Posts Tagged Ann Hood

book review: Morningstar


Morningstar: Growing Up with Books by Ann Hood. W.W. Norton| August 2017| 192 pages| $22.95| ISBN: 9780393254815

RATING: ****/5*

I meandered my way through these essays because that’s generally what I do with essays and short stories. I read one, read something else and then read another. It’s quite a thoughtful mediation on reading and growing up with books. Ann Hood [Comfort, The Obituary Writer] recalls memorable and influential books. Hood writes: “How can I describe what reading gave me? An escape from my lonely school days, where girls seemed to speak a language I didn’t understand. A glimpse into the possibilities of words and stories. A curiosity about the world and about people—the young Amelia Earhart seeing her first airplane, Helen Keller’s silent world, Nancy Drew solving mysteries, David Copperfield surviving the streets of Victorian London.” She provides plenty of insight into her personal life, family and growing up in a mill town outside Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve read some of the books mentioned and will likely read many others she referenced. Bookworms will find much in which to relate in these essays. She writes: “…whatever book it is, it falls into your hands at just the right moment when you need to read it. It transforms you. Perhaps it lifts you up when you are at your lowest; perhaps it shows you what love is, or what it feels like to lose love; perhaps it brings you places far away or shows you how to stay put when you need to.” When I finished these essays I semi-smiled and nodded knowingly about the power in reading and the comfort one finds within the pages of books.

on Marjorie Morningstar:

“Maybe that’s why i reread it every year. Maybe. as time beats me up and grief or loneliness or a new kind of bittersweet melancholy take hold, I need to remind myself to keep going, keep reaching, to not forget the girl who believed she could have everything and anything at all.”

On The Bell Jar:

“An immediate bestseller, Plath’s story of beautiful, brilliant Esther Greenwood’s breakdown spoke to my generation. The minds of women were just being discussed openly as feminism soared. Questions of career, sex, marriage, and finding yourself were, I suspect, what kept me up at night.”

On The Grapes of Wrath:

“When I finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, so many things about writing a novel became clear to me. Plot. Character. Conflict. Escalating stakes. Metaphor. The Grapes of Wrath begins with a drought and ends with a flood.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.

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September Book Readings in Boston area

art of

Mary Karr
The Art of Memoir
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, September 6 at 7pm


Amor Towles
A Gentleman in Moscow
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, September 7 at 7pm

here i am

Jonathan Safran Foer
Here I Am
Brookline Booksmith
Thursday, September 8 at 6pm

37th parallel

Ben Mezrich
The 37th Parallel
Brookline Booksmith
Friday, September 9 at 7pm

lady copy

Amy Stewart
Lady Cop Makes Trouble
Brookline Booksmith
Saturday, September 10 at 5pm

terror years

Lawrence Wright
The Terror Years
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
Monday, September 12 at 6pm

writing without bs

Josh Bernoff
Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, September 13 at 6:30pm


llucy pear

Ann Hood
The Book that Matters Most
Anna Solomon
Leaving Lucy Pear
Newtonville Books
Tuesday, September 13 at 7pm


Mara Wilson
Where Am I Now?
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
Thursday, September 15 at 6pm

art of money

Bari Tessler
The Art of Money
Trident Booksellers
Tuesday, September 20 at 7pm

pefume river

Robert Olen Butler
Perfume River
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, September 20 at 7pm


Ian McEwan
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, September 21 at 7pm


Caitlin Shetterly
Brookline Booksmith
Friday, September 23 at 7pm

the wonder

Emma Donoghue
The Wonder
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
Friday, September 23 at 6pm

alan cumming

Alan Cumming
You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams
Harvard Book Store at First Parish Church
Sunday, September 25 at 6pm


Ann Patchett
Harvard Book Store at First Parish Church
Thursday, September 29 at 7pm

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review: two novels that explore mother/daughter relationships


Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. Bloomsbury| July 2016| 224 pages | $26.00| ISBN: 978-1-62040-669-4

RATING: ****/5*

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Bloomsbury.


The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood. W.W. Norton| August 2016| 241 pages | $25.95| ISBN: 978-0-393-24165-5

RATING: ****/5*

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.

–review by Amy Steele

Both Hot Milk [long-listed for the Man Booker Prize] and The Book That Matters Most center on mother-daughter relationships. Both novels feature two mothers seeking answers and two wayward twenty-something daughters. Both novels explore both the connection between mothers and daughters as well as a daughter’s efforts to forge her own path in the world. Both novels explore setting and sense of place. Both novels burgeon with vivid characterizations and stories. The Book that Matters Most sparkles in its focus on reading, the power of books and those that love books and reading.

Hot Milk takes place in southern Spain where Sofia, a budding anthropologist, takes her ailing mother, Rose, to meet with a world-renowned yet unusual specialist in somewhat of a last attempt to reduce her mother’s pain. The Book That Matters Most traverses between New England and Paris. In Rhode Island, Ava joins a book club to meet new friends when her husband abandons her after decades of marriage.  Points to Ann Hood for gathering an eclectic group of readers to this library book club. She expounds on quite a few of the members as they relate to Ava’s journey and each month’s book selection–particularly her friend Cate—librarian and book club leader. While Ava’s acclimating to the new group and becoming engulfed in novels, her daughter Maggie—who had been studying abroad in Italy– goes missing in Paris.

Both Sofia and Maggie enjoy themselves as any women [particularly young ones] should, exploring and pushing one’s comfort levels—Sofia takes two lovers in Spain, a young local man she meets on the beach and another vacationer named Ingrid. Author Deborah Levy writes: “We have become lovers. Ingrid is naked. Her blond hair is heavy. There is a fine mist of sweat on her face. Two gold bracelets circle her wrists. The blades of the fan spin and rattle above our heads.” Maggie jumps from guy to guy until she meets an older French man who offers her his lovely apartment to crash in as well as an unlimited drug supply—“He brought her such good-quality drugs that sometimes they knocked her flat for days. When that happened, everything turned soft and gauzy.” It’s the drugs that cause most problems for Maggie as she overdoses and hangs by a thread until her next fix.

Ava remains rather serious in her endeavors. Her younger sister died in a tragic accident and her mother committed suicide a year afterwards. Author Ann Hood writes: “But Ava, with her unruly brown hair and blue spectacles, her tendency toward pouting and sarcasm and a generally sour personality, only pleased her mother by being a voracious reader.” In the book club, each member chooses a book that holds special meaning. Ava chooses a book called From Clare to Here. It turns out this book proves difficult to find as its out-of-print. Ava also promised to invite the author to that month’s book club. As she searches for the novel and her daughter the two mysteries become entangled in quite an intriguing and formidable manner.

During her mother’s treatment, Sofia becomes increasingly detached—“Rose’s lips are moving and Julietta is listening but I’m not listening. I have been asked to be present but I am not present. I’m watching Bowie concert from 1972 on YouTube and it is buffering while he sings.” She’s soon needed less often and finds herself contemplating several issues, as one might do. Sofia learns she thrives outside her stifled London environment. She’s able to be the free spirited soul that enables her to embrace her unique qualities.

As an outsider with a smudgy circuitous route rather than a neat, linear route, I could relate to both Sofia and Maggie– not the drug usage but the not knowing exactly what to do with one’s life professionally or personally. Both young women are resilient and determined.  These characters bounce off the pages. Following their journeys through lovely writing proves fulfilling and resonant.


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book review: An Italian Wife

italian wife

An Italian Wife by Ann Hood. Publisher: W.W.Norton. Literary fiction. Hardcover. 288 pages.

An Italian Wife isn’t a novel but a series of inter-linked stories. I liked it at parts but mostly it became redundant. Ann Hood authored Comfort, one of the most poignant, honest memoirs I’ve read. It detailed the grieving process after her 5-year-old daughter died from a virulent form of strep throat. Her last novel The Obituary Writer contained elements of Comfort in a captivating, melancholy manner.

Unfortunately An Italian Wife ultimately disappointed. These women are trapped by marriage. Hood said she wanted to pay tribute to her Italian ancestors. I think there are multiple other ways she could accomplish that. It starts with a 15-year-old Italian girl, Josephine Rimaldi, married off to an Italian who’s moving to America. Her family says it will be a better life for her. How many girls today are married off because they’re girls, because they have limited options, because they’re not valued as much as boys and men. The subsequent stories link to her because they are about her daughters and granddaughters. Marriage and family– the expected life for a woman. The domestic, subservient role. The wife. The caretaker. Birthing many children and not having her own thoughts, plans and dreams. Lots of sex, lots of longing, plenty of dissatisfaction with current living situations. Understandable but it starts to get cliche after a while.

RATING: 2.5/5*

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W.Norton

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in the realm: Summer Reading Part II

henna house

Henna House by Nomi Eve [Scribner]
–It’s Yemen in 1920 and according to the Orphan’s Decree, any un-betrothed orphaned Jewish child will be adopted by the Muslim community. Adela leads a perilous life when her parents die and she flees with her extended family to Aden. The novel covers the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel.

angel of losses

The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman [Ecco]
— Marjorie, discovers her grandfather Eli’s notebook– where he chronicled mystical secrets and enigmatic stories. Marjorie embarks on an odyssey that takes her deep into the past, from 18th century Europe to Nazi-occupied Lithuania, and back to the present, to New York City and her estranged sister Holly, whom she must save from the consequences of Eli’s past.

story hour

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar [Harper]
–psychologist Maggie usually maintains an emotional distance from her patients. When she meets a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself, her professional detachment disintegrates. Cut off from her family in India, Lakshmi is desperately lonely and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man who limits her world to their small restaurant and grocery store. Maggie can relate to Lakshmi because she’s married to an Indian immigrant. She treats her for free in her home office and the women become close friends.

italian wife

An Italian Wife by Ann Hood [WW Norton]
–in turn-of-the-century Italy, fourteen-year-old Josephine Rimaldi gets forced into an arranged marriage with a man leaving for America. She gives birth to seven children and the novel follows Josephine and her children and grandchildren.

american blonde

American Blonde by Jennifer Niven [Plume]
–In 1945, former pilot Velva Jean Hart is a war heroine. Now Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promises to make her a star. They give her a new life story and a brand new name. As Kit Rogers she navigates movie sets, recording sessions, parties, staged romances and real-life romance, finding herself caught between a charismatic young writer and a mysterious musician from her past. When a friend dies mysteriously and the most powerful studio in the world launches a cover-up, Velva Jean goes in search of the truth— risking her own life, as well as her heart, in the process.

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The Obituary Writer: book review

obituary writer

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood. Publisher: W.W. Norton (March 5, 2013). Historical fiction/ literary fiction. Hardcover. 292 pages. ISBN: 978-0-393-08142-8.

Ann Hood authored Comfort, one of the most poignant, honest memoirs I’ve read. It detailed the grieving process after her 5-year-old daughter died from a virulent form of strep throat. Once I started reading The Obituary Writer I recognized elements of Comfort within the pages of this captivating, melancholy novel.

Two things immediately attracted me to this novel: the title and the cover. Arguably in book publishing, besides social networking, these are important elements for marketing. A simple title that tempts the reader because who doesn’t love to read those exquisite New York Times Obituaries from time to time? Naturally one wonders who writes them. Then there’s this lovely sepia cover. A woman– clearly in the 1920s with her bob hairstyle and pretty white dress with floral embellishments at the hem– sitting deep in thought at her desk, pen in hand.

A woman who lost her lover in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 works as an obituary writer in Napa Valley. In many ways Vivian’s life remains stagnant because she refuses to believe that David may have perished more than a decade ago. She obsessively researches amnesia and keeps a scrapbook about various cases and reports. In other ways she’s unconsciously or subconsciously managed to utilize her experience to assist others in their grief as an obituary writer. She’s become renowned nationwide for her adept obituaries. Vivian provides simple comforts to the grieving: tea; some toast or pound cake; and a generous ear.

“Grief made people awkward. It made them afraid and hesitant. But an obituary writer could not be awkward or tentative. An obituary writer had to be assertive and honest, kind and insightful.”

As John F. Kennedy prepares to take office in 1961 a woman in Virginia feels the strains in her suburban marriage. Claire met her husband Peter while working as a stewardess their first date atop the Eiffel Tower. Now she’s caring for her toddler, cooking meatloaf and contemplating recipes. Like many women at this time, she’s obsessed with Jackie Kennedy.

Vivian’s storyline interested me more than Claire’s perhaps because she’s single although she was involved with a married man and planned to marry him. Vivian seemed more independent than Claire from the outset. I preferred her style. Less domestic. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that she postponed certain life decisions while waiting for her love to return from the embers of the earthquake. Claire isn’t that appealing until she challenges her husband’s expectations. I also enjoyed the vivid descriptions of her Kennedy obsession. Particularly as she and her neighbors made bets as to what Jackie Kennedy would wear to the inauguration and to the inaugural balls.

As the novel progresses we understand what motivates Vivian and Claire. Vivian has this major love and a major loss which compels her to become an obituary writer enabling her to accomplish so much for others through her carefully chosen words. Claire volunteers for the Kennedy campaign and dissatisfied with her husband, pursues an affair with another man. Her husband walks in on them one afternoon. This shatters their marriage but divorce isn’t a possibility at this time particularly when Claire finds out she’s pregnant. Terribly conflicted, this leads to a catastrophic event and a clear bond between Claire and Vivian. The Obituary Writer engrosses you in these women’s lives from page one.

–review by Amy Steele

RATING: BUY [or request immediately]

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.


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