Tag Archives: life’s lessons

Change the World

Four young men decided to take a bite out of the world. The world bit back.

More Awesome (Nook Book)

More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Heroic Quest to Save Your Privacy from Facebook by Jim Dwyer (Viking, $27.95, 374 pages)

diaspora

This is a true story about four young men, from prosperous families (upper middle-class to one percenters), who decided to come up with a program that would take on and possibly destroy Facebook. Their creation, Diaspora, at one time seemed so promising that an intrigued Mark Zuckerberg sent them a donation of $1,000. What would set Diaspora apart from Facebook is the user’s ability to protect their personal information, keeping it from the clutches of advertisers. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the users of Facebook “are not the sites’ customers; they’re the merchandize. The real customers are the advertisers and aggregators who suck up the (personal) data on the users and use it to target commercial come-ons more effectively.”

More+Awesome+Than+Money+Jim+dwyer+Book

The efforts of the young Diaspora founders – who were in their late teens to early 20s – would fail largely because they had no business experience and made horrible decisions. For example, when they approached the Sand Hill Road venture capital firm, Kliener Perkins (KP), they were advised to not request a certain amount of money (KP was prepared to offer an investment of $750,000). They asked for $10 million and came away with nothing. This was close to, and eventually was, a fatal decision.

The stresses upon their effort were to lead to short and long-term dropouts among the leadership, and result in a suicide. This is, to a great extent, the story of Ilya Zhitomirsky, the brilliant self-taught programmer who suffered from depression. However, the telling incorporates the viewpoints of each of the founders. All of the founders suffered from inexperience and the sweet arrogance (and ignorance) of youth.

Dwyer, co-author of the excellent account of the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings, 102 Minutes, provides the reader with a cinematic story. This might make a fine film in the style of The Social Network, which detailed the founding of Facebook.

While engaging, this book suffers from a couple of flaws. The first is that multiple accounts of the same incidents result in sometimes-annoying repetition. This can lead the reader to feel like he/she is watching The Norman Conquests. Also, although Dwyer takes two stabs at wrapping up the story, in the final chapter and an epilogue, it comes to a sudden end – the book ends not with a bang but with a whimper.

If More Awesome Than Money is a true-to-life morality play, then Dwyer appears to be unsure of the lesson to be learned. Perhaps it’s that yesterday’s technological revolutionaries (Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison) became today’s establishment figures. They and their creations are to be attacked at one’s own risk.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The original subtitle of this book, as listed in the inside pages, was Four Boys and Their Quest to Save the World from Facebook. I do not know why it was changed.

Note: While finishing this review, I happened to read that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife provided a donation of $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital. “Make of that what you will.” (A.C. Newman, “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve…”)

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Fortify Your Self

Fortifying Your Self – Three Different Ways

Fearless at Work (nook book)

Fearless at Work: Timeless Teachings for Awakening Confidence in the Face of Life’s Demands by Michael Carroll (Shambhala, $16.5, 304 pages)

With this book in hand, you have the potential to lead your own life at work and home rather than be at the mercy of outside influences. Of course, that also means reading the book. Fortunately, it is full of meaningful examples and practical advice with realistic approaches to incorporating them into your daily experience. There are references to teachers admired by author Carroll who deserve the recognition. While this is gracious and appropriate, it creates an alphabet soup of names for a reader who is not steeped in the somewhat exotic cultures and traditions being referenced.

A reader would be wise to use sticky notes or a flag to mark each section as this reviewer has done. The book is structured around five primary slogans: 1. Face the fierce facts of life, 2. No delight; no courage, 3. Recognize fear, 4. Discover the jewel of fearless abundance, and 5. Command gracefully.

Helpful illustrations are included within the main text of the book as well as the appendices. The trade paper format and size of the book make it easy to take along for reference or just to aid in grounding the reader in times of challenge or tumult.

Highly recommended.

The Undefeated Mind

The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self by Alex Lickerman, M.D. (HCI, $15.95, 288 pages)

Dr. Lickerman is remarkably open and willing to share his past experiences with patients as he helped them to face life’s challenges. He is a practicing Nichiren Buddhist, and he begins the book with his own path to creating an undefeated mind.

The presenting problem is the breakup of his first love relationship prior to failing the first part of the National Board Exam at the end of the second year of medical school. The dual defeat that he experienced, combined with the field work required during the third year and the lack of time to study for retaking the first part of the exam, propelled Lickerman into a deep state of depression. From this beginning, he takes the reader into his medical practice for an array of solutions to similar problems brought to him by his patients.

The reader is assured of assistance in dealing with his or her own life obstacles given the wealth of good examples, detailed explanations of terminology used by physicians, and Dr. Lickerman’s kindly writing style. The one drawback is his need to provide attribution of the source material and references to persons whom he credits with wisdom that is worthwhile. These interruptions to the flow of the text detract from his message; however, the reader is well advised to accept this slight disruption given the value of the lessons to be learned.

Well recommended.

Attitude Reconstruction

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T. (Riviera Press, $16.95, 354 pages)

The third book in this review is by far the most technical and visually oriented. Author Jude Bijou is a practicing marriage and family therapist/counselor. She has devised a set of charts for the reader to use as a guide to attaining a positive attitude and a more pleasant life. These charts depict destructive mental tendencies and constructive mental tendencies. Through describing the emotions associated with the two basic tendencies and the outcomes generated by acting upon them, Ms. Bijou seeks to provide the reader with an action plan for building a better life.

Visual learners will thoroughly enjoy the numerous charts, Q & A scenarios and worksheets contained within this densely-packed book. Be assured, the straightforward approach used by Ms. Bijou can be interpreted as classic textbook lessons rather than subtler gentle assistance of the type offered by Dr. Lickerman.

A person who seeks to change their life situation and needs a step-by-step process will benefit greatly from Attitude Reconstruction.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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The Twelfth of Never

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Washington Square Press, $15.00, 324 pages)

Forever, Interrupted (nook book)

Not your average love story…

I knew your father for four years before I agreed to even go on a date with him, Eleanor. We dated for another five before we got married. You can’t possibly know enough about another person after a few months.

Life lessons happen when they are least expected. Or, as John Lennon is frequently quoted as saying, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The lessons to be learned in Forever, Interrupted are deeply felt by the characters and the reader. The questions raised within the tale include: can a person love someone they’ve only known for a short time, will love last for decades, and is grieving possible with a stranger?

There is no need to tiptoe though these pages while steeling yourself for the gut-wrenching sadness of a love lost which is often placed at or near the end of a novel (think One Day). Taylor Jenkins Reid gets right down to business in the first nine pages of this her debut novel. Ms. Reid is remarkably adept at conveying feelings using crisp dialogue. She uses the literary technique of alternating chapters that move between the end and the beginning of Elsie Porter’s whirlwind romance with Ben Ross.

Ben and Elsie have been married a few days and they are enjoying the comfort of being together as husband and wife when she has a hankering for real Fruity Pebbles. As if in a fairy tale, Ben hops up from the couch and zooms off on his bicycle to the local CVS to buy a box of Fruity Pebbles for his darling new wife. That’s when all hell breaks loose, literally, as the sirens of fire engines and emergency vehicles right down the street grab Elsie’s attention. Ben has been the victim of a collision with a large moving truck that snuffs out his life.

Although Ben and Elsie briefly had each other, she discovers that being a widow carries a stigma and grieving brings nearly uncontrollable heartache. Elsie’s best friend, Ana Romano, is a stalwart buddy who willingly jumps in to keep Elsie afloat and Susan Ross, Ben’s mother, is resistant, resentful and rude when she meets Elsie at the hospital following her son’s tragic death.

There are others who populate Elsie’s climb back to normal — whatever that might be. The work required by all is remarkable and demonstrates to Elsie that she is loved and can love again, just not with Ben.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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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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Full of Grace

 

pictures of youPictures of You: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books, $13.95, 336 pages)

There was no cause and effect. There was no karma. The truth was that he wasn’t so sure he understood how the world worked anymore.

At the opening of Pictures of You, two women — April and Isabelle — are literally driving away from their marriages when they collide into each other on a foggy highway. Only Isabelle survives. This leaves three survivors, including Isabelle’s husband Charlie, April’s husband Sam and his needy 9-year-old son, Sam. In his neediness, Sam comes to view Isabelle as an angel placed on earth to save him.

It’s quite an innovative set-up for an extremely well written novel by Caroline Leavitt. Leavitt writes in a calm, methodical, factual style that brings to mind both Michelle Richmond and Diane Hammond; and like those authors (and Elizabeth Berg) she intends to impart a few of life’s lessons in the process of telling a story. One lesson has to do with powerlessness: “You could think you understood things, but the truth was that you could never see the full picture of someone else’s life.”

Than there’s the fact that we look for something more than human in times of grief and trouble: “Maybe tomorrow, the angel might be the one to come for him.” “People believed in angels when they were most in trouble.”

…he had somehow photographed her so that her shoulders were dark and burly, as if she had wings under her dress… (as if) she might spread them to lift off the ground and fly away.

Sam’s desire to make something sacred out of the very human Isabelle is a representation of the fact that everyone seeks comfort and safety in life. When Sam’s father reads the obituaries in the newspaper, “He (doesn’t) bother to brush away his tears… each one said the same thing: Come home. Come home.”

It wasn’t a pill or a car that made her feel safe.

Isabelle, however, is the one who has the clear chance to re-start her life, and the reader will be intrigued to see what choices she makes. The beauty of Leavitt’s telling is that what the reader thinks is going to happen does not. And this, in itself, makes it a very special book.

Pictures of You concludes with a perfect ending in which everything is fully and satisfactorily resolved. There’s also a Hollywood-style postscript, a look back from 21 years later, that adds a nice cinematic touch to the account. All in all, this is an amazing novel.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. 

The reader who enjoys this book may want to read American Music: A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn, which also wrestles with the notion of angels on this earth.

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Mad Dogs and Southern Men

Men and Dogs (nook book)

Men and Dogs: A Novel by Katie Crouch (Little, Brown & Company, $13.00, 304 pages; Unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, narrated by Gabra Zackman, $29.98)

Women coping with the traumas of their past, especially in middle age, seems to be a fascinating topic for many authors who are themselves women. Men and Dogs features Hanna Legare, a daughter of the South whose life trajectory has landed her on the West Coast – at Stanford University followed by a business career and marriage in San Francisco.

At the beginning of this tale, the focus of Hanna’s obsessive energy is the disappearance of her father, Dr. Buzz Legare, a well-liked and good-looking man. The event, a boating accident, took place in April of 1985 in Charleston, South Carolina, Hanna’s birthplace. Hanna refuses to believe that her father is dead. She constantly badgers her family and people from her past demanding a clear-cut explanation for the lack of a body or evidence that Dr. Legare has actually died.

After setting the theme of the novel, author Crouch brings the reader (or, in this reviewer’s case, the audiobook listener) to the year 2009 when Hanna brings her obsession to the boiling point. Her husband and business partner, Jon, seems to be fed up with the indiscretions and affairs she has indulged in over the last few years. Hanna’s defense, dating all the way back to high school, is that she has difficulty feeling secure and, therefore, she uses sex as a way of feeling in control. Hanna’s brother, Palmer, who is gay and veterinarian in Charleston, has also been unable to commit to a lasting relationship. The threads of their unraveling lives cross when Hanna goes back to Charleston for a time-out.

At first the story seems to be a novel/mystery complete with a well-developed set of characters. By two-thirds of the way through, a new theme becomes apparent – that of a cautionary tale. Perhaps a listener or reader who is herself entering middle age would find a sense of life’s lessons as the last of the story unfolds. For this reviewer, the message is clear; do not dwell on the past. Hanna could have benefitted by reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.

Recommended.

Ruta Arellano

The audiobook was purchased by the reviewer’s husband. Katie Crouch is also the author of Girls in Trucks: A Novel.

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All the Way from Memphis

Nightingale Palace 2

The Secret of the Nightingale Palace: A Novel by Dana Sachs (William Morrow, $14.99, 346 pages)

By the time the train arrived in New York City… Goldie Rubin Feld was ready. Somehow, through the force of her will, the past had grown smaller and smaller in her mind until, finally, it disappeared.

If you loved the novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, you owe it to yourself to check out the second novel by author Dana Sachs (If You Lived Here). As with Hotel, Sachs’ story deals with Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II and afterward. In Hotel, the city of Seattle served as the stage on which the story’s events took place; in Nightingale Palace, the city of San Francisco – past and present – serves as the primary stage.

As the story opens, thirty-five-year-old Anna is called to New York City by her grandmother Goldie – a relative she has not spoken to in five years. Anna is a widow and has never quite forgiven her grandmother for the way she spoke so poorly and disrespectfully about Anna’s late husband Ford while he was alive. Goldie is Jewish, in her eighties, twice-widowed, rich – she owns a Rolls Royce, and is extremely inflexible and demanding. Goldie wants Anna to drive her across the country to San Francisco in the Rolls Royce she’s named Bridget. Goldie left San Francisco in 1944, and she wants to return some artwork to a member of the Nakamura family. The Nakamuras lived in, and maintained, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park befor they were rounded up and placed in a relocation camp.

Anna agrees to her grandmother’s unusual request because she’s become frozen in her grief and has no idea what’s going to happen to her next. Both Anna and Goldie seem to sense that something will occur during the cross-country adventure that will provide an impetus for Anna to decide what she wants and needs out of her life. (Ford has been dead for two years. Anna is alive, but barely so.) At the very least, it’s going to get her out of Memphis and give her the opportunity to see how other people live.

All that matters is elegance.

This is not a novel that can be read quickly, or should it be. Sachs has a great sense of style and elegance in the way she writes and it must be appreciated. Here’s an example:

…then, without fail, Henry (Nakamura) would pull out whatever beautiful object he had brought to the store and show it to her. Goldie would become transfixed. Carefully his slender hands would open a box, unfold a velvet wrapper, unwind a leather strap from an ivory clasp. Goldie would become almost immobile with pleasure. She would remember experiencing similar sensations when she was a child, watching her mother braid her older sisters’ hair, or do needlework, her fingers piercing the fabric as rhythmically as a musician strumming a guitar. For some reason, observing the fine, precise movements of someone else’s hands gave Goldie a peculiar, almost physical delight. When those hands were Henry’s, though, the experience became exquisite… those moments spent gazing at his hands moving across a little tea set or carved wooden box offered, for Goldie, a fleeting but almost divine consolation.

Nightingale Palace offers up, in the form of a novel, life’s lessons. These are lessons that in earlier times we might have learned from our elders. The story teaches us that everyone finds happiness and fulfillment in their own way, regardless of race, age, sexual preference, religion. It also teaches us that love is not always lost and that every new day holds out the promise of something better.

Something good might happen today.

We all have a chance to be happy here.

The unforeseen ending of Nightingale Palace is life-affirming and uplifting. It brings to mind the truth of Jackson Browne’s words, that sometimes it would be easier to change the future than the past.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the author.

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics Books site:

http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-secret-of-the/

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Reflections of My Life

Young nowWaging Heavy PeaceWaging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press, $30.00, 497 pages)

“I think I will have to use my time wisely and keep my thoughts straight if I am to succeed and deliver the cargo I so carefully have carried this far… Not that it’s my only job or task. I have others, too. Sacred things I need to protect from pain and hardship, like careless remarks on an open mind.”

Joan Didion has said that we tell stories in order to live. In Neil Young’s memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, he tells stories to document the things he has accomplished in his life, to admit his failings as a fallible human being, and to remind himself that there’s still a lot he wants to accomplish before he departs this world. It’s far from a hippie dream, as Young uses cold, calm and thoughtful Didion-like language – the lines above are a splendid example – in the re-examination of a life. At times, surprisingly, I was reminded of Didion’s Where I Was From, a look back at the early years of her life spent in Sacramento; and an acceptance of the fact that – at least in Didion’s case – one cannot go back home again.

When Young refers to the cargo he has carried in his life, I presume it’s a reference to his musical talent. But here he comes to the realization that he’s inherited some writing abilities from his famous Canadian sportswriter father:

“I am beginning to see that the rest of my life could conceivably be spent as an author, churning out books one after another, to the endless interest of, say, fourteen people with Kindles. Seriously, though, this is a great way to live. No wonder my dad did this… Writing could be just the ticket to a more relaxed life with fewer pressures and more time to enjoy my family and friends – and paddle-boarding.”

Yes, Young equates the precious time he spends with his beloved wife and children with the sport of paddle-boarding, which he learned in Hawaii. It’s a reminder of his honesty, and more documentation of a statement I happened to read in an article in The New York Post: “Everything in life is big and small in equal proportions.” Indeed.

One of the charming things about Heavy Peace is that it comes across as an unscripted conversation with the artist. There’s no agenda, no script – Neil simply tells his stories as they come to mind. This is what happens when we meet an old friend or classmate for lunch, say, or for libations (alcoholic or not) at a tavern. Some readers may be troubled by the fact that the true tales about Young’s career in music are told in non-chronological order. To which my response is, “So what? He’s still given us some inside information on his times with Buffalo Springfield; CSN&Y; and on his solo career and work with, and without, the members of Crazy Horse.”

If there’s one thing about the account that becomes a bit tiring, it’s his often-repeated rants about the poor audio quality of today’s music…“I am a pain in the ass now… I can’t go anywhere without the annoying sound of MP3s… This used to be my life, music. So I need to find or create a solution. Let everyone live, including those who crave quality. Mostly so I can stop ranting about it.”

(With music CDs) “…audio quality took a dive, with a maximum of fifteen percent of the sound of a master (recording).”

What’s strange for me is that when I listen to the recent releases of Young’s work that are supposed to be vastly improved audio editions of his earlier works, I don’t hear the improvement. In fact, some of the “new and improved” reworkings – as with the song “Cinammon Girl” – sound a bit dead when compared to the original, energetic recordings. But let’s not be a pain in the behind over it.

Conclusion

When Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One was released, the world was pleased to find a new and distinctive voice on the printed page. The same is true, no doubt, with the release of Waging Heavy Peace. Young’s voice is as seemingly unique on the page as it is in the recording studio.

Let’s hope that Young continues to write, for his own sake and for ours. His reflections on the successes and failures of his life are valuable reminders of the need to reflect on our own back pages every now and then; yes, to re-examine where we came from in order to see where we might be headed.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You

Comfort of Lies (nook book)

The Comfort of Lies: A Novel by Randy Susan Meyers (Atria Books, $25.00, 336 pages)

Not for the first time, Juliette wished she found solace in alcohol. It was a shame that chocolate and sugar didn’t induce sleep.

Yesterday at 3:40 a.m., I read the last page of The Comfort of Lies. Mind you, this is not a mystery or a thriller; rather, the tale is a thoughtful blend of characters whose lives are forever bound by deceit and truth. Author Meyers allows the reader more breathing space in this, her second novel. The Murderer’s Daughters, also reviewed on this site, offered up overwhelming sadness in the first few chapters. The sadness was so intense that this reviewer was reluctant to keep reading. Fortunately, the rest of the book was gratifyingly rewarding which offset the initial feelings.

In The Comfort of Lies, three women, Tia, Juliette and Caroline, are connected by a little girl – Honor/Savannah. Tia is the youngest and she’s single; Juliette is the oldest and married to Nathan, while Caroline is a doctor and married to Peter. Tia’s year-long affair with Nathan produces baby Honor who is adopted by Caroline and Peter who rename her Savannah.

The relationships revealed above are far more complicated than might appear at first glance. Each of the characters has secret lies known only to themselves and they have lies they tell each other. The underlying theme of neediness and wanting comes just short of distaste. Meyers knows how to temper her message in a way that allows the reader to view all sides of the relationships in the story. There are also class differences among the families whose lives are lived in the areas surrounding Boston, Massachusetts. Each neighborhood plays a part in their lives as does the food they eat and the holidays they celebrate.

Everyone makes choices in life but not everyone realizes the consequences of the choices. While the story line is not new, the depth of understanding and appreciation of feelings held by her characters make Randy Susan Meyers an outstanding writer.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all the Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Edward Fitgerald’s translation of the poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “I devoured this big-hearted story. Meyer’s wit and wisdom shine through…” J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine.

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