Saturday, September 21, 2013

Me Before You (2012)

Me Before YouMe Before You by Jojo Moyes
Rating: 5/5

THE Low Down

Lou has lived her 26 years quietly within the borders of her small English town, holding the same job for nearly a decade, helping her family get by, keeping her resentments to herself as she puts her family before her. Will has spent his time traveling the world, amassing wealth and a life list that many modern day adventurers would envy until a motorcycle accident derails his high flying lifestyle, leaving him a quadriplegic. Lou's life is also turned upside down when the loss of her job also shakes the stability of her neatly ordered world.
Lou in need of a job and Will in need of a “companion”, their lives are thrown together in a way both despise. Lou does not want to be the companion to someone who hates her; Will doesn't want a companion of any kind, or to continue living a life where he requires one. But there is much more to the story than Lou first realizes, as Will already has plans to escape. But not if Lou has anything to do with.

MY Low Down

This has been touted as a modern day love story, but to say only that does a disservice to this incredibly deep, heart wrenching novel that can both lift you up and knock you down in a matter of seconds. It looks at some of life’s most difficult questions in a way that is so fluid and moving that you often don’t realize the importance of the subject at hand, just that it has been presented in a way that is both readable and thought provoking.

At its heart are the characters who are actually REAL. No, they didn’t hop out of the book and start having a conversation with me, but it felt like they could have. Louisa is the child who has always been second fiddle to the “better at everything” older sibling. She compensated by dressing in bright colors, bringing home money to contribute to the family kitty, remaining stable in the face of her sister’s “look at me! Love ME!” attitude. We’ve all known this person, been this person, and Lou embodies it in a way that is realistic, lovable, annoying and relatable all at once. While her stability has helped her family, it has hindered her personally. She’s never left the shadow of the castle, her town’s one claim to tourist fame, and she doesn’t really care if she ever does. Will on the other hand was happy to leave it in the dust to wander streets of Paris, surf on exotic beaches, leap tall buildings (or off tall mountains, or planes, or whatever else he could get his hands on) in a single bound. Now, Lou has the ablebodiedness to do the exploring but not the heart to do it. Will has the heart but not the physical ability. The combination of these personalities brought out one of the many deeper messages from within the pages: do YOU live your life to its fullest? And if you’re Lou, you also ask who has the right to judge whether you have or not? And if you act as your own judge and jury, from what are you basing your opinion? There are no actual answers to these questions, for anyone, anywhere, yet they are ones that many of us spend a great deal of time in life trying to answer. If we are lucky, we may someday know ourselves well enough to trust that our verdict is correct, or have enough faith in ourselves to follow through, but that is such a personal thing that I honestly don’t feel it can even be described.

The relationship the develops between Lou and Will is tenuous at first but develops into genuine love for one another, though the way they see their future and what that love means could not be farther apart from one another. Lou can’t see her life without Will, who has opened her heart, her mind, and the doors through which she has begun to broaden her horizons. Will can’t see his life at all, and even worse he can’t see himself burdening Lou’s newfound freedom and passion with his disability. To Lou, losing Will is unimaginable. To Will, losing Lou is the ONLY thing he can do. The manifestations of their love for one another are in such different realms of human thought that it is hard to believe that stem from a common bond, but JoJo Moyes takes you through their relationship in such a way that it ultimately more sense than you ever could have imagined. Don’t get me wrong – it sucks – I cried like a baby – but it made sense. And I loved it for it. There is not happy anything here, yet somehow it is all happy. It forces you to look at a perspective that is not often brought up.
Plus, the writing is just excellent!

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Feature & Follow Friday #3 - Blog Hopping Happiness!

Feature & Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee's View and is a way for book bloggers to make new friends, gain new followers and find new folks to follow yourself!

So, what's new for this week....?

Q. What were some of your favorite picture books as a kid? If you have kids, what are your favorites to read to them? 

WARNING!! I read just as much as a kid as I do now, so I will make my best futile attempt to keep this from becoming it's own book. And, I may throw in a couple of non-picture books since I tended to like those better...I was a conundrum of a child at times :)

 One of my all-time favorites, both as a kid and to read to my nieces & nephews....

 I had honestly forgotten about both of these until I started thinking about this week's question, though I'm not sure how....Clifford and the Berenstein Bears ROCK! They always had a large selection of the BB books at the library & school book fairs and I would stockpile allowance money to buy them everytime, and then my mom would make me share them with my brothers.......

One of those non-picture books that will always be a childhood favorite, and one that I will even re-read now (honest...I just bought it on Kindle last week!). There was something so romantic about the kids living in the museum and solving the mysteries. This story definitely gets some credit for sparking my love of history!

 Sadly this one was not around when I was a kid, but EVERY baby that is born to a friend or family member of mine these days gets a copy of it. It may not be well known everywhere, but it is certainly a classic to anyone who has raised children around YNP!

 I received my first copy of this from my aunt for on my 6th birthday and we had a lover affair that ended only when the books spine could no longer keep up with me. My dad and I would read some every night, and it was always a negotiation on what we would read (Dad: You get one long one and 2 short ones...Me: Ok. Me after reading the long one: Dad! That was NOT long!). I used to be able to recite "Sick" and "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout" made me laugh every time my dad read it, no matter how many times I heard it!

And how can you NOT love this one? Another that I buy several of a year because every child I know must have one!

So which ones will you never forget? Join the hop and let us know! Add yourself to the list below to join the fun, check here for the rules and to ask questions on the Feature & Follow, and follow me via GFC (preferred) or BlogLovin if you feel like coming back for another visit. Happy hopping!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Daily Delights - For the LOVE of Doggies!

NO. I. do. not. want. a. bath! Seriously though, don't we all wish that our fury friends could talk rather than just squeak, squeal, squawk, whine and yip? I can handle when my best friends' one-year olds do this because at least they will learn to talk eventually, but with critters I am perpetually stuck attempting ESP. But even worse than that? They can't talk to us, but they can still think! Sure, they don't understand human language the way we do so don't think in an internal monologue that we'd understand, but that doesn't mean they don't have their own internal monologue. Is there a doggy equivalent to "is she really wearing that?!", "did she really just say that?!" or worse, the "damn I hate that b*%#" as you're walking away?

My favorite insight into life with the four-legged kind is Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain. Whether you're an animal lover or not, it is extremely difficult to not fall in love with Enzo. But reading this novel comes with a warning: don't start until you're ready to not stop! If you are like me and fall instantly in love, you will be laughing, crying, burning your dinner because you forgot it was even cooking and then looking over to see that it is now 3am and you have finished the book....and may even feel like re-reading in the very next day!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Looking for Alaska - John Green (2006)

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green
RATING: 3.5/5
THE Low Down

Miles "Pudge" Halter's only friends are the books that his father constantly reminds him to stop highlighting and the only guests at his going away party are a couple of kids he occasionally sits with at lunch who probably only came because their parents made them. But his books tell him that there is more than this, and he thinks his ticket to finding it is hiding in the woods outside Birmingham, Alabama at Culver Creek Preparatory School. He doubts his decision from the moment he arrives to find a lack of air conditioning, a room that looks nothing like what his JFK biography told him boarding school looked like, and once again being the outsider. Until he meets Alaska Young. Alaska is a whirlwind - holding guilt about her mother's death, bucking the system while still wanting to be a part of it. The whirlwind turns Pudge's life on end, launching him toward his "Great Perhaps", makes him question everything, answer what he can, and try to hold onto his heart. And then the storm is over. Torn between whether knowledge truly is the best thing or just a path towards more pain, Pudge and friends delve deeper into who, and what, Alaska really was and in turn are forced to face these very questions about themselves.

MY Low Down

I both loved and not-so-much loved Looking for Alaska, and for such a wide range of reasons. First off though, it is a well written and *mostly* creative novel. It draws you in the from the beginning and keeps a quick pace that holds onto you. I liked the characters. I liked the message. I liked the story. I didn't love any of it.

The premise of Miles and Alaska is great, but just a little too typical. I love Alaska's passion, maddening mood swings and inspiring energy, but I have also loved it in every other character like her in every other story I've read or watched that had such a character (my knee jerk comparison was Drew Barrymore in Mad Love). They are endearing and intriguing, but they need something to separate them from all the others before them.

The underlying themes Alaska pulls you into though are well constructed and presented, and in a way that many of all ages can relate to. We have all been the outsider, loved and lost, rebelled against the system. Green writes his way through the days of angst-ridden teenagers in a believable way that makes you think that YES, that could have been me, and what would I have done? How would I have reacted.

Unfortunately though, I also got hung up on the number of things that just struck me as so unrealistic. As I've said before, I'm completely ok with creative license where appropriate. This is not the kind of story where I want that exercised. This story is serious, down to earth in dealing with real issues and sky ward in energy. I did not need it go skyward in liberties though. For example...has anyone else ever heard of a school with only a few "expelable offenses" that are so black and white that the students can basically prank, riot and raise the most ridiculous kind of ruckus, but are safe because they didn't "officially" commit an expelable offense? And smoking in their dorm room? Really? These details may seem nit picky, but if you want me to buy into the serious themes of the story and that these could be real kids dealing with real life issues, their setting needs to be realistic.

Overall though this is an almost great book, one which I can certainly see a lot of value in. I can easily see it being a 4 or 5 star read for others who see things from a different angle than I do as it is well written, engaging and gutsy in taking on tough subjects.

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Daily Delights - Yellowstone Wildfires

Image from National Weather Service - August 2013
What a difference a day can make! Fire is a natural part of a forest ecosystem and something many people contend with year after year. When they happen in Yellowstone each year though, there is always the perpetual question of "what do we do?". To let it burn means to allow the forest to follow it's natural course, but also drastically alters the landscape and risks the safety of visitors and historic structures. To suppress it protects these things, but to the detriment of the forests natural life cycle. And weighing even heavier than these questions, is the question of who gets to decide?

Alston Chase's Playing God in Yellowstone goes into this and other controversial subjects, essentially telling the National Park Service that it is destroying the world's 1st National Park. Whether you agree with him or not, it is still a compelling read that will get you thinking about what should or should not be done with our land, as well as who you think should get to decide.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Daily Delights - Paradise Valley, MT

Photo by John Salvato - Emigrant forest fire August 2013
Comprised of the 50 mile stretch between Livingston and Gardiner en route to Yellowstone National Park, the Paradise Valley of Montana is exactly as it's name implies. In this beautiful place, you will find the meandering Yellowstone River, historic lodges, soaring peaks and working ranches, which all lend to the amazing combination of scenery and old west atmosphere. If you look hard enough, you will also find the quaint little "ghost" town of Old Chico, nestled into the hills behind the historic Chico Hot Springs Resort.

To get a little taste of the Paradise Valley of old, check out local author Edie Mellgren's new novel, The Vindication of Lucas Goddard. I just got it today and haven't had a chance to get into it yet, but I'm hearing good things. Look for my review sometime in the next couple of weeks!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Feature & Follow Friday #2 - Blog Hopping Happiness!

Feature & Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee's View and is a way for book bloggers to make new friends, gain new followers and find new followers of your own!

So, what's new for this week....?

Q: It is up to you to do a Kickstarter campaign for your favorite book!!! Who are you casting for the main characters? 

Given that I am TERRIBLE at envisioning who I would cast as my favorite main characters and admittedly don't always love the choices that are made (or go further and say do not love at all when it comes to Kristen Stewart and Twilight....I will NEVER like her!). But I digress.

Instead of trying to picture something I will do terribly, I'm going to think about a recent choice that has received A LOT of attention, and in a lot of cases angry fans Twitter screaming to the world - Charlie Hunnam as Christian Gray. Say what you will about whether you think he will make a good Christian, but I personally am completely OK with this choice for one essential reason......

...he sure is nice on the eyes. I mean, this is Yummy Reads, right?

And let's be honest folks, the books weren't good (don't take that as I didn't like them, because I was thoroughly entertained, as embarrassing as that can be to admit at times). Do you really think the movies are going to be actual GOOD movies? Doubtful. So if the movie itself isn't great, I'm thrilled that one of my all-time fave hunky actors is at least going to be walking around showing it off for a couple hours :)

So who would YOU cast in your favorite book's movie? Or who has been cast that you loved, or not-so-loved? Join the hop and let us know! Add yourself to the list below to join the fun, check here for the rules and to ask questions on the Feature & Follow, and follow me via GFC (preferred) or BlogLovin if you feel like coming back for another visit. Happy hopping!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Weekend Wanderings - Playing on Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake is the largest alpine (7000+ feet above sea level) in North America, and one of my favorite places to escape from the world. With 110 miles of shoreline and a deepest point of over 400 feet, it is no small or calm space - it takes at least an hour to cross in a pretty quick boat, and it's not uncommon to see whitecaps and 3-4 foot swells (or larger!) when an afternoon storms rolls off the mountains. Many of those miles of shoreline abut some of the most remote wilderness in North America, rivaled only by Alaska in it's distance from the nearest road. So, can you think of a better place to take a really adorable little guy out for his 1st birthday? As his mom is a former guide on the Lake and mom and dad were married on an island in the middle of it, I certainly can't!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Life In Men - Globetrotting and conquest collecting can be a lot more meaningful than you might think....

A Life in MenA Life in Men by Gina Frangello
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

THE Low Down

Mary and Nix are the typical opposites-attract, childhood best friends - Mary is a sensible, sweet, loyal; Nix has a wandering spirit with a hunger for the unknown, may it be small town Ohio Friday night or a trek across the Atlantic, nothing is too small for her to make it an adventure. When Mary is diagnosed with an ultimately terminal illness at 17, neither of them can foresee the effect it will have the worldviews of them both, and how these changes will manifest themselves and shape each of their entire futures. When Nix convinces Mary to join her on a summer trip to the Greek Isles, meant to bring them closer together and show Mary a world that neither of them believes she will have much time to see, unthinkable events transpire that drive a wedge between them. They part at the end of their trip, Mary back to college and medical treatments in Ohio, Nix to her study abroad in London, not knowing it will be last time they ever see each other.
Flying on the tails of her lost friend, Mary embarks on her own journey to London, seeking things she does not yet know, and for a time even becoming her friend – assuming her name, and living vicariously through how she thinks Nix would have done. Mary’s journey beyond a boarding house in London takes her throughout the world and all walks of life, from rural New England to the wilds of Africa and beyond, and through the series of men who come in and out of her life and help shape not only her path but both who she is and who she thinks she is. Through the eyes of a young woman who knows her time on earth is shorter than many, she struggles with finding both her place in the world and the place that the people in her life have, and should or should not have, and in the end searching for what ultimate does, or does not matter.

MY Low Down

If you knew your time was more limited than most, how do you think you would live that time? Do you think the other people in your life would understand and support you, even if they didn’t agree with you? With unique and engrossing style, this thought provoking and stirring story makes you want to scream, cry, think and trek around the world in a bat of an eye.

A Life in Men not only forces thought about these questions, but does so from the intriguing perspective of breaking down a woman’s adult life by the men that helped shaped each part of it, and in turn the many different parts of her. Seemingly always torn between love and sex, now and then and what is to come, and whether she feels like being “herself” or her more adventurous best friend, Mary manages to pack more into her shortened life than many who will get two or three times the number of years to do so, and Gina Frangello helps you love her even when you want to hate her. When she disregards her health, you want to scream at her for a moment, but then you start to think about whether you would do the same thing – live life safe so that it lasts longer, or live life well and accept that it may make it a bit shorter? When she falls into bed with men she probably shouldn’t, you want to shake her and ask what the heck she’s doing – and then you think “but would I do that too if I could?” The men in her life are fathers, brothers, lovers and friends, all with distinct and interesting personalities and histories. Some provide love and companionship, others provide outlets for escape, but all have a place that add definition to Mary’s journey.

For a time, Mary also continues her communication with her lost friend, via her “Nix Notebook”. This one sided communication reveals more of the inner workings behind her actions and choices, giving a little hint of the first person POV that helps both understand her more personally and question her all the more. When Mary reaches a point where she feels she needs to break herself away from the Nix Notebook, she is symbolically shedding the skin she had been living in and accepting that she truly can LIVE on her own, without the psychological tie to “what would Nix do?” While she seems to succeed in leaving that part of her life behind, she ultimately realizes that she can’t let go of anything – she can choose what she dwells on and what she puts behind her, but at the end it will all be an element of the glue the holds her life together and makes her the person she becomes. The only true downfall of this story was that we weren’t given the opportunity to know Nix better – the small introduction and periodic appearances just don’t quite add up to enough of a connection to truly care about her or the place in the story. This disconnect made the bridge between Nix and Mary’s reliance on and influence from her seem shaky at times, as though she was entered as a bit of an afterthought that was never allowed to fully partake in the story. The connection and theme of her is there and makes sense, but could have definitely been stronger and had more of an impact had the chance been there to really feel something for her, and in turn her relationship with Mary. I also would have loved to see the two girls connected more fully when Mary spends her time in London, rather than the brief bits and pieces we are given.
NetGalley ARC

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