TLC book tour

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

Read Shawn Klomparens’ latest novel, Two Years, No Rain over the the weekend. It clocks in at 370 pages, which is about a hundred pages or so past my comfort range these days. I prefer shorter works because they are usually sweeter in terms of tight editing and lack of meandering, but despite the length, it was a fast read.

It’s the story of Andy Dunne, a mid-thirties weatherman adrift in life and, though fully aware of this, not doing much about it. It’s a chick-lit theme. Lack of direction collides with outside catalyst and suddenly characters find themselves moving on from the circumstances that have held them almost without their active permission.

The narrative is not burdensome. Komparens doesn’t feel the need to describe setting and characters to inertia. He uses dialogue to reveal, but unfortunately he sometimes uses it to recap events the main character hasn’t any access to as he is a first person narrator. He inserts back story rather deftly in some points but not swiftly enough in others. The first three chapters were slow,  but not to the point of interest loss on my part, though I began to get a bit impatient for the story to begin.

It reads like most books in the genre except the sex is less flowery which in my opinion was a plus. I found the main character and his love interest spot on if one believes that Gen X’rs are self-involved yet self-unaware.

Andy’s wife has left him. He has been involved in a serious emotional affair with a co-worker for two years. And he is on the verge of being made redundant. This is the first three chapters with a dead brother and an assortment of secondary characters thrown in to round things out. Suddenly, Andy is offered a chance to become the star of a Blue’s Clues like kiddie show and the story is off and running in fairly predictable rom-com fashion, heavy on drama and light on giggles.

It reminded me of Ross and Rachel, but the later years not the early ones.

I don’t know what I think about men writing chick lit, but at least the sex is not metaphorical. Bottom line? It’s not feel good. These are two married people choosing to cheat rather than be grown ups and work on their relationships. It’s hard to root for that. But it is realistic because it mirrors what relationships have become for many in our society, Disney happily ever after or NEXT. It was also hard to see what Andy was in love with because his love interest, Hillary, doesn’t get a fleshing out until too late in the story for most readers to still be wondering enough to care. And ultimately, that was the problem. There are clues and clues and no reveal. Bread crumbs should lead somewhere before the birds eat them all up.

But do remember, I am one reader/reviewer. Check out the links below before making up your own mind.

Check out Shawn’s website HERE.

Follow Shawn on Twitter.

Shawn Klomparens TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Tuesday, July 7th: Book, Line, and Sinker

Monday, July 13th: Peeking Between the Pages

Wednesday, July 15th: Anniegirl1138

Friday, July 17th: Bermuda Onion

Tuesday, July 21st:  Suko’s Notebook

Wednesday, July 22nd: Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic

Monday, July 27th:  Life In The Thumb

Wednesday, July 29th: Cindy’s Love of Books

Thursday, July 30th: Raging Bibliomania

Monday, August 3rd: Chic Book Chick

Tuesday, August 4th:  Planet Books

Monday, August 10th: Bookworm with a View

Wednesday, August 12th:  Starting Fresh

Thursday, August 13th:  Pop Culture Junkie

Tuesday, August 18th: Books on the Brain – Summer Reading Series

Thursday, August 20th: Book-a-Rama

zig-zagCartoonist Tom Wilson is the current animator of the Ziggy character originally penned by his father, Tom Wilson, Sr. His inspirational memoir  Zig-Zagging is about his journey as an artist and person and how the death of his young wife followed by his father’s chronic illness helped shape both.

In his book he attempts to tell the reader through inspirational musings and the sharing of his personal trials and dark times that the detours in life are the real teachers of life and the builders of character.

I would have enjoyed – if that’s okay to say about a book that centers on loss – it more without the inspirational message. I have never cared much for other people telling me what I should learn from my own tragedy. However, that said, I think Wilson is spot on with many of his conclusions.

The book works best when Wilson is willing to write about the adversity he’s faced. When he describes the struggles dealing with years of his wife’s cancer, her death and its impact on him and their children, the writing is at its best.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t stay  there, but I understand why. It’s hard to offer up the most painful experiences of your life and hope that those reading understand how those events shaped you or led you to the actions that brought you to where you are. Wilson wanders away when he gets too close into greeting card sound bites that pile up like clichéd cord wood which is too bad because his story didn’t need the shiny gloss coat to still make his point that we learn the most from the unexpected and the roads we’d never have taken if the universe gave us a choice in the matter. How we weather loss and struggle, and navigate the dark, is the true test of who we are.

I think people who love Ziggy, inspirational memoirs and/or are struggling with adversity will find this book most helpful and even comforting.

I read “widow” books anymore to discover how people have rebuilt their lives. What motivated them to get back up and try again? That’s what I want to know because there is no real formula or “how to” guide for a person whose spouse has died young. Wilson’s journey, the steps and mis-steps, was interesting to me because I could identify with some of it and it was in these parts of the book that the writing rings most true.

It could have been a more honest book, in my opinion. I am not really sure where the tendency to find deep meaning or pretty up rough patches with platitudes comes from, but there is more here than I care for. Perhaps though because I am looking for the real deal in terms of enlightenment where it comes to loss and coping and moving on.

It’s a good book. I am just not its target audience. 

Wilson is a good writer. He is a devout man. He makes a good case for bothering to learn from things you would prefer not to experience at all.

zigg-book-contestClick here for details.

Read more about Zig-Zagging:

Wednesday, March 4th: Traveling Through Time and Space

Thursday, March 5th: Anniegirl1138

Monday, March 9th: Bookfoolery and Babble

Tuesday, March 10th: Widows Quest

Wednesday, March 11th: Not Quite What I Had Planned

Thursday, March 12th: Reading, Writing, and Retirement

Monday, March 16th: Learning to Live

Tuesday, March 17th: Book Addiction

Wednesday, March 18th: Confessions of a Book-a-Holic

Thursday, March 19th: Peeking Between the Pages

Friday, March 20th: Beth Fish Reads

Monday, March 23rd: Literary Menagerie

Tuesday, March 24th:  Joyfully Retired

Wednesday, March 25th: Madeleine’s Book Blog

Thursday, March 26th: Texas Red Books

Friday, March 27th: Bermuda Onion

Monday, March 30th:  Should Be Reading

Over the course of my twenty year teaching career, I was subject to many a learning trend. Never did a trend arrive unaccompanied by innumerable in-service opportunities. Each sparkly new theory had a guru who had at the very least mounds of handouts to share and at the very worst – a book to sell. One of the middle schools I worked at even based its reason for existing on a teaching model called Multiple Intelligences. And yes, we all had quite the chuckle over the misuse of the plural, even those of us who weren’t English teachers. Well, maybe not the P.E. teachers, but everyone else anyway.

The idea behind M.I was a simple one. In fact I’d seen it a couple of times before by this point in my career albeit under other aliases. M.I. asserted that everyone had a learning style or preference, but that it was possible to train children to effectively use learning styles they were weak in by building lessons that incorporated multiple ways of learning.

The logical leap from this was, of course, team teaching and cross curriculum lessons. For example, as a Language Arts teacher I built the weekly spelling list around vocabulary the students needed for science, math, and geography. When I could get them to cooperate, I even used word lists from the P.E. department and the art specials. But even before this I had built units in conjunction with the science teachers because they were the most open to the idea that we could double team the kids and coerce them into making connections and finding the relationships between our subject areas.

So what does this have to do with Ingrid Cummings book, The Vigorous Mind?

Ms. Cummings believes in cross-training our minds. Through cultivating an attitude that learning is a life long process and actively seeking out new experiences and areas of interest to develop through reading, active study or simply puttering about, we can go happily into the good night years rather than trudging towards our graves like the good little automatons that our consumer driven society would prefer us to be.

And I won’t argue against her idea or her theories. She is spot on when she talks about the benefits that cultivating numerous and diverse interests throughout the course of one’s life. It’s beneficial to be a generalist or Renaissance person which is another way of saying, “Jack of many trades.”

The book was a slow read and a repetitious one. She followed the teaching model that all really good teachers use which is to continually make the main points of the lesson over and over again using different examples. My brighter students were always pointing out to me that I repeated myself, but my average and slower learners never noticed because of the human tendency to not listen. In book form, however, that isn’t the case. At least I don’t think it is.

I skipped over the prologue. Fiction writers are instructed to never, ever, ever start with a prologue. Of course, all writing rules are subject to interpretation, but there is a good reason why a writer shouldn’t have a lengthy prologue – at some point the writer will start writing the actual book and not just be leading into it.

The first chapter was like a continuation of the prologue and the second chapter threatened to repeat the first, so I skipped it and read the third, which is where the book should have started.

After that I headed into part two of the book, which is divided into three parts. In part two there are seven imperatives for a generalist or life long learner. And again, part two was way too long. I ended up reading each imperative and a paragraph or two following it before heading into part three.

Part three is probably the best part of the book and by this time I was pretty sure that The Vigorous Mind was a text book or reference that in conjunction with a seminar would be a very good buy. Easier by far than taking notes.

Cummings has a plan for helping those who would like to mentally cross train.It’s based on a Japanese philosophy known as Kaizen. Basically it is not much different from the idea that one must devote a specific amount of time to a new activity every day – like a new exercise program for example – and commit to doing this until it becomes an ingrained habit or new skill set.

She provides exercises at the end of chapters or sections to help a person select new areas of interest to pursue that will enhance existing interests, skills or careers even.

I wanted to like this book. There is nothing about the idea or the methods that I don’t agree with. I whole-heartedly believe in life-long learning. I think that intellectual curiosity and the pursuit of new skills and pushing oneself into areas of expertise that are challenging and fun will do nothing but good for anyone who decides to go there.

But there were so many examples of so many people continually thrown at me throughout the reading that after a while I couldn’t sort one from another, and the celebrity examples made the whole thing seem Oprah trendy. I much preferred when the author used real people whose faces you wouldn’t see when you were checking out your groceries. And honestly, the public school teacher in me was offended by the continual put-downs against the education system. It seems to me that people, who are not actual classroom teachers of real children, too quickly dismiss what is really going on in classrooms today. There is far more good than bad and the critics seem to be basing their dim views on what they remember about their own education rather than on today’s schools. Education is in a state of evolution to be sure, but it’s not as dire as it’s being painted and failure has far more to do with socio-economic issues than on the quality or even the quantity of what exists right now.

New writers are told to “show” more than they “tell” their readers. There is a lot more telling than showing here and for me, it smothered the author’s main intent, but a reader who is able to use the index in conjunction with the exercises (which are valid) and not need to read from start to finish might be able to come up with a cross-training regime for his/her self.

Ingrid Cummings TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Tuesday, January 20th: A Garden Carried In My Pocket

Wednesday, January 21st: 8Asians

Monday, January 26th: A Novel Menagerie

Tuesday, January 27th: Anniegirl1138

Wednesday, January 28th: She is Too Fond of Books

Thursday, January 29th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement

Friday, January 30th: So Not Zen

Monday, February 2nd: Simply Forties

Tuesday, February 3rd: life@work

Wednesday, Februarty 4th:

Breathing the Ghost Out by Kirk Curnutt was not a one sitting read. I took it in chunks of 60 or 70 pages at a time, but the text was dense with imagery ,and the main characters were so complex, I needed to take time to mentally digest in between sittings.

The story is not an easy one to explain in a paragraph and I don’t want to give too much away. In my opinion there are three main characters and each is haunted by a traumatic event involving a missing or murdered child. The ongoing grief eventually brings all three into contact with each other.

Colin St. Claire has been on the road for a solid year in search of his abducted son. He is in search of the man who may have been responsible and travels to towns where children have gone missing in hopes of finding something to put an end to the open-ended nature of his tragedy.

Sis Puritt’s teenaged daughter was raped and murdered seventeen years earlier and, though she has gone on to found a group that helps other parents of murdered children and eventually have two more children, she still finds that much of her life is spent dealing with the perceptions others have of her for soldiering on in the face of tremendous loss.

Robert Heim is a former private investigator who lost his perspective, his license and is close to losing his wife and family after becoming involved with St. Claire’s quest to find his son, A.J. and A.J.’s supposed abductor, a pedophile named Dickie-Bird Johnson.

According to the author, Dickie is also a main character, but I found the short narrative side-trips into Dickie’s world distracting. I would have liked to have spent more time with Heim, especially after he begins his quest to right his own life by tracking down St. Claire and convincing him to return home.

St. Claire, Heim and Puritt are brought together by the disappearance of a child in Puritt’s rural Indiana community. Curnutt knows that part of the Midwest well and his descriptions of small town life and farming are rich in the depiction of the places and the people who inhabit them.

Grief and the seeming life long grip that it has are a couple of the larger issues the book deals with, but it also touches upon the argument of how a person should deal with loss too and how personal the choices are.

The characters are beautifully real. Sis and her husband Pete reminded me in some ways of a dear friend and her husband who is also a farmer. Sis’s younger sister Martha reminded me of my own sister, DNOS, with her frankness. Heim is every inch the investigator one comes to expect in a mystery, dogged and rational and unable to walk away. St. Claire is tragic and yet you feel the exasperation the other characters have for his inability to live with his loss as most others are forced by life to do, and like I did a bit myself. 

If anything slows the pace, however, it is the long, textured soliloquies of St. Claire’s. A self-proclaimed victim of “loggorhea”, he tape records himself on all manner of subjects for a son who is not likely to ever hear the tapes and his conversations with other characters quickly become one way streets as he goes off on referential tangents that cover a wide range of literary, movie and musical targets. But being essential to the core of the character, I am not certain the author could have edited much of that out and still retained the essence of who St. Claire is and what shaped him.

It’s a very good book. Not a mystery in the Agatha Christie vein but still a puzzle with interesting twists. Don’t be frightened away by the dense text. In all it probably took me less than seven hours to read it over the course of a week, and I am not the speed reader I used to be.

Be aware, however, that it is sad and the content dealing with Dickie is point blank and uncomfortable in its frankness.

If you would like to know what others are saying about the book check out some of the other reviews on the tour:

Monday, January 5th: Diary of an Eccentric

Tuesday, January 6th: Ramya’s Bookshelf

Wednesday, January 7th: The Sleepy Reader

Thursday, January 8th: Crime, formerly Trenchcoat Chronicles

Monday, January 12th: Savvy Verse and Wit

Tuesday, January 13th: Educating Petunia

Wednesday, January 14th: Michele- Only One ‘L’

Thursday, January 15th: Book Nut

Friday, January 16th: Anniegirl1138

Monday, January 19th: Caribou’s Mom

Tuesday, January 20th: Lost in Lima, Ohio

Wednesday, January 21st: A Novel Menagerie

Monday, January 26th: Catootes

Wednesday, January 28th: Bloody Hell, it’s a Book Barrage!

Thursday, February 12th: She is Too Fond of Books

A few months ago I was asked to read Abigail Carter’s book, The Alchemy of Loss, and write a review for her upcoming blog tour. I almost asked if I was being asked because, like Abby, I was a widow, and the book was about widowhood. However as I had already read and reviewed another novel for a different tour, I just let myself believe this was just about my writing skills. Ignorance is bliss. Read Full Article