Daily Archives: September 16, 2008

TLC Book Tour – Kathleen McCleary

House and Home, by Kathleen McCleary was published by Hyperion Books on July 1, 2008. This is the author’s first novel. She is a former senior editor for USA Weekend and has had her writing published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, More, and Health as well as on HGTV.com. My review of House and Home is HERE. To read more reviews and other book tours for this author, check out the schedule on TLC Book Tours.

Kathleen McCleary was born and raised in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. She now lives northern Virginia with her husband, two daughters and two cats, but enjoys spending several months a year in Oregon.

Visit the author’s website to read more about Kathleen and her novel House and Home.

Kathleen McCleary has graciously agreed to write a guest post today (which appears below) and tells us a bit about the books on her nightstand. Thank you, Kathy!

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What’s On My Nightstand

by Kathleen McCleary

Writers are all readers, by definition. I spent much of my childhood holed up in the library, reading and daydreaming. One of the hardest things about writing fiction, for me, is tearing myself away from reading it in order to devote time to writing it. I always have an enormous stack of books on my bedside table. So here is what I’m reading (or hoping to read) right now:

  • A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle. Okay, I’m as susceptible as the next guy to Oprah’s recommendations.
  • Exiles, by Ron Hansen. This received such a glowing review in The Washington Post that I bought it the next day. Exiles tells the story of a shipwreck in 1875 that prompted Gerard Manley Hopkins to write passionate, magnificent poetry. The book is beautifully written and surprisingly hard to put down. I love it.
  • The Town in Bloom, by Dodie Smith. Smith wrote one of my all-time favorite novels, I Capture the Castle. My bookseller aunt picked this 1965 book out for my daughter, an acting buff, because it’s about an 18-year-old girl trying to make it in the theater in 1920’s London. Smith is terrific at creating life-like characters.
  • Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger. It looks great; I haven’t started it yet.
  • The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson. Another find from my bookseller aunt (visit her at Crawford Doyle on Madison Avenue in New York City), this is a simple, beautiful, lyrical book that offers an amazing depiction of the relationship between a six-year-old girl and her grandmother as they spend the summer on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland.
  • Yes, Your Teen is Crazy! Loving Your Kid Without Losing your Mind, by Michael J. Bradley. What can I say? I have one teenager and one about-to-be teenager. I need all the advice I can get, and this book has been amazingly helpful.
  • The Third Angel, by Alice Hoffman. Like most writers, I’m a big Alice Hoffman fan. She has such a mastery of her craft, and makes it seem so effortless, like listening to Vladimir Horowitz play the piano.
  • Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset. I read this classic when I was in my twenties, and want to re-read it now that I’m older. I loved it then.
  • The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner. Anyone who’s read my novel is probably aware that I’m more than a little obsessed with place and its influence on our lives. How our homes, towns, states, affect us and change us is endlessly fascinating to me. This book is great. I rarely read non-fiction but I breezed through this.
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. Yes, this actually is on my nightstand. Again, I read it when I was too young to fully understand or appreciate it, so I’m reading it again, in the new translation. It is awe-inspiring. An example, from the scene in which Vronsky sees Anna for the first time, when they pass each other on a train:

“As he looked back, she also turned her head. Her shining grey eyes, which seemed dark because of their thick lashes, rested amiably and attentively on his face, as if she recognized him, and at once wandered over the approaching crowd as though looking for someone. In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile…”

What’s on your nightstand? Have you read any of the books on mine?

House and Home – Book Review

She had conceived children in that house, suffered a miscarriage in that house, brought her babies home there, argued with her husband there, made love, rejoiced, despaired, sipped tea, and gossiped and sobbed and counseled and blessed her friends there, walked the halls with sick children there, and scrubbed the worn brick of the kitchen floor there at least a thousand times on her hands and knees. And it was because of all this history with the house, all the parts of her life unfolding there day after day for so many years, that Ellen decided to burn it down. -from House and Home, page 1-

Ellen Flanagan seems to have it all – a handsome and loving husband, two beautiful little girls, a flourishing business, a best friend next door, and the perfect yellow house with a white picket fence filled with her most cherished memories. But when her husband Sam blows through their savings and uses a second mortgage to chase a far-flung inventor’s dream, Ellen must deal with the reality of losing her home. Forced to sell her house to uptight Jordan Boyce and Jordan’s quiet and alluring husband Jeffrey, Ellen believes she has lost everything – including her eighteen year marriage.

Kathleen McCleary’s debut novel is about family and what makes a house a home. McCleary’s lush descriptions of the Portland Oregon area, as well as the decor of Ellen’s home (filled with antiques and sunlight and personalized with hash marks on a door frame to document the growth of her children) are like comfort food.

As the novel unfolds, the reader is drawn into Ellen’s despair at losing her home, her doubts about aging (she is 44 years old), her grief at leaving behind the ghost of her dead child, and her struggle to discover what is truly important. Ellen’s story becomes more complicated as she develops an uneasy relationship with Jordan’s husband while wrestling with her still strong physical attraction to Sam. She clings to her memories of the house, contemplates burning it to the ground so that no one else can live there, and is forced to re-examine her priorities when an unexpected disaster strikes.

House and Home is a quick read which examines our attachment to “things” because of the memories they hold, and asks the simple question: What is really important in our lives? McCleary is an engaging writer who creates characters to whom most women readers will relate. Her sense of place is strong and beautifully presented. House and Home is an evocative novel that invites its reader to curl up in a comfy chair with a cup of tea and lose themselves in its pages.

Recommended for readers who love Women’s Fiction.

Ships Without A Shore – Book Review

We must set our children free from our adult agendas and our frenetic, goal-oriented pace. The path that we have accepted for ourselves is the wrong path for children. Children do need a foundation upon which to grow and children do need their parents. They need to belong to a community, not an interest group. They long to know right from wrong and long for adults in history and in their lives to look up to. They need time to play and to forge meaningful relationships with family and friends. They need the opportunity to retreat within themselves – to find out what is there. -From Ships Without A Shore, pages 248-9

Anne R. Pierce holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and has published articles and books on social and political issues and intellectual history. In Ships Without A Shore she sites a great amount of research regarding day care, child development, political philosophy, psychiatry, brain science and genetics to support her theory that childrearing in the United States and our educational system in this country are on the wrong path.

Pierce’s book is divided into four sections which deal with:  1. The dangers of day care, the woman’s liberation movement, and the pressure for women to conform to societal demands to work outside the home, 2. Maternal love and normal child development in the context of current societal mores and expectations, 3. The impact of moral relativism on modern parenting, and 4. The failure of America’s educational system.

Throughout the book, Pierce simultaneously argues for more nurture while allowing a child’s nature to develop – the classic nature vs. nurture argument is debunked early on.

Given the advances in brain research and in anthropological techniques, it is simply impossible to deny the influence of genetics and of natural foundations for behavior. Given the abundance of evidence, confirmed by recent research in psychology, psychiatry, neurobiology, and sociology, that parents and communities (especially parents) have dramatic effects upon the emotional and developmental outcomes of children, it is simply implausible to deny the influence of the environment. -From Ships Without A Shore, Introduction-

She also questions current parenting practices which place children very early on into day care when so much research indicates the importance of early attachment to mother.

It is unlikely that children’s developmental needs should miraculously and conveniently change just when adult career patterns and life styles required them to change. – From Ships Without A Shore, Introduction-

The practice of detaching from our children, Pierce argues, is fueled by a media which makes women feel they are neither intelligent nor contemporary if they choose to stay home to rear their children. She further argues that although Feminism was ‘right to call for a less subsuming vision of motherhood,’ it was wrong to suggest there should be a detachment between mother and child (ie: placing children into childcare situations from infancy onward). Pierce’s arguments in her first chapter are supported by reams of research, but she lost me a bit when she began relating horror stories about children who were placed into the hands of uncaring or negligent providers. To read these examples, one might think it foolish to even hire a babysitter for the night. Despite this, Pierce makes a good point when she questions the objectivity of media reporting when it comes to research dealing with day care and its affects on children.

Our willingness to buy into the superficial and partial picture painted for us has stemmed in part from our belief in the larger social cause. The cause of women’s liberation has been thought so worthy that we have been willing to accept less than clear thinking nad less than accurate reporting in support of it. -From Ships Without A Shore, page 58-

I found Pierce’s second chapter the most compelling. Pierce examines normal child development in the context of institutionalized care and points out that all developmental evidence points to  the fact that ‘children thrive upon love‘ and that attachment to a maternal figure is paramount to normal development. She then goes on to say that no one can love a child as their parent does and that it is reasonable to expect a paid caregiver will be less responsive to a baby’s signals than a mother would be. Pierce observes that children become over-dependent or “anxiously attached” not because they have had too much care, but because they have not had enough.

The truth is that even high quality day care centers cannot provide the optimal conditions for development. -From Ships Without A Shore, page 115-

In the last two chapters of Ships Without A Shore, Pierce delves into the area of politics, the welfare system, morality, liberalism, and the failure of our education system. Although she provides ample research to support her conclusions, I was less convinced by her arguments because I felt there was an underlying political bias. Pierce is careful, however, to temper her opinion that the best family for a child is a traditional one with one father and one mother.

I should note that I do not agree with those that advocate a return to the stigmatizing of unwed parents and their children as an alternative solution. I do believe in a return to the valuing of fathers’ essential role in the family, of the intact family, of responsible parenting, and of firmly founded mother-child attachment. – from Ships Without A Shore, page 152-

Pierce convincingly writes about the frenetically busy life-style of American families and the pressure on children to achieve constantly – whether it be in advanced classes, sports teams or other extracurricular activities. This, along with over-stimulation from technologies (such as television and computers), leaves children exhausted, stressed and depressed. Pierce goes on to attack an American educational system which by empowering girls, degrades boys; neglects American history and philosophy while ‘providing students with a “social conscience”‘; and teaches multiculturalism while ignoring American culture.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism has been twisted by the agendas and, yes, the biases which hide behind it. It is often a code word for anti-Americanism. -from Ships Without A Shore, page 231-

Ships Without A Shore is a provocative and penetrating look at American culture and how it has impacted societal views on child rearing. Pierce does not mince words, but speaks strongly in advocating more parental involvement in raising our nation’s children. She supports her opinions with ample research. I did not always fully agree with Pierce’s conclusions, which at times felt excessively right-leaning. But despite my disagreement on some of her points, I believe this is an important book to read for those individuals working in the child care industry and school systems…and for those adults who love children and care about where our society is headed. Pierce’s prose is easy to read and the book is well-organized. At the very least, this is a book which will generate dialogue on one of the most compelling issues of our society – how we choose to raise the next generation and how those choices will impact our future.

Recommended for readers interested in child development and social issues.