Tag Archives: Kelly Monson

Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain (Ballantine Books, $15.00, 352 pages)

“I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”   Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Paula McLain presents a convincing rendition of the unique but enduring relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, the conscientious and serene Hadley Richardson, in her first novel The Paris Wife.

After a brief and long distance relationship, the confident young twenty-year-old Ernest proposes to Hadley, a conservative spinster in her late twenties.   On the quest for the ideal inspirational setting in which to write, McLain’s story takes us to the art scene in Paris in the 1920s as the aspiring artists – on the brink of greatness – share their hopes and dreams in local cafes.   McLain’s story is so detailed and believable that you can enjoy teaming up with individuals as they meet their fellow artists and enjoy team with individuals such as Gertrude Stein.   Her character Hadley happens to recall a conversation that she and Ernest had while sharing drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald as he announced his hopes for the success of his then-recently written novel The Great Gatsby.

The reader will understand why Ernest was so inspired during the couple’s trips to Europe, especially while watching the bullfights in Pamplona.   The reader will also sympathize with Hadley, the ever-loyal wife who strives to maintain the attention of her husband, standing by his side through circumstances that even the strongest of us would run from.   The depth of the conversations and the personalities of the characters come alive in McLain’s dialogues and Hadley’s interpretations of the relationships that develop during this phase of Ernest’s life (including his union with his second wife).

McLain does a remarkable job of defining all her characters and in describing the landscapes and cultures of the couple’s travels.   You will become so entranced with her story you will no doubt forget that you’re not actually reading Hadley’s autobiography.

The story left me with a desire to rediscover Hemmingway by rereading A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises.   I know that I look forward to my next trip to Paris where, while sitting at some of the same cafes once visited by the Hemmingways, I will try to imagine what it was like for this young couple in the local art scene during the Roaring Twenties.   I will also contemplate what Ernest Hemmingway’s life may have been like if he had remained with his first love, Hadley.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Paris Wife was released in a trade paperback version on November 27, 2012.

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You’ve Got a Friend

MWF Seeking BFF [Married White Female Seeking Best Friend Forever]: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche (Ballantine Books, $15.00, 384 pages)

Rachel Bertsche finds more than just friendship in her fun and spunky memoir MWF Seeking BFF.

Having recently moved away from her best friends in New York to start a new life with her husband in Chicago, Rachel Bertsche is having a difficult time making new, meaningful friendships.   She loves spending time with her husband but acknowledges the importance of hanging out with her friends and the loss she feels without her best friends forever available on a regular basis.   So after a year of waiting, she decides to set off in pursuit of a new BFF.   Her goal is to have 52 “girl dates” over the course of one year and she’s willing to try just about anything to make the right connections.

Bertsche writes with blatant honesty as she posts a want ad, joins a self-improvement class and seeks out friendships in each and every possible situation.   Along her journey of friend-seeking, the reader will enjoy not only her diary of weekly dates but also her insight as she learns about more than just the importance of having a BFF.

Bertsche’s prose is clear, direct and refreshing and the accounts and reflection of her “dates” are stories everyone can relate to (and some are just downright hilarious).   Her insights are laden with relevant references to friendship-related studies and as a data gal myself, I was highly entertained with her extensive research and statistics that are brilliantly interspersed along her stories.   Bertsche delights the reader by quoting social scientists, psychologists, professors and authors that she considers experts in the field of social interaction-friendships.

I truly enjoy reading stories and memoirs that motivate the reader to do a bit of soul-searching and encourage us to step outside of our personal comfort zone.   Having recently moved to a new area myself (just outside of the Chicago area, ironically), I sympathized with her struggle to make new friendships as a married adult.   She provides great ideas on how to think outside of the box and be open to friendships in every venue.   After reading this novel, I have a newfound love for my own book club and current friendships.   I recently started a club of potential BFFs in my new hometown.

What are you doing to broaden your group of friends?   Read this playful memoir for inspiration!

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

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Ain’t She Sweet

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

Meg Donahue’s debut novel How to Eat a Cupcake is a delicious treat!

Annie Quintana, is an eccentric, artistic woman raised by her mother, a housekeeper and caretaker for a wealthy family in San Francisco.   Julia St. Clair, an astute, beautiful businesswoman, is the daughter of this fortunate family.   She grew up alongside Annie.   Estranged since high school due to a life-changing betrayal the girls are reunited when Annie, now a talented baker with a gift for creating unique cupcake flavors, brings desert to the St. Clair’s for a benefit event.

Julia, needing a project to create a distraction from a secret she is keeping from her betrothed, offers to finance and temporarily manage the business of a cupcakery for Annie.   Annie, still healing from her mother’s death, agrees to the partnership in order to fulfill her dream and follow in her mother’s baking footsteps.   Together Annie and Julie are forced to work together on a daily basis and put the past behind them.   However, when a series of vandalisms threatens to close down their shop, the women are not only forced to deal with their past, but embrace the secrets that surface and redefine the importance of friendship and family.

Donohue presents an interesting storyline with prose as vibrant and satisfying as a great recipe.   She layers her story with multidimensional characters and intertwining plots, most of which are unpredictable and maintain the reader’s interest throughout the story until it’s resolved in the end.

Donohue touches upon the complexities of social class and friendships and demonstrates how impressions and relationships change and that family bonds – no matter how they are defined – can withstand the test of time.

How to Eat a Cupcake is a delightful read and although a few of the scenes seem a bit farfetched, the typical reader will enjoy the novel to the very end.   If the storyline does not seem appealing, you will undoubtedly enjoy the book based on the detailed descriptions of the exotic cupcake flavors alone.   So get real comfy with your favorite latte and grab a rich cupcake because this mouth-watering novel is well recommended!

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   

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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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Searching So Long

Chosen: A Novel by Chandra Hoffman (Harper, $14.99, 304 pages)

Chandra Hoffman makes a strong debut with her first novel, Chosen.   Written in clear flowing prose, Hoffman will draw empathy from the reader by presenting a true-to-life portrayal of individuals from both sides of the adoption process.

“I wanted to tell a story in which there are no heroes or villains, just shades of gray, real people trying to recover from their stumbles with grace.”

Chloe Pinter is the director of a private adoption program in Portland, Oregon named Chosen Child.   Engaged to a youthful beach bum who yearns for a life on the beaches of Maui, Chloe is immersed in the intimate details of the lives of her clients, torn on what she wants from her own life.   Chloe’s committed to support each of her clients, who range from delinquent, hostile convicts to wealthy high school sweethearts.   She provides them with the financial and emotional resources that she has available, even putting her career and personal life on the line when one of the babies goes missing.

There are other cases where her influence was heavy, life-changing…  and then there are those for whom her actions were like strokes on the Zen watercolor paper, where the darkest of watermarks disappear after brief moments…

Hoffman captures the waves of emotional confusion and exhaustion that accompanies parents of newborns.   She demonstrates the complexities of the adoption process with compassion and expertise that she brings to the novel from her prior professional work as an orphanage relief worker.   She further delves into sensitive topics such as infidelity, postpartum depression, and domestic violence but does so with grace.

This story has merit, and the passion that Hoffman has for the world of adoptions comes through clearly.   My recommendation falters due to the storyline’s predictability and the farfetched resolution to the main part of the story.   Hoffman’s attempt at portraying the complexities of the characters often falls short and results in several unlikable, egotistic male characters who either continue to imagine or participate in affairs, and two of whom describe in detail the way they would murder their partners (which, thankfully, never comes to fruition).   Therefore, this novel is simply recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Crazy

Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99, 352 pages)

Don’t you ever feel like we’re chasing something?   Something bigger.   I don’t know, it’s like something that only you and I can see.   Like we’re running, running, running?   Yeah, I said.   We’re running alright.   Running with scissors.

I was intrigued when my book club chose this memoir, Running With Scissors, as our first nonfiction choice.   Rumored to be both dark and humorous, it did not fit our typical book club culture.   However, our discussion was lively and laden with comments from “disturbing” to “hated it.”  

Those that grew up in the 1960s recognized some of the “character traits” mentioned in the book, while a younger group was left on the edge of their comfort zone.   Yet the discussion was one of the best we’ve had.   We found ourselves discovering the humor as we recalled particular details described within the book.   As a memoir it was, to me, a refreshingly different view of the typical, mostly not-so-interesting portraits of everyday life.

Burroughs describes his eccentric and unconventional upbringing with incredible detail and honesty, yet with a large serving of humor that made it  hard to put down.   He describes his childhood, mostly under the guardianship of Dr. Finch – his mother’s Santa Claus look-a-like psychiatrist, following his mother’s series of mental breakdowns.   This was a home with high energy in which arguments were encouraged to dispense anger and to develop emotional growth.   Within Burroughs’s unpredictable daily life, regular off the wall adventures occurred and conventional standards like rules, discipline and structure were unheard of.

The problem was not having anybody to tell you what to do, I understood, is that there was nobody to tell you what not to do.

Burroughs’s story includes atypical details of his life such as his relationship with a patient of Dr. Finch’s, a man three times Burroughs’s age, and the witnessing of his mother’s psychotic breakdowns.   Many of the details are descriptive, vulgar and somewhat horrifying, yet the story is written in delightful prose with dark humor and such blatant honesty you’ll find yourself continuing to read…  If only to find out what else Augusten could possibly be exposed to, and feeling the need to find out what happens to these real-life characters.   (An update is contained in the Epilogue.)

While I truly enjoyed the tremendous writing skill and recommend Burroughs for sharing his eccentric story, I have to admit that the themes and facts were disturbing enough to impact my enjoyment of the book.   However, good books are created to challenge us with new perspectives.   They can challenge us with new, unique perspectives and force us to think outside of the box and outside of our comfort zones.   This memoir most certainly does that and, therefore, this book is recommended.

Kelly Monson

This book was purchased by the reviewer.   “Running With Scissors is hilarious, freak-deaky, berserk, controlled, transcendent, touching, affectionate, vengeful, all-embracing…  It makes a good run at blowing every other (memoir) out of the water.”   Carolyn See, The Washington Post

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Pieces of April

Between Here and April: A Novel by Deborah Copaken Kogan (Algonquin Books; $13.95; 304 pages)

Deborah Copaken Kogan presents a heartrending story in her page-turning novel, Between Here and April.

Elizabeth Burns is determined to research and share the story of the disappearance of her childhood friend, April.   Following multiple blackout episodes, Elizabeth begins to recall the details of her friend and the rumors that followed her absence decades before.   However, as Elizabeth begins to question April’s family members and neighbors, the heart breaking trauma and the revelation of the outcome causes Elizabeth to reflect on her own life and past and reexamine her priorities.

The riveting storyline overlaps Elizabeth’s journey with the details of April’s disappearance and brings the characters to life, past and present.   The main character, Elizabeth, is challenged with balancing career and family with the probable consequences for indulging in reckless desires.   She must decide what portions of her life are worth mending to protect her own priorities.

She (Elizabeth’s daughter) slipped her mittened hand in mine and squeezed it tight, a gesture whose emotional pull is never diminished.   This is all there is, I thought to myself, self-consciously.   This is why we live.

Kogan examines the challenges of motherhood and how far some women will go to protect their children and preserve their cherished life and memories.   Yet, this is only one of the many overlapping controversial topics presented by Kogan throughout the novel, a few too many for my taste.   And although the story also presents some implausible circumstances (such as coming across actual dialogue of April’s mother presented to Elizabeth by a psychologist’s widow), Kogan keeps the reader intrigued through complex, interesting characters and clear, believable dialogue.

Recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “The perfect book club book.”   The Washington Post Book World

Deborah Copaken Kogan also wrote Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War.

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