Young Jane Young

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Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the digital advanced reader copy – all opinions are my own.

Thank you to Young Jane Young (read the synopsis here) for getting me so engrossed that I didn’t realize I’d power-walked through an entire hour on the treadmill without even blinking! Gabrielle Zevin (also wrote The Storied Life of AJ Fikry)  is back with a story about a young lady who gets caught up with the congressman she is interning under (think Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton), and the repercussions that follow that steamy affair. Interestingly, Zevin doesn’t spend much time on the man of the story; instead, she tells the tale through the eyes of the women themselves – Aviva/Jane; her mother, Rachel; her daughter, Ruby; and Embeth, the wife of the congressman.

I loved how this book emphasized the misogynistic culture that’s so prevalent right now. Men and women are viewed completely different when it’s found out that they’re involved in a sex scandal. In Young Jane Young, the congressman’s life carries on as normal, yet Aviva/Jane has no choice but to start completely over in a new area of the country. People won’t hire her or give her a chance once they realize who she is. I think this definitely parallels much of what we know about the entire Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton scandal.

I liked the characters in this story. Jane was strong, resilient, and smart. She started her own company when it became clear people weren’t interested in hiring someone tied to such a well-known scandal. She was a wonderful role model for her daughter – raising her to be strong-willed and independent, too. Her mother, Rachel, seemed to be a little slightly in the beginning and made some questionable choices given the circumstances, but by the end of the novel, she’d totally redeemed herself.

The only time I really caught myself annoyed with the story is when Ruby runs away. It didn’t feel like a realistic addition to the story; however, I understand that Zevin needed an event to bring Aviva/Jane and her mother full circle. This accomplished that goal.

Overall, this was a fun, quick read that reinvents the details of an infamous sex scandal many of us grew up with. It emphasized the power, strength, independence, and resiliency of women. It teaches us to own our mistakes and the lessons they provide – then to make ourselves better because of the experience.

This book will be published on August 22, 2017 – mark your calendars!

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Our Short History

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I had high hopes for this book, and while it’s slightly better than just ‘meh’, it wasn’t as good as I was hoping it would be (read the synopsis here). I was intrigued from the first pages, but as the story moved along, I found myself less and less interested. There were too many references to Karen’s work life and not enough life lessons, wisdom, and love for her son. I don’t know – maybe that would have made an incredibly depressing story, but it’s exactly what I was hoping for.

I picked this book up from the library and really didn’t know much about it. I recognized the cover from the #bookstagram community, so I threw it in my pile and checked it out. Imagine my surprise when I realize that this is a book – I prefer the term “love letter” – from a woman to her six-year-old son. She has Stage IV ovarian cancer and was basically given five years to live. After just finishing, The Bright Hour: A Memoir on Living and Dying by Nina Riggs, literally right before picking this one up, the synchronicity was just so coincidental. (You can read my review of Rigg’s book here.) I wouldn’t recommend reading these back to back. To be fair, had I not just finished the The Bright Hour – which I LOVED – I may have even liked this book more. But it just didn’t hold a candle to IRL version of the same story.

What’s great about this book is the way Lauren Grodstein brings a horrifying reality to light and makes her readers empathize with the situation. Karen is a single mom raising her son, Jake, in NYC while juggling an intense job as a campaign manager for a local councilman. Her closest relatives are her sister and brother-in-law who live clear across the country on Mercer Island, near Seattle. My heart broke for Karen as I imagined the stress she felt trying to work while undergoing chemotherapy and surgeries and generally just feeling badly. I felt so much compassion for her thinking about how hard it must be to know you would, sooner than later, be leaving your young child behind.

Luckily, or conveniently (however you want to look at it), Jake’s dad is introduced. While he wasn’t ready to have a family when Karen became pregnant, he is now happily married and would love to have a child, yet he and his wife struggle with infertility. The relationship between Jake and Dave blossoms quickly, tying up a major loose end to the overall story.

By the end of the book, it felt like Grodstein just needed to wrap the story up. I would have loved some more relationship development between Dave and Jake; Dave, his wife, and Jake; even all four of them as they navigate Karen’s illness and the repercussions of her eventual death. As a reader, I felt like I was left hanging. I didn’t expect Karen to miraculously recover, but I also didn’t think the story would just end with a reconciliation with Dave. I wanted a better wrap-up.

The potential was there for this book to be amazingly heart-touching, but as it went on, it failed to retain my attention. Have you read this one yet? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying

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“You’re holding on so tight,” the therapist told me. “You think you will be obliterated if anything bad ever happens.” Now, lying in my bed, obliteration feels like peace, like drifting toward sleep. This is the terrible thing.

How would your life change if you were given the news that you have terminal cancer? I think it’s something many of us can envision, but how can we truly know what that means until it applies to us personally?

My mama was diagnosed with Stage IV Ovarian Cancer on April 30, 2008. She was given a 25% chance of being alive in 5 years; sadly, she passed away on November 18, 2013 – just 6 months longer than the doctors predicted. Her illness and death have been the biggest challenge I’ve had to face; it’s a tough reality to figure out how to navigate a world that doesn’t include your mama. She was my biggest fan and she fiercely loved my family and I. While it’s been almost 4 years since she passed away, she is at the forefront of my mind all the time. I catch myself thinking at least a hundred times a day, I can’t wait to tell mom about this! Or, I wish she were here to see this! Or, I wish we could just sit down and have some coffee and conversation together.

Grief is a tough process. It’s unending, and just when you think you may be getting a grip on it, another wave rolls through and knocks you back down. I am learning that I will never stop grieving my mama and even though the grief is hard, it’s also a testament to the amount of love I had for her. That perspective change has allowed me not to resist the sadness and loss as much; now I just look at it as needing some time to sit with my feelings and reminisce about the amazing woman I was lucky enough to call ‘Mom’.

When I saw The Bright Hour (Simon & Schuster) by Nina Riggs around #bookstagram and on the shelves at Target, I knew I had to read it. I bought it awhile ago, but every time I picked it up off my shelf, I quickly talked myself out of it and picked up a different book. With a friend’s urging (thanks, Claire!), I decided the time had come, and am I ever grateful I did! Once I dived in, I couldn’t stop. Sometimes I read with tears streaming down my face, other times I read vigorously nodding my head up and down as it completely related to my experience with my mama’s cancer journey. While it’s a tough read to get through, it is also filled with so much wisdom and hope. It full of encouragement and resiliency and reminds its readers to live every single day as if it’s your last.

“These days are days,” I say, calm and furious. “We choose how we hold them.”

Literally the only thing we are guaranteed in this life – is death. Through my mama’s passing, I have learned to cherish the time I have…now. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring – I could get a terminal diagnosis, I could die in a car accident, I could have a heart attack – but I have right now. I am breathing – in and out, in and out – and I will honor that miracle for what it is by appreciating this moment.

But what he is working toward in his difficult exploration is unquestioningly beautiful: how to distill what matters most to each of us in life in order to navigate our way toward the edge of it in a meaningful and satisfying way. (In reference to Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal)

At the end of my life, I hope I can look back and see that I am satisfied with the way things turned out. That I lived a good life, was a good person, loved well. I want my children to be proud of me. I want to feel grateful. I believe my mother’s death taught me lessons I couldn’t have learned otherwise, and while I would give anything to have her physically back on this Earth, I also know that her presence never left me.

A retired rabbi – the friend of a friend – writes me an email out of the blue about how he lost his mother when he was nine years old. In the message, he lists all the things he remembers about his mom and all the ways she remains in his life: her favorite flower, the books she read to him, her sense of humor. “She is far from a hole in my life. She is an enormous presence that can never be replaced.” His words are a gift that I pull out some nights and let swirl through the room, brush over my skin like a tincture.

I remember my mama’s love for gardening. How she was the tannest of all the moms because she spent hours outside with her flowers. Her love for reading which I’m so glad she passed on to me. Her incredible sense of fashion. Her smile. Her laugh. Her distinctive voice. Her hands – the tiniest and softest I’ve ever seen. Her strength. Her resiliency. The way she loved my brother and I. The way she sacrificed everything for her grandchildren. The love she gave that has sustained me every day since she was last able to give it.

I never stop being amazed by how simultaneously cruel and beautiful this world can be.

Final Girls

This was the perfect summer thriller for me. In a cabin in the woods, a whole group of friends are slain, leaving only one survivor. But ten years later, Quincy still can’t remember exactly what happened that night. She has worked hard to forget about it and move forward with her life. So who is this girl that shows up at her door claiming she’s the lone survivor of a similarly horrendous crime? The twists and turns keep your head spinning – and just when you think you’ve got it all figured out – another loop is thrown in the mix! The writing is fast-paced and keeps you on your toes. (Intriguing side note: @riley.sager is a pen name for a previously published author. Whaaaaat? My curiosity is piqued and I’m dying to know who “s/he” really is!)

Moonglow

 

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This book started off strong for me. I was immediately drawn to Michael Chabon’s writing style and the basis of the book captivated me. Chabon travels to his mother’s house in the final week of his grandfather’s life. Knowing that he is about to die, his grandfather reveals stories to him that he’s never heard. The story skips around – it’s not told chronologically – so the reader is taken on a journey through his grandpa’s life that includes sex, love, marriage, war, model rockets, and space exploration fascination.

There were many times where I was left in awe of Chabon’s storytelling skills and his ability to write such thought-provoking sentences. However, as the story pushed on, I found myself getting bored of the dense writing and began to wonder what the point of all of it is. There is no cohesion throughout the story and it was probably this book that made me realize that I really do need a story to have a purpose. Apparently, I don’t read writing just for writing’s sake; I enjoy it very much when a story has a redemptive quality to it.

As I mentioned above, the writing is very well done. I have many parts of the book underlined and have found myself thinking about them quite often. Chabon developed two of his characters quite well – Michael (the narrator) and his grandfather. However, I would have loved more development in regards to his grandma – she is eluded to as having been Jewish and a survivor of the Holocaust. She struggles with some possible mental issues due to her circumstances; sadly, none of this is fully developed in the story.

She was a vessel built to hold the pain of her history, but it had cracked her, and radiant darkness leaked out through the crack.

“She’s broken, I’m broken,” he said. “Everybody’s broken.”

Also, the relationship between the narrator’s mother and the grandfather was poorly developed. We learn that the grandfather is not her real father, but we also know that he raises her as his own because of their immigration to the United States. Again, both of these things left big holes for me in the plot and made me feel like Chabon left me wondering – something I HATE in a book. Wanting to know more about these two women is probably what kept me reading until the end instead of giving up on the book. I guess I’m trying to say that I felt duped by Chabon by the time I finished the book. To me, the real parts of the story were not developed.

I’m disappointed in myself. In my life. All my life, everything I tried, I only got halfway there. You try to take advantage of the time you have. That’s what they tell you to do. But when you’re old, you look back and you see all you did, with all that time, is waste it. All you have is a story of things you never started or couldn’t finish. Things you fought with all your heart to build that didn’t last or fought with all your heart to get rid of and they’re all still around.

While this book is a novel, there are apparently some parts of the story that could be considered semi-autobiographical. I’m not sure what those parts are, but that added an interesting aspect to the overall story. Ultimately, I did have some take aways from the book, but I wish it would have been shorter and had more of an overall purpose.

“Do you think they were every happy?”

“Definitely, ” I said.

“Definitely?”

“For sure.”

“She went crazy. His business failed. They couldn’t have children of their own. He went to prison. HRT gave her cancer. I shot his brother in the eye and then married a man who cost him his business. When were they happy?”

“In the cracks?” I said.

“In the cracks.”

 

Milk and Honey

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I’m generally not a fan of poems, but Rupi Kaur‘s collection in Milk and Honey (Andrews McMeel Publishing) was an exception! Succinct and to the point, the words seem to imprint themselves into your soul. The writing is emotional – raw and honest and searing – it broke me open to things I’d never be able to put into words.

The poems are arranged into four sections – the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing. There are some strong references to assault and sex, but the healing witnessed through the pages and Kaur’s vulnerability complete the tragic beauty of survivorship.

“This is the journey of surviving through poetry…this is my heart in your hands.”

I will find myself returning to this collection time and again because of its intensity, its honesty, and its vulnerability. This is the perfect book to set on the nightstand in order to quickly revisit.

Eden

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Eden transcended time as the receptacle of the family’s legends and most vivid memories. She associated Eden with love and tradition, a link between the generations…

Oh, this book! It captured my heart – hook, line, and sinker. I wanted to read it as fast as possible. But at the same time, I didn’t want to keep reading because with every page I turned, I was that much closer to the end. The writing is beautiful and it grabs ahold of you early and doesn’t let go. I wanted to visit Eden, have a slumber party on the back porch, and just immerse myself into this beautiful, complicated family. It feels like each and every one of them have become a part of me – and I’m wondering, would it be too much to ask Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg (published by She Writes Press) to write a sequel??

One of my favorite things about this book was the characters. Somehow, Blasberg even made the unlikeable characters likeable. My favorite character was far and away Eden. (Wait, can a home be a character?) Technically I’m not sure, but the home in this book felt like a person – it demanded attention as it stood so vastly upon the dunes of Long Harbor. It witnessed generations of families and relationships, withstood the best and the worst of the lives it sheltered. Lilly, the housekeeper, also had an adoration for the family that transcended many years. She protected Eden’s people with honor the only way a family member can. Her love was deep; Sarah confided private things with her before talking to her own mother (who had complicated issues of her own to sort out).

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The writing throughout the book was beautiful. There was nothing fancy about it – no crazy metaphors, elaborate words or descriptions – but the flow and prose lulled you along in a way that almost felt poetic at times. I felt like I was sitting on the beach as a silent witness to this family instead of actually walking on a treadmill at my local gym. I was oblivious to everything happening around me because I just wanted to be transported to this magical home.

I don’t want to share many details of what actually happens in the book; I think you should read it and experience the magic for yourself. If you love a well-developed family drama, this is the book for you! I luckily was introduced to this book through the amazing #bookstagram community. Kate of @theloudlibrarylady started an #edenbooktrain and was gracious enough to include me. (The book’s path has crossed from @theloudlibrarylady –> @prose_and_palate –> @kourtneysbookshelf –> @pups_pints_pages –> (ME!) @happiestwhenreading and next on its stop is  @readblend…how FUN is this!?!?!) Even better than a great book is that I’ve connected with and made new friends. Totally a win/win!

I think this experience has inspired me to start my own book train! I’d love to hear your suggestions for a book to use!