Charlotte Pence

Since she grew up in West Virginia, Jayne Anne Phillips is classified by many as a Southern author, yet her themes are universal. In Phillips's new novel, MotherKind, she looks at a situation many families must face. Phillips, author of the well-received novel Machine Dreams, now writes about a young mother who undergoes the joys and tribulations of caring for her infant while also caring for her terminally ill mother.

MotherKind begins when Kate, who is in her early 30s and unmarried, anxiously waits to tell her mother that she is pregnant. She plans to marry the baby's father, Matt, after the birth of the child. However, the wedding plans and birth occur as her mother weakens from cancer and because of chemotherapy treatments, she must move in with Kate. Suddenly, Kate finds herself experiencing the full circle of parent-child relationships and attends to her mother and baby full-time in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Kate, a former copy editor, is thrown into myriad roles, all of which center on her being the primary caretaker. Not only does Kate have all the trials of being a first-time mother, but her fiancé is undergoing a divorce and holds partial custody of two young boys who resent Kate and openly disobey her requests. Although Matt is a sensitive partner, he is preoccupied with financially providing for the family and cannot offer Kate much emotional support. Her eventual relief and guidance come from babysitters and home health care workers, all of whom shape Kate in some way.

Phillips's past work has received much critical acclaim, being described as "mesmerizing, sensual, and exquisite"; her new novel will not disappoint. One of the most impressive traits in Phillips' work is her strong characterizations. Having written about those on the fringe of society in her previous works, she portrays her characters with respect regardless of their social class and showcases their innate goodness. There is an ease in her prose, an authority which transports the reader into the most intimate moments of someone else's life.

This novel will captivate the reader's attention and emotions, while exploring an important issue. Many will identify with the character of Kate, who must learn to succeed in her new roles, despite the awkwardness of life's timing.

Charlotte Pence teaches English at Belmont University.

Since she grew up in West Virginia, Jayne Anne Phillips is classified by many as a Southern author, yet her themes are universal. In Phillips's new novel, MotherKind, she looks at a situation many families must face. Phillips, author of the well-received novel Machine Dreams, now writes about a young mother who undergoes the joys […]

As astronauts and scientists explore deeper into space and introduce the possibility of landing on Mars, it is easy to forget when man pondered how the earth moved. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the scientist whose discoveries about the heavens caused accusations of heresy, is revered in a unique new biography by Dava Sobel, author of Longitude. This book is not only a biography of Galileo, but that of his daughter, and attempts successfully to complete the picture of the scientist as a religious and family-oriented man.

Of all of Galileo's children, his daughter, Maria Celeste, mirrored his own brilliance, which is evident in the detailed letters that for the first time have been translated into English. These letters, many of which were destroyed or lost, bring to life Galileo's personality and conflicts. Maria Celeste was the product of Galileo's illicit relationship with Marina Gamba of Venice. Because she was born out of wedlock, she was therefore unable to be married, and the convent became the natural place for her to find a home. She and Galileo, however, never lost contact. She sewed his collars, made him candied citrons, and offered advice on his latest projects. Somehow, Maria Celeste found a compromise between her role as nun and as the greatest supporter of the man whom many deemed the Catholic church's greatest enemy.

The first man to declare that the earth was not the center of the universe, Galileo would forever battle others and himself about the Heavens he revered as a good Catholic and the heavens he revealed through his telescope. The hardship and ridicule Galileo faced may cause readers to reflect on scientific findings today that many believe to be against the principles allowed by nature and religion. Bringing to life the entire era, Sobel shows us the importance of Galileo's patrons, the Medici family. She also writes about the hardships of that time, including the bubonic plague and the Thirty Years' War.

Galileo's Daughter, a biography unlike any other written of Galileo, could serve as an invaluable text for a western civilization course or for anyone interested in knowing more about the world around them. After all, Galileo's history is also our history.

Charlotte Pence is an English professor at Belmont University in Nashville.

 

 

As astronauts and scientists explore deeper into space and introduce the possibility of landing on Mars, it is easy to forget when man pondered how the earth moved. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the scientist whose discoveries about the heavens caused accusations of heresy, is revered in a unique new biography by Dava Sobel, author of Longitude. […]

Although some may lament the decline of handwritten letters, many people are writing more than ever, whether it is e-mail, reports, newsletters, memoirs, or family histories. Writing programs continue to cite increases in enrollment. Patricia O'Conner, former editor at the New York Times Book Review and author of the successful writing book Woe is I, offers readers a new guide to writing entitled Words Fail Me. Designed to ensure that our words do justice to our ideas, O'Conner's book provides practical advice on how to improve our everyday writing. Words Fail Me is divided into short chapters that offer witty and detailed solutions to a range of issues such as verbs that zing and the Ôit' parade. O'Conner also tackles issues writing professors repeat every semester to their students: know your subject, know your audience, and know your position. No one, O'Conner reminds us, can avoid having to organize one's writing. She also discusses the difficult subject of jargon, words that many feel they have to use in their company's memo. (The comic strip Dilbert masters these.) She warns that jargon is often too complicated and sounds contrived. While the majority of the book focuses on writing style, O'Conner also confronts the one issue many fear: grammar. She explains grammar rules in a short, concise manner with humorous anecdotes, making even passages on prepositions enjoyable. And if readers should forget all of her advice, she provides a check list at the end of the book.

Charlotte Pence is an English professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Although some may lament the decline of handwritten letters, many people are writing more than ever, whether it is e-mail, reports, newsletters, memoirs, or family histories. Writing programs continue to cite increases in enrollment. Patricia O'Conner, former editor at the New York Times Book Review and author of the successful writing book Woe is I, […]

The delicate relationship between mothers and daughters full of love and anger, often simultaneously, is the subject of Elizabeth Strout's stunning first novel, Amy and Isabelle. When Amy, a shy 16-year-old, has an affair with her high-school math teacher, she threatens the strong relationship with her mother Isabelle, forcing them to question the boundaries of their love.

That summer in Shirley Falls, a small New England town, seems relentless filled with the heat, the noxious sulfur odor of the river, and the strained vow of silence between Amy and Isabelle. The novel opens with Amy beginning her summer job at her mother's work place, the mill. Told in a series of flashbacks, the trouble begins when a young, enthusiastic Mr. Robertson replaces Amy's teacher. Sharing after school talks about poetry and life, Mr. Robertson offers Amy a ride home so she can avoid having to trudge through the muddy slush—a ride leading to many others.

Throughout the spring, Isabelle notices a pleasant change in her daughter and hopes the girl is coming out of her shell. But Isabelle has no idea Amy is seeing her teacher until they are discovered.

Amy's deceit makes Isabelle, a single mother, question her own parenting skills, remembering her own lies that began when she first moved to Shirley Falls when Amy was a baby. Horrified by her daughter's actions, Isabelle commits an act that they later regret, igniting the hostile silence throughout the summer. Unsure how to make amends, Amy and Isabelle begin the arduous process of learning to see each other as adults and recognizing their respective limits.

The details, whether describing the snake shape of the river or the way Amy ducks behind her long hair, ensure that this book will long stay in the reader's mind. The friendship and sometimes hostility between the women of Shirley Falls is often what enables them to persevere. In a few chapters, the time shifts are confusing, but for the most part, this novel is seamless, moving through the cold winter into the drought-ridden summer with ease.

In this quiet but exhilarating novel, the reader becomes involved in the life of Shirley Falls, able to peer through everyone's roofs at night and empathize with their struggles.

The delicate relationship between mothers and daughters full of love and anger, often simultaneously, is the subject of Elizabeth Strout's stunning first novel, Amy and Isabelle. When Amy, a shy 16-year-old, has an affair with her high-school math teacher, she threatens the strong relationship with her mother Isabelle, forcing them to question the boundaries of […]

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!