Eden

April 6, 2018

Eden
by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg

Eden 2

Genre/categories: Fiction, Family Life, Family Saga

*linking up with Words on Wednesday

 

Summary:

Generations of Becca Meister’s family have traditionally spent memorable summers at the family’s estate affectionately known as “Eden” in Long Harbor, Rhode Island (fictionalized setting). This year as the family gathers for the 4th of July holiday, Becca (the family’s 70 year old matriarch) plans to admit to the family that she can no longer afford the upkeep on the estate because her late husband mismanaged their retirement funds. Suddenly, the family is faced with the reality that this might be their last summer at Eden. Because of other personal events happening in Becca’s life, she also concludes that this is the time she must reveal a family secret. In addition to the present day timeline, the story introduces readers to Becca’s childhood and family, we learn the history of Eden (including the hurricane of ’38), and readers come to appreciate what Eden means to the family.

Amazon Rating (April): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

Historical fiction: Although this book isn’t categorized as historical fiction, there are historical elements that some readers may find fascinating.  For instance, life in the 1920s (particularly for women), the stock market crash, the hurricane along the east coast in 1938, lifestyle of the east coast elite and their summer resorts, and the experiences of women in one family over eight decades.

Family saga: I love a multigenerational family saga! Readers follow this family for eight decades and experience their joys, sorrows, challenges, achievements, trials, hopes, dreams, relationships, values, and connectedness (or disconnects)…..in other words, this is a normal family much like our own. Readers will find a myriad of opportunities to relate. In particular, I liked how getting to know the grandparents helped explain Becca’s actions and decisions. I found the focus on mother/daughter relationships throughout the story especially interesting.

Child birth and adoption:  The story’s most fascinating and interesting themes for me were the unwed girls and their unplanned pregnancies story lines. Over the course of eighty years, the author includes stories of three unwed girls: one in the early 1900s, one in the mid 1900s, and one in present day. It was fascinating to trace how each of their pregnancies were handled in the time periods. Early in the century, an unwed girl’s unplanned pregnancy was generally hidden (even from the baby’s father), and the girl was whisked away to deliver the baby and place him/her for adoption. Upon returning home to resume her normal life, no mention was made of the baby and the girl was expected to live with the secret for her entire life. To disclose the situation would have caused the family and the girl a great deal of shame. In the middle of the century, an unwed girl experiencing an unplanned pregnancy was strongly encouraged to marry the father quickly even if  the couple hadn’t planned on a marriage. This attempt to “legitimatize” the baby often resulted in making two mistakes as the marriage arrangements were often made out of necessity and coercion and not out of thoughtful commitments and promises. Finally, unwed girls facing unplanned pregnancies at the end of the century experience having many options and not hiding their pregnancies. While some girls opt to place the baby for adoption, others choose to marry and keep the baby, or choose not to marry and raise the child as a single parent with the help of the extended family. There is no shame and the child is welcomed with love and celebrated. This theme touched me as our family has been blessed by adoption. My aunt who was born in the ’20s was a girl that was whisked away until her baby was born and placed for adoption. My husband was placed for adoption as a baby (at a time when adoptions were not as openly discussed as they are now), and although his adoptive parents weren’t forthcoming with him about the adoption during his early childhood, he was able to meet his birth mother and his biological sister as an older adult a few years ago. When my husband was eventually told about his adoption, his parents cautioned him not to tell anyone that he was adopted…that it was their secret. This caused him to believe that there was something wrong with the process that brought him into the family. In more current times, my nephew was adopted through an open adoption process and had the opportunity to meet his birth mother as soon as he became an adult. Open adoption is probably the scariest for the adoptive mom but I think it’s probably healthiest for the first mom and for the child. I know mothers and adopted children from all three perspectives and these personal connections greatly enrich the story for me.

The title: The first concept that comes to my mind with the title Eden is a paradise….and Eden in this story is a type of paradise, but it’s also a symbol for traditions (locations or experiences) that hold families together for generations. Perhaps we all have that place in mind that evokes warm childhood memories of families gathered, feelings of being loved, and of belonging. For me, it’s visiting the family farms of my childhood in South Dakota.

Themes: If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know that I love stories with substantial themes. A few themes that I feel would merit some discussion are themes of mother/daughter relationships and expectations, unwed girls facing pregnancies, adoption, privilege, women’s voice and power (or lack of), and family traditions.

The cover: I passed over this book time and time again on my TBR shelf because the gray toned, muted cover wasn’t calling out to me. This is obviously a subjective statement with which others may completely disagree. After reading the story, I can make guesses about why the author chose the cover; however, it wasn’t one that appealed to me. Look beyond the cover!

Lots of characters and jumping between timelines: Thankfully, the author provides a family tree at the beginning of the story because I really needed it! Readers listening on audible might want to jot down names and relationships along the reading journey. Many stories today have alternating timelines and it’s more challenging in some books than others. I felt like I worked hard throughout the story to be fully present in the timeline hops. Frequently, I found that I needed to stop and think about the characters and the situations when jumping to the alternate timeline.

Recommended? Yes! The more I reflect on this story, the richer it becomes. Recommended for readers who enjoy well told family sagas, thought provoking themes, or who might have some familiarity with Rhode Island (or summer beach resort living!).

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Eden

Buy Here

Meet the Author,
Jeanne Blasberg

jeanne blasbergAlways hunting for writerly detail, I’ve been known to stare or eavesdrop on the table next to me.  Call it research or maybe an over-developed sense of empathy; I’m fascinated by human nature.  At heart, I’m really still that only child who played for hours with imaginary friends.  Now my imaginary friends are characters on the page, flawed but honest, people worth spending time with.  My stories may echo timeless struggles, but they are spun with my own peculiar slant.

Jeanne Blasberg is a voracious observer of human nature and has kept a journal since childhood. She has been known to stare at strangers on more than one occasion to the embarrassment of her three children. (Mom, stop staring!)  After graduating from Smith College, she surprised everyone who knew her by embarking on a career in finance, making stops on Wall Street, Macy’s and Harvard Business School, where she worked alongside the preeminent professor of retail and wrote case studies and business articles on all sorts of topics on everything that has to do with…shopping.

A firm believer that you are never too old to change course or topics (in truth, she’s not a big shopper), Jeanne enrolled at Grub Street, one of the country’s great creative writing centers, where she turned her attention to memoir and later fiction, inspired by her childhood journal. Eden is her debut novel.

Now deep into her second novel, Jeanne and her husband split their time between Boston and Westerly, RI. When not writing, Jeanne can be found playing squash, skiing, or taking in the sunset over Little Narragansett Bay, and sometimes simply staring at interesting characters doing uninteresting things.

Jeanne’s writing has appeared in The Sun Literary Magazine’s Reader’s Write, Squash Magazine, Interfaith Family.comDead Darlings.comBreakingMatzo.comThe Huffington Post,  Women Writers Women’s Books, and Adoptimist.com.

jeanneblasberg.com



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text



Looking Ahead

I’m on very long library wait lists for The Force of Nature and The Music Shop….meanwhile I’m waiting for kindle prices to fall and reading other selections. Consequently, next Friday I’ll read and review From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon (a  histfic title from my Goodreads TBR shelf with an average Goodreads rating of 4.41 stars and Amazon rating of 4.7 stars).

From Sand and Ash

Amazon Information Here

What are you reading this week?


Extra:
Reading Recommendation For Middle Grade Readers!

(And for all readers looking for a thought provoking story!)

Crenshaw

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate is a beautifully and creatively written middle grade story exploring poverty, homelessness, and imaginary friends. Because the content of this book builds compassion and the topic of homelessness might worry some readers, I’m recommending it as an excellent “read together” book.

The first reason I loved this story is because of the personal connections I made as a teacher at a Title 1 school where the student population often experienced poverty and homelessness. I could share many stories of how their personal experiences impacted my life and our classroom.

I believe this is a thoughtful story for students who are not in this situation to build empathy, but I wonder how children who are experiencing poverty and homelessness would react to the story without having someone with which to process.

In the story, the main character, Jackson, has an imaginary friend (Crenshaw, as seen on the cover) and I appreciate the author’s subtle message that the imaginary friend appears to help Jackson deal with his stress. In fact, when Jackson questions why Crenshaw is larger than he was when Jackson was little, Crenshaw explains that Jackson needs a bigger imaginary friend now that his problems are different.

I thought a great deal while reading the story about how children process stress. It is interesting that Jackson appears fine to his parents (mom thanks him for being positive and helpful), yet he experiences stress because of not knowing what is going to happen. In addition, he also feels tremendous responsibility for his sister (even giving up his plan to run away in order to take care of her).

“What bothered me most, though, is that I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t control anything. It was like driving a bumper car without a steering wheel. I kept getting slammed, and I just had to sit there and hold on tight. Bam! Were we going to have enough to eat tomorrow? Bam! Were we going to have enough to pay the rent? Bam! Would I go to the same school in the fall? Bam!”

This thought impacted me while reading: Children can adapt easily because they desire/need stability, togetherness, love, predictability, family….but adults sometimes don’t realize the stress the child is feeling because they “appear” to be adapting.

Crenshaw is an interesting, creative, thought provoking, and worthwhile read. I’ve heard it described that books can be a door or a mirror. This book is both: a door through which children can build compassion and a mirror for children facing similar situations.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Amazon Summary and Purchase Information Here



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I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



 Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear all about what you’re reading!

How has adoption touched your life?

Do you enjoy hearing about middle grade recommendations? Do you think great literature and wonderful stories can be enjoyed by all ages?

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Little Fires Everywhere

October 13, 2017

Are you a rule follower? Do you believe that following all the rules will lead to a successful and happy life?

Little Fires Everywhere
by Celeste Ng

 

Little Fires Everywhere

Genre/Categories: literary fiction, family life, mothers and children, transracial adoption

Summary:

Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, strives to be a perfect planned community. In the words of the author there is a “propensity to over achieve and a deep intolerance for flaws…a utopia.” Every winding road is thoughtfully laid out, the list of house colors is a strict, guideline, trash pickup is conducted in the alleys and all trash cans are out of sight, and tradition is revered and informs the future. Generations of Elena Richardson’s family have lived in Shaker Heights, and she ensures that her family follows the rules and lives up to expectations. All through her life she has followed the rules and this is wholeheartedly embraced as her highest value. Part of her personal code of following the rules is giving back to those that are less fortunate whenever she can, and she’s the type who keeps a mental list of her good deeds. Elena especially wants to use her inherited rental property near her home to benefit others. She earnestly seeks out renters that could gain from the advantage of living in her perfect neighborhood in Shaker Heights. Mia Warren, a free-spirited artistic non rule follower, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, are the most recent beneficiaries of Mrs. Richardson’s benevolence. Although when Mia is less than grateful for Mrs. Richardson’s offer to buy one of Mia’s photographs, Elena Richardson makes a mental note and this slight continues to bother her and becomes motivation for her future relationship with Mia:

“That’s very generous of you,” Mia’s eyes slid toward the window briefly and Mrs. Richardson felt a twinge of irritation at this lukewarm response to her philanthropy.

As the story unfolds, the two families become more involved with each other rather than simply remaining tenant and landlord. Soon the children become friends, Pearl spends her afternoons at the Richardson home, and Mia accepts a part-time position as a light house keeper and cook for the Richardson family.  Izzy Richardson, a teenage child who shares Mia’s artistic interests and temperament, and Mia develop a close relationship while Izzy learns photography skills in Mia’s darkroom. When one of Mrs. Richardson’s best friends is in the process of adopting a Chinese-American child,  the community is divided on the ethical issues and Elena Richardson and Mia Warren find themselves on opposite sides of the custody battle between the birth mother and adoptive mother. This conflict triggers Mrs. Richardson to find out about Mia’s motivations, her secrets, and her mysterious past. All of this has devastating consequences for the two families. Amazon Rating (October): 4.4 Stars

My Thoughts:

I give 5 stars sparingly and I won’t tell you a book is amazing without experiencing a “book hangover” at its completion. Little Fires Everywhere is already high on my list for my best reads of 2017. It’s an engaging, complicated, and complex story filled with family drama and a highly debated ethical issue regarding adoption rights. The story explores the multidimensional characters from all sides and the author causes the reader to seriously think about various situations and fall in love with these “real” and memorable characters.

While reading, I kept imagining Emily Gilmore of Gilmore Girls as Elena Richardson. Some of you might relate to that comparison. Elena is referred to as Mrs. Richardson throughout the story and rarely as Elena. I think this helps the reader appreciate the difference in status between Mrs. Richardson and Mia Warren.

An interesting structure of the story is that in the first chapter we find out about the devastating fire that occurs and throughout the remainder of the story we become intimately acquainted with the characters and explore motivations involved in the tragedy. How could this happen in a perfectly planned, ideal community? It reminded me of shows like Desperate Housewives where everything looks perfect from the outside and then we find out about their messy lives.

Also interesting is that Celeste Ng is from Shaker Heights! Thus, she has an authentic voice here.

Title and Theme

I think the title Little Fires Everywhere is brilliant and Ng weaves its meaning throughout the story. Here’s one example from the end of chapter seven:

Something inside Izzie reached out to something in her and caught fire. “All right,” Mia said, and opened the door wider to let Izzie inside.

Ng further explores the theme as she illustrates the differences between Elena Richardson and Mia Warren brilliantly in these passages (from Elena’s point of view):

All [Elena’s] life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that never–could never–set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. The key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration. This philosophy had carried her through life and, she had always felt, had served her quite well. Of course she’d had to give up a few things here and there. But she had a beautiful house, a steady job, a loving husband, a brood of healthy and happy children; surely that was worth the trade. Rules existed for a reason; if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn’t you might burn the world to the ground.

Yet here was Mia…….dragging her fatherless child from place to place, scraping by on menial jobs, justifying it by insisting to herself…she was making Art. Probing other people’s business with her grimy hands. Stirring up trouble. Heedlessly throwing sparks. Mrs. Richardson seethed, and deep inside her, the hot speck of fury that had been carefully banked within her burst into flame. Mia did whatever she wanted, Mrs. Richardson thought, and what would be the result? …. Chaos for everyone. You can’t just do what you want, she thought. Why should Mia get to, when no one else did?  ~from Chapter 11

As you can see, Ng’s writing is beautiful and there is a great deal to think about here and the above passage represents a small portion of the thought-provoking content that Ng so liberally provides the reader. In addition, to following rules, other themes involve art and expression, adolescence, motherhood, friendship, family and family values, loyalty, secrets, privilege, and transracial adoption.

One weakness for me, and this is a personal trigger for me, is Ng’s viewpoint toward women who choose to stay at home rather than work outside the home as well. Her viewpoint is more obvious in her first book Everything I Never Told You, but it is evident in this story, too:

A part of her wanted to stay home, to simply be with her children, but her own mother had always scorned those women who didn’t work. “Wasting their potential,” she had sniffed. “You’ve got a good brain, Elena. You’re not just going to sit home and knit, are you?” A modern woman, she always implied was capable–nay, required–to have it all.

I think women should be able to choose their career path without judgement, criticism, or demeaning comments from other women (including authors). My mother chose to stay home with her children for her career and I appreciate her sacrifice and the stable and loving home she created for her family. I think feminism should support all women and honor their individual choices. (she said stepping off her soap box!)

When I first heard the buzz about the release of Little Fires Everywhere, I noticed that other reviewers were excited because they had loved her first work, Everything I Never Told You. Therefore, I set about reading Everything… before the Little Fires… release date. Although Everything… is beautifully written and others have loved it, I was disappointed. For me, it was too sad and depressing with little hope or redemption. Nevertheless, I wanted to give Everything … a try because of the excellent early reviews and because Ng is a beautiful writer. I was not disappointed! Little Fires Everywhere is an amazing read! Not all reviewers agree with me that Little Fires… is better than her first work. If you’ve read both, what is your opinion?

A last small concern is that a few characters seemed stereotypical. Does this concern you as you read? It was something I noticed but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

Little Fires Everywhere is highly recommended for readers who might enjoy taking time to appreciate beautiful and complex writing, to understand intricate details of entangled relationships, to explore different perspectives on motherhood, and who are looking for an intriguing, compelling, honest, and thought-provoking read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

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Little Fires Everywhere

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio.
She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of
Michigan. Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, won the Hopwood Award, the
Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and the
ALA’s Alex Award and is a 2016 NEA fellow. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website at http://celesteng.com or follow her on Twitter: @pronounced_ing.

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books spoils you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Extras

Read an interview with Celeste Ng here.

Another interview with Ng here.

(There are several more to choose from if you search Google.)

FREE! If you enjoy Christian Historical Fiction (and have a Viking heritage!), the Kindle version of God’s Daughter is FREE during the month of October! *Note: I have not read this, but free is always good, right?!

 

God’s Daughter
by Heather Day Gilbert

God's DaughterAmazon Rating (October) 4.4 Stars

Amazon Summary: In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a journey to North America. But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself–and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart. Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir–daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America. This novel is based heavily on the Icelandic Sagas and is written from a Christian worldview. Get it Here.

I continue to hear buzz about Refugee which is highly recommended by librarians and teachers for middle grade readers (grades 5-8). *Note: I haven’t read it but it’s on my TBR.

RefugeeRefugee
by Alan Gratz
.

This is a story from the perspectives of three young people as they leave their countries of origin (Nazi Germany, Cuba, and Syria) as refugees to seek safety. Recommended for mature middle grade readers and above. This might be a good selection for a parent child book club. Good literature can be enjoyed by all ages!

More Information Here.


Looking Ahead:

I’m planning to review the YA selection Turtles All the Way Down by John Green next week. He’s a popular author with YA readers and most known for The Fault in Our Stars. Because the topic of this book is OCD and anxiety in a teen’s life and is receiving a lot of buzz right now, I’m curious to check it out. If you’d like to “buddy read,” click the link below for more information.

Turtles all the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down
by John Green

 

More Information Here.

 

 


Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.


Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear in comments if you’ve read Little Fires Everywhere (or Celeste Ng’s first book). What do you think about Mrs. Richardson’s values of always following the rules for a happy successful life?