Twisted Love

My latest read (following a different book that I had to abandon around 30% through) is The Wife Before Me by Laura Elliot. This book reminded me of the movie Sleeping with the Enemy before I was even halfway through it.  

The book has three main parts. The first is Elena’s life starting with meeting handsome, charismatic Nicholas Madison at her mother’s funeral.  They develop a relationship and ultimately marry. His aggressive side starts to show when she questions him about his previous wife (who died tragically when her car veered off a cliff into the ocean below).  Elena feels that she will never live up to Amelia’s ghost. Nicholas continues to show violence followed by apologies and blames it all on the stress of losing his wife.  They have two children.  One night, she lashes out and almost kills Nicholas.  She is placed on probation and is allowed supervised visits with her kids.  This is when she really starts learning the truth about her husband.

Meanwhile the story switches back to Amelia’s life with Nicholas which was definitely NOT perfect.  He was abusive to her, killed her father and controlled her until she was a shell of her former self.   When Amelia finally confides in a couple friends, they start the plan to save her and the life of her as yet born child (an earlier pregnancy ended due to his abuse). The plan does come together and Amelia was able to rid herself of his horrible entrapment and abuse.  

In a solid twist, Elena and Amelia end up working together to take Nicholas down once and for all, including some help from a ghostly presence (an odd addition in my mind, but it works!).

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I really hated Nicholas and his mother!  It’s frightening what someone may endure out of fear, hope and a twisted sense of love.

Justice

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult is an intensely emotional book with courtroom drama.

The story takes place in New Haven, Connecticut.  Ruth is an exceptional nurse in the labor and delivery unit of Yale New Haven Hospital, and has worked there for twenty years.  A white supremacist couple, Brit and Turk, demand that Ruth not be able to care for their newborn son because she is African American.

Ruth is offended by this request and treatment (from not only the couple but because her manager went along with it).  It reaches a head when the baby stops breathing while Ruth is watching him.  Ruth tries to resuscitate despite orders to not touch the baby.  The baby doesn’t make it, and all heck breaks loose.  Turk vows to get even and initiates a lawsuit against Ruth for murdering their child.

The story switches among multiple points of view: Ruth, Turk and Ruth’s district attorney Kennedy.  Ruth must navigate losing her job, her mother and possibly going to jail, all while taking care of her teenage son.  Her most upsetting obstacle is facing that no matter how hard she has worked to fit in, it hasn’t worked.  Ruth builds a working relationship with her attorney.  Kennedy states that she is not a racist, but through the story events discovers that racism entails more than she thinks.  She realizes that just by being white, and taking for granted how life is predominantly geared to favor white people, she is part of racism.

Turk’s story was most disturbing to me.  As a teenager, he connected with someone who taught and encouraged him to hate and hurt anyone non-white or gay.  His wife is daughter to one of the leaders of this group and they bond over their mutual hatred of others.  After losing the baby, Brit never returns to any semblance of normal.  Turk, however, goes through major changes by the end of the story.

I spent most of the book angry at Turk’s group and Ruth’s situation, and anxious that Ruth or her son would be physically hurt.  Luckily the latter did not happen.

Kennedy reminds me a bit of the author’s voice in the story.  I think the awareness that Picoult sought is clear in Kennedy’s growing understanding through the story.   The afterword explains how strongly Picoult felt about writing a book dealing with racism.  She engaged in numerous pre-writing interviews to capture the thoughts and feelings of every race/belief represented in the story.  Picoult understood that writing this book would open her to major criticism, but she was willing to take that chance in order to create conversation around this topic.   I’m glad she did, because this book is so charged with feeling that you just have to keep going in hopes that justice will be served.

No Peeking

I had to jump on the bandwagon with my next read, Bird Box by Josh Malerman.   This book was so uniquely appealing to me. I found myself looking forward to each chance to read more.

The book’s apocalyptic setting moves back and forth between then and now. In the “now,” Malorie is on her own with two young children (all blindfolded) planning an escape route that brings them down the river in hopes of finding a refuge. 

“Then” takes the reader back to discover the events leading up to this escape. Mayhem rapidly spreads through the world.  People are seeing something which prompts them to extreme violence. Ultimately they take their own lives in desperately gruesome ways.  It never becomes clear as to what the “creatures” are, but there is definitely an understood presence causing these deaths.

Malorie’s sister is a victim.  She moves on, and manages to find a house of other random people, including Tom, Don, Felix, Cheryl, Jules and his dog Victor.  Malorie is pregnant and there happens to be another pregnant woman, Olympia, who arrives at the house too. They survive by keeping all windows covered and wearing blindfolds whenever they go outside.  Bird box refers to their alarm system – birds kept in a box outside their door to alert them if outsiders approach. There is a great parallel here, since the people/survivors are boxed in as well. Eventually they let in an outsider, Gary, and this begins the house’s unraveling.

The night that Malorie and Olympia both go into labor changes everything once and for all for their household.  Malorie raises the children, named Boy and Girl, to be keen listeners.  Hearing is their most important sense in this dangerous world.

While there are many end-of-world stories, this one really stands out. We only know as much as the characters. We don’t see or ever find out what the others have seen, and for me, this makes the book captivating.  I had to watch the movie after reading the book. Despite some notable differences, I felt the movie portrayed the book well.  I’m glad that I jumped on this bandwagon.

Unbreakable

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a story in which you know someone is going to lose his or her life, it’s just a matter of figuring out who it will be and how it will happen.  The story follows a family through most of daughter Leni’s childhood into adulthood.  Leni and her parents (Ernt and Cora) have moved numerous times.  Her dad is a Vietnam veteran and POW; the war has changed him.  He is moody, physically abusive to Leni’s mom Cora (and eventually to Leni too).  A friend of his killed during war left him a piece of land in the remotes of Alaska, and he decides that this is the change that their family needs.

They leave quickly and with few resources.  The cabin is rundown and the land is overgrown.  They work hard and learn from friendly locals about how to properly prepare for Alaska’s harsh winters.  In time, they begin to feel more at home.  Ernt begins to rage again, especially during the long winters.  He turns against his wealthy, businessman neighbor Tom Walker which stirs the plot even more.  Along with this is Leni’s growing friendship with Tom’s son, and her growing concern for the safety of her and her mom.

There are unexpected twists and turns through the story.  Ultimately Leni and her mom are free from abuse, but not without many sacrifices.  The story comes full circle when Leni is able to return to Alaska and create her own life and family there as an adult.

There are two standouts for me from this book.  First is the love of Alaska evident in the detailed setting.  The characters are in love with this place, both its beauty and its harshness.  It takes a special person to make this setting a permanent home!  Second is the relationship between Leni and her mom.  Their love for each other is unbreakable.

Truth

The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly was a Christmas gift to all parishioners of my church.  I read this book in a day, and found the author’s straight-forward, repetitive style to be thought-provoking and true.

The book establishes that our world is suffering.  I think we can all agree to this fact on multiple levels.  People have become complacent in doing nothing, or sleepwalking through life.  The “biggest lie” is that holiness isn’t possible.  When people believe this lie, they will continue to sleepwalk through life.

Kelly stresses that holiness is in fact possible and attainable through performing Holy Moments.  They are acts of pure beauty, love, and kindness that can ultimately change the world.  Holy Moments are founded on a relationship with God; they are collaborative acts.  Not only will they change the world, but they will create pure happiness for those creating them.

 

Winding Tracks

I am so glad that I finally read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

This is actually two stories in one.  One belongs to seventeen-year-old Molly in present day Maine.  She has been shuttled from one foster family to another for years.  She is caught stealing a library book, Jane Eyre, and her boyfriend manages to finagle a way for her to earn community service hours as her punishment.  She will help clean out the attic of his mom’s employer, Vivian.  This experience begins a relationship between Molly and Vivian, who have more in common than realized at first glance.

Vivian begins telling Molly her life story for one of Molly’s school projects, beginning with her family’s immigration from Ireland.  When a fire erupts in her NYC apartment, Viv’s family is killed.  Nine-year-old Viv (then named Niamh) is placed on an orphan train along with other family-less children.  These children end up in Minnesota, and are lined up and signed away to a new life.  Vivian’s experiences begin with families looking for cheap labor and nothing more.  She finally ends with a kind couple that own a store.  This store becomes her business and she does well with it.  There is additional heartache in her life,  but I don’t want to give away all the details!

I loved the links between Molly and Vivian, down to the detail of both keeping a cherished item from their pasts (the claddagh from Vivian’s grandmother and the charms from Molly’s dad).  Their pasts have hardened them, yet they are open to each other.  In fact, they have provided each other with an important change in life.  Their connection is one of several in this story in which events twist to bring the exact right person along at just the right time.  I think this is true in real life too.

This story ended with tears of the best kind, and for me, is story telling at its finest.

Miny Moe

This last read, Eeny Meeny by M.J. Arlidge, should be a favorite; it has all the elements I normally love about a story.  There are twists, suspense, a little gore and drama, but for some reason it was tough for me to get through.  End of summer timing with back to school and work prep may have been a big factor in messing up my normal reading pace.

Anyway, the story revolves around a crazy murder case in which two people are abducted and then imprisoned without food or water.  A gun and the instruction that once one is killed the other will be set free is their only way out.  Desperation, starvation and extreme thirst take their toll until eventually a murder takes place.  The “survivors” then have their own demons to face in the aftermath of such horror.  The case is all the more odd because it is a woman who is responsible.

The detective on the case is another strong, focused woman, Grace.  She begins to notice that each pair of abductees has some connection to her own life.  Her secret past and the demons she hides come to light as the story draws to close.  Through the investigation there are side plots involving corruption within the squad too.

Ultimately, Grace is able to figure out the case, but not until the lives of many people are horribly changed or finished.