Tag Archives: mothers and daughters

A Great Book Giveaway

This site picked Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger as the best book released in the year 2009.   Now, thanks to Regal Literary, we are happy to celebrate the release of this novel in trade paperback form by giving away a free copy!

How much, exactly, did we love Her Fearful Symmetry?   Well, we published not one or two but three separate reviews of the dramatic ghost story (September 23, 2009; September 28, 2009; November 7, 2009).   Here is a link to the first of the three reviews (“What Comes After”) that we posted:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/what-comes-after/

So, how can you win your own copy?   It’s simple, just post a comment here or send an e-mail with your name and an e-mail address to: Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, tell me why stories about ghosts and/or twins are so very interesting (at least I find them so).   There are no right or wrong answers, just tell me what you think.   You have until midnight PST on Friday, September 10, 2010 to submit your entry(s).

The winner, as drawn by Munchy the cat, will be notified via e-mail and will have 72 hours to provide a residential mailing address in the United States.   The winner’s copy of Her Fearful Symmetry will be shipped directly to her/him by Regal Literary.   The book will not be sent to a business address or a P.O. box.  This is it for the simple rules.

Good luck and good reading!

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Addicted to Shopping

Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict by Avis Cardella (Little, Brown & Company, 272 pages)

“I used shopping to avoid myself.”

Be prepared for a brutally honest, yet somewhat elusive account of Avis Cardella’s journey into, and recovery from, the nearly overwhelming habit of shopping and shopping and shopping.   Alongside her own story, Cardella incorporates general information regarding the evolution of shopping in excess beginning with Madame Bovary up through today.   This is no laughing matter.   The prevalence of shopping as therapy or a habit is so great that the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders may contain “compulsive shopping disorder” as a separate listing rather than an entry under the heading of obsessive compulsive disorders.

The mix of confessional talk, some statistics and the events that were pivotal in the author’s life and, more importantly, her relationships with men, surround her almost as if she were dancing around herself, changing costumes as she assumed roles.   There is so much numbness expressed in the narrative that is almost like seeing her through a blanket of fog – not hot or cold, just thick and obscuring.

Cardella was drawn to fashion at an early age.   As a girl she had a regular supply of magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Glamour that her mother purchased faithfully each month.   This mother-daughter duo spent their best time together on shopping expeditions.   Cardella’s mother loved dressing up, especially in costume-like outfits.   Sadly, she died at an early age which left a gaping hole in her daughter’s life.

Jobs became a means to enable shopping, first as a teen employee at Macy’s and then as an adult flight attendant.   That first Macy’s card was managed well as were her purchases.   It was only later that the spending got out of hand.   Cardella writes of her precipitous decline into a world of shopping that sounds more like a drug addiction than the usual garden variety retail therapy most people indulge in once in a while.   She describes it as being taken over by need and experiencing a trance-like state when wandering through stores in Manhattan.

The lure of fashion is hard to resist in this book and Cardella has an amazing talent for describing the garments and accessories that became part of her.   Each page contains at least one designer name or a reference to the lifestyle she sometimes lead that went with wearing the best labels money, or credit, could buy.   In all honesty, this reviewer had some vivid recollections of her first pair of flats, in an awesome turquoise color and a champagne-colored taffeta dress worn to dancing classes in junior high school.

Cardella readily admits that her wardrobe began as mix-and-match pieces acquired without a strategy or goal in mind.   This wardrobe could easily be a metaphor for the way she lived acquiring relationships.   After all, if you don’t know yourself, how can you possibly know what will suit you?   She had no real sense of the future, nor did she make plans.

The writing style is calm, even and well-spoken with the exception of a few minor grammatical blunders and three funny homonyms (peak for peek, weary for wary, and reeled for railed), that crept in along the way.   Two thirds of the way through the book, this reviewer found herself wondering how far a shopping addict has to go to hit bottom.

The takeaway from Spent  is that stuff has power!   Whether that power is good or bad may depend upon the strength of the individual acquiring the stuff.   Highly recommended for moms and daughters.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A copy of the book was purchased for her by her husband.

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Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is one of our favorite authors and so we’re putting up this very nice photograph from the San Francisco Chronicle.   Note that we have posted two reviews on this site of her latest novel Imperfect Birds.   In order to find these reviews, just enter the terms Anne Lamott in the Search It! box (on the right) and hit enter.   The first review, Birds, was posted on February 14, 2010; the second, Imperfect Birds, on April 12, 2010.

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Everybody Is A Star

Seeing Stars by Diane Hammond

“The thing about Hollywood is, it’s no different from heroin or gambling or crack cocaine, except in Hollywood the high is adrenaline.   …And, at any given moment there are ten thousand stunned and hopeful actors driving around the LA freeways, and every one of them is believing that the big break is coming just as surely as sunrise.”

Anne Lamott’s recently released novel Imperfect Birds is a nearly perfectly written story of a loving family in crisis.   In Birds, the love emotes with tension as three family members try to minimize the mistakes they inevitably make in their relationship.   Birds is both tiring – in the sense that it requires the reader’s full attention – and uplifting.

Now Diane Hammond arrives with another lovingly told family novel, Seeing Stars.   Stars is the tale of several families of acting children and their stage mothers who are seeking the fame and fortune that only Hollywood can provide.   Is the pot of gold they’re seeking real or just an illusion?   In part, it’s both.

This is primarily the story of one Ruth Rabinowitz who is almost completely sure that her daughter Bethany is destined to be one of the stars in the Hollywood night.   But Hollywood pushes back by telling Ruth that her daughter is, at best, a character actor.   Then there’s Ruth’s husband, Hugh, left behind in Seattle with his 20-year-old dental practice.  

Hugh supports his wife and daughter but honestly feels they are chasing a dream that will never come true – and the cost of maintaining an extra household in L.A. (not to mention the cost of acting lessons) is eating up all of his earnings.   Does Hugh make Ruth and Bethany return home or let them experience failure?   Will his wife and daughter prove him to be wrong?

The Rabinowitz’s story is the main one but there are several associated ones in Stars.   There’s Bethany’s sometime friend Allison Addison.   Allison is beautiful and knows it.   She also knows that her time to secure a big-time leading role is quickly running out.   Her aggressiveness hides her loneliness.

Allison is quasi-adopted by the shrewd and tough talent agent Mimi Rogers.   Mimi is tougher (“…like an old cat in the night”) than 90% of those in the business but even she must eventually meet her match.

There’s Quinn Reilly, another find of Mimi’s, who is a young James Dean.   Like Dean, he simmers with obvious talent but isn’t much with the social skills.   Will directors use him or figure it’s not worth the cost and aggravation?

Finally there’s Laurel Buehl who is talented enough to make commercials but may be lacking the personality to take the next step.   Her mother Angie has had to battle and survive cancer to be at her side.

Hammond puts all this together with charm and style.   This is an easy – and thus surprisingly fast – read because she so well cushions tension with humor.   In a sense, Hammond’s writing is like Anne Lamott or Anna Quindlen with blinders on.   That’s OK, sometimes we need a bit of a break from the harsh light of reality.

It all ends stunningly and smoothly – and must be experienced by the reader rather than explained here or elsewhere.   At the end of Seeing Stars, all of our protagonists both win and lose.   They all – each and every one of them – learn to take what they need out of life and to leave the rest.

Highly recommended.

A review copy was provided by Harper Paperbacks.

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What We Wanted

all we ever wanted

This popular fiction release starts out quite promisingly and at a fast pace.   The premise is an interesting one:  Janice Miller has lived with her business world husband for years and raised two daughters and, it appears, will finally live to see the fruits of her and her husband’s labors as an IPO makes them multi-millionaires.   But on the same day as she learns she’s incredibly rich, she also learns that her husband is leaving her for her thought-to-be-best friend.   The set up is great, but then the story starts to stumble.

Janelle Brown decides to add to the tale by focusing on the troubles of an at-home daughter, and of a daughter who returns to the nest from a not-so-successful life as a new age-pop magazine editor.   So the story of Janice’s freedom and presumed transformation changes into one, instead, of mother and daughter relationships that run less than smoothly.

In addition to the change in the storyline, the author has problems with scenes involving sex; they’re not detailed enough to be disturbing but not interesting enough to explain (or justify) their inclusion.   It would have been better to have left them out.   This is a fictional story that had great potential – potential that simply goes unfulfilled.

Joseph Arellano

Spiegel & Grau, $14.00, 434 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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