Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon (1992)

Book #1 Guido Brunetti series

la fenice

On a chilly evening in Venice, fans have filled the opera house to hear La Traviata led by the world renowned conductor, Maestro Helmut Wellauer. When the curtain falls at intermission, the Maestro leaves the stage abruptly. When he does not return to the orchestra, the director seeks him out only to find him dead in his dressing room.

Police Commissaro Guido Brunetti arrives at the opera house with some familiarity of the victim’s career but no clear idea of the kind of life the Maestro lived. Guido is well aware that a murder such as this — poisoned to death — is an intimate crime and it would take a passionate person to take some drastic measures. Sex or money, he knows, will most certainly by the motive.

Immediately, several men and women who are part of La Traviata become possible suspects. Each had arguments with the conductor, including at least two who were being blackmailed by the victim. Brunetti’s interviews reveal the Maestro to be a morally rigid man who, confident in his power and position afforded him protection, bullied and controlled those around him.

Slowly, the Commissario finds subtle patterns in the man’s past that lead him right to the killer and it is the person Brunetti least expects to find behind the crime.

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She-ology by Dr. Sherry Ross (2017)

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Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN practicing for twenty-five years in Los Angeles, has written a comprehensive and super-accessible book for women about all of the wild, weird, and (at times) miserable changes their bodies will go through. Starting with puberty and stretching through menopause and beyond, She-ology covers topics related to the sexual, reproductive, and emotional well-being of women.

The manual is divided into eighteen “V’s,” that is sections that deal with different stages a woman and her vagina might go through. Chapters include: the “Tween-Teen V” for young women and their parents to read and consider what modern girls will face as they begin menstruating and the become sexually active young women; The “Mama V” for pregnant, post-partum women and for those struggling with infertility; “The Pink V” which covers vaginal health for women post-cancer; and the “Mature V” which discussed menopause, divorce, and other issues older women face. Especially noteworthy, in my opinion, was her “Rainbow V” chapter she discusses the sexual, reproductive, and emotional health of lesbian, transgender, and bi-sexual women.

Overall it was an insightful book filled with information that was straight-forward, kind, and often very funny. I was reminded while reading She-ology, that as women our bodies never stop changing and therefore it is our job to never stop learning about ourselves and our vaginas!

Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz (2018)

This is book #3 in the Orphan X series. Book #1 reviewed here: https://wp.me/p6N6mT-zt  Book #2 reviewed here: https://wp.me/p6N6mT-2Ts

hellbent

Although this series falls into the action sub-genre of “ex-assassin with a heart of gold” that I generally do not find myself much interested in, I have to admit the the Orphan X series is really enjoyable…even if it does get a bit testosterone-fueled during the shoot out scenes.

As book three opens, we once again find Evan Smoak wishing for day-to-day normalcy that seems out of his reach. To compensate for the unsettled nature of his “work” — namely, his ultra-violent protection of the extremely downtrodden — he has built a lonely life, hidden from all others behind a wall  of secrets. Even though he longs to find his place among the regular people who fill his apartment building, he cannot seem to break away from the killers who want him out of their way.

When Evan receives a call  for help from his childhood mentor, Jack, he jumps into action in an desperate attempt to save the man he considers his father. Despite his high-tech gear and state-of-the-art weapons, Evan is too late to save Jack. Jack’s dying wish is for Evan to retrieve a secret package and keep it safe. Evan agrees before realizing the package is a 16-year-old girl, Joey, who Jack has rescued from the exact same assassin-training program that Evan was a part of as a teen.

Now Evan is fighting to keep Joey safe; keep a team of ex-operatives from killing them both; and trying to find a way to exact revenge on the man who killed Jack. As expected, he goes about these tasks with guns blazing, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake.

Despite the reliance on high-tech lingo and gun-lover chatter, the books expose the conflicted heart of a man who is acting the only way he knows how, all the while wishing he had more choices in his young life and hoping he can give Joey a chance a better life…if only he can save it first.

 

Unqualified by Anna Faris (2017)

unqualified

In this short, funny memoir, comedic actress Anna Faris details the major life events that led her to Hollywood and to her movie and TV career. These events are all filtered through her romance relationships; starting with her 3rd grade crush right up through her two, unsuccessful marriages.

Faris assumes that missteps and mistakes made in the name of love (or at least lust) are something that all readers have in common and writes her stories through that lens. While she has achieved a high level of success, she points out that fame does not stop her from making terrible mistakes in the name of love and romance.

Light-hearted and, at times, a bit raunchy, Unqualified takes us through bad relationships which supplied Faris with enough anger to propel her on to bigger and better things, and the good ones that helped her move toward her professional goals. She attempts to make sense of her life of celebrity by reframing her experiences through more everyday events.

Fun and funny, although not exactly profound, Faris is an endearing as a writer as she is on the screen.

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin (2012)

In my family of devoted book-worms, there are times in which we all retreat into re-reading our beloved favorites. When things are hectic and time is short, when we feel rushed or harried or mentally drained, we all reach for books we know and love, books which we know will both soothe and entertain us. For my younger sons, it is the easy books from their younger years — ones they know will be quick to re-read and good for a laugh — our battered copies of Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid (sometimes even Captain Underpants if things seem particularly unsettled).

For my husband and teenage son, it is always the Harry Potter books, which they will read out-of-order and in random snippets here and there, as a way to settle down after days have have demanded a lot from them mentally.

But for me, it is always my worn, signed copies of the non-fiction books by my favorite author — and my happiness guru — Gretchen Rubin. This month has been trying on many levels, with work, family, and community projects demanding unusual amounts of my time, patience, and mental energy. To calm down and refocus myself, I picked up my copy of Happier At Home, and dove back into Rubin’s reflective, thought-provoking discussions of home. This book always engages and excites me, but I found it particularly poignant this month as my husband and I face a move to a new city. What I think of as my “home” and “neighborhood,” may being changing dramatically, but reading about a deeper, more philosophical approach to these ideals was both reassuring and invigorating.

Here is the repost of one of my favorite re-reads, Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin….

Originally posted September 30 2015 at https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/gretchen-rubin-part-2/

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Happier at Home focuses on the physical spaces we inhabit and the people with whom we inhabit them. Here Rubin looks at her belongings, her relationships, her neighborhood, and her work for ways to enhance happiness for all. (Being kinder and less rushed, holding doors, stopping to say hello: all small ways to strengthen happiness of family and strangers.) Reading along with Rubin, I began to see my small home and its treasures — both living and inanimate — in a whole new light.

Our beloved painting by friend Rachel Zur, covering the entire wall in our living room.

Our beloved painting by friend Rachel Zur, covering the entire wall in our living room.

How can our home be more “ours”…a better reflection of our past and better equipped for our future? The book inspired me to examine the possessions filling the shelves in our rooms. Which items really bring us joy and which ones are taking up physical and mental space in our lives? Out went the boxes of “freebies” (free plastic novelty cups, birthday party gift bag toys) filling two corners of our basement. Also in the donation bag went the dusty knick-knacks and junky souvenirs, freeing up room for collections — such as the rock and shell collection from our month-long honeymoon —  and photos that remind me of loved ones and favorite adventures. As for bringing us joy, the original art we have carefully collected since our wedding tops the list, in particular a gorgeous, wall-sized painting by our one-time neighbor and good friend Rachel Zur.

On a roll, I turned to Happier at Home again! Next up, more carefully creating spaces and sanctuaries in our home to nurture our pastimes and make our time spent at home more pleasurable. We upgraded the broken, minuscule TV in our bedroom to a large one we can actually hear and invested in several scented candles. Suddenly we feel like we are in a hotel room while we watch movies on Friday nights! We also rescued a large hammock from the neighbor’s donation pile, repaired and painted it, and now we all have a shady, relaxing place to read books outside on cool afternoons (perhaps with a glass a wine for the grown ups nearby.)

One of my sons reading in the hammock. He is getting a jump start on the Halloween-themed books we all love in October.

One of my sons reading in the hammock. He is getting a jump start on the Halloween-themed books we all love to read in October.

Determined to focus more attention on the relationships that fill my home with love (or tension), I resolved be more loving toward my husband, so it is easier for him to be more loving towards me. I resolved to offer my kids my full attention, so they can feel that their interests (Pokemon, Ironman, NFL football) are ones I also share and value, even if I have to occasionally fake my enthusiasm. This time of year also brings to mind how much our celebration of holidays — especially Halloween and Christmas — brings us all so much joy and gives us wonderful reasons to spend extra time together. I plan to redouble my efforts and cheerfulness about hanging decorations and watching holiday movies together, something we all agree makes the holidays more meaningful.

Two of my favorite pieces of advice from Happier at Home, however, are the ideas Rubin presents for finding our personal “holy places and private landmarks” and “practicing non-random acts of kindness.” Reading this passage, I literally felt a light-bulb go off! One of my favorite places in the region is a local nature preserve. Several times every week, all year long, we go there: to jog, hike, sled, watch turtles, make iMovies, or just enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet. I am amazed how much more I love the park now that I think of it as one of my personal holy places! Another is the small waterfront restaurant where my husband and I got married by the local clerk of court fifteen years ago. We love to drive past it and remind the kids where it all started!

As for the non-random acts of kindness, I was very moved at Rubin’s call to help people with what they actually need rather than jumping in with “random” acts that might be meaningless or even unhelpful. It means much more, I realized while reading, to offer people specific help with immediate needs — giving my seat on the bus to a pregnant woman or helping an older shopper load bags into her car at Trader Joe’s — in contrast to more random or anonymous acts (paying for the car behind us to cross the bridge). Non-random acts bring me closer my neighbors and allow me to know my help was appreciated. After all, Rubin points out, the man in the car behind us on the bridge could be a millionaire!

Mrs. Caitlin Macy (2018)

At the ritzy, elite private pre-school of St. Timothy’s, New York City’s most wealthy parents come together to form a deliberately unaffected and (outwardly) non-competitive social circle. Underneath the pretense, however, there is a clear hierarchy in place among the well-heeled women who make the daily drop off with their toddlers. The families on scholarship are welcomed but not warmly, relegated to socializing mostly with the nannies. The working moms coldly judged by those who stay home. The rich striving to be accepted by the super-rich, keeping their jealousy barely contained.

Into this mix come three women who, despite outwardly having nothing in common, will soon find their lives intricately linked. Gwen and Phillipa have a connection through their childhood home; Minnie and Phillipa through an early job they shared; and all three through their husbands work in the world of New York City finance.

All three women seem to feel equally drawn to and repulsed by one another. At times they find themselves revealing their darkest flaws, other times lying to cover up their most innocuous ones. With maneuvering, posturing, and manipulations, the three women and their husbands jostle among one another as the tension rises.

Who will reveal the others secrets? What will be revealed from each of their pasts? Or from their husbands? Will those in the group who appear the most powerful, be revealed as the most vulnerable?

Macy does a fantastic job filling readers with a sense of impending dread. It simmers just below the surface as the plot thickens and the tension rises. Readers will feel drawn along, waiting to find out whose life will be ruined and why. A great read!

Fragile by Lisa Unger (2010)

In the small, upstate New York town The Hollows, an idyllic appearance obscures the town’s darker parts, its past secrets always lurking just out of sight. Returning to their childhood home to raise their family are the town’s lead detective, Jones Cooper; his wife and town psychologist Maggie; and their son, Ricky whose recent rebellious streak has his parents on edge.

When Ricky’s flighty, melodramatic girlfriend goes missing, he and both his parents are pulled into the dramatic search for her. Ricky’s newfound defiance of his parents crumbles under his fear for Charlene and the increasingly intense pressure he feels from local police. His parents, meanwhile, are concerned deeply for the missing girl (despite the fact that both dislike her and wish her out of their son’s life) and greatly unsettled by similarities between Charlene vanishing and the disappearance and grisly murder of their friend that happened when they were both teenagers.

As the search for Charlene unfolds, Jones seems to be unraveling. His behavior grows more and more erratic and his relationship to his wife and son grows ever worse. Baffled that this case seems to be affecting her husband so much, Maggie worries that Jones is keeping vital information from her — and the men on his police force — that might incriminate one or more of the people she loves.

Local residents begin to weigh in on the girl’s disappearance and soon what seemed like a runaway situation or possibly a stranger-abduction comes into focus as a crime committed by someone close to the girl.

As with all of her books, Unger writes a fast-paced and character-driven thriller that was hard to put down.