July 30, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Sequim, Washington
June 2013

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July 14, 2013

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Teen Fiction
2013 St. Martin’s Griffin
Finished on 6/23/13
Rating: 4.75/5 (Outstanding!)

Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.” ~ John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars

From the author’s website:

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.

“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be,” she says, “we’re 16.”

“What about Romeo and Juliet?”

“Shallow, confused, then dead.”

“I love you,” Park says.

“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

Yep. I remember mine. (Who doesn’t remember their first love? Even after 36 years?) His name was Kevin and he had blond hair, blue eyes and drove a Chevy El Camino. We met at the end of my freshman year (he was a junior) at a mutual friend’s baseball practice. From that day on, we spent the rest of the summer together, hanging out at the beach, going to the races (Del Mar, Where the Turf Meets the Surf!), wandering around the Del Mar Fair, hanging out at his house, watching endless hours of MLB (we preferred the Dodgers over the Padres) or listening to Boston, Styxx, Foreigner, Little River Band and Bob Seeger on vinyl albums, played on his Pioneer stereo system (which, of course, had HUGE speakers). Later that year, we saw The Doobie Brothers and Pablo Cruise in concert, went with his parents and brother to the Pasadena Rose Bowl (Huskies vs Wolverines) and danced the night away at the Christmas formal. I cheered him on at our football games (he was a wide receiver) and sunbathed on the beach while he surfed with his buddies. For Christmas, he gave me a beautiful roll-top cedar chest, which he made in woodshop. I no longer have that lovely gift, but thanks to Rainbow Rowell’s novel, I was instantly transported back to the summer of ’77 and my first high school romance. 

Teen fiction isn’t a genre I typically read, but there have been some winners over the years (The Book Thief, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and The 5th Wave, to name just a few.), so when I started hearing all the buzz about Rowell’s teen debut, I decided to give it a try. I was immediately drawn into this gem of a book and quickly came to care about Eleanor and Park. This is not your typical teenage angst-ridden story and the authentic dialogue made me laugh out loud one minute and tugged at my heartstrings the next. Although I graduated from high school in 1980, I still enjoyed all the 80’s references and was eager to listen to the music mentioned in the narrative. Click here to listen to Eleanor & Park’s playlists.

I was sorry to miss out on the author’s visit and book signing at work, but I hadn’t finished the novel and was worried someone might reveal a spoiler. I only had a few chapters remaining and was completely invested in the story. The last thing I wanted was to hear a fan to blurt out the ending before I had a chance to read it for myself.

Final Thoughts: This is going on my list for a re-read! I’ve heard the audio version is very good too, so I’ll probably go that route. I also want to read Attachments, which is general fiction (as opposed to teen fiction) written in e-epistolary format. As with Eleanor & Park, it’s received glowing reviews.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Half-Korean sophomore Park Sheridan is getting through high school by lying low, listening to the Smiths (it’s 1986), reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen comics, never raising his hand in class, and avoiding the kids he grew up with. Then new girl Eleanor gets on the bus. Tall, with bright red hair and a dress code all her own, she’s an instant target. Too nice not to let her sit next to him, Park is alternately resentful and guilty for not being kinder to her. When he realizes she’s reading his comics over his shoulder, a silent friendship is born. And slowly, tantalizingly, something more. Adult author Rowell (Attachments), making her YA debut, has a gift for showing what Eleanor and Park, who tell the story in alternating segments, like and admire about each other. Their love is believable and thrilling, but it isn’t simple: Eleanor’s family is broke, and her stepfather abuses her mother. When the situation turns dangerous, Rowell keeps things surprising, and the solution—imperfect but believable—maintains the novel’s delicate balance of light and dark. Ages 13–up.

About the author:

Rainbow earned a journalism degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1995 and at, 24, became the youngest-ever – and first female – columnist at the Omaha World-Herald. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband and two sons. She's also the author of Attachments.

July 10, 2013

Mellow Yellow - Wordless Wednesday

Golden Lupine
Lupinus densiflorus

Strait of Juan de Fuca

Point Wilson
Port Townsend, WA

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July 7, 2013

Five Days

Five Days by Douglas Kennedy
2013 Atria
Finished on 6/1/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

When Laura leaves her small Maine town to attend a radiography conference in Boston, she is relieved to have a few days away from the heartbreaking realities she shares with cancer patients every day. A weekend’s respite from her failing marriage and her two children who are leaving the nest finds her unexpectedly in the company of a man she has only just met. At first, Richard seems gray and uninspired, but after a second chance encounter, Laura begins to imagine a life beyond the one she has rooted herself to—and to ask herself if the ultimate sign of maturity is realizing that one always has a choice between passion and loneliness, happiness or despair. Douglas Kennedy’s powerful new novel poignantly examines the death of hope, the limitless possibilities of love, and how the entire trajectory of a life can change through one brief encounter.

I happened upon the finished copy of Five Days one day at work (sent by the publisher for review) and after glancing at the back cover blurbs by Will Schwalbe (author of The End of Your Life Book Club), Lorrie Moore (author of A Gate at the Stairs) and Colum McCann (author of Let the Great World Spin), I decided to give it a try. Not only had I not read anything by Douglas Kennedy, I’d never even heard of him.

As Schwalbe states in his blurb, Five Days is “a brilliant mediation on regret, fidelity, family, and second chances.” With the exception of “brilliant,” I concur. Kennedy’s evocative prose had me reaching for my sticky notes and I’m sure I commented (on more than one occasion) to my husband that I was quite impressed with the author's writing, as well as his ability to write from a woman’s perspective. Yes, this is a love story, but it is by no means a fluffy bodice-ripper. Serious and contemplative, Kennedy’s novel is more reminiscent of John Irving or Richard Russo than of, say, Nicholas Sparks or Richard Paul Evans.

Final Thoughts: Five Days is a compulsive read, albeit somewhat predictable, but nonetheless entertaining. I’m always happy when I discover a new writer with a large backlist. I look forward to discovering more winners by Kennedy. Have you read anything by this author? What would you recommend?

July 5, 2013

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
2011 Random House Audio
Reader: Carrington MacDuffie
Finished on 5/31/13
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time—Paris in the twenties—and an extraordinary love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

In Chicago in 1920, Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and finds herself captivated by his good looks, intensity, and passionate desire to write. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group of expatriates that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

But the hard-drinking and fast-living café life does not celebrate traditional notions of family and monogamy. As Hadley struggles with jealousy and self-doubt and Ernest wrestles with his burgeoning writing career, they must confront a deception that could prove the undoing of one of the great romances in literary history.

It’s been close to 40 years since I’ve read a Hemingway novel. The Sun Also Rises, which I believe I read for a high school American Lit. class, was my first (and only) encounter with this renowned author’s works. Other than a vague recollection of the bullfights, I have no lasting impression of the book and until recently, no desire to try anything else by Hemingway. However, after watching Midnight in Paris last summer, I downloaded a sample of A Moveable Feast and am toying with the idea of reading it for this year’s Paris in July challenge. I also downloaded the audio version of The Paris Wife from my library. It’s been such a popular choice among book clubs and I was eager to see what everyone was raving about.

Paula McClain’s historical novel drew me in from the opening lines and held my attention from beginning to end. Other than a few random bits of gossipy information, I was quite ignorant with regard to any details of Hemingway’s life, so I went into the book completely blind. In reading historical fiction, one places a fair amount of trust in the author to get the facts straight and I have to admit that I wouldn’t recognize any inaccuracies in this particular novel. I was pleased when I discovered the following on the author’s website:
I'm hoping my novel will work to illuminate not just the facts of Ernest and Hadley's years in Paris, but the essence of that time and of their profound connection by weaving both the fully imagined and undeniably real.

When I began to research my book, beginning with biographies of Hemingway and Hadley, and with their delicious correspondence, I knew the actual story of the Hemingway's marriage was near perfect; it was a ready-made novel, ripe for the picking. I didn't have to invent a plot for them, nor did I want to. My work would be to use the framework of historical documentation to push into these characters' hearts and minds, discovering their motivations, their deepest wishes.

The most important step for me was getting Hadley's voice. She has very little dialogue in A Moveable Feast, but what's there is so evocative. It led me to seek out the letters she wrote to Ernest during their courtship, and that's when I knew I could write the book. Her speech rhythms, her intelligence and charm and sense of humor all come through with clarity and effervescence. I simply fell in love with her, with them both.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, The Paris Wife was a good read, but not an outstanding one. Singer/songwriter Carrington MacDuffie does a fine job narrating the audio version and I quickly became engrossed in the narrative, happy to find any excuse to listen to another chapter. However, it’s been a month since I finished the novel and the details are beginning to fade. I’m almost finished with The Aviator’s Wife (another historical novel) and would recommend it over McClain’s effort. What do you think? Have you read either of these books? Did you like one better than the other? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

July 3, 2013