Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Evvie Drake has packed her suitcase and stashed all of her cash in the glove compartment of her car and is about to pull out of the driveway to leave her emotionally abusive husband when her cell phone rings. Her husband has just died in a car accident and Evvie is now a widow. A widow who hated her husband.

Dean Tenney had a golden arm that brought him to the pinnacle of Major League Baseball fame and success until one day he can’t pitch anymore. No amount of therapy (mental or physical) helps and, embarrassed and shamed, Dean walks away from the game.

Dean escapes from the chaos of New York City and moves to a small town in coastal Maine where an old buddy lives, seeking peace and quiet and time to heal. Evvie, weighted down by her guilt and lack of sadness over the death of her husband, rents a small apartment to Dean and slowly, cautiously, these two worn, damaged people find strength in each other.

This is a fun, quick read that also manages to be thoughtful. There is a lot of humor, but there is also real pain that needs to be dealt with. There’s romance and healing, but it isn’t quick and it doesn’t come without vulnerability and hard work and compromise. It’s great to read something where the characters grow and develop, take some missteps but find their way in the end. Recommended.

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check-In

Hello Challengers!

How is your month of reading about Nature going? I hope you have found something good! I’ve already finished my book for the month and it was great (I’ll talk about some more at the end of the month)

If you’re still struggling to find something that fits with this month’s theme, why not try a movie? Here are a few ideas.

The Impossible starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts follows a family of four that struggle to survive after the devastating tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004. Based on a true story, it is one of the most white-knuckle movies I’ve ever watched.

March of the Penguins, a documentary about the epic journey Emperor penguins take to mate and raise new chicks in one of the harshest climates on Earth – Antarctica.

Planet Earth, narrated by David Attenborough is a visual smorgesbord filled with stunning photgraphy and fascinating descriptions of the planet and the animals we share it with.

Wild with Reese Witherspoon. The book is better (which is almost always the case) but the advantage of a film over a book really shines with this movie because you can enjoy the stunning scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Control Video Game

I should be honest up front with this review, I love Remedy games. Alan Wake, a game made by Remedy back in 2010, is one of my favorite video games that I have ever played. The games that Remedy makes are examples of how to make effective linear single player games. The stories they write are always engaging, the worlds that they create are always immersive and full of life, and the gameplay is always crisp and responsive.

Control is no different.

Control tasks the player as Jesse Fayden, a woman who lost her brother due to a traumatic event in her youth that she believes is related to the Federal Bureau of Control. The Bureau is a shady government agency that holds plethora of supernatural phenomenon. As Jesse explores the Bureau she gains more and more psychic powers and begins to unravel the secrets that the Bureau holds and with it, how those secrets tie in to the disappearance of her brother.

The gameplay of Control is a 3rd person action game where you use an ever-expanding suite of psychic powers to fight off a variety of different enemies called the Hiss. Starting with an energy strike from your “service weapon” and growing into mind control, the ability to pick up and throw any object with your mind and even the ability of flight. Jesse grows in power in a really rewarding way as you play throughout the game that keeps the gameplay from getting stale and repetitive.

The sound design and atmosphere of the game is also top notch, exploring through mad science labs and bureaucratic labyrinths has never been more fun. The game is a perfect mixture of Twilight Zone, Men in Black and Aperture Science from Portal in terms of the tone of the Bureau. Every single research file or piece of correspondence helps to anchor and engross the player in the world of the game. Remedy’s incredible world-building and writing is in full effect here.

Despite my reservations about Remedy deciding to make this over a sequel to my beloved Alan Wake, I have to admit that they have hit it out of the park yet again. Remedy continues to hold the banner for single-player story-driven experiences that focus on gameplay, immersion and excellent story-telling. No other game developer out there today is able to perfectly blend all of those aspects like Remedy does.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott  transports the reader back to the politics of the Cold War in the 1950s and the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the years immediately following World War II.   At the heart of the story is the secret plan by the United States government to get its hands on Boris Pasternak’s masterpiece Doctor Zhivago in order to publish it for the world to read.

The Secrets We Kept is told in alternating chapters with scenes taking place between the United States and The Soviet Union.  Much of the story revolves around the pressure and repercussions on Pasternak of writing a book that is in direct contrast with the government of the USSR and their eventual censorship of his novel.  Pasternak’s struggle is not only with the government, it is also with his long time mistress, Olga Ivinskya, who became his most passionate advocate and sometime publicist.  Olga also has the distinction of being the inspiration for the main character in Pasternak’s novel, Lara.  The Soviet government went as far as imprisoning Olga for numerous years due to her association with Pasternak as an additional form of pressure on him.  Upon her release, she returned and they picked up where they left off with the goal of publishing Pasternak’s book.

Simultaneously, in Washington, D. C., new college graduate Irina is plucked from her secretarial position within the US government and given orders to go undercover to help smuggle a copy of the book out of the USSR.  Along with a few select others, she learns the ropes of becoming an international spy by transferring the manuscript of the book to its final destination.  Inspired by the United States belief that literature can change the world, the hand selected group of US spies assume identities all over the world to ensure the book has a worldwide audience.

When I discovered that this book was centered on the writing of Doctor Zhivago, I was immediately intrigued.  I knew just a little about the writing of the book and its aftermath, but this work of historical fiction is not only an intriguing read, but has me wanting to find out more about this time period and the men and women whose passion for literature brought the novel to a worldwide audience.

Travel Talk – Worst Travel Experience

If you’ve done any amount of traveling, it’s happened to you – a missed flight, lost luggage, a cancelled tour (anyone book a Thomas Cook tour recently?!) The key, of course, is to not let it ruin your trip; consider it a challenge to develop your coping skills! Sometimes the alternative turns out better than you planned!

Fortunately (so far) my travel experiences have been fairly straightforward – lost luggage (found and returned to me the next day), food poisoning (spent a day sick in bed – in Paris! – willing my insides to stop revolting against me), getting lost (I do this All. The. Time. You’d think I’d learn.) Maybe the worst was when my plane caught on fire which sounds terribly dramatic, but the plane was still at the gate and I think it was a fire in the galley, not the airplane itself. It did mean we had to disembark and wait four hours for another plane which meant I missed my connection in Detroit where I had to stay overnight (the airline paid) and got home a day late. Fortunately, everything was fine in the end and it didn’t ruin the trip and look, it makes a great story!

Here’s Michelle’s epic travel nightmare!

Travel delays are par for the course, but in May of 2011, my husband and I had an epic tale of a return flight.  The trip that should have been hours, but turned into days – all because of the eruption of an Icelandic volcano named Grimsvotn.

Our plane departed a little late from Copenhagen, Denmark, which delayed us when we reached Manchester, England.  We made it in time for the flight but since we arrived less than an hour from takeoff to Chicago, we were told we could not board (even though the plane was about 50 feet away from us).  We had to go through customs, get our luggage and hope we could find a flight quickly.  This would not be ideal, since many airports were starting to cancel flights because of the volcano’s ash that was approached the UK, we knew we had to get out or risk being stuck in Manchester, which could likely be days, not hours.

After a couple of hours, we were booked on a flight to Chicago via London.  We quickly realized that making this flight would land us in Chicago at nearly 8:30 in the evening and we did not have a flight or hotel booked for that night.  Once we made it to Chicago, my sister-in-law picked us up and we went back to her house in the Chicago suburbs.  It would be a short visit before we headed back to O’Hare in the morning. In the morning, we rode the Metra train to O’Hare only to find out that our flight to Moline was canceled.  We made a spit decision to rent a car one-way (not the cheapest option) and finally made it home that night!  As Ann mentioned in her post, it does make for a great story!

Now it’s your turn – what has been your worst Travel Experience? Let us know in the comments! And please, only stories that end well!

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

Romance novels usually contain elements of real life that readers can relate to. The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez discusses the difficulties of infertility, how to navigate new relationships, and how to handle varying degrees of loss.

The Friend Zone  by Abby Jimenez is a heartwarming romantic comedy that at times delves into deep and sensitive topics. Kristen Petersen hates drama. She is blunt, to the point, and knows what she wants. While she doesn’t have many close family members or friends, Kristen will do anything for the ones that she does have. Her straightforwardness means that Kristen is very quick to dismiss guys who don’t understand her or those that she just doesn’t like. While she is quite frank, there is a major secret that she is keeping from everyone: Kristen has been experiencing major medical issues for years and in order to find some relief, she has chosen to go through a medical procedure that will result in her not being able to have children.

This secret is tearing her up on the inside. Kristen’s best friend is going to be married soon. Helping her to plan the wedding has left Kristen feeling unsure and angry because of how her life is turning out. Her sadness deepens when she meets the best man, Josh Copeland. Josh is everything that she ever wanted. He’s funny, sexy, her dog loves him, and he seems to be able to read her mind. Josh ends up working for Kristen which allows the two to learn more about each other. Several circumstances converge to keep the two apart however. The biggest one: Kristen has a boyfriend. Another one: Josh wants a big family someday. He mentions it to her several different times.

Kristen decides that she needs to keep Josh away from her. She knows that she won’t be able to give him what he wants and that he would be much better off with someone else. The more she pushes him away, the closer they get though.  Kristen isn’t sure what else to do, while Josh isn’t sure why she’s pushing him away.

This book had me cringing at moments wondering why the two just didn’t take time to talk to each other, but also had me recognizing that since I have never gone through any fertility issues, I was unable to fully understand what was happening. All in all, I enjoyed the twists and turns of this book. Check it out and let me know what you think of it in the comments below!

Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Video Game

Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a unique tale in the world of video games. It started as a joke project back in 1993 that Nintendo developers worked on after-hours and eventually morphed into a full fledged game that was released on the original Gameboy. Because of the games peculiar origins, it stood out as a unique departure from any Zelda games that came before or since its creation. This game takes place on Koholint Island instead of the Kingdom of Hyrule where Legend of Zelda games typically reside.  Characters in the game use telephones to communicate and Nintendo characters from other properties even make their appearance such as Kirby and Yoshi. The story and gameplay of this game is utterly unique and has just been remade for the Nintendo Switch.

For a remake of a handheld game from almost thirty years ago, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening does an incredible job of staying true to its roots and not deviating from the original when it comes to level design. There is a new dungeon builder function that was added to this remake that was not in previous iterations. Other than that addition, its been kept in the same state as its predecessors. There are some quality of life improvements such as taking advantage of all the new button options that the Switch has that the original Gameboy did not have.

The basic gameplay also holds up. Controlling Link from a top-down perspective as you explore dungeons, fight baddies and unlock new items that help you further explore the world and solve puzzles. While it might not be the massive time sink that Breath of the Wild can be, that might actually be a strong suit. If you are looking for a fun game to play on the go and beat without having to devote hours and hours to, Link’s Awakening might be the game for you. Nintendo has an interesting track record of bridging the gap between the past and the present by remaking their games for the next generation. While this game is going to be a nostalgic trip back in time for some, it is also just a fun game for anyone who likes Legend of Zelda games whether you are a new or old fan.

 

The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem

The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem is a perfect light and get-your-mind-distracted read to help you get ready for summer and for wedding season(or to just take a break from life). Even though summer is over, I still found this book to be a delightfully fresh debut from a new author.

The Marriage Clock is Raheem’s discussion of traditional vs. modern marriage customs in Indian families told as one woman’s struggle to keep everyone in her life happy. 26-year-old Leila Abid has always imagined getting married. Her parents want her to get married too and the fact that Leila isn’t married yet is something that they find very concerning. You see, as an East Indian/East Euro-Asian woman, Leila’s parents believe that marriage is half of their religious duty. Arranged marriages happen all the time, but growing up in America, Leila has slightly more give in terms of how early she was married.

At her 26th birthday party, Leila’s parents sit her down and tell her that she has three months to find a husband before they will arrange a marriage for her. Shocked and not happy with this news, Leila agrees as long as her mother backs off from the set-ups. Leila goes on blind dates, online dates, speed dates, ambush dates, and other dates in those three months, but sadly no great love comes to sweep her off her feet.

Leila has great expectations for love. She has always imagined a Bollywood romance with seven pages of what she’s expecting from her future husband. One of her biggest requests: she wants real love before she’s married. This deviates from the norm as with most traditional Indian arranged marriages, love does not happen until after marriage. Leila knows she doesn’t want that.

As her three month deadline looms closer, Leila finds herself wondering what her parents have in store for her. The longer she searches for a husband, the more Leila realizes that an arranged marriage is not for her. But if she doesn’t go through with one, how will her parents ever forgive her? Leila must find a solution that will keep her parents happy and will let her find a man to fall in love with.

Fearscape by Ryan O’Sullivan

Fearscape by Ryan O’Sullivan

Have you ever had that coworker or fellow student that always talked like they knew everything and contributed the most to a project or assignment but in reality, they did the least amount of work? Protagonist, plagiarist and thief, Henry Henry is that guy.

Once a generation, The Muse, a being from an alternate dimension known as the Fearscape, comes to our dimension and finds the greatest storyteller of our time. Henry Henry was in the process of “borrowing” a great work of fiction when The Muse comes to earth in search of a great storyteller. The Muse mistakes Henry for a great writer and whisks him away to the Fearscape to fight an evil that threatens both the Fearscape and all of humanity. The Fearscape is a plane where fiction becomes reality, writers use their imagination to fight off evil beings.

O’Sullivan’s writing in this Graphic Novel is fantastic and witty. We get all of Henry’s internal dialog and justifications for every slimy and dishonest move that he makes and it makes the story all the more entertaining because of it. Fearscape is a satire on the current state of fiction in pulp culture but it also serves as a love letter to the art of writing fiction as a whole. Everyone knows someone like Henry in their lives and seeing him go through all the trials and tribulations that he does is cathartic and entertaining in a lot of ways. I loved to hate Henry as the story progressed and he got more and more enthralled in his web of lies and deceit, all the while proclaiming that he was indeed a great storyteller to the point where you know that on some level, Henry actually believes it about himself despite never writing an actual work of fiction himself.

Andrea Mutti does a fantastic job as Illustrator of this work, his faces are incredibly emotive and the worlds in which Mutti is tasked with illustrating are fantastical but grounded at the same time. There are fantastical and incredible creatures and characters in the fearscape but even in some of the more ridiculous scenes, I could always tell what was going on and what I was supposed to be focusing on in the panel.

I recommend Fearscape to anyone that loves the dark fantasy genre and enjoys a bit of satire. Fearscape pokes a lot of fun at the state of fiction and pop culture in this modern age. It is no coincidence that the “Greatest Storyteller” of our modern age is a plagiarist with no original ideas in this story. This story never takes itself too seriously and is a fun ride along the way.

 

Online Reading Challenge – October

Hello Fellow Challenge Readers!

It’s time for a new topic in our Online Reading Challenge! This month our focus is on: Nature! There are lots of great choices and a couple of different ways you can approach this topic – here are a few ideas.

Books from an animal’s point-of-view. These would include classics like Watership Down by Richard Adams or the more recently published The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (a book I recommend very highly).

Books about animals. From wild creatures (such as H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and Life of Pi by Yann Martel) to domestic (like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski or Marley and Me by John Grogan) there are a lot of titles to choose from. I love the country vet stories by James Herriot, set in the Yorkshire Dales of 1930s England.

Books about the environment. Another classic, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, is as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1962. One of the best books I’ve ever read is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (although we still have a waiting list – I recommend that you read it whenever you can get a copy), which evokes the wilderness of the low country of North Carolina beautifully. For more evocative landscapes, reach for Tony Hillerman’s southwestern mysteries or Dana Stabenow’s Alaska mysteries.

Books about Man and Nature. Lots to choose from here, when man (or woman) venture out into the wilderness. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild takes you along the Pacific Crest Trail, while Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder travels to the Amazon. If you’ve never read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, do yourself a favor and do so immediately (It’s very funny but will also put the fear of bears into you for good!) Jon Krakauer has two great titles that fit into this category – Into the Wild about a young man attempting to live off the land in Alaska and Into Thin Air about a doomed excursion to Mt Everest. Both are gripping and thought provoking.

I’m planning on reading Open Season by C.J. Box, the first of his Joe Pickett mysteries. They are set in the Bighorn Mountain area of Wyoming where Joe is a Game Warden. Box’s mysteries get consistently good reviews so I’m looking forward to reading this!

Now it’s your turn? What will you be reading in October?

 

 

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