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What we’re reading now… January 13, 2018

Posted by SaraC in Book Discussion, Book List, Book Review, Fantasy, Fiction, Genre Book Discussion, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, New Books, Non-Fiction, Suspense, Uncategorized, Young Adult.
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The Hearth Witch’s Compendium: Magical and Natural Living for Every Day by Anna Franklin

The Hearth Witch's Compendium: Magical and…Not a book designed to be read straight through, The Hearth Witch’s Compendium is much more a resource guide for individuals who wish to include their magical practice into their everyday routine and life. Resource guide might actually be an understatement. This 512 page volume contains dozens and dozens of recipes and remedies addressing jam preserves to making your own self care products to dyeing your own fabric. The instructions are approachable, easy to read (Franklin is a British writer but graciously provides a conversion table in the back for measurements) and clear. There isn’t much magical instruction within all these amazing recipes which was a bit of a let down, but there is a ton of information towards the back to what ruling planets, deities, and celestial phases all the ingredients correspond with. Highly recommended for readers looking for a resource they can return to again and again for ideas on how to handle the pragmatic with a magical flair. Greg


System of the World (The Baroque Cycle #3) by Neal Stephenson

The System of the World by Neal StephensonThis final volume of Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle ties up the myriad storylines that have emerged throughout the series. There is something for everyone in this.  For much of the series, we follow Natural Philosopher Daniel Waterhouse through pre-Enlightenment England as Isaac Newton and the Royal Society pivot from alchemy to science.  If the invention of calculus is not your cup of tea, there is no want of political intrigue among Protestants and Catholics following the restoration of the British Monarchs.  If not that, there is the swashbuckling adventures of Jack Shaftoe, King of Vagabonds or Eliza as she rises through the European elite via machinations involving new inventions in finance.  The breadth of this series is far beyond the size of anything that should work – yet it does.  Trent


War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo TolstoyI’ve been reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  It’s an amazing book.  Tolstoy is so incisive about his characters, he knows them so well, and so over time we feel like we really get to know and even love Pierre, Andrei and Natasha (although there are a lot more characters, those are probably the main three).  Tolstoy studied in a very intense way the military campaigns between Russia and France, and then he is able to infuse what he learned with his astonishing imagination.  It seems like he gets every detail right, from the description of what the men and women are wearing in a ballroom, to descriptions of gun smoke in a field during a battle.  He’s able to really zoom in and zoom out in this wonderful way.  Andrew 


Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel  by Marie Benedict

Carnegie's Maid: A Novel by Marie…This is the story of Clara Kelley, a recent immigrant from Ireland, who assumes the identity of a fellow passenger who died during the voyage. She secures a position as lady’s maid to Margaret Carnegie, Andrew Carnegie’s mother. Clara’s goal is to send money back to her struggling family in Ireland. Andrew is attracted to Clara, and they secretly spend time together. Andrew shares some of his business expertise with Clara and welcomes her suggestions until Clara disappears when Mrs. Carnegie learns of her deceptions. For lovers of historical fiction and fiction. Emma


The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air) by…This book marks the author’s return to the land of faeries. Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and her sisters were stolen away to the High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Faerie is all she knows and all she wants is to truly belong. One of her biggest obstacles is Prince Cardin, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King. Cardin despises mortals and goes out of his way to make Jude’s life miserable. To earn a place in Court, Jude must go head to head against Prince Cardin. When she does, she finds herself caught in the middle of a political scandal that threatens everyone in Faerie. Can a mere mortal outwit the traitors and save fae? Megan


The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward AbbeyI’m almost finished with this book from the 70s about environmental saboteurs against the industrial complex out west taking the land’s natural resources. To be real the characters, plot, and writing are becoming annoying and I’m just trying to finish it quickly. Next I’m waiting on a hold through Overdrive on my Kindle for Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen and a book on CD from Rocky River of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal. Byron


The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees by Viet Thanh NguyenA captivating and complicated set of short stories that examine identity, family, and romantic love through the eyes of Vietnamese refugees. Realistic elements are mixed with some fantastical ones (for instance, in the first story in the collection, a girl is visited by her brother, a ghost)—a literary technique perhaps intended to shed light on how disorienting and bizarre immigrant life can be.  In the audio book format, Nguyen reads his own stories, and his gentle and lightly accented voice creates an authentic soundscape for the reader. It is no wonder that Nguyen was showered with accolades for his first book, The Sympathizer. His masterful, self-aware prose won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the ALA Carnegie Medal for Fiction, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, among others. Lyndsey


Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane GayThis was not quite what I expected but a very good read nonetheless. I found the beginning to be a bit scattered and slow at times which made it difficult for me to make a connection with the book.  However, after reading and digesting all her essays I feel that I would like to strive to be a similar feminist to Roxane Gay – someone who is thoughtful, objective, outspoken when necessary and truly unique.  Mary

 


The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola YoonThis story takes place mostly in one very transformative day in the life of two teens, Daniel and Natasha. They meet by chance as they are both on their way to two very different, but equally important meetings that could potentially change the course of their lives forever.  The story is hopeful and sweetly romantic. Beth

 

 


City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty,

The City of Brass: A Novel (The Daevabad…A perfect winter escape, this debut fantasy novel, book #1 in The Daevabad Trilogy, transports readers to mystical Arabia. Nahri, an orphaned young woman living in Cairo by her wits, her cons, and a little bit of magic, has her life upended when she unknowingly calls forth a djinn warrior who recognizes that she’s not entirely human. Chased by demons, they journey to the supposed safety of Daevabad, the city of brass, where political and ethnic strife is swirling beneath the surface and where Nahri discovers the mystery of her origin.  Dori


The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man: A Novel by C. J. TudorSwitching between 1986 and 2016, this book takes you through the summer holidays of Eddie and his friends who are growing up and looking for some excitement in their tiny British village.  They sure find it when a game they’ve developed using chalk figure codes leads them to a dismembered body.  Jump to 2016 and the chalk figures are showing up again. It seems like just a prank until one of the old friends turns up dead.  Eddie must figure out what happened years ago in order to save himself and the others. Sara


 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sara’s Top 10 of 2017 December 11, 2017

Posted by SaraC in Book Discussion, Book List, Book Review, Debut Author, Fantasy, Fiction, Genre Book Discussion, Mystery, Thrillers, Uncategorized.
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I’m a little behind on my reading so these aren’t all new books.  It was hard to choose but was a lot of fun remembering how much I enjoyed each of these as I went through them.  Hope you find something you’ll enjoy too!

Cover image for The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

This thriller  kept me on the edge of my seat.  The unusual main character, the outdoor setting in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and the drama of wondering who will catch the Marsh King made this a great, compelling read.

 

 

Cover image for Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Chief Inspector Gamache, and all the eccentric characters of Three Pines do not disappoint in this creepy, dark mystery that has many more layers than at first it seems.

 

 

 

Cover image for The Dry by Jane Harper

A stunning debut novel, with tension and bridled energy at every turn. Looks like small Australian towns come with big secrets.

 

 

 

Cover image for The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I guess this book is considered fantasy, but it seemed real to me as I was reading it! An extraordinary tale of superstition, tradition, family and magic that takes place in the long-lasting winter of the Russian wilderness.  I can hardly wait to read the next book, The Girl in the Tower, just recently released.

 

 

Cover image for Home by Harlan Coben

Book #11 in the Myron Bolitar series, released almost six years after its predecessor, brings back the characters we love- Myron, Win, Esperanza and Big Cindy. A decade older and a little wiser (debatable), they take on the task of finding Win’s cousin who has been missing for 10 years.  A satisfying but dark mystery about friends, family and coming home.

 

 

Cover image for Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Eleanor Flood’s life is a complete mess, but she has decided today will be different.  And she has no idea how right she is!  A hilarious story with a main character you can’t help but love and an ending that makes it all worthwhile.

 

 

Cover image for The Golden Hour by T. Greenwood

I somehow thought T. Greenwood was a new author, but now I am wondering why I haven’t read her other eight books?!  A beautifully written story of a young mother struggling with her marriage, her career, and her future–all because of the lies of her past.

 

 

Cover image for The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

A debut novel that thankfully is the beginning of the Gemma Woodstock series, The Dark Lake tells of teenage jealousy, hurt and secrets that will resurface until they are brought to light and put to rest.

 

 

 

Cover image for The Trespasser by Tana French

It seems that every Tana French book is better than the last, and this is no exception. The book solves a murder, but more importantly digs into the deeply-rooted culture of the Dublin Murder Squad, with it’s egos, grudges, deceptions as well as  its loyalty and commitment to protect and serve.

 

 

Cover image for Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

Spending a year as the captive of a psychopath will definitely change your life. This story looks into the mind of Annie O’Sullivan as she discusses the past with her therapist and struggles to put the pieces of her life back together. A creepy, psychological mystery that’s quick to read.

 

Check out these reviews! New to the Reading Room November 28, 2017

Posted by SaraC in Book Discussion, Book List, Book Review, Fiction, Genre Book Discussion, Non-Fiction.
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Age is Just a Number -of Good (Teen) Books! February 7, 2017

Posted by stacey in Book Discussion, Book List, Genre Book Discussion, Young Adult.
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I have some sad news -It was decided to stop our monthly staff genre book discussions and I have to confess, I miss them already… At least you’ll have one last list of new (to you?) teen books to read and enjoy! Are you ready to see what everyone had to say about their selection this month? Me too!

Megan: The Serpent King by Jeff Zenter, is the 2017 William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. It tells the story of three teens living in a small Tennessee town in the heart of the Bible Belt. Dill is the grandson and son of preachers and their legacy is not a happy one. Grandpa Dill was a snake charmer who became unhinged after the death of his daughter and Dill’s father, also a Dill, is in prison. His mother wants him to leave school and help support the family, but his best friend Lydia wants him to go to college. Lydia is internet famous for her fashion blog and she is eager to leave her small town middle class life and strike out on her own in New York City. The third member of this odd little group is Travis, the gentle giant. He chooses to escape the abuse he suffers at the hand of his father by retreating into a fantasy world. This book is full of the big questions teens ask, friendship, tragedy, and hope. This is a fantastic coming of age story for fans of John Green and A.S. King

Gina: We Are Still Tornadoes is written in epistolary format, by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen. Discover the thoughts of these childhood friends, Cath and Scott after their high school graduation in the letters they write to each other the following year as pen pals. Cath moves out of state to attend college while Scott remains home to assist his father in the family store and starts a band with friends. They correspond throughout the year sharing their experiences, learning, and growing. Their letters bring them close together to realize that they are more than just friends. The addition of the 80’s music references made this book enjoyable.

Steve: The first book of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flanagan, is an awesome fantasy story that centers on an orphan named Will. On the Choosing Day none of the task masters choose him as an apprentice, that is until a Ranger ultimately requests him. Will is dutifully learning the ways of the Rangers, under the mentorship of the mysterious Halt, when his training is interrupted by news that the evil Morgarath is making maneuvers in an attempt to gain control of the kingdom. And then the real action begins.

Carol: In Jackaby by William Ritter, Abigail Rook comes to America in 1892 looking for adventure, and she is hired as an assistant to R.F. Jackaby, a mysterious detective who can see the paranormal. On Abigail’s first day, they are called to the scene of a murder. Jackaby is convinced that the killer is other-worldly and the game is afoot. This first in a series was published in 2014 and is a smart, funny and clever read—like a Sherlock novel, with a supernatural twist.

Sara: I read the young adult novel, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. It is the first in a trilogy about a 16 year old girl who wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the accident that put her there or how two friends and her boyfriend died in it. Her family moves to a new state, hoping Mara’s memory will come back gradually. Instead she begins hallucinating that she can see her dead friends and has premonitions of things before they happen. She also falls in love with a mysterious boy, Noah, who she feels like she has know for a lifetime. Were they destined to meet by forces beyond her control? And how did her friends die in the accident while she was unharmed? This book is a psychological (and perhaps paranormal) thriller, fast-paced and definitely worth reading.

Lauren: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows is a delightfully ridiculous retelling of the story of Lady Jane Grey and King Edward VI. Their fantasy world centers on the clash between Verities, “normal people”…I guess, and Ethians, who have both a human and animal form and are widely seen as the scourge of the earth. An absolutely hilarious story of magic, adventure, and a little romance.

Dori: In Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina, it’s the summer of 1977, and New York City is haunted by periodic blackouts, arson attacks and most menacingly by serial killer Son of Sam. Nora Lopez is about to graduate from high school and is thinking about her future while dealing with the stress of living with her single mother, a Cuban immigrant, and her younger brother Hector, a drug dealer who abuses his mother. To escape, Nora gets a job at a local deli and starts a relationship with Pablo, a handsome boy who works there too. As the city’s tension swirls around her, Nora must realize some hard truths while finding herself.

Beth: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige is set in a dystopia Oz. When Amy finds herself displaced in Oz after a tornado, she learns that Oz is real, but it is not the Oz she had read about growing up. She’s tasked with saving Oz by taking down the all too powerful ruler, Dorothy.

Stacey: In Kids of Appetite, David Almond has been able to address serious issues with such subtle grace. Vic is struggling to cope with the loss of his father to cancer while watching his mom begin a relationship with someone new. Oh, and also Vic has Moebius Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that paralyzes his facial muscles. Escaping the house with his father’s ashes, Vic stumbles upon a tight-knit group of outsiders (yep, a nod to the S.E. Hinton book!) each with their own troubles. When they find a message hidden in the urn, the clues lead the kids to discover memories of importance to Vic’s parents. Sweet but never sappy, with a message about kindness, compassion, and living with personal integrity, plus a quirky sense of humor; this book becomes something truly special.

Thank you for joining in and reading along with us for the last few years -I hope you’ve discovered an new favorite author (or two) and (like me) found a little love in your heart for a genre you previously felt “bleh!’ about! (I’m looking at *you* horror genre!)

enjoy!
Stacey

Don’t be a Grinch… read a HOliday Story! December 5, 2016

Posted by stacey in Book Discussion, Book List, Genre Book Discussion, Holiday Books.
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Ho ho ho! We read Holiday Stories! That means the books below could have prominently featured any holiday happening from Halloween to Valentine’s Day -a pretty big window of possibilities, no? Ready to see what everyone selected? Here we go:

Megan: What Light by Jay Asher is sweet holiday story about Sierra, who’s family operates a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. Every year they pack up and head to California to set up their tree lot for the season. Sierra loves this time of year and the chance to see her California best friend even though it means leaving her Oregon life and friends behind. It’s Christmas business as usual on what could be the last year for the lot. That is, until Caleb shows up. Caleb has a bad boy reputation in the small town, but Sierra, despite insisting she isn’t interested in dating, begins to see past that and gest to know the real Caleb. Fans of holiday romances full of hot chocolate, candy canes, and true love won’t want to miss this one.

Dori: Burglar Junior Bender returns in Timothy Hallinan’s holiday offering, Fields Where They Lay. Junior has never been fond of Christmas and this year, things are not looking up. He’s been hired by a threatening member of the Russian mafia to investigate the high burglary rate at the failing, old, Edgerton Mall. Also, his girlfriend has mysteriously up and left him and he needs to figure out what to give his teenager daughter for Christmas. Funny and touching, with a satisfying ending perfect for delivering a dose of Christmas cheer.

Gina: Elin Hilderbrand’s Winter Stroll picks up a year after the first book in the series, Winter Street. The Quinn family and Winter Street Inn are all prepared for Nantucket’s traditional Christmas Stroll. This quick story transitions from each character, following each of their weekend experiences. Patriarch Kelley feels confused with his relationships to his first wife, Margaret Quinn, and second wife, Mitzi. Patrick is in jail and his wife Jennifer is trying to raise their three boys to be respectful and responsible despite the current situation. Kevin and girlfriend Isabelle have a beautiful baby girl named Genevieve. In addition to the Winter Stroll the family will be celebrating Genevieve’s baptism during the weekend. Ava has found the love of her life but an accident causes her to question the relationship, not to mention an ex-boyfriend popping into town. Bart, who was deployed to Afghanistan last year, is still MIA, but at the end of the weekend there may be hope. Each chapter kept me excited for the next and would recommend this for a winter read.

Lauren: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson—originally published in 1972—is a delightful book about the horrible Herdman children who take over and wreak havoc on the church’s annual Christmas story play…to hilarious and somewhat miraculous results.  You’ll find it in the children’s section, but it’s a gem that anyone can enjoy.

Beth: In Melissa Ciccocioppo, Peter Skullkid, Asia Erickson, and Eric G. Salisbury’s Contemporary Krampus, we are shown different artistic interpretations of Krampus.  As one of the many companions of Saint Nicholas, Krampus takes his responsibility of punishing the misbehaved children seriously and this book will scare the pants off of them.

Steve: The Christmas Thief, by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, is a simple read for anyone looking for a fluffy Christmas work .  Packy Noonan, who has just been released from prison for scamming millions of dollars from people, is reuniting with his old bumbling buddies to reclaim the flask of diamonds that he hid in a giant spruce tree 12 years ago.  Things go awry as the tree is set to be used this year for the Rockefeller Center tree. Private detective Regen Reilly and her friends have stumbled into this mess. There are a few laughs but not much suspense here, although it’s perfectly suitable for a mindless Christmas read.    

Carol: In The Christmas Town by Donna VanLiere, 21-year-old Lauren Gamble longs for a place to call home and people to call family—she’s even gone so far as posting a Craiglist ad for both. Social media is letting her down when she stumbles upon and is drawn to the nearby small town of Grandon. There she meets a special boy named Ben and begins to volunteer at Glory’s Place, a center for families in need. Could it be true? Might Lauren get the Christmas wish she dreams of?

Sara: I read A Christmas Grace by Anne Perry.  In this short mystery which is set in 1895, a wealthy young wife and mother, Emily Radley, travels from London to a small, dwindling town on the western coast of Ireland.  Her estranged Aunt Susannah is dying and has asked for family to come be with her.  Susannah married a Catholic man and moved to Ireland many years before, disgracing her English family.  Emily is fearful of this rugged, desolate part of Ireland by the sea and resentful that she must leave her home two weeks before Christmas. Once there, she realizes the town has many secrets, and the residents are consumed by guilt because of the death of young shipwrecked sailor seven years before.  Now the winter storms have caused another tragic wreck, and another young sailor is taken in by the town.  Can Emily solve the mystery of the prior sailor’s murder before history repeats itself?  And by doing so, can she save the town of Connemara and allow Aunt Susannah’s last Christmas to be a peaceful one?  This is a quick and engaging read, laced with interesting insight into 19th century relationships between the English and the Irish peoples.

Emma: Oliver the Cat who Saved Christmas by Sheila Norton is the story of pub cat Oliver who loses his home in a fire. Unfortunately owner George moves to London during reconstruction and cannot take Oliver along. Two families become his foster families. Oliver has a way to discover exactly what each human needs. In doing so, he saves Christmas and makes lots of people happy. This is a treat for all pet lovers.

Stacey: Just when I thought  there can’t possibly be any more ways to explain the man, the myth, the legend of Santa Claus, I stumbled upon The Christmas Chronicles by Tim Slovenia and found I was wrong!  There are clever explanations to cover all your burning questions, from how Klaus came to create toys for children to why the red suit to those flying reindeer -and they completely make sense. But what makes this book really special is the mix of myth, magic, religion, contemporary pop culture, and faith (in yourself and others.) A charming and thoughtful choice for the holiday season.

Next time? We’ll be reading Teen Fiction! (I realize this is pretty self-explanatory but heck, I’ve got a job to do here!) If you want to read along with us, you’ll want to find a novel aimed at the 18 and younger crowd. Get excited -there are some pretty awesome teen books out there!

Happy Holidays!
Stacey

What’s So Scary? Horror books- of course! November 8, 2016

Posted by stacey in Book Discussion, Book List, Genre Book Discussion, Horror.
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We did it! We talked about dark, scary things that go *bump* in the night and we survived! Don’t forget, horror books are written to frighten the reader and are distinguished by supernatural or occult elements, often featuring the power of the natural world gone awry. So, are you ready for a scary read?

Megan: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt and translated from the original Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier, is the story of a picturesque Hudson Valley town that lives under the curse of a 17th century witch. With her mouth and eyes sewn shut she wanders the streets and enters homes and buildings. The residents, all cursed to remain in Black Spring, have protected the town from the outside world, keeping their secret and themselves safe. When a group of frustrated teenagers rebel against the long-standing virtual quarantine, they set in motion a dangerous and deadly series of events. The juxtaposition of the tragic story of a 350 year old witch with the modern day is fascinating. This is a compelling and truly creep read sure to satisfy any horror lover.

Lauren: Dawn is the first book in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Series. Planet Earth has been ravaged by atomic civil war and Lilith is one of the survivors. She has survived because she is in the care of an alien species, the Oankali. However, whether she has been rescued or captured remains debatable. When the Oankali wake Lilith from suspended animation aboard their spaceship she is tasked with learning their language and culture and preparing to assimilate the other humans as they are awakened, before they can make their return to Earth. But it is the mission of the Oankali to genetically merge with the civilizations they discover. Though they initially prevented the total extinction of the human race it becomes clear that Lilith’s children and the generations that come after them will be less than human.

Gina: Knowing of some of the many adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I thought it would be a horror. I did not expect for this novella to be as calm as it was. The book begins by following the lawyer Mr. Utterson investigation of an encounter between a young girl and a man known as Mr. Hyde. Through this investigation, Mr. Utterson becomes aware that Mr. Hyde is the beneficiary of a friend and client named Dr. Jekyll. After a confrontation, Mr. Hyde assures Mr. Utterson that everything is alright and in order. Time passes, and another incident happens- evidence points towards Mr. Hyde, but he is nowhere to be found. Instead, Dr. Jekyll appears with a note showing that he has ended any relations with Mr. Hyde. The narration changes to follow Dr. Hastie Lanyon, a collogue of Dr. Jekyll; upon being a witness to the strange transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, he dies of shock. Before his death he writes to Mr. Utterson explaining what he witnessed. Mr. Utterson receives the letter and with concern from Dr. Jekyll’s butler, rushes to the doctor’s home to find the body of Dr. Hyde died from an apparent suicide. Mr. Utterson discovers a note written by Dr. Jekyll; explaining his experimentations and hypothesis of the duel personalities. Dr. Jekyll writes that what began as a simple experiment, easily controlled, became something he could not handle and feared for what more damage could happen and so he decided to end his life, to stop Mr. Hyde.

Sara: I read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. This book was a combination of mystery/thriller/horror. Camille Preaker is a Chicago journalist who has recently been hospitalized for self harm-carving various words onto her whole body. She has been suffering for years since the unexplained death of her younger sister Marian, her mother’s favorite child. She reluctantly goes to her tiny hometown to cover the murder of one young girl and the disappearance of another. Camille is reunited with her estranged, unloving mother and her half-sister Amma. As secrets of Camille’s past are revealed, she becomes close to her half sister and learns that her mother is capable of unspeakable things. This book is a page turner, but also deeply disturbing. The twist at the ending makes the journey worthwhile.

Carol: In Come Closer by Sara Gran, Amanda and her husband move into their new trendy loft and all is perfection—until Amanda begins to hear noises in the home and have strange dreams. Amanda’s life begins to spiral out of control. Is the loft haunted; is Amanda losing her mind; or is there something more sinister at work? Read this “scariest book of 2004” and find out!

Steve: Mrs. God by Peter Straub is a creepy, slow moving tale with a letdown of an ending. Professor Standish heads to England for a fellowship at the spooky Esswood House, owned by the aristocratic Seneschal family and home to their renowned library of literature. Odd characters and happenings abound, like servants that vanish or really don’t exist, doors that lock by themselves and whispering mystery voices. Is it Standish’s drinking, madness, or a dark secret of the Seneschals? Unfortunately the end is a train wreck which doesn’t really come to a conclusion, too bad as the first 75% was quite good.

Emma: The book In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters takes place during the height of the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. Sixteen-year old Mary Shelley Black is sent to San Diego to live with her aunt. Despite the ever present fear of the flu and war, Mary Shelley is eager to reunite with her childhood friend, Stephen. When she learns that Stephen’s brother has made a name for himself among the Spiritualists by claiming to photograph the spirits of the dead, she is determined to prove him a fraud. Her plans are derailed when she is visited by an unsettled spirit. A must-read for fans of historical fiction, the paranormal, and spooky ghost stories.

Dori: Dori: In Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s I Remember You: A Ghost Story, an Icelandic couple buy an abandoned vacation house in an isolated village in hopes of turning it into a vacation rental. They go there in the off season to work on the house and quickly encounter disturbing sights: moving crosses, mysterious footprints and odd smells. Meanwhile, psychologist Freyr, who’s 6-year-old son has gone missing, is asked to help with an investigation into an incident of crude defacement in a preschool. This snowballs into further inquiries into mysterious suicides which involve strangers that are obsessed with the disappearance of his son. This is an eerie, disturbing ghost story that builds to a surprising and tragic conclusion.

Stacey: Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things is the kind of story that will have you looking over your shoulder, avoiding dark hallways, and jumping at unexpected noises -for days and days …and then… many more days! A group of women, without any discernable connection, have been kidnapped and taken to a desolate bunkhouse in the middle of the remote, Australian Outback. With no way to know who’s responsible for their brutal imprisonment or why they’ve been selected, these women begin to form a social order to match their dark world. Just as disturbing as what readers learn about these conditions is the lack of explanation or information. This is a really smart, psychological horror story!

Next time? We’re going to lighten the mood with -Holiday Stories! This is another one that you can read pretty much anything you’d like as long as a Winter holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve) is prominently featured in the story.

Enjoy!
—Stacey

All the Big Words (are in Literary Fiction!) October 5, 2016

Posted by stacey in Book Discussion, Book List, Genre Book Discussion, Literary Fiction.
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That’s right, we discussed literary fiction this time! Literary fiction is defined by a multi-layered, experimental, or technical virtuosity writing style. The focus is more on character than plot and will prompt a high degree of interaction between reader and book. When you read what people had to say about their books, you might just find something to suggest to your own book discussion group!

Megan: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is a deeply moving yet disturbing love story. Wavy, the daughter of a meth dealer father and a mentally ill mother, is taught from an early age to not trust anyone. When one of her father’s thugs wrecks his motorcycle eight-year old Wavy is the only one who sees the accident. Her decision to help Kellen will forever change both their lives. Kellen becomes her friend and protector and she is his constant companion. No one takes notice of the relationship between the strange, silent child and the enormous ex-con with a heart of gold until Wavy becomes a teen. Wavy and Kellen’s story is heartbreaking and engrossing and at times even uncomfortable to read about. No matter what you believe about their relationship, their story will stick with you long after the book is done.

Chris: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. It’s 1991 and Lotto and Mathilde have just married a few months after falling madly in love with each other at first sight. Theirs is romance friends envy because it seems so perfect in every respect. But a decade later, it’s revealed that things are not always as they seem. Yes, there are two sides to every story and this novel is written with Lotto telling his side first followed by Mathilde’s side which is the more interesting. It reveals the secrets that they kept from each other, and it’s these secrets that ultimately kept the marriage together. A fascinating read–A New York Times Best Seller, Finalist for the 2015 Book Award and named Best Book of the Year by many publications.

Beth: Lynda Cohen Loigman’s introduces us to two sisters by marriage and their families as they cohabitate in a two-family home in Brooklyn, NY. The story unravels the complexity of family relationships as it shares their story over 30 years, through the different family members’ perspectives. The Two-Family House leaves the reader pondering on relationships and choices over a short lifetime.

Gina: In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the story is told by main character Holden; reminiscing on the time in his life that could be considered to be his lowest point. After be expelled from his fourth prep school, Holden went on a journey to New York to find himself. Holden battles with the understanding of innocence, sexuality, and the meaning of life; but through this journey, he finds hope in his sister’s youthfulness. This is a true American coming of age book for everyone to enjoy.

Carol: In The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, Lib Wright is a former “Nightingale” nurse in 1850s London who is sent to a small Irish village in order to investigate the locals’ claim that eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell hasn’t eaten anything in months, but instead is surviving on manna from heaven. Lib is obviously skeptical and when Anna’s health declines during the observation period, Lib finds a hard time avoiding emotional involvement. Is she witnessing a miracle or is Anna in dire need of help? The Wonder is an atmosphere novel with a slow-building suspense that left me completely enthralled from start to finish.

Steve: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is a tense page turner that finds Georgia plantation slaves Cora and Caesar on the run as they escape their horrible lives via a vast physical underground railroad. The two at first find their way to South Carolina and settle into a seemingly progressive town with caring citizens, only to find out that the town is doing experiments with disease and birth control on runaway slaves. The two continue seeking freedom elsewhere, while desperately trying to outrun the brutal slave catcher Ridgeway.

Emma: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway was written in 1952. For 80+ day’s Cuban fisherman Santiago has had a run of bad luck. He’s caught no fish. So Santiago finally travels far beyond the other fishing boats and eventually catches a giant marlin. It takes him two days and nights to bring the fish back to shore strapped to the side of his boat. He loses most of it to sharks on his return trip. The marlin would have fed him for many months or it could have been sold at a good price. This is a rather sad but beautiful long short story.

Dori: In Joan London’s award-winning book The Golden Age, 12-year-old Frank Gold is convalescing at a home for victims of polio after World War II. The child of Hungarian refugees who have unwillingly been resettled in Perth, Australia, he’s an observant, dreamy boy who yearns to be a poet. When we first meet him, he’s wheeling around the hospital with one goal: to glimpse Elsa, the only other child his age and the object of his affections. The book doesn’t just limit itself to Frank and Elsa, though; London is attentive to all her characters and their inner lives. Her writing has a lovely radiance and she’s able to evoke the feelings of displacement, growing up, finding hope and safety and, of course, love.

Sarah: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is about a young mother, Lucy Barton, who is recovering from a minor operation that became complicated and and kept her in the hospital for months. She and her mother haven’t spoken for years, having become estranged after Lucy’s harsh upbringing in a poverty-stricken small town. Yet Lucy is touched and grateful when her mother comes to visit for five days. She tells Lucy about the town and people of her youth, about their marriages, lives and deaths, as she and Lucy begin to reconnect. However there is an underlying tension as memories of Lucy’s troubled childhood surface, and we are given a glimpse into how complicated family relationships can be. This was a fascinating and engaging story that left me wanting to get to know Lucy Barton and her mother better.

Lauren: The Girls is Emma Cline’s debut novel. We meet Edie Boyd, a shy and lonely teenager living in California during the late-1960s. She meets a group of girls—mysterious and magnetic Suzanne stands out—and is slowly drawn into their isolated world of counter-culture, freedom, sex, and drugs. At the helm is their leader, Russell, whom the girls all seem to worship. Split between the present-day and Edie’s remembrance of the past, a frightening picture is slowly painted as the girls approach a horrific point-of-no-return.

Stacey: Open the cover on To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey and you’ll find yourself spirited away to a different time and place. Multiple storylines are told concurrently with subtle shifts in tone and style to reflect each character, descriptions of the natural world mix easily with mystical elements, and the use of images enhance a reader’s experience. Recording the past as journal entries but calling certain aspects into question through a contemporary correspondence builds one complex story full of subtle, surprising moments. A beautifully crafted book, from the wildly adventurous story to the presentation on the pages, this is a reading experience you won’t soon forget.

Next time we’ll cover the dangerous world of horror fiction! Horror books are written to frighten the reader (obvs?) and are distinguished by supernatural or occult elements, often featuring the power of the natural world gone awry. Turn on all the lights and -enjoy!

—Stacey

Something to (read and) Think About… Religious Fiction September 8, 2016

Posted by stacey in Book Discussion, Book List, Genre Book Discussion, Gentle Read, Religious Fiction.
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Our current genre presents a little more of a challenge than the beach reads (ie pretty much whatever you wanted -no limits!) This discussion featured religious fiction, a book that has religiously-based attitudes, values, or actions as a central feature of the story in any style of story. When you read what people said about their books, you’ll see there’s a pretty interesting variety. Are you ready to find the next book to add to your growing TBR pile?

Megan: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, is a hilarious and irreverent accounting of Jesus’ life between the time of his well-documented birth and his famous teachings, miracles, and ultimate sacrifice as an adult. Jesus’ best buddy Biff tells all, revealing all sorts of adventures and high jinx. Fans of Moore will recognize his satirical humor and well-placed bawdy joke.

Carol: The winner of several awards for Christian fiction, Dear Mr. Knightley, Katherine Reay’s 2014 debut novel, is jam-packed with Jane Austen references and is based on the 1912 novel Daddy-Long-Legs. Samantha Moore receives a grant from a mysterious benefactor to receive her Masters’ degree with the caveat that she write him letters telling him how she is doing at the school. Sam uses the correspondence to this anonymous “Mr. Knightley” as a means to escape her unfulfilling life—revealing to him alone what she truly feels. “Sam” is naive, innocent, and flawed, but finds that with guidance from some new friends, including the single, handsome writer Alex Powell, she might not mess up her one chance at a new life.

Beth: Michael Perry’s The Jesus Cow is a satirical take on small town life in middle America. When Swivel’s own born and raised, Harvey Jackson discovers the face of Jesus Christ on his calf, he tries his darndest to ignore it. Soon the secret gets out and his small town farm turns into a national destination. This blasphemous tale of false idols is light hearted and enjoyable.

Steve: Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is the heartbreaking tale of two women, Mariam and Laila, who, through tragic circumstances, end up the wives of the sadistic Rasheed. They come to rely on each other and form a surprising bond as they help each other survive in the brutal household in this moving story that spans three decades, beginning with the turbulent 1970s in Afghanistan.

Sara: I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. This is historical biblical fiction based on the life of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob. Jacob is well known for having 12 sons, the youngest and most famous being Joseph, abandoned by his brothers but going on to rule Egypt. Dinah is mentioned in only one chapter of the Bible as the daughter who is defiled by a prince of Shechem and avenged by her brothers. This story tells of Dinah’s life as girl living in a world where her father and grandfather have multiple wives, and women are seen as property and breeding stock. Dinah grows up with her mothers and aunts, learning about life and dreaming about love while sitting in the red tent where women went during their times of impurity in keeping with Jewish law. This was an interesting look into what the life of a woman of her times could have been like.

Gina: In William Paul Young’s The Shack, Mack returns to the Shack. This old abandoned building was the last location that Mack’s youngest daughter was thought to have been when she was abducted from a nearby camping grounds in Oregon during a family vacation. Mack was intrigued by a note he received in the mail to return to the shack, addressed by God. In this visit, Mack meets all three forms of God, gets understanding of life’s mysteries and finds peace. If you have ever wanted to have a deep meaningful conversation with God, this is the book for you as it was for me.

Emma: In Cynthia Ruchti’s As Waters Gone By, Max and Emmalyn Ross bought a cottage on Madeline Island in Lake Superior 8 years ago. Currently Max is serving a 5-year prison term for seriously injuring a man when he drove drunk into a fertility clinic. In order to pay Max’s legal fees, Emmalyn had to sell their home and move to the island. She plans to restore the cottage and hopes to restore her soul. The good neighbors on Madeline Island play an important role in helping her achieve her goals. This Christy Award finalist in contemporary fiction is a short sweet happily-ever-after book.

Dori: In Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, 16-year-old Amal decides to start wearing the hijab full-time to school to embrace her faith, but she’s worried about everyone’s reaction. She knows she can count on her best friends, but what will the teachers, her parents and handsome Adam think? Set in Australia, this young adult novel helps to explain why young women would choose to wear the hijab and also deals with prejudice and fear. It also does a great job of explaining that Muslim people are as different, or as alike, as everyone else. Amal is a fully realized character; she’s smart, funny, and charming and you will want to see how she and her friends succeed in negotiating our tricky world.

Stacey: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff starts with an unnamed woman visiting a recently opened exhibit “Two Hundred of Circus Magic” at the Petit Palais in Paris. She’s checking for a message from the past, hoping to find out what happened to her dearest friend when they were separated by tragic circumstances during World War II. Both women face persecution based on religious beliefs and are aware they must hide important elements of who they are in order to survive. With plenty of historical details and changing relationships, this could be a good book choice for your next book discussion.

For our next genre discussion? We will *not* be lightening the mood -at all. Next up is literary fiction defined by an inventive, rich, demanding, multi-layered, experimental, or technical virtuosity writing style. The focus is more on character than plot and will prompt a high degree of interaction between reader and book. And so -let the search begin!

enjoy!
Stacey

Beach-y Keen Books! August 11, 2016

Posted by stacey in Beach Reads, Book List, Genre Book Discussion.
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It was tough, but we persevered and made it happen.. We all found a book we’d enjoy reading on the beach or the back porch and then we talked about them! Crazy, right? But I think the diversity of the list makes it especially fun. Are you ready for some fun? Done!

Chris: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. Turn quick to page 163 for one of my absolute favorites: Still I Rise. When Governor Cory Booker referred to the other day, it reminded me of how much I loved this poem and I was compelled to go back and reread it. Every bit as good as I remember. Of course, it led to reading more of this wonderful collection.

Lauren: In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s One True Loves, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse, and the two set off on adventures around the world. On the eve of their first anniversary, Jesse is on a photojournalism assignment with a crew when their helicopter disappears over the Pacific Ocean. Devastated, Emma returns to her small Massachusetts hometown and starts over. Years later she’s reconnected with a high school friend, Sam, and found love again. As Sam and Emma are enjoying their lives together and planning a wedding, Emma gets a life-changing phone call: Jesse has been found, alive.

Gina: Jojo Moyes continues her series following Louisa Clark in the book After You. This picks up after Louisa lost her love, following how she copes with this loss and moves on in her life. Louisa returns home after an accident and meets an unexpected individual that turns her life upside down. After making a deal with her parents, Louisa participates in a Moving On support group, meets new friends, and even finds a new love interest. This books keeps you engaged and rooting for Louisa to find happiness, a great beach read!

Sara: I read the new Liane Moriarty novel, Truly, Madly, Guilty. This is a story of three suburban couples who get together for a weekend barbecue that ends in a tragedy. Sam and Clementine are happily married parents of two, working together to juggle their hectic lives and careers. Erika and Oliver are a quiet, reserved, childless couple who both appreciate their calm and peaceful lifestyle. Vid and Tiffany are the larger than life, outgoing, fun-loving neighbors hosting the barbecue. Each family has problems and deep, dark secrets; and all of these come into play on and after this fateful weekend. They all can’t help but wonder what life would have been like if they had just said no to the invitation. Guilt and misconceptions are the threads binding these 6 people, and Moriarty does an excellent job of weaving it all together in the end. At times I thought I knew all the secrets and that this would be a predictable read, but she managed to continue to bring in new bits of information and surprise me at the finish.

Dori: In The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close, Beth follows her husband Matt to Washington D.C. after he gets a job with the Obama administration. There, she’s in for a rude awakening: everyone knows one another, sharing their political connections, and Beth, a writer, feels out of the loop. Soon she and Matt meet a charismatic couple from Texas, Jimmy, a White house staff member, and his wife Ashleigh, a somewhat typical Southern belle. The four become best friends, meeting for meals, trips and one snowy weekend, when all of D.C. shuts down. Soon, however, tensions arise and their friendship is threatened as Jimmy starts getting promotions, while Matt’s career stagnates. This novel is a funny, light, and breezy insider’s look at D.C. and its political machinations.

Steve: Killing Reagan, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, tells the fascinating story of Reagan’s life, his road into politics and beyond, all while painting a vivid picture of the world and events around him, leading up to and beyond the assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. The authors include both the good and bad about Reagan, with plenty of dirt about his early love life, other politicians’ negative thoughts on Nancy, and much more.

Beth: Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is a retelling of the Taming of the Shrew. Kate Batista spends her days working in a school and her evenings taking care of her father and sister, but never really tending to herself. Her father is on the brink of discovering a cure for autoimmune disease, but when his research is in jeopardy, he asks Kate to take on the most daunting task of her life. This was an enjoyable read, with very lovable characters.

Carol: In Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season, Caren Gray is the manager of former sugarcane plantation Belle Vie—now a tourist attraction and banquet hall, when a body is found on the grounds. Caren’s ties to Belle Vie run deep, and knowing its secrets gives her an edge in solving the crime—even as it puts her own life in danger. This smart, award-winning literary mystery was a perfect take-along on my vacation.

Stacey: The Lovers’ Guide to Rome by Mark Lamprell is narrated by an omniscient ancient blue (think a little like a Greek chorus?) as readers are guided through three stages of love: bliss, doubt, and loss. Each stage is represented by a different couple, a young couple just met and feel the bliss of new love, a middle-aged couple are beginning to doubt their long-term marriage, and a widow has come to spread the ashes of her husband. Getting to know the characters makes the story charming enough but the added information on Rome’s history, art, and religion is pure bonus!

Next time we’ll be reading Religious Fiction! If you want to read along with us, you’ll want to find a book that has religiously-based attitudes, values, or actions as a central feature of the story in any genre. Enjoy!

—Stacey

It’s a Suspenseful and Thrilling Summer! July 11, 2016

Posted by stacey in Book Discussion, Book List, Genre Book Discussion, Suspense, Thrillers.
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We each selected a book that could be described as suspense (lots of action in a short period of time and appeals to reader’s sense of unease) or as a thriller (a specific, often exotic, world that emphasize defeating the villain.) And then we discussed those books we picked! Ready? ‘Cause here we go:

Beth: Flynn Berry’s debut novel Under the Harrow is a fast paced thriller packed with unpredictable turns. The protagonist, Nora, takes a routine trip to the country to visit her sister, but upon arrival discovers her sister has been brutally murdered. The rest of the book uncovers secrets from the past as a grief stricken Nora tries to solve her sister’s murder.

Carol: In She’s Not There by Joy Fielding, Caroline Shipley’s life crumbles when her two-year-old daughter, Samantha is kidnapped on their family vacation in Mexico. Caroline’s marriage ends, her relationship with her older daughter suffers, and Caroline is vilified by the press for the perceived parental negligence that led to the kidnapping. Now, fifteen years later, Caroline gets a call from a young woman who says she thinks she is Samantha—and things tailspin once again. Though at times an emotional read, this novel psychological suspense is relatively free of the graphic violence often associated with suspense/thrillers.

Emma: In Darkness by Karen Robards, ornithologist Dr. Gina Sullivan is on a research expedition with other scientists on the island of Attu, Alaska. Gina is out on a lake in severe winter weather when she witnesses a plane crash. There is one survivor, James MacArthur Callahan (Cal). Gina rescues him, but danger sets in immediately. Together they battle the environment and countless enemies who are after Cal. I feel the cover of the book is a little misleading. This is not a light romance but an interesting serious thriller.

Sara: I read the book The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley. This is a story of two cousins, Arden and Rory, who have been like sisters their whole lives. They end up as roommates at a college neither girl wanted to attend because of the financial mistakes of their parents who own a restaurant together. There is a terrible fire in their dorm, both girls are critically injured and comatose, and one boy is dead. As police investigate the blaze, they begin to suspect that Arden started the fire. Her mother Natalie is sure of her innocence, and digs for details of her daughter’s life to find the truth. In doing this she finds she did not really know her daughter or niece at all, and that the girls knew more about the family secrets than they had ever let on. Told in the voices of Arden, Rory and Natalie this book is hard to put down and full of surprises til the very end.

Dori: In Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall, a private plane unexpectedly crashes off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard shortly into the flight and there are only two survivors: a down on his luck painter, invited at the last minute, and the small son of the wealthy family who had hired the plane. What happened? As the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI investigate the crash, we learn about the passengers and their backgrounds, trying to discover who caused the crash. There’s the head of a FOX TV-like media conglomerate, a man about to get arrested for selling arms to terrorists, an Israeli bodyguard and the painter, whose last paintings depict a series of disasters, including a plane crash. Hawley, a television writer and producer, keeps us turning the pages and delivers a completely unexpected outcome.

Steve: Velocity by Dean Koontz is a horrific thriller that finds small town bartender Billy Wiles drawn into a nightmare after finding a note under his windshield wiper offering an unwinnable 6 hour ultimatum. If he doesn’t go to the police, a blond schoolteacher will be killed, and if he does go to the police an elderly charity worker will die. Billy and his friend, who happens to be the sheriff, play it off as a sick joke, but he next day a blond school teacher is found dead. Things get exceedingly worse for Billy.

Megan: The Trespasser by Tana French is the sixth installment in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Detectives Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran are the newest members of the squad and therefore are usually assigned the cut and dry cases. This seems to be the situation when they are handed a murder case that appears to be a simple lover’s quarrel turned deadly. However, as the pair digs into the details they become increasingly convinced that this case is just a little too simple. Conway begins to doubt her instincts as well as her partner’s intentions as the evidence piles up to indicate someone on her own squad is out to get her. Is she being paranoid or is there more to this case than meets the eye? This is another brilliant addition to the series. The psychological tension and suspense kept me up late into the wee hours. This book doesn’t release until October, so if you aren’t familiar with the Dublin Murder Squad now is the time to get started!

Lauren: Lydia Millet’s Sweet Lamb of Heaven finds Anna hiding out in a motel in Maine with her young daughter, Lena. They have left their home in Alaska and fled from Anna’s husband, an uncaring and increasingly dangerous man who has never shown the slightest interest in his daughter until he aims for a political career and begins his first campaign for office. Then he needs a trophy family and Anna and Lena find themselves on the run. Holed up in the motel with a small group of other guests and keeping constantly vigilant, Anna slowly realizes that she and the other guests may not have come together by chance at all.

Stacey: The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood is what they like to call a “literary thriller” (in the library biz.) As the story begins, a small group of women have been abducted and taken to a remote location in the Australian Outback, had their heads shaved, and dressed in rough cloth to begin their punishment for promiscuity. As the women fight to survive harsh conditions, the tension builds around who’s responsible and when will they reveal their ultimate goal in holding these ladies hostage.

Next time? We’ll all be reading a Beach Reads book (ie something we’d be happy to take to the beach -or the porch!) Find something you’d like to read in the sun, or shade, just because it’s summertime!

enjoy!
Stacey