My favorite books of 2017

bookimage for blog

While I didn’t top last year’s 37 books, I read far more in book form and listened far less on audio in 2017. The end of my 2-plus-hour commute helped with that.

So, for 2017, I read 36 books with two being on audio. In comparison, of 2016’s 37 books, 15 were on audio. I’m taking this as a victory. For 2018, I am going to try to focus more on nonfiction and new writers.

Without further ado, my favorites of 2017:

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen: A beautifully written and insightful autobiography.

“Jane Steele” by Lyndsay Faye: A retelling of “Jane Eyre” with a decidedly darker heroine and delicious writing. For more on Faye:

“Did You Ever Have a Family?” by Bill Clegg: A haunting story of a family tragedy and its aftermath.

“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte: I cannot believe it took me so long to read this. Loved, loved, loved it. For more:

“Marlena” by Julie Buntin: I’m so glad this has raked in the accolades. If you’ve ever been a teenage girl — or if you’ve ever wanted to understand the drama and the push and pull of female friendship — give this debut a try. It is fabulous. For more:

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gaasi: Gorgeously written, this story of two half-sisters who never knew each other traces the slave trade and its devastation in Africa, Europe and America. The novel comes full circle after following generations of the families through 300 years of history.

“Beartown” by Fredrik Backman: A violent act tears apart a small, struggling town united in its adoration of its promising youth hockey team.

“Mischling” by Affinity Konar: I’m drawn to books about World War II and the Holocaust, especially those dealing with the human impact and lesser-known heroism. But lately it seemed like the books I had chosen were lackluster. Not this one. The heroines of the novel are twin girls saved and ruined at Auschwitz by Dr. Josef Mengele. This historical fiction is also about the costs of forgiveness and revenge.

“The Kitchen House” by Kathleen Grissom: A white servant girl from Ireland finds herself cast with slaves on a plantation and later as the mistress of the house. It’s a story of families, the ones you make and the ones you’re born into, and loyalty. If you liked “The Invention of Wings,” you’ll like this.

And the biggest surprise was how much I liked “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” by Matthew Sullivan, a recommendation from my independent bookstore. I figured it to be a light story about quirky characters who frequent a bookstore. It’s so much more: a  murder mystery, a story of friendship, a heartbreaking search, and the damage families can do. The characters were mostly compelling and there were enough twists to make this a page-turner.

What were your favorite books of 2017? I’m always looking for great recommendations.



Saul Black thrillers: Not for the faint of heart

book blog thrillers

Fans of Gillian Flynn and Karin Slaughter: Get to know Saul Black.

Dark, gruesome, creative, twisty, his two novels — “The Killing Lessons” (2015) and “LoveMurder” (2017) — won’t disappoint.

“The Killing Lessons” introduces us to Detective Valerie Hart, who, like most interesting characters, is flawed and complicated and often unlikable. Two psychopathic predators (one haunted by the abusive Mama Jean, the other a poseur tagalong who wants a friend) leave a trail of bodies — most of them abducted, tortured women left with objects inside of them — and a lone survivor: A 10-year-old girl who holds the key to finding them. There’s a rhyme and reason for the murdering pair’s madness and as Hart slowly unravels the mystery, it’s a race against time.

Hart returns in “LoveMurder.” Six years have passed since Hart helped put the mesmerizingly smart and beautiful Katherine Glass in prison for a series of gruesome torture murders. But her partner in crime was never found and now he’s back — his style tweaked a bit — and he’s letting Hart know it. The detective, struggling to commit to a future not tainted by the worst of mankind, knows the only way to solve the cryptic puzzles the killer sends her in the mail is to go toe-to-toe with Glass.

Hart and Glass are drawn to each other, which scares the detective and amuses the convict. The verbal interplay between the two is great. Hart — and her colleagues and family — fear the collaboration spells nothing but trouble.

Valerie thought of her grandfather, the last member of her family for whom the Devil was a real entity. What had he said? First the Devil lets you know there are terrible things. Then he tells you which room they’re in. Then he invites you in to look. And before you know it you can’t find the door to get out. Before you know it you’re one of the terrible things. 

There is witty repartee between Glass and Hart. Glass cajoles, flirts, ridicules, condescends and verges too close for comfort.

“I’m not saying we’re the same,” Katherine said. “I’m saying we’re close. You see the world for what it is and do everything you can to make it otherwise. I see the same world and do everything I can to make it work for me. We’ve both looking at the same blank canvas. It’s just what we paint on it that’s different.”

The killer’s MO is personal for Hart, but she wonders if survival would be worth it to the victim:

Weren’t there things you’d rather not survive? Weren’t there things that someone could do to you that would leave you so changed, so unrecognizable, and so immune to love that you’d wish you hadn’t survived?

It’s a story of love and betrayal, God and the devil, truth and lies, life and death. Just like Glass and her Man in the Mask, from whom hope “was their aphrodisiacal drug of choice,” pleasure and pain are intertwined.

The best part: Huge twists that I didn’t see coming (and I’m usually really good at predicting whodunit).

The writing is clever and creative, the crimes brutal and unnerving. An abducted woman, thinking back to what Bede, a monk in 8th-Century England said about life:

A little bird … flying through the night flies in one window, through the bright hall, and out the window at the other end. It takes no time at all, just a second. That’s your life. You’re the bird and the world is the feasting hall. You have to make sure you see everything. All of it, as much as you can. You’ve got a moment, that’s all.




The lost girls: ‘Marlena’ and ‘The Girls’

Julie Buntin and Emma Cline immerse the reader in the female teenager psyche. I highly recommend these debut novels.


“We all want to be seen. ”
― Emma Cline, The Girls”

Female friendship is fraught with opposites: loyalty and betrayal, love and hate, envy and sympathy, ego and insecurity, and power and submission.

Two recent books dig deep into girls and their need to belong. “Marlena” by Julie Buntin takes place in the not-so-distant past in a fictional town based on Petoskey in northern Michigan. Buntin nails the us vs. them, the mansion vs. trailer undercurrent. “The Girls” by Emma Cline, a favorite from 2016, is stunning in its imagining of just what would lure girls to a Manson-like cult in the late ’60s.

I cannot recommend these books highly enough. The writing, the characters, the immersion into the female teenage psyche.

Both Catherine (trying to reinvent herself as the more risky Cat after moving away from all she knew in Pontiac) in “Marlena” and Evie in “The Girls”  are lost. They are children of divorce whose parents are absent — physically, economically, emotionally or all three. The girls’ mothers are struggling to find themselves, Cat’s mom in a dead-end town with few options and Evie’s stylish mom trying to break out with a career when women were just starting to look beyond the home. The fathers are on the fringes.

Evie says of her mother: “There are ways I made sense of my mother later. How fifteen years with my father had left great blanks in her life that she was learning to fill, like those stroke victims relearning the words for car and table and pencil. The shy way she looked for herself in the oracle of the mirror, as critical and hopeful as an adolescent. Sucking in her stomach to zip her new jeans.”

Cat and Evie are desperate to fit in, to feel the pull and security of a friend. They have drifted from their other friends. They are easy targets for girls they wouldn’t normally be drawn to. Both become accomplices to girls who are worse off than they are — underfed, without direction, neglected, victims of sexual abuse. But to each girl, they are stronger together.

In “Marlena”:  “Together, we had power.… Nothing could hurt us, as long as we weren’t alone.”

“I felt a grateful wonder at the fated-ness of our friendship.”

Cat and Evie are prey to girls eager to feel power and influence. Suzanne, a motherly figure and favorite of Russell (think Charles Manson), knows just how to lure Evie in.

“Girls are the only ones who can really give each other close attention, the kind we equate with being loved. They noticed what we want noticed.”

The attention doesn’t go unnoticed by Evie: “I was already starting to understand that other people’s admiration asked something of you. That you had to shape yourself around it.”

Evie and Cat are on the edges of violence. Close but never consumed. They are leery but thrilled by the danger.

Both writers craft beautiful sentences and infuse their characters with empathy. For example, Buntin writes of the cold winter sky: “The sky had turned hard and nickel gray, a color that, if you knocked on it, would make a tinny sound.”

One thing I loved about “Marlena” was the imagery of houses and home. Marlena stores her drugs in a little pin shaped like a house. When her lost pin is returned to her, damaged but repaired, it’s the beginning of the end. It’s the only home she’s been able to count on. While Cat believes her rundown trailer is “unutterably pathetic, the sum total of my family’s failures,” the motherless Marlena finds solace in it and in Cat’s mother. Marlena’s barn of a house reeks of rot and decay and the malevolence forged by her violent father who runs a meth lab in the woods.

The NY Times review calls Marlena and Cat’s friendship “a collaborative work of imagination.”

Marlena romanticizes Cat’s life in some ways because it’s something she’s never known. In her reminiscing, Cat wonders if her memory is accurate or romanticized by Marlena’s death and Cat’s regret:

“Why do I keep doing this? Making her out to be more than she was, grander, omniscient even, lovely and unreal. She could be such a bitch. She could sense what you hated about yourself, and if you pissed her off she’d throw it back at your face, she’d make sure you knew she thought it, too. Sometimes I feel like she is my invention. Like the more I say, the further from the truth of her I get. I’m trying to hold palmfuls of sand but I squeeze harder, I tighten my fists, and the quicker it all escapes.”

Both Cat and Evie return to the past that they can’t quite leave behind by the emergence of people who remind them of what was and could have been.

Suzanne keeps Evie from being swept up in Russell’s actions (as if she knows Evie isn’t of that world and was just tagging along) and the latter spends decades wondering what she would have done if she would have joined the others. She’s adrift and stunted.

“Only after the trial did things come into focus, that night taking on the now familiar arc. Every detail and blip made public. There are times I try to guess what part I might have played. What amount would belong to me. It’s easiest to think I wouldn’t have done anything, like I would have stopped them, my presence the mooring that kept Suzanne in the human realm. That was the wish, the cogent parable. But there was another possibility that slouched along, insistent and unseen. The bogeyman under the bed, the snake at the bottom of the stairs: maybe I would have done something, too. Maybe it would have been easy.”

Both are unmoored by the sense that they were left behind. Cat says: “I made it out, just like I wanted, and not once have I stopped looking back.”

After Marlena dies (no spoiler here), Cat struggles for decades with her grief and sense of guilt, that she didn’t notice or heed what she should have. She refuses to let herself off the hook:

“I’ve never believed in the idea of an innocent bystander. The act of watching changes what happens. Just because you don’t touch anything doesn’t mean you are exempt. You might be tempted to forgive me for being fifteen, in over my head, for not knowing what to do, for not understanding, yet, the way even the tiniest choices domino, until you’re irretrievably grown up, the person you were always going to be. Or in Marlena’s case, the person you’ll never have a chance to be.  … Let the record show that I was smarter than I looked. And anyway, I touched.”


A chocolate lover’s cookie



They are called Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Chip Cookies and that’s no misnomer.

From the Two Peas and Their Pod blog, known for cookies and lots of recipes for people who love vegetables (not this girl), this cookie has all the chocolate: chips, chunks and grated.

I used grated Hershey’s bar, semisweet chips and dark chocolate chunks. I think next time I will use semisweet chips and white chocolate chunks. Dark can seem a bit harsh to me. This is also a recipe for which you can use up the leftover chocolate from other recipes. Be creative.

This recipe will give you a bakery-style cookie: sturdy, not too sweet, soft. And, of course, it makes a delicious dough. You’ll note there is more brown sugar than white.

If you’re looking for a new chocolate chip cookie recipe, give these a try. If you aren’t going to be finishing them off in a couple days, freeze them. That’s the best way I know of to extend the life of a cookie. That or forming the dough into balls and freezing them on a cookie sheet and then storing them in freezer baggies until ready to bake.

Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (please do not use imitation)

1 1/2 cups chocolate chunks

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1/3 cup grated chocolate

Extra sea salt for sprinkling on cookies, if desired


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt. Set aside.
  3. Using a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars together for about 3 minutes. Add in the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the dry ingredients. Stir in the chocolate chunks, chocolate chips and grated chocolate.
  4. For the cookie dough into balls, about 2 tablespoons of dough. Place on prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.

From Two Peas and Their Pod


Jane and her Mr. Rochester

An unlikely pair, the businessman and the governess/schoolteacher meet their match in each other. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to know them sooner.


Reader, I’m sorry to say it’s taken me this long into adulthood to read “Jane Eyre.”  If I had known what a fabulous story this was, I would have gotten around to it much sooner. I had just figured it was dated, gothic, dreary and a long slog.

I was so wrong.

Jane Eyre is a heroine worthy of being called such. She stays true to herself, no matter her trials and tribulations. And her Mr. Rochester? Well, he’s a brooding, complicated, adoring man. They get their fairy-tale ending, although it is tempered by tragedy.

“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte has it all: an orphan and a neglected heir, both terribly misunderstood; an English family manse steeped in history; a crazy woman hidden away; superstitions and the supernatural; witty dialogue; beautiful descriptions of the moody, isolated moors, and, of course, the love story.

I read the recent “Mr. Rochester” by Sarah Shoemaker first, and I think it made me love “Jane Eyre” even more. Shoemaker tells the story from Rochester’s point of view, fleshing out his story, the root of his misfortune, and the abandonment and loss he endured as a child and young adult. Just like Jane, he wonders why he has to face such misery and challenge. While he comes from money, he is no less alone in many ways.

An unlikely pair, the businessman and the governess/schoolteacher meet their match in each other. They weather each other’s flaws, flirt, cajole and play hard to get. When it appears Rochester is going to marry, Jane knows the beautiful, money-hungry Miss Ingram is not the best for him:

“I saw he was going to marry her, for family, perhaps political reasons; because her rank and connexions suited him; I felt he had not given her his love, and that her qualifications were ill adapted to win from him that treasure. This was the point — this was where the nerve was touched and teazed — this was where the fever was sustained and fed: she could not charm him.”

(Reader, be prepared for punctuation the likes you don’t often see outside of 19th-Century literature.)

Both the reader and Mr. Rochester know just who is capable of charming him.

Just as it appears that the two will live happily ever after despite the misgivings of others, Rochester’s past comes to light in a shocking chapel betrayal. Jane could have acquiesced to a life of contentment but that would cost her dignity and honor, so she turns from happiness:

“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?”

Both Shoemaker and Bronte give their characters depth and nuance. Together, the story of Jane and Mr. Rochester is much fuller. Written more than a century after Bronte’s story, Shoemaker adheres to the former’s voice and vision while fleshing out Rochester’s past.

A very poignant part of “Jane Eyre” finds Rochester bemoaning his fate and feeling unworthy: “I am no better than the old lightning-struck chestnut-tree in Thornfield orchard. And what right would that ruin have to bid a budding woodbine cover its decay with freshness?”

Jane’s response: “You are no ruin, sir — no lightning-struck tree: you are green and vigorous. Plants will grow about your roots, whether you ask them or not; because they take delight in your bountiful shadow; and as they grow they will lean towards you, and wind round you, because your strength offers them so safe a prop.”

In each other, they find home and companionship and refuge.


Soundtrack of my life, 2005

Interestingly, I found this on my computer. It had been a gift to my sister, a very personal gift that told her a lot without telling her everything. Twelve years have past and the only other song I think I’d add to this is “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley. And Def Leppard and the Killers seem to have taken over as workout music.

“This is what I would regard as the soundtrack of my life from high school to 2005. You will probably hate some of these songs, but I think you need to broaden your horizons. Haha. This is a very personal gift and in listening to it you may learn a few things about me. And maybe you’ll go out and buy some new music! All these songs speak to me in some way.  It was difficult to limit the songs to just these dozen. Most of high school was taken up with hair bands (Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” being a higher-class one) and Phil Collins and sappy love songs. These are the songs that have stuck with me.

  1. “With or Without You” by U2. The song that introduced me to U2. This would have been around 1987. It’s off “The Joshua Tree,” their biggest album. Another fabulous song on there that will make you want to drive fast is “Where The Streets Have No Name.” You should own this album. My other favorite U2 albums are “Achtung Baby”  from 1991 (“The Fly,” “One” and “Ultraviolet [Light My Way]”) are particularly memorable!) and “The Unforgettable Fire” from 1985.
  2. “End of the Innocence” by Don Henley (1989). I love his voice almost as much as Bono’s. Henley, if you didn’t already know, is the drummer and one of the lead singers of the Eagles, a band you surely should spend some time with. This song was very important to me the summer before I started college. It’s also the first song I sang to Griffin as a lullaby because it was the only song whose words I could remember in totality besides “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” I saw Henley perform at Breslin.  The Eagles are great live. You need to own some of their stuff, too. Even  just a greatest hits.
  3. “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. An old song from 1975 off the album of the same name. I think this album is one of the absolute best from beginning to end and it’s among my picks as the music I’d take if stuck on a desert island. I bought the album in vinyl at a used music store in East Lansing my freshman year of college. I first heard the song right before I started college. Hearing it live is pretty magical.
  4. “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls. I know you like this song a lot. It was on the jukebox at Bilbo’s, a great place for beer and great, great soft breadsticks with dill dip. I went there pretty often with Beth, Shefali, Cindy and Natalie. No longer in East Lansing; last I knew, a martini bar was in its place.
  5. “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order. This was alternative dance music, techno in my day in college. This is the only song I absolutely LOVE dancing to, and believe me I’m not a good dancer.
  6. “Jungleland” by Springsteen. Sigh. “The rangers had a homecoming in Harlem late last night/
    And the Magic Rat drove his sleek machine over the Jersey state line/
    Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge/
    Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain/
    The Rat pulls into town rolls up his pants/
    Together they take a stab at romance and disappear down Flamingo Lane.”

I know you are rolling your eyes at this one. Yes, it’s long. But it’s heartfelt, majestic, aching and has great piano. I have tried to find the sheet music. I listened to this song over and over on my record player (the vinyl makes it all wonderfully scratchy) lying in the dark, drinking Bud Light out of bottles in my room in Cedar Village. It was a very rough time for me, back in summer of ’90, I think, when a very unpleasant thing happened to me. Shefali and Beth thought I had lost it. But to me, this was musical therapy. I also danced to this song one night in college when he stopped by to make me feel better. I have since heard the E Street Band play this one live twice and it’s just fabulous. “Born to Run” opens the album; “Jungleland” closes it. You need to listen to the whole album. The songs are all linked. The song that almost bumped this one off is “Thunder Road,” another great, great, great song off that album. My old roommate Lita loved the line “You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re all right.” Hahaha. We had that posted on the Spartan Avenue house refrigerator for a long time.

7.  “Love Song” by the Cure. Another big Europe song for me. I remember riding a bus through rural England listening to this on my Walkman. A very sunny day, lots of flowering shrubs on the side of the road. I think it was on the way back from Oxford or Cambridge. “Disintegration” (1989) was one of the few tapes I brought with me. The whole album is a bit melancholy. Shefali and I used to listen to this all the time during our dorm naps. Shefali was partial to Anita Baker and Barbra Streisand (!) for naptime music. “Plainsong” and “Pictures of You” are excellent, too. I was quite melancholy that summer for some reason; most likely the usual reasons I am melancholy. I don’t listen to this album very often, but it would be on the list to take with me on the desert island.

8.  “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn. I listened to this song on the British Airways Walkman system all the way from Detroit to London. Seriously, almost all 8 hours. You could pick songs from all sorts of categories and I just randomly picked this one and loved it. It spoke to me. This is one of the songs on this CD that makes me get choked up  every time I hear it. Going to Europe was one of the best things I have ever done. I am sad you haven’t done this yet.

9. “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits. Anyway, Shefali had a take-me-back tape in Europe from her old boyfriend and this song was on it. This is one of the most romantic, bittersweet songs I know. No, she did not take him back. Walking around the bay in a small Irish city when the tide was out, discussing her boyfriend dilemma, was also the only time I have ever seen Shefali cry.

10. “Rearview Mirror” by Pearl Jam. I cannot believe you would have ever heard this song, but this is my favorite PJ song. Derek and I really loved “Jeremy” but then Columbine happened and you just can’t listen to it the same way. You can’t say some demented kid is just “a harmless little fuck” anymore. Now “Rearview Mirror” is one fabulous song to run to. Back when I ran, very slowly but still I did run for awhile, this was a great song to get you going toward the end of a workout. It will also make you drive fast. Derek and I went with Rob and Lisa to see Pearl Jam at the Palace. This was the highlight of the concert for me.

11. “Miracle Drug” by U2. One of the most recent U2 songs, off the “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” CD.  Beautiful, beautiful lyrics. A song for those of us getting older and realizing hearts and flowers isn’t where it’s all at. (This is also on here to prove I don’t just listen to old music from the ’70s.) And the guitar during the song’s bridge is excellent.

12. “100 Years” by Five For Fighting. This song makes me cry every time I hear it. Even the credit card commercial featuring this song makes me cry. I love, love, love this song. And I don’t, don’t, don’t like getting old and knowing I’m going to die. Strangely, I was pregnant with Griffin during this guy’s other big hit, “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” and pregnant with Andrew during this song (when I was 33, which is significant).

13. “With or Without You” by U2, the extended live version. This is worth it just for the extra verse at the end. Plus, you MUST at some point see U2 live. You absolutely must. I have seen U2 at least 5 times so far and have yet to be pulled onstage. 😦 ”

Of course, there are themes running through this soundtrack. And big issues. And big feelings. Anytime I hear these songs, I’m taken back.

What would be on your soundtrack?

‘Hillbilly Elegy’: Love trumps circumstances

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” has been trumpeted as a book about why poor white folks voted for Donald Trump. To me, that’s a trumped-up pronouncement.

If you’ve read “The Glass Castle,” a stellar memoir by Jeannette Walls, this will be familiar. Children struggle to escape the poverty and the quagmire of generations of underachievers. There is dysfunction, drug abuse, domestic violence, joblessness, aimlessness, a overwhelming sense of stagnation. Like Ms. Walls, Mr. Vance rose above his circumstances, beat the odds and grew up to be more than the sum of his parts. Vance then looked deeper into just why he — and not others — was able to do so.

In a nutshell? His grandmother loved him, nurtured him, pushed him to succeed and filled in the gaps and it made all the difference. She made him see the possibilities.

“Never be like these fucking losers who think the deck is stacked against them,” my grandma often told me. “You can do anything you want to.”

Eloquent, she’s not. But she believes in her grandson and provided him with some stability and encouragement to be his best.

Vance writes: “Psychologists call it ‘learned helplessness’ when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes of my life.”

He raises many questions, but he doesn’t offer many answers as to how this can be prevented. Government aid and intervention help, but they aren’t enough. The real solution, he believes, involves vast cultural change. That segment of the population has to change its outlook and belief that there are few possibilities for its citizens. That means walking the walk (not just preaching responsibility but actually being responsible), trying harder, self-reliance and not self-pity.

As the New York Times said in its review, Vance offers “a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump.”

Vance writes of the underclass among whom he grew up (an underclass found not just in Appalachia and the Rust Belt, but throughout the country): “There is a lack of agency here — a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.”

He says: “There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society of the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day. … the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”

Sounds like rhetoric from the 2016 presidential campaign, doesn’t it?

Vance didn’t write this book as a political statement. He wrote it to try to understand his success and his ties to his family and community. As an adult, he straddles two worlds. He takes a deep dive into his psyche and his fear that maybe he can’t completely escape the dysfunction and struggles that marked his early years.

It’s an eye-opening read from a political standpoint in the aftermath of the presidential election and a look inside hillbilly culture many of us only know through stereotypes. It’s a story of betrayal and loyalty, of struggle and crisis and of both loving and despising where you come from.