Book – Helen Russell is a magazine journalist, living in London with her husband. Their days are filled with commuting and long hours at work. Their evenings are packed with social engagements and alcohol. They have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a couple of years. Helen dreams of retirement at the age of 33. Then, Helen’s husband gets an unexpected offer to work for Lego in Jutland.
Helen begins to research the country of five and a half million people, and discovers that they pay high taxes, get free healthcare, free education and subsidized daycare. Danes average a 34 hour workweek. And, according to the UN World Happiness Report, Denmark is the happiest country on earth. Helen and her husband decide to move to Denmark and this book documents their first year of living in their adopted country.
Helen’s chatty writing style and witty observations entertained me. She shares her experiences with food, relationships, religious traditions and the many unwritten “rules” she encounters. The Year of Living Danishly was an enjoyable exploration of a different culture and a lifestyle change. If you like this book, you may also want to read Happy as a Dane or the Little Book of Hygge.
Book – Ginny Moon is an autistic fourteen-year-old finally living in her “Forever House” with her adoptive parents, Maura and Brian. Abused and neglected by her mother, Ginny had been placed into foster care when she was nine. Ginny works with a therapist, Patrice, to help her set up guidelines for more successful relationships and behavior. She struggles to make sense of her world and rituals and rules help her. When her Forever Parents learn they are expecting a baby, their fears about Ginny’s behavior derail her progress. In the midst of their struggle, Ginny becomes increasingly intent on finding Baby Doll, who she remembers leaving behind in a suitcase when her mother was arrested. With her limited ability to communicate, she attempts to explain about Baby Doll. As Ginny’s story unfolds, we meet her biological family and, through Ginny’s eyes, we begin to understand what she is searching for. This poignant story made me think about how easy it is to jump to conclusions instead of really listening to the meaning behind the words. Ginny’s journey shows that life isn’t easy, being a hero isn’t easy and, most of all, being an outsider isn’t easy.
Book – Samuel Hawley and his daughter, Loo, are always on the move. Each time they settle into a new place, Hawley sets up a shrine in their bathroom to honor to his late wife, who drowned when Loo was a baby. Finally, when Loo is a teenager, Hawley decides to try to give her a normal life at his wife’s seaside hometown in Massachusetts. When Hawley competes in the local Greasy Pole Contest, he takes off his shirt to reveal a body riddled with scars from bullet holes. As Hawley and Loo’s latest stop becomes “home,” Hawley reflects on his past and the incidents that led to his scars. Loo begins to reach out to a few of the people in the town and as she matures, she learns about the secrets that bind her and her father. This book is a unique look at family bonds, guilt, sacrifice and the impact of our decisions and how they can ripple through generations.
Book – Lydia is ending her evening shift at the Bright Ideas Bookstore when she discovers the body of Joey Molina hanging from a ceiling beam in the upper level. Joey had been one of the BookFrogs – lonely, lost customers who regularly frequented the shop. Lydia had been kind to Joey, but is surprised to learn that he has bequeathed his few possessions to her. When Lydia claims them, she realizes that he has left clues for her to decipher that may lead to the reason for his suicide. As Lydia learns about Joey’s brief and tragic life, she also uncovers truths about her own life and the past she tried to leave behind. I enjoyed following the clues and watching Lydia’s views shift as she examines the events of her childhood. Who can she really trust? This book was an entertaining and clever read.
Book – Eleanor Oliphant is an awkward young woman who doesn’t have any friends. She works as an administrator in a design firm and spends her weekends drinking enough vodka so that she is neither drunk nor sober. Her only contact with people outside of work are shopkeepers, utility men and weekly phone conversations with her institutionalized mother. Then, Eleanor wins a set of tickets to a concert and develops a crush on one of the singers. Eleanor decides she must improve herself to win his love and changes (and hilarity) ensue. Eleanor’s observations about people’s habits and pop culture and her attitude about life are entertaining, but also also give a glimpse of what she has endured. I loved reading about Eleanor’s transformation and her eccentric new friends. If you liked The Rosie Project or Britt-Marie Was Here, you’ll enjoy this book.
Book – Anything Is Possible is a set of connected short stories about the people living in the small, rural town of Amgash, Illinois. Retired school janitor Tommy Guptill reflects on the lives of some of the former students as he shops for a birthday gift for his wife. The three Barton siblings attended the school and we learn about their difficult childhood and lives as adults. Linda Peterson-Cornell relates the consequences of her husband’s voyeurism and infidelities. A war veteran searches for love and redemption. I loved seeing characters through the eyes of different townspeople, as they encountered them in their daily lives. Despite the obstacles and difficulties they faced, there were also moments of grace and hope. I have found myself reflecting on these stories and on the bonds of families and friends. Stout also wrote Olive Kitteridge, My Name is Lucy Barton, Amy and Isabelle and other popular novels.
Book – Grace Holland lives with her husband, Gene, and their two young children in a small home on the coast of Maine. She doesn’t drive, receives an allowance from Gene and spends her days caring for her children, managing the house and visiting with her best friend, Rosie. Her marriage is complacent and somewhat dull. Grace wonders why she has never experienced the “god-awful joy” when making love to Gene that Rosie once mentioned. In the Fall of 1947, the town suffers a severe drought and fires begin to break out along the coast. Gene leaves to help fight the blazes and is still gone when the devastating flames reach the town. With most of the houses destroyed, and her husband missing, Grace is forced to take matters in her own hands. As she searches for a means to make money and build a new life for herself and for her children, she is also forced to confront situations more difficult then she could ever have imagined. I admired Grace’s resiliency and pragmatism. She asked for help and accepted it, but she was determined to find a way to be independent. Shreve also wrote The Weight of Water, The Pilot’s Wife and other popular novels.
Book – I love to read books about saving money. Pogue’s book focuses on ways to save that don’t require a lot of time or lifestyle changes. One chapter highlights shopping hacks, such as the timing of purchases, finding online discounts and maximizing Amazon prime, coupons and gift cards. For the home, he discusses cutting the cord (from cable) and methods of economizing heating and cooling. The book also covers cars, travel and tax tips. One chapters details things you can do to earn money and another considers your existing financial arrangements. His writing style is casual and easy to understand. A fun, quick read that just may end up saving you a few dollars. Pogue also wrote Pogue’s Basics: Life: Essential Tips and Shortcuts for Simplifying Your Day.
Book – Emma and her boyfriend Simon are looking for an affordable flat. Emma is still reeling after a break-in at her previous home and none of the places available in their budget seem safe. Until the agent shows them One Folgate Street, a spectacular modern structure, with sleek, minimal furnishings. It also includes a lease with hundreds of stipulations. Emma is delighted with the house, because its electronic systems and sensors will provide a safe haven for her. The owner of the home, Edward Monkford, is also the architect. Once Emma moves into the house, her life begins to change. She questions her relationship with Simon, revisits the evening of the break-in and eventually is forced to confront her past demons. Jane, who moves into the house after Emma, also has had some recent troubles. She begins to wonder what happened to Emma and the people who lived in One Folgate Street before she moved in. All is not as it seems in this suspenseful story of love, trust, betrayal and madness. I couldn’t put this book down and was surprised by the twist of events. If you enjoyed Gone Girl, Girl on the Train or The Woman in Cabin 10, you’ll be intrigued by The Girl Before.
Book – Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) is a Danish word meaning a quality of coziness that engenders a feeling of well-being. It’s living simply and finding pleasure and beauty in everyday moments. Johansen describes this lifestyle as it applies to the home, food and friendship. She emphasizes the importance of nature and the restorative powers of spending time outside (versus exercising in a gym). The connection to the outdoors extends to socializing. Gatherings celebrate the seasons and kinship, with simple meals of fish, berries, bread and pastries and “boozy beverages” as “attitude adjusters.” Hygge encourages the “healthy hedonism” of savoring delicious pastries, coffee, bread, wine – in moderation. She includes recipes for treats that sound delicious (but not simple to prepare). A hygge home features an abundance of candlelight and lighting sources, cozy blankets, fresh flowers and organic materials. Cleanliness and order are imperative to relaxation and contentment. This enjoyable book gave me a term to describe my own upbringing by my Norwegian mother. I feel a renewed commitment to hygge concepts, some of which I have always practiced and some that I would benefit from more fully embracing (got to get more active!). If you want to read more about hygge, try The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.