United States of Books: Iowa

Week fifteen of the United States of Books coming your way! Here’s the road map; every Friday I will bring you book recommendations from each of the fifty nifty United States. Anyone else remember that song from elementary school? We’re just going to follow that order.

Hiya, Iowa!


What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges

34804096Just about everything in Endora, Iowa (pop. 1,091 and dwindling) is eating Gilbert Grape, a twenty-four-year-old grocery clerk who dreams only of leaving. His enormous mother, once the town sweetheart, has been eating nonstop ever since her husband’s suicide, and the floor beneath her TV chair is threatening to cave in. Gilbert’s long-suffering older sister, Amy, still mourns the death of Elvis, and his knockout younger sister has become hooked on makeup, boys, and Jesus–in that order, but the biggest event on the horizon for all the Grapes is the eighteenth birthday of Gilbert’s younger brother, Arnie, who is a living miracle just for having survived so long. As the Grapes gather in Endora, a mysterious beauty glides through town on a bicycle and rides circles around Gilbert, until he begins to see a new vision of his family and himself.

 

What We Saw Aaron Hartzler

20922826Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?

This story—inspired by real events—from debut novelist Aaron Hartzler takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. It’s a book about the high stakes of speaking up, and the razor thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

68210In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’s life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher and the grandson of a minister who, as a young man in Maine, saw a vision of Christ bound in chains and came west to Kansas to fight for abolition: He “preached men into the Civil War,” then, at age fifty, became a chaplain in the Union Army, losing his right eye in battle. Reverend Ames writes to his son about the tension between his father–an ardent pacifist–and his grandfather, whose pistol and bloody shirts, concealed in an army blanket, may be relics from the fight between the abolitionists and those settlers who wanted to vote Kansas into the union as a slave state. And he tells a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons, which are tested in his tender and strained relationship with his namesake, John Ames Boughton, his best friend’s wayward son.

This is also the tale of another remarkable vision–not a corporeal vision of God but the vision of life as a wondrously strange creation. It tells how wisdom was forged in Ames’s soul during his solitary life, and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten. 

 

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

6335026It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.

Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler.

Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice.

Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor.

Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.

 

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

83674On assignment shooting the covered bridges in Iowa, photographer Robert Kincaid falls in love with the Iowa house wife, Francesca Johnson, during four days of love, magic, and beauty.

This is the story of Robert Kincaid, a wandering magazine photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, an farm wife born in Italy waiting for fulfillment of a girlhood dream. It shows readers what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.

When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson’s farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience of uncommon truth and stunning beauty that will haunt them forever. 

Their encounter, fraught with dangers, survives only in their psyches. Both know that what could have been, should have been, could not be. Yet, hearts persist, tickling both characters’ minds. Both remember a few stolen moments when two souls sang in perfect harmony, but through circumstance must not sing again.


Next stop, Kansas!

Advertisements

With Malice by Eileen Cook

Title: With Malice26153925
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 316
Year: 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: 3.75/5

Goodreads Synopsis: It was the perfect trip…until it wasn’t.

Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last six weeks should be. She discovers she was involved in a fatal car accident while on a school trip in Italy. A trip she doesn’t even remember taking. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.

As the accident makes national headlines, Jill finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. It doesn’t help that the media is portraying her as a sociopath who killed her bubbly best friend, Simone, in a jealous rage. With the evidence mounting against her, there’s only one thing Jill knows for sure: She would never hurt Simone. But what really happened? Questioning who she can trust and what she’s capable of, Jill desperately tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.

Imagine waking up in a hospital bed with no recollection of the last month or so of your life. This is how Jill Charron’s story begins, as she recovers from a devastating car accident that killed her best friend, Simone. The gut-wrenching twist? The police don’t believe it was an accident at all. Statements are emerging saying that Jill fought with Simone before the accident, that the crash looked intentional, and that their friendship was more sinister than it seemed.

Jill doesn’t remember any of this. She only remembers a loving relationship with her oldest and dearest friend. But as the evidence begins to tower over her, she wonders if she is capable of the things everyone is saying she has done. Could she have let a boy come between their friendship? Could she have fought with Simone? And could she have murdered her best friend?

Jill’s narrative is split up between interviews, online conversations, media segments, and descriptions of Italian landmarks. This format worked very well for me. I thought it was a fun way to break up the novel and to give more points of view other than our protagonist. It showed just how much the “truth” can differ between different people, and how flimsy that truth can be. Even when Jill’s memory begins to return, her doctors remind her that her “memories” could be influenced by what she has been told by her family and the press, making her an unreliable narrator and leaving a lot of what she remembers up to interpretation from the reader.

I felt sympathetic for Jill as she is cruelly depicted by the media and slut-shamed by peers and strangers alike. Her parents and lawyers don’t believe in her innocence either, simply trying to make it all go away. Everyone believes that Jill is hiding something, and remembers a lot more than what she is letting on. However, while the plot hinges on Jill’s memory, it is only moved forward by the statements and interviews gathered by police as they build the case against her. This is not a novel driven by character development, but by the development of the plot.

So, did Jill murder Simone? Read this fast-paced thriller and find out!

 

Scaring Away the Sunday Scaries (30)

“I will find you,” he whispered in my ear. “I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you – then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest.”

His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me.

Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.” 

-Diana Gabaldon, A Dragonfly in Amber

United States of Books: Indiana

Week fourteen of the United States of Books coming your way! Here’s the road map; every Friday I will bring you book recommendations from each of the fifty nifty United States. Anyone else remember that song from elementary school? We’re just going to follow that order.

Hoosier daddy, Indiana? (lol)


All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

18460392

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

227658Jessie lives with her family in the frontier village of Clifton, Indiana. When diphtheria strikes the village and the children of Clifton start dying, Jessie’s mother sends her on a dangerous mission to bring back help. But beyond the walls of Clifton, Jessie discovers a world even more alien and threatening than she could have imagined, and soon she finds her own life in jeopardy. Can she get help before the children of Clifton, and Jessie herself, run out of time?

 

 

 

 

 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

35504431Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

 

Shakespeare Saved my Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates

14296907Just as Larry Newton, one of the most notorious inmates at Indiana Federal Prison, was trying to break out of jail, Dr. Laura Bates was trying to break in. She had created the world’s first Shakespeare class in supermax – the solitary confinement unit.

Many people told Laura that maximum-security prisoners are “beyond rehabilitation.” But Laura wanted to find out for herself. She started with the prison’s most notorious inmate: Larry Newton. When he was 17 years old, Larry was indicted for murder and sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. When he met Laura, he had been in isolation for 10 years.

Larry had never heard of Shakespeare. But in the characters he read, he recognized himself. 

In this profound illustration of the enduring lessons of Shakespeare through the ten-year relationship of Bates and Newton, an amazing testament to the power of literature emerges. But it’s not just the prisoners who are transformed. It is a starkly engaging tale, one that will be embraced by anyone who has ever been changed by a book.

 

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

51bnPB6O0rL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_This witty and lovingly told memoir takes readers back to a time when small-town America was caught in the amber of the innocent postwar period–people helped their neighbors, went to church on Sunday, and kept barnyard animals in their backyards.

When Haven Kimmel was born in 1965 in Mooreland, Indiana, it was a sleepy little hamlet of three hundred people. Nicknamed “Zippy” for the way she would bolt around the house, this small girl was possessed of big eyes and even bigger ears. In this witty and lovingly told memoir, Kimmel takes readers back to a time when small-town America was caught in the amber of the innocent postwar period–people helped their neighbors, went to church on Sunday, and kept barnyard animals in their backyards.
To three-year-old Zippy, it made perfect sense to strike a bargain with her father to keep her baby bottle–never mind that when she did, it was the first time she’d ever spoken. In her nonplussed family, Zippy has the perfect supporting cast: her beautiful yet dour brother, Danny, a seeker of the true faith; her sweetly sensible sister, Lindy, who wins the local beauty pageant; her mother, Delonda, who dispenses wisdom from the corner of the couch; and her father, Bob Jarvis, who never met a bet he didn’t like.

Whether describing a serious case of chicken love, another episode with the evil Edythe across the street, or the night Zippy’s dad borrowed thirty-six coon dogs and a raccoon to prove to the complaining neighbors just how quiet his two dogs were, Kimmel treats readers to a heroine who is wonderfully sweet and shy as she navigates the quirky adult world surrounding Zippy.


Next up, Iowa!

Spooky Reads for Halloween

Just to set the mood:

 

American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus

22573854The award-winning journalist and author of The Beekeeper’s Lament attempts to discover the truth about her great-great-grandmother, Julia–whose ghost is said to haunt an elegant hotel in Santa Fe–in this spellbinding exploration of myth, family history, and the American West.

The dark-eyed woman in the long black gown was first seen in the 1970s, standing near a fireplace. She was sad and translucent, present and absent at once. Strange things began to happen in the Santa Fe hotel where she was seen. Gas fireplaces turned off and on without anyone touching a switch. Vases of flowers appeared in new locations. Glasses flew off shelves. And in one second-floor suite with a canopy bed and arched windows looking out to the mountains, guests reported alarming events: blankets ripped off while they slept, the room temperature plummeting, disembodied breathing, dancing balls of light.

La Posada–“place of rest”–had been a grand Santa Fe home before it was converted to a hotel. The room with the canopy bed had belonged to Julia Schuster Staab, the wife of the home’s original owner. She died in 1896, nearly a century before the hauntings were first reported. In American Ghost, Hannah Nordhaus traces the life, death, and unsettled afterlife of her great-great-grandmother Julia, from her childhood in Germany to her years in the American West with her Jewish merchant husband.

American Ghost is a story of pioneer women and immigrants, ghost hunters and psychics, frontier fortitude and mental illness, imagination and lore. As she traces the strands of Julia’s life, Nordhaus uncovers a larger tale of how a true-life story becomes a ghost story–and how difficult it is to separate history and myth. 

 

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson

182540On December 18, 1975, a young family of five moved into their new home, complete with finished basement, swimming pool, and boathouse. Twenty-eight days later, they fled in terror, leaving most of their belongings behind. — The fantastic story of their experiences was widely publicized on network television, newspapers, and national magazines. But the Lutz family never disclosed the full details to the media. Now, their own carefully-reconstructed memories — and independent interviews with local clergy and police — reveal their entire harrowing story.

George and Kathleen Lutz were aware that the house had been the scene of a mass murder — Ronnie DeFeo, 23, was convicted of shooting his parents, brothers, and sisters. But it seemed an ideal home for them and their three children, and the price was right. On the day they moved in, a priest invited to bless the house was told by an unseen voice to “Get out!” At his rectory, he began to suffer a series of inexplicable afflictions. Meanwhile, alone in their new home, the Lutz family were embarking on the most terrifying experience of their lives. It began when their five-year-old daughter boasted of her new playmate, someone — or something — named “Jodie.”

 

Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye

13542949The village of Hemmersmoor is a place untouched by time and shrouded in superstition: There is the grand manor house whose occupants despise the villagers, the small pub whose regulars talk of revenants, the old mill no one dares to mention. This is where four young friends come of age—in an atmosphere thick with fear and suspicion. Their innocent games soon bring them face-to-face with the village’s darkest secrets in this eerily dispassionate, astonishingly assured novel, evocative of Stephen King’s classic short story “Children of the Corn” and infused with the spirit of the Brothers Grimm.

 

The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

13018514Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.

 

 

 

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

10112885Brilliant, haunting, breathtakingly suspenseful, Night Film is a superb literary thriller by the New York Times bestselling author of the blockbuster debut Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

On a damp October night, the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. By all appearances her death is a suicide – but investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. Though much has been written about the dark and unsettling films of Ashley’s father, Stanislas Cordova, very little is known about the man himself. As McGrath pieces together the mystery of Ashley’s death, he is drawn deeper and deeper into the dark underbelly of New York City and the twisted world of Stanislas Cordova, and he begins to wonder – is he the next victim? 

In this novel, the dazzlingly inventive writer Marisha Pessl offers a breathtaking mystery that will hold you in suspense until the last page is turned.

 

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

25868918Reader, I murdered him.

A Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre.

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London’s underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate’s true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household’s strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul and secrets – and what if he discovers her murderous past?

 

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

22811807In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

 

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

12813630Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

 

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

10929432Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost, Da’s death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself may crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

 

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

1262745Ted Bundy was handsome, charming, a brilliant law student, and on the verge of a dazzling career. On January 24, 1989, he was executed for the murders of three young women, having confessed to taking the lives of at least thirty-five more.

This is the story of one of the most fascinating killers in American history—of his magnetic power, his bleak compulsion, his double life, his string of helpless victims. It is also the story of Ann Rule, a writer working on the biggest story of her life, tracking down a brutal mass murderer. Little did she realize that the “Ted” the police were seeking was the same Ted who worked with her at a Seattle crisis clinic, a man who had become her close friend and confidant. As she began to put the evidence together, a terrifying picture emerged of the man she thought she knew.

Thirty-five years after it was first published, The Stranger Beside Me remains a gripping, explosive true-crime classic.

 

The Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart by Anna Bell

Title: The Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart28811985.jpg
Author: Anna Bell
Pages: 432
Year: 2016
Publisher: Zaffre Publishing
Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: A hilarious new romantic comedy for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Jane Costello from Anna Bell, the bestselling author of Don’t Tell the Groom. Abi’s barely left her bed since Joseph, the love of her life, dumped her, saying they were incompatible. When Joseph leaves a box of her possessions on her doorstep, she finds a bucket list of ten things she never knew he wanted to do. What better way to win him back than by completing the list, and proving they’re a perfect match? But there’s just one problem – or rather, ten. Abi’s not exactly the outdoorsy type, and she’s absolutely terrified of heights – not ideal for a list that includes climbing a mountain, cycling around the Isle of Wight and, last but not least, abseiling down the tallest building in town …Completing the list is going to need all Abi’s courage – and a lot of help from her friends. But as she heals her broken heart one task at a time, the newly confident Abi might just have a surprise in store …

Abi is completely devastated when her long-term boyfriend, Joseph, dumps her unexpectedly. So much so, that it sends her wallowing in a deep depression for weeks. When she discovers his “Things to Do Before I am 40” list among the items he’s left at her apartment, she decides to complete it; thus, impressing him and winning him back in the process. What ensues is the hilarious, yet heart-warming journey of a woman’s discovery of herself.

If you’ve ever been broken up with, especially unexpectedly, you’ll know the emotional roller coaster that ensues in the aftermath. Obsessing over what went wrong, what was said, what might have gone differently, and how you can win them back. Abi’s case is no different. The novel begins with Abi wallowing in post-breakup depression. Bouts of crying, emotional eating, and lack of personal hygiene… Personally, I found it a little pathetic that she let someone else have that much control over her and her happiness, but I can understand the sentiment. This is why that when Abi finds Joseph’s bucket list, it makes sense in her desperate state that she wants to use it to win him back.

Aided by her best friend, Sian, and colleage, Giles, Abi begins to make her way through the list as quickly as she can in order to win Joseph back before he can find someone else. What I liked most about Abi’s group of friends is that even though they were unsure about her list (why abseil down a building when you’re afraid of heights?) and didn’t know the real reason why she wanted to start and complete it so quickly, they still wholeheartedly supported her. They wanted her to succeed and were willing and able to help her do so. I thought their support of Abi really lifted the tone of the story and made it more of a team effort. Sometimes, having a great group of friends around you during a difficult break up can be all the medicine you need.

 

The bucket list aspect could have been very formulaic and just followed the list without much depth or character development, but instead we got to see Abi’s character change and grow from the pity party of one we saw in the beginning, to a woman with confidence and independence. It was very inspiring to see her, not only pick up the pieces, but become a better version of herself, despite her original motives. While this book is very much the predictable, romantic comedy trope, I still found myself invested in Abi’s character and the outcome of the book. All I wanted was for Abi to realize how awesome she was on her own, and that she didn’t need to place her self worth in someone else’s hands. Thankfully, she arrived at that conclusion in the end, after five or six shenanigans.

A must-read if you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud, inspiring, romantic, pick-me-up!