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May 26, 2011

Unplugged


Not that I post with any regularity, but I thought I should let y'all know that I'm going to be unplugged for the holiday weekend. We're off to Colorado (Red Feather Lakes) and won't have access to the Internet until Wednesday morning. This is always a rough weekend for us, so it will be nice to get away with some good friends. If the weather cooperates, we'll go for long hikes (just us and the bears & mountain lions!), cook delicious meals, play board games, and drink lots of wine. Hmmm, at 9,000 feet, maybe I should be careful with the wine...

I'll be back next week with several book reviews. April and May were good reading months.

I hope everyone has a relaxing (and safe) holiday weekend!

May 23, 2011

Once Upon a Time, There Was You


Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg
Fiction
2011 Random House
Finished 4/22/11
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)



Product Description

From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of Home Safe and The Last Time I Saw You comes a beautiful and moving novel about a man and woman, long divorced, who rediscover the power of love and family in the midst of an unthinkable crisis.

Even on their wedding day, John and Irene sensed that they were about to make a mistake. Years later, divorced, dating other people, and living in different parts of the country, they seem to have nothing in common—nothing except the most important person in each of their lives: Sadie, their spirited eighteen-year-old daughter. Feeling smothered by Irene and distanced from John, Sadie is growing more and more attached to her new boyfriend, Ron. When tragedy strikes, Irene and John come together to support the daughter they love so dearly. What takes longer is to remember how they really feel about each other.

Elizabeth Berg has once again created characters who embody the many shades of the human spirit. Reading Berg’s fiction allows us to reflect on our deepest emotions, and her gifts as a writer make Once Upon a Time, There Was You a wonderful novel about the power of love, the unshakeable bonds of family, and the beauty of second chances.


Elizabeth Berg is one of the few authors I’ve continued to read for decades. Yes, decades. I first read Talk Before Sleep back in the ‘90s and since then, I’ve read almost every single one of her novels, typically the week it’s published. Her most recent books have either fallen flat or left me craving something a bit more substantial, but I keep going back, trying the latest release, hoping for something like her earlier works. Something that gives me the feeling that she’s peeked into my life and written about my thoughts and feelings. Something that describes a meal that makes my mouth water or tugs at my heartstrings, bringing a lump to my throat. Something like what Erica Bauermeister, Lisa Genova, Marisa de los Santos or Anna Quindlen have done recently with their novels. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Once Upon a Time, There Was You.

Once Upon a Time, There Was You is quite a departure from Berg’s previous novels. There’s a strong element of suspense and mystery, which I enjoyed, and the pages flew, making for a quick read. But once again, I was disappointed, wishing for something more.

Oh, dear. Perhaps I’ve outgrown Ms. Berg.

I’ve come to a point where I borrow rather than buy her novels, and I wonder if I’ll get to the point where I give up completely and simply read her blog (which is lovely and reminiscent of her earlier writing style). After five years, I know I have a difficult time writing a fresh book review, so I can imagine how tough it must be to keep writing entertaining novels.

So, I keep hoping and remain optimistic that the next book will be just the one to once again win me over.

Booklist says:

An enchanting and empathic storyteller, Berg delights in the eccentricities that shape complex personalities and excels in decoding the chemistry and paradoxes of relationships. She is also an avid appreciator of the pleasures of food, funny and assuring on the subject of age, and an advocate for kindness. All these elements are at work in her latest comedy of marriage. . . . All is droll and intriguing until Berg swerves, briefly, into the realm of terror, thus dramatically deepening questions about fear, love, family, and what one makes of one’s life. Berg’s tender and wise novels are oases in a harsh world.

Hmm, I’m not so sure I saw the comedy of marriage in this recent work.

I wrote the following in my last review for a book by Berg:

While lacking substance and peopled with forgettable characters, I still managed to zip through this fluffy read in a day or so. With 20 novels under her belt, perhaps it's time to take a break.

I could have written the exact same words for this new novel.

Hmmm.

May 16, 2011

Joy for Beginners


Joy For Beginners by Erica Bauermeister

Fiction
2011 G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Finished on 2/27/11
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC via publicity agent
Available on June 9, 2011



Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
~ Christopher Robin to Pooh”

Publisher’s Blurb:

At an intimate, festive dinner party in Seattle, six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate’s recovery from cancer. Wineglass in hand, Kate strikes a bargain with them: to celebrate her new lease on life, she’ll do the one thing that’s always terrified her: white-water rafting. But if she goes, all of them will also do something they always swore they’d never do—and Kate is going to choose their adventures.

Shimmering with warmth, wit, and insight, Joy for Beginners is a celebration of life; unexpected, lyrical, and deeply satisfying.

The other night, as we were driving home from a lovely evening spent with new friends, my husband and I began chatting about our community and our circle of friends. We’ve lived in Lincoln since 1992 (with a brief stint in Texas in the late ‘90s) and have lived on an acreage just outside of the city limits, as well as in town in a lovely old neighborhood where front porches, hundred-year-old trees and a corner market (where one can still sign for groceries and receive a monthly bill!) are commonplace. We have friends that we met that very first year, thanks to our daughter’s outgoing nature on and off the soccer field, folks we’ve met through both of our jobs, and friends we were introduced to by mutual friends. When we moved back to Lincoln in 2000, we were amazed to meet well over a dozen people in our beautiful new neighborhood even as the movers unloaded our possessions into our new home. Some of those neighbors have since moved away, but all the new folks have been just as friendly and neighborly as their predecessors.

And so our circle of friends continues to widen. We gather for coffee and scones at a neighborhood cafĂ© on Saturday mornings. We host progressive dinner parties and cookouts or meet up at our favorite restaurants. We discuss books, play board games, float in pools, play tennis, ride bikes, or shoot guns (!) with these friends. We support their children’s fundraising ventures, rub their dogs’ bellies, watch out for their homes when they go out of town, and admire their gardens.

We rejoice over births, graduations, marriages, job promotions, and new puppies.

And, we comfort each other through divorces, illnesses and deaths.

We are very blessed to know the friends we’ve met (both in person and via the Internet) over the years. They have brought us joy, filled us with laughter, held us when we needed to cry, and taught us how to be better friends ourselves.

Joy For Beginners is a book about the loyalty and love of friends, about taking risks and believing in oneself, and about being present in one’s life.

Stephanie Kallos (Sing Them Home) writes, “This book is a joy to read. Bauermeister gives us characters who revel in the best of what life has to offer—loving relationships, fine food, good books, and travel—and she writes with keen observance and a wry wit.”

My copy of Joy for Beginners is littered with dozens of Post-It flags, but I’ve decided to let you discover those passages on your own. Well, maybe I'll share just one...

It was almost midnight. The tables were cluttered with napkins and used silverware, tablecloths rumpled like bed-sheets. The diners reclined in their chairs, hands drifting leisurely back and forth between espresso cups and the last sips of port. Tips of fingers caressed the surface of white plates, snaring the last flakes of chocolate left from cinnamon-dusted truffles. Smells lingered in the air, sliding across bare shoulders, nestling into the curls of hair—risotto and chanterelle mushrooms, sweet and rich and buttery, the bite of Parmesan, the rosemary and white wine and garlic of a slow-cooked pork roast. And bread, of course, the long loaves having been passed hand to hand, chunks pulled off, dipped in small white dishes of green olive oil with dark, molten drops of balsamic vinegar floating in its midst. Wine bottles had long ago lost their ownership, traveling up and down the tables like porters on a train. Artists had met book dealers had met plumbers had met research scientists, people getting up between courses and changing places. Over in the corner, a couple was forming, their heads bending slowly toward each other like candles melting.

I read this novel almost three months ago and I have been so eager to share it with all of you. I was tempted to read it in one sitting, but enjoyed it so much, and not wanting to see it end, set it aside for an entire week before returning to read the final chapter. I loved Erica’s first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, and Joy for Beginners is just as beautifully written, peopled with characters you’ll wish you had in your own circle of friends.

Final thoughts: I can think of a few challenges for some of my friends, but I wonder what challenge my friends would give me? Tattoo? Sky-diving?