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Hello From the Gillespies

For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth....The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when a bump on the head leaves Angela with temporary amnesia, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways....

My Review............3.5 stars
The premise of this book was so clever, and something I felt had not been done before, which I really appreciate having read as many books as I do. I love reading the annual Christmas letters from friends (and I have sent them myself), but they almost always portray only the good things that have happened over the years (with the occasional reference to an elderly parent dying). This woman pours her heart out with what is really happening to her family, never intending for the letter to be sent.......but by mistake, it gets sent out! The book is pretty much the fallout of the reactions to the letter. I say pretty much, because it gets a bit lost from the topic during the second half. I loved the first half of the book, but it almost started to take on a soap opera-ish feel in the middle of the book. It did get back on track as far as the character study of the family. I particularly liked the way she wrote the young son Ig into the second half. I did like the writing style, and I did want to find out how all the characters made out at the end of the book.
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Overall, a good (but lengthy) read. Had it not been for the divergence from the original plot, I most likely would have given it another star.
This book is being released on November 4, 2014. I've seen other versions of the cover, so this may not be the US cover. I really like this cover, as it ties into something significant in the book, so I hope they keep it. Thanks to netgalley.com for the advance review.

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My husband and I are currently building a new beach house. This will likely be our main home once our two daughters are out of the house. When we looked at the house plans, I made it very clear that having bookshelves built around the fireplace was an absolute MUST HAVE! He could have anything he wanted in the way of kitchen stuff, I only had three things on my list: a walk-in closet with custom shelves (anyone see a pattern with me and shelving?), a pool (to relax and read by, of course), and bookshelves! We went to check on progress over the weekend, and while the house is about 3 weeks from completion, my shelves are up!! They are not finished yet, but I'm so excited about them. I can't wait to update my header photo, after I get them loaded up.  🙂

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Five Days Left

Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.
Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, and devoted wife and adoptive mother, has recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most. Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance, the power of relationships, and that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.  

My review.............4 stars
Let me preface this review by suggesting that you have some tissues handy at all times. I cried (the first time) at 75 pages in! Do not let that influence you in thinking this is some sappy novel. The subject matter surrounding the two main characters is just the sort of thing that makes me weepy. Ask my family and you will know that this is not hard to do, I can be seen blubbering over the Hallmark commercials on tv 🙂
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The story involves two people who are very indirectly related through a web site chat room. I absolutely loved the character of Mara, and had the book been just her story, I would have easily given it five stars. The story of Scott, while still good, left me feeling a bit ho-hum. I thought it was too predictable, and something that I've read before. I would give his part of the story three stars, hence my overall 4 star rating.
You must read this for Mara's story! Try out the Scott parts, and if you like them, by all means read the entire book. If you are left feeling that you are reading his parts to get back to Mara, just read the Mara parts. It is not the kind of book where you need to read both characters or you will be left confused at the end. I'm still thinking about Mara several days after finishing the story........always the sign of a great read!! Don't miss this one!

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All the Light We Cannot See

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr's gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

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My review...........2 stars
I've had this book on my tbr pile for awhile, and when I saw that it is nominated for the national book award, I decided it was time to pick it up. I so wanted to love this book, it's getting glowing reviews. As is often the case, I don't very often like the books that get nominated for prestigious book awards 🙁  I thought this book was dull, and drawn out, and honestly, not much happens. Sure, it takes place during WWII, so there is that, but the story just didn't grab me like several other books I've read that take place during this time. It also bounces around, not only from one main character to the other (which I didn't mind), but from the present to the past. It just made for confusion, and could have been told in chronological order without destroying anything in my opinion. I did stay engaged enough in Marie Laure's story to keep reading, but I really couldn't get into Werner's character at all. I also felt that the description of the plot was rather deceiving. It makes it sound like the characters interact way more than is the case. Perhaps I would have liked them better if they had been together for more of the book.
I'm giving this one star for not disliking it so much that I couldn't finish, and adding another star for the fact that there is some beautiful writing involved. The descriptions are lovely, and I thought the author did an excellent job writing about Marie Laure (who is blind). I wouldn't recommend this, but as I've stated above, I am not in the majority, lots of 5 stars for this book.

Christmas on Chestnut Street: A Novel

In this enchanting holiday novel from New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer, family and friends gather on Nantucket for a gorgeous winter wedding with plenty of merry surprises in store.

As Christmas draws near, Felicia returns to her family’s home on the island to marry her adventurous, rugged boyfriend, Archie. Every detail is picture-perfect for a dream wedding: the snow-dusted streets, twinkling lights in the windows, a gorgeous red and white satin dress. Except a lavish ceremony is not Felicia’s dream at all; it’s what her mother, Jilly, wants. Jilly’s also worried that her daughter’s life with daredevil Archie will be all hiking and skydiving. Wondering if their handsome neighbor Steven Hardy might be a more suitable son-in-law, Jilly embarks on a secret matchmaking campaign for Felicia and the dashing stockbroker.

As the big day approaches and Jilly’s older daughter, Lauren, appears with rambunctious kids in tow, tensions in the household are high. With the family careening toward a Yuletide wedding disaster, an unexpected twist in Nancy Thayer’s heartwarming tale reminds everyone about the true meaning of the season.

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My Review...........3.5 stars
Cute, fast, fun read that even had me (who hates snow) longing to spend a Christmas season on Nantucket 🙂 I loved the fact that when I started reading, I thought I knew how it was going to end, and was sort of groaning inside, that it would be so typical of a lot of other books in this genre. Without giving anything away, it did not end this way, and for that I was grateful, and liked it even more. The writing style is pretty simplistic, so don't go into this thinking you are going to have anything more than a light, pleasurable read. For me, that is often enough, especially if I'm reading something kind of heavy at the same time. There are several characters in the book that you change your initial attitude about as the story progresses, or at least I did.
This is the perfect book to pick up before the holiday season. I was given a copy to preview by netgalley, so I am reading/reviewing it before it's release date of October 28th. I think if I had waited until November to read it, I probably would have bumped up my review to 4 stars.

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Big Little Lies

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . .
A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.   But who did what?
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:   Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.   New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.
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My Review..........5 stars!
This is one of those books that you just can't put down until you find out what's going to happen! On the surface this book is about the parents (mostly the moms) at an elementary school. It has all the typical social hierarchy, mean moms, and finger pointing that go on all the time in these communities. But it is so much more than that! It's also about what goes on behind closed doors of these families, interspersed with a murder that you not only want to figure out the "who done it", but also the "who is it"? Oh, and there is a huge twist at the end to complete the package! This is one of those books that felt way shorter to me than the over 400 pages that it contains because you just kept turning pages to find out what was going to happen next.
This is my third book by this author (What Alice Forgot and The Husband's Secret being the others), and while I enjoyed the other two, this one is by far my favorite! Such a fun read, don't miss it 🙂

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The House We Grew Up In

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children's lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they've never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in -- and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family's desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

My review..............5 stars
TheHouseWeGrewUpInWhat a great read!! I was first intrigued by this book when I read that one of the central issues was hoarding. I have to admit a fascination with that tv show about hoarders, so I went into the book to fuel that. What I got was SO much more! From watching the television show, it's always very clear that something happens in the people's lives to trigger the hoarding of stuff. It's also true in this case, although Lorelei always had the tendency to collect things well before the extenuating circumstances. All of the characters in this book have issues to deal with, it's without a doubt a dysfunctional family. And yet, they all fit together, and you can see throughout the book why each is the way that they are. This book is written by an English writer who I have not read before, but I'm certain to check out some of her previous works. Her writing style was great, and I got a kick out of some of the names for commonplace items, my favorite being people carrier (ie car). There wasn't really anything I would change about this book, I loved it from beginning to end!
Definitely worth the read, and you'll thank me when it makes you want to clean up all your clutter after you're done 🙂

The Stories We Tell

 
Bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry is back witha powerful novel about the stories we tell and the people we trust.Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family. But things may not be as good as they seem. Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets "back on her feet." Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point. Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it.A riveting story about the power of truth, The Stories we Tell will open your eyes and rearrange your heart.

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My Review...........3 stars
I liked this book overall. It was an engaging read, and I thought it flowed well. The author's use of words and phrases was pleasing, and I thought she did a decent job of moving the story along. I didn't really get invested in any of the characters, but it didn't keep me from enjoying the read. Then I got to the end, and it was ruined. It was just too rushed....almost like she got tired of writing the story, or her deadline was approaching, so she just summed everything up in the most predictable way ever! I don't mind the happily ever after ending to books, but this one didn't have anything slowly leading up to that end, it just happened in about 20 pages. The biggest beef I had was the resolution with the 17 year old daughter. Speaking from experience with teenagers, it just wasn't realistic for things to change so quickly.
I attended a book event with this author, and many of the readers there spoke about how much they enjoyed her books, especially And Then I Found You. I ended up purchasing that book, and will definitely give another of her books a go. If it were not for feeling unfulfilled by the ending, I would have probably rated this 3.5 stars.

Small Blessings

From debut novelist Martha Woodroof comes an inspiring tale of a small-town college professor, a remarkable new woman at the bookshop, and the ten-year old son he never knew he had.Tom Putnam has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. An English professor in a sleepy college town, he spends his days browsing the Shakespeare shelves at the campus bookstore, managing the oddball faculty in his department and caring, alongside his formidable mother-in-law, for his wife Marjory, a fragile shut-in with unrelenting neuroses, a condition exacerbated by her discovery of Tom’s brief and misguided affair with a visiting poetess a decade earlier.
SmallBlessingsThen, one evening at the bookstore, Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the shop's charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to their home for dinner, out of the blue, her first social interaction since her breakdown. Tom wonders if it’s a sign that change is on the horizon, a feeling confirmed upon his return home, where he opens a letter from his former paramour, informing him he'd fathered a son who is heading Tom's way on a train.  His mind races at the possibility of having a family after so many years of loneliness. And it becomes clear change is coming whether Tom’s ready or not.A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, Small Blessings's wonderfully optimistic heart that reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.

My review..........3.5 stars
Overall,I liked this book, but it was divided into two sections, and my feelings about the book were divided along with them. I thought part one (about a third of the book) was a bit slow moving. The writing was very well done, and the characters well developed, but something was just a bit ho-hum for me. The second part of the book picked up considerably. Once we got into the story of Henry, and all the other people of the town, I was hooked. This book does have a rather predictable ending, but the way it gets to that end is all sorts of happy reading! At the end of the book, I found myself wanting to get a followup to find out how all of the characters were doing 🙂 It was an excellent character study of some ordinary people, all of whom had some sadness in their life that they were working through.
I got the chance to hear Martha promote this book at my local bookstore. While she has written many articles for many publications over the years (NPR, NY Times, Washington Post), this is her first novel. The publishing of this book is a dream come true for her, and she spoke about never giving up on a life goal!
This is well worth a read, especially after the first 100 pages.

This past Sunday evening, I had the pleasure to attend an evening with Jan Karon at my local Indie bookstore (Quail Ridge Books & Music). IMG_0117

Jan's newest novel Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good was recently released. It's been 5 years since we've had a Father Tim novel, and 10 years since we've been back in the loveable town of Mitford. For those who follow the series (10 books total), there have been two Father Tim books where he has traveled outside of Mitford, but he is back in this latest novel! It was fun to hear Jan talk about how many letters she received from people wanting the story to be back in Mitford.....she definitely listens to her readers, that was very evident at this event. Truly a delightful sprite of a thing (I look like the Jolly Green.....er.....purple Giant in my pic next to her), she was lovely, and very humbled by all of her success. She talked a lot about some of her favorite characters, two of whom she had to "let go of" when they died in the novels (Uncle Billy and Sadie).  She revealed that there is another Mitford novel in the works, which will hopefully be released next fall.

I have not had the chance to read the new novel yet, but stay tuned for my review soon.

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