Saturday, April 25, 2015

Readathon- April 25th

I will update this post throughout the day . . . .

Hour 8 Update
Finally my first book is done! I finished Silver Girl by Elin Hildebrand (about 156 pages read - I had already started this one).  Other than that, I took a walk to donate some books at the Book Cellar (and picked up a few books - couldn't resist!)   I also stopped off at the Farmer's Market on the way home for some berries to have with yogurt as a snack plus some vegetables for dinner later.  While out on this excursion, I listened to The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar.  Felt good to get outside in the fresh air and to move (I got about 5,000 steps in so will need another walk later to reach my 10K for the day)

Now I am moving on to Her Name is Rose by Christine Breen - this is another book I had already started and will see if I can polish it off during the Readathon.

How is your Readathon going?

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? 
NYC - a cold NYC, I will add.  38 degrees at 8 am at the end of April!!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? 
Looking forward to finally finishing Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand - I started it over a month ago but have been flitting between other books.  This one is light and a great pick for the readathon so I am going to polish it off this morning.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? 
Already fired up the espresso maker and had my first latte - looking forward to delicious caffeine infusions!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself! 
I have been blogging for almost 6 years (wow)! and though I have flagged a bit with blogging of late, I do love the readathon and am glad to participate again this year,

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
More movement - by the end of a day of just sitting still things start to ache so I am going to make an effort to move as much as possible.  My dog will need walking so I plan to get out a few times for a little while and bring an audiobook along.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Audiobook Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (narrated by Cassandra Clare; 10 hours, 1 minute) tells the story of the mixed race family, the Lee's, who live in suburban Ohio in the 1970's. As the book opens, the family has discovered that Lydia, the middle child and oldest daughter, is missing. When her body is discovered two days later in the nearby lake each family member begins to unwind their history and to try to make sense of the tragedy. With each family member's unwinding, the reader learns all that went unsaid and misunderstood between these family members and how it all combined to crush Lydia.

James Lee, the son of immigrants, attended a prestigious prep school at which his father worked as a janitor. Decidedly out of place due to his race and socioeconomic class, James longed to fit in but never quite achieved it. While at Harvard, he met Marilyn - a young, beautiful student with ambition to do more than just satisfy her mother's dream for her - to become a wife. Marilyn wanted to challenge her mother's and other's expectations of her and to become a doctor. She defied her mother's expectations once again when she fell in love with James, an Asian man at a time when mixed race marriages were still illegal in many states. Despite this and maybe a little due to her need to defy her mother, Marilyn marries James and becomes a young mother when their son, Nath, is born. With the arrival of motherhood, Marilyn places her dreams of being a doctor on a shelf but not without some regret and even resentment. With the arrival of the Lee's second child, Lydia, Marilyn sees a vessel for her own shelved dreams and begins to prepare her daughter to become a doctor. Meanwhile, James, pushes her to be popular and to "fit in" - no one asks or assesses what Lydia might want.

Lydia is uncomfortable with her status of favored child and the pressure of living out both of her parents' own dreams. Despite Nath's occasional resentment of his younger sister and the attention of their parents which she commands, the siblings are close and depend on each other to understand their unique family dynamic as only siblings can. The Lee's youngest child, Hannah, is almost the forgotten sibling - conceived at a time when her parents were going through a difficult time and born into a family preoccupied with their own issues, Hannah moves through the household largely unnoticed. From this hidden vantage point, Hannah sees things the other family member's miss - she takes precious belongings from each family member and through them learns what is important to them. She may not always understand the insights her observations offer but she does see things most family members miss. Her insights into Lydia are especially revealing as they all deal with her disappearance and death.

My Thoughts
This intelligent, debut novel tells a tragic story  - and not just the tragedy of a drowned sixteen year old. The real tragedy is how little the parents know about their own children and vice versa. Clouded by the need to see their dreams lived through their children, James and Marilyn never really see their own children or their needs. They give them what they think they need but repeatedly miss the mark. In much the same way, although more understandable since they are children, the Lee children don't know what drives their parents to push them they way they do. Everyone is moving through life propelled by desires they don't understand or acknowledge. The result is the story of a dysfunctional family which fascinates. Cassandra Campbell is a favorite narrator of mine and does an excellent job with this book.  Definitely recommend (the book and the audio production!)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is set in France during World War II and tells the story of two sisters - Viann and Isabelle and their lives during this period. Viann Mauriac says goodbye to her husband as he heads to the front to fight for France and she settles into their countryside home in Carriveau with their young daughter to endure wartime and wait for her husband's return. Meanwhile, Isabelle, always a rebel, finds herself working for the Resistance and  risking her life to fight the enemy. Through each of their stories, the reader is transported to France during the war and witnesses the sacrifice and endurance of French women during WWII. Sacrifice and endurance are wrapped in a love story and family drama which captivates the reader.

Viann and Isabelle have a fractured relationship; after the death of their mother when they were both young girls, they were left with their father who was ill-equipped emotionally following the death of his wife to deal with raising his young daughters. Viann, ten years older than Isabelle, was left to care for her younger sister but when Viann marries Antoine, Isabelle is shipped off to boarding school. Feeling abandoned, Isabelle resents Viann and acts out at boarding school and is expelled from school after school. Early on in the war, Isabelle arrives at Viann's home in Carriveau and they must work on their relationship in order to coexist and face the difficulties of Nazi occupation of their town.

Isabelle's rebellious streak persists and she is disgusted by Viann's inclination to do as she is told and to follow the orders of the occupiers. When German Captian Beck "billets" in Viann's home and lives side by side with her, Isabelle and Viann's young daughter, Viann is accommodating in an effort to keep from angering the soldier and in the hope that he will assist in contacting her husband who has been captured by the enemy.  Her approach to the war is to stoically accept the hardships and to try to endure; Isabelle, meanwhile joins the Resistance and distributes Anti-Nazi materials undercover throughout the town. This evolves into her shepherding British and American soldiers that have been shot down across the Pyrenees into Spain - her code name is Nightingale. Two sisters take very different paths during the war but ultimately gain an understanding and a respect for each other.

My Thoughts
This book captured my attention and had me hungrily reading for more - beyond the story of the sister's relationship, I was drawn into the hardship endured by those in the French countryside during the war. The author expertly describes the effects of draconian food rationing and intimidation meted out by the occupying German forces.  There were scenes, reminiscent of those in another Hannah novel, Winter Garden, where Viann broke down furniture to  burn and provide a little heat for her and her daughter through the long, cold winter. I cried twice during this novel - both times during scenes which involved children facing the atrocities of war while their parents plead for mercy for them. Hannah perfectly crafted these scenes  - she made them moving without being overly sentimental.

Ultimately, the appeal of this book lies in how humanity triumphed over the unthinkable horrors of war.

Isabelle's character is based on a Belgian woman, Andree de Jongh who set up an escape route for captured Allied soldiers during WWII.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Salon: March 15, 2015

The Sunday

The Scene: 8:33 am, Sunday: on couch with my trusty sidekick, Prince. He is back from vacation in Florida (he has been down there with my parents since I went to South Africa after the holidays).  They have taken great care of him but I am so happy to have him back.

Reading: While in Florida last week, I was drawn to books with a beach setting so I started reading Silver Girl by Elin Hildebrand.  The book has been on my shelf for a few years and it seemed like a perfect choice for the beach.  I am tearing through the book and glad I picked it up. Prior to that, I finished The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (review coming soon). It is a historical fiction set in France during WW2 and tells the story of two sisters  - one who fights for the resistance and one who lives in the country and tries to survive wartime while her husband is at the front. I loved this book - I even cried twice while reading it. 

Listening: For a while now, I have been listening to Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe - it is the letters of a British nanny in the 80's (Nina) to her sister. The book was lauded as a best book of 2014 but so far I have not seen (or heard) the magic. The re-telling of her mundane days is not capturing my attention but I am nearly done with it and we will see if there is a revelation before the end!  Have you read or listened to this one? 

 Blogging: Last week a blogger and tweeter that I follow, Lisa Adams (@adamslisa) died of metastatic breast cancer. If you follow me on twitter, you may have noticed that I have been re-tweeting the many articles written about this impressive woman. Lisa was first diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at the age of 37 and, following a number of years with a status of NED (no evidence of disease), she was diagnosed with metastatic disease in 2012.  When she died last week at the age of 45 she left behind her husband and three young children. 

Photo credit: Lisa Adams

Lisa wrote beautifully on her blog about living with breast cancer and her fears about leaving her children at such a young age. Her posts were poignant, direct and moving and articulated difficult emotions so well. Her tweets were a mix of pithy insights into the grind of constant treatment for her disease, observations about her children and commentary on the last show she was catching up via Netflix while trying to regain her energy following a treatment. I found myself looking for her tweets everyday and hoping to see that she was getting some relief and evidence that her latest treatment was working to give her a little more precious time.

Lisa's bio on twitter includes the statement: "Doing as much as I can for as long as I can" which I think perfectly demonstrates the way in which she lived her life with incurable breast cancer - she eschewed any notions of "battling" cancer or outsmarting cellular biology but intelligently developed treatment plans with her oncologist to control her disease as much as possible so she could spend precious time with her young children. She focused on the present and encouraged people to "Make the most of this day. Whatever that means to you, whatever you can do, no matter how small it seems" and urged on twitter "Find a bit a beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can't find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere." Persevere she did and took us along in an effort to educate about metastatic breast cancer, living with the disease and in an effort, I think, to connect and fend off isolation. She will be missed.

You can read her most popular posts here (including one about what to say and not to say to someone with cancer) and also see a collection of the remembrances that have been posted since her death including one by Bethanne Patrick (aka "The Book Maven") and Katherine Rosman of the New York Times. Lisa established a fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to fund research into metastatic breast cancer. 

This picture below from my visit to Florida last week is my "bit of beauty" today in honor of Lisa. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review and Giveaway: The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell

The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell is set in Cornwall where Sophie works as a photographer. Happy to be building her new business, Sophie seems content but lives a very narrow life. She has completely shut herself off to dating and the heartache in her past that has led to this is slowly revealed. Josh Strachan, who has returned from the US to the seaside town to help run a hotel, Mariscombe House,  with his grandmother, pursues Sophie and tries to break through her shell. Meanwhile, Sophie's friend Tula has moved from Birmingham and is working at the hotel. Unlike Sophie, Tula is in constant pursuit of love and romance. She is especially interested in Josh even though he barely notices her while he focuses on Sophie.

  My Thoughts
I always find Jill Mansell's books entertaining and love to sink into them - this one was no exception. I felt as if I was transported to Cornwall while I read and became engrossed in the lives of Sophie, Tula, Josh and the other cast of characters. The main character, Sophie,  and her story interested me most. The event in her past that has led to her reluctance to open herself to love is gradually revealed in a series of flashback scenes and deepens the readers understanding of Sophie. Meanwhile, Tula provides comic relief - she is much more lighthearted than Sophie and continually finds herself in scrapes. Sophie, Tula and Josh are supported by a cast of characters that includes Josh's grandparents who have an interesting relationship; Riley, a fun-loving playboy who pursues Tula and Riley's Aunt Marguerite who is a temperamental, self-involved author.

The author expertly weaves the multiple story lines together - there are just enough connections between these characters to make their story cohesive without seeming contrived.  If you haven't read a book by Jill Mansell yet this is a good one to start with - it includes her hallmarks of a cast of characters and an enjoyable story of found love.  If  you are already a fan of the author, like me, this latest book doesn't disappoint!


The publisher is offering a giveaway of the book and you can enter it here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: Girl Before Mirror by Liza Palmer

In Girl Before Mirror by Liza Palmer, Anna Wyatt is fighting to make her mark in the world of advertising. Relegated to smaller accounts with a target audience of women only, Anna is frustrated as she bumps up against the glass ceiling. She is also facing challenges in her personal life - at forty with a failed marriage behind her, Anna has been on a "time out" from romance and dating but she is starting to realize that, as with her professional life, she is going to have to go after what she wants to get a different outcome. When she is introduced to a self-help book, "Be The Heroine, Find Your Hero", it plays a role in bringing her professional success -but not in the way you expect. As she buys into the Be The Heroine philosophy, she realizes it translates into her own personal life and she begins to combat her long held beliefs about her worth and whether she can risk much to win in love. 

Anna Wyatt grew up with a demanding father and a mother who virtually ignored her children. Anna took care of her younger brother, Ferdie, and tried to provide him with the love she never received from her parents. This upbringing left her with some well-established guards which limit her in her relationships. Following her divorce from a husband to whom she never opened up, Anna has placed herself on a dating sabbatical and essentially opted out altogether. When she looks around the table at her birthday dinner, however, she realizes she wants more than she is getting out of this opt-out approach and the germ of change is planted.

Professionally, Anna is also frustrated by being limited in the ad agency to only small accounts with products focused on women. She sets her sights on Quincy Pharmaceuticals and sees an in road via a neglected body wash that has not been actively promoted by the company. She drafts a proposal that ties into the "Be The Heroine, Find Your Hero" theme and gets an audience with the team that manages the product at Quincy. Her proposal resonates and Anna finds herself at the Romance Writers Conference working the connections with her proposed ad campaign. By focusing on a theme that resonated with her and articulated what many women feel, Anna has landed on professional success.  She also finds a love interest at the conference in Lincoln Mallory, a Brit visiting the hotel for business. Lincoln challenges all of Anna's well-established guards and she struggles to take the chance that she knows will bring her success in her personal life.

My Thoughts
I am a fan of Liza Palmer's books - Conversations with the Fat Girl and Seeing Me Naked are two of my favorites. I remember underlining passages in both books because I felt they perfectly expressed my own thoughts and reflections.  I found myself doing the same with this book - Anna's struggles with self-confidence and living safely rather than pursuing what she really wants are so well captured by the author and I suspect will resonate for many women. There were times, however, that I felt this book covered too much ground - there was the story line about Anna's campaign for Quincy, story line about her relationship with Lincoln and then the story line about Ferdie. Each was rich but I felt the book could have been better with a focus on only two out of the three. This was not my favorite book by the author but does have her dialogue laced with humor and wry observations.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Audiobook Review: Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming: Alan Cumming is a Scottish actor who currently plays Eli Gould on The Good Wife and stars in the Broadway production of Cabaret. This book, however, is not about his life as an actor or how he found his calling to act - it is about his tortured relationship with his father who physically and emotionally abused him throughout his childhood. At times difficult to listen to, the book is raw and insightful and ultimately, quite brave.

Alan Cumming is the youngest son of Mary Darling and Alec Cumming and, with his older brother Tom, grew up in Scotland on an estate for which his father was the caretaker. His father was stern and had high expectations of both boys but seemed to reserve his greatest ire for young Alan. In talking about his childhood, Alan Cumming describes fearing his father and how the family walked on eggshells expecting the next outburst. His father often put the boys to work around the estate doing very manual labor and then criticizing the work they did including physically beating them when it was not to standard. In the rare moments when Alan got to act like a child such as when he rode his bike through the village, he recognized how little of that happiness was in his daily life and how he lived with a pervasive anxiety. He repressed that through much of his life but as an adult, its effects began to become obvious and he could no longer ignore it.

As the book begins, Alan is about to appear on the British version of Who Do You Think You Are? and the producers are going through his family tree looking for a line/story to follow. When his father learns of this, he worries that they will discover his secret so he abruptly discloses to Alan that he is not his real father and that Alan was conceived following a dalliance by his mother. At this point, Alan's relationship with his father was non-existent but this news rocks him and prompts him to re-examine what he thought to be true about his father and their difficult relationship. Interestingly, the show actually ended up exploring Alan's mother's family and focuses on Alan's grandfather. Through that, Alan discovers his Grandfather also had secrets and discovers parallels between the his own life and that of his Grandfather.

My Thoughts
At times, this book was difficult to listen to - I could feel my own chest tightening as Alan recounted the cruel words his father spat at him or the blows he struck. There is a tenderness in how he tells the story because, despite all the therapy he has obviously been through to cope with his history, there is still a rawness to his emotions and he has insights which are revelatory.  I thought the story line of the work on Who Do You Think You Are? provided a nice counterbalance to the conflict with his father. It is also emotional but in a different way and I looked forward to the revelations in that story line. After listening to the book, I actually watched Alan Cumming's episode on the show and it was interesting to see what I had listened to played out on the screen and see expressions on his face which he had described in the book.

The book is read by the author and I enjoyed his Scottish accent but more than that I appreciated the authenticity of the reading of a memoir that only an author can bring to the production. In addition, Cumming is a trained stage actor and his professionalism comes through in the reading of the audiobook. All in all, although his story is very painful, his journey through it is a triumph and provides hope. Definitely recommend.