Friday, October 11, 2013

Leaving Haven by Kathleen McCleary

The blurb:
Georgia Bing and Alice Kinnard have always been there for each other.  Eager to help her best friend have another baby after several miscarriages, Alice donates one of her eggs.  When Georgia learns she's going to have the baby boy she's always wanted, she's thrilled - until a devastating discovery destroys her dreams.

While Alice is happy to help her friend get pregnant, she also fees a twinge of disappointment that her own life is missing something. . .  something she desperately craves.  On the surface, Alice has everything - a busy social life, a great job, a faithful husband, an amazing teenage daughter.  But her well-ordered world is knocked off its axis when she's tempted by motherhood that sustained her.

As the safety of their past is shattered, Georgia and Alice must each embark on a journey of self discovery - an odyssey filled with surprising challenges that will test them and force them to confront the truth of their lives. . . and the choices that they make.

Leaving Haven struck me most as a story of the friendship between Georgia and Alice.  The women have a 13-year age gap but became mothers at the same time and have taken different professional paths. Georgia is the motherly, professional baker with her own cake company and is married to John, a sous chef at a top restaurant.  Alice is the practical, steady friend who works as an economics professor and is married to Duncan, a steady, quiet lawyer.

Georgia is longing for a second child and has spent seven years trying expensive fertility treatments with little success.  The years of trying for their second child causes much tension between Georgia and John.  As a supreme act of friendship, Alice offers to donate an egg to Georgia.  Georgia's problems don't end when she becomes pregnant.

While Georgia is carrying the biological child of Alice and John, things become crazy.  Their young daughters  had grown up together, almost like sisters, but hitting their early teens, the girls begin to fight.  Liza had always seemed a little more grown up but at thirteen the differences between the girls leads to darker things. Georgia's daughter  Liza has started to bully Wren,  Alice's daughter.

Alice doesn't want to trouble Georgia during her difficult pregnancy and reaches out to John for help resolving the issues affecting Liza and Wren.  In the past John and Alice had never paid each other much attention, but the problems between their daughters somehow brings them together - and endangers both marriages.

In Leaving Haven, McCleary introduces us to complicated, nuanced, and deeply sympathetic characters in impossible situations and makes the characters and their dilemmas relatable.  Somehow, it is possible to understand how and why the marriages and friendships are harmed and to hope for their repair.  Overall, if you are looking for an escape through women's fiction and a story of friendship I'd recommend Leaving Haven.

  • ISBN-10: 0062106260 - Paperback $10.98
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 1, 2013), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Kathleen McCleary teaches writing at American University.  A former columnist for, Kathleen's writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA WEEKEND, Good Housekeeping, More, Health, and Ladies' Home Journal.  She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two daughters.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I first came across The Rosie Project during BEA 2013 and was lucky enough to pick up a copy.   I've a big backlog of books to review, but after finishing The Rosie Project this morning, I wanted to spread the word.  If you've read and enjoyed "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,"  you must pick up The Rosie Project.

The blurb:
Don Tillman, a professor of genetics, has a brilliant scientific mind, but social situations confound him.  He's never had a second date.  And so, in the the evidence-based manner in which he approaches all things, he embarks upon the Wife Project: a sixteen-page questionnaire to find the perfect partner.  Then in walks Rosie Jarman.

Rosie is on a quest of her own.  She's looking for her biological father, a search that a certain genetics expert might just be able to help her with.  Soon Don puts the Wife Project on the back burner to help Rosie pursue the Father Project.  As their unlikely relationship blooms, Don realizes that love doesn't always add up on paper.

ISBN-10: 1476729085 - Hardcover $14.40
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 1, 2013), 304 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

It's hard to capture the charm of The Rosie Project.   We know that Don Tillman is beyond socially awkward, he seems to be high functioning with undiagnosed Asperger's, and the story is told from Don's point of view.  

It's one thing to say that Don had three friends and that one died.  It's another thing altogether to see how he lives his life, to understand the value of his close friends, and of his interactions with the people around him.  

The book opens with Don describing how he agreed to take his friend Gene's place and deliver a lecture on Asperger's syndrome.   As Don does research on Asperger's, he admits that the area is unfamiliar to him as it's outside his specialty.  Don concludes that most of the symptoms are variations in human brain function that had been medicalized because they did not fit constructed social norms.  His lecture focuses on the technical, DNA structures until the organizer attempts to sum up referring to Asperger's as something that people are born with and "nobody's fault."  Don then tries to explain that those with Asperger's are associated with organized, rational, innovative thinking not restricted by emotions which can cause major problems.  He proceeds to give a situation where emotional reactions may hinder a rational response - using danger, a baby and a firearm - and one of the funniest scenes that I've read in a long time. 

The Rosie Project tells Don's story with great humor and sympathy.  I had just started the book this morning and was laughing so loudly that my husband started to complain, "I don't laugh so loud when I'm reading!"  I thought that was more a testament to his recent book choices and the strength of The Rosie Project. 

About the Author:
Graeme Simsion,
PhD, was the owner of successful consulting business, who decided, at fifty, that he would become a writer.  The Rosie Project is his first book.