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.

Terese’s Thoughts: Between Two Kingdoms

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

First Line: It began with an itch.

Summary: When we first meet Suleika, she is finishing her final year of college. An aspiring international correspondent, Suleika is exceptionally talented, speaking several languages and having previously earned a scholarship to Juilliard for the double bass. Her future is bright and she’s looking forward to the adventure of figuring out who she will be and what she will contribute to the world. Although suffering from a maddening itch and debilitating exhaustion, Suleika chalks it up to hard work and hard partying. Before graduating, Suleika lines up a job in Paris, and falls in love. It isn’t long before her boyfriend follows her to Paris and they begin a life together.

But Suleika’s exhaustion only intensifies and she finds herself in the hospital again and again, with doctors assuming her frequent illness is the result of a young person’s lifestyle. Finally, a nurse urges Suleika to go home to her family and get the medical care she needs. The following morning Suleika flies to New York, at this point so run down she’s escorted by wheelchair.

Suleika is diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia, discovers she will need a bone marrow transplant, and is given a 35% chance of survival. The next chapters are devoted to her journey through cancer—the setbacks, the pain, and the changing relationships with her family, friends, and boyfriend. She suffers many losses, but also finds a creative outlet and is uplifted by the words of strangers who relate to her story.

The book concludes with Suleika struggling to return to normalcy post-sickness. She realizes she no longer knows who she is or what she wants her life to look like. Suleika decides to embark on a 100-day journey of self-discovery and adventure across the U.S., visiting some of the people who wrote to her while she was sick.

My thoughts: This is an emotional read. Suleika’s story is as much about love as it is about sickness. Her words served as a wakeup call, reminding me that we only have one shot at this–better to make it a life of my choosing rather than to settle. In my view, living is a continuous cycle of taking this whole beautiful mess of a world and the people in it for granted and then remembering how precious it all is. This book made me feel the latter in spades.

Monica’s Musings: In Five Years

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

“The future is the one thing you can count on not abandoning you, kid, he’d said. The future always finds you. Stand still, and it will find you. The way the land just has to run to the sea.”

― Rebecca Serle, In Five Years

This book caught my attention when I read the summary on the inside cover. Dannie is living a life that she has tediously planned. Every minute is meticulously mapped out in her mind, leaving no room for error. However, when she wakes up from a nap and is five years in the future, she is shocked by what she sees. She is in a different apartment, with a different man, and has a different ring on her finger. When she is snapped back to her current life an hour later, she tries even harder to control things to prevent that moment from happening.

Before her journey to the future, Dannie and her boyfriend of two years, David, live together and they both are working hard to achieve their career goals. When he proposes, of course, she says yes. Everything so far is going according to their five-year plan. However, after her vision of the future on the night she says yes to David, her plan starts to crumble.

While this book focuses on Dannie’s five-year journey, there is another story line also taking place. Her childhood best friend, Bella, is the total opposite of her. Bella is a free spirit who lets the world decide her fate. They balance each other out, and they both rely on their friendship as the one thing that stays consistent in life. The author is able to capture the love between two friends, and it seems that their support for each other is the true love story in this book.

I enjoyed In Five Years, because of the fast pace at which the story evolves. It was a quick and easy read. However, I was expecting more of a grand finale to the book. About halfway through, my predictions on the ending were accurate. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a short, entertaining read.

It was focused on love, and friendship, and learning to let go of the things that cannot be controlled. When the book was over, I was left with the mindset of, “what will be, will be”, and there is no reason to spend life trying to alter the future. I would rate this story a 4.5 out of 5.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Nature of Fragile Things

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

First line: Interview with Mrs. Sophie Hocking conducted by Ambrose Logan, U.S. Marshal

Summary: When Sophie Whalen, a young Irish immigrant, answers a personal ad for a wife and mother to an man in San Francisco she sees this as an opportunity for a better life. She leaves her life in tenements of New York City for a man she has never met. Upon arrival she finds her new husband to be distant but she immediately falls in love with her step-daughter, Kat.

However, on a fateful evening a woman shows up on her doorstep with a story that throws her world into chaos. As these women decide what to do with their new information, tragedy strikes in the form of the largest natural disasters in California history. They must survive the earthquake, its aftermath and the secret that they now hold.

My Thoughts: Susan Meissner is a wonderful writer. She brings to life stories of remarkable women. I can always tell she does lots of research and builds intricate lives for her characters. I enjoyed the story, the history and the ending. It was a wonderful twisting plot with little surprises.

I was not too familiar with the events of the San Francisco earthquake. This was one of the main reasons I picked to read this book. It gave me a little bit more insight into what it must have been like. Having now experienced minor earthquakes here in Kansas, I cannot imagine having to live through one such as this.

And as always there is a little twist at the end which just makes the book that much better.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn and Marie Benedict.

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 Half Sister

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones

First line: Kate sees the familiar nameplate on Dr. Williams’ office door and feels a knot in her stomach.

Summary: Kate and Lauren are sisters who recently lost their dad but each of them has a different idea of who the man actually was. Kate idolized him. Lauren’s relationship was more distant. Then one night at a family dinner a woman shows up who claims to be their father’s daughter. Everyone is shocked by the revelation but none more than Kate. She is determined to prove that Jess is a liar. Lauren is more accepting of her which leads to even more discord in the family. As Kate looks deeper into Jess’s story she finds that not everything is as simple as Jess claims.

My Thoughts: This book kept me reading! I kept telling myself just one more chapter. One more chapter. I loved the different viewpoints. I liked that each woman was completely different from each other. It made the story more interesting because of the conflict. Little clues and hints appeared throughout. Some were red herrings. Others were not. I flew through this book with my heart pounding waiting for the ending.

I do have to say though that some of the stuff seemed a little farfetched. There were some overreactions and wild theories from the characters. I rolled my eyes a few times because it got a little dramatic but it did not stop me from reading it. I was pleased with the ending. I would highly recommend this for fans of thrillers and fast paced novels.

FYI: Great for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Dead to Her

Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough

First line: The candle burns.

Summary: Marcie Maddox has fought hard for the life she has. She is the second wife of a rich and successful Savannah lawyer. Lunch at the Country Club and a giant house is her new normal. However, when her husband’s business partner returns from England with a young new wife, life in her social circle gets turned upside down.

Keisha, a young girl from London, married the rich William Radford IV. She is completely different from his first wife. It seems like being a rich wife will be an escape from her family and their poor life. But William plans to train her to be the obedient wife.

As these two women meet and become friends life starts to change for both of them. Weird appearances and pieces of dark magic start to surround them. Who or what is trying to destroy their lives?

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this! I was worried when I started it that it would not live up to my expectations because of its low rating on Goodreads. But I was pleasantly surprised! All the characters are awful. There is no one that is likeable. They are all flawed and have dark pasts but that was one of the things I enjoyed the most. I had to find out how it was going to end.

This is a fun mixture of thriller, high society, and voodoo. What’s not to enjoy? The beginning centers on establishing the characters. We meet everyone and get snippets of what their lives have been to this point. And then it all comes to a point. All the secrets are released. So many suspects and theories. It was a wild ride that I highly recommend for a fast summer thriller!

FYI: Sexual content.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Wives

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

First line: He comes over on Thursday every week.

Summary: One husband. Three wives. Sounds strange right? Well it is my life. I am Thursday. They are Monday and Tuesday. One is the wife before me. The other came after. But we have worked out a schedule. Until one day I see that he has the receipt from a doctor’s office with a woman’s name on it. Could this be one of them? I must find out.

My Thoughts: This book. Such a roller coaster! First off, I cannot even imagine living this woman’s life and being okay with the family situation. I would definitely be her trying to find out everything I could about these other women. How would it not eat at you and drive a person crazy?! When I got to the half way point it seemed like the book had hit its climax but I was wrong. Everything just got crazier from there.

I jumped back and forth between reading and listening but when it got to the last 50 pages I had to read it because I NEEDED to know how it was going to end. It was a book that I had to set down and breathe a little bit after. It took me on a crazy ride. I highly recommend this!

FYI: Perfect for fans of psychological thrillers like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Follow Me

Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

First line: Everyone on the internet is a liar.

Summary: Audrey is an influencer. She has over a million followers on Instagram. When she decides to take her dream job at an art museum in Washington D.C. she is excited but she does not know that someone waits for her in her new city.

Cat is Audrey’s friend from college. A young lawyer looking to make a name for herself in her law firm. Her best friend arrives from New York. It seems like things are going right for her but maybe everything isn’t as bright as it seems.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed the first 80% of this book. I could not wait to find out who the mysterious “him” was. I loved how the stories interweaved and the hints about Cat’s secret. I was creeped out by the stalker and his methods. This book makes you realize how dangerous social media and the internet can be. It lets someone into your life that you do not know or cannot trust. I kept hoping for some big reveal that would blow my mind but I figured out the stalker fairly early. I hoped that I was wrong and the author was trying to psych the reader out. However, the story fell flat at the end. It was pretty obvious how it was going to end up. It was a four star book until the last 8% of the book. Oh well. It was a still a fun read.

But my favorite part was the art exhibit! The dioramas sound so cool. I would love to see something like this.

FYI: Beware of who you let follow you on social media!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Return

The Return by Rachel Harrison

First line: “What do you mean she’s missing?”

Summary: When one of their friends goes missing they are all shocked but Elise does not believe that Julie is dead. Even after a year and a funeral she still holds out hope that she will return. Then suddenly after two years she reappears with no memory of what happened to her.

In the hopes of learning what happened and reconnecting the friends decide to get together for a long weekend in a swanky new hotel in the mountains. Upon arrival they notice that something is wrong with Julie. She looks different. She acts different. But no one wants to bring up these changes. As the weekend continues Elise starts noticing strange happenings around the hotel. She cannot decide if it’s her imagination or something truly odd is occurring.

My Thoughts: I do not know how to feel about this book. I like it but something is not sitting well with me too. At the beginning I compared it to The Shining and Pet Sematary but as the story progressed it verged away from this. I liked the little hints of creepiness. I loved the strange hotel. But the ending was just not what I expected. It became more gory than spooky. And the final chapter was just kinda dumb.

The characters were a little bland. I liked Elise. I could relate to her. But I got two of the friends constantly confused and the fact that their names both start with M made it even more confusing.

FYI: A good start for a debut author.