Wednesday, September 14, 2016

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson


A sparkling debut combining the charming pluck of Eloise, the poignant psychological quirks of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the page-turning spirit of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years, but now she’s writing her first book in decades and to ensure timely completion her publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress.

When Alice Whitley arrives she’s put to work as a companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric son, who has the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders. The longer she spends with the Bannings, the more Alice becomes obsessed with two questions: Who is Frank’s father? And will Mimi ever finish that book?

Full of countless only-in-Hollywood moments, Be Frank With Me is a heartwarming story of a mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who is pulled into their unforgettable world.

Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by William Morrow Paperbacks  

About the Author

Julia Claiborne Johnson worked at Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines before marrying and moving to Los Angeles, where she lives with her comedy-writer husband and their two children.

Like the author on Facebook
Follow the author on Twitter

My Thoughts
Because the station wagon blew up in the fire, Frank and I took the bus to the hospital.
This story is narrated by Alice, who is assigned to assist Mimi by Mimi's editor Mr. Vargas. Mimi wrote a huge hit when she was nineteen, and has written nothing since (think Harper Lee). Now financial woes are driving her to write another novel.

When Alice arrives at Mimi's, she finds that she will actually be more of a babysitter to Mimi's son Frank than Mimi's assistant.

Frank...oh, Frank. How do you describe Frank? Well, he's described in the book as a miniature Charlie Chaplin. With the mind of Albert Einstein, he dresses like a 1930s movie star, and evokes in those close to him equal amounts of adoration and terror. He evoked the same emotions in me. I adored Frank, but I also don't really think I would choose to have a Frank in my life. Mimi isn't kidding when she says, "My life was so much easier before I had Frank." Frank who has to have scissors and matches hidden from him. For example, one time he uses a battery and wire to start a fire when Alice can't find matches.
"You're a genius, Frank," I said. "How did you think of doing that?"
"Oh, I do it in my room all the time." he said.
Dear Frank, who has outbursts (sometimes violent, but always attention-getting).
"Don't do that, Frank. It worries people. What's wrong with you?"
"The jury's still out on that one," Frank said.
Frank is a handful, but he is also very endearing. Mimi is a very accommodating mother, letting Frank be Frank. She seems hard and stern, but she has a soft side with Frank. Her love for him is evident.
Mimi wrapped her arms around Frank, and kissed the top of his head. Ah, Mimi. So what if she didn't like me? Every bit of affection she had she channeled to Frank, who needed it more than I did.
Alice is doing her best to keep the house running, so Mimi can focus on writing. And she's doing a pretty fine (albeit thankless) job of it until Xander shows up and throws a bit of a hitch into things.

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, September 6th: Books on the Table
Wednesday, September 7th: 5 Minutes For Books
Thursday, September 8th: Buried Under Books
Friday, September 9th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Tuesday, September 13th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, September 14th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, September 15th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, September 16th: M. Denise Costello
Monday, September 19th: I Brought a Book
Tuesday, September 20th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Wednesday, September 21st: Back Porchervations
Thursday, September 22nd: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog
Friday, September 23rd: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, September 26th: The Well-Read Redhead
Tuesday, September 27th: Becklist
Wednesday, September 28th: Reading is My Super Power
Thursday, September 29th: Art Books Coffee
Friday, September 30th: Sweet Southern Home

My final word: I really liked this story. It was sweet and touching and quirky, if sad at times. Alice is a fine and reliable narrator for the story, and she has an intuition on how to handle Frank. Mimi is a tough old bird, and she ironically has a lot of walls for someone who lives in a glass house. Frank is "misunderstood". In a Procrustean world that doesn't look kindly on "different", Frank is like a spotlight in a dark room. He stands out and at times he's somewhat glaring and ostentatious. This is a quick, sweet story full of interesting characters and offbeat moments. I will most definitely be recommending this one to my book club!

Buy Now:

Barnes & Noble

My Rating:


The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review from the publisher Harper-Collins through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Monday, September 5, 2016

REVIEW: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood


As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible "adult" around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published August 9th 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books
ISBN 1250074134 (ISBN13: 9781250074133)

About the Author

BRYN GREENWOOD is a fourth-generation Kansan and the daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer. She is the author of the novels All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Last Will, and Lie Lay Lain. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas. 

Check out the author's website
Like the author on Facebook
Follow the author on Twitter

My Thoughts
My mother always started the story by saying, "Well, she was born in the backseat of a stranger's car," as though that explained why Wavy wasn't normal.
We are introduced to Wavy as a five-year-old who has landed in her Aunt Brenda's house after both of her parents have been arrested. (Wavy's mother Val is a drug addict who cares about little in life, and her father Liam is a neglectful meth manufacturer and drug runner.)

At first glance, Wavy is an odd duck, rarely speaking a word, refusing to eat in front of anyone, and shunning any physical contact. She appears to "have a screw loose", but given time and patience a person will find that there is a method to her madness, and brilliance behind her baffling behavior. She's mature beyond her years, and possibly even a genius, and there is deep emotion bottled up under that still surface.

Things don't go well at Aunt Brenda's, whose rigid personality doesn't mesh with this odd duck who does nothing normally. With Brenda at her wit's end, it is Wavy's grandmother who steps up and takes in Wavy. She is everything Brenda is not, accepting Wavy for who she is, reasoning out what will work with her wacky behavior. Things are good, but they can't last. Wavy's mother gets released from jail, and it is back to an invisible life with a mentally unstable mother.

Once her father is released from prison, it isn't long before Wavy finds herself in the position of big sister to new baby Donal, and before long she is more of a mother to Donal than their own mother.

Wavy meets 24-year-old Kellen (her father's co-worker) on a day she thinks is her 8th birthday, but doesn't know for sure as she doesn't have a current calendar. Kellen wrecks his motorcycle after being startled by the beautiful little girl walking out of a field in the night, looking like an angel. A relationship quickly builds between them, as he becomes her protector and friend, and she becomes something of a caretaker of him, like a wife or mother.

Through the years, Wavy and Kellen are constants in one another's life-- two lost ships gravitating toward one another, one finding stability in the other.

Kellen looked at me for a second, not long enough. Liam made me invisible. I needed Kellen to see me.
Wavy teaches Kellen about astronomy, pointing out and reciting the names of the constellations in the sky.
Mr. Arsenikos said if you knew the constellations you would never get lost. You could always find your way home.
And Kellen becomes her home. They become family.

When Wavy is in high school, we learn where the title for the book comes from...

I mostly liked high school. I liked learning things. How numbers worked together to explain the stars. How molecules made the world. All the ugly and wonderful things people had done in the last two thousand years.
But uncertainty and loss continues throughout Wavy's childhood, and she eventually finds herself lost without Kellen.

This is a unique novel that you hesitate to even pick up, as the subject matter seems so distasteful, with what seems to be a predatory man and an impressionable young girl.
Interestingly enough, the tables are sort of flipped and Wavy is the predator and Kellen the impressionable one. She is an old soul, and while Kellen grounds her, I think that Wavy expands him and his world with her big intellect and powerful love. 

As I began the story, I was intrigued to see whether the author could accomplish making the male character likable, and their relationship acceptable. I thought she did a great job of walking a line, taking you to the edge of "unacceptable" and only making you "uncomfortable". However I appreciated what she said in response to a question about how "uncomfortable" this story can be:
Greenwood asks those who feel uncomfortable about Wavy and Kellen's romance to examine the root of their unease: "Did it make you uncomfortable, or were you made uncomfortable by the fact that you weren't really all that uncomfortable?" she asks. (From an interview with Bustle)
I must agree that I think that is one of the things that made me uncomfortable with this story-- it was how natural their relationship felt, how "right" it seemed, and then the mental reminder of how young this girl was and how inappropriate their relationship would be under any other circumstance. But in this circumstance, in the desolation of her heart and the emotional abandonment and abuse, it felt "right". I became grateful that Kellen was there for her, that he took care of her when no one else did.

My final word: I loved this story! I loved the author's writing style which was easy-to-read, but lyrical at moments. She took on the daunting task of how to make a man that could (or even should) be viewed as a pedophile and make him likable, and how to take an uncomfortable relationship and make it feel not only comfortable, but even fated and necessary. It makes you (or I think at least most) see that Kellen is not really a pedophile-- he is not a predator of children, not a threat to children, and in fact Wavy was more the predator, and Kellen her savior. And yet it still feels uncomfortable to say that, because my mind says "this is wrong" while my heart says "this is right". Kellen and Wavy were as fated as the stars they liked to watch and call by name. And in the end, their love feels not inappropriate or dirty or ugly, but instead it is one of the wonderful things.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

This book was was my August 2016 Book-of-the-Month selection.


Friday, August 26, 2016

ON MY RADAR (8-26-16 edition): Books that have hit my radar...

Here are some books that have recently hit my radar and set off my alarm bells...

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed is a re-visiting of Shakespeare’s play of magic and illusion, The Tempest, and will be the fourth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

The Tempest is set on a remote island full of strange noises and creatures. Here, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, plots to restore the fortunes of his daughter Miranda by using magic and illusion -- starting with a storm that will bring Antonio, his treacherous brother, to him. All Prospero, the great sorcerer, needs to do is watch as the action he has set in train unfolds.

In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever.

There’s a lot of Shakespearean swearing in this new Tempest adventure…but also a mischief, curiosity and vigour that’s entirely Atwood and is sure to delight her fans.

Human Acts by Han Kang

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed. 

The story of this tragic episodeunfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho's own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice. 

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, HUMAN ACTS is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity."

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.

Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.

Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.


Friday, August 19, 2016

ON MY RADAR (8-19-16 edition): Books that have hit my radar...

Here are some books that have recently hit my radar and set off my alarm bells...

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy's counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other's trust, and come to see that what they've been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn't offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

Valley of the Moon by Melanie Gideon

In this captivating novel from the author of Wife 22, a woman who feels lost in her own time stumbles across a California community that has, impossibly, been marooned in the early twentieth century perfect for readers of The Time Traveler's Wife, Time and Again, and Sarah Addison Allen.

Lux is a single mom struggling to make her way when she discovers an idyllic community in the Sonoma Valley. It seems like a place from another time until she realizes it actually is. Lux must keep one foot in her world, raising her son as well as she can with the odds stacked against her, but every day she is more strongly drawn in by the sweet simplicity of life in Greengage, and by the irresistible connection she feels with a man born decades before her. Soon she finds herself torn between her ties to the modern world, her adored son and the first place she has ever felt truly at home.

Bob Stevenson by Richard Wiley

Dr. Ruby Okada meets a charming man with a Scottish accent in the elevator of her psychiatric hospital. Unaware that he is an escaping patient, she falls under his spell, and her life and his are changed forever by the time they get to the street.

Who is the mysterious man? Is he Archie B. Billingsly, suffering from dissociative identity disorder and subject to brilliant flights of fancy and bizarre, violent fits? Or is he the reincarnation of Robert Louis Stevenson, back to haunt New York as Long John Silver and Mr. Edward Hyde? Her career compromised, Ruby soon learns that her future and that of her unborn child depend on finding the key to his identity.

With compelling psychological descriptions and terrifying, ineffable transformations, Bob Stevenson is an ingenious tale featuring a quirky cast of characters drawn together by mutual fascination, need, and finally, love.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Introducing... All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

My mother always started the story by saying, "Well, she was born in the backseat of a stranger's car," as though that explained why Wavy wasn't normal. It seemed to me that could happen to anybody. Maybe on the way to the hospital, your parents' respectable, middle-class car broke down. That was not what happened to Wavy. She was born in the backseat of a stranger's car, because Uncle Liam and Aunt Val were homeless, driving through Texas when their old beat-up van broke down. Nine months pregnant, Aunt Val hitchhiked to the next town for help. If you ever consider playing Good Samaritan to a pregnant woman, think about cleaning that up.

-- All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood