Tag Archives: addictions

Disco Inferno

One Dog Night: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 400 pages)

A lot of people claim to be able to judge someone’s emotional state by looking in their eyes.   I don’t make eye contact, so that’s a talent I’ve never perfected.   When I talk to people, I generally look at their mouth, so while I can’t judge emotions, I’m pretty good at identifying cavities.

Andy Carpenter is the featured character in last year’s release by David Rosenfelt, One Dog Night.   Rosenfelt spins a most enjoyable yarn, so enjoyable that I read into the night only putting the book down after reading the last page.   This time around, Andy, Laurie, Maurice and the rest of the defense team are challenged by a client who believes he is guilty of a heinous crime, mass murder by fire.

Noah Calloway, the client, has been an upstanding citizen for many years after turning his life around, and away from addiction.   Noah has a deep, gnawing sense of guilt about a fire that killed 26 people; however, he does not remember setting the fire.   His wife, Becky, won’t accept a guilty plea and she takes her case to Andy.   There is, of course, a reason Andy can’t refuse Becky’s request.   Tara, Andy’s beloved dog, was Noah’s dog (nee Hanna) before she was placed for adoption because Noah’s addiction made him unfit to care for the dog.

Once Andy gets to know Noah, he realizes that there is no way this gentle man could have incinerated 26 people in an apartment building.   The task at hand is to find the arsonist and assure Noah’s exoneration.   The plot contains a generous helping of twists and offshoots.   While the main characters are familiar to fans of this series, the rest of the players are an odd assortment of famous and infamous folks who make the story take on a patchwork effect.   Everyone has a piece of the puzzle.

The race to the solution is very engaging.   Rosenfelt’s puns and the smart mouth he has given to Andy make it a page-turning delight.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   One Dog Night is also currently available as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download, and as an Audible audiobook.   It will be released in paperback form on May 22, 2012.

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Crying, Waiting, Hoping

Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 448 pages)

McKenzie presents sensitive topics with such blatant honesty and humor that I found myself laughing out loud.

Kate Sanford is trying to hold on to her college days, scheduling parties instead of business meetings, when she is given an interview for the job of a lifetime as a music writer for her favorite magazine, The Line.   The night before the interview, to celebrate her potential life changing opportunity and as well her thirtieth birthday, she agrees to go out with her friends for a quick drink.   Still intoxicated the morning after, she bombs the interview but is offered an ironic opportunity.   Kate’s assignment is to go undercover and follow a Lindsay-Lohan-type icon…  in rehab!

Kate signs into rehab (drunk) and begins to go through the steps to recovery as she writes about the “it girl” Amber Sheppard and her “young James Bond” boyfriend, Connor.   Yet the story begins to spin as Kate befriends Amber as well as Connor’s perpetual assistant, Henry.   As Kate continues her assignment, she is challenged with perhaps the real reasons she is in rehab and the ultimate decision of whether her “dream job” is worth hurting those she has met along the way.

My head is spinning out questions, but I don’t have any answers.   I feel like they’re floating in front of me, but they haven’t taken shape.   And instead of making progress, I’m in suspended animation, waiting, hoping for something to happen, but unable to make it so.

Spin is a lighthearted, quick read full of interesting characters and believable experiences.   McKenzie presents sensitive topics with such blatant honesty and humor that I found myself at times laughing out loud.   Her characters are real, both the famous and infamous, with evident flaws but each possessing their own charm.   Everyone is on their own path of self-discovery and yield realistic and often disappointing conclusions as they deal with their addictions and shortcomings.   As the story unfolds they find that perhaps they have more in common than anticipated.

McKenzie touches upon the realism of chemical dependency.   Through her characters’ therapy discussions she presents scenarios on how individuals find themselves in these situations, how relationships are affected and how difficult it can be to continue down the path of sobriety.   She keeps the topics light through the quirkiness of her characters and with the flowing humorous dialogue throughout the novel.

McKenzie demonstrates Kate’s love of music with random references to songs that have particular meaning to her main character and provides “Kate’s Playlist” at the end of the novel.   This would have been an interesting way to perhaps introduce more of Kate’s past and further describe her family dynamics but I enjoyed the references for their simplicity.

If you are searching for a deep, life-changing novel, you will be disappointed, but if you are interested in a well-written story laden with real issues presented with quick wit and humor, this is the novel for you.   Spin would make a fabulous holiday or book club read.   I enjoyed the book from page one through to the end; therefore, this novel is…  Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Imagine if Bridget Jones fell into a million little pieces, flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and befriended Lindsay Lohan along the way, and you are beginning to grasp the literary roller coaster ride that is Catherine McKenzie’s Spin.   Filled with brutal honesty and wry humour, Spin is a story for everyone who has ever woken up hung over and thought, “Do I have a problem?   Yes – I need to find a greasy breakfast.”   And by that I mean everyone I know.   Leah McLaren, Globe and Mail Columnist, author of The Continuity Girl

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Against the Wind

In the Rooms: A Novel by Tom Shone (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 342 pages)

She probably only dated snowboarders with a rap sheet as long as their arm, the cheekbones of Viggo Mortensen, and a penchant for whittling driftwood into small but meaningful tokens of their appreciation for Life’s Bounteous Gifts.   I failed on both fronts.   I had neither misbehaved with sufficient abandon nor reformed myself with enough zeal.   I was just trying to get home without being tripped up, or found out, just like everyone else.

This debut novel might have been entitled Dim Lights, Big City as it is a reverse  image of Jay McInerney’s book and film Bright Lights, Big City.   In McInerney’s story, a young man turns to drinking and drugs to evade the memories of  his dead mother and an estranged wife.   In Tom Shone’s novel, protagonist Patrick Miller turns to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings as a way of shoring up his sagging career as a Manhattan-based literary agent.

Miller, who grew up in England (like his creator), has been shaken up by relationship problems – his girlfriend is bitterly honest about his flaws – and this has affected his ability to attract successful writers to the firm he works for.   And then, suddenly, he finds that his favorite author in the world – one-time Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Douglas Kelsey – is back in the Big Apple after spending years hiding out in the artists’ community of Woodstock.   Miller impulsively follows Kelsey when he spots him one day out on the streets of the city, and learns that the trail ends at an AA meeting in a church.

How is Miller going to get to speak to the reclusive Kelsey, a modern-day J.D. Salinger?   Well, simple, he will just pretend that he has a drinking problem and begin joining the meetings “in the rooms” of NYC.   But, actually, it’s not so simple because as he carries out his plan, Miller finds that he’s now lying all of the time to the two sets of people in his life – to his co-workers, he insists that he’s not a heavy drinker and does not have a problem (they think he’s in denial); to his new fellow AA members, he insists that he can’t handle his liquor or his women (oh, so he’s co-addicted to sex, just as they suspected).

If things aren’t complicated enough, Miller is soon attracted to Lola, a young woman he meets at one of these meetings – a woman who serves as a trusted liaison between him and the respected author – and they begin to get physical.   But, Catch-22, the rules of AA prohibit them from getting close to each other for a minimum of a year – a year based on mutual sobriety.   Eventually, Miller is not quite sure what he wants and just as he’s becoming addicted to Lola, his ex-flame comes back into his life.

If all of this sounds a bit glum, it’s not as told by Shone.   The novel is quite funny, as my wife can testify since I read no less than 8 or 9 lengthy excerpts of it to her…  Readers will identify with Miller as he’s a want-to-be nice guy who makes mistake after mistake, even after he’s decided mentally that he’s going to get his act together.   It seems that he just can’t win, as life keeps throwing unexpected changes his way.

Shone makes the telling especially interesting with many insights into both the book publishing world and AA.   While his characters are sometimes critical of the 12-step process, they’re also positive that the program works.   Here’s the ever-cynical Kelsey on Bill (Wilson) of the Big Book:   “Well, Bill’s no Steinbeck.   That’s for sure.   There’s nothing original to any of it.   He filched the whole thing.   It’s just religion’s greatest hits.”

The more that Patrick Miller learns about AA, the more he wonders if he may indeed have some problems.   Whether he drinks too much or not, virtually every AA member that he encounters tells him that he spends too much time inside of his head.   Miller is so busy analyzing life, and trying to find the right path and rules to follow, that it seems to be passing him by.

The true charm of In the Rooms, is its conclusion, in which our hero must make the right choices – the exact right choices – to prove to himself and others that he  is, in truth, the nice guy that he’s always wanted to be.   He’s helped along in this by what he’s come to learn “in the rooms” and so he comes to see that – ah, yes – it works!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “Sharp, funny, and ultimately touching…  Recommended for readers of Nick Hornby and Joshua Ferris.”   Library Journal

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Rescue Me

Rescue by Anita Shreve (Hachette Audiobook)

Anita Shreve is one of my all-time favorite authors.   I have read every one of her novels.   This is my first time listening to one of her books instead of reading it the old-fashioned way.   I enjoy audiobooks and it was interesting to determine whether a Shreve novel would translate well to an audiobook.

Rescue is a novel that encompasses many of Shreve’s themes throughout the portfolio of her work.   Sheila Arsenault is a woman on the run from an abusive relationship.   After crashing her car in an alcohol fueled incident, Sheila is rescued by rookie paramedic Peter Webster.   Webster is taken by the beautiful young victim and searches her out after she is discharged from the hospital.   Webster is determined to help her and falls in love along the way.   Sheila is happy to be rescued, but finds that old demons are hard to leave behind.

Eighteen years later, Webster is raising their daughter, Rowan, alone.   Rowan unfortunately seems to have inherited some dangerous addictions and traits from her mother.   Will Webster be able to save his daughter or is it already too late?

I enjoyed listening to this audiobook.   Dennis Holland did a fairly good reading of the novel, although I found his attempts at a Boston accent to be rather jarring.   I almost wanted to do the dishes every day so I could listen to what was going to happen next.   I found the plot to be compelling, but the best thing about the novel was the in-depth character studies.   Rash decisions that were made in one’s youth can lead to consequences that can last a lifetime.

I also found Webster’s job as a paramedic to be very interesting as were the stories of his rescues.   I’ve never read a book with a paramedic as the main character and I really enjoyed it.   It left me wanting to know even more about the profession.   I think it was a great way to talk about how Webster rescued people as his job in life, but that he had troubles with rescuing his wife and his daughter.   It’s not as easy to rescue those you love from addictions and bad behavior.

Anita Shreve is a gifted writer.   I love her style of writing.   That being said, while Rescue was a good book, I still hold some of her earlier works such as The Weight of Water and Fortune’s Rocks in much higher regard.   I miss her historical books!

Overall, Rescue was a compelling read with characters that I enjoyed listening to. This review was written by Laura Gerold and is used with her permisson.   We interpret this review to be the equivalent of a recommended position on this novel.   You can read more of Laura’s fine reviews at http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/ .

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Addicted to Shopping

Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict by Avis Cardella (Little, Brown & Company, 272 pages)

“I used shopping to avoid myself.”

Be prepared for a brutally honest, yet somewhat elusive account of Avis Cardella’s journey into, and recovery from, the nearly overwhelming habit of shopping and shopping and shopping.   Alongside her own story, Cardella incorporates general information regarding the evolution of shopping in excess beginning with Madame Bovary up through today.   This is no laughing matter.   The prevalence of shopping as therapy or a habit is so great that the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders may contain “compulsive shopping disorder” as a separate listing rather than an entry under the heading of obsessive compulsive disorders.

The mix of confessional talk, some statistics and the events that were pivotal in the author’s life and, more importantly, her relationships with men, surround her almost as if she were dancing around herself, changing costumes as she assumed roles.   There is so much numbness expressed in the narrative that is almost like seeing her through a blanket of fog – not hot or cold, just thick and obscuring.

Cardella was drawn to fashion at an early age.   As a girl she had a regular supply of magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Glamour that her mother purchased faithfully each month.   This mother-daughter duo spent their best time together on shopping expeditions.   Cardella’s mother loved dressing up, especially in costume-like outfits.   Sadly, she died at an early age which left a gaping hole in her daughter’s life.

Jobs became a means to enable shopping, first as a teen employee at Macy’s and then as an adult flight attendant.   That first Macy’s card was managed well as were her purchases.   It was only later that the spending got out of hand.   Cardella writes of her precipitous decline into a world of shopping that sounds more like a drug addiction than the usual garden variety retail therapy most people indulge in once in a while.   She describes it as being taken over by need and experiencing a trance-like state when wandering through stores in Manhattan.

The lure of fashion is hard to resist in this book and Cardella has an amazing talent for describing the garments and accessories that became part of her.   Each page contains at least one designer name or a reference to the lifestyle she sometimes lead that went with wearing the best labels money, or credit, could buy.   In all honesty, this reviewer had some vivid recollections of her first pair of flats, in an awesome turquoise color and a champagne-colored taffeta dress worn to dancing classes in junior high school.

Cardella readily admits that her wardrobe began as mix-and-match pieces acquired without a strategy or goal in mind.   This wardrobe could easily be a metaphor for the way she lived acquiring relationships.   After all, if you don’t know yourself, how can you possibly know what will suit you?   She had no real sense of the future, nor did she make plans.

The writing style is calm, even and well-spoken with the exception of a few minor grammatical blunders and three funny homonyms (peak for peek, weary for wary, and reeled for railed), that crept in along the way.   Two thirds of the way through the book, this reviewer found herself wondering how far a shopping addict has to go to hit bottom.

The takeaway from Spent  is that stuff has power!   Whether that power is good or bad may depend upon the strength of the individual acquiring the stuff.   Highly recommended for moms and daughters.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A copy of the book was purchased for her by her husband.

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