First Comes Love by Emily Giffin - A NetGalley Review

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin
Publisher: Ballantine Books - June 28, 2016
Description from the publisher:
Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious, relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing, Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes, their delicate bond splinters.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter is assigned to her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired. 

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms, and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover that they need each other more than they knew—and that in the search for true happiness, love always comes first.

This book held a lot of potential for me. I enjoyed Giffin's books back in the day, over 20 years ago, with the Something Borrowed series. The characters in this book are again my contemporaries, women hovering around 40. Family drama and secrets are always intriguing fodder for books, in my opinion. However, this one just didn't work for me.

It is possible for me to like a book even if I don't like the main characters (I actually liked Gone Girl!), but it IS unusual. The sisters in this book were beyond unlikable, and moving into utterly frustrating territory. I understand that they dealt with a tragedy that altered them, and the course of their lives, forever. Yet, I still found older sibling Meredith's rage inexcusable. She was insufferable and I dreaded picking up the book to see what she would get bent out of shape about next. I, too, have dealt with unimaginable loss at an early age (my father passed away at 40 and I was only seven). Maybe it was a personal affront to me, that she dealt with her grief by being so awful, and I can't imagine being that way toward my brother, or vice versa. Maybe it's because I do not have a sister, and really don't get the heightened rivalry that characterizes many same sex sibling relationships. Either way, it was a complete turn off for me and it ended up being a terribly depressing read - not at all what I was expecting from a big summer release from Emily Giffin.

There were also several underdeveloped story lines that I think had potential and could have elevated the book. I wish there would have been more drama and interaction with Josie's ex (who's daughter ended up being her student) and his wife. The relationship with her best friend Gabe, and his girlfriend who makes a big dramatic splash, was rife with possibility and then she just fades out of the picture.  These complex relationships take a major backseat in favor of the bond Josie forms with Pete via online dating, which becomes a rather inane story arc. I also felt as if the main characters' parents and their drama (divorce, alcoholism) could have been more fleshed out to give the daughters some more context for THEIR drama. Alas, they seem important in the beginning of the book, but then sort of disappear.

In the end, I thought that the themes she was going for were interesting: that love can change in a marriage, the definition of family is different for everyone and we should all carve our own path. All great notions, however, I wish these issues had been fleshed out with much more empathetic characters.


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 6.26.16

This week was definitely easier and breezier than last week, but not uneventful! We started pool season on the first day of summer, and although it was barely in the 70s and cloudy, we all enjoyed the first season of BOTH kids passing swim tests. Can I get a hallelujah!?

She can go on the slide now!
All you moms know what I'm talkin' about. I am not required to be in the pool every moment with my kids: I can SIT AND READ A BOOK WHILE THEY SWIM OMG. I certainly do spend some time in the water playing and throwing diving toys, because I'm a swimmer at heart. But that requirement being lifted is sooooo freeing!
Alas, the kids had to keep me on my toes, and both got sick with fevers at the end of the week. There was a lot of movie watching and couch sitting. At least this gave me the time and incentive to clean the house from top to bottom. Fun times. I'm also glad it was during a couple of rainy days and that they're feeling fine now that the sun is out again.
We discovered a new nature walk and park with some fun rock climbing today!
Hopefully the weather will stick around for another week of pool-ing and perhaps our maiden voyage to the beach this year.

Because the summer weather actually arrived before the 4th of July, we had celebrate with some brats on the menu:
Also, last week's lasagna recipe from Chowhound worked out rather well! I've never used no-bake noodles and was pleasantly surprised. I did only use half the spinach called for and added a half pound of turkey sausage to the sauce. DELISH. 

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Summer Reading and Bucket List

Summer officially started this week, and I thought I would try again to hold myself accountable to a bucket list. After looking through last year's list, I think I'll keep with most of the items I had, and shall try valiantly to check off every one this year. But, first, summer reading is always on the agenda and has been in full swing since early June through our local library system. 

For each 20 minutes of reading, beginning June 1st, the kids can fill in a square on the sheet. Once they hit 500, they can collect a prize (a collapsible water bottle) and a medal after they hit 1000. Since they both usually color at least two or three squares a day, we will finish this challenge pretty quickly (I even took this picture a few days ago). But, it's still a fun incentive. I, too, am participating in the adult summer reading program! I set a goal online to read at least 14 books between June 1st and August 30th. I can earn badges and such, and I'm also entered into a drawing for a $200 gift card for participating, thanks to the King County Library Foundation. How cool is that? This is our first year participating in the local library summer reading program, since we have always made, and continue to make, our school's amazing program the priority. 
I snuck this pic of my eldest who was so excited his teacher was in attendance!
One day a week, our elementary school opens up the library for about two hours in the evening and the kids can pick out two books. They are given a reading journal, and each week they fill out a two page entry on the book of their choice. The first page is usually a way to summarize and answer key questions about the text, and the second is a 'word web' word association exercise. Then they sit down to go over it and talk about the book with a volunteer - usually a handful of their current teachers, and surprise visits from retired teachers or other school staff. 
This was the journal page my youngest chose to discuss I Really Like Slop. Yes, Elephant and Piggie still reign supreme in her world.
Once they are done, they get to pick out a sticker and a small piece of candy before switching out their books for the following week. The last week of the program is an ice cream social. It is SUCH a joy for the kids to come in and see their friends, their favorite teachers - old and new, and have access to their own school library. It's one of our favorite things about summer.

Hopefully we'll squeeze in a few more things in addition to our other favorites like the pool and the beach...

2016 Summer Bucket List!
  • Visit one new beach
  • See Finding Dory
  • Make s'mores dip (this recipe looks too easy to skip on this year)
  • Keep the annual visit to Remlinger tradition
  • Pick blueberries at Mercer Slough
  • Go to a free outdoor concert
  • Picnic at a new-to-us park
  • Mini golf
  • A family hike (hopefully to Big Four Ice Caves)
  • Go bowling
  • Visit the Great Wheel
  • Hit up a farmers market
  • See the new butterfly exhibit at the zoo
  • Get a babysitter squared away for my birthday dinner
  • Check out the car museum in Tacoma and/or the annual Kirkland Car Show
  • My two gimme items: family trip to Hood River and girls trip to Denver!


The Stack - June Library Haul

We Should All Be Feminists has been on my radar for awhile, and I certainly wanted to pick it up after reading Half of a Yellow Sun the other month
My oldest just asked to start the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, so I picked up the first one and he's already read five this month! I didn't think it was nearly as wonderful as Smile (and Sisters, which I also read and loved), but those were about a 90s teen girl...
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl was on the paperback picks shelf, as well as Tiny Little Thing and I've heard positive reviews for both.
I've been meaning to give the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny a go, as Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy recommends her books all the time. I figured I'd start at the beginning with Still Life
Several Goodreads friends gave intriguing reviews on You by Caroline Kepnes, and I had to see what it was all about.
Last, but not least, in the pile is Blue Lily, Lily Blue so I can get all caught up to read The Raven King - the final book (wah!) in the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater.

And new to the ebook queue:

Small Great Thingsby Jodi Picoult (a NetGally ARC)
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (lots of buzz on this one, including the Book Riot 'All the Books!' podcast)
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (book with ALL the buzz!)

As well as the ones that have been hanging out for awhile:
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Love that Split the World by Emily Henry
The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Happy Again by Jennifer E. Smith
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

As always, I'm interested in any thoughts/if you've read the books on this list or others I should know about!


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 6.19.16

Oy, this week! Within the first two days of summer break, my youngest had a stick thrown at her eye - thankfully missing it by a quarter of an inch, but her eyelid was bleeding. And THEN...

A trip to Children's ER! I suppose I should backtrack from that little teaser with the lovely beginning to our week, filled with end of year parties, ice cream and only a few tears (mine) of another year coming to an end. Not only was it the year my 3rd grader's teacher was retiring, it was the FIRST year teaching for my girl's Kindergarten teacher and she was just lovely. But it was killing me watching her dismiss each of them with an enormous hug and tears on her face! She sent them all home with this wonderful poem.
And prior to getting struck in the face with a stick, we were having a great day at the park after a trip to the Y, a picnic lunch and impromptu sprinkler action.
The sprinklers on the soccer fields turned on and all the kids ran around in their clothes getting soaked. But it was good fun, and I always keep a couple of spare towels in the car.

On Friday, I went to pick up my bib for the Rock n' Roll Half and help out with the Hot Chocolate booth at the expo (FYI - next year's code for the free TBD goodie is SEATTLESWAG2). As I was finishing up, my husband called to make sure I was on my way home because my son slipped on the steps at McDonald's play place and whacked his back so hard that he passed out briefly, couldn't breathe - lips turning blue, and felt numb when he came to. Since he came around quickly and was able to walk, my husband decided against calling 911 and brought him to Childrens once I got home, just to make sure everything was ok and he didn't damage his SPINE. Ah, another stint at good ol' Seattle Childrens... A few very stressful (and hungry, since I forgot lunch) hours later, everything checked out fine and he just has a terrible bruise and likely just shocked the nerves in his spine (ACK). So, one half week of summer down, 11 to go! 

Oh yeah, and I also slogged my way through the race on Saturday, going on very little training and running on empty from the crazy day prior. I shall probably do a recap next week, my first since Thanksgiving!
Thankfully my poor husband didn't have the scare of his life ON Father's Day, and we enjoyed a lovely sunny day at the park and tossing a frisbee around today. Now it's time to distract myself with some meal planning:
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


The Girls by Emma Cline - A NetGalley Review

The Girls by Emma Cline
Publisher: Random House (June 14, 2016)
Description from the Publisher:
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.

This book bowled me over in SO MANY ways! It's not at all what I would normally gravitate towards: a fictional take on the Manson Family, or a novel described as 'gorgeously written' (which, for me, is usually code for BORING). This was not at all the case for The Girls. The story of Evie's adolescence, and eventual assimilation into a cult, is told in such a hypnotic and intense way. It bounces back and forth between present day, middle aged Evie looking back on her fourteen year old self in the late 60s. Each perspective would switch on a bit of a cliffhanger, pushing me to read well past my bedtime.

Cline's stark portrait of a troubled teen girl was uncomfortably intimate and spot on. Highly sexualized, melancholy, gritty and hard to read at times, it reminded me a great deal of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. That awful and intense time of life can be hard to put into words, but these writers have manged it beautifully. 

"...it was an age when I often conflated liking people with feeling nervous around them."

It also served as a brilliant trove of feminist observations, especially from the present day Evie when she interacts with the similarly self conscious teen Sasha, with whom she's thrown together.

"Poor Sasha. Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogs with words like "sunset" and "Paris." Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus. Sorrow for Sasha locked up my throat."

And ultimately, it gave a preternatural look into the psyche of what might have made these girls so vulnerable, so willing to give up their lives for this disturbing one, for this man. 

"Suzanne and the other girls had stopped being able to make certain judgments, the unused muscle of their ego growing slack and useless. It had been so long since any of them had occupied a world where right and wrong existed in any real way. Whatever instincts they'd ever had- the weak twinge in the gut, a gnaw of concern - had become inaudible. If those instincts had ever been detectable at all."

The narrative preyed on my morbid curiosity and made me fascinated, and ultimately horrified by the real life events it was based upon. I found myself googling Charles Manson, trying to compare the fictional Russell.

It's not for the faint of heart, but it's so very worthwhile - definitely on my list of top books for the year. 


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 6.12.16

The tragic nature of the news today, and let's face it - pretty much every day, has me heartsick at the moment. It's kind of been an unexpectedly emotional week for me, too. My youngest had her last half day of Kindergarten (she gets out earlier than her brother one day a week) where we have our bit of one-on-one time to eat together, watch movies, bake, paint our nails, etc. Not that we can't make that time for ourselves going forward, but it seemed like end of an era. We had her last swim lesson with our absolute favorite teacher who really encouraged her to enjoy swimming AND be good at it. We brought her gifts and a handmade card from my daughter (with adorable drawings and Kinder phonetic spelling) to thank her for spending every single week of the year with us and we all got verklempt. To top it off, she had her last day of pee wee soccer this weekend. 

Things are even emotional with my third grader, as his wonderful teacher is retiring after 40 years (!) of teaching in our district. She sent out her last parent letter and it had me and my son both fighting back tears. GAH!

Oh, and we FINALLY picked up The Thank You Book (and did some of the related activities I talked about a few weeks ago) today and it certainly warms the heart, but it seemed like the emotional cherry on the cake of quite a week. Again, END OF AN ERA.
Thank goodness for margaritas! That was a nice little highlight of my week, knowing that being on the PTA board will usually involve some sort of adult refreshment!
Here's hoping this week will be on a bit more of an even keel...
Programming note from last week: the Tortilla Pie was TASTY! Love the idea of mixing refried beans with the enchilada sauce to layer in the pie. I would, however, not bother making the bechamel sauce for the meat mixture. It's an added few steps that aren't necessary and I'll probably add diced tomatoes next time to give that layer some moisture.

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Snohomish River Run 2016 Discount Code!

For all my running friends, I have a new race discount code to share! 2016 will be the fifth year of the Snohomish River Run and I'm sure they'll be pulling out all the stops to mark the occasion, including my favorite perk - the post race hot soup and crusty bread! (Here are my recaps from 2012 and 2014.)

The course is flat, fast and USTAF Certified. Personalized bibs, race shirts and medals are given for both distances, 10K and half marathon. It starts and ends in Downtown Snohomish with plenty of parking nearby and at the local high school - one less thing to worry about on race day. 

Hope to see you there!

Discount: READANDRUN16 for 15% off!
Where: Downtown Snohomish on 1st Avenue, between Avenue E and 2nd Street
When: Sunday, October 9th at 8:00 AM
Disclosure: I was offered race entries and a monetary reward in exchange for getting the word out about the race series; although it is sponsored, all opinions are my own.


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 6.5.16

Yes, there was another lapse in programming here with the menu planning! This last hiatus was due to a lovely Memorial Day spent hiking.

I might have to do a little photo dump post of our day at Wallace Falls, since I got so many great pictures.
I also completed another year of the run streak! And, yep, it's still goin'.
This weekend was also an enjoyable, albeit hot one of birthday parties, soccer games and sprinkler time. My Midwestern skin has grown rather thin, since I feel as if I'm melting when it climbs above 80 degrees. Today we were in the 90s. The HORROR! Thankfully we installed air conditioning a few years ago, so we had a lovely day at home after running errands.
This week...

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie and Mommy Run Fast- be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Books I Read in May

Golden Son by Pierce Brown 
This series shows no signs of slowing down in it's excellence! I thought it lived up to the first installment: still emotional, gripping stuff with great pacing and plotting. Darrow is a hero for the ages. It got a teeny tiny bit mired in battle scenes, but I'm confident it will be one of very few trilogies that are great start to finish.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier 
I mentioned picking this one up for my son after he plowed through the Amulet Series, and unsure of how he'd mesh with 90s teen girl angst. Well, he freaking LOVED it, as did I! It was equal parts horrifying (all the dental stuff poor Raina has to go through), heartbreaking (oh, teen insecurities whilst dealing with major dental woes), and hilarious. Naturally, my son latched on to the hilarity and sibling rivalry stuff while glossing over a lot of the teen girl drama. Meanwhile, I latched on to the memories of being an early 90s teen, while also having major empathy for Raina's mother. This true tale of the author's early life has something for everyone and I can't recommend it enough.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
I really wanted to love this YA action/romance, but the characters were very two dimensional and the prose was eye-roll inducing for my taste. ("...brushing his thumb across her cheek with the warm caress of a summer breeze.") It's basically the bones of Twilight set in Arabian Nights, but not as good. Womp.

I'm Glad About You by Theresa Rebeck
Man, this was not at ALL what I was expecting from the happy looking cover and description: comedic? more like tragic! and tender? more like gritty and harsh. It is rather angsty, depressing fare about the toxic relationship of the two main characters who are kind of star crossed lovers, as well as all the toxic relationships with which they surround themselves. The characters are frustrating, use way too many F bombs to be taken seriously, and there are just so many uncomfortable scenes. It would make for good book club fodder on questions like what would you sacrifice for love? for religion? for happiness? It was also an eye opener about misogyny and fame, but I wish I had been warned! 

The Girls by Emma Cline
I just finished this NetGalley ARC and will publish my review soon, but short version: it was super intense, and RIVETING.