Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Description (via NG)

An instant New York Times bestseller 

“A multigenerational narrative that’s nothing short of brilliant.” —People
“Simply unputdownable.” —Good Housekeeping
“The perfect book club pick.” —SheReads

Named a Best Book of Summer by Entertainment WeeklyCosmopolitanWoman’s DayPopSugarHelloGiggles, and Refinery29

From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world. 

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?

Oh – I really loved this lengthy but easy to read book! Reading novels that go over many years and have the characters grow up are some of my favorite reads, and this story of two very different but very connected sisters was a great one. Of course, the youngest is named “Bethie” and that was what my family called me, so it made it extra relatable for me. I had not read Ms. Weiner’s work before, though I know she is very popular. Her writing is solid and descriptive and captures those small moments of life that we all experience. This book is long but worth it. There is some sexual content and abuse that might be disturbing to some readers, but I did not find it graphic and it was integral to the story. This would be a great book club read, and it would be interesting to focus on the theme of women’s roles and how they have and have not changed in the past 50+ years.

Highly recommended!

Thank you to the publishers and Net Galley for my e-copy!

Kids’ Choice: Marshfield Dreams and Marshfield Memories by Ralph Fletcher

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With my 6th graders, each fall we read MARSHFIELD DREAMS by Ralph Fletcher. This is a funny yet touching memoir of Mr. Fletcher’s childhood, growing up in Marshfield, MA, in the 1960’s. He has a large family (8 kids) and a host of fun experiences. Part of the joy in this book is in the simple details of typical family life, such as getting a new baby sibling or a first pet. Events are portrayed in language that kids and adults will both enjoy. Each fall the kids tell me that this is “one of the best books I’ve ever read!”.

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You can imagine my great excitement when I discovered that a sequel to Marshfield Dreams — MARSHFIELD MEMORIES — was published this past fall! I contacted Mr. Fletcher’s publicist and she kindly sent me a copy to enjoy and to share with my students. The Fletcher fun continues with more stories about boy scouts, the woods, sibling hi-jinks, and Ralph’s burgeoning interest in both writing and girls. I was thrilled to be transported back to Marshfield!

Highly recommended for readers in grade 4/5 and up. This was a great choice for reluctant readers in older grades. And adults will enjoy it as well! Thank you for my review copy of Marshfield Memories. My school purchased my copy of Marshfield Dreams through Amazon.

THE GIRLS by Emma Kline

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Publishing today is one of the most talked about books of the summer: The Girls by Emma Cline. I found this on Net Galley several months ago and it was one of those books that I could NOT put down. Here’s the description:

Girls—their vulnerability, strength, and passion to belong—are at the heart of this stunning first novel for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.
 
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.

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First I have to say that Evie is an unforgettable character – so real and so well-portrayed in this novel, that it almost reads like a memoir. Evie is on the brink of adulthood and her sexuality, and her relationship – almost an obsession actually – with the group of girls surrounding a Mason-like character forms the backbone of this novel. It is disturbing, yet fascinating.

Ms. Cline’s writing is truly superb. This book almost dripped with the perspiration of the summer portrayed within its pages. You could feel the weightiness of the heat and the boredom portrayed within. Everything is so languid that you can hardly believe that it is hurtling towards the climax that is coming.

An amazing debut novel that you will not soon forget, THE GIRLS will continue to be talked about long after this summer is over!

Thank you, Net Galley and Random House, for my e-ARC.

Review: NORA WEBSTER by Colm Tóibín

I missed getting NORA WEBSTER on Net Galley, and heard a lot of great things about it, so I got it at the library. At the same time, some of my friends really disliked this book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. NORA WEBSTER is the story of Nora, a young woman with four children who is widowed and living in Ireland in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The story starts with the death of Nora’s beloved husband, Maurice, and follows her through her period of mourning and into the life that she eventually creates for herself.

This book moves at a rather slow pace, but I think that this is essential. Nora in the beginning is bogged down by grief, to the point where she can barely take care of her children. The pages felt so “grey” to me. I could feel her desolation. To be able to paint Nora’s inner self so perfectly through what surrounds her, to have the pages literally convey her mood, well – all I can say is that Tóibín is a gifted writer.

Nora gets a job and connects with some friends and her sisters. She also starts to sing. Eventually she slowly comes out of her shell – a shell which was created before Maurice died, as she had surrounded herself in her family and pretty much cut herself off to escape from her small town surroundings. She begins to realize that people actually respect her and are trying to help her.

I think one of my favorite parts of this story was when Nora auditioned for the Wexford choir. Her voice teacher had built her up so much and when she went, well, she pretty much was awful. Somehow, I loved the fact that she wasn’t amazing or wonderful. And I loved even more how she just carried on. She didn’t stop singing or blame them; she realized that her singing was for herself and it didn’t matter what others thought.

Nora reminds me of an Irish Olive Kitteridge. She’s not perfect or even terribly likable, but she is very human.

You can find this book at an Indie near you – I am an Indie Bound affiliate:


Find NORA WEBSTER at an Indie

YA Review: REVOLUTION by Deborah Wiles

I read Deborah Wiles’ COUNTDOWN a while back and loved it

see review here: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/?s=countdown&submit=Go

so I was thrilled to find REVOLUTION, part two in the Sixties Trilogy, in my favorite local indie (The Concord Bookshop).

In REVOLUTION, it is the Summer of ’64 – Freedom Summer – and volunteers have come to Greenwood, Mississippi to register black voters. Twelve-year-old Sunny has enough going on at home with a new stepmother, stepbrother and stepsister, and a new baby on the way. Her world has always been neatly separated into black and white, and Sunny has never really questioned it, or thought about it. However, things start to change when Sunny and her stepbrother sneak out to the whites only pool one night and surprise a young Black boy who is there. Soon they see demonstrations in their town and the young teen they saw at the pool is involved. Sunny is drawn to the Freedom worker volunteers, especially one who reminds her of her mother. The summer of ’64 becomes a summer for Sunny to grow up and come of age, and to understand that she has decisions to make in life that will guide her future.

I really enjoyed this “documentary novel”, which, while lengthy, is full of pictures, excerpts, and lyrics from the summer of 1964. Sunny’s portrayal is so well crafted. Her ability to see the prejudice in her small town from the perspective of a child is perfectly portrayed as she tries to reconcile adults’ racist actions towards the Black townspeople with their kind actions to her as a child growing up. She sees the ugliness and the hatred and it is greatly unsettling. However, that is one of the messages of this book – especially as it is for young readers – that prejudice and racism are all around us and we must not be blind to them.

This is a superb choice for a middle school classroom and to introduce students to the civil rights movement. To be honest, I haven’t read or seen too much about the summer of 1964 (outside of the movie Mississippi Burning) and it should not be something that fades from our collective conscience.

I can’t wait for Ms. Wiles’ next book in this trilogy!

Review: DOLLBABY by Laura Lane McNeal

I’d hear some chatter about DOLLBABY while I was at BEA, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy. Finally,  a copy came into the library system where I live and I snatched it up!

DOLLBABY is a wonderful coming of age story, set in the South in the 1960’s. Liberty “Ibby” Bell is just twelve years old when her father dies in an accident and her mother drops her off to visit her grandmother, never to return for her. Ibby is a smart and plucky young girl. She loved her father and misses him terribly. She even misses her rather useless and self-centered mother. However, Fannie, her grandmother is quite a character and her unpredictable behavior and closet full of secrets keeps the plot moving. The household is actually run by two long-term servants: Queenie and her daughter Dollbaby. Queenie and Dollbaby take Ibby under their wing, and Fannie tries to rise to the occasion as grandmother. Ibby has questions about the family’s past – but learns early on that asking Miss Fannie questions only leads to disaster. What exactly happened in the house in the past and how does it still have a hold on Miss Fannie? Added to this are several subplots, including the fight for civil rights during this time period and Dollbaby’s quest for personal freedom.

Ibby’s search for her family’s past history is actually a search for connection and for family in its basest form. She seeks to belong and form an identity, left bereft as she is by the loss of her parents. Miss Fannie is a multi-faceted character as well: just when I think I understand her, more information is revealed to show that she is more than one initially thought. I would have loved even more backstory on Queenie and Dollbaby!

I really enjoyed this story, which reminded me a bit of SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. I love stories set in the South and I love coming of age stories with strong female characters. This is Ms. McNeal’s first novel and I look forward to more.

You can see this book online, or get it where I got mine: at your local public library!

Review: SECRET STORMS by Kathy Hatfield and Julie Mannix von Zerneck

I was recently contacted by Rachel, the publicist for SECRET STORMS, to see if I’d like to read and review this novel. It sounded interesting — a mother and daughter reunited 43 years after the young mother had given her baby up for adoption. It was a true story, too, and I said yes.

Once I started SECRET STORMS I could not put it down! I read 300 pages the first afternoon and finished it the next day. SECRET STORMS (which is subtitled: A Mother and Daughter: Lost then Found) starts in 1963 with teenage, Philadelphia debutante Julie Mannix being admitted into a psychiatric hospital. She is nineteen and pregnant. Her parents feel that hospitalizing her for the extent of her pregnancy is for her own safety and well-being, and they really want her to have an abortion, but she refuses. So Julie experiences her pregnancy while living with some interesting characters who are suffering from various psychiatric illnesses, oddly reminiscent of Girl, Interrupted. Upon having her baby girl, the baby is taken away for adoption and Julie goes home and tries to return to a “normal” life (though her family life is far from normal). Julie continues with acting and has a growing career as a stage and screen actress. She marries the father of her child and they start a life together. However, she never is able to forget her first baby, or truly forgive herself.

Meanwhile, baby “Aimee” grows up as “Kathy”, in a loving family with two brothers. Sadly, her adoptive mother dies from cancer when the three children are all less than ten years old. This is a devastating loss for the family and one from which they never truly recover. Her father tries to keep it together, with first his parents living with them and then by remarrying the beautiful but unpredictable and abusive Gloria. I felt for this family so much. This poor man lost his wife, then had a disastrous marriage, then lost his job and his house and a lot of his income. The kids were amazingly resilient, but it was a sad story.

Eventually, though, Julie and Kathy’s paths cross, and they finally build a life together as mother and daughter.

This was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down. I felt so much for little Kathy growing up and all the hardships she faced. I was also fascinated with the unique childhood that Julie had with her somewhat eccentric parents and their lifestyle. It seemed incredible to me that, with a little luck, Kathy was able to find her mother in about 15 minutes using the Internet. If this wasn’t a true story I would have said that was unbelievable!

I highly recommend this story for those who enjoy this type of family drama and memoir.