the woman in the window

28166424_10156424301228392_5523803837917298688_n.jpgThe Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn is the latest trendy psychological thriller that everyone is raving about. While I did enjoy the book, I do not believe that it quite lives up to the hype and I have read better books in this genre.

Anna Fox is a child psychologist who is suffering from a severe case of agoraphobia. She has become a recluse, her only companion is her cat, completely shutting herself off from the world. She self-medicates by drinking a lot of wine and abusing her prescription pills. She is pretty much always in a drunken state and clearly is suffering from anxiety and depression and this makes her a very unreliable narrator.

The Russell family moves in across the street from Anna and she obsessively spies on them. She receives a visit from her new neighbor, Mrs. Russell. Soon after Mrs. Russell’s visit, while looking out the window, she witnesses her being murdered. Anna’s world is upturned as she becomes determined to solve the crime. The police and everyone else are completely convinced the she just hallucinated the whole thing. She begins to doubt herself as well.

This is your typical psychological thriller. The book was intriguing, suspenseful, had lots of plots twists and turns and as usual the grand finale of twists at the end of the book.   A good read for fans of thrillers!

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They May Not Mean To, But They Do

28312641_10156416298193392_2096433629_oThey May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Shcine

At the beginning of this novel, Joy Bergman is the caregiver to her husband Aaron, whose health is failing quickly. It isn’t long before Joy begins having some issues with aging herself. Much to her dismay, her two children, Molly and Daniel are full of ideas and solutions to deal with Joy’s aging and loneliness. She loses sleep worrying that they may send her to a nursing home.

Joy has begun to feel “out of date, obsolete, and left-behind,” and useless to anyone. She wants to take care of everything herself, but is beginning to realize that she may not be able to do that anymore. “She mourned her husband. She mourned her life. She longed for her children and husband. She didn’t seem to belong anywhere anymore.”

The title of Cathleen Schine’s novel comes from a poem by Philip Larkin which begins “They fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do.” Later in the book, Joy says,” They meant well. They did. But they fuck you up, your son and daugther. They may not mean to but they do.”  She says this about her children interfering in her life, making decisions for her and trying to control what she does.

This book will be very true to life to anyone that has dealt aging or caring for an aging parent. The book is set in New York and I really enjoyed reading about the city as well. At times it was heart-breaking, but at the same time, the author lightened up the book a little bit with scattered dry humor. I laughed out loud many times reading Joy’s observations and thoughts about family and life. This book is an emotional exploration about aging, grief and dysfunctional families. The author really hit the nail on the head.

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

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At the beginning of “Faithful,” by Alice Hoffman, Shelby Richmond is suffering from severe depression, anxiety, guilt, and post-traumatic stress. It’s been two years since the car accident that ruined her best friend, Helene’s, life and Shelby has spent all this time (after a suicide attempt and being in the psych hospital) living in her parents basement with no contact to the outside world.   She blames herself and doesn’t understand, “Why would an angel rescue her when she’s worthless and Helene, who was so much better than she could ever be, was right there, in desperate need of help?”

One night while out walking, she runs into Ben. “They stumbled into each other’s lives one cold winter when they were both desperate for warmth.” Even though Shelby tries to do everything she can to prevent it, they become friends. She decides to move to New York with Ben because she is haunted in her hometown and she wants to try to escape her past.

She soon finds in New York that you can’t escape your past. She eventually develops friendships even though, “She has never wanted to be involved with people.  People are dangerous, unreliable, stupid, greedy, needy, breakable.” Despite her best efforts, people come into her life and she becomes attached to them and they slowly bring her back to life.

She has an eye for tragedy and sorrow and seeks out needy people and animals. Since she couldn’t help Helene, I feel like she tries to help everyone else she possibly can.  “She understands abandonment and loneliness. Her desire to do right for those creatures is what fuels her.”

I won’t spoil the book for you, but the people and animals she helps, really end up helping her. I loved this book. I was immediately pulling for Shelby and wanted her to find her way in the world.  The other characters in the book were lovely as well, especially the dogs!!!!

A few quotes from the book:

“Maybe that’s what love is. Maybe it’s like a hit-and-run accident; it smashes you before you can think. You do it no matter the cost and you keep on running.”

“If you don’t think you’re worth something, no one else will either.”

“How much of the world can never be understood or explained?”

“Life was beautiful, everyone knew that, but it was also bitter and bleak and unfair as hell and where did that leave a person?”

 

Manhattan Beach

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Manhatten Beach by Jennifer Egan.     I am ashamed to admit that this is the first book I have read by Jennifer Egan. Her other books have been on my bookshelf way too long. I have mixed feelings about “Manhattan Beach.” I was a little bored at times, but I am not a historical fiction lover, so a little boredom is to be expected when I read such a book. The author obviously did a lot of research to make this book an accurate portrayal of the World World II/depression time period.

When the book begins, we are introduced to the heroine of the book, Anna Kerrigan. She is just twelve years old and she is obviously daddy’s little girl. Anna and her father have a very close relationship and a special bond. It’s apparent that Anna’s father is involved in some sort of mafia/gangster activity and he begins going away a lot. Because he is gone so much and Anna is no longer allowed to join him, their relationship begins to wither.  

At 19, Anna’s father has disappeared and she becomes the provider for her mother and handicapped sister. She tires of her factory job and pursues her desire to become a diver. It is unheard of for a woman to be a diver and Anna has to fight constantly to fulfill her dreams. Most people would have given up, but she let nothing get in her way.

Around this same time, Anna also becomes involved with a dangerous man who may be able to help her figure out what happened to her father. There are many lovely characters in the story that kept me interested through the boring parts. Another thing I loved about the book is that the sea wasn’t just the setting, but it was almost a character in the novel itself. Jennifer Egan is an amazing writer and I look forward to trying some of her other books, which I understand are much different from this one.

This blurb from Amazon sums it up perfectly: “Manhattan Beach is so rich in detail and atmosphere; such an exploration of underworlds of all kinds, filled with lessons on lifelines and buoyancy and how to bear life’s weight by diving deep into it. Jennifer Egan has masterfully conjured an era we are on the cusp of losing. Her novel is an absorbing story, beautifully written. Its strands of subtle intrigue and quiet heroism make you reluctant to leave each page while eager to get to the next.”M.L. Stedman

The House We Grew Up In

23782098_10156145202343392_593225045_nThe House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell. 

Meet the Bird family. The Bird children had a picturesque childhood that “was all golden shiny times when nothing could go wrong.” They were a very close family who ate dinner together every night, played in the garden all day, and had huge egg hunts every Easter. Their charming mother left sparkles and sunshine wherever she went and made sure they had the best childhood ever.  Then one Easter, tragedy strikes, tearing the family apart, and nothing is ever the same.

Lorelei is the mother of the family. She is a very eccentric woman who began collecting things in order to deal with her unhappy childhood. Her collecting becomes more and more of a problem until social workers tell her that her hoarding is so bad that her life is at risk.

Meg is the oldest child. Since a young age she has suspected her mother is ill and has constantly criticized her hoarding. She despises her mother’s hoarding and is very outspoken about it. She is the only family member that stands up to her mother.

Bethan is two years younger than Meg. She is happy to live in Meg’s shadow. She is shy, quiet, and easy to get along with. She doesn’t really know herself and she struggles with this through adulthood.

Rhys and Rory are twins and couldn’t be more different. Rory is cool and popular, while Rhys is strange and nerdy. Rhys is the odd child of the family. Everyone else is bright and fun, but Rhys is a little weird and likes to be alone.

After the tragedy that occurs, that I really wish I could tell you about, but I don’t want to ruin the book for you, the family drifts further and further apart, blaming each other for the tragedy until they are pretty much estranged. At their mother’s death they are all brought back together again to deal with their troubled past.

“When someone doesn’t want to help themselves, there’s only so much you can do.”

“No family is indestructible, but were pretty resilient.”

“Maybe if there’d been an explanation we could have all moved on, found closure. We blamed each other because we didn’t know who else to blame. And then we just carried on blaming each other for everything.”

A very good read about a dysfunctional family. My favorite thing to read about!

 

 

without merit

23602342_10156121967253392_1115006092_nWithout Merit is the second book by Colleen Hoover that I have read. She might be working her way onto my favorite author list. Merit Voss is the main character in this book. Her family lives in a remodeled church and they are the epitome of a dysfunctional family. Merit is an angry, quiet teenager who doesn’t like herself very much and likes her family even less. She feels invisible and left out, like she doesn’t matter to anyone. She feels that “without merit” her family would go on as usual and not notice her absence.

Honor is Merit’s identical twin, but on the inside there appears to be nothing identical about these two. They have drifted apart over the years and spent a lot of time arguing with one another. Merit feels that Honor is the beautiful, fun and better liked sister. Honor has her own issues and spends her time falling in love with terminally ill boys.

Merit’s father, Barnaby, turned all their lives upside down when he cheated on their mother. He is married to their mother’s former nurse. Both her mother and stepmother are named Victoria. Her mother lives in the basement and suffers from many mental issues, including agoraphobia, which keeps her locked in the basement with no contact with the outside world. Merit has began to resent her for being absent from her life.

Merit has two other siblings, her brother Utah who she has had a very strained relationship with for the past five years and her four year old stepbrother, Moby (named after Moby Dick) who everyone adores.

As if this family isn’t dysfunctional enough, Victoria’s eccentric and strange brother, Luck, shows up and begins living with the family. Around the same time, Honor’s boyfriend Sagan moves in the other spare room in the house. Merit has very strong romantic feelings for Sagan and is constantly at war with herself trying to bury her feelings.

This family has a lot of baggage, unresolved issues and anger toward one another. When Merit does something very drastic, they finally begin to work through their problems. Merit: “I have so much anger building inside of me, and it has nothing to do with me. It’s anger at almost every single person in this house.” Merit begins to realize that maybe she has been blind and judgmental and wrong about her family all this time.

“I think we all just got to a point where we were waiting for someone else to initiate it, but no one ever did. Maybe that’s the root of a lot of family issues. It isn’t actually the issues people are hung up about for so long. It’s that no has the courage to take the first step in talking about the issues.” “If I’ve learned anything this week, it’s that I don’t know people as well as I think I do.”

“Your whole family suffers from all kinds of things. You shouldn’t feel so special. We’re all a degree of fucked-up.”

““So many people dream of living in a house with a white picket fence. Little do they know, there’s no such thing as a perfect family, no matter how white that picket fence is.”

I read this book in one day. I could not put it down. Colleen Hoover is my new guilty pleasure and I will be reading her other books as soon as I can.

little fires everywhere

23476217_10156111023913392_1951815718_nMia Warren and her daughter Pearl, move into the Richardson family’s rental house in Shaker Heights , Cleveland. Mia is an artist who does not liked to be tied down, who frequently moves around from one place to another and takes random part time jobs to earn just enough for her and Pearl to get by.  The Richardson family is upper middle class, well known in the community and have lived in Shaker Heights their whole lives.  As far as Mrs. Richardson could imagine, living in Shaker Heights is the perfect life in the perfect place.  She always lived an orderly and regimented life. She was brought up to follow the rules and always strove for perfection.  Mia, to her, was a different kind of woman, leading a completely different life.  Mia seemed to make her own rules, with no apology.

Pearl and Mia soon develop friendships with the children of the Richardson family and become entangled in their lives. Pearl has never really had friends before because they have moved so much. Pearl becomes quick best friends with Moody. They are both two lonely, naive teenagers with sensitive personalities and bookish wisdom.  Pearl is timid, quiet and unsure of herself.  Moody is a sweet guy, a romantic at heart.  Moody finds that Pearl is another poetic soul like him and he quickly becomes fascinated with her and her mother.

Pearl begins spending all her time at the Richardson’s home and is dazzled by their domestic perfection and confidence.  There is Lexie, with her golden smile, easy laugh and warmness.  There is Tripp, with his handsome looks and charm.  And then there is Izzy, who cares what no one thinks and often does crazy things. Izzy and her mother have a troubled relationship.  Her mother is always harder on Izzy, always criticizing her behavior, always less patient with her mistakes and shortcomings, always demanding more from her than her siblings.  Izzy soon recognizes a kindred spirit in Mia. She hangs on to her every word, and seeks and trusts her opinion on everything.  She becomes Mia’s assistant and starts pretending that Mia is her mother. Mia sees Izzy as a younger version of herself.

There is a side story to the dynamic relationships between these two families. A custody battle between Mia’s friend and Mrs. Richardson’s friend causes a lot of conflict between the two women who already don’t really like each other.  Mrs. Richardson is a reporter and she begins digging into Mia’s past and we learn all about her buried secrets.  “It was so easy, she thought with some disdain, to find out about people.  It was all out there, everything about them.  You just had to look.  You could figure out anything about a person if you just tried hard enough.”

The book explores what makes someone a mother, is it biology or is it love? The ferocious pull of motherhood and its complexities is a huge issue throughout this novel.

At the end of the book, the Richardson home has been burned to the ground and the fireman says there were actually “little fires everywhere,” just like there were little fires everywhere within these characters. Some fires were put out, some exploded and some burnt to the ground. “Like after a prairie fire…It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning, the soil is richer, and new things can grow….People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.” Lovely book y’all. Just lovely.

my absolute darling

23022200_10156077848123392_1064469993_nMy Absolute Darling was a very difficult book to read. I would not recommend this book to anyone who has ever been sexually or physically abused. In the very first chapter, I thought about not reading the book because there is some pretty graphic sexual abuse. I felt slightly uncomfortable the whole time I was reading because there were some brutal, disgusting, and just sickening parts in the book, but once I looked beyond the shocking violent scenes, I discovered there was a beautifully written story about a resilient young woman.
From the book cover, “A harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle’s escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero- and, in the process, becomes ours as well.”
Turtle does become a hero. She is a fourteen year old girl who lives alone with her abusive father. She hates herself. She is paralyzed with self-doubt, hesitant and afraid. She never spends any time with anyone except her father, except when she visits her grandfather. She hides the abuse and doesn’t tell anyone what happens to her because she fears what her father will do. She is isolated from her peers. She even believes at times that it may be her fault or maybe there is something rotten inside her that makes her father abusive. When she thinks about fighting back or running away, she thinks of how much bigger than her he is, how much stronger and smarter and more experienced. She lives in a constant state of fear.
As the book progresses, Turtle begins to realize that she isn’t a child anymore and that this isn’t the girl she wants to be. She wants to survive. She says, “Taking your own life in your own hands is the hardest thing you can do.” Part of the reason she begins to feel his way is because of a friendship she begins with a boy she meets in the woods, Jacob. The friendship opens her eyes to what her life could be like away from her controlling father.

Turtle’s father is just the most horrible, cruel, bitter and angry man. He is in a constant state of rage at society and completely against the outside world. Listening to his long rants, it is obvious that he is mentally unstable. Martin himself had a troubled childhood. There was something Martin needed from his own father that he just didn’t get.
This book is not for the faint of heart. I was pulling for Turtle the whole way, never understanding why she didn’t run when she had the chance, but desperately wanting her to finally get away from her father. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but be warned, this is not an easy book to read. It is dark, disturbing, sadistic, full of awful language and just heart-breaking. However, if you can get past the darkness, you will find a powerful and exceptionally well written book from a very talented writer.

salvage the bones

22751165_10156050808483392_1249325416_oSalvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is a brutally honest, raw, emotional, eye-opening and powerful story about a poor black family living in Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina heads their way. The main character of the book is a fourteen year old heroine named Esch. She lives in a rundown shack on a piece of property they call The Pit with her three brothers and her father. Their mother died seven years ago giving birth to the youngest son, Junior. The father is an absent alcoholic who is often angry and drunk. The siblings are close and have pretty much raised their little brother Junior and themselves.

Esch discovers very early on in the book that she is pregnant by the boy she is in love with, one of her brother’s friends, Manny. He is definitely not in love with her and has a girlfriend and Esch is heartbroken about it. I felt so bad for her, being a poor, lonely, fourteen year old girl with a dead mother and low self esteem going through the devastating news she’s pregnant alone.

There were a lot of times in the book where I really wished I could look away but couldn’t. There are some bad dog fighting scenes. Skeeter, the oldest brother has a pit bull named China that he enters in brutal dog fighting contests. He loves this dog more than anything and I could not believe he would put her through such a thing. China has just had puppies and Skeeter spends all his time taking care of her and the newborn puppies. China is a big part of the story.

Near the end of the book, Hurricane Katrina arrives, bringing complete destruction and devastation. The family barely survives. The author gives us a very up close and personal look at what the victims of hurricane Katrina had to go through.

Ward’s writing at times was very poetic: “His skin was the color of fresh-cut wood at the heart of a pine tree.” “The terrible truth of what I am flares like a dry fall fire in my stomach, eating all the fallen pine needles.” “The sky burst to color above us, and then the sun sank through the trees so that the color ran out of the sky like water out of a drain and left the sky bleached white to navy to dark.” “To give life is to know what’s worth fighting for. And what’s love.” There were so many lovely passages.

Parts of the book were a little difficult to read and when the book ends you don’t quite know the fate of everyone. Overall, it was a very good book, just not for the faint of heart.

In Honor of Rosa-Lee

22554503_10156038889168392_904288068_nToday is my grandmother’s birthday and the first one that I won’t able to celebrate with her in person. When i think of words to describe my grandma, these are the ones that come to mind: kind, loving, caring, generous, unselfish, special, sweet, giving, beloved.  She lit up a room with her smiles and laughs and gave her love to everyone through her hands and her hugs.

She was a hardworking woman her whole life, starting with farming and ending up working at the converse plant.  I had an endless supply of converse sneakers as a child. She was the perfect example of a strong, southern women. She went to church every Sunday, wore her pearls, cooked big delicious country meals, put her family first and shelled peas and canned vegetables in the summer.  I was the only person in the family who liked to eat corn on the cob and she always froze a few bags of corn on the cob just for me.

She always told me how much she loved me, how much I meant to her, how beautiful I was, how proud she was of me and I knew she meant these things from the bottom of her heart. I can only hope that I said those same things to her enough. I will miss sitting on the couch beside her, holding her hand, laying my head on her shoulder and feeling like the most loved and special person in the world. You could just feel the love coming out of her body.

She was a huge part of my life from the time I was born until she died. She never missed any of the important events in my life and always gave me presents for my birthday and Christmas. She was always so excited to see me and so sad to see me go.  There just aren’t words to explain what an amazing and rare person she was in this world. She was always there, a loving shoulder, a helping hand, a ray of sunshine. I can only hope to be half the person that she was and she will forever be my favorite person.  There will always be a hole in my heart that no one else could possibly fill.  Happy Birthday in heaven, Grandma. I love you.

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