I actually read a book! At the Water’s Edge Review

I can’t remember if I’ve addressed this before, but I remember being told by several of my former teachers that they didn’t get much reading done during the school year. Since reading has been my main hobby ever since I successfully read Amelia Bedelia all by myself, I was baffled by this.

Now I am a teacher too and I completely understand. While I still love to read, some days I just want to come home and take nap, watch House Hunters on Netflix for hours on end, or stare at my ceiling fan. You know, something mindless that requires little to no effort on my part.

Consequently, I have read less this year than I have…probably ever. So the fact that the book I read last week was good enough to pull my out of my end of year testing caused stupor is really saying something.

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I have been a huge fan of Sara Gruen’s for a long time. While most people probably know her for Water for Elephants, I first read her books Riding Lessons and it’s sequel, Flying Changes. After my years of reading young adult horse stories, these books were a refreshing and grown up change of pace- plenty of horses, but even more real life. Just how I like my books 🙂

While At the Water’s Edge doesn’t have any horses, I was totally okay with that. It follows socialite Maddie as she, her husband Ellis, and his best friend Hank head to WWII era Scotland to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. While Maddie is not particularly crazy about the plan, she finds herself with little choice after she and her husband socially disgrace themselves and are cut off by his wealthy parents. Now Ellis is seeking to prove himself by succeeding where his father failed, and Maddie is along for the ride.

Frequently left to her own devices while Hank and Ellis go monster hunting, Maddie at first finds herself woefully out of place in the inn where they stay. The gruff inn keeper, Angus, and the barmaids Anna and Meg don’t know what to make of their unusual guest and are temporarily put off by her obvious wealth and assumed snobbery. Slowly, though, Maddie befriends the locals and grows more and more suspicious of her husbands motives. She ultimately must make a dangerous decision regarding her future that could possibly wind up costing her everything- and everyone- she has come to love in Scotland.

This book reads much like Sara Gruen’s other novels- it’s realistic, at times humorous, and when I read certain parts (especially descriptions of a place or person, or of a strong feeling) it made me understand what Maddie seeing, or feel what she was feeling and experiencing. It’s relatable and smartly written, but never over done or excessive, which is one of the main things I consider the mark of a good book.

There’s also just enough intrigue and a slight element of mystery and unexpected twists that makes this book more of a page turner than some of Gruen’s other books. I certainly had a hard time putting it down, at any rate. Side note- after reading the author bio of this book, I did a little Googling and found out Sara Gruen lives about two hours away from me. Cue fan girl moment.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home Book Review

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I read this book ages ago and meant to do a review of if then because I loved it so much. But because I was on vacation at the time I promptly forgot about it and it didn’t cross my mind until two seconds ago when I saw it sitting on my bookshelf.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is the debut novel of Carol Rifka Brunt. Set in 1980’s Westchester, the novel follows 14 year old June Elbus. June’s uncle Finn is a world famous painter, but June is largely unaware of her uncle’s fame. To her, he is simply her best friend and love, the person she feels most at home with.

June is shocked to learn her uncle is dying of AIDS. As his health begins to deteriorate, Finn insists on painting a portrait of June and her older sister Greta. He manages to complete the painting shortly before his death.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a man lurking on the outskirts and is informed by her sister that the man, Toby, is Finn’s boyfriend, a person June never knew existed in spite of his long relationship with her uncle. June is instructed by her parents to stay a away from Toby as he is supposedly a terrible man.

Of course, if June did what her parents said we wouldn’t have a book, and a wary June gradually befriends Toby. As time passes, June comes to a lot of realizations about herself and her relationships with her uncle, parents, and her sister. We see her come out of her shell a bit and learn to take more control of her life, a lesson I think resonates with many young adults.

I particularly enjoyed this novel because of June’s quiet, observant narration. An introvert and a bit of an old soul, June’s quirkiness is endearing and her observations are simple and unassuming, making the writing feel relatable and comfortable. The novel is serious, with little room for humor, but Brunt manages to squeeze a few smile worthy tidbits into the text as well.

Summer Reading

I confess, I love to read what some may categorize as “beach books” during the summer. And I sometimes reread them during the winter. No genre judging, okay?! Everyone should be able to enjoy a book that’s written at a writing level that is accessible to the general public, unrealistic in it’s summery perfection, and may or may not involve a small town girl summering in a ritzy and/or tropical locale, possibly while working for a very wealthy family.

With that in mind, here is a list of my top ten favorite summer reads, some of which do not actually follow the aforementioned description of what makes a beach book.

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1. Summer Sisters

This Judy Blume novel is pretty much the fairy godparent of trashy beach books. It spans several decades and follows two girls from very different backgrounds who still manage to reunite every summer in Martha’s Vineyard. They experience puberty, first crushes, first loves, college and career decisions, marriage, betrayal, children, and everything that comes in between, all while still managing to recall how things were in those first summers when they became the summer sisters. This book is dramatic, realistic, moving, and epic all at the same time, which is quite a feat for any book. I first read it in seventh grade (much to the horror of my mother, since it is a rather mature novel) and it’s been one my favorites to reread ever since.

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2. Since You’ve Been Gone

Emily doesn’t know how to define herself without her best friend, Sloane. The two have been pretty much a package deal since they first met. But now that Sloane has disappeared Emily must figure out how to move one without her. Of course, a To Do list left by Sloane certainly gives her a starting place. Assisted by the “ultimate perfect guy” Frank, Emily sets out to spend her summer checking off Sloane’s challenges, including skinny dipping, hugging someone named Jamie, sleeping under the stars, and finding an occasion to wear the ultimate dress. The more tasks she completes, though, the more Emily realizes that rather than staying close to Sloane by completing the list she is actually growing closer to understanding herself. Author Morgan Matson writes in an authentic, unassuming voice that I think many readers will appreciate.

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3. Keeping the Moon

Social outcast Colie doesn’t expect her summer by the coast to be any different than her lonely high school existence. She’s in for a surprise though, because her co-workers at a local diner as well as her oddball aunt will wind up teaching her more about what it means to be a real friend and stay true to yourself than she ever could have imagined. Sarah Dessen is one of the best authors for fun, summery reads, and Keeping the Moon is no exception. I think many readers will be able to relate to Colie’s initial insecurities as well as find her blossoming confidence inspiring.

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4. Love Falls

Another classic coming-of-age-in-the-summer-tale, this book has a slightly different, darker tone than some of the others I’ve listed. Lara is excited about spending her summer with her father in the Italian countryside, but she gets more adventure than she bargained for when she befriends a teenaged clan of millionaires, complete with their own family drama straight from a soap opera. Written by the Esther Freud, granddaughter of Sigmund Freud, this book seems a bit more…oh, I don’t know, literary than some other summery type books.

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5. True to Form

This Elizabeth Berg novel is actually the third to feature protagonist Katie Nash, and though all three books can stand alone, (but, for the record, the other two- Durable Goods and Joy School– are amazing and I highly recommend them) only this one falls into the category of quintessential summer reads. Katie is an extremely bright, sweet, and loving thirteen year old who is mature beyond her years. So when her father suggests she get a summer job, Katie is excited by the opportunity until she finds out what her father has in mind: babysitting for three hellacious brothers and acting as a caregiver for an elderly couple. The summer will wind up presenting Katie with many trials and some difficult life lessons, but she comes through it all without losing her trademark honesty and dreaminess. Though Katie is young, this writing in this book is certainly not like what you might find in a young adult novel. Katie sees the world through very adult eyes, and this is reflected by Berg’s gorgeous, touching prose.

Book Review: Veronica Mars, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

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I have been in love with the show Veronica Mars ever since my high school journalism teacher recommended it to me. The show had already been off the air for awhile, so I watched the episodes on The WB’s website. I consumed them like cupcakes in a binge worthy fashion that even my post-Netflix self still cannot comprehend. I loved the show’s wit, its plots, the characters, everything.

When I learned there was going to be a Veronica Mars movie I was overjoyed. But honestly, I think I was even more excited to learn that there was going to be a book, continuing the plot where the movie left off. You see, as a kid I loved Nancy Drew, and Veronica is kind of like Nancy’s older and much cooler cousin. I’ve always thought that the plot would do well in book format. I was super excited that my friend gave me a copy of the first book for my birthday so I could find out if I was right. (Spoiler: Of course I was right.)

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line picks up about two months after the events of the Veronica Mars movie. We find Veronica trying to keep her father’s PI business afloat while he recovers from an accident that nearly killed him in the movie. Unfortunately for Veronica, Keith Mars is less than thrilled by what he considers his daughter “wasting her future” by returning to the life she left behind. Determined to prove that she belongs in this world, Veronica leaps at the chance to work on a big case.

A spring breaker in Veronica’s beachside town of Neptune has disappeared, and the local sheriff has done surprisingly little to find her. Concerned about the damage all the negative media will do to Neptune’s tourist revenue, the chamber of commerce hires Veronica to find out what happened. Veronica’s investigation leads her into the seedy underworld of Neptune’s drug trade, up the coast to Stanford, her alma mater, and, in a classic VM twist, back into her absentee mother’s life.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. I thought that the story translated well to the book medium, and fans of the series will appreciate appearances by more minor but always fan favorite characters, including Dick Casablancas and Eli Navarro. The writing maintains a lot of that classic wit and sarcasm that the series was so well known for, and the plot has plenty of twists to keep you guessing.

However, I have read more than a few reviews criticizing author Rob Thomas’ choice to write the book in the third person point of view rather than the first. They claim it makes Veronica, already an aloof character at times, more distant and less engaging. On the show, voiceovers by Veronica were a frequent plot device to let viewers inside her head and also allow for Veronica to provide backstory and other information when needed, as well as the occasional witty barb.

While I can understand that this might lead some to believe a first person point of view was the way to go in order to maintain that connection to the inner workings of Veronica’s mind, I think Thomas and co author Jennifer Graham made the right choice to stick with third person. There is plenty of non dialogue text that focuses on Veronica’s thoughts, giving the reader just as much, if not more, insight, as it also manages to encompass some of the information given by other characters. I think it also makes for a smoother reading book, given the number of backstories necessary to set the scene.

For those who have never seen the show, though, I’m not sure I can give this book my full recommendation. While there is enough backstory provided that non marshmallows (a term for VM fans) certainly won’t be lost, I think it would be much harder to appreciate some of Veronica’s choices without knowing about her high school and early college days that the show covered.

So, basically, what I’m saying is this: Go watch all three seasons. Then watch the movie. And then read the book.

The Bear Book Review

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I really like books and movies about survival and the wilderness. Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, The Edge. I love them all. That may be rather surprising to some people, because anyone who knows me knows I’d probably last all of a week on my own in the wild. I guess these books are my way of vicariously taking part in outdoor adventures, though, because I’ve always enjoyed them.

Claire Cameron’s The Bear has a narrator who must survive following a horrific attack that kills her parents. Unlike many of the heroes of survival books and movies, who tend to been teens or older, The Bear‘s main character is five (almost six) year old Anna.  While on a camping trip with her parents and two year old brother, a black bear attacks and kills Anna’s parents and leaves the siblings alone in the wilderness. Anna must protect her brother from the still looming bear and find a way to get them to safety.

It was very interesting to read a book written from a five year old’s perspective. At times it was a bit confusing, because Anna’s almost stream of consciousness narration makes some details a bit difficult to follow. Then again, I would image that a five year old would not be able to fully comprehend such a tragic event and thus their thoughts on the subject would undoubtedly be a bit confusing as the try to make sense of what’s happening.

This also makes the novel a bit less graphic than one might expect. Anna glances over details that the reader can only infer are a sign of something much more gruesome. For example, at one point Anna sees the bear chewing on her father’s sneaker with “meat” in it, and thinks that her dad will not be happy that the bear is eating his shoe. It took me a minute to comprehend that line, and then I promptly freaked out a bit.

Because Anna is so young, the passage of time is also a bit unclear. For all I knew, Anna and her brother could have spent weeks out there (and to them it probably felt that way) but it was really a matter of days.

The last part of the novel is also very hard to read. Anna stops speaking after the incident and has a difficult time dealing with what has happened. Her pain is very real and is sucker punch to the heart.

The very end, however, was so beautifully written that I found myself in tears. Cameron has done an excellent job treating a tragic event with care, acknowledging that though we may try to find sense or reason in such events there often is none. The Bear is an excellent novel that I highly recommend.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

One Day: It’s been a long time since chick lit made me cry

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When David Nicholls’ novel One Day first came out in 2009, I remember being vaguely aware of its existence but not particularly interested in reading it. A film version followed in 2011, and at that point I learned more about the plot thanks to previews and reviews in Entertainment WeeklyOne Day, it seemed, looked at the lives of two people on a single day- July 15- for twenty years. It seemed intriguing, but still I did not read the book. I attribute this to a silly phase I went through where I pretended to not like chick lit, which I assumed this book was.

I finally picked up a copy for $1.50 at Goodwill two days ago, and may I just say: If this is book is, in fact, chick lit, this is the first time ever that a book in that genre has made me cry.** And I read a lot of chick lit. Make of that what you will.

One Day looks at twenty years worth of July 15ths in the lives of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, two best friends who always seem to be just on the edge of becoming something more. In spite of their obvious chemistry, the timing is never right for Dexter and Emma. Coincidence, bad luck, and bad times seem determined to keep them apart.

While Emma struggles to find her path after college, Dexter seems to have it made, what with his frequent travels and success as a T.V. presenter. Over time Emma gradually finds her way, enjoying first a career as an English teacher and later as an author. Dexter, meanwhile, spirals out of control, turning to alcohol and drugs to help him cope when he finds his career slipping away.

Laugh out loud funny at times, Nicholls writes in an appealing and manageable way that still manages to effectively convey the love, the heartache, and the spirit found in abundance throughout the novel. I found myself reading passages over and over, simply because the words resonated with me.

I also appreciated that Dexter and Emma’s relationship was different from many star crossed lovers I’ve encountered in writing and film. Dexter and Emma don’t have a perfect relationship that leaves you begging for them to beat the odds. Rather, there were times that I was convinced that they weren’t meant to be, or perhaps that theirs was a relationship always meant to float in the best friends zone. Like any relationship you will encounter in the real world, theirs has high and lows, requires effort from both parties, and is not immune to the passage of time.

And the ending. Oh, the ending. I cried. I was briefly enraged that David Nicholls would do that to me. How dare he cause me emotional anguish after spending the past two days faithfully making my way through his book’s pages. But now, after half a day has passed, I can look at it and realize that the ending is perfect in its imperfection. It’s life. It’s chance, it’s bad luck, it’s coincidence. It’s fate. It’s destiny.

Whatever it is, it’s damn good. Go read it.

** I really don’t classify this as a “chick lit” type book. In fact, I imagine that there are quiet a few men who might enjoy it.