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?: 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.

Monica’s Musings: Coraline

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

“She had the feeling that the door was looking at her, which she knew was silly, and knew on a deeper level was somehow true.”

― Neil Gaiman, Coraline

            I, like most people, love the claymation movie, Coraline. When I first watched it back in 2009, I was young enough for it to sort of scare me! Now it is one of my favorites to watch during Halloween season. I chose to listen to the audiobook this year because I have always heard that books are better than movies, and I wanted to see if that was true for this one.

            Coraline is a young girl who has just moved into a new apartment with her mom and dad. Their new place is big, and they have a lot of odd neighbors. Coraline’s parents are workaholics who refuse to look up from their computers to give her any attention. So, she spends her time exploring, and one day she finds a tiny door in her apartment that leads to another world! It is an alternate universe of such, and it seems a little too perfect. In this world, her mother and father have all the time in the world to spend with her, which is what keeps her coming back. However, her excitement begins to disappear when she finds out the real motive of her “other” parents.

            I knew I would love this book because of how amazing the movie is. Honestly, I did not think that either one was superior to the other. Each allowed me to imagine a strange world that exists inside the mind of the author, Neil Gaiman. Not to mention, Gaiman reads the audiobook version, so it is told exactly how he imagined it to be read. I will listen to this story again, and I will watch the movie again! Overall, it is a great story in all formats.

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.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Playing Nice

Playing Nice by J. P. Delaney

First line: It was just an ordinary day.

Summary: Pete is a stay-at-home dad while his partner, Maddie, works. One day after arriving home from dropping his son, Theo, off at the daycare he gets a visit from a man who tells him that Theo is his son. It is a lot to take in. Miles tells him that there was a mix-up at the NICU when Theo was born. It seems that Pete and Maddie’s son was switched with Miles’ son. They have each been raising the others’ child for the last two years.

As the couples meet and discuss the situation they feel like they got lucky that each is so amendable. They are getting along well and working out the details. But can they trust this other couple with their son? As time goes by they see that things going on in the Lambert’s house is not as they seem.

My Thoughts: I think this is Delaney’s best book so far! It was really fast and had a good story. It’s terrifying but a real worry that sometimes mistakes like this may happen. With understaffed hospitals and so many children to be taken care of, it could easily happen.

I knew from the beginning when everything was going so well that there was going to be a lot of drama hitting Pete and Maddie soon! It kept me guessing and shaking my head as more craziness continued to appear. I was so shocked with the way every little interaction was spun and twisted to fit the needs of the Lamberts.

And I loved the ending. It wasn’t exactly mind-blowing but it was satisfactory and gave perfect closure. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants a book they can easily finish in a weekend. It is easy to lose yourself in the drama and need to find out what happens next.

FYI: Check out J.P. Delaney’s other books for more great reads!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Queen’s Secret

The Queen’s Secret by Karen Harper

First line: After all the grand celebrations leading to my one hundredth birthday, I had feared dreadfully that the calendar day itself would be a disappointment.

Summary: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, also known as the Queen Mother, took on an important role during the Second World War. Hitler even called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe” because of her popularity and determination to stop the Nazi threat. Using her position she helped Londoners get through the hard years of bombings and rationing. Her support of her husband and Winston Churchill made her a force to be reckoned with. She knew and participated in the most important plans of the war. But even as she was keeping the countries secrets she was hiding a few of her own.

My Thoughts: I am not a 100% sure how I feel about this book. As a story it was a nice easy read. I learned somethings about the time period and the role of the royals during it. It was interesting to see what life was like for them. Elizabeth sounds like a fascinating woman. She lived to be over 100 years old. She saw the world change drastically. I really would love to read a good biography on her someday.

But I had a hard time believing some of the secrets she dealt with from her past. When searching for any confirmation on them I only found one source which was a tell-all book from a member of the aristocracy. I don’t know how accurate it is but it made for an interesting story plot. And since the queen mother is gone it will not be able to be truly known.

I immediately wanted to watch The King’s Speech and The Crown after finishing this!

FYI: This is perfect for fans of The Crown!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Above the Bay of Angels

Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen

First line: If Helen Barton hadn’t stepped out in front of an omnibus, I might still be sweeping floors and lighting fires at an ostentatious house in St. John’s Wood.

Summary: Bella Waverly was raised by a disinherited member of the aristocracy. She was taught to speak well and have good manners. However, when they fall on hard times she is forced to work as a servant in the home of a wealthy Londoner. Then one day she witnesses the death of a young woman with a letter of introduction to work in the Buckingham Palace kitchens. Taking on a new name she enters a new world and finds that life as a cook is maybe what she has been looking for her whole life.

My Thoughts: I first heard about this book when I went to an author event at Watermark Books in Wichita. My mother is a huge fan of Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series. When Ms. Bowen started telling us about her new stand-alone book I was immediately interested. I love the PBS show Victoria so this sounded like my cup of tea.

I found the book to be a light and quick read. It was a mixture between historical fiction and mystery. The first 80% were surrounding Bella and her work in the kitchens but then disaster strikes in the royal family and a mystery appears. I loved how the food took center stage though. I was constantly Googling the items to see what they were. I ate a lot while reading this because everything sounded so good.

Then there is the location. I have never been the south of France but it sounds like a magical place. The Hotel Excelsior Regina is still standing but has been converted to apartments. I would love to visit and see the hotel that was built for Queen Victoria.

And the author brings in one of the most intriguing characters from the time period and Queen Victoria’s reign, “the Munshi”, Abdul Karim. He was the Indian servant and advisor to the queen. But he was disliked by many of her family and staff. Very little was known of him until the last 10 years when his journals came to light. If you want to get a more sympathetic and dramatic view into his story then try the movie Victoria and Abdul. I just rewatched it after finishing the book and it was a lovely story.

FYI: This is a perfect summer read. It is light and fun but with a little intrigue.

Anni’s Book Pick: The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Summary: Born with a clubfoot nine-year-old Ada Smith suffers not only the frustration and pain to the physical condition but the sting of her mother’s abuse and shame as well.

This book is about a young girl and her brother who live with their mother. The mother is abusive and ashamed of her daughter due to a club foot. The book starts before the war where we get a glimpse at the horrible life that Ada and Jamie are living. Ada being born with a clubfoot has received her mother’s shame for her whole life sitting at a window to see the world and not allowed to leave the apartment, which is where they live.

As the story goes on Ada and her brother, Jamie, see other young children their age going to the country where they will be safe from bombs. Ada and her brother sneak out one night and go to live in the country. Life in the country was good, almost perfect until their mother arrived.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book not only because it was historically accurate, but because it brought the story to real life. When reading this book I felt that I knew Ada and Jamie personally, I think the author did an excellent job relating to the characters in the story. I think this book would be a good book for the whole family because it is friendly and there is no profanity or gruesome scenes.

This story really brought the life of children during the war to life. The story shows the struggles of children and the struggles of parents during these hard times. Ada had to leave her home and even though she really wanted to go out and see the world once she was in the country she really missed being home. Overall this story is a great story for all ages, and it can really help children and parents understand life during World War II.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Scythe

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

First line: We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill.

Summary: Society has finally learned to conquer death. The world is no longer starving, dying from disease or dying in general. However, one small problem remains. Overpopulation. The solution is the Scythedom. Scythes are people who are chosen and trained to take human lives in order to keep the population of Earth to a manageable level.

When Citra and Rowan are chosen by Honorable Scythe Faraday as his apprentices they are less than thrilled. Life as a scythe is one of isolation and loneliness not to mention death. As their training commences they learn that there is more to the Scythedom than they originally knew including some darker secrets at its core.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved and devoured this book! It was recommended to me by one of the booksellers at Watermark Books. I finally bought myself a copy because I could not wait for the library one to come back in. I am so happy that I did. It was fast, fun and crazy. So many different twists and turns. I loved the characters. The world is fascinating. Shusterman did a great job of creating a real Utopia but also bringing in some very dark themes as well. As soon as I finished it I immediately downloaded the digital copy from Sunflower eLibrary. If you need something to suck you in from the very beginning then this is that book!

FYI: Lots of death and violence but I don’t think it is over the top. It would be hard to avoid this topic in a book all about bringers of death.