Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017)

little fires everywhere ng

The affluent and well-tended community of Shaker Heights, Ohio was created nearly one hundred years ago with the aim to build a suburban utopia. Precisely planned and governed by copious rules and restrictions, the community aims to be perfect in every way. Shaker Heights has excellent schools, no crime, generous community resources, natural beauty and a uniform look and feel that sends the message to visitors that Shaker Heights is flawless. Being a Quaker village, the town does welcome some poor and disenfranchised individuals into its utopia… as long as they are willing to hide any of the problems or imperfections behind a well-tended facade. The wealthy living there feel not only entitled and safe, but also virtuous for allowing their “less than” neighbors to stay.

“Shaker Heights has been founded…with the idea of creating a utopia. Order — and regulation, the father of order — had been the Shaker’s key to harmony. They had regulated everything to…make a little refuge in the world. Perfection: that was the goal, and perhaps the Shaker’s had lived it so strongly it has seeped into the soil itself, feeding those who grew up their with a deep propensity to overachieve and a deep intolerance for flaws.” 22-23

Into this community come Mia Warren — a wayward artist and jane-of-all-trades — and her teenage daughter Pearl. The mother and daughter move into a rental property owned by Elena and Bill Richardson; whose great wealth allows them to earmark the rental for “needy” tenants. Having lived a nomadic and often spare lifestyle up until now, Mia has arrived in Shaker Heights with a promise to Pearl: they will stay put long enough for Pearl (a genius student) to finish her diploma at the community’s elite public high school and get into college.

Almost immediately, Pearl and Mia draw the attention of the Richardson’s four children. The two sons in the family are drawn to Pearl with her eccentric, bohemian beauty and her stunning intelligence. The oldest Richardson’s daughter Lexie, sees a shy and slightly nerdy girl to take under her wing and Izzy, the youngest daughter, becomes enamored with Mia. To Izzy, Mia is everything the other mothers in Shaker Heights are not: wild, non-conformist, and artistic — a woman who does not care at all about following the rules or fitting in.

Mia, despite her initial unease at the rigidity of the community, settles in once she realizes her daughter is thriving in school and has made friends with the Richardson children. But soon her unease returns, as Pearl begins to grow even closer with the wealthy, wild, Richardson kids: mimicking their behavior and allowing them to assert more and more influence over her.

“To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person, your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. Each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be to return to that place again.” 122

Meanwhile, Elena Richardson notices that her daughter Izzy’s infatuation with Mia continues to grow and (like Mia) worries about the influence this very different, wild, rule-adverse woman has over her daughter. As a woman who has build her life around restraint and obedience, Mia represents someone who is determined cause trouble and upset the “natural” order of things. A solution presents itself: Mia will work part-time as the Richardson’s housekeeper and both women can keep an eye out on the other.

“All her life, Elena had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Better to control the spark and pass it from one generation to the next. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never — could never — set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity.” 161

Mia Warren has spent her adult life hiding and running, but is determined to keep her head down and allow her daughter these few years to be a normal teen. However, Mia is inadvertently drawn into a local scandal — one that pits a poor immigrant woman against one of the town’s wealthiest families — that threatens to expose her secrets to the world, and more importantly, to Pearl.

Once the initial story has been established, Ng’s wonderful writing and story-telling really get a chance to deepen and pull readers further in. Soon we get glimpses deep into the hearts of each of the characters — teen and adult — and see their pain, their worries, and learn more about what motivates their actions. It is in this second half of the book where the author’s characters really shine, and where she is able to present a series of troubling mysteries that she expertly unravels for us.

A wonderfully written and compelling story about what it means to be a mother; what it means to be a family; and what the risks are to disobeying the rules…and the (sometimes even greater) risks to following them.

 

Advertisements

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (2017)

rules of magic hoffman

“Do as you will, but harm no one. What you give will be returned to you threefold. Fall in love whenever you can.” From the Owen Family Grimoire

The three Owens’ siblings — Franny, Jet, and Vincent — have always known they were different from other Manhattan children: with their child psychologist father who sees them as experiments and a mother who makes them follow harsh, incomprehensible rules and lies to them about her family history.

It is only when they become teenagers that just how different they are becomes clear: mind reading, talking to animals, ability to attract or repel people as they wished, and even occasional glimpses into the future are certainly not common gifts. When they approach their parents about these talents, they are told it is nothing, only nonsense. But the children know there is much, much more to it than that.

The year the oldest daughter, Franny, turns seventeen, an summer invitation arrives asking the teens to stay in Salem, Massachusetts with a Great-Aunt who lives in the Owen family ancestral home. All three readily agree to go, despite their father’s protests (their magic should have been nurtured out of them) and their mother’s protests ( they did not know what powerful forces they were tempting.) But the very existence of the invite and the reluctant acknowledgment from their parents that what they could do was magic is too thrilling to ignore.

The teenagers arrive in another world: a place where magical powers are common attributes; where their relatives are considered both cursed and capable of great power; and where they must face the knowledge that the paths they choose could have great consequences.

Franny is curious to know why her mother has lied to her children and hidden from her past. What made her mother so terrified of her children exploring their magical powers? It is in the local library that Franny learns of the curse on the Owens’ witches — cast down upon them more than three-hundred years ago from a women, heartbroken and abandoned– the curse: “ruination for any man who fell in love with them.”

Franny is desperate to know which rules she should follow, the request of the family’s Grimoire, that she “fall in love whenever you can,” or the threat of the family curse that warns of “ruination?” The answer, her beloved aunt tells her, is complicated. It lies in the actions of each member of their family and who they love, but to ignore the curse would be foolish and deeply dangerous.

When a series of accidents, heartbreaks, and deaths occur in quick succession after that summer the three siblings — suddenly alone — know that their magic has grave consequences and that what they choose to do with their powers can indeed ruin their loved ones, and themselves. All three must grapple with the family gifts and the family curse for the rest of their lives: shall they live in fear? In denial? With reckless abandon? What path would be best?

October Family Movie Series!

Every October my family also commits to watching scary (or not-so-scary when my six-year-old is awake) movies on weekends throughout month. Since I received some great feedback when I blogged about our Summer Movies Series, I thought I would put a list of the movies we pull out year after year, and a few of the scary movies we have in the queue this year.

(Read about the summer movie recommendations here https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/summer-movie-series-a-family-quest/ )

For the entire family:

  • Hocus Pocus (this is scarier for some kids than others, but our family LOVES it!)
  • ET
  • Hotel Transylvania 1 and 2
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, Chamber of Secrets
  • Just Add Magic (Amazon original TV Series)
  • Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Disney 1930s) — find it on YouTube
  • Haunted Pumpkin of Sleepy Hollow — find it on YouTube
  • Spooky Buddies
  • Monsters Inc and Monsters University
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Werewolf
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks and Frankenstein
  • Casper (Disney)
  • Daffy Duck Quackbusters
  • Toy Story Terror (2013, TV special)
  • Curious George’s BooFest
  • Dreamworks Halloween Special
  • Its the Great Pumpkin Halloween Charlie Brown
  • Scooby Doo — All of the movies and episodes are great for Halloween, but some take place on the holiday. Try the movies Goblins King, Witch’s Ghost, Frankencreepy (also episodes “Headless Horseman” “Scarecrow, “Cornfield Clem” “To Switch a Witch”)

For older kids:

  • Monster House (this is PG but it scared my kids before they were 9)
  • Goosebumps (2015)
  • The Haunted Mansion (Disney movie with Eddie Murphy)
  • The Goonies — This movie is rated PG-13 but we let our kids watch it, even our youngest, but we do cover eyes during some scenes and there are a few sex references in the opening scenes.
  • Ghostbusters (PG13)
  • Beetlejuice (PG13)
  • Fun Size (PG13 , parents should watch first as it contains lots of relationship drama)

Some movies the adults are checking out this October:

  • The Cure for Wellness
  • Get Out
  • It (we are heading to the theater to catch the remake!)
  • The Sixth Sense (we always pick a few throwbacks!)
  • Psycho (have to include this amazing classic! plan to make our teen watch to see what a true horror film looks like!)
  • Ouija
  • The Conjuring
  • Friday the 13th (got watch at least one slasher flick!)
  • Scream (and for comparison Scary Movie) which we are watching with our teen, who is convinced he is ready for horror movies.
  • X-Files — so, so many great episodes to watch. Perfect for when we’re too tired for a whole movie, but you want to be scared!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter (2017)

the good dauther

Is there any feeling as delicious as opening a book by a favorite author and knowing — from the first paragraph — that you are not only going to love the book, but you are going to ignore all of your responsibilities and stay up way to late to finish it all in one sitting? That is exactly how I felt reading The Good Daughter. Karin Slaughter’s latest stand-alone novel is perhaps her best yet; perfectly paced to keep the reader breathless with anticipation; told from the point of view of flawed but relatable characters; with just enough of the story withheld so that you are kept guessing until the very last pages. It was a absolute treat to read, I only wish it were longer!

Charlotte Quinn was a happy thirteen-year-old girl living in a rural Georgia town, who until late found the only tension in her life to be the precarious position her father holds in the community. Rusty Quinn is a defense attorney to the worst the town has to offer: drunks, abusive husbands, thieves, and drug dealers. This makes him hated among the town police and its more law-abiding citizens, who find his work keeping criminals out of jail deplorable. He is also often targeted by those he failed to keep out of jail, so much so that his family — at the start of the novel in 1989 — have been victims of a arson attack by a disgruntled client that has burned down their house and left them with nothing, forced to live in rotting farmhouse outside of town.

Rusty believes deeply in his work. While he may represent men and women who have failed to make good choices, he truly believes that punishments should fit the crimes and everyone (almost) deserves a second chance. But his work puts him in many dangerous situations and the risks to his family seem to be growing worse, when, one night two armed men break into farmhouse and shoot his wife and older daughter, leaving Charlotte to run for her life.

Charlotte escapes and, showing the grit of a much older woman, testifies in open court against the killers: two brothers from a well-known family of violent criminals. The trial does not lessen the town’s dislike of Rusty and forces them both to live out her remaining childhood being targeted by the killers’ family, who think she framed their relatives. Charlotte also struggles for years to live down the horror of her attack and the loss of her beloved family, all the while living alongside a town that offers daily reminders.

Fast-forward twenty-eight years, we find Charlotte still in her small town, now a defense attorney herself working alongside her father defending the very people the rest of the town wants locked up. Charlotte and her father have struggled for years to heal from their grief; but for Charlotte it remains dangerously close to the surface, a simmering anger that she can only sometimes control. Of late, her marriage has failed and her hold on her sanity seems to be slipping.

Then, by set of almost impossible circumstances, Charlotte finds herself inside of the local middle school when a student with a gun attacks, taking the lives of two people. The shock of the shooting unlocks all of the terror of that night long ago, and suddenly Charlotte cannot keep her demons at bay.

In true Rusty fashion, her father signs on to represent the school-shooter and enlists Charlotte to help him build her defense. However good a lawyer she may be, Charlotte is finding in next to impossible to be involved in yet another traumatic murder trial. She feels so lost and dangerously close to unraveling completely, but cannot help but get involved in the case, since her father appears to believe that the school shooting is far more complicated than the police and the media are presenting it to the public and that perhaps an innocent girl has been caught in a larger web of crimes.

The tale that unfolds is thrilling, intelligent, heart-wrenching, and even at times funny, and shows (once again) that Karin Slaughter is one of the absolute best thriller and crime writers writing today. Not to be missed!

The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor (2017)

black tip shark

When she was twelve years old, Maeve Donnelly was bitten by a shark in the waters outside her Florida home. While this trauma would have left many fearful of sharks for the rest of their lives, the exact opposite was true: Maeve became obsessed with sharks. She made learning about them one of her greatest passions as a child and, as an adult, made protecting and studying them her life’s work.

Maeve’s other great passion was her first and only love, Daniel. Their love began when they were teens on their island home and continued until, in their early twenties, Maeve chose to move to Fiji to study sharks rather than stay with Daniel. Her choice and her absence led Daniel to have an affair that resulted in a baby daughter. That betrayal was too great for Maeve to forgive, she left Daniel and dedicated the next several years to shark research around the world. She channeled her grief and sadness into ground-breaking work; she kept her heart closed to all but her sharks.

“I’d been an island of my own making.” 78

When Maeve returns home to a job on her beloved Palermo Island after years away, she is shocked to find that Daniel and his daughter, Hazel, have moved back after Hazel’s mother’s sudden death. Outraged that he would invade her home and horrified that she would have to face — daily — him and his daughter, the little girl she could not help but feel should have been theirs; Maeve is determined to keep her distance.

But that proves to be much harder than she ever imagined. The island is small and her life and Daniel’s seemed destined to intersect. Soon, being so near to the man she had loved so deeply for so long, begins to weaken her resolve to keep him out of her life. In the end, it is Hazel and her open-heart and her curiosity for the ocean — so like Maeve’s when she was a girl — who breaks down Maeve’s walls. She “slips right over the falls” and back into Daniel’s arms.

“What we were doing was miraculous, as if we’d lost our way back then, had been blown wildly off course, and were finally rescuing ourselves, rescuing our life together.” 126

As she returns to her home, her work at a local marine conservancy, and to Daniel; Maeve begins to settle into a pattern that she cannot help but feels like coming home, the life that would have been if not for Daniel’s betrayal seven years previously. However, there are flaws in this “perfect” new life and, despite her best efforts, they begin to wear on Maeve. Daniel is perplexed by vigilant defense of the local marine life, hurt when it takes up her time, and he is out-right jealous at her plans to travel to Africa for further research.

The more these problems grow, the harder it is for Maeve to ignore the feeling that she is playing house, pretending to be Hazel’s mother and continuing her love affair with Daniel as if his betrayal had never happened. In order to preserve the illusion of perfection, Maeve fear she may have to change her life to suit theirs.

Maeve begins to worry that her relationship with Daniel is a “ghost” that she has been trying to “resurrect,” all the while ignoring that truth that he intends her to give up her hopes for her future — travel, research, work — to fit better into his visions of the future.

“I’d lived with the ghost of him. I’d made a nightly pastime of remembering and imagining him. Resurrecting what used to be. I’d circled back to the place where he’d been severed from my life, trying to graft him back on. What I loved was the memory of him, the hope of him. I loved a Daniel that I’d created, one that didn’t really exist except inside of me.” 256

 

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (2014)

lost lake

“There are not a finite number of things that can make you happy.” 163

The women in Eby Pim’s family are cursed. They are unhappy women, constantly furious that they do not have more — more money, more love, more admiration — and every one of them seems doomed to loose her husband while young. Upon these losses, generation after generation of women in Eby’s family come unhinged with grief, with all that they feel has been forever stolen from them, and they do not recover.

Eby, however, grows into a young woman who is steady and calm. When she marries for love, to a man named George who happens to be very wealthy; the jealous, grieving women in her life do everything they can to ruin her good fortune. So she and her new husband do they only thing they can think of: they buy a small set of cabins on a swampy lake in rural Georgia give all of the rest their money away.

“There was so much happiness in the world. It was everywhere. It was free. Eby never understood why some people, people like her family, simply refused to take it.” 6

With nothing to extort from her, Eby’s family disowns her but Eby and George build something better: they build a family made up of visitors and locals who are drawn to the magic of their Lost Lake resort. Lost Lake, run with love, acceptance, and understanding by the Pim’s becomes a place of refuge, happiness, and contentment for those weary souls who visit. Having spent a life of love with her husband, surrounded by so many in need her, Eby remains strong when George suddenly dies. The family curse to be ruined by grief seems to have passed her by.

Fast forward fifteen year, when Kate Pheris — Eby’s grandniece — losses her young husband in an accident, it seems that she may too fall victim to the grieving curse and crumble under her loss. But a rare bit of magic changes the course of her life; she finds a long-lost invitation to join her Great Aunt Eby at Lost Lake and knows instantly it is a place both she and her daughter, Devin, can go and heal.

So Kate and Devin arrive at Lost Lake and find they are welcome to come there to rest and heal, but sadly the resort is open for only one last summer. As the summer passes, Kate and Devin fall more and more in love with the aging, fading resort that has brought them back to themselves and one another, and they are determined to save it…for they know there are many more lost souls still in need of its healing magic.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand (2017)

identicals

In The Identicals Elin Hilderbrand cleverly re-imagines The Parent Trap for grown-ups; telling the story of two identical twin sisters who have lived completely separate lives until the death of their father brings them together. Harper and Tabitha Frost were inseparable young girls and best friends when, at the age of seventeen, their parents divorced and made the cruel decision that each parent would take and raise one sister, keeping the girls apart. That decision meant the girls relationship began to fray and by their mid-twenties they had split apart for good. Harper went to live with their father on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha remained on Nantucket with their mother; only eleven miles apart but out of each other’s lives for good.

When their father dies, the sisters — along with their cold and controlling mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter Ainsley — are brought back together with maximum drama. All their past hurts resurface, all that they have lost is brought back into focus, and neither woman feels as if the rift between can be bridged.

The universe, however, has other plans for Harper and Tabitha. Both women suddenly desperately need time away from their home islands and their messy lives and a solution presents itself: Harper will live on Nantucket with Ainsley for the summer and Tabitha will live on Martha’s Vineyard and put their father’s estate in order. Just like that the women swap lives and — of course — chaos ensues!

As the two women try restore order to their lives, they both grow stronger and freer in their new roles. Slowly but surely , the sisters begin to build new lives that have room for new adventures, new loves, and for one another. A great summer read!