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I hope you’re ready for some book reviews, because I’ve got some for you! Today’s batch of books is a diverse one: some Chick Lit, some suspense, a memoir, and a dog book that may or may not be relevant for you, but was extremely helpful for me. Let’s get to the reviews, shall we?

Watch Me Disappear, by Janelle Brown: It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan left for a solitary hike through the wilderness, never to return. The beautiful but quirky Berkley mom left behind her doting husband, Jonathan, and a teenage daughter, Olive. In the time she’s been gone, Jonathan and Olive have slowly come to terms with her presumed death. Jonathan is even writing a memoir commemorating his late wife. Then Olive begins having visions of her mother and insists she must still be alive. Jonathan passes the visions off as some sort of mental disturbance, but then he stumbles onto some evidence of his own that lends credibility to the idea that Billie may still be alive.

Father and daughter set off on a quest for the truth—separately at first, and eventually joining forces. And what they discover is that Billie Flanagan was not at all the woman any of them thought they knew.

This wasn’t the thriller I was expecting from the title and synopsis, but it IS a page turner, filled with some surprises and plenty of suspense. At its core, though, this book isn’t a mystery, but an intricate and compelling examination of family life. Watch Me Disappear lays bare the discrepancies between who others believe us to be and who we really are. It explores themes of secret-keeping and hidden pasts, particularly how those hidden portions of ourselves affect our present, and how much we are truly able to leave behind. And it taps into the painful but necessary emotions involved in grieving, regret, and reconciliation.

My Rating: 4 stars.

Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems, by Cesar Millan: Luke and I each read a couple of dog training books, and listened to a few dog podcasts, before getting Arlo. We figured that would be plenty of preparation. We figured wrong. A few weeks into doggy parenting, we realized we needed some more help. One step was to invite a dog trainer to our house, another was to read some more books to help us out with our (adorable) little stinker.

Since I loved Cesar Millan’s book on puppies and really respect his methods, one of the supplementary books I read was this, his very first book on training and raising dogs. In it, Cesar extrapolates on his three-pronged approach to raising balanced dogs: Exercise, Discipline, and Affection. He goes into detail on how to implement each component. He also spends a lot of time discussing the energy he uses with his dogs, which was one of the areas I still didn’t quite understand after reading his puppy book.

Cesar’s Way was a little more autobiographical than How to Raise a Perfect Dog, and I liked the personalization. (Although the parts about Cesar’s love for his wife made me sad, since I know that she divorced him a few years after this book was published.) It was interesting to hear of Cesar’s journey to becoming The Dog Whisperer, and I learned a lot from his insights into the differences he observed between the dogs he had as a youth in Mexico and the dogs he sees in America today. It was also fun to hear about the celebrities whose dogs he has rehabilitated. (I had no idea that Will and Jada Smith were pivotal in kickstarting his career). More than any of the specific tactics or stories, I appreciated the warm and humorous—but nonetheless firm and straightforward—tone Cesar uses throughout the book. He has such a remarkable understanding of dogs and a wonderful way of sharing that knowledge with the rest of us humans.

My only complaint with this book is that Cesar will frequently say things such as “never let your dog…” or “always make sure your dog…” without explaining HOW to do this. I can see that his strategies would be effective, if only I could figure out HOW to implement them. I also found it frustrating that many of his methods rely on the owners having multiple older, well-behaved dogs as well as large properties of land, neither of which describes our situation. For the most part, though, Cesar’s Way is both a helpful resource and an engaging read that helped me understand my dog and myself.

My Rating; 4 stars.

Nine Women, One Dress, by Jane L. Rosen: The title of this book explains it all: it’s the story of nine very different women, all of whose lives are changed in some way thanks to one very special garment. The little black dress immediately catches the eye of buyers attending a prominent fashion show, and soon it has become THE dress of the season.

THE DRESS finds its way into a Bloomingdale’s department store and as it is bought, borrowed, and returned, it works its way into the lives of nine women. Among them are Felicia, the secretary who, after pining for her recently widowed boss for seventeen years, finally sees her chance to win his heart; Natalie, a Bloomingdale sales girl who finds herself in a faux relationship with a supposedly gay actor; and Andie, a divorced private detective who accidentally falls for the man she is trying to catch in an affair.

This is a fun and clever book that I wanted to love more than I did. Each individual story is great, but there are too many of them: just when I started feeling invested in a particular plotline, we jumped to a new story and set of characters. This would make a great movie, though!

My Rating: 3 stars.

Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn, by Melanie Shankle: I mentioned in last month’s reading challenge post that I simply can’t quit reading about other women’s experiences with motherhood. It’s easily my favorite form of memoir! In Sparkly Green Earrings, Melanie Shankle hilariously recounts her journey to becoming a mom, and all that has happened in the eight years since. Her commentary on life with her daughter Caroline is relatable and ridiculously funny, but also filled with some great spiritual insights and tender reflections. Melanie’s style is unique (filled with lots of parenthetical statements). (Which I appreciated given my own penchant for this grammatical device.)

Melanie never takes herself too seriously, which keeps the tender moments from feeling clichéd or trite. And she isn’t afraid to talk about the harder moments of mom life. But more than anything, her love for her daughter and her desire to be the best mom she can be is the prevailing theme of this book. I enjoyed every chapter, but especially resonated with her thoughts on having one child (a status I currently share, though not as willingly as Melanie).

I’ve heard Melanie Shankle on numerous podcasts (including her own) and always liked what she had to say. I don’t know why I waited so long to read one of her books; I’ll definitely be reading more.

My Rating: 4.5 stars.

Windfall, by Jennifer E. Smith: Alice and Teddy have been best friends for years. They both have had plenty of bad luck in their young lives, which is part of what keeps them connected. That luck changes when Alice buys Teddy a lottery ticket for his 18th birthday, and he becomes an instant millionaire. Alice hopes that nothing will change between the two of them (other than their platonic relationship—maybe he will finally begin to reciprocate her love!), but Teddy is swept up by the $140 windfall, and Alice begins to worry that their good fortune wasn’t so good after all.

This is a light and breezy YA novel—a fun, quick read, but not much more. The story is interesting enough, and the characters are fine, but definitely nothing special. The story follows a predictable trajectory that I anticipated from the book synopsis. Still, the book has some nice tender moments. And it’s always interesting to think about how something like a winning lottery ticket would change our lives, and this book offers a mildly entertaining glimpse at the ways it can go right or very wrong.

My Rating: 3 stars.

The Garden of Small Beginnings, by Abbi Waxman: Lilian Girvan has been a widow for three years—ever since she witnessed her husband’s death in a tragic car accident just outside their home. In those three years she’s overcome her initial mental breakdown and focused her energies on raising her two young daughters, with help from her spunky younger sister, Rachel. They’re surviving, but definitely not thriving.

Things start to look a little brighter when Lilian’s job as a botanical illustrator lands her in a gardening class with her daughters and sister. The class leads them to discover a newfound passion for gardening, and along the way they make some new friends. Lilian and Rachel might even find new love.

This book reminded me a lot of Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B (a fictionalized version, of course). Waxman writes poignantly of love and loss, and the mixed emotions that accompany grief. Lilian is a complex and likable character, and I empathized with her struggles to raise her children while also taking care of her own emotional needs. I also loved seeing her very positive and healthy relationship with her sister.

The rest of the story didn’t do much for me. There isn’t a lot of action, and most the side characters are poorly developed and mostly unnecessary. The romantic plot threads felt like last minute attempts to turn this serious book into a lighthearted romance, and they mostly cheapened the novel. I’m not a gardener, so the gardening factoids and tips were mostly lost on me.

My Rating: 3 stars.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with six more book reviews for ya! I’d love to hear about what you’ve been reading lately!

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