Tag Archives: Little

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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Men and Dogs (large)

A review of Men and Dogs: A Novel by Katie Crouch.

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A Summer Place

Summerland: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand (Reagan Arthur Books, $26.99, 400 pages)

Life can be traumatic and daunting even on Nantucket Island, the idyllic summer vacation destination for generations of families, including the wealthy and famous like Martha Stewart.   These are the summer people who see the island as an escape from reality.   Of course on Nantucket, like any resort, there must be the year-round residents who live their lives in full on the island 30 miles from the mainland.

Elin Hilderbrand knows of what she writes.   As a resident, she knows the year-around version of island life.   Summerland is the eleventh novel based in her neck of the woods.   Two of her most recent past novels, Silver Girl and The Island have been reviewed on this site.   Both of these reviews were based on the audio versions of the books.   Each was superb; however, the magic of seeing the story in hard copy was most evident for this book.

The narrative is written from the perspective of each of the main characters, including Nantucket.   There are two generations represented here, teenagers and their parents.   This time around the human experiences up for exploration are death, loss, parenting and children.   Both generations are subjected to the fallout effects when the golden girl of her class, Penny Alistair, dies in a horrific auto crash on high school graduation night.   Her twin brother Hobby, short for Hobson, is mangled and left in a coma.   Two other juniors, Jake and Demeter escape unscathed.

The story line is believable and somewhat predictable but it is the way the characters are developed that makes this a compelling read.   Regardless of the reader’s age, adult or young adult, the very poignant lessons learned are delivered in a manner that’s achievable only by a master story teller. 

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Author’s Perspective

Roy Peter Clark wrote the 2010 bestselling book, The Glamour of Grammar, and on September 21, 2011, his new book will be released.  The new book is entitled Help! for Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces.   Mr. Clark joins us here for a guest post, answering a key question for us.

Joseph Arellano

JA:  Should you write the ending of your story first?  

RPC:  The paragon for this paradigm is J.K. Rowling, who has told the story many times that she began writing the seven-book Harry Potter series by writing the ending first.   Not the ending of the first book, mind you, but the ending of the seventh book!   She even teased her faithful readers with the news that the last word in the series would be “scar.”   She changed her mind.

It helped me to write to an ending for my 1999 newspaper serial novel “Ain’t Done Yet.”   The story, in 30 chapters, described a burned-out reporter hired to investigate a cult planning a terrorist attack for New Year’s Day 2000.   Max Timlin, the reporter, feared two things most of all:  lightning storms and high places.   So, of course, he would fight to the death with the villain on top of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in a fierce storm.   Because I knew the big arc of the story, I could focus on the little arcs, those moments of surprise that reveal patterns, cliff hangers, and character.

I like the advice of a novelist (don’t remember his name) who said that writing fiction was like driving a car at night along a winding country road.   You don’t need to see all the way to your destination, as long as your headlights can illuminate a stretch of the road ahead.   In other words, if you can write your way to the end of a scene, you can build narrative momentum toward what’s coming next.

Interested in winning a copy of Help! for Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces?   If so, just return to this site on Wednesday, September 21st to see how you can win one of five (5) copies that we’re giving away!

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Coming Up Next…

Roy Peter Clark, author of the new guidebook Help! for Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces, answers a key question for us.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of What the Dog Saw and other adventures by Malcolm Gladwell.

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Isn’t It a Pity

13 rue Therese: A Novel by Elena Mauli Shapiro (Reagan Arthur Books; $23.99; 288 pages)

Initially this appears to be a beautifully presented novel based on the possessions of a woman who once lived in the early 1900s (experiencing both World Wars), in Paris.   The graphic reproductions of items owned by Louise Brunet, which came into the author’s possession as a young girl, are reproduced in a high-class manner.   Unfortunately, this story also contains some troubling characteristics which ruined the experience for this reader.

In the early 1980s, the author’s mother salvaged a small box of mementos formerly owned by Mrs. Brunet:  “This box is the sepulcher of Louise Brunet’s heart.   The story behind the objects is lost; the objects are now the story…  As I have carried this strange box through life and across the world, I have always intended to make a book out of it.   This book now exists; you hold it in your hands.”

It is a charming and promising premise – fleshing out an unknown life via the author’s imagination.   A great deal of the content involves the lives of French people, men and women, during World War I.   The read is initially quite engaging as we encounter an American historical researcher-professor, living in the present day, who comes across Mrs. Brunet’s possessions and begins – as he charts out the happenings of her life – to fall in love with her.   It will be an unrequited love except for the fact that through a miracle of time travel he comes to meet her face to face.   Having met Mrs. Brunet, the researcher is essentially freed to fall in love with a woman of his own time.

All of this has a Somewhere in Time or The Time Traveler’s Wife aspect to it, which seems wonderful on its face.   And yet, the Louise Brunet that the reader comes to identify with in the first half of the novel turns into a madwoman in its concluding portion.   This is a happily married woman – a woman who has never had a child – who engages in an affair with a married neighbor, knowing full well that it is wrong and that she takes the chance of getting pregnant; something that would destroy her marriage and world.

This female protagonist also engages in crimes and enjoys confessing her sins to a Catholic priest, to the point where she laughs hysterically after confessing her adultery.   It all seems strange and disjointed, as if the two halves of the novel do not fit together properly.   But this is not the biggest issue with the telling.

“She does not understand the power of that man’s body over her…  He is like a poison in her, all the more potent because she doesn’t want an antidote.   She welcomes this disease of desire.”

The major problem with 13 rue Therese is that the sex scenes are described in terms more than a bit reminiscent of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – rude, crude and shocking.   The polite language of an earlier time gives way to terms that appear to be deliberately intended to shock the once comfortable reader.   Perhaps this was done deliberately as an attempt to demonstrate the lack of control that overtakes Louise, a woman ready to destroy her life for a man she’s attracted to even while she does not understand that attraction.

In summary, 13 rue Therese is like one of those schizophrenic films (the movie version of Steve Martin’s Shopgirl comes to mind) that is quite pleasurable for the first hour, but hard to watch for the second.   This is a novel with great potential that simply self-destructs, and concludes in a rather mundane fashion.   It’s a pity.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   This novel was released today.

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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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With a Little Help From My Friends

The Island: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand (Unabridged Hachette audio book on 13 CDs; $34.98)

When the going gets tough for Chess Cousins, she and three other East Coast ladies retreat to Tuckernuck Island off the coast of Nantucket.   These ladies are not just anyone; they are Chess’s mother Birdie Cousins, aunt Ida Bishop and sister Tate Cousins.   Tough doesn’t begin to describe Chess’s situation as her recently dumped fiance has died in a rock climbing incident and she has walked out on her editorial job at a prestigious culinary magazine.   To make matters worse, Chess decides to cut her shining golden hair and shave her head.

Birdie masterminds their trip to the family vacation home on Tuckernuck.   The house lacks hot water, electricity, and television and cell phone reception.   After a 13-year family hiatus from vacationing on the property, the ladies come together for the month of July.   The plan is to allow Chess the solitude and support she needs to get beyond her depression.

Author Hilderbrand present a masterfully simple story that expands as the days on the island are counted off, one by one.   The cadence of the story, narrated by Denice Hicks, is one of calm repetition that includes descriptions of the locale, conversations, meal preparation and the introspective thoughts of the ladies.   The activities they perform daily become part of the story line.   There are bursts of emotion that erupt from the interactions of the characters.   The narrator balances the dulcet tones of Birdie with the harsh outbursts from Tate and Chess.   India’s throaty voice is a sharp contrast to those of her sister and nieces.   This is only right as she is a worldly woman who is herself the widow.

The key male character is Barrett Lee, a golden hunk of a man in his thirties, who is the caretaker of the house.   He brings the food, wine, ice and clean laundry daily from Nantucket.   Although Nantucket is only a half-mile away by boat, it might as well be on another continent.   Both Barrett and his father Chuck before him have captured the hearts and imaginations of the respective generations of sisters.

The sense of isolation felt by Birdie, India and Tate serves to prompt them to deal with their own issues even though they are supposed to be assisting Chess.   There is a sense of dancing around each one’s life situation, avoiding the whole truth, shying away and then revisiting them again and again.   Each revisit brings more of the backstories to the fore.   The complexity of the emotions and fears brought on by the need for someone to love is flavored with loving kindness, frustration, self-awareness and anxiety.

In a sense, the book is a confessional.   The four points of view on love and loss, sibling rivalry and what it means to be loved are beautifully portrayed in this multi-generational saga.

Highly recommended, and, yes, it’s a fine example of chick lit.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A copy of the audio book was provided by Hachette Audio.

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Glorious Golf

Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf by John Feinstein (Little, Brown; Hachette Audio, Unabdridged on 11 CDs)

Warning:  If you’ve hated the sport of golf – or tried your best to ignore it – and wish to continue as a golf hater, avoid reading (or listening to) this book!

John Feinstein, author of the mega-selling A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour, has written a humanizing account of the game of golf in what proved to be a unique year, 2003.   This was the year that Tiger Woods – who had won half of the 12 majors from 2000 to 2002 – failed to win a single major tournament.   The void was filled by four unknowns, four golfers who had never before won a major.   Here are the names of the four players whose names were not Tiger Woods:  Mike Weir (the Masters), Jim Furyk (the U. S. Open), Ben Curtis (the British Open) and Shaun Micheel (the PGA Championship).

Feinstein’s account begins with a detailed explanation of the first fall of Woods, who arbitrarily decided to fire Butch Harmon, his talented swing coach, in order to restructure his game.   Woods, golf’s reigning king, abdicated his throne for a year, permitting four commoners to enter the arena.   This is covered by Feinstein in an introduction which is the weakest part of the telling.   Feinstein has a maddening tendency in his intros to jump around from present to past, past to present and back again.   It all becomes confusing enough to make a reader want to think about abandoning the read.   But stick around because Feinstein calms down when he begins to tell the tale of four young golfers who came up the hard way.

None of the four subjects – Weir, Furyk, Curtis and Micheel – would have been placed on a list of projected winners of a major tournament in 2003.   In fact, as well detailed by Feinstein, each of the winners would shock the golf world that year.   Curtis, for example, had never visited England before beating everyone on the links course known as Royal St. George’s.   The newly married golfer from Columbus, Ohio had been listed as a 300-1 outsider before his major win.   His win was so unlikely, in fact, that when one of his best friends (and fellow golfers) was told that Curtis had won the British Open he literally fell to his knees in shock.

Micheel won the PGA Championship with an 18th hole penultimate blind shot (onto a 45-foot hill) that landed just two inches from the cup.   “On the most important day of his life, he made the shot of his life.”   But none of these four players broke through simply because they were lucky.   Each worked for years in college and/or junior circuits (Hooters, the Nike Tour, the Hogan Tour, PGA Qualifying School) before they became overnight successes.   Even if you, like this reader, know little about golf and nothing about these four men, you will finish feeling like you’ve spent quality time with each of them.

Each of the four players profiled is a likeable once-underdog, four individuals who suddenly came out of the shadow of the fist-pumping Woods.   But then John Feinstein has always loved such stories…  As he wrote in A Good Walk Spoiled:  “I’ve always (been) someone who thinks that the unknown fighting for his life is a better story than the millionaire fighting for his next million.”

This is an absolutely perfect book to read and/or listen to on the weekend of the playing of the U. S. Open at Pebble Beach.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review is based on the audio book version of Moments of Glory, a copy of which was received from Hachette Audio (Hachette Book Group U.S.A.).   The unabridged audio version is well read by L. J. Ganser.   Unfortunately, Ganser’s voice sounds far too much like that of Casey Kasem of American Top 40 and his skills are sadly lacking whenever he attempts to dramatize women’s voices (quoting the wives of the four golfers profiled here).   It would have been nice to have had a woman reading the women’s parts.

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