SHAKING UP MY INTERIOR WORLD: ENJOYING THE CHANGES (& SATURDAY SNAPSHOTS)

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Good morning!  Join in today to explore my interior world, and check in at West Metro Mommy Reads, for other Snapshot posts.

My interior world has changed dramatically since the arrival of my house guests.  My eldest son has been living in Europe on and off for the past twenty years, and more recently, he has made Berlin his home.  It had been eight years since he last visited, and two years ago, he and his lovely partner, Gabi, tied the knot.

While I had visited via Skype, the opportunity to enjoy them in person was a fabulous gift.

When they landed in California, they spent a few days in LA before coming here to Central California.  Here are a couple of shots of their adventures.  Below, snapshots of The Broadway, in Hollywood, where my second son lives and where they stayed.

 

 

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Then they enjoyed the fireworks from the rooftop:

 

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When they finally arrived in Central California, they took up temporary residence in my office/guest room…and I moved my temporary blogging/writing station here, into the dining room:

 

 

 

 

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I love having my normal routines shaken up a bit….it is definitely fun to see how I can rearrange things.

I also love all the family time.  We move back and forth between my home and my daughter’s, and every night is like a party.  I am not sure how long we will have them here…they are in the states for almost three months, but also plan to drive up the coast.

Probably they will want to visit my youngest son and his wife in the northernmost parts of the state (below).

 

 

Crescent City

 

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Do you enjoy shaking up your interior world now and then?  I know that sometimes I am stuck in a routine of blogging, reading, and visiting other blogs.  And while I love that part of my life, it is great to realize that I can enjoy a lot more.

Traveling may be on my horizon.  What about you?

***

REVIEW: PRETTY BABY, BY MARY KUBICA

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Heidi and Chris Wood have a marriage that seems to work for them. Longevity, a twelve-year-old daughter Zoe, and a lovely condo near Chicago.

Yes, Chris travels too much, in his career as an investment banker, but for the most part, this works for Heidi, too, as she has her own career teaching literacy classes. She loves helping the underprivileged, and even before we see what happens next, we are ready. Ready for her to do the unthinkable.

So one day, when Heidi spots a young woman with a baby near the train station, looking cold…and possibly homeless, she is drawn to them. She begins seeing them over and over until the night that she decides to do something about it.

What Heidi does next seems completely out of the box, and seemingly without a second thought, she takes the plunge anyway. Does she realize that she could be threatening everything she has and all the people she knows? What dark moments in Heidi’s past have contributed to the empty space inside that is suddenly filled by the presence of Willow and baby Ruby, in her life and in her home?

Narrated alternately by Heidi, by Chris, and then by Willow, Pretty Baby is a mesmerizing tale that takes the reader to the dark side.

Especially in Willow’s narrative, when we learn much more about her past, what events informed her life, and what contributed to the train wreck her life has become. But is she a reliable narrator? Or could she be fictionalizing events for her own purposes?

The characters were completely believable, and I found myself connecting more to Heidi than I would have imagined I could. Chris was someone whose behavior annoyed me, even as I could understand how he would resent the intrusion of Willow and the baby. But his attraction to his colleague Cassidy, who traveled with him and other co-workers, made him seem like the kind of man who reacts when his needs are not immediately met.

Even though I rooted for Heidi, I also found her behavior frightening. What would she risk to help a stranger? Even when I knew about what had happened to her in the past, it was hard for me to conceive of some of her actions. And then, as more of the story unfolds, we see her descend into a morass from which she might never escape.

Zoe, the twelve-year-old, was an annoying pre-teen, and her behavior was so stereotypical, with the scowls, the eye rolls, and the belligerence, that I pretty much dismissed her. Who can relate to someone so cardboard-like?

Despite the frustrations I felt with the characters, I could not put this book down. Completely engaging, and even though I put the pieces together before the end, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen. 5 stars.

***An e-arc of this book was provided by the publishers via NetGalley.

FROM THE INTERIOR: EXCERPTS FROM “CATCHING AIR”

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Let’s have some fun!  Today I am spotlighting a book from an author who is rapidly becoming a favorite:  Sarah Pekkanen, and her book Catching Air, a story that turnings an unflinching eye on the tangled relationships of two pairs of thirty-somethings.

 

 

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Intro:  Dawn Zukoski was scared of lots of things—spiders, lightning bolts, the way New York cabbies drove—but only once in her life had she known true terror.

She was eight years old back then, and visiting her elderly neighbor.  Mrs. Rita’s home was cluttered with gold-framed photos of her long-grown children and towers of Reader’s Digest magazines, and it smelled of dog pee from her two yippy terriers.  But Dawn loved going there because the cookie jar was stocked with Nilla wafers, and the television was always tuned to game shows.

Lacy curtains over the windows hid the sight of other kids on the street playing kickball or hide-and-seek on summer mornings, but Dawn could hear their shouts and cheers.  She didn’t care, though; she and Mrs. Rita were busy competing in their own games of Plinko or One Away.

***

Teaser:  Then Mrs. Rita let out a whoop and clapped her hands sharply—”He landed smack-dab on the one dollar!  Did you see that, Dawn?”—and at the sudden noise, the spell was broken and the dogs charged.

Dawn fell backward, cookies spilling all around her.  “No!” she could hear Mrs. Rita yelling from what seemed like a great distance away.  Dawn thrashed and screamed, but every time she pushed one dog away, the other found its way forward, raking her face with its teeth.  The attack seemed to go on forever. (p. 2).

(I just had to include a couple of paragraphs to convey the frightening situation in its entirety).

***

Blurb:  A chance to run a B&B in snowy, remote Vermont—it’s an offer Kira Danner can’t resist after six soul-crushing years of working as a lawyer in Florida. As Kira and her husband, Peter, step into a brand new life, she quells her fears about living with the B&B’s co-owners: Peter’s sexy, irresponsible brother Rand, and Rand’s wife, Alyssa…who is essentially a stranger.

For her part, Alyssa sees taking over the B&B as the latest in a string of adventures. Plus, a quiet place might help her recover from the news that she can’t bear children. But the idyllic town proves to be anything but serene: Within weeks, the sisters-in-law are scrambling to prepare for their first big booking—a winter wedding—and soon a shy, mysterious woman comes to work for them. Dawn Zukoski is hiding something; that much is clear. But what the sisters-in-law don’t realize is that Dawn is also hiding from someone…

Relatable and dynamic, Catching Air delves deeply into the vital relationships that give shape to women’s lives.

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?  I am eager to find out what happens.

***

REVIEW: ANA OF CALIFORNIA, BY ANDI TERAN

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For almost ten years, Ana Cortez had been at the mercy of the foster care system. In and out of homes, mostly in East LA, she is now at a crossroads. Next stop: a group home. Unless her social worker, Lupe Saucedo, can come up with a creative solution.

As she meets with Ms. Saucedo, Ana learns that, indeed, a new possibility is available to her. She can be placed in Northern California, in redwood country, where she can intern on a farm for the summer. And perhaps longer. The ultimate goal: emancipation.

From the first moments after her arrival in Hadley and to the home of Emmett Garber and his sister Abbie, Ana feels on trial. Every word, every glance, every misunderstanding…they all point to failure, even though she is trying hard. But nobody seems to give her a chance, especially Emmett Garber, who has his own issues and little understanding of Ana’s.

Abbie is impressed by Ana’s creativity, however, and the efforts she has made to do what is required. Small mistakes make it harder, but there are a few moments of connection developing between them.

Naturally, there is a boy, Cole Brannan, who is drawn to Ana, and she to him. But his parents have issues with the Garbers, making Cole a forbidden love. And the attraction between them evokes all of Abbie’s worst memories about her own past errors in judgment.

How do the past mistakes of all the characters play into the events of that summer and fall? Why are so many people unable to give Ana the benefit of the doubt? And, finally, what frightening event will change how everyone sees her? Will Ana finally achieve her dreams of belonging?

Throughout Ana of California, I felt myself rooting for Ana, wishing that I could somehow make others understand her and give her the chance she so sorely needs. She was an appealing character, and I could understand why she connected to the girl named Rye Moon. But I found Rye unlikeable.

Rye, with her somewhat Bohemian style, resonated with Ana. But she seemed to create situations that would evolve into trouble. Lashing out seemed to be Rye’s MO, and this behavior made it hard for this reader to connect to her.

Small town life might have appeared to be a good idea for Ana, but the smallness of the town contributed to many of the problems, too, with residents jumping to conclusions, reacting out of their own preconceptions about Ana and her life. Misunderstandings and miscommunication ran rampant. In the end, this mix added to my fascination with the story, and with my inability to put this book down. 4.5 stars.

**I received this e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE NEW NEIGHBOR, BY LEAH STEWART

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Margaret Riley has enjoyed a long life, and at ninety is sometimes annoyed with the people around her, eschewing contact with most people while lost in her own memories.

So when she notices a new neighbor across the pond, she is caught off guard. The home had been empty for a while, and Margaret had come to count on that.

But she is curious about the younger woman, who has a small child, and finds out who she is in a rather surreptitious way. And arranges for them to meet when the librarian in the village points out the younger woman’s “work wanted” ad.

Jennifer Young and four-year-old Milo have left a past behind them, and hiding the secrets of that past now informs Jennifer’s life. Another mother, Megan, whose son Ben is in Milo’s preschool class, is reaching out to Jennifer. Worried about how much she can share, Jennifer is sometimes tense and often short in her responses.

Set in mountainous Sewanee, in Tennessee, the isolation could be just what each of these characters needs. But will their slowly building connection force their secrets into the open? Will each of them lose the protection of those secrets? Or will something unexpected come to them?

The New Neighbor is told alternately with multiple narrators, primarily from the first person voice of Margaret, and Jennifer’s third person perspective. Slowly we learn about each character, the lives they have lived, and what led them to keeping the secrets they now hope to keep hidden. As the secrets slowly come out, layer by layer, they seem less devastating, in some ways. Less startling.

But then, when Margaret starts to stir the pot, stepping into what is not her business, she unleashes a whole new drama that will impact all the characters.

I enjoyed Margaret and felt for her loneliness, but soon I was disgusted with her meddling. Jennifer was trying to move past the pain of her life with an addict and the betrayal of her daughter Zoe. And Zoe was probably just a typical teen, reacting without thinking.

They all had to accept the consequences of their actions.

A story that I could not put down, this one earned 5 stars from me. Recommended for all who enjoy family drama and secrets.

I received this e-ARC from NetGalley.

KEEPING TRACK: THE TBR STACKS

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As I read blogs today, I noticed a recurring theme, one that has been a big part of my life, too, since I started book blogging.  The TBR Pile (or stack, etc.).  Some even mention the TBR Jar.

I don’t have one of those…but I do have a blog that I started in 2009, dedicated to keeping track of my unread books.  Curl up and Read was a desperate attempt to take control, since I moved into this condo in 2007 with 166 unread books that had to be boxed separately from the rest of my library.  I couldn’t mix the two.

For a while, I even had them sitting on the floor in my bedroom.

 

 

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Then I bought a shelf for them, which made them more dignified.  But creating the blog, where I track my purchases, books read and reviewed, etc., made all the difference.

My physical books are under 10 at the moment.  My Kindle books, however, have grown in numbers, since my daughter gifted me with Sparky in 2010.  Then, earlier this year, I upgraded to Pippa.

 

 

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One of my pages on the blog lists books purchased, another lists books read, with a link to the reviews.  There is a separate page for books from publishers, publicists, etc., with links to the reviews.

I also add the link to my review on the “purchased” pages.

So I can see where I am at a glance.

This morning, I counted 153 books PURCHASED in 2014, with 89 read and reviewed.

In 2015, I have purchased 47 books so far, and read and reviewed 21 of them.

My list of review books is pretty much up to date, with only three NetGalley books still to read and review, but they are being published at the end of June, July, and early August.

My review books have never been the issue, though.  I tend to overbuy…and I think that my lower numbers for this year reflect my determination to request books for review whenever possible, instead of purchasing.  To assist with my Compulsive Book Buying Disorder.

 

 

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So should I add a TBR Jar?  Right now I have a list of unread books on paper, in addition to the page in my blog, to guide me in my reading decisions.

What works for you?

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REVIEW: GOLDEN STATE, BY STEPHANIE KEGAN

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Natalie Askedahl grew up in Sacramento as the youngest of three children in a political family, regularly meeting up with the power brokers in the state’s capital.

Their parents were idealistic, but they reared their children with a kind of benign neglect, not really catering to them, but leaving them to their own devices. Natalie’s big brother Bobby was brilliant, sensitive, and looked out for her; she believed he would always be her hero, and he made her feel safe.

Now that Natalie is grown, with her own family, and enjoying her life in Berkeley with her husband and two daughters, she is distanced from her family of origin, which now consists of her aging mother, and her older sister Sara, living the hippie life in Potter Valley. None of them have seen Bobby in years, who lives in a small shack in Idaho, and he doesn’t answer their letters. But Natalie still idolizes him in her mind.

One day, her world is shattered when a bomb goes off on the Berkeley campus, where her fifteen year old daughter Julia is spending the day. Then, more bombs go off in the subsequent weeks, and while others are wondering about the “Cal Bomber,” responsible for numerous bombings over the years, Natalie is beginning to have a sinking feeling. She realizes that the bomber’s manifesto, as published in the newspaper, is sickeningly similar to a letter Bobby sent to their mother.

What Natalie does next will change everything about her life, until it is reduced to “before and after.” Promises were broken, and now Natalie and her family are in the eye of the storm, with reporters hounding them at every turn. Will her marriage be shattered in the wake of everything that transpires? Can she ever return to her job as a teacher again?

Narrated in Natalie’s first person voice, we see her horrific dilemma…and we also learn, through her memories, about how she grew up, and even some of the ways their family looked away from the hard realities in order to see themselves as good and dedicated people, with a loving family life. The challenges of facing reality, and the mental illness that has taken over her brother’s life, will be one of Natalie’s greatest tasks in the months ahead.

The characters were like real people, and I felt for everyone in the story, from the victims to the man at the center of the storm. Natalie’s husband Eric, however, in my opinion, was too focused on how others would perceive him, and how everything happening would affect his position as a partner in a prestigious law firm. He was less than sympathetic to what Natalie was experiencing. In fact, he railroaded her into taking the action that would lead to the train wreck that would become their life.

A slow build kept me glued to the pages, wondering if anything good could come of their lives. The drama unfolded and while there were no big surprises, Golden State: A Novel did pack a wallop, leaving me much to ponder. To consider how any of us could make a right choice in a situation like this one. 4.5 stars.