Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Review: My Thinning Years

From Good Reads: As a child, Jon tried desperately to be his father’s version of the all-American boy, denying his gayness in a futile attempt to earn the love and respect of an abusive man. With this he built a deep, internalized homophobia that made him want to disappear rather than live with the truth about himself. That denial played out in the forms of anorexia, bulimia, and obsessive running, which consumed him as an adolescent and young adult.

It wasn’t until a grueling yet transformative Outward Bound experience that Jon began to face his sexual identity. This exploration continued as he entered college and started the serious work of sorting through years of repressed anger to separate from his father’s control and condemnation.

My Thinning Years is an inspiring story of courage, creativity, and the will to live--and of recreating the definition of family to include friends, relatives, and teachers who support you in realizing your true self.

My thoughts: Lately, I've been fascinated reading memoirs about other people's lives -- how they lived, how they grew up, how they survived some of the circumstances of their life. This was one of the most engaging memoirs I've encountered as of late.

Written almost as a personal letter to a friend, this book takes the reader through the childhood no child should be forced to endure. Croteau grew up with a controlling father, a mother who wasn't strong enough to help her son in the way he needed. He continually tried to be someone he wasn't. Growing up, the continual struggle of denying his true self led him down a road of unhappiness. In dealing with the struggle of self acceptance, Croteau developed a severe eating disorder and an obsessive running disorder. Oftentimes running long distances with very little to sustain him, at all hours of the day, in an effort to starve the gay within him. 

Eventually, the author is able to start to accept his true self and create his own family.. His struggle to  his true self is powerful and captivating. The odds he has overcome are incredibly inspiring, yet heartbreaking in knowing what he has survived. 

This book is a wonderful read. I actually read in just a few days because I needed to know how the story turned out, its such a beautiful book about the power of acceptance -- of yourself and others.  I would definitely recommend this book if you enjoy inspiring memoirs. 

Disclaimer: I was provided this book for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: Little Island

From GoodReads:
Grace
Flowers
By the water
Have fun!

These are Grace’s mother’s last words – left behind on a note. A note that Grace interprets as instructions for her memorial service. And so her far-flung clan will gather at their inn on Little Island, Maine, to honor her.

Twenty years ago, a tragedy nearly destroyed the Little family – and still defines them. Grace, her husband Gar, and their three grown children, Joy, Roger and Tamar each played a role in what transpired. But this weekend, they will discover that there is more than pain and heartbreak that binds their family together, when a few simple words lift the fog and reveal what truly matters.

My thoughts: This novel is a study of family dynamics at its finest. The book cycles through different points of view as well as shifting back and forth through present and past. While for some, it may be confusing, I felt that the author handled the transitions very well. As someone who enjoys reading about various family struggles, secrets and the aftermath, I connected with the characters right away and thoroughly enjoyed this story.

The setting of coastal Maine is a beautiful backdrop for a family gathering that brings about drama, strife, old feelings, and the struggle of moving forward from ghosts of the past. Britton brings the reader into the world of Joy, the eldest sibling, who is at odds with her role in life and her marriage now that her child has gone off to college. Roger, one of the twin siblings who drinks to drown out the past and Tamar, the working mother of twins who spends more time with her career than her family. Their parents are struggling with the loss of the family matriarch who leaves the instructions for her memorial service which has brought the family back to the Little Inn.


This book is wonderfully written and the story engaging. I loved reading and if books about family drama set amid the coast appeal to you, I would definitely recommend this novel. 

Disclaimer: I was provided this book for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: The Conditions of Love

From Goodreads: Dale M. Kushner's novel The Conditions of Love traces the journey of a girl from childhood to adulthood as she reckons with her parents' abandonment, her need to break from society's limitations, and her overwhelming desire for spiritual and erotic love. In 1953, ten-year-old Eunice lives in the backwaters of Wisconsin with her outrageously narcissistic mother, a manicureeste and movie star worshipper. Abandoned by her father as an infant, Eunice worries that she will become a misfit like her mother. When her mother's lover, the devoted Sam, moves in, Eunice imagines her life will finally become normal. But her hope dissolves when Sam gets kicked out, and she is again alone with her mother. A freak storm sends Eunice away from all things familiar. Rescued by the shaman-like Rose, Eunice's odyssey continues with a stay in a hermit's shack and ends with a passionate love affair with an older man. Through her capacity to redefine herself, reject bitterness and keep her heart open, she survives and flourishes. In this, she is both ordinary and heroic. At once fable and realistic story, The Conditions of Love is a book about emotional and physical survival. Through sheer force of will, Eunice saves herself from a doomed life. 

This engaging examination of a mother and daughter's relationship will appeal to the same audience that embraced Mona Simpson's acclaimed classic Anywhere But Here and Elizabeth Strout's bestselling Amy and Isabelle.

My thoughts: This is a beautifully written story about a young woman's odds to overcome the circumstances of her childhood.  A debut novel that follows Eunice from a turbulent childhood into adulthood, The Conditions of Love is at its core a reminder to keep your heart open to love.  Eunice's life is touched by a variety of relationships that shape her thoughts, heart and overall being. This novel is very character driven and an absolutely engaging read.  At a few points in the book the love scenes felt a bit much but over all the defining relationships -- both emotional and physical contribute to the overall theme of the story. 

I read this story quickly and would like to go back and reread. The writing flows so effortlessly, the words so vivid and smart, I was whisked away with the words and the story line.  The Conditions of Love Received a TLA Lariat Award nomination for Outstanding Adult Fiction in 2013 and its not hard to understand why. I enjoyed reading this novel and if literary novels appeal to you, I'm betting this one will too. 

Disclaimer: I was provided this book for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: Outside In

From GoodReads: From Memorial Day until the student workers and tourists leave in the fall, the island community of Put-in-Bay, Ohio, thrives on alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and any other means of forgetting responsibilities. To Brad Shepherd—recently forced out of his job as a junior high math teacher after the overdose death of a student—it’s exactly the kind of place he’s looking for.

Allured by the comfort and acceptance of the hedonistic atmosphere, Brad trades his academic responsibilities and sense of obligation for a bouncer’s flashlight and a pursuit of the endless summer. With Cinch Stevens, his new best friend and local drug dealer, at his side, Brad becomes lost in a haze of excess and instant gratification filled with romantic conquests, late-night excursions to special island hideaways, and a growing drug habit. Not even the hope from a blossoming relationship with Astrid, a bold and radiant Norwegian waitress, nor the mentoring from a mysterious mandolin player named Caldwell is enough to pull him out of his downward spiral. But as Labor Day approaches, the grim reality of his empty quest consumes him. With nowhere left to run or hide, Brad must accept that identity cannot be found or fabricated, but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.

A look at one man's belated coming of age that's equally funny, earnest, romantic, and lamenting, Doug Cooper’s debut novel explores the modern search for responsibility and identity, showing through the eyes of Brad Shepherd how sometimes, we can only come to understand who we truly are by becoming the person we’re not.

My Thoughts: First of all, I love that this book was set on Put-In-Bay. As a lifelong Ohio resident, I’m quite familiar with Put In Bay and the surrounding islands. Reading about locales and even the way Cooper describes the ferry boat ride from the mainland instantly swept me back to past trips. This debut novel is about a young man’s journey to cast off responsibility and lose himself into a world of late nights, drugs, and sex is a fantastic read. Narrated in first person, the main character, while at times not likable, is definitely relatable.

I appreciate that this coming of age novel isn’t about a teenager, but instead a 28 year old who spent his early 20’s doing what he thought he was supposed to do – going to college and graduate school, becoming a teacher, working on being an adult. It takes a tragedy like a student overdosing to make him question all of that. The quarter life crisis exists and sometimes it takes throwing everything aside and starting over again to realize who you truly are and what you want in life. Sometimes you have to experience things you might not have ever experienced; in the end you’ll be better for having had those experiences.

Outside In is a quick, engaging read I thoroughly enjoyed and I bet you would as well!

For further insight into the characters, themes, and plot stop by Doug Copper’s blog.  http://bycooper.com/blog/


To win your own copy of Outside In, simply leave a comment on the blog and a winner will be selected using a random number generator. 

Disclaimer: I was provided this book for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Some Thoughts On A Year

This past weekend marked the one year anniversary of my stepfather’s passing. While his death is not something that I dwell on, the past week has brought an array of emotions and memories. Reliving the last few hours in the hospital, some of the last conversations I had with him, going to the funeral home with my mom to help with decisions I wasn’t prepared to make, the amount of love shown to us by friends and family.

In the days and weeks after my stepdad’s death, most of my memories were short term: the ones in the days and weeks leading up to his death, being at the funeral home, the first days without him. Slowly, those have faded allowing room for memories of happier times and funnier moments. It’s been a somewhat strange year, holding my breath around certain dates and events, not sure what sort of memories or feelings they might trigger. Its odd in a way, to know that an entire calendar year has passed, the first major functions without my stepdad have happened, and things are ok. They are certainly different but things had been different since his stroke.

A year like this past one has a funny way of changing you, certainly puts things into perspective, and makes you into a different person. Same at the core, but older, wiser, a member of a club I wasn’t ready to belong to; there are things that only other people who’ve lost a parent can relate to or understand. This past year has taught me, most importantly, the importance of surrounding yourself with good people and the importance of showing up. I don’t have many incredibly close friends locally, but one friend in particular, I thought would come to the funeral or at the very least call, but she didn’t. Other friends I didn’t expect to show up, did. One friend with her twin daughters and newborn in town, another a long time childhood friend I hadn’t spoken to in years. In the weeks that followed, many long distance friends sent cards, packages, texts, all of which were so much appreciated. Show up. Be there. Send the card or text.  Do what you can. It’s become a mantra when someone close suffers a loss, because I know what it’s like when people both do and don’t.

I’ve got less time in my life for people who bring their bull shit to the table, people with whom I was getting together with out of some odd sense of obligation and instead have sought out spending more time with people who matter, make a difference, and enhance my life, not drain it. I’ve reconnected with some people from my past, realizing I have so much more to learn from them, people who challenge me to think and grow. Typing this out makes it sound silly, like it shouldn’t have taken a death to make me realize this, but sometimes its those jarring moments that spur changes. Changes that likely should have happened long before.

I have a hard time reading books about death or dying. I’ve gotten from books from the library thinking that they would be really helpful only to drop them in the book deposit a short time later, not yet prepared to read about the after part of losing a parent or a main character who loses a spouse or parent. I don’t like to read about people having strokes or watch tv shows that deal with death or dying. Maybe someday I’ll return to them, but for now, it’s not something I’m interested in.

I’ve learned about the importance of remembering. It’s a way to honor your loved ones life, to talk about funny stories and to share those memories with others. But also remembering important dates in others lives. Its nice when someone reaches out and says, I remember your loved one and I remember this day. It makes you feel less alone and is just really nice to know other people remember too.

As cliché and cheesy as it sounds, I’ve been reminded life goes on. The seasons keep coming and going, the pages of the calendar keep flipping, the world keeps spinning, new life is created, friends reconcile, new memories are made, fun trips are taken, and the sad memories wane. The past year wasn’t unhappy but it was a big year of growing, changing, and adjusting. I know that will continue for years to come, but for now I’m breathing a little easier. The first year without a loved one is a big one. But my family and I survived it, certainly in our own different ways, but we did it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Once, the Musical

My friend, Alli, has raved about the musical Once for the past year or so, when I found out it was coming to Pittsburgh, I was incredibly excited. I was even more excited when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust offered me two tickets. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Mother Nature fully cooperated on the weather front by giving my mom and I a beautiful 70 degree day as we sped up the Parkway into the city. Well, sped may be a bit of a misnomer, as always there was a lots of traffic but when the windows are rolled down and the sun is shining, I don’t think anyone cared. We were in downtown early enough to enjoy some time people watching in a little park, walking around a bit enjoying the sunshine and listening to the man playing Old Crow Medicine Show on his guitar. It was much needed and refreshing.


I knew very little about this show going into the theater. I wanted to fully immerse myself in the experience, characters and music. Before the show, audience members were invited up on stage to buy drinks from the set bar while cast members played some upbeat Irish music on their violins, accordions, guitars and a piano. Once is completely different from every other show I’ve seen, the cast (only 14 members) all play instruments and double as the orchestra. The set is comprised of various sized mirrors, ambient lighting. 

Tables and chairs are brought out resulting in a shift from a music store, bar, bedroom, and shared flat. You don’t realize its happened until its over. There are no flashy costume changes, fancy lighting sequences, showy dance numbers or overly done set desigsn. Its simple and beautiful, allowing theater goers to fully focus on the story that develops over a week. The main characters are simply billed as Guy and Girl. The supporting cast is always nearby, off the sides of the stage providing instrumentation and background vocals as needed.

I loved the story and the actors. But the music? The music was absolutely amazing. The actors playing and singing ballads about love and life left me breathless. Seeing the show, its no wonder the musical has scored multiple Tony’s and a Grammy Award. The actors voices meshed so perfectly, enough to register goose bumps on my arms."Falling Slowly" has been on my playlist for quite a while, without me realizing it comes from the musical. I have been obsessively listening to it since seeing the show. YouTube it, you won't be sorry. 

Over all, the story is minimalist and beautiful and it totally works. A story about loves, past and present, finding our way with people we might not imagine, but ultimately showing how a few days and new people have the power to completely change lives.

Once the Musical is running at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh until March 16th.  The US Tour will also be running in several other cities over the next few months, full schedule located here.

If you have the opportunity to see this amazing show, do it. You won’t be disappointed and you will leave feeling transformed by the simplistic beauty of this play.


Disclosure: I was provided with two tickets to see Once from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions contained in this post are my own. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: The Deepest Secret

From Goodreads: For fans of Jodi Picoult, Kim Edwards, and William Landay, The Deepest Secret is part intimate family drama, part gripping page-turner, exploring the profound power of the truths we’re scared to face . . . about our marriages, our children, and ourselves.

Eve Lattimore’s family is like every other on their suburban street, with one exception. Her son Tyler has a rare medical condition that makes him fatally sensitive to light, which means heavy curtains and deadlocked doors protect him during the day and he can never leave the house except at night. For Eve, only constant vigilance stands between an increasingly restless teenage son and the dangers of the outside world.

Until the night the unthinkable happens. When tragedy strikes, it becomes clear that this family is not the only one on the quiet cul-de-sac that is more complicated than it appears. And as Eve is forced to shield her family from harm, there are some crises she cannot control—and some secrets that not even love can conceal.

Deeply moving and stunningly suspenseful, The Deepest Secret is a novel of rare power—a story about hope and forgiveness, about the terrifying ways our lives can spin out of control and the unexpected sacrifices that may save us.

My thoughts:  Having never read any of Carla Buckley’s previous work, I was unsure of what to expect with this large novel. It sat one my bedside table for a few weeks, taunting me, until I was able to pick it up. And once I did, I didn’t want to put it down.

The novel is told from three different view points: Eve, her husband David, and  her son Tyler who suffers from XP. xeroderma pigmentosum, which makes any form of UV rays deadly. I’m not always crazy about alternating pov’s but in this case it works really well.

 Through the intertwining voices of the three main characters one learns that the family is barely holding it together and all have their own secrets. Eve, is the vigilant mother  who feels she is the only one capable of caring her for son. David is  the father who wants the family to relocate and is largely absent from the day to day management of the family.  Melissa is the eldest daughter who feels she must be perfect and in that role, already on the verge of emotional angst. Tyler is the young teen who roams the neighborhood after the sun has gone down, photographing and observing the neighbors in their nightly routines.

The family intricacies are complex but then add in an even bigger secret and the ramifications of that choice, and the family is on the edge of cracking under the weight of those secrets and choices. This book kept me turning the pages long after I should have gone to bed and was a quick read, despite the fact that it’s a longer book. While I did truly enjoy most of the story, there were parts that were slow and a bit repetitive but not enough to have a detrimental effect on the book.

If you have been looking for an intriguing, gripping read, look no further! This book will absolutely have you questioning the choices you would make and just how far you would be willing to go to protect your family.  Definitely check Buckley’s The Deepest Secret.


Disclaimer: I was provided this book by TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for a review. The thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.