March in Review

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March in Review

My favorite fiction read this month was The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown and my favorite non-fiction was Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America by Les Standiford & Sgt. Joe Matthews. Other books I reviewed:
Got some other reads that I still need to write reviews for. And I can't believe I still did not review the non-fiction from last month that I sooo loved! That will hopefully be coming up this month too.

Lots to look forward to in April! The UCF Orlando Book Festival, the blogger get-together afterward (I'm finalizing details so those of you on that list look out for an e-mail and those who still want to join please let me know!), and the read-a-thon which I may finally get to "officially" participate in for the first time ever!

Oh, and one of these days I'll finish reading Freedom... LOL. No, I didn't forget about the review. I just lost interest for a little bit.

Hopefully we don't have too many showers in April. I need to spend some time at the beach and pool! I LOVE spring!!

The Four Ms. Bradwells (review & giveaway)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Title: The Four Ms. Bradwells
Author: Meg Waite Clayton
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine (Random House)
Pub. Date: March 22, 2011

I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started this book about four friends who meet in law school. It's not that I necessarily expected anything frilly, but I didn't realize the profundity it would have or the thought it would inspire.

The book starts out when the four friends, in their fifties, are at the senate confirmation hearing for Betts, who has been nominated for the supreme court. All is going well and her appointment to the bench is expected when a senator throws out one last question. He asks her about a potential scandal from her past that, in itself, has the ability to change the trajectory of her career and that of her friends'. After spitting out a prepared answer, Betts and her friends hop in the car and, with a change of their original plans which included dinner and a Broadway musical in Manhattan, head off to Ginger's secluded summer home on Cook Island to escape the tenacious press. As the women hole up in the home over the weekend, they are confronted with the truths of their past, their secrets, some of which the've all shared and others that they've kept to themselves. And in the meantime, the readers are presented with the complexities inevitable in female friendships.

This book was almost equally about 1) the dynamics of the friendship, 2) about the scandal that's first alluded to in the senate confirmation hearing, and 3) about what it means to be a woman in today's society and workforce. The chapters alternate among the four women: Betts, Ginger, Laney, and Mia. Some people find this type of narration confusing, but I found it valuable, especially based on the feministic content of the book, to hear each of these characters on that more personal level. The scandal was what incited the main plot but otherwise remained somewhat of a background to the story. As the women spend the weekend at the home thinking back on the past, the narration looks back in the character's lives through the years starting from how they met and then focusing largely on the one weekend that will come to haunt them so many years later.

Another focus of this book was the discussion about women and double standards. There was discussion about the hypocrisy of society, about women in the workforce, female victims of violence, etc. The four Ms. Bradwells (as the four women are referred to) met in law school in 1979 when women were still often demeaned or looked down upon. Each of the women in the book was portrayed, despite their individual faults, as strong, independent women. There were great points made that would make this book great for book clubs. By the time I finished it I felt a sort of renewed and increased desire to achieve some of the goals I've laid out for myself and assert my independence as a woman.

There was also a lot to think about in terms of friendships. There were many times throughout when I wondered to myself how these women stayed friends throughout the years. It's pretty admirable, I think, to overcome the fights and the bad feelings that are bound to happen and to maintain that closeness they had in college. It may be that I can't relate because I don't feel I have those close bonds with anyone, but that could also be because I wouldn't put up with a lot of what these women dealt each other. So the concept of their friendship was an interesting one for me.

The Four Ms. Bradwells packed a punch that I truly wasn't expecting. Some readers may be turned away by the heaviness in the plot or the lack of fast pace. But I felt the author did a great job of pacing everything to provide the back story, allowing us to get to know these women, revealing bits of the scandal here and there, and realistically fitting this all into less than a week in the Ms. Bradwells' lives.

Definitely a read that made me feel Girl Power! ;)

You can follow the rest of the tour here.

Also, I have a copy of this book to give away!! The books will go out sometime in May when this tour is over. This giveaway is limited to the U.S./Canada. To enter, please leave your name and e-mail in the comments. I'll choose the winner in approximately 2 weeks!

Florida/Orlando Blogger Meet-Up! (Post #2)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Okay, there's a fairly good group of us who will be getting together the day of the UCF Orlando Book Festival! I don't have too many more details yet, unfortunately, but that's because we need a close estimate of how many people will be there.... it's one thing to reserve a table for 10-15, but if it gets higher and/or if people bring guests, then 30+ might be a different story!!

So, if at all possible, please let me know as soon as you can if you will be able to make it or are seriously considering it. Also, please let me know if you plan on bringing a guest! It would be great if I could hear back from everyone by April 1, 2011 so we can have a good couple weeks to find a place to meet.

The basic details are that after the UCF Orlando Book Festival, we will be meeting around 5:00 pm at a local restaurant. For those of you in the area, I'm thinking somewhere on University... Waterford Lakes area at the very farthest!

Here is a list of who all is going or who has expressed interest. If you don't see your name on here or if you would like to add a guest to your name, please let me know! (I don't know everyone's last names so I did the blog initials instead if I didn't know)

Jenny R. (+1 most likely), Heather F., Sandy N., Michelle N., Christina RTTN, Heather BA, Allison WWR, Natalie CAaBC, Liz CI, Erin IRL, Jessica M., and possibly Jen NNIR and Danielle BW.

This is Where I Leave You

Title: This is Where I Leave You
Author: Jonathan Tropper
Pages: 339
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Plume (Penguin)
Release Date: August 6, 2009

This is one of those books I that I really enjoyed, yet I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what to say about it!

I felt like, in a way, it was perfect. I loved the author's writing -- the way he put his thoughts into words. I loved his wit... his insight... his view of the world. I loved the way the book was organized... the pacing. The characters were real, crazy, likeable. And how the author managed to balance a topic that was so tender, and sometimes sad, yet also made it hilarious I don't know, but he sure did! The humor was, at times, subtle and, at other times, simply laugh-out-loud.

So now you're wondering, "but what is it about??" (at least those of you who haven't already read a ton of wonderful reviews for this). Judd Foxman is the narrator and main character. We learn at the beginning that his father has passed away and his last dying wish was that his family would sit shiva for him. For those who don't know, like I didn't, shiva is, in Judaism, the seven day period of mourning that the immediate family/first degree relatives spend together. It was sort of neat to learn about this tradition during which the family sits in low-to-the-ground mourning chairs and accepts visitors throughout the week. BUT, the problem is that Judd Foxman has quite the dysfunctional family. And he just recently caught his wife in bed with his boss. And apparently it's been going on for a while. And now she's pregnant. Oh yes, and each member of Judd's family has their respective dysfunctions that when put together makes this book so hilarious.

The book is written through the seven days the family is together. In that seven days they manage to learn more about each other (since prior to this they really hadn't spent much time together). This book sort of reminded me of the National Lampoon vacation movies -- but more dysfunctional and funnier.

There were two quotes I wanted to include that were observations I could relate to.
If they're letting her cry anyway, I don't really see the point of the baby
monitor, but that's one of those questions I've learned not to ask, because I'll
just get that condescending look all parents reserve for non-parents, to remind
you that you're not yet a complete person. p.42
No offense to parents, really, but I was able to relate to that quote quite a bit and so I thought it was hilarious. (But if you didn't find that funny, no worries, Tropper really does add quite a bit of more obvious hilarity!) Here's another I thought was fairly insightful but not one of the funny ones:
"It would be a terrible mistake to go through life thinking that people are
the sum total of what you see." p.69
The only thing I would warn readers of is the large amount of talk and reference to sex. This didn't bother me, but I do remember reading this in other reviews and there was certainly a focus on it. I wouldn't necessarily lend this to anyone very conservative.

But I definitely loved this book and am looking forward to catching up on the author's backlsit!

Night Road

Monday, March 21, 2011

Title: Night Road
Author: Kristin Hannah
Pages: 385
Genre: Fiction, Women's Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (Macmillan)
Pub. Date: March 22, 2011

I always look forward to Kristin Hannah's books. There's a level of comfort I get from them, or maybe it's the dependability that I will become ensconced in the warmth of yet another great story, the ultimate "take me away". Once again she did not disappoint as she brought the story of Night Road, one of grief and love, of freedom and choices, forgiveness, and the complexities of motherhood.

Night Road tells the story of Jude Farraday and her twin teenagers, Zach and Mia. They, along with the father, Miles, live the perfect life. They have tons of friends, live in a great community full of opportunities. Zach is the popular kid that everyone likes and who always has a girlfriend; unfortunately, his twin sister, Mia, is the quintessential loner, very reserved, and lacking in the friend department. In their freshman year of high school, they meet fellow classmate, Lexi, and Mia and Lexi become immediate best friends. Lexi has spent her life bouncing around from foster home to foster home while her mother comes in and out of her life, but she soon becomes part of the Farraday family. The only "rule" of sorts is that Lexi remain friends with Mia and not become romantically involved with Zach considering what happened to Mia the last time her friend dated Zach and then disappeared all together once she and Zach broke up.

Senior year brings some challenges for the Farraday family, as Jude struggles with allowing her children more freedom and learning to trust in their decision making. Jude revels in the fact that her children are headed off to a great college, but Zach and Mia struggle with their decision regarding college and where, exactly, they want to go. All this struggle and worry is later realized to be merely trifling, when some bad decisions change everything. Without revealing anything, the decision completely changes the lives of all involved. It causes the characters to question their identity, their life, their purpose.

Besides being yet another engaging story with great characters, it also gave a lot of food for thought. It was interesting, especially at my age, to see things from both the points of view of the teenagers and the mother. After all, I fall somewhere in the middle and can relate to both sides. This book definitely brought about memories of being a teenager, making friends, trying to fit in, and eventually trying to gain some freedom. But then I was also able to somewhat empathize with the experience of a mother in that situation, wanting the best for her children and feeling scared when that potential is threatened. After the "change" occurs, I found myself becoming so frustrated with Jude's character. I felt she was so hateful and can't imagine myself ever having such vehemence. But then, her emotions were so raw that there may have been a truth to them that I'm just too naive to understand at this point. I did find the progression of the characters and the pacing of the story to be really effective. My husband caught me crying at different parts of this book. It was pretty intense at times and sometimes sorrowful; and my emotions roiled right along with the characters' which indicated, to me, my dedication to them.

I'm happy to say I really enjoyed Hannah's latest. All of her fans will surely enjoy this as well, and other readers of women's fiction will find a great addition to their array of favorite authors.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Title: Inconceivable
Subtitle: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our CHoice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift
Author: Carolyn & Sean Savage
Pages: 304
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Harper One (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: February 14, 2011

is Carolyn & Sean's true story of being mistakenly inseminated with another couple's embryos during an IVF procedure. In so doing, Carolyn unwittingly becomes a surrogate mother for this other couple's child while giving away her last opportunity, due to her age, for a healthy pregnancy that could have borne another child.

I had read about this story in PEOPLE magazine a while ago and was interested to learn more. Despite being a full memoir length, I still was as interested as I was in the original article I read. In terms of readability, this book was engaging and flowed well through the nine month experience and then some. It was broken up into four parts (first, second, third, and yes, a fourth, trimester) that had several chapters each. Each chapter has a part told from Carolyn's point of view and a part from Sean's. I had a couple adverse reactions that I realize were completely personal. For whatever reason, I naturally related more to the other couple in the situation and that led me to feel that the authors were unfairly harsh about them. There was a lot of anger expressed towards them for not being more grateful to the Savages for maintaining the pregnancy, for automatically assuming the child was completely theirs. There was talk about how the Savages were doing, it seems, a favor by not fighting for custody. (!!!) It might be that, dealing with infertility myself, I may have felt judgmental because this couple already has three children which made it difficult for me to relate since I have yet to have one. Of course, then I realized the other couple also already has two as well. But it still seemed like there was a lack of empathy for what the other couple must have felt, their embryos being essentially given away, the life of their child solely dependent on this couple. That aspect frustrated me.

But, ultimately, I do agree that this family did do something great for the other couple by essentially risking Carolyn's health by bringing their child to term. And just because the child wasn't genetically theirs, they treated the child as though he was and continue to feel they will always love this child as their own. And while I feel judgmental about their reactions about the other family and the way they were painted, I don't know the other couple and it's possible their judgments about them were more accurate than I realize. The situation was extremely unfair to both couples and neither one was really in a worse situation than the other in my opinion.

Those more religious readers may appreciate that aspect of this book, as the Savages are Catholic and talk, not too significantly but somewhat, about how this affected their decisions. They also talked about the things they didn't like people to say to them like "it's all God's plan". Despite their religious background, they felt offended by the fact that God would have planned such difficulties for them. So that aspect of the Savage's experience was definitely insightful as an outsider to better understand the totality of the emotional toll this took on them. I mean, I cannot imagine the horror of, after desperately hoping to become pregnant, becoming so with another person's child that you have to give away after enduring an entire pregnancy. But then, the religious aspect was also frustrating, as the Catholic stance is that these fertility treatments are immoral. No one dealing with infertility wants to hear that. (And trust me, I had a friend tell me that once...)

Overall this was a well-done book for anyone interested in more details about the situation. I will say as a note for those dealing with infertility to just be aware of whether you really want to spend that much time reading about pregnancy and babies etc. I think I overestimated my "okay-ness" with it and by the end I was definitely looking forward to a complete escape from the topic!

The Tiger's Wife

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Title: The Tiger's Wife
Author: Tea Obreht
Pages: 338
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: March 8, 2011

The Tiger's Wife was a highly anticipated book in the publishing industry largely due to the talented author, Tea Obreht, who made it on The New Yorker's list of top 20 writers under 40. (She's only 25!!) Though her work has appeared in various publications, this is her debut novel for which she's received acclaim.

Unfortunately, for me, while I can appreciate the author's literary talent, the experience of reading this book brought me back to the days of reading classics in high school. I know it's good and well-received. All the big honchos in the literary world love it. Yet, I ultimately fail to grasp the full meaning behind it. I feel it hovering around me, but can't quite put it all together. There were parts of the book that somewhat captivated me, but these parts alternated with sprawling descriptions and tangents from which I fell away, lost interest. And though I say I didn't get some of it, I did feel that I understood most of it up until the end, which I didn't get, and at which point I realized maybe I hadn't, in fact, understood anything.

The Tiger's Wife is a novel steeped in superstitions, rituals, and stories passed on through generations and has the theme of death coursing throughout. Natalia and her friend, Zora, both doctors, are traveling to an orphanage in Brejevina (somewhere in the Balkan peninsula) to provide the children with much needed medication. After being paged about eight times by her grandmother, Natalia stops at a pay phone to call and learns that her grandfather has passed away. Natalia knew her grandfather was sick, but at his request, kept this secret from the family. The grandfather, meanwhile, had told his wife and daughter that he was on his way to meet up with Natalia. She was unaware of an impending visit and had never even heard of the city, Zdrevkov, where her grandfather spent his last days.

Throughout the book, Natalia reflects back to the stories her grandfather told her about growing up. As a young girl, she and her grandfather made weekly trips to the zoo to watch the tigers. The grandfather would read to Natalie from The Jungle Book which he always kept in his shirt pocket. Though we learn a lot about the grandfather's past and the village where he grew up, a large focus is on that of "the deathless man" and of "the tiger's wife" which aren't so much stories but actual moments from his past. What I'm told, (through plot synopses by the publisher) is that through reflecting back on these stories, Natalia learns more about her grandfather and the secrets he kept.

I will say that when I started writing this review, I had no clue what the ending was supposed to signify about anything. But during the process of writing this I literally had an "ah-ha" moment of insight about the end and how that tied in to the story overall, though I still don't know what the tiger's wife had to do with it. I would actually really like to discuss this book with others because I think it may contribute a lot to my understanding which would lead me to appreciate it that much more.

Overall, The Tiger's Wife had some beautifully written passages and was an atmospheric story that reflected on the themes of death and superstitions, but I wouldn't necessarily consider it accessible to the casual reader.

Emily and Einstein

Monday, March 14, 2011

Title: Emily and Einstein
Author: Linda Francis Lee
Pages: 356
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pub. Date: March 1, 2011

Emily and Einstein was sort of a departure from the books I've been reading lately, mainly because of the element of magical realism which you'll see in an upcoming review is not really me. But as I mentioned, the cover absolutely drew me in, and I loved the dog on the cover who sort of reminds me of my dog, Lily. And the premise sounded interesting enough, so I picked it up. (Awesome job, whoever designed the cover!)

I've found some of the plot synopses online to be lacking and deceptively vague in the main elements of this novel, so don't think I'm spoiling anything! I promise this is literally the basic premise of the novel. Emily and her husband, Sandy, live at the Dakota, a prestigious building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Emily works as an editor for a publishing house and volunteers at an animal shelter after work. Sandy is successful in his work as a businessman. Unbeknownst to Emily, though, Sandy is the ultimate jerk of a husband who happens to be on his way to meet her to ask for a divorce. (Well, demand, really... Sandy's not the nicest guy). On his way there, Sandy dies in an accident. This is where the magical realism comes in, as Sandy is given a "second chance" to make things right with Emily by re-entering life as a dog. As it happens, a cute, loveable dog (see the cover).

What Sandy, now known as Einstein, is supposed to do to compensate for who he was as a human isn't really ever specified. But Emily and Einstein of course end up together. Einstein witnesses Emily's downward spiral as she grieves her husband while also having to put up with her elitist mother-in-law taking back the family apartment, evicting Emily in the process. As time moves on, Emily also starts learning that Sandy never was this great guy he made her believe he was. As if it's not hard enough to grieve the loss of her husband, Emily now has to deal with the loss of who she thought she knew and the accompanying betrayal.

Emily and Einstein turned out to be a cute and surprisingly thoughtful book that, despite some minor gripes, I really enjoyed. Let me tell you my gripes first..

I found some of the characters either inconsistent or unrealistic. In the beginning, Emily is this smart, almost powerhouse of a woman, who puts even the haughty Alexander Sandy Regal Portman at unease with her surety. Yet, she falls for a no-good guy and never sees through him which I felt like her character should have, at least eventually. Realistically, I suppose this type of thing does happen in real life all the time, but I just felt like the way her character was portrayed in the beginning she would have known better. And I don't feel like her insight as it relates to him improved at all even by the end. Another gripe, I could not STAND Sandy. I think by the end the reader is supposed to like him a little more or at least understand him, but I didn't see any genuine change happen with him. I think whatever change there was happened too last minute for me to believe it. It was so strange that I liked the thought of Einstein the dog, but hated Sandy's character which really was Einstein. One other gripe, there is a romantic interest in the story that I thought happened real suddenly. There lacked, for me, a natural progression. It was just all of a sudden they were acting like they fell in love and it didn't make sense to me.

But I did say I enjoyed this book. Overall the story was fun. The chapters alternate in narration from Emily to Einstein/Sandy and it is separated by font changes (this visual change really did help with the switch of characters in my mind). I liked reading about Emily's job in a publishing house and I bet most readers will enjoy that aspect and seeing her going through the process of buying a book, trying to market it, etc. And while this book wasn't replete with quotable moments, I did find a few relatable ones like the one below.
I don't remember exactly when books became my refuge, but it was in the pages of a world created out of thin air that I began to find pieces I recognized as myself. In books I found characters so real that they were more my friends than the children with whom I went to school. In the stories I loved, I found adults wiser than the ones who laughed and argued in my mother's living room. (pg. 132)
One of the topics that this book brought up was how we make people out to be who we think they are rather than seeing them for who they really are. It also made the point about how we define ourselves. Do we do so by our specific accomplishments or how we treat others? How happy we are with ourselves? There was a side storyline involving Emily's sister and mother that helped contribute to this topic, as did the storyline with Sandy's mother -- I really liked the outcome of that one.

So in all, Emily and Einstein was fun and thoughtful. Some of what I felt were discrepancies in the character development took from the reading, but the storyline overall and the thinking points made this book a good read.

The author, Linda Francis Lee, will be chatting with readers at a live event/book party on on March 15, 2011 at 1:00 pm.

Bringing Adam Home: UCF Orlando Book Festival Spotlight

Friday, March 11, 2011

I was fortunate recently to read and review Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America by Les Standiford and Sgt. Joe Matthews. I thought the details of the twenty-seven year long investigation were sadly riveting. There's a lot about that investigation I was not aware of. Les Standiford chronicled an important case that ultimately impacted the country in many ways.

Les Standiford is the author of 15 books, both fiction and non-fiction. I didn't realize it until I was reading his bio, but I have another of his books on my TBR, The Man Who Invented Christmas about Charles Dickens and his writing of A Christmas Carol.

A little more about Les Standiford from the UCF Book Festival website:

Booklist called John Deal, the recurring series character in many of Standiford's novels, "the most emotionally centered protagonist in crime fiction today," and the New York Times has said of his suspense writing, "each scene is like a little gasp for breath." Standiford edited and contributed to The Putt at the End of the World (2001) and edited the anthology of crime fiction Miami Noir (2006). He also authored one of the chapters in the national best-selling satire, Naked Came the Manatee (1998), with Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen and others.

Les Standiford has received the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, the Frank O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. A native Ohioan, he is a graduate of Muskingum College and holds the M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Utah. He is Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami, where he lives with his wife Kimberly, a psychotherapist, and their three children, Jeremy, Hannah, and Alexander.

And the synopsis for his book from the same website (in case you missed the link to my review up top) ;)

Before Adam Walsh there were no faces on milk cartons, no Amber Alerts, no National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, no federal databases of crimes against children, no pedophile registry. His 1981 abduction and murder—unsolved for over a quarter of a century—forever changed America.

One sunny July morning in 1981, Revé Walsh and her six-year-old son Adam stopped by the local Sears to pick up some new lamps. Enchanted by a video game at the store's entrance, Adam begged Revé to let him try it out while she shopped. When she returned a few minutes later, Adam was gone.

The shock of Adam's murder, and of the inability of the police and the FBI to find his killer, radically altered American innocence and our ideas about childhood. Gone forever were the days when parents would allow their kids out of the house with the casual instruction "Be home by dark!"

Revé and John Walsh—who would go on to create America's Most Wanted—became advocates for the transformation of law enforcement's response to and handling of such cases. Prompted by the Walshes' activism, Congress passed the Missing Children Act in 1982, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was founded in 1984.

While our lives have been significantly altered by Adam Walsh's case, few of us know the whole story—how, after more than twenty-seven years of relentless investigation, decorated Miami Beach homicide detective Joe Matthews finally identified Adam's killer.

Bringing Adam Home is the definitive account of this horrifying crime—which, like the Lindbergh kidnapping fifty years earlier, captured public attention—and its aftermath, a true story of tragedy, love, faith, and dedication. It reveals the pain and tenacity of a family determined to find justice, the failed police work that allowed a killer to remain uncharged, and the determined efforts of one cop who accomplished what an entire legal system could not. As harrowing as In Cold Blood, yet ultimately uplifting, Bringing Adam Home is the riveting story of a triumph of justice and the enduring power of love.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks GIVEAWAY!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pulitzer Prize Winning author of March, Year of Wonders, and People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks, has a new book coming out in May of 2011, Caleb's Crossing (read synopsis below).

Thanks to the publisher, I have TWO galleys (advanced copies) to give away to two readers of Take Me Away. To enter just fill out the form at the bottom of this page! (I will choose winners on March 26, 2011). Also included below is a Q & A with the author about the book.

A richly imagined new novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller, People of the Book.

Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.

Like Brooks's beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha's Vineyard and the intimate spaces of the human heart. Evocative and utterly absorbing, Caleb's Crossing further establishes Brooks's place as one of our most acclaimed novelists.

Q&A with Geraldine Brooks, author of


Caleb Cheeshahteamauk is an extraordinary figure in Native American history. How did you first discover him? What was involved in learning more about his life?

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head/Aquinnah are proud custodians of their history, and it was in materials prepared by the Tribe that I first learned of its illustrious young scholar. To find out more about him I talked with tribal members, read translations of early documents in the Wopanaak language, then delved into the archives of Harvard and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially the correspondence between colonial leaders and benefactors in England who donated substantial funds for the education and conversion to Christianity of Indians in the 17th century. There are also writings by members of the Mayhew family, who were prominent missionaries and magistrates on the island, and John Cotton, Jr., who came here as a missionary and kept a detailed journal.

There is little documentation on Caleb’s actual life. What parts of his life did you imagine? Do you feel you know him better after writing this book, or is he still a mystery?

The facts about Caleb are sadly scant. We know he was the son of a minor sachem from the part of the Vineyard now known as West Chop, and that he left the island to attend prep school, successfully completed the rigorous course of study at Harvard and was living with Thomas Danforth, a noted jurist and colonial leader, when disease claimed his life. Everything else about him in my novel is imagined. The real young man—what he thought and felt—remains an enigma.

Bethia Mayfield is truly a woman ahead of her time. If she were alive today, what would she be doing? What would her life be like with no restrictions?

There were more than a few 17th century women like Bethia, who thirsted for education and for a voice in a society that demanded their silence. You can find some of them being dragged to the meeting house to confess their “sins” or defending their unconventional views in court. If Bethia was alive today she would probably be president of Harvard or Brown, Princeton or UPenn.

The novel is told through Bethia’s point of view. What is the advantage to telling this story through her eyes? How would the book be different if Caleb were the narrator?

I wanted the novel to be about crossings between cultures. So as Caleb is drawn into the English world, I wanted to create an English character who would be equally drawn to and compelled by his world. I prefer to write with a female narrator when I can, and I wanted to explore issues of marginalization in gender as well as race.

Much of the book is set on Martha’s Vineyard, which is also your home. Did you already know about the island’s early history, or did you do additional research?

I was always intrigued by what brought English settlers to the island so early in the colonial period...they settled here in the 1640s. Living on an island is inconvenient enough even today; what prompted the Mayhews and their followers to put seven miles of treacherous ocean currents between them and the other English—to choose to live in a tiny settlement surrounded by some three thousand Wampanoags? The answer was unexpected and led me into a deeper exploration of island history

You bring Harvard College to life in vivid, often unpleasant detail. What surprised you most about this prestigious university’s beginnings?

For one thing, I hadn't been aware Harvard was founded so early. The English had barely landed before they started building a college. And the Indian College—a substantial building—went up not long after, signifying an attitude of mind that alas did not prevail for very long. It was fun to learn how very different early Harvard was from the well endowed institution of today. Life was hand to mouth, all conversation was in Latin, the boys (only boys) were often quite young when they matriculated. But the course of study was surprisingly broad and rigorous—a true exploration of liberal arts, languages, and literature that went far beyond my stereotype of what Puritans might have considered fit subjects for scholarship.

As with your previous books, you’ve managed to capture the voice of the period. You get the idiom, dialect, and cadence of the language of the day on paper. How did you do your research?

I find the best way to get a feel for language and period is to read first person accounts—journals, letters, court transcripts. Eventually you start to hear voices in your head: patterns of speech, a different manner of thinking. My son once said, Mom talks to ghosts. And in a way I do.

May 2011, Tiffany Smalley will follow in Caleb’s footsteps and become only the second Vineyard Wampanoag to graduate from Harvard. Do you know if this will be celebrated?

In May Tiffany Smalley will become the first Vineyard Wampanoag since Caleb to receive an undergrad degree from Harvard College. (Others have received advanced degrees from the university’s Kennedy school etc.) I’m not sure what Harvard has decided to do at this year's commencement, but I am hoping they will use the occasion to honor Caleb’s fellow Wampanoag classmate, Joel Iacoomis, who completed the work for his degree but was murdered before he could attended the 1665 commencement ceremony.

I Beat the Odds

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Title: I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond
Author: Michael Oher with Don Yaeger
Pages: 246
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Gotham Books (Penguin)
Pub. Date: February 8, 2011

Unless you just completely don't keep up with pop culture in any way (which there's nothing wrong with), you've likely heard of the movie, The Blind Side, based on Michael Lewis's book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. Sandra Bullock won/was nominated for a variety of awards for best actress for her role in the movie. In brief, in case you aren't aware, The Blind Side, is the story of Michael Oher who went from being homeless to being adopted by the Tuohy family and ultimately overcoming his difficult past by finishing high school and college and being drafted into the NFL by the Baltimore Ravens. While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, as did mostly everyone I know who saw it, I felt as though the movie focused largely on the Tuohy family and their taking Oher in. I wanted to know more about Oher and his thoughts on everything portrayed in The Blind Side, be it his thoughts on the situation in real life or his thoughts on how the movie portrayed him.

Though written in a slightly amateurish, conversational tone that is at times repetitive, I Beat the Odds did provide the additional insight into Oher's life that I was seeking. He gave more detail about his life growing up, what it was like moving from house to house, being raised by a mother who was addicted to drugs, and being tracked down constantly by the Department of Children's Services (DCS). As a former case worker for Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF), I did find Oher's childhood perception of DCS to be interesting. Of course, as an adult he realizes that his case worker was trying to help, but as a child he thought of his case worker as someone his family had to run from. I don't know if I've read anything yet that gave me the insight into growing up in foster homes as this book did. I was able to emphasize with Oher's feelings of being unloved in these homes despite being treated well. There really is something to be said about that feeling of belonging that all people, but especially children, need. He also provided some sad truths about the down side of some foster homes.

In a way, this book wasn't directed towards readers in general but more towards foster children or those who specifically look up to Oher. This did slightly take away from the reading experience, but at the same time, I respect Oher's purpose. He has apparently received lots of mail from children who are in the situation he used to be (some of which he quotes in the book). He appears to have written this book as inspiration for them. He wants other children in similar situations to feel encouraged to aspire for more than they are often relegated and to overcome the somber statistics for children in foster care. He also makes it a point to describe throughout how much effort he put into his success and the attitude he had to maintain. He provides tips for overcoming the difficult situations such as finding a mentor, carefully choosing friends, etc. I have a high amount of respect for Oher for being able to decide what he wanted in life and doing what was necessary to achieve it. Some of the things he did, such as only maintaining friendships with those who had positive influences, was a great depiction of his character.

There was a small part where I worried he would lead others to believe that they, too, could become professional athletes. Even though he worked very hard to get there, there still has to be the understanding that there was a great mixture of talent and luck that got him where he is. Not every child who is athletically talented will make it nearly as far as he did. But after a while I changed my mind about him saying this specifically. And what I appreciated was that even though he excelled in sports, he emphasized the critical need for academic success in addition to his athletics. He worked vigorously at improving his academics, especially since, as a child, it was fairly optional for him to go to school. He never had anyone teach him the importance of education, so this was something he had to learn for himself and then try to catch up with others his age. I get that memoirs are often self-serving, but I do believe these things about the efforts he put into these parts of his life.

On an interesting side note, Oher mentions in the book that one of the parts of the movie that weren't true to life were the parts where the Tuohy's taught him about football and how to play. He describes how he spent his whole life observing and studying athletes so he could imitate their skills. I'm not sure why they changed this in the movie, but I did feel bad for him for that because I can imagine, considering how big a deal sports play in his life, to be depicted as someone who had to learn these concepts from his adopted family must have been frustrating and possibly embarrassing. This also fits into my thoughts that the movie focused on the great deed of the Tuohy family rather than on the actual life of Oher. (That's not to say I didn't really enjoy the movie or respect the family though!)

In all this was a short, but interesting read and one that would be great to pass on to those younger people in our lives!

Florida/Orlando Blogger Meet-Up!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I know a bunch of us have been wanting to do this for a while! Michelle from My Books.My Life made the wonderful suggestion of having our first Florida get-together the day of the upcoming UCF Orlando Book Festival on April 16th. The event is free to anyone who attends so why not go to that and then join up with all of us for dinner afterward?

Details are to be announced, but we are thinking of meeting up for dinner around 5:00 pm somewhere near UCF.

Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at jennala(at)cfl(dot)rr(dot)com to let me know if you think you might be able to join! I know there are a bunch of us right in the Orlando area, but it would be awesome if bloggers from other parts of Florida could make it too...!

And spread the word!!

The Weird Sisters

Monday, March 7, 2011

Title: The Weird Sisters
Author: Eleanor Brown
Pages: 318
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Amy Einhorn (Penguin)
Pub. Date: January 20, 2011

The Weird Sisters has been all abuzz in the blogosphere and publishing industry. All the other blogger reviews I've read have spouted adoringly about this debut novel, and I can now say that I have also had the pleasure of absolutely reveling in this fantastic book as well.

The Weird Sisters (which is actually a Shakespearean reference) is a story about a family with three adult daughters who return home when their mother is diagnosed with cancer. That description, though, is too mild, too plain, and not completely accurate. That alone wouldn't bring me to read this book. Here are some reasons why this book is set apart from all those other stories about adult children returning home.

A Family of Readers: Most readers and book-lovers seem to love reading about characters who love reading. Books abound in the Andreas household. A common scene is the family sitting around reading books. Whenever they go somewhere, each family member automatically takes a book with them. In their love for books, it was inevitable that I would love this family and these characters. In one scene, Bianca "Bean" is explaining to a boyfriend how she has time to read a few hundred books a year:
"How do you have time" he asked, gobsmacked.
She narrowed her eyes and considered the array of potential answers in front of her. Because I don't spend hours flipping through cable complaining there's nothing on? Because my entire Sunday is not eaten up with pre-game, in-game, and post-game talking heads? Because I do not spend every night drinking overpriced beer and engaging in dick-swinging contests with the other financirati? Because when I am waiting in line, at the gym, on the train, eating lunch, I am not complaining about the wait/staring into space/admiring myself in available reflective surfaces? I am reading!
"'I don't know," she said, shrugging. (pg. 70)
Loved that part!! (Although, a few hundred is quite a lot!)

I had heard this book was full of Shakespeare references and was afraid I wouldn't enjoy the reading experience because I wouldn't get them. I shouldn't have been worried at all! Turns out it ended up being quite a charming and unique addition to the story without requiring the reader to really have much knowledge of him at all. The father of the Andreas girls is a Shakespearean scholar so he can quote lines from any Shakespeare play whenever it applies to the situation, just like fans of pop culture who can insert a funny movie quote into any situation (my husband), or a song lyric. And because they've grown up with their father doing so, and in their father obsessing over "the Bard", the Andreas girls can and do the same. The quotes were all italicized so the reader knew it was a specific quote. I loved how Brown used quotes that fit perfectly into the situation, and I just loved how the family used them. For example, in the prologue:
"The second was from our father. He communicates almost exclusively through pages copied from The Riverside Shakespeare. The pages are so heavily annotated with decades of thoughts, of interpretations, that we can barely make out the lines of text he highlights. But it matters not; we have been nurse and nurtured on the plays, and the slightest reminder brings the language back.

Come, let us go; and pray to all the gods/For our beloved mother in her pains. And this is how Cordy knew our mother had cancer. This is how she knew we had to come home." (pg. 3)
What I thought was also funny is that even though they've grown up with it, even the daughters don't always know what he's talking about when uses a Shakespeare quote. In a couple parts, he would say something and they'd respond with the equivalent of "huh?!" That made it more realistic and better able for me to relate to them. And I thought it was great that I kept finding really great quotable Shakespeare too while reading this.
"This above all: to thine own self be true , and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. He reached across the table and patted her hand and then picked up his book again."
Conversation finis.
Thanks, Polonius.
This Really is Not a Dysfunctional Family/a "belated coming-of-age": There are so many dysfunctional family stories out there, and this is almost advertised as one. But I found it to be refreshingly not so dysfunctional. Just like the tagline says, the sisters love each other but don't like each other. I didn't even see it so much as them not liking each other. They were just different. And there's nothing wrong with that. They may not have been super-close, but they still wholly loved each other. I thought Brown did a fantastic job of depicting each character and their nuances. She did a great job of reflecting the effects of the theory of birth order and how we can easily allow it to define who we are. In her author q & a, Brown refers to the story as a "belated coming-of-age". I love that definition. I think we "come of age" many times in our life so I was happy to see a story about this happening to people my age. I mentioned earlier that the fact they came home because of their mother having cancer wasn't completely accurate. It's as though her cancer coincided with other issues that were leading them back home anyway. Their mother's illness, then, served as their excuse to return home without having to own up to any failures they feel they may have had. But come home they did, and I loved all the ways this family interacted with each other.

First Person, Plural: It's an interesting tense to use. I thought it might be weird but it didn't bother me at all. Unique, but worked perfectly for this book, as the story was being narrated by all three sisters.

Those were all the things that made this specific story unique and special. But it couldn't have been told by just anyone. Although this is Eleanor Brown's debut novel, she's no novice at writing and it's obvious. Her writing style and prose really brought the story to life. She ultimately took a story where nothing really significant happens and made it a fun and endearing character and family study. It's funny, because as I was reading this, I compared the writing to that of Maeve Binchy (which I've done on this blog only one other time) because of the way I felt for the characters and the story. Then I read Brown's author q & a where she said she learned from Maeve Binchy's writing how to weave together multiple storylines. Turns out I was spot on in my comparison! I loved the prose and word choice; Brown's writing is exactly how I hope to write one day.

The Weird Sisters
is one of those books that you will want to embrace and keep nearby, even after you finish reading it -- a very beautifully and well-written novel of sisters, family, and finding oneself.

Silver Sparrow: UCF Orlando Book Festival Spotlight

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Every time I look through the list of authors for this event I get so excited! I cannot believe the number of interesting books I have, for whatever reason, not heard of. One of those authors whose books I have yet to read (but that I am very excited to) is Tayari Jones. (In fact, I already added her debut, Leaving Atlanta, to my TBR because it sounded so great, and I hope to read it by the time I meet her). Ms. Jones is a highly acclaimed author and looks like someone to keep your eye out for!

According to her website, she grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and uses this as the setting for her books. She currently works as an Assistant Professor for the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University. Her debut, Leaving Atlanta, (aforementioned) is a fictional story about the real life child murders in Atlanta from 1979-1981. Don't know how I never heard about that but that's crazy. I'm definitely intrigued by the book.

Now about her newest book... Silver Sparrow comes out May 31, 2011 and looks like yet another one that I must read.

Synopsis from

With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.

Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters—the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle—she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another’s lives.

At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers—think Toni Morrison with The Bluest Eye—Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.

Sounds good, doesn't it!!

Cover Love: Emily and Einstein

Friday, March 4, 2011

I don't have this book (yet) but I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up in my house sometime soon just because of the beautiful cover! I love the pink and the adorable jack russell (I'm sort of biased towards jack russels..)

Plus, it takes place in NYC and that's always a plus for me.

Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction that Changed America

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Title: Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction that Changed America
Author: Les Standiford with Det. Sgt. Joe Matthews
Pages: 304
Genre: Non-Fiction, Crime
Publisher: Ecco (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: March 1, 2011

Most people are familiar with the case of Adam Walsh, the six-year-old boy who was kidnapped and murdered in 1981. His father, John Walsh, went on to host America's Most Wanted, but for 27 years, the murder of his own son remained unsolved. In Bringing Adam Home, Les Standiford, along with Det. Sgt. Joe Matthews, who ultimately solved the cold case, chronicle the investigation from the moment of Adam's abduction in July of 1981.

Despite various newspapers publishing various articles about the case throughout the past three decades, very few people actually had all the facts. They're finally revealed in full in this book. I was astonished as I read this. The mistakes that were made all throughout the case from the very beginning through every step of the way were astounding. I found myself shaking my head and rolling my eyes at the way certain people handled the investigation. It's easy to forget that detectives, just like everyone else, are humans with all the same variety of traits that other people have be it motives, laziness, etc. It truly takes the passion and hard work of a dedicated investigator to solve cases. And the murder of Adam Walsh is one that could have been proven years earlier if more effort had just been put into it.

If anything is to have come of Adam Walsh's horrific abduction, it is that America started paying attention and changes were made in the system to better protect children. It's scary that as recently as the 80's, none of the things we take for granted now were in place such as Amber Alerts, a national sex offender registry, any national databases of missing children, or even the ability for police departments to share information about missing or exploited children without difficulty. As with all other movements and laws to protect children, they have come about at a time when, in retrospect, it was barbaric that they weren't in existence already. In the book, Standiford discusses how at the time of Adam Walsh's abduction, more legal manpower was placed on missing vehicles than on missing children. It sounds so backward now. But we have Adam's parents, John and Reve Walsh to thank for advocating for children in the nation so that we are better able to protect them. Although this book's focus was really the investigation, which is sadly interesting enough with all the scandal associated with it, I also learned a little more about the laws that were enacted to protect children over the last 25 years. Some of them were very recent too.

As for the writing style, I really enjoyed Standiford's voice. Of course, I really don't know what was written by Standiford and what by Matthews, but the incredulous voice of the author made the narrative engaging. It felt like I was having a serious conversation with a very well-informed friend. The conclusion to the investigation, the ultimate piece of evidence, will absolutely shock you if you don't already know what it is. But it might disgust you too. Just beware that you are going into a book about a child who suffered a very violent crime. Det. Matthews should be considered a hero for his dedication to this case (not to mention the work he has put into solving so many other crimes). It's really devastating that it took 27 years to solve this murder, especially when it likely could have been done so a year after it happened. But this book is important in demonstrating how an investigation can go wrong and what it takes to protect our children. I was riveted by the detailed chronology of events depicted by Standiford and Matthews. Anyone who has had any interest in this case will enjoy this book, as well as anyone interested in child protection or true crime.