“Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere.” – Mary Schmich, American journalist
- NORMAL PEOPLE
- Written by Sally Rooney and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN-13: 978-1984822178
The Push-Pull of Love
What kinds of lovers are drawn to each other and push each other away? Perhaps they are those who are either intensely in love or afraid of the pain of love or those who feel both ways simultaneously. Sally Rooney’s Normal People makes many points, including the fact that normal is in the eye of the beholder.
The two main characters, Marianne and Connell, are attracted to one another, though they come from different worlds and have very different expectations of themselves. Opposites attract, but whoever said that could not have imagined all the ways these two are opposites.
Every time they separate, the attraction lingers and their needs and oddly compatible natures reunite them and bond their friendship. After attending the same high school but operating in separate circles, they follow one another to Trinity College, where their roles switch. He’s a high school athlete who turns inward while she becomes an outspoken woman rather that people want to know. They drop in and out of each others lives, always carrying a firm belief that no one else makes them feel as good, comfortable, relaxed, and in sync with the world. Each one is challenged by trying to function without the other. Relationships matter, even when we try to deny that they exist.
Rooney’s style is accessible and clearly articulated. The voices of her characters as well as the obstacles they encounter keep us rooting for them. This is about the inward manifestations of a relationship that neither one of them fully believes in, even though they cannot stop obsessing about one another.
Love is complex and so is the psychological well-being of these characters. Don’t miss this story, which might just make you rethink your own relationships.
- WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS: Building a Family, Discovering Myself
- Written by Dr. Jill Biden and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN-13: 978-1250248541
- Flatiron Books
A Balancing Act
What do you want from your life? Jill Biden didn’t know the answer when Senator Joe Biden called her up one day and asked her out on a date. His brother, Frank, had given him her number, after he saw her and announced, “That’s the kind of girl I’d like to date.” She hemmed and hawed, but he persisted. When the date was over, Jill told her mother, “I think I met a real gentleman.” Instinctively, from the start, they knew they were meant to be together.
Where The Light Enters is her story of finding a pre-made family like the one she’d always hoped to have, finding her career as an educator, finding a passion for working with military families, and above all, finding the family she hoped to have as an adult. Joe Biden, the man who called her out of the blue, had lost his wife and baby daughter in a car accident, so once he persuaded Jill to marry him, with the blessing of his two sons, she became an instant step mother. This is the story of how love grew, changed her without overwhelming her, and how she was able to follow her own life and dreams at the same time she was Second Lady and a devoted supporter of the military.
Tragedy came into her life more than once, but the most significant time was when their son, Beau, passed away from brain cancer. Severely shaken, she freely admits that she’s not healed yet, but she copes. It’s the love of her family, the way they share so many important traditions, and her history as a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, sister, friend, and second lady that carries her through. Her life is a balancing act, a trait she shares with many other women.
This is an American story, which readers everywhere can embrace regardless of their politics. Her honesty and growth make this story work, and she draws readers into her life, sharing directly and deeply in a way that lets readers see inside her mind. Strongly recommended.
- THE OVERSTORY
- Written by Richard Powers and reviewed by Aline Soules
- ISBN#: 978-1785151637
- William Heinemann Ltd
A Writer’s Dream and a Fabulous Read
The Overstory is a writer’s dream and a fabulous read. On one level, you can enjoy and think about this story, but you can also study this as a writer. This story about people and trees explores how they co-exist, inter-relate, and intertwine. The author’s passion for his subject and his deep concern about our environment shines through his astonishing and poetic language.
If that’s not enough, he shares his words through an incredible structure. At the beginning, you think you’re reading a series of short stories, but after a few stories, characters from one story appear in another and you begin to realize that you have been reading the individual roots of the tree and that, now, the roots are coming together to form the trunk of the story. You travel up the trunk of the tree to come to the canopy. Eventually, you come to the seeds.
Throughout, there are both human and tree characters in this story. They encompass centuries and geography, plains and canopy, abled and disabled. The world Powers creates is huge and speaks to human striving, but, ultimately, there is a warning in this book about the disaster we face as the human race.
Yet, scary though the warning is, there is hope that somewhere, somehow, we will wake up and we will begin to make a difference in that future. Powers has already done that—by giving us this amazing book to begin the journey of change.
Aline Soules’ work has appeared in journals, e-zines, and anthologies such as The MacGuffin, 100 Words, Literature of the Expanding Frontier, and Variations on the Ordinary. Prose poems from her manuscript Meditation on Womanhave appeared in Kaleidowhirl, Tattoo Highway, Edifice Wrecked, Poetry Midwest, Binnacle, Long Story Short, the Newport Review, and the Kenyon Review, and the completed book was published by Anaphora Literary Press in December, 2011. In 2013, her chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey was published by Andrew Benzie Books.
She has an M.A. in English, an MFA in Creative Writing, and a M.S.L.S. in Library Science. She teaches workshops, reads her work at events, runs an editorial business, and engages in professional voice work (reading and singing).
- YOU DON’T KNOW ME
- Compiled and edited by Wally Lamb and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 978-1640092389
- Counterpoint Press
Wrong Assumptions Righted
Ever had someone make a wrong assumption about you? If so, you might just identify with the various women sharing their life experiences in You Don’t Know Me: The Incarcerated Women of York Prison Voice Their Truths. Shocked? We’re all human and nobody is perfect. This collection, coordinated and edited by Wally Lamb shows us the roles that background and coincidence sometimes play in incarceration. The essays share behaviors changed and lessons learned as well as the heartbreak of being away from loved ones.
From Julie Mangano Laumark’s “Julia and Me” comes the question “Why aren’t I a real kid? I look real. I feel real.” This is her first clue that she was adopted. Her mother gave birth to her in prison. She captures her young voice beautifully, and we’re immediately drawn into her story.
In “My Prison Blog” Tracie Bernardi starts Blog Entry #19 with “I’m finally almost ready to leave this nightmare called prison, but I find myself feeling sad—not for me but for my friends….Yesterday a guard accused me of being bitter, and I guess he has something there. I am bitter about this toxic system where those in charge, intentionally or not, can act disrespectfully and abusively to the women in their custody…” Her honest, balanced assessment of prison life is voiced with a mixture of objectivity and resentment. She leaves readers understanding her.
In a section of “Life After Prison” called “What Writing Gave Them” Robin Cullen says, “…when we stared reading our work aloud, sharing our stories with each other, that was when the lightbulb went on for me. I began to understand the therapeutic power of what we were doing. It’s healing to dig down deep and write about hidden truths—things you may never have talked about before—and then risk sharing those truths with others.”
Several of these pieces have been published in The Sun and other venues. Instead of being a look at life behind bars, this is a look into the minds of those who are incarcerated. These stories are simultaneously gritty and inspiring. They make me grateful for all the traps I’ve avoided in my life. Strongly recommended for diverse audiences.
- DANDELION SUMMER
- Written by Mary Ellen Bramwell and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- Black Rose Writing; First Printing ed. edition (May 30, 2019)
- ISBN-13: 978-1684332793
- 293 pages
Trust Deepens Relationships
What’s ruling your life? What secrets are holding you back?
Had someone asked Madelyn’s mother and grandfather these questions at the beginning of Mary Ellen Bramwell’sDandelion Summer, the answers would have constituted deflection and denial. Too bad. Problems that seemed overwhelming could have been conquered with a bit more trust. Instead, it took the set of circumstances devised by author Mary Ellen Bramwell to get these secrets out into the open where they could be handled with some terrific results.
Madelyn’s father relies on her. They read stories together and he teaches her how to write checks, which her mother will sign, and shop for groceries. He’ll be out of town on a 10-week summer business trip, and he seems a bit worried about how Madelyn’s mom will cope. Madelyn’s also worried. How will she deal with a father who’s away for ten weeks? She’s never been that close to her mother, but she has no choice.
During the summer she befriends an unfriendly neighbor, discovers how clever her mother actually is, and helps uncover clues about her father’s disappearance. One step at a time, one day at a time, she becomes a mature young woman who understands the difference between superficial concerns and appearances. Details are deliberately omitted so you can be as surprised as I was by all this book reveals. This is a strong family drama—as strong as the dandelions that Madelyn has promised to remove from the yard by the time her dad gets home.
Author Mary Ellen Bramwell does a terrific job of revealing secrets and how they are destroying this family. She does an equally good job of showing us Madelyn’s detective work. We learn how to build a friendship: Bring cookies. Then we find out how to expose shame: Ask direct questions. Most of all we learn that trust deepens relationships, which take on new life in Bramwell’s Dandelion Summer.
It was a pleasure to read this pre-Internet story told from an adolescent’s point of view. The pace is reminiscent of my childhood summer vacations. There’s something heartwarming about the character’s discoveries, the neighborhood, and the relative simplicity of the times. I recommend Bramwell’s Dandelion Summer for women, their daughters, school libraries, community libraries, and everyone who’s ever recognized a need.
REVIEW COMING SOON:
The Write Spot: Possibilities, the fifth book in The Write Spot series, is a mixture of playful, experimental, and insightful stories including prompts and resources for writers. Possibilities is entertaining as well as encouraging readers to become writers. Available through Amazon. Print $15. ebook $3.49
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