Winter in Paradise

Finished Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Join New York Times Bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand on the stunning beaches of St. John for the beginning of her thrilling new winter series-The Paradise. Welcome to Paradise, the first book in the Paradise series, has everything that readers have come to know and love about an Elin Hilderbrand novel, plus a healthy dose of intrigue. Irene Steele’s idyllic life-house, husband, family-is shattered when she is woken up by a late-night phone call. Her beloved husband has been found dead, but before Irene can process this tragic news, she must confront the perplexing details of her husband’s death. He was found on St. John island, a tropical paradise far removed from their suburban life. Leaving the cold winter behind, Irene flies down to the beautiful Caribbean beaches of St. John only to make another shocking discovery: her husband had a secret second family. As Irene investigates the mysterious circumstances of her husband’s death, she is plunged into a web of intrigue and deceit belied by the pristine white sand beaches of St. John’s. This exciting first book in the Paradise series will transport readers to a new beach locale-another world that Elin knows as well as her beloved Nantucket-and have them longing for winter.”

I loved this book so much! The Elin Hilderbrand books I’ve read (I think this is my fourth) have all been really enjoyable books but this one felt different. Obviously a lot of that is because she changed the location and the time frame, but it’s also a different sort of book.

The idea of second families intrigues me. Does the second family know about the first? Were there really no clues at all? Wouldn’t someone’s absence on holidays tip you off that something was wrong? There were no answers to that in this book (we only hear from the first family, and Russ spent holidays with them) but I’m hoping it’s addressed in the sequel.

Although honestly, the ending was completely unexpected and I cannot wait for the sequel. (I would be excited anyway because I need to know what happens with everyone, but with the ending? TELL ME EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW.)

Highly recommended. (But be warned, you will probably want your own tropical vacation. I know I do.)


Weekend Update

This is mostly to say that I’m not sure what my blog content will look like over the next few days. After months of planning and excitement, my best friend is in town! She arrived Wednesday and we are doing all kinds of fun things. (There may be a photo post soon; I’ll keep you posted.)

What I’m reading: I just started Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand. I’ve been looking forward to it and I like it so far but it’s early days. I have the new Sara Paretsky and Anne Lamott books on deck.

What I’m watching: I’m really just excited for Halloween later today. It looks amazing and I hope I love it as much as I’ve loved the trailers.


Dear Evan Hansen

Finished Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the show’s creators comes the groundbreaking novel inspired by the Broadway smash hit Dear Evan Hansen.

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.”

First, a caveat: I haven’t seen the musical, so I’m not sure how well this compares or what the differences are.  Even so, I really enjoyed this book.

What Evan does is almost unforgivable. He completely makes up a history with a boy who committed suicide. This isn’t entirely his fault, because the boy took a letter that Evan wrote to himself as a therapy assignment. After the boy later kills himself, his parents find that note and believe their son wrote it to Evan. Evan did try to tell them the full truth but he didn’t try that hard and he later goes along with it. And then he embellishes.

I’m not sure what the best thing to do (ethically speaking) would have been, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what Evan did. At the same time, though, it’s hard not to feel for him. He’s in an awful situation and there isn’t really a kind thing to do in this case.

This does read as a complete story on its own, although I definitely want to see the musical now.

What if it’s Us?

Finished What if it’s Us? by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?”

I loved this book. That’s not exactly a surprise, because I’ve loved everything that Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera have each written. But I was also nervous, because Adam Silvera has a tendency to break my heart and I wasn’t in the mood. (No spoilers, but let’s just say that this book is a perfect blend of each of their styles.)

It also reads like it’s destined to be a movie. It’s the sweetest, best rom-com ever, and there is plenty of room for a sequel (please God, let there be a sequel).

If you’re feeling sad about the state of the world, this is the book you need. Highly recommended.

Hey, Kiddo

Finished Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Hey, Kiddo is the graphic memoir of author-illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Raised by his colorful grandparents, who adopted him because his mother was an incarcerated heroin addict, Krosoczka didn’t know his father’s name until he saw his birth certificate when registering for a school ski trip. Hey, Kiddotraces Krosoczka’s search for his father, his difficult interactions with his mother, his day-to-day life with his grandparents, and his path to becoming an artist.

To date, nearly one million people have viewed Krosoczka’s TED Talk about his experience. Artwork from his childhood and teen years will be incorporated into the original illustrations for the book.”

This book is both incredibly personal and incredibly universal. Jarrett grew up mostly being raised by his grandparents; his mom was in and out of his life (she was a drug addict) and he didn’t know his dad until he was in high school.

So where’s the universal part? It’s that we all have to come to terms with the fact that our parents aren’t perfect and they did the best they could. Jarrett does this with a great deal of maturity and grace. I wouldn’t say that he makes it seem easy but he also understands that it doesn’t have anything to do with him.

The best part of this is the fact that it also includes cards and letters that he got from his mom. It’s clearly a graphic memoir anyway, but seeing those artifacts is a stark reminder that this isn’t a story; it’s Jarrett’s childhood. It’s a choice that makes this particularly poignant.

I also love that Jarrett chose to tell this memoir with pictures and words, not just through prose. It’s clear that art was one of his sanctuaries as a child (and probably still now). I haven’t read his other books but I want to. He’s a solid artist and author. (His others seem to be fiction, but I hope there’s another memoir.)

Everyone’s Entitled To One Good Scare

So, as you know, the best day of the year is fast approaching. (Halloween.)

Are you up for some scary movies? Here are some fantastic horror flicks (and some cheesy ones, too, just for fun) and best of all? They’re free! (Provided you already pay for the service.)

On Hulu:

  1. The Blair Witch Project. (The sequels are on there, too; proceed with caution)
  2. Child’s Play. (I will be honest, I love this movie. I love it beyond all reason and not at all ironically. And the first one is good.) (This is also on Amazon Prime)
  3. The Fly (remake)
  4. The Omen (and the sequels! I also love Damien: Omen II)
  5. Pumpkinhead
  6. 78/52. This is a documentary about the shower scene in Psycho. If you’re a film geek, you will love this extensive look into one of the most groundbreaking scenes in movie history.
  7. Silence of the Lambs
  8. IT
  9. Jennifer’s Body
  10. The Lost Boys

On Netflix (and these are only the ones I’ve watched; there are some great ones I haven’t gotten around to yet):

  1. Hush
  2. Gerald’s Game
  3. The Conjuring
  4. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
  5. Coraline
  6. The Mist
  7. The Babadook
  8. Cult of Chucky
  9. Shutter
  10. Last Shift

On Amazon Prime:

  1. Poltergeist II
  2. Carrie
  3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the one from the 70s)
  4. Jeepers Creepers
  5. Let Me In
  6. Jaws
  7. The Stepford Wives
  8. Pet Sematary
  9. The Strangers
  10. Ghostbusters (OK, not scary but still really fun and full of Halloween spirit)

On Vudu:

  1. Frailty
  2. Rage: Carrie II (She’s All That,  but a horror movie)
  3. Hatchet (gore for DAYS)
  4. Night of the Living Dead
  5. In the Mouth of Madness
  6. You’re Next
  7. Night of the Demons
  8. When a Stranger Calls (OK, this is the remake and it’s not scary at all, but it is fun and also Tessa Thompson is in it)
  9. Valentine (so cheesy, so 90s)
  10. Witchboard

Under My Skin

Finished Under My Skin by Lisa Unger. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

What if the nightmares are actually memories?

It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiraled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused wearing a tight red dress she didn’t recognize. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?

The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts–there are periods of time she can’t remember, and she’s unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she’s imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband’s death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?”

This book is impossible to review. Everything about it is potentially a spoiler, but I think here is what can safely be said: the only thing we know for sure is that Poppy’s husband is dead and that he was murdered. Beyond that, we don’t know who’s responsible or what happened or why or even if Poppy herself can be trusted. (And the only reason we think she may be the most unreliable narrator ever is because she’s unsure of what’s real and what isn’t.)

This book is exactly what I wanted to read. It’s incredibly intense and unnerving (because, again, we don’t know what’s real) and every time I thought, “Oh, of course, THIS is what’s happening!” Lisa Unger said, “Not so fast, George Banks” and completely flipped everything again.

If you can deal with a lot of uncertainty, read this. (Or, if you’re in the mood for suspense, definitely read this.)

Highly recommended.

Weekend Update

What I’m Reading: Under My Skin by Lisa Unger, and it’s so good! I’d heard great things and was excited to get to it and it’s better than I was expecting. I’m hoping to finish and to read What if it’s Us? this weekend.

What I’m Watching: I only have four episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine left and I love the show so much. I hope we get a start date for season six soon.

At the Movies: I’m seeing Bad Times at the El Royale and The Hate U Give this weekend. Very excited for both.

In Pieces

Finished In Pieces by Sally Field. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“One of the most celebrated, beloved, and enduring actors of our time, Sally Field has an infectious charm that has captivated the nation for more than five decades, beginning with her first TV role at the age of seventeen. From Gidget‘s sweet-faced “girl next door” to the dazzling complexity of Sybil to the Academy Award-worthy ferocity and depth of Norma Rae and Mary Todd Lincoln, Field has stunned audiences time and time again with her artistic range and emotional acuity. Yet there is one character who always remained hidden: the shy and anxious little girl within.

With raw honesty and the fresh, pitch-perfect prose of a natural-born writer, and with all the humility and authenticity her fans have come to expect, Field brings readers behind-the-scenes for not only the highs and lows of her star-studded early career in Hollywood, but deep into the truth of her lifelong relationships–including her complicated love for her own mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring and important account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century.”

I’m a huge fan of Sally Field and have been since I saw Steel Magnolias. I haven’t seen all of her movies, but I’ve definitely hit the highlights and she’s been good in everything I’ve seen. (Regardless of the movie’s actual quality.)

I’m now an even bigger fan.

Her writing style is incredibly evocative. You can picture everything she’s telling you, and it’s clear that she’s got a real gift for storytelling.

One caveat: if you’re here for celebrity gossip, you won’t love this. There’s some, of course, and we learn her perspective on her relationship with Burt Reynolds. But it’s not the core of the book.  Incidentally, the fact that she’s still asked about Burt Reynolds makes me really annoyed—there is so much more to her than that.

(Should you be curious, though, the core of the book is her relationship with her mom. Like many mother-daughter relationships, it’s complicated to say the least. But it’s also fascinating and heartbreaking and oddly sweet.)

I am blown away by this book and I’ve been talking it up to everyone I know. I hope there’s going to be a second memoir. I get the feeling there’s a lot more to learn.

Highly recommended.

The Chaos of Now

Finished The Chaos of Now by Erin Jade Lange. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Is it real if it happens online?

Life at Eli’s high school hasn’t been the same since his classmate Jordan committed suicide after being tirelessly bullied. Schools now have access to students’ online activities and students have less privacy than ever. Eli just wants to graduate—so he can get out of town, get away from his father’s embarrassingly young fiancée, and get himself a prestigious coding job. But Eli’s hacking skills get him roped into a vigilante website that—while subverting the school’s cybersnoops— seeks justice for Jordan and everyone else being bullied. Suddenly Eli finds himself in way over his head as his keystrokes start to have devastating consequences in the real world . . . This timely story from the author of Butter is a thrilling tale about the power of the internet, the young people who wield it, and the fine lines between bully and victim, justice and vengeance.”

I love Erin Jade Lange’s books. They’re compulsively readable and part of it is because the reader is always curious to see how much the narrator will be able to get away with. There is a cinematic quality to them; it’s so easy to picture everything. I’m hoping movies will be coming soon.

This one may be my favorite yet. We all know how awful cyberbullying can be but at the same time, there’s the question of how long it takes until “justice” or “vengeance” becomes a problem in its own rite. Eli and his friends may have started this with the best of intentions but it doesn’t take long for them to be seen as the villains instead of the heroes.

And that’s the thing, really. We all do great and horrible things; we all use words to heal and to destroy. But what action means most? Is it the best thing you do or the worst? Is it it what you do the most or is it just the most recent action?

Either way, Jordan’s suicide is horrific and it’s all through this novel. But no matter what Eli, Seth and Mouse do and no matter who they punish for it, Jordan’s still dead. They’re just adding to the collateral damage. Is that reckoning or just more carnage? There aren’t any answers to this, and the book doesn’t provide them. We all have to decide where we think things should go.

Highly recommended.