REVIEW: NANAVILLE, BY ANNA QUINDLEN

 

“I am changing his diaper, he is kicking and complaining, his exhausted father has gone to the kitchen for a glass of water, his exhausted mother is prone on the couch. He weighs little more than a large sack of flour and yet he has laid waste to the living room: swaddles on the chair, a nursing pillow on the sofa, a car seat, a stroller. No one cares about order, he is our order, we revolve around him. And as I try to get in the creases of his thighs with a wipe, I look at his, let’s be honest, largely formless face and unfocused eyes and fall in love with him. Look at him and think, well, that’s taken care of, I will do anything for you as long as we both shall live, world without end, amen.”

Before blogs even existed, Anna Quindlen became a go-to writer on the joys and challenges of family, motherhood, and modern life, in her nationally syndicated column. Now she’s taking the next step and going full nana in the pages of this lively, beautiful, and moving book about being a grandmother. Quindlen offers thoughtful and telling observations about her new role, no longer mother and decision-maker but secondary character and support to the parents of her grandson. She writes, “Where I once led, I have to learn to follow.” Eventually a close friend provides words to live by: “Did they ask you?”

Candid, funny, frank, and illuminating, Quindlen’s singular voice has never been sharper or warmer. With the same insights she brought to motherhood in Living Out Loud and to growing older in Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, this new nana uses her own experiences to illuminate those of many others.

 

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Quindlen’s novels and memoirs. She has a unique way of voicing our own concerns and helping us find those life moments that reveal so much.

Just as parenting has its own special moments that resonate with all of us who have lived through the challenges, grandparenting brings another dimension to our lives. So in Nanaville, we are offered a time in which we can step back, observe, and decide how to cautiously move forward into the sometime worrisome waters. We learn that our adult children and their chosen partners must set the guidelines, and if we want to benefit from a good relationship with the grandchildren, we must follow their lead.

Anecdotes and chapters designated “small moments” offer us that very insightful guide to a wonderful journey in the Land of Nanaville. 5 stars.

***

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REVIEW: THE FABULOUS BOUVIER SISTERS, BY KASHNER & SCHOENBERGER

 

A poignant, evocative, and wonderfully gossipy account of the two sisters who represented style and class above all else—Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill—from the authors of Furious Love.

When sixty-four-year-old Jackie Kennedy Onassis died in her Fifth Avenue apartment, her younger sister Lee wept inconsolably. Then Jackie’s thirty-eight-page will was read. Lee discovered that substantial cash bequests were left to family members, friends, and employees—but nothing to her. “I have made no provision in this my Will for my sister, Lee B. Radziwill, for whom I have great affection, because I have already done so during my lifetime,” read Jackie’s final testament.

Drawing on the authors’ candid interviews with Lee Radziwill, The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters explores their complicated relationship, placing them at the center of twentieth-century fashion, design, and style.

In life, Jackie and Lee were alike in so many ways. Both women had a keen eye for beauty—in fashion, design, painting, music, dance, sculpture, poetry—and both were talented artists. Both loved pre-revolutionary Russian culture, and the blinding sunlight, calm seas, and ancient olive groves of Greece. Both loved the siren call of the Atlantic, sharing sweet, early memories of swimming with the rakish father they adored, Jack Vernou Bouvier, at his East Hampton retreat. But Jackie was her father’s favorite, and Lee, her mother’s. One would grow to become the most iconic woman of her time, while the other lived in her shadow. As they grew up, the two sisters developed an extremely close relationship threaded with rivalry, jealousy, and competition. Yet it was probably the most important relationship of their lives.

My Thoughts: Since I am a fan of all things Jackie, as well as the Kennedys, I was excited to learn more about her sisterhood bond with Lee Radziwill; therefore, The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters flew off the shelf and into my hands. The story began with Jackie’s shocking will, in which she left nothing to Lee.

Sweeping back in time to their beginnings, we explore their relationship with each other: their rivalries at home; their basic differences; and the sense of favoritism for Jackie by their father, all of which set the stage for an intense competition between them.

Over the years, they were alternately close and distant, the competitiveness a constant, even as their sisterhood bond would win out in times of crisis. At those times, they were usually there for each other.

I liked learning more about Lee’s life after she decided to follow Jackie’s example by pursuing a profession. For Lee, interior design was her special talent, and I loved reading about the homes she decorated, including some of her own.

Jackie’s bookish tastes had taken her into publishing, which suited her temperament and skills.

By this time, both were living in Manhattan apartments, but each had summer homes on the islands. They had discovered that they loved spending time with their children as extended family, offering the closeness between the cousins that they had always enjoyed with each other.

But the push and pull of their relationship continued, and by the time they each had more traumatic losses in their later years, some of which were financial for Lee, the differences between them grew. Sadly, their chance for the closeness they longed for was no longer there. A poignant tale of sisters, losses, and how family ties can only carry one so far. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE BEST OF US, BY JOYCE MAYNARD

 

In 2011, when she was in her late fifties, beloved author and journalist Joyce Maynard met the first true partner she had ever known. Jim wore a rakish hat over a good head of hair; he asked real questions and gave real answers; he loved to see Joyce shine, both in and out of the spotlight; and he didn’t mind the mess she made in the kitchen. He was not the husband Joyce imagined, but he quickly became the partner she had always dreamed of.

Before they met, both had believed they were done with marriage, and even after they married, Joyce resolved that no one could alter her course of determined independence. Then, just after their one-year wedding anniversary, her new husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the nineteen months that followed, as they battled his illness together, she discovered for the first time what it really meant to be a couple–to be a true partner and to have one.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of the author, and have read a couple of her memoirs already, so I was happy for the opportunity to travel with her and her husband on this journey.

I could relate to being single a long time after a previous marriage, and how sharing one’s life with a partner, even someone you truly love, would have its adjustments.

Imagine, then, that once the two of them had found compromises and wonderful ways to be together, how truly devastating such a diagnosis would be. I admired the way they made a full time job out of searching for treatments, and how this new journey in their partnership would open up new ways to be together. Their “new normal” was not what they had wished for, but it was what they had. And they were together, working toward a common goal.

One thing I’ve learned about Joyce Maynard’s writing: she speaks her truth, even if it does not always put her in a flattering light. She tells of her flaws and foibles, her missteps, and even the negative feelings she might have about her situation. Who wouldn’t want a less challenging road to travel? But it was their road together, so it would be the path she treasured.

As death drew close, the author writes: “I was a different person than the woman I’d been eighteen months earlier. Grief and pain had been harsh, but they had served as teachers. We had been through a conflagration, the two of us, and I would have given anything to have avoided it, but we’d emerged like two blackened vessels from the forge.” The ordeal “had turned us into two people we might never have become if the disease had spared Jim. Better ones, though only one of us would survive this.”

As I reached the final page of The Best of Us, tears flowed as I took in the beauty of a love discovered later in life, a love that lasted just a few years, but turned out to be a forever love. 5 stars.
***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: WHAT REMAINS, BY CAROLE RADZIWILL

A stunning, tragic memoir about John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette, and his cousin Anthony Radziwill, by Radziwill’s widow, now a star of The Real Housewives of New York.

What Remains is a vivid and haunting memoir about a girl from a working-class town who becomes an award-winning television producer and marries a prince, Anthony Radziwill. Carole grew up in a small suburb with a large, eccentric cast of characters. At nineteen, she struck out for New York City to find a different life. Her career at ABC News led her to the refugee camps of Cambodia, to a bunker in Tel Aviv, and to the scene of the Menendez murders. Her marriage led her into the old world of European nobility and the newer world of American aristocracy.

What Remains begins with loss and returns to loss. A small plane plunges into the ocean carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., Anthony’s cousin, and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Carole’s closest friend. Three weeks later Anthony dies of cancer. With unflinching honesty and a journalist’s keen eye, Carole Radziwill explores the enduring ties of family, the complexities of marriage, the importance of friendship, and the challenges of self-invention.

My Thoughts: In a non-linear fashion, the author tells her story. She begins by describing the horrific plane crash that killed John and Carolyn, soon followed by her husband Anthony’s death from cancer, and then takes us back to some beginnings. Back to childhood and her large extended family. Her childhood seemed chaotic, yet filled with loving moments with cousins and neighbors. Her grandmothers figured predominantly in her early years.

How she came to be an intern at ABC News, which took her to interesting places and stories, and eventually to Anthony Radziwill, would be a serendipitous journey.

What led to finding a real-life prince, a cousin to the country’s Kennedy “prince”? That story would take the reader on a fairytale journey. But then the fairytale turned into something else. A stunning diagnosis, and constant hospital visits and treatments for the cancer that would define their lives over the years, even while they optimistically tried to plan for a future by renovating an apartment on Park Avenue.

Along the way, the author completed an MBA, almost as if she knew the future they were planning would be hers alone, that Anthony, despite their optimism, would not make it. Her talents and her determination would serve her well, as she went on to reinvent herself and find a new journey.

Knowing how it would all turn out, it was difficult to keep turning the pages and finding more sadness as I neared the end of What Remains. But I had to admire the courage and the ability to keep moving ahead, despite it all. An inspirational story that earned 4.5 stars.

***

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 ON THE ROAD, BY GLORIA STEINEM

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In her latest memoir, Gloria Steinem shares her experiences as a writer, journalist, and organizer, which also include some of her stories from political campaigns. But years before she took to the road, she had learned to love the life from her father, a man who wanted nothing more than the adventures of the road, perhaps to escape his overly orderly childhood.

My own experiences following Steinem’s adventures began back in the 1970s, when she co-founded Ms. Magazine…and when her feminist philosophies led me and many of my friends into consciousness-raising groups, where we found our voice. In many ways, I can point to my own growth as an independent woman because of leaders like Steinem, who showed us the way, speaking calmly and insightfully despite the hatred of extremists. I clearly recall how I felt as I listened to her speak in the early 1970s, when she toured university campuses and arrived at the one I was attending. She became the iconic voice of my generation, the ideal and rational tribute to what could be if we were brave enough to try.

My Life on the Road reveals much about how Steinem’s sphere of influence grew, as she shared how she feared public speaking, but eventually discovered her fears could be lessened when she began telling her stories and also listening to those of others. She found her energy in listening and in figuring out shared solutions.

Anecdotes about her experiences fill the pages of this captivating book, and kept me reading, hoping to learn more. Each section includes parts that go back and forth through time, in a non-linear fashion, illustrating the points of each one. In some ways, it felt as though there was so much information that it will take another reading to fully grasp what she had to say. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this tome for followers of Steinem’s work, as well as for those who are curious. 5 stars.

REVIEW: THEN AGAIN, BY DIANE KEATON

11557134A loving portrait of her mother forms the core of Diane Keaton’s memoir, Then Again. In writing about her own life, she believed it only fitting to share her mother’s journey, showing how their bond came to define both of their lives.

Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall was an artist in her own way, creating collages, writing in numerous journals, and revealing herself in some depth. She was also the mother of four, a wife, and a homemaker.

Alternating between Diane’s thoughts and feelings and those of her mother’s, we come to learn bits and pieces of their lives. Interconnected as they were, a memoir would not be complete without both of their stories.

As a big fan of Diane Keaton, I enjoyed learning more about the early years and her movies. But her connections to her family of origin, as well as to the family she created with her adopted children, made for an intriguing journey of its own. She poses questions about loss and why Alzheimer’s disease chooses to victimize some and not others, asking what, if anything, one can do to avoid the onslaught of the disease. Pointing out how the sadness of this loss for a woman who loved words, like her mother, seemed especially cruel.

The little goodbyes in life lead us inevitably toward our final goodbyes, and thus to the final answers: What happens then? The transient nature of life, with all its passages, is a major theme in this memoir, as well as how life’s dreams, even when achieved, can be fleeting.

The story wended its way through time, back and forth, reminding us of the author’s somewhat fragmented style of speech, a quirkiness that reveals itself as her true voice. It was hard for me to separate my admiration for the actress and the woman from the book that left me wanting to know more. There was much more she could have told us, but perhaps that will come to us in another story. 3.5 stars.

REVIEW: GLITTER & GLUE, BY KELLY CORRIGAN

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A story like Kelly Corrigan’s Glitter and Glue: A Memoir is a journey to the heart of family. The unique connections between parents and children, mothers and daughters, and siblings with one another, are the basis for what makes family work.

And when those connections are broken through loss, we realize in the depths of our souls how necessary they are.

From the very first page, I was totally engaged with the author’s story, beginning with her travels as a young person, when she spent a few months in Australia as a nanny for a motherless family, to her settling into her own independent life on the West Coast afterwards while her family of origin continued to live across the country. We come to know her own mothering experiences and how they reflected what she had learned in her relationship with her mother, and even with her father, and how, when life hit her hard during a health crisis, the first person she wanted to call was her mother.

I loved how, in the beginning of this tale, the author quoted her mother when she described the differences between the playful, fun father she enjoyed and the mother who set the rules and the boundaries: “he’s the glitter and I’m the glue.”

Who hasn’t realized how the dynamics are different between fathers and daughters and mothers and daughters? While our own families may have been structured in other ways, we learned early on in our lives just what defined us as opposed to others. What makes us unique, and what forms the basis for our security later in life.

This delightful story felt like a nice long chat with a best friend. Someone who could sum up how one feels when faced with one’s own mortality, that the important things in life are “here, in this house, with these people.” I loved this book! Five stars.

SERENDIPITOUS FRIDAYS: BOOK BEGINNINGS & THE FRIDAY 56 — DEC. 14

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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?

 

Today, I’ve grabbed a book from next week’s pile.  Chanel Bonfire, by Wendy Lawless, is an ARC from the Amazon Vine program.

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Beginning:  Perhaps because her second marriage had only lasted twenty months, or perhaps because she was having a bad hair day, in January of 1969 my mother swallowed a whole bottle of pills and called my stepfather at his hotel to say good-bye.

Pretty, dramatic.  I can’t wait to read more!

***

56:  My sister and I stared dumbly at her.  This morning we’d left our home to go to school, and at the end of the day we had a new one.  Maudie was wailing from her carrier on the front seat next to the driver.  I understood exactly how she felt.

***

Amazon Description:  WITH CLEAR-EYED GRACE, REFRESHING HONESTY, AND FLASHING WIT, WENDY LAWLESS TELLS THE TRUE STORY OF HER UNHINGED UPBRINGING— A DISJOINTED FAIRY TALE OF A CHILDHOOD IN CHAOS

By the time Wendy Lawless turned seventeen, she’d known for quite some time that she didn’t have a normal mother. But that didn’t stop her from wanting one. . . .

GEORGANN REA didn’t bake cookies or go to PTA meetings; she wore a mink coat and always had a lit Dunhill plugged into her cigarette holder. She went through men like Kleenex, and didn’t like dogs or children. Georgann had the ice queen beauty of a Hitchcock heroine and the cold heart to match.

In “a searing memoir that reads like a novel” (Anne Korkeakivi, An Unexpected Guest), Wendy Lawless deftly charts the highs and lows of growing up with her younger sister in the shadow of an unstable, fabulously neglectful mother. Georgann, a real-life Holly Golightly who constantly reinvents herself as she trades up from trailer park to penthouse, suffers multiple nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts, while Wendy tries to hide the cracks in their fractured family from the rest of the world.

Chanel Bonfire depicts a childhood blazed through the refined aeries of the Dakota and the swinging town houses of London, while the girls’ beautiful but damned mother desperately searches for glamour and fulfillment. Ultimately, Wendy and her sister must choose between living their own lives and being their mother’s warden—the hardest, most painful, yet most important decision each of them will ever make.

***

Now I’m eager to check out the rest of your offerings….