Book Club: The New Wilderness

I am a little disappointed in myself this month.  I had been doing really well reading multiple books a month for the last few months, and then I blew it for September.  I only managed to read our one book club book this month.  I honestly don’t know what happened.  I just stopped reading once I finished that book and didn’t even attempt to start another one.  Anyway, I have to get back on track for October for sure! Reading is my escape, and I need it for my sanity. 

Let’s dive into my September pick, The New Wilderness by Diane Cook.  I was actually excited about this book when I chose it.  It gave me that Hunger Games/Divergent Series type vibe when I read the description and reviews.  I thought the concept of the story had a really good chance of being right up there with those two popular series.  However, I was left very underwhelmed.    I think there was so much potential to be a great storyline, but it certainly didn’t live up to that potential.  I was left wanting so much more.  I don’t feel like the characters were developed well, and I thought a lot was left out.  It left me filling like I had to fill in the blanks with my own imagination for much of the story.  It also skipped around a lot which meant that some parts weren’t every fully developed in my mind.  There were parts that I liked, but overall, I thought it was a big letdown.  I always hate when I have to say that I didn’t love a book, but I have to be honest with you all.  This one wasn’t all that I wanted it to be or anywhere near to what it could be. I just feel like there was so much wasted potential.

This story takes place sometime in the future after years of pollution, development, and over-population had not only destroyed the planet but also made children and other individuals very sick.  There was only one area of the world that was untouched by humans. It was called the Wilderness State and was to become the sight of a lengthy experiment.  Twenty individuals were chosen to be the subjects of the experiment.  They were to be ripped from their lives in the dying city to be dropped in the middle of the Wilderness State to become the “Community.”  They were to live off the land without leaving any kind of footprint behind.  The environment was always to appear undisturbed. They had to hunt for food, use animal skins to make their clothes, and were unable to build any type of shelter or permanent structures.  They were not allowed to remain in one location for more than 7 days and were forced to check in with Rangers periodically for assessment.  Those check-ins were the only time they had any communication with the outside world as they were allowed to send and receive letters to love ones they had left behind. However, there was sometimes months or years in-between those letters and packages. It truly was a daily battle for survival for them out in the harsh wilderness. Three of those individuals that were part of the experiment were a family consisting of Glen, the soft-spoken brains behind the initial experiment, his sometimes aggressive wife Bea, and Bea’s daughter, Agnes, who was one of the children who had become very ill.  They, along with 17 other individuals embarked on the journey of living in the wild.  While Agnes’s life was saved when she was finally able to breath clean air, many others lost their lives while battling the elements.  Those people were eventually replaced by “Newcomers” from the city.   It was a story of mother/daughter relationships, survival, and extreme isolation that never quite reached its peak for me.  While it did hold my interest to some extent as I hoped it would improve, I just couldn’t shake the feeling of being let down by all that this book wasn’t. I almost wanted to rewrite it in my head as I was reading. I sadly would give this book 2.5 out of 5 stars. 

Now, on to my pick for October.  I am going to switch it up a bit this month. While I know that summer is officially over and I may be a little late to the game, I decided to go with Jennifer Weiner’s newest New York Times Bestseller, Big Summer.  I can honestly say that I have never read a book by Jennifer Weiner despite knowing her popularity and large following.   Her genre of the more “chick lit” is not typically my first choice, but I thought I would give this one a chance as it has great reviews like so many of her other novels.  I like to read things that are outside of my usual bubble every now and then just for variety.  I am hoping this will be a welcomed change that will get me back on track for reading more books. Check out what Publisher’s Weekly has to say about this novel.

“Weiner’s story of a female friendship (after Mrs. Everything) mixes a splash of romance, a dash of humor, and a pinch of mystery to create a deliciously bloody poolside cocktail. Daphne Berg, a young woman struggling with her weight and self-esteem, has become “#fiercefatgirl,” a powerful plus-size media influencer with thousands of followers. Her world is turned upside down when an old high school frenemy comes looking for a favor. Drue Cavanaugh, a high-society darling, was everything Daphne wasn’t in high school: rich, gorgeous, and a mean girl to rival all mean girls. Back then, Daphne did anything she could to simply exist on the fringes of Drue’s world. Now, Drue is planning her splashy Cape Cod wedding to a reality TV star, and she wants Daphne to be her maid of honor amid her family’s infighting and doubts about the groom. Trouble has been brewing under the surface, and Daphne finds herself at Drue’s beck and call at a grotesquely ill-fated celebration that reveals the dark side of Dru’s seemingly perfect life. Weiner’s surprising tale is hard to put down.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

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Book Club: My Dark Vanessa

I was a totally book nerd this month and read 4 books! That’s a lot for one month for me.  I usually do good to get through one and maybe halfway through a second with my crazy schedule, so I am pretty proud of myself. It really boiled down to interest.  As you all know, I really love historical fiction, and I got stuck on a historical fiction series that I was really enjoying.  I wanted to finish all three books in the series before I started my book club pick for this month.  It was a series by Pam Jenoff, who also wrote The Orphan’s Tale, which was my book club pick last September.  I really enjoyed that book, so when I saw she had a series; I knew I had to read it.  It was initially a 2-book series, but then she released a prequel book to the series making it 3 books total.  I was uncertain whether or not to start with the prequel or start with book 1 as she wrote them.  I decided to go with the order in which she wrote them and read the prequel last, which I think was the right decision for me.  The books are entitled The Kommandant’s Girl (Book 1), The Diplomat’s Wife (Book 2), and The Ambassador’s Daughter (Book 0.5). If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly books that take place during World War I and II, this is a great series.  I love that each book could also be a stand-alone title too.  While some characters overlap, each book has different main characters.  Anyway, I highly recommend this series as I really enjoyed all three books.

Now onto my actual pick for August, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.  This was Russell’s debut novel, and it became an instant New York Times Best Seller.  I knew from the beginning that this pick might be a little controversial or at least make some people uncomfortable.  It is a sensitive topic.  Although not based on a true story, this novel seems like it has been ripped right from the news headlines of the past few years as part of the “Me Too” Movement.   I will admit that it was a little more graphic than I was comfortable with at times and hard to read at some points. I understand the need for it, though, to get the full scope of what was going on and a better understanding of the psychological aspect of it. The book should definitely come with a warning as the topic could trigger some very negative feelings for anyone that may have experienced something similar.  Having daughters near the ages of the main character at the time her abuse began really sent my mind into some dark places as fears about them began to creep in.  Just be aware of the sensitive and graphic nature of this book before you jump into it. 

This story rotates back and forth between the past and the present as a way to show how the events of the main character’s childhood trauma occurred and the impact that trauma left on her for years and years to come. As a self-conscious, naïve, 15-year-old student away at a boarding school, Vanessa had become a loaner after a fallout with her best friend and former roommate the previous year. This left her vulnerable to the eyes of her 42-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane.  He prayed on her vulnerability, her curiosity, and her need to feel desired and wanted by another human being.  This was a classic case of grooming as he used her vulnerabilities and insecurities to make her feel like what they were doing was totally normal.  He played on her interests in poetry and literature by initially complimenting her on her writing and giving her provocative books to read that glorified adult/child intimate relationships.  He made her desire him in ways that never should occur at that age. He singled her out and made her feel special and desired.  Vanessa as an adult said, “to be groomed is to be loved and handled like a precious, delicate thing,” and that is exactly how he treated her.  He manipulated her into thinking it was all her fault that he was the way he was with her.  SHE was the one that chased after him.  SHE was the one that was willing.  SHE made it hard for him to resist. He told her, “I never would have done it if you weren’t so willing.” He also made it very clear to her what the consequences would be if she ever told anyone what they did together. He told her he would be ruined.  He said he would be fired, and she would get kicked out of school.  He told her he would end up in jail and she would end up in foster care.  He even told her she would never graduate or go to college.  Her response was always, “I’d die before I tell,” and she really meant it. The way he manipulated her psychologically was beyond comprehension for me.  It sickens me to think that things like this happen all the time in real life and that these men can get away with what they are doing to these children.  The ways in which he continued to manipulate her far into her adulthood was just incredible, and the hold he had on her was unreal.  It left her totally broken and damaged.  She was so messed up that she moved from job to job as an adult doing menial administrative work that had nothing to do with her degree or interests.  She coped by abusing drugs and alcohol and lived a life of misery with a skewed view of what a relationship should look like. It truly was a sad situation.

I do think this was a very well written story that really showed how easily children can be manipulated and taken advantage of.  The psychological aspect of it was truly fascinating to me and so well done by Russell.  I could really visualize how everything that Strane did and said to Vanessa affected her every thought and action.  He knew exactly what he was doing and every single thing he did was calculated.  It is an extremely hard topic and, as I said, could be very difficult for some people to read. It is hard for me to say that I would recommend this story to anyone because I do think there are people that likely shouldn’t read it.  I guess I would say that I recommend it with conditions.  You have to be well aware of what the story is about going into and be prepared for the graphic nature of some of it.  It is a very dark story.  I am glad that I read it, and I think that it gave me a lot to think about, especially when it comes to talking with my own daughters about sensitive things like this topic.  If you feel like you can handle this topic, I think it is a very well written story that truly captures what it is like for so many children who are taken advantage of and abused both physically and mentally. Just know that I warned you before you jump into it.

My next pick is, hopefully, a much lighter read.  For September, my choice is The New Wilderness by Diane Cook.  It is a story about a young girl who is slowly dying from the pollution of an over-populated city life.  Her mother is willing to do whatever it takes to save her and agrees to move to the Wilderness State, the only untouched, protected land where no one was allowed to inhabit until now. It is to be a sort of an experiment to see if they can survive in nature without destroying it.  Here is what Publishers Weekly had to say about this novel.

“In this wry, speculative debut novel (after the collection Man v. Nature), Cook envisions a crowded and polluted near future in which only one natural area remains, the Wilderness State. Twenty people volunteer for a government experiment in how humans fare in the wilderness. It’s been so long since anyone tried that no one remembers. Among the volunteers are Glen, ‘an important person’ at the university; his wife Bea; and Bea’s daughter, Agnes, and they, along with the others, collectively called “The Community,” learn to eke out a precarious existence hunting with bows and arrows, tanning animal hides, and negotiating dangerous terrain. As the years pass unmarked other than with Bea noticing a fourth annual appearance of violet blossoms, the volunteers gradually abandon their communities to the study, though they remain expected to obey rules enforced by Rangers, never stay in one place longer than seven days, never leave a trace as members die off. More waitlisted refugees, called Newcomers, arrive from the city, and Bea perseveres, driven by hope for Agnes’s future. Cook powerfully describes the Community members’ transformation from city folk to primal beings, as they become fierce, cunning, and relentless in their struggle for survival and freedom, such as when Bea faces off with a mother coyote. Cook’s unsettling, darkly humorous take explores maternal love and man’s disdain for nature with impressive results.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored,

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Book Club: The Last Flight

It is one of my most favorite days of the month…Book Club Day.  I have loved reading for my entire life, and I love talking about books and choosing new books to read.  I was the nerd in high school that joined a subscription book box before subscription boxes were all the rage. Ha ha!   I would get 3-4 books delivered to me once a month, and I loved it.  I just love to read.  I am not super picky about genres because I have favorites in multiple genres.  I tend to lean toward fiction more than nonfiction, but there are some nonfiction books I do love as well.  Anyway, this month I actually read 2 books.  Before I started with my book club pick, I read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins.  If you are a Hunger Games fan, this book is great.  It is a prequel to The Hunger Games series and follows the early life of Coriolanus Snow well before he became the infamous President Snow.  It was a great addition to the series, and I highly recommend it.  

For the book club for July, I chose The Last Flight by Julie Clark.  It is a psychological thriller of sorts that quickly captivated my attention.  A chance meeting at the airport altered the course of two women’s lives forever.  Both were trying to escape their troubled lives and saw an opportunity to create a whole new life and identity. Claire, the wife of a well-known philanthropist and son of a powerful senator, was trying to escape a life of verbal and physical abuse.  Eva, a bright chemist who had been expelled from college, had been living her life in the drug ring making and selling drugs for a powerful drug lord.  In a split second the two women decided to swap plane tickets and lives in the stall of an airport bathroom.  Not giving each other many details of their current lives, Claire got on a plane headed to California while Eva got on a plane headed to Puerto Rico.  Little did they know all that would lie ahead for them following the crash of the flight to Puerto Rico where no survivors were found.  Nothing for either woman would ever be the same.  

I really liked this story and it kept me on my toes guessing what was coming around each corner.  The characters were very well developed, and I felt the anguish that led both women to the decision to begin a new life completely from scratch, as well as, the struggle for survival.  It is a story of redemption that will tug at your heartstrings while also leaving you on the edge of your seat.  Many people have compared it to Gone Girl.  While I can see the similarities, I don’t feel like this one was as dark and sinister nor was it quite as shocking.  However, I do think that if you were a fan of Gone Girl, you would be a fan of this novel as well. I wouldn’t say that I liked it as much as I liked Gone Girl, but I thought it was good.  I give The Last Flight 4 out of 5 stars.

My pick for August is the highly anticipated, instant New York Times Best Seller, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.  This is a story that echoes the current #MeToo movement and involves a young student who becomes involved in a relationship with her English teacher and the effect it has on her later in life.  Here is what Apple Books has to say about this novel.

“We couldn’t stop thinking about Kate Elizabeth Russell’s powerful and deeply disturbing debut. Told from the point of view of its titular heroine, the novel maps two distinct areas of Vanessa’s life.  We’re pulled into the thrill and turmoil of 15-year-old Vanessa’s experience as she embarks on a “romance” with her much older English teacher, Jacob, and grows to feel like he’s the only one who truly understands her.  But adult Vanessa is starting to see the story differently, struggling to reconcile the relationship that altered the course of her life with the accusations of other former students who were targeted by Jacob. A palpable feeling of unease pervades Russell’s novel—she does an amazing job of trapping us inside Vanessa’s claustrophobic, traumatized mind. A vitally important read for the #MeToo age, My Dark Vanessacombines visceral detail with thoughtful nuance. Your book club will spend hours discussing this one.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

*This post contains commissioned links.  Should you choose to purchase items using these links, I may earn a small commission. 

Book Club: The Henna Artist

This month I read The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi and I really enjoyed it for the most part.  I learned a lot about the Indian culture and their caste system, which is what I was hoping.  Working with artisans in India through Trades of Hope, was what sort of piqued my interest in this book, and it allowed me to gain a better understanding of how their caste system works and what it means for women.  There were a lot of Indian words in it that I obviously didn’t know, but I could figure out some of them just using context clues.  The author did provide a glossary of terms at the back of the book. However, reading it on my iPad made it a little more difficult to access it easily.  I think I would have utilized it more had I had the actual hard copy.  There was also a list of characters at the beginning of the book that gave a sort of background explaining who each person was.  This was helpful information, but, again, it was difficult to reference it as I read since it was an eBook. Those two things were probably my biggest issues with this book. Other than that, I really enjoyed the storyline.  The characters were well developed and there was a good balance between the actual plot line and the historical facts about the economy and customs in India. I thought that the storyline was very well developed even with multiple intricate parts and multiple characters.  I would recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in Henna art, Indian culture, or a great storyline.

The Henna Artist revolves around the life of a woman named Lakshmi Shastri. She was born into one of the highest Hindu caste levels (Brahmin) as her father was a teacher. However, circumstances had left her family very poor.  Her parents arranged for her to marry at the young age of 15.  While living with her husband whom she despised due to his violent nature, Lakshmi learned about natural herbs, teas, and medicines to help women with a variety of medical issues from her mother-in-law.  After 2 years of marriage, Lakshmi couldn’t take it anymore and one day snuck away and left her husband.  At first she was making a living by making contraceptive teas for courtesans to keep them childless while also learning the art of henna. She eventually ended up in Jaipur where she climbed the ladder through hard work and became the most sought-after henna artist to Jaipur’s elite.  She had this to say about working with one particular woman a similar caste.  

“Parvati and I were born to the two highest Hindu casts, she a Kshatriya and me a Brahmin. But she could never bring herself to treat me as an equal because I touched the feet of ladies as I painted their henna. Feet were considered unclean, only to be handled by the low-caste Shudras.  So even though her caste system had relied on mine for centuries to educate their children and perform spiritual rites, in the eyes of Jaipur’s elite, I was now a fallen Brahmin.” 

Despite the elite not truly accepting her as one of them, things were going very well for Lakshmi and opportunities were opening up for her. That was until, out of the blue, her husband, Hari, showed up. He brought with him her thirteen-year-old sister with news that her parents had both died.  Lakshmi never even knew her sister existed.  This set in motion a series of unfortunate events that led her to go from the best of the best to the person no one wanted in their homes.  Lakshmi’s story is one of restoration, redemption, and the will to never give up.  She went from a broken family, to being completely alone, to finding out the true meaning of family.  She learned that success and climbing the ladder wasn’t truly the most important thing in life, and she also learned to use her gifts to help others in a special way. This really was a great story and one that I believe many would enjoy. 

I decided to switch it up a bit and go for a mystery/thriller for my pick for July.  I have chosen The Last Flight by Julie Clark.  It has been said by some to be one of the top books of 2020 so far. Here is what Apple Books has to say about this book.

“For two women on the run, a split-second decision offers a chance at a new life…or a whole new set of dangers.  At the beginning of Julie Clark’s fiercely feminist psychological thriller, Claire—the wife of a beloved philanthropist whose hideous true nature is a well-kept-secret—is at the airport, about to launch into her carefully constructed escape plan. But then Claire makes an impulsive decision to switch passports and plane tickets with Eva, a streetwise survivor on the run from her drug-kingpin former boss.  And we can’t say much more than that because, seriously, things get really crazy from that point on.  Alternating between Claire’s and Eva’s viewpoints, Clark’s book feels like a mix of Gone Girl and The Bourne Identity. It’s that fast-paced and that good. Order takeout, because you won’t be leaving the couch until you turn the last page.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

*This post contains commissioned links. Should you choose to purchase items using these links, I may earn a small commission. 

Book Club: Ask Again, Yes

It is book club day! Today I am reviewing my pick for May, Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane.  I actually finished this book a couple of weeks ago, so I hope I can remember it enough to write this review.  I did enjoy this book, but I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorites.  It was a quick read that kept my interest throughout.  I did feel sometimes that the story changed tense and went back and forth between whose point of view the story was written from.  I don’t know if it really was changing tense and point of view per se, but I did find it odd and a bit confusing at times.  I also find it interesting that Keane chose this particular title for the book.  While it is sort of a line from the book closer to the end of the story, I’m not really sure that it would have been the title I ended up with had I been the author.  I guess it in a way captures the underlying theme of the book, but I just don’t know if everyone would have caught the quick few lines that the title came from as it isn’t a direct quote. I think I would give this story 3.5 out of 5 stars.  It was good, but there was just something about the writing style that was a bit off for me.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, though. 

Ask Again, Yes is a story that revolves around two families, the Stanhopes and the Gleesons, and how their lives intertwined.  The patriarchs of both families, Brian Stanhope and Frank Gleeson, met as young adults when they both entered the police force in New York at the same time and were rookie partners.  While their friendship wasn’t a very strong one and they were only partners for a few months, they ended up as next door neighbors in a quaint little suburban neighborhood as they were just beginning their families.  Not long after they became neighbors, the Gleesons had their third child, a daughter named Kate, and the Stanhopes had their one and only child, a son named Peter.  These two youngsters quickly developed a bond that was unbreakable. Sadly, the Stanhope family was plagued by mental illness and alcohol abuse that led to an unspeakable tragedy that turned both families upside down and tore Kate and Peter apart the summer before their senior year of high school.  That night was one that would haunt both families for the rest of their lives.  It sent both Kate and Peter down very different paths.  Peter suddenly lost both of his parents when his mother was sent to a mental hospital and his alcoholic father left him in the care of his uncle. He was left to cope with the loss of Kate and the terrible tragedy that ripped him away from her all on his own. As a college student Peter headed down a dark place as he himself became an alcoholic.  Kate on the other hand was left with a feeling of abandonment from losing Peter and was conflicted over her loyalty to her family and her loyalty to Peter. 

Years after being ripped apart, Peter and Kate found their way back to each other. Their love for each other and the bond they shared remained, but they were both very different people than the ones they knew as children.  Despite this, they married and began a family of their own, but the two struggled to overcome the events of that night that ripped them apart all those years ago.  The story continues as these two deal with the demons of their past that sent them down a path of discovery to find out if their childhood bond was enough to sustain their relationship despite all they had been through. Their story was one of tragedy and disappointment, but also one of great love, forgiveness, and redemption. 

My pick for June is a New York Times Best Seller that was actually recommended by one of the founders of Trades of Hope.  It is also a Reece Witherspoon Book Club Pick. It is entitled The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.  This book is set in India and is the fictional story of a young girl who escapes an abusive marriage to the city of Jaipur.  Here she becomes the most sought-after henna artist to some of India’s wealthiest women.  This story reportedly gives a glimpse of India’s history, including their caste system.  This very much piques my interest after learning the many stories of Trades of Hope artisans who have risen up from the lowest caste system in India. I am very much looking forward to diving into this book and learning more about India.  Here is what Apple Books has to say about this story.

“What if, with the flick of a brush, you could paint yourself out of all your pain and unhappiness—and into a brand new life? For teenager Lakshmi, fleeing an abusive marriage in 1950s India means heading for the vibrant city of Jaipur. Once Lakshmi has settled, her artistic talents make her the city’s most sought-after henna painter, hired to adorn the hands and bodies of the rich, powerful women. Told through evocative, lush prose, Alka Joshi’s gorgeous debut novel uses one woman’s compelling story to explore a nation in the middle of earthshaking transitions. We were so wonderfully absorbed in Lakshmi’s journey that we didn’t even realize how much we were learning about India’s complicated history, and about colonialism, social upheaval, and the caste system. The Henna Artist is a full sensory experience, transporting us to another time and another place.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

*This post contains commissioned links. Should you choose to purchase items using these links, I may earn a small commission.

Book Club: The Tea Girl on Hummingbird Lane

Yet again, I am off a week on book club.  I just can’t get it together.  Honestly, I didn’t realize that last Friday was the last one in the month. For some reason I had it in my head that today was the last day of April.  Oh well, better late than never, right? For April, I chose The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. I have to say that I really liked this book up until the very last page.  I thought it was a great story that held my interest throughout, but I was shocked when I got to the last page only to discover that was the end of the book.  I turned the page expecting to continue reading, but there was nothing.  This is one of those books where I immediately thought that there had to be a sequel.  Surely, the story doesn’t really end there.  I NEED to know what happens next, but I will never know.  I am left to imagine what happens next in my head.  I assume that is what Lisa See wanted the reader to do, but it still leaves me longing for more.  I know I say that about a lot of the stories that I review.  I never really want them to end, but this one was different.  I was just so surprised at how the story ended leaving me with an unfinished feeling.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a story of a young girl, Li-yan (or Girl as her family affectionately called her), who grew up in the mountains of China among the Akha.  The Akha people were tea famers who were steeped in customs, rituals, and traditions (including strict roles for men and women).  They lived in the mountains with little to no knowledge of the world outside of their village with no electricity, plumbing, or creature comforts even in 90’s and into the new millennium.  The lived off the land and the very little money they made harvesting the tea leaves.  Li-yan’s mother, A-ma, was a healer of sorts and served as the midwife in the village.  She believed that Li-yan would take over for her as the village’s midwife once she was gone.  She brought Li-yan along with her for one birth in particular as a learning opportunity.  This birth was unusual as the mother gave birth to twins.  The Akha people believed that twins were a bad omen from the spirits and called the newborns “human rejects.” It was their custom to have the babies’ father to kill the human rejects and bury them outside the village in the woods in order to please the spirits.  Her witness to this custom along with her own young love and unexpected pregnancy led Li-yan to question and turn away from the rituals and beliefs of her family.  It sent her on a journey of hardship and loss. She not only discovered who she was and what she truly believed in, but it also led her right back to the family and traditions that she once ran from where she was able to bless her people in ways they never dreamed possible.

Despite my need to know more at the end of this story, I still really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to you all.  It was such a great story, and I will hold on to hope that a sequel will be written one day. See’s development of the characters was so well done that it helped me totally picture what it was like to live in those mountains, the reality of the hardships the Akha people faced because of their beliefs, and the incredible hard work it took them to harvest the tea leaves.  Despite my need to know more, I still really enjoyed this story and would recommend it to you all.  It was such a great story about the unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters, and I will hold on to hope that a sequel will be written one day. This story truly was one of growth and change, and I really loved it.

My pick for May is a New York Times Bestseller that was named one of the best books of the year last year by PeopleVogueParade, NPR, and Elle.  Ask Again, Yes is a novel by Mary Beth Keane.  This is a story of the lifelong friendship and love of Peter Stanhope and Kate Gleeson and the night that changed them both and tested their bond for many years to come. Here is what Apple Books had to say about this novel.

“We lost track of time reading Mary Beth Keane’s novel about two families linked by professional and neighborly bonds—before they’re blown apart by tragedy. Ask Again, Yes centers on the Gleesons and the Stanhopes, two families whose fathers met as rookie policemen and whose children develop a deep and lasting bond. Keane is sympathetic to all of her characters, which makes the story of how one destructive person can harm a web of relationships all the more affecting. Like a brilliant painter’s use of negative space, Keane withholds certain information to make this saga a thrilling and moving read.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

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Book Club: When Time Stopped

I know that I normally do my book club book review on the last Friday of the month.  However, I was so excited to share my new CAUSEBOX last week that I kind of forgot that it was the end of the month.  In all honesty though, I actually had not finished reading the book last week.  I know that I have had plenty of time to read lately, and I said I was going to jump on reading my March pick, When Time Stopped by Ariana Neumann, when this whole coronavirus thing began. I did try to start reading the book, but I had a really hard time getting into it initially. This book is the real-life story of the author’s quest to find the truth of her father’s secret past and survival during the Holocaust.   I honestly had high hopes for this story as I have read many historical fiction books about the same time period. I was fascinated with the thought of reading about a real-life story during that time.  Unfortunately, I was struggling at the beginning because it just wasn’t holding my interest. I found myself having to reread pages and paragraphs because I had zoned out.  In the initial chapters the author was setting up the story and how she came to find out that her father even had a secret past.  She was introducing a lot of the characters who had similar names and I was having a hard time keeping them all straight in my head and how they connected to the story as a whole.  It wasn’t until around chapters 10 and 11 that she really got to the meat of the story and where my interest picked up.  Although I still find the events of that time period very intriguing and the storyline did eventually develop, I really didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. I didn’t hate it and did find parts of it very interesting. It just didn’t seem to live up to my expectations.

Ariana Neumann’s father was Jewish man who grew up in Prague and was a young man when Germany first occupied the Czech Republic.  Although he was not a practicing Jew, “for the Nazis, Judaism was not a choice but a ‘race’ determined by your grandparents. What you believed or practiced did not matter; what was important was your genetic makeup.”  Neumann only learned that her father had a secret past after his death when she found a box of documents, letters, and photographs that her father had left for her. For most of her childhood in Venezuela, she was even unaware that her family was Jewish as her father never spoke to anyone of his past.  One of the documents she found in the box was an identification card that had a photograph of her father but identified him as someone under a totally different name and date of birth.  This box led her on a journey of discovering that her father had lived a terrifying, secret life in the wake of the Holocaust. Her investigation into his past led her to discover that her father lived under a false identity in order to avoid transport to one of the many Nazis concentration camps and a fate that many of his relatives were unable to avoid.  He ended up living in Berlin where he assumed a totally different identity while hiding in plain sight under the noses of the Germans. This is a story of tragedy, deception, extreme bravery, and the will to survive under the harshest of conditions during one of history’s most tragic periods.  Along Neumann’s journey in her search for the truth, she discovered a story that is unfathomable not only about her father but also about her grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other relatives endured at the hands of the Nazis regime.  While it is hard for me to highly recommend this story to everyone, I do think that those interested in this period of time in history will find this story fascinating.  It truly is an unbelievable story of heroism and survival.  If you do choose to read this story, I urge you to be patient and stick with it in the beginning.  The story is slow to develop but once it does, it becomes more captivating.  

My pick for April is a #1 New York Times Bestselling novel entitled The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See.  It is the story of Li-yan, a girl who grew up in a remote mountain village in China among a family of tea farmers and members of the Akha people.  In this story, the arrival of a mysterious stranger, leads Li-Yan to question her life and the customs she grew up with.  This causes her to leave her family and begin a life in the modern world. Here is Apple Books’ review of this novel.

“Lisa See’s novel about one woman’s journey from southern China’s mountains to the tiny Los Angeles suburbs opens with an aphorism: “No coincidence, no story.” As a child, Li-yan lives among the Akha, picking tea with her family in the countryside. When her life turns upside-down, she heads to the city, carrying her home village’s customs while gathering her heart’s shattered pieces. Full of luminous prose and surprising plot twists that render its opening line prophetic, See’s deception of loss, love, and tea is spirited and inspiring.”

Will you come along and read with me? It is a great way to escape the chaos that is our lives during this coronavirus pandemic.  Let’s jump into a good book together. 

Anchored in a Good Book,

*This post contains commissioned links. Should you chose to purchase items using these links, I may earn a small commission. 

Friday Favorites: Books

With everything that is going on in the world right now with the Coronavirus, I decided to make a detour on what favorite thing I had planned to write about today.  Even if you haven’t been confined to your house yet, it seems that you most likely will be in the near future.  Schools are closing, events are being canceled, people are asked to telework, and everyone is being told to stay home.  Well, I don’t know about you, but the thought of having to stay confined to my house for an extended period of time has me fearing for my sanity.  I am certain that there will be a lot of binge watching and moving watching going on. However, you may start to feel like you want to stimulate your brain a little more, so I thought I would share some of my favorite books with you.  It is a great opportunity for you to dive into a good book.  If you prefer a real book to an ebook, I think that Amazon is still delivering (at least for now).  Becoming enthralled in a book can certainly help save your sanity.  I plan to do a lot of reading while I am stuck in the house.  Up first for me is my book club pick for March, When Time Stopped by Ariana Neuman, since I haven’t started it yet.  

I am a big fan of books in a series. I love the anticipation of the next book. My favorite author of all time is Karen Kingsbury.  I have read so many of her books and there has never been one that I didn’t love.  I also really like most books by Jodi Picoult and Kristen Hannah.  Check out 20 books/series that I have read over the years and loved. Some will be very familiar to you and others you may have never heard of.  

The Redemption Series by Karen Kingsbury

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

The Bronze Horseman Trilogy by Paulina Simons

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Educated by Tara Westover

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

Room by Emma Donoghue

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Dive into a good book while you are stuck in your house in the coming weeks. Stay well everyone!

Anchored in a Good Book,

*This post contains commissioned links. Should you choose to purchase items using these links, I may earn a small commission.

Book Club: The Other Daughter

My day has been totally thrown off.  My kids unexpectedly got the day off of school today for freezing rain.  Having them home completely messes up my normal routine.  On the plus side, though, they can now help me pack for our trips.  Anyway, let’s move on to today’s topic.  I am doing our December Book Club post a little early this month because this will be my last post for December.  This month I chose a short thriller by Shalini Boland entitled The Other Daughter.  This was a super quick read.  In fact, I read it in one day.  I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this book.  Initially, I really was into it, and I was totally surprised by the sudden turn of events at the end.  However, it changed so abruptly and ended so quickly after the twist was revealed that I was kind of thrown off.  I liked it, but I just think I needed a little more.  

The Other Daughter is a story of twists and turns.  It begins when a little girl named Holly is abducted from right under her mother Rachel’s nose.  The abduction caused Rachel to end up divorced and starting her life over again in a new town as a single mother to her younger daughter Jess.  Once she began her new life, she never spoke of her lost daughter again to anyone. She completely put it out of her mind.  She went on to have a serious boyfriend who she had a son with, and they lived a normal life as a family of 4 for several years. During the time they were together, she never told her boyfriend about Holly until one day when she came face to face with a young girl named Bella whose family had just moved to town.  Rachel’s heart stopped the moment she saw Bella.  She had a gut-wrenching feeling that Bella was her missing daughter that had been stolen from her all those years ago.  Rachel became obsessed with learning the truth to the point of lying to everyone and breaking into Bella’s house to obtain her DNA.  Rachel was losing control, but she was convinced that Bella was Holly.  She was beginning to lose everything that meant something to her in her quest to prove that Bella was her daughter.  

As I said, I have mixed feelings about this story.  I think overall, I liked it though.  I was totally not expecting the twist at the end which is always a good thing.  I generally like it when I can’t predict what is coming.  I just feel like it happened so fast that I was left wanting more.  I guess I felt like the ending could have been more developed. I can’t quite put my finger on what more I really wanted, and I understand that probably was the author’s strategy.  I know that she was going for the shock factor, and she definitely got it from me.  I guess I just felt like it was too fast and the story was too short.  I was all into it trying to figure it all out, and then out of nowhere it was over.  I would love to know what you thought if you read along with me and if you were surprised by the ending as well.  

My pick for January is by New York Bestselling author, Lisa Jewel.  It is her latest thriller called, The Family Upstairs.  It is the story of three families, unknowingly intertwined, who find themselves living in a house with deeply buried, dark secrets.  Here is what Apple Books had to say about this novel.

“The past is never far behind us. In Lisa Jewell’s tense phycological thriller, it’s right in front of us, too, ready to reveal some very alarming things. When Libby unexpectedly inherits her family’s London mansion, she’s pulled in by a history of family dysfunction, a mysterious stranger, and several deaths. The tension keeps building—and secrets keep being revealed—right up to the final page. If you feel like you’ve seen it all in contemporary thrillers, trust us, you won’t know what hit you. 

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

Book Club: Redemption Road

It is Book Club day! I am doing it a week early this month due to the holiday next week.  I hope you all read our November book with me because it was such a great read.  Our book for November was Redemption Road by John Hart.  This book was a change of pace from the books I had been choosing.  This one was more of a psychological thriller, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I was totally wrapped up in the storyline and characters.  I really could not put it down.  The twists and turns throughout the story kept me guessing on the edge of my seat.  My only complaint is that I didn’t really love the ending.  I felt like it left me wanting more.  I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what more I needed out of the ending, though. I just know that it felt a little unfinished to me.  Maybe it was just that I didn’t want it to end.  I’m not sure.  Despite that, I really enjoyed this book.  I loved the mystery and the thrill of it.  I spent most of the time reading it trying to predict what was going to happen. John Hart certainly did a great job of keeping me guessing up until the end.  I definitely recommend this book if you haven’t already read it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Redemption Road is a story that revolves around four characters whose lives become intertwined in the aftermath of murder and mystery.  It all began thirteen years ago when a police officer, Adrian Wall, was convicted of murdering the mother of a young boy named Gideon.  Elizabeth Black, a fellow police officer, was the first on the scene. Because of that, she developed a very close relationship with Gideon.  She became his protector and took on a motherly role with him in the years that followed.  It turned out that Elizabeth’s path had crossed with Adrian’s a few years before the murder, and that incident had altered the course of her life. As a result, she did not believe that Adrian was capable of such a crime.  She had an unshakeable belief that he was wrongly convicted and was one of only two people that supported his claim of innocence leading up to his conviction.  

Thirteen years after the murder of Gideon’s mother and Adrian’s conviction, Elizabeth was caught up in another case when eighteen year old, Channing, was kidnapped.  Elizabeth was put on suspension from the police force and faced criminal chargers after admitting to shooting the two men who had kidnapped, tortured and raped Channing.  She had allegedly shot the two men 18 times.  Elizabeth again developed a strong connection with the teen and took on a protective roll with her after the ordeal.  In the days following Elizabeth’s suspension, Adrian was released from prison on parole. His time in prison had not been kind to him as he had suffered through abuse and torture at the hands of the warden.  The day Adrian was released put him on a collision course with Elizabeth, Gideon, and Channing.  Little did the four know that they would be thrown into a wild ride together mixed with more murder, mystery, obsession, and ghosts from their past. Their stories intertwined and eventually led all four of them down the road to redemption. 

It was a beautifully written story filled with intrigue and mystery.  I really did not see the ending coming.  Again, I highly recommend this story especially if you like psychological thrillers and murder mysteries.  It reminded me of stories like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, which I loved. I will definitely be reading more books by John Hart in the future.  

My next pick for our Book Club is another psychological thriller that is said to be addictive with a jaw-dropping twist.  It was just released this month and is already making waves.  My pick for December is The Other Daughter by Shalini Boland.  It is about a mother whose 2-year-old daughter is kidnapped right under her nose. That little girl makes a return to her mother’s life 9 years later.  Here is what the publisher has to say about this book.

“From the million-copy-bestselling author of The Secret Mother and The Perfect Family, this utterly gripping psychological thriller will have you up all night reading. If you loved Gone GirlThe Girl on the Train and The Sister this book is for you.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

*This post contains commissioned links. Should you choose to purchase items through these links, I may earn a small commission.