Tag Archives: divorce

The Days When Birds Come Back by Deborah Reed

Instant attraction! An overwhelming emotion which keeps cluttering the mind with questions such as “what should I say”, “should I do this”, “will I see them today”, “did I make a fool of myself”, etc. This unrequited obsession goes on and on, even if the other person is oblivious to the emotions they provoke, even if the words are never spoken or feelings ever revealed. Yet, there is a palpable connection which the reader can feel without any graphic sexual content. It’s the unspoken romance which keeps us engaged.

That’s how it us between June and Jameson in The Days When Birds Come Back by Deborah Reed, two lost souls whose past hurts have overwhelmed their lives, destroying relationships and making day to day interactions almost intolerable. Two souls caught up in the solace found in nature who are finally able to reveal their innermost traumas to each other without fear of judgement, because of a basic understanding of having been there in one form or another.

A romance of a simple touch or smile, or even a post card – but it’s enough.

June who formerly found relief at the bottom of a bottle turns to her “seven comforts, none of which were a drink”. Finding herself back home in rural Oregon by the coast where it all started, she needs someone to renovate her grandparents next door cottage so she can sell it. Enter Jameson (same as the whiskey) who is also returning to the “scene of the crime”, but he finds peace in this home where he now lives while he works, appreciating the ambience of the surrounding wildlife. June, just an eyesight away, keeps her distance, yet there is a nonverbal communication even before they find their commonality. In spite of their new found affinity, Jameson has a wife, Sarah Anne, waiting for him seven hours away back home with their new foster son. June’s ex is in Australia, sent away while she was in a drunken rage. And so the summer goes, from June to September as the house takes shape and it’s time to move on.

Told through introspections interspersed with dialogue we discover the secrets haunting the two thirty five year olds who have somehow found a way to share the formerly closeted details of their damaged lives. There’s no telling here, just a gentle leaning towards the truth. Not for those who like a narrative to explain what’s happening, in this one the reader must glean the facts and come to their own conclusions.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

And one more thing, I’ve included a poem by Emily Dickinson with a similar title for your perusal. If you think the two are related, fine, if not, enjoy anyway:

These are the Days When Birds Come Back
By Emily Dickinson

These are the days when Birds come back—
A very few—a Bird or two—
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies resume
The old—old sophestries of June—
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee—
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear—
And softly thro’ the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.

Oh Sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion in the Haze—
Permit a child to join.

Thy sacred emblems to partake—
They consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!

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Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

This was a difficult book to read. Not because Every Note Played was poorly written, but because Lisa Genova has done such a masterful job of portraying the anguish brought about by the debilitating Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis also know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

While ALS would devastate anyone of the population unfortunate enough to contract this fatal illness, how much worse for a world renowned concert pianist to watch his distinguished acclaim shattered as the muscles in his limp arms and hands are no longer able to respond to even simple commands, leaving the keys on his Steinway Grand gathering dust.

Richard’s career always took precedence over both his wife and daughter. Karina, also a gifted pianist, resented her assigned status as a second class talent when their move to Boston wiped out her plans to play jazz in New York City. After Grace came along, Karina found herself a stay-at-home mom, raising a daughter while giving a bunch of talentless kids piano lessons. As Richard’s reputation soared, resentment blossomed in his wife, inflamed by her husband’s gadding about, leaving his family to fend for themselves as he pursued his own passions – both on the stage and in his mistresses’ beds. Divorce was inevitable.

Left there this would just be another tale of two college students with common interests who fall in love, marry and start a family, torn apart by diverging, incompatible life goals leading to a bitter divorce. Yet what happens when a disease such as ALS knocks at ones door mummifying the body while keeping cognition intact? Denial is the first reaction as Richard refuses to ask for help and Karina fails to recognize the seriousness of the situation until it is almost too late. However, despite their differences, Karina finds herself the caretaker for a man she has hated most of her adult life. Richard, at the mercy of the woman he has hurt, doesn’t know how to ask for forgiveness, but has no where else to turn as his physical and financial assets dwindle. Genova, adept at exposing the underside of various crippling diseases through her novels, takes us through the process, step by step, watching the couple try to find peace in a situation which becomes increasingly grave.

Not for the squeamish, since the author does not sugar coat any of the details, often getting down and dirty as she describes the effects on both victims – the man with the disease and the caretaker. The reader who finishes this book does not leave unscathed.

Since Every Note Played was written two events have occurred – the death of 72 year old Stephen Hocking who chose to miraculously extend his life by using a ventilator and the approval by the FDA of a new drug Radicava, which in trials has slowed the decline of physical ailments by up to 33 percent. Like everything else connected with ALS, the cost of survival is beyond the means of most and it is unclear whether insurance companies will cover the monthly $1000 infusions. Still, a positive step forward for this catastrophic disorder which destroys indiscriminately.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

You know, there are other cities in the world besides New York?” Not if you’re a Manhattanite! Meet sex and the city without the sex, just a bunch of upscale families who live in a set of Brownstones on a one way/dead end block on the Upper West Side of “The City”. Not filthy rich, but definitely comfortable with the ability to afford a private school education and hire servants to care for the kids, cook the meals, and keep the house in good repair. An in-kind neighborhood where everyone meets up while walking their dog, using their free time to gossip over coffee and plan their lives so as not to miss the biyearly “hospitable” get-togethers – the Memorial Day BBQ and the January “Holiday” Party. Once you’re invited you know you have been accepted as one of the clique.

In Alternate Side, author Anna Quindlen brings us into the fold, placing us in a location where we can watch events unfurl. We see the world through the eyes of Nora Nolan, eyes that she often feels like rolling, such as when her husband Charlie is finally granted a coveted spot (and not a very good one at that) in the mini community parking lot – invitation only. No more playing the Alternate Side Game twice a week where you have to get up at the crack of dawn and move your car to the other side of the street to avoid getting a ticket. A sport that city dwellers, at least those with cars, are forced to play, since there’s no arguing once the meter maid puts pen tip to paper so as to fill the city’s coffers with fine money. Fortuitously, the nearby parking lot eases the pressure and makes Charlie feel like he belongs at a time when he isn’t quite certain this is the place he wants to be. Nora doesn’t need this affirmation, she knows she’s a New Yorker through and through, even though her childhood home was in Connecticut. She considers the greatest gift that she has given her twins is the ability to say they were born in Manhattan. Everything is going great, there’s still passion in her marriage, her son and daughter are set to graduate from college, her friendships are solid, and she has a fulfilling job managing the growing niche Museum of Jewelry. Then her sense of sublimeness is marred by an incident which seems to change the dynamics of the neighborhood and Nora finds herself reexamining the direction of her life as she tries to maintain an equilibrium that is threatening to fall apart despite her best efforts to keep an even keel.

If you are looking for action and intrigue, this is not the book for you. This is a simple story of the ebb and flow of life as one individual tries to navigate the course without losing her integrity. Nora is the woman we all want to be – living a life she loves in the city she loves doing what she loves to do. She’s privileged, yet recognizes she needs to be more inclusive. She’s kind, yet acknowledges the unavoidable drawbacks of her chosen lifestyle. She’s discerning, yet accepting of her ultimate fate. The men in this novel are not shown to advantage, although to be fair, I’m not sure the women are either.

The downside to the novel is keeping track of all of Nora’s friends and acquaintances which gets challengingly confusing at times. Perhaps a handy who’s who guide at the beginning or end of the book would help the reader figure things out. I’m also not sure if readers who don’t have a New York connection will appreciate the sentiment surrounding an urban subsistence or understand the intensity of Nora’s feelings towards a way of life that must seem artificial and exclusive. This could detract from the anticipated audience, but I, for one, who was born in Brooklyn, really relate to this book (even though I now live in a suburb of Buffalo). I get the close family feeling of the neighborhood and I also understand it doesn’t last forever, that various regions in New York City grow and change over a relatively short period of time. Peoples lives are also fluid, not static, forcing new adventures even on reluctant participants. Most of all, I get the Alternate Parking, since in my childhood the family car was parked in a lot about a mile away from our apartment, forcing us to make a deliberate decision to drive rather than walk/take the subway/catch a bus. My dad didn’t play the Parking Game, but I knew other parents who did and I didn’t envy them their crack of dawn dart out the door to maneuver a vehicle which was just going to sit there positioned in the same spot until the next “moving” day. I sometimes think about those metropolitan dwellers when I pull into my own driveway just steps from the front door. Yet, many are willing to put up with the inconvenience in exchange for the ambiance of life in “The City”.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is not your typical self help book. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert does discuss deep philosophical questions about life and the choices we make, but her main focus is herself. It’s HER spiritual quest and if the reader finds comfort or develops a similar reality base, well good for them, but that is not her purpose for this saga. Trying to deal with a difficult divorce and the end of a torrid relationship, Gilbert finds herself on a one year journey divided between Italy (where she eats her way through the country while learning the language), India (finding some answers while exploring her spirituality at her Guru’s Ashram) and Bali, Indonesia (where she splits her day visiting a medicine man, a healer, and her lover since, despite her vow of chastity, she is having an affair with an older man from Brazil).

Gilbert is a beautiful, intelligent, witty, well traveled woman with an eye-opening way of expressing herself. I listened to the audiotape read by the author which is well enunciated and extremely literate, perfectly capturing the essence of her words.

This is one of those books I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t read when it was first published. To make matters worse, I didn’t see the movie either, although I hope to remedy that situation soon. However, the one advantage of coming late to the table with this one, is the irresistible tidbits of information which have recently been disclosed to the public.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a woman who has led a fascinating life and continues to astound us with her choices. She was a bartender during her youth at a bar in the East Village of NYC (revealed in an article entitled The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon, Gentleman Quarterly, 1997), and the movie Coyote Ugly (2000) is based on those experiences where she met her first husband. Divorced after almost nine years of marriage, Gilbert took a sabbatical from life to figure things out (on her publishers dime of $200,000) which resulted in Eat, Pray, Love (2006). She ended up marrying her fellow world traveler in 2007 (after he was detained and threatened with deportment), despite his multi-country connection – children in Australia, family in his native Brazil, a gem business in Bali, and then her, a wife in New Jersey, where they jointly owned an East Asian Decorative Import Store (Two Buttons) which was sold in 2015. In between Gilbert has written a best selling fiction book, The Signature of All Things (2013) which I have read (but not yet reviewed) plus in 2015 published another “self help” tome, Big Magic, whose audio was sent for me to review although it is still waiting unopened in its box. In addition, Gilbert wrote another memoir in 2010, Committed, which examines her life and marriage after Bali. A 2015 article for the New York Times, Confessions of a Seduction Addict, scrutinizes her obsession with flirtation and the results of the lustful urges which destroyed her marriage. However, the juiciest bit of gossip is the fact that she has recently divorced husband number two to be with the love of her life, her hairdresser and girl friend Rayya Elias, (remember Liz’s unmanageable mane) who was mentioned several times in Eat, Pray, Love. She has shared with the public that Rayya has terminal cancer and Gilbert wants to be there to provide love and support, which included a recent Ceremony of Love, although not a formal marriage.

Let’s just say that Elizabeth Gilbert has been living her life between the pages of her memoirs and needs some time to catch up with herself.

My immediate response to Elizabeth Gilbert after reading her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, is for her to relax and use that innate sense of humor to lighten up. The search for truth and the meaning of life is overrated, so just sit back, enjoy, and stop fussing. With all the pray and meditation, one would think she’d have had her problems put back in their place, but no – her regrets constantly reared their ugly heads. Move on and don’t look back or at the very least, let it catch up with you instead of looking for trouble since no matter how hard you try to hide from it, it will always find you. As far as any guilt for not wanting children, I think Gilbert made the right decision. Some women aren’t meant to be mothers and her career path and egocentricity (and I mean that in a nice way) would interfere with a fulfilling family life. Better to focus on being the favorite aunt and spoil those nieces.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a delicious way of looking at life and is the master of a well turned phrase making anything she writes a pleasure to read (or listen to on tape). While some might think this book is boring since, plot wise, not much happens, her pilgrimage along with the fascinating people she meets along the way more than make up for the lack of action. I especially loved the irascible Texan Richard (real name) who is full of droll advice and nicknamed Liz “groceries” to boot. For those readers who consider Gilbert a narcissist, well, if I had two popular movies based on my life released before I was forty years old and got to travel the world hobnobbing with all sorts of intriguing individuals while also making a bundle of dollars, I’d also be a little full of myself. (It’s not as if anyone pays me for what I write here on my blog).

Four stars. This review also appears on Goodreads.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

We all know there are self centered, egotistical, SOB’s out there in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we want to spend time with them, even if it is only amongst the pages of a book.

Seems that’s one of the problems of At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen. Ellis Hyde and his pal Hank are privileged, silver-spoons-in-their-mouths, sons of wealthy gentlemen who spend their time in frivolous pursuits, going to parties, drinking too much, and cavalcading throughout high society, annoying the patrons and getting into trouble. The two best friends have a cohort, Madeline, a woman who enjoys their company and madcap adventures. Despite her wealthy father, Maddie has a black mark against her due to the antics of her now deceased mother, so that when she marries Ellis her welcome is anything but friendly. Then on New Years Eve in 1944, the trio are especially obnoxious, and Ellis’ parents are, shall we say, not amused with the resulting gossip, so when Ellis insults his father they are ejected from the family estate and left to fend for themselves.

Ellis, whose father (the Colonel) can’t forgive him for being rejected from the military due to a case of color blindness, decides to go to Scotland and find the Loch Ness Monster, an adventure that tainted his father’s reputation several years earlier. If Ellis could just prove the monster exists, then his now proud papa would welcome him back with open arms and reinstate his allowance.

Unfortunately there is a war going on, so they must travel overseas bunked down like commoners in a military convoy and to make matters worse, once they arrive in Scotland their welcome is less than cordial. The search for the monster is a lot more difficult than expected, and the two friend’s behavior gets more and more outrageous fueled by alcohol and the little pills prescribed to Maddie for her “nervous condition”. Maddie soon distances herself from her husband and Hank, finding more in common with the humble folks who live and work at the inn. The true personalities of each of the characters are revealed as they deal with their struggles and Maddie comes to terms with her choices in life making a decision which totally alters the fate of everyone involved leading to a twisted resolution.

While the story takes place towards the end of WWII, the war is more of a backdrop than an integral part of the story although there are black out curtains, ration books, gas masks, and several air raids. Scotland, complete with castle, is the main focus of the narrative as the inhabitants try to eke out a living in difficult times.

This was a hard book to get into, not grabbing ones’ interest until almost half way through, probably because of the despicable characters. I did borrow the audiobook, dramatically read by Justine Eyre, to get me over the hump, then finished with the written word.

I’m not sure if I buy this tale, it’s a little far fetched and I question the shift in Ellis from a spoiled brat into an evil man. Although I usually look for the good in people (in life as well as in literature), by the end of the book he had no redeeming qualities left to discuss. There was also a romance which seemed to come out of nowhere, even though there were some subtle hints of this possibility along the way.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

26 Kisses by Anna Michels

Cute, cute, cute!

Mark breaks up with Veda Bentley on his graduation day. They’ve been together for almost two years and she is devastated, although he’s off to college and she’s got another year left of high school. She quits her job at the movie theatre where she and Mark worked together and mopes around in her room for long enough to cause concern to her two best friends, Melinda and Seth. On the busy Fourth of July, Vee helps out Mel at her father’s boat rental shop on Lake Michigan. Their hometown, the Michigan Dunes, is a resort destination which becomes a busy tourist trap during the summer months. Suddenly Vee finds herself with a new job at Flaherty’s Float and Boat working alongside an agreeable coworker, Killian, who shares a common interest in the debate team, although he attends a nearby rival high school. Yet Vee isn’t ready for a new relationship, so she maintains her distance, especially since Mel has talked her into a Kissing Challenge, as a distraction from the Mark fiasco, which involves “collecting” kisses from individuals whose names start with each letter of the alphabet including a fellow student named Adam, a dog called Elmo, and Zane, an underclassman from the debate team. Vee suddenly finds herself appreciating the “singles” lifestyle even though Killian would plainly like to take their friendship to the next level. Of course, the road is not a smooth one, with friend and family issues as well as uncomfortable rumors which might affect Vee’s reputation, but all’s well that ends well with a lighthearted culmination to finish out the summer (as well as complete the alphabet) which is sure to satisfy the reader.

26 Kisses by Anna Michels is a fun and diverting story perfect for any age, from the preteen up to their grandmother, with no overt sex beyond a few kissing scenes, but just enough romance to cause an “ahhhhh” and satisfy the heart. My main complaint (as a parent) was that there was quite a bit of underage drinking. While this is definitely not “The Great American Novel”, it is a perfect YA summer read. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.