What’s Ashley Reading?: The Children on the Hill

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

First line: Her smell sends me tumbling back through time to before.

Summary: In 1978, Dr. Hildreth lives on the property of a state of the art psych ward with her grandchildren, Violet and Eric. One day she brings home a young patient, Iris, in the hopes that time with other kids will help her start talking and progressing on her mental health journey. The children bond during play but especially with their love of monsters. As they overhear whispers at the hospital they start to question what their grandmother is doing with patients like Iris.

In 2019, Lizzy Shelley has created a name for herself through blogs, TED Talks and TV appearances on her monster hunting. However, when she hears about a mysterious disappearance of a young girl in Maine, she is drawn to this location. Is it the monster she has spent years avoiding and also hunting too?

My Thoughts: I really enjoy dual timelines. They make for interesting story lines and make the twists even more fun. I did hear a small spoiler while reading the book so some of the twists did not shock me as much as they might have but there was one part that was really not what I was expecting. I literally gasped when I read it.

However, I did find the story rather longer than it needed to be. It seemed to drag in the middle and seemed almost repetitive. But other than that I found the story to be enjoyable. It has a paranormal hint with still being a contemporary thriller.

FYI: Mental illness and monsters.

Monica’s Musings: When the Stars Go Dark

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

“What is all the suffering for if not so we can see how alike we are, and not alone? Where will the mercy come from, if not from us?”

― Paula McLain, When the Stars Go Dark

Summary:

Anna, a missing person detective, flees to Mendocino, CA to grieve after tragedy strikes in her personal life. She lived there as a child and felt like it might be the only place left for her. When she arrives, she sees that a teenage girl in the area has gone missing. It reminds Anna of an unsolved murder from her childhood that changed the Mendocino community forever.

She realizes that she was led to this moment. Her expertise has given her insight into how to solve this case. Anna becomes obsessed with the missing girl and goes on a journey of self-reflection. Weaving together actual missing person cases and trauma theory, McLain tells a story of fate, redemption, and what it takes when the worst happens to reclaim our lives.

My thoughts:

While I enjoyed this book, it was terribly sad. Anna has seen more than anyone ever should have to. Her own childhood was traumatic, and her personal growth was painful. She never felt as though she belonged, and when her own family experienced tragedy, she blamed herself and ran. The case of the teenage girl in Mendocino was a distraction for her while she grieved. All of the characters introduced in this story had tremendous baggage. This common factor is what brought them together.

Despite the sadness, the emotions portrayed by each character made it feel relatable. It is a great book to tug at your heart and make you feel exactly what they might be going through. I would recommend reading the author’s note at the end of the book. It gives reasoning for all of the details McLain incorporated into the story.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

First line: It was spring, and my sister Lisa and I were in her toy-sized car, riding from the airport in Greensboro, North Carolina, to her house in Winston-Salem.

Summary: In David Sedaris’ latest collection of stories he tackles events like the pandemic, the death of his father and hurricanes at his beach house.

My Thoughts: As with most of his other books I was laughing through much of it. He can bring humor to such serious topics without being too vulgar. But when he talks about his father it just breaks my heart. He had such a difficult relationship with him and he does not hold back when he talks about it. I think through this collection I learned so much more about David than his previous books. It was a very small book and a quick read which I would highly recommend.

FYI: Some language and difficult topics.

Monica’s Musings: The Guest List

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

“Life is messy. We all know this. Terrible things happen, I learned that while I was still a child. But no matter what happens, life is only a series of days. You can’t control more than a single day. But you can control one of them. Twenty-four hours can be curated.”

― Lucy Foley, The Guest List

Summary:

The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

Guests gather on a secluded island to celebrate a beautiful wedding. The groom is a handsome and charming rising television star. The bride is smart, ambitious, and a magazine publisher. It is a high-profile and luxurious wedding.

Soon after arriving, all of the guests can feel the dark energy of the island. As the champagne popped and the festivities began, resentments and petty jealousies mingled with the reminiscences and well wishes.

And then someone turns up dead.

My thoughts:

I was very impressed with this book. As the reader, you get to know each character very well, and every detail of their story is important. There is constant drama between the guests, and I was never sure what would happen next. It was full of scandals and secrets.

I was suspicious of each guest while reading. At one point or another, I thought each one of them could have killed another person on the island. The vibe of the island was dark and mysterious. I could imagine the fear of each person while they each experienced the strange feeling of death in the air. Finding a body was almost expected.

Nothing was clear until the very end. All of the dark secrets came out, and everything made sense then. I did not see the ending coming at all, and I am more than satisfied with how the author wrapped up the loose ends!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Pandora’s Jar

Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes

First line: When we think of Pandora, we probably have a picture in our minds.

Summary: In this look at the women of Greek myths we get a detailed look at them throughout time and different retellings. As most of the myths were written by men the women get sidelined or they get misaligned as the villains of the story. However, these women have been blamed or misrepresented but by comparing different versions of their stories we can see that they are actually much stronger characters than previously thought.

My Thoughts: I remember being fascinated by Greek myths when I was younger, as I think many people are. The stories are filled with gods, wars, love and tragedy. One of my first introductions to the myths was through the show Xena: Warrior Princess. It was cheesy but as a kid I did not notice. And then in high school we read Oedipus Rex and The Odyssey. Even now, nearly twenty years later I still remember the stories. They are something that still fascinates me today. So when I saw this book being released I knew I had to pick it up.

The author brings to life a collection of women from Greek myths. Either these women have been made into monsters, killers or slaves to their desires but she shows that they can be much more than that. Pandora has always been looked at as a woman who brought the suffering to the world through her curiosity. And Medusa is the evil monster that turns everyone she meets into stone. These women have been treated poorly through history and I love to see Haynes giving them their stories back.

Even though parts of the book were either dry or repetitive I did really enjoy reading this. I knew many of the stories but not all of them. I learned a lot about Greek history and myth but also about these fascinating women who filled their mythology.

FYI: Great for people looking at a new spin on women’s history.

What’s Ashley Reading?: An Honest Lie

An Honest Lie by Tarryn Fisher

First line: At the end of the highway sat an old town, not completely dead, but on its last breath.

Summary: Rainy has recently moved in with her boyfriend in Washington. In an effort to get to know his friends she has started attending their weekly get together but has never really felt a part of the group. When she is guilted into attending a girl’s weekend in Las Vegas she knows that it is going to bring back all the painful memories she has spent years trying to hide.

My Thoughts: My first introduction to Tarryn Fisher was The Wives. It was full of crazy twists and a thrilling read. And at the beginning of this one I felt like we were going to be going through another wild ride. It has a charismatic cult leader, the excitement of Las Vegas and a group of women who seemed determined to learn more about this new addition to their group. As a reader I expected many secrets to come out as they always do. But it happened in a strange way. I cannot describe it without giving away much of the plot but it was just not what I was expecting. That may be a good thing but it was not as satisfying as I would have liked. I did enjoy the book. It was quick and had an interesting plot but it lacked something that I cannot place.

FYI: Definitely read The Wives for a crazy story that will keep you guessing!

Monica’s Musings : Anxious People

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

“We don’t have a plan, we just do our best to get through the day, because there’ll be another one coming along tomorrow.”

― Fredrik Backman, Anxious People

Summary:

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed every part of this book. As the reader, you get to know each of the characters personally and see into their lives. The main question throughout the story is how did they all get to this point. Since the author lets you meet the hostages, bank robber, and police officers, the story is constantly developing and making more sense. There were a lot of twists that I was not expecting. It was not violent or gory in any way. This book is sarcastic and funny while also being emotional and thoughtful.

Trigger Warnings: Talk of Suicide, Depression, Anxiety

What’s Ashley Reading?: Misery

Misery by Stephen King

First line: umber whunnnn

Summary: After an accident in the snow of the Rockies, Paul Sheldon, is rescued by his biggest fan. Paul, the writer of the Misery novels, is found on a roadside by Annie Wilkes who takes him to her home to “care for him”. However, she is also keeping him captive. As Paul lays in agony in Annie’s farmhouse he is forced to write another Misery novel just for her and if he doesn’t she is willing to take extreme measures to punish him.

My Thoughts: I remember watching Misery years ago. I knew the basic storyline but not the details of it. Several months ago I picked up a worn old paperback at a used bookstore and decided it was time to enter the world of Stephen King once again. This is definitely not my favorite of his novels but it did keep me reading until the end.

Annie is crazy! During one scene where she is punishing Paul I literally was sick to my stomach. I had to take a moment to gather myself in order to keep reading. It was just too real and gruesome.

But during the middle of the book I struggled to keep going because it just seemed monotonous. And this may have been a ploy to show the long time that Paul spent in Annie’s custody and his mindset of time dragging on. It is understandable but it seemed more like filler than story. But the ending is where the true craziness happens. I always think of the movie Scream when reading horror movies because the villain always comes back for one last scare!

FYI: A classic King novel but in my opinion not his best.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

First line: Nicholas Young slumped into the nearest seat in the hotel lobby, drained from the sixteen-hour flight from Singapore, the train ride from Heathrow Airport, and the trudging through the rain-soaked streets.

Summary: Rachel Chu has been dating Nicholas Young for nearly two years. When he asks her to spend the summer in Singapore she willingly accepts. However, arriving in Singapore she learns that the humble man she knows is part of one of the wealthiest families in Asia.

My Thoughts: Before leaving for my trip to the United Kingdom I was looking for a good vacation book. I scoured several used bookstores and my own shelves at home. Finally I found a mass market paperback of Crazy Rich Asians and felt like this was perfect!

I had seen the movie, which I loved, and decided it was time to read the book too. I am so happy I did. It was fun and ridiculous! The amount of money the people in the book have is just mind-blowing. I kept gasping as prices were thrown around in the book. But other than the money I liked the characters especially Astrid. She is Nick’s cousin who is fashionable and kind to everyone. Each chapter followed different characters as they navigated the weeks leading up to the wedding of the year in Singapore.

I finished the book just as we were arriving back at King’s Cross Station in London, the night before we were to fly home. I frantically looked at all the bookstores at Heathrow hoping to find a copy of the second book but no luck. But as soon as I got back home I downloaded a copy of the audiobook for my drive home from Colorado. I have now finished book two and am currently working on book three!

FYI: A great vacation read!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Black Tudors

Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann

First line: In April 1645 Sir John Wynter burnt his home to the ground rather than see it fall into Parliamentary hands.

Summary: Miranda Kaufmann dives into a little known part of the Tudor world. She explores the lives of Africans in Tudor society. Using primary sources the lives of several black people are brought to readers of the twenty-first century.

My Thoughts: It sounds so stupid of me but this is never something I really considered until hearing a podcast by Historic Royal Palaces featuring Miranda. But I found it absolutely intriguing. There is never a lot of documentation about anyone from 500 years ago but nearly nothing about Africans during this time either. However, Miranda was able to piece together many different sources to discover what the lives were like for these people during this time.

I learned about a man who sailed with Sir Francis Drake as he circumnavigated the globe. And a prostitute who was highly sought after because of her soft skin. A diver who helped excavate and salvage items from the sinking of the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII’s warship. Also I discovered a woman who owned her own cow which she was able to use for feeding herself and earning an income. These people were not slaves but free. They lived alongside the Tudor population and participated in society. As a reader of all things Tudor I found this to be a perfect addition to my knowledge. I am glad I read and was introduced to these people and now I can pass on their stories to others.

It always amazes me when a historian can find these little bits of history and bring them to life for readers. It was eye opening and interesting. I would love to read more about these people and the lives they lived. My one criticism is that the author spends a lot of time laying the foundations for the time or events. But this is because there is so little about the actual individuals that she needed to give context. I wish, and maybe someday we will, we knew more about these Black Tudors.

FYI: Some language from sources can be a little crude.