Sunday, June 29, 2014

Life: It Goes On - June 29

I know some of you are in dire need of rain but I tell you I am singing that old song "Rain, rain go away." We have had over 10" of rain here in the past couple of weeks, a third of our annual rainfall. I'm so tired of having to batten down the hatches! Our neighbors' annual summer party got cut short last night when storms moved in and today we will head off to a family reunion with eyes on the sky because severe weather is, once again, forecast. I'm so over it.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll be starting Jacqueline Mitchard's sequel to The Deep End of The Ocean, No Time To Say Goodbye. I loved both The Deep End of the Ocean and the movie adaptation starring Michelle Pfeiffer. I'm really looking forward to this one.

Watching: Free HBO this weekend including Omaha's own Terence Crawford defending his lightweight title. I'm not a boxing fan as a general rule; but. I must say, I did get wrapped up in cheering for Crawford as he came from behind to win.

Reading: I raced through Timothy Schaffert's The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters this week. I've been wanting to pick up his latest, Swan Gondola, but thought I should get caught up with the books by him I already own. Today I'm starting Jojo Moyes' One Plus One; I've got high hopes for this one!

Making: More black bean burgers, this time a curry variation. I'm told they are delicious; I may finally break down and eat one.

Planning: I stripped wallpaper in my bathroom yesterday and I'm planning to paint this week. I have been wanting to get this done for years!

Grateful for: Finding frames for new glasses so easily this week. This usually takes me weeks. In fact, the last time I got my eyes tested, I never could decide on a new set of frames. Sometimes, I'm kind of high maintenance.

Enjoying: The party on the patio (and by patio, I mean the entire backyard). So much delicious food, music that had everyone clapping and singing along, and a fantastic fireworks show...all before the storms even had a chance to shut things down. And did I mention a margarita machine?

Feeling: I've had a lot of time with my kiddos this week which always makes me feel contented.

Looking forward to: A three and a half day weekend! Plenty of time to read, celebrate our independence, and be productive.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen: DNF

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Published April 2008 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
he Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.

My Thoughts:
I know there are a lot of Sarah Addison Allen fans out there. After reading one of her books and giving this one a shot, I'm sorry to say I'm not one of them. You all know how rare it is for me to give up on a book but after listening to three of seven discs of this audio book, I pulled the plug.

I struggle with magical realism in any book. It's hard for me to suspend disbelief and buy into plants with magical properties and a family with special gifts. But I can with the right book in my hands (Chocolat by Joanne Harris, for example) where the characters are well developed and the story line is unique. There was nothing particularly interesting or unique in Garden Spells for me and the characters felt one-dimensional.

There's an interesting review of Garden Spells on As I started reading it, I had to keep looking back to the four-star rating and title, "Magical." There appeared to be nothing the reviewer liked about this book until you got halfway through the review when the reviewer basically said "if you can get by all of that, this book is fun." I couldn't as far as I read and I wasn't willing to give it any more of my time. I'd be interested to hear by Allen's fans thought of this one.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Published January 2013 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
By turns sly and sweet, burlesque and heartbreaking, these realist fables of women looking for love are the stories that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya—who has been compared to Chekhov, Tolstoy, Beckett, Poe, Angela Carter, and even Stephen King—is best known for in Russia.

Here are attempts at human connection, both depraved and sublime, by people across the life span: one-night stands in communal apartments, poignantly awkward couplings, office trysts, schoolgirl crushes, elopements, tentative courtships, and rampant infidelity, shot through with lurid violence, romantic illusion, and surprising tenderness. With the satirical eye of Cindy Sherman, Petrushevskaya blends macabre spectacle with transformative moments of grace and shows just why she is Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer.

My Thoughts:
First of all, how's that for a title? All of the collections of Petrushevskaya's translated works have titles like these. I'm not sure if they scare more people off or are so unusual that they pull people in. Count me in the later group. Plus they're translated Russian stories and you know how I like to travel the world in my reading.

The collection spans Petrushevskaya's life and the stories reflect the stages of life, from that young girl who seduced her sister's husband to a seventy-five year old woman who finds love.

From the Introduction:
"Russians have a word, byt, from being to denote the circumstances of everyday life. In Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's love stories, but means waiting in line for basic goods, from potatoes to winter shoes; it means inflation that robs old people of their savings; it means an ambulance that takes an hour to com ego a dying woman; it means alcoholism, obsolete ideology, anti-Semitism, poverty, inhumane laws - all the follies and cruelties of late- and post-Soviet society"
Throughout this collection, that setting is a vital part of every story and directly affects the behavior of each character. Life in late- and post-Soviet society was not a happy place to live for most people. Consequently, these are not happily-ever-after love stories. In point of fact, as you may have surmised from the title, they are largely odd, often depressing stories. They are unromantic, often cruel, and filled with unhappy people with little hope. All of which makes it hard to "like" these stories and their inhabitants.

But when you're someone like me who is always looking for unique ways to tell familiar stories, who loves irony in a book, and who loves to learn about different cultures, you're going to appreciate what Petrushevskaya has done in these stories. And you're going to be grateful to live where you do and not in the dying days of the Soviet empire.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman
Published April 2014 by Knopf
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In 1945 on the outskirts of Salzburg, victorious American soldiers capture a train filled with unspeakable riches: piles of fine gold watches; mountains of fur coats; crates filled with wedding rings, silver picture frames, family heirlooms, and Shabbat candlesticks passed down through generations. Jack Wiseman, a tough, smart New York Jew, is the lieutenant charged with guarding this treasure—a responsibility that grows more complicated when he meets Ilona, a fierce, beautiful Hungarian who has lost everything in the ravages of the Holocaust. Seventy years later, amid the shadowy world of art dealers who profit off the sins of previous generations, Jack gives a necklace to his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, and charges her with searching for an unknown woman—a woman whose portrait and fate come to haunt Natalie, a woman whose secret may help Natalie to understand the guilt her grandfather will take to his grave and to find a way out of the mess she has made of her own life.

A story of brilliantly drawn characters—a suave and shady art historian, a delusive and infatuated Freudian, a family of singing circus dwarfs fallen into the clutches of Josef Mengele, and desperate lovers facing choices that will tear them apart—Love and Treasure is Ayelet Waldman’s finest novel to date: a sad, funny, richly detailed work that poses hard questions about the value of precious things in a time when life itself has no value, and about the slenderest of chains that can bind us to the griefs and passions of the past.

My Thoughts:
I almost always steer clear of books involving the second World War. With thousands of books already written about the events of this time, it often seems impossible that there would be anything new to be said. I suppose, though, that a war that spanned the globe and involved millions of people, there is almost no end to the stories to be told.

Waldman has, in Love and Treasure, centered a collection of stories around a fictional piece of jewelry recovered from the very real Hungarian Gold Train. The book is more a collection of stories about the people who came in contact with that very unusual locket than it is a novel. It is a story of love, loss, guilt and home.

I was immediately swept up in the book, becoming emotionally attached to the characters even as the focus shifted from one story to the next. Such smart writing! Waldman had me rethinking everything I knew about the freeing and resettling of the Jews who survived the Nazis. Love and Treasure was a book I could not read quickly; I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing any detail, any nuance. I was as interested in the historical context of the stories as I was in the characters who peopled them.

The last third of the book dragged a bit for me; it felt as though Waldman changed focus as the book became more about women's rights in the first half of the twentieth-century and the thinking of the psychiatric community regarding women at that time. Not altogether uninteresting themes but so different from the rest of the book and it was the only point in the book when it felt like Waldman was teaching more than storytelling.

I have been wanting to read something by Waldman for a long time and, for the most part, Love and Treasure did not disappoint. Having followed Waldman on Twitter for some time, and knowing that she is married to the amazing Michael Chabon, I knew expected the book to be intelligent, biting, and   honest. I got everything I was expecting.

Ayelet Waldman is also the author of Red Hook Road and The New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was adapted into a film called “The Other Woman” starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays and profiles of such public figures as Hillary Clinton have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Vogue, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her radio commentaries have appeared on “All Things Considered” and “The California Report.”

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

Monday, June 23, 2014

2014 Big Book Summer Challenge

Sue over at Book by Book gave me just the prompt I was asking for yesterday. Not a half hour after I was looking at my shelves thinking I needed to try to knock off a couple of big books over the summer, I found my way to her 2014 Big Book Summer Challenge. The rules are simply, you only have to read one book of 400 pages or more between Memorial Day and Labor Day to be successful.

Since I just started Cecelia Ahern's P.S. I Love You after Memorial Day, I'll pull it off my night stand to make sure it gets finished up in the next couple of weeks. But since I was already planning on reading that, I'd still like to knock another of those chunksters living on my book shelves. The question is, what next? I will likely only have time to squeeze in one more book with what I'm already planning to read in the next couple of months. I need your help to choose! Here are my choices:

1. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
3. The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber

Which would you recommend?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Life: It Goes On - June 22

Happy summer from rain-soaked Omaha! Much as I love the official start of summer, it's bittersweet because it means the days are already starting to get shorter. I do so love my long days!

Every year there's one day that the College World Series games have to be cancelled because of the weather. We made it all of the way to Friday this year when we got torrential rains - six inches at our house in less than six hours which I believe is the most we've ever had here. Kind of put the kibosh on theater in the park for us!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: What Is The What still. I've just started disc 12 of 17. I think, with a little book reading, I'll get it finished this week. I'm really enjoying it but realizing that 17 discs is a lot when you're only listening to a book while you commute.

Watching: College World Series games (The Big Guy has actually been down to three of the games) and World Cup soccer. Well, only the U.S. matches because, I'm sorry but it's such a boring game for me until the very end for the games.

Reading: Love and Treasure which I'm really liking a lot and will finish this week. Then I'm thinking it's time for something light and summery. Not sure yet what that will be.

Making: Homemade black bean burgers for my vegetarians. Found a recipe they both really liked that will be easy to tweak and was easy to make. Put one in the freezer to see how they freeze. Considering I made four for the price we pay for one store-bought burger, this is definitely the way to go!

Planning: We are watching our twelve-year-old great-niece for the upcoming weekend so we're making plans to keep her entertained.

Grateful: That all three of the kids had today off so we could have dinner together on the patio.

Enjoying: Junkstock! Think "American Pickers" times 75 plus music and a dozen food vendors. Surprisingly I came home empty handed but with lots of ideas for salvage DIY creations. It was a bit of sensory overload - I was completely unable to decide what I liked most!

Feeling: Optimistic.  Summer has a way of doing that to me.

Looking forward to: A family reunion next Sunday. Always so much good food and it's fun to see how big the kids have gotten.

What have you been enjoying this week?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

That Night by Chevy Stevens

That Night by Chevy Stevens
Published June 2014 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni, is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.

My Thoughts:
I haven't read any of Chevy Stevens' previous books but have heard enough good that when I saw this one available, I was eager to give her a try. Unfortunately, this book turned out to be a real struggle for me. Stevens takes on a lot in That Night including themes of bullying, family relationships, problems with the justice system and surviving life as an ex-con. Perhaps it was just that it was too much; almost none of it really worked for me, mostly feeling forced and predictable.

It started with Toni and my inability to care about her. As a teen, it's understandable that she might be rebellious; at the same time she can't seem to understand why her parents have a problem with her. I was a rebellious teen who had also grown up close to my parents so while I could relate to Toni in that regard the relationship between the she and her parents just didn't feel real to me. In Stevens' hands, Toni wanted to be mad at her mother for not ever believing her while at the same time never giving her mother any reason to believe in her and never giving her mother a chance to connect. The parents felt like stock characters - the mother who played favorites, never gave Toni the benefit of the doubt and never really listened and the father who meant well but wouldn't stand up to the mother.
They weren't alone in feeling stock to me; in prison there were the irredeemable inmates and the long-timer who turns out to have a heart of gold, in the "real-world" the bullies never showed any softness and the police were equally bullies.

Stevens made much of Toni's growing anger throughout the book. She was an angry girl before the murder (understandably) and became even more angry when she was convicted (even more understandably). To some extent, this came out in prison where she became known for being something of a thug (which, strangely, didn't seem to extend her sentence which I can't help thinking it would have in reality). During prison, she managed to learn to contain it and play by the rules but the anger was always brewing underneath and then...nothing. Despite all that happened to her when she was released from prison, there was never any explosion of that anger or a sudden revelation or growth that soothed it.

So often as I read, I thought to myself "well, of course, that happened." But I must admit that, in the end, I did not see the truth of Nicole's murder coming. Well, sort of, but not the big twist. In that regard, it was worth working to the end of the book.

Because I haven't read any other books by Stevens, I can't compare this one to know if fans might still enjoy it. And because there are so many fans, I won't rule out trying another book by Stevens.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Save The Date by Mary Kay Andrews - Guest Review

Save The Date by Mary Kay Andrews
Published June 2014 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

*When this book was pitched to me, I didn't even take a minute to decide whether or not I wanted to read it because I knew my sister would be the better person to read and review it. She loves books set in the coastal south and had just been to Savannah. Not only that, it seemed like a great beach read and she was headed to the beach!

Publisher's Summary:
A Savannah florist is about to score the wedding of a lifetime—one that will solidify her career as the go-to-girl for society nuptials. Ironically, Cara Kryzik doesn't believe in love, even though she creates beautiful flower arrangements to celebrate them. But when the bride goes missing and the wedding is in jeopardy, Cara must find the bride and figure out what she believes in. Maybe love really does exist outside of fairy tales after all.

My Sister's Thoughts:
Save The Date combined several of the things that draw me most into a story. I have a great interest in the old southern coastal communities, weddings, dogs, and romance. This book brought all of those things together.

I felt that Mary Kay Andrews did a wonderful job of introducing the different individuals in the story line, building on their stories, and making them relatable and the story line believable. From the lead in the story, Cara the struggling flower shop manager, to Bert her assistant whose motives are questioned, to Sylvia Bradley the grumpy old piano teacher who owns the building where Cara lives and works, to the society women of Savannah, Andrews provides great detail. It was easy to identify just what my image of each person in the book was. I liked that it was an easy read but the story line took some unexpected twists and turns that helped keep it a bit unpredictable.

What I didn't like, it seemed to me that as she wrapped up her story, Andrews cut corners, as if she had committed herself to a particular number of pages or chapters and it felt as if the ending was rushed. I felt a bit cheated out of knowing 'the rest of the story'.

Thanks to my sister for sharing her thoughts on the latest from Mary Kay Andrews. Sounds like her fans will enjoy this one, even if the ending is a bit disappointing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Chasing The Sun by Natalia Sylvester

Chasing The Sun by Natalia Sylvester
Published June 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Andres suspects his wife has left him—again. Then he learns that the unthinkable has happened: she’s been kidnapped. Too much time and too many secrets have come between Andres and Marabela, but now that she’s gone, he’ll do anything to get her back. Or will he?

As Marabela slips farther away, Andres must decide whether they still have something worth fighting for, and exactly what he’ll give up to bring her home. And unfortunately, the decision isn’t entirely up to him, or up to the private mediator who moves into the family home to negotiate with the terrorists holding Marabela. Andres struggles to maintain the illusion of control while simultaneously scrambling to collect his wife’s ransom, tending to the needs of his two young children, and reconnecting with an old friend who may hold the key to his past and his wife’s future.

My Thoughts:
Chasing The Sun is exactly the reason readers should read books set in different places, different climates. Set in Lima, Peru, Chasing The Sun takes readers out of their comfort zone, putting them right in a place where life is much more dangerous, even if you have money.

Andres and Marabela live a life of privilege but in a time and place where there is a clear line between the "haves" and the "have nots" and the political climate is volatile. With a marriage that is already in peril and a history of betrayals behind them, this is as much a story about a marriage as it is  about a kidnapping.
"In the kind of darkness where Marabela is being held, he imagines that each second seeps into her, multiplying her fear exponentially as they pass. Every day that she stays there means another day he hasn't paid, and that's what scares Andres the most - after all these years, Marabela will finally have proof that she was right about him all along."
You might expect the book to be action-packed but it is surprisingly slow paced as the focus is on the painstakingly long wait that the family endures. I sometimes felt like the book lost focus during the time between calls between the kidnappers and Andres but looking back, that time set up much of the future interaction between the characters and was necessary to the story.
"Sometimes she tried convincing herself that there was one moment, one action, that destroyed their marriage. It was easier to blame Andres when she let herself feel the pain and anger brought by his actions, but even then, she knew it was anchored by years of truths and lies they couldn't face. "
I was impressed that this was a debut novel by a young writer. Slyvester has a wonderful way of expressing the emotions of a long marriage that is impressive for someone who has not experienced one.
"Their marriage didn't change from night to day; there were sunrises, and sunsets, and times when the sky was neither dark nor light, when the dawns and the dusks became indistinguishable from the constant fog they tried to ignore."
When I set about making a list of favorites for 2014, I was disappointed that I had read so few books that could even make the list. My reading luck has turned - Chasing The Sun makes the list. Andres and Marabela are flawed characters who make it hard to care for them. But Sylvester makes readers care about their situation and relationship. What we say, what we don't say, what we carry with us - exploring these things are what really made this book work for me.

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I'm never disappointed by the chance to learn more about another culture, but sometimes I'm richly rewarded as I was with Chasing The Sun. For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour.

Natalia Sylvester was born in Lima, Peru. She came to the U.S. at age four and grew up in South Florida, where she received a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Life: It Goes On - June 15

Happy Father's Day to all of the fathers and father figures! I know from watching my own father, husband, brother, and brothers-in-law that far more men will help mold our children than just their own fathers and I thank all of those who have helped make my children the people they are today!

What a wonderful weekend we've had! The College World Series, held in Omaha for the past 65 years, opened Friday and we went down Friday night with friends to watch the opening ceremonies. Our friends are both graduates of TCU so we will help them cheer their alma mater on during the series. The atmosphere in and around the ballpark is so much fun. Today Mini-him and Miss H taking The Big Guy to a game for Father's Day. It's a win-win; he gets a day at the ballpark and I get several hours to myself!

Light was bad but you get the idea!
Last night we attended the wedding of dear friends' daughter. BG and the father of the bride have been friends since they were 14 and I have known the mother since my freshman year of college so it was wonderful to get to help them celebrate the occasion. We old folks shut down the party, just like the old days. BG even got to sit in on a song and play the congo drums!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: The music of my college years - Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Bob Seeger. It's music that always makes me happy.

Watching: Baseball, of course, and, this morning, The Last of The Mohicans. I will watch this movie for the soundtrack alone. Although I always find it annoying that they made some changes that seem unnecessary. Such a sad movie!

Reading: I've started Chevy Stevens' latest, That Night but I'm really struggling with it. It reads much like YA with the entire story having the feel of being told from a teenager's perspective although much of it is told from the perspective of an older person. I'm not sure I'll finish it.

Making: Chocolate chip peanut butter cookies for National Peanut Butter Cookie Day.

Planning: On using this week to wrap up projects that are in the works. I've got a gallery wall to put together and work continues outside. Hoping to find time to get to a baseball game, too, this week.

TCU Horned Frogs at the parade of teams

Grateful for: Time with friends. Nothing helps me relax more than time with old friends and all of the laughter that includes.

Loving: Spending so much time on the patio this week.

Wondering: If it's possible to make outdoor slip covers? The cushions on my chairs are in need of being replaced but we can't find new ones that fit. Hate to have to buy all new furniture just because the upholstery is looking bad. Have any of you ever tried this?

Looking forward to: Junkstock - basically a giant outdoor party with music, food, and lots of vintage and funky fun stuff to buy. I've been wanting to go for a long time but there's always something else on my agenda that weekend. This year I can finally go!

What are you looking forward to this week? What are your plans for the rest of the summer?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Closed Doors: A Novel by Lisa O'Donnell

Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell
Published May 2014 by Harper
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

**My apologies to TLC Book Tours and Harper - this review was meant to post June 10**

Publisher's Summary:
In this tense and brilliant tale from the national bestselling author of The Death of Bees, a young boy on a small Scottish island, where everyone knows everything about everyone else, discovers that a secret can be a dangerous thing.

Eleven-year-old Michael Murray is the best at two things: hacky sack and keeping secrets. His family thinks he’s too young to hear grown-up stuff, but he listens at doors—it’s the only way to find out anything. And Michael’s heard a secret, one that may explain the bruises on his mother’s face.

When the whispers at home and on the street become too loud to ignore, Michael begins to wonder if there is an even bigger secret he doesn’t know about. Scared of what might happen if anyone finds out, and desperate for life to return to normal, Michael sets out to piece together the truth. But he also has to prepare for the upcoming talent show, keep an eye out for Dirty Alice—his archnemesis from down the street—and avoid eating Granny’s watery stew.

My Thoughts:
Well,  let's just put it right out there - I loved this book. In telling the story from Michael's point of view, O'Donnell is able to blend light and dark, the humorous and the horrible. I'm not sure that I've ever read a novel which so perfectly captures the voice of a young child. Michael worries about his mother, his parents' relationship, his friends, and the ugly sweaters he has to wear in almost equal measure as children will do. And while there is a naiveté to Michael, he is often wiser than his years and knows much more than adults give him credit for.
"Kids are mostly not allowed to know anything about grown-up stuff. Marianne's ma and da are probably fighting about it every night but Marianne will be asleep or pretending it's just a normal fight...She will never cry, not in front of us, and she will never tell, even though we all know anyway because most of us listen at doors."
"It's a terrible thing to keep crossing yourself, I think. It's like forgiving yourself every minute of the day for things you can't really forgive yourself for, as if you're saying that you're still a good person even though you know you're telling lies and keeping secrets you shouldn't."
The truth about what happened to Michael's ma threatens to derail the family, particularly when it becomes public knowledge. I appreciated O'Donnell's handling of a very serious subject in a way I haven't seen it handled before. But while that event is at the heart of the story, the story is as much about family and love and community. It is a community and family that O'Donnell makes readers care deeply about.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour. They've surely posted their review on time!

Lisa O’Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for her screenplay The Wedding Gift. Her debut novel, The Death of Bees, was the winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize. She lives in Scotland and does a wonderful job of making readers feel they are there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On The Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves

On The Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves
Published July 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher desperately in need of adventure. Worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that’s going nowhere, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring sixteen-year-old T.J.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. His cancer is in remission and he wants to get back to his normal life. But his parents are insisting he spend the summer in the Maldives catching up on all the school he missed last year.

Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahan’s summer home, and as they fly over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens. Their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover that they’re stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first, their only thought is survival. But as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.

My Thoughts:
The Omaha Booksworms read this book as our June selection along with our former leader's (Mari of Bookworm With A View) New Jersey book club and we all joined in discussing the book with Garvis-Graves last night.

On The Island is a work of women's fiction that combines both the lighter side of a summer beach romance and the weightier matter of survival against all odds. Garvis-Graves strands her characters on an uncharted island for years, but, unlike Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away, she makes life easier for them by ensuring that just the right things wash up onto shore and putting them on an island where someone who brought lumbar and tools has previously lived. For the story arc to work the way Garvis-Graves wanted it to, Anna and T. J. needed to be on the island for a number of years and these little tricks made it possible. But more than once I found myself being annoyed by some of what transpired because of it. Razors, shampoo and soap were one thing but lacy undergarments were another. Perhaps Garvis-Graves thought we never would have bought that these two might end up in a relationship if they were still staying attractive enough not to repulse each other?

I don't think I'm giving anything away here when I say that as the mother of sons who haven't been out of their teens long, I will admit that I had a hard time getting over the idea of Anna and T. J. being any thing more than two people stranded on an island. A part of my brain kept thinking that it would be inevitable but oh that Mom part of my brain just kept thinking "ewwww."

It might be a spoiler to say much more about the book other than to tell you that I enjoyed it much more as it progressed and the ramifications of Anna's and T. J.'s relationship had to be dealt with. So often I'm wishing for more judicious editing to shorten a book. In this one, I was thinking an editor might have suggested some cuts earlier in the book to allow a fuller story toward the end. It would have tightened everything up for me.

Don't take my word only on this book; most readers seem to really enjoy it. The Goodreads rating for On The Island is 4.16; The Goldfinch, by contrast, has only a 3.98 rating. It seems that if you pick up this book because it sounds like it will appeal to you, you'll really enjoy it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

You Know When The Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

You Know When The Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
Published January 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: bought my audio copy at my local library book sale
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

Publisher's Summary:
In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls. You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain. You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.

There is an army of women waiting for their men to return to Fort Hood, Texas. As Siobhan Fallon shows in this collection of loosely interconnected short stories, each woman deals with her husband's absence differently. One wife, in an attempt to avoid thinking about the risks her husband faces in Iraq, develops an unhealthy obsession with the secret life of her neighbor. Another woman's simple trip to the PX becomes unbearable when she pulls into her Gold Star parking space. And one woman's loneliness may lead to dire consequences when her husband arrives home. In gripping, no-nonsense stories that will leave you shaken, Fallon allows you into a world tightly guarded by gates and wire. It is a place where men and women cling to the families they have created as the stress of war threatens to pull them apart.

My Thoughts:
In the weeks leading up to the publication of You Know When The Men Are Gone, reviews across the blogiverse (yes, non-bloggers, that's a word; Merriam-Webster just hasn't caught up with us yet) were singing the praises of this book. And I was certain that I was going to read it soon. But, like so many books, because it didn't land in my lap, it languished on the wish list. A few weeks ago, I found it at my local library sale. On audio, no less, narrated by the highly-esteemed Cassandra Campbell.

It is hard to believe that You Know When The Men Are Gone is Fallon's debut story collection. It is taut, unflinching, and eloquent without being sentimental. As the wife of an Army major, stationed at Fort Hood, who was twice deployed, Fallon knows what she's talking about but even if you didn't know her pedigree you'd know you were reading the real thing. I couldn't help but wonder if it might be too hard for some who are facing the same situation. Simply put, I loved it. The pain wrought by ten years of war is frightening and heartbreaking and Fallon makes it clear just how much has been sacrificed by so many.
"She carried her worry night and day. It pull at her legs and shoulders and tear ducts, always there and ready to consume her because how could anyone think rationally about a spouse in a war zone?"
I am equal parts sad that I did not read this sooner and happy that I did not read it until I could "read" it on audio. Because, wow, Cassandra Campbell is fantastic. She could have sold me on a much lesser book.

Read it, read it, read it. Just know that you may find yourself feeling the same way that Lily Burana of the Washington Post felt:
"The highest praise I can give this book—as a critic and a soldier's wife—is that it's so achingly authentic that I had to put it down and walk away at least a dozen times. At one point, I stuffed it under the love seat cushions. If Fallon ever expands her talents into a novel, I may have to hide in the closet for a month."

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Life It Goes On - June 8

Tuesday we had storms move through and just north of Omaha they had 75 mph winds with baseball-sized hail. At one car dealership, they had 4200 cars destroyed. The sirens went off here and as soon as they stopped everyone in Omaha cut out of work to try to get ahead of the storm as it headed our way. Traffic was almost at a stand still much of my way. I can't tell you how happy it made me to turn and head south and leave this behind me. Scary stuff.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Brazilian radio on Pandora. I'm finding it makes great background music while I'm doing other things. Something about not being able to understand the lyrics makes them blend in with the instrumental and it's less distracting for me. Plus it's fun!

Watching: All Is Lost starring Robert Redford. It's a very unusual movie in that there is almost no dialogue and Redford is the only character. So well acted and the ending left us wondering.

Reading: Chasing The Sun by Natalia Sylvester for an upcoming TLC Book Tour. Set in Peru, it's the first book I've ever read set in that country. Really enjoying it a lot.

Making: Salads with lettuce from our very own garden! Otherwise, I really haven't been very creative in the kitchen.

Planning: On continuing some landscaping changes I started this week. They got a bit derailed when I had a fifty-pound stone fall over on my foot and had to stop. That put a kibosh on my walking, too, since I couldn't get a shoe on for a few days. Ergh!

Grateful for: Cooler temps today - it has been so hot. We even had to put on jackets tonight while we were sitting around the fire on the patio.

Loving: That Miss H got to meet one of my favorite bloggers, Lori of The Coffee Girl, yesterday. Lori and I became friends through GoodReads. Both she and Miss H are huge fans of the New York Yankees. They've gotten to know each other through Facebook and when the Yankees came to Kansas City this weekend it turned out they were both going. I am, I must admit, a little jealous that I wasn't there!

Feeling: Both content and unsettled at the same time. Does that even make sense? I'm not even sure I can explain it. I'm having a hard time sitting still lately; it's made blogging and reading tough.

Looking forward to: Heading down shortly to the Omaha Summer
Arts Festival followed by an event at a local art gallery. The gallery has an exhibition by Peter Max and he will be there. If you were around in the 1960's, early 1970's, you'll remember Max's work, particularly his work with The Beatles. He's still doing work that's in the same vein although not so psychedelic. Mini-me is going with us and it's always fun to get our own artist's impression on what we're seeing.

I'm also looking forward to book club this week. Not only do we get to talk to author Tracey Garvis-Graves about her book On The Island, we will be conferencing in with another book club in New Jersey, which is lead by our former leader.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fairy Tale Friday - In The News

Neil Gaiman fans, look what I have for you! Gaiman and artist Lorenzo Mattotti are teaming up to pair Mattotti's illustrations with Gaiman's retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel."

According to Gaiman, "In order for stories to work - for kids and adults - they should scare. And you should triumph. There's no point in triumphing over evil if the evil isn't scary."

Sadly, fans will have to wait a bit longer for this one; it's scheduled to be released October 28, 2014. The book will include an historical account of the evolving tale and according to publisher, TOON Graphics.

I'm hearing good things about Disney's "Maleficent." My son went to see it the other night and really enjoyed it. When a twenty-six-year-old enjoys a movie that's I'm told is great for kids, a really family film, I'm impressed. The other thing I'm hearing is that moviegoers who are fans of the Sleeping Beauty tale should realize that this is a film built around a fairy tale. Think of something like all of those fairy tale retellings that have been coming out in book form that are far more true to the setting and style of the story than say, the Hansel and Gretel movie that came out a couple of years ago that turned them into killing machines.

Now if you're really a stickler for details, you may have noticed that the live-action Maleficent's horns don't quite match up with the animated version. Which has some people's panties in a bunch. I'm thinking it hardly matters as long as the horns made an appearance. What do you think?

My guys, in their typical fashion, are more prone to compare live-action Maleficent's horns to Tim, The Enchanter from Monty Python's "Holy Grail." I'm thinking Jolie is slightly more attractive.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Published July 2013 by Amy Einhorn/Putnam
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death.  Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

My Thoughts:
That secret? It comes out relatively early in the book and won't come as a terribly big surprise when it does. But the book's not really about John Paul's secret. It's about marriage, family, love, temptation, guilt, grief and discovering what you would do if you thought everything you had could be lost in an instant.

Some of The Husband's Secret is a bit predictable, some of it is a bit over the top, and some of it while make you want to shake some of the women. But it made me think. What would you do if doing the right thing meant your children's lives would be forever changed for the worse? What would you do if you thought the police would never arrest the person you were sure murdered your child? Could you forgive the betrayal of those you are closest to? There is a lot of darkness in the book but Moriarty mixes in some wit, the story of Pandora's box, and the history of the Berlin Wall (which, surprisingly, does not feel out of place at all). I raced through this book, eager to find out how the lives of each of these women would work out, caring as much about these characters as Moriarty clearly does.

Book clubs, The Husband's Secret is a terrific book club read - so much to discuss!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Life: It Goes On - June 1

Happy 56th wedding anniversary to my parents today! Things I have learned from them: a) marriage is a partnership, b) it's okay to fight sometimes as long as there are more times that you are treating each other with respect and love, c) sometimes life is hard but you work through it and move on, d) family is everything. The Big Guy and I have been blessed to have both of our sets of parents as marvelous examples of marriage to mold our own marriage on - probably why we've made it almost 32 years now! Love you two!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: What Is The What by Dave Eggers - so good! Love the narrator. I have a hard time making myself get out of the car when my journey is done.

Watching: Looking forward to the season premiere of Longmire on A & E tomorrow night. Thanks to BG's brother for turning us on to this show. The show is based on the "Walt Longmire" series written by Craig Johnson. I really need to try the book series as well.

Reading: Blew through Lisa O'Donnell's Closed Doors this week; one of my favorite books of the year. I'm starting On The Island today for a special book club meeting next week then I'll start Natalia Sylvester's Chasing The Sun for another TLC Book Tour.

Making: Turquoise trophies! You know those trophies your kids get just for being on a team? A couple of months ago, I cleaned all of those out of Miss H's closet but I got to looking at them and thought they might be fun painted. They haven't found a permanent home yet but I'm kind of loving them.

Planning: On spending today cleaning out the garage. This is BG's realm but when I can no longer get to things I need out there, it's time for an intervention. Arguments will ensue - I believe there is a limit to the number of rags you need to wash a car; BG does not.

Grateful for: Air conditioning. Seriously, it's been in the upper 80's with humidity even higher than that. I do not need to be sweating just trying to keep the house picked up.

Loving: Having a weekend with nothing on the agenda. I've had time to get things done around here and hit up the flea market and a couple of Goodwill stores. No great finds, though.

Feeling: Annoyed with whichever critter in my backyard decided to eat the strawberries that had just ripened. A barrier will be made today to protect them; not sure why this was never an issue last year.

Looking forward to: Harvesting my first crop of lettuce today!