What My Kids Are Reading

My kids read about as many books as I do. I know I’m lucky I have two voracious readers, especially in this technologically infused world.

Right now my 6 year old son is into Elana K. Arnold’s A Boy Called Bat, which my daughter read earlier this year for her school’s Common Read. She even got to ask the author a question during a Skype session on the book at school! My husband is reading to my daughter and son at night, and my daughter, who is 8, is enjoying it the second time around. From what I understand, a sequel is in the works.

Another popular book in our house is Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys. My son has read the entire series, and looks forward to the publication dates of the newest in the series. He loves the combination of “gross” jokes with the silly characters and commentary. As a parent, I like that the characters are trying to redeem themselves as former “bad guys” and animal predators by helping others. The graphics are also first rate!

My 8 year daughter is really into the Tom Watson’s Stick Dog and Stick Cat series. She picked one out to donate to her school library, and has been reading the series since then. My daughter says she likes “how funny the stories are,” and that she likes Stick Dog over Stick Cat because there are more dogs than cats in Stick Dog.


Review: Baby Teeth


**2.5 Goodreads Stars**

It’s been a long time since I’ve really struggled with how to review a book, but that’s where I am at with Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth. I often debate how much weight good writing should get over the story and plot. Sometimes books sell because they have an explosive ending or outrageous plot with sub par writing. This book was quite the opposite. Stage’s writing is quite polished, but the story line was so troubling that I felt torn between giving it 4 stars for writing and 1 star for plot. All that being said, you’ll probably be turning the pages in this book because you want to know what happens at the end (and because the story is so outrageous!).

So what to make of this book? The plot involves Hanna, who is a 7 year old girl and daughter to mother Suzette and Swedish father Alex. Suzette is a full-time stay at home mother, partially due to having painful complications and a weakened immune system related to Crohn’s disease. Alex is Swedish and works full-time as a successful developer and architect. On the outside, everything about their life seems perfect: that is, until we meet Hanna.

The novel is told from the perspectives of Suzette and Hanna. Suzette is tired from homeschooling Hanna, who, the reader is told, is mute by choice. Hanna has been kicked out of every school in which her parents have enrolled her, so Suzette homeschools her. Hanna is defiant, jealous, and manipulative. She despises her mother, and adores her father. There is a very unsettling Electra Complex taking place here, with Alex tending to Hanna’s every whim and desire as soon as he gets home from work at night. Is there something inappropriate going on with Alex and Hanna? What is causing Hanna to have outbursts, to treat her mother as a competitor rather than the daunting mother she is?

I have two kids who are 6 and 8, and I highly doubted Hanna’s terrifying behavior. Could a 7 year old cut up someone’s pills in the middle of the night and fill them with flour to poison them? I don’t think 7 year olds even harness that kind of dexterity. Could a 7 year old plot to kill their mother? Would a 7 year old set fire to a school trash can by bringing matches from their family home? Maybe there are 7 year olds out there like this, but I highly doubt it. Even the most gifted kid would not have some of the language that was going on inside the head of “Hanna.”

There are also moments in the book that are just plain bizarre. I won’t spoil them here, but there are things her father allows Hanna to get away with that border on seriously abusive and inappropriate parenting. I also find it hard to believe that two well educated parents would wait until a child is 7 years old to invest significant time and money in therapy, especially a child who has been so behaviorally off.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press, the author, Zoje Stage, and NetGalley for the opportunity to review an advanced reader copy of this book.

Review: I Am Watching You


**3.5 Goodreads Stars**

What would you do if you witnessed suspicious behavior but didn’t report it? 

This is partially the premise of Teresa Driscoll’s I Am Watching You, a thriller available for purchase on Amazon or free through Amazon Kindle Unlimited.

Close friends and teenage girls Anna and Sarah get their parents’ permission to go to London on a weekend trip to go to the theater. But as soon as they step onto the train to London things go awry. Anna disappears, and Sarah is tight-lipped about what happened that fateful night.

A witness saw Anna and Sarah on the trail heading to London mixing with two men who recently got out of prison. She is just about to phone the police or find the girls’ parents on social media when she sees Sarah act as though one of the prisoners is her boyfriend. The witness decides to mind her own business, much to her discontent many hours later when she hears that Anna has gone missing.

The book is told from multiple perspectives: the father of Anna, a PI hired by the witness, Sarah, Anna, and the person who kidnapped Anna. Yes, there are a lot of points of view, and at times I really wanted to hear more from one person. I felt that the PI was not essential to the story, so that point of view could have been left out. I enjoyed the witness’ and Sarah’s point of views the most, and I think the book could have been fine with just those perspectives.

Nearly all of the characters have secrets, which makes it nearly impossible for the reader to figure out what happened to Anna. There’s a father who has an affair with someone close to the investigation; there’s sexual abuse that has been concealed by one of the lead characters; there’s Sarah who has failed to be a great friend to Anna, especially on the night they go out to London; and there’s the witness who has hired a private investigator without telling her husband because she is receiving suspicious mail and being stalked by an unknown figure.

The book kept my interest from page 1, but I was a little bit disappointed by the way it ended. I didn’t see it coming, and I think it would be very difficult to figure it out (even if you re-read it for clues).

I gave this book 3.5 stars because of the way it ended. I would have given it 4 if the ending was something you could solve as a reader.

Review: Charlatans


**3 Goodreads Stars**

Let me preface this review by saying I’ve been a longtime Cook fan (since the early 1990s), so my review is colored by my love of medical thrillers (which Cook essentially pioneered). Other readers who are not into medical thrillers may be bored by the level of detail he provides, or the often awkwardly written dialogue (who says “ergo” in casual conversation?!) between characters. His characters seem like they are written for an older generation of readers, and may feel dated to some.

That being said, Cook tries to tackle so many issues in Charlatans. He sees these issues/problems as timely and relevant to society and medicine, but this book went in so many directions that at times I was frustrated. For example, Cook looks at the issue of concurrent surgery, which refers to the practice of having a surgeon or anesthesiologist preside over several surgeries at once (you can probably guess why that might be slightly problematic!). He also looks at the prevalence of social media in our lives and how that has caused some people to create “sockpuppets,” or online fake identities. Finally, as the title of the book conveys, he looks at narcissism within the profession of medicine and how that can influence the culture of a hospital.

What else didn’t I like about the book? For one, the two lead characters are my age, and Cook seemed to be confused about the emergence of digital/online culture during that time period. Cook goes back and forth about how the digital world was back in the 90s and early 2000s, in some places presenting it as a digital dark age while in other parts of the book making it seem as though it was easy to get online and meet people like it is today. I was online much earlier than nearly all my friends, and it would have been hard to find my “real life” friends online in the early and mid-90s. One of the lead characters in the book was supposedly cyberbullied by her peers during high school, which, to my knowledge, was nearly impossible at that time. Cook also discusses one of the characters buying a college essay online for a college course, which would be easy to do today, but nearly impossible back when the character was in college.

Cook’s lack of knowledge about the digital world is evident when he discusses how one of the character’s doctoral theses is locked in some cage at a library, with only two copies available. Newsflash: you can get most theses online through interlibrary loan these days, and even back when I graduated (when the other characters graduated) my doctoral thesis was submitted digitally and in hard copy. Also, Cook emphasizes that the digitization of personal records, such as transcripts, photographs, and diplomas, has made them easy to alter. Sure, that may be true for the best hackers, but I found it hard to believe that some of the characters in this book got away with so many lies without ever being caught.

Lastly, as someone who is a college professor and who also completed a Ph.D., I found it a bit shocking that one of the lead characters gets away with both falsifying data for their doctoral thesis and buying a paper to submit in college as their own (plagiarism). I certainly wouldn’t want them practicing medicine on me, and most people in academia would consider this completely unethical behavior.

Given his training as a doctor, Cook does his best when he sticks to medicine, which is why I rated this book only 3 stars. Note that I think those 3 stars are probably generous. First time Cook readers or casual fans of thrillers/suspense may not enjoy this book as much.

Review: Every Last Lie


**4 Goodreads Stars**

Imagine this scene. Your husband dies in a car crash, leaving you alone with your preschooler daughter and your newborn son. You think your husband has a solid career as a dentist, that he has a network of trustworthy friends and established colleagues, and that he took out a hefty life insurance policy that will take care of you in the case of your husband’s passing.

What if you found out none of what you thought about your husband was true?

This is precisely what happens to Clara, who is the lead character in Mary Kubica’s Every Last Lie. Told from the perspectives of both Clara and her husband, Nick, the book examines how and when things started to go wrong in their seemingly perfect lives.

Clara is left to figure out how to come to terms with her husband’s falsehoods and make sense of it amid grief. She decides to dig deep into their finances and his past, searching his phone, phone records, texts, and emails. She discovers a receipt for a necklace she never received, that Nick made a mysterious phone call to a woman out-of-state right before the crash that took his life, that his dental practice was being sued for malpractice, and that his best friend isn’t the person he claimed to be. Even Clara’s preschooler daughter Maisie says that a “bad man” in a “black car” was chasing them. The police say that the crash was Nick’s fault, that it was a miracle Maisie survived given how fast Nick was going around a windy country road bend.

With this new information about her husband, Clara begins to wonder if the car crash was really an accident, or rather something more nefarious. Did Nick have a disgruntled lover? Did Nick’s best friend and dental partner, who he had recently fired without telling Clara, seek revenge? Did Nick commit suicide given the pending malpractice lawsuit against his dental practice? Did Clara’s neighbor, who is known for abusing his wife and threatening Nick, run Nick off of the road? Was Nick abusing drugs and perhaps selling them to pay off his dental practice’s sinkhole of debt?

The book is artfully paced, building suspense and tension with the passing of each chapter. Just when you think you have figured out what was going on in Nick’s life and why he made such bizarre or rash decisions, Kubica takes you in a surprisingly different direction (while still maintaining narrative integrity). This was my first Kubica novel, and I look forward to reading more of her catalog in the coming years.

Thank you to the author, Mary Kubica, the publisher, Harlequin, and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of Every Last Lie, which is available for purchase here.

Review: The Bright Hours


**5 Goodreads Stars**

“Remember, says the world – you must die.”

“Even tourists have their maps. No one else looks to be wandering in the street with a time bomb strapped to her body, thinking of saying to those she loves the most: I am sorry, I am sorry. I am sorry for what I am about to do to you.”

“When it comes to death – those darknesses – it seems we are still so very much Plymouth Pilgrims – all fear and fretting and fortifications, and a strong sense of our own alienness in a hostile land. We don’t begin to know what to do with ourselves. We cross our arms over our chests and try to look on the bright side as we starve.”

I started off 2018 reading The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs, who sadly passed away before the book’s publication. This is one of those books that everyone needs to read; it’s filled with sharp reflections on living, on dying, and on what it means to be human. If you manage to finish it without sobbing, you must not be of this planet.

Riggs was a poet and was the great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my favorite writers. Riggs, a mother of 7 and 9 year old boys, was diagnosed with cancer at 38. What looked to a small, treatable with chemo spot on her breast morphs into terminal breast cancer over the course of 18 months. Riggs’ mother, who has lived a full life and been able to see her grandchildren, is also struggling with terminal breast cancer, their family being BRCA carriers. The breast cancer gene is so strong in her genes that while Riggs does not have the BRCA gene, she still manages to get breast cancer. Apparently family members of BRCA carriers are at a higher risk for contracting breast cancer than the general population. Riggs’ grandfather even managed to have breast cancer. We not only watch Riggs struggle (and eventually pass away from) breast cancer, but also witness the passing of her mother.

Yes, it is a tough, emotional ride, but obviously nothing compared to what the Riggs’ family has lived through. The road is made a little less bumpy because of Riggs’ elegant prose; she turns the familiar, quotidian parts of life into unusual, noticeable objects of affection or interest, such as her neighbor’s application of Roundup to weeds and the horrible noise of the MRI machine:

“All that time of my sweeping, I could hear Dan puttering. For hours, he’d been slightly hunched over his patio, spraying steady lines of Roundup between the infinite bricks, eradicating the chances of anything unwanted taking root. At one point as he walked up the back steps to his house, he paused and looked over at me sweeping – he who does not make easy eye contact even when someone is not bald in their pajamas – and we nodded at each other, as though acknowledging that the thing rattling loose in both of us was the same.”

“The next day at the hospital, inside the MRI machine, where it sounded like hostile aliens had formed a punk band…”

This isn’t a book of someone who has come to terms with her death. It is a book about living through the inevitability of death, which she argues does not make her unique as we are all going to die. Death, she reminds us, is everywhere, lying in wait for all of us:

“A bus. A cough. A rusty nail: Death sits near each one of us at every turn. Sometimes we are too aware, but mostly we push it away. Sometimes it looks exactly like life.”

Letting go of the finality of death means letting go of “mothering,” which she refuses to do:

“I can let go of a lot of things: plans, friends, career goals, places in the world I want to see, maybe even the love of my life. But I cannot figure out how to let go of mothering them.”

Riggs describes how there is so much unfinished life to be lived, mostly embodied in her two very young boys. She wishes she had the chance to grow, the chance that many of us are given, a blessing denied to her and her boys:

“I am trying to know myself. I want a better sense of what kind of mother the kids will remember me to be. It’s hard: I am not done becoming me. I am still in the works. I still aim to be softer in some places, firmer in others.”

If you are looking for a preachy book on how to live your life with cancer, this isn’t it. This is a book about facing the reality of it, of the nitty-gritty details of being down in the deepest pits of despair head on as a mother of two children and a woman who adores her husband of 16 years. There are moments of hope, but above all the beautiful life Riggs lived is what shines through this book. Knowing that death is knocking at one’s door, she writes, helps one “distill what matters most to each of us in life in order to navigate our way toward the edge of it in a meaningful and satisfying way.” And perhaps that’s what’s so shattering about it: that she could not continue to bask in the loveliness that is her family and her life, that she will never see her young boys grow old and have their own children. How could we ask anyone to come to terms with the loss of all of that?

This book is right up there with Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, two of my favorite books. I read Riggs’ book in one evening and it will stay with me. I highly recommend this book.

2017 Favorite Reads & 2018 Reading Challenge

2017 was my year of reading more fiction, and I indeed read much more than I have in recent years. I decided to make reading for pleasure a priority in my life, and then discovered the world of book blogging. I was immediately hooked, and have met so many interesting, great book reviewers in the process.

This blog is about the books that stuck with me after reading over 50 books this year. You’d think after reading that many books you’d forget everything you read, but that certainly isn’t true for me. Yes, some books have faded from memory, but others have refused to go dormant. So what books were my favorites and still are stuck in my head?

Most Haunting Novel: Tom Sweterlitsch’s The Gone World


If you like stories that merge sci-fi, time travel, space, and murder and involve a strong female lead, then this is your book. The book is so beautifully written, with characters who are human to a fault. My review of it can be read here.

Most Unreliable Narrator: A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window


What if you witnessed your neighbor committing a crime only to be told by the police it didn’t happen? This book also wins an award for best references to film noir. If you like Gone Girl, this is definitely for you. Read my review of it here.

Best Books on the Dangers of Social Media 

I couldn’t limit this section to one, so here are my favorites.


Laura Marshall’s Friend Request will make you want to delete all of your social media accounts, and never accept a friend request on Facebook ever, ever again. Read my review here.


Are you a fan of podcasts like Serial that follow contemporary murders and mysteries, or crime shows on television? You might not be after you read Kathleen Barber’s Are you Sleeping, which examines what happens to a young woman when her family’s secrets are revealed by an amateur podcaster for profit. Read my review here.


Think it’d be awesome if social media and the internet could be accessed by an implant in your head? Nick Clark Windo’s The Feed looks at the social consequences of such a technology, which not surprisingly leads to the downfall of civilization. This post-apocalyptic thriller reminded me of The Road with tech. Read my review here.

Book that Needs a Sequel NOW


Earth has become a miserable place for most humans, with pollution and poverty limiting the lifespan of most youth. Scott Reintgen’s Nyxia tells the story of young people given the opportunity to flee Earth for a hefty sum and help colonize a new world that is free of all of Earth’s trappings. This is a young adult sci-fi novel that shares similarities with The Hunger Games and Divergent, but is unique enough that it stands out on its own. Read my review here.

Best Psychological Thriller by a Seasoned Author: Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game


I discovered Ruth Ware this year and read all three of her books, including her newest above, over the summer. I cannot put her books down. I love her characters, I love the settings, and most of all I love Ware’s brilliant writing. This book will not disappoint! Read my review here.

2018 Goals

I ended 2017 strong by completing my Goodreads challenge of reading 55 books. I managed to read one book over that goal (woohoo!). My challenge for 2018 is to read 15 more books this year, and to add a few more non-fiction books into the mix.

Thanks to my readership for checking out my book reviews, and to the book bloggers who have commented and interacted with me on Twitter, Goodreads, and on this blog. You made 2017 a wonderful year amid many transitions in my life! I look forward to seeing what great books come my way in 2018!


Review: The Good Liar


**5 Stars**

This was my first read with the Traveling Sisters reading group on Goodreads, and I had a lot of fun seeing what other readers thought of the book every step of the way through it!

Cecily’s life is torn to pieces when the two people she loves – her husband, Tom, and her best friend, Kate – are killed in an assumed terrorism-related attack on their workplace. As if that wasn’t devastating enough, Cecily becomes the face of the tragedy when a photographer and documentary maker, Teo, captures Cecily fleeing the site of the explosion while attempting to visit Tom on his coffee break. The image becomes iconic and symbolic of the tragedy, something Cecily feels she will never ever be able to escape.

Cecily’s life, which includes her two teenagers, is thrust into the scrutiny of the press. She feels like she must portray the image of a grieving widow, and not anything less. But as the reader learns, nothing about Cecily’s marriage to Tom or friendship with Kate was as perfect as the media would like to believe. We learn that Tom had cheated on Cecily only a few months prior to the incident, and that Kate had mixed feelings about being a friend to Cecily, a mother to two girls, and a wife to her husband, Jack.

We also learn that Kate had a dark past no one knew about, including her husband Jack and her supposed best friend, Kate. A young woman in her 20s named Franny comes forward to the press claiming she was Kate’s daughter who Kate gave up for adoption. Franny becomes involved with the compensation process for victims and their families of the tragedy, so much so that Cecily, who is also involved with the same organization, begins to wonder if she ever really knew Kate at all.

Cecily becomes involved with Teo after the viral photograph, and agrees to be part of a documentary on the tragedy that Teo is filming. Teo decides that Franny, Kate’s family, and Cecily’s family are the foci of his documentary, and what he uncovers about all three of them will unravel everything you thought you knew about the victims and the survivors.

This book is an interesting study on how narratives of victims can get flattened in the press, and the immense pressure women feel to conform to their roles as wives, mothers, and friends. It reminded me a bit of Janelle Brown’s Watch Me Disappear.

I admit I read ahead of my reading group because 1) I am stuck at home in pain recovering from ankle surgery, and 2) this book was just that good! This is one of the heart-pounding reads that you will not be able to put down. This book will be available for purchase on April 2, 2018.

Thank you to Lake Union Publishing, Catherine McKenzie, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Good Liar.

Review: The New Neighbors


**3.5 Goodreads Stars**

My last read of 2017 is Simon Lelic’s The New Neighbors, which is also marketed under the name The House. I actually think the latter name is more fitting for the book. I read it in one day while being stuck at home from ankle surgery (not fun).

The story is about Syd/Sydney and her partner, Jack. They are Londoners in the market for a new home and are becoming frustrated with the lousy (read expensive) housing market. They end up lucking out and getting a flat for a very cheap price despite the competitive market. A stroke of luck? Or is something more nefarious at work?

We learn that Syd grew up in an abusive household. Her father was a violent megalomaniac who physically and emotionally tortured her, her mother, and her sister, Jessica. Finally, when she couldn’t take it anymore, she ran away from home never to return again. She lived on the streets for years, changed her name and identity, and finally managed to get her life together right before she met Jack. Jack is everything Syd is not; he had an upper-middle class upbringing, he has an established career as someone who helps those in need with housing, and he is generally put together and polished.

When Syd and Jack move into their new house, they are stuck with the former occupant’s belongings. He supposedly up and left to Australia after meeting a woman online, abandoning all of his worldly possessions in the process. The house is a menagerie of oddities: creepy, weird, and perhaps downright worrisome. I’ll spare you the details because I don’t want to spoil the plot.

One day Syd chats up her neighbor’s daughter Elsie, who is a teenager. She exhibits signs of abuse that Syd knows well. Syd grows close to her, and is compelled to do something, anything, to help her the way no one helped Syd as a child. A confrontation with Elsie’s terrifyingly abusive, violent father prevents Syd from communicating with Elsie.

Elsie’s father is then found dead in the alleyway between the two homes, and Jack is accused of killing him. Did Jack do it? Did someone else kill him? Is Sydney somehow involved?

I started this book earlier this month and put it down because another book kept my attention. Once I was about 40% of the way in, I started to really enjoy the plot and characters. The plot is somewhat gnarly and complex, but it makes sense in the end. I did not see the ending coming, but I really like how it concluded. I am kind of surprised I didn’t see it coming, to be honest, but I’ll chalk that up to being on painkillers thanks to the screws and plates holding my ankle together 🙂

I am not sure why 3.5 stars felt right for this book, but it might be due to the slow start. The plot is very clever, but I struggled with scenes of child abuse. I think others might really love this book more than I did. It’s well written, but it’s just not my favorite read of the fall.

Thanks to Edelweiss+, the author, Simon Lelic, and the publisher, Berkley, for a free copy of the book for an honest review.