Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop (A Fiction)

Letter to My Daughter

George Bishop (Adult Fiction)

Arguments. Mothers and daughters have them often, but this argument was different. This one ended with a mother’s slap and a daughter’s angry exodus into the night. As worry and regret floods her brain, Laura sits down in her quiet kitchen and begins writing a letter to her daughter, Elizabeth. A letter that she hopes will give Elizabeth some insight into her upbringing and past in order to help bridge the divide that has grown between the two of them. Simple and honest words on paper that might heal both of their souls and perhaps lead to understanding and forgiveness.
Anyone who automatically dismisses this book because the author is a man will be depriving themselves of a thoughtful, reflective, and meaningful read. I quickly became lost in this story and often found myself thinking it a memoir rather than a work of fiction as the emotional details are strikingly vivid and the writing is genuine and immersive. Although it’s a quick read, it instantly draws you in and will either make you wish that you had received a letter like this from your own parent or that you had taken the time to write a letter like this to your own child.  
Through Letter to My Daughter, George Bishop reminds those of us fortunate enough to be a parent, that our children really don’t realize that we had an actual life before their grand entrance into the world. That whenever they utter, “You don’t get it” and “You just don’t understand” that we truly do get it because we also dreamed big dreams and had our heart broken and were disappointed by those people that we thought we could trust. We also laughed and cried and had horrible (and sometimes humorous) lapses in judgement and so yes, we really do understand because at one time, we were just like them—young, overly confident, woefully unprepared, and ready to take on the world…whatever that meant. And while we beat our heads against the wall trying to impart our hard-earned wisdom into their beautifully thick skulls, we find ourselves saying, “You don’t get it” and “You just don’t understand” and then we realize that just like that, the circle is now complete.  

Throughout the book, I kept being drawn to the character of Sister Mary Margaret, a kind and compassionate nun who taught at Sacred Heart Academy where Laura was sent. Laura quoted several of her sayings in her letter and every one of them is a gem in its own right: Never be afraid of the truth; Begin at the beginning; Avoid sentimentality at all costs; and my personal favorite, Be good, and if you can’t be good, at least be sensible. With advice like this, maybe Sister Mary Margaret should consider writing a letter, too?

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping

Marilynne Robinson (Adult Fiction)

Marilynne Robinson’s book about two orphaned sisters (Ruth and Lucille) raised by their eccentric Aunt Sylvie in the dank and judgmental town of Fingerbone is a reminder that verbosity and detail are not the same thing and that more is not always better. Robinson clearly is on the “more” side as every character, mood, and setting in Housekeeping is described ad nauseum. She goes so far into the weeds in noting and detailing every memory, smell, glance, gasp, twitch, rustle, and shiver that when she finally finishes her thought, we’ve totally forgotten the point she was trying to make or where she was taking us. Worse…we no longer care.

I’ve read and reviewed hundreds of books and Housekeeping is the only book—the ONLY one—that I knew right from the very first page that I wasn’t going like it. Here is the fifth sentence where Ruth (our narrator) is describing her grandfather’s upbringing: He had grown up in the Middle West, in a house dug out of the ground, with windows just at earth level and just at eye level, so that from without, the house was a mere mound, no more a human stronghold than a grave, and from within, the perfect horizontality of the world in that place foreshortened the view so severely that the horizon seemed to circumscribe the sod house and nothing more. This level of detail and imagery succeeds in allowing the reader to better understand why Ruth’s grandfather was so motivated to travel, but there are so many layers that you have to dig through that by the time you’ve reached the pearl, you’re so exhausted that you’re unable to enjoy its luster and beauty. Further along in the book, Robinson dedicates seven pages (I counted) describing the sisters’ fishing trip and their having to spend the night alone in the woods. Seven. Pages. It doesn’t take long before you realize that Housekeeping isn’t a cohesive story, but rather a series of lengthy paragraphs that you might find in the Reading section of the SAT: “In line 64, the word simulacra most likely means…”

The story is at its strongest and most interesting when it centers on Ruth and Lucille and their complicated relationship, but these moments are few before we are left with just Sylvie and Ruth and wondering who we should rally behind while we venture down yet another word rabbit hole and pray for daylight. Housekeeping does present several important themes—the illusion of permanence, the cost that comes with conforming to expectations, and how family doesn’t shield you from feeling alone and isolated—but after enduring so many mental gymnastics, we’ve neither the energy nor the interest to fully appreciate these revelations.  

I wish I had enjoyed this book more because slogging through a two-hundred-plus-page book only because you’re hoping that everything will come together in the end is a miserable relationship to have with an author and their story. Reading should be a joy, not a chore. However, I am glad that I did finish it for no other reason than to provide an honest review. Besides, I did manage to increase my vocabulary with a few interesting words so not all bad.

If I had to sum up my final thoughts, it would be that more isn’t necessarily a good thing or, as Leonardo da Vinci said so eloquently in just five little words, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Rating: 2/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg

Once Upon a Time, There Was You

Elizabeth Berg (Adult Fiction)

DISCLAIMER: This is going to deviate a lot from my normal review format because I just can’t bring myself to devote any more time to this book, so here goes…

Synopsis: Two people (John and Irene) who never wanted to get married to each other get married to each other, have a kid (Sadie), get divorced, and are brought together again because their now eighteen-year-old daughter did something ridiculously and mind-numbingly stupid.

Why I read this: I read Berg’s Open House and rated it 3/5. It was okay enough that I decided to take another chance and read The Story of Arthur Truluv, which I rated 4/5. I was feeling pretty good and dived into Once Upon a Time, There Was You. I now find myself in a hate-love-hate relationship with Elizabeth Berg. I blame Arthur for this false sense of security.

Questions: First, What was the actual point of this book?!; Second, What in the world was Berg thinking when she wrote the event involving Sadie that sets the stage for her parents’ reunion? It felt forced and came absolutely out of left field. I don’t mind a shocking event if it’s going to add some depth to the story, but this one felt wildly out of place and came and went faster than promises made on election day; Third and Fourth, Who wrote the synopsis for this book and Did they even read the book? When tragedy strikes, Irene and John come together… Tragedy? That’s REALLY overstating what happened. What takes them longer is to remember how they really feel about each other. That might be the case if it wasn’t for the fact that Irene’s mouth has been estranged from her brain for quite a while so that any relationship involving her is doomed as soon as her lips part. There are more examples, but my brain is beginning to hurt a little bit now.

My rating: Every book I read automatically begins with a star. I mean, the author actually published a book and I haven’t so there’s that. I gave it another star because the relationship between Sade and her father was nice and the ending between John and Irene—unlike other parts of the book—actually made sense and was appropriate.

Moral of the story: Always go with your gut instincts, no matter how terrifying or humiliating the consequences may seem to be. Just suck it up, buy yourself an iced white chocolate mocha, hide under the covers, and wait for common sense to kick in…or the sugar and caffeine, whichever comes first.  

Rating: 2/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

Ain’t No River by Sharon Ewell Foster

Ain’t No River  

Sharon Ewell Foster

Everyone and everything in Garvin Daniels’ life seem to be going wrong: her 70-something Meemaw is hanging out with a young and handsome fitness instructor named GoGo, her friend Ramona is embarking on a bicycling fundraiser with a pastor that she just met, and her high-powered law firm has given her a case that will surely mean the end of her career. Has the world gone crazy? After an involuntary leave of absence, Garvin decides to leave Washington, D.C. and head back to her hometown of Jacks Creek where she is determined to set things right…no matter what it takes.

If you were to search Google and look for ideal character traits of lawyers, you’d get things like compassion, willingness to listen, good judgement, and great emotional balance. GARVIN DANIELS HAS NONE OF THESE! Instead, Sharon Ewell Foster gives us a whiny, insensitive, self-absorbed, inconsiderate, spoiled, selfish, petulant…well, the list goes on and on. I understand why an author would make their main character absolutely insufferable because their end goal is for that character to finally realize the error of their ways and be redeemed. They clearly realize the hell they are putting their readers through by having to deal with this horror of an individual, but we remain loyal because we know—we just know—that all of this emotional turmoil will be worth it because the character’s ultimate salvation will be our reward, too. Not so with Garvin Daniels. Nope. Even when she begins to understand that maybe she isn’t her best possible self, it doesn’t take long before she’s back to slinging insults, scorn, and contempt. And by the way, complaining about life in your tailored suit while standing in a gleaming marble restroom of a prestigious law firm to a woman who is currently busy cleaning the toilets is NOT a good look.  

I would have enjoyed this book so much more had Foster instead focused on the complex, quirky, and beautifully damaged residents of Jacks Creek: Monique, the teenager forced to give up her child and then has live with the shame and stigma afterwards; Big Esther who runs her own salon and dispenses truth and wisdom in never ending supplies; Smitty, the seller of snowballs who basks in the glow from the attention of the women at the hair salon but is looking for something more; GoGo, retired pro-football player who can’t seem to outrun his past; and Meemaw, the town matriarch who always seems to know just what a heart and stomach needs and is ready to graciously fill both. I wanted to know more about these people and spend a few more nights on the front porch with them to understand their pain and share in their journey towards healing. But those opportunities didn’t come often enough and instead I was sent back to Garvin where I counted the pages until I might be rewarded with Meemaw’s words of wisdom or one of Smitty’s deluxe snowballs with marshmallow on top.

At the end of one of her poor-me pity parties, Garvin wondered to herself why everybody around her expected her to fix everything for them. If only she had searched Google and used one of those ideal lawyer character traits. If she had, she would have quickly discovered that nobody does.

Rating: 2/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com 

Life with Bingo by Jim Black & Jim Lewis

Life with Bingo    

Jim Black and Jim Lewis

(Reviewer’s Note: I normally review older books, but this newly released book was sent to me personally by the author, Jim Black. His kindness continues to overwhelm me and reinforces the unique bond shared between author and reader. Despite my appreciation for his kindness, my review—as with all of my reviews—is honest and impartial. To provide anything less would be a disappointment and a disservice to this author and I would never do either.)

Life can be daunting on your own—especially when you’re only sixteen years old. But things can be a lot less scary and intimidating when you have your best friend by your side. This is the story of two best friends who escape an abusive home and make their way from Texas to Montana. Along the way, they experience both the dark and light side of humanity and while mankind’s seedy nature allows our travelers to learn valuable lessons about life, it’s the random acts of decency, generosity, and kindness that carry them through to the next day and remind them that there is still good in the world. Good that is just waiting to shower itself onto a teenage boy and his dog.

Jim Black and Jim Lewis take readers on an unforgettable journey told in the alternating voices of our young man and his furry sidekick. Armed with nothing more than a backpack, sheer determination, and each other, our travelers embark on a nearly two-thousand-mile trek that tests their resolve, challenges their trust, and opens up their heart to the possibilities of faith and providence. Life with Bingo is not just a story about running away, it’s about running to and that indescribable force that enables us to keep putting one foot in front of the other or that promises us that things will be better tomorrow if we can just make it through today. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have someone right there beside you to remind you that you are not alone.

Life with Bingo is a fast-paced read with the narration providing poignant and often humorous points of view. While some might see this story as a bit schmaltzy when compared to the stark truths of modern-day reality, I enjoyed immersing myself into this world where good people do good and selfless things—not for clicks or views or likes or fifteen minutes of fame—but because it is the right thing to do. Because helping others not only makes us feel good, but it reminds us of our connectedness. Our understanding that we are merely just one little piece in a very big puzzle and that even though we’re uniquely shaped, we all fit together to form something quite wonderful and special. Aesop wrote, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Schmaltzy or not, that’s the kind of world I want to live in…especially if there’s a trusty friend by my side.

Special Note: If you are a victim of domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit http://www.thehotline.org.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com 

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket

Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell

Interred with Their Bones

Jennifer Lee Carrell (Adult Suspense)

There are many who regard William Shakespeare, often called the “Bard of Avon” or simply “the Bard”, as the greatest writer in the English language. There are others, however, who believe that Shakespeare’s works are not his, but were written by another writer—or perhaps a group of writers. These two schools of thought belonged to Stratfordians who recognized Shakespeare as the true author of his works and Oxfordians who believed the rightful author to be Edward de Vere. While history may look upon this as mere conspiracy theory, others loyal to Shakespeare are willing to die—even kill—to keep the truth from ever surfacing. No one knows this better than Kate Stanley, Shakespeare scholar and theater director who finds herself thrown into a complex and dangerous mystery after her mentor leaves her with a box and a warning: “If you open it, you must follow where it leads.” Where it leads is a journey tangled with secrets, lies, danger, and death, but Kate must rely on her wits and her knowledge of the Bard to help her navigate the clues and to stay alive.

Like most, I am aware of William Shakespeare and I’ve read many of the Bard’s works—sadly, all while I was in either high school or college. Although I appreciate his work, I never fully reached “fan” status and so it was difficult to totally immerse myself in this book. However, I was unaware of the controversy surrounding Shakespeare’s credibility and so I found this topic to be extremely compelling and thought provoking (I may never look at the man born in Stratford-upon-Avon in the same way again). Shakespeare and Hamlet devotees will appreciate the numerous references made to the tragic play about power and revenge while those of us on the respectful fringe might find that parts of the story seem to languish at times under the burden of historical facts and literary details. Also, readers are taken on an exhaustive trek from Europe to America and back again with many stops in between. It’s a lot to take in, but the story’s momentum quickly gains steam and reaches a heart-racing pace near the end. That and several twists and turns will ensure that your tenacity is well rewarded.  

As the story’s protagonist, I liked Kate Stanley and will probably read Carrell’s sequel Haunt Me Still which focuses on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. However, I did find it somewhat irritating that whenever Kate found herself in a potentially dangerous and unfamiliar situation, her first instinct was to let anyone and everyone know her exact location by saying, “Is anyone there?” Several times I found myself shushing her from the safety and security of my living room couch. Aside from this and a few other questionable choices, I gave Kate props for her intellect, loyalty, and all-around mettle. She’d make a fine Shakespearean heroine. Her mistakes and miscalculations only reinforce her humanness and vulnerability and make her a believable, relatable, and likeable character.

I think the one thing that Carrell points out in the book that is worthy of highlighting—and perhaps remembering—is that you should never judge a book by its cover. This may seem an oversimplification of what Carrell is conveying with her novel, but this is the main crux behind Shakespeare’s detractors: how can a simple man who came from nowhere and had nothing author some of the world’s greatest plays and sonnets? But it was the story’s Sir Henry Lee, a legend of the British stage, who reminded Kate of the unpredictable and serendipitous nature of greatness: “Like your Abraham Lincoln in his log cabin, the Stratford boy’s story illustrates a point that matters a great deal: Genius can strike anywhere. Anyone can be great.” So, whether you’re a Stratfordian, an Oxfordian, or just a lover of suspense novels, I think we can all come together and agree on that.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor

Yoko Ogawa

I was used to absurd demands from my employers—that I wear a different color ribbon in my hair every day; that the water for tea be precisely 165 degrees; that I recite a little prayer every evening when Venus rose in the night sky—so the old woman’s request struck me as relatively straightforward. “Could I meet your brother-in-law?” I asked. “That won’t be necessary.” She refused so flatly that I thought I had offended her. “If you met him today, he wouldn’t remember you tomorrow.”

By the time that Akebono Housekeeping Agency had sent her to work for the Professor, his card had already amassed nine blue stars—one for each time a housekeeper had to be replaced. If she failed, she would be the tenth. The job seemed easy enough: care for a man in his early 60s, work Monday to Friday from 11 am to 7 pm, prepare lunch and dinner, perform basic housekeeping, and do the shopping. The only caveat? The man—a former math professor—had a memory that only lasted eighty minutes. So began a unique friendship that would start over every hour and twenty minutes. A relationship as mysterious, complex, and intricate as the numbers that filled the Professor’s life.

Ogawa gives us a hauntingly beautiful story about kindness, loyalty, and friendship. Despite giving her characters no names (with the exception of the Housekeeper’s son who is nicknamed Root), these individuals still manage to leap off the page and burrow their way deep into your heart. Both the Professor and the Housekeeper are sympathetic and deep characters who justly deserve our compassion. The Professor remains largely unaffected by the new memories and friendships he’s made; however, when he becomes aware (either vocally or visually) of his loss, you can feel the torment, anguish, and misery literally slicing through his soul. Likewise, the Housekeeper bears an equally heavy emotional burden as she lives each day with the realization that after eighty minutes has passed, the Professor will neither remember nor miss her. This book will tug on every single heart string you possess, yet Ogawa still manages to give us a story filled with joy and hope.

The only minor downside is that The Housekeeper and the Professor does go deep into the mathematical weeds on several occasions with lengthy explanations of various theorems, laws, and formulas. Fans of Pierre de Fermat, Leonard Euler, and Pythagoras will appreciate their numerous references (with Euler’s Formula being specifically highlighted). While the majority of us will tend to glaze over these facts (while reliving some uncomfortable high school math memories), math is the singular means with which the Professor has to communicate and connect with those around him and so these enthusiastic explanations are easily forgiven as they provide valuable insight into a complicated and troubled individual.

Galileo Galilei wrote, “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.” No matter how much had been taken away from him, the Professor realized that math connects us all. It is indeed a universal language without barriers or limits. Understanding this now makes me wish that I had spent just a little bit more time appreciating my high school math teachers and everything they patiently tried to teach me.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

Drowning Ruth

Christina Schwarz

Ruth remembered drowning. “That’s impossible,” Aunt Amanda said. “It must have been a dream.” But Ruth maintained that she drowned, insisted on it for years, even after she should have known better.

Amanda Starkey is a nurse—a brilliant one in fact. She’s known for having “the touch”, but recent events have brought her mental stability into question and has forced her to leave her work at the hospital. Seeking a change of venue, she travels to her family farm at Nagawaukee. Perhaps there she’ll get the rest and clarity she needs while allowing her to reconnect with her younger sister, Mathilda, and Ruth, her niece. Soon, tragedy strikes and mystery surrounds the shocking drowning of Mathilda and as the years pass, dark secrets begin to crowd the deepest corners of both Amanda’s and Ruth’s memories. What happened that winter night in 1919 that led to a young mother’s watery death? How much does Ruth remember? What are those horrible scars on Amanda’s hand?  Are they a clue to the past? But like ice, secrets eventually thaw and allow the truth to rise to the surface. What will happen to Amanda and Ruth once these secrets are finally discovered?

Christina Schwarz’s Drowning Ruth is an Oprah Book Club pick and I can see why. Oprah’s selections often involve dark, broody themes with complex characters and intricate plots. This book is wonderfully no exception. Schwarz packs her book with flawed and fractured characters who carry their own unique burdens and baggage. Schwarz is able to flesh out each of her pivotal characters amply (from Amanda’s old love interest to Ruth’s beautiful and vivacious new friend) and doesn’t waste precious words with throw-away details or pointless subplots. The story switches from past to present and from third-person narrative to first-person points of view of both Amanda and Ruth. It is perhaps these personal perspectives that give readers the most honest and raw insights into these women, the motivations behind their actions, and how each are dealing with loss, adversity, betrayal, and heartache. Drowning Ruth moves along at a vigorous pace with plenty of plot twists to keep the reader engaged and guessing. The farther you get into this story, the more you realize how all of Schwarz’s character’s lives are deeply intertwined and entangled. The result is a satisfyingly suspenseful and captivating read.

One of my favorite authors, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, wrote in his book The Shadow of the Wind, “A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.” Like Mathilda and Ruth, Amanda Starkey was drowning as well, but her water was the weight of the secrets she wrapped around herself. Despite her need to keep them submerged, Amanda’s dark secrets eventually found their way to the bright surface and as they emerged, they brought Amanda up as well and introduced her to the fresh air that only life and living can provide.    

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.thriftbooks.com

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket

Bed & Breakfast by Lois Battle

Bed & Breakfast

Lois Battle

Josie Tatternall, military widow turned Bed & Breakfast proprietor, is about to reunite her thrown grown daughters for the holidays.  Following a sudden medical emergency of one of her closest friends, Josie realizes the fragility and uncertainty of life and decides that there is no time like the present to bring her estranged family together after ten long years apart.  But will her three headstrong daughters agree?  Can the beauty and majesty of Christmas yield hope and forgiveness and unite this broken family?  Josie is about to find out.

I began this book with very high expectations.  After all, the cover is brimming with glowing reviews: “Full of warmth, humor, and characters I completely adore,” touted author Dorothea Benton Frank and “An irreverent holiday treat,” exclaimed the Chicago Tribune.  Author Cassandra King said the characters in Battle’s book were “wonderfully eccentric” and “heartwarming” who have “become her friends”.  But alas, you truly can’t judge a book by its cover and my experience with this story and its characters left me feeling more bah humbug than holly and jolly.  Before delving further, let me explain how I rate books—50% of my review is about the book itself (story, characters, pace, themes, etc.) and the other 50% is how the book left me feeling (enlightened, hopeful, disturbed, retrospective, etc.).  With a rating of 2/5 stars, the latter far outweighed the former as I am still reeling with contempt at such an aggravating cast of characters. Allow me to elaborate without spoiling the story too much…

First, let me go down the list of main characters that ran the gamut of predictable and overused stereotypes: Josie, the dutiful military wife who puts her own wants and needs last; Josie’s domineering and womanizing military husband, Bear; Cam, Josie’s eldest who fled small town South Carolina for the bright lights of New York only to be rudely awakened by the fact that she is a very small fish in a huge pond; Lila, middle child, doting daughter, and perfect Southern wife who seemingly leads an idyllic, charmed life; and Evie, Josie’s youngest who was a one-time runner-up in the Miss South Carolina pageant and who uses her legs and lashes to their full advantage.

Second, it was actually surprising to read a book, written by a woman, with so many unlikeable female characters.  The daughters were all self-centered, selfish, whiny, immature, and just plain insufferable. Josie was a little more tolerable, but it’s one thing to be loyal to a husband who is a known philanderer (at least she respects and honors her vows) and quite another to pledge allegiance to a friend who—more likely than not—had abused her trust and taken advantage of their friendship.  This makes Josie more of a chump than a champion.  Overall, I’ve never met a more contemptible set of women that I disliked a lot, respected less, and fell victim to their own self-destructive behaviors and personalities.  Oddly, it was the men (Josie’s brother-in-law, Cam’s love interest, and Lila’s husband) who came across as decent, sympathetic, reliable, honorable, and morally grounded. 

This was the first book by Lois Battle that I’ve read.  The Florabama Ladies’ Auxiliary & Sewing Circle is still on my bookshelf and, rather than potentially throw the baby out with the bathwater, I will be giving Battle another try to see if her female leads fare any better in this book. 

I’ll end this review by mentioning a sentiment of Josie’s that she recalls several times throughout the book as she looks at the lives of her grown daughters: she did the best she could.  Unfortunately, I believe Battle could have done a little better for all of the women in the Tatternall family.

Rating: 2/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

The Girl She Used to Be 

David Cristofano

I open my eyes and realize there is no way to turn this around. Before, there was one good guy and one bad guy; now I’m lost in a world of distrust and corruption and the odds of my survival have slipped to about one in a thousand.  The only person left I can trust is myself—and I have no idea who I am.

Melody Grace McCartney has been in the Witness Protection Program since she and her parents observed a violent murder on the morning of her sixth birthday.  By the age of 13, Melody had already exhausted six identities.  Through years of countless cities, occupations, and names, the only thing that Melody knows is that there is certainty in numbers.  In numbers, there is stability and consistency.  Math never lies.  Now 26, Melody is about to be relocated again when she encounters Jonathan Bovaro.  He’s charming, rich, and the son of the man who is the reason behind her seclusion and the murder of her parents.  Jonathan tells her that she is safe while she is with him, but after twenty years of hiding in the dark, can this man actually show Melody the light?

The Girl She Used to Be is a prime example of when people make very (very, very) bad decisions.  The book starts off promising, but with each chapter, the ludicrous choices begin to pile up faster than traffic on US 101 in California during rush hour.  Although we lament Melody’s loss of a “normal” childhood because of the secret she’s forced to keep, her twenty-year plight becomes a bit tedious and whiny as she is being relocated for the umpteenth time due to boredom (she gets a tad itchy at about the 18-month mark). Sadly, Jonathan “Johnny” Bovaro doesn’t come across any more likable or sympathetic.  His good intentions are clouded by a quick-trigger violent streak and his optimism of his Mafia family is laughable (hasn’t he seen The Godfather?  Even Zootopia should have clued him in—the arctic shrew mafia boss is cinematic genius by the way).   

All in all, David Cristofano’s novel isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but after an interesting enough start, it begins to fall apart about midway through and then just ends up in a tangled pile of spaghetti.  The actions and judgments of the story’s two main characters make the story implausible (surely adults aren’t THIS naïve) and hard to wrap your arms around.  Interestingly, Cristofano starts each chapter not with a title, but with an equation.  Unfortunately, his numbers just don’t quite add up.

Rating: 3/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.thriftbooks.com

**Want more?  Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket