Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - It's All In The Family

So this may seem kind of weird to you but my husband has a cousin who is a bestselling author whom I have never mentioned in over six years of blogging. It seems weird to me, anyway. Technically, it's BG's cousin's son and what with a divorce and some family issues, we haven't seen a whole lot of him over the years, but still.

Anyway, you may have heard of him - Tom Rath. He has a background in research of human behavior (his maternal grandfather started a research and selection company that years ago merged with Gallup) and has now written six books in the last ten years. His first was How Full Is Your Bucket. StrengthFinders 2.0 was the 2013 and 2014 top selling book world wide on Amazon.com.

Tom Rath
Big time, right? Still, when I was listening to an episode of Gretchen Rubin's "Happier" podcast last week, I was surprised to hear them say they were going to be interviewing him about his latest book, Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life. I had to stop listening until I got home so BG could hear it, too.

Somewhere in this house, we have StrengthFinders 2.0. BG has read it (I haven't) but it's the only of his books we've ever picked up. Given the number of books he's sold, I don't think Tom's noticed our lack of support. Still, as much I enjoy the "Happier" podcast, if Rubin thinks Are You Fully Charged fits with what she's teaching, I might just have to pick it up. If I do, you can be sure I'll let you know what I think!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Published July 2014 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: purchased as my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

My Thoughts:
My three are all in their twenties now, but the politics involved in being the parents of school-aged children are still fresh in my mind making Big Little Lies a story I knew would be relatable.

Pirrete Public may have a principal and staff of teachers, but it is ruled by the Blonde Bobs, a group of moms who all seem to have the same hairdo. There is an ongoing debate about who is doing more for their children and the school - the stay-at-home moms or the working moms. At what to make of the stay-at-home dads? When two moms which big personalities start to fall out, which side will the other parents land on? And behind it all, what kind of secrets are each of these parents hiding? Yep, pretty much sums up my experiences with the parents, especially when my kids where in grade school, where parent involvement is at a frenzied high.

Liane Moriarty has an uncanny ability to take very heavy topics and deal with them in a way that feels very real. At the same time, she imbues them with humor ("Champagne is always a good idea") and everyday events that make her books approachable. So here we have a book that runs the gamut on violence - schoolyard bullying, physical abuse, rape, and sex trafficking. To make it all work, Moriarty focuses on mostly ordinary people going about their lives - lives that, like most of ours, include humor and sadness, little problems and big crises.

In Big Little Lies, the story centers around the events leading up to a death. Along the way, Moriarty plays with her readers, including a Greek chorus of police interviewees introducing or closing chapters, offering readers glimpses into the central characters and tossing out a few red herrings along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed Big Little Lies. There are bad guys, little guys to cheer for, situations that made me laugh, violence that made me cringe. I felt like I knew these women (and some of the men) and understood what they were going through, even when I had never been through it myself.

Jane's sadness is a mystery that will slowly be revealed but, when it is, what happened to her is less about what happened physically and more about the harm that words can do. I think it's something everyone can relate to, especially women, who are constantly bombarded by images of what we should look like.
"Whey did I feel so weirdly violated by those two words? More than anything else he did to me, it was those two words that hurt. 'Fat.' 'Ugly.'"
In Celeste, Moriarty gives readers a new way to look at abused women and why they don't leave. Poor Celeste was so willing to take the blame and so quick to think that the abuse was the price she paid for the lifestyle she was able to live.
"...each time she didn't leave, she gave him tacit permission to do it again. She Knew this. She was an educated woman with choices, place to go, family and friends who would gather around, lawyers who would represent her. She could go back to work and support herself. She wasn't frightened that he'd kill her if she tried to leave. She wasn't frightened that he'd take the children away from her."
"I don't think I deserve it. But I'm not a victim. I hit him back. I throw things at this. So I'm just as bad as he is. Sometimes I start it. I mean, we're just in a very toxic relationship. We need techniques, we need strategies to help us...to make us stop."
None of Celeste's friends know about the abuse. So while I was thinking of all of the ways this book reminded me of my personal experiences, it also made me wonder which of the moms I knew were going through this. In all of the people I met in eighteen years of getting all three of my kids from kindergarten through high school, there is almost certain to have been someone who suffered in silence.
"It occurred to her that there were so many levels of evil in the world. Small evils like her own malicious words. Like not inviting a child to a party. Bigger evils like walking out on your wife and newborn baby or sleeping with the nanny. And then there was the sort of evil of which Madeline had no experience: cruelty in hotel rooms and violence in suburban homes and little girls being sole like merchandise, shattering innocent hearts."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Life: It Goes On - July 26

The Big Guy & Mini-him
My dad and Mini-him
Happy birthday to Mini-him! I can't believe it's been 27 years since we welcomed him into the world. We were so nervous but he was so mellow and made life so easy for us...until he started
moving! Since then he has kept us on our toes but always with his great smile. We are so proud of the man he's become!

He's out of town today so we'll celebrate with dinner tomorrow.

It's been a very laid back week here, although we've had lots of times with our bookend kids around. Y'all know how much I love that!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Tomorrow I'll start Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes after spending most of last week listening to podcasts including Futility Closet (I love their lateral thinking puzzles), This American Life and Happier (more on one of those episodes that later this week).

Watching: More Orange Is The New Black with Miss H, probably too many episodes of Real Housewives (Orange County and New York), and a few old movies. Trying to avoid all of the summer reality shows but BG does love them.

Reading: I've been struggling with Among The Ten Thousand Things - a book that should only have taken a couple of days. Now the question is - what to start today? My friend has loaned me her copy of Go Set A Watchman but then I picked up The Good Lord Bird yesterday which I'm alway eager to get to. Or maybe Circling The Sun? Since today is the last day of the High Summer Read-a-Thon, I'm hoping to spend a good amount of time with which ever I decide on.

Making: Risotto, cast iron skillet oven s'mores, bar-b-que chicken, sloppy joes, and BBT's (bacon, basil and tomato - we were out of lettuce but what a happy discovery!).

Planning: A move for Mini-him. The owner of the house he's been renting is selling it out from under Mini-him and his roommate after just a few months. Yippee.

Grateful for: Air conditioning. The thermometer in my car registered 105 degrees on Friday. I am not amused.

Enjoying: Meeting with my book club the other night. We had a good discussion about the book which lead to a good discussion about how we saw ourselves reflected in the book which lead to a whole lot of fun and laughs. As usual. Love these ladies!

Feeling: Excited for Mini-me who is off in Chicago this weekend with his girlfriend. She spent a couple of years working there are has thoroughly enjoyed showing him the sights. He sent me this pic late last night from the 96th floor of the John Hancock building.

Looking forward to: Celebrating Mini-him's birthday, lots of reading (cuz so many new books in the house!), and some furniture painting.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi Durrow

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi Durrow
Published January 2011 by Algonquin Books
Narrators: Kathleen McInerney, Karen Murray, Emily Bauer
Source: purchased by audio copy at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop.

Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief, that she comes to understand how the mystery and tragedy of her mother might be connected to her own uncertain identity.

My Thoughts:
This is a book that interested me on several levels: my own heritage is partially Danish, stories about family tragedies always draw me in, and I have two great-nephews and a great-niece that are biracial so I'm going to touch on each of those by way of reviewing this book.

Durrow herself is the daughter of a Danish mother and African-American G.I. who grew up struggling being a young girl with light brown skin and blue eyes who grew up struggling to define who she was for people who only wanted to understand if she was black or white. Taking that background, Durrow has crafted a haunting tale of a young girl forced to face her not only the tragedy of the lose of her family, but her own heritage. Rachel and her siblings spend their earliest years unaware they are either black or white...they just are.

But when their mother moves them to the U.S. (a place their father has refused to live), she becomes acutely aware that people look at the children and don't understand they belong to her. She has to face racism. Her quest to protect them will, ultimately, lead to tragedy. As the book unfolds, readers learn more and more about what actually happened, and what led to it.

It was not until Rachel went to live with her grandmother and aunt that Rachel finally began to find out what it meant to have brown skin and nappy hair, particularly when those came paired with bright blue eyes. As much as her grandmother pushed her to fit in to her new community, the other children were not so quick to accept her. This was not in the deep South; it was in Portland, Oregon. Even when Rachel finds a young white man who seems to fit in seamlessly in both worlds, it becomes clear that part of her attraction for him is her color. My own teenaged niece and nephew have large circle of friends but that doesn't mean they haven't faced their share of struggle. Durrow helped me understand exactly what that struggle feels like.

This is a powerful story that was, for me, brought down by having listened to it, rather than reading it. Three narrators were used for the audio version of this book - only one of them really worked for me. My recommendation then, if you find this book of interest, is to pick it up in print form.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop
Published July 2015 by Harper Paperbacks
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Summer 1972—Famagusta is Cyprus’s most desirable tourist destination in the Mediterranean. Aphroditi Papacostas and her husband, Savvas, own The Sunrise, a wildly successful new luxury hotel. Frequented by only the very wealthiest of Europe’s elite, The Sunrise quickly becomes the place to see and be seen. Yet beneath the veneer of tranquil opulence simmers mounting hostility between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Years of unrest and ethnic violence come to a head when, in 1974, Greece’s coup d’état provokes a Turkish attack on beautiful Famagusta. The fallout sends the island’s inhabitants spiraling into fear and chaos, and the Papacostases join an exodus of people who must abandon their idyllic lives in Famagusta and flee to refugee camps. In the end, only two families remain in the decimated city: the Georgious and the Özkans. One is Greek Cypriot, the other Turkish Cypriot, and the tension between them is palpable. But with resources scarce and the Turkish militia looming large, both families must take shelter in the deserted hotel as they battle illness, hunger, fear, and their own prejudices while struggling to stay alive.


My Thoughts:
Confession: I have not finished this book. Not because I didn't have time. And it's not that I might not finish it at some point. But right now, I couldn't do it. And that disappoints me because, judging from the summary, I was sure that it would absolutely pull me in. But there's something missing in that summary that I just couldn't get past. After 135 pages, I pulled the plug. If you read this blog very often, you know how rare that is.

Do you see anything in that summary about a "love" story? Me either. It's not that I'm opposed to a love story. After all, a Romeo and Juliet story would have worked just fine given the setting and time. But that's not what Hislop has centered this book around. Instead, we have the classic trope of two beautiful people who hate each other eventually ended up in bed together. I'm not giving away anything here - you'll know this is coming the minute you find out how much these two dislike each other. I found it so unnecessary - at least as far as I got, 135 pages.

But...the political situation very much interested me as did the two families (who, more or less, had nothing to do with the lovers) on opposite sides of the conflict. So I haven't entirely given up on this one yet. Because it does seem like it could turn into something that I would very much enjoy.

For other opinions about The Sunrise, check out the full tour.

Victoria Hislop is the internationally bestselling author of The Island and The Return. She writes travel features for the Sunday Telegraph, Mail on Sunday, House and Garden, and Woman and Home. She divides her time among rural Kent, London, and Crete. She is married and has two children.