Monica’s Musings: The Last Thing He Told Me

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

“This is the terrible thing about a tragedy. It isn’t with you every minute. You forget it, and then you remember it again.”
― Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me

Summary: Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.

My thoughts: This was my first Laura Dave book, and she hooked me right from the start. Her writing style, the characters, the plot, and the pacing felt authentic. Hannah narrates events in the present moment, but we also get flashbacks to her marriage to Owen. It helped that Hannah doesn’t feel sorry for herself. Her emotions are subtle, real, and honest.

While the mystery of Owen’s past is intriguing, the strength of this book lies in the characters. This is not as much about Hannah’s relationship with Owen, but more about her relationship with Bailey. Overall, I absolutely loved this book and can’t wait to read more by Laura Dave!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Woman In Me

The Woman In Me by Britney Spears

First line: As a little girl I walked for hours alone in the silent woods behind my house in Louisiana, singing songs.

Summary: For the first time, Britney Spears is sharing her story in her new memoir. She lays out her childhood spent performing, the relationship with her family and finding love. With each page Britney gives the reader a look into what it is like to be a teen pop star, a young woman in love and then having her life controlled by others but eventually finding freedom.

My Thoughts: I remember seeing Britney Spears in concert at the Kansas State Fair in September 1999. It was her first ever tour. I had listened to her album on repeat so that I knew all the words. I was thirteen at the time and it was the highlight of my year! And as soon as I heard she was releasing an autobiography I knew I needed to read it. Britney was a major part of my teenage years.

I listened to the audiobook, which unfortunately Britney does not narrate, and found it very heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. She started out very poor, rose to fame, struggled with love (from her family and romantic partners), and finally was able to free herself from the control that was forced upon her by the people that were supposed to love her.

It was brave of her to put herself out for the world to see. She revealed secrets from her past, some rather shocking, and explained her darkest times so that everyone can see her side rather than what the press reported.

The writing was simple, to the point and very easy to read.

Monica’s Musings: Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger

“What is it that they say? That thing about happy and unhappy families? That happiness is all the same, but misery is unique?”― Lisa Unger, Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

Summary: Three couples rent a luxury cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway to die for in this chilling locked-room thriller.

What could be more restful than a weekend getaway with family and friends? An isolated luxury cabin in the woods with spectacular views, a hot tub, and a personal chef. Hannah’s generous brother found the listing online. The reviews are stellar. It’ll be three couples on this trip with good food, good company, and lots of R&R. But the dreamy weekend is about to turn into a nightmare.

A deadly storm is brewing. The rental host seems just a little too present. The personal chef reveals that their beautiful house has a spine-tingling history. And the friends have their own complicated pasts, with secrets that run blood deep. How well does Hannah know her brother, her own husband? Can she trust her best friend? Meanwhile, someone is determined to ruin the weekend, looking to exact payback for deeds long buried. Who is the stranger among them?

My Thoughts: There are so many POVs in this, which is a bit daunting. Adding to the confusion, the characters do not seem to mesh with the main narrative of the luxury vacation. Plus, the prologue included a tense Christmas dinner involving the mysterious gift of DNA tests where no one claimed to be the gift provider. Simply put, there is a lot to grasp in this story.

Once the three couples get to the cabin, the cabin owner proves to be disturbing. Bad things start happening. Who is doing it? To what end?

I listened to the audio and enjoyed the story, but it might be better to read it instead. I had to rewind a few times, thinking I missed a thread. It is one of those thrillers that allows many open threads that ultimately come together to knit a nice ending!

Monica’s Musings: Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

“He can guess, but he won’t ever know, not really. What it was like, what she was thinking, everything she’d never told him.”
― Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

Summary: 

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering how mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

My Thoughts: 

This story starts with the reader finding out about the death of the favorite child, Lydia. I assumed it would just be an emotional book about finding the cause of death, but I was wrong, but somehow also right. This book is beyond what I was first expecting, and it branches off in so many directions as we follow the family before and after the death of Lydia. This book truly hit the nail on the head with the title. It focuses on each family member and their hopes, fears, and dreams. Showing us so many parts of their lives where they never voiced their emotions but should have. Celeste Ng showed the reader the consequences of them not doing so.

Additionally, this book is set in the 1970s and deals with both race identity and gender identity. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I finished the audiobook in a day, and it has stuck with me for several weeks now. I recommend this to anyone looking for a “hit you in the feels” type of read.

Monica’s Musings: The People We Keep

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

“We have people we get to keep, who won’t ever let us go. And that’s the most important part.”
― Allison Larkin, The People We Keep

Summary: 

April lives in a motor-less motor home that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school and picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she is left fending for herself in a town where she has never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that is all hers.

As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from does not dictate who she has to be. This lyrical tale is for anyone who has ever yearned for a found family or belonging.

My Thoughts: 

This is an emotional story, but it is sometimes problematic. I didn’t find April likable in some parts of the book, so it was hard to agree with all of her decisions. She did grow on me, but it took a while. This book discusses April’s relationships as a 16-year-old pretending that she is older. While the relationships were strange, they did add to the plot and help her character grow. 

As stated before, April eventually grew on me, and I felt for her and her situation. She meets some good people, and it is endearing to read. I found myself rooting for her by the end. While I felt that everything wrapped up a little too perfectly, I have to admit I did enjoy the journey overall.

*Spoiler Alert Below

Continue reading “Monica’s Musings: The People We Keep”

Monica’s Musings : Salt Houses

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

“And life, life has swept her along like a tiny seashell onto sand, has washed over her and now, suddenly, she is old…, there is no one to ask the questions she needs to ask.”

― Hala Alyan, Salt Houses

Summary:

On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee grounds. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of war.

My thoughts:

Salt Houses provides an intimate view of how the wars of the Middle East affected individuals and family units. There was not any one character I grew to love, but I was sympathetic to almost all of them. Many family members did not see eye to eye a lot of the time, but when they came together they were strengthened. It was a reminder of what a family can be when forgiveness is granted and positive connections are reinforced.

The Six-Day War is the first to impact the family. The Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors was not about one particular concern or dispute. The war occurred, rather, after a series of events escalated tensions. It then details the family’s journey through the Six-Day War (1967), the First Intifada (1987), the Gulf War (1990), the Second Intifada (2000), 9/11 (2001), and the 2006 Lebanon War.

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.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

First line: Nicholas Young slumped into the nearest seat in the hotel lobby, drained from the sixteen-hour flight from Singapore, the train ride from Heathrow Airport, and the trudging through the rain-soaked streets.

Summary: Rachel Chu has been dating Nicholas Young for nearly two years. When he asks her to spend the summer in Singapore she willingly accepts. However, arriving in Singapore she learns that the humble man she knows is part of one of the wealthiest families in Asia.

My Thoughts: Before leaving for my trip to the United Kingdom I was looking for a good vacation book. I scoured several used bookstores and my own shelves at home. Finally I found a mass market paperback of Crazy Rich Asians and felt like this was perfect!

I had seen the movie, which I loved, and decided it was time to read the book too. I am so happy I did. It was fun and ridiculous! The amount of money the people in the book have is just mind-blowing. I kept gasping as prices were thrown around in the book. But other than the money I liked the characters especially Astrid. She is Nick’s cousin who is fashionable and kind to everyone. Each chapter followed different characters as they navigated the weeks leading up to the wedding of the year in Singapore.

I finished the book just as we were arriving back at King’s Cross Station in London, the night before we were to fly home. I frantically looked at all the bookstores at Heathrow hoping to find a copy of the second book but no luck. But as soon as I got back home I downloaded a copy of the audiobook for my drive home from Colorado. I have now finished book two and am currently working on book three!

FYI: A great vacation read!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Broken (in the best possible way)

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

First line: You probably just picked up this book thinking, What the shit is this all about?

Summary: In her newest book, Jenny Lawson otherwise known as the Bloggess, details her struggles with memory loss, health insurance and taxidermy animals. She is honest and real about her life and people in it but brings humor that gives the reader a giggle between serious topics.

My Thoughts: I love Jenny Lawson. I have read all her books. I went to see her when she visited Wichita several years ago. She brings real topics like mental illness to the forefront but also adds humor to it. She struggles with so much but has been able to overcome a lot with the help of her family. I listened to this, because that’s the best way to read this book, and I was nearly crying while laughing. Her stories can be hilarious and thoughtful.

There were a few chapters that I skipped over when they got too real. Sometimes reading about depression can make a person feel down. I did not want that so I chose to skip them for the more humorous stories. But I think my favorite part of the book was her open letter to her health insurance company. It is ridiculous how these companies treat people. Rather than help they give even more hoops to jump through. Luckily I have never had to deal with something like what she goes through but many people probably do and it is heartbreaking.

FYI: Very serious but also hilarious at times too.

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.