20 in 2014: Book 5

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As the end of summer nears, a new crop of parents prepare to send their little ones to kindergarten at Pirriwee Public School. A school set with a cast of characters, each playing an internally scripted role in an attempt to appease the perceived expectations of others. A story about lies: the ones we tell ourselves, the ones we perform for others, and the ones that simmer just below the surface, ready to erupt at any moment. 3 very different women, 2 sides to every story, and 1 murder investigation.

As she enters a room, most people can’t help but stare at her exquisite beauty. Married to an extraordinarily wealthy business man and mom to two “perfect” twin boys, Celeste lives a life many jealously long for. However, she hides secrets that eat away at her every single day and she is not the woman people think she is. Madeline is the first to help others: often having the missing piece of an art project or the perfect piece of advice; however, she struggles to co-parent her teenage daughter with her ex-husband. An ex-husband who has since remarried and is also preparing to send a child to the same kindergarten. Jane is new to the area and feels like an outsider in every way: her clothes, her rental home, and her single mom status. It isn’t until a tragic murder occurs at a school function that each woman’s secrets are revealed and lies unearthed.

The truth unravels like an intricately woven ball, each layer revealing another set of truths. As the women learn the whole truth, each wishes she would have asked questions, noticed the signs, done…something. Some lies are perfumed in hopes of being uncovered, small purposeful slips in hopes of someone seeing the truth. Others are performed masterfully, the lie so interconnected with the truth no one would ever have known. Ultimately, the foundation of each of the woman’s lies comes from a similar place, a place that connects them in unforeseen ways. Fantastic book.


20 in 2014: Book Four

A Fall of MarigoldsA Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One delicately woven scarf. Two women generations apart connected by a shared thread of tragedy. A tale of love lost and redefined.

September 1911: Clara Wood has found refuge from her tragic past on Ellis Island caring for immigrants too ill to gain passage to the United States. It isn’t until the brightly colored scarf on a passing patient catches her eye that she begins to rethink the events that drove her from Manhattan. As she cares for this man, she finds herself in a moral quandary, the truth of which ends up mimicking her life once again…

September 2011: As NYC prepares to honor the tenth anniversary of 9/11, widow Taryn Michaels is forced to confront the truth of the events that forever changed her life in a matter of seconds. One phone call, one late meeting…destiny or selfishness? Had her choices on that harrowing day cost her the love of her life? A long-lost camera is found and Taryn’s quiet “in-between” life is rocked. On that camera, a picture of her standing before the tumbling towers wearing a scarf. The pattern of which has haunted her, a textile expert, she has spent the last ten years searching for fabric similar to no avail. As she relives the terror of that day, she discovers truths she never imagined.

I devoured this book in one sitting. I could not put it down. Two seemingly different stories are so beautifully woven together, much like the threads of the scarf that is the centerpiece of this novel. A beautiful, charming, poignant read.

20 in 2014: Book Three

The Perfume CollectorThe Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

London, 1955: Grace Monroe has just realized with the utmost clarity that her marriage, her life, her story is rife with glaring flaws. It is then that she receives a mysterious letter from France detailing an inheritance left to her by a woman she’s never met: Eva d’Orsey. Grace boards a plane to France that would thrust her into a chapter of her life forever changing her, and her life’s story.

As she uncovers the mystery that is Eva d’Orsey she finds herself at a crossroads where the complete truth could alter the world as she sees it, yet leaving with unanswered questions would be impossible. Why would this complete stranger leave her an inheritance worth more than Grace could ever imagine? There must be a mistake. But there isn’t.

Eva d’Orsey, orphaned at a young age and briefly raised by her uncle, was forced to figure life out completely on her own. Her classroom, the streets. Her family, the enigmatic characters of a local French hotel where she was brought as a child to work as a chambermaid. It is within the hallways of this hotel that Eva is raised, and eventually broken.

The demands of each hotel guest ranged from the mundane: extra towels, extra soap, to the extraordinary. One particular guest challenges Eva to the point of a near breakdown, requiring complete darkness and having a peculiar aversion to scents. Cleaning scents. Through this struggle, Eva discovers a knack for mixing her own cleaning solutions and a talent for creating scents. She had no way of knowing she was dealing with the eccentric demands of one the greatest perfumers in the world: Madame Zed.

Perfumes. Scents. A world where differing notes spoke greater volumes than words. A person’s choice of perfume told a story all its own and left a subtle footprint on the memory of those left in its trace. It is a scent that sparks a memory, a connection, that would profoundly change Grace. And answer questions she may have rather left unanswered.

“You see, nothing is more immediate, more complete than the sense of smell. In an instant, it has the power to transport you. Your olfactory sense connects not to the memory itself, but to the emotion you felt when that memory was made. To recreate a scent memory is one of the most challenging, eloquent pursuits possible. It’s poetry, in its most immediate form.”

Much like the fragrant tiers and notes within a bottle of perfume, Tesssaro’s novel is gifted to the reader in beautifully wrapped layers that unfold seamlessly. The connections, tragedies, and triumphs weave together to make a story that you’ll remember long after you finish reading the last word on the page. A beautiful story. An extraordinary book. A favorite read of 2014.

20 in 2014: Book Two

Morning GloryMorning Glory by Sarah Jio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“You know, things fall apart. You grieve. And then you sit around and wait for things to somehow get perfect again. But they don’t. They never can. There is no perfect. There’s just different. But different can be wonderful.”

I devoured every page, every word, of this novel. I am often fascinated by the human story. The fact that each of us walks around with a tale to be told: many of us still weaving the threads that make up the tapestry of our life. Whether it may be fate, or destiny, if we brave the telling of our story to a common stranger, we often find a common pattern, or link.

One houseboat. Two women. They would never meet, separated by time and circumstance, yet the themes of their lives are eerily similar and poignantly woven together. 2008: Ada Santorini is desperately trying to break free from the tragic grief that envelops her. Following her doctor’s suggestion, she finds herself leasing a houseboat in Seattle: world’s away from her current New York City residence. As she tries to rebuild her broken heart, she finds herself taken with the individuals around her and the story of a woman no one willingly talks about. Sad and lonely, the houseboat community saves her. And changes her profoundly.

1950: Penny was a young, finishing school student simply running out for coffee when her life changes in an instant. A car pulls up, and an older gentlemen offers her a ride. Unknowingly, she accepts, later learning that he is one of the richest, most sought after bachelors in town: the artist himself, Dexter Wentworth. He sweeps her off her feet, marries her, and moves her into his houseboat. Their love peaks, and then plummets quickly as Dexter struggles to maintain his artistic prowess. Sad and lonely, the houseboat community saves her. And changes her profoundly.

Some people wallow in the life that existed before the tragic onset of “what ifs” and “what should have-beens”; however, some people work past that darkness and keep walking…eventually finding pieces of light, that if pieced together, can make for the pattern of a new tapestry. Two women. One houseboat. One extraordinary tale that illustrates the healing powers of time and distance.

20 in 2014: Book ONE

Don't GoDon’t Go by Lisa Scottoline

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sacrifice: the variations and interpretations of one word are incredibly poignant. In “Don’t Go”, Lisa Scottoline examines the different sacrifices people make and the reasoning behind them: frivolous sacrifices to keep appearances, life altering sacrifices to save lives, moral sacrifices to save yourself…

Dr. Mike Scanlon is deep in enemy territory, saving lives in the battlefields of Afghanistan as an army doctor. The choices and sacrifices he makes are measured on a second to second basis. One false move in the operating room, one misstep walking between forts, one second could change his life forever. It is while he is deftly saving the life of an injured soldier that tragic news regarding his wife at home is uncovered. In a sick twist of irony, he saves the life of the soldier before him, but is unable to do anything about his wife who perished at home. Alone.

He travels home to take care of funeral services and begins to seek the truth about what happened to Chloe. Secrets come to light that make him question all he’s ever known. The sacrifices he made as a soldier become deeply connected to the sacrifices made by his wife.

The storyline had the makings for an incredibly moving, poignant read: heroic soldier, tragedy, exploration of what it means to be a family… however, Scottoline fell short. Much of the plot and character development moved slowly and felt forced. Disappointing read.

13 in 2013: Book Nine

The StorytellerThe Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It can be said that our life is made up of chapters: an ever evolving story with various characters entering and leaving. Some characters playing main roles in multiple chapters, their impact obvious and life altering. Others, merely come and go without so much as a ripple. It can also be said that each of us houses the seeds of good and evil within, nurturing and growing both throughout our lives; however, it is often within our power which seeds we choose to sow, evil always lurking beneath the surface of any good choice.

As we mold the story of our life, we learn that stories play a multitude of roles in our daily choices and being. There are stories of future goals, dreams and possibilities. There are the stories we tell ourselves when we doubt our own capabilities. There are stories we tell others to cover up that doubt. There are stories that affect us more than we’d like to ever admit and there are stories that alter our life path forever, the chains of which remain connected no matter what we do. Honesty: a story that unfolds itself. Lies: stories we tell ourself and believe so deeply that we try to live them.

Sage Singer and Josef Weber: two characters unlikely to form a friendship. Two characters who could not be more different on the surface; however, their life stories become woven together by a tapestry of moral struggles and family history. Josef has only been coming to the local grief support group for two weeks when he starts a conversation with Sage. That conversation would lead to another, and then another. Both living seemingly invisible lives, choosing to walk alone, they find a comfort and friendship with each other neither has known in a very long time. It is when Josef asks Sage for an unbelievable favor that both discover the depths to which long-buried secrets and lies can tear apart a heart. And life.

The Storyteller is a book that explores the magnitude of moral indiscretions and their effect on our life’s path. Can one ever truly escape a past chapter wrought with lies? Can evil deeds be erased by a life of good choices laced with guilt? What lengths would you go through to find forgiveness in others?

“I know how powerful a story can be. It can change the course of history. It can save a life. But it can also be a sinkhole, a quicksand in which you become stuck, unable to write yourself free.”

Beyond photographs which leave interpretations up to the viewer, stories live on…”some stories live forever”.

50 in 2013: Book Eight

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was immediately drawn in by the extraordinary first words penned on the page before me:

“I believe in ghosts. They’re the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind. Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened. I am ninety-one years old, and almost everyone who was once in my life is now a ghost…I’ve come to think that’s what heaven is- a place in the memory of others where our best selves live on.”

What followed was one of the most beautifully tragic stories of the strengths and courage that resides within the human spirit. A spirit that can survive insurmountable grief, loss, and adversity.

Between 1854 and 1929 it is believed that more than two hundred thousand children were transported on so-called “Orphan Trains”. Billed as a way to escape inevitable destitution and poverty, the train delivered the orphan children to various train stops where they were put up for “adoption”. Sadly, most ended up in situations where their services and servitude were more valuable than their well-being and happiness. This novel, explores the fictional storyline of one such passenger: Vivian Daly. At ninety-one, Vivian’s attic is overrun with boxes: various artifacts and pieces of her life. Fate places a troubled foster child on her doorstep. Seventeen year old, Molly Ayer has to fulfill community service hours after being caught stealing a book from the local library. Already on thin ice with her current foster family, her future hangs in a precariously unsteady balance.

A seemingly rich widow and obviously troubled foster teen appear on the surface to be complete strangers with not a single thing in common. However, as Molly begins her hours and Vivian uncovers long forgotten pieces of her past, the two women discover they are more alike than different. Both women have lived their lives alone. Family an unattainable mirage, destined for those around them but always out of their reach.

Despite lives deluged with sadness and pain, the two women courageously forge forward.

Somewhere amidst the dust and old boxes, Vivian’s words permeate Molly’s rough exterior. She comes to understand Vivian’s explanation and belief of ghosts…

“Molly begins to understand as she listens to the tapes, Vivian has come back to the idea that the people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments. They’re with us in the grocery store as we turn a corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.”

It turns out, that rich old lady who lives alone in that big old house, is not really alone at all.

One of the most beautifully written, heart wrenching, could-not-put-down books I have read in a long time. Absolutely LOVED!!

50 in 2013: Books Six and Seven

The Last Camellia: A NovelThe Last Camellia: A Novel by Sarah Jio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fiona, desperate to help her struggling parents, agrees to be a part of an international ring of flower thieves. She has been booked to nanny for a family living in an old English estate housing one of the last remaining camellias known as the Middlebury Pink. Her mission: gain their trust and locate the Middlebury Pink. Once there, she learns the family’s story is rife with sorrow and sadness. The lady of the house was tragically found dead in her beloved garden. Her death a mystery.

More than a half century later…

Haunted by a tragic decision she made as a teenager, Addison has lived most of her adult life trying to lock those memories away. Shedding her birth name, Amanda, her past resurfaces when she hears her named called by a hauntingly familiar voice. A voice she could never forget.

With her past disturbingly close, Addison chooses to flee to her husband’s English countryside manor. While there, she discovers the house itself hides tragic secrets of its own. The lady of the house was found dead in the garden and the family nanny disappeared. As Addison makes herself comfortable in the manor, she discovers locked doors, secret corridors, and uncovers family secrets that were never meant to be revealed. As she solves the mystery of Lady Anna she finds horrific clues that detail events beyond comprehension, she also finds the strength to finally deal with her own secrets.

Suspense, an exotic, rare camellia, a ring of flower thieves, lies, secret codes, betrayal…this book has it all. AMAZING.

My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) by Luisa Weiss

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A tale of following your heart, even when it means deserting love. Sometimes one’s passion can impede his or her growth in a relationship if the passion is not shared. The author’s courage to follow her heart and accept her need to be “home” is inspiring and ultimately leads her to find true happiness in spite of immediate sorrow. Fun read with some delicious looking recipes. Author currently blogs at Wednesday Kitchen.

50 in 2013: Book Five

The Lost Art of MixingThe Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this book, we are reintroduced to characters from Bauermeister’s earlier novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. However, the magic of Lillian’s cooking, the ability of her recipes to transcend paper and leave traces of her magic within each recipient was lost in this story.

Less about cooking and more about individual stories of routine and rituals, The Lost Art of Mixing examines the ways in which routine and ritual can define one’s life. The routine rituals of a disgruntled housewife: the ways in which she loses a little bit of herself over the years as she transforms to meet the needs of her husband or her house. The routine rituals of an out of touch husband: the ways in which he stays at work an hour longer to avoid the inevitable onslaught of rising anger from his wife. The routine of a daughter forced to grow up far too fast in order to help her aging mother and attempt to get her siblings to see the reality of their family’s situation. The routine rituals of a young man desperately searching for a place to call his own, a place to truly fit in, a place to stop hiding and discover himself.

Routines and rituals that bring strangers to Lillian’s kitchen for a cooking class where they end up learning about much more than cooking.

I particularly loved the following quote: “the way things could become so permeated with memories that story was more important than function.” Many of the characters struggle with moving forward, pinned down by their past. As Abby searches for answers regarding the next step with her mother, she is forced to confront her mother’s connection to things. Things that seem mundane to Abby, yet the stories within each item mean the world to Isabelle. This pulled the heartstrings for me as a mother, a daughter, a sister…at what point does the item connected to the story come to solely represent the story? Does the story remain within the item or one’s heart?

I missed Bauermeister’s culinary prose. She is incredibly lyrical and moving as she mixes recipes with personal stories. “By the time Lillian had turned twelve years old, cooking had become her family. It had taught her lessons usually imparted by parents- economy from a limp head of celery left too long in the hydrator, perseverance from the whipping of heavy cream, the power of memories from oregano, whose flavor only grew stronger as it dried.” Magic. Overall, a good read but not nearly as poignant as the first…

50 in 2013: Book Four

The Paradise Guest HouseThe Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Always in search of something more exciting and thrilling, Jamie has found her life’s niche in adventure tourism. On assignment in Bali, tragedy strikes. Caught in the center of the infamous Bali nightclub bombings, Jamie’s adventurous, breezy life is forever altered. Sleep only brings back vivid images of the night she lost the freedom of dreaming. Now, quiet moments and stillness brings back the smell, the images, the screams…

A letter finds its way to her mailbox beckoning her to return. Uncertain but in desperate need of closure, she boards the plane. Pain and loss have enveloped the island, many of its inhabitants have lost a loved one or friend, their carefree community ripped apart. Jamie has thrived off challenge and conquered many difficult climbs and hikes. Yet, this tragedy has forced to deal with matters of the heart, a challenge that brings her to her knees. What follows is a journey of rebuilding, second chances, and love. Beautiful, moving, quick read.