Sunday Post #39: The Last Sunday of the Year

Sunday Post

It has been a little while since I’ve written a Sunday Post entry. December proved to be a busy month, and I have to confess that time off on Sundays wasn’t really spent writing and reflecting so much as trying to catch my breath before Monday.

I have been off work for a week’s vacation and have one more week before returning. Aside from some grading, which I will need to make some time to do in the coming week, I was able to catch up before vacation. I’ve been doing quite a lot of baking, as I typically do over the holidays: gingerbread, cookies, scones on Christmas.

My husband is visiting his parents in Tennessee, and I know they’ll be glad to visit with him. It’s pretty quiet around here without him. Not that he makes a ton of noise or anything, but you know what I mean.

Meanwhile, I have been finishing books quickly. I finished the following books since my last Sunday Post entry:

I am in the middle of a re-read of Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, this time as an audio book, and man, am I ever reminded of why I love that book so much. And yet again, it has reminded me of why the French Revolution is so endlessly fascinating. I am currently watching a History Channel documentary of the French Revolution on YouTube. I am reminded once again that I still haven’t read Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama, though I have a hardcover copy, nor have I finished Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser or Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. The Marie Antoinette biography has been in my sidebar for a long time. I would love to find another really good historical fiction book set in the French Revolution. I have already read Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. I am not sure about Hilary Mantel’s novel A Place of Greater Safety. Have you read it? What did you think? I absolutely loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, but I wasn’t sure about this one. The reviews are not as glowing, and it’s a long book to commit to. I ought to just take the plunge. I’ve been thinking about reading it long enough.

I’ve had a quiet last Sunday of the year with my kids. All in all an enjoyable day reading and relaxing.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Review: Where She Went, Gayle Forman

Where She Went is the sequel to Gayle Forman’s novel If I Stay. It picks up the story of Mia and Adam about three years after the events of the previous book. In the intervening time, Mia and Adam broke up and lived very separate lives. Mia went to Juilliard and pursued her dream of being a renowned cellist. Meanwhile, Adam channeled all his hurt and pain over Mia’s rejection into writing songs, and almost before he knew it, his band Shooting Star had a hit record, and he was a rock star, complete with an actress girlfriend and a jet set lifestyle. Inside, he feels hollow, and even music no longer means much to him. On his last night in New York before heading to London for a tour with his band, Adam is alone. He’s just flipped out in the middle of an interview, and his manager gives him the evening off to pull himself together. Wandering around New York, he finds himself at Carnegie Hall, and he is stunned to discover Mia is playing there, that night. He purchases a rush ticket and watches her concert. At the end, an usher approaches him and says that “Ms. Hall would like you to come backstage.” Mia takes Adam on a tour of her New York, and over the course of the evening, they say all the things they left unsaid when they parted.

Some reviewers claim that they like this book even better than the first, which is unusual, as sequels often don’t measure up to the promise of the first book in a series. In my own review of If I Stay, I mentioned that it would have been a book I’d have adored as a teenager—and I do mean it would have been one my absolute favorite books of all time if I had encountered it in high school. Adam would have been exactly the kind of boyfriend I’d have wanted in high school. By my mid-twenties, I had soured big time on that kind of guy because of the kind of person Adam became after his band made it big. The problem with so many of those types is that they never really mature out of their own selfishness. They’re terribly cool people, and they are interesting and artistic. But they are horrible to be in love with. The interesting thing about this book is that it exposes that side of rock musicians and also that it allows Adam a chance to grow out of it. This book is told from Adam’s point of view rather than Mia’s, and I found her to be very interesting in his head. As someone who has read the first book, I also have Mia’s own point of view, but Adam doesn’t have it. He is filled with insecurity and anxiety, but mostly he’s just numb and sort of sleepwalking through his life. I think I actually liked this book better, too. What happens to Mia in the first book is terrible—almost too terrible—but the horrible mundanity of a devastating breakup is something we can all relate to, and Forman captures the feeling so well. Mia and Adam are grown up now, too, and though they are young, they have lost that naivete and innocence they had in the first book. Well, they must. They’ve experienced a great deal of pain and growth. One has the sense at the end of Where She Went that they will be okay and will be able to handle whatever happens next, whether that means they will be together or not.

Rating: ★★★★★

Here’s the playlist, with one substitution unavailable in Spotify (Le Tigre’s “My My Metrocard” for “Deceptacon,” a track from the same album).

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Review: If I Stay, Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman’s novel If I Stay is the story of Mia, an accomplished cellist and senior in high school. Mia lives in Oregon, and when the schools close for a snow day (“I think the county overreacted,” Mia says), the family decides to make a day of it and visit friends, family, and the bookstore. In a split second, Mia’s entire life is shattered when her family’s car is hit by a pickup truck. Mia finds herself outside her body, watching as the ambulance arrives, watching as she is taken to Portland by medivac, and watching as she lies in a coma in the ICU. Mia realizes that she must make the decision: “I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard” (175).

I’m a little late with If I Stay. I think a lot of folks have read it already, so it might not be new to you. In fact, it’s been on my TBR list for years. This is exactly the kind of book I’d have been in love with as a teenager. I must have re-read Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes countless times. In many ways, Mia reminds me a bit of Davey in Blume’s book, though the tragedy she must cope with is much larger in scope and also involves her own personal fight for recovery. I think if this book had existed when I was in high school, I’d have re-read it as much as I re-read Tiger Eyes, and I can’t praise it much more highly than that. Adam is definitely the kind of boyfriend I’d have wanted in high school. Like Mia, I was a musician in high school with some starry-eyed dreams of actually being good enough to go to Juilliard. Unlike Mia, I knew I didn’t have the talent it would take to do it. The cello is, in fact, one of my favorite instruments, and my daughter played it in school. I think I would really have connected to this story if I’d read it in high school.

So what about adult me? Well, at this stage of my life, I recognize Adam is NOT the kind of guy I’d want to be with (nice enough, but the rock musician types are more cool on paper). I consider music important, but it doesn’t consume me as much as it did when I was in high school, and perhaps that is my loss. I have really wanted to get back into playing either the flute or the guitar (or both) again. I’m in a different place, which is as it should be, and it makes me a little sad this book wasn’t around when I was in high school (but I think Gayle Forman was probably in high school right then as well). It’s a great book. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve considered how much more I might have liked a book if I’d read it at a different time. As it is, it was well-written, but some of the cracks showed a bit more to adult me. They wouldn’t have bothered teenager me at all. In fact, I might not have seen them as cracks at all.

Still, I really enjoyed the book, and as for grabbing and keeping my attention, it absolutely did. I definitely want to read the sequel.

Rating: ★★★★½

I found this blog post on hosting the ultimate book group party for this book (very cool ideas). I also found an interesting Bustle post about the fictional band in the movie soundtrack. Speaking of the movie, some liberties were taken with the story, but f you have Amazon Prime, it’s free to watch with your membership. It wasn’t bad.

I made a Spotify playlist based on the music mentioned in the book, on Gayle Forman’s website, and the movie. Caveat: I couldn’t bring myself to include Bette Midler’s song “The Wind Beneath My Wings” (though it’s mentioned in the book), and I cut Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” as well. I don’t hate that song, but it doesn’t fit well with the rest of the punk/indie and classical tracks in the playlist. I guess Frank Sinatra doesn’t either, but he stayed in.

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Sunday Post #38: December

Sunday PostDecember is here! I guess because of the warm feelings in the lead-up to Christmas, I’ve always liked December. New Year’s Eve has always seemed inexplicably sad to me, and I wonder if it’s because it feels like the end of such a, for lack of a better word, merry season. I remember when I was in Girl Scouts we would go caroling, and I have very fond memories of Christmas as a child.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions (and I don’t care if people think this is cheesy or hate this movie) is watching Love Actually with my sister. She has lived overseas and currently lives in Texas, but we synchronize our DVD players and chat online through the movie. We haven’t settled on a date for this year.

I’m also a big fan of making Christmas cookies. Today I’m making a batch of the white chocolate and cranberry cookies that were such a hit last year. Also, as a bonus, this is the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tasted.

This week I finished up Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, easily one of the best books of the year. I started reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. So far, I’m really enjoying it. My most recent tally for books completed this year is 55. I set the goal of reading 52. I should probably set a higher goal for next year. I thought 52 would be ambitious because the most books I’d read in a year previously was 50.

I’ve added the following books to my TBR pile in the last week or so:

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Some of the recommendations came from other teachers at the National Council of Teachers of English conference I attended recently. Others came from poking around and seeing what folks have enjoyed.

I was able to “win” NaNoWriMo this year. I think it’s only the second time I have been able to do it. Because one of my most valuable professional conferences takes place in November, it can be a rough month for me to complete NaNoWriMo if I fall behind while I’m at the conference. Next year, I will probably have next to no time during the conference to write because it will be in Atlanta, and I will have family and friends to visit when I’m not at the conference itself. Still, I really love participating in NaNoWriMo because of the constant encouragement and feeling of community.

I’m looking for some fun challenges for 2016. Do any of you have suggestions? I always like to do a historical fiction challenge and map the locations of my books. Every year I also like to do R. I. P. Any of you doing a fun challenge (or hosting one)? I haven’t really started looking around yet for reading challenges, but let me know if you hear of a really good one.

I have a winter playlist that’s maybe a bit dated, but I still like it.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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