Book Reviews: September

I'm in love with this photo!  When I look at it I see a tender moment, nature, love, and simplicity. Everything I hold dear to my heart.

September was dedicated to cookbooks, baking, exploring my surroundings and enjoying cooler weather.  I'm not blogging much these days but you can keep up with me daily on twitter, pinterest, and instagram.  This is where I'm leaning these days with quick life updates from running, Lymes, and cooking.... to researching life's next adventure. 

I have been to NY, CT, NJ... visiting farm to table concepts.  Enjoying nature, cooking.  I should dedicate a few posts to food and what I'm learning - maybe!

Reading: I read two novels in September, listened to one.

Love Anthony: I had been waiting for this novel to be published for months.  Genova is a favorite writer of mine, descriptive and smart. 

This story follows two women, their lives don't overlap much so I found myself drawn to one woman's story more than the other.  The women meet a few times and the story wraps up nicely.

Love Anthony was good but Still Alice is still my favorite book written by Lisa Genova.

My goodreads rating: 3 stars

The Longest Way Home: Okay... I loved this book.  I'm a travel junky who loves adventure and long before reading this book I mentioned plans to climb Mt Kilimanjaro.  So reading a chapter dedicated to the climb was thrilling!

I read somewhere that this is the guy's version of Eat, Pray, Love.  There are similarities, McCarthy's story moves forward/backward in time and is about someones struggle to commit.  I listened to The Longest Way Home, narrated by McCarthy himself and enjoyed hearing his voice as I walked the trails.

My goodreads rating: 4 stars

Forgotten:  As posted on Goodreads... I enjoyed this one but Arranged is still my favorite by this author. 

With Forgotten, I was expecting something different and that always gets me in trouble.  It's not the author's fault - I read Africa, rebuilding a life... was hooked. 

It's a fun/chicklit story about a woman navitaging through life, the way a normal person would.  That is the best part of this book!  The main character returns from an extended trip to Africa and has to deal with people reactions/situations... because 'they' decided she died. 

Read it, it's fun.

My goodreads rating: 3 stars

Book Reviews: August

All of the books read in August were written by wildly popular American authors!  I even caved and read summer sensation Gone Girl.

Gone Girl: Everyone has read it, most loved it without question BUT I can't imagine recommending this book.

After listening to Slate's audiobook discussion for Gone Girl... I like the book a little more.  It is a chess match, filled with unlikeable characters.  Many of the developments are implausible (but necessary on occasion to move a story forward). 

I HATED the mall, blue book, part of the story.  It just wasn't needed.  I wish I was scared reading it. 

In my head, I describe Gone Girl as 'misery' meets 'sleeping with the enemy' light.  Two movies I have never been able to watch without leaving the room! If you want to read a dark, creepy, thriller read 'i'd know you anywhere'.

My goodreads rating: 3 stars

Where we Belong: If you enjoy Giffin you will like this book.  She delivers another solid women's journey novel.

I have to say I liked this book more when I finished it, than while reading it.  Most of the book leads up to something.  I tend to like books set post event - letting me read how characters handle/grow from situations. 

I wonder if this is book one, and we might read a new novel from the father's view.  That could be interesting.

My goodreads rating: 3 stars

Wallflower in Bloom: I didn't plan to read this book but after hearing someone rave about it I changed my mind. This almost never works for me. I didn't even rate it on goodreads, it wouldn't be fair to the author.

DWTS (Dancing with the Stars) is lost on me. The main character was a bit to whiny, shallow, and self centered for my enjoyment. Lot's of talk about Devil Dogs and Ring Ding's... ugh. I'm thankful I don't have anyone in my daily life that I would describe from this cast of characters!  I ended up skimming the second half to see how the story ended.

However, the humor of the guru brother wasn't lost on me. I wanted to love it - if only for the cover. I love the cover!

My goodreads rating: NA

Book Reviews: July

Traveling 24 of 34 days in July (and early August)... I was able to get a lot of reading in!

Have you read any of these titles?  Did you like, love, hate any of them?  
The Book of Jonas (audio):  I enjoyed this one but it's a dark, sad tale.  Well written but to be honest I would have put this down if we weren't reading it for discussion.  It didn't hold my interest.  It's an interesting story, with no big moments.

My book club picked it but we are not planning to discuss it - we decided to pass and pick a new book.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

The Forgotten Waltz (audio): I listened to this while walking the streets of Dublin.  A powerful story, sad.  Since I was listening - it felt like I was listening to a friend tell me about her life, decisions and the consequences.

I highly recommend this for book clubs - there's a lot to discuss!

My Goodreads rating: 4+ stars

How Lucky are you: This is a hard luck story, I wish it would have been a little darker.  It could have been so good if a little more detail was shared. 

That said, I do recommend it if the synopsis grabs your attention.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

I couldn't love you more: I read this in flight.  A quick read, good writing, a powerful story.  This is my kind of women's lit.

Blended family, a tragedy up front, the rest of the book deals with how the family overcomes a situation. 

Another good book club selection! 

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

The Bay of Foxes: This is one of my favorite books read this year. Hemingway like!

I don't even know how to express my view of this book, without sharing details.  So I will just tell you to read it!

Filled with twists - I read this in one day.  Magnificent!

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

The Good Woman: I have many friends dealing with mid life, some have had affairs, others are wondering "is this really it".  So Jane's novel really grabbed hold of me.  Let's face it - Jane knows how to write a book about women's emotions and working through situations! 

I also loved that this book has an issue arise in the book and we have to watch the family deal with a situation.  Plus family dynamics... I can't wait to read book two!

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Books I can't wait to read!

I tend to read lighter fare in the summer and transition to dark, meaty novels in the fall.  That said the books listed below intrigue me but I don't know if I will read them.  I struggle reading books about Hitler, war, true horrible life situations from the past.  All important moments in history but my nighttime imagination gets the best of me (nightmares).

I enjoy reading Laura Lippman's suspense novels, LOVED I'd know you Anywhere.  They are out of my comfort zone, freak me out a bit...perfect for a fall weekend.  I can't take too long to read them though!

Have you read any of these books? 
And when she was good:  Heloise considers it a blessing to know how to avoid attention. At home, she's merely a mom and a lobbyist with a good cause and a mediocre track record. But in discreet hotel rooms, she's the woman of your dreams - if you can afford her hourly fee.

For more than a decade, Heloise has believed she is safe. Only now her secret life is under siege. One county over, another so-called suburban madam has been found dead in her car, a suicide. Or is it?

And then she learns that her son's father might be released from prison, which is problematic because he doesn't know he has a son. He also doesn't realize that he's serving a life sentence because Heloise betrayed him.

Heloise has to remake her life - again. Disappearing will be the easy part. The trick will be living long enough to start a new life.

Freud's Sister (publish date, Aug 28):  Vienna, 1938: With the Nazis closing in, Sigmund Freud is granted an exit visa and allowed to list the names of people to take with him. He lists his doctor and maids, his dog, and his wife's sister, but not any of his own sisters. The four Freud sisters are shuttled to the Terezín concentration camp, while their brother lives out his last days in London.
Was Sigmund Freud responsible for the death of his sister in a Nazi concentration camp?

Based on a true story, this searing novel gives haunting voice to Freud's sister Adolfina—“the sweetest and best of my sisters”—a gifted, sensitive woman who was spurned by her mother and never married. A witness to her brother's genius and to the cultural and artistic splendor of Vienna in the early twentieth century, she aspired to a life few women of her time could attain.

From Adolfina's closeness with her brother in childhood, to her love for a fellow student, to her time with Gustav Klimt's sister in a Vienna psychiatric hospital, to her dream of one day living in Venice and having a family, Freud's Sister imagines with astonishing insight and deep feeling the life of a woman lost to the shadows of history.

The Other Woman's House: Discovered on Book'd Out

It's past midnight, but Connie Bowskill can't sleep. To pass the time, she logs on to a real estate website in search of a particular house, one she is obsessed with for reasons she's too scared to even admit to herself. As she clicks through the virtual tour, she comes across a scene from a nightmare: a woman lying facedown on the living room floor in a pool of blood. But when she returns to show her husband, there is no body, no blood—just a perfectly ordinary room. With plot twists that will keep readers up all night, The Other Woman's House is another unforgettable story by a new master of the crime novel.

Travel: Ten days in Dublin

Welcome to Ireland!  Have I got a story for you.

I had the opportunity to spend ten days at The Shelbourne, located across the street from St Stephen's Green -  my husband was there on business and I explored just about every crevice of the neighborhood, napped, read books, walked about ten miles a day. 

I like to walk, sit in coffee shops, book stores, and linger on park benches to feel the city.  We had just been in the Rocky Mountains days before flying to Dublin.  It wasn't a planned trip.

In the evenings we ate dinner, listened to local performing in pubs, and on the streets.  We visited museums, rented a car to drive to Northern Ireland, Belfast and enjoyed a day at Ballgally.  A town we stumbled upon that holds a special place in my heart.

Review: The Virgin Cure

Why I picked it: I have been a fan of Ami McKay's since reading The Birth House, it's one of the books I recommend most, to friends and book clubs.

I have been waiting to read another novel from this author for years (The Virgin Cure is McKay's second novel).

Synopsis: The summer Moth turns twelve, her mother puts a halt to her explorations by selling her boots to a local vendor, convinced that Moth was planning to run away. Wanting to make the most of her every asset, she also sells Moth to a wealthy woman as a servant, with no intention of ever seeing her again.

In that world Moth meets Miss Everett, the owner of a brothel simply known as an "infant school." Miss Everett caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for companions who are "willing and clean," and the most desirable of them all are young virgins like Moth. That's not the worst of the situation, though. In a time and place where mysterious illnesses ravage those who haven't been cautious, no matter their social station, diseased men yearn for a "virgin cure" - thinking that deflowering a "fresh maid" can heal the incurable and tainted.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: I read this book in one sitting, while flying from NYC to Boulder. When I do this I tend to have a different reading experience, a 'completeness' that I don't get often.

McKay's writing transports the reader, at least this is what happens for me.  I felt the room Moth and her mom lived in, felt the emotions on the page.  I was right there with Moth when she slept on the roof, took a bite of fruit deemed old, the day she met the mistress and realized what her mom did.

I don't want to give anything away but can I say that I loved the mistress' presence throughout the novel.

Historical brilliance with a gripping story!

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Review Copy (TLC Book Tours)

Reviews in a flash!

The last few months have been crazy busy!  I realized I read a few books that I didn't review that I read in May/June. 
Gold: I really enjoyed this novel!  I'm not an 'elite' athlete but I train for events like elite's... taking training, nutrition, sleep, goals, etc into consideration.  I loved the cycling part and reading how training intrudes on life, or maybe it's better to say how life intrudes with an Olympian.

In the beginning I was concerned with the Star Wars references but they made sense after a while - a little girl's way to deal with her illness. 

The timing is perfect, with the Olympics less than a month away.  Cleave is a brilliant writer.  I wonder how long I have to wait for his next novel.

Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis: Kate and Zoe met at nineteen when they both made the cut for the national training program in track cycling—a sport that demands intense focus, blinding exertion, and unwavering commitment. Now at thirty-two, the women are facing their last and biggest race: the 2012 Olympics. Each wants desperately to win gold, and each has more than a medal to lose.

The First Husband: I read this one in a day, while sitting on the deck enjoying a sunny day.  I'm a fan of Laura Dave so it's no surprise that I liked this book.  A fun summer selection. 

Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis: Los Angeles–based travel writer Annie Adams thinks she has it all. Nick, her longtime film director boyfriend, has finally hit the big time, her column is syndicated, and they've got a great dog. Then Nick moves out. Three months later, Annie is married to Griffin, a down-to-earth chef with a restaurant in the Berkshires. When Nick asks for a second chance, Annie is torn between her husband and the man she might have been meant to marry.

The Cost of Hope: I'm a sucker for a memoir.  I enjoy reading other peoples stories, and I'm willing to 'just go with it'.  I know liberties are taken, and that it's one person's view of a situation/event. 

I didn't realize how hard it can be for some to get coverage while ill, or how the healthcare system really works.  This is Terence's story about his illness and the story of the healthcare system, from his wife's experience. It was really interesting.  With the author being an acclaimed reporter, the story may of lacked a bit of the emotional tug that I was looking for but overall I'm happy I read it.

Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis: From Pulitzer Prize winner Amanda Bennett comes a moving, eye-opening, and beautifully written memoir - The Cost of Hope chronicles the extraordinary measures Amanda and Terence take to preserve not only Terence’s life but also the life of their family. After his death, Bennett uses her skills as a veteran investigative reporter to determine the cost of their mission of hope. What she discovers raises important questions many people face, and vital issues about the intricacies of America’s healthcare system.

Books I can't wait to read!

After a month of light/chicklit... I'm excited to have a stack of literary novels selected for July.  I'm hopeful a few will make my favorite reads list for the year. Fingers crossed! 

I plan to finish Gold today.  Have you read it?  It's filled with elite training and gets in the head of elite/intense athlete's.  This novel reads a lot like Double Fault (Lionel Shriver)... a novel some struggled with due to the amount to tennis lingo (I loved it).

Gold: Kate and Zoe met at nineteen when they both made the cut for the national training program in track cycling—a sport that demands intense focus, blinding exertion, and unwavering commitment. Now at thirty-two, the women are facing their last and biggest race: the 2012 Olympics. Each wants desperately to win gold, and each has more than a medal to lose.

I have a lot of travel coming up, do you have any recommendations for me?

Here are the books I have lined up to read in July:

The Virgin Cure: The summer Moth turns twelve, her mother puts a halt to her explorations by selling her boots to a local vendor, convinced that Moth was planning to run away. Wanting to make the most of her every asset, she also sells Moth to a wealthy woman as a servant, with no intention of ever seeing her again. In that world Moth meets Miss Everett, the owner of a brothel simply known as an "infant school." Miss Everett caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for companions who are "willing and clean," and the most desirable of them all are young virgins like Moth. That's not the worst of the situation, though. In a time and place where mysterious illnesses ravage those who haven't been cautious, no matter their social station, diseased men yearn for a "virgin cure" - thinking that deflowering a "fresh maid" can heal the incurable and tainted.

Yes, Chef: It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations.

The Bay of Foxes: In 1978, Dawit, a young, beautiful, and educated Ethiopian refugee, roams the streets of Paris. By chance, he spots the famous French author M., who at sixty is at the height of her fame. Seduced by Dawit's grace and his moving story, M. invites him to live with her. He makes himself indispensable, or so he thinks. When M. brings him to her Sardinian villa, beside the Bay of Foxes, Dawit finds love and temptation—and perfects the art of deception

The Eyes of Lira Kazan: From Lagos to London, by way of the Faroe Islands and St. Petersburg, an investigation turns deadly. The head of the Nigerian fraud squad is evacuated from Lagos by secret service operatives. Meanwhile a junior prosecutor in Nice probes the mysterious death of the wife of a powerful banker and a crusading journalist in St. Petersburg pursues a corrupt oligarch and his criminal business empire.

The paths of all three cross in London, where they find themselves embroiled in violent events obviously linked to financial and political interests and hunted by the oligarch's men, the Western secret services, and goons sent by Nigerian oil magnates.

The Bellwether Revivals: A sophisticated debut novel about the hypnotic influence of love, the beguiling allure of money and the haunting power of music.

A charismatic but troubled musical prodigy, Eden convinces his sister and their close-knit circle of friends to participate in a series of disturbing experiments. Eden believe that music—with his expert genius to guide it—can cure people. As the line between genius and madness begins to blur, however, Oscar fears that it is danger and not healing that awaits them all—but it might be too late. . . .

Books: June Reviews

June was so busy!  I have been busy enjoying summer: from having company for almost three weeks, to throwing parties, running again and preparing for vacation...

I'm looking forward to July, which will be over in a flash... I'm making it a priority to enjoy every moment.

Gift idea: I discovered a great book series recently, for life, love, family, work, etc... I love this idea and plan to buy some of these books for gifts.

The purpose of 2 is to inspire you to dream together, plan together, laugh together, and grow together.

Have you heard of the six word love story? 'blind dates, soulmates, married 65 years'.  Wouldn't you love to receive six words like this?  Try sending them to someone, a friend, your spouse, a child.

June Reviews:

Looking at the list below, I'm surprised to discover that I read so much chick lit.  People kept recommending books to me, only to realize I was reading about young love over and over. It's summer so this is fine but I am transitioning back to deep/dark subject matter/plots for July!

Favorite book read: The Dovekeeper's

Books are listed in the order I read/finished them:

Always Something There to Remind Me: For some reason all of the light summer books I'm reading are about reflecting back on past love, revisiting, a plot twist and closure.  This is a fun novel, I'm happy I read it!  Perfect for the beach.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis: Can you ever really know if love is true? And if it is, should you stop at anything to get it?

Always Something There to Remind Me is a story that will resonate with any woman who has ever thought of that one first love and wondered, “Where is he?” and “What if…?” Filled with nostalgia humor and heart, it will transport you, and inspire you to believe in the power of first love.

The Dovekeepers: First let me say I loved this book.  It's at the top of my list for the year.  A must read!

I listened to this book but wish I read it since it's filled with so many facts and details. I also read faster than a narrator... so I'm sure I would have enjoyed it even more if I read it.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis:  Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.

The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.

The Next Best Thing: I didn't like this book, I know a screenwriter and didn't connect to the character in the book... it felt odd knowing my friends experience pitching a TV show vs whats written in this book.  I have never been a big Weiner fan, I can't explain why but I tend to find them flat.  I need to pass next time, for me, for her.

Rating: 2.5/3 stars

Synopsis: Set against the fascinating backdrop of Los Angeles show business culture, with an insider’s ear for writer’s room showdowns and an eye for bad backstage behavior and set politics, Jennifer Weiner’s new novel is a rollicking ride on the Hollywood roller coaster, a heartfelt story about what it’s like for a young woman to love, and lose, in the land where dreams come true.

Shout Her Lovely Name: This is a collection of short stories.  I loved the first one!  The others are good, this is extremely well written and worth your time.

Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis: Mothers and daughters ride the familial tide of joy, regret, loathing, and love in these stories of resilient and flawed women.

So Far Away: I didn't love this book, didn't connect with the character and frankly... I wasn't invested.  After skimming to the end I read a review that mentioned it moves at a very slow pace but if you hold out, it's very good.  I wish I read this review before I skimmed, I would have pushed through.

Rating: DNF (since I skimmed half of the book I can't rate it)

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher is trying to escape: from her parents' ugly divorce, and from the vicious cyber-bullying of her former best friend.

Her salvation arrives in an unlikely form: Bridget O'Connell, an Irish maid working for a wealthy Boston family. Bridget lives only in the pages of a dusty old 1920s diary Natalie unearthed in her mother's basement. But the life she describes is as troubling - and mysterious - as the one Natalie is trying to navigate herself, almost a century later.

Why We Broke Up: This is a heavy book, physically! It's filled with illustrations and feels good in your hands.  It's in the guest room, the perfect home.  A quick read for guests.

It's a YA book about a girl who has recently broken up with her boyfriend.  She's writing about all the keepsakes from thier time together.  Girls fall, hard.  I loved the ending, a typical teen love ending to make the novel feel real.

I enjoyed this one and am happy I read it.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis: I'm telling you why we broke up, Ed. I'm writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened.

Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

A 2012 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Review: Wife 22

Why I picked it: Everyone seems to be reading this book! 

Synopsis: Maybe it was those extra five pounds I’d gained. Maybe it was because I was about to turn the same age my mother was when I lost her. Maybe it was because after almost twenty years of marriage my husband and I seemed to be running out of things to say to each other. 

But when the anonymous online study called “Marriage in the 21st Century” showed up in my inbox, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life. It wasn’t long before I was assigned both a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101).

And, just like that, I found myself answering questions.

Before the study, my life was an endless blur of school lunches and doctor’s appointments, family dinners, budgets, and trying to discern the fastest-moving line at the grocery store. I was Alice Buckle: spouse of William and mother to Zoe and Peter, drama teacher and Facebook chatter, downloader of memories and Googler of solutions.

But these days, I’m also Wife 22. And somehow, my anonymous correspondence with Researcher 101 has taken an unexpectedly personal turn. Soon, I’ll have to make a decision—one that will affect my family, my marriage, my whole life. But at the moment, I’m too busy answering questions.

As it turns out, confession can be a very powerful aphrodisiac.

Quick Take: Well... I'm forty-four, a runner and the family facebooker.  My husband is in consumer products marketing.  Strange set of coincidences as I started reading this book. Thank goodness it ends there!

This novel explores how a bored wife finds a little excitement - a secret that snowballs into the 'potential of more'. It's a quick read, an original take on an age old situation.

Women will connect with this book, especially those who have been married for a long time.  Most of us can look at our friends and see that some are happier than others with any/all aspects of life, not just their marriage. I am left wondering how this book could impact someones life... if they are bored with their marriage this could be a discussion starter. 

Here are a few of the questions Alice is asked to answer:
- List three things that scare you.
- Do you believe love can last?
- Would your friends say you are happily married?
- What do you think about the current trend of couples divorcing based on spouses feeling more like roommates than lovers?
- Describe something you wouldn’t admit to your best friend
- Has your life turned out the way you hoped it would?
- Write a letter to your spouse telling them what you can’t say in person

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Review Copy

Reviews in a Flash!

Below are the books I read in May (and April but didn't review).

In addition to the books below, I have plowed through the 50 Shades trilogy.  What can I say about these books?  While horribly written, I was curious what all the buzz was about.  Completely over the top and unnecessary at times but if you enjoy this genre you will probably love them.  I know the movie rights were sold for five million dollars and wonder who will play Christian and Anastasia.  The casting will make or break the movie experience.
Arranged (May 15):  In her fast-paced and fun second novel, Catherine McKenzie takes us on a thirty-something woman's journey to find love in a somewhat unorthodox manner.

Quick Take: I loved this book.  It has a few twists that kept me engrossed in the story and wondering what would happen.  The perfect summer read!

McKenzie is one of my new favorite authors - I can't wait for her next novel to be released in the US, Forgotten.

Rating: 4 stars

The Book of Summers (May 29): A young woman confronts her magical, tragic past when she receives a scrapbook of the summers spent with her estranged mother.

Quick Take: Can you forgive someone who doesn't want to be forgiven?  Someone with no regrets about leaving a family, choosing the pull of a home town/country over parenting?

The was a tough book for me to read. I ended up skimming parts of it, it's just too close to some of my childhood memories but it's powerful and emotional.

Putting my personal issues aside, this would make for a nice summer read. It's well written, strong plot, and let's the reader explore another country.

Rating: DNF (I did skim to the end to see what happened)

Purge: A breathtakingly suspenseful tale of two women dogged by their own shameful pasts and the dark, unspoken history that binds them.

Quick Take: This was my book selection for my book club.  It's safe to say that none of us enjoyed it.  I'm not sure if it's the writing style (choppy, moving backwards and forwards) but something didn't sit right. 

I walked away without the answers I was hoping for.

Rating: 2 stars

The Unfinished work of Elizabeth D (Jun 5):  Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.

Quick Take: Unfortunately this is another book that I didn't love.  It moved too slow for me.  Having friends and family die from terminal illness... I wasn't able to believe Elizabeth's story/decisions.  It was a little far fetched for me.

Rating: 2/3 stars

Have you read any of these books?  Are you reading anything good that I should add to my list?

Life: I am a Tough Mudder!

Most of you have been following me through my running journey over the past few years... from marathon's to Ultra distances to becoming a Tough Mudder.  So you earned this with me! 

Thank you for all your support.  For letting me bombard you with running summaries, photo's from the trails.. etc.. You have been my cheerleaders. 

It's about twenty four hours after the run - I'm happy to say I'm feeling great!  I'm black and blue, my knees are a hot mess (black & blue, bloody, tender).... but I did get in a run today.  Which is a big success. 

It will be a few more days before I have photo's to share but let me tell you... it's tough!

Here's a recap:
We started in waves of 100, every twenty minutes.  To get to the starting line I had to scale a ten foot wall.

With two obstacles in the first mile, my knees are bleeding from the muddy/rock crawl (under barbed wire) and I'm wet from the ice bath.  Does it help if I tell you the water is blue, and smelled horrible (I wonder if there was manure in the water)... ICK! 

Most of the mileage was on a trail and the mile mud run was one mile straight up!  Try running a mile up the side of a mountain, in 6 inches of thick, wet, slimy mud.... super tough and slippery.  People who have completed other TM runs were telling us this was the most difficult one yet.  Usually the runs take place on flat surfaces like race tracks so natural terrain adds another level of difficulty.  

I ran through fire, scaled walls, climbed ropes, carried a log, crawled, ran in mud pools, walked balance beams, I even made it through the one I feared the most... the long tunnel filled with swamp water. 

So... what was the toughest obstacle for me? A thirty foot jump into murky water that was so cold my lungs compressed.  Followed by a short swim and rope climb out of the murkiness... I never need to do that again!

Twelve miles and about twenty military obstacles later, I did it. I'm a Tough Mudder!

Review: The Lola Quartet

Why I picked it: The Omaha Bookworm's read Mandel's first novel - we even had the opportunity to discuss the book with her over the telephone thanks to Lisa from Lit & Life (for setting up the call).

I have continued to read her novels, she has a very interesting writing style.

Synopsis: Gavin Sasaki is a promising young journalist in New York City, until he’s fired in disgrace following a series of unforgivable lapses in his work. It’s early 2009, and the world has gone dark very quickly; the economic collapse has turned an era that magazine headlines once heralded as the second gilded age into something that more closely resembles the Great Depression. The last thing Gavin wants to do is return to his hometown of Sebastian, Florida, but he’s drifting toward bankruptcy and is in no position to refuse when he’s offered a job by his sister, Eilo, a real estate broker who deals in foreclosed homes.

Eilo recently paid a visit to a home that had a ten-year-old child in it, a child who looks very much like Gavin and who has the same last name as Gavin’s high school girlfriend Anna, whom Gavin last saw a decade ago. Gavin—a former jazz musician, a reluctant broker of foreclosed properties, obsessed with film noir and private detectives—begins his own private investigation in an effort to track down Anna and their apparent daughter who have been on the run all these years from a drug dealer from whom Anna stole $121,000.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: As mentioned above, Mandel's writing is amazing.  She knows how to write a story, keeping the reader guessing, leading us on. This novel is part personal story, part mystery.  Her readers have come to appreciate the many twists and turns she includes in a story.

I don't normally read mysteries, who dunnit's, where are they books.... but if you like this genre, please try reading a Mandel novel.  If I'm going to compare her work to a movie, The Fugitive comes to mind.  The Lola Quartet is an interesting story that leaves the reader thinking.

Rating: 3 stars
Source: Review Copy

Review: skinnydipping

Why I picked it: Like many of us, my family first discovered Bethenny Frankel on Martha Stewart's version of The Apprentice.  I appreciate her honesty and what she's willing to share.  I love that she's willing to show that life isn't perfect.

Do you watch her show on Bravo? I can't believe I'm going to say this... I hope she signs off from reality TV soon. While I enjoy watching her show I think her family deserves some time away from the camera, to live a normal life.  I just hope to see a peak of her new apartment first!

Synopsis: Faith is an aspiring actress just out of college, who moves to L.A. determined to have it all—a job on the most popular TV show, a beach house in Malibu, and a gorgeous producer boyfriend. But when reality hits, she finds herself with a gig as a glorified servant, a role that has more to do with T&A than acting, and a dead-end relationship. Finally, Faith decides she’s had enough of La La Land and moves back to New York with just a suitcase and her dog, Muffin.

Five years later, Faith has finally found her groove as an entrepreneur and manages to land a spot on a new reality TV show hosted by her idol—the legendary businesswoman and domestic goddess Sybil Hunter. Diving into the bizarre world of reality TV, Faith’s loud mouth and tell-it-like-it-is style immediately get her in trouble with her fellow contestants—the delusional socialite; the boozy lifestyle coach; the moody headband designer; and her closest friend, the ambitious housewife who eventually betrays her. Even Sybil is not what she appears.

Type: Fiction (chic-lit)

Quick Take: I'm happy I'm writing my review after watching her interview on The Today Show.  In the interview she mentioned this novel is a palette cleanser, and that she had so much fun writing it.  For me this is important... let me explain why:

If you are familiar with Bethenny, this novel is so close to the life we observe on television.  It's a super light, fun book that follows Faith's journey on a 'Martha like' reality show.  While reading the book you will try to put a name to the characters. 

A super fast read, funny, and left me wondering what bits happened in real life.

Rating: 3 stars
Source: NetGalley (review copy)

Books I can't wait to read!

Summer is almost here!  You can tell by the great summer reading choices that have recently published, and books to be published over the next few months. My iPad is full (plus a stack of real books)... I'm ready for time to relax on the deck, book in hand.

Here are a few new summer releases that I'm planning to read. 

Do you have any books you can't wait to read this summer?

Four Sisters, All Queens (May 2012):  With Provence under constant attack, their legacy and safety depend upon powerful alliances. Marguerite’s illustrious match with the young King Louis IX makes her Queen of France. Soon Eléonore—independent and daring—is betrothed to Henry III of England. In turn, shy, devout Sanchia and tempestuous Beatrice wed noblemen who will also make them queens.

Yet a crown is no guarantee of protection. Enemies are everywhere, from Marguerite’s duplicitous mother-in-law to vengeful lovers and land-hungry barons. Then there are the dangers that come from within, as loyalty succumbs to bitter sibling rivalry, and sister is pitted against sister for the prize each believes is rightfully hers—Provence itself.

Shout Her Lovely Name (Jun 2012): Mothers— both reluctant and euphoric — ride the familial tide of joy, pride, regret, guilt, and love in these stories of resilient and flawed women. In a battle between a teenage daughter and her mother, wheat bread and plain yogurt become weapons. An aimless college student, married to her much older professor, sneaks cigarettes while caring for their newborn son. On the eve of her husband’s fiftieth birthday, a pilfered fifth of vodka, an unexpected tattoo, and rogue teenagers leave a woman questioning her place. And in a suite of stories, we follow capricious, ambitious single mother Ruby and her cautious, steadfast daughter Nora through their tumultuous life—stray men, stray cats, and psychedelic drugs—in 1970s California.

The House of Serenades (June 2012): In 1910 Genoa, an Italian port city of divided classes and ancient power struggles, the Berillis are wealthy, powerful, and respected—until the day their darkest secrets begin to surface. Once the police intervene and the gossip grapevine is set in motion, the Berillis' demise is unavoidable.

But love lives on, and there's a mandolin player in town who is not giving up on...more In 1910 Genoa, an Italian port city of divided classes and ancient power struggles, the Berillis are wealthy, powerful, and respected—until the day their darkest secrets begin to surface. Once the police intervene and the gossip grapevine is set in motion, the Berillis' demise is unavoidable. But love lives on, and there's a mandolin player in town who is not giving up on the girl of his dreams. Never underestimate the power of music.

The House of Serenades is a brilliant portrait of the Italian upper class at the turn of the twentieth century, its habits, and its ways of life. At the same time, the story denounces the abuse and repression of women (sisters, daughters, wives) that was so common in those years.

Review: Home Front

Why I picked it: Everyone I know who reads Kristin Hannah loves her novels.  I wasn't planning to read this book but picked up the audio from my local library.

Synopsis: All marriages have a breaking point. All families have wounds. All wars have a cost. . . .

Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life—-children, careers, bills, chores—-even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a solider she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own—-for everything that matters to his family.

Type: fiction

Quick Take: At the core, this is an important story. I don't know anyone personally who has been deployed, the impact of deployment has on a family, returning home with an injury, and life after deployment is new to me. I'm aware of the personal struggles but haven't thought about how hard it can be to accept things and move on (and when it's okay not to move forward). This novel pay a lot of attention to the emotional toll deployment has on a family that is broken before deployment... making life after a return home even more challenging.

For me, this book has an important message but it's a slow paced bummer of a novel (in the middle).  I listened to it which didn't let me skim through the whining, something I would had done had I been reading a paper copy.  I also don't know any children who act like Betsy, she's horrible/whiny from the beginning to the end.  It took away from the story a bit. I was tired of Betsy's whining and Jolene's feeling sorry for herself. 

Jolene is not an upbeat/happy person.  With a tough childhood and we are constantly reminded that she's unhappy (life has let her down somehow).  After she returns home...I kept waiting for her to read her email. I know people react differently in situations but since she was so unhappy at home, she most likely would have reached out to her 'family' after returning home.  She would have read Michael's email and much of to second half conflict would have been avoided.

Have you read it? Did the whining come across in the written novel (vs listening)?

Rating: 3 stars (for the importance of the story)
Source: Library (audio)

Review: The Singles

Why I picked it: Something about the book cover drew me in.  I requested this book without reading the synopsis.

I'm happy to say this is our June MMBC selection!

Synopsis: Bee wanted the perfect wedding; she got the “Singles”

Back in her single days—before she met the man of her dreams—Beth “Bee” Evans hated being forced to attend weddings solo. Determined to spare her friends the same humiliation, she invites everyone on her list with a guest. Much to her chagrin, however, Hannah, Vicki, Rob, Joe, and Nancy insist upon attending Bee’s lavish Chesapeake Bay nuptials alone. The frustrated bride dubs them the “Minus-Ones” and their collective decision wreaks unintended havoc on her otherwise perfectly planned wedding weekend.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: What a refreshing novel!  One that I read this book in a 24 hour time frame while on vacation earlier this year. 

The Singles is told from different voices, the bride (just once) and then it's told by the people to attend the wedding as a 'single'.  As the story goes on we learn how the singles know the bride and groom, their relationships, insecurities, and more.  It's a very fun look at an evening (and the morning after). 

One of the characters has a fun habit, when she walks in a room she casts the room with actors. This weaves it's way into the story, in a fun way.  Next time you go out to dinner, look around and cast the waiter/waitress, the couple at the table next to you. etc...

So... I read part of this book in a public sitting area at a hotel.  The couple sitting next to me were having the most uncomfortable conversation, one I couldn't avoid without leaving the room.  The wife actually told her husband, 'if you loved me you would give me a baby. It would show me you're no longer selfish'.  oyvay...  Casting: husband, Vince Vaughn; wife, Kate Winslet; bartender, Adam Sandler; person overhearing conversation, Sandra Bullock.  What do you think Vince Vaughn would say next?  They continued talking for about five minutes before they left the room.

Rating: 4 stars
Source: NetGalley

Review: The Lost Daughter

Why I picked it: I picked this book up a few weeks ago, while shopping at Costco. 

The cover is stunning and reading Wally Lamb's endorsement led to my purchasing a copy of the book.

Synopsis: Brooke O'Connor—elegant, self-possessed, and kind—has a happy marriage and a deeply loved young daughter. So her adamant refusal to have a second child confounds her husband, Sean. When Brooke's high school boyfriend Alex—now divorced and mourning the death of his young son—unexpectedly resurfaces, Sean begins to suspect an affair.

For fifteen years Brooke has kept a shameful secret from everyone she loves. Only Alex knows the truth that drove them apart. His reappearance now threatens the life she has so carefully constructed and fortified by denial. With her marriage—and her emotional equilibrium—at stake, Brooke must confront what she has been unwilling to face for so long.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: I dare you to read chapter one and put this book down.  I can't see anyone doing it! 

This novel starts with two teenagers in a hotel room, the girl is in labor.  It's a gut wrenching start to the book.  Fast forward fifteen years, Brooke is happily married, life seems good but she has a secret. Beautiful set up, how can the author go wrong?

Well, it's gets better... her high school boyfriend shows up (out of the blue) and confesses that the baby delivered all those years ago was breathing and left for dead, in a dumpster!  This is how the story begins...

This is a great book club selection - there's so much to discuss just from what I have mentioned above but there's so much more to the story. 

Have you read it? I'm happy to say I picked this book for the Omaha Bookworm's (July), we will have a fantastic discussion... I can't wait.  Find a copy and read it!

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Personal Copy

Review: The Second Time We Met

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club selection

Have you signed up to receive updates for the Manic Mommies Book Club, a once a month email announcement with giveaway details?

In your Inbox or RSS Reader

GIVEAWAY:  I have one copy of this book to giveaway.  Just leave a comment to sign up (include your email)!  Drawing closes Sunday evening (Ap 9).  Open internationally.

Synopsis: Adored by his adoptive parents, Asher Stone is on the verge of a professional soccer career-when a car accident throws his future into doubt. Suddenly, Asher begins to wonder about the girl who gave him up for adoption in Colombia two decades ago. And so begins his search for a woman named Rita Ortiz.

From the streets of Bogata to a tiny orphanage tucked into a hillside, Asher untangles the mystery of Rita's identity. As he comes closer to finding Rita, his own parents are faced with fears and doubts, and Rita must soon make her own momentous choice: stay hidden, or meet the secret son who will bring painful memories-or the promise of a new beginning . . .

Quick Take: One of the great aspects of being in a book club is getting to discuss books and hear different opinions.  It's safe to say that for this month's book, everyone enjoyed it.  I received so many emails asking if the author was planning carry some of these characters forward, to another novel.  A delightful read.

I read this one in just three days, wanting to know how the Rita's story would end.  You will find yourself wanting to know more about Rita, Lucas, and her family.  What happens after the story ends.  I love it when a novel ends and the reader gets to imagine what's next!

Leila Cobo, what can I say... she's extremely talented!  A pianist, TV host and an author.  The Second Time We Met is her second novel.

You can listen to our discussion below (47 minutes), download to your laptop or from itunes:

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Personal Copy (iPad)

Books I can't wait to read!

I have usually read or marked to read several of the books making the Orange Prize short list, long before the long list is announced. 

I have read The Night Circus (well attempted, DNF), have a copy of The Submission on my iPod, and library holds for all the books listed below.

Long list for the Orange Prize: I'm eager to see what makes the short list on April 17.  Fans of Room (Emma Donaghue) will be pleased to see she has made the list with her new novel, The Sealed Letter.

Have you read any of these titles?  I can't wait to read them!

The Grief of Others: Is keeping a secret from a spouse always an act of infidelity? And what cost does such a secret exact on a family?

The Ryries have suffered a loss: the death of a baby just fifty-seven hours after his birth. Without words to express their grief, the parents, John and Ricky, try to return to their previous lives. Struggling to regain a semblance of normalcy for themselves and for their two older children, they find themselves pretending not only that little has changed, but that their marriage, their family, have always been intact. Yet in the aftermath of the baby's death, long-suppressed uncertainties about their relationship come roiling to the surface. A dreadful secret emerges with reverberations that reach far into their past and threaten their future.

The couple's children, ten-year-old Biscuit and thirteen-year-old Paul, responding to the unnamed tensions around them, begin to act out in exquisitely- perhaps courageously-idiosyncratic ways. But as the four family members scatter into private, isolating grief, an unexpected visitor arrives, and they all find themselves growing more alert to the sadness and burdens of others-to the grief that is part of every human life but that also carries within it the power to draw us together.

The Forgotten Waltz: A recollection of the bewildering speed of attraction, the irreparable slip into longing, that reads with breathtaking immediacy.

In a pleasant suburb of Dublin, in the winter of 2009, it has snowed. A woman recalls the trail of lust and happenstance that brought her to fall for "the love of her life." As the city outside comes to a halt, she remembers the days of their affair in one hotel room or another: long afternoons made blank by bliss and denial. Now, as the silent streets and the stillness and vertigo of the falling snow make the day luminous and full of possibility, she awaits the arrival on her doorstep of his fragile, twelve-year-old daughter, Evie.

The Submission: A jury gathers in Manhattan to select a memorial for the victims of a devastating terrorist attack. Their fraught deliberations complete, the jurors open the envelope containing the anonymous winner’s name—and discover he is an American Muslim. Instantly they are cast into roiling debate about the claims of grief, the ambiguities of art, and the meaning of Islam. Their conflicted response is only a preamble to the country’s.

His fiercest defender on the jury is its sole widow, the self-possessed and mediagenic Claire Burwell. When his selection leaks to the press, she finds herself under pressure from outraged family members and in collision with journalists, activists, opportunistic politicians, and fellow jurors.

The Translation of the Bones: Mary-Margaret O'Reilly is ready and willing to help out Father Diamond in the Sacred Heart church in Battersea. She may not be very bright, and she is sadly overweight, but she can certainly clean.

One day she decides to give the statue of Jesus a thorough and loving cleansing. But then something strange happens, and moments later she lies unconscious, a great gash in her head, blood on the floor. Word gets out that this strange happening is the opening of the statue's eyes and the flowing of blood from its head.

After she recovers, she goes back obsessively to the statue of Jesus. He has told her things, things she must act on, and urgently. But He has become remote and uncommunicative once again, and she is in despair. The act she decides on is a shocking one, and it will bring together the lives of the O'Reillys and the Morrisons in a way that will change their lives forever.

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