Love Warrior

love-warrior-fulldLove Warrior

By Glennon Doyle Melton

Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out—three happy children, a doting spouse, and a writing career so successful that her first book catapulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list—her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. A recovering alcoholic and bulimic, Glennon found that rock bottom was a familiar place. In the midst of crisis, she knew to hold on to what she discovered in recovery: that her deepest pain has always held within it an invitation to a richer life.

 Love Warrior is the story of one marriage, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. This astonishing memoir reveals how our ideals of masculinity and femininity can make it impossible for a man and a woman to truly know one another – and it captures the beauty that unfolds when one couple commits to unlearning everything they’ve been taught so that they can finally, after thirteen years of marriage, fall in love.

 Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life.

Via Goodreads

 

Love Warrior is a brutally honest book. Glennon Doyle Melton takes us through her early years and meeting her husband Craig, how she became an alcoholic and then decided to quit once she got pregnant. A hasty wedding and a decade later and her marriage is falling apart.

Without feeling like she’s trying to protect Craig, Doyle Melton is able to present what she learns about him and what he learns through his own therapeutic process while also owning her anger and betrayal. Having always lived in her mind and words, she begins a relationship with her own body, learning to simply be in then to acknowledge what her body feels. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been as she is a recovering bulimic and acknowledges the distance she put between herself and her body for so many years.

This is not a self-help book. It is a memoir of a woman in pain who is determined to acknowledge how she got to this point and to figure out what comes next. There is no advice or actionable items if these problems resonate with you. However, the books very existence is proof that work can be done to find your authentic self. Just be willing to put in the work and know that your path will be your own.

My wish is to someday write something as honest as Love Warrior. I am inspired by her candor.

True Love and Secrets

firestarsOf Fire and Stars

By Audrey Coulthurst

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

 Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.

 When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

 But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

Via Goodreads

 

So the description above is a good summation of the plot. What I enjoyed about the book was the natural way the relationship between Mare and Denna developed. First they were forced together with Mare giving Denna horse-riding lessons. Then they become friends as they search for the assassin. And finally they fall in love.

The chapters switch between Denna and Mare, each in first person, which could have been tricky. While the voices and styles weren’t completely different between the two of them, I was able to remember who was speaking at all times. Certainly the chapter labels helped but even putting down the book halfway through a chapter and picking it back, I could tell who was speaking.

They need to find out how far they are willing to go to stay in each other’s lives. Denna has been raised to do the right thing, put duty first, so making a choice from love is a scary thought. Mare has always been an outsider in her royal family and as much as she does her own thing, she doesn’t want to force anyone to go along with her.

Add to the romantic tension Mare’s family who abhors magic and Denna’s secret powers. The magic becomes a catalyst for their relationship so it’s more than a fun, flashy element to the story. Mare’s kingdom hates and fears magic, and prepares to go to war with a neighboring kingdom known to support those with magical abilities. Denna must decide if she can trust Mare with her secret; otherwise she will be punished like the others.

Of Fire and Stars is a love story encased in larger tale of kingdoms and war and machinations. It is a story of two young women discovering who they are and what they are willing to stand up for.

Cozy Hats in London

hatAt the Drop of a Hat

Hat Shop Mystery #3

By Jenn McKinlay

Cousins Scarlett Parker and Vivian Tremont’s fashionable London hat shop, Mim’s Whims, is visited by a new customer bearing an old hat box. Ariana Jackson is getting married and wants to restore her mother’s bridal hat and veil for the occasion. The elegant item was made by Scarlett and Vivian’s grandmother over thirty years ago, so Viv is delighted to take the job.

When Scarlett goes to Ariana’s office to consult about the restoration cost, she finds her outside, standing over her boss’s dead body. Though Ariana claims to know nothing about his demise, the investigation unveils a motive for murder. Now, with the bride-to-be in custody and the wedding on hold, Scarlett and Viv must find the real killer before Ariana’s future is boxed up for good.

Via Goodreads

 

I’m very picky about cozy mysteries. I’ll read at least one in any series but I won’t commit to the series unless I like the protagonist. Sometimes the amateur sleuths are a little too nosy for my liking or have too many quirks or problems that make relationships difficult for them. I’m all for complex female characters but the very nature of a cozy, as well as its structure, don’t allow for too much complexity. I enjoy watching characters develop over many books in a cozy series. There simply isn’t enough room in a cozy for a mystery and a deep dive into someone’s mind.

And I read them to escape into a charming world with lovely people I’d like to know so nothing too heavy, please.

Jenn McKinlay succeeds for me on all points. Scarlett has a primary personal problem – a previous relationship that ended spectacularly and in a public/social media way that leads to a vow to not date men for at least a year. Of course the foil is a childhood friend who is clearly interested in her and is quite attractive to Scarlett. This primary problem continues throughout the books, an undercurrent to each mystery.

This installment was nice because as Scarlett starts to resolve her primary problem a new one arises – the question of Vivian’s love life. Her cousin never dates, seems to avoid men who are interested in her and won’t say why. Scarlett is just nosy enough to want to know what is going on with Vivian since she wants her cousin to be happy.

The book ended on an excellent note – as the new problem is explained it impacts the primary problem for Scarlett. This is a great way to keep the tension within the romantic relationship. ‘Will they, won’t they’ can only go on for so long. Introducing a new element is key and well done.

I enjoy visiting Mim’s hat shop in London. Having visited London once, I have enough of a vision in my head to overlay on McKinlay’s story. Tea is constantly prepared, rain always falls and murders must be solved.

A Timeless Feel to a Kidnapping

coatThe Girl in the Red Coat

by Kate Hamer

Newly single mom Beth has one constant, gnawing worry: that her dreamy eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, who has a tendency to wander off, will one day go missing.

And then one day, it happens: On a Saturday morning thick with fog, Beth takes Carmel to a local outdoor festival, they get separated in the crowd, and Carmel is gone.

Shattered, Beth sets herself on the grim and lonely mission to find her daughter, keeping on relentlessly even as the authorities tell her that Carmel may be gone for good.

Carmel, meanwhile, is on a strange and harrowing journey of her own—to a totally unexpected place that requires her to live by her wits, while trying desperately to keep in her head, at all times, a vision of her mother …

Via Goodreads

When I started this book I wondered if it would feel different from other books I’ve read about missing children. I hung in longer than I usually do to see if something would develop and it did – Carmel’s experience while kidnapped.

Carmel is a precocious child and, while at a book fair with her mother, openly talks about how she doesn’t know her grandparents. The man who takes her overhears and uses this information for his cover story. He is her grandfather and will take care of her since her mother was hit by a car.

None of this is what made me keep reading. It was after Carmel wakes up in America with her ‘grandfather’, his girlfriend and her two daughters. He is a traveling preacher and they live out of a shoddy caravan with little money. This felt like something out of time, especially once he has her use her healing hands at a church. I kept imagining an American West from over a hundred years ago, not modern day America with cars and cell phones.

It didn’t feel impossible that a preacher selected a girl who looked like a girl he used to use in services who has since mysteriously gone away. It didn’t feel impossible that she believed his statements about being her grandfather, her mother’s accident and death, her father wanting her to stay with her grandfather since he’s gotten remarried. These are all reasonable explanations, particularly to a child with little agency.

There was a supernatural element (or spiritual, depending on your point of view) in the book that wasn’t fully explored. Carmel sees and feels things when she heals people, sometimes. There may be a case that’s real. Beth learns that her own grandmother was into spiritualism and healing and other flighty things. I think I was invested in finding out if the healing is true because we’re following Carmel through this ordeal. It’s not like the narrator is a distant third person or it’s the grandfather’s story and he believes.

I appreciated the time jumps in Beth’s sections, labeled with the amount of time since Carmel went missing. This literary device helped ground Carmel’s sections that had no labels so we can follow her aging through her mother’s journey. It was a solid choice for the structure of the book.

The Cult of the Adolescent Girl

girlsThe Girls

By Emma Cline

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
Via Goodreads

 

We meet Evie Boyd in a waystation, housesitting for a friend when she hears voices in the house in the middle of the night. Part of her wants to lie still and accept whatever fate may befall her but she gets up and discovers her friend’s son with his girlfriend in tow. She recognizes him and is relieved, and in an attempt to remind this suddenly grown young man of who she is, he remembers – she’s that girl with that cult. This simple, terrifying situation – strangers in a house and the knowledge of what could be done – effortlessly builds the first bookend for the story.

Evie was fourteen the summer she met the group who lived on the hard-scrabble ranch. Cline’s descriptions of adolescent yearning are spot on. The inability to know what to do with your feelings. The posturing for attention. The need to be seen. Evie experiments with these feelings through her best friend’s older brother. But then she sees Suzanne, one of the girls from the ranch, and her attention lands there. Cline doesn’t draw a clear line to identify Evie’s feelings; they simply are what they are and they influence her mightily.
Abandoning her best friend and her divorced parents, Evie begins to spend more time at the ranch under the thrall of Suzanne and Russell, a Manson-like leader. She takes on their beliefs – rejecting her mother’s inherited money even as she steals from her to give to the group – and their lifestyle – dumpster diving and clothes sharing are common occurrences.
The danger builds slowly as Evie is brought into seemingly innocent situations that she begins to realize are worse than they seem, such as breaking into someone’s home not to steal something but to move things slightly, disconcerting the homeowner just because you can. She becomes more complicit with each act until she runs away to live at the ranch, throwing her lot in with them.

As Evie is on the periphery and fourteen during the events of the story, her knowledge of the capabilities of the group is imperfect and spotty. She is even left behind during the climactic event (again, think Manson here) by Suzanne, maybe to keep her safe, maybe because she’s mad at Evie.

Her childhood brush with violence unsettles the rest of her life. She moves from job to job, town to town, spending up her inherited money. She can still be pulled into the thrall of a cool girl’s attention, which is displayed in one sad scene with Evie and the girlfriend crashing at the house go out to dinner. All Evie wants is to be seen, but there is also danger in being seen.


The Girls
is a complex view into an adolescent girl’s mind and how easily a wish for attention can go astray. The language is at times lyrical, at others, tense, depending on the mood Cline wants to create. The ending bookends nicely with the opening scene to create a structure to explore hazy feelings.