REVIEW: LET’S JUST SAY IT WASN’T PRETTY, BY DIANE KEATON

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Diane Keaton is one of those stars we can relate to. She is funny, quirky (think Annie Hall), and down-to-earth with her stories of growing up in LA with down-to-earth parents. Her self-deprecatory conversational style kept me turning the pages. The writing style swept across time in a non-linear fashion.

Despite her somewhat ordinary beginnings, her life has been extraordinary, with her success in films, and her talent in photography. Interior design is another talent, and the homes she has bought, renovated, and sold are many.

In her older years, she adopted her daughter Dexter…and then her son Duke, so in her sixties, she has teenage children. I would call her brave.

Some of my favorite chapters in Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty were those dealing with aspirations for beauty, when everything she saw in the mirror felt flawed; and “bad hair days” when she bemoans the thinning hair that was always a challenge. I liked her attitude about being true to yourself, and not worrying about what others think. Her view on aging and reaching the end of our time felt practical, philosophical, and not morose.

I also loved how she is still great friends with many of her co-stars, like Jack Nicholson and Woody Allen. Al Pacino is one she describes as a love she aspired to marry, but didn’t.

Some of the scenes with her kids were also fun, showing the readers (and fans) that she, too, gets impatient and has to remind herself that she has many blessings.

A delightful read that covered a lot of territory in a few pages, I will save this one for a reread…of some of the sections, at least. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: MY LIFE, MY BODY, BY MARGE PIERCY

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In her series of essays, My Life, My Body, Marge Piercy delves into issues that are familiar to me, from reading her various fictional pieces.

She is also a poet, but I gravitate more to her novels. Like the protagonists in those various novels, Piercy writes about social issues like homelessness, living off the grid, feminism, gentrification, and aging.

Women’s issues predominate in her fictional work, as well as in this book. These issues resonate with me, and keep me buying her various books.

The first novel I read by this author was Small Changes, and I shared my thoughts about it in a book club I had joined. The book had a profound effect on my life. “Set against the early days of the modern feminist movement, SMALL CHANGES tells the story of sensual Miriam Berg, who trades her doctorate for marriage and security, but still hungers for a life of her own and shy, frightened Beth who is running from the life Miriam seeks and into a new world of different ideas and a different kind of love…..”

The ideas and philosophies that I have discovered in her fiction are touched on in this collection of essays, so this book will also join the novels on my bookshelves. Books I will keep even when I’m purging my shelves. Marge Piercy is a writer who seems to “speak to me.” 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THEY MAY NOT MEAN TO, BUT THEY DO, BY CATHLEEN SCHINE

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Joy and Aaron Bergman have been the matriarch and patriarch of the family for years. A family that includes son Daniel and daughter Molly, now grown and living their own lives.

Daniel is married to Coco and has two daughters, Ruby and Cora.

Molly married and divorced Doug Harkavy, and the two have a grown son, Ben. Molly now lives in California with her female partner, Freddie.

Like most families, there are issues. But the primary one at the beginning of They May Not Mean To, But They Do, is that Aaron is dying. But the process of dying is eating up the funds, which were already considerably depleted by Aaron, via gambling and risk-taking.

Joy is adamant that Aaron will not leave the family home. An assisted-living facility is something she has fought against, so home help is provided. The funds continue to dwindle.

The primary setting is Manhattan, where the family has lived over the years. They own a second home that Joy inherited, north of the city. Daniel and Molly try to get Joy to sell the house they’ve dubbed Upstate, a getaway named thus because of its geographical location. It is a place with no mortgage that could generate much-needed funds, but there is a dilemma. It is also a symbol of the past memories of good times as a family. A place to connect.

What happens when Joy is finally left a widow? Will she reclaim her life, or will she continue to struggle? Why does she feel dismissed and ignored by her children and grandchildren, even when they are all together? Why does she sense that they are eagerly awaiting her death, so they can sell the house Upstate and organize the financial mess of her life?

Alternating narratives show us the family in all of its chaos, with occasional sweet moments. I found myself disliking Daniel, who loves to control and organize things, and while I can relate to those feelings, I felt hurt for Joy, whose feelings were often overlooked. As if she has already gone. As if she is invisible.

The story moved slowly for me, mostly because the process of Aaron’s dying took up a large chunk of the book, a process that was depressing, but very real, too.

So…the meandering through the life moments felt necessary. There was also some humor, as Joy was a character that showed a self-deprecating quality. I loved observing her still making discoveries about herself at her age, despite her physical frailties. A reminder that we all must face our mortality at some point, and hopefully, our families will support us. In the end, would Joy’s family finally see her? 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE TWILIGHT HOUR, BY NICCI GERRARD

22852979In her twilight years, Eleanor Lee, age ninety-four, is preparing to close up the house where she has lived for many decades. A place where she lived throughout her marriage and while raising her children; a place that contains the memorabilia of a life, including its secrets.

She has hired young Peter Mistley, a man dealing with his own ghosts. He will help her sort through the papers, books, etc. And in the process, she can protect her children and grandchildren from what she has kept hidden for so long.

A beautifully written story that sweeps across time, from the dawn of WWII to the present, revealing through Eleanor’s voice the life she lived, the choices she made, and the shadow self that remains in her core. We see the young Eleanor Wright, as she fiercely seeks to live an independent life, making her own choices. We then see what happens to her when she realizes that some choices will lead to sorrow and loss.

I thoroughly enjoyed Eleanor, with all of her flaws and mistakes, because she readily acknowledged them, even though she kept some secrets from those she loved.

Peter has become her confidante as he sorts through everything and as they chat at the end of each day. And now that the task is complete, Eleanor must face it all head on, as she thinks of what she had, as well as what she had lost. A glimpse of that contemplation is revealed in this excerpt:

“Of course something had been lost. There is always something lost. Hopes and dreams and possibilities. Shadow lives and shadow selves. Roads not followed, loves not taken, doors left closed. In the end you have to choose who you will become. You are your life’s work. Every moment of every day makes you. Only at the end, when your story is over, do you know what you have created.”

The Twilight Hour was an emotional, heart-wrenching story of loss, secrets, and what might have been; but it is also a story of the beautiful gifts that come to those who choose to be happy. To move on and accept what they have. 5 stars.

SERENDIPITOUS FRIDAY: BOOK BEGINNINGS/FRIDAY 56 — “THE TWILIGHT HOUR”

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Welcome to some bookish fun today as we share Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and as we showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

If you have been wanting to participate, but haven’t yet tried, now is the time!

What better way to spend a Friday?

I am very happy to share my featured book today.  I’ve been lusting after it for a while, and finally found it on Amazon.  The Twilight Hour, by Nicci Gerrard, is a story that is sure to touch my heart.  I have been a fan of Nicci French (the combo team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French), so imagine my delight to discover this book from this author on various blogs. 

 

 

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Beginning:  Eleanor woke to what was not there.  Outside, the wind still roared, dashing pellets of rain against the windows; inside it was too silent, not a breath or a heartbeat save hers.  The darkness felt uninhabited.  Before she reached out her hand, groping past the water jug and the vase of dying flowers to touch the bed and find it empty, the blanket thrown back and the pillow dislodged, she knew she was alone.

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56:  There was a carved little chest in the corner and inside that were board games and playing cards.  Peter imagined Sunday evenings, rainy afternoons, everyone together in the laughter and squabble of a large, close family.

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Goodreads Description:  Eleanor Lee has lived a fiercely independent existence for over ninety years, but now it’s time to tidy her life away – books, photographs, paintings, letters – a lifetime of possessions all neatly boxed up for the last time. But amongst them there are some things that must be kept hidden. And, nearing blindness, Eleanor needs help to uncover them before her children and grandchildren do.

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What do you think?  Could you connect to this character?  I know that I can…and I’m looking forward to learning more.

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SERENDIPITOUS TUESDAYS: INTROS/TEASERS – “ELIZABETH IS MISSING”

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Today’s featured book is an ARC I’m reading…and enjoying.  Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey, is a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also a heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging…

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Intro:  (Prologue)

“Maud?  Was I boring you so much that you’d rather stand outside in the dark?”

A woman calls to me from the warm light of a cluttered dining room.  My breath curls towards her, wet and ghostly, but no words follow.  The snow, sparse but bright on the ground, reflects the light on to her face, which is drawn tight in an attempt to see.  I know, though, that she can’t see very well, even in the daylight.

“Come inside,” she says.  “It’s freezing.  I promise I won’t say another word about frogs and snails and majolica ware.”

“I wasn’t bored,” I say, realizing too late that she’s joking.  “I’ll be there in a minute.  I’m just looking for something.”  In my hand is the thing I’ve already found, still clotted with mud.  A small thing, easily missed.  The broken lid of an old compact, its silver tarnished, its navy-blue enamel no longer glassy but scratched and dull.  The mildewed mirror is like a window on a faded world, like a porthole looking out under the ocean.  It makes me squirm with memories.

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Teaser:  “The bath is filthy,” she says as I come into the kitchen.  “And there’s a big lot of dirt on the lawn.  What have you been doing?”

I wince at the question.  Why is it I can remember the garden and the soil and the dew, but none of the reasons for being there?  (p. 71).

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Amazon Description:  Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

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What do you think?  Would you keep reading?  I know that I am loving it, even as I feel frustrated for Maud…and annoyed with the people in her life who dismiss her, not giving any credence to her quest for her friend.

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