Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Five Days Left - Book Review

Mara has five days left. Diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, the cruel and fatal disease is methodically destroying her life. Already she has been forced to retire from her career as a successful lawyer and now she feels the symptoms breaking down her cherished relationships with her husband and her young daughter. Determined to make the choice while she is still able to do something about it, Mara is planning her suicide.

For the past year, Scott and his wife have been fostering eight year old Curtis whose mother is in jail. Scott has developed a rich and meaningful relationship with the boy and is devastated by the fact that Curtis will soon be returning to live with his mother who has been released. They have five days left.

Julie Lawson Timmer ties the two stories together in her debut novel Five Days Left. Definitely the more dominant of the two is the detailing of the hellish symptoms of Huntington's Disease and laying Mara's tender and conflicted emotions bare. Timmer doesn't tell the most easy-to-read story. It's brutal and it will rip your heart out. It might cause a lump in your throat and an uncomfortable sinking feeling in your gut. But it allows the reader to have empathy. To experience. To comprehend.

After the recent and tragic death of beloved actor Robin Williams and the suggestion that the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease influenced William's choice, Five Days Left becomes an even more timely story. Mara's story is compelling. Confronted by her conflicting thoughts and justifications, I still don't fully feel comfortable with her decision but I could sympathize with her. I could understand better.

Before reading this novel, I knew very little about the horrors of Huntington's Disease. Five Days Left definitely opened my eyes. It's a novel that forces the reader to feel and to think. It challenges my preconceived ideas. This is the power of the novel and why I love to read.

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer is published by Putnam and released on September 9, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Five Days Left. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, September 8, 2014

Glorious - Book Review

My grandpa raised me on good western movies. His favorite was Lonesome Dove and we watched it nearly every time we went to visit (this also may be because he owned only a handful of movies on VHS). His book shelves were also full of Louis L'Amour novels and I smuggled them (and the Danielle Steele novels) up to read in bed at night in the sloped ceiling guest bedroom of his snug little Wyoming house. The room was even decorated in a cowboy theme, so you know, it was an appropriate setting to get lost in the wilds of the west.

I was looking forward to Glorious by Jeff Guinn. Cash McLendon is on the run from St. Louis after his carelessness results in the death of his young bride and his wealthy father-in-law/employer is after his hide. Escaping the city and the clutches of his father-in-law's henchmen, Cash heads to the territory of Arizona in search of Gabrielle, the woman he still loves yet turned his back on to marry for financial security.

Cash ends up in the dusty little town of Glorious where every day the prospectors load up their mules and head into the hills in search of silver. Spurned by the woman he hurt, Cash is determined to leave right away but the members of the new community--owners of the few fledgling businesses--accept him quickly into their fold. Cash's experience with his former father-in-law also allows him to see the truth of situation between the little town and the nearby ranch whose owner has pledged to keep them safe from the marauding Apaches. When silver is discovered in the nearby mountains, Glorious becomes a genuine boom town and the stakes are raised for everyone.

In Glorious, Guinn introduces the reader to an unusual western hero. He can't ride a horse. He can't shoot straight. What he has, is a gift for scrutiny and observation of other people. He can read the situation and the actions of others. He knows how to deflect anger with a quick diversion of the conversation. With these skills and his street smarts, Cash is a unique and entertaining hero.

The pace of the story moves along at a comfortable speed. It's steady and engaging. The supporting characters are an amusing group of eccentric folks whose wide-eyed hope for the future is refreshing. The villain stays mostly in the shadows and seems pretty type cast. The main love interest has a touch of sass that is invigorating. However, there is little passion to the relationship between Cash and Gabrielle. I didn't really care if he got the girl. Frankly, I didn't see it happening.

I was pretty absorbed in the story but as I realized that the remaining pages were dwindling and I felt like surely the book needed more to adequately wrap up the tale, I began to worry. Sure enough, the action was rushed and I turned the final page to discover that the novel wasn't finished--it was just the beginning of a series. And right at this moment I'm not sure I care enough about Cash and Gabrielle and the other fine folks of Glorious to pick up the next novel. I suppose only time will tell.

Glorious by Jeff Guinn was published by Putnam in May 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Glorious. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Friday, September 5, 2014

We Are Not Ourselves - Book Review

Eileen Tumulty is determined to have a better life. Growing up in Queens with her alcoholic parents, Eileen envisions a higher quality life for herself. She wants to own a house; provide a college education for her children. She wants a steady, supportive husband. Ed Leary seems the perfect man to help her fulfill her dreams. He's a bright star in science research with a lot of potential.

Eileen is a hardworking woman who always has her eye out for the next opportunity to rise. She encourages Ed in his own career but Ed seems content with his current station. Together and with their marked differences, Eileen and Ed will forge ahead with their marriage and family--facing the joys and tragedies of life.

Eileen is one of those unforgettable literary characters. She's wholly human and remarkable for doing the things that people do. She works hard. She cherishes her family. She gets frustrated. She mourns. She pulls herself up by the boot straps and does what is required of her. She makes hard choices. She makes mistakes. She repents. She keeps moving forward. She gives of herself. She resents it a little. She falls. She gets back up. She loves deeply. She lives.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas is a hefty novel. Because of its length and not as much time to read lately, I spent more time reading it than I do most novels. I appreciated every minute I could spend with Eileen. She is inspirational and I grew to love this woman.

Every page is an exquisite and astute tribute to life. 

Reminding me of the beloved novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith in the beginning, We Are Not Ourselves soon transforms from a coming-of-age novel to a tender and graceful look at aging. As Eileen cares for Ed in their later years and as he suffers from Alzheimer's, the novel is empathetic and tragic while showing how a relationship can be strengthened especially in times of adversity. We Are Not Ourselves is an emotional journey. It is a lovely novel. A heartbreaking story. A powerful story. A gift.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas was published by Simon and Schuster in August 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of We Are Not Ourselves. No additional compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell - Book Review

From the cover :

In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.
But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-great grandmother, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.
Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl the Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women separated by a century who share similar destinies. But what will happen once Rahima is of marriageable age? Will Shekiba always live as a man? And if Rahima cannot adapt to life as a bride, how will she survive?

My thoughts :

I enjoy a novel that transports me across continents to another time and place and allows me to feel and empathize with the people in a situation so varied from my own. The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi is successful at bringing to life the struggles of women in Afghanistan, a land so far removed yet brought to our attention by the recent history and the coverage in the news. Hashimi's novel gives a human face to the news reports of the politics and wars. It opens the reader's eyes to the suffering and resilience of people. 

By telling both the modern story of Rahima and the earlier story of her ancestor Shekiba, Hashimi is able to tell both histories of the country. Separated by a hundred years, their stories are not that different. Both women lived at a time of change and progression (albeit slow) for the country and for the women who live there. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is often heart breaking and painful. Ultimately, it's a powerful story of personal triumph and of being brave enough to make choices to change one's destiny or naseeb.

While at times the novel's pace tends to drag, overall The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is a beautiful and haunting story of the subservient and enslaved women who occupy the embattled country and will do what they can to survive and advance.

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi is published by William Morrow and released in May 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Friendswood - Book Review

From the cover :

Friendswood, Texas, is a small Gulf Coast town of church suppers, oil rigs on the horizon, hurricane weather, and high school football games. When tragedy rears its head with an industrial leak that kills and sickens residents, it pulls on the common thread that runs through the community, intensifying everything. From a confused fifteen-year-old girl beset by visions, to a high school football star tormented by his actions, to a mother galvanized by the death of her teen daughter, to a morally bankrupt father trying to survive his mistakes, René Steinke explores what happens when families are trapped in the ambiguity of history’s missteps—when the actions of a few change the lives and well-being of many.

My thoughts :

In Friendswood, debut author René Steinke tells the story of the people that live in the town. It’s familiar to those from small towns. The people are connected. They have histories with one another that bind and divide. But like people anywhere, they have complicated pasts, heartaches and dreams. They have suffered. They have passions and are passionate about their causes. They hide. They choose the easy path. They choose to take risks. They just try to survive.

Friendswood is a morality play with complicated leading actors. While exposing their weaknesses and failings, Steinke also shows them in the sympathetic light to her readers. People are more than their choices and yet our choices often define us. Will we be brave? Will we be cowardly? How will we justify our choices?

Causing the reader to ponder and reflect, Steinke weaves a story with powerful themes and harrowing outcomes. As a mother of children who are growing up and too quickly becoming teenagers, the plot line surrounding the high school students was disturbing and caused me to think about my own possible reactions and the way I will educate both my sons and daughters.

Friendswood is a definitely page turner from a talented new author. It’s rich and complex; exquisite and controlled—a model of brilliant literary fiction.

Friendswood by René Steinke is published by Riverhead Books and released on August 14, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Friendswood. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Story Hour - Book Review

From the cover :

An experienced psychologist, Maggie carefully maintains emotional distance from her patients. But when she meets a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself, her professional detachment disintegrates. Cut off from her family in India, Lakshmi is desperately lonely and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man who limits her world to their small restaurant and grocery store.
Moved by her plight, Maggie treats Lakshmi in her home office for free, quickly realizing that the despondent woman doesn’t need a shrink; she needs a friend. Determined to empower Lakshmi as a woman who feels valued in her own right, Maggie abandons protocol, and soon doctor and patient have become close friends.
But while their relationship is deeply affectionate, it is also warped by conflicting expectations. When Maggie and Lakshmi open up and share long-buried secrets, the revelations will jeopardize their close bond, shake their faith in each other, and force them to confront painful choices.

My thoughts :
In her latest novel The Story Hour, Thrity Umrigar offers a unique perspective on the plight of the emigrant. Lakshmi is struggling to break free from the bounds of her oppressive husband but as she recognizes her own talents and capabilities and learns to act for herself, she is also give power to face her secrets and overcome their chains.
The strongest aspect of this very readable and enjoyable novel is the characterization. Neither Maggie or Lakshmi are perfect characters. They are flawed. At times they make horrible choices. Umrigar creates very human characters who are not villains yet do not always act in the best interest of themselves or others. They are at times abrupt, impulsive and narcissistic yet they are worth rooting for. There is the opportunity for redemption and restitution. 
The story is powerful. Umrigar grants insight into the human soul and the strong emotions and influences that often motivate us to act contrary to the best interests of others. Thrity Umrigar is a very talented writer. She has a way with words and she has a deep understanding of human nature. She combines these talents to create a lovely masterpiece in The Story Hour.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar is published by Harper on August 19, 2014. 

**I received a complimentary copy of The Story Hour in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bout of Books Goals

I realized last night that Bout of Books starts today. I haven't had as much time to read lately. I've been terribly busy spending the last days of summer vacation with my kids and also preparing them for school. However, school starts tomorrow and I plan to spend some extra time catching up more books.

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

My goals for this week are fairly conservative. I'm trying to be realistic.

Today I'm starting to read Five Days Left the highly anticipated debut novel from my fabulous Twitter friend Julie Lawson Timmer.

 Then, what better way to say goodbye to our summer vacation with The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn.

And then if I have time, I'd love to squeeze in the rather thick We are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Getting Ready for Kindergarten

We've done the shopping. 
She's got bright new shoes.
She got her hair cut.

This girl is ready for kindergarten.
She had her assessment today and I asked if I could take a picture.
She started hamming it up.
Watch out world, this girl is something else.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Remember Me Like This -- Book Review

For four years Eric and Laura Campbell and their son Griffin have held on to hope that they would one day find their son and brother Justin who disappeared one night at the age of 11. They searched. They offered rewards. They tried to motivate local and national news stations to help. Many people in their small community near Corpus Christi aided in the search. As time went on, they never gave up but they started to fall apart and become distant with each other. Their family began to disintegrate. Then, one afternoon they received the call they had prayed to get--their son had been recognized at the flea market. A man was arrested and Justin was coming home.

Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston tells the story after Justin is found. In poignant, beautiful and sometimes painful prose, he details the process of putting a broken family back together. Though grown and nearly a man, Justin is fragile after his years held captive and away from his family. Eric and Laura experience a myriad of emotions from awe to anger as they reconnect with their returned son. They must tread carefully but also evaluate their own lives and reassess the direction they had been heading. Griffin will find where he fits in the new family balance.

They will each do what they feel they must to keep their restored family safe.

A relevant and meaningful tale, Remember Me Like This picks up where most of us turn off the news with a sigh of relief--he's home, he's safe now. Delving deeper into the recovery and healing process, Johnston details the feelings of elation, guilt, doubt and nearly overwhelming anger that the victims and their loved ones experience all while telling a compelling story. The characters are flawed but could be anyone--your neighbor, friend, teacher. They're absolutely human, which gives strength and credibility to the story.

Now and then, the story languishes in dreariness. While it was hard to read through, I think Johnston was attempting to show the slowness of the healing process. It's not always an easy read but I found it enlightening to be reminded that the suffering and pain doesn't always end for the victim as soon as they are found--that the happy ending takes time.

Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston was published by Random House in May 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Remember Me Like This. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Big Little Lies - Book Review

The parents of the students at Pirriwee Public have dressed up as Audrey Hepburn or Elvis and gathered for the Trivia Night Fund Raiser. The cocktails are delicious and plentiful and spirits are high. But the evening ends in the tragic death of a parent. Police are investigating. Was it an accident or could it have been murder?

Three women have become close friends while their beloved children go off to kindergarten. Madeline's youngest daughter has just started school. She's witty and passionate and will definitely speak her mind. No one is going to push Madeline around (except perhaps her teenage daughter). Madeline's best friend is Celeste. Stunningly beautiful and distracted, Celeste's wild twin boys are entering kindergarten. They meet Jane, the young single mother who especially needs friends after her son is accused of bullying another child at the kindergarten orientation.

Together, Madeline, Celeste and Jane will wade through the daily trials of school, gossip, ex-husbands, teenagers and family in Big Little Lies, the rollicking fun new novel from Liane Moriarty.

Moriarty excels at writing about normal people. Well, normal might not be the right word. Her characters are real people--people you wouldn't be surprised to meet when you drop your own kid off at Kindergarten. Some of the minor characters reminded me so much of people I know in real life that I was tempted to write their names in the margins. But then Moriarty takes these perfectly normal people in a perfectly normal situation and lets them interact with each other and react until it builds into magnificent tension and drama.

I chuckled quite often. I even read passages out loud to Randy--usually Madeline's thoughts about a situation. I adored her spunk. She's definitely an unforgettable character.

Even as Moriarty brings out the humor in Big Little Lies, she is also addressing important and poignant topics from bullies at school to domestic violence and rape. 

The story moves along at a nice pace and I loved the brief tidbits of gossip from some of the minor characters at the end of each chapter. Big Little Lies has it all--suspense, humor, drama, fabulous characters and even a little romance. It's definitely a novel to read this summer.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is published by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam and released on July 29, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Big Little Lies. All opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Good Year for the Roses -- Book Review

From the cover :

Life hasn't been a bed of roses for Londoner Molly Taylor lately. Newly divorced and struggling to find a new home and a way to support her three boys, she's stunned when her beloved Aunt Helena dies and leaves her Harrington Hall, a three-hundred-year-old manor house on the Devon coast, where Molly grew up. But does Molly really want to run a bed-and-breakfast in an old house where the only thing that doesn't need urgent attention is Aunt Helena's beautiful rose garden? Or care for Uncle Bertie, an eccentric former navy officer with a cliff-top cannon? Or Betty, his rude parrot that bites whomever annoys it? Yet Molly's best friend Lola is all for the plan. "My heart bleeds. Your very own beach, the beautiful house, and Helena's garden. All you have to do is grill a bit of bacon."

But with Molly's conniving brother running the family hotel nearby, the return of a high school flame with ulterior motives, and three sons whose idea of a new country life seems to involve vast quantities of mud, this is not going to be easy. And then Harrington Hall begins to work its magic, and the roses start to bloom...

Warm, witty, and chock-full of quintessential British charm, A Good Year for the Roses is a story for anyone who has ever dreamed of starting over...with or without bacon.

My thoughts :

It was impossible not to be taken in by A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil. The idea of inheriting a manor and running a bed and breakfast just seems so cozy (even when the furnace isn't working and the roof is leaking). Really, that's how I would describe the book--cozy. With solid writing and quirky characters, it's a good, quick read.

Molly is a sensible sort of gal whose wit is amusing and not much gets her down. She's not an overly passionate person so her relationships are pretty evenly keeled and when people disappoint her, she moves on with remarkable swiftness. She always makes the wise choice. Molly would be a great best friend and is inspiring but also ends up being a little bit dull on the page.

A Good Year for the Roses is comfortable. It's buttery toast dipped in hot cocoa. It's a fragrant flower garden right after a rain shower. It's the kind of book I'd recommend to my grandma. In fact, I would definitely recommend this book to my grandma if it weren't for the occasional swearing.

A Good Year for the Roses is published by Hyperion and released in July 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of A Good Year for the Roses. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Evergreen - Book Review

From the cover :

From the celebrated author of The Bird Sisters, a gorgeously rendered and emotionally charged novel that spans generations, telling the story of two siblings, raised apart, attempting to share a life.

It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband into the wilderness of Minnesota. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a new baby boy named Hux. But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, the unthinkable happens: a stranger arrives, and Eveline becomes pregnant. She gives the child away, and while Hux grows up hunting and fishing in the woods with his parents, his sister, Naamah, is raised an orphan. Years later, haunted by the knowledge of this forsaken girl, Hux decides to find his sister and bring her home to the cabin. But Naamah, even wilder than the wilderness that surrounds them, may make it impossible for Hux to ever tame her, to ever make up for all that she, and they, have lost. Set before a backdrop of vanishing forest, this is a luminous novel of love, regret, and hope.

My thoughts :

With exquisite language, Rebecca Rasmussen weaves the story of this ill-fated family and gives it the sense of a fable in her latest novel Evergreen. With the otherworldly setting in the Northwoods of Minnesota, the characters live out of time and place in their very rustic cabin. Yet, they can't completely escape the world and even their secluded lives are effected by others with evil intent and world events.

Rasmussen's lyrical styling and magical setting captured my heart from the first chapter but I truly fell in love with her kindhearted, naive and fractured characters. 

Damaged by others, the consequences stretch on through the generations. Evergreen is mostly a tragic tale. It squeezes the reader's heart with a gentle fist making one feel the anguish, uncertainly and loss experienced by the characters. Yet, there is a glimmer of hope, of redemption, of happiness and the chance to break the cycle of grief and heartache. 

After I get everyone I know to read Evergreen, I'll put in its rightful place between favorites The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel on my shelf. Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen is a lovely novel--poignant and graceful--unforgettable.

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen is published by Knopf and released on July 15, 2014

**I received a complimentary copy of Evergreen.**

Monday, July 14, 2014

That Night -- Book Review

From the cover :

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.
But in That Night by Chevy Stevens, the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.

My thoughts :

That Night by Chevy Stevens is an exciting thriller. Transporting the reader back to high school--the cliques and the ultimate mean girls who seem to exist only to make the lives of others miserable--That Night ups the ante with a brutal murder, a prison sentence and the insistence of the narrator that she is, in fact, innocent.

Stevens successfully creates a main character whom the reader can like, in spite of her flaws, but isn't fully convinced she's being completely honest. Toni is a pretty young woman who is faced with the typical teenage drama and trauma. 

She doesn't always make the best choices for someone trying to convince her parents that she's trustworthy but that's exactly what makes her an exciting main character. As a reader, can I trust her to tell me the truth? I enjoy the doubt and Stevens is good at conjuring it. 

This depth of Toni's character makes up for the sometimes stock characterization of the the "mean girls" that plague Toni.

There are a few points in the novel that I found a bit slow, but overall the plot moved forward with gripping developments and action. The conclusion is especially exciting--a bit of a surprise but there were enough clues to make it fully plausible.

That Night by Chevy Stevens is a riveting thriller and a great choice for this summer. It's also the She Reads Book Club Choice this month so be sure to check out the reviews from other members *here* (enter to win a copy) and you can read more about Chevy Stevens and even see pictures from her beautiful hometown which is similar to the setting for That Night *here*.

That Night by Chevy Stevens is published by St. Martin's Press and released in June 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of That Night through She Reads.**

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands -- Book Review

From the cover :

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless teen living in an igloo made of ice and trash bags filled with frozen leaves. Half a year earlier, a nuclear plant in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom had experienced a cataclysmic meltdown, and both of Emily's parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault. Was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to flee their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer's apartment, and inventing a new identity for herself -- an identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. When Emily befriends a young homeless boy named Cameron, she protects him with a ferocity she didn't know she had. But she still can't outrun her past, can't escape her grief, can't hide forever—and so she comes up with the only plan that she can. 

My thoughts :

Though the ultimate cause for her homelessness is an unusual, catastrophic disaster, Emily's life as a homeless teen in Burlington is probably not that different from the lives of homeless teens every day. They must find themselves involved in their own personal disaster to force their hand to run away or be abandoned. The powerful, yet gritty images in Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian show the hopelessness and danger that many kids find themselves in as they succumb to prostitution, theft, and drug use to survive.

Bohjalian succeeds in bringing a genuine voice to Emily Shepherd--she is the outwardly tough yet vulnerable and sometimes irrational main character of his story. 

Emily sees the events through the eyes of a teenager with all the emotions and fears of a girl overwhelmed by her circumstances. Her choices are often foolish yet she reacts with the knowledge and capabilities she has at her age--making her at once an honest unreliable narrator. 

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian is a compelling though dark story of a lost and confused girl. Emily is a sympathetic character and her plight tugged at my heart strings. The nuclear meltdown takes second stage to Emily's very real, authentic story. Bohjalian proves again that he is full of stories and expert at telling them. 

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian is published by Doubleday and released on July 8, 2014

**I received a complimentary copy of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.**

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Back to Blocks - Review

 My kids love to build things--especially Thomas. We love the wooden blocks from Back to Blocks. These smooth, precisely cut and sanded building blocks from Back to Blocks are fun; allow for imaginative creations and most importantly remind me of the hours my brothers and I spent building with our wooden blocks when we were children.

Back to Blocks is a family owned and operated company in Kaysville, Utah. They make a quality product that conforms to all the safety guidelines for children's toys. The blocks allow for hours of fun and creativity.

So, when you kids have had electronic device overload, pull out the wooden blocks from Back to Blocks and let them play to the heart's content.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Just Trekin' Along

Last week I took a few days to join the youth in my stake on Trek. I was invited to come along as the photographer. I only had a few weeks to prepare but fortunately, my mom had a box of pioneer clothes that she used when she accompanied the youth (including some of my siblings) on trek many years ago.

As Mormons, learning about our pioneer ancestors is important to us. We honor the sacrifices they made to leave their homes and families and load their belongings onto wagons and handcarts and take the journey across the plains and mountains to settle with the Saints in the unknown wilderness of Utah.

Every four years, the young people (ages 14-18) and the adult leaders in our stake (and stakes around the country) go on a trek. We dress as pioneers, pack our belongings into five-gallon buckets which load into handcarts and spend three days walking over twenty miles. Fortunately, we have a team of excellent cooks preparing our food at stops along the way.

The kids left their electronic devices at home. They forgot the personal worries and struggles for a few days to remember what their ancestors did. I had never been on trek before and I recalled the muttered complaint from my niece as she prepared for her trek : "It's the damn nineties!" I had often wondered at it's value. However, as I walked with the youth, observing the experience through my camera's lens, I was moved. The youth helped each other. They worked hard. They danced at the hoe down after walking a grueling nine miles in blistering heat and unceasing dust blowing in their faces. They felt the spirit. They learned their own strength and just what they were capable of accomplishing. It was an amazing experience.

The following video was made from trek four years ago and sums up the adventure :

I'm humbling myself to include this horrible picture of myself. So amazingly frumpy. Just remember, this was taken at the end of a long, hot, dirty day. Haha.

One Plus One - Book Review

I had a bit of a reading slump--a couple of dull books and then three days on Trek without any books--so I really needed a great book to get me out of it. I knew I could count on the latest book from Jojo Moyes.

Jess is a single mom working two jobs to try to stay afloat. Her step-son is struggling. He's a bit of an oddball and being bullied by a neighborhood kid. Her genius daughter who excels at math has just been offered a scholarship at a prestigious private school. Only the scholarship doesn't cover everything and Jess is desperate to come up with the difference.

Ed is being investigated for insider trading after naively sharing some information about his software company with a woman he just wanted to go away. He's been hiding from the press at his vacation home and drowning his sorrows in alcohol when he comes across his cleaning woman, two kids and a dog pulled over on the side of the road surrounded by cops. Offering his help gets him more involved in her scheme than he ever intended.

Anyone who has read Jojo Moyes's novel Me Before You, knows that she can rip your heart open with intense emotion. One Plus One is the same. In fact, in the first 100 pages or so of the novel I was seriously stressed out by the bleakness of the situation for the characters. They make foolish choices as they're backed up against the wall. However, the characters are so sympathetic and so darn optimistic. I was rooting for them with all my heart and as they encountered each roadblock (sometimes humorous) I literally ached for them. I loved that Jess just kept pulling herself up; dusting off her britches and pushing forward.

You know, I'm all about consequences. I'm a mother, after all, and I talk about consequences with my kids all the time. Moyes doesn't skirt around the consequences. The characters have to face the repercussions of their choices. However, there is also forgiveness, repentance and redemption. And I'm an even bigger fan of those things. So, even in the middle of sorrow and heartache there was a glimmer of something better for the characters.

Moyes creates strong emotion--sorrow, pain, joy and she builds the chemistry between characters with a teasing slowness that allows it to simmer until it is literally intoxicating.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes definitely succeeded at getting me out of my reading slump. I could barely stand to put it down and leave the characters in their misery. They were so determined, I knew something had to improve in their lives. Perfectly plotted, One Plus One is definitely a novel to add to your summer reading list.

One Plus One by Jojo  Moyes is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on July 1, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of One Plus One.**

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Illusionists - Book Review

From the cover : 

[Rosie Thomas's] new novel, The Illusionists, set in London in 1870, is a thrilling step forward—a captivating tale of passion and fantasy set in the theater world.

At the start of The Illusionists, we meet Eliza, a young, beautiful woman of limited means. Eliza is modern before her time. Not for her the stifling if respectable conventionality of marriage, children, domestic drudgery. She longs for more. Through her work as an artist’s model, she meets the magnetic and irascible Devil—a born showman whose dream is to run his own theater company.

Devil’s right-hand man is the improbably-named Carlo Bonomi, an ill-tempered dwarf with an enormous talent for all things magic and illusion. Carlo and Devil clash at every opportunity and it constantly falls upon Eliza to broker an uneasy peace between them. And then there is Jasper Button. Mild-mannered, and a family man at heart, it is his gift as an artist that makes him the unlikely final member of the motley crew.

Thrown together by a twist of fate, their lives are inextricably linked: the fortune of one depends on the fortune of the other. And as Eliza gets sucked into the seductive and dangerous world her strange companions inhabit, she risks not only her heart, but also her life, which is soon thrown into peril.

My thoughts :

I was initially seduced by the stunning cover art and the comparisons of The Illusionists to Night Circus and Water for Elephants. While the latter two novels kept me awake reading late into the night, The Illusionists lulled me into sleep for more than one afternoon nap.

There was nothing specifically wrong with the story in The Illusionists. It was just dull. There are moments of glimmering magic and fear. There are a few crazy characters. However, they are few and too far between. I really wanted to like the novel but found myself skimming through long sections of drudgery. Mostly, the characters are too real. I rarely complain about that but in this story I craved mysterious enchantments. This was like having all the magicians secrets laid bare and the mysteries uncovered so that the realities are just disappointing.

Turns out, that for me, The Illusionists was nothing more than an illusion.

The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas is published by Overlook and released on June 26, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Illusionists.**

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Sea Garden -- Book Review

From the cover :

Romance, suspense, and World War II mystery are woven together in three artfully linked novellas—rich in drama and steeped in atmosphere—from the critically acclaimed author of The Lantern.
The Sea Garden
On the lush Mediterranean island of Porquerolles off the French coast, Ellie Brooke, an award-winning British landscape designer, has been hired to restore a memorial garden. Unsettled by its haunted air and the bitterness of the garden’s owner, an elderly woman who seems intent on undermining her, Ellie finds that her only ally on the island is an elusive war historian. . . .
The Lavender Field
Near the end of World War II, Marthe Lincel, a young blind woman newly apprenticed at a perfume factory in Nazi-occupied Provence, finds herself at the center of a Resistance cell. When tragedy strikes, she faces the most difficult choice of her life . . . and discovers a breathtaking courage she never expected.
A Shadow Life
Iris Nightingale, a junior British intelligence officer in wartime London, falls for a French agent. But after a secret landing in Provence results in terrible Nazi reprisals, he vanishes. When France is liberated, Iris is determined to uncover the truth. Was he the man he claimed to be?
Ingeniously interconnected, this spellbinding triptych weaves three parallel narratives into one unique tale of love, mystery, and murder. The Sea Garden is a vivid and absorbing chronicle of love and loss in the fog of war—and a penetrating and perceptive examination of the impulses and circumstances that shape our lives.

My thoughts :

After finishing the first novella in The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson, I wasn't initially sure what I thought. I'd had a hard time getting into the story line and then just when I was finally interested in Ellie's trouble, the novella ended rather abruptly. 

While I still wasn't clear on the connection between the two stories, I did not have the same trouble with the second novella. I was enraptured by the scents and landscapes in The Lavender Field and the story of Marthe Lincel, the blind woman participating in the French Resistance was fascinating. The history, danger and beauty comes alive in Lawrenson's writing. 

Connections between the stories started to become apparent in the third and final novella A Shadow Life. I found the story of Iris Nightingale and her tales of intrigue and conspiracy as she worked with the British Intelligence during WWII most compelling.

Having three connected novellas tell the story was an interesting contrivance. However, it was not that different from many novels today that have multiple story lines and perspectives in alternating chapters. In Lawrenson's novel, the reader could focus on one tale at a time and wasn't toggling back and forth between the two. This method definitely has its merits. 

Overall, Lawrenson created a stunningly beautiful and atmospheric novel. I could nearly smell the lavender blooming in Provence. I felt the ghostly aspect of the novel was weak but Lawrenson excels with historical fiction and bringing the past to life.

The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson is a luscious historical fiction novel perfect for those sudden rainy afternoons this summer. It is published by Harper and released on June 24, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Sea Garden in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.** 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Quick - Book Review

From the cover :

London 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Alarmed, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine London that greets her, she uncovers a hidden, supernatural city populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of the exclusive, secretive Aegolius Club, whose predatory members include the most ambitious, and most bloodthirsty, men in England.
In her first novel, Lauren Owen has created a fantastical world that is both beguiling and terrifying.The Quick will establish her as one of fiction’s most dazzling talents.

My thoughts :

I'm still having an inner discussion about how much of the plot of The Quick by Lauren Owen to share in my review. I noticed that there have been a few changes to the wording in the cover synopsis since I got my early review copy. These changes give the reader a small glimpse into what they're getting into when they pick up this hefty novel (a bit over 500 pages long).

I had no idea and was just reading along through a story about a young poet's personal struggles in Victorian London and I was blindsided at page 100. I hesitate to divulge the secret because for me, that was part of the fun of the novel. The Quick was different from most novels that I read. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it--a delightful yet macabre change of pace. The characters were unique and it wasn't always immediately evident who was friend or foe. There were parts that dragged a little, but I was still surprised how quickly I became immersed in the story. 500 pages suddenly felt like nothing.

The Quick by Lauren Owen is morbid and gruesome while being refined and considerate. Owen takes her readers into a world that by the end feels fully plausible and wholly terrifying. It's definitely worth taking the descent into the gloomy but entertaining adventure.

The Quick is Lauren Owen's debut novel. It is published by Random House and releases on June 17, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Quick in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Winner of the Discovery Gateway Children's Museum Give-away

I can't believe I forgot to announce the winner of the Family Day Pass to Discovery Gateway Children's Museum. Well, I better fix that right now!

The winner is . . .  

Chelsea Prince.

Congratulations! Please contact me right away with your information so that you can claim your prize.
Thanks for participating.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - The Best Ten Books of the Year (So Far)

All day I've been seeing these fun blog posts where people have listed their 
top ten favorite books of the year so far.

It's part of the linky from The Broke and the Bookish. I don't usually do this kind of thing but I thought I'd play along today. It was actually harder than I thought to pick my favorite top ten list--there are a lot of good ones this year. The following list is made up of books that I read in 2014. Some were published this year and others weren't.

1.  The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker -- read my review *here*

2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes -- read my review *here*

3. Wonder by R.J. Palacio -- I read it for book club and while it's intended audience is children, I think it is a valuable, beautiful read for people of all ages.

4. Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen -- read my review *here*

5. The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon -- read my review *here*

6. Wake by Anna Hope -- read my review *here*

7. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin -- read my review *here*

8. Gemini by Carol Cassella -- read my review *here*

9. The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go -- read my review *here*

10. The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams -- read my review *here*

It's been such a great reading year that I just had to make it 11. Because how could I forget China Dolls by Lisa See? Read my review *here*