My Constantly Evolving List of All-Time Favorites.

Kyle 's favorites books montage

Gone Girl
The Night Circus
The Woodcutter
The Graveyard Book
Sharp Objects
Dark Places
Shutter Island
The Passage
The Twelve
Rules of Civility
The Aviary
Heir to the Glimmering World
Wool Omnibus
The Weird Sisters
A Song of Ice and Fire
A Game of Thrones

Kyle Uniss's favorite books »

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

New Home for Constantly Reading Momma

Hey All--Constantly Reading Momma has a new home at Come check it out!!!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

'Reader's Block' and Some Decent Reads

I've been having trouble getting into my next good book. I've read a few so-so books, but I've had a hard time to start a great book, one on my every growing list of GREAT BOOKS I keep. I blame it on the last great book I read--The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It was such a great book, but I will get back. I'm in the middle of a pretty good one right now. 

It's tough, when you read a great book. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao did that for me. It was so original; the story of a New Jersey/Dominican Sci Fi Geek trying to find his place in the world, desperately seeking love. It's a great story, but the words were so original . . . well, I'm not going to go into it, but it Junot Diaz is a wonderful wordsmith. 

So, that one was hard to get over. I wanted to read, just not anything so amazing. I needed a few weeks to get my mind around the writing, the words, the beauty . . . so I read okay books. Good books that authors put a lot of thought into, just not the wonder of Oscar Wao. Between that and the business of work, kids and life, I'm just now getting back to my list of GREAT BOOKS. And one of them fits into my Read Across America very well. 
My Reading Across America took a couple of stumbles these last couple of books. Again, I blame it on New Jersey and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
I continued south to Delaware, which holds very few great books (sorry Delaware, but it is true). I searched and searched and finally settled on a gory, zombie-terrorist book,Patient Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel. It was decent and a quick read, and I will probably return to read more about the great Joe Ledger and his fight for Zombie-free America. In the book, Islamist extremists have teamed up with big pharmacology (in the guise of a world humanitarian) to develop a 'zombie' virus. Big pharma plans to release it through the extremists and then swoop in with the antidote, whereas the extremists just want to eliminate Americans. Joe Ledger is a Baltimore wonder-cop headed to the FBI when he is recruited by a shadowy, rapid response government agency--The Department of Medical Sciences. Together they figure out what they are fighting and do their bit to stem the tide . . . for now. 
Now, I know Baltimore is Maryland, but there is a great bit of this book that takes place in Delaware. And it does little to teach me about Delaware or even Maryland, although I did learn that there are a lot of warehouses and this would be a great place to set up a secret lab. For that reason, I decided my Maryland book would be more of a book of the region--a book that has been on my list for a long time. James Michener's Chesapeake.  I'm about three quarters through, and it's really good. It's a little long winded, but a really interesting look at the area. I kind of feel like I'm making up for the short zombie look at Delaware by looking at the whole area (although Delaware isn't so much discussed in this book). I'm really enjoying it, and feel like maybe I can 'cheat' a little in Virginia because of the depth. Michener does a great job of fictionalizing history. He will show up again on my trip; I'm planning to re-read Centennial for Colorado and read Hawaii for, you guessed it, Hawaii. 

So, that's where I am. I have a few other books to review that I've missed, so this is a great time to catch up. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sunny start to spring break and Oscar Wao

Finally!! It's spring break. We're staying at home this year (we usually do), so it should mean sleeping in and late nights. We try to go to Arizona earlier in the winter, because rates are lower and its usually worth getting out of the cold and snow to spend a week at my moms. This year, we did Christmas there and a week at Disney in February. AND I just got a new car, so we really can't afford electricity or heat any longer, let alone another trip.

And it looks like it is going to be spring, finally. Just to make us appreciate it even more, winter decided to say goodbye loudly with one last snow on Saturday. I grew up in Colorado and lived for a time in the beautiful Vail Valley in the mountains, so snow at the end of March isn't a shocker for me, but it isn't my favorite thing when there isn't the promise of spring skiing. So I'm hoping we get a few sunny days, because I would like to go to the zoo and maybe go for a couple of hikes.

So, we'll spend our week sleeping in and eating pancakes, late(r) night movies and family time. I'll break up fights and find it AWESOME when the girls get along. Maybe we'll bake some cookies and hit the Y (when it does rain, like it's promising to do.) Spring break is the promise of summer to come, and I can't wait.

After reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I think my life just changed a bit. There are writers that I have missed in the last few years--spending time trapped in children's books and YA dystopian fantasy has taken this from me. Wow, Junot Diaz is one of those writers.

This is my New Jersey book, and I'm so glad I read it. My husband is a Jersey boy, so I didn't want to read about suburban kids growing up, or even the Jersey Shore. I went for the inner city, the gritty New Jersey. And I stumbled on Diaz.

I've looked at this book a few times and decided against it, I guess because I didn't relate to the culture, the setting or the story. STUPID REASON, I know. You should read out of your comfort zone; that is how you learn!!!

The story is breath-taking and wonderful and loopy and sad, and even a bit predictable because of the title and the opening, but the way Diaz puts words together creates a story that is beautifully rich, even magical. YES, I had (got?) to use the translate button on my Kindle Paperwhite a few times to translate phrases from Spanish to English, but the gist of the sentence came through, I just wanted to use that technology. It was just wonderfully, creatively crafted. And his characters--WOW!! He takes a crazy--Loco--Dominican, combines them with Sci-fi geekiness and fatalistic love and creates a character that you want to shake, want to cheer for, want to read--a character you can't help but falling in love with a bit. Oscar Wao, and his whole crazy family, are well worth meeting.

I'm going to have to find time to read more Junot Diaz. This Is How You Lose Her and Drown are next on my list. I cannot wait.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

First Reconciliation and Someone Else's Love Story

Here was our dilemma, one that I have been worried about for awhile: How do you tell your developmentally disabled daughter that it's time to sit down and confess all the sins she has committed in her nine years? (Well, not maybe not all of them . . .) Confess, not to me or her father, but to the highest moral authority in her life, a priest. Somehow, we got her to do it. My Katy made it through her First Reconciliation (that's confession to you non-Catholics.)

It wasn't easy. For those of you who don't know her, my younger daughter Katy has Down syndrome. SO, explaining the whole tell-them-what-you-did (aka confess your sins) was difficult. Her standard line when she gets caught doing something wrong is, "Libby did it." (Libby is her older sister). We talked (and talked and talked) about how she would be forgiven, she wouldn't get in trouble, that this was a great chance to tell the truth and let God forgive her sins. We went over and over it, and thought we had it figured out--in January. And then SNOW. And her First Reconciliation was postponed.

So, fast forward two months. We continued to talk, and the two months seemed to have done some good. She got it!! She confessed some sins without blaming anything on her sister, the priest was wonderful and patient, and she walked out relieved and happy, asking if she could do it again. Right then.

So, I'm proud. I'm relieved. I'm happy, but I'm sad at the same time. It took a long time to get her to this point, and she did a wonderful job. But it means my baby, my little girl that works so hard for every milestone, is growing up. She's my own miraculous, and I'm not ready for her to grow up.


"Our genes define our capacity. They set the range, and we have to act within it. But it is a range, which means it can’t be simple. We are limited, all of us, and imperfect. We are broken in specific, quantifiable ways."

I can't really say enough about this book. I first was introduced to the characters when I read Joshilyn Jackson's s prequel short story, My Own Miraculous and I fell in love with them during this too-short interlude. Someone Else's Love Story just added to the infatuation.

Shandi Pierce is a bright, creative seventeen year-old girl living in a small Georgia time when she gets pregnant--but she's still a virgin. My Own Miraculous picks up four years later with Shandi living at home letting her mother parent her son, Natty, letting her father pay all her bills, letting her best friend, Walcott, sweep in and become her white knight when necessary. When she realizes that Natty is an extraordinarily brilliant four year-old, Shandi realizes out that she needs to start taking care of herself and her son and not let others live her life. She discovers that Natty is her own miracle, in more ways than one.

This takes us up to the start of Someone Else's Love Story. Shandi has decided to leave her small town with Natty and move to Atlanta so he can attended a preschool for gifted children. In a quirky turn of events, the two of them are held at gunpoint at a Circle K. It is in that moment that she meets the next miraculous part of her life; the Thor-like savior, William Ashe.

After the hold up, Shandi weaves her way into Ashe's life, fancying herself in love with him. It is during this time that she finds the courage and the strength to face up to her past, and to help William face up to his. And once the past is the past, the two of them can face the future . . . just not in the way you think.

Someone Else's Love Story is filled with rich, wonderful characters that leap off the page. The story is quirky and unpredictable, coming to a wonderful conclusion after some interesting, winding roads.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

An Ideal Family For a Week, Slogging Back To Life and a Few Book Reviews

We got back from the most perfect vacation EVER a couple of weeks ago. For a week, I felt like we were a television perfect family, with the funny dad, the grounded mom, the sometimes sullen pre-teen and the cute younger child--with a bonus tv perfect, she has a visible developmental delay (Katy has Down syndrome). We smiled, laughed, walked, rode, and bonded. We had a few grumpy moments (mostly when we waited too long to eat), but all and all we had THE BEST TIME!!!

Yes, we went to Disney World.

I swear the happy smile didn't leave my face for a week. I told my husband to forget the Caribbean, let's go to Disney for EVERY vacation. Everyone there works so hard to make your vacation wondrous and unforgettable. I love Aruba, have had a spectacular time in many places, but Disney takes their job seriously. Yes, everyone there has had their fill of the Disney koolaid, but if that's what it takes to make family memories, then I'll take it! 

And the back to real life . . . .

Back to school, where older daughter's grades slipped a bit because of vacation. That's okay, she went from all A's to a couple of B+s. Back to swimming, and to REALLY COLD Ohio. Back to play practices and dance. Back to work and cleaning (I loved that they came and cleaned our cabin every day--and did our dishes. The Cabins at Fort Wilderness rock!) and laundry. Back to the real world. UGH. 

So, I will cherish our memories of the perfect vacation and of being the ideal family. I know it is just one week of glossy, unrealistic expectations--but it was a week that was real. And it was sublime. 


"I’ve always known that there’s more going on inside me than finds its way into the world, but this is probably true of everyone. Who doesn’t regret that he isn’t more fully understood?" Bridge of Sighs

I haven't been very good at doing my reviews: February was crazy busy. But I have been reading, so there are reviews to be done. I'm going to cover the three books I read as part of my Reading Across America--Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.

For Rhode Island I traveled back to the mid-eighties and read a book about witches in the early seventies. Yes, I read The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike. It was well written, the characters were vivid and real, the town was described perfectly. BUT I didn't love it. It was okay, but it wasn't great.

The story is of three divorced women living in Eastwick. Before they meet the elusive Darryl Van Horne the three of them get together and 'magic.' They seduce married men and dabble in artistic endeavours and generally scare most of the small town of Eastwick. None of them are good mothers, but somehow their kids are fine.

Along comes Darryl Van Horne, causing their artistic talents to explode and their sexual adventures to expand. And life gets much darker, and that's when I really stopped liking the women. The middle of the book muddles, and it then it ends.

There are some beautifully written moments, my favorite being Jane's Cello Scene. These well written expositories made the book worthwhile. But, after all is read and done, I can find better books.

My Connecticut read was A Season in Purgatory by Dominick Dunne. This one I loved. Written in 1993, it is a fictionalized story mirroring the Martha Moxley murder and The Kennedy involvement.

The story is told by Harrison Burns, a school friend of the young, charismatic Constant Bradley. Harrison becomes a reluctant after-the-fact accomplice of the murder of Winifred Utley by Constant, who enlists Harrison to help him move the body. Constant's larger than life Irish father and his older brothers help cover up the murder, and Harrison's college is covered as payment for his keeping his mouth shut. Years later, he is drawn back into their world, and the guilt gets to be too much. Harrison does and turns in Constant, which leads to a trial and more Bradley stories.

Dunne does a wonderful job of making the reader feel like Dunne knows the truth, that he is Harrison Burns and this is what really happened. Of course, the Moxley murder was not a Kennedy but a cousin, Michael Skakel, who was later convicted of killing Martha Moxley. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's not high literature, but Dunne does a good job.

And finally, for New York I went back to Richard Russo. After loving Empire Falls so much in Maine, and knowing that Russo grew up in upstate New York, I went back to him and read Bridge of Sighs, and it was the worth the trip back. This book was wonderful, nostalgic and poignant, and contains surprises in the most unexpected moments.

Lou 'Lucy' Lynch remembers his life in small Thomaston, New York with his normal, glass-half full kind of way. His small world revolves around his family's corner store, which becomes successful despite itself. In this world there is first Lou and his parents, and Lou's friend Bobby. Later, a big space is filled by Lou's girlfriend and later wife, Sarah Berg. As we start to realize that Lou may not be remembering everything quite right (leaning toward the good and ignoring some of the dark), in step Bobby and Sarah as narrators, the forces that keep the story honest.

Lou's memories, and Thomaston in general, are filled with wonderful characters that Russo does a great job of introducing and fleshing out. I can picture Thomaston and the people in it, imagining the streets and houses, the river and the tannery. Russo leaves the reader with some questions, which will haunt me forever. Questions like:

What really happened to Lou in the truck? What are his spells? Was it his mother and uncle he saw while in the trunk? Did Nan leave Thomaston pregnant? What happened to Bobby's mom, brothers, dad? Were they his brothers or half brothers? Did he die at Penn Station or was he at dinner? What happened to Sarah's dad?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The beauty of the early morning and The Heretic's Daughter

I got up this morning early. Or early for me. 5:00 am. I'm not a late sleeper, but I do not have to get up and head for work, so I don't rush out of bed usually. But I woke up and couldn't sleep. So I got up. I got things done that I usually get done a little later. So now I have time to write.

One of my goals this year was to get up early and head to the gym. But January, 2014 in Ohio happened. That meant very few days of temps above 10°. And snow. And late starts for school. And days off from school. Needless to say, I did not get up and go to the gym very many days this month. But February starts soon, and hopefully higher temps.

Today is Thursday, the second to the last day in January. And it is cold. BUT the temperature isn't in the negatives (or not too much, if you count windchill), so the girls will go to school for the first day this week. A full day. Last week they only had two full days. There are moms all over central Ohio doing the happy dance. I got up early and danced (figuratively, not literally), so now I will spend an hour drinking my coffee and cleansing my soul by putting these words on virtual paper.

And now, onto Massachusetts and The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent.


As I approached Massachusetts and had to choose a book, I was faced with an issue that hadn't come up in my first three states. A large city. Now, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire all have cities, don't get me wrong. But when I talk about big cities I'm thinking of those cities that stand alone. New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles--and Boston. 

Facing this, I made a decision. I am going to attempt to skip the large cities and focus on the rest of the state. I've read many good books centered in Boston (and other large cities) and I really want to learn a little more about the state. Maybe some history. 

For Massachusetts I went with some witch trial historical fiction. I've read some, but not tons. The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is the story of Sarah Carrier, the 10 year-old daughter of Martha Carrier, one of the first women executed during the witch trials. This is a work of fiction, but the Carriers were real, and Kent is an actual descendant of the Carriers.

Through Sarah we learn about the hard, puritanical life of a New Englander in the 17th century. Their existence is bleak, and any bad luck that happens in the area is quickly blamed on witchcraft. We watch as hysteria sweeps a town, and a family is torn apart by accusations made in a time of desperation.

Sarah is tough and hard. She slowly learns that her parents love her and will do anything to protect her and her siblings, although they do not show much outward affection and emotion. The lesson learned is that real love is proven in the hard choices made in life.

A well written, well told story that flows well and quickly and seems based in historical fact. I would recommend for high school age up, as there are some rougher scenes. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lovely snow days a little Vermont and a visit to New Hampshire via Peyton Place

We have been a little cold this January of 2014. Wait, I'll take that back. We've been REALLY cold. We gotten to the point where when the temperature hits 25° we're putting on shorts, grilling, and drinking iced drinks on the back deck. Of course, that only works when the wind isn't blowing, because that knocks down the temperature at least 15°. Now, I grew up in Colorado, and spent a few years in the mountains as a ski instructor (best job EVER), and I felt cold and wind chill. But I was prepared, and it is much drier in Colorado, so it doesn't seem so bone-splitting cold. And it is quite often sunny in Colorado.

We've had two full days off from school as well as four late starts. And it looks like we will have at least two late starts next week, and maybe more days off.

Many of these miserably cold days have not included snow, which makes it so much worse. Oh, we've had snow, and it hasn't gone away, making it turn dirty and icy and and sharp-edged from all the wind. That's what makes days like today so magical.  Yes, it's cold (although it got into the 20's today!!!!) and windy. BUT we once again had a magical day without an activity. AND it SNOWED. Pretty much all day. I left my sleeping jammies on until noon. Then I took a hot bath. Then I put on my warm, polar fleece owl jammies. The girls are still in their sleeping jammies. And Ted had to go do a little work, but he is back in his fleece man-jammie pants. (We obviously have many classifications of jammies.) I even ran out to the store for wine (yes, wine) in my warm owl jammies.

So it was the perfect day for doing very little. I read, I puttered, I attempted to make healthy muffins (that tasted like doody, so I gave up that thought). I watched broke into the wine at 5:00 and I'm okay with that. Tonight we will do Family Movie Night and relax.


“There is such a thing as love not meeting a test, but that does not mean that it was not a kind of love to begin with. Love is not static. It changes and fluctuates, sometimes growing stronger, sometimes weaker and sometimes disappearing altogether. But still, I think it is difficult not to be grateful for the love one gets.”

In my literary trip across the U.S., I am now in Massachusetts, reading a book set in the Salem region during the witch craziness. So far, so good. That means I've traveled through Vermont and New Hampshire and I've learned a few things. First, there are not too many great books that are set in Vermont. Well, I guess there aren't many that I haven't read.  I am really sorry that I  read Donna Tartt's The Secret History in December, because it would have been the perfect Vermont book. It was really good. But a lot of the books are written by Jodi Picoult, and I don't like her that much, or Chris Bohjalian. I chose two Bohjalian books, but neither was actually set in Vermont, so I gave up on that vein. So, I decided to go for an unknown author. Usually a good idea. Not so much this time.

Now, Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy isn't a bad book. When Sarah Lucas's husband of fifty years dies, she is inconsolable. But her large Vermont home becomes a waystation for a bunch of lost souls, and Sarah suddenly finds herself becoming not one half of a couple. I think what bothered me is the 'perfectness' of it all. I know her husband died, and that would be sad, but they had such a charmed life. They did have rocky periods in their marriage when their children were young, and each had an icy relationship with a child, but that was about it. Everyone around her has a hard time, but Sarah is such a good person that she roles with the punches. Her big house on lots of land, her oh-so-liberal Vermont friends, her children  . . . all seem perfect. I would have rather read a book about her soon-to-be daughter in law, who had quite a bit of loss and hardship. Or her granddaughter, even, going through some hard teen years. Sarah just seems a little one-dimensional to me. But it was a nice look at Vermont, with quite a bit of Vermont outdoorsy going on. I really enjoyed that part of it.

New Hampshire was better. I went with a book that has always intrigued me, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. It was said to be oh-so scandalous, the 50 Shade of Grey of its time (which was the 1950's). And I can see that. It is the story of Peyton Place, New Hampshire, and its ups and downs from 1939-1945. Mostly the story of Allison McKenzie, her mother Constance, and her friend (at the beginning of the book) Selena Cross, but it does delve into the other characters in town. It had to have been shocking in the 50's, opening the curtains and revealing the town secrets: unwed motherhood, incest, teenage sex, even abortion. It was banned in many towns but still managed to be a bestseller, setting records for sales for the time. I enjoyed this book, although I cannot say it was great literature. It was fun, knowing I was reading something 'scandalous' for its day. It wasn't particularly shocking, just normal scandal in today's novels. But that's okay. I can cross it off my list.

So far Massachusetts is going well. The Heretic's Daughter is interesting, and Kathleen Kent tells a great story. I'm glad I had this snowy day to really get into it. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The magic of ordinary days and Empire Falls

There are days that seem endless with activities and events. Weeks that go by without a minute to stop and sit down with my family all at once, or even one at a time. Dance classes, swim practices, play practices, meetings, meets, games . . . they all take a toll on the family and on each individual. Especially at this time of the year, when things all start to pile up, I start to think about how beautiful it would be to leave it all behind. Get out of everything, go live in the middle of nowhere, forget the world and the activities. The probability of that is minimal, at best, but a girl can dream. Until that dream comes true, I relish in the extraordinary of ordinary days.

Actually, what I think of as ordinary are the exception. The days when we can hang out at home, having nothing to do at all. This weekend we actually had a couple of those days. A swim meet that was supposed to happen was cancelled, and then we had MLK day. Two days to do very little. I listen to the girls play, knowing that I should take them to the movie, or sledding, or to the library. But they are enjoying doing nothing at home; building with Legos, playing with Barbies and American Girl dolls, drawing, painting, writing. I love listening to the girls do all the things that don't get done on other days.

Of course, along with that comes the arguing. I mean, the girls are only 15 months apart. And Katy, my beautiful daughter with Down syndrome, is really good at playing the victim. She is cute and little and VERY good at manipulation, and she uses that power for personal gain. So I play referee and judge, remembering that Libby, my beautiful older daughter, has to deal with The Manipulator on a regular basis.

Even the arguing, though, is beautiful, considering that there are many days the girls don't see each other for more than half-an-hour. Ordinary days are splendid, even with the fights and the mess, the yelling and the tattling. Because that means we also get giggles and hugs, talking and secrets, artwork and heart-to-hearts. So I will relish in the magic of ordinary days. These are the days I will remember when life goes off the rails, like it always does. These days are what make up a happy life.


"One of the odd things about middle age, he concluded, was the strange decisions a man discovers he's made by not really making them, like allowing friends to drift away through simple neglect."

After reading Empire Falls by Richard Russo I cried. I was so sad it was over, so sad to leave Empire Falls, Maine, that I actually wept. The characters are so real, flaws and all, that I miss them. It took me a few days to pick up another book, and that NEVER happens to me.

On my Read Across The U.S. Quest, this was my first book. My novel for Maine. And it was a wonderful book with which to begin. Russo sets a perfect stage, and fills it with wonderfully rich characters. To him I say THANK YOU!!!! And, I'm so sorry I haven't discovered you sooner!

-----Some Spoilers!!!-----------------
Empire Falls, Maine has seen better days. The town, once prosperous under a successful textile mill owned by the Whiting family, has been closed for a couple of decades and the few businesses still open are hanging on by a thread. This includes The Empire Diner, a restaurant run by Miles Roby and owned by the last of the Whiting family, Francine. She promised the diner to Miles upon her death as long as he ran it for her, forcing him to leave college, when his mother was ill. In this, he feels his fate was sealed.

Miles is the protagonist of this story, a man in the middle of his life. He runs the diner and his life without passion, although I loved Miles. He is in the middle of a divorce, one that he doesn't want but isn't willing to fight, mainly because of his daughter, Tick, who is dealing with high school and those rocky waters. We even get to watch as Miles' father, Max, runs off to Key West with a senile priest and the offering money, something that is met with very little surprise by Miles and his brother, David.

Readers are privy to flashbacks, from both the Whiting clan and Miles himself. Miles own memories help him deal with old wounds, making him also confront his current barriers. Tick also has to deal with the upsets of small town life and adolescence drama. In the end, it is a need to heal Tick that forces him to leave town.

This was a wonderful book with which to begin my journey. It was a perfect look at a small Maine town, written by a writer who uses his pen to paint a wonderful picture. Unfortunately, Vermont wasn't such a treat. But that's a story for another day.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why shedding Christmas is so hard and JoJo Moyes

I hate taking down the Christmas tree, putting away the decorations. I hate that the village goes back in the storage space under the stairs. I hate the nativity scene going back in its storage container, looping the lights just right so that they are easy to put out next year. I loathe taking the wreaths off the door and the windows. Everything looks so barren and empty, so cold.

In an attempt to stave of the emptiness of a Christmas-less house, I decorate for other seasons, other holidays. I really wish that in January you could leave up the 'winter' decorations: the pinecones, the snowmen, the snowflakes. They aren't really Christmas-y, ya know? But no, we have to say bye-bye to them all. So, in my house, we decorate for the next holiday. And that would be Valentine's Day. And I HATE Valentine's Day.

Why do I hate Valentine's Day? I guess because it's so friggin' cheesy. I mean, red, pink, glitter, sparkles, roses, chocolate . . I mean, all these things I love one at a time. But on Valentine's Day they all collide. It's just so FORCED. Women are supposed to make men buy them things, to get crazy frisky, and find 'romance' because it is the middle of February. It's pretty much a holiday picked by retailers because they were between seasons.

Don't get me wrong, I like romance. But I don't like 'contrived' romance. I like laughing with my husband and finding secret moments, having inside jokes and knowing when one of us needs a hug. Movies? I would rather watch a rom-com than a straight up 'romance.' Books? I stay away from a book classified as a 'romance,' but I will read chick-lit. I love a book that isn't about romance, but I love it when romance happens in a book.

I don't force the hubs to buy me flowers or jewelry. If he wants to buy me flowers, I tell him to wait a week (they raise the prices on Valentine's Day). He cooks, so I would rather have a great dinner. We go out usually the week after or so, when not everyone in the world is trying to get to the same restaurant (we only have one really nice one in our town), or maybe we go out for a drink. If he wants to buy me an Amazon or a Starbucks card he can, but he does that every once and awhile any way.

Despite all that, I will sprinkle my house with hearts like an elementary school teacher (because I have elementary-age daughters) and make heart-shaped pancakes (because I am raising my kids in the age of Pinterest). But I tell my family I love them everyday, and we show our love in a million different ways. We don't save it for Valentines' Day.

And now, let me talk about JoJo Moyes.

Well, after you read my above rant, you will find this funny. I have fallen in love with JoJo Moyes' books. And then I learn that "Moyes' novel Foreign Fruit won the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) Romantic Novel of the Year in 2004." But, as you see, that would be ROMANTIC books, not necessarily romance books. I would classify the two books I read as good chick-lit.

I first read The Girl You Left Behind and wasn't sure if I loved it. I listened to it, and one of the readers had a French accent which threw me off. But guess what? I read so many books in the last year, and I remember this one so clearly. My mind keeps going back to this book and the wonderful nuances, the stories, the 'romance' of the story.

This is book is actually two stories from two different woman living nearly a century apart. In 1916, Sophie Lefevre's artist husband, Edward, has left her in her small French village while he goes to fight on the front in World War I. The village is invaded by Germans, and the inn that Sophie and her sister run becomes the food and entertainment center for the soldiers. The Kommendant becomes obsessed with the Edward's painting of Sophie which hangs at the inn, and Sophie is determined to do whatever she must to save her family, her village, and especially her husband.

The book switches to Liv Halston, a living in modern-day London, hanging onto her life by a thread after her successful architect husband dies suddenly. His gift to her on their honeymoon was Sophie's portrait, and, through a chance encounter, the painting is discovered to be on the list of art stolen by Germans. Liv battles to keep the painting, sure that losing it will mean losing her husband again, and all the good memories along with it.

Moyes tells two wonderful tales. Sophie's story is historical fiction, told with such richness that I can see her inn, Le Coq Rouge, and I can picture the painting, done is a Matisse style. I can picture Sophie, and Edward and the whole town. Liv's story is told with emotion, and the pictures Moyes paints are more visceral, more emotional. We can feel everything Liv feels; her hurt, her love, her need. Moyes does an incredible job on both fronts. The modern story gets slightly bogged down, but it is worth it all just to read a book that invokes such strong emotions.

After The Girl You Left Behind I read Moyes' novella Honeymoon in Paris. This is short read is the stories of Sophie and Edward's earlier romance, and Liv's let down of a honeymoon, ending with the purchase of the painting.
And, to finish off my Moyes' obsession, I read Me Before You. This is a totally different book, the story of Louisa Clark, a steady girl with a striking sense-of-style, a steady boyfriend, and no real purpose in life. When the cafe where she works closes, she is forced to take a job as a companion to a quadriplegic man with a past including business success and extreme sports. Louisa refuses to let him retreat from the world, and, in the end, she gets more from him then she gives. Moyes' ability to let us see what her characters are seeing and to feel what her characters are feeling really shines.  Beautiful, beautiful book.

These books are my ideas of what a 'romance' novel should be. Real emotion brought to us by beautiful words. I recommend all three of these books.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Goldfinch and the value of good family

Reading The Goldfinch, I began thinking about my childhood and coming of age. Growing up, it seemed like I had an awesome family. We had a nice house, a nice business, and we did family type things. But, looking back at it from a different angle, I can see what a sham that was. To my dad, we were a hindrance, always keeping him being great.  He really thought he could have made it big if it wasn't for us dragging him down. It was everyone else's fault when things went wrong.

And now, as a mother, I see the value in having a wonderful mom. She wasn't a "hug-it-out" mom, she was a "you're-tough-you-can-do-it" mom. She didn't believe in tears (and I'm a crier) and they rarely moved her. But she fought for my brother and I, even when we didn't realize she was fighting for us. Yes, we had to work hard, but if someone was treating us badly, she went to bat for us. She stands at a mighty 5 foot, and rarely weighed in over 100 pounds. But I was told by more than one boy in my teen years that my mom scared them. She was, and still is, fierce in her love. Don't hurt those she loves, or you will feel her wrath. As a mother, I get this. As the mother of a child with disabilities, I get it even more.

I cannot imagine growing up without my mom. And I hope my children have me for a long time.

And now, onto my review of  The Goldfinch.


"And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?"

Most of us remember that pit-in-the-stomach feeling of youth; the moment when you get caught doing the wrong thing. The moment you realize that you have disappointed the person or people you have always tried to please, your parents. Now, imagine that leading to the worst day of your life. Add in a visit to a museum, a sudden crush on a beautiful girl, a terrorist attack, a gift of trust, and the theft of a beautiful work of art. All within the first quarter of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.

Tartt's hero is Theo Decker, a young man with his mother's artistic eye and his father's ability to con. We read Theo's description of the terrorist attack that killed his mother, and we read as he takes off with Carel Fabritius' painting, The Goldfinch (here's a link to the painting: Theo's father had abandoned he and his mother, so he is taken in by an uber-rich friend's family until his father is located. His father then carts him off to Las Vegas, where he meets Boris, a boy who lives on the fringe of respectability. He clings to his friendship with Boris, and he clings to The Goldfinch, using it as a tether to his mother.

When Theo's father dies, he returns to New York, entering the world of antiques. We watch him enter college early, and become an antique dealer, doing some shady things to make the business boom and thrive. He meets up with his friend's family, and he learns his friend has been killed in a boating accident, along with his father. The mother has become a rich-recluse, but the return of Theo starts to lift her out of her shell. He takes up with his friend's younger sister. and they become engaged, although for both it isn't necessarily love. He seems to have inherited his father's con-man ways and addiction problems, and these become much more problematic as Theo gets older. The painting remains a focal point, although some have come to suspect that Theo has it. He has stored it away without looking at it since Vegas.

Theo reunites suddenly with Boris, a gangster with a big heart. From here we follow Theo to Europe, and it gets exciting. Gunfights, art theft, gangsters, and redemption. And we get this great look on the thin line between good and bad from dear Boris.

"I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can’t exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how. But you—wrapped up in judgment, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking ‘what if,’ ‘what if.’ ‘Life is cruel.’ ‘I wish I had died instead of.’ Well—think about this. What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no—hang on—this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way?”
I have read a few reviews of this book where the reader struggles with the long descriptors and the adjectives. This was wonderful to me. Tartt uses these lengthy description to bring the readers to the beauty of ART, and Theo's constant connection to art and beauty. She uses her beautiful words to show the reader how much Theo's mother and her artistic eye stayed with Theo always.

I'm not sure of the message of The Goldfinch, or if I agree with Boris' thoughts that I highlighted above; it kind of seems like a cop-out for the criminals of the world. But I did love this book, and Tartt's writing. I highly recommend The Goldfinch.

Tartt has only written three books, taking about 10 years to write each. As soon as I was done with The Goldfinch I rushed out and got her first book, The Secret History, which is also really good, if a little disturbing. I don't know how I have missed Tartt, but I'm glad I found her now.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reading Across America

It's that time of year; time to set some goals. I have made the normal resolutions: lose weight, hit the gym, get organized. You know, the ones that everyone breaks by February. Hopefully, this year will be different. I've also made a resolution to be more patient, to be slower to get upset with the kids and the hubs. I get frustrated and yell, like everyone (or sputter in frustration, more like). It's not too much or obnoxious, I just think counting to 20 will teach me and my daughters the value of taking a deep breath before speaking.

But I also like to set fun goals (hopefully slower-to-frustration will end up fun). Go to more movies, plan more date nights. AND READ. Last year I set the bar a little high at 150 books. I finished, but I counted audio books (which are wonderful, but different from reading) and Kindle singles (which are, again, wonderful, but shouldn't count as real books). So I say I finished ugly. But this year will be different. My goal is lower, and different, and in stages. I plan to READ ACROSS AMERICA. Some do non-fiction, but I like fiction. I'm going to start in Maine and end in Alaska. And then I'm going back. Then we'll see. 

So, I've chosen the books for the first two states:

If you have any better ideas, speak now or hold your peace until I come back up this way (probably next fall or winter). Join me on my journey, if you would like. Follow behind, jump ahead, join the journey in Wyoming later this year if that's your wish. And let me know your thoughts!

Happy reading!!!