October 30, 2016

Say What You Will

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
2014 HarperCollins
Finished on May 27, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

John Green's The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel. Cammie McGovern's insightful young adult debut is a heartfelt and heartbreaking story about how we can all feel lost until we find someone who loves us because of our faults, not in spite of them.

Born with cerebral palsy, Amy can't walk without a walker, talk without a voice box, or even fully control her facial expressions. Plagued by obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matthew is consumed with repeated thoughts, neurotic rituals, and crippling fear. Both in desperate need of someone to help them reach out to the world, Amy and Matthew are more alike than either ever realized.

When Amy decides to hire student aides to help her in her senior year at Coral Hills High School, these two teens are thrust into each other's lives. As they begin to spend time with each other, what started as a blossoming friendship eventually grows into something neither expected.

It's been a long time since a book has grabbed my attention as quickly and as thoroughly as this one did! I gulped down the first half on the night I began reading and came very close to finishing the book the following night, but finally forced myself to put it down and get some sleep. Just as the blurb states, fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor & Park (and I'll add Wonder by R.J. Palacio to the list) will enjoy this teen novel about the power of friendship and love. The author addresses the symptoms and challenges of Cerebral Palsy and OCD directly and informatively, educating her readers without becoming too technical or pedantic. There are also references to sexual awakenings, but none that involve any graphic situations.

On life with CP: 
That night she brought the magazine home with her. She even tore out the picture and stuck it in the frame of her full-length standing mirror so she could study it and compare herself. For a long time she stood with her walker to the side, and hung her head in the same way the model did. Her hair was prettier. Her good arm was good. Everything else, not so great. She couldn't will her bad arm to uncurl, couldn't loosen her fist or relax the tendons that stood out with the effort of holding her head up. Nor could she do the one thing that would have helped the most: soften her face so that it was pliable and capable of showing the expressions other people took for granted. Her face had only a handful of options: raised eyebrows (for surprise and joy); a closed-mouth O (for worry and concentration); and a wide-open mouth that filled in for everything else. She had no smile of approval, no soft frown of disapproval, nothing subtle. In every photograph of her, she wore one of these three expressions. The only exception was a picture taken when she was asleep, and then her face softened, like she didn't have CP at all. Why was that possible in her sleep but impossible awake? She couldn't say. Just as she couldn't say why her parents continued to purchase large sets of her school-picture packages, as an annual reminder of her inability to smile.
Final Thoughts:

I don't usually care for YA novels, as they tend to be filled with a lot of  teenage angst. I'm happy to report that Say What You Will does not fall in that category and I found that the situations and dialogue rang true. I also like that it wasn't predictable, another fault of many YA novels. Highly recommend!

October 27, 2016

Looking Back - Range of Motion

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Range of Motion by Elizabeth Berg
1995 Random House
Finished in December 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"I can tell you how it happened. It's easy to say how it happened. He walked past a building, and a huge chunk of ice fell of the roof, and it hit him in the head. This is Chaplinesque, right? This is kind of funny. People start to laugh when I tell them. I see the start of their hand to their mouth, their poor disguise. I laughed when I heard. I thought after the doctor told me what happened that Jay would get on the phone and say, 'Jeez, Lainey, come and get me. I've got a goose egg the size of the world. Come take me home.' Only what happened wasn't like Chaplin: Jay didn't land on his butt with his legs sticking out at chopstick angles, twitch his mustache, get back up and walk away. He landed on his side, and stayed there."

And so begins this exquisite new novel by Elizabeth Berg, one of America's most beloved fiction writers. As in her best-selling Talk Before Sleep, Berg creates in Range of Motion a deeply satisfying novel about the power of hope, the bonds of love, and the enduring balm of friendship.

As Jay lies in a coma, his young wife, Lainey, is the only one who believes he will ever recover. When his doctors try to reach him, Jay does not respond. Yet Lainey believes he knows when she is there, and is stimulated by the gifts of ordinary life she brings him: sweet-smelling flowers, his children's drawings, his own softly textured shirt. As Lainey struggles to keep believing and to keep the family going, she goes deeper into herself, looking for solace, for strength, and for understanding. Overburdened, distracted, depressed yet determined, she feels desperate only at those times when her faith falters.

It is then that she is sustained by her friendships. Alice, her next-door neighbor, is strong when Lainey cannot be, though she has problems and secret fears of her own. And the spirit of Evie, a woman from the1940s who used to live in Lainey's house, now takes up a kind of residence again, offering advice and philosophy from a simpler time.

A superb novel filled with beautiful writing and truth about life, Range of Motion is hard to put down, and impossible to forget.

My Original Notes (1996):

Very good, but not as good as Talk Before Sleep. Light entertainment with a happy ending. Interesting touch of conversations with a ghost. Somewhat mystical.

My Current Thoughts:

I have no recollection of this book, but I loved Elizabeth Berg's early novels and own well over a dozen. I look forward to reading this again. I wonder if I'll still think it's as good as I did 20 years ago.
Nine o'clock. Sarah is in her bed, bedside lamp on, engrossed in a new book that is lying against her raised knees. She won't break the spine of a book, even a cheap paperback. She cradles her books in her lap like she's found the Grail. I don't argue against such reverence. I think it's right. When I was her age and finished a book I liked, I used to pet it, stroke the front cover, then the back; and then I'd kiss it.

October 24, 2016

The Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Ellen Fornay (illustrator)
Teen Fiction
2007 Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Finished on May 17, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good!)

National Book Award for Young People's Literature (2007)
Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production (2009)
American Indian Library Association Award
South Carolina Book Award Nominee for Young Adult Book Award (2010)
Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee (2008)
Florida Teens Read Nominee (2009)
American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Young Adult Book (2008)
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction (2008)
The Inky Awards Nominee for Silver Inky (2009)
Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2011)
James Cook Book Award Nominee (2009)
The Inky Awards Shortlist for Silver Inky (2009)

Publisher's Blurb:

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written,
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

I've always been curious about Sherman Alexie's novels, but until a customer practically thrust this book in my hands, telling me I had to read it, I've never stopped to try any of his works. I'm so glad I listened to my customer! It's an excellent book and one that I will recommend to others, as well. It's a fairly quick read and packed with lots to discuss, so this is one to add to your book club suggestions. Alexie deals with topics such as racism, poverty, alcoholism, grief, loyalty, and family and while it's touching, it's not overly sentimental or saccharine. By the end of the book, I was cheering for Junior.

Final Thoughts:

The Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian is on its way to becoming a classic. It was published almost a decade ago and remains very popular with both teens and adults. I know I plan to read it again and am anxious for my granddaughter to give it a try next summer. I'm eager to try another novel by Sherman Alexie. Any suggestions? 


I understand that the hardcover includes a forward by Markus Zusak (author of The Book Thief), as well as interviews with Sherman Alexie and Ellen Forney. I'm going to have to find a copy of this particular edition so I can read those "extras" and check out the four-color interior art. The paperback edition that I read only had line drawings.

October 20, 2016

Looking Back - The English Patient

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
1993 Vintage (first published in 1992)
Finished in December 1996
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)

Publisher's Blurb:

With ravishing beauty and unsettling intelligence, Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burned man who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal, and rescue illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning.

My Original Notes (1996):

What a struggle this was to read! I'm still not sure if I can even say that I liked it. It was a very strange story and I'm sure there was more to it than I got. I'd like to see the movie now. Maybe it will help clarify the book.

My Current Thoughts:

I did go on to watch the movie and was still just as confused as when I finished the novel! I haven't read anything else by Ondaatje and doubt I ever will, as none of his books appeal to me at all.

October 17, 2016

The Storyteller

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
2013 Recorded Books
Read by Mozhan Marno, Jennifer Ikeda, Edoardo Ballerini, Suzanne Toren, and Fred Berman
Finished on May 13, 2016
Rating: 4.75/5 (Fantastic!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Jodi Picoult's poignant #1 New York Times best-selling novels about family and love tackle hot-button issues head on. In The Storyteller, Sage Singer befriends Josef Weber, a beloved Little League coach and retired teacher. But then Josef asks Sage for a favor she never could have imagined-to kill him. After Josef reveals the heinous act he committed, Sage feels he may deserve that fate. But would his death be murder or justice?

I love Jodi Picoult's books, but with alternating POVs and time periods, I should know better than to listen to them on audio. One time period in particular was so out of place, I found it disruptive to the flow of the story. In the print edition, varying fonts for each point-of-view, as well as chapter headings with a character's name, help make the transition between narratives much easier. Unfortunately, these cues are not available to the audio listener. However, all complaints aside, the further into the story I progressed, the more I realized that this book is well worth listening to. The chapters focusing on Minka's story were particularly moving and I found myself deliberately taking my time in order to savor the last section of the book.

As with many works of historical fiction, The Storyteller has inspired me to read more about the camps. There's a new book out by Sarah Helm called Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women. After listening to Minka's story in Picoult's novel, I felt drained and heartbroken for all those who suffered in the camps, so maybe reading about the actual accounts of the horrors that took place would be too sad and depressing. I'm also interested in The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal. In an interview with The Washington Post, Picoult explains how she came to write The Storyteller:
It began with another book, “The Sunflower,” by Simon Wiesenthal, who was a concentration camp prisoner. He was called to the bedside of a dying Nazi officer who wanted to confess what he had done and be absolved by a Jew. There have been a lot of arguments and discussions by philosophical and religious leaders about whether Wiesenthal did the right thing, which was not to forgive this Nazi. He says: “It is not my place. I am not the one he committed the wrong against. Those people are dead, and he can’t ever be forgiven.” What if that same kind of request was made not during the Holocaust but 70 years later? I began to come up with this fictional account of a reclusive woman, Sage, who bonds with an elderly man in her home town, who is everyone’s favorite citizen. He’s been a teacher, a Little League coach. Then he confides his secret.

Final Thoughts:

In spite of my complaints about the flow of the audio version, I thought this was an outstanding novel. I like that it was a departure from the author's usual contemporary stories and believe it's her only work of historical fiction. This is one that was impossible to put down and which I won't soon forget. It is also one that I plan to read again. Fans of All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, and City of Thieves won't be disappointed.

October 13, 2016

Looking Back - Neanderthal

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Neanderthal by John Darnton
1996 Random House
Finished on December 5, 1996
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Not since Jurassic Park has a novel so enthralled readers everywhere. Now, enter the world of Neanderthal...

The expedition of the century...uncovers the find of the millennium...Neanderthal.

In the remote mountains of central Asia, an eminent Harvard archeologist discovers something extraordinary. He sends a cryptic message to two colleagues. But then, he disappears.

Matt Mattison and Susan Arnot-- once lovers, now academic rivals-- are going where few humans have ever walked, looking for a relic band of creatures that have existed for over 40,000 years, that possess powers man can only imagine, and that are about to change the face of civilization forever.

My Original Notes (1996):

Should make a great movie! I had a little trouble getting into the book, but stuck with it. The last third was the most interesting and suspenseful. Reminded me a bit of Jurassic Park.

My Current Thoughts:

I only have a very vague recollection of this thriller, and since I no longer own a copy and it's not a title we carry in the store, I won't be able to thumb through it to refresh my memory. 

October 12, 2016

Wordless Wednesday

Click on photo for larger image.

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October 9, 2016

Lydia's Party

Lydia's Party by Margaret Hawkins
2014 Viking
Finished on May 5, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Lydia is having a party. She's hosting her midwinter bash, a Christmas party she threw a month late one year, which has now become an annual tradition. Her guests--six friends who bonded twenty years ago over their budding careers, their love of art and food, their romances, their dogs--think they know all there is to know about one another, but tonight Lydia prepares to shock them with a shattering announcement.

As we follow these friends through their party preparations, we meet seven remarkable women, each of whom is navigating the grocery-shopping hassles of daily chores while also meditating in stolen moments on messy relationships and dreams deferred--or, in the case of Norris, astounding success.

Later, over a feast, and with Lydia's huge dog, Maxine, warming their feet, the friends swap stories, laugh uproariously, air a few grievances. All are pondering their lives, wondering "what's next?" now that the anticipation of new love or a new job no longer seems life altering. Yet as this particular evening unfolds, these friends discover a bond that does indeed alter all their lives.

Exquisitely written, profoundly moving, and filled with aha moments, Lydia's Party is sure to appeal to fans of Anne Tyler, Anna Quindlen, and Helen Simonson. Here is a novel about friendship, and how the everyday foibles, deepest fears, and fiercest desires of seven women can illuminate the meaning of happiness, love, and live itself.

It's been quite some time since I've read a women's friendship novel. I used to love this type of book, but after a while they all tend to follow a similar pattern: one divorcee, one single involved with an unattainable man, one with a cancer diagnosis, yada-yada-yada.  The cover art for Lydia's Party caught my eye when the book was first published, but I held off, not really needing to buy another book, only to have it sit on one of my shelves for years. I came across the book while perusing the shelves at my library and decided to finally give into my curiosity about this novel.

Lydia's Party begins on the morning of Lydia's annual winter party, bringing to mind Virginia Woolf's classic Mrs. Dalloway. I enjoyed the domestic details as Lydia prepares for her guests, but the alternating points-of-view led to some confusion about which character was which and the overall tone of the story went from something light to a more negative read. I began to look forward to finishing in order to move on to my next book.

Final Thoughts:

I loved Five Fortunes (Beth Gutcheon) and Talk Before Sleep (Elizabeth Berg), but Lydia's Party was a disappointment. I love the cover art, but I can't even come up with a single favorite passage to share. I'm glad I didn't spend my money on the book and I'm sorry that I can't even recommend borrowing a copy from the library. Perhaps it's time to reread Mrs. Dalloway!

October 6, 2016

Looking Back - Where Love Goes

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Where Love Goes by Joyce Maynard
1993 Vintage
Finished on November 20, 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the author of To Die For comes this poignant, stirring, and occasionally hilarious story of a woman's attempt to remake her life after a searing divorce. Maynard's novel captures love as one approaches middle age in contemporary America.

My Original Notes (1996):

Very good, but depressing! I wonder how much of the details are autobiographical. I read Joyce Maynard's newsletter and a lot of what she's written (about her family and her divorce) sounds familiar in the plot of this book. I couldn't put the book down!

"A splendid, heartfelt novel... real enough to live in." ~ Pat Conroy

I could relate to a lot of what Maynard described, with regard to divorce and blended families.

My Current Thoughts:

I've written about Joyce Maynard here and here and loved both of those novels even more than this one. I still have an ARC of After Her on my TBR shelf and hope to get to it in the coming year or so. I no longer have a copy of Where Love Goes, but in spite of enjoying it so well in 1996, I doubt I'd read it again. Reading about divorce and step-parenting isn't high on my list at this point in my life. The book probably validated a lot of my own feelings 20 years ago, but I don't feel the need to seek out affirmation of those feelings or attitudes any longer.

October 5, 2016

Wordless Wednesday - Monkey Tree

Gig Harbor, WA
July 2016

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October 3, 2016

A Month in Summary - September 2016

Fall has arrived and it's time for cooler weather and quiet evenings curled up on the couch with a good book. Enough of these slow months of mediocre reading! Two books and one audio. Sheesh. I spent almost the entire month listening to The Boys in the Boat! Definitely not my favorite. Stay tuned for my reviews, but for now, here are the details.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (Borrowed) 4/5

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Borrowed - Audio) 2/5

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Own) 2/5


Triple Dog Dare Challenge - Not my best month for reading from my stacks. The only book I read that I actually own is one that I received this year. So much for reducing the boxes of books to pack up next year! 

3 books
2 novels

1 mystery
1 nonfiction 
1 new-to-me-authors 
2 print
1 audio
1 female
2 male
2 borrowed
1 from my stacks 

Favorite of the Month: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave.

Reviews to follow

October 2, 2016

The Guest Room

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
2016 Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Read by Mozhan Marno and Grace Experience
Finished on April 25, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes the spellbinding tale of a party gone horribly wrong: two men lie dead in a suburban living room, two women are on the run from police, and a marriage is ripping apart at the seams.

When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother's bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest room, and two women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night.

In the aftermath, Kristin and Richard's life rapidly spirals into nightmare. The police throw them out of their home, now a crime scene, Richard's investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave, and Kristin is unsure if she can forgive her husband for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat. A captivating, chilling story about shame and scandal, The Guest Room is a riveting novel from one of our greatest storytellers.

Chris Bohjalian's is one of those hit-or-miss authors, at least for me. I tend to enjoy his contemporary works better than his historical fiction and I'm happy to report that this one lived up to my expectations and didn't disappoint. In some ways, it reminded me of Jodi Picoult's novels, which almost always focuses on a current social issue. This particular novel deals with sex trafficking, which at times was pretty disturbing (and the language is not for those easily offended). I thought the plot was somewhat predictable, although the ending was not at all what I was expecting, so maybe not as predictable as I thought! 

Final Thoughts:

This is the first book I've read by Bohjalian in several years and I'm glad I didn't give up on him after a couple of disappointing reads. The Guest Room is a very compelling page turner and would make for a great book club selection. There's a lot to discuss in this one! Recommend with a cautionary note about the language.