Book Club: Four Winds

It is my favorite day of the month! It’s the day I get to tell you about the book I just read and reveal what my next pick is.  For February I chose Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.  I am a big fan of Hannah and haven’t read one of her books that I didn’t like.  This time was no exception.  In fact, I didn’t just like this book; I loved it.   It was one of those books that you get so invested in that you don’t want to put it down, and you don’t want it to end. This story was definitely a 5 out of 5 for me.  It had all the elements that I love in a story.  It was a little bit of historical fiction (my favorite genre) with excellent character development, and it had a strong female lead.  I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this book.  

This story begins and ends with Elsa.  Her beginning was very isolated.  She was the daughter of a prominent family in northwest Texas who treated her with kid gloves due to an illness when she was young.  She was made to feel worthless and unloved.  She was repeatedly told that she was unattractive and too weak to find a mate.  She was left alone in her room with only books to fulfill the void left by her family.  Inspired by the heroine of one of her novels, Elsa went out on the town one night in a handmade red dress.  That one unexpected night left her in the arms of a young man named Rafe, the only person who had ever paid her attention or made her feel any kind of human connection. After a few more secretive meetings with this young man, Elsa wound up pregnant and alone.  She was instantly disowned by her family and left on the doorstep Rafe’s family’s farm.  

As Elsa struggled to find her place in her new home, her affection grew for her new family and the land that they so dearly loved. Following the birth of her daughter, Loreda, Elsa realized that she had finally found the family she had always longed for.  The land became a part of her soul.  She took her place working hard on the farm and filling her duties as a wife and mother.  Eventually, her son, Anthony, was born.  She was living the life that she had never dreamed possible until the family found themselves in the midst of the Great Depression and the devastating drought that swept across the mid-west leaving the land decimated.  Each day was a struggle for survival.  After years of barely getting by, Rafe left the family in the middle of the night in search of something more fulfilling and was never to be seen or heard from again.  Devastated by his departure, Elsa was determined to stay on the farm and protect her children, Rafe’s parents, and the family farm. 

It wasn’t until the dry, dusty land almost killed her son, that Elsa realized that the farm was no longer a safe place to be.  She packed her two kids and as many belongings as could fit in their truck and made the long, harrowing trip to California, which promised work and a better life.  It wasn’t long after arriving in California that they realized that promise was a lie.  They were left living in a tent in a field with all three begging for work every single day.  The work they did find was back-breaking work with so little pay that they barely could afford to eat.  This journey left them broken and in a fight for fair pay and better working conditions that would forever change the course of their lives. 

Not only was this a story of survival, but it was also a story of finding strength in the most unexpected ways and places.  Elsa learned to fight for what she believed in, and she found her voice when she had none before.  She used that voice to survive and took a stand for what she believed was right.  This was also a coming-of-age story that explored the mother-daughter relationship and the journey of finding one’s worth.  I thought that the character development was excellent, and I could feel the agony they felt struggling to survive on barely any food and in the harshest of conditions. Hannah really brought the story to life and made you believe you were right there in the trenches with each person.  I found myself rooting for them and at the same time feeling the devastation when they struggled.  This story was exceptionally written, and I highly recommend it. It was such a good read, and I was so sad when it ended.  

I can only hope that my next pick will be as exceptional as the last.  For March, I have chosen another instant New York Times Bestseller and historical fiction novel entitled The Book of Names by Kristin Harmel.  This story is set in the midst of World War II.  It revolves around a woman named Eva who is taken back in time after coming across a photo of a book in a magazine to a time when she helped Jewish children fleeing to Switzerland.  Here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about this novel.

“Harmel (The Winemaker’s Wife) brilliantly imagines the life of a young Polish-French Jewish woman during the depths of WWII. IN 2005, Eva Traube, 86, lives in Winter Park, Fla., and works at the library where she reads a newspaper story about a man in Germany returning rare books looted by the Nazis to WWII survivors. The story includes a photo of a book that once belonged to her, prompting her to leave immediately for Berlin. Harmel then transitions back to 1940s France, when 23-year-old Eva and her mother escape the roundups in Paris and end up in the tiny town of Aurignon. Eva meets document forger Remy Duchamp, who draws her into the Resistance; Remy trains Eva, and the two inevitably grow closer as they work to provide papers for those fleeing the Nazi regime. Eva and Remy devise a method of recording the names of unaccompanied escaping children, coding each name in an old library book, which Eva saw in the newspaper story. Now in Berlin, Eva hopes to recover and decode the names, and learn the fate of Remy. Harmel movingly illustrates Eva’s courage to risk her own life for others, and all of the characters are portrayed with realistic compassion. This thoughtful work will touch readers with its testament to endurance of hope.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

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

Book Club: The Beekeeper of Aleppo

I am a week late on posting my book club book review. I must admit that I had not finished the book on time to write this post last week.  I got a late start on reading my January pick, The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri, because I decided to read another book first.  At the beginning of the month someone recommended that I read In Pursuit of Love by Rebecca Bender.  It is Bender’s real-life story of how she became enslaved into human trafficking and her journey to freedom.  It was an excellent read.  It covered a very tough topic and was truly heartbreaking, but it opened my eyes to the real crime that is happening right here in the US.  Bender’s struggles led to her creating a huge online academy for survivors of human trafficking where she has hundreds of women. So much good has come from her sharing her story and advocating for change.  I highly recommend it! 

My reading of the other book coupled with me struggling at first to get into The Beekeeper of Aleppo put me behind in finishing it.  I don’t know if my struggles to get into the book initially were because my mind was still blown by the other book or what, but I found myself having to reread a lot of pages in the beginning.  Once I got into to the storyline and figured out what was going on and all the characters, I did enjoy this book.  It was a story about a beekeeper (Nuri) and his wife’s (Afra) journey to freedom in the midst of the war in Syria.  After losing their son and the Afra becoming blind, the two made the decision to flee their home in Aleppo for fear of their safety.  They had a long and treacherous journey to the UK where they would meet up with the Nuri’s cousin and business partner who had fled before them. It was a story of loss, heartbreak, survival, and healing.   By her own admission, the author, Christy Lefteri, explored what it means to really see in this book.  This was a journey of sight not just for Afra who had been blinded, but also for Nuri as he learned to cope with so much loss.   

The story flashed between the beginning of their journey and the end of their journey.  It was interesting how the author switched between the present day and the past within one chapter.  I don’t know if there is a technical term for the way she did it or not, so I may butcher trying to explain it.  Each chapter would begin in the present day but would switch to the past halfway through.  I didn’t catch what she was doing at first and was a little confused until I figured it out.  One sentence would begin as the present day, and the last word of that sentence would be cut off.  Then you turn the page to have that last word in a larger font and bold at the top of the page, almost like a title.  That word will have ended the previous sentence of the present day on the previous page, and that same word would be the start of the next sentence into the past.  Here is an example:

“It is”

a key

“was placed in my open palm.”

“It is a key.” was the end of the portion of the chapter about the present day.  “A key was placed in my open palm.” was the beginning of the portion of the chapter about the past.  I hope that makes sense.  When this happened in the first chapter, I thought I was missing pages, or something was wrong with the download of the book.  It took me until about chapter 3 to figure out that this was intentional and what the author was actually doing.  Maybe I am slow and should have caught on instantly, but I didn’t. Once I understood what was going on, the story began to make much more sense, and I began to enjoy it so much more. I would give this book 4 out 5 stars.  I wouldn’t say that I loved it, but I did enjoy reading it.

My pick for February is a much-anticipated book by Kristin Hannah.  I have been a fan of hers for a while and am excited to dive into her newest book, The Four Winds. It is a historical fiction novel set during the Great Depression about a mother trying to protect her family.  Here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about this book.

“Hannah brings Dust Bowl migration to life in this riveting story of love, courage, and sacrifice. In 1934 Texas, after four years of drought, the Martinelli farm is no longer thriving, but Elsa is attached to the land and her in-laws, and she works tirelessly and cares for her children, 12-year-old Loreda and seven-year-old Anthony. Her husband, Rafe, has become distant and something of a hard drinker, and after he abandons them, Elsa reluctantly leaves with her children for California with the promise of steady work. Her dreams of a better future are interrupted by the discrimination they face in the unwelcoming town of Welty, where they are forced to live in a migrant camp and work for extremely low wages picking cotton. When Elsa’s meager wages are further reduced and she has the opportunity to join striking workers, she must decide whether to face the dangers of standing up for herself and her fellow workers. Hannah combines gritty realism with emotionally rich characters and lyrical prose that rings brightly and true from the first line (“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love”). In Elsa, a woman who fiercely defends her principles and those she loves, Hannah brilliantly revives the ghost of Tom Joad.”

Will you come along and read with me?

Anchored in a Good Book,

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

Book Club: White Ivy

Since I took my unplanned break from blogging for the holidays, I never got around to giving my review of my December Book Club pick, White Ivy by Susie Yang.  I have to start by saying that I had a hard time staying interested in this book.  If fact I just had to go back and read some parts of it again to even remind myself what it was even about.  It clearly did not stick with me. I’m not sure how good this review is going to be since my memory of the story has faded.  I do recall having to reread multiple pages at a time because I found myself daydreaming or completely not really paying attention to what I was reading at all.  I would read and then realize I had no idea what I just read.  In all fairness to the author, this could have been simply because it was December and there was a lot going on and a lot on my mind during the time I was reading it.  I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t do it for me.  It was really slow to start, and I felt like there were side stories that really weren’t necessary or that didn’t really go anywhere. Some would likely say that it was good character development but I kind of felt like a lot of it wasn’t needed.   I will say that the second half of the book was a little more interesting and presented some turns that I wasn’t necessarily expecting.  I do think there were some interesting concepts, but I didn’t feel like it was all that it could be.  I would probably give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

The story is about a Chinese immigrant, Ivy, who was brought up learning to steal and cheat by her grandmother at a young age.   She always dreamed of the finer things in life and wanted what she couldn’t have.  She had a determination to get what she wanted to matter what it took or how she had to compromise herself to get it.  Her biggest obsession was a boy named Gideon that she met at a young age. Gideon was the son of a prominent and very wealthy politician, and Ivy set her sights on him right away.  After lying to her parents about her whereabouts, she was caught at Gideon’s house the morning after a sleepover for his birthday.  Her mother, whom she had a tumultuous relationship with, immediately sent Ivy back to China to live with her relatives for the summer in order get her away from Gideon and what her mother thought were bad influences.  While Ivy was away her parents moved to a new home in a new state as a way to keep Ivy from Gideon and those bad influences upon her return.  It wasn’t until after college that Gideon and Ivy’s paths crossed once again. Ivy quickly set her sights on him again and was soon living a life wining and dining in Boston and in the Cape with Gideon and his family.  It looked like she had finally gotten what she had always wanted until a certain someone from her past reappeared in the most unexpected way and threatened to take it all away.  Ivy was determined do whatever it took to keep the wealthy life and to hold on the Gideon including lying, deceit, debt, and even murder.  With a surprising end, you learn that money, wealth, and prestige were far more important to Ivy than actual love.

Despite my feelings on the book as a whole, there were good parts to it.  The ending was definitely better than the beginning.  There were all the things you want in a book like some suspense and a few unexpected twists, but I wouldn’t call it a thriller necessarily.  It was more of a coming of age story with a bit of suspense thrown in.  Some of the characters like Ivy were very complicated.  She was the villain that you wanted to dislike but at times rooted for.  I think that the story just got started so slow for me that I lost interest before it got to the good parts.  Maybe if I had read it at a different time in the year when I wasn’t so busy as well, I may have liked it better.  I would be interested to see what any of you thought about it if you read along with me. 

Looking back at all the books I chose for the Anchored Book Club in 2020, I am really hoping that I choose better books for 2021.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some that I really enjoyed like Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi, and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabet Russell.  There were just also a few that I really didn’t like.  I had high hopes for some that just didn’t really live up to my expectations.  I would say that my least favorite of the 12 books was The New Wilderness by Diane Cook.  That one really disappointed me the most because I felt like it had so much potential.  It is incredibly hard to choose a book unless they are widely known as exceptional. I try to choose books that you may not necessarily read otherwise. Sometimes I choose well and sometimes I don’t. It is just the nature of the beast.

I am going out on a limb for my first pick of 2021 despite what I said above.  This could end badly or be an unexpected treasure.  I totally just happened upon this book when it came up as a suggestion under another book I was looking at.  I was really captivated by the synopsis, and hope that I am choosing wisely this time.  Some reviewers described it as heart wrenching, realistic, and captivating.  Some even said they were left speechless.  For January, I have chosen a historical fiction novel entitled The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri.  This is a story about beekeepers, Nuri and Afra, and their plight as they lived through and escaped Syria during the Syrian War. Here is what Publishers Weekly had to say about this novel.

“Lefteri tells a haunting and resonant story of Syrian war refugees undertaking a treacherous journey to possible safety. In 2015, Nuri Ibrahim and his wife, Afra, who was blinded in an incident during the Syrian civil war, cling to their home while everyone else flees the bombings and violence. They are emotionally devastated by the loss and destruction of their neighborhood but decided to seek asylum in the U.K. after soldiers attempt to forcefully recruit Nuri. They travel through harsh conditions in Turkey and Greece, waiting in camps for the proper paperwork and meeting more refugees along the way. Nuri is determined to find his cousin Mustafa in the U.K., where the two men can return to their beloved work as beekeepers. Afra recons with the reality that she will not be able to continue her life as an artist because of her blindness, and the couple recall painful memories as they are drawn into the agonizing experience of other refugees. Lefteri perceptively and powerfully documents the horrors of the Syrian civil war and the suffering of innocent civilians. Readers will find this deeply affecting for both its psychological intensity and emotional acuity.”

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: Behind Closed Doors

I am doing my monthly book club review a week early this month because of the holiday next week.  If you were reading along with me and haven’t finished yet, stop reading this post and come back when you are done. For November I chose Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris.  This was a new author to me and one that I had heard about as someone I might like. This novel was definitely a psychological thriller that did grab my attention pretty quickly.  It was a fast read, and I finished it in just a few days.  If I had the time, I likely could have finished it in one long sitting because I didn’t want to put it down.   I feel like I have said this a lot about the past few books I have chosen, but I have mixed feelings about this book as well.  I don’t know what it is lately, but I have been disappointed in the ending of several books.  Some have said that they were surprised by the ending of this book, but I wasn’t.  I thought it was very predictable and didn’t give me that shocked feeling that I had hoped for.  I was left thinking, “That’s it?” with this one. Maybe I watch too many crime shows and all the thrillers are becoming predictable to me, or maybe I should have been a detective or possibly even an author.  My husband always says that I have a good sense for these things because I often predict what is going to happen when we are watching a show or movie before he picks up on it, and I am usually right.  I don’t know if that is necessarily a good skill to have, though, because it often leaves me disappointed like it did with this book.   What I will tell you is to not let my review or feelings about this book keep you from reading it if you haven’t already simply because I think most people will really like it if they are into psychological thrillers.  I think I will give it 4.5 out of 5 stars even with my disappointment because it really was a captivating read. I did like it despite my disappointment at the end. 

This story is about a woman named Grace, who is the primary caregiver for her sister, Millie, who has Down Syndrome.  Millie is currently living in a care facility where she goes to school.  However, once she turns 18, she can no longer live at the facility and will come to live with Grace.  Grace loves her sister so much that her life practically revolves around Mille.  About a year or so before Millie’s 18th birthday, the two sisters were in the park one afternoon for their usual Sunday excursion when they were approached by a man named Jack.  He was very kind to them and even danced with Millie through the park that day.  This act of kindness towards Millie led Grace to begin having feelings towards Jack fairly quickly, and the two began dating right away.  Jack was a well-respected lawyer for women who had been victims of domestic abuse and had never lost a case. To Grace and Millie, Jack seemed like the perfect guy.  They had a beautiful, whirlwind courtship, and before long Jack and Grace were engaged to be married.  As a wedding gift to Grace, Jack promised to find her the perfect house. Their plan was to move into the house and then have Millie move in not long after her birthday.  To all their friends and Grace’s family, Grace and Jack appeared to have the perfect house, perfect marriage, and perfect life. However, appearances can be deceiving.  When you hear that things are too good to be true, that was the case in this situation.  In reality as soon as their wedding ceremony was over, Jack had changed, and Grace instantly became his prisoner.    No one knew this as they visited the house because Jack and Grace put on a good show and hosted beautiful dinner parties.  No one suspected anything was not as it seemed. The one thing that I was surprised by, and you will likely be too, was the reason behind why Grace became a prisoner.  That was something that I did not see coming that was revealed early on.  You will quickly learn that Jack is a very sick and sadistic human being, Millies is much more perceptive than you would think, and everyone’s fate lies very heavily on Grace’s strength and willpower. 

I do recommend Behind Closed Doors if you haven’t read it, and I will likely read other books by B.A. Paris in the future.  I believe that my disappointment in it is just my own personal issue because it really is a good book that will captivate you.   I am starting to think that my disappointment in the ending of several books like this one is just because I didn’t want them to end or I am just being super picky. Who knows? What I do know, though, that it won’t stop me from doing one thing that I really love…reading!   

My pick for December is a New York Times Best Seller and A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick called White Ivy by Susie Yang. It is a story of a young woman and her crush on a former classmate who comes from a privileged political family, which is the total opposite of her upbringing as an immigrant from China.  It revolves around her love for him and is mixed with lies, deceit, obsession, and family ties. Here is what Apple Books had to say about it. 

“A female antihero can be mighty hard to resist—and the deliciously evil Ivy Lin is one of the best we’ve read lately. Debut author Susie Yang’s unapologetic protagonist is a Chinese immigrant whose grandmother taught her how to steal when she was little. As a Harvard undergrad, Ivy also became an expert liar, and post graduation, she’s ready to focus her skills on the thing she covets the most: handsome Gideon Speyer and his politically connected family’s rich, privileged lifestyle. White Ivy is a tense thriller that literally made us grip our phone with sweaty palms. While Ivy proves there’s nothing she won’t do to fit in with New England’s Waspy elite, Yang colors in the lines of her ruthless and charismatic lead with pitch-perfect cynicism. Like a thoroughly modern updating of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, Ivy is an awful person who does awful things. But Ivy’s actions also reflect the heartlessness of her marks—and we’re here for it.”

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: Big Summer

It’s that time of the month when I share my thoughts on my book club pick. I have to admit AGAIN that I am super disappointed in myself this month.  I had been on a roll of reading 2-3 books a month and was really proud of myself for making the time for something that brings me so much joy.  Sadly, I only read the one book that I had to read for this month and that was it.  I keep letting life get in the way.  I want to say that I am vowing to do better in November, but let’s be real…November and December mark the busiest season with the holidays, so the chances of me reading extra books is probably small.  Anyway, for my October book I chose Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner.  It was meant to be a light read and a change of pace for me.  I don’t typically choose books in the “chick lit” category, but I like to mix it up every now and then to keep me from getting stagnant.  This is also the first book I have ever read by Jennifer Weiner.  I actually have mixed emotions about this book, which I will explain more in a bit. 

The book revolved around a young, plus-size, social media influencer, Daphne, and her relationship with her own body and that of her “friends.”  She had a very low self-esteem and was always very self-conscious about her body and her appearance.  She was skeptical of anyone who wanted to be friends with her or even date her.  Much of that stemmed from her friendship as a teen with Drue, a wealthy and very popular girl.  Drue was also one of those high society, mean girls who often treated Daphne poorly.  Despite that, Daphne was in awe of Drue and did whatever it took to remain on the peripheral of Drue’s inner circle.  That all came to a crashing halt when Daphne discovered that Drue had practically paid a guy to act interested and date her.  That was the last straw for Daphne, and she immediately ended their friendship.  That incident and Daphne’s response to it is what ultimately launched her influencer career. Years later, Drue made a reappearance in Daphne’s life and asked a huge favor.  She wanted Daphne to play an important role in a big life event.  That favor led to a murder investigation that left everyone involved searching for their identity and the true meaning of friendship.  

This book involved a bit of mystery, romance, and drama.  As I mentioned earlier, I have mixed emotions about it.  I didn’t hate it, but it definitely wasn’t a favorite.  I think my biggest issue with the whole storyline was that it was very predictable.  I figured out the plot and the “who done it” pretty quickly.  I prefer storylines that keep me guessing throughout.  It is not a bad story, and I actually think that there are a lot of people who love the “chick lit” genre that would really enjoy it.  Unfortunately, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.  It was a pretty quick and easy read, and there were some parts of it that held my attention.  I do think the idea behind the story was really good.  A story about a girl who doesn’t quite fit in and has body issues that learns to love herself and to value who she is as a person is a lesson that many young adults need.  I just wish it wasn’t quite so predictable for me.  I think I would give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars.  It is definitely a good beach read type of book.

I am switching genres again for November.  This month I am going for a psychological thriller by B.A. Paris entitled Behind Closed Doors.  This book was published in 2016 and was an instant New York Times Best Seller, as well as, a USA Today Bestseller. It is said to be one of those books that you can’t put down.  The San Francisco Book Review said, “This was one of the best and most terrifying psychological thrillers I have ever read.” I don’t know about you, but I love a good page turner! This novel is about a young newlywed couple, Jack and Grace, who seem to outsiders to be the perfect little family.  It turns out that appearances can be deceiving, and Grace is actually a prisoner in her own home.  This is a story of her journey to freedom. Will she find it? We will have to read and find out!

Here is Apple Books review of this story.

“Like starting a fire, writing a page-turning thriller takes patience and skill.  British author B.A. Paris has both in spades. Our heart skittered and raced as we tried to untangle the dark secrets at the heart of married couple Grace and Jack’s twisted relationship. As the story moved between past and present—revealing an ever-larger and more sinister gap between appearances and reality—we could barely imagine how Grace and her sister, Millie, would make it through.”

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 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,

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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,

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