Friday, April 19, 2013

One month

One month ago
I realized last night when I was putting the kids to bed that it had been exactly a month since we got Eli. I thought, "I should write a blog post commemorating the event," and then between bedtimes and driving to and from the dance studio and crashing on my own bed, I didn't get around to it. I'm sure I had some kind of commemorative post last year when we brought Rose home, complete with pictures, and proofread writing. So let's let that be the metaphor for the difference between this year and last.

Last year when we brought Rose home, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the poop to hit the fan, but it never did. She had an easy transition in China, an easy transition to home, and since I'd spent all of the school days of the winter of 2012 writing a book in solitude, hanging out with a baby seemed like a welcome change.

I want to keep it real on this blog, and while this has been a wonderful month in so many ways, I'd be lying if I said that everything was going great and only showed happy, smiling pictures of Eli. But I'd also be lying if I didn't recognize that Eli is doing great-- he is happy, smiley, and wonderful. Eli's transition, the most important transition, has been as seamless as Rose's was a year ago. The main difference is that Rose was a quiet little baby who couldn't sit up or talk back, and Eli is a super-busy toddler who wants to move but is hampered by a very large cast and a lack of opportunity to practice his gross-motor skills. He knows what he wants, too.

Eli's bigger problem is that he has a big sister who is no longer a quiet little baby who can't sit up, but a feisty toddler who spent the last year as the center of the family's universe. I expected Eli to have a hard time-- to mourn the loss of the place he had known, to have a hard time adjusting to our food and our routines and our life, and while that has been true to a certain extent (oh, the sleep has been horrible!), I stupidly didn't realize how this whole experience was going to be a lot harder for Rose than it has been for Eli. We've had hitting, biting, strangling. We've had not one, but two, velcro babies. I sometimes feel like life hasn't changed all that much in the last month, but I'm trying to do all the things I was doing a couple of months ago with a baby on one hip and my other hand blocking Rose's blows. Friends who've seen me in real life can attest to this. If I could show you a picture of what just writing this blog post looks like, you'd get the idea.

The stupid thing is, I've been through this before. I've had a baby, and then given birth to a new baby, and there is always a period of adjustment. When Annie was born and Bryce was 21 months, I thought I was a complete failure as a parent. I don't feel that this time around (although the people who saw me the other day when Eli had a thumbtack in his mouth and I nonchalantly pulled it away and tossed it across the table might feel differently), but I also know that I haven't hit my stride yet.

The big difference between the first two babies and the last two babies is that Eli isn't a baby-- he's a threat. He does almost all of the things Rose does, but he needs to be carried and snuggled. He needs me to lie down with him. He needs me to feed him. He needs to go to the doctor. And Rose is a smart cookie-- she senses that she's not the center of the universe any more. Also, there's the fact that just as the Rose and Eli show starts to wind down for the night, there are four more kids who need my love, attention, and chauffeuring skills. As for my marriage? I just have to have faith that twenty years of love for each other will sustain us if the relationship has to take a back burner for the present. Because it's go, go, go all the time here. When I was a busy high school student, I was always surprised when I added one new activity to my calendar and my life didn't fall apart. Maybe, in some twisted way, I've been adding things to my plate for years (marathon running, blogging, writing, reading, kids) to see how much I could handle. Maybe this experience, although I know it's the right choice for Eli and for our family, will make us fall apart for a while. But I also have faith that eventually things will come back together.

Last week
You might read this and say, "Get over yourself, this is just normal life." And yes, I know it. We've had no life-threatening catastrophes. No health challenges other than when all of the kids got a stomach virus. No financial difficulties or spiritual crises. All in all, life is pretty darn great. It's just a busier, fuller life than I'm used to for the moment. I'm sure I'll hit my stride again, it's just taking longer this year than last.

Maybe when I start sleeping again. I do so much bedhopping in the night, I feel like a frat boy or a hooker. Rose was not a great sleeper even before we left for China, and between the jet lag and the clubfoot casts, Eli has been up many times each night. How many? I'm not sure. Because within the first week, I gave in and started sleeping on his floor, and I can poke my hand in between the bars of the crib and pat him when he stirs, which some nights feels like all night long. But it's getting better. Miraculously, he didn't cry at all last night. And I've learned that if I'll just sit with him at bedtime, he's asleep within minutes, but if I try to leave, he cries for hours. So I sit and read. For the first time in my life, I may miss deadlines. The journal for which I'm the managing editor badly needs my attention. The reading contest I'm judging is over next week and I still need to read six more books. I am not superwoman. I'm just a mom, trying to muddle through, and trying to enjoy these sweet babies in the process.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Title: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Audible
This book would be rated: PG-13 for (tasteful) sexual references and some swearing

I finished reading Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore this morning, and even though I usually like to let a book percolate for a while before I write a review, this time I had to get it down on paper right now, because I want people to read this book.

As a reader and a book reviewer, I've come to expect, probably unfairly, that young adult books are often entertaining and have good character development and a great plot that all comes together in the end, while adult literary fiction focuses on characters and themes to the detriment of plot and potboilers do the opposite. But Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore has all of the elements of a great YA novel (including a quick pace and a character on a quest who wants to learn what he's made of), but it's written for adults.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Clay Jannon is an unemployed art school grad living in San Francisco who wanders into a bookstore and ends up getting a job. But it's not just any bookstore, and not just any job. Clay is the night clerk (from 10pm to 6am) every night at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. You might think that the bookstore would be hopping (or sell "adult" books) if it were open around the clock, but this bookstore is just the opposite. It's a used bookstore, and it's rare to have a customer. And the customers, well, they're a little weird.

It becomes evident that the customers are part of a secret society, and secret societies and systems of belief are part of the mean of Sloan's book. He explores (and picks at ) cults and Google in equal measure. Sometimes, in fact, the book felt like an ad for Google, but at other times, it felt like a warning against Google. Anyway, when Clay's curiosity gets the better of him and he accidentally solves, in one night, the puzzle that the weird customers have been picking at for years, he gets launched into a quest to solve a bigger puzzle, which brings him into contact with all sorts of interesting characters. The book is really, really great-- exciting, interesting, and thoughtful.  For a while I thought it was going to take an alternate world twist, but it didn't which I liked too-- Sloan was smart enough to make this quirky story work within the confines of our world. The end was a little bit of a let-down, but I really do think that was intentional on Sloan's part-- one of his themes seems to be that this world is fascinating enough if you live life to the fullest.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review: Gulp by Mary Roach

Title: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Author: Mary Roach
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Audible
This book would be rated: PG, unless you're very sensitive to sexual puns or fart humor, then PG-13. And there quite a few scatalogical references, of course.

I'm a huge fan of Mary Roach, and I have the sense of humor of an eleven-year-old boy, so it's no surprise that I was one of the first people to buy Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. I have loved Mary Roach's books in the past (although her previous book, Packing for Mars, wasn't as great as Stiff and Bonk), because I admire the way that she's able to take subjects that others might consider gross or off-limits or sacred and infuse humor into them. In Gulp, she tackles digestion, from salivation at the beginning to poop and gas at the end.

Gulp is Mary Roach at her finest-- the book is laugh-out-loud funny (I swallowed a bug when gasping at one of her puns while I was out on my run), and it's also well-researched and interesting. I even got my daughter and her friend to listen to a little bit of a chapter on emptying colostomy bags (yes, she goes there). Did you know Elvis had a megacolon? Neither did I, but know I know what I'll be talking about at my next dinner party.

Book Review: Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: Leaving Everything Most Loved (Maisie Dobbs #10)
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Audible (although I also bought a hard copy for myself)
This book would be rated: PG-13 for violence

On my last day in China, once we found my phone (which Rose had hidden in the room service menu, and which I had gone all over the city, trying to pantomime "lost phone" to people who undoubtedly thought I was crazy), I checked my email and was delighted to learn that Leaving Everything Most Loved was waiting in my Audible queue. If you've been reading my reviews for some time, you know that I am Jacqueline Winspear's biggest fan. If I could wake up and occupy a fictional character's life for a day, I would choose Maisie Dobbs. However, I was also quite disappointed in Elegy for Eddie, the previous book in the series, and I felt like this book would either make me go sour on Dobbs or it would make me fall in love with her all over again.

Reading the Maisie Dobbs books is like taking a master class in internal and external conflict. As a psychologist and investigator, there is plenty of plot in these novels. In Leaving Everything Most Loved, Maisie is working to solve two separate investigations, one involving the double murder of two Indian women living in a boarding house run by a missionary couple, the other the case of a missing boy with an invalid mother and a father who is acting decidedly weird about the whole situation. And then there's the side story, now into the fourth book, I think, about Maisie's relationship with James Compton. Maisie and James grew up in the same house-- Maisie as a maid, and James as the son of the master, and this provides a lot of tension in how she perceives herself and her freedoms within the relationship. There's also the backdrop of history-- Leaving Everything Most Loved takes place in 1933, and while the WWI stories have receded into the background, WWII and Hitler are on the horizon, and James's work in aeronautics and bombs has Maisie decidedly uneasy.

While Winspear does a great job keeping readers involved in all of these plot elements, the reason why I keep coming back to the stories is because of what is going on in Maisie's head. The book is expertly narrated by Orlagh Cassidy, and I love hearing her read her way through Maisie's thoughts, her prejudices, and what she's learning in the process of solving crime (she does have a slightly annoying habit-- Maisie, not Cassidy, of trying to correct people that I'm not sure she is aware of). Anyway, while I think that some readers might consider this novel a bridge between Maisie's resolve in the last novel not to marry James and to go out and find herself, and the next, in which she will do the finding in India, I wasn't disappointed by the way that the overarching story moved forward only incrementally. But I do have a suggestion for Ms. Winspear-- I know exactly how to end the next novel: "YES STOP."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

Title: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Author: Paul Tough
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Audible
This book would be rated: PG

I picked up How Children Succeed because I hoped that it would teach me how to help my children develop grit, curiosity, and character. But although Tough starts writing the book in order to learn some of these things for himself as a parent, that's not what the book is about. Instead, Tough's work is journalistic-- he delves into schools and laboratories that show how the characteristics of grit, curiosity and character, in things as variant as lab rats and inner-city high school students, can help people succeed.

The stories are very interesting, and I found myself listening along quite avidly. However, Tough seems to come to some pretty weak conclusions as a parent-- love your kid, comfort them, and let them fail sometimes. I was hoping for things more along the lines of helping preteens who seem to need a refresher in grit and character despite being loved, comforted and given a long leash. Tough doesn't have a preteen yet, so I'm hoping that by the time he does, he can have more definitive parenting answers for me.

Book Review: Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Title: Bring up the Bodies
Author: Hilary Mantel
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Audible
This book would be rated: PG-13 (for beheading, sexual discussions, and a little bit of language)

A few years ago, I read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, the story of how Thomas Cromwell managed to get Catherine of Aragon out of the picture and Anne Boelyn married to Henry VIII.  I read the book while I was visiting my parents, and I have lots of memories of going up and down the rolling hills of Minneapolis while trying to decide if the book was really boring or totally fascinating (it got fascinating-- it just took some time). So I wasn't surprised when Bring up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, or in other words, how Thomas Cromwell managed to get Anne Boelyn out of the picture so Jane Seymour could marry Henry VIII, started slow. It's actually because of this slow start that I give the book four stars instead of five.

But once the story gets underway, it's fascinating. I was running on the treadmill in China one night, and the thought struck me that nothing had happened much in the book. There had been lots of conversations, but very little action. And, in fact, most of the book seems to take place in Cromwell's head. For many writers, this would be the recipe for disaster, but in Mantel's capable hands, I wanted more when I reached the end of the story. I fear that Cromwell may have been far less interesting and thoughtful in real life than he was in this story, and even though I know he was somewhat of a devilish beast in his value for human life and position, I can't help being just a little bit in love with the character that history and Hilary Mantel have created.

Book Review: Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero by Matt Peterson

Title: Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero
Author: Matt Peterson
Enjoyment Rating: **
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: G

If we were playing the game "One of these things is not like the others" with the Whitney Middle Grade novels, then it would be pretty easy to pick out Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero as the odd man out. The other books are all published by mainstream presses, and none has LDS characters.

I wish I could say that Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero was the sleeper hit of the category. I wish I could say that despite the cheesy cover art, the book moved me and stayed with me. I can't. Maybe it's because I'm a mom to two scouts, and one of my biggest fears is sending them away to scout camp, where anything can happen. In Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero, Andrew and the boys from his ward head out on a scout hike. Andrew doesn't feel like he fits in with the other boys, and doesn't feel particularly strong or brave. But when tragedy strikes (no! Please-- no tragedies at scout camp!), Andrew finds himself leading this very unlikely band of brothers to safety.

It's evident that Peterson draws on experience, scary stories from the Deseret News about scout camps, urban legend, and parental nightmares as he created his tale. I think it's one that my boys may enjoy, but it played a little too fast and loose with my fears to make it a book I could enjoy.

Book Review: The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back by Sariah Wilson (Whitney Finalist)

Title: The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back
Author: Sariah Wilson
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

Based on the title and cover of this book (for some reason the cover has disappeared from the post and I can't get it back-- I may try again if I get a chance), I was expecting something different-- maybe a little campy, a little more fairy tale. Instead, Sariah Wilson's The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back feels like a thoroughly modern tale of Mattie and her now-ex-stepsister, the lovely and perfect Ella. But the book feels so modern, and so much more about high school culture and about how Mattie feels guilty about snagging Ella's boyfriend, Jake, than it is about anything fairy-tale related, that the title and cover seem more like an afterthought.

That said, the book was an enjoyable read. Wilson uses just the right amount of detail, and I appreciated that there was more going on than just the relationship with Jake-- Mattie's growing self-awareness and the depth of her relationship with Ella were actually more interesting than the budding romance.

Book Review: Finding June by Shannen Crane Camp (Whitney Finalist)

Title: Finding June
Author: Shannen Crane Camp
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

When I started reading the Whitney finalists four years ago, the YA category was widely considered to be the strongest of the bunch (although I know some would argue that it's the Speculative category). Since that time, the category was split into YA General and YA Speculative, and then again into middle grades. I expected to be left with all kinds of bildungsroman (in the vein of Kristen Chandler's Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me) or gritty soul-searching books like those by Carol Lynch Williams. But four of the five books in the category (I haven't read the fifth) are teen romances, and I've felt underwhelmed by the category as a whole. That said, here goes with the review of this book:

Finding June is the kind of escapist fantasy I can imagine my daughter loving. June is an aspiring actress, a junior in high school with a dead mom and a dad who is always gone on business. She lives with her kooky grandma, and somehow manages to land a recurring role on a tv show. But this brings its own sets of problems-- she's totally gaga over the leading man on the show, but there's also Joseph to consider. Joseph has been her best friend since forever, and while it's obvious to everyone that he's been in love with her his whole life, June remains oblivious because it suits her purposes. I think the characters and the LDS issues are a lot more interesting than the story itself in this one. Camp does a nice job with descriptions and seems to have a lot of insider knowledge about acting, but the whole love triangle aspect fell a little flat for me. I understand that Camp was going for June coming to some realizations about herself, but the good guy/bad guy felt painted with awfully broad brushstrokes.

Book Review: Smart Move by Melanie Jacobson (Whitney Finalist)

Title: Smart Move
Author: Melanie Jacobson
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

It's no secret that I've been a big fan of Melanie Jacobson's work in the past. In fact, I thought both of her Whitney Finalist romances last year were just delightful. They've been largely influential in helping me overcome my prejudice against the genre. I am no longer embarrassed to be seen carrying a romance novel, especially if it's written by Melanie Jacobson.

For fans of Twitterpated, Jacobson tells the story of Sandy, who was the roommate of the protagonist in Twitterpated. Sandy has left Seattle for DC, where she's working to get her nonprofit into a new location. The only problem? The lawyer for the neighborhood in which they hope to relocate is a complete jerk. After weeks of fighting on the phone, they meet face to face, where Sandy learns that he's the guy she met at the bar in Twitterpated, you know-- the one she hasn't stopped thinking about for the last year?

And after that, it's not too surprising what happens. They fight at work while getting cozy and home, and then it becomes difficult to sustain this Matalin-Carville kind of relationship. And then Sandy's crazy mom comes to visit and makes everything crazier. And since it's a romance, you know it all works out in the end.

Some readers have felt that the main drawback to the romance category this year is that the women are flawed while the guys are too perfect, but I didn't get that sense from this story at all. I never was entirely convinced that Jake's work-related motives didn't fall squarely in the gray area. The book was enjoyable for me, but not, three weeks later, particularly memorable.

Book Review: Earthbound by Teresa Sneed (Whitney Finalist)

Title: Earthbound
Author: Theresa Sneed
Enjoyment Rating: **
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

I know I should find a way to be diplomatic about this book, and if I were less tired and overwhelmed by my toddlers, I'm sure I could find a way. But I am feeling cranky, and I have a feeling that will come out in this review. I read Theresa Sneed's No Angel for the Whitneys last year, and while I enjoyed the first half of that book, I had a really hard time getting into this story. Like No Angel, Earthbound  starts in the preexistence, and basically covers the story of the War in Heaven from the point of view of one spirit, Sophie. Sophie is falling hard for Daniel, a courageous spirit, and a lot of the story is about their romance against the backdrop of the war in heaven.

The problem with the book is that it felt so corporeal. The book takes place in the spirit world, but Sneed describes Sophie and Daniel with very human sensations and feelings and emotions. There is a lot of emphasis, for example, on what Sophie is wearing in the book, and every time I read a detail like this, it was hard for me to reconcile a preoccupation with clothing with a spirit. Furthermore, the book seems to be set in a world very much like modern-day America (maybe five years from now), with texting and classrooms and all that kind of stuff. If the story had been really compelling, I might have been able to overlook the details, but instead, I got all hung up in them.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review: Within the Dark Hills by Sian Ann Bessey (Whitney Finalist)

Title: Within the Dark Hills
Author: Sian Ann Bessey
Enjoyment Rating: **
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

What are the chances that of the five books in the historical fiction category, two would be romances involving a Welsh miner who lost his wife during the birth of their first daughter? While Within the Dark Hills and My Loving Vigil Keeping have very different stories, and I actually really like the plot twist that Annie and Evan marry shortly after meeting each other, at the urging of the Reverend Davies, I feel like Within the Dark Hills suffers from the comparison.

As a reader, the main drawback of Within the Dark Hills is that everything happens so quickly. Annie and Evan meet, and within a couple of days, they're married. Then things are supposed to be awkward for them as they grow to love each other, and Bessey tries to show the awkwardness, but at the same time, only a few weeks elapse before they're madly in love with each other, which didn't feel very realistic. Evan's sister comes to accept Annie with similar speed, and their conversion to the gospel and move to America (sorry, I'm a spoiler) also happens precipitously. I feel that Within the Dark Hills would have benefited from being twice as long and from taking the plot developments a bit more slowly.

Book Review: Spinster's Folly by Marsha Ward (Whitney Finalist)

Title: Spinster's Folly (The Owen Family Saga #4)
Author: Marsha Ward
Enjoyment Rating: **
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

Maybe I would feel differently about Spinster's Folly if I'd read the first three books in the Owen Family Saga. Maybe I would have tender feelings toward eighteen-year-old Marie, who's terrified that she's about to be put on the shelf because she hasn't yet managed to find a man. Maybe I would understand why she goes along with her father to get engaged to a man she already knows she doesn't like, then why she runs off without a second thought with a complete stranger when the fiance turns out to be a jerk (surprise!). But I haven't read the first three books, and I really didn't like Marie Owen. Of course, since all of the Whitney finalists seem to have romantic plots even if they're not in the Romance category, there was a romantic subplot with a worthy guy, but I was almost surprised at the lengths he went to to find Marie, when even her father and brothers seemed ready to give her up and write her off. The first half (Marie's preoccupation with being a "spinster" and with the good cowboy and icky fiance) and the second half (the kidnapping narrative) felt like two separate stories stitched together.

Book Review: My Loving Vigil Keeping by Carla Kelly (Whitney Finalist)

Title: My Loving Vigil Keeping
Author: Carla Kelly
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

I loved Carla Kelly's 2011 Whitney finalist, so I was excited to see her name on the list of finalists again this year. I was a bit surprised to see her in the Historical Fiction category instead of the Romance category (which she won last year), but I didn't think enough about it to do any research to try to figure out why, I just plunged into the book and started reading.

I read My Loving Vigil Keeping in China, at the end of our two-week trip. I read quite a few books in China, and honestly I was happy to finish most of them and check them off my list, and My Loving Vigil Keeping was the only one I would consider a good "vacation novel." It was long (usually a bad thing with the Whitney books since I feel a lot of pressure to get through them quickly) and a little bit slow-paced, which allowed me to wallow in the story and the characters. Della is the new schoolteacher in Winter Quarters, the village just outside of the Scofield mine, east of Nephi, Utah. Della's father was a miner, but since his death, she's lived for the last dozen years as the "poor relation" in the house of her aunt and uncle in Salt Lake. So when she has the chance to strike out on her own, she jumps on it, not entirely sure if she's making the right choice.

When she arrives in Winter Quarters, she's even less sure of her choice. She can barely breathe because of the altitude, and the principal seems to hate her. But Della stays. In the first few chapters, it's evident that a romance will blossom between her and a certain widowed miner, and although it's a joy to watch the love story unfold, what I really loved about the novel was the way that Kelly shows how Della changes over the course of the year. Yes, it was a bit of a Pollyanna story, but I didn't mind because Kelly is so adept at telling the story. What I was unprepared for was the ending. Like I said, I had no knowledge of the book before I plunged in, and I'm not a native Utahn, so I was totally caught off guard by what happens in the novel's final chapters, when the events of May 1, 1900 are depicted in the novel. Some may say that the ending is implausible, but I would have been heartbroken by the alternative. All in all, I think Kelly accomplishes what many LDS authors strive for but few achieve-- creating an engaging story with fully-wrought characters that also manages to convey important aspects of our faith and culture.

Book Review: Espionage by A.L. Sowards (Whitney Finalist)

Title: Espionage
Author: A.L. Sowards
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

An Idaho farm boy finds himself in Nazi-occupied France, stealing a code book back from the Nazis. When he returns to Britain, he learns that the job (where his partner died) was a test of sorts-- an opportunity for him to show his mettle. His superiors are sufficiently impressed to send him back to France, this time to go undercover on a mission with a brother and sister active in the resistance in order to ferret out a double-agent.

It's been a while since I finished Espionage, so it's hard for me to remember exactly why I rated it ***. I believe that the story line and plot were solid, but that the writing seemed to do a little bit too much of telling us as readers what to think and how to feel instead of describing scenes and letting us come to those conclusions ourselves. Sowards is a first time author, and I believe that she will work out those kinks, which is a good thing since the book seems to be setting itself up for a series. 

Book Review: The 13th Day of Christmas by Jason F. Wright (Whitney Finalist)

Title: The 13th Day of Christmas
Author: Jason F. Wright
Enjoyment Rating: **
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

Charlee is nine when her family moves from their lovely home to a double-wide trailer in a town far away. Her parents fight, her brother has become distant, and she's a little lost in her new place. She soon meets Marva, the eightysomething woman who lives in the house on the edge of the trailer park, and they become fast friends, bonding over aprons with silly slogans and decorating for Christmas in October.

On Thanksgiving, when Charlee's family is eating with Marva, tragedy strikes. And then, a few weeks later, it strikes again. Pretty soon, no one knows if Charlee or Marva will be home to celebrate their favorite holiday, or if they will even be alive to celebrate.

This wasn't my favorite book. Although Wright does a nice job creating Charlee and Marva's characters, especially with the little quirks that made Marva memorable, the story itself was predictable and sappy. It has lots of people who adore it on Goodreads, though, and at least it was short!

Book Review: Paige by Annette Lyon (Whitney Finalist)

Title: Paige
Author: Annette Lyon
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

Paige is a newly-divorced mom of two, who moves from Utah to Southern California to make a new start close to her (ex) in-laws. She finds a job as the manager of a dental office (a job she knows well since her slimy ex was a dentist) and settles into a life of barely making ends meet, enjoying her little guys, and harboring hatred for her ex and his new wife. Then she finds a flier for The Newport Ladies Book Club and decides to join.

I'm very intrigued by the premise of The Newport Ladies Book Club, which is a group of novels written by some of the heavy-hitters in the world of LDS fiction. There are about ten women in the book club, and so far each of the four authors has written one woman's story, with more stories forthcoming. I believe that Paige is the only LDS member of the club, which gives this book a slightly different twist.

Anyway, Lyon does a nice job with Paige's story. She feels like a real character (one of my hangups about Lyon in the past has been that she includes a few too many real-life details, and that's true in this book too, but it's easier to overlook here than in 2010's Band of Sisters). Lyon introduces some good tension with the (unfortunately named) character of Derryl, the non-LDS guy who is everything her ex wasn't-- sweet, attentive, and understanding. But does she love Derryl, or just the idea of what he represents in her life? One of the things I particularly enjoyed about Paige is the way that Lyon deals with the way that LDS people sometimes have a small worldview, especially when they engage with non-LDS people, become friends with them, and then are surprised at the depth of their spiritual and moral characters.

Knocking it out...

Eli has been home two weeks, and in that time, I've had no time at all for blogging. First we had company, then the kids were on spring break, and Ed's time at home ends tomorrow. The first week we were home, my biggest worry was getting Rose to quit hitting Eli, and then fatigue set in, and now I'm a lot more worried about getting him to fall asleep and stay asleep. Last night, for instance, it took more than two hours to get him to fall asleep, and less than two hours later, he was awake again, and would only lie down if I stuck my hands through the bar of the crib, which meant I had to sleep on the floor all night. He was up bright and early and refused to nap, and if my ears are a reliable source, he's up there crying right now. It's complicated by the fact that he got his first cast for his club foot on Monday, and I think he's not very comfortable (the cast goes all the way from his toes to the top of his thigh). Rose seems to be hitting less, or at least I seem to be registering it less, but I'm pretty bleary-eyed these days. By the time Eli is asleep and I've had ten minutes of quiet time with the bigger kids, I am good for nothing but an episode of Scandal, but I'm guaranteed to be asleep before it's over (sometimes it takes me three or four nights to get through a single tv show). Like I said, no time for blogging.

That doesn't mean I haven't been reading. I haven't been reading as much as I'd like to be reading, but lying on the floor with my arm through the bars of a crib does give me some time to read. So I'm still sweating making the Whitney deadline (I have 7-1/2 books left), but I'll do my best to get caught up on the book reviews. And then I'll try to recap what we've been doing the last few weeks (Eli's cast! Rose's birthday! Taking possession of the house next door!) In the meantime, if I go dark, know that I'm lying on the floor next to Eli's crib, or else doing the fully hands-on thing that comes with having two toddlers. Holy cow, even a trip to the grocery store with the two of them feels like a marathon-- maybe even harder than a marathon. But don't feel sorry for me-- I have a very comfy blanket and I'm delighted to have my hands full with Rose and Eli, it's just a dynamic that I haven't fully mastered yet.