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.

Dream Apartment

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager did not disappoint my hope for a creepy, suspenseful book.

Jules is an orphaned twenty-something who has lost her job, her boyfriend and their shared apartment all within a day.  The job offer to apartment sit in the exclusive Bartholomew building near Central Park seems too good to be true, although a little strange with its strict rules.  Her friend Chloe tries to warn her of the building’s cursed past, but Jules refuses to give up the chance to make a thousand dollars a week.

The story backtracks from present time, in which Jules is hit by a car while trying to escape from the Bartholomew just five days after moving in.  The story then moves back and forth between post-accident time to the days leading up to it.

Within her first few days, Jules befriends another apartment sitter (Ingrid) who suddenly disappears.   She realizes that others have gone missing before Ingrid.  More is discovered about the Bartholomew’s history as she begins digging into the missing girls’ whereabouts.  In the process, she gets close to a couple of the building occupants, who turn out to be not at all what they seem.

The author kept me guessing as to what was truly at play in the building.  At first I thought it was haunted which made me really excited.  I LOVE a good haunted house story.  Then I believed the events were tied to a satanic cult.  When the past catches up to the present, the story transitions into the days following the accident.  This is when readers find out what is truly going on at the Bartholomew, and if Jules is able to get herself out of its clutches.

Cold Revenge

Jezebel by K. Larsen is a book that I wasn’t too into and wouldn’t normally finish, but I did so here goes.

The plot centers around a senior in high school, Annabelle, who gets in trouble for drunk driving.  While being completely grounded at home, she must also do community service hours at a rehab facility.  It is here that she befriends Jezebel, a spit-fire of a 50-something year old with dementia.  Jezebel tells Annabelle a French “love-gone-wrong” story every Tuesday through the remainder of Annabelle’s senior year.  During that time the two bond, and Jezebel helps Annabelle get over the anger of losing her brother from a hit and run.  She also manages to get Annabelle to reconnect to her parents AND find a new boyfriend.  However, the ending of Jezebel’s story reveals that she is actually the jilted lover from her tale, and she is only there for revenge against her ex-husband SPOILER who just so happens to be Annabelle’s dad.  She kills Annabelle before taking off with her current husband (also her closest male friend in her story).

There was potential, but I found several issues with the story itself.  One oddity is that a woman would give graphic sexual details while story telling to a teenager.  This just seemed weird to me!  Also, that someone would go to ALL this trouble to get revenge SO many years later.  Why not go for the ex-husband and his new wife and call it a day?  It just didn’t add up for me.  Finally, there was poor editing with so many typos.

This book was highly recommended in a social media group I follow, so there are fans out there, I just don’t happen to be one.

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.

Perfect Villain

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen was my vacation read.  Jessica is a make-up artist who manages to get herself involved in a morality study for extra cash.  Dr. Lydia Shields is in charge of the study and she becomes particularly interested in Jessica.  Jessica opens up to Dr. Shields about her most confidential secrets, including her part in a family tragedy.

They become closer, until some of Dr. Shields’s requests become uncomfortable.  Jessica is asked to flirt with various strangers, and to put herself in unsafe situations.  She isn’t quite sure how these requests connect to the study.  Jessica begins to research more about Dr. Shields.  She discovers that Lydia is currently being sued by a deceased patient’s mother (among other oddities).

Meanwhile, we find out that Dr. Shields’s true motivation is to test her unfaithful husband, Thomas.  She wants to find out if “once a cheater, always a cheater” is true for him, and she is using Jessica as bait.  In a strange twist, Jessica has met and slept with Thomas on her own.  It becomes quite clear that Dr. Shields, while brilliant, is obsessed with her husband.  She will do anything to keep him, even if it means hurting those that threaten to take him away.

Jessica works with Thomas to outsmart Lydia, but the truth is twisted between the two.  When Jessica tries to cut ties with the doctor, she loses her job and her family is threatened.  Lydia Shields is a perfect villain.  Read to find out if Jessica is able to escape her clutches!

Starring Role

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the perfect summer beach read.

Evelyn Hugo is a famous actress, and this is the story of her life as told to her biographer Monique.  Monique isn’t sure why she is being offered exclusive rights to Evelyn’s life story, but Evelyn promises that all questions will be answered by the time she is done sharing.  Monique’s own life is interspersed throughout Evelyn’s story, and their stories  do connect in a surprising way.

Evelyn worked her way into Hollywood using her beauty and sexuality.  She speaks about her life marriage by marriage.  Each marriage offers its own unique story, and in most cases, the marriages were fabrications arranged for publicity or to cover up her true self.  The truth is that Evelyn was deeply in love with another film star, Celia St. James.  Same-sex relationships were taboo in the industry during the story’s time frame.

Monique discovers that one of Evelyn’s former husbands and closest friends was involved with her dad’s death, which played a large part as to why Evelyn chose to share her life with Monique.

Evelyn’s gritty, resilient character had me rooting for her success.  With some insightful truths about life, love and marriage scattered throughout, this was a fun read for anyone interested in a peek at the potential lives of past-Hollywood stars.