What’s Ashley Reading?: The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

First line: Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford.

Summary: Nora Seed has decided to die. Everything is falling apart around her. She is single, her cat died, she lost her job, her parents are dead and her brother won’t talk to her. What’s the point anymore? As she dies she finds that there is a library filled with possible other lives that would have existed had she made different choices. The librarian directs her to the books of these alternate lives where she can decide if she would rather live in those instead. Which one will she choose?

“Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. At the beginning it can be depressing as Nora keeps having her world fall apart around her. It almost seems like an It’s a Wonderful Life situation. But this is more inventive and adds another dimension to story. Rather than seeing the world without her, it looks at the world if she had made different choices.

I liked how different each life was because of one small choice. It’s the Butterfly Effect. One decision can change so much for you and every person you come into contact with. But we also see that what may appear to be perfect can still have its challenges. Nothing is perfect.

Everyone has things that they regret. I know I do. I wish I had spent a year abroad in college. But if I did that I would never have gotten my dog, Winston. I regret not staying at K-State in order to save money on college but if I hadn’t I would not have traveled around Europe with a group from Tabor College. There is always something that could be different but with every regret there is something good you would lose too.

Even though this sounds like a depressing book, it is really uplifting. It has a great message to anyone who is struggling with life choices and how to make the best of what we are given. Find joy in the small things.

FYI: Trigger warnings: suicide, drug overdose, language.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Mother May I

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

Summary: Bree Cabbat has the perfect life; a loving husband, beautiful children and a nice home. But one night she sees a witch at her window and the following day her baby son is stolen from her car with a mysterious message containing instructions on how to get her little boy back. As she follows “the mother’s” instructions she finds that there is more to this diabolical plan than she first thought. Racing against the clock Bree tries to find the secrets that could lead them to her son and “the mother”.

My Thoughts: This is my first book my Joshilyn Jackson. I really enjoyed it. It started off with a bang and continued to have the same high drama throughout which can be hard to maintain. As the story progressed I didn’t know how the author was going to continue because the end seemed so imminent but then whole new mystery appeared. As more layers were added the suspense got even higher until the last chapter. I will finally read her other thriller, Never Have I Ever, which I have checked out numerous times but never read yet.

Listening to the audio book I was a little annoyed at the readers voice. It was rather whiny but that could be because of the playback on the app. I liked the reader’s interpretation of “the mother’s” voice. It was witchy and creepy. And you need to stay focused while listening or you may miss something.

FYI: Great thriller!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Hunger

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

First line: Everyone agreed it had been a bad winter, one of the worst in recollection.

Summary: A wagon train of settlers head out from Independence, Missouri, who would later be known as the Donner Party. They are bound for the bountiful lands of California. Among them is Tamsen Donner, who some believe to be a witch. And when strange things start to occur along the trail many look towards her for someone to blame. As they cover the long miles over prairie, desert and mountains, members of the party begin to change. Will the group be able to make it to the promised land of California or die trying to take the shortcut?

My Thoughts: Practically everyone has heard of the ill-fated Donner Party. They spent a long winter in the mountains on their way to California. After several of the party are rescued there has been rumors and debate about if the survivors resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. The story is such a dark piece of history which I think is what makes it so fascinating to so many people.

This book was recommended to me and I used it as part of my Traveler’s Reading Challenge. I had really high hopes of a spooky story mixed with cannibals. But I felt that there was a lot of build up to an ending that wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I expected to spend a lot more time in the mountains and the cold months. But this only was a small portion at the very end. It was a fun read for someone interested in a twist on history.

FYI: The author’s next book is The Deep which gives a twist to the story of the Titanic.

Kristy’s Reviews: The Deal of a Lifetime

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

First Line: Hi. It’s your dad. You’ll be waking up soon, it’s Christmas Eve morning in Helsingborg, and I’ve killed a person.

Summary: A father and a son are seeing each other for the first time in years. The father has a story to share before it’s too late. He tells his son about a courageous little girl lying in a hospital bed a few miles away. She’s a smart kid—smart enough to know that she won’t beat cancer by drawing with crayons all day, but it seems to make the adults happy, so she keeps doing it. (www.amazon.com)

My Thoughts:   Intriguing quick light read. What would you do? What would anyone do when you have cancer and know you’re gonna die? What would you do? For one man that lived a decent life, the end was an easy choice. Looking thru the windows at the hospital said it all. He knew from the first moment he saw this little girl what he would do in the end. And for him it was an easy choice to save the life of a little girl he barely knew. So he traded his life for hers with the help of the lady in the grey sweater and clipboard.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Project

The Project by Courtney Summers

First line: She’s at Mrs. Ruthie’s house, eating one of Mrs. Ruthie’s peanut butter cookies, staring out Mrs. Ruthie’s living room window and waiting for her parents to come home.

Summary: After the death of her parents, Lo Denham, has spent years trying to find and reconnect with her sister Bea. As Lo was recovering from the accident Bea left and joined The Unity Project. The group preaches love, does charity work and helps out the community. They have slowly been growing but Lo has always been suspicious of them. Then one day a man comes into the office of the magazine she works for. He claims that The Project killed his son. Lo sees this as her chance to expose the group and finally find her sister.

My Thoughts: I wasn’t so sure about this book when I first started it. It has dual timelines with different narrators and time periods. It was a little confusing as the story set out and took a little time to get going. But as Lo learns more about The Project the story gets more twisted. Things start to reveal themselves but like most thrillers, not everything you hear and see is true.

Cults are scary things. As I read, I could easily see how people are drawn into them. They are looking for something or someone to guide them. They want a community. Someone to understand them. But then there is always the dark underside. And the author delivered all this.

I had a hard time rating this book. I struggled at the start but enjoyed the ending. It was worth a read and kept me invested until the end.

FYI: Language, abuse and cults.

Kristy’s Reviews: The Perfect Father

The Perfect Father by John Glatt

First sentence: Christopher Lee Watts was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on May 16, 1985, the second child to Ronnie and Cindy Watts.

Summary: In the early morning hours of August 13th, 2018, Shanann Watts was dropped off at home by a colleague after returning from a business trip. It was the last time anyone would see her alive. By the next day, Shanann and her two young daughters, Bella and Celeste, had been reported missing, and her husband, Chris Watts, was appearing on the local news, pleading for his family’s safe return. (from www.amazon.com)

My thoughts: Not everything is as it seems. Looking at the life of Shanann Watts seemed to be the most perfect life, a beautiful home with a family, a loving husband and 2 beautiful little girls and a baby boy on the way. But behind closed doors is a whole other story. A demon was in the making and before you know it took everything away from so many family and friends in the sad stories of this unbelievable set of events. While not everything or everyday or everyone is perfect, this didn’t need to happen to a family.

*This can be found only on Hoopla or thru interlibrary loan.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: In the Garden of Spite

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

First line: PERSONAL – comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in LaPorte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.

Summary: Belle Gunness, a Norwegian immigrant, has learned some hard lessons early on. Upon her arrival in Chicago she married with the hopes of achieving the American dream. But the life she dreamed of did not come true. She was disappointed in her husband, home and lifestyle. She must make her own way in the world by any means necessary. Mysterious deaths, house fires and heated arguments the legend of the Black Widow of LaPorte begins to take hold.

My Thoughts: Before finding this book on Netgalley I had never heard of Belle Gunness. She was a female serial killer. She killed an estimated fourteen people but may be linked to many more. I was really intrigued by the premise, the story and the character of Belle. It was very disturbing to be inside her head. She rationalized everything she did. But even a book about a serial killer I found much of it to be drawn out. There was long periods of time passing and very little happening. I think that much of this could have been taken out and the story would have felt more thrilling.

After finishing I visited www.newpapers.com via the library’s learning databases. I wanted to see what the newspapers of the time were reporting about this woman. Many had the same headline or story. Then there was a resurgence of sightings and murders that some believed were connected to her. There is still lots of mystery around this century old murderer. It’s crazy how reality can be even stranger than fiction.

FYI: Very gruesome at parts.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Children’s Blizzard

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin

First line: The air was on fire.

Summary: On January 12, 1888 a blizzard swept across the Plains so suddenly it caught many settlers unawares. Over 200 people died during and as a result of the storm but a majority of them were children, which gave this storm its name, The Children’s Blizzard.

Young schoolteachers, Gerda and Raina, were teaching in their one room schoolhouses when the storm appeared. Unsure what to do with the frightened children they had to make a decision, stay in the cold building or brave the storm to find their ways home. The decisions of these young women lead to consequences they never even imagined.

My Thoughts: This book was more intense than I was ready for. I felt the tension and fear of the settlers as the storm swept over them. We are lucky to have weather forecasts that gives us some warning on what is coming. These people had nothing. And the amount of snow, temperatures and the white out conditions are terrifying.

I loved the different viewpoints that gave a look at the storm from several angles such as a young girl in the storm, the teachers, a newspaper man and a father who braved the storm to rescue his children. I cannot imagine the choices that these young girls had to make and the fear they would have felt. What sixteen year old with very little schooling could make a decision this big? That is a lot of pressure. Then the author spent time after the storm to see the aftermath on the land and the people. Many lives were lost due to carelessness or bad luck. People died just feet from their homes because they could not see where they were going through the snow.

From the Omaha Daily Bee on January 13, 1888.

After finishing the novel I visited www.newspapers.com, a library database with historical newspapers from all over the country. My ancestors spent years living on the Nebraska prairie. I wondered if there was any coverage of the storm near their hometown. I found nothing directly connected to them or their town but I read numerous stories in other papers that told the story of this tragic event.

FYI: The aftermath can be harsh for some readers especially hearing about the frostbite and amputations.

Rachel’s Recommendations: This Is Where It Ends

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

First Line: The starter gun shatters the silence, releasing the runners from their blocks.

Summary: At 10:05 am gunshots ring out. Within a span of 54 minutes four students must come face to face with the possibility of death; their hopes and dreams could be over in a single second. Anything can happen. Anyone can live and anyone can die. Who would do this? Why would they do this? And who will survive the next 54 minutes?

My Thoughts: I have mixed reviews about this books. While it does offer some intense scenery, I felt like the author didn’t really dive deep into the psychology as to why this student felt the need to commit such a violent act. Yes, there was some reasoning explained, but I felt like as a whole there could’ve been more offered to the character of Tyler, the shooter.

There were certain parts of the book that kept me reading due the intense nature of a school shooter and the desire to know why, but there were other parts where I became frustrated with the characters who were trying to survive the dangerous situation that they were forced upon. School shootings are such a deep and tragic event that you have to bring the right amount emotion writing about it in a fiction setting.

I wish that the author would’ve dedicated a little more time with the character development as well. I lacked a certain amount of emotion with the characters and didn’t really feel as bonded to them. I would give this book a 3 out of 5.

Trigger Warnings: mass shootings, violence, death, sexual assault, and some language

What’s Ashley Reading?: Hamnet

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

First line: A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

Summary: In 1580, in England, a young tutor named William Shakespeare meets the daughter of his employers. She is a strange girl who wanders the fields with her falcon on her arm. Against the wishes of their families they marry. Agnes has a reputation as a healer. People flock to her for cures. However, when their son, Hamnet, falls ill to the bubonic plague there is little she can do for the boy. With the heartache and loss Shakespeare writes one of his most epic plays.

My Thoughts: This book was beautifully written. It was almost poetic in its writing and style. I listened to most of this and the reader was so soothing. I think this would be a perfect book for book clubs, fans of historical fiction or literary fiction.

This brings to life a major part of Shakespeare’s life, his family. Very little is written or talked about since his most famous times were in London and on the stage. I loved learning about Agnes (or Anne) and their children. Life was so simple back then but also very tragic as well. I knew very little even though I have read several of his plays and watched many documentaries and movies of his life. The fact that we can still see some of the places he lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon is astounding since over 400 years have passed.

My favorite chapter, and the one that will most likely stick with me, was the one about the flea. O’Farrell spends a whole chapter on the flea that brought the plague to the home of William Shakespeare and eventually killed his only son. It is hard to imagine how something that started thousands of miles away could affect so many. The tale was fascinating. Who would ever consider writing about the flea?! It is genius.

FYI: Winner of Women’s Prize for Fiction.