May 2014 archive

Review: Just One Night

Just One Night, by Gayle Forman

Goodreads summary:
After spending one life-changing day in Paris with laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter, sheltered American good girl Allyson “Lulu” Healey discovered her new lover had disappeared without a trace. Just One Day followed Allyson’s quest to reunite with Willem; Just One Year chronicled the pair’s year apart from Willem’s perspective. Now, back together at last, this delectable e-novella reveals the couple’s final chapter.

Jenny’s thoughts:
First thing’s first. Just One Day blew my mind. Like, brain-matter-and-skull-bits-all-over-the-room-blew-my-mind. I wasn’t looking at words on pages, I was in Paris, swooning over Willem, wondering what in the world this crazy-beautiful story was doing to me. And since I’ve never actually been to Paris, I was cursing my younger self for not going when I was young and careless and free to wander about the world with a backpack and my good looks.

PSA: Go to Paris before you enter the Real World, anyone who might read this before they actually enter the Real World. For the love of God, GO.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, you could say I was itching to read Just One Year after the experience I had reading Just One Day. You could say it was worse than waiting for Christmas morning when you’re 7 years old.

You could say I read Just One Year and felt like the 7-year-old who got to unwrap piles of fun presents but just had to sit and look at them from across the room, wondering how awesome they must be to play with.

I love Gayle Forman. But if I had been in the same room as her when I finished reading Just One Year, I probably would have flicked her in the forehead, then I would have tied her up and forced her to tell me what happens after the last page.

NOW. It is common practice for authors who end books with something more to be desired to give the Peter Van Houten answer (the fictional douchebag author from The Fault in Our Stars) that books simply end. There is no after party, there is nothing else. Somewhat more kind are the authors who say readers are welcome to use their imaginations based on what they’ve interpreted.

In regard to Just One Year, I apparently wasn’t alone in my frustration. In regard to what kind of author Gayle Forman is, she heard our cries for MORE PLEASE and did exactly what we readers all want.

She gave us more.

Why didn’t she just end Just One Year with what became Just One Night? Read Forman’s explanation here, from when she announced the release of Just One Night.

I just finished reading Just One Night, and I must say, if I were in the same room as Forman right now, I’d probably tackle-hug her because THIS IS HOW IT ENDS. This is exactly what I anticipated from the second I put down Just One Day.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for this to be some trickery because surely the woman who withheld this from us to start with had something wicked up her sleeve.

But she didn’t. Just One Night is just pure bliss.

Review: The Boy on the Wooden Box

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

From Goodreads:

Even in the darkest of times—especially in the darkest of times—there is room for strength and bravery. A remarkable memoir from Leon Leyson, one of the youngest children to survive the Holocaust on Oskar Schindler’s list.Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson’s life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory—a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s List.

This, the only memoir published by a former Schindler’s List child, perfectly captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Most notable is the lack of rancor, the lack of venom, and the abundance of dignity in Mr. Leyson’s telling. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a legacy of hope, a memoir unlike anything you’ve ever read.


Andrea’s Thoughts:  This is the first new audiobook I’ve picked up in a while. It’s short, (less than five hours!) but so, so moving. It’s the story of a little boy whose life and family were saved, on multiple occasions, by Oskar Schindler.  I’ve only seen Schindler’s List once, but it’s not a movie that’s easily forgotten. This memoir is the same way. I’ve devoured so many memoirs and stories about WWII, about survivors and soldiers and POWs in Japanese and German camps, and this book has easily made my top ten list in that category.

Review: The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier

Synopsis (Goodreads): In New York Times bestselling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape. 

Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality. 

However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs. 

A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history

What I Thought: I know I’ve talked before about how excited I get when books are set in places that I’m really familiar with, so when I realized that this book takes place almost entirely in Northeast Ohio, I was so in. I’m not totally sure why I even picked this up because Tracy Chevalier has not really blown me away in the past- I’ve read The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Falling Angels and just felt pretty “meh” about them- but when I realized that it was an Underground Railroad book that took place 30 miles from where I live? I was super excited.

And I actually think that this was a way more successful book than her other two that I read. I’m not sure if it was, in fact, because it was in a place that was familiar to me and about a subject that I have a passing familiarity with, but I felt a sense of connection here that was absent in the other books that I’ve read by this author.

That said, while there was connection to the time and place, there was very little character connection for me. Honor was this great blank canvas- she came to America young and alone and her big things were being quiet and quilting. By the end of the book… well… her big things were being quiet and quilting. She did go through subtle transformation when she helped with the Underground Railroad, but it never felt like a transformation as much as it was just this weird out of character thing that she fell into by accident and pretty much quit as soon as someone asked her to.

I just feel like this story called for a ballsy female lead and Honor didn’t do it for me. I got excited every time Belle Mills came onto the scene because THAT is who I wanted to read about. The author seemed to put more effort into giving her side characters personality than she did giving Honor a personality of her own.

In the end, I do think I would recommend this because I loved the storyline itself but just don’t expect to fall in love with the characters.


Review: William McKinley

William McKinley (The American Presidents #25) by Kevin Phillips

From Goodreads: By any serious measurement, bestselling historian Kevin Phillips argues, William McKinley was a major American president. It was during his administration that the United States made its diplomatic and military debut as a world power. McKinley was one of eight presidents who, either in the White House or on the battlefield, stood as principals in successful wars, and he was among the six or seven to take office in what became recognized as a major realignment of the U.S. party system.

Phillips, author of Wealth and Democracy and The Cousins’ War, has long been fascinated with McKinley in the context of how the GOP began each of its cycles of power. He argues that McKinley’s lackluster ratings have been sustained not by unjust biographers but by years of criticism about his personality, indirect methodologies, middle-class demeanor, and tactical inability to inspire the American public. In this powerful and persuasive biography, Phillips musters convincing evidence that McKinley’s desire to heal, renew prosperity, and reunite the country qualify him for promotion into the ranks of the best chief executives.

Jennie’s Thoughts: This book was so very dry, and while only 150ish pages, it was so very long. I prefer biographies that dive both into the political world of the president and the personal world. This biography really only focused on politics, mentioning McKinley’s personal life only when it directly impacted his professional life. (His wife’s illness, etc)

It was a slightly bent in the pro-McKinley camp, but overall I felt I read a mostly general overview of is political life and how he impacted the Republican party. However, possibly the thing I was most upset about was that there wasn’t any details on his assassination. Just commentary on what he might have done better, had he not been assassinated.

I picked this biography because it was the cheapest of the options, but I wish I’d maybe gone for one of the others now knowing how it skipped the personal aspects of his life. If someone wants a great detail of his politics, this is certainly a good book to pick up. I finished it feeling like I didn’t know much about McKinley outside of that arena.

Review: Open Road Summer

Goodreads summary for Open Road Summer by Emery Lord:
After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

Jenny’s thoughts:
For all the times I thought, “This is so not a happy summer book,” while reading The Disenchantments, I thought, “This is totally what a happy summer book should be,” while reading Open Road Summer, Emery Lord’s debut novel.

Dee is the best friend we’d all love – sweet, bubbly, ridiculously famous but down to earth and most happy with her people. Reagan is just enough of a bad girl to be the yang to Dee’s yin, but neither is stereotypically unbelievable or even transparent. Both girls are genuine characters, people you could pick out of your own life. And then there’s Matt Finch. What girl doesn’t swoon over a boy with a guitar? And a piano? And a voice? And songwriting skills? COME ON.

Then, even though the title matches the name of Dee’s song about spending summers with Reagan, the book takes place on the road as they tour across the US in big, cushy tour buses.

This book is like a teen dream come true.

Like any teen dream, though, there is a dose of dra-ma, and I admittedly wanted to shake the characters just a little bit. Okay, a lot. But their problems are the problems we all know as teens, and it’s only hindsight that makes it crazy to me. It’s a bad side effect of being a decidedly not-young adult reading young adult novels. Alas.

Open Road Summer is the perfect pool or beach read. If you’re lucky enough to be one of those folks who can read while riding in the car it would be even better as a road-trip read. This book, feet up, windows down, country music in the back ground? Perfection.

Review: Wish You Well

Wish You Well by David Baldacci


It’s a coming-of-age tale reminiscent of that timeless classic, To Kill a Mockingbird , where the setting — Virginia mountain coal country in the post-Depression ’40s — is as much a character as any of the people who walk the pages. 

The lives of 12-year-old Lou Cardinal and her eight-year-old brother, Oscar (“Oz”), are forever altered when an auto accident takes the life of their writer father and leaves their mother in a catatonic state. Used to the hectic bustle of New York City, they find themselves transplanted to the mountain cabin home of their great-grandmother, Louisa Mae Cardinal. Their new home has no electricity or running water, and their food comes not from any grocery store but from the barn and the land. Their new neighbors are simple folk, many of them poor, uneducated, and worked to the bone. But beneath them all is The Mountain, with its power to mesmerize and nurture their minds and their souls.

Though Lou rebels against her new life at first, she eventually grows to appreciate her hardscrabble existence, rising before dawn to milk the cows, attending school in a one-room schoolhouse, and then working till dusk to prepare, plant, and harvest crops. Her great-grandmother’s simple lifestyle, boundless spirit, and obvious love of The Mountain become contagious. But there is plenty of ugliness here, too, not the least of which is the pervasive poverty and prejudicial ignorance subscribed to by some. When a greedy corporate entity enters the picture, Baldacci takes his readers into territory more familiar, culminating the tale in a highly satisfying David-and-Goliath-style courtroom battle. 

The title is an apt one, a reference to Oz and Lou’s childish wishes and their belief in things wondrous and magical, a belief that often slams up against the harsh truths of reality. Yet in the end, something magical does prevail. And although all the characters in this tale may not survive, the mystical allure of The Mountain and its effect on those who come to know it, does.


Something you may not know about me is I’m a big thriller junkie. Murder thrillers, legal thrillers, horror thrillers… you name an author who writes them and I’m likely to own every title by that writer. So when my friend Lauren casually mentioned her favorite book was a non-thriller by David Baldacci, I was intrigued. I mean, I have no less than six Baldacci books on my shelf, and I’ve read more from the library.

This was all a few years ago, back when I only had one kid and that one kid slept more than six hours a day. So I borrowed this non-thriller, a decent sized book titled WISH YOU WELL, and I dove in blind and trusting. Son. I loved this book. I read it, I cried, I read it again, I laughed, I bought it, and I read it again. I wish I had it on hand so I could share a pic of its well-worn pages, but it’s loaned out right now.

Just thinking about this book makes me wanna read it again!


Can’t Even Fake It.

You guys. I’m sorry.

I post on Tuesdays. I know this. Did I schedule something ahead? Of course not. Did I go on vacation and forget that real life exists? Yes.

No review today, my friends.

BUT! I will tell you this: Jennie and I took our kids on vacation to a farm and it was blissful. They fed chickens and went fishing and petted goats and rolled around with dogs and gathered our eggs for breakfast in the morning. They were in heaven and we got to relax and hang out and… I can’t even get over it.

Have you ever went on a vacation that wasn’t normal hotel/sight seeing or beach stuff? I loved this alternative and would love to hear about what else you’ve done!

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