The Girl I used to Be is a roller coaster of a ride

37563646Lately I have been reading a lot of psychological thrillers.  Each one has been slightly different, but all of them have been heart-pounding reads.  Psychological thrillers tend to stay with me.  I dream about the characters and what is happening to them.  I find this is a genre I have a hard time putting down and getting back to real life and I also have a hard time letting go of the characters for days, sometimes weeks.

In The Girl I Used to Be by Mary Torjussen, Gemma Brogman is a real estate agent and her husband, Joe, stays home with their little boy Rory.  Gemma works long hours, seven days a week, not leaving Joe much time to have adult time outside of the house.  One day Gemma shows a nice looking man (David) several apartments as he waits for money from the sale of his house to hit the bank.

A few days later Gemma heads to London for a conference.  She decided to go a day early to have alone time away from her busy schedule and her family.  Instead of taking a bath and going to bed with a book, she decides to eat at the hotel restaurant.  While talking to other real estate agents, she sees her client David across the room.  To avoid an annoying acquaintance, Gemma decides to have dinner with David.

After dinner, they both head to their rooms located on different floors.  While on the elevator, Gemma is super tipsy and stumbles all over.  She doesn’t remember drinking that much so David helps Gemma to her room where he kisses her.  Gemma wakes in the morning with a horrible hangover and doesn’t remember the night after the kiss.

Now back home, Gemma starts to receive weird messages and photos that she doesn’t remember being taken while at the conference about situations she doesn’t remember.  Each photo is more horrible than the next.  Who is blackmailing her? And who is David who she can no longer contact?

Part one of the book moves along smoothly, slowly building the story.  We learn about Gemma and her husband and we meet her co-workers.  We learn that Gemma is not happy that Joe stays home all the time instead of going back to work so she can cut back on her work schedule and spend more time with Rory.  She’s jealous of Joe and how Rory goes to him first instead of her.

We learn that Joe wants to get out more with his friends and have more of an adult life. I think he secretly is jealous of Gemma with her work schedule keeping her away from the home all the time.  But Joe doesn’t seem like he wants to go back to work.  He’s almost a little annoying.  Part two really kicks up the psychological warfare.  We quickly learn who is involved with the blackmail and what is really happening.

Think about riding a roller coaster.  The first hill is super big.  It’s a slow climb to the top, making the riders’ nerves increase on what could be on the other side of the crest of the hill.  That’s part one.  Then think of what happens when you go over the crest of the hill and you pick up speed heading down the hill, hair blowing behind you, stomach dropping and you are probably screaming.  That is part two.

I had a really hard time putting this book down.  It was a good thing I had an ebook copy or I probably would have flipped to the back of the book because I couldn’t read fast enough to find out the who and why.  A good stormy day would have been nice so I could have curled up on the couch and read it in one sitting.  If my friends and family ask for a book recommendation, The Girl I Used to Be will be one of the first books I recommend.  Make sure you block off time because you will want to read The Girl I Used to Be in one sitting.

Book Description:
The acclaimed author of Gone Without a Trace returns with a new novel of twisting psychological suspense in which a woman is forced to face down her blackmailer.

Someone’s been sending Gemma compromising photos. Photos she doesn’t remember. She can’t recall much about that night during a work conference–she’d written off her headache the next morning as the result of too much drinking at the hotel bar. But then increasingly disturbing photos start appearing in her email, along with bills and other items she can’t account for. As the blackmailer grows bolder and events start to escalate beyond her control, Gemma fears for her already shaky marriage and worries that the truth of what really happened that night must be more twisted than she imagines.

Unable to go to the police for fear that she will lose her family, Gemma resolves to hunt down the blackmailer on her own. But not everyone in Gemma’s life is who they seem, and as she gets closer to the truth, she discovers just how far the shadows from her past can reach.

Until Next Time, enjoy the view from your passenger seat


It’s all about relationships in Days Like These

29496483Days Like These by Sue Margolis is all about relationships. Relationships from siblings to parents, to friends and acquaintances and between the parents of the schoolchildren. This book is about Judith and her grandchildren Sam, 9, and Rosie, 5, and Judith’s Mother, Nana.  Judith (Judy), is asked to take care of her grandkids as her daughter, Abby, and son-in-law, Thomas, both doctors, are called away to help Nicaragua after an earthquake.  They are supposed to be gone for six weeks but then it turns into a lot longer than expected.

Judy’s mother, Freida, is a typical hypochondriac thinking she has every kind of ailment and searches her symptoms on the internet.  She also likes to cook elaborate meals. There is a bond between Judy and Freida that is tentatively explored. It appears that they haven’t always known each other very well. Despite their ease and teasing of each other, their bond is explored. Nana was a fun supporting character who brought smiles to my face and a few chuckles.

Judy soon has a nemesis at the private school in the form of Claudia, who always had a need to prove she is a better mother than anyone else. While all of this is going on, Judy is dealing with the loss of her husband. A new man, Patrick, enters the scene complicating things for Judy in many ways.

Sam has a hard time at school with a few of the situations develop into very serious consequences. Judy tries to navigate the situations as a grandmother and a temporary parent while trying not to destroy the relationship between her daughter and grandson.

Sue Margolis does a great job of showing how there can be conflict within a family, how we support each other and how we fight for each other. She shows how we can be strong even when we don’t believe in ourselves and how a family and community can come together for the sake of the children.  This was so worth my time.

Book Description:
In the new novel from the author of Losing Me, one woman is about to discover what happens when you take the “grand” out of “grandma.”

Recently widowed, Judy Schofield jumps at the chance to look after her two grandchildren for six weeks, while their parents are out of the country. After all, she’s already raised one set of children—and quite successfully, if she may say so herself. But all it takes is a few days of private school functions, helicopter parents, video games, and never-ending Frozen sing-a-longs for Judy to feel she’s in over her head.

As weeks become months, Judy feels more and more like an outsider among all the young mothers with their parenting theories du jour, especially when she gets on the wrong side of the school’s snooty alpha mom. But finding a friend in another grandmother—and a man who takes her mind off all the stress—almost make it worthwhile. She just needs to take it one food allergy, one incomprehensible homework assignment, and one major meltdown at a time…

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Quirky English female protagonists are my favorite characters

30634785I absolutely love Sophie Kinsella.  She can take a female character, make her quirky and insecure and by the end of the book, the protagonist is still quirky but has become a stronger woman.

In My Not So Perfect Life, Katherine/Katie Brenner has moved to London to make something of herself in branding (advertising).  Since she grew up on a farm, she has changed her name to Cat and has lost her Somerset accent.  After struggling in two unpaid internships, Katie/Cat has finally secured a paying position as an admin doing mindless things like entering names into a database or coloring her boss’ roots.  What Katie really enjoys is the creative aspect of branding and wants to share her ideas.

Katie’s boss is a real number.  Demeter comes across as a classic bitch boss who doesn’t even “see” her employees.  Then Katie meets a hot rich guy who she has chemistry with immediately.  A guy who is the son of the owner.  Someone who Katie feels is out of her league.

To make it seem like life in London is fantastic and that she has tons of friends, Katie takes pictures of other people’s food and drinks pretending on Instagram that she is having the time of her life.

Meanwhile Katie’s father and stepmother decide to set up a glamping resort on their farm.  Katie helps set up their website and creates a brochure that she shares with Demeter.  Soon she loses her job and after sending out tons of resumes, she heads back to Somerset to take a “sabbatical” for a few weeks until she can secure a job.

The glamping takes off and of course Katie’s former evil boss shows up with her family.  The book gets even more hilarious and I found myself laughing out loud.  This book is highly entertaining and even though sometimes I wanted to smack Katie on the back of the head, I was entertained the entire time.  If you like quirky English female leads and want to laugh, pick up this book.

Book Description:
Part love story, part workplace dramedy, part witty critique of the false judgments we make in a social-media-obsessed world, this is New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella’s most timely and sharply observed novel yet.

Everywhere Katie Brenner looks, someone else is living the life she longs for, particularly her boss, Demeter Farlowe. Demeter is brilliant and creative, lives with her perfect family in a posh townhouse, and wears the coolest clothes. Katie’s life, meanwhile, is a daily struggle—from her dismal rental to her oddball flatmates to the tense office politics she’s trying to negotiate. The final, demeaning straw comes when Demeter makes Katie dye her roots in the office. No wonder Katie takes refuge in not-quite-true Instagram posts, especially as she’s desperate to make her dad proud.

Then, just as she’s finding her feet—not to mention a possible new romance—the worst happens. Demeter fires Katie. Shattered but determined to stay positive, Katie retreats to her family’s farm in Somerset to help them set up a vacation business. London has never seemed so far away—until Demeter unexpectedly turns up as a guest. Secrets are spilled and relationships rejiggered, and as the stakes for Katie’s future get higher, she must question her own assumptions about what makes for a truly meaningful life.

Sophie Kinsella is celebrated for her vibrant, relatable characters and her great storytelling gifts. Now she returns with all of the wit, warmth, and wisdom that are the hallmarks of her bestsellers to spin this fresh, modern story about presenting the perfect life when the reality is far from the image.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Amy Snow shows anyone can have strength and courage

24993261I always enjoy stories that take me back in time with a glimpse of what it could possibly have been like in the 1800’s, 1700’s and further.  This time Tracy Rees takes us back to England from 1831 to 1848 with the story of Amy Snow.  As a baby Amy was discarded in a snow drift to die alone.  Luckily rambunctious 8-year-old Aurelia Vennaway hears her cries and insists they must keep Amy, much to her mother’s disapproval.

Aurelia is a great role model for Amy.  Treating her like a little sister, letting Amy spend lots of time in her room and treating her different than the other servants.  Aurelia’s parents, especially her Mom, treat Amy horribly.  Even the servants treat Amy differently since she receives special attention from Aurelia.  As the girls grow older, Aurelia is diagnosed with a debilitating illness that she won’t survive.  So Aurelia leaves on a trip before Lady Vennaway can marry her off to a man she doesn’t love.

Once back from her trip, she goes downhill fast.  After the reading of Aurelia’s will, leaving Amy with just 10 pounds, Aurelia’s parents barely give Amy time to pack before she is booted from Hatville Court.  Amy immediately sets off on a scavenger hunt that Aurelia has set up for her.  This sets in motion a trip where Amy will find out what kind of woman she can become and how to find her own way to a happy future.

This is Rees’ debut novel and she does a great job of bringing to life Amy Snow as we watch her stumble along trying to figure out what Aurelia wants her to know.  Sometimes she is scared, sometimes frustrated and there are moments that are funny as she struggles with this world outside of Hatville Court.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, you might like this one.  Yes, there are times you want to smack Amy on the back of the head, but she is a very naïve young woman who is traveling on her own for the first time.  I really enjoyed Amy and was cheering her on, hoping she would end up with a happy life on her own without Aurelia to guide and support her.  There are some revelations along the way that made me understand why certain characters reacted at the beginning.

Book Description:

Left to perish on a bank of snow as a baby, Amy has never known love, never known family.  Reluctantly given shelter at nearby Hatville Court, she is despised by the masters and servants alike.  The beautiful Hatville heiress, Aurelia Vennaway, is Amy’s only advocate – she becomes the light of Amy’s life, and the centre of her existence.  So when Aurelia dies young, Amy’s world collapses. But Aurelia leaves Amy with one last gift.  A bundle of letters with a coded key. A treasure hunt that only Amy can unlock.  A life-changing secret awaits… if only she can reach it.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

One Plus One takes you on a journey

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes is about Jess, a struggling single mother after her husband 18693716Marty leaves.  Jess works hard at trying to pay her bills.  Many times she can’t make her bills, but through it all she stays positive.  Jess’s 10-year-old daughter Tanzie is a math wiz.  She is quirky and everything she sees, she sees in numbers.  She can’t help it.

Nicky is Marty’s son with his ex-wife and neither of them can to take care of Nicky so he ends up with Jess, who raises him like her own.  Nicky is 15, a gamer and he dresses Goth, so he gets picked on by the local bullies, the Fisher brothers.  They pick on him so bad he ends up in the hospital.

Then there is Ed.  A software programmer who just sold his company and gave information to a woman he just wanted to get out of his life.  Sharing this stock information has put Ed into the middle of an insider trading scandal.

Jess cleans Ed’s vacation house and also works at a bar.  While suspended from work, Ed goes to the bar where Jess works.  One night while Ed is totally drunk, Jess takes him home in a taxi and after Ed has been put to bed in his home, Jess finds Ed’s work building access key card and a roll of money.

Tanzi has been invited to a math Olympics in Scotland which if she wins, she would earn $5,000.  This money would help with tuition to a private school.  Jess packs up the kids and the very large dog Norman into Marty’s junky Rolls Royce which breaks down on the side of the road.  As the police are talking with Jess at the side of the road, Ed drives by and stops to help.  He then agrees to drive the family to Scotland since he doesn’t have anything else on his schedule.

During this three day journey (they can’t go over 40 due to Tanzie and her motion sickness), each of them starts to heal from their different wounds.  Ed starts to realize that what he is missing in his life is a family.

I really enjoyed this book.  Jojo knows how to give substance to her characters and knows how to make the reader care for the characters.  You start to hope things work out for all of them and everything becomes right in the world.  Jojo Moyes is becoming one of my favorite authors and this is a book that should not be passed up.

Book description:

Suppose your life sucks.  A lot.  Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for.  That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them.  Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean.  But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.

Until next week…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

The GI Brides of World War II

19522903When World War II happened, so many English men went to war leaving a lot of women and few men back home.  Halfway through the war, U.S. Army GI’s started arriving in England and the women were enchanted by these men with their accents, charms and gifts.

GI Brides: The wartime girls who crossed the Atlantic for love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi is about four women who were charmed by the GI’s and what happened when they move to America.  The book centers around Sylvia, Margaret, Gwendolyn (Lyn) and Rae as they each meet a U.S. GI, fall in love and move to America.

This nonfiction book flows like a fictional story.  The reader is taken on a journey over several years as the women find their way through life trying to do their part for the war, date different U.S. GI’s and fall in love quickly with the men who pursue them.  The women had this glamourous notion of America and that all of the GI’s were going to take them home to their mansions and their fancy lives.  Once they get to America, the women find out the GI’s aren’t what they thought they were.

It was different back then.  You didn’t just up and get a divorce because things weren’t as they first appeared.  Not like now.  Back then you stuck it out.  Rae had no idea her carefree, fun loving American GI was really an alcoholic who lived in such a dirt poor town in Pennsylvania.  Or that   And Sylvia had no clue her new husband, that she barely knew had a gambling problem.  But then there is Gwendolyn “Lyn” whose husband comes from a big Italian family who support each other through thick and thin.

Gwendolyn "Lyn" and Ben Patrino.

Gwendolyn “Lyn” and Ben Patrino.

Even though each chapter focused on a different woman it was easy to keep track of them as the chapters were titled by a different name.  I found all the women had very interesting lives and were very brave to take a chance to move across an ocean away from their families to start a new life with a man they barely knew.

Here is the description from the back of the book:  The “friendly invasion” of Britain by over a million American G.I.s bewitched a generation of young women deprived of male company during the Second World War. With their exotic accents, smart uniforms, and aura of Hollywood glamour, the G.I.s easily conquered their hearts, leaving British boys fighting abroad green with envy. But for girls like Sylvia, Margaret, Gwendolyn, and even the skeptical Rae, American soldiers offered something even more tantalizing than chocolate, chewing gum, and nylon stockings: an escape route from Blitz-ravaged Britain, an opportunity for a new life in affluent, modern America.

Through the stories of these four women, G.I. Brides illuminates the experiences of war brides who found themselves in a foreign culture thousands of miles away from family and friends, with men they hardly knew. Some struggled with the isolation of life in rural America, or found their soldier less than heroic in civilian life. But most persevered, determined to turn their wartime romance into a lifelong love affair, and prove to those back home that a Hollywood ending of their own was possible.

Until next time….enjoy the view from your passenger seat.

14 Questions for 2014

Every day you wake up, it’s a new day, a blank slate, a new page of your life.  A chance to make each day a better day than the day before.  It’s a time to shift your focus to the positive and to forget about the negative.

It’s the same for a new year.  If 2013 just wasn’t your year, forget about it and write a new chapter to your life in 2014.  To help you get started, I decided to ask 14 questions for 2014.  Fourteen questions to ponder as you think about what could happen this year and what you might want to accomplish.  There are many more questions I could ask, but these are just a starting point.

1. What do you love doing that you aren’t doing now?  Are you doing what you believe in or just settling?
What is your dream job?  Do you wake up in the morning looking forward to starting the day?  Do you look forward to going to work?  If not, then find your passion and go for it.  If you catch yourself working hard and loving every minute of it, don’t stop.  I like being creative and in 2013 I took the initiative and created my own position at work.  Now I’m doing what I love for a nonprofit that I love and work with people I enjoy being around.  I’m living my passion.

2. Where do you want to live?Paris
Are you living in the house, city or country you want to be in?  Have you thought about taking the leap and looking for a job in your dream location?  Why not?  I have to admit, I would love to live in another country.  My top places are England – my second family lives there and I would love to live near them; Australia – love the year round great weather; Tuscany, Italy – I’ve always wanted to live here after seeing Under the Tuscan Sun and Paris – I don’t speak French and I’m not very good with different languages, but I LOVE this city.  All different locations and different reasons for each of them.  I wish I could at least spend a few years in each location.

3. What adventures do you want to have?Skydiving
Make a list of things you want to do that you might think are impossible to complete.  Something you have always dreamed about trying but people have said “are you nuts.”  Break down the steps to enjoy the adventure.  What steps would it take to scuba dive, jump out of a plane, ride the tallest rollercoaster or even camp for the first time.  Whatever the adventure may be, breaking it down into smaller steps makes it easier to achieve.

4. How do you manage your time? What works for you?
Time management is really important because if a president can get a workout in, you can too.  I’ve used a Franklin Planner for over 23 years and I also put appointments in my phone and on several different calendars.  I also keep a To Do List and prioritize importance with A, B and C.  I read a book once that said tackle the frogs first because if you go after the tadpoles first, you will never get the big important projects done.  So don’t procrastinate, eat the big frogs first.

5. What do you want to accomplish in your life?
This one kind of goes along with #3.  This could be a new job, a home improvement project or getting the degree you’ve been putting off.  Again, break down the steps to accomplish your goal and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.

6. What makes you come alive?Lily-Door
What makes you happy, what makes you smile?  Those are the things that make you come alive.  It could be the first steps of your child, the unconditional love from your dog or watching a flower bloom.  It could be something at work or going a little bit further in your workout.  Find what ignites you and makes you smile.  Find your passion.

7. How can you express yourself creatively?
I know, not everyone thinks they are creative.  But you would be surprised the creativity that lives inside you.  Do you know how to pick great colors for the walls of your house?  Are you good with numbers?  I think being creative comes in all different forms.  I hope I’m creative when I write social media posts for work.  I hope I’m getting more creative with my writing.

8. If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?love-letter-vectorjunky
Last year, I was at a baby shower and we were asked to write a letter to the baby as if she was 16.  What advice would we give her?  I wrote a very long letter.  It might make her roll her 16-year-old eyes or laugh at what I wrote, but it was everything I wished someone had said to me when I was 16.  What would you say?

9. What type of people inspire you and make you come alive?
Who motivates you to be a better person?  Make sure you surround yourself with positive people.  Our nonprofit holds a luncheon that is so inspiring every time I listen to the winners’ stories, I want to be a better person.  Energy vampires or negative people, whoever they may be, will really suck the energy out of you.  Believe me, I’ve felt exhausted after talking with certain people.  They have slowly been eliminated from my life.  Eliminate the negative people in your life.

10. What ignites your brain?
With me, a good book where the characters and their lives sit with me for weeks and sometimes months after I’m done, that ignites me.  A great conversation with friends, a challenging equation, solving an issue at work or listening to an inspiring person speak.  There are many different things that could do it.

11. What physical exercise do you enjoy that makes you sweat and enjoy?
Find something that you enjoy doing that will get your heart rate up and make you sweat.  Don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it, you won’t stick with it, you won’t make it a habit.  Again, find something you love doing.

12. What does your body need in order to function at its best?Vibrant Produce
Think about it.  Food is pleasurable to eat, but if you think of it as fuel, you might think of it differently.  Would you put sugar in your gas tank of your car?  Then don’t dump it in your body.  Make sure you have plenty of the right fuel.  If you need a little bit of sugar in your engine, make sure it’s only a small additive and not a tank full.

13. If the average human life span was 40 years, how would you live your life differently?
I know I would have traveled more.  I love the enjoyment of seeing different cultures and different landscapes.  I would also probably take the leap of faith and tried living in one of my dream locations.  Think about what you would do differently.  If it’s not so far out there, then why not go for it?

14. What do you want to be remembered by?
I’ve heard the phrase over and over, it’s not what you do but how you make people feel.  I hope when I’m gone that people remember how they felt being around me.  I hope it’s a positive feeling and not a “thank God she’s gone” feeling.  Make sure people remember you in a positive light.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat