Monday, April 30, 2007


The Mistress's Daughter by A.M. Homes

After reading a review of this book, I was eager to read it. It is the story of A.M. (Amy) Homes, an author and an adopted child. This memoir explores her experiences as she learns that her biological mother would like to contact her and her journey through reunion. As an adoptive parent, I am interested in reading about the world of adoption, especially from the perspective of adoptees. I hope that buy reading their stories in print or online that I can be a better parent to Emma as she grows older.

The Mistress’s Daughter is a well written memoir. You experience the roller coaster of emotions that go along with the reunion experience. It’s especially heartbreaking because it doesn’t come with the fairytale, TV movie ending that always seems to be expected to make the book worthwhile. There is honesty found in this book that is painful to read.

My initial reaction to the book was lukewarm. After Amy decides to go through the boxes she took from her birthmother’s house after her death, it seemed to me to lose focus. I appreciated her interest in her biological and adoptive genealogies, but her need to the stories of ancestors took away from her story. I was enraged as she was when her birthfather for not being recognizing her. His stubborn refusal to provide this simple information kept her from being a member of the Daughters of the Americas, where she hoped to learn more about her heritage. Still, pages upon pages of legal questions written by her lawyers to be asked to her father about his life were a mistake to have in the book. The accusations were not answered and it wasn’t clear if she took the man to court. It felt like reading a book that didn’t know where to end and didn’t want to end.

As I think further about her story and the way in which it is told in The Mistress’s Daughter, I like it better. Just as she wrote honestly about her adoptive mother and her reactions to this situation, Amy was honest about herself. It wasn’t explicitly written, but she did not hide the fact that she frequently met with her birthfather and even subjected herself to a blood test in hopes of meeting his “family.” She kept putting off a face-to-face meeting her birthmother. Then, she met with her for lunch only once. Amy held her birthmother to a higher standard. Her mother had to live up to all the mental pictures and stories Amy had created for her and she miserably missed the mark. Her birthfather had nothing to live up to. She bristled when she didn’t seem to live up to his expectations, but that made her want to be more of what he wanted her to be. It didn’t stop her from treating her mother in the same way. It was only after her death that Amy regretted not spending more time with her, even if the woman seemed so needy all of the time.

Adoption is as unique as each adoptive relationship. In the same manner, a book is unique each time it is read by a new person. If you have read this book, please leave a comment. I would be interested to know how others have reacted to her story.


The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
I was so excited to begin reading this book. I loved The Other Boleyn Girl so much that I had to force myself to read other types of books before buying this one. The Boleyn Inheritance did not disappoint me. It is the continuation of the Boleyn family story after the beheading of Anne Boleyn and is told from the perspective of three different women who cannot avoid Henry the 8th’s dangerous court: Jane Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, and Katherine Howard.

Jane Boleyn, Ann Boleyn’s sister-in-law who sent the Queen and her own husband to their deaths, has been taken into the confidence of the Duke of Norfolk. He is the Howard family patriarch who bailed out on his niece and nephew to secure his place in King Henry’s court and to save his own life. He brought Jane back to court to be his loyal informant when Henry married Anne of Cleves.

We meet Anne of Cleves posing for a portrait to be sent to King Henry. He was to use the portraits to select his fourth wife. His third wife, Jane Seymour, had died from an infection brought about by the birth of his only legitimate son, Edward. Anne desperately wanted to Henry to select her so that she could flee the land of her birth and be rid of her family. Her brother was the Duke of Cleves. He locked his own father away because of the loss of his mental faculties. Anne feared for own sanity if fate kept her in her brother’s household under her mother’s suspicious eye.

Katherine Howard is a young, selfish girl. Although she was not raised in prosperity, she believed that she was meant only for luxury. While living in her grandmother’s house at the tender age of 14, she does not choose her friends carefully. She also didn’t guard her “maidenhood” or see any reason to refrain from anything that was fun or could advance herself financially. In her naiveté, she agrees to marry a young man and even exchanges vows with him in church in secret. In that day, doing such constituted marriage just as much as a ceremony with a priest. After her “groom” leaves to make their fortune in Ireland, she jumps at the Duke of Norfolk, her uncle’s offer to join the court as a maiden-in-waiting for Anne of Cleves. Little does she suspect that the Duke of Norfolk was only interested in her good looks as it might provide a way to get a Howard woman back into King Henry’s bed.

Much is known about the life and monarchy of Henry the 8th. In this book, the stories of his marriages of Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard to Henry the 8th are told from the perspective of each of these women as well as Jane Boleyn. Although her books are works of fiction, Philippa Gregory brings the women in his life to life for the reader. It doesn’t matter if you know their fate before you read this book. The voices of these women are engaging. They become more than just Henry’s wives or members of court. The reader becomes interested in their lives and their dreams. Just because you know who will lose her head doesn’t mean you don’t want to yell out to her to stop as she makes the wrong turn that leads her to the scaffold.
Once again, upon finishing this book, I had to force myself to read something that had nothing to do with Henry the 8th, his wives, England, or anything old enough to be considered historical. It was difficult. I find that my interests are pointing me more and more to these books. It could be said that I’m giving in to “chick lit,” but I don’t believe that is true. This was a novel, but it was based upon facts that were researched by the author. I did not know what was to become of any of the three narrators when I started this book. I learned some history as a result. I may not have learned dates but I can now give an overview of five of Henry’s six marriages and explain how they took place and what brought them to an end. It’s not all about the women, either. I am anxiously awaiting the moment when I begin The Autobiography of Henry the 8th. He was a fascinating man. I’d like to learn more about him from his perspective, even if it is from another work of fiction.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Notice to My Gentle Readers

I am currently three reviews behind of what I'm reading. I promise to publish my reviews ASAP. I hope that flood this blog with posts by the end of the week.

Getting Notice IRL

Usually once a week I take my daughters to the same Golden Aches for dinner. There is a playland there so I get a few moments of down time. It's a very nice diversion for all of us. I usually use this time to get a little reading in. Apparently this has not gone unnoticed. When I went up to the counter to make our order, the young man behind the counter said, "You always have a book in your hands. What are you reading now?" I was a little taken aback. I hadn't realized anyone would pay attention to something like that or that holding a book made me stand out from the crowd that way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007



Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an amazing book about the lives of women in 16th century China. I selected the book for this very reason. I have two Chinese/American nieces and I wanted to learn more about the culture that has been permanently joined with my family. I am so very glad that I did. I enjoyed every moment reading this book. I hated to put it down.

This is the story of Lily, a young girl born to a lower middle-class family. In her society, male children were prized above all other treasures in life. In fact, a mother’s worth is dependent upon them. A female child was seen as a dead branch. All of the time, energy, and resources used to raise a daughter are “wasted,” because her husband’s family will reap the rewards. Although Lily’s family was prosperous enough that the women did not have to work (that their feet could be bound, which very much limited their physical abilities), her outlook in life was not exciting. When Lily’s mother contacted a local soothsayer about the best time to bind Lily’s feet, he noticed a special quality to Lily and made a match between the family and a matchmaker from a much larger and more prosperous area. Assuming that Lily’s foot binding created the perfect “golden lilies” that the matchmaker believed were possible, Lily could be married to wealthy family. This relationship would serve to prosper Lily’s family as well. Although everyone hoped for a good match, Lily was also punished for the additional financial burden that went along with her upward mobility. Lily also seemed so special that the matchmaker proposed a “old same” match for Lily. If she could find an “old same” for Lily, this would add to her value as a wife. Old sames were two young women whose lives matched eight qualities exactly. The most basic and important are the girls’ birth month, day, and year. It is through this relationship that Lily first meets and then grows to love Snow Flower.

At the heart of this book is the quest for love and survival in a world where both are elusive. Lily’s mother was a cold-hearted woman who cared only for her two sons. Lily attempts to be obedient and pleasing to this woman in every way she can. Although tender moments seem to be shared during Lily’s foot binding, her mother sees her only as a liability. She does not rejoice in her daughter’s potential or even in the extra prosperity it will bring her own household. Instead, she punishes her daughter for the extra money that the family must spend on her behalf. Survival is even harder for a woman to attain. Although foot binding is essential to be matched in marriage, the process can prove deadly. Assuming that a young woman survives to marry, her husband, his family, and especially his mother own her outright. Little was done or said on a woman’s behalf to stop abuse. If a young woman survived her foot binding, she had to live the remainder of her life physically impaired. If an emergency took place, this handicap imposed by society through the hands of the girls’ family made it almost impossible to escape on foot.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an intriguing book. Although a beautiful love story between two friends, this book gave me cause to think about the society in which I live.
The concept behind foot binding and being inadequate in all ways because I am a woman has never entered my mind. Sure, there are situations were it may be more advantageous to be a man, but never once have I been made to feel like a “dead branch” by anyone. I have received a good education and have the opportunity to make my own way in this world. I can’t imagine being physically handicapped by my family in order to meet society’s demands for beauty and acceptability. That magic sway in their hips as they walked those so aroused men meant that they couldn’t leave; they didn’t have the stamina to implement change, and they had no choice but live a life of obedience and subservience.

Lily’s only true source of comfort is her relationship with Snow Flower. Although she found her married life and mother-in-law a much more pleasant experience than most women she knew, she prized Snow Flower above it all. When the girls first meet in the company of their matchmaker, they vow to be true to each other to the death. In her culture, the relationship between two old sames was meant to be stronger and more intimate than a marital relationship. In fact, when sleeping under one household, the husband was to sleep elsewhere to allow the women to sleep together. If a woman was not lucky enough to be matched with an old same, women could not hope to experience this type of intimate friendship with another woman until she became a widow.
I would highly recommend this book. Very few bring tears to my eyes at any point. As I read the last sections, I had to wipe my eyes to see what I was reading. I am very thankful that I didn’t live in that day and age and that my nieces won’t be subjected to such humiliation. Still, women have the ability to survive some of the deepest hardships in human life and can emerge on the other side with the most beautiful and meaningful friendships.


Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books by Maureen Corrigan

I cannot say enough about this book. Although my posts here will not show it, I am so inspired to keep reading and to develop my skills as a book reviewer. The first section of this book, which deals with female extreme adventure novels, is absolutely brilliant. The sections on hard boiled detective and Catholic secular martyr novels were interesting and I think that I would have enjoyed them more had I not been reading them during the days of the Virginia Tech Massacre and its aftermath. Maureen mentions how people use books to escape from their lives or as a defense mechanism in uncertain times. I agree with her. Unfortunately, this book didn't really work for me. This is not her fault. Once my challenge is over, I plan to reread this book and further explore Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls, her brother, and her two sisters grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who resented any part of the responsibility that goes hand in hand with parenting. Her memoir is a beautiful testiment to the resilience of the human heart and soul. As depressing as the details were about her experiences with poverty, squaller, and absolute hunger could be, I couldn't think of a better book to read. It made me happy that I had loving parents who enjoyed their children and worked hard to provide for us. It made me happy to be human, like each and every member of Jeannette's family. Most of all, it made me happy that Jeannette was willing to share her story. In light of recent events at Virginia Tech, it is a relief to know that an underpriviledged childhood full of empty promises and hardship does not have to end in violence.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Imagine meeting your husband for the first time at the age of six. Imagine also that he does not know you when you meet him as an adult because he, at his current age, had not met you via time travel. Imagine waiting for good and terrible events to happen because you know about them ahead of time. Since you cannot alter the future, you can’t stop things like car crashes, fatal accidents, or September 11, 2001. Is the joy received by knowing about the love you will experience in the future worth the heartache that comes from being unable to prevent those you love from being hurt?

The book begins with Henry’s earliest experiences with time travel, it moves on to Clare’s experiences with Henry as she grew up, and then continued in time from the day they first “met” as adults. After they become a couple, you read about more of Henry’s adventures from the perspective of when they happen in “real time.” At first, Henry does not tell Clare that they will someday be married. It wasn’t until she asked him point blank that he told her the truth from his perspective from the future. From then, Clare only imagines her life with Henry. Although she has ample opportunity, she doesn’t date. She’s focused on her art studies and the man she believes is her destiny. Henry, on the other hand, does not know she exists until he is 28. Prior to that, he sowed quite a few wild oats.

It is the disparity in what young Clare knows versus what young Henry does not that seems controlling to me. At their last meeting as a result of Henry’s time travel, a 43 year old Henry tells Clare to live her life to the fullest and be confident that they will meet again and be together forever. Clare says that she will do nothing but wait for him. Henry again tells her to experience all the life that she can, but mentions that he doesn’t want her to date other men. That fact that Henry told her what he would prefer made her decision to wait that much more concrete. Henry is a fine and loving partner for Clare, but he also got exactly what he wanted. It goes back to the double-standard that men are almost expected to explore the world and its women before settling down while it is preferable to them that their wives are found by them to be naïve and innocent. While I found this irritating, it is not out of place or character. This isn’t your typical life experience, but Clare’s decision to be with Henry and with Henry alone is what I would imagine most young women would do. I wonder what would have happened had it been Clare who was the time traveler?

The Time Traveler’s Wife flowed well and maintained my interest throughout. I did find the ending somewhat hokie, but the theme of waiting was followed through to the end. One aspect about Ms. Niffenegger’s writing did pull me out of the book from time to time. I’m sure that writing sexual scenes is not easy. How do you put what is without words into words without sounding too harsh or too flowery? In general, I don’t have hang-ups when reading explicit writing; but, when hard core words are used, they should at least fit the character. When it doesn’t, it gets in the way of my reading enjoyment. For example, there is a scene in which Clare uses the word c#nt. I will be the first to admit that I wish that word didn’t exist at all. Beyond my own personal preferences, it just wasn’t believable that Clare would use that word, and especially not in the situation in which she did. Henry’s use of the word c#ck came across the same way. When those types of words are used for shock value, I wonder if the author doesn’t trust her writing or her ability to shape her characters.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is interesting to read and the book is well written. Other fiction I’ve written that dealt with the complications that arise from time travel have not been contained within the confines of time traveler’s potential life span. This made that concept more realistic to me. I enjoyed tagging along with Henry and Clare on their adventures. I think that you will, too.
** You can buy my copy of this book. Click on the My Offerings link at the top of the page to access my inventory. **

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Of the 13 books that have preceded this, The Cider House Rules has been by far the hardest to read. The first 100 pages were more difficult than I had imagined. I never wanted to know what the inside of a uterus feels/sounds like when a D&C is completed successfully. I would imagine no one really does. At one point during Dr. Wilbur Larch’s journey from OB/GYN to OB/GYN and abortionist, I wanted to stop reading it. I decided that to honestly meet the challenge I had to finish every book I start. This isn’t about reading 52 books I will enjoy. For me, as a fast reader, there’s no challenge in that. So, I finished it. It’s a sad, sad book.

The protagonist, Homer Wells, begins life as an orphan as St. Cloud’s in Maine in the early mid-1900s. This is the orphanage in which Dr. Larch practices medicine. Attempts to adopt Homer failed. Homer preferred to be at St. Cloud’s. In order to be “of use,” Dr. Larch makes Homer his apprentice. Homer has a natural talent for medicine and successfully delivers a women suffering from sever eclampsia. During the course of his studies of Grey’s Anatomy and through dissecting adult female and infant cadavers, Homer comes to believe that the unborn have souls. He confronts Dr. Larch and refuses to be “of use” to him when he’s performing those procedures. Shortly thereafter, he leaves St. Cloud’s with Wally and Candy, a rich couple who traveled from the coast to get an abortion.

While living at Ocean View Orchards, Homer quickly falls in love with Candy and becomes an expert in farming an apple orchard. Dr. Larch, on the other hand, planned for the day that Homer would return and take over all aspects of “the Lord’s work.” St. Cloud’s Board of Directors was increasingly unhappy with him and as he grows older, the pressure to add staff to oversee all aspects of the orphanage continues to strengthen. He took the name of a deceased orphan and manipulated college and medical school records to make him a doctor. It’s is Dr. Larch’s hope that life experience will lead him back to St. Cloud’s and, if his beliefs cannot be changed, he will feel compelled to provide abortion services in a day and age when it is illegal.

This book is decidedly pro-choice. Still, there is no glorification of the procedure or those who perform them. Abortion is a consequence of the human condition and those who provide those services have their own weaknesses and crosses to bear. Irving took great effort to describe the procedures and its affects accurately. Women carrying the burden of an unplanned pregnancy do not leave the orphanage relieved of their burdens. In fact, Homer observes that their posture makes them look more weighted down. Dr. Larch uses the phrase “products of conception.” Eventually, Homer confronts him about this oversimplification. There is no sugar coating.

I believe that this story took place during World War II purposefully. It illustrated that there are forms of murder deemed as necessary and good by American society. There is no shame in killing the enemy or in losing a child to war. In fact, both may even be considered a duty and an honor. Many states in this country support the death penalty as a means for punishing its most heinous criminals. In both situations, keeping our society safe is found more important than the lives of individuals. Both sides of the abortion debate oversimplify or sugar coat the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Why are we afraid to address this issue head on and decide, as a society, whether abortion serves the greater good?

Although I believe that Irving intended to end this book with hope, I felt quite the opposite. It seems sad that the best our society has to offer women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy is an abortion, an adoption, or a life as a single parent. Ensuring that all three of those options are available to women does not change the fact that - apparent rewards aside - they all bring about their own pain, feelings of loss, and heartache for everyone involved.