March 2020 Book Marks
Birdsong resumes in March. Daffodil tips crack the surface, hoping they won’t need to retreat. Longer days and sunnier skies lure me out of winter’s cave and breed that sense of connection we all crave.
March has also brought a mother lode of new books, making it a challenge to pare this list. The following selection takes us from Laura Munson’s novel about a group of relatable women coming together on a Montana ranch, to Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt’s collection of interviews that speak to the power of forgiveness, and then Chris Bohjalian’s very timely thriller about a virus that’s just a little too close to home right now with COVID19. Life imitating art?
And in the housekeeping category, I’ve heard that some of you aren’t receiving the blog regularly, so just click the “SUBSCRIBE” button at the bottom of the blog and I won’t lose you!
Most importantly, stay healthy in this crazy, topsy-turvy world! We’ll get through this.
Willa’s Grove by Laura Munson
As the leader of Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops, Munson has helped hundreds of women find their voices, write their stories and create community. Some of those connective experiences have, no doubt, formed the basis of this very relatable novel.
The story opens with three women, each at a critical juncture in their lives, who receive invitations to come to Willa’s house. Willa has just lost her husband and must sell her home in her gorgeous rural Montana town. Struggling to answer the question “So what now?” she invites the women to a week-long respite from their lives as they ask themselves tough questions, find a sense of community and contemplate second acts under the wide-open western sky.
The Gift of Forgiveness – Inspiring Stories from Those Who Have Overcome the Unforgiveable by Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt
Most of us probably have an inconsistent relationship with the capacity to forgive. For many, it can be a life-long process. The grace that comes with forgiveness is lovingly detailed in Schwarzenegger-Pratt’s new book. From victims of sexual trauma or ethnic violence to the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart and Sandy Hook Mom Scarlett Lewis, the book contains interviews and stories from everyday folks and household names. The author draws bite-sized conclusions that allow us to see the potential to detach the anvil of resentment and anger that can pulverize a soul. Gift this book or leave it by your bed to remind yourself good people exist in our imperfect world.
The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben
Certain writers never disappoint. Make no mistake, Coben has reached icon status as an author who keeps hearts pounding and eyeballs glued to the page. This new release is no exception. The disappearance of Naomi Pine has caused little notice among her schoolmates and even her father. But one boy, whose grandmother Hester Crimstein, is a criminal attorney with a well-known TV show, is concerned enough to alert his grandmother. Hester shares a tragic connection with a man named Wilde whose skills are perfect for the job. Thirty years earlier, Wilde was found as a feral boy, living in the woods, with no memory of his past. Now, in order to help the missing girl, Wilde must overcome his unease at re-entering a community where he has never felt at home and avoid the many secrets that could destroy lives. I smell another Netflix winner!
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Hailed as one of the most anticipated books of the year, Russell spent two decades writing and polishing this Lolita-esque tale, which takes on particular relevance in the #MeToo era. Vanessa Wye’s former high school teacher has been accused of sexual abuse, a discovery that tumbles her back to age 15, when she lost her virginity to that same teacher. However, Vanessa has always believed it was love. Sparking discussion and debate before its debut, Russell writes from her own teenage experiences and research to probe issues such as “what does consent mean?” and “what is victimhood?” The book moves between memory and trauma, past and present, and the juxtaposition of breathless adolescent angst with a woman looking back through the lens of time and age. No doubt this will be a book club choice, fueled by lots of wine and maybe a few confessions.
The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian
There are many reasons to love Chris Bohjalian’s writing, and I’ve been a fan since reading “Midwives” years ago. Despite its tender title, The Red Lotus is the code name for a new plague that has grown out of rats who survived the Darwinian ravages of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. The story starts with a bike trip in Vietnam, where a young ER doctor, with a history of self-harm and “cutting” has finally found love with a hospital colleague. Or has she? When the man goes missing on a solo bike ride, events are loosed that could unleash a biological weapon on the world unseen since the Middle Ages. Just like his previous book “The Flight Attendant” ( soon to be a Netflix movie) this story grabs you by the sore throat and doesn’t let up.
The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks by Ben Cohen
Is there truth or science behind a “running streak” of good luck, talent, winning or creativity? I love the genre that tackles issues or questions combining human psychology, data, trends and storytelling. Cohen’s WSJ reporter background means he takes a compelling detective’s journey using disparate case studies. The book’s chapters range from a Russian prison to Steph Curry on the Warrior’s basketball court, Wall Street and the Amazon jungle, to name just a few. The outcome? Streaks, formerly debunked by scholars and mathematicians both can and can’t be cultivated. Fans of Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell will devour this one.
In Our Other Lives by Theodore Wheeler
A video has surfaced of an American missionary/ ROTC cadet who has been captured in Pakistan. Is he a target or a traitor? Is he dead or alive? Captive Tyler Ahls is less the focus of this novel than his sister, Elisabeth, who sits at the center of the story. Her husband has left, her dreams of motherhood have been shattered and she’s rebuilt her life from an evangelical Christian upbringing to a nurse in Omaha Nebraska. FBI agent Frank Schwaller has arrived in the heartland with his surveillance and video equipment to learn all he can about the captured American and determine what Elisabeth really knows about her brother’s potential secrets. The result, laced together in chapters that focus on each character, is a book that finally cinches it all together with an exploration of lost love, human frailty and the trespassing of privacy in the name of war.
The Sea of Lost Girls by Carol Goodman
This twisty-turny thriller opens with Tess, wife of a respected boarding school professor and mother of a troubled seventeen-year old son, Rudy. He is smart and ambitious and has nabbed the lead in the school play, but Tess worries there is something at work under the surface. When he texts his mother for help at 2:50 AM, she is plunged into a story that exhumes her own mistakes almost two decades prior. When Rudy’s girlfriend is found dead on the beach, not far from where Tess picked up her son, the story takes a dark twist, sucking her entire family into the web. But is this an isolated incident or are there skeletons in the closet at this elite boarding school?
Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman
Zigman’s gimlet eye on today’s life never ceases to delight and her latest novel shines a humorous light on middle age, as it examines loss, stasis and introspection. Judy’s life hasn’t followed the script she’d planned. Her marriage is failing, her friend is battling cancer, her daughter is shooting her stink eye and her husband is barely eking out a living, making it too expensive to divorce. On top of that, despite her own personal mess, she’s a writer for a self-help website. In order to keep from falling apart in the midst of loss and change, she finds an old baby sling and straps her dog to her body for comfort. And so begins a ritual that she cannot break. Zigman’s story and her prose will make you smile, sometimes laugh out loud and often shake your head. Whether I wanted to or not, I recognized something of myself in every chapter.
Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen
Two dead women have been carefully laid out and placed together in a New Jersey marsh in June. By the end of the month there will be five. The boardwalk psychic, Clara, begins to experience disturbing visions that are connected to the missing women. When she forms an unlikely friendship with Lily, a down on her luck casino worker, they create a bond to try to solve the mystery and save yet another girl from becoming a victim. Will they be able to prevent another crime in time? This thriller explores the combination of violence, womanhood and the abuses and uses of power.
*These are books I genuinely love and am thrilled to recommend to my friends. These are Amazon affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I get a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Alternately, if you prefer to rent books at your local library or buy from your local bookstore, I very much support that!
Lee Woodruff Speaker-Author-Executive Media Trainer