Thursday, October 8, 2015

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You by Jojo Moyes
Published September 29, 2015 by Penguin Publisher Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
How do you move on after losing the person you loved?

How do you build a life worth living? Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

 Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

 For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

My Thoughts:
Last year Moyes' Me Before You was one of my favorite books of the year. Which made it a given that I would read After You. Me Before You made readers feel all of the feelings. And tears, oh my goodness were there a lot of tears shed. It was going to be a tough book to live up to for Moyes.

But readers clamored to find out what happened to Lou after Will's death. More precisely, readers clamored to know that Lou was going to be okay after Will died. And therein lies the problem. One of the great things about Me Before You was that Moyes' didn't feel compelled to wrap everything up with a tidy ribbon and deliver a happy ending. She left us with just enough to know that it was going to be tough for Lou to move on but that her time with Will had given her what she would need to live her life to the fullest.

But if you're going to revisit Lou, you can't come back to her and find that every thing's just peachy. So Moyes gives us a Lou who is struggling. In fact, she may well be in worse shape than she was in when Will came into her life. She can't settle into the home that Will's money paid for, her job is terrible, and she's estranged from her family. And she can't move on from Will's death.

Enter that link to Will's past, a new man to fall in love with, and more family drama and you've got a lot going on here. Too much. The support group could have been left out entirely and very little would have been lost. And that link to Will's past? Let's just say, some parts of that story line were unnecessary and others were a bit tough for me to buy into.

But this is Moyes so After You is a solid read with charm, some really well-written characters, and enough depth to help readers get involved in the story. It's not Me Before You but I enjoyed it. And I'm looking forward to the next chapter in Louisa's life. Because it seems apparent that there will be one.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Life: It Goes On - October 7

Oops! This is exactly why I cannot try to monetize this blog. I all too often lose track of it when real life gets busy.

Miss H, The Big Guy and I made a run to Kansas City this weekend - just an excuse to get out of town and a chance for Miss H to connect with some friends. We did some shopping, ate at our fav pizza place in town, and discovered that it's really hard to find a place to buy alcohol along the Interstate system. Some lesser folks might have given up, but we needed those drinks after our poor Huskers lost again!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm about 3/4 of the way through Room and am really impressed with it. The beauty of waiting to read a book until the buzz dies down is that I couldn't really remember anything more about it other than that it was about a mom and her son held captive in a room. Did not know that they would be rescued less than half way through the book and that the bulk of the book would be about adjusting to life outside of room.

Watching: Miss H has no cable or satellite at her rental any more so she's been spending a lot of time with us. Which means we've been watching a lot of baseball. This has resulted in a lot of battles between our baseball lover and those that prefer football. Because heaven forbid someone watch their game on a tv that's not half the size of a wall.

Reading: I raced through Jojo Moyes' sequel to Me Before You, After You. Review tomorrow. Today I started Antoinette May's The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein.

Making: Irish nachos, some new cocktails, sweet potato soup, mini-pizzas. It's been a weird week in our kitchen.

Planning: I have a lovely list of plans for this week and I've managed to get almost nothing on it done. Because books. It's the FrightFall readathon, hosted by Michelle at Seasons of Reading, and I'm grabbing that excuse to spend a good chunk of the evenings with a book.

Grateful for: A husband who's a road warrior - he's always willing to hit the road for a trip and does almost all of the driving. I navigate, now with the help of Siri. This invariably results in a least one heated battle when someone doesn't think he needs to follow the directions he's being given. But we always arrive safely.

Enjoying: Some warmer temps again after having to turn on our heat earlier this week. Dinners on the patio are my bliss.

Feeling: Anxious. I need to start planning for Miss H's return in a couple of weeks and as much as I'm looking forward to having her here again, all of that stuff coming with her is making me a bit twitchy.

Looking forward to: Junkstock this weekend. Nothing I need but it's always fun to get ideas, pick up a few new pieces, and find some new curiosities, like last spring's stuffed armadillo.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Emma by Jane Austen - 200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition

Emma by Jane Austen
First published December 1815
200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition published 9/29/2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Beautiful, clever, rich—and single—Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protégée, Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

My Thoughts: 
This is my third reading, a third copy of Emma but there's no such thing as too much Jane Austen. Besides, look at that beautiful cover! How could I possible pass that up?! Also, I have never had a annotated copy of this novel and I was eager to see what the publisher would add to this beloved classic.

Plus, you know, Emma Woodhouse, one of my all-time favorite characters.

Emma is a typical (even by today's definition) wealthy, spoiled twenty-one year old who is very concerned with propriety and social standing and who believes she knows more than those who try to advise her, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart. She's a big fish in a very small pond. But Emma is can also be charming, devoted to her father, and a good friend to those she cares about. Sure she's a snob, but she's self-aware enough to know that she needs to try harder to be a better person. And the joy of the book, of course, is that, eventually, she will be.

Along the way, readers are treated to Austen's always wonderful satire, social commentary, witty dialogue. As always, Austen gives her heroine a bounty of colorful characters including Miss Bates who cannot stop talking, Emma's father with his constant worrying, deceitful Frank Churchill, the annoying Eltons. And let us not forget the steady, endlessly patient Mr. Knightley.  Characters I always enjoy revisiting. A book I never tire of rereading.

About the annotations:
Editor Juliette Wells calls this a reader's edition, not a scholarly one. "In other words, the information you'll find here is intended to support your understanding and appreciation of Emma rather than to instruct you in literary terms, theoretical perspectives, or critical debates." She has included an introduction about Austen and her writing, a spelling help page, a glossary and several contextual essays as well a photos of early editions of Emma. It's an edition that will not only aid first-time readers but offers something more to the story for people like me who already consider the book an old friend.

Wells says:
"Emma is special because it’s the capstone of Austen’s career as an author. She had already published three novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park), and she was at the very top of her game as a writer. She didn’t know it, of course, but Emma would be the last book she saw through to publication. When Austen died in July 1817, she left two essentially completed novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), which her brother published at the end of that year. So Emma is the last Austen novel that was published in the exact form that she herself approved.

Emma is also special because it’s the most perfect example of Austen’s particular genius as an author, which is (I think) to create a recognizable, engaging fictional world from the slenderest of materials. She writes about everyday life and ordinary people—you won’t find kings and queens in her novels, or ghosts or vampires. Her effects are wonderfully subtle."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tiger Heart by Katrell Christie and Shannon McCaffrey

Tiger Heart: My Unexpected Adventures To Make A Difference In Darjeeling, and What I Learned About Fate, Fortitude, and Finding Family...Half A World Away by Katrell Christie and Shannon McCaffrey
Published October 2015 by HCI
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Katrell Christie never intended to visit India. In fact, her ideal vacation was a tropical beach where she could relax with a margarita in her hand. But when this former art student turned roller-derby rebel met three teenage girls at a crowded Buddhist orphanage in Darjeeling, she knew she had to help. What started as a trip made on a whim would prove to be a life-altering experience that would change the fate of these lost girls.

Katrell tells her remarkable story – from her quirky Atlanta tea shop to her fight for her young scholars halfway around the globe. Two scholars in the program are set to graduate from college and move on to pursue advanced degrees.

Most of the girls Katrell met in India faced grim futures as laborers or domestic servants. Some might have been relegated to lives of sexual exploitation. For them, she founded The Learning Tea, which has offered scholarships to 15 young women in Darjeeling, providing them with tuition, housing, clothing and medical care.

Katrell has us sipping tea with her at roadside tea huts, tasting hot samosas, dodging feral monkeys, and roaming the chaotic streets of Mumbai. The smells of small villages waft from the pages as we accompany her on her riveting and sometimes hilarious adventures across the globe in her mission to empower the young women who have become a part of her family.

My Thoughts:
By now you know what a sucker I am for books about India...and so do that ladies at TLC Book Tours! Of course, they knew it was a given that I would give this one a shot.
"People always ask me to describe India. Picture a large group of men dressed in orange dancing through the streets behind a blaring speaker in the back of a dump truck. A wild mother pig and her piglets come trotting down a busy street-with a monkey riding on her back. You drive through the desert and stumble upon a man sitting alone on a box with a sign that says "fax" and there sits a typewriter, connected to nothing. 
India is gorgeous and tragic and humbling all blended into one, and I can't get enough of its surprises. I have sat on my bed in India at different times on different trips and rationed out my Q-tips. I'm exhausted by the idea that I might have to haul ass over a herd of goats; nine naked, sleeping babies; six piles of cow poo; forty dogs; a basket of live chickens; and hashed-out snake-charming soothsayers so that I can jump a moving train that either came a day late or left three minutes early."
Co-author McCaffrey talks about Katrell's conditions before writing the book: she wanted to show her mistakes, she wanted to protect the young women in her project, and she wanted to make sure she didn't exaggerate her role in any way. This is partly because that's the kind of person Christie appears to be. But I'm sure some of it has to do with Greg Mortensen who wrote (Three Cups of Tea) about and won wide acclaim for his project to build schools for girl in Afghanistan only to be later discredited.

Mortensen made much about the danger he faced in his project. Christie tends to downplay the danger (although there has been danger - she faced the wrong end of a gun or a knife more than once), instead focusing on the difficulties of trying to change the lives of just a few low-caste girls in a country that won't allow women to sign for property, where nails and hammers are not sold in the same stores, and where the con is a game she had to learn to play.

The book focuses not just on what was involved in trying to get the project off the ground but on what it has taken to sustain and grow it, each of the chapters in the book focusing on one aspect of that journey. From finding the right girls for the project, to fundraising and the pitfalls in doing that, to learning how to travel to and in India, to what it takes to keep things going on both ends, Christie is honest and open about what she has learned and experienced. She writes about what it took to wrap her head around even starting a project that she knew could help so few of those in need.
"I've always wondered about the South. How could people who thought of themselves as good, who went to church on Sundays and supposedly followed their Ten Commandments, how had they talked about or acted when they encountered slavery? I always imagined either someone horsewhipping a slave or the country grandma who builds a relationship with one of her servants. 
It's the in between that I have never been able to imagine, until now. It means eating with people starving or dying outside the restaurant window. It's walking down the street with your kid while you're stepping over an old, crippled woman on her deathbed, shaking a can. It's the person who lives under the stairs and only comes out with a tray of tea when called upon. It's the four-year-olds who rush onto a train at the stops on their hands and knees to wipe down people's shoes for a penny.  
And then it's the upper caste, who don't even seem to notice this is going on and can keep the cricket conversation going in a taxi with little kids banging on the window for food. It's like two completely different worlds, living in the same space, mere inches from each other. I had thought about this many times over my life, about the in between."
Once Christie made the decision that she was going to help as many girls as she could, without seeking help from major donors, she threw herself into it entirely. She once talked to a man from India who then lived in San Francisco and was surprised to find that he wasn't thrilled to be living in the Bay City. He told her "You have to decide whether you want a good life or a good lifestyle." Clearly Christie chose the later. Despite the difficulties, the danger, and the long hours, Christie has chosen the good life, both for herself and for a group of girls who would have had no kind of life without her.

To learn more about The Learning Tea, or to find out how you can make a difference, check out their website. Just a couple of days ago they hosted their biggest fundraising, an annual Indian dinner, held right in the tea shop at a cost of just $20 per person. I love that the cost to help is so little when you see so many fundraisers that price out the average Joe from being able to help. You can also make cash donations or purchase Darjeeling tea.

Katrell Christie is the founder and owner of The Learning Tea, a project which provides schooling and a safe haven for impoverished young women in India. Through her efforts with The Learning Tea, Ms. Christie has changed the lives of many women living in Darjeeling, India. Visit for more information. Shannon McCaffrey is an award-winning reporter focusing on investigative stories for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.She is an avid reader, a mother, and a runner.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for putting this book in my hands! For other opinions about the book, check out the full tour.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Banned Books Week - Teaching My Children To Think For Themselves

When I became a parent, I became someone who had to say "no" a lot. No hitting, no throwing food, no driving without a seatbelt, no putting a fork in the toaster. One thing I never said "no" about was reading. Anything.

My kids come from a long line of children who have read books that have since been banned for one reason or another: James and the Giant Peach, Harriet The Spy, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Outsiders, and A Wrinkle In Time. It really never even occurred to me to forbid my own children from reading something when they were young.

When the "Goosebumps" series became "the" thing to read for,  grade school kids, my eldest devoured them. He must have read thirty of them. My mother was appalled. But he was reading and I was thrilled by that. If they had influenced his behavior in any way, then we might have had to look at letting him read them. But they didn't. They gave him a fun escape and reinforced the idea that reading can be fun in a lot of ways.

So they read scandalizing books including Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (poor philosophy of life), The Lorax (it criminalized the foresting industry and would encourage children against logging), Where The Wild Things Are (promotes witchcraft and supernatural events), Harry Potter (promotes godless witchcraft), Strega Nona (magic), Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (because scary, of course), In The Night Kitchen (nudity), and The Adventures of Captain Underpants (apparently seeing characters in underwear is dangerous?).

Nebraska's a pretty conservative state but that never stopped my kids' teachers from including books in the curriculum that had been challenged in other places. In school my kids read The Giver, Bridge To Terabithia, The Chocolate War, Lord of The Flies, and The Call of The Wild. I may have been largely unaware of what had been challenged in other places, but you can be sure that school had to have known and used the books any way. I'm not saying that there haven't been books that have been challenged in our school district. But it has largely stood by the opinion that every parent must decide for themselves and have not forced one parent's opinion onto everyone. So Speak and Cut were available to my daughter, who needed them; A Light In The Attic helped encourage a love of poetry which is now one of my son's passions; and Ender's Game which fed my other son's love of sci-fi and fantasy.

All of that and not one of my kids has been drawn into witchcraft or chained themselves to a tree in protest (although I wouldn't really have a problem with that) or try to to school in nothing but their underwear and a cape. I doubt very much that they even really noticed that the little boy in In The Night Kitchen was naked and, quite frankly, they liked being scared by their books.

Not only have I never felt that my kids were harmed by anything they read, I have always felt like the learned something from everything they read. They learned that it's okay to be silly, to dream, that one individual can make a difference, that they should surround themselves with people who love and support them, that sometimes life is scary and sad, and that good things can happen when people stand up to evil. Most of all, they've learned to think for themselves and form their own opinions. All of the things that their dad and I have been teaching them all of their lives.