Friday, July 29, 2016

Washington Valley Park - West

We recently made our way back to Washington Valley Park in Bridgewater, New Jersey, to check out the western portion of the park and the reservoir.

You can get a trail map by visiting the Somerset County Park Commission website here.

We took the White Trail to the Middle Brook Trail and followed along the reservoir to the end of the trail at the dam.  This trail was pretty flat, but narrow at times.

White Trail


Middle Brook Trail

After we made our way back to the parking lot, we went a little ways along the Red Trail.  The Red Trail was rockier than the White Trail, with some slight ups and downs.  Our total hike was 2.5 miles.

Red Trail

We found the western portion of Washington Valley Park to be more crowded than the eastern portion.  There were many people fishing along the shores of the reservoir, and several mountain bikers passed us.  I'm looking forward to coming back and discovering more of the Red and White Trails and trying out the Blue Trail!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Guest Blogger: Baby Shower Books

Today I have a guest blogger - my sister, Michele!  She had a baby in January (our adorable niece, Luna), so she is the perfect person to talk about books to bring to a baby shower!

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One of my earliest childhood memories is of our parents taking us to Toys R Us and letting us pick out something special.  My sister and I immediately bee lined to the back of the store where they hid the books.  We didn’t want Barbies, Cabbage Patch Dolls, or My Little Pony (wow, really dated myself there!).  Books.  Specifically, Ann M. Martin’s Baby-sitters Club series.  We must have read every single one and to this day we are still avid readers.  

Now I’m a new mom to a six month old baby girl and I hope to instill a love of reading in her as well.  Heck, she is even named after my husband’s favorite literary character (thanks, JK Rowling).  Some of my most cherished baby shower gifts were the books we received from family and friends.  Sure, the clothes were adorable and the diapers useful, but she will grow up with these books.  We read one or two each morning before starting our day and down the road they will be her excuse to not go to bed “just yet” while we cuddle together.  I would categorize these books in three ways and hopefully give you some ideas for the next baby shower you attend.

This group includes the most popular children’s books – Goodnight Moon, anything by Dr. Suess, etc.  The mommy-to-be will probably get many of these, even duplicates, so consider this when making your selection.  My sister trumped this by turning a copy of Oh, The Places You’ll Go into a guestbook where attendees could write messages to us and baby.  Now, not only is it a book we will read together, it is a treasure chest of beautiful sentiments we can share forever.

Personal Touches
One of my daughter’s favorite books right now is Hello, Vermont, a gift from her grandparents.  It is special because we ski and hike with them every year in Vermont and we cannot wait to take the baby there for her to experience it.  Finding a book that relates to the parents’ hobbies or favorite places will help them share those things with the child as they grow up.
Themed books can also be very special.  Be creative – they do not need to be the overtly personalized kind of books that put the baby’s actual name on each page.  Maybe a book that alludes to the time of year the baby will be born, or a holiday near their birthday.  Here Comes the Easter Cat is a hysterical book that we bought our daughter to celebrate her first Easter, but it would be very cute for a spring baby shower or due date.  Kitten’s First Full Moon and Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me were just two of the books we received from friends of ours, in a package that included choices all centered around the moon and night.  It was a very special wink and a nod to our little Luna.  

Out of the Box
Books don’t always need to have a lot of words to draw you in.  Books that challenge a child to think and play can be just as meaningful.  What a Wonderful World and You Are My Sunshine are just what they sound like – illustrated versions of the songs they reference.  They absolutely can be read as regular books, but they can also be sung along to by you and your child.

One of the coolest books we received at our baby shower was Press Here.  This kind of book allows the child to play along, following instructions and seeing the results with each turn of the page.  It’s not necessarily a baby book, but our daughter will grow with it.  And I have to admit, I was mesmerized by it! 

Any book you choose will be treasured by the mommy-to-be, as it will be allow her to share special moments with her little one.  But, this is also an opportunity for family and friends to be creative with their selections.  Have fun! 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Shelter of Leaves

"Waiting on" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Shelter of Leaves

Lenore H. Gay

Expected publication: August 9, 2016
On Memorial Day, a series of bomb explosions rips through major cities in the US. Her apartment in ruins, Sabine flees DC and begins a grueling journey on foot that brings her to West Virginia, where she finds safety at an abandoned farmhouse with other refugees. They settle in—growing food, hunting scarce game, and foraging when they can.

For Sabine, family is a vague memory—she can't even remember her last name. Without an identity, she hides; although thirty-five, she pretends to be twenty-eight, even to the refugee she falls in love with. But in time, she begins to recall family—a mother, a father, and a brother—and with her recovered memories comes a longing to find them. Are they alive, surviving, in hiding as she is? Even in harrowing times, Sabine's desires to belong and to be loved pull her away from shelter—and into danger. - from Goodreads

Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: The Leaving

The Leaving

Tara Altebrando

June 7, 2016

Six were taken. Eleven years later, five come back--with no idea of where they've been.

Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.

Until today. Today five of those kids return. They're sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they're entirely unable to recall where they've been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn't come back. Everyone wants answers. Most of all Max's sister Avery, who needs to find her brother--dead or alive--and isn't buying this whole memory-loss story. - from Goodreads
I've been eagerly waiting for this book to come out for a couple months - the cover is so creepy, and the synopsis drew me in even more.  The story begins with the five teenagers being released and covers the two weeks immediately following their return as they try to adjust to their "new" lives while trying to remember what happened to them.

The book is told from the points of view of three characters - Lucas and Scarlett, both kidnapping victims, and Avery, the sister of another boy who was taken.  I liked seeing both sides of the story, those taken and those left behind.  Scarlett's chapters often feature interesting formatting, like words printed in the shape of a circle, which reinforces how confused she was after returning.

Lucas and Scarlett desperately want to know why they were taken, where they've been for the past 11 years, and why they were released.  They realize they have some random partial memories and skills they acquired growing up, and they use these, plus clues they believe they left for themselves, to conduct their own investigation.  The book moved along so quickly that I had to keep reminding myself to slow down and really take it all in.  When the true reason behind the kidnapping was finally revealed, I was surprised, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.  I felt the explanation was actually kind of plausible, considering the world we live in, and it made sense.

The writing and the book sometimes seemed simplistic at times, and I could have done without the love triangle between Scarlett, Lucas, and Avery.  Avery often times seemed both obsessed and childish - not my favorite character.  However, I thought the book was engaging and suspenseful and also displayed some really interesting family dynamics.

4 stars - Gripping read.  For those who love a good mystery!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Taughannock Falls State Park

On our recent trip to the Finger Lakes Region of New York, we visited Taughannock Falls State Park.

For a trail map and directions, visit the New York State Parks website here.  There are fees to get into the New York State Parks, but you only have to pay for one park each day, as long as you keep your receipt.  We had visited Watkins Glen State Park that morning, so we didn't have to pay to get into Taughannock Falls State Park.

The Parks website will let you know which trails are open each day - we should have checked it before the 1/2 hour drive to the park, because when we got there, we found out that the Gorge Trail leading to the huge waterfall was closed!  Kinda disappointing.  We walked around for a bit at the shore of Cayuga Lake and then drove up to the falls overlook area.  From here you get spectacular views of Taughannock Falls.

Cayuga Lake

Taughannock Falls from the overlook
It was getting late in the afternoon, but we were still able to get a short walk in.  The overlook is on the North Rim Trail, so we took this trail west to the bridge overlooking the Upper Falls and then went a short distance on the South Rim Trail.  The hike was approximately 1.5 miles total.  The area we were on was relatively flat, but if you start at the Rim Trail beginnings, I imagine the climb would be a lot steeper.

North Rim Trail

There are really amazing views of the gorge from the South Rim Trail.  If we ever found ourselves in the area again, we would definitely re-visit this park.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Dessert First

"Waiting on" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Dessert First

Dean Gloster

Expected publication: September 2, 2016
Kat is the big sister and, as a bone-marrow match, the only hope for saving her little brother, Beep, whose leukemia has relapsed for the second time. In the face of her family's tragedy, Kat has been the problem-solver cheerleader, so now she can't tell anyone, even the boy she loves, that it's all been an act. When even her heroic effort to save Beep fails, so does Kat's irreverent sense of humor, and she spirals downward, until help comes from an unlikely space. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set Outside the United States

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is books set outside the United States; this was a hard list for me to narrow down, because a lot of the books I read take place in other countries, particularly England!  Here are just some of my favorites:

  1. Sleeping Arrangements (Madeleine Wickham):  A story about two families staying in the same vacation home in Spain.
  2. The Secret Keeper (Kate Morton):  A woman tries to make sense of her mother's mysterious past in this novel set in England.
  3. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett):  An epic read about the construction of a cathedral in  England during the Middle Ages.
  4. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon):  An English woman time travels to Scotland circa 1743.
  5. The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah):  A story about two sisters and their struggles to survive in France during WWII.
  6. Me Before You (JoJo Moyes):  Sweet and heartbreaking story about a woman caring for a disabled man, set in England.
  7. Into Thin Air (Jon Krakauer):  Thrilling true story about the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest.
  8. The Husband's Secret (Liane Moriarty):  A woman finds out a devastating secret about her husband in this story set in Australia.
  9. A Fatal Grace (Louise Penny): A murder mystery set in Quebec, Canada.
  10. The Boticelli Secret (Marina Fiorato):  A woman finds herself in danger after posing for Boticelli's "Primavera" painting, in this story set in 15th-century Italy. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Red Queen

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)
Victoria Aveyard
February 10, 2015
This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart. - from Goodreads
This book has been on my radar for awhile.  The gorgeous cover really caught my eye, and there's so much hype out there (20,000+ reviews on Goodreads already, with an overall rating of over 4 stars!).  So I was really looking forward to Red Queen, but unfortunately, I was a little underwhelmed.

It started out pretty good: Mare seemed more sarcastic, more bitter than most YA heroines.  I thought she had real personality, and I had hope that she wouldn't fall for the typical YA clichés, but eventually she did.  Like, even though she is a pickpocket and thus light and quick on her feet, she doesn't know how to dance, leading to some inevitable scenes of Prince Cal teaching her.  And that love triangle?  Or square?  Mare develops feelings for both Prince Cal and Prince Maven, plus her maybe-maybe not relationship with her best friend, Kilorn, who just happens to be a gorgeous guy, and they all, of course, seem to have feelings for her, too.  Too much!  Although truthfully, when I was 17, I probably crushed on every guy who smiled at me, too.

Anyway... I liked watching Mare learn how to survive in her new royal world after growing up in poverty, especially with her newly discovered powers.  She is smart and quick on her feet.  I wish there had been more world-building, though - I wanted to know more about the Scarlet Guard and where they came from; I wanted to know why the Reds and Silvers became so segregated (would a Red-Silver marriage ever happen?).

I was happily surprised by the twist ending of the book - none of the characters acted in the way I expected them to.  So even though I'm not a huge fan of the current YA trend of every book being part of a series, I think I would continue reading to see where it goes and hopefully learn more about the world introduced in Red Queen.

3 stars - For YA enthusiasts.  Overall, this is a quick, fun read with an interesting premise that I hope gets fleshed out more in the next installment.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Five Books I'm Glad Were Recommended To Me

Normally, I find new books to read through Goodreads or Amazon and increasingly through other book blogs, and since I read so much, I'm usually the one recommending books to other people.  But every once in awhile, a friend or family member will personally recommend a book to me.  Here's a list of five books that were recommended to me and I'm so glad they were - I may not have picked them up otherwise, and they are all incredible!


  • Defending Jacob (William Landay): This one was recommended to me by one of my co-workers; it's a legal thriller about an assistant district attorney whose own son is charged with murder.  There are so many twists and turns, and the ending is shocking.
  • Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (Seth Grahame-Smith): My sister and I joke that she uses my bookshelves as her own personal library; I'm always giving her new things to read.  But this time, she told me about a book that she loved, a fun, funny, fantastical riff on the life of President Abraham Lincoln, as a vampire hunter.
  • The Giver (Lois Lowry): My sister and her husband loaned me this book, and the rest of the series, to read.  It's a dystopian classic that I had never read, and I loved it.
  • I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith): My college roommate gifted this beautiful book to me; in this quirky and funny coming-of-age story, a teenage girl in England keeps a journal about her home (a dilapidated castle), her family (eccentric and poor), and characters they meet along the way.
  • The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling): I'm kind of embarrassed to admit - I had no intentions of reading the Harry Potter series.  When the books and movies really exploded in popularity, I was already in my late teens and felt like I was too old for what I thought to be a kids' series.  A couple years after I graduated college, one of my former roommates was gushing about the books and said I had to read them.  I'm so glad I did, because they quickly became some of my favorites!  Now I own all the books (I try to read the series once a year) and all the movies, and my dear husband lets me plan trips to Universal Studios to get my Wizarding World fix.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review: The Assistants

The Assistants
Camille Perri
May 3, 2016
Tina Fontana is the hapless but brazen thirty-year-old executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the all-powerful and commanding CEO of Titan Corp., a multinational media conglomerate. She’s excellent at her job and beloved by her famous boss—but after six years of making his reservations for restaurants she’d never get into on her own and pouring his drinks from bottles that cost more than her rent, she’s bored, broke, and just a bit over it all.

When a technical error with Robert’s travel-and-expenses report presents Tina with the opportunity to pay off the entire balance of her student loan debt with what would essentially be pocket change for her boss, she struggles with the decision: She’s always played by the rules. But it’s such a relatively small amount of money for the Titan Corporation—and for her it would be a life-changer . . .

The Assistants speaks directly to a new generation of women who feel stuck and unable to get ahead playing by the rules. It will appeal to all of those who have ever asked themselves, “How is it that after all these years, we are still assistants?” - from Goodreads
What a fun summer book!  In The Assistants, executive assistant Tina Fontana mistakenly ends up with a $20,000 expense check reimbursing her for plane tickets for her boss that were later comped by the airline.  She knows she should return or destroy the check, but she also knows it could pay off her entire student loan debt.  It's not a spoiler to say that she cashes the check and pays off her debt; this happens in the first chapter.  But what happens when she is caught by an assistant in the accounting department is where the story takes a whole new direction.

Tina is a great character.  She's smart, funny, and so relatable - she's like so many millennials out there, trying to pay off a mountain of student loan debt while working at a good-but-not-great job.  The writing is fresh and the subject matter is so timely.  There are a lot of recent college graduates out there with student loan debt that don't have great job prospects due to the current market.  This book takes a look at a subset of those graduates, women who have found jobs as assistants but don't necessarily have many opportunities to advance.  It was great to see these women bond and also find a way to help others like them, even if it wasn't their original plan.

I think my only minor complaint is that this book is quite short.  The plot moves along very quickly, which is good, but some events could have been fleshed out a bit more.  The ending also ties things up just a little too neatly.

4.5 stars - Perfect beach read that also gives a wry commentary on current events.  Definitely recommended for anyone paying off student loans who needs a laugh!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The House Between Tides

"Waiting on" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The House Between Tides

Sarah Maine

Expected publication date: August 2, 2016

Kate Morton meets Daphne du Maurier in this atmospheric debut novel about a woman who discovers the century-old remains of a murder victim on her family’s Scottish estate, plunging her into an investigation of its mysterious former occupants.

Following the death of her last living relative, Hetty Deveraux leaves London and her strained relationship behind for Muirlan, her ancestral home in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. She intends to renovate the ruinous house into a hotel, but the shocking discovery of human remains brings her ambitious restoration plans to an abrupt halt before they even begin. Few physical clues are left to identify the body, but one thing is certain: this person did not die a natural death.

Hungry for answers, Hetty discovers that Muirlan was once the refuge of her distant relative Theo Blake, the acclaimed painter and naturalist who brought his new bride, Beatrice, there in 1910. Yet ancient gossip and a handful of leads reveal that their marriage was far from perfect; Beatrice eventually vanished from the island, never to return, and Theo withdrew from society, his paintings becoming increasingly dark and disturbing.
What happened between them has remained a mystery, but as Hetty listens to the locals and studies the masterful paintings produced by Theo during his short-lived marriage, she uncovers secrets that still reverberate through the small island community—and will lead her to the identity of the long-hidden body. - from Goodreads

Monday, July 11, 2016

Robert H. Treman State Park

Another park that we visited on our trip to the Finger Lakes Region of New York was Robert H. Treman State Park.

For a trail map and directions, visit the New York State Parks website here.  There is a small fee to get into the park, but since we arrived before the official park hours, we didn't have to pay (the park is open from dawn to dusk, but they collect fees from 10am-6pm).

We started at the Lower Park Entrance and took the Gorge Trail.  I'd say this trail is moderately difficult.  There were lots of changes in elevation; the beginning of the trail is pretty much a straight climb up.  Lots of stairs on this trail!  Sometimes the trail was up high in the woods and other times it ran down along the gorge.

About two miles in, a bridge crossing the gorge leads to the Rim Trail.  We crossed here and climbed up the Cliff Staircase, which gives awesome views of the area and Lucifer Falls, in particular.

View from Cliff Staircase

Lucifer Falls

We took the Rim Trail back to the parking lot.  We also took a walk down to the Lower Falls, which is often open for swimming but wasn't while we were there.  The water levels looked really low.  Our total hike was approximately 4 miles.

Rim Trail

Friday, July 8, 2016

Review: The Royal We

The Royal We

Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

April 7, 2015
"I might be Cinderella today, but I dread who they'll think I am tomorrow. I guess it depends on what I do next."

American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling and far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

Which is how she gets into trouble.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love-her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself-will have been for nothing. - from Goodreads
As someone who loves all things royal, I just had to read this book.  Kate Middleton/Prince William fan fiction?  Yes, please!  And this book (mostly) delivered - it was fun, funny, full of insider details, and surprisingly deeper than I expected.

The Royal We is told from the viewpoint of Bex, an American student who decides to do a year abroad at Oxford, where she meets Prince Nicholas.  We see them become close friends; start a relationship; break up for a time; and eventually get back together and engaged, over the course of 8 years.  It's sweet to see Bex and Nick fall in love at school, away from his royal obligations, but there are so many obstacles to their relationship as the years go on.

I appreciated that their story wasn't a perfect fairy-tale romance, but I kind of wish we had gotten to see more of the better times.  The chapters often skip ahead months or even years; we actually don't even get to experience the first couple years of their relationship, including a long-distance time when Bex is back in America, which I think would have been fun to read about.

It was hard to see Bex struggle with maintaining a relationship with a future King of England.  It's obvious that she loves Nick for himself and not his title, but there are so many strings attached.  It's difficult to decide if it was harder for their relationship to be a secret (when Nick couldn't even acknowledge Bex at his own birthday party) or to go public (when Bex began to face more serious scrutiny in the press and started to undergo her royal training).  Sometimes it seemed like everyone around them was against them, and Bex too often felt like she had to give up parts of herself to be with Nick.  At times I wondered if Nick was even worth the pain she had to go through.

There were a lot of things I loved about this book.  The writing is sharp and funny, and the story moves along quickly.  Many of the supporting characters are fantastic additions.  There were fun tidbits thrown in about the royal palaces and life as a royal.  I really feel like I got an insider look at a life most people wouldn't even dream about.

4 stars - For anyone who got up at the crack of dawn to watch the royal wedding!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"Waiting on" Wednesday: The Life She Wants

"Waiting on" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The Life She Wants

Robyn Carr

Expected publication date: September 27, 2016
In the aftermath of her financier husband's suicide, Emma Shay Compton's dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients' life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband's crimes. She is left with nothing.

Only one friend stands by her, a friend she's known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn't easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she'd rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.

Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can't escape her husband's reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she'd ever ask for help—her former best friend. It's an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they've made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Books

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is books we enjoyed that have under 2000 ratings on Goodreads.

  1. Rutherford Park (Elizabeth Cooke): With the success and popularity of "Downton Abbey" came a whole genre of books in the same vein; this one is excellent.
  2. The Debutante (Kathleen Tessaro): One of my favorite books, this story is about a woman who tries to solve a mystery about two sisters from a past generation after she finds some hidden items while valuing one of the sister's estates.
  3. Little Black Dress (Susan McBride): A lovely story about family with some hints of magic.
  4. The Confession of Katherine Howard (Suzannah Dunn): I love pretty much anything related to the Tudor dynasty, and this one is well-written and engaging.
  5. Together Alone (Barbara Delinsky): I've read several of Delinsky's books and most are quite good; this one is about a woman coming to terms with the possible end of her marriage, with a bit of mystery thrown in.
  6. The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte (Syrie James): Based on meticulous research, this book, written in a diary format, combines historical fact and fiction to tell the story of the famous author.
  7. The Stories We Tell (Patti Callahan Henry): A quick read about a family that seems perfect on the surface.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: The Nightingale

The Nightingale 

Kristin Hannah

February 3, 2015
In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences. - from Goodreads
I've read several books by Kristin Hannah, and this one is probably my favorite yet.  It has a different feel from her other novels, although it contains some of her common themes of family relationships and love.

The Nightingale tells the stories of Vianne and Isabelle, two sisters living in France during World War II.  There is a fairly large age gap between the sisters and some tension as well, as Isabelle still harbors some resentment about the way Vianne treated her after their mother passed away.  Vianne is now married with a daughter, living in a small town and working as a teacher.  Isabelle is 18 years old and getting kicked out of one boarding school after another.

Isabelle goes to her sister's home during the war, but is disgusted at the way Vianne seems to accept the Nazi control and the German officer billeted at her home.  Vianne is frustrated that Isabelle can't see that she must protect her daughter.  Isabelle eventually joins the Resistance, seeing it as her way to help the French cause.  She takes many risks, both with her life and others.

The sisters love each other but don't seem to understand each other.  Vianne is older, more settled; Isabelle is impulsive and rebellious.  However, as the story goes on, we see that they are more alike than they think.  While not actively working for the Resistance, Vianne can't help standing up to the Nazis at times, particularly when children are involved, and she eventually works to save many Jewish children.  Both Vianne and Isabelle show bravery and strength beyond measure.

The book also describes the conditions of the French people living under Nazi rule.  They endured years of hardships, with little food or heat for their homes during the winter.  It was heartbreaking to read how women and children suffered and how they lived in constant fear.

4 stars - A beautiful, moving and in-depth look at a French Resistance fighter and a woman trying to survive at the home front.  A must read for fans of historical fiction, particularly the World War II era.