Thursday, May 31, 2018

All We Ever Wanted

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffen is one of those books that makes you think and makes you want to talk to your friends about it.  So, hello friends!  

I heard about this book from the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer book club picks.  It isn't slated to come out until the end of June.  The description had me hooked: something terrible happens among the teens of a private high school in do the parents react?  How do the teens react?  How would you react?  

The story focuses on an incident between Nina Browning's son, Finch, and Tom Vlope's daughter, Lyla.  This incident forces the people in the story to sort through their views on what happened and whom they will defend.

All We Ever Wanted was told in present tense/first-person narration.  The perspective changed in each chapter.  This made it easier to understand both sides and watch the characters evolve.  Present tense created a sense of urgency.  There were moments when I literally could not put it down.  I just had to see what happened next and if my predictions were right.  Everything in my life shut down until I finished reading.  


The story was well crafted and included so many interesting perspectives.  At one point, I set the book down and thought how intentional Giffen was in making sure a variety of viewpoints were represented (wealthy, economically disadvantaged, various races, gender, and political views).  For a less experienced author, this might yield a cloying moral tale.  But Giffen does this seamlessly.  I never felt lectured or that she was forcing unrealistic characters into the novel to make a point.  Instead, this subtle diversity supported a major theme: there is good and bad in everyone.  

As a parent, this was both difficult and timely.  I put myself on both sides and gained a new level of empathy for families facing similar situations.  Nina, one of the main characters, is a mother dealing with a horrible situation.  She's asking herself tough questions and trying to figure out how to move forward.  I think I wanted to hate her, but I ended up liking her a lot.  Motherhood is complicated and nuanced and Giffen captured that in Nina's character.  

"I just can't believe it.  What's happening now.  The person my son has both slowly and suddenly become." 

Giffen also explores how money changes these situations.  While Nina notes, "Character has absolutely nothing to do with finances" the reader does have to consider the role money plays (either having it or not) in the way different characters react.  Very, very thought-provoking...possibly great book club discussion material.  

Even though I related to Nina, the other character's voices were well developed and realistic.  I really wanted to hang out with some of them (Bonnie, I'm looking at you).  The book was highly enjoyable and I found myself skipping netflix and twitter to read.  For me, that's winning.  Look for it on June 26, 2018.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

May is Trying to Kill me

Do not tell me I'm being over dramatic, either. 

It started off innocent enough.  April ended and we were looking forward to the full bloom of spring.  The kids anticipated cruising leisurely into the end of the school, getting the respite we are all ready for. 

I got an email reminding me that I had signed my son up for baseball.  "Great," I thought, "An evening or two each week spent outside, at the ball field.  Dinners in the waning light."  I think I even sighed at the perfection of the image I'd conjured: well-behaved kids sitting on a quilt spread over a grassy field, happily eating food I'd cooked hours before because I am such a great planner. 

Then, my daughters started bringing home notices for tests, projects, and concerts.  As the pile grew, I felt a pang of annoyance that instead of hikes in the woods on weekend afternoons, we would be in the craft store loading project supplies into our cart. Doing research and filling out permission slips are not my idea of a fun spring.  

Adding the concert dates (yes, plural because I will have attended 6 school concerts when all is said and done [including two on the same night]) I began to notice that the schedule was filing up.  We were double booked most nights, sometimes triple booked. My stomach tightened and my throat felt dry.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a bit of an introvert who loves books.  This month has been trying for me on both counts.  It's not just my family at the baseball field.  I have to be friendly with other parents.  And this is challenging sometimes.  I just want to sit and read but our schedule has me driving my car for hours with kids talking endlessly.  

The other night, I was reading at the ball field and a foul came straight at my head.  I was almost Owen Meaney'ed.  It would have been even more poetic if I had been reading Owen Meaney.  That sneaky May!

All this to tell you, May is hard.  Which, if you have a kid in school, you know already.  There are so many things to do and places to be that we fall into bed and conk out.

While I have struggled to make it to the 29th day of this month, this year I've done a better job of not sliding into despair.  


Regular exercise and boring eating habits (I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch most days) streamline my life.  I hate exercise and would rather be reading every second.  But, if I go for a walk or do my workout routine I'm a lot less likely to erupt like a volcano when things get hard, I have more energy for the evening, and I savor the times when I do get to sit and read.  

Taking breaks the smart way has changed me for the better.  Instead of checking social media, I'm reading a few pages from my book.  Instead of scrolling through lists and emails and feeling panicked, I'm having a short conversation with one of my kids.

Practicing gratitude is changing me and my family.  When I start to lose my grip I think about what I'm thankful for.  So many of the interruptions and stress just need a little perspective to be diffused.  

We were freaking out about last minute prep for a concert the other night and instead of losing my mind and screaming and crying which is my usual go-to response, I said, "This is a middle school concert, not life or death.  If we're 10 minutes late, it will all be ok."  And then I focused on being grateful for my kids and their love of music.  No yelling.  No screaming.  No crying.  It was awesome.  

I will not go gentle into that good May.   I will rage, rage against the dying of the day.  

Going into May with open eyes this year made me aware that I needed to make some changes.  I wouldn't say I love May, but I do think May tried to kill me and just couldn't do it.  I am sitting here, triumphant.  Not buried under a stack of permission slips, not a crying mess.  Instead, I am ready for June.  Which will be difficult in its own right as we make the transition to summer schedules (or lack thereof) and lots of visitors.  Sounds super fun, huh?

Do you love/hate May?


Friday, May 18, 2018

Classics Club #1

Dear Readers,
I am a lover of classic works of Literature.  There is nothing that brings me more joy than diving into a book that is as big as a brick.  Reading the beautiful prose crafted by the masters either painstakingly or drunk, makes my heart flutter. 

Surely many of you feel the same way (unless you leave a comment dissenting).  So, without further ado, I present:

This month I read The Great Gatsby.  

It was wonderful to revisit this classic that I hadn't read since I was in high school.  So many ideas stood out to me that I either ignored or forgot from my first reading (Daisy and Tom had a child...This crew was beginning their 30's...Gatsby wore many colorful suits). 

Have you read it lately?

If not, you should.  Here's why. 

There are some striking similarities with our culture.  The Great Gatsby takes place in the early 20's.  People were making lots of money doing bad things and the gap between people who had money and people who didn't was growing.  There is a sense of desperation and loneliness at the parties described in the book.  I kept thinking about YOLO mentality and the way our culture currently drowns their loneliness in screens.

Fitzgerald: loved the Midwest, parties, Brooks Brothers, and Zelda

If that sounds a little too bleak for your taste...then maybe Fitzgerald's gorgeous but spare descriptions will entice you to dust off your copy of the book.  Reading his sentences I was in awe of his precision and the way his words brought very real images into my mind's eye. 

"It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life."

"It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again."

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

If that beautiful language doesn't sell's a summer book.  It opens in the summer and I think reading it lazily by the pool would be appropriate.  The hot nights, the parties, the breezy dresses.  It just feels right to read this novel when it is warm outside.

It isn't a fluffy summer read though.  There are parts that are gut-wrenching.  Reading about Daisy and Tom's marriage is not for the faint of heart.  I had a perpetual feeling of tension as Nick, the narrator, bore witness to Gatsby and Daisy's romance.  It was real and raw and if had been more than 180 pages it would have been unbearable.  

Which movie version do you prefer?

If nothing I've said has convinced you to join The Classics Club and read Gatsby now, my last pitch is this: do you have a teen or know a teen?  If so, then they are probably reading this for school/have read it/will read it.  Wouldn't it be lovely to have a conversation about this book with them?  I would have appreciated any adult who could have talked with me about it, besides the usual, "Oh, yeah, it's a great book.  I read it in high school."  

Have you read Gatsby lately?  What are your thoughts?  

I'm currently reading Persuasion by Jane Austen for our next installment of

Stay tuned...

Friday, May 4, 2018

Reading Angry

Do you ever read angry?  

I do.  More often than I'd like to admit.  

Some people can cast aside a book that is not to their taste.  They read 15, 50, or even 100 pages and decide this book is a waste of time.  Without hesitation, they can jettison a book and never look back.  

I kind of wish I was like that.  

For me, I'm always worried about giving up on a book.  Maybe I'll miss the truth that will speak to my soul.  Maybe I'll miss the comic genius that only crops up 2/3 of the way through.  Maybe I won't be able to add another book to my "Finished" list.  

It's really the last one most of the time. 

I am a compulsive finisher of books.  I can count on two fingers the number of books I've abandoned because I like to finish what I've started.  

Loving literature makes me this way.  So many classic works have lulls.  In Anna Karenina, there were chapters dedicated to mowing strategies.  Chapters.  In War and PeaceTolstoy couldn't stop talking about Napoleon's detailed military strategy.  I loved both of those books but they were hard.  And I'm not willing to give up on something just because it's hard.  

However, this leads to a world of frustration sometimes.  I read a book last month that made me clench my jaw and grind my teeth.  When I would put it down I felt my shoulders relax.  This was my consistent reaction for all 380 pages.  It was brutal.  But I finished.  

I feel like being a finisher says something about my grit, my strong will, my hope in humanity.  However, I'm worried it's just making me tense and I'm wasting time and energy on books that are not meant for me.  

How do you deal with books that aren't for you?  Throw 'em across the room and never look back or buckle down and finish, no matter how much every word grates on your already frayed nerves?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Reading Recap: April Edition

April was a good month for reading. 

The difference between a good and bad month is often determined by how many books I have previously started (spoiler alert, May will be terrible).  I was able to tie up some loose ends on books I had started before April and therefore my total was this year's record: 6!

Raising Great Kids
"In a child's life, parents are the dispensers of truth and reality."  "Parenting is a temporary job."

I was reading this book for a mom's group I led this winter for our church.  We finished in April after reading a chapter (or two) a week.  There was a lot discuss and I even worked up questions for each chapter.  

Some things I didn't agree with (you're not evil if you put your baby on a sleep schedule) but overall, this book helped me be more intentional with my kids and more thoughtful in my family life.  Definitely worth it, though a little overwhelming at times.

Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer
"We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us."

I started this small book in March, thinking I would read it in a day.  That was not realistic.  C.S. Lewis packs so much into a sentence.  I had to read and reread some things to fully understand.  And then, there are still some things I didn't get.  

This book is deep and paradigm shifting in the area of prayer.  If you've had questions about prayer, how it works, why bother, why is it so hard, grab this book.  Lewis isn't preachy and doesn't give a list of how-tos.  Instead, this is presented in a series of letters.  He is a fellow searcher and these are simply his observations. Learning from observing is my favorite. 

I will definitely be rereading this one.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
"Something's wrong in the air, you know, when a book costs less than a bullet.  Or a coke."

I borrowed this from Overdrive and listened to it while walking the dog.  It was a solid story and I found myself enjoying it more than I expected. 

There is a dramatic event at a bookstore that causes a bookseller to look into her past and solve puzzles to figure out why.  It's not high-brow literary fiction but it is a good story.

"We cannot help but be interested in the stories of people that history pushes aside so thoughtlessly."

This was a book that was wildly praised when it was released last year.  I got it through book of the month club but never read it.  That's what usually happens.  I get excited, get the book, and decide to wait...

When my book club picked it for April, I was thrilled to already own it.  

This is a sweeping family saga in a literary style.  It is beautifully crafted and the story-telling is Ah-Mazing.  The family is Korean but due to the war, they have to move to Japan.  Over generations, the family changes and so does the style. 

At the book club discussion, many of the other ladies were not happy about this change.  They loved the beginning but the final 1/3 was offputting.  It didn't bother me that much.  I saw it as a reflection of the way society has changed and was impressed by the author's skill in writing different styles so well.

This book would not be safe for my mom.  The ending (that last 1/3) of the book focuses a lot on sex. 

I'm certain Pachinko will win an award or two and I'm glad to have read it.  I learned so much about a country, a culture. 

People are serious at book club, yo.

No One is Coming to Save Us
“Everyone says that reading is a good thing, but Ava had started to wonder. People look at you with suspicion if they see you reading, like the reading itself shames or indicts them, like it is a plot against them.”

Another book club pick. 

I liked this book but I hated this book. 

The characters were compelling.  I couldn't stop reading because I needed to know what happened to them.  The book was rife with insight that resonated with me (see quote), truth phrased in new ways. 

But...the book needed an editor.

I had a hard time with a few sentences and I began thinking, "Why is my brain not working??"  I did a little deep diving on goodreads and discovered that others had the same problem.  Missing punctuation, misplaced words, and stray capitalizations made it hard to distill the meaning sometimes. 

Much like Pachinko, No One is Coming to Save Us is about a family struggling with poverty and class and all the ways life is altered by those things.  Both books feature mothers who are willing to do anything for their children and children who want more from life.  Maybe it's a common trope, but it was interesting reading about a Korean family and an African American family struggling with the same things at different points in history and in different countries. 

I wish I could have gotten over the errors in the text, and given it more stars, but that was so grating by the last page I exclaimed, "Thank God I'm done!" 

Crazy Rich Asians
"Many of the wealthiest people here make an effort not to stand out, and most of the time, you would never know you were standing next to a billionaire." 

I have a thing about books that get made into movies.  I'd rather read the book first (don't most people?).  This book is being made into a movie and will be released this summer.  It was important to me to read it first.  

The story is about a couple who goes to China to meet the man's family.  It turns out the man, Nick, is part of a super elite class and this leads to all sorts of hijinx.  It was a fun story and a peek into another culture I have little exposure to.  

I listened to this on audio and I highly recommend it.  The narrator was great and read the Chinese words and names fluently so I picked them up quickly.  However, I ran out of time on overdrive and was stuck.  I put my name at the bottom of the hold list (you are #78 out of 78 requests) but feared I would lose the thread and have to start from the beginning.  Instead, I bought it on my kindle and finished it quickly.  

Now, I just have to wait for summer so I can see it on the screen.  sigh.

So, it was a good month of reading for me.  I managed to read multiple books on the same theme (class) unintentionally.  The authors are diverse and I even got in a little non-fiction.  

How was April for you?  What's the best/worst thing you read?

Are there any book to movie adaptations that you're excited about?  I just started Sharp Objects because I heard about the HBO version.  Does this make me a sucker for the media machine or a pop-culture princess?