Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Crossed by Ally Condie Review

Crossed (Matched, #2)Crossed by Ally Condie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: The hotly awaited second book in the dystopian Matched trilogy

In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his certain death - only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.

Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.


My take: I was going to give this book a 3/5 star rating but, after reading a wonderful review, I found I agreed completely with the reviewer and kicked it up a star.

What I didn't like was the slow pace. At the end of "Matched," Ky had been sent to the Outer Provinces and Cassia chose to be banished in order to find him. This book begins from basically that time period. Ky is living in a horrendous area and being used as targets for The Enemy. Whoever the enemy may be. They are being obliterated every time there is a firing. Ky has a wary alliance with Vick, another decoy who has survival instincts. When the opportunity presents itself, Ky, Vick and a boy named Eli make a run for the Carvings (the illustrations look like Bryce Canyon).

Cassia has no alliances as she is being rotated through farming communities, looking for the opportunity to get closer to The Carvings. When she escapes the village, she forms an alliance with a girl named Indie.

The chapters are told in alternating Points of View by Cassia and Ky. This confused me, even though the chapters are clearly identified as such. There is a lot of wandering around, finding caves and dead ends. This frustrated me until I realized that the point was not the destination but the journey.

In the first book, Cassia lived a nice life where everything was provided for her but also monitored. Yet she developed independence regardless. In this book, Cassia's independence deepens as she is truly out on her own. She might still be able to return to her regular life at any time but her objective is to find Ky. She is completely goal oriented at nearly any cost. This gives her character much more depth.

Also in the first book, Ky is still rather a mystery. This time we get into Ky's head. His one goal is to find Cassia. He doesn't know she is no longer in her safe hamlet. There is internal dialogue but not unnecessary angst, agony and wo. He thinks about Cassia. He wants to share his experiences with her. He loves her but in the meantime, stuff is happening. Neither Ky nor Cassia are perfect nor are they perfect soul mates.

Another item of interest is Xander, Cassia's match. He's still a good guy. But some interesting facts come to light. He has secrets that Ky knows and is afraid once Cassia knows them, she will chose Xander. Ky feels intimidated by Xander. Yet Cassia chose to follow Ky. This choice will be interesting in Book 3, I think.

Like I said, it's a slower dystopia but I think this book is setting the stage for some interesting action on Book 3.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ZERO DAY by David Baldacci Review

ZERO DAY by David Baldacci
Published 10/31/11
Grand Central Publishing
Category: Fiction, Suspense & Thriller



From David Baldacci--the modern master of the thriller and #1 worldwide bestselling novelist-comes a new hero: a lone Army Special Agent taking on the toughest crimes facing the nation.

And Zero Day is where it all begins....

John Puller is a combat veteran and the best military investigator in the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigative Division. His father was an Army fighting legend, and his brother is serving a life sentence for treason in a federal military prison. Puller has an indomitable spirit and an unstoppable drive to find the truth. 

Now, Puller is called out on a case in a remote, rural area in West Virginia coal country far from any military outpost. Someone has stumbled onto a brutal crime scene, a family slaughtered. The local homicide detective, a headstrong woman with personal demons of her own, joins forces with Puller in the investigation. As Puller digs through deception after deception, he realizes that absolutely nothing he's seen in this small town, and no one in it, are what they seem. Facing a potential conspiracy that reaches far beyond the hills of West Virginia, he is one man on the hunt for justice against an overwhelming force.
Zero DayZero Day by David Baldacci

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I really like David Baldacci's books. He is intelligent and provides a suspense filled story with clean dialogue and well written characters. This particular book just didn't grab me. The problem was the acronyms for me. The protagonist is military and a lot of acronyms are used that I don't know. They are defined but I didn't want to keep looking back in the book to be reminded. Like I said, Baldacci is brilliant and he understands a lot of things that I don't having to do with forensics which I find fascinating. Military lingo is different than what speak and understand.

I was also disappointed with the crime scene not adding up to the crime, itself. It was weird. I can do weird. I watched Medium for a couple of years until it got too weird. Weird as in sadistic and shocking. It reached that level for me. I know Baldacci does a lot of forensic information in his books. I know the criminals are sadistic at times. But this one just didn't add up.

It's still a good read. If you like Baldacci, read it. If you've not read his books before, I'd start with another one. They are quite heart stopping and keep you guessing.


Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Break a Dragon's Heart by Cressida Cowell

How to Train Your Dragon Book 8: How to Break a Dragon's Heart (How to Train Your Dragon (Heroic Misadventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III))
How to Break a Dragon's Heart
Cressida Cowell
320 pages
Published November 7, 2011
Stranded on the exceptionally dangerous, and possibly haunted, Beach of the Broken Heart, Hiccup must face Ug the Uglithug and complete the Impossible Task--or die trying. Along the way, he'll have to battle Berserks, dodge Scarers, and save Fishlegs from being fed to the Beast, all while being hunted down by an old enemy with a dark secret about the mysterious Lost Throne. With Toothless by his side, and time to stage his rescue running out, what's a Hero to do?
My take: This is the 8th book of How to Train Your Dragon series and it is absolutely not essential at all to read the first seven books in order to completely and utterly enjoy this book. I did see the movie, How to Train Your Dragon at the local sticky shoe and was absolutely delighted by the script, the humor, and the story. Like the movie, the narrator is Hiccup, the son of the great Viking leader. He is an unlikely hero but with the same sense of humor shown from the movie.

There are references to previous books with asterisks and quick descriptions at the bottom of the pages, along with words and terms used in Viking-ese that we Anglo-Saxons may not understand. But Hiccup provides those definitions at the bottom of the pages. Also included are crude (as in primitive, not inappropriate) drawings.

The difference between the stories from the books (at least this one) is that dragon and Viking are working in tandem. They are not under attack. Also, Toothless the Dragon is a small, rather harmless animal that sleeps in Hiccup's coat. Hiccup also has an arch enemy who shows up in the most unlikely of places, an island inhabited by cannibals and he is the cook, of course. 

It is important to note that Cressida Cowell is not the author of these books. She is simply the translator. It seems that Hiccup's diaries came into her possession somehow and she is working studiously to translate them into English. But if, in fact, Cowell WAS the author, I'd have to say she is in the league of Lemony Snicket.
Hilarious.
5 Stars

Sunday, November 27, 2011

IMM (11/27)


In My Mailbox is brought to you by the wonderful Story Siren!

This week I received for review/library/publishers/birthday presents:
Crossed (Matched, #2)Arcadia

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details


What are you reading?








Saturday, November 26, 2011

QUEEN OF AMERICA By Luis Alberto Urrea GIVEAWAY

Did I tell you it was my birthday? It was. Since nobody sent me all kinds of gifts and sang me songs or baked a cake, I thought I'd lay a guilt trip on you all and provide a giveaway for YOU instead.

Aren't I just the nicest thing?

QUEEN OF AMERICA By Luis Alberto Urrea GIVEAWAY

After the bloody Tomochic rebellion, Teresita Urrea, beloved healer and "Saint of Cabora," flees with her father to Arizona. But their plans are derailed when she once again is claimed as the spiritual leader of the Mexican Revolution. Besieged by pilgrims and pursued by assassins, Teresita embarks on a journey through turn-of-the-century industrial America-New York, San Francisco, St. Louis. She meets immigrants and tycoons, European royalty and Cuban poets, all waking to the new American century. And as she decides what her own role in this modern future will be, she must ask herself: can a saint fall in love?

At turns heartbreaking, uplifting, and riotously funny, QUEEN OF AMERICA reconfirms Luis Alberto Urrea's status as a writer of the first rank.






Lucky you. I have 3 copies available. Fill out the form below.


Remembering You by Tricia Goyer

Remembering YouRemembering You by Tricia Goyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ava's life is falling apart. Her career is crumbling, her engagement broken with no contact with the former groom when her mother breaks her leg and can't accompany her aged grandfather to a WWII reunion in Austria. Her grandfather was part of the company that opened the gates to the concentration camp of Mauthausen. Hesitant at first, Ava pitches an idea to her boss and turns it into a segment on the morning show. It might revive her career. On top of that, just as Ava is leaving to her grandfather's house, Jay, her former fiance sends a cryptic text.

Ava and Grandpa Jack meet up with the veterans in Paris where they quickly discover their tour guide is hospitalized. They are on their own. Grandpa Jack is anxious to reach Belgium and Grand Paul, Jack's best friend who shares secrets with him, is anxious for some closure. Some of that closure is that his own grandson, Dennis, still carries a flame for Ava, after 15 years.

The strongest point about the book was the subject matter. World War II was an ugly war. Not that any war is pretty but it was still fought mostly on the ground and the infantry suffered huge loses. The Battle of the Bulge was long and cold. War also puts soldiers in difficult situations that strain their ethical and moral compasses. There are ghosts hiding in Grandpa Jack's closet and he may need to face them. He did things he still regrets. Only Grand Paul knows what those are.

The weakest point of the book was the romance and progression of relationships. With much, MUCH tension, the reader is reminded over and over again that Ava and Dennis ended their summer romance at the age of 18 due to Ava saying stupid things and a big fight. Dennis is moody and unpredictable. Ava and her grandfather seem to be strained because of words they exchanged some time ago. It seems that the arguments of both of these conflicts take forever to be revealed and then they are anti-climactic. The story seemed like a weak filler for the real story which was the experiences these men survived then carried with them for most of their lifetime. At the end of the book, the author provides background information of how she came up with the story which was completely fascinating. I would have been happy just with that.

*This book was provided by author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

THE BEST OF ME is the heart-rending story of two small-town former high school sweethearts from opposite sides of the tracks. Now middle-aged, they've taken wildly divergent paths, but neither has lived the life they imagined . . . and neither can forget the passionate first love that forever altered their world. When they are both called back to their hometown for the funeral of the mentor who once gave them shelter, they will be forced to confront the choices each has made, and ask whether love can truly rewrite the past.
The Best of MeThe Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I generally steer clear of Nicholas Sparks books. I don't want to read the sad story of someone dying tragically from terminal cancer or the contrived drama. There's enough drama in life already. No, I didn't see or read "The Last Song" but that may have had more to do with the starring actress. So I was hesitant to read this book and I was pleasantly surprised and delighted. I think I missed the subtle wisdom Nicholas Sparks infuses in his books.

What this book offers is articulation of the middle age mind returning to "what if..." If you've never wondered how your life would be if you'd taken a different path, you've not hit middle age yet. He deconstructs the romanticism of first love without destroying it. He also reframes family relationships then subtly uses symbolism to describe the difficult process of accepting reality and describing two broken people. The Stingray represents Dawson, at least in my mind. My favorite quote from the book, I believe comes from Amanda's mother who says, "The grass isn't greener on the other side, it's greener because you water it."

Sparks also provides a glimpse into different coping mechanisms dealing with tragedy. All of the characters experience profound loss in their lives. There is blaming, finger pointing, and pointed accusations but ultimately, those who flourish are the ones that accept the reality and continue to live.

It's a quiet story except for the extreme violence Dawson's kin engage in. Dawson is from the other side of the tracks but doesn't fit in with his criminal family. The attention grabber is that Dawson claims he has been having hallucinations. An apparition of the same man continues to show himself at key moments in Dawson's life that ultimately save it. Dawson doesn't know what to make of it and the paranormal flavor was interesting and mysterious, although not central to the story throughout. It is a key part of the conclusion, however.

Overall, I really loved the wisdom Sparks uses in understanding and articulating the adult developmental stages of middle-age through his characters.




Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Heroine's Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore

The Heroine's Bookshelf
Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder
Erin Blakemore
An exploration of classic heroines and their equally admirable authors, The Heroine's Bookshelf shows today's women how to tap into their inner strengths and live life with intelligence and grace.
Jo March, Scarlett O'Hara, Scout Finch—the literary canon is brimming with intelligent, feisty, never-say-die heroines and celebrated female authors. Like today's women, they placed a premium on personality, spirituality, career, sisterhood, and family. When they were up against the wall, authors like Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott fought back—sometimes with words, sometimes with gritty actions. In this witty, informative, and inspiring read, their stories offer much-needed literary intervention to modern women.
Full of beloved heroines and the remarkable writers who created them,The Heroine's Bookshelf explores how the pluck and dignity of literary characters such as Jane Eyre and Lizzy Bennet can encourage women today.
Each legendary character is paired with her central quality—Anne Shirley is associated with irrepressible "Happiness," while Scarlett O'Hara personifies "Fight"—along with insights into her author's extraordinary life. From Zora Neale Hurston to Colette, Laura Ingalls Wilder to Charlotte BrontĂ‹, Harper Lee to Alice Walker, here are authors and characters whose spirited stories are more inspiring today than ever.
My take: The author has compiled essays she has written about female protagonists in literature. Combined with the personal lives of the authors, themselves, the result is often dissonant as the authors rewrite their own stories or mirror their own experiences. Blakemore then pulls from both women; author and fictitious protagonist, life lessons to be emulated. She then ends each chapter with a summary of the lesson, circumstances to read this work, and other books with similar message. 


I enjoyed learning more background about the authors and their personal lives and struggles. I found this portion endearing and made the authors more personal to me.  On the other hand, I found the writing style stilted at times and the author included books I haven't read. This is a reflection on me, however, not the author. Still, since I hadn't read the book, I missed the irony and morals of the stories. 


It's more of a personal journey for the author although she leaves much of herself out of it. She carefully describes what can be learned without giving away the ending of the story but that strategy also left me confused. There is much to be gained from reading the book. The author includes many classics and good research. I found good information but I lost interest before the end of each chapter.





About Erin Blakemore

Erin M. Blakemore learned to drool over Darcy and cry overLittle Women in suburban San Diego, California. These days, her inner heroine loves roller derby, running her own business, and hiking in her adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado. She is the author of The Heroine’s Bookshelf:
Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Read Erin’s blog at theheroinesbookshelf.com. You can also follow her on Twitter, @heroinebook, and connect with her on Facebook. Her website is erinblakemore.com.

Erin’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 15th: The Lost Entwife
Thursday, November 17th: Bookstack
Friday, November 18th: Books and Movies
Monday, November 21st: Books Like Breathing
Tuesday, November 22nd: The 3 R’s
Wednesday, November 23rd: Amusing Reviews
Tuesday, November 29th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Wednesday, November 30th: Book Addiction
Thursday, December 1st: Reviews from the Heart
Monday, December 5th: Book Drunkard
Tuesday, December 6th: Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, December 8th: Melody & Words




A copy of this book was provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

SPONTANEOUS HAPPINESS By Andrew Weil, M.D. GIVEAWAY!

Spontaneous HappinessTitle: Spontaneous Happiness
Author: Andrew Weil, M.D.
Publish Date: 11/8/2011
Pages: 288

Everyone wants to be happy. But what does that really mean? Increasingly, scientific evidence shows us that true satisfaction and well-being come only from within.

Dr. Andrew Weil has proven that the best way to maintain optimum physical health is to draw on both conventional and alternative medicine. Now, in Spontaneous Happiness, he gives us the foundation for attaining and sustaining optimum emotional health. Rooted in Dr. Weil's pioneering work in integrative medicine, the book suggests a reinterpretation of the notion of happiness, discusses the limitations of the biomedical model in treating depression, and elaborates on the inseparability of body and mind. 

Dr. Weil offers an array of scientifically proven strategies from Eastern and Western psychology to counteract low mood and enhance contentment, comfort, resilience, serenity, and emotional balance. Drawn from psychotherapy, mindfulness training, Buddhist psychology, nutritional science, and more, these strategies include body-oriented therapies to support emotional wellness, techniques for managing stress and anxiety and changing mental habits that keep us stuck in negative patterns, and advice on developing a spiritual dimension in our lives. Lastly, Dr. Weil presents an eight-week program that can be customized according to specific needs, with short- and long-term advice on nutrition, exercise, supplements, environment, lifestyle, and much more. 

Whether you are struggling with depression or simply want to feel happier, Dr. Weil's revolutionary approach will shift the paradigm of emotional health and help you achieve greater contentment in your life.



Read the first chapter or so here:


Look interesting? Do you want your own copy?
I have 3 copies to make you spontaneously happy!
Fill out the form below.
Extra entry for commenting what you are thankful for.


Monday, November 21, 2011

One Hundred and One Nights: A Novel by Benjamin Buchholz GIVEAWAY!

One Hundred and One Nights: A Novel
Title: One Hundred and One Nights
Author: Benjamin Buchholtz
Publisher: Back Bay Books (Hatchette)
Release Date: December 1, 2011
No. Pages: 320
Alone in a new city, former Iraqi expatriate Abu Saheeh has exactly what he wants: freedom from his past. But then he meets Layla, a whimsical fourteen year-old girl who enchants him with her love of American pop culture. Distracted by her stories, Abu Saheeh settles into the town's rhythm and begins rebuilding his life. But two sudden developments--his alliance with a powerful merchant and his employment of a hot-headed young assistant--reawaken his painful memories, and not even Layla may be able to save him from careening out of control and endangering all their lives. A breathtaking story of family, friendship, love, betrayal, and sacrifice, ONE HUNDRED AND ONE NIGHTS is an unforgettable novel about the struggle for salvation and the power of family
I just started reading this book so all I have is the first 10 pages to go on but so far, it is beautifully articulated. I am excited to read the rest. Review coming! Until then, the amazing people at Little, Brown and Company have offered to sponsor a giveaway for THREE copies! Fill out the form below. For extra entries, tweet, make comment or just be excited and let me know!



The Future of Us by Jay Asher

The Future of UsThe Future of Us by Jay Asher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a tried and true theme - boy and girl grew up best friends, grew apart, date someone else, then someone else but secretly pining for one another but don't know it, yet. It's an old recipe but a new approach. It's 1996, fifteen years ago and Emma and Josh stumble onto a website called "Facebook." There are pictures and information of people they know now but in 15 years. Not only can they see the future but they can act upon the future by making choices today and watch their future change with a simple "Refresh" button.

I couldn't help but imagine my high school self looking at my grown-up self and wondering what I might think of my facebook page. I came up with, "Wow. I'm really boring in the future" and "Holy crap! My husband is hot!" and "I'm really boring" again. I'm certain I would stare at those four new faces that haven't been born and wonder what kind of people they will be. Then I'll critique my aging self. But that's more than 15 years.

15 years ago seems like a short amount of time and that nothing has really changed. We've all adapted to the technology (or you wouldn't be reading this review on the Information Superhighway). But in reality, the changes in technology are astounding.

  • Our household had a cell phone but it was the size of a brick. I could not have predicted the number of cell phones in our household now or the size of each of them.
  • We did not have internet access at home except by installing a CD-ROM of AOL of Earth something. It was dial-up and the pages took for.Ev.Er. To. Load.
  • Screen savers of bricks. Need I say more.
  • Graduation from Walkman to Discman. No MP3 players. This aspect was improperly presented in the book. I want to ask the author if he ever tried running with a Discman. The jostling always made it skip even if it was the kind that wasn't supposed to skip.
  • VHS was starting to change over to DVD. VHS was prominent. There was no DVR. People scheduled their VHS recorders to record their favorite shows. Don't mess with it.
  • Back to dial-up, few people had two phone lines. If you were online, no one called in or out.
  • Caller ID hadn't caught on, although it was available in some parts of the country.
  • Telephones were cordless monsters or were attached to the wall.
  • Pay phones were available.
  • People went to the library.
  • And copied on the coin operated copy machine.
  • People still called each other. Texts were not in existence.
  • Email was not the preferred method of communicating.
  • Nobody had a blog.
  • I kept my musings to myself.
Asher writes with humor and realism as Emma and Josh read postings on FB. They discuss how weird it is that people are writing such personal tidbits on a public forum and question why. I ask that one myself. On top of that, they muse about the mundane tasks people post. It made me laugh. What would the 17 year old me think if I read the posting by myself a few weeks ago as I lamented the uselessness of my "bra"cket for holding my cell phone.

I would have been mortified.

Written in alternating voice, Emma and Josh journey down the road of knowing the future, changing the future, and wondering if knowing and changing the future is advisable. I loved Emma's last post on FB. I loved the way Asher pulled the story all together and made it into a meaningful read.

I would rate it PG.
Violence - none
Swearing - name call swearing
Language - minimal to moderate.
Sex - discussed in abstract although language is present.

I won't hide it from my teenagers. I will recommend it to my students.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Forever Faithful: The Complete Trilogy by Karen Kingsbury

Forever Faithful: The Complete Trilogy

Waiting for Morning   A drunk driver...a deadly accident...a dread destroyed.  When Hannah Ryan loses her husband and oldest daughter to a drunk driver, she is consumed with hate and revenge.  Ultimately, it is a kind prosecutor, a wise widow, and her husband's dying words that bring her the peace that will set her free and let her live again.

A Moment of Weakness
   When childhood friends Jade and Tanner reunite as adults, they share their hearts, souls, and dreams of forever--until a fateful decision tears them apart.  Now, nearly a decade later, Jade's unfaithful husband wants to destroy her in a custody battle that is about to send shock waves across the United States.  Only one man can help Jade in her darkest hour.  And only one old woman knows the truth that can set them all free.

Halfway to Forever
   Matt and Hannah...Jade and Tanner--after already surviving much, these couples must now face the greatest struggles of their lives: parental losses and life-threatening illness threaten to derail their faith and sideline their futures.  Can Hannah survive the loss of an adopted daughter?  Will Tanner come through decades of lonliness only to face losing Jade one final time?
Forever Faithful: The Complete TrilogyForever Faithful: The Complete Trilogy by Karen Kingsbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The best part of this book is that it contains the entire trilogy. It's a huge book but complete which addresses my current reading irritation of trilogies. Thank you for that!

Kingsbury sticks with what she does best which is addressing difficult subjects and life circumstances and frames them within a Christian perspective. All three books deal with painful yet realistic challenges that the protagonists then choose their attitudes and where they will place their trust. Book 1 deals with Hannah and the circumstances out of her control that cost her the life of her husband and daughter. The lessons can be applied to anybody impacted by the choices of others - do we choose bitterness or forgiveness? Neither are easy paths although ultimately one will be more rewarding.

Book 2 is on a similar vein in that choices made by ourselves or another will impact our lives. It is about sin and forgiveness along with choice and accountability. It is about trusting the Lord and following His will even when we don't know the path. Wherever He leads us, He will be there. He has promised He will not leave us comfortless. He will come to us.

Book 3 is a revisitation of the previous characters. Because life continues on and they struggle with circumstances out of their control. It is again a message of love and trusting in the Lord. There are no quick fixes and everything is a process.

Kingsbury is a gifted writer and I respect her style and willingness to take on difficult subjects. Occasionally I found the story getting a little cheesy but overall the books are well written, target her audience, and send a positive message.

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

IMM 911/19/11)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme from Kristy at The Story Siren and include the following:


Balthazar
by 


Partials
by 

Dark Heart Rising
by 
Dark Heart Forever (Dark Heart...
by 
What's in your mailbox this week?




Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA by Adrienne McDonnell GIVEAWAY

This blog hop is hosted by Kathy at I am a reader not a writer.

Title: The Doctor and the Diva
Author: Adrienne McDonnell
Publisher: Pamela Doman Books (Penguin)
Pages: 432
A breathtaking novel of romantic obsession, longing and one woman's choice between motherhood and her operatic calling 


It is 1903. Dr. Ravell is a young Harvard-educated obstetrician with a growing reputation for helping couples conceive. He has treated women from all walks of Boston society, but when Ravell meets Erika-an opera singer whose beauty is surpassed only by her spellbinding voice-he knows their doctor-patient relationship will be like none he has ever had. 


After struggling for years to become pregnant, Erika believes there is no hope. Her mind is made up: she will leave her prominent Bostonian husband to pursue her career in Italy, a plan both unconventional and risky. But becoming Ravell's patient will change her life in ways she never could have imagined. 


Lush and stunningly realized, The Doctor and the Diva moves from snowy Boston to the jungles of Trinidad to the gilded balconies of Florence. This magnificent debut is a tale of passionate love affairs, dangerous decisions, and a woman's irreconcilable desires as she is forced to choose between the child she has always longed for and the opera career she cannot live without. Inspired by the author's family history, the novel is sensual, sexy, and heart- stopping in its bittersweet beauty.

What is THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA about?

The story begins in 1903, in Boston.  A young, Harvard-educated obstetrician who is a rising star in his profession becomes dangerously attracted to a patient—a lovely opera singer.  She turns to the doctor for help in conceiving a child.  The doctor becomes so drawn to her that he takes a great moral risk—a secret he can share with no one.

The novel is based on ancestors, and hundreds of pages of family letters.  Who were those ancestors?

The married couple in the novel, Erika von Kessler and her husband Peter, were inspired by my son’s paternal ancestors—his great-great grandparents.  They lived in Boston at the beginning of the twentieth century, and they were an extraordinary pair.  Even by modern standards, they dared to live in bold, highly adventurous ways. 

What moved you to write about them?

I can remember the moment I first heard about the great-great grandmother, the woman whom I call “Erika” in the novel.  I was nineteen years old, living in Santa Barbara.  A friend had gone away for the weekend, and she’d loaned me her beachfront apartment.  It was around midnight, and I was lying there in the arms of a young man I barely knew.  He later became my husband, but at that moment we were just beginning to know one another.  He talked about his grandfather, who had recently died.  Suddenly he said, “When my grandfather was a little boy, his mother deserted him and her husband and moved to Italy to develop her career as an opera singer.
           
The idea of a privileged woman in early twentieth century Boston who abandoned her husband and small child for the sake of her art … the thought of it amazed me.  Then I couldn’t decide: did I admire her and want to applaud her courage?  Or was it heartbreaking that she’d deserted her little boy?  The tension of all those conflicting feelings drew my imagination to her. 

How did you manage to learn more about her life? 

Early in our marriage, my husband and I moved to Boston.  Every day on my way to work, I walked through the Back Bay neighborhood where these ancestors had once lived.  Erika’s childhood home stood on Commonwealth Avenue.   Her father was a famous physician, and they lived in a rather grand house with two archways. 
           
When I went up to the front entrance and cupped my hands against the glass pane to peer inside, I saw that much remained the same as it had been in the late nineteenth century.  The wide staircase was still paneled in black walnut, and I imagined her fiancĂ© Peter mounting the steps, and her voice echoing down to him while she sang from the parlor upstairs.

Why did their story seem so haunting to you?

When I stood across the street from “Erika’s” house, I could almost see a young girl’s face—her face—staring back at me from an oval window on the third story.  I had a strange sense of god-like omniscience, because I knew things about her life that she couldn’t foresee—how her husband would one day be forced to divorce her and take custody of their small son; how she would sing in I Puritani from Montepulciano, Italy; how her little boy would write her letters that were never delivered to her. 

What about her husband?  How was he unusual?

Her husband was a fascinating person as well.  He was British, a highly successful international businessman – an importer of Egyptian cotton, among other things.  “Peter” was a man of voracious curiosity, a naturalist, a lover of flora and fauna.  He imported the first chimpanzees to the London Zoo, where he later became a Director.  He traveled across four continents, and ventured into remote places, keen on seeing and experiencing everything.  And he wrote prolific, richly detailed letters.  

He was the sort of man who’d ride a camel through the Egyptian desert to visit a tribe of Bishareen nomads, where he’d move from tent to tent, tasting their dried bread and goat’s milk.

Or he’d head to a friend’s lush Caribbean coconut plantation, where they’d ride at midnight in a buggy along a beach, with vampire bats flying overhead….  He’d slash a path through a rainforest with his machete, or he’d travel upriver in South America toward a waterfall that few Europeans had ever seen.

A third character in the novelthe fertility doctor Erika and Peter consultbecomes a crucial figure in their lives.  Many readers may be surprised to learn that fertility specialists existed in 1903.  Were their treatments effective?

Certain procedures that many people might regard as “modern”—such as artificial insemination—were actually being practiced more than a century ago, but doctors had to conduct such work surreptitiously.  They risked grave moral condemnation.

THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA takes place at a real turning point in medical history.  Prior to that era, if a couple were unable to have children, the fault was always placed on the woman.  The problem was always thought to be due to a “barren” wife.  In the latter half of the 19th century, physicians began to discover a startling truth: a man could be virilehe could be sexually potentand yet he might also be infertile.

What led to that discovery? 

As far back as 1677, a man in Holland named Leeuwenhoek looked through a microscope and saw sperm.  By the mid-nineteenth century, physicians had begun to study human sperm with real scientific scrutiny.  An American physician named Dr. Sims became known as “the father of modern gynecology.”  Dr. Sims would follow married couples into their homes.  He’d wait behind a bedroom wall while a couple had intercourse, and then he’d rush in and probe and take measure of things under the microscope.  He invented an instrument known as the “impregnating syringe.” 

During the Victorian era, how was he allowed to do that kind of research? 

Dr. Sims shocked and appalled many people. But the majority of patients who filled gynecologists’ consulting rooms during the nineteenth century came there because of infertility.  Some were so desperate to conceive a child that they were motivated and willing to cooperate.

There’s some statistical evidence that infertility was more prevalent during the nineteenth century than it is today.  One cause was gonorrhea, which was epidemic and incurable then.  During the 1870s, there was one rather sad and touching case that convinced a professor of obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania that husbands—as well as wives—were part of the equation.  A female patient came to him, begging for an operation to help her conceive.  While the doctor was trying to decide if he ought to perform the procedure, the woman’s husband presented himself, feeling very guilty about all his wife’s anguish and distress.  He told the doctor that he believed his gonorrhea—from which he’d been suffering for many years—must be the root cause.  So, after an examination of the husband’s semen under the microscope, it became evident that the man was sterile.  This proved a revelation for the professor of obstetrics.  Afterward, he told his colleagues: I beg of you, be sure to examine the husband, as well as the wife.

A century ago when doctors performed artificial insemination, did they use a husband’s sperm, or a donor’s?

At first, during the mid-nineteenth century, they relied on the husband’s sperm.  But by the 1880s and 1890s, certain gynecologists did begin to use donor sperm—although they rarely revealed what they’d done until decades later.

Older women in the family shared their memories with you, and rumors they’d overheard.  What else did they say about the real Erika?

One elderly cousin, born in England in 1898, came to visit the U.S.  As a child, she’d heard a lot of whispering about her American aunt.  She’d heard that “Erika” had a baby daughter fathered by a man who was not her husband….  She’d heard that long after Erika had deserted her son, she’d appeared one day, unannounced, at her son’s boarding school.          

The novel draws upon hundreds of pages of family letters.  Where did you find those letters?

After my husband and I had lived in Boston for nine years, we decided to move back to the West Coast.  We drove cross-country and stopped at his aunt’s ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills.  Like me, she had a passion for genealogy.  From the moment you stepped into her house, you felt the presence of the ancestors….  Huge family portraits stared down at you from her living room walls.  She had a little gallery of framed butterflies -- a dozen exquisite butterflies that her grandfather “Peter” had meticulously painted with hair-thin brushes. 

“Where are the letters I’ve heard so much about?”  I asked her.  The aunt brought out hundreds of pages of correspondence.  Reading them just amazed me.  I realized that these ancestors had led far bigger lives than I’d imagined.  Their voices could be heard in those pages.  There was so much detail and adventure—nights spent exploring winding streets in Tangier, or visits to a coconut plantation in the Caribbean where the guests told ghost stories after dinner…. 

If Erika were alive today, do you think her career vs. motherhood conflicts would be any different?

Her guilt and anguish would probably be very similar to that described in the novel.  But I think that today, the courts and society would have allowed her more flexibility with respect to staying in contact with her child.  In those times, transatlantic airplane travel wasn’t an option.  She couldn’t fly back and forth to visit her son for a few days.  In that era, if a mother moved across an ocean and settled in another country, that was it —she was gone.  And from a legal standpoint, she surrendered her rights to custody.

It’s interesting to think about her husband “Peter” and his mode of parenting.  In real life, “Peter” was often an ocean and a continent away from his young son, and he did a lot of his parenting by letter.  At the age of seven, the boy was placed in boarding school, and during vacations, his father arranged for him to live with a family like the “Talcotts” (as described in the novel).  The boy was basically “mothered” by a colleague’s wife. But despite his father’s long absences, the real-life Quentin always regarded his father as a towering, loving figure—and as an extraordinary man.

And long after Erika’s death in 1918, her son remembered his mother with a certain pride and respect.  His daughters told me that as they were growing up, “Quentin” always kept a framed photograph of his mother on top the Steinway pianoa picture of Erika dressed in her operatic regalia. 

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