Fall Mysteries

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Whenever life gets overwhelming or I have a lot on my mind, I tend to fall back on reading mysteries. Maybe it’s because everything gets solved in 300 pages or because the plot will keep my mind from wandering. I’ve read three mysteries in the past few weeks and overdue for some reviews. In this post I’ll review Missing, PresumedThese Shallow Graves and The Girls in the Garden.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner was highly recommended in a number of reviews and seemed to have all the right ingredients for a great mystery — female detective, missing young woman, case with few leads, England in mid-December. But even with the right ingredients, the way it all gets pulled together is also an important factor and this book just didn’t have it. I really enjoyed Sergeant Detective Manon Bradshaw and her messy life, online dating, strong friendships and desire to help an at risk boy after his older brother and protector dies. However, the case was too Gone Girl-esque for my taste. I’m wondering if this will be a start of a series featuring SD Bradshaw and I’d be willing to give the author another shot, but hoping the crime can be less trite with a less self-centered victim.

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly was $1.99 on Kindle and I figured what did I have to lose. These Shallow Graves is a historical mystery set in New York City and I found out later is really meant for the young adult category. Jo Montfort is a pretty girl from a wealthy and socially prominent family, but she aspires to greater things then parties and arranged marriages. She is drawn by the work of Nellie Bly and wants to be a journalist just like her. When her father dies suddenly, Jo is convinced there is more to the story than “an accident” and she begins to follow the trail of lies and deceit. Along the way, she hooks up with a young reporter, named Eddie, and a band of street kids who end up helping her solve the mystery. Overall it was a fun mystery, but a little long.

The Girls in the Garden was by far my favorite of the three mysteries I read. I have always been a fan of Lisa Jewell and was curious about what this mystery would be. Luckily, it still had all the tell-tale features of a Lisa Jewell novel along with an interesting “what the hell happened” (not truly a “whodunit”). Clare and her two adolescent daughters, Grace and Pip, move into a home in London that backs up to a private park for the residents surrounding the park. The park is both an oasis and a microcosm filled with age-old resentments and secrets. At the start of the novel, Pip finds Grace unconscious and bleeding after a summer party and the story begins to trace back the families move to the park and the mystery surrounding what happened to Grace.

After moving in, Grace quickly immerses herself with three home-schooled sisters along with Tyler, a troubled young girl with an absent mother, and Dylan who becomes Grace’s boyfriend. The three sisters have seemingly wonderful parents in Adele and Leo, but everyone seems either in love with or slightly wary of Leo, which makes him a frequent suspect along the way. Pip remains on the periphery as she doesn’t seem to trust this clique of kids. We also learn that the family moved to the park because their father had burned down their home during a psychotic episode and he is now hospitalized for treatment. Mix in the mysterious death of Phoebe 20 years earlier when Leo and Tyler’s mother, Cecelia, were young, and suspicions quickly arise.  I thought Lisa Jewell was at her best in this novel. The multi-layers of characters, the assumptions and slight crushes of both the adolescents and the adults made it a fun read. I don’t know that I’d necessarily categorize it as a mystery, but more of a novel with a mystery within it.

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The Woman in Cabin 10

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I love a good mystery, but hate this new spate of “mysteries” which include narcissistic characters and become hyped best-sellers (yes, I’m talking about Gone Girl and its ilk. See my review here: https://whatwouldjoannaread.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/why-i-hate-gone-girl/ )

When I heard about The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware and saw it compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, I wasn’t sure I would read it (sidebar: what’s with the titles of these novels including girl or woman?). I consulted my friend, an avid reader of mysteries, who suggested I download the sample and see what I thought. I took that advice and liked the first bit enough to buy the whole book.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is an enjoyable and fun British mystery. The main character, Lo, is suffering from a bit of bad luck – her flat was burgled while she was home and while not terribly hurt, this leads to a serious of bad choices. Lo is due to leave in a few days to cover the maiden voyage of the Aurora a high end, boutique cruise ship through the Norwegian seas. Lo is a journalist working for a travel magazine and this is her chance to enjoy a perk trip518wwd6sorl-_sx329_bo1204203200_.

We quickly learn that Lo is kind of a disaster – drinks too much, is insecure, possibly screwed up her relationship with her boyfriend back in London before leaving, has anxiety and tends to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I kept thinking of Lo as a sort of Bridget Jones type, well-meaning and nice overall, but quite a disaster.

The mystery ensues when Lo borrows mascara from the woman in the cabin adjacent to hers (cabin 10) and later hears a loud noise in the early hours leading her to go out onto her veranda and see a woman being thrown overboard. Lo sounds the alarms, but the ship staff doesn’t believe her — for Cabin 10 was never occupied. As her head gets fuzzier with lack of sleep and too many cocktails, Lo receives messages to back off and stop digging. Interspersed in the chapters, we learn that Lo has not been in contact with her boyfriend or family and they begin to believe that she is missing.

Ware does an excellent job of building suspense and leading you down the path of trying to figure out what is really going on. Is Lo hallucinating in some horrible PTSD response after the burglary? Is Lo’s life in danger from digging? Who was the woman in cabin 10 and who killed her?

The story takes twists and turns and is enjoyable through the end. I recommend The Woman in Cabin 10 to anyone who enjoys a good mystery, especially a good British mystery.

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Valley of the Moon

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I picked up Valley of the Moon by Melanie Gideon somewhat reluctantly. It was recommended by a friend whose reading taste differs from mine, but who knows good writing, and the premise – a woman caught between two time periods – seemed a little far-fetched for me. But it’s summer reading season still and I figured what did I have to lose.

I’m glad I took the chance. It was a compelling and interesting read and I have to admit, I’ve been thinking about it days after I finished reading it.

Lux Lysander is a single-mom in San Francisco in 1975, who reluctantly ships her 5 year old son, Benno, off for a visit with her mother in Newport, RI. With two weeks free, Lux heads to the Sonoma Valley for some camping. It is there that she awakes in the middle of the night of a full moon into a thick fog which she follows into Greengage Farm which has been stuck in 1906 after the earthquake that devastated San Francisco.

There Lux meets and falls in love with the lifestyle of Joseph, his wife Martha, his sister Fancy and the other 100 or so residents of Greengage who had set up a self-sustaining farm in the early 1900s. They have recognized that they have been trapped by the fog since the earthquake, but until Lux arrives they don’t understand that the world and time has moved forth while they have not.30008681

Thus begins a journey for Lux and Greengage, with her returning at every full moon when the fog appears. There are tense times when the fog doesn’t return for many months and others when she barely makes it back to her present time. I felt anxious as I read Valley of the Moon, I think because I knew this couldn’t end well. At some point, Lux and Greengage or Lux and her “real world” would be separated indefinitely. Would she leave Greengage behind forever or her son and real life in the 1970s?

I don’t want to give anyway any spoilers, but in the end there is a loss of time and experience and Lux pays the price for her and Benno’s choices, but in the end she almost gets the best of both worlds.

If you are looking for a quick and interesting read, I highly recommend Valley of the Moon.

A Well-Tempered Heart

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I was at our local independent bookstore recently, Inkwood Books NJ, and saw that there was a sequel to the wonderful book, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats which I thoroughly enjoyed last year.

So it was with great interest that I picked up A Well-Tempered Heart to read the book jacket. The plot seemed interesting and I knew the writing would be good, so I had already decided to buy it.  Then the bookstore owner told me that the sequel was just as good as the original, which made me more excited.

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A Well-Tempered Heart picks up with Julia 10 years after her last visit to Burma where she learned about her father’s past and met her half-brother U Ba in The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. Julia is back in New York, dealing with a failed relationship and knee-deep in her work as a lawyer. Sitting in a meeting she hears a voice and thus begins her journey to understand what is going on and a visit back to Burma to get to the bottom of what the voice wants from Julia.

Sendker weaves the stories of Julia, U Ba, Nu Nu and her two sons, Ko Gyi and Thar Thar, effortlessly and beautifully in this novel. Julia’s western biases, particularly about medication, are explored and she begins to appreciate the beauty of the rituals of the Burmese people especially the power of portents. I was pulled along and read the book quickly as I wanted to know what would happen with Julia and if the voice would return.

At the end, I was somewhat disappointed in how Sendker leaves the main characters (trying not to include any spoilers), but I guess it leaves it open for book three, which I will eagerly wait for.

 

 

Island Books

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We are on vacation in the Outer Banks, North Carolina and whenever I am on vacation, I always check out the local book store options. We visited the Corolla branch of Island Bookstore which is found in Historic Corolla Village.

The bookstore was chock full of great selections for kids and adults along with a nice selection of local books – both subjects and authors.

Across the street is a one room school house (currently a charter school) with an adorable free library.

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What bookstore finds have you come across lately that I need to add to my visit list?

 

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Another Brooklyn

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I devoured, while trying to savor, Jacqueline Woodson’s “adolescent” novel, Brown Girl Dreaming, so pre-ordered her novel, Another Brooklyn, when I heard it was being published.

It is a slender book and I quickly read it. Overall, it was a lovely and touching story of a young woman named August growing up and Brooklyn –  her denial over her mother’s death, her close friendships, her father’s conversion to Islam, love and heartbreak and the search for oneself. I had a bit of trouble keeping track of her three friends and their fates as Woodson jumped back in and forth in time in the telling of the story and had to check back to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

But Another Brooklyn leaves a lasting imprint of a quiet beauty and I yearn to read her next book.

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Mom’s House, Dad’s House

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For my clients who are experiencing a divorce or break up of relationship involving children, it is always nice to give them a recommendation for resources. This is one of my favorites when starting the separation and divorce process and focuses on getting the smoothest transition for the kids.

Title: Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making Two Homes for Your Child

Author: Isolina Ricci, Ph.D.

Things I liked:

  • Great practical advice and the author touches on many of the issues separating families face, from ground rules to legal issues to long-distance parenting
  • Feels like a great “how to”- including lots of bullet points and information in boxes which makes it great to skim and find what relates to your situation or at that point in the divorce
  • It feels honest and normalizes so much of the experience of creating two homes for children
  • “Watch your Language,”  and “Retreat from Intimacy” are two of my favorite chapters, if both parents read only those two chapters I think it could make a difference.
  • I also really appreciated the idea of the “second wave” of emotions (she calls them flashbacks) in the chapter “Moving On.” It really normalizes that even when you think all the work is done, new situations and stages can bring up old or new feelings.

Things I didn’t like:

  • There’s not much I didn’t like, some of the  suggestions were  outdated, for example writing things down in a letter would obviously be handled via email and the author doesn’t address text messaging —  let’s all be honest, text messaging creates headaches and misunderstandings in even the best relationships so it can cause problems when communicating about charged issues.

Best takeaway:

I share with many of my parents the idea that there needs to be a shift from intimacy to a business-like relationship and I think her recommendations on achieving that are great. When you apply those parameters, especially in the early stages, it can be protective and help you set clear boundaries. While we have this idealistic view of co-parenting, the practical advice in this book is one I truly appreciate because separating and creating two homes for a child is hard and emotional work.

Note: there is a children’s version of this book that I have not read yet.111405

Freeing Your Child From Anxiety

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This is the start of my efforts to write quick reviews for the books I am reading for my work as a social worker and therapist.

18773667Title: Free Your Child From Anxiety

Author: Tamar Chansky, PhD

What I liked about it:

  • Chock full of good information for parents to help their kids manage anxiety
  • Interesting recommendations
  • Good examples

Things I didn’t like:

 

  • Too dense – could overwhelm parents
  • Some of the recommendations would be better for professionals vs. parents trying to do it on their own.
  • Hard to cover every situation, so some of the examples were too acute

Best Takeaway:

Don’t dismiss your child’s worries (“It’s okay” “that won’t happen”) , but be empathetic and curious to find out more so you can help them work through it (“what’s worry brain telling you”)

 

 

 

 

Eligible

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I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen sophomore year of high school. Over Christmas break, I stayed up too late watching a black and white version on TV which led me to the book and many of Austen’s other works.

As an Austen fan, I am not one of those people who is stalwart in my appreciation and becomes offended by the modern takes. I enjoyed PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley (though I must confess to never having read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was more so due to my lack of interest in zombie fiction), so when I heard of Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice entitled Eligible I was  excited to read it.

Eligible is both an enjoyable, easy read and a clearly intelligent, well-written novel. Sittenfeld re-imagines the Bennet family in Cincinnati where the two oldest daughters – Liz and Jane, a journalist and a yoga instructor respectively – have returned to their aging childhood home from their lives in New York after their father has a heart attack. The youngest – Kitty and Lydia – still live at home and are Crossfit junkies. Mary, the uptight middle sister, is getting her umpteenth degree.25852870

Enter into this world Chip Bingley, who has recently appeared on the reality TV show Eligible (a fictional version of the Bachelor) and his friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, a neurologist at the local hospital. Life gets complicated for the Bennet sisters and their potential love interests. While I don’t want to give way any spoilers, Sittenfeld seems to bring the Bennet sisters into the modern era through the exploration of many modern day concerns —  artificial insemination, hoarding, a spider infestation, a mountain of medical debt, an elopement, transgenderism and a reality TV special. And I enjoyed every minute of it!

I stayed up late and woke up early to finish because, while I knew the outcome of Liz and Darcy and Jane and Bingley from the original, Sittenfeld’s take left me curious and excited to see how she imagined it would all work out. If you are looking for a fun but smart read this is for you. If you like Austen and chick lit, you’ll enjoy this.

Footnote: I had to share this picture of my 3 1/2 year old niece, Darcy (not named in any reference to P&P) who was visiting and picked up the copy I was reading, donned her “reading” glasses and got started on chapter 3. Hopefully, one day she’ll be as excited about reading Pride and Prejudice.

darcy reading copy

 

 

 

 

 

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