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.**