Review of Saving the Griffin, by Kristin Wolden Nitz


Saving the Griffin

by Kristin Wolden Nitz

Peachtree, 2007.  184 pages.

Starred Review

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008, #1 Children’s Fiction

I’m finally reviewing my friend Kristin’s wonderful book.  Unfortunately, when it first came out, I was in the middle of moving and grad school and lots of things that led to stacks of books I meant to review but didn’t quite get around to.

I freely admit that I am biased about this book.  Kristin is part of my online writers’ critique group, the Sisters of Royaumont, so I saw early versions of this book and contributed some encouragement and suggestions.

However, I’ve gotten lots of feedback from kids that they love this book.  My nephew declared it the best book he’d ever read.  Recently, the Homeschoolers’ Book Group at my library chose Saving the Griffin as their first selection, and every one of them said they liked it a lot.

Kate and her family, with an older brother and a younger brother, are living in Italy for a month.  When a baby griffin interrupts their ball game, at first Kate thinks she must have looked at too many wild statues.  She and Michael try to keep the griffin a secret, while feeding him and helping him learn to fly and even to say a few words.

Their older brother, Stephen, thinks he’s too grown up for their “games,” and doesn’t realize what he’s missing.  But the little griffin gets spotted by a photographer and then gets lost in Siena.  Kate and Michael need to help him find his way home.

One of the things I like about this book is the perfect depiction of the sibling tensions between Kate and her brothers.  Stephen is suddenly acting too grown-up for them, but Kate remembers when he was her companion, and Michael was just a baby.  I also loved the way Kristin, who lived in Italy for a few years, beautifully integrated the Italian setting and words in Italian, giving the flavor of Italy.

The kids in the book group said they especially liked the way the book mixed magic with everyday life.

This book isn’t long, and would be a nice follow-up for kids who enjoy The Spiderwick Chronicles.  I admit I’m biased, but I did like Saving the Griffin better.  It has a more light-hearted feel.  You’re dealing with an adorable baby griffin rather than sinister angry characters.  However, there is still tension in trying to save the little griffin from the dangers of the human world.

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Review of Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer



by Stephenie Meyer

Megan Tingley Books (Little, Brown), New York, 2005.  498 pages.

Starred Review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008:  #4, Fantasy Teen Fiction.

I took a Resources for Young Adults class last quarter.  As part of the class, I signed up for a Listserv on which librarians serving teens discuss good books.  That’s where I heard about Twilight, as well as some of my classmates mentioning it as the best vampire novel they’d ever read.  I read an extensive article about the author, Stephenie Meyer, and I was intrigued.  She’s a Mormon, and promised that she would not include graphic sex in her novels.  It sounds like her values are similar to mine.  I was intrigued, so I put myself on the wait list for Twilight.

I have to say that the only thing I didn’t like about Twilight was how late it kept me reading!  I thought I’d read one chapter before going to sleep–and finally managed to close the book hours later.  But I have to admit, I like it when a book engages me that thoroughly.

Bella, the heroine, is everygirl.  She was easy to identify with, and I felt sympathy with her from the start.  Stephenie Meyer keeps you reading by not answering every question.  We wonder, along with Bella, why that handsome Edward seems so angry with her, after meeting her eyes once, that he stays away from school for a week, and she can’t help but feel it’s to avoid her.  Then, how does he move with superhuman speed, but deny it?  Why does he say he’s bad for her? 

I’m not giving anything away by saying this is a vampire novel, since it’s on the cover of the book and in any reviews.  But even knowing that, Stephenie Meyer manages to keep you guessing as to how Bella will find out and what, exactly, that means. 

I’ve never been a big vampire novel fan, but this book doesn’t have the usual feel of a vampire book.  Instead, it’s a powerful, sensual love story.  Since Edward has to be careful not to get to close to Bella, so as not to be tempted to taste her blood, the tension between them is extreme.  Today’s TV writers would do well to learn a lesson from this book.  Sometimes less is more when it comes to describing romance.  This is good clean fiction that packs a punch.

Twilight is hugely popular with teen girls, and I can see why.  43-year-old abandoned housewives find it wonderful, too!

My only complaint is that the vampires are a little too perfect.  They are more beautiful than ordinary mortals, have superhuman speed and strength, don’t have to sleep or breathe, and live forever.  Edward’s group has found a way to get around drinking human blood.  So what’s not to like?  I don’t see any compelling reason why Bella shouldn’t just become a vampire, too.  Sure, it would be tough explaining it to her parents at first….

I can’t wait to read the next two books!  In fact, I liked this book so much, instead of getting on the library’s hold list, I ordered the next two books from Amazon.  I have a feeling I’m going to be reading these books more than once.

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Review of American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang


American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang, color by Lark Pien.
First Second, New York, 2006.  233 pages.
Winner of the 2007 Printz Medal.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008, Number 1, Contemporary Teen Fiction
My son loves graphic novels, but I haven’t read many myself.  However, when American Born Chinese won the Printz Medal for an outstanding Young Adult Novel, I decided this was one I should read.

I checked it out, but didn’t get around to reading it until it was due the next day.  I loved it!  I knew my son just had to read it.  Fortunately, graphic novels are quick reading, so he finished it before the day was over and I could turn it in.

This book is done beautifully.  The author uses the graphic novel form in a way that makes the story better than it would be as a regular novel.  I love the expressions on faces, and the way he uses visual storytelling and creative formats to tell the story.

There are three parallel stories in this book.  First is the story of the Monkey King.  He goes to a party with other gods, and they laugh at him for being a monkey.  He shows them.  Then we see Jin Yang, a boy born in America to Chinese parents.  They move from Chinatown in San Francisco to a place where he is the only Chinese kid in his class.  The third story has the format of a television show.  An American high school kid named Danny somehow has a cousin Chin Kee who’s terribly Chinese.  He visits Danny every year and embarrasses him so badly at his school that Danny’s been switching schools every year.

All the stories beautifully and unexpectedly come together at the end, with a well-told theme of being who you truly are.

At one point in the story of the Monkey King, he meets Tze-Yo-Tzuh, He Who Is, a God more powerful than any other gods.  At first, I was a bit offended when he started describing himself with words used from the Bible:  “I was, I am, and I shall forever be.  I have searched your soul, little monkey.  I know your most hidden thoughts.  I know when you sit and when you stand, when you journey and when you rest.  Even before a word is upon your tongue, I have known it.  My eyes have seen all your days.”

However, as I read on, I realized the author had beautifully placed the God Who Is into this tale about being the person (or monkey god) whom you were created to be.  This is a beautifully told, powerfully presented tale of the individuality God has lovingly placed in each one of us.  Yet it doesn’t come across as a religious story at all.  On the contrary, it comes across as a laugh-out-loud light-hearted comic book story.  Magnificent!

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Review of Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie


Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie

Hazelden, 1987.  231 pages.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008:  #5, Personal Growth

Starred Review

Codependent No More is by now a classic work on codependency.  If you want to understand what people are talking about when they mention “struggling with codependency,” this book is a good place to turn.

My friend Doris Rauseo gave me this copy of the book when I was a newlywed.  Interesting.  I have a feeling she saw many codependent traits in me which I was oblivious to.  Though I did read it and thought it had some good ideas.  However, 20 years later, I found the book in my moving boxes, and reading it now as an abandoned wife, I could suddenly see myself clearly.

Who is a Codependent?  The author describes in the introduction how as she became a codependent she began to understand them better:

“I saw people who were hostile; they had felt so much hurt that hostility was their only defense against being crushed again.  They were that angry because anyone who had tolerated what they had would be that angry.

“They were controlling because everything around and inside them was out of control.  Always, the dam of their lives and the lives of those around them threatened to burst and spew harmful consequences on everyone.  And nobody but them seemed to notice or care.

“I saw people who manipulated because manipulation appeared to be the only way to get anything done.  I worked with people who were indirect because the systems they lived in seemed incapable of tolerating honesty.

“I worked with people who thought they were going crazy because they had believed so many lies they didn’t know what reality was.

“I saw people who had gotten so absorbed in other people’s problems they didn’t have time to identify or solve their own.  These were people who had cared so deeply, and often destructively, about other people that they had forgotten how to care about themselves.  The codependents felt responsible for so much because the people around them felt responsible for so little; they were just taking up the slack.

“I saw hurting, confused people who needed comfort, understanding, and information.”

In this book, Melody Beattie manages to convey comfort, understanding, and information.  She helps you understand what codependency is, and helps you understand why sometimes being helpful ends up being hurtful.

Best of all, she offers hope of recovery:

“Codependency is many things.  It is a dependency on people — on their moods, behaviors, sickness or well-being, and their love.  It is a paradoxical dependency.  Codependents appear to be depended upon, but they are dependent.  They look strong but feel helpless.  They appear controlling but in reality are controlled themselves, sometimes by an illness such as alcoholism.

“These are the issues that dictate recovery.  It is solving these problems that makes recovery fun.  Many recoveries from problems that involve a person’s mind, emotions, and spirit are long and grueling.  Not so, here.  Except for normal human emotions we would be feeling anyway, and twinges of discomfort as we begin to behave differently, recovery from codependency is exciting.  It is liberating.  It lets us be who we are.  It lets other people be who they are.  It helps us own our God-given power to think, feel, and act.  It feels good.  It brings peace.  It enables us to love ourselves and others.  It allows us to receive love — some of the good stuff we’ve all been looking for.  It provides an optimum environment for the people around us to get and stay healthy.  And recovery helps stop the unbearable pain many of us have been living with.

“Recovery is not only fun, it is simple.  It is not always easy, but it is simple.  It is based on a premise many of us have forgotten or never learned:  Each person is responsible for him- or herself.  It involves learning one new behavior that we will devote ourselves to:  taking care of ourselves.  In the second half of this book, we’ll discuss specific ideas for doing that.”

This is a helpful, encouraging, and liberating book.

Here are more quotations that struck me as I read it:

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Review of The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith


The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon Books, New York, 2007.  213 pages.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008.  #5 Fiction: Romance

This book, the eighth in the series about The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, is extra special, because my copy is signed by the author.  I got to hear Alexander McCall Smith speak at George Mason University.  His talk was every bit as funny and delightful as his books.  I was completely enchanted.  Of course, that didn’t surprise me at all, since his books never fail to delight me.

I continue to strongly recommend this series to library patrons.  I do urge you to begin at the beginning, with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  I think you will probably want to read the rest, and eagerly read each next installment.

In The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, will Mma Makutsi really leave the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency?  The pleasant ups and downs of day to day life, as usual, are peppered with interesting cases.  Another delightful book.

I will give a taste of the pleasant wisdom found in these books by listing some quotations I highlighted:

“If there’s bad behaviour, the quickest way of stopping it is to give more love.  That always works, you know.  People say that we must punish when there is wrongdoing, but if you punish you’re only punishing yourself.  And what’s the point of that?”

“And that stopped the stealing.  Trust did it.  We trusted him, and he knew it.  So he stopped stealing.”

” ‘What we are trying to do with these children,’ said Mma Potokwane suddenly, ‘is to give them good things to remember.  We want to make so many good memories for them that the bad ones are pushed into a corner and forgotten.'”

“There was no point in telling somebody not to cry, she had always thought; indeed there were times when you should do exactly the opposite, when you should urge people to cry, to start the healing that sometimes only tears can bring.”

” ‘That engine I’ve been working on will run so sweetly,’ he remarked as he poured his tea.

‘Like life,’ she said.”

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Review of The Gaslight Effect, by Dr. Robin Stern

The Gaslight Effect 

How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life

by Dr. Robin Stern

Reviewed February 19, 2008.
Morgan Road Books, New York, 2007. 269 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008: #2, Relationships

One thing I learned from reading The Script and from talking with many women whose husbands left them: In such a situation, the relationship is going to get overcome by lies. The whole “Script” is based on asserting that it is all the wife’s fault that the husband is cheating.

Many people in broken relationships find that even worse than the betrayal itself is the knowledge that the one you love lied to you over and over and over again. If you are accustomed to believing this person (and you certainly should be), then the lies, which become more and more outrageous, are crazy-making.

When her husband finally admitted his adultery, one friend found that all she could say was, “I thought I was crazy!” Trying to believe lies coming from the one you love–lies designed to shift the blame off of him to you–is demoralizing and devastating.

The Gaslight Effect is a powerful and moving book, showing how emotional manipulation can grow from subtle beginnings–and how to break free.

The book gets its name from the classic movie starring Ingrid Bergman:

This classic 1944 film is the story of Paula, a young, vulnerable singer who marries Gregory, a charismatic, mysterious older man. Unbeknownst to Paula, her beloved husband is trying to drive her insane in order to take over her inheritance. He continually tells her she is ill and fragile, rearranges household items and then accuses her of doing so, and most deviously of all, manipulates the gas so that she sees the lights dim for no apparent reason. Under the spell of her husband’s diabolical scheme, Paula starts to believe that she is going mad. Confused and scared, she begins to act hysterical, actually becoming the fragile, disoriented person that he keeps telling her she is. In a vicious downward spiral, the more she doubts herself, the more confused and hysterical she becomes. She is desperate for her husband to approve of her and to tell her he loves her, but he keeps refusing to do so, insisting she is insane. Her return to sanity and self-assertion comes only when a police inspector reassures her that he, too, sees the dimming of the light.

Dr. Stern shows us examples of gaslighters in many different situations: lovers, spouses, parents, and bosses can all be gaslighters.

The Gaslight Effect results from a relationship between two people: a gaslighter, who needs to be right in order to preserve his own sense of self and his sense of having power in the world; and a gaslightee, who allows the gaslighter to define her sense of reality because she idealizes him and seeks his approval.

Dr. Stern assures us that even capable, confident women and men fall into the role of gaslightee, much to their own astonishment–if they even realize why they are so demoralized.

The problem is, gaslighting is insidious. It plays on our worst fears, our most anxious thoughts, our deepest wishes to be understood, appreciated, and loved. When someone we trust, respect, or love speaks with great certainty–especially if there’s a grain of truth in his words, or if he’s hit on one of our pet anxieties–it can be very difficult not to believe him. And when we idealize the gaslighter–when we want to see him as the love of our life, an admirable boss, or a wonderful parent–then we have even more difficulty sticking to our own sense of reality. our gaslighter needs to be right, we need to win his approval, and so the gaslighting goes on. 

Of course, neither of you may be aware of what’s really happening. The gaslighter may genuinely believe every word he tells you or sincerely feel that he’s only saving you from yourself. Remember: He’s being driven by his own needs. Your gaslighter might seem like a strong, powerful man, or he may appear to be an insecure, tantrum-throwing little boy; either way, he feels weak and powerless. To feel powerful and safe, he has to prove that he is right, and he has to get you to agree with him.

It does take two for the Gaslight Effect to happen.

If there’s even a little piece of you that thinks you’re not good enough by yourself–if even a small part of you feels you need your gaslighter’s love or approval to be whole–then you are susceptible to gaslighting.

This book is eye-opening. She shows how the gaslighting goes in stages. You begin with disbelief, thinking you’ve misunderstood, or that the gaslighter didn’t really mean it. In the second stage, you start defending yourself.

You search for evidence to prove your gaslighter wrong and argue with him obsessively, often in your head, desperately trying to win his approval.

The third, exhausting, overwhelming stage is depression. “At this point, you are actively trying to prove that your gaslighter is right, because then maybe you could do things his way and finally win his approval.

The third stage is epitomized by the woman apologizing profusely, repeatedly and obsessively to her husband for what he claims is years of bad behavior as she desperately begs him to forgive her–but nothing she can possibly say or do will ever win his forgiveness. However, he honestly comes to believe–and does everything he can to convince her–that she simply did not measure up, and he could not stay married to someone like her. That’s a much more comfortable story than the idea that he betrayed her.

Dr. Stern illuminates the whole process. She lets you understand how it can happen, even between two good people.

But the real power in this book is that she teaches you how to stop the gaslighting.

Fortunately, there is a solution to the problem of gaslighting. The key to freeing yourself from this crippling syndrome isn’t easy, but it is simple. All you have to do is understand that you are already a good, capable, and lovable person who doesn’t need an idealized partner to provide approval. Of course, this is easier said than done. But when you realize that you alone can define your sense of self–that you are a worthy person who deserves to be loved, regardless of what your gaslighter thinks–you’ve taken the first step toward freedom.

I like it that Dr. Stern doesn’t simply tell you to leave such a relationship. She helps you figure out if you can end the gaslighting but keep the relationship, or not. Especially crucial is that she shows you that you have the power to stop the gaslighting even if the one doing the gaslighting doesn’t cooperate.

Although from the outside gaslighting can look like the work of a single, abusive gaslighter, a gaslighting relationship always involves the active participation of two people. That is, in fact, the good news. If you’re caught in a gaslighting relationship, you may not be able to change the gaslighter’s behavior, but you can certainly change your own. Again, it’s not easy, but it is simple: You can end the gaslighting as soon as you stop trying to win the argument or convince your gaslighter to be reasonable. Instead, you can simply opt out.

There are some good tips for opting out of gaslighting on small levels as well as on big levels.

If you know what happened, you don’t need to argue about it. In fact, arguing about it will only make you feel crazy. Debating something basic–“I was not gone for twenty minutes”; “I am not threatened by this job”; “I never agreed to make a cake at the last minute”–suggests that reality is in fact open to debate, and that you’d change your position if you heard a good argument. It’s an inviation to your gaslighter to batter you with facts or emotional statements until you finally give in. Would you argue with a four-year-old about whether the moon can fall onto the earth, or whether candy is a good substitue for vegetables, or whether he can stay up all night and never get tired? No, because you know you’re right, and nothing the four-year-old can say will change your mind. More important, you want him to get the message that you’re not open to argument about these topics; you know what’s true, and that’s the end of it. Even though your gaslighter is not a child, it’s important to give him the same message: Some things are not open to debate.

I love that illustration, because once my three-year-old son threw a temper tantrum for a full hour in the middle of the night because he wanted to “stay up all night and all day”! That actually caused me much less turmoil than when he had protested against naptime. I felt very ambivalent about the naps–He seemed to be outgrowing the need for them. However, when he told his plan about staying up all night and all day, I didn’t question my grasp of the facts for a moment. Although I wanted him to stop crying so I could go to sleep, I definitely didn’t try to argue with him, and there was no self-doubt whatsoever.

If your husband tells you that you threatened to leave him when you know full well that you never intended any such thing–why debate? Though maybe he misunderstood your words, there is no reason to argue about your motives. You know what they were, and it’s time to simply tell him that you disagree and refuse to engage in debate. Perhaps that would be a good time to picture a raging toddler in your mind. It’s not a time for reasoning.

Don’t get caught in worrying about who’s right and who’s wrong. The important thing is not who can win the argument but how you want to be treated.

Dr. Stern gives many strategies and ideas to try to empower you to be able to opt out of arguments which only mire you in gaslighting.

If your friends tell you that you are sticking up for your gaslighter too much, you may have moved into stage 2 of gaslighting, where “instead of starting with your own perspective, you start with his.”

If you’re busy thinking how your jealousy or maybe your lack of understanding helped your husband slip into a “friendship” with someone at work, you’re not in a healthy place. “It may even feel normal to be constantly on the defensive. When your gaslighter overreacts, you no longer wonder, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ Instead, you jump either to placate him or defend yourself.”

Gaslighting isn’t always as serious as cheating. Dr. Stern tells us about many different types of gaslighters, like the “Glamour Gaslighter” who is all charm and sweetness on the surface. But if he gives a gift that you don’t like, or maybe is in the mood for romance when you’re not, suddenly you’re inadequate, you’re the bad person.

If you’re involved with a Glamour Gaslighter, you may be nodding in recognition– yet still feeling confused. You can see the behavior, but you’re still not quite sure why it’s such a problem. 

Well, I can tell you why: At least some–and maybe all–of the time, your gaslighter is completely involved in proving to himself what a romantic guy he is. That’s his version of the gaslighter’s need to be right. he looks like he’s relating to you, but he’s really only involved with himself. The actions he chooses to fulfill his needs may seem loving, attentive, and satisfying, but his lack of genuine connection with you leaves you feeling lonely.

Another surprising type is the “Good Guy Gaslighter.” “It looks like he’s being cooperative, pleasant, and helpful, but you still end up feeling confused and frustrated.” This type is going through the motions on the outside, but “when he gives in, you feel that it’s not so much because he cares about your feelings as because he wants to prove what a good guy he is. You end up thinking you must be crazy, ungrateful, or incapable of being satisfied, because, after all, he’s such a great guy.”

He’ll do his share–and more–of the household and relationship work. Yet you never quite feel as though he’s fully participating. And when you ask for emotional reassurance or try to connect with him more deeply, he’ll look at you blankly. Why, you wonder, are you so selfish and demanding?

This category also includes spouses who “give in” and do something they clearly don’t want to do, then hold it over your head.

Of course, the gaslighter in this situation is entitled to refuse to spend yet another day with your family. But he’s not refusing, he’s engaging in gaslighting, trying to make himself look like a good guy instead of being clear about what he wants. If you’re involved with a guy like this, you can easily become confused.

Again, Dr. Stern offers a solution, and helps you work out how you can do it in your own situation. “Let’s see what happens when you stop worrying about his approval, refuse to idealize your guy, and hold on to your own reality, even in the face of his need always to be right.”

Dr. Stern describes Stage 3 as “When defeat feels normal.”

One of the greatest dangers of Stage 3 is your increased loss of perspective. Feeling defeated, hopeless, and joyless may now come to seem so normal that you can’t remember your life ever was any other way…. 

To me, the worst aspect of Stage 3 is the hopelessness. Like all gaslightees, you have idealized the gaslighter and wish desperately for his approval. But by Stage 3, you’ve pretty much given up on believing that you’ll ever get it. As a result, you think the worst of yourself.

As she describes Stage 3 gaslighting, I still found the Glamour Gaslighter and the Good-Guy Gaslighter the most eye-opening. They sound so nice. Even reading the description it’s hard to see what’s wrong with that approach–yet clearly that’s what makes this behavior so crazy-making.

A Glamour Gaslighter is putting on a big show for his own benefit while trying to convince his gaslighter that it’s all for her benefit. He tells his partner she should enjoy his romantic gestures, but he’s not really checking in with her to see if she does. He’s just putting on a show and insisting that she enjoy it. 

A Good-Guy Gaslighter is getting his own way while trying to convince his wife that she’s getting her way. Or he’s withholding a part of himself while trying to convince his wife that he’s giving his all and encouraging her to think she’s crazy for wanting more.

As a result, the gaslighted woman feels lonel, confused, and frustrated, but she can’t say why.

Why do we stay? “As long as any part of you believes you need your gaslighter to feel better about yourself, to boost your confidence, or to bolster your sense of who you are in the world, you leave yourself open for gaslighting.”

Another convicting insight:

Those of us who stay in gaslighting relationships have decided–usually unconsciously–that we need to be able to tolerate anything, and that we have the power to fix anything. Melanie, for example, needed to belive that she was a kind, nurturing person whose all-encompassing love would create–single-handedly if necessary–a happy marriage. No matter how badly Jordan behaved, she should, she could, and she would be loving enough to make things work. Facing how unhappy she was with Jordan meant giving up this idealized version of herself and accepting that she couldn’t overcome her husband’s difficult ways solely through the power of her love.

I was convicted when I read that, because I cling to the idea that I made a vow, and that vow was for better or worse.

But when I read this book, I had to realize that no, I’m not supposed to tolerate anything. Am I trying to get to the place where unfaithfulness and abandonment don’t bother me? No, that’s not a healthy relationship.

My goal should definitely not be to get to a place where lies don’t bother me, or to get to a place where I let my husband tell me what I should be feeling.

This is not about pretending that everything’s fine when it clearly isn’t.

Here’s what we seem to be wishing for, when we stay with a man who is lying and cheating:

No matter how badly he behaves, it doesn’t matter, because we are strong enough (or forgiving enough, or nurturing enough) to transcend it. If we are not larger than life in our capacity to change him, then we are larger than life in our capacity to put up with him. 

The good news is that if we have the courage to leave these gaslighting relationships and look honestly at what they’ve cost us, we can begin to see an end to the terrible fear that’s been haunting us our entire lives–the fear of being unloved and alone…. We can see how full of love the world is–how many loving friends and supportive colleagues and potential life partners might enter our lives to replace that single “soul mate” on whom we’ve depended so heavily.

If we can see that our true selves don’t really depend on another person’s maintenance, that we are no longer the helpless infants or young children who needed so desperately to turn our parents into heroes, then we can finally begin to enjoy the people in our lives for who they are, rather than needing them to be the good parents we never had. We can become our own parents, caring for ourselves, so that our romantic partnerships and work relationships and friendships are based on love and desire, not on need and desperation.

Of course, the important part of the book is where Dr. Stern helps us learn how to turn off the gas.

You can change a gaslighting relationship only when you are willing to leave it, even if you never actually have to leave. But you need to become comfortable with the idea that you and your gaslighter are each allowed to have your own thoughts, so that you neither have to give in to his negative view of you nor have to convince him to validate you as good.

She doesn’t pretend that this process is easy or quick. However, she does encourage us:

I also want you to remember that changing your own behavior is an extraordinary achievement and one that will repay you handsomely for the rest of your life. Whether you’re able to save this relationship or not, the changes you make in yourself will stand you in good stead for a healthy, happy, and satisfying relationship in the future, either with your current gaslighter or with someone else. You may also be amazed at how all sorts of things in your life begin changing–how your relationships to work, friends, partner, family, and the world at large are all improved by your efforts to turn off the gas in any other part of your life. So even while you’re mourning the loss of what you may be giving up, remember to celebrate or at least appreciate the things you’re gaining.

Dr. Stern’s insights help a gaslightee understand how they contributed to the gaslighting. However, she warns us:

One of the most soul-destroying aspects of being treated badly is the message we give ourselves that we deserve it. And as we seek to become more responsible and understand how we, too, participate in the destructive dynamics we’re trying to escape, we can come to feel that we really do deserve to be treated badly. After all, we participated. We argued with our gaslighter, or submitted to him, or gave him the message that we didn’t mind. We tried to control the situation or sought to make ourselves feel secure. Therefore, we’re just as guilty as he is, and we deserve whatever happens to us, right? 

Wrong. The goal of this process is not berate yourself, burden yourself with guilt, or apportion blame. Your only goal is to change your situation for the better. In order to do that, you need to know how you, too, are contributing to the problem and what you might do to alter it. But that’s very different from deciding that you “deserve” what’s happening or that you are somehow “to blame” for it.

One of the final steps in shutting off the gas is one that a dear mentor has been trying to drum into me from the beginning of my problems with my husband. “Remember that you can’t control anyone’s opinion–even if you’re right!”

Dr. Stern speaks from personal experience in this section:

I know one of my own biggest hooks in the gaslighting process was my desperate wish to get my ex-husband to agree that I was right. I simply couldn’t stand that he thought it was okay to be three hours late, and that the problem was my oversensitivity, so I’d argue with him endlessly, trying to get him to change his mind. I now see that I was just as committed to controlling his thoughts as he was to controlling mine. For example, when he’d come home three hours late and I’d object, he’d go all-out to convince me I was being unreasonable, unspontaneous, overly controlling. But I was equally committed to convincing him that my frustration was justified. 

Twenty years later, I still think I was right and he was wrong–of course my frustration was justified! But that’s beside the point. What kept me locked into the Gaslight Tango was my inability to accept that my husband was going to see things his own way, regardless of what I did. If he wanted to think I was unreasonable, he would, no matter how hard I argued or how upset I got. As soon as I understood that he–and he alone–had power over his own thoughts, no matter how right I might be, and that he wasn’t going to change, no matter what I said or did, I took a significant step toward freedom.

I found this book inspiring, thought-provoking, eye-opening, and tremendously helpful.

It helped me understand some of the things that went wrong in my marriage.

And it gave me hope that I can break out of some of those old patterns.

Maybe best of all, it reminded me that I am a valuable, worthwhile person totally apart from my romantic relationship. That breaking up a relationship does not diminish me as a person–and may even build me up. That it’s not about me being forgiving enough or loving enough to not be bothered by a bad situation.

This book helps me face life with hope and joy.

Like The Script, it casts the light of truth on a bad situation, motivating change.

This review is posted on the main website at:

Review of Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale

Reviewed January 8, 2008.
Bloomsbury, New York, 2007. 306 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008: #1, Teen Fiction

I picked up many Advanced Reading Copies of books at the ALA Conference last June, but the one I was by far the most excited about was Shannon Hale’s new book, Book of a Thousand Days.

Mucker maid Dashti lost everything when her mother died, so she went to the city to learn to be a lady’s maid. When she comes to the palace, the princess needs a maid–because her father is sealing her into a tower for a thousand days because she has refused to marry the powerful ruler of the neighboring land.

Dashti is willing to be shut up in the tower with the princess and food for a thousand days. But when rival suitors show up outside the tower, events don’t turn out as expected. Can Dashti help her lady survive?

In many ways, Book of a Thousand Days reminds me of The Goose Girl, the book that made me fall in love with Shannon’s writing. Both books are lovely retellings of Grimm fairy tales. Both are phenomenal–wonderfully romantic, with a touch of politics and intrigue. In both, the fantasy is done with a light touch.

Both books also involve a servant passing herself off as her Princess mistress. However, the two situations are complete opposites. In The Goose Girl, the lady-in-waiting usurps her mistress’s place. In Book of a Thousand Days, the humble servant only carries out the deception because of the orders of the fear-filled princess.

In both books, we see character growth that rings true, and beautifully blossoming love, along with the forming of deep friendships during adversity.

I’m afraid I’m starting to get skeptical about the romantic heroes in Shannon’s books. They are too wonderful! I’m starting to think they are a woman’s idea of the perfect man (They certainly fit my idea of the perfect man!), and a real living breathing man could never come close.

But so what?! The magic in the book is done with a light touch, so it doesn’t hurt a bit to add another element of fantasy!

This story is simple, and so beautifully told. Why does it strike me as one of the best books I’ve ever read? I don’t think I can put my finger on the external ingredients that make it so. All I know is that it touches my heart.

This review is posted on the main site at


Happy New Year!

Happy 2008!  I’m starting off the year with a list of the books I most enjoyed in 2007, my list of 2008 Sonderbooks Stand-outs.

Since I spent 2007 studying for my Master’s in Library Science (and I finished it!), the reviews will take longer to post than this list. Don’t worry, they are on the way!

If only I didn’t read so many good books! As you can see, I have trouble narrowing down my choices. I do recommend every book on this list. They are books that stood out in my mind after a year of reading. For fun, I’ve listed them in the order I enjoyed them, which shouldn’t be construed as a ranking of their quality.

As always with the Stand-outs, I’ve categorized the books so so that I don’t have to make too many choices between wonderful but very different books. This year, I’ve added a category for audiobooks. Two of the audiobooks I listened to were the very best books I read in a previous year, so it didn’t seem fair to put them with the genre they are part of and have them top the list again. Instead, I ranked them according to my experience enjoying listening to them.

Happy Reading!

Review of The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner

The King of Attolia
by Megan Whalen Turner

Reviewed March 5, 2006.
Green Willow Books, New York, 2006. 387 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, Teen Fiction

The King of Attolia is a sequel to Newbery honor winner The Thief and its follow-up, The Queen of Attolia. All three of the books have surprises and reversals toward the ends of the books. So I’m afraid I can’t even tell you the situation at the beginning of this book—since it will give away surprises in The Thief and especially in The Queen of Attolia. I definitely recommend reading these books in order, since that will give you the fun of the surprises.

As soon as I learned from our library book rental brochure that this book was out, I ordered a copy for myself. The books are so good, I knew I’d want to own it and read it many times. When it arrived, I read through it, and then I began reading the first book to my son at bedtimes. Much to my delight, he doesn’t remember the plot from the time quite a few years ago when I read it to him before.

I have to say that in some ways these books are even more fun to read the second or third time. You can see all the places the author planted clues of what will be revealed later. You appreciate her genius all the more.

My favorite of the three books is still The Queen of Attolia. But this follow-up was also truly wonderful. There were a few plot threads left hanging—I very much hope this means she’s planning to write more about the adventures of Eugenides. I would definitely love to read more.

To quote my son, as we were reading this book, “Eugenides rocks!”

You can find this review on the main site at:


Review of The Canterbury Papers, by Judith Koll Healey

The Canterbury Papers 

A Novel of Suspense

by Judith Koll Healey

Reviewed December 17, 2006.
William Morrow, New York, 2004. 353 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, Romance Fiction

I loved this book! The subtitle says it’s a novel of suspense, but it’s also a historical mystery tale with romance, intrigue, and a smart, capable heroine.

The book features an actual historical character, Alaïs Capet, the daughter of Louis VII and his second wife, Constance of Castile. At a very young age, Alaïs and her sister Marguerite were sent to England to live with the court of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first wife of Louis VII.

Alaïs and Marguerite were betrothed to Henry II’s sons, Alaïs to Richard the Lionheart, and Marguerite to Henry Court Mantel. However, when Eleanor lost favor with Henry for plotting with her sons against him, he had her imprisoned in a tower and took Alaïs as his mistress. She never married Richard.

The book opens many years later. Richard and Henry are both dead and the younger brother John is ruling England, but doesn’t have a firm hold on the throne. Eleanor sends Alaïs to Canterbury to recover some letters which might hurt John’s power. Eleanor hints that she can give Alaïs information about a secret near to her heart, a secret she long thought was dead and buried.

The person in charge of Canterbury, William of Caen, once also lived in the court of Henry and Eleanor. He took his lessons with the royal children, including Alaïs, and was tormented by the princes, because he was their father’s favorite. Alaïs finds him quite changed since she last saw him. He also seems to know more than he lets on.

Alaïs is kidnapped just before she is able to recover the letters. She’s held in the same tower where Eleanor was once imprisoned. Now King John wants information from her—information she doesn’t have.

This story is full of action, suspense, and romance, and is highly enjoyable reading. I wouldn’t call it chick lit, because the historical background and political intrigue give it more weight than your typical light mystery. This is Judith Koll Healey’s first novel, but I hope there will be many, many more to follow!

This review is on the main site at