11/22/63, Stephen King

At 850 pages, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is a commitment. It was more than three weeks before I finished it, but once I was finished, I was glad I had invested the time.

I’ll preface this review by saying, I’m not a huge Stephen King fan. Aside from this book, the only books of King’s that I’ve read are Misery and his memoir, On Writing.  But the premise of traveling through time to prevent the Kennedy assassination intrigued me more than most other King story lines.

Jake Epping, an English teacher living in 2011, learns about a portal to 1958 and takes on the challenge to prevent the Kennedy assassination on November 22nd, 1963.

11-22-63The book takes its time getting to 1963. And though I was hooked from the beginning, there is the underlying sense throughout, that much of the book has very little to do with the actual Kennedy assassination. If you’re looking for a book to learn more about Kennedy, this isn’t it.

For a while, I was okay reading along while King establishes life in 1958 and shows us the impact of Jake time traveling and changing events of the past. He spends the first section of the book laying the ground work – though it seems to me there might have been simpler ways to do this. Regardless, I was entertained and continued to read.

And I continued to read as the years ticked by and Jake finds a love interest and establishes a new life in Jodie, Texas teaching and directing the high school play. Again, entire sections that  have nothing to do with the main premise about the Kennedy assassination – but I didn’t mind. With Sadie as Jake’s love interest, Jake became much more human and likeable to me. What I was pleasantly surprised to discover is that underneath it all, Stephen King has really written a love story.

My biggest complaint about the book was the time spent focusing on the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. I was patient with the many divergences from the main premise of the story, but it was Jake’s lengthy observations  Oswald that I became impatient with.

In the end, I can see King’s reasons for divulging into such tangents, although I felt the book most definitely could have been a tighter and, ultimately, (perhaps several hundred pages) shorter.

While the novel was much longer than necessary and a bit self-indulgent on King’s part, overall I found it to be an enjoyable and interesting read.

Stephen King is not a literary writer, but he is a good storyteller.

What I’m Listening to in Audio Books: Tell the Wolves I’m Home and Heaven is for Real

A few months back, I wrote about my new found appreciation for audio books. I love that audio books allow me to find extra reading time in my day. I rarely listen to the radio in my car any more, and instead spend my driving time “reading.”

Tell the WolvesI recently finished the audio book version of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. This is a book I’m not sure how to review, but I can certainly recommend. It is the type of book that a plot summary won’t do the story justice. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is moving, emotional and a beautifully written debut novel.

It is a book about love, about loss and grief and finding yourself through the loss. The relationships are complex, the characters are flawed and real. The main character, June, is caught in the transition from childhood to becoming a young adult. She is a romantic, happier in her imagination pretending to live in a simpler time than she is in the real world. I loved seeing and learning about the world through her eyes. But the death of her uncle Finn leads June to discover, like most teenagers eventually do, that her family is not perfect.

The story is not only about June’s relationship with Finn, it is a story about siblings: June and her sister Greta; the girls’ mother Danni and Uncle Finn.

I’m glad I listened to the audio book version because I was able to hear aloud the beautiful prose in which it was written. But I would love to read the book again just to highlight and underline those mesmerizing passages.

I also just finished listening to Heaven is for Real,  a story about a little boy who undergoes surgery for appendicitis and afterward claims he has been to heaven. Over the weeks, months and years following his surgery, Colton tells his parents about his trip to heaven in the simple words and nonchalant tone of a young boy. Heaven_Is_for_Real_(Burpo_book)_cover

I’ll admit I was skeptical going into this book and I was still a bit skeptical coming out. Colton describes heaven, and talks about meeting Jesus and John the Baptist. His parents are astounded at the stories he recalls from his trip to heaven and how closely they match scripture.

What dilutes the story for me, is that Colton’s father is a pastor. Colton’s parents claim he describes things he couldn’t have possibly known, like the color of Jesus’ sash – but growing up within the church with a pastor for a father and attending Sunday School each week, I imagine a perceptive young child could pick up on certain things without his parents even knowing. But then there are things Colton couldn’t have known, like what his parents were doing while he was in surgery.

Diluting it further is the fact that Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, is the author and narrator of the story, not Colton. By the time this book comes out, Colton is eleven years old, old enough in my opinion to tell the story himself perhaps with the help of a few adults.

All of that aside, it was a quick and interesting read.

After reading this, I have added Proof of Heaven to my To Read list. While the premise is the same, Proof of Heaven is written by a neurosurgeon who comes from a scientific, not a religious, background.

An Evening with Cheryl Strayed

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the evening with Cheryl Strayed – along with about 450 others.

Cherly StrayedStrayed, author of New York Times Bestselling memoir, Wild, was the recipient of the prestigious Art of Fact Award from my alma mater, The College at Brockport, State University of New York, in recognition of her excellence in literary nonfiction.

I read Wild last year when it was all I seemed to keep hearing about. Strayed tells the story of her solo 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail with no training or hiking experience. Her impulsive decision to hike the trail came after her own failed marriage and the sudden death of her mother which left her family shattered.

It becomes remarkably clear how ill-prepared she is for her hike before she even gets to the trail, when she finds herself unable to even lift her backpack. As I was reading, I found myself wondering what she was thinking, hiking alone? As she hikes through mountain, desert and snow, I was shaking my head in disbelief that she kept going. In her filthy Bob Marley t-shirt, despite the blisters and the loss of several of her toe nails she kept hiking with her destination in mind. I continued reading, knowing I could never have endured the challenges of the Pacific Crest Trail, and certainly I could not have done it alone.

My favorite parts of Wild are the sections in which she talks of her mother. I was devastated, sobbing as I read the passage where she describes losing her mom. It was some of the most heart-wrenching writing I have ever read.

What I realized, listening to Strayed speak about her book, was that she never had one, life-changing “Aha moment” on her hike. I think, as a reader, I expected this single moment of realization that is so often found in these sorts of stories. She explained that it was a journey, both inside and outside, of coming to terms with her life. I had my own Aha moment in hearing her describe her journey this way.

Strayed is often asked why she waited so long to write about her hike and she said she had to learn to be the writer who could write this book. On her website she writes, “It took me years of apprenticing myself to the craft before I could write a book.” She also says time gave her the perspective she needed in order to write about the experience. As a writer, it’s encouraging to realize that our experiences, while they may be initially difficult to write about, can make great material down the road.

Have you read Wild? What did you think?

If you haven’t yet read Wild I highly recommend it.

For more about Cheryl Strayed and her books, visit her website www.CherylStrayed.com

What I’m Reading in Non Fiction: The Gifts of Imperfection

I read a lot of fiction. In fact, I read almost entirely fiction, but I do try to read a variety of styles and genres. Then, I made a goal at the beginning of this year to not only spend more time reading, but to read things that will inspire me – including email newsletters and my Twitter feed-  but most importantly, books.

I’ve tried, and failed, a few times so far this year to read non-fiction books that I thought would help me to be more positive and grateful. They were books that I picked up but couldn’t get into. These books, which shall remain titleless, were dry. I had to force myself to read them and found my eyes growing heavy after only a few pages. I hate to not finish a book, but there are too many good books out there to spend my time forcing myself to read ones I don’t enjoy!

Then, I found Brené Brown. Full disclosure, I found her through Oprah. She was featured on a two-part episode of Super Soul Sunday, a show I happen to enjoy. I didn’t expect to be moved, but I was.

Fundamentally, Brené Brown is a researcher specializing in vulnerability and shame. If I had known this before seeing her on Super Soul Sunday, I probably wouldn’t have picked up her books. Who wants to read about shame??!

The_Gifts_of_Imperfection_Book_-_Brene_BrownI watched the first episode with Brené Brown on Super Soul Sunday, and after the second, I knew I HAD to read her books.

First, I picked up The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who you Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. She talks about embracing our imperfections, and offers guideposts to living wholeheartedly. 

Here is a paragraph that points to what is at the heart of The Gifts of Imperfection: When we can let go of what other people think … we gain access to our worthiness – the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend  a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing and proving. p 23

I think this is something a lot of us can relate to. This is not my typical reading, but so much of what she says just hit me over the head!

What I love about Brené Brown is that I never feel as though she is some lofty, Ph.D talking down to me. After watching her on Oprah (and eventually her TED talks as well) I had her straightforward, Texan voice in my head as I was reading.

Here are just a few highlights from The Gifts of Imperfection:

  •  Brown says Wholehearted living is a process, a journey. We must decide every day to be our authentic selves. We must practice courage, compassion and connection in our daily lives.
  •  My first “aha” came on page 14 when she writes: “…I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take the pain away when it doesn’t happen. It does, however, minimize the joy when it does.”
    I am always downplaying the good things in my life, then find myself frustrated when others don’t seem excited when good things happen for me. How can they be excited when I’m the one downplaying it! Enjoy and celebrate the good things, and when things don’t go your way you can share in the bad as well.
  • “Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves. This is a tall order given how hard most of us are on ourselves.” p 27.
    Self-talk is something I am working on so this really hit home for me.
  • “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.” p 50
    We live in a society that wants us to conform. Her first guidepost is, Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What Other People Think. She quotes e.e. cummings, who wrote: “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight – and never stop fighting.”
  • My favorite is guidepost #6 Cultivating Creativity: Letting go of Comparison. On Super Soul Sunday, Brene Brown said: “Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame.” As a writer, I can relate to this one on a very personal level. She expands on this in her book, saying “There’s no such thing as creative people, and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”
    YES!! As a writer, I know this to be true!

I don’t believe I can really do this book justice in one blog post, I truly can’t recommend it enough.

I’m now reading her latest book, Daring Greatly. If you have read her work, I would love to hear from you! If you haven’t read any of her books, I encourage you to check her out on YouTube and see what you think!

For more information or to purchase Brené Brown’s books, visit her website, BreneBrown.com

You can also follow her blog, Ordinary Courage

Here is a clip from Brené Brown on Super Soul Sunday:

Rereading Books: Do you Do it?

Last week, I stumbled upon the 101 Books Blog that posed an interesting question: Will you read a book more than once? (Click Here to read the original post.)

As someone who tries to read as much as possible, it isn’t often I go back and read a book I’ve already read. There are too many new books on my to-read list! A book has to be pretty special for me to take the time to read it again. But there are a few exceptions.

We all have books that move us, and sometimes reading them once just isn’t enough. I have a few favorites which I have read multiple times, and would read again. There is something to be said about reliving a story you love and discovering things you may have missed the first time around. Reading a book a second or third time can feel like visiting an old friend.

The book that stands as the one I have reread the most times (at least three) is White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I can’t get enough of her language, and I feel inspired by her prose each time I read it.

I’ve also read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Neffenegger for a second time, which is also among the ranks of my favorite books of all time. Sometimes, in my excitement, I read a book too quickly and reading it a second time provides insight.

photo(2)I’m also a fan of rereading classics, particularly those books from adolescence. I have children’s books on my shelf that I have revisited as an adult, like Charlotte’s Web, Peter Pan, and a favorite of mine growing up, The BFG by Roald Dahl. Some of the stories I’ve read again as an adult are very different from the versions we were told as children, for example The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Both are very different from the movie versions we all watched growing up.

One of my reading challenges for myself this year is to read  books that were assigned reading in school when I hadn’t yet fully developed the appreciation for them. I just recently reread The Giver by Lois Lowry and it was a completely different experience from the first time I read it more than a decade ago. I am looking forward to reading The Great Gatsby again before the movie comes out this summer.

Will you read a book more than once? What books have you read more than once?

What I’m Reading: Searching for my next compelling read

I’m on a mission to read as much as possible this year. I’ve been on track reading about three books a month, including audio books, but I’m losing momentum, searching for a book that will move me.

Fly Away Home, Jennifer Weiner

Fly Away Home, Jennifer Weiner

After reading Alice Sebold’s dark and disturbing, Almost Moon, I needed a light read to lose myself in. As a fan of Jennifer Weiner, I picked up Fly Away Home, looking for a page-turner that I wouldn’t be able to put down. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for me with this book.

Fly Away Home follows three women, Sylvie and her two daughters Diane and Lizzie, and their lives in the wake of a sex scandal when it is revealed that Sylvie’s senator husband is having an affair.

While In Her Shoes and Good in Bed were books by Jennifer Weiner that I couldn’t put down, it took me a bit longer to get through this one. The characters and the storyline were interesting, but the pace was slow and ultimately, there just wasn’t enough at stake for me to really be invested in the characters and their outcome. I will continue to read and enjoy Jennifer Weiner’s novels, but for me this one was good, but not great.

And so, I’m back to searching for a book that I can really get into.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

I just recently began listening to the audio book version of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.  The story is  built on an interesting premise, showing us the hidden world of imaginary friends who can only be seen and heard by the child who imagined them and is told from the perspective of Budo, the imaginary friend of Max. This book reminds me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, as both books are centered around a young boy on the autistic spectrum.

For my next read, I’m looking forward to picking up Jodi Picoult’s newest release, The Storyteller, in which a New Hampshire baker finds herself in the midst of two Holocaust stories: her grandmother’s story of survival, and the confessions of an elderly German man, an SS officer. I’m hoping this book will be the page-turner I have been looking for.

I’m tracking it all on Good Reads. For more on what I’m reading, you can follow me there.

Are you on Good Reads? What are you reading?

Audiobooks: The Same as Reading?

It is a goal of mine this year to fit in as much reading time as I possibly can. I bring a book (or my Kindle) with me just about everywhere I go, so that if I find myself with ten extra minutes, I can spend it reading rather than mindlessly reading my Facebook feed or playing games on my phone. I’ve been trying to turn off the TV earlier to allow more time for reading before bed. And, I’ve started listening to audiobooks.

I tried listening to an audiobook for the first time when I finally started reading the Harry Potter series two summers ago. I had been lugging around these heavy hardcover books for a while and decided to try listening to the series on CD during a long road trip.

I was skeptical at first, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy listening to a book as much as I enjoy reading one and thought I would be too focused on the road to absorb a book. But truly, listening to a book on CD while driving isn’t much different from listening to music or a morning radio talk show. In fact, I was surprised to find that when listening to an audiobook, the scenes play out in my mind just as they do when I’m reading.

I got away from audiobooks for a while, but recently felt the pull to try them again as winter set-in and my long commute is often made even longer by slippery, snow-covered roads this time of year. Listening to an audio book on my commute allows me to get in a whole extra hour of reading every day!

Of course this brings about the debate: is listening to an audiobook the same as reading?

There is something to be said for hearing a book read aloud, and hearing the magic of the words coming to life – particularly if the audiobook is read by the author. But just like with e-readers, I miss being able to pick up a pencil and underline a passage I like, or thumb through the pages to reread a section that struck me. I have considered getting a hard copy as a companion to the audiobook for these reasons.

I have been borrowing books on CD from my local library, but with downloadable apps and MP3 audio books, there is no limit to the ways you can listen to a book, whether its during your commute, on your lunch break or while you’re doing housework.

I’m curious to know what experiences other avid readers have had with audiobooks. Did you love it? Hate it? If you’ve never listened to an audiobook, are you willing to give it a try?

The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe

“What are you reading?”

It’s the question writer Will Schwalbe asks his mother throughout her treatment for pancreatic cancer. It is a question that one can’t necessarily ask these days, for one can’t be sure someone is reading anything at all.

end of your life book clubBut in The End of Your Life Book Club, Will and his mother start a two-person book club that brings them together as they face the end of her life. Over the two years of her treatment, the books they read ignite conversations about life, faith, courage, gratitude and so much more. The books allow them to talk about things happening in their own lives, and help them to talk about death.

Schwalbe writes, “That’s one of the things books do. They help us talk. But they also give us something we can talk about when we don’t want to talk about ourselves.”

The books they read are wide-ranging, from popular to classic, and include mysteries and poetry.

Will’s mother is not an ordinary woman. We learn about the extraordinary life of Mary Anne who has a passion for helping others, and is devoted to helping refugees. She takes her love of books to new heights in her determination to build a library in Afghanistan where resources are so limited.

“She never wavered in her conviction that books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal, that reading all kinds of books, in whatever format you chose – electronic (even though that wasn’t for her) or printed, or audio – is the grandest entertainment, and also how you take part in the human conversation. Mom taught me that you can make a difference in the world and that books really do matter: they’re how we know what we need to do in life, and how we tell others.”
Page 326

With Mary Anne’s diagnosis, reader’s know how the book is going to end. But that didn’t stop me from crying openly at the end.

In the beginning, I found myself anxious and slightly impatient, not with the book itself but with my own eagerness to read so many of the books mentioned in The End of your Life Book Club. Readers, never fear, there is an alphabetized list of the authors, books, plays, poems and stories discussed and mentioned throughout. You will not have a shortage of things to read once you have finished this book.

The End of Your Life Book Club isn’t a book about death, it is about life and the life lessons we learn not only from the books we read but the conversations which are inspired by the books we read. I was left with a renewed belief in the transformative power of reading; the power of books to give us experiences we might not have otherwise experienced, to show us settings that feel like places we visited in another lifetime or wish to someday visit, and introduce us to characters who come to feel like old friends.

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Julia is an average eleven-year-old in a California suburb until suddenly the days begin to grow longer. The Age of Miracles is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of an altered world: the earth’s rotation has suddenly begun to slow.

Age of MiraclesThe natural world is thrown into chaos as time is added to each day and the time between sunrise and sunset continually increases.  People must adjust to long, dark days and nights of blinding light not knowing if or when the earth’s rotation will go back to normal, plants begin to die from the changes in natural light, birds fall from the sky as gravity is affected. Dubbed, “the slowing,” suddenly the simplest things that seemed so concrete, such as the times of the sunrise and sunset are unpredictable and unknowable. Scientists are baffled – they can’t explain it or determine its cause. The world is forced to wonder if the end is near and yet, this is not a novel about the end of the world.

Amidst all those changes, Julia is dealing with the normal struggles of an adolescent girl – the sudden distance of her former best friend, the strains in her parent’s marriage and the possibility of love. This may lead some to consider this a young adult novel, and while it may also appeal to younger readers, I don’t believe the age of this novel’s main character determines its audience.

The story was compelling, thought-provoking and engaging. It is one of those books that draws you into its world so much you must readjust to reality when you put it down to return to your own life. It is a quiet, yet stunning novel that will stay with you. It was by far, my favorite book of 2012, and in my opinion, a must-read.

I was drawn in by the voice; the first-person narration of The Age of Miracles is retrospective, the adult Julia looking back on the slowing. In the reading guide, Karen Thompson Walker says, “An adult looking back on childhood is always a story about a  lost era; we can never be children again. That simple fact gives the voice an inherent melancholy and nostalgia that seemed exactly right for a novel about what might be the end of the world.” And I agree the voice is not only fitting but also works well to build suspense as Julia hints at events to come.

The idea of the slowing and its consequences are thought-provoking. It got me thinking about all the apocalyptic stories we’ve heard over our lifetimes, fictional stories of deadly earthquakes,rapidly spreading disease or alien invasion leading to our ultimate demise. This story led me to the idea that perhaps the world won’t face a drastic and sudden catastrophic end, but rather a slow, demise from some event we never expected or predicted.

The novel doesn’t seek to answer all the questions that it raises and leaves to mystery the science behind the slowing – and truly that isn’t what this novel is about. If you’re looking for a science-fiction, end-of-the-world novel this isn’t the book for you. But rather, this novel shows us how life goes on in the face of global change.

I look forward to reading whatever comes next from this debut author.

 “We dipped our fingers into the wet cement, and we wrote the truest, simplest things we knew – our names the date, and these words: We were here.”

For more on The Age of Miracles and a book trailer, visit http://www.theageofmiraclesbook.com/

The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman

I was drawn to this book because of the moral dilemma at its core: Could a couple who couldn’t have children of their own really take in a child whom they found in a boat washed up on their shore without regard for the family that might be searching for her?

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans is the story of Tom Sherbourne, a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the coast of Australia, and his wife Isabelle who has suffered two miscarriages and a stillbirth. When they discover a boat washed up on the shore carrying a dead man and a baby who is very much alive and healthy, they make a decision to keep the child and claim her as their own. Their decision comes into question when they discover the child’s mother is still alive and searching for her missing husband and daughter. But Isabelle is desperate for a family, and when Tom sees how happy the baby makes her, he doesn’t report the incident, going against his duties as a lighthouse keeper. Instead, he buries the body of the man in the boat, and with it, he buries the truth.

The island is an ideal setting for the novel – a cocoon where the Sherbournes can safely keep their secret and live as a normal family.

When they finally leave the island for the first time in two years and head back to the mainland, they finally hear the story of the man and baby who went missing two years ago and the woman who is still desperately searching for her family, clinging to the hope they are still alive.

Tom and Isabelle must decide if they will reveal the secret they’ve harbored for the past two years. Keeping their secret means keeping a child from it’s mother, leaving a woman a lost soul with questions she will never have answered. Revealing the truth means they will surely lose their daughter Lucy, and with it, their only chance at having a family of their own.

This novel kept me turning the pages. What made the story so compelling was that everyone had a stake in the outcome; not only the Sherbournes, but also the daughter they wanted so badly they’d do anything to keep her, and the mother who wanted her child back. It is an impossible situation of mistakes and their consequences, one where there don’t seem to be any right answers.

The book is not without its faults. The beginning is bogged down with backstory, the middle is drawn out, and some awkward prose throughout the novel is distracting, though somewhat forgivable, for a debut novel. Ultimately, the story is an interesting and thought-provoking read.

Do not look to this book expecting a happy ending, as there are no easy answers in this emotionally-charged novel. What you will find is a haunting story that may break your heart.