What’s Ashley Reading?: Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

First line: Maybe the machine could see the words she never spoke.

Summary: Alex and Suzette are the parents of a beautiful seven-year-old girl named Hanna. With her father she is his sweet little girl. For her mother she is complete opposite. After having been expelled from several schools in the last few years Suzette has had to home school Hanna but as the months pass the tension between mother and daughter continues to escalate. Suzette truly does love her child but she also fears her a little bit. Whenever she tells Alex about Hanna’s behavior he thinks she is overreacting. How can his perfect little angel be as bad as Suzette says?

My Thoughts: There is something truly wrong with this child. I could not decide between a 4 or 5 star rating mainly because I did not know if I could say I loved a book about such a scary little girl. I was completely terrified of her. Even though I was cringing and shocked by the events of the story I could not stop reading.

In alternating chapters we see the perspectives of Hanna and Suzette. I kept telling Suzette (in my head of course) to leave. Just leave. How can a person live in a house with a child who seems to want to kill her mother? Suzette though tries everything she can think of to try and help her child. I think what makes it even scarier is that Hanna does not speak. She cannot or will not tell her parents what is bothering her.

FYI: Not for the faint of heart. I have to say that I had to put this down several times in order to breathe a bit.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The First Mistake

The First Mistake by Sandie Jones

First line: “Sophia, let’s go,” I call out from the hall.

Summary: Alice’s life is beginning to come back to normal. She has remarried after the death of her first husband. She has two beautiful daughters and a successful business. But when her husband, Nathan begins acting strangely she turns to her best friend, Beth. As they talk about the situation Alice begins to wonder who she can trust anymore.

My Thoughts: This by no means is anything groundbreaking or new to the genre but it was a lot of fun to read. It went by very fast and kept me interested the whole way. I liked how it was divided into sections for each of the women. We got a look into each of their lives and pasts which helps build up to the conclusion. I had so many theories flying through my head as I read. Each became more twisted with each passing page.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes a fun thriller. It is a perfect summer read!

FYI: Sandie Jones’ first book, The Other Woman, is fantastic as well!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Summer Country

The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

First line: “Emily!” Adam shouted.

Summary: Emily Dawson has inherited a plantation on the island of Barbados from her grandfather. When she arrives at Peverills it is far from what she dreamed. After the slave uprising forty years before it has sat in ruins. On the invitation of the Davenant family of Beckles, she and her cousin stay at the neighboring plantation while Emily decides what to do with her inheritance.

Forty years earlier Charles Davenant returns home to run his family plantation, Peverills. The home he knew as a child has changed and so have Charles’ views on life in Barbados. As tensions rise on the island he must decide where he stands.

My Thoughts: This is a what great family sagas are made of. Big family secrets with dark turns around every corner. I loved the intertwining narratives and how closely they connected. The characters are so well done. I went in expecting to like some and hate others but Willig does a great job of proving you wrong on your first impressions. I am not much for a romance novel but this was a beautiful love story in the midst of so many challenges.

And the history is fascinating. I had never read or heard anything based on the island of Barbados so the storyline was completely fresh for me. Lauren brings it to life. The heat, the smells, and the lifestyles come through in her writing.

FYI: I highly recommend Willig’s Pink Carnation series!

From Reader to Writer: Morning Pages

I’ve never been much of the diary type. I have a crate full of journals and a moderate journal-buying obsession, but if one were to scour the contents of these books, they’d find mostly random thoughts, embarrassing poetry, and doodles of rose vines and cats. While I always have a journal with me to record ideas or to regurgitate intense emotions, I’ve never been good at keeping a daily journal. I always start with good intentions then either forget completely or make excuses for not continuing.

Back in 2016, I discovered The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and it revitalized my creative process. It challenged me to reflect deeply and to make a practice out of writing. One of the vital elements of Julia Cameron’s method is to write morning pages every day. Recently, I’ve decided to go through Cameron’s 12-week process again and have been reminded of the importance of doing the morning pages as often as possible.

What Are Morning Pages

Morning Pages are three, long-hand, stream of consciousness pages of writing done every day, preferably in the morning right when you wake up. They can literally be about anything. They should never be shared and really, you shouldn’t read them for at least eight weeks. Most people destroy them after writing them.

Why Would You Do This?

I see it as a clearing. It sweeps away all of the things that clutter your head. From anxieties that you need to let go of or ideas that you don’t want to forget, the morning pages give you a space to exist in written form. Writing long-hand instead of typing on your phone or computer is a way to ground and re-center you without technology. There is something comforting about putting pen to paper and just letting the words flow in any way.

This is excellent training for writing a first draft. First drafts are tough. It’s important when starting out that you just get the ideas on paper. Revision and critiquing comes after the words get down, but it’s hard to turn that filter off even when writing the first time around. Morning Pages trains your brain to turn off that internal critique and let the words flow.

I’m not going to lie. I only get my morning pages done about half the time, but when I do get to them, my brain feels so much clearer. As I keep going through The Artist’s Way program in hopes of re-invigorating my creativity, I definitely am working to make morning pages a habit for both my mental and creative health.

Would you ever consider writing morning pages? Perhaps maybe give The Artist’s Way a try? Let me know what you think, and I’ll keep you posted as my writer’s journey continues.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last House Guest

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

First line: I almost went back for her.

Summary: Littleport, Maine is a small coastal town that spends half the year catering to the wealthy visitors on summer vacation. The Loman family is the richest and most prominent family in the area. One summer the Loman’s daughter, Sadie develops a friendship with a local girl. They become inseparable. As their friendship grows, Avery is brought on to manage the family’s local rental properties and other business ventures in town. Then one summer everything changes. Sadie is found dead. The police rule it as a suicide but Avery feels like things do not add up. Who could want to hurt Sadie and why?

My Thoughts: This is a perfect read for summer vacations. It is set on a coastal town with beaches, bungalows and bistros. While reading it I desperately wanted to be sitting outside with a cold drink.

Miranda does a great job a spinning a tangled web. The story jumps back and forth between the summer Sadie died and the next one without her. But at the same time we get glimpses farther back into Avery’s past as well. There seemed to be so many possibilities for the ending. I was shocked by the big reveal at the end. The last 50 pages fly by so fast. It was hard to put down.

FYI: My favorite Megan Miranda books is All The Missing Girls. It is fantastic. The story is told in reverse. You would think it would give away so much but it does not. Both of these books are perfect for your summer reading list!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

First line: Blanche is dead.

Summary: Blanche Auzello, the wife of the Ritz hotel director, is living a beautiful life in Paris until June 1940 when the Nazis invade. They take over the grand hotel and life changes drastically. Life under the occupation becomes strained especially for Blanche who is hiding a secret that could potentially harm her and those she loves. However, she and her husband are determined to do what they can for France and the staff of the Ritz, even if it means their lives are forfeit.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Melanie Benjamin. Her novels are always very interesting and filled with fascinating women. I had never heard of Blanche or her husband before picking up this novel. It sounds like life in Paris was very tense during the occupation but not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. It seems as if people continued to live life as normal as possible during those years.

Melanie Benjamin at Watermark books on May 28, 2019.

One of the issues I had with the story was that it seemed to almost center on her husband, Claude, rather than her. He references her often and thinks about her during his chapters but he almost takes over the narrative. And strangely I enjoyed his storyline more than hers. He could be a jerk but his story was more interesting except for when Blanche was with her friend, Lily.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s book, The Alice Network.

Lit Pairings – NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Click here to place a hold on NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
 
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.I’ve been in a reading slump for quite awhile now. Do you ever get in those? No matter what genres I picked up nothing could keep my interest! So what made me think a 692-page book would be the right thing to pull me out of my slump??? Well first of all NOS4A2 has been adapted into a TV series on AMC that started on June 2. The previews looked amazing and I hate to watch a movie or TV show that’s been adapted from a book without first reading it. And second the author Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. I’ve never read Hill before, but he’s been on my list for a long time and I’d heard great things about his writing style. NOS4A2 didn’t disappoint! It was just what I needed to get myself reading again. Now I just have to hope the TV series does the book justice.

I know you’re thinking this is an odd book to pair food with. And you would be 1000% right about that, but I loved the book so dang it I’m going to make it work! Instead of doing the obvious Christmas themed treats I want to focus more on Vic’s summertime at Lake Winnipesaukee. At the diner “Terry’s” she and her parents would have Frappes (you can’t call them milkshakes). This article will explain the difference between the two and give you a great recipe. I don’t think any summer diner experience could be complete without a really good burger. This recipe is great for those yummy thin burgers that are cooked on the griddle and get all kinds of crispy around the edges.

This is one of those books that you can enjoy in summer or around the holidays. I hope you decide to give it a read and maybe get inspired to make one or both of the recipes listed above.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

First line: I’ve a thief to thank for finding the one person I need to see before I die.

Summary: Elise Sontag, a fourteen year old girl from Iowa, has her life turned upside down when her father is arrested on the suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas where she meets her best friend, a Japanese girl named Mariko. They spend several months together before Elise’s family is deported back to Germany. In the hopes of keeping their friendship alive the two exchange letters but it is difficult with the ongoing war. However, Elise keeps up hope that after the war ends she will be able to return to America and see her best friend again.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. The last several books have not been as good as Secrets of a Charmed Life which was my first book I read by Susan Meissner. It is a topic that has not been talked about much and it could be because it is embarrassing but it is our history and we need to acknowledge it. And learn from it too. I cannot imagine how shocking it would be to have everything taken from you and being forced to live in basically a prison. Then to be sent back to a land that they had left or never even lived before. Especially with a war on and cities are being heavily bombed. How do you rationalize that?

The time spent in camp was actually a very small part of the book. Most of it took place in Germany after Elise’s family is repatriated. I liked listening to her story as she navigates this foreign land in wartime. She did not speak German which put her in a tight spot since the Germans were at war with America. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a story set during World War II.

FYI: Definitely check out Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Some Girls: My Life in a Harem

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren

First line: The Shah’s wife was unfaithful to him, so he cut off her head and summarily declared all women to be evil and thereby deserving of punishment.

Summary: Jillian Lauren was an eighteen year old NYU dropout when she hears about an opportunity to earn $20,000 by going to the country of Brunei as a guest of the billionaire prince, Jefri. What starts out as a two week trip ends up as an eighteen month stay in the prince’s harem.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed listening to Jillian’s story. But at the same time I was shocked. She grew up in a rather normal family. She goes to NYU for a theater degree but dropout and works as a stripper and escort. Then she travels to a foreign country in hopes of earning big money for a short stay. Who does this? I guess I grew up too sheltered in small town Kansas.

However, her time in Brunei is fascinating. The wealth and splendor of the rich is unbelievable. If you have seen Crazy Rich Asians then you know what I am talking about. She is given jewels, clothes and cash. She went on a shopping spree that basically had no spending limit! Even though she got lots of material possessions she never was happy. It is an interesting look into another lifestyle. I don’t completely understand it but I did find it a great read.

FYI: Language and explicit details about her life as an escort.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Wyoming

Working the front desk gives me lots of opportunities to talk about books with patrons and give suggestions. Recently, one of my favorite patrons asked if I had read any Zane Grey books. I told him that I had only read one, Betty Zane, which was one of his first novels about the heroine of the American Revolution.

“In memory of Elizabeth Zane whose heroic deed saved Fort Henry in 1782”

About ten years ago while doing a family history project in college I learned from my grandmother that our family was distantly related to the author, Zane Grey. Through my research I found that my 6x great aunt married Ebenezer Zane, the brother of Elizabeth “Betty” Zane. How cool is that?!

On a trip to Ohio several years ago while doing some more family history research I visited the grave of Betty Zane. It is a wonderful monument to the strong young woman whose bravery helped save her family and Fort Henry.

Statue of Betty Zane at Walnut Grove Cemetery in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio.

On a trip to Ohio several years ago while doing some more family history research I visited the grave of Betty Zane. It is a wonderful monument to the strong young woman whose bravery helped save her family and Fort Henry.

He astoundingly had never read this one. I immediately interlibrary loaned it for him. And since I recommended that one for him he suggested I read his favorite Zane Grey novel, Wyoming.

Wyoming by Zane Grey

First line: When Martha Ann Dixon found herself on the open Nebraska road she realized with a shock that at last her innate propensity for running away from home had definitely materialized.

Summary: When Martha Ann Dixon, a young girl from Chicago decides to lie to her parents and hitchhike out to Wyoming to live with her great uncle, she does not know how her life will change. Along the way she meets a wide variety of people, some good and some bad. However, one man stands out, Andrew Bonning. He rescues her from some tramps along the road and gives her ride. Little does she know that they are both heading to the same place. As they get to know each other their feelings become stronger while they try to navigate life in the West.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed reading my second Zane Grey novel. It was a light and easy read. I am not much for love stories or westerns but it was a sweet novel. I did get a little frustrated with the stubbornness of the two main characters. It reminded me of Pride and Prejudice in that way. The supporting characters are sometimes the most fun though. Even though he is considered one of the “bad guys” at a point in the story, I enjoyed the scenes with Texas Jack. He was a true cowboy and added a little bit of humor to the story. The one thing I really had trouble with was the writing. It was good but when it is in the western vernacular it can get hard to understand and read easily.

FYI: If you want a nice western love story than this is a good one for you!