Leave Me, by Gayle Forman

Leave Me Gayle FormanLeave Me
by Gayle Forman
Pub Date: September 6, 2016

When I was in grad school, I would make the drive between Champaign, IL and my parents’ condo in in downtown Chicago fairly regularly. And heading back into Central Illinois, I’d start to see signs for Memphis. If I stayed on the highway another seven hours or so I could be in Memphis. I joked about it with my boyfriend at the time that if our graduate school studies became too much we could run away to Memphis. And on a few particularly hard days, the thought I *could* runaway to Memphis would come back to me. So that’s what I thought of when I started reading this book. (Side note: still haven’t been to Memphis. Still seven hours away!)

Maribeth is a mother, wife, and pretty frazzled magazine editor in New York. Her four-year-old twins are an understandable handful, her job is taxing, and her husband doesn’t quite know how to balance his job with home life. But then again, neither does she. When she’s suddenly hospitalized for a heart attack at age forty-four a lot of other issues suddenly come to a head, and as Maribeth recuperates at home she finds that she is not getting the support she feels she needs to get better, and her life presses down on her. And on a whim she packs a bag and heads to Penn Station. She runs away.

It’s a delicate thing, when YA authors attempt adult novels. Gayle Forman is perhaps most well known for her book If I Stay, which made me weep. I enjoy a number of YA writers, but I approach their adult books tepidly. This one, I thought, found the right balance of not sounding too young while still being light enough for an afternoon read. There’s a lightness and a style in the writing that transfers from the YA genre. For instance, as Maribeth creates a new social network for herself, her new friends have their own special quirks that the good YA writers tend to particularly excel at. And the plot is probably a little more simplified than one might expect from an adult novel, but I still got so swept up in the story that I could overlook any perceived faults like that. I think it aided to the escapism we look for in books like this.

This book pairs well with fellow YA author Rainbow Rowell’s adult novel Landline – two working mothers and wives who find themselves in a crisis of sorts that causes them to reevaluate their lives. And while the husband in Landline is a more developed character than the one in Leave Me, both husbands have traits that are redeeming and attractive while still having their own faults. (The husband in Leave Me reminds me of the men I’ve fallen in love with, so perhaps I’m biased.) You’ll probably recognize yourself or your friends and family in these characters. And looking at the behaviors and patterns that developed for Maribeth to get to a breaking point of needing to runaway might give you some pause to consider if your life is in a similar trajectory.

There’s some language in it, and a handful of scenes that maybe toe the line with what we might consider acceptable behavior, but nothing graphic and it certainly didn’t detract. I zipped through this book a lot faster than I thought I would, and felt enough warm and fuzzies mixed with slight dread to make for a successful and enjoyable read. I nearly read this in one sitting. Give yourself a well-deserved break and give this one a read!



The Hamilton Affair, by Elizabeth Cobbs

Hamilton Affair Elizabeth CobbsThe Hamilton Affair
by Elizabeth Cobbs
Pub Date: August 2, 2016

Like most of America, I am in love with the musical Hamilton. I am obsessed. When the original Broadway cast recording came out late September of last year, I bought it the day it came out, and pretty much didn’t stop listening to it until Christmas, when I felt I needed to listen to holiday tunes. In the vernacular of the internet, I am definitely trash of the thing. So when this book crossed my path, I immediately had to give it a read. I started it anticipating that it wouldn’t be particularly good, and was delighted to find it quite enjoyable.

A quick sum-up for those of you not obsessed with the musical Hamilton — Alexander Hamilton was the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, a Revolutionary War vet and aide to George Washington, and previously most famously known for being killed by Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel. What the musical brings brings into play, and what the focus of this fictionalized account is, is his marriage to Elizabeth (or Eliza) Schuyler that produced a number of children, but was also marred by his affair with Maria Reynolds.

The story of The Hamilton Affair alternates between Alexander’s and Eliza’s perspectives, starting when they are young – Eliza in New York, and Alexander in the Caribbean. I will say I was a little bored with the initial chapters of their youth. I understand the author wanting to give character development and show scenes that influenced these people as adults, but I thought it dragged on a little too long. However, once Alexander and Eliza meet, I thought the book picked up the pace and was far more engaging. I could be biased because of my love of the musical (and imagining Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo in the roles in my head), but the book definitely got a lot more fun once they got together. Despite Alexander’s later affair, it was evident to those who knew them that they were a loving couple, and after her husband’s death Eliza dedicated much of her time to memorializing her beloved husband. That affection comes across so well in the novel, and when the author begins the descent that leads to Alexander’s affair the author explains his motivations in a way that makes some sense. NOT JUSTIFYING HIS ACTIONS, but giving a plausible explanation. Then the story shows the last years of Hamilton’s life, the tragedies that befell the couple, and ultimately reconciliation. (The man did call Eliza “best of wives, best of women,” a line that never fails to make me tear up.)

The author had begun the research and writing of this book before the musical gained acclaim, but I do wonder if a few lines were changed here and there in the manuscript to slyly reference the musical. At least, I found it easy to slip into singing lyrics from the musical as I read, which added to the fun of reading it. And the author for sure used Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton as a reference. I’ve read Chernow’s book, loved it, but it is mighty hefty, and for those of us who might not have the inclination to read such a thick book, this more breezy novel covering some of the same information might be far more enjoyable.

I would recommend it to any fans of the musical, or those at least mildly interested in Hamilton’s life, early American history, or just a good romantic story. It’s well-written, gives historical insights and details, and brings to life two fascinating people pivotal to the development of our country.

Hamilton The Musical

“Best of wives, best of women”





Sigil in Shadow by Constance Roberts

Sigil in ShadowSigil in Shadow
by Constance Roberts
Pub Date: June 12,2016

Thank you Constance Roberts and Sweetwater Books for letting me read a proof of this book!

So, I enjoy fantasy, especially when that fantasy includes a strong female with loyalty and brains. Ellory Dane is one such protagonist. She is not a simpering female waiting for someone to save her: she is a loyal daughter who takes care of her unstable father and makes potions to sell at the local market in order to support her family. Unfortunately, taking care of her father and tending the herbs keeps Ellory so busy she has no time for anything else. Desperately, Ellory even sells her hair to buy enough food and fuel to last through the winter. Between trying to keep her father alive, putting food on the table, and worrying she will never find a man to marry, Ellory has little hope that life will get better.

Then one day, a rumor is spread that Ellory brought a man back from the dead with one of her potions. The king insists on bringing her to the castle to replicate the resurrection potion and to be trained by the royal herbalist. Suddenly, Ellory must learn to maneuver castle politics and hide the truth from everyone in order to survive.

This story was quite a page turner with several twists in the plot. I often found myself saying ‘just one more chapter,’ and then reading another after that to see what would happen next. I enjoyed the focus on medicine and herbs, as well as the way the story examines difficult issues such as social class, addiction, political games, infidelity, and abuse.  The romance is sweet and innocent, with a few funny moments—personally, I got a kick out of the closet scene. Some relationships seemed rushed to me, but all in all I felt it was a well-thought out story with an enjoyable protagonist, a great friendship between Ellory and her mentor Treya, and a sweet romance. I would definitely recommend this to someone who likes fantasy with a strong female protagonist and a compelling story line.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay

tumbling turner sisters

The Tumbling Turner Sisters
by Juliette Fay
Pub Date: June 14, 2016

When I was in undergrad, I stumbled into minoring in film studies. It was pointed out by my advisor that I had taken many elective classes that fit in with a film studies minor, so I thought I might as well go for it. I took a History of Entertainment course that was loads of fun – we had sections on minstrelsy, the circus, vaudeville, silent film, and the professor was a barrel of laughs. Ever since that class my interest is piqued when I hear something about any of those topics, and with this book set in the days of vaudeville just as public favor was turning to film, I figured I had to give it a read.

The father of the Turner sisters gets himself injured badly enough he can’t return to work in the boot factory, so their enterprising mother (who once had aspirations of performing on stage herself) decides her four daughters – Nell, Gert, Winnie, and Kit – would make rent by performing acrobatic feats on vaudeville. Each of these sisters is a unique and distinct person, and it seems at the beginning of the story that the family is somewhat dysfunctional. Nell and her baby are waiting for her husband to return from the Great War, Gert is a strong-willed beauty, Winnie desperately wants to go to college, and Kit is so tall she gets mistaken as being older than she really is. Out of familial need, and a sense of adventure, these four sisters agree to their mother’s scheme and start a tumbling act and hit the road.

What was especially fun about reading this book was following the development of the Tumbling Turner Sisters’ act in the eyes of vaudeville. Traveling acts like that form their own special bonds and friendships – they may only be together a week or so, but when you spend hours on end in a theater together, you quickly learn to lean on each other. Each stop they made brought a new learning experience for them, some good and some bad, and new acts to learn from and be amused by. And you see the four sisters develop more into themselves and bond together as a family through all these experiences. The act goes from being a necessity to keep a roof over their heads into a life they want and crave and enjoy.

So ultimately this is a story about family, and growing up, and becoming the person you want to be. With the added incentive of having some great vaudeville stories along the way!

All the Single Ladies, by Rebecca Traister

all the single ladies rebecca traisterAll the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation
by Rebecca Traister
Pub Date: March 1, 2016

Being a single lady, I have a thing for reading books about the history of single ladies, and think pieces about the state of the single lady. So I was kind of all over this book, which is a combination of the two — demonstrating precedent for how unmarried women have brought about social change in the past, and the state of unmarried women in contemporary life. The author interviewed dozens of unmarried women from a variety of backgrounds for the book, and provides ample statistics on marriage ages and divorce rates and the participation of single women in civic life — there’s a lot to digest. I found myself highlighting A LOT of passages in my Kindle with audible, “Oh yeah! That’s me!” commentary.

Reading this, I figured there’s two very good reason women in the church should read this — one, unmarried women like myself can get some assurance that they aren’t the total social outcasts we’re sometimes made to be in the church (I’m being a little hyperbolic, but at the end of the day, most of us single ladies in family wards do feel pushed to the side to a degree); and two, married women in the church can get a better understanding of the mindset and life of unmarried women in general. And perhaps not be as quick to judge. (Again, painting broad strokes here, but I’m reflecting from experience.) The book is a reflection of how our contemporary world views marriage, motherhood, family, and dating. You may have a good idea of what those ideas are, but this book might help clarify, or give you a better understanding overall of what unmarried women face every day. Continue reading

Heartless, by Marissa Meyer

by Marissa Meyer
Pub Date: November 8, 2016

Usually, I do not read books I know end unhappily. I also didn’t like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass. Still, I couldn’t resist Heartless. The story explains how the “off with your head” Queen of Hearts became the ruthless, cruel, intelligent woman she is in Alice in Wonderland. The journey has several twists and turns that explain different stories from Lewis Carroll’s classic and kept me guessing. Even though I knew how it would end, I had to keep reading because I wanted it to end differently. I couldn’t put the book down, and I couldn’t help but cheer for the woman I knew would become the merciless Queen of Hearts.

Before becoming the Queen of Hearts, Catherine was simply a girl who wanted to change her destiny. Instead of being a member of the royal court who must marry the wealthiest man who offers for her hand, Catherine wants to open a bakery and make the most amazing confections in all the land of Hearts. The King loves eating anything she makes, and Catherine hopes she will be able to get the King of Hearts to give her the title “Royal Tart Maker of the Kingdom of Hearts.” Unfortunately, the adage “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” applies with the King of Hearts. He proposes to Catherine, and Catherine knows she can’t refuse even though she doesn’t love him. To make matters more complicated, the mysterious Court Jester may be the kind of man she could lose her heart to.

To give you an idea of how amazing this book is, it made me appreciate Alice in Wonderland and Into the Looking Glass. I found myself remembering passages from the stories, and wanting to reread the books to appreciate this book even more. Catherine is the kind of protagonist I like: intelligent, strong, independent, loving, and loyal. I love how Marissa Meyer is able to create so many ties with the original stories, while still writing something original that can stand on its own. I would recommend this book to fans of Alice in Wonderland, those who love a good romance with a strong female protagonist, and for readers who love a good story plot with intriguing characters. This is definitely a book to put on your future reading list. I am so elated I received a pre-published copy!

The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan

The Lost HeroThe Lost Hero
by Rick Riordan
Pub Date October 12, 2010

When I saw the new book by Rick Riordan, The Trials of Apollo, I was excited to get my hands on it. The plot sounds fabulous: a god being demoted to be a mortal teenager who has to live at Camp Half Blood with his own children. Before I could get my hands on it though, my niece informed me I must read The Heroes of Olympus series first. With a five book series before me, I knew I needed to get started right away.

If you have not tried Rick Riordan, I strongly implore you to read his series. When I studied gods and goddesses in school, I couldn’t make them stick in my head. Basically, I remembered Zeus. Reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians made the gods and goddesses more real and relatable, especially how he adapts them to the modern day world.  His books make demigods seem possible, and I love that dyslexia and ADHD are signs of the demigods’ powers in his stories.

                The Lost Hero focuses on three demigods: Jason, Piper, and Leo. The three meet up at a camp for troubled youth where they are attacked by wind spirits, and escape to Camp Half Blood– the camp that protects demigods from monsters. Their first day at camp, these three demigods are sent on a quest to save Hera, the queen of the gods. If that wasn’t hard enough, Jason doesn’t remember anything about his past, Piper is worried about her father being kidnapped, and Leo has abilities he can’t reveal. No one believes Jason, Piper, and Leo will succeed in saving the day, but the more insurmountable the odds, the more fun the story becomes. Jason, Piper, and Leo meet multiple gods, monsters, giants, and villains as they complete the first part of their quest in this series. I am excited to see what happens in the rest of the series.