The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

51-+74IGcjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book- Broke and unemployed Dahlia is pleased if rather confused when a handsome stranger at her roommate’s party offers her a dubious gig– to retrieve his spear (not a real spear, but a spear from fictional Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Zoth).  Naturally, the promise of a $2000 payout after 12+ months of unemployment is too much to resist. However, nothing ever works out as well as it seems it should. Dahlia is quickly embroiled in at least one potential romantic entanglement, the interpersonal dynamics of her employer’s in-game guild, and, oh yeah, a real-life murder. The real pleasure of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is the narrator’s unique voice. Dahlia is steeped in nerd culture and has an acerbic, self-deprecating style that either the reader will love or hate.

This book (which I would not be surprised to see become a series) straddles the line between young adult and new adult and will appeal to fans of both chick lit novels and cozy mysteries. Set in St. Louis, I found that the novel had a surprisingly strong sense of place that I appreciated. My spouse is from St. Louis, and I recognized many of the places and streets mentioned as ones I’ve been to when visiting my in-laws. If you can get behind a novel where the detective wears a Jigglypuff toboggan hat instead of a deerstalker cap, this is the book for you.

Sickened: the memoir of a Munchausen by proxy childhood by Julie Gregory

Book– Munchausen by proxy is a rare form of child abuse characterized by faking or exaggerating symptoms of illness in a child, usually to gain attention from the medical community.  Gregory recounts a harrowing childhood spent in hospital rooms, performing illness (or actually being made ill) to satisfy her mother’s craving for attention. Her mother alternates between deliberately starving and abusing her, turning the rest of the family against her, including her helpless father, and cossetting her with attention. Gregory focuses on the strategies she used to survive, such as stealing food from other students’ lunches and from convenience stores.

The writing is at its best when Gregory is understating her situation; like most works of this kind, overly dramatic language can often actually take away from the impact of the story. She includes scans of her own medical records from the time and it is chilling to see how willing some doctors were to believe her mother’s stories. While Gregory obviously escapes her mother’s orbit, as of Gregory’s memoir, there are still children in Gregory’s mother’s care.

Sickened will appeal to fans of memoirs chronicling mental illness, complicated family relationships, and difficult upbringings.

Renovation by Lane Robins

renovationBook – Sometimes a psychic gift can feel more like a psychic curse. Ever since a near-death experience in his teens, JK Lassiter has been able to read the memories of the people or places that he touches with his hands, sometimes so viscerally that the memories cause him psychotic episodes. Because of this, his parents shut him away from the world. When the book begins, however, JK’s brother has been recently freed JK from their well-intended imprisonment and has helped him land a construction job flipping houses. His first house is in a close-knit neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, where the prior owners have skipped town under mysterious circumstances. Though JK gets a seriously bad vibe from the house, he is determined to see the job through and grab his chance at a normal life. Despite having to wear gloves and keep some distance from people, JK tries to fit in, flirting with the sexy man next door, Nick Collier, and making friends in the neighborhood.

Things turn sour, though, when his desire for the truth and psychic abilities reveal bodies, animal and human, in the backyard of the house. Each of his new friends and neighbors, he begins to discover, has ample motive for the crime. To discover the culprit and to clear Nick and his friends, JK tries to harness his psychic ability that has to this point caused him only anguish.

Renovation will appeal to fans of both romances and mysteries, especially fans of closed-room mysteries. I found that the culprit was fairly easy to suss out early on, but watching JK figure it out was still a pleasure. This one feels like the start of a series, so if you liked it, keep your eyes out for another one.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Book –Set in 1964, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards easily connects to our modern world.  On a stormy Winter’s night, Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver his own twins.  The first one comes easily, a perfect baby boy.  But the twin, his daughter is different; the doctor immediately sees that she has Down’s Syndrome.  Before his wife can notice, he hands the baby girl off to his nurse, instructing her to take the child and leave her at an institution.  He then tells his wife that her daughter was a stillborn, in his mind saving her and himself from the anguish of raising a child with disabilities.

But the nurse, Caroline, can’t bear to leave the baby, and decides to run away and raise the child as her own.  Though separated by distance and lies, the lives of the infant twins and their families are forever intertwined.

In a new city, Caroline raises Phoebe in a happy and loving household.  Meanwhile, the doctor is faced with his wife’s grief over the loss of her infant daughter.  In her mourning, their son Paul grows up in a distant family full of regret and anguish.  His mother is never able to console her heartache, carrying her grief throughout her life.

Kim weaves a story that is powerfully real, illuminating the loss of a child with the gift of a new life.  In our modern world, the doctor would have been able to foresee his daughter’s disability in the womb.  Would he and his wife have terminated the pregnancy, knowing the difficulties they might face? With such high awareness of disabilities like Down’s Syndrome in today’s society, there is so much support available for parents and families.  It’s interesting to wonder what might have been, if these fictional characters represented real people living in the 21st century.

The Forgotten: 4 Works of Fiction on Amnesia

From mysteries to romances, every genre has something to offer on amnesia, a most intriguing subject.

The Sci-Fi Drama: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Jenna fox has lost a year of her life.  An unknown accident has left her with no memory of anyone or the life she lived before.  Her parents whisk her off to a new home, and refuse to talk about the accident.  As snippets of her memory return, Jenna discovers that her amnesia is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Mystery/Thriller: Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

Christine wakes up in a hospital with no memory of her life.  Her husband is a complete stranger to her.  Each day starts anew, with no memory of who she is, or the man in bed beside her.  With the recommendation of her doctor, Christiane uses a daily journal to try to uncover her past each day.  Slowly, she  discovers that nothing is really what seems.  It’s 50 First Dates meets the thrilling drive of Gone Girl.

The Romantic Comedy: Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Lexi Smart wakes up from an accident, with no memory of the past three years.  She can’t recognize the tan, slim, flawless woman in the mirror. Life seems perfect: she’s married to a drop-dead gorgeous man, lives in a million dollar penthouse and is head of the company!  But things start to fall through when Lexi learns just how imperfect her life really is.

 The Tragedy: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Gat, Johnny, Mirren, and Cadence have always been inseparable.  Every Summer their families vacation at Cape Cod.  But then one Summer, tragedy strikes, causing Cadence to slip into an amnesiac state, suffering excruciating migraines, and struggling to put the pieces together to find out what happened.

The Imposter (2012)

Movie – There are some who feel truth is just as good as fiction and at times better. The Imposter is one of those stories that may be better than fiction. For watchers of Spanish cinema, like something out of a Pedro Almodóvar film. It is a documentary about a missing child, Nicolas Barclay. In 1994 a family in Texas reported their son missing. He turns up three and a half years later in Spain. Or does he? The Barclays do not see their “son” for the first time until he is back in Texas. Their child was a blond hair blue eyed boy. The person they are reunited with is neither blond nor blue eyed, with a profound Spanish accent, and seems to look older than 16, which is the around the age Nicolas should be.

The Imposter will take you on a trip with twists and turns throughout only to leave you with more questions. There are questions about the person claiming to be Nicolas. Who is he, what is he doing, and why is he doing this? In addition, why does the family accept this stranger as their son? Serious criminal accusations will keep the viewer questioning what is going on in this family. All of this will leave you with more questions that may or may not be fully answered by the end of the film.

Whether you like true-crime or enjoy fiction, The Imposter will give you a good story, almost as good as, or even better than most mysteries. This one is for those who enjoy mysteries, thrillers, true-crimes, and love plot twists.

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

how-to-start-a-fireBook – Best friends and college roommates at UC Santa Cruz in the early 1990’s, Anna, Kate and Georgianna share adventures, life-stories and secrets. Anna is the ringleader, who makes up games for every party they attend. A risk-taker and at odds with her austere, wealthy family, her life begins to spiral out of control. Kate is reserved and follows Anna’s lead. She hides herself in obsessive research about various and random topics, including mushrooms, redwoods and planets. George loves nature and becomes a forest ranger. A beauty, she easily attracts the attention of men, but often settles for unsatisfying  relationships.

Twenty years after college, the women find themselves retracing the paths their lives have taken. The story alternates between their viewpoints and bounces back and forth from the past to the present. I slowly discovered that one evening in particular influenced the lives of all three. I liked getting to know these characters and how their interests, talents and personalities threaded through their friendship. Lisa Lutz also wrote the popular Spellman Files series.

The Surrogate by Judith Henry Wall

Book – The Surrogate, by Judith Henry Wall is a fantastically thrilling drama.  Twenty-year old Jamie Long is completely broke..  Then she discovers something that will pay a pretty penny, becoming a surrogate.  Thinking she’s hit the jackpot, Jamie immediately agrees to take the job for the Hartmanns, a famously powerful evangelical family.  When she is forced to sign a contract that demands complete secrecy of the surrogacy, Jamie begins to wonder if she’s made a mistake.  While Jamie initially thinks she is merely helping a couple to conceive, she soon discovers the family’s hidden secrets that leave her fearing for her life.

When I think of the word surrogacy,  I remember Phoebe carrying triplets for her brother on Friends, (the tv series), or the comedic perfection of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in Baby Mama. The Surrogate takes a much darker turn, creating a suspense-ridden thriller.  Throughout the story, I was a bit frustrated at the naivety of the main character, Jamie.  She is so overly trusting of this family of strangers, and not at all concerned that the contract demands she move into their home for the pregnancy.  However, all in all I really enjoyed the novel.

Moral of the story?  You can’t trust anyone.  Especially secretive strangers.  Who are extremely wealthy.  And sketchy as heck.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Book – What would you do if you accidentally came upon a letter from your spouse, addressed to you, but with the instructions that it only be opened in the event of his death? This is the Pandora’s box that Cecelia has to deal with. She is the envy of all the mothers at school for her superb organizational skills and being able to juggle her involvement at school with her thriving Tupperware business. Could the contents of this letter affect her perfect suburban life – married to the perfect man, with whom she has three perfect daughters? She is one of three women from different walks of life who are brought together by sheer coincidence at a Catholic elementary school in Sydney.  The story will keep you turning the pages to find out how their lives are intertwined by a common thread.  The second woman Tess, is shaken by a confession from her husband along with her best friend/cousin Felicity, that they’ve fallen in love with each other. Tess leaves taking her 6 year old son to live with her mother in Sydney, while she sorts things out. And finally we have Rachel, who is older than the other women and is the school secretary, where Cecelia and Tess have their children enrolled. Rachel is consumed by grief and tries to hide her hatred for the P.E. teacher Connor, who is an old flame of Tess.  It turns out that everyone has secrets and readers will be fascinated as the fate of these women unfolds.

If you enjoy this book, you should check out these other titles by Moriarty – Big Little Lies, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, The Last Anniversary, Three Wishes, and What Alice Forgot.

Home is Where the Bark Is by Kandy Shepherd

0425234290.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – I love a good romance, but I want more than just lust and passion.  My favorite love stories are those that come with a side fluffbe it puppies, cats, horsesthe furry (and un-furry) creatures that so often bring people together in real life.  This novel has all that, and more.

Home Is Where The Bark Is brings us former model Serena Oakley.  Tired of being in the spotlight, Serena has worked hard to put the past behind her by disguising her looks and opening her own business, a doggy daycare called Paws-A-While.  Everything is going great until Undercover Private Investigator Nick Whalen enters her shop with a tiny pup in tow.  Serena knows something is up; this muscular, unsmiling man just doesn’t seem the type to have a precious Yorki-poodle mix.

However, Nick is there investigating the Paws-A-While owner over a series of identity frauds and he’s certain Serena has something to hide.  Slowly, despite their mutual insecurities with one another the pair begins to bond over a helpless dog, and that just might be enough to bring them together.

This is one of my guilty pleasures of romance novels.  Not your typical sexy posed woman draped across the cover type of books.  A cute one that make you go “Awwww’ because there are puppies involved.  Would recommend to anyone who loves a good romance of opposites attract and of course any animal lover. A perfect mix of puppy dog tales and love stories.