Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Since Last Summer

Joanna Philbin's Daughters series is one I recommend to my upper elementary/tween readers, knowing they will enjoy the glamour of the characters and not have content that is too adult.

Philbin's latest series, is geared toward a more grown-up audience. The second installment Since Last Summer, picks up one summer later as Rory heads back to East Hampton again. This year Rory is no longer just hired help. She and Connor have been dating since the summer before, and Rory is thrilled to get to spend the summer as guest of the Rules.  Isabella, Conner's sister, is Rory's best friend, and this summer gives the two a chance to catch up with each other.

Except things aren't going as Rory dreamed. Conner seems more interested in a group of school friends. When Rory is with them she is left out of conversations and just doesn't fit in.  And keeping the secret of Isabella's paternity from Conner is making things difficult as well. Mr. and Mrs. Rule are separated, and Conner is having a hard time understanding how this could be happening. And, as a Rule, he has been well schooled in how to put on a good show.

Isabella is having her own struggles over the summer. Mike, the guy she hooked up with keeps turning up unexpectedly, and despite the fact that Isabella has a really great new boyfriend, she can't help thinking about Mike. 

There's plenty of drama in Since Last Summer.  Although the content is more adult than Philbin's previous series, I still give her credit for somehow sneaking in some good discussion points/life lessons without seeming preachy.   I didn't agree with all of Rory's decisions - or Isabella's - but somehow Philbin is able to capture the confusion and emotions that are universal to the teen experience and create characters that are so relateable. 

I can't wait to see what Rory and Isabella are up to next summer in East Hampton.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Book lovers everywhere should grab a copy of Gabrielle Zevin's latest book. I've read some of Zevin's books before, and there are a few I enjoyed more than others, but The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is going at the very top of my list.  Love, love, love!

I'll tell you that even after I read the inside flap I was skeptical.  I don't love the cover, and Zevin is a name I associate with fantasy/dystopian writing. Imagine my surprise when I began reading and couldn't put this book down.

A.J. Fikry and his wife decided to open a book store on Alice Island, and life is good.  And then Fikry's wife dies in an accident, which also kills their unborn child.  Now Fikry has alienated himself from nearly everyone, although he does still communicate with his wife's sister, Ismay.  

Amelia, the rep from Knightly Press tries to recommend some new titles to Fikry when she stops at his book store, but there are a lot of books he isn't interested in - or actually, just a few kinds he is interested in.

When a child is abandoned in his book store with a note asking him to please keep her and raise her, Fikry's life begins to change for the better.  He and his bookstore become a mainstay of their small island community.  And life is good.

This is mostly a feel good story, although there are some challenges and sorrows thrown in - along with a lot of book titles and references that the reader in me fell in love with.

If there is a book this summer that surprised me, that I fell in love with, that I have been telling others to read, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry is that book.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday!  We've had a week of cool weather- almost fall like, which I am not ready for. This next week we will be back to the hot, humid summer-like weather I love.

I've been trying out some new recipes I've found online.  Iowa Girl Eats has tons of fantastic recipes I have enjoyed . However, when I explained this salad recipe to my sister and a few friends, they commented on how time intensive it seemed.  Which I suppose is true.  Nothing took too long, but I did have to candy walnuts myself.  (To think - I was once challenged by making mac and cheese. I've come a long way!)  However, I would happily make, or eat, this salad again.  

Although summer is all about reading books - at least to me - I have had to spend some time this past week organizing the library books I have checked out.

Here's part of the mess as we organized them into stacks based on their due date.  I posted a similar picture on facebook which many friends commented on.  Yes, I am crazy.

What is summer in Iowa without getting to see the parade of tractors cross the state?  Each year a group of people drive their tractors across the state of Iowa. We never know when this big event is going to occur, but our town seems to be on their parade route. We had just gone to the grocery store on Friday and were on our way home when we encountered fifty tractors (give or take a few) coming in our direction. The first thing we did was remarked how thankful we were that we weren't stuck behind them all trying to get into town. And the second thing we did was pull over and watch the parade.  Exciting, I know.

I'm getting ready to try out a recipe my sister gave to my mom, and then hope to find time to read yet today.  It's gorgeous out.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Five

I've been trying to refrain from internet shopping, but it is almost impossible with all the emails I get alerting me to new sales.

If I could spend money, I would love to add these star luminarias to my dining area.  They are $69 right now at Sundance.  

And, while I was perusing the Sundance online site, I came across the clearance selection of sweaters. I could pretty much take one of every style, but this one is one of my favorites. It is sitting in my shopping cart right now.  I'm trying to be strong and refrain from purchasing, but it is just so cute.

With my newfound frugality, this purchase is what I had to get excited about on my recent trip to Target.  One of my friends purchased a new water softener system and no longer could use their Finish pods in their dishwasher. She passed what they had left on to me, and I liked them so much, I bought more when they ran out.  Plus, they look like sushi.  What could be better?

And, that same friend also turned me on to Bear Naked Bars.  There are a few flavors, but since peanut butter is one of them, it wins, hands-down.

With all the great summer sales, it was impossible for me to walk away from Thompson's Shoes empty handed.  (Hey, it wasn't an internet purchase, so at least I am making progress).  My Teva flip flops were purchased eight years ago. I still love them, but they are almost worn through to the ground in some spots.  These Sanuks were clearanced out, and I have pretty much worn them non-stop since Monday when I bought them. They feel great, and I love the zebra print, which makes it somewhat easier to say goodbye to my Tevas.

That's all I've got this Friday.  Do you have any deals to share?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer at the Cabin

I have lots of friends who have cabins where they spend weekends during the summer, but I don't really know anyone who goes away for an entire summer to their vacation home.  Yet, I can think of several books that have that scenario.

Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine is my newest read with this premise.

Adam and his family spend each summer at Three Bird Lake in Minnesota with his grandmother.  This year is the first since Adam's parents got divorced, so his father isn't coming with them, and neither are his aunt or uncle or cousins.  Adam's mom is worried about his grandma, who seems forgetful at times, and plans to stay at the lake long after Adam and his mom leave to go back to school. 

The summer is looking pretty boring, until Adam meets Alice, who is living in the cabin next door.  Alice is blond and pretty, and Adam is sure the two won't be friends.  Yet, the two do begin to hang out, and it is Alice that Adam looks to for advice when Gram starts leaving Adam bizarre notes in his bedroom. 

St. Antoine has created a good realistic fiction novel for both tween boys and girls, a perfect summer (or fall or spring or winter) read.

If you're looking for other books that fall into the "summer at the cabin" setting, here are a few more:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's selection:  Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly
Due out: September 2, 2014

Product Description taken from Amazon:

From breakout thriller writer Paula Daly, Keep Your Friends Close is a riveting and electrifying story of a husband and wife and the devious best friend who comes between them.

Natty and Sean Wainwright have a rock-solid marriage—with two daughters, a successful business, and a beautiful house, they are a model family. When their younger daughter falls ill on an overseas school trip, Natty rushes to her side. Luckily, Natty’s best friend from college, Eve Dalladay, is visiting and offers to stay with Sean to lend a hand in the Wainwright household. But Natty returns home to find that Eve has taken to family life a little too well: Sean has fallen in love with her. With no choice but to put on a brave face, Natty attempts to start anew—yet no matter how hard she tries to set herself upright, Eve is there to knock her down again. Then Natty receives a mysterious note that says Eve has done this before—more than once—and the consequences were fatal. On a mission to reveal Eve as a vindictive serial mistress, Natty must navigate through a treacherous maze of secrets and lies that threatens her life and the safety of her loved ones.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Family and Other Hazards

 June Melby's memoir about her childhood summers spent in Door County, Wisconsin, where her parents operated a Tom Thumb Mini Golf Course, came to me at exactly the right moment.  I can't recall when I last played a round of mini golf, yet over our vacation that is what our girls chose to do.  It was a great family activity (except for one minor meltdown by our oldest daughter who wanted a re-do on a hole).

Melby's parents were school teachers during the winter months, leaving for Wisconsin as soon as school ended in order to get the golf course up and running.  Summers were spent repairing, repainting, and assisting customers.  

Teeing off 

Melby's memoir is arranged in chapters that describe each hole, and I could visualize the windmill, the pendulum, and various other hazards common to mini golf courses the world over.  She recalls various high points and anecdotes from these summers, as she and her sisters were expected to be a part of the work force at Tom Thumb.

The girls are done golfing 

While the three Melby daughters moved on as adults, their parents continued to operate the Tom Thumb mini golf course until they retired and sold it for nearly half a million dollars- lake front property in Wisconsin is quite valuable.  June began reminiscing about her childhood as did her sisters, and their emotional connection to the golf course is evident, especially as Melby write of her parents' decision to sell the golf course, and the clock begins ticking, marching toward the last day the Melby's will be Tom Thumb's owners.

Mini golf courses are a bit of Americana, and Melby's memoir shares how her family played a part in the history of what was once one of this country's favorite past-times.

Monday, July 14, 2014

You Should Have Known

I am thinking right about now that I should have known how much I would love this book.  I'm a little annoyed with myself for how long it has taken me to get to it on my library pile, but vacation was a perfect time to dive right in to Jean Hanff Korelitz's book You Should Have Known.

Grace is a therapist, excited by the publication of her new book on relationships, You Should Have Known. She finds herself living a picture perfect life with her twelve year old son, Henry, and her pediatric oncologist husband, Jonathan.  Just as she is being recognized for her work and giving advice to couples, her own relationship is imploding.

Unbeknownst to Grace, Jonathan is not at all who she thought.  When the mother of a child is murdered at Henry's school, Grace can't fathom why the police would need to talk to her, yet as things unfold, Grace is surprised over and over by her husband and who he really is.

Korelitz does an expert job of slowly revealing bits of Jonathan to the reader.  There were things I expected that came to fruition, but plenty I didn't that I was surprised by.  The idea that a person can't truly know another is not unique, but it certainly thought provoking and complex (I remember discussing this with a book club long ago after having read The Pilot's Wife by Chris Bohjalian, as the wife in this book discovers that her husband, a pilot, had a second family - wife and children- she was unaware of until after he died).  In Jonathan's case, it isn't just a matter of keeping secrets, it is that he appears to be someone without a conscience or remorse, and although Korelitz doesn't dwell on this, it felt to me like he was unable to feel love.

Grace's character develops throughout the novel.  As I closed the book, I thought about how much more I liked Grace by book's end than I did at the beginning.  When the novel starts, Grace is clinical, a bit cold - certainly detached.  By novel's end, she no longer feels as though she has all the answers, and is human.  

My only regret in reading this is that I was so anxious to get to the end, I nearly flew through the last fifty pages.  Korelitz's writing deserves more attention than I gave, yet I couldn't stop myself from finding out how she resolved this story.

Definitely worth reading!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Salon: Mowing the Lawn and Other Summer Activities

We're hitting that point in the summer where I am suffering from too much reading.  Hard to believe, I know, but I have read some really fabulous books, and these past few days I have started and abandoned several books. I'm sort of "meh" about anything I pick up right now.  I hope the feeling passes soon because I have lots and lots and lots stacked up here for me.  

The girls have also been telling me they're bored.  This summer has been cold and rainy as far as summers go, and the mosquito has become our state bird.  Every time I go outside I am swarmed by these annoying bugs.  At one point Middle Sister had 10 bug bites just on her face.  And that is with wearing bug spray.  

So, what do you do to counteract boredom?  You have the kids help mow the yard.  Big Sister was OK with learning how to do this, but Middle Sister had nothing good to say about this job. It's too bad I didn't enlarge this picture so you could see the snarl on her face.  However, they got the job done (along with Dad) and no one is missing any toes.  

Our vacation to the Dells was relaxing.  I am kind of grossed out by the wet sliminess of everything and the crowds of people all over. However, we did take a duck boat tour that was fun and I did spend a lot of time with my feet up and a book in my lap.  Perfect.

The more adventurous people in the family (that's everyone except me) did enjoy the rides.

There was also plenty of ice cream to end our days.

I've spent much of the day de-cluttering areas of our house.  Although I am making progress, it is hard to tell right now. The World Cup final is on and almost everyone in our house is curled up watching it.  

I've got a new dish I'm ready to try out for supper, and some leftovers from a new salad recipe I made last night that I am anxious to eat.  

What are you doing this summer Sunday?  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

This is a novel I finished a while ago - at least a few months since I read an ARC on Netgalley- and yet I continue to think about it.  Bohjalian's latest work my be considered dystopian, but I found it difficult to place it firmly in that camp because of how realistic it felt.  

Emily Shepard's father is in charge of the nuclear power plant in a town near their Vermont home.  Her mother also works there, and Emily knows her parents jobs to be safe and unremarkable.  When the power plant has a meltdown releasing radiation into the environment, life is forever changed. Emily's father may be at fault for the accident, and her parents have both perished in the meltdown. Instead of going where she is told, Emily fears that she will be discovered as the daughter of the man who killed so many others, and takes to the streets.  

Emily is homeless, and her narration of the events leading up to this point in her life are honest and a bit heartbreaking.  I wanted to believe that Emily's home was happy, yet what she reveals about her parents didn't allow me to believe that everything was wonderful.  Bohjalian's development of her parents  made them human as he exposes their flaws through Emily's eyes. Although dystopian, the premise for the book is entirely believable, and at one point I even had my map out, looking for the towns Bohjalian references.  Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is another winner by Bohjalian, and is another example of his amazing writing skills.