#100 ~ House and Home & My 100th Review Contest

September 8, 2008 at 12:00 am | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 50 Comments
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Today I have the great pleasure of hosting Kathleen McCleary on her House and Home book tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours.  I very much appreciate the invitation to participate in this tour as well as the opportunity to read Kathleen’s novel.  Please click on Kathleen’s name below to visit her website.  Click on the TLC Book Tours graphic for more information on this wonderful new book tour program.

House and Home by Kathleen McCleary

By outside appearances, Ellen Flanagan had it all: a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, a house she decorated and maintained with love and dedication, and Coffe@Home, a business that merged her passion for antiques with her interest in coffee and fine tea.  All was not what it seemed.  Sam, her adventurous and creative husband, had a passion for inventing.  When he created a baby beeper he thought would make it big, the couple put a second mortgage on their home.  When the baby beeper didn’t pay off, that second mortgage cost them the home Ellen so dearly loved and her 18 year marriage.  As time got near to vacate the house they sold, Ellen found she couldn’t part with it.  She decided that she’s rather see it burn than to allow another family to call it home.

The opening paragraph to this novel, after explaining Ellen’s attachment to the home, ends by saying that she would burn it down.  I was instantly curious, especially since this seemed pretty hard core for a novel with such a beautiful and inviting cover.  That paragraph brought to mind the song “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin.  I was eager to find out what it was about Ellen or the house that drove her to even think about arson.  When at first I couldn’t find any logical explanation for her planning something so destructive, it was frustrating.  Ellen wasn’t mentally ill, she and Sam were on amicable terms despite the fact that they were divorcing, her business was thriving, and she had the most thoughtful and supportive best friend in the world.  Why?  Then it occurred to me.  As much as she loved that house, her fixation was a protective cover. She believes that burning down her house will keep others out.  Truthfully, if not subconsciously, what she’s doing is making all that she has lost and all that she is losing tangible and visible, especially to Sam.

This is really a novel about relationships, both the good and the bad.  Sometimes there is a cost to starting them.  Sometimes there is a cost to losing them.  There are times when the cost may be too high; but in the end, you can’t live your life fully without them.  Be they with your best friend, your lover, your family, business associates, or even mere acquaintances, your interactions with other people teach you how to play, work, love, hurt, forgive, learn, laugh, cry, hold on, and to let go.  Ellen spent the first 44 years fighting to control her life. House and Home is the story of how she learns that what makes life worth living requires you to constantly take leaps of faith.

Kathleen McCleary is a clear and concise writer and she brought some wonderful characters to life.  You can feel Ellen’s pain and the anxiety brought about by her need to be in control from the start, even if you don’t completely understand it at first.  You can see how it blinds her to what she has.  House and Home is a reminder that when life feels like one crisis after another, the only way not to get lost in it all is to focus on your friends and loved ones.  It is a celebration of friendships, relationships, and family.  If you’re like me, you’ll find this novel every bit as heartwarming as the cover suggests.

Literate Housewife’s 100th Book Review Contest

I am so excited about today because it marks the day I am posting my 100th book review online.  My blog started on Blogspot and it was called “52 Books or Bust.”  I started it in January, 2007 to give me a way to be accountable to my personal goal of reading 52 books that year and to also provide me with a way to remember what I read.  It was from those meager beginnings that The Literate Housewife Review started.  I had no idea that 21months later I would be celebrating today.

In order to mark this day, I wanted to hold a contest to thank you, my readers.  Without your comments and support I can’t say that I would still be doing this today.  In honor of reaching the 100 book mark, I’m going to give one of my lucky readers a copy of House and Home and ten other books I’ve read to date.  Here is a picture of the book and the links to those reviews:

The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson ~ #24
Portrait on an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett ~ #37
Gilding Lily by Tatiana Boncompagni ~ #66
The Lady Elizabeth By Alison Weir ~ #70
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan ~ #78
Mrs. Lieutenant by Phyllis Zimbler Miller ~ #81
Regina’s Closet by Diana M. Raab ~ #84
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson ~ #88
37 by Maria Beaumont ~ #89
Castaway Kid by R.B. Mitchell ~ #94

When Kathleen McCleary read that this was my 100th review and would be holding a contest in its honor, she wanted to get in on the fun, too.  So, to sweeten this contest even further, the winner will also get the opportunity to talk with the author personally!  What a fun and wonderful opportunity!  And that’s not all! The second and third place winners in this contest will also get their own autographed copies of House and Home!

Have I peaked your interest enough?  Are you wondering what you need do to enter?  Here goes:

1. Leave a comment to this post by 11:59 EST on September 9 and you will receive two entries.  Comments left beginning on September 11 at midnight receive one entry.  If you comment includes a question about House and Home, for Kathleen McCleary, or about any of the other books in the contest, you will receive an additional entry (three entries possible).

2. If you have a blog, write a post about this contest by 11:59 EST on September 9 and leave me a message with the link to earn two entries.  If you do not have a blog, you can send an email telling 3 or more friends about this contest (copy me) by 11:59 EST on September 9 for those two entries.

Selecting the winners: I will be out of town starting Friday, so this is going to be a quick contest.  I will be using the List Randomizer on random.org to enter the names and will it will determine the winner at noon on Thursday, September 11 EST.  [I have wised up since my last contest. No more writing names down on sheets of paper, cutting them out, folding them, and putting them in a box and asking my beloved husband or bewildered co-workers to pick them out.]

Posting the results: I will be posting the names of the winners at 1pm EST.  The name of the person in lucky number 1 spot wins the copy of House and Home, the selection of 10 books I’ve previously reviewed, and a phone conversation with Kathleen McCleary!  The names of the people in lucky spots number 2 and 3 (assuming that there aren’t any repeating names – if there are, the second and third unique names) will also receive an autographed copy of House and Home.

Good luck to everyone who enters and a special thanks to Kathleen McCleary for making this contest that much more special!

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To buy this novel, click here.

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Spectacular Sunday

April 20, 2008 at 3:42 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading, What's Up | 4 Comments
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Spring is finally here to stay in Southwest Virginia – and you can tell by the storms! All the better for me to have had an interview scheduled with my second author – Lander Marks. Ms. Marks is the author of Artist’s Proof, which is due to be published the first part of May. It was a wonderful interview experience and made me appreciate the time I spent talking with Robin Gerber even more. Although these authors have written about two completely different things, but they are both interesting women. I feel fortunate for having the opportunity to talk with them.

I was much more relaxed the second time around and I concentrated on letting the author speak. I hope to find less of my voice this time around when I listen through the interview and transcribe it. Ms. Marks seconded a great suggestion my dear, beloved husband made earlier this morning. I’m going to work on taking portions of interview and turning it into a podcast. Watch out, YouTube! Literate Housewife is heading your way!

I am hoping to have my review and interview posted by mid to late next week. In the meantime, I’ll also be working on my review of Gilding Lily by Tatiana Boncompagni. At some point soon I hope to finish The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker. It’s going slowly. It’s not a boring or hard novel to read, but it’s not terribly compelling either.

Last but not least, my father, who will always be a handsome young man in his mid-30s to me, turns 60-years-old today. Happy Birthday!!!!! I wish I could be in Michigan celebrating with you and the flamingos!!!! I love you, Daddy!!!!!!!

I hope that you’re all having a wonderful weekend!

An Interview with Robin Gerber

March 22, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading | 8 Comments
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On March 12, I had the opportunity to speak with Robin Gerber about her new novel, Eleanor vs. Ike. She was on her way to a fund raiser for Hillary Clinton in Hyde Park that evening, but she graciously took the time to speak with me. After having read the book, it was wonderful to have had the opportunity to talk with her about the thoughts and questions that it raised. I hope that you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did:

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Literate Housewife: First of all, I really enjoyed your book and am so happy that I had the opportunity to read it.

Robin Gerber: Oh, great! I’m so glad!

LH: What was it like to have published your first novel?

RG: It’s been really exciting and really fun. Harper has been fantastic, very supportive. You put it out there and you have no idea if people are going to love it the way that you do. I really love the book and I still cry when I read it. I’m getting really nice emails and feedback from people who just love it. Who seem to have the same feeling that I do, that it’s a really good story, it’s exciting and they couldn’t wait to finish it to find out who won. Writing’s just a lonely thing to do. You have an idea of what you hope to accomplish but obviously you can’t know if other people are going to read it the same way.

LH: How did writing Eleanor vs. Ike compare to writing Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way?

RG: It really was a completely different thing when you’re writing non-fiction. Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way is an advice book based upon stories from her life. So it was part writing biography, which, of course, you’re interpreting facts and then figuring out how do those facts tie in to leadership and theories about leadership and that’s something I know all about. So it was almost more of an academic exercise I guess – and not a terribly creative one. Now, having said that, I think that it is a terrific book. People really like it and it did what I hoped it would do, but in terms of how fun it was for me, it was a million times more fun to be creative. And I think that is the difference. When you got to get to writing a novel and saying, “Okay, let’s see… So if Ike’s team has this letter that they can use against her, what could her team have against him? How do I work this?

If people are in to politics, there’s a lot of fun things in the book. I’m a political junkie, so I have Eleanor saying, “We’re in it to win it,” which is of course what Hillary has said during her current campaign. At one point I have Eisenhower making a sexist comment about when people people hear Eleanor’s voice it will remind them of their worst moments with their wives. This is actually quoted verbatim from what Pat Buchanan, the conservative commentator, has said about Hillary. So, there’s a lot of very, very subtle little things like that in the novel. What I call “political junkie” stuff is just fun for me.

One interviewer accused me of hammering home the connection between Hillary and Eleanor by have Hillary meet Eleanor. But that’s not why I did it. I did it because it struck me that it could have happened and it was a fun scene to write.

LH: Well really, that scene was interesting to me because I didn’t know that much about Hillary prior to Bill’s first presidential campaign, so I had no idea that her family came from a mixed political background.

RG: Yeah, that’s all true. She grew up in Chicago. Her father was a Republican and Hillary was a Goldwater girl when she was a teenager. But, her mother was a closet Democrat.

LH: Was there anything about Eleanor that surprised while you were writing or did she in some way take on a life of her own in the novel?

RG: You know, I think it helped me to really understand why she didn’t run for President. I have wondered what she actually said about running for President when there were people actually pushing her in that direction. Writing this novel made me realize that there was really nothing she said that rang very true. And in the end I decided that she had a great deal of insecurity about putting herself on that public stage. In a way she might have been right if she saw what is happening with Hillary today, more than half a century later. Imagine what would have happened in 1952.

LH: Actually that brings up a question I was going to ask: You opened Eleanor vs. Ike with her remembering her husband’s affair and how painful that was to her. What was it about her that made her that allowed her to make the choice to take that energy and focus it on service instead of taking it out on herself? Why do you think she chose to move forward?

RG: That’s a good question. A lot of people would have crawled into a hole. Many terrible disappointments happened to Eleanor as a child. Her mother died early in her childhood and her father was an alcoholic. You know, I think there are some people who are born with a kind of resiliency. She seemed to have that. She was a lot like her uncle, Teddy Roosevelt. And, I think that she was deeply compassionate because of what happened to her in her young life. She came from a very service-oriented family. Her Uncle Teddy’s example made an impact on her. So I think she understood that service had a kind of salvation to it that was worth exploring for her. Still, she didn’t really seek it out. It kind of came to her. Her husband’s adviser came to her and said, “We could really use your help with women voters now that they have the right to vote.” She had never really done much on the political stage, but she kind of liked being on the campaign trail with FDR during his run for Vice President. So, it is true that Louis Howe encouraged her like I wrote in the book. He gave her a chance and encouraged her. She was enlisted by her peers.

LH: It’s amazing what can happen when just one person shows their faith in you.

RG: The woman who came knocking on her door from the League was a wealthy Republican socialite who was very committed to women’s right to vote. So, you never can tell where the angel’s going to come from.

LH: You mentioned Teddy Roosevelt being Eleanor’s uncle. Was he her biological uncle?

RG: Yes, he was. He was her father’s older brother. She was a Roosevelt, so when she married she became Eleanor Roosevelt Roosevelt. She was Franklin’s 5th cousin. The Roosevelt family came to what is now Manhattan from the Netherlands in the 1600s and eventually moved to the Hyde Park area.

LH: I’m going to have to read more about them because I am Dutch myself and my ancestors settled in Michigan. Obviously the Dutch have more of an influence in our country than just in Southwest Michigan.

RG: Roosevelt in Dutch means rose “something” and FDR didn’t deny that there was a Jewish background in the Netherlands in the 1600s. Of course, the Dutch settled Manhattan but there are a lot more in Michigan, that’s true.

LH: Speaking of Michigan, I was pleasantly surprised to see my home state so well represented in your novel. You have the two housewives from Traverse City who go to the convention in Chicago and then the Pentagon administrator who was from Escanaba. She played an important role inadvertently. Were these references added because of your connection to Michigan or Eleanor’s?

RG: I’m from Skokie, IL. I forgot that I made the soldier married to the woman at the Pentagon from Michigan. I’m not sure where I got that.

LH: Eleanor must have been to Escanaba at one point because that character mentions that she met Eleanor there. Anyway, the Michigan connection, especially at the convention really drew me in to the story.

RG: I wanted the novel to have the sound of reality. I thought it would be important to tell about part of the convention story from the point of view of the delegates. That’s why I created them.

LH: Margaret Thatcher was serving England as Prime Minister when I was young. I’m lucky in the respect of having the example of a strong female leader. Still, there are many other examples of female political leaders, both good and bad, throughout history. Why do you think that America has been so hesitant to have females hold high political office?

RG: Well, I think it really has to do with the two party system. That makes it very hard here, whereas under a parliamentary system it’s easier for a woman to break in. The parties have weakened over the last 20 years so before that, it would be hard for any candidate who didn’t have the support of the party to win an election. There has been change since then, but we’re still not seeing a great increase in women running for office.

LH: The Korean War was the most important issue during the election of 1952. People who were speaking out against Eleanor didn’t believe a woman could lead in a time of war. Although her ultimate goal was to find a peaceful solution to that conflict, do you think she should have challenged the notion that a woman can’t lead in a time of war? There are some great women who did just that, such as Joan of Arc, Katherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth I.

RG: I agree. That would have been a good point to make. I think that because she was running against a general that it would have been hard to argue. But I think it would have been a good point to make. In the novel, my resolution to this situation was that she would invite him to be her Secretary of Defense.

LH: I really did appreciate the opportunity to read your book. I was thrilled to have this opportunity and I think my readers are going to be excited to have the opportunity to receive a copy for themselves.

RG: You had good questions. I think you’ll find that the challenge is editing it on to the page. It’s fun for readers to hear directly from an author like that.

#61 ~ Eleanor vs. Ike

March 17, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Posted in Books, Inspiration, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 6 Comments
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Eleanor vs. Ike: A Novel by Robin Gerber

Robin Gerber was once asked while giving a talk about in conjunction with her book, Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, if Eleanor Roosevelt ever did anything wrong. Ms. Gerber’s response was, “Yes, she should have run for president.” From that question and her own response, Eleanor vs. Ike, an interesting, fun, and fast-paced novel, was born. It imagines what might have happened if Eleanor Roosevelt ran for president in 1952 against Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Gerber’s inaugural novel begins with Eleanor in Europe, finishing work on a United Nations meeting. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away, Eleanor continued to work for our country. While preparing to leave the meeting, she received an obituary for Lucy Rutherford, a woman with whom her husband had had an affair. Opening the novel with this story really worked to peak my interest about Eleanor. Other than what I may have learned about her in school and the glimpse of her in Annie, I do not know much about her or the world that she inhabited. I was drawn in to the novel by the story of her marriage and childhood.

There is also a lot to be learned and thought through along the roller coaster ride of the 1952 presidential election. Not only did Eleanor and Ike have voices in this novel, so did their staff and their supporters. Sometimes having too many narrators can weigh a novel down, but seeing the campaign from the inside and the outside made it a richer experience. In a time of election, especially during a time of political crisis, we all work together – or, in the case of fringe groups like the KKK, against each other – to determine the course of our history.

As a country, we’ve never had a female represent either major party as it’s presidential candidate. While that might change by the end of the summer, Eleanor vs. Ike addressed many of the issues such a race would bring up. In Gerber’s election of 1952, Eleanor’s detractors were men. I was anticipating another woman to rise up and wreak havoc on her campaign, but such a woman never materialized. Women do tend to serve as each other’s worst enemies, but having Eleanor’s vocal and vicious opposition made up by men is appropriate for that time period. Both political parties were run and controlled by men. A woman would have to run through that gauntlet first. If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic candidate for president, it will be interesting to see if that has changed.

If I have no vested interest in the outcome, I tend to root for the underdog. This may be attributed to the fact that I grew up as a Detroit Tiger fan, but it’s a part of me nonetheless. Eleanor’s gender and personal insecurities easily made her seem to be an underdog, but her courage in her convictions and her love for her country made her a strong person and a formidable candidate. Despite the fact that there never really was a runoff between Eleanor and Ike, I got caught up in the campaign. Gerber’s dialog is wonderfully readable and moves the novel forward. I stayed up way past my bed time to find out who won the election of 1952 and it was well worth the loss of sleep. We need more leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt, be they Democrats or Republicans. Although she was never on the ballot, I promise you won’t regret casting your vote for her by reading this book.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#55 ~ Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

January 27, 2008 at 1:43 pm | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Disappointment, Family, LibraryThing, LIfe, Memoir, Religion | 4 Comments
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Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen

Sometime toward the end of the year I was adding some books to my library on LibraryThing and wanted to add a book I received from my parents for Christmas the year before. It is a book of vintage postcards from Grand Rapids, my home town. I was sitting in the office at the time and the book was in the living room. I was feeling too lazy to walk into the other room and, figuring that there couldn’t be that many books about Grand Rapids, Michigan, I just used “Grand Rapids” to search for it. Much to my surprise, there were quite a few interesting books about my home town. Of those, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen stuck out when I read the following description:

“As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bich Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity. In the pre-PC era Midwest, where the devoutly Christian blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme…”

I was one of those blonde-haired, blue-eyed (well, slightly green as well) Jennifers and I was very curious to learn how I reigned supreme (it didn’t feel that way at the time). Because I wanted to read this book very badly, I rented it from the library (I’m trying to economize). I figured that if I loved it the way I knew I would, I’d buy it later. In the end, I’m glad that I just rented it.

There is something fun and invigorating about reading about your home town and it was even more exciting for me when the author’s family moved to the Ken-O-Sha area. That’s very close to where I grew up. I recognized many of the locations mentioned in the book as well as the type of people as well. I may have been Dutch, blonde, and named Jennifer, but there are more ways of sticking out like a sore thumb in southeast Grand Rapids than by being Vietnamese: you could be Roman Catholic. In an area heavily populated by members of the Christian Reformed Church, being Catholic is just as “unfortunate.” As Nguyen describes her early experiences living next doors to CRC neighbors, it brought me back to my childhood as well.

This first third of the book felt very authentic to me. I laughed out loud at the way she described her uncle he discovered after enrollment that Calvin College was “serious” about being a CRC school. I related to the scenes where Nguyen experienced orchestrated attempts to “save” her under the auspices of a neighbor girl simply bringing other girls over to play. I know very well the disgusted way those other girls reacted when she made it clear that she was not interested in their God. I was five or six the first time I was told by another child that I was going to hell for “worshiping Mary.” It was so frightening and I can remember the way my chest felt as I ran home crying to my mother. When there aren’t vocal attempts to convert you, there is always the feeling of being held away at an arm’s distance. There was one CRC family that wouldn’t let their children play with my siblings, but they had no problem asking my parents to borrow our camper. That always made me so angry. So, when a scandal rocked our neighborhood in the late 80s, I did take delight in it. The neighbor lady from across the street had apparently been having an affair with one of the husband around the block. I did feel bad for the pain the children and the other spouses experienced, but for me also felt somewhat like a vindication. Although I’m not proud of feeling this way, it was nice to see two people from that group, who made no secret that they were better than my family simply because of their religious affiliation, fall in such a public and shameful way.

While I related to Nguyen’s early experiences, I did not find her memoir enjoyable as a whole. About a third of the way through it went back in time for no apparent reason. From that point forward, the book felt disjointed. There were also large portions of the book that described food and books in such minute detail that I found myself often jumping over large sections until the story picked up again. In the section where she describes the books she read and enjoyed at the time, I was taken back in time to the books I loved so well. Unfortunately, this section began to feel like a book report. Why spend so many pages describing each of the scenes in The Little House on the Prarie that made her wish that was her family? One example would have been so much more effective.

I really wanted to like this butt, but in the end I couldn’t even finish it. I set it aside with only 7 or 8 pages to go. I just didn’t care to continue to read every painful detail of her reunion with her mother. Yes, this should have been a strong way to end her novel. To me, it felt like it was going no where – and very slowly at that. Stealing Buddha’s Dinner would have been more effective if it ended about a third of the way through with the stories about her grandmother from later in the book added to that portion.

Read the first third if you’re interested in what it was like to grow up in the midwest when you’re not a WASP or if you’d like to read about the Vietnamese experience in America in the 70s and 80s. Otherwise, I would pass this book by.

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To buy this book, click here.

While I Was Away

October 28, 2007 at 12:27 am | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading, What's Up | 2 Comments
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I forgot to write a small post to let everyone know that I was on vacation this past week. My husband and I took the children to Michigan to see my family. While we were there, we celebrated my grandfather’s 90th birthday, Emma’s 5th birthday, Allison’s 3rd birthday, and our 10th wedding anniversary. As a gift to us, my parents watched the girls while we took a few days and went to Saugatuck. After the drive up there, it was a nice, relaxing visit.

Of most significance to you, my beloved readers, is that my vacation was prolific. I finished The Madonna’s of Leningrad, The Emperor’s Children, and The Virgin’s Lover (all books that I had started before we left). I also read The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn! I am very excited to have completed all the way up to #45. It wasn’t that long ago when I sincerely wondered how in the world I would ever meet my goal. Now I’ve only seven books left to read.

Of course, I am now a tad behind on my reviews. I hope to have those completed within the next few days. I hope that you all had a great week!

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