Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review: Home Field by Hannah Gersen

When you build a life and then the rug is pulled out from under you, it can be hard to find a way forward, especially if life changes completely unexpectedly, without warning. In Hannah Gersen's novel, Home Field, one family in rural, small town Maryland has to rebuild themselves after a suicide tears them apart, reconfigures their family, and makes each of them reexamine their priorities.

Dean is the local football coach. He's a huge figure in the community, a minor celebrity of sorts, not least because his teams through the years have been incredibly successful. He is consumed by his coaching, especially since he's a little bit lonely in his marriage sometimes. Despite this, when on a family vacation to his father's farm, his wife Nicole, hangs herself, he is blindsided. In the wake of her suicide, he needs to try and pick up the pieces not only of his own life but also that of their children. Stepdaughter Stephanie is reluctantly getting ready to leave for college for the first time and her ambivalence about leaving her remaining family comes out in rebelliousness and acting out. Eighth grader Robbie, who likes acting over sports, is the one who found his mother in the barn. He starts cutting school and running off as his way to deal with his grief. And sweet little Bry works hard at seeing the best of everyone, trying to cause no one any trouble in this already overwhelming time.

As Dean tries to find the way through for his children, he finds that everything has changed. Football can no longer dominate his every waking hour. He resigns, taking on the less time intensive job of coaching the girls' cross country team. But even with more attention from their father, the kids are floundering. And Dean is too. He feels badly for having feelings about another woman. He is confused and feels guilty even though nothing he could have done would have fixed Nicole's depression. All he can do for himself and his children is to fumble through and do his best, learning what they all need to start healing as they go along.

This is a quiet novel, all of the action taking place in the aftermath of Nicole's suicide. Gersen has done a nice job showing the impact of this sad and desperate act on a family and the children, including extended family in the character of Nicole's sister. She allows her characters to struggle and to make poor decisions, highlighting the fact that each person is affected differently and must grieve in their own way. The narration shifts, showing Dean, Stephanie, and Robbie's internal concerns, hopes, and fears, and making their poor decisions more sympathetic to the reader than they might have been. The narrative tension is not particularly high at any point even though there are plot situations that might have raised it. In fact, this business of the everyday, shot through with the complication of making a new life without Nicole, is, for the most part, unremarkable, sensitive, and realistic.

For more information about Hannah Gersen, check out her web page. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, July 25, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry
Home Field by Hannah Gersen
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
The Winter War by Philip Teir

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Riverine by Angela Palm
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
This Side of Providence by Sally M. Harper
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai

Reviews posted this week:

The Runaway Wife by Elizabeth Birkelund
Finding Fontainebleau by Thad Carhart

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

My Confection by Lisa Kotin
Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick
One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remarkable by Dinah Cox
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
The Unseen World by Liz Moore
The Silver Spoon by Kansuke Naka
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Bottomland by Michelle Hoover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison
The Lake by Perrine Leblanc
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
If You Left by Ashley Norton
The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
And Again by Jessica Chiarella
Man by Kim Thuy
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora
A Good American by Alex George
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman
Home Field by Hannah Gersen
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
The Winter War by Philip Teir

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: Finding Fontainebleau by Thad Carhart

There's something incredibly appealing about moving overseas for a time, isn't there? I have friends who have done it and my husband and I have discussed the possibility of us doing it as well, especially now that our kids are older. Moving with small children, which we've done, is a challenge and I can't imagine all of the logistics involved in doing it with a house full of young children. I can see how those children would have wonderful memories of having lived abroad and would potentially want to revisit the sites of their childhood in adulthood though. Thad Carhart's wonderful new memoir, Finding Fontainebleu, recalls the three years not long after WWII when he and his family moved to France for his father's job as a military attache at NATO headquarters as well as interesting tidbits of French history centered around the chateau of Fontainebleau, and his own visit, after moving back to France with his wife and young children, to the chateau as it underwent restoration.

Carhart's family moved to Fontainebleau, France in the 1950s when he was just starting school. He was the fourth of five children and he recounts his memories of the family's move and everyday life abroad. Even as a young child, he notices the differences between post-war France and the post-war US they've moved from. He details his daily life, his schooling, and what it was like to live in France as an American child. Woven in with these reminiscences, he recounts his visits to Fontainebleau as an adult where he is privileged to be taken inside the chateau beyond the areas open to tourists in order to see the restorations going on in this venerable once royal residence. He speaks with the chief of restorations and comes to appreciate the exactitude of the decisions made and the dilemmas presented by a chateau added to and changed by many different monarchs throughout the ages. As he describes the work on the chateau for the reader, he also has the opportunity to pass on fascinating pieces of French history and the royals, including several Louises and two Napoleons, who inhabited this wonderful, eccentric place.

The tone of the memoir is accessible and pleasing. Carhart pokes fun at the French and at his family in equal measure, with a fondness for both that definitely shines through. The three different pieces of the narrative weave together comfortably and without a hitch, each adding depth to the others. Carhart's memories are surprisingly full given his age when he lived in France but certainly some of the more unusual happenings were probably seared into his memory. This charming memoir is a warm and appealing read, especially for those who have a thing for France but it will be equally engaging for readers who enjoy reading a portrait of a different time and place. Wouldn't we all love to visit Carhart's Paris and his Fontainebleau?

For more information about Thad Carhart, check out his web page like his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: The Runaway Wife by Elizabeth Birkelund

Sometimes a person just wants to disappear. When life isn't going your way, slipping off for some solitude, to regroup, to be alone, sounds wonderful. I imagine this is especially true if life's unpleasantness is playing out in the press or public. But escaping is not the end of it, because sooner or later someone is going to want you to come home, before dinner, before your disappearance has a bigger impact than the original issue, before a predicted snow storm blows in in the Alps. In Elizabeth Birkelund's graceful, short novel The Runaway Wife, this last situation is very much the case.

American Jim Olsen is hiking in the Swiss Alps with a friend. He's taking a brief vacation between jobs (he lost his prestigious job but has another less prestigious one lined up) and trying to come to terms with his ex-fiancee finding someone else. Clearly life isn't going very well for him, his earnest loyalty isn't serving him well at all. When he and his friend make it to an Alpine hutte, they are joined by a trio of beautiful sisters. Named for the muses, Clio, Thalia, and Helene have been trying to find their mother, Calliope, who disappeared into the Alps after her philandering husband, a French politician running for President, was photographed leaving the hospital where he was visiting his mistress and new baby daughter. Jim finds the trio enchanting and finds himself, despite his novice hiking abilities, agreeing to take up the search for Calliope and to return her safely to her daughters before the projected bad weather arrives.

As Jim heads into the mountains looking for Calliope, he has the chance to reflect on his own life, the things he's lost, and what those losses ultimately mean to him. As helicopters sent by Calliope's husband continue to scour the mountains looking for any trace of her, he also has a large, loud, and obvious reminder that it is incredibly hard to permanently escape; your life and your past are always waiting for you. Although Calliope isn't necessarily keen to be found, she accepts Jim's presence in her idyllic mountain hideaway, eventually telling him about her own need for escape and why she is so determined to elude her husband's men. Jim finds Calliope free-spirited and as enchanting as her daughters, two of whom he encounters in his dreams nightly. He is determined to carry out his rescue mission and return to the life he's planned for himself despite growing misgivings. Time is running out on making any of this happen before the predicted snow falls as Jim's adventure becomes a race against time.

Birkelund's writing about the Alps is beautiful and evocative. She has set up the conflict between self-determination and being subsumed under others' expectations simply and clearly. That this dichotomy plays out in more characters' lives than just Jim's and Calliope's is quite well done. The novel is magical in feel but just as elusive and hard to pin down as Calliope is. Jim's meeting with the three sisters feels fated but his immediate and continuing connection to them is a little underdeveloped. The ending is uncertain but still feels right. This brief novel has a very French aesthetic to it and its air of unreality or other-worldliness will put off some readers but its insight into determining your own life is one worth visiting.

For more information about Elizabeth Birkelund, check out her web page or like her Facebook page. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, July 18, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Run the World by Becky Wade
The Runaway Wife by Elizabeth Birkelund
Lift by Daniel Kunitz
Finding Fontainebleu by Thad Carhart
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Riverine by Angela Palm
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
The Winter War by Philip Teir
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
This Side of Providence by Sally M. Harper
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai
The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry

Reviews posted this week:

Lift by Daniel Kunitz
Run the World by Becky Wade

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

My Confection by Lisa Kotin
Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick
One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remarkable by Dinah Cox
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
The Unseen World by Liz Moore
The Silver Spoon by Kansuke Naka
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Bottomland by Michelle Hoover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison
The Lake by Perrine Leblanc
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
If You Left by Ashley Norton
The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
And Again by Jessica Chiarella
Man by Kim Thuy
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora
The Runaway Wife by Elizabeth Birkelund
Finding Fontainebleu by Thad Carhart
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Mata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran. The book is being released by Touchstone on July 19, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From Indian temples and Parisian theatres to German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review: Run the World by Becky Wade

I haven't laced up my running shoes in a very long time. I enjoyed running, enjoyed the people I met through it, and enjoyed how in shape I felt when I was doing it. But I was firmly a middle of the pack recreational runner so when I drifted away from it, I don't think anyone ever noticed, not even me until I woke one day and realized I hadn't run in months. And while I do miss it sometimes and make numerous unkept plans to pick it back up, I have never felt like running was like breathing for me, so vital that I couldn't live without it. Becky Wade, whose account of her year long Watson Fellowship is chronicled in the new memoir Run the World has to run; it is who she is and it is indeed like breathing for her.

Wade is an elite runner who wanted to explore the running culture and training practices around the world after she graduated from Rice University before taking up the mantle of professional runner and Olympic hopeful in her post-college career. She applied for and was granted a Watson Fellowship to do just this, traveling to England and Ireland, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland, Japan, and Australia and New Zealand. In each place she was hosted by people in the local running community, joined in training with local runners, enjoyed the food that elite athletes from these very different parts of the world use to fuel their workouts, and examined the running innovations born in these very disparate places for both elite and casual runners. Wade found very different training regimens across the world, all of which have, at one time or another, developed world class runners, and she tried all of them on her exploratory running year. More than the differences though, what Wade found was a warm and welcoming community of runners the world over. She was embraced by fellow runners, experiencing their world from the perspective of a treasured guest, and coming away from each experience with new dear friends. She also came away from her year with a renewed appreciation for her running gift and a different perspective on training and listening to her body, not tethered so tightly to technology, more intuitive and innate.

Wade has an easy, chatty narrative style making this a fast, delightful read. Her wonder and enthusiasm for her sport and for the people and places she encountered on her travels shine through the book. The brief bits of running history she sprinkles through the very personal tale are interesting, even for the non-runner. As an elite runner herself, her unexpected positivity about recreational runners and joggers and their growth within this accessible sport is a delight. Wade clearly has a wonderfully positive attitude, a curiosity, and a joy about running that served her well as she traveled far from family and friends. She doesn't share much about the harder parts of her year abroad, and there had to be harder parts, so the narrative is definitely weighted towards the incredible and favorable experiences. Each leg of her journey is captured in a separate chapter, at the end of which she adds a recipe from that part of the world. The individual chapters allow her to encapsulate what she's learned from each different country in terms of training, her own body, and the life lessons she takes away from each philosophy she encounters. The book is not terribly long and will take most readers only slightly longer to read than it takes Becky Wade to run a marathon (and she's fast!). Those who love running, those who have an interest in different athletic cultures, and those who enjoy memoirs about a year devoted to doing one thing will certainly enjoy this friendly and entertaining account of Wade's year running around the world.

For more information about Becky Wade, follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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