Thursday, January 31, 2013

HOME SAFE by Elizabeth Berg

Finished We 1/30/13

"Ann Tyler Lite"
Helen Ames has been a widow for almost a year, and she is rather unsuccessfully dealing with her loss. Dan handled all of the practical details of their marriage, and tended to coddle Helen. Now, Helen tries to make her adult daughter, Tessa, the focus of her life, but a surprise 'beyond the grave' gift from Dan introduces radical change.

One of the themes of Elizabeth Berg's sentimental novel is similar to O. Henry's 'Gift of The Magi'. Both Dan and Helen secretly acknowledge each other's deepest desire for life after retirement. However, Dan doesn't make it quite that far.

Berg writes in a highly conversational style, and it's almost impossible not to like her characters or their situations. But, nothing gets 'dark' enough, and it seems that any level of emotional pain is quite bearable. This is something that never happens with an Ann Tyler novel. Her characters can be overwhelmed by problems, and her books, as a result, seem more reality based.

(Dan dies at the breakfast table, and Helen is at the sink with her back turned. She hears a coffee cup crash to the floor, and without turning, exclaims, "Dammit Dan, I just bought that cup"! Her last words to her loving husband of twenty-five years.)

Dream Home with a tree house.
Lighted astrological signs on the master bedroom ceiling
Tiny rooms, room-sized closets

Monday, January 28, 2013


Finished Mo 1/28/13
My post on Good Reads-

James Ellroy could have taken this concept, and knocked it out of the park!
THE EMPTY GLASS is a fictionalized account of the death of Marilyn Monroe, however many of the events and character interactions actually happened, but unless you are an authority on the life of the actress, you can't separate 'Fiction' from 'Reality'. The novel is told from the perspective of Ben Fitzgerald, an employee of the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office, and it seems that he is being interviewed in some kind of a sanitarium after Monroe's death. The plot is exciting and moves along at a fast pace, but I really didn't learn anything about the actual case since the author never made any attempt to differentiate between using 'real' facts from speculation or invention. He treated all of his plot elements and characters with equal veracity.

From Amazon-

In the early-morning hours of August 5, 1962, Los Angeles County deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald arrives at the home of the world's most famous movie star, now lying dead in her bedroom, naked and still clutching a telephone.  There he discovers The Book of Secrets - Marilyn Monroe's diary - revealing a doomed love affair with a man she refers to only as "The General."  In the following days, Ben unravels a wide-ranging cover-up and some heartbreaking truths about the fragile, luminous woman behind the celebrity.  Soon the sinister and surreal accounts in The Book of Secrets bleed into Ben's own life, and he finds himself, like Monroe, trapped in a deepening paranoid conspiracy.  The Empty Glass is an unforgettable combination of the riveting facts and legendary theories that have dogged Monroe, the Kennedy's, the Mafia, and even the CIA for decades.  It is an exciting debut from a remarkable new thriller writer. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

GUN CHURCH by Reed Farrel Coleman

Finished Fr 1/25/13

My post on Good Read-

Kip Weiler was a 'superstar' author of the 80's, but that was a few decades ago, and now he is teaching writing at a fourth-rate community college. He's sleepwalking through life until he meets Jim and Renee, and they induct him into the radical fringe of the gun culture.

The characters are well-written, and the story is powerful and compelling. And, this novel begs(Please!Please!Please!)to be made into a film. It would be like Rupert Pupkin joins FIGHT CLUB.

Kenneth James 'Kip' Weiler was a 'writing superstar' of the 80's but blew it all in a haze of alcohol and drugs. Now he teaches at third-rate Brixton County Community College in a mining and lumber town. Frank Vuchovich holds students hostage.
Renee Svoboda (St. Pauli Girl)- Kip's beautiful and much younger girlfriend. She is Jim Trimble's ex, and he is the instigator of nearly all of the action.

Kip holds on to Frank's revolver and prevents the cylinder from turning so Frank can't fire.

Jim invites Kip to shoot out at an abandoned air force base. These sections of the book are like FIGHT CLUB. Jim's father was an abusive colonel who used to beat him. Jim is completely crazy, yet idolizes and knows most of Kip's works by heart. He gets Kip in shape by running.
"Do you believe?" "I will be blessed by gunfire." "Then be blessed."

Terry McGuinn is a character in 'the novel within the novel'. This novel is in italics and is called GUN QUEER. Kip is confused and thinks that McGuinn is his alter-ego.

Stan Petrovic- Ex-football player and works at the local diner. He hates Kip and also a member of the 'shooter's club'.

Amy- Kip's artist ex-wife who he still loves. She married a man, Peter Moreland, who was Kip's friend and did it just to get back at him for all of the Hell he put her through. Deep-down, she has always loved The Kipster.

Meg is Kip's lesbian agent who always believed in him, but never trusted him. He just burned too many bridges.


Finished Fr 1/25/13

Vonnegut's last (unfinished) work. This was in a book which also contained his first work, BASIC TRAINING, and contained a foreword by his daughter, Nanette.

IF GOD WERE ALIVE TODAY is a kind of memoir by stand-up comic, Gil Berman (Gilbert Lanz Berman). His father, Dr. Robert Berman, DDS, was an orthodontist and avid golfer. He took up dentistry because the patient was never in any real danger. Magda was his wife and she was widowed for twenty-three years, and died of pancreatic cancer. Robert committed suicide--ran the car in the garage (seat belt buckled).  Gil was a student at Columbia University and got his start in comedy because there was a club eight blocks from the school. He married a stripper on LSD, got her pregnant, and then broke her jaw. She settled  out of court.  He's an ex-addict, ex-alcoholic and sexual neuter.

"The War On Drugs' might as well be 'The War On Glaciers' with the soldiers armed with ice picks and smoking joints.

"Sobriety"- The drug of choice from kindergarten to the sixth grade.

'Celibacy is like not lighting a cigarette'

'Drugs are science, Alcohol is superstition'

I spent about an hour reading this short novel, and didn't bother with the first book.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

THE ART OF MENDING by Elizabeth Berg

Finished Su 1/20/13 ANNE TYLER LITE

My post on Good Read-

I couldn't help but like the book, yet I felt a bit let down at the conclusion. The book reads like one long conversation that was easy to follow, and the characters are interesting, believable, and likable. However, I felt that Caroline's dark secret about her mother demanded more than, "let's just start anew". This emotional abuse and the 'cover-up' lasted for longer than a half century, and it's almost inconceivable that Caroline could so easily forgive and forget. I wish we could have heard more of Caroline's thoughts and feelings, and also her father. The novel is built on a concept worthy of Shakespeare, and is resolved on the level of the comic strip, PEANUTS by Charles Schulz.  

"An old lady book from Target"...... "It was just odd how big this mystery was built up and then once you found out what it was about it was resolved very nonchalantly".


 "The story line seemed intriguing enough, but I couldn't get past the 8th grade canned dialogue or the "strategically" placed symbols or foreshadowing".

"At a family reunion, quilt-maker Laura Bartone discovers a horrible family secret from her odd and difficult younger sister Caroline. Although this novel had moments of emotional resonance, there were far too many moments that felt like simply padding, arbitrary and irrelevant to the story. For instance, the details about a dog quilt that Laura is making for a client who is not even named or seen in the novel seemed entirely superfluous, as did the discussion about the hypochondria of a friend's partner who similarly never makes an appearance. Some offhand observations, such as how Laura's fabric collection, like a hardware store, is satisfying in its completeness, "because everything is there," would have been nicer if they had more relevance to the story.

Although some of Laura's relationships were lifelike and realistic, the pastiche of Laura's life never meshed into an organic whole. Laura seems to be on the one hand a good person, a good wife and mother, leading an idyllic life, and on the other a seriously flawed and emotionally inadequate sister. How did she get from point A to point B? This story from sister Caroline's point of view would have made a much more interesting novel. 

Most annoying to me were old-fashioned, sexist assumptions about men's and women's natures and gender roles, which turned everyone into a caricature: men who can't talk about their emotions, the really good woman friend who you can share everything with, the ebullient and effusive gay man who runs the fabric store and is going on vacation to—where else?—San Francisco. It's almost as if Elizabeth Berg only had the time or resources to flesh out the relationships central to the plot and everyone else was just a stand-in. Such cheap stereotypes kept me from becoming involved in what was a plot that should have struck very close to home".

"Mediocre middle-class-family-with-a-(not-that-interesting)-secret saga".

"It's like reading a conversation." 

The Art of Mending Quotes (showing 1-3 of 3)
“There are random moments - tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children's rooms - when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.”
― Elizabeth BergThe Art of Mending
“You are born into your family and your family is born into you. No returns. No exchanges.”
― Elizabeth BergThe Art of Mending
“*We give so little when it's in us always to give so much more.

It's bothering to listen with an open heart to someone who smells bad. It's hard.”
― Elizabeth BergThe Art of Mending

Sunday, January 13, 2013

THE SHADOW GIRLS by Henning Mankell

Finished Sa 1/12/13

(Ripped from Amazon review)

Jesper Humlin is a poet of middling acclaim who is saddled by his underwhelming book sales, an exasperated girlfriend, a demanding mother, and a rapidly fading tan. His boy-wonder stockbroker has squandered Humlin’s investments, and his editor, who says he must write a crime novel to survive, begins to pitch and promote the nonexistent book despite Humlin’s emphatic refusals. Then, when he travels to Gothenburg to give a reading, he finds himself thrust into an entirely different world, where names shift, stories overlap, and histories are both deeply secret and in profound need of retelling.

Leyla from Iran, Tanya from Russia, and Tea-Bag, who is from Africa but claims to be from Kurdistan (because Kurds might receive preferential treatment as refugees)—these are the shadow girls who become Humlin’s unlikely pupils in impromptu writing workshops. Though he had imagined their stories as fodder for his own book, soon their intertwining lives require him to play a much different role.

Offering both surprising humor and heartbreaking moments, The Shadow Girls is a triumph that will please longtime fans of Mankell as well as readers new to his work.
My post on Good Reads-

I loved Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander Crime Fiction novels, but THE SHADOW GIRLS seems a bit unfocused. It's the tale of a failed Swedish poet who stumbles across the plight of European refugees. The life of the poet, Jesper Humlin is treated as 'comedy', and the revelations of the refugees is more 'tragedy'. I couldn't decide whether to view the book as Comedy or Social Tragedy, and it just didn't hold together. However, sections of the novel were moving, and parts were ironically funny, but I don't think that it worked. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

ELMER GANTRY BY Sinclair Lewis

Finished We 1/9/13

Link to Wikipedia-

Elmer Gantry--Fanaticism & Hypocrisy in Religion

While "Arrowsmith" leaves us with a realization of some of the quandaries in the medical profession, "Elmer Gantry" (1927) draws us into the controversial arena of fanatically religiosity and hypocrisy. The novel is an unabashed, unashamed, and unforgiving look at a man whose actions contradict everything he says. The book was banned in Boston, and other cities, for its depiction of the morally corrupt evangelist, Elmer Gantry. Several years later, it was even banned in Ireland. The opening and closing lines of the novel say it all: "Elmer Gantry was drunk... And we shall yet make these United States a moral nation."

Of course, Lewis enjoyed controversy and publicity: He added to the controversy when he defied God from the pulpit, giving God 15 minutes to strike him dead. And, he probably would have immensely enjoyed some of the controversy that has surrounded Elmer Gantry-type ministers ever since. Evangelists like Billy Graham have had to contend with being likened to Elmer Gantry--using evangelism for the wrong reasons. The name has gone beyond "Trivial Pursuit" to become part of our language.

The character of Sharon Falconer was based on elements in the career of Aimee Semple McPherson, a Canadian-born American evangelist who founded the Pentecostal Christian denomination known as the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in 1927.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

EDGE--A NOVEL by Koji Suzuki

Finished We 1/2/13

     My post on Good Reads-

The novel's style reminded me of Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, or Stephen King, but Suzuki's story-line is propelled by such scientific topics as Parallel Universes, Physics, Astronomy, Black Hole Theory, and Theoretical Mathematics. However, you don't need to have an interest in arcane scientific theories to enjoy the book because the tale is so compelling and always keeps your interest.

It was an enjoyable 'fun read' and only required a few hours over a holiday weekend. 
Link to Amazon-