Book Review: Eleanor and Park

Books

I’m sure that Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary and S.E. Hinton were initially responsible for my love of books in general. But Suzanne Collins, John Green and now Rainbow Rowell have contributed to my enduring love for Young Adult fiction specifically.

Or maybe I’m just immature.

Whatever the reason, I’m a huge fan of the YA genre and rarely disappointed by a book I’ve discovered in the YA section.

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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell was no exception. Like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I found the dialogue between the two main characters to be so authentic and smart. (Warning: there IS quite a bit of crude language – the type you overhear in any public high school.) I was completely mesmerized by the story of these two self-identified “misfits” and their experience of first love.

Eleanor’s home life totally sucks and is made even more complicated by issues of poverty and domestic violence. Park has two loving parents, a room of his own, and all the “extras” that typical American kids in suburbia have. But he is bi-racial (Korean/Caucasian) and he doesn’t feel like his dad truly accepts him for who he is.

Eleanor and Park bond over comic books and mix-tapes and their shared experience of feeling different.

Reading this book brought back memories of some of those awkward teenaged years. But I also identified with and found myself cheering for Park’s mom and dad who, despite being imperfect parents, were doing their very best to do be “a village.” Though not immediate, Park’s parents felt a responsibility to provide a safe and loving place for Eleanor to hang out, as well as an opportunity to experience healthy family dynamics. We’ve felt that same sense of responsibility with some of our own kids’ friends.

Sometimes, even when I love a book, I am disappointed by the ending. With only one or two pages left I was afraid this was going to be the case with Eleanor and Park. But thankfully that was not the case. The very last sentence of the book was open-ended, profoundly hopeful and utterly lovely. May all first loves be the same.

Book Review: We Were Liars

Books

Another book started and finished in a day. (Thank you, Arkansas weather.)

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I do love Young Adult fiction.  We Were Liars falls in that genre if only because of the age of the narrator and protagonist Cadence and her coming of age/loss of innocence story. But WWL also has much more universal themes including: class in America (specifically the American oligarchy), amnesia – both the medical/psychological sort as well as the selective version as in “that which we do not speak of,” and the struggle to hold on to optimism as we face the realities of our imperfect world.

Cadence and her extended family spend every summer on their own private island near Martha’s Vineyard. The summers there seem idyllic, despite what is happening within her family the other 9 months of the year.

Then something happens and Cadence is injured and, as a result, suffers from migraines and amnesia. No one in her family seems willing to help her fill in the blanks to understand what happened and how.

Putting together the pieces becomes as important (and ultimately shocking) to the reader as it is to Cadence.

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Books

Forgive the long preamble… Or SKIP to the actual Review.

It’s rare that I have an entire day to read. It’s even more rare that I read an entire book in one day. But yesterday brought about that perfect storm.

On Friday night we held the first meeting of our new book club. (I was worried it might be cancelled by the unexpected snowfall that took us all by surprise. But several of us really NEEDED that girls night out so Josh warmed up his trusty 4Runner and safely delivered us to Heather’s house.)

We discussed our February selection and then talked at length about what we would read next. I had never even heard of the book we decided on, The Girl on the Train, but a quick glance at the description on Amazon and I was ready to dive in. (The fact that the book was currently OUT oF STOCK at Amazon was a sign of its popularity. And, I later learned that there are 67 “holds” on the 5 copies at our local library.)

When I got home I downloaded a “sample” of the book on my iPad. Let me tell you, whoever figured out the “stopping point” of that sample selection was BRILLIANT! The sample included the first full chapter, plus the first paragraph of chapter two. The stopping point left me hanging so I immediately returned to Amazon and purchased and downloaded the entire book.

I spent the bulk of Saturday inside the head of the three narrators: Rachel, Megan and Anna.
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Rachel rides the same train every morning and evening. She’s a rather miserable and lonely individual with a drinking problem. Every day she passes the same houses on her train ride and one house, and it a occupants in particular, capture her attention and her imagination.

Megan is one half of Rachel’s idealized perfect couple. “They’re a match. They’re a set. They’re happy, I can tell. They’re what I used to be, they’re Tom and I five years ago. They are what I lost, they’re everything I want to be.” But Megan and Scott aren’t perfect.

Anna is Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife. The mother of his new baby daughter. And the occupant of her former dream home. She is also the recipient of Rachel’s drunken, harassing phone calls.

The three perspectives, told from varying points in time, were weaved together in such a compelling fashion. I could hardly put this book down, and yet when I did, I was completely satisfied. I would highly recommend it.

The Girl on the Train is ultimately a suspense story (it’s been compared to Gone GIrl, Rear Window and Gas Light) but it is also a story that reminds us that things are not always what they seem – especially people.

Book Review: Serena by Ron Rash

Books

I’m excited to be participating in a book club this year. My first. My good friend LaDawn in SD has been in a book club for years and it sounds like a blast. But for whatever reason, I never took the initiative to start one of my own. So color me happy when a group of ladies I adore decided to start one this year and invited me!

Our first selection was Serena by Ron Rash (soon to be a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper). Despite making it to #34 on the New York Times Best Seller’s list, this is not a book I would’ve chosen for myself. But that is precisely why I’ve always wanted to be in a book club. To broaden my horizons, try new things, break out of my “same old same old” pattern.

Serena is set in North Carolina during the Great Depression. Serena and her husband Pemberton, both greedy and ruthless individuals obsessed with establishing a lumber empire, make for highly unsympathetic protagonists. And this is likely the reason I didn’t care for the book.Serena_PB_300_450

While the description of the Appalachian Mountain setting was vivid, I found the cast of supporting characters to be more like an unnamed chorus in a musical. The characters did have names, but for me they were virtually indistinguishable from one another – except for the creepy one-handed Galloway, of course. Galloway was Serena’s henchman, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s Igor.

So, no…. I didn’t love the first book selection for our newly formed book club. But I’m certain I will love book club itself. And I can’t wait to discover what we read together next.

What are you reading?

Salmon with Vodka Sauce

cooking, FOOD

A few months ago, our wonderful neighbors Tom and Alice drop – shipped a fresh caught Alaskan Salmon filet to our doorstep…just because! I had to do something special with that special fish. So I researched a recipe for salmon with vodka sauce. In a word, it was DIVINE!

I made it again tonight using store bought salmon. The fish wasn’t as flavorful (duh!) but ohmygoodness that SAUCE. Seriously amazing
Check it out…
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Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil for the sauce, plus 1 tablespoon olive oil for the salmon

1 large white onion, finely chopped

1 28-ounce canned crushed tomatoes

2 minced garlic cloves

1/4 cup vodka

1/2 cup heavy vream

4 fresh basil leaves, whole

1 teaspoon of salt for the vodka sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt for the salmon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound fresh salmon filet with skin

1 pound penne pasta

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425F.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, saute onion in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil for 8 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the garlic and let it cook with the onions for 2 minutes.

Add in the tomatoes, Vodka, heavy cream, basil leaves, salt, pepper, and butter.

Stir the mixture until well combined. Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

Place the salmon (skin side down) on a foil lined baking dish (or better yet – a Pampered Chef baking stone!)

Rub the salmon with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bake for 12 minutes. Allow it to cool slightly to the touch.

Gently flake the salmon with a fork into bite size pieces. add the salmon to the vodka sauce and gently stir.

Cook the salmon with the vodka sauce for an additional 3 minutes.

Prepare the pasta according to the manufacturers instructions.