Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly lives a life of poverty in the Ozark Mountains. She bares responsibility for her two brothers and her sick mother. On a cold winter day Ree learns that her father has skipped bail on charges for cooking crystal meth. If he doesn’t return her family will lose their home and all they have. Ree’s only choice is to navigate the dark underbelly of her extended family and bring her father home- dead or alive.

Winter’s Bone is ultimately a coming of age story, dark and gritty. It paints a portrait of the harsh realities of a subculture that is so far detached from the rest of the world it is hard to believe that it exists, but it truly does.  Ree’s character is strong and relentless. The story is moving and beautiful, though very bleak. This is definitely not a light read, but one that shouldn’t be missed. Woodrell does such an excellent job of painting the landscape that you will feel the chill of the Ozark air inside and out. I recommend curling up with this one on a cold winter night with a very warm blanket.

Iron House by John Hart

Growing up in the Iron Mountain Home for Boys, brothers Julian and Michael learn life’s hard lessons fast. When a brutal murder occurs, older brother Michael takes the blame to save his brother and flees the home. Living on the city streets, Michael joins a life of organized crime. As a respected and feared member of the community, Michael thrives until he meets Elena and they decide to start a family. Michael quickly learns that leaving “the family” that he already has is not so simple. With a price on his head Michael must return to the terrors of his childhood home and once again save his brother and all that he loves.

Iron House is a non-stop thriller from start to finish, fast moving and well written. At the root of the story there is an old mystery to unravel and Hart weaves the clues into the storyline perfectly. I really enjoyed this book and found it difficult to put down. It’s a story that will haunt the corners of your mind for a long time. A warning: there are some very graphic and brutal scenes in this book. If you are squeamish you might want to skip it, but I didn’t think it took too much away from the story.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

In Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler introduces the world to the little known counterpart of F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife.  The book is a fictional story that is rooted in detailed research.  The story centers around the ill-fated couple, but it also documents life during prohibition and the Jazz Age- a time when New York and France were brimming with contemporary artists such as Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.  Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were the “golden couple” of their time, but behind closed doors (and often publicly as well) there was a different story to tell.

With the release of the new Gatsby movie looming, I thought it was the perfect time to read this book. Zelda Fitzgerald was a woman born before her time. She was artistic and bold, and married to a man that both loved and hated her for it. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s story is a tragic one. There has long been question as to which of them was responsible for the ruin of their lives. Fowler did a very nice job of staying in the middle and letting the readers decide for themselves. I tend to find myself on Team Zelda, but then I realize that a saw a bit of myself in her. Though she was certainly an unusual and outstanding woman, Zelda was simply trying to do what all women want to do- to find yourself, to leave something for the world to remember you by, to be a good wife and mother, to mean something.  This book is a fabulously written piece of historical fiction.

14 by Peter Clines

When Nate Tucker moves into his new apartment he begins to notice strange things about the building. All the apartments are just a bit odd. The building is wrapped in mysteries, from the padlocked apartment 14 to the apartment with no doorknob. The building manager has repeatedly warned the tenants not to ask questions, but Nate and his new friends can’t seem to stop investigating. What they unravel may be the end of them. It may be the end of everything.

14 is a fast-paced apocalyptic novel that takes the reader on a wild adventure.  I’ve been seeing this book on popular reading lists, so I had to give it a try. It was well-worth it. As the tenants of the Kavach building got to know each other and embarked on this adventure I felt that I was right there with them. The characters were witty and interesting.  I hesitate to call this a science fiction book (though it definitely is) because so much of the story is spent unraveling the mystery. I think people that are not into science fiction will enjoy the story just as much as those that are. If mutant cockroaches don’t give you the heebie-jeebies, then you will probably love this book!

Suggested Trick or Treat Guidelines for Parents

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I overheard people talking during Trick or Treat last night about the appropriate ages for Trick or Treating. These are my thoughts, a few simple guidelines. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and the joy of parenting is that you get to do whatever you want with your own kid, but after some observations I made last night here are my suggestions.

0-6 months: Dress them up and stroll them around. Everyone loves a baby. Do not collect candy. You aren’t fooling anyone. That baby is barely eating solid foods.

6-12 months: Dress them up and stroll them around and try to get creative with it. The candy is for you. You need to work for it. Pull them in a wagon that you’ve made to look like a car, carriage, spaceship etc. Dress yourself up as part of the theme for an added bonus to make people feel better about giving you candy.

1-4 years old: Go for it. Dress them up, follow them around and bask in the glory of producing that adorable little angel, pumpkin, monster, superhero, princess, spider. Parenting is hard. There should be perks. We all know you are going to split that candy 10/90 when they go to bed tonight. There’s no shame.

5-12 years old: Absolutely. This is what trick or treat is all about. Take them out, have a great time, and be prepared to swindle the candy out of them  when you get home. As they get older, you will have to be a little more stealthy to get ahold of that chocolate.

13 and older: This is a grey area. I personally don’t mind handing out candy to older kids in costume. I’m all for keeping them young as long as we can. But moms, I don’t want to see you driving around your 15 year old slutty nurse. More importantly, if your 16 year old shows up at my door with no costume and a Walmart bag I’m going to laugh at you.

What are your thoughts? Any other guidelines we should consider?

The Storycatcher by Ann Hite

Sixteen-year-old Shelly Parker works as a servant girl for the Dobbins family. All her life she has had the gift of “sight”. She is constantly accompanied by the dead that roam Black Mountain. Then one day the spirits begin to warn Shelly of a danger that lies ahead.  Pastor Dobbins is an evil man with a dark secret, and Shelly finds that she is the one that can unravel the stories, uncover the truths, and save them all.  Set in the south during the depression, The Storycatcher travels from the hills of Black Mountain to the Georgia coast. Told from multiple points of view, Ann Hite does a remarkable job of weaving the story together and connecting all the pieces.

It has been a while since I have read a book so fast. I devoured this book. The Storycatcher has all the right elements: a vivid setting, well-developed characters, a mystery that will pull you in, and just a touch of magic. The pace of the book moves in such a way that you feel like maybe you could just get in one more chapter before bed, and then find yourself huddled in for fifty more pages. I hesitate to use the word haunting since it is a story about spirits, but the story lingers in the shadows of your mind even as you try to put the book away. Ann Hite captures the voices of her characters and the voice of the south brilliantly.  This is a story that you will not soon forget.

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman

Teddi Overman is the owner of a successful antique shop in Charleston, SC. She has an eye for what can be made beautiful, and maybe that is why she has so much trouble letting go. Teddi’s charming southern life is haunted by a family she has disconnected with and the disappearance of her beloved brother. When signs begin to appear that he may still be alive, Teddi begins a journey that will return her to her past in rural Kentucky where she finds more to her family’s story and ultimately herself.

Looking for Me is a lovely book. The characters are real and lovable, from the quirky old lady that habitually steals from her shop to her dear best friend that collects Pez dispensers. Teddi’s relationship to her mother is fragile and heartbreaking. It is a story of loss, rebirth, searching, and finally hope. The mystery of her missing brother is what will keep you turning the pages, but there is so much more to this book. 

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day

I have two children. My beautiful little girl that is so full of life and excitement, and the baby I never got to meet.  Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. I struggled all day with the decision to post something. We lost our baby in 2011. Many people that know me now, and many that read this blog, have no idea that we ever suffered such a loss. I documented that journey in another blog and when I started this one I wanted it to have a different tone. Besides, isn’t it counterproductive to open old wounds? But the thing is, the wounds are never really healed. And the fact that it’s still something that no one wants to talk about, is exactly why I felt I had to.

Losing a child is unbearable, no matter how old it was or how it happened. No one should feel that pain alone. Yet so many women do. As many as 15 percent of confirmed pregnancies are lost, but somehow women still feel like they need to hide. There’s a sense of shame and failure in miscarriage. And there’s this ridiculous thought that because you never got to hold the baby that it shouldn’t really matter, but it does. The baby matters. The pain matters.

When I got pregnant the second time, I hesitated to tell anyone. I didn’t even want to know myself. Then I remembered the strength I received from all the people that prayed for us when we lost the first one, and I knew that I needed that to get me through. My pregnancy with Reagan was an anxious one. I never truly settled until I held her in my arms. And if I’m truly honest, it is a very big reason why I don’t think I want to have another child. I’m not sure I could survive another loss. I’m just being real here.

When I lost “the bean” I was very open about it. I was humbled and in awe of the people that reached out to me to share their stories; the friends that contacted me because someone they love had a miscarriage and they didn’t know what to say, the other mothers that had been quietly suffering alone, the fathers that wanted people to know they felt the pain too. There’s something really magical about people bonding together. When we build each other up, we really can survive anything.

In the book Heaven is Real the little boy that has supposedly been to Heaven tells his mother about the sister he met there. His parents had never told him they had lost a child before he was born. When she asked what her name was the boy replied that she didn’t have one because she was waiting on their mother to get to Heaven and give her one. I hold that image in my heart when the sadness creeps back in- as it sometimes does. It creeps in on long car rides and rainy days, when I see someone’s ultrasound or hear a newborn cry, every July when the would-be due date rolls around. I imagine that twenty years from now I will still feel it. I also imagine that one day, many years from now, when I get to Heaven my little one will be waiting there for me, with open arms ready to whisper “Mama” in my ear.

If someone you know is struggling with the pain of miscarriage, reach out to them. If you are struggling yourself please visit Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope. A wonderful site where you can share your story and connect to a community of women that draw strength from one another.

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

One seemingly normal day, Emily Coleman walked away from her life. She left her little family and her lovely home behind and created a new identity and a new life. What could drive a person to do this? Could you really completely reinvent yourself? Is running away ever the right answer? What is the mysterious date that looms before her and will force her to face her past? No one can guess Emily’s secret. Will you?

One Step Too Far is a brilliantly crafted book. I never guess Emily’s secret. It’s rare that a book catches me off guard, but this one did it! I had to reread the ending twice just to make sure I read it right, then I went back through the story looking for the clues I missed.  The book is so well-paced, you will keep turning the pages to see where Emily will take you next. The most interesting part of the book was unraveling the secret, but the book poses other underlying questions. Is there anything that could justify simply walking away from your life? Is Emily broken or just selfish? Is it possible to leave yourself behind and become someone new? 

Flat Out Love by Jessica Park

When Julie moves to Boston for college, she finds the apartment she rented from Craigslist doesn’t actually exist. Stranded in an unknown city, she moves into the home of her mother’s old college roommate. The Watkins family is a little strange to say the least. The parents seem a bit absent, one son is traveling the world, the other is practically a social recluse, and the daughter speaks without using contractions and carries around a life-size cutout of her absent brother which she calls “Flat Finn.” Julie finds the family odd, but lovable, and quickly finds herself becoming a part of their home.  As she tries to find a way to help the awkward daughter Celeste, she finds herself falling in love with one of the brothers. But which one? The nerdy boy in the bedroom beside her? Or the adventurous traveler that she’s been chatting with online? And what is the big secret that everyone seems to be hiding?

Flat Out Love is a sweet story about a girl finding her way and a family finding each other. The characters are quirky and interesting. I have to say the storyline was a little predictable, but I kept reading and second guessing myself right up to the very end. In short, it’s a neat little love story that is just different enough from all the others to keep you turning pages well into the night.

**If you love this book, there is a companion piece called Flat Out Matt that retells some of the important chapters of the book from another character’s point of view. I haven’t read it yet, but my curiosity is piqued!