Tag Archives: books

Six Months Later, Part I

It’s been almost six months to the day since my last entry, when I completed The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. You might be pleased (surprised?) to learn I have enjoyed so many books since then. So many! I have finished fourteen books in the last six months, which — if you have followed this blog for any length of time — is a lot for me.

Audiobooks are pretty much my main jam these days, what with busy, painty, charcoal-smudged fingers and lots of driving being fairly big components of my life, but it’s all good. (Did you know that your brain recognizes content gathered via listening comprehension and reading comprehension the same way?)

Since I have so many books to review, and since I have Certain Feelings about so many of them, I am going to break this up into several entries, for my sake and yours.

Let’s get to the books!

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#3. The Fireman by Joe Hill

I received a signed copy of this in hardback novel form from my husband, Joe. It is proudly displayed on a bookshelf in my office, but I was nervous to carry it around town, so I downloaded the audiobook version of this on Overdrive and occasionally read some passages out of the book. It’s a doozy of a story: a wild epidemic sweeps across the United States, perhaps the whole world, which causes people to break out into “Dragonscale” markings all over their body. When agitated or panicked, the sufferer bursts into flame.

We see this epidemic through the eyes of Harper Grayson, a school nurse obsessed with Mary Poppins and expecting her first child in the midst of what looks like the apocalypse. The first third of the book is riveting and epic, as we see how people are reacting to Dragonscale as it spreads. Apartment buildings burn to ash every other day, the Internet goes deep underground, and rabid radio hosts declare Dragonscale a biblical act of world-cleansing. Harper tries to stave off her own terror by caring for the infected as a nurse and humming cheerful songs to herself while her husband becomes unhinged with paranoia and dread. One night during a shift at the overwhelmed local hospital, Harper meets a man dressed as a fireman caring for a shy young boy. He seems to know more about the deadly spore causing the spontaneous combustion than he lets on, but nobody can survive its blaze…right?

This story then pivots pretty sharply into what I will describe here as an unusual refugee camp for Dragonscale sufferers who have not yet burst into flame. There is A LOT more to it than that, but as the story of Dragonscale tightens in geographical proximity, it sprawls out with conspiracy and good old-fashioned “People Are the Real Apocalypse” character arcs very reminiscent of Hill’s father. It remains compelling but for different reasons than the threat of self-immolation. Which…says a lot.

Rating: 4 out of 5 cartons of summer camp apple juice.

4

#4. Fellside by M.R. Carey

Joe and I listened to this audiobook on a road trip to a college friend’s wedding in Iowa. It is an incredibly even-paced story about memory, redemption, and ghosts. Yes, ghosts. (It’s M.R. Carey, it’s going to be good-weird.) Sent to the infamously cruel women’s prison, Fellside, for her potential role in a child’s murder, Jess Moulson is a heroin addict trying to remember the last days of her life before she woke up in a hospital as an arson suspect. Her dark feelings and fragmented memories lead her to a strange, dream-like place where she meets a lonely spirit who doesn’t remember who they are. Could this be the young boy for whose murder she’s being charged? Can he help her remember the events of his death?

In the midst of all of this, can she survive Fellside itself? It’s an ominous place led by the ruthless inmate Harriet Grace and her numerous cronies, with several people in positions of power also caught in her web of violence. There are a lot of things working against Jess, most of all her own sense of guilt and confusion.

I really loved this book, it felt like a fairy tale hidden inside a mystery/crime novel. It is very different than The Girl with All the Gifts, so I am sure some fans of that probably didn’t connect to this one in the same way. But I thought it was wonderfully written, and it’s a must-read for the adventurous genre-surfer.

Rating: 5 out of 5 mugs of black coffee.

5

#5. The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber

This one was recommended by a friend of mine, and it was a great rec indeed! First and foremost, the absolute avalanche of research and investigation in this book is so impressive. It’s a true crime story that encompasses so many different players over such a a long period of time: hospital staff, family members, detectives, whistle-blowers, etc. This book does its homework and then goes back for extra credit, and it never feels dry or unnecessary.

Charlie Cullen, later dubbed “The Angel of Death,” was a nurse who worked for sixteen years across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It is almost impossible to estimate how many people he killed by intentional overdose and excessive medical intervention. His motives have always been equally hard to nail down: he was delivering neither mercy nor vengeance in his action, and all of his victims appear to be random. While the questions surrounding Cullen are disturbing, perhaps more disturbing is that many hospital staff members suspected Cullen of foul play over the years, but little more was done than transfer him on to other hospitals. Graeber goes in depth to explore not just how Cullen committed his crimes, but why he was allowed so much continued access to patients in spite of red flag after red flag.

Rating: 5 out of 5 cups of ice chips brought in by an overly helpful night nurse. Actually, um, can maybe someone else bring me something?

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#6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This book was…fine. It reminded me a lot of Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood, which I read last year and didn’t love. We have an unreliable narrator in Rachel, a troubled woman who spends lots of time riding trains. She enjoys seeing a young couple in one of the neighborhoods she passes going about their life — a happy-looking wife out in the garden during the day, the wife and her husband eating dinner together in the evening. One night, she sees something incredibly out of the ordinary and shortly thereafter, the young woman goes missing. Rachel immediately dives into investigating her disappearance, as it seems the only thing driving her forward in a life that has been marked by recent misery.

This story is told by three different women in an overlapping timeline: Rachel, our train-riding sleuth; her ex-husband’s new(ish) wife Anna, who lives near the couple; and Megan, the woman who goes missing. I liked this device, that it focused on the women’s perspectives and revealed the mystery in parts through each of them.

What I did not care for immensely was Rachel’s part in everything. Though we are given a reason why Rachel feels so fiercely connected to everything going on, her motivation still feels very flimsy. Rachel explains fairly early on that she has become an alcoholic, and that she is a profoundly unhappy person following a heartbreaking divorce. She also used to live in the same neighborhood as the couple. So looking into Megan’s disappearance gives her something to do, and to feel useful…but she goes SO FAR into this, you guys. SO FAR. And I just didn’t entirely understand it, except that Hawkins wanted to give us an, “A-HA!” moment at some point where her story bumped up against the other women, who seemed so put-together in comparison but had secrets all their own.

Something nice that came out of this was that I spent an afternoon in the park eating tacos and listening to a large portion of this, which was fun. But that has less to do with the novel and more to do with the sunshine…and tacos.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 gin & tonics.

2

#7. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

This was a paperback book that I read, for real and for true. I bought it toward the end of 2016 and actually started it around Christmastime, but got sidetracked and read the bulk of it in April. Some of it during a very chill beach house weekend:

I really loved this book. It was a departure from all the…you know, terrifying and gruesome stuff I read most of the time. It’s a story about Lotto and Mathilde during the course of their marriage. The title, Fates and Furies, describes not only the deep belief Otto holds that the gods and the stars have brought them to one another, but also the ebb and flow of joy and despair during their time together. The structure is impressive, moving through the time and space of the characters but also their deep emotional states and their personal histories. There are parts that take on the dramatic, operatic style of Lotto and the quieter, keenly aware style of Mathilde. It paints a beautiful, strange portrait of a life shared and of two lives individually experienced. This one is a must-read.

Rating: 5 out of 5 glasses of wine at yet another dinner party with old friends.


Keep an eye out for Part II (and maybe Part III) in the next week or two. I may actually hit my target of 25 books in 2017, that would be pretty great! Happy reading and/or listening!

What books have you been reading? Do you prefer audiobooks, ebooks, or traditional books?

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Auld Lang Syne, Already!

Happy 2016, book lovers and other ne’er-do-wells! Another year, another post about how quickly each year seems to go, etc. Last I checked in with the book blog, I had just completed and reviewed Sharp Objects as the summer started to wind down. A lot has happened since then! This past fall I started taking art classes at a local community college. I also did my first makers’ fair downtown and my first gallery showing (the same week, to boot!). I recently got a promotion at work, too, so I have been making a few preparations for that. 2015 ended on a high note for me, though I know it was a hard one for many. Love and light to everyone in this brand new year, I hope it is kind to each of you. ♥

I managed to complete ~12 books this year! What with all the drawings and night classes and side hustles, I think that’s actually rather good. Here are the last ~6 books I read in 2015, and a few notes on each one:

#7. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham: I did not think I liked Lena Dunham after my annoyance with Tiny Furniture at SXSW several years back, but this book is very good. I feel like she has grown a lot as a person since that film’s premiere, and she talks about that in the memoir. I listened to this book via Overdrive (of course!), which was extra enjoyable, as she narrates her own life story with earnest humor and warmth. Dunham weaves personal vignettes together to create a surprisingly universal understanding of girlhood, womanhood, and the in-between spaces of awkwardness and hope.

#8. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple: This book’s format is quite inventive! Constructed out of seemingly unrelated emails, advertisements, and newspaper clippings, the story highlights one young girl’s attempts to locate her mother after she disappears from a cruise ship bound for Antarctica.

#9. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: My favorite fiction novel of the year! Above all else, it is a very affecting love story, and if you’re into that kind of thing I recommend you stop what you are doing to read and/or listen to it at once. (Again, Overdrive.)

#10. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan: A nonfiction memoir based on medical research, family and friend accounts, and her own bizarre writings from the period of time Cahalan was in the throes of undiagnosed Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. The disease caused drastic system upheavals, hallucinations, violent outbursts, and memory loss. The book details the process of her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

#11. Tampa by Alissa Nutting: One of the reviews of this book is that it is “sly and salacious storytelling” and it certainly is. A young English teacher is way too into her prepubescent male students. Chaos ensues.

#12. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo: This is my favorite nonfiction book of the year, and probably the one that has truly affected my life the most. The #KonMari Method has changed the way I do laundry, buy goods, clean house, and value the things I own. It has affected my views on pretty much everything material about my life! The basic premise is this: only keep things in your home that bring you joy. Make the most of your space by making sure you actually love the things surrounding you. It is amazing how much stuff we hold onto that has already gone well beyond serving its purpose. My husband Joe has embraced the method alongside me, and I can tell you that our closets, cupboards, and shelves have never been in better shape. The tidying has had obvious physical benefits — yay, fewer daily chores! — but it has also had an influence on our spirits. We have felt much lighter and freer, depending less on our possessions. It is an excellent little book to have at your side if you have ever felt overwhelmed by clutter.

Honorable Mention: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by  Alan Bradley. I almost finished this one by the end of 2015. (I seriously have less than 2 hours on the audiobook!) It’s a fun little period piece, a postwar British murder mystery as told by a poison-obsessed eleven-year-old.

May this year bring you great stories and plenty of piping hot tea!

reading into 2016

xo – Sarah

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#6. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Greetings once again, book and beverage lovers! I had grand schemes to write another round-up for the end of the summer, but at this point that would be a *huge* post and I realized it would be better to break it up. Since reading Book #5 (Feed) I have gone on to complete five more books, with several more that I will finish by the end of the month. Whew! I must once again sing the praises of the Overdrive program, which I have really embraced while working on my drawings the past few weeks. It has been great especially for detail work, to have something to concentrate on besides the repetition of dots, lines, and large color sections.

sharp-objects

The first audiobook of the season to review is Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Flynn’s debut novel follows a young journalist named Camille on a hesitant journey back home to her family’s estate in rural Missouri. A middle schooler named Natalie Keene has disappeared in Camille’s hometown of Wind Gap, months after another local girl disappeared and was found murdered in the forest.

It is hard for her to be around her family while she investigates the mysterious cases. Camille is over a decade older than her teenage sister Amma, a wild-child town bully who caters to her mother’s creepy whims to dress her in babyish clothes and coddle her as though she were incredibly frail. Being home also causes her to experience painful recollections of the sister she lost in childhood, Marian. Their mother Adora is a cold, strange woman who simultaneously exudes Southern hospitality and martyred hostility as she sees to the various goings-on around town and in the lives of her daughters.

As Camille learns more about the preteens who went missing in Wind Gap, she must confront hard truths about her own childhood in the town and the uneasy relationships she has with those she grew up with. As weeks pass and the possibilities narrow, she realizes she may very well be in danger herself.

This novel has a great gothic feel, portraying the town and the old house as eerie places full of restless young girls, darkness, and deep secrets. It had some twists that I was genuinely not expecting, which kept me listening late into the night as I tried to figure out the hidden motivations of not just whoever hurt the missing girls, but of Camille, her family, and those aiding her in her research.

If you enjoyed Dark Places, I suspect this would be a compelling book to check out!

Caffeinated Accompaniment: A large glass of iced tea with mint is a perfect drink to pair with this story about muggy nights in a small Missouri town. Drink it on the lawn as the sun sets, but leave your porch lights blaring: you never know who may be out there among the trees.

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2015 Spring Round-Up

Happy June, all you readerly types!

Spring just flew right on by, didn’t it? I am happy to say that while :ahem: enjoying bountiful spring showers and helping my preschoolers wrap up their year, I did manage to get a few books read. Here is the 2015 Spring Round-Up for Earl Grey and a Million Words.

#2. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

yes-please-9781447283287This was a fun read! I have enjoyed Amy Poehler’s work since Upright Citizen’s Brigade somehow made its way onto Comedy Central in the late ’90s. Though I didn’t always understand the performance art vibe of the quirky sketch show, I liked the brazen energy of that little blond woman. This book acts as a scrapbook of her childhood, the formation of her career, the heartache of divorce, and the joy she finds in her sons and her deep friendships with other funny women. The section devoted to Parks and Rec made me predictably weepy, and her reflections on motherhood are sincerely charming. I especially appreciate how much she focuses on embracing joy in life and being kind. It feels so genuine, and reappears constantly as she describes crummy jobs and meeting big-time celebs on SNL. Through the highs and the lows, be kind to your heart. Laugh a lot. Help when you can. It’s all great advice.

Yes Please is an excellent autobiography; I am only sad that I didn’t wait and purchase this one on audiobook. She reads the book herself, and I can only imagine it’s a riot.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: Amy declares in her book that she drinks tea instead of coffee, as it has always been the beverage she drinks with her Bostonian mother while they chat. In this spirit, I recommend Paris Tea by Harney and Sons: a bright, fruity black tea with dreamy vanilla tones.

#3. The Martian by Andy Weir

martianI had read about this book on a Best of the Year list somewhere, so I picked it up in paperback toward the end of March. I won’t lie: this took me a long time to read. It’s a fantastic sci-fi survival story, but it focuses intently on very real science. It was the most frustrating part of the book for me — as I am not the most tech-minded person out there — but also the thing I admired most about it. Weir took real-life space travel protocol and extrapolated it out into a very readable, suspenseful book. It became a bestseller overnight for good reason. Hell, there’s even a movie adaption:

If you don’t mind reading page after page of water condensation logs and satellite trajectories, you will be rewarded with plenty of laugh-out-loud gallows humor provided by our protagonist Mark Watney. He’s stranded on Mars after a freak accident during a sandstorm, but he’s not ready to throw in the towel just yet. His tenacity is impressive, though perhaps misplaced: the terrain is unforgiving, the supplies are low, and Mark has an unfortunate gift for making things explode. Armed with botany skills and an annoyingly vast array of 1970s music and TV shows left behind by his crew mates, Mark tries his damnedest to stay alive long enough to get rescued. That is, if anyone ever realizes he’s still up there.

I would definitely recommend this one. It opened me up to the world of hard sci-fi, and I am excited to see what they do with the film.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: For the truly brave of heart, you could do as Watney does and enjoy some Martian coffee: a caffeine pill dissolved in water.

#4. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

CBJccHTUYAATN2cI love this book! I’ll say that again: I LOVE THIS BOOK! This was a spot-on recommendation from a friend of mine who knows I enjoy horror stories. The book itself is formatted like an Ikea catalogue, with glossy, wide pages, order forms & advertisements, and chapter headings resembling product descriptions. This book manages to combine the soul-sucking nature of retail work with the chilling ambiance of a haunted house. Imagine, if you will, a haunted house. Now imagine a superstore that resembles a gigantic house. Think ghosts can live there?

They totally can.

At the Cuyahoga branch of Orsk, an unabashed copycat of Ikea, the workers are starting to notice some strange things. Gross smells, misplaced furniture, water stains, and creepy scrawling notes in the bathrooms are becoming too prevalent to ignore. One night, some of them stay behind to figure out what’s really going on when the store closes. They’re in for far more than affordable living room sets and knockoff Swedish cabinetry.

I started this book on a road trip to Iowa and completed it by the time we settled into our hotel. The action moves quickly, even before any of the hapless employees realize the sinister nature of the Orsk building. It’s a unique setup for a horror story and is filled with characters you root for as they try to figure out a way to escape their horrifying ordeal.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: If you’re anything like our disgruntled retail saleswoman Amy, reluctant protagonist, you’ll opt for a refillable styrofoam cup of gas station coffee. If you’re more like me, you’ll raise a delicious (though slightly overpriced) cup of Starbucks in honor of this consumerist nightmare.

#5. Feed by Mira Grant

feedFeed is a dystopian horror story set in 2040, one generation after The Rising. The Rising refers to the fateful outbreak of Kellis-Amberlee, a virus which turns humans into zombies. We view this world through the eyes of Georgia Mason, voracious Newsie in this frightening place. She works with her brother Shawn and their partner Buffy as they try to make a name for themselves in the highly competitive blogosphere. In this future, blogging has become a more credible news source than mainstream outlets, as most network news stations refused to report on the Kellis-Amberlee virus when it first struck. In a life-changing development in their journalistic careers, Georgia, Shawn, and Buffy win a spot following the presidential campaign of a Midwestern senator and hit the road with his whole political team. But politicking after The Rising is a lot different than it used to be: zombie animals, frightened communities barricaded behind chain link fences, constant blood tests, and security sabotages make the campaign trail a potentially deadly place. In the face of viral outbreaks and political backstabbing, Georgia is determined to deliver the news…no matter the cost.

This was an interesting read, but I didn’t find myself as invested in the story as I had hoped. I will say, the world-building is phenomenal. It’s filled with detailed descriptions of daily life, public policy, transportation procedures, and security features in a world where zombies are just a normal part of the everyday. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. The main characters, however, did not feel as real to me as the world they inhabited. Georgia is a no-nonsense, high-stakes news reporter from the first page, but her initial motivation is never terribly clear to me. She rants about the power of the truth extensively and has a reputation for being a newshound, but most of the blog excerpts we read are not actually news stories. They are opinion-laden editorials about why she likes reporting the news so damn much!

About halfway in, when the plot thickened and the team was threatened from every possible direction, I was already kind of burned out on Georgia’s truth and justice monologues. I think if her news obsession had been portrayed as more of a growing realization that the search for truth was deeper and different than she had imagined it would be, if there had been some hint of naïveté at the beginning, I think I would have been able to relate to her better. As she is, she is a very strong lead character. She’s just flat.

The other characters feel equally flat, except maybe Buffy. She’s introduced as a sort of in-her-own-world boho figure, writing fiction for the site and never stepping into any zombie hot zones. As the novel progresses, we also learn she’s incredibly skilled in computer programming and creating secret bugging devices, as well as being devoutly religious on the down-low. She’s an interesting character, though unfortunately we don’t see as much of her as we do Georgia and Shawn. Also, just as a side note, Georgia and Shawn’s relationship is very awkward to me. They joke about their codependency, but it does little to lighten the feeling that their togetherness is excessive. Having a sibling myself, I couldn’t 100% get behind their repeated declarations of love for each other. Maybe if I lived in a world overrun with zombies, I would feel differently about it.

I recommend this one if you are interested in zombie stories, but otherwise it didn’t resonate too strongly with me. I might eventually read the others in this trilogy, but I’m still unsure.

Caffeinated Accompaniment: Even in this screwed-up version of the future of America, there’s still Starbucks. So treat yourself to a Vanilla Creme Frappuccino and watch the world end.

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#1. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

dark-places-book-cover“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.” – Libby Day

Dark Places is the story of Libby Day, sole survivor of the Kinnakee Kansas Massacre. There’s usually a variation somehow including the words “satanic” or “farmhouse” when discussed in schoolyard chants or sensationalist newspaper articles. Libby Day’s mother and two sisters were brutally murdered in the wee morning hours of January 3, 1985, and her older brother Ben is in prison for the crime. Eight-year-old Libby escaped by climbing out a window and hiding in the snow until dawn, losing some toes and part of a finger in the process. Now, Libby is in her early 30s and all the money from well-wishers is drying up. Unable to function normally since the massacre, she’s desperate for cash so she won’t have to work in an office with human beings, whom she seems to roundly despise.

Enter Lyle, member of the mysterious K.C. — Kill Club. He has an offer for Libby if she comes to one of their meetings and is willing to revisit the horrible night her family was destroyed. Did Ben really butcher their family, or were stranger things afoot that day in Kinnakee? Needing the money and hoping beyond hope she can salvage some kind of relationship with Ben, Libby sets out on the path to discover what really went wrong in one bad day.

I really enjoyed this book. I listened to the audiobook version (read by Rebecca Lowman, Cassandra Campbell, and Mark Deakins) with Joe when we were driving to and from the Chicago area last weekend to attend a wedding. (I made the joke around midnight in Missouri that listening to a story about a Midwestern axe murder that occurred IN JANUARY was probably not the *wisest* thing to do for our emotional states, but neither of us had any nightmares.)

If you’re into mystery and split narratives (told by multiple POVs between January 2, 1985 and the present-ish day), this might be right up your alley. I especially appreciated the raw, oddly endearing characterization of Libby: a mean, nearly feral woman whose heart was broken when she was 8 and has refused to ever fully put it back together.

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2014 Round-Up

Another year has come and gone, and unfortunately I didn’t hit my target of 26 books. I’m not incredibly surprised, though I am disappointed I didn’t get to some of the books I had set aside for the year. It was another moving-across-the-country year, coming back to the Oklahoma City area from Santa Fe, and that process wound up eating a lot of time. I also got back into my comic series this past fall, so I’ve spent much more time with ink pens than novels the past four months!

2014 Favorites:

  • NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
  • Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
  • Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

My hope for 2015 is a solid 25 books. Wish me luck!

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#14. Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright

christmas jars

My very own Christmas Jar.

Last Christmas, my mother gave my husband and me a jar filled with coins and a few $1 and $5 bills. She also gave one to my brother and his wife. With the jars came a copy of this book for each of us, Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright. I thought it was an incredibly neat idea, and was very moved by the gift even before I knew the full meaning behind it. I had intended to read the book shortly after receiving it, but amidst the post-holiday travel and breakneck speed of our life at the time, I just never got around to it that winter.

Fast forward to this holiday season: Joe and I put a charitable spin on our gift-exchanging this year, and my mom commented that it reminded her a bit of Christmas Jars. This evening I turned on the Christmas tree lights one last time and finally read this novella.

This is a quick read at just over 100 pages, a feel-good book for a feel-good season. Hope, an aspiring newspaper writer, receives an anonymous gift one miserable Christmas Eve: a glass jar full of coins and $20 bills with the words “Christmas Jar” written on it. She tries to track down the origins of this generous, bizarre tradition, but very few recipients of jars from years past are willing to speculate much on them except to say that some things don’t need to be understood to be appreciated. She eventually gets a lead on a family in town who restores old furniture and slowly unravels the mystery. After spending many months with the quirky Maxwell family, she faces a conflict: write the story and gain the glory, or keep the trust they have all come to place in her. Though Hope is not sure how to resolve her feelings, she knows deep down that the choices she makes leading up to that year’s Christmas will define the depth of her character.

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