Remember Me Always

Remember Me AlwaysRemember Me Always by Renee Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

Shelby is nervous to start her senior year after spending the whole summer away from home. After all, it’s hard to be carefree when you’re trying to protect a secret.

Shelby was in a devastating car accident, and everyone in town thinks that she was undergoing more physical therapy in Denver. Instead, Shelby’s mother enrolled her in a clinical program to stop the panic attacks that started after the crash. The treatment erased Shelby’s memory of the accident, but she can’t help feeling as if a piece of herself is missing, that the treatment took more than the doctors claimed.

So when Shelby starts hallucinating a boy with dark and mysterious eyes, she knows it must be a side-effect of the clinical program. Except you can’t kiss hallucinations. And this boy insists that they know each other and are in love…

My Review

This was the perfect read for me. After finishing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein I was looking for something modern and a little less heavy. A good YA romance was just the ticket.

Remember Me Always fits in the YA romance genre perfectly, but it still has a uniqueness in the plot. The idea of technology that can erase traumatic memories was interesting and believable in the presentation. I was drawn in immediately by the mystery surrounding the need for the memory treatment as well as by the intrigue of how it was all going to work out. The writing is easy to read and follow, but with engaging character voice and smart use of language and sentence structure.

I would say that the ending doesn’t fit a traditional “happily ever after” format, but I appreciated it. I was glad to see characters acknowledge their young age and how that should be considered along with feelings of love or passion.

The author lives in a town where I lived for about 4 years and I loved seeing bits and pieces of the town show up in the book’s fictional setting. There were names of people and streets that I recognized. Some of the descriptions of fictional Orchardview brought to mind so clearly places in the real Colorado town.

The book drew me in quickly and was entertaining all the way through  to the end.

Age Recommendation: I think the character’s motivations and the events of the book would be best understood by ages 14 and older.  A 12 year old mature reader would likely enjoy the book as well.

Appropriateness: There is some trauma relating to Shelby’s accident, but descriptions aren’t graphic. There is kissing and physical aspects of a romantic relationship but no specific descriptions or anything that would inappropriate for most YA readers.

Other Book Recommendations: Other books like Remember Me Always include Until We Meet Again also by Renee Collins, Safe House by Shannon Symonds, The Unicorn Hunter by Rachel Kirkaldie, The Selection Series by Kiera Cass, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle, Armageddon Summer by Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares.

 

From Dark to Light

From Dark to LightFrom Dark to Light by Isabella Murphy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary

Readers meet Pumpker, a little boy pumpkin, when he is just a slim white seed being planted along with his sisters.  Follow his journey of hopes and dreams as he grows to a pumpkin.

My Review

My favorite part of this book was the illustrations. They capture the whimsy of a pumpkin longing for a place to belong and to bring happiness to the world while also capturing the color and feel of autumn and the childhood excitement of Halloween.

The idea of this book is very cute. I was interested in seeing how a young 5th grade author would personify a pumpkin and portray his “life’s journey.” I was impressed by the author’s descriptive writing. However, there were too many words on each page for a picture book. Even as an adult I felt bogged down, so I think young readers will find it difficult to get through the words on each page.

Even with all of the words I didn’t feel completely satisfied in the little pumpkin’s journey. I couldn’t really latch on to a theme or purpose for the story. There wasn’t any one element that tied the stages of development of this pumpkin together so it felt too random. The pumpkin’s character traits weren’t consistent, so the story lacked cohesiveness for me. But the author is young; I have no doubt that with time and more writing she will gain more skill in story building and fleshing out plots and characters. She already possesses a true talent with words so I look forward to seeing more work from her in the future.

While I don’t think young readers will necessarily enjoy this story as much reading it on their own, I do think it has great value as a read-aloud and could be used in so many ways in an elementary school classroom. As a read-aloud you could easily skip some of the overlong text and summarize more quickly the main idea. The illustrations will definitely be able to keep children’s interest.

In the classroom I would love to use this book as an introduction to a creative writing assignment in which students would be required to personify an inanimate object, or to write from a unique perspective. The pumpkin’s journey to find his purpose in life would be a great way to get students’ creative juices flowing.

You could take it a step further even and add a social studies or science correlation. From Dark to Light provides a basic and entertaining view of the stages in seed growth. It also gives some material for the study of communities, occupations, and goods and services. You have the farmer who plants the seed, takes care of and grows the plant, then the consumer who buys and uses it. It would be valuable to read this book and then have students come up with their own story about the stages in seed growth about another type of plant. Or, they could take some other product and write a story to show how it is produced and then used in a community.

With Halloween just around the corner, the most obvious use of this book would be just pure fun and getting kids excited about holiday traditions. From Dark to Light definitely got me thinking about just how I want to carve the perfectly orange pumpkin currently sitting on my front porch.

Age Recommendation: This book is written for young readers and I think ages 3-8 would enjoy it most. However, because there are so many words on each page there may need to be some editing and summarizing to make it more in sync with their attention spans.

Appropriateness: Perfectly clean book with a feel-good ending.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in From Dark to Light then you might also enjoy Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman, The Biggest, Best Snowman by Margery Cuyler, Zombelina by Kristyn Crow, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, and Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner.

Safe House

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Safe House

Safe House by Shannon Symonds

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

As a victim’s advocate, Grace James is used to rushing into trouble to save her victims from abuse or assault. And with a handsome officer like Joe Hart at her side, Grace is sure there’s nothing she can’t do. But an ominous storm brewing on the Oregon horizon is about to change everything—and bring with it dangers and revelations Grace and Joe never expected.

Excerpt from the book

Grace drove up the winding road, high among large new homes. They sat along the edge of the lush Oregon forest on the Pacific Coast Range Mountains. She didn’t have to look too hard for the address. An ambulance and two lit up police cars, lights silently rotating, marked the last home at the top of the steep road. Light spilled from every window and the open front door. Ancient pines and a dark old growth forest swayed in the wind behind the house. On the front porch a woman was arguing with a medic, holding a bloody rag to her face…

…Making her way to the house, she walked between patrol cars and crossed the lawn. The ambulance driver had a clipboard and was trying to explain to Emily, the victim, that she needed to sign a waiver stating she was refusing services. Ignoring the ambulance driver and looking at Officer Hart, Emily was speaking and gesturing rapidly, demanding they leave her alone.

The officer she was spitting mad at was young and good-looking. Grace didn’t know how anyone could yell at Hart. His name was absolutely appropriate. Seeing Grace, he half-smiled, showing dimples, looking grateful for the interruption.

Flashing her own half-grin, her color rose. Looking down, she hoped he hadn’t noticed.

PROMO-she cradled her lost dream deep in her heart
My Review

I connected with this book. It reeled me in and kept me there with an intense and fast-moving plot. The emotional intensity was a unique aspect of this book for me. I had never read a book addressing domestic violence and abuse, and I found myself incapable of putting it down because I just couldn’t leave these characters in the unjust and demoralizing circumstances.

In addition to the captivating and entertaining plot, Safe House was an educational experience. Part of what was both enthralling and alarming as I read was knowing that the author has personal experience as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and abuse, so I could count on there being truth to the events and to the actions and reactions of the characters. I came away with better understanding of what victims are faced with and the complexity of their difficulties. I gained greater sympathy for their suffering, and more respect for their strength. The picture presented of victims and abusers led me to wonder who of my family and friends could silently be experiencing such heartache. I appreciated the subtle revelations of the abusers’ pasts that explain a lot of why they act in violence and abuse. It doesn’t justify or minimize the atrociousness of their actions, but it is enlightening to see what influenced them.

I also felt gratitude for those like the character Grace and like the author who sacrifice their time and comfort to help these victims. I was motivated to want to help too, even if it’s just by helping others gain the same understanding that Safe House brought me.

PROMO-they called her a victim but she was a survivor

While the subject matter is serious, difficult, and true to life, I also connected with the uplifting nature of the book. It’s not just about abuse and pain. It’s a story of healing, particularly healing with the help of family, friends, and professionals. Most importantly and most effectively, our Savior and Redeemer is part of the healing process. I thank my Heavenly Father that I don’t experience domestic violence or abuse, but I certainly have my own difficulties at times, and I use the same resources for help and healing. I felt like the author gave me an intimate look at a truly sacred process, one that is part of her reality as an advocate, so I felt I got a close look into her mind and heart as well. What I saw was so good, kind, and courageous. It was a privilege to work with her and get to know her better, particularly as she took the time to answer some interview questions. Check out my interview with her here.

I was also drawn in by the book’s setting. We recently moved to the Seattle area, so a book set in the Pacific Northwest was intriguing. Then we actually got to visit the area where the book takes place while was right in the middle of reading. Shannon Symond’s descriptions of the Seaside, Oregon area painted pictures of majestic and peaceful beauty. When I saw it all with my own eyes my thought was that she nailed the descriptions. See my trip report here to read more details about visiting the setting of Safe House.

I was emotionally and personally invested in the book, but I do have to say that intellectually the ending was not completely satisfying. Throughout the book you see some of the residents in a small coastal town become connected through good, bad, and ugly. They face an ultimate test at the end when mother nature adds her ferocity to their struggles; as a result, they become more closely connected. However, after it was all over I felt like I didn’t get enough insight into how the storm really affected or changed them or their relationships. I would have liked to be given a glimpse of them all a month or two down the road to really see what lasting effect the events and their connections had. The end climax didn’t have much meaning for me other than just excitement without more of an epilogue.

I wanted more time to celebrate with these characters I had come to care about. I felt I had come to know them as victims and also in the thick of the turning point. I wanted to be able to see them down the path of change a bit further.

PROMO-sometimes he answers our prayers with a storm

I especially felt there was a lot missing from Grace’s, the advocate, story. I was curious about her past that was really only hinted at. I expected when I started the book to read more about her than I did. But as I got further into the book I realized that it made sense that Grace’s story took more of a backseat to the other characters. While Grace is such an influential character, her job is to play a supporting role. I think her full story is probably the most interesting of all, but the book isn’t really about her except for her role as an advocate, just as a real domestic violence situation would not be about the advocate, no matter how heroic they are. It’s really about the victim(s) and making them safe. That oh-so-important-but-behind-the-scenes role of an advocate is clear through the character focuses in the book.

I was so happy to find out in my interview with Shannon Symonds that she has plans for another book with these characters!

There were a few small bumps in character development. There were a few times I was distracted from the story as I pondered whether a character’s actions or thoughts made sense based on my feel for them, but it was the excitement, uplifting experience, and learning opportunities of Safe House that shined forth to make it a good read.

Age Recommendation: With the adult subject matter I recommend this book for 17 and older.

Appropriateness: Domestic violence and sexual abuse are the main conflicts in the book so there is depiction of these horrid crimes. However, it’s all described tastefully without too much gore or graphic detail. But it is enough to evoke an emotional response. The message of overcoming such terrors makes the book a positive and happy one.

Book Club Suggestions: Safe House would provide great discussion material for a book club. Discussion topics could include
1. If you were put in a position where you were suddenly on your own to support yourself and family how would you do it? Would you be prepared right now?
2. What stigmas have you heard attributed to victims of domestic violence? Has your opinion changed at all after reading the book?
3. How would you deal with a job as stressful and emotional as Grace’s? What would you do to keep your work from taking over?
4. What support do you turn to in your times of need?
5. What do you think the future holds for these characters?
6. Do you feel any sympathy for the abusers? Why or Why not?

Other book recommendations: If you are interested in Safe House then you might also like Charly by Jack Weyland, Jennie by Susan Evans McCloud, Cash Valley by Ryan K. Nelson, Eruption and Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana, Until We Meet Again by Renee Collins, An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock, So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins, My Story by Elizabeth Smart, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner.

Author Interview – Shannon Symonds

SYMONDS ShannonCOVER Safe House I have felt so privileged to not only be introduced to the inspiring story and ideas in Safe House, but to also get to know the author, Shannon Symonds a little. She has been open and fun to work with. When I told her I would be visiting near Seaside, Oregon she was excited and kind enough to give me the 411 on all of the best places to go and best things to do .

She also took the time to answer some questions that I had after reading Safe House. Her words just give me more respect and admiration for the work that she does and for the person she is.  I could tell through the book that the events and message were something she truly knew about through experience, which makes the book so much more powerful and informative. The details that I learned through my interview with her help me appreciate her writing all the more. I hope you enjoy getting to know her a little better too. Check out the interview below and then check out Safe House. 

1. Do you plan to write any more books? Could there possibly be more to Grace’s story? (I’d read it!)

Thank you for asking! I would love you to review it.

I planned another story as I was writing this one. It has been taking shape for a while now. I have a working outline and can’t wait to get started! This autumn when the rain starts falling, it will be me, a fire in the fireplace and “Insert surprise name here.”

The next book will be in the same location, same characters with some new friends.

2. It really stood out to me in the book how all of the characters needed family and friends to help and support them.  Even Grace couldn’t do her work as an advocate without the help of her mom, siblings, and children. Do you find that same level of support is necessary for you to fulfill your work? Who has been a source of help for you?

I think this is a wonderful question! Connection is an important part of healing. I have been blessed with the gift of family and I would not be who I am today without my massive, loving extended family.

On one of the hardest days of my life, I chose to take my 5 children and leave my first marriage. I left home in a VW Van with a hundred dollars to my name. I remember pulling over to the side of the road, wondering if we would end up sleeping in the van or if my mother would let me come home. It was one of the toughest phone calls of my life.

Even though my mother was caring for her father and still had children at home, she answered my call and welcomed me home with open arms. I wasn’t there long, but I was grateful. Although I don’t share the reasons I left, I tell everyone I know how thankful I am for the support of my family.

Later, when I remarried we bought a house a block from the beach in our happy place, Seaside, Oregon. It was built in 1896 as a store with an attached residence. The store was large and empty. I offered the space to my parents who built an adorable in-law apartment in it, complete with a loft. Dad was a teacher and they spent summers with us in the house we all lovingly refer to as, “The Old Store.”

Our lives were very much like Grace and Mable’s. My husband did shift work for many years. When I had a crisis call, night or day, if he wasn’t here, they were my backup crew.

My parents have a 50 plus year marriage that reminds me happy endings are not only possible but a worthy goal. Their strength and gusto for life have been an example to me. My mother turns 80 this year. A few weeks ago she was outside painting our house in the summer sun.

One of the major red flags for an abusive relationship is isolation. Abusers go to great lengths to break connections survivors have with family and friends. This process can involve everything from checking all the survivor’s texts to moving them away from their support system.

On the other hand, we all thrive with connection and a sense of safety.. If you have a friend or family member In an abusive relationship, be there for them. Asking for help is often the first step to recovery and the hardest thing a survivor may have to do.

3. The setting is a driving force in the climax of the book and also an important part of the tone. I connected with it not only because I’m a newbie to the Pacific Northwest, but also because your love for the area shines through in the descriptions and detail. Any reader is going to want to see the beauties you describe if they haven’t already. What do you love most about where you live?

What I love most about living in the Pacific Northwest is the rugged beauty at every turn, rain or shine, and all the delicious fresh fish.

I am an outside girl. I have been known to take my laptop and hotspot to the oddest places. I love being able to walk out my front door and in a block hit the sand for a run or walk every day. When life is right, we spend Saturdays outside. Within 30 minutes of the house we can hike, kayak, spend a day on the sand or build a bonfire on the beach.

I found a new love later in life, fishing. Fishing is an excuse to get on a 40-foot boat, with an all-important bathroom, and spend the day on the ocean. We also crab and clam. There is nothing better in my world than catching my favorite food. Vegans… I apologize.


4. The location also is a “trap” for some of the characters and certainly becomes a problem for everyone near the end. Have you ever felt that way about your Oregon coast home? What’s the worst part of living there?

The worst part of living here is also the thing that can trap us here, and make living here wonderful. It is the weather. However, being a Coastie, I love the things that make other people crazy.  

For example, almost annually it rains enough that the only road in and out of the county flood both North and South. Locals learn quickly to read tide tables and gauge their travel during low tide, or when the water on the road is only a few inches deep. However, most of us have a secret love of driving through large puddles and have been known to post embarrassing FaceBook videos of our drive with hysterical laughter in the background.

The Pacific Northwest is supposed to be known for its mild weather, however periodically it snows and when it does, life comes to a halt. People in the Midwest may be driving through blizzards, but if there is a light dusting we call it a snow day and stay home to play. I love that! However, The mountains between the coast and major cities become deadly ice-skating rinks and we are definitely trapped, or stay home if we are wise.

When the wind is blowing sixty miles an hour in the winter, we don’t notice. When the wind is blowing  80 to a 100, it is a gale. But when it tops 100 sustained, our lights go out. Snow and ice also bring power outages. Every year or so we have a wind, ice-storm or snow storm and lose power for a day or five days, depending on the damage. But we are prepared! We have oil lamps, a fireplace, and stacks of books.

5. Have you ever experienced anything that comes close to the disasters at the end of the book?

Yes! Everything in the book, as far as the weather and storm, come from my experience or stories my friends told following the first hurricane north of the 45th parallel in 2007. It hit Seaside head on and cut us off from power, phones, and civilization for days.

image1

Three powerful storms came together to form one giant swirling hurricane that lasted well over 24-hours. Winds in seaside were clocked at over 129 mph.

I worked in our church women’s organization. Our little church spent days with chain saws cleaning up fallen trees, helping with animals and the elderly in our area. I was the only one with hot water and a working old fashioned telephone. People lined up to use our shower and a neighbor brought her dishes over in a wagon to wash them.

As life threatening as the storm felt, I experienced it as an affirmation of what a wonderful town and church I belonged to. Everyone pulled together, and even though we were without power, we were smiling.

6. You and Grace are similar in your work and in where you live. Do you share other similarities with Grace? Is there a character you relate to most?

Grace is probably a lot like I was at Grace’s age. Grace and I share similar hair issues. I have however, discovered something called a Brazilian Blowout and a hair straightener. Every day I beat my hair into submission and regularly the Oregon rain wets it down and the kinks and curls come back.

Her work is patterned after a job I did for 15 years, and continue to do part time. The major difference is in our area the domestic and sexual assault advocates work out of a small non-profit. There is no fancy office on the river  or nice furniture. There is a lot of shabby sheik thrift store furniture in an office without heat in the winter and without air in the summer. The other difference is Grace gets to focus on one job. In small non-profits, you fix the toilet, lead the support group, clean the shelter, meet with survivors and go home to take a call shift. I am proud to say, we made every dollar count!


7. Your book definitely helped me see aspects of domestic abuse that I had not considered before.  I understand better how it is something that has the potential to affect anyone in any walk of life. It makes me think I may know more people than I think who have to deal with this terror in their lives.  How can I help people in my life who may be victims of domestic or sexual abuse? Are their warning signs we can look for in our own relationships and in helping the people we care about?

1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some sort of violence in their relationships, so there is a better than good chance you know someone, are related to someone or have had at least one experience with domestic abuse. Shame is just one of the things keeping us from talking to each other, and secrets perpetuate the abuse.

One of the best ways to help survivors is to trust they know their story and what they need better than anyone else. I keep the National Domestic Violence Hotline number (800-799-7233) on my blog. You can call them to ask questions about what you’re seeing, concerns about friends or your own relationships. You can also give their number to a survivor. But be careful. The abuser may be monitoring their texts and calls. I usually write down Mary Kay or something similar and the number on paper.

Some of the signs someone is in an abusive relationship include:
Controlling behavior. Everything from checking texts to controlling how a survivor spends money or who they talk to
Jealousy. Abusers may control who talks to a survivor or make their life miserable if they receive attention. Survivors sometimes change the way they dress or behave to avoid unwanted attention they know will upset the abuser.
Isolation. Abusers may sabotage family relationships, jobs and friendships until the survivor is isolated. They may tell the victim not to hang out with friends because they are bad for them, or they may even push the survivor to move far away.
Verbal/Emotional abuse. Survivors usually tell me the verbal and emotional abuse is worse than the physical. Bruises heal, but they have a hard time forgetting the threats and put downs.

When you begin dating and you wonder if someone may or may not be abusive, there are a few red flags or signs of potential abuse you can look for.
Quick involvement. Pushing you for a commitment and asking you not to talk to friends or family.
Jealousy. This can feel flattering at first, but it is actually a red flag for someone who may become increasingly controlling.
Controlling behavior. For example telling you they need to help you with your budget because you aren’t good with money and then gradually taking over control of your accounts.
Past history of abusing an intimate partner. We have all heard people complain about their exes and sometimes it is warranted, but a criminal history of domestic assault is a red flag.

We often blame someone’s abusive behavior on drugs and alcohol. While it is true, there are drugs which make people aggressive, domestic violence is a pattern of systematic power and control that includes physical abuse. Gas lighting or making someone feel crazy, name calling, and threats.

Survivors often blame themselves. You may not be perfect. You may be in a toxic relationship, but there is no excuse for physical or sexual abuse.

We often equate domestic violence with low-income or addiction. The truth is, if you have money and you are abusing your spouse, you can afford a house in an isolated location or an attorney if  you are arrested.

Walls in low income apartments are paper thin and in my opinion, that leads to more law enforcement involvement. When survivors are professionals, like counselors or lawyers, they are heavily invested in keeping their abuse a secret so it doesn’t impact their career.
PROMO-she thought she had lost it all
8. In your experience what is the major element in healing from abuse?

There are many different ways to heal. Survivors do many things to cope while they are being abused. They may drink for the first time, or they may develop an eating disorder, they may even do healthy low-cost things to cope like gardening. The problems arise when survivors begin using a high-cost method of coping like alcohol during the abuse, and after the abuse is over are still using it to cope with anxiety or stress.

It is normal to have anxiety and need time to heal after trauma. The important thing is to find a healthy coping mechanism like exercise or reading a good book to self-sooth while you work on recovery.

There are a lot of free trauma recovery groups available through domestic violence agencies. If you break your leg, you go to a doctor. If you break your heart, please see a counselor.

Recovery doesn’t require us to spend a lot of time talking and thinking about the experiences we had. Recovery happens when we find hope for our future, remember who we are, develop healthy boundaries, have self-compassion and healthy coping skills for anxiety or stress.

9.You are a woman of faith and the characters in your book also find strength through Jesus Christ and organized religion. How does your faith help you in your work? I’m sure talking religion with clients is a “no-no,” as it is in most fields, but do you find you are able to share your faith in any politically/socially acceptable ways?

When I am with a survivor I try to keep the focus on them. They will tell me if their religion is important to them or a resource that can help support them. Sadly, they will sometimes tell me their religion shuns them for leaving an abusive home. I encourage survivors to use what works for them, to comfort themselves, whatever that looks like. Spiritual healing is a powerful tool for many survivors. I had a great working relationship with our local Father Nick before he moved to another parish. He was a wonderful support for survivors in need if they were Catholic.

Interestingly, for many years I hid my religion from my employer. I would like to say that when I shared my religion, it was met with a positive response, but the truth is always stranger than fiction.

Several years into my job as an advocate I told my boss what church I went to, and her response was, “If I had known, I would never have hired you!” However, that was followed by a conversation in which she shared her respect for me and my lifestyle. She recognized she had some baggage around my religion. This wasn’t the first time an employer told me they wouldn’t have hired me if they knew what religion I belonged to.

Somewhere in that journey, I learned to own who I am, what I believe and to stop apologizing for my culture. But please! Don’t mistake me for perfect. I am a work in process, not an example of the best of my religion.

I chose to write about the culture I know, including my religion. When we write historical fictions about World War II we are often exposed to the Jewish culture, even if the focus of the story is an American Soldier. If I read stories about other cultures, they usually contain pieces of other religions. Stories like Dan Brown’s, “The Da Vinci Code,” or Jennifer Beckstrand’s book, “Sweet as Honey,” placed in the Amish community, expose us to other interesting and beautiful religions and cultures.   

10. With the personal and intense nature of the situations you deal with as an advocate, I know for me it would be so hard to separate myself from the emotions and worry once work was over. Is it difficult to keep your work at work? How do you keep that balance in your life? How do you keep hope and optimism alive when you deal with such tragedy in your work?

This is where my religion supports and sustains me. I have a little phrase I use to remind myself of my role as an advocate.

“I am not the Master Gardener.”

I remind myself that I believe in Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ, and their plan for us. I am not the Master Gardener, I simply go into the garden to tend, weed and plant seeds of hope. At the end of the day, I close the garden gate and I trust the Master Gardener  who has many other workers and ways to take care of the garden, and the survivors he loves and cherishes.

I have absolutely no balance in my life. The truth is, I run hard, I play hard, I write late at night and I work way too many hours. But when I sit with the bruised, battered and yes, even those who pass on, I never sit alone. I believe in what many call their higher power, because I have witnessed the miracle of survivorship and I have seen angels rise from the ashes.

PROMO-she was so much more than her scars

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

My Review

This was really a 2.5 star book for me. If I had read it more regularly and not taken 3 months to finish, it may have earned a solid 3. It’s a good story. A sweet story. Humorous too. I appreciated the theme. I had difficulty relating to characters, however.

The whole point of the book is to show imperfect people, people with major differences, but they are still valuable in their own way and can even complete each other. A very nontraditional family is created throughout the book, one with struggles and mistakes, but also one with love. I appreciate that the love is created and shown through sacrifice, selflessness and acceptance.

But, many of the characters, particularly Ove, came off so dysfunctional that it was hard for me to believe that the relationships formed could really be as healthy as portrayed. While accepting others even with their flaws is certainly good and Christian, if I were to meet someone with the rudeness and anger management issues that Ove has I would be wary of getting too close. Part of the book’s message is of course giving Ove’s background to show why he is the way he is. While that helps me to understand his behavior it doesn’t make much of his treatment of others acceptable.

There certainly would be much to discuss in a book club about relationships, trials and how they affect us, how we can and should respond to difficult situations and people, the benefits of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes and being careful with judgment – just to name a few topics for conversation.

The writing is enjoyable, easy to read but clever and interesting. The book as a whole was not interesting enough to draw me in to the point where I just couldn’t put it down. That likely stems a lot from not fully agreeing with Ove’s actions, no matter how his past seems to justify them. Characters play a big part in my enjoyment of a book, and since I was wary of the main character the entire time it was hard to be enthralled.

Age recommendation: Because of content and thematic elements I recommend this book to adults, at least 18 and older. Those with more life experience will likely appreciate it more.

Appropriateness: There is tragic content – accidents, death, fights, attempted suicide, anger. There are also adult topics like homosexuality, and there is a lot of swearing. None of it was so crude or graphic that I felt the need to stop reading but it certainly detracted from my enjoyment. As mentioned in my review, this really would provide a lot of material for book club discussion.

Other Book recommendations: If you liked this book or are interested in books with a similar theme you might enjoy Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, The Time Key by Melanie Bateman, Rebecca by Daphnie Du Maurier, Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Fault in our Stars by John Green, My Story by Elizabeth Smart, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, The Alchemist by Paul Coelho, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

The Selection Series

The Selection (The Selection, #1)1624806818635016The Selection , The Elite, and The One by Kiera Cass

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

My Review

I liked the first book in the series the most. They were all entertaining and kept me reading to the last word, even into the wee hours, but in the end they weren’t terribly fulfilling. I got tired of the soap opera and of the constant tension because of characters’ decisions to not trust each other or to communicate. I can understand immature miscommunication being the source of some of the story conflict but when it happens over and over and over it gets old. I need the characters to learn from their mistakes otherwise they become annoying.

I also didn’t buy the whole dystopian setting. The story takes place in a future America after a 3rd world war, etc. etc. but the problem is that the setting didn’t actually have any relevance to the story itself. A dystopian American didn’t affect the plot or enhance the plot in any way. It was more like little tidbits of trivia just to make it fit into a genre that is so popular in YA fiction right now. It just didn’t work for me and in fact I found it took away from the story development and plot because the little tidbits just weren’t developed enough. If the story had been set in some other fictional or semi-fictional location I would have enjoyed it much more. Then I wouldn’t have needed much detail to explain the country’s roots or current status. I could have accepted it more easily as just how things are. Whereas setting it in dystopian America automatically results in me asking more questions, wanting more explanation, so I can be convinced of the plausibility of the plot. Unfortunately that kind of information wasn’t offered, the details were lacking, and so the setting fell very flat.

The development of the big “shock” in the third book was also lacking for me. I can’t decide if there was too much foreshadowing and so I already knew what was coming which dampened the “wow” factor. Or if it was that the development just wasn’t exciting enough or involved enough. I needed more information about the opposing factions. The resolution came about rather quickly after 3 books of build up.

But despite being disappointed in all of those aspects, that didn’t stop me from reading all 3 and reading them rather quickly. They definitely make for an easy and entertaining read. Having just seen that there is a book #4 and a #5 I can say that I will be reading those as well.

Age Recommendation: These books would be enjoyable for 14 and older, mainly girls.

Appropriateness: These are young adult romance books with plenty of romance (kissing) but greater intimacy is not described in great detail. Language is clean. There was nothing that I was uncomfortable with in my reading.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in The Selection Series I recommend you also read Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Winner’s series by Marie Rutkoski, An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock, and Matched by Allie Condie.

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Ella Enchanted

Ella EnchantedElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

At Ella’s birth, an imprudent young fairy bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. But instead of making her docile, the fairy’s curse makes Ella a bit of a rebel. When her beloved mother dies, Ella must keep herself safe from her selfish and greedy father, her mean-spirited stepsisters, and the things the curse could make her do. Ella sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery which includes fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.

My Review

I had a lot of time in a car last week so I brought one of my all time favorite books to keep me entertained. I hadn’t read Ella Enchanted for probably 10 years and it was definitely time for a reread.

I loved it once again. I was wrapped up in the characters and the story just as much as the first time I read it. It’s an easy read without complicated language so my 5, 7, and 9 year old daughters loved listening to me read it aloud, but it’s written intelligently and beautifully so that I was engaged just as much as the kids.

I love the way the elements of the Cinderella story are presented in a way that they fit together better and make a more fulfilling story than the original fairytale. Even though it’s a retelling it’s fresh and feels completely new. The romance between Ella and the prince is developed well, is believable, and brings such warm fuzzies.

This wasn’t my first reading of this book and it definitely won’t be the last.
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Age Recommendation: This is an award-winning children’s book and will be enjoyed by all ages. As I said, even my 5 year old enjoyed it as a read aloud, though I think my 9 year old certainly understood the themes better. So I would say this book is best for 9 and older.

Appropriateness: This one is squeaky clean. Nothing crass or crude, though some younger readers may feel emotional over the death of Ella’s mother and the injustices that she is subjected to.

Other Book Recommendations: If you liked Ella Enchanted you should also read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, Goose Girl and The Princess Academy both by Shannon Hale, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, and Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt.

 

Until We Meet Again

Until We Meet AgainUntil We Meet Again by Renee Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

The last thing 17 year old Cassandra wants to do is spend her summer marooned with her mother and stepfather in a snooty Massachusetts shore town. But when a dreamy stranger shows up on their private beach claiming it’s his own—and that the year is 1925—she is swept into a mystery a hundred years in the making.

As she searches for answers in the present, Cassandra discovers a truth that puts their growing love—and Lawrence’s life—into jeopardy. Desperate to save him, Cassandra must find a way to change history…or risk losing Lawrence forever.

My Review

Until We Meet Again was exactly the type of book I was in the mood for when I picked it up. It’s not a literary masterpiece or anything, but it was entertaining and engaging, easy to read, and well-written. It is a young adult romance novel and it doesn’t claim or try to be anything else. It simply does a great job of being exactly what it’s meant to be.

I enjoyed the wit of the main character and her totally realistic teenage thought processes and motivations. I liked Cassandra right away even with her teenage angst because she was smart and funny, and despite her poor choices her motivations were not cruel or mean. She was pretty relatable.

I didn’t relate to or connect with Lawrence as a character quite as much. He actually seemed like a bit of a player, especially at first, but he was nice enough, and the interaction with Cassandra was fun, cute, and had plenty of romantic tension, so I was still able to get wrapped up in the story.

The only real problem I had with the book was that I wanted more. I would have liked an epilogue maybe 6 months to a year later. I would have loved to know how Cassandra had changed because of her relationship with Lawrence and what choices she made for her future.

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Age Recommendation: 14 and older. Probably would appeal to girls most.

Appropriateness: There is lots of kissing, and some eluding to greater intimacy than that, but nothing is told in graphic detail.  I thought it was tastefully and subtly done.

Other Book Recommendations:  If you liked Until We Meet Again you might also like Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy and Goose Girl both by Shannon Hale, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Golden by Cameron Dokey, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.

 

The Perfect Mile

The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve ItThe Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It by Neal Bascomb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

There was a time when running the mile in four minutes was believed to be beyond the limits of human foot speed, and in all of sport it was the elusive holy grail. In 1952, after suffering defeat at the Helsinki Olympics, three world-class runners each set out to break this barrier.

Roger Bannister was a young English medical student who epitomized the ideal of the amateur — still driven not just by winning but by the nobility of the pursuit. John Landy an Australian who trained relentlessly in an almost spiritual attempt to shape his body to this singular task. Then there was Wes Santee, the swaggering American, a Kansas farm boy and natural athlete.

Spanning three continents and defying the odds, their collective quest captivated the world and competed with headlines from the Korean War, the atomic race, and such legendary figures as Edmund Hillary, Willie Mays, Native Dancer, and Ben Hogan. Neal Bascomb delivers a breathtaking story of unlikely heroes and leaves us with a lasting portrait of the twilight years of the golden age of sport.

My Review

I am a runner and I love it. (Though that hasn’t always been the case. You can read more about my conversion to running here.) So I was naturally interested in this book since it’s all about runners. But there is also historical significance in learning more about this event along with what was going on in the world at the time it took place. I was fascinated by the view of amateur and professional athletics in the 1950’s, and how much athletics have changed since then.

This book also introduced me to true heroes and role models of our day, and the writing is superb. The author paints pictures with words of people and events so that they come alive and are so relatable. I was just as nervous and engaged reading about the races in this book as I was while reading the Hunger Games.

And when it comes down to it, this book is less about running and more about working hard with what life has given us to make something of ourselves and to contribute to the world in which we live. The 3 main running figures in the book sum it up best:

John Landy: “Running gave me discipline and self-expression…It has all the disappointments, frustrations, lack of success, and unexpected success, which all reproduce themselves in the bigger play of life. It teaches you the ability to present under pressure. It teaches you the importance of being enthusiastic, dedicated, focused. All of these are trite statements, but if you actually have to go through these things as a young man, it’s very, very important.”

Wes Santee: “Hard work pays off. You have to be just as disciplined to run a business as you do to train for an athletic event. You have to eat right, still have to get up early and work more than others.”

Roger Bannister: “Sport is about not being wrapped up in cotton wool. Sport is about adapting to the unexpected and being able to modify plans at the last minute. Sport, like all life, is about taking your chances.”

All of these factors make this a book that everyone, runner or non-runner, athlete or completely lacking in coordination, should read.

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Age Recommendation: All ages will be interested in this story, particularly those with experience truly sacrificing and working hard toward a goal. The writing is probably best for 16 and older though younger readers with a high reading level would do just fine.

Appropriateness: Clean as a whistle on this one.  Clean language, no violence, no immorality.

This would provide great book club discussion material.  Comparing the  different approaches to running from each of the main runners as well as from their coaches would be interesting.  The different approaches to running could also be discussed in how they relate to the characters view of life.  This book provides great material for discussion on themes such as

1) the merits of athletics

2) the pros and cons to amateur vs. professional athletics

3) what does it take (physically and mentally) to push past barriers? Which is more important – physical or mental?

4) How do circumstances affect our performance in sport and in life? How do we keep our confidence and determination when circumstances all seem to be against us?

5) Why do sporting events and athletes bring out such pride in a country or school?

For more discussion material and for some of my favorite quotes and inspirations from the book see my previous post titled Full of Running.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the sound of this book you might also enjoy Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Eat and Run by Scott Jurek, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.

Don’t Let Pigeon Stay Up Late

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We read this one for bedtime tonight and we all laughed at Pigeons attempts to convince us to let him stay up later. My kids laughed because they thought Pigeon was funny. I laughed because Pigeon sounded just like them. Very clever. Entertaining for adults and kids.

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