Embracing Nature

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is an account of Christopher McCandless’s untimely death. Shortly after graduating college, he decided to go off the grid. He cut contact with his family and belongings to travel around much of the western half of the U.S. before reaching his final destination in a remote section of Alaska.

The author shares various perspectives surrounding Chris’s death. He includes some of the people he befriended, his life and travels leading up to the trip, and other accounts of young men who died due to an encounter with nature. There are also snippets and quotes from Chris’s journal along with the author’s musings.

These various pieces all create a thought provoking and emotional look at a person whose deep love of freedom and nature cost him his life.

Hungry House

The Spite House by Johnny Compton is a haunted house story. Eric and his two daughters, Dess and Stacy, are on the run. It’s slowly revealed that something otherworldly happened, which made it necessary to run rather than risk losing his daughter Stacy again.

A job to document the strange happenings in the home of a cursed family seems like the perfect way to hide while earning a lot of money. The very first night has such profound disturbances that Eric is forced to send his daughters to stay with the woman who hired him. It quickly becomes clear that their safety may still be at stake.

There is a fine line between reality and the spirit world in the house, and it is hungry for souls. Eric must figure out a way to save his family and to outsmart the curse that heavily permeates this creepy house.

Hotel Murder

The Maid by Nita Prose is a quirky, twisty murder mystery.

I finished this one a while ago so will need to keep my review short! Molly is a quirky character who has difficulty in social situations and an obsession with perfectly completing her job as a hotel maid.

Her world is turned upside down when she finds a VIP guest dead in his hotel room. Somehow, Molly becomes the prime suspect.

The story progresses with plenty of twists and surprises shared by Molly’s straightforward, enjoyable narration.

One Season

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan is one of my recent favorites. It is told from alternating points of view between Olivia and Lily.

Olivia’s teenaged son Asher is being tried for the first degree murder of his girlfriend Lily. Lily’s point of view flashes back to the months before her death. Her memories show a loving relationship with a few cracks. Are these disagreements enough to result in murder? The prosecutor happens upon a possible motive once the medical professional shares his autopsy findings.

Both characters have secrets and abusive trauma in their pasts. There is incredible depth along with many twists in the story. Olivia’s work as a beekeeper adds to the story’s complexity. I really appreciated this symbolism (maybe because bee imagery was a main focus of my Master’s thesis on Sylvia Plath). Somehow, it all comes together with a nice touch of Olivia’s honey recipes at the end of the story. I’m happy that I bought this book so I can try out a few of them.

Readers will constantly question whether Asher is manifesting his father’s violence or if there is another suspect. For me, this book was both entertaining and enlightening.

Time to Repair

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow is an emotional ride into a world of mental illness, depression, drug abuse, trauma and a slow journey into recovery.

The story begins with seventeen-year-old Charlotte’s vague memories of being dropped off outside a hospital. She nearly died from a suicide attempt. After hospital care, she is out-placed to a facility (Creeley) that specializes in helping girls who self harm.

It is here that readers learn a bit about Charlie’s traumatic background beginning with her father’s death, being bullied at school and abused by her mom which spiraled into homelessness and assault. While at Creeley, Charlie manages to engage with some of her peers, and forms a couple relationships that will last after she leaves.

When Charlie leaves Creeley, she tries joining with a former friend to make a new start. This is when the real tests begin. She must find a job and try to take care of herself without falling into old patterns. She is put to the test. Her struggles are very difficult and realistic. Recovery isn’t easy. It takes a special intervention to bring her back to finding herself, or one of my favorite analogies, putting the pieces of herself back together in some new way.

This book impacted me all the way through to the author’s note. I was rooting for Charlie and her friends the whole way through. The power of kindness in supporting others is a radiating message. While not always easy, there is always hope and promise.

A Hero’s Journey

Fairy Tale by Stephen King combines elements of some series and story favorites: Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, and of course, classic fairy tales.

Charlie narrates his unbelievable tale. He starts with some of his childhood before progressing to saving a grumpy old man named Bowditch at the age of seventeen. This interaction changes the course of his life. He gives up sports to help with Bowditch’s recovery and his aging dog, Radar.

In doing so, he learns that Bowditch has an incredible secret. His locked shed holds a well that leads to another world. This world contains huge amounts of gold and a way to turn back time. Charlie decides to travel there in hope of saving Radar’s life. Once there, he realizes that there is an entire kingdom that needs to be saved too. There is a terrible curse over the remaining people causing them to be horribly disfigured. Any goodness that remains is in danger.

Charlie is captured and seems destined to die in this world. But his prison mates believe he is a prince destined to save them all.

This book has all the elements of an amazing tale, including fantastical creatures, monsters, danger, adventures and several heroic characters. I was reminded within only a chapter or two that Stephen King is truly a masterful story teller.

Ghostly Memory

Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak combines elements of a ghost story and mystery.

Mallory is a recovering addict, who is fortunate to land a job as a summertime nanny to sweet, imaginative, five-year-old Teddy. All is going great until Teddy starts drawing pictures of his imaginary friend Anya. The pictures (which are shown throughout the book) depict a murder and cover up.

Mallory begins investigating the real Anya, who lived in the cottage where Mallory is currently staying. Her observations cause Teddy’s parents to question her sobriety.

Cracks begin forming between Teddy’s parents and their relationship with Mallory, leading to a major surprise ending.

A Brutal Time

Kindred by Octavia Butler is a captivating mix of science and historical fiction. I decided to read it in preparation for an upcoming lesson with eleventh graders.

Dana is a black woman from California who is suddenly transported from her current time in the 70s to a plantation in antebellum south. She quickly realizes that she is there to save the plantation owner’s son (Rufus). Rufus is a distant relative, and Dana seems destined to travel back in time whenever his life is in danger – which is quite often. This creates a clash of worlds as she must transition from more modern times to a setting of brutal slavery.

Time is meaningless as she can be gone for days or months that only equate to minutes or hours in her time. It is only when her own life is threatened that she is able to return to her real life.

Dana manages to accustom herself to moving between times, even bringing along her white husband the second time. It becomes unclear whether Dana and her husband will ever be able to live normally in their correct time. Readers get to know the southern characters which makes every hardship even more horrific and Dana’s presence even more necessary, as perhaps she is not there to only help Rufus.

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before and one I won’t forget.

Life Science

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is about chemistry, cooking, overcoming obstacles and various relationship dynamics – all taking place in the 1960s. Elizabeth Zott has a lot going for her, but ironically these are the exact things creating some of her biggest issues.

Zott is a brilliant chemist, but unfortunately it’s a thankless profession as a woman during this time period. She falls in love with a coworker who happens to be a renowned chemist named Calvin Evans. Everyone believes she is with him for her own personal gain, but there is no denying their mutual attraction.

Spoilers ahead

Everything changes when Calvin meets an untimely death, leaving Elizabeth with their super smart rescue dog named Six Thirty (LOVE him) and an unborn daughter, Madeline. Elizabeth loses her job and begins working out of her own self-made lab in her kitchen. She eventually lands a role as a television dinner host for a show that becomes hugely popular. Her tv personality infuses a mixture of chemistry and life lessons while making delicious meals. Elizabeth eventually realizes that she needs to follow her own advice.

Calvin’s background begins weaving into Elizabeth and Madeline’s lives creating some surprises along the way.

This book is full of smart writing and quirky, interesting characters.

Time Loop

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister is an excellent read!

Jen witnesses her son murder a man outside their home. Her reaction exerts an extreme enough energy to propel her into a time loop. She wakes up each day in various moments from her past. Each date provides an important piece of information to help her understand how this crime came to be, and more importantly, how she can change it. The dates span back to before first meeting her husband.

Jen realizes that her life had many secrets that she was always too busy to notice. Now she has a chance to observe and to make adjustments. She relives these days while awaiting the pivotal date that will hopefully return her to a fixed present time.

I love this book. It has the perfect mixture of mystery, sci fi and romance. It makes me ponder all the seemingly tiny moments and various people that define us, second chances and destiny.