly called to war. The Germans abruptly claim her home as their own and one soldier takes up residence in her home while her husband is away.

Isabelle, Vianne’s younger sister is fiercely tempered and impetuous. Shunned by both Vianne and their father after her mother’s death, she finds herself kicked out of one boarding school after another. With no home and nowhere to turn, Isabelle is drawn to the French Resistance, a movement that aligns with her spirit. Her ability to stay undercover and distract the enemy along with her fearlessness, make her a formidable opponent to the Nazi’s.

After reading several of Hannah’s novels, this is by far her best work to date. As my librarian aptly states, Hannah’s previous work might be considered fluffy. The Nightingale tempers that fluffiness by crafting a solid story based in factual history with enough believability to impact the reader. The result is eloquent and flawless. The story is evenly paced, parceling out the suspense in consistent measure. It is a beautiful piece of fiction about love, loss, and the price of war.

BRB Rating: Read It

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The Good Neighbor

AJ Banner

A Psychological Thrill Ride

AJ Banner pens an all the way through on the edge of your seat thriller that sets the pace ablaze.

Sarah, a successful children’s author is asleep in her bed when a strange noise wakes her up in the middle of the night. What happens next puts Sarah in the middle of a strange mystery, one she needs to figure out fast though she is unsure how to go about it.

Sarah’s husband Johnny away on a business trip during that fateful night, neglects to answer Sarah’s frantic call. Once he returns, Sarah is no longer secure in her trust for him as she begins to piece together parts of his life she knew nothing about. Even the neighbors are suspect as she strives to complete a puzzle with so many missing pieces.

Sarah is a likeable heroine. She is completely guileless though somewhat naïve in her belief that those around her share the same trait. She often tips her hand with what she has recently learned which offers an element of heightened anxiety in regard for her safety. Mounting suspense over whether Sarah will open up to the wrong person who will then use what he or she knows against her becomes an integral part of the story.

With a climatic finish and a cliffhanger ending that may or may not resonate with every reader, The Good Neighbor is a fast moving river with a rushing tide.

BRB Rating: Read It

Check out this review here.

allthelightwecannotseecover

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr

A Reading Privilege

Two distinct stories exist side by side during World War II culminating in an eventual intersection by the end of the book. Folklore is interwoven throughout by way of a precious stone and the power it possesses.

Werner is a young German soldier groomed for his innate intelligence in radio frequencies and all things mechanical. He narrowly escapes both an almost inevitable life working in the mines and the front lines of the war.

Marie Laure is a blind French girl with a strong penchant for books and learning. She lives with her father, a museum locksmith, when they get the order to flee their Paris apartment. They travel to the seaside town of Saint Malo to live with Marie Laure’s eccentric Uncle and his outspoken housekeeper. These two characters become beloved caretakers of Marie Laure after her father is taken prisoner by the Germans.

Present day comprises the end of the war and the stories of Werner and Marie Laure are told primarily in flashbacks. Connections drawn give the reader a sense of precise angles that make up a beautiful whole. The sense of hope and dignity shine consistently and the brutality of war never overshadows these things. Told with a lack of dramatization, each of the main characters endures what they must in order to survive. All the Light We Cannot See is a tribute to the best parts of humanity surviving in spite of the worst conditions and the darkest recesses of evil.

BRB Rating: Read It

Check out this review here.

Food Whore

Food Whore

Jessica Tom

A Simplistic Read in the Spirit of The Devil Wears Prada.

Tia Monroe, a freshly minted grad student arrives onto the NYC dining scene ready to take on her first job, a coveted apprenticeship with a prestigious and well known cook book author who shares Tia’s passion for gastronomy. Tia’s talent lies in breaking apart the components of complex flavor profiles and understanding how they work together both synergistically and sensually to create the most memorable dining experience.

Her inability to secure the internship she desires leads to another opportunity that seems too good to pass up though it comes with some mighty strong strings attached. Tia must decide quickly whether pursuing the “next big thing” is worth the cost.

Tia is indeed terribly naïve and some of her decisions are cringe-worthy yet can be chalked up to her youth. She is a likable character yet there is no getting around her having to learn some lessons the hard way. Though she did not grow up privileged, she has a talent for food that few possess. The education she receives is far more than she bargained for.

Those ready to grab life by the horns may relate to several themes in Tom’s millennial-take-on-the-big-town tale. The true grittiness of this life faced by today’s millennials set loose in an overwhelming city seems understated and buffered. Food Whore is more of a glamorous tale with a few snafu’s thrown in to try to give it heft. There is nothing surprising about the obvious way the story unfolds though its predictability is not so much a liability as a part of its charm. The story seems to play out as a lighthearted almost natural extension of a young food blogger’s creativity, nothing new but fun nonetheless. Food Whore is a light bite after a late night on the town.

BRB Rating: Read It

Check out this review here.

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 When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kanalithi

Doctor as Patient Comes Full Circle

Paul Kalanithi is like no other physician I know of. A talented neurosurgeon who charts his course for becoming a doctor, making it look almost easy while choosing a difficult specialty. He makes his mark not as a successful and precise surgeon, though he is certainly those things, but as a caring and emotional human being who insists on becoming more to his patients through empathy and understanding. After taking on his own grave diagnosis, Kalanithi beautifully illustrates the power of personal choice and how we show up in the world.

Told with the depth and honesty of true self-analyzation, Kalanithi reminds us that a critical diagnosis is just a small piece of the puzzle. Though the story is told after he became ill, he takes us back to his mindset that existed before his wisdom’s full expression and pieces together his journey in the hope that it might hold meaning for others.

“The enormity of the moral mission of medicine lent my early days of med school a severe gravity.” Kalanithi expresses early in in his career the weight of what he was about to undertake and how even then it affected him. Throughout the book, Kalanithi continues to describe with surgical precision many of the procedures he completes while ongoingly confronting who he is in those moments and what his contribution to the overall effect is, including the counseling of patient and family.

Lyrical, lovely, and utterly heartbreaking, this story will inspire you to ask the right questions so that the possibility of living a better version of yourself can exist.

BRB Rating: Read It

Check out this review here.

Content, Inc.

 Content Inc.

Joe Pulizzi

A Wealth of Content

How does an entrepreneur use content to build a successful business? With so much information available, it is bound to seem overwhelming. Where does one even begin? Today, content marketing refers to leveraging valuable information (content) to attract a targeted audience that will ultimately be called to specific action. There is much to know so take it slow but take it.

Content Inc. offers everything the entrepreneur will ever need to know about using content in the most advantageous of ways customized to your business, mission, and goals. After reading a number of articles on the topic, what it is and how to apply it across a number of business types, I am confident that Content Inc. is the most up-to-date and thorough offering you will find. This book is so chock full of content that reading it all the way through will be overwhelming but having it to refer back to whenever needed will quell those anxieties. Platforms and web addresses will forever change but rest assured that the core information found in this book will stay evergreen. Use the individual case studies to form your own plan of attack and the book becomes a handy reference guide, one you will return to again and again.

Whether you buy your own copy or borrow one and never give it back, this is definitely one to keep.

BRB Rating: Read It or Own It

Check out this review here.

Anatomy of an Epidemic Cover2 Anatomy of an Epidemic

Robert Whitaker

A Disturbing and Haunting Must Read

Are you taking a psychiatric pharmaceutical? If you are or ever have, your brain has changed as a result of it. Some of these changes may be permanent even after the drug is discontinued. This is just one piece of information broken down for us in Anatomy of an Epidemic.


Medical investigative journalist Robert Whitaker champions one of the most worthwhile causes to date and one that now affects most Americans, no matter their age, uncovering the truth about what psychiatric medications do to the brain and body and how grim the long term prognosis is for those who stay on them.

Do psychiatric drugs fix a chemical imbalance in the brain, an imbalance that requires a lifelong script often involving a frightening “cocktail” of dangerous drugs? Or, do these drugs actually perturb normal brain function, upsetting a complex system that in some cases may never be repaired?

Whitaker lays out the unsettling history of the psychiatric profession which has been completely predicated on hearsay and theory with no real scientific evidence to back up its grandiose claims. Whitaker puts the focus on the long term outcomes of a number of psychiatric drugs including neuroleptics, SSRI’s, benzodiazepines, and atypical antipsychotics, first and second generation. This is something that the profession has never done. No doctor in its clutches can give a comprehensive, intelligent answer when asked the question “what are the long term implications of staying on the drug you have prescribed?”

Culling dozens of case histories and personal interviews, attending Big Pharma rallies, and medical conferences, and building a case by actually examining the evidence, particularly on what mental illness looked like before oft-prescribed drugs came to market, Whitaker paints a harrowing picture of the overall decline of mental health in the U.S. and personal loss as well as the economic strain the state of our country’s mental health has put on our burdened economy.

Our current medial is broken, driven by profit and greed. We are a profoundly sick society and we’re becoming sicker with each passing decade. As psychiatry’s current DSM manual ensures that more and more behaviors classify as “mental illness” and fall under the “chemical imbalance” umbrella, an essentially meaningless term, drug companies race to bring to market a greater number of “home run” drugs often marketed off label and illegally to some of our most vulnerable demographics. Symptoms are being created and shaped to sell greater quantities of these drugs with each of us being groomed to become lifelong consumers, no matter what our stage of life.

This book and others of its kind are too important not to read. Anyone who cares about their health or the health of a loved one cannot afford to be ignorant of this matter. With one in eight adults currently taking a psychiatric pharmaceutical and children as young as two years old being put on life altering psychiatric medications, this book cannot afford to be missed by anyone.

BRB Rating: Read It