Tag Archives: love story

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

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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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Love Story

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Marrow: A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser (Harper Wave, $25.99, 320 pages)

When a deadly disease strikes, it’s often not clear whether this is harder on the afflicted person or those who surround him/her. This is a point well made in the memoir Marrow: A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser. Lesser’s sister Maggie battled lymphoma cancer which went into remission, only to return after seven years.

Maggie had one chance for survival, a bone marrow transplant from the perfect donor. That perfect donor happened to be her older sister, Elizabeth. If successful, Maggie would live on with her sister’s blood literally coursing through her veins. In a sense, the sisters would become one, the team known as Maggie-Liz. But the sisters had not gotten along superbly well in their five-plus decades of living, so they realized they would have to overcome the issues that had sadly separated them in the past.

Marrow is a fascinating look at how two people worked extremely hard to find love and forgiveness among the ruins of pain and suffering. Lesser makes clear, however, that what worked for her and Maggie might not work for others. (If there’s a flaw in the telling, it is that Lesser often gets caught up in the forest – the world, the universe, the meaning of Existence, instead of focusing on the trees – the lives of her and her sister.) And yet, this is an inspiring tale of courage. It’s also a reminder that love conquers all, even when death stands poised to strike.


Well recommended
.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on September 20, 2016. Elizabeth Lesser also wrote Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.

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San Franciscan Nights

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The Tolling of Mercedes Bell: A Novel by Jennifer Dwight (She Writes Press, $18.95, 416 pages)

As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds/Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing… Bob Dylan, “Chimes of Freedom”

In Jennifer Dwight’s The Tolling of Mercedes Bell, Mercedes Bell, a recently widowed mother of a teenage daughter, is down to her last out when fortune steps in and she obtains a job as a paralegal at the law firm of Crenshaw, Slayne and McDonough.

The bright, engaging newcomer enjoys some early success and things appear to be turning around for her when attorney Jack Soutane begins renting space at the firm. The two become an item and the future begins to look ever brighter. But, as is often the case, if things seem too good to be true, they often are.

Due to Jack’s somewhat shady reputation others are skeptical, but the trusting Mercedes opens up her heart and lets him in. He is a charmer but, soon, little things become big things; as the story shifts into another gear, not even the great Jack Soutane can maintain the level of deceit necessary to cover up his past and escape the present.

The reader eagerly sticks with Dwight, knowing something is going to go wrong and trying to find out just what that something will be. Even as that something becomes more obvious, Dwight, a former paralegal herself, creates enough intrigue to lead to a satisfying conclusion. In fact, some of the better writing begins at the point in which Jack’s fate is finally revealed, while Mercedes yet has plenty to unravel.

The ending is a happy – if somewhat improbable, one, and seems to fit the overall message of hope that is pervasive throughout the book (and inherent in Bell’s character).

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Bell is set in the San Francisco Bay Area where Dwight spent a great deal of her life. It is her fourth book but first novel. Here’s hoping she can keep it up.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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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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Coming Up Next…

Forever, Interrupted (med.)

A review of Forever, Interrupted: A Novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

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When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky

Live by Night: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (HarperCollins, $16.99, 401 pages)

Well, I’ve walked two hundred miles, look me over / It’s the end of the chase and the moon is high / It won’t matter who loves who / You’ll love me or I’ll love you / When the moon comes falling / When the moon comes falling / When the moon comes falling from the sky…. Bob Dylan

Lehane Live By Night (nook book)

Joe Caughlin, son of a Boston cop, is a bad guy with heart and a conscience. The complex creation of this man’s thoughts, feelings and actions is a true work of art.

The recent death of James Gondolfini might make this assertion seem cliché. The media coverage of his passing makes it appear as if this reviewer is the only person alive who’s never seen an episode of The Sopranos. So, that being said, the following commentary on Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night is based solely on the merits of the book with no bias toward the gangster genre.

One can look to the Book of Genesis for the age-old theme of male judgment being compromised by the affinity for a woman. From the opening paragraph of the book: “And it occurred to him (Joe) that almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life — good or bad — had been set in motion that morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould.”

Indeed, Joe is taken by Emma, and she takes him for what she can, eventually leading to a heist gone bad, a lifelong feud with rival Albert White, incarceration, and the subsequent fight for survival that sets into motion a rum-running dynasty in Tampa with its own set of decisions and moral dilemmas that lead to additional near-misses, relationships, and death — lots of it.

During Joe’s stint in prison, Lehane creates a magical telling of the love between a father and son. When Joe decides not to execute the daughter of Tampa police chief Irv Figgens, Lehane masterfully depicts the inner workings of Joe’s conscience. When Joe and Graciela fall in love, create a life, and conceive of a child, the longing for a connection to a world larger than self even in the midst of chaos becomes simplistically self-evident.

And, oh yes, there is Emma. The Emma’s of the world do haunt forever. She will have a say in the outcome of the story, you can be sure of that.

When Joe crosses the imagined boundary from outlaw to gangster, the reader gets a glimpse of the notion that morality exists even where evil is pervasive. There are lines of acceptability drawn in the deep recesses of everyone’s mind. When one chooses to live by the rules of night, the gray area of love, loyalty and human empathy are interpreted individually and on a moment-by-moment basis. Perhaps this is no different that those who accept convention and live by day. But, Joe cannot resist the urge to live in the realm of night, and he is simply too good a bad guy to conquer it.

Any person interested in the difference between a crime novel and literature need only to pick up Live by Night to learn the answer.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Live by Night was released as a trade paper book on May 14, 2013.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Heart Like A Wheel

 

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Heart Like Mine: A Novel by Amy Hatvany (Washington Square Press, $15.00, 345 pages)

I must have been in my office when she took her last breath, when she’d crawled into bed after dropping the kids off at school. I was sitting at my desk, reviewing those client files, no idea that everything was about to change.

I had a difficult time trying to make my way through one of Amy Hatvany’s earlier novels. Well, this was not a problem with Heart Like Mine, a fully engaging story of love and family. Grace McAllister is a thirty-six-year-old woman who has never married — she’s always felt that she would be a less-than-competent mother — but under strange circumstances (they “meet cute”) she happens to meet the owner of a Seattle restaurant. Victor has two children, but that’s not an issue for Grace since their attractive mother Kelli — who was divorced from Victor three years earlier — takes care of them.

Grace and Victor become engaged to be married, and Victor meets Kelli for coffee to let her know the news. Before Grace and Victor can proceed to tell the children, Ava and Max, Kelli is found dead in her bed.

Heart Like Mine places a few questions before the reader… Is Victor the man he seems to be or is he hiding something? Can Grace learn to be a good stepmother to the children at a time when they will hate anyone who attempts to replace the mother they loved? Did Kelli, who suffered from depression and still loved Victor, take her own life after learning that he was to re-marry?

My throat thickened at the realization that I would never know when my life might come to an end. How suddenly everything might be lost.

Kelli perceives that’s she’s physically and possibly mentally ill, but seems unable to come to grips with reality. But then her life had spun out of control when she was just 14.

The story is told primarily through the voices and perspectives of Grace and young Ava; although Kelli is the narrator of a couple of chapters. Grace is excited about the prospect of marrying Victor and is suddenly blindsided by being a substitute parent to two grieving children. Her relationship with Victor quickly deteriorates, especially as he’s trying to keep his restaurant open in a down economy. Ava knows that her mother and her grandparents kept secrets and she’s determined to find the truth even if she has to run away from home to do so.

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Hatvany cleverly ties all the storylines together at the end. It is a conclusion that just might be the opening to the next part of the new family’s tale. Whether or not that’s the case, I’ll be looking forward to reading the next engaging page-turner from this writer who views life as something that’s never quite under our control.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. “Amy Hatvany writes with depth and compassion.” Luanne Rice, author of The Silver Boat.

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