Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian

Leisure

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will have realised by now that I am a sucker for good cover art on a book. I might not judge a book by the cover, but I am guilty of selecting what I read by the picture on the front.

I chose The Leisure Seeker By Michael Zadoorian because of the great photo on the cover, an action shot of an old motorhome travelling through a desert. The photo is credited to Bob Elsdale (Getty Images).

Like many Australians, I’m hoping to become a ‘Grey Nomad’ sometime in the future. Our plan is to travel around Australia in a caravan at our own speed, staying as long as we like wherever we like, following the sun and having a good time in our retirement.

Ella and John, the main characters in The Leisure Seeker, have a 1978 Leisure Seeker model motorhome. Their motorhome may be old, but Ella and John have kept it in immaculate condition apart from a problem with the exhaust. They counteract the exhauust problem by travelling with the window open so as not to poison themselves as John drives them across Route 66 on their way to Disneyland.

Ella is dying of cancer and John has Alzheimer’s Disease. Their children are horrified when they sneak off, ignoring Ella’s need for treatment and they threaten to call the police to bring their parents home. Ella makes an interesting comment about the shift of balance between parents and children, as parents age. 

John’s driving is still okay, thank goodness, but I felt anxious the whole time I was reading this novel in case he caused an accident. Luckily he didn’t, so you can relax and enjoy the story when you read it, but most of the time John doesn’t remember where he and Ella are or where they are going. On one occasion he didn’t even remember Ella. From time to time though John’s momories were available to him, for brief moments before fading away again.

Ella, on the other hand, remembers everything and is the force behind their trip, which is an opportunity for them to revisit places they went years ago with their children and friends. Ella and John very often watch slides of their life and trips together at night when they camp. John looked at pictures of friends who had dies and asked over and over how they were, forgetting they had died. Sometimes Ella lied to him, and told him their dead friends were fine, to save John pain.

Regardless of what John does or does not remember, he and Ella are still loving and considerate of each other, despite bickering and calling each other names the whole way.

When Ella’s cancer causes her too much physical pain to bear, she takes a pill, although in the beginning of the trip she resists taking her pain killers, not wanting to become an addict. By the time she and John reach Disneyland though, Ella is taking her little blue pills as she needs them, which is nearly all the time.

Route 66 is almost another character in the book, and just like Ella and John, is run down, worn out and long past it’s heyday.

The Leisure Seeking has an ending which seems inevitable. It is a sad ending, but also quite satisfying.

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The Love Letter by Cathleen Schine

Love

Helen, the heroine of The Love Letter by Cathleen Schine, lives a charmed life. Here are some reasons to dislike her:

  • Helen, who is a fit, healthy, attractive woman in her forties is the single mother of a pre-teen daughter who gives her so little trouble that her daughter hardly features in this novel. (Jealous, anyone?) 
  • Her divorce was so amicable that the reader does not learn why her marriage broke down. 
  • Helen was left so well off financially by her ex-husband on their divorce that she started her own bookshop, which is a successful business. (Is anyone else jealous yet, or is it only me?)

The story is set around Helen’s book shop in the sea side town town of Pequot. (Okay, now the green eyed monster is really starting to take hold of me, regardless of Helen not being real. To live in a sea side town and have a successful bookshop is the stuff of dreams).

Helen’s personality is charismatic and her behaviour charming, although somehow, she is not particularly likeable. Helen flirts with everyone. She flirts to sells books to customers. She flirts with married male friends. She flirts with her staff, who particularly crave her attention. Helen’s staff, three of whom are college students on their summer holidays, bring her presents and copy her mannerisms.

Helen’s flirting and charm come across as incredibly superficial to the reader. She charms people just because she can. Helen doesn’t seem to particularly care about anyone else except for her daughter, who is away at summer camp. None of the other characters seem to care that Helen is manipulative, and somehow this characteristic becomes another of her charms to them.

The story starts with Helen finding a love letter amongst her mail. The book is set in the not too distant past, when people wrote actual letters to each other, put them in envelopes and sent them through the mail to each other. Computers are mentioned in the story but the internet and email are not.

The love letter is anonymous, addressed to Goat from Ram. In the letter Ram describes thinking of Goat while driving, peeling oranges and asks if being on fire is too banal for Goat. Helen’s wasn’t the sort of love letter that I would like to receive, not that I’ve received many. The nicest (and possibly the only) love letter I ever received was from a boy when I was in high school. I wish I still had it. I don’t remember what he wrote, but for a long time it made me happy to have received it. Helen predictably, had already received a great many love letters, from all sorts of people.

Helen examines her circle of friends, staff and customers but is unable to determine the love letter’s author, or even if the letter was intended for her.

Helen’s attention during her investigation turns to Johnny, one of her casual summer staff. She rules him out as the letter’s author, but despite their age difference (Johnny is twenty and Helen is in her forties) they start an affair. As they fell in love and Helen became more vulnerable, she also became more likeable.

Somehow, Helen’s love affair with a twenty year old also becomes part of her charm. Her mother, who has guessed at Helen’s affair with Johnny, goes so far as to call their romance “very French,” and comments how besotted Johnny is. Have you ever noticed how often characters named Helen are beautiful and irristable? All Helen of Troy’s fault I expect, the connotations of the name ‘Helen’ are so strong.

Helen curiousity regarding the origin of the love letter is eventually satisfied. The ending of The Love Letter is also quite satisfying, despite not being conclusive in some ways. Just as well, my cup of envy would probably runneth over if the book finished with a happily ever after.

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The List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt

List

The List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt has the prettiest cover I’ve seen on a book in ages. The cover art features rows of buttons, round, heart shaped, flower shaped buttons, all different colours and sizes. I’m not some sort of button weirdo, but this book’s cover is just gorgeous.

The heroine of The List of My Desires, Jocelyne, is 47 years old, runs a haberdashery shop, has a blog about sewing, and a husband named Jocelyn (Jo). Their children have long since grown up and gone. Jocelyne’s father is in a nursing home after having a stroke which has left him with a memory that is only good for six minutes before he forgets recent events.

Jocelyne’s list of desires at the beginning of the book is simple. She wants to be slim and beautiful and never to be told lies.

Encouraged by her frineds who play the lottery, she buys a lottery ticket and wins eighteen million euros. I’m an Australian, so I had to Google to find out how much money Jocelyne won. Eighteen million euros equals 25 million Australian dollars in case you are wondering. 

Jocelyne collects the prize money without telling her husband about her win and hides her cheque for eighteen million euros in a shoe. (Can you imagine winning that much money and not immediately banking the cheque? Me either). Jocelyne makes another list of her desires which include tangible things that would improve her day to day life, saucepans and a new coat. This time her list includes something for her huband, all of the James Bond movies on DVD. At this point Jocelyne could make Jo a very happy man, but she doesn’t, the cheque stays hidden.

Jo, Jocelyne’s husband, who reminds her of a very handsome actor very often seems too good to be true. He makes her sandwiches and appears to be caring and considerate, although in her reflections he is portrayed as having been a cruel, unhappy man earlier in their marriage. Regardless of Jo’s earlier behaviour, Jocelyne still loves him and doesn’t want their life to change.

Jo takes Jocelyne on a romantic weekend away. She makes another list of her desires, which are becoming more extravagant. This time the list includes a weekend for Jocelyne in London with her daughter, a Chanel bag and to be told she is beautiful. (Sounds wonderful to me, all she has to do is cash the bloody cheque).

More time passes and Jocelyne still does not cash the cheque. (I know, I know, why on earth did she buy a ticket if she didn’t want to change her life?) Jocelyne’s next list of desires has a house beside the sea and a Porsche Cayenne for Jo. Sadly, Jocelyne realises that being rich means that the little things on her wish list are for her, the stuff of life and she doesn’t want to lose the pleasure that comes from planning for, and eventually buying, a new potato peeler or whatever. Even more sadly, Jo finds Jocelyne’s $18 million dollar cheque and absconds with it (Remember, Jocelyne/Jocelyn? It might be fraud, but it wasn’t difficult).

I think the moral of The List of My Desires is that money does not buy happiness. I would like to point out that money would pay the bills. Jocelyne eventually recovers the prize money Jocelyn didn’t spend and her sense of self. I enjoyed this book, nearly as much as I like daydreaming about what I would do if I won a large amount of money in the lottery, although as I have already pointed out in my earlier review of Lottery by Patricia Wood, I don’t buy tickets, so the chances of this happening are Buckley’s.

My list of little stuff is as follows:

Books.

New bath towels, bath mats and face cloths, because mine are falling to bits.

A large Pyrex bowl. I already have one, but I like to bake and another large bowl would save me washing dishes on and off all day when I am cooking.

 A curtain for the kitchen window.

I can’t think of anything else that I really want.

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Someone by Alice McDermott

Someone

Someone by Alice McDermott is a lovely story about the most ordinary heroine who ever appeared in a book. The story follows the life of Marie Commeford, through her childhood  in Brooklyn as part of a loving family, her first romance, her work in a funeral parlour as a ‘consoler’ and her adulthood and happy marriage.

Have you ever noticed how often people who have had happy childhoods usually enjoy happy marriages? Marie is a good example of this, even if she is a fictional character.

As a child Marie usually took a walk with her father after the evening meal, where he would duck in somewhere to have a drink before they went home for a family evening, where quite often, her older brother Gabe read poetry, practising his oration in preparation to become a priest. As a family of Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, a priest in the family would usually be something to brag about, however Maries’ mother often commented that their family were not all that enamoured of the church. Gabe did become a priest, although he lost his vocation early in his career, soon after his and Marie’s father died. 

Marie resists learning to cook, to the point of sabotaging soda bread when her mother insists on trying to teach her. Marie explains her resistance to taking on this responsibility because she associates her best friend’s mother dying in childbirth with her friend having learned to cook. Marie also resists getting a job or taking on other family responsibilities, although eventually she is pushed into taking a job in a local funeral home, where she is supplied with five new dresses and told to put a dab of Evening in Paris perfume behind her ears. (My mother wore Evening in Paris perfume as a young woman, and raved all her life about how pretty it was).

Eventually she found herself a boyfriend, the not so appealing Walter Hartnett. Walter actually chose Marie, and she seems happy to have a boyfriend but not madly in love with him, but when Walter tells her he is marrying someone else, Marie is heartbroken. (The lesson here is that if he is not all that appealing, then he is not for you. Keep looking until you find someone who is appealing to you. Take note, I did not say handsome, or rich or popular or whatever, I said appealing. Also, remember what I said earlier about a happy childhood? People who enjoyed happy childhoods generally become happy adults).

Anyway, Marie gets over her broken heart and eventually meets the lovely Tom, who becomes her husband. Tom is much more appealing than Walter. The most awful parts of this book were Marie’s experience of childbirth, which has the most harrowing descriptions. Marie’s doctor advises her not to have more children and her mother goes so far as to suggest keeping a spoon under her pillow to hit Tom with if he became amorous. Marie ignores their advice and lived to tell the tale. She lives a happy life with Tom, with more children eventually and grandchildren. Gabe never seems to find the same joy in life that Marie has and suffers from mental illness, although happily he and Marie keep their close bond throughout their lives.

The stories of Marie’s life are quite ordinary and her adventures are small, but this book is beautifully written and I would be happy to re-read Someone.

 

 

 

 

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The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Little Friend

 

I’ve been wanting to read something by Donna Tartt after reading a review of The Goldfinch (which I haven’t read yet), so when I saw The Little Friend, I snatched it up.

The Little Friend is a story told in the midst of really big issues, which include the unsolved murder of a child, family breakdown, mental illness and drug addiction. Obviously this isn’t a happy story, although there were some funny events.

The main character in the story is twelve year old Harriet, who was a baby when her older brother Robin was murdered in the front yard of their family home. Harriet’s parents separated after Robin’s murder and her father is almost completely absent from her life. Her mother is also emotionally absent, and Harriet and her sister Allison are cared for by their housekeeper, Ida Rhew, along with their grandmother, Edie and a tribe of great aunts.

The only males in the book of interest are Hely, Harriet’s friend who joins her in her search for her older brother’s murderer and the men in the Ratliff family who are all either drug manufacturers, users or pushers, snake handling preachers or in jail. The Ratliff’s are all crazy (mostly from drug use) and a mean, nasty bunch. Harriet suspects Danny Ratliff, who was Robin’s playmate of being his murderer.

Harriet’s grandmother Edie and her sisters, despite being elderly women, are set in the roles they established years ago, of being the ‘bossy one’ or the ‘daydreamer’ or the ‘man magnet’ in the family. The sisters take pleasure in annoying each other in the most effective ways possible, and years after their father’s death, one of the sisters still sets herself up as being their father’s favourite child. The pecking order in Harriet’s family resonated with me, as my brother, sisters and I, despite having been adults for a long time, still fit into particular roles in our family, although to my parent’s credit, each of us grew up thinking we were the favourite child.

Harriet puts herself and Hely into some frightening and dangerous situations as she follows the Ratliffs, trying to find out more about them. Harriet isn’t a particularly likeable character, but you will be on the edge of your seat reading some parts of this book.

I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed The Little Friend, but I couldn’t stop reading it. I was disappointed by the ending  as I like all loose ends to be tied up and this book did not resolve all of the mysteries which were raised, but that wouldn’t put me off reading another book by Donna Tartt. I’ll keep looking out for The Goldfinch.

 

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Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews

Savannah

Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews is fun. I’ll admit to judging books by their covers, and I do like this cover. Gelati colours, palm trees near a beach and a slightly retro style. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, but a hint of summer in a book’s cover art will do it.

To sum up Savannah Breeze’s story line, the ballsy heroine with an interesting past gets ripped off by a sexy Lothario, then, with the help of good friends, her elderly grandparents and the true romantic hero, steals back everything the ratbag took from her with interest.

What’s not to like?

The best laugh out loud moments for me in Savannah Breeze were when the heroine and her bestie were comparing their relative’s most irritating habits. “Daddy jingles the change in his pocket until I think I’ll lose my mind. And Mama reads everything out loud. Every story in the paper. Every sign you pass in the car.” 

When I phone my parents of an evening, my mother tells me what housework she has done that day, in great detail. How many loads of washing, if she hung the washing out on the line, or on the little line under the eavesof the house near the back door, or if Dad hung them in the garage, and whether or not she got the loads of washing dry. Mum tells me if she has folded the washing and put it away and if there was any ironing.  It drives me insane. And Dad is really deaf, but won’t get hearing aids, so trying to have a conversation with him on the phone can be just as agonising, in a completely different way. I don’t know what habits I have that drive my family crazy, but I hope to one day make my daughter scream with frustration, because that is how the world works…and maybe one day, my grandchildren-to-be will complain about something my daughter does which will in turn make them want to beat her.

Anyway, back to the book. Savannah Breeze’s heroine, BeBe (pronounced BayBay) is a hardworking woman of 35. She owns her own business, a restaurant and has a string of investment properties, plus a home she loves in a good part of town. She seems to be a sucker for Mr Wrong though, having been married three times, twice to the same man. (Slow learner!) BeBe’s latest Mr Wrong, who presented himself as Mr Right, came to her rescue when she was in need of emotional support and defrauded her of everything she owned except a run down motel at the beach.

BeBe heads to the beach motel to lick her wounds, and meets Harry, who was employed by the previous owner of the motel to make some much needed repairs. After a rocky start, BeBe, Harry and BeBe’s best friend Weezie clean up the motel, re-style it with retro furniture and turn the motel into a going concern with real charm.

BeBe however, will not be satisfied until she finds the man who ripped her off and gets back her home, her investments and her pride. When Mr Wrong turns up in another coastal town, BeBe, Harry, Weezie and BeBe’s grandfather head off on an adventure to steal BeBe’s money back. Somewhere along the way, Harry becomes the man of the hour and turns into BeBe’s real hero.

 Savannah Breeze would be a great book to read on a beach holiday, sitting on a brightly coloured towel under a big hat with the sound of the waves in your ears and the smell of the sea in the air. An ice cream from the beach kiosk would probably go down well too, followed by a swim. (Ignore me. It’s bloody freezing in Melbourne and I’m on the countdown for summer. Reading Savannah Breeze could be considered therapuetic).

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Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay

Vinegar Hill

Why would anyone buy a property named Vinegar Hill? The place sounds miserable. A. Manette Ansay’s novel named Vinegar Hill lived up to the bitter connotations of the title.

Vinegar Hill is an unhappy place. The book tells the story of a family, Ellen and James Grier and their children, Amy and Bert, who have been living with James’ parents for what seems like an enternity. They used to have their own home, far from Vinegar Hill and James’ nasty parents, but when James lost his job they used up all of their savings, and moved in with his parents. James thought moving in with his parents was a good idea, and he appeared to have the last word when making important decisions affecting the family.

Ellen is a school teacher and as well as working full time, is doing all of the cooking and cleaning at her in-law’s home. She is constantly put down and undermined by her witch of a mother in law, Mary-Margaret. James has taken a job as a travelling salesman and is rarely at home, leaving Ellen to protect  Amy and Mitch from the worst of Mary-Margaret’s craziness.

The family are Catholic and the book is set in the 1970’s, in a place where good Catholic wives did not leave their loser husbands and horrible in-laws, because their marriages are for better or worse (Vinegar Hill is on the worse side, that’s for sure). James seems to be suffering from depression, at least in the start of the novel, although his mental health is never discussed or treated. Ellen and the children are never in physical danger, although James has scars from beatings his father gave him as a child and the threat of violence is a continual presence.

Ellen’s passivity drove me crazy. Reading Vingear Hill enraged me, as a child of a different generation (and not being religious) I could not understand why Ellen didn’t put her children and herself first and move out of the terrible situation she found them all in. She had a job and a loving family (her mother and sisters did not  like the idea of Ellen leaving James, but I like to think they would have continued loving her and supporting her regardless of her making a descision they didn’t agree with). Ellen even had the example of a work colleague who had left her own husband, so it wasn’t even as if she was going to be the only scarlet woman in town.

In my opinion, life is too short to be a martyr. Ellen should have left her gutless husband who was too badly scared by his violent father and crazy, mean mother long before they had the chance to emotionally damage her own children. I think Vinegar Hill has been made into a movie, but I won’t be watching it, life is also too short to dwell in misery, fiction or otherwise.

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Lottery by Patricia Wood

Lottery

What would you do if you won the lottery?

Buy a first class ticket around the world, buy a red sportscar, pay off the house, help out your family? Would you keep your win a secret, or tell everyone?

I felt as if I won the book lottery, when I selected Lottery by Patricia Wood. Lottery is a joyful, inspiring book with fantastic characters.

Perry L. Crandall, the main character in this novel, actually won the lottery, all twelve million dollars of it. In some ways, Perry actually won the lottery in more ways the one. He has/had the most wonderful grandparents in the world, he loves his work, he has dear friends and he is brave and wise.

Perry (I like to think if I really knew him we would be friends and I would call him ‘Per’ – the nickname is an inside joke which you will understand when you read Lottery yourself), is also an underdog. Perry has an IQ of 76, a no good mother and a pack of thieving cousin-brothers (who incidentally, are lawyers and accountants) who are out to rip him off any way they can. 

The book starts by establishing Perry’s place in the world. He lives with Gram, works at Holsted’s Marine Supply and lives a happy, contented life. Perry’s closest friend is his workmate Keith, who lives on a boat called Diamond Girl. Perry is sweet on a girl called Cherry, who works at the Marina Handy Mart. Perry learns five words a day from the dictionary and saves half of all his earnings.

Perry’s life changes dramatically when Gram dies suddenly. His shonky brother-cousins sell Gram’s house and leave Perry homeless. Perry moves to the apartment above Holsted’s Marine Supplies and with some help from Keith and Gary, his boss, he learns to manage alone.

Then Perry wins the lottery and his greedy family descend. They spend the remainder of the book trying to get Perry to sign a Power of Attorney, in an attempt to steal his money. To get rid of them, Perry writes them cheques. Perry gives money away using cheques to everyone who asks, although his limit is five hundred dollars, because he can’t write small enough to make the amounts he gives away any bigger.

Perry and Keith take Gram’s ashes to Hawaii, as a visit was always on Gram’s list of things to do if she ever won the lottery. Perry also fixes the heater in Keith’s car and the motor on Diamond Girl with his winnings. Although Keith eventually accepts these gifts from Perry, he, Cherry and Gary are probably the only characters who don’t try to take advantage of Perry’s win.

Perry’s definitions are hilarious. For example, “Funny business is something bad and not at all funny.”

The end of the book is really satisfying. I won’t give away what Perry does here, but the last thing I would have done turned out to be the smart thing to do.

I love thinking about what I would do if I won the lottery (I don’t actually play, so my chances of winning are none). Did you know you are more likely to get hit by lightning than to win the lottery?

However, if I were to buy tickets and if I were to win the lottery, I would buy a holiday apartment on the beach for winter at Coolangatta in Queensland and a holiday house for summer in a particular little fishing village on the Great Ocean Road. I would spend my days walking on the beach, reading novels, baking biscuits and cakes and playing the piano. I would volunteer at the local primary school and read with children who need extra help. It makes sense to have a plan, just in case I win.

 

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