The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith is a true Christmas story about a broken family, grieving the loss of their dad/husband and facing their first Christmas without him.
Since Rick’s death, Joanne has been emotionally absent from her children, blind to Nick’s nightmares, unable to fill Megan’s need for Christmas, and ignoring Ben’s late nights as he drifts further and further away and walks alone in his grief. Joanne is avoiding all things Christmas. She worries and feels guilty, and wonders is it would be disrespectful to Rick’s memory to celebrate Christmas.
Pretty soon, the family starts receiving mysterious gifts on their doorstep, with no way of knowing who left them. The gifts begin to give the family the spirit of Christmas and bring them together. Joanne finds comfort in her memories of Rick and little by little, the spirit of Christmas triumphs over their grief and anger.
“Help comes in all kinds of packages. Don’t worry about who delivers it, just accept it.”
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a true account of the horror that “the radium girls” endured from working with radium. “They put the brush to their lips…dipped it in the radium…and painted the dials. It was a “lip, dip, paint routine.” All the girls copied each other, mirror images that lipped and dipped and painted all day long. Little did they know, what the radium was doing to them. They were only told about the positive effects of radium and when it was questioned they were assured it was safe. No one had warned the girls about the dangers of being exposed to radium.
One by one, the girls start to come down with mysterious ailments that couldn’t be properly diagnosed. They suffered tremendously. They had horrible toothaches, their teeth fell out, their jaw bones broke, they lived in pain and agony and a lot of them eventually died. Despite all their suffering, the radium company did not lift a finger to help them, denied that radium was harmful, and refused to take any kind of responsibility. The radium industry got away with murder. They asked themselves, “Why should I be so afflicted?” “I have never harmed a living thing. What have I done to be so punished?”
These women were brave and they fought for justice. They “shine through history with an even brighter glory: stronger than the bones that broke inside their bodies; more powerful than the radium that killed so many or the company that shamelessly lied through its teeth. They “fought on when all hope seemed gone; stood up for what was right, and inspired each In the end, “what the girls had achieved was astonishing: a ground-breaking, law-changing, and life-saving accomplishment.”
I am not a big reader of non-fiction and this book could have been much smaller and less detailed, but I understand that the author did not want to leave anyone out so that their stories could finally be told to the world.
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo. Lucy and Gabe met at college on September 11, 2001 and after they go through that horrific day together, they feel a strong connection to each other that develops into a long term relationship. Their relationship is strong, passionate, consuming, and indestructible until the day Gabe leaves to pursue his career. He is not the kind of person that can stay in one place and he has to go out into the world and pursue his dream of making a difference in the world by being a journalist/photographer.
Through the rest of their lives they think of each other often and occasionally stay in contact. Lucy ends up marrying someone else but she is always haunted by the love she had for Gabe and what she lost. Gabe will always be the one great love of her life. The story really portrays how you never forget your first love and how there are so many different kinds of love in the world and how sometimes in life, no matter how much you love someone, it just doesn’t work out. Lucy will have to make the decision in the end if she is willing to leave her husband to be with Gabe or will she have to leave Gabe in her past to be with her husband.
“Some relationships feel like a wildfire-they’re powerful and compelling and majestic and dangerous and have the capability to burn you before you even realize you’ve been consumed…..some relationships feel like a hearth fire-they’re solid and stable and cozy and nourishing.”
“I hope you find a love like that–one that is all-consuming and powerful that makes you feel like you’re going slightly mad. And if you do find that love, embrace it. Hold onto it. When you give yourself over to love like that, your heart will get bruised. It will get battered. But you will also feel invincible and infinite.”
Billie Flannigan left for a weekend hiking trip and never returned. Her body was never found but she is presumed to be dead. She has left behind her husband, Johnathan and her daughter, Olive. Johnathan and Olive are still grieving and learning how to live without Billie and have so many unanswered questions about her death.
It has been a year since her mother disappeared when Olive begins to have visions that lead her to believe that her mother may still be alive and asking her for help.
Johnathan is trying to move forward with his life and declare Billie legally dead. He starts to find out things about her he did not know before and finds himself wondering if maybe she may have planned to leave them and did not have an accident or die on her trip.
The ultimate theme of this book to me is the concept of how well we really know people and what they are capable of doing.
“Maybe this is why they say love is blind: Who you want people to be makes you blind to who they really are.”
My book club enjoyed this one. It will keep you guessing right up until the end, what really happened to Billie?
Anne Tyler’s books are always a special treat. In Clock Dance, as with all her books, Tyler creates quirky and lovable characters that you will quickly become enamored with and find completely relatable. Willa is the main character of this book. We learn about her life in sections: at age 11, at age 21, in her early 40s and in her early 60s.
Willa has always been a good girl, well-behaved, well-mannered, and agreeable. It’s obvious she puts everyone else’s happiness and wishes above her own. She is way too passive, complacent, and eager to please. She is basically just letting life pass her by when she gets a phone call from the neighbor of her son’s ex-girlfriend, Denise. The neighbor tells Willa that Denise is in the hospital and wants Willa to come take care of Denise’s eleven year old daughter, Cheryl.
At her husband’s disbelief and disapproval, Willa agrees to fly across the country to Baltimore to help out. I think she goes because she actually feels like someone finally needs her for once. Her sons have little to do with her and her husband is busy with work and she feels bored and unfulfilled.
Willa quickly becomes entangled with Denise and Cheryl and all the other lovely neighbors in the community. All the neighbors are great characters as well. Willa begins to feel like her life has purpose again. She feels needed in Boston. Has she finally found a more meaningful life instead of the one she has always just settled for or will she go back to her regular, boring life of being an obedient wife once Denise is well?
You can never go wrong with Anne Tyler. She continues to writing endearing books!!!!
The Weight of This World was my first book by North Carolina writer, David Joy. The book takes place in the mountains of North Carolina. The characters are re a little rough around the edges. It was dark and violent at times, but Joy’s writing was superb and you can’t help but find yourself hoping the best for these characters.
Thad and Adien have been best friends since they were children. When Adien’s parents died, he moved into a trailer with Thad. Thad lived in an abandoned trailer behind his mother’s house. The two friends are more like family and they lived together up until Thad enlisted in the military. It’s obvious when Thad returns from the war that he is haunted by the things he saw and did during his service. “His memories had become something physical that he had to carry through this world.” He also had to carry the fact that his mother, April, never really loved him.
April has some traumatic buried secrets of her own. “There were so many things she carried, memories that lay heavy as stone. All of those things stayed bottled and building. All of those things had damn near broken her in two.” She is unable to love her son because of some things that happened to her in the past. While Thad is away, April and Aiden develop a relationship.
Adien has always been a very loyal friend to Thad. Aiden wants to improve his life by moving to Asheville to start over, but Thad refuses to go and Aiden refuses go without him.
Aiden: “No matter what he did, it seemed some higher power had it out for him, and that kind of certainty comes to leave a man numb after a while.” “All the weight of this world seemed to be on him right then and he just stood there staring out into nothing at all unsure how much longer he could go without buckling beneath it.”
All of these characters are broken, torn, troubled and haunted. No matter what they do, things never get better for them.
From Megan Abbott’s review: “The Weight of This World, is a tale of exquisite grit. David Joy is willing to go to all the dark places, but his voice and his heart serve as such strong beacons what we’ll follow him and take our chances. Those chances pay off in a story that is as tense and harrowing as it is achingly tender.”
The Lost For Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland
Loveday Cardew uses her job at “the lost for words bookshop,” not only as a means for income, but as a refuge and safe place to hide from the world. Her whole life, books have provided her with the escape, comfort and the safety net she needed.
Archie is the charming book-owner who is more of a father-figure to Loveday than a boss. It’s obvious that these two have a close friendship. Archie is one of the few people that Loveday has in her life. She was forced into a foster home at the age of ten and has kept to herself, guarding her heart and avoiding relationships of any kind for most of her life.
Then things begin to change for Loveday. The mysterious Nathan Avebury enters the picture. He is a magician/poet who quickly becomes part of Loveday’s life. She tries to fight her feelings for him and keep herself from getting too close, but before she knows it, she finds herself in a relationship.
Then mysterious packages keep turning up at the bookstore that force her to think about her parents and her past. Will she finally be able to face it and move on?
The book of course has a lot of references to other books. It also reflects on what books mean to people and how they can have such an impact on our lives. I very much enjoyed this charming little story that took place in England and I think you will too!
Ruby by Cynthia Bond. I have mixed feelings about this one. It is probably the only selection from Oprah’s book club that I didn’t love. This book will not be for the weak of heart. It is dark, disturbing, graphic, grotesque, and really just a horrific tale of sexual abuse. Women and children are raped and beaten. Men are evil and demonic. There is a magical realism, voodoo, supernatural element to the book that I found weird and confusing.
All that being said, the author’s prose was brilliant, poetic, and powerful at times and it may have been necessary to include all the graphic details so the reader could understand the terrible cruelty of sexual abuse. My book club had a very good discussion about the book. It reminds me of Beloved by Toni Morrison, which I didn’t really care for either.
Ruby is the tragic heroine of the book. She is sold into prostitution at a young age and is the perfect example of how a lifetime of sexual abuse can break a person.
And then along comes Ephram, who tries to help Ruby face and overcome her past. Will she be able rebuild “the broken femur of her soul?” Can the human spirit survive such traumatic experiences? Is it possible that she can find love and peace at last?
Every summer I looked forward to a new book by Elin Hilderbrand. She is one of my favorites. The Perfect Couple was a little different from her previous books. It was more of a mystery than a romance. The book begins when a dead body washes ashore at a lavish oceanfront estate where a wedding is about to take place. As the book develops, all the wedding guests become suspects.
The book explores what really makes “the perfect couple” and how the couple that seems perfect may not be perfect at all. There were a ton of characters in this book and they all had their issues. It made quite a juicy beach read.
Nantucket is always a character in Hilderbrand’s books and I always want to hop on a plane and move there after reading them. This book made me hungry. I not only wanted to go to Nantucket, but I wanted to go there and eat all the things these characters were eating! It sounds like heaven.
You must have this book for your summer beach trip and when you finish it you will want to run out and buy all of Hilderbrand’s books. They never disappoint.
There is something about a Colleen Hoover book that grips you from the first page and holds you hostage until the end. She always makes you feel all the feelings!!!!
All Your Perfects is about a couple, Quinn and Graham, who meet and fall madly in love. The kind of sickening, intense, lustful, undying love that always takes place in Hoover’s books.
After the couple is married, they begin to try to get pregnant. A mom is the only thing that Quinn wants to be and as she struggles with infertility she becomes a completely different person. Battling infertility takes a toll on each of them and their marriage.
Quinn: “I cry because I hate what I’ve turned this marriage into. My husband’s heart is my saving grace, but his physical touch has become my enemy.”
“Of course he feels like he’s making love to a corpse. It’s because he is. I haven’t felt alive inside in years. I’ve been slowly rotting away, and that rot is now eating at my marriage to the point that I can no longer hide it.”
“Something that should have brought us together pulled us further apart. Avoidance sounds like such a harmless word, but that one word can cause some severe damage to a relationship. We avoided so much in our marriage, simply out of fear. We avoided communicating. We avoided talking about the challenges we faced. We avoided all the things that made us feel saddest.”
As things fall apart between Quinn and Graham over the years, the author takes you on an emotional roller-coaster and you will wonder if their marriage will survive or not, desperately hoping it does.
“I can spend my time focusing on the perfect version of the life I’ll never have or I can spend my time enjoying the life I do have. And the life I have would provide me with so much opportunity if I would get out of my own head long enough to chase those opportunities.” (Quinn)
“If you only shine light on your flaws, all your perfects will dim.”
Colleen Hoover always writes the perfect romance novel. If you haven’t read her books, you are missing out!