Thursday, June 30, 2016

TLC Blog Tour: Connected Underneath

Based on the cover alone, Connected Underneath isn't a book I would have picked up. However, Linda Legters' novel sucked me in and I continued to keep reading, finding it difficult to put down.

Celeste acts as the narrator of this book. She's confined to a wheelchair and is able to eavesdrop on the world around her through a vent in her kitchen.  She introduces us to the cast of characters she sees on a daily basis. First there is Theo, a nice guy who is raising the daughter of a high school friend. Now his daughter, Persephone, is fifteen and acting out.  We see Persephone as tattooed, dressed in black, who is trading sex for more tattoos.  Natalie is the woman who gave Persephone away. She lives close, and when Theo goes to ask her for help with his daughter, she turns him away, not wanting much to do with the girl she gave up.

These characters are interesting and flawed and kept me wanting to know more about them.  They are all connected, yet seem unaware of this.  

Legters' novel is full of things to discuss with many layers of meaning and complex characters.  Book clubs should enjoy talking about this novel, which although short in length is full of talking points.

Thanks to TLC for providing a copy of Connected Underneath.  All opinions expressed are, as always, my own.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday:The Whole Town's Talking

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that features soon to be released books.

This week's pick:  The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg
Due out: October 25, 2016

Product Information taken from Amazon:

From the beloved author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe comes another unforgettable, laugh-out-loud, and moving novel about what it means to be truly alive.
Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is a small town like any other, but something strange is happening out at the cemetery. “Still Meadows,” as it’s called, is anything but still. Funny and profound, this novel in the tradition of Flagg’s Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town deals with universal themes of heaven and earth and everything in between, as Flagg tells a surprising story of life, afterlife, and the mysterious goings-on of ordinary people.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

YA Read: The Last Time We Were Us

Leah Konen's YA novel is a fantastic, enjoyable read. 

Liz is looking forward to having a great summer - especially since she is starting to see Innis Taylor, who is one of the most gorgeous guys in school.  

But Liz's childhood friend, Jason, is back having just been let out of a juvenile detention facility where he has spent eighteen months because of a fight he had. This fight just happened to be with Innis' older brother who was dating Liz's sister at the time. Although most people believe that Jason attacked Skip, there is more to the story than what most people know.

Liz finds herself drawn to Jason and the two begin to secretly spend time together.  

And Liz must decide whose story to believe: Innis' or Jason's.

I loved how this story unfolded.  I loved the romance of it. I loved the suspense Konen created.  This book is a winner for teen romance readers, as well as those who enjoy a good realistic fiction YA novel. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Family of Readers

I've been reading to my girls ever since they were born. As they've gotten older it's been interesting to see what they choose to read on their own - and how different their tastes are.

Right now because we are on summer vacation and have some extra time, everyone has been enjoying some reading.

Big Sister - A Young People's History of the United States: Columbus to the War On Terror by Howard Zinn has been taking up Big Sister's reading time. She is a person who loves non-fiction and history.  We've had some good discussions about Zinn's book and I'm anxious to keep talking about this one with her.

Middle Sister- Pretty Little Liars series- I seriously think Middle Sister has had one of these books in her hand all summer long.  She is loving them.  She is also addicted to the television series and has noted there are many differences between the two.

Little Sister- On her own, Little Sister has been flying through the Thea Stilton series. I've bought a few used copies for her from Amazon. Together, we just finished up Jacky Ha-Ha by James Patterson. I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would and was surprised by how fun it was.

Finding a picture of my husband might take I'll just share his latest read. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is one I recommended to him. He rarely takes my recommendations, preferring instead to look through our many stacks of books and do his own picking.  However, he did finally agree to read this one. He'll never admit to being surprised by a plot twist, but after he told me initially how he thought this would unfold, I believe he was truly surprised.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Five

It's time for another edition of Friday Five, which means summer is breezing on by. We've started up with swimming lessons this week, and are looking to be done with Drivers Ed (for Big Sister) next week.  I'm trying to get a ton of reading done along with a ton of cleaning.  

In my free time, I am still looking at lots of cool stuff online. Here are a few recent finds:

1.  Charmer in Charge Top in Raspberry - This top on Mod Cloth must be popular. I think the raspberry, which is what I wanted, is sold out, but there are other colors and prints available yet.

2.  Lucy Vital Shorts - I bought a pair of black Lucy shorts earlier this summer and I would wear them every day if I could.  Unfortunately they do need to be washed every once in a while. I like both of these pairs...the bottom ones are the Vital shorts, and the print ones are on sale right now.

3.  Yoga Siren Racerback - and since I'm liking the Lucy bottoms,  I also wouldn't mind trying a top.  

4.  Veggie Noodle Co. - I made a fast trip to Des Moines this week to take Middle Sister to my sister's so they could go to see Justin Bieber in concert. Every time I'm in Des Moines I make it a point to visit Whole Foods. I picked up some beet noodles and am intrigued by the idea of making my own. I can't wait to try these at lunch today.

5.  Gilded Geode Drops - these geode earrings have caught my eye. Earlier this spring this same website had a gorgeous geode necklace that is still for sale. I'm not sure how much longer I can convince myself that I don't need them.

So, what's caught your eye this week?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

TLC: The Space Between Sisters

I love the Butternut Lake series, and was excited to see that instead of it being a trilogy as I had thought, Mary McNear has continued to add to this series.

The Space Between Sisters introduces two new characters: Poppy and Win.  I kept waiting for some recurring characters to show up in this novel, but unlike the others in this series, I never did see a familiar face.  (There may truly be a character or two that was present in a previous novel, but no one I could remember).  Although I would have enjoyed checking in with some of the Butternut Lake residents I feel like I've come to know, meeting a new cast of characters who may show up in a future Butternut Lake novel was enjoyable, and allows The Space Between Sisters to work as a stand-alone novel.  

Sisters Poppy and Win are spending time at Butternut Lake in the cabin their grandparents once owned.  Win has inherited the cabin and lives there year round, teaching elementary school in the small town.  Poppy has found herself at loose ends- again.  She has no job and no money and shows up at the cabin without much warning, ready to move in with Win for the summer.

There are some minor differences and challenges the sisters face, but both women have some deeper issues. Win is still trying to get over the death of her husband and Poppy has never been able to let anyone get close to her.

As more about these women is revealed, we see what has happened in their lives to lead them to this point, and root for them to find happiness.

McNear's series is an easy read, one that is perfect for a Saturday afternoon, or the beach. I love visiting this town and its many residents.

Thanks to TLC for providing a copy of this book.  All opinions expressed, are as always, my own.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Wangs vs The World

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine which highlights soon to be published books.  

This week's pick:  The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang
Due out: October 4, 2016

A hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent—and about the road trip they take across America that binds them back together

Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’sancestral lands—and his pride. 

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China. 
Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America—and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Surprise Me: A Pleasant Surprise

Deena Goldstone's novel Surprise Me was a pleasant, wonderful surprise. Usually I am racing through books in the summer, but I've been busy with things at home, which means that I've read this one over a span of a few days, and have had time to enjoy every page.

Isabelle Rothman is a senior in college when she begins to write and works with a professor, Daniel Jablonski, who has a less than stellar reputation.  Their brief encounters allow Isabelle to feel as though she is a writer, and then all too soon she has graduated and moved on to a life of her own.

Years pass.  Isabelle falls in love, has a child and begins to work at a bookstore, but she no longer writes.  Daniel changes jobs a few time, eventually settling in a small cottage near his daughter, Alina, who is still angry and bitter at her father for leaving her as a young child.

Daniel and Isabelle correspond infrequently by email, but they continue to have a deep connection to one another.

I originally thought this was a love story between Daniel and Isabelle, and it is, but not the way I originally thought.  These two people are connected through their writing, yet much of their lives are spent apart.

Goldstone's writing is perfect. I felt connected to both Isabelle and Daniel and appreciated their flaws and how human she was able to make them.  Their relationship was complex, not easily defined, and changed over time as they grew and changed themselves.  I loved seeing both of these characters' lives unfold.

This is a debut novel for Goldstone, although she is not new to writing, having published a short story collection, Tell Me One Thing, previously. I wish this novel was getting more attention because I absolutely loved it, and am hoping to hear more from Deena Goldstone.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer In Iowa: Week 1

Last week was my first week of summer vacation. I love that as an adult I have (almost) an entire summer off of work.  This year I've decided that my girls are old enough that I can no longer excuse my lack of cleaning on their neediness.  I've already done a bit of deep cleaning with more to come.

And, I've decided that I'm going to make a conscious effort to check a few things off each girl's bucket list they compose each summer.

So far in Week One, we've had a fun time.

1.  Picking strawberries.  I hate to rain on anyone's parade, but picking strawberries is the opposite of fun in my book. Back in high school I picked strawberries for a few hours each morning one summer to earn a little extra money.  My hamstrings have never been the same, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for this type of work. 

However, I took the girls to pick strawberries at Heartland Farms on Wednesday morning (the location of the torture I endured in high school) and we all really enjoyed ourselves.  We left with just shy of fourteen pounds of strawberries, and hours of baking ahead of us.  

Each girl tried a recipe involving lots of strawberries, and we will be forever indebted to my mother who took half of our haul home and froze them for us.

We may not have museums to while away hot summer afternoons, but we do have strawberry patches where we can make memories. 

2.  Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City - Big Sister and I feel like regulars at this Indie Bookstore, but Middle Sister and Little Sister get to Iowa City far less frequently and have no real memories of this bookstore.  It is an absolute treasure and yesterday we spent some time selecting a few books to enjoy over the summer.

3.  Hurts Donuts - while we were in Iowa City we took the recommendation of friends and visited Hurts Donuts in Coralville.  Their offerings are many. All are unique.  The Bart Simpson. The Slim Shady.  The E. T.  The Homer. The Cookie Monster. The Jesus.  Moose Munch.  Little Timmy.  We purchased a dozen for a donut loving dad at our house.  

4.  Whitey's Ice Cream - Big Sister found a list of the ten best ice cream places in Iowa.  Whitey's tops the list, so while we were road-tripping yesterday we had to try it for ourselves.  The good news is it tasted great and we still have nine more ice cream places to taste test.

5. Black Angel - Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City- It's hard to road trip without connecting something to books and literature.  Here Lies Linc by Delia Ray was a Cedar Valley Youth Reads pick a few years ago.  On our Friday road trip we listened to this book on audio, and then visited the Black Angel at the cemetery we had just heard about.  It was a short side-trip to what we had already planned, but I think it will make this book more memorable to the girls.

I'm not sure where we're headed this week for fun and relaxation.  I've got a few ideas that I'm working out in my mind, so we'll see how this week unfolds.

If anyone has some suggestions for some not-so-popular, off-the-beaten-path places of interest in Iowa, I'm all ears.

Falling: A Daughter, A Father and A Journey Back

I was instantly intrigued when I read the synopsis of this book.  I wanted to read Falling because ten years ago my daughter was diagnosed with cancer (stage 4, hepatoblastoma) just like Elisha Cooper's daughter was diagnosed with Wilm's Tumor.  And then, I didn't want to read Falling, for the very same reasons.

Cooper writes about his daughter, Zoe's diagnosis and treatment in just the first thirty five pages of this book. I feel like I could probably write a few hundred pages on my daughter's experience during this time of her treatment. However, I was grateful for the matter of fact-ness of this portion of the book.  Reading Cooper's account of his daughter's diagnosis and treatment certainly brought back many memories.  

Cooper doesn't just write about Zoe's treatment, but he does write a great deal about how the cancer diagnosis changed his life and their family dynamic.  I can relate to this story in a way most people cannot.  

Cooper is a children's book illustrator, but his writing is magnificent.  He is able to tie in Zoe's cancer diagnosis to other experiences in his life. While this book hit me different than most readers because of my experiences as a cancer mom, Falling is a must read.

Thanks to Elisha Cooper for writing this important memoir that shares what one family endured and how they managed to go on living.