Meg Says Read This: Between Shades of Gray

51fa0mhsovl-_sx331_bo1204203200_I have had a fascination with realistic historical fiction books since I was a little girl reading the Dear America series. Anything involving the 1940’s, and World War 2  particularly peaks my interest. A few years ago I read Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, and I knew that it would be a rare thing for me to find similar novels that left an impression on me the way these did. Since I try to keep up with the buzz in the YA world, I was aware of Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray, but I wasn’t sure if I was emotionally prepared for the read. Well, about  a month ago after reading a variety of different subject matter (such as The Hopefuls, Luckiest Girl Alive, and Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend) I stumbled upon BSoG at the library and figured why not give it a try? Oh my goodness, what a treat. Between Shades of Gray tells a really beautiful story of one girl’s struggle to hold on to hope, in the face of such horrifically dark and trying times. Lina is young, intelligent, inquisitive, and her sharp tongue speaks of her brutal observations (though sometimes she is able to restrain herself). The fact that that she shares her story through the eyes of an artist, provides a beautiful angle to the icy events. There are several references to flashbacks of simpler times, girls days shopping with her mom, the joy of splashes in a lake in the moonlight, laughing til your stomach hurts, ice cream on a hot summer day, the comfort of a hot cooked meal around a dinner table with family. They’re all reminders of sweet moments we might take for granted in our everyday lives. These people didn’t expect for their worlds to be torn apart overnight, separated from family, some to never be seen again, and uncertain fates. While the subject matter is incredibly heavy there’s a way that Lina’s perspective gives your heart wings while you’re reading. Her strength and persistence lets readers emotions rise above the despair while reading. This novel is superb and I can’t recommend it enough. This is one of those stories that my heart felt like it was shattering while I was reading it, and I definitely shed some tears, but there was also the light of hope picking me back up again.

I will shamefully admit that prior to reading Between Shades of Gray, I had really limited knowledge about Stalin’s deportation of Lithuania and the Baltics during the Russian invasion. This novel pushed me to start researching after I finished, and I was surprised to find that there is still so little communicated from these people that were sent away to work camps and prisons for years, and if they did return to their homes only to find that they were occupied by soldiers who had assumed their identities?! And the fact that they were threatened if they were to speak out against what happened to them? It’s another reminder how important it is to learn from our past, and not let the same atrocities be committed again.

(Image from Amazon.)

Meg Says Read This: Luckiest Girl Alive

51hmfl5xx9l-_sx329_bo1204203200_Of course, when Reese Witherspoon recommends a book, I’m all ears. I saw the praise for Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, and immediately put myself on the wait list at the library. I was instantly drawn into the world of Ani in all of its splendor, but also hazy secrets. Readers learn quickly that some events  earlier in Ani’s life led her to fight for a life as a successful, beautiful, thriving woman – someone who would build armor from the admiration and jealousy of others. Ani is living in Manhattan, in her late twenties, engaged to a handsome man of Wall Street, and writing provocative columns for a women’s magazine. It’s unclear at first what events drove Ani to revent invent herself into the salty, cut throat young woman, wanting to be superior to those around her but as her story unravels – there’s a tenderness, a vulnerability that makes everything make sense. I’ll say at first all of the high-end label name dropping threw me. I felt like it was an unnecessary tool that didn’t have high impact on the plot but eventually it grew to be less of a distraction, as I was more consumed by the emotional details of the story. Eventually the story starts alternating between Ani’s high school experiences in a small, prestigious prep school and her current life in the city. That’s when things start getting really gritty. I’ll be honest, usually I consider myself to be a pretty observant reader and I can sense a plot twist coming. This one took my breath away. I literally felt my hand fly to my mouth with a sharp intake of breath, unprepared for the turn of events on the page. Now that really made me admire Knoll’s writing style. She’d already captivated this reader’s attention, but then she drug me even deeper into the story unable to look away as hard as it was at times to push through the sharp details. I know that this is a vague telling of a novel that I’m recommending with such a high regard but I was so struck by the element of surprise in this story that I would hate to ruin that reading experience for anyone else.

I subscribe to LennyLetter and several months ago, I saw Jessica Knoll had penned her own, “What I Know.” I saw the description, but I declined reading the letter in its entirety, until I’d read Luckiest Girl Alive. Well, after finishing the book last time I went ahead and read the letter, and I have goosebumps just thinking about it. Click here to check it out.

For those of you who have already read Luckiest Girl Alive, thoughts? Comments? I’ve also seen that Witherspoon optioned the movie rights, and Knoll wrote the screenplay so I’m curious to see how that pans out!

You might not be expecting it at first, but this is definitely a powerful read. Knoll gives TifAni a powerful voice in this story, and she writes in a way that captures a plethora of emotions she cycles through – lust, fear, guilt, remorse, uncertainty – it’s all there. I highly recommend you add it to your list. Happy Reading!

(Image from Amazon.)

Throwback Thursday, Meg Says Listen to This: Cowboy Take Me Away

Two weeks ago, one of my long time dreams came true. I was able to see the Dixie Chicks live. I drove to Atlanta to meet up with my friend Jackie for this much anticipated event. (Much anticipated is a bit of an understatement seeing as we bought this tickets more than a year prior!) All that time in between to day dream, and it kind of didn’t feel like it was really happening. In my pre-teen years (well, and later) my walls were all painted a different color. On the purple wall hung a “Fly” poster that kept it’s spot for years, right above my desk. It was sweltering hot at the amphitheater (like still 91 degrees when the sun went down,) but when the girls took the stage the weather didn’t matter anymore. The Dixie Chicks were on FIRE. Their talent is astounding. I was shocked at the energy. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I didn’t have the chance to see them back in the day, so I can’t compare but if anything I would guess after all these years they came back stronger. The amount of emotion in Natalie’s voice when she belts out those notes, her ability to be composed but still have this jaw dropping touch to a song that will send goosebumps down your arms is stunning. Plus, Emily and Martie’s instrumental abilities is just other worldly. The Chicks played for more than two hours, but I could have just listened to them all night. Even though I will say that it was somewhat of an emotional roller coaster of an experience. Multiple songs brought tears to my eyes- “Travelin’ Soldier” “Top Of the World” “Landslide” and “Easy Silence” (but can you really blame me?) And I have to mention how clever it was for them to kick off the show with “Long Time Gone” and “Long Way Around” (I would say these are two of my favorites, but then I’d probably wind up saying that about all of them.) They also did a tribute to Prince with “Nothing Compares 2U” which was touching and special in its own way. The backdrop was purple with his symbol and it was a sweet moment. The electric energy from the crowd when they played “Goodbye Earl” “Wide Open Spaces” and “Cowboy Take Me Away” was palpable. Plus, “Sin Wagon” made me smile so hard my cheeks hurt. Their passion, tenacity, and unapologetic approach to all of the things that matter to them (social justice, domestic violence, nonsense in politics) makes them so dang endearing and it makes me proud that there are women like them in the industry. Some people think you should be quiet and appease everyone, and just play your songs. But isn’t music a tool to communicate a message, a chance to use your voice? (During “Ready to Run” there were dancing hands and cartoons of people running for office, and past presidents and people of politics.) Of course their boldness is surprising at times, but I applaud them just the same. They came back out and did “Not Ready to Make Nice” in the encore, and it was so striking, so moving, I don’t know if I can articulate the correct words to describe it, but it’s something I’ll always remember. I think they were making a lot of people’s dreams come true that night in that amphitheater. And like I’ve said before, it always amazes me the way lyrics come to mind immediately even to songs you haven’t heard in years, and there’s something lovable in life about that. It’s hard for me to choose a song to share with you on this Throwback Thursday because any of them would be a wonderful  choice, but how about “Cowboy Take Me Away”? If you haven’t listened to the Dixie Chicks in a while, give this song a listen and revel in the beauty of their art.

Meg Says Read This: The Hopefuls

5166bezbkhl-_sx334_bo1204203200_ A few weeks ago it felt like the beautiful cover of The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close was popping up all over social media. Then it appeared on the New Releases page of my public library’s website. (Don’t knock – we’ve already established my level of nerdiness here!) With cover imagery like that, it was impossible to ignore so I jumped in line and put a hold on it. Even with the Rio 2016 Olympic Coverage devouring my free time in the past few weeks, I still found myself completely immersed in this story. Close has a way of writing where it feels like you have such an intimate look into the character’s lives. It has the easy flow of blog entries, but the personal details delve so much further.

The Hopefuls tells the story of Beth and Matt who’s relationship started after a fateful meeting in NYC. The beginning clues us in that Matt worked on the Obama campaign in 2008 and was absolutely captivated by the magic energy of being involved. (I’ll admit I was amused from the first page – in a totally good way.) While Beth doesn’t echo the same sentiments, she definitely understands that it’s Matt’s passion. Eventually the young newlyweds found themselves right smack dab in the hub bub of Washington D.C. Matt with dreams of running for office, and Beth having left everything she knew behind in NYC, (only after losing her job at Vanity Fair.) Matt instantly warms to the city of politics, while Beth takes much longer to find a comfortable place there. A blossoming friendship with another couple in a similar position, having moved from Texas – Ashley and Jimmy bring a sense of belonging and ease to the niche they’ve created in D.C. Basically the story follows Matt’s slow climb up the ladder (not always up, sometimes just lateral much to his frustration.) And Beth’s struggle to pinpoint her true aspirations and goals in life, in both her career and her ideas about a future family. It follows their transitions geographically and emotionally.

I know this might not sound like the most exciting story right off hand, but let me tell you: the way Jennifer Close writes, it feels like you’re on the couch and your best friend is just spilling her guts about the mess of everything going on in her life and in her head. That’s how close you feel to all the anguish, and roller coaster of emotions and events Beth is experiencing on their journey. I also think this is one of the most honest depictions of a relationship I’ve ever read about. Even beautiful relationships still come with their own struggles, and Beth notices them even when she can’t pin point the source. While she supports Matt, she also knows even in his disappoints she still deserves to be treated with respect and as a teammate in their marriage. That sacrifice goes both ways. That one person can’t put in all the effort to make a relationship work. It was almost painful at times to read about their struggles, but I think they’re also relatable and in a way, readers can find comfort in that.

Some books get so much buzz when they first come out, that by the time I read them I’m disappointed they don’t live up to the hype. This isn’t one of them. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy of Jennifer Close’s The Hopefuls I suggest you get on that now!

Meg Says Watch This: Aly & Simone Interview 

So, I’ve refrained from posting every day on here about The Olympics, but if you know me…well, let’s just say you know I’ve been zoned in for the past week in a half on this coverage of Rio 2016. Gymnastics and swimming are my favorite, and man have there been some awesome stories. (Especially now as track and field are under way and we see great shows of sportsmanship and kindness that just make my heart explode.) All that pressure, and high level competition intensity aside – after the final individual event for women’s gymnastics yesterday, Bob Costas had this incredible interview with Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. It honestly might be my favorite interview ever. Anytime I need to laugh I’m going to have go back and rematch it. The girls are just so deliriously happy, the candidness is amazing. The genuine friendship, laughter, and spunky attitudes – you couldn’t make that up if you tried. Happy Hump Day – watch the interview and put a smile on your face!

(I haven’t found a video that will embed in this post yet, so you can watch it directly on the NBC Olympics page here.)

 

Meg Says Read This: Extraordinary Means

23149128Robyn Schneider has done it again. She finds this beautiful way of telling a story that involves grief, love, friendship and the roller coaster of life and adolescence all rolled into one. I was blown away a few years ago when I read The Beginning of Everything (so of course when I spotted it on a shelf in a visit to Powell’s last year I broke my own rule of  not buying anymore books to add it to my collection.) I was absolutely thrilled when I saw she’d come out with a new novel, Extraordinary Means – I may have even been the first person to check it out from the library.

So more about what Extraordinary Means is actually about. Seventeen year old Lane has been sent to special school, kind of like a boarding school, kind of like a summer camp – except here there is one link that bonds all the students together, and it’s not s’mores and kumbaya. All the kids at Latham have TB, albeit different strains so different levels of the way this diagnosis takes its toll on their bodies. On their good days the students might seem like normal teenagers, but whether it’s a fitful night of coughing that results in bloody pillowcases, or just the lack of energy and dark circles around their eyes – these kids are no longer able to lead something similar to their pre-TB lives. Away from their family and friends, sports and activities with no cure in sight their futures are uncertain.

Although what they considered “normal” lives are disrupted, and they can’t even continue a regular study path of school work – Lane and his new found friends have found a way to make the most of their time, and add some fun to their days. Who would have thought he’d find a familiar face at Latham? But why does this person seem to be so cold towards him? Even with a rocky start Lane will soon have new relationships develop, friendships evolve, and a spark of romance. The scary thing is no one ever knows how much time they have left – but Lane and his friends are cramming a lot of life in their days. Extraordinary Means is a heartwarming story that’s a reminder of the frailty of life, and the power of friendships in any circumstance in life. Schneider has shown us once again what a gift she has to leave such an impressionable story on the hearts of her readers.

(Image from Goodreads.)

 

Meg Says Listen to This: “My Girl”

 

Thanks to Shazaam my insatiable desire to immediately know whatever song is playing on the radio (or during TV commercials, or movie trailers for that  matter) is instantly satisfied. I’ve been listening to an “independent” country radio station lately, and a few times a week on my drive home from work I hear them plugging this song that just makes me feel giddy. Dylan Scott’s “My Girl” is such a sweet song, but even more than the heart warming lyrics – that deep voice of his. The second he opens his mouth, it’s rather surprising. I love that gravely sound, and near the end when he switches from singing to talking? Oh my. I’m such a sucker. I know I’ve been heavy on the country music suggestions lately, but hopefully you guys haven’t grown tired of it yet because this song is really worth the listen. “My Girl” is on Dylan Scott’s recently released self-titled debut, and I can’t wait to hear what else is in store for him!  The official music video from his YouTube video is plugged above. Don’t just put it on in the background on your computer because the scenery is too beautiful to be missed!

Meg Says Listen to This: “Setting the World on Fire”

On Friday I was driving over to Panama City to meet up with some friends, and I had the radio on and the second I heard this song I was hooked. (I know, it sounds like I say that a lot…) Kenny Chesney’s latest, featuring Pink, “Setting the World on Fire.” I was already thinking about the way somehow it was already the last weekend in July. Summer is flying by before us, and here I am trying to soak up every minute of the sun drenched days (and the ones with humid storms rolling through.) This song just encompasses that fleeting electric energy of summer and that split moment where you feel invincible. If you haven’t heard it yet – give it a listen!

Up all night and we were feelin’ so good
Yeah, we got a little higher than we probably should
We were in a hotel singin’ in the hallway lights
We were strikin’ the matches right down to the ashes
Setting the world on fire, setting the world on fire

Meg Says Watch This: Stranger Things

Two words: STRANGER THINGS.

Netflix new original series brought to you by the twin brother duo Matt and Ross Duffer has such an amazing story packed into eight episodes. I’ll admit, I’m a scaredy cat – I’m annoying to watch thrillers with because I hide under blankets or peek through my hands, but for whatever reason syfy is a different story. I’m so fascinated by anything paranormal. I had an unhealthy teenage obsession with Roswell and conspiracy theories. The kids are so brilliantly cast in this show (well, all the characters) that I was hooked immediately. It’s set in the 80’s and everything about it was done right – the house decor, the muted outfits, the music, the old corded phones.

I don’t want to spoil any of the mystery of the show, so I’ll tell you this. A group of friends are playing a heated game of Dungeons and Dragons and it’s time to head home for the night. Three boys set out on their bikes, and only two end up making it home. The episodes cover the span of a week while Will is missing. But there is so much more to the story. (Isn’t there always?)

It’s a fantastically crafted piece of work with a beautiful nod to the likes of E.T. and the Goonies, but with it’s own unique appeal. I started it last week after a girlfriend recommended it, and now I can’t stop telling people to watch it. I personally didn’t find the show scary, just sufficiently suspenseful. But I like to think of it as an innocent suspense that plays on imagination.

I love that it’s 2016 and this is the kind of project that people are creating. The technology of our time is amazing, but it’s cool to see a little rewind.

(If you’ve already watched it: I was reading an interview with the Duffer bros from Variety the other day, and they said they have a 30 page document about Upside Down. Thirty pages! I just love the depth of the story here. ALSO, a Season Two has been confirmed!)

Meg Says Listen to This: “Vice”

Damn, Miranda. That’s the first thing that came to mind following my first listen of Miranda Lambert’s latest song, “Vice.” I saw Shane Mcanally’s Instagram post last night before I’d even heard it (and after I saw the teasers on Facebook). Reading the words just sent a shiver down my spine:

shanemcanally No matter what your taste in music is, you gotta respect when an artist is willing to put their soul out on the table. @joshosbornesongwriter & I were lucky enough to be sitting in the room when @mirandalambert came in with this song on her heart. Everything about this is bold and heartbreaking and honest and even a little hard to listen to….this is the kind of song I set out to write when I came to Nashville. I am so blessed to write with people who take these kind of chances.

Seriously…is that not moving or what? Then you go and listen to the song. Miranda Lambert hasn’t put out any new music in quite some time, and for this to be the first? It’s raw and real, and it cuts deep. It feels so transparent, and edgy, and relatable. It makes my heart sting when I hear it because it’s a sucky place to be, the depth of where that emotion comes from but then I think about just how many of us have probably found ourselves there. That’s the beauty in it – how realistic it is about life. One of the things I appreciate about her as an artist is she never sugar coats anything. Here is some sharp true emotion, in song, laid right out on the table.

Do yourself a favor, and listen now. I’ve got it on repeat over here. If this is a taste of what’s to come, big things are in store.