Tag Archives: relationships

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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Coming Up Next…

A review of Another Piece of My Heart: A Novel by Jane Green.

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You’ve Got a Friend

MWF Seeking BFF [Married White Female Seeking Best Friend Forever]: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche (Ballantine Books, $15.00, 384 pages)

Rachel Bertsche finds more than just friendship in her fun and spunky memoir MWF Seeking BFF.

Having recently moved away from her best friends in New York to start a new life with her husband in Chicago, Rachel Bertsche is having a difficult time making new, meaningful friendships.   She loves spending time with her husband but acknowledges the importance of hanging out with her friends and the loss she feels without her best friends forever available on a regular basis.   So after a year of waiting, she decides to set off in pursuit of a new BFF.   Her goal is to have 52 “girl dates” over the course of one year and she’s willing to try just about anything to make the right connections.

Bertsche writes with blatant honesty as she posts a want ad, joins a self-improvement class and seeks out friendships in each and every possible situation.   Along her journey of friend-seeking, the reader will enjoy not only her diary of weekly dates but also her insight as she learns about more than just the importance of having a BFF.

Bertsche’s prose is clear, direct and refreshing and the accounts and reflection of her “dates” are stories everyone can relate to (and some are just downright hilarious).   Her insights are laden with relevant references to friendship-related studies and as a data gal myself, I was highly entertained with her extensive research and statistics that are brilliantly interspersed along her stories.   Bertsche delights the reader by quoting social scientists, psychologists, professors and authors that she considers experts in the field of social interaction-friendships.

I truly enjoy reading stories and memoirs that motivate the reader to do a bit of soul-searching and encourage us to step outside of our personal comfort zone.   Having recently moved to a new area myself (just outside of the Chicago area, ironically), I sympathized with her struggle to make new friendships as a married adult.   She provides great ideas on how to think outside of the box and be open to friendships in every venue.   After reading this novel, I have a newfound love for my own book club and current friendships.   I recently started a club of potential BFFs in my new hometown.

What are you doing to broaden your group of friends?   Read this playful memoir for inspiration!

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

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Kosmic Blues

Jane Green is a New York Times bestselling author (Promises to Keep, The Beach House, Jemima J).   Her latest work,  Another Piece of My Heart: A Novel, was released on March 13, 2012.   Here is a synopsis of the story:

Andi has always dreamed of becoming a wife and mother.   At age 37, Andi finds Ethan and quickly finds herself being both a wife and the stepmother of two daughters.   Teenaged Emily, the apple of Ethan’s eye, decides to reject Andi from the start.   In her eyes, Andi is the other woman; no replacement for her “real” mother, and – most critically – a gigantic obstacle between her and her father’s affection.   The tension from Emily’s issues begin to infiltrate Andi and Ethan’s marriage until dramatic events threaten to destroy everything that the members of the family have come to rely on.

Library Journal called Another Piece of My Heart:  “Green at her best…  (a novel that delivers a) clear-eyed look at our idealized notions of love, family and motherhood.”   Adriana Trigiani, author of Lucia, Lucia and the Valentine series says about Another Piece:  “You will laugh and cry as you read…  and you’ll be inspired to pick up the phone and call your best friend.   It’s that good.”

You can begin reading Another Piece of My Heart now by clicking on this link:

http://us.macmillan.com/BookCustomPage_New.aspx?isbn=9780312591823

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Miles From Nowhere

Sliding on the Edge: A Novel by C. Lee McKenzie (WestSide Books, $16.95, 268 pages)

The rent is overdue and Jackie, a compulsive gambler, has skipped town with the latest in a long line of bad boyfriends.   She leaves a hundred dollars, a bus ticket to Sacramento, California, and a note telling her daughter to look up the grandmother she’s never met.   So when sixteen-year-old Shawna wakes up to find herself alone in their seedy rental, we expect a coming-of-age story set against the bright lights and gritty underbelly of Las Vegas.

But Sliding on the Edge by first-time novelist C. Lee McKenzie delivers something quite different.   It’s an interesting look at the lives of two women – grandmother Kay’s and Shawna’s – linked by blood and stained by tragedy.   They are each others’ last chance for happiness, as impossible as that seems to both when they first set eyes on each other.

McKenzie tells the story of their uneasy first months together, alternating chapters in Shawna’s words and in Kay’s and sometimes recounting the same scene from each character’s perspective.   It’s a technique that deftly lets the reader in on Kay’s past and on Shawna’s self-destructive present.   But it falls short of making Shawna a likeable character.   When Kay’s teenaged stable hand develops a crush on Shawna; and Marta, a classmate, pursues her friendship, this reader wondered why?

Kay is a far more sympathetic character, which is brilliant:  It lets the reader, likely a teen, see that authority figures are people, too.   At times, however, it seemed to have been edited too tightly at the expense of details that might have developed the characters further.   Who is the redhead with the ice cream about whom Shawna thinks?

Sliding on the Edge tackles the difficult issues of depression, cutting, and attempted suicide in an unflinching manner and ends on a hopeful note.   Recommended.

By Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the author.   “Sliding on the Edge is the compelling, courageous chronicle of one girl – destined to be a no-one – who fights back against her secret grief and pain and finds her life.”   Judy Gregerson, author of Bad Girls Club.

C. Lee McKenzie has released her second novel, The Princess of Las Pulgas.

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Turn Back the Clock

The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartok (Free Press, $15.00, 302 pages)

When she turned seventy-nine she wrote to tell me that although she was now legally blind she had decided to study medicine:  “I am thinking of going to nursing school…   That way, if I ever get sick or lose my sight completely, I’ll know what to do.”   I found a set of her teeth inside an old eyeglass case.

In The Memory Palace, Mira Bartok writes of a world that, sadly, too many of us will come to experience.   This is the world of the adult child whose parent is not only rapidly aging, but entering the throes of dementia or full-fledged insanity.   Whether caused by disease or mental illness, the results are the same – a parent terrified of having bad things happen to him or her brings those very results about through his or her own irrational behavior.   Bartok’s mother, Norma, was terrified of becoming homeless but became so after stabbing her own mother – who suffered from dementia – six times.

When her two daughters were young girls, Norma was diagnosed as having severe schizophrenia, and it cost her both a husband and a home.   Aside from the illness, Norma was a highly talented classical pianist who might have become a household name.   But it was not to be and Mira and her sister grew up in a hellish home with a mother who heard voices in her head, voices that caused her to lose touch with reality and normalcy.

As anyone who has lived through it knows, once a parent begins acting irrationally, their behavior will inevitably continue to deteriorate.   We no longer seem to have systems in place for properly dealing with the problems of the aged with mental illness.   They may be medicated or locked up for various periods of time (from hours to weeks or months), but they simply do not “get better.”

Bartok is to be commended for writing frankly about an adult daughter’s reaction to this, and it is mixed.   One third of her escaped by thinking back to the times when her mother was seemingly normal – a time before this parent’s rapid descent into madness.   One third of her lived in denial, literally trying to escape by hiding from her mother in Europe and elsewhere.   And the last third consisted of the daughter who sometimes had to take harsh actions against her mother – such as attempting to get a court to declare her incompetent – knowing deep down that the situation would only be resolved (made peaceful) with her mother’s death.

In this account it becomes clear to the reader that although Bartok lived a very difficult life due to their mother’s mental instability, she very much loved her mother and has wrestled with feelings of guilt (“I abandoned my mother to the streets.”).   As a young woman, Bartok was involved in an automobile accident that injured her brain and led to memory problems.   This provided her with a measure of insight into her mother’s faded connections with the world.

“…I go to the church and light a candle for my mother.   Not that I believe it will do any good; it’s just to remind myself that she is still lost in the world.”

By writing this blunt and painstakingly honest account of her mother’s troubled life, Bartok has performed an act of penance.   It is an act of humble penance in which she seeks to forgive her mother for literally losing herself.   It is an act of contrition in which she asks the world to forgive both herself and her mother for leading damaged lives.

This brilliantly written work reminds us that self-examination and self-forgiveness precede forgiving others for their real or imagined wrongs.   It’s a harsh world – a dark ocean – out there and we sometimes need assistance in navigating our way through it.   This memoir tells us that lighthouses exist.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

“If memory is a palace, let me live there, forever with her, somewhere in the place between sleep and morning.”

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Memory Palace was released in trade paper form on August 9, 2011.   “This is an extraordinary book.”   Audrey Niffenegger

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Talkin’ Baseball

Parents Behaving Badly: A Novel by Scott Gummer (Touchstone, $23.00, 224 pages)

You can observe a lot by just watching.   – Yogi Berra

Parents Behaving Badly is a solid, if not spectacular, offering by Scott Gummer.   Gummer has likely drawn from some of his experiences as a participant, parent, and youth sports coach to craft a story familiar to most people with sons – the saga of a summer spent on the diamonds of Little League baseball.

The main character, Ben Holden, is the son of a local coaching legend known to everyone simply as, you guessed it, Coach.   Though the entire town reveres the man, as is often the case, the emotions of his own children are a bit more complicated.   Ben’s older brother, Fred, is the talented screw up, while Ben – the moderately talented overachiever – quits baseball to run track.   Sister Nancy spends  most of  her life moving from man to man with speculation that her hang-ups somehow trace back to her relationship with her father.   Ben is clearly the most centered and focused of the three children.

When Ben and his wife Jili return to their hometown in California from a stint out East, their two boys express an interest in playing Little League ball.   About two-thirds of the way into the season, their oldest son Andrew’s coach gets suspended by the league for inappropriate behavior, and Ben is thrust into the role of being the team’s coach.   His players and parents are forced to adjust to a new philosophy – going from “win at all costs” to “have fun playing the game.”   The shift is far from an easy one, and you can guess for yourself whether the “good guys” win at the end.

Along the way, past relationships and high school memories are revisited (Ben and Jili went to the same high school and started dating in college), and many local characters resurface throughout the story.   Middle age adult behaviors, lifestyle adjustments, and sexual obsessions are as much or more of the story as is our country’s troubled evolution of youth participation in sports (and the often  misguided parental attitudes associated with it).

The author appears to rush through the plot’s action in order to get at the complicated themes that line the story.   The reader nevertheless is interested in turning the page to find out what happens next.   Characters are introduced in rapid succession in the initial two chapters, making it a bit difficult to truly get to know them.   They’re a bit stereotypical but, in fairness, easy to relate to.  

Anyone who has spent as little as five minutes at a Little League game has seen these people:  the coach who has to prove his self-worth by winning baseball games featuring 12-year-olds; the parents who drive their children to the point of quitting; the mom-slut who thinks that everywhere she goes, someone is dying to look at her scantily clad body; the daughter who spends every waking moment texting and Twittering; the middle-aged male who spends much of the day daydreaming about having a sex life, etc., etc., etc.

When Ben first takes over as the team’s coach, he comes across as completely clueless, which is hard to believe considering his father’s history.   The fact that he quickly develops a reasonable degree of competence is not the most believable portion of the tale, although it may be a logical outcome.   As one who has experienced the shenanigans of Little League draft rooms and the frequently politically motivated – and arguably unethical selection – selection of post-season All-Star teams, these sections are quite strong.   Also, they are either hilarious or sadly pathetic depending on your perspective.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Mr. Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only, a novel of baseball and Bob Dylan.   A recommended memoir that covers much of the same territory is The Opposite Field by Jesse Katz (Three Rivers Press, $15.00, 352 pages).

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