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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Melissa Foster on Getting It Done

Melissa Foster

Melissa Foster is the busiest and most productive person I know, and she is a joyful spirit. She is an author, artist, mentor, motivator and mother of six (!), and I wanted to know how she does it. What do her days look like? How does she motivate herself, keep track of everything, and maintain work/life balance? In spite of all her other activities, Melissa was kind enough to answer my questions. You can learn more about this amazing woman by visiting her website.

1. Do you have any particular strategies to get the most out of your body and mind, for example, avoiding certain foods or alcohol, or a diligent exercise routine?

I am a list maker and scheduler. I plan everything from making school lunches to calling my mother–seriously. I cherish my writing time as if it were what makes me breathe. I gain clarity by not being overwhelmed, and while running the Women’s Nest, developing WoMen’s Lit Cafe, rewriting a book for Jenny Bent, and releasing COME BACK TO ME (in November), scheduling is the only way that I can maintain my focus. As for exercise and eating, I was a vegetarian for ten years and just this past summer decided to begin eating meat again. I can no longer claim a “clean” diet. I’m a candy fiend–Skittles and Starburst help me through my rough patches, and ice cream is my fall back support system. I am an avid exerciser, mostly because I don’t like the way my body aches and complains when I don’t use it.

I think it’s very important to take time to rejuvenate your body and mind, no matter what your chosen profession is–from stay-at-home mom to neurosurgeon. If you don’t find time to rejuvenate, you’ll eventually run out of emotional energy, which will lead to less productivity and creativity.

2. Do you have a daily work routine relating to your career? What does that look like?

Oh, yes, that’s easy. It’s been the same since 2006. I write from 9am until 2pm Monday through Friday, September through June. From 2pm until midnight, I spend time with my children, while weaving in marketing and my social networks. During the summer I regroup, plan, market, strategize, and enjoy my family. During the summers exercising is the start of each day – three miles each morning. During the school year, my exercise comes in later in the day.

3. What do you like about your home office?

Everything. I work best when it’s just me, my computer, and a radio. I need natural sunlight and few distractions in order to climb into my characters’ minds and pour their actions onto paper. My home office allows me to spend more time at the keyboard (no travel time to and from the office).

4. Do you have any help, i.e. staff of any kind? If so, what do they do?

I keep lobbying for a wife, but my husband hasn’t agreed to that yet. I have two assistants that I can call upon to do a bit of marketing if I need help, but primarily, I handle everything myself. I’m a bit of a control freak, and it’s very important to me that whatever information I am putting out to the public comes directly from me. I don’t allow anyone to do my social networking or respond to my correspondence. I love interacting with readers and other authors–that’s one of my favorite parts of being an author.

5. Do you ever have days you don’t feel motivated? If so, how do you re-motivate yourself? Any tricks?

This sounds very cliche, but I am always motivated to write. I do, however, sometimes have scattered moments where I have 15 different items on my to-do list and I stare at it like a deer in the headlights. What I do in that case is to micro-manage my time. I’ll break it down into small increments of time so I can have a focus — For example, allowing myself 45 minutes to write an article, then penciling in 25 minutes to answer interview questions, then 10 minutes to tweet, etc. Once I have a plan, it’s easier for me to attack.

6. Do you ever worry about work/life balance? If so, what do you do about it?

Absolutely. I think any successful person has that concern, male or female. Life is about balance, but it’s also about being kind to yourself. In this business, in many ways it’s feast or famine. I have either way too much work all at once, or just enough that I can fill my time, which always feels more like not enough work, lol. The way I handle the “guilts” is to insure that I’m making up for the time lost. For example, lately, there are many nights that I work until midnight helping aspiring authors get a grip on how to handle their social media, writing, marketing, whatever it might be. I’m either on the computer or on the phone.

What I do to make up for that is set aside time that is only family time. There are no cell phones or televisions at dinner time. We plan weekend outings as a family, and I leave my cell phone in the car on many occasions. When I talk to my children, I look them in the eye and listen, really listen. These are the things that make a difference. No one wants to feel like they’re interfering with their mother, sister, lover, or spouse’s day. Everyone needs time and attention. It’s planning that time, apologizing when it simply can’t be had, and understanding that whatever crazy schedule you have at the moment, will not be forever. Then, make the changes in your life that will make you feel less guilty, and give you more time with your family. I have written several articles on prioritizing and “mommy guilt”, and they’re on my website.

7. What kind of calendar(s) or calendar system do you use?

I am horrible at calendars. I try to use Google calendar, but I always do really well for a while and then it all falls apart. I have two VERY large calendars. One hangs on my fridge and one by my desk. I’m a sticky-note girl and an alarm-girl. I set an alarm on my phone for everything from picking up my children from school, to blog tour appointments, then I cross reference that to my two calendars, and I am never fully satisfied unless I have a BIG yellow sticky note on my computer that alerts me to my appointments. And yes, I do have a sticky note on my bathroom mirror that says, “WALK” 🙂

8. Do you have any hobbies?

This is a difficult question for me to answer, because I feel as though helping others is my hobby. While some get joy from collecting things or riding horses, I get joy from helping others see the positive side of life and feel good about themselves. I used to scrapbook, but I haven’t had time to do that in the past two years. I have painted (Google “Kids Murals By Melissa”), but writing has taken over the time I used to devote to painting. I enjoy reading, but usually save reading time for midnight until one a.m.  I think I’m in a funny stage of life where I realize that there are many awesome writers out there who work just as hard as I do, but they don’t know what to do after they write a book. I enjoy helping them learn the next step.

9.  Do you consider any day of the week as a day of rest?

Lol – a day of what??? I usually don’t write on the weekends, but I don’t rest on those days, either. If I’m not writing, I’m not good at sitting still. I like to do family activities, going to fairs, taking walks, doing anything other than being inside.

10. Finally, Melissa, what would you like to tell us about your writing?

You might have noticed that I’m a genre hopper, which is something that traditional publishers don’t care for. For that reason, I’ll be working with my amazing agent, Jenny Bent, to traditionally publish my suspense line of books. Jenny and I will also work together to continue independently publishing my women’s fiction line.

Megan’s Way, which was my debut novel, is a work of literary fiction, and is currently being adapted to film. Chasing Amanda, my second release, is a suspense novel, and my third book, Come Back to Me, is contemporary fiction–an international love story/tragedy (not romance). Come Back to Me will be released in early November, 2011.

I’m excited about all of the endeavors I’m currently involved in, from writing new manuscripts to launching the WoMen’s Literary Cafe, but what really thrills me is being connected with readers, reviewers, and other writers. I’m inspired by the comments and emails I receive from readers, and by the writers who are finding their way into the world of publishing. I’m excited to see each new writer learn and succeed, and to hear from readers about the things they love–and hate–about my novels. The literary community is an exciting one, and I’m proud to be part of it.


Melissa Foster is the award-winning author of two novels, Megan’s Way and Chasing Amanda. She is the founder of the Women’s Nest, a social and support community for women, and WoMen’s Literary Café, a literary community. Melissa is currently collaborating in the film production of Megan’s Way. Melissa has written for Calgary’s Child Magazine, and Women Business Owners Magazine. She hosts an annual Aspiring Authors contest for children, and has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Melissa is currently working on her next novel, and lives in Maryland with her family.

Melissa’s interests include her family, reading, writing, painting, friends, helping women see the positive side of life, and visiting Cape Cod. A portion of every book sold is donated to Provincetown Cares.

Melissa enjoys discussing her books with book clubs and reader groups, and welcomes an invitation to your event. For more information and to contact her, please visit her website.

Kindle readers can visit me at Lmspreen@yahoo.com.

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  1. Wonderfully enlightening interview, Lynne — you put many news reporters to shame! Thanks for introducing us to Melissa; what energy, what passion, what precision she brings! I wish I were HALF as organized as she is — I can’t imagine juggling all her activities!

  2. Hi Debbie, thanks so much for stopping by to read our interview. Lynn is a lovely person, isn’t she? I love her blog!

    I’ve lived a life of controlled chaos for so many years it just seems natural:-) When you’re busy, you just do as Nike said, “Just Do It!” Smile, do what you can, then move onto the next item on the list.

    • Melissa, all further comments will appear instantly, no more approval process. Thanks for stopping by.

      I found another inspiration in – wait for it – Angelina Jolie! I read about her in the last Vanity Fair and was so motivated by her work ethic. I think you are in good company, Melissa.

  3. Great interview, Lynne, of an amazing woman. Thanks for sharing her story with us.

  4. Hi Lynne,
    I have mixed feelings about our friend, Angelina. I love what she does, how much she gives. She and Brad aside, she is a true inspiration for using one’s success for a greater purpose, and I bet that if I were to sit and chat with her, we would think along the same lines in many ways.

    • I know! That’s why it surprised me so much to feel impressed by her. Like most women (If I can speak for them), I don’t feel warm and fuzzy toward her. But the article painted a picture of a woman who was motivated by passion for a cause, applied her creativity, etc. So that was a nice surprise.

  5. Pat, thank you for the kind words and for stopping by to read our interview. Lynne is bringing great areas of our lives into focus. I love what she’s doing.

  6. Thanks for this excellent interview Lynne and Melissa. What I hear from this is the amazing amount of focus, discipline and passion it takes to be as successful as you are Melissa. I have followed you on Twitter and it is thrilling to get to know you better through Lynne’s (yes, she is amazing too!) interview. I feel very inspired by your words and your accomplishments.It is delightful to be able to tap into the expertise of two remarkable women 🙂

  7. Hi Kathleen,
    Thank you for such kind words. I am so happy to share with you all tonight that CHASING AMANDA has just hit #16 on Amazon’s bestselling Kindle list! It’s such a thrill for me to experience this, and to share it on such a special day – my mother turned 70 today, so all of my six brothers are in town. We had quite a celebration:-)

    Kathleen, you’re right that when you’re this busy it takes passion and discipline. I feel blessed that I truly love what I do. But I do feel that everyone is busy in their own right, and we all just do the best we can to make the most of our days. I’m glad our interview helped to inspire others. There’s no greater joy (unless, of course, we inspired others to send us brownies! LOL!)!

  8. I popped in for a visit because I am always looking for new writer friends–and because I loved your Twitter description of yourself. My mission in life: To prepare for the hour of my death, one good day, and one good moment at a time. Melissa offers some great ideas for how to suck out the marrow of life. Hope you follow back, Lynne.

    • Great that you stopped in, Shirley. I will look for you on Twitter. That’s my next goal – I haven’t found my comfort level with it, but because of Any Shiny Thing, I’ve made some nice new friends who sound so interesting I wonder what they’re up to, and Twitter seems like the place to be. So thanks for the gentle prod. See you on the T.


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  • Lynne Spreen

  • Follow LynneSpreen on Twitter
  • my read shelf:
    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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Examining experiences and exploring possibilities

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Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

Waiting for the Karma Truck

thoughts on the spaces in between

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