March 2019 Book Marks
I’m a bath lover. At the end of a long day, or when I crave warmth, I draw a hot bath and sink into the water. When my kids were little, the bath ritual signaled day’s end. Baths calmed everyone down, transitioned us to pajamas and bedtime stories.
But somewhere around middle school, my girls turned up their noses. “Baths are gross,” they said. “How can you sit in your own dirty water?” Oh, they’d come around. I was the daughter of a bath lover, and I was right. Now, with two girls in college and one in New York, there seems to be a bath running every time they come home.
This Christmas, one of my kids gave me a bath bomb that I recently used. As it fizzed underwater like alka seltzer, a little slip of paper floated to the top. A fortune. “Expectation is the mother of frustration,” it read.
I thought about that for a second. I’d recently given up on a novel that I’d been picking at for over a year. Before that I’d worked on two other books that I’d put back on the shelf. I’d written many shorter form pieces in the interim, but would I ever write another novel? People asked all the time when my next book would come out. The weight of that expectation (mine and others) perpetually sat around my neck and shoulders, like a hair shirt scarf of varying weight.
Writing a book is a big commitment, especially when its not your full time job. Creativity, flow and the desire to write come and go and excuses are easy to make. The hard work of writing means sitting down every day and committing to put words on a page. And in the past year, as I gravitated toward other endeavors, this desire had been ebbing, not so much flowing. It was time to officially admit it and stop punishing myself.
Currently, my work as a media and presentation trainer takes a huge chunk of time and brain space. I’m travelling a ton. It’s a new chapter of my life and I’m loving it. I needed to embrace that and stop feeling like a loser for not being hard at work on my next book.
Lying in the cooling bath water, clutching at my soggy fortune, I decided to try to release my own harsh expectations. And to forgive myself. I’d live to write another book. Just not right now.
So, until I fire up my writing again (hopefully this summer) here are some solid new reads… including a solid crop of thrillers…to stoke your passion for good stories.
This month’s indie bookstore shout out is The Book Den which was founded in 1902 and has been in downtown Santa Barbara since 1933. The Book Den owes much of its success to the generations of Santa Barbarans who have known the store all their lives, the visitors who make it their destination and folks who give their books another life by selling them to The Book Den. bookden.com
White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf
If you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood where the inhabitants were just a little too precious and righteous, a little too into everyone’s business, you’ll laugh out loud at the characters in Willard Park. The author holds a magnifying glass up to suburbia in all its quirks, flaws, secret desires, complications and tensions.
The trouble begins when developer Nick Cox tears down an old historic house and builds a giant “white elephant” on the lot. To make it worse, he cuts down the Miller’s red maple to improve his view and the turf war begins. The once serene town becomes a battleground that exposes all the mid-life crises, vandals, sneaky trysts, a lawyer with a pot habit and a teenaged girl trying to come of age. This novel is a fun romp through a landscape all too familiar to many of us.
Little Faith by Nickolas Butler
Heading into his golden years with his wife Peg, Lyle imagined that his life in rural Wisconsin would continue the way it has. And then prodigal daughter Shiloh, who has been estranged from the family since her troublesome adolescence, walks in the door. She’s been involved with an extremist church and a pastor who believes that his young grandson can heal the sick. When these radical beliefs threaten the boy’s safety, Lyle must make some hard decisions that will ripple out to impact everyone. Set over the course of a year, this novel speaks to inter generational shifts, the connection between family and community and the lengths we go to protect our own.
The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood
The Dionne quintuplets were a headline name back in the day; minor celebrities who lived life completely in the public eye during the depression and run-up to WW2. But it wasn’t until I read this book that I understood just how hard their life had been. Told from the point of view of the 17-year old midwife who became their nurse, the story begins in Northern Ontario where the five infants are born in a home with no electricity to uneducated farmer parents who already had five children! The “quints” are removed from their family by the government in the most significant custody battle in Canadian history. They lived out childhood in a custom-built playground, where more than 6000 visitors passed through daily to watch them like monkeys in a zoo. The tourism and advertising dollars helped provide for them, but at what cost? The narrator is determined to honor what is different about each of the girls, even as the world continued to revel in their sameness.
Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
A young couple moves into a new home outside Boston and their neighbors invite them over. The newcomers are excited to make new friends and while touring the home, the wife spots a familiar and perplexing object on the mantle, which throws her into interior chaos. It’s the key to a long, unsolved murder she’s been obsessed with for years, and this chance discovery leads her to believe she is living next to the killer. But the protagonist’s own history of bi-polar disorder and psychological instability lessens her credibility. Could the neighbor, Matthew, be a killer or is she simply experiencing a post-traumatic psychotic break? When the two characters meet in a dark parking lot, the slow burning tension catches fire.
Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward
This story opens with a murder scene, written in grisly detail. In the vein of the twisty-turny-gotcha genre that’s grown up around the “Gone Girl” success, many books have tried to be the next big thing and fall short. Beautiful Bad kept me interested all the way through. Take a soldier of fortune/battle scarred boyfriend Ian and innocent Maddie from Kansas and add in a combustible love triangle with an aid worker in the war-torn Balkans. Now light a match. The result is a psychological thriller that spans 16 years and multiple locations from the middle east to the mid-west, 9-11 and many countries in between. Maddie and Ian marry and have a child. When she is injured in a camping accident and begins to attend writing therapy, some interesting things begin to bubble up. Looking through the eyes of different characters, including the cop at a murder scene, it dawns on the reader that you can trust no one. And while I was pretty sure where the clues were leading, the ending surprised me.
Cemetery Road by Greg Iles
Set in the author’s home state of Mississippi, a homicide rocks the town. Hometown boy and famed DC journalist Marshall McEwan has become a media darling, thanks to the political chaos of the Trump presidency. After vowing never to return home, McEwan finds himself coming back as his father lies dying and his mother struggles to hold the family newspaper together. And then a second murder takes place, connecting the dots to corruption, family secrets and a planned economic rebirth for the town that could reach up to the highest levels of government. As a best-selling author of numerous thrillers, Isles knows exactly how to give us enough bait and then yank the line back at the right time.
An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives by Matt Richtel
I have a number of friends suffering from auto-immune issues, so I was eager to read this book. We continue to learn how much the immune system impacts every aspect of our lives, from sleep and moods to fitness, brain function and even aging. Most of us believe that we can boost our own immune systems, but the truth is much more complicated. The answer to wellness relies on a delicate balance, which is covered in the book. Using four intimate real life medical stories, a cancer patient, an HIV medical marvel and two women with auto-immune issues, Richtel brings science to life. Through common knowledge and counter intuitive advice, the author explores how every facet of life connects to our immune systems. Note to all – throw out your anti-bacterial soap and let your kids eat dirt.
Love You Hard – A Memoir of Marriage, Brain Injury, and Reinventing Love by Abby Maslin
I’ve been sent so many memoirs over the years of people’s journeys with illness, injury or trauma and in particular, traumatic brain injury. There is a natural arc to these stories: life unfolds normally, and then the horrible thing happens. The family’s medical experience see-saws between hope and despair and then the grueling work of recovery begins. Each person’s tale contains both new insights and universal truths. The Maslin’s story is no exception, but it is exceptionally told with taut and beautiful prose.
When Abby’s husband TC doesn’t come home one night, she knows something is wrong. He’s been brutally and randomly beaten by a group of young men, just blocks from their home. TC’s brain injury leaves him unable to talk or walk and Abby must find a way to not only care for, but learn to love this new husband who is unrecognizable to her in every way. Mothering their three year-old son while helping her husband only highlights Abby’s sense of isolation and despair, while strengthening her conviction. Writing from the caregiver’s point of view, Maslin doesn’t hold back on the emotions, fears and resilience required to knit a marriage back together again. And for anyone who has personally traveled this road, bring your sharpie…you’ll be underlining many passages!