Recommended Reads

September was another eclectic reading month with books that ran from politics to true crime. (And no, the politics and true crime are not related.)

The Guilt Trip by Sandi Jones:  Sandi, Sandi, Sandi.  I had such high expectations. After all, your debut was a Reese Witherspoon pick, and she’s seldom steered me wrong.  Alas, your latest thriller, The Guilt Trip failed to thrill me.

(Spoiler Alert) In the book, three couples travel from the UK to a destination wedding in Portugal. Over the course of a weekend, several secrets are revealed which threated to destroy all three relationships.  For Rachel, it’s a secret she’s been keeping for 17 years. Revealing the truth will destroy hers and her best friends’ marriages.  The guilt she carries is tearing her apart (hence the name, The Guilt Trip). Meanwhile, xxxxx fears her husband, John, may be having an affair with his brother’s fiancé, Amy who’s hiding a secret of her own.

With the premise set, the rest of the book is Rachel battling with both her conscience and her suspicions.  Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Law & Order, but I could spot the plot twists coming miles away. What’s more, for a forty-something year old woman, Rachel was incredibly naïve and gullible.  I get that she spent 17 years as a suburban housewife and was sheltered, but seriously? Did she never watch Vera or Midsomers Murders?

I feel bad because it’s obvious Jones is a good writer. But, she missed the mark with The Guilt Trip.  Maybe her next one will be better.

The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins : From psychological thriller to true crime.  How’s that for a jump?

In 1897, the torso of a man washed ashore in New York City.  A short time later, his legs appeared in a completely different section of the city.  The police investigation leads to a murdered masseuse and a love triangle involving the dead man, a shiftless barber and an abortion provider. Who killed Wilem Guldensuppe and how?

The Murder of the Century is about more than a gruesome murder however.  It’s about the tabloid war between Hearst and Pulitzer at the pinnacle of yellow journalism. Obsessed with scooping one another,  the two papers pull out all the stops trying to solve the murder.  As a result, the Guldensuppe murder marks the first time the press and police work together on an investigation.

I found the how-done-it part of the mystery fascinating. I loved reading how the police and District Attorney matched wits with the overly confident suspects as well as all the little side turns the narrative took.  Paul Collins has a very droll style of writing that results in some laugh out loud moments.  He’s inspired me to pick up another one of his books.

The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe’:  Billed as a story of the Titanic, the Second Mrs. Astor focuses on the controversial and tragic marriage of Madeline and Col. Jacob Astor. For those who don’t know, Col. Astor died on the Titanic.  His young wife and unborn son survived. (By young, I mean extremely young. Madeline was 29 years younger than her husband.)

Authors of fictional biographies face the unique challenge of taking historical records and imbuing them with emotion. This is easy when they have a primary source like a diary. More often than not, though, they are forced – like Abe’ was — to use a combination of context clues and imagination and hope the result is realistic.

Abe’ mades two very wise writing decisions decision in this book.  First, she portrays the Astor marriage as a special, one-of-a-kind true love affair. Her gentle hand helps erase any skeeve factor modern readers might have regarding the age difference.

Second, she begins at the very start of their courtship, allowing readers to fall in love along with them.  That way, by the time the inevitable tragedy occurs, readers have become emotionally invested in the outcome.

I got serious Titanic the Movie vibes off the book.  Abe did a great job of capturing the same type of opulence and romance. If you loved the movie, or just love a good romantic (but tragic) story, you will enjoy this book.

(You’ll find a special note regarding The Second Mrs. Astor and other reads at the bottom of the page.)

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Differ on Religion and Politics by Jonathan Haidt: At last, we come to the politics.  I saved the controversial for last.  If you’re not in the mood, scroll down to the announcement.

I’m not going to spend a ton of time describing the book because, frankly, to explain everything Dr. Haidt would take paragraphs.  The bottom line is this: Based on years spent studying the social psychology of liberals and conservatives, Dr. Haidt discovered that out of the seven pillars of moral foundation, liberals focus on two – justice and care – while conservatives focus on all seven.

It’s important to note here that broader does not mean better.  Dr. Haidt is quick to point out that neither side is 100% correct. (Although does admit that as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, he’s biased toward the left.)

What this book does explain explain why left-leaning politicians find it difficult to reach right-leaning voters and vice versa.  They aren’t delivering the right message. Therefore, rather than continue shouting the same old messages at one another over and over or clinging to the same stereotypical narratives, people should stop and listen to what really matters to the other side.  (Told you it was controversial).

If you want to learn more, Dr. Haidt gave a great TedTalk on this same topic.

I’ve Gone Video!

If you enjoy my recommended read posts, I encourage you to join me on Off the Shelf, a new online program hosted by Renee Ryan and yours truly.  Every few weeks, Renee and I, along with a guest reviewer, influencer or author, take a deep dive into a currently popular read.  We look at what the author did right and what the author could have done better. This past week we discussed The Second Mrs. Astor.

The show is on Facebook and on YouTube.  I hope you’ll take the time to check it out and leave a comment.  Why not subscribe to our YouTube channel as well?


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