Oprhan X by Gregg Hurwitz (2016)

Series: Evan Smoak Book #1

This book was a fabulous choice to dive into on the long, hot car ride to the beach for summer vacation… the drive passed almost unnoticed, since I was transported to LA and Las Vegas in search of bad guys alongside Evan Smoak. Orphan X is a fast-paced, exciting, has a fabulous (sexy and dangerous and kind) main character and added a nice dose of testosterone to my otherwise female-centric beach reading selections.

Evan Smoak is the perfect male protagonist for a heart-pounding summer thriller. A former Black Ops super-spy and assassin turned defender of the downtrodden; he is super-smart, deeply mysterious, gunslinging ass-kicker, who is helped along in his missions by an mountain of super high-tech gadgets and tricked out vehicles. To round things out, he is also a tender-hearted man who no longer wants to sell his skills to the bad guys but rather to use his skills to help the truly powerless. He is one part Jason Bourne; one part Robert Langdon; one part Indiana Jones…which adds up to a fabulous character who I instantly loved.

The book contains all of the elements of a summer block buster: guns, bombs, damsels in distress, bloody fights, car chases, shoot-outs; along with touch murder and mayhem. So fun! A perfect tale of intrigue and espionage to read poolside. It is only book one in the series!

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Happier…On Vacation

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Photo my husband captured on our beach trip of the full moon over the Atlantic Ocean.

“We should be working to discover the laws of our own nature. I had to build my happiness on the foundation of my character; I had to acknowledge what really made me happy, not what I wished made me happy.”

I cannot think of a better way to spend a beautiful, relaxing family beach vacation than to relax, oceanside, and deeply contemplate happiness. Last week, I did just that by re-reading my three favorite non-fiction books of all time: The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better than Before…all by Gretchen Rubin.

Even after multiple re-readings (my copies are dog-eared, heavily underlined, and battered from use) Rubin’s books still offer me deep insights into the nature of happiness. Throughout the week, read-aloud passages from her book sparked deep and heartfelt conversations with my family about ways many ways we can welcome more happiness into our lives and the lives of our loved ones. I cannot begin to explain how, well, happy it makes me to be reminded that I can have a profound affect on everyone around me simply by making small decisions every single day to be more kind, loving, enthusiastic, and fun.

Here are my three original posts about her books, enjoy!

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/gretchen-rubin-part-1/

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/gretchen-rubin-part-2/

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/gretchen-rubin-3/

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty (2005)

As a fan of all of Liane Moriarty’s novels, I was excited to pick up The Last Anniversary and find that I had left one unread. The day before we left for our annual beach trip, I settled in to bed early and read the entire book. While not as wonderful as some of her other novels (my favorite remains Big Little Lies), it was filled with great character portraits and juicy family dramas that she is know for.

The novel tells the story of the members of an extended Australian family who live on Scribbly Gum Island off the coast of Sydney. Deftly moving between the points of view of the various members of the family, and also moving us back and forth through time, Moriarty presents current-day dramas as well as the moments in the past — stretching as far back as the 1930’s — that led up to them.

When the story begins, we meet our main character Sophie who, at almost forty, is feeling panicked at the thought that she has missed her chance for marriage and family. She finds herself dwelling on her most recent boyfriend Thomas — whose proposal she turned down two years prior — when she is shocked to learn that his aunt has died and left Sophie a house on Scribbly Gum.

This bequest to give the house to a non-family member stirs up hostility and ill-will among the family, all of who are struggling with other issues beyond that of the loss of their Aunt and her unusual will. Each member of the family tells her or his story, past and present, in their own voice and allows us to see what is prompting their, sometimes outsized, reactions to recent goings on.

We meet Rose; an aging woman who swamped by grief and is growing tried of secrets. Also Grace, a beautiful artist so deep in the clutches of post-partum depression that she is nearly suicidal. Grace’s husband Callum who deeply loves his wife but is terrified of how much she has changed since the baby arrived. Margie, an overweight, middle-aged woman who has recently decided her life is no longer working for her, including her marriage to the mean and small-minded Ron. Veronika, a young woman filled inexplicably with rage toward her family and friends and who is working to pit them all against one another. Finally, the head of the family and local celebrity Enigma who relishes her role as local legend and family secret-keeper and who is getting very put out by her family’s lack of interest in keeping secrets secret.

Their stories unfold together and in the end paint a deep and touching picture of a family…in all it’s loud, messy, loving, complicated, and funny glory.

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Map from the book jacket of The Last Anniversary.

The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta (2016)

Book 5 in the Prosecutor Anna Curtis series

Author Allison Leotta has written another exciting, entertaining legal thriller with Prosecutor Anna Curtis at the helm, giving readers the tense action of the genre, with a lot less testosterone and much more heart.

Our heroine is a young, federal prosecutor who has dedicated her career to defending women in abuse, assault, and domestic violence cases as a way to chase away the ghosts of her own childhood spent terrified by her abusive father. Leotta handles the subject of violence against women with restraint, however, and her stories never contain gratuitous depictions of the crimes, which can be a relief for more sensitive readers. The novels all highlight the author’s extensive personal knowledge of the federal prosecution laws and her stories capture for readers a sense of what a delicate tight-rope prosecutors must walk to respect the rights of the accused while they fight to put them in jail for their crimes.

The Last Good Girl tackles the topic of sexual assault and violence against women on college campuses. Set on the campus of a fictional, large, state University, the story not only discusses of the culture of rape, excessive drinking and drug abuse, and coerced, non-consensual sex but also the very real threat young women face from school administrator’s who silence victims and refuse to punish sexual predators. In this story, a young rape victim has gone missing after several months of attempts to bring charges against a wealthy fraternity boy for drugging and raping her.

As Anna Curtis and her team search for the girl, they learn that at every turn she was discouraged from filing charges by campus police; she was humiliated by the quasi-legal proceedings of the Student Judicial Committee; and finally unsuccessful in her attempts to have the boy expelled from campus…all despite having knowledge that he was a serial rapist.

Following a trail of evidence that includes online posts, text messages, You Tube videos as well as more traditional physical evidence, Anna begins to build a case against the fraternity boy while searching for the missing girl, desperately hoping that she has not been forever silenced.

A great, fast-paced book to kick off summer reading season!

New Books for Summer Reading!

Oh my! How I love the experience of going to the library and finding not one or two books on hold, but instead finding fifteen! Using the hold shelf is like on-line shopping, without any of the guilt.

summer book stack

The books I just picked up at the library today!

Below is a list of books that I plan to read in the coming weeks, based on recommendations of friends, book club members, and the best sellers list. I plan to post reviews of the good ones as I finish them.

  • Girl Waits with Gun (Amy Stewart) — Historical fiction about a woman in 1914 who had no interest in domestic life and instead becomes one of the nation’s first female crime fighters. As a lover of Maisie Dobbs, this one sounds promising.
  • Orphan X (Gregg Horowitz) — Action-packed thriller about a boy pulled from an orphanage and trained to become an assassin for the US Government.
  • The Last Good Girl (Allison Leotta) — the fifth legal murder mystery story featuring the spunky, brilliant prosecutor Anna Curtis. It is absolutely worth reading the first four books in Leotta’s series!)
  • Eligible (Curtis Sittenfeld) — a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day American. Getting dynamite reviews!
  • The Orchardist (Amanda Coplin) — historical fiction set is the rural Pacific Northwest, bringing together two pregnant teens and a man who runs a remote apple farm.
  • The Last Anniversary (Liane Moriarty) — Moriarty is the master of the sexy melodrama. Written in 2005, this is a novel of hers that I have never read: it tells the story of woman who wonders whether she made the right choice to turn down a lover’s proposal years before. I am looking forward to it, as none of her books disappoint!
  • Bell Weather Rhaspody (Kate Racculia) — recommended to readers who love Rainbow Rowell, this novel is part-mystery, part love letter to 1990’s: combining humor, music, and murder.
  • Need (Joelle Charbonneau) — a young adult novel about a website that charges teens a terribly high price for joining.
  • Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) — The cult-classic written in the early 1990’s, but popularized by the recent TV show based on the novels, about a woman who can time travel but only between 1945 and 1743 both ages that are being ravaged by war.
  • So You Want to Be a Wizard (Diane Duane) — a children’s chapter book that is rumored to have inspired JK Rowling and her Harry Potter books. We plan to read it out loud to the kids.
  • The Devil in the White City (Erik Larson) — a non-fiction book by an author considered one of the best non-fiction writers working today. Set at the 1893 World’s Fair it tells the story of both the Fair and a serial killer haunting it.
  • Travelers Rest (Keith Lee Morris) — written by a former professor of mine and a colleague of my husbands, this is a thriller about a haunted hotel located on a remote Idaho highway.

 

A Wedding In Provence by Ellen Sussman (2014)

More American couples get married in June than any other month, and so the start of summer means that a huge number of us will be celebrating an anniversary, a guest at a wedding, or perhaps, getting married ourselves. Weddings bring out a host of strong, conflicting emotions for all involved which makes them a popular topic for novelists to mine.

A Wedding in Provence uses the wedding on a couple in their fifties, both entering into a second marriage, as the setting in which to explore the complex issues surrounding love, marriage, commitment, loneliness, and family. Set at a gorgeous inn in the hills above the Mediterranean Sea, Olivia and Brody have flown from American to celebrate their wedding weekend with a small circle of friends, including Olivia’s two adult daughters. The heightened importance of the occasional strongly affects all of the guests; soon each person is forced to face their own feelings about marriage and relationships… both the good and bad.

Although the novel is short and uncomplicated, it offers a lovely set of stories about love and romance in a beautiful setting, and was worth a read. Although I feel I must add, my favorite book about weddings and the emotions they stir up remains Elin Hilderbrand’s Beautiful Day. Be sure to check that one out as well.

Managing Family Library Loans for Summer

My family and I are extraordinarily heavy library users all year long. Our family of five visits our library, in person or on-line, every single day of the year in order to place on hold or check out books, magazines, movies, CD’s, e-books, audio-books, and to attend library programs, including book clubs for all ages.

In the summer however, when school is out and the long, lazy days of summer stretch out in front of us, we become downright professional library goers. Since I do not sign my children up for summer camps (other than one week of overnight camp for the 8+ crowd) and because they are very prolific readers, they spend several hours every single day reading or listening to books. And that is just on regular summer days; the long, hot car rides to and from family beach and camping vacations mean even more books are needed than usual.

My husband and I, prolific library book readers in our own right, also kick in to high gear in with our summer book check-outs, since we have hours of lounging by the pool or on the beach (while our kids splash and play) to read; not to mention those hot summer evenings when there is nothing better than sitting on the porch sipping wine and reading novels while the fireflies light up the yard.

Since we are regularly checking out the maximum 99 items from the library in the summer, I am often asked things like “how many books a week do you lose?” or “how much do you pay every week in fines!?” It is generally assumed that , in order to keep up with all of this reading, we must pay a price. But that is not the case! We have only lost one book in nine years and the only fines we pay are for books we just have to finish but cannot renew. People do not believe me when I tell them this, but all of the librarians at our local branch can vouch for us…in fact, it is a running joke among the librarians that my family single-handedly boosts our branch’s circulation.

As the child of a librarian (who was also the mother of five readers, not including her and my father who also read constantly), I grew up with a regimented system for organizing library books which I employ for our family and it has been near fool-proof.

Here are our secrets:

  • We only use ONE library card for the entire family. I know that many parents argue that library cards are a powerful symbol to children that using their local library is a privilege they should treasure, and I would NEVER disagree with that. All my kids have one but no one is allowed to use them. The reason for no kid cards (or if you have a forgetful spouse*), is that if your kids can check out books without your knowledge — not to mention DVD’s which have a $1 per day fines! — that can be a recipe for enormous fines or revoked cards. Everyone, even my husband and I, use one primary card. One card = one record = no surprises.
  • We use the online library system constantly. At any time I can review our account online to see what we have checked out, on-hold, on the e-readers, and when everything is due. We can put books that we are dying to read on hold so that we don’t have to endlessly search the shelves for best-sellers. It is easy enough that my 13 and 9 year old’s can request holds as much as they would like. The online system also sends us to get electronic notices of due dates; when holds arrive at our local branch; and we can see where “in line” we are for books on hold. Our library also has an app that allows us to stop anything we are doing — shopping, talking to friends, listening to the radio — and put books on hold!
  • Library books have one home. Every reader in my house as one large, shallow basket that holds all of the books they have checked out. The basket has only books for that child (or adult) and is always stored under their bed. Those books can only leave the basket to be read and must be returned to the basket each night before bed or put in the “finished” basket to go back to the library. Even my husband and I have our own baskets!
  • Library books do not leave the house without pre-approval. No one in my house can take library books to school, to sleepovers, to the pool, or even in the car without getting my okay. This ensure that no library books are lost outside of the house (because, let’s face it: lost in the house just means they need to look harder.)
  • Library books do not go on vacation (and only rarely to the pool). It is simply far too easy for a library book to get lost or damaged on vacation — especially at the beach — and so I have a firm rule that they cannot come along. Instead, we all go to the local thrift shop and stock up on paperbacks that we can read without fear of damage. As for the pool, my kids can take ONE book to the pool assuming there is no other non-library book in the house to read (or if the one they are reading is just too good to stop) and they must follow strict rules about not getting the book wet.
  • We employ the Returns Basket. We have a sixth basket which we can the “returns basket” or sometimes just the “finished basket” in which every single book, immediately upon completion is deposited: the only exceptions are books that are going to be re-read or read by a family member (in that case they are deposited into that person’s personal basket). This is also where all CD’s or DVD’s go the minute they are ejected from the player. That way, every day when we head to the library we have a stack of books ready to return. This means fewer books to keep track of, as well as room for more on our card!
  • We discuss “book status” with one another.  We are constantly sharing books in our house, so we are constantly checking in about where they are, how much longer one reader might need it, and which basket it might be in at the moment. This allows us all to have a sense of what books are checked out on our card. For example, my two older sons are obsessed with cars and often each checks out several non-fiction books and magazines about cars. They check in with each other to swap, and sometimes even to say “hey, have we read this one yet?” before putting something on hold. We also do the family-wide check in to say “how many days until this is due?” or  “can this be renewed?” so that everyone — not just me! — has a sense of which books to get along with finishing first.
  • NO LIMITS or RESTRICTIONS (within reason)! This is my favorite rule. My children are allowed to check out as many library materials as they want, of any kind that they are interested in, with only minimal scrutiny (for example, our teenage son can watch PG13 movies, but not R) and the only limit is the number of materials the card will allow. We NEVER restrict the type of material: e-books and audio-books are equal in our minds; we embrace comic books and graphic novels completely; and we are loose with the term “age appropriate.” If they want to read it — even if it is an 1000 page encyclopedia on car engines — we are happy to oblige. Censoring or limiting books would lead to less reading, and that is the opposite of what we want for our kids.

Happy Library Lending!

*In his defense, my husband is an academic and is used to having books he checks out from the university library for six-months, which makes it easy for him to forget that in the real world we only get them for three weeks.

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My oldest son’s book basket (which slides out from under his bed.) Below are the baskets beneath his brothers’ beds.