Tag Archives: humor

The Losing End

Forever is the Worst Long Time: A Novel by Camille Pagan (Lake Union, $24.95, 276 pages)

“It’s so hard to make love pay/ When you’re on the losing end/ And I feel that way again…”  Neil Young

forever-is-the-worst-long-time

Synopsis:

When struggling novelist James Hernandez meets poet Louisa “Lou” Bell, he’s sure he’s just found the love of his life.  There’s just one problem: she’s engaged to his best and oldest friend, Rob.  So James becomes Rob’s Best Man, toasting the union of Rob and Lou and hiding his desire for The Perfect Woman.

Review:

With this setup, one can pretty much guess what’s coming in this third novel from author Pagan (Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, The Art of Forgetting).  And one’s guess would be right about half of the time.  Pagan adds some unexpected twists and turns that help to keep the story somewhat interesting.  The plot line is not the problem.

The tone of the story, the narrator’s voice, is where difficulties arise.  It’s sometimes problematic when a male author adopts a female voice, and vice versa.  It is an issue here.  This book is written in the form of a journal – a document to be read by James’ daughter in order to learn about her past.  (Novels in the form of journals seem to be the latest craze.)  The journal reads in a flat tone; in fact, it begins to drone on like a car on the freeway stuck in second gear.  Yes, early on Pagan shifts from first to second, but the reader mourns the absence of third, fourth, and overdrive in this journey of almost 300 pages.

And then there’s the issue of humor.  It was absent in this work which felt overly dramatic.  One of the strengths of bestselling authors like Elizabeth Berg and Jennifer Weiner – writers who similarly deal with love, loss and redemption – is that they enliven their stories with stress-relieving humor.  (This enables the reader to relax and avoid the feeling of reading a one note soap opera.)

“This story ends with loss,” said your mother.  “I’m only on the first chapter, but I can tell.”

Basically, this novel proves the truth of the notion that you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.  I hope that in her future works Pagan adds more life to her tales and spirit and volume.  Reading this book, for me, was like trying to listen to music being played in a far-off room.  The experience was muffled.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on February 7, 2017.

On the writing of Elizabeth Berg and Jennifer Weiner:

Home Safe (by Berg) is written with humor and elegance.”  – Chicago Tribune

Home Safe explores, with insight and humor, what it’s like to lose everything and to emerge from the other side.”  – St. Petersburg Times

“Hilarious, heartbreaking, and insightful, Weiner shows she can write with exquisite tenderness as well as humor.”  – The Miami Herald

 

 

 

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To Your Health

Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (Or Die Trying) by Bill Gifford (Grand Central Publishing, $16.99, 366 pages)

spring chicken cover Amazon

Spring Chicken is a book with an intended audience. You should read this book only if you are interested in living longer.

bill gifford

Bill Gifford is a rather average guy, with a receding hairline and a bit of a beer gut, who decides to investigate how to live to and past the age of 100. It’s pretty tricky stuff, especially since “your risk of dying doubles roughly every eight years.” What?

When we’re young, the risk (of dying) is fairly minimal; there isn’t much difference between age twenty-five and, say, thirty-five. But thirty-five to forty-five is a big jump, and by fifty our peers are popping up with breast cancers and colon cancers and high blood pressure and other scary ailments.

Yes, this death business is pretty scary stuff. But Gifford handles it with a great deal of humor and more than a dab of self-deprecation. The surprising thing is that, other than being born with good genes (such as the writer’s grandmother in her late 90s who eats an unhealthy serving of rich pastry each and every morning) and doing one of two things, he finds that there are no magic bullets to avoid aging. The key – how simple is this? – is not to avoid aging but to avoid aging as quickly as others in your peer group.

Gifford notes a harsh reality, that at a high school or college reunion of individuals the same age, some will appear to be older than their classmates and some will appear to be younger. This is, to some extent, the luck of the genetic draw but is also a reflection of lifestyle. (The individual who appears to be younger – such as the old friend who has retained a full head of hair, bright eyes and sparkling nails, may in fact be healthier; although this is not a hard and fast rule.)

Gifford’s self-assigned job was to find out what factors result in a person living a longer and, more importantly, a healthier life. He discovers that there has not been much substantive progress in this venture. Why haven’t we devoted as much time and energy to improving and extending human life as to, say, putting a man on the moon? To be sure, science and medicine are working to eliminate deadly diseases but whenever one is conquered another one pops up to take its place. (Gifford provides a logical explanation of why we age and die. Some of it has to do with the fact that the resources of our planet are limited. But the key is that human life is tied to the survival of the species, not the individual. Aging, in fact, is a visible signal to the world that we’ve moved beyond our essential, critical breeding years.)

If there’s no magic to aging slowly and extending life, what things can be done? First, as a research scientist-physician tells Gifford, “It’s very simple. Get off the couch.” Exercise is the drug. And it need not be strenous, back-breaking exercise. You can walk, jog, swim, or play tennis or golf. Almost anything done regularly which involves movement helps to extend health and life. (However, sports that involve stress and torque, like tennis and golf, are highly problematic for aging backs.)

Exercise is key because mobility is essential. Without mobility – and this is true in humans as well as for animals in general, disease and death are never far away. In Spring Chicken, Gifford includes practical tests that one can use to self-measure mobility.

So, exercise is one key factor in terms of longevity. Remember that Gifford discovered two important factors. However, no spoiler alert is needed as I’m not going to disclose the second factor here. You will need to purchase the book to learn that rather surprising “secret.”

spring chicken alternate cover

Read this book and stay young forever! Or, die trying.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

“Gifford’s survey of those who study aging and those who claim they can slow it down or stop it makes for a great read.” The Washington Post

Vitamania

If you read and enjoy Spring Chicken, you may also want to consider Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection by Catherine Price.

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Accentuate the Positive

You can't ruin (kindle edition)

You Can’t Ruin My Day: 52 Wake-Up Calls to Turn Any Situation Around by Allen Klein (Viva Editions, $16.95, 340 pages)

You Can’t Ruin My Day is designed to help you unload the burdens you may have been carrying around with you. It is therefore filled not only with wise words but also with inspiring stories and anecdotes, insightful and motivational quotations, and lighthearted and laugh-producing material. In other words, this book is designed to help you put healthier, happier habits in motion for your personal growth.”

I’ve got to keep breathing.
It’ll be my worst business mistake if I don’t. – Steve Martin, comedian

Allen Klein, a veteran keynote speaker and believer in the power of humor, presents the reader with an appealing, just-right sized volume brimming with his friendly, conversational approach to advising folks that they can change their mood from upset or angry because no one event can ruin your day.

It’s easy to imagine Klein addressing a group at a convention. His author picture at the back of the book features a prominent clown nose! Do you suppose he ever wears it in real life?

you can't ruin clown

Right up front, the book, comprised of five distinct parts with energetic and positive titles (Wake-Up, Wise-Up, Grow-Up [Not!], Crack-Up and Wrap-Up) alerts readers that help is just ahead. Each of the sections includes several wake-up calls, anecdotes from Klein’s life or those of people he has known over his many years employing applied and therapeutic humor. Readers are encourage to select phrases or affirmations to post at home or at work.

What concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are. – Epictetus, Greek philosopher

This reviewer has encountered many of the quotes presented at the beginning and within the sections/chapters that comprise this cute orange book with a half-smiley face on the cover. Klein has chosen well. The breadth of his sources from the past to present day reinforces the timelessness of his message. Rather than setting himself up as one who has the answers, he aligns himself with indisputable wisdom gathered and presented in a way that is both kind and easy to digest. No tough love here!

Well recommended for everyone.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the author.

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The Great Pretender

Rocket Man (Hazelgrove)

Rocket Man: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehler Books, $16.95, 290 pages)

“Poor man wanna be rich/Rich man wanna be king/And the king ain’t satisfied/Till he rules everything.” Bruce Springsteen (“Badlands”)

What We Pretend to Be

William Hazelgrove’s Rocket Man is simply superb. He captures the essence of suburban hypocrisy with such aplomb that it is almost impossible to give another person an idea of how good this book is without blurting out, “Just read the damn thing!” Especially if that person never actually experienced this great wonder we call suburbia.

The story, strictly speaking, is about a man whose marriage and relationship with his son is falling apart due to the weight of unrealistic expectations of what a man, marriage, and family should be. Financial stress, combined with having to pretend one is something they are not, comes to a head when Dale Hammer’s out-of-work father shows up at his doorstep.

If Dale is not Ward Cleaver, it is a safe bet that his wife, Wendy – who has been conspiring with their neighbor to generate divorce papers, is far from June. Dale is a former aspiring writer who, ironically, can’t close a sale on a house, while Wendy is a lawyer, who, for some reason or another, stands idly by and refuses to work as their life continues its descent.

The title comes form a scouting activity in which Dale becomes the “Rocket Man,” the scout leader who fires off all of the kids’ rockets during the ever popular Rocket Day. The book features a happy ending when Dale, in one final act of defiance, “blows up” the myth of the American Dream and the lie his life has become.

rocket_man_2

Rocket Man does not spew venom. Instead, it very subtly forces the reader to question his or her values and challenges anyone who has ever confused some monstrosity of a house in a subdivision where everyone pretends to be “just like them” with the American Dream. There is a fine line between freedom and slavery.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

You can read other reviews of Rocket Man here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/harmony-a-review-of-rocket-man-the-novel/

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/rocket-man-a-book-review/

http://troybear.blogspot.com/2009/04/rocket-man-by-william-elliot-hazelgrove.html

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The Sound and the Furry

The Sound and the Furry (nook book)

The Sound and The Furry: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn (Atria Books, $25.00, 311 pages)

And then we were gliding over the water, watery sounds and swishing all around me. How lovely! I’d no idea being in a boat was so wonderful! Plus the bow was obviously the best place to be, just like the shotgun seat. I sat up even straighter, gazing straight ahead, missing nothing. Chet, the natural born sailor: what a life!

Chet and Bernie are back on the trail. This sixth episode finds them in the deep South on the hunt for a missing man. To say that his family is colorful is an understatement.

The Sound & the Furry (audible audio edition)

Chet, the very large canine member of the Little Detective Agency, narrates the mystery. He provides his usual interpretation of Bernie Little’s work as the human half of the agency.

Each book is the series has an underlying theme. The Sound and The Furry features cool jazz references throughout.

Well recommended.

The Cat, the Devil and Lee Fontana (nook book)

The Cat, The Devil and Lee Fontana by Shirley Rousseau Murphy and Pat J.J. Murphy (William Morrow, $19.99, 320 pages)

Fans of the Joe Grey talking cat series by Ms. Murphy will enjoy this spin-off featuring Misto the elusive member of the clan in Molena Point. The tale begins with a flashback, a prequel of sorts. Misto is the main feline and Lee Fontana is an aged bank robber out on parole. The Devil is punishing Lee’s soul as collection on the time Lee’s grandpa bested him.

The setting is outside of Los Angeles in the farmlands near Blythe, an isolated part of California. Lee is paroled to work on a farm. He has many challenges that keep pulling him back to a life of crime. With the Devil appearing in the mix, Misto stays busy taking care of Lee.

The closing scenes of the book open up many possibilities for Ms. Murphy and husband Pat to develop as this new series unfolds.

Well recommended.

Dog Butts and Love (nook book)

Dog Butts and Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats: Cartoons by New York Times Bestseller Jim Benton (NBM, $13.99, 96 pages)

Now it’s time for a change of pace, a slim volume that would not have drawn this reader’s attention on the shelf of a bookseller. The red cover festooned with conversation bubbles emitting from a wildly acrobatic drawing of a loudmouthed dog is quirky. Inside the pages are adult web comics that have been posted on Reddit. By “adult” I mean twisted, brutally honest and laugh out loud comics. Some are single page pictures and others are laid out in a series of panels.

earth jim benton

not a robbery

Jim Benton, the cartoonist, provides perspective shifts, shoots holes in serious issues and generally expresses his thoughts without reservation. This book is the perfect gift for someone who needs to lighten up!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

The cartoons by Jim Benton are examples of his “unique perspective” humor.

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Yesterday When I Was Young

Time Flies: A Novel by Claire Cook (Touchstone, $24.99, 303 pages)

“…nobody knows you better than someone who knew you back then.”

Time Flies (nook book)

If you’re about to attend a high school or college reunion, you may want to prepare yourself by reading Claire Cook’s rollicking and engaging tale. (Cook is the author of Must Love Dogs, which was made into a film with John Cusack and Diane Lane, and Wallflower in Bloom. She began writing at the age of forty-five.)

This is the story of Melanie, a happily married woman living in a beach town in New England. She’s happy until her husband informs her that she’s being dumped for another woman. Melanie is so crushed that she refuses to work out the separation/divorce arrangements with her husband.

It appears that Melanie is going to wallow in her pain and discomfort — augmented by heavy doses of alcohol — until she gets an e-mail message from Finn Miller, a guy that she had a crush on in high school. This is the same guy who barely noticed her back in the day. Now Finn tells Melanie that he’s been having dreams about her (“…we started making out… Was I a good kisser?”) and can’t wait to see her at their upcoming high school reunion.

To get to the reunion, Melanie and her BFF B.J. decide to drive a classic Mustang through several states; this in itself is a fun ride. “After accompanying Melanie and B.J. on their hysterical road trip, readers will feel like they’ve made friends for life.” (Kirkus Reviews) B.J., a self-anointed expert, produces some funny lists of things that one should and should not do at a high-school reunion. But she and Melanie are equally unprepared for what’s about to happen once they encounter their former friends and classmates.

“I hadn’t realized just how many hopes I’d pinned on the reunion until the bubble burst. It was ridiculous, but it still left me feeling lost and rudderless.”

What does it mean that Melanie suddenly goes from having no one to three different suitors? And how is it that “know-it-all” B.J. crashes and burns during prime time? You’ll need to read this uplifting chick-lit book to find out. Suffice it to say that Claire Cook’s novel helps to explain why some must revisit the past before being ready to encounter — and accept — what life holds for them in the future.

“Reading Claire Cook might be the most fun you have all summer.” Elin Hilderbrand. True. Grab this read before the summer is over!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Charming, engagingly quirky, and full of fun. Claire Cook just gets it.” Meg Cabot

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Coming Up Next…

Time Flies (audible audio lg.)

A review of Time Flies: A Novel by Claire Cook, author of Must Love Dogs and Wallflower in Bloom.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Trail of the Spellmans: Document #5 by Lisa Lutz.Trail of the Spellmans (AA)

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Hammer to Fall

Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder: A Mystery by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur, $24.99, 304 pages)

Dandy Gilver is a proper lady living in Scotland during the 1930s.   She is also a detective married to a respectable nobleman and the mother of two sons.   Dandy is the narrator for this series of remarkably detailed and charming period pieces.   Unsuitable Day is the latest in the series written by Catriona McPherson, who was born in Scotland and now resides in Davis, California.

Readers who delight in location details, period pieces and wicked humor are the audience for this book.   There are red herrings, plot twists, gruesome murders and a bit of class warfare that make each page an experience in itself.   Author McPherson’s writing is dedicated to immersing the reader in all things Scottish and particularly those of a small nature.

Perfect escapism is rarely presented in a murder mystery.   There are usually jumps in the story line that create ambiguities to throw the reader off the trail of the killer.   Being thrown off in that way has a tendency to break the spell.   Unsuitable Day goes in the other direction.   There are so many specifics and events that the reader is transported straightaway to the other side of the ocean and into the past.   This reviewer lost track of time during the reading of the book.   Perhaps that’s due to the lack of technology in the story, or maybe it’s the fascinating details related to running a department store in post-World War I.   Regardless, the escape happens and not only will future episodes be welcome, maybe a bit of catching up with Dandy’s past escapades is in order.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Positively 4th Street

Who Is That Man?: In Search of the Real Bob Dylan by David Dalton (Hyperion, $26.99, 383 pages)

“Hibbing, Minnesota, is the site of the biggest man-made hole in the world, an existential allegory if there ever was one…  Hibbing cannibalized itself…  If the biggest hole in the world had an effect on (Dylan), why hadn’t it shown up in any of his songs?   Or has it?   Is that what he’s been doing, filling it up?”  

David Dalton’s overly-psychedelic look at Bob Dylan never comes close to telling the reader who “the real” Dylan is.   There are a number of problems with this account, the chief one being that, instead of de-mythologizing the legend and presenting a human being, Dalton regurgitates every myth in circulation and then proceeds to create additional ones.   The all-too-clever Gonzo-journalism style, 45 years or so out-of-date, is often painful to read, as when Dalton writes about “…the hallucinatory negativity of Blonde on Blonde.”   Really?   (What album was he listening to?)

It gets worse, as when Dalton refers to Hank Williams, one of young Bob’s first idols, as “the hillbilly Shakespeare” (groan).   Although Dalton may now and then redeem himself (like when he notes that Dylan looks at America with an immigrant’s eye), the sometimes-fascinating portions of this work are fully overwhelmed by its dreadful aspects.   It may appeal to some – such as those who love middle-school style humor – but the writer tries much too hard to be as hip as Dylan’s old album liner notes.   Not recommended for hardcore Dylan fans, although some quirky readers who like humor and sarcasm presented in the guise of serious musical criticism may be inexplicably drawn to it.

All in all, this is Positively 4th Street.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Note:  As an example of Dalton’s excessively strange style of covering Dylan’s recording career, he comes up with eight so-called reasons why Dylan’s two-record set Self-Portrait was relatively unsuccessful.   He cites as reason 5 the fact that someone failed to tell the Byrds that they were scheduled to play on the album, and so they “flew home.”   This is not factual nor is it funny.

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