The Pleasure of Re-Reading Books

March 20, 2009

bonesetter1 sensibility

I’ve already read each of the books chosen for April in my two mother-daughter book clubs. I remember liking The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen when I read them, but it’s been years since I finished those books. I usually have so many titles to read (you know the old adage, so many books, so little time) that I rarely pick up something that I’ve read before. But sometimes it’s worth revisiting the gems of the past. Each time I do, I learn something or notice a detail I didn’t get before. And, because this time I’m reading each of the books to discuss with one of my daughters, I will think about things that may have meaning for them as well. I look forward to finding out what that may be.

After today, I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next two weeks. My kitchen remodel is almost finished, but the last bits are either forcing me from my home (refinishing the wood floors) or have me running around moving things all day long (replacing carpets). I plan to have time to read, though, and I’ll be back in April with another batch of book reviews in addition to the ones I’m reading for book club and news from other groups with fresh ideas for you.

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

March 18, 2009


Catherine and I recently finished Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones for our mother-daughter book club. We had not read a fantasy tale for a few years, and it was fun to set off into another world for a change. We had a great discussion when we got together with everyone from our group. Some of had seen the movie before, but reading the book gave us a whole new idea of what Howl’s world was like. Here’s an official review:

Sophie is sure that her life is meant to come to nothing, because where she lives the eldest child is always ill-fated. So when times get tough for her family she is content to stay home and work in the family hat shop while her two younger sisters go off to bright futures working in a bakery and learning magic. But when the Witch of the Waste comes into her shop one day and casts a spell on Sophie, making her appear old, she decides to set off into the wider world where she knows no one.

When her old bones become tired at the end of her first day of wandering, she finds herself at the edge of the wizard Howl’s castle. The castle is enchanted; it moves and blows puffs of smoke constantly. Although Sophie is afraid of Howl because she heard he eats young girls’ souls, in the guise of an old woman she thinks she will be safe. With thoughts of finding a warm fireside and a comfy chair, Sophie goes into the castle.

She finds Howl’s assistant Michael, and his fire demon, Calcifer, but Howl is not in. As Sophie makes herself useful and becomes a part of the castle life, she begins to learn more and more about Howl, Calcifer and Michael. Gradually, as she gets to know them, they become like a second family to her. But can she keep Howl from being taken by the Witch of the Waste? And can she break a magical spell that binds Calcifer to Howl, so the spell on her can be broken as well?

Howl’s Moving Castle brings up issues of creating family for yourself and seeing people for who they truly are, despite the masks they put up to keep others at a distance. It’s about finding love and acceptance, and not being afraid to look for the magic in small moments. The castle itself is fascinating, with its door leading to different villages depending on which colored-button is facing down, its ability to move its location and its permanent window looking onto a sunny port town. Our mother-daughter book club members thought the ending felt a bit rushed, but otherwise we all enjoyed reading it and talking about Sophie, Howl and all the characters. I recommend it for book clubs with daughters aged 13 and up.

Book Review: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

March 16, 2009


Madeleine and I read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates for our book club in March. We thought it would be a good idea to read the book and then see the movie, but once we finished the book no one was up for the film. We didn’t expect it to be happy, but we also didn’t expect it to be so depressing either.

We believed Revolutionary Road would give us insight into suburban life in the 1950s, and we would be able to talk about the roles men and women felt compelled to assume in that era. We looked forward to a discussion and comparison of how those roles differed today as well as ways they may still be the same.

Reading the book, however, we were each struck by how the story was more about a lack of maturity, morality, and inner fortitude of the characters themselves than it was about the time they lived in. From the beginning April and Frank seemed to have no interest in putting work into forming a lasting relationship and marriage with children. It was as though they never transformed from thinking only of themselves when they were single, to thinking of the needs of each other and especially of their children. The children in the story were mostly forgotten and emotionally neglected.

Frank deciding to have an affair summed up so many of the character flaws we saw in both of them. He had an affair because he could. Why not, he reasoned. And that’s where we see a difference with someone who is more mature and committed to a marriage.

While we did have a great discussion about character, we thought Frank and April would have made the similar poor choices whichever era they lived in, because they were both very self-focsed. Maybe our error was assuming it was a story more about the times the characters lived in than the characters themselves. Either way, we won’t be seeing the movie.

Book Review: The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde

March 13, 2009


Thirteen-year-old Cynnie can take care of herself, which is a good thing since her mom is usually drunk and often passed out on the couch. Cynnie can take care of her three-year-old brother, Bill, too. Bill has Down Syndrome, and Cynnie knows he loves her because her name is the only word he can say. But when Cynnie’s mom, Rita, asks her parents to come and take Bill, life starts to spiral out of control for Cynnie. Even though she has vowed that she would never be like her mother, without Bill keeping her grounded she starts to drink as well. Her choices lead to trouble in school and in the courts. Can she find a way to work herself out of her troubles and into a future with greater possibilities?

The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde is a touching story that takes the reader inside the life of addiction from the unusual perspective of a teen girl. It shows how addiction affects everyone in a family, but it also shows what it takes to work your way out of the downward spiral, one step at a time. Cynnie is vulnerable, courageous, tenacious, and resourceful. From the outside, she looks and acts like many teens, while she hides her reality from friends and teachers. The choices she makes, and their consequences, should provide great discussion for a mother-daughter book club with girls in middle school and older.

New York Mother-Daughter Book Club Enriches Reading with Other Activities

March 12, 2009

Looking for an idea to liven up your mother-daughter book club meetings? Here’s a bit of inspiration from Kate Levin, who is in a book club with her teen daughter in New York. Kate says:

“We found out that a professional production of Our Town is opening here, so we read the play and got tickets to see it (using a group discount). Although we have lots of theater possibilities here in New York, this kind of opportunity is certainly possible elsewhere, since there’s lots of great professional theaters all over the country (this production of Our Town originated in Chicago, actually).  People could also see what’s being performed at the local colleges as well.  Usually schedules are published in advance, so people could see what’s coming up and plan ahead (which is what we did).”

To Kate’s comments I’ll add a few of my own. Some of our most memorable mother-daughter book club meetings have been the times we have tied our book into another activity: seeing a play, going to a movie, visiting a museum. The extra event helped us get another perspective on what we read and enriched the discussion we had afterward. No matter the age of your girls, you can probably find something that fits just right for them. Theater is good for younger girls too, and you can check local children’s theater productions up to a year in advance to see what they may have in store for a season.

Special Opportunity to Speak with Author Kenn Nesbitt

March 11, 2009

Kenn Nesbitt is the author of many beloved books of poetry for children. They’re also fun for adults too. If your mother-daughter book club is considering a poetry meeting soon, you may want to look at this special offer from Nesbitt to celebrate the launch of his new book. Here’s what he has to say:

“I am offering a free 30-minute ‘online author visit’-meaning that kids can see, hear, and chat with me right on their computers-to any group that buys 10 or more copies of my new book, My Hippo Has the Hiccups. Just purchase the books through my website, and we’ll set up the visit at that time.

These free visits will be available on a first-come basis, during the weeks of April 6-10, April 20-24, May 11-15, June 1-5, and June 8-12. Programs will start at 9am PST, and run on-the-hour, and there will be no more than 2 participating groups (or classes for school groups) in each online session. Kids will be allowed to ask me questions through an online chat, which will be controlled by the moderator.

Technical requirements are:
* A computer with a high-speed Internet connection
* Windows, Mac, or Linux
* A Flash-enabled browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari
* Speakers!
* Projector (optional)

For more information, or to sign up online, please go to Once your time-slot is scheduled and the book order has been confirmed, we will send you a link to the online meeting room, as well as a link where you can run a test to ensure that your software (Flash-enabled browser, etc.) is compatible. ”

April is National Poetry Month, and it may be fun for you to schedule a meeting around reading and writing poetry. Reading Nesbitt’s new book and chatting with him online would make a great combination meeting.

Congratulations to another winner for The Writer Mama Blog Tour Giveaway

March 10, 2009

We have a winner in The Writer Mama Blog Tour Giveaway Day #9.

Mary Jo Campbell of the Writers Inspired blog had this to say:

I have a seedling of a book idea floating around, but I’d like to get more “real world” hands-on experience on the subject to broaden my understanding of the reader’s needs. Maybe another full year or year and half and I believe I’ll have made enough cotacts and gained enough experience to put the ideas and tips for this particular book idea into a proposal.
My novel? Hmm, on the back burner once more…

The signed and numbered copy of the book will soon be on its way from Christina Katz. Congratulations to Mary Jo and thanks to everyone who read the post and commented.

Continue to enter and read about The Writer Mama story by following Christina’s guest blogs all month. Find out where she’s a guest today at The Writer Mama Riffs.

Win a copy of Writer Mama by Christina Katz

March 9, 2009

My friend and writing mentor Christina Katz is celebrating, because her book Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids has been in publication for two years. She’s giving away a book a day for one month at a series of blogs. Today she’s on Mother Daughter Book Club, and you can see where else she has been over at her blog, If you are an aspiring writer, mama or not, Christina’s book has great, practical information about how to get in print by squeezing writing time into your busy life. I’ve owned my copy for a couple of years now, and I refer back to it all the time when a question about writing comes up.

So here’s Christina’s guest blog about writing and building a writer’s platform. She even mentions me in this one. Read to the bottom to find out how you can enter to win a copy of the book.


The Writer Mama Two-Year Anniversary Blog Tour Giveaway! Post #9
You might think, after you’ve written a book proposal, sent out queries, and received requests for your book proposal, that the book deal is pretty much in the bag. But, mamas, there is still a really long way to go. It took Cindy Hudson a couple of years to get her book concept from idea all the way to book deal. Sage Cohen spent months going back and forth with her acquisitions editor after she submitted her proposal to determine the focus of her book before it was accepted.

The reason I am sharing all of this is to help you set realistic expectations. Just because the economy is suffering and writers are clamoring for cash doesn’t mean the book industry is going to speed up the process so writers can get our advance checks sooner. So if you have visions of a book deal salvaging your economic situation, just wipe that idea out of your head. They are way too many myths out there perpetuating the myth of book deal as financial salvation. You’re so much more likely to succeed if you are standing on solid economic ground in the first place.

Also consider whether or not you are pitching agents first or acquisitions editors at publishing houses first. Because I pitched an editor, I got to skip a whole step—securing an agent—before I landed the book deal. But I didn’t get to skip it completely. (I’ll talk more about that later in the tour.) If you are pitching agents first and then publishing houses second, plan for the process to take even longer. Especially since an agent who is considering working with you might ask you to improve your proposal before she commits to representing you.

Book deals come to those who hang in there. Not to those who are impatient. Or to those who need some quick cash. That’s about the worst reason to pitch a book I can imagine. On the contrary, if you are getting ready to pitch a book, I hope you are economically solid because you are going to be investing both time and money into the eventual launch of your book, even if that “money” is simply gas that you put in your car so you can get out in the world and connect with readers and paying a small annual amount to secure the pertinent URLs and things like that. All those little expenses add up and will pretty much come out of your advance checks.

My experience landing a book deal was unusually fast. Never let the word “fast” creep into your expectations when you are thinking about pitching a book. Think slow and steady instead. Everything about the writing life is slow and steady. Even when things happen quickly, you can look in the rear view mirror and see that it was all the slow and steady effort that led up to that point that prepared the groundwork for good things to happen quickly.

Today’s Book Drawing: To enter to win a signed, numbered copy of Writer Mama, answer the following question in this blog’s comments:

When is a realistic time for you to pitch a book (or submit your fiction mss. with a solid platform established, if you write fiction)? Timing really is everything. What’s going to be the best timing for you and your book, without missing out on the needs of readers?

Thanks for participating! Only US residents, or folks with a US mailing address can participate in the drawing. Please only enter once per day.

Where will the drawing be tomorrow? Visit to continue reading the rest of the Writer Mama story throughout March 2009!

Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids by Christina Katz (Writer’s Digest Books 2007)
Kids change your life, but they don’t necessarily have to end your career. Stay-at-home moms will love this handy guide to rearing a successful writing career while raising their children. The busy mom’s guide to writing life, this book gives stay-at-moms the encouragement and advice they need including everything from getting started and finding ideas to actually finding time to do the work – something not easy to do with the pitter-patter of little feet. With advice on how to network and form a a business, this nurturing guide covers everything a writer mama needs to succeed at her second job.

Book Review: A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism; Interview with Author Laura Shumaker

March 6, 2009

I’m happy to review a new memoir by Laura Shumaker called A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism. Shumaker’s story will resonate with many parents, whether they are raising a child with autism or one of it’s related conditions, or even if they are raising a child with any special needs. Here is my review of the book followed by a question and answer with the author.


Laura Shumaker brings us inside the world of a parent who is raising a son with autism in her heartfelt memoir, A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism. When Matthew was born, Shumaker and her husband marveled over their perfect baby and looked forward to watching him grow. But as he grew into a toddler, the Shumakers became concerned about developmental delays they noticed, and they questioned his pediatrician.

It took many frustrating visits to many physicians before Matthew was diagnosed with autism, and even then the Shumakers were given conflicting advice on what to do for him. Any parent who has ever struggled to get an accurate diagnosis for a child will feel the frustration Shumaker feels of knowing something is not right, yet being unable to get helpful medical advice.

As Matthew grows up, Shumaker works to make sure he feels as normal as possible, while also raising her younger two sons as well. She and her husband, Peter, try different treatments and therapies, at great cost to their finances and their emotions. Through it all Shumaker never stops trying to do what’s best for the whole family.

Shumaker’s story is an inspiring tale of a mother who never gives up on her son. She tells it straightforward, not asking for sympathy, but for understanding. Anyone who is raising a child with autism or has a relative with autism should be able to relate to her quest to help her son eventually be an independent adult. Anyone who is touched by autism in any way, at school or church or another community gathering place, will be able to learn more about the condition and possibly be more understanding of people who have it.

I highly recommend A Regular Guy for mother-daughter book clubs that may want to explore autism as it relates to everyone in a family.

An Inteview  with Laura Shumaker

Your story about raising a son with autism is very moving as well as informative. What prompted you to write a book about your experience?

LS: I never thought about writing my story while I was raising Matthew—I was so overwhelmed with taking care of his needs AND the needs of my other two sons. I’m sure that all moms with special needs children can relate! But when Matthew was 15 his behavior in school and in our community took a dangerous turn—and my husband came to the heartbreaking conclusion that we needed to send him to a residential school.

Friends and family who had seen me struggle with him over the years thought I might be relieved, but instead I felt lost, like I was a failure of a mother, and I decided to write about it. A friend encouraged me to join her writing group and I was hooked!!

Getting a diagnosis of autism for Matthew was difficult; do you think it is easier for parents to have a child diagnosed today than it was in the 1980s?

LS: When Matthew was young, it was so obvious that he was autistic, but we didn’t even get a formal diagnosis until he was five or six! It is so much easier to get a diagnosis today! Pediatricians are screening infants starting at eight months old. Parents are also better informed with all of the information online. There are many more tried and true early intervention programs that help children on the autism spectrum learn and connect.

Do you think treatment is more effective now than it was then?

LS: Yes! With the treatment and therapies available these days, outcomes for autistic children are so much more helpful. There is a heightened awareness these days about autism and other developmental disabilities; people are so much more willing to be inclusive.

As quirky as Matthew is, he has so much to offer and watching him try to be a “regular guy” has moved us as a family to appreciate the differences in others. And we have also developed a great sense of humor! My sons Andy and John, now 20 and 16, have grown into compassionate and patient young men (with INCREDIBLE senses of humor). We are so lucky.

Can you share with us one overriding piece of advice about raising a child with autism you wish you would have had when Matthew was growing up?

LS: The best thing I did for myself (and I would have done it earlier if I’d known it would be so helpful) was find a great therapist. When Matthew was little, I tried to hide the anguish and hopelessness I felt from my parents (who were a great support, by the way) and my husband. I wanted everyone to think I had everything under control, but eventually I fell apart. I started getting sick all of the time, was anxious and wasn’t sleeping.

The therapist encouraged me to share my load—to find helpers and mentors who could work and play with Matthew so that I could get a break. She encouraged me to enjoy time with my other two sons and with my husband. Many moms enjoy group therapy, but I found a one on one therapist to be the best solution for me.

What advice do you have for siblings of a child with autism?

LS: What siblings really want and need is time with their parents. So much time and energy goes into the care of a sibling with a disability. I encourage kids to ask their parents for one-on-one outings with their parents–regularly. Siblings need to speak up when they are feeling overlooked! Sibling groups are also very helpful (they call them “sib groups”). It’s really great for siblings to get together with OTHER siblings to tell stories and VENT!!

Can you recommend resources on the Web where friends and extended family of someone with autism can learn more about ways they can be supportive?

LS: My Web site of course! On the right side of my site there is a long list of autism information sites. One of the best links on my Web site is for autism speaks (

That said, the best way that family and friends can be helpful and supportive is to ask questions. “What can I do to help? What is the best way I can communicate with your child? What does he/she like or dislike? How can I educate other family and friends about your child?” And of course the best question, “Can I take your child off your hands for a few hours?”

Book Review: Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

March 4, 2009


Autumn Winifred Oliver has a lot going on for an 11-year-old living in the tiny, mountain settlement of Cades Cove, Tennessee. She’s waiting to move with her mom and big sister Katie to Knoxville, where her dad already lives and works. She’ll miss the beautiful mountains she lives in, but in the 1930s the “big city” offers the allure of indoor plumbing, movie theaters and automobiles, all nearly non-existent in her neck of the woods. Everybody says she does things different, and she keeps reminding herself of that as she gets herself in and out of several pickles.

First, she hears the church bells toll her reputed death—they always toll the number of years for the recently departed, and she’s the only one around who is 11 when she hears them ring. Then she finds out her grandpa almost died, and her mom has decided Knoxville can wait while she moves into his cabin in the woods to help care for him.

There’s also more activity than usual in Cades Cove, a settlement that’s totally cut off from the outside world each winter when the only road in gets covered in snow. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is being created right on the edge of town, and everyone is abuzz about raking in money from tourists. But Autumn Winifred Oliver suspects that everything is not as it seems with the park, and she won’t rest until she finds out the real story.

Autumn is a delightful character with a down to earth voice, and through her eyes we see the beauty of the mountains, streams, and countryside around her home. She is placed within the real story of Cades Cove, Tennessee, and the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You’ll be charmed by the  folk tales, old-time remedies and superstitions woven seamlessly by author Kristin O’Donnell Tubb throughout the story. This is Tubb’s debut novel, and I hope to see more books from her in the years to come. Moms and daughters alike will fall in love with Autumn and her way of looking at the world. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged nine and up.