Review: Megan’s Way, by Melissa Foster

Megan's Way by Melissa Foster

Megan’s Way
Melissa Foster

Description (from

What would you give up for the people you love?

When Megan Taylor, a single mother and artist, receives the shocking news that her cancer has returned, she’ll be faced with the most difficult decision she’s ever had to make. She’ll endure an emotional journey, questioning her own moral and ethical values, and the decisions she’d made long ago. The love she has for her daughter, Olivia, and her closest friends, will be stretched and frayed.

Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Olivia’s world is falling apart right before her eyes, and there’s nothing she can do about it. She finds herself acting in ways she cannot even begin to understand. When her internal struggles turn to dangerous behavior, her life will hang in the balance.

Megan’s closest friends are caught in a tangled web of deceit. Each must figure out how, and if, they can expose their secrets, or forever be haunted by their pasts.

I was introduced to Megan’s Way when it was included in a daily mailing of free kindle books. Some of those free offerings are fabulous, some not so much, but this one is definitely in the first category. It’s warm, human, and really well constructed. The characters sing. Their environments feel three-dimensional. Had I actually paid full price for this, I would be equally happy with the purchase.

At the heart of this book is a mother-daughter relationship, between the title character Megan and her teenaged daughter Olivia that hits all the right notes to feel real, even though a sense of magical realism is overlaid upon the entire story. This woman and this girl are completely believable – Megan, the free-spirited artist who embodies the concept of “spiritual, but not particularly religious” and Olivia, the girl who hasn’t quite come out of her shell, and who is as much a friend as she is a daughter to Megan. Their relationship reminded me very much of my own relationship with MY mother, who remains my closest confidante even now.

But vignettes of mother-daughter moments do not a novel make. Foster has crafted a lovely story of friendship, intrigue, love, and truth in Megan’s Way. Megan’s best friend Holly, who gave birth to a baby we’re told didn’t make it, at the same time that Olivia was being born, finds herself unable to have children at the same time that Megan’s cancer returns, and it is their intertwining stories that balance the sweetness of the mother-daughter scenes.

The men in this novel aren’t given as much page-time, but their presence is felt, even so. This book won an award for being a beach book, and I can’t help but notice that Holly’s husband Jack (a long-time friend of both women) and their other friend Peter both live on the page in ways that the men in Elin Hilderbrand’s (probably the queen of beach reading) books never do. These are real men, with distinct emotions and opinions.

Yes, there is a fair amount of drama, yes there is emotional intrigue lacing the book, but there’s nothing soap-opera about the story. Instead, Foster has painted a picture of a plausible family-by-choice, made more vivid by hidden truths, human imperfections, everyday magic, and tons of love.

Goes well with: a strong cup of tea, and New England clam chowder, with oyster crackers.

Megan’s Way
Melissa Foster
304 pages, Outskirts Press, July, 2009
Buy this book at

The Sunday Salon: Free Kindle-ing

The Sunday

It was roughly a year ago that I received my Kindle e-reader as a birthday present from my aunt. I fell in love with it almost immediately, although I confess that the ability to have a new book in just a few seconds means that I spend far more on ebooks than I ever did on physical ones, especially since I still buy paperbacks to read in the bath!

Soon after I received my Kindle, I was introduced to, a website that compiles new releases, price changes, and even free books for ereaders, and helpfully shoots you a daily email message with links to them.

Now, some of the free books are obviously free because they’re self-published (which that doesn’t mean they’re BAD, though it often means they’re either explicit sexual or explicitly Christian), but others are the first books in established series that are free to garner new audiences, or free because they’re backlisted, or free because they’re previews…

Blue, Lou Aronica

The thing is I’ve discovered some amazing work that people are literally giving away for free. The week before my nephew died, I downloaded a free book called Blue, by Lou Aronica, which was about a divorced father trying to maintain a relationship with his teenaged daughter, while she struggled with a relapse of cancer. It sounds really sad, and I guess parts of it are, but it was also a lovely fantasy, a brilliant father-daughter piece, and actually, I found it to be full of healing and hope.

I didn’t review it, because – well, I didn’t review anything, or maintain any of my blogs, really, between April and August. But I thought it was a great read, and I heartily recommend it.

Then, last week, as part of my self-indulgent birthday week of reading as much as possible, I downloaded a free copy of Megan Foster’s award-reading novel Megan’s Way. I finished it on Thursday or Friday, and tweeted about it, and ended up in a brief chat with the author. It, too, was a lovely book with a really beautiful parent-child relationship at its heart – this time with the title character – Megan – and her teen daughter Olivia.

Megan's Way, Melissa Foster

More magical realism than true fantasy, this was exactly the book I needed to read at the time that I downloaded it, and I loved it so much that I’m eager to read more of Foster’s work. Look for the review of Megan’s Way here on this blog in the next day or so (I meant to get it done over the weekend but life conspired against me).

These are just two examples of books I’ve read for free (or very little money) via my Kindle. Do I still love cracking open a paperback, or going to a reading and buying a signed copy? Of course! But I love being able to have a portable library as well.

My only dislike of my Kindle – and the technology in general – is that not EVERY book is lendable. After all, every hardcover and paperback is.

Booking through Thursday: History


On Thursday, August 25th, Booking through Thursday asked:

Sometimes I feel like the only person I know who finds reading history fascinating. It’s so full of amazing-yet-true stories of people driven to the edge and how they reacted to it. I keep telling friends that a good history book (as opposed to some of those textbooks in school that are all lists and dates) does everything a good novel does–it grips you with real characters doing amazing things.

Am I REALLY the only person who feels this way? When is the last time you read a history book? Historical biography? You know, something that took place in the past but was REAL.

When I was fourteen, I read Nicholas and Alexandra several times, and loved it every time. Some of my go-to books are biographies, published journals, etc. Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks quartet are a series of her jounals turned into books, that were contemporary (more or less) when originally published, though have become historical now.

I love biographies, but the most recent I’ve read, those of Hilary Clinton and Queen Noor, are more contemporary than not. I love memoirs, but most of those I’ve read recently, like Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana, and my birthday-book from my aunt this year, Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus have also been fairly contemporary as they both take place in the 20th and 21st centuries.

I know I’ve read things that are truly historical, but nothing of that ilk is speaking to me just now.

30-Day Book Meme #4: A Monstrous Regiment of Women

A Monstrous Regiment of Women

The book meme asks us to write about our favorite book from our favorite series. As I said, I don’t really have real favorites, but since I listed the Holmes & Russell series, I’m going to honor that choice and pick A Monstrous Regiment of Women as my favorite book within it.

It’s a book that represents a shift in Mary Russell’s relationship with Sherlock Holmes, which is interesting in and of itself, but it’s also a well-researched look at feminism and theology, how they mesh, and how they don’t, in 1920’s England. I enjoyed that aspect of the novel as much as I enjoyed the mystery at its core.

The Sunday Salon: Ice Cream as a Feminist Statement and Other Self-Help Suppositions

The Sunday

On my birthday in 2010, a good friend gifted me with a book from my Amazon Wishlish: Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a Smartmouth Goddess, by Susan Jane Gilman. I’d recently read her memoir of being one of the first Americans to travel in China when she was young, and wanted to read more of her stuff.

As sometimes happens when you have a to-be-read pile that reaches epic heights, and have to get the to-be-reviewed books read first, Kiss My Tiara kept getting shoved to the bottom of the pile. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I had both the time and the mood to read it, and I’m glad I did, because while a lot of it doesn’t apply to me, a lot of it does.

Even better, unlike most self-help books, Kiss My Tiara is funny. I’m an improvisational comedian when I’m not writing or blogging, so the use of humor in this book (which is what drew me to it initially) really worked to keep me interested. Engaged even.

One passage that really made me giggle – and then made me think – was her suggestion that we women use our PMS bitchiness to get things done. “I mean,” she writes, “why harangue our loved ones when we can harangue our legislators. After all, it’s what we pay them for. It’s their job to listen to our concerns.” And so, she says (helpfully providing phone numbers) when your hormones make you want to kill your spouse or partner because he/she had the nerve to breathe too loudly (or whatever) instead of picking a fight, you should call Congress, and demand that your representatives actually represent YOU, or avail yourself of the White House complaint line.

And then there’s the bit about ice cream:

Ice cream is non-patriarchal. Ice cream, frozen yogurt, milk shakes – every dairy product we can think of is the exclusive product of females. So, okay, they’re cows. But eating this stuff can be a political act that neatly unites feminist principles with a love of animals. It can be a way of showing support for our bovine sisters! Fuck the vegans, I say. Anyone who doesn’t eat ice cream for purely “ethical” reasons is a killjoy and a moron and not to be trusted. Pro-ice cream is pro-woman, Baby!

Best. Self-help book. EVER!!!

But speaking of self-help, recently for All Things Girl, I had the opportunity to review two recent spiritual self-help books, and interview their authors. One is called The Enlightened Mom and it’s an amazing book about how mothers, and indeed ALL women, should embrace self-love in order to model loving kindness for their families. It basically boils down to “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy,” but it’s written in a really positive way, and as a Unitarian Universalist, the Christian elements felt appropriate and not off-putting, which is good, because even spiritual life guides should be supportive, not preachy. (Also, the Author, Terri Amos-Britt, is one of the most delightful, smart, wise, interesting women I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with.)

The other book, which also has a spiritual element was Dr. Carmen Harra’s book Wholiness, which teaches us how we have to unite to save the world. She talks a bit about 2012, and how it’s not the end of the world, but the end of a cycle, and how endings and beginnings have power. (She’s actually our “cover girl” for our last issue of the year.)

If this sounds like a whole lot of self-help, well it is, and no, it’s not really my preferred reading genre, but sometimes the universe sends things your way, and the best thing to do is accept them, explore them, and take the advice that applies, while not stressing over the bits that don’t.

Happy Sunday.

30-Day Book Meme #3: Holmes & Russell

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

When you fall in love with a character or world, it’s natural to want more of what you love. I think that’s why so many of us read series of novels. I’m told that whenever you’re trying to sell a novel, if they ask you “Do you have an idea for a sequel?” the answer should always be “yes,” because series make money. Multiple books in general make money, actually, but people buy what they know.

The 30-Day Book Meme wants me to tell you my favorite series. There are so many. The Little House and Anne of Green Gables books, as well as Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys kept me entertained all during my childhood. As I grew older, I fell for such different series as The Cat Who… mysteries, and the Mrs. Pollifax novels, but I also loved Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries, Anne Rice’s vampire and witch series (before she was popular and trendy, and later, overdone), and Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books.

I love the Star Trek tie-in novels, and I also love the Pink Carnation series. I’ve spent hours on Darkover, Pern, and Valdemar, I’m a sucker for Harry Potter’s adventures, and I’m getting into Game of Thrones after watching the HBO series (my husband loves those books). I sip coffee with Cleo Coyle’s baristas and want to visit her alter-ego’s Haunted Bookshop.

But if I had to pick a favorite? It would have to be Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell novels, first because I’m a Holmes junkie from way back, and second because she writes Mary with a feminist sensibility that I really enjoy. The books are well written, well plotted, and entertaining without being stupid.

They are best read in order, so begin with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and if you’re diligent, and read as fast as I do, by the time the new book comes out on September 6th, you’ll be ready!

Booking Through Thursday: National Book Week

Kiss My Tiara, by Susan Jane Gilman

On Thursday, August 11th, Booking through Thursday asked:

It’s National Book Week. The rules: Grab the closest book to you. Go to page 56. Copy the 5th sentence as your status

My sentence is from Kiss My Tiara by Susan Jane Gilman:

I’d been reading a lot of Rimbaud and I guess something about the situation struck me as daring and fantastically romantic and sophisticated.

Kiss My Tiara
Susan Jane Gilman
224 pages
Grand Central Publishing, February 2001
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Review: By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By Water

By Fire, By Water
Mitchell James Kaplan

Description (from Publishers Weekly, via
Kaplan, a screenwriter, sets his debut novel in 15-century Spain, amid the Inquisition, the attempt to unify the kingdoms of Spain under Christian rule, and the voyage of Christopher Columbus to what the seaman expects will be the Indies. The action centers on the historical figure of Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the king of Aragon and a converso, a Jewish convert to Christianity at a time when the Inquisition sought to repress judaizing. Santángel is friend and financier of Columbus, surviving parent of young Gabriel, and more curious than is prudent about his Jewish heritage. While he learns about Judaism in clandestine meetings, a parallel story unfolds, centering on Judith Migdal, a beautiful Jewish woman who learns to become a silversmith in Granada, located in the last part of Spain under Muslim rule. Santángel’s attraction to Judith grows, even as the Inquisition closes in and the prospect of another world to the West tantalizes. Kaplan has done remarkable homework on the period and crafted a convincing and complex figure in Santángel in what is a naturally cinematic narrative and a fine debut.

When the author of By Fire, By Water, Mitchell James Kaplan, contacted me about reviewing his amazing novel set at the dawn of the Spanish Inquisition, I said yes, even though period novels really aren’t my thing, because the story intrigued me. I started reading it immediately, and loved it. I hadn’t planned for my life to go into a tailspin before I could write the review.

Still, this story, which is part history, part social commentary, and part romance, has stuck with me. It’s about religion and faith, and how they differ, and how they’re similar, but it’s also about wealth and politics and passion. The love story between Judith and Luis is poignant, but written with a lot of truth.

Maybe it’s Kaplan’s background as a screenwriter, but this book sings it’s vividness to the world. Reading it, I had such strong senses of place and time – I could see it as a movie in my head. (I could totally see this film as a Merchant Ivory production.)

This review is vague and disjointed not because I didn’t love the story – because I did. If all historical novels were this interesting and well crafted, and relevant to modern times, I’d read more of them. It’s just that I read it very quickly several months ago, and the details have blurred.

I do remember thinking, however, that if this book were a movie, the after-the-credits cookie would be a time jump to modern times and a connection to the Hidden Jews of New Mexico, or some such.

Anyway, buy this book. It’s brilliant. Epic, even.

By Fire, By Water
Mitchell James Kaplan
320 pages, Other Press, May 2010
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Review: A Widow’s Awakening, by Maryanne Pope

A Widow's Awakening

A Widow’s Awakening
Maryanne Pope

Description (via
A Widow’s Awakening draws you in from the first page as you listen in on a conversation one month before the death of Sam, a police officer. Readers are given a glimpse into an everyday marriage on the brink of a tragic event. Written as creative non-fiction, the story follows the character of Adri, Sam’s wife, as she learns to come to terms with the death of her husband. The story opens with what will be Adri s last vacation with her soul mate and grips the reader s interest until the end. A Widow’s Awakening is a page-turner full of conversational dialogue that reflects the feelings and thoughts of Adri, who is gripped with guilt over her last conversations with her husband, stunned by his sudden and needless death, and the path she is forced to follow that was not of her own choosing. A Widow’s Awakening is a tragic, heart wrenching, but humourous look at grief while giving the reader hope that life can go on after loss and it s what you do with it that counts. This book has something for everyone. It’s not a depressing book; it s an engaging, inspiring and powerful read. The book fits in several categories: self-help, biography, current events, politics, health, spirituality, psychology, death and dying, and grief. In addition, 20% of the proceeds of the sale of this book are going to the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund, a non- profit organization set up in memory of the author s husband. The Fund’s safety initiatives educate the public that workplace safety for emergency services personnel is a shared responsibility.

This review is months overdue. I read the book early this year, after having a publicist pitch it to me via email. I loved every word, and despite the seemingly dark subject matter, found it to be uplifting and beautifully written. It’s a love-song to the author’s dead husband as well as a song of hope and new life.

Originally, reading this helped me accept the death of my brother-in-law, and I thought about sending it to my sister-in-law, because I thought she might appreciate the notion of having her husband’s presence as a sort of silent guardian, much as Adri did in this book, but ultimately, I decided not to.

So, if I loved this book so much, why am only posting the review five months later? Because just as I’d finished it, my nephew’s cancer was officially terminal. He would die about a month later, in mid-April, and during that time, instead of blogging, I was doing the bare minimum I could for work, and reading a whole bunch of escapist literature because I couldn’t cope with anything else.

My apologies, then, to Ms. Pope, because her book is wonderful, and I would recommend it to anyone who is dealing with grief, or who just wants a really candid look at a woman and her grief.

If you’re a writer, perhaps you’ll even take this book as a warning to find the time to really write while you still can.

A Widow’s Awakening
Maryanne Pope
312 pages, Self-published in September, 2008
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30-Day Book Meme #2: Certain Women

Certain Women

I’ve been a fan of Madeleine L’Engle since a friend of my mother’s gave me A Wrinkle in Time to read while I was at her house. It was, quite literally, a dark and stormy night, and I was sprawled on a guest-room bed covered in a patchwork quilt, immersed in a story and unafraid of the storm.

I’ve probably read A Wrinkle in Time at least a dozen times, but the novel I’m actually using for this prompt – a book I’ve read at least three times – is one of L’Engle’s adult novels, Certain Women. I like it because it’s a story within a story – on one level, it’s about an adult daughter spending time with her dying father, but on another level it’s the story of the play that her ex-husband created for father and daughter to perform, about King David and all his wives.

As someone whose religious education has been rather eclectic, I read it, the first time, with very little frame of reference, save for the fact that I read the Catholic version of the Bible cover-to-cover when I was seven. In the years since my first reading, however, my knowledge has expanded, and I’ve gotten more from the book.

I think I got even more from it as I’ve aged, as well…you can read the same book at forty that you did at twenty-five and even fifteen, and always enjoy it, but experience it three different ways, and with this novel, I’ve done that.