I am thrilled – I am absolutely, positively, out-of-this-world thrilled that after the upside down-ness of my life changes over the last six or so months, things seem to have somewhat settled down enough that I have time again to pick up great books and dig into them.

To ensure I keep this up, I’ve set a goal to read 20 books in a year. To hold myself accountable, I’ve created a new segment of my blog called Book Soup to write reviews of the books I read. I’m by no means an expert book reviewer, but hopefully my comments inspire at least someone to read (or not read) a new book. Because the more we read, the more we know!

What She Left Behind
A novel by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Available in paperback and Kindle here

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What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman was the first book I picked up after a long hiatus and it was the perfect one to get me back to my love of reading. I couldn’t put it down. I loved it. It had me in tears and on the edge of my seat and feeling as if my heart was being ripped out all at once. I’ve read some other reviews that criticize the sophomoric writing of this book, but I disagree. I think it’s well-written in the style of telling a great story, and what a great story it is.

The story centers around Izzy Stone, who, at 17 years old, has experienced tragedy well beyond her years. One her most horrific life experiences is seeing her mother in a psychiatric hospital, where she was sent for shooting her husband, Izzy’s father, to death when Izzy was only 10. Izzy dreams of leading a normal life, but instead drifts through the world, floating from one foster home to the next and enduring bullying at school.

Izzy finally finds herself in a wonderful, loving foster home – although she maintains a cautious distance from her wonderful, loving foster family – that is located near the Willard State Asylum for the insane, now closed. It is scheduled to be demolished soon, but first, Izzy’s foster parents are tasked with documenting the lives of the patients who resided there using the possessions they left behind. While helping her parents, Izzy finds the diary of Clara Cartwright, an 18-year-old girl committed to the asylum by her parents in 1930. From there, the book moves between the 1930s and 1990s, with similar story lines that make you think you have the ending figured out (spoiler: you don’t). Neither Izzy’s nor Clara’s stories are exactly what the seem and as we learn about each, we learn about two strong, complex women who are forced to confront many of the same issues, even though their lives occur in starkly different times. Several themes play out in each story: the idea of a normal life and being denied the opportunity to lead one; doing what you’re told; the strength and love that should exist in a family; and betrayal by a parent. At times, it is a sad story, but more than that it is a real story with believable characters who pull at your heartstrings and might even remind you a little of yourself.

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