It Starts with Us

I was so excited to read another Colleen Hoover book that I pre-ordered It Starts with Us, the sequel to It Ends with Us. “Lily and her ex-husband, Ryle, have just settled into a civil coparenting rhythm when she suddenly bumps into her first love, Atlas, again. After nearly two years separated, she is elated that for once, time is on their side, and she immediately says yes when Atlas asks her on a date. But her excitement is quickly hampered by the knowledge that, though they are no longer married, Ryle is still very much a part of her life—and Atlas Corrigan is the one man he will hate being in his ex-wife and daughter’s life. Switching between the perspectives of Lily and Atlas, It Starts with Us picks up right where the epilogue for the “gripping, pulse-pounding” (Sarah Pekkanen, author of Perfect Neighbors) bestselling phenomenon It Ends with Us left off. Revealing more about Atlas’s past and following Lily as she embraces a second chance at true love while navigating a jealous ex-husband, it proves that “no one delivers an emotional read like Colleen Hoover” (Anna Todd, New York Times bestselling author).” (Amazon) While I didn’t love it at first, it grew on me as I went and I ended up enjoying Hoover’s plot again. She’s a solid chick-lit master.

Signal Fires

I LOVE Dani Shapiro. Inheritance was one of my all-time favorites. Signal Fires was great, but not Inheritance good. “Signal Fires opens on a summer night in 1985. Three teenagers have been drinking. One of them gets behind the wheel of a car, and, in an instant, everything on Division Street changes. Each of their lives, and that of Ben Wilf, a young doctor who arrives on the scene, is shattered. For the Wilf family, the circumstances of that fatal accident will become the deepest kind of secret, one so dangerous it can never be spoken. On Division Street, time has moved on. When the Shenkmans arrive—a young couple expecting a baby boy—it is as if the accident never happened. But when Waldo, the Shenkmans’ brilliant, lonely son who marvels at the beauty of the world and has a native ability to find connections in everything, befriends Dr. Wilf, now retired and struggling with his wife’s decline, past events come hurtling back in ways no one could ever have foreseen. In Dani Shapiro’s first work of fiction in fifteen years, she returns to the form that launched her career, with a riveting, deeply felt novel that examines the ties that bind families together—and the secrets that can break them apart. Signal Fires is a work of haunting beauty by a masterly storyteller.” (Amazon) I do recommend this read, but it wasn’t quite 5-stars for me.

The Bad Muslim Discount

How could you not pick up a book titled The Bad Muslim Discount? I heard about this book from a current parent at my school and then was send the book by the parent as a gift. What a treat! “It is 1995, and Anvar Faris is a restless, rebellious, and sharp-tongued boy doing his best to grow up in Karachi, Pakistan. As fundamentalism takes root within the social order and the zealots next door attempt to make Islam great again, his family decides, not quite unanimously, to start life over in California. Ironically, Anvar’s deeply devout mother and his model-Muslim brother adjust easily to life in America, while his fun-loving father can’t find anyone he relates to. For his part, Anvar fully commits to being a bad Muslim. At the same time, thousands of miles away, Safwa, a young girl living in war-torn Baghdad with her grief-stricken, conservative father will find a very different and far more dangerous path to America. When Anvar and Safwa’s worlds collide as two remarkable, strong-willed adults, their contradictory, intertwined fates will rock their community, and families, to their core. The Bad Muslim Discount is an irreverent, poignant, and often hysterically funny debut novel by an amazing new voice. With deep insight, warmth, and an irreverent sense of humor, Syed M. Masood examines universal questions of identity, faith (or lack thereof), and belonging through the lens of Muslim Americans.” (Amazon) I very much enjoyed this novel and the differing perspectives. In addition, I haven’t read many books about Muslim Americans, so it was a “novel” subject.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day

I volunteer each year to be a Literature Circles mentor for Grade 6 students. That means I have to read some YA each year. The first book for this year was Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson. I had high hopes for this selection since it wasn’t myth or fantasy YA, which I really despise. However, I didn’t love the book along the way until the end when things sped up and came together. Amazon: “Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one-of-a-kind. Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan, more of a quest, really, to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.” Overall, this was fine, but not amazing for me.

The Lost Summers of Newport

I almost always enjoy books by Lauren Willig, Beatriz Williams, and Karen White (why does Beatriz always get the top billing with these). They are creative and interesting and I like the format. This one, as many of theirs, takes place in three eras: “2019: Andie Figuero has just landed her dream job as a producer of Mansion Makeover, a popular reality show about restoring America’s most lavish historic houses. Andie has high hopes for her latest project: the once glorious but gently crumbling Sprague Hall in Newport, Rhode Island, summer resort of America’s gilded class—famous for the lavish “summer cottages” of Vanderbilts and Belmonts. But Andie runs into trouble: the reclusive heiress who still lives in the mansion, Lucia “Lucky” Sprague, will only allow the show to go forward on two conditions: One, nobody speaks to her. Two, nobody touches the mansion’s ruined boathouse. 1899: Ellen Daniels has been hired to give singing lessons to Miss Maybelle Sprague, a naive young Colorado mining heiress whose stepbrother John has poured their new money into buying a place among Newport’s elite. John is determined to see Maybelle married off to a fortune-hunting Italian prince, and Ellen is supposed to polish up the girl for her launch into society. But the deceptively demure Ellen has her own checkered past, and she’s hiding in plain sight at Sprague Hall. 1958: Lucia “Lucky” Sprague has always felt like an outsider at Sprague Hall. When she and her grandmother—the American-born Princess di Conti—fled Mussolini’s Italy, it seemed natural to go back to the imposing Newport house Nana owned but hadn’t seen since her marriage in 1899. Over the years, Lucky’s lost her Italian accent and found a place for herself among the yachting set by marrying Stuyvesant Sprague, the alcoholic scion of her Sprague stepfamily. But one fateful night in the mansion’s old boathouse will uncover a devastating truth…and change everything she thought she knew about her past.” (Amazon) I stayed up late to finish and learn all the mysteries (which had kept me guessing), which I haven’t been able to do for a while because I’m always tired, so that’s the mark of a good story, certainly. I’d recommend this one.

Nora Goes Off Script

While I hesitate to do it, I have to give Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan five stars. I am certain it is not a life’s best book, but in this moment, I enjoyed the diversion so much that I have to do it. Amazon: “Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it’s her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage’s collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it’s picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne’er do well husband Nora’s life will never be the same. The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He’ll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it’s the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart. Filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, Nora Goes Off Script is the best kind of love story—the real kind where love is complicated by work, kids, and the emotional baggage that comes with life. For Nora and Leo, this kind of love is bigger than the big screen.” I’ll bet there are others of you who are looking for a feel-good right now. This book is it. Enjoy!

Fly Girl

I am not sure how Fly Girl by Ann Hood ended up on my list, but I really enjoyed it. Amazon: “In 1978, in the tailwind of the golden age of air travel, flight attendants were the epitome of glamor and sophistication. Fresh out of college and hungry to experience the world—and maybe, one day, write about it—Ann Hood joined their ranks. After a grueling job search, Hood survived TWA’s rigorous Breech Training Academy and learned to evacuate seven kinds of aircraft, deliver a baby, mix proper cocktails, administer oxygen, and stay calm no matter what the situation. In the air, Hood found both the adventure she’d dreamt of and the unexpected realities of life on the job. She carved chateaubriand in the first-class cabin and dined in front of the pyramids in Cairo, fended off passengers’ advances and found romance on layovers in London and Lisbon, and walked more than a million miles in high heels. She flew through the start of deregulation, an oil crisis, massive furloughs, and a labor strike. As the airline industry changed around her, Hood began to write—even drafting snatches of her first novel from the jump-seat. She reveals how the job empowered her, despite its roots in sexist standards. Packed with funny, moving, and shocking stories of life as a flight attendant, Fly Girl captures the nostalgia and magic of air travel at its height, and the thrill that remains with every takeoff.” It was an enjoyable memoir, though there were a few times where she repeated information, which just seemed like poor editing (if only I had that job…). But overall, a good read, especially if you either like memoirs or Ann Hood.

The Guest Book

I gifted The Guest Book by Sarah Blake to a friend who summers in Maine a few years ago, but never read it myself. Two members of my tiny book club were reading it when we were choosing next month’s book, so we decided it would be a good choice. And, I got it from the library on audio. Amazon: “No. It is a simple word, uttered on a summer porch in 1936. And it will haunt Kitty Milton for the rest of her life. Kitty and her husband, Ogden, are both from families considered the backbone of the country. But this refusal will come to be Kitty’s defining moment, and its consequences will ripple through the Milton family for generations. For while they summer on their island in Maine, anchored as they are to the way things have always been, the winds of change are beginning to stir.  In 1959 New York City, two strangers enter the Miltons’ circle. One captures the attention of Kitty’s daughter while the other makes each of them question what the family stands for. This new generation insists the times are changing. And in one night, everything does. So much so that in the present day, the third generation of Miltons doesn’t have enough money to keep the island in Maine. Evie Milton’s mother has just died, and as Evie digs into her mother’s and grandparents’ history, what she finds is a story as unsettling as it is inescapable, the story that threatens the foundation of the Milton family myth. Moving through three generations and back and forth in time, The Guest Book asks how we remember and what we choose to forget. It shows the untold secrets we inherit and pass on, unknowingly echoing our parents and grandparents. Sarah Blake’s triumphant novel tells the story of a family and a country that buries its past in quiet, until the present calls forth a reckoning.” I didn’t love The Guest Book. While it might have been better if I had read it, I found my mind wandering too much in the listening and wasn’t too interested in the cast of characters.

Counterfeit

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen was a fun, light, quick read. “Ava Wong has always played it safe. As a strait-laced, rule-abiding Chinese American lawyer with a successful surgeon as a husband, a young son, and a beautiful home—she’s built the perfect life. But beneath this façade, Ava’s world is crumbling: her marriage is falling apart, her expensive law degree hasn’t been used in years, and her toddler’s tantrums are pushing her to the breaking point. Enter Winnie Fang, Ava’s enigmatic college roommate from Mainland China, who abruptly dropped out under mysterious circumstances. Now, twenty years later, Winnie is looking to reconnect with her old friend. But the shy, awkward girl Ava once knew has been replaced with a confident woman of the world, dripping in luxury goods, including a coveted Birkin in classic orange. The secret to her success? Winnie has developed an ingenious counterfeit scheme that involves importing near-exact replicas of luxury handbags and now she needs someone with a U.S. passport to help manage her business—someone who’d never be suspected of wrongdoing, someone like Ava. But when their spectacular success is threatened and Winnie vanishes once again, Ava is left to face the consequences.” (Amazon) This was enjoyable. Nothing amazing, but a good read nonetheless, especially to add to a beach bag.

The Latecomer

I SLOGGED THROUGH The Latecomer by Jean Henff Korelitz. It was SO long and SO slow. By the end, I didn’t even enjoy it, but I had to find out the ending. Amazon: “The Latecomer follows the story of the wealthy, New York City-based Oppenheimer family, from the first meeting of parents Salo and Johanna, under tragic circumstances, to their triplets born during the early days of IVF. As children, the three siblings – Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally – feel no strong familial bond and cannot wait to go their separate ways, even as their father becomes more distanced and their mother more desperate. When the triplets leave for college, Johanna, faced with being truly alone, makes the decision to have a fourth child. What role will the “latecomer” play in this fractured family?” (Amazon) I’d give this one a pass – the slow burn just isn’t worth it.