Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Date Published: August 2, 2011
ISBN: 978-0307395047
Publisher: Broadway Paperbacks
Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5

Book Summary:  Nobody in Nashville has a bigger name to live up to than Bezellia Grove. As a Grove, she belongs to one of city’s most prominent families and is expected to embrace her position in high society. That means speaking fluent French, dancing at cotillions with boys from other important families, and mastering the art of the perfect smile.

Also looming large is her given name Bezellia, which has been passed down for generations to the first daughter born to the eldest Grove. The others in the long line of Bezellias shortened the ancestral name to Bee, Zee or Zell. But Bezellia refuses all nicknames and dreams that one day she, too, will be remembered for her original namesake’s courage and passion.

Though she leads a life of privilege, being a Grove is far from easy. Her mother hides her drinking but her alcoholism is hardly a secret. Her father, who spends long hours at work, is distant and inaccessible. For as long as she can remember, she’s been raised by Maizelle, the nanny, and Nathaniel, the handyman. To Bezellia, Maizelle and Nathaniel are cherished family members. To her parents, they will never be more than servants.

Relationships are complicated in 1960s Nashville, where society remains neatly ordered by class, status and skin color. Black servants aren’t supposed to eat at the same table as their white employers. Black boys aren’t supposed to make conversation with white girls. And they certainly aren’t supposed to fall in love. When Bezellia has a clandestine affair with Nathaniel’s son, Samuel, their romance is met with anger and fear from both families. In a time and place where rebelling against the rules carries a steep price, Bezellia Grove must decide which of her names will be the one that defines her

My Thoughts:  I loved The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove. Susan Gregg Gilmore has written a poignant, funny and wonderful novel about growing up and figuring out who you are. The star of this book, without a doubt, is her main character and narrator Bezellia Louise Grove. Bezellia is an authentic, passionate and remarkable young woman growing up in Nashville in the ’60s, trying to figure out who she is and what life is all about. The Grove Family is one of the oldest families in Nashville, a fact Bezellia’s mother, Elizabeth, never tires of talking about since social standing of the utmost importance to her (never mind she‘s a Grove by marriage only). An affluent lifestyle was also of great importance to Bezellia’s mother. She made sure her family lived in accord with their social standing. Elizabeth spends most of her time pruning her roses, drinking gin tonics all afternoon through the night and trying to reach the top of the social ladder.

Bezellia’s earliest memories include being cared for, bathed and fed by “dark skinned” people not by her mother. She's felt her mother's lack of love in several other ways, too. Bezellia’s mother detests the name Bezellia, refusing to call Bezellia by her name, calling her “Sister” instead, a moniker that “summed up her distaste for my name and her inadequate affection for me”. Elizabeth didn't consider it important to care for Bezellia or her younger sister, Adelaide or show them love. Bezellia desperately wanted to be loved by her mother. Bezellia believed for many years that it was her fault her mother didn’t love her so she tried to please her mother and thereby gain her love. When she's 14, for example, Bezellia offered to ‘babysit’ Adelaide the entire summer believing her mother might “love her a little more”.

Bezellia’s mother didn’t act as if she loved Bezellia’s father, Charles, either. He was a doctor and a quiet, distant man who spent more time at the hospital than at home. Bezellia knew her father loved her but she didn’t know him very well. Bezellia and Adelaide get the love and security they deserve from their parents with Maizelle, the family’s cook and housekeeper and Nathaniel, the man who took care of Grove Hill and anything else Elizabeth demanded. Bezellia loved Maizelle and Nathaniel like they were family. Maizelle and especially Nathaniel are terrific characters and, after Bezellia, my favorite people in this book. It upset her to no end the way her mother disrespected them. Bezellia was just a little girl when she understood that no white man would tolerate Elizabeth speaking to them the way she did to Nathaniel. Elizabeth’s rudeness was compounded in late afternoons by the gin & tonics she drank until passing out late at night. Alcohol made Elizabeth nasty.

Her parents dysfunction, her mother’s selfish, mean disposition and her lack of love might be expected to cause Bezellia to be quiet, withdrawn and sullen. Bezellia, though, was a strong, outgoing, vibrant young woman with an agile, intelligent mind who was interested in the world and other people and had a lot of love to give. No matter how mean her mother was to Bezellia and the people she loved, Bezellia embraced life. Her cousin Cornelia, three years older than Bezellia was her great friend and confidante. Cornelia taught her about boys and the fun side of life. The scenes with Bezellia and Cornelia are some of the more amusing, humorous scenes in this book. Bezellia’s Uncle Thad (Cornelia’s father) is another terrific secondary character who offers Bezellia the love and support she needs.

Growing up is rarely without its difficulties. A tragic accident in the family deeply effects everyone and will haunt Bezellia for years. An ill-conceived romance, strongly discouraged even by the people Bezellia depends on and loves, opens her eyes to the issues and problems of racism. But the heart wants what it wants and this relationship will cause Bezellia to feel great joy and terrible sadness as she tries to figure out what to do. Bezellia strongly disagrees with southern society’s rigid idea that one’s place in the social hierarchy is predicated on an individual’s class, status and skin color long before anything changes in this area.

Bezellia, possessed of an open and curious mind, is a little ahead of her time in other areas, too and not simply because she was been born in the south. When she goes away to college, for instance, she will also learn about women’s liberation issues and the fight for equality. She gets involved with an organization promoting women's rights while at college but problems at home, such as her mother's mental health, require Bezellia's attention. Still, Bezellia returns home a different young woman than the one who left. In a way, she understands her mother better and feels for her but she’s also irritated by her mother’s close-minded, childish behavior. It’s a tremendous shock for Bezellia when she learns some surprising secrets about her mother’s past. When she recovers from the shock, though, Bezellia sees her mother differently and understands that her mother has been deeply troubled and unhappy for most of her life.

I felt so many different emotions while reading this amazing book. I cried for Bezellia, cheered for her, was aggravated by her and amused by her. Ms. Gilmore has done a tremendous job reminding us what a difficult, bizarre, scary and wonderful experience it is growing up. She also made me think how interesting it probably was for women growing up in the ‘60s when so much was changing in our country, albeit slowly. Ms. Gilmore’s writing is lyrical and drew me into The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove and Bezellia’s life that captured my attention in chapter one and kept me reading into the early hours of the morning. She covers important and weighty themes including racism, families, love, addiction, women's rights and social status. She has an innate understanding of young women and how it feels to navigate all the highs and lows of growing up which is clearly depicted through Bezellia's character.  Ms. Gilmore also impressed and inspired me through Bezellia's courage to express thoughts and beliefs in the areas of race, women's rights, mental health and more.   I highly recommend this book. If you don’t read it, you’re missing out on an extra-special novel.

Thank you to Heather of Raging Bibliomania for hosting the giveaway of that I won. Please see Heather’s wonderful review of this book

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mailbox Monday

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Martha at Martha‘s Bookshelf. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week.
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield (for review from publisher via TLC Book Tours)
Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at “the old home place,” a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. The children embrace the reunion as a welcome escape from the prying eyes of their father’s congregation; for Willadee it’s a precious opportunity to spend time with her mother and father, Calla and John. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core: John’s untimely death and, soon after, the loss of Samuel’s parish, which set the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.

In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But it is Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, who soon captures Swan’s undivided attention. Full of righteous anger, and innocent of the peril facing her and those she loves, Swan makes it her mission to keep the boy safe from his terrifying father.
The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner (for review from publisher Astor + Blue via Shelf Awareness)
Described as “one of the best coming of age novels of the Twentieth Century,” Theodore Weesner’s modern American classic is now re-launched for a new generation of readers to discover.

It’s 1959. Sixteen year-old Alex Housman has just stolen his fourteenth car and frankly doesn’t know why. His divorced, working class father grinds out the night shift at the local Chevy Plant in Detroit, looking forward to the flask in his glove compartment, and the open bottles of booze in his Flint, Michigan home. Abandoned and alone, father and son struggle to express a deep love for each other, even as Alex fills his day juggling cheap thrills and a crushing depression. And then there’s Irene Shaeffer, the pretty girl in school whose admiration Alex needs like a drug in order to get by. Broke and fighting to survive, Alex and his father face the realities of estrangement, incarceration, and even violence as their lives unfold toward the climactic episode that a New York Times reviewer called “one of the most profoundly powerful in American fiction.”

In this rich, beautifully crafted story, Weesner accomplishes a rare feat: He’s written a transcendent piece of literature in deceptively simple language, painting a powerful portrait of a father and a son, otherwise invisible among the mundane, everyday details of life in blue collar America. A true and enduring American classic.
The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead (win from Amy at Black Sheep Dances)
Award-winning novelist Robert Olmstead mounts a fast-moving tale of a love story—as destructive as it is irresistible—that sets a boy’s course toward an epic and life-changing battle. Henry Childs is just seventeen when he falls into a love affair so intense it nearly consumes him. But when young Mercy’s disapproving father threatens Henry’s life, Henry runs as far as he can–to the other side of the world.

It is 1950, and the Korean War hangs in the balance. Descended from a long line of soldiers, Henry enlists in the marines and arrives in Korea on the eve of the brutal seventeen-day battle of the Chosin Reservoir–the turning point of the war–completely unprepared for the forbidding Korean landscape and the unimaginable circumstances of a war well beyond the scope of anything his ancestors ever faced. But the challenges he meets upon his return home, scarred and haunted, are greater by far.

Robert Olmstead’s riveting new novel is not only a passionate story of love and war, it is a timeless and contemporary story of soldiers coming home to a country with little regard for, and even less knowledge of, what they’ve confronted. Through Henry, Olmstead charts the unspoken truth about combat: that for many men, the experience of war is the most enlivening, electric, and extraordinary experience of their lives.

Amy also included with my win, a box of books, for me to felt like Christmas morning to me! The rest of this book list is thanks to Amy's generosity:
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
Set against the backdrop of the 1987 stock market collapse, The Starboard Sea is an examination of the abuses of class privilege, the mutability of sexual desire, the thrill and risk of competitive sailing and the adult cost of teenage recklessness. It is a powerful and compelling novel about a young man navigating the depths of his emotional life, finding his moral center, trying to forgive himself, and accepting the gift of love
A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez
Julia Alvarez has been called “a one-woman cultural collision” by the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and that has never been truer than in this story about three of her most personal relationships—with her parents, with her husband, and with a young Haitian boy known as Piti. A teenager when Julia and her husband, Bill, first met him in 2001, Piti crossed the border into the Dominican Republic to find work. Julia, impressed by his courage, charmed by his smile, has over the years come to think of him as a son, even promising to be at his wedding someday. When Piti calls in 2009, Julia’s promise is tested. To Alvarez, much admired for her ability to lead readers deep inside her native Dominican culture, “Haiti is like a sister I’ve never gotten to know.” And so we follow her across the border into what was once the richest of all the French colonies and now teeters on the edge of the abyss—first for the celebration of a wedding and a year later to find Piti’s loved ones in the devastation of the earthquake. As in all of Alvarez’s books, a strong message is packed inside an intimate, beguiling story, this time about the nature of poverty and of wealth, of human love and of human frailty, of history and of the way we live now.
Repeat It Today with Tears by Anne Peile
Susanna is a secretive child, obsessed with the father she has never known and determined that one day she will find him. As an adolescent she becomes increasingly distanced from life at home with her mother and sister. When she finally discovers her father's address and seeks him out, in the free and unconventional atmosphere of 1970s Chelsea, she conceals her identity, beginning an illicit affair that can only end in disaster.
Broken Irish by Edward J. Delaney
As the millennium approaches, Southie” is still a place where little distinguishes mob bosses from pillars of industry, the bullied from the bullies, and the pious from the pitiful. In this tough Boston neighborhood, six lives are about to converge Jimmy, an alcoholic writer, whose life is unalterably changed after witnessing an accident; Jeanmarie, a teenage runaway, whose quest for independence leads down a dark path; Christopher, a young Catholic school dropout with a gnawing secret; Colleen, a war widow whose grief has blinded her to the needs of her son; Father John, a priest on the eve of forced retirement; and Rafferty, a wealthy businessman who hires a ghostwriter to tell his story.

In Broken Irish, Delaney trains his journalist’s ear, his filmmaker’s eye, and his writer’s heart on each of their stories creating a driven and deeply human narrative that pierces the heart of the American experience. He also gives us a captivating portrait of late-1990s South Boston at the crossroads a time when Whitey Bulger has evaporated into the ether but his boys still kick around on the street corners . . . waiting for Whitey’s Second Coming.”
Niagara Digressions by E. R. Baxter III
A seasoned storyteller's work via cut-up method, combining history and naturalist memoir, Niagara Digressions presents land as historical palimpsest, from ancient cave paintings to 1960s mimeographed poetry, the massacre of the buffalo to the manufacture of shredded wheat cereal, and all points in-between. Everybody thinks they know Niagara, but not this Niagara. E. R. Baxter III is a tour guide who knows the indirect path offers the best views

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Snapshot

Best Buddies, Frankie and Wallie!
Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at her blog, At Home with Books. It's easy to participate, just post a photo taken by you, a friend or a family member and link to the Mister Linky at the bottom of Alyce's post.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman

Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman

Date Published: November 17, 2011
Publisher: Grant Place Press
ISBN: 978-0984675104
Pages: 336
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Book Summary:  Rhodes Scholar Gloria Zimmerman has come to Oxford University to study feminist poetry. Yet the rigors of academia pale in comparison to her untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, fueled by her overachieving parents and manifested in a deathly aversion to germs and human contact. Her next-door neighbor (who is also, to her mortification, her loomate) is Henry Young, the appealing but underachieving English music student. Still mourning the death of his supportive mother while enduring the mockery of his disapproving and merciless father, Henry is haunted by the unexpectedly serious ramifications of a reckless and tragic youth. Gloria and Henry's relationship evolves from a shared obsession with Van Morrison's music into a desire to fill the gaps in each other’s lives. Yet the constraints of a debilitating illness and the looming revelation of a catastrophic secret conspire to throw their worlds into upheaval and threaten the possibilities of their unlikely yet redemptive love.

My Thoughts:  The music of Van Morrison connects Gloria and Henry. They are different and flawed individuals with little in common but their extreme passion for that music. Gloria wouldn’t have spoken to the cute but messy, unkempt Henry if not for the strains of Van Morrison she heard coming from his dorm room. Gloria’s a devoted loner as a result of her extreme OCD. She hates being touched by other people and can’t deal with germs. She carries wipes and hand sanitizer with her everywhere. Her hands are red, raw and painful looking from relentless cleaning. People tend to keep their distance from Gloria and, although she‘s terribly lonely, she prefers it that way. Then she meets Henry.

Henry’s entranced by Gloria. He can’t take his eyes off of her. Her hands don‘t bother him but it upsets him that she’s in physical and emotional pain. Henry understands that Gloria has OCD and related issues about which he’s also completely unfazed. Henry wants to help Gloria and talks his physician sister, Claire, into helping him help Gloria. Henry’s ignoring his own, significant, problems mainly because he lacks self-confidence and loathes himself. Henry used to be a drug addict and, although he’s recovered, it’s had a lasting impact on his life. Believing he’s ruined his life, Henry‘s essentially given up on himself. Henry doesn’t grasp the implications of bringing Gloria into his life. He’s too taken with her to think about much else. Henry is surprised when Gloria accepts his plan to help her but he’s even more surprised by the conditions of her acceptance.

Gloria counters Henry’s proposal with her own: she agrees to allow Henry to help her with her OCD issues, assisted by Claire, if Henry allows Gloria to help him write his thesis. Henry’s terrified since he believes he isn’t capable of writing a thesis but it’s the only way he can spend time with Gloria. Gloria’s focus and concern has always been her research and class work. She’s at Oxford to study feminist poetry. But, for the first time in her life, Gloria’s distracted. She can’t stop thinking about Henry. Henry’s willingness to help her control her OCD behavior tantalizes Gloria but also scares her. Still, even Gloria can’t dismiss how happy and content she feels when with Henry. This is a new and wonderful experience for her. She also believe in Henry’s potential and knows he’s much more intelligent and capable then he believes. She relishes the idea of bringing Henry into her world of research and study.

Andrea Kayne Kaufman’s book is a compelling story of two damaged, frightened and dysfunctional people. As they get to know each other and spend more time together, their love and respect grows. But there are numerous obstacles on the way to a committed relationship for Gloria and Henry. Gloria’s dysfunctional parents have big expectations of her. Her father wants her to excel in her studies so he can brag about her. Gloria’s mother is concerned that she marry a wealthy, society man so her mother can hold her head high among her friends. Henry’s father expects nothing of Henry and thrives on belittling him. Then there’s Gloria’s OCD which has a major hold on her and threatens her recovery every day. But the greatest obstacle is Henry’s secret which he refuses to divulge, convinced he will lose Gloria forever. As Gloria and Henry grow closer, Henry’s secret becomes more of a problem. He cannot spend his life with Gloria without telling her or risking she discovers what he’s hiding.

My favorite parts of this book was being able to watch Gloria grow and change into a more open and happy woman. I loved the calm and strength she found in Van Morrison’s music and how the music enabled her to connect with Henry. I also enjoyed reading how, with the help of Henry and Claire, as well as medicine she used to refuse to take, Gloria begins to see herself in a different light. It’s thrilling to read along as she begins to blossom. She helps Henry with his thesis and surprises both of them with her ability to open his eyes to the intelligence and ability he has. Gloria’s pride in herself gives her the courage to try other things.

I wish that Ms. Kaufman had written more specifically about the ways in which Henry helped Gloria fight her OCD which had a strong hold on her. It was glossed over for the most part with a few general references and Gloria’s behavior seemed to change too easily. I also felt that there were a few areas in the book in which I had to suspend my belief in reality a little too much. One specific scene was when Henry defends his thesis and Gloria calls on her professor for help. I felt that this wasn’t necessary in a novel with two strong protagonist and fascinating, absorbing storylines.

Overall, I found this book to be a captivating story about two wounded individuals who help each other heal and become strong enough together to face the real world. This is an absorbing book that’s difficult to put down once you start reading. Ms Kaufman does an amazing job of showing how the music of Van Morrison impacts Gloria and Henry and helps them each to deal with the dysfunctional worlds they’ve been living in. As a fan of Van Morrison, that was my initial interest in this book but Gloria and Henry’s story quickly got my attention. I recommend this book for any reader interested in OCD and the ability of music to help and heal.

Thank you to for sending me a copy of Oxford Messed Up via Grant Place Press.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intro

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate share the opening paragraph or two of a book you've decided to read based on that paragraph.

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants in this terrific meme who can be found in the comments!
The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy
The Girls came at the same hour, summer or winter. Every morning, I heard her approach. Plastic slippers, the clink of steel on stone. And then her footsteps, receding. That morning she was earlier. The whistling thrushes had barely cleared their throats, and the rifle range across the valley had not yet sounded its bugles. And, unlike every other day, I did not hear her leave after she had set down my daily canister of milk.

She did not knock or call out. She was waiting. All went quiet in the blueness before sunlight. Then the soothing early morning mutterings of the neighborhood began: axes struck wood, dogs tried out their voices, a rooster crowed, wood-smoke crept in through my open window. My eyelids dipped again and I burrowed deeper into my blanket. I woke only when I heard the General walking his dog, reproaching it for its habitual disobedience, as if after all these years it still baffled him. “What is the reason, Bozo?” he said, in his loud voice. “Bozo, what is the reason?” He went past every morning at about six thirty, which meant that I was going to be late unless I ran all the way.
What are your thoughts about these paragraphs? Would you read this book based on these paragraphs?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mailbox Monday!

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Martha at Martha‘s Bookshelf. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week.

Ninepins by Rosy Thornton (from author for review)
Deep in the Cambridgeshire fens, Laura is living alone with her 12-year old daughter Beth, in the old tollhouse known as Ninepins. She's in the habit of renting out the pumphouse, once a fen drainage station, to students, but this year she's been persuaded to take in 17-year-old Willow, a care-leaver with a dubious past, on the recommendation of her social worker, Vince. Is Willow dangerous or just vulnerable? It's possible she was once guilty of arson; her mother's hippy life is gradually revealed as something more sinister; and Beth is in trouble at school and out of it. Laura's carefully ordered world seems to be getting out of control. With the tension of a thriller, Ninepins explores the idea of family, and the volatile and changing relationships between mothers and daughters, in a landscape that is beautiful but - as they all discover - perilous

Shadows Walking by Douglas R. Skopp (win from Anna at Diary of an Eccentric)
Johann Brenner, an idealistic physician and ardent German nationalist, has joined the Nazi Party and willingly participated in its "crimes against humanity." His Jewish childhood friend, Philipp Stein, has also become a doctor. Their lives inevitably intersect until their last, fateful meeting.

After the war, Brenner, with stolen papers and a new name, has become a janitor in the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials are being held. Hoping to "heal himself" and wishing to begin a new life with his estranged wife, he decides that he must write her a letter telling what he has done and why.

Brenner's letter sets the theme for each chapter of Shadows Walking. Through his letter, we see him admit his choices and their consequences as he slips deeper and deeper into the brutality of the Third Reich.

House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomon (win from Kaye at Pudgy Penguin Perusals)
It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlor maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford's young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely friendship that will transform Tyneford-and Elise-forever.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Spring has Sprung!!

Hello! I don’t think I wrote a TSS post last Sunday so I wanted to make sure I did today before heading out to enjoy the sun!  After days of rain, the past few days have been beautiful, lots of sun and no humidity. It’s the perfect weather to sit outside and read! And get a little sun, maybe?!  Oh I know it's bad for me but I love having just a little tan.  I take frequent breaks to make whatever cats are lying around, sunning themselves, get up and chase a ball or some other toy. Several of my cats have quite a few pounds to shed after their lazy winter!

I’ve been terribly lazy about posting.  And writing in general.  A few weeks ago I wasn’t really in the mood for writing reviews but, fortunately, that mood didn’t last long.  But it seems to have returned with a vengeance since I haven’t written or finished any reviews this week and I have plenty to do.  I’m giving myself one more day of gorgeous weather and then I’m going to strap myself to the desk if I have to and write!

I have been reading...yesterday I read The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones and Pocket Kings by Ted Heller.  Very different books in every way!  I’m not sure which I like better, if either, but I’m enjoying both of them.  Hopefully I’ll finish at least one of these books today, possibly both. Mmxxxxxxx8777898776   <----- Lola‘s contribution to my post!   She just jumped up here, meowed at me, sat on the keyboard, meowed at me louder and then head-butted me, (thank goodness she has  alittle head!) before jumping out the window.  I guess she wants me off the computer and outside playing with her!  Lola has a terrible jealous streak! 

Yesterday was a great sports day!  I’m excited about the New York Rangers hockey team.  They beat the Devils yesterday so the score is 2 games - 1, Rangers.  The Rangers are just a few games away from winning the Stanley Cup!  Wow, that would be fantastic. I n The Preakness horse race, the same horse, “I’ll Have Another” (great name!) to win the Kentucky Derby a few weeks ago, won The Preakness yesterday evening.  There’s a good chance he’ll win The Belmont in a few weeks and get the Triple Crown. The last time a horse won the Triple Crown was in 1978 when the magnificent Affirmed won all three horse races.

Enjoy your Sunday, I hope you’re having beautiful weather, too!
Reading anything good today?  I hope so!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion's Weblog where we share words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun (please do!) Be sure to leave a link to your post over at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

The following words are from Make It Stay by Joan Frank

Those rencontres occurred well after Mike was installed in the spaceship with Tilda; Addie then a blond elf.
1. Rencontres
: a casual meeting

One showed Mike from the rear, nude, kneeling on a bed at the feet of the prone nude body of what appeared to be a middle-aged woman with dark dyed hair, whose features wore, (as best as you could tell) an insensate expression.
2. Insensate
: without human feeling or sensitivity; cold; cruel; brutal.
: without sense, understanding, or judgment; foolish.

The following words come from The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

Their departure had drawn the lurcher Forthright from his doze beneath the yews and he loped after them, barking wolfishly.
1. Lurcher
: a crossbred hunting dog, usually a greyhound cross with a collie, especially one trained to hunt silently

They had reached a landing and went through the baize door onto a corridor, travelled the length of the house and at last reached Smudge’s room, the only bedroom to abut the Old House, whose gloomy depths were directly through the wall against which her little iron bed stood.
2. Baize
: a soft, usually green, woolen or cotton fabric resembling felt, used chiefly for the tops of billiard tables

Clovis was nothing if not mercurial
3. Mercurial
: changeable; volatile; fickle; flighty; erratic
: animated; lively; sprightly; quick-witted.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Make It Stay by Joan Frank

Make It Stay by Joan Frank

ISBN: 978-1-57962-227-5
Pages: 168
Publisher: The Permanent Press
Release Date: April 28, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: In the tree-nestled Northern California town of Mira Flores, writer Rachel (“an aging typist with an unprofitable hobby” and her Scottish husband Neil prepare dinner for a familiar “crew” of guests – among them Neil’s best friend, the burly, handsome Mike Spender, an irrepressible hedonist – and Mike’s wife, the troubling Tilda Krall, a hard-bitten figure who carries her dark unknowability like an accusation.

Mike and Tilda have produced an enchanting daughter, Addie – who will also appear, unexpectedly, that night. As they ready the meal, Rae begs Neil to retell her the strange, twisted story of the Spenders – to include Mike’s secret life, and what happened once Tilda learned of it. Neil and Rae cannot guess how the shock waves from that story will threaten to destroy their own marriage – after a mysterious catastrophe propels all five individuals into uncharted realities.

Recounting three love stories, Make It Stay explores the vision of an era – and how perception expands, as mortal limits draw near.

My Thoughts:   Neil and Rachel (“Rae“) are older when they marry. Rae was sure she wasn’t going to marry by the time she met Neil. She’d dated many men of varied backgrounds and personalities and none had stuck. Then Neil came along, telling Rae in his Scottish brogue that, unlike his friend Mike Spender, who’s been “known to get around” Neil’s a “cooples mahn”. Mike Spender is part of the baggage Neil brings to their marriage. He’s been Neil’s best friend since shortly after Neil emigrated to America, having taken Neil under his wing. Rae doesn’t fully grasp the depths of Neil’s connection to Mike for years. It takes tragedy and the loss of Mike for Rae to grasp what Mike’s friendship meant to her husband. This is partially due to Rae’s intense dislike of “most forms of social life”, something she keeps a secret from Neil.

Rae is the first-person narrator of Make It Stay, structured in an intriguing style by Joan Frank. In Part I of four, Rae entices Neil to tell her about his friendship with Mike from the day they met and Mike's marriage to the hard Tilda. Rae, in turn, tells us this story, interspersing bits of her own story with Neil and filling in gaps with explanations and her personal opinions. This structure and style made me feel as if I was having a personal, intimate conversation with Rae about her life. As she relays their stories, Rae figures out some significant issues in her relationship with Neil and has an epiphany or two involving Mike and Tilda. Sadly, Rae's revelations may have come too late to make any significant difference.

The Northern California town of Mira Flores plays a significant role in Neil and Mike’s friendship. It’s a small and friendly place in the early ‘70’s when Neil and Mike work a few blocks apart. It’s the kind of town where everybody knows everybody and doors remain unlocked. Mike, a gentle giant with a booming laugh, acts like the unofficial mayor of Mira Flores, greeting anyone who walks by his fish store. Neil is thin, short and quiet, happy to bask in Mike’s energy. Neil, intelligent and focused, eventually becomes a lawyer, while Mike is simple and reckless. In many ways, Neil and Mike complement each other. Rae perceives Mike as dumb and goofy when they meet. She also wonders if he’s cruel and somewhat cunning because Tilda, who he marries, is unfriendly, crass and shady. It’s difficult to understand their relationship, although it seems Rae‘s dislike of Tilda and lack of respect for Mike colors who they really are. Rae has a tendency to criticize everyone she meets, a trait Neil tolerates for a time. I didn’t like Tilda at all but my opinion of Rae and the men changed several times throughout the story.

The brevity of the narrative precludes in-depth life stories and three-dimensional portraits of Rae, Neil, Mike and Tilda. But Make It Stay doesn't suffer for it. Instead, by delving into Neil’s past, relaying his tight friendship with Mike and weaving in Rae and Tilda lives, Ms. Frank reveals characteristics of these four people along with insights into their personalities, specific to their relationships, that are quite revealing and very telling.  She, thereby, enables readers to understand and connect with Rae, as well as with Neil and Mike. When I realized Rae's descriptions included her personal opinion of Mike and Tilda, this gave me more insight into Rae, as well as Mike and Tilda. Rae’s attempts to understand Neil and Mike’s friendship as well as who they are individually provides a more complete picture of Mike, making him feel more human and relatable. Close to the end of the book I realized, as I thought about the characters and Ms. Frank’s captivating story, how well I understood the bond between Neil and Mike and how each one made the other whole. In understanding what they meant to each other, I was better able to comprehend Neil’s irritation with Rae. The pieces of the different stories in Make It Stay fell into place for me by the end, creating a clear, complete narrative about friendship and marriage and how the two often intertwine.

Make It Stay is a fascinating and beautiful story. It portrays, through the lives of four very different characters, the complex relationship between friendship and marriage, how each union impacts the people involved in various ways, how the friendships spouses bring into the marriage become intertwined with it and how the destruction of one union or relationship may very well destroy the other. Ms. Frank displays a keen understanding of people’s thoughts and behaviors throughout the book and a deep understanding of the necessity for compassion, compromise and communication in any relationship.

For more reviews see the TLC Book Tours page for Make It Stay

I highly recommend Make It Stay and also recommend you read it in one sitting, if possible. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Make It Stay and to The Permanent Press for an ARC copy of the book.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mailbox Monday!

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Martha at Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the last two weeks.

Canada by Richard Ford (for review from Harper Collins/Ecco)

First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later.

In 1956, Dell Parsons' family came to a stop in Great Falls, Montana, the way many military families did following the war. His father, Bev, was a talkative, plank-shouldered man, an airman from Alabama with an optimistic and easy-scheming nature. Dell and his twin sister, Berner, could easily see why their mother might have been attracted to him. But their mother Neeva - from an educated, immigrant, Jewish family - was shy, artistic and alienated from their father's small-town world of money scrapes and living on-the-fly. It was more bad instincts and bad luck that Dell's parents decided to rob the bank. They weren't reckless people.

In the days following the arrest, Dell is saved by a family friend before the authorities think to arrive. Driving across the Montana border into Saskatchewan his life hurtles towards the unknown, towards a hotel in a deserted town, towards the violent and enigmatic American Arthur Remlinger, and towards Canada itself - a landscape of rescue and abandonment. But as Dell discovers, in this new world of secrets and upheaval, he is not the only one whose own past lies on the other side of a border.

In Canada, Richard Ford has created a masterpiece. A visionary novel of vast landscapes, complex identities and fragile humanity. It questions the fine line between the normal and the extraordinary, and the moments that haunt our settled view of the world.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (for review from Random House via TLC Book Tours)
Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessey is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit of youth and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him-allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (for review from Harper)
The story begins in 1962. Somewhere on a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea—blue as his eyes—and sees a vision: a slender blonde woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And it begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

What unfolds from there is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, peopled by Jess Walter’s trademark unforgettable characters: the Italian innkeeper and his mysterious beauty; the heroically cynical film producer who once brought them together, and his idealistic young assistant; and the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers who populate their world in the decades that follow. Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is pure Jess Walter—a novel full of flawed yet utterly relatable people, all of them reaching toward some impossible goal, leading us up a rocky shoreline path toward a future both distant and utterly familiar.
The Unseen by Katherine Webb (for review from William Morrow)
A vicar with a passion for nature, the Reverend Albert Canning leads a happy existence with his naive wife, Hester, in their sleepy Berkshire village in the year 1911. But as the English summer dawns, the Cannings’ lives are forever changed by two new arrivals: Cat, their new maid, a disaffected, free-spirited young woman sent down from London after entanglements with the law; and Robin Durrant, a leading expert in the occult, enticed by tales of elemental beings in the water meadows nearby.

Quickly finding a place for herself in the underbelly of local society, Cat secretly plots her escape. Meanwhile, Robin, a young man of considerable magnetic charm and beauty, soon becomes an object of fascination and desire. Sweltering in the oppressive summer heat, the peaceful rectory turns into a hotbed of dangerous ambition, forbidden love, and jealousy—a potent mixture of emotions that ultimately leads to murder.

The Girl Below by Bianca Zander (for review from William Morrow)
After ten years in New Zealand, Suki returns to London, to a city that won’t let her in. However, a chance visit with Peggy—an old family friend who still lives in the building where she grew up—convinces Suki that there is a way to reconnect with the life she left behind a decade earlier. But the more involved she becomes with Peggy’s dysfunctional family, including Peggy’s wayward sixteen-year-old grandson, the more Suki finds herself mysteriously slipping back in time—to the night of a party her parents threw in their garden more than twenty years ago, when something happened in an old, long-unused air-raid shelter. . . .
Arranged by Catherine McKenzie (for review from William Morrow)
Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, close friends, and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share her life with, however, she just can’t seem to get it right. When her latest relationship implodes, and her best friend announces she’s engaged, Anne impulsively calls what she thinks is a dating service—only to discover that it’s actually an exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriage service. Anne initially rejects the idea, but the more she learns about the service, the more she thinks: Why not? After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world; maybe it could work for her. A few months later, Anne is traveling to a Mexican resort, where, over the course of a weekend, she meets and then marries Jack. And initially, everything seems to be working out. . 

Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman (for review from William Morrow)
When Ruth returns home to the South for the summer after her freshman year at college, a near tragedy pushes her to uncover family truths and take a good look at the woman she wants to become.

Growing up in Alabama, all Ruth Wasserman wanted was to be a blond Baptist cheerleader. But as a curly-haired Jew with a rampant sweet tooth and a smart mouth, this was an impossible dream. Not helping the situation was her older brother, David—a soccer star whose good looks, smarts, and popularity reigned at school and at home. College provided an escape route and Ruth took it.

Now home for the summer, she’s back life-guarding and coaching alongside David, and although the job is the same, nothing else is. She’s a prisoner of her low self-esteem and unhealthy relationship with food, David is closed off and distant in a way he’s never been before, and their parents are struggling with the reality of an empty nest. When a near drowning happens on their watch, a storm of repercussions forces Ruth and David to confront long-ignored truths about their town, their family, and themselves.
The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (flea-market purchase)
In True History of the Kelly Gang, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper in semiliterate but magically descriptive prose as he flees from the police. To his pursuers, Kelly is nothing but a monstrous criminal, a thief and a murderer. To his own people, the lowly class of ordinary Australians, the bushranger is a hero, defying the authority of the English to direct their lives. Indentured by his bootlegger mother to a famous horse thief (who was also her lover), Ned saw his first prison cell at 15 and by the age of 26 had become the most wanted man in the wild colony of Victoria, taking over whole towns and defying the law until he was finally captured and hanged. Here is a classic outlaw tale, made alive by the skill of a great novelist.
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (flea-market purchase)
Young Esther Evans has lived her whole life within the confines of her remote mountain village. The daughter of a fiercely nationalistic sheep farmer, Esther yearns for a taste of the wider world that reaches her only through broadcasts on the BBC. Then, in the wake of D-day, the world comes to her in the form of a German POW camp set up on the outskirts of Esther's village.

The arrival of the Germans in the camp is a source of intense curiosity in the local pub, where Esther pulls pints for both her neighbors and the unwelcome British guards. One summer evening she follows a group of schoolboys to the camp boundary. As the boys heckle the prisoners across the barbed wire fence, one soldier seems to stand apart. He is Karsten Simmering, a German corporal, only eighteen, a young man of tormented conscience struggling to maintain his honor and humanity. To Esther's astonishment, Karsten calls out to her.

These two young people from worlds apart will be drawn into a perilous romance that calls into personal question the meaning of love, family, loyalty, and national identity. The consequences of their relationship resonate through the lives of a vividly imagined cast of characters: the drunken BBC comedian who befriends Esther, Esther's stubborn father, and the resentful young British "evacuee" who lives on the farm -- even the German-Jewish interrogator investigating the most notorious German prisoner in Wales, Rudolf Hess.

In 1956, Dell Parsons' family came to a stop in Great Falls, Montana, the way many military families did following the war. His father, Bev, was a talkative, plank-shouldered man, an airman from Alabama with an optimistic and easy-scheming nature. Dell and his twin sister, Berner, could easily see why their mother might have been attracted to him. But their mother Neeva - from an educated, immigrant, Jewish family - was shy, artistic and alienated from their father's small-town world of money scrapes and living on-the-fly. It was more bad instincts and bad luck that Dell's parents decided to rob the bank. They weren't reckless people.

In the days following the arrest, Dell is saved by a family friend before the authorities think to arrive. Driving across the Montana border into Saskatchewan his life hurtles towards the unknown, towards a hotel in a deserted town, towards the violent and enigmatic American Arthur Remlinger, and towards Canada itself - a landscape of rescue and abandonment. But as Dell discovers, in this new world of secrets and upheaval, he is not the only one whose own past lies on the other side of a border.

In Canada, Richard Ford has created a masterpiece. A visionary novel of vast landscapes, complex identities and fragile humanity. It questions the fine line between the normal and the extraordinary, and the moments that haunt our settled view of the world.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

~ ~ Enjoy Your Day, Moms Everywhere! ~ ~

Happy Mother's Day!!

Mama Betsy
Her adorable babies (grown now)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

~ First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate share the opening paragraph or two of a book you've decided to read based on the opening. This is an author whose books I‘ve wanted to read for a long time. This is her first novel with many of the themes that often appear in her writing including retribution, religion, redemption and blindness.

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants in this terrific meme who can be found in the comments!

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car. The train was racing through tree tops that fell away at intervals and showed the sun standing, very red, on the edge of the farthest woods. Nearer, the plowed fields curved and faded and the few hogs nosing in the furrows looked like large spotted stones. Mrs. Wally Bee Hitchcock, who was facing Motes in this section, said that she thought the early evening like this was the prettiest time of day and she asked him if he didn’t think so, too. She was a fat woman with pink collars and cuffs and pear-shaped legs that slanted off the train seat and didn’t reach the floor.

He looked at her a second and, without answering, leaned forward and stared down the length of the car again. She turned to see what was back there but all she saw was a child peering around one of the sections and, farther up at the end of the car, the porter opening the closet where the sheets were kept. “I guess you’re going home,” she said, turning back to him again. He didn’t look, to her, much over twenty, but he had a stiff black broad-brimmed hat on his lap, a hat that an elderly country preacher would wear. His suit was a glaring blue and the price tag was still stapled on the sleeve of it.

What are your thoughts about these paragraphs? Would you continue reading this book based on these paragraphs?

Monday, May 7, 2012

An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer

An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer

ISBN: 978-0062110961
Pages: 352
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Publisher: Afraid of losing her parents at a young age—her father with his weak heart, her deeply depressed mother—Naomi Feinstein prepared single-mindedly for a prestigious future as a doctor. An outcast at school, Naomi loses herself in books, and daydreams of Wellesley College. But when Teddy, her confidant and only friend, abruptly departs from her life, it’s the first devastating loss from which Naomi is not sure she can ever recover, even after her long-awaited acceptance letter to Wellesley arrives.
Naomi soon learns that college isn’t the bastion of solidarity and security she had imagined. Amid hundreds of other young women, she is consumed by loneliness—until the day she sees a girl fall into the freezing waters of a lake. The event marks Naomi’s introduction to Wellesley’s oldest honor society, the mysterious Shakespeare Society, defined by secret rituals and filled with unconventional, passionate students. Naomi finally begins to detach from the past and so much of what defines her, immersing herself in this exciting and liberating new world and learning the value of friendship. But her happiness is soon compromised by a scandal that brings irrevocable consequences. Naomi has always tried to save the ones she loves, but part of growing up is learning that sometimes saving others is a matter of saving yourself.

My Thoughts: In this compelling and poignant coming-of-age novel, Naomi is raised by loving parents who had traumatic and painful childhoods. Her father almost completely detached himself from those years, distancing himself from debilitating, bleak memories to protect himself. Naomi’s mother, on the other hand, was unable to forget, living with the pain day after day. She protects herself by refusing to talk about the painful memories of things that happened when she was growing up. Naomi, as a result, knows very little about her parents past life or their families.

Naomi is a serious little girl, intelligent and older than her years. She’s extremely close to her father. They spend a lot of time together while her mother remains in her darkened bedroom, behind closed doors, most days. Their favorite past-time is visiting the John F. Kennedy National Historic site, the home where the former president was born and raised.  Naomi’s father delighted in teaching her as much as he could about the world, supplementing his stories with educational coloring books. Naomi relied on her father’s attention and reveled pleasing him.  Naomi questions her mother and the cardiologist incessantly about the heart and bypass surgery after her father has a sudden heart attack when Naomi is 9.  She feels a responsibility to care for and protect her father and mother from harm and announces her intention, to be a cardiologist, to her father. His beaming smile is all the encouragement Naomi needs to bury her nose in her books.

The protagonist, Naomi, is also the narrator of An Uncommon Education and an extremely effective and sympathetic one. Elizabeth. Percer’s decision for Naomi to narrate, from a first-person point of view, was brilliant because a close and personal relationship is created between the reader and Naomi. As she tells us her story, revealing the person she is: characteristics, good qualities, flaws, hopes, fears, weaknesses and strengths, Naomi makes herself vulnerabl. She creates an intimate connection with her readers that may also make some feel responsible towards and protective of Naomi and, therefore, further invested in this book.. I felt like I knew Naomi personally and, as the story progressed, I grew to love her. I felt like I understood her most of the time and, when I didn‘t, I trusted her. Naomi brought tears to my eyes when she revealed how lonely she was and how badly she wanted a friend.

Naomi isn’t a care-free, light-hearted child. She knows more about life and its struggles than most of her classmates. She’s mature but also confused and uncertain about how to make friends and what to do if and when she has one. She knows with the intuitiveness of children, that she shouldn’t invite anyone to the house. Her mother doesn’t like to have visitors, children or otherwise. Naomi also has an incredible memory. She remembers everything she reads. She doesn’t understand that this is a gift. She’s confused and ashamed by her memory, so much so she keeps it a secret even from her father. An incident at school involving her memory abilities results in Naomi being ostracized at school for ‘knowing too much’ further isolated and lonely.

Naomi’s loneliness comes to an end when Teddy, Theodore Rosenthal, moves into the house behind Naomi. The same age, Teddy is as lonely as Naomi. There’s a connection between them and they become fast friends. Naomi experiences joy like never before. She also learns that nothings is without its problems. Teddy’s mother, a conservative Jewish woman doesn’t like Naomi partly because her mother converted to Judaism. Fortunately Mrs. Rosenthal deeply loves her son, the kind of love Naomi longs for from her mother, and she knows Teddy needs and wants Naomi. Teddy brings great happiness to Naomi’s life. He was also bring extreme heartache and pain. By the time Naomi begins high school Teddy is gone and Naomi is distraught. Lonely and friendless once again, she begins playing tennis at her father’s encouragement and focuses on her school work.

Naomi set her sites on Wellesley long ago. It’s the college Rose Kennedy, the woman her father admires above all, says she would have attended had she gone to college. Naomi is accepted into their pre-med program. She anticipates meeting a lot of women, making friends and enjoying a new experience. It doesn’t work out quite as Naomi hoped. She finds her first year difficult socially. She doesn’t feel as if she fits in at Wellesley but she also doesn’t feel comfortable at home anymore. It’s as if her parents have a life private from her now and she’s an outsider. At some point, a student tells Naomi that first year is rough but her second year will be much better. Naomi studies hard, works at a medical internship and waits for things to improve.

Naomi’s second year at Wellesley brings many changes to her life. She meets many women, makes friends, joins The Shakespeare Society, studies less and questions if there’s more to life than pre-med. Her father doesn’t know what to make of Naomi and they’re awkward in each other’s presence. Naomi is growing up, trying to figure out her life and what she wants from it. She’s experiencing many new things at once and doesn’t quite know what she wants. And there are more changes coming.

I could write many more pages about this book but I’m going to stop here and advise you to read this amazing, absorbing novel. It’s a well-written, realistic story about one young woman’s journey to adulthood. Ms. Percer understands the difficulties as well as the joys of growing up and adeptly portrays this through an intriguing and captivating protagonist. Naomi, like so many of us, has been shaped by her parents, their lives and experiences, as well as by her own. Her life has just a few people in it and Naomi’s determined to hold onto, help and protect them. She learns, painfully, that this isn’t always possible She also learns that good things happen too, especially if you’re open to them. It isn’t easy for Naomi to be open but she’s learning to be and she’s beginning to see what life has to offer her. College is an eye-opening experience for Naomi. She’s beginning to realize who she is and what she wants, slowly just as she’s still learning she cannot save everyone no matter how much she wants to.

I loved this book. Ms. Percer reminded what growing up was all about. It’s a difficult, painful time in life but it’s also a joyous one. There is so much in our lives that shapes who we are but ultimately it’s up to us as Naomi’s learning. My review doesn’t do justice to this wonderful, mesmerizing book. I highly recommend it.

Elizabeth Percer's Website

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review An Uncommon Education and to Harper for a copy of this book.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

Date Published: April 10, 2012
ISBN: 978-0547712079
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Book Summary: Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property.

On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents— some seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris?

The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded “water treatment.” She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home?

Blue Asylum is a vibrant, beautifully-imagined, absorbing story of the lines we all cross between sanity and madness. It is also the tale of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the undeniable call of freedom.

My Thoughts: Blue Asylum is set during the time of the Civil War, a period in our history when women had virtually no rights and were treated as possessions. Iris Dunleavy, raised by loving parents who allowed her freedom to grow and a voice in her future, learns in a devastating way, how few rights she has as a woman. Iris described her childhood as ‘magical’, filled with dreams of her future adventures. When she reaches marrying age, Iris’ father encouraged her to marry a local boy. Iris wants to marry someone ‘exotic’ and exciting, not a boring local boy she’d known her whole life. Robert Dunleavy was ’exotic’ in Iris’ eyes. A plantation owner from Virginia, Robert caught Iris’ eye while he in town visiting his brother. Robert introduced himself to Iris‘ father. On his return to VA, he wrote Iris’ father many letters describing him as a man Iris’ father would be proud to have her marry. Iris was besotted. She and her mother convince Iris’ father to permit her to marry Robert. Sadly, Iris quickly discovers her new husband is not the man he purported to be.

Iris is one of several characters who tell their stories through a third-person narrator. The variety of voices make Blue Asylum an intriguing story with a lot of flavor. Iris is one of the main characters whose story is told. She’s a vibrant, strong and spirited young woman who’s also determined to do as she wishes. Iris has lived a carefree, uncomplicated life prior to now, in which she was used to getting her way. She also has, as a result, a rather naive view of the world and people. When things don’t go as she expects, Iris is often outspoken, especially for a woman, and even confrontational.

Robert‘s true colors came out shortly after the couple settled in Virginia, much to Iris’ dismay. He’s not the man Iris and her father thought she was marrying. When prices rise due to the Civil War, Robert becomes stingy and mean, taking things out on his slaves. Iris spoke up about this and things between she and Robert became strained. Problems escalated as Iris acted in ways that infuriated Robert. After a terrifying ordeal (which I won’t reveal here), Iris is tried in court for humiliating her husband and behaving improperly. She’s sent to Sanibel Asylum to be treated and made into a good wife. Iris’ complete story of her time on the plantation is finally revealed at the asylum. It’s eye-opening, heart-breaking and would cause most sane people to behave in unexpected ways.

Iris meets a host of captivating characters at the asylum. Dr. Cowell, the head of the asylum, calls all of the patients lunatics yet many don’t seem crazy so much as effected by hardship and painful occurrences in their lives. Ambrose Weller, for instance, is a Confederate soldier who returned home from the war in a terrible state. His story, which isn’t revealed in its totality until the end of the book, is shocking and unexpected. It made me gaspout loud. Ambrose’s behavior makes sense in light of what he’s been through. Iris and Ambrose have an intense connection and fall in love. I saw a side of Iris I didn’t like in her relationship with Ambrose. She’s immature, selfish and thoughtless in her love for him. Iris is so anxious and determined to be free of the asylum with Ambrose that she doesn’t think things through clearly or make a plan. When she finally sees things clearly, it's possibly too late for Iris and Ambrose.

Freedom is a main theme in Blue Asylum and a fascinating one. This book poses the question of what constitutes real freedom. Iris comes to a partial realization of what’s freedom by the end of the novel but not until she learns some tough life lessons. And, for Iris, freedom, if she even achieves it, comes at a great cost. Iris is consumed by the idea of returning to her childhood home. She now believes the place she was once so anxious to escape is where she will find freedom. But what about Sanibel where Ambrose prefers to stay. Could Iris and Ambrose be free on Sanibel? I think so. Ms. Hepinstall links several other themes, some more obvious than others, to freedom including slavery, love, death and sanity.

Ms. Hepinstall’s writing is compelling and captured my attention. The narrative is mesmerizing and I found it difficult to put down once I started reading. This became especially true as Iris and Ambrose’s stories were revealed to include some unexpected and eye-opening surprises. Ms. Hepinstall has a fundamental understanding of human nature and behavior that enhanced the life-like quality of her characters, even those not fully three-dimensional. Many of the scenes were described in a way that made me feel as if I was there. The vivid detail, for instance, with which Sanibel is described provided me with the image of a picturesque tropical paradise surrounded by a stunning blue sea and sky, framed by a white sandy beach dotted with beautiful pants, flowers and trees. I expected the island setting to contrast with the asylum building. Instead the asylum is elegant and calming with beautiful, tasteful decor and furniture that continues in each patient‘s private room.

I would have liked to know more about several of the characters, including Iris and Ambrose. I hoped, up until the very end of the book, to read more about Iris’ childhood, as well as her time as a married woman in Virginia. Similarly, with each new chapter, I hoped to learn more about the life of the gentle and reserved Ambrose. And I could say the same about several other characters. I would have happily read another 300 pages by Ms. Hepinstall. I highly recommend Blue Asylum to everyone but especially readers who love historical fiction.

See Kathy Hepinstall's Website and Blog

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Blue Asylum and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an ARC of this book.