Tag Archives: friendship

Fire Lake

The Lake House: A Novel by Marci Nault (Gallery Books, $16.00, 386 pages)

The Lake House (nook book)

In The Lake House, two women, generations apart, struggle with finding a true home — a structure and a place in their hearts. The older woman, Victoria Rose, is a beautiful and talented actress who chose to leave her home by Lake Nagog near Acton, MA, at the end of World War II. Victoria was escaping the smothering and predetermined life that lay ahead for her. Being a wife and mother within the confines of a wealthy and isolated community held little appeal for her. Now in her seventies, she returns to Lake Nagog to heal the deeply felt pains of loss brought on by the death of her granddaughter.

Heather Bregman, a successful 28-year-old newspaper columnist, is suffocating in her relationship with fiancé and agent Charlie. Heather is a travel writer whose adventures are exciting and challenging. She feels invisible and hardly cared for when Charlie neglects to pick her up at the airport after a long trip.

The backdrop for the intersection of the lives of Victoria and Heather is a small, closed community on Lake Nagog. Until recently, the ownership of the lovely cottages that border the lake has been passed down through generations. Now, one of the cottages is sold to an outsider to the consternation of the elderly residents. To make matters more volatile, the new owner is Heather! She has broken her engagement to Charlie and hopes to find a more stable and meaningful life along the lake.

Both Heather and Rose are outsiders of a sort. Each of them is yearning for a life that feels just right. Their efforts to fit in and settle their lives form the basis for the tale. Author Marci Nault is a master of layered detail and sentiment. She knows just when to pull back from an excess that would break the spell she has cast.

The Lake House is an excellent choice for a summer vacation read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. “A richly textured novel about love, friendship, and second chances that spans generations.” Mary Alice Munroe, author of The Summer Girls.

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Old Friends

“How terribly strange to be 70… Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.” Paul Simon (“Old Friends”)

The Last Perfect Summer: A Novel by Ed Prence (Windy City Publishers, $12.99, 166 pages)

Then I paused for a minute. “Harry,” I said finally, “do you remember who you were?” “I was a baseball player?”

That passage right there from page 36 of Ed Prence’s sparse 166-page novel The Last Perfect Summer is the essence of the story.

This book is for anybody who still remembers what the term “ghost runner” means. It for those who remember “fastpitch” against the wall, overhand lob with a chain-link home run fence, and whiffle ball batting your favorite team’s line up from both sides of the plate. It is for those who’ve played it as well as those who love it.

In the story, Ted Tresh visits former Little League teammate Harry Kirkland in a care facility in which Harry is essentially condemned to die. Having lived for over a decade with other patients in similar but varying states of need and/or dementia, he’s had fewer than a handful of visitors. Harry lives in his own world of despair and confusion. When childhood friend Ted shows up for an extended visit, memories of the grand old game rekindle a semblance of life in the former cocksure Little League superstar.

Last Perfect Summer

As Ted reminisces with Harry about the good times from their banner Little League season, he detects sparks of humanity within Harry’s tortured being. Ted enjoys the afternoon, and, believing he is doing some good, stays for an extended period of time. In the end, Ted leaves the once-hopeful encounter disillusioned, and, when Harry’s fate is sealed years later, Ted legitimately cannot attend the funeral. Based on how this passage is written, while distressed on the one hand, it is likely that, deep down, Ted would not, or could have not have attended even if he were able.

The structure of the book alternates episodes from the story of their childhood and championship run and Ted and Harry’s visit. The relationship between the two characters is not only central to the story but the strength of the book. While the specific tales that bind them together are necessary, there might be a better way to get at them than alternating which disrupts the flow of the most powerful aspects of the tale. There are highlights in which certain points are made to great effect, but this is not consistently true.

When I was a kid, I visited family friend and former major leaguer and minor league home run king Joe Hauser periodically to keep him company and pass some time. Several times a year I heard the stories about Walter Johnson’s fastball and how much of a “sunuvabitch” Ty Cobb was. “Unser Choe” (Our Joe) was a local hero. He told endless stories, squinting at us through his pale blue eyes while chomping on his cigar. He came over on Christmas Day, always dapper with suit and tie and his remaining hair combed perfectly. Nobody parked near him in the retirement home after his 80th birthday passed or on our entire street in front of our house on Christmas Day. It wasn’t so easy for him to navigate the old Buick anymore, you know. And the tears over his departed wife came easily. Gradually, Joe drifted off into his own world and, then, he left us.

The Last Perfect Summer may not be a great “book,” but it’s a darn good story. Give me a good story any day. Rekindle a memory any time. Where would we be without either? Remember while you can.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was received from the author. Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

The Last Perfect Summer is available as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download.

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Chook Lit

The Fine Color of Rust: A Novel by P. A. O’Reilly (Washington Square Press, $15.00, 283 pages)

I never bother locking the house in this kind of heat.   It we shut the windows we’ll never sleep.

Gunapan is a made-up name for a town in Australia situated within driving distance of Melbourne.   Author P. A. O’Reilly brings her reader into hot, dusty inland Australia with the sights, sounds and textures of rural life.   A seven-year drought has produced a landscape that begs to be soothed by rain.   Moreover, numerous ladies of the town have been deserted by their husbands, leaving them to care for the children.

Loretta Boskovic, the main character, is struggling at a low paying job to support her daughter Melissa and son Jake in the wake of husband Tony’s departure several years ago.   Norm, who owns the town junk yard, is Loretta’s best friend and confidante.   There are the usual class distinctions as wealthy land owners living nearby flaunt their leisure and luxuries.   They magnify the disparity between themselves and the ordinary folks in Gunapan.

The Fine Color of Rust is an engaging tale of persistence, friendship and commitment.   Loretta is a heroine who draws from her inner strength to fight the closure of Halstead Primary, the local school.   Her poverty in no way diminishes the quality of her efforts as she seeks to persuade local and central government officials to keep Gunapan’s school.   Melissa and Jake are vulnerable kids who long for their dad’s return to the family.

Be prepared to really care about the best characters in this story as each one is portrayed in-depth for the reader.   Although this is a novel, there are a few small mysteries that run like underground streams throughout.   Rather than propel the plot, they add dimension and motivation for Loretta as she follows her passion to keep Halstead Elementary from closing.

Readers of Sophie Littlefield’s A Bad Day for… series will enjoy this change of scenery.

Highly recommended.Fine Color of Rust (nook book)

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  “…a story about love, where we look for it, what we do with it, and how it shows up in the most unexpected places.”   Big Issue, Australia

Note:  Chook Lit (a bit like Chick Lit) is a slang term used in Australia to describe stories set in the Outback and/or those depicting the gritty realities of life in the rural areas of the Land Down Under.

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Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

How to Eat a Cupcake: A Novel by Meg Donohue  (Harper, $13.99, 320 pages)

cupcake

This debut novel by Meg Donohue is set in San Francisco (the author’s home), and tells the tale of the young Annie Quintana who dreams of opening a bakery specializing in fine cupcakes.   Her dream is set to come true because the wealthy Julia St. Clair is willing to fund the business.   The problem is that Julia was once Annie’s best and worst friend (Annie’s mom having worked as a housekeeper for the St. Clairs).

Donohue paints The City as a place where folks engage in massive quantities of eating and drinking, and she does a great job of making various locations – including the largely Hispanic Mission District – come to life.   It’s likely that a number of male readers will, however, find this tale to be a bit too sweet in the telling for their taste.   But female readers may willingly be caught up in the knotty struggles of X chromosomal relationships.   How to Eat a Cupcake winds up being a type of psychological mystery in which the reader wants to find out what happens at the end.

cupcake-back-cover

Donohue displays a gift for dialogue in the debut and a certain sense of stylistic charm, but it’s hoped that she stretches herself a bit more in her next release.   (Perhaps her next novel will be set in Clovis?)

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Beautifully written and quietly wise…”   Sarah Jio, author of The Violets of March and The Bungalow.

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The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow (Gotham Reprint, $16.00, 352 pages)

“There were times…  when Kelly felt desperate, confused and shattered.   But she also embraced and loved.   And that sustained her.”

There are books that you read, and put down because they are not what you expected.   This is a book that you will read and occasionally put down for another reason – in order not to finish it too quickly.   It is a book to savor and embrace, whether you are female or male.

This is a nonfiction tribute to a 40-year-old friendship among the 10 surviving members of an 11-member high school clique.   They are a group of women who “reached maturity in the age when feminism was blooming.”   They grew up with the theme of empowerment resounding in the air.   Consider that on TV they watched not “I Love Lucy” or “Father Knows Best” but instead “Wonder Woman,” “Bionic Woman” and “Charlie’s Angels.”

The original group of 11 girls – Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny, Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, Diana and Sheila – grew up in the relatively small community of Ames, Iowa; a place where they were literally surrounded by corn fields.   The corn there grows so high that it can hide cars.

This is a telling of the lives of this group (a real-life version of the story told in Mary McCarthy’s novel The Group) and their lives are touched with successes, tragedy, divorce, illness and death.   The outgoing Sheila was to die in her twenties under strange circumstances that have never been fully resolved.   In addition, the children of the group members have been affected by serious illness and two members of the remaining group have battled breast cancer.   On the flip side, a member of the group first became a mother at the age of 45.

“Having a close group of friends helps people sleep better, improve their immune systems, boost their self-esteem, stave off dementia, and actually live longer.   The Ames girls just feel the benefits in their guts.”

This book does its best in focusing on why it is vital for women “to nurture female friendships.”   We’re told, for example, “Research shows that women with advanced breast cancer have better survival rates if they have close friends.”   The matter of the peace and acceptance that accompanies aging is also well noted in The Girls From Ames.   “By their mid-forties, women know they’re at a crossroads.   They are still holding on to their younger selves, but they can also see their older selves pretty clearly.”

The one aspect of the book that may be slightly troubling is that males, particularly husbands and fathers, tend to come off as pale by comparison.   The men in the lives of these women are depicted as not being highly communicative, especially among other men (that is not how they get their needs met), and yet they are generally well-loved.   At one point the women of the group are asked to rate their husbands/partners, and the average score came out to 8.2 on a 10-point scale.   All in all, a very good score!

One man was asked to consider reading this book and he declined sending this message via e-mail:  “Unfortunately, I do not have plans to read the book, but please convey to the girls from Ames that I think they are pretty hot.”   That was from Tom (60 years old) in Ohio.

The girls from Ames are now mothers and female role models in their own communities.   But most of all they remain the best of friends.   They are friends, survivors and a mutual support network.   They have all been battered a bit by life and, except for the still greatly missed Sheila, they have made it through.

This would be a great selection for almost any book club, even one that includes a male or two.   The very best news is that the story of the women from Ames will continue.   The 13 daughters of the 10 women are extremely good friends.   Bravo!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.   This review is dedicated to the memory of Jeffrey Lloyd Zaslow, who was killed in an auto accident on February 10, 2012.

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All I Have to Do is Dream

The Sniffles for Bear: A Bear and Mouse Children’s Book by Bonny Becker; illustrated by Karly MacDonald Denton (Candlewick Press; $16.99; 32 pages)

“Bear was sick, very, very sick…  Bear was sure no one had ever been as sick as he.”

This terrific book in the Bear and Mouse children’s book series is perfect for teaching a sensitive child that a transitory illness can have a bark that’s worse than its bite.   In this finely illustrated tale, Bear (and he’s a big one!) is down with a winter flu and he’s sure that he’s dying – so sure that he decides to draw up a will to give away his worldly possessions.   Mouse (the far smaller of the two friendly animals) helps Bear to keep his grip on this mortal coil by nursing him through his illness with the benefit of some hand-holding and Nettle soup.   A congested Bear says of the soup, “Dat was just the thing.”

Eventually, Bear comes to feel better and – wouldn’t you know it? – Mouse winds up catching the flu and all he wants to do is rest.   So the tables are turned, and its Bear’s turn to take care of Mouse; some Nettle soup and Mouse goes happily, snuggly to sleep.

The colors in this book are subtly relaxing, and the story is told with such humor and irony that your child will likely plead with you to read it before catching 40 winks.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Sniffles for Bear is recommended for children ages 3 and up.   The first book in the series, A Visitor for Bear, was a New York Times Bestseller and an E. B. White Read Aloud Award Winner.

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One Fine Day

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls (Vintage, $14.95, 448 pages)

David Nicholls’ novel One Day was recommended by my friend and colleague Joseph (the passion and dedication behind Joseph’s Reviews) who shared that this book was “just about the best love story I’ve ever read.”   So with high expectations I sat down and finished the novel over the course of “one day” without disappointment.

Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew meet on their college graduation day.   Although their backgrounds are far from parallel and they have nothing in common when it comes to their future plans, they make a commitment to a lifetime of friendship.   Following a failed attempt at a romantic interlude (that we discover toward the end of the story), Emma continues to hope that the relationship will evolve into more than friendship as Dexter desires Emma but finds distractions in just about every woman he encounters.   The reader witnesses the ebb and flow of their relationship as Nicholls presents a synopsis of their lives written on the same day each year over a 20-year time span.

I enjoyed both characters as the story evolved.   Even during Emma’s continuous search for her life’s purpose and throughout the stages of Dexter’s egocentric lifestyle, I found their relationship heartwarming.   Emma’s ability to see the “real” Dexter and love him desperately even during his destructive phases, and Dexter’s continuous need for Emma’s support without the constant need for her companionship, presents an honest portrayal of the challenges and benefits of long-term friendship.   I enjoyed the cultural references outlined throughout the decades and was amused at the familiarity of the relationships I have with some of my own lifelong friends.   I won’t reveal any more of the details of Emma and Dexter’s story but will assure you that it is unpredictable and won’t disappoint.

Nicholls has great skill in blending humor, wit, devastation, and confidence in his characters and storyline, which he presented through detailed and vibrant dialogue.   I agree with my friend Joseph; this is one of the best love stories I’ve read.   It was an immensely enjoyable read and truly deserves the accolades it has received.   I am also a fan of actor Anne Hathaway so I believe that this wonderful storyline, combined with Hathaway’s talent, will make the movie version (coming out next week) well worth seeing.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “Every reader will fall in love with it.   And every writer will wish they had written it.”   Tony Parsons

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