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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt~★★★★1/2

Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Title: Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: The Dial Press
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don't know you've lost someone until you've found them.
1987. There's only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that's her uncle, renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can be herself only in Finn's company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June's world is turned upside down. But Finn's death brings a surprise acquaintance into June's life--someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.
At Finn's funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn's apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she's not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most. 
An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again." 

Taryn's Review: When I was about sixteen-years-old, I was working with my uncle at his business. While telling me a story, he included a detail about his first marriage. That moment stood still in time for me. His statement swirled around in my head; all I could think was, "My uncle has been married before?" He'd been in my life for as long as I could remember. No one had ever mentioned to me that his marriage to my aunt was his second. For me, that was the true beginning to maturity, as I began to realize that people had lives before my existence; just because I knew someone, my relationship with that person didn't necessarily mean that I knew that person. I also questioned my relationship with those people around me: how many people, like my parents, knew this about my uncle and never told me? Was I purposefully left in the dark or had I been too self-centered to really listen, or even ask questions?

Fourteen-year-old June Elbus had a similar revelation after the death of her uncle, Finn. June and Finn shared a love for many things, including art, music, medieval times, and one another. June and Finn were soulmates in June's eyes. Sadly, Finn passed away from AIDS and June's world was turned upside down. A small consolation for June was the portrait of herself and her older sister, Greta, that Finn painted before his death. She longed for her uncle and struggled with her feelings toward the situation.

June's information about Finn's AIDS quickly came into question with the arrival of Toby, Finn's partner of nine years, into her life. Previously, Toby had not been a part of June's life or her life with Finn. The story beautifully followed the developing relationship between Toby and June as they bonded over the memory of the man they both loved. Another storyline in the book involved Greta's jealously over Finn and June's relationship, which had a deeper symbolism, reflecting the strained relationship between Finn and June's mother, Danni (also represented by Finn's view of the portrait). I read a portion of this book in the break room at work and I had to hold back tears as I read the ending to a particular chapter. I think had I been alone, I would have had a teary moment of reflection about the scene at hand. My heart continued to break during June's journey with Toby as she discovered what a facade had been put on under the guise of it being in June and her family's best interest.

Why not 5 stars, then? I'll be honest, it was a difficult choice for me to make, but ultimately, it was missing a specific emotional connection that pushes a book into a perfect rating for me. That connection has revealed itself as I read books like Still Alice, Of Mice and Men, A Farewell to Arms, and Sleepwalking in Daylight, yet it was missing for me in this book. I'm aware that some people will disagree with my rating, but the beauty of reading books and interpreting them is that they affect us all differently; even though it wasn't a perfect book for me, that doesn't mean I didn't appreciate it or the message it provided. Regardless of my slight difference of opinion from the majority, I do agree with most reviews that this book was excellent and that it was superbly written. For a debut novel, especially, Carol Rifka Brunt has made a name for herself and I would gladly select any new books she authors for my "to-be-read" list.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, PhD~★★★★1/2

Author: Meg Jay, PhD
Title: The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now
Release Date: April 17, 2012
Publisher: Twelve
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "Drawing from more than ten years of work with hundreds of twentysomething clients and students, Dr. Jay weaves the latest science of the twentysomething years with compelling, behind-the-doors stories from twentysomethings themselves. She shares what psychologists, sociologists, neurologists, reproductive specialists, human resources executives, and economists know about the unique power of the twentysomething years and how they change our lives. 
The result is a provocative and sometimes poignant book that shows how common wisdom about the twentysomething years is often wrong:
-Why it's the people we hardly know, and not our closest friends, who will change our twentysomething lives for the better
-Why living together may not be the best way to test a relationship
-How the twentysomething brain gives us our best chance to change who we are and who we will be
-Why 'Who am I?' is a question best answered not with a protracted identity crisis, but with one or two good pieces of something called identity capital
-How joining the world of work makes us feel better, not worse
-How our personalities shift more during our twenties than at any time before or after
-How we do pick our families and not just our friends
With authority, compassion, and a keen eye on the future, The Defining Decade shows us why our twenties do matter. Our twenties are a time when the things we do--and the things we don't do--will have an enormous effect across years and even generations to come." 

Taryn's Review: This book was a great eye-opener for me. Firstly, it was comforting to know how normal I am in regard my worries and fears as a twentysomething. Dr. Jay introduced people she had counseled (names changed, of course) to give the reader examples of real world people dealing with real world issues. Secondly, Dr. Jay truly did give great advice, even for someone like me in my late twenties. I am going to do my best to apply Dr. Jay's guidance to my own life because I really loved what she had to say.

The book was broken down into three sections: Work, Love, and The Brain and the Body. The section on work was very useful. She had great insight and offered fresh perspectives on the advice our friends and loved ones have given us regarding our twenties and work. She also explained how we can get in ruts and feel inadequate, and how we can conquer those thoughts, even if we don't feel like we know what we're doing (this was also expanded upon in the brain section). She offered her knowledge on how to make the most of our twenties while gaining identity capital and how the strength of weak ties can help us exponentially. The section on love is probably most useful to those who are in their twenties and single, although those who are questioning their relationships would benefit from reading this part, too. Try not to scoff when you read how couples who live together before marriage tend to divorce at a higher rate than those who don't (this statistic has been proven via multiple studies); her explanation of why that is made a lot of sense and it was not as drastic as you might think. The final section covered the twentysomething brain and body, and it was very interesting to read the scientific data on how twentysomething brains are so different from brains at any other stage in our lives, except for the newborn/baby/toddler years. Twentysomethings are learning and, in fact, defining themselves for the future. In this stage of life, we see twentysomethings able to absorb, retain, and demonstrate new material at a faster rate than they will exhibit in their lives again.

Why not 5 stars, then? Because while I agree with Dr. Jay that women and men should understand their bodies, particularly when it comes to fertility on both sides, I find it much harder to apply the mathematical understanding of fertility to real world women. I'm fully aware that my fertile years are not unlimited, yet I'm also not willing to bring a baby into the world with any random person simply because age 35 crept up on me. Science says there is a higher change that I, and other women, might not be able to conceive if we wait too long and find ourselves in the years of "advance maternal age." Dr. Jay had her own children at ages 35 and 37 and counted herself as lucky for being able to conceive so late in the game, yet real women who haven't met someone before age 35 aren't necessarily doomed. How do we, as women, rectify not finding a partner and the desire to procreate? I didn't feel she addressed this, but instead she made it clear that fertile years have an expiration date for women. I can have the timetable laid out in front of me, but I'm not going to fret if I haven't procreated by 35. I could have issues in the future, but I could have issues now, too, and just not know because the opportunity wasn't there to find out. The story she used to illustrate this example was quite sad, but the limited information provided also didn't make it known if the woman's fertility struggles were because of her age or if they were due to other issues that had been present, just unknown. She was correct in noting that if a woman has dreams for work, she should consider making that happen before her fertile years end (as in, don't plan to start graduate school at age 35 and plan to get pregnant in the same year...go to graduate school now, while you don't have the pressures of fertility expiration hovering over you).

Even with my disagreement, this book was still phenomenal. I really hope twentysomethings do pick up this book and consider Dr. Jay's advice. Naturally, all parts of the book might not apply to every aspect of a twentysomething's life. Happily coupled? The Work and The Brain and the Body section might be of interest to you. Found a great career but struggling in your love life? The Love section could appeal to you. The book was well-written and Dr. Jay is a strong writer in her ability to deliver complex theories in a reader-friendly fashion. This is one I would definitely recommend to my twentysomething friends.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Goodbye Summer by Patricia Gaffney~★★

Author: Patricia Gaffney
Title: The Goodbye Summer
Release Date: April 13, 2004
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "How much change can one summer bring? If you're Caddie Winger---thirty-two years old, still living with her grandmother, and giving piano lessons to neighborhood children---one summer can make the whole world look different.
Caddie's mother died when Caddie was nine, and the child was raised by her grandmother. Now their roles are reversed, and it's Caddie who takes care of Nana. When her grandmother breaks a leg and insists on going into a convalescent home, Caddie finds herself being pulled out of her comfy, self-made nest. Living alone for the first time since college, she uncovers some startling truths from her past. 
Jolted, she looks at the world with new eyes and begins to take charge of her future. As she makes a new best friend, takes risks she never dreamed she could, and navigates the depths and shallows of true love and devastating heartbreak, Caddie learns how to trust other people and, ultimately, how to trust herself. 
Wise, moving, and reassuringly real, The Goodbye Summer offers us a deeper understanding of the perplexing and invigorating magic that is life itself." 

Taryn's Review: This is one of those books that sucked me in due to the cutesy cover. I love older homes, so naturally the adorable porch on the cover caught my attention and into my bag it went. Unfortunately, the cover seemed to be my favorite part of the book.

The book began slowly and never picked up pace. It was a really long book for such a mundane story (almost 400 pages), yet I kept reading, hoping the storyline would get better. The eventual love interest was fairly obvious within the first meeting of the two, so it was no surprise to me that the storyline followed the route it. Nana didn't feel like a main character, but a sort of static noise in the background that was used to relay secrets and create chaos in Caddie's life.

For me, Caddie's character never really developed into an enlightened version of herself. A part of that lag could have been due to the point-of-view the author chose to tell the story. I really think it would have been advantageous to the story to tell it through the eyes of Caddie (1st person) versus the 3rd person narrative. My other issue with the story was that the author used peculiar descriptions that I don't think were helpful to the writing. For example, on page 10 Gaffney wrote, "Caddie blew a damp fall of hair out her eyes." What is a fall of hair? I googled it and I couldn't find this phrase used anywhere in the same context the author had. In fact, hair fall (and a handful of sites referred it as fall of hair) is baldness or the loss of hair. Caddie's hair certainly didn't fall out in the story, so I found that to be a poor choice of phrasing. On page 307, Gaffney wrote, "He put his horny forefinger on Talbot County." Horny forefinger? I know that the term can mean "calloused," but with the prevalent use of the word horny to describe sexual arousal, this description made me laugh. There were a few other descriptions that left me perplexed.

Overall, I didn't find the story to be interesting or one that was unique. The time-old tale of a woman finding herself has been written countless times before, so to create a new, successful version of the tale, strong writing skills are crucial for a fresh perspective. Yet in this instance the writing failed to deliver. The ending was also a head-scratcher as to what exactly the reader was supposed to take away from the story. It is unlikely that I will pick up another book by this author and I can't imagine a circumstance in which I would recommend this story.