Tag Archives: childhood memories

I Am A Child

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, $25.99, 181 pages)

Ocean at the End of the Lane (nook book)

At first glance, the lovely cream colored deckle edge pages and the crisply printed type face are a stark contrast to the cover artwork of this rather slim novel. The story that unfolds is a bit arresting, setting up a moody dark and deep tale. As a first-time reader of Neil Gaiman (Gaiman’s horror/fantasy book Coraline was made into a stop-motion film) this reviewer was a bit hesitant to begin what appeared to be a memoir by the narrator, a man who has gone back to his hometown for a funeral.

Gaiman plays on the magic thinking that some kids explore, or rather allow to bubble to the surface in idle moments or during spells of anger at being denied their desires. The narrator, clearly an introvert, lays out his painful childhood for the reader. A murdered man found in his father’s stolen car is traumatic for him. He visits a house at the end of the road where his childhood home used to be. The occupants are women, well, just one woman whose age and identity are a bit confusing. Is she the mother of his playmate, Lettie Hempstock, or her grandmother? What happened to Lettie?

As did other reviewers, I read the book in one sitting. Once a reader suspends his or her hold on adult reality and dives back into the spacey and somewhat murky thoughts of childhood, it’s easy to fall under Gaiman’s spell. He convincingly captures the ethereal and floating insights that we know as children and then lose to the world as we become grown-ups.

Well recommended for readers who enjoy being on edge.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Last Worthless Evening

The Last Blind Date: A Real-Life Love Story by Linda Yellin (Gallery Books, $15.00, 316 pages)

As I was finishing the Prologue (“Some Pertinent Information You Should Know Up Front”) of The Last Blind Date, I was thinking that this was going to be one entertaining popular fiction novel about love and romance.   Also, a very funny one…  It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I noticed the subtitle on this book, “A Real-Life Love Story.”   Oh, so this is not a novel but a memoir.   Interesting.

Linda Yellin’s book arrives at the  right time for those impacted by either Seasonal Affective Disorder – the aptly abbreviated SAD – or the holiday period blues.   Or maybe you’ve just done too much shopping or quaffed too much eggnog and you need something to bring your spirits up.   Belly up to the bar run by Ms. Yellin, a Boomer who offers healthy servings of humorous observations about life and living.   (Yes, she’s a baby boomer and you will find yourself asking, “How old could she be if she can remember watching Sky King on TV as a child?”)

In our household the mark of an engaging read is the number of times that I read excerpts to my wife or vice-versa.   In this case, I interrupted many episodes of Law and Order to read passages such as this one:

Commenting on other women’s relationships has always felt dicey for me…  I never know when to scream Red flag! and when to keep my trap shut.   I figure if you tell a friend she’s dating a jerk, don’t expect to be a bridesmaid if she marries the jerk.   Then, again, couldn’t at least one of Eva Braun’s girlfriends have sat her down and said, “Eva, sweetheart – trust me.   You can do better.”

What is the book about?   Glad you asked.   Yellin lost her first husband to cancer, lives in Chicago and had pretty much given up hopes of ever  being happy again when she’s set up on a blind date with a resident of New York City.   This is her true tale of how she found the right man, even if by blind accident, and became his second wife and the stepmother to this two children and their robot dog, Eddy.   (Yes, everyone needs at least one robot in their happily ever after home.)

The Last Blind Date is also about the culture shock experienced by a Midwesterner moving to the Big Apple, where everyone wears black and comments on one’s “strange” accent.   It’s also a story of learning to  love what you already have, and appreciating the fantastic experience of being a parent:

…along the way she’d break some hearts of her own, followed by lonely nights when she doubted herself and wondered why love came quickly for others but not for her.   Until there was finally a matching up of souls, and it seemed that every event in her life had led up to this one man, and she realized that if love were any easier, any less fateful – it wouldn’t feel like magic.

That’s Yellin writing about her stepdaughter Phoebe, but once you finish Blind Date, you’ll realize that it’s also about Yellin herself and her long, strange road to meeting and marrying her husband Randy.   Read this book and play Don Henley’s song, The Last Worthless Evening.   You’ll be so glad you did.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Last Blind Date was released on October 4, 2011.   Linda Yellin is also the author of the novel Such a Lovely Couple.

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Two for the Road

Riverhead Books is releasing two books,  a memoir and a nonfiction book about a personal obsession, on April 14, 2011.   You will have to wait until then to buy and read them, but you can try right now to win a galley copy of these books.  Based on the responses received to this giveaway, Munchy the cat may decide to give one galley each to two readers, or both of them to one lucky reader.   (These galleys are pre-publication paperback versions of books that will be released in hardbound form.)

The first of the two books is a memoir, The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke.   Here is the official synopsis:

What does it mean to mourn today, in a culture that has largely set aside rituals that acknowledge grief?   After her mother’s death, Meghan O’Rourke found that nothing had prepared her for the intensity of her sorrow.   In the first anguished days, she began to create a record of her interior life as a mourner, trying to capture the paradox of grief – its monumental agony and microscopic intimacies – an endeavor that ultimately produced this book.   With poignant lyricism and unswerving candor, O’Rourke captures the fleeting moments of joy that make up a life, and the way memory can lead us out of the jagged darkness of loss.  The Long Goodbye is not only an exceptional memoir, but a necessary one.

The Long Goodbye is emotionally acute, strikingly empathetic, thorough and unstintingly intellectual…  and elegantly wrought.  …It’s above all a useful book, for life — the good bits and the sad ones, too.”   Richard Ford

Meghan O’Rourke is the author of the award-winning book of poems, Halflife.   She is a culture critic for Slate.

The second book is The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, subtitled My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie. Here’s a summary:

Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder – a fantastic realm of fiction, history and places she’s never been yet somehow knows by heart.   She retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family – looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota – and immerses herself in all things Little House.   This is a loving, irreverent, spirited tribute to a series of books that have inspired generations of American women.   The Wilder Life is also a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones – and find that our old love has only deepened.

Wendy McClure is the author of I’m Not the New Me.

To enter this giveaway, please provide your answer to this question:  Which of these books would you like to win, and why?   You can post your response here (with your name and an e-mail address), or you can choose to send an e-mail with your answer to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, give us the title and author of the very best or very worst book that you’ve read in 2010-2011, and explain why you loved it or hated it.  

In order to be eligible to win a galley in this giveaway, you must live in the continental United States and be able to supply a residential mailing address.   You have until Thursday, April 14, 2011 at midnight PST to submit your entry or entries.   Munchy will use his feline instincts and judgment to pick the winner or winners.   The winner(s) will be contacted via e-mail.  

As always, be careful out there.   Good luck and good reading!

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I Hope You Don’t Mind

The Real Alice in Wonderland – A Role Model for the Ages by C. M. Rubin with Gabriella Rubin (AuthorHouse)

What better way to celebrate the real Alice of Lewis Carroll’s super-famous story than with a gloriously lush picture book?   C. M. Rubin and her daughter, Gabriella, possess the gracious and well-mannered charm of their ancestor, Alice Liddell Hargreaves.   Together, they have created a book worthy of serious consideration, especially by adults who cherish their memories of Alice in Wonderland.

Regardless of whether the reader was introduced to Alice, Dinah, the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter in the Walt Disney movie or a traditional printed book, the magic of Alice’s adventures easily captured the imagination of legions of children.   The quotes and illustrations from the story trigger memories of a time when this reviewer would turn the pages of an abbreviated, illustrated Disney version of the story while listening to the accompanying 78 RPM records on a portable phonograph.   It was a time for fantasy and make-believe!

The format is very well thought out.   The large pages provide an ample surface on which to arrange the many graphic examples of Victorian ephemera, family photographs and letters that flowed throughout Alice’s life.   The careful attention to detail and the artful layout are consistent with the talent Alice displayed in her watercolor paintings.

The account of Alice’s adult life is poignant and at the same time life-affirming.   After having been the focus of so much attention and curiosity as a child, Alice Liddell might have easily become a self-absorbed woman.   Instead, she honored the place that she holds in the hearts of both the young and the not-so-young.   As the authors note, she was a role model and an exemplary woman of her time.

It would have been easy for the Rubins to use the story of the real Alice to further their own link to fame.   Fortunately, they resisted the urge and have created a lovely homage to a woman who needed to have the written versions of the stories told to her by her friend Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll.   The book would make an elegant gift regardless of the occasion.

This book is highly recommended for the quality of the writing, layout and execution.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the authors.

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Dead to the World

Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir by Wendy Burden

It’s not just the folks with the famous names who live outrageous lives.   Their relatives, in this case the children and grandchildren, also feel the effects of super wealth and status.   Wendy Burden falls into this category.   She is the great, great, great, great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt.   There was still plenty of money and status associated with the family when she was born.   Unfortunately, her father William A. M. Burden III, a direct descendent of Cornelius Vanderbilt, could  not take the pressure of life and committed suicide when Wendy was six years of age.

This sad event precipitated the handing off of Wendy and her younger brother Will to Grandpa and Grandma Burden for intermittent visits while mom escaped life and responsibilities overseas in the company of a variety of men.   This memoir is an over-the-top expose with all the dirty little stuff prominently featured.   The self-indulgence, disregard for others and general insular behavior exhibited by the Grandparents Burden is easy fodder for Wendy’s 21-gun salute to the grosser aspects of wealth.   Oh, did I happen to mention that the guns are loaded with bizarre details?

Who among us cares to know that Wendy collected dead birds and observed their decomposition a la the scientific method used at the body farm at the University of Tennessee?   If you’d rather eavesdrop on cocktails and dinner with the grandparents, you would learn that grandma was a champion at farting whenever she felt the urge.   According to Wendy, this urge was never ignored regardless of the folks in her vicinity.   The walls in their home may have been covered with museum quality paintings and sculpture; however, grandma and grandpa were usually too sloshed to notice.

The crisp details and well-crafted accounts of life with the super-rich begin to seem a bit suspicious once the reader gets past the shock and wit.   Yes, Wendy Burden is an excellent story teller.   Just how much is fact and how much is convenient recall – or perhaps fiction disguised as the truth – is anyone’s guess.   This reviewer finished the book with a sense of gratitude for a seemingly ordinary life.  

Recommended for snoopy readers who follow OMG! on the internet.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   The book was purchased by the reviewer..

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The Superhero

The Side-Yard Superhero by Rick D. Niece (Synergy Books, $17.95)

“Used to dream in that small town/ Another born romantic that’s me…”   John Mellencamp, “Small Town”

Automythography – A work of nonfiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it; an iridescent memory based upon truth and fact.   Rick D. Niece

Rick D. Niece made a promise to a childhood friend, and while the central premise of his book The Side-Yard Superhero revolves around his visit later in life to his ailing former companion in which he fulfills that promise, the book is more about the simplicity and human decency found in the everyday experiences of small-town America.

Niece, president of College of the Ozarks, constructs his tale almost as if he pulled the old John Irving trick and started with the ending of the story and then moved backward to the first sentence.   In between is the story of Niece’s childhood in DeGraff, Ohio.

As a boy, Niece secures a paper route and, in so doing, interacts with virtually everyone in his hometown.   This includes the unforgettable Bernie Jones, who – stricken with cerebral palsy – eagerly awaits Niece’s arrival on his bicycle each day from his wheelchair in the yard along the side of the house.

The reader encounters church socials, trick or treating, and Boy Scout award ceremonies.   Even the carnival comes to town and, you guessed it, Rickie takes Bernie.

Think Mitch Albom, and you have the idea of the type of storytelling you will experience in Side-Yard.   The book occasionally slips into sentimentality, but it is largely free of it, because the book has a more comprehensive story to tell than just the relationship between its two characters.   The verse which is interspersed between chapters is usually effective and works better than anticipated.

Without giving away too much of the story, this reviewer is left to wonder if hope really can keep a person alive; if history will ultimately judge America on how it treats its old, sick, and weak; and what in the world this country would be like if we were ever to lose our small towns.

Some stories need to be told, and some writers have a story they just have to tell.   This is the case with Rick D. Niece’s The Side-Yard Superhero.

Recommended.

This review was written by Dave Moyer, educator and author of the novel Life and Life Only.   He is currently working on his follow-up book, Younger Than That Now.   Mr. Moyer also writes reviews for the New York Journal of Books.   (A review copy was provided by Smith Publicity.)

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