Thursday, April 25, 2013

Interview With SUSAN SHAPIRO BARASH, Author Of THE NINE PHASES OF MARRIAGE: How To Make It, Break It, Keep It

"Marriage, the last vestige of Church and State, is the testimony to our commitment to each other and the culmination of profound love." Or is it?
In her latest book, The Nine Phases Of Marriage: How To Make It, Break It, Keep It (read my review), bestselling author and gender expert Susan Shapiro Barash answers some of the thorniest questions on the appeal, validity, and pitfalls of the marital institution. Mrs. Barash is here today to share with Mina's Bookshelf readers the results of her illuminating and insightful study.

Q. Welcome to Mina's Bookshelf, Mrs. Barash. The Nine Phases Of Marriage is one of those books every woman needs to read before walking down the aisle. What should modern day brides be prepared to face after meeting Mr. Right (or Mr. Good Enough) at the altar?

 A. Modern day brides should be prepared to face the ups and downs of our fast paced, slick society. The delicate balance of work, romance, family ( in laws, adult siblings, parents), friends, interests and eventually children, is not always easy to achieve. If the couple has been in counseling, has been honest with one another and has discussed the 'what ifs ' of life, they will be better prepared. And of course, Passion and Longing, Phase One of my study, cannot be sustained quite as it is during the courtship and wedding period. But since romance matters to many wives, they should consider date night and specifically carved out 'couple time' and other ways to keep the romance going. 

Q. What is it about marriage that makes it so appealing, in spite of the new challenges and complexity of the role of wife?

A. Our society is keenly invested in marriage and in the role of the wife. As I state in my book, it is the last vestige of church and state. It is also the highest form of commitment in a coupled society. It translates into 'I love you enough to spend the rest of my life with you' and this is heady stuff, filled with promise and expectation. But wives also hold the bar too high, young wives as well as those in the middle years and later years. And we have to reconsider this and be more accepting and more willing to roll with the punches.  Being a wife today is complex indeed, because the world has changed for women these past five decades much more than for men. And wives have one foot in the old template of wife and one foot in the new template -- one that is not quite fully formed or understood.

Q. Alpha Wives, Beta Wives, Survivor Wives, Undivorced Wives, Happily Divorced Wives...different approaches and different expectations. Which one has more chances to see her marriage succeed and why?

A.   I have researched  each of these types of wives in my study/book The Nine Phases of Marriage, and learned that each  brings a certain attitude and expectation to the relationship-- and some are crossovers. But regardless of what kind of wife a woman is, it remains important to have this identity. The majority of divorced women and widows hope for another chance. Those wives who are  in a marriage that is somewhat disappointing and yet somewhat fulfilling  hope to make  it better, to improve matters.

Q. Even when the first go at that 'endless love' fails, a second or third chance at wifedom is still regarded as more acceptable than life as a single. What is your advise for divorcee and widows who are willing to invest in a new relationship?

A. Yes, indeed, the majority of single women hope for a second or third chance. It is partly a societal prescription and partly hardwiring  that makes this the case.  For the second or third marriage to succeed, a woman should have her eyes wide open in terms of children ( grown or younger, hers and his), grandchildren, ex in laws, finances, lifestyle, ex wives or deceased wives, and friendships.  Be very cautious and take your time, I would advise, learn about the person so that there are no surprises-- or fewer surprises. Be alert and honest with yourself.

Q. Marriage: sacred vow or bargain?

A. Both, sacred vow and a deal.  So again, know who you are, know who he is,  know what values you share and what you can and cannot accept as life tosses obstacles and circumstances your way.  Most women hope that marriage will be romantic, safe, rewarding and ongoing-- a way to not be alone in the world and to share a life.

Q. The Nine Phases Of Marriage is a guide written for women from a wife perspective. Do you think that men could benefit from reading it? Have you ever thought about interviewing a group of men about the same subject?

A. The Nine Phases of Marriage is a guide book for women that would prove a guide book for men as well.  I do not interview men for my books, and learn about them from a woman's perspective. That underscores why my work could be a cheat sheet for men. They would glean insight into what women want.

Q. One last question, Mrs. Barash. Do you have a favorite charity? Any phylantropic work you would like to share with our readers?

Photo Credit: James Maher
It's been an immense pleasure to have you on the blog, Mrs. Barash. Thank you so much for answering my questions. Susan Shapiro Barash is the author of thirteen non-fiction women's-issues books. She is a renowned relationship expert and teaches gender studies at the Marymount Manhattan College. Barash is frequently sought out by newspapers, television shows and radio programs to comment on women's issues and blogs for Huffington Post and Psychology Today. To know more about her, please visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

CERA'S PLACE: A Story Wrapped In Love And Justice by Elizabeth McKenna

Paperback, 270 pages
Published December 19, 2011 by CreateSpace
Genre: historical fiction, romance novel, western
Rating: 3.5 stars

CERA'S PLACE: A Story Wrapped In Love And Justice by Elizabeth McKenna

"In 1869, San Francisco saloon owner Cera Cassidy offers redemption to any woman looking for honest work. At Cera’s Place, men can get a decent hot meal with a whiskey, but if they want anything more, they have to take their desires elsewhere. One summer night, a distraught Chinese girl bursts through the swinging doors with a shocking tale of murder, kidnapping, and prostitution. Outraged, Cera vows to set things right.
Jake Tanner, a scarred ex-soldier haunted by the horrors of the Civil War, is on a mission to fulfill a friend’s dying wish. The trail has brought him to Cera’s door. Captivated by her Irish beauty, he wants to join her fight – but will she let him?" (Goodreads blurb)

I have always had a soft spot for historical romance novels and a diversion from the usual Regency England setting seemed to be a refreshing change of view. Western romance Cera's Place by debut author Elizabeth McKenna has a great potential and captivating premises (post Civil War historical backdrop,   interesting focus on human trafficking and slavery at the time of the Chinese immigration toward the Western Frontier, a wounded  and tormented war hero, a brave and unconventional female lead), but I think that the author didn't capitalize enough on these great assets. After a powerful introduction, where a descriptive and melodious prose raised the bar of my expectations, the novel fell short in some of its departments. The chemistry between lead characters wasn't supported by a convincing build-up of romantic tension, the male protagonist lacked depth and his characterization fell flat despite the angst of his backstory. Overall, the novel was less engaging than anticipated.

*Review copy graciously offered by the author in return of an unbiased opinion.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

THE NINE PHASES OF MARRIAGE: How To Make It, Break it, Keep It by Susan Shapiro Barash

Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 18, 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: non-fiction, relationships, marriage
Rating: 4.5 stars

"Marriage, the last vestige of Church and State, is the testimony to our commitment to each other and the culmination of profound love." Or is it?

THE NINE PHASES OF MARRIAGE: How To Make It, Break It, Keep It by Susan Shapiro Barash

Do marriages come with an expiration date? Is the holy matrimony the obvious and safe choice it used to be in the past or a terminable institution?
After all, we live in an age that allows women, more than ever before, to live a purposeful life and reinvent themselves after a failed marriage, through their careers, a first if not second college degree, social media, or with the aid of a look makeover and beauty treatments. The lives of those women who embrace 'singlehood', by choice or circumstance, are replete with alternatives. According to the statistics, though, for the vast majority of the American female population 'love-ever-after' is still the ultimate goal of a lifetime. And even when the first go at that 'endless love' fails, a second or third chance at wifedom is still regarded as more acceptable than life as a single.
The twenty-first century woman may have revised her priorities and finally accepted the idea that a failed marriage is not an indication of personal failure or loss of identity, but the security and validation provided by the status of 'wife' have long legs. Despite the gender emancipation and empowerment achieved over the last fifty years, women are driven by unconscious motivations, biological needs, and century-old expectations: either for its emotional and spiritual appeal, or for purely practical reasons, the marital institution still represents a safe choice and a hot commodity. Women enter the marriage arena with relentless optimism, but they will ultimately find it hard, unsatisfactory, below their expectations. In this light, it doesn't surprise  that women are more inclined than man (66% of divorce actions are initiated by women) to file for divorce.
What is it about marriage then, that makes it so desirable? Do wives have unrealistic expectations? Do they have the skills and the understanding necessary to make it work? Why do some women qualify for the role of 'perfect wives' and some others don't, and yet they don't give up on their dream of being happily married ever after?
To answer these questions, gender and relationship expert Susan Shapiro Barash interviewed hundreds of women from diverse age groups and walks of life, and came to the conclusion that, whether in a traditional, childless or child-centered marriage, newly wed or widow, divorcee at her second or third experience, all husband-wife relationships have common denominators and patterns that every woman needs to identify and understand in order to better bond with her partner, recalibrate her marriage or invest in a new relationship with an improved self-awareness. According to Shapiro's study, all marriages go through a progression of nine phases and fluctuating emotional waves, and while wives still play a role that abides by old Victorian rules (a focus on the care of the 'family nest', children rearing and education, protection of the 'family brand' and social organization), the cultural shifts of our century, economic downturn and new societal requirements add to the complexity of an already tricky business.
The strongest message delivered by the relationship expert is to avoid (while facing the marriage challenges) that negative attitude that blocks a couple's repair mechanisms. Marriages can succeed in spite of all the doubts and tensions emerging throughout some of its stages, only if emotional honesty, communication, meaningful confrontations, mutual understanding and respect in matter of financial responsabilities and housekeeping, shared vision in children's upbringing, commitment to seeking romance and intimacy are kept at all times.
Whether you are about to embark on your first relationship, or you are in a marriage that is not providing the emotional gratification you anticipated, or you are looking at your failed marriage in retrospect trying to wise up for the next one, The Nine Phases Of Marriage: How To Make It, Break It, Keep It , with its wide-scope exploration and  terse examination of an institution that is striving between old formulas and new expectations, provides an insightful guide to self-reflection and emotional clarity.

Read my interview with Susan Shapiro Barash here.

*Review copy graciously offered by the publicist in return of an unbiased opinion.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

AUSTENSIBLY ORDINARY (Jane Austen's Diary) by Alyssa Goodnight

Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 29, 2013 by Kensington 
Genre: women's fiction, chick lit, romance, fantasy, contemporary romance novel
Rating: 4.5 stars

"At times the answer is hidden in plain sight. [...] I've been your Mr. Knightley almost since the day we met. You were just looking for a Mr. Darcy."

AUSTENSIBLY ORDINARY (Jane Austen's Diary) by Alyssa Goodnight

Several media events have been planned this year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's masterpiece and literary darling Pride And Prejudice, from a set of commemorative stamps featuring her published work to several festivals and European tours of her hometown and film locations. Be it an accurate screen adaptation or a literary parody, scholars, screenwriters and novelists keep paying homage to this legendary forerunner of the romance genre. The British queen of the 'happily-ever-after' and unrivaled master of fictional match-making passes down her legacy and inspires modern takes of her most popular trope: the perils of misconceived romance.

In the second installment of the Jane Austen's Diary series, romance author Alyssa Goodnight guides her young heroine in her quest for Mr. Right, with the help of a journal that can magically channel Jane Austen's spirit and dispense troubled lovers with little relationship advises. The charming but mischievous Wickham, or the brooding and honest Mr. Darcy (Pride And Prejudice)? The handsome but shallow Churchill, or the solid and reliable Mr. Knightley (Emma)? The dilemma is always the same, even for a modern day high-school English teacher, whose obsession with British literature fictional characters impairs her judgement in matter of men and makes her blind to true love, "until [she catches] a flash of the man behind the charm and he's not quite the gem [she] imagined."
Bookish and "Darcy-obsessed" Cate Kendall leads a very tame and uneventful life: the highlights of her weeks are the Scrabble Sundays she has been spending, for the past two years, playing word games with her geeky friend and collegue, Ethan. Although a charismatic and "debatably sexy" guy, Foreign Languages teacher Ethan Chavez lacks the 'Darcy factor'. He is rather a 'Mr. Knightley', a clean-cut and clever friend, and his relationship with Cate is too much of a camaraderie to evolve into a romantic connection. How easily one person's misconception about another can beguile a young and unexperienced heart...Ethan will prove to be 'hero material' more than Cate ever fathomed. He has more secrets up his sleeves and more charm under his computer geek looks than she ever imagined.

Not a conventional romance novel, Austensibly Ordinary features a twist of magic realism, comedic overtones, and a flourish of literary references that Austen's fans may easily appreciate. I breezed my way through snappy dialogues, saucy plot, and lively pace of this 1st person POV narration: told by the perspective of our sassy heroine, Goodnight's novel is a tantalizing friends-to-lovers tale, intriguing to the point of making me crave more of Cate and Ethan's interactions. Minor subplots and secondary characters playing as foils in a comedy of manners, in fact, steal part of our lead couple's thunder. It would be nice to revisit Cate and Ethan's characters in the next installment of the series. All in all, a perfectly enjoyable, light-hearted, 'austensibly ordinary', modern love story.

*Review copy graciously offered by the publisher in return of an unbiased opinion. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


What an incredible lineup of books on Mina's Bookshelf in the weeks to come! Praiseworthy, fresh new voices, authors who never left the spotlight, comebacks, indie and traditionally published, fiction and non-fiction (NEW), you name it. Authors, readers, I hope to see you on my blog. Join Mina's Bookshelf and follow my reviews.

 Upcoming book reviews

Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight (fantasy, chick lit)
The Nine Phases Of Marriage, by Susan Shapiro Barash (non-fiction)
Angelopolis, by Danielle Trussoni (paranormal, fantasy, young adult)
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson (literary fiction, historical, fantasy)
Cera's Place, by Elizabeth McKenna (historical fiction, romance, indie)
Bare It All, by Lori Foster (romantic suspense, contemporary novel)
A White Wind Blew, by James Markert (literary fiction, historical)
William & Lucy, by Michael Brown (literary fiction, historical)
Staged, by Ruby Preston (chick lit, contemporary novel)
The Salamander Club, by Mats and Karin Eriksson (philosophical novel)
I See Your Soul Mate, by Sue Frederick (non-fiction)
I See Your Dream Job, by Sue Frederick (non-fiction)
The Cherry Cola Book Club, by Ashton Lee (contemporary novel, cozy fiction)
Embryo 2: Crosshairs, by J.A. Schneider (medical thriller, sci-fi, indie)
Uncorked, by Rebecca Rohman (contemporary novel, romantic suspense, indie)

and the latest releases by Sherri Wood Emmons, Colette Freedman, Ellen Marie Wiseman, Jon Harrison, Sophie Kinsella, Suzanne Palmieri...and much more!


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

IT'S NOTHING PERSONAL by Sherry Gorman MD (aka Kate O'Reilley)

Kindle Edition, 387 pages
Published January 14, 2013 by Quandary Publishing, LLC
Genre: medical thriller, legal thriller, suspense, contemporary novel 
Rating: 5 stars

"Your identity [...] is not built upon your status as a physician. You're a mother and a wife. That's what defines you and gives you strength. Being a doctor is what you do, not what you are."

IT'S NOTHING PERSONAL by Sherry Gorman MD (aka Kate O'Reilley)

When a newcomer author is able to showcase a promising talent and polished writing skills right from her debut novel, reading becomes a refreshing experience, and even a more invigorating one when that author deftly incorporates in her work a flair for drama and the realism of a memoir. It’s Nothing Personal, medical/legal thriller authored by Sherry Gorman MD and initially published under the pen name of Kate O’Reilley, is a work of fiction but it’s deeply rooted in the author’s knowledge of medical field and personal involvement in an unjust malpractice lawsuit.

The storyline is quite bone chilling – during her employment at St. Augustine Hospital, surgical scrub tech and hepatitis C carrier Hillary Martin has infected a cluster of patients injecting herself with a narcotic drug and replacing the dirty syringes, refilled with saline solution, back on the anesthesiologists’ cart. As a consequence of her heinous acts, some of the doctors have been unknowingly injecting a lethal virus in their patients’ bloodstream. Hillary gets arrested and prosecuted for tampering and diversion of narcotics, but her crime has serious repercussions also on the reputation of the hospital and some of its anesthesiologists, exposing them to law-suits from the infected patients. When Dr. Jenna Reiner is formally sued, her emotions range from guilt and shame to anger, disbelief, and revulsion. She cannot get rid of the feeling that the hospital administration is covering up information with the intention of using its anesthesiologists as scapegoats. Jenna feels vulnerable and scared, but she is not willing to settle with unfair accusations and exorbitant requests of compensation: the stigma on her reputation as a doctor and her family would simply be too infamous to bear, even if that means conducting an extenuating legal crusade and facing one of the most aggressive and nasty malpractice attorneys in the state.  
I am not able to tell exactly to which extent the novel is an accurate account of true events and in what measure the author added a coat of fictional sheen to the narration, but judging from the way Gorman illustrates tactical aspects of the legal battle, dramatic out-of-court deposition scenes, and traumatic feelings experienced by the protagonist throughout her ordeal, the novel seems to be painfully anchored in emotional authenticity and intimate knowledge of legal facts. Only someone who is acutely aware of the toll a diligent doctor has to pay in order to defend her professional reputation, her personal honor, her family’s well-being  against  money-hungry  lawyers, corrupt institutions, and ruthless media ‘vultures’, can deliver such a powerful and convincing tale. The result is a very absorbing and riveting read. Five stars.