Tag Archives: Book Reviews

I’m back!

7 Jan

No, the break wasn’t long. However, yes, it was needed. Though I’m still in the stage of adjusting some things about my current life that had previously been on the back burner, I realized that I didn’t want this blog to be kicked to the back of my mind like so many other things. This blog has helped me too much to be at any place other than the forefront of my thoughts (right alongside academics, friends, and family).

One of my goals (not resolutions, but goals, or something I expect to stick around and even grow) for this year is to complete a rough draft of my memoir by the end of 2013. That being said, I am planning to spend as much time as I can to writing my memoir, which means my blog posts will no longer appear daily. I’m thinking of going bi-weekly or even weekly so that I actually might have something to say rather than feeling like I’m constantly rambling on about nothing. Though in the past I have shared certain memories related to my Cerebral Palsy on this blog (and have worked them into my memoir), I primarily began doing that because I was in need of support and feedback. Thanks to all of my lovely followers who have provided just that. However, now that I am beginning to not exactly need the encouraging feedback quite as often, I think it would be best to restrict my written memories to the Word document of my memoir. It seems safer that way. Plus, then my number of pages of my memoir might actually increase (hey, imagine that!). However, that doesn’t mean I won’t still be talking about my writing or what I’m facing on a daily basis in regards to my CP. I’ll still be sharing those snippets, and on those hard days when life just seems to knock me to the ground, every ounce of encouragement from all of you will be just what I need.

As the New Year came and went, I realized how often I was telling so many people: “I’m writing my memoir!” without actually doing much about it. Though I am not necessarily planning to give myself a deadline (good writing comes in time), I do want to move forward with my memoir. I’ve been in a pretty huge rut for quite a while, and even though I have never been a fan of outlines (normally, I’d prefer to just write, write, write and not care where it was doing), I think using an outline could provide me with a greater sense of direction in regards to my memoir, which is exactly what I need at this point. I don’t know how much it will help, but I’ll just have to see I guess.

Along with writing comes reading, and I have written numerous book reviews on this blog in the past. Today I signed up for GoodReads (and have decided to enter a Book Reading Challenge). My goal is to read 100 books in one year. Though that seems like a bit much right now, I know how much I read. And if I don’t complete the challenge, oh well. I just know that I will need a way to balance out all the writing I’m planning to do (plus college classes and friendships). Also, I think all the reading will be a nice break from focusing so heavily on my own life through writing my memoir. I think it was Stephen King who said: If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

It will be one heck of a year filled with tons of writing, tons of reading, academics, and as much fun as I can squeeze in! Thank you to all of you who have continued with me on this journey, despite the fact that this blog has changed its focus so many times. I appreciate each and every one of you so much!

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” – from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

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Writers and their bookshops.

20 Dec

As my Christmas break continues, so does my “month-long reading hibernation.” Therefore, when I came across My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop by Ronald Rice, I couldn’t stop smiling. Although I have not had the chance to read the book yet, a novel focused on writers discussing their favorite bookshops seems like such a wonderful read, and I can’t wait to read it sometime during my break from academics. I enjoy discussing my own favorite bookshops, and I think it’s such an amazing idea to give readers a glimpse into the bookish world of their favorite authors. Here is the synopsis of My Bookstore (according to GoodReads.com):

In this enthusiastic, heartfelt, and sometimes humorous ode to bookshops and booksellers, 84 known authors pay tribute to the brick-and-mortar stores they love and often call their second homes. In “My Bookstore” our greatest authors write about the pleasure, guidance, and support that their favorite bookstores and booksellers have given them over the years. The relationship between a writer and his or her local store and staff can last for years or even decades. Often it’s the author’s local store that supported him during the early days of his career, that continues to introduce and hand-sell her work to new readers, and that serves as the anchor for the community in which he lives and works.”My Bookstore “collects the essays, stories, odes and words of gratitude and praise for stores across the country in 84 pieces written by our most beloved authors. It’s a joyful, industry-wide celebration of our bricks-and-mortar stores and a clarion call to readers everywhere at a time when the value and importance of these stores should be shouted from the rooftops.Perfectly charming line drawings by Leif Parsons illustrate each storefront and other distinguishing features of the shops.

Contributing authors and bookstores include:
Fannie Flagg–Page & Palette, Fairhope, AL
Rick Bragg–Alabama Booksmith, Homewood, AL
John Grisham–That Bookstore in Blytheville, Blytheville, AR
Ron Carlson–Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ
Ann Packer–Capitola Book Cafe, Capitola, CA
Isabel Allende–Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA
Mahbod Seraji–Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, CA
Lisa See–Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena, CA
Meg Waite Clayton–Books Inc., San Francisco, CA
Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown–The Booksmith, San Francisco, CA
Dave Eggers–Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA
Pico Iyer–Chaucer’s Books, Santa Barbara, CA
Laurie R. King–Bookshop, Santa Cruz, CA
Scott Lasser–Explore Booksellers, Aspen, CO
Stephen White–Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO
Kate Niles–Maria’s Bookshop, Durango, CO
Ann Haywood Leal–Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
Florence and Wendell Minor–The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, CT
Rick Atkinson–Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC
Les Standiford–Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL
Robert Macomber–The Muse Book Shop, Deland, FL
David Fulmer–Eagle Eye Book Shop, Decatur, GA
Abraham Verghese–Prairie Lights, Iowa City, IA
Charlie Brandt–Chapter One Bookstore, Ketchum, ID
Luis Alberto Urrea–Anderson’s Bookshops, Naperville, IL
Mike Leonard–The Book Stall Chestnut Court, Winnetka, IL
Albert Goldbarth–Watermark Books, Wichita, KS
Wendell Berry–Carmichael’s Bookstore, Louisville, KY
Tom Piazza–Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA
Edith Pearlman–Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA
Mameve Medwed–Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.–Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA
Simon Winchester–The Bookloft, Great Barrington, MA
Nancy Thayer–Mitchell’s Book Corner, Nantucket, MA
Elin Hilderbrand–Nantucket Bookworks, Nantucket, MA
Jeanne Birdsall–Broadside Bookshop, Northampton, MA
Martha Ackmann–Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA
Ward Just–Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Vineyard Haven, MA
Ron Currie, Jr.–Longfellow Books, Portland, ME
ancy Shaw–Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI
Katrina Kittle–Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, MI
Ann Patchett–Mclean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI
Louise Erdrich–Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Minneapolis, MN
Peter Geye–Micawber’s Books, St. Paul, MN
Kathleen Finneran–Left Bank Books, St. Louis, MO
Barry Moser–Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS
Jack Pendarvis–Square Books, Oxford, MS
Jill McCorkle–Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC
Carrie Ryan–Park Road Books, Charlotte, NC
Laurent Dubois–The Regulator Bookshop, Durham, NC
Lee Smith–Purple Crow Books, Hillsborough, NC
Angela Davis-Gardner–Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh, NC
Ron Rash–City Lights Bookstore, Sylva, NC
Ian Frazier–Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ
Audrey Vernick–Booktowne, Manasquan, NJ
Joan Wickersham–The Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough, NH
Carmela Ciuraru–Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
Matt Weiland–Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
Kate Christensen–WORD, Brooklyn, NY
Mick Cochrane–Talking Leaves Books, Buffalo, NY
Caroline Leavitt–McNally Jackson Books, New York, NY
Arthur Nersesian–St. Mark’s Bookshop, New York, NY
Francine Prose & Pete Hamill–Strand Bookstore, New York, NY
Jeff Smith–Book Loft German Village, Columbus, OH
Chuck Palahniuk–Powell’s Books, Portland, OR
Larry Kane–Chester County Book & Music Company, West Chester, PA
Ann Hood–Island Books, Middletown, RI
Mindy Friddle–Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
Adam Ross–Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN
Douglas Brinkley–Book People, Austin, TX
Terry Tempest Williams–The King’s English Book Shop, Salt Lake City, UT
Howard Frank Mosher–Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, VT
Jon Clinch–Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, VT
Jonathan Evison–Eagle Harbor Book Co., Bainbridge Island, WA
Tom Robbins–Village Books, Bellingham, WA
Timothy Egan–Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
Stephanie Kallos–Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA
Ivan Doig–University Book Store, Seattle, WA
Lesley Kagen–Next Chapter Bookshop, Mequon, WI
Liam Callanan–Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

Though I haven’t read the book yet, I love that the GoodReads synopsis provides readers with the list of contributing authors and bookstores. Since I normally enjoy doing any and everything related to books, I am now determined to keep a Word document of these bookstores on my computer and try to go to as many of them as possible. Since I love traveling so much, I think it would be such a fun adventure to go to the bookshops that seem to be the most interesting (after reading the book, of course). After scanning the list, I can definitely say I haven’t been to any of these bookstores (though I did order Jodi Picoult’s House Rules from Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC before attending one of Jodi’s book signings in March of 2010). Though none of the bookshops sound familiar, I am looking forward to reading about the following writers’ favorite bookshops: Lisa See (author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love), Ann Lamott (author of Bird by Bird), Elin Hilderbrand (author of The Love Season), Ann Patchett (author of Truth & Beauty), and Lesley Kagen (author of Whistling in the Dark).

In my opinion, a novel discussing bookshops that writers love is such a wonderful idea for a book. For writers, as well as all book lovers, bookshops are such a wonderful place to get lost in books and allow ourselves to be completely immersed in a world we love so much. I definitely can’t wait to read this novel! I’ll certainly be reviewing it once I have the chance to read it.

The end of the world from a fiction perspective.

19 Dec

I just finished reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, and the basic focus of the novel, the concept of climate change, connects well with the possible end of the world on Friday, according to the Mayans. Here is the synopsis of the novel, according to GoodReads.com:

“Flight Behavior” transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman’s narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel’s inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith, and everyday truces between reason and conviction.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

“Flight Behavior” takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.

Though Flight Behavior wasn’t one of my favorites by Kingsolver and I often felt like I was trudging through most of the novel, it did provide a fictional account of climate change as well as the possible end of the world. Personally, I do not believe the world is going to end on Friday. I know there are many people who either strongly believe the world will end on Friday, strongly don’t or are simply torn on the subject. In my personal opinion, I just don’t feel there is enough concrete evidence to support the end of the world. Yes, people have tried making connections by stretching the importance of certain events, but in my opinion, all of the sporadic events possibly connected to the prospect of the world ending on Friday just don’t add up to a solid reason.

Despite not believing the world is going to end on Friday, Flight Behavior got me thinking about what I would do if I knew the world was going to end within a matter of days, or even hours. My two necessities would be to tell my friends and family how much I love them, and then I’d spend my last few hours of existence sitting at a scenic overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Though I doubt too many people would be able to fully understand the desire to be alone right before the end of existence, I love the mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway in a way that’s truly hard to describe. I just know that when I am sitting at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I am the happiest I have ever been. The mountains have always been my favorite kind of landscape, and when I have the chance to simply sit and enjoy their beauty, nothing can beat that feeling of true contentment that I feel. In those moments, it’s as if all the troubles of the world melt away, and the only thing that matters is the natural beauty that is right in front of me. In my restorative yoga class, we talk a lot about striving to reach inner peace, which is also related to the Buddhist philosophy. Through meditation exercises in my restorative yoga class, I’ve gotten glimpses of that “inner peace.” And truthfully, if the world was going to end within a matter of days, I’d be perched at an overlook along the Parkway allowing the natural beauty of the mountains to help me find the pure happiness that I know resides somewhere within each one of us.

A Soft Place To Land by Susan Rebecca White.

10 Jun

Since I’ve been reading like crazy lately, I thought I’d post book reviews for the next few days. Two weeks ago I read  A Soft Place To Land by Susan Rebecca White, which was yet another book that I bought at my favorite used bookstore in Asheville, Mr. K’s. Here’s the synopsis of the book (according to Amazon.com):

For more than ten years, Naomi and Phil Harrison enjoyed a marriage of heady romance, tempered only by the needs of their children. But on a vacation alone, the couple perishes in a flight over the Grand Canyon. After the funeral, their daughters, Ruthie and Julia, are shocked by the provisions in their will.

Spanning nearly two decades, the sisters journeys take them from their familiar home in Atlanta to sophisticated bohemian San Francisco, a mountain town in Virginia, the campus of Berkeley, and lofts in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As they heal from loss, search for love, and begin careers, their sisterhood, once an oasis, becomes complicated by resentment, anger, and jealousy. It seems as though the echoes of their parents deaths will never stop reverberating until another shocking accident changes everything once again.

I read A Soft Place To Land soon after reading How To Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward, and even though they were two different books, I am now catching myself getting them confused since it’s been a few weeks since I read them. If asked to choose, I’d say that I enjoyed How To Be Lost more. However, they are 2 different books by 2 different authors, so there’s only a certain amount of comparison that can be done.

More than anything A Soft Place To Land is about sisters and the connection that the sisters have with each other before and after their parents deaths. This book was a quick read for me, which most of the time is a good thing. However, I think at this point I’ve read so many books in the last 2 weeks that the differing plot lines are beginning to mesh together. In my personal opinion though, How To Be Lost was a better read. Feel free to check out my review for How To Be Lost here: https://lifeintheblueridges.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/how-to-be-lost-by-amanda-eyre-ward/

Beyond The Waves by Elizabeth Marek: A Book Review.

6 Jun

During one of my many trips to my favorite used bookstore in Asheville, I came across Beyond The Waves by Elizabeth Marek when looking through the bargain books. After reading the synopsis on the back of the book, it seemed like a book I’d like, but more than that, it seemed like the type of read that I’d pay much more than one dollar for. I’ll take the deals where I can get them though!

Psychologist Abby Cohen is still reeling from the loss of her beloved daughter when another young girl arrives in her life-twelve-year-old Miranda, who appears at Abby’s hospital mute, terrified, and completely alone. In her struggle to connect with this deeply disturbed child and unravel the mystery of her past, Abby must grapple with her own frozen self.

Numbed by grief and on the verge of losing her relationship with both her husband and little boy, Abby finds herself tempted to leave behind what is left of the family she once cherished. But something about Miranda and the bond that has begun to form between them awakens Abby’s capacity to feel, and reminds her of the power-and the limits-of love.

The way the characters of Abby and Miranda came together in order to deal with the demons of their different pasts was moving to me. I was most drawn to the character of Miranda simply because my heart ached for her and the mysterious past that she seemed to be very troubled by. Through much of the book, Miranda was afraid and alone. Though that was heartbreaking for me, it was also a very huge reminder of why I want to be a counselor myself. Psychologist Abby Cohen tries throughout the book to connect to Miranda, despite the fact that Miranda seems very frightened and alone. However, that’s all the more reason that I strive to connect with others. Though my past wasn’t as extreme as it could have been, it wasn’t easy. I spent so many years afraid, in pain, and surrounded by doctors and parents, and yet feeling utterly alone. When I was going through my intense physical therapy and 3 intense surgeries, I wanted someone who understood or at least could be there to remind me that I wasn’t alone through all the pain. Studies show that every person benefits from a strong support system. Though I had support from my parents and other family members, that wasn’t the kind of support I was looking for. Even though at the time there wasn’t a friend who was aching to understand, what I didn’t know at the time was that the support was coming.

My support came during my junior year at Salem Academy when I met my best friend, Skidmore. Skidmore was the very first person I completely opened up to in regards to all the details of my past. Every memory of pain, fear, loneliness….Skidmore knows it. Realizing that I had someone to share everything with was big, but once I began to understand that Skidmore longed to know so that she could understand who I truly was, I practically never stopped talking. I mean, it came out slow (the details of my past), but it felt so good to tell someone. Telling someone about my pain, fear, and loneliness and having them not judge me or feel sorry for me, but just love me….scars and all…that’s what I had been looking for, and I found it. Though I know have other friends who are an equal amount of support, no one knows as much as Skidmore does. Once I said everything single memory in detail once, it seemed like enough. I mean, my other friends know me really well too, but I guess you could say that since Skidmore was the first person who seemed to want to understand me for exactly who I was, that’s what she got: the stories of pain and fear that I carried around for so long without telling anyone. The stories that, though they don’t define me, are the truest form of the difficulties I’ve faced that I can possibly show.

How To Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward.

2 Jun

Since getting into my “pleasure reading mode” of summer, I’ve realized that most of the books that I’ve gathered by frequenting the bargain bins of my favorite used bookstores in Asheville are truly amazing reads! One of these truly amazing reads is How To Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward. It was such a wonderful read, so much so that I couldn’t put it down and ended up finishing it in one day! Here’s a synopsis of the book (according to Amazon.com):

To their neighbors in suburban Holt, New York, the Winters family has it all: a grand home, a trio of radiant daughters, and a sense that they are safe in their affluent corner of America. But when five-year-old Ellie disappears, the fault lines within the Winters family are exposed. Joseph, once a successful businessman, succumbs to his demons. Isabelle retreats into memories of her debutante days in Savannah, Georgia. And Ellie’s bereft sisters grow apart: Madeline reluctantly stays home, while Caroline runs away.

Fifteen years later, Caroline, now a New Orleans cocktail waitress, sees a photograph of a woman in People Magazine. Convinced that it is Ellie all grown up, Caroline embarks on a search for her missing sister, armed with Xerox copies of the photograph, an amateur detective guide, and a cooler of Dixie beer. As Caroline travels through the New Mexico desert, the mountains of Colorado, and the smoky underworld of Montana, she devotes herself to salvaging her broken family.

With dark humor and gorgeous prose, Amanda Eyre Ward brings us a spellbinding novel about the stories we are given, and the stories we embrace.

How To Be Lost is not the first novel I’ve read about a family member that goes missing. Other books in this category that I’ve read are Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah and The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf (both of which were absolutely amazing reads!). Since I apparently am drawn to novels that portray a missing child, How To Be Lost didn’t disappoint.

I was drawn to the character of Caroline because of her drive and determination to search for a sister that she believed to still be alive, even though fifteen years have passed. Even though Caroline’s determination stemmed from the fact that Ellie was her sister and finding her would mean having her family “put back together” in a sense, her drive to find a sister that the rest of her family believed to be dead already is something that I really admired. I think it remains me of the advice to never give up when it comes to something that we truly believe to be true, even if there is no one standing beside us that holds the same view. It reminds me of a quote that I read once:

Stand up for what you believe in, even if you’re standing alone.

I think the reminder of standing up for what we believe in, even if we’re standing alone is something that each one of us needs to hear from time to time, and How To Be Lost was just that reminder. That being said, I highly recommend this book, as well as Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah and The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf. They are all just SO amazing! Go read them!

A Nicholas Sparks Book: The Perfect Beach Read.

26 May

When I was in Florida, I vowed to read one Nicholas Sparks novel. I’m a fan of Nicholas Sparks’ books (even though they have pretty much the same plot line). However, they are the perfect beach reads, and sometimes a light, cute romance is just what I need.

I settled on The Choice by Nicholas Sparks. Surprisingly, I wasn’t a fan of the last third of the book since it just felt so unrealistic. Granted, I know that all of Nicholas Sparks’ books are usually pretty unrealistic as it is. It’s why his books make perfect movies….because they portray the kind of true love that we all want but few ever find. However, that being said, either way I’m a fan of reading love stories. I have lots of Nicholas Sparks books on my bookshelves, and 95% of my movies are romances. Yeah, yeah, I know. I just can’t help it.

Anyway, here’s the summary of The Choice (according to Amazon.com):

Travis Parker has everything a man could want: a good job, loyal friends, even a waterfront home in small-town North Carolina. In full pursuit of the good life– boating, swimming, and regular barbecues with his good-natured buddies–he holds the vague conviction that a serious relationship with a woman would only cramp his style. That is, until Gabby Holland moves in next door. Despite his attempts to be neighborly, the appealing redhead seems to have a chip on her shoulder about him…and the presence of her longtime boyfriend doesn’t help. Despite himself, Travis can’t stop trying to ingratiate himself with his new neighbor, and his persistent efforts lead them both to the doorstep of a journey that neither could have foreseen. Spanning the eventful years of young love, marriage and family, THE CHOICE ultimately confronts us with the most heart wrenching question of all: how far would you go to keep the hope of love alive?

As I said, I enjoyed the first 2 parts of this book. I always love reading how Nicholas Sparks writes the beginnings of love. Though often it feels “too good to be true,” I’d be lying if I didn’t sit and smile at the scenes that are just so cute. I mean yes, I don’t doubt that most almost-20 year olds would tell you that they wished they could have a love like the stories of love in Nicholas Sparks books. Who wouldn’t want that? Though Sparks’ book do hold a certain level of unrealistic tendencies, there is a reason why Nicholas Sparks is a New York Times Bestselling author. Women love reading about love stories. That’s a fact (well, for most women anyway). Though they may seem unrealistic, the stories are also cute, popular, and great stories to lose yourself in when you’re sitting on the beach with your toes in the sand.

So what is YOUR perfect beach read?