Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review: Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe by Jennie Shortridge & Interview With the Author


Nothing had changed. Everything had changed. She didn't know how she knew it, but Mira had never been more certain of anything.
[pg 59]


Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe
by Jennie Shortridge
NAL Accent, 2008
Fiction; 367 pgs


I have only seen Oregon through the windows of a car, traveling on my way to Washington, Seattle to be exact, which is exactly where Mira ends up after fleeing her life in Pacifica, a small Oregon coastal town. Her perfect life is crumbling before her eyes. Her adult daughter hates her and her husband’s interest in her has strayed. She feels betrayed, abandoned and scared. If she goes far enough, maybe she can start over and discover what it was she had lost and why things had gone so terribly wrong.

Mira has almost always tried to be what everyone wants her to be. She aims for perfection, wanting the perfect house, the perfect family, and to be the best at all she does. Whereas Mira thinks this is her strength, her daughter, Thea, sees it all in a different light. Thea believes her mother expects perfection in those around her as well, an impossible dream. Thea also knows that her mother, as a result, is unable to see things as they really are because Mira is always trying to avoid rocking the boat. Thea feels as if her mother does not understand her and does not accept her for who she is. She has a lot of anger and frustration built up inside of her. And then there is Parker, Mira’s husband and Thea’s father. He does not feel like he can open up and talk to his wife as he once did. Their lives are more mechanical—they each go through the motions—and the passion seems to be missing. Mira does not realize it right away, but she too, longs for something more.

Mira and her dog settle into an apartment above a Seattle coffee shop where she takes the job as manager. It is there she comes to terms with the direction her life has gone and discovers what it is she wants just as those she’s left behind are also forced to look inward and make their own difficult choices. Both Mira and Thea are undergoing changes throughout the book—the mother is adjusting to mid-life and the daughter is finding her way into womanhood as an adult. Both want to be accepted and loved. They long to be able to be themselves, loved for themselves.

I had not expected to be so taken in by Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe. The story was much more evolved than your simple husband-cheats-on-wife, wife-needs-empowerment story. There are no villains in this story (unless you count Sequoia, a barista at the coffee house in Seattle). Parker and Mira have both made mistakes in their lives, and both are responsible for the problems they are facing.

Author Jennie Shortridge has written a beautiful and touching novel. The emotions of the characters are very palatable—very real. I could feel Thea’s sense of abandonment and frustration; Parker’s grief and longing; and Mira’s feeling of hopelessness and of being all alone. I could feel her desire to be wanted and loved. The characters were all very real, flawed each in their own ways. I came to care about each of them, including the other wonderful characters in the novel, wanting only the best for each of them.

It’s my habit to internalize the stories I read, and to compare them to my own life. It was no different in the case of this book. I found myself relating to nearly all of the characters in one way or another. I could see myself in Thea and Mira, especially.

Besides the ending, my favorite scene from the book is when Mira is left to run the coffee shop all by herself; the way her faithful customers came together was heartwarming—and something she desperately needed at that moment in time—to know that she wasn’t alone and that there were people out there that cared about her.

Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe touched me in unexpected ways. I am so glad I read it.

Rating: * (Good +)


Check out the author's website for more information about her books.



Author Jennie Shortridge was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Please welcome Jennie to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Literary Feline: I understand you used to perform in coffeehouses. Is that where the notion of the Center of the Universe came from? How much of your own experiences and life, if at all, played a part in your novels and, in particular this book?

Jennie Shortridge: I love coffeehouses and it was so much fun to have the story take place in one. Yes, I have performed in many over the years, and I have written in them (still do) and met friends there and gone for solitude. I have also cooked in little cafes in my past, so the working part of the story is definitely from that experience. I do like to use experiences in my life to embellish a fictional story. In my first book, Riding with the Queen, I use my experiences as a working musician, and in the second book, Eating Heaven, it's all about cooking, magazine writing, and caregiving. With Love and Biology, I had to actually write less from my own experience because I've never had kids, never lived in a small town, I'm not of Italian-American heritage, etc. But I do know the pain of being dumped, which is the worst thing ever, and the joy of finding a "family of choice" as Mira does at the Coffee Shop at the Center of the Universe.

LF: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

JS: I guess the feeling, or the validation, that we're all human, all doing the best we can with what we've been handed in life. I think that's what's at the heart of all my books. And hope. Always hope.

LF: What is one of the more memorable experiences you've had on a book tour?

JS: I was JUST at the Texas Book Festival this past weekend, and after I'd been sitting at my signing booth for a couple of hours, telling hundreds of people what my books were about ("I've never heard of you" was a common comment), a young woman and her husband walked up with huge smiles on their faces. "We're so glad you're still here," they said. They'd just driven two hours to come see me in Austin. The young woman had read all three of my books and felt very strongly aligned with the characters and stories, and brought her books for me to sign. I had to get up and hug her, of course, and her husband kept saying, "This means so much to her, you don't know," and he took pictures, and we talked for a long time, and it was just so meaningful to me that the stories I write could touch someone so personally. I'm very grateful to my readers, and I love when I get to meet them.

LF: Some authors have a designated work space in their home where they spend hours writing while others prefer to settle in at a local cafe. A few authors swear by writing with pen and paper and yet others prefer the modern technology of the computer. Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

JS: I absolutely do. I write first thing in the morning in my little home office on my desktop computer. Around noon or so I feel done, and start doing other tasks, but sometimes in the afternoon I like to take my laptop to a coffee shop and do a little more work on the book I'm writing, if I'm feeling so inspired. Lately I've been traveling so much promoting Love & Biology, while finishing the next book (When She Flew, coming out Nov. 2009), that I write in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms.

LF: Are you reading anything at the moment?

JS: Usually I can't read while writing, but I did just finish a wonderful new book called The Little Book, by Selden Edwards. It's a beautiful tale of time travel, love, connectedness, all set in the time when the world was changing in huge and horrible ways as Hitler was about to rise to power. The human stories and relationships are wonderfully done, and it is definitely a book of hope. I loved it.

[Note to self: Add The Little Book to wish list]

Many thanks to Jennie Shortridge for taking the time to answer my questions. I also want to thank the author and TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.


Jennie Shortridge's TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Saturday, November 1st: Estella’s Revenge e-zine (author interview)
Monday, November 3rd: Booking Mama (review)
Tuesday, November 4th: Booking Mama - (author guest post)
Wednesday, November 5th: She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, November 7th: Curly Wurly Gurly (contest for a $15 Starbucks or other coffee shop gift card!)
Friday, November 7th: Curly Wurly Gurly (review)
Monday, November 10th: Fizzy Thoughts
Wednesday, November 12th: Tripping Toward Lucidity
Friday, November 14th: Literarily (Guest Post by Author)
Monday, November 17th: Shelf Life (Interview with Author)
Friday, November 21st: Bookshipper
Monday, November 24th: Minds Alive on the Shelves
Wednesday, November 26th: Book Addiction
Sunday, November 30th: B & b ex libris

Other Blog Reviews of Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe:
S. Krishna's Books

16 comments:

  1. It sounds like an interesting book. The word that jumped out at me at the start though was 'Oregon' which is where I used to live 8 years ago (I now live in England) and I can't even describe the wave of homesickness that just washed over me when I read 'Oregon' in your review. Totally not related to your review or interview, but I thought I'd share it anyway.

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  2. This book looks good to me. Thanks for the review and the interview.

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  3. s was enticing enough; then your review completely pulled me in! I'll be sure to get a copy.

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  4. I love the cover of this book. And I'm a sucker for coffee/coffee house books. I have no idea why. I just love them.

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  5. Another to add to the list! Thanks Litty Kitty!

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  6. I think I've wandered past this one in bookstores a few times, but it's going on my list now. As always, thanks for an enlightening review, Wendy!

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  7. I know someone that would enjoy this. Loved your review and interview too! Aww! I would love to meet some of my favorite authors but the closest they seem to come is Texas and that's WAY too far away. I was surprised that so many avoid New Orleans which is not that far away from me :(

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  8. OMG, I can't believe I was at the Texas Book Festival and didn't get to her discussion. Bummer.

    I don't know why but I thought this book was non-fiction. So thank you very much for the review and the author interview. This sounds like a good comfort read and am putting on my list!

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  9. Thanks for the great review and the interview, Wendy! I've this book in my pile, and I'm looking forward to reading it soon. :)

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  10. Thanks for the great review and interview. I have been wondering about this book, and now I am certain I want to read it.

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  11. I've read another positive review of this one recently. Thanks, Wendy, for a "second opinion." I've added it to my list!

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  12. Thanks so much for the thoughtful review, Miss Kitty! I love when readers really "get" my intention with a story, and you most certainly do. Good readers are a very good thing, to channel Martha Stewart.

    Thanks so much for hosting me!

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  13. I really like the cover of this book. Books are always more enjoyable when you can connect with at least one of the characters, even if their lives are much different than your own.

    I'm going to have to add The Little Book to my own wish list as well!

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  14. Michelle - The author does paint a beautiful picture of Oregon. I wouldn't mind spending time there. Maybe I should add the Oregon Coast to my vacation wish list.

    Kathy - I enjoyed the book and hope you will too if you decide to read it.

    Bellezza - I hope you enjoy it if you read it!

    Nikki - It's a great cover. And I don't even drink coffee! :-)

    Amy - Any time! :-)

    Florinda - Thank you for your kind words! I do think you might like this one.

    Jen - Thank you! I know what you mean. Most of the authors I want to see end up going to L.A., which I suppose isn't as far as Texas is from you, but it's far enough that it's not the most convenient drive to make. On the plus side, an author I really want to see is coming to town next month, I noticed. I couldn't be more excited. I've told hubby a zillion times that we're going to see him no matter what. :-)

    Iliana - That's happened to me before. I'll miss hearing an author speak and then come across his or her book later and wish that I had been able to catch it.

    Melody - I look forward to reading your thoughts on it when you get to it!

    Book Lover Lisa - I hope you do enjoy it if you read it!

    Jenclair - It was very enjoyable. I hope you will enjoy it when you read it.

    Jennie - That is quite a compliment, thank you! And thank you for the opportunity to interview you and read your book. I look forward to reading your other books.

    Laura - I find that I enjoy a book more when I can connect to at least one of the characters too.

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  15. Lovely review, and I loved your Q&A. Jennie is so delightful and I look forward to more of her books.

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  16. Thank you, Andi. Jennie is delightful, just as you say. :-)

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