The Reading Woman 2018 Calendar: July

“Whatever the theologians might say about heaven being in a state of union with God, I Dervla-Murphy-007 (1)knew it consisted of an infinite library; and eternity was simply what enabled one to read uninterruptedly forever.” — Dervla Murphy

https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/filmandtv/who-is-dervla-murphy-a-new-film-captures-the-life-of-the-85-year-old-travel-writer-392588.html

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“Rust & Stardust” by T. Greenwood

Genre:           Historical Crime FictionRust
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:    Aug. 7, 2018

Mini-Review

“And the rest is rust and stardust.”—Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

In the summer of 1948, a real-life 11-year-old girl named Sally Horner was kidnapped by a child molester in Camden, NJ.  At the time Vladimir Nabokov was working on his famous novel and struggling.  He supposedly was about to burn the manuscript when his wife showed him the newspaper saying: “I found her. Volodya, stop! I found Lo.”  This is the fictional account of the girl who inspired the famous novel “Lolita” (which Nabokov called his ticking time bomb,) as well as Sarah Weinman’s true crime essay and soon to be released, “The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World.”  (It appears that soon “Rust and Stardust” will have sales competition).  If you have read the famous book or seen the movie, Lo appears to be a child temptress.  Sally Horner was not.  As the book rightly shows, Sally’s misfortune began after she stole a composition notebook from a Woolworths (remember them?) The kidnapper witnessed the minor theft and pretended to be an FBI agent taking her to jail.  Her young gullible mind fell for it and she spent the next five years traveling around with her kidnapper, who posed as her stepfather.  This book should break your heart.  Unfortunately, the author, T. Greenwood, has written a novel filled with way too much detail, reading almost like a newspaper itself. I was impressed by her end-notes, but not her style of writing.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Terms of Endearment” by Larry McMurtry

Terms of Endearment

Genre: Comedy-Drama
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 1975

You have seen the movie and probably read the book (they are dissimilar). So you are probably familiar with the author, Larry McMurtry’s, two characters Aurora Greenway and her daughter Emma. Aurora, a well-to-do widow, “is the kind of woman who makes the whole world orbit around her, including a string of devoted suitors.” Emma, as her mother feels, married beneath her, which is a constant source of friction between them—the line that reads Emma’s husband “ain’t fit to kick off a porch” in this book is a term of endearment because she loves her daughter. Get it?

I enjoyed the movie and I am a fan of McMurtry, so it felt like a no-brainer that I would enjoy the book. Unfortunately, it is just an okay read. For once, the movie is better than the book. In both, I didn’t cry (possible spoiler) when Emma dies of cancer. Neither seems very realistic, though at least Emma loses her hair in the novel. Debra Winger remained beautiful until her character dies. Other variations from book to movie are that the novel is 75% about Aurora, which is okay since she is a very funny character. The book switches to the daughter at the end of the novel, but the reader doesn’t have time to connect to her, leaving one without the intended waterworks. There is no Jack Nicholson astronaut character in the novel, but there is Aurora’s maid, Rosie, of twenty-two years, and her husband, both are wonderful characters. Petite Rosie argues “I might not be no bigger than a chicken, but I got fight.” The husband thinks that his wife “is no more buxom than a door-jamb” and he is smitten with voluptuous Aurora, making for good comedy. It is clear that the acclaimed author is a master with words. His dialogue and imagery are superb. And even if his pacing is off in “Endearment,” his skills might be worth the effort of reading the novel.

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“Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us” by Will Storr & “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” by Jaron Lanier

Not reviewing but posting two non-fiction short summaries on the potential damages of social media.

Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us by Will Storr
SelfieI admit that you can see my selfies on Facebook all the time.  In a sentence the book explains why if you want true self-esteem you will not find it by posting a flattering picture of yourself—you need to earn it.  Ouch.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
Ten ArgumentsI am working on this one, but it is harder than I thought it would be.  The book is written by a Silicon Valley pioneer—that says a lot.   “Twitter and Facebook have made us crueler, less empathetic, more tribal….ruining our capacity for spirituality by turning us into robot extensions to their (the big tech companies) machines.”  Social media cannot show the real you or “human consciousness and, therefore, will recklessly destroy it.”

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“Born Trump: Inside America’s First Family” by Emily Jane Fox

Genre:           BiographyBorn Trump
Publisher:   HarperCollins
Pub. Date:   June 19, 2018

I wanted to read “Born Trump,” I confess, because of the promised juicy gossip on the Trump kids. What I got instead was a few chapters of Trump’s campaign, his election win, and the early months of his Presidency. I most certainly didn’t want to relive the chaos of his transition into the White House, but that is what I got. The author, journalist Jane Fox, writing is all pizzazz without much depth, reading like magazine advertisements. She is neither privately for Trump nor against him, but her writing can be mean-spirited towards him. And since the US President (that is a gulp for this reviewer) has lived his whole life on Page Six of the NY Post. And later in life as a reality TV star, there really isn’t anything new in this book if one is familiar with the family. Since, I grew up in Queens, NY I had heard a lot of dirt.

So skip the book and here is the skinny. As children, the three eldest kids lived on their own floor in Trump Tower, and almost never saw their parents Donald and Ivana. They pretty much raised themselves with help from their Au Pairs and private boarding schools. I guess that is the norm for the rich and famous. Fox goes into the trauma the kids went through during their parents’ ugly and widely broadcast divorce. Especially when the then-wife, beautiful blonde model, Ivana Trump, and then-mistress, beautiful blonde model, Marla Maples had a public brawl with each other on the slopes of Aspen, Colorado, (poor little rich kids.) All three have stated that this was a tough time for them as children. As a 6-year-old child, Eric acted out often in his private school once calling his teacher, a bitch. However, 12-year-old Don Jr. and 8-year old Ivanka seemed to have had it the hardest. It can’t be easy reading about your dad’s sex life it in the newspapers.

My thoughts: I was impressed that Don Jr. spent his high school years doing all he could do to appear to be just a regular Joe. This included dock work at Mar-a-Lago. He even showed up at college driving a truck. His parents traveled behind in a limousine (famously forgetting to bring the needed college supplies). I did begin to respect Ivanka (a one-time blonde model) a bit since she converted to Modern Orthodox Judaism for her husband. She has publicly said that she basically grew up without religion in her life. Becoming a practicing Orthodox Jew must have been a major feat to pull off. However, a daddy’s girl she will always be. Eric has said of his older brother “Donnie’s always been my friend, a mentor…in a way, he raised me.” It seems that Eric is the real builder in the family. However, all three are capable of running an empire by themselves—meaning they must have natural or schooled intelligence regarding real-estate. Donald’s daughter from his marriage to Marla Maples, Tiffany (a blonde model) has never really been part of the family. Raised primarily by her mother in California, Tiffany would visit her father several times a year in New York and vacation with him at Mar-a-Lago. The youngest son, Barron born to Melanie (a model, get my drift yet?) is hardly mentioned except that before moving to the White House he lived on the same floor that his stepsiblings once occupied. I was pleased that the author left him alone. I agree with Chelsea Clinton, who grew up in the glare of the White House: “Barron Trump deserves the chance every child does-to be a kid.”

The best and only dirt in the whole book is when Fox becomes mean-spirited. My favorite is when she writes that “the name Barron is one of the pseudonyms Trump uses while pretending to be a member of his press team.” Or that Trump as a dad “spent time with the children on his terms, when it suited him.” Another good dig is from Tiffany’s friend: “she dyed her hair brown….they popped into Trump’s office to say hi and he took one look at his daughter and said, she needed to bleach it back.” The author’s endnotes are respectable, but who knows what is truth or fiction (just like politics) when it comes to the first family, where everything is flashy, and appearances mean everything. To quote Andy Rooney, “People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe.”
19, 2018

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“The Great Believers” by Rebecca Makkai

The Great BelieversGenre:          General Fiction
Publisher:    Penguin Group Viking
Pub. Date:   June 19, 2018

The Grim Reaper follows all in this novel.  Think of Scrooge without a happy ending.  The author, Rebecca Makkai, writes about the 1980s AIDS outbreak.  The novel is set in the heart of Chicago in an area known as Boystown.   There are two storylines, told in alternating chapters: one is in the 1980s and the other is in present time.  The book opens in the past.  We meet a close-knit group of friends, most of them gay men, attending a “celebration of life” party after the death of one of their own.  Across town, the actual funeral is going on in a Catholic church.  Since the parents didn’t invite their deceased son’s lover to the funeral, the friends have their own sort-of-service for him.  The whole gang is at this party including his straight, younger sister.  She disowns her parents and family the way they disowned her older brother.  Her brothers’ friends adore her.  She often says that she has100 older brothers.  In the present, the little sister is now a middle-aged woman searching for her estranged daughter, who may or may not have joined a cult.  She has the help of one last brother who survived the epidemic.  He is now in his eighties.  I smiled when they first laid eyes on each other for the first time in many years.  They each had the exact same thought—how can he/she be so old?

The author does a good job describing the terror of the early years of the virus.  The kid sister watches her brothers die one by one.   You might cry because you will grow fond of these men.    Some have big personalities.  Others have sweet and shy ways.  They come from all walks of life, and the author makes sure you get to know each character as if you met them personally.   If you do not cry, you will still feel the heartbreak of the times.  The agony of making the decision to take the test, waiting on the test results, waiting for the symptoms, and then waiting for a horrendous death.  Makkai also shows the emotional scars on the present-day lives of survivors.  The sister has had a life of depression, which of course affected her adult relationships as well as her mothering skills.  The author is so passionate on the subject of HIV/AIDS that it came as no surprise to learn that the disease has touched someone in her life.

The story is good, but not on the level of “The Boys in the Band.”   “Believers” reads similar to “The Philadelphia Story.”   You will cry, but you are aware that the author is manipulating your heartstrings.  My only issue in the novel is in the present when the focus is on the sister’s search for her daughter.  This extra plot wasn’t needed.  It reads like a private detective tale that in no way could compete with the superior story told while in the past.  Overall, this is a well written, ambitious historical novel of a horrible time in America when very few Americans felt compassion for those who were locked in the jaws of the disease.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear that God sent this disease to punish the immoral.  It was the gay men’s isolation (no one would even physically touch them) that hit me the hardest.  They only had each other.  This is a huge-hearted novel display the staggering toll of the epidemic.  And, although it is a story is about death, once completed, you will have a stronger sense of life.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Distance Home” by Paula Saunders

Genre:          General FictionThe Distance Home
Publisher:    Random House
Pub. Date:   August 7, 2018

What a mistake I made with this one.  I read that the author is Paula Saunders and silly me only registered the first name.  I accepted this ARC thinking I was going to read a new Paula McLain novel, an author that I admire.  It just took me a few paragraphs to realize my mistake.  I’d say that I made a beginner reviewer’s mistake, but unfortunately, I am not a beginner anymore in this craft.  Live and learn.

The novel’s setting is in the 1960s, we meet two sisters attending their father’s funeral.  They are the surviving members of a Midwestern family of five—mother, father, older brother, older, and younger sisters.  Do not expect to like the parents.  They infuse so much psychological damage in their older two children that later in their offspring’s lives they are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress.   In a nutshell, the father has no tolerance or love for his son, probably because he is interested in becoming a ballet dancer.  Though, he very much enjoys that his elder daughter also loves to dance.  Because the father is so uncaring about his son and shines towards his elder daughter, the mother goes in the opposite direction.   Her allegiance is to the son, while she is extremely critical of the elder daughter.  The youngest daughter barely shows up in the plot.  I am not sure at all why she was added into the novel.

I’m a reviewer that doesn’t need to like the characters to enjoy the story.  That is not my issue with this novel.   I simply found the whole story flat and the characters too one-sided.   The only part of the tale that kept my interest is that the story-line goes back and forth in time, without any advance warning.  In one paragraph, you will be reading about the young teenage son pulling out his eyebrows and eyelashes, and in the next paragraph, you will get a glimpse into the future while he is in addiction rehab.  It is there that he learns that he is bipolar; a condition that went untreated his whole life.  While the teenage son is clearly not doing well, the older sister becomes an anorexic overachiever. It appears to her parents that the older sister is doing just fine but the reader knows better.   The entire plot revolves around the family’s day to day warped dynamics.  The author hints at the idea that the parents simply didn’t know any better.   The old saying that “they did the best they could” is applied to them.  This seems to be the reason that the elder sister came to forgive them both before they died.   But I will be damned if I know why.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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