Kathy's Picks

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The pace of St. John Mandel’s latest novel is intentional and precise. Her cast of characters emerge in conjunction with the crashIng of a massive Ponzi scheme. Who gets out? Who stays too long? What are the payoffs? What is sacrificed? Like swans frolicking in a winter lake... linger too long, and you’ll risk freezing with the surrounding water. I was not patient with this story, at first. The pace was too subtle. I wanted action! Intrigue! Perhaps a thriller? Instead, before I could put it down and escape, I froze with the water. Excellent book!

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

It's an insidious tale, as old as time itself... men in positions of power, and the influence of money over justice. It's all here! Weinstein, Epstein, Trump, Clinton, Lauer, O'Reilly, etc. (sadly the list goes on) He who controls the news, controls the story. Farrow's exploration into accusations against movie mogul Harvey Eisenstein begins a domino effect as the ugly curtain is lifted and powerful men are exposed for their sexual wrongdoings. When they begin "investigating the investigators," you know you've hit a nerve. I hope Farrow continues his work, and that people recognize the smear machine working tirelessly to keep him silent.

Postscript by Cecelia Ahern

For fans of _PS, I Love You_, Ahern delivers a MOST satisfying sequel. It’s an anthem to goodbyes, and the promise of hellos and tomorrows. It’s been 7 years since Holly lost Gerry. She’s healed. Or, so she thinks. She’s moved on. Or, so she believes. An unlikely fan club (of sorts) gathers after Holly’’s sister convinces her to do a podcast detailing Gerry’s final gift of goodbye letters. Each member of the new group is terminal and seeking Holly’s guidance to help them offer a meaningful goodbye to their loved ones. This was a heartfelt exploration of grief, hope, goodbye, and an encouragement to wake up and _continue_. Life is precious. “After digging, toiling in darkness and dirt, we finally hit something concrete. I learned that rock bottom can actually be a springboard. That’s where we find most of life’s treasures.”

Chrip by Kate Messner

This is one Grade A *fantastic* mid-kids mystery. Messner delivers a powerful story about family, friendship, the entrepreneurial spirit, and overcoming challenges; some age-appropriate and expected, with others no one should have to endure. What a well-crafted and satisfying read. Themes: competition, the toxicity of secrets, #metoo, stranger danger, listening to your inner voice, inclusivity, friends, family, conquering fears, and GIRL POWER! Favorite quote: “That’s what brave women do. We keep going. Somehow we manage to grieve over things that have happened to us at the same time we’re saving the world and running businesses and practicing law and raising families...and being warriors...Sometimes courage is quiet. You were brave to speak up today.”

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

I admit, I picked this book up BECAUSE of the buzz. I wanted to know what could be SO controversial, and also SO transformative. I will only say YES. 100%. It's all of it. Comparing it to _The Grapes of Wrath_ is not a casual throw-away reference. It is absolutely a window into the perilous journey of the displaced. It is also fraught with generalizations, stereotypes, and inconsistencies. Does any of this mean it shouldn't be read? I would argue NO. Any time a book can soften hearts, break down walls, or confront the uncomfortable and inconvenient thoughts...it absolutely SHOULD be read. This IS the book of our time, for our time.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Glennon Doyle is a thought leader, a speaker, and an activist. Her voice is unique yet frighteningly familiar; sounding like your own voice, emanating from deep within. There’s a reason Jesus only wrote in sand and not stone. We’re MEANT to erase, course-correct, re-imagine, and reinvent. If you’ve followed Glennon from her blog to books, from addiction to recovery, from marriage to divorce to ABBY, or whether you’re discovering her for the first time NOW...when she’s past ‘the making’ and is ‘MADE’ ...consider yourself lucky that you’ve found her. She’s sparkle, and sass, with a molten gold core, and she’s UTTERLY life-changing.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Before escaping Korea, Lily’s Halmoni (grandmother) stole star stories from tigers, who walked upright...like men. Now the tigers have found Halmoni, weak and old, and they demand their stories back. Lily must choose: look a tiger in the eye and make a deal to save her Halmoni...or run for her life. Can you trust a tiger to keep its word?? This is a beautiful, rich, colorful tale about family, love, death, and the impossible bargains we make along the way. Tae Keller is a MASTERFUL storyteller.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

I walked away from this book after reading 2/3rds. Then, after reading so many positive reviews, I picked it back up HOPING for a change of heart. Ultimately, the book is well-written, controversial, provocative, and thought-provoking. Warning: Many of those thoughts will be disturbing. This book will definitely start a conversation...though, I’m a little nervous of the direction these conversations may take. ————————————————- A 15-year-old engages in a sexual relationship with her teacher. ...it’s sickening. When you sit on this protagonist’s shoulder and watch her story unfold, you’ll scream, you’ll chew your nails to shreds, you’ll take endless showers. Was it sexual awakening, or careful grooming and pedophelia? This book should come with a __trigger warning__. I’m not EVEN joking. I can’t remember the last time I struggled this much with a book. I could only read a few pages at a time. Stephen King calling it “a well-constructed package of dynamite,” is NOT just clever phrasing. My insides exploded every few pages. I questioned the author several times, with lines like, “It only accelerated after that, once he knew I was ok with it — and isn’t that’s what consent is, always being asked what you want? Did I want him to kiss me? Did I want him to touch me? Did I want him to f*** me? Slowly guided into the fire— why is everyone so scared to admit how good that can feel? To be groomed is to be loved and handled like a precious, delicate thing.”

How to Disappear Completely by Ali Standish

There are things we can change, and things we cannot. Young Emma cannot bring back her grandmother, and she cannot stop what is happening to her skin. This is a beautiful story about the places we escape to for solace, the balm that ONE best friend is to a lonely child, and the power of attitude to change perception. Do we become bitter, or better? I loved this book. I liked the story within the story. I enjoyed Emma’s resilience. Vitiligo and bullies, losing her beloved grandmother, her fantasy world, the journal, the secrets...it’s a lot for a young person to grapple with.

The Deep by Alma Katsu

Katsu is back! This time, injecting the supernatural into two of historys most intriguing tragedies, the sinkings of the RMS Titanic and her sister ship the Britannic. Young, humble, and deeply troubled Annie Hebbley, wishes to escape her past, and hires on as a first class stewardess for the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Doting on rich elites like the Astors, Guggenheim, Stead, and the Duff Gordons, keeps stewards and stewardesses busy, day and night. One first class passenger in particular, catches Annie’s eye. What Annie feels for Mark Fletcher is undeniable and unexplainable. Or is it? While servants run ragged fulfilling the requests of the rich and pampered, the bored socialites fill their hours with teatimes, gossiping, dressing for dinner, and extravagant parties. When W.T. Stead hosts a séance in his stateroom, he ushers in a menacing spirit resulting in the death of a child. Or, has the Sea Witch that Annie encountered as a child been waiting for this exact opportunity to claim her price of ‘an innocent?’ I really enjoyed the Upstairs/Downstairs approach to story telling here; the juxtaposition between the haves and have-nots and the first class, third class, and servant class dynamics. Katsu displays an intimate knowledge of the history involved and relishes flaunting the “what ifs” everywhere she finds gaps and holes in well-known stories. This is as haunted, dark, sexy, and sumptuous as a tragedy can get.

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

When a storm cuts the power and closes all routes into and out of a remote mountainous community, one boy goes missing. Another dies. A witch, alone in the malicious Wicker Wood, sees a harbinger of death. Instead of a body, Nora finds Oliver, the missing boy from Jackjaw Camp for Wayward Boys. He’s unconscious, nearly frozen, barely breathing, with sizable gaps in his memory. How has he survived alone in the woods for nearly two weeks?? She’s a witch. He has secrets. The Wicker Woods hold grudges. You’ll be unable to resist this story’s spell. I was hooked IMMEDIATELY. The writing is captivating and evocative.

God: A Human History by Resa Aslan

Did God make us in His image? Or did we make God in ours? This (somewhat?) controversial question is at the heart of Reza Aslan’s thoughtful and exhaustive study. EVERY primitive and advanced society has identified and worshipped diety. In the end, we simply DO. NOT. KNOW the nature of God. But thanks to Aslan’s engaging and decisive writing, we can acknowledge the history. By shelving the topics of religion and faith, and focussing solely on the history of God, Aslan creates the perfect manual for theologians and laymen alike. I was a fan of Resa Aslan’s show _Believer_, but this was my first introduction to his writing. I GOBBLED it up. I will read everything he writes. Forever. Guaranteed.

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

This is one of the creepiest books I’ve read in ages!!! It’s two parts Blair Witch Project, one part The Exorcist, with a generous sprinkling of Slender Man-like creatures!!! If you like portal fantasies and mockumentaries...If you’re into horror, hauntings, and scary stories to keep you up at night... *whisper* look. no. further. it’s. hhhhhhhhhere.... A small town. Local lore. A story of a young girl who wanders away and is never seen again. A legend in the making. She whispers at night, in dreams, “Come find me.” The road. It appears every year on the anniversary of Lucy’s disappearance. One night only. Many take the challenge. If you play the game right, you live. Sara’s sister Becca disappeared a year ago. Suspicion and gossip descends like fog. Friendships fracture. Prior to the anniversary of Becca’s disappearance, the students of Briar Glenn High receive a text: SHE WENT TO PLAY THE GAME. YOU CAN PLAY TOO. FIND A PARTNER. FIND A KEY. FIND THE ROAD. When the road opens again, Sara and her estranged friends take the first steps toward each other, and toward getting Becca back.

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

The year is 1468. The spoken and written word matches the language of King James’ bible. Wars between the followers of Christ and Allah rage in distant lands. To study the sciences (in any form) is strictly forbidden; its pursuers labeled heretics. Novice priest, Christopher Fairfax, has been summoned to a remote Wessex village to officiate the funeral of Father Lacy, who died under mysterious circumstances. In the waking hours between the first and second sleep, Fairfax makes a casual study of Father Lacy’s shelves, ONLY TO DISCOVER.... ... to say more, would deny readers the pleasure of experiencing for themselves a CCCCCOMPLETELY UNEXPECTED twist. To avoid *SPOILERS* let me simply add: I THOROUGHLY enjoyed this book. It’s clever on crack. It’s intelligent as hell. It’s masterfully timed. It’s definitely MY. KIND. OF. STORY!!!!! Picture me heaping ALL the praises on this book!! *****

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

If you know his name...you should know hers. For anyone who’s sat in silent shame or defiantly said, #metoo, this is a deeply moving memoir; a cathartic guide to ‘reawakening’ and ‘reemerging.’ Chanel’s voice is an anthem of feminine strength, and resilience, .... and ENOUGH...STOP. It’s a cautionary tale for parents. Your child could be the victim...or the perpetrator... of sexual assault. It’s a gentle reminder that good people are everywhere. Chanel’s heroes came in the form of two Swedish students who recognized she was in distress and incapacitated. It’s a MADDENING peek under the dingy throw rug of our justice system...with it’s pileup of untested rape kits and the unrelenting scrutiny of victims over assailants. It’s a sad commentary of our society. Everyone has an opinion, and some are only too willing to spew it in calloused online comments...affording themselves the anonymity NOT afforded to victims. Chanel’s mother once told her, “Good and Bad Things come from the Universe...holding hands. Wait for the good to come.” Her mettle has been tested. She has broken through to the other side. The broken pieces of her life have been made beautiful like the kintsugi pottery depicted on the cover art. I hope the Good has finally come to stay.

The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman

What a fantastic ghost story!! A woman living alone in the woods with her daughter is accused of causing the death of a pregnant woman. Mob justice is swift and cruel. Both mother and daughter are burned alive. To further degrade the victims, they’re buried separately; the mother in an unmarked grave in the woods, her daughter in the cemetery, in a metal coffin under several feet of concrete and surrounded by a crucifix fence. Follow the evolution of a true spine-tingler. The author introduces a dark moment in history that gives birth to local lore which quickly becomes an urban legend. And, just as the ghost story experiences an evolution, so do the story-tellers. Tales once told around campfires become a 70s slasher B-movie, which later experiences a 90s revival and remake, only to land on the scrap-heap of a skeptical millennial’s debunking blog. I really enjoyed this multidimensional story told from varying points of view. “Three stories for the price of one urban legend. You can’t beat that!” 1. The original ghost story. 2. The various directors obsessed with telling the story. 3. The actors hired to breathe life into the story, and the psychological ramifications of doing so. The cover art is evocative and PERFECT! GOOD. GOOD. GOOOOD!

The Art of Making Memories by Meik Wiking

What a fantastic exploration into the making and KEEPING of memories!! What makes our mind hold onto some experiences while losing grip on others? The author explores the 8 essential ingredients necessary in creating and cementing good memories. Slow down. Engage your senses. Read this book. You’ll learn how to resurrect the best of the ‘glory days,’ as well as make the most of important or joyous moments yet to come. Combine this book with the Hygge game and it’s PERFECT for the holidays!!!

Three Things I Know are True by Betty Culley

This debut novel bursts from the pages in verse form. It’s dramatic and heartbreaking; a story that will sear your senses and break your heart. One shot. *BOOM* Jonah accidentally shoots himself in the head with his friend Clay’s father’s gun. Jonah’s alive, but not at all the same. He now requires around-the-clock care. His mother is trapped in an endless spiral of heartache, bitterness, and regret as she seeks restitution from Clay’s family. Jonah’s sister Liv learns coffee and music make everything better, a hot meal makes you realize people care, and touch makes you feel you’re not alone. This is a beautiful book about tragedy, sorrow, forgiveness, family, and friendship. And yes, it’s a powerful reminder of the dangers and responsibilities associated with gun ownership.

Renia's Diary by Renia Spiegel

War is ravaging Europe. Hitler’s armies are everywhere. Poland is divided between the Germans and the Russians. Renia’s mother is trapped on the German side in Warsaw, while Renia and her younger sister are with their grandparents in Russian Przemysl. With chaos surrounding her, and desperately missing her mother, you might expect Renia’s diary entries to focus on the hardships of occupation and war. Instead, it is what you might expect from any 15-17 year old. It’s full of the angst and insecurity of youth, friend drama, boy crushes, gossip, her first kiss, her first (last, and only) love. It’s also generously peppered with her original poetry. Had she been allowed the GIFT of growing old, she would have been a writer. I’m sure of it. This is a beautiful and heartbreaking story as powerful and haunting as Anne Frank’s. Perhaps more so. It’s mind-boggling to imagine her diary has been locked in a safe deposit box for the last 40 years; a story too intimate and heartbreaking for her surviving sister to read. Keep a tissue handy, Renia’s is a story that hits you square in the solar plexus. May we never forget.

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

This is a beautifully detailed memoir of a daughter swept into the middle of her mother's torrid affair with a family friend. When the line between parent and child is warped and twisted into "best friends and confidants" the ramifications can be life-long and devastating.

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Whatever else you’re reading...it can wait. Ignore your ‘to be read’ pile...it’ll keep. THIS is the story that will keep you up at night!! THIS is the book you won’t be able to put down!! Chbosky returns with this STELLAR modern masterpiece of horror. Remember those early days of Stephen King, when you slept with the lights on, (if you could sleep at all)?! It’s all that, added with Chbosky’s unparalleled ability to capture the highlights and lowlights of growing up. He did it the first time with _The Perks of Being a Wallflower_ and high school. He returns now, to second grade, with Christopher, his single mother (on the run from an abusive ex-boyfriend), and Christopher’s new _Imaginary Friend_. A friend he “picked up” after disappearing into the woods for 6 days. Omg! So. Good!!!!!! (In all the best ways, you may be reminded of Stephen King’s _The Body_, later filmed as _Stand By Me_, _The Shining_, _Stranger Things_, _Outbreak_, and _Friday the 13th_! At the same time, it’s WHOLLY original.)

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

I was devastated by this book. Devastated, in all the ways that make reading one of life’s singular pleasures. I saw beauty and poetry flow from each page...(seemingly) as effortless as ocean waves lapping a shore. You’ll hear music, young people singing by the fire, a whale song. You’ll smell sea salt, and unwashed clothes, beach fires, and aquarium tanks. Above all, you’ll appreciate a simple truth: you need the shipwreck before you can discover the sunken treasure. Violet has ruined her life. Perhaps she’s lived 50 already, and she’s only 16. Her brother is in a treatment center in Vermont. Her parents, in New York. She’s been banished to her uncle’s care, and the ancestral family home in Lyric Maine. Lyric, named after a ship. Lyric, founded and named by the shipwrecks sole survivor, Violet’s great great great great grandmother, Fidelia. How can Violet be sinking? She’s a descendent of survivors. Finding the truth about the wreckage becomes her life vest. Anything to keep her head above water. Anything to help her forget how she can’t find the words to write her brother. Anything to distract her from Orion and his perfect eyebrows...and Liv with her amazing brain and all those edges. ...Liv, what IS it about Liv? .... I’ve been trying for DAYS to review this book. What can I say after admitting the “mom gene” had me reading through laced fingers? I worried for these characters, not because they’re my children, but because I recognize ALL youth on these perfect pages. Beautiful. Brutal. Brutiful. _The Last True Poets of the Sea_ is for readers “for whom discovery - like the concept of the journey - is the treasure itself.”

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate

I read the back of this book and laughed out loud. OMG! SOLD!!! Then I dove in, feet first. What I hadn’t expected was one of the most thought-provoking pieces of self exploration and BECOMING, I’ve read in the last decade. Slate writes with the lyrical intensity of Kahlil Gibran and narrative storytelling of Joan Didion! I’ve been wakened to her incredibly fresh talent, her unabashed feminine vibrancy, and her 120-Color-Crayola-Crayon-Box personality.

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

What is a tapestry without a single thread? What is a single thread without the hope of becoming part of a tapestry? Chevalier’s greatest strength is her ability to bring new focus and humanity to some of history's unsung works of art. Prepare to have your eyes opened (as well as a google image search) to Winchester Cathedral’s embroidered kneelers and cushions, and her guild of broderers. WWI left devastating scars across Europe. Many of the men remaining were either too old, too young, or too damaged. This left a generation of women outnumbering men nearly a thousand to one. Known as “surplus women,” their options were few. Violet’s fiancé and eldest brother were killed in France, her father passed, with her youngest brother miraculously spared, and married. Violet rebels against the strictures of a life caring for an uncaring mother, and abruptly moves to Winchester where she works as a typist, rations her food, and counts her pence...as sparse as her friends. Enter: The Winchester Cathedral Broderer’s (Embroider’s) Guild. Chevalier’s attention to detail is extraordinary. Her ability to bring life and genuineness to her characters (both historical and fictional) is astounding. This is historical fiction at it’s finest.

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

You MIGHT (at first) feel like you’re reading an “Icelandic _Jane Eyre_,” but it’s so. much. more. It’s a story as imposing as the waters of the North Atlantic. It trickles, churns, freezes, blizzards, squalls, melts, hisses, and boils. Rósa’s new husband is a mystery. He doesn’t share their marriage bed. He values her obedience above ALL. He doesn’t speak of first wife, or her sudden and mysterious death. Villagers gossip, so Jón forbids Rósa any contact. Regardless, she hears rumors that Jón’s first wife Anna went mad with loneliness. If “you’re as healthy as the secrets you keep,” it’s little wonder madness encircles every locked door and suspicion seeps into every glance. What are the noises Rósa hears coming from the forbidden loft in the dead of night? Why does she feel eyes watching her when she sleeps? Who put the knife under her bed? Everything roils and pitches when the ice cracks and a body bobs to the surface. This is a riveting and surprising mystery. I loved the slow reveal and surprising finish. It’s the sort of story you guzzle, then can’t shake or forget as it slowly seeps from your pores over the next week. Unescapable.

The World that We Knew by Alice Hoffman

This is an absolutely STUNNING novel!!!! A desperate mother seeks the help of a gifted rabbi’s daughter to create a golem; a mystical Jewish creature made of clay and water, imbued with otherworldly abilities, and bound to serve and protect whomever its creator demands. The golem Ava, is created by women, brought to life by their blood and their need for protection. Ava exists solely to protect Hanni’s daughter Lea, and to see her safely out of Germany and Nazi occupied France. Ava knows her purpose. She knows her duty. Despite the chaos and madness, a budding will to love, to feel, to sing and dance with a great grey heron, and to live...begins to take root. This is not your typical World War II story. Amidst the horror of neighbor turning against neighbor, family separation, labor camps, and genocide THIS is a masterpiece of survival, purpose, resistance, defiance, love, joy, and what it means to be alive. I loved this story SO much. I didn’t want it to end! I treated the last 50 pages like a dessert wine, sipping a few paragraphs a day, to delay the ending. This is Hoffman’s finest!

The Beholder by Anna Bright

Welcome to America! This iteration of her differs from the one you may know. This America never fought for Independence. Without states united under a common rule, miniature kingdoms evolve; New York, Nouvelle Orleans, the Potomac, etc. each region is stewarded by a Seneschal. Selah is the Seneschal-elect of the Potomac, and the next in line to rule. After suffering a humiliating and very public rejection to her proposal of marriage, Selah is sent abroad with specific instructions to return engaged, or don’t return at all. Not wanting to leave her dying father in the care of her scheming, evil(?), and very pregnant stepmother, Selah is forced to set sail in search of a partner. She has only 12 days with each potential suitor. Will that be enough time to open her heart and find love in this (what I like to call) OTHERWORLDLY episode of ‘The Bachelorette?’

Remarkables by Margaret Peterson Haddix

What a REMARKABLE story of hope, friendship, redemption, love, and family! Readers will be transported to the 5th grade, complete with insecurities, shifting friendships, new schools, old friends, and new baby brothers. Haddix is an incredibly evocative writer. The woods become another character in the story. You’ll climb the trees with Marin and study the drawings in Charley’s shack. Haddix doesn’t shy from heavy topics like bullying female friend/rival trios, or the unseen wounds a parents’ drug addiction can leave on a child. Instead she demonstrates the healing that comes from engaged and communicative parenting, positive attitude, faith, forgiveness, and family. Readers will be filled with light and hope. I loved it.