Monday, April 26, 2010

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier

Thanks to Lesa's Book Critiques blog, I found out about The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier.  You can read Lesa's review here

From Kirkus Reviews
An oddly passive middle-aged academic switches colleges and comes alive to friends, feelings and a future, in this debut novel from Meier, wife of author Frank Delaney. Partnerless and all but friendless, 48-year-old Dr. Joy Harkness seems to have sleep-walked through much of her life, including a four-year marriage and another 12 teaching literature at Columbia University. But all that's about to change after she accepts a prestigious new post at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Meier's debut breezily mixes the influence of French aestheticism on Henry James with lighter humor and romance as she drops her not-quite-credible heroine into an irresistibly sociable new community in which Joy discovers a perfect if run-down house, falls foul of several campus Lotharios (known as the Coyotes), gets sucked into a spousal-abuse drama and finds herself acting as temporary den mother to four active little girls. Slowly she realizes she is enjoying what she had previously avoided: "the mess of including other people in my life," even stumbling on an unlikely partner in Teddy Hennessy, a gifted, self-taught house-fixer-upper burdened with a cartoonishly possessive mother. Leisurely in pace, intelligent and amiable in tone, the novel glides over its implausibilities, including Joy's paradoxes-simultaneously attractive and insightful while also isolated and unaware. Dodging predictability in the final quarter, Meier takes leave of her heroine in a happy place. An up-market, engaging, feel-good fantasy.

On Post-its
For days on end I had gone through these books in a whirlwind of desperation and excitement, marking pages with yellow Post-its.  They stuck out like messy tongues from every book, at every angle.
On the joy of books/bookshelves
There wre my books!  My precious thesauri, my Elements of Style and my rhyming dictionary; the Columbia Guide to Standard American English and Menckien's American Language; two great Arthur Quiller-Couches, On the Art of Writing and On the Art of Reading; Edward Sapir's Language:  An Introduction to the Study of Speech, Fowler's King's English (of course) and Bartlett (obviously) and Simpson's Contemporary Quotations.  There is T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood, and Carl Van Doren, The American Novel.  Bulfinch and Brewer and Joseph Campbell, and--can you imagine?--Teddy found space for all eighteen volumes of my Cambridge History of English and American Literature....  Upstairs in my bedroom, still stacked on the floor and waiting for just the right bookcase and a moment of inspiration from Teddy, lay the books closest to my heart.  Every book by Henry James, every book by John O'Hara, every book by Edith Wharton, Nabokov and Updike.  Novels, short stories and plays by Faulkner, O'Brien, O'Neill, O'Casey and Fitzgerald.  Books full of the collected essays of Gore Vidal, most all of Truman Capote, all of Willa Cather, some of Flaubert, most of Zola, all of Tolstoy, All of Chekhov, all of Proust and Joyce and Meredith, all the plays of Arthur Miller, most of the plays of Philip Barry and J. M. Barrie, William Inge, Tennessee Williams, nearly all I could get my hands on of Stoppard and Caryl Churchill.  There were, of course, my Shakespeares....  There were biographies, auto- and otherwise, in the dozens, from Boswell on Johnson to a ghastly but fascinating Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel I could never make myself throw out.  I loved the way biographies on the shelf made your mind bounce around like a pinball, based on their proximity to one another:  Mary McCarthy to Whitaker Chambers to Anthony Burgess, Matisse to Moss Hart, Leonard Bernstein to Beethoven (or is it the other way around?), Isak Dinesen to Dawn Powell; and most were still in boxes, as were all of the poets.
On style
Did I have any style at all?  I was thinking of Donna in her tiny warm-up suits and Catsup in his heathery tweeds, Bernadette in her soft watercolors and vintage prints and Dan and Josie in their jewel-colored cashmere sweaters and their Hermes and Missoni scarves.  They all had clothes that represented them, clothes that looked like them.  I had clothes that were comfortable and didn't show stains.  Maybe these were the clothes that fit my personality, I thought glumly.
On Thanksgiving dinner aftermath
People return to the table to help themselves to more food, patting their stomachs and saying that they've already had two helpings of the stuffing or three of the squash, onion and apple puree.  Even covered with smears of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, bits of meat, stuffing, gravy and puree, my grandmother's china looks beautiful.  It fills the room, as people have left their plates sattered about like leaves in autumn.  The pale robin's-egg blue border on the tiny pleats of Wedgwood porcelain feel as though they've always lived in this house.
I particularly enojed the way Ms. Meier used cultural, movie and TV references to set a scene. 
  • Mamie Eisenhower bangs.
  • Teddy had rewired the bell, and it sounded Andy Hardy old-fashioned in its deep electronic voice.
  • The house was a large split-level ranch at the edge of a development I would have positioned somewhere between Leave It To Beaver and Bewitched.
  • He had a kind of William Holden-in-Sabrina quality; sure of himself, but boyish.  Or Paul Newman in The Long Hot Summer.
  • It's Aunt Elizabeth's house...Aunt Elizabeth's house from Bringing Up Baby.
  • And my favorite, I decided that Philip Barry's line from The Philadelphia Story was the one to hold on to:  "The time to make your mind up about people is never."
I am glad that I was guided by Lesa's review of The Season of Second Chances and not the editorial reviews (Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc.) on and because I would have missed a very delicious reading experience.  This book has one of my favorite things--detailed descriptions of interiors and dishes.  I loved picturing in my mind the transformation of Joy's house from an uninhabitable wreck to a fully restored Victorian--the colors chosen for each room, the furniture, and the dishes. 
It took Joy Harkness some time and a lot of emotion to find her comfort zone.  Her brother's long ago adivce held true in the end:  Long, long ago, when I was disappointed at some school friend's slight, my brother reminded me of an idea I've just remembered.  "Don't you get it?" Timmy said.  "No one is using the same yardstick.  Their idea of a full measure is rarely yours--or anyone else's."
Rating:  4/5 (Fiction Scale)

5/9/10 Update:  Click here to view an excellent post on Breaking the Spine where the author comments on the changes that take place in The Season of Second Chances.

6/10/10 Update:  Kristen at BookNAround has just reviewed The Season of Second Chances.  You can read her excellent review here.

8/12/10 Update:  Diane Meier has a post on Head Butler regarding The Season of Second Chances and Chick Lit? Women's Lit?.  Click here to read her comments.
Dedication:  For Sara-Owen and Frank

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

Even after finishing The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addision Allen along with her two previous titles (Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen), I haven't decided where Ms. Allen falls in my reading experience.  Entertaining with a touch of magical realism, maybe?

From Library Journal
After the death of her mother, Dulcie, Emily moves in with her grandfather in Mullaby, NC, and learns of her mother's part in the Coffey family tragedy. Fortunately, not everyone holds Dulcie's past against Emily—Julia welcomes Emily with a cake and offers a shoulder to lean on, but Julia has troubles, too. She's working off the debt on her father's restaurant so she can sell it and open a bakery far from the town that dismissed her so easily as a teen. Things may change if the romantic Sawyer can persuade Julia to trust him with her heart or if Win Coffey can help Emily expose the truth of her mother's deepest secret. Wallpaper that changes with mood, a sweet scent to call one home, and boys who glow in the moonlight will make readers jealous they can't live in a magical world like Allen's. VERDICT That it is never too late to change the future and that high school sins can be forgiven—these are wonderful messages, but Allen's warm characters and quirky setting are what will completely open readers' hearts to this story. Nothing in it disappoints.

Nothing flagged.

I appreciated that there was just enough darkness in this story to keep it from slipping into syrupy sweetness.  I also thought again about high school reunions, contrasting the more typical reunion depicted in Elizabeth Berg's The Last Time I Saw You with the reunion of sorts playing out in The Girl Who Chased the Moon.

Rating:  3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)

Dedication:  To the memory of famous gentle giant Robert Pershing Wadlow (1918-1940).  At the time of his death at age twenty-two, he was eight feet eleven inches tall--a world record that has never been broken.

Click here for my post on Garden Spells.

Sunday Snippet

I've never been good at keeping a journal as such, partly because I can never figure out who it is that I'm writing to.  But I've written lots of things down in notebooks over the years.  I'm glad of nearly everything I have written down (legibly) and tucked away.  I kick myself for all the things I haven't.
~ Ray Blount, Jr., Alphabet Juice


Friday, April 23, 2010

The Big Dirt Nap by Rosemary Harris

The Big Dirt Nap by Rosemary Harris is the second installment in the Dirty Business Mystery Series.

From Publishers Weekly
In Harris's cute second dirty business mystery (after 2008's Pushing Up Daisies), landscape designer Paula Holliday is thrilled when her TV producer friend, Lucy Cavanaugh, suggests an all-expenses-paid getaway for the two of them to the Titans Hotel in Connecticut wine country. Paula even wangles a Springfield Bulletin gig to write about the titan arum (aka the corpse flower) on display under glass in the hotel lobby because the bloom smells so bad. When Lucy fails to appear and the dead body of new acquaintance Nick Vigoriti turns up on the hotel's loading dock, Paula considers returning home. Det. Stacy Winters's investigation persuades a TV reporter that Paula is a person of interest in Nick's murder, but Paula is more worried she might become the killer's next victim. The nifty puzzle that unfolds involves Native American casinos, mysterious Russians and that stinky slow-blooming flower.

Well, "cute" isn't exactly an adjective I would use to describe this book.  Paula Holliday falls into the Stephanie Plum wannabe category--smart, snarky dialogue, sharply drawn characters.  My favorite of the supporting cast is Wanda "Babe" Chinnery, owner of the Paradise Diner.

I will probably put the third in the series, Dead Head, on my library reserve list but feel that I know enough about Paula that reading the first in the series, Pushing Up Daisies, won't be necessary.

Rating:  3/5 (Mystery Scale)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Judi Dench: Scenes from My Life - John Miller, Editor

Judi Dench is one of my favorite actresses, especially in the PBS series As Time Goes By.  So when I saw this collection of photographs, Judi Dench:  Scenes from My Life, featured on the new non-fiction shelf at the library, I just had to bring it home and was very happy to spend several hours in the company of this wonderful woman.  Whether you know Dame Judi as M in the James Bond movies, Mrs. Brown, Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love or from her many stage roles, you will want to sit with this book for awhile.

Product Description (from
This marvelous collection of images, many of which are drawn from Judi Dench’s personal photo albums, offer the actress’s many fans a rare insight into her life. John Miller, her biographer, has augmented Judi Dench’s own photos with images depicting 50 years of distinguished work in film, theater, and television. From her childhood in York and her first work as an actress in her teens to recent informal shots backstage and private family photos, these images show Judi Dench as never seen before. Judi Dench is the foremost actress in contemporary British theater. She has also won acclaim for her films, with memorable performances in Shakespeare in Love, for which she received an Oscar, as well as Iris, Chocolat, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs. Henderson Presents, all of which garnered her Oscar nominations.

On selecting roles
All my life I have tried hard to avoid being typecast or pigeonholed, and whenever anyone says, "Oh, you shouldn't play that part," it only makes me much more determined to try.  ...other friends were nervous about my doing musicals, or against moving into television sitcoms.  At the same time, whenever I have had a particular success in one role, especially in films, I am immediately offered several more exactly like the last one.  After Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love I turned down several other queens in rapid succession!

From the editor's Introduction
In Judi's own account of her life and career which follows, she characteristically makes light of her success, but it would be a great mistake to think that she is more concerned with the jokes than the quality of the work.  The one makes the other possible, and I know from watching her at work on-set and stage how essential it is to her that she can laugh in rehearsal.  It is that release of humour which enables her to give such searingly intense performances as Lady Macbeth, Queen Victoria or Iris Murdoch, to name but three.

The pictures she has chosen for this book capture her many moods, at home and work, and encapsulate what it is about her character that has gained her such a multitude of fans, of all ages and all walks of life, and now in so many countries of the world.

Scenes from My Life definitely falls into the coffee table book category, especially so because there is a definite feeling of having Dame Judi sitting beside you on the sofa exclaiming, "Oh, I remember when this picture was taken!"  I am eagerly looking forward to her autobiography, And Futhermore, which is scheduled to be released later this year.

Rating:  4/5 (Non-fiction scale)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Quotidian (adjective)
1.  daily
2.  usual or customary; everyday
3.  ordinary; commonplace

The first half of Every Last One by Anna Quindlen is best described with the adjective quotidian.  Mary Beth Latham and her family (husband, Glen; daughter, Ruby; twin sons, Alex and Max) go through the daily routine so familiar to anyone who has had kids in middle school and high school and who remembers (fondly or not) the soccer games and practices, the having to be at opposite ends of the town at the exact same time, the crises of young love, etc.  And so, the first half of Every Last One lulled me into this family's life, enjoying the conversations between Mary Beth and Glen as they handled the ups and downs.  Then, suddently, I am post-quotidian and launched into the unfamiliar needs of healing and rebuilding hope and love.

Here is where I normally post an editorial review by either Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, or Booklist.  After reading the reviews of Every Last One, I have decided they give away too much information.  Every Last One is a book that every reader needs to experience as it happens.  I do hope, however, that you will check out the wonderfully thoughtful review Les posted at Lesley's Book Nook and the video files posted here.

On prom attire
Kiernan found a sky-blue tuxedo at the thrift store at which Ruby struck out on a dress.  It came with a ruffled shirt, a cummerbund, and an enormous bow tie.  Ruby said the bow tie looks like a butterfly.  I know exactly what Kiernan will look like.  He will look like James McGhee, the boy who took me to my prom.  He wore that self-same tuxedo.  I remember finding an old photograph of the two of us posed in front of two freestanding Styrofoam Corinthian pillars that had been set up in the hotel hallway, and thinking what a good thing it was that the classic black tux had come back into style, and that the sort of Empire-waist dress I was wearing had gone out of fashion.  Now Kiernan is wearing the blue tux, and Ruby and all her friends wear dresses with Empire waists.  I am trying to learn to take nothing for granted.

On family changes
My brother, Richard, and I were two people related by blood, with little in common.  When he left for college, it was as though the pond of our family had rippled slightly, then closed around the disturbance and become smooth again. 

On lovers' ghosts
Kiernan will finish his senior year in high school, and he will go away to college, and he will become something fine and true:  a beloved teacher, perhaps, or the sort of lawyer who represents the indigent.  He will have a life in which this one seems merely like the sort of dream that is vivid at the moment of waking and has vanished by the time you've had your coffee.  But this day my daughter has cast him out of the closest thing to paradise he has known, our kitchen.  To us it seems so ordinary, so little to have, but I have seen in his eyes...the glitter of yearning, and felt sad that the best we could offer was a kind of borrowing.  Kiernan had believed he could turn the borrowing into ownership.  And from time to time as he grows older, he will remember Ruby Latham, and how he loved her, and how he lost her.  Every other girl will have a Ruby ghost hovering over her without her knowing it.

On a window on the world
There were four panes of bright light aslant on our ceiling from a white June moon.  The light through this window, the smell of the air, the witchy line of a tree branch that has insinuated itself into the sight line of my side of the bed:  this is how I track the seasons.  I can't say why, but when I see those squares of light on the ceiling I feel as though all will be well.

On the butterfly effect
Once Ruby and I were sitting in the yard, watching the monarchs swarm the bee balm.  It must have been early September, one of those slow late-summer days when school had just begun yet everything felt tentative--the textbook unopened, the sweaters still packed into their plastic beneath the bed.  Ruby loved to tell me things I didn't know, and that afternoon, as we sipped lemonade and scuffed our bare feet through the shaggy grass, she had told me about the butterfly effect, how the beating of their wings in Mexico could cause a breeze in our backyard.  "That's kind of terrifying," I replied.  But even as I spoke I realized that that was what we had all believed from the moment we had children.  The breast-fed baby became the confident adult.  The toddler who listened to a bedtime story went on to a doctorate.  We flapped our wings in our kitchens, and a wind blew through their futures.

This was a one-day read for me.  I was completely drawn in to the Latham family and sat rivited, tissues in hand, while seeing how everything came out on the other side. 

Rating:  4.5/5 (Fiction Scale)  Note:  My copy of Every Last One is on its way to my friend Suzanne.  I have a very personal question to ask her after she finishes, and her answer could mean a change in my rating.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Making the Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa, M.D.

Some time ago there was a human interest feature at the end of the nightly newscast which featured Oscar the cat.  Once I saw that Dr. Dosa was publishing a book, Making the Rounds with Oscar, I added it to my library reserve list and eagerly awaited its arrival.

From Publishers Weekly
Dosa, a geriatrician with a strong aversion to cats, tells the endearing story of Oscar the cat, the aloof resident at a nursing home who only spends time with people who are about to die. Despite hearing numerous stories about Oscar's uncanny ability to predict when a patient's time is nearing, Dosa, ever the scientist, remains skeptical. Slowly, he starts to concede that there may be something special about Oscar. Dosa starts to pay more attention to the cat's decidedly odd behavior, noticing that Oscar seeks out the dying, snuggles with the patient and family members until the patient passes; with others, he smells the patient's feet, sits outside a closed door until admitted, or refuses to leave a dying patient's bed. Dosa discovers how powerfully Oscar's mere presence reassures frightened or grieving family. Ultimately, the good doctor realizes that it doesn't matter where Oscar's gift comes from; it's the comfort he brings that's important. This touching and engaging book is a must-read for more than just cat lovers; anyone who enjoys a well-written and compelling story will find much to admire in its unlikely hero.

On coping
Watching a loved one's health fail is hard.  Most families eventually find a way to accept it and move on.  Some can even do it with grace and dignity.  Mary always spoke of one son who was ceaselessly cheerful in the fact of his mother's dementia.  "How do you do it?" she asked him one day.  "Oh, I said good-bye to my mother a long time ago," he told her.  "Now I've just fallen in love with this little lady!"

On dog person vs. cat person
Ida looked up at me with a knowing smile.  "You're not much of a cat person, are you?"  "I can't say that I am, but I'm trying to be."  Then Ida openly laughed.  "I knew it!  I could tell you were more of a dog person.  You're too damn nice."

On Oscar's demeanor
He generally kept a safe distance and left my mother alone, but when he'd wander by and she would stop to talk to him, well, he stopped too.  He never stayed long and he never cuddled up to her--Oscar was more like a visiting dignitary than a house cat--but he always stopped as if to hear her out.  Visiting dignitary indeed.

On coping...again
"Because you want them back in the worst possible just want your parent back, the one who signed the report cards, the one who made the Thanksgiving dinner.  But you can't."  Knowing that, and coming to terms with that knowledge, is really the most difficult part.  A relationship between two people is made up, for the most part, of invisible things:  memories, shared experiences, hopes, and fears.  When one person disappears, the other is left alone, as if holding a string with no kite.  Memories can do a lot to sustain you, but the invisible stuff of the relationship is lost, even as unresolved issues remain:  arguments never settled, kind words never uttered, things left unsaid.  They become like a splinter beneath the skin--unseen, but painful nevertheless.  Until they're exposed, coping with the loss is impossible.

On the reason for cats
I think it's one of the reasons we've kept cats at Steere House all these years.  The patients like them, for the most part, either because they hark back to some forgotten relationship they may have had with a pet, or maybe because they are non-judgmental.  A cat doesn't care what you do for a living or whether you're rich or poor.  A cat doesn't care if you're able to remember its name or if you're up to date with the latest news.  But we were beginning to realize that cats mean something to the families, too, long before Oscar started his vigils.  They seem to help reassure family members who enter into the nursing home with some trepidation.  For a lot of visitors, the reality of nursing home existence can be a rather harsh wake-up call.  All the more reason to take comfort in something familiar.  Even if it is a cat.

On how Oscar does it
"I feel like the more I learn, the less I know.  I mean, why does he do it?" asked Dr. Dosa.  "Who knows, Dr. Dosa?  There's probably some scientific explanation but in the end, does it really matter?  He's there when it counts."

On Oscar
Is it outlandish to suggest that Oscar, a cat residing on a floor where patients with end-stage dementia routinely die, has merely learned how to pick up on a specific smell emitted in the final hours of a patient's lifespan?  Perhaps, but I like to think of Oscar as more than a ketone early-earning system.  Ever since I was a child, listening intently as my grandfather read bedtime stories from Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, I have imbued animals with human characteristics and frailties.  It could simply be that we see ourselves in them--the best of ourselves, sometimes.  On a floor where the staff has gone to great lengths to make the dying experience tolerable for the residents and their families, I'd like to think Oscar embodies empathy and companionship.  ...I don't really pretend to know the nature of Oscar's special gift--I am not an animal behaviorist nor have I rigorously studied the why and how of his behavior.  Whether he is motivated by a refined sense of smell, a special empathy, or somethine entirely different--your guess is a good as mine.  But I believe we can all learn from his example.

If you read this book, I am sure the stories of the Steere House residents and their families will stay with you for quite some time as will the mystery of how Oscar does what he does.  The news stories about Oscar made him into a bit of a Grim Reaper character; in reality, he is a welcomed comforter and companion.  The subtitle of the book, The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat, sums up what you need to know about Oscar who reminds us all to be present and to live in the moment every day.

I particularly liked the chapter pages with the paw prints:

Here's a glimpse of Oscar:

Rating:  4/5 (Non-fiction Scale)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

High school reunion--a phrase greeted with great anticipation or great trepidation every five years--is the focus of The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

From Booklist
For everyone who has received an invitation to their high-school reunion and broken out in a cold, clammy sweat, Berg nails the experience: the dread that morphs into downright fear; the bouts of self-doubt that coalesce into prolonged periods of self-loathing; the internal inventory that comes up short in the bragging-rights column. Of course, there’s just as much potential for life-affirming and life-altering revelations. Glory days can be relived, damaged reputations repaired, lapsed friendships restored, lost loves rekindled. As Dorothy, Pete, Mary Alice, Candy, and Lester consider returning to Clear Springs for their fortieth high-school reunion, each contemplates the chance for redemption and revenge, renewal and retribution. Ultimately, they are then surprised to discover how much they have yet to learn about human nature and their own capacity for joy and forgiveness. Luckily, the zestfully wise Berg is the perfect teacher for such tender lessons of the heart, and her sublimely authentic and winsome characters are apt students. Book groups are clamoring for upbeat yet significant works that are entertaining as well as enlightening; Berg’s latest novel satisfies and succeeds on both counts.

On pre-reunion thoughts
But he did finally agree to go to the reunion.  It might be interesting to see all those people again, even though he'd never really been close to any of them.  He'd pretty much kept to himself, for many reasons.  He wonders if any of his classmates look anything like they used to, or if at the reunion they'll all walk around squinting at name tags, then looking up with ill-disguised disbelief into a person's face.  He feels he still somewhat resembles the boy he used to be, but then he guesses that everyone does that, sees in the mirror a mercifully edited version of themselves different from what everyone else sees.

On marriage
...some people have very happy marriages.  I think the biggest problem is people's expectations are so high.  And so wrong!  People think marriage is going to be so romantic and fulfilling.  They think the other person is going to complete them.  But that's not what happens.  In a good marriage, you complete yourself while sharing a bathroom.  ...You need to give what you want.  And don't expect so much.  That only sets up up for disappointment.  If you expect anything, expect that marriage will be hard, that it will be work.  And expect that the pleasures will be erratic and often small, but they'll turn out to mean more than you know.

On a memory of youth
The last thing she thinks of before she falls asleep is a time she was a little girl outside playing on a summer night.  She was the first to be called in, and she resented it:  the sky was violet and the clouds were pink; the fireflies were just coming out; the taste of sweat at the bend in her elbow was delectable; and the earth had given up its heat to the coolness of evening, making the grass so pleasant to lie in.  She compalined bitterly to her group of friends about having to go in, and Mary Nix said, "We'll all have to go in in a few minutes, anyway.  You're just the first."  That made it better.  Then, when she got inside, there were clean sheets, and the light on at her bedside, and the covers turned down, and the little statue of the Virgin to whom she prayed every night and who she believed knew her best.  Knew everything, in fact, and just kept quiet about it.

On the current state of manners (as in my aversion to "Hi, guys" when greeting table of women diners!)
Mary Alice leans back in her chair to let the server remove her dinner plate.  "Still working on this?" he'd asked, and Mary Alice had, as usual, despaired of hearing that particular turn of phrase.  Whatever happened to "Still enjoying this?" or "Have you finished?" or "May I remove this?"  "Still working on this always reminds her of pigs at a trough.  Oh, but why fuss about such things?  She supposes she's getting old and cranky.

On surveying the room of reunion classmates
She stares at the floor and holds back some strong feeling that could be laughter or could be tears, either one.  Or both.  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 together 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.  And oh, what a feeling.

In her newsletter sent out with the release of every new book, Ms. Berg says of The Last Time I Saw You
I think high school is something we never quite escape, and I've always wondered why that is.  This book let me explore that notion, and also taught me that there's always hope of a lot of things to come to you later in life, including love, either for yourself or for another, or both.

My initial reaction to this book was, "I liked it, I think."  Now days later when these characters have had a chance to roam around my mind and I've had a chance to really think about how subtly Ms. Berg wrote the human vulnerabilities of this select group of reunion attendees, I believe this book is much deeper than it first appears.  After attending my 35th reunion (40th and 45th have come and gone without me), I concluded that not much had changed.  The popular kids were still popular.  Those of us who weren't popular...well, you can guess.  Having read The Last Time I Saw You, I might just check the "yes" box on the invitation to the 50th. 

Random questions and thoughts
- Having read several in the M.C. Beaton Agatha Raisin series, I couldn't help but think of dear Agatha as Dorothy Shauman Ledbetter Shauman planned her outfit, hair and makeup for the reunion.

- Just why was this 40th reunion referred to in many places as the "last reunion"?

- My friend Suzanne and I are going to see Elizabeth Berg at the Brookline Booksmith on Monday, April 26.  Maybe I'll come back and post some more thoughts about this book after the event.

Rating:  3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)

High school, those are your prime suffering years.  You don't get better suffering than that.  -Uncle Frank (Steve Carell), Little Miss Sunshine

Every parting gives a foretaste of death as every reunion a hint of the resurrection. - Arthur Schopenhauer

Maybe one day I can have a reunion with myself.  - Sebastian Bach

P.S.  If you haven't done so, please click on the link above to Ms. Berg's website, then take some time to read her blog.  It's fantastic!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Snippet

My Library

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Eagerly awaiting this to come from my library request....

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Lone Texan by Jodi Thomas

The Lone Texan (Whispering Mountain, #4) The Lone Texan by Jodi Thomas

April selection for Barnes and Noble Romance Readers group.

The tall, dark hero pictured on the cover coupled with the "She's always been his destiny" snippet led me to think this would be just another toss-away romance. To my surprise, there was a good deal of story to read about a hero and heroine with background and character depth. A good secondary character story added to the enjoyment of this book.

Rating:  3/5 (Romance Scale)

Update:  The B&N Group met last night (April 5) to discuss The Lone Texan which received a unanimous thumbs up.  Everyone enjoyed the secondary character story and felt that there was a lot to the story--a nice change from 250+ pages of will-they/won't-they get together (even though the happily ever after is a given in the romance genre).

Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

Carol Goodman's 7th novel, Arcadia Falls, brought hours of reading ambivalence mixed with pleasure last week as we waited for basements to dry out and flood-closed roads to reopen.

From Publishers Weekly
Goodman delivers the goods her fans expect in this atmospheric and fast-moving gothic story: buried secrets, supernatural elements, and a creepy setting. Following the death of her husband, Meg Rosenthal accepts a job teaching at an upstate New York boarding school and moves there with her teenage daughter, Sally. The school, Arcadia Falls, also happens to be central to her thesis, which focuses on the two female coauthors of fairy tales: Vera Beecher, who founded the school, and her friend Lily Eberhardt, who died mysteriously in 1947. While the campus is bucolic, school life proves anything but—Meg thinks she sees ghosts and Arcadia's brightest and most ambitious student, Isabel Cheney, is found dead in a ravine. Feeling Sally drifting further from her each day, Meg finds refuge in Lily's preserved diary and begins to unravel the secrets behind Isabel's death.

A favorite passage
My new home...seems to be engaged in a duet with the wind.  Gusts whoosh out of the pine forest and fling themselves onto the house, which sighs and moans as if it were being carressed and then, as the wind sweeps back into the forest, keens like an abandoned lover.

At first, it was difficult to find the rhythm of the parallel stories of Meg Rosenthal's present and the past history of Vera Beecher and Lilly Eberhardt linked by the retelling of a changling fairy tale.  Then the middle drew me fully back into the story.  The ending?  Well, you'll have to read Arcadia Falls and decide for yourself!

Rating:  3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)