Beneath the Stairs

When your most haunting memory from childhood has a death grip on your adult life, sometimes you have no choice but to confront your past…

Clare got out as fast as she could.  As soon as she was able to move away from her hometown and move on with her life, she jumped at the opportunity.  Her childhood was not a particularly happy one; her mom died from cancer when she was in elementary school, and she never could really connect with her father.  Her once simple friendships gradually became more complicated as they reached high school age and started to become involved in activities that were riskier than their innocent movie nights and sleepovers.

One night, things go too far.  A seemingly harmless trip to the town’s weirdly shaped “haunted house” changes the trajectory of everyone’s lives when a childish prank goes terribly wrong.  The trauma experienced by all involved was enough to shatter their seemingly carefree lives.

Years later, Clare is called back by Abby’s (the target of the prank) mom.  Clearly haunted by her past, Abby has tried to commit suicide, and her mom appeals to Clare to come back to see Abby in the ICU and speak over her troubled daughter in a vegetative state.  This forces Clare to confront her own literal and figurative ghosts that have been haunting her since that fateful night.  As she tries to make peace with her past, she is also forced to process what happened and how her life changed in an instant.  Was what happened in the house real?  And if it was, how could she possibly move past it when she feels forces beyond her control pulling her back beneath the stairs?

Why I read it: recommendation in an online book group

Trigger warnings: suicide, death, horror, sexual content, language, violence, psychotic episodes, murder, alcohol, drugs

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Lost Girls of Willowbrook

Sage Winters, a teenage girl living on Staten Island with her stepdad in 1971, overhears a conversation that sends her world into a tailspin and will forever change the course of her life.  Her mother, who died in a car accident a few years ago, originally told her that her mentally ill, twin sister, Rosemary, died of pneumonia 6 years ago.  She is distraught to find out that her sister was, instead, sent to the Willowbrook State School (an underfunded, understaffed, and inhumane insane asylum disguised as a school).

But, that’s not all.  Rosemary is missing from Willowbrook, and the staff has no idea where she has gone.  Fearing that she was Cropsey’s, Staten Island’s serial killer’s, latest victim, she sneaks away from her already tumultuous life and boards a bus to Willowbrook hoping to find out more information about her sister and fill in the gaps from the past 6 years.

Her trip to Willowbrook is doomed from the start, but things become more complicated when she arrives at the “School” and is instantly mistaken for Rosemary.  Nobody believes her claims to be Sage, and she is forced to become a patient at Willowbrook.

Her worst nightmares would never have prepared her for the horror that is in store for her.

Her quest for knowledge immediately becomes a quest for survival.

When an up and coming reporter (none other than the real Geraldo Rivera) sneaks into Willowbrook and exposes the atrocities happening behind the scenes, Sage sees her chance at freedom.  However, she starts to realize that after what she has experienced, she may never be free again.

Why I read it: Recommendation in online book group

Trigger warnings: Language, mental illness, physical/mental/psychological abuse, rape, murder, captivity

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Paris Library

In 1939, Odile Souchet is living in Paris with her parents and twin brother when she is hired to be a librarian at the American Library in Paris.  As she becomes engrossed with the great literary works with which she is surrounded on a daily basis, she becomes friends with an eclectic group of peers ranging from young to old and of varying nationalities.  As the days pass, it becomes increasingly clear that another world war with Germany looms heavily on the horizon.  Almost overnight, Odile’s life begins to change when Hitler’s Nazis take over Paris, and the city once alive with art and romance succumbs to a harsh new reality of rations and the loss of freedom.  As books are banned and the libraries close their doors under Hitler’s directive, the American Library is one of the few kept open during Nazi occupation.  Head librarian, Dorothy Reeder as well as Odile and her friends took on the dangerous task of delivering books to Jews who were banned from the library by the Nazis.  During this tumultuous time, Odile fell in love and made lifelong friendships, but she also witnessed the best and absolute worst of humanity.

Fast forward to Montana, 1983.  Lily is a rising high schooler who has never been able to assimilate into social groups with her peers.  However, she has always been fascinated with her neighbor, Odile, even though the rest of community shuns her because she immigrated to the United States as a “war bride” engaged to one of the small town’s most eligible bachelors.  As Lily interviews Odile for a school assignment, she learns much more about love and friendship than world history.  When tragedy strikes Lily’s family, Odile becomes so much more than a neighbor or the subject of a class project.  The lessons that Lily learns from Odile are invaluable, but it is what Lily learns about Odile that will change her life forever.

Trigger warnings: War, death, physical attack on women, mild sexual content

Why I read it: Recommendation in online book group

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

One Perfect Lie

Chris Brennan is ready to start his new job as an AP Government teacher and baseball coach at Central Valley High School in rural Pennsylvania.  However, Chris is not a teacher or a coach, and it quickly becomes clear that his real profession has nothing to do with education.  He studies the students in class and pays particularly close attention to the boys who are also on the baseball team.  He performs social experiments both during and outside of class to further analyze the personality traits of his students which will help him accomplish his undercover mission which is both secretive and dangerous.  As he gets to know the students, their families, and other members of the community, he finds it increasingly difficult to maintain the necessary distance required between an undercover federal agent and the life in which they must become immersed.  As lines between his personal and professional life continue to blur, tragedy strikes the community.  Chris must decide whether to keep his undercover persona in hopes of getting to the bottom of a complicated and dangerous mystery or reveal himself and risk losing everything.  It’s a race against time as Chris tries to save lives, including his own.

Trigger warnings: mild language, suicide, murder, mild sexual content

Why I read it: recommendation in online book club

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

Necessary Lies

Ivy Hart and Jane Forrester are separate people with separate lives going in separate directions until their paths cross in 1960 on a tobacco farm in North Carolina.  Jane is the freshman social worker assigned to watch out for the welfare of Ivy’s family who are all tenants on the tobacco farm.  Jane feels very out of her league as she struggles with trying to help Ivy (who battles epilepsy), Ivy’s aging grandmother (who is growing weaker with each passing year), Ivy’s older sister (who battles mental illness), and Ivy’s nephew (who is always getting into mischief, the way toddlers do).  To make matters more complicated on the farm, with so many teenagers and young adults living in such close quarters, the matter of a child being born out of wedlock into a tumultuous environment is not a matter of if, but when.  Despite Jane’s new husband’s disapproval of breaking traditional roles expected of the wife of a physician, she forges her own way which takes her down an unconventional path of guardianship over and eventual friendship with her clients.  When Jane discovers a disturbing, yet acceptable, policy among social workers of the time, she faces a moral dilemma that will either break her or break the family that has placed their trust (and love) in her.  What she chooses to do next will change her life, and the lives of everyone in the family, forever.

Why I read it: Recommendation in an online book group

Trigger warnings: elective sterilization, unexpected death

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

One Day in December

Either you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time or you’re in the right place at the right time…but, have you ever been at the right place at the wrong time?

Laurie was having a typical day as she was riding the bus home from work on a snowy December day in London when her eyes locked eyes with a man who quite literally took her breath away.  As she silently willed him to get on at this stop, the bus pulled away and crushed her heart with each passing block.  She would spend the next year searching London with her best friend, Sarah, for her “bus boy.”  Just when she thinks she will never find him, she sees him at a Christmas party a year later; except, he is being introduced as Sarah’s new boyfriend, Jack.  Distraught, Laurie tries to navigate her complex predicament of being in love with her best friend’s boyfriend, and it doesn’t make their situation any easier that Jack drops hints that he might feel the same way.  Vowing to not act on their feelings, they decide it is best to move on in life as friends.  Through future relationships with other people, they remain a constant in each other’s lives.  Over the next ten years they are left questioning whether they made the right decision to chalk up their love at first sight moment on the bus as a purely coincidental moment in time where their paths just happened to cross.  One thing is for sure; they are forever tied to each other, and the ending of their love story is theirs to either write or theirs to dismiss. My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Therapist

Therapists create a safe space where people can share their deepest and darkest thoughts with no judgment or scrutiny, right?  They are impartial listeners who help clients navigate their own psyche in order to improve the overall quality of their lives, right?  Well…

Alice’s life is undergoing sweeping changes.  She and her boyfriend, Leo, have decided that not only are they going to move in together, but they are going to relocate from Alice’s cottage in the English countryside to a quaint neighborhood just on the outskirts of downtown London.  Alice cannot understand why her new neighbors are not welcoming them with open arms, and she is determined to make friends with the other families in her gated community.  As she finds out more about her neighbors and the area, she discovers that a gruesome murder took place in the master bedroom.  The murderer committed suicide, but Alice can’t seem to shake the feeling that there is more to the story and it’s not the murder-suicide case that the other neighbors have come to accept.  She develops an inexplicable attachment to the victim, and she slowly descends into an over-the-top obsession with finding the victim’s real killer.  In her search for justice for the victim, she suspects everybody and nobody, but she will not rest until she finds answers…even if it kills her.

Trigger warnings: Death, suicide, murder

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

November 9

Fallon is scarred.  She carries both physical and emotional scars from the fire that she survived on November 9th when she was 16.  She harbors resentment toward her father, a B list actor who is a legend in his own mind, because he forgot it was her weekend to spend with him and did not think to alert her of the engulfing flames before making his own escape.  Consequently, she does not respond favorably when her father, in no subtle terms over lunch two years after the fire, tells her that her own rising star has burned out in the film industry unless an upcoming role includes a female character with obvious scars covering one side of her body.  She is about to have a rage induced meltdown in front of her father when their tense lunch is interrupted by Ben Kessler, a disheveled yet handsome college student, who poses as Fallon’s boyfriend in order to salvage the remnants of Fallon’s diminishing dignity.

After her father leaves the restaurant, Fallon and Ben have an immediate connection.  Unlike so many, Ben is not afraid to look at Fallon’s scars.  Fallon is taken aback by Ben’s infatuation with her as she has not received such favorable attention from guys (or anyone, really) since before the fire.  However, their futures do not seem to be following the same trajectory.  She is set to move across the country to New York the following day.  Even though Fallon’s instincts are telling her there is something special about Ben, she is of the mindset that she cannot fully explore her full career potential if she is also invested in a serious, long-distance relationship at 18.  Against Ben’s instincts, he agrees to Fallon’s idea of meeting up in the same restaurant exactly one year from this day to catch up on each other’s lives.  They spend the next 4 years apart except for the one day a year where they meet up to reconnect.  Things between the two of them are too good to be true…until they are not.  Over time, Fallon starts to question where her reality ends and Ben’s reality begins.  As the years pass, she struggles to understand whether she is the leading heroine in her own life’s story, or the unfortunate supporting actress in Ben’s fictional story.  It will take many twists and turns before they figure out their real place in each other’s lives.

Why I read it:  Recommendation from a friend

Trigger warnings: sexual content, suicide, accidental death, language

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

What Lies in the Woods

Secrets, secrets are no fun.

Naomi, Olivia, and Cassie were 11 years old when they were brutally attacked in the woods by a well-known and hunted serial killer who was also wanted for the deaths of countless other women.  The woods: once their safe-haven, once their backdrop to live out their fantasy game of spirits, potions, dungeons, and goddesses.  The woods: the place where their lives would change forever.  The woods: the link that would always connect them to each other.  The woods: the keeper of so many secrets and lies.  They have tried to move on, each in their own way.  When the girls, now adults, received phone calls from the authorities that their attacker had died in prison, the news should have brought them a sense of peace and closure.  Instead, it caused them to revisit the past, both physically and figuratively, and caused them to question the stories they had told detectives, lawyers, juries, and themselves. When Olivia contacts Cassie and Naomi and tells them she must come clean about one of their deepest and darkest secrets, the girls can’t help but think their actual reality and perceived reality is about to be turned upside down.  Naomi, especially, questions her memory of events as she was the one who suffered the most physical injuries in the attack.  On her quest to find truth and a release from the burden of living with the knowledge that her testimony put a man in prison for the rest of his life, Naomi starts to uncover more parts to the story that cause her to question her memory, her family, and her friends.  The more she more she finds out, the more she questions; and the more she questions, the more she wraps herself in a dangerous web of lies.

Trigger warnings: Language, death, suicide, murder, mythological stories involving potions/spells/sacrifices, sexual content

Why I read it: Book of the month pick

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)

The Last Green Valley

Fleeing one dictatorial, evil regime to live under another dictatorial, evil regime.  Trying to decide whether life is worse as an ethnic German under Adolf Hitler or a native Russian under Josef Stalin, a family will go to desperate lengths to stay together and survive some of the darkest years of world history.

The Martel family, with German ancestry but Russian ties, knew that their lives in Ukraine were doomed as Stalin’s forces moved in to occupy the area.  They had a choice to make; they could stay and continue farming under the control of Stalin who was famous for spying on, starving, and murdering his own people, or they could flee and claim their German lineage to live under Hitler who, up until the summer of 1944 seemed to be unstoppable in his military victories and territorial takeovers.  With heavy and reluctant hearts, they packed up everything they owned and joined a wagon train of Ukranian refugees to attempt survival under the watchful eyes of the German SS rather than the equally evil Soviet regime.  Their journey to German territory was nothing short of unbelievable, horrifying and, yet, truly inspiring.  Just when you think they can’t endure another atrocity on their quest for freedom, another unthinkable thing happens to them, and they must somehow muster up enough strength to overcome the newest obstacle.  They know they are better together, but staying together might get them all killed.

Why I read it:  Recommendation in a Facebook book group

Trigger warnings: language, rape, violence, young death

My thoughts (may contain spoilers)