Shotgun Lovesongs

Hank, Beth, Leland, Kip and Ronny grew up together in the small Wisconsin town of Little Wing.

Hank and Beth married and stayed to farm the land that had been in his family for generations.

Leland became a famous musician and moved to New York.

Kip is a successful commodities trader.

Ronny competed in rodeos all over the country until an accident left him a little too slow to manage anymore.

Now, they’re all back in Little Wing as adults, learning to be husbands, fathers and friends again. But so much has happened that they find it harder than they expected to fit together the way they used to.

“Shotgun Lovesongs” by Nickolas Butler is told through one character per chapter. We hear each part of the story through one of the five friends from their perspective.

This book is comforting, gut-wrenching, alluring and honest. These characters not only show us what it’s like to grow up in a small American town but also make us wish we had, too.

It’s full of raw emotion – weaving the struggles of trying to fit in, falling in love and figuring out how hard it can be to come home again.

No book has ever made me want to move to Wisconsin, but I have to say after reading this one, I’d consider it. The descriptions of the land are gorgeous, and the fierce, nostalgic passion these people have for their town is intoxicating.

Though their lives all went in various directions, they come together again and again like magnets that can’t be kept apart. No matter how many years pass or what happens, they end up back where they began – with each other.

One of them wonders about the girl who got away. One tries to show everyone what a success he is. Another just wants to be allowed to have more, feeling trapped in the small-town existence. Another is content; the only worries are family and the land he works.

“Shotgun Lovesongs” embodies the shiniest ideal of American spirit and history. Small-town dreams, friendships, first loves and family ties. It’ll touch your heart and soul. It may even make you want to move to Wisconsin.

As these five friends find themselves and reconnect, we learn that though it may not be truly possible to come home again, it’s damn well worth a try.

Maybe you won’t end up where you remember, but you may end up where you belong.

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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Lo Blacklock, a journalist for a travel magazine, has been given the opportunity of sailing away on the Aurora for a week long luxury cruise. The Aurora is a small, intimate ship with only a few cabins and the select special guests who were picked for her first voyage. Mixed in with socialites and other journalists, Lo is ready to relax and enjoy the plush beds, fancy food and endless champagne.

On her first night on the ship Lo is getting ready for the formal dinner and she realizes she forgot some of her makeup. She knocks next door, at Cabin 10, and borrows mascara from the woman there before going back to her cabin to finish her preparations.

The night goes as planned; beautiful dinner, schmoozing with the other attendees and drinking a little too much.  After a mostly pleasant evening, Lo returns to her cabin to snuggle down into her bed for her first real night of sleep in a week.

Then, a scream. A splash. Lo rushes to her balcony only to see swirling dark waters and what she thinks might be blood on the glass of Cabin 10. But before she can process what might have happened, the blood is gone, the night is silent again.

When she investigates the cabin next door with security, it’s empty. They inform her that the planned guest for Cabin 10 never arrived and that no passenger is missing. The cabin is bare, as if that woman had never existed.

Now Lo must get to the bottom of what she heard and saw, while trapped on a small boat with a group of people she doesn’t know. Who was that woman? Was she murdered? Was Lo dreaming? What really happened that night?

“The Woman in Cabin 10” is a claustrophobic murder mystery with a few surprising twists to keep us turning those pages. Eery and engrossing, this book is hard to put down. Ware has a talent for picking locations for murders that are deliciously creepy in their own natural ways. A glass house in the heart of a forest (In a Dark, Dark Wood) and now a small boat in the middle of an empty ocean.

After finishing this novel, you’ll check the locks on your doors before sleeping at night and possibly think twice about that vacation you were planning.

After all, boats can be very dangerous places.

Release date: July 19, 2016

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

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Sometimes being an adult feels too hard. The constant obligations. The daily responsibilities. The million tiny pieces that pile up to overwhelm us until it all feels impossible.

Until we just want to run away.

Maribeth, a mother of twins who works full time as a magazine editor, does just that.

She’s so busy with scheduling, shuttling, editing, meetings, cooking, answering emails and dealing with the stress of having two twin babies and a husband who doesn’t help out – that she doesn’t realize she’s having a heart attack until it’s almost too late.

After emergency heart surgery and a measly week in the hospital, Maribeth returns home to recuperate, only to realize that she’ll never be given that opportunity. Her husband treats her recovery like an imposition and her children still demand all of her that they did before. When she begins to feel worse rather than better, she makes the radical decision that everyone wishes they could make at one point or another when life just feels like too much to handle.

She leaves.

Maribeth packs a duffel bag, extracts some money from the bank and exits her life with an ease that surprises even her.

But a little time and some perspective can go a long way. While hiding out in her new apartment in her new city with new friends, Maribeth is finally able to be honest with herself, and those she loves, for the first time in many years.

In “Leave Me” Forman writes human nature in a way that lets us see ourselves in her characters. There is no major villain or insurmountable obstacle that takes Maribeth out of the realm of our everyday reality. She is just a person with the same problems, emotions and obligations as the rest of us. Her story feels refreshing and genuine.

And it is not just a book in which you can vicariously relish the liberation of leaving everything behind as an adult. (Though that part was quite enjoyable, I admit.) It’s about love and all that love entails. The terror. The responsibility. The joy.

It’s about how we can give so much of ourselves to others, that we lose ourselves.

And how maybe, sometimes, running away is the only way to find your way back home.

Release date: September 6, 2016

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

“Perdu reflected that is was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They look after people.”

I admit, it sends me into a slightly irrational rage when people say they want good “summer reading” or “beach reading” because the connotations of that are that they only want light, fluffy books that won’t make them use those braincells that they’re about to fry by laying in the sun all day drinking tequila and red bull. Inevitably from June to August when I suggest a wonderfully moving or intense book I recently enjoyed, I am immediately rebuffed with exclamations of “too serious!” “too long!” “that looks heavy…” and other nonsense that makes me just wish summer was over so that ‘summer reading’ would be over too.

That said, “The Little Paris Bookshop” is probably the perfect ‘summer beach read.’ It’s sweet and straight forward, engaging without being difficult – this little adventure follows Monsieur Perdu in his floating bookstore barge on a quest to figure out what happened with the love of his life all those years ago. She disappeared from his life, leaving behind only a letter that he has never been able to make himself open.

Perdu fancies himself a literary apothecary, subscribing books for what ails people – whether its loneliness, fear or self-doubt. He finds the books that will build them up, give them hope, confidence and a lust for life again. He finds the books they need to heal, but cannot find the book that will heal himself.

One day Perdu is forced to open the letter and learns that the ending of their relationship was not what he thought. Full of fresh grief and guilt – he flees by picking up anchor and traveling on his floating bookstore for the south of France.

In his travels Perdu picks up passengers, trades books for food/assistance, makes new friends and finally begins to heal.

An adorable story about a floating bookshop, the power of the written word and how far a little bit of love can spread – “The Little Paris Bookshop” is a delightful gem of a novel from start to finish, whether it’s read on a beach or not.

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel’s life is a mess. Her ex-husband is now married to the woman he had an affair with, she lost her job, is constantly drunk and is pretending to commute to work in London each morning to hide the shambles of her life from her flatmate. Rachel is struggling with the absence of everything she previously treasured; her house, her husband, her career. One of her only bright moments each day is when she gets a peek at the life of what she believes is a happily married couple through the train window.

Every day her train stops at her old neighborhood and she glimpses a couple, who she names Jess and Jason in her head, as they drink coffee and have breakfast on their deck. She begins to feel like she has a connection to them, making up the background of their life together in her imagination. They seem beautiful, happy and she admires them from afar through her despair and drunken haze.

Then one day Rachel sees something that throws everything she thought she knew about the couple into doubt. As she goes to the police with what she thought she saw, her life becomes irreversibly entangled in theirs. The deeper Rachel goes, the more people whose sordid pasts become unveiled.

“Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins is a page tuner with unreliable narrators, shifting perspectives and awful characters who perpetuate great cruelty as their entwined histories are revealed. Though we can’t help but feel deep pity for Rachel; her lying, meddling and drunken blackouts cause frustration as we try to figure out what really happened.

It becomes obvious we cannot trust any character in this book as secrets are divulged one by one, changing the story as we thought we knew it thus far. As we stumble deeper and deeper into betrayal, lies and possibly murder; we can only wonder, is anyone ever who they seem to be?

Clariel (Abhorsen #4) by Garth Nix

Have you ever read Garth Nix? Wait, no. More specifically, have you ever read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series? If you haven’t, you should go out and get them. Train, plane, kindle, library, stealing/borrowing from your local bookstore (or the more traditional route of buying the book..) however you wish that will get your eager little paws in possession of these stories, it’s imperative you go for it.

The first three, Sabriel, Lireal and Abhorsen are wonderful. They’re all incredibly distinct adventures in this world Nix has created. A world that teeters between the normal world, in a city named Ancelstierre, much like our existence (no magic) and the Old Kingdom (full of magic.)

In the first adventure a young lady named Sabriel is at school in Ancelstierre when her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing. The Abhorsen is the person who protects the world from the malevolent dead. Those spirits that have been enslaved, gone astray or are naturally evil. The Abhorsen uses bells to bind and send the spirits where they’re supposed to go, beyond. So in a search for her missing father, Sabriel dones a set of bells, accompanied by a smart-aleck cat, Mogget, who talks, accidentally wakes up a prince and goes on an adventure to save her father.

In Lireal we meet the Clayr, cousins to the Abhorsens. They see the future and can give a hint to how it all ties together or what needs to be done to avoid disaster. Lireal, never having gained the sight, feels unwanted and out of place in her home with the Clayr and ends up embarking on a journey that will show her who she is and what she is meant to become.

In Abhorsen, Lirael’s adventures are extended as she learns what it will truly take to save the world from an ancient evil.

And then, comes Clariel.

Thus far, all of the Abhorsen stories have more or less ended positively. The characters undergo great losses and suffer quite a bit, but in the end they mostly end up with a brighter tomorrow for the greater good and their own life journeys. Clariel, though, is a bit darker.

Clariel is forced to move away from her beloved forest to live with her family in the city of Belisaere. She hates the masses of people, the high walls, the politics, the society and how her future is being decided for her. The King is disintegrating into his own mind and the Guiltmaster Kilp is taking control to use power for his own evil ends. Her parents are blind to all of it due to their grand new life as part of the Goldsmith’s guild. As a plot to put Clariel on the throne and overthrow the king comes to light, Clariel ends up running for her life. She seeks help from an unreliable source which eats away at the very essence of her being and changes her path to an irrevocably destructive one. Though Clariel’s intentions are good, some mistakes cannot be fixed. Though she survives her adventures, Clariel’s fate is a dark one foretold in the earlier Abhorsen books.

And though we suspect that she is who we think she is, as the ending creeps closer we can only hope it is untrue and that we’re ultimately wrong. We hope that some magical resolution will make Clariel’s story a little brighter, a little less despairing. But in the end, it is all as we feared and nothing more.

Clariel is yet another excellent addition to the Abhorsen series, if a darker, more hopeless version than anything we’ve read by Nix before.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

I didn’t read this book for the halloween season, but it sure fits these darker days and chilly nights. If you want something creepy that’ll vividly paint images in your mind that you won’t be able to get rid of anytime soon, this is the book for you.

Jack almost died a few years ago while playing with his best friend, Nick. While their parents were sunning on the beach one day, the boys disappeared beneath the waves. They were soon hauled up from beneath the water, mostly drowned and forever changed. Since that day Jack has been unable to venture outdoors. He screams and fights his parents until they just let him live only inside their house, where he feels safe. He hasn’t left their home willingly in years.

And then, one day, the monsters come. There is tapping along their house at night, sounds on the roof, windows pried open, grotesque drawings on the bathroom mirrors. His mother begins to hear unnatural voices in the foggy night as she drives home. His father chases a large figure out onto the rocky shore and wakes up hours later, his throat slashed with what looks like fingernails. Nick sees bodies hanging in the closet, creatures crawling to and fro.

The monsters are everywhere. And only Jack knows why.

A fun, eerie adventure into a creative little boy’s hidden world that begins to invade the lives of those around him, “The Boy Who Drew Monsters” by Keith Donohue will have you waking up at night wondering what that tapping in your closet is (but you’ll be too scared to investigate it.)

It’ll make you never want to pick up a drawing pencil. Or open your window to see what that scratching is outside. Or stop your car to see what that howling is in the dark of the night.

It’ll make you thankful for sunlight, blankets, and the fact that some things, like these monsters, only exist in books.