Book Review: My Husband’s Sweethearts

October 21, 2008

My Husband’s Sweethearts, a Novel

by:  Bridget Asher

I read a review of this book in People Magazine.  It was published along with the review of Yesterday’s Weather.  It was a good review and peaked my interest.  I purchased them both, simultaneously.

There’s not an elaborate discussion about why I chose this book, other than the premise of it really intrigued me.  In reading it, that intrigue kept me glued.  I very much enjoyed reading this novel.  I must say… this book has “Screenplay” written all over it!  Personally, I could imagine it as a movie that I would definitely go and see… I hope it makes it way to The Big Screen.  It would be interesting to see who they’d cast for the characters.

This book is simple, yet complex.  It is written at just the right pace, with wonderful little “nuggets” of wisdon and insight into love, death, and family.  Simply, I would recommend this book along with many of the other ones that I’ve reviewed this Fall.  Speaking of Fall, this book is on my Fall Into Reading 2008 Challenge (link is below).

The Review:

Title:  My Husband’s Sweethearts, a novel

Author:  Bridget Asher

Author’s Website: http://www.bridgetasher.com/

Publisher:  Bantam-Dell / Delacorte Press

Publisher’s Website: www.bantamdell.com

Type:  Fiction

ISBN #:978-0-385-34189-9 (Hardcover)

Pages: 271

This book is a story of Lucy, a woman married to Artie, a dying man.  Lucy is an auditor with a well-established career and leading a “successful” life.  We meet Lucy, and her assistant Lindsay, while she is on a business trip.  The reader discovers that her dying husband has been cheating on her during her 4-year marriage to him.  She has been away from Artie for 6 months on trips in order to avoid him due to his “transgressions.”  Artie makes, what I believe to be, the sweetest attempts to win her back.  He does so by sending her flowers, wherever she is at on her business trips, accompanied by small flower cards with numbered reasons as to why he loves her.  These cards span from memories they shared to actual things about her and/or their relationship.

She arrives home, takes up residence in the guest bedroom, and is faced with the fact that Artie has only, at most, one month left to live.  In summary, he gives her his “black book” of sweethearts.  The reason being is that she is bitter that she must endure his death alone… and why should she when he has these other women in his life?  Why aren’t they enduring this as well?  So, back to the guest bedroom she heads, black book in hand.  In a drunken mindset, she makes a few calls, after midnight, to these women and leaves them messages to “schedule their time with Artie” while he is on his deathbed.  Most hang up or ignore the call… but, two women do not: Eleanor and Elspa. 

Elspa is an eccentric young woman, piercings, crazy hair and all.  She left college to stay at Lucy’s home to share Artie’s last days.  Eleanor, a bitter woman who is closer to Artie’s age (early 50’s), also arrives to read him the riot act.  Lucy’s Mother, Joan, is also a presence in Lucy’s home… keeping up the garden and attempting to be there for Lucy.  She brings along her dachshund, Bogie, who is overly endowed and wears homemade “jockstraps” to keep his appendage from scraping on the ground (we love Bogie and Lucy’s Mom).

Lucy makes the managerial decision to have Eleanor orchestrate the visits of all of the sweethearts in the blackbook.  In addition, Elspa is to reach her dream of getting her 3-year old daughter back from her parents.  Joan is to handle Artie’s funeral arrangements, as she is a multiple-time widow and the right person for the job.  Lastly, Lucy’s goal is to reunite Artie with his grown son, John, and for John to learn about is father before his death.

This host of characters is a perfect compliment to Lucy and Artie’s journey of healing and forgiveness during his last days.  What they discover, is that there is a common love shared amongst them all.  How they get to that familial love is for the reader to discover when they pick up this great read.

My Favorite Quotes From the Book:

 “Love isn’t logical,” I insist.  “It’s immune to logic.”

Title of a Chapter: “You Can’t Always Eat Your Way Out of a Problem-but If You Want to Try, Begin with Chocolate”

“He has a depth of attention that comes with his love that is keen and sharp.”

“Everyone should hear their own eulogies-but the notes, aren’t they kind of a love song?  And aren’t the best eulogies a kind of love song?”

“We need to love each other again, with all that love entails-even the hard things, like forgiveness and acceptance.  I don’t think it makes logical sense-that one love can bring back another love-but it’s true.”

“Does my soul look fat in this body?”

On Sher’s “One to Ten Scale:” 

I like the kind of books that keep me up, in bed, at night… that I just can’t close my eyes because I want to keep learning the story.  This story did that for me.  Mainly, I think, because this is a story that I could see really happening to somebody.  And, Lucy is such a great protagonist… a person that I can relate with as to how she deals with things.  When I read a story like this… and it grabs me… not because of anything other than my soul can relate… then, I have to say I really liked the book.  Bridget Asher earns a 9!  I’d share this book with a girlfriend, no qualms about it.

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I just love…. NICHOLAS SPARKS!

October 16, 2008

Love is in the air….

My hunky, romantic writer, Nicholas Sparks, is one of my all-time favorites and not because he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner (at least, I think not ?!?).  I like him because reading one of his books is like going to a good romantic comedy… or drama movie… I just get lost.  I dream.  I think that I could fall in love with that guy who just came to town, or that men really are as great as his heroes.  Like I said… I just get lost.  And, I don’t care.. because I LOVE TO!

Now, I have to share… ever since I started blogging about Book Reviews, just a mere 2 months and 8 days ago (only that long?), my reading eye has changed.  I’m almost ashamed to admit it.  Before, I was just really happy to get an easy book… a fun book… something for the bubble bath or soccer practice.  Now, after reading so many great works, my reading tastes are starting to change and my reading eye is becoming more discerning.  How did that happen?  Lisa did not warn me about that!  So, after Shana reminded me that I had two “not so good” reads/reviews in a row…. I was determined to read A GOOD ONE! 

Guess what happened?  The first 4 chapters of my wonderful Nicholas Sparks’ book, I yawned through.  I was totally disconnected from.  It forced me to take a look at myself.  I am NOT the world’s appointed book critic for literary perfectionism… no, I am Sher… who loves cheesy, fun, funny, romantic, and not scary books!  So, for Goodness Sakes, Sher, snap out of it and FRIGGIN’ ENJOY THIS BOOK! 

Guess what?

I did!

The Review:

Title:  The Lucky One

Author:  Babe-A-Licious aka Nicholas Sparks

Publisher:  Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group USA

Author Website: www.nicholassparks.com

Publisher Website: www.hachettebookgroupusa.com

Type:  Fiction

Pages (Hardcover): 326

ISBN 10#: 0-446-57993-9

ISBN 13#: 978-0-446-57993-3

This is a typical, lovely, and heart-warming story, Nicholas Sparks’ Style!  The setting is in Hampton, North Carolina, a relatively small community.  Our heroine is Elizabeth (“Beth”), a single mom who lives with her Nana on a farm-type property with a wonderful old house and a kennel.  Nana is a dog trainer and has quite the customer base who bring their dogs for “Doggie Boot Camp” from as far away as Florida.  Beth’s son, Ben, is a wonderful kid who is intelligent and soft-hearted.  His less-than-desirable father, Keith Clayton, is a P.I.T.A. for Beth and Ben.  He is a local sheriff and is the grandson of the town’s wealthiest man, also “Ben,” who practically owns 1/2 the town, or at least the real estate in it.  Beth and Keith met when they were young, had an unplanned pregnancy, married, and shortly thereafter divorced.  That was when Beth and Ben went to live with Nana and the doggies!

We come to find out that Keith Clayton is a womanizer and a heavy drinker.  He still, in some preverse way, is possessive over Beth and wants her to desire him again.  Hence, he bullies everybody in town and ensures that any good candidates for her are shot down!  So, she’s single forever and has no idea that her ex is the mastermind behind it.  In addition, Keith treats Ben like garbage and expects him to be a different kind of boy than that of who he actually is.  He wants him to be some jock, over-testosterone’d boy… while Ben likes activity but also plays chess and the violin.  Keith practically treats Ben like a cleaning person when he comes once a month to visit.

Our “hero” of the story is Logan Thibault (“Thigh-Bolt”).  Logan… what a name!  Anyway, he served in the desert wars and was deployed 3 times.  Each time, he manages to escape death and return home.  As not to “spoil” the book, I won’t go into much about his history or why he ends up in Hampton… but, eventually he does.  There, he meets Elizabeth. 

As you can imagine, all sorts of calamities ensue as a result of his interaction with Beth, as far as Keith-the-Jerk-O-Haulic is concerned.  It’s nice to watch the development of that relationship.

The ending is saved for the die-hard Sparks Fans… who haven’t gotten around to it yet!

Other Reviews & Author Interviews:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2008/09/12/DI2008091202569.html

Did You Know (From His Website):

He is a black-belt in Tae Kwon Do?

He is a black-belt in Tae Kwon Do?

He still holds a track and field record at the University of Notre Dame?

After selling The Notebook, the first thing he bought was a new wedding ring for his wife?

Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) are the only contemporary authors to have a novel spend more than a year on both the New York Times hardcover and paperback best-seller lists?

In a poll of Entertainment Weekly readers, he was selected as the favorite author?

He was selected by People Magazine as the “Sexiest Author?”

He is a major contributor to the Creative Writing Programat the University of Notre Dame?

 

 

 

On Sher’s “One To Ten Scale:” 

For the sheer “fun” of this book and it’s ability to bring me back to ME, I give this book an 8!  It isn’t as wonderful as A Walk to Remember or The Notebook, and maybe not even as good as True Believer and At First Sight.  But, it’s good, old fashioned Sparks.  And, it makes my tummy all warm inside!

 Buy The Lucky One at Amazon.com.

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Harper Perennial’s “Being Written”

October 8, 2008

Being Written… The Review

This is one of the first books that I have received from a publisher for review.  I find it interesting that via the book tours and the publisher submissions that I am being introduced to such different genres of novels…. definitely ones that I’d never pick out from the bookstore shelves myself. 

This book is definitely eclectic.  It’s different from the other types of books that I have read and I find it a bit difficult to review… for the lack of comparison to other works of a similar nature.  But, what you don’t know is what stretches you, I believe.

The Review:

Title:  Being Written, A Novel

Author:  William Conescu

Publisher:  Harper Perennial/Harper Collins

Author Website: www.williamconescu.com

Publisher Website: www.harperperennial.com

Type:  Fiction

Pages (Paperback): 193

ISBN #: 978-0-06-145134-8

This is a very interesting story… told from, I believe, the second person point of view.  Although, in the beginning of the book, I wasn’t exactly sure if it was written in first person from the narrator’s viewpoint.  I, at first, believed that the protagonist of the story was the author of the story, Daniel.  I later changed my mind to believe that Delia, the love interest was my protagonist.

Daniel, an aspiring writer, believes that he is actually a character in a book that is being written.  Simultaneously, he is the author of the same story that unfolds around him.  What the reader discovers is that the story doesn’t necessarily “unfold around him.”  Rather, his actions tend to affect the direction of the story in the way he intends it to play out.

The main characters of the story are as follows:

  • Daniel, the “author” and main “character” of the story… is he insane?  Or insightful?
  • Delia, the “love interest” in the story… a beautiful singer from a wealthy family.  She is in a dysfunctional relationship with a man who prostitutes himself with other men to pay his share of the rent.
  • Graham, Delia’s boyfriend… the man-whore who only takes the dominant role in his “prostitution” ways.
  • Monty, Delia’s friend.. an eclectic, yet insightful friend.
  • Jon, Delia and Graham’s gay friend… most likely more so a friend to Graham.

These characters intertwine and Daniel’s actions tend to advance the lives, or rather yet, alter the lives of these characters.  He sees his actions as components of the story that is being written, the one that he is a part of, rather than a direct result of his actions.  Simply, although he attempts to write, he in actuality hears the sound of a writer’s pencil scratching paper writing the story about his life (and the other characters’ lives) as he lives it out day by day…. almost as if his actions were led by the writer of the novel and not his own.  I know this is difficult to grasp in reading a review, but the book does a much better job of explaining this than I do.  You understand the approach in the novel as it unfolds.

In attempts to not be a “spoiler” of the story, I will, once again, avoid discussing the ending of this novel.  Although, I must say that the last 1/3 of the novel was miles above the first two-thirds of it, as far as grabbing my attention and keeping it there.

It’s a short novel, and if you are interested in a different approach to writing and story telling, it’s a quick read and one that is interesting to know.  If you are more the type of the “classical reader,” this may not be your taste.  Like I said, it’s a hard book to review… at least, for me.  But it did expand my horizons to think about the possibilities that writing a novel could bring to your world.

All of my other reviews contain my “favorite quotes” or “favorite sections” of the work.  Due to the nature of this book, I can’t offer that in this review.  Although, there are cleverly written scenes and very descriptive narrations of the characters and their lives.  It’s more of a “read it and you’ll see” type of book.

Sher’s “Out of Ten Scale:”

Automatically, I feel that I’m at a disadvantage to rate this book in comparison to the others that I have reviewed on my site.  There are definitely good components to this work that make be glad that I read it… however, because it is so different than what I am used to… I tend to want to give it a rather “average” score.  That’s not entirely fair to the author, who I believe, is far more creative than I to come up with the approach that he did in writing this book. 

The other issue is that, I have always given a ranking in my reviews.   If I neglect to do so for this, I wouldn’t be true to myself, my readers, or the publisher who sent me this book to read.  Therefore, I’ve decided to rate it on my scale as follows:  I give it a 6 for overall content and read-ability.  I give it an 8 for originality.

 Buy Being Written at Amazon.com.

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Another Menagerie… The Finest Dogs

October 7, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

A Novel by David Wroblewski

It’s amazing to me, the speed in which this novel rose to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List.  It’s been on that list for 4 months and is currently listed as #1.  Personally, I heard about  this book on another’s blog… a book review blog!  See?  Our writings may pay-off to others and they just may pick up that book and have a wonderful, mental adventure because of a post written.  Thank you, blogger!

Not long after I ordered it, I heard many things about the book popping up, seemingly everywhere!  Then, Oprah made the announcement of it making her Book Club list.  Now, it’s annointed and everyone’s reading it

What amazes me about this book the most is the fact that this is Wroblewski’s first novel!  If we could all be so lucky and talented!  This man, however, put much time and research into the writing of this book.  Another thing notable to mention is that he comes from the region that this novel’s setting takes place in.  As such, he is able to beautifully describe the landscape of this story in great detail.

It seems like I’ve been on quite the “kick” of reading and reviewing novels that include the stories of animals.  Recently, I reviewed The Art of Racing in the Rain and Dewey.  It’s apparent to me that I just cannot say “no” to books that include the stories of our non-human best friends!  I learned, however, much from this novel about the breeding and training of dogs… as it could be (man, would it be helpful on my pup, Claire!).

In short, this is a great book.  It’s however, a long book… one that, at times, I couldn’t go to sleep and put it down… other times… it seemed like the endless story that I’d never reach the end of.  However, as I finished it… I wanted to know what happened next… that’s always the sign, for me, of a book that I loved.

The Review

Title:  The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, A Novel

Author:  David Wroblewski

Type:  Fiction

Publisher:  Harper Collins

Pages (Hardback): 566

ISBN #: 978-0-06-137422-7

Website:  www.edgarsawtelle.com

This book is the story of a boy and his dogs; well, that and the history of his family.   The story is set in the region of rural Wisconsin adjacent to the Chequamegon National Forest.  The story begins with the construction of Edgar’s home… how the house, barn and silo were built and by whom.  We learn about how Edgar’s grandparents come to purchase the land and it’s accouterments and about their sons, Edgar (“Gar”) and Claude.

Eventually, the land and property is assumed by Gar and his wonderful wife, Trudy.  They attempt to have a child and are faced with multiple miscarriages.  Thereafter, they have what they believe to be a successful pregnancy, however the child was still born.  However, they become blessed with a viable pregnancy and the birth of their son, Edgar (named after his father).  Edgar’s greatest fan and best companion is the family dog, Almondine, who becomes my favorite character of the story.  There’s only one hitch, Edgar is born with the inability to speak.   He can hear, but cannot talk. 

Due to Trudy and Gar’s unbounding love and desire for a child, they do everything in their power to raise Edgar with every possible ability to live a “normal,” productive life.  They eventually teach Edgar to sign as his means of communicating with them and the dogs.  Oh yes… the dogs.  Well, their family business is the breeding of a very special line of German Shepherds.  The “specialness” of their breeding line can only be understood in your reading of this novel in its entirety.

Edgar has a tremendous quest for learning and has an amazing vocabulary by age 3.  He reads and reads… and is eventually given a dictionary to learn words… and, also to use for the proper naming of the pups reared on the farm.  Trudy is the trainer of the dogs and has a gift that “The Dog Whisperer” would be envious of.  Gar is the breeder, the researcher of blood-lines, hereditary factors, and the “x-factor” in certain dogs that should be bred into their line.  Gar’s attention to detail and record-keeping is impeccable and detailed doesn’t adequately describe his desire to understand the science of his specialized breeding techniques.

Edgar’s responsibilities with the dogs grow as his age increases.  He and his father share a remarkable bond with the dogs.  Gar allows Edgar to raise a litter of pups from the actual birth of them.  Unfortunately, Gar is unable to complete the process with Edgar due to an untimely death.  There are many factors surrounding his death and the characters then involved in the storyline that I will leave to the reader.

Conflicts arise after Gar’s death that lead Edgar to running away from the farm.  He takes along with him three of the pups from his litter.  In his attempt to cross into Canadian territory and commence a new life as a young man, he learns the skills of survival and the duty and responsibility to ensure the lives of the dogs who travel alongside him.  The tales of his journey remain undisclosed in this review and you will enjoy them in the reading of the novel.

Eventually, Edgar is faced with the duty to return home to his mother, for a number of reasons.  It is there that the climax of the story is reached, along with its conclusion. 

There is a mystical aspect to this work that kept me intrigued throughout.  That inexplicable, intangible component of our spirit and our minds that accompanies us on our travels through life.  It is this aspect of the book that, I believe, makes this book what it is.

My favorite part of the story is when Edgar meets a young girl at Mellen’s Diner.  The excerpt from the book relating to this is:

“Mama says I should learn some of that from you, but I can’t.  I tried, but things just come out of me!  I said a person who can talk ought to talk.  Don’t you think that’s true?”

He nodded.

“My gramma’s like me.  Wanna know what my gramma says?”

Now he was sure he didn’t know this little girl, and he didn’t know her mother or grandmother, either.  Yet, the more he looked at her face, the more familiar it became, as if he’d seen it often, but at a distance.  He glanced back at the corner booth.  Her family didn’t have one of their dogs-he would have recognized them at once if they had.

“Well, do you want to know or not?” the girl asked, stamping her foot on the linoleum. 

He shrugged again.  Okay.  Sure.

“She says that before you were born, God told you a secret he didn’t want anyone else to know.”

He looked at her.  There wasn’t much a person could say in response to a thing like that.  He considered scribbling out a note to the little girl:  I could just write it down.  But he thought that was not her point, and she was probably too young to read anyway.  He particularly wanted to tell her she didn’t have to whisper.  People made mistakes like that-talking extra lour or getting nervous.  But the little girl wasn’t nervous, not in the least.  She acted as if she had known him his whole life. 

She crooked her finger at him.  He leaned down and she cupped her hand by his ear.

“You could tell me the secret,” she whispered.  “I wouldn’t tell.  I promise.  Sometimes it makes it easier if just one other person knows.”

At first the little girl stood wide-eyed and placid. He sat back and looked at her.  Then her eyes squinted into crescents and her lips drew together into an angry little circle.

“You don’t remember, do you?” she scolded, and now she wasn’t whispering.  “You forgot!”

Edgar’s mother, on the far side of the dining room, stopped talking with Doctor Papineau and turned.

Don’t look at me, he signed.  I don’t even know who she is.

Abruptly, the little girl turned and stormed off.  She’d taken five of six steps before she whirled around to face him again.  She was a terribly dramatic child, and Edgar had a glimpse of what it must be like in her house.  She was probably staging little scenes like this all the time over eating her vegetables and watching television.

She scrunched up her face as though thinking through a knotty problem.

“Would you tell me if you did remember?” she asked, finally.

Yes.

Her expression brightened into a smile.  Her face was still oddly familiar, still impossible to place.

“Oh,” she said.  “Okay!”  Then she skipped away.  Before she reached the corner booth her attention was caught by a baby in a high chair and she stopped to poke the baby and ask questions when it started to cry.

“What was that about?” Trudy said when she slipped back into the booth.

I don’t know.

“Maybe you have an admirer,” she said.

And for the third time since they’d walked into the diner, he could think of no better reply than a shrug.

The secret, from God, that was given to Edgar is revealed as the story develops and concludes.  It is a secret that you will want to know!

As I have provided an excerpt from the book, this review, unlike my standard ones, will not include “favorite quotes.”  The above stated section is my favorite.

Author’s Questions: (I’ve only chosen a few)

  1. How would Edgar’s story have been different if he had been born with a voice? How would Edgar himself have been different? Since Edgar can communicate perfectly well in sign most of the time, why should having a voice make any difference at all?  His relationship with the dogs and method of communication would have been significantly different.  His ability to speak with his mind, his eyes, and his hands differed from all other humans around him.  In addition, his ability to communicate with his mother, without Claude understanding, was paramount to the story.
  2. At first glance, Henry Lamb seems an unlikely caretaker for a pair of Sawtelle dogs, yet Edgar feels that Tinder and Baboo will be safe with him. What is it about Henry that makes him fit? He understood the dogs through Edgar’s eyes.  He came to love them and appreciate them in a way that could not be communicated by verbal language.  Plus, the dogs chose Henry!  Would it have been better if Edgar had placed the dogs with someone more experienced? No.  Why doesn’t Edgar simply insist that all the dogs return home with him?  Because the dogs belong with Henry… they make him extraordinary.
  3. In the final moments of the story, Essay must make a choice. What do you think she decides, and why? To live as Edgar taught her and to live true to her spirit.  Do you think all the dogs will abide by her decision?   Most.

On Sher’s “One to Ten Scale:”

I am giving this one a 9 out of 10.  It was a very good book.  I enjoyed it very much.  I believe that many people will enjoy a considerable amount of aspects of this book.

Other Reviews:

Book Room Reviews

 

 

 

 

    Buy The Story of Edgar Sawtelle at Amazon.com.

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The Sunday Salon: The Art of Racing in the Rain

September 28, 2008

 

 

My Sunday Review

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

———————————————————————–————–

This Sunday, and for my The Sunday Salon post, I have finished my second book of the week and will be commencing a new one, Dewey-The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron.  But, before I scoot along to Dewey, I want to share with you my experience with The Art of Racing In the Rain

First and foremost, I must share that the picture of the doggie on the cover of the book looks just like my darling, Tori.  She’s a beautiful, 3-year old Yellow English Labrador Retriever with a heart of GOLD!  We call her “Golden Star, ”  amongst other things.  So, like Marley and Me, The Art of Racing in the Rain, grabbed me by the sheer connection to my beautiful “Puppers.”  The name of my blog, A Novel Menagerie, is not only because I have a menagerie of books that I love to read, but also because I am the master/owner of a considerably large in-home menagerie.  Tori, was our first dog… and the heart and soul of our family.

Here are some pictures of my baby-cakes:Doesn't this look like the book cover?

Doesn’t she look like the cover in this picture?  We were on our way to Big Bear for Thanksgiving, stuck in traffic on the 91… she was sitting in the front of my little Lexus (miss the gas mileage on that car!).

The picture below is on the first day that we brought her home and into our family.  I’ve never, in my life, seen the twins so completely and utterly happy.  She’s so pretty!

 Tori was, for us, a dream and a goal that we all wanted to reach.  We decided that it was not fair to a dog to adopt her until we knew we owned a home and that took us 3 years to achieve.  We seaThe day we brought her home.rched and searched for her.  I wanted a small dog, like a purse puppy.  But, this dog is the one that God led us to… and we ended up falling madly in love with.  People exclaim that they are so jealous that we own her and promise to kidnap her one day while we are fast asleep.  FAT CHANCE! 

How does this relate to The Art of Racing in the Rain?  Well, the story is told from the viewpoint of “Enzo,” a yellow Labrador retriever mix, male dog.  That immediately grabs me into purchasing, reading and reviewing this novel.

Oh, and girls… I know totally inappropriate of me… but, the author is so friggin’ cute… but, married… with kidlets.  Well, I’m kinda into those grey-haired, goatee’d guys… with blue eyes.. and on the video… (below), <sigh>… Anyway, in case you know a single one that fits that description in Orange County, CA… write me! Oh, well… I’ll find my grey-haired fox someday!  Now, back to my story…

So, I picked up the novel as part of my Fall Into Reading Challenge 2008.  I expected a lot, of course, that may come from reading Marley & Me (wonderful book).  This book was a good one.  The only part I couldn’t really “sink my teeth into” were the racing metaphors and info.  Now, perhaps if I was a race car enthusiast, I may have LOVED the book… and, perhaps those who do follow the circuit… may LOVE this work.  I can’t say that I loved it, but I certainly did enjoy it and am glad that I read it.

My Review:

Author:  Garth Stein

Book Website: www.artofracingintherain.com

Author’s Website: http://www.garthstein.com/

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0-06-153793-6

Type: Fiction

The Art of Racing in the Rain begins with the narration of Enzo, a yellow Labrador retriever mix.  He tells the story of how he met his owner, Denny, a race car driver and mechanic by day.  From there, Enzo tells the tale of how Denny fell in love with Eve, whom he marries quickly.  They have a daughter, Zoe, and eventually fulfill the “American Dream” and move into a house in Seattle, Washington. 

At first, Enzo is not thrilled with Eve or her relationship with Denny, but eventually he finds his place as her protector.  In addition, Enzo comes to love little Zoe beyond measure.  Enzo is completely obsessed with his next life as a human and the use of opposable thumbs.  He shows an innate intelligence and discusses his TV shows and knowledge of the human and animal races.  He is sure that, in his next life, he will be reincarnated to a man who will shake hands with Denny and become a race-car driver.

Enzo detects an odor from Eve’s head, that he believes to be an odor which describes a deep illness within her.  She subsequently suffers from migraines and horrible spells, but absolutely refuses to go to the doctor.  In addition, when she slices open her hand and OBVIOUSLY needs to go to the Emergency Room, she insists on not going.  But, fate has a way of just making things happen… she has an injury on a rock at a local waterfall and ends up being rushed to the hospital for a concussion.  Here, the large tumor is identified and later discovered to be a life-ending, cancerous one.

Eve’s awful parents… and, you’ll only understand “awful” when you read the book…. who live on a nearby island, insist that Eve is taken to their home for nursing and recovery as Denny was working and could not provide for her the full time attention that she required.  He begrudgingly agreed.  Then, they hit him with the WHAMMY, they feel it best that Zoe stay their during her convalescence as “her mother is dying” and “she should spend as much time with her as possible.”  The writing is on the wall.  So, Denny agrees and they set up a “visitation schedule” of sorts.

Months go by and eventually, Eve passes.  That’s when the madness begins.  The parents sue for custody of Zoe and go to extreme tactics to ensure their success.  This part of the story I shall leave out for the sake of those who have not yet read this book.  In any event, the second half of the book is Denny’s brave trail towards winning custody of his daughter back and realizing his dream in race car driving.

The story does end on a happy note, albeit a bit predictable.

My favorite quote from the book:

“…My soul has learned what it came here to learn, and all the other things are just things.  We can’t have everything we want.  Sometimes, we simply have to believe.”

-and later on the same page:

“I know this much about racing in the rain.  I know it is about balance.  it is about anticipation and patience.  I know all of the driving skills that are necessary for one to be successful in the rain.  But racing in the rain is also about the mind!  It is about owning one’s own body.  About believing that one’s car is merely an extension of one’s body.  About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain.  It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything.  And everything is you.”

An interesting interview with Garth Stein (from his website):

Your novel is told in the voice of Enzo, aspiring race-car driver Denny Swift’s loyal dog, who has a keen observer’s detachment, as opposed to the human characters and their conflicting emotions. How did you develop the dog’s voice?

If Enzo had a choice, he would love to interact with the world around him much more than his limitations as a dog allow. It is his enforced muteness that drives him to hone his powers of opinion and observation. So his voice grew out of that—what would it be like to be trapped in a sound-proof booth in which you could hear everything but say nothing? Well, first, I think, you would become a very good listener.

Enzo is one of those dogs that is “nearly human,” but at one point in the story he feels the need to lose that complexity and just be an animal for a while. Why did that happen?

We all suffer moments of self-doubt, and Enzo is no different. Midway through the novel, he has a crisis of faith—he believes that his attempts to live to human standards have not helped any of the people he loves so much, and so he goes wilding and embraces his true canine nature. It’s funny, but in the context of the story, it’s actually one of the most human things he could possibly do.

It is interesting that the dog can sense Eve’s illness before anyone else can. Where did that idea come from?

I have read articles about dogs who can smell disease, especially cancer, so that’s something that is out there and is not a new idea. But what I wanted to convey with Enzo is not so much his “smelling” of Eve’s illness but his sensitivity to her condition on an energetic level. My wife is an energy intuitive, which means she can read illness in people or bacteria in foods and so on. It sounds a little crazy to hear about a person doing it; for some reason, it’s somewhat less threatening to hear about a dog doing it.

How did your own experiences in racing influence the character of Denny Swift and his experiences?

I’ve done some racing on the club level, and I really enjoy it. My experience in racing definitely helped me write the car scenes. But, maybe more importantly, my racing experience led me to a great friendship with a semipro race-car driver, Kevin York, who kind of acted as the inspiration for Denny. Kevin is racing in the Koni Challenge series this year, and his #75 car sports a GoEnzo.com decal!

How do you balance writing with three kids at home?

I can answer that with a children’s riddle: A man who weighs 150 pounds has three ten-pound bowling balls. He has to carry all three balls across a bridge over a deep abyss, but the bridge can only support 170 pounds, and he can’t make more than one trip. How does he cross the bridge with all the bowling balls? (Answer: he juggles the balls as he crosses the bridge! Voila!)

What’s your next project?

I have a few different ideas I’m playing with, and I know that soon they will all fall into place, and I’ll have a great story. Until then, please enjoy Enzo!

Garth’s Video on the Book:

 

On Sher’s “One to Ten Scale…”

This is a tough one for me.  I wanted so much to give it a higher score than I’m able to give it.  It was an enjoyable book and one that I can relate to.  But, in my honest opinion, I have to give it a 7.

Oh, and just one more picture of my cute dog (sorry.. had to)

Other Reviews: http://bcfreviews.wordpress.com/2008/09/12/the-art-of-racing-in-the-rain-by-garth-stein/
http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20198691,00.html
 http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews2/9780061537936.asp
http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061668241/Art_of_Racing_in_the_Rain_The/index.aspx
http://apatchworkofbooks.blogspot.com/2008/07/art-of-racing-in-rain.html
http://www.bookclubgirl.com/book_club_girl/2008/04/hear-nancy-pear.html
http://villagebooksblogs.typepad.com/village_books_blog/2008/05/a-doggone-good.html
 

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Book Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

September 24, 2008

As the last of my Costco book table purchases, I read The Gargoyle at my daughter Dee-Dee’s suggestion.  As I mentioned in a previous post, my daughter Colie picked out Water for Elephants, because I collect elephants, and I purchased it from Costco.  As Dee-Dee is one of the “always competing” twins, she picked out The Gargoyle and told me that she thought I would like it because I liked Season of the Witch.   OK… so, I bought them both and have already read and reviewed Water for Elephants.  Picture now, Dee-Dee bugging me… “Mom, when are you going to read the book that I picked out for you?” 

“Next, babe, next… I promise.”

First, let’s just say that I thought this book was VERYgood!  I’m a bit surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did.  The book is very different than the types of books that I typically gravitate towards.  Just goes to show that “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover!”  Oh, and Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants , quotes on the back of the book cover:

“I was blown away by Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle.  It reminded me of Life of Pi, with its unanswered (and unanswerable) contradictions.  A hypnotic, horrifying, astonishing novel that manages, against all odds, to be redemptive.”

The Review: 

Author:  Andrew Davidson

Book Website:  www.thegargoyle.com

Publisher:  DoubleDay

ISBN: 978-0-385-52494-0

Type:  Fiction

This novel is a bit difficult to describe, in terms of a story-line… at least, for me.  This novel has a main story, which is the tale of the narrator (I don’t think we ever get his name).  He was a “porno” star, drug addict, very dark and obviously unhappy man.  One night, high on drugs, he’s driving a windy road and suffers a haleucination of a “flight of arrows” coming towards him.  To avoid the arrows, he crashes off of the road and heads down a ravine.  The car catches fire and he nearly dies…. but, the car eventually falls into a creek and he is saved by the water. 

He undergoes extensive treatment in a burn-ward of a hospital.  There, we meet several of his doctors and nurses, who become an integral part of the main story line.  My favorite of the group is Sayuri, his Japanese physical therapist.  During his very long and painful stay, he meets Marianne Engel, a patient from the “psych” ward.  He believes her to be schizophrenic or bi-polar, after concluding that she is not an actress nor a “porno stalker.”  She is an interesting creature, this Marianne Engel… covered in tattoos, her backside is depicted on the cover of the book.  She is eccentric and beautiful… and mysterious and crazy.  Nevertheless, the reader grows to love her… as does the narrator.

Mariane Engel visits the narrator throughout his recovery and helps to nurse him back to health in more ways than one.  In this duration, she tells him stories.  These “side-stories” in the book were, by far, my most favorite part of the novel.  They were all great, but I loved Sei’s story (see video below) the best!  The Viking one, not too shabby! 

The narrator makes his way out of the hospital and moves in with Marianne Engel, who claims to have been alive since the 1300’s.  Apparently, she was given thousands of hearts by God, and it wasn’t until she’d given all of them away that she could return to heaven.  The last of the hearts would belong to her true love and she must give it to him and he must release it back to her.  Marianne is a stone-carver and makes her living carving gargoyles and the like.  Of course, she has crazy amounts of cash money and is able to take on the financial burden of caring for him.   In her care-taking of him, she continues to tell him about those “side stories,” now which include the story of their love in a past life.

I’d rather not give the ending away by continuing my rendition of the story-line.  But, the narrator has to overcome many obstacles to find his way to true happiness.  You see, while he was in the hospital, the only dream he had was to kill himself as soon as he was released.  As horrible as his life was before the accident, he now viewed himself as a monster and less than a man (he lost his “P” in the accident).   What the narrator learned was that, while his physical appearance and ability was completely shot, he actually became alive and happy for the first time in his life after the accident.  All that he had before was physical beauty… but not an ounce of joy.  Now, not an ounce of physical beauty, but a heart that was full. 

Sei’s Story: 

The author and DoubleDay have a wonderful site with many resources that tie to the novel.  I might spend some more time there reading up on the historical data beneath this novel.  It is obvious that Davidson spent an incredible amount of time in the research phases of this debut novel.  On the site, there are questions for book clubs/readers:

For Discussion: Throughout each liaison, how do the novel’s lovers honor their fate? They realize that they are dying in the name of true love.

For Discussion: The Gargoyle begins with arguably one of the most stunning opening scenes in contemporary literature. How was the author able to make horrifying details alluring? What was your initial reaction to these images?  I was very visually connected to the author’s description of the crash and the fire.  For me, it was totally engrossing and I couldn’t put the book down.  Although, I understand from other reviewers that they were repulsed by the opening.

There is much, much more that I can write about this novel… however, the reader’s journey in this book is such a personal one that I find it best to end the review here.  God, heaven, hell, the devil, love, life, death, faith, and the lack thereof, are all major concepts in this work.  Therefore, it is within the mind of the reader that this book breathes life into… it’s a journey for you to take on your own.

My favorite quotes from the novel:

“No, it’s the opposite.  I’m a vessel that water is poured into and splashes out of.  It’s a circle, a flowing circle between God and the gargoyles and me, because that is what God is-a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

“Skin is the dividing line between people, where you end and others begin.  But in sex, all that changes.  If skin is a fence that divides people, sex is the gate that opens your body to the other person.”

“Some day soon,” Lance said, “you’ll walk out of here and have to decide how you’re going to live the rest of your lives.  Will you be defined by what other people see, or by the essence of your soul?”

“Any man who believes he can describe love,” I answered, “understands nothing about it.”

On the Sher’s “Out of Ten” Scale (ten being the best), I’d give this book an 8.75-9!  The only trouble I had in the book was the journey with getting the serpent out…

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Literarily’s Blog Posts & Contest This Week!

September 23, 2008

The Smart One and the Pretty One Give*A*Way at Literarily

Shana at Literarily has interviewed a very interesting author and has also reviewed her work The Smart One & The Pretty OneThe review indicates that if you like those “chick” books, you’ll love this one.  She even compared it to Jennifer Weiner’s works.  Aaahhh…. can you say “bubble bath?”

So run, do not walk, over to Literarily and get into the contest!  Now, wait… maybe walk… I want to win!

Best.

Sher