Another winner from Jojo Moyes

cover image from Goodreads

cover image from Goodreads

A quick reading Q&A with myself:

Do you read romance novels?   Never.

Do you like books when you are sure you know where the story is going and how it will end?   Not at all.

Do you like authors to wrap up all the loose ends in a novel?   No.

Judging by the answers above, I should not have ever chosen The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, but I did. And I loved it.

“All that counts is the truth. Without it you’re basically just juggling people’s daft ideas.”

The emotional truth of Jojo Moyes’ characters as well as the strength of her writing elevates this novel beyond its romantic story-line. I was completely engrossed by the dual stories of women left behind, both in wartime and modern day.

The book’s title refers to a mysterious painting at the center of this novel, but the words also describe the heroines of the two intersecting stories. Sophie Lefevre is a French citizen trying to survive without her artist-turned-soldier husband under German occupation during World War I. Liv Halston is the widow of another artist (an architect) trying to rebuild her life despite impending financial ruin a century later.

Both women look to the painting for strength and hope with varying degrees of success. Part historical fiction, part modern day romance with a little bit of old-fashioned mystery; the book’s success comes from the honesty and identifiable emotions of these two women. I cared deeply for each, and even though I guessed their fates early on, was eager to follow their journeys.

“Do you know how it feels to resign yourself to your fate? It is almost welcome. There was to be no more pain, no more fear, no more longing. It is the death of hope that comes as the greatest relief.”

I can recommend this book (as well as Me Before You, which is even better) without any reservation. Moyes tells great stories and she tells them well.

#100happydays: Days 11-20

#100happydays began as an Instagram exercise in gratitude, a challenge to take a moment to be purposefully thankful for the many happy moments that make up my days.

Because this is an Instagram project, I am limiting myself to something I can photograph. Likewise, I use very few words to describe these images. Days 11-20 mostly fell during my family’s annual vacation at Beachwalk Resort.  I probably could have posted 100 happy moments for each day of our vacation, but here is what I chose.

11Day 11: Fresh haircuts for these handsome boys.

12Day 12: Officially in my happy place.#beachwalk #terrapinstation

13Day 13: He caught one! #fishing #beachwalk #lakekai

 

 

14Day 14: Brothers #topdog #beachwalk

15Day 15: 2 Pats, a sunset, a football & Lake Michigan. Perfect!

16Day 16: So great to have a couple of days with Mima. #beachwalk

 

 

17Day 17. A chill in the air won’t stop @matty1217 #pool #beachwalk

18Day 18: Blueberry picking at Billy Boy’s. #tradition — at Billy Boy’s Blueberry Farm.

19Day 19: A week of happy days and wonderful memories with these 3 angels. Bye-bye Beachwalk.

 

 

20Day 20: Celebrating family and the first wedding anniversary of @chrisuphues and @jenkoehl

 

 

How about you? How do you practice gratitude?

All the images in this post are my own. Please don’t use them as yours.

Renewing Excitement, Dusting off the Bookshelf

I often get caught up in conversations about never-ending to-read lists with other book lovers. Most of my to-reads exist on a virtual shelf, but I also have stacks of “someday I’m going to read” in boxes, on shelves and even in my car. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to read more books than I can possibly get to in a lifetime, but sometimes in my excitement to read the latest releases, or keep up with my book clubs, I fear some good books might be getting lost in the shuffle.

Apparently, I’m not alone. Other book-loving bloggers are facing the same dilemma. First, I saw the “Renewing Excitement” idea on the thoughtful and smart book blog, Chels & a Book, and it made me realize that I don’t reach past the top 10 or 20 books on my to-read list very often.

dusting-off-the-shelf-read-a-thon-graphic1Then, I stumbled across a similar idea while reading It’s All About Books. Yvo was herself inspired by Emily at Books & Cleverness. (Really, bloggers are the most creative and inspirational group of people.)

So, inspired by these lovely women, each month I will choose a few from the middle or bottom of the list (meaning they’ve been sitting and waiting patiently for over a year), determined to read at least one per month. If I can read even more than one, all the better. Any advice or guidance you can offer would be much appreciated.

For August 2014, my choices are:

Look At MeLook at Me by Jennifer Egan. Added to my shelf July, 2011 (published in 2002). Full disclosure: I did not love A Visit From the Goon Squad so I don’t have the love affair with this author that many do. However, I loved The Keep and really like The Invisible Circus.

Goodreads describes it: At the start of this edgy and ambitiously multilayered novel, a fashion model named Charlotte Swenson emerges from a car accident in her Illinois hometown with her face so badly shattered that it takes eighty titanium screws to reassemble it. She returns to New York still beautiful but oddly unrecognizable, a virtual stranger in the world she once effortlessly occupied.

The Flying TroutmansThe Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews. Added to my shelf August, 2011 (published in 2008). I never got around to reading this book and now Toews’ new book, All My Puny Sorrows, is getting tons of buzz.

Goodreads describes it: Days after being dumped by her boyfriend Marc in Paris – “he was heading off to an ashram and said we could communicate telepathically” – Hattie hears her sister Min has been checked into a psychiatric hospital, and finds herself flying back to Winnipeg to take care of Thebes and Logan, her niece and nephew. Not knowing what else to do, she loads the kids, a cooler, and a pile of CDs into their van and they set out on a road trip in search of the children’s long-lost father, Cherkis.

Open CityOpen City by Teju Cole. Added to my shelf in October, 2011 (published in 2011). I know I should read Teju Cole. I suspect I’ll love Teju Cole, but it’s never made it to the top of the list.

Goodreads describes it: Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency wanders aimlessly. The walks meet a need for Julius: they are a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and they give him the opportunity to process his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past.

 

Any advice about what I should choose first?

BINGO!

My Lita loved BINGO. I have fond memories of accompanying her to the church hall, where’d she set up her cards, red plastic discs and lucky elephants while she sent me to the concession stand for potato chips and pop. It was a weekly date and I loved her focus as she quickly scanned dozens of cards. I remember her excitement when she’d yell BINGO and raise her tiny hand in the air. I eagerly awaited the last game of the night when Lita would bring out her BINGO stampers and let me choose the color I wanted. (Of course I wasn’t technically allowed to play as a minor, but she always let me watch a card or two.) We never won the big jackpot, but I won something much more important those nights.

Reading-Bingo-smallSo when I saw a Reading BINGO card pop up on Facebook in January, I knew I had to play along. (The game was posted courtesy of Random House Canada and can be found here.)

I started strong, getting multiple BINGO lines in the first couple months of the year without having to try too hard — female author, different continent, short stories, non-fiction– this was a cinch. But, around April, I realized which squares would provide the challenge: B1 (more than 500 pages); I2 (non-human characters); I5 (scares you); N2 (funny book); G5 (second book in a series) and O3 (bottom of the TBR). I had to consciously go looking for those.

But I’m proud to raise my tiny hand in the air and yell BINGO!!! Tell the man with the microphone to get ready, I hit the big jackpot. I know my Lita’s smiling down on me.

Here are my BINGO titles. I’ve included links to those titles I reviewed on this blog and my 1-5 star ratings.

1) more than 500 pages – What is the What *****
B2) written by someone under 30 – How To Be a Good Wife ****
B3) one-word title – Cartwheel **
B4) 1st book by a favorite author – Songdogs (Column McCann) ****
B5) your friend loves – The Enchanted *****

I1) forgotten classic – BUtterfield 8****
I2) non-human characters – Hollow City****
I3) short stories – The Color Master: Stories ****
I4) heard about online – Black Swan Green ****
I5) scares you – 101 Great American Poems **** (and, yes, reading poetry scares the hell out of me)

N1) became a movie – This Boy’s Life ****
N2) funny book – Same Difference **
N3) FREE- Quiet Dell***
N4) best-selling – Eleanor & Park ****
N5) more than 10 years old – The Daughter of Time **

G1) published this year – Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir ****
G2) female author – The Book of Unknown Americans ****
G3) set on a different continent – Sister of My Heart ***
G4) based on a true story – When I Was Puerto Rican***
G5) 2nd book in a series – You Suck ***

O1) number in the title – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ****
O2) a mystery – Speaking from Among the Bones ****
O3) non-fiction – Orange Is the New Black **
O4) bottom of your to be read pile – The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes ***
O5) blue cover – All the Light We Cannot See*****

 

Anyone else playing along? What were your hardest spots to fill?

It’s not too late to climb aboard to Reading BINGO train.

#100happydays: Days 1-10

#100happydays began as an Instagram exercise in gratitude. I consider myself a pretty happy woman, but am guilty of getting caught up in the annoying realities of daily life – my kids are fighting, my house is a mess, my job is stressful, etc. And, if motherhood has taught me anything, it’s that gratitude, like patience, must be practiced daily. I welcomed the challenge to take a moment to be purposefully thankful for the many happy moments that make up my days.

Because this is an Instagram project, my challenge each day is to not just think of something, someone, some lofty quote, that makes me happy, but to think of something I can photograph. I can have a moment of thankfulness for a great phone conversation with my mom, but it doesn’t make a compelling Instagram photo. Likewise, I use very few words to describe these images. As I suspected in compiling them for this round-up, the image alone is enough to bring a smile to my face.

1Day 1: Final baseball game for the 2014 season. (For a better understanding of why the final game is the one that kicked off 100happydays, please read my post about Teaching Failure.)

2Day 2: Night Swim at the Berwyn Rec Pool. Uncrowded and awesome.

3Day 3. Golden beets from our garden, roasted in the oven. Simple salt and pepper. Thanks to my husband, the gardener.

4Day 4: Our latest library haul. Books make me happy.

5Day 5: Backyard baseball. No fees, technology or travel. Just brothers in the sun.

6Day 6: Connor’s love for horses always makes me smile. Stopped for a visit at Brookfield Zoo, Summer Nights.

7

 

Day 7: Sunday morning bike ride with my husband.

8Day 8: Bringing my boys to work this week for Discovery Camp at Naz.

9Day 9: Fun plans for these items! Girls Night Out.

10

 

 

 

 

Day 10: Making new friends while building a solar oven. #discoverycamp

 

How about you? How do you practice gratitude?

All the images in this post are my own. Please don’t use them as yours.

W…W…W…Wednesday: Books read, reading and to read

I am back with another solid week of books read and reviewed and heading into 10 days offs when I hope to really make a dent in my TBR.

Thanks to Miz B at Should Be Reading for hosting. I have discovered so many other wonderful blogs through this book-loving meme.

www_wednesdays44

I’d love to know what everyone is reading.  To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…(or post a link to your blog.)

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

 

cover image via Goodreads

cover image via Goodreads

What are you currently reading?  I wish I could remember* which terrific blog peaked my interest in Bellweather Rhapsody because I’m really enjoying this mystery (maybe ghost story?) set amid a high school arts conference at a crumbling grand hotel. After feeling burned by The Interestings (which I did not love), I was nervous about delving into another group of teenage prodigies, but this one grabbed me right away. On audio, I’m loving The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, the 6th installment in the Flavia de Luce mysteries.

 

 

cover image via Goodreads

cover image via Goodreads

What did you recently finish reading? I read and reviewed Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian. I definitely recommend it to fans of YA and strong smart writing. Also finished The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, which was my first Diane Chamberlain novel. It was completely engaging while I read it, but more made-for-tv-movie than my typical reading choices. It turned out to be a good choice for a summer, poolside read as the story was engaging but the language was simple and straightforward.

 

 

cover image via Goodreads

cover image via Goodreads

What do you think you’ll read next?  I had a great visit to the library this week as I prepare for vacation and a solid week of nothing but time on my hands. I chose 7 books, all different genre, mostly older releases. I’ll be starting with The Painter because I’ve heard nothing but outstanding raves and I’ve never read Peter Heller.

Happy reading everyone!

How about you?

What are your W…W…W… titles? Please feel free to share a link to your own W…W…W…Wednesday posts or share your reading plans in the comments.

*EDIT: Many, many thanks to Rosemary at Rosemary and Reading Glasses as she is the blogger who introduced me to this book and author. Thanks for the reminder Rosemary.

Book Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

cover image via Goodreads

cover image via Goodreads

Chris Bohjalian didn’t just dip his toes into YA fiction; he dove head first into deep waters with Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. Emily Shepherd is a depressed teen who makes bad decisions in an already bad (actually catastrophic) situation. It helps that she is also smart, romantic (in an Emily Dickenson sort of way), and caring. I wanted to jump into the pages of this book and rescue this young woman before it was too late.

And that’s sort of the genius of this novel, it’s already too late. Emily herself tells us early on that what we’re reading is sort of a confessional.  The events of the book all happened in the past. We are climbing into her unsettled, chemically unbalanced mind to remember/sort out/atone for the events that have led her to where she is now.

“And to think grown-ups thought I had a “lack of impulse control” before Reactor One blew up. I guess it was always going to be a crapshoot to see who or what melted down first.”

I’m not usually a fan of books where I feel one step removed from the action, but in this case, it works well, maybe because the events would have been too much to take chronologically or in the moment. Nuclear reactor meltdown, dead parents, homelessness, prostitution, drug use, illness. (That’s right – the nuclear reactor meltdown is only the tip of the dramatic iceberg here.) Add to all of this Emily’s guilt over Cameron, someone she believes she failed.

It could be emotionally overwhelming, but it is not because Bohjalian is a great storyteller.

He breaks the story down into many tiny chunks as Emily’s mind and memories flit from place to place. It’s a stream-of-consciousness style of writing which I love because it feels so true. Not only does my mind sometimes race a mile a minute, stopping at seemingly disconnected places, I find it especially true of teenagers. Even in the best circumstances teenagers tend to veer all over the road; in Emily’s circumstances, it makes perfect sense that she can’t stay on one part of her story for very long.

“Poacher said heroin was like “God kissing your cheek,” but I felt very small those days and wasn’t sure how I would handle something as big as God getting that close.”

Emily’s loneliness and desire for connection practically jump off of the page.

It’s impossible for me to know how this kind of writing and broken character will appeal to the actual YA target demographic, but I hope they will embrace it and come to know and appreciate such fine writing.