Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"In a Dark Dark Wood": A Bachelorette Party Gone Awry

Looking for a gift for someone who loved the book 'Girl on the Train' by Paula Hawkins?  Ruth Ware's debut novel 'In a Dark Dark Wood' might be the best gift ever for someone who loves a fluffy thriller in the same vain as 'Gone Girl' and 'Girl on the Train.'

Ware's hen party (the UK name for bacholerette party) gone awry tale garnered rave reviews and even won a spot as Amazon's top book pick for August 2015.  It was a bestseller and received lots of book buzz as a summer 2015 best books pick.

The story centers around Nora (formerly known as Lee by her school friends) who reluctantly decides to attend a hen party for her ex- best friend Clare who she has neither seen or heard from in over a decade.  Because Nora's friend Nina also decides to go, Nora makes the creepy trek to the isolated glass house in the English countryside for a weekend of unknowns.  Why would Clare contact her out of the blue even though she didn't even receive a wedding invitation? Who else would be there? What exactly were they going to do for the entire weekend.

Nora likes her privacy choosing a life of writing and running and living in a tiny apartment alone in London.  She is unprepared for the catty behavior of the women and man invited to the hen and even less prepared to find out that Clare is marrying the love of Nora's life who she never really got over.

Told in alternating past and present chapters and narrated by Nora, this book is very quick, but it's also very odd.  Do grown women really behave like middle schoolers when thrown together in a big glass house? Ouija boards? Truth or Dare? Playing with guns? Scathing and bitchy comments towards each other? Maybe some people actually act like this and talk like this, but I am glad that I am not stuck in a big old glass house in the middle of a creepy forest with them for an entire weekend.

I guess there was some suspense and the mood was ultra dramatic as well with the house almost taking on a personality of it's own. The dark dark woods also add to the scare factor symbolizing both freedom for Nora when she goes for her runs to clear her mind and also the suffocating fears of the unanswered questions.

People seem to really like this book, so maybe it's just me.  I don't get the whole "psychotic women who have troubled pasts and harbor ill feelings that turn them into mental nightmares who are okay with gruesome killing" thing.  I also have an issue with reading books that don't have even one likable character.  It's hard to care if someone is fighting for their life or sanity when you don't care if they live or die.  And that's exactly how I felt during this book.

Maybe for some people the revelations throughout the hen weekend and while Nora is in the hospital are shocking and thrilling, but for me, I felt the plot was weak and predictable.  Suspenseful? I'm not sure if that word works for this book.  It was more just a sad and twisted tale of women who have never grown up and resolved their issues from the past.  Stories like this always contain one super psycho mega bitch and this book does not disappoint in that regard.

Thrillers are never my go to genre of choice, but I am always hopeful that one will live up to the hype  and rave reviews of devoted fans.

This one just didn't do it for me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Esperanza Rising:" Hope in Dire Situations

My almost 11 year old daughter, Raina, devours books.

Every night, my husband and I have to get a little bit mean about her turning her light out to go to bed.  Many times she doesn't even hear our requests because she is engrossed in her books.  She usually replies with, "I just want to finish this chapter." And then when she gets to the end of that one, she just wants to finish the next chapter. Some nights she turns out her light and once we close our door, she turns it right back on so she can read some more.

We get angry, but we also totally understand because that's the way we are when it comes to books.

When Raina tells me a book is good and that I have to read it, I listen because she knows books.  She read Pam Munoz Ryan's "Esperanza Rising" at the beginning of the school year and after she finished it she said, "I really think you would love this one, Mommy.  It's really inspiring and beautiful."

I finally put it on the top of my "To Be Read" stack of books and tore through it in a day.  Raina was right; "Esperanza Rising" is a beautiful and inspiring book.

Written 15 years ago, "Esperanza Rising" won numerous accolades and awards after its publication including the Pura Belpre Award and Publisher's Weekly Best Book of the Year.  It tells the story of Esperanza, a wealthy 12 year old girl who lives with her beautiful mother and kind father in Aguascalientes, Mexico during the 1930s.  They are landowners with numerous servants and ranch hands at their service.  Esperanza's perfect world of dolls, roses and parties disappears when her father vanishes and is found murdered.  After Esperanza's evil uncles try to claim all that was her father's (even her mother), they escape with a few of their servants and immigrate to a farm in California where they are hopeful that life will be better.

But the harsh realities of life for Mexican immigrants greets them.  They share a small shack with their former servants, they are pushed to work all day long for meager wages, and they are stricken with illness and more hardships than they ever imagined.  From dust storms to union strikes, Esperanza grows up quickly in her new reality and needs to learn how to not only survive but how to provide for her ailing mother and save for her grandmother to be able to leave Mexico and join them.

Written in lush details that pay homage to the land and it's abundance and fury, "Esperanza Rising" was both educational and magical.  I never doubted Esperanza's strength and fortitude in the face of struggle.  She learned and adapted quickly.  It isn't just Esperanza's story that was engrossing.  The supporting characters are equally believable and strong.  Miguel's undying hope for a new beginning even against all odds, and angry Marta who fights for what is right even to her own detriment show the struggles that immigrants faced during the Great Depression and the racism that faced them then. Sadly, many of the same obstacles remain today.

I loved this book, and I know that many other children and adults will love it as well.  Although it was written for a young audience, adults (like me) can truly appreciate the symbolism, the artistry and the story of hope.

While I was reading "Esperanza Rising" Raina asked me a few times what I thought.  I told her, "It's beautiful and inspiring just like you said it would be."

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"A Window Opens": Family and Career Turmoil

I always believed I would be a high powered executive somewhere.  Then, during my senior year of college I took an internship in Public Relations and realized that the cube-ville universe was not for me.  I can't stand talking on the phone, and I've never fallen in love with fast paced, stressful environments.

After having my first baby, I struggled with the decision about going back to work.  I was lucky I could make the decision as many moms don't have a choice.  I chose to go back to work as a full time high school English teacher.  When I got pregnant again, I wanted to choose to stay home, but due to finances and timing, I had to go back to work to help support our family.

And now that my girls are both in elementary school, my husband has a job that allowed me to make the choice to work from home on our independent business, to book blog and to teach yoga classes.  For the first time in my life, I feel balanced in both my professional and private lives.  I have time to be intellectual, time to enjoy being a mom without the pressure of work stress all the time, and time for myself.

It's a delicate balance, but a good one.  For now.

If anything, Elisabeth Egan's debut novel 'A Window Opens' teaches that life can change unexpectedly especially when you are comfortable in your daily existence.  The story centers around Alice Pearse, the books editor for 'You' magazine who loves the balance in her life.  Eagan took the inspiration from her own job as books editor for 'Glamour' magazine. In the book, Alice works three days a week, has time for "momversations" with the neighbors and school moms, has time to spend with her kids and her husband who she adores, and has time to go to spin class.  Even her suburban New Jersey neighborhood seems ideal.  Admittedly, she chose it for the proximity to the train and the adorable independent book store called Blue Owl.

When Alice's husband comes home and tells her he angrily quit his job at a prominent law firm because he was passed over for partner and that he has decided that he wants to go into business for herself, they both decide that she will need to go back to work full time to support the family.  Alice lands what she believes to be her dream job at a new Starbucks meets Barnes and Noble meets Google retail book experience called Scroll.  At Scroll parents can spread out on chaise lounges and browse ebooks and purchase first editions while enjoying organic coffee and gluten free snacks.

But not all is picture perfect or balanced.  Alice quickly becomes sucked into her demanding job where things are never what she thinks they should be, her husband unravels into depression and drinking, her father's health declines, and her kids are changing faster than she can keep up.

I loved this book at first.  I related to the balanced life that Alice lived, but once things started to unravel for her, I didn't feel that same kinship, and I started to feel very little at all towards her.  The problem with Alice is that she wasn't a very vibrant character.  Even more, it was hard to picture her or her husband, Nick or any of her children even though she throws around suburban mom brands and details like they are going out of style.

The unrest in Alice's life stressed me out and although I was stressed, it was hard to tell if Alice was stressed.  The most touching moments were the scenes with Alice's dad whose throat cancer returns, and with her children and their babysitter, Jessie.  The scenes with Alice and her husband always fell flat for me.  I didn't sympathize with either of them.  They fought a bunch.  They stressed each other out a bunch, but they chose to resolve very little together. Maybe it isn't my place to judge someone else's messy life and say how they can handle it, but when their kitchen designer says, "You know, Alice, this is one of the ten happiest homes I've worked in." I couldn't help but echo Alice's response, "Really?" How could a house torn apart by a dad who drinks too much, a mom who works too much, a death, the departure of a beloved babysitter, and marital stress be that happy? The rest of the book didn't really support that notion, so to see it at the end made me sad for the modern family.  Are we all so stressed out and time obsessed that the definition of "happy family" has changed?

After saying all that, I must admit that I still enjoyed reading this book.  Is that weird that I didn't love the main character, but I still enjoyed reading the book? I loved Egan's detail driven style.  I loved that I could see pieces of myself in the narrative - a mom who loves books and her daily conflicts with family, technology, workplace rules and protocol, mean bosses, and the push pull of old school vs. new school.  Even if Alice came across as bland, there is plenty to like about this novel.

Alice, like many of us, didn't have all the answers and she had to go back into the work force to see that providing for the family doesn't mean compromising who you are.

I know I certainly don't have all the answers.  I think women who want to work full time should work full time.  I think that women who want to stay home should stay home.  I think that women who want a little bit of both should have a little bit of both.  I think even more that it would be great if everyone had the opportunity to make those choices, but the reality is that not all women are so lucky.

For now, I will enjoy my balanced life knowing that it may not last forever.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"The Boston Girl": A Sentimental Interview with a Grandma

When my grandmother was 85 years old, my husband and I interviewed her at Thanksgiving.  We did it because we wanted her to be able to tell her stories and we wanted to have her voice recorded for when she was no longer with us.  We asked questions about her family, her courtship with our grandfather, what it was like living through war time, what her holiday celebrations used to be like, what it was like living in inner-city Baltimore in a row home with 12 brothers and sisters, and what her thoughts were on life today.

My grandmother had nothing bad to say about anything.  She never complained about sharing her home's one bathroom with 15 other people or about sharing her home's two bedroom's with all of her siblings.  She kept coming back to the statement, "We were always together, and we always had something to do. We were happy." Her memories were sentimental and rosy, even the ones about the Great Depression and how little they had.

Maybe because I interviewed my grandmother all those years ago, I was particularly touched by Anita Diamant's most recent novel "The Boston Girl." I haven't read an Anita Diamant novel since I read "The Red Tent" (and loved it), so I was excited to read this book even after I read a snarky book review in the Washington Post which basically said that it had all the vibrancy of plastic flowers.  I disagree with that review.

The book is set up as an 85 year old grandmother (Addie Baum) telling her granddaughter (Ava) about her life.  Because of that premise, it is a rather G rated retelling of a life full of tragedy and triumph, and because of my similar experience with my grandmother, I was drawn in from the first page.  Rather than getting too close to the tragedy or even the romance, Addie tells her granddaughter the facts and the fun stories about how her life unfolded in Boston.  Growing up as the youngest daughter of Jewish immigrants, Addie lived in a dingy tenement building.  Her mother was anything but kind choosing instead to criticize and bicker, complain and torment over being loving and comforting.  Addie's father was a little bit better, but as Addie tells her granddaughter, this was the time before men were really expected to be engaged fathers especially with their daughters.

Addie's recalls her time in her Saturday Club where she forged life long friendships and connections that propelled her into her journalism career.  She rebels (safely) from her parents' wishes for her to work in a sweatshop to help provide for the family, and instead pursues a more academic focused life of poetry recitations, meeting famous artists, finding work in journalism and becoming a writer.

There is friendship, romance, death, suffering, family turbulence and signs of the times discussed like child welfare laws and the treatment of women in the workplace.  Because it is a grandmother talking to her granddaughter, there are plenty of aphorisms about life thrown about like "You should always be kind to people, Ava. You never know what sorrows they're carrying around."

What I liked best about this book is the nostalgic look back at a life well lived just like when I listened to my grandmother talk about how beautiful her life was.  Overly sunny? Maybe.  Not tragic or gruesome enough? Absolutely. Worth the read? I think so.

This will be my first Thanksgiving since my grandmother died, and I am looking forward to listening to her recorded voice with all of her memories of a life well lived.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Lottery": Heartwarming and Likable

The lottery reminds me of Gram. 
When we would buy tickets she would say, "You know, Perry, life's all just one big goddamned lottery. Some of us have brains, some of us don't.  Some people draw cancer.  Others win car accidents and plane crashes.  It's just a lottery.  A goddamned lottery." 

Hasn't everyone at some point in their lives dreamed of winning the lottery? We buy the winning lottery ticket and all the sudden our lives change unexpectedly for the better.  We pay off our debts, give money to charity, go on fancy vacations, spruce up our home, or even buy another house altogether.  We never need to worry about money again. Our kids can attend the college of their choice.  We can stop working and stressing.  Life would be easy.

What would it be like to win the lottery?

Most of us will never know, but for the few that win the lottery, their journeys with money aren't always smooth and easy.

In Patricia Wood's novel "Lottery" (2007), she presents the story of Perry L. Crandall.  He's a 32 year old with an IQ of 76 which as he tells us over and over again doesn't mean that he is "retarded" but "slow." He and his Gram took care of each other after his mother abandoned him.  Gram is a feisty old woman with many lessons for Perry.  "Gram always told me the L in my name stood for lucky.  And that I might be slow, but I'd get to where I was going in my own time." She encourages Perry to be his own person and to embrace all that he has rather than think he is less than anyone else.

Perry (called Per by his best friend Keith) feels lucky even before he wins a $12,000,000 lottery jackpot.  He loves his Gram and his best friend Keith.  He is a loyal employee at Holstead's, a boat supplier company, and he loves his boss, Gary.  He and his Gram have their routines and rituals - buying lottery tickets, reading Reader's Digest, studying words every day out of the dictionary, grocery shopping together, watching t.v. and living simply and happily.  When Gram dies, things go downhill for Perry as his evil family members peck away at the little bit that Gram left for him and leave him with virtually nothing.  No one from his family offers to help him, but his friend Keith and his boss Gary step in and set him up with what he needs to survive.  It's not until Perry wins the lottery that his life changes dramatically.

The vultures in his family want to swoop in and trick Perry into giving them his winnings in order to pay off their bad business dealings.  Their biggest problem is that they underestimate Perry L. Crandall who listened hard to Gram's life lessons about who to trust.  She warned Perry about his family and instructed Perry carefully about choosing who to trust wisely.  Not only did Gram give him the wisdom he needs to help him through the tricky business dealings after winning the lottery, he also has Keith, his best friend who selflessly protects him.

What I loved about this story is how lovable Perry is.  It reminded me a little bit of reading "Flowers for Algernon" and how a below average intelligent person experiences a huge life turn around with unexpected results.  In Charley's case, he won the brains lottery before it was taken away from him.  In Perry's case, he won the monetary lottery and what he wants with the money and how he handles winning are very different than what readers would expect.

Perry is endearing.  So is Gram.  So is Keith.  So is Cherry.  So is Gary.

Perry's blood sucking family members are almost too evil to be true, but when money is involved the worst in people can emerge.

The biggest surprise in this book is that it is way more a story about what it means to be fortunate than what it means to win the lottery.  During this month of gratitude, I am often reminded of how very fortunate I am to have what I have in my life.  I adore my husband.  I love my two healthy daughters who fill my life with so much joy.  I live on a beautiful street in a great neighborhood with amazing neighbors.  I have great friends and family members.  I am healthy.  I do what I love every day of my life.

Just like Perry discovers in Wood's novel, winning the lottery is way more than winning money.  It's about recognizing what good fortune means.  It's about finding what you are good at doing and doing it.  It's about finding the people who make you happy in your life and spending time with them.  It's about getting the people who are draining you of energy off of your back and focusing instead on what is the right thing to do.  It's about being honest and being exactly who you are regardless of what others think of you.

"Lottery" by Patricia Wood made me smile and even more than that it made me realize that although I haven't won the lottery, I sure am lucky.

Ordinary riches can be stolen: real riches cannot - Oscar Wilde

* A huge thank you goes out to Patricia Wood for donating 2 signed copies of her book for our November 2015 Winning the Lottery writing contest

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"We are All Completely Beside Ourselves": It will make you think about human and animal behavior

After finishing Karen Joy Fowler's "We are All Completely Beside Ourselves" a week ago, I needed time to really digest it and contemplate what I thought about it.

This book surprised me, made me think, and completely caught me off guard.  Know that if you really want to read this book that you should probably stop reading this post because it will spoil, what to me, was the surprise about Rosemary's (the narrator's) family.

When I picked up this book, I did indeed read the back cover, but somehow the story still caught me completely by surprise. Rosemary begins her story in the middle which became a habit from her childhood.  She talked so much all the time that her father would urge her to "skip the beginning. Start in the middle." And that is what she does.

The middle begins in 1996 when Rosemary gets involved with a semi-crazy college student at the University of California Davis whose breakup scene with her boyfriend in a diner pulls Rosemary from her 22 year old, bored college student life.  Rosemary is lonely, and feels distant from her family.  Her brother is missing and wanted by the FBI, her beloved sister disappeared, and her parents are both aloof and sad.

Rosemary gets tangled up with the disruptive girl from the diner who is named Harlow.  It's unclear why Rosemary, who by all accounts seems very straight and narrow, would form a friendship with such an erratic person, but she does. Interspersed within the story of her blossoming friendship with Harlow and their comical night of drug induced delusion,  Rosemary also recounts awkward Thanksgiving conversation memories. During her trips home, relatives fight about SAT scores and never really say how they really feel, but what isn't said sometimes is even more important than what is said at the dinner table.  She eludes to her siblings, but never actually admits that her sister, Fern, who disappeared one day was a . . . (huge spoiler alert) chimpanzee.  From here, her story weaves from her middle to the past and then finally circles around to the present.

I don't know why I didn't comprehend the truth about Fern when I read the back of the book, but somehow I gleaned over the part about the chimp and my brain latched onto the part that said this book was about "loving but fallible people whose well-intentioned actions lead to heartbreaking consequences." The well-intentioned action of trying to raise a baby chimp and a baby human together as siblings to study their behavior was indeed a flawed plan which resulted in the complete dissolution of a family in ways that none of them could have predicted.  Rosemary's mother went into a deep depression after Fern disappeared.  Rosemary's moody brother Lowell left, and her father became more distant than ever.  Rosemary herself tried to run away from her past - the stigma of being the "monkey girl" and the difficulty she had of communicating with children her age growing up, never left her.

Karen Joy Fowler gave me so much to think about in this book.  What does it mean to be human? How do we treat animals? What do we do in the name of science and humanity? Where does humanity stop and become cruelty? How do we right the wrongs of our past?

As Rosemary struggled to remember the details of her time with Fern and why Fern left their family, and then tries to piece together what happened to her brother, she begins to form a clearer truth of her past.  I love that she can't answer every question.  She can't completely forgive herself, but at the same time there is really no one to blame even though blame is thrown around quite a bit.  While she is piecing together the past, her present friendships and class lectures disturb her and make her question things even more.

The journey of Rosemary's coming-of-age story is a profound one.  Every family deals with loss and heartbreak and although Rosemary's family is anything but ordinary, the grief they feel over their mistakes and choices are universal.  Fowler deserves the high praise this book received for it's unique structure but even more because it will make you rethink what you really see when you look in the mirror, how we construct our memories, and how we define the meaning of family.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Devil in the White City": Pure Evil and Pure Triumph at Chicago's 1893 World's Fair

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood. - 
-Daniel H. Burnham
Director of Works
World's Columbian Exposition

I lost count of the number of people who recommended that I read Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City"(2003) over the last 12 years.  That number increased when I told people I was moving outside of Chicago.  Even the woman who worked at Tumble Town in the York Galleria Mall suggested it to me.  "I would love to go to Chicago and see all the things in that book," she said as I peeled the name tag stickers off of my sweaty girls.  "Everyone in my book club loved it, and most of the time we fight about books," she said as she looked at me intently.  I handed her my credit card as she continued, "I mean, if you are moving out there, you really need to read it." Most of the time friends would reference it and say, "What do you mean you haven't read it?" almost as if they were mad at me for neglecting my duties as an avid reader.

When we moved to Crystal Lake, my cousin who lives in Chicago visited us and brought her copy of "The Devil in the White City" with her and dropped it off at my house. She repeated the same thing everyone else who has read it said, "You'll love it.  It's really amazing, and now that you live near Chicago, it's a must read."

Still I was unswayed to pick it up immediately.  I thumbed through and noticed that the words inside were really small and it looked rather long.  And non-fiction history isn't really my favorite thing to read.

I put it on a shelf and proceeded to read many other books.  Then, one day, I was passing by my bookshelf and the cover of "The Devil in the White City" was facing me, and I decided that it was time.

The subtitle of this book is "Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America" and murder, magic and madness take center stage throughout the book. Larson's book tells two stories that are equally compelling in flip flopping chapters.  With one story he recounts Chicago's improbable journey of winning the bid for the 1893 Columbian World Fair and the treacherous road that the architects and landscape artists traveled in order to showcase a fair such as the world had never seen.  The second story tells the tale of the twisted Dr. H. H. Holmes who constructed his own house of murderous horrors and turned it into a hotel during the World's Fair in order to trap and kill unsuspecting prey.

Although through the first 40 pages or so names and places overwhelmed me, both stories quickly gathered steam and I was drawn into the mayhem of both.  Larson used his stellar research to weave two equally sensational historical oddities together, and I loved every detail in both story lines.  I never tired of all the set backs due to weather or the naysayers who repeated "it's never been done before" or the constraints of the budget or the unions who were against the fair's progress.  I loved every fact about nails and bolts equally as much as I marveled that Ferris was able to achieve something no one had ever seen before with his towering rotating wheel.  At the same time, I was horrified by the gruesome accounts of the seductive and cunning Dr. Holmes who carefully chose his victims and then disposed of bodies in chemicals and his high temperature basement furnace. His murderous spree went undetected largely in part due to the distraction of the World's Fair.

But it wasn't only Larson's impeccable research that made this book so amazing.  He was also able to construct both story lines into nail biting narratives that read more like a novel than a fact based history book.  During certain parts I wanted to stand up and applaud Larson's writing prowess and his ability to keep me turning pages.

I also gained new respect for the city of Chicago and the amazing progress that the 1893 World's Fair brought with it.  From actualizing an urban landscape that is beautiful and technologically advanced, to improved sanitation efforts, to making cities a place that people want to visit, to beating impossible odds, Chicago proved to be both an unforgiving landscape for the Fair as much as it was the best location ever for a fair.

Because Larson's book reads more like a novel than a non-fiction book, I raced to get to the conclusion.  What happened to Holmes? I had to know, so I shut out the world and read on.  What other pressures would the World's Fair face? I couldn't wait to find out how each obstacle surfaced and how the builders and planners forged onward.

Everyone who urged me to read this book was right.  It was an incredible book, and I can't wait to visit downtown Chicago and see it with new eyes.  Not only that, I recently learned that the movie version starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese will be released soon. I promise not to wait 12 years to see it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"After You": Not as Enjoyable as Me Before You

Before I begin explaining the title of this blog post, I want to first emphasize the fact that I love Jojo Moyes books.  They are witty, charming, romantic, and I always look forward to reading them.  Actually, I get a bit giddy when I have a Jojo Moyes book in my hands at the library check out.  Because I only discovered her books a year ago, I've been catching up on Jojo Moyes books, and I even went on binge in the summer to prepare for reading her latest novel, "After You." And, I actually went to Barnes and Noble and finally used the gift card my sister sent me in June for my birthday to buy "After You" the day it was released.

What makes Jojo Moyes books so lovable stems from the fact that they all have the same sort of plot structure which involves the following:
A working class girl who is extra ordinary but doesn't really know it falls on hard times.  She meets a more wealthy or more seemingly put together bloke who is always dashing but he struggles with flaws of his own. The two fall hard for each other, but they both need to overcome incredible odds or their own inner demons in order for everything to work out.

The female characters are usually bumbling in one way or another, but also extra ordinary in one way or another.  At the heart of the heroine is always kindness.  Add a romance, a cast of supporting characters who enhance the charm and wit of the plot.  Finally add more dips and bumps in the road than the average human being can handle and have the characters work through those dips and bumps by falling hard but always brushing themselves off to overcome.

Moyes writes the kind of books that make me want to bury myself in my couch, grab a big cozy blanket, light a candle, grab a cup of tea and then get lost in the story.  She is a master of rom com and it's no wonder she has a legion of fans who adore her books.

I am a dedicated new fan which is why I couldn't help but be disappointed in the sequel to "Me Before You."

I want to apologize to all of you who are Jojo Moyes fans and loved this book.  I wanted to love it.  I really, really did, but I didn't.

Here are my reasons:
1) I love the character Lou, and I loved her relationship with Will Traynor in "Me Before You" BUT I feel like she grew so much in that novel and she didn't just take a few steps back, she took leaps and bounds back in the outset of this book.  She chose to work at a crappy job (and then stay there), she chose to live a life of isolation, and then she chose to wallow.  All of those things seemed out of character to me of the Lou that I watched grow in "Me Before You." I get that she was devastated by the loss of Will, but I just expected more from her.

2) I wasn't thrilled with the addition of Will's daughter that he never knew existed.  This seemed like a strange twist in the story and for me it didn't work.  Lily felt unfinished and hurried as a character which is odd coming from a master of character creation like Moyes.  I did not like the "Lily backstory" chapter where the reader learns why Lily is so surly and so unpredictable.  It didn't fit for me and felt thrown in. The angst was too much. The situation that she struggled against too improbable.  Her mother was too evil to be real, her step-father's business associate too creepy, and the reconciliation of the whole Lily situation seemed too tidy.  If a strange teenage girl showed up on your doorstep, would you really allow her to just live there without consulting the mom? Would the mom really be that unfeeling that she abandons her altogether because she's too much trouble?

3) The shooting scene with Sam and Donna was too farfetched.  That's all I'll say about that.

4) The entire situation with Lou's job at the airport bar.  From the costume to the boss to the staying on to help.  It all felt contrived.

Because the two main female characters were in situations that I wasn't crazy about, I had problems loving the entirety of the book.  That's not to say that I didn't love parts of it.

Here are the things I loved:
1) I loved the character Sam.  What's not to love about him? He's a handsome, caring man who loves his nephew, his job, and he's building a house from the foundation up.  He's open with his feelings and wants to be in a committed relationship.

2) I loved the conflict between Lou's mom and dad.  Her mom wants more freedom and her dad wants everything to stay the same.  The fighting led to funny moments and the only time I actually got teary eyed while reading (which is saying a lot because usually I'm a mess by the end of most Jojo Moyes books).

There's more to love, but those were my favorite things about it.

For the hardcore fans of Jojo Moyes, I know they will be entertained and most of them will disagree whole heartedly with my criticisms.  I haven't read all of her books (that's why I consider myself a new fan).  The upsides: I read it fast.  I didn't cry a bunch.  It was a little enjoyable and somewhat touching, but it definitely did not grab me the way that other Jojo Moyes books have.  I will continue to read Jojo Moyes with hopefulness that her next novel will be way better than this one.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Rising Strong:" Just Go Out and Buy It

"The opposite of recognizing that we're feeling something is denying our emotions.  The opposite of being curious is disengaging.  When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don't go away; instead, they own us, they define us.  Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending - to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened.  This is my truth.  And I will choose how the story ends."
- Brene Brown

I used to buy every single book that I wanted to read, but then I realized that
#1) Books take up a bunch of space
#2) Books are heavy when you need to move and movers charge by the weight of your stuff
#3) Not all books are worthy of keeping after you have read them
#4) Books are expensive
#5) Although many people love to read from their devices, I still love the solid feel of a book in my hands (which brings me back to numbers 1-4)

In the past few years I've been way more of a library junkie, making sure to put holds on all the books that I would like to read.  When I saw that Brene Brown released a new book called "Rising Strong" I decided to purchase it instead of waiting for it to come in at the library. Brene Brown's Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability is one of my favorites because it really made me think about how I constantly need to show everyone how strong I am rather than allowing myself to appear vulnerable.  I also really enjoyed reading her book "The Gifts of Imperfection" (my wonderful friend, Nikki sent it to me right after I moved).  That book allowed me to ease into my move without feeling overwhelmed by perfectionism that can sometimes cripple me.

Not only do I not regret this purchase, I am encouraging others to go out and buy Brene Brown's new book, "Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution."  I've actually recommended it to so many others and several of them are reading it and loving it. Why? Because there are so many take aways from this book, that it's one that you will want to come back to when you are struggling through conflicts, work drama, family issues, or just trying to own the story of your life.

I actually annotated as I was reading (which prompted raised eyebrows from both of my daughters who have had it drilled into their heads at school that you NEVER PUT MARKS IN BOOKS.  They asked me with strained voices, "Mommy, why are you writing in your brand new book?!").  I told them I would never write in a library book, but this book was mine and there were things that I wanted to remember and if I took notes in the book as I read, I could easily find them again.

I underlined and annotated more things than I can effectively share in this post, but I will tell you some of my biggest take aways.  My first take away is from Brene Brown's story about meeting the Pixar creative team.  During their meeting and subsequent correspondences, she realized that the struggles we all face are very similar to the creative process of creating a story and the struggle that the story writers and animators face. When a creative team maps out a story they follow the steps of a hero's journey or archetypal theory; they see this as three acts to the story.  It's Act 2 that the creative team struggles with the most.  This is the act where the hero has to reach rock bottom, the lowest of the low point, before he or she can rise and achieve redemption.  Applied to real life, act two is where many people don't dare touch because it is messy, it's complicated, it's emotional and it's where we are at our most vulnerable.  Let's face it, most people don't enjoy being uncomfortable.

Brene Brown's take away from this is that we need to rumble through this messy Act Two phase in order to rise strong as we create the stories in our lives.  She realized that story is an integral part of our vulnerability.

For me, this was a big point of wisdom because I do believe that telling our life stories honestly and being able to share them makes us not only vulnerable, but helps us to connect with others. That's why our tag line at is "changing the world one story at a time." Our stories humanize and connect us, and the more vulnerable we are willing to become in sharing our story, the greater human connections we will make.  In Brene Brown's book she wisely says, "The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole ore more acceptable, but our wholeness - even our wholeheartedness - actually depend on the integration of all of our experiences, including the falls."

She encourages us to own our stories, and shares her own stories of conflict in her relationships as examples to show how the process works.  Through examples from misunderstandings with her husband, to professional missteps, to how to handle miscommunication in meetings, Brene Brown's greatest asset is her ability to make everything clear and connected.  She uses references from Anne Lamott's book "Bird by Bird" and her concept of a "shitty first draft" (SFD) and how we often get caught up in the story that we tell ourselves about a situation.  Being able to say "The story I am making up about this situation is . . . " puts things into perspective.  We honestly don't know all the angles of a situation or conflict.  We only know our own story, so if we can own the story that we are telling ourselves and even be vulnerable enough to share our own insecurities with others, we may be able to rise strong through  the rumble in act two rather than let it control us.

Pretty cool, right?

As I read this book (which is a really fast read), I shared the parts I underlined with my husband every night.  He could apply everything to his own situations at work and told me that as soon as I was done that he wanted to read it.  "Rising Strong" is a book that you will want to pass along to others, because it just makes sense.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

"Luckiest Girl Alive": Mean Spirited and Darkly Twisted

I read yet another book that is capitalizing on the success of Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" and yet another thriller with psychotic women at it's core that has the word "girl" in the title.  Even Reese Witherspoon has tweeted about how amazing Jessica Knoll's twisted novel "Luckiest Girl Alive" but does it live up to the hype and it's instant New York Times Bestseller status?

I'm a firm believer that just because everyone else thinks something is fantastic doesn't mean that it actually is.  I also don't always agree with the books that everyone thinks are amazing.  Page turning doesn't always equate to awesome book.  For me, "Luckiest Girl Alive" didn't have a soul or the soul of Ani (formally TifAni) FaNelli was as black as the rose on the front cover.

As the lone narrator of this book, Ani, invites her readers into her seemingly perfect life as she prepares for her amazing wedding in Nantucket to her amazing, blue blood fiancee who seems to adore her.  Ani works as a feature writer at The Women's Magazine in New York City.  Her main work revolves around sex tips for women and she aspires for something greater even though many would kill to have her job, and her fiancee, and her fancy labeled clothes (which she constantly references), and her ever shrinking, wedding preparation waist line (which she is obsessed with).

But Ani has a huge blemish on her past that she longs to forget and that the reader isn't really privy to until the last half of the novel.  The immensity of her teenage days as TifAni, an outsider who is plunged into the old money world of the very prestigious Bradley School and the privileged and ugly lives of her classmates, gave her the ambition to stop at nothing in order to make others believe she is worthy.  While at Bradley she was willing to sacrifice her reputation, her safety and in some instances her sanity in order to make the popular kids like her, but the mean spirited nature of the school sucks her in even further and further.  The bottoming out is horrific and maybe not as poignant as it should be?

This novel reminded me of the very dark and twisted movie Heathers (1988) starring Christian Slater and Winona Rider, but with even more disturbing aspects in it.  I quite liked Heathers (at least I did when I was a teenager, but I haven't seen it in many years), but found more of a distaste than a fondness for "Luckiest Girl Alive." Ultimately this novel felt like a mean YA novel full of spoiled rich kids who mistreat themselves and others while Mommy and Daddy's money protects them from consequences.  I guess that might be why the emotional weight of what happens to everyone didn't feel as heavy to me.  Each character in this book is contemptible in different ways.  Ani is an insatiable snob who doesn't really care about anyone but herself even after all the events play out.  Her best friend Nell is the same.  Ani's mother only cares how things look to others.  The popular students at Bradley are ridiculous stereotypes of every mean girl and mean bully movie ever created.  Ani's fiancee's cluelessness doesn't seem to fit and the scenes which feature his bland mother and father and overly racist cousin ring false.  The few characters who do garner compassion also disappoint as the story unfolds.  One becomes a monster, and the other a lewd predator.

I always have high hopes for any new thriller that promises to be entertaining and intense, but mostly I am let down by how psychotic and shallow everyone in many thrillers are.  I find myself drawn in more by psychologically complex characters who lose their way, or are aware of their darkness, or are  compassionate in some way.  For me, "Luckiest Girl Alive" lacked that sensitive side and ultimately felt bleak and heartless.

Reese Witherspoon has already bought the rights to make it into a movie, and it will most likely be very popular and many people will read "Luckiest Girl Alive" and love it.  I'm just not one of them.

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Yes Please": Poignant and Real

I never thought much about Amy Poehler on SNL.  It wasn't that I didn't think she was funny, but I never really gave her much thought.  At the time she was a cast member along with her "comedy wife" Tina Fey, I was living in Philadelphia without cable.  We only got two channels on our t.v. and we didn't get NBC.

I fell in love with Tina Fey after I had been prompted by friends and family members alike to watch 30 Rock.  My husband and I binge watched all the seasons.  When Poehler's Parks and Recreation came out, I was in another phase.  I was pregnant with my daughter Story and not all that interested in jerky camera movements and characters glancing at the camera to get laughs.  I started to really pay attention to Amy Poehler when she co-hosted the Golden Globes with Tina Fey and they (as Amy Poehler would say) "crushed." So many people told me that I had to watch Parks and Recreation, but even though I had cable at that point in my life, I still didn't have the time to watch another comedy.

After reading "Yes Please", I am a fan of Amy's going so far as to begin binge watching Parks and Recreation (after one weekend I am already through the first 3 seasons!).  Although the New York Times gave "Yes Please" a scathing review, I would like to respectfully disagree.  The reviewer said that Amy doesn't know how to write, cuts on her looks too much, and apologizes for how boring her book is.  I'm not sure if I read the same book, but I saw this book as a humble gift by a very talented writer, comedian and actress whose blue collar beginnings did not stop her from becoming the revered and lauded phenom that she is today.

Does she explain how agonizing it is to write a book? Yes, because anyone who has ever written a book knows that it is hard.  Does she delve into her relationship with her appearance? Yes, because any woman (and man with the exception of the dude who wrote the mean review) would understand what growing up with asymmetrical, not classically beautiful features means.  It doesn't mean that she thinks she is ugly, it just means that she is highly aware of the fact that she is neither drop dead model gorgeous or homely.  She's somewhere in between.  Does she sometimes opt out of the comedic in this memoir / autobiography account of her life and instead go for a more universal take on humanity and the hard work that it takes to become a star? Yes, and that is because she's being honest and real and at times really funny as she is being honest and real.

There are so many aspects of this book to love including cameos from famous friends and adoring family members, funny stories about what it's really like to work on SNL, the earth shattering devastation of divorce, the Improv scene in New York and Chicago, what it's like to work on Parks and Recreation, what it's like to be in love with your kids, and how sometimes you need to step way outside of your comfort zone to find comfort like when she went to Haiti and spent time working in an orphanage there.

Amy's book really showed me that she is a real person who loves to laugh, live, make others laugh, and be a powerful and bossy woman without making excuses, but apologizing when necessary. She loves many of the people who helped get her to where she is today, and in turn she has dedicated her life to help others succeed in comedy.  I laughed (when she was explaining her drug use), I cried (when she recounted her trip to the Haitian orphanage), I was touched by her love for her boys (when she talked about their personalities and chasing the moon, I smiled the whole chapter), I was never bored while reading this (how could you be with so many insightful and funny anecdotes?), and it made me a fan of someone who I didn't really pay that much attention to before.

That sounds like a pretty great book to me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"The Little Paris Book Shop": A Bit Too Much Of Everything

I love Paris.

I love books.

I love love.

Because of the three statements above, I should have loved "The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George.

And I did love parts of it, but something about it didn't feel right.  To me, it was a bit like gorging on deep dark chocolate truffles with creamy centers.  It feels so good, and dark and smooth in the beginning, but then after you eat too many, your tummy hurts.

Too much of a good thing?

Many people who love this book will disagree with me heartily, and I get it, because when I started reading the story of Jean Perdu (which means lost in French, by the way), the owner of a floating Literary Apothecary where he prescribes books for what ails people even if he can't seem to cure himself from his 20 years of love solitude after his lover left him, I too thought I would be entranced for the entire book.

The elements are all there.  Jean begins to awaken from his 20 year living depravation when a new woman, Catherine, moves across the hall from him in his building which is already chock full of a crazy cast of characters.  She stirs something inside of him and then uncovers a letter from his lover that was tucked away in a drawer in a table he gives her.  He hid it there 20 years before in order to escape the awful words he knew he would find - that his lover (who he doesn't even name in the beginning) wants to end things.

But, that isn't the case at all.  Manon's letter reveals, to Jean's horror, that she was dying from cancer and her wish is for him to join her in the South of France to say goodbye. He realizes he is 20 years too late, and that he spent the last 20 years in an emotional solitude for false reasons.

In his emotional spiral, Jean decides to unmoor his floating apothecary and take off on a journey to find the truth about Manon or to beg forgiveness for his stupidity and pride, or to find himself.  His neighbor, Max Jordan who is an author whose 1st book success has paralyzed his ability to write, journeys with him to find a new story.

Along the journey they have two others board their book and cat vessel - a chef and an eccentric bookseller.

At times, George's writing is beautiful, but it always seemed off to me.  The love scenes that Jean remembers are too much as is the intensity of their "big love" for each other.  It's not that I don't believe in "big love" or that I don't think love can unhinge people, it's just that there was too much unhinging and not enough hinging?  Maybe that's the best explanation I can give for not loving a book that seems just like the kind of book I would love.

Even in the end of the journey where I know I should have been tearing up and feeling vast amounts of emotion, I felt blank.

It did at times remind me of two other books that I have read: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry due to the journey towards some sort of closure with a woman from the past and the discoveries along the journey.  It also reminded me of The Storied Life of AJ Frikery due to the eccentric nature of the bookseller and his love of books with the added bonus of a love story.

Speaking of bonuses - this book also had quite a few references to other books and food, and in the very back of the book, George was kind enough to include a list of all the books mentioned and their healing nature, as well as recipes for some classic French dishes.

I love a good love story, especially one set in Paris, especially one that also involves the adoration of books and their ability to heal, and I love good French food. I wish I could just put my finger on why this book hasn't become my favorite of the summer.

My only explanation is that it was a bit too much of everything.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"In the Unlikely Event:" Fasten Your Seatbelts

I grew up on Judy Blume books.

I'm sure most women in their early 40s would make the same claim.  Judy Blume opened my eyes to the trials of adolescence from bullying, to menstruating, to having a bratty younger sibling, to masturbation, to wanting bigger breasts, to the turbulent world of first sexual relationships.  Underlying all of her books for me was honesty and realness.

She tells life like it is which is why her books have been the subject of countless bannings and calls for censorship from school libraries.  Seeing an elementary school girl with the book "Forever" tucked under her arm branded her a harlot, one to be watched by her teachers.

In her first adult book since 1998's "Summer Sisters" Blume draws from her childhood growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey which was branded "Plane Crash City" in the winter of 1952 when three planes inexplicably crashed there in an 8 week span.  Blume was an 8th grader at Hamilton when these tragedies unfolded.  She returned to those tragedies to craft the fictional lives of a chorus of characters who all suffer in different ways due to the crashes.

At the center of this novel is Miri Ammerman, a 9th grade Jewish girl, whose single mom, Rusty, her Uncle Henry and her grandmother live together harmoniously until the planes begin to crash.  As she deals with her best friend's mental illness, her first heartbreaking love with orphan Mason, and her mother's first real boyfriend, as well as her father appearing in her life again, she also must deal with the betrayal of safety she feels when planes fall from the sky - not once, not twice, but three times in one winter.

She writes a poem about the crashes that she reads at a reunion years later: "Life goes on, as our parents promised that winter / Life goes on if you're one of the lucky ones / But we're still part of a secret club / One we'd never willingly join / With members who have nothing in common / except  time and a place / We'll always be connected by that winter / Anyone who tells you different is lying."

Miri's Uncle Henry writes about the crashes for the local paper and becomes a kind of local hero as does her boyfriend, Mason, who fearlessly pulls people from the 3rd crash and saved lives.

The power in this novel full of so many characters that at times I felt dizzy from the quick chapters and multitudes of perspectives, comes from Miri's and the other young characters who come of age in the early 1950s.  Even without planes falling out of the sky, adolescence can be hard, but with the added tragedies that many speculated were the work of communists or aliens, the looming pressures of adulthood seem insurmountable.

Blume's history as a life changing YA author shows when she delicately crafts the love story between Mason and Miri.  Their first dance together that didn't need conversation, their first gentle kiss, their heartbreaking conclusion and even their rediscovery of each other were written with sensitivity and love.  In the same way, Blume shows how the crashes unraveled Miri's best friend and her best friend's seemingly perfect family.  Everyone in this novel suffers the crashes in different ways - either as immediate victim or post traumatic casualties.  They are all connected.

For me "The Umbrella of Death" as the winter of 1952 in Elizabeth, New Jersey was referred to, took on larger significance.  It's the tragedies of life that often define us - how we heal from heartbreak, how we recover from illnesses both mental and physical, how we move on from the dissolution of our families or the loss of best friends or potential lovers.  It's that turbulence that Blume shows with heart and humility and what has made her such a phenomenon and such a defining part of the young adults' lives.  She knows how to give us a flight worth remembering - that we need to fasten our seat belts for, and that we need to wonder if there will be a safe landing or a horrible, tragic crash.  Regardless, we know that life will go on, even in the face of tragedy that no one should need to suffer through.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"The Chaperone": A Glimpse at One of the First Real Movie Stars

I put off reading "The Chaperone" by Laura Moriarty for the whole summer.  I'm not sure why it went to the bottom of my summer "to read" pile.  I love historical fiction, and I wanted something that wasn't WW2 historical fiction.  "The Chaperone" sheds historical light on the conflicting roles of women in the 1920s - those who hung on to tradition, and those who were paving the way for the future of women's liberation by fictionalizing the actual trip that a young Louise Brooks took to New York City with a chaperone before she became an international movie sensation.

The relationship between a 15 year old Louise Brooks and Cora Carlisle, the housewife who volunteers to be her chaperone to New York City where Louise will dance with the premier group Denishawn. Cora and Louise make an odd pair.  Louise exhibits every trait that is synonymous with the loose morals of flappers.  She is young but sexually promiscuous, she enjoys getting drunk, she loves to defy the rules, and she refuses to act with decorum and grace even going as far to wear short skirts with her stockings rolled and showing too much skin.  To Louise, her disapproving chaperone, Cora, could not be more of a drag.  Cora expects Louise to be a lady by traditional standards which to Louise means to not have fun.  The two venture to New York City together, but their experiences there are both liberating in different ways.  

Cora's on a secret mission to find out about her past.  She grew up in a orphanage in New York City only to be one of the many orphans who were forced to relocate via orphan trains.  She fared well in her childhood when a nice family took her in and seemed to hit the jack pot when a handsome lawyer asked her to marry him.  But her curiosity about her origins leads her back to her orphanage for answers.

Louise by contrast wants to be a star and can already feel the way people, especially men, respond to her gravitational pull.  Her startling beauty with her Dutch boy bob and luminescent skin stopped men in their tracks even when she was only 15 years old.  Even the legendary Denishawn troupe recognized her star quality.  She cares nothing about the past or her origins but can't wait for the future. 

I loved the first half of this book which really did illuminate the roles of women in the 1920s.  Even in fashionable and forward thinking New York City there seemed to be a divide between the old and new ways of thinking.  Women like Brooks pushed the boundaries that made it possible for women to be whatever they wanted to be, but women like Cora were stuck in the change.  They wanted more freedom, but didn't know how to go about it and Cora shows this as she undergoes her own awakening in New York City which then carries over to her life when she returns to Wichita from her two month journey as a chaperone.  

The power of this story really resides in the first half of the book that centers on the chaperone trip.  Cora's story surprisingly has more energy than Louise's.  After Cora returns to life in Wichita a changed and emboldened woman, the book lost momentum for me.  The years spanned on too long, and I wanted the same historical insights that the chaperone trip brought to light.  The mentions of Louise's career seemed an afterthought in the 2nd part of the book, and Cora's life, although interesting, wasn't enough to hold my rapt attention until the end.  

I liked this book, but not as much as Moriarty's first book "The Center of Everything" or even her second book "The Rest of Her Life".  I did, however, make a concerted effort when I was finished reading to research more about the life and times of Louise Brooks who I found to be a fascinating character in this book.  I almost wish that I was still in the classroom teaching "The Great Gatsby," so I could use some of the information I learned about women during the 1920s to help my students better understand the great divide of morality that was occurring.  

Because I wanted to learn more and because Moriarty captured me in the first half of the book, I am glad that I read this book - even if it was at the bottom of my summer pile. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

"The Last Letter From Your Lover": Anticipating 'Me After You' by Jojo Moyes

Ahhhhh love . . . .

Who doesn't appreciate a great love story full of unrequited passion, missed opportunities, realizations about life, and the possibility of a happy ending after so much suffering?

I'll tell you who loves them.  This girl.

I needed to read something by Jojo Moyes as I anticipate the release of After You (the sequel to her bestselling Me Before You) in late September.  As the last days of carefree summer vacation wane, I wanted to get lost in a romance with substance - something that wouldn't feel like cotton candy and make my teeth hurt, but something more like a flourless dark chocolate torte from a high end restaurant.

And, you know what? Jojo Moyes delivered yet another gorgeous landscape of romance in her 2010 novel "The Last Letter From Your Lover." Both love stories in this book are heart wrenching in different ways - human, flawed, tragic and believable.

The main love story focuses on Jennifer Stirling and her chance meeting with a playboy reporter while she is vacationing in the south of France in 1960.  They are immediately drawn to each other, and although she doesn't want an affair and he doesn't want to tear her from her life which she claims is not unhappy - their chemistry can't be denied.  Sound cliche? It didn't feel like it while I was reading it.  Moyes never fails to give her characters so much depth that the reader can understand why they make the choices that they make even if they seem immoral.

Adultery is wrong, right? What about if your husband is dull, verbally abusive, absent, and also bribing victims of asbestos to not rat out his company? And what if your lover "cracks himself open" in letters that ache with tenderness and raw emotion.  Maybe you don't believe in soul mates or true love, but reading about it on warm summer breezy nights makes me believe.

The secondary love story centers on 32 year old Ellie, a determined feature writer who is in the midst of a torrid love affair with a married novelist.  She makes excuses for her affair and even after she befriends Rory who just happens to be into her and he's funny, single and awesome to be around, she can't quite seem to break the habit of the married guy.

Why can one affair be okay but another can't? Is adultery ever okay? What about when children are involved?

I loved when Rory attacked Ellie for her choices and said, "Every act has a consequence, Ellie.  In my view the world divides into people who can see that, and make a decision accordingly, and those who just go for what feels good at the time." Maybe humans are just blind to the consequences of their actions.  We don't have foresight, and that may be our biggest weakness when it comes to love.

I enjoyed my escape into another Jojo Moyes love novel, and if you are in the mood for a romantic escape this love story might be just what you need as the cicadas sing their end of summer song.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"The Good Girl": A 'Gone Girl'-esque Thriller Worth the Ride"

After I picked my jaw up off the floor when I finished "The Good Girl" by Mary Kubica, I realized that I was going to miss the characters.

It's a thriller which isn't always my favorite genre, and it's also about the abduction of a young woman and the events that lead up to the abduction as well as the events that come after the abduction similar to the very popular "Gone Girl." Just like "Gone Girl," it's plot driven with many surprising twists and turns.  There are psychological realizations as the story unfolds, and clues that lead the reader to believe one thing, when often the opposite occurs.

The difference between this and many of the other thrillers like the wildly popular "Gone Girl" and  "The Girl on the Train" is that I actually found myself caring about each of the characters in this book.  With the all the cray cray characters in other thrillers, I end up not really caring what happens to them, and often race to the end just to finish instead of savoring the journey of the thrill ride. Kubica sets up a story worth caring about with family dysfunction, a surprising love story, and deeply flawed but likable and relatable people at the center of the plot.

The story revolves around Mia, the youngest daughter of a high profile Chicago Judge who is abducted by Colin Thatcher. Colin has disdain for this woman of privilege even though he takes pity on her. Although she comes from a wealthy family, Mia, unlike her older sister, is not a daddy's girl and more often reveals herself as a huge disappointment to her father so much so that she is barely scraping by as an art teacher.  The reader gets her mother Eve's perspective, the abductor's perspective, and Gabe's perspective (the detective who tirelessly searches for Mia).  It is only at the very end of the book that we hear from Mia, and it's a twist that I wasn't expecting (hence having to pick my jaw up off the floor when I finished the novel).

So much happens in the span of the book as the characters reveal themselves.  While they spend days and months together in a secluded cabin in Grand Marais, they begin to disclose the stories of their lives. We learn about Colin's troubled past and his touching relationship with his mom.  He's a criminal, but I actually cared about him based his backstory and his actions with Mia. And as Mia opens up, we see her as "the good girl" - the quiet forgotten daughter, who didn't become a lawyer or fascinate her father.  She liked to have tea in secret with her mother and she would stay hidden during hide and seek sometimes for hours until someone found her.

Even Eve, whose weak nature allowed her husband to stomp on Mia's spirit, redeemed herself during the span of the novel.  Through her recollections of the past and the realizations after her daughter's abduction, she woke up to the abuse that both she and her daughter suffered under the judge's tyranny.

The brilliance for me in this novel is that Kubica chose to structure it with not only alternating narrator perspectives, but also with alternating time perspectives.  We learn clues to what happened to Mia by knowing what comes after the abduction, but it's in the before chapters that the tension mounts.  So smart.

There isn't much that I didn't like about Kubica's debut novel, and I am already looking forward to reading her 2nd book, "Pretty Baby" which was just released on July 28th, 2015 and has already received great reviews.

If you want a thriller that won't make you wish ill on the characters or think that the characters are getting exactly what they deserved, Mary Kubica's "The Good Girl" is the perfect book to take with you on your last breath of summer beach trips - or maybe even take it with you to your secluded cabin up north which as Kubica knows is the perfect place to hide away from the world.

Friday, July 31, 2015

"The Sky is Everywhere": Fall in Love With Jandy Nelson's Ability to Capture First Love

"Years ago, I crashed in Gram's garden and Big asked me what I was doing.  I told him I was looking up at the sky.  He said, 'That's a misconception, Lennie, the sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet." 

I love when I finish a book and I can't stop smiling.

Or thinking about it.

Or  I'm awestruck of the author who created such lovely sentences and such lovely characters who are passionate, intricate, and people who I'd like to know.

I feel lucky that I've now read both of Jandy Nelson's YA books.  I'll Give You The Sun was a miracle, and now that I've read The Sky is Everywhere, I realize that Jandy Nelson is even more gifted and amazing than I thought.

Although I read "The Sky is Everywhere" in huge helpings and raced to the end, I didn't really want it to end because that means that Lennie with her beautiful hair and Joe Fontaine with his beautiful eyelashes would no longer be a big part of my day.  I wouldn't get the chance to feel their love story unfold.

The novel tells the story of 17 year old Lennie Walker whose sister, Bailey, died suddenly and Lennie who always allowed her sister to overshadow her suddenly realizes she needs to be her own person and doesn't really know who she is.  She starts to lust after boys, and begins to really question why her mother hasn't contacted her in 16 years, and she alienates the people who matter to her most.

And then she meets the new boy in band, Joe Fontaine, who just happens to be a music prodigy, highly romantic, and from Paris.


Even more, he really seems to get her, he helps her to tap into her musical genius, and he's okay with the fact that her family is kind of crazy.

BUT . . . Lennie has a slight issue.  Her sister's boyfriend, Toby keeps showing up to find comfort from his loss.  His grief over Bailey's death equals her own and when they get together it's like they are trying to piece Bailey back together by their electric grief. Although Lennie knows that it's wrong to kiss Toby and put her hands all over him, something about his presence comforts her.  He's the only one who understands how much she misses her sister and the only one who understands how hard it is to live in a world without Bailey.

From the poems that Lennie leaves pretty much everywhere she goes to write her story into the air, to Gram's seductive roses, to Big's affinity to marry every woman in town, to Joe Fontaine's beautiful older brothers, to the way Lennie has read Wuthering Heights 23 times, Jandy Nelson created quirky but believable characters.  These are the kinds of people we wish we could be - talented, gorgeously creative, beautiful, deeply expressive, unapologetically passionate,  but most of all they are believable.

I believed the love story between Joe and Lennie.

I believed the shared grief between Lennie and Toby.

I believed Gram's eccentricities and her obsession with painting green women.

Everything about this YA book works and it was lovely to read and be sucked into the storyline for a few days.  I only hope that Jandy Nelson hurries up and writes another magical creation soon.

I'm ready for more.