Being Alone, Delia Owens, and Where the Crawdads Sing


Habitually early, I walked into the Fairfield Library book event and took a seat in the front row.  I prefer to have an unobstructed view to the speaker and don’t feel shy about sitting alone in the center of the first row, but clearly, if others like to have an unobstructed view, their preference for being more obscure or part of a crowd, protected in a pack in the middle or back, surrounded by others and not so close, outweighs the desire to be directly in front.  The author, Delia Owens was at the podium getting herself prepared for her book talk on Where the Crawdads Sing, her first fiction book, and she looked directly at me sitting alone and smiled.  She came over to say hello, thanked me for attending and told me she knew me from Instagram.

The room started to fill up and Delia sat down next to me in the front row and I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with her for a while before the program began.  She told me she lived in Africa with her husband, now ex-husband for 23 years.  They were married for over 40 and several years ago divorced.  They still live together on the same property in Idaho but it is a huge piece of land so it is working out fine for now.  We talked about the pressure her relationship endured in those years, being so secluded from other humans while they did research, and how the hopes of it repairing itself upon their return went unfulfilled.

This one on one conversation along with Delia Owens’ public talk on Where the Crawdads Sing, her research on the social biology of animals, and her book’s main character Kya, who grew up on her own in the marsh in North Carolina got me thinking about seclusion, women, being alone and how everyone has different levels of enjoyment and tolerance when they are solo.  According to Delia, just as in a troop of baboons, a herd of elephants, and a pride of lions, human females tend to travel in groups, play, eat and sleep together.  There are many benefits of having alone time, but how much is too much? Isolation can change a person, and in Kya, a character based on many women the author knows, we can see how being alone can have major impact.  But as Delia said, women are strong.  We can do a lot more than we think we can and when put in the situation, we do it.

She said she wrote Where the Crawdads Sing in two parts, PART 1 is The Marsh – a beautiful place of light and sparkling water.  Part 2 is The Swamp – a dark place.  Like Kya, her character in the book, sometimes in our lives we go to The Swamp, but we always strive for the Marsh.

Delia Owens is an inspiring speaker, well prepared as one would expect a researcher would be.  She did say, standing up in front of a room full of women caused her to experience the same feelings she has when being rushed by lions in Africa – a sign to me that she does not crave crowds and probably feels most peaceful alone and riding horses.   She did mention her house is many miles from civilization and she goes to town one a week to see people when she is at home in Idaho.  It was incredible to meet her in person and observe how her life experiences influenced her and how so much of that is evident in her writing.  Where the Crawdads Sing was chosen for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club and I agree with Reese when she says she didn’t want the book to end!


My Review: 

A love story, a mystery and a courtroom drama… Where the Crawdads Sing has all that it takes for a compelling and beautifully rich novel.  Just as author Delia Owens’ went way out yonder where the crawdads sing to connect with nature, the main character, Kya becomes one with her surroundings.  As each important person in her life abandoned her, Kya learned to be self sufficient and survive alone in the marsh as a very young child.  With limited human contact and lack of strong friendships, her natural surroundings became her mother.  She is awkward around other people yet capable and self reliant.  She learned all she needed to know to sustain a comfortable life, until her desire for personal connection, touch and love emerged as she grew up.  She muddled her way through the hurt of abandonment as she embarked on a new adventure of companionship – but life is complicated.  Now she is a grown woman, and there is a murder in the marsh.  Her isolation over the years influenced her odd behaviors and has made her a target for ridicule and an obvious earmark for blame.  Most of the townspeople are agains her – will anyone come to her rescue as she is accused of the unthinkable or will she have to fend for herself as she has done her entire life?

The natural beauty of the marsh, the heartbreak and loneliness of Kya, the suspense and unfolding of the mysterious murder and the love story that beats all odds combined into an emotional, descriptive and addictive, well written novel made it impossible for me to put down.  I highly recommend Where the Crawdads Sing!

Goodreads Summary

7043934.jpgAbout the author:

Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa—Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savanna. She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and International Wildlife, among many others. She currently lives in Idaho, where she continues her support for the people and wildlife of Zambia. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.

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The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman


My Review:

The Home for Unwanted Girls is the compelling story of Maggie (based on the author’s mother) and her family set in 1950s Canada.  At that time orphanages were being converted to hospitals for financial benefit.  The Quebec government saved money changing the educational facilities to mental institutions, and the Roman Catholic Church received subsidies. Thousands of parentless children were falsely deemed mentally ill and many of the teaching nuns changed from black uniforms to white and called themselves nurses… they were complicit under the new law set in place by Canadian politician, Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis. This true to history cruel reality is the backdrop for this emotional, fast paced historical fiction novel that had me hooked.

Young Maggie loves working at her family’s seed store and hopes to take it over some day when she grows up.  She and her English father, French mother and siblings live in Canada where Premier Duplessis has just been re-elected in Quebec.  The distinction between the English and French has caused quiet discourse within her parents’ culturally “mixed” marriage and influenced their self worth and parental guidance.  Teenage Maggie is falling in love with her French next door neighbor, Gabriel, and after several illicit rendezvous, her parents forbid her to see him.  Even though her father married her mother, the French are looked down upon by the English and Maggie’s father is anticipating a brighter future for her.  They send her away to her aunt and uncle’s house to keep the young love from growing, and soon after, Maggie finds herself pregnant.   Her parents are ashamed and disappointed in her and she remains hidden there until the baby girl is born.  She tells her father she wants to name the baby Elodie, but at the hospital the baby is taken from Maggie, as her parents had arranged to send the baby away, keeping the secret of the illegitimate girl. Maggie is young and confused but obeys her parents.

We follow Maggie as she moves on with her life, starts working, marries and Englishman, and tries to start a family.  She is privately burdened with the loss of her baby girl and Gabriel, her true love.

At the same time we get to know Elodie.  She has been taken to an orphanage, The Home for Unwanted Girls.  Life is fine for her.  It is all that she knows and what she is used to, not much love or nurturing, but she has food and shelter…until the government rule changes orphanages into mental institutions.  Elodie and her orphan friends are strictly and unfairly disciplined, medicated, abused and deprived of education by the nuns.  Elodie is transferred to a different facility and there are bars on the windows and she is not allowed to go outside.  After hearing about the death of her friend, spending time in a straight jacket, and being drugged to sleep every night, Elodie musters up the courage to tell the doctor in the mental institution the truth – that the girls are not disabled but they are orphans.  Will he believe her and who’s side is he on? Can he help her, or will she be punished for speaking out?

In the meantime, Maggie comes to the realization that her marriage will not work out and she desperately wants to find Elodie and Gabriel.

No spoilers here, you have to read it to see if mother and daughter are reunited, if a teenage love is rekindled, if there is forgiveness…but suffice it to say, this one was a tear jerker.

With historical reference regarding Canada’s leader that was google worthy for me,  a forbidden Romeo and Juliet style love story that kept me engaged, mixed marriage and family values that created discourse, and a government policy that profited those who enforced it but was detrimental to a population that was already in jeopardy (which made me reflect on today), The Home for Unwanted Girls was a winner!

Goodreads Summary


About the author:

Joanna Goodman’s #1 Bestselling Historical Fiction novel, The Home for Unwanted Girlswas released April 17, 2018 to wide critical acclaim.

Joanna is the author of four previous novels, including The Finishing School, You Made Me Love You and Harmony. Her stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Ottawa Citizen, B & A Fiction, Event, The New Quarterly, and White Wall Review.

Originally from Montreal, Joanna now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children, and is at work on her sixth novel. She is also the owner of a well-known Toronto linen store, Au Lit Fine Linens.

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On Color by David Scott Kastan with Stephen Farthing




My Review:

David Scott Kastan, a  George M. Bodman Professor of English at Yale University and Stephen Farthing, an artist and elected member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London and Emeritus Fellow of St. Edmund Hall, the University of Oxford have collaborated on this beautiful, and educational book about the history of color and how it plays out in the world through art, politics, perceptions and more.

On Color encourages us to think about what we see, what each color symbolizes  and how it makes us feel.  According to the authors, scientists believe there are more than 17 million different colors.  Red is known to be the color of roses, yet is the rose red or does it just appear to be red? In trying to understand what each individual actually sees, Kastan discusses how length, an objective property, is something that can be proven and verified by measurement, while color is perceived and can only be classified as an aspect… a vague property. 

Did you know there was no Orange before oranges came to Europe?  Van Gogh celebrated the depth of the color in his Basket With Six Oranges, while other artists utilized Orange differently.  How did Yellow become associated with asians and what does color have to do with racial identity?  Green may be a political color in Ireland but in the United States it has become the color of our environmental movement, and ecological concerns.

About 20% of people choose Green as their favorite color (I am one of those people).

For centuries, Blue has been the color of despair. Paintings from Picasso’s Blue period depict his depression.  In the 1670s Newton named the color Indigo – at the time, it was a dye to color things blue.  He also changed ROYGBIP (Purple) to ROYGBIV (Violet) and then, in the late 1800s Impressionism embraced Violet.  Controversy surrounded the use of Violet in art because it did not represent the truth, only the trick of the light.  Black is the color of funerals, the fashionable LBD (little black dress) and the color of darkness.  Is White a mixture of all colors?  Does it mean purity?

“Color doesn’t tell us what that meaning is.  We tell the color; and whatever we say it means, we make it mean…”

So much to enjoy and absorb in this insightful and sophisticated exploration of color, art and history within each chapter, along with current perceptions and discussions… 

This beautiful book wouldn’t be complete without mention of the infamous black and blue/white and gold dress that brought color discussion to the forefront and became an internet sensation!  

I highly recommend this book to history lovers, artists, and all who see in color!  The hardcover edition makes a beautiful gift!

On Color is part of the Bedside Reading program and will be complimentary for guests at the Conrad Hotel in NY later this year.



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The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton


My Review:  

The Sun Does Shine is a powerful and important memoir, showing a discouraging side of our legal system and an incredible testament of stamina and hope.

In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was convicted of murder in Alabama and sentenced to the electric chair.  He was a 29 year old, poor, black man who had a job, a happy disposition and was a devoted son to his loving mother.  The judicial system did not protect Hinton as it should have and he chose not speak for the first 3 years of his incarceration. Rebelling in silence as he wavered between anger and despair, he anticipated being put to death in the electric chair, knowing he was innocent but unable to prove it, despite every bit of evidence indicating the truth.

As time went on, and the legal system repeatedly failed him, Hinton decided to speak up, fight for justice, and he found a way to survive death row…for almost 30 years.  Visitation with his mother and best friend, Lester kept his spirits up.  He learned to exercise his imagination and transport himself to different times and places.   Finding comfort in this, he wanted to share the pleasure of escaping with his fellow inmates and he started a book club. He researched the law while spending his allotted “free” time in the prison library.  He sought out an attorney who had his best interests in mind and the drive to prove innocence.  He befriended the most unlikely alleged criminals and created a supportive and caring family for himself; sadly 54 of them were executed during his incarceration.

With joy and appreciation for his relentless attorney, the unwavering love and friendship of him mother and Lester, and genuine forgiveness in his heart, Anthony Ray Hinton was released in his late 50s, in 2015.

This memoir was upsetting and joyful at the same time.  The judicial system, race relations, prison conditions, and the death penalty all need to be reviewed, discussed, examined and improved so innocent people are not sent to jail, and people in jail are treated humanely.  We are not meant to live in a 5 x 7 cell for any amount of time and these conditions with little human contact can contribute to negativity, violence and hopelessness.  Putting people to death is barbaric and a poor precedent for a government of a free country to support.  Anthony Ray Hinton had incredible strength of character and faith to be able to re-enter life outside prison and find joy and purpose.  I admire his immense fortitude and ability to forgive.

I highly recommend this book.  Check out Oprah’s interview with the author.

Goodreads Summary



About the Author:

ANTHONY RAY HINTON spent nearly thirty years on death row for crimes he didn’t commit. Released in April 2015, Hinton now speaks widely on prison reform and the power of faith and forgiveness. He lives in Alabama.

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My Literary, Artsy and Beachy Summer Adventures 2018

This has been a busy summer for me as I have enjoyed many books, from family sagas like A Place For Us, to stories of strong women like The Weight Of Ink, to page turners and beach reads like Something in the Water and Vox.

I attended book launching events celebrating Jenna Blum and The Lost Family, Nancy Balbirer and A Marriage in Dog Years, and Susie Orman Schnall and The Subway Girls, and participated in engaging book group discussions for Educated, An American Marriage and Song of a Captive Bird.

I was thrilled to go to the East Hampton Library fundraiser, Authors Night, where I had a brush wth fame, as I was face to face with Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria Baldwin, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Geraldo Rivera.


I also visited with many wonderful authors there, including Jamie Brenner (The Forever Summer and The Husband Hour).  Visit my Book Nation by Jen Facebook Page to see all my photos from the star-studded event!


I stole a few days away with a friend, and in July we visited the Pollack- Krasner House in East Hampton, where Jackson Pollack lived and painted.  We experienced the signature Pollack technique of drip painting and strolled the incredible sculpture garden at Longhouse Reserve where Chilluly and De Kooning pieces are amongst those on display.  It was an incredibly fun, action packed artsy get-away!






Also, during the summer, the theater was calling my name and I saw two incredible Broadway musicals, Once On This Island and Come From Away. The rest of the days I spent relaxing, swimming, reading and catching up with friends at the beach in Amaganssett, NY and Westport, CT.

IMG_3826.jpgAmagansett, NY sunrise

IMG_3974.jpgWestport, CT sunset

In addition, I have started a fun, new job at Bedside Reading, a unique business that places complementary books at the bedside in 5 star luxury and beach hotels.  Publishers and authors can join the program (click here to apply) and once their book is accepted and in place we promote it in many ways, including in magazines and multiple social media networks.  I am thrilled that hotel guests across the country will be receiving fantastic books in their rooms like Jeanne Blasberg’s Eden, and Christine Pakkala’s Last-But-Not-Least Lola Going Green along with Leah DeCesare’s audiobook of Forks, Knives and Spoons!  Also guests will be treated to Girls’ Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke and Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage!  So great to be part of a team that spreads the love of books and sweetens the lap of luxury!

It is bittersweet for me as we wind down the summer, with just a few days left before my 21 year old son returns to college for his senior year. My 15 year old son is already busy studying for ACTs, practicing his viola for his Youth Symphony audition, and finishing his summer assignments in preparation for junior year.  Time goes so fast, especially in the summer!


This is my older son with photobomb by Chris Martin of Coldplay!

I will be going full force trying to tackle my “To Be Read” pile of books in between my work projects, and attempting to remain sane by attending my beloved dance class at Dance Express with Luisa for the 15th year!

Hope you enjoy the last dog days of summer! (This is Bogey!)


Thanks so much for following Book Nation by Jen!  I would love to hear about your warm weather adventures!  Did you go on vacation?  What did you read? What keeps you sane?



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From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein


My Review:

Twenty something Beck is living in DC, enjoying time with her boyfriend, working a part time teaching job and part time at Lululemon, trying to make ends meet, when she answers an ad for a job as a stenographer at a law firm on Craigslist.  They ask for her resume and cover letter and Beck, thinking nobody even reads her cover letters, omits it.   She hears back with a request for the cover letter and feeling discouraged from her ongoing job search she tells them in an email that her resumé speaks for itself.  But then she was invited to come in and take a test, which she does, and enjoys it – it is not a typing test as she expected, but a multiple choice and analogy test.  Beck, having done well on the test, is called back again for an interview. She agrees to go but misses it due to Lululemon training.  She has no interest in working as a stenographer but feels she needs interview practice so she makes a halfhearted effort. Feeling apathetic but with some vague sense of responsibility, she writes to apologize and gets this message back:

Hi Rebecca,

I understand you’re busy.  For transparency’s sake, I wanted to let you know this is a job at the White House, and you’d be traveling with the President on his domestic and international trips.  Let me know if this changes things.


And this very email changes Beck’s trajectory in life and in love as she embarks on a crazy journey with the White House staff and President Obama’s team.

I really enjoyed this memoir, From the Corner of the Oval;  Beck is not unlike any young adult fresh out of school and focused on herself, her friends and her love life.  Her boyfriend shenanigans and drinking escapades are typical and par for the course, fun to read and reminiscent of the good ol’ days in the big city for me, but her job was a once in a lifetime opportunity that gives this memoir an extended life, great interest and that un-put-downable quality!  Author Beck Dorey-Stein shares tidbits of insight and glimpses of President Obama and his staff through her eyes as she tells her personal story of struggles and growth, personal and professional, with this incredible, little known insider view as the colorful backdrop.

If you enjoy memoirs, if you have an interest in hearing about what is is like to travel the world with the President of the United States, or if you want to read about one young woman’s journey to find herself and happiness, Beck Dorey-Stein’s From the Corner of the Oval is for you!


Goodreads Summary


About the Author:

Beck Dorey-Stein is a native of Narberth, Pennsylvania and a graduate of Wesleyan University. Prior to her five years in the White House, she taught high school English in Hightstown, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; and Seoul, South Korea.

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Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey


My Review:

If you are looking for a book to bring to the beach this weekend, here it is!  Not Her Daughter is a gripping page turner that had me completely swept up in the drama and questioning what is morally right.  Sarah, a successful business woman becomes upset when she observes a mother mistreating her young daughter, Emma, in an airport.  Weeks later, by chance, Sarah observes the same girl while at school and feels overwhelming compassion and the urge to save her.  She secretly follows her home to check on her wellbeing and after witnessing the mother engaging in more abusive behavior, Sarah decides to act.

Amy, an unfit mother knows she has a beautiful grey eyed, brown haired daughter but is not able to manage her work, her baby son and her useless husband along with this button pushing, irritating daughter of hers.  She cannot control her inner anger and is constantly lashing out at her bothersome child.  And then Emma is gone.  Is Amy worried and upset…or relieved?

An illegal kidnapping, or a rescuing in the best interest of the child – that is up to you, as Sarah and Emma, the unlikely duo hit the road together.

Being on the run with the now missing five year old girl is not an easy task and Sarah does her best to keep her friends, family and coworkers oblivious.  Then she runs into her ex boyfriend and her secret is in jeopardy.  Can she escape judgement along with the authorities?  Does Emma’s family even want her back?

This quick read is perfect for an escape from reality…don’t nitpick the practicality of the story and just enjoy the ride!

Goodreads Summary



About the Author:

Rea Frey is the author of four nonfiction books. Her debut novel, NOT HER DAUGHTER, will be released by St. Martin’s Press August 21, 2018.

When she’s not exercising, mothering, adulting, wifing, eating, or writing about herself in the third person, you can find her hard at work on her next book and ghostwriting for other people.


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Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown


My Review:

If you feel like you could use a boost of self confidence or reassurance that you are who you are supposed to be, or you want to think about acceptance, your own as well as getting along with others in this world, Braving the Wilderness is for you, and frankly everyone you may know.

In discussing how to build bridges, Brown says, “…the more we’re willing to seek out moments of collective joy and show up for experiences of collective pain- for real, in person, not online – the more difficult it becomes to deny our human connection, even with people we may disagree with.”

Brené Brown delivers powerful messages about how to “reclaim connection and truly belong” in this short, easy to ready book.  She provides some good advice and examples to assist us in navigating today’s world, standing up for what we believe individually, connecting face to face and treating others with respect. I read and enjoyed the book but heard the audiobook is great too.

Goodreads Summary


About the Author:

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation – Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work.

She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of four #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness. Her new book, Dare to Lead: Bold Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., is scheduled for publication in October 2018.

Brené’s TED talk – The Power of Vulnerability – is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 35 million views.

Brené lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, Steve, and their children, Ellen and Charlie.

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Vox by Christina Dalcher



My review:

Get ready to read this one, sure to be all over social media this fall!  As we can imagine, contention in government could lead to citizens’ rights being taken away, and in Vox, author Christina Dalcher goes to the extreme with this concept and shows us how easy it is to change people’s mindset in a short time.   In this made up Handmaid’s Tale – like world,  women are only allowed to speak 100 words per day. Their words are counted by a bracelet each one wears, and when they go over the limit, they receive an electric shock. All women have been removed from the workforce and are only allowed to take care of the home and family. Could something like this ever happen? I found there to be some vague parallels to real life, was captivated by the storyline, and even though the ending was a little far fetched and dramatic for me, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maddening, frightening and exhilarating, this could be a fantastic movie!

Book groups will enjoy rich discussion surrounding this novel’s concept. Vox is available August 21st.

Goodreads summary


About the author:

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.
Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.
After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

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