Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

April 2015 Must-Reads

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

April 2015 Must-Reads

April was another fantastic month of reading and I am excited to share the April Must-Reads list from the books I tackled this month. I hope that you are also following along with my Sundays With Writers series where I interview the authors about their books and try to find out more about their stories behind the stories. This series happens to be my favorite and it is such a treat to share why they created their books.  I will be sure to share below any interviews that have happened (or will be happening) so you can enjoy them after the book.

Speaking of interviews, I can now say that I have interviewed a Pulitzer Prize winning author! A big congratulations to Anthony Doerr on his win for All the Light We Cannot See. It was such an honor to interview him last year about this book and, and after penning it for an entire decade, it is worthy of every accolade it has received. Be sure to check it out!

I think it is important to be honest. Sometimes books just don’t make the must-read cut, but I want to mention them anyway, as we all have our cups of literature tea.  These two that didn’t make it are well-written, but I did not love them.  I read this book and this book this month, but didn’t feel like these were must-reads for you.

This one definitely gave me a lot to think about, but it took it to a level that I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending it to a lot of people.  It was, frankly, the most graphically disturbing book I have ever read. I am no prude. I read these (and they were terrible). Nutting exposes the sensationalized topic of female teachers pursuing teens for sexual relationships for what it is…pedophilia. Through this narcissistic sociopath’s eyes, we are able to see exactly what type of child a teacher would target, how she would initiate a relationship, and how she permanently and unapologetically ruins children for their future relationships. The writing is on-point, but the unnecessary pushing of the sexual envelope, lowered the rating for me, as it did not move the plot forward and seemed instead to intentionally shock the reader. Compared to Lolita & American Psycho, the author truly creates the most unlikable character you might ever read.

This book was one that everyone was raving and raving about and I read it just because everyone said it was so fantastic.  It was beautifully written although a much slower read than I had expected after hearing such great things.  The premise is that when a birthday party is held in an unnamed South American country, a famous soprano opera singer sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. The party is interrupted when 18 terrorists enter the vice-presidential mansion in hopes to hold the president hostage. Unfortunately, the president never showed up because he was watching his favorite soap opera, defeating the purpose of the terrorist visit. Instead, they hold the people from the party hostage to try to get their demands met and what develops are unexpected relationships between the party guests and even the guests with their captures.  The book developed the characters well, but I felt hostage too when the plot did not drive itself forward enough for me. If the book had been scaled back in pages, I would have enjoyed it so much more. That said, it read more like a play to me more than a book as this is such a character-driven piece all taking place in one setting.  I would recommend this one for readers who love REALLY slow builds and rich characters, but it did not make the must-read cut. I know, I know…throw rotten tomatoes wildly at me! Am I missing something? I know there are people out there loving this one so tell me what in the world is wrong with me and why you love it so much!

Let’s move on to the things I think you SHOULD read!

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel

This book was charming from start to finish. I am a big fan of books that explore the what-if’s in life and this one does it beautifully. When Kate loses her husband in a tragic accident she finally feels like she can move forward in a new relationship twelve years later. When her husband begins to visit her in her dreams though, she begins to fall into an alternate universe where the lines between reality and imagination are blurred.

One of my  favorite movies is Sliding Doors and this book reminded me so much of that movie. Harmel truly explores what does it take to move forward in life without forgetting your past.

In this story, Kate blames her lack of sleep on stress. But when she starts seeing Patrick, her late husband, in her dreams, she begins to wonder if she’s really ready to move on. Is Patrick trying to tell her something? Attempting to navigate between dreams and reality, Kate must uncover her husband’s hidden message. Her quest leads her to a sign language class and into the New York City foster system, where she finds rewards greater than she could have imagined.

This is the best piece of chick lit I have read this year and would highly recommend for anyone who needs a little reading escape! I have been telling everyone to escape with this one and I keep hearing how much they loved it too. It’s one I would be packing in my beach bag this summer, for sure!

5 Out of 5 Stars

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

What a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.

Jennifer Niven will be joining me for a future Sundays With Writers so be sure to check back for that interview as we chat about mental illness in teens and her first YA book (that we will soon be able to see Elle Fanning starring in the movie adaptation of!!).

4 Out of 5 Stars

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (currently available for pre-order, hits stores on May 12th!)

I received an ARC from NetGalley for my honest thoughts & opinions on this book.

How can this book not be on your top list? The title has GIRL in it (like this, and this, and this…), Gillian Flynn’s name is dropped on the front cover for the endorsement, the narrator is unlikable, AND Reese Witherspoon will be producing the movie version of this book (only just recently announced). I’d say this has a winning combination for this to be the book that everyone will be talking about this summer.

Much like other thriller books, I don’t want to give away the plot too much so that you have the satisfaction of discovering the twists yourself. Ani is a girl who never has the ability to fit in at her prestigious private school, no matter how many brand name clothes her mother buys her. When Ani intrigues the popular kids, they decide to invite her in and Ani discovers, maybe it was better to have never been a part of the group at all. In a horrible turn of events, she finds solace in another kid at school that will, ultimately, change the destiny of the school and the kids in it forever.

The book flashes back to Ani’s painful teen years and then alternates chapters as they film a documentary about what happened at their school and how much happier Ani is now that she is working at a high-profile magazine, beautiful, thin, and has the guy of her dreams. Of course, things are never as good as they seem and getting to the root of why Ani is so unlikable helps the reader to connect more as the story progresses despite the excruciating shallowness and weight obsession of this woman.

With just the right amount of sass to balance the darkness of this book (think Gillian Flynn for how dark we get), this read is a quick page-turner that I can’t wait to see adapted into film.

5 Out of 5 Stars

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This book is achingly beautiful in so many ways exploring the beauty and anguish of first loves. This story is uniquely told by a twin sister & brother, alternating chapters, yet one is telling the story three years later while the other is telling the story as it happens. It creates a journey experience for the reader when characters begin to overlap together in these stories.

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

Nelson’s words read like watching a painting unravel on a page, as though it all is coming to life, especially when told through artistic Noah’s eyes as his words are the most visually vivid. Nelson beautifully paints the portrait of the typical teenage angst of Jude & Noah, while focusing strongly on the difficulties of being a gay teen and the hostility of classmates that force Noah to try to fit in with his peers.

I laughed and cried through the pages of this one especially because I have never read a writer like this, making me Nelson’s latest fan. It really surprised me in so many ways. I would recommend it for fans of Rainbow Rowell or John Green.

Read my interview with Jandy Nelson in our Sundays With Writers series this month!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (available for pre-order, hits stores on June 23rd)

I received an ARC from NetGalley for my honest thoughts and opinions on this book.

I knew I was going to love this book because it had so many ingredients in it for success with me- librarians, old books, a bit of magic, and a glimpse at the old carnival life. The book has been compared to Water For Elephants and Night Circus, but definitely stands on its own and is an ambitious debut novel from this first-time author. When Simon, a young librarian, receives the gift of a book that is a travel log for a carnival in the 1700’s, he discovers a drowning death of a circus mermaid that is coincidental to his own mother’s drowning death (a former circus mermaid herself) that happened even on the same day. If their family is cursed, his sister could be the next victim and he will do anything to save her. The chapters alternate between the travel log (complete with unique sketch drawings) and present day as Simon tries to stop the curse on his family. The author manages to bring these stories together in a beautiful way with a satisfying conclusion to these mysterious drownings.

This was definitely a slower read for me and the length could have been shortened a bit, as the plot lagged a bit for me. The sketches, however, add a fun interactive element for the reader and help keep you engaged in the story. If you appreciate a good circus story with a modern-day mystery, you will enjoy this escape. I imagine there will be a lot of buzz surrounding this book this summer.

4 Out of 5 Stars

April 2015 Must-Reads

Read With Me This Year:

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

March 2015 Must-Reads

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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Love Your Home Challenge

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Love Your Home Challenge

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how much I have been enjoying Melissa Michael’s book, Love the Home You Have, and I am so excited to be celebrating the launch with her and many other bloggers today. Her blog, The Inspired Room, is truly the blog I go to for my own home inspiration and styling. In fact, I have even admitted to her that it might be awkward when she visits because I have stolen so many ideas from her home including paint colors and styling, that I could have never come up with on my own.

The journey towards loving our home has been a wild one in this last decade. When we first got married, we moved from an apartment to another apartment and then purchased a condo that we thought we could make our home for many years.  The loss of employment had us scrambling for both a job and a home we could afford when my husband accepted employment in Indiana. I stayed behind with our baby boy to pack us up and my husband headed to Indiana to pick out a house for us without me there.  With not even two pennies to rub together, we were approved for a lot and I encouraged him to get the most bang for our buck and spend as little as possible. I figured this would just be a temporary solution and we would flip the house once we added a little paint and buy something more our style. I had no idea the real estate market in Indiana was oh-so-different than our experience buying & selling a home in Massachusetts.

birthday

I am embarrassed to say that I did not weather the unemployment well or appreciate this home he picked out. It was not my dream house in the least and I cried when we walked inside.  Not only was it not our style at all, but everything needed to be replaced. The air conditioner was the size of a car and when it kicked in, the lights would dim in our entire house. A few days after we moved in, we called my husband’s parents to tell them the ceiling looked like it was caving in. Turned out, the roof was falling apart and I remember my husband poking holes with a screwdriver to allow the water to pour out into pails on our floor in the middle of a rain storm.  I sat on the floor crying that this was the best we could do. The electrical in the entire house left electricians concerned that we might have a house fire.  It wasn’t just the cosmetic stuff, but the big stuff like furnaces, a hot water heater, windows, an air conditioner, a roof. I could not wait to get out of this place.

12 years later, we are still here. That ugly eyesore is now the place we call home and every year I fall in love with it more.  This has been a long journey getting to a place where we love our space and that is why I am excited to share with you about Melissa’s new book, Love the Home You Have.

Love Your Home Challenge

This book is so inspiring and is the book that I wish someone would have handed me when we purchased our little house. It is all about making the most of the space you are in and learning to love your space… no matter what kind of space it is. Melissa lived in some spaces that definitely were not her dream homes before settling into the home she is now. She takes you on that journey and shares those real thoughts about those spaces and how she made each home her own.

Melissa’s journey towards loving her home echoes the same journey we have been on with our own little fixer upper. This book is BEAUTIFUL and filled with humor and wisdom about the journey towards loving your home. There is a Biblical slant to it, but it isn’t preachy.  If you struggle with loving the space you are in, she really shows you how to make the most of whatever your situation is. I love that this book isn’t about upgrading our buying more, but making simple switches to make your space more enjoyable. Their journey is relatable and her personality shines in this book.

I don’t promote books because people are my friends, I promote them if they are good.

This one is good.

In celebration of her book launch, here are 5 ways I have fallen in love with the home I have.

Love Your Home Challenge

1. We are constantly decluttering our space to make room for the good stuff. This year I have reduced our belongings by about 50%, but I always know that I can do more. Having a bag going at all times helps me get rid of the excess to create room for the spaces we really love. Having a smaller home really holds you accountable to your belongings because there is just nowhere to store the excess. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Love Your Home Challenge

janet-hill

Love Your Home Challenge

Love Your Home Challenge

2. We have made the space personal to us. One of the things that I am the most proud of in our space is that it is tailored so much to our own style. From the artwork we select to the handmade additions like wreaths, yarn-wrapped letters, and knitted centerpieces, the first thing people say when they come to our house is, “This house is so you.” I think that acknowledging our own style in the details is what adds charm to our home.

Love Your Home Challenge

3. We utilize every corner of our space.  As we have slowly been remodeling the spaces in our home, the one thing I am most proud of is our ability to use every square inch in our space. A storage shed, for example, became a beautiful bonus room that is now a retreat for our family. A never used corner in our bathroom became the perfect place for a shower.  My office once had a rarely used seating area that with the addition of a small fireplace has become my go-to spot after a long day. Looking at the corners in a new light has made all the difference in my appreciation of our space.

Love Your Home Challenge

4. We never stop dreaming of how to improve the space we are in. The nice thing about creating your home more slowly is that you have the time to save and dream of what you want to do next to your house.  Once the structural things were taken care of, we now could dream and save for the fun stuff. I keep a private Pinterest board going of home ideas and tuck them away for future projects.  Even if I know we can’t do it for years, there is so much contentment in just knowing what direction we want to take things in someday that replaces the disatisfaction of the space.

Love Your Home Challenge

5. We know now that this is right where we belong. The other night we browsed through realtor photos of homes that were on the market. We browse homes well out of our price range a lot to get ideas for our space. You know what we always discover? We could spend a million dollars on a home (which we couldn’t, but you know…) and we would STILL have to gut and renovate the space. As each corner is transformed in our little tri-level fixer-upper, we see things we love about it more than any other home on the market. That, my friends, is when you know that you love the home you have. We couldn’t be happier!

Love Your Home Challenge

Of course, the added bonus with living within our means and having less is that we can do more good stuff for others. How lucky are we?

Love Your Home Challenge

Reluctant Entertainer /Julie Blanner / Mom Advice / Sawdust Girl / Liz Marie Blog / Tidy Mom / Infarrantly Creative / Love Feast Table / Balancing Beauty and Bedlam / All Things Thrifty / Just a Girl / Emily A Clark  / My Sweet Savannah / Lemonade Makin Mama / Jones Design Company / Fieldstone Hill Design / Jenna Burger Design / DIY Show Off / Not Just a Housewife / Beneath My Heart / A Thoughtful Place / Home Stories A to Z /Southern Hospitality / My Blessed Life / Pretty Handy Girl / The Nesting Place / Shabby Nest / Funky Junk Interiors / Songbird Blog / The Shabby Creek Cottage / Miss Mustard Seed / 320 Sycamore

 Today I am joining the #LoveYourHomeChallenge with some really amazing and inspiring bloggers! To learn more about this fun challenge, head on over to The Inspired Room to see what Melissa is sharing today! I know you will leave feeling as inspired as I am.  Be sure to pick up Love the Home You Have today and be inspired to make the most of everything you have right now!

March 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, March 27th, 2015

March 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

I can’t believe that it is already time to share my monthly reading list with you. I read so many beautiful books in March and I am excited to share my thoughts on what I read this month. I hope that you are also following along with my Sundays With Writers series where I interview the authors about their books and try to find out more about their stories behind the stories. This series happens to be my favorite and it is such a treat to share why they created their books.

Here are six great books I tackled this month!

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away is one of those books that you just swim in the words thanks to such a gifted writer. M.O. Walsh does an incredible job of setting the typical suburban neighborhood scene in the year of 1989. It’s the summer that changes everything when the town’s golden girl, Lindy Simpson, is attacked at night near her home. Told in the eyes of another neighborhood boy, who has an extreme obsession & fixation on Lindy, he tries to set the scene and name the suspects…even when his name is included among the list.

I selected this book while browsing this past month’s selection for the Amazon Featured Debut Novel category.  I picked it up and immediately emailed the author to see if I could interview him about his book, the process of writing poetically,  the buzz about his debut novel, and some interesting insights on the town he lives in (Baton Rouge) that can be found within this book.

M.O. Walsh joined me this month for Sundays With Writers and was, perhaps, one of the most candid authors I have interviewed. I would say that the interview is just as interesting as the book so definitely check it out, even if you don’t read this one.

I think with this read you need to know going in that this is not a mystery or a thriller, this is more of a character-driven piece than anything. If expectations are aligned with that, I think you will enjoy this one. It is  graphic and there is language in this one, but it is very much plot-driven and not for shock value. Although, perhaps, not satisfying in the way that a typical whodunit mystery is solved, it is genuinely satisfying in capturing the mind of an adolescent boy, a bittersweet relationship between him and his father, and that tricky terrain of adolescent love and obsession.

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”

Hannah tells a beautiful story of two sisters who fought the war in their own ways when the Nazis invade France. It is a beautiful rendering of the survival skills needed to survive during this time focusing on the missions of one sister, in particular, who joins the French Resistance and brings soldiers to safety. While her story may seem bigger, the everyday struggles of her own sister who must house a Nazi soldier are just as harrowing. The writing is brutally honest and unflinching at what women had to do to survive and she captures their journey perfectly.

For me,  this was another solid read from Kristin Hannah (much like her Winter Garden from 2010)  and a well-researched rendering of women in the war.  While there are love stories, this was definitely a solid historical fiction book and not a chick lit read. It would lend itself well to book club discussions and I had a hard time putting this one down as  I worried for the safety of these two sisters.

4 Out of 5 Stars

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

I have been trying to read one business book a month to try to help me do my job here a little better. This was a fun read about how an unlikely woman became an entrepreneur of a multi-million dollar company. I think Sophia really showcases that you don’t have to go about business the traditional way and that you don’t have to be a traditional CEO in order for people to respect you. From the nuts and bolts of crafting a resume all the way to landing investors and hiring, this book covers all the basics of business in a fun way.

I really related to Sophia and how she landed into a business she never expected, started small (with no expectation of earning money), and then grew a business with no money at all.  She did not finish school, she lacked the expected polish of a CEO, but she learned that you don’t need to always go the traditional route to be an incredible business woman. Her story really resonated with me and would be a great read if you feel unconfident in business or have always dreamed of being a self-starter, but lack the self-esteem to get started. She shows you that you can be anything you want to be.

A little raunchy and a lot of girl power, I really enjoyed this one!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Americanah by Chimamanda ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I have picked up Americanah a few times at my library, but kept returning it because I never got to it, due to the size of the book (588 pages).  When I would do our Sundays With Writers interviews, this book came up a few times as the one book that the authors interviewed thought that everyone should read. I seem to be on a kick this year with books on the struggles of immigration (another book featured below as well as The Unknown Americans) so I thought I would not let the size intimidate me anymore and sit down with this book.

This is a  beautiful read centered around love and race when a young woman and man from Nigeria face difficult choices in the countries they call home. The relationship follows two teens until they are adults as they both try to make their way to America, one succeeding and one not in reaching their destination. Adichie really writes beautifully about race in America, effectively the most in creating one of her characters as a blogger who focuses on race and racial tensions.

The length of this book was my biggest hurdle since it’s been in my pile for months, but I am so glad I made time for this one since it has come so highly recommended by so many writers.  I did feel that there were parts that were a little long on description and that the book would have been just as effective had it been shortened by a couple of hundred pages.  Regardless, I am really proud to have finally read this and would recommend this one to you if you prefer a meatier novel that really deals with race relations and the struggles of immigration. There were parts that I read out loud to my husband and sections that I really had to pause and think how I never thought about these immigration struggles and what it would be like to try to come to America. It is a very powerful read.

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

This is the third book on immigration that I have read this year and definitely packed a powerful punch about how hard it would be to come to America. Ward alternates two stories- one of a typical middle-class woman who is struggling with infertility and becomes a mentor to a struggling teen and the other story of a young girl and her brother who face the harshest kind of poverty and are trying to get to America where they can finally be reunited with their mother and safe. The story of her journey to America is harrowing and devastating to read. Ward doesn’t hold back on setting the scene, giving you an eye-opening look at the real struggles of coming to America. Their lives intertwine and provide a satisfying conclusion to this sad story.

I found this book disturbing in some parts and I have been carrying some of the scenes around with me this month. There is poverty and then there is POVERTY. We are talking, eating flour and water for dinner (if you are lucky), addictions to glue to feel full by small children, parents abandoning a child to take care of another child and head to America. It was really heartbreaking.

I am glad I read it, but it was just really heavy.

Ward does a great job of contrasting the struggles of a typical middle-class white suburban mother against the struggles of a child in poverty effectively without being mean about it. It made me think about how my struggles are so minor compared to the struggles of others.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I selected this book for my local book club this month after discovering it was the #1 book of all the books on Amazon for 2014. How could you not select this after making that discovery?

This is a beautiful debut novel and Ng’s descriptive language is a treat to read. When a family’s daughter goes missing the lives of her family members begin unraveling through Ng’s beautiful storytelling. The reader is taken on a journey from the very beginning of the relationship of the parents and moving through each family member, including Lydia, their missing daughter. Everything I Never Told You is every character’s story that was never told- from the disappointment felt by parents to not fitting in due to their race to what roles they were expected to fill in the family (whether wanted or not).

This is a book that would lend itself well to a book club discussion since it tackles the big issues of parental roles/expectations as well as the heartache of youth and the challenges with fitting in. As with My Sunshine Away, I did not find this to read like a mystery or thriller, but more of a character-driven piece.

Celeste Ng will be joining me in a Sundays With Writers soon and I am so excited to share more of her story with you.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Read With me This Year:

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

 

 

 

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February 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, February 27th, 2015

February 2015 Must Reads from MomAdvice.com

 

I told you that I couldn’t possible have read as many books as I tackled over a vacation, but I was wrong. This month I was a reading machine thanks to freezing cold temperatures and snowy days and nights that left us unmotivated to leave our cozy house. I am so excited to share with you some new books that you can add to your book stack and, thankfully, many of these writers will also be featured in our Sundays With Writers series in the upcoming month. How cool is that?

 

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

INSIDE THE O’BRIENS by Lisa Genova

(available April 7th)

I was lucky enough to score an advanced reader of this book on NetGalley for this book. I am a huge fan of Lisa Genova, particularly her novels STILL ALICE (have you seen the flick yet?)  and LEFT NEGLECTED. She truly has a gift for writing about illnesses and diseases that can affect the brain and mind.

Genova continues with her trademarks of great writing paired with a neurological issue, raising awareness for diseases that the public may not be aware of. This book captured a typical Irish Catholic family on the East Coast where the dad, Joe, finds out that he has Huntington’s disease. This book explores not only the everyday struggle of someone who works in an occupation that would make it impossible to continue doing his work, but the struggles of each family member as they grapple with their family member’s illness and the possibility that this genetic disease could have been passed down through the family lineage.

It’s a beautiful read, but I particularly appreciate that not only is the author raising awareness for a little known disease, but she is also trying to raise funds for charity through her readership. It was a beautiful read that should be depressing, but ends with a lot of hope & positivity.

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

I requested that my book club read this book for our discussion after hearing everyone talking about this one. Did you hear that the movie rights were already sold? Wild!

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved.

This is a twisty dark psychological thriller with an unreliable and unlikeable narrator. The novel has a slow start, but builds beautifully once you get going.  Not a character in this one feels trustworthy, taking the reader along on a bumpy train ride when a woman in town goes missing. The comparison to GONE GIRL is warranted, but the ending is far more satisfying. The book kept me guessing and each character was beautifully fleshed out. Usually in alternating viewpoints, I want to skim chapters, only enjoying one point of view. In this one, I looked forward to each viewpoint as it built upon the mystery. I really enjoyed this story and I can’t wait to see this book adapted to film.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

DEEP DOWN DARK by Hector Tobar

I heard about this book on NPR since it is their first Morning Edition book club selection and we know I am all about anything NPR-related. When a Chilean mine collapsed in August 2010, it trapped thirty-three miners beneath thousands of feet of rock for a record-breaking sixty-nine days. This book is the story of the miners and what they  experienced below the surface. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Hector Tobar gains exclusive access to the miners and their stories and tells these beautifully. It helps to offer an understanding of the families and the personal stories of these miners, as well as adds insight into what it would be like to work in this type of job.

When I read stories like this, much like the beautiful book UNBROKEN, I am reminded that I would die in the first day because I am a very weak, weak person. I could not exist in this kind of tomb-like existence. It is an incredible testimony to the strength of these men and the love they had for their families.

This is a survival story unlike any other I have read. The harrowing tale of these men trapped in this mine is completely unbelievable and what they do to survive together is just as unbelievable. The story of their survival proves that miracles really do happen and I am so glad I got to read the stories of their days in this mine as well as what life is really like after you become a hero in the eyes of the media and public. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be as author to capture all of these stories of these men in one book…and do it so well. I am so happy NPR Morning Edition selected this as their first book club pick so I could dig into something that was outside of my usual genre this year!

5 Out of 5 Stars

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

THE BULLET by Mary Louise Kelly

(available March 17th)

If you are looking for a fast page-turner of a book, this is it. This is a beautifully written mystery that echoes some of my favorite thrillers from Chevy Stevens. When a woman discover a bullet in her body that she was never aware of it, it sends her life spiraling in a direction that she never expected. The origin of that bullet and the people around her that it has affected, cause this cold case to be reopened… reopening wounds of the family and friends around her. Despite the gravity of the case and the circumstances surrounding it, the book is laced with great humor and a cast of endearing characters. I really enjoyed this one for a quick escape!

I’m looking forward to featuring the author in our Sundays With Writers series next month!

* book obtained through Netgalley- all opinions & thoughts are my own.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES by Frances Whiting

This is one of those books that you think will just be a quick escape, but ends up being a beautiful story with endearing characters that you think about after you close the final pages. This coming-of-age story follows the friendship between two teen girls and then the consequences of them both falling for the same guy, which destroys their friendship. Thankfully, it was just so much more than that and really built around a cast of flawed characters, the bonds & love of our family, first loves, true loves, and how friendships between unlikely people can reshape your destiny. There were some really great themes in this one and it is the kind of book that reminds you of your own coming-of-age story and the friendships that can endure those tumultuous years. The theme seems simple, but the story was not. I highly recommend this one!

Read my interview with Frances Whiting HERE!

* book obtained through Netgalley- all opinions & thoughts are my own.

5 Out of 5 Stars

Whisky Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith

 

WHISKY & CHARLIE by Annabel Smith (published as WHISKY CHARLIE FOXTROT in Australia)

US version available on April 7th, Australian version available now)

Wow! What an incredibly moving story this was. The story centers around estranged adult identical twin brothers who are brought together when one brother, Whiskey, is involved in an accident that leaves him in a coma. The story goes back and forth from the time they are kids gabbing through walkie-talkies until the present day and what caused the strains in their relationship. The author does a great job tackling the difficulties of sibling rivalry, what it would be like to be a twin, and how even when we don’t always like our family members, they are always our family and loved. The most ambitious element of this book is that the author uses the phonetic alphabet for each chapter that perfectly weaves into the story and adds another level of charm to this story. I highly recommend this book!

I am so excited to have Annabel join us for our Sundays With Writers series next month!

* book obtained through Netgalley- all opinions & thoughts are my own.

4 Out of 5 Stars

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

Sundays With Writers: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Happy Sunday, friends! This week I am so incredibly honored to be featuring Cristina Henríquez and her amazing book, THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS in our interview series today.  I decided to pick this one up after discovering it as an Amazon Best Book of the Month selection and read it in just a couple of short days over my winter break. It’s one of those that I couldn’t put down and I found myself reading portions of it out loud to my husband because it touched upon so many issues with what life would would be like as an immigrant coming to America. It has, in fact, made me more aware and more empathetic to others who may not be from our country. It’s that kind of book- the kind that resonates with you, long after you shut the pages.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

I featured this book in my January 2015 Must-Read round-up and had my fingers crossed that I would get to interview Cristina. This lady is so busy with promotion right now, but she graciously took the time to share about her book with you. I hope if you’ve read it, you can leave her a comment and tell her how much you enjoyed this one too- I’d love our authors to know how lovely it is to read these stories behind the stories. It’s a treat for me and I hope it is a treat for you too!

Told from alternating viewpoints all from immigrant neighbors in one apartment complex, it gives the reader the opportunity to see America through an immigrant’s eyes. From struggling to make ends to meet, to the struggle to communicate, to finding a job, to sending your child off to school, to the sacrifices that are made when leaving your own country for something you believe will be better than the life you are leading- it looks at it all through new eyes.

The story hinges around two sets of parents who have sacrificed everything for their kids and the blooming love between their children in a beautiful coming-of-age story. Honest, human, and so moving.  I am just going to say it, this is a MUST-READ this year. The New York Times even named it as one of its 100 Notable Books of 2014. This would make a fantastic book club selection because there is so much to talk about and you can even print out these handy book club questions for your group.

Now grab your coffee and settle in with this amazing writer today!

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Although this is a fictional story, you deal with the real & true issue of immigration and the hurdles that immigrants face when they come to America. Why do you feel this was such an important story to tell and why did you chose to tell it fictionally rather than as a work of nonfiction?

The story was important to me because it was personal. My father is an immigrant who came to the United States from Panama in 1971. I wanted to honor him and stories like his – ordinary people who come here for their own reasons (in my father’s case, he came as a student to study chemical engineering at the University of Delaware) and who are trying to find a place where they belong even though the country they come to and the people around them are often inhospitable. As for choosing to tell it fictionally, that was a no-brainer. I am just much happier writing fiction. I am very, very content hanging out with imaginary people all day.

As a mom, I really related to Alma’s guilt over the tragic accident that caused her daughter brain damage, and I also related to her overwhelming need to protect her after the accident happened. As a mother, could you relate to Alma’s guilt and overprotectiveness? Has a situation ever happened in your life with your own children that helped to shape that story?

Oh, absolutely! I feel guilt and overprotectiveness almost every other day! That said, there was no specific incident in my own life that gave rise to that part of the story. But as I was writing it, any time even something small happened to one of my kids – they slipped on a patch of ice or they fell off the climbing area at the park — I found myself thinking about Alma and the weight of the guilt she was carrying with her. I knew how terrible I felt even in those minor situations, like somehow I should have been able to protect them better. Magnifying that to imagine what Alma must have felt was an easy leap.

You crafted a beautiful story told through many different points of views from all of the immigrants residing in the apartment complex. It seems everyone had a voice in this story except Maribel. Did you choose not to write her voice because you felt it would be difficult to tell with her brain damage or did you want the reader to come to her own interpretations of how/what Maribel felt?

This is a question that keeps coming up, and the answer is an exceptionally boring one. Basically, I had structured the book in my mind this way: Alma, Mayor, neighbor, Alma, Mayor, neighbor, etc. I wanted that to repeat throughout. I also knew that Alma and Mayor notwithstanding, I wanted there to be only one narrator from each family/apartment unit. For reasons that become obvious when you read the book, I felt strongly that from the Riveras that person should be Arturo. Which meant that Maribel was necessarily left out. Maribel is central to everything in the book. Everything everyone does from the start to the finish is because of her. It’s true that she doesn’t get her own chapter (neither do a few of the other characters), but I think there’s something powerful about her being the core of everything without having to say much at all.

The day-to-day struggles from simply putting your child on a bus and knowing when they will come back to communicating with the grocery clerk about what you need are so beautifully told and pulled so very much at my heartstrings. Did you interview immigrants who had come to the states to find out about their struggles to help shape your book?

No. I read some nonfiction accounts about the experiences of Latino immigrants, and I relied to some degree on my own observations of my father. But anyone who has traveled to a country where you don’t speak the language or speak it only haltingly probably knows the feeling of disorientation that the Riveras experience in the book. The last time I was in Panama, I tried to return a bottle of sunscreen that my husband had mistakenly bought. My Spanish isn’t very good, and returns are not a common occurrence in Panama, so I had two things working against me from the get-go. And it was amazing to me how embarrassed and how anxious I felt, fumbling through an explanation to the clerk about how my husband didn’t realize we already had enough sunscreen. It was a simple interaction, or what would have been simple in my life in Chicago, and it was suddenly so difficult and so fraught. I felt so conspicuous, so clearly an outsider. I tried to imagine the situations that Alma would find herself in that would make her feel the same way.

What do you have in store for us in your next book?

I wish I knew! I do have an idea, but it’s still very nebulous. Slowly, slowly, it’s taking shape.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

That’s so hard. But this one has been very much on my mind lately so I’m going to say Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

You can connect with Cristina Henríquez on GoodReads or on Facebook or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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January 2015 Must-Reads

Friday, January 30th, 2015

January 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

I promised you book reviews in the new year and I am delivering on that on the last Friday of each month. Did you know my dream job is to be a book concierge so that I could select books for other people based on their hobbies and interests? It really is. It thrills me to no end to share my favorite books with you and I try to read a wide range of books so I have something for everyone.  I am hoping that you will enjoy these special selections and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for my Sundays With Writers where I have the unbelievable job of interviewing the authors from my most loved books! I know, PINCH ME.

This month will be longer than most since I took two weeks off this winter to just read and be with my family over the holidays. Two of the books that I read ended up squeaking in on my best books of 2014 list- did you see it?  A few today, I have no doubt, will be on my 2015 best book highlights.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

This was an absolutely beautiful story about what it would be like to come to America as an immigrant. Told from alternating viewpoints all from immigrant neighbors in one apartment complex, it gives the reader the opportunity to see America through an immigrant’s eyes. From struggling to make ends to meet, to the struggle to communicate, to finding a job, to sending your child off to school, to the sacrifices that are made when leaving your own country for something you believe will be better than the life you are leading- it looks at it all through new eyes.

The story hinges around two sets of parents who have sacrificed everything for their kids and the blooming love between their children in a beautiful coming-of-age story. Honest, human, and so moving. A must-read this year.

I have reached out to Cristina to hear more about the story behind the story for our Sundays With Writers. Fingers crossed that you will be reading this interview soon- I can’t recommend this novel enough!

5 Out of 5 Stars

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

If you are into vivid storytellers, William Kent Krueger’s novel is a book for you. After I finished it, I emailed Kent to see if he would like to share more about this book and you can read my interview with him on Sunday.

This novel is set in 1961 in New Bremen, Minnesota and is told through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Frank Drum.

When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

On the surface, ORDINARY GRACE is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives.

This is a beautiful coming of age story that reminds us of our youth. While I was able to figure out the killer early on in the story, as this is meant to be a mystery, it did not take away from the beautiful writing that filled the pages. I really enjoyed the book and the author’s carefully crafted characters that made this story read more like a memoir than a piece of fiction.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I’m not even going to lie, this novel is absolute perfection from start to finish. Never a lag, never a dull moment, audible gasps at shocking plot twists, a steamy sordid love affair…friends, THIS is unbelievable. Now as a disclaimer, the love affair lies between two women so if you don’t want to read that, then continue on with your life. That being said, it is tastefully done and the love affair scene is more Snow Flower & the Secret Fan rather than that cheap stuff in 50 Shades of Grey. I could not put this book down and actually bought it for my Kindle (due to its whopping 596 pages in length), and kind of already want to reread it again. Or just have you all read it so I can talk about it. I mean- it’s THAT good.

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

As a reader, you are taken on a Dickens-esque roller coaster ride with plot twist after plot twist. I could not put this down and can’t wait to dig into more of her books now that I finally know what all the fuss is about. This book was amazing!

45 Out of 5 Stars (I’m Not Kidding!)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Did you catch my interview with Karen Joy Fowler this week about this amazing book? You must read the book and then read my interview with her.

First, don’t read any reviews on this one. Just read it so you can have fun with the surprise- kind of like the shocking twist in GONE GIRL. It’s got that element of, “WAIT, WHAT?!”

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind. Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man. And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

This is one of those books that you want others to read just so you can talk through it. I avoided reading any reviews on this and I am so glad I did because half of the fun in this one was making sense of this unusual family and just what makes them so unusual. So beautifully executed that it reads like a memoir, it was such an enjoyable and believable read that you want to go on a narnia of fact-finding on Wikipedia to discover all of the inspiration behind this novel and read more about how many of these cases featured were true.

Although the execution of delivering the information in a mixed up timeline can be confusing for the reader, the originality of this unique & heartbreaking story made this a book that I just couldn’t put down.

5 Out of 5 Stars

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

First, this was just not my favorite Rainbow Rowell book. If you are wanting to read something by this author, I can’t recommend ELEANOR & PARK enough. It’s YA perfection. This book was cute, but not my favorite. I am apparently in the minority though because this one won the GoodReads Choice Award Winner for the Fiction Category for 2014.

The story is about a troubled marriage where the couple end up being separated for the holidays and Georgie, the wife, discovers that she can communicate with her husband in the past through a landline phone in her childhood room. They chat at night and Georgie wonders if by chatting with him (pre-marriage)  she is changing their future or can repair mistakes from the past.

This had all the signature Rainbow Rowell charm with a touch of magical realism laced in where a relationship is revived through a rotary phone that can take the main character, Georgie, back in time to a pivotal moment in the relationship with her husband. I am always a big fan of books that explore the, “what if?” and this did that in a failing marriage and what could be done differently if given the chance. Although this one lacked the ELEANOR & PARK charm, I still thought it was a great little escape. Fans of Allison Winn Scotch’s, TIME OF MY LIFE,  will fall in love with this one as it builds on such a similar concept.

For me the first half was slow and the second half was cute. I recommend this one if you need a little escape or a lighter read between heavier books.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Wheat Belly by William Davis

Wheat Belly by William Davis

I’m trying to dive into a bit of nonfiction this year and thanks to our m challenge series and the monthly selection, I tackled my first nonfiction book this year.

WHEAT BELLY focuses on the quality of the wheat that we now consume and how removing wheat from your diet can help you to lose weight and live longer. The scientific research that supported this book as well as patient studies showcased not only the difference in the health of our body, but also how eating clean can help you mentally too.

Although every study and patient situation in this book seemed to have remarkable differences in their health without the gluten, I tend to not be an extremist when it comes to diet planning unless you have a health reason (like having celiac disease) that might not benefit from my, “all things in moderation,” planning.

The most interesting part for me about this book though were the studies on mental health, particularly the schizophrenia study, that showcased how much better patients did mentally with a wheat-free diet. I know that I have felt sluggish and out of sorts when I overload on carbs, but I never realized the benefits of wheat-free eating if you were suffering from a mental illness.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book and had the pleasure of listening to this one on audiobook this month thanks to my Scribd membership. I’m thrilled they are now offering an unlimited audiobook offering along with my book selections which has been a great way to absorb another book while tackling knitting or household chores!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls

I read and loved this one as a little girl and this month I read it with my little girl. The circle of life is a beautiful thing.  I think reading this again was even better as an adult. I am reading these with my 9 year-old daughter and am shocked how many scenes I can recall in vivid detail from my childhood. As an adult though, you certainly have more of an appreciation for all the work that Ma & Pa did to keep their household running smoothly. I also have found that Laura is a bit of a Ramona in this story- yup, she’s a little sassy and I love it.

This book really showcases all of the chores that the family must do and how they prepare their food for the long winter. The entertainment resides in Pa’s fiddle playing and making things from scratch.

This book is a treasure, no matter what your age! I look forward to reading the rest in the series this year with her.

5 Out of 5 Stars

***********************************************************************************

 

What Is On My Nightstand Now

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

I am over halfway through DEEP DOWN DARK and absolutely loving it. I heard about this book on NPR since it is their first Morning Edition book club selection and we know I am all about anything NPR-related. When a Chilean mine collapsed in August 2010, it trapped thirty-three miners beneath thousands of feet of rock for a record-breaking sixty-nine days. This book is the story of the miners and what they  experienced below the surface. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Hector Tobar gains exclusive access to the miners and their stories and tells these beautifully. It helps to offer an understanding of the families and the personal stories of these miners, as well as adds insight into what it would be like to work in this type of job.

When I read stories like this, much like the beautiful book UNBROKEN, I am reminded that I would die in the first day because I am a very weak, weak person. I could not exist in this kind of tomb-like existence. It is an incredible testimony to the strength of these men and the love they had for their families.

I really recommend this one, even though I haven’t finished it yet!

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

Inside The O’Briens by Lesa Genova

I was lucky enough to score an advanced reader of this book on NetGalley this month. I am a huge fan of Lisa Genova, particularly her novels STILL ALICE (have you seen the flick yet?)  and LEFT NEGLECTED. She truly has a gift for writing about illnesses and diseases that can affect the brain and mind. This novel promises a bit more of the same, but is exploring Huntington’s Disease.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We are riding along in the wagon with Laura as her family leaves her little house in the big woods. I won’t lie, Emily started sobbing when the wagon found its way into the creek and their dog goes missing. I forgot how brutal this trip was.  Of course, I always loved the most depressing books when I was a kid, so this should come as no surprise that I remembered this one fondly. I also am reminded that I wouldn’t survive (see above for why).

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

My work life has been out of control these past couple of years and this year I really want to scale back.  This book is going to help me say no more to the things that don’t matter and make room for the good stuff. I am really enjoying this one and find myself highlighting the entire book. It’s the kind of book you want to revisit periodically when life feels out of control.  For me, it is like working with a business coach, but it doesn’t cost as much. I see so much of myself and my struggles in this and so much of my husband’s struggle with balance that we are both reading it right now and talking about it.  It is helping me to refocus this year.

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

 

 

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m challenge: Wheat Belly Book Discussion

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Wheat Belly by William Davis

I hope that you have been enjoying the m challenge this month and the information we showcased on health & wellness this month. Many apologies for the delay in our WHEAT BELLY discussion. Between having my home renovated and some family things going on, I got a little behind on our discussion. That said, I finished the book and really loved it.  Despite this topic being a little on the dry side for me, there was a lot of humour to keep me entertained while being educated on what wheat does to our systems. It was a good one to listen to on audiobook while I tackled my chores.

As you guys know I eat gluten-free almost 100% of the time, with a few indulgences around the holidays and the occasional, “JUST GIVE ME REAL PIZZA,” moments. For me, it has been transformative in so many ways. My stomach is finally quiet,  my skin is no longer as rashy, I have more energy, and even my hairdresser has remarked on how my hair doesn’t even feel the same.  Although I never had the colonoscopy to find out if I am celiac, it does run in my family, and I am aware that gluten does something to my body that isn’t good.  The change for me has been really transformative. I feel like me again.

WHEAT BELLY focuses on the quality of the wheat that we now consume and how removing wheat from your diet can help you to lose weight and live longer. The scientific research that supported this book as well as patient studies showcased not only the difference in the health of our body, but also how eating clean can help you mentally too.

Although every study and patient situation in this book seemed to have remarkable differences in their health without the gluten, I tend to not be an extremist when it comes to diet planning unless you have a health reason (like having celiac disease) that might not benefit from my, “all things in moderation,” planning.

The most interesting part for me about this book though were the studies on mental health, particularly the schizophrenia study, that showcased how much better patients did mentally with a wheat-free diet. I know that I have felt sluggish and out of sorts when I overload on carbs, but I never realized the benefits of wheat-free eating if you were suffering from a mental illness.

Dr. William Davis

On the Wheat Belly diet you eliminate all wheat, including bread, pasta, cereal, pretzels, doughnuts, etc. You may not eat anything made with wheat, barley, rye, spelt, or certain oats.

Unlike a gluten-free diet, Dr. William Davis cautions against simply replacing these items with “gluten-free” versions, which often contain cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, or tapioca starch and will not aid in weight loss. The doctor says they trigger the same blood sugar response as gluten from wheat.

As someone who eats gluten-free, I have to agree that I don’t always feel great when I eat products that are gluten-free replacements. I try to eat these in moderation and make smart decisions. Unless it is gluten-free Girl Scout Cookies which happened to be my new discovery this year. If it is those, than I will do the best I can. *ahem*

Davis also suggests cutting out high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, salt, sugary foods, rice, potatoes, soda, fruit juice, dried fruit, legumes, and more. You should also avoid trans fats, fried foods, and cured meats on this plan.

The diet outlines that you can eat:

Vegetables
Some fruit (namely berries, apples, oranges), but much less of “sugary fruit” (pineapple, papaya, mango, banana)
Unlimited raw nuts, plant-based oils such as olive, avocado, coconut, and cocoa butter
Grass-fed, humanely raised meat and eggs
Full-fat cheese
Ground flaxseed

You can also eat limited quantities of:

Full-fat, unsweetened cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, and butter
Soy in its fermented forms: tofu, tempeh, miso, and natto
Olives, avocados, pickled vegetables, and raw seeds
After you’ve transitioned off wheat, you may eat limited quantities of other whole grains, such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, and chia, as well as beans.

As far as alcohol goes, wheat-brewed beers are definitely off the list, but Davis does support red wine for its heart-healthy benefits. You can read more on the Wheat Belly blog.

Although I don’t eat like this for weight-loss,  I can honestly say that I eat like this almost all of the time for my health.  At first, the transition was hard. I felt like I was detoxing those first few weeks. Over time though, and as so many other diets support clean eating pop up, it has become easier and easier. Almost everyone I know eats like this now.  As a disclaimer, although I choose to eat like this for myself, my husband and family still eat as usual except for the meals we share together. Why? Because ain’t nobody got time for cooking one meal, let alone two meals.

I’m curious for those who read this one what you thought about it? Were there any big moments in this book that made you think or have you considered/done/are doing a diet like this? Feel free to chat in the comments below!

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Sundays With Writers: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

It’s so good to be back to Sundays With Writers and sharing my first interview for 2015. Over my two week holiday, I read several really incredible books and one of those books happened to be,  WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler.  I read about it in this fantastic list of 6 interesting and very different novels that are worth your time on Hollywood Housewife. Laura always has some unbelievably great picks so I knew that if she said this was worth my time, it would be. I avoided all reviews of the book and dug into it.

As a reader, I love a good surprise.

And this book was SO surprising….much like that delicious twist in GONE GIRL where you flipped the page and you were like, “Wait! WHAT?!”

After I finished it, I had to track down Karen Joy Fowler to see if she could share with us a little bit more about herself and her book.  Although this was a tricky interview to do, there are no spoilers in this interview.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind. Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man. And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

This is one of those books that you want others to read just so you can talk through it. I avoided reading any reviews on this and I am so glad I did because half of the fun in this one was making sense of this unusual family and just what makes them so unusual. So beautifully executed that it reads like a memoir, it was such an enjoyable and believable read that I will spend the rest of the night trying to find all of the inspiration behind this novel and reading more about how many of these cases featured were true. Although the execution of delivering the information in a mixed up timeline can be confusing for the reader, the originality of this unique & heartbreaking story made this a book that I just couldn’t put down.

I’m not the only one who loved this book though! WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES has won the Pen/Faulkner Award for 2014 and was nominated for a 2014 Nebula Award as well.  The book was also shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize- it’s that good!

Grab a cup of coffee and let’s chat with Karen Joy Fowler this morning about this intriguing book. Remember, no spoilers, friends!

Karen Joy Fowler

You have the unbelievable gift of writing books that cover a wide range of genres beautifully, which I find quite amazing as a reader. Would you find writing in one genre to be monotonous? Do you have a favorite genre that you feel most comfortable in?

I feel most comfortable between genres.  Actually I feel most comfortable when I don’t think about genre at all, but just do whatever seems best to me for the story at hand.  My recollection of the children’s room in the library where I grew up is that books weren’t separated by genre – none of that space rocket on the spine, cowboy hat on the spine that I found in later libraries.  So it was years before I understood that genre mattered, because it never had to me.

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES explores the topic of animal testing for medical purposes and tells this story of what was happening in the ‘70’s in a truly unique way. How did you decide that this was a subject you wanted to tackle and what types of research did you have to do to prepare for this book? Did your father’s work as a psychology professor who studied animal behavior contribute to you wanting to explore this topic further?

My father’s work and my childhood perceptions of it, as best I can remember them, gave me the confidence to think I maybe could write this book, even though I had no experience or knowledge of chimpanzees beyond the basic when I started it.   The idea came during a conversation I was having with my daughter about my father’s work.  I comforted myself that, if I didn’t know much about chimps, at least I knew a lot about psychologists.  That gave me the nerve needed to begin the reading and research required.

Did writing this book change any of your own views about animal rights? Were you able to relate to one of the characters, in particular, and their viewpoint about animal rights?

I was always an animal rights advocate, but writing the book really expanded my sense of that.  Before I did the research I was most sympathetic to those animals with traits I could identify as human-like, those whose intelligence seemed to echo human intelligence.  I was well into the book before I took a closer look at my own assumptions.  Doing the research widened my circle of empathy as well as my fascination and respect for the cognitive abilities of our fellow creatures.

A few centuries back, Jeremy Bentham said:  the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?… The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes… “

I wonder if things have taken a bit longer than Bentham expected.

In the book, Lowell is something of an extremist, but I am quite sympathetic to him.

It is rare for a novel to take me by surprise, but you carefully crafted the first portion of your book with a big reveal halfway through that simply shocked me. It is actually preventing me from asking you questions I would like to because half of the joy of reading your book was in the discovery of this surprising twist. Did you always know that you wanted to set this story up in this way for your readers?

Yes, before I had written a word, I’d planned to withhold this crucial bit of information until partway in.  My reasons for doing so were not just for the surprise, although I like that side effect.   My reasons were the same as the ones Rosemary offers when the reveal finally happens.

Your book reads like a memoir to me and the way you crafted the story through Rosemary’s eyes made me check the listed genre again after I was done to make sure this wasn’t a true story. Was it easy to create Rosemary’s voice for this book? How hard was it to develop the psychological angle of the loss of Rosemary’s sister?

Having never remotely gone through anything like Rosemary’s life, I was forced to simply imagine it all.  I could do the research I felt I needed for Fern (and besides, I’m never inside Fern’s head, so an outside, researched view will do.)  But creating Rosemary was the most difficult, and also the most fun, part of the book for me.  I find that most difficult and most fun often go together.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

I’m not sure I can answer this question.  It would depend on the anyone – I don’t think books are a one-size-fits-all sort of thing.   But a current enthusiasm is Kelly Link’s new short story collection, GET IN TROUBLE.  Coming out in February.  I will be so happy if you all buy and read it.

You can connect with Karen Joy Fowler on her website and become a fan on GoodReads! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

My Top Ten Books of 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Best Books of 2014 from MomAdvice.com.
I still have one more month of reading to go, but I always like to deliver my top ten reads to you for holiday giving and for you to enjoy reading over your holiday break. I have read 47 books so far this year and I read so many incredible books that it is a difficult task to narrow it down to just ten. Since it is so hard, I will be sharing some honorable mentions as well as my top picks this year from what I have read. One special feature that I added to our site this year has been our Sundays With Writers. Many of the books on this list also include a discussion with the writer where I get to ask them my most pressing questions about their stories. My heart always pitter-patters like crazy when I send out an interview request, but even the most seasoned writers have been gracious and generous to share on our site. I haven’t had a single writer turn me down yet and it adds another element to these stories for me and for you.

As always, if you are looking for a little inspiration this year, be sure to check our MomAdvice fan page for a weekly check-in on what everyone is reading each week on our Facebook Fan Page. I hope you will swing by on Fridays and share about the books you are working on or request recommendations with one another. So far it is a huge success and I have gotten a few new ideas for my own stack!

Just as a reminder, I read many more books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of year.  If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

In no particular order, here are My Top Ten Books of 2014:

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Do you ever pick up a book completely outside of your normal genre and find yourself completely swept away in a world you never dreamed you would escape to? It happened a couple of times for me with The Hunger Games series and Twilight series, just to name two types of books that I never thought I would love.  If you would have asked me if I would have fallen head over heels in love with a book with a plotline firmly planted in science fiction with a zombie apocalypse theme or even just another dystopian thriller ( a genre I had grown very tired of), I would have probably laughed at you.

No, this is not your typical recommendation on here and I loved it because it was so different and so awesome.

All the descriptions of this book state that Melanie is simply a special girl. You don’t know what makes her special until you dive in and discover the girl and all her gifts.

This book is wildly imaginative, suspenseful, and leaves you wondering who you should be rooting for as the story develops. I really, really loved this book.  Unfortunately, it is just the kind of book that you shouldn’t talk about so that each reader can go on the journey with this child and find out just what makes her so unique. It’s a book that you will want to finish and share with friends. It reads like a movie and is just the type of literary adventure I would recommend if you have been in a reading slump.

After you finish this one, dive deep into our exclusive interview with M.R. Carey about his amazing book. It was one of my favorite interviews I got to do this year!

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Two books slipped into my top ten of the year just this week and one of them was Station Eleven. This book was absolutely incredible and finally a new take on a pandemic world captured through the storytelling of a Hollywood actor and a band of traveling actors that risk it all to perform their art during a flu apocalypse. The storytelling jumps and weaves through time making it a treat to read from start to finish about what life was like before and after a fatal flu strikes the country.

Masterfully woven characters, particularly with the use of the three wives in Arthur’s life, the author brings these stories together in a way that makes you feel like you know each character. The ending was abrupt, but perhaps leaves it open for a sequel story.

I really enjoyed this one and can’t wait to read more from this author!

All the Lights We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Although I hate to rank my books, I must say that this was my favorite book of the year.

I can be the first to admit that sometimes the size of a book can be intimidating to me.  All the Light We Cannot See has been in my book stack several times this year, but at over five hundred pages, I just didn’t think I had the time to sit down and really dive in deep with a heavy book.  It had been recommended to me by some of my most respected fellow readers and I knew I would love it, but it being named our local book club selection for the month was finally what pushed me to just sit down and read.

And read.

And read.

And please leave me alone, I AM READING THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD.

I could not flip the pages fast enough. What will happen to these beloved characters? How will my life go on when this book ends?

Most of all, why did I wait so long to read this?

I wish I could give this book ten stars on GoodReads. I was held captive by it and could not put it down. The storytelling is superb, the characters vividly created, and the words read like poetry. My heart was in my throat for much of it and I could not turn the pages quickly enough so I knew what would happen with Marie-Laure & Werner. I loved how their stories weaved together and how the author created such striking details that made you feel as though you were witnessing it all firsthand.

In this story, Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

I can’t recommend this one enough- it will be, perhaps, in my top ten books ever read. 

Once you finish this beautiful book, be sure to read my author interview with Anthony Doerr. I was so incredibly honored that he took time out to answer my questions when he has had such a busy year with this endeavor. The interview is just as captivating as the book!

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

I read this beautiful book, Whistling Past the Graveyard,  in just a couple of short days and absolutely fell in love with it. It was the kind of book that I thought about for many days after.  I would say that if you are a fan of, “The Help,” or young narrator’s with lots of spunk, you will want to get this book right away. If you don’t fall in love with these characters, I fear for you. It’s that endearing.

In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla’s destination is Nashville, where her mother went to become a famous singer, abandoning Starla when she was three. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. Now, on the road trip that will change her life forever, Starla sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be.

This book is so  beautiful your heart aches. A coming-of-age story about what it means to be family and how the most unlikely people can be a part of that despite all racial and societal barriers. Set in the ’60′s, the spitfire child narrator captured my heart. This story is a perfectly satisfying read that I believe anyone would love. 

Once you finish the book, grab a cup of coffee and settle in with my interview with Susan Crandall- it is a fun one!

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

In this novel, two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child named Havaa.  Havaa is just eight years old when her neighbor Akhmed finds her hiding in the woods, watching her house burning down. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, but her father is an old friend, and he risks it all deciding to take her to an abandoned hospital where a woman named Sonja Rabina runs a hospital almost single handedly.

Sonja does not love kids…at all. Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will change in ways she never imagined. The reader is taken on a journey through each of these character’s past on an extraordinary journey of love, loss, and ultimately what it means to be human.

I found myself completely swept away into each of these characters and what they had to overcome.  Although the book was about war and suffering, the book was also all about love and what we do for love.

This entire book was so beautiful that I found myself rereading scenes and even saying them out loud because Marra’s words read like poetry to me. The writing is just unreal and it is impossible to not get swept away into the story.

Be sure to read my interview with Anthony Marra once you finish it. I was so honored to get a chance to interview him this year and to learn more about how he developed this storyline.

Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

Not sure if you can get on board with a non-fiction pick? Just picture me laughing until tears are rolling down my cheeks ever since I picked this book up. Then picture me reading aloud almost the entire book to my husband, while trying to read it to him, still laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks and trying to catch my breath so I can read every word to him. It is that funny and that awesome.

City girl, Torre DeRoche,  isn’t looking for love, but a chance encounter in a San Francisco bar sparks an instant connection with a soulful Argentinean man who unexpectedly sweeps her off her feet. The problem? He’s just about to cast the dock lines and voyage around the world on his small sailboat, and Torre is terrified of deep water. However, lovesick Torre determines that to keep the man of her dreams, she must embark on the voyage of her nightmares, so she waves good-bye to dry land and braces for a life-changing journey that’s as exhilarating as it is terrifying.

It is hilarious, harrowing, and a true story of what it would be like to sail around the world.  I could not put this book down and loved every moment of it. I really think you would love this one too!

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

If there is one thing I love it is a well-written thriller. There is nothing  better  than a book that you can rapidly flip through and sit in suspenseful moments as the story unfolds. Those kinds of books that your eyes can’t read fast enough because you just HAVE to know what is going to happen.   If you have been waiting for the next-big-thing since Gone Girl, then I have the just the book for you!

The book opens with the following words, “I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia is unlike her parents in every way, content with her life as an inner-city school teacher. When she finds herself at a bar one night alone, after being stood up by her boyfriend,  she meets a guy. Her plans for a one-night stand turns into the worst mistake of her life.

I don’t want to say anymore because the beauty in this book is those plot twists you never see coming! If you have been looking for something to capture your thriller-lovin’ heart, this is the book for you. Be sure to read my author interview after you are done. It is a particularly moving story of a writer who didn’t give up on her dreams of being published- super inspiring!

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

This book is absolutely stunning from start to finish. It was filled with words that begged to be read again because they felt like poetry to me.  It is a  beautifully woven story with big moral messages about love, forgiveness, and redemption. The plot twists? I never saw them coming, which happens rarely when you are an avid reader like I am. 

Set in the close-knit Portuguese community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, The Orphans of Race Point traces the relationship between Hallie Costa and Gus Silva, who meet as children in the wake of a terrible crime that leaves Gus parentless. Their friendship evolves into an enduring and passionate love that will ask more of them than they ever imagined.

On the night of their high school prom, a terrible tragedy devastates their relationship and profoundly alters the course of their lives. And when, a decade later, Gus—now a priest—becomes entangled with a distraught woman named Ava and her daughter Mila, troubled souls who bring back vivid memories of his own damaged past, the unthinkable happens: he is charged with murder. Can Hallie save the man she’s never stopped loving, by not only freeing him from prison but also—finally—the curse of his past?

Told in alternating voices, The Orphans of Race Point illuminates the transformative power of love and the myriad ways we find meaning in our lives.

The author is just as fabulous as this book so be sure to read my interview with her after you finish it- her story of becoming an author is REALLY inspiring and made me appreciate this beautiful book even more!

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This book slipped in at the tail end of the year when I thought that I had chosen my list of ten. It was charming and a book for a true book lover.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore that changes his life forever…

This story is enchanting from start to finish. This book is a must-read for book lovers as it references so many of my favorite books and centers around a little bookshop in a seaside town. I could not put this one down and, truly, did not want the story of these beautiful characters to end. If you need a little winter escape, check this book out. I may just read it again, it was that simply that perfect.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

If you haven’t read The Girl You Left Behind or Me Before You, you must reserve them at your library because they are amazing. I don’t know how she does it, but this book made me laugh, cry, and connect with every character in this book. Moyes weaves an endearing story of a mother who is down on her luck and can barely make ends meet when her daughter is offered the chance of a lifetime to receive a scholarship for her excellence in mathematics that will cover 90% of her daughter’s education. Coming up with the other ten percent seems impossible, but she is determined to make this happen for her daughter. When she hears of a math contest happening in Scotland that offers a cash prize, she must do everything she can to get her there… including hitching a ride with the most unlikely man who could ultimately change their entire world. 

Anyone who has ever struggled financially or who would sacrifice it all to give their kids everything they need will appreciate this extraordinary book that, I hope, will be adapted to movie one day. It is that good! It’s one of those that just reminds me of a really great Hugh Grant romantic comedy film. It’s just perfect.  Amy Allen Clark- Best Books of 2014

If that isn’t enough books for you, here is my lengthy list of Honorable Mentions that you should check out this year!

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (get ideas for a book club around this one here)

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The Martian by Andy Weir (read my interview here)

Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert (read my interview here)

Life Drawing by Robin Black

We Were Liars  by E. Lockhart

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf (read my interview here)

Close Your Eyes Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian (read my interview here)

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable (read my interview here)

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (read my interview here)

Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn (read my interview here)

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (read my interview here)

A White Wind Blew by James Markert (read my interview here)

Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

The Bear by Claire Cameron (read my interview here)

Best Reads of 2013

Need More Book Ideas? Here are my top ten lists from the past four years!

My Top Ten Books of 2013

The Best Books Read in 2012

My Top Ten Books in 2011

The Top Ten of 2010

For more great suggestions, check out the NPR Book Concierge- swoon! It is heavenly stuff!   Tell me, what your favorite books were in 2014 or share your links to your own round-ups! Anything I should be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads!

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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Sundays With Writers: The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Debut novelists hold a special place in my heart. I particularly love novelists that never give up and those that spend years crafting the most perfect book. When I finished the final pages of The Art of Falling, I knew that I needed to reach out to the author. What sealed the deal though was Kathryn’s Q&A at the end of her book that really gave me pause. She is talking about one of those scary topics that we often dance around. She talks about suicide and how it impacted her personally and how it was reflected in the character of her book.

Robin Williams certainly brought the topic of mental illness to the forefront this year. I can honestly say that reading through my Facebook feed that sad day, I was disturbed by the reactions of people and the things they said about it- I think mental illness is still something so few of us understand.  For me, I just hoped that in these sad moments, people would find courage to seek help and that it might bring to light the struggles of the mentally ill.  I keep my heart pretty guarded on here, but I am no stranger to mental illness or depression. I think that is why this book touched me very deeply.

The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft

In Craft’s novel, we get to take a glimpse behind the world of dance with new eyes. All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

 I am completely enraptured with the dance world and this really brought to life the struggle of a dancer and body image. What unfolds is a beautiful story of the unlikely friendships that pull her from her depths of despair, a mother who refuses to let her give up on her dreams, and finding movement again when confidence has been lost. Beautifully told and rich characters make this novel a fast page-turner that I just could not put down. I can’t wait to read more from Kathryn Craft! 

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for this beautiful and heartfelt interview today with this week’s featured author.

Kathryn Craft

It is such an honor to feature your debut novel, The Art of Falling, on our site. I understand that this novel was eight years in the making. So very few people could dedicate themselves to one project this long- what an incredible feat.  Why did you think it was important to see this work through and did you have any doubts during this process that you would finish it?

Thanks so much for having me, Amy! Even as a teenager I used to say that “perseverance” was my middle name, so I guess I’ve always had that kind of intense focus—and I’ll tell you, as a writer that is a very handy quality! I can think of three ways to answer your question, though, and combining them galvanized my commitment.

The first is the reason I wrote this story to begin with. After my first husband committed suicide seventeen years ago, when our sons were just eight and ten, I got caught overly long in the grief stage of anger. I knew the way to emerge from it was to forgive him, but that required empathy for him I couldn’t conjure. He was 54, depressed, alcoholic, and financially reckless, all attributes unfathomable to a 40-year-old, responsible optimist. I needed to create a female character from my world who might be pushed to the point of such despair—and Penelope Sparrow was born. Penny is a dancer who blames her body for the ruin of her dream dance career, yet who survives what should have been a deadly fall due to the miraculous strength and resilience of that same body. I could relate to her. In the backstory, had I taken away enough of what she loves for her to consider suicide? I wasn’t sure—so I wrote the novel to find out.

But healing from a horrific event takes time. Years and years of time. Early readers could tell you that Penelope, like her author, started out a much angrier character. I knew my anger would be healed when agents started telling me she was now a woman whose arc they admired. A lovely side benefit was that my storytelling skills improved along the way.

Second, once the characters started coming alive to me, I knew I would hang in there with them for the long haul because I loved them. They never stopped sharing their secrets when I pushed them for more. They were troubled and brave—and honestly, I miss them since publication! I wanted to do right by them, and make sure their story was told.

The last reason was ridiculously pragmatic—I wanted something to go in my author’s bio! I was a dancer, choreographer, and dance critic. I was a biology major and I have a master’s in health and phys ed. The world of this book both surrounded me and lived in my body. I was the person to write it, and had credentials to back that up. I really felt this needed to be my debut title.

Penelope’s suicide attempt and your own life had some parallels. Why did you feel suicide was an important topic to explore? Has this process changed your own feelings about suicide and those who struggle with depression? Have you found writing this story to be therapeutic in your own journey towards understanding?

Therapeutic, yes, but I’m not done writing about suicide yet. My second novel, The Far End of Happy, due out in May 2015, is based on the true story of my husband’s day-long standoff against a massive police presence, novelized to feature the points of view of the three women closest to him as they await word and try to sustain hope. Our decision to choose life, every day, is just so elemental that calling it into question presents a fascinating array of story problems. Real world problems with no easy answers, as my next novel will show.

Case in point: I just happened to reveal my cover for this second novel on the day beloved comedian Robin Williams was found dead by his own hand. The outcry on social media was immediate: we need to offer a more sympathetic ear to those who are depressed! Wouldn’t that be nice if mental illness could be so easily solved, and people were that willing to be transparent? What I know now, from life experience and writing two novels, is that neither of these things are true. Like most subjects, once you delve into them deeply, you become more painfully aware of their complexity.

Yet still I strive to write novels that resolve on a note of hope, what I consider to be the most critical component for a joyful life. This is the great calling of the storyteller: to rearrange the chaos of real-seeming events in order to create order, understanding, and change.

Kathryn Craft

Kathryn Craft dancing- source Barnes & Noble

You are a former dancer, choreographer, and critic so I know you know firsthand how harshly critical and taxing being a dancer can be on the body and mind. Penelope’s struggle with her own body image issues are a big focus in this book. Did you ever struggle with these issues yourself as a dancer? As a critic, did you struggle with reviewing other dancers knowing what it is like to be on the receiving end of criticism?

Despite my academic exploration of its inner workings and movement, our bodies ultimately are a mystery that can be influenced but not controlled. I think all dancers struggle with this to some extent but since I hadn’t experienced Penny’s specific issues I drew on other ways my body disappointed me to find that emotional connection: fair skin back when tan was “it,” fertility struggles and miscarriages when I desperately wanted children; inducement and flagging contractions when I wanted to deliver naturally; graying hair and wrinkles when I still struggled with acne (I mean come on, is that fair?). Yet despite the human body’s betrayals, there is no creation more magnificent. I wanted to write about that conflict.

Early on, as a critic, I had to own the fact that I was not criticizing other dancers; I was expressing one woman’s informed opinion about a work of choreography and its execution in a way that would be evocative for the reader. Otherwise, how could I have had the hubris to set fingers to keyboard for publication? I’m also a developmental editor, so I continue to use my critical mind, sharing my informed yet very personal assessments. This sensibility helps me as an author to establish an even keel as I read what others say about my work.

When Penelope decides that she can’t do dance anymore she takes a job as an aerobics instructor and then later a short-lived position in their family’s candy factory. What is one job you have had in your life that could not have been a worse fit?

Fun question! Had to be secretary. Imagine a dancer, confined to a chair all day. I used to fill in at my neighbor’s manufacturer’s rep firm, taking orders, filing, typing letters, and making coffee. Okay the talking on the phone part I could do (hello, I’m a woman). But I was a creative filer, my lack of touch typing and the resulting syncopation constantly had my boss shutting the door between our offices for his sanity, and since I didn’t drink coffee at the time—let’s just say it typically sat there all day until it burned. I resigned with a misspelled letter typed halfway upside down. My ex-boss has it to this day and will whip it out for another round of laughter when I visit.

The relationship I loved the most was the one you created between Penelope and her mother. There was such a good balance of the real love and strain of mother and daughter relationships. Were the scenes between them difficult to write especially when it comes to Evelyn’s own weight issues and Penelope’s growing insecurity that she is like her mother?

Heck no! The great fun of being a novelist is letting rip confrontations that you would never dare allow in real life. It was fun to let them butt heads, especially surrounding the turning point that many mothers and daughters struggle with: seeing each other as adult women. That said, it wasn’t all giggles, of course. I too find some of their scenes deeply moving.

Since you have been a dancer, choreographer, and critic, which of these characters, in the book, do you relate to the most?

Each of them carries a spark from me, for sure. To reduce inner conflict, can I plead the fifth?

I think it has to be the critic—any creative with a critical bone in her body knows how hard it is to turn off the critic! Plus, she’s the most misunderstood. She is a creative too—her art form is derivative, of course, but it is an art form (something we forget in this world of “everyone who can bestow a star rating is now a critic”). She is an advocate for dance excellence, and this one has a personal cause as well that is as worthy as my reasons for writing the novel.

Plus who am I kidding? I have to say the critic. If I don’t, I’m afraid of what she’ll write about me…

I’m obsessed with dancing and all things dance so I must ask, what is your favorite song to dance to and where is your favorite place to dance?

While on your basic wedding event dance floor, my absolute fave is “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls. That song tickles the hell out of me and it’s such a great beat, with all the building swirl of a storm on top. My favorite non-traditional place to dance? Grocery store aisles! (Yes, you’ll now recognize me…)

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

Ah, the dreaded one book question, asked of a multiple-book lover! Since I know nothing about the reader, including why he or she reads—and given my answers to the question about critical subjectivity—I’ll assume your real question is “What book could someone read that would reveal the most about you?” You said “book,” not “novel,” for which I am grateful, since novels are such delicious slices of life it would be like asking if you could only taste one food what would it be. So I am going to go the nonfiction route and say The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. A brilliant life guide that I’ve read many times, my sensibilities are all over its pages.

You can connect with Kathryn Craft on GoodReads or on Facebook! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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