Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Day We Met - Book Review

Claire Armstrong has a lovely life. She's has two daughters--Caitlin, nearly grown and off to college and Esther, not yet ready for preschool. Her handsome husband Greg loves her desperately. And her mother Ruth would drop anything to help her daughter. Claire's life is wonderful except that she's forgetting it all.

Claire has been diagnosed with early onset-Alzheimer's--the same disease that took her father when she was young. Some days she feels entirely lucid and the next moment she's confused. She can't remember the name of her daughter. She has forgotten the all-consuming love she once shared with Greg.

Ruth and Caitlin have changed their own plans to come and help care for Claire, but in her clearer moments, Claire senses that all  is not right with Caitlin and tries in her last cognizant moments to help her daughter put her life back on track before she is lost to her forever.

The Day We Met by Rowan Coleman is an emotional roller coaster with characters that begged to be loved and understood by the reader. Since we have a member of our own family suffering from Alzheimer's Disease (thankfully not early-onset), I was especially moved by the portrayal of a character struggling with the incurable disease. It was very interesting to have Claire narrate her own story and see the neurological disconnects as she goes from understanding to confusion.

The novel is a beautiful story that I found myself completely wrapped up in. I cared intensely for the characters and ached with their own heart ache. Just this morning some friends and I were discussing why we read sad books and why sometimes it feels good to cry while reading a novel. We feel the emotion felt from the characters and see their perspective and gain a greater understanding for our own lives. The Day We Met will definitely inspire you to reach for the tissues. But as you wipe away the tears, you will feel.

The Day We Met by Rowan Coleman is published by Ballatine Books in March 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Day We Met. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Day in the Life - Blogger Event

Trish at Love, Laughter, Insanity put together A Day in the Life Blogger Event and I decided to participate rather at the last minute. Actually, as I lay in bed last night unable to fall asleep I was looking forward to reading about my fellow blogger friends' days and I decided I'd put together my own. I did this once before years ago when my children were small and still at home but I can't find that post. It's somewhere. Things have definitely changed for me since then. Edited to add: I found the A Day in the Life post that I wrote in March 2010--I still had three little kids at home. My day was much different.

Wednesdays tend to be my craziest busy days so I figured I'd focus first on one of those.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

6:30 am - My alarm goes off. I get up. Go to the bathroom. Take my thyroid medicine. Grab a towel and go wake up Neal. He gets in the shower and I go back to bed.

7:00 am - My second alarm goes off. I get up. I wake up Thomas and pick out his clothes.  I knock on the bathroom door to remind Neal to get out of the shower. Yes, he's still in there. I wake up the girls. I pick out Lilly's clothes. I go back to my room and check email on my phone.

7:10 am - I help Lilly do her hair. I yell at Amberly to get out of bed. I iron Neal's shirt (the downside of his new wardrobe choice of button-up shirts--though I still like it better than the gym shorts and t-shirts he wore for three years). I help Neal get his hair just so. I help Thomas comb his hair.

7:25 am - I yell at Amberly to get out of bed. The rest of us go downstairs for breakfast. I make Neal his favorite omelet. Neal, Lilly and Molly request cinnamon toast.

7:35 am - Amberly wanders downstairs and gets herself a bowl of cereal.

7:45 am - We have family prayers. Neal leaves to catch his bus to the junior high. Amberly, Thomas and Lilly walk to school.

8:00 am - I've been craving Indian food for days and I discovered a slow cooker recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala. We put together the Garam Masala using this recipe. Rand and I went to the store the night before to get all the ingredients and the spices. We prep the chicken. Sautee the onions, garlic, ginger. Get it in the crock pot. This is a big deal for us. We're excited.

8:45 am - I get Molly dressed and comb her hair.

9:00 am - I walk Molly to kindergarten. Yes, I'm still wearing  my pajamas. The school is just two blocks away. Less than a thousand steps there and back. I love that I get to say hello to all the neighborhood kids walking to school.

9:15 am - I finish processing the pictures of the Primary children and send them to Costco to print.

10:10 am - I fold the laundry that has been sitting in baskets since Monday while watching an episode of Gilmore Girls on the iPad. I've never watched Gilmore Girls before and I'm only on Season 3. My friends and I text each other.

11:00 am - I take a shower. Get dressed. Get ready.

11:40 am - UPS delivers some book mail.

11:45 am - My alarm goes off to remind me to pick up Molly from Kindergarten. I walk back to the school.  We've had a lovely winter with warmish weather and I've been able to walk every day. Several of my friends also walk to school and we visit while we wait for the kids to get out of class. There are over a dozen kids from our neighborhood/ward in morning kindergarten this year (more in all-day and afternoon). Molly and her friends run home. My friends and I walk home slowly enjoying the time we get to talk with each other.

12:15 pm - I need to go to Costco to pick up the pictures. Rand is on his lunch break so he decides to come with me. The closest Costco is 14 miles away and it takes us at least a half an hour to drive there. We haven't been there since December so we spend some time eating samples and loading up our favorite Costco staples (frozen meatballs, bacon crumbles, Rhodes rolls, etc.) The strawberries look amazing and I get some muffins and danishes for the brunch I'm hosting with some friends later in the week.

2:20 pm - We pull in the driveway just as Amberly, Thomas and Lilly walk home from school. Perfect timing. The kids help unload and put away the groceries.

2:40 pm - The kids get busy on their homework and chores.

3:30 pm - Neal gets home from school. His favorite girl is moving soon so he lingers at the bus stop talking to her before walking home.

4:00 pm - I walk back to the school for the School Community Council meeting. Some local boy scouts have joined us to fulfill part of their Communication merit badge requirements. We discuss amending some of our goals for the 2015-2016 school year; the budget and the upcoming school events. We will support the PTA on the Family Art Night, the Battle of the Books and we need to attend the Collaboration Presentations coming up.

5:10 pm - I run home. Rand has finished prepping the Chicken Tikka Masala and made the rice. I shovel the amazing food into my mouth. It's missing a little kick but it turned out pretty good.

5:30 pm - My friend picks me up and we go the church to set up for Pack Meeting. I get an additional 3000 steps as I set up chairs.

6:00 pm - Pack meeting starts. Rand has dropped of Thomas just in time. I help with a station where the kids put socks over their hands and try to button shirts. We are discussing disability awareness. The evening goes pretty well and the craziness is 60% less than usual.

7:00 pm - Neal goes to his Scout activity. Rand, Thomas and I go home. We get the little girls ready for bed. We read scriptures together and have family prayer.

8:00 pm - I go to Primary Presidency Meeting. As usual, we discuss our staffing needs. Trying to get enough teachers for the 150 kids is an endless struggle. We plan dessert for the Priesthood Preview coming up and plan to go to the church the next morning to complete the bulletin board now that the pictures have been printed.

9:30 pm - I get home. Change immediately into my pajamas. Send Neal and Amberly to bed. Climb into bed. Rand and I watch an episode of Parenthood together on his computer.

10:20 pm - I read Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker until I can't keep my eyes open for another minute.

12:00 am - Turn out the lights and fall immediately asleep.

That was a particularly busy day. Yesterday was the very opposite.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

6:30 am - 7:45 am - See above. It's the same routine every day. Except that Neal put all his jeans in the washer the night before and forgot to move them to the dryer. Neal waits for dry pants and Rand gives him a ride to school.

7:45 am - I feel lousy. Horrible headache. Cancel my scheduled walk with a friend. Cancel my meeting with the other Primary counselor to finish the bulletin board.

8:00 am - Give Molly a bath and get her ready for school.

9:00 am - Walk Molly to school.

9:15 am - Load the dishwasher. Put a load of towels in the washer.

9:45 am - Write a book review and schedule the post for the day of the release.

10:30 am - Watch an episode of Gilmore Girls while I fold laundry.

11:10 am - Take a shower and get dressed.

11:45 am - Walk to the school with some friends to pick up the kindergarteners.

12:15 pm - Make Molly lunch. She has nachos. I have a strawberry, banana, and spinach smoothie.

12:45 pm - Lay down and read The Tiger Wife by Tea Obreht. It's our book club book this month.

2:25 pm - Kids get home from school. Finish homework. Chores. My friends text each other about dinner ideas. I realize I haven't even thought about it. I put some chicken quarters in the microwave to thaw and find some red potatoes in the pantry.

3:30 pm - Neal gets home from school. Amberly cuts up the potatoes.

4:00 pm - The chicken and potatoes go into the oven. A sudden and surprising burst of energy. I play Just Dance 2 with Lilly on the Wii. I am dripping with sweat.

5:30 pm - We eat dinner.

6:00 pm - The kids play outside. Rand and I watch another episode of Parenthood. I discover that Lauren Graham and Peter Krause (actors who play siblings on the show) are a real life couple and text my friends. We're a bit freaked out by that. We're in season 5 now.

7:00 pm - The kids stink after playing outside. Amberly, Thomas and Lilly take showers.

7:45 pm - We read scriptures and have family prayer.

8:00 pm - The little girls go to bed. Thomas goes to bed to read Harry Potter. He's obsessed. It's so cute. Rand studies for the SPHR that he's scheduled to take in May. After listening to the online lectures, I think I could pass the exam. I read The Tiger Wife.

9:30 pm - Neal and Amberly go to bed. My eyes will not stay open for one more minute. I fall asleep with my book on my chest.

10:20 pm - Rand finished studying. I get up to take out my contacts and wash my face. Now I'm awake so we watch another episode of Parenthood.

11:30 pm - We're excited to actually turn out the lights before midnight. Rand uses his new CPAP machine. I can't sleep. My neck hurts and my pillows are horrible. And it's way too hot in the room.

2:30 am - Rand wakes up and takes off his CPAP mask. I'm still awake so we talk for a minute.

Sometime around 3:00 am - I fall asleep.

Most of my days fall somewhere in between those two examples. Good times.

Be sure to check out all the other blogger posts on the "Day in the Life" link-up at Love, Laughter, Insanity. It's kind of a fun project. You might even want to do your own.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mercy Snow - Book Review

There is a tragic accident on the dangerous and windy Devil's Slide Road. The bus driver is in a coma and one teenage girl is dead. June McAllister is grateful that her son is still alive but haunted by the death of her son's friend and the possibility that her husband, the owner of the mill, had something to do with the crash.

Zeke, Mercy and their little sister Hannah, ragged and trouble, have recently moved to their deceased father's property near Devil's Slide Road. The town is already uneasy with their reputation and when Zeke's truck is found crashed into a tree near the site of the bus accident, it is easy to place the blame squarely on his shoulders. But when the authorities go to apprehend him, he disappears into the woods.

Mercy is left alone to care for Hannah; scrounge for money and food and try to clear Zeke's name. June McAllister, trying to make sure that her husband's indiscretions and careless behavior stays hidden, becomes Mercy's greatest foe in the small town still reeling from the accident.

Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker takes place in the tiny mill town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire. In the 1990s the mills along the Androscoggin were experiencing losses now that production was moving to cheaper sources and the government was more carefully regulating pollution levels in the river. Titan Falls was wrapped up in concern for their livelihoods when the devastating accident shook the people in the small community.

It's easiest to be wary and suspecting of the newest members in town and everyone is nervous of Mercy. Mercy is a fascinating main character. Strong and capable, she's also tender and vulnerable. Her now-deceased mother had led her children on a nomadic life in the northern woods where she taught Mercy the healing arts. Using these skills, Mercy is attempts to heal the wounds of Titan Falls while protecting her siblings. Mercy is a character that it's easy to sympathize with and to champion.

I enjoyed the beautiful and haunting story. I love New Hampshire and I appreciated the details of the town and the surrounding woods, as well as the struggling river. The novel is well plotted--rather than flowing rapidly like a rushing river, it sort of meanders at a steady gentle pace allowing the reader to get to know the eccentric and unique people in town.

Mercy Snow is one of the She Reads Books of Winter. Since most of the book occurs during the freezing months of ice and snow, it was an appropriate winter choice. It's the story of a dying town; a woman who has lost herself and a young girl strong enough to show everyone the truth.

Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker is published by Grand Central Publishing and released in January 2015.

**I received a copy from the publisher, through the She Reads Book Club. All opinions are my own.**

Friday, March 20, 2015

Finding Jake - Book Review

When Simon and his wife first found out they were expecting a child, they decided that Simon would stay at home to raise the children and write while his wife pursued her career as an attorney. Though Simon often felt awkward around the other moms at play dates and school events, being a stay-at-home dad was a job he began to love and obsess over as he spent his time with first his son Jake and then his daughter Laney.

The sudden text instructing all parents that there had been a shooting at the school sent Simon into immediate panic and as it becomes clear that Jake is implicated in the shooting, Simon becomes more and more concerned. He is determined to find his missing son and clear his name.

As he searches for Jake and deals with the police, media and emotional parents, Simon stresses about all the moments leading up to this event--what he may have done wrong and what he could have done differently as a parent. In clearer moments, he recalls those sweet, tender memories of his son and knows in his heart that Jake must be innocent.

My book club recently read Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon. Since we are all parents, we were immediately able to relate to Simon's fear and panic regarding the school shooting. Just a month ago, I glanced out my window and saw a swarm of emergency vehicles with their lights circling and their sirens blaring near the junior high my son attends. My heart momentarily seized with concern before I remembered they were in a parade honoring a fallen officer. With so many school shootings, this fear lives strong in the hearts of all parents. Simon's concerns, fears and pain were completely believable.

My book club is made up of mothers, but it was interesting to look at this subject from the perspective of a stay-at-home dad. When it appears that Jake is implicated, Simon is filled with guilt. His wife seemed to place the responsibility on him and it made me wonder if the primary care giver/nurturing parent is really more responsible for the children's behavior than the other parent. Or is a team effort? Finding Jake definitely inspired conversation and thought regarding parent responsibility and roles.

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon was a compelling read. Through Simon's memories and the current events, the reader is able to understand Jake and the mystery of whether or not Jake could and would violently shoot his friends and fellow students starts to unfold. The heartbreak, worry and fear felt by Jake's parents was very well portrayed and I ached for them and the other parents that had lost their children.

Finding Jake is a timely novel that inspires much discussion and was great to read with our book club.

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon is published by William Morrow and released in February 2015. Copies of the book were provided by The Book Club Girls.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Pocket Wife - Book Review

From the cover :

A stylish psychological thriller with the compelling intrigue of The Silent Wife and Turn of Mind and the white-knuckle pacing of Before I Go to Sleep—in which a woman suffering from bipolar disorder cannot remember if she murdered her friend.
Dana Catrell is shocked when her neighbor Celia is brutally murdered. To Dana’s horror, she was the last person to see Celia alive. Suffering from mania, the result of her bipolar disorder, she has troubling holes in her memory, including what happened on the afternoon of Celia’s death.
Her husband’s odd behavior and the probing of Detective Jack Moss create further complications as she searches for answers. The closer she comes to piecing together the shards of her broken memory, the more Dana falls apart. Is there a murderer lurking inside her . . . or is there one out there in the shadows of reality, waiting to strike again?
A story of marriage, murder, and madness, The Pocket Wife explores the world through the foggy lens of a woman on the edge.

My thoughts :

Reading The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford, I was immediately intrigued by Dana's struggle to remember the events of the murder and her own fear that she had actually killed her neighbor. Dana was a unique and fascinating main character. Reading the novel with the understanding that seeing the events through the eyes of Dana may not be painting the most accurate picture of reality gave the novel the added appeal; the reader is always aware of being manipulated. While suspect, Dana is also terribly fragile and it's quite easy to sympathize with her.

The plot moves along at a nice pace with interesting side characters and the shadow of guilt thrown on a number of players. There are coincidences and a few unlikely details but they do not overly distract from the mystery. I was constantly compelled to continue reading and quite taken with Dana's plight. I wasn't positive but had some suspicion that the novel would end as it did. The ending is satisfactory and plausible but doesn't come with a whole lot of bang or fanfare. I think I'm actually okay with it.

I enjoy a good psychological thriller and The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford delivered. Most novels in this genre are also quite sordid and vulgar. The Pocket Wife is really quite a refreshingly clean read. There are no sexual scenes, no torture and a rather small smattering of bad language. It's a very impressive debut and I'll be looking forward to more from Crawford.

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford is published by William Morrow and releases on March 17, 2015.

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Messenger of Truth : Maisie Dobbs - Book Review

From the cover :

London, 1931. The night before an exhibition of his artwork opens at a famed Mayfair gallery, the controversial artist Nick Bassington-Hope falls to his death. The police rule it an accident, but Nick's twin sister, Georgina, a wartime journalist and a infamous figure in her own right, isn't convinced.

When the authorities refuse to consider her theory that Nick was murdered, Georgina seeks out a fellow graduate from Girton College, Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, for help. Nick was a veteran of World War I, and before long the case leads Maisie to the desolate beaches of Dungeness in Kent, and into the sinister underbelly of the city's art world.

My thoughts:

I've read several of the Maisie Dobbs books now and while I'm not a bona fide fan, I do enjoy the mysteries and the time period. The atmosphere and history of the period between the two world wars is fascinating to read about as the people pick up the pieces from one war only to be hit by depression and the political unrest leading up to the next war. In this time period, Maisie becomes an unlikely yet worthy hero as she searches and uses her keen intellect and skills of observation and knowledge of psychology to solve the mysteries.

Maisie's back story is told in its entirety in the first Maisie Dobbs book by Jacqueline Winspear (You can read my review of that novel **here**.) and while that first story helps set the stage for the subsequent novels, each book can stand on its own fairly well. Maisie is a unique character: brilliant and wise yet understated and rarely seeking the limelight. With her vast life experiences and her career decisions, Maisie is a model of early feminism in a time when single, working women were a new phenomenon following the war. 

I found the mystery in Messenger of Truth quite fascinating. The friends and family surrounding the deceased artist were intriguing and as Maisie tries to untangle the webs to get to the truth of Nick's death, she discovers that many of his associates have secrets to hide. Even years after the war, it is clear that there was much damage to the psyche of the people who lived through the atrocities.

The novel moves at a much slower pace than most mysteries. Honestly, I was bored with Maisie's personal story and that of her employee Billy. While that story-line does much to bolster the atmosphere of the time period, it did little to further the mystery and I wished the pace would move along. 

Overall though, I did enjoy the mystery and the conclusion was exciting and fully satisfying. 

There are nine novels in the Maisie Dobbs series. Messenger of Truth is the fourth. It was published by Picador in 2006. You can find out more about the author Jacqueline Winspear on her website or Facebook page.

I received a copy of Messenger of Truth as part of the TLC Book Tours. You can check out more stops on the Maisie Dobbs tour.

Sisters of Shiloh - Book Review

Libby Beale is devastated after the death of her beloved husband at the gruesome Civil War battle of Antietam. Seeking to avenge his death, Libby schemes to join the Rebel army dressed as a man and kill Yankees. Libby's older and protective sister Josephine comes along in an attempt to keep Libby safe.

In borrowed britches and with their hair chopped, Libby and Josephine pass for young boys. The Rebel army is desperate for recruits and signs them up. Libby seems to be channeling her deceased husband; she begins to walk and talk like him. She learns to shoot to kill and thrives in the grisly battles. Josephine, however, has more difficulty adopting the habits of a man. Determined not to kill anyone, she doesn't fire her weapon and can't resist another young soldier who sees her only as a good friend.

Sisters of Shiloh is appropriately written by sisters, Kathy and Becky Hepinstall. The prose is rich and captures the imagination. The brutal truths of battle and war are laid bare on the page. They don't shy away from the violence. Perhaps because they are "the fairer sex not made for war" they are actually more aware of the horrific details..

The novel moves at a rapid pace and was engaging. There is some awkward romance between Josephine and the soldier Wesley--picture some Shakespeare Twelfth Night. Theirs is a sweet friendship and I enjoyed this plot line much more than Libby's revenge.

While Sisters of Shiloh is a Civil War novel and it describes the battles, it does not get into the politics of the war much at all. Focusing on the women and their reactions to the war, Sisters of Shiloh paints a picture of how the war effected the regular foot soldier and the people who loved them.

Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy and Becky Hepinstall is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March 2015.

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