Tag Archives: Touchstone
The Roundup – Some Quick Looks at Books
Wife 22: A Novel by Melanie Gideon (Ballantine Books) – Gideon’s creative novel is an all-too-much-fun story of a mid-life crisis wife who elects to take part in a marriage survey, and then decides that she might have fallen in love with the researcher assigned to work with her. “Soon I’ll have to make a decision – one that will affect my family, my marriage, my whole life.” Will Wife 22 sacrifice everything for a man she’s never seen or spoken to (and only exchanged e-mail messages with)? This is a story with an ending that the reader will never see coming – unless that reader just happens to remember a certain quite clever hit song from the year 1980.
“…when did the real world become so empty? When everybody abandoned it for the Internet?” Wife 22 is a novel about current times, in which human beings communicate by each and every means except true personal, face-to-face communication.
Jack 1939: A Novel by Francine Mathews (Riverhead Books) – Mathews came up with a great premise in this fictional account of a young John F. Kennedy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly recruits JFK to be his spy in Europe during the period preceding the outbreak of World War II. The engaging, charismatic personality of JFK is here, but the intelligence of the future world leader is missing in action.
Fairy Tale Interrupted: A Memoir of Life, Love and Loss by Rosemarie Terenzo (Gallery Books) – John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s former executive assistant tells us about what it was like to have the “dream job” of working for America’s Prince. It’s a fascinating account told by Terenzo, a young blue-collar Italian-American girl from the Bronx who became John’s scheduler and gatekeeper. The problem is that it feels like half a memoir; the deaths of John and his wife Carolyn Bessette in July of 1999 tragically interrupted the charged personal lives chronicled here. (Terenzo recalls that her final conversation with John was sadly banal.)
Discretion: A Novel by Allison Leotta (Touchstone) – Some readers will no doubt find this to be an exciting political-thriller about a young woman killed while visiting a U.S. Congressman’s hideaway office in the U.S. Capitol Building. But I was never able to suspend my disbelief in the main characters, especially the female protagonist, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Curtis. Curtis’s criminal investigation extends into the most sordid sexual aspects of the District of Columbia. It just seemed unnecessarily overblown.
The Distance Between Us: A Memoir by Reyna Grande (Atria Books) – This is a sad, yet moving and life affirming true story of three impoverished children in Mexico whose parents abandon them in order to escape to “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side, the United States). Overcoming many obstacles, the two sisters and their brother eventually find their way to Los Angeles, where they discover that their parents are living apart from each other. Despite such a horrendous upbringing, the siblings survive and Reyna goes on to both forgive her dying father and to graduate from the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC).
Review copies were provided by the publishers.
Diamond Ruby: A Novel by Joseph Wallace (Touchstone, $16.00, 480 pages)
Ruby Thomas can throw a baseball hard – harder than most major league pitchers. But, in the 1920s, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, popularized in the film A League of Their Own, did not yet exist, and the legal protections for female athletes afforded by 1972’s Title IX legislation were a very long way off.
In Joseph Wallace’s Diamond Ruby, an outbreak of the Spanish Influenza virus devastates Ruby’s family, and – as a very young girl – she must assume responsibility for the care of her two young nieces. Needing to make money, she becomes a sideshow performer at an amusement park. News of Ruby’s remarkable prowess travels quickly, but under the iron fist of her abusive boss, Ruby is essentially enslaved with no ready escape.
Two great athletes, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, check out Ruby’s show and befriend her. Gamblers and booze smugglers have their own designs on how to use her for their own means. Eventually, the owner of a professional start-up league spots her. His plan is to sign her for her promotional value to help the league become profitable. Nearly everyone wants to control Ruby and make money off of her, except a friend who takes her in during her time of greatest need, a law enforcement official who looks out for her, and, ironically, many of the athletes in the story whose respect she comes to earn.
Throughout the book, Ruby is frazzled by trying to devise ways to break free from the powerful men who want to use her for their own gain, coping with threats of the Ku Klux Klan who torment her because she is half Jewish, and experiencing the prejudice of the men who run organized baseball. She does all this while dutifully supporting and protecting her nieces. All she really wants to have is the joy of doing what she loves most – the opportunity to pitch on her own terms.
The story starts out a bit slowly as the tale of Ruby’s impoverished childhood and series of misfortunes unfolds. For a while it is difficult to discern exactly what to make of the story beyond the fact that the only luck for Ruby is bad luck. However, when things get going in the second half of the book, the reader will be glad they stuck with it. Things move rapidly and the pages turn easily.
The improbable convergences of events that bring the story to a close are cleverly constructed. The ending is both heartwarming and hilarious.
This book was purchased. Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel, which happens to be about baseball.
Pinch Me: A Novel by Adena Halpern (Touchstone, $14.99, 288 pages)
“And you thought your life was cursed!”
“Never marry a man unless he’s short, bald, fat, stupid, and treats you badly.” Grandma Dolly, 82 and Mother Selma, 55
Imagine meeting the man (or woman) of your dreams: successful, intelligent, loyal, charming, attractive, and who wants nothing more but to spend the rest of your life taking care of you. Does this sound too good to be true? Well, for the main character in Adena Halpern’s novel, Pinch Me, it is.
Lily Burns has spent her twenty’s dating the wrong men… on purpose. Throughout her life she has been advised to date someone who she would never love so that the family curse, created generations before she was born, would not do unthinkable things to the men she loved. Witnessing what her mother, Selma, and grandmother, Dolly had gone through, Lily takes this advice seriously. Then she meets Gogo, a handsome, successful pediatrician who adores her and asks for her hand in marriage. For once ignoring her family’s advice, she marries Gogo and in desperation to prove she has beaten the curse, she asks her new husband to pinch her. And the curse begins. The story takes us on Lily’s hilarious and somewhat sad journey to get her husband back while undoing the family curse for good!
I have to admit that I initially thought the theme of this story was hokey and I was hard pressed to believe it would live up to the standards set by the novels I have recently reviewed. However, I was quickly made optimistic by the author’s direct and flowing dialogue, and the enticing storyline that began on page one and continued throughout the novel. This was a fun and lighthearted tale and I was entertained to the end.
Halpern kept my attention with Lily – her strong-willed main character – and her quirky but loving mother and grandmother. I read the story in two short sittings, cheering for Lily and Gogo and I began to wonder if perhaps we all hold some family curse brought on by something we or our predecessors may have done in the past.
I found myself laughing out loud while reading Pinch Me, especially throughout the conversation that takes place between Lily’s mother Selma and grandmother Dolly as they try to convince Lilly that she should not get married (that conversation alone is worth your time!). It is a quick read and downright fun. I will definitely be reading more from Adena Halpern.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Pinch Me was released on July 19, 2011.
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.
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).