the cactus

IMG_2404The Cactus by Sarah Haywood. Susan Green has a very organized and structured life. She relies on no one and is in complete control of her own life. She has always kept the same flat and the same job, never going out and stuck in her ways. She never wants to rely on anyone so that no one else could let her down. Like her collection of cacti, she has “evolved to thrive in arid conditions.”
When Susan’s mom dies and she finds out she is pregnant things begin to change. She is forced to let some people into her life and when she does this, she slowly begins to bloom. She learns that, “Sometimes you have to lose something to gain something.” Her neighbor asks her, “What’s the worst that can happen if you stop saying no to everything and everyone?” So Susan takes her advice and starts saying yes to things.
Susan is hard to like at first, but she is also hilarious. From the cover insert: “In this witty and heartfelt debut, one woman’s unconventional journey to motherhood means learning to embrace the unexpected.” I adored this book and all it’s lovely and quirky characters.
I also love this quote from the book: “These days, fairy tale endings come in all shapes and sizes. It’s ok for the princess to end up with the prince. It’s ok for her to end up with the footmen. It’s ok for to end up on her own. It’s also ok for her to end up with another princess, or with six cats or too decide she wants to be a prince. None of those make her any more or less a feminist.”
“It’s never too late to bloom.”

*Also a selection for Reese Witherspoon’s book club.

olive, again

privatevarmobileContainersDataApplicationB9B4460B-280C-4C8E-BB94-B67DBA9A95BFtmpADB9E0A1-31D3-4E96-92D9-62ED00DD0FD4ImageOlive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. 

I haven’t been this excited about a book in a really long time. What could be better than the return of Olive Kitteridge? She hasn’t changed much. She still has that witty honesty about her and people still seem to talk to her about the serious things in life. She is a lonely widow now and, “Her knowledge of this unhappiness came to her at times, but usually when she was alone.” She often reflects on her marriage with her dead husband saying that, “a stone wall had separated them but also provided unexpected dips of moss-covered warm spots where sunshine would flicker between them in a sudden laugh of understanding.” It’s almost as if it took his death to make her realize his value and her love for him.
Then the reader finds another lonely soul in Jack Kennison. He spends evenings looking out his window pondering his life. “Jack sat back and looked at the light that was changing on the trees. These long, long evenings; they were so long and beautiful, it just killed him.” “He was just an old man with a sloppy belly and not anyone worth noticing. Almost, it was freeing.” “He understood that he was a seventy-four-year-old man who looks back at life and marvels that it unfolded as it did, who feels unbearable regret for all the mistakes he made.”
He goes on to say, “What frightened him was how much of his life he had lived without knowing who he was or what he was doing. It caused him to feel an inner trembling, and he could not quite find the words-for himself-to even put it exactly as he sensed it. But he sensed that he had lived his life in a way that he had not known. This meant there had been a large blind spot directly in front of his eyes. It meant that he did not understand, not really at all, how others had perceived him. And it meant that he did not know how to perceive himself.”
Jack and Olive develop a relationship that helps soothe the loneliness they both suffer from. They are both widowed and they both have unhealthy relationships with their children. They both seem to be questions who they really are and what their lives have meant.
As the book goes on, we get glimpses into the lives of other people who live in Jack and Olive’s neighborhood and their stories intersect with Jack and Olives. As usual, Elizabeth Strout knows how to write about life and humanity and the things people go through with amazing insight and beauty.
Near the end of the book Olive is reflecting back on her life. She says, “But it was almost over, after all, her life. It swelled behind her like a sardine fishing net, all sorts of useless seaweed and broken bits of shells and the tiny, shining fish.” “The billion streaks of emotion she’d had as she’d look at sunrises, sunsets the different hands of waitresses who had placed before her cups of coffee- All of it gone, or about to go.” “I do not have a clue who I have been. Truthfully, I do not understand a thing.”
The book can be summed up with these quotes: “It should never be taken lightly, the essential loneliness of people.” “Maybe you fall in love with people who save your life, even when you think it’s not worth saving.”
I adore Olive and wish there were was a whole series of books with her as the leading lady. I laughed out loud. My heart hurt. I didn’t want it to end. Well done, Elizabeth Strout!!!

with love from the inside

privatevarmobileContainersDataApplicationB9B4460B-280C-4C8E-BB94-B67DBA9A95BFtmp1887BF5F-CD65-48D7-A37F-220C0DA52F19ImageWith Love from the Inside

by Angela Pisel. 

The truth will set you free, or will it?  Grace Bradshaw finds the date of her looming execution approaching. She has been in prison for the death of her baby for a very long time.  She desperately writes to her daughter, Sophie, every day in hopes of reconnecting with her before her death.

Sophie has left that part of her life behind her and is married to a successful doctor who has no idea about her past.  She has told no one in the new life she has built for herself about her mother or dead baby brother.  When her mother’s lawyer finally tracks her down she is forced to face her past and she must decide if she will visit her mother before she dies and how she will tell her husband that she has lied those whole time about her family.

Sophie:  “Nothing would fill the empty cavern that had burrowed itself deep inside her the day her mother was dragged away from her in handcuffs.”  “My entire life has been altered because of my mother. Pain doesn’t begin to describe what I feel.”  Sophie has believed that her mother was guilty of killing her brother all this time, but now she starts to question everything. Is her mother really innocent? If so, will she be able to prove it before she is executed?

Read this book with a box of Kleenex.

Biloxi

privatevarmobileContainersDataApplication7809A1E9-979F-484D-A107-C576B6FC745CtmpAB107837-ADC1-42B8-B555-22DE6EBF035FImageBiloxi by Mary Miller

Louis McDonald, Jr. is a middle-aged man who has suffered many losses lately. His wife of 37 years has left him, his father died, and he retired from his job without thinking it through, expecting an inheritance check that still hasn’t arrived. He spends his days alone, drinking in front of the television and only going out when necessary.  He gets drunk a lot, just so the hangover will remind him that he is alive. He is lonely and depressed.

One day, on a trip to pick up his medication, he realizes he is about to pass his wife on the highway and he makes a quick turn to avoid having to pass her.  When he takes this turn, he comes across a sign for a free dog.  He decides to take this dog home with him.  When he brings this dog into his home, his life begins to change.

“It seemed life held more than I’d ever imagined and all because of a dog.” Everyday becomes an adventure and the dog takes him out into the world again where he begins to come alive.

“The fact that I could love an overweight dog that gagged all the time and couldn’t catch a slice of bologna proved to me that there were other animals, and perhaps even people, out there that I could love. “

“When she laid on my chest I could feel her heart beating, how it skipped, and it was different from a human heart but it was a beating heart just the same. I would take care of her, fight for her if I had to. “

“Dogs would escape and bank accounts would dwindle and women would leave, fuck you every which way, and you would get new ones, or you wouldn’t. It didn’t matter in the least.”

This book is about the unexpected turns that life can take. It also about how the love for a dog can change a person’s whole life.

“I could continue down the road I’d been on. I knew exactly what that road held.  It wouldn’t offer me any surprises and I had never liked surprises, or this was the story I’d told myself all these years, but the story could change. It already had.”

Recommended for dog lovers and those who enjoyed reading, “A Man Called Ove.”

the bookish life of nina hill

thumbnail_Image-2The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman.  Nina Hill has never felt more at home than she does at her job at Knight’s bookstore.  “She thought of books as medication and sanctuary and the source of all good things.”  Nina is quiet, reserved, and prefers being alone. People exhaust her and make her anxious.  Because of her anxiety, Nina finds that “being with someone feels intrusive.” Books are “the only constant thing in her life.” She was practically raised by her nanny while her mother was out photographing the world and she never knew her father.

One day a lawyer walks into the bookstore notifying Nina that her father has died and left her in his will. Nina is suddenly introduced to family she never knew she had and despite her initial feelings of not wanting anymore people in her life, she finds herself enjoying and appreciating these new relationships.  And speaking of relationships, Nina finds herself involved in a little romance of her own.

All of the characters in this book were lovely and had such charm and wit. Book lovers and anxiety sufferers will all see a little of themselves in Nina and all readers will be cheering her on as she faces her fears.

evvie drake starts over

thumbnail_Image-1Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes is just the cutest, most charming little romance. I read it in two days. Evvie Drake is recently widowed and everyone assumes she is going through a horrible period of grieving, but come to find out Evvie is dealing with guilt over the fact that she was about to leave her emotionally abusive husband on the day he died.

Evvie’s best friend, Andy, suggests that Evvie rent out the apartment in her house to a friend of his, who is also looking for a place to hide. Andy’s friend Dean is a former major league baseball player who has someone lost his ability to throw. He is looking for a place to get away from it all.

While Evvie and Dean are both hiding from their problems they develop a friendship that blossoms into something more. You will find yourself wanting these two to get together already the whole time, but will they be able to let go of their pasts to build a future together? This is a light, quick and heart-warming book. Loved it!!!

the lady in the lake

ImageThe Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

This book takes place in Baltimore in 1966. Maddie Schwartz has recently left her husband of 20 years because she is tired of being a housewife and she yearns to finally find herself.  Part of her plan to reinvent herself is becoming a reporter. She lands a job as an assistant at the Baltimore Sun where she stirs up trouble trying to find information about a murdered black woman named  Cleo Sherwood or “The Lady in the Lake.”

Maddie and her new friend, Judith just happen to stumble across the body of the lady in the lake while searching for the body of another missing girl and Maddie just can’t understand why no one cares that Cleo was murdered. She refuses to let this women’s death go until she finds out what happened.

Meanwhile, Maddie is having her own secret affair with a black police officer. Their affair is one of many secret loves in this book. Some are revealed and others are not.

I loved how Lippman gives the reader a look into the mind of all the characters that Maddie encounters during her investigation, including the ghost of Cleo Sherwood. The narrative provides an inside look into the lives of many different types of people.  Maddie discovers things about her own self as she uncovers the secrets of others. Will these secrets cause more harm than good? You will have to read it to find out. I enjoyed this literary mystery and look forward to reading other books by this popular author.

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the dry

CF1351BE-EFE1-4B6C-9F73-631A8DC60EFBThe Dry by Jane Harper. I enjoy a well written “who done it?” story if the mystery has some literary value.  Jane Harper doesn’t disappoint.  This book begins when Aaron Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler.  Luke and his wife and son were all murdered in their home and most people assume that Luke murdered his family and then killed himself.  Luke’s mother, Barb, does not believe that her son was capable of such a thing and asks Falk, who happens to be a federal investigator, if we would look into it.  Barb has always been like a mother to Falk. Falk’s own mother died during his birth. Falk reluctantly agrees to stay in town a little longer to investigate as a favor to Barb and her husband.

When Falk starts digging, secrets are unsurfaced.  Falk was long ago accused for the murder of one of his friends, Ellie Deacon.  A lot of the townspeople treat him unfairly, even cruelly because of this accusation. The mystery of her death was never solved.

The town is suffering from a drought and the suffocating heat has seeped into everyone’s bones, leaving everyone on edge. “The crushing vastness of open land left enough space to drown in.”  Everyone in the book is a suspect.

As Falk explores Luke’s death, he also explores what really happened to Ellie. “Death rarely changes how we feel about someone.  Heightens it, more often than not.” Truths are finally revealed among the harsh, dry landscape of Kiewarra.

slightly south of simple

B418ECCD-20BA-42AE-80D4-914305DAD025My favorite time of year: summer reading. Bring on the beachy books!!!   My first beach read of the summer was Slightly South of Simple by Kristy Woodson Harvey.  It is the first book in the Peachtree Bluff Series.  Book three was just released.

Three sisters find themselves back on Peachtree Bluff staying with their mother at the seaside home in Georgia that she inherited from her grandmother. “When you were in Peachtree, it simply felt like everything would be all right.” “There are some things in life that only a sister can understand.”

Ansley is the mother. She has a successful career as an interior designer.  Her life is interrupted when her three children and her grandchildren all come to stay with her for a few months.  Her daughters have always been her life. “When I was too scared to go on, I carried on for the three best parts of me, for the girls who almost ruined my life, yet ended up saving it.”  “Sometimes you don’t know how empty your heart can be. You don’t realize it, that is, until at long last, you find if full again.”  As if dealing with the drama from her daughter’s lives isn’t enough, Ansley’s old flame returns to Peachtree and she must face some things from her past.  “Opening your heart after it’s been closed for so many years is hard.”

Caroline is the main reason everyone has come to stay at Peachtree. Her husband just left her, after 13 years of marriage, for a twenty year old supermodel.  Caroline is six months pregnant and already has an eleven year old daughter named Vivi.  Caroline is a NY socialite who snagged one of the most eligible bachelors in town and she always dreamed of being a mother.  Caroline probably likes Peachtree the least of everyone, but after she has been away from NY a while, she begins to realize how ridiculous her life in NY had become.  “There are no people in the world to make you realize what a spoiled, selfish bitch you’ve become and put you right back in place quite like your sisters.”

Emerson is an actress and her most recent role brings her back to Georgia where the made for T.V. movie is being filmed.  The whole family worries about how skinny she has become. They also worry about the fact that she never has found love due to her career, but is she sneaking around with a man on the island?

Sloane is the third sister. Her husband, Adam is deployed in Iraq and she is left to mother their two sons alone. She is the only sibling who ended up living in Georgia.  Toward the end of the book, she has a tragedy of her own.

The book ends with a lot of unresolved issues and unknowns. I immediately picked up book two in the series.  I must know what happens to these lovely ladies and I look forward to spending more time with them.

“Walking down the street with my two sisters, I felt like life was going to go on-yet again.  It might have been slightly south of simple. But like we always did, we’d figure it out together.”

a place for us

B3B013CF-15DC-46A0-BA68-B7A43D331E6AA Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is a lovely story about an Indian Muslim family living in America and the battles that they face. The author will dazzle you with her poetic writing and break your heart with this moving story. I did not want it to end!
The book begins as the family gathers for the wedding of their oldest daughter, Hadia. Hadia’s brother, Amar ran away and abandoned the family years ago, but he returns for this special occasion and we begin to learn about the family’s past.
Hadia’s whole life she has worked hard for her father’s approval. She resented the fact that, “Everyone important was a boy. It was the son they cherished, the son their pride depended on, the son who would carry their name into the next generation.” In the end she blames herself for Amar’s isolation from the family. Hadia: “She had taken from him what, in another life, would have belonged to him by birth. She had worked hard to be as valuable as any son. Hadia’s belonging was proof of her brother’s alienation.”
Amar was always a disturbing and reckless force. He constantly tested the limits of his father to see what he could get away with and he deserted his Muslim religion. He never felt at home and never felt his father’s love and approval.
Hadia and Huda were their father’s daughters. It was their father they tried to impress, his approval they sought. Amar had always been a mamma’s boy. His mother, Layla, says of her son: “He is persistent and demanding, he knows what he wants and is devastated if he does not attain it. It alarms her: how little it takes to darken his mood.” As Amar grows older and distant, Layla wonders, “What she could ever hope to know of him was just a glimpse-like the beam of a lighthouse skipping out, only one stretch of waves visible at a time, the rest left in the unknowable dark.”
Amar ran away after a bad fight with his father and never returned. They always had a tremulous relationship. Later in life, they both seem to regret the way they have hurt and treated one another. Amar, “wondered if he had turned his back on something far more meaningful than he realized the night he packed his bags in a hurry, thinking only of how angry he was, how harsh and unloving his father was about what Amar had no control over: who he was.” “He had been cheated out of knowing the best of his father; his father had reserved his kindness for others.”
The last section of the book is told from Baba’s (the father) point of view and I think it was the most poignant part of the book. Baba, says of Amar: “I felt like I did not know how to interact with you. I wonder now what we could have been had had the courage to lift you into my arms. And say, “I am here for you and you will never lose me.”
Everyone feels guilt and regret and wonders what they could have done differently to keep Amar at home with them. His mother, Layla also wonders, “Just how the limits to her belief in her son had so dangerously destroyed his possibilities.”
Amidst the family drama, they all have to deal with the hate and prejudice they endure from being a Muslim in America. Baba: “That was my fight: to continue to do little things for people around me, so no one would find fault in my demeanor and misattribute it to my religion.”
“How unlucky that one person has the power to determine the shape of another’s life.”
“There was nothing the human heart could not grow to endure, that the miracle of the human heart is that it expands its capacity to love, to accept.”
Please read it. It’s beautiful.  LOVE< LOVE< LOVE!!