Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Book–Oliver Ryan, famous children’s book writer, and his loyal wife Alice, who illustrates his books, have a seemingly happy life until one night, after a very good dinner, he hits her, leaves, then comes back to beat her into a coma. The rest of the book is like peeling the layers of an onion. Nugent jumps around in chronology and in viewpoint, each character giving their take on Oliver, their past with him, and why he did it. From his harsh upbringing in a Catholic boarding school, to a fateful summer in France, to his current success, the reader gets more insight into Oliver’s character and motivations with every chapter. By the end, the reader should understand why he did it. Whether you find him sympathetic or a monster is up to you.

Like many books with this structure, it can get a little repetitive. We read tellings of the same scene from so many viewpoints that the details can wear thin by the second character’s take. Also, the story is full of too-convenient coincidences that stretch belief. Nevertheless, I read it in one sitting and found myself sucked in to Unraveling Oliver the way the best domestic thrillers suck you in. While I still found him absolutely monstrous at the end, I could see a different reader coming around to find him at least pitiable, if not sympathetic. This should appeal to people who like the recent spate of compelling Girl novels (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, etc). If you’re looking for your next read, try B. A. Paris’ Behind Closed Doors, or, in fact, any of B. A. Paris‘ domestic thriller novels.

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

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.

A Princess for Christmas (2011)

DVD- Jules Daley is laid off her job as an antique sales person. She is also the legal guardian for her young niece and nephew. With Christmas just around the corner, her outlook on making the best of things is quickly dwindling. Paisley, the butler for the kids distant grandfather, has arrived and invited the whole family to the castle for the holidays. Edward, the grandfather, is not pleased to see these “outsiders” in his home and creates a very cold and distant feeling to the whole holiday season.  Ashton, Edwards only surviving son and the Prince of Castleberry is intrigued with the new arrivals, but still stiff and cold.

Jules starts to settle into castle life etiquette and makes a few changes. For the sake of the holidays in general, but mostly for Milo and Maggie, she decorates the Christmas tree instead of having the staff do it. It takes a while to warm up but Edward comes around and starts to remember what Christmas is all about and how to move on with his grief. At the annual Christmas Ball Jules overhears a conversation that she feels is directed at her, and she tries to run. Will Ashton, who has grown quite fond of her, be able to keep her in Castleberry to explore this budding relationship, or will he loose her and himself along the way?

I think this is one of the best “Hallmark” Christmas movies around. It might be a bit on the sappy love story side for the men folk, but it has lots of love, laughs, and overall heartwarming emotion for everyone.

This Is Us (2016)

TV Series – This is a show that started airing in September 2016. After reading all the hubbub about this one, I decided it was worth watching an episode or two to see what it’s all about. I fell in LOVE with this series. Its focus is 3 same age siblings (Kevin, Kate, and Randall)  and their parents (Jack and Rebecca). It bounces back and forth from current time (2016-2017) , to segments of the past (1989-1995) showing how they grew up and became who they are today. Even as adults their stories intertwine with each other and everyone around them. With the title being This is us- I think everyone can relate to a character or situation. This series seems to hit on a lot of topics all at the same time: Weight, Fear, Race, Emotional trauma, Death, Marriage, Alcohol, Finance, Drugs.

I am not going to lie to you – this series is definitely an emotional heavy hitter, but sit down with a box of Kleenex, a chocolate bar, and some tea and enjoy the journey this family has to show you.

Beast by Brie Spangler

Book--Ever since the 6th grade, Dylan has been larger than other boys. Now at over 6 ft. tall, improbably hairy, and still growing, 15-year-old Dylan (called Beast by his peers) hides his face under hats and feels trapped in a body that doesn’t match his insides. When his school bans hats, Dylan walks off the edge of the school building and breaks his leg. He claims it was an accident. His orthopedist and his mother don’t agree. They send him to counseling for teenagers with self-harming tendencies, where he meets Jamie. Jamie is beautiful, smart, and funny, just the kind of girl that would impress Dylan’s friends. Because this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, Dylan starts to shed some of his shallowness and misogyny as he falls in love with her, and begins to let go of his anger at the world. However, when Dylan learns that Jamie is transgender (a fact that she told him when they first met, had he been listening), he freaks out and pulls away from her. Will Dylan be able to get over his knee-jerk transphobia and apologize to Jamie? Will she be able to forgive him? Will they get back together?

Of course they will. But reading about how is the whole fun of it. I really enjoyed reading about Dylan’s journey from crass and callow teenage boy to sensitive young man. Despite being a fairy tale retelling, Beast stands on its own. If you enjoy this one, you may also enjoy other LBGT classic story retellings aimed at young adults (yes, this is a whole genre) such as Ash by Malinda Lo (retells Cinderella), Great by Sara Benincasa (retells The Great Gatsby), and As I Descended (retells Macbeth).

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn

Book – After a chance meeting brought them together, Lucy and Owen fell in love.  Raised on the chaos of city life, the couple left New York City in favor of the quiet family-centered Hudson Valley, a small suburb of Beekman.  It’s a health-centered place where you know all your neighbors, and the local moms cook up hot lunch at the schools.  Over the years, the romance and attraction in Lucy and Owen’s relationship has fizzled, as they concentrate on raising their young autistic son, and dealing with the chaos of daily life.

It is on a rare drunken night with friends that the idea first hits them.  Their friends reveal they have begun an open marriage, which shocks Lucy and Owen. As the weekend passes by, however, Lucy and Owen just can’t shake this new knowledge.  Is it really as crazy as it sounds?  In the spur of the moment, they lay out the groundwork and compile a set of strict rules.  They agree on six months, no questions asked, but neither one has any idea how much their lives are about to change

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn was not at all what I expected.  The story follows the relationship of Lucy and Owen, but it also blends in multiple other points of view, looking into a variety of marriages and relationships outside of the main couple. While one obviously expects there to be sexual content when reading about open marriages, I actually found the details to be pretty minimal, with more concentration on the changing family dynamic of Lucy, Owen and their son, as well as other relationship in the story.  I enjoyed this read because it felt very real, like something unfabricated, a glimpse into the life of someone who might actually exist.

 

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett

Book – Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett has the most adorable bunny cover I have ever seen by far. But whilst one might expect to find a cute story of an adorable rabbit beneath this cover, we are instead met by death, mourning, and sleepwalking. The back synopsis was insane; there was such an onslaught of information I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow everything going on when I actually started reading.

Elvis is 11 years old, and her mother has just committed suicide, or so everyone says.  Elvis is skeptical, and thinks something more sinister may be afoot in her mother’s death.  In the wake of her mother’s passing, Elvis is forced to undergo weekly sessions with the school counseling, and begins tracking her journey through the nine stages of grief. Her father mourns by dressing up in her mother’s clothes and wearing her lipstick. Elvis’s older sister, Lizzie unfortunately inherited her mother’s sleepwalking, and it’s quickly growing out of control. In the midst of trying to save her sister from meeting the same ghastly fate of her mother, Elvis works furiously on her mother’s unfinished memoir, and searches for answers into her death.

There is so much going on in this story; it’s dark, a  fair bit depressing, and very quirky. The sleepwalking was a huge aspect of the story, and I was so fascinated by it. Though it wasn’t the sweet story I anticipated from a glance at the cover, this book exceeded my expectations.

Here to Stay by Catherine Anderson

BookHere to Stay by Catherine Anderson is one of my staple romantic novels. Twenty-Eight year old Mandy Pajeck’s life revolves around caring for her younger brother Luke. Luke lost his sight as a young child, in a horrific accident that Mandy blames herself for. Mandy has done everything for the now angsty teenage boy since they were young. With an abusive father, and a mother who abandoned the two siblings, Mindy has always protected her brother and he never has to lift a finger. Luke plays on his sister’s guilt and  has never tried to learn to do anything for himself.

Romance is the furthest thing from Mandy’s mind until she meets hunky Zach Harrigan. Zach’s life used to revolve around parties and fun; he never had a reason to take anything serious. When his life begins to lack the luster it once had, Zach decides to use his expertise of horsemanship to do something meaningful for a change.  He begins to train a miniature horse to become a guide animal for the blind.  When Zach and Mandy cross paths, sparks fly, but Mandy just can’t let go of the past to make room for romance. As the two develop a closer relationship, Zach urges Mandy to confront her past, and the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Could Zach be the one man that can change Mandy’s mind on love? Will she ever be able to move on from her past, and forgive herself for her brother’s blindness? A story of love, loss, and moving on; Here to Stay is chock full of feelings and hope.

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

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.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

Book- According to Belly, summer is the only time of the year that counts. Every summer she goes to Cousins Beach leaving her school life alone. She starts out as a young and annoying little sister to Stephen. At the beach house they are also with her moms best friend for life and her two boys Conrad and Jeremiah.  She was left out of all the cool things, like camping on the beach, going to a party down the beach, going to the pier with the boys. She was always feeling left out.

She is absolutely in love with and chasing after Conrad. He does little things to show her he notices her and cares for her, but then he follows that up with being distant and harsh with her. Finally this summer, she thinks its the summer to change everything. She is allowed to go to the party down the beach and meets a new guy named Cam. He is a little different, but she likes different. She is not sure how much she can like him, as her heart always belongs to Conrad. Then there is Jeremiah, her best friend at the beach, who occasionally shares a secret lust look with her.

I enjoyed this book. This is the first in a trilogy (all of which I have read), and I think Jenny Han sets up the background story well. I did get a little annoyed with Belly, the main character, as she is a little over dramatic at times. I suppose that’s why this is considered a young adult romance novel. It was a nice easy read where the plot line isn’t far-fetched or complicated. It reminded me of the way I used to see things at her age. Man, I am excited to actually be an adult!