Monthly Archives: January 2011

Mailbox Monday – January 31, 2011

Welcome to this week’s edition of Mailbox Monday, hosted this month at Rose City Reader (next month this weekly event will be hosted at Library of Clean Reads). Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page, who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here).

Each week readers share the books which arrive on their doorstep. Make sure to visit Rose City Reader today to get links to all participants’ mailboxes.

Here is what found its way to my mailbox this week:

Random House sent me an Advance Readers Edition of The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher which is due for release in April 2011. I am excited to be on the TLC Book Tour for this novel (my review goes up April 25th). I really love that cover, don’t you? This novel centers around a female protagonist who is mourning the loss of her husband. Heidi travels to the south of France with her seven year old son and sixteen year old niece where three generations collide with one another, and with the neighbor who seems to know all of their family skeletons. “Heidi, Charlotte, and Abbot journey through love, loss, and healing amid the vineyards, warm winds and delicious food of Provence. Can the magic of the house heal Heidi’s heart, too?

Bridget Asher is the pen name for bestselling author Julianna Baggott who also writes under the pen names N.E. Bode. She has published sixteen books over the last ten years. Baggott lives in Florida with her husband writer David G.W. Scott and their four children. She is an associate professor at Florida State University’s Creative Writing Program. In 2006, Baggott and her husband co-founded the nonprofit organization Kids in Need – Books in Deed, that focuses on literacy and delivering free books to underprivileged children in the state of Florida. Learn more about Baggott and her work by visiting the author’s website. Interested readers may also subscribe to Baggott’s blog or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

What great books arrived at YOUR home this week?

Muslim Women Reformers – Book Review

Our media have generally acted as a  megaphone for Islamists, rewarding and magnifying their initial 9/11 and subsequent terrorist acts, designed for maximum publicity and recruitment purposes. In contrast, many Muslims with opposing views have not been given a significant voice. There is considerable ignorance of those determined individuals and organizations, particularly in Muslim countries, who are dedicated to the reform of gender discrimination by challenging discriminatory laws and ideology, often at great personal risk. This anthology is dedicated to amplifying their voices. – from the Introduction to Muslim Women Reformers –

Ida Lichter is a clinical and research psychiatrist and contributor to the Huffington Post. She has written a comprehensive, balanced book focused on the global effort to halt oppression against women in the Muslim world. Lichter divides her book into geographic sections, focusing primarily on the countries of Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also making room in her tome for Muslim reform in countries such as Somalia, Egypt, Pakistan, the United States, and Syria, among others. Several sections give important historical background before profiling some of the countries most influential reformers; other sections simply provide the reformer profiles. Lichter also makes room to include some profiles of Muslim men who have been supportive of women’s rights. Finally, she gives background information about transnational organizations which support women’s issues.

One of the things that stands out in this comprehensive book is the complexity of the issue and the very individual approaches of women reformers. Lichter points out in her introduction:

Muslim women reformers are not a homogeneous group and many are still fledgling media activists and commentators. Some are religious and some are secular. A number of “religious feminists” are in favor of education and political participation for women but against changes to shari’ah-based marriage and family law; however, most demand such reforms. Some argue that discrimination against women is a product of postcolonial oppression but most attribute greater blame to the culture of male-dominated tribalism and religious patriarchy that, in their belief, has distorted authentic Islam in shari’ah-legislated discrimination. – from the Introduction to Muslim Women Reformers –

She goes on to note that although most would assume that Muslim women reformers and Western feminists would be natural allies, this assumption is not accurate. In fact, interactions with Western organizations are often viewed by Muslim countries as subversive to “Muslim culture, identity, and religion.” Further, many Muslim women reformers are disappointed and angry at the silence from their Western counterparts.

Lichter does not spare her reader the horrors perpetrated against women in the name of religion.

It is estimated that 80 percent of marriages still involve betrothal in infancy and coercion by families. Underage marriage, often to much older men, is widespread and culturally entrenched. Mullahs tend to justify child marriage on the basis that one of the Prophet’s wives was only nine years old when he married her. – from Muslim Women Reformers, section on Afghanistan, page 22 –

Somali women continue to be the victims of violence, particularly rape, which is common in refugee camps. In 2002, the aid agency CARE estimated that approximately forty women were raped every month in four refugee camps. – from Muslim Women Reformers, section on Somalia, page 308 –

It is estimated that domestic violence occurs in 80 percent of Pakistani households. Of the 16,000 cases documented by the Progressive Women’s Association (PWA) since 1987, thousands were honor killings and burnings, including over 5,500 choola, or “stove deaths,” caused by family members who doused a wife with kerosene or gasoline before setting her alight. – from Muslim Women Reformers, section on Pakistan, page 257 –

But, Lichter also provides hope within her book through her profiles of the courageous, determined and selfless women leading the fight against these outrages. Women like Safia Amajan from Afghanistan who worked to educate girls and liberate women in Kandahar before she was gunned down; Wazhma Frogh, also from Afghanistan, who found the courage to confront a village Mullah with five verses from the Koran which supported her views of reform and who believes that providing these types of compelling religious arguments are what will eventually promote reform; Hawa Aden Mohamed from Somalia, who works tirelessly to outlaw female genital mutilation and who started a school for girls, advancing women’s rights in the Puntland area of her country; and Nasrin Afzali from Iran who organized a protest through the medium of sport by entering  Azadi stadium (the largest stadium in Tehran) to watch a soccer game – something women were not permitted to do for “religious reasons.” These women have put their lives and freedom on the line to advance their causes – and many have found success toward their goals.

Muslim Women Reformers is not a “light” read. It is difficult to learn in detail about the oppression that dominates women’s lives in many parts of the world, yet it is also empowering to see what the individual can accomplish with passion and education. Ida Lichter brings to light the efforts of dozens of women and organizations working to earn oppressed women the right to education, political and religious freedom, and equality. Her book is complete with glossary, lists of Websites, bibliography and notes. Scholars of Islamic culture, readers interested in women’s rights, and those who wish not to be ignorant of the challenges to women globally, will find Lichter’s book a valuable resource.

Highly recommended.

This book was sent to me by publicist Lisa Roe for review on my blog.

Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the link below to find Indie sellers. I am an Indie Associate and receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.

Shop Indie Bookstores

Bread Givers – Book Review

More and more I began to think inside myself, I didn’t want to sell herring for the rest of my days. I want to learn something. I want to do something. I want some day to make myself for a person and come among people. – from Bread Givers, page 66 –

Sara Smolinsky lives in a crowded, dreary tenement apartment on the east side of New York City with her Orthodox rabbi father, her hard-working mother and her three sisters. The youngest of her siblings, Sara watches as her tyrannical father berates and verbally abuses them. One by one, Sara’s sisters give up their dreams of marrying for love and find themselves matched to men who are gamblers, liars, and misogynists. Sara’s determination and iron will to make something of herself causes her to run away at age seventeen with the dream of going to college to become a teacher. Yet even when she achieves her goal, she is unable to completely free herself from the past.

Bread Givers is a novel about the clash of traditional and modern; the immigrant experience in the 1920s; the myth of the American Dream; hypocrisy in religion; and the dawn of women’s rights. Set in New York City’s east side, the book explores the horror of poverty and the drudgery of work in the sweat shops and on the streets to earn a few pennies for a loaf of bread and a bit of soup. Hard work, unhappiness, and poverty take their toll on each character in turn.

Beauty was in that house. But it had come out of Mashah’s face. The sunny colour of her walls had taken the colour out of her cheeks. The shine of her pots and pans had taken the lustre out of her hair. And the soda with which she had scrubbed the floor so clean, and laundered her rags to white, had burned in and eaten the beauty out of her hands. – from Bread Givers, page 147 –

Sara narrates her story beginning at the age of ten and continuing through her teens and into adulthood. Often the language of the novel is awkward with unusual word choices – reading like a work in translation. It was hard for me to understand if this was intentional (as a way to demonstrate the stilted English of an immigrant) or unintentional, but the end result was a novel that felt unedited or in draft form.

A review of Bread Givers would not be complete without an examination of one of the central characters. Reb Smolinsky, Sara’s father, is a man drenched in the piousness of his religion and filled with hypocrisy. He preaches that material gain on earth will make Heaven unattainable, yet he clings to his daughters for the money they bring in to support him and ruins his family with a bad business deal which he sees as a get rich quick scheme.

“What! Sell my religion for money? Become a false prophet to the Americanized Jews! No. My religion is not for sale. I only want to go into business so as to keep sacred my religion. I want to get into some quick money-making thing that will not take up too many hours a day, so I could get most of my time for learning.” – from Bread Givers, page 111 –

Reb Smolinsky is a tyrant, a bully, and a misogynist. His views of women are steeped in tradition and rigidly held. When it comes to his daughters, he does not consider their happiness, but instead looks at what they can offer him.

The prayers of  his daughters didn’t count because God didn’t listen to women. Heaven and the next world were only for men. Women could get into Heaven because they were wives and daughters of men. Women had no brains for the study of God’s Torah, but they could be the servants of men who studied the Torah. Only if they cooked for the men, and washed for the men, and didn’t nag or curse the men out of their homes; only if they let the men study the Torah in peace, then, maybe, they could push themselves into Heaven with the men, to wait on them there. – from Bread Givers, page 9 –

But, despite the flaws in Reb Smolinsky, he does manage to give his youngest daughter the will and determination to seek her own happiness. When Sara flees her horrible home life and strikes out on her own, she learns something about sacrifice to achieve her goals. She also begins to appreciate the traits in her father which she now sees in herself.

I had it from Father, this ingrained something in me that would not let me take the mess of pottage. – from Bread Givers, page 202 –

Anzia Yezierska lived a very similar life to her protagonist Sara. Brought up in abject poverty as a Polish immigrant, she fled her family at age seventeen to make a life for herself. In Bread Givers, perhaps her most autobiographical work, she explores the themes of her own childhood and young adulthood.

Bread Givers is a simple and  familiar story of rags to riches. This is not a book which blew me away with its writing (in fact, the writing is, in many ways, flawed), but I do think it offers a glimpse into the immigrant experience in America. My biggest complaint is that the characters are stereotypical: the father is too evil, the mother too downtrodden and sacrificing, the sisters too compliant to the old world traditions, the heroine too successful at finding her happiness. Despite this, I do think Bread Givers will appeal to some readers who are interested in immigration and feminist issues during the early part of the twentieth century as it provides a backdrop to a larger discussion.

I read this novel as part of The Wolves Read-A-Long. Members of that group have provided some very good reviews of this book:

Have you read and reviewed this book? If so, please leave me a link in the comments so I can add your review above.

Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the link below to find Indie sellers. I am an Indie Associate and receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.

Shop Indie Bookstores

Sunday Salon – January 30, 2011

January 30, 2011

Here we are, the last Sunday in January, a twelfth of the way through 2011. How did that happen? I have a had a great reading month so far…it looks like I will manage to complete nine books this month and most of a tenth. So far none most have earned four stars or greater, and two of them have made it onto my best of 2011 list on Library Thing by garnering five stars. Not a bad way to start out the year!

Last week I mentioned that I was enjoying Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant (read my review). This was a fascinating book which takes a hard look at radical religious issues, specifically those impacting the West Bank region. I am glad I read this book for many reasons: I discovered a new author whose writing is very, very good; it made me think about some of the tough issues in the world today; and I learned something about a part of the world I do not know a whole lot about. If you are looking for a haunting book, this one may be the one for you.

If you missed my review of The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, you can find it here. The author also visiting my blog last week with a terrific guest post. I gushed a lot about this book last week, and I’m still talking about it this week. In case you haven’t figured it out…this was one of my five star books which goes right to the top of my best of 2011 list for now. I’m squirreling away my copy and I am thinking this may be one of those rare books which deserves a re-read down the road. Yup, I loved it!

Next up on my stacks was The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine (read my review). I have been wanting to read a book by Schine for quite some time, and this was the perfect choice. Schine found her novel on the New York Times Most Notable List in 2010, and I think it is a well deserved honor. Funny, poignant, quirky, and well written…this is the type of book which is perfect for a cold winter evening or a hot summer beach read – take your pick! Picador is releasing the trade paperback version of the book on Tuesday and you could win a copy by visiting my giveaway and leaving me a comment before 5:00 pm (PST) on Friday, February 4th (sorry, contest is restricted to U.S. postal addresses only).

My current read (I should finish it today) is really a classic. Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska is set on New York City’s east side in the 1920s and features a young, Russian Jewish immigrant named Sara. As the book opens, ten year old Sara shares a cramped tenement with her Orthodox rabbi father, her hardworking mother, and her three sisters (all older than she). The writing is a little odd in this book, but I think that is partly because it is narrated from Sara’s point of view…and so there are awkward word choices and sentence structure. I plan on dropping over to El Fay’s blog later today where she talks about this book as part of The Wolves Read-a-Long. I’m interested to get other readers’ perspectives on this one…so if you’ve read it, please leave me a comment or a link to your review! I’ll be posting my review hopefully later today or (at the latest) on Monday evening.

I am also getting ready to post a review of a book I have been dipping in and out of for over a month. Muslim Women Reformers by Ida Lichter is non fiction and looks at women’s rights and the effort at reform in the Muslim religion. She covers a lot of ground in this book and looks at several countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Turkey and even the United States. There is a wealth of information in this book and students who are interested in Muslim Women’s issues specifically will want to pick up this book. More later when I craft my review…

I still hope to make a dent in Caribou Island by David Vann before the month closes. February looks to be a busy reading month for me – lots of great books on my TBR shelf including:

  • Small Wars by Sadie Jones (TLC Book Tour)
  • Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich (TLC Book Tour)
  • The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
  • A Heartbeat Away by Michael Palmer (watch for a giveaway of this one)
  • The Sweet Relief of Missing Children by Sarah Braunstein
  • Letters from Home by Kristina McMorris
  • Charles Jessop a Murderer by Wesley Stace
  • The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (BOOK CLUB read)
  • Little Princes by Conor Greenan

And there are more…but, we’ll see how I do!

Today I hope to have some solid reading time in between loads of laundry. How about you? What are your plans for the day? Whatever they are, I hope they involve a great book!

Book Giveaway – The Three Weissmanns of Westport

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine
ISBN 978-0-312-68052-7
292 pages
Picador Trade Paperback (February 2011)

Thanks to the generosity of the good folks over at Picador, I am delighted to offer my readers the chance to win a brand new copy of Cathleen Schine’s fabulous novel The Three Weissmanns of Westport. I breezed through this very funny, wonderfully charming novel and thoroughly enjoyed it (read my review).

Picador is publishing the trade paperback version of this book on February 1, 2011. Readers will want to check out Cathleen Schine’s Facebook Page where they can find links to an excerpt of the book and a reading group guide (after “liking” the page). Also, check out Schine’s Tour schedule for this book.

Cathleen Schine is the author of The New Yorkers and The Love Letter, among other novels. She has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review. Learn more about Schine and her work by visiting the author’s website.

The Giveaway Details

  • Contest is open to U.S. postal addresses only.
  • Leave me a comment on this post NO LATER THAN 5:00 PM (PST) on February 4, 2011 telling me EITHER why you would like to read this book, OR if you have previously read books by Cathleen Schine, which is your favorite so far. Your entry is only valid if you answer one of those questions!!!
  • I will randomly select a winner and post their name on this blog on February 5th (Saturday). I will also send the winner an email. The winner must respond with a mailing address within 7 days of being notified, or I will select another winner.
  • Picador will be mailing the winner a brand new trade paperback version of The Three Weissmanns of Westpost.


The Three Weissmanns of Westpost – Book Review

When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy-eight years old and she was seventy-five. He announced his decision in the kitchen of their apartment on the tenth floor of a large, graceful Central Park West building built at the turn of the century, the original white tiles of the kitchen still gleaming  on the walls around them. Joseph, known as Joe to his colleagues at work, but always called Joseph by his wife, said the words “irreconcilable differences,” and saw real confusion in his wife’s eyes.

Irreconcilable differences? she said. Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce? – from The Three Weissmanns of Westport, page 1 –

Betty Weissmann may be seventy-five years old and used to being taken care of by her wealthy husband Joseph, but he underestimates her pluck, resiliency, and the blind loyalty of her daughters. Banished from the home she has shared with Joseph for almost 50 years, Betty packs up her things and moves into a beach side cottage in Westport, Connecticut (owned by Betty’s eccentric cousin Lou) with her daughters Miranda and Annie. Annie, a librarian, is the eldest and most practical of the daughters. Miranda, a 49 year old literary agent, is reeling from a business crisis when it is discovered that the authors she represents are fabricating their memoirs. Together the three women descend upon Westport, determined to make the best of their situations and support each other along the way.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport is a funny, poignant, sometimes heartbreaking novel filled with memorable and quirky characters. Betty bravely faces her impending divorce, preferring to think of herself as a widow rather than a divorcee.

In the days to come, not only was Betty merry, but she insisted that she was, literally, a widow.

“Poor, dear Joseph,” she said when they finally accepted Cousin Lou’s invitation to dinner. “God rest his soul.” – from The Three Weissmanns of Westport –

Miranda’s zest for life is only temporarily dampened by her business woes. She has a history of passionate love affairs which end in disaster, and is a bit of a diva. And so when she sets her sights on a man much younger than she, it is only a matter of time before things get interesting.

Annie works as a librarian, is divorced and is mourning the fact that her two sons have grown up and away from her. She dreads moving to the coast with her mother and sister (who exuberantly embrace the small, run down beach cottage). She longs to isolate herself with her books, tires of being the responsible older sister, and bemoans the aging process.

Together, the three women forge a bond that elevates them past failed romances, unexpected revelations, and family crises. Cathleen Schine fills her novel with humor, the simple joy of sun drenched days and bird song, and the comfort of friendships. I loved the contrary, yet loving relationship between the two sisters; and the realistic, yet poignant connection between a mother and her children. What Schine does, quite elegantly, is make the reader care about the characters. She exposes their flaws, unearths their fears and vulnerabilities, and in doing so, makes them real. I found myself cheering Betty, Miranda and Annie onward, wanting them to realize their dreams and find their happiness.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport is a story of family connection, of searching for love, of falling down and getting back up again. This is a satisfying novel which will appeal to those readers who like their characters quirky and who find humor in life despite disaster. Cathleen Schine writes fantastic women’s fiction.

Highly recommended.

Want to win a copy of this book? Don’t miss my giveaway January 28 – February 4, 2011.

Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the link below to find Indie sellers. I am an Indie Associate and receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.

Shop Indie Bookstores

Quilting: Works in Progress

*Click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger view.

I haven’t given you an update on my quilting lately – but I have been doing a lot of it, just not finishing anything! Last Friday I went to a quilt class to learn how to make a “woven ribbons” quilt.  It was a new type of construction for me where one must first sew together two inch strips of fabric (making ten sets of 5 strips), then cutting those stratas into 1.5 inch strips…its complicated, but what happens at the end is the quilter has lots of these 1.5 inch strips and puts them together to make a specific pattern. Here is what I’ve accomplished so far:

I’m using raspberry and chocolate hued fabric in light, medium and dark colorways which will give the effect of ribbons woven together.

I have also been working to finish a King sized quilt which I started way back in 2009. I had it quilted for me by a professional quilter, and now all that needs doing is the binding which I am hand stitching. I’ve gotten half way around:

Finally, I am working very hard to complete a special quilt – I don’t want to tell you too much about this one because it is a gift.  The photos aren’t being true to the colors – the greens are much softer and the pinks not as bright as they are showing here…I’ll post about this one more when I’m done with it:

Wherever You Go – Book Review

“That’s the thing about animal cries,” the girl said. “About any creature we don’t understand. Some sounds are hostile and others are friendly, but we can’t tell the difference.” – from Wherever You Go, page 68 –

Joan Leegant’s novel is set in Jerusalem and introduces three main characters: Yona Stern who has arrived in the country to try to heal old wounds with her sister Dena (who has embraced a radical West Bank settlement cause); Mark Greenglass, a Talmud teacher who is struggling with his faith and regretting his past mistakes; and Aaron Blinder, a college drop out who has arrived in Jerusalem searching for meaning and discovers a violent fringe group. Although initially unconnected to each other, the three characters’ lives intersect after a senseless act of violence.

Wherever You Go takes a hard look at faith, religion, religious zeal, and the senselessness of violence in the name of God. Leegant takes her time developing the characters, and this was an aspect of the book I appreciated. Each of the characters shares a struggle with faith, although they come to it from vastly different places.

Mark Greenglass is perhaps the most sympathetic character. He has pulled himself free of a drug addiction and become a Talmudic scholar, but he cannot let go of his past. Greenglass struggles to understand why he feels empty despite his strong faith. He regrets that the one woman he has loved is in a spiral of despair and drugs, and that he is unable to help her. As Greenglass looks deep within his heart, he begins to understand what he is missing.

There is was, right in front of him. The truth: Love. He had avoided love his whole adult life. He’d told himself it was because of the religion, that he’d be with a woman only in the proper way, with chaste dates and a correct betrothal, or else that his life was uncertain, too unstable, that it wasn’t the right time or the right place. – from Wherever You Go, page 99 –

Yona is a woman who has made terrible mistakes in her life – one of which has separated her from her sister, Dena, and caused her to devalue herself. She seeks forgiveness from her sister, but is unprepared for what she finds in the West Bank settlement. Dena is living a life of blind faith and radical beliefs, yet her heart is coldly closed to Yona. Through Yona, the reader comes face to face with the sacrifice which people who are dedicated to radical causes make.

Dena gave brisk, unapologetic answers. No, she was not afraid to drive anywhere. Five kids plus a job was not unusual there, children learned early that they were required to help. She was not fearful for them; they were part of something bigger, a higher purpose. What will happen, will happen. What mattered was having a life with meaning. Sometimes sacrifices had to be made. – from Wherever You Go, page 139 –

Finally, there is Aaron. A young man who has grown up in the shadow of the Holocaust through the work of his father – an author who only writes about the hatred of the Nazis toward the Jews. Aaron longs for his father to see him and accept him for who he is, but he feels unworthy. For Aaron, the violence of a fringe group makes him feel he is doing something important.

But the real God was here, in this place, and Aaron knew it. He felt the hand of the Almighty Avenger guiding him, touching him on his very shoulder, looking down at him from this cracked ceiling in this miserable outpost on the edge of the scorpion desert where a hundred battles had been fought and where so much blood had soaked into the earth that even the mountains had turned red. – from Wherever You Go, page 85 –

There is a feeling of relentless inevitability in Leegant’s novel – a feeling that we are on an unavoidable collision course. As the characters move closer together, their paths about to cross, the reader begins to sense doom. It is a feeling all too often experienced when we turn on the nightly news and watch the violence, terror and fear unfolding around the world. What Leegant does in this important novel is give the reader a glimpse into the minds of those who carry out violence in the name of a radical cause. She demonstrates the senselessness of violence; shows us the faces of the victims; and forces us to consider the issues that divide nations and people.

Joan Leegant is a talented writer – a writer who does not shy away from the uncomfortable emotions that arise from religious conflict. Wherever You Go is a provocative novel which will leave readers wondering where, in fact, we are going when it comes to faith and religion. This is a reflective novel and an important look at Jewish extremist groups, although its message could extend to any religious extremist group.

Readers who enjoy historical and literary fiction, or who are interested  in the Israeli conflict, will want to pick up a copy of Wherever You Go.


FTC Disclosure: This novel was sent to me by the author for review on my blog.

Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the link below to find Indie sellers. I am an Indie Associate and receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.

Shop Indie Bookstores

Author Guest Post: Eleanor Brown (TLC Book Tour)

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
ISBN 978-0-399-15722-6
336 Pages
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (January 20, 2011)

It is the rare book that will keep me up way past my bedtime, but Eleanor Brown’s wonderful debut novel The Weird Sisters did just that – I just couldn’t stop reading! This is one of those books that I just want to press into other readers’ hands and demand that they read it. Read my full review here.

The book resonated with me on many levels, but certainly because I am the youngest of three sisters (that’s us in Vermont in about 1964). The photos in our albums show girls who were often dressed identically in the first few years of our lives, looking very alike despite the one and a half years between us. We are all different, unique in our own ways, individuals … but our genetic makeup and our collective memories bind us as sisters – a bond that can never be broken. This is what Brown’s novel speaks to the loudest: the unbreakable bond of sisters, the turning to each other despite the differences in personality, and unexplainable ambivalence, and past history which may or may not contain jealousy or betrayal or petty arguments. What a great book!

So, it is with great pleasure that I invited Eleanor Brown to my blog today as part of a TLC Book Tour. She agreed to provide a guest post, and I hope that after you read it, you will be even MORE convinced that you need to rush out and buy her book! Welcome Eleanor!!

Sibling Stories
by Eleanor Brown

When I started writing The Weird Sisters, I also banned myself from reading books or seeing movies about sisters, and about siblings in general.

It was kind of shocking how much that cut my choices in entertainment.

We are fascinated with siblings – and especially sisters – and for good reason.  I recently re-connected with an old friend on Facebook and was shocked (and I’m not using that word lightly) to find that she was Facebook friends with her brother.  Every memory I have of visiting her house includes a fight between the two of them, often with slammed doors and melodramatic sobbing on both of their parts.

Granted, those memories are a good two decades old, and it’s not like being Facebook friends with someone is on a par with giving them a kidney, but I couldn’t picture their being anything but mortal enemies.

And yet we have so many stories that are about exactly that – about the bond between siblings, about sisterhood (by blood or by choice) and the lessons it teaches us, about the way that learning to care for our siblings is about learning to love ourselves.  They are, after all, the best mirror of our history that we have.

Now that I’m on to other projects, I have been drinking my fill of sibling stories, and there are so many wonderful ones I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you.

This is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper – If you’ve never read anything by Tropper, this is a grand place to start: a gloriously dysfunctional set of siblings with family secrets to spare reunite to sit shiva for their father.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s also a perfect example of the way our relationships with our siblings continue to define us even as we change ourselves.

In Her Shoes, Jennifer Weiner – This book made me do a lot of thinking about the way families work, about the cultural expectation we have to put up with things from family members that we wouldn’t tolerate in a minute from anyone else.  The story of two wildly different sisters who need each other to unravel their family’s history and stop walking the narrow paths they have laid for themselves is both funny and emotional.

The Opposite of Me, Sarah Pekkanen – Another pair of sisters who are different, but amped up – Alex and Lindsey are twins, and Lindsey is the self-perceived ugly duckling.  Like the Andreas sisters in The Weird Sisters, Lindsey in particular needs to learn to break free of the role her family cast her in and define herself for a change.

The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy – With a horrible (and occasionally horrifying) family history, it’s no wonder that the siblings in the Wingo family are damaged the way they are.  But they already love each other, and desperately, the way survivors of a crisis are closer because of it.  The beauty here is watching the way they learned to love each other through the pain they endured.

Oh, there are so many more I want to mention – Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Shakespeare’s King Lear or The Taming of the Shrew, but I would love to hear from you as well.  What sibling stories should everyone else be reading?


Eleanor Brown was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, but has also lived in St. Paul, San Francisco, Philadelphia, South Florida, and Oxford, London, and Brighton, England.  She works in educational technology and lives in Colorado with her partner, writer and new media superstar, J.C. Hutchins.

Eleanor’s writing has appeared in anthologies, journals, magazines, and newspapers.  The Weird Sisters is her first novel and was published last week by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam. Learn more about Brown and her work by visiting her website and blog. Readers may also connect with her on Facebook, and Twitter.