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Melinda Ott has commented on (154) products.

Benjamin Franklin's Bastard by Sally Cabot
Benjamin Franklin's Bastard

Melinda Ott, January 29, 2015

Ah, good old Benjamin Franklin--the guy we all love even though we know he was a bit, well, smarmy. He was, of course, our Bacchanalian Founding Father and we all can identify that balding old man with the Mona Lisa smile who seems just so charming and eccentric.

Let's start with the fact upon which this novel is based. Benjamin Franklin had a long relationship with a woman named Deborah Read. They were never legally married, but she became his common-law wife after they had lived together for 7 years. Into this relationship, he brought his illegitimate son, William (my guess is that Franklin had more than one illegitimate child, but William is the only one he acknowledged). Benjamin and Deborah also had two children together, Francis and Sally. The identity of William's biological mother is not known.

This is where Cabot starts her novel. She begins with Deborah meeting Benjamin, who soon leaves for England and, in doing so, leaves Deborah in the lurch. Cabot then introduces Anne, a woman born into the lower classes and, while working in a tavern, meets Benjamin Franklin and the two begin a relationship which results in William. I don't want to go too much into the plot because I think in doing so I would be ruining part of the experience of reading this book.

I do want to talk about how Cabot handles her characters. None of the major characters are heroes or heroines are ever completely likable (there is one secondary character, Grissom, who I did find very sweet). But they also are not unlikable. It is easy to see how Deborah develops into the woman she ultimately becomes because, well, almost anyone in her position would do the same. It is also easy to understand the motivation behind many of Anne's decisions.

This novel is written in 3rd person, but Cabot goes into the minds of Deborah, Anne, and, later, William. She does not, however, go into the mind of Benjamin and I think that was a very wise choice on her part. Most readers will go into this book with an idea about Benjamin Franklin and, while she doesn't destroy this view, she definitely adds dimension to it and makes you think about him in a bit of a different way. She does knock Benjamin Franklin off his pedestal and puts him down among the rest of the humans--something Franklin himself probably would have hated, but, hey...not even Benjamin Franklin can escape humanity.

There was another thing about this book I really appreciated and I'm going to be a bit vague about it as I don't want to reveal any plot points for readers not familiar with the Franklin family, but stay with me. Both Patriot and Loyalist views are expressed in this book and Cabot very skillfully illustrates that both of these views have value and that one side is not right and the other is not wrong. In my reading experience, the American Revolution and the European theater of World War II are really the only two conflicts where writers are able to get away with clearly labeling "good guys" and "bad guys." I'll leave the Nazis out of this, but I find this really frustrating when it comes to the American Revolution. I find it really frustrating that characters who have Loyalist sentiments are always painted as villains (with the exception of one book I read a year or so ago, where the Patriots were the bad guys...it was still annoying on the other side of the table). Cabot, however, doesn't do that and I believe that is a very important take away from this book.

All in all, Cabot's writing is readable and enjoyable. I did feel, in the second half of the book, she tended to drop and pick up Anne a bit and wish she had a bit more continuity with that character, but other than that, I have no complaints--but plenty of admiration--for this novel.

I really would recommend this book to anyone to read. Yes, it is a historical novel set during the Colonial and Revolutionary period, but I do believe it transcends its setting and genre and makes for an excellent read.
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Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer
Girl Before a Mirror

Melinda Ott, January 27, 2015

It has only been in the last year or so that I discovered Liza Palmer and I've enjoyed how she is willing to dig into deeper issues than many contemporary writers. When I read the synopsis of this novel, I will admit that it did sound a little light, but I figured that Palmer would be able to go deeper than first appearances. I do believe that Palmer tried to flesh this plot out as much as possible. Unfortunately, the pieces of this book just didn't fit together as well as I would have liked.

There were definitely positives to this book. I thought Anna was a well drawn character and I did relate to her and all her issues. Palmer was successful in creating a realistic character in Anna and she is worthy of her own book.

Palmer's writing style does shine--she can deal with tough issues and still throw out a biting line of dry humor. If someone was looking for a book to bridge from "chick lit" to something a little heavier, I would recommend one of Palmer's books and, in that area, this book fits the bill.

But here's where the trouble started for me. There are a lot of pieces to the plot of this book, which in itself if not necessarily a bad thing. However, I never felt like the pieces all came together as we should. For example, a big chunk of this book revolves around Anna and Sasha trying to set up a marketing campaign for a body wash and, to do this, they are somehow enlisting some male romance cover models. The theme of the campaign is "Just Be." Folks, I have absolutely no idea how this works. I think the gist is that women are all great the way they are and they should "just be." Okay, then, what is with the male models and how does that fit in? I tried over and over again while reading this book and I could never come up with any idea of what this campaign is.

Anna's relationship with Lincoln could work, but it really just feels shoe-horned into this book. I think that Lincoln could have fit well with Anna and her "issues," but there was something--and it may have been the fact that the relationship starts as a one- (or three-) night stand while Anna is staying at a hotel for a Romance Novelists convention--that was just too cliche and I couldn't completely buy it.

Then, in the midst of all this, we have Anna's addict brother--an issue that just sort of pops up on you-- and her toxic friends. All these floating pieces really kept me from enjoying this book the way I wish I had.

I'm the first to admit that I'm a critical reader and my experience with this book may have been negatively impacted by that. Other readers may not have the issues that I did with this book. I still consider my self a fan of Liza Palmer, but this one just didn't work for me.
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Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer
Girl Before a Mirror

Melinda Ott, January 27, 2015

It has only been in the last year or so that I discovered Liza Palmer and I've enjoyed how she is willing to dig into deeper issues than many contemporary writers. When I read the synopsis of this novel, I will admit that it did sound a little light, but I figured that Palmer would be able to go deeper than first appearances. I do believe that Palmer tried to flesh this plot out as much as possible. Unfortunately, the pieces of this book just didn't fit together as well as I would have liked.

There were definitely positives to this book. I thought Anna was a well drawn character and I did relate to her and all her issues. Palmer was successful in creating a realistic character in Anna and she is worthy of her own book.

Palmer's writing style does shine--she can deal with tough issues and still throw out a biting line of dry humor. If someone was looking for a book to bridge from "chick lit" to something a little heavier, I would recommend one of Palmer's books and, in that area, this book fits the bill.

But here's where the trouble started for me. There are a lot of pieces to the plot of this book, which in itself if not necessarily a bad thing. However, I never felt like the pieces all came together as we should. For example, a big chunk of this book revolves around Anna and Sasha trying to set up a marketing campaign for a body wash and, to do this, they are somehow enlisting some male romance cover models. The theme of the campaign is "Just Be." Folks, I have absolutely no idea how this works. I think the gist is that women are all great the way they are and they should "just be." Okay, then, what is with the male models and how does that fit in? I tried over and over again while reading this book and I could never come up with any idea of what this campaign is.

Anna's relationship with Lincoln could work, but it really just feels shoe-horned into this book. I think that Lincoln could have fit well with Anna and her "issues," but there was something--and it may have been the fact that the relationship starts as a one- (or three-) night stand while Anna is staying at a hotel for a Romance Novelists convention--that was just too cliche and I couldn't completely buy it.

Then, in the midst of all this, we have Anna's addict brother--an issue that just sort of pops up on you-- and her toxic friends. All these floating pieces really kept me from enjoying this book the way I wish I had.

I'm the first to admit that I'm a critical reader and my experience with this book may have been negatively impacted by that. Other readers may not have the issues that I did with this book. I still consider my self a fan of Liza Palmer, but this one just didn't work for me.
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The World's Strongest Librarian: A Book Lover's Adventures by Josh Hanagarne
The World's Strongest Librarian: A Book Lover's Adventures

Melinda Ott, January 22, 2015

This was one of those book that I've been meaning to read for over a year. People have raved about it and recommended it. I've had it out of the library at least 3 times, every time it returned unread due to my "reading load." And then, finally, it ended up on the 2015 schedule for my book club! Now, I had to read it!

And, boy, was the wait worth it. I worried a bit about it not living up to the hype, but this book fared that storm admirably. I am chalking that up to the fact that this is, at its core, a humble and personal story from someone who strives only to live his best life.

There is a lot in here. I'll admit that I know very little about Tourette's and I know enough about strength training to know that it is not my favorite form of exercise. I do, however, know quite a bit about libraries--of all the jobs I've held in my life, my favorite is that first one right out of college--at the public library!

Hanagarne is an incredibly likable guy--I sincerely want to be this guy's friend. And get access to his reading list (beyond Stephen King). I related to his childhood in that I was also that kid who never quite fit in and had to find my own world (mine through writing and his through reading). He was a normal teenage guy with normal teenage guy feelings who just happened to have a syndrome that makes life much more of a challenge.

I appreciated that Hanagarne was honest--with and about himself. Something that I find common, and annoying, in memoirs is that people tend to hold themselves in a better light than they should. When I find a writer who does not do this, I want to shout, "Look! THIS is how to write a memoir!" I don't want to read about perfect beings, I want to read about real people and Hanagarne is one of those people.

This book is very readable--each chapter begins with a scene from the library and then goes back into an episode in his life. I found this structure very unifying for the book--it tied Hanagarne's current place in life to where he was, which I think is important in a memoir.

I will admit that there were sections--okay, they dealt with the nuts and bolts of his strength training--where things got a little slow for me. However, I think this is a preference issue more than any defect of the book. I'm sure that there are readers who found the library sections tedious, but I loved them.

This is one of those books that has something for everyone and it is one that I feel that I could recommend to anyone--however, I feel it is an especially good book to recommend to those who do not normally read memoirs, as I feel that this is a good "gateway" book to the genre. But, even if memoirs are your genre of choice, this should be a fulfilling read for you.
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I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy
I Love You More

Melinda Ott, January 20, 2015

Lately, I've been drawn to mysteries and I've labeled this book as mystery, but I'm not sure that is an accurate description. There is, of course, a murder mystery...but that isn't what this book is about. Instead, this is a book about relationships. There is precocious Picasso's relationship ith her father and her relationship with her mother. Then we have Kyle's relationships with Picasso and Picasso's mother. And, finally, we have the wives' relationships--with each other and with their shared husband.

Murphy chooses to tell this story in an interesting way. The narration is shared between Picasso, Kyle, and the corporate voice of the wives. It sounds weird, I know. And, frankly, I thought I would hate it, but it was actually very effective. I also found the individual narratives fascinating. Kyle's voice is fairly straight-forward. The reader has no reason to question him, although it is clear he doesn't know everything that is going on. Picasso is an unreliable narrator, which I like. You are always wondering if she is telling you the truth--after all, she states early on that she is an accomplished liar. Then, we have the wives. This was the most fascinating narration of the three. Three women talking as one is tricky, and it is even trickier to tell their individual stories through this, but Murphy succeeds completely on this point.

I was captured most by Picasso. Murphy expertly draws Picasso out just enough at a time to keep the reader guessing. She is a girl at an age when children begin to really try to figure out their world, and her world is turned upside down. As I said, she's unreliable as a narrator, but it makes sense that she would be so.

I did have a few quibbles about the book. For one thing, I suspected the resolution of Oliver's death early on in the novel, even though I still found the ending satisfying. I also had a hard time believing that Picasso was only 11 or 12 years old. She came across as a girl in her mid-teens, instead.

But, those were minor faults in my experience with this book. Ultimately, I enjoyed this a great deal and would readily recommend it to others.
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