The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O’Neal

The Garden of Happy Endings 
Barbara O’Neal
2012, 416 pgs                         
Purchased                               

Book Summary from Goodreads

After tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, the Reverend Elsa Montgomery has a crisis of faith. Returning to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, she seeks work in a local soup kitchen. Preparing nourishing meals for folks in need, she keeps her hands busy while her heart searches for understanding.
 
Meanwhile, her sister, Tamsin, as pretty and colorful as Elsa is unadorned and steadfast, finds her perfect life shattered when she learns that her financier husband is a criminal. Enduring shock and humiliation as her beautiful house and possessions are seized, the woman who had everything now has nothing but the clothes on her back.
 
But when the going gets tough, the tough get growing. A community garden in the poorest, roughest part of town becomes a lifeline. Creating a place of hope and sustenance opens Elsa and Tamsin to the renewing power of rich earth, sunshine, and the warm cleansing rain of tears. While Elsa finds her heart blooming in the care of a rugged landscaper, Tamsin discovers the joy of losing herself in the act of giving—and both women discover that with time and care, happy endings flourish.

My Summary

All of the things that usually make me love Barbara O’Neal books were present in this one too: a strong, self aware, female protagonist, loyal canine companions, comfort food and an appreciation for everyday, outdoor exercise like hiking and gardening.

I think one of my favorite things about Elsa (and all of O’Neal’s protagonists) is that she owns her own sexuality.  She’s not promiscuous; she just doesn’t judge herself over sex or second guess her decisions. It wasn’t until reading this book that I realized how much I appreciated this characteristic.  It’s refreshing because male characters don’t do that.

Anyway the overall crux of this book is Elsa’s crisis of faith – it’s the third time she’s had one.  The first two times she recovered her faith and moved forward.  This time it’s really left her shaken and since she’s a Reverend it interferes with her life.

The struggle with faith hit home for me.  I think every member of my immediate family has struggled to varying degrees over the last decade.  Almost every question she’s had I recognized.  Elsa grew up Catholic, but wanted to be a priest.  As that option was not available to her (her first crisis), she changed denominations and became a Reverend.  I’m not Catholic – one step removed – but I could recognize several the things she missed about Catholism.  She missed the ritual; it’s peaceful and balancing.

The other characters are diverse and interesting.  I liked Tamsin (Elsa’s sister) quite a bit at the beginning and felt really bad for her situation well into the book, but she did something that kinda ticked me off towards the end.  Elsa kind of has two romantic interests; a former fiancé who is now a close friend and confidant and a new man who has entered her life recently.  Seeing the contrast between these two relationships is enlightening (there are a few flashbacks though her life a critical junctures).  But the romantic aspect of the book takes a backseat to self discovery and stewardship.  

8 out of 10 stars

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Top 10 Tuesday – Top Ten Books Written in the Past 10 Years That I Hope People Are Still Reading in 30 Years

Each Tuesday The Broke and The Bookish provide a book related Top 10 theme.

This week’s topic is about books written recently that I hope people are still reading in 30 years.  

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – There are so many social undertones to this book that are relevant and I can’t see those not being relevant in the future.

2. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling – I’m sure these will still be read, but I hope they are able to pull as many kids into reading since kids growing up today will have access to the movies instead.

3. The Help – Kathryn Stockett

4. Exile by Richard North Patterson – I’m fairly certain this won’t be widely read in 30 years as it’s not all that highly read right now, but it’s a fascinating book about terrorism and the historical conflicts that block peace in the middle east.

5. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – As awesome as I think this book is, the reason it made my list is that Rainbow is awesome and I want her to be read and heard for a long time.  (My copy of Eleanor and Park shipped today!)

6. The Passage by Justin Cronin – I put this on here because if people are still reading it in 30 years it will mean the sequels live up to the first book.

7. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Kraukhauer – Jon Kraukhauer is an amazing non-fiction author.  This is a look at a religion that’s history is based entirely in the US. 

8. Bad Girls by Laura Ruby – Or something similar.  I think this is a great book for teen girls to read so they can be aware of the effect of gossip and try not to judge each other based on sex.  They also need to be aware of the dangers of cell cameras and that digital pictures never go away.

9 & 10.  The Kite Runner / 1000 Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg

The Catastrophic History of You and Me         
Jess Rothenberg
2012, 400 pgs                         
Library                                    

Book Summary from Goodreads

Dying of a broken heart is just the beginning…. Welcome to forever.

BRIE’S LIFE ENDS AT SIXTEEN: Her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her, and the news breaks her heart—literally.

But now that she’s D&G (dead and gone), Brie is about to discover that love is way more complicated than she ever imagined. Back in Half Moon Bay, her family has begun to unravel. Her best friend has been keeping a secret about Jacob, the boy she loved and lost—and the truth behind his shattering betrayal. And then there’s Patrick, Brie’s mysterious new guide and resident Lost Soul . . . who just might hold the key to her forever after.

With Patrick’s help, Brie will have to pass through the five stages of grief before she’s ready to move on. But how do you begin again, when your heart is still in pieces?

My Summary

Emotionally, Brie was a totally believable teenager.  Everything is life or death – I think that’s what drew me to this premise so much – obviously having your first love break up with you is not fatal, but everything feels so much worse as a teenager. 

“Love is no game. People cut their ears off over this stuff. People jump off the Eiffel Tower and sell all their possessions and move to Alaska to live with the grizzly bears, and then they get eaten and nobody hears them when they scream for help. That’s right. Falling in love is pretty much the same thing as being eaten alive by a grizzly bear.”

I loved how much Brie worried/cared about her younger brother.  They had the exact same age difference as I do with my brother so I could identify.  The scenes where Brie got to get a little payback were funny and I know that I would have enjoyed that opportunity (especially in high school).

Patrick (her guide) is the right mix of mystery and supportive.  He’s almost a combined good boy and bad boy all rolled into one.   Brie also had some cute one-liners (usually when talking to Patrick)

“There’s no such thing as too much Disney.”

 “News flash, Bozo. Don’t ever tell a girl to relax. It only makes us madder.”

I can’t really put my finger on what was missing in this one for me, but I just thought it was cute.  I read it in two sittings (started at 9:00 PM read for 2 hours, slept, and then picked it up again) so I really wanted to know what happen.  And it did manage to surprise me – one of the twists I did see coming, but the other caught me off guard, but I thought it was cool.

Basically a cute novel that felt like it didn’t quite live up to the potential of it’s premise. 

7 out of 10 stars

Top 10 Tuesday – Top Ten blogs/sites I visit that aren’t about books.

Each Tuesday The Broke and The Bookish provide a book related Top 10 theme.

I’ve broken these out into categories.  I’ve gone months without checking some of these and then I’ll start checking them 2-3 times a day.

Diet/Fitness

I lost 28lbs last year and it’s 90% due to discovering Intermittent Fasting and 10% due to running.  These are my two favorite fitness sites.

  1. www.fitnessblackbook.com
  2. www.leangains.com

 Sports

  1. www.huskermax.com – They comb through the universe for Husker news so I don’t have too.
  2. www.espn.go.com

 General News

  1. www.nytimes.com – I don’t get on here as much as I used to since they are limiting the amount of articles you can view without paying so much now.
  2. www.omaha.com

 Pop culture

  1. www.rainbowrowell.com – Sometimes this is about books (she is an author, but most the time it’s just about whatever is on Rainbow’s mind).  If you are a fan of Rainbow’s first novel, Attachments, you should head over to her blog.  There are three deleted scenes from the book.

 Home Improvement

  1. http://littlegreennotebook.blogspot.com/
  2. http://www.younghouselove.com/ – Lately I’ve been on a DIY kick and this if my number 1 over the past month.
  3. http://www.craigslist.com – Not exactly a home improvement site, but that’s why I’m on there.  I got a chandelier on craigslist this weekend for $20!

“Looking for Alaska” and “Paper Towns” by John Green

Paper Towns                           Looking for Alaska
John Green                             John Green
2008, 305 pgs                         2006, 221 pgs
Library                                   Purchase Kindle

“Looking for Alaska” Book Summary from Goodreads

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another. A stunning debut, it marks John Green’s arrival as an important new voice in contemporary fiction

“Paper Towns” Book Summary from Goodreads

When Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night – dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge – he follows her. Margo’s always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she’s always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they’re for Q. Printz Medalist John Green returns with the trademark brilliant wit and heart-stopping emotional honesty that have inspired a new generation of readers.

My Summary

Parallels abound in these two books.  I wish I had read them at least a few months apart – I still would have noticed but I don’t think it would have been quite as distracting.  I read “Looking forAlaska” a few weeks ago on a Saturday and really enjoyed it. I read “Paper Towns” a few days later and it felt like I was reading the same characters.  Miles=Quentin, Alaska=Margo,  Colonel=Ben, etc. 

I also wish I had written my review for “Looking for Alaska” before reading “Paper Towns” because now it’s impossible to separate them in my mind.  So here are just a few bullet points of what I liked

  • John Green’s characters have dimension – hobbies that are interesting and not typical, real conversations, and annoying habits. 
    • Miles in “Looking for Alaska” memorized famous people’s last words.
    • Alaska/Margo/Colonel planned elaborate pranks that required planning and were really funny.
  • Both books made me laugh out loud.  I want to put quotes in here, but I don’t want to ruin the reading experience for anyone else.
  • The boys (not the main character) fixation with Prom in “Paper Towns”.  It was funny to think guys really cared.
  • “Paper Towns” made me think about how much of what I see in other people is just a reflection of myself.  “Looking for Alaska” make me think about life/death – which seems cliché to write that in print, but didn’t feel that way to read it
  • The chants/cheers the Colonel led at the Basketball games in “Looking for Alaska”.  AWESOME!
  • Both books have moments that point out where girls are being objectified. 

So how to rate these books?  I think I would have given “Looking forAlaska” a 7 or 8 on Saturday.  But I think if I had read “Paper Towns” first I’d have given it an 8 or 9, but since I read it second and it was SO similar to “Looking for Alaska” my enjoyment was probably closer to a 6-7. 

First of these two that you read – 8.5 out of 10 stars
Second that you read               – 7 out of 10 stars

Top 10 Tuesday – Top Ten Books from my Childhood

Each Tuesday The Broke and The Bookish provide a book related Top 10 theme.  This week the theme is “Top 10 authors I’d like to see on a Reality TV Show”.   I don’t watch enough reality TV to participate.  Seriously all of my authors would have to be on either House Hunters or Moving Up (okay, okay  – I do watch “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding) but still not enough variety.  So I’m going back and doing one of the Top 10 lists from before I started blogging.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

I love this book.  I remember “reading” it to my parents when I was four.  I was not an early reader – just a really good memorizer.

 The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain

I had a lot of these books.  I remember laughing hysterically at the one about Nightmares.

The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary

I’ve mentioned Ramona before, but she’s just that cool.  Also one of the movie adaptations of books that I thought was awesome.  They totally captured the spirit of Ramona.

Sweet Valley Twins by Francine Pascal (who know who really wrote them)

It’s almost embarrassing now, but I DEVOURED these when I was 8-10.   Looking at the synopses I think I read thru book 74.  If you gave me a number, I could tell you the book title.  In case anyone is interested they stopped at 118.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I still reread this one.   It’s the perfect mix of sad with a happy ending.  I really wanted to be like Sara – kind to everyone regardless of my personal circumstances.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This book felt almost magical to me. 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Oh Anne.  I still love Anne.  Seriously wonderful literary character.  The perfect example of someone with flaws, but who you just love inspite/because of them.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Fun, fun, fun! 

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I can’t find my old copies of these and I have been yearning to reread them lately.  Half price book store here I come!

Bonus 2 – These were my favorite books to read to my brother when he was little

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr

This is just fun to read.  It’s sing-songy (and I love that)

Superfudge by Judy Blume

I enjoyed reading the Fudge books to myself when I was younger, but my biggest association with them is hearing my brother giggle when I read them aloud.  Might be my favorite sound in the world.

More Like Her by Liza Palmer

More Like Her
Liza Palmer
2012, 309 pgs
Purchased

Book Summary from Goodreads

What really goes on behind those perfect white picket fences?

InFrances’s mind, beautiful, successful, ecstatically married Emma Dunham is the height of female perfection.Frances, recently dumped with spectacular drama by her boyfriend, aspires to be just like Emma. So do her close friends and fellow teachers, Lisa and Jill. But Lisa’s too career-focused to find time for a family. And Jill’s recent unexpected pregnancy could have devastating consequences for her less-than-perfect marriage.

Yet sometimes the golden dream you fervently wish for turns out to be not at all what it seems–like Emma’s enviable suburban postcard life, which is about to be brutally cut short by a perfect husband turned killer. And in the shocking aftermath, three devastated friends are going to have to come to terms with their own secrets . . . and somehow learn to move forward after their dream is exposed as a lie.

My Summary

This book was a disappointment for me.  I’m going to start with the couple things I did like – the male romantic lead was Sam, and he was adorable, great Southern manners, tall, and just a great guy.  There were also a few great insights about how Frannie always assumes that how a relationship heads is a guys choice.  When Lisa tells Frannie “You choose where this goes” – I really liked that quote.

I don’t like the term “chick-lit” for quite a few reason, but the biggest one is that it’s used to describe to broad a range of books.  Here are some fairly prolific “chick-lit” authors (all of whom I like/love) and where they fall on the scale from super light reading to fairly heavy, tears will be involved, but will still end happy (I think there are three general criteria for something being labeled as chick lit –female author/protagonist, some romance, and a happy ending).

Very Light and Enjoyable
           Sophia Kinsella
           Meg Cabot

I love both of these authors, but these books rarely cause me to stop and think.  They are just fun, usually quick reads with likeable characters.

Still light, but with some insight and more depth
            Liza Palmer (current review)
            Lauren Weisenberger

Enjoyable, but with heavier themes, characters have more depth
            Claire Lazebnik
            Barbara O’Neal

So Palmer’s novels usually fit into the middle for me.  This book felt like she was trying to move into the more serious category, but didn’t make it.

The prologue starts with a 911 call (I’m not going to say what it was about) so you start chapter one knowing something bad is coming.  Then in the first chapter you’re introduce to the main character Frannie.  The book is written in first person and all the main characters, except Frannie, have four letter, very common first names – Jill, Lisa, and Emma.  I was at least 40 pages into the book before I was able to truly distinguish which character was which when they entered a scene. 

About the time I was actually starting to get into the book and enjoy it, the event that caused the 911 call happens, and it was just WAY too heavy for the tone of the book.  It was jarring and abrupt and since the rest of the book was Frannie dealing with the fallout from that event I never really got back into it.

Next, while I loved Lisa’s advice to Frannie, I felt like Frannie incorporated it into her life/actions too quickly.  When your natural reaction to a situation has been to do things a certain way for a decade, one piece of advice doesn’t change that in a week.

5 out of 10 stars