The Things We Keep

The Things We Keep – Sally Hepworth

Fiction

Kindle edition

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We can make each moment frightening for her with the truth. Or we can lie to her and make each moment happy and joyous. I know what I’d prefer if it were me.”

What is memory, really? What is speech? Do we need to remember a person in order to love them? And if we love them, do the words even matter?

These are all questions Hepworth explores in the beautifully-written The Things We Keep, which centers around three women. Anna, a 38 year old suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s; Eve, a widow trying to pick up the pieces of her fractured life; and Clem, Eve’s daughter, who is just as much a victim of her father’s betrayal as the rest of the world.

When Anna’s family admits her into Rosalind House, they counted on her being protected and cared for. What they never counted on was her finding a partner amidst all the confusion. But then Anna meets Luke, Rosalind House’s other younger resident who is also suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. Luke’s form of Dementia affects his speech. However, despite the many obstacles each of them face, they begin to forge a friendship. And then that friendship becomes something much more…

Eve never expected to find herself as a single parent. Yet after her husband Richard’s Bernie Madoff-esque ponzi scheme is revealed, that is exactly the role Eve is thrust into. Faced with the daunting task of raising her daughter, Clem, in a much lower tax bracket than the two of them are accustomed to, Eve takes a job as the chef at Rosalind House.

While performing her duties, Eve takes notice of the budding relationship between Anna and Luke. They seem so much happier when they are around each other, or at least Anna does. But Anna’s brother Jack doesn’t feel it’s in Anna’s best interest to be around Luke. Only Eve feels it is.

What would you do if you knew, instinctively, that being around a specific person could greatly enhance someone else’s life? Would you risk your job?

And what if you were wrong? Would you still take that chance?

After all, Anna’s memory is deteriorating rapidly. There’s no conclusive evidence that she – or Luke – even remember who the other is at any given point.

Plus, in addition to fighting for Anna and Luke, Eve is also fighting for her daughter, Clem. Clem’s still too young to really grasp what her father has done. All she knows is people are saying terrible things about her dad.

When someone we love has done the unthinkable, how do we cope? Are we expected to let go of all the wonderful memories?

And more importantly, when we’re losing ourselves and our grips on reality, what are the things we try the hardest to keep?

Conclusion: ⅘ stars

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All The Missing Girls

Screenshot 2017-03-14 at 10.32.30 PMAll The Missing Girls –  Megan Miranda

Hard copy book edition

Mystery, fiction

“Missing girls had a way of working their way into someone’s head. You couldn’t help but see them in everyone – how temporary and fragile we might be.”  – Nicolette Farrell

Ten years earlier, Nicolette’s best friend vanished into thin air.

Ten years earlier, Nic left Cooley Ridge after her best friend vanished into thin air.

Ten years earlier, Nic left the love of her life, Tyler, after her best friend vanished into thin air.

Nic thought it was all behind her. After all, it was ten years ago.

Only then she gets word that her father isn’t doing well and she needs to come back home. Home. Otherwise known as Cooley Ridge, North Carolina.

Otherwise known as the place with too many secrets.

The place with the woods.

But Nic knows all to well that the woods have eyes and secrets never stay buried, especially when someone goes missing and those secrets are forced out. Because that’s what happened with Corinne’s investigation. It broke them open and apart.

And now, fate seems poised to do it again. Because in the midst of attempting to help her brother with their ailing father, Nic finds herself smack dab in the middle of another investigation involving a second missing girl.

This time it’s Annaleise Carter. Although it’s ten years later and Annaleise is twenty-three, Nic can’t help but see her as a thirteen year old girl, the same thirteen year old girl who somehow got swept up into the mess of Corinne’s disappearance. She had been Nic’s alibi, as well as Tyler, Nic’s boyfriend, and Daniel, Nic’s brother.

Only Annaleise isn’t a kid anymore. She’s a young woman. A young woman who has been dating Nic’s ex, Tyler. A young woman whose curiosity about Corinne could cause Nic and the people she cares about a lot of trouble…

…just like Corinne.

All The Missing Girls is quite a ride of a novel. Told in reverse chronological order, Miranda leaves her readers grasping for more as she weaves a delicious web of lies and half-truths, and delves deep into the various sordid relationships between all of these characters and what part, if any, each person played in the disappearance of Corinne and Annaleise, as well as posing one very important question:

Can you ever really escape your past?

Conclusion: 3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

I Was Here

I Was Here – Gayle Forman

Kindle Edition

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“I don’t know if I had ever really listened to the words before, because when I did now, they were like a smack from her grave. It says you can still forgive her. And she will forgive you back.

But I don’t know that I can. And I don’t know that she did.”

– Cody Reynolds, I Was Here

Gayle Forman, author of books such as If I Stay, Where She Went, and Just One Day brings readers I Was Here, the story of one young woman’s search for answers in the wake of a tragedy. Meg and Cody were best friends. Where Meg ended, Cody began. They knew everything about each other. Except they didn’t. Not even close. Because Cody had no idea that her best friend was so depressed that she needed to swallow poison to make the pain go away. When someone takes their life unexpectedly, it’s natural for those around them to question why they didn’t see any warning signs. It’s also understandable to look for some reasoning behind their decision.

As humans we’re conditioned to ask questions about situations that leave us confused. Why? Because answers help us cope. Help us move on. And we cannot move on until we reach a conclusion, a finality in our quest for answers. So when Meg’s grieving parents ask their daughter’s best friend, Cody, who is like a second daughter to them, to pick up Meg’s stuff from school, she accepts, albeit reluctantly. Although combing through the remainders of Meg’s life feels all wrong for Cody, she continues doing so. While picking up Meg’s belongings, she meets her former roommates who were just as in the dark about Meg’s suicide as her parents and Cody, her supposed best friend. Cody also stumbles upon Ben McCallister, the guy who broke Meg’s heart.

Cody is looking for someone to blame – someone other than herself that is – for Meg’s heartache. At first, the person that fits that bill is Ben. Even more so after she finds e-mail after e-mail from Meg to Ben that for the most part go unanswered. There is one poignant response from Ben, however; the one where he tells Meg she needs to leave him alone. If only he knew the lengths she would go to to satisfy that request. Only it’s not that simple. Even Cody knows that. Most college freshmen don’t kill themselves over unrequited feelings. When Meg’s parents insist Cody keep Meg’s laptop, Cody gets an insight into her best friend’s world that she never saw coming. Meg had joined a suicide support group. But it’s not the type of group that dissuades suicide. Oh, no. It is one that encourages it.

This is a discovery that leaves Cody reeling and angry. Angry that people – specifically one person – would goad her obviously confused best friend into killing herself. This person and this group need to pay. Fueled by a myriad of emotions, Cody hatches a plan. She makes a profile for the page and begins to post in an attempt to lure out the man who helped Meg take her own life. And at first, Cody knows it’s all lies. But in a way, it’s also the truth. When she writes about losing her other half in Meg, she isn’t lying. And even though Cody goes into this knowing it’s a hoax, it doesn’t make it any less intoxicating when she is able to make contact with the user going by the name “All_BS,” fitting for an individual who offers death as a solution to those who are lost.

In addition to playing detective, Cody also struggles to keep her distance from Ben, who is intoxicating on a whole other level. He’s able to get under a skin in a way nobody else can, but it’s so wrong. So very wrong. Because this is the same guy who broke Meg’s heart. Between tracking down All_BS and her attempts to not fall into Ben’s trap like the many girls before her and Meg, Cody is barely holding it together. Maybe it would be easier to just end her own life the same way Meg did. After all, they were best friends, were they not?

Forman is able to take a book that appears to be about suicide and turn it into a story that is really much more. And she does it with extreme talent. At its core, I Was Here is about friendship, love, family, and finding oneself in a world that is more vague than certain. It’s about letting go while finding a way to hold on. And lastly, it’s about forgiveness; for those who are no longer with us and for those who still are and most importantly, for ourselves.

Fans who enjoyed Forman’s If I Stay will surely devour I Was Here. I certainly did.

Conclusion: 5/5 stars

How it Ends

screenshot-2017-02-14-at-2-19-29-pmHow it Ends – Catherine Lo

Kindle Edition

YA

How it Ends is the story of friendship and the ebbs and flows that go along with it. Jessie is an anxious, shy, loner who has been bullied by her two ex-friends since junior high. Annie is the loud, rebellious, in your face new girl. Separately, they are fragile and lost. Together, they are strong and comfortable in their own skins. Jessie is the yin to Annie’s yang. Surely when you have a bond like that with someone, it can overcome anything…

…or can it?

Both girls are fighting their own individual battles. For Jessie, that is her anxiety and subsequent panic attacks. For Annie, it’s dealing with her new insta-family in her stepmother, Madge (Madeline) and her daughter Sophie. Annie is convinced Madge hates her and as for Sophie? Well, they’re not exactly going to win the ‘sisters of the year’ award. It’s only fitting that the more uncomfortable and out of place Annie feels within her own family the more comfortable she feels as part of Jessie’s.

But Jessie isn’t having the best home life either. Her mom is the definition of a helicopter mom. Jessie has social anxiety and is on medication, medication that her mother closely monitors. On the other hand, Jessie’s father doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with his daughter. In addition to her parents differing opinions regarding her ‘issues’ Jessie is embarrassed by their board game nights complete with tacos and sombreros, much to the chagrin of her new best friend Annie, who think it’s the coolest thing in the world. But for better or worse, at least Jessie has Annie.

And then…well, then things start to change. Alliances shift. Annie becomes closer to Courtney and Lissette, aka the bane of Jessie’s existence. And the more Jessie feels like she’s losing Annie, the more she clings to her. And as much as Annie loves Jessie, she doesn’t want to have only one friend. Then, of course, a boy comes into the mix. Annie starts dating Scott, Jessie’s lab partner whom she has a huge crush on, even though she won’t admit to it.

However, I should clarify that this is not a book about two best friends falling apart due to a guy. Yes, he’s one reason that Jessie starts to pull back from Annie, but he’s not the main reason. I think that’s really true to life, which is hardly ever black and white. There are shades of gray. It doesn’t help that Jessie keeps her anxiety hidden from Annie. I get it, though. I do. We still have a huge stigma surrounding mental health and people do judge you when they find out you have anxiety. I think it’s because people equate anxiety with weakness.

While reading this book, I was struck by how much I could relate to Jessie. A lot of what she deals with, I did when I was younger and still do now. Jessie has this incessant need to check and make sure that nobody is upset with her, to check that Annie is truly her best friend and that she won’t pull a Courtney on her. Now, I know for people who don’t have anxiety – or for someone like Annie who is left in the dark for much of the novel about the extent of Jessie’s anxiety – these are behaviors that are considered annoying. But I must say that anxiety can be incredibly crippling. Imagine walking a tightrope and that is what having anxiety is like when you’re dealing with the outside world. You’re constantly trying to figure out how to balance keeping yourself calm while not intruding on others. I know first-hand that the need for constant reassurance unfortunately comes at the expense – or annoyance – of others.

So I guess I can’t be too mad at Annie for not getting it and Annie goes through a lot of her own share of pain, and I felt for her, too. There’s one event that takes place in Annie’s life that is completely heart wrenching. and I am sure it’s one that too many young girls, or women in general, have to go through.

Conclusion:

I think this is a pretty realistic story of the trials and tribulations of friendship, among other things, like how we feel about ourselves, which is really the most important relationship we can ever have in life.

4/5 stars

The Forgetting Time

The Forgetting Time – Sharon Guskin (physical book)images-1

Wow. Sharon Guskin hits a home run with her debut novel, The Forgetting Time. I really did not want this book to end because I found it so engrossing. But with that being said, it may not be for everyone. The story follows single mom Janie and her precocious son four year old son, Noah. Parenting is never easy, and parenting as a single mother is even harder, but as the story unfolds, Janie cannot even begin to imagine how difficult caring for Noah will become. You see, Janie finds that Noah’s oddities can no longer be dismissed as him having a vivid imagination. Noah remembers things he should have no memory of, like a vacation house. He’s never seen a gun, but tells stories of being shot. And Janie’s never read Harry Potter to him, and yet, he knows details from the books. Faced with the possibility that Noah might be sick, Janie becomes desperate for answers, desperate enough to seek out Dr. Jerome Anderson. Anderson, who was once a prominent and promising professor of psychology is now the laughing stock of his field. Why? Because his life’s work has become about chasing down accounts of past lives.

Now, you don’t have to believe in reincarnation to enjoy this book, but being more open to it helps.

In the end, though, it’s not about the metaphysical. It’s a book that challenges us to ask questions, questions like, what came before and how does it affect who we are now? Do we really only live once? And finally, can we ever reconcile our past with our future?

Conclusion: 5/5 Stars

Still Alice

Still Alice – Lisa Genova (Kindle edition)images

Harvard professor Alice Howland had the life she always wanted. A loving husband and three successful children.

And then she got the one thing she never wanted….or expected. At 50, Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. As her mind slowly deteriorates, Alice struggles to hold onto those aspects of her life that she holds most dear. Her words. Her memories. Her life.

This is an incredibly realistic and therefore painful depiction of what it’s like for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and what it is like for their families. For Alice, it’s made worse due to the fact that her type of Alzheimer’s is genetic. So, not only is this disease going to rob her of her life and those activities of daily living we take for granted, but it also holds the possibility of robbing the lives of her children as well.

It’s not an easy read. I found myself aching for Alice as her Alzheimer’s progressed and she had difficulty recognizing her children. I wanted to jump into the pages and give her a hug. I wanted to be able to save her and find a way for her to get her life back. I felt her humiliation and frustration.

And I also felt for Alice’s family. Her husband, John, a scientist who can’t do anything for his ailing wife; her three children. Anna, newly married and trying to get pregnant, Tom, a surgeon, and Lydia, an aspiring actress.

I pictured myself in Alice’s shoes, my world crumbling around me. Losing the ability to process situations, fearing for when I would not remember those I love more than anything in the world, but also how devastating it would be to lose myself. Maybe we don’t always have a grip on who we are 100% of the time. We feel lost and confused, but it’s a temporary feeling. Except for when it isn’t.

For anyone who has had a relative with Alzheimer’s, you know how excruciating and awful it can be. But we expect it with relatives who are elderly. We don’t expect it with people we love and care about who are still relatively young. We don’t see it coming for us either. There’s a lot of scary things out there, but for me, this book was terrifying. Not because it was some thriller about a serial killer, but because it was just….too real. But that’s also what makes it a wonderful story that will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.

Conclusion: 5/5 stars