Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

I first learned of Jonathan Evison on my new favorite television show about books, Well Read.  The subject of his latest book, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance didn't really appeal to me, but his conversation about writing intrigued me enough to see what else he'd written.  Since my latest project is about aging, I thought The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving might be good research.

Benjamin Benjamin enrolls himself in a class on caregiving.  He has hit rock bottom and figures it's as good a place as any to start rebuilding his life, even if it only pays $9 an hour. Ben's first assignment is to care for Trev, a young man with a rare form of muscular dystrophy.  Trev comes with an overprotective mother and a clumsy father who she kicked out of the house long ago.  Trev is angry about life in general.  That is until Ben becomes his caregiver and his friend.

When I sat down to write this review, a book club discussion came to mind.  When you dislike the protagonist, is it a good book or not?  Ben is not a likable guy.  His marriage and his family have collapsed, he's broke, has a drinking problem, refuses to sign the divorce papers his wife keeps trying to serve him, and the list goes on.  Here's the spoiler alert.  I might have been more sympathetic to Ben, if I had been told why his life was in such a state of disarray sometime before I had read 75% of the book.

Mr. Evison is the master of creating tension.  There were so many great scenes in the book that could keep a reader on the edge of her seat.  But I just couldn't warm up to a guy for no reason at all.  The author kept me on the hook for far too long until Ben's disagreeable personality became ingrained in my mind and I couldn't change it.  It turned out Ben had a pretty good reason for being the way he was, but for me, I remain stuck in between good and not so good.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

I felt it was time for me to do a little self reflection.  Recovering from a hip replacement forced me to face the fact that I'm getting older.  My ability to write a decent story seemed to have dissipated into thin air, and then both of the granddaughters dropped out of high school.  I needed some words of wisdom to get me back on track.

The author starts by reminding us that we have chosen to believe what we are programmed to believe. We are a product of of our environment and to shift our core beliefs is extremely difficult. He lays out The Four Agreements as the steps we need to take to effect real peace in our lives.

The Four Agreements are simple. Be impeccable with your words.  Say only what you mean and speak with integrity.  Our lives today are busy and hectic.  Gossip and negativity can roll easily off our tongues, spreading evil instead of the goodness we crave.

Don't take anything personally.  Others project their own version of reality and you don't need to be their victim.

Don't make assumptions.  I still remember Felix Unger on The Odd Couple when in a courtroom, he delivered his famous speech, "When you assume, you make an ass of you and me."  So true, so don't do it.

Be the best that you can be.  Everyday I now wake up each morning and say these four agreements out loud.  It's my own little pep talk that gets me ready to start the new day, fresh and with peace in my heart.  All those things that tried to derail me, are no longer worth all the negative energy I wanted to give them.  The wisdom of The Four Agreements will open your mind to a better life and a more peaceful world.  Share it with those you love.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Girl's Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber

A Girl's Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber

As you can see by the titles I review for this blog, I read many different genres by many different authors. It's part of my study of the craft of writing.  Knowing that Debbie Macomber is a best selling author, I snapped up a free advance reading copy of her latest, A Girl's Guide to Moving On.

Leanne has suffered through 35 years of marriage to a man who didn't love her and constantly cheated on her.  Her indifference in order to live the country club lifestyle, passed down the behavior to her son, Jake.  When Jake's wife, Nichole calls it quits after 5 years of marriage, Leanne also decides to file for divorce.  The women move into apartments across the hall from one another and try to live by the new rules set down in their guide to moving on.

I typically like to read stories with more depth.  I liked the characters of Leanne and Nichole and I detested their no good ex-husbands.  But the constant repetition of the backstory such as how long they'd been married, how big the houses were they had lived in, the parade of other women, got tiring.  And the transformations of the character of the men involved in the story was far too abrupt for my taste.  Jake went from bad guy to really nice guy in the blink of an eye.

To some readers, I may find that I'm not too popular with this review of Debbie Macomber's work.  She has a very large and loyal following.  I'm just not a fan of the way she tells a story.  It's not my cup of tea.  I have to admit however, I sprouted a little tear in my eye while reading the epilogue and the very happy ending.  So my quest for knowledge about how to write a novel is better off for reading The Girl's Guide to Moving On and that's what I was looking to do from the start.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

I've read other novels by Joshilyn Jackson.  They are always smart, sassy and southern.  Someone Else's Love Story is no different.

Shandi Pierce is madly in love.  In love with her 3 year old son, Natty, whose birth she insists is a miracle.  Shandi believes she's a virgin and hangs on to that belief until the day she and Natty are held hostage at gunpoint in a Circle K.  The actions of another hostage, the hunky William, set her down a path of discovery.  Although she may never want to share Natty, Shandi now wants to find his father and stand up for her rights as a mother.

Right there is where the story got weird for me.  A virgin birth?  I completely understand the dynamics of a college fraternity party fraught with drugs and alcohol.  And that Shandi can't remember what happened that night is totally believable.  I can even accept that she doesn't know who Natty's father is, but the virgin part...  That belongs in the Bible and Shandi was no saint.

So right there I was turned off about the story.  That doesn't mean it wasn't a fun read with a lot of laugh out loud moments.  Ms. Jackson certainly doesn't disappoint with her snappy style of writing. I just simply couldn't get my head the whole premise of the story.  This book was not only, Someone Else's Love Story, for me, it was someone else's story to love.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Every now and then a book comes along that touches me like no other.  Something about The Light Between Oceans made me feel as if I'd lived it before, in the far reaches of Australia, on an isolated island, tending a lighthouse. Everything about this story seemed familiar to me.

I understood these characters. Tom Sherbourne is a war hero, driven to always do what's right and his wife, Isabel, who is young, energetic and believes love will carry her through what is a secluded and lonely way of life.  Tom is content tending the light, while Isabel longs for the children that will fill the void.

When the cries of baby pierce the usual quiet of the island, Janus, the Sherbournes come running.  In a small boat that's washed ashore they find a dead man and a screaming baby.  Having recently buried a stillborn, Isabel is determined to keep the baby as her own.  Tom wants to follow the rules but in a moment of weakness, eventually gives in to his wife's wishes.

The Light Between Oceans is a beautifully crafted story.  The words glide easily over the page as if rolling over the waves of the ocean. The joy, the pain, the heartbreak are vivid and real. And I lived my emotions all over again on these pages.  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

I picked up this book at the annual library sale, all the books you can stuff in a bag for $5.  I read The Space Between Us years ago and loved it, so another novel by Ms. Umrigar caught my eye.

Reading the first page, I thought what did I get myself into.  It's written in halting English, the speech of Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant now living in New York.  At first I found it very difficult to read and couldn't quite wrap my head around what was happening to her.  In the next chapter, the voice switches to Maggie, the psychologist who has been called on to treat Lakshmi.  Their two very different worlds collide and suddenly the story becomes magic.

Both of these women are carrying deep and dark secrets.  Maggie struggles to maintain a professional relationship with Lakshmi but Lakshmi, in her simple ways gets into Maggie's heart.  In return Maggie helps Lakshmi become the independent woman she always longed to be.  But no good deed goes unpunished.

The Story Hour is beautifully written.  It shows the reader the differences in cultures and the battle that still exists for women regardless of where they have come from.  I wanted this story to go on, but Ms. Umrigar's use of her craft left me wanting more.  She is a wonderful writer and I hope I find some more of her works at the next library sale.  Maybe I won't be able to wait that long.  My Kindle is waiting.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...