Wednesday, September 28, 2016

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.
One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.
When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.
Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.
• Hardcover: 336 pages
• Publisher: Harper (September 13, 2016)
About the Author
Photo by Melissa Ann Pinney
Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of nonfiction. She has won many prizes, including Britain’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and the Book Sense Book of the Year. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the co-owner of Parnassus Books.

Find out more about Ann on her website and follow her bookstore, Parnassus Books, on Twitter.

My Thoughts
The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.

This story covers fifty years and several generations of two families bound together by infidelity, and the genuine affection that grew between the siblings of two broken families.

Fix is a cop in California, married to the moviestar-beautiful Beverly. They are the parents to two daughters, Caroline and Franny. Franny is just a babe and the center of a christening party when deputy DA Bert Cousins shows up at Fix's door with a bottle of gin. No one knows how Bert's appearance at this party will change the lives of all involved.

Bert and Theresa have three children at the start of their story, with one on the way, eventually finding themselves raising two boys and two girls.

A drunken moment between Bert and Beverly grows into something more, and it destroys two families, but out if it a new one is born. Caroline and Franny live most of the time with their mother and Bert in their new house in Virginia, and in the summer Bert's kids join them. During those long summers in a sleepy town and on family trips, the kids grow to genuinely care for one another. They become true siblings, watching one another's back. Well, all except that darn annoying Albie, the baby of the group, who is the hyperactive sort and drives everyone nuts!

This story follows these kids as they grow up, as their parents grow older, and as these kids begin having kids of their own. The story slowly builds up and then slowly unravels the truth behind what happened one terrible day that bound them all together forever.
I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, September 13th: BookNAround
Wednesday, September 14th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, September 15th: Vox Libris
Friday, September 16th: Art @ Home
Friday, September 16th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, September 19th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, September 21st: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, September 22nd: Tina Says…
Monday, September 26th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, September 27th: Books on the Table
Wednesday, September 28th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, September 29th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, October 3rd: Fictionophile
Tuesday, October 4th: Literary Quicksand
Wednesday, October 5th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Thursday, October 6th: Lit and Life
Friday, October 7th: The Well-Read Redhead
TBD: Luxury Reading

My final word: This is a really great story. It's full of rich characters that you really get to know. It's written with sensitivity and humor and compassion, and there is a nice balance that keeps it from getting to heavy. Sometimes there will be a little allusion to something, piquing your interest, and only later in the story shining a light on the matter to more fully explain what happened and how you came to be here. Our book club has come to love this author, and I know that we will be adding this one to our reading list. Well done, Ann Patchett! I feel as if I just left a family reunion and miss everyone already!

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.

I received a copy of this book to review through the publisher and 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. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.  

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.

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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
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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.