Review & Giveaway: Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963

Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963 by Jay Mulvany and Paul De Angelis

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)

Forty-seven years ago this month, Americans as well as people around the world were brought together by a senseless act of violence against our youthful and much-loved President, John F. Kennedy.  The outpouring of grief from around the globe directed at Jacqueline Kennedy, the beautiful and elegant new widow, was massive and immediate.  She received more than one million letters in the weeks and months that followed the tragedy.  Although Mrs. Kennedy vowed to display the letters in the Kennedy Library one day, the letters remained filed away in a warehouse for decades waiting for the library to open.

Volunteers reading and sorting the letters

From grade school children to dignitaries, nuns, moviestars, and royalty to politicians and famous names like Martin Luther King, Jr and Winston Churchill, the expressions of sorrow and sympathy came from everywhere.  I truly appreciated the authors’ decision to do more than just catalog the letters.  They introduced each one by telling who the letter writer was in relation to the president, giving the reader a much more complete snapshot of the history of the time.  This was so helpful to someone like me, who had heard of Anwar Sadat, for instance, but wasn’t quite sure why I knew the name.

I think of the Kennedy assassination as the 9/11 of that generation.  Both events shattered our collective innocence.  People en masse remember where they were and what they were doing the minute they heard the shocking news.  Both events brought everyday life to a standstill and kept us riveted to our televisions.

My reaction to this book surprised me.  I was a baby at the time so have no firsthand memory of the assasination, yet I was greatly moved by the expressions of sympathy.  I had to put the book down more than once as the tears just flowed out of me.  It also made me realize more acutely than ever before the value of the written word; the art and sensory pleasure of beautiful stationary and handwriting as opposed to emails and text messages.

This is a book every American who cares about history should read as it is a fascinating portrait of the time; an intimate portrayal of the hope personified in one young man and the shock as that hope was extinguished so violently.

Highly recommended.

I thought it would be interesting to ask a few bloggers about their Kennedy memories.  This is what they wrote:

From Suzanne at Preternatura:

I was in preschool in a small town in Northwest Alabama, and we were on the playground when the news came in. I remember the teacher herding us back in our classroom and telling us the president had been shot. We were really too young to get it but others in my class I’ve stayed in touch with over the years remember it the same way. They closed school early.

More than that, I remember watching the funeral on our black-and-white TV (God, does that make me feel old), not understanding it but mostly watching Caroline and John-John, as everyone called him, since they were about my age. I remember sitting and watching it with my brother and my parents, and my parents being upset, but not much else. I was too young, and over the years my memories have gotten mixed up with all the iconic images we’ve seen from the media.

From Debra at Bookishly Attentive:

My parents, my twin sister, my grandmother and I were in a lighting store in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, probably shopping for a dining room fixture. I was three. I actually remember the store (I was fascinated by the lights, evidently) and I remember the owner (an older, heavyset woman) coming up to my parents and asking if they heard what happened, and if they had, why are they still shopping in the store?  She was crying, wringing a white handkerchief. I then remember my parents hustling us out to the car. She closed the shop behind us.

I asked my mother about this memory years later, after watching some kind of JFK documentary, and she said I had remembered the events almost perfectly.

I was too young to really process what had happened, but I do remember my parents being subdued.  I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of the living room of our old apartment on Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn. My mother, my sister and I were watching the funeral on the old black and white in the corner. The thing that made the biggest impression on me and what I actually remember to this day is the horse (Black Jack?) with the boots backward in the stirrups. I remember that scared the heck out of me.

I just think how totally different this world would have been if that day in November, 1963 had never happened. And it makes me immeasurably sad. Always.

From Terri at Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement:

I was 13; I was in a junior high class (English I think); the news came over the loudspeaker, our principal announced it. I don’t recall precisely what we were doing in class; when the news came over the loudspeaker, I was confused at first. It didn’t sink in until later when I saw my friends in the cafeteria. There was lots of crying and hugging. I think they let us out of school early.

We watched TV non-stop for days. It was quite surreal, especially when Oswald was shot. I hate to admit it, but I was taking my cues from my parents, so I can’t really recall what I was feeling, other than scared and sad.

I remember watching Jackie Kennedy and being fascinated by her and by the Catholic rituals. I don’t think I’d ever seen them before (kneeling, crossing herself, etc). In my naïve adolescence, I decided I wanted to be a Catholic, so for a few nights I knelt by my bed and crossed myself. That was as far as I went though.

It was the beginning of a very volatile time in our country – many assassinations, the Vietnam war and its protests, etc. The age of innocence ended in those years, I think.

I have one copy of DEAR MRS. KENNEDY to give away (US/Canada only).  To enter, just leave a comment and let me know where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news of either the Kennedy assassination (if you’re old enough) or the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01.  The contest ends Sunday, 11/14, at midnight.

Days of Prey Tour and Giveaway! Night Prey by John Sandford

Prepare yourselves..the STORM is coming!

On May 18th, the highly anticipated 20th book in John Sandford’s bestselling Prey series, Storm Prey, will hit the shelves.  Leading up to this latest release, each blogger on the Days of Prey tour was asked to read one book in the series and fill in a questionnaire, creating a timeline.

If you’re not familiar with these books, you can follow the tour in order of the dates the books were published and get to know Lucas Davenport, the brilliant detective/ladies man who is the star of the Prey series.

I was not familiar with this author or these books (where have I been??)  Let me tell you.. John Sandford and his very smooth character, Lucas Davenport, have a brand new fan!!

The book I read is the sixth in the series, called Night Prey.

Year published: 1994

Tell us about Lucas Davenport:

Lucas is described as “a tall man with heavy shoulders, dark-complected, square-faced, with the beginnings of crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes.  His dark hair was just touched with gray; his eyes were a startling blue.  A thin white scar crossed his forehead and right eye socket, and trailed down to the corner of his mouth.  He looked like a veteran athlete, a catcher or a hockey defenseman, recently retired.”  He knows everybody, is liked by all kinds of people, both men and women, and all types of people from street people to politicians respect him.

  • What is Lucas doing when he first appears in the book? Set up the scene.

Lucas is pulling up to a crime scene in his Porsche.  There’d been a fire at a machine shop that turned out to be a front for an illegal gun running operation.  It fell outside of his Minneapolis jurisdiction, but because a cop had been killed, and it was one of his contacts, he was called in.

  • Give us a sense of time and place.

The story takes place in the present and is set in and around Minneapolis/St. Paul.

  • Lucas’s occupation or professional role?

Lucas has recently been appointed Deputy Chief of the Minneapolis PD.  He’d left the department two years earlier and had gone full time with his own company, designing games and writing simulations for police dispatch computers.  He’d been making a fortune (thus the Porsche) when the new chief asked him to come back, with two objectives: put away the most dangerous and active criminals, and cover the department on the odd crimes likely to attract media attention.  So he hired a full time administrator to run his company and took the chief’s offer.  When this book opens, he’s only been back on the street for a month.

  • Lucas’s personal status (single, dating, married):

Lucas is in love.  He has a live in girlfriend, Weather Karkinnen, a surgeon in her late thirties.  He thinks they’ll get married, but she has said to him, “Don’t ask yet.”  He’s never experienced this kind of closeness and passion with anyone.  She makes him happy and he thinks about her all the time.  And yet, he’s still a bit flirty with other women, particularly an on camera news reporter for TV3, Jan Reed.  Lucas really likes and appreciates women.

  • Lucas Davenport is a known clothes-horse; did you notice any special fashion references?

There are many.  Right away you notice his attention to detail.  When he enters his office, he hangs his suit jacket carefully on a wooden hanger.  He buys his suits in New York.  At a crime scene, he takes a plastic raincoat out from the trunk of his car and lays it on the edge of a dumpster before hoisting himself up to look inside, protecting his clothes.  Once during an investigation, a woman flipped his designer tie over to check the tag.. Hermes.

Let’s talk about the mystery:

  • Avoiding spoilers, what was the crime/case being solved?

A psychopathic serial killer is killing women in a ripper/slasher fashion and has started carving the initials S J into their bodies.  Meagan Connell, an investigator who has a personal interest in the case and has painstakingly documented every detail of several murders trying to find a connection, is anxious to see the case solved quickly, as she is dying.  She teams up with Lucas Davenport to catch the maniac.

  • Does the title of your book relate to the crime?

It does.  The killings are all committed at night.

Who was your favorite supporting character, good or evil?

I really liked Meagen.  She’s tough, carries a gun and knows how to use it.  She’s focused and won’t take no for an answer.  But she also has a mile-wide chip on her shoulder and is almost militantly feminist with Lucas at first, calling him a “macho asshole.”  She relaxes a bit later on but at first her guard is up (WAY up).  After a tense initial meeting, they shake hands, and then..

She’d opted for peace, Lucas thought; but her hand was cold.  “I read your file,” he said.  “That’s nice work.”

“The possession of a vagina doesn’t necessarily indicate stupidity,” Connell said.

What was your favorite scene or quote?

One favorite scene was when they’d just left a bookstore, where the owner had mentioned to Lucas that he’d been beefing up the poetry section.  Meagan asks Lucas about it and he tells her he reads poetry.  She doesn’t believe him, calls him a liar and demands he recite a poem.  So he does- Emily Dickinson, no less.

Another scene I liked is when Lucas observes Weather performing surgery and has all kinds of new insight into her personality.

But the best and most memorable scene came at the end, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.  Let’s just say it’s a satisfying conclusion to the story!

Finally, how do you envision Lucas Davenport? If he were to be portrayed in a movie, what celebrity would play him?

I think Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would portray Lucas perfectly!  He’s got that rugged/sexy thing going and cleans up great.  You can picture him working a case in an alley, talking to drug dealers in a junkyard, or all dressed up for a night out.  Or in a towel after a shower.  He’s.. umm.. versatile in that way.

Night Prey is a wild thrill ride of a novel and John Sandford is hugely talented with this genre.  I wondered at first if I’d like it because you know the identity of the killer from the very first chapter, however as it turns out it wasn’t a problem.  The reader doesn’t know what the killer is going to do next or how it will all play out, which keeps you turning the pages.  This was my first time reading a series out of order and I worried about that too, but again it was no problem.  These books can stand alone.  Like I said earlier, I’ve become a brand new John Sandford fan, and can’t wait to read more of this series!

Be sure to check out the other stops on this tour:

Monday, May 3rd:

Rules of Prey:  Rundpinne

Shadow Prey:  Boarding in my Forties

Tuesday, May 4th:

Silent Prey:  Chick with Books

Wednesday, May 5th:

Winter Prey:  The Bluestocking Guide

Night Prey:  Books on the Brain

Thursday, May 6th:

Mind Prey:  Jen’s Book Thoughts

Sudden Prey:  Starting Fresh

Friday, May 7th:

Secret Prey:  Fantasy & SciFi Loving News & Reviews

Certain Prey:  My Two Blessings

Monday, May 10th:

Easy Prey:  Lesa’s Book Critiques

Chosen Prey:  Reading with Monie

Tuesday, May 11th:

Mortal Prey:  Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Naked Prey:  Dan’s Journal

Wednesday, May 12th

Hidden Prey:  Novel Whore

Broken Prey:  You’ve GOTTA read this!

Thursday, May 13th:

Invisible Prey:  Booktumbling.com

Friday, May 14th:

Phantom Prey:  The Novel Bookworm

Monday, May 17th:

Wicked Prey: A Bookworm’s World

Tuesday, May 18th:

Storm Prey:  Bermuda Onion

Follow The Days of Prey Tour and follow the Lucas Davenport timeline! While you’re checking out The Days of Prey Tour at the Penguin Group site, you can also read an excerpt from every single Prey novel there.  Read an excerpt of the latest release,  Storm Prey!  And here’s the direct link to read an excerpt of Night Prey.  Learn more about John Sandford at his website, JohnSandford.org

ENTER TO WIN a copy of Night Prey PLUS an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) of the new book, Storm Prey, right here!  Just leave a comment and let me know what you think of my choice of Dwayne Johnson to play Lucas Davenport.  I personally think it’s genius :-)  Hollywood, are you listening??

Review and Giveaway: Give Me, Get Me, Buy Me by Donna Corwin

Parenting is a process, and when we know more, we can do a better job.  Give Me, Get Me, Buy Me: Preventing or Reversing Entitlement in Your Child’s Attitude by Donna Corwin is a book I wish I’d had 10 years ago (for the preventing part) but thankfully, according to Corwin, it’s not too late for the reversing part.

Often I’ve wondered why my kids expect “stuff” without having to earn it.  Why they think they deserve to get every new thing that comes out and why they think it’s so unfair when their demands aren’t met immediately.  In short, we’ve created little monsters and contributed to their feelings of entitlement by offering too much praise (over inflating their little egos) rather than encouragement (contributing to more healthy self esteem) and by overindulging them instead of delaying their gratification.  The blame lies squarely on my shoulders (and my husband’s) and this book has opened my eyes.

Give Me, Get Me, Buy Me is all about setting limits and discovering your parenting goals and priorities.  It’s about teaching responsibility, about giving real attention, about showing our kids the true meaning of love (and that it can’t be bought).  It’s about supporting your kids but not rushing to fix everything for them, about letting them find their own solutions and solve their own problems.  It’s about taking back control and not allowing your children to suck in all the advertising and media images they are bombarded with on a regular basis, about teaching them about money and morals and manners and how to be charitable.  The book showed me the reasons why I’ve behaved a certain way (rebelling against my own parents’ parenting style) and how I can turn it around.  All in all, this was exactly the reality check I needed.

This book is full of really valuable information and useful advice.  If you are a parent with kids who feel like they are owed the world just because they live and breathe, please do everybody a favor and get this book!

I reviewed Give Me, Get Me, Buy Me as part of its TLC Book Tour.  I’ve got two copies to give away, courtesy of the publisher. Please leave a comment by midnight on March 15th for a chance to win!

Review: In A Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

In-a-Perfect-World-199x300It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel fine.. that song kept running through my head as I was reading this book..

In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke is a story set in the near future.  It’s a dystopian family drama, with a growing sense of doom extending right through to the very end.

Jiselle is a busy flight attendant who, at 32 years of age, has been a bridesmaid six times. After one particularly difficult evening at work (seven hours in a plane full of passengers that never left the runway) she is sitting in an airport bar, sipping a glass of wine, when a gorgeous pilot, Captain Mark Dorn, takes notice of her.  Three months later, after a whirlwind courtship, they become engaged.

It’s on the afternoon of Mark and Jiselle’s engagement that they see the white balloons for the first time.  One balloon for every victim of the Phoenix flu.  Groups in every major American city are releasing white balloons.  Are they a compassionate expression of concern, or a political statement and condemnation of the current administration in the White House?  The media can’t decide.

And when Mark and Jiselle go out of the country for their honeymoon, they are warned that people aren’t renting rooms to Americans.  Taxi drivers won’t drive Americans. Jiselle and Mark view it all as a minor inconvenience rather than any kind of true threat. The Phoenix flu, reminiscent of swine flu or bird flu, is spreading across America and beyond. Fear and panic are taking hold throughout the world and Americans are being shunned wherever they go.  But Mark and Jiselle are in love *cue the angels* so they don’t focus on that.

Before Jiselle knows what hit her she is living in Mark’s log cabin and stepmom to his three children.  Everything is picture-perfect.  Unfortunately, Mark’s daughters hate her and make no effort to hide it, but Mark’s little boy Sam is a sweetie and they form a bond.

The new family has some adjustment issues.  Jiselle quits her job to take care of the kids, and Mark, due to his flight schedule, is frequently absent.  The older girls are horrible to Jiselle but she remains kind to them.  The family situation reaches a crisis level and their marriage is put to the test when Mark, after a flight to Germany, is quarantined for months in that country. Even though the kids and Jiselle are still getting to know one another, they must rely on each other as the flu becomes a pandemic and the outlook is dire.  Will the family survive?

This isn’t an easy review to write because the book has a bit of an identity crisis.  Is it a ripped-from-the-headlines tale about a flu epidemic?  Yes.  Is it a romance?  Sort of.  A family drama? Sure.  Just when I thought the story would go down one path, it went down another.  I was most drawn into the story line about the pandemic.  I’ve got the swine flu symptoms memorized and my kids never leave the house without hand sanitizer, so I read that part with fascination and dread.  The fact that something like this could happen (is happening) makes it scary.  The author included plenty of information surrounding the flu and the spread of disease to make it timely and realistic.

But the reading experience wasn’t intense.  I wasn’t on the edge of my seat.  I thought Jiselle was a little silly, worrying more about her relationship (‘he hasn’t called.. what does it mean?’) when there were much bigger things to worry about, like how they would survive.  I was less interested in the romance and subsequent family drama than about the pandemic, and when Jiselle would blather on about how handsome Mark was, it was all I could do not to skim and skip ahead to get back to the sections about the flu.  It felt like two separate stories, with the one being much more compelling than the other.

I liked this book for the beautiful writing.  It was a quick read that I didn’t put down until I had finished it.  But I didn’t care for the ending.  I don’t need a perfect ending but I do like to have something of a clue as to what happens.  It’s all left up to speculation, which would probably make it an excellent choice for a book club.  They could debate what happens to this family. They could give opinions on what, if anything, Jiselle heard at the end.

In a Perfect World isn’t perfect, however I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject matter.  It’s a thought provoking read and one I won’t soon forget.

For other opinions of the book, check out the rest of Laura Kasischke’s virtual book tour:

Monday, October 12th – Starting Fresh

Wednesday, October 14th – BookNAround

Thursday, October 15th – Book Club Classics!

Monday, October 19th – A Reader’s Respite

Friday, October 23rd – The Book Nest

Monday, October 26th – Galleysmith

tlc-logo-resizedThursday, October 29th – A High and Hidden Place

Monday, November 2nd – Word Lily

Tuesday, November 3rd – Books on the Brain

Thursday, November 5th – Write Meg

Many thanks to Trish for including me on this TLC Book Tour.

Review: Goldengrove by Francine Prose

Goldengrove-PB-199x300Goldengrove by Francine Prose is a tender examination of a young girl’s grief over the loss of her beloved older sister, Margaret.

Margaret is a dreamer, a lover of old movies, a poet and singer.  Nico and Margaret are sisters and co-conspirators, finding ways for Margaret and her boyfriend Aaron to be together behind their parents’ backs.  With summer coming up, the last summer the sisters will be together before Margaret goes off to college, they are looking forward to spending time together.  One warm spring day, Margaret and Nico take a rowboat out on the lake.  Margaret, smoking cigarettes and talking to 13 year old Nico about boys and sex, stands and gives Nico a final salute before diving into the water and heading for shore.  Except, she never gets there.  Margaret drowns in the lake, and life for her family is never the same.

“What had we talked about before?  Margaret had done all the talking.  Now there was nothing to say.  We were the wallflowers left behind when Margaret waltzed away.”

Margaret’s death is a minor tragedy in their small upstate New York community, but completely devastating for her family.  Her dad loses himself in his writing project, and her mom self medicates with alcohol.  Nico is mostly forgotten and ignored, although as their One Remaining Child, they do set down some rules and safety guidelines for her that sometimes seem a bit extreme.  At one point she wants to tell Margaret how goofy her parents are behaving, but then remembers the reason they are acting that way.  While her parents are distracted, Nico goes through every stage of grief.  Consumed by thoughts of Margaret, she must learn to cope with her loss.

Nico helps her dad at his bookstore, Goldengrove, and during slow times she reads up on heart conditions, fearing she has the same physical ailments Margaret had.  She also begins secretly hanging out with Aaron, becoming partners in grief with her sister’s lover. She believes he is the only one who understands what she’s going through, and being with him makes her feel normal again.  But his reasons for wanting to spend time together are different than hers; he wants to turn her into Margaret and doesn’t see her for the young, naive girl she actually is.

The majority of the story takes place during the summer after Margaret’s death; all of it, actually, except the last 4 or 5 pages.  This would be my only quibble with the book- the ending, with Nico as an adult, felt kind of tacked on, detached, and unnecessary. However, even with the quickie ending, this is realistic fiction at it’s finest.

Francine Prose has written a piece of art, a mournful yet exquisite novel that was an absolute pleasure to read.  She is amazingly talented and I am thrilled to have discovered this new-to-me author.  I’d highly recommend Goldengrove to anyone who enjoys beautiful writing, coming of age stories, or family drama.

Goldengrove is Francine Prose’s 15th novel.


For other stops on this blog tour, check out the TLC Book Tours schedule.

Listen to Francine Prose discuss Goldengrove with Book Club Girl on Blog Talk Radio on Air.

Review and Giveaway: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

GuernseyTRCoverI recently had the pleasure of reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and her aunt, the late Mary Ann Shaffer.  Where do I start in reviewing a book that has become a modern day classic in such a very short time?  A book that is almost universally loved?  A book that so many people have lauded, admired, and reviewed before me? 

Do I even need to say what it’s about?  Is it possible there are readers out there unfamiliar with the premise? 

In short, it’s a book told in letters.  It’s a cool format.  I know there is a real word for that.  Epistolary?  Is that it?  Or is that a religion?  Hmmm.. must check that out on Dictionary.com.  

Anyway, let’s dispense of the unwieldy book title for this review and just call it Potato.  Potato starts out in 1946.  WWII with all its devastation has ended, and the world is forever changed.  Early in the book Juliet Ashton, a writer, gets a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man living on the island of Guernsey, which had been occupied by the Germans during the war.  He found her name and address written on the inside of a book that intrigued him and, isolated on the island but seeking more information on the author, he reaches out to Juliet, the former owner of the book.  Their correspondence is the foundation for Potato.  

Dawsey tells Juliet about his book club, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Juliet is intrigued and asks him to have the other members write to her as well, because she is looking for material for an article and thinks their group would be interesting to her readers.  Soon she is corresponding with several members of the Society, and before long she is charmed by the people and by the idea of the island, so much so that she is compelled to go meet them and see it for herself. 

Yes, Guernsey is a real place

Yes, Guernsey is a real place

I love my book club- love talking about it- love the many positive changes it has brought about in my life (including this blog).  However, I could never say that it saved me or got me through the worst times of my life.  I could never say that it became my lifeline during a war.  But that is precisely the function the Society served for many of the people on Guernsey. 

And I loved this book for all it’s bookish quotes and insightful observations.  There are so many to choose from, but here is one from page 11, which I adored: 

“That’s what I love about reading; one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book.  It’s geometrically progressive-all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” 

How true that is?!   That has happened to me so often.  

Another quote I loved isn’t specifically about reading, although I guess it could be: 

“Have you ever noticed that when your mind is awakened or drawn to someone new, that person’s name suddenly pops up everywhere you go?  My friend Sophie calls it coincidence, and Mr. Simpless, my parson friend, calls it Grace.  He thinks that if one cares deeply about someone or something new one throws a kind of energy out into the world, and “fruitfulness” is drawn in.” 

That reminds me of when you get a new car.  I never knew how many Nissan Quests were on the road until I started driving one.  Or how many pregnant woman were in the world until I was one (and how they multiplied tenfold after I lost my baby). But it’s true in a bookish sense as well.  I have thrown my “book club energy” into the world, and I am constantly amazed at how often I meet others who participate in book clubs and who love to read and discuss what they’re reading.  You attract others like you into your sphere when you send out the right vibes.  And apparently I have some really strong book club vibes floating through the universe. 

Another quote I loved (LOVED!) is this: 

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey?  Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” 

I am that perfect reader, in this case.  I adored this book. 

I will leave you with one last quote, and (shock) it’s a book club one.  From page 51: 

“None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules:  we took turns speaking about the books we read.  At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away, and the purpose of the speakers was to goad the listeners into wanting to read the book themselves.  Once two members had read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight.  We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another.” 

Yes.  I can relate.  My book club is very dear to me, and it is a delight to debate a point in a book. 

If you are interested in WWII or historical fiction, you’ll appreciate this unique look at the war.  If you enjoy letters, are a member of a book club, or an avid reader, I strongly recommend this literary gem to you.  It is timeless, charming, insightful, and soothing.  It was the perfect book for me and I hope it finds other perfect readers. 

The publisher, Random House, has generously offered 5 copies of the trade paperback of this book to give away as part of it’s TLC Book Tour.  Please leave a comment by Friday, August 28th for a chance to win.  If you’ve already read Potato, please let me know what you thought of it!

Visit the Guernsey website HERE and the author’s website HERE (she also writes children’s books).  You can find discussion questions for your book group HERE.

Review: The Local News by Miriam Gershow

local-news

Miriam Gershow’s debut novel, The Local News, is an excellent story narrated by 15 year old Lydia Pasternak, whose older brother Danny has mysteriously gone missing after shooting hoops with a couple of friends at the local elementary school.  

Lydia doesn’t exactly miss her brother right away.  Her feelings are complicated.  Danny and his football playing friends spent years picking on her and calling her names, but he’s still her brother, and she has good memories from when they were little kids.  Danny, athletic and loud, took up a lot of space in the family, and his absence in their lives is huge.  

Her parents are disconnected, drifting through the days in anguished grief.  They are hyper focused on finding their child- “Not you,” she tells herself; “their other child.”  Lydia feels forgotten at home.  It’s the opposite at school- everyone knows who she is. Even the most popular kids, the ones who never gave her the time of day before, suddenly want to know how she’s doing; what’s new with the investigation.  At times it seems she is who she is only in relation to her brother. 

Lydia has a nerdy friend, David, with whom she talks about world politics and other brainy topics.  David is her only friend who is all hers- completely independent of her brother.  She is comfortable with David until his attraction for her becomes obvious, and they drift apart as things get awkward between them.  She then starts hanging around with cheery Lola Pepper, an admirer of her brother and captain of the flag team, falling into the party scene Danny vacated.  

The Pasternaks hire a private investigator when the local police hit a wall with the case.  Lydia develops a crush on the PI and finds herself focused and energized; organizing and analyzing letters from strangers, looking for possible clues, going over mug shots, taking notes.  When the PI has exhausted most of the leads, he turns a suspicious eye on Lydia, freaking her out and turning her off. 

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down.  Gershow nailed Lydia’s complex adolescent voice.  It reminded me of Melinda’s voice in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  She’s smart, wry, sad, funny, damaged, and heartbreakingly real.  I ached for Lydia, especially as she lay awake night after night listening to the silence in the next room, her brother’s bedroom.  I cried at one bittersweet interaction with her dad, when “for the first time in a long time, I remembered a little bit that he loved me, so I loved him a little bit back.”   And the end.. well, the end tore me up.  

The book is reminiscent of The Lovely Bones, from the title to the cover (the same blue) to the subject matter.  In both we have families that are disintegrating over a missing loved one.  And I also thought about Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, a book with a similar story about the disappearance of a teen.  But I preferred The Local News to both those books.  The Local News is Lydia’s story and told from her perspective alone, while the others are told from several perspectives, including the missing teen.  I thought the single narration was a more effective, less diluted way to tell the story.  But the main reason I preferred The Local News is because at the end we get to see Lydia as an adult and understand how the loss of her brother continues to affect her relationships years later.  In the wake of Danny’s disappearance, life has been forever altered. 

Sharp, raw, and brilliantly written, this is a powerful book and one I can highly recommend.  

Please check out this terrific guest post from Miriam Gershow:  From Books to Babies.  To visit the author’s website, click HERE.  And check out Miriam’s TLC Book Tour for other reviews of The Local News.

Review: The Mechanics of Falling by Catherine Brady

41mgvfmejll_sl500_aa240_2Title: The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories

Author: Catherine Brady

ISBN: 9780874177633

Pages: 248

Release Date: February 28, 2009

Publisher: University of Nevada Press

Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction

From the publisher’s website:

The stories in this collection explore those moments when the seemingly fixed coordinates of our lives abruptly give way – when mother love fractures, a faithful husband abandons his family, a conscientious middle-class life implodes, or loyalty demands an excruciating sacrifice. The characters share a fundamental predicament, the struggle to name and embrace some faith that can break their fall. In equal measure, they hunger for and resist this elusive possibility and what it demands of them.

The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories deals with a range of circumstances and relationships, and with characters who must decide what they are willing to risk for the sake of transformation, or for the right to refuse it. The stories trace the effort to traverse the boundaries between one state and another/–between conviction and self-doubt, recklessness and despair, resignation and rebellion. And each story propels the reader to imagine what will happen next, to register the unfinished and always precarious quality of every life. 

I’m a fan of the short story format.  I never really gave much thought to how skilled an author would need to be in order to give the reader a fully developed story, with characters and situations the reader would care about in just a few pages, but think about it.  Without 300+ pages to develop a plot and interest a reader, you’d need to grab them quickly and make each word count.  Catherine Brady does just that with The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories, a collection of 11 short stories loosely connected by geography and by the theme of disappointment. 

All the stories speak to the human condition and the frailties inherent in our relationships with others.  While literary in tone, it is still highly readable and relatable.  Each story is completely unique yet similar, with the common thread being that they are all populated with complex characters that seem worn down by life, who are struggling, who perhaps have compromised too much or made poor choices.  A shift of some sort has taken place; their expectations haven’t been met and they are grasping at something, anything, to make things better, or at least to keep things from getting any worse.     

My favorite story in the collection is called Slender Little Thing, not only for its subject matter but for its structure.  Ms. Brady uses an interesting technique, one I haven’t seen before.  The first paragraph sets up the story of a woman named Cerise who became pregnant at 19 and, having no other marketable skills, took a job as a nanny for another family- raising someone else’s children in order to support herself and her daughter.  Each sentence in the first paragraph is used to begin subsequent paragraphs.. so the second sentence in the first paragraph becomes the first sentence of the next paragraph, and so on.  I’m having difficulty explaining this coherently, but it was a really effective use of repetition and not at all gimmicky.  It seemed nearly poetic and reminded me of a thing I often do myself, repeating something like “Everything will be ok” in my mind in order to convince myself that it’s true. 

Catherine Brady has a rare talent.  Not only was she able to make me care about her characters, but she also made me wonder what they’d do next, and thoughts of them still linger in my head days after finishing this collection.  Her stories grabbed me from the very first paragraph.  Beautifully written and thoughtfully constructed, this is a collection I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys fiction in any form.

Please check out my Q & A with Catherine Brady HERE

Many thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for coordinating this tour.  You can learn more about Catherine and her work on her website.  

Interview: Catherine Brady, author of The Mechanics of Falling

catherine-brady

Today I welcome the lovely and talented Catherine Brady, author of The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories (reviewed HERE).  I wanted to find out more about her after reading her outstanding collection of short stories, and she thoughtfully answered all of my nosy questions for your reading pleasure.


BOTB: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

CB: I was born in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in a suburb just a little further north from Chicago, Northbrook.

mofBOTB: When did you start writing? How did you get interested in it?

CB: I started to write just about as soon as I learned to read. I’m not sure that counts, though! I started to get serious about writing when I was in college, and then only because a writing teacher drew me aside and encouraged me to apply to a graduate writing program. I grew up in a working class, immigrant family, and it was hard for me to feel that I could dare to be a writer.

BOTB: Along with short stories, you’ve also written a biography. Which type of writing do you prefer? Which is more difficult?

CB: I prefer to write fiction, because I think it uses every resource you have. Writing about fictional characters is rooted in an effort to empathize—to try to see into someone else’s heart, to try to make sense of the mystery of other people. And then you have to strategize how to make a story both convincing and surprising, and you have to think about using language that is both precise and suggestive. It’s like playing a game where you can’t say what you actually want to say but have to give only clues, so that the reader is the one who says, ah, that’s what’s going on here. So you have to use your analytical mind, your creative mind, and your heart, which makes writing fiction the most completely satisfying.

bbok_eb_oThat said, I really enjoyed writing the biography, because I had to learn so much in order to even attempt it. The book is about molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, whose research has important implications for human health (including cancer treatment), so I had to attempt to understand the science. But what really captured my attention was how to find a dramatic arc for her life story, and I was so curious about how she has managed to succeed in such a competitive field when she is such a modest, deferential person. If you met her, you would not imagine what she has accomplished. On the other hand, if you talked to her about science, you’d quickly realize there is a steely mind underneath that sweet exterior. So writing the biography was something like writing a novel, with the difference that my main character was alive and well and fully able to contradict my assumptions or interpretations.

BOTB: Is there a novel in you waiting to come out?

CB: I am working on a novel right now, and I’m really enjoying it. I think that writing the biography has really helped me to think about a character’s life in terms of this longer arc.

BOTB: When you write your short stories, do you start with an idea about a character, an incident, a place, or something else?

CB: Different stories start with different triggers. Usually, a story comes from a glimmer in the corner of your eye. A detail that is just an aside in a story someone else tells you or an image that interests you for reasons you don’t understand. I began The Mechanics of Falling & Other Stories when I saw one of those flyers people post when they’re looking for a room-mate. This one had a spelling error: Looking for a Female Tenet (instead of “tenant”). That slip in language really interested me, and it was only after I wrote a story with that title and a few more stories in the book that I realized there was a thematic issue that really encompasses all the stories in the book. I’m fascinated by the mistakes people make, how much they reveal about what is at the core of a person, and I’m especially interested in the mistakes that we just refuse to admit are mistakes in the face of all kinds of pressure. What you won’t surrender to practicality or reality says so much about what you most need to believe.

BOTB: Do you think a short story collection would be a good choice for a book club, and if so, why?

CB: I think book groups are sometimes reluctant to tackle short story collections, for two reasons. One is that people worry that stories are going to be literary, difficult, and not deliver that basic satisfaction of storytelling and intimacy with a character that you can get from so many novels. But I think good short stories always deliver that, and anything literary is an extra that can intensify this sense of connection, even if you don’t particularly want to analyze it. The second reason that story collections are difficult for book groups is that it’s hard to discuss all the stories in a book at one meeting. Each one offers a whole different set of characters and different themes. But if you realize that you can “browse” a story collection, picking out just a few stories for longer discussion, instead of reading and discussing the book straight through the way that you would a novel, you can have a lot of fun reading story collections. If you discuss even a few of the stories in more depth, it gives you a sense of what’s working in the book as a whole, how these different life predicaments might be connected.

BOTB: Have you had the opportunity to talk with book clubs about The Mechanics of Falling? If so, what was that experience like? Were you surprised by any observations or comments made at a book club meeting?

book_cbl_oCB: I haven’t spoken to book clubs about Mechanics, but I have done so with my previous book, Curled in the Bed of Love. It’s always fun to hear what other people saw in the stories; your readers bring their own experience to the book, so they are always adding something to the meaning –showing you something you couldn’t even have anticipated. My stories are largely concerned with the lives of women who juggle work and family, who aren’t so sure we’ve come a long way, baby, and aren’t so sure they’ve made the “right” compromises in their lives. So if I’m talking to a book club that is largely women in my own age range, we’re talking about ourselves, our lives.

BOTB: What do you like to do in your free time?

CB: Read. And hike.

BOTB: Read any good books lately? Anything you’d like to recommend?

I was just rereading Alice Munro’s story collection, The Love of a Good Woman. Like so many writers, I love her work. And I recently read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is a wonderful novel, told in such an amazing vital voice.

For more information about Catherine and her work, please visit her website.

Many thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for coordinating this tour and another big THANK YOU to Catherine Brady!!

Teaser Tuesdays – 3/31/09

 

Teaser Tuesdays~

tuesday-tMiz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

fallMy teaser this week comes from an outstanding short story collection called The Mechanics of Falling by Catherine Brady.  I will be hosting Catherine on her virtual book tour for  TLC Book Tours on April 22nd.  This excerpt comes from page 22 in the story called “The Dazzling World”:

“Making a fuss was Cam’s way of encountering the world.  It would be his loud voice that boomed out a protest when someone cut in line at the grocery store, prompting laughter, or his contentious remark about their neighbor’s loud music late one night that would result in an invitation to the next party.”

 

Yeah, I know somebody like that.  Actually, I married him.  

What are you reading this week?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 85 other followers