Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: Mama's Child by Joan Steinau Lester

Title: Mama's Child
Author: Joan Steinau Lester
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through JKS Communications

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

A stunning tale about the deeply entrenched conflicts between a white mother and her biracial daughter.

Mama’s Child  is story of an idealistic young white woman who traveled to the American South as a civil rights worker, fell in love with an African American man, and started a family in San Francisco, where the more liberal city embraced them—except when it didn’t. They raise a son and daughter, but the tensions surrounding them have a negative impact on their marriage, and they divorce when their children are still young. For their biracial daughter, this split further destabilizes her already challenged sense of self—“Am I black or white?” she must ask herself, “Where do I belong?” Is she her father’s daughter alone?

As the years pass, the chasm between them widens, even as the mother attempts to hold on to the emotional chord that binds them. It isn’t until the daughter, Ruby, herself becomes a wife and mother that she begins to develop compassion and understanding for the many ways that her own mother’s love transcended race and questions of identity.

My Review:

Holy cow, peeps.  You could write a dissertation covering all of the tough racial and familial issues that Lester brings to light here in Mama's Child.  As the description above implies, the primary focus of the novel is on Elizabeth, a white mother, and Ruby, her biracial daughter.  The story alternates being told from their two perspectives...and believe me, their perspectives are VERY different.  However, together they do an impressive job of illustrating the racial turbulence of the 70's, the evolution of civil rights, and the personal journeys that so many people undergo as they come to understand their own racial identities.

I was especially enamored with the way Ruby's character developed.  You get to watch her evolve from a relatively secure and happy eleven-year-old, all the way until she is nearly forty and struggling with how to connect with her mother.  Lester does a great job slowly unfolding her story, and delving into all of the emotional highs and lows she encounters as she tries to find her place in the world.  Even at times when Ruby was being especially stubborn or obstinate, I still found myself rooting for her along the way.  Her unique, rich perspective alone is a great reason to jump into this novel.

Elizabeth, though, was another story for me.  I never felt any sympathy for her, and in fact I was highly annoyed by her character from page one.  She has got to be one of the more selfish and obtuse characters I've ever encountered.  I don't think the reader was meant to always enjoy her, but I could tell that by the end, the author was trying to help me connect with her--it just couldn't happen.  I think part of the issue for me was that the "whys" of her actions were never as well-developed as Ruby's.  I didn't see a clear connection between her radical revolutionary ways and her childhood (or any other event in her background).  She also does a lot of things very abruptly (gets divorced, jumps into a lesbian relationship, etc.) which again, would not seem as strange or sudden in the text if I was given more of an understanding of why she was the way she was.  She needed more emotional development.

There was also a lot of disjointedness between Elizabeth and Ruby's perspectives at times.  For example, they each relayed a completely different version of how Elizabeth first told Ruby that she was in a lesbian relationship.  At first, I thought this was done to show the potential inaccuracies of both POVs, but after a while it just started to feel unintentionally confusing.  I wanted more smoothness between their narratives.

Okay readers, you know me--I get picky about details.  But I'm done with my issues, promise.  Going back to my initial comments, this novel has an epic scope: both in the number of issues it brings forth, and in the amount of time it covers.  If you have an interest in the civil rights movement and racial identity, I doubt you will find a better fictional work that covers them.  The narrative did lack some emotional development and detail at times, but if you're ready to tackle some tough issues with a fascinating cast of characters, Mama's Child is a good bet.

Much thanks to Sami and JKS Communications for including me on this tour!

Have you read any good fictional work that covers the civil rights movement?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (31)

Welcome back, wordy friends!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorite new-to-me words from Indiscretion by Charles Dubow.  
All definitions from

1. amanuensis. "And what of the third person in this drama? (Naturally I don't include myself.  I am merely the amanuensis.)"   

a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another; secretary.

As in weeks past, I am just SO impressed by Dubow's vocabulary in this novel!!

2. puerile. "One night we go to a Broadway show.  Something puerile and entertaining."  

1. of or pertaining to a child or to childhood.
2. childishly foolish; immature or trivial: a puerile piece of writing.

I've heard this word spoken in conversation before, but was never totally sure of the meaning.

3. riposte. "'We always have had, darling,' she ripostes." 
1. a quick, sharp return in speech or action; counterstroke: a brilliant riposte to an insult.
2. in fencing: a quick thrust given after parrying a lunge.
3. to make a riposte.
4. to reply or retaliate.

I really like the use of this as a verb here.  Never seen it used that way.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Armchair BEA 2013: Intro!

Happy Tuesday, lovely readers!  I hope you all (or at least the US followers) had a great Memorial Day weekend.  I went kind of MIA around here, as we were busy traveling to my parent's house in CT, playing outside with Small Fry, and eating way too much food.

BUT, I am back this morning with my Armchair BEA intro post.  For my non-blogger readers, Armchair BEA coincides with the Book Expo America convention in NYC--a convention that I DESPERATELY wanted to attend this year, but due to finances and such minutae, was unable to do so.  So, the next best thing is Armchair BEA--an online "convention" for all the book bloggers that couldn't make it to NYC this week.  :)

Today is the Armchair BEA kickoff, and all participants are doing intro here are five quick questions/answers to tell you a little about me and the bloggy blog:

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? 

Many of you already know this, but: I'm Kelly.  I'm almost-not-quite-30.  I live in Upstate New York with my husband, my almost-2-year-old son (referred to here as Small Fry), and a very hairy dog.  I've been book blogging since August 2012.  I got into it because I already had a pretty long history with personal blogging, BUT I honestly found my personal life to be rather boring fodder for blog posts.  I've been a psychotically devoted reader for as long as I can remember, so I decided that books would be way more fun to write about than the home-buying process, or the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding.  (You're welcome.)
Me, Small Fry, and some actual fries.
2. What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013?

Currently I'm in the midst of two print books (Mama's Child by Joan Steinau Lester, and Cooked by Michael Pollan) and one audiobook (The Round House by Louise Erdrich).  So far I'm loving Cooked the most, CANNOT put it down.
Best of 2013 so far?  Hard to choose, but it might be Indiscretion by Charles Dubow.

3. Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you. 

My first year in college, I was a Pathobiology major (which is a fancy way of saying Animal Microbiology, basically).  For one of the intro animal science courses, I had to train a sheep.  Do you know how impossible it is to train a sheep?  I spent weeks just trying to get a leash on my freaking sheep (who I named Eddie, after my younger brother, because it was so stubborn...I know, I'm a jerk).  Then I had to train it to walk in a straight line for an agriculture show.  Not to mention all the hours I spent shearing it beforehand.  Needless to say, by sophomore year I was a Family Studies major.

4.  If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why? 

I have a lot of authors that I would love to meet, but they would probably make me so nervous that I'd be a terrible dinner date (I'm looking at you, Stephen King).  However, I am a fanatic for Michael Pollan's books, and he does not seem too intimidating, so I think I'd go with him.  Especially because his books are based on food--so who better to share a meal with?
As for fictional characters, I'd love to meet Lisbeth Salander, even though I'm quite sure she'd want nothing to do with me.

5.  What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?   

I wish that Derry, Maine was a real place.  I'd like to visit...for about 10 seconds.

Happy Armchair BEA, peeps!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Flashback: A Ring, A Rock Band, And Reading

Back in September, I did a little flashback post in honor of my 5th wedding anniversary with the Hubster. Today is yet another important day in our romantic history, so I figured another flashback post was in order!  Today is the 7th anniversary of our engagement.  (Awwwww)

We have kind of a unique engagement story.  We went on a cruise to the Caribbean in May 2006.  I had NO idea that Hubs was carrying a ring around in his pocket, just waiting for the perfect time to pop the question.  For the first 2.5 days of the cruise, he brought that darn ring everywhere.  He sweated profusely every time we went through security, worrying that the metal detector would go off and he'd have to reveal it to me right there, in the security line.

Luckily that did not happen.  On May 23, we found ourselves in St. Thomas, enjoying some sun at Morningstar Beach.  We struck up a conversation with the people next to us...who turned out to be Matthew and Gunnar Nelson (of the '90's rock group The Nelsons) and their manager Tami.  (If you need a refresher, watch this video and thank me later:)

They were super cool/friendly and we chatted with them for a while.  Turns out they were the surprise musical act on our cruise ship for the next night.

After a while, I decided to go down to the water and snorkel.  Hubs felt this was HIS MOMENT.  He asked Tami if she would take pictures while he went and proposed to his girlfriend.  And that, my friends, is how I found myself knee-deep in the Atlantic Ocean with a snorkel in my hand, trying to comprehend the heartfelt words that Hubs was saying to me on one knee, while Matthew and Gunnar Nelson cheered us on from the beach and their manager took pictures.

Naturally, I said yes.  We also sat front row at the Nelsons' show the next night, and got a feature on their website for a while.

And that is our awesomely random engagement story.

Okay, so you're like, this is a book blog, what does this have to do with books?  Just like with my wedding post, I am flashing you back to what I was reading in May 2006!  Here's the reading material I had with me on our cruise (thank goodness for Goodreads keeping track of my life), with a short mini-review of each.

Cujo by Stephen King

I know, not really vacation reading, right?  But I'd had this one on my shelf for such a long time, and I figured vacation was a good time to finally get to it.  (And if you think this is bad, I read It on a European cruise a few years later...yeah.)  I am a big SK fan, but this actually turned out to be pretty low on my list of his novels.  Most people know that Cujo is basically a rabid dog that kills people--basic premise.  There's a more interesting backstory than that, but that's the gist.  It's not a terrible story, but there's about 150 pages where this mom and her son are locked in their car...not really doing anything...because Cujo is outside.  There was supposed to be a lot of suspense there, but it didn't work for me--just dragged on and on.  Overall I'd say it's not a bad book, but it's also not an SK fave for me.

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

OK, Kelly, again...this is terrible vacation reading!  What were you thinking?  But Angela's Ashes is actually a fantastic book, though depressing.  This is Frank McCourt's memoir of his childhood in Limerick, Ireland.  His family was extremely poor and struggled for survival.  Years of famine, illness, and death plagued them.  McCourt tells his story plainly but in a way that is sure to touch your heart.  I felt myself rooting for him throughout the novel, and I was happy to see a glimmer of hope at the end. It was surely enough to make me go out at read his second memoir, 'Tis, soon after.  An excellent memoir that covers some heavy topics.

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

I bought this one in the airport when I was afraid I needed something lighter to read (ya think?).  Sophie Kinsella is always good for lightening the mood.  Samantha, an attorney, walks out of her high-profile job, and through a series of zany mishaps, ends up being hired out in the country as a housekeeper.  Only problem--she hasn't cleaned or cooked a thing in her life.  In typical Kinsella fashion, many ridiculous mistakes and unexpected romances ensue.  If you enjoy the chick-lit genre, this is a fluffy one that will capture your attention for a while.  I thought it was "eh" only because the concept was SO similar to the Shopaholic series (Becky Bloomwood, the accidental finance guru, anyone?).  But of the three books I've listed here, this one is certainly the most appropriate for light vacation reading!

Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane!  Happy Engage-a-versary, Hubster!!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (30)

Welcome back, wordy friends!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorite new-to-me words from  Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson.  
All definitions from (except where noted).

1. carnelian. "Like every other boathouse in Hasselosund, ours was painted a carnelian red with an even darker red pitched roof and white trim around the eaves, doors, and windows."

a red or reddish variety of chalcedony, used in jewelry.

And apparently "chalcedony" is a variety of quartz.

2. tastevin. "A sommelier with a sterling silver tastevin around his neck stood by the bar, ready to guide guests through the extensive French wine list."  

a small, very shallow silver cup or saucer traditionally used by winemakers and sommeliers when judging the maturity and taste of a wine.

I actually got this definition from Wikipedia, because didn't have it.  A neat word for the wine lovers out there!

3. coffered. "Finally, we passed a dining room far more opulent than Belle Avenue's, with upholstered chairs and coffered ceilings, sparkling chandeliers, and columns carved from marble."
having coffers.

Not helpful,!  "Coffers" are sunken panels seen in ceilings...had to look that one up.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Audiobook Giveaway Winner!

Morning, my dear readers!  Just a quick post today to announce the winner of the audiobook CD copy of Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline.

And the winner (chosen randomly by Rafflecopter) is...

Jennifer from The Relentless Reader!

Woot woooooooot!  Congrats Jen!  Check your inbox for an email from me.  And readers, if you've never been to her blog before, check it out, because it is bookishly fabulous.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert

Title: I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag
Author: Jennifer Gilbert
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: May 15, 2012
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

When Jennifer Gilbert was just a year out of college, a twenty-two-year-old fresh-faced young woman looking forward to a bright future, someone tried to cut her life short in the most violent way. But she survived, and not wanting this traumatic event to define her life, she buried it deep within and never spoke of it again.

She bravely launched a fabulous career in New York as an event planner, designing lavish parties and fairy-tale weddings. Determined to help others celebrate and enjoy life's greatest moments, she was convinced she'd never again feel joy herself. Yet it was these weddings, anniversaries, and holiday parties, showered with all her love and attention through those silent, scary years, that slowly brought her back to life.

Always the calm in the event-planning storm--she could fix a ripped wedding dress, solve the problem of an undelivered wedding cake in the nick of time, and move a party with two days' notice when disaster struck--there was no crisis that she couldn't turn into a professional triumph. Somewhere along the way, she felt a stirring in her heart and began yearning for more than just standing on the sidelines living vicariously through other people's lives. She fell in love, had her heart broken a few times, and then one day she found true love in a place so surprising that it literally knocked her out of her chair.

As Gilbert learned over and over again, no one's entitled to an easy road, and some people's roads are bumpier than others. But survive each twist and turn she does--sometimes with tears, sometimes with laughter, and often with both.

Warm, wise, alternately painful and funny, I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is an inspiring memoir of survival, renewal, and transformation. It's a tale about learning to let go and be happy after years of faking it, proving that while we can't always control what happens to us, we can control who we become. And instead of anticipating our present in a goodie bag at the end of an event, we realize our presence at every event is the real gift.

My Review:

I've read several good memoirs lately, and they have reminded me that their authors have a daunting job.  How do you tell your life story honestly, and keep it intriguing, while also maintaining a tone that doesn't smack of self-aggrandizement?  Balancing those three factors is no easy feat, because you can lose your reader quickly if any of them are off-kilter (especially that last one).  Jennifer Gilbert's memoir impressed me though, because she manages that balance beautifully.  I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag takes you on a candid journey through the highs and lows of Gilbert's life.  She has some amazing life lessons to share, but she also makes it clear that she is still learning as life marches along.  I appreciated that forthrightness, and Gilbert's sincere tone throughout the book is a big reason why I loved it.

Let's talk for a hot second about how amazingly resilient this woman is.  She has faced some seriously devastating tragedies in her life, and the fact that she is now able to look back on them with such clarity is inspiring.  Gilbert has suffered an attempted murder, countless heartbreaks, that, by themselves, could totally sink someone for a lifetime.  Yet she has managed to pull through, become a successful businesswoman/wife/mother, and write a memoir that allows her to effectively share what she has learned.  If that's not uplifting, I don't know what is.  Her final message is simple ("You can't control what may happen to you in this life, but you can control who you want to be after it happens") but stirring...a good reminder for any difficult times in life.

Gilbert's story is sure to pull at your heart strings, because whether you're a daughter, mother, wife, girlfriend, or friend, there is some piece of her journey that you will find relatable.  I was personally moved by the last sections regarding her struggles in pregnancy and motherhood.  She speaks so meaningfully of the hopes and fears we have for our children--it immediately resonated within me.  While I've never suffered the magnitude of trauma that Gilbert has, that doesn't mean her story is out of reach for me as a reader.  She shares it in a way that clearly illustrates her frustration and pain, while also allowing you to relate it to it on your own level.

An added bonus here is that, among the harder subjects, you get some entertaining looks into Gilbert's job as an event planner in New York City.  Her job is not predictable by any means, and she's worked with some...interesting clientele over the years.  These tidbits add some levity, while also continuing to support the other, tougher stories at the heart of the book.

This is a fairly quick read (just over 200 pages), though not necessarily a "light" one.  There are some tough subjects tackled here.  But if you're in the mood for a memoir that will move and inspire, I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag is your next book.  (And admit it, you're kind of intrigued by the title anyway.)  I was going to offer up my copy for a giveaway, but sorry guys--it's too good.  I'm keeping it for a re-read.  NYAH-NYAH.

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Jennifer Gilbert on her websiteFacebook page, or Twitter account.

Have you read any inspiring memoirs lately?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Small Fry Saturday #18: Does A Kangaroo Have A Mother, Too? by Eric Carle

It's time for installment #18 of Small Fry Saturdays!  This is a when-I-feel-like-it meme to showcase some of books that my 22-month-old Small Fry is currently reading.  Feel free to do a SFS post on your blog (with the graphic above) or leave a comment below about your favorite kiddie reads.

Does A Kangaroo Have A Mother, Too? by Eric Carle

This post is kind of a week late, I suppose, but I'll tell you why.  Each night before bed, we let Small Fry pick 2 books for us to read aloud to him.  The night before Mother's Day, he chose this one for the first time ever, and all this week it's been his constant favorite.  HOW CUTE IS THAT.  Right on time for Mom's Day.  However, too late to be last week's Small Fry Saturday post, thus I'm featuring it this week instead.

I am familiar with the well-known Eric Carle books (Very Hungry Caterpillar, etc.) but when Small Fry was born, my eyes were opened to the vast library of other books that he's done as well.  Does A Kangaroo Have A Mother, Too? is one of those.  I'd never heard of it until last year, but it's a cute book with a simple concept.  Each page asks "Does a ________ have a mother, too?" (different animal on each page).  And the answer is always, "Yes, of course they do!" before moving on to the next animal. This gets very repetitive for the adult reading aloud, but at his age, Small Fry loves it.  Every time I turn the page, he yells, "YES!" because he knows that this animal does, in fact, have a mother too.

The illustrations are in the typical fun Eric Carle style, very eye-catching.  This is a great one for younger kiddos that will enjoy the repetition on each well as any young animal lovers that you have in the house.

What's your favorite Eric Carle book?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Review: The Bridge of Years by May Sarton

Title: The Bridge of Years
Author: May Sarton
Publisher: WW Norton
Publication Date: April 18, 1946
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

This novel, first published in 1946, is one of May Sarton's earliest and, some critics think, one of her best. It takes place during the years between the world wars and explores the life of a Belgian family, the Duchesnes, and their mutual devotion which intensifies under the shadow of impending disaster.

Mélanie Duchesne, mother of three, is an active businesswoman, whose courage, energy, and optimism bind the family and its farm together. Paul, her husband, is a philosopher, detached, moody, continually embroiled in the spiritual conflicts of a crumbling Europe.

The last years before the second war are tense ones, a time for stock-taking, for a quickening of the pace of life. But it is Mélanie who encourages her family to proceed with their plans, to continue with their way of life. And it is Mélanie who decides their future as the Germans launch their invasion of Belgium.

My Review:

I'll admit it--when I started looking for a book for this month's Around the World challenge, I wasn't super stoked.  I was having a really hard time finding a good Belgium pick.  I usually try to choose a monthly novel for this challenge that looks at least somewhat familiar to me, but nothing on the Belgium list jumped out.  However, based on its description, I put The Bridge of Years on hold at the library and hoped for the best.

Final verdict: SO GLAD that I gave this one a chance!  May Sarton's writing is absolutely beautiful, and I found myself completely enveloped in the Duchesnes' daily drama right from page one.

I will note right away that this is not a novel with an "action" plot.  Despite being set in a very turbulent political period, this is very much a character-driven work.  Sarton hones in on the relationships between each member of the Duchesne family, and spends a lot of time developing their joys, misgivings, and philosophies as the book progresses.  When the novel begins, World War 1 has just ended--by the end, World War 2 has recently pushed into Belgium.  What Sarton manages to do is create a concise illustration of the Duchesnes' ever-changing family dynamic, as the politics and worries of the wider world bear down upon them.

What is most striking about this novel is how each character brilliantly comes to life on the page.  A period of twenty years goes by in the course of the book, and yet Sarton is able to convincingly portray the maturity and development of each widely-different person: everyone from Melanie, the vivacious and charitable family matriarch, to Pierre, a young family friend who often spends summers with the Duchesnes.  Sarton eloquently delineates every character's inner conflicts, and to me, this is The Thing that makes this novel worth devouring.  She writes, in just 342 pages, words that seem like they belong in a much longer epic novel:

"Life was not lived at the point of intensity...when he finished his first book, when Colette was conceived.  Life might be conceived there, but it was maintained on another level, less pure, less violent, closer to earth, difficult, gradual, asking above all the ability to endure."

The last third of the novel did feel a little slower for me, as politics become a larger part of the Duchesnes' everyday lives.  However, I felt such a bond with the characters by then that it really did not disrupt my reading experience.  And the ending left me with a lot to think about, as the Duchesnes try to determine if their way of life can continue as war becomes their daily reality.

I feel like I can't do this one justice in one small review.  So you'll just have to trust me.  If you're looking for an introspective, fluidly-written, character-driven novel, The Bridge of Years is a wonderful choice.  This one snuck up on me, and reminded me that the more well-known novels are not the only good ones out there!

What novels have taken you by surprise lately?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (29)

Welcome back, wordy friends!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorite new-to-me words from Found Objects by Peter Gelfan.  
All definitions from

1. roué. "Harl thinks he and I have a lot in common; he sees me as a fellow roué, a man who lives as he wants to and f*ck 'em if they can't take a joke."

a dissolute and licentious man; rake.

What a fancy word for a distinctly non-fancy meaning!

2. misanthrope. "The chances of getting caught prohibited searching his room or his car, so I opted for the favorite tactic of the armchair misanthrope and hit the Web."  

a hater of humankind.

Harsh!  I think the narrator meant it with a bit of cheek here though.

3. verisimilitude. "I'm suspicious of such searches, not only because memory more and more seems like imagination brushed with a patina of verisimilitude, but also because at the time these moments happen, we can't see their consequences and only much later look back upon them as defining."
1. the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability: The play lacked verisimilitude.
2. something, as an assertion, having merely the appearance of truth.

Once I saw the definition, I realized I could have figured it out from the "veri" root.  Good word.

What are your new words this week?

Monday, May 13, 2013

GIVEAWAY and Audiobook Review: Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline

Title: Don't Go
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: St. Martin's Press/Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
Source: CD copy received from the publisher for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Lisa Scottoline's  Don't Go  introduces us to Dr. Mike Scanlon, an army doctor called to serve in Afghanistan, who is acutely aware of the dangers he’ll face and the hardships it will bring his wife Chloe and newborn baby. And deep inside, he doesn’t think of himself as a hero, but a healer.

However, in an ironic turn of events, as Mike operates on a wounded soldier in a war-torn country, Chloe dies at home in the suburbs, in an apparently freak household accident. Devastated, he returns home to bury her, only to discover that the life he left behind has fallen apart. He’s a stranger to his baby girl, and his medical practice has downsized in his absence. Worse, he learns a shocking secret that sends him into a downward spiral.

Grief-stricken, Mike makes decisions upon returning to Afghanistan which will change his life forever.  It’s not until he comes home for good that he grasps the gravity of his actions, and realizes he must fight the most important battle of his life, to reclaim his life and his daughter. Along the way, he discovers that everything is not as it seems, and he learns ugly truths about those he loves the most, as well as the true meaning of heroism.

My Review:

One of the first reviews I ever did on this blog was for Lisa Scottoline's Look Again .  While I didn't give it a roaring endorsement, I was left feeling like I needed to give her work another shot.  Read the plot summary of any one of her books (this one included), and I think you'd be hard-pressed not to want to pick it up like NOW.  She comes up with some truly unique and twisty plot ideas, and since most of them fall into a "women's fiction" category, my interest is always piqued.

Her latest release is Don't Go, and I decided it was high time for me to give her novels another shot.  Overall, I'm glad I did, though this book had its high and low points for me as well.

The best thing about this novel is the sense of mystery surrounding it, right from the first chapter.  It's told from Chloe's perspective as she dies, and there's a cliffhanger ending to the chapter that left me saying, "Okay, I'm committed to reading this entire book now, WELL PLAYED."  As with Look Again, I often thought I knew exactly who was involved in each part of the mystery--in fact, at one point I was not looking forward to writing this review, because I was going to have to call the book out for being so predictable.  However, SMUGNESS IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.  Learn from me.  My predictions were totally wrong, and the ending took a turn that I truly did not see coming.  I love it when a book can completely unravel my super-sleuthing skills, so this was certainly a big advantage for the novel.

The flip side to this is that, at times, the details of the plot seemed carelessly handled--and in one place, they were downright wrong.  I never do this, but I have to throw in a SPOILER ALERT right now so that I can illustrate my point.  Did you see it?   I SAID SPOILER ALERT!  SPOILERS ALL UP IN THE PARAGRAPH BELOW!  You have been warned.

Okay, so when Mike returns from Afghanistan, he finds out from Chloe's autopsy report that she was 4 weeks pregnant.  OH MAN, major downer, because in the words of Maury Povich, he is NOT the father since he was in Afghanistan at that time.  Mike then finds some emails between Chloe and a mystery suitor proving that they had sex while Mike was away.  Here's the detail that (really REALLY) bothered me: Chloe died December 15.  The emails show that she had sex with Mystery Guy around November 11.  THAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU 4 WEEKS PREGNANT ON DECEMBER 15.  It makes you roughly 6-7 weeks pregnant.  This is biology, people, so get ready for some knowledge.  The first two weeks of pregnancy, you're not really pregnant.  You conceive at around the 2 week mark.  If she was 4 weeks preggo on December 15, she conceived around the end of November.  This was an absolutely GLARING mistake, and since it plays a significant role in the mystery around Chloe's death, it bothered the heck out of me.


There was also a point in the novel where Mike got in a fight, the cops were called, and the cops showed up and immediately arrested him without interviewing him OR the person he fought first.  This is another example of a head-scratching detail that detracted from the reading/listening experience for me.  I just wish a little bit more care had been given to finer points such as these.

Okay, enough of my overzealous attention to detail.  Let's talk about the narration on the audiobook.  Jeremy Davidson did a really excellent job voicing this novel.  He's a perfect pick as the main character (Mike)--especially because many of you may recognize him from the TV show Army Wives.  However, he also had an impressive array of other voices that he had to portray, and he did a great job making each character distinct for the listener.  I'd say the only one I was iffy on was Mike's friend Jim--he was supposed to have a Philadelphia accent that came out more like a southern California surfer dude.  But that aside, Davidson does excellent work here, and lends an appropriate air of drama to the entire story.

Overall?  Don't Go is a fantastic pick if you want a family drama with lots of unpredictable twists.  Scottoline definitely excels in making readers second-guess their ideas about a plot, and I think that's a huge plus in her novels.  However, the details weren't always handled well, which led to a clunky reading experience for me.  Readers who are less hung up on nitty-gritty plot points may, admittedly, have a smoother ride than I did!

Other reviews of Don't Go:
An Unconventional Librarian
Ramblings of a Marine Wife
Robin Reads and Writes


I have one audiobook CD copy of Don't Go to give away to a lucky reader.  It's been used (once, by me!) and is in great condition.  Just enter using the Rafflecopter below (US entrants only please).  Giveaway closes May 20!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: The Midwife's Revolt by Jodi Daynard

Welcome to the next stop on the review tour for The Midwife’s Revolt by Jodi Daynard.

Title: The Midwife's Revolt
Author: Jodi Daynard
Publisher: Opossum Press
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Source: e-copy received from Novel Publicity tours for an honest review

Book Description:
The Midwife’s Revolt takes the reader on a journey to the founding days of America. It follows one woman’s path, Lizzie Boylston, from her grieving days of widowhood after Bunker Hill, to her deepening friendship with Abigail Adams and midwifery, and finally to her dangerous work as a spy for the Cause. A novel rich in historical detail, The Midwife’s Revolt opens a window onto the real lives of colonial women.

Jodi Daynard’s historical fiction The Midwife’s Revolt has eared a 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon and praise from libraries, historical associations and is even featured at The Museum of the American Revolution.

“A charming, unexpected, and decidedly different view of the Revolutionary War.”
—Publishers Weekly

“This humorous, exciting and touching story retells the familiar saga of the Revolutionary War in a stunning new way that feels fresh and alive.”
—Kirkus Reviews

My Review:
I used to read a LOT of historical fiction--I got especially hooked on the Tudors a few years ago, but after a while I felt a little burnt out in that genre.  However, lately I've been hankering to get back into it, and when I saw The Midwife's Revolt offered as a Novel Publicity tour, I couldn't resist.

This was a new foray for me in historical fiction, because I've never read anything in that genre focusing on the Revolutionary War.  This time period has always been interesting for me though, because I grew up right down the street from a Revolutionary War battlefield (where the Battle of Groton Heights was fought in Connecticut).  Also (coincidentally enough), last weekend my husband, Small Fry, and I discovered the Saratoga National Battlefield not a far drive from our house--and the Battle of Freeman's Farm (located there) is actually mentioned in The Midwife's Revolt!  So I was pretty fascinated by all the real-life history around me as I read this novel.
Saratoga National Battlefield (photo courtesy
(And you're thinking, okay, great Kel, what about the book?)

The Midwife's Revolt does precisely what you want a historical fiction novel to do--it leaves you wondering where the fact ends and the fiction begins.  The protagonist, Lizzie Boylston, is surrounded by notable figures of the Revolution that you will surely recognize--John Adams, George Washington, Abigail Adams, etc.  The novel's central focus is on Lizzie and her personal journey throughout the war, but her interactions with these famous patriots lends the strong historical background that gives this novel its strength.  As a reader, I was constantly wondering how much of Lizzie's story (and the stories of those around her) were true, which kept me on my toes and wanting to turn the page.  (I won't spoil it for you, but rest assured that Daynard does make some notes at the end to let you know what was fact, and what was fiction.  Some of it is quite surprising!)

The storyline is complex; Lizzie goes through a lot in the many years that the novel covers, so it's quite epic in scope.  Despite this complexity, the novel never loses its feel of historical accuracy.  It's clear that Daynard did meticulous research to make sure that the book was fitting for the political and social customs of the period.  At times I will say it felt a little "textbookish"...there was so much historical detail, sometimes not interspersed with much personal dialogue, that it occasionally toed the line towards feeling like a nonfiction article.  This also led to the characters sometimes seeming a little flat, as it felt like they were trying too hard to be historically "true".  However, the movement of the plot always eventually got back on track, and Lizzie's story shone through.

Overall, I think The Midwife's Revolt is a good choice if you're looking for a historical fiction fix--especially if you have particular interest in the Revolutionary War.  History buffs will be impressed, and fiction fiends will enjoy the mysteries that Lizzie uncovers, as well as her personal struggles as a woman attempting to help the Rebel cause.  Lizzie certainly has a force of passion that makes her a unique character for this time period, and that alone should be a draw for many readers.

About the Author: Jodi Daynard is a writer of fiction, essays, and criticism. Her work has appeared in numerous periodicals, including The New York Times Book Review, The Village Voice, The Paris Review, Agni, New England Review and in several anthologies. She is the author of The Place Within: Portraits of the American Landscape by 20 Contemporary Writers (W. W. Norton). Ms. Daynard’s essays have been nominated for several prizes and mentioned in Best American Essays. She has taught writing at Harvard University, M.I.T., and in the MFA program at Emerson College , and served for seven years as Fiction Editor at Boston Review. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, The National Women’s Book Association, and the Author’s Guild. The Midwife’s Revolt is her first novel.

Prizes! Who doesn’t love awesome book themed gifts?  Jodi is offering A Kindle Fire to one reader as well as a Artemis Cameo Necklace, an American Flag Folk Art and a $25 Amazon Gift Card.  All you have to do is leave a comment and enter the Rafflecopter (below).  Of course, there are plenty of other ways to enter to win just by helping spread the word about The Midwife’s Revolt.

a Rafflecopter giveaway The Tour: Follow along and read more reviews of The Midwife’s Revolt.  You can see the full list of participating reviews HERE.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (28)

Welcome back, wordy friends!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorite new-to-me words from Found Objects by Peter Gelfan.  
All definitions from

1. thymus. "Making friends is a natural imperative for children, like eating and sleeping, but one which disappears, thymus-like, with adulthood."  

a ductless, butterfly-shaped gland lying at the base of the neck, formed mostly of lymphatic tissue and aiding in the production of T cells of the immune system: after puberty, the lymphatic tissue gradually degenerates.

Here's my biology lesson for the week.  Cool use of the word in the text!

2. atelier. "Jonah's guided tour arrived at my studio...'Your atelier,' he said."  

a workshop or studio, especially of an artist, artisan, or designer. .

Guess that one was pretty self-explanatory in the context it was used, but it was a word I didn't recognize.

3. semiotics. "I've never been able to decipher the semiotics of Erica's assemblages."
1. the study of signs and symbols as elements of communicative behavior; the analysis of systems of communication, as language, gestures, or clothing.
2. a general theory of signs and symbolism, usually divided in to the branches of pragmatics, semantics, and syntactics.

Erica's character has a tendency to leave random clusters of "found objects" around the house.  Here, the narrator is attempting to figure out what relationship the objects have to one another.

What are your new words this week?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: The Honest Toddler: A Child's Guide to Parenting by Bunmi Laditan

Title: The Honest Toddler: A Child's Guide to Parenting
Author: Honest Toddler...written under the supervision of Bunmi Laditan
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source: ARC provided by the author for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Bracingly candid, sweetly indignant, and writing with an unchecked sense of entitlement, the Internet’s wildly popular Honest Toddler delivers a guide to the parenting techniques he deems acceptable (keep the cake coming and the apple juice undiluted).

The toddler stage can be a rude awakening for parents, whose sweet infants morph, seemingly overnight, into tyrants ready to turn simple errands into hellish and humiliating experiences. Trying to convince your defiant darling to do something as simple as put on her shoes can feel like going to war. It’s not all blood, sweat, and tears, though. Toddlers can be charming little creatures, with their unfettered enthusiasm, wide grins, and ready hugs. In fact, what makes toddlers so fascinating is their unique blend of cute and demonic behavior. A toddler will take your hand and say "I love you," then slap you in the face.

Now,  The Honest Toddler  provides an indispensable guide to parenting that places the toddler’s happiness front and center. Who better to instruct parents on the needs of toddlers than a toddler himself?

In a voice that is at once inimitable and universal,  The Honest Toddler  turns his sharp eye to a wide range of subjects, including play date etiquette, meal preparation, healthy sleep habits, and the pernicious influence of self-appointed experts and so-called doctors. The result is a parenting guide like no other, one that will have moms and dads laughing through tears as they recognize their own child in the ongoing shenanigans of one bravely honest toddler.

My Review:

First question: are you familiar with the Honest Toddler already?  If not, please visit her (yes, it's a her! A mystery that this book finally answered for me) blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages first.  When you're done feeling ashamed and altering your parenting style (if you're a parent) or laughing your arse off (if you're not), come back and read my review.

Done?  You're a fan now, right?  At the very least, you're flabbergasted to the point of intrigue.  Okay then.

Honest Toddler is an anonymous...toddler who has been sharing her young wisdom with the world through social media since May 2012.  I wrote to HT a few months ago, promising to lower the ratio of water to juice in Small Fry's sippy cup if I could review an ARC of her upcoming parenting guide.  HT (and/or her mom) agreed to the deal, and thank goodness.  Because now I can share this important manifesto with the world.

Honest Toddler has a pretty simple philosophy on parenting.  Fewer Pinterest meals, more being allowed to roam pantsless, and stop "making a big deal".  It sounds easy, but as a parent, I often found myself taking HT's admonitions and suggestions to heart.  I learned a lot of important life facts from this book.  Did you know:

-That Grover Cleveland and Abraham Lincoln were not potty trained?
-That the "it" being cried out in the "cry it out" sleep love?
-That 50% of toddlers who wake up at 5am are gifted, and the other 50% have above average intelligence?
-That the human body is 75% juice?

I know.  I'm hitting you with some serious knowledge right now.  Honest Toddler has opened my eyes to the true nature of parenting and our lives will never be the same.

Besides the fact that this book has bettered me as a mother, it's also just all-around hilarious.  If you're already familiar with HT's voice from the blog/Facebook/Twitter updates, you know what to expect: a straightforward, sarcastic 'tude dispensing life lessons that leave every toddler parent wondering if their very own precious angel assisted in writing them.  Honest Toddler has 124,000+ likes on Facebook for a very simple reason: because every.single.person who has parented a 1- to 3-year-old can picture their kid thinking most (if not all) of the words that HT shares with the world.  The Child's Guide to Parenting takes that and puts it in book form.

If you're a loyal HT reader, you may recognize some of the material from HT's blog, but the reiterated information is reformatted in a way that doesn't make it feel repetitive.  And there is enough new material to make it a worthwhile read for the longtime followers.  New followers will find it easy to figure out HT's style early in the book, as each section begins with some Dear-Abby-ish letters to HT from parents, followed by a  chapter that delves further into each particular issue (potty training, food shopping, toddler entertainment, etc).

You all know that I'm a pretty discerning reader, but I have no complaints here.  People who haven't parented a toddler might not feel the humor as much, but parents of the world: you need to read this book.  As soon as you get off Pinterest and get your kid occupied with unlimited servings of cake.

Much thanks to HT's handler, Bunmi Laditan, for forwarding me a copy of this book for review!

Are you an Honest Toddler follower?  If you're a parent, how has HT changed your life?  Shameful parenting confessions welcomed and encouraged.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

April Showers Bring May Awesomes. (April 2013 in Review)

So April was a pretty awesome month.  Mostly because of the weather.  My pasty-pale self is now becoming pasty-pale with a scattering of freckles, which must mean the sun has arrived in Upstate New York.  If only all my freckles would meld together, I would be blessed with the most luscious tan.  Ah, the life of a ginger.

Also, my lil (not so lil anymore) brother got engaged this month!  I am wicked excited for him and his fiancee (who has received the Big Sister Seal of Approval).  Let the wedding plans begin!

As per usual in my monthly recaps, I will also grace you with a photo of Sir Small Fry.  He was very serious about his outdoor play time this month:
Obviously Mother has done something for which she should feel ashamed.
Now, enough about me, onward to the book-related goodness!  Apparently the warm weather led to less reading and more outdoor time, because my reading/posting pace was a little slower.

The April 2013 Fave/Least Fave choices were difficult, and honestly, my "least" fave shouldn't be read as being a "bad"'s just the one I gave the lowest rating to on Goodreads (a 3-star, by the way).

March 2013 Favorite:  How Green Was My Valley  by Richard Llewellyn
March 2013 Least Favorite:  The Sex Lives of Cannibals  by J Maarten Troost

In total, I read/reviewed 6 books:
How Green Was My Valley  by Richard Llewellyn
Found Objects  by Peter Gelfan
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
The World's Strongest Librarian  by Josh Hanagarne
Weelicious  by Catherine McCord
The Sex Lives of Cannibals  by J Maarten Troost

I also posted one new Small Fry Saturday Review of  Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury.

In other book talk, I was one of the first features on Book Bloggers International, we took a trip down my college-era memory lane, and I told you all the topics that, if melted together, would create my ultimate read.

May is going to be a busy month around here--we're getting a new roof put on today, and Small Fry is getting ear tubes inserted tomorrow, so already we're off with a bang.  But May is also my engagement anniversary (awww).  And, let's not forget that Mother's Day is coming up.  YOU'RE ON NOTICE, HUSBAND.  Fine jewels and massages as far as the eye can see!  (Or at least the ability to sleep past 6am.)

Have a great month!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Review: Frozen In Time by Mitchell Zuckoff

Title: Frozen In Time
Author: Mitchell Zuckoff
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Source: ARC received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On November 5, 1942, a U.S. cargo plane on a routine flight slammed into the Greenland ice cap. Four days later, a B-17 on the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on the B-17 survived. The U.S. military launched a second daring rescue operation, but the Grumman Duck amphibious plane sent to find the men flew into a severe storm and vanished.

In this thrilling adventure, Mitchell Zuckoff offers a spellbinding account of these harrowing disasters and the fate of the survivors and their would-be saviors. Frozen in Time places us at the center of a group of valiant airmen fighting to stay alive through 148 days of a brutal Arctic winter by sheltering from subzero temperatures and vicious blizzards in the tail section of the broken B-17 until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen attempts to bring them to safety.

But that is only part of the story that unfolds in Frozen in Time. In present-day Greenland, Zuckoff joins the U.S. Coast Guard and North South Polar--a company led by the indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza, who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck's last flight--on a dangerous expedition to recover the remains of the lost plane's crew.

Drawing on intensive research and Zuckoff 's firsthand account of the dramatic 2012 expedition, Frozen in Time is a breathtaking blend of mystery, adventure, heroism, and survival. It is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and their families--and a tribute to the important, perilous, and often-overlooked work of the U.S. Coast Guard.

My Review:

Two things initially drew my attention towards this book: first, it's Coast Guard-related (both my brother and stepbrother are Coasties, and I am exceedingly proud of them!).  Second, I was intrigued by the unique blend of past-meets-present that Zuckoff proposed in the book's synopsis.  Books that are purely nonfiction-historical usually don't grab me, but if that history is blended with a modern-day twist, I'm on board.

And let me tell you how happy I am that I tagged along for this ride.

Zuckoff's book reads like an intense, unpredictable docu-drama.  I didn't think that a nonfiction book could keep me in my seat better than an action movie, but this one did.  Zuckoff begins his narrative in November 1942, introducing us to the crew members of a Grumman Duck airplane that is soon fated to crash on Greenland's ice cap.  From there, the chapters alternate between the story surrounding the Duck's crash, and the 2012 journey of Lou Sapienza, a man hell-bent on finding the remains of the Duck and bringing its crew members home.  Zuckoff joined Sapienza's team as they traveled to Greenland for the search, so his accounts on that front are all first-hand.

The alternation between 1942 and 2012 is part of what makes the reading experience so intense.  Zuckoff has a knack for ending a chapter precisely at a big turning point, which makes you want to tear through the next chapter so that you can get to the next part of the story.  Except, he does the same thing to you at the end of the next chapter...and the next...and the next.  Until it's 2am and suddenly you're wondering why you didn't go to bed yet.

As I mentioned before, I sometimes have a hard time keeping interest in historical nonfiction books, but Zuckoff's writing in the 1942 chapters was far from dry or boring.  He takes care to make sure each crew member involved in the incident is thoroughly profiled.  As a reader, this makes you feel not only like you know each person, but that you are with them as they struggle for survival on the ice: their failures and successes make you cringe and celebrate as they go.  The trials and tribulations through which they had to persevere are astounding, and surely would have broken many weaker men and women.  I have similar admiration for the hard work of the members of the 2012 search team.  I felt invested in both stories--which sounds funny since they are true accounts, unaffected by my support or nonsupport--but it makes all the difference in terms of keeping your interest in the book.

The only wish I had for this epic tale was that a little more information could be provided about the 2012 Duck search.  The search team's adventures on the ice are intense, but their story ends when the search is almost--but not quite--completed.  I know this was likely done simply because that is as far as the search got before the book's publication, but what can I say--I'm a reader with big demands.  Holding off on publication until just a tad more of the work was completed would have made me happy.  I feel like I got so steeped in the search that I wanted to see it out all the way through to its total conclusion.

Final verdict?  This book would be an absolutely fabulous movie.  The story behind it is amazing, and highlights the bravery and dedication of America's wartime heroes.  (For the record: I already sent a copy to my Coastie brother for his birthday, because I think he will find it pretty inspiring!)  Plus, the determination of the 2012 search team is incredible.  Jon Krakauer fans, rejoice--you just found your next must-read.

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Mitchell Zuckoff on his website, Facebook page, or Twitter account.

Also (because I'm full of goodies and links today), here's the book trailer:

Have you read any great nonfiction lately?
Imagination Designs