Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Review: "The Things We Wish Were True" by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Things We Wish Were True Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Published: September 1, 2016
ISBN: 9781503936072
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Goodreads Giveaway

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

My Thoughts:
I'll give my review away right now...this was one of the most frustrating books I've read in a long time.

There were things in this book that piqued my interest. In fact, most of this book was interesting--but as one book it just didn't work.  There were too many plot lines and too many characters and, because of that, I was never able to get into any one of them.  The characters--Everett, Bryte, Jencey, Lance, Zell, and Cailey (I told you there were a lot of them)--are all initially intriguing--but because Whalen jumps between them so much, we never get more than a cursory introduction to them.

The same can be said for the story lines.  We have a love triangle introduced between Everett, Bryte, and Jencey but that is sort of left open while Jencey is put into another story line.  There are also some rather dark elements in some of the story lines that needed far more care and attention than Whalen gives them.  In the end, none of the story lines rose to enough prominence to make the book feel like a completed work.

Honestly, if Whalen had broken the story lines apart into separate novels and published them as a series, she might have ended up with 3-4 successful novels instead of one unsuccessful book.  I think Whalen had the right kernels of a decent story, but was never able to let them germinate.

Whalen does have a readable voice and I think she has great potential, but that isn't enough to save this book.

I won a copy of this book through a giveaway on Goodreads.  I was encouraged, but not expected, to write a review.  I received no compensation for this post.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - October 15

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

I have to admit that this is probably the most seat-of-my-pants Saturday Snapshot post I've ever done.  You see, I had great pictures planned and, due to TORNADOES COMING IN OVER THE OCEAN, the event that would give me these pictures has been postponed.  And, because THE BIGGEST STORM IN HISTORY* is coming in, I figured I'd better put something up now in case we lose power.  So, here you go....

*We in the Pacific Northwest are weather wimps.  I think the only people worse are Los Angelinos and San Diegans--except, unlike us, they don't freak out when the ground shakes a bit.  Seriously.  So, if you live in the midwest...or the northeast...or the southeast...please don't laugh at how much we're freaking out up here in the upper right corner of the country.

It is squash season...and we don't really like to eat squash.  I'm trying to change that this year.  So far, we've given Delicata a try (with mixes results) and I have a stripetti waiting to be fixed up.



And more trees

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book Review: "The Bitch is Back" edited by Cathi Hanauer

The Bitch is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier Cathi Hanauer (editor)
Published: September 27, 2016
ISBN: 9780062389510
Genre: Essays
Source: HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Essay collections, feminist writing, sassy women

More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today.

"Born out of anger," the essays in The Bitch in the House chronicled the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium. Now those funny, smart, passionate contributors—today less bitter and resentful, and more confident, competent, and content—capture the spirit of postfeminism in this equally provocative, illuminating, and compelling companion anthology.

Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these "bitches"—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the "original bitches" (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions.

As a "new wave" of feminists begins to take center stage, this powerful, timely collection sheds a much-needed light on both past and present, offering understanding, compassion, and wisdom for modern women’s lives, all the while pointing toward the exciting possibilities of tomorrow. 

My Thoughts:
I may be late to the party, but I lately I've found myself really enjoying feminist writing.  I'm also a sucker for essay collections....So, when this book came across my radar, I immediately jumped....without realizing that it is, of sorts, a sequel.

Yes, there was an "original" The Bitch in the House and, yes, many (but not all) of the essays are follow-ups to writings from the original book.  That being said, this was one of those rare examples in my experience where the sequel truly is a standalone.  When needed, Hanauer provides the reader a bit of a forward to essays that are follow-ups, giving the readers just enough information that they can put the essay in context, but not so much that it would spoil the original essay.  I think there was only one instance in the entire collection where I felt that I had missed anything by not reading the original essay.

Because all the essays are written by different authors, I can't make a general comment about the writing.  Each essay did have its own voice and I did feel that all were well-written and deserving of inclusion.  The very worst I can say is that there are a few essays that didn't especially resonate with me--but that was not because of the essay or the author's treatment, but rather that there was nothing in my life in common with the essay.  Even in those cases, I still enjoyed the experience of reading the essay.

Hanauer did an excellent job of curating and organizing this book.  As I said, the writing was all top-notch and I felt that the essays were organized in a way that they flowed in a logical sense.  None of the essays are either overly short or overly long (if this were a short story collection, I could say that there was no novella hiding in the pages).  I read one essay a night and I don't think any one work took me more than 10 minutes to read.

If you are interested in feminist writing, I think this is a must-read.  I enjoyed it enough that I started to farm the contributors list for new books to add to my TBR.

About the Editor:
Cathi Hanauer is the author of three novels—My Sister’s Bones, Sweet Ruin, and Gone—and is the editor of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Bitch in the House. A former columnist for Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen, she has written for The New York Times, Elle, Self, Real Simple, and other magazines. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband, New York Times “Modern Love” editor Daniel Jones, and their daughter and son.

Find out more about Cathi and her books at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @cathihanauer.

I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want to read more? Please check out some of the other stops on the blog tour.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - October 8

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Welcome back!  So far, October has been an incredibly busy month for us--this past week was my son's birthday...so we've had a lot of festivities around that. Unfortunately, I don't have many pictures of that to share..but I do have some other pictures from the week....

I tried a Paint Nite...again!  This one was more successful than last time.  I'm not sure if it is because the painting was easier or if the fact that I downed a cocktail first made the difference....

Here's a shot from the bar we painted at....perfect! 
And finally....spotted today at Target

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The State of My Shelves - October 2016 #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks

The State of My Shelves is a monthly check in where I report on my progress on tackling my immense TBR.  I've opened this up to other bloggers as a meme.  To participate, just do a post documenting your progress, link up below, and include the button for this meme (HTML is at the bottom of this post). My post will go up on the first Wednesday of the month (unless the 1st is on a Wednesday, in which case it will be up on the 8th) and the link-up will be open all month long.

How books come into my TBR:

  • Purchases (Pre-orders, subscription boxes, impulse buys)
  • Book Club (Books purchased for my in-person book club and books that come in for my postal book groups)
  • Gifts and Giveaways
  • For Review - Solicited (I have an agreement with the author/published/publicist to review these books)
  • For Review - Unsolicited (These just appear on my doorstep.)
  • Missed (Purely clerical--for some reason, I find a book that I already own that didn't make it into my spreadsheet)

How books leave my TBR:

  • Read
  • DNF
  • Duplicates (Purely clerical--I find books in the spreadsheet that were accidentally listed twice)
The Monthly Update:

This was NOT a good month for the TBR, and my reading slump did NOT help!

  • Beginning TBR: 794 (June 30, 2016)
  • Last Month's TBR: 785 (August 31, 2016) 
  • Current TBR: 795 (September 30, 2016)
  • Monthly Change: +10 books, (-1.2 %)
  • Total Change: +11 books  (-1.4%)
Incoming Books:
  • Purchases: 2 (1 Pre-Orders, 1 Subscription)
  • Book Club: 1
  • Gifts and Giveaways: 6
  • For Review - Solicited: 0
  • For Review - Unsolicited: 1
  • Missed: 3
Total: 13

Removed Books:
  • Read: 3
  • DNF: 0
  • Duplicates: 0
Total: 3

The Nitty-Gritty:

Books Purchased:
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (Book of the Month Subscription Box)
A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev (Pre-order)

Book Club:
One book received for my postal book club

For Review - Solicited:

For Review - Unsolicited:
Say Goodbye For Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Books Read:
The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan
Somebody Like You (Sugar Shack #3) by Candis Terry (no review)
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

None this month

To Join the meme:
Simply link include the button in your update post and the URL below.

The next update post will go up on November 2, 2016.

West Metro Mommy Reads

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Book Review: "Fractured" by Catherine McKenzie + GIVEAWAY

Fractured Catherine McKenzie
Published: October 4, 2016
ISBN: 9781503937826
Genre: Thriller
Source: Lake Union Publishing
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: "Girl" books, domestic dramas, truth vs. fiction stories

Julie Prentice and her family move across the country to the idyllic Mount Adams district of Cincinnati, hoping to evade the stalker who’s been terrorizing them ever since the publication of her bestselling novel, The Murder Game. Since Julie doesn’t know anyone in her new town, when she meets her neighbor John Dunbar, their instant connection brings measured hope for a new beginning. But she never imagines that a simple, benign conversation with him could set her life spinning so far off course.

After a series of misunderstandings, Julie and her family become the target of increasingly unsettling harassment. Has Julie’s stalker found her, or are her neighbors out to get her, too? As tension in the neighborhood rises, new friends turn into enemies, and the results are deadly. 

My Thoughts:
I've been in a pretty bad reading slump--as in I couldn't bear to even pick up a book.  I had this one sitting in my TBR pile for a while, but I had read another book by Catherine McKenzie in the past that didn't resonate with me (I can't even remember which one) and I just wasn't too excited to read this one.

And then I picked it up.

I read this book in two days, which never happens in my life anymore.  Once I started this book, I just could not stop.  While I've never thoughts of myself as much of a Thriller fan, I've had great luck with that genre--and Fractured has been the best of this latest batch.  I don't know if I can actually call it one of the "Girl" books, only because one of the central characters is a man, but it definitely does have that feel. Within the first five pages, I knew that something had happened and that I shouldn't trust anyone.  And, my friends, THAT is how a thriller should start.

I will admit that I have a hard time reviewing thrillers because I really, really don't want to get into the plot.  So, I will leave it at this:  I knew when the book started that something had happened but I didn't know what that was until well into the novel--and I didn't know who had done what to whom until almost the last page.

McKenzie's characters are superb.  Frankly, they are all a mess. In fact, they are wonderfully messy.  Julie is both infuriating and sympathetic.  While John clearly has an aura smarminess, I still wanted to like him.  Hanna was infuriating and yet I could still relate to her.  And, Cindy--well, I know more a Cindy or two.  She may seem a bit trope-ish but, trust me, people like her do exist!

McKenzie's prose is clear, but she is still able to slip in subtle clues that the reader may or may not pick up.  Sometimes when I read thrillers, I feel like I need to concentrate harder than I normally would so that I can find all the twists and turns the author takes.  That was not the case here.  While no character is reliable, I still found McKenzie's plotting to be easy to follow.

Fractured was an entertaining and engrossing read.  And it was the book that yanked me out of one of my worst reading slumps and, for that, I am grateful to Catherine McKenzie.  This is a book that I would recommend to just about anyone looking for a fast-paced read that will keep you glued to the pages.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this book.

Thanks to Lake Union Publishing, I have a finished copy of Fractured to give away to one of my readers.  This giveaway will run until midnight (Pacific time) October 10th and is open to readers in the United States.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 30, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - October 1

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Can you believe that it is October already?  October is my favorite month, so I'm not complaining.  I'm just hoping that the October rain holds off long enough so my son's outdoor birthday party isn't too wet!

I can't say that anything too exciting this week, but here are a few pics that show what we were up to...

This is my son's first piece of kindergarten artwork!  They are doing a unit on space at the moment--and he is now ALL about the planets (but don't you dare suggest that Pluto is a planet...or else he will go on and on about dwarf planets and how he hates them....)

And here is my daughter....doing her reading homework...

My father-in-law and brother-in-law are visiting this weekend and my son immediately put them to work reading to him

Finally, I found this gem at the store today and I was tempted--just for a moment--to buy it for my son for his birthday.  Luckily, common sense kicked in.....

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Review: "Commonwealth" by Ann Patchett #TLCBookTours #Commonwealth

Commonwealth Ann Patchett
Published: September 13, 2016
ISBN: 9780062491794
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours

You might enjoy this book if you like: Family sagas, family secrets, multi-generational novels

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

My Thoughts:
I have to admit that I do love a good Ann Patchett book.  She is one of those writers who just has the voice that cuts through all the frills and gets right to the reader's heart.  So, being a fan of hers--as well as a fan of family sagas--I knew I had to get my hands on this book as soon as possible.

From the first page, I was drawn in--and picking teams.  I knew almost immediately that Bert and Beverly would have my ire, and that Fix, Beverly's husband would have my sympathy.  None of these characters--Bert, Beverly, Fix, or their assorted children--are black and white.  They are flawed messes, yet they are all fascinating.

Each character gets their due attention and, of them all, I found Franny to be the most interesting.  I wouldn't say that this is surprising as the inciting incident of the novel happens at her christening party.  Yet, her sister and step-siblings are just as complex. Their lives are shaped by one encounter and they all bear the brand of that moment on their lives.

This story has a fairly large time span, yet each time period is distinct.  We start in the mid-twentieth century and it comes alive with all its angular beauty.  As we move through the decade, the reader is brought into a different time period much like they would be brought to a different place.   This was a feature of the book that surprised me--you wouldn't think that there would be such a marked difference between decades, but the evolution of time and society is clear here.

Now, here's the thing.  I really enjoyed this book as I read it.  But it wasn't a book that I felt compelled to read.  What I mean is that I would read a chapter or so--and enjoy the experience--and put it down.  Then I never felt the burning need to pick it up again to find out what happens next.  I'm not sure why this is.  It could be because the narrative moves between time and characters so much.  Or it could be that I just read it at the wrong time in my life.  There is no one thing that I can bring up that didn't work for me--it just wasn't a book that was as compelling as I would have liked.

In the end, all I can say is that this is an excellent piece of writing.  It is something that is a pleasure to read, but not something that really penetrated my psyche enough to build that reader/novel connection.  However, I could be the odd one out here....I would still recommend this book widely as I'm sure that others would have more success than I did.

About the Author:
Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of nonfiction. She has won many prizes, including Britain’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the co-owner of Parnassus Books.

Find out more about Ann on her website and follow her bookstore, Parnassus Books, on Twitter.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - September 24

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Before I get into the Saturday Snapshot part of this post, I do want to put an apology out there.  I've been a bit absent from the blogosphere lately.   There really is nothing more to it than I'm going through a double whammy of a rut--a reading rut AND a blogging rut.  I've been through this before (but rarely at the same time), I know it will pass, but I just have to work through it.  C'est la vie!

Anyway, did you hear?  It is the most wonderful time of the year!  I love fall (and not just because my birthday happens to be the first day of the season!)--to me, the best part of summer is that fall is coming.  Yeah, I know...cheesy.  Anyway, here are a few fall-ish pics...

This is the view of our street on the last day of summer...

....and here it is on the first day of Fall!  I tell myself that there is a drastic difference, but.....no....

This picture was taken about an hour after the one above.  I have told my husband that it never rains on my birthday and, well, there is always a first for everything! Oh well....the kids loved it!  They are such Oregonians!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - September 17

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

I have another "Blast from the Past" post today--the past Thursday, my husband and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary!  We had a low-key day so, like every year, here are some wedding pictures. I haven't kept track of what pictures I've posted before, so I'm hoping these aren't repeats....