The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

the-bright-hour-9781501169359_lgThe Bright Hour is a wonderfully written memoir by Nina Riggs, who passed away after a courageous battle with cancer in February 2017. She was only 37. Nina, mother of two young boys, wife of 16 years, and great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was a beautiful soul and talented writer. Her writing is emotionally raw; the conversations with her family members, her appreciation for nature,  and descriptions of her surroundings are thoughtful and true.  The Bright Hour, despite the heavy subject matter, is one of the most enjoyable and truly wonderful books that I have read in quite a while. I would highly recommend this book to all of you.  

I normally do not read nonfiction, but I make special exception for memoirs. I’ve always enjoyed them, because they are written with such heart and grit. It takes a lot of courage for a writer to pour out their most personal thoughts, hopes, and feelings on paper for others to read. Nina wrote her memoir, in part, as a tribute to her husband John and young sons, so that they might read it someday and get to know her even better, and really understand the depth of her love for them.

One of my favorite authors of all time, Elin Hilderbrand, recommended Nina’s book multiple times, and I knew that with her endorsement, I would undoubtedly enjoy reading The Bright Hour. I didn’t realize how quickly I would become immersed into Nina’s story, however, unable to put the book down because the writing was so beautiful.

Everything about this book is beautiful. Nina’s relationships with her husband, her sons, her dying mother, her father, her brother, and even her doctors are each unique and special. It is through these relationships with their well-times jokes, light-hearted humor, and even  the many tear-filled moments that Nina’s impact on each and every one of their lives shines through. She was a bright spot in so many lives.

Woven throughout the book are quotes and writings from Emerson’s works, as well as from French writer/philosopher Montaigne. Nina looks to both writers to guide her through fear and grief, allowing her to concentrate on living, really living with the time she is given.

The Bright Hour is not about dying, but more about how to live, which she discovers and shares with readers, as she is dying. Though Nina writes quite a bit about her experiences with chemo, radiation, and the many tests and hospital stays, she doesn’t sugar coat anything, but gives the unpleasant truth about cancer’s destructive path through her body and life as she knew it. As Nina is actually going through treatment, she loses her own mother to cancer, after a 9 year battle. I can’t even imagine losing a mother to cancer, but even worse, imagine losing your mother while you are also battling the greatest battle of your life, and knowing deep down that your time on Earth with your loving husband and precious children is coming to a close much sooner than you anticipated. It is heartbreaking and terrifying, but somehow Nina was able to get the most out of the days left with her mother, as well as her own time remaining after her mother passed on. She didn’t let grief consume her. She doesn’t focus on the cancer, but on her family, enjoying her days, and living with hope. If that isn’t strength and resilience, I don’t know what is.

Read Nina’s story. I promise you will come away from it with a better outlook on life and living.

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A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

9780062497772_c19aeA Simple Favor will be released on March 21, 2017.

The story unfolds through the points of view of three separate unreliable narrators. One is Emily, a woman who goes missing and is presumed dead. Two is Emily’s loving, devoted, and distraught husband, Sean. The third is Stephanie, Emily’s best friend, and the mother to Emily’s son Nicky’s best friend, Miles.

Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom and blogger. Her blog is about the everyday excitement (as well as mundane day-to-day happenings) of raising a child, and it has quite a following. Stephanie’s husband was killed a few years prior in an accident, so she has been raising Miles on her own. Upon meeting Nicky’s mother, Emily, Stephanie is instantly drawn to her and soon considers them to be best friends, just like their sons. Stephanie seems jealous of Emily’s marriage and her prestigious career as a marketing manager for a well-known fashion brand. While Emily is wearing the latest fashion and turning heads, Stephanie is playing “Captain Mom.”

As friends and neighbors, Stephanie and Emily often help each other out with childcare, so Stephanie doesn’t think twice about saying “yes” and keeping Nicky as a simple favor for Emily when she has to work late one evening. However, when Emily doesn’t return, text, or call Stephanie after many days, she becomes very worried. Stephanie reaches out to Emily’s husband, a business man who is often away on trips and not too present as a Dad to Nicky. Together, they try to piece together their last conversations with Emily in the hope that they can find her alive and well. When Emily’s body turns up at a cabin in the Michigan woods a few months later, the plot thickens; and soon readers don’t know if any of the characters can be trusted. I won’t give away any more details, because I am a big believer in spoiler-free reviews. However, you won’t want to put this book down once you get started. It is fast paced with surprises and thrills around every corner.

A Simple Favor has many definite, undeniable similarities to Gone, Girl. Fans of The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and The Luckiest Girl Alive will not want to miss this irresistible psychological thriller from Darcey Bell.

Thank you to Harper Collins for an advanced digital review copy of this title.

 

Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand

9780316396769_c4658Winter Storms, which will release on October 4, 2016, is the third and final installment in the Winter Street trilogy, which is Elin Hilderbrand’s annual Holiday Nantucket story of the Quinn family. I look forward to more time with the Quinn family every season, but just like Christmas festivities each year, the story always ends far too soon.

The Quinn family is never short on drama, especially near the Holidays. This season, however, it’s the Quinn women who are keeping us on our toes. The youngest Quinn sibling, Bart, is still missing, captured as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan. Bart’s family has not lost hope that he is alive and will be home someday, but their busy lives on Nantucket continue. Margaret is planning a Christmas wedding to her long time beau, Drake. Meanwhile, her daughter Ava’s love life is a bit crazy. Ava is dating two men, Nathaniel and Scott, but is unable to decide which one she should settle down with permanently. She’ll take a trip with Margaret, where she’ll meet another potential suitor, and as they say, three’s a crowd. Who will win Ava’s heart, or will it be too late? Will she swear off men for good and decide to only worry about her own happiness? Or can she have both love and happiness in the future?

As Patrick is  to be released from prison, Jennifer is in over her head with a major pain pill addiction. Everyone was amazed at how Jennifer kept herself and her family together while Patrick was incarcerated, but what they didn’t know is that Jennifer was barely functioning without the help of an old acquaintance-turned-dealer supplying her pills. Will Jennifer ever be able to redeem herself once the Quinns find out that she really isn’t perfect? How can she face her mother-in-law, Margaret, to whom she admires so greatly?

With weddings and celebration on everyone’s mind, Kevin decides to take the plunge and marry Isabelle on Christmas eve at the Inn. They pray that by some miracle, Bart will be home to join in the festivities. But as they receive a bit of good news, a whopper of a winter storm strikes, threatening to keep the Quinns from reuniting at the Inn for the wedding and Christmas. You’ll have to read to find out who will make it to the wedding, as well as who Ava will choose or not choose to be her leading man. I can honestly say that this has been one of my all-time favorite series. The Quinns are a rather likable bunch, even with their flaws, and I admire the way they treat each other with respect and love throughout the trials they face. It’s also really cool how they embrace those that aren’t actually family, but feel like family – such as George, the Santa Claus. There is truly never a dull moment in the Winter Street Inn!

Thank you to Little, Brown, and Company for an advanced copy of this book.

The Summer Before Forever By Melissa Chambers

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I am excited to be participating in the YA Reads Blog Tour for The Summer Before Forever by Melissa Chambers. Below is all the information about the book, followed by my review and a giveaway!

The Summer Before ForeverAbout the Book

The Summer Before Forever by Melissa Chambers
Published by Entangled Teen (YA Contemporary genre)
To be released August 22nd, 2016
Amazon
Entangled Teen
Barnes & Noble

Some boys break your heart. Others teach you how to heal it.

Chloe Stone’s life is a hot mess. Determined to stop being so freaking skittish, she packs up her quasi-famous best friend and heads to Florida. The goal? Complete the summer bucket list to end all bucket lists. The problem? Her hot soon-to-be stepbrother, Landon Jacobs.

Landon’s mom will throttle him if he even looks at his future stepsister the wrong way. Problem is, Chloe is everything he didn’t know he wanted, and that’s…inconvenient. Watching her tear it up on a karaoke stage, stand up to his asshole friend, and rock her first string bikini destroys his sanity.

But there’s more than their future family on the line. Landon is hiding something—something he knows will change how she feels about him—and she’s hiding something from him, too. And when the secrets come out, there’s a good chance neither will look at the other the same way again…

About the Author

melissa chambers

Melissa Chambers writes contemporary novels for young, new, and actual adults. A Nashville native, she spends her days working in the music industry and her nights tapping away at her keyboard. While she’s slightly obsessed with alt rock, she leaves the guitar playing to her husband and kid. She never misses a chance to play a tennis match, listen to an audiobook, or eat a bowl of ice cream. (Rocky road, please!) She’s a member of SCBWI and RWA including several local and online chapters thereof. She holds her B.S. in Communications from the University of Tennessee.
Website: http://www.melissachambers.com
Twitter: @MelChambersAuth

 

Librarian Laura’s Review

The Summer Before Forever is a classic forbidden love story, in which there seems to really be no way it can end well for the characters involved. The story line moves along quidkly, keeping the reader’s interest with alternating points of view between Chloe and Landon.

Chloe plans to spend the summer with her wild & crazy best friend, Jenna, at the beach in Florida without any cares or worries. Little does she know, her life is going to heat up in more ways than one in the Sunshine State. Upon arrival from her home in TN, she meets her dad’s fiance and future step-brother, Landon, for the first time. Rather than the geek she assumed he would be, Landon is instead an all-American heartthrob. He’s smart, gorgeous, gentlemanly, a football player and a wrestler. The total package. The only problem: he’ll be her step-brother later in the summer. Landon immediately takes notice in Chloe, and Chloe is drawn right to him even though she knows she should steer clear.

As they get to know one another oh so well, they begin to realize that summer will soon end. Landon will be off to college and Chloe will be back to her life in Tennessee. Will the end of the summer be the end of their heated, secret romance? Or, will they find a way to make things work before it’s too late. No doubt about it, Chloe’s summer in Florida will be a summer to remember.

Jenna’s character is hilarious – she’s the best friend that every girl wants – loyal to a fault, but crazy enough to keep life interesting. Jenna decides that Chloe needs to gain confidence so she makes is her personal mission, creating a confidence building list of tasks for Chloe to complete over the summer. As the summer wares on and Chloe’s confidence grows, she also becomes more comfortable with herself and her decisions. The novel is nicely combined with romance, humor, and coming-of-age elements.

The ending left me wanting more information on what would happen with Chloe and Landon, but I’m glad to see that it will be a series. I wonder what the next chapter will hold for them. I found some of the story to be predictable in parts, but all in all, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to fans of romance and contemporary YA fiction.

Click here for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card!

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things will be published on October 11, 2016. I love Jodi Picoult’s novels because they usually tackle a time relevant and profoundly sensitive issue, causing readers to step back and take a look at things from different points of view. Small Great Things is written in the same manner, but this time Picoult explores the heavily debated and recently newsworthy issues of prejudice, race, and justice. This is one of my favorite Picoult novels, ranking up near the top with Change of Heart and The Storyteller.

On a routine shift in the labor and delivery ward at Mercy-West Haven Hospital where Ruth Washington has been a nurse for 20 years, her life changes dramatically based upon a family member’s request. Ruth is assigned to postpartum care of the mother and routine infant care for the Bauer family, who she quickly learns are white supremacists. Ruth happens to be the only black nurse on the ward, and the Bauers request that she is not allowed to care for their infant son solely because of the color of her skin. Though hurt and embarrassed by the hospital’s actions in not allowing her to care for a patient despite her stellar work record, Ruth tries to move on and focus on caring for patients, for which she is more than capable. However, when Davis Bauer goes into cardiac arrest after a routine procedure, Ruth is the only one in the room with him. She hesitates, knowing that she has been forbidden to touch the child, but ends up performing CPR and trying to save Davis’s life. Tragically, Davis Bauer dies. As expected, Turk and Brittany Bauer are out for justice and revenge, believing that Ruth Washington is the sole reason their son perished. Ruth finds herself on trial with a white public defender who has not yet defended anyone in a murder trial. Ruth’s husband passed away 10 years prior while on military duty, leaving her the sole provider for their son Edison, now a high school student working hard to get into college and be successful. An overly independent woman, she must learn to trust and lean on Kennedy, her lawyer, if she wants to be around for her son’s future.

Kennedy McQuarrie begs her boss to take on Ruth’s case, in part because she wants the challenge of her first murder trial, but also because there is something about Ruth which Kennedy can’t shake. She knows in her heart that Ruth, a nurse who took the Florence Nightingale pledge and cares deeply for her patients,  would not deliberately cause the death of an infant. Though she has hundreds of public defender cases open and precious little time, Kennedy throws herself into Ruth’s case with a new fervor, and in the process learns a lot about Ruth, but even more about herself. Kennedy claims that she doesn’t see color, and believes blacks and whites to be equal. She cautions Ruth from bringing up race in the trial, knowing that it will blow any chance of an acquittal. Even though race is the sole reason for the unfortunate tragedy and the underlying reason Ruth is on trial, Kennedy is scared to bring the issue to light in front of the media and jury. As she spends more time with Ruth, Kennedy begins to notice so many things Ruth faces that she would have never noticed before. Readers will be proud of the way Kennedy “grows up” during the course of the story. I know I was.

All in all, this is a wonderful story about human connection, no matter the color of one’s skin. The ending had me teared up, but smiling because the outcome from such an ugly, unfortunate situation turned into something truly beautiful when the final chapter came to a close. The story shows that one person can cause a ripple which can lead to a tidal wave. It only takes a small, great thing to start a change that can affect a great many people.

Picoult does a fabulous job of showing the perspective of two very different sides of racial equality and prejudice. The story progresses back and forth between Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk Bauer. Picoult’s author notes at the end of the story are not to be missed. She explains why she wanted to write a story about race, why she waited so long to do so, and about the real life situation she used as background for Small Great Things. The research she completed for the story is phenomenal and much appreciated.

The title of the book references a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” The characters in this story certainly did small things in a great way, as well as Jodi Picoult did by writing this story. Picoult notes that she will get push-back for this story, both from white people and people of color. She knew it wouldn’t be easy or fun, but she wrote the novel “because the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know.” Well said, Jodi Picoult. I am very grateful you wrote Small Great Things and I truly believe it will change the perspectives of many readers.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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Holding Up the Universe will be published on October 4, 2016.

If you thought Violet & Finch from Niven’s All The Bright Places were unforgettable characters, wait until you meet Jack & Libby. Much like with All the Bright Places, Holding Up the Universe is written with chapters alternating back and forth between the two main characters, Jack and Libby. The story moves along quickly in this manner, and I found myself unable to stop reading, finishing the entire book in an evening.

Libby is a strong female character, but also a major target for bullying because of her weight. Once the world’s fattest teen, she had to be cut out of her house and rescued. Due to grief & depression from the sudden, unexpected death of her mother, Libby became so large that she was physically unable to move from her bed. Now after therapy and rehabilitation, Libby is half the size she used to be, starting her junior year of high school with a new confidence and determination to make it through and enjoy the experiences. She knows there will be bullies and name calling, just as there always was when she was younger, but its how she responds to them now that shows readers (and Jack) just how much she has truly grown.

Jack is everyone’s favorite classmate, favorite teammate, favorite friend, etc. He’s a likable guy who appears to have everything going well for him. However, he is carrying around a burdensome secret that is threatening to upset the somewhat normal aspects of his life. He has a rare genetic disorder called prosopagnosia, in which he is face-blind, or unable to recognize facial features, even of those people he sees everyday (his family and best friends). To make matters worse, his father is cheating on his mom with one of his teachers, causing Jack to be awkwardly, and unwillingly involved. Jack is coming to a crossroads where he has to decide whether to tell anyone his secret, or to watch his comfortable lifestyle and friendships crumble around him.

When Jack and Libby’s path collide in a peer-pressure induced bullying incident, they end up in a group doing community service together. As they spend more time together and start to lean on each other for support, knowing that they both are fighting a battle and that life is tough, they become stronger together. Readers will absolutely love this pair of characters – Jack for his charm & quick wit, and Libby for her no-nonsense attitude and healthy dose of sass. I certainly did.

It’s clear that Niven thoroughly researched prosopagnosia, helping the story to seem very real. Niven’s writing style is versatile. Readers will be laughing hysterically on one page and crying for the characters on the next. She also has a knack for transporting her readers into the halls of high school, causing them to reflect on their own experiences as they go through some of the same situations with her uniquely crafted characters. This is a beautiful story about embracing oneself, flaws and imperfections included, and realizing that everything is far from perfect, but perfectly okay.

Thank you to Random House for the early review copy. 

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

9781250069795_0272eTruly, Madly, Guilty will be released on July 26, 2016.

This is a story of a simple backyard cookout between three families, neighbors and friends, – 6 adults, 3 children, and dog. What could possibly go wrong? From the very beginning of the story, it’s clear to the reader that something very bad happened at the party, but the reader doesn’t find out exactly what happened until close to the end of the book. The backstory and the events leading up to the “bad thing” unfolds through the perspective of three very different women – Erika, Clementine, and Tiffany.

Erika is a younger, happily married woman who came from a less than stellar childhood, but thanks to her best friend Clementine, she made it to adulthood. Erika and her husband, Oliver, love children and adore Clementine’s girls. Erika has a secret, though, and when it is discovered, her relationship with Clementine starts to fizzle.

Clementine is a cellist, wife to Sam, and a mother of two girls. She feels pressure from her job and an upcoming major audition that she really wants to nail, but also from every day interactions as a mother and wife during a very busy/hectic time. Ever since the “bad thing” that occurred, her marriage has become less than stable and is threatening to crumble.

Erika’s neighbor, Tiffany, is what I would picture as a desperate housewife. A former dancer with a body that would stop traffic, Tiffany is married to Vid and his larger-than-life personality. They have a teenage daughter, a huge estate, and enviable lifestyle (at least from the outside looking in.)

The story begins two months after the devastating event which caused a ripple effect for these three women and their families. Clementine and Erika are asking themselves, What is we hadn’t gone? while Tiffany and Vid try to live with a crushing guilt, reliving the moment over and over and wondering how it could have been prevented.  

This book had me intrigued from the very first chapter. I had guessed a few scenarios of what I thought had happened at the cookout, but I was wrong. When the whole story of what happened was revealed, I felt much differently about the characters. In the beginning I judged them for their actions, but when I found out what they had been going through for two months, I realized that I was way off base. This story serves as a great reminder to all that it only takes a second for something tragic to happen, even in the most innocent of moments.

I would highly recommend this book, as with all of Liane Moriarty’s books. She has a knack for hooking the reader and taking them on a wild ride, twisting and turning frequently before coming to a lurching stop at the truth.