The Monday Check-In ~ 12/3/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate! It seems so early this year, and I’m not ready! Luckily, with an 8-day holiday, there’s still time to get my act together, get the gifts wrapped, and get in the spirit.

What did I read during the last week?

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty: Not the best by this author. My review is here.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren: Another winner from this author duo! My review is here.

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson: More light, fun fiction! My review is here.

The End of All Things (Old Man’s War, #6) by John Scalzi: I finished the series! A series wrap-up post is on the way…

In audiobooks:

Lady Knight (Protector of the Small, #4) by Tamora Pierce: Finished with this quartet! I loved these books — and main character Kel — so much! I’ll be writing a series wrap-up post for this one too, eventually.

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4:

Episode 404, “Common Ground” (aired 11/25/2018) – my reaction post for last week’s episode is here.
Episode 405, “Savages” (aired 12/2/2018) – my reaction post for the newest episode is here.

Fresh Catch:

I had a gift card, and immediately bought myself some gifts:

Yippee! Lucky me!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Trickster’s Choice (Daughter of the Lioness, #1) by Tamora Pierce: Yes, I’m continuing my journeys through the land of Tortall! Now that I’ve finished the Protector of the Small quartet audiobooks, I’m continuing straight onward with the Daughter of the Lioness duology. HOWEVER… after listening to the first couple of chapters, I decided to switch to the print version. For some reason, this book was particularly hard to follow via audiobook — too many new names and places right up front! And this way, I can refer back to the maps at the beginning of the book whenever I get lost, which seems to be happening constantly.

Now playing via audiobook:

Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets: An Audible original about secrets and scandals in the Victorian era. Seems totally charming so far.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads — getting close to the end for both!

  • Classic read: Middlemarch by George Eliot — we’ll be done in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon — we’ll be done in mid-December.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

Millie Morris has always been one of the guys. A UC Santa Barbara professor, she’s a female-serial-killer expert who’s quick with a deflection joke and terrible at getting personal. And she, just like her four best guy friends and fellow professors, is perma-single.

So when a routine university function turns into a black tie gala, Millie and her circle make a pact that they’ll join an online dating service to find plus-ones for the event. There’s only one hitch: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid Campbell, secretly spend the sexiest half-night of their lives together, but mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic.

But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart. While the guys are inundated with quality matches and potential dates, Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”—Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Catherine” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship…but Millie can’t resist temptation in real life, either. Soon, Millie will have to face her worst fear—intimacy—or risk losing her best friend, forever.

Perfect for fans of Roxanne and She’s the Man, Christina Lauren’s latest romantic comedy is full of mistaken identities, hijinks, and a classic love story with a modern twist. Funny and fresh, you’ll want to swipe right on My Favorite Half-Night Stand.

Okay, I’m now 2 for 2 when it comes to reading Christina Lauren! My Favorite Half-Night Stand is yet another fun, engaging feel-good story about sexy smart people falling awkwardly in love… and I loved the heck out of this story.

Millie is 29, intelligent, adorable, the center of a friend circle consisting of four guys plus her, and she has a great life — except she hasn’t been with anyone romantically or sexually in way too long, and isn’t feeling particularly up to starting down that road again. After childhood losses and some strained family relationships as an adult, Millie prefers to keep her depths bottled up, showing her friends her bubbly outer persona but not letting anyone get under her skin or see too deeply into her soul.

Reid is her best friend, and they spend one very steamy night together — but Reid is looking for a relationship, and Millie can’t quite figure out how to be vulnerable enough to let him get closer to her. When the group decides to join a dating site, it goes pretty much how you might expect. Millie creates a second persona as an attempt to jazz up her profile in a safe way, but when this new profile “Catherine” gets matched with Reid, Millie lets it play out for far too long.

She and Reid have excellent chemistry and definitely heat up the page when they’re together. It’s interesting to see the tables flipped here, where it’s the woman who has a fear of intimacy and the man who’s frustrated by his partner’s insistence on keeping things light.

Told in alternating chapters, we see the events develop from both Millie’s and Reid’s perspectives, and get to see snippets of the online dating messages and group texts as well, which are funny and silly, and help illustrate the group dynamic. Both Millie and Reid are intelligent, sensitive people. I just wished they’d been more upfront with each other sooner. By pretending their nights together were just about the sex, they ended up tangled up in a situation where they both got hurt and risked losing something great. (Of course, as with many of these types of books, if they’d been clearer at the start, we’d have gotten to the HEA within about 50 pages, and then there’d be no story!)

My quibbles with this book are minor. First, everyone is gorgeous and successful in their fields. Not much to complain about, right? But it can be a bit hard to relate to people who are so perfect and flawless. My more serious complaint is that we don’t see enough of Millie at work. She a university professor with a book in the works, and her subject matter — female serial killers — is fascinating. I would have liked to see Millie actually teaching a class or being more active professionally in the book. Yes, we hear about what she does and what her field of research is, but I would have liked to have seen her in that role, so we’d get a clearer picture of her as a strong, brilliant woman, to offset the emphasis on her romantic triumphs and failures.

After reading Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating (and loving it), I was sold on Christina Lauren and needed more. Now that I’ve read her (their) newest release, I need to go back and read their previous books too. My Favorite Half-Night Stand is a smart and sexy romance that’s a quick read, perfect for a night in — best read with cozy pajamas, a fluffy quilt, and a mug of hot cocoa.

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The details:

Title: My Favorite Half-Night Stand
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: December 4, 2018
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Gallery Books and NetGalley

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The Monday Check-In ~ 11/26/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

In adult fiction:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: An excellent look at the Trojan War from the women’s perspective. My review is here.

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan: Sweet, romantic, escapist fun. My review is here.

Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren: Funny, sexy, modern romance. My review is here.

In young adult/middle grade:

The Agony House by Cherie Priest (illustrated by Tara O’Connor): A clever ghost story that incorporates a comic book into the narrative. My review is here.

In audiobooks:

Squire (Protector of the Small, #3) by Tamora Pierce: I adored book #3 in the Kel quartet. What an ending!

Outlander, baby!

I’m writing reaction posts for each episode of season 4… but was too tired last night to finish up the most recent episode and put any coherent thoughts together. So, stay tuned for Episode 404, “Common Ground” (aired 11/25/2018) – my reaction post for last night’s episode will be up later today.

Fresh Catch:

So yeah, I guess my Tortall obsession is getting a bit out of control… Couldn’t resist adding these two to my growing Tamora Pierce collection.

And look! My awesome hubby got me an early Hanukkah present:

So excited! Now I just need time to settle in and read it… all 700+ pages!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty: I’ve read about 200 pages so far, and I still have no idea where this book is going and what it’s trying to be. Not that I’m not enjoying it — just feeling a little puzzled.

Now playing via audiobook:

Lady Knight (Protector of the Small, #4) by Tamora Pierce: This series is amazing. And if you want to know more about Tamora Pierce and why women of all ages love her books, check out this piece from Tor.com.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads — getting close to the end for both!

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week, aiming to finish in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them…right?

Ah, what fun! In my head, I don’t think of myself as someone who enjoys contemporary romance reading… but my recent track record seems to prove me wrong, over and over and over again.

Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating is a totally delicious and enjoyable story about two people who are determined to stay firmly in the friend zone… but we all know that intentions can be very different than what happens in real life.

In alternating chapters narrated by Hazel and Josh, we see these two come together in their late 20s, reunited by Josh’s sister, who just happens to be Hazel’s best friend. Hazel declares to Josh that she’s going to be his best friend too, and things certainly seem to head in that direction.

Let’s talk about Hazel for a moment. She is very out there, and at first, I was a little put off. Would I be able to handle a friend like that — someone who blurts, has no filters, and lives purely in the moment, going with what feels good and not worrying about tidiness or public opinion? She really would be hard to take — and yet, as the book progressed, I came to love her more and more. First of all, Hazel is all heart. She’s an elementary school teacher, for goddess’s sake! She loves 8-year-olds, with all their chaos and creativity and mess. When Josh first sees her in her classroom, he’s reminded of Ms Frizzle, and that’s really so on the nose. She’s a whirlwind of energy and good will, and it’s just impossible not to be charmed.

Josh is a little harder to pin down. He’s the older child of Korean immigrant parents whom he loves, he’s a successful physical therapist, and he’s a serial monogamist. He believes in committed relationships, and likes his world neat and sensible.

Josh and Hazel are clear that they’d be disastrous romantic partners, but they turn into excellent friends. Hazel pushes Josh’s boundaries and makes him laugh; Josh appreciate’s the Hazel-ness of Hazel without ever telling her to tone it down. Their series of blind dates, in which they each set up the other and then go on a double-date, are predictably epic failures, but it takes an awfully long time for Josh and Hazel to acknowledge that they’d rather be with one another than with anyone else.

My typical complaint with contemporary romances is about the communication factor. Surely, in real life, people would be just a little bit clearer about their feelings and intentions, right? There’s a lot of time wasted during which Josh thinks Hazel is interested in an ex-boyfriend and Hazel thinks Josh thinks that she should pursue things with the ex. They’re both wrong, of course, having completely misread each other and not spoken clearly enough to set each other straight. Of course, if everyone said everything they were thinking directly and without delay, there’d be no drama and no big payoff, so there you go.

This book surprised me in all the right ways. Sure, we know exactly where Josh and Hazel are headed, but it’s so much fun to see how they get there. I gobbled up this book in one day, and was left hungry for more. Apparently, I’ve been missing out by never having read this author (actually, two authors writing together) before, but I plan to rectify the situation as soon as I can!

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The details:

Title: Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: September 4, 2018
Length: 309 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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Book Review: Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

For fans of Sophie Kinsella, Jojo Moyes, and Jennifer Weiner, a moving, laugh-out-loud novel—with recipes!—about a young woman who begins her life anew as a baker in Cornwall.

Amid the ruins of her latest relationship, Polly Waterford moves far away to the sleepy seaside resort of Polbearne, where she lives in a small, lonely flat above an abandoned shop.

To distract her from her troubles, Polly throws herself into her favorite hobby: making bread. But her relaxing weekend diversion quickly develops into a passion. As she pours her emotions into kneading and pounding the dough, each loaf becomes better than the last. Soon, Polly is working her magic with nuts and seeds, olives and chorizo, and the local honey-courtesy of a handsome local beekeeper. Drawing on reserves of determination and creativity Polly never knew she had, she bakes and bakes . . . and discovers a bright new life where she least expected it.

This is my third Jenny Colgan book — and in each, the pattern seems to be: Young woman, beat down by city life, escapes to a remote, quaint location, and discovers joy and meaning in her new life. Plus a dreamy, hot love interest. And hey, it may be a pattern, but it works!

In Little Beach Street Bakery, Polly and her grumpy ex have been driven into bankruptcy by the failure of their graphic design business (he’s the designer, she handles the office). With no money, the relationship in tatters, and no place to live, Polly chances upon a flat for rent in Mount Polbearne, a location she remembers fondly from childhood field trips. Polbearne is an island attached to Cornwall by a causeway that’s only accessible when the tide is out. The town features a fishing fleet, a pub, some worn-down local businesses, and for Polly, a place of refuge to lick her wounds and retreat from the world.

It’s Polly’s love of bread that finally draws her out of her shell. The one and only bakery on the island is run by a grumpy old woman, Polly’s landlady, who makes atrocious bread but refuses to allow anyone to sell anything else. Polly starts baking as a hobby, to relieve her own stress and anxiety, but as her baking becomes popular with the local fishermen, she starts to find a place for herself in this isolated community.

Little Beach Street Bakery is quite a fun read. Polly is a relatable young woman, who has been through tough times but still maintains enough hope to start rebuilding. She’s goofy too — after rescuing an injured puffin, she develops a quirky relationship with the bird and the two become inseparable. (Side note, I’ve only just discovered that the author has written some children’s books about Polly and Neil the Puffin — how adorable is that?)

The love story in this book takes a while to build, and Polly makes a big mistake along the way. (Not her fault — he didn’t tell her he was married! Ahem.) But eventually, she realizes who it is that she really loves and wants, and after a prolonged period of misunderstanding, there are fireworks. (Yes, there really are fireworks!)

Along the way, we meet a host of quirky locals, get immersed in the battle between newly arrived trendy folks who want to modernize and the old-timers who want to keep things as they are, experience the trauma of waiting for the fishing fleet to come home after a storm, and get to know a beautiful little corner of the world. It’s no wonder Polly loves it there!

This is pure escapist delight. Who wouldn’t want to run away to a remote, gorgeous location and find true love, friendship, and a way to turn a favorite pastime into a successful and fulfilling career?

I had a lot of fun reading this book. Sometimes, light and frothy is just the right choice! Once again, many thanks to my book group for picking this book for discussion. After a bunch of heavier reads, it’s nice to turn to something that just feels good.

A note on the covers: The image at the top of this post is the cover of the Kindle edition, which I find a little funny, since Polly is a bread baker and never once mentioned baking cupcakes. The audiobook image — with loaves of bread, a jar of honey, and a view of the sea — is a much better fit for the story, in my humble opinion. And just yummy.

And a final comment: There are two follow-up books, Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery and Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery. I’m not planning to read them immediately (SO much else to read right now!)… but I’ll definitely keep them in mind for when I need a nice little reading getaway.

 

 

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The details:

Title: Little Beach Street Bakery
Author: Jenny Colgan
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: March 13, 2014
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Promised Land by Martin Fletcher

 

Promised Land is the sweeping saga of two brothers and the woman they love, a devastating love triangle set against the tumultuous founding of Israel.

The story begins when fourteen-year-old Peter is sent west to America to escape the growing horror of Nazi Germany. But his younger brother Arie and their entire family are sent east to the death camps. Only Arie survives.

The brothers reunite in the nascent Jewish state, where Arie becomes a businessman and one of the richest men in Israel while Peter becomes a top Mossad agent heading some of Israel’s most vital espionage operations. One brother builds Israel, the other protects it.

But they also fall in love with the same woman, Tamara, a lonely Jewish refugee from Cairo. And over the next two decades, as their new homeland faces extraordinary obstacles that could destroy it, the brothers’ intrigues and jealousies threaten to tear their new lives apart.

Promised Land is at once the gripping tale of a struggling family and an epic about a struggling nation.

Promised Land is an ambitious novel about family and love, set in the aftermath of the Holocaust and tracking two brothers’ lives during the early years following Israel’s independence.

As the book opens, Peter and Arie are young boys living with their family in Germany as war looms. Their parents are able to send Peter to America, but the rest of the family can’t avoid the Nazi terror, ultimately being sent to concentration camps.

Peter spends his teens with a kind American family before fighting in WWII, then ultimately moving to the new state of Israel and joining its intelligence service. Arie survives Auschwitz, but the rest of the family perishes, and Arie too ends up in Israel, where the brothers are reunited. A meeting with an Egyptian Jewish refugee, Tamara, changes both brothers’ lives. Peter and Tamara have an instant connection and a moment of passion, but Peter is sent on a mission with no communication possible for months. Meanwhile, Arie woos Tamara, and by the time Peter returns home, Arie and Tamara are married and expecting a child.

Promised Land takes place over a roughly 20-year period, from Israel’s birth in 1948 through the Six Day War in 1967. As the brothers and their families build their lives, we see the country also build and develop. Peter rises in the ranks of the Mossad, known for his operational expertise and sense of honor, while Arie becomes an astute businessman, always ahead of the curve in seeing opportunities for making money and profiting from the growth of the nation. Peter marries a lovely woman, a fellow agent, and has a good life with her; Arie and Tamara, while becoming fabulously wealthy, have a rocky marriage due to Arie’s excesses and infidelities.

Eventually, the love triangle between Peter, Arie, and Tamara explodes, which isn’t surprising… the only surprising element is how long it takes to reach that point.

In terms of my reaction to the book, I was hooked from start to finish, but at the same, I felt that the emotional set-up of the relationships in the story was somewhat flimsy and not well-developed. Arie is a terrible husband, no two ways about it, and just isn’t a particularly good guy. Why Tamara chose to stay with him really makes no sense, and neither does his reaction to learning the truth about Tamara and Peter, other than demonstrating Arie’s possessiveness and selfishness.

Peter really is a good person, a devoted family man and brother, and he acts in Arie’s best interest even when Arie is engaging in shady, criminal behavior. He is a good loving husband to his first wife, and (spoiler alert) after her untimely death, denies  his love for  Tamara well past the point when there was a reason for either of them to think that her marriage was worth saving.

What this book does very well, and what makes it a deeper read than a typical love triangle story, is the positioning of these characters at such a distinct and eventful moment in history.  The author, a former news correspondent, uses his well-researched knowledge of the events of the time to paint a portrait of a people’s psychology.

We come to understand the underlying needs, fears, and guilt of a Holocaust survivor. While despising much of Arie’s actions, I could also sympathize with his pain and understand why he acts the way he acts and what drives him to pursue wealth, power, and admiration.

We also learn about the psychology of the early Israelis, coming from the horrors of genocide, knowing that their new homeland may not be a safe place, and wanting desperately to find the security so long denied. The author does not sugarcoat the more unpleasant aspects of Israel’s creation, but does show a context and depth of understanding that’s often missing in today’s narratives.

At the same time, as the characters live through Israel’s cycles of war, we get a more in-depth look at the political machinations behind the scenes, thanks to Peter’s role in the intelligence service. It’s fascinating to read about the hidden reasons for Israel’s actions, the lingering impact of Nazi scientists on Middle Eastern politics, and the ways in which Cold War politics play into Israel’s strategies.

Overall, I found myself immersed in the story, fascinated both by the historical setting and the characters’ lives. Yes, I found the characterizations a little formulaic (good brother, bad brother, exotic love interest), but the story progresses in a way that kept me engaged and made me care about these people and their lives.

I did find the ending somewhat abrupt. The story seems to just end. I think even one more chapter, perhaps an epilogue, might have helped to create a better sense of completion and satisfaction.**

**While doing a final proofread of this review, I popped over to Martin Fletcher’s author page in Goodreads and discovered that this book is the first in a trilogy! I guess that explains why it ends when and how it does, and why I was left feeling that there was more of the story to be told.

Despite a few drawbacks that got in my way here and there, I’m glad to have read Promised Land. For anyone interested in Israel’s early years, this is a fresh take on the history of the time, and the characters in the story are memorable and relatable – you won’t soon forget them or their struggles.

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The details:

Title: Promised Land
Author: Martin Fletcher
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication date: September 4, 2018
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: You Me Everything by Catherine Isaac

 

Set in the French countryside on an idyllic summer vacation, a delicious, tender novel about finding joy and love even in the most unexpected places. 

Jess and her ten-year-old son William set off to spend the summer at Château de Roussignol, deep in the rich, sunlit hills of the Dordogne. There, Jess’s ex-boyfriend—and William’s father—Adam, runs a beautiful hotel in a restored castle. Lush gardens, a gorgeous pool, delectable French food, and a seemingly never-ending wine list—what’s not to like? Jess is bowled over by what Adam has accomplished, but she’s in France for a much more urgent reason: to make Adam fall in love with his own son.

But Adam has other ideas, and another girlfriend—and he doesn’t seem inclined to change the habits of a lifetime just because Jess and William have appeared on the scene. Jess isn’t surprised, but William—who has quickly come to idolize his father—wants nothing more than to spend time with him. But Jess can’t allow Adam to let their son down—because she is tormented by a secret of her own, one that nobody—especially William—must discover.

By turns heartwrenching and hopeful, You Me Everything is a novel about one woman’s fierce determination to grab hold of the family she has and never let go, and a romantic story as heady as a crisp Sancerre on a summer day.

I’m not entirely sure what led me to pick up this book at the library — I think I may have read about it on another blog sometime this summer, and something about that colorful cover just beckoned me to it when I saw it on the shelf. I’m so glad I gave into the impulse to pick it up and take it home!

You Me Everything is a sweet and surprisingly down-to-earth story about a single mother, her ten-year-old son, and unexpected second chances.

Jess spent a good part of her relationship with Adam feeling let down by him, and his failure to arrive at the hospital for his son’s birth was the last straw. Now, ten years later, Jess travels to France with William to ensure that the distant relationship between father and son has a chance to finally turn into something real. Jess expects little from Adam for herself, having been burned by his thoughtlessness so many times before, but she’s adamant that he finally step up and become a real presence in their son’s life.

The setting is gorgeous, full of fancy food, beautiful landscapes, endless sun, and great wine. William thrives, and is even willing to put down the IPad once in a while in pursuit of adventure with his dad.

At first glance, I was afraid this would be one of those chick-lit books filled with pretty people in pretty places doing pretty things, but without a whole lot of substance beyond that. Fortunately, my first impressions were wrong.

You Me Everything has deep feeling at its heart. I don’t want to reveal too much here, so I’ll just share that there’s a reason why Jess’s parents push her to spend the summer giving Adam a new chance with his son, and a reason why she agrees. The book has some real sorrow in it, but it also manages to be life-affirming and hopeful. Adam and Jess’s past is complicated and not without plenty of fault to go around — mostly, but not exclusively Adam’s. There’s hurt and miscommunication and some bad times to get past, but as we see through Jess’s memories of their earlier years, Adam was not always a selfish jerk, and they did truly love each other at one point.

The writing conveys the characters’ emotional states while maintaining a sense of fun and good humor, even in the more serious and difficult moments. Jess is a terrific lead character — a devoted mother and daughter, a good friend, and a woman who strives to do the smart and sensible thing. While I thought Adam was worthless at the beginning, we grow to learn more about him, his childhood, and what’s in his heart, so I couldn’t help warming to him over the course of the book. There are some funny scenes that depict parenthood in all its messy, occasionally infuriating, often exhausting glory. And the dynamics between the family members and associated friends who come together throughout the story are priceless.

I ended up really enjoying You Me Everything, and tore my way through the book in about a day and a half. Once I started, I just didn’t want to start. This book is the author’s US debut — I’d definitely want to read more of her work.

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The details:

Title: You Me Everything
Author: Catherine Isaac
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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TTT REWIND: Top ten extra special love stories

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic, just in time for Valentine’s Day, is a love freebie — so we all can come up with our own spin on a love-related post. Well…

I was wracking my brain for an idea, and happened to stumble upon my TTT list from February 2016… and realized that I still like it! Without further ado, here’s what I wrote during Valentines week, two years ago:

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I’m keeping it simple, and going with a list of love stories that have really stayed with me:

Love Across Time

Jamie and Claire, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

OL quote

Henry and Clare, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

TTW

Richard and Elise, Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson

Somewhere

Married Love

Rosetta and Jeremiah, I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

ISBNTY

Don and Rosie, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Rosie

Unrequited Love

Severus Snape and Lily Evans, the Harry Potter series

Always

Sidney Carton and Lucie Manette, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

TTC quote

Love Between Friends

Maddie and Julie, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

cnv

Supernatural Love

Matthew and Diana, All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

ADoW

Mercy and Adam, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

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♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah


Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

The Great Alone is many things — a portrait of life in rugged Alaska, a story of the damage done by war, a tale of the horrible secrets lurking underneath a family’s facade… and also, a story of love and devotion and commitment.

We first meet Leni as a 13-year-old who never fits in anywhere, thanks to her parents’ inability to settle. Ever since her father returned from his years as a POW in Vietnam, Leni has been pulled from home to home and school to school, as her father’s instability and nightmares make him unable to keep a job or stay put for very long. Meanwhile, Leni’s mother Cora remains madly in love with her husband Ernt, and constantly tells Leni that she wishes she could remember how he was before. Out of options, Ernt comes up with a seemingly crazy idea — they’ll move to Alaska, to a plot of land left him by a war buddy, and live off the land, off the grid, as homesteaders.

Leni, of course, has no say in this, just as she has no say in most of what happens in her life. Cora is desperate to find the answer to making Ernt happy again, so off they go in their battered VW bus, completely unprepared for the realities of the life ahead of them. When they finally reach their land in Kaneq, they find a falling-down dirty cabin, and not much else. Fortunately, the neighbors in this tiny community rally around to teach them what they need to know, with an emphasis on the all-important preparations for their first Alaskan winter.

The land and its surroundings are breathtakingly beautiful, of course… but the winter is harsh, leaving the small family isolated in their cabin for months on end. For Leni and Cora, life becomes increasingly dangerous, not because of the natural threats such as wildlife and climate, but because of the man they live with. Ernt does not do well in the dark, under stress, and he takes out his inner demons on Cora.

Over the years, the family becomes intertwined with their neighbors, and Cora and Leni develop deep bonds with their new friends, but Ernt becomes more and more obsessed with survivalism, his paranoia and nightmares becoming more and more intense. Leni grows up in the shadow of domestic violence, witnessing her father’s brutal treatment of Cora, but unable to do anything to stop it.

And as Leni matures, she falls in love with the boy who was her first friend in Alaska — but her father hates his father and everything he stands for, and it’s clear that the relationship must be kept hidden from Ernt before it pushes him into even more violence.

I have to be honest and admit that I wasn’t so sure about this book for the first third or so. I was interested, but it was slow-going. The description of Alaska and what it takes to build a life there are intriguing, of course, but I’ve read other stories about life in Alaska, so this wasn’t exactly new. I had a hard time at first with the viewpoint, as this section of the book is seen mainly through 13-year-old Leni’s eyes, and there was just something a little limiting about that. Still, it was sadly fascinating to see Leni’s experience of her parents’ toxic marriage — the loving moments, when the two were so obsessed with each other that they couldn’t see anyone else — and the explosively painful moments, when Ernt’s rage would boil over into fists and abuse.

Later, when Leni is an older teen, her story becomes much more compelling. Suddenly, I couldn’t put the book down. (Seriously, I read the 2nd 50% of the book in one sitting.) Leni’s love story builds along a Romeo and Juliet trajectory, and while we can see the inevitable tragedy looming ahead, it’s still a shock when Leni’s life is turned upside down.

In some ways, the story of Ernt’s violence is simply tragic. It’s hard not to hate him as the years go by and his craziness and violence escalate — but there’s an element of pity, too. In today’s world, his PTSD would be recognized for what it is and he’d be able to get help. In the early 1970s, just back from hellish years as a captive in Vietnam, not only was there no psychological help, but he also was subject to the derision of anti-war America when he returned. It might be easy to view Ernt as simply an evil character, but we can’t. He is horrible and abusive and destructive, but his horror stems from his own status as a victim of war and torture. We can absolutely condemn his behavior and his treatment of his family, but I can’t help but feel sorrow too for how different this man might have been without the trauma of Vietnam.

The depiction of domestic violence is harrowing but has a ring of truth. At that time, there was much less support for “battered women”, and a woman who fought back could easily end up either dead or behind bars, without much in the way of legal defense or public awareness. Seeing Leni’s need to protect her mother, and Cora’s inability to find a way to leave, is painful and tragic.

At the same time, I loved the way Leni’s life in Alaska grows. She becomes a part of the community, part of Alaska itself, and this stays with her and changes her in deep and unalterable ways.

I won’t say more about the love story or its outcome, other than WOW and SOB and TEARS and… well, read it yourself to find out!

The Great Alone is powerful and moving, with a unique setting and memorable characters. Check it out.

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The details:

Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Shelf Control #91: A Little Something Different

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: A Little Something Different
Author: Sandy Hall
Published: 2014
Length: 272 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.  But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.

Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….

How and when I got it:

I bought myself a copy of this book soon after it came out. The cover caught my eye, and then once I read the description, I had to have it!

Why I want to read it:

Every once in a while, I’m in the mood for a quirky, upbeat love story, which is exactly what this sounds like. The idea of fourteen different viewpoints (including a squirrel’s!!!) is so charming. I’m glad that I just “discovered” this book on my shelves, because I really do want to read it!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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