Tag Archives: Random House

A Blurb Too Far

OK, so we all know that book blurbs (those quotes of high praise you find on the front and back covers of books) can be more than a bit full of hyperbole.   But most of them attempt to remain within the bounds of reality.   The following one may be an exception and it’s one that’s getting a lot of attention online.   (So we’ll add to that attention.)  

This blurb was written by one Nicole Krauss about To the End of the Land, a forthcoming novel by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen.   Are you ready?   Fasten your seatbelts.   Here’s the fantastical blurb:

Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it nothing can ever be the same.   Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before.   To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude.   David Grossman may be the most gifted writer I’ve ever read; gifted not just because of his imagination, his energy, his originality, but because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique sense of her humanity.   For twenty-six years he has been writing novels about what it means to defend this essence, this unique light, against a world designed to extinguish it.   To the End of the Land is his most powerful, shattering, and unflinching story of this defense.   To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.

Wow!   And she wrote that, I’m sure, while typing with her gloves on and without taking a breath.   No, I don’t know exactly what I mean, but did she?   Whew…   Unflinching, unique light, turned back into a human being, all of that and more.   (So much more.)

So let me ask you – Would you  want to read a book that takes you apart and touches you at the place of your essence?   Me neither but, who knows, it could be a good read anyway.   LOL.

To the End of the Land will be released to the physical universe by Knopf in hardbound form and in a cozy digital Kindle Edition on September 21, 2010.   The novel will run 592 pages, so you’ve been warned…  But if you love it (especially if it turns you back into a human being), remember that you first heard about it here!

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Little Puppy Says Woof!

Little Puppy Says Woof! by Phoebe Dunn (Random House Books for Young Readers, $8.99, 14 pages)

As a cat, I’m not the biggest fan of dogs, but even I know that puppies are adorable!   Toddlers will love this story of Charlie the Cocker Spaniel puppy who is adopted by a boy named Tim.   We see that Charlie is at first lonely for his brother and sister puppies, but eventually he learns to sleep with a plush stuffed toy dog “brother”.   Tim’s a good kid who knows enough to take Charlie to the vet right away for a check-up.

Charlie learns to chase a ball, although he’s not perfect.   He does like to chew on house plants and run in piles of freshly raked leaves.   But he’s a natural swimmer, so he becomes the furry companion to Tim and his grandpa when they go out on the lake in a rowboat.   Charlie’s such a good dog that Tim knows that he and Charlie will be the best of friends forever.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this book comes with a button that can be pressed whenever you want to hear Charlie’s bark.   It’s a great feature that may not be appreciated by other cats.

This review was written by Munchy Arellano.   Yes, he’s a cat.   (Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.)

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Waiting for McLean Stevenson

Cakewalk: A Memoir by Kate Moses

“The byproduct of suffering, if you’re lucky, is appreciation…  My windfall has always been a sweet tooth, the gold watch that deflected the bullet aimed straight at my heart.”

I was more than 50 pages into reading a galley of Cakewalk before I realized that this is a non-fiction memoir.   At the start it reads like a novel that might have been written by Anne Tyler or Anna Quindlen, although I should have taken a clue from its overly upbeat nature.   “Mom, did you know the words ‘treat’ and ‘threat’ are separated by just one letter?”   But the tone shifted before many more pages had been turned.

Kate Moses was in first grade in 1969 and this re-telling of her life story reads like a memorial to an earlier time, the 1950’s.   It’s made all the more interesting by the fact that Moses grew up living in several places including Palo Alto, Petaluma, Sonoma, outside of Philadelphia (where the Main Line ended), Virginia and Fairbanks, Alaska.   She also had relatives in San Francisco and Dayton, Ohio (“…along every road in Ohio the corn stood high as an elephant’s eye.”)

This initially appears to be an ode to food, the many treats and meals that an overweight young girl took in growing up.   She sees a cross-country trip as “an opportunity for reunion with Howard Johnson’s coconut cake.”   And she “spent every cent I was given on candy and pink Hostess Sno Balls.”   The impression that this is all about food is given further credence by a recipe that concludes each chapter.   Yet the food talk is a cover.

“My family was totally screwed up…”

This memoir is, to a great extent, about the pain of growing up.   Moses’ parents had a very unhappy marriage.   Her father was an overly serious man and her mother was fun-loving.   It did not make for a good mix.   One fault with the telling is that Moses makes a few too many negative references to her father.   He was “a rigid bullying husband…” and a violent father who caught his wife in “the stranglehold of… marriage” due to his “brutalizing domination.”   The reader gets the point after the first couple of references.

This brings up the issue of editing.   All in all, this is an entertaining read but not so much that the typical reader will want to stick with it for 368 pages.   It could easily have been shortened by a third of its length, and there is a bit too much repetition.   Ah, and a minor point, some of Peter Frampton’s lyrics are quoted incorrectly.

“It was the year we started waiting for McLean Stevenson…”

Still, there are some very entertaining stories included in Cakewalk, some of which prove the adage that truth is stranger than fiction.   Kate’s mother fantasized about being rescued by the actor McLean Stevenson, and she eventually was arrested – or rather, detained – while visiting the White House after being caught taking something from Pat Nixon’s bathroom!

Further, if you absolutely love food more than life itself, there are plenty of intriguing descriptions here of meals and snacks.   In fact, this autobiography is gorged with tales of food consumption.   Then there are the recipes to try out.   Be sure to try the one for chocolate chip cookies!

Cakewalk will be released on May 11, 2010.   An advance review copy was provided by The Dial Press, an imprint of Random House.

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Every Last One

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Random House, April 13, 2010)

“Most of our fears are petty and small…  Only our love is monumental.”

In Every Last One, author Anna Quindlen gives us a monumental – yet quietly reserved – look at the life of a typical American family, before and after the family is rocked by an unimaginable tragedy.   This is the story of Mary Beth Latham, basically a stay-at-home mom who operates a landscaping business; her ophthalmologist husband, Glen; daughter Ruby; and her fraternal twin sons, Max and Alex.   Although we observe their lives through Mary Beth’s eyes, we come to know Ruby the best.   She’s a senior in high school who is about to leave the nest for a yet-to-be-determined college.

Mary Beth at one point ponders whether it is a woman’s role to persevere after everyone she loves has left her.   But she thinks about this at a time when everyone she loves is still close to her.   This is when she’s the woman who worries about the smallest of concerns, when her life goes on as normal.   But normal is not lasting…

Daughter Ruby has known her boyfriend Kiernan since childhood, and he becomes obsessed with her and all of the Lathams.   Kiernan finally becomes less of a boyfriend to Ruby than a stalker, and someone who uses any excuse to keep company with the Lathams.   Ruby realizes that she’s going to have to reject Kiernan soon – and before she departs for her future life.

When tragedy strikes Mary Beth must become a survivor.   Everyone around her fails at offering comfort; instead, they impose their expectations on her as to how they believe she should act.   The people she worked so hard to please, to impress, to be close to all let her down.

Eventually Mary Beth comes to see – as we all must – that she cannot live her life in a manner that pleases others.   She simply must continue, even if the reason for doing so is not completely clear.

“It’s all I know how to do now.   This is my life.   I am trying.”

It is impossible to describe the nature of the tragedy that Mary Beth experiences without betraying the story, and this summary does not disclose it.   Suffice it to say that when it occurs the reader will think that the story is over.   In the hands of a less skilled writer it would be.   But Quindlen is at her best in writing the tale of a woman who is strong when the world believes she has been stripped of the reasons to continue living.

In the end, this novel tells us that you never know what you might be capable of until the situation is there, staring you in the face.   In Mary Beth we find a character who is a stronger person than she ever believed herself capable of being, back when life was relatively untroubled and easy.

“The silence is as big as the sky…”

Author Quindlen teaches the reader that life is not predictable and, further, that one must be prepared to start over at any time.   It is – after all – the nature of every life.   Life, for better or worse, every year, month, day, and each and every minute.   It is all to be treasured, and readers may come to justifiably value this impressive work from the subtly gifted pen and mind of Anna Quindlen.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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This is a Life

Every Last One: A Novel by Anna Quindlen

“Most of our fears are petty and small…  Only our love is monumental.”

In Every Last One, author Anna Quindlen gives us a monumental – yet quietly reserved – look at the life of a typical American family, before and after the family is rocked by an unimaginable tragedy.   This is the story of Mary Beth Latham, a basically stay-at-home mom who operates a landscaping business; her ophthalmologist husband, Glen; daughter Ruby; and her fraternal twin sons, Max and Alex.   Although we observe their lives through Mary Beth’s eyes, we come to know Ruby the best.   She’s a senior in high school who is about to leave the nest for a yet-to-be-determined college.

Mary Beth at one point ponders whether it is a woman’s role to persevere after everyone she’s loved has left her.   But she thinks about this at a time when everyone she loves remains close to her.   This is when she’s the woman who worries about the smallest of concerns, when her life goes on as normal.   But normal is not lasting…

Daughter Ruby has known her boyfriend Kiernan since childhood, and he becomes obsessed with her and all of the Lathams.   Kiernan eventually becomes less of a boyfriend to Ruby than a stalker, and someone who uses any excuse to keep company with the Lathams.   Ruby realizes that she’s going to have to reject Kiernan soon and before she departs for her future life.

And then tragedy strikes and Mary Beth must become a survivor.   Everyone around her fails at offering comfort; instead they impose their expectations on her as to how they believe she should act.   Eventually Mary Beth comes to realize – as we all must – that she cannot live her life in a manner that pleases others.   She simply must continue, even if the reason for doing so is not completely clear.

“It’s all I know how to do now.   This is my life.   I am trying.”

It is impossible to describe the nature of the tragedy that Mary Beth experiences without ruining the story, and this summary does not disclose it.   Suffice it to say that when it occurs the reader will think that the story is over.   In the hands of a less skilled writer it would be.   But Quindlen is at her best in writing the tale of a woman who is strong when the world believes she has been stripped of the reasons to continue living.

In the end, this novel tells us that you never know what you may be capable of until the situation is there, staring you in the face.   In Mary Beth, we find a protagonist who is a stronger person than she ever believed herself capable of being, back when life was relatively untroubled and easy.

“The silence is as big as the sky…”

This is the first novel I have read by Anna Quindlen, but it has led me to develop what I will call The Anna/Anne Rule.   If you wish to read fine fiction, you can’t go wrong by picking a novel from any one of three very talented authors:  Anna Quindlen, Anne Lamott, and Anne Tyler.   Each is quite gifted and each reminds us to treasure the things we all too often take for granted in life.

Perhaps these three writers are among the very things we should treasure.

Highly recommended.

This is a preview-review of a novel that will be released on Tuesday, April 13, 2010.   An advance review copy was received from Random House.   A revised review of Every Last One will soon be posted on this site.

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Homeward Bound

The Last Time I Saw You: A Novel by Elizabeth Berg

“So many people who go to reunions think that doing so can somehow change what happened to them.   That the person you’ve become might erase the person you were then.   But of course that doesn’t happen.   …It’s not that you can’t go home again; it’s that you never can leave.”

Elizabeth Berg, author of Home Safe and 17 other novels, has offered a perfect argument for skipping one’s next high school (and maybe college) reunion.   In The Last Time, Berg shows us that people never act the way you want them to, even on the most important of occasions.   And even sadder, we don’t act the way we want or intend to, especially when meeting representatives from our dimly-lit but well-remembered past.

For one thing, everybody tries too hard at these events.   They try to be happier, smarter, more charming or simply more relaxed within their own skins than they were decades earlier.   They rarely succeed.   One of the men in this story comes to understand that, “All of a sudden he feels sorry for everybody.   Here they all are, all these people, all these years later just…  what?   Trying, he guesses.   Just trying.”

One of the women isn’t quite sure how to react as she observes the goings on:  “It comes to her that all of the people in this room are dear to her.   As if they all just survived a plane crash or something.   All the drunks and the show-offs and the nice kids and the mean ones.   All the people she used to know and all the ones she never knew at all.   And herself, too.   She includes herself and her stingy little soul.”

Eventually, we get to see in Berg’s story that people – some people – get out of these events what they must get out of them.   They learn to either completely let go of the past or to simply grip it tighter.   What other choices are there?

“If only people were given the opportunity to behave differently at certain times of their lives!”

But this is more than a Peggy Sue Got Married story.   It is a story about men and women who get a second chance with their original crowd – a chance at reconnecting and either succeeding or failing in life.   The rich graduates worry that they didn’t spend enough time with their kids while they were growing up.   The poor graduates worry that they have no impressive titles or stories of times when they were important.   But this is not really their story…

It is primarily the story of Candy Sullivan, the once-and-still beautiful and popular girl at Whitley High School.   She has been diagnosed with one of the deadliest forms of cancer.   Candy has little time to waste but decides to attend the reunion to enjoy herself while she can.   She leaves her husband at home and flies off to the reunion, where people notice her vacant eyes.   They’re vacant because she’s pondering the question, “Is death an end or a beginning?”

Candy is who we are – or at least we identify with her because she acts like we think we would in her place.   Frightened yet emboldened, imprisoned in a disease state, facing death and yet somehow set free.   Scared and calm, ready for what’s to come.

“This diagnosis has been a kind of gift.   It’s making me look at things and see them.”

You will want to keep reading The Last Time I Saw You to find out what happens to Candy and her all-too-human classmates.   Author Berg surprises us by also making the case that you simply cannot afford to miss your next reunion.

Well done, Ms. Berg.   Life painted large and small all at once.

An advance review copy was received from Random House.   The Last Time I Saw You will be released on Tuesday, April 6, 2010.

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From The Heart

Mother-Daughter Duet: Getting to the Relationship You Want with Your Adult Daughter by Cheri Fuller & Ali Plum

Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum are ideally suited to offer advice about the always-complex mother-daughter relationship.   Each of these women has experienced her own challenges in life, among them alcoholism and marital discord.   As mother (Cheri) and daughter (Ali), they provide the voices for the book’s chapters that address key events in a mother-daughter relationship such as leaving home, weddings and the birth of grandchildren.   Their voices are first heard as solos and then as a duet.   The reader is advised on what works and what does not when specific issues are confronted.

Cheri and Ali have sought assistance and advice from professional counselors and trusted friends when dealing with their own issues.   As would be expected with a Multnomah publication, the book is written with a Christian perspective; hence the scripture citations and references to prayer.   Cheri is a well-known author, columnist and speaker on women’s issues.   Ali is a songwriter and makes a strong debut in this book as a writer.

The take-away from Mother-Daughter Duet is that life holds the promise of closeness with those we care for; however, it requires mindfulness and faith to experience these rewards.   Mindfulness and faith are not accomplished once and for all time, rather, they must be practiced each and every day.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah, a division of Random House. 

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A Mixed Blessing

Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music and the Holy Ghost by Matthew Paul Turner

Some people like inside baseball books.   Some like inside politics books.   This is an inside religion book which starts off as being very entertaining before it bogs down…

Initially, Hear No Evil reminded me of Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost (October 2009); Richard Rushfield’s truly hilarious tale of his wild and wooly days at the ultra-liberal arts Hampshire College in the 1980s.   Don’t Follow Me was reviewed earlier on this site and while it started off a bit too agressively, it calmed down and simply remained funny until its final page.

Unfortunately, once this reader was more than halfway through Hear No Evil it began to remind me of Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield.   Sheffield’s real story had to do with his attempt to woo the love of his life via the compilation of just the right music on cassette tapes.   It was cute while it lasted, but it all too soon veered sideways with too much talk of peripheral figures.   I loved it before I became bored with it.   Yes, Hear No Evil is a bit like that.

This one starts off funny as Turner tells us about his desire to be “the Michael Jackson of Christian music.”   And there are some great observations in it – if not necessarily true ones – such as the statement that rock bass players have the emotional maturity of fourth-grade girls.   But there’s just not enough here about music.   Instead we hear talks about The One True God, God’s sovereignty, Calvinism, etc.   Turner himself becomes disenchanted with all of this, “I turned into the punk know-it-all son with a religious ax to grind.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there and done that.   My second major in college was in Philosophy and Religion, so I once enjoyed rambling discussions about the wisdom of St. Augustine versus one’s favorite existentialist.   But I never thought it would be interesting to write a book about those youthful conversations.

For me, Turner’s latest effort is a miss rather than a hit.

A review copy was provided by WaterBrook Multnomah (WaterBook Press), a division of Random House Books.

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Homer and Langely

Home & Langely: A Novel by E. L. Doctorow

“I am telling you what I know – words have music and if you are a musician you will write to hear them.”

I believe it was John Updike who said, “Review the book, not the reputation.”   E.L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime, has a great reputation as a writer and it is well deserved.   In Homer & Langely, he writes beautifully – in a style that often calls to mind Audrey Niffenegger – but there’s simply so little story to be told that the words are wasted.   It’s as if a musician were given a score to play that hid all of his strengths and talents.

This is a 208-page novella that runs on too long; the basic tale could well have been told as a 30- to 40-page short story.   Two brothers, wealthy by birth, become hermits while they’re living in a mansion across the street from New York City’s Central Park.   One brother is blind and the other is either bizarre or mentally ill.   This is not only a summary of the plot, but of almost everything that happens in H&L.   The most interesting scenes come when the brothers are visited by a tribe of hippies.

Doctorow’s latest was, for this reader, a novella that was far too easy to put down.

Random House, $26.00, 208 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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Big Girls Don’t Cry

The Male Factor by Shaunti Feldhaun

This book is a take on helping women in the business world to break through the so-called glass ceiling.   The key is to use a male-oriented approach in the workplace – it’s business, not personal.   Author Shaunti Feldhaun goes to great lengths to establish her credentials and the sampling methodology she and her team used to produce this book.   She also touts her wildly successful career as a consultant; a bit of overkill.   During this disclosure, Feldhaun emphasizes majority versus minority responses to her carefully crafted written survey that forms the basis for many of her conclusions.   At the outset, the reader is repeatedly offered allusions to the findings in later chapters.   These allusions are not the least bit tantalizing.

The world featured in this book is acknowledged as private sector; there was no exploration of the public sector – government.   This is a shortcoming, for government and its employees, albeit civil servants, factor mightily in the economy of the United States.   Many opportunities for female advancement exist in this sector.   Although civil service is dominated by testing and exam rankings, the interview and subsequent probation period following a hire determine whether women are upwardly mobile (just as is the case in the private sector).

The version of the book being reviewed here is the “Christian” one.   It contains many references to workplaces that are operated as Christian enterprises or Christian male employers and coworkers in secular businesses.   Feldhaun over generalizes and portrays Christians in a homogenous way that is presumptuous.   The “Christian” community is comprised of many permutations and is no more alike than an “Asian” or “Muslim” community.

The men who graciously agreed to being interviewed by Ms. Feldhaun (her own characterization) come off as strangely schizophrenic, following one set of norms at the office and another during their personal lives.   Apparently, because the workplace was established by men, the rules are not going to change.   Women, particularly those who she views as most in need of reading this book, are chastised for not perceiving the difference.

There are ample references to scientific studies that established the differences between male brain activity and female brain activity.   Males are described as 100% focused and not able to multi-task, while women are eager, willing and able to lay the groundwork, illustrate the concept and come to a conclusion while performing multiple activities.   No kidding!   Anyone can easily use this finding to justify why human males do not bear the babies or provide their nourishment for the first few months.

There are italicized comments placed at what the reader assumes are teachable moments in each section of the book; however, they are repetitive extracts from the immediately preceding text.   While these statements are obviously intended to be pearls of wisdom and learning points, they come off as slogans or watchwords to use on business trendy flashcards.

Sadly, a reader who would most benefit from the best parts of this book (yes, there are some) is not only fully committed to her view of the “good old boys’ network,” she is too emotional to wade through the dry narrative.   A lost opportunity but two stars for the attempt.

Review by Ruta Arellano.   This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Random House.

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