Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker

Summary ~ Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough: Joanie’s ex-husband is having a baby with his new girlfriend. Joanie won’t be having more babies, since she’s decided never to have sex again.

But she still has her teenaged daughter Caroline to care for. And thanks to the recession, her elderly mother Ivy as well. Her daughter can’t seem to exist without texting, and her mother brags about “goggling,”-while Joanie, back in the workforce, is still trying to figure out her office computer. And how to fend off the advances of her coworker Bruce.

Joanie, Caroline, and Ivy are stuck under the same roof, and it isn’t easy. But sometimes they surprise each other-and themselves. And through their differences they learn that it is possible to undo the mistakes of the past.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker is a novel that is relevant in ways to the world we are living in today.  There are three generations of women living under one roof.  Daughter, Mother/Daughter, Grandmother/Mother.  That is not always a good combination and in this book that proves true.  Ivy, the grandmother, looses half her and her deceased husband’s savings in the market crash of ’08 and finds herself in a situation she never dreamed of.  Having to move in with her forty-nine year old daughter Joanie and her fifteen year old granddaughter Caroline.  Ivy is a challenging new roommate for both of them and eventually is diagnosed with depression.  Joanie is trying to make ends meet as she takes a job that she ends up resenting and tries to mother a bratty, disrespectful teenager and take care of her aging mother.  The book is laden with dark clouds of emotion, anger, disrespect and all-together unlikable characters in my opinion.  I prefer a book to entertain me and/or provide something new to learn about.  This did neither for me.  The character development was good enough but the story lines and how these characters conducted themselves with each other did not make for a worthwhile read in my opinion. 

Maybe I would have enjoyed this book at another point in my life but right now it just wasn’t for me.  I would like to thank Tolly & Penguin Books for inviting me to read and review Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough.  It never hurts to say yes!

{Rating 2 out of 5}

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Summary ~ Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: An awe-inspiring, often hilarious, and unerringly honest story of one mother’s exercise in extreme parenting, revealing the rewards-and the costs-of raising her children the Chinese way.


After reading The Glass Castle for my book club’s March selection I felt the intense need to read a book from the opposite end of the parenting spectrum.  I found what I needed ten fold in Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  The following quote is what I wrote in my Goodreads.com status update about half way through the book. 

  “I’m liking this book so far. Some of it parallels my upbringing and makes me think that not all Western parents are as easy going as she thinks. At least mine weren’t when it came to some things. Piano lessons, practicing, voice lessons, grades and strict parenting were all a way of life in the Brandt house. Though we were “spoiled” on some levels rules were always enforced and fights ensued as in this book.”

For the most part I related to aspects of daughters Sophia and Lulu as well as Amy and her husband Jed.  Amy comes from Chinese immigrant parents (I do not) who raised their daughters with iron fists and did not give in to their Western surroundings and ideas.  Amy strived to do the same for her and Jed’s daughters but soon discovered that it wasn’t going to go as smoothly as things seemed to have gone for her parents.  (I have to say that I find it curious that a woman who aimed to be the quintessential “Tiger Mother” and raise her daughters in the “Chinese-way” married a white, Jewish American.  Just sayin’.)

I did not find myself gasping as I read about the rules, punishments and screaming Amy parented her daughters with.  This book came out in late January 2011 and I found it amusing that Amy Chua got so much negative press in the news for her book.  I was raised in a strict household and remember many times where I “hated” my parents because they prohibited me from doing what I wanted but in hindsight I was spoiled rotten and the things they did not allow me to do were in my best interest.  Due to my observations as a non-parent of parents I think that I probably had it better than those parents children because of the rules upheld in my home that I don’t see followed or even placed in theirs.  Now I’m sounding a bit like Amy.  Sorry.

I felt that the writing in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was good.  It wasn’t as narrative as The Glass Castle which read so smoothly and unbelievably that I felt I was reading fiction most of the time.  It was however very much a memoir and made me feel like I was watching home movies of this family.  The fighting described by Amy to get her youngest and most rebellious daughter to practice her violin were very uncomfortable to read yet brought me back to my youth as a piano student.  I took piano lessons for six years starting in first grade.  I had a natural ear when it came to singing and the piano and at age four I plucked out the tune of “Follow The Yellow Brick Road”.  As soon as I did my mom announced to my dad that she would be starting me in piano lessons in first grade.  I did well and progressed quickly but soon it wasn’t fun anymore.  I remember my mom yelling from the kitchen, “That’s not your lesson piece!  You have to practice your lessons before you can play for fun.”  She knew the difference in songs because she sat in the waiting room outside my classroom every week and listened to my teacher instruct me on the pieces I was working on at the time.  Mom even went so far as to turn off the grandfather clock in the living room where our piano was so I couldn’t tell who long I had been practicing.  I’m pretty sure I only had to practice for thirty minutes a night where Sophia and Lulu practiced three hours a day including weekends and even on vacation but to me those were a long and torturous thirty minutes as the years went on.  (Amy would call ahead to the hotels the family would be staying in around the world and request time with the hotel piano for Sophia and they would bring Lulu’s violin with them as carry-on baggage.)  Eventually I chose to quit piano in junior high and my parents let me.  My sister continued on with her lessons for a few more years and to this day play much better than I do.  We both have pianos in our homes now, which I admittedly don’t play much at all but I do turn on the auto-play and enjoy that.  It’s a digital upright piano that my parents bought for me.  I don’t know how often my sister plays hers but I do know that our parent’s piano continues to be played often by my dad.  He loves piano and has always strived to master specific pieces throughout his life.  When I was little he had a big black book of classical pieces and as he learned a piece and got fairly good at it he would check it off in the table of contents.  There were a lot of checks!

For the most part I didn’t have a problem with Amy’s parenting tactics because of the level of success she and the girls were trying to achieve in piano and violin.  I did wish for more peace and quiet for the family as the girls got older though.  Like I said, having a peep-hole view of their lives during tumultuous times was uncomfortable.  Amy’s writing drew me in and held my attention throughout though and that doesn’t always happen for me in non-fiction/memoirs.  I think that from a social study view this is a great book to read if you are a parent or a child of a parent.  I think that it will open up discussions in book clubs, on social networks and around the water cooler. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Below is a pic of my little sister, our Cocker Spaniel Maxwell and me.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Summary ~ Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

CRAZY!  This memoir is CRAZY!  Crazy bad but wicked good.  The Glass Castle is a memoir that reads like fiction because you keep saying to yourself this is too horrible to have really happened.  Well, Jeannette Walls and her three siblings, Lori, Brian and Maureen lived it and you can read all about it in Jeannette Walls’ disturbing memoir. 

What did they live through?  Their parents crazy antics, irresponsible parenting (really no parenting when it counted), gypsy lifestyle and hellish living conditions around the country.  My eyes hurt from rolling them in annoyance at Rose Mary & Rex Walls!  Continuing to have children but no sense of civilian responsibilities or even a desire for a “normal” life infuriated me.  Subjecting their children to a life of scattered “homes”, taking them in and out of schools and “skedaddling” from town to town in the middle of the night because of Rex’s conspiracy theories and not addressing sex abuse when their children were honestly reporting serious situations just made me more upset. 

It’s hard to really “review” The Glass Castle because it’s not a work of fiction but true accounts of a family’s life.  All I can say is The Glass Castle is worth the time it takes to read it (a fairly quick read really) and I promise you it will disturb you if you are a functioning citizen of American society and have any lick of common sense and ethic compass. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Stoner by John Williams

Summary ~ William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.

John Williams’s luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.

What a perfectly dreary day to finish a perfectly dreary book.  It had been a while since I read and loved Revolutionary Road and I was hoping to discover a book of similar depth and sadness that would also garner a satisfying read.  I found it in Stoner by John Williams.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story of William “Bill” Stoner though it wasn’t a happy one most of the time.  Born to Missouri farmers, Stoner discovers while attending college in Columbia, MO for agriculture that his love is literature and so his life takes a turn away from his humble upbringing and moves towards a life of teaching at the university he has grown to love and depend on.

Life is difficult for Stoner though he has chosen a path that he wants to follow.  He meets Edith, a prim and proper young woman visiting family in Columbia and feels sensations and feelings for her that he had never experienced before.  That is not always a good thing to start a marriage with and he soon learns that the woman he married is not a partner in anyway to him.  Edith was down right awful in my opinion and the misery she brought to Stoner’s simple life was challenging to read about at times because I just felt so sorry for him.  After a sudden desire to have a child brings the couple together physically in false passion for the only period their marriage ever knows, she suffers from immense postpartum depression and Stoner takes on the role of “care-giver” for their daughter Grace. 

Life moves on for Stoner though and his professional and paternal roles fulfill him for a while.  Soon though things start to falter.  Problems arise at the university in the form of a wild student who creates such chaos in Stoner’s life that his career never quite recovers.  Edith returns from her depression and turns her husband’s simple life upside down and emotionally separates Grace from him.  One of the few bright lights in Stoner’s life occurs during his middle age and takes the shape of a co-ed student.  They have a torrid love affair and Stoner finally learns about love and passion that is true and meaningful and not twisted in the least. 

John Williams’ writing is vivid and sets the perfect feel for the book.  Published in 1965 I found it interesting to read about an earlier time but told by an author at an earlier time still than the present day I live in.  There were a couple of slow points in the narrative but they moved along and the story came to life once again.  Overall, Stoner gave me just what I was looking for.  A story and character that took me into a familiar yet distant time in America and kept my attention from beginning to end and left me with a memory of emotions, events and ideas that will stay with me.  Reading Stoner was sad at times but isn’t that life?  A roller coaster of emotions, events and ideas that make us the interesting beings we are.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall by Frank Brady

Summary ~ Drawing from Fischer family archives, recently released FBI files, and Bobby’s own emails, Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall – from America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness is unique in that it limns Fischer’s entire life—an odyssey that took the Brooklyn-raised chess champion from an impoverished childhood to the covers of Time, Life and Newsweek to recognition as “the most famous man in the world” to notorious recluse.

 I grew up hearing the name Bobby Fischer.  At the age of four my father started to teach me the game of Chess.  At first I learned to play with just the pawn pieces.  Eventually I was taught how to use the other pieces; the king, queen, knights, bishops and rooks.  My father had been on the Chess team in high school and continued to play in college at M.I.T.  In high school he would challenge my boyfriends to a game of “Speed Chess” and kill ’em on the Chess board in just minutes.  My father would read articles about Fischer in the Washington Post and study the Chess games printed in the Style section of the Post too.  So when Julie @ Crown Publishing and Broadway Books reached out to me and my blog Planet Books with an invitation to read and review a new biography of the famous yet infamous Bobby Fischer and jumped on it.  It’s no wonder that this book continues to receive great reviews from the press and other readers like me. 

Covering Fischer’s life from childhood through the formative teen years where he proved to the world that he was a prodigy of the most respected and challenging game in history, Frank Brady recreated a wonderful, lonely and mostly misunderstood young Fischer for the reader to meet and get to know.  Fischer is not a likeable man for the most part in the pages of Endgame but I believe it to be very truthful of the real character who created controversy and mystery wherever he went.  The energy conveyed in the pages of Endgame focused on the tournament and world championships is high and exciting.  Brady continues to share with us Fischer’s more complicated adult years that took him all around the world and living in a way, on the edge of society until his death.

Reading Endgame was an educational and interesting ride through the ins and out of Bobby Fischer but it was also a great story of the drama that was International Chess in the Cold War and era.  Fischer’s choices, opinions and lifestyle were questionable mostly but the bottom like I felt was that his mother’s fear of the “obsession” that commended Bobby Fischer’s life from an early age took him to heights in our history that were amazing.

Though Fischer was not an all around good guy, his life reads like a Cold War thriller at times, the Chess board being the war field.  Bobby Fischer was an unlikely hero and villain in the international Chess world and he played an interesting role in U.S. and world history.  He was a bona-fide star to the general media for a time and was written about and interviewed by Sports Illustrated, Chess Life Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and The New York Times, just to name a few. 

Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s remarkable Rise and Fall by Frank Brady is a must read if you are a fan of Chess and ever followed the life of the Grand Master. 

{Rating ~ 4.5 out of 5}

Skipping A Beat by Sarah Pekkanen





Summary ~ What would you do if your husband suddenly wanted to rewrite the rules of your relationship?


Dear Sarah,

Brilliant!  Your new novel, Skipping A Beat, is BRILLIANT!  I loved it from beginning to end and not just because I know you and have always rooted for you.  Because your storytelling and writing has grown and your skill in weaving characters, plot(s), scene, and magically wonderful detail is incredible. 

I am sorry I was unable to come up to Maryland for your first book signing on release day last week but it didn’t stop me from downloading Skipping A Beat onto my Kindle that morning and diving in feet first.  Julia and Michael are wonderful characters with so many faults and great aspects to their make up.  The history you created for them as individuals and a couple made them so real!  You were clever but not corny and the images created by your words leapt off the page and into my mind’s eye effortlessly.  Isabelle, Julia’s best friend, was rich in detail as well and her story did not fall to the wayside when the drama between Michael and Julia began to build.  I love that!  Julia needed Isabelle as much as she needed Julia and the affection you created between the two women is a reflection of my best girlfriend relationships which added a believability to even the smallest gesture between the characters.

Of course I must mention  my pleasure in the fact that the book is mainly set in yours and my hometown area of DC/MD/VA.  I continue to enjoy reading books set in an area that I feel I know well and yet learn something new about it through the author’s eye.  Julia finds peace and escape in a place called Great Falls.  I did the same in my late teens and early twenties between classes and theatre rehearsals at Montgomery College.  I could picture the large rock that Julia’s friend Noah could be found sitting on while playing fetch with his best friend and canine companion Bear.  The city became a character in Skipping A Beat that added to the story beautifully. 

Sarah, I am so excited for you and the accolades you have already and will continue to receive!  You’re writing has flourished and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next year (not to rush things). 

Always a friend and fan,


{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}