The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
Pages: 347
Genre: Fiction, historical, 1920's Australia
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date: July 31, 2012

The Light Between Oceans is a sweet but pensive story about human emotion and how it affects everything in our lives from our reactions to our decisions. Tom Sherbourne has just returned to 1920's Australia from the war where he has seen atrocities and taken part in harrowing acts he can't seem to forget. He takes up a job as the lighthouse keeper on a remote island, Janus, where he spends his days solitarily making sure the light does its work every night. To his surprise, he meets and falls in love on the mainland with a free spirited girl, Isabel (who early in the book reminds me of a grown up Anne of Green Gables with her positive attitude and penchant for naming the all the beautiful areas around them). Tom and Isabel marry and go off to spend their first three year stint together on Janus, keeping the lighthouse. Their happiness is challenged, however, over the years as Isabel suffers two miscarriages and then a still birth. So it seems to be a miracle when one day a boat washes up on shore. In the boat is a deceased man and a very alive newborn baby. Isabel falls in love with the baby right away and begs Tom to omit this occurrence in the daily lighthouse logs (which he has taken great pride in keeping as accurate as possible) so that they can keep the baby and raise her as their own. After all, if they report it, she'd likely end up in an orphanage and then who knows where. Tom isn't sure about this, but out of his great love for Isabel, he consents.

Tom and Isabel raise this baby, Lucy, as their own and since they live just the three of them on an isolated island, no one is the wiser. But as such things go, their facade starts to fall apart through their various trips back to the mainland, especially when they realize the mother did not drown in the ocean as they had assumed. In fact, the mother, who is alive, has never given up hope that her child will be found and returned to her. What happens after this involves moral anxiety and stress, as you can imagine, and that which doesn't leave just a small mark on Tom and Isabel's marriage. Tom, meanwhile, battles in his mind between wanting to do the right thing to make up for the horrible things he did in the war, but he can't decide what this right thing entails. He loves his wife and his daughter yet feels continuous guilt at not following his own moral code. Isabel, on the other hand, is a strong willed mother who, regardless of how she came to be a mother, will protect her child at all costs.

This is a story that mothers and non-mothers hoping-to-be will both relate to. (Fathers too!) I can tell you I've wished that a baby would just fall into my arms, since it isn't happening any other way. So for my part, I was able to imagine myself in Isabel's shoes, raising a "shipwrecked" baby as my own. In fact, I actually felt surprisingly little empathy for the biological mother in this book! (eek!) But I'm sure while mothers might read this and feel for the mother who has spent years wondering what happened to her child, they'll also find themselves drawn to Isabel and her love for the child. There was a definite "King Solomon" morality thing going on throughout this book. It's not an easy answer for anyone but that and these characters make The Light Between Oceans a beguiling read!

What I Did by Christopher Wakling

Friday, July 27, 2012

Title: What I Did
Author: Christopher Wakling
Pages: 282
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: July 17, 2012

What I Did is a story narrated by six-year-old Billy about the long term consequences of his impulsive decision to run from his father into the street. His father reacts as many parents would, out of fear, but it becomes blown into a much larger issue -- one that is further muddled by the skewed perception of a child and the misunderstandings of the involved adults as Billy's father is accused of hurting him.

Though the story itself moves fairly slowly, some readers may still find it riveting to a degree to find out what happens and how far everything goes. I should know better, though, to sometimes stay away from stories about this topic because with my experience working in child welfare I become very critical of the story and characters and whether or not I think it's realistic. And since I worked as a forensic interviewer for a few years, trained in interviewing children and obtaining accurate details, I find it insulting that the miscommunications that occur in this book would actually happen. I suppose it's possible, but I end up thinking too much about those kinds of details in the book that sometimes it takes away from the rest of it for me.

So, that is one downside I get that wasn't completely the book's fault. But I had two other gripes that made reading this very difficult for me. First was the lack of chapter breaks and the dialogue being separated often just by a dash. The second thing was Billy's voice, unfortunately. I've really enjoyed some other books written from a young child's perspective (Room, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), but the way it was done in this book made the reading frustrating and stagnant at times. Billy would be telling the story of what was happening around him and it would lead to some tangential thought that he would elaborate on for a while before getting back to what was happening so by the end of an entire paragraph nothing had actually happened. In the aforementioned books, there was a lot of forward momentum and more clear storytelling that infused the naivete of the characters whereas in What I Did the story was more focused on the minutiae of Billy's thoughts and perceptions.

I've focused on what was negative for me mainly because it made this a difficult read for me. But if you have the time and patience, Billy's thoughts and perceptions are interesting in and of themselves. It just didn't work for me in pacing the entire novel.

I reviewed this as part of TLC Book Tours. Follow the rest of the tour below:

Friday, July 19th: What She Read …
Monday, July 23rd: A Worn Path
Tuesday, July 24th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Friday, July 27th: Take Me Away
Tuesday, July 31st: In the Next Room
Wednesday, August 1st: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, August 2nd: Little Bit of Wonderful
Thursday, August 2nd: Book Reviews, Fiction Reflections, ‘N More!
Wednesday, August 8th: the state that i am in
Tuesday, August 21st: Kritters Ramblings

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Monday, July 16, 2012

Title: The Happiness Project
Subtitle: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Pages: 292
Genre: Non-Fiction; Memoir; Psychology
Publisher: Harper (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: December 29, 2009 (hardcover); March 1, 2011 (paperback);

The concept of happiness and how to achieve it has always been of interest to me. But I hesitated to read this when it first came out because I feared it would be too arbitrary or too personalized to the author and not enough practical information for the casual reader. I wanted to read about application of general ideas that I could apply to myself and not just a memoir. And a quick peek through the book showed me she focused on things I couldn't apply to myself such as parenting. But it's been on my mind ever since. And I decided that at this point, working as a therapist, I did have a good enough understanding of the concept and self-awareness that I could enjoy this book regardless. But then, in the end, I really enjoyed this book and found myself actually thinking about how I could apply the information to myself or what I would do with my own happiness project.

Rubin discusses in the beginning that she isn't depressed or necessarily even sad. She just wanted to find ways to improve her well-being overall. She didn't feel the need for therapy or anything like that. She just wanted to make small changes. So after researching the topic, she chose main themes to focus on each month and then broke that theme up into specific tasks she wanted to focus on. She added on each month to what she was already doing and kept a resolution chart throughout the year to help monitor herself each day. She chose differing themes that focused on behavior, physical well-being, and on cognitive processes as all good changes in self should.

It was amusing to read about her experiences and thoughts as she tried to maintain her resolutions. She seems like a really Type-A person as well as someone who was easily irritated which is opposite my temperament, so it was interesting to see how she incorporated these changes into her life and reacted to them. She included a lot of research, some that was more common and some things which I hadn't read. And I liked how she pulled everything together at the end both in the book and for herself.

I would say this was an entertaining read but it was also inspirational and made me think. It made me think about what my own resolutions would be (as opposed to goals, the difference which she astutely discusses). The first chapter, January, which focused on boosting her energy was significant to me because this is something I've struggled with lately and I know is something that would improve my happiness. (Although I am happy, in general). And for this specific chapter, I found the specific ideas would benefit me. In fact, (though I'd already been thinking about it for a while) I was inspired to go sign up for a gym. (I have an incredibly bad record with gyms and throwing money down the drain, almost literally, but I'm going to give it a go again). And her discussions about sleep hit home for me because I certainly don't get enough of that.

The only thing I didn't care for was that the author included some blog comments (from her blog to add support to what she was saying, but I found these unnecessary. I thought her arguments were plenty and didn't need the additional support or ideas; a quick mention from her would have sufficed if it was a pertinent point.

In the end, The Happiness Project reminded me that I am actually happy in my life and served as a reminder for the few areas I could improve upon. It also inspired me to put some more thought into these things and maybe create for myself my own version of a happiness project. This is definitely a book I will share with or recommend to others. It would make a great companion for anyone in therapy to discuss with their therapist as well... ;)

Taking on Les Mis... Or Will I???

Sunday, July 8, 2012

It may pass, but I've been entertaining the thought of reading Les Miserables. Well, entertaining as well as actually sampling it on my nook. It seems like a classic I can't not read in my lifetime, and with the movie coming out in December I'd really like to take a stab at it now. I've never even seen the musical, as many have. Unfortunately, I missed it this last go around when they were doing it at the Bob Carr in Orlando, but maybe it was meant to be so I could read the book first?

But I'm quite intimidated and thought I'd see if anyone else has read this?? You know, create my support system and all that. It seems like there are a ton of abridged versions out there, though my plan is to go with the 1500 page unabridged one. It's been ages since I've read a book even remotely that long! And I will say I read the first chapter and was not enamored with the language or writing style. Since then I've read through chapter four and it's flowing much better, though I'm not sure if it'll grab me for the remaining million pages. But one of my favorite books is another French novel that was actually written prior to Les Mis, so I figure it can't be that bad, right?

What are your thoughts?

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

Friday, July 6, 2012

Title: The Girl Who Chased the Moon
Sarah Addison Allen
Fiction; Magical Realism
Bantam Books (Random House)
Pub. Date:
March 16, 2010

This is my second of Sarah Addison Allen's books (the first being Garden Spells) and I have to say that as popular as they seem to be with a lot of readers, the magical realism just isn't for me. Now, I don't have much experience with magical realism in the first place so it could be that it's just that and not these books... but I don't know! I feel like I could deal with magical realism if there were a specific purpose for it. But in this book it was just so random!

In The Girl Who Chased the Moon, 17-year-old Emily moves to Mullaby, North Carolina after her mother's death. Up until recently, Emily never knew anything about this town or that she has any living relatives. Emily moves in with her grandfather who happens to be a giant. She stays in her mother's old room that has wallpaper that randomly changes. (That's one of the things I just couldn't get). There's a big secret about why her mother left and never moved back and why the whole town essentially hates her mother. Then Emily meets Win Coffey who dresses in a white linen suit and red bow tie. Of course, there's a big secret regarding their family as well. (I think I understand why he dressed like that all the time, but the justification wasn't enough for me). There's the mystery of the "Mullaby lights" (which I figured out right away), and there's Julia who bakes cakes from which old flame, Sawyer, can smell from miles away.

As much as I pick on this book, the storyline itself was actually pretty good and flowed well. I thought Allen did a great job with the pacing and the different elements and characters. In all, it was a light and fun read. I liked the characters, the great secret about Emily's mom, and the twist as well. It may just be that the sub-genre is not for me.

What is Chick-Lit, really?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Okay, this has been bugging me, so I finally thought I'd try to straighten this out. At least for myself. I have been finding, lately, an egregious overuse/inaccurate use of the term "chick-lit". There's a lot of criticism for the criticism of chick-lit, and I, personally, feel annoyed by it mostly because people are mislabeling other books as chick-lit and then assuming that people are referring to that when they're really not. Not that I agree with the criticism... I just say, know what you're criticizing.

The confusion I'm finding is that some people seem to think that chick-lit refers to books about women and women's issues. But chick-lit has much more of a niche than that. I mean, this is like saying that every book written from the point of view of a child is young adult, which is NOT the case (a topic for a whole 'nother day)... not every book with an Asian character is "Asian fiction", etc.

Chick-lit started out with being books about women typically who were single, in their twenties, often living the big city life and dealing with issues related to dating and careers. But what also made them stand out was their light and humorous tones. I think one of the first books that really garnered this label was Bridget Jones's Diary. (And that's on the "1001 books to read before you die" list). Another was Watermelon by Marion Keyes. Now, I haven't read either of these, but back in my college days I really loved this genre and remember adoring the Shopaholic series and Jemima J by Jane Green. In fact, I recommended Jemima J to everyone. It's about an overweight girl who, pretending to be someone else, meets a guy online. But when he wants to meet she goes on a mission to lose the weight so she can be who she pretended to be. It's not totally realistic, but it was such a fun read that found me rooting for the character and totally relating to so much about her. (I've read that book multiple times). Another popular chick-lit author is Lauren Weisberger of The Devil Wears Prada fame. Now, I haven't actually read that one either (loved the movie, lol), but I did really like Everyone Worth Knowing which I've read twice. So for chick-lit, think Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City... that type of thing. Which as we know, the show and movies are daring and risque and fun but really hit on some topics that we, women, want to talk about!

Now, the criticism is that all chick-lit is fluffy, light-hearted, brain candy, and then there is criticism of people who say that. But here's the thing, as with any genre or any category of anything, there is going to be a range. Yes, a lot of  actual chick-lit IS totally fluffy brain candy... but that's part of what is so great about that genre. When I'm in the mood for it, that's what I read. But the other thing is that other books in that genre have some of those similar aspects but deal with more serious issues or are not so fluffy as others. In fact, there are books in the genre that I wouldn't call fluffy at all, but in all honesty, the humor in it probably isn't super high brow either. Because if I wanted high brow humor (which sometimes I do) I'd read a classic from the 1800's, lol... or just some good ol' literary fiction. Everything Worth Knowing, which I referenced earlier, wasn't one I considered fluffy. It had the same chick-lit elements I mentioned but was one of those that was more on the serious end and that I felt I really got something out of. In fact, now I feel like reading it again... another of Weisberger's that I feel the same about was Last Night at Chateau Marmont. And as the genre has grown, the topics have moved from just woes of the single twenty-somethings to issues related to motherhood and marriages.

So, what is chick-lit not? Well, one of the biggest offenders that I've noticed are those who refer to Jodi Picoult in this vein. Jodi Picoult's books are NOT by any means chick-lit. I think the problems some people have with her books are more with the plot elements and the books' commercial qualities. I haven't read a couple of her most recent books, but I've enjoyed the fifteen or so that I have read because of the timely, controversial topics and how she ties the scenarios in with the characters and the plot. But chick-lit, for sure, it is not. Not one of her books has the elements I listed earlier for that niche. I've seen other "women's fiction" authors referred to in the same way that I can't comment on because I haven't read their books. But let's say Maeve Binchy, or Kristin Hannhah, or Barbara Delinsky, as I've read and enjoyed a lot of their books. I would consider theirs to be "women's fiction" (which I know some people find insulting as well, but for the sake of categorization I think that's what it is) and NONE of those should be mistaken either to be chick-lit. But you know what, there are probably a lot of authors and books that toe that line... that could be considered more serious chick-lit or could be be just commercial or contemporary or literary that have some similar elements.

With all this being said, I don't read as much chick-lit anymore. I think that as we, readers, grow in life, we often look to books to fill different needs. Now, in addition to enjoying the elements of story and character, I find myself wanting to learn. I find my focus on themes changing, and I'm no longer interested in the topics of much of the chick-lit that is out there. I sometimes want to challenge myself with the language or the writing. But there are still times when I turn to it. Just as sometimes I read non-fiction, sometimes I'll read a mystery/thriller, other times I'll read a cozy, at times I read a memoir... etc. I always read Sophie Kinsella's books. They are ridiculous in a hilarious way. I still think about how funny I found her recent I've Got Your Number or how I related and laughed along to The Undomestic Goddess. Strangely enough, I never was really taken with the books Kinsella wrote under her real name, Madeleine Wickham, even though I would still consider those chick-lit because, again, there is truly a variety even within the niche of chick-lit itself. As I mentioned, Lauren Weisberger is an author whose books I will continue to read as well.

So that's my argument. Enjoy chick-lit for what it is or don't enjoy it. It's up to you, but just keep in mind what it actually is.

June in Review

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Reading and Reviewing
I'm excited about some of the books I read this month as well as a lot of the books I plan on reading in the next couple of months! To recap, here is what I reviewed on the blog this month:

The only book I read this month for which I still need to post a review is The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman which I really enjoyed!! That review will be up probably in late July.

Giveaway Winner
The winner of a copy of The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D is...   Sam D.!! 
I already have Sam's address, so the book will be on its way.

That is it. Hope everyone has a great reading month!