January 30, 2014

Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
YA/Teen Fiction
2011 Philomel Books (a division of Penguin Young Readers Group)
Finished on 10/18/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)


Publisher’s Blurb:

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?

Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit.

Born and raised in Michigan, Ruta Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee. The nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia disappeared from maps in 1941 and did not reappear until 1990. As this is a story seldom told, Ruta wanted to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during Stalin’s cleansing of the Baltic region. Ruta lives with her family in Tennessee. Between Shades of Gray is her first novel.

I never cared much for history when I was in high school, but sometime around my early 30s, I became very interested in learning about World War II and the Holocaust. I’ve watched Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, The Pianist, Defiance, Judgment at Nuremberg and The Reader. I’ve also read books such as Hitler and the Final Solution, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Book Thief, The Hiding Place, Night, Sarah’s Key, Maus, A Thread of Grace, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. And, several years ago, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. The racial cleansing of the Jews and Poles, as well as the mass murders of gypsies and homosexuals under Hitler’s Nazi party is well-documented; the movies are gut-wrenching to watch and the books are simply heartbreaking. Josef Stalin’s genocide against those he considered anti-Soviet is just as appalling and yet I know virtually nothing about that horrific period of time. Ruta Sepetys’ debut novel, Between Shades of Gray, is a good introduction to this period in history, and yet with this particular category of historical fiction, I found it difficult to read some of the horrific details. I think, perhaps, I’ve had my fill of this genre. One can only absorb so much evil and so much horror.

Author’s Note:

In 1939, the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Shortly thereafter, the Kremlin drafted lists of people considered anti-Soviet who would be murdered, sent to prison, or deported into slavery in Siberia. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, military servicemen, writers, business owners, musicians, artists, and even librarians were all considered anti-Soviet and were added to the growing list slated for wholesale genocide. The first deportations took place on June 14, 1941.

Those who survived spent ten to fifteen years in Siberia. Upon returning in the mid-1950s, the Lithuanians found that the Soviets had occupied their homes, were enjoying all of their belongings, and had even assumed their names. Everything was lost. The returning deportees were treated as criminals. They were forced to live in restricted areas, and were under constant surveillance by the KGB, formerly the NKVD. Speaking about their experience meant immediate imprisonment or deportation back to Siberia. As a result, the horrors they endured went dormant, a hideous secret shared by millions of people.

It is estimated that Josef Stalin killed more than twenty million people during his reign of terror. The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia lost more than a third of their population during the Soviet genocide. The deportations reached as far as Finland. To this day, many Russians deny they ever deported a single person.

Final Thoughts:

It took me a little while to get interested in the narrative, but after about 50 pages I was hooked and eager to get back to this book, finishing in just a few days. I wanted to love this novel and while I think it’s quite good (and informative), I don’t think it’s nearly as good as The Book Thief. Once again, I have yet to find anything as good as that book!

Literary Awards: 

Golden Kite Award for Fiction
Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2011)
William C. Morris YA Debut Award Nominee (2012)
ALA Teens’ Top Ten Nominee (2012)
Indies Choice Book Award for Young Adult (2012)
Carnegie Medal in Literature Nominee
Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of the Year (2011)
YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten) (2012)

January 29, 2014

Sunrise, Sunset

All shot with my phone camera.

January 26, 2014

Gratitude Lately

It's been a couple of months since I've shared any of my Instagram photos. I'm hopeful that I can make this a regular feature on my blog since I know some of you aren't on Instagram or Facebook. My inspiration comes from Emily at Today's Letters. Enjoy!

Lately, I've been thankful for
 quiet Sunday mornings,
 Rod's delicious buttermilk pancakes 
and fresh-squeezed OJ.

For a new bourbon on a cold winter night.

For fresh ingredients and blue bowls.

For the delicious fragrance of 
sauteed onions, mushrooms and beef.

For a delicious breakfast for dinner.

For fresh beginnings.

For warm temps and porch sitting
 on a Nebraska Sunday in January.

For a well-mannered pup who 
understands the importance of "Wait."

For a home filled
 with love and laughter.

January 25, 2014

An Ocean in Iowa

An Ocean in Iowa by Peter Hedges
1998 Hyperion
Finished on 10/14/13
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Peter Hedges’s first novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, established him as a writer of extraordinary talent and sensitivity. Critics praised Hedges’s quirky yet unmistakably real characters, his radiant prose, his wry humor, and his ability to illuminate the unexpected within the ordinary. The acclaimed film adaptation, with a screenplay by Hedges, became an instant classic.

In his second novel, Hedges again turns to the heartland for his setting—but this time to suburban Iowa, 1969.

Scotty Ocean is turning seven years old, and he has announced earlier in his life that seven is going to be his year. It does turn out to be his year, but not the year he imagined. It is the first year his mother leaves the family. At first, Scotty does astonishing things to get her to return. When he comes to believe she won’t be moving back, he tries to replace her. Ultimately, he decides he must take drastic action to remain forever seven.

Hedges brings to vivid life the unforgettable Ocean family: Scotty and his two older sisters; their father, at once stern and loyal; and their mother, Joan, a character of heartbreaking complexity. Alternately funny and moving, this is a gentle novel of remarkable power and resonance.

An Ocean in Iowa is rich with glorious details of life in the late sixties: “Bonanza” lunch boxes, Twister, “Family Affair,” Art-o-Matic spin art, and the Norelco Santa. But it is also a timeless book about the delicate balance of families. Beautifully crafted and constantly surprising, it explores the fragile contracts between parents and children, and what it really means to grow up.

In an effort to read more of the books that have been lurking on my shelves for years, I chose An Ocean in Iowa, which I picked up at a Fort Worth Library sale, so I’ve owned it for at least a decade. Not only did I wait too long to read it, but I waited too long to write my review. It’s been almost three months since I finished the book and I don’t remember much more than enjoying the sixties’ nostalgia and feeling a sense of sadness for Scotty and his sisters. I only marked two passages, but they both depict the terrible heartbreak this little boy felt:
It would be a week before school resumed.

By the third day after Christmas, all interest in the new toys had been exhausted. Television took up most of Scotty’s time. He watched his favorite shows—Bonanza, My Three Sons, Family Affair. The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

New and Improved Tide laundry detergent was being advertised. New and Improved toilet paper. New and Improved soap.

Scotty stared blankly at the TV. He never told his dad or sisters or even Tom Conway the whereabouts of his heart. He knew it was gone.

But he had his brain and that was what really mattered. With his brain he would outsmart his heart.

On television, many of the mothers on Scotty’s favorite shows were dead.

On My Three Sons, Chip and Ernie had no mother. They had Uncle Charlie, of course, who did many of the motherly chores. And even though Fred MacMurray was dating Ernie’s teacher (they would marry that March), she would never be a real mother.

On The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Eddie had no mother. He had Mrs. Livingston, a Korean maid, and his father, a funny and kind and kite-flying father.

On Family Affair, Buffy and Jody had Uncle Bill and Mr. French—no mother, though.

Bonanza was the most motherless of shows. In fact, all three of Ben Cartwright’s boys had different mothers, all dead. But they had Hop Sing, their trusted Chinese cook.

TV provided the necessary evidence. Not only was it possible to survive without a mother; it seemed to improve your chances of having your own TV show.

Final Thoughts: 

This is one depressing book! *I noted my rating of 4/5 right after I finished, but now that some time has passed and I can’t recall much about the plot, I’ve decided to lower it to 3/5. It was ok, but obviously forgettable and not one I’d recommend.

January 20, 2014


Replay by Ken Grimwood
Science Fiction
1986 HarperCollins
Finished on 10/9/13
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)

What if you could live your life over again? And again? And again?

Publisher’s Blurb:

A time-travel classic in the tradition of Jack Finney’s Time and Again, Ken Grimwood’s acclaimed novel Replay asks the provocative question: “What if you could live your life over again, knowing the mistakes you’d made before?” Forty-three-year-old Jeff Winston gets several chances to do just that. Trapped in a tepid marriage and a dead-end job, he dies in 1988 and wakes up to find himself in 1963, at the age of eighteen, staring at his dorm room walls at Emory University. It’s all the same…but different: Jeff knows what the future holds. He knows who will win every World Series…every Kentucky Derby…even how to win on Wall Street. The one thing he doesn’t know is: Why has he been chosen to replay his life? And how many times must he win—and lose—everything he loves? Winner of the 1988 World Fantasy Award for best novel and published in eleven languages, Replay unravels the answers in a masterful skein that captivates our imagination.

Replay came highly recommended from a fellow bookseller and I’ve had it on my shelves for several years. Other than the very briefest description, I went into this novel completely cold. It turned out to be all I expected and then some. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says, “Powerful… Compelling… Superb” and I agree wholeheartedly! If my weekends weren’t full of errands and chores, I could have gulped this book down in a day or two. Instead, it took me almost two weeks, reading a little bit each night. I’m glad I didn’t rush through the book, though. The pacing is even, tension taut, and that nagging question of “Why?” kept the pages turning. Just when I thought all that could happen had, Grimwood threw in a twist, surprising me over and over again. While one obviously needs to suspend disbelief, it was easy to accept and believe the details of the plot, and I found myself wondering what I might do in a similar situation. What paths in my history would I choose to take if given a second chance?
Final Thoughts:

Unputdownable! Replay is an outstanding novel and one I’ll never forget. The ending was unpredictable, yet satisfying. This one's a keeper, folks! I know I'll read it again.

January 18, 2014

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
2011 Amy Einhorn Books (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Finished on 9/26/13
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, deeply in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. Or so she thinks. Everything she knows to be true vanishes the day she wakes up on the floor of a gym (a gym? She HATES the gym!) to learn she is actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

With a decade of memories gone, Alice has to place together who she has become. But she isn’t sure if she likes what she sees, and she discovers that in the end, forgetting might be the most memorable thing that’s ever happened to her.

I don’t know why I waited so long (three years!) to read this book. Perhaps after reading several novels, back-to-back, dealing with memory loss (Still Alice, Before I Go to Sleep, and Turn of Mind), I wanted to wait and let this one stand alone in my memory. Or maybe after hearing a co-worker rave about it, I wanted to wait for the hype to settle down. Whatever the reason, it was certainly worth the wait. I began the book on our flight to New Mexico (yes, back in September!) and was completely engrossed, barely nodding my head at the flight attendant when asked if I wanted something to drink. Our days were long and full as we explored Santa Fe, Taos and the surrounding mountain areas, so I didn’t find much time for reading, but I did get quite a bit more read on our flights back to Lincoln, finishing up a few days after we’d returned home. I loved the originality of the story and was disappointed when the final pages drew near. This is one I’m going to hang on to, with hopes of a re-read in the coming years. It might also be entertaining on audio, as the dialogue is quite humorous.

Final Thoughts:

Set in 2008, poor Alice has no recollection of the past decade. Baffled by the mention of Y2K, texting, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (what happened to Gwyneth??), she is, more importantly, confused about her personal history. Who are those three children and why do they keep calling her Mummy? Part love story, part mystery, and yet not your typical breezy beach read, What Alice Forgot is an addictive, humorous and thought-provoking story and one that you’ll want to pass around to all your friends. I’m eager to curl up with some more books by Moriarty. Any recommendations? I keep hearing that The Husband’s Secret is another smart, funny novel.

P.S. Jojo Moyes and Liane Moriarty may be my new favorite authors of 2013.

January 15, 2014

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Oregon Coast Wave Series
December 2013

 The sea! the sea! the open sea!
The blue, the fresh, the ever free!
Without a mark, without a bound,
It runneth the earth's wide regions round;
It plays with the clouds; it mocks the skies;
Or like a cradled creature lies.
~ Barry Cornwall

"Look at that sea, girls--
all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen.
We couldn't enjoy its loveliness any more
if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds."
~ Lucy Maud Montgomery
(Anne of Green Gables)

The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
The touch of the sea is sensuous,
enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.
~ Kate Chopin
(The Awakening)

I loved the Sea.
Whether in calm it glassed the gracious day
With all its light, the night with all its fires;
Whether in storm it lashed its sullen spray,
Wild as the heart when passionate youth expires;
Or lay, as now, a torture to my mind,
In yonder land-locked bay, unwrinkled by the wind.
~ Richard Henry Stoddard
(Carmen Naturoe Triumphale)

Click on photos for larger viewing.

January 14, 2014

Summer at Tiffany

Summer at Tiffany by Majorie Hart
2007 HarperCollins
Finished on 9/10/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

New York City, 1945. Marjorie Jacobson and her best friend, Marty Garrett, arrive fresh from the Kappa house at the University of Iowa hoping to find summer positions as shopgirls. Turned away from the top department stores, they miraculously find jobs as pages at Tiffany & Co., becoming the first women to ever work on the sales floor, a diamond-filled day job replete with Tiffany-blue shirtwaist dresses from Bonwit Teller's—and the envy of all their friends.

Looking back on that magical time in her life, Marjorie takes us back to when she and Marty rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, pinched pennies to eat at the Automat, experienced nightlife at La Martinique, and danced away their weekends with dashing midshipmen. Between being dazzled by Judy Garland's honeymoon visit to Tiffany, celebrating VJ Day in Times Square, and mingling with Café society, she fell in love, learned unforgettable lessons, made important decisions that would change her future, and created the remarkable memories she now shares with all of us.

Infused with numerous historical details (including a New York Times article about a B-25 Army bomber crashing into the Empire State Building on July 28th!), this memoir turned out to be more substantial than I had anticipated. The chapters about WWII were moving, particularly Hart’s recollections about VJ Day and celebrating in Times Square with over two million people. It’s a quick and charming read, but not sentimental or sappy, and one which, I believe, will stay with me for a long time.

Author’s Note:

Summer at Tiffany is the story of a summer that I have never forgotten. Whenever I had a down moment in my life, the simple recollection of memories from the summer of 1945 was always sustaining. From the faint smell of the Hudson River from the top of a bus, to climbing the steps from a dark subway into the light, to the Tiffany show windows of diamonds spilling from velvet cases and the welcoming smile of the gentleman who clocked us in each day—these remembrances of my Summer at Tiffany continue always to embrace me, and bring a smile to my face.

Final Thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir! World War II is drawing to a close and the atmosphere in New York City is lively and exciting. Marjorie struggles to make ends meet, but she’s having the summer of her life, working in the glamorous Tiffany, meeting famous movie stars, and falling in love. Summer at Tiffany is a delightful read and I found myself lingering over the pages, not wanting to finish too quickly. This is one to share with your mothers and grandmothers. Highly recommend.

For Fun:

July 1996
(she was obsessed with Audrey Hepburn 
and Breakfast at Tiffany's that summer)

Personal Trivia Tidbits:

It wasn’t until I began reading Summer at Tiffany that I discovered that the author was the former chairman of the Fine Arts Department at the University of San Diego. I attended USD in 1980! I also learned that she lived in Del Mar (where I grew up!) and later moved to La Mesa, which is near the town of Santee, where Rod & I lived when we were first married. Small world!

January 11, 2014

A Backward Glance


Wow. I remember when I graduated from high school and I thought, "When the ball drops to begin the year 2000, I'll be 38!" At the time, that sounded so far off. But as we all know (or at least those of us over 30), time really does fly. A month ago, I turned 52. My daughter turned 30. (30!) I've been blogging for 8 years and working at Barnes and Noble for almost 7. I've been married to the love of my life for 25 years. Rachel's been gone for almost 9 years and Papa Bill only 4 weeks. And it all seems like yesterday.

Tempus fugit.

But, is it me or did this past year fly much faster than usual? Maybe it's the fact that I was away from home for almost 7 weeks out of the entire year. Or that I worked longer days than ever before. Or that I spent mindless hours watching a wide variety of TV shows on Netflix. What I didn't do is blog as often as I hoped. Or ride my bike as much as I should have. Or lose those 10 pounds…

But it's a New Year (I can still say that until February, right?) and a clean slate awaits.

For the second time in 33 years, I didn't send out Christmas cards. Back in November, I was ok with that choice. I was too busy with work, too sad about my stepdad's health and too worried about money. So I decided to skip it. Skip it and the gifts and the decorating and the baking. I just wanted to get through the holiday season, hop a plane and spend Christmas in Oregon with my parents.

We make plans and God laughs.

But I'm still making plans. I plan to catch up on all my book reviews before I post my Top Ten of 2013. I plan to post my Top Ten of 2012, as well. (Yep. Never did that, did I?) I plan to start exercising as soon as the weather permits. Gotta wait for those bike trails to be free of snow and ice before I can back out there, but I'm ready to roll!

Other than a few photo essay posts, I haven't been very active on the old blog and it felt strange to simply jump in with a couple of book reviews, so I thought I’d take this time to share the highlights of the past year with you. Consider it a belated Christmas letter of sorts. I’ll even try to brag about something. ;)

As mentioned, I was away from home for almost 2 months this past year. I think that’s a record! I took 7 trips, some with my husband and some solo. Here’s a visual recap:

Red Feather Lakes, Colorado
I learned how to snowshoe 
at an elevation of 9,000 ft. (approx.)

 Depoe Bay, Oregon
Celebrating my mom’s 80th birthday
with my brothers

Kingston, Washington
Celebrating Father’s Day with my dad

 The Black Hills, South Dakota
Road trip with the grandchild!

Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico
Celebrating our 25th anniversary

Depoe Bay, Oregon
Saying goodbye to one of
the most influential men in my life

Depoe Bay, Oregon
Spending Christmas with my mom

So, there was quite a bit of traveling; most of which was very fun and exciting. I saw whales, bald eagles, elk, and mountain goats, and I didn’t get trampled by a moose. Or a buffalo.

I also mentioned that I spent a great deal of time in front of the TV. Rod had back surgery in November and was out of work for 4 weeks. As a result, we watched A LOT of TV. And now we’re completely addicted to Justified, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Sherlock, House of Cards and Parenthood. It’s no wonder I didn’t have time to blog. Or answer emails. Or dust.

Speaking of computer time, I have made an effort lately to “unplug” and spend more time reading rather than sitting in front of the computer for hours. It’s going pretty well, but I still can’t seem to cut the cord on Facebook or Instagram. I got sucked back into Twitter, only to decide it really isn’t my thing. I miss keeping up on some of my blogmates’ chats, but there are only so many hours in a day… Same goes for Pinterest. I’ve still got my boards, but haven’t looked at any of them in months. After the demise of Google Reader, I discovered Bloglovin’ and while I may not comment as often as I used to (darn that clumsy iPad!), I still enjoy keeping up with what’s going in your lives, adding book recommendations to my insanely long list of books to read.

And on that note, it’s time to share some of my recommendations with you…

But before I do, I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year and say thanks for being such loyal readers. Here’s to the next 8 years. OMG. I’ll be 60!!

For more New Year's posts, go here, here, here and here.