The Life She Was Given by Ellie Marie Wiseman

The Life She Was Given

This book begins with the story of Lilly, a nine-year-old who has been held prisoner in the attic of her home, Blackwood Manor, supposedly for her own protection.  Her parents have told her people would think she’s a monster if they saw her.  One night, looking out her window, she sees the lights of the traveling circus that has stopped on their property. Her life soon changes when her mother whisks her away in the night and sells her to the freak show at the traveling circus. Another story is introduced set twenty years later about nineteen-year-old Julia who had run away from home at the age of 15 because of her strict, overbearing religious mother and father.  She is barely making a living when she finds out that Blackwood Manor and its farm have been left to her following her mother’s death.  A stipulation of the will is that to inherit it, she must live on the property, so she returns to Blackwood Manor.  The book goes back and forth between the two stories where eventually the story lines cross.  I especially liked Lilly’s story as she grew and became a stronger person.  The circus story was interesting although it did have some brutal scenes both with humans and animals that were difficult.  I was pulled in from the beginning and had trouble putting the book down throughout the entire book.  All the right elements were there for me – good writing, great characters, a compelling story line, women finding their inner strength, secrets revealed, and a vivid sense of place.  I received an ARC from Edelweiss, and this book will be coming out in July of 2017.

Growing Up White by Dwight Ritter

Growin' Up White

I recently read this for one of the book groups I am in.  The author grew up in Indianapolis and discussed this book last fall at the library where I work in Carmel.  He is a white man who grew up in a black neighborhood in Indianapolis during the fifties, and this book was the result of his experiences growing up during a racially charged time.  The book is told through Ricky Stoner’s eyes as he grows up.  His dad is a doctor who treats many in the black community and his mom is a prodigy classical pianist. When his dad brings Georgey in to help take care of the family, she becomes part of their family. Ricky also becomes attached to her black community, Frog Island, making many friends and becoming best friends with another boy there.  The characters are extremely well-developed, and through his writing I felt like I was right there alongside them throughout the book.  I also enjoyed learning some of the history of the area I now live in. The topic of race relations is timely, and unfortunately there are still many of those tensions today.  It’s a terrific story and is told in a fair, non-preachy manner.  At the end of the book I couldn’t believe how attached I had become to the characters and story.

 

 

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

i liked my life

This book sucked me in from the very first sentence, “I found the perfect wife for my husband”. Maddy is dead but stuck in transition after an apparent suicide.  She leaves behind a husband, Brady, and a teenage daughter, Eve.  She is still trying to direct their lives from beyond by putting thoughts in their heads.  I don’t believe a person can direct what happens on earth after they die, but that didn’t take away from the story for me.  I found it to be compelling  and moving as you journey with Brady and Eve as they struggle with trying to understand why she committed suicide and the fallout afterward.  This debut is beautifully written in alternating chapters giving points of view from from the major characters which provided a lot of insight.  The woman she has chosen, Rory, becomes involved in their life and helps them in dealing with their grief.  For a depressing topic of dealing with suicide, it was more uplifting than I expected, and I found this book to be well done .  The character development is excellent, and I can’t describe adequately how touched I was by this book.

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Ginny Moon

I had the opportunity to hear Benjamin Ludwig at the Christamore Author Luncheon and was interested in reading this book after hearing him talk about his debut novel.  He is an English teacher, and his book was inspired by his experience adopting an autistic teenager and talking with other parents at Special Olympic basketball practices.

This book is delightful.  When she is nine, Ginny Moon is taken from her drug addicted mother who has neglected her.  After being in multiple foster homes, Ginny is finally adopted at age fourteen and lives with her loving forever family.  She is surrounded by support in a school that tries to work closely with her and her parents in helping her navigate the world where she is active playing Special Olympics basketball, playing the flute, and listening to her favorite singer, Michael Jackson.  Throughout this time, though, she has been carrying a secret that has been troubling her since she was removed from her birth mother. Challenges arise when her forever mom becomes pregnant, and Ginny starts obsessing about a baby doll she left behind in a suitcase, causing her to repeatedly make attempts to escape to be with her birth mom and get the baby doll. Ludwig does an excellent job of portraying her struggle and how her mind is working.  What really struck me as a personal takeaway is that when we communicate with others we often assume we know what they are thinking or don’t take the type to question to find out what they are really trying to tell us.  Ginny had been trying to communicate the secret to everyone around her, but no one was patient enough to really question her more or they made assumptions.  This book is beautifully written with complex and well-developed characters. Ginny’s creativity and determination make her an unforgettable character, and the struggles of parenting, the challenges of adopting, and Ginny’s internal thoughts are well done.  I highly recommend this one.  It was a May selection by Library Reads.

 

The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger

the red hunter

I’ve read other Lisa Unger books, and they have always been good thrillers.  This one is no exception.  Claudia Bishop is trying to move on with her daughter, Raven, after her marriage falls apart following her rape.  Her father left an old house to her after his death, and she has decided to start anew and restore the dwelling.  Zoey Drake has also been marked by a huge tragedy in her life.  When she was a child, her parents were killed in front of her during a home invasion, and she was shot, tortured, and left for dead.  She has since been consumed with what happened to her and seeks revenge.  The story is told through alternating chapters about each character’s story and unfolds in a pace that quickly increases as these two different lives eventually merge together in a complex story.  Lisa is an excellent writer and writes an interesting, detailed plot that nonetheless is action packed with twists and turns and well-developed, interesting characters. This particular book explores how people react to and handle trauma in different ways.  Some just move one, some seek justice, and others seek revenge.  I listened to this one and Julia Whelan does an excellent job reading this one.

 

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

the leavers

Deming Guo is a eleven year old boy whose mom, Polly/Peilan, was pregnant and came to the US illegally from China and is now at a Bronx nail salon struggling to support the two of them.  They live with her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s sister and her son when Polly disappears one day without Deming. Without the means to take care of him, the boyfriend’s sister eventually takes him to an adoption agency where a white family adopts him, moves him to upstate New York, and changes his name to Daniel.   It is a coming of age story about Deming and his search for answers about his mom and his struggle for identity.  The book also explores his mother’s story about what led her to move to the US and what happened to her after she left.  This is a beautifully written and moving story exploring identity and the forces that impact our identity, issues of the immigration experience, and motherhood.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

magpie murders

 

This was a fun mystery and cleverly involves a murder within a murder. Susan Ryeland, an editor for Cloverleaf Books, is reading the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest crime fiction featuring Detective Atticus Pund who solves mysteries set in sleepy English villages.  The reader is reading the story along with Ryeland as Atticus who is dying takes on his last case.  A nosy busy-body, Mary Blakiston, is murdered, and the girlfriend of the primary suspect has asked him to help with the investigation.  Then, Sir Magnus of Pye Hall, who is hated by many and planning a development that is unwanted by many, is found beheaded at Pye Hall.  Atticus finds there are many secrets among the town folks, and, of course, there are lots of suspects.  Right at the point when Atticus is about to reveal the murderer, the manuscript suddenly ends because the last chapters are missing.  As Ryeland plans to talk with the author, it is discovered that he is dead of an apparent suicide.  Ryeland is suspicious of his death and becomes an amateur detective to investigate his death only to learn of similarities between the book and Conway’s life.  She soon becomes convinced that Alan has been murdered and the clues that will lead to the murderer are in the missing chapters.  This is a nice homage to the classic British mystery by authors like Agatha Christie.  The well-written mystery within a mystery added a fun element, and both stories provide an engaging story line.  This book was the number 1 pick by librarians for June’s Library Reads.   Fans of the classic British mysteries will love this one.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

behind her eyes

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted, but there has been a lot going on in my life recently. I’ve read/listened a good bit so I hope to be posting more regularly and frequently with the books I’ve read.  This one was a compelling and a gripping  read that quickly drew me in.  I would say it was a page turner, but I actually listened to this one.  The story revolves around 3 characters.  Louise who is a single mom meets a man in a bar, David, and has a fabulous evening with him that ends in a kiss only to realize on Monday that he is her new boss and also married. Shortly thereafter Louise runs into his wife, Adele, and they become friends before she realizes it is his wife.  Although she knows she needs to get out of the relationship with Adele and David, she gets caught up with them, creating a love triangle and discovering that there are secrets in their marriage.  The book is told from alternating narratives and keeps you guessing as to what is really going on and who is to be believed.  It’s hard to describe more without giving away plot lines.  The book does have some fantastical elements that could be off-putting if you can’t suspend disbelief, but that didn’t bother me.  Also, I had read enough reviews before starting this book to know that there was a whopper of a twist, so I was trying to predict the outcome.  I will say I didn’t see that ending coming. All in all, this was a well-done psychological thriller.

 

 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

a gentleman in moscow

It’s hard for me to believe that I enjoyed this book so much because it is long (462 pages) and mostly set in one location, the hotel Metropol in Moscow.  I don’t usually read books that long because there are just too many books to be read to spend on one that long, but this was a book group selection, and I’m glad it was selected.  I had read his previous book, Rules of Civility, which I also enjoyed, so I was interested.  This book is about Count Rostov who was sentenced by the new Bolshevik regime because he was an aristocrat, and he was fortunate to escape a sentence of either being sent immediately to a firing squad or being sent to Siberia.  He escaped those fates because of a poem that had been previously written and attributed to him.  Instead he received the unusual sentence of house arrest at the hotel for the remainder of his life. He would be shot if he stepped outside the hotel.  He was moved from his current hotel room to a small attic space and most of his belongings were confiscated.  He handled his sentence with grace and made the best of it.  Count Rostov is insightful, delightful and charming.  The reader is given glimpses of what is going on in the outside world through visitors who come to see him at the hotel, and his interaction with the hotel guests and staff is entertaining.  I also enjoyed Rostov’s keen observations.  Towles writes beautifully and has developed wonderful, interesting characters to make a delightful story that really comes to life through his telling.

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

do not become alarmed

I had read Maile Meloy’s Liars and Saints back when it first came out and really enjoyed it, so I decided to read this one when I received an ARC from Edelweiss.  This book will be published in June 2017. It was insightful as expected, but I wasn’t expecting the thrill ride.  It’s about Liv and Nora who are cousins and decide to take their families on a cruise together along Mexico and Central America over the Christmas and New Years vacation.  Liv and Nora both have an eleven-year-old and a younger child as well.  At one of the ports in Central America the dads decide to play golf while the moms take the children zip-lining with another family they met on the ship.  All goes well until the van carrying the moms and children breaks down. The families walk to a nearby beach as they wait for a replacement vehicle.  The children are on floats out in the water and in a brief moment aren’t observed and disappear.  From here the nightmare begins, and the story is propelled forward by alternating between what is happening to the children and the adults.  The story is gripping and the characters are well-developed.  The book explores family and marital dynamics, race,  privilege, guilt, and responsibility.

This book was just selected as one of the top 10 reads for books coming out in June selected by librarians on Library Reads.  I was excited that a portion of this write-up was included for the promotion of that book.  Another one I enjoyed on that list was Magpie Murders.  I’ll be writing about it in an upcoming post.