Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane (2017)

since we fell

In this new thriller, Dennis Lehane has written a novel that is really two books in one. The first part of the book is the tale of Rachel Childs, a woman trying to make her way in the world following series of devastating events. The second part of the book is a story about whether or not Rachel can rebuild herself after yet another enormous set-back. Together the two parts make for a well-written and thrilling story, with a strong and resilient main character that you cannot help but root for.

As a young girl, Rachel Childs was raised by a single mother after her father abandoned them. This abandonment left Rachel emotionally fragile and her mother filled with rage and bent on controlling and manipulating her daughter, determined to make it so Rachel would never be able to leave her mother to search for her father.

As she grew, Rachel found academic and professional successes, but remained haunted by her father’s desertion and her mother’s emotional abuse. When her mother is killed in a car crash, Rachel becomes determined to find her father once and for all. Along the way, Rachel finds that her mother had lied throughout her childhood, and many — if not all — of the truths she had relied on were never real. News of her mother’s betrayals leave Rachel unsteady and unsure of who she really is, but Rachel is determined to build a life that has all of the things she felt were denied her: stability, love, and honesty.

Flash forward several years, when we find Rachel living in Boston and fast rising through the ranks at a local televisions station as their star reporter. Married to a fellow news reporter, a man who is admires Rachel’s beauty, her success, and her drive but not the wounded woman within; he does not give her what she needs emotionally, but does give Rachel the sense of normalcy after such a tumultuous early life.

When the Haitian earthquakes hit, Rachel is given the chance to become an international reporter for a larger network. Initially, her reporting on the crisis win her acclaim and promotion, but soon the despair of the Haitian people and the horror that she faces while there begin to wear Rachel down. She has an on-air break-down that leads to her being fired, her reputation completely ruined, and her marriage dissolving.

Without the safety net of her job and husband, Rachel descends into the worst mental health breakdown of her life. Now panic attacks, crippling anxiety, and agoraphobia mean she lives like a shut in, unable to complete even the most basic tasks.

Against all odds, Rachel meets and falls in love with a man who promises to restore her life. Brain cares for her, accepts her mental health challenges with love, and helps her build a world where she feels safe… or so she thinks. When a series of strange events happen, Rachel is forced to look at her life — a life she wants to believe is finally perfect after all her past heart-aches — she must decide whether or not her husband has been lying to her, making her crippling fears worse not better, and using her mental state on control her.

And that is just part one of the novel. The rest is a thriller filled with twists and turns, lies, and murder. A wonderful book, perfect for summer!

Garden Spells & First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Garden Spells (2007),  and its sequel First Frost (2014) both by Sarah Addison Allen

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All of the Waverley women possess a bit of magic, never the same as her relatives, but interesting and exciting all the same. Their magic gifts and the special knowledge their magic gives them are well-known in their small North Carolina town, sometimes accepted and sought out, at other times scoffed at and feared. As a result, they are a family of women who always find themselves on the outside of things.

In Garden Spells, we meet Claire, Sydney, and Bay Waverley who all live in Bascom, North Carolina. Their ancestral home is surrounded by a magic garden where the plants can cast spells when prepared just right and in which a old apple tree stands. A tree rumored to show anyone who eats its apples the biggest moment in their lives; apples which the Waverley women who live in the house work constantly to prevent people from eating.

For Claire, who arrived in Bascom at age six, the town and her family who lived in it, were a refuge from the wild and often scary life her mother had lived with her on the road. Claire, like her grandmother before her, prepares foods from the magic garden that bewitch the people who eat them. “Nasturtium mayonnaise gave the ability to keep secrets, crystallized pansies made children thoughtful, honeysuckle wine when served on the Fourth of July gave you the ability to see in the dark, chicory and mint salad had you believing something good was about to happen.” (11) Also, like her grandmother, Claire is a bit of a recluse, fearful of change and wary of building relationships with people who might hurt her. Only through the family catering company, where she sells her magic food, is she a part of the town.

For Claire’s sister Sydney, Bascom was a prison where she was constantly avoided, and at times bullied, because of her family’s oddness. She left town at eighteen planning never to return but now finds herself back, living in Waverley mansion with her sister and her daughter Bay. Bascom, however small minded and mean she finds it, at least offers her and her daughter safety from her violent ex-boyfriend. Sydney’s gift is to be able to tell style a person’s hair and change the outcome of his or her day; a gift that makes her a sought-after hair dresser.

Bay Waverley is only five, but already she knows her gift: she can look at an object or a person and know exactly where it belongs. This means that Bay is always finding lost items, rearranging cabinets, and at times, nudging people towards to situations or relationships where they belong. Although young, she understands that she and her mother did not belong with her abusive father, but here in Bascom. And she also knows that her mother and aunt both belong with men who love them.

The sisters are faced with rebuilding their relationship and helping Bay find a place in a town that neither feels totally at home in. This means Sydney must share her secrets and find peace among the townspeople who mistreated her as a child. For her part, Claire must start to participate in the world more and accept friendship and love do not come with promises to never break her heart, but are worth the risk none the less. The curious nature of their magic blends together just so that all three of the Waverley’s draw good luck, love, and friendship to them all; and they are able to overcome their past hurts and heal.

first frost

First Frost (2014)

“On the day the tree bloomed in the fall, when its white blossoms fell and covered the ground like snow, it was tradition for the Waverleys to gather in the garden like survivors of some great catastrophe, hugging one another, laughing as they touched faces and arms, making sure they were okay, grateful to have gotten through it. It was a relief, putting their world back in order. They always got restless before the first frost, giving their hearts away to easily, wanting things they couldn’t have, getting distracted and clumsy and too easily influenced by the opinions of others. First Frost meant letting go, so it twas always a reason to celebrate.” 10

In a book set ten years after Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen brings back the magical Waverley women with another tale. In First Frost, our main narrator is Bay Waverley, now nearly sixteen and deeply entrenched in both her extended family and Bascom, NC. As October arrives, the Waverley women begin to feel wild and unteethered and cannot help but “want things they cannot have.” The magic tree that grows in the garden at Waverley mansion affects them all deeply, more and more the closer it draws towards the first frost.

In the intervening years since the first book, both Bay’s mother and her aunt have found love and built a loving family in the small town, but their hope to raise Bay without her being ostracized from the town’s non-magic residents were never realized.  Bay remains an outsider at school but resolutely refuses to let it hurt her. She knows, now even more so than when she arrived to Bascom in Garden Spells, that her magical gift — to know where objects and people belong — is exactly that, a gift. Even if it keeps people away from her, especially the boy she has fallen in love with from afar, Josh Matteson. A boy who has laughed at her claims that she belongs with him, spurned her love and left her humiliated.

“She belonged to him. That alone was hard enough to bear. But the fact that she knew he also belonged to her, that he was on a path he wasn’t meant for, was excruciating. Getting him to believe that was the hardest thing she’d ever tried to do. She finally understood that no matter how hard you try, you cannot make someone love you. You cannot stop them from making the wrong decision. There was no magic for that.” 17

Over the course of one month, all of the Waverley women — including now, Claire’s daughter Mariah — must hold the center while the tree and its magic tempts them to take too many risks and put their hearts too much on the line. Despite their sudden desire to keep secrets from each other, it is only together that they can get through the month without too much pain.

First Frost is just as magical and wonderful as its prequel, and it is so fun to see another generation of women in this powerful, loving family grow.

 

 

This One is Mine by Maria Semple (2008)

“Maria Semple writes with comic brilliance in this smart, compassionate, wickedly funny take on our need for more — and the sometimes disastrous choices we make in the name of happiness.” From the book jacket of This One is Mine

This One is Mine

Maria Semple has written a truly extraordinary novel in This One is Mine. It is populated with richly drawn characters; whose stories are compelling, intense, and reflective of some of the best and worst of human nature; and told throughout with smart, crisp, funny voice that is unique to Semple. This first novel of hers is grittier, edgier, and darker than her two more recent best-sellers, Where Did You Go Bernadette? and Today Will Be Different (reviewed here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1mx ) and does not rely, as those two novels do, on gimmicky multi-textural elements.  This novel is simply a dynamic story told by a master storyteller, whose insight into the desperation of people chasing down their version of “happiness” is spot on.

Violet and David Parry are an LA power couple, immensely rich and widely envied for their lavish lifestyle and celebrity friends. They are also deeply unhappy in their marriage, teetering on the edge of divorce, and unable to communicate with one another about simple things…and certainly not about what is happening to their marriage. David finds himself disgusted with his wife’s descent from edgy TV writer and intellectual into a deeply depressed stay-at-home mother whose only past-time — he believes — is spending his money.

Violet also does not recognize herself, physically and mentally emptied by post-partum depression and her husband’s increasingly cruel emotional abuse. She is woken up from her numbness when she meets Teddy, a ex-junkie, musician, and sex addict who makes her feel alive with his obsession with her. Through Teddy, Violet once again is reminded of the smart, creative, sexy woman she used to be; the reawakening of those feelings are like a drug to her. Suddenly, she is doing anything and everything for Teddy, including risking her marriage and custody of her daughter to pursue him and make him love her. The worse Teddy treats her, the riskier her behavior grows, and her discretion vanishes.

On the edges of Violet and David’s life flits David’s younger sister Sally. Sally is gorgeous and sexy, desperate to land a rich husband so she can live a life more like her brother and his wife. In fact, she is so obsessed with creating her “ideal” life that she has become unhinged; mistreating friends, lying to men, and constantly scheming ways to get more of everything she feels is owed to her. Her lies and manipulations lead to disastrous consequences, from which Violet and David are forced to rescue her.

The characters in the novel are all so desperate for a different, better, more perfect life that they begin to destroy themselves in the name of having it all. Semple’s intelligence and wit are on clear display in her writing, as is her wide-reaching knowledge of current events and her startling astute grasp of human nature…at its best and its worst. This book was outstanding; unique, sad, funny, awful, and hopeful all at once, and I could not put it down.

 

Forever Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Elsie Porter is a newlywed, dazzled with love for her new husband Ben Ross. The two are basking in the glow of their six-month, whirl-wind romance and marriage…and then Ben is killed in a car crash.

Elsie’s world is shattered. Suddenly she is not a bride but a widow, her grief at her lost future enormous. She also finds that her legitimacy to grieve Ben, and to make decisions about his affairs, is challenged by those who knew him longer — namely Ben’s mother, Susan — or those who feel her pain is disproportionate to the time she spent with Ben. It is as if her love with Ben has been erased from the earth, with only her left to have witnessed it.

So Elsie must work her way through her heartache and loneliness with only one friend to care for her. Her situation quickly wears on her colleagues and acquaintances, who all seem to want for her to get over Ben and get back to her “normal” life. But Elsie knows that her normal life is gone, and her new life will be slow to start.

The story has Elsie not healing by finding a new romance (as chick lit often does), but by following the advice of a widow who has experience in the process: Ben’s mother, Susan.

Susan has reached out to make amends after the horrible way she treated Elsie; namely denying her marriage to Ben and forbidding from being part of the funeral since neither she nor any of Ben’s family had ever even met her. Elsie is skeptical of Susan’s motives, but feels drawn to the only person on earth who seems to miss Ben as much as she does; a woman (it turns out) who has some very wise advice for a new widow trying to put her life back together.

A very sweet, non-traditional romance novel — the romance takes place completely in flashbacks — but also a good story of women helping one another through a crisis.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen (2010)

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Photo taken by my husband during our beach vacation.

This magical romance novel was a wonderful, quick read; a perfect book to take along to read beach-side. Set in a fictional small town, the book focuses on two women, Emily and Julia, who have recently taken up residence in rural Mullaby, NC.

Emily has moved to a town she never knew existed — to live with her grandfather who she thought had died — after the unexpected death of her mother. She finds that the sleepy town is not all it appears, that magic seems to infuse it and its inhabitants, and that magic seems drawn to Emily from the moment she arrives. One young man in town seems especially affected by Emily’s arrival, but a romance between the two is something many people in town are determined to prevent.

Julia is a big-city pastry chef who has very reluctantly returned to Mullaby 18 years after a heart-break drove her away at the age of sixteen. She has come back to her hometown to put her deceased father’s affairs in order and since she only plans to stay for a short while, she works to keep plenty of distance between herself and the locals…in particular Sawyer, the boy who was at the center of Julia’s reasons for fleeing all those years ago. But Sawyer cannot stay away, for every time Julia bakes a cake it calls him to her like a magic spell.

Before long Julia and Emily become friends and together they try to unravel some of the town’s mysteries; offer one another friendship and guidance through this rocky time in their lives; and try to make sense of the magical events that just might change both their lives forever. I have already put other novels by this author on hold to read on future beach trips!

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (2016)

“For anyone who has wondered what their life might be like at the end of the road not taken” — The dedication, Dark Matter

dark matter

What if you knew in advance that in making one single decision you could alter the course of your life forever, in ways you could not predict and were potentially irrevocable? Would you take greater care in making your choice, follow your instincts, or would you make one choice but spend the rest of your life obsessing over the path not taken? That questions burns at the heart of Dark Matter, a whip-smart science fiction thriller with surprising emotional depth and a rich, well-developed plot.

Jason Dessen, our main character, begins the novel as an average man, on a average night. A physicist of great promise turned mid-level professor of no real acclaim, Jason is struggling with envy over the news that his former roommate (and to Jason’s mind, a lesser scientist) has won a prestigious international prize. The news has rattled Jason, who is happy with his wife Daniela and teenage son Charlie; living an ordinary life in Chicago. But he cannot help, as he walks to a bar to a party to celebrate this colleague, think that he could have been him, that he could have done great things and changed the world…if only he had not chosen to marry Daniela and raise their son.

Beyond all possibility and reason, that exact night Jason is forced to see exactly what the “path not taken” looks like, when he is kidnapped, beaten, and drugged by a masked man who demands intimate details of Jason’s life and — just as he leaves him for dead — asks Jason, “are you happy with your life?”

What follows is a wild sci-fi roller coaster; filled with mind-bending physics experiments, inter-dimensional travel, cutting edge psychotropic drugs, as well as betrayal, lies, and murder. Jason is torn from his life and thrust into another, where he is — and is not — himself. He is presented with alternate versions of who he could have been and what he might have accomplished, if he had walked away from Daniela all those years ago.

While science fiction often tends to be emotionally removed; choosing to sacrifice plot for details of the world the author trying to create, Dark Matter goes in another direction. Crouch delves deep into the emotional landscape of Jason’s life and the wild turn it has taken. Jason’s deep and abiding love for his wife and son are the center of the story, propelling him away from the “alternate” versions of himself and back toward the family he so desperately longs to rejoin. He knows with certainty the path he has taken, not the one he has not, is the perfect choice for him.

 

 

Summer Movie Series — A Family Quest

hello sunshine

In our family, summer is a time to accomplish some serious reading. Yes, its true that we read all year long (a lot) and that reading is at the center of all of our down-time. But in the summer, all that glorious free-time beckons us to read, and read, and read…by the pool, at the beach, on car trips, on rainy days, during half-time at soccer games and boring stretches of baseball games and any other free moment that we can find.

While reading is a major part of our summer, we realized last year that it is a solitary past-time, one that we can only share occasionally. So we instituted a Summer Family Movie Series: a list of summer-themed movies that we can watch together (some just the adults) to be entertained and spend time together. We went on a quest to make a list of all of the movies we could think of that take place during the summer, or that for some inexplicable reason seem “summery,” and decided we would watch as many as possible during the summer…whenever the familiar refrain of “there’s nothing to do” was moaned, we would go to the list and watch one.

Our goal is not to watch them all, but to see as many as possible each year and to save these titles for summer viewing only. We find that their designation as summer movies that we don’t watch otherwise during the year make them seem more special.

I thought I would post a list of our favorite summer movies on the blog, and I would welcome suggestions from readers about their favorites that we might have missed.

Enjoy!

FOR ALL AGES

  • The Parent Trap — both the original, which I love, and the Lindsay Lohan version, which my kids prefer.
  • Earth to Echo
  • The Sandlot
  • Holes
  • Aliens in the Attic
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Phineas and Ferb the Movie
  • Camp Rock
  • Teen Beach Party
  • Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
  • Cars and Cars 2
  • Finding Nemo and Finding Dory
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008 version)
  • Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012 version)
  • Bedtime Stories
  • Field of Dreams (this can be a bit boring for very young kids, but baseball lovers of all ages will enjoy it.)
  • All of the feature-length Scooby Doo Movies. My husband and I loved the show as kids and my kids all love it now. We own many of these movies and they are on a heavy-rotation every summer. (Side note: Scooby Doo Camp Scare takes place in summer.) Some of our other favorites include: Scooby Doo and the Samurai Sword, Aloha Scooby Doo, Pirates Ahoy, Blue Falcon, and Big Top. A full list of these movies can be found here http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070492058/

FOR TEENS AND UP

  • Super 8
  • Forrest Gump
  • Jaws — our teen is really into scary movies, this might not be a good fit for all teens. (Don’t be fooled by it’s PG rating, it was released before PG-13 designations were created.)
  • Jurassic Park 1, 2, 3 and Jurassic World
  • Indiana Jones 1-4 (our family favorite remains Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Independence Day and Independence Day Resurgence
  • Fever Pitch
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (our favorite remains #1)
  • A League of Their Own

FOR ADULTS (clearly some are more low-brow then others, but still watchable, some others which I watch alone because my husband refuses)

  • Rear Window
  • Endless Summer
  • National Lampoons Vacation and European Vacation
  • Before Sunrise
  • Die Hard with Vengeance
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Point Break
  • The Great Outdoors
  • Summer Rental
  • Weekend at Bernies
  • 50 First Dates
  • The Bird Cage
  • Stand by Me
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Friday the 13th (and to a lesser degree, Sleep Away Camp)
  • Thelma and Louise
  • The Hangover and Bridemaids — these are not an official pairing, but they are both wild wedding comedies that we seem to watch back to back every summer… definitely not for kiddos!!