Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein



Hello Fellow Reader!

One of the reasons that I like book clubs is that they will get you to read out of your comfort zone. I belong to two different book clubs and often the books are not books that I would have picked for myself. And very often, I enjoy the book more than I would have thought.

JanesvilleThat happened this month with the book Janesville, An American Story by Amy Goldstein. The book is about what happened in Janesville, WI after the GM plant closed down. Okay, that does not sound that interesting, right? I mean, I would guess that the town went downhill. I expected it to be a bit dry and boring.

It is not. I am so impressed with the way that Amy Goldstein approached this subject. The story is told from the perspective of about 20 people in the town. Some of the people had worked for GM or one of the companies that existed to supply GM with parts. But included were the perspectives of others in the town affected by the closings. It was so interesting to follow from the different perspectives.

The book spans 2010 to 2013 with an Epilogue from 2015. It is not a long book – 351 pages. It covers events that I remember but did not know the context at the time to put it in perspective. (In case you didn’t know, Paul Ryan is a native son of Janesville and that is the district he represents.) The author puts in context the politics of the time and the town’s attitudes and talks about the changes that occurred after the plant closed. You get a first hand look at the success of the re-training efforts.

For example, we follow the Vaughns. Both Mike and Barb worked for Lear Corp., which closed because of the GM plant closing. Barb decided right away to go back to school and get a two-year degree in Criminal Justice. It took Mike a little longer to decide what he wanted to do. He followed Barb in going back to school and getting a two-year degree in Human Resources. Because of the grants available at the time, both went to the local junior college for free. Barb was one of the lucky ones hired to be a guard at the local prison. It became apparent that this was not the job for her and she decided to go back to school for a 4-year degree in social work. She was able to get a job with a local social service agency while she was back in school. Mike was also fortunate that he was able to get a job after he finished. Neither of them made anywhere near the amount of money they had made with their factory jobs. But they were fortunate that they found positions that they liked.

The stories about the people in the town are interesting. You want to know what happens next and if they are doing okay. I think the book is very well done (It has won numerous awards, so I am not alone in that feeling.) and absorbing. I really didn’t want to put it down.

Thanks for reading!


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Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham



Dear Fellow Reader,

And this week for something a little different, a memoir. While it is not always my first choice, I do like to read about the choices people make in their lives and why they make those choices. Human nature can be so interesting. I prefer to say that I am inquisitive but, the word “nosy” might be used by some. I am interested in how people think and act. The “why’s” are interesting.

I was lost in Happiness from the first. At the beginning of the book, there are some flashback sequences and they are so well done that you don’t think about the time sequence.

9781250131560The book is written in the first person. Heather, who is from California meets Brian while she is working at a university in New York City. Brian is an author and college professor. They fall in love. They have a life in New York and they are happy. Then Heather gets pregnant. Brian has made clear all along that he does not want to be a parent.  When Heather gets pregnant, he does not change his mind. Heather is heartbroken but she is going to have the baby and decides that she should go back to California to be by friends and family is she is going to raise the baby by herself.

When the baby is born, she tells Brian that he has a daughter. Hours after the baby is born, the nurse comes to take the baby for a few tests. Heather, who is completely enamored with the baby allows them to take her but waits anxiously for the baby’s return. Finally, a doctor comes to her room to tell her that they need to transfer the baby to a bigger hospital and that the baby’s life is in danger. Scared and not understanding what if happening, Heather rides in the ambulance to the other hospital. Her wonderful daughter has a problem with her blood. Her red blood cells are not holding together.

This is how the story begins. The story continues with Heather telling Brian and his decision that he needs to come and see the baby. The wait to see if the health issue will ever be diagnosed, to see if Heather and Brian will both be parents of this little girl, and how at almost 4 years old Amelia Grace will travel to Durham, NC, for a transplant. The transplant is Gracie’s best chance for a long life but there is no guarantee that she will live through the transplant.

It is a love story. It is sad and scary and has imperfect characters. But the characters are real and you want it to all work out for them. If it were not a memoir, you would complain that some of the twists and turns could not possibly happen but because life is odd sometimes, those things do happen.

I think this is a good book. The pacing is good and it talks about emotional issues without being too dramatic. You feel the confusion without it being shoved down your throat.

Thanks for reading.

And before I forget (again!) I was given a copy of this book for my unbiased review. Thanks to Henry Holt Publishing for this book!


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The Circle by Dave Eggers


Dear Fellow Reader,

I hit a string of books that I didn’t like. Don’t you hate when that happens?  Do you stop reading and move on or do you force yourself to keep going? I used to keep going but now there are so many books that I want to read that I stop if I don’t like the book. I realize that there is always the possibility that it will drastically improve on the next page.  I get that but sometimes it isn’t worth the slog.  Plus, I think that our attitude plays such a big part in how we react to some books. So maybe I just wasn’t in the right place for the books I cast off.


I did finally hit a streak of books that I liked or found compelling.  Thank goodness. I needed to get back to reading.

18302455The Circle is one of those books that I found compelling.  It is my book group’s book for June.  I understand that some of the members had seen the movie and then didn’t want to read the book. I am not much of a movie watcher, so I didn’t have that problem. I found the book absorbing. I thought that the plot moved along well and it was not predictable.

Mae graduated from college and was working at her local utility company. She hated it. Her college roommate Annie had gone on to law school and then gotten a job at Circle, an internet company. Circle seems to me to be a combination of Facebook, Google, and Amazon. The Circle has all the information on everyone. The company claims that it wants to make the world a better place. The prevailing thought is that transparency is good and that not sharing (constantly) is bad. Through Annie (who is very popular at the Circle), Mae gets a job. Mae is, at first overwhelmed by all the perks that come with the job and how people are so in awe of her friendship with Annie.

The perks of the job are fantastic. Meals, snacks, a gym, dormitories for those who work late, medical care so inclusive (and on-site) that you are given a band to wear that tracks your vitals all the time. There are concerts, artwork, intermural sports, and social clubs for everything. Mae finds that she is expected to join in all activities and that her attendance and participation is tracked.

At first, she finds it hard to keep up with all the information that floods her daily. She spends the first week getting used to her work but finds that she also had been expected to go to see the doctor and become meshed in the work network of social activities. When she is called into her boss’s office to see why she isn’t participating, she works on becoming more active. When she takes time to go home to visit her parents and comes back upset because of the progression of her father’s MS, she is told that the company will provide health care for her father. This is an incredible help as her mother had been spending so much time fighting the insurance company to cover her father’s care. She is so happy that she can help her parents. They are so proud of her.

Mae does have some moments where she is uncomfortable. When her work boyfriend tapes (without her permission) some private moments, she wants him to delete the tape.  Deleting things is not allowed at Circle.  Everything should be open and honest. Another time, her profile is used in a demonstration for LuvLuv a new dating app being developed by the company. She was not told that her information was going to be used and she wasn’t happy about it.

Mae becomes a rapidly rising star in the company and is one of the first to go to “full transparency” which means that she wears a camera and headset and broadcasts everything in her life all the time.

As Mae is progressing in the company, those around her don’t agree with the trajectory that Circle is on and they either go into hiding or try to stop the progress. Will Mae “drink the Kool-Aid” or will she work to stop the tentacles of the Circle from spreading?

I think that it was a fast read for the length. (497 pages in paperback) For most of the book you can see Mae’s doubts about some of the issues but she is always glad for her position. I found the premise to be chilling. I wanted to yell at Mae that she was falling into a trap. That changing her father’s insurance was a trap. That wearing a medical device that allows your company to follow every bit of your life is a trap. And on and on.

The book is a cautionary tale on how much power we give to the internet and how it can be used against us. I found it to be interesting and chilling. I did not expect the ending of the book. I was sure something else was going to happen.

Thanks for reading!

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The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go by Amy E. Reichert

I am one of those people who reads only one book at a time. I find that if I switch off that one book will get lost somewhere along the line. I am currently reading four books. This is not good. I think that it indicates that I am not sold on any of them but that I might keep trying. They may be destined to the “never to be read” pile.

Into this book fiasco, enters Memorial Day weekend. There is more time to read but what to read? The answer is to pick up yet another book. No, that should not be the correct answer but it is the route that I took. BUT I did finish the book that I picked up. And before I forget, I was given an advanced reader copy of the book with the hopes that I would read and review the book. I hate to admit it but it is a bit of a crapshoot hoping that I will read and review (especially in a timely fashion) a book. I am like the preverbal kid in the candy shop with books.

The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go did catch and keep my attention. The story centers on three generations of women. The grandmother, Lorraine Price, is the model society woman. She has strict standards and expects her daughters to meet those standards. When her daughter, Gina, often falls short, Lorraine does not hesitate to let her know. And Lorraine is picky. She still remembers that Gina brought the wrong flowers to her once. Tisk Tisk.

Most of the story is told by Gina Zoberski. Gina is a young widow. Her beloved husband, Drew died two years before the story begins and Gina is floundering. She compulsively makes lists to try and keep her head above water. She is the owner of Grilled G’s a gourmet grilled cheese food truck.

Gina has a daughter, May. Gina has no idea what she is doing with May. May and Drew were very close and Gina frequently feels that May has turned into a different person since Drew’s death. Gina doesn’t know how to reach her. From May’s perspective, Gina doesn’t seem to care. Gina doesn’t talk about Drew to May and therefore May thinks Gina wants to forget about him. Both are suffering but don’t know how to reach each other.

After sending out an email to her daughters telling them why their Chrismas gifts to her fell short of the mark, Lorraine suffers a massive stroke. The stroke causes Lorraine to re-think her decision to not tell her daughters (Gina and her sister Vicky) a secret that she has kept from them. This is not a “where I hid my ring” secret but a secret that truly affects their lives. In going through her mother’s paperwork, Gina stumbles upon her birth certificate and has questions. Since Lorraine cannot speak because of the stroke, Gina turns to Roza, her old nanny and her mother’s closest friend. Roza claims no knowledge of the birth certificate discrepancy but Gina doesn’t believe her.

While I would categorize this as a family saga, it isn’t heavy as many in that classification tend to be. This is a story that leaves some questions but resolves the most important issues. It was a pleasant read and the story moved along quickly. The biggest surprise to me is that the story takes place in Milwaukee. I don’t know if I have read another book that takes place in Milwaukee. Since I live in that area, it was fun.

If you are looking for a light summer read, I think you might enjoy this story. There is enough suspense and story to keep you reading.

Thanks for reading!






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Beach House Reunion by Mary Alice Monroe

Dear Fellow Reader,

You would never know it from the weather around here but it must be time for summer. The telltale sign? A new Mary Alice Monroe book! The Beach House series continues with this novel. The Rutledge family returns with some new characters and many old favorites.

In Beach House Reunion, Cara has returned to her beach house from working in Tennessee. She loved her time in Tennessee but since she has adopted a baby, she feels the need to come home to her beach house to take care of her new love and share her with the people she feels are the most important to her. Her niece Linnea joins her for the summer to help take care of the baby. Linnea needs some time to find out what she wants to do with her life post-college.

Can both women find love and happiness on the Isle of Palms? It is once again the restful and replenishing home that both need to make their life decisions. And when crisis hits the Rutledge family, can they bond and believe in their love to hold them through the crisis? Can they hold firm through life altering changes?

The plot may sound trite but it is handled well in the story. It is a beach read and beach reads hold a place in my heart. I need to read these kinds of stories from time to time (or more often…) just to remember why I love to read. With these types of books, you can get lost reading for a period of time. You may be able to figure out what will happen but that doesn’t matter. You get the feeling of the house, the Isle of Palms, the characters and even sometimes the humidity. I like Mary Alice Monroe along with Ann Rivers Siddons, Mariah Steward, Dorothea Benton Frank, Debbie Macomber and the grandmother of this type of book, Rosamunde Pilcher. They all write stories about strong, good women finding love and solving problems.

Are they any new summer books that you are looking forward to? I was just looking through the list of books coming out soon and was surprised to see that Bill Clinton (yes, that Bill Clinton) has teamed up with James Patterson for a book entitled The President is Missing. I must have missed the hype for this book. It might be very interesting.

Ruth Ware, author of The Woman in Cabin 10, has a new book coming out. The Death of Mrs. Westaway will be out May 29. While I was not a fan of The Woman in Cabin 10, it was very popular.

I am still buried under the books that I picked at the end of last year. I am trying to work my way through but I seem to get easily distracted by other books. My book club books for the month are The Circle by Dave Eggers and Turtles all the Way Down by John Green. I have read the John Green book (reviewed here https://cecooney.com/2018/01/24/turtles-all-the-way-down-by-john-green/) In the meantime, I will try and sneak in a few other books.

What are you reading? Do you read more in the summer?

Thanks for reading!


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