Book Bites

It’s Hot Out There!

In South Florida I’m either floating around the pool with a book or hiding from the sun…with a book. Here’s the latest:

The Spoonbenders by Daryl GregoryWell, here’s a kooky bunch. Back in the day the (Amazing) Telemachus family were famous for their inexplicable talents. While dad, Teddy, was a proud con man, mom, Maureen, was an honest-to-goodness psychic. Together, they produced three children, each with special talents; Irene (human lie-detector), Frankie (tele-kinesis) and Buddy (mom’s psychic gene) and tried to make a name for themselves on the entertainment circuit, until a rival magician (complete with twisty mustache) showed Teddy to be a fake on national television. Fast-forward to 1995, Maureen has been dead for 20 years and Teddy has been a disengaged parent to three adult children who never learned how to control their…gifts. Irene’s fourteen-year-old son Matty has been trying in vain to get his family to talk about their past (did Grandma Mo really help the government during the Cold War?) as his own strange talents start to take shape. Mom is stubbornly tight-lipped but Uncle Frankie, who definitely inherited the scammer influence from his old man (and still bitter about their family’s defamation), is hoping young Matty can help reclaim the family fame aaaand help him get out of hot water with a bunch of loan sharks. Poor Buddy is basically a reclusive mute, waiting in silent anguish for a terrible event, that could harm his whole family. The dialogue is often hilarious and sounds like the real deal among parents and siblings. A clever, fun story, with strong charming characters.

The People We Hate At The Wedding by Grant Ginder

This one had me at the snarky title. Siblings Alice and Paul dread attending their (evil?) older half-sisters wedding in England, but it’s obvious from the get-go that the bad blood may just stem from their own unsatisfying lives. That and the fact Eloise’s (the bride’s) father was loaded and they’re both completely jealous of her high end, sophisticated lifestyle. Alice has a mind-numbing job that includes an affair with her very wealthy, very married boss. Paul works for a possibly crazy therapy guru who believes in hard core immersion therapy for his phobic patients. He acquired the job after following his partner, Mark, from New York to Philly even though Mark was pretty tepid about Paul tagging along. Then there’s Donna, mother to all three, who’s been struggling in the middle-class ever since she left Eloise’s rich, philandering father and their fabulous life in Paris. In the months leading up to the wedding we get some seriously dysfunctional insight into the secrets and heartaches they’ve each endured during the past few years. When we finally meet Eloise she is certainly a privileged snob (but not hatefully so, like her stupid, snotty bridesmaids) but she’s also bending over backward to appease her very difficult family. When both Alice and Paul find there personal lives imploding overseas things get drunken, shouty and obviously very amusing.

Our Little Racket by Angelica Baker

Definitely heavier than the above titles, this novel starts with a slow burn and something amiss in the lush, priveledged enclave of Greenwich, CT in 2008. As summer on Long Island winds down, fourteen-year-old Madison senses some serious tension building between her icy mother, temperamental father and even the nurturing young nanny. Once school starts it becomes clear that Daddy’s bank is in distress. With her father holed up in New York City, her mother retreats to her bedroom leaving Madison to find facts among local gossip and the Internet. Told from varying points of view from family members, friends (real and spiteful) and employees, the richies have to face the fact that their gilded world is being trashed by the rest of society, which makes them feel very, very sorry for themselves. Having grown up in the neighboring and more diverse city of Stamford, CT, I am all too familiar with the Greenwich stereotypes, and while they certainly exist here, the implosion of this family both in denial and screaming ferocity makes them seem more human and less of a caricature. As Madison tries to uncover her fathers secrets, both personal and professional, the adults in this situation often act more like spoiled teenagers, shoving Madison into an early adulthood. Interesting and pretty tragic.

Fourth of July is Coming!!

Some great titles for the upcoming long weekend. An unusual character study of woman breaking free of emotional chains, a novel about three generations of men (and a woman) at a Boy Scout camp and a good old fashioned romance. Enjoy the beach!!

Elinor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  

Elinor is prickly, socially awkward and lives her life is in a very predictable bubble; she goes to work – where she considers everyone an idiot – has Wednesday night chats with Mummy and her weekends are spent alone, a vodka bottle for a companion until Monday rolls around and it starts all over again. I know, this sounds awful, but it’s really quite wonderful! One day after work Elinor finds herself with a new co-worker, Raymond, helping an elderly man who is ill on the street. This small event leads to visits with both men and opens a door for Elinor to slowly begins to break out of her routine and broaden her boundaries. It also opens a door for the reader as we learn a lot of reasons for Elinor’s quirks, formative years spent in foster care following an accident that left her physically and emotionally scarred and apparently “Mummy” was quite the monster, who continues to have a strong influence on Elinor’s psyche. As Elinor begins to open up about her repressed past to the new and compassionate friends in her life, her current vulnerability is often crushing, yet by slowly letting people in and evolving we see Elinor blossom and head toward a life she more than deserves.

The Hearts Of Men by Nickolas Butler

At the start of this marvelous novel Nelson Doughty, known derisively to his troop mates as the bugler, is 13 years-old at Camp Chippewa in the summer of 1962. He is a good scout with many badges and detested by his fellow scouts, perhaps because he tries too hard? During this week we see memories which reveal insecurities that stem from an abusive father and needy mother. You can’t help but feel terrible for sweet Nelson, but at least one scout, Jonathan Quick, looks out for him. As the camp draws to a close, Nelson will be tested by both his peers and the camp director, the one man he respects; does he want to be included among his fellow scouts or prove himself to be a true and loyal scout? In the ensuing chapters, we see Nelson’s relationship with three generations of the Quick family as they return with their children year after year, and see hearts of these imperfect men, some good, bad and regretful. 

PS Butler also wrote Shotgun Lovesongs (2015), his debut about four childhood friends who reunite in their small Wisconsin town for a wedding. A really good read.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

Aaaaah romance, in this case, the one that got away…and then drops in every once in a while. After they meet at Columbia on 9/11 Lucy and Gabe feel a lasting connection that will keep them in and out of each others lives for more than a decade. While their fast attraction gets way laid in college the two reunite shortly after college and engage in a passionate relationship, but of course life gets in the way. As Lucy’s career takes off, planting her permanently in New York City, Gabe’s artistic pull to see and share the world through his camera tears the two apart. The story is told from Lucy’s point of view, seemingly talking to Gabe, looking back over 13 years. Part of me wanted to shake Lucy after she meets Darren, who of course is almost too good to be true, and she continues to yearn for Gabe. AND I wanted to give Gabe a smack in the head for dropping back in on her life over the years (let her go man!!) Frustrating, but then so is love. I felt like the ending got a little melodramatic, but overall I really appreciated the relationships and characters. Good Bach read!!

PS This reminded me of One Day by David Nichols (2010) in which we see two lovers on the same day, every day, for 20 years, but in that one the girl was WAY too good for the guy. Liked this one better.

Great titles for June!

This week, a wild ride in the sci-fi genre, an incredible memoir and a character study of a complicated mother-daughter relationship. Enjoy!

All Our a Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

This novel is so imaginative, clever and cool, it’s hard to believe this is a debut. Bear with me on the description, it may sound ‘out there’ but it’s totally worth it. Tom Barren, our protagonist, starts out by telling us that the Jetson’s world everyone imagined back in the ’60s actually came to fruition with the creation of the Goettreider engine, which created enough clean energy to power the world and save the environment “…oil was irrelevant, basic resources were plentiful and everyone had access to technological enhancements, major or minor.” Technology exploded and hover cars, teleportation, recyclable clothes and all kinds of neat stuff was born! But that doesn’t mean life still couldn’t, ya know, suck. Still with me? It was because of this invention that Tom’s father, a scientific genius, was able to create the first time machine, sorry, a Chrono-Spacial Transport Apparatus. Tom, a major disappointment in the eyes of his cold, dismissive father ends up using the machine and inadvertently changes history, returning it to our regular old 2016. I told you… so Tom returns to a much better family and life where he’s kind of amazing but completely befuddled by our technologly inept present. Tom’s story is clever and amusing, even if once in a while there’s a little too much technobabble, and utopian 2016 is pretty clever. So, I get half way through the story and it’s as if the narrator knows what I’m thinking….this should be wrapping up, happy ending and all, when Tom explains this is not just a time travel romp. That’s when things get dark and twisty, buy hey, no one ever said time travel would be easy. Rights have been purchased, this one will make a great movie!

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

What a memoir! It starts off with a serious bang when Levy drops on page two that in a short time she lost her partner, child and home. I don’t want to give the story away, but Levy, a talented journalist from The New Yorker, shares a brave and honest account of her life, beautifully told. Although she shares many personal, often painful memories, you can feel the writing as a healing element for her as she takes a hard look at the denials and mistakes she made along the way. At the end, I felt her story was a gift, covering so many facets of being a modern day woman: career, travel, independence, lesbianism, marriage, infidelity, monogamy, cancer, alcoholism, pregnancy, grief, self discovery. Just read it. 

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Told in flashback from a much older perspective, Lucy, a young mother, is in the hospital with a mysterious illness. While her husband works and cares for their two children, Lucy is visited by her estranged mother. The two women have an easy rapport despite their estrangement and what was obviously a very poor, difficult upbringing. Lucy spent so much time in her classroom after school because there was no heat at home, so she studied, got a scholarship and became a writer in New York City, leaving behind her very troubled family, including a disturbed brother and resentful sister. The memories the women share are often funny and poignant but lead Lucy to other more painful memories, often of her father who clearly developed PTSD following the war, memories she is unable to share with her repressed, closed-off mother. We also get glimpses of Lucy’s overall life, her relationship with her own daughters and family in the aftermath of her illness. Through it all, Lucy proves herself a survivor who believed in love and hope no matter the past. Elizabeth Strout recently released Anything Is Possible, a sequel of sorts, featuring Lucy Barton, and I very much look forward to revisiting the character.

Summer’s here!

Just in time for the long Memorial Day weekend, a few novels to toss into your beach bag. Now hit the beach!!😎🌞🌊🍔🌭🍻🏖

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Get out the hankies for this sad, poignant story. Karen, a single mom, has stage four cervical cancer and her six-year-old son, Jacob, knows it. Even though she’s in remission, she’s only been given a few years to live, since the cancer will most likely return. Fortunately, she has a wealthy sister in Seattle, where she and Jake are spending the summer before returning to her job as a political consultant in New York City. It is here, on Mercer Island, that she begins to write a book for her son, sharing their experiences as well as hopes and advice for his future. But her placid summer is disrupted when Jake announces he’d like her to find his father. Karen and Dave dated for a short time before she got pregnant, had a huge fight and she never saw him again, but when she reaches out, this man who never wanted children very much wants to meet his son. And Karen is pissed! As her health starts to deteriorate (sob!), the fight is no longer just against her disease, she is now paranoid that Dave and his new wife will try to take Jake away from her, while trying to stay relevant at her job with a candidate who is turning out to be a big fat sleaze. Karen finds catharsis and insight through writing her “history” with her son, which she comes to realize is a map for the man she wants him to be, and allows her to overcome her fears and do the right thing.

What To Do About The Solomons by Bethany Ball

“What to do” seems to be the lead about anyone at the center of gossip in a kibbutz in Israel. Patriarch Yakov has decided his children are spoiled rotten and he’s not supporting any of them any more. Since the Solomon family stretches to New York and Los Angeles, this is bad news for youngest son Marc and his American wife (and former prostitute…!) who are under investigation by the Feds. His sister, Shira, a failed actress has a son with questionable lineage, and other siblings and longtime kibbutzniks who round out this greedy, calamitous clan. The story is described on the book jacket as “hilarious,” but I don’t know about that…dark and dysfunctional is more like it as we learn about the Solomons, but that’s not a bad thing. I have to admire a debut novelist who can keep such a steady pace and introduce so many characters with complicated pasts and storylines without things getting too muddled. In the end when the Solomons all come together nothing ends too rosy for any of them but that’s probably what makes this family, and the story, seem so real.

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

So… I wasn’t sure I was going to like this one. Andrea is in her thirties and has made some pretty bad life choices. She dropped out of grad school leaving behind her beloved art, her love life includes a string of unappealing boyfriends and she’s pretty much a functioning alcoholic. At first I thought oh boo-hoo, you have no interest in marriage, a decent job and live in New York City…grow up! Pretty much the point of the title, right? As the story progresses Andrea begins to let go of her narcissism and realize other people’s seemingly perfect lives are far from it. She begins to appreciate her mother and not blame her for the many struggles they endured after her junkie father died. She recalls what prompted her to leave art school (was it really her one true love?) and as much as she tries to avoid it, has to take a good look at her beloved brother’s troubled marriage due to a very sick child, and people with REAL problems. Told in vignettes throughout her life we see broad stokes later detailed into a more complex life that makes sense. Glad I stayed with it.

Great titles heading into summer!

I’d post more often if it weren’t for the duds. I try to give each read 50 pages or so before I deem it “un-blog-worthy,” so it took me while to find these beauties. A humorous novel, cynical satire and notes from the White House made for a good mix this month. Enjoy!

The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall

God, Polly is a great old broad! This former southern belle is widowed at 58, only to discover that she and her late husband conceived a very late-in-life child. The result is ten-year-old Willow, obsessed that her mother will die any day now, understandable, since Polly is old enough to be her grandmother, swills margaritas and smokes like a chimney. Fortunately Willow didn’t fall far from the tree, so while Polly cantankerously fights an endless battle with her neighbors and the squirrels trying to invade her garden, Willow tries to keep her healthy by hiding her cigarettes and trying to find out all she can about her mothers past by snooping through her closet for old love letters. Polly refuses to talk about her youth in Louisiana before she married and Willow is determined to unearth her mothers secrets. A kooky cast of characters include the above mentioned neighbors and Willow’s (much) older brother, who moves in for a while, drunkenly licking his wounds after a divorce….best supporting character goes to his childhood friend, Phoenix. When illness lurks, Willow convinces Polly to go back to Louisiana to be healed by a back water preacher and learns a lot about growing up, her mother and herself. Heartfelt and funny, I loved it!!

Startup by Doree Shafrir

This satire about entitled millennials in NYC made me very happy NOT to be in my 20s in the big city trying to keep up the crazy social media scene. TakeOff is startup (obviously) run by Mack McAllister, a sleazy young man hoping that with another round of funding, his app will be a “unicorn”, one of the rare apps, like Twitter or Facebook, that will be next big thing and make him very rich. But Mack has some (Kharmic?) obstacles to overcome, he has to sell himself to a rich investor but he’s got employees jumping ship and his ego takes a hit when he realizes his office fling is tired of him, leading him to make some very bad choices. A few floors down at TechScene, Katya is a scrappy reporter, trying to stay ahead of the never ending online competition by breaking a big story, and when the employees at these two companies cross paths, things get downright juicy. Sabrina, a 36 year-old woman (considered a dinosaur by her 26 year-old boss) sums up this satire, and the millenialm existence in general as she ponders the dangers of “living life in public, on social media, before you really you knew who you were…” This is a good beach read; bit of a guilty pleasure but fast paced and suspenseful.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Yes, I am a liberal, but I don’t think party lines matter much when it comes to this thoughtful, funny, first-hand account of working in the White House as deputy chief of staff under President Obama (the title comes from a comment the boss would make when someone screwed up). Mastromonaco was a hard working, non-Ivy leaguer in a seriously male-dominated environment, whose brains and personality took her steps from the Oval Office. From proudly championing for the installation of a tampon machine in the ladies room of the west wing, to organizing relief action during hurricane Sandy, her tales offer a surprisingly humorous and down-to-earth perspective…it feels like your best friend sharing amusing work stories over Thai and a glass of wine. Equally passionate about serving POTUS as she is about her cat, Shrummie, Mastromonaco is a mentor to any woman looking to have a fulfilling personal life (during that time she also managed to meet and marry a great guy) while working in the relentless world of politics. 

April showers, a good time to get reading!

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

The plot of this one is a little creepy…Ingrid, mother of two young girls and wife of Gil, writes letters to her husband about their life together, places them strategically in his book collection throughout their home, and (apparently) walked into the English surf and drowned herself.  Eleven years later, Gil thinks he sees his wife and is injured as he tries to follow her, so the daughters, now in their early 20s, come to help Gil recuperate. Flora is a flaky art student, with only patchy memories of Ingrid and believes her mother may still be alive, while older sister, Nan, a responsible mid-wife, has clearer memories of a very melancholy Ingrid and thinks she did, indeed, commit suicide, all of which is hashed out at Gil’s bedside. Over the course of the letters, Fuller masterfully creates a complicated, often painful version of their life and marriage together, revealing the muddy, ugly underbelly of two very complicated lives. 

The Stranger In The Woods, the extraordinary story of the last true hermit by Michael Finkel

All I can say is, fascinating!! This is the true account of Christopher Knight, who walked into the Maine woods as a teenager only to be discovered 27 years later, as the middle-aged man who had been robbing a local camp and seasonal cabins for survival for decades. He lived in a tent!! In Maine!! As state trooper Diane Vance says early on, “A week of winter camping here is impressive, a month is unheard of.” Knight became a thing of legend throughout the camp ground stealing only what was useful; food, propane, coolers. Once discovered (clean-shaven in recently stolen blue jeans and Lands End jacket) he is completely honest about his past and crimes, then goes silent. That’s where the author comes in. Journalist Finkel is an outdoorsman who wrote letters and visited Knight in jail and proved the right temperament to earn his trust (to a degree) and peel away some of the layers of his strange story. While getting to know both Knight and the many families he stole from, Finkel maintains a great sense of humor about his subject, “Do you call the police to report that all the D batteries and a Stephen King novel have gone missing?” But to many he burgled, the thefts were no laughing matter, leaving many feeling violated and wondering if a mad man was living among them. Over the years, the camp and residents put up cameras and flood lights, but Knight never left a trace. In confinement, Finkel found him to be a modern day philosopher withstanding a dizzying amount of solitude and suffering. The outcome for Knight is not an easy or comfortable one, and Finkel draws an interesting portrait of the ultimate loner searching for peace.

The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

This will make a great movie. The book starts off with Samuel Hawley giving his daughter, Loo, a gun for her 12th birthday…and she’s thrilled. I point this out because it says a lot about both characters, no-nonsense and tough. The two had been traversing the country for Loo’s entire life, since the (mysterious?) death of her mother, Lily, when she was just a baby. Finally, they settle in Olympus, MA, Lily’s hometown and Loo begins to learn more about her parent’s sketchy past. Chapters of present day Loo coming of age are interspersed with chapters about Harley’s life, told chronologically by the 12 bullet hole scars that riddle his body. Probably no surprise, we find Sam to be pretty much a thug in his early life. Left an orphan in his early teens he becomes a hired gun, always on the move (think hooker w a heart a gold), but yearning for a more stable life after meeting Lily, despite his past demons that keep him constantly looking over his shoulder. The author is so subtle, parceling out pieces of Hawley’s  past while keeping the suspense and tension up during his adventures. I loved the evolving relationship between Hawley and Loo as she grows into a young woman, her acceptance of her flawed family and their love and loyalty to one another.

LOVED these recent titles!

Spring has sprung and I’m happy to report there are lots of great novels out right now. Here are three that I tore right through, enjoy! Gonna dive into a new pile, as always, please share suggested reads!!


On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

I love wacky Faith. Trying to rediscover herself at 32, she’s given up on Brooklyn and returned to her hometown in Massachusetts….but things are off to a rocky start. Her parents have separated due to her fathers artistic mid-life crisis, her job-hopping single brother has started a plowing and towing business and her boyfriend Stuart has left on foot cross-country to find himself…with her credit card. On a whim, she buys the house on Turpentine Lane and quickly recruits her (adorable) coworker Nick to be her housemate, after discovering it may very well be haunted. Who can blame her based on the number of people who have died there and the local police sniffing around her basement? Lipman’s dialogue and relationships are charming and genuine in this sweet tale, a quick amusing read.


The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

A little hard to explain, but oh what a wonderfully woven tale we are given here…. In present day, outside London we meet Anthony, a successful elderly writer who has spent 40 years mourning the sudden death of his beloved fiancé, Therese. In the meantime, our title character, who once lost an item of great significance, has been collecting lost trinkets and labeling them (gems, puzzle pieces, most recently a biscuit tin filled w someone’s remains….!) After his demise, he leaves the house (and all the lost things) to his lonely housekeeper, Laura, with instructions for her to try to return as many of the lost things as possible. In a parallel story line in 1975, at precisely the time of Therese’s death, we meet Eunice and Bomber, two lovely characters working at a London Publishing company. Their friendship continues from that point to present day…I waited anxiously to see them all come together (it does not disappoint, sniff!) Laura, whose dark past had caused her to withdraw into Anthony’s quiet life, begins to come alive again among the lost things with the help of the home’s handsome gardener and the very special Sunshine, who lives across the street. Stories about the lost things pop up throughout….are they fictional stories Anthony wrote about the owners of lost things? Or are the objects telling their stories? Absolutely magical.


The Strays by Emily Bitto

I read this one in 24 hours… While I’m not usually a huge fan of period pieces, the setting of the Trentham enclave in 1930s Australia brought to mind the almost mythical tales of   Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, who played as hard as they worked to defend and create their art. Lily is eight-years-old when she meets Eva, the enchanting middle child of three sisters born to bohemian artists, with the luxury of old money. As the girls enter their teen-age years, parents, Evan, the temperamental artist and Helena, his spoiled muse, turn their sprawling home into an artist colony, inviting a small but ferociously talented group of artists to live among them. When tragedy strikes her family and Lily officially moves in with group, she officially becomes one of the strays, blissfully submerged in their exotic, often debaucherous lifestyle. As often happens in such a setting, young girls and attractive young artists become the catalyst for the unraveling of the entire Trentham clan.

This week: mystery, transgender struggles and a hillbilly memoir


Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia

I’m not usually a huge fan of mysteries, I get caught up in my own head dissecting every character to determine “who-dunnit” before the fictional police do. However, this one reads like a novel and kindly makes our suspects plain (it drives me crazy when the killer turns out to be some minor character introduced on page two who doesn’t pop up again until they’re determined to be a sociopath in the last act.)   Anyway, Hattie is a sophisticated high school senior who can’t wait to shake off her Minnesota farm life and head for Broadway. Alas, the poor girl never makes it that far, as she gets herself gruesomely murdered two months before graduation. This being a small town, Sheriff Del is a close family friend of the victim and her family and the impact on the town at large feels uncomfortably genuine. Told from Del’s perspective starting from the day of the murder, forward,  and in flashback by Hattie and several suspects, I liked that the detective is piecing together Hattie’s hidden secrets, as we are seeing them revealed in the past. Hattie’s relationships with her boyfriend(s) and family are fleshed out as the story progresses and the ending wasn’t nearly as cut and dried as many are in this genre…good stuff.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Rosie, an ER doctor and Penn, a stay-at-home-dad working on a novel, live in a ramshackle farm-house in rural Wisconsin where they share an idyllic life with their five lively boys. Five-year-old Claude is the best-loved of the Walsh clan and is adamant that when he grows up, he wants to be…a girl. After realizing this is not a phase, siblings and parents are understandably concerned but ultimately just want Claude to be happy, so when he decides to change his name to Poppy, watching her totter around in heels and dresses from Mom’s closet becomes the norm. Until school starts. When a disgruntled Poppy goes to school in boy clothes he begins to withdraw and shrink into himself, so the school and the family give Poppy a shot. Some are open and curious, others mean and judgemental to the whole family. After a play date goes horribly wrong and nearly turns violent the family decides to move to Seattle, where transgender is more widely celebrated. While everyone in Wisconsin was aware of the situation, in their new community they simply introduce her as a female and Poppy thrives. Until puberty arrives…this poor kid! I have to say, when Poppy is outed at her school and left devastated, I wondered where all the so-called Seattle tolerance was hiding, but then I remembered, oh right, many middle school kids possess about zero empathy. On a trip to a Thailand clinic with mom, Poppy gains perspective on the bigger world and how she will some day be accepted (by some) as an adult,  while realizing there will always be struggles that her close-knit family can’t protect her from. Not knowing anyone who is transgender (or do I?) this novel was like an anthropological study…fascinating!

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

J.D. Vance comes from a long line of hill people in southern Ohio and Kentucky (he is literally a distant relation of the Hatfields, famous for feuding with the McCoys), and explores a culture where the lack of jobs lead to laziness, domestic violence and often drug addiction. Vance, himself, was the product of paternal abandonment and an extremely erratic mother who endured a life long drug problem. Fortunately, his saving grace were grandparents, Mawmaw and Pawpaw, who were indeed poor and ready for a fight, but also put great stock in education and encouraged young J.D. that he could achieve anything through hard work, creating stability that the bright young man desperately needed. After four years in the marines and an accelerated undergrad education at Ohio State, a mentor encouraged him to apply to the Ivies for law school and he found himself at Yale, where for the first time, he felt like a complete outsider, unfamiliar with the sophisticated ways of his peers. It was here that he understood how the people in his bloodline didn’t trust or believe in the elite running their country, paving the way for our recent political climate. A harsh and honest look at the white working class from a Yale Law school graduate who lived it.


Books to snuggle up with…

It’s been a while! Life, holidays and a serious dry spell of good reading material has kept me away. However! With the new year, the pile of books on my night stand is growing. Please share any recommendations!


Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

A novel about young women graduating from college and moving to New York City….I know, sounds like it could veer dangerously into chick-lit territory, but never fear! Poeppel’s characters are far from glamorous (except for Vicki, but she is this tales bitchy villain). Our heroine, Kate, goes through a disaster break-up after dropping out of her anthropology masters lab, sending her to her couch in a full-on depression, the details of which are only hinted about until the big reveal. As she comes out of her funk under the supervision of her friend Chole and her very devoted (but way too involved) sister,  she takes a job in the admissions office of a tony private middle school where a kindly admissions director takes mercy on her, despite her anxiety-fueled job interview, which is in a word, hilarious. Throughout, the dialogue between family, friends and co-workers is sharp and witty, and if the competitiveness and insanity of NYC parents vying to get their children into a top-tier school is to be believed… I’m really glad I live in Florida.


Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Immigration and infertility are the focus of this lovely novel and Sekaran skillful tackles both issues through the stories of Soli and Kavya. For 18 year-old Soli, the American dream awaits from her dusty Mexican town, devoid of opportunity, even if it means trusting questionable strangers and hopping trains and chicken trucks to get there. Meanwhile, Kavya, a personal chef, is nestled at her Berkeley home with her sweet techie husband, wanting only one thing,  a baby that will not materialize. Soli, after a difficult passage, smuggling herself across the border, arrives in California pregnant (no one said crossing the border would be pretty), but determined to make a life for herself and her baby. While Kavya considers adoption, Soli is discovered to me an undocumented citizen and thrown into a detention center….you can see where this is headed. The prose are beautiful and often funny, especially between Kavya and her mother, who has entirely too much to say on the subject. While little Ignatio settles in with Kavya and Soli fights to get him back I was torn about where this little boy would have the best life but, in the end, with two such loving families desperate to raise him, he was certainly one lucky boy.


All The Ugly And Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

I’ll admit straight off, this may not be for everyone given the course of this unlikely love story, but, hey, I enjoyed it so decide for yourself…. Wavy meets Kellen, a young giant of a man, when she is a child and badly in need of protection. She rarely speaks, refuses to eat in front of people, and has a penchant for taking off in the middle of the night, all of which is explained in more detail when you meet her truly horrible parents, mentally ill meth-heads. The first time Kellen sees Wavy, he mistakes her for an angel, and as one of her father’s thugs, he takes it upon himself to see her safely through childhood, making sure she gets to school and letting her hang out in his shop, while Wavy takes care of him in kind, cooking for him and keeping his house clean. Although she says little, even at a very young age, Wavy’s maturity and intelligence comes off the page. Although their love for each other is unconditional, I struggled through the portion of the story when Wavy enters adolescence and her affection turns physical, so I was actually relieved when a murder separates the two for several years, giving time for Wavy grow into a woman and make her own way. Despite the obstacles and people who try to prevent their relationship later in life, Wavy and Kellan’s story is ultimately about two people meant to take care of one another among all the ugly and beautiful things in life.

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