Book review: ‘Bring On The Blessings’ by Beverly Jenkins

bring_on_blessingsIn Beverly Jenkins’s Bring On The Blessings, Bernadine Brown isn’t sure what blessings could come of discovering her husband in quite the compromising position with this secretary — or $275 million she received in their divorce settlement. But when she catches wind of an historically black town in Kansas in deep financial trouble, she felt a call to help out. Bernadine purchases the town, which boasts a whopping 52 residents, and begins reconstruction on Henry Adams — which was built itself during Reconstruction following the Civil War.

With the help of the residents like Trent July and Lily Fontaine, Bernadine also develops a plan to help unfortunate children from around the country, and the arrival of the kids in town brings a host of new challenges and rewards. What follows then is a fun ride with a sincere group of characters — and many of them certainly are characters! — toward finding new definitions of love and family.

The good:
Bernadine is a very strong-willed, independent and motivated woman — and she’s not looking for a man to come and pull her out of the muck. She has her wealth, her connections and her background in social work, and she knows no one can take that away from her. When she sees a problem, she doesn’t wait around for someone else to fix it — she jumps in with both feet and gets the job done. I love seeing empowered women making a difference! But who doesn’t?

The dialogue is crisp and believable, and I could definitely hear the cadence of the people speaking in Henry Adams. Everyone had a distinct quality to their voice, especially the children, and I felt like I was really standing there with them when they were speaking. When the kids arrive in the novel, the entire pacing changed for me — in a good way. It seemed to give the novel more direction, and it made me feel hopeful that something positive was going to take place.

The bad:
There was absolutely nothing subtle about Bring On The Blessings: nothing to read between the lines, no foreshadowing. What you see is what you get. This often resulted in “info dumping” — Jenkins drops a paragraph in the middle of a chapter completely outlining a past event, or giving you an entire backstory in two sentences. This was frustrating for me as a reader, and the entire novel felt like a textbook case of “telling and not showing,” which I find difficult to stomach. I tried to put my irritation with that aside while I was reading, but the lack of nuance in any way was tiresome.

Jenkins also writes in the third person omniscient, so we spend all of our time weaving in and out of the minds of the elaborate cast of characters — and there were many characters. We’re given first names, last names, places of origin, how they’re all related — and I frequently had to pause to try and figure out who these folks were in relation to one another. Because the transitions between viewpoints happened very abruptly, I often felt a mite confused. But it usually only took a few minutes for me to get my bearings.

I also didn’t feel personally connected to anyone but the children: Devon, Amari, Crystal, Zoey and Preston. We get a little of her back stories as we progress through the chapters, and that helped me to piece them together. They also seemed the most realistic as characters, and were the most endearing. With the exceptions of Bernadine, Trent and Lily, they all felt like shells of people to me. I didn’t emotionally connect with what they were going through. I think the problem with info dumping is my main concern there.

In conclusion…
Despite those misgivings, I actually did enjoy the story. I thought it was fresh and unique, and I enjoyed meeting Bernadine and the people of Henry Adams. It was nice to spend some time in a state like Kansas — I knew nothing about it, and feel like I know a bit more now! And I enjoyed watching the family dynamics developing between characters. Yes, I did tear up a little bit toward the end — I’m not made of stone! A bit heartwarming, but could have benefited from more focus.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061688401 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAvon Romance Blog

Received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers


Book review: ‘March’ by Geraldine Brooks

march_brooks A wonderful, rich tapestry like Geraldine Brooks’s March is a little hard for me to review, but as I just finished it last night, the story is still fresh in my mind . . . so here we go!

March is a riveting work of historical fiction set in 1861, early days of the American Civil War. An addition to the world of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the novel follows Robert March, the girls’ absentee father, as he leaves Massachusetts for Virginia in order to minister and help educate the former slaves on the struggling plantation owned by Ethan Canning.

The book is so much more than that, though. March, a minister, leaves his beloved Marmee and “little women” in order to help “put his money where his mouth is,” if you’ll pardon the cliche. Marmee and Robert are abolitionists who speak and preach often about the evils of slavery and have opened their home up as a stop on the Underground Railroad, but Mr. March knows how strongly Marmee feels about the cause — and wants to do more, to please her and himself. When a group of frightened young men from his town join the Union forces and ask him for some words of comfort, March surprises all assembled — especially his wife — by stating he plans join them and enlist in the Army himself. And thus begins his harrowing journey toward education and redemption — and reconciling his painful past.

I’ll leave the intricacies of the plot uncovered, since reading the book was such an adventure for me. I didn’t know much of anything at all about it, and I’ve never read Little Women; I didn’t know if March would even survive the journey. Readers will clomp along in March’s boots through much of the story, which takes him from Massachusetts to Virginia to Washington, D.C. and around again. We travel through distance and time, but I was never bored or agitated as everything continued to shift. Stories of the past and the present are blended together so well, the book did feel a bit like a mystery to me — all of the clues eventually came together.

And at many moments, March left me breathless. After reading and loving Brooks’s Year of Wonders, I knew to expect a book deftly blending truth and fiction, but March felt less like a novel and more like a diary to me. The man himself is a study of how war changes a person — and I could see pieces of friends and boyfriends embodied in his character, noting that they return to me now from a very different war, but a brutal war just the same. Much of the emotion and turmoil expressed is universal — and probably universal to both sides fighting the battle. It’s just that I was placed so exquisitely inside his mind, it was hard for me to empathize with anyone else.

I loved reading Mr. March’s letters to Marmee at the beginnings of chapters, watching him carefully weighing each word to not be untruthful, but to spare his beloved the pain of knowing the true extent of perilous life in the South. When Mr. March arrives at the Virginian plantation to work with Canning and the freed slaves, I felt my entire body tensing — knowing that the precarious “castle” (or dilapidated estate house) in which they lived would eventually crumble. March developed quite the reputation as an abolitionist — of which he was proud, but still — and couldn’t find much peace over it. But nor could he find any peace over the vile institution of slavery in America. Or the measures in which he chooses to combat it . . .

In the end, did he find his peace? Read March. Lovers of historical fiction will devour this one quickly, and fans of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women will rejoice at this “backstage” take on a beloved classic. And I don’t think I’ll look at history quite the same way again.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0143036661 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy obtained through BookMooch

Book review: ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

maladies1I’m a little afraid of short stories. What I crave most in fiction is depth, characterization, richly drawn and fully fleshed-out people and places — not halved and truncated stories of people about whom I will ultimately feel nothing, if only because I never really got a chance to know them.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s stunning Interpreter of Maladies is seriously working to change my opinion.

I don’t know what took me so long to pick up this book, exactly; Lahiri’s novel The Namesake is probably my favorite book of all time. Seriously. It was the first book I set down after reading and thought, “If I’m going to be a writer, this is what I have to be. How can I be this?” And not to put a damper on my dreams, but I don’t think anyone could write like Lahiri — simultaneously combining themes of love, family, respect, devotion, rebellion, fear, desperation, loneliness and hope in, oh, twenty pages or so.

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Book review: ‘Princess Diaries X: Forever Princess’ by Meg Cabot

princess_diariesI started reading Meg Cabot’s popular Princess Diaries series when it was first published in 2000 — and I was fifteen! Through high school and college graduations, full- and part-time jobs begun and ended, a few broken hearts and a whole lot of friendships renewed and lost, I’ve stuck it out with Mia Thermopolis on her never-ending quest in wooing Michael Moscovitz, taming her unruly “triange-shaped” hair, achieving self-actualization and, ultimately, rising to power as princess of Genovia (a small, fictional European nation). Princess Amelia has nursed more than a few of her own heartbreaks, too, and it’s with a bit of sadness that I finished Cabot’s Princess Diaries, Volume X: Forever Princess, the tenth and final book in the series.

First, let me preface my review with the fact that plenty of spoilers will probably abound. I’m not sure if I can really write about my love of this book without blowing a few secrets!

A little background, especially if you’ve seen the popular film of the same name starring Anne Hathaway (which was awesome, but didn’t really parallel the book): Mia Thermopolis was just like another other teenage girl in New York City, living with her artistic mother and beloved chubster cat Fat Louie when, upon hearing of her father’s cancer scare, she was informed by her mysterious (and annoying) grandmother that she is, in fact, heir to the principality of Genovia. Her father, Prince Phillipe, is the son of the reigning monarch — Grandmere.

Mia’s having a hard enough time surviving life as a gangly, awkward high school student to actually worry about being a princess — but, much to her mother’s dismay, the truth comes out. Enter the usual angst of “oh my God, Mom and Dad, you’ve been lying to me all these years!” and you have the first book or two. Mia undergoes a serious transformation, becomes slightly more glamorous, gets into arguments with her free-spirited (and highly opinionated) best friend Lilly and tries to somehow get the attention of Lilly’s older brother, Michael.

I won’t further bore you with summaries of past books, though I loved all of them! By the time we reach Forever Princess, my most recent read, Mia is about to turn eighteen; graduate from high school; attend the senior prom; figure out whether or not she’s ready to Do It with J.P., her boyfriend of two years; get over her ex-boyfriend and first love, Michael, who has suddenly returned from a medical sabbatical in Japan; and actually choose a college to attend next year.

And, oh yeah — prepare for her official duties as princess of a small country.

img_5055 I love, love, love these books. They are, as the title suggests, Mia’s personal “diaries” — her frantic scribblings about all of the chaos erupting in her life (and there’s always chaos). I love that they feel current and in-the-moment, and that we feel, as readers, that we’ve literally stumbled across her personal journals. There’s nothing pretentious about these books; they’re completely devoid of any self-consciousness, too. They’re just pure, unadulterated fun — and books in which I totally lose myself.

In this, the tenth installment of Mia’s adventures, she has definitely grown up — and the world around her has totally changed, too. Gone are the “handwritten” notes passed between Shameeka, Tina, Mia, Lilly and Lana — they’re all texting from their cell phones and BlackBerries now. The ninth book in the series chronicles her life as a sophomore, and now we’re dropped right into the end of her senior year. Though it surprised me a bit at first, this absolutely worked for me. While Cabot’s audience has aged considerably since the series began, Mia herself had not. She’s finally catching up with us and dealing with very relatable issues: choosing a profession, a home, a lover. Along that vein, the books absolutely feel real to me. I’ve always related to Mia’s plight and adventures, and I ran through this 400-page book in a little more than a day. It had wide margins, mind you, but with the exception of the Harry Potter and Twilight books, hardly anything is able to keep my prolonged, obsessive attention for that long.

As Mia makes decisions regarding her relationships, both romantic and familial, writes a romance novel (Ransom My Heart — smokin’!) and begins to plot out the rest of her life, I was right there with her. I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like about this book, and about the way the series ended . . . Cabot did a masterful job. Though life-long best friends, Lilly and Mia still had to take some time apart to realize how — and why — they’d been depending on each other, and Mia needed to spend time in a relationship with someone else to realize how much she truly loved Michael. His reappearance in the novel was like Edward showing up in New Moon — you knew it was coming, but it still took your breath away when it finally did! I was excited. I laughed and, yes, I cried.

And in the final chapter of our journey with her, Mia is all grown up — and I guess I’m getting there, too. But we sure had a heck of a run together. By the end of Forever Princess, I was definitely teary-eyed — she made the right choices. I couldn’t ask for anything more!

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061232920 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Diary
Personal copy purchased by Meg

write meg!’s 2008 reading honors

write meg!
2008 reading honors


Another fabulous reading year has come and gone, and it’s always great to reflect on times past and present! I found some great new authors this year, spent a ton of time with Edward Cullen and Bella Swann, discovered the simultaneous awesomeness and craziness of BookMooch and LibraryThing, started my little book/life blog and have stayed up way too late wrapping up novel after novel.

And in honor of the overall bookishness that was 2008, I now present the write meg! 2008 honors! Yes, I know — incredibly exciting! I should have made some little graphics or something, but unfortunately time has been scarce. Perhaps for 2009?


Fastest Read

Cracked Up To Be, Courtney Summers

A fast-paced, surprising and poignant young adult read, I finished this one in a matter of hours.

Runner-up: The Solomon Sisters Wise Up, Melissa Senate

This chick lit book had me captivated from day one: three sisters, a lifetime of distance and a few weeks to make up for it. Great read.

Funniest Read

Marley & Me, John Grogan

Grogan’s story of the wily, “worst dog” in the country and his tender family had me laughing — and crying — the whole time.

Longest Read

Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer

The fourth tome in Meyer’s Twilight series packed in the plot — and page count. It totaled nearly 700 pages but had me running through it like water.

Brain-Hurting Read

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, Ann Herendeen

This historical romance couldn’t keep my brain from going into overdrive — the language was antiquated, the plot quite disorienting. I wanted to like it — and tried valiantly to — but couldn’t quiet my headache long enough to really enjoy it.

Most Poignant Read

The Longest Trip Home, John Grogan

Any child will relate to Grogan’s story of rebellion and redemption — and the ultimate power and grace of family. Grogan appears on my list twice — lucky man!

Best Read Outside My Comfort Zone

Maus, Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman’s classic graphic novel following his parents’ experience and ultimate escape from the Nazi regime was spell-binding. As a total graphic novel newbie dating a graphic novel expert, I was hesitant to try this one — but was very pleasantly surprised.

Most Addictive Book Series

The Twilight Series, Stephenie Meyer

Okay, no real surprise here. They might not be the most eloquent, well-written books around (yeah, they’re not), but the story of a difficult, brooding vampire and his mortal lady love had me carrying the books around in my beach bag nonstop. Great books to get lost in — and continue to enjoy discussing after the fact. My sister’s on Eclipse right now!

Biggest Disappointment

Remember Me?, Sophie Kinsella

After enjoying Kinsella’s Shopaholic series and other works, I expected something more than the trite and unappealing Remember Me? Good thing it was an ARC.

And, finally . . .

write meg!’s Top Read of 2009

Belong To Me, Marisa de los Santos

An absolute master of language, De los Santos penned two fabulous books in Love Walked In and Belong To Me. I actually enjoyed this sequel more than the original, though Belong To Me can certainly be enjoyed on its own. Boiling over with beautiful imagery and caricatures as well as love, grief and ultimately hope, I had a difficult time putting this one down — and never wanted it to end.

Book review: ‘Joy School’ by Elizabeth Berg

joy_school In Elizabeth Berg’s 1997 novel Joy School, we meet (or are reintroduced) to Katie, a thirteen-year-old Texas transplant battling her grief at the loss of her mother and the complexities of growing up under her dictatorial father. Unbeknownst to me, Joy School is actually a follow-up to Berg’s Durable Goods — but I read the book as a stand-alone and enjoyed it without completely knowing the back story. It definitely comes across.

Katie is living in Missouri with her dad, housekeeper Ginger and her dog. Her older sister Diane has run off to Mexico (not sure where that plotline came from, precisely) with a boyfriend and not kept in much contact with Katie. She seems isolated, utterly alone — detached from the entire world around her. Waiting patiently for a letter day in and day out from friend Cherylanne, Katie begins to look to her few friends as mother figures, carefully following their advice on kissing, dressing and general behavior. Katie seems lost.

And then she meets Jimmy, a 23-year-old man who works at a nearby gas station, reads literature and enjoys playing checkers with Katie. After she falls and crashes through the ice while skating at a neighboring pond, Jim offers her his jacket, helps her warm up — and changes Katie’s life forever. She’s instantly smitten, hopes against hope that Jim could someday return her affections and . . . of course, he can’t. It’s all innocence and friendship. Isn’t it?

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