Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Outtakes From A Marriage

By Ann Leary

It would only stand to reason that to be married to an actor/comedian, you would have to be just as funny. Ann Leary, wife of Denis Leary, has written a hilarious novel about being married to an actor.

Julia and Joe Ferraro are a married couple living in New York City; he is an actor on a hit NBC show and she is a former writer. They live in a nice apartment with their two children: a fourteen-year old daughter and a four-year old son. Julia is not a stereotypical "glamour wife," even though she tries to be for a while. One night while they are out with friends, Julia checks her voice messages and hears a steamy message for Joe, from a woman with a sultry Southern accent.

Julia sits on the knowledge for a while, not knowing how best to proceed. She surreptitiously listens to the messages on her husband's cell phone and is "rewarded" every few days with a new message from the mystery woman. While all this is going on, Julia is closing up to everyone around her.

Ann Leary writes all this in the most humorous way. Anyone who reads this book will probably find themselves actually chuckling out loud, in appreciation of the hairbrained dilemmas the protagonist finds herself in the midst of. In one scene, Julia is trying to avoid some of the other mothers from her son's preschool. When they corner her and ask why she has failed to return their phone calls, she tells them her cell phone was stolen and that she had her service shut off. The scene continues,

"Wait," said Judy. "I just called you this morning. Who's your service provider? You must have the same shitty service that I do. I don't think they shut off your service yet, because I just called you this morning and heard your voice mail. Whoever stole your phone is probably racking up thousands of dollars in overseas calls...."

Judy opened a pocket on the side of her Chloe bag and removed her cell phone. "Here," she said. She held the phone at arm's length and squinted at the front of it. She pushed a few numbers and then said, "Here, let's call you now. Maybe the guy who stole it will answer it." Judy handed me the phone and I could hear the ringing coming from the earpiece before I got it anywhere near my head. A millisecond later, my phone could be heard loudly ringing from somewhere in the dark fathoms of my oversized bag. It didn't actually ring; it played a ring tone that Ruby had decided to surprise me with several months before. It was the song that broadcast: I like big butts and I cannot lie... Ruby had downloaded it onto my phone as a joke after I complained about my weight one too many times. I pretended I didn't hear the song in my purse and Judy and Vicki pretended with me. When I heard my recorded voice through the earpiece and my bag stopped playing, I slapped the phone shut and said, "You're right. It's still on."

"Right," said Vicki. "Okay."

"I'll have to get that taken care of."

"Outtakes From A Marriage" is an easy and quick read; the writing flows and the individual chapters are not too lengthy. The book also has a "fun factor," in that it mentions a lot of celebrities that are household names, making the reader feel as though they are getting an inside glimpse of the Hollywood/New York City scene. The best part of the story is the end. Julia knows what she has to do for her own sake, and while the author does not come out and explicitly say what Julia will do, she provides a metaphor that lets the reader deduce the conclusion.

"Outtakes From A Marriage" is a recommended read for anyone who is intrigued by celebrities, or has a marriage or children. It is an amusing book with much heart and wit.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Summer Affair

By Elin Hilderbrand

A romance by the same author as "Barefoot," a New York Times Bestseller, "A Summer Affair" is the story of soccer mom Claire from Nantucket. She agrees to co-chair a huge fundraiser for the children of the island's working residents. Quickly and haphazardly, she falls in love with the director of the program, Lock Dixon. They begin an affair that lasts almost a full year. When their love is new, it is filled with the passion and neediness that many relationships experience. Claire can never imagine her life without Lock, and even cries at the mere act of leaving his arms to go home to her husband every night.

Jason, Claire's husband and the father of their four children, knows nothing of the affair, but hates the fact his wife has so many night meetings every week. He is tired of her "being absent" even when she is there physically. In his eyes, the gala event has stolen her from their family.

Throw in Claire's alcoholic ex-boyfriend who has become a big rock star. Matthew and Claire were best friends as children and fell in love in highschool. They will always love each other, so when he comes to Nantucket to perform the concert for the benefit she is co-chairing, she is faced with the decision of who she wants to spend the rest of her life with.

Some novels fall into the category of "beach read" and "A Summer Affair" is most certainly that. It does not have a hardcore revelation at the end of the story, though when Claire realizes which man she truly wants to be with, the reader will agree with her decision.

The characters are smart; the landscape is inviting and romantic. The book lacks a certain depth that some audience members may be looking for, but as a "beach read," "A Summer Affair" has hit the jackpot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

By Sue Monk Kidd

A book about sisterhoods, "The Secret Life of Bees" is nothing short of brilliant. It captures all the struggles of life as a southern female in the mid-1960's. It proves that no matter the pigment of your skin, there is something very beautiful and very heartbreaking about being a woman.

Lily Owens is a fourteen-year old girl living in South Carolina. Her mother died when Lily was four-years old; there are mysterious circumstances surrounding the death. She has been left in the care of her abusive father and an uncaring black nanny. As Lily and Rosaleen the nanny walk to town one day so Rosaleen can register to vote, an altercation occurs. Lily and Rosaleen end up in the small-town jail; Rosaleen is beaten and bloodied at the hands of a few racists while the cop turns his head and looks the other way. Rosaleen is sent to the black wing of the hospital, but Lily hatches a plan to break her out before the nanny is returned to jail.

They hitch-hike through the state, following a ghost from Lily's past. In doing so, they make discoveries about themselves, about their past and about the world around them.

A movie of the book has come out in theaters, and while I have yet to see it, I greatly hope that with a story this remarkable, the movie is every bit as good as the book.

Sue Monk Kidd masterfully weaves the story with her beautiful words and images. Every single woman in the novel achieves their own greatness in life. The backdrop for the entire book is brought to life, drawing the reader in so closely, they can see and feel and taste their surroundings. Sunsets are personified with actions and colors:

First we ate. By now I'd learned eating was a high priority with the Daughters. When we finished, the redness had seeped from the day and night was arranging herself around us. Cooling things down, staining and dyeing the evening purple and blue-black.

Sue Monk Kidd has seen her novel succeed; at the time of the printing of this third edition, "The Secret Life of Bees" was on the New York Times Bestseller List for over one hundred weeks and sold over five million copies.

The author began her writing career writing memoirs. Hopefully, she will listen to her fans and followers when they express interest in a sequel to "The Secret Life of Bees."

Many books today fail to have a focus or moral to the story. It is refreshing and energizing to read a book that has the ability to make the reader feel empowered by the end. Make the journey and read "The Secret Life of Bees."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One Fifth Avenue

By Candace Bushnell

One thing most people want in life, whether they wish to admit it or not, is money and the comfort that goes with it. While New York City is a very expensive place to live, there are many people who are living the "high life" by making a fantastic amount of money, which they then spend on gorgeous apartments, clothes and shoes. Candace Bushnell gives the reader a peek into this lifestyle in a fun, energetic and sexy way.

Anyone who is going to read this book must know upfront that there are some very explicit sex scenes as well as adult language. This is not the book to purchase for your fourteen-year old granddaughter for Christmas!

While the character list is a bit weighty, each character has taken on a life of its own by the end of the second chapter. There is a slew of writers: gossip columnists, bloggers, novelists, screenplay writers. There are the hedge-funders (the wealthiest of them all). There is an actress. Bushnell has even created a few characters who are not of this class, but are trying to be, like the young girl from the south who has been spoiled all her life; she comes to the city to find a rich man to marry.

The character readers will be most sympathetic of is Billy Litchfield. He is a bald, gay man (think Stanford Blatch-ish) who has lived in the city for several decades. While very personable, he is not of the same class as the rest of his friends, though he makes himself appear to be similar. He knows everyone and understands all the intricacies of "being someone." On the flip-side, he has real problems: money, an ailing mother and sibling disagreements. He is forced to deal with them in very real ways.

Not all the characters are likeable. Mindy Gooch is a cold fish; Parker Posey could play her in the movie, in a very "Meg Swan" from "Best in Show" fashion. And of course, there is the trampy Lola Fabrikant, the twenty-two-year old gold-digger.

"One Fifth Avenue" is a lot of fun. It is a dense book, in that there are a lot of names and places to take in, but it is worth it. Candace Bushnell has a definite flair for creating these glamorous and troubled stories. She gives "One Fifth Avenue" the money and sophistication of "Lipstick Jungle," and the charisma and charm of "Sex and the City."

This book is sure to be a hit.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Secret Between Us

By Barbara Delinsky

How far should a parent go to protect their own child? And how will that choice affect the relationship? Deborah Monroe was faced with the first question and made a decision in an instant, not realizing how her decision would affect her relationship with her daughter.

In "The Secret Between Us," Deborah Monroe, our protagonist, picks her daughter Grace up from a friend's house on a rainy night. Since Grace has a learner's permit, her mom lets her drive home. On the way, Grace hits her history teacher, who was seemingly out for a jog in the dark, in the rain. The teacher has little more than some superficial wounds and a broken hip, but he still dies. Therein lies the mystery, as well as the trouble.

Pieces of this story seemed bit far-fetched. For instance, after the teacher has been hit by the car, the mother sends the daughter home, while she stays at the scene to deal with the police and medics. This behavior is questionable. What honest persons would agree simultaneously that it is best for the driver to leave the scene of an accident before police arrive?

Regardless of a few improbable details, the book is still entertaining and a very quick read. Barbara Delinsky seems to have a natural story-telling ability in that the book flows swiftly. While the book has a nice ending, it doesn't exactly have that sparkling "ah-ha!" moment, or overwhelmingly happy feeling a reader is left with after finishing some books.

I would give this book a B+.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Washington's Lady

By Nancy Moser

Although you know how the story ends, this historical novel is a marvelous read for anyone who is interested in the history of the Revolution. It is the entire history of Martha and George Washington as a couple, told from Martha's point-of-view. While many aspects of the story are factual, it is primarily supposition and embellishments. Nancy Moser creates a completely believable narrative, though it is impossible to know truly what always went through Martha's head and heart.

One fun aspect of this book is the "Fact or Fiction" section at the end. It explains to the reader where some of the embellishments were derived from; most often the supposition stems from an actual account. It is as if the blanks were merely filled in by Nancy Moser to create this delighful tale. Due to the fact that Martha Washington burned all the letters between herself and George, very little is known of their personal life. The book gives a great and fairly detailed historical account of Washington's life as a landowner, General and eventual President of the United States. Battles are recounted in discussions from Washington's mouth, making the reader feel as though they are speaking with him.

Some of the text denotes the upper class in the story. While the vocabulary is not above the average reader's head, it is very articulate. For example, when George Washington comes to visit friends of Martha's, the reader sees the scene from Martha's point-of-view:

"But then an unexpected visitor came to call. I had met the dapper Colonel Washington at various soirees in Williamsburg and, of course, had heard tales of his heroism fighting the French and Indians out west. Those western borders were held precariously. I had heard Daniel speak of horrendous violations endured by many of the brave settlers. I had also read portions of a journal Colonel Washington had written about his exploits. Apparently it had been published on both continents.

We gathered in the foyer to receive this new guest. I had not remembered him to be quite so striking. He stood well over six feet, towering over me and the other ladies--- and even most of the men. His torso was sturdy, his hands and feet enormous. His hair held a reddish cast and was pulled into a ribbon. His nose was large, his eyes a pale blue. The only weakness about him was his face, which was a bit gaunt and pale as though he may have been ill of late, and scarred, most likely from a bout of the smallpox.

While "Washington's Lady" is a love story between a widow and a war hero, it is also a reminder of the greatness from which our country has grown. The book invokes pride and patriotism, for both the United States as we know it, and for the sacrifices made by our Founding Fathers.

In my book, this book is a must-read.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Midwife of the Blue Ridge

by Christine Blevins

Life in colonial times was never easy. There was war, hunger, hard work, untreatable health issues that the inhabitants faced daily. Christine Blevins captures the essence of the difficulties of the eighteenth century in her book "Midwife of the Blue Ridge."

Maggie Duncan comes from Scotland as an indentured servant, to escape the hardships of her homeland. She was trained as a midwife at a young age and is a very capable healer. A poor man buys her contract so that his pregnant, ailing wife will stand a chance of living through pregnancy and childbirth. Maggie quickly becomes part of the Martin family and adapts to her life in the colonies with little problem.

This historical novel is a fun adventure for any reader to embark upon; the characters are very alive and their dialogue is enjoyable. The author captivates the reader with the accurate dialect of each individual persona. For instance, while Maggie is on the auction block after reaching America, a rude young man makes a lewd comment to her. Being a somewhat brassy character herself she responds,

"'Ho there! Laddie! Aye, you...' She pointed. 'You wi' the face like a tinker's spotty arse. Here's a sound bit of advice--- best make friends wi' yer fist'--- the girl punctuated her verbal assault with an explicit hand gesture--- 'for it's bound to be yer one true love.' The crowd roared its approval and the heckler slunk away."

The landscape is beautiful. The reader can see the morning mist in the valleys, can experience the color of the trees and flowers. The smell of smoke and the sound of birds readily plays on the reader's senses.

If you enjoyed the "Outlander" series by Diana Gabaldon (and if you haven't read that yet, do so!), you will love "Midwife of the Blue Ridge" just as much. I can only hope Christine Blevins writes a sequel; if she is as smart as she seems from her writing, she will continue the story of Maggie Duncan.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Learning To Fly

By Roxanne Henke

Any parent knows that being a parent involves a willingness to learn when to hold on tight and when to let go. Any parent also knows it's the letting go that is the harder to learn of the two lessons.

Susan Shaffer has a daughter named Lily; this book follows them from Lily's birth to when she is nineteen-years old. While Susan's thoughts are her own, they truly respresent all that every mother faces when having a child. From the melt-downs in a restaurant to the fitful tears when she is denied the privelege of attending a friend's slumber party, Lily is every woman's daughter.

The obverse of Susan and Lily is mom JoJo and daughter Tiffany. They are best friends with Susan and Lily but have a very different take on what the relationship between a mother and child should be. Their mother-daughter role is allowed to be friend-friend rather than parent-child. It is this approach to parenting that gets them into trouble.

There may not be a handbook on how to face individual situations with a child; however, Roxanne Henke has written something that is very close, in the form of a novel. The situations are completely relatable, if not exact. She writes with utter empathy; she seems like a woman who may actually have parenting down to an exact science.

While God and Christianity are a background to this story, it does not come across as the main focus. Any reader can still relate to everything she writes, especially if you have a daughter. She proves how one parenting style can work over another by giving examples of each and novelizing the repercussions.

The chapters of the book switch back and forth from Susan and JoJo's point-of-view, and later, Lily's. In a JoJo's-point-of-view chapter, she is seeing her four-year old, Tiffany, have a tantrum at the mall because Tiffany wants to see Santa Claus. At first, she tries reasoning with her daughter and explaining that Santa is at the North Pole. When that fails to work, she tells Tiffany that if she does not stop the tantrum, they will leave the mall right then and there. Tiffany continues her bad behavior. Instead of making good on her threat, JoJo says, "Tiffi, listen to Mommy. If you stop crying, I'll buy you a treat at the toy store. Okay?"

Tiffany blinked two crocodile tears down her cheeks and stared back at me. I'd seen that obstinate attitude before. I was going to have to do better than a toy. "When we go to McDonald's, you can have an ice-cream cone for the ride home."

JoJo is the parent that is easy to become. She gives in to her children just to avert tantrums, but in the end, it makes her life much harder. On the other hand, Susan puts her foot down. Her daughter turns out much differently than JoJo's daughter.

This book is a recommended read to anyone (mother or father) who has a daughter or will have a daughter. Not only is the story full of emotions, it is easy to read and reinforces what we know to be the right way to parent. Roxanne Henke is to be commended for her attention to detail and her honesty. Be prepared to feel a tug at your heartstrings upon finishing the book; the pride you feel for what happens in the story will make you feel as though it is your own pride in your own beloved child.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hannah's Dream

By Diane Hammond

A book filled with heart, with character, with inspiration; "Hannah's Dream" is story-telling perfection. By far the best book I have read in ages, it is sure to strike a chord in every reader's marrow.

Samson Brown has been Hannah the elephant's caretaker for over forty years at a small zoo in Bladenham, Washington. His health and agedness require he retire soon, but he knows he cannot leave his beloved Hannah in the conditions she must subsist in at the Max L. Biedelman Zoo. His empathy with Hannah, combined with the devotion and hard work of those around him, work together to better the pachyderm's life.

This book is beautiful. The characters are each detailed with such color and flavor and voice. The writing is very smooth and fluid, yet smart and to-the-point. The story is quick to capture the reader's attention, making the book difficult to put down, and impossible to forget once finished.

One of the most impressive aspects of "Hannah's Dream" is the easy way the author inserts details of the characters' histories. For example, the reader can see what a character looks like and learns where a character has been, all with the same thought:

"Sam steered his old Dodge Dart back into morning traffic, making sure the coffee and the bag of donuts were secure. He was a careful man and it paid off. At sixty-eight, even by his own lights, he looked damned good. He stood upright and proud, no gut whatsoever, not even a little one people would have forgiven him for, at his age. A little snowfall on the top of his head, just a light dusting; no gray at the temples, either. Seeing him from the back, you might think he was twenty, but when he turned around his face gave him away. It was deeply lined, like a roadmap starting someplace far away---Cincinnati, maybe, where he was born, or Yakima, Washington, where his daddy had had a truck farm; then Korea, where Sam had served in the war; and ending right here in Bladenham, Washington."

"Hannah's Dream" is a book without murder, sex, over-used profanity or needless, directionless thoughts. It is "just" a nice book. It is a relief from so many books that try too hard. The reader never feels like they are being manipulated or that the story is too contrived. "Hannah's Dream" is a blessed accession to the literary world.