Book Review


All sixteen years of it, begging to be immortalized in black on a white pages.

I shouldn’t poke fun except at the lunacy behind the notion that a 16-year-old teen idol with a combover has anything to add to life’s discourse that he couldn’t just croon to little girls who will outgrow his feminine-tinged attractiveness soon enough.

Dee expressed mild interest in Justin “Beaver” recently. Her best friend, Tina, let her listen to the collection of Bieber tunes on her iPod.

“The other kids on the bus make fun of her and say that Beaver sucks,” Dee commented.

We were watching a clip of the boy on You Tube. He is very young and not the least bit masculine in the way of most teen idols. I remember a distinct preference for slightly girly boys myself when I was young – longish hair, trendy dress, no facial or chest hair. My, how I have grown up.

“Well,” I said, “what do you think?”

“I think his music is okay,” she said.  She did not comment on the boy himself. This past year she has abandoned her chatter about boyfriends and husbands and even babies.  She is “just friends” with boys because she is “too young to date” and anyway “I am never getting married or having babies.  I will have a dog instead. Only after you are gone, Mom, because of your allergies.”

I didn’t query about where I might be going.

“You don’t have to like the music that other kids like,” I said. “If you like his music, then don’t worry about what other kids think.”

“Oh, ” she said, “I don’t. That’s just what kids tell Tina. That Justin Beaver sucks.”

Dee begged for Miley Cyrus‘s autobiography, which interestingly was written when she was sixteen as well. A milestone year for the too famous/too early crowd. I don’t think she’ll be asking Santa for the Life of Bieber for Christmas though.


Seated Yoga Meditation - mantra

Rebecca Traister has a book out, disseminating the 2008 Presidential election in the U.S. and its beneficial fallout for women.

Mostly it retreads the worn “old lady feminists versus younger women” wars. I am sure you remember. Women of a certain age support Clinton while the youthful and hip females supported Obama. It’s generational twaddle that misses the point on both ends. The bra-burning demo can’t understand the lack of gratitude and reluctance to carry a torch that handed women as many new issues as it alleviated – temporarily – old ones. Younger women, on the other hand, are too complacent and too eager to look at the side-effects of the women’s rights movement as “improvements” when the reality is that we are still as second class as we ever were – our cages are just roomier and furnished with IKEA.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Jezebel interviewed Traister and asked the following:

J: Instead, you write, what ended up galvanizing young women and others around Hillary was seeing how she was treated in the media… It’s still amazing to go back and watch that footage. It’s interesting that these were mostly older guys on MSNBC and Fox, and yet you also argue that there was also sexism among younger male Obama supporters when it came to Hillary.

And Traister rehashed the sexist old codgers at the major news outlets but added this bit about younger men that really annoyed me:

RT: At the time, I wrote about what I perceived as a complicated misogynist vibe coming from some of the young male Obama devotees in the last stages of the primary cycle. I think one of the reasons that I was so struck by it — and this is not to give some pass to all younger men — is that there is such a marked generational change among men. There’s more of an awareness of gender, they’re often raised by feminist moms and working moms. Men who are [at least] used to the idea of equally splitting domestic duties; they’re active fathers.

I had actually come to expect much more from young men. We’re very lucky to live with a new generation of men, and I think our kids will be luckier still. But this was an instance in which some old attitudes seemed to bubble up among younger men.

What?

Why are we so lucky exactly? Men are granting us the rights that were ours all along anyway, and we should be grateful? That men are finally actively raising their own children, picking up a tiny bit of the housework slack and not total douches á la Mad Men? We should be grateful when men behave as though the women in their lives are valuable, smart, and they are damn lucky that anyone so awesome would agree to share a bed with them? Gratitude for what simply should be?

Give me a break.

I’m not going to pat a guy on the head and say “good boy” for doing something he should do without thought.

Like Obama.

Man‘s done so little for women that I can’t fathom any woman voting for him in 2012 without getting in writing how he plans to show his gratitude.

I can’t speak for all women, or any women at all really, but I am done with the grateful. All the “nots” on the list of what should be “givens” for females puts “grateful” in an harsh ugly light, but isn’t that the way of reality?


Garden Spells Collage for blog

Image by The Daring Librarian via Flickr

OPHELIA (from Hamlet, Act IV scene IX)

There’s fennel for you, and columbines.—There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays.—Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.—There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end (sings) For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy
That’s one of my favorite bits from Hamlet. I have favorites within Hamlet. I just think the character is a pathetic whinger.
It’s the symbols. I love symbolism. In this case flowers and herbs are likely as medicinal as they were moral rebukes though 16th century folk aren’t likely to have benefitted much from herbs. The church had done a good job of demonizing anyone (and by “one”, I mean “woman”) who practiced medicine via herbs.
I thought about Ophelia‘s little monologue when I sat down to write about the book, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, because one of the main characters practices a form of magic using plants and herbs she grows in her back yard garden.
It’s a delicious little read. Southern simmered and magically realistic, it centers on the Waverly family and the strange magic that emanates through them via their family roots – figuratively and from their enchanted garden.
The garden is a hoot. It writes thank you notes and is watched over by a petulant apple tree that throws its fruit at people, trying to get them to eat of it and dream about the greatest moment in their lives.
Something that the Waverly family strives to prevent. The sisters scold the tree and bury the apples that it throws. Eating them is no joke because the greatest moments in the lives of most people are their deaths.
In typical women’s literature fashion, there are rivalries and man trouble. Sex looms and lives are … not so much transformed but freed of self-restraint and resumed.
I don’t want to say too much more and give it away as the story is formulaic enough that it telegraphs a tad bit more than it should, but I throughly enjoyed it. Coming in at 286 pages, it’s light and warm and perfect for the late summer.

If I were going to write a memoir, that’s what I’d call it and then subtitle it with – Lather, Rinse and Repeat.

I bring this up for two reasons.

The first is that my blog reader is crammed with Eat, Pray, Love crap as the Julia Roberts adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is opening or has opened.

The reviews are mostly “meh”. No surprise. The novel itself isn’t much. One review pronounced it too “talk-y” as in the character constantly describes how she feels and her observations about every freaking thing. As if a movie about a writer documenting her journey to enlightenment should be somehow more visual than word-packed.

My favorite review so far was written by Helena Andrews at The Root. It took up the theme of Gilbert’s book and named it “white girl problems”. Couldn’t have found a better genre for it.

White girl problems are essentially the non-issues the pale and the privileged focus on in the absence of actual adversity.

When I attempted to read Eat, Pray, Love, Will was just going into hospice. A book by a woman bemoaning her serial monogamy – that horrid pretty girl issue of having always been someone’s girlfriend or wife – while I was losing the only man I’d ever had a long-term relationship with in my entire 41 years didn’t go over well.

Sucks to be her, I mentally eye-rolled as I put the book on a shelf never to be cracked open again until I decided that some of her syrupy half-wit might be useful when I was writing comps for my education masters about six months later. I knew Gilbert was a poser but my professor didn’t.

Andrews though draws this awesome comparison between “white girl problems” lit/memoirs and a line from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. There is a scene where the Mad Hatter observes that in the real world, Alice has lost her “muchness”.

“You were much more … muchier.”

White girls in the real world then are searching for their muchness.

Gilbert’s muchness turned out to be the exact thing she thought was her problem – love and being in a relationship – because her journey ends when she meets the man she is now married to.

So much for issues.

Which brings me to my second reason, and it is related to the loss of muchness. My memoir. The one that’s pretty much written and is screaming to be edited and shopped.

I can’t.

I know. I have been saying that for a while now, but I am sure of the reason behind my reluctance. And it goes beyond my belief that books about overcoming tragedy by being plucky, witty and boot-strappy are so common place that they’ve become clichés onto themselves.

Rob followed a link to a widow blog and the author was describing her experiences at a Blogher style convention for widows complete with keynote speakers, author panels and how-to workshops. A couple of her encounters with people who’d mined literature from their experiences and turned them into books and/or workshops had left her feeling removed and as though she was possibly doing widowhood and grieving wrong.

And then I knew why I haven’t finished my memoir.

I can’t give people their muchness back. I could write a memoir, package it and sell it out of workshops and conventions, but a person’s muchness comes from within not from without.

I felt/still feel sometimes as though I didn’t do widowhood right. The way I felt, and the things I needed to do for myself, were often so out of step with other widows, books on grieving and even memoirs of widows that I wondered how I could be so far out in the weeds when everyone else seemed to know where the paved road was.

I can’t do that to someone else. Lead them to believe – even inadvertently – that I know the way.

Especially since I really don’t believe there is a process to grief or a one size fits all way to navigate the first year or that the whole honoring of someone’s memory should even be numbered in the top twenty of a person’s priority list.

The blogger mentioned how pleased some of the authors seemed with themselves, their lives and this opportunity to basically headline a conference. And I can totally understand her and them.

It’s amazing when people read what you’ve written and tell you it meant something to them. It would be easy to let that dominate and forget that the subject matter makes you more responsible to your readers than that of a fiction writer.

If what I write inspires someone, wow, but if it makes someone feel inadequate, wrong, or persecuted by the fates? Ouch. It would bother me the same way that the kid in my 3rd hour English class who’d given up because he’d never gotten a grade above a D used to bother me. Even though that wasn’t really my fault, I had to fix it. It was my job.

Memoirists open their lives for reasons that are far different from that of a fiction writer. It’s more than telling a good story. My story and opinions as a blueprint for grieving would be a responsibility like the one I took on as a teacher. And it would mean never fully closing the door. The pain would always have access of sorts to my now. A liberty that it doesn’t deserve and that I don’t owe it.

Besides, I’ve written my story – here and in a hundred different places all over the webosphere via comments and guest posts.

Purge, Pack and Move would be an awesome title though.  Sigh.


I read Hearts on a String in two sittings – more or less. The publisher’s summary is below this review, but it’s a bit misleading – as was the prologue – because the novel really doesn’t find its focal point – Holly – until the last 1/4 of the book, if that.

It’s an easy read. And it’s the type of light beach fiction that travels well because, if taken in short bites, the story is repetitious enough to not require the reader to have to go back and try to figure out who everyone is and what each woman’s issues are.

But it’s really convoluted. The plot twists in ways that strained my ability to put aside disbelief. Beginning with a freak, nationwide spring storm that traps five strangers in a luxury Florida hotel suite was hard enough for me to buy, but through in psychics, the FBI, an insider trading scandal and a serial rapist – and I barely had time to swallow one implausibility before being handed the another.

Which is exactly neither here nor there as this type of story is fairly well-received anymore in movies and on television, but the tipping point for me was the man bashing and the stereotyping of women in terms of their relationships and lives. Am I the only married woman in North America who isn’t a desperate housewife? Because the novel is premised on the idea that women are leading quiet lives of desperation ala Betty Freidan. Which, I don’t buy, but I know the idea sells, so perhaps I am not only an anomaly but a freak as well.

If you can get past the first 5 or 6 chapters – which is about how long it takes for the author to set the story up and that’s too long for me – it picks up steam, and the characters start to show more than tell.

Which is my other problem with the book, it tells and tells and tells and by the time it starts showing, readers could easily have put the book down.

There are a lot of strengths. The basic concept of women being stranded and bonding is a good one, and the characters are actually engaging on their own or in pairs, but the lot of the women is a hard one”and women must band together to be free (the latter of which I don’t necessarily disagree with) themes are wielded like blunt instruments, and after a while I was “okay, already, just tell the story”.

I wanted this to be a better novel than it was, which is why I stuck with it. I kept hoping that the screw-ball semi-dramedy/mystery adventure idea would pan into something. It never really does. But I need to emphasis that I am not someone who would pick up “women’s literature” as they now call chick lit without prodding or it being recommended to me. If you are looking for light vacation fare, this could well be your book, so please take a peek at the info below and check out at least one other review. Personally, I never take the word of just one reviewer because reading material is one of those highly personal things and taste, as we all should know by now, is subjective.

About Hearts on a String

Paperback: 336 pages

Publisher: Bantam; Original edition (May 25, 2010)

Hearts on a String delves deeply into the emotions of five very different women who are thrown together by chance-only to discover that they have more in common than they ever could have imagined.

Holly Blandeen has always cherished the story her grandmother told her about the thread that connects all women, tying them forever in sisterhood. It’s a beautiful idea, but with all the curveballs life has thrown her way, Holly has often felt isolated, different from other women. That starts to change when she meets four strangers in an airport and they agree to share a luxury hotel suite because a powerful spring storm is barreling across the country, stranding travelers from California to Florida.

What begins as a spur-of-the-moment decision becomes an unlikely, unexpected, and sometimes reluctant exercise in female bonding, as these five exceptional women-each at a crossroads-swap stories, share secrets, and seek answers to the questions they’ve been asking about life, love, and the path to true happiness. A storm may have grounded them for the moment, but after this wild adventure in which anything can and does happen, they’ll never have to fly solo again.

“Kris Radish creates characters that seek and then celebrate the discovery of . . . women’s innate power.”—Denver Post

About Kris Radish

Hearts on a String is Kris Radish’s 7th book. Her Bantam Dell novels THE ELEGANT GATHERING OF WHITE SNOWS, DANCING NAKED AT THE EDGE OF DAWN and ANNIE FREEMAN’S FABULOUS TRAVELING FUNERAL have been on the bestseller and Book Sense 76 Selection lists. She also writes two weekly nationally syndicated columns.  Ms. Radish lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area.

Connect with Kris:

On her website

On Twitter

On Facebook

On her blog

Kris Radish’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, July 5th:  Joyfully Retired

Wednesday, July 7th:  Sashay Magazine

Thursday, July 9th:  Scraps of Life

Monday, July 12th:  Crazy for Books

Wednesday, July 14th:  Simply Stacie

Thursday, July 15th:  Rundpinne

Friday, July 16th:  A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, July 19th:  Reading at the Beach

Tuesday, July 20th:  Lit and Life

Monday, July 26th:  Anniegirl1138

Tuesday, July 27th:  Luxury Reading

Wednesday, July 28th:  Along the Way

Monday, August 2nd:  My Random Acts of Reading

Wednesday, August 4th:  One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books

Monday, August 16th:  Peeking Between the Pages


I was asked to read and review Jeffrey Zaslow’s best-selling book, The Girls from Ames because I grew up in Iowa. Ames is in Iowa. It’s near dead center of the state, about an hour from the city of Des Moines, where I lived for twenty years, and the home of my late husband’s alma mater – Iowa State University.


Ames is also the site of Mary Greeley hospital where Dee was conceived in a petri dish and where many of the Ames Girls were born. Of course, they were born, grown and mothers, most of them, long before I ever needed to venture to Ames.

Lisa, of TLC Book Tours, thought I might have a unique perspective on this quasi-memoir that follows the friendship of a group of girls from near infancy to middle-age. Well, I am middle-aged and from Iowa. I also was a child in the 1960’s and a teen in the mid to late 1970’s. Like the women in the book, I navigated the murky career, relationship and social waters of the 1980’s when much was expected and little was offered by way of advice from those who came just before us.

And I found myself nodding a lot because many of the girls reminded me of girls I knew and of situations that were (and still are) common when growing up female in North America.

But the Ames girls were people I would have known of but not been friends with myself. They were – as my seven-year old would say – “a clique” and a fairly exclusive one at that. Pretty, popular, financially privileged, they moved in circles that were off-limits and invitation only. Unless you were a girl like that yourself, your knowledge was based on rumors and hearsay, so it was interesting to know that they angsted like the rest of us and were unsure and actually got into trouble when they deserved to.

Zaslow discovered the Ames girls via a column he writes for The Wall Street Journal. He spent time with them and writes their memoir in a one girl at a time style that manages to chronicle all eleven of the women through to their mid-40’s. I could have done without his commentary or the tidbits he throws in about studies on this or that girl or woman issue because the stories themselves are much more interesting, and women in general don’t need to be told what our issues are.

The book is 360 pages with an updated Afterword, but is a quick, engaging read.

Below is a list of other reviews, you might want to check out or you could check out an earlier sneak peek review I wrote in March, and you can read an excerpt here.

Jeffrey Zaslow’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, April 14th: Simply Stacie

Thursday, April 15th: Silver and Grace

Friday, April 16th: Chaotic Compendiums

Monday, April 19th: Rundpinne

Tuesday, April 20th: Luxury Reading

Wednesday, April 21st: Book Nook Club

Thursday, April 22nd: Suko’s Notebook

Monday, April 26th: Feminist Review

Tuesday, April 27th: Beth’s Book Reviews

Wednesday, April 28th: Bookworm with a View

Thursday, April 29th: She Reads and Reads

Friday, April 30th: Book Blab

Monday, May 3rd: Cafe of Dreams

Tuesday, May 4th: Janel’s Jumble

Wednesday, May 5th: Anniegirl1138

Thursday, May 6th: Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, May 10th: One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books

Tuesday, May 11th: Life in the Thumb

Wednesday, May 12th: lit*chick


Wolf Hall was, maybe still is, the ancestral estate of the Seymours. Jane was Henry VIII’s third wife and the mother of Edward VI. She came in between the headless wives and contrary to popular myth, Henry did not routinely murder his wives. His first and third wives died of age and childbirth respectively. He’d divorced number one because he became convinced he’d sinned in marrying his brother’s widow, as she was, and that this was the cause of his son-less state. A hugely big deal in the Middle Ages. Well, let’s be real, being without sons is still considered tragic to lesser or greater degrees depending on where in the world you stand. He annulled his fourth marriage on grounds of ugliness and bad breath, and wife six survived him but only just. Wives two, five and six were adulterers to varying degrees with two and four losing their heads over it and six barely managing to outlive him before being arrested for treason herself. Wife two’s guilt isn’t proven but five and six were definitely involved with other men which given Henry’s reputation was just plain stupid.

Wolf Hall is mentioned infrequently in the novel of the same name by Hilary Mantel. In fact the Seymours only appear when the author wants to foreshadow or make a specific point about creeping evil. Jane Seymour’s father was a lecher who carried on with his daughter-in-law at one point and may have even fathered his own “grandchildren” on her. Jane herself is a quiet voice of practicality who is continually affirming Cromwell’s (the main character’s) information about the debauchery that goes on in her childhood home.

Wolf Hall represents the slip on the slope and it’s not until the end of the novel, after Thomas More’s head is piked on London Bridge that Cromwell heads off on his first visit to the Seymour’s. But an astounding amount of teetering on the top of the slope has taken place by this point and even if I didn’t know that Thomas Cromwell will lose his own head at a not to distant point in the future, I’d be able to guess it.

I love Tudor England. Sometimes I wonder if my affinity suggests that I lived a life or two there. There are only a few other time periods I am drawn to so perhaps.

It was not a simple or simple-minded time. Henry is neither monster nor misunderstood. Thomas More is no saint and Cromwell not as soulless as the history books would like us to believe.

History is suspect. It’s written by the winners and the vanquished never get to tell their side of the tale. Tales, being multi-sided like houses and books, should represent, don’t you agree?

Wolf Hall is a sumptuous read. It’s so hard to find decent fiction anymore that I am a bit sad when I finish. Thick text though so be aware that an audio version might be better. I found a delightful discussion about it at The Slate and will leave you with a pulp version of Tom and Henry.