HUMP DAY SERENDIPITY: MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!!

When I went into the dining room today, I didn’t expect anything very festive…but when I asked for a Mimosa…guess what?  They brought one.

While I was here today, I also created a new blog button from images I found in my files:

When I moved to my new space, I left most of my favorite things behind, like Disney trinkets, lots of the books I owned, and some of my favorite mugs.  Luckily, I have many photos.

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Enjoy your day and your books!

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REVIEW: MEG & JO, BY VIRGINIA KANTRA

 

The timeless classic Little Women inspired this heartwarming modern tale of four sisters from New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra.

The March sisters—reliable Meg, independent Jo, stylish Amy, and shy Beth—have grown up to pursue their separate dreams. When Jo followed her ambitions to New York City, she never thought her career in journalism would come crashing down, leaving her struggling to stay afloat in a gig economy as a prep cook and secret food blogger.

Meg appears to have the life she always planned—the handsome husband, the adorable toddlers, the house in a charming subdivision. But sometimes getting everything you’ve ever wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When their mother’s illness forces the sisters home to North Carolina for the holidays, they’ll re-discover what really matters.

One thing’s for sure—they’ll need the strength of family and the power of sisterhood to remake their lives and reimagine their dreams.

My Thoughts: As I dived into Meg and Jo, I felt as though I were revisiting a family I had loved for years. But despite the familiarity of the characters I had first met in Little Women, these family members were just different enough that I would discover the newness of them, too.

Set in contemporary times, we first connect with Jo in Manhattan, working in a restaurant and writing a food blog. I loved how she shared her self-discoveries, her life, and the Chef who turns out to be more than just a boss.

In North Carolina, Meg and John and their twins are enjoying their life as a family, but at the same time, the two of them are realizing that their communication could use some work.

Marmee’s illness changes the family dynamics, and the daughters realize that they need to step in and help out more.

Amy and Beth make brief appearances, but the focus is on Jo and Meg and their life changes. A delightful read. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

 

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

 

My Thoughts: Alternating narratives reveal the dual timeline stories and keep the reader on the hook as more and more layers are peeled back.

We start with Anna Dale, in the 1940s, and her challenge to finish the mural to be displayed in the Edenton Post Office. Even though she has won the contest fair and square, she is bombarded with prejudice and challenges that soon seemingly overwhelm her…until one fateful night when violence strikes and changes her life forever. Racial prejudice walks hand in hand with the other difficulties she faces.

Flash forward to 2018, when Morgan Christopher is unexpectedly offered the opportunity to early parole from prison in order to take on the task of restoring Anna Dale’s piece, one that is buried beneath grime, not to mention some very strange images that seemingly tell a disturbing tale. Not only is she given an almost impossible task, the deadline must coincide with the gallery opening.

Will Morgan finish the task? What will she uncover beneath the layers of filth and secrets? What will she learn about Anna Dale and the original secrets and lies just waiting to be told?

I loved how Big Lies in a Small Town unfolded, and despite clues, I was blown away by all we learned about that small town and the people who would do anything to hide their secrets. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom.

Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

 

My Thoughts: Our multiple narrators capture us from the beginning of The Family Upstairs. From Libby Jones, presumably the baby found in the Cheyne Walk house, to Henry, the son who went missing, there are a few others whose bits and pieces of the story unfold. It takes a while to figure out who Lucy is, and what she might have to do with Libby.

The cultish story is creepy with Gothic overtones. Who are these people, and how did one man take over all the adults and children that surrounded him? How did any of them escape, and who ended the lives of the perpetrators?

I loved all the twists and turns, and how nothing was exactly as we expected. By the end, however, all the missing pieces have fallen into place. A brilliant 5 star read.

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BOOKISH FRIDAY: “TELL ME EVERYTHING”

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which we  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists! What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is Tell Me Everything, by Amy Hatvany.

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Beginning:  (Prologue)

The first thing you should know about me is that I love my husband.  The second is that I occasionally have sex with other men.

Here I am, on a Saturday night, in the arms of a man we found together.  He is smart, funny.  He understands our need for discretion.  He knows that he is only a visitor.

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Friday 56:  Tiffany and Ben approached us on the deck, along with a woman I could only assume was her mother, whom I’d never met before.  At a dance competition last year, Tiffany told me that they hired someone part-time to take care of her mom when they couldn’t be home with her, but there were times when the aide wasn’t available and Tiffany would have to miss one of Lizzy’s performances on the team. (56%).

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Synopsis:  A happily married couple. A dance with a stranger at a bar.

One night—one seemingly insignificant choice—can change everything.

Jessica and Jake Snyder love each other, and their life together. Successful in their chosen careers, they reside in the picturesque, though at times stifling, Seattle suburb of Queens Ridge as they parent teenagers Ella and Tucker.

As so often happens in marriage, their romantic life falls casualty to busy schedules and repetitive routine, until one night, a stranger asks Jessica to dance. On a whim, Jake urges her to say yes, saying that he wants to watch this other man touch her, something that surprises Jessica by arousing her like never before. A door opens for them then, into a realm of exploration neither of them knew existed.

They create rules to protect their marriage, and are thrilled when their relationship is strengthened and enriched by deeper levels of communication and trust brought about by this exciting, but taboo behavior. That is, until Jessica keeps a secret from Jake and embarks on a tryst with an intriguing man from her past, who, when she tries to end things between them, decides to seek revenge.

What happens after that will threaten to destroy their world—and them.

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I’m eager to dive into this book from an author I really enjoy.  What do you think?

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REVIEW: JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT, BY CATHERINE RYAN HYDE

 

No longer tolerating her husband’s borderline abuse, Faith escapes to her parents’ California beach house to plan her next move. She never dreamed her new chapter would involve befriending Sarah, a fourteen-year-old on the run from her father and reeling from her mother’s sudden and suspicious death.

While Sarah’s grandmother scrambles to get custody, Faith is charged with spiriting the girl away on a journey that will restore her hope: Sarah implores Faith to take her to Falkner’s Midnight Sun, the prized black mare that her father sold out from under her. Sarah shares an unbreakable bond with Midnight and can’t bear to be apart from her. Throughout the sweltering summer, as they follow Midnight from show to show, Sarah comes to terms with what she witnessed on the terrible night her mother died.

But the journey is far from over. Faith must learn the value of trusting her instincts—and realize that the key to her future, and Sarah’s, is in her hands.

 

 

My Thoughts: As I began reading Just After Midnight, I was not quite sure if I would enjoy the journey. I was fascinated by what could happen for Faith as she moved on from a bad marriage. Her beach retreat intrigued me, and then I enjoyed the bond that started developing between Faith and the teenage girl Sarah.

The horse parts felt a little boring at first, but then I was able to focus on the relationship building between Faith and Sarah, and how helping the young girl move on in her life was a great gift for Faith, too. She now had a reason to go on, and by paying it forward for young Sarah she gave herself the gift of a new beginning. A book that I no longer could stop reading. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: LIFELINES, BY HEIDI DIEHL

 

It’s 1971 when Louise leaves Oregon for Düsseldorf, a city grappling with its nation’s horrific recent history, to study art. Soon she’s embroiled in a scene dramatically different from the one at home, thanks in large part to Dieter, a mercurial musician. Their romance ignites quickly, but life gets in the way: an unplanned pregnancy, hasty marriage, the tense balance of their creative ambitions, and—finally, fatally—a family secret that shatters Dieter, and drives Louise home.

But in 2008 she’s headed to Dieter’s mother’s funeral. She never returned to Germany, and has since remarried, had another daughter, and built a life in Oregon. As she flies into the heart of her past, she reckons with the choices she made, and the ones she didn’t, just as her family—current and former—must consider how Louise’s life has shaped their own, for better and for worse.

 

 

My Thoughts: Lifelines opens with Louise ready to board a plane for Germany to attend her former mother-in-law’s funeral. Her daughter Elke has begged for her to attend.

In a sweeping style that takes us back and forth in time, we come to know these characters, with all their flaws and foibles. I enjoyed the peek back into the 1970s, with the cultural issues present in Germany heightened by the world known by Louise and Dieter…and then we see what happens when Louise returns to Oregon and meets Richard, who becomes her second husband. There is a push and pull between Louise, Dieter, and Richard as they struggle to set aside their past lives and move on.

In the present, Elke and Margot, children of the primary characters, show us how they try to find their way while attempting to understand what happened between their parents in the past. A saga that spotlights a time and its issues. 4.5 stars.

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SNIPPETS FROM THE PAST…

 

Today has been filled with nostalgic moments.  On my Curl up and Read blog, I posted something from the distant past—from October 2009.  And that experience led me to searching the archives here.  Back when I featured excerpts from some of my own creations.

Here’s a snippet from An Accidental Life, a book I published in 2006.

 

As she considers going on the run, a pregnant teen ponders her options in this excerpt from An Accidental Life.

While the social workers had been planning her future, Savannah trudged along Clovis Avenue, staring vacantly into shop windows and wondering how she was going to get through the next five hours.  She had to wait until Blake finished up his classes for the day, and then they were going to meet at his apartment.

Last night as she’d left the mall, she was certain that she had only one option:  to run.  But when she reached the foster home, she had decided to put that particular plan on hold until the weekend.  With Blake’s help, she might be able to come up with a better solution.  But every time she thought she’d found a plan she could live with, she kept bumping up against the one major obstacle:  school.  How was she going to find a way to live on her own, or with Blake, while still continuing in school?  And without a guardian she couldn’t even enroll in independent studies.  Her age was turning out to be a major hassle. She and Blake couldn’t even get married, since she wouldn’t be sixteen for another five months.  Not that he’d even suggested that!

As the afternoon wore on, she found herself spacing out and realized that she’d forgotten to eat lunch.  She had totally blown off school today, even though it was such an important part of her life, because she couldn’t think.  Her mind wandered off, even in her favorite classes.  Now she searched through her pockets, finally glomming onto the handful of bills she had hidden there.  Blake had a habit of leaving money around and lately she’d been slipping the occasional stray bill into her pockets.  She knew he’d never miss it and rationalized that if she’d asked, he would have given her the money anyway.  Guilt plagued her sometimes, but she pushed the unwanted feelings away.

She slipped into a little café on one of the side streets, finding a booth in the rear.  She hid her face behind the menu and when the server arrived, her pencil poised above her little order book, Savannah asked for a bowl of soup and a large piece of pie.  While she waited, she nibbled on the crackers and sipped the glass of water.  She had started feeling a little better by the time her food arrived.

Glancing at her wristwatch…the very large masculine one that Blake had loaned her…she saw that it was already three o’clock.  No wonder she’d been so famished!  Two more hours until she could meet up with Blake.  She would hang out here for awhile and try to read the book she had stashed in her backpack.  They’d refill her coffee cup for awhile and when they started hinting around for her to leave, she could head off toward the campus.  Blake’s apartment, which he shared with Scooter, was across the street from the college.  If she timed it right, she’d arrive there about the same time that he did.

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Perhaps I will now return to the present, but I enjoyed my moments back in the past.  Do you ever revisit old blog posts?

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BOOKISH FRIDAY: “THE TESTAMENTS”

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which we  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood.

 

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Book Beginnings:  (The Ardua Hall Holograph)

Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive.  Already I am petrified.

This statue was a small token of appreciation for my many contributions, said the citation, which was read out by Aunt Vidala.  She’d been assigned the task by our superiors, and was far from appreciative.

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Friday 56:  I went into the kitchen and sat down at the island.  Melanie’s back was to me; she was looking out the window.  From the window you could see our yard—round cement planters with rosemary bushes in them, a patio with an outdoor table and chairs, and a corner of the street at the front. (p. 56).

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Synopsis: More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
 
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.
 
As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

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I can’t wait to read this one.  What do you think?

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REVIEW: NANAVILLE, BY ANNA QUINDLEN

 

“I am changing his diaper, he is kicking and complaining, his exhausted father has gone to the kitchen for a glass of water, his exhausted mother is prone on the couch. He weighs little more than a large sack of flour and yet he has laid waste to the living room: swaddles on the chair, a nursing pillow on the sofa, a car seat, a stroller. No one cares about order, he is our order, we revolve around him. And as I try to get in the creases of his thighs with a wipe, I look at his, let’s be honest, largely formless face and unfocused eyes and fall in love with him. Look at him and think, well, that’s taken care of, I will do anything for you as long as we both shall live, world without end, amen.”

Before blogs even existed, Anna Quindlen became a go-to writer on the joys and challenges of family, motherhood, and modern life, in her nationally syndicated column. Now she’s taking the next step and going full nana in the pages of this lively, beautiful, and moving book about being a grandmother. Quindlen offers thoughtful and telling observations about her new role, no longer mother and decision-maker but secondary character and support to the parents of her grandson. She writes, “Where I once led, I have to learn to follow.” Eventually a close friend provides words to live by: “Did they ask you?”

Candid, funny, frank, and illuminating, Quindlen’s singular voice has never been sharper or warmer. With the same insights she brought to motherhood in Living Out Loud and to growing older in Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, this new nana uses her own experiences to illuminate those of many others.

 

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Quindlen’s novels and memoirs. She has a unique way of voicing our own concerns and helping us find those life moments that reveal so much.

Just as parenting has its own special moments that resonate with all of us who have lived through the challenges, grandparenting brings another dimension to our lives. So in Nanaville, we are offered a time in which we can step back, observe, and decide how to cautiously move forward into the sometime worrisome waters. We learn that our adult children and their chosen partners must set the guidelines, and if we want to benefit from a good relationship with the grandchildren, we must follow their lead.

Anecdotes and chapters designated “small moments” offer us that very insightful guide to a wonderful journey in the Land of Nanaville. 5 stars.

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