21 July 2018

American Fire, by Monica Hesse

My husband and I lived in Virginia Beach for a short time, and we would frequently travel up and down the 23-mile bridge on US 13 to get over to Annapolis, and many a time I made the drive alone for work. I preferred when my husband was driving because I am one of those people who love gazing at passing towns, wondering about the people who live there. And the Eastern Shore of Virginia is beautiful, and seemingly quiet. Unfortunately, we never stopped, even though we planned to. The next time I'm back in Virginia, you can bet I will stop, even if it's just the jam and fruit stand on the side of the road, or to take a picture of an aging motel. I remember one having a funky art deco vibe (I'm still trying to find out if the Whispering Pines Motel was off of US 13 or another road). Either way, if you look up the Virginia map, you'll find a hidden segment of the Commonwealth  of Virginia that is right across a bridge and a part that no one ever thinks of. Most assume it's part of Maryland.

I'm so glad this local library featured this book, all the way down here in Florida. I happened to walk by the shelves while my four-year-old son tore through to the kids' section. I obviously had to check it out because it was about THOSE fires.

I remember when it first started and thought how random they were, how they would sprout up. No one was ever hurt and they were usually old houses or buildings, abandoned for some time. Of course, rumor had it that it was just a bunch of kids, because hey, kids in the middle of nowhere always get blamed for stuff like this. Then, after one fire after another started, the news became real. There was an arsonist in the area. And then, when all the fires fizzled out and the highs and lows of watching the news concluded after about six months, one woman and one man were arrested. A couple, supposedly madly in love, were an arsonist pair. Charlie had previous infractions with the law as a recovering addict, and Tonya really had nothing on her record. They both had their own businesses and were trying to make a life together, but something made them do this. Although Tonya is adamant that she had nothing to do with it, they were both charged, and Tonya was looked as the one with all the ideas. Together, they completely freaked out the area, with everyone wondering which building was next. 

No one ever really understands the amount of man hours and dollars that go into catching a suspect, with trying to profile, stake out, and call on resources from all over the area, from other law enforcement to professors. Monica Hesse, the author, spent this time with each individual reviewing those items, and it's clear she has much respect for the work they did to catch this very oddly-paired Bonnie and Clyde arsonist team that made horrible choices that still have not been understood. Since Charlie was the only who talked to law enforcement and admitted to everything, details are really only from him; Tonya kept herself aloof and closed off, so it was easy to pin her as their ringleader. Charlie wasn't creative enough to come up with good lies, so he just told it as it was, and Tonya, with her way with words, and her quick poetry posts on Facebook, made it crafty and bizarre by staying silent and maintaining her innocence.

I don't read a lot of true crime or non-fiction books and this one was awesome, so I started getting nosey and probably thinking too much. I wonder what would have happened if a woman interrogated Tonya. If a woman who had it all together, and acted like Tonya couldn't possibly have been the one with the ideas, who would give credit to Charlie. Would that have threatened Tonya's ego and would she have confessed? Tonya seemed confident enough to manipulate people, maybe bored with life, or annoyed in her relationship with Charlie that I believe if a woman had questioned her, and gave credit to Charlie, Tonya may very well have gotten angry by a confident female officer and just spilled the truth to gain the credit.

And then, to add more interest, an anonymous book, Burned, by Z. Jasmine BelFord happened to be published on Amazon. It came out while Tonya was out on bail. It was about a couple, not named Tonya and Charlie, but named... Sonya and Harley. It took place in Accolake County, not Accomac County. Yeah... I don't think it's a stretch to assume Tonya wrote it. And then because I'm fascinated by it all, I called the main number for the publishing company and the call center representative said that the author account was in the name of "Mr. Dickerson." Wouldn't you know it, there is a Frank Dickerson in this whole story, and he happened to be Tonya's only character witness during her trial. Interesting, huh?

I bought the book. I'm reading it now. It's got a similar sense of Tonya's poems every few chapters and so far is solely from the perspective of after "Sonya" was arrested.

This was an interesting book and I'm probably more into it because I lived in Virginia Beach when it happened and I remember the news reports. I wish this book included a map with a pin for where all the fires occurred, and I still want to know why Accomac County and Accomack the city are spelled the way they were. Enjoy and read away! It is fascinating.

About the Author (from her website)
Monica Hesse is the national bestselling author of the true crime love story American Fire and the Edgar Award-winning young adult historical mystery novel Girl in the Blue Coat, which has been translated into a dozen languages and was shortlisted for the American Booksellers Association's Indies Choice Award. She is a feature writer for the Washington Post, where she has covered royal weddings, dog shows, political campaigns, Academy Awards ceremonies, White House state dinners, and some events that felt like a mixture of all of the above. She has talked about these stories, and other things, on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, CSPAN, FOX and NPR, and she has been a winner of the Society for Feature Journalism's Narrative Storytelling award, and a finalist for a Livingston Award and a James Beard Award. Monica lives in Maryland. with her husband and a brainiac dog.

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17 June 2018

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

My heart. This book. Here's how my life intersects with this story: Years ago, when I book blogged regularly, I luckily received an uncorrected proof of Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings from Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group. I started reading it and fell immediately in love. It had the feel of Donna Tartt's A Secret History, which is one of my favorite stores.

The Interestings has a lull, a full story to be told of kids who meet at a summer camp in the '70s and then their naturally unfolded lives over a period of forty years, some in directions they hoped for and some resigned to what they never could  become. I stopped reading partway through, because of the detour in my own life with breast cancer, a double mastectomy, chemo, just when my son had turned seven-months-old. I was, well... distracted, of course. With that time now firmly in my rear view mirror (thank you, God), and because of our big move to Puerto Rico and packing up my studio office a few months ago, I came across this book and my bookmark still in place of where I left off. 

I read through this furiously and quickly and fell in love with the story all over again, and it was like I had never put it down. Read this, absorb it. Every page is magic.

Originally published on my Instagram.

About the Author (from her website)
Meg Wolitzer is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Interestings, The Uncoupling, Ten-Year Nap, The Position, The Wife, and Sleepwalking. She is also the author of the young adult novel Belzhar. Wolitzer lives in New York City.
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11 June 2018

The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen

I just finished The Moon and More and it was my first time reading young adult author Sarah Dessen (@sdessenand it won’t be my last, no doubt about that. Why have I waited so long to read her work? I will not make that mistake again.

Emaline is smart and ambitious, wanting more out of life in the last summer before she leaves the small touristy beach town she’s lived in her whole life for college and is feeling extremely guilty about it at the same time. She’s got a great family and a great boyfriend, but things take a different direction when her biological father comes to town to settle matters at a beach house, bringing her younger half-brother with him. She’s never had a relationship with either of them, except for disappointments from her absent father, especially recently when things seemed to round the bend whenever they discussed her education and college and her future. There’s also a filmmaker in town to put together a documentary on a local friend they never knew was an artist, and working on the film is an intern who makes things even more complicated for her after her boyfriend of three years lets her down. And throughout it all, there is a sense of an internal foundation Emaline has that anchors her, keeps her grounded through the pain of disappointments from what it seems like just about everyone.

Wise beyond her years but still young and sometimes naive, this is one of my favorite moments between Emaline and her mother that I think encapsulates life overall:
"But you’re right. You’re a big girl now. I can’t protect you anymore from everything. Especially yourself." She looked away, then back at me, taking a step forward. "But know this, Emaline. The mistakes you make now count. Not for everything, and not forever. But they do matter, and they shape you. If you take nothing else from what I’ve been through, at least remember this: make your choices well. Because you’ll always be accountable for them. That’s what being an adult is all about."
 FTC Disclosure: I checked this book out of the public library.

About the Author
Sarah Dessen is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen novels for teens, which have received numerous awards and rave reviews. Her books have been published in over thirty countries and have sold millions of copies worldwide. She is the recipient of the 2017 Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association for outstanding contribution to young adult literature for her novels: Keeping the Moon, Dreamland, This Lullaby, The Truth about Forever, Just Listen, Along for the Ride, and What Happened to Goodbye. Her newest novel, Once and for All, will be released in June 2017. An NC native, she currently lives in Chapel Hill with her family.

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07 May 2018

When once I proudly proclaimed I would never read a self-help or self-awareness book, or any type of non-fiction that would steer me in any one particular direction, I now cannot put them down. I always stayed away from self-help sections in the bookstores, and now, in my early forties after battling breast cancer, with a toddler who runs my day and life chapters changing each minute (most recently for some really amazing opportunities!), I am easily drawn towards any book that will help actualize my fears, anxieties, change behaviors, learn more, deal more, live better and live happier.

It's been an interesting and absolutely challenging four years. I used to blog all the time and had a decent readership. I was excited about the books I would select to read, finish in a week or less, and then spend time putting together quality content for a thorough review. I then had a baby, was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was seven months old, went through a double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation, and two reconstructions, and while I still (obviously) take medicine every day, I'm thankfully rounding the corner to having it further and further away in my rear view mirror. I have grown more in my faith, learned a lot about patience (that's mostly because of hello, a toddler and all...!), and generally just really begun to appreciate life and living. Now. Now when I'm at the age I am now, I finally think I appreciate more things and recognize more than I ever have before on the toxic things I need to let go off, and the positive aspects I need to make more regular actions in my life.

The Power of Habit (listen to an audio sample by clicking here - the narrator was awesome, by the way) was eye-opening. Find the trigger, or the cue that makes you delve into your habit, and change that cue, and then give yourself a reward for that change. Do it, make yourself do it - even if it means tying your running shoes on first thing in the morning when you really don't want to run. Change the cue to change the routine. 

The last few chapters unexpectedly went down a different route a bit with extremely detailed examples of social habits and crowd influence, which while I found interesting, didn't relate to what I thought the general idea of the book was intending to focus on, which was how habit can be debilitating or positively life-changing, and how the smallest change in the pattern of your behavior can change any of your habits. It's an excellent overview, a fascinating peek into the whys and hows of what we do and how we do it, and I highly recommend it overall. It certainly changed my perspective on what I want to do with the rest of my life, what I want to instill in my son, and how I want to behave for my own personal growth and health. I want to enjoy this life and not be held back by any old habits that walk me down the path of fear and anxiety. I'm done with that, folks.

FTC Disclosure: I downloaded this audiobook through my membership on Audible.com

About the Author
Charles Duhigg worked at the New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize, studied at Yale and Harvard, and is the author of a multitude of articles and books, including The Power of Habit and Smart Faster Better.

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