Once Upon a Time

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert will be a quick review for me, mostly because I am feeling extremely time crunched lately!

Alice always dreamed of meeting her famous grandmother, Althea Prosperine, who is the author of a rare book titled Tales from the Hinterland.  Alice has never personally read the book.  In fact, it seems that her mother is determined that Alice have nothing to do with her grandmother or her book.  Alice and her mother Ella constantly  move as if trying to escape something.  This “something” finally catches up with them when Alice discovers her mother is missing.  Alice ventures to find her grandmother’s estate in hopes of finding her mother.  In doing so, she enters a fairy tale realm where she learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined.

I enjoyed a lot about this story, including the writing and discovering who Alice really is.  The fairy tale element slowed me down quite a bit though, as it’s not my preferred type of story.  My daughter highly recommended the book to me, so there is definitely an audience out there!

Finding Happiness

I decided to reread Whirligig by Paul Fleischman in order to support my son with his summer reading.

Brent is humiliated at a party in his new town.  He has moved quite a bit and he realizes that he will be socially ostracized after this event.  He attempts suicide while drunk  driving away from the party, but instead kills eighteen-year-old Lea Zamora.  Brent never knew Lea.  Her mother asks that he build four whirligigs around the United States in order to spread the happiness that she is no longer able to share.  She asks that he take a photograph of each whirligig to return to her after his redemptive mission.

Brent sets off on this journey, traveling to the four corners of the U.S.: Washington, California, Florida and Maine.  He starts with no knowledge of how to build a whirligig and is socially awkward around others.  Through the trip, he begins forming relationships with various people, such as other travelers, onlookers and more.  He gets something from each encounter.  He begins new hobbies during his trip, such as playing the harmonica and astronomy.

Throughout the story, there are chapters devoted to some of the random people who encounter his whirligigs and the effects they have on each person.  In most cases, the whirligigs fulfilled Lea’s mother’s wish, spreading happiness to others.

At the end of the story, Brent is finally able to speak openly about his part in the accident to a woman artist he meets.  This is his first time openly confessing to his crime.  After this moment, Brent realizes he will be able to go on and live his life as a new, humbled person.

I was so happy to reread this book, not only to be able to talk about it with my son, but because of its important messages.  The ideas of rebirth, forgiveness, and mostly, the ability to find/create beauty amidst chaos and ugliness resounded with me.  These ideas are eternal, and the latter seems more important than ever in today’s society.

Torn Away

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate definitely makes my top three of this summer’s favorite reads.

It’s historical fiction based around Georgia Tann’s Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society which operated between the 1920s through the 1950s.  The story follows the fictional Foss children’s story, with a focus on the eldest sister, Rill Foss, who later becomes known as May Weathers.

Rill’s family are river people.  They live a simple life on their boat/”kingdom” named the Arcadia along the Mississippi River.  Her parents, Briny and Queenie, go to hospital when Queenie has problems delivering twins (their sixth and seventh children).  It is at this time when Rill (12 years old) along with her three sisters and toddler brother are abducted and brought to the Children’s Home.

Here they are subjected to inhumane treatment at all levels.  I could barely stomach reading the vicious ways that the children were handled by Tann and her employees at the “orphanage.”  Rill’s siblings begin to be adopted, and one sister disappears after most likely dying at the hands of staff.  Rill and Fern are the final two siblings who are adopted into a musician’s family together.  Rill attempts to escape with Fern to her old life, but by this time it’s too late and everything has changed.

Throughout May’s narrative, the reader also follows Avery.  Avery turns out to be the granddaughter of one of May’s siblings.  Avery works to find her connection to May (Rill) during the course of the story.  These stories intertwine perfectly.

This was a book I couldn’t put down, but one that I didn’t want to end.  I had to find out how everyone was connected.  I only wish there were additional books for every other sibling in order to discover the details of each one’s life; I would read every single one.  This is a great story with strong writing to bring every character alive.

A Family Ordeal

Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz is the type of book that will frustrate you while also making you think and feel strongly.

Fig, short for Fiona, is the daughter of a schizophrenic mother.  Fig herself is obsessive compulsive, along with some possible signs of schizophrenia.  She is obsessed with her mom, which makes it nearly impossible for her to form any other close relationships.  She blames her dad for her mom being taken away to psychiatric hospitals, and her paternal grandmother is bitter and cold toward Fig.  She is ostracized at school for her odd behaviors.

The story follows Fig’s life from her point of view, from the age of six (when she first realized something was amiss with her mom) to just before she turns nineteen.  During these years, we see the ups and downs of her mom’s behaviors, including the impact they have on Fig.  Fig’s one and only true wish is that her mom will be normal again.  She feels that she can make sacrifices to make her mom better.  An interesting part of the story is her calendar of ordeals.  Each day she must complete an ordeal, such as not touching metal, not speaking every third word, along with an assortment of other difficult tasks, all with the hope that the actions will cure her mom.  She also begins obsessively picking her skin as a release.

Fig’s uncle Billy is (finally) the person who is able to get through to Fig in one of her lowest moments.  He tells her she needs to stop self-harm and he gives her other outlets.  This is what Fig needs to find her own interests outside of her devotion/obsession with her mother, and to realize that she is cared for.

Strong writing and imagery along with the sensitive nature of mental illness make this an engaging read.  There is meaning behind everything: the chapter titles, the words defined at the beginning of each chapter, the omnipresent wild dog, and the flowers.  I had to find out if Fig would end up like her mom, or if she would find a different path.

The Perfect Con

In Her Skin by Kim Savage was a recent teen mother-daughter book selection at my town library.  This book was a wild ride.

Jolene has been raised to be a master con artist by her mother, and was being used in sex trafficking by her mother’s rotten boyfriend.  Jo’s mom comes out of her drug-induced stupor long enough to realize it’s time to escape her boyfriend.  He kills Jo’s mom once he realizes her plan.  Jo escapes to a life of more cons and homelessness in Boston’s Tent City.

Jo discovers the perfect con to get out herself out of this life which is by impersonating Vivienne Weir.  Vivienne was a young girl when she disappeared from her friend’s home while the wealthy parents “watching her” dined at a nearby restaurant.  Jo is embraced into a new life as Vivienne by the very couple who were in charge when the true Vivienne went missing.  Jo is attracted to their daughter Temple, but also knows to be wary of her once horrible secrets are revealed.  Temple is not as perfect as one would assume.  Jo becomes obsessed with Temple and they form a twisted relationship with hints of romance.

Secrets, lies and survival are the major elements of this story.  Everyone is part of the deception in some way, and it comes down to who will come out on top.


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.


Want or Need?

Need by Joelle Charbonneau is a disturbing read about the extremes some will take to satisfy their own desires.

Kaylee is the main character of the novel.  She has made herself into an outcast because of her manipulative and overbearing ways of trying to find a kidney donor for her sick brother.  She has one true friend, Nate.  He shows her the Need website, which promises to fulfill a need in exchange for a bizarre task along with posted photo proof.  The tasks start seemingly basic, such as leaving cookies on a doorstep. Not so harmless when it’s discovered that the cookies are full of peanuts, proving fatal to the girl with severe allergies receiving them.

It becomes clear that there is a sinister hand playing the people of Nottawa against each other.  When the teens involved realize their part in the deadly events occurring, most choose to stay silent rather than risk getting in trouble.  Kaylee is determined to find the source of Need, especially when she realizes that her friend Nate has been kidnapped.

The ending reveals Need’s creator.  I felt it was tough to imagine someone going to such lengths out of revenge and for the government purpose described.  I found the book a bit dragged out in parts and hard to swallow in others.  But the premise is definitely interesting and it makes you think about how far people might go for what they need/want.  This very distinction (need versus want) is a repeated idea throughout the novel and an important theme.