Friday, January 10, 2014

The Peach Keeper Post

Please don't hate me for my failure to imagine a more witty title to this post. As I mentioned yesterday, I need to stop over-thinking and start posting, so for now this title will have to suffice. 

On to the book!

The Peach Keeper popped up on my Kindle over a year ago. It was a purchase by dear old mum, and while initially I wasn't that intrigued, I can attest that Allen's book is a real gem. Perhaps it's a pitfall of buying books directly through the Kindle (the non-color version) but I didn't have a clue what the book was about and there wasn't a pretty cover to spark my interest either. Which I guess goes to show you can never judge a book by its cover if it doesn't have one.

Peach Keeper tells the story of two thirty-year-old women, Paxton and Willa, who grow to become great friends by the story's end. Set in the town of Walls of Water, N.C., the area is picturesque in size - quaint and historic to outsiders, but constricting to its native residents because of the gossipy, pack-like mentality of the inhabitants. Paxton, the seemingly perfect daughter of a socialite, struggles through planning the anniversary gala of the local women's club, with plenty of pressure from her overbearing mother. Despite growing up in town, Willa always felt displaced, an outcast. Though some of her feelings are somewhat self-imposed, her feelings of discontent allowed her to blossom in adulthood and take ownership of her life after the death of her father. 

When the gala brings the two together, both Paxton and Willa begin to realize the importance and necessity of true, unfiltered, unwavering friendship. Both characters also form romantic relationships within the book, and while those are enriching for both girls, Allen allows their friendship to take center stage. What comes to pass over the course of the book can only be described as awesome. Both women find the strength in themselves and each other to learn more about their grandmother's shared past and use the new-found knowledge to change the course of the women's club for the better. 

Alongside the two central characters are some quirky supporting characters - Willa's shop girl, Paxton's brother, and Paxton's friend Sebastian. And despite being confined to a nursing home, the grandmothers provide some much needed wisdom for both the girls. I'm sure the story could have benefited from more description about the town, but when the heart of the story is friendship it's important for readers to believe it could take place in any old small town.

I just re-read this book last week (for the purposes of this post) and must say it was like welcoming back an old friend. The Peach Keeper has earned a spot on my list of go-to female friendship books.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Who Doesn't Love a Little Honesty?


Truth be told, I haven't written about a single book on this blog since December 4th. That's just over a month, and while I could blame it on the Holidays, the fact is I grew a little weary. I've certainly been reading over the past month, don't mistake me. But writing about it has proven a bit of a struggle. I'm not sure if I was pressuring myself too much to write great, earth-shattering content or if I was trying to hit that magic "publish" button so often I grew burnt out. Hopefully over the next few months I'll find a good rhythm to fit both my schedule and my reading habits.

So in the interest of honesty and fresh starts (aren't those the rage this time of year?), I'm going to re-dedicate myself to this here blog. Work has been rather stressful lately and I find myself growing unsatisfied. My hope is that by re-committing myself to writing and reading with more intention my attitude about work will perk up and all will be well.

And after all of that, here are some goals for the new year of reading:

1. Finish Anna Karenina. Seriously, self, get on that already. 
2. Read Treasure Island, if only so my husband will get off his high horse about it.
3.  Re-read The Chronicles of Narnia. While channel surfing this weekend I noticed one of the movies on t.v. and realized it's been ages since I read these classics. 
4. Try to use the library more. Maybe getting my Kindle set up for e-borrowing will help.
5. Branch out. Try to read things I wouldn't normally pick, like non-fiction or science fiction. 
6. Read more, learn more. 

*while I am aware that six goals seems like a silly number, who cares? They're just goals. I don't believe in trying to add more just to hit ten or subtracting one to get a "nice neat five."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Silver's "One Pink Line" Deserves Plenty of Stars

I've already mentioned (over and over) how much I love the Kindle because it helps me discover new books. Several years ago, when I helped dear-old-dad buy Mom a Kindle I wasn't sure how she'd feel about the ad version, but she loves it. It's helped both of us discover new authors, Dina Silver being one of them.

I found One Pink Line via a Kindle ad and promptly downloaded the free preview. Within two pages I was hooked, impatiently waiting to download the rest (I wasn't linked to a wi-fi network at the time). I would never have guess this was Silver's first novel. The writing is tight, the story and characters engaging, and the ending beyond satisfying. Well, I guess it might not be the first book she's ever written, but it's her first published novel. 

Silver's two main characters, Sydney and Grace, are mother and daughter narrating from two different spaces. Sydney from her youth and journey to motherhood, and Grace from the midst of teenage angst, trying to understand herself. Throughout Sydney's journey she remains likable, despite her stumbles. When Sydney encounters roadblocks and hardship, she puts on her big girl pants and powers through life. In the same way that I related the Julie in Flat Out Love I could relate to Sydney (minus the unplanned pregnancy). Even though Sydney's story takes place in the early nineties, Grace and her millennial struggles bring the book to the forefront of my memories from adolescence. Though Grace's story is not a huge part of the novel, her discovery of Sydney's past operates as a vehicle for the reader.

But Silver's best character is Ethan. Sydney meets Ethan at a high school graduation party in the novel's first chapter, and it is their relationship which is the most fulfilling. Ethan's unconditional and constant love for Sydney puts many other literary heroes to shame. Ethan, as well as the whole book, turned out to be so surprising. Immediately upon meeting him, and then his seemingly snooty family, I expected Ethan to turn in to a typical college boy and leave Sydney heartbroken at the end of their first summer together. But unlike other books about the young adult experience (cough, Prep, cough), One Pink Line set up a heroic male character in an unexpected setting. His steadfastness and pure heart provided a wonderful depth to Dina's story. 

Dina Silver's novel makes for a quick, hearty read. I don't want the word "quick" to undercut the beauty of this book. There are few, if any, things I find lacking. The supporting characters who flesh out Sydney's family and friends are well-developed and warm. No plot point seems extraneous and the ending, while not totally unexpected, maintains a magic to it that makes me re-read the final chapter. 

p.s. In Flat Out Love news: Jessica Park published a novella, entitled Flat Out Matt that occurs simultaneous to the original, only this time from Matt's perspective. If only Christmas weren't right around the corner . . . Mom? Are you reading this?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Fairs & Reading Young

It's fall and if you're anything like me this weather makes you nostalgic for book fairs. I work at a small college with a big education program - meaning they host a book fair every year for their students and professors to stock up on children's books. When I was in elementary school, Book Fair week was the highlight of the school year. I can recall begging my parents for money the first day those shiny silver cases popped up in the school lobby. 

As a small child books thrilled me to no end - I have always loved reading - and yet I cannot tell you why. I just can't recall a time when I would have preferred another activity. Since getting married a few months ago and recently becoming an aunt I've begun to wonder what it is that made me like reading so much. My younger brothers certainly don't have a passion for it, and yet we came from the same two parents. Perhaps it's because I am female, making me less inclined to play video games, but I know plenty of women who like neither activity. And I also know men who like to read, just not my brothers. 

I wish I knew, because I want to impart a love of reading on my future children. In the past I never quite realized the magnitude of reading and writing as skills, perhaps because I've always loved both. I read as often as I brush my teeth (twice a day, sometimes three). I also struggle to figure out why people don't like to read. I can certainly see why you'd dislike a particular genre, but there are so many options! Traditional fiction, science fiction, fantasy, history, biography, children's, mystery, horror, romance . . . everyone should be able to find something they love.

Does anyone out there have some advice or perspective on young readers? How do you instill a love of reading when our culture is so full of other distractions and activities, many of which are not "exciting" to children? Perhaps I should work on a list of favorite children's books, maybe then I can squirrel it away for the future. 

p.s. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Effects of One Moment

After finishing Gone Girl I was ready for something light and happy. So I read Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos. It was a great book, and I will certainly read de los Santos again, but I read it within a few days and needed something else. Enter The Art of Fielding one of the books I bought a few weeks ago on my trip to Barnes & Noble. 

Despite being an excellent book, it wasn't exactly the pick me up I needed. While Chad Harbach's debut novel had an interesting hook: the impact one moment can have on the lives of many, I found myself wishing for a more hopeful ending. This is a character driven novel versus a plot driven story, and while I appreciate that method of story-telling, I can't come away saying I liked it. 

That being said, Fielding was packed with realistic and poignant characters. There was no antagonist, so every character was fighting against their own past and self-doubt. Each of the five principal characters narrate their own story following a young college short-stops catastrophic throw to first base. Henry, the short stop in question, begins as a naive high school student and transforms into a sure-footed potential major league draft pick, but he disintegrates into a shadow of himself. Not through want of trying, Henry struggles to overcome the psychological effects of expectation and pressure.

Henry's mentor, Mike Schwartz, must come to terms with his own failings and future - both of which are uncertain at the novels' beginning. Pella, the formerly estranged daughter of the college's president, stumbles in to Mike's life and together they form new paths. Despite being happy for Pella's return, President Affenlight is embroiled in a tumultuous relationship with student - a student who just happens to be Henry's roommate. The five characters, while their journeys are most certainly intertwined, fail at first to recognize the linkage between themselves. Once they realize the ripple effect of their actions are inescapable, the ending seems rather fortuitous. 

Please don't take this to mean I wouldn't recommend this book. Quite the contrary. I simply think I may have read it at the wrong time. In my desperation to perk up after the seriously frightening and somewhat depressing Gone Girl, Harbach's book was poor choice. It will certainly remain on my shelf though, just waiting for another chance to make a better impression. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

So Much to Read, So Little Time

Well over a year ago I noticed a headline on Entertainment Weekly indicating a new movie was in production called Winter's Tale. At the time, I believed this was to be a film version of the Shakespeare play, The Winter's Tale . Well, apparently I was fifty shades of wrong. The trailer was released and Shakespeare it is not. Everything about this trailer looks amazingly, stupendously magical - from the cast to the filmography to the costumes. 

And while it's not the work of Bill, turns out the movie is based on a novel of the same name. Which sort of leads me to the point of this post. Mark Helprin published this in 1983. I don't even think my parents had met in 1983, let alone had children, so clearly this book was written and published before I ever set foot on this planet. And certainly before I learned how to read. But the description of Winter's Tale is right up my alley - romance, historical setting, a time traveling magical twist - and I've never even heard of it! There seems to be a period time of from which I've never read. Sure, I've read many American classics taught in high school and college, but apparently the 1980's and 90's are lost on me. 

So now I feel like I have some catching up to do. Until now I'd consider myself relatively well read. At the moment I am reading The Art of Fielding, which was only published two years ago, and I'm still plodding through Anna Karenina. I try to read a variety of genres, but this discovery has me reeling. How can I hope to even make a dent in the world's library? Most of the books are my to-read list are old classics or recent publications. Almost none of the books are from the past thirty years. While I don't honestly entertain the notion that upon my death I will have read every book known to man, I was thinking I could at least make it 50% through, right? That's totally reasonable, isn't it?

Okay, probably not.

It seems I am in need of some education. A quick Google search for"great books from the past 30 years" took me to this site. Funny thing about it - even a quick glance will tell you that many of these books were made in to films (just like Winter's Tale. Does Hollywood produce anything original anymore?) making the titles familiar, but the book a new concept. So don't mind me while I sit here, scouring the internet for not-new new books to read. And if anyone out there has suggestion for good adult literature from say, 1980 to 2000, let 'er rip! I'll just be sitting here adding things to my Goodreads shelf.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Bloggers I Love (Or, My Imaginary BFF's)

I've been reading blogs for almost three years now. A lot of blogs. I can't clearly remember how I found my first one, but from one blog you find another and another and another. At the time I had just moved from Pennsylvania to Missouri and I had a few (okay, no) friends in the area. While this list is by no means comprehensive, these bloggers helped me through some friendless times and maybe they can do the same for you!

The Pioneer Woman: In a word, yum. The Pioneer Woman is written by Ree Drummond, a rancher's wife and mother of four chronicling her life in the country and all the deliciousness her kitchen creates. Ree's recipes are easy to follow an include great pantry staples. Over the years her photography has gone from great to stellar (sometimes I want to lick my computer screen). She's been blogging for a long time now and just published her third cookbook, which I highly recommend! I'm sure everyone on the planet has heard of her by now, I mean, she has a TV show on the Food Network, but I just have to recommend her because she's my favorite and my first.

The Lettered Cottage: Layla and Kevin Palmer have an awesome home-decorating blog sprinkled with moving and motivational Christian musings. They have a great mix of country and modern esthetics that I cannot wait to implement in my own home one day. They have recently begun writing about their adoption process and it has produced some top-notch posts on the subject. 

Young House Love: I found these two through TLC. One of my favorite blogs, YHL consists of John & Sherry Petersik, a married couple in Virginia who just began work on their third fixer-upper. They write with refreshing enthusiasm and honesty about their home decorating. Their projects range from cheap crafts to full room remodels. Their determination and stamina for home improvement is infectious, I cannot wait to buy a home of my own and go crazy. John & Sherry also provide very detailed tips and tricks on their projects. Often there are video tutorials or step-by-step instructions. All of their home stuff is made ever more delightful by the presence of their chihuahua Burger and their three-year-old daughter Clara.

Bower Power Blog: Written by the real-life best friend of Sherry Petersik, Katie Bower's blog is similar to YHL, but includes more lifestyle and motherhood content. Katie's open heart and honest approach about the messiness of DIY and parenthood makes her blog a must-read for me. I love her goofy sense of humor and her attitude about her kids. Reading her blog makes me want to move to Georgia just so we can be friends. 

A Practical Wedding: I stumbled upon this blog when I was in the thick of wedding planning and oh, how I wish I had found it sooner! Even five months after my own wedding I'm still checking in daily to see what Meg and her crew have come up with. APW is so much more than a wedding planning blog. The content is female driven with writing about partnership, family, career . . . the list goes on. APW has a very active reader community and the comments section is a great way to make internet friends - some of the readers even began "real life" happy hours.

The Small Things Blog: All things makeup, beauty, and hair! Kate is a professional hair stylist and her blog includes great hair tutorials and videos, product reviews, makeup tips and so much more. Kate reviews and large range of products - which I love! Most items are accessible to the average woman and she is open and honest about her opinion. Kate also has a great sense of style and often includes outfit posts and jewelry. She announced her pregnancy this summer and it has been so fun to see her wardrobe transform without losing a bit of style.

There are a few other blogs I read daily, but these are most certainly my favorites. If you have a good blog recommendation, please pass it along!