REVIEW: AND THEY CALLED IT CAMELOT, BY STEPHANIE MARIE THORNTON

An intimate portrait of the life of Jackie O…

Few of us can claim to be the authors of our fate. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy knows no other choice. With the eyes of the world watching, Jackie uses her effortless charm and keen intelligence to carve a place for herself among the men of history and weave a fairy tale for the American people, embodying a senator’s wife, a devoted mother, a First Lady—a queen in her own right.

But all reigns must come to an end. Once JFK travels to Dallas and the clock ticks down those thousand days of magic in Camelot, Jackie is forced to pick up the ruined fragments of her life and forge herself into a new identity that is all her own, that of an American legend.

And They Called It Camelot reads like a memoir, a “fictionalized biography” in the first person voice of Jackie. We are privy to her thoughts, her fears, and her determination to leave her mark on the world.

The story begins in her younger years, and we are shown her life before she met JFK, and then we get to watch their courtship, their early marriage, and the intermittent losses, like Jackie’s miscarriage and stillbirth before she finally gives birth to Caroline, followed by John, Jr.’s birth when JFK is the President-elect in 1960. Then we see her deal with his infidelities, but also see how the strength of their bond grows as they come through the challenges they face, including the loss of little Patrick in early 1963.

Even though I have read several books about the Kennedys and Jackie, before and after her time with JFK, this book filled in more of her thoughts and feelings, giving a conversational feel to the story.

Well researched, this book also shows us what Jackie’s life was like through all of it, down to many of the details. Despite knowing how it would all end, with the sadness and bravery that defined Jackie in the aftermath of the assassination, my favorite part was how she created the context that would become the magical legacy of Camelot. An unforgettable story revealing moments that will always remain a part of my own young life. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE OTHER MRS., BY MARY KUBICA

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbor Morgan Baines is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie.

But it’s not just Morgan’s death that has Sadie on edge. And as the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of what really happened that dark and deadly night. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs. Baines, the more she begins to realize just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light.

Multiple narrators tell the story of The Other Mrs., and I’m immediately drawn in by them, as it takes a while to realize just who they are and how they fit into Sadie’s life.

Will has a history of infidelity, so his every move sets off alarms for me as I read the story. Sadie has issues, but we don’t discover the extent of them until the very end.

Just as I had decided that I knew who might be the perpetrator, the author twists the tale and shows us another view. But then, another turn takes us to the truth.

I loved this story, unable to stop rapidly turning the pages. A definite 5 star read for me.

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REVIEW: BECOMING, BY MICHELLE OBAMA

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

As an iconic woman who has redefined the meaning of First Lady by her behavior, her ideals, and her ability to rise above the challenges she faced as part of the First Black Presidential Couple, Michelle Obama showed us even more as we watched their eight years in the White House. But as I read Becoming, I loved glimpsing an insider’s view of her life growing up and becoming the woman who showed us an example of how to lead and serve as a role model.

A smart and savvy woman, Michelle revealed much about how to compromise and see the best in those who criticized her, showing her own ability to perform with those qualities.

In the end of this impressive story of one woman’s journey, I liked how she left the reader with these thoughts: “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end….

“It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done….

“It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

A five star read from a truly authentic woman.  Read for the 2020 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

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REVIEW: AMERICAN DIRT, BY JEANINE CUMMINS

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?


There was something captivating about Lydia Perez in American Dirt. She and her young son Luca suffer the horrific killing of their family in their own backyard during a birthday party, and in spite of the trauma and the stunning aftermath, she finds a way forward. Carefully, since she doesn’t know who might present new and ever-present dangers to her and her son, so she must be cautious. Not trusting anyone.

Along the way, Lydia and Luca meet other immigrants headed for “el norte,” forming a kind of family unit, while keeping a wary eye out for the dangers along the way.

Learning to travel on the tops of freight trains; connecting to a “coyote” who might help them cross over; but never forgetting for one moment that each day could bring new dangers…the intense journey kept me engaged throughout, even though I always knew that there would never be a “happy ending.”

The story does end on a hopeful note, but realistically, I realized that their hardships were just beginning. I did like that a feeling of hope helped them move forward, but also felt a sadness for what they would still encounter in their new lives. This book had a plodding quality to it, but, like the journey itself, the pace seemed appropriate. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: DEEP STATE, BY CHRIS HAUTY

Recently elected President Richard Monroe—populist, controversial, and divisive—is at the center of an increasingly polarized Washington, DC. Never has the partisan drama been so tense or the paranoia so rampant. In the midst of contentious political turf wars, the White House chief of staff is found dead in his house. A tenacious intern discovers a single, ominous clue that suggests he died from something other than natural causes, and that a wide-ranging conspiracy is running beneath the surface of democracy itself. Allies are exposed as enemies, once-dependable authorities fall under suspicion, and no one seems to be who they say they are. The unthinkable is happening. The Deep State is real. Who will die to keep its secrets and who will kill to uncover the truth?

From the very first pages of Deep State, the reader is caught up in intricate plots and nefarious characters. Throughout the story, Hayley Chill, a military veteran with impressive intellectual skills grabbed my attention. Her abilities kept me busy trying to keep up with her planning and her actions.

The author kept us on track, while also giving us glimpses of the future for some of the characters, a clever device that kept my interest.

Just when I thought I had all the conspirators sorted out, and knew what Haley’s end game was, we were gifted with a stunning reveal that took us behind the scenes to how the game started years before. A tale that resonates in these dark political times. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: AMERICA’S RELUCTANT PRINCE, BY STEVEN M. GILLON

A major new biography of John F. Kennedy Jr. from a leading historian who was also a close friend, America’s Reluctant Prince is a deeply researched, personal, surprising, and revealing portrait of the Kennedy heir the world lost too soon.

Through the lens of their decades-long friendship and including exclusive interviews and details from previously classified documents, noted historian and New York Times bestselling author Steven M. Gillon examines John F. Kennedy Jr.’s life and legacy from before his birth to the day he died. Gillon covers the highs, the lows, and the surprising incidents, viewpoints, and relationships that John never discussed publicly, revealing the full story behind JFK Jr.’s complicated and rich life. In the end, Gillon proves that John’s life was far more than another tragedy—rather, it’s the true key to understanding both the Kennedy legacy and how America’s first family continues to shape the world we live in today.

 

When I think of the Kennedys, I am caught up in the myth of Camelot, but also struck by the numerous tragedies of their lives.

John, Jr., was a bright legacy of that family, but after his father’s assassination, followed by his uncle Robert’s murder, he had a stronger desire to find his own place in the world: his privacy, and his chance to carve out a different future than the political one. His magazine George did veer in the direction of politics, but with a difference. The fact that the magazine eventually closed down after his death did not change the fact that he was daring to be unique in his goals.

Sadly, a life cut short is always a tragedy, but with John’s death, the rest of us also feel the loss of a dream and a mythological legacy that was due us. The author does list the various accomplishments John had brought to the world, allowing a sense of some completion.

A book that offered up many details of a life and a legacy, America’s Reluctant Prince kept me engaged throughout. There was a lot of detail that bogged me down at times, but the book earned 4.5 stars.#2020ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: SHELTER MOUNTAIN, BY ROBYN CARR

For the second time in a year, a woman arrives in the small town of Virgin River trying to escape her past.

John “Preacher” Middleton is about to close the bar when a young woman and her three-year-old son come in out of the wet October night. A marine who has seen his share of pain, Preacher knows a crisis when he sees one—the woman is covered in bruises. He wants to protect them, and to punish whoever did this, but he knows immediately that this is more than just instinct. Paige Lassiter has stirred up emotions in this gentle giant of a man—emotions that he has never allowed himself to feel.

Then Paige’s ex-husband turns up in Virgin River. And if there’s one thing the marines’ motto of Semper Fi—always faithful—has taught Preacher, it’s that some things are worth fighting for.

Eagerly I began devouring the story in Shelter Mountain, as I had met some of the characters in the first book of the series and already developed a soft spot for the inhabitants of the little mountain community. Some of the original characters had returned for this outing, and I had an additional connection to them from watching the first season of the Netflix adaptation of Virgin River.

When you hear the expression “it takes a village,” you might think of a community like Virgin River, where the residents are protective and nurturing. You might also decide that some of them are nosy and too much “up in my business,” but at the end of the day, you would probably overlook that quality.

My favorite characters are Jack, Mel, and Preacher…and after reading this book, I know I will want to spend more time with them all.

I liked how Paige, a new character, came into the story and brought the issue of domestic violence into the mix. An especially relevant theme for characters who are protective and nurturing.

Now I can’t wait to continue all the stories with characters I love. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: NORMAL PEOPLE, BY SALLY ROONEY

Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town, but the similarities end there. At school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation—awkward but electrifying—something life changing begins.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

There was something very painful about watching the way Connell and Marianne came together and pulled apart over time. The push and pull of their connection to one another was like a dance, but one that was awkward and hurtful. Normal People felt so ironic, in that the two of them seemed to go out of their way to avoid connecting with each other.

Their inability to communicate their true feelings felt like a phase in the beginning since the young often cannot say what they truly mean to one another. Their near misses could “normally” be this off in the adolescent stages, but these two kept up their blundering and stumbling shuffle for many years, well into college and beyond.

Their disparate backgrounds and dysfunctional families did not help them learn better ways to be together, but in the end, I gave a painful sigh when they stumbled upon ways to talk to one another in a halting fashion. Finally.

This book was difficult to read, not only because of the constantly shifting emotions, but the writing style was off-putting, with its absence of quotation marks that made the communication seem even more challenging to follow. A worthwhile read, once the reader gets through the “stumbling” parts. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: MARILYN MONROE: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF A PUBLIC ICON, BY CHARLES CASILLO

 

Based on new interviews and research, this ground-breaking biography explores the secret selves behind Marilyn Monroe’s public facades.

Marilyn Monroe. Her beauty still captivates. Her love life still fascinates. Her story still dominates popular culture. Now, drawing on years of research and dozens of new interviews, this biography cuts through decades of lies and secrets and introduces you to the Marilyn Monroe you always wanted to know: a living, breathing, complex woman, bewitching and maddening, brilliant yet flawed.

Charles Casillo studies Monroe’s life through the context of her times―in the days before feminism. Before there was adequate treatment for Marilyn’s struggle with bipolar disorder. Starting with her abusive childhood, this biography exposes how―in spite of her fractured psyche―Marilyn’s extreme ambition inspired her to transform each celebrated love affair and each tragedy into another step in her journey towards immortality. Casillo fully explores the last two years of her life, including her involvement with both John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, and the mystery of her last day.

 

My Thoughts: I was a teenager on the night Marilyn died, watching TV with my cousin at her house. When a celebrity leaves us in a tragic way, we often recall where we were and what we were doing.

Since then, I have read other accounts of her life and her sad childhood, and how she struggled to achieve success, while seeking love, family, and respect for her work.

Toward the end of Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon, the author shares a series of “what if” moments, miscommunications between friends, and even some tragic mistakes made by the psychiatrists involving medication. These thoughts left me very sad for this vulnerable and lonely woman. The author’s account, with numerous details presented beautifully, kept me engaged throughout. I liked these parting remarks: “Loved by millions but feeling let down and alone, on a warm summer night, she went out as the most sensational movie star of the twentieth century. She is perfected and frozen in time: beautiful, vulnerable, impenetrable, delicious—forever our white goddess.” 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE CONFESSION CLUB, BY ELIZABETH BERG

 

When a group of friends in Mason, Missouri, decide to start a monthly supper club, they get more than they bargained for. The plan for congenial evenings—talking, laughing, and sharing recipes, homemade food, and wine—abruptly changes course one night when one of the women reveals something startlingly intimate. The supper club then becomes Confession Club, and the women gather weekly to share not only dinners but embarrassing misdeeds, deep insecurities, and long-held regrets.

They invite Iris Winters and Maddy Harris to join, and their timing couldn’t be better. Iris is conflicted about her feelings for a charming but troubled man, and Maddy has come back home from New York to escape a problem too big to handle alone. The club offers exactly the kind of support they need to help them make some difficult decisions.

 

My Thoughts: The Confession Club, the third in the Mason series, is full of characters that feel so real that I can’t wait to see what each one will do. I liked that characters from previous books show up in this newest outing. Maddy has been featured in each book, and I’ve loved seeing how she has grown with time and her challenges. Iris is another favorite, brought forward from a previous book.

John is a new character, and I was eager to see what would develop with him.

In the supper club meetings, we learn more about each character, their personalities distinctive and on display.

The author grabbed me from the very beginning, so reading along and seeing what would happen next felt a lot like spending time with friends. Another delightful journey with the residents of Mason. 5 stars.

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