Tag Archives: life affirming

Invisible Touch

Charlotte Street: A Novel by Danny Wallace (William Morrow, $14.99, 416 pages)

A heartwarming everyday tale of boy stalks girl.

If you’ve enjoyed reading Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity) and David Nicholls (One Day), you’re likely to very much enjoy this soon-t0-be-released debut novel by Danny Wallace.   Like Hornby and Nicholls, Wallace uses a fun, positive, life affirming voice even as he writes of a world in which everything’s going to hell in a tattered hand basket.

Jason Priestly – no, not the 90210 actor – is a former schoolteacher who is now a London restaurant critic and sometime music reviewer.   He writes for London Now, a daily rag that’s handed out free to subway riders.   Jason has almost hit the wall after being unceremoniously dumped by his long-time girlfriend Sarah, and after sleeping with his boss Zoe.   Just when he thinks there’s no reason to go on, he spots The Girl…  She’s a vision in a blue dress and coat outfit struggling to load her shopping bags into a taxi.   Jason rushes to help her, receives a great smile for his efforts, and then realizes – as the cab zooms off – that she’s left something of hers behind.   Ah, so Jason has the justification he needs to spend his time searching all over greater London for her.

Jason has a lot to deal with as he begins his great adventure.   His male friends and his roommate are childish (still stuck on playing outdated video games); Sarah, now engaged and pregnant, keeps returning to him like a bad toenail; and Abbey has suddenly appeared – a young attractive university student who wants to hang around Jason, and who is seemingly willing to help him find The Girl who will be more perfect for him than she is.

Jason, like some, if not many readers, is an Everyman who is constantly looking to the future to bring him happiness as he looks past what he already possesses.   Will he find what he truly needs at the end of this romp?   You’ll need to take a journey down Charlotte Street to find out.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Charlotte Street will be released on October 23, 2012, and will be available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition e-book.   “Looks to be (this year’s) One Day…  a delight.”   http://www.net-a-porter.com/ .

“It will have you laughing out loud and melt your heart, all at once.”   Cosmopolitan (U.K.)

Note:  Not feeling great?  I’m not a doctor – although I did stay once at a Holiday Inn Express – but I can offer you this prescription:  Read this book and you’ll feel better!

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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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The Power of Love

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

Twenty years.   Two people.   ONE DAY

“(She was) unable to recall a time when she felt happier.”

“…he is more or less where he wants to be…  Everything will be fine, just as long as nothing ever changes.”

Sometimes we need to wait until the right time to read a particular book.   I received a review copy of this novel, which had already become the #1 bestselling book in England and throughout most of Europe, in early 2010 (it was released in trade paper form in the U.S. on June 15, 2010).   But it didn’t strike me as something that urgently needed to be read…  That is, until I read that Anne Hathaway had agreed to play the female lead in the upcoming film version, with Jim Sturgess as the male lead.   Knowing that Hathaway has a skill for finding great scripts, I felt that the time had come.

This is the story of two people, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, who meet cute on their graduation night (called “university graduation” in England) and spend the entire evening together.   They plan to commence a sexual relationship the next day; a plan which is forsaken due to some unexpected circumstances – something unexplained until the later pages of the story.   So, instead, they vow to be friends.   Dexter is to become Emma’s true male friend, but not boyfriend.

Nicholls tells the story, a very remarkable love story, by having us look in on the happenings of Emma’s and Dexter’s lives on the same date – July 15th – of each year.   The story begins on July 15, 1988, and concludes on July 15, 2007.   No spoiler alert is needed here, as no details will be revealed about what occurs to Emma and Dexter over the decades.   Let’s just say that the reader will be surprised.

I don’t want to play coy, so I will state that this is likely the best pure love story that I have read – it’s a tale that tugs at our heartstrings even while it makes us laugh.   And it will definitely bring tears prior to its dramatic and life-affirming ending.   It’s all the more remarkable that Nicholls, a man, writes with such a huge heart about life and love.

What can be revealed is that Emma and Dexter, despite their class differences (Dexter was born wealthy, Emma lower-middle class), know that they would be perfect for each other…  Maybe.   But each one faces too many temptations in the form of other people, and each thinks that the other wants different things out of life.   So despite their vow to be close forever, they begin to slide away from each other as they encounter life’s often not-so-gentle surprises.

“Everyone likes me.   It’s my curse.”

A few cautions…  Please disregard those who compare One Day to When Harry Met Sally (“Can a man and woman be best friends?”).   One Day is more adult and serious, and English humor is quite distinct from American humor; to me, it is, thankfully, more subtle.   That comparison caused me to hold off on reading this novel, which was unfortunate.   And if Dexter’s personality, early on, sounds a bit like Dudley Moore’s over-the-top character in the film Arthur, don’t worry, it will pass.   Dexter matures with age.

“…I can barely hear the compilation tape you made me which I like a lot incidentally except for that jangly indie stuff because after all I’m not a GIRL.”

There are many references to period music in the telling, which is both positive and not so positive.   (Emma can spend an entire day making the right mix tape.)   References to songs like “Tainted Love” make one smile; however, the numerous references to Madonna’s music wind up becoming painful in their datedness.

This is a novel that is stunning – so much so that on finishing it, I was both eager and fearful of reading it again one day.   (My response was to purchase the unabridged audiobook version, so that it’s there on the shelf if and when the urge strikes me to revisit it.)   This is simply a great story about two people who must decide which is better or worse:  the fear of confronting happiness, or the fear of never actually encountering it.   The message it delivers is a gift.   Please consider taking it.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Big, absorbing, smart, fantastically readable.”   Nick Hornby   “A totally brilliant book…  Every reader will fall in love with it.”   Tony Parsons   “A wonderful, wonderful book: wise, funny, perceptive, compassionate…”   The Times (London)

One of the most hilarious and emotionally riveting love stories you’ll ever encounter.”   People

Note:  The film version of One Day will be released on August 19, 2011.

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Room: A Novel

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue (Little,Brown; $24.99; 336 pages)

The Soul selects her own Society – Then – shuts the door.

Jack could be assumed to be a typical 5-year-old boy being homeschooled by his mother and engaging in similar activities as his peers (watching TV, reading, art).   However, Jack’s entire existence revolves around the life created by his abducted mother in an 11 X 11 room created for the sole purpose of keeping their existence a secret.

Told from Jack’s point of view, the story unfolds portraying realistic outcomes that create the illusion of a non-fiction novel.   You will root for Jack and his ‘Ma’ to escape the confines of their prison-like life with despicable “Old Nick” and enter the real world (outer space) for a chance to live a “normal” life.

Before I didn’t even know to be mad that we can’t open Door, my head was too small to have Outside in it.   When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I’m five I know everything.

You will be enchanted by the endearing dedication provided by Jack’s mother as she recalls the details of her own childhood in order to create an atmosphere where Jack can survive and strive within the limits of Room.   This is a wonderful life-affirming portrayal of the strength of a mother’s love for her son.   It is a force which can survive under even the worst of circumstances.

Recommended.

This review was written by Kelly Monson.   The book was purchased by the reviewer.   Room, the seventh novel from Donoghue, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize of 2010.

“Potent, darkly beautiful, and revelatory.”   Michael Cunningham

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