“This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel


First off, please excuse this review that was written in a New York minute.  I’m off to This is how it always isParis tomorrow and swamped with things to do.  Okay, the message in the blurb was what attracted me to this novel.  The story was about a brave and loving family that usually was in a hectic state from the responsibilities of raising five sons.    Besides all the challenges that come with a large family, they were also struggling with the difficulties of bringing up a transgender child.  The parents immediately noticed that their youngest son was different.  He was sweeter, calmer and more sensitive than his older brothers ever were.  He didn’t like to wrestle with them or blow things up, he would rather spend his time in a Cinderella coloring book.   At the age of three, he started to ask his parents if he could wear a dress.  They didn’t see any red flags because they thought, Don’t most children of both sexes want to wear their mom’s heels sometime in their early childhood?  By the time he was five, they let him wear a dress at home but not to kindergarten, but it was so clear that this little boy did not want to be a boy.

My heart broke for this child when he asked his parents, if when he grew up, would he finally be a girl.  He was so miserable being a boy that both parents knew something needed to be done.  With the help of the school’s social worker, his parents let him wear a dress, hair barrettes and all sorts of “girly” accessories to school. This was too confusing to all at the school and the poor kid had to use the nurse’s bathroom.   The family decided to move from Wisconsin to Seattle, which is a more gay-friendly state. However, even in Seattle (where their little boy is now passing as a little girl) they still kept their secret, because they simply didn’t know how to explain the situation.   Nevertheless their unhappy five-year-old son starts school as a very happy little girl.

In the end-notes, we learn that the author has a transgender daughter, but she makes it clear that this is not her story.  She does a wonderful job of raising awareness on gender dysphoria.  But for me, the story read unrealistically.   All the complications that would arise in such a family were too easily solved.    All of her brothers were 100% supportive without any questions asked.    At the age of ten, this child was “outed.”  Of course the transgirl was devastated.  So the mother, who is a doctor, takes her youngest child to Thailand on an excursion to work at a clinic there.  Here the child is exposed to Buddah and discovers that Buddah could be a man or a woman.  In Thailand, she meets many people who are genderless.  The country is very accepting of all gender identities and she gets a big boost of encouragement and decides that it was time to go home and try school again.  This is wonderful for the character, but let’s be realistic.   Most moms wouldn’t be able to just pick up and go to a foreign country.  Plus, the ending was so tidy, it should have been wrapped up in a bow.  Back in the States, at her school (where now all know what is under her pants), she is completely accepted.  At her first dance, she is asked to dance by a boy she has a crush on.  It is doubtful to me that such acceptance would come so easily to children. How I wish this was true, and maybe one day soon, it will be.  But in the year of 2017 it was hard to buy.  I hope I’m wrong about this.

This was a sweet story about a loving and wonderful family who would move mountains if that was what it took to raise a happy child.  The story was more about how to be a loving parent to a transgender child, so I guess the book needed to be written.  But, I found that the tale often went flat.  (I actually started to skip the father’s fairytales created to help his daughter cope).  For me, I much preferred the novels “Trans-Sister Radio” by Chris Bohjalian and “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides that were also on the subject of being transgender.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read




“Small Mercies” by Eddie Joyce


small mercies

I appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed this novel, which is a portrait of a family,  a portrait of everyday life taking place in Staten Island, NY.  The story reminded me of my own roots, growing up in Queens, NY in the 1960s and 1970s.  Maybe a different place, but the same cultural mix, where Irish Americans and Italian Americans frequently marry and produce the most beautiful black haired blue eyed children.   The author, Eddie Joyce (who is from Staten Island), writes as if the actual island is one of the characters.  The Verrazano Bridge is a metaphor for the ethnic customs and class battles just as the Queensboro Bridge is for that NY borough.

In this story, an Irish girl from Brooklyn marries an Italian boy from Staten Island where they live and raise their family of three boys. The story revolves around the week leading before the birthday party of the couple’s seven-year-old grandson, the son of a firefighter, their youngest, who was a casualty of 9/11.  Each member of the family has a variety of knots they must untangle before they meet the boyfriend of the widow of the firefighter.   The young widow, who is very close to the family (of course, this is Staten Island), and has been a part of them since she was a teenager.  She too is dealing with the changes in her life.  And if one thing is clear, in this novel it is that the only constant in life is change.

The narration shifts each time a family member reminiscences about their own youth to the present day.  The oldest son is the only one who leaves the borough to become a successful lawyer and marry a WASP (a foreign religion to the family), but immediately before the birthday party, we learn that his professional and marital life is crumbling. The mother’s relationship with her eldest adult son is and always was strained. “He was fourteen or fifteen. Cock of the walk…. Already entitled, not in a rich-kid way but expectant…She wanted the little prick to taste some disappointment. Strange how you can hate your own kids at times.”  The middle son is an alcoholic, like his maternal grandfather and basically is the black sheep of the family who never recuperated from his brother’s death.  He was “a drunken ruined memorial to his dead brother.”  As a grown man he often slips into his parents’ home “drunk and melancholy, while they were sleeping, spreading one sadness over another.” His parents thought they had reached rock bottom when he was a young adult and was arrested.  They realized he would never sober up with the love of the right girl, because the right girl would never date this particular son.  And then real tragedy struck when death took their youngest son on 9/11.  The dead firefighter is very much alive in all their memories.  He was the sweet brother, everyone’s favorite.  His personality was “easy as a hammock…(in his room there is still an award reading) MOST IMPROVED PLAYER, FARRELL JUNIOR VARSITY 1990–91.”  For years his widow couldn’t bring herself to date because she thought, “He was the absolute best possible version of a man, the absolute best. To try to love some lesser version of him would be the greatest insult to his memory,” which is why it took her seven years to attempt to find love again.

While giving voice to six different family perspectives, the author uses flashbacks to develop well-drawn life histories.  I felt as if I was going through the family photo album, flipping pages from their youth to the present day. (And when looking at her teen sons in this imaginary album I always thought of the character “Vinnie Barbarino” played by an unknown John Travolta from the 1970’s TV show “Welcome Back, Kotter”).    Then I turn a page, and the present day grandmother of the seven-year-old grandson “takes a quick look in the mirror. Not for vanity, not anymore, but for its older sister: dignity.”  And her husband who is shocked to see his long-dead father’s Italian “right off the boat” face in the mirror looking back at him.  To bring his characters to life, the author focuses on family, community, marrying young, tradition, and participation in the NCAA basketball pool at the neighborhood watering hole with lots of booze all around.  I usually felt as if I was sitting there myself sharing a pint with a neighbor while making bets. The author takes the reader through four generations of an immigrant family.  My favorite author, Richard Russo, who also writes about blue-collar families, summed it up perfectly: “Eddie Joyce’s terrific first novel is so American that the story might as well have taken place at the base of the Statue of Liberty.”

However, nostalgia can be funny and play tricks with our memories.  I so liked reading about a time and place when there was no need to be politically correct about, well anything, but I guess I like to forget that back in my own youth some members of my Queens community were silently hurting because anything outside the norm was simply unimaginable.  In my real life, a boy in high school who is now a 60-year-old man just came out as gay.  He spent his whole life lying solely because he was a tough Queens kid and gay does not fit into that mold.  But in this book the reader does not need to think of such discrepancies, we only need to focus on this family’s strength and failures that are common to Staten Island (or any NYC neighborhood).  There is much-noted pain in this book about an ordinary family.  They weathered many storms, a husband made a wrong career move and someone else gets rich on his father’s butcher shop, a son cannot tame is addictions, a wife almost has an affair, a son dies and now another man will be raising his children.   But each chapter has a “small mercy.”   Joyce focuses in on how human we all are, and that sometimes a “small mercy” is just being able to enjoy a good veal parmesan sandwich.

(If you enjoyed this book try “The Clancys of Queens: A Memoir” by Tara Clancy).

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read

Blog Tour: Disenchanted by Heide Goody and Iain Grant 


Goodreads|Amazon US|Amazon UK
Release date: May 5, 2017

Publisher: Pigeon Park Press

Genre: Chick Lit


Ella Hannaford has a small business to run, an overworked father to look after and a future stepmother who wants a perfect wedding.

Can she avoid a girly night out with her clueless stepsister? Can she side-step lovesick suitors at every turn? Not if it’s up to that team of foul-mouthed dwarfs who want to forcibly drag her into her happily ever after.

Gingerbread cottages, dodgy European gangsters, gun-toting grannies, wisecracking wolves, stubborn fairy godmothers, ogres, beanstalks and flying carpets abound in a tale about what happens when you refuse to accept your Happy Ending.

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Disenchanted. I have a funny guest post to share with you today.

Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale…

View original post 1,513 more words

“Small Hours” by Jennifer Kitses

Genre:  General Fiction (Adult)                  

Pub Date:  13 Jun 2017

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing  

I chose to read and review this book since it is being pegged as the writing is in a Richard Russo and Tom Perrotta style.  I beg to differ.   These are two of my favorite authors and I just did not see it.  The only similarities I could find are that “Small Hours” written by Jenifer Kitses, evokes a sense of place, and money, or lack of it, in the blue collar world of upstate New York.  The protagonists are in their early forties with twin three-year-old daughters.  Like many city couples, they buy a home in the suburbs that they really cannot afford.  Unfortunately for them, they bought the house at the height of the market. When they realize that their new neighborhood has a seedy side, obviously little research went into the buying, it is now too late to sell for it would be at a loss. So the wife, who works from home, is surrounded by those she would rather not have to interact with, her own neighbors.

The story is told in a span of one day, hour by hour, minute by minute using a James Joyce Ulysses format.  If you think you ever had a bad 24 hours read this story and it will no longer seem so bad.  The narration alternates between the husband’s and the wife’s point of view.  Neither knows that the other is on the verge of getting fired.  They both have been severely distracted and not at their best work wise (actually anywise).  The tale almost reads like a suspense story with the tick, tick, ticking of how many more work related, phone calls, emails, and deadlines they are each avoiding.   Both are stalling with their answers to their perspective employers.  But, Kitses plays this sort of suspense hand one too many times for her readers.  Three-quarters through, I was hoping that the damn clock would just break already and get it over with.  Both are also hiding a secret from the other (besides their soon-to-be-unemployed status).   I think the author was going for more of a “Desperate Hours” theme rather than a “Small Hours” one, either way, she lost me.   Having a book’s plot take place in a 24-hour period is not unheard of there are quite a few out there.  The classic novel “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf is one of them.  Or a more contemporary example is Everything Happens Today” by Jesse Browner, these were thought provoking novels with fascinating characters.  I am afraid that Kitses’s perpetually frenzied married couple simply were not.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read


“Isadora” by Amelia Gray

Pub. Date:  May 23, 2017

Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and GirouxIsadora

In this unusual historical fiction, we meet Isadora Duncan (1878-1927).  She was a controversial and successful American dancer who performed throughout Europe.  Breaking with conventional ballet, she spearheaded a cutting-edge technique that accentuated a natural and free-flowing style over traditional inflexible ballet. Today she is known as the “Mother of Modern Dance.”   The author, Amelia Gray, lets us know that in both Duncan’s professional and private lives, she disregarded convention.   Her children were born out of wedlock by different men.  On stage, she was barefoot wearing scarves inspired by Greek imagery that peeked at her breasts, which sometimes resulted in banned performances.  She was the epitome of a bohemian.  (Think of the artists Frida Kahlo).   I was hoping Gray would focus her novel on the notorious dancer who lived and loved without boundaries.  However, Gray did not.  The novel only concentrates on the aftermath of her children’s death.  In 1913 Paris, her children and their Nanny drowned when their runaway car went into the Seine.

When I began this book I wasn’t aware that the author’s formatting was different than any other historical fiction that I have read.  Each chapter starts off with a concise heading that clarifies what we are about to read. Then after the heading, each chapter reads like a disturbing stream of consciousness narration.  I confess I was often confused.  Gray’s writing made me feel as if I were having a particularly intense bad dream.   And I believe that was her goal.  I have never read Gray’s short story, “Museum of the Weird” but I have the feeling that “weird” may be her style.   Yet for myself, while reading “Isadora,” I often I felt as though I was perusing a poem that I couldn’t quite grasp.  It left me feeling disappointed because the words sounded splendid, possibly brilliant, although I just didn’t get most of it.  (Because of this, I now intend to watch the film “The Loves of Isadora” with Vanessa Redgrave playing Isadora).  However,  Gray did a great job in helping me understand that Duncan grieved as she lived, full of melodrama and spinning out of control (like the car that took her children’s lives), bordering on the edge of insanity.  I will not tell you what she did with her children’s ashes.

In this story, there were narrators other than the protagonist.  There were also observers written in the third person.  (I think Junot Díaz is the master of this kind of hybrid style of writing).  You will need to be on your toes to follow the quick changes.  Still, Gray does manage to pull it off.  One voice was her sister Elizabeth who had a leg limp not allowing her to dance.   Instead, she ran the dancing schools her sister founded.  Elizabeth was totally reliant on Isadora and loathed her for that reality.  She appeared to be the level-headed sister until you catch on that her supposedly great loves were merely her friends, and the romances were actually all in her imagination.  We also get a good glimpse on Duncan’s grief-induced turmoil in her letters to the father of one of her children.   In these letters, Isadora’s sentences fringe on insanity.  Paris Singer, the heir to the Singer sewing machine empire, was the father of her other child.   Duncan was living with him at the time of the car accident.  To hear it from Singer, he was the brains and she was the temperamental artist.  Duncan would have disagreed, but it may have been true as he was influential in her many triumphs.   These different viewpoints enhance the story of a dazzling self-destructive dancer who found fame on the brink of World War I.  Shades of the coming war were only hinted at in this tale.  The focus was all on Duncan’s anguish.  Personally, I would have enjoyed reading about the historical moments that took place during her lifetime.  As I mentioned, I honestly only comprehended sections of the book due to the dysphoria-like writing style, which I always have trouble understanding.    But if you enjoy that genre, and you can handle absurdism in a historical fiction then this book is for you.


What to Do with Goodreads

Kristen Twardowski

New-York-City-Library-Hotel-booksGoodreads is the largest book review website on the internet. As of April 2017, it had 55 million members who wrote 50 million reviews and added 1.5 billion books. According to Quantcast, a website ranking and data collection site, around 400,000 unique visitors access the Goodreads each day from all around the world. Those numbers are all very impressive, but they don’t solve my problem.

I don’t have the slightest idea what to do with Goodreads.

I have a Goodreads page, but I haven’t done much with the rest of the site. There are great forums, lists of fabulous books on every subject imaginable, quotes from novels, ways to win books, and places to ask authors questions. But there are so many ways to interact with the Goodreads community that I don’t know where to start. I’ll admit that I usually don’t even look at a book’s Goodread’s rating before…

View original post 70 more words