This Is How It Always Is

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This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

When Rosie and Penn, parents of four boys, learn they are expecting their fifth child, Rosie hopes this one will be a girl. When Claude is born, she comes to terms with the chaos of a family of five boys and nurtures the individuality of each of her sons. But, when Claude is three, he announces that he wants to be a girl, and by the time he starts kindergarten, he’s carrying a purse to school and wearing dresses at home. He’s not allowed to wear his dress to school, but when Rosie discovers a year’s worth of Claude’s artwork, she realizes they need to change their approach. The rest of the family is drawn in detail, while Claude is a stick figure; the rest of the family is painted in vibrant color while Claude is nearly invisible in black and white.
“And then, soon, Claude was nowhere. Rosie Where’s-Waldo-ed for fifteen minutes and failed to find him at all.”
Their son is disappearing before their eyes. They know they need to communicate that they love him unconditionally, no matter what he wears, how he styles his hair, or what he calls himself. Claude becomes Poppy, and blossoms into a confident, happy little girl.
Of course, this decision is not without challenges and complications. As Poppy grows, the choices become more difficult and murky, and Rosie and Penn don’t always agree on what is best for Poppy and for their family. Frankel, who herself has a transgender child, does an incredible job developing each character into real person with doubts and insecurities, each showing “grace under extreme pressure”, a phrase she utilizes throughout the book. She tells this important story with subtlety and gorgeous prose, and closes it with a sense of hope.
On the surface, this is a story about a family with a transgender child, but the themes can be applied to anyone who is someone’s parent or someone’s child. It is about the difficulty of guiding tiny humans towards the path that most fits their personality, and encouraging them to take the path less travelled, despite the difficulty, because it will provide them a more peaceful life.
“The path on the right was paved and shady, rolling gently along a childhood filled with acceptance to an adulthood marked by requited love, grandchildren, and joy, whereas the other path was rock-strewn and windblown, uphill both directions, and led she had no idea where. Here she was at the crossroads letting her baby boy run blindly down the path on the left (in a skirt and heels)…”
This is How it Always Is” would make an ideal book club pick, the controversial topics sure to spark an interesting discussion. Buy or download it as soon as possible as this book is not to be missed.

Guest Blogger:  This review was written by avid reader and author Heather Frimmer.  She is currently in the final stages of completing her first novel.  

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The Memory of Us by Camille Di Maio

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Love, loss, war, religious conflict, sacrifice, and hope, The Memory of Us is the best kind of emotional tearjerker. In 1930’s England,  Julienne, a young, fashion conscious, Protestant girl deciding on her goals and enjoying an active social life in search of the perfect escort learns her parents have been hiding the fact that she has an institutionalized deaf and blind twin brother, Charles. Overwhelmed with this secret and unbeknownst to anyone she sneaks away to visit him and meets the gardener’s son, Kyle, who is kind to Charles and they develop a friendship. Julienne is attracted to Kyle but he is sworn to celibacy as he is studying to become a Catholic priest. The unlikely couple go their separate ways as Julienne goes to nursing school and Kyle to the seminary although they can’t forget the attraction they both feel for each other.

Their paths cross again and unable to break free from their secret courtship, Kyle leaves priesthood to marry Julienne against her parents wishes. And then the war…You could never predict what happens next.

The star crossed love, the arduous parental relationships, the brutality of war, the religious discourse, personal secrets and the unabashed decisions to protect oneself and loved ones all combined into what is a bestseller! This incredible debut had me crying and surprised and hopeful… and awake way past my bedtime to read it!

According to Goodreads “Camille is an award-winning real estate agent in San Antonio who, along with her husband of 18 years, home schools their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She’s lived in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, and spends enough time in Hawaii to feel like a local. She’s traveled to four continents (so far), and met Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. She just about fainted when she had a chance to meet her musical idol, Paul McCartney, too. Camille studied political science in college, but found working on actual campaigns much more fun. She overdoses on goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries), and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it does’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. “The Memory of Us” is Camille’s debut novel, and her second book, “Before the Rain Falls” will be released in spring 2017.”

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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Homegoing author Yaa Gyasi, does a remarkable job exhibiting how we can inherit scars, and how emotional scars passed down through generations can be equally as impactful as physical scars. In this rich, well written debut novel, 250 years of history are told through Gyasi’s compassionate storytelling beginning in 1700s Ghana when one sister left her village to marry an Englishman and live in a castle while the other sister was a slave in that castle’s basement. Each of the book’s chapters are about a different descendant and how their life was shaped by the lives of their predecesssors. She covers 7 generations in Ghana and America as they experience the slave trade, British colonization, racism and culture changes.
The powerful perspective of Willie, a black mother, as she scolds her adult son, Sonny, for being a drug addict is evident here:

“White men get a choice. They get to choose they job, choose they house. They get to make black babies, then disappear into thin air, like they wasn’t never there to begin with, like these black women they slept with or raped done laid on top of themselves and got pregnant. White men get to choose for black men too. Used to sell ‘em; now they just send ‘em to prison like they did my daddy, so that they can’t be with they kids. ……You keep doin’ what you doin’ and the white man don’t got to do it no more. He ain’t got to sell you or put you in a coal mine to own you. He’ll own you just as is, and he’ll say you the one who didi it. He’ll say it’s your fault.”

Following this family through time, like studying the history of those who came before us, can provide some insight into current time race relations. This epic family saga is well worth reading.

According to the WSJ, this outstanding debut novel sold for over $1,000,000 before it was even published. The author started writing it her sophomore year at Stanford. She visited Ghana for a summer when she was 20 and the book was published when she was 26.

Get Up, Stand Up

Get Up, Stand Up: Stand Up For Your Rights! ~Bob Marley

I enjoy reading nonfiction and find it to be a great way to learn something new. These next two books have something very important in common; both authors, Leah Remini and Leon Wildes fight for rights of others with the hopes of making a difference. In the 1970s Wildes fought for justice, freedom and the pursuit of family and happiness for John Lennon and Yoko Ono against the powers that be in government and the courts. Today Remini is fighting to expose Scientology and all the dirty little secrets while standing up for all the people who have been stripped of their human rights and continue to be abused and separated from their families.

I devoured these books and have been talking about them ever since.

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Troublemaker, Surviving Hollywood and Scientology is by The King of Queens tv star and well known Hollywood actress Leah Remini. The book is written in her brash, likable, tell it like it is voice and I was prepared to enjoy this one regardless of topic but was shocked and appalled when she revealed the details of her childhood and young adulthood as she was brought up as a Scientologist. According to Remini, Scientologists are taught to believe their work and study of the religion can and will save the world. The leader, David Miscavage exerts his power to control open minded people who are looking for answers. Once you are in you are committed to at least 2 hours a day of study as you work toward your goal to move up the ladder of success within the religion.  If a Scientologist chooses to leave the church and/or say anything derogatory or even question the movement you can/will be harassed, slandered, followed, abused, questioned, shunned and forbidden to have contact with family and friends. The control the leaders have over the parishoners seems unethical and illegal. I have been watching the A & E tv series Leah Remini has created with other ex-scientologists and am hoping the national exposure will be a precursor to dismantling this controlling and damaging movement. Troublemaker was an informative and compelling read.

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John Lennon vs. The U.S.A., The Inside Story of the Most Bitterly Contested and Influential Deportation Case in United States History was written by Leon Wildes, the New York attorney who represented John Lennon and Yoko Ono in court. In the early 1970s the legal voting age was lowered to 18 and at this time young people were becoming politically aware and active. The Beatles and John Lennon were in the media spotlight and Lennon’s public disapproval of the Vietnam War caused a swell of peaceful protesting by these activists. This outspoken group of young America was a thorn in president Nixon’s side so when John Lennon’s visa was about to expire, Nixon used his power and influence on the court system to discourage renewal and have him deported. This first hand stories of this dedicated lawyer’s harrowing legal challenges, his cherished relationships with Yoko Ono and John Lennon and his brush with fame were informative, enjoyable and eye opening.

 

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The power a president can exert is extraordinary and if he is surrounded by his own henchmen, they can and will carry out his wishes if they believe it is in their best interest. Leaders can entice, convince and even brainwash those around them and if they have bad intentions there can be devastation. Both Troublemaker and John Lennon vs The U.S.A. shed light on how heads of organizations, both religious and governmental can exert their power to take away the rights of humans.  Nothing is more true in today’s world therefore individuals need to work together to fight against unethical, destructive leadership and stand up for the rights and the freedoms of all people.

Thank you to friend and fellow book lover Melissa Kane for her photo from the Women’s March in DC.

 

I LOVE NY

So many classic novels take place in NY, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn… and great stories of old New York conjure up warm feelings rich in history and nostalgia. A few of my recent favorite fictional reads, all by fabulous debut authors showcase New York and the people that lived there. These are their stories…

 

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The Two Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman takes place in 1947 where two Jewish brothers and their families live together in a brownstone in Brooklyn, NY. The wives are deeply bonded friends, and both give birth the same night during a blizzard. This rich family drama is laced with tradition, love, heartbreak, tragedy and choices. Forbidden secrets and multidimensional characters make The Two Family House a compelling page turner!

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The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis alternates between 1952 and today. The story takes place at The Barbizon Hotel located on the upper East side of Manhattan on 63rd and Lexington. It takes us to cafes and Jazz clubs, Brooklyn and Harlem, explores a scandal, a love story and a mystery. This book was a treat for me because my mother actually lived at the Barbizon Hotel and worked at Saks 5th Avenue while her roommate attended secretarial school…very similar to the characters in the book. The Dollhouse is about strong women, past and present New York, and is a fast paced, fun read!

 

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Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown is set in 1935 NYC, the lower east side Jewish immigrant community. The story is about a nice jewish girl who lives at home with her family and works as a bookkeeper in midtown Manhattan. Her Yiddish speaking mother, after having five children, is ready to get back to her old self and to her social activism, and as unlikely as it seems, both women find themselves pregnant. They are faced with some critical decisions and are forced to confront their feelings and beliefs. The mother daughter relationship, their individual perspectives and struggle for independence makes Modern Girls an emotional read!
And if you are forced to take a short break from fantastic, captivating novels by talented, exciting and fresh new authors (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and are looking to laugh, go behind the scenes, relive some memories, yada yada yada…

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Check out Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. If you enjoy this, read Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The May Tyler Moore Show a Classic, another great one from this TV historian and entertainment writer.

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

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Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran is a thought provoking new novel that touches on illegal immigration, class, fertility and motherhood.

Soli, at 18 years old leaves her small town in Mexico in hopes for a better life across the border. Her harrowing travels find her in a vibrant California city working as a housecleaner and unexpectedly pregnant. Soon after, her son is born, she establishes herself as a nanny to a little girl and she becomes comfortable in her new role as a young mother to her son, Ignacio. Soli’s luck takes a downhill turn and she gets into some trouble that leads her to jail, found to be undocumented and soon to be deported. Ignacio is taken from her and placed in the foster care system.

In a nearby neighborhood a young married Indian couple, Kavya and Rishi, desperately want a baby but cannot seem to conceive. After the long road of fertility treatments, they agree to pursue other parenting options and ultimately feel connected to and take into their home a foster child.

Ignacio is the Lucky Boy, a legal citizen born in the USA; and these two desperate women, his birthmother and his foster mother fight for their child.

This book tackled familiar issues for me like fertility challenges and the maternal connection with a child. I could relate to the Mexican mom who felt such a strong connection to her son and the Indian mom who desperately wanted to have a baby… I rooted for them both to end up with their boy.

The topic of immigration was brought to the forefront of my mind and my feelings about it have changed slightly after completing the book.

For me it was always imperative that the US laws keep families together, not break them apart by sending undocumented citizens, who already live here in the states and have created a life for themselves, out of this country. But I was starting to accept the idea of deporting illegal aliens who were incarcerated and caught up in our legal system. I think I was imagining scary criminals – terrorists, murderers and drug dealers and was thinking we shouldn’t clog up our jails with these horrible people. After reading about Soli, a lower class, young Mexican girl trying to make a better life for herself, a hard worker who didn’t speak English well enough to communicate and was taken advantage of by the jail employees and legal system, it brought to light the idea that there surely are nonviolent, productive people, young, misguided, and lower class women and men that could easily get caught up in our jails and legal system, and deporting them could destroy their families. Everyone has their own individual story and we owe it to each person to look at their situation separately.

I love a book that gives me something to think about and Lucky Boy did just that.

Ronald H. Balson – Author Obsession

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There are occasions when I read a book and I love it so much I do a little research on the author.  Knowing a bit about who is behind the pages enhances my reading experience and provides a greater understanding of the writing process.

Ronald H. Balson caught my attention with Once We Were Brothers.  This book was published in 2013 and I was a little late to the party; I had heard raves about this novel but didn’t get around to reading it until recently.  Briefly, it is about two boys ending up on opposite sides during the Holocaust.  One was accused of being a former Nazi officer and the accuser, with personal reasons spurring him on, hired an attorney to press charges.

The second book, Saving Sophie, is about a Chicago lawyer who’s Palestinian wife passes away and his daughter Sophie is kidnapped by the grandparents and taken to the Middle East.  To get his daughter back he is involved in embezzlement and there are suspicions of terrorism on the part of the grandfather with lots of Israel/Palestine history and suspense.

The third book is Karolina’s Twins, about two childhood friends and how they make acceptable lives for themselves during the horrible conditions of the Holocaust.  When one gives birth to twins it took a lot of scheming and dedication to keep them alive and many years later it was imperative to find out if they survived.

All three of these novels were compelling page turners I could not put down.  History, lawyers, spies, Middle East, and love…each one checked every box for me.

I was interested to learn that Ronald Balson has been a civil litigation attorney in Chicago for over 40 years and also taught business law at the University of Chicago, Graduate School of Business for 25.  He has done extensive traveling for work and the inspiration for his first book came after many trips to Warsaw.  His interest and knowledge in history and the Middle East were evident in the second book and meeting WWII survivors on his Once We Were Brothers book tour inspired the third which is based on one woman’s actual story.

The lawyer and investigator characters are reoccurring in all three novels, which is very appealing to me…but each book is a stand alone and not to be missed!  Thank you Ronald H. Balson; can’t wait for your next book!

Book Nation

2016 was a great year for reading; I devoured over 75 books and wrote reviews for many. I find that when it is time to rank a book I tend to be generous and usually give it 4 or 5 stars. An author spends so much time, energy and money to get their book out there so I like to look for attributes I can assign value to so their hard work is justified. I rarely will put a book down unfinished so effort is exerted all around and that deserves at least 4 or 5 stars, doesn’t it?

Someone recently told me they know I read a lot and it seems like I like everything. In a way that is true; I do appreciate something about every book I read, but of course some are better than others. In reviews I try to focus on the positive aspects to help other readers discover new authors and learn about different topics.

One of my favorite things to do is to talk to people about what they like to read and then recommend books I think they will enjoy. Meeting people at the front tables in Barnes and Noble and the new fiction section at The Westport Library to discuss the latest releases is a great time for me and I am hoping in writing this blog I will connect with more book lovers and have some fun! Lots of friends email, call and text me asking what I’m reading and what they should pick up next, so now’s the time to go public!

There you have it. Welcome to BOOK NATION!

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First up…

All Day by Liza Jessie Peterson (available May 2, 2017)

Bravo, Liza Jessie Peterson! All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island, New York’s Most Notorious Jail was a poetic, spiritual and powerful read. The author took me on a draining and emotional ride as she expressed her personal frustration trying to financially support herself without losing her ever present dedication to her creativity, art, poetry and performance all the while never giving up her unyielding desperation to teach…to inspire the kids at Rikers to learn where they came from and to know that they matter.

In some ways, the author, Liza is no different than some of the incarcerated kids; her rage makes her feel as if she is drowning, she is losing traction and feels depressed and sad and recognizes that sleep is an escape. At times her rage bubbles up and gets released to whoever is there and she even acknowledges that a “split second of misdirected fury” could put her on the undesirable side of the bars.

Her beautiful prose is chock full of meaning and flows so naturally, I can picture her telling her story in person as her words evoke the emotion of a live conversation. Even her students appreciate her poetic phrasing as they observe how her anger fuels the creativity and beauty of her words. The boys in her class were her family and the rapport they developed was of mutual respect. Her knowledge of black history, poetry, music, life and survival as well as her theatrical and expressive performance skills are all put to good use at Rikers and I admire this strong, authentic, multitalented author/artist/teacher who has made a difference and surely continues to do so. This book is five stars for me, and so is Liza Jessie Peterson…beautiful, articulate and inspiring.