REVIEW: THE SPECTACULAR NOW, BY TIM THARP

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Sutter Keely is all about the Life of the Buzz. From early morning until late at night, he works on keeping that buzz going.

Each of his girlfriends tire of him, he blows off academic life, and has no plans for the future. His philosophy: “To hell with tomorrow. To hell with all problems and barriers. Nothing matters but the Spectacular Now.”

Then one night, after hours of partying, he wakes up on someone’s lawn to find a girl staring down at him. It is Aimee Finecky, the nerdy girl he has never really noticed before. But there is something about her that calls to him. He feels a need to help her, to “fix” her, to show her how to have a good time.

But what happens when Aimee falls for him? Even worse, what about how he is suddenly needing her in his life? How will that work? And how will Sutter’s journey to find his absent father, ending up on a road trip with Aimee to Fort Worth, Texas, change the direction of his life?

Narrated in Sutter’s first person POV, The Spectacular Now shows us his internal world, something most people don’t notice about him. He is more than a party animal. Unlike the ordinary life most people are living in his Oklahoma City neighborhood, he has a mission. He is not looking to the future; he is determined to embrace the moment. To feel everything there is to feel…or to follow the Life of the Buzz past the middle and on.

I came to feel sorry for Sutter, and his quest for the constant buzz. I felt sad for him as he fell for Aimee; and then, even more so, when he made a decision that would change everything. The story is not so much a coming-of-age tale as it is a young man’s determination to have a different kind of life than his parents or even his friends. He is trying to carve out his own destiny. 4 stars.

AUTUMN LEAVES: NOSTALGIC MOMENTS

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On a somewhat cooler Friday morning, I sit in my temporary office in the dining area…and gaze out the open patio door at the image (above), which reminds me that autumn is on the way.  Just a few leaves on the table, but that’s all I need to sweep me back to all the autumns of the past, moments I’ve loved.

First of all, I love the colorful leaves juxtaposed against rough surfaces, like these:

 

 

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Some of my sensory moments from the past exist no more, as they include the scent of smoke from fireplaces…not something we like to think about when we are surrounded by fires….Our drought, the heat, all the elements that conspire to bring frightening conflagration during the summer and fall.

 

 

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My first published novel was set in California’s Central Valley, published in the fall of 2006….and it contained a lot of my “accidental moments” from the past:  An Accidental Life.

 

 

 

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Blurb:  Summertime is hot and dull in the Central Valley of California and four teenage girls from very different families are determined to spice it up. With a single-mindedness that foretells disaster, they push aside all the rules and explore the underbelly of valley life. Drugs, sex, alcohol, adventure, anything to challenge the norm, yet all experienced without the benefit of maturity. As the girls become increasingly uncontrollable, their mothers-from dramatically diverse social castes-are forced to work together to save their daughters. Like a tornado moving across the landscape, lives are wrenched from their foundations. Page after page, and over a period of two years, the author introduces characters who struggle to support and defeat the dreams of what began as four innocent girls desiring to taste the forbidden fruit. Laurel-Rain Snow’s An Accidental Life is a fascinating look into not only the lives of very diverse family systems, but the mechanism that drives a cross-section of an all-American community.

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When I think of autumn, I think of those accidental moments in life:  leaves, fire, combustible happenings fueled by drugs and youth….and my nostalgia ratchets up to its fullest.

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Today I am thinking about family….and how my eldest son Craig and his lovely wife Gabi are now on the coast, having spent the week driving down 101 and the Pacific Coast Hwy., enjoying the coolness, before heading this way again.

The house is spiffed up, as described in this post, Spiffing up My Interior World:  The Berliners Return.

I am on my laptop in my temporary office, below, enjoying the autumn breeze.  Already I can feel the heat, though, and will have to close the door and sigh.  Not quite autumn!

 

 

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I am reading All the Summer Girls, by Meg Donohue, clinging to the last gasp of summer.

 

 

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A rich and detailed novel about women, relationships, and forgiveness. 

Now I will move from my laptop to my cozy couch and read.  Enjoy your day!  What autumn moments are tugging at you?

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REVIEW: BEFORE THE STORM, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

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Laurel and Jamie fell in love serendipitously, almost as if the events that brought them together were fated. An accident between her car and his motorcycle, but with no injuries. But they both knew right away that they were destined to be together.

When Laurel got pregnant, they got married, and everything was perfect. Until after their daughter Maggie was born. Laurel’s depression and how she felt nothing for the baby might have started when she and the baby were separated shortly after the birth due to her hemorrhaging…but what continued afterwards could only have been an undiagnosed case of Postpartum Depression. Soon Laurel and Jamie were living separate lives, with Jamie and Maggie staying with their friends Steve and Sara.

Meanwhile, Laurel slept and drank a lot, and turned for comfort from Jamie’s brother Marcus, who lived next door. What was set in motion soon escalated, and then an unexpected pregnancy catapulted them all into a storm of emotions, secrets, and lies.

Before the Storm was set on Topsail Island in North Carolina, and the Lockwood family, to which Jamie and Marcus belonged, was wealthy and privileged, but their family dynamics left much to be desired. Jamie was the “perfect” son and Marcus, the bad boy.

What subsequent events would forever change the landscape of their lives? How did Laurel’s drinking during her pregnancy result in her son Andy’s disabilities? And how would those very problems turn into tragedy during one summer when he was just fifteen years old? A church fire, pointed fingers, and a series of misunderstandings would lead to more complications. Would the truth ever come out?

Multiple narrators told the story: Laurel, Marcus, Maggie, and Andy, and each character’s voice was distinctive. The story flashed back to the past and then forward to the present; the mystery of what happened during that summer night would keep this reader guessing until almost the end…and then the reveal would be stunning. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT, BY JUDY BLUME

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The opening lines of In the Unlikely Event take place in 1987, with an unnamed character experiencing great anxiety as she ponders whether or not to board a flight to Newark, NJ. She is suffering the angst of belonging to a very special secret club of members joined by a tragic winter long ago.

Flash back to December 1951, to a small New Jersey town called Elizabeth. Christmas lights are out and there is gaiety in the air. It won’t be long, though, before everything changes for the residents of this picturesque town.

The first plane crash comes only days later, with everyone aboard dead. It landed in a riverbed, so the damage below was negligible.

The residents of the town haven’t even recovered when, in January 1952, the second crash occurs. And a month later, another one.

Henry Ammerman is a journalist covering the story for the local newspaper, and he finds a measure of fame through his provocative columns, as he probes the questions that plague them all. What is happening? Are the crashes coincidental, or is there some kind of sabotage behind them? Some blame “the Communists,” while the teenagers mention aliens.

As the story unfolds, we meet numerous characters, some seemingly random and their presence in the tale becomes readily apparent, as they connect in some way to the plane crashes. Like Ruby Granik, a young dancer and a victim; or Kathy Stein, who has been dating Steve Osner, a resident of Elizabeth, also dead in one of the crashes.

Miri Ammerman, the daughter of single mom Rusty and niece of Henry, is fifteen, and her life is shaken by these happenings, just as the life of her best friend Natalie Osner takes a strange turn. Has Natalie been “taken over” by the deceased spirit of one of the victims?

Even as I loved certain aspects of this novel, the numerous characters, most mentioned only once or twice, were confusing and distracting. I would have loved to dig more deeply into the lives of the primary characters, like what has Rusty been feeling all these years, raising Miri alone, with no help from the father? And when he does appear, why is she so reluctant to let him help? How do the core characters deal with the aftermath of these events?

Then, almost abruptly, we flash forward to 1987, with Miri returning to Elizabeth for a memorial of that strange year. And in a quick summarizing of events, we are caught up on what has transpired in the lives of those residents, another reminder of how much I would have enjoyed the story with more depth and a focus on the core characters. An engaging novel, however. 4 stars.

REVIEW: IT’S YOU, BY JANE PORTER

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Grief has followed Alison (Ali) McAdams around in the more than one year following the death of her fiancé, Dr. Andrew Morris. She stays busy working in the dental practice she shares with Andrew’s father, the same practice that now has a hole in it where Andrew once worked.

She believes she is moving along okay, despite the rage she still feels as she goes over the details of Andrew’s death: his suicide. It came out of nowhere, of course, and that is the hardest part for her. How did she miss the signs? Were there any signs?

On this particular day, however, her anger is further aroused by a stupid, hateful note left on her car: Learn to park: Asshole.

Was the note the impetus she needed to take a break from it all? Perhaps. Or could it have been her dad’s fractured wrist? Whatever the motivation, Ali is soon arranging for a flight to Oakland, and then a shuttle to Napa, where her father now lives. In a senior citizen home, in the independent living section. She’ll be taking a break from Scottsdale, AZ, and the life she lived there with Andrew.

In the days she spends in Napa, she meets several of her father’s cronies in the home, including a ninety-four-year-old woman named Edie. There is something compelling about Edie, but she is also crotchety, feisty, and a bit abrasive. Still, Ali can’t resist the connection she begins to feel for the elderly woman, especially after Edie shares some of her stories from the war years in Germany. There were secrets and betrayals…and the sadness and loss could have defined her. Instead, Edie seems more engaged in life than some younger people. And then there are the two handsome grand-nephews of Edie’s: Craig and Chad Hallahan.

It’s You is alternately narrated in the first person voices of Ali and Edie. Edie’s perspective is interesting, in that we also read portions of diaries she kept during the 1930s and 40s in Germany. She first went to Germany to study music, but over time, became entrenched in her life there. We learn about her lost love, Franz.

Why does Ali impulsively decide to fly to Germany, after reading Edie’s diaries? What does she hope to learn there? Can this be a journey of healing? Of starting over?

I enjoyed the characters and the brief appearance of Meg, Kit, and Brianna Brennan, from the Brennan Sisters novels. I kept rooting for a romance for Ali, but it probably made more sense for her to very slowly begin again. The ending was lovely…although it was a bit rushed, after the slow build of the rest of the story. Definitely a 4 star read.

ENJOYING LIFE’S UNEXPECTED TREASURES: FAMILY VISIT

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Earlier I wrote about how having house guests led to a few shake-ups in my interior world.

Yes, I did some reshuffling to make my guest room/office more comfortable for my son and DIL, who will be staying here on and off for a while.  First I removed that “jutting out” bookcase from the room, along with those books.

 

 

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Then I created my temporary work station, as seen at the top of this post.  And here’s another view of that work station:

 

 

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And back in the office/guest room, here is the changed space (below).

 

 

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And another view:

 

 

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And while all this rearranging is going on, we are having get-togethers, like Margarita Night, which I posted about in my Weekly Updates

 

 

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And some other fun-filled days, beginning with the first night’s dinner at Heather’s:  corned beef and cabbage.

 

 

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Here’s Gabi, enjoying the bear outside a pub in Shaver Lake, a mountain community above us.

 

 

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This week, Craig and Gabi will be at Heather’s house, although I’ll be joining them for dinners, etc.

Back at home, I am reading and bingeing on Netflix...just like I did before.  As if nothing has changed.  But knowing that more adventures lie ahead.

***

PASSING THE TORCH: SAYING GOODBYE TO “SPARKY”

Remember Sparky?  Here I am, above, reading from its beautiful pages.  My daughter gifted me with this lovely device in 2010, at Christmas.  She was gently trying to tell me that my books were taking over my life, and if I wanted them to be less visible, I should start buying e-books.

I wasn’t so sure about it, but once I got the knack of reading from it, and after I named the device, I was in.

But as all things must come to an end, I knew I needed to upgrade.  So Pippa came into my life.

 

 

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But what about Sparky?  Well, long story short:  my youngest grandson, Noah, aged 12, who loves accompanying me to bookstores, asked if he could have it.  Of course!  How appropriate to pass the torch to him, especially since his mother gave me Sparky in the first place.

I was new to how all this works.  First I had to deregister it, and I thought that would be it.  But no, there is more to it.  My books were still showing.  Then I realized that I needed to return to the “factory default setting,” and voila!  Books gone.

Now he can begin his own collection.

 

 

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Yes, it is only fitting that this kid who loves books…and devices, would be the perfect recipient for Sparky.  Live on, Sparky!  Have fun, Noah!

***

REVIEW: A WEEK AT THE LAKE, BY WENDY WAX

 

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Friendships that go on for years can sustain a person, and when there is a break in the regular get-togethers and an absence of contact, feelings are hurt. People feel abandoned.

Emma Michaels grew up among Hollywood royalty, and was a child actor. She famously divorced her parents at a young age and lived with her grandmother. The cottage at the lake was a special gathering place for Emma’s friends, the ones she bonded with in their Manhattan days: Mackenzie Hayes and Serena Stockton.

Now, after a five-year absence, Emma has invited her old friends to the lake house for a week in the summer.

But when they arrive in Manhattan, before heading up to the Adirondacks cottage, they are stunned by the news that Emma is in the hospital, after sustaining major injuries. Her daughter Zoe, almost sixteen, is waiting for them at Mt. Sinai.

While Emma is in her coma, we see flashbacks of the friends over the years, learning about what kept them together…and pondering what might have separated them.

Mackenzie is going through her own angst, as her husband Adam is in LA, meeting with production companies about his screenplay. For the past twenty years, they have been living in Indiana, running a small theater. Mackenzie writes a popular blog.

Meanwhile, Serena, an actor, portrays a cartoon character, and she has received a lot of attention and some fame. But the loss of her long-ago love, Brooks Anderson, has left her bereft and making poor choices.

Why did Emma call her friends together? What does she have in mind? Explanations, or is there a deep, dark secret that will change everything between them?

Finally they are all at the lake, and as Emma heals, with the moments and days ticking away like a time bomb, we learn bits and pieces. I guessed the secret long before it was revealed. And it was a doozy. Despite that fact, I enjoyed seeing how the ramifications would all play out.

Will the friendships survive? Will Mac’s marriage go on after the decisions Adam made in LA? And what will Serena do when an unexpected brush with the past puts her in another quandary? A Week at the Lake was another novel from a favorite author that I enjoyed all the way to the end. 5 stars.

REVIEW: THE THIRD WIFE, BY LISA JEWELL

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Our story begins in Islington, England, in April 2011, when a young woman named Maya, in a state of inebriation and possible confusion, steps in front of a bus and is killed.

Adrian Wolfe was her husband, but she was his third wife. Like a serial adulterer or serial monogamist, he had the ability to move on whenever he felt as though the bloom had faded from his love life. Never mind that he had a total of five children: Luke and Cat with his first wife, Susie, and Otis, Pearl, and Beau with his second wife Caroline.

Now with Maya’s death on his conscience, we see Adrian wallowing in his grief and asking the unanswerable questions. Did Maya purposely step in front of the bus, or did some action by others drive her to it? When Adrian finds out about a series of vicious e-mails that someone had been sending to Maya, addressed to “Dear Bitch,” he wants to learn more.

When a mysterious woman who calls herself Jane appears in his life, on the pretext of adopting Maya’s cat, he wonders if there is a connection somehow.

A sweeping tale about learning to live with the consequences of one’s own actions, and also figuring out how to reinvent one’s own life in light of this learning, The Third Wife has multiple narrators and time periods that flow back and forth, from 2010 to the present. As the story unfolds, we learn more about each of the characters and begin to understand more about Maya’s actions, her thoughts, and what was going on with her at the end. We also see Adrian coming to terms with his own behavior and how he reframes his choices in order to make them fit with the fairytale narrative he has written for himself. A 5 star read for me, it will appeal to those who enjoy stories about family and relationships.

REVIEW: SECOND LIFE, BY S. J. WATSON

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When Julia Plummer attends an exhibit that will include a photograph she did years before, in Berlin, she is anxious. Her mind traipses back to that time and to the darkness that followed.

Memories of the past are still with her when she goes home to discover police cars. Fearful, she rushes in, worried about Connor, fourteen, her younger sister Kate’s son that she has been raising since infancy, but instead, she learns that Kate has been murdered in Paris. Julia’s husband Hugh, a surgeon, is there for her, just as he was in the dark days following what happened to her in Berlin. But nothing seems to alleviate the darkness that descends in the aftermath of Kate’s murder, and she becomes obsessed with finding out who killed her sister.

As she connects to Kate’s housemate Anna, she learns about her sister’s risky behavior. How she met up with online connections, and how they might have led to her murder.

Thinking she can learn more about Kate’s other life, Julia sets up her own profile, pretending to be someone else, hoping to find out more about her sister’s death.

How does Julia’s foray into the world of Internet sex fantasies become a kind of addiction? Why can’t she stop, once she starts? Why does she relent and start meeting one of the men? And how will one particular connection she makes turn into something malevolent and unexpected? Something that could ruin her family and expose them all to danger?

Secrets, betrayals, and a darkness from the hidden past will keep coming at her, as she races to save her son from certain danger.

The story is brought to us in the first person present tense voice of Julia, granting an immediacy to the action, as well as a glimpse of her thought processes throughout. The writing was engaging, but it was hard to root for Julia when she kept ignoring all the danger signs. Her foolish choices made me want to shout at her, warning her of how nothing good could come of this. Even Hugh was hard to like, as he seemed detached and not very forthcoming with information, especially since some of what he knew could have prevented tragedy.

I wanted to love Second Life: A Novel, and I certainly couldn’t put it down. The suspense accelerated as the book progressed, but I also saw the danger ahead not too long after Julia connected with the man she met online. And while I didn’t predict or expect the odd twists at the end, I knew that I was not going to like what would inevitably happen. 4.0 stars.