Book Review: Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Good Company
by
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I knew this book was going to be good before I even started it, and it wasn’t because I thought I’d relate to the characters’ professions or to the setting, but simply because I loved Sweeney’s characters in The Nest and was confident she would write another good story! The main characters in Good Company are two married couples who have been best friends since their early days. Three of the four are stage actors (one is a doctor) who move from New York to Los Angeles and undergo west coast career and life changes. I’m neither a New Yorker nor an Angelino and my last stage performance was in my school’s fifth-grade production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. The reason the book is good is because Sweeney draws you in with her characters, who are really just regular people who face typical life problems. The title, named after the actors’ New York theater company also looks at old friendships, family, love and marriage and forces the characters to question if they are indeed in good company.

The story begins in Los Angeles, when Flora Fletcher finds her husband’s lost wedding ring in the back of an old filing cabinet. Thirteen years earlier, Julian had told her the ring had slipped off his finger while swimming and, despite searches, they had declared the ring lost forever. So, what’s it doing in the cabinet?

Flora’s discovery puts a cloud over their daughter, Ruby’s high school graduation party that night and leads to an unraveling of her life and marriage as she knew it. How can this be? She and Julian are in a good place in their marriage and careers. She’s a voiceover actress for a popular animated show and Julian stars in a successful seventies’ series. Also at risk is Flora’s relationship with her best friend, Margot, now a regular on a popular medical drama.

This is a book about transitions and the stresses that pop up, a super-interesting topic to me. I love how the author writes about how big life changes force you to reassess.

While Los Angeles is their current home, New York City and Good Company’s upstate performance venue figure prominently. The author jumps back to New York, when Flora and Julian first meet, marry and have Ruby. I liked the realistic dynamics between Flora and Julian in during these times, what they disagreed about, how they soldiered on, despite not having regular work. And while readers know Flora and Margot, who are very different from each other, are best friends, I liked learning how they became that way and what Margot brought to the relationship. Readers also learn about Margot’s marriage to David and why he gave up his practice.

I could say a lot more about this book, but readers are better off enjoying it first-hand. Told from several points of view, readers get a look into the minds of Flora, Margot, Ruby and later, Julian. Sweeney tackles the universal tough questions, writes with humor, and gives us authentic and likable characters.

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Book Review: Tommy’s Mommy’s Fish by Nancy Dingman Watson

Hi Everyone! In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing this updated post from 2014 about a book that was a favorite with my kids and made me sentimental about my own childhood. It was published in 1996, but you can still get it online and maybe at your library!

Tommy’s Mommy’s Fish
by
Nancy Dingman Watson

Illustrated by Thomas Aldren Wingman Watson

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When my kids were little, we found this book at our local library. It was on display and there was something that pulled us to it. We loved the cover picture of a young boy on the beach, holding a fishing rod, dog at his side.

In this special story, Tommy lives with his family on the ocean beach and he wants to give his mother a birthday present, all from him. His older brother and sisters are busy making their own gifts for their mother. Cammie is making a bayberry candle, Caitlin is making beach-plum jelly and Peter is cutting a pile of locust logs to fit the fireplace. They let him help. “You can help me, and we can give it to her together,” Caitlin offers. Cammie and Peter make similar offers, but Tommy says no, “I wanted it to be a present all from me,” he tells us.

Tommy is determined to give his mother something special and decides to catch her a fish, “And it isn’t going to be any little old sand dabber or a funny-looking thing like a goosefish or a sea robin. It’s going to be a STRIPED BASS.”

Tommy stands at the surf with his pole and waits. Gulls pass, the sunlight fades, the moon makes a “bright golden path over the water.” Tommy knows that patience is best when he finally hooks a big fat silver bass, but who will win the battle in the surf?

My kids loved this picture of the fish. The artwork in this book is terrific!

tommy's fish
Little boys love pictures that are a little bit scary!

I love this book for a couple reasons. First, the story is just plain nice. I love family stories with dynamics between brothers and sisters. I love how these kids aren’t buying their mother anything, they are thinking of things to make, things that she will like. The second thing I like is the hard-to-explain, but very real way the book makes me feel, especially when Tommy faces the big fish. I don’t want to spoil the story, but I love Tommy’s narration of this moment.

So if you’re looking for a nice “old-school” kind of book, with a warm family feel, check this out, even if there aren’t any little ones around!

Nancy Dingman Watson
Nancy Dingman Watson

Nancy Dingman Watson (1933-2001) was an American author of more than 25 children’s books, novels and poetry books, including Blueberries Lavender, When Is Tomorrow and Tommy’s Mommy’s Fish, which was illustrated by her son and re-released in 1996.

Ms. Watson was born in Paterson, New Jersey and grew up in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. She attended Wheaton College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Smith College. She married Aldren Watson in 1941 and made a home in Putney, Vermont where she spent thirty years raising eight children. In the sixties, Ms. Watson wrote for the column “One Woman’s View.” She was a two-time finalist in the Allen Ginsburg poetry competition, and wrote an award-winning musical, Princess! Later in her life, she sailed across the Atlantic with her second husband, Dutch sailor Fokke Van Bekkum, in their 32-foot sailboat.

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Book Review: Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

Stiltsville
by
Susanna Daniel

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I enjoyed Daniel’s Sea Creatures so much, I went back to read her debut novel which begins in the same community of stilt houses in the sand flats off Miami’s coast. This is also a story about marriage, family and relationships. It was interesting to read Stiltsville after Sea Creatures because I can see the where her unique writing style and character development begins.

When Frances Ellerby and Dennis DuVal meet at the DuVal family’s stilt house in 1969, they are twenty-somethings playing at being adults. Sparks fly and Daniel chronicles their relationship and marriage for thirty years. It’s not a perfect union, however, and they face many of the typical the pitfalls of married life.

I liked a lot of things about Stiltsville because I like reading about the ocean and boats. The author spent much of her childhood at her family’s stilt house and it’s obvious she knows what she’s talking about.  In addition, the stilt house community has a lot of draw because it is so different. Daniel does a great job describing the stilt houses and the dangers that exist, things people on land wouldn’t even think about. I think her other strength is in portraying the tensions and conflicts these characters face as they start their adult lives. I especially liked reading about Frances and Dennis’s early years because there’s a certain excitement in the time before things happen. That shows.

There’s a definite slow-down as time passes, however, and there are a few undeveloped story lines that would have been fun to know about. Frances’s friendship with Marse begins with a lot of tension and I think the early Marse is a great complex character. As the years go on, however, her personality mellows and becomes a little stereo-typed.  I also would have liked to have learned more about their daughter Margo, who struggles in her teens and during college, and about her marriage to Stuart, who has the potential to be one of the more interesting characters. 

Daniel also introduces several historical events into the plot which I think must be very hard to do.  There’s a shift in her writing style as this happens and I prefer when Frances returns to her thoughts about her own life. These events help bring authenticity to the Miami time and setting, however, and help to make the story whole. But the book is otherwise well-constructed and if you like to have the details of your story tied up in the end, you will enjoy this.

If you read both Stiltsville and Sea Creatures, you will be interested to see how Daniel experiments with themes and the ideas of marriage and family in Stiltsville. The mixed attractions of danger and the beauty of the stilt house settings are apparent in both. She also introduces the Stiltsville hermit in her first book – I enjoyed that!  And of course, the forces of nature play in both books.

This is an easy entertaining read with a relaxed and contented ending.  I’m looking forward to what comes next!

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On YouTube – This book has spills & scribbles!

Hi Everyone,

I’m over on YouTube today, showing you a book that has lots of spills and scribbles in it, but that’s okay with me. Come see why!

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Book Review: The Year They Fell by David Kreizman

The Year They Fell
by
David Kreizman

I was in the mood for a Young Adult book so I picked up The Year They Fell by David Kreizman at the library. It’s a teenage drama about five former friends whose lives suddenly change the day their parents head off to an island vacation. The plane crashes and there are no survivors.

Josie, Jack, Archie, Harrison and Dayana were great friends in preschool, but that was a long time ago. Now about to start senior year of high school, their lives are vastly different. Twins Josie and Jack hang with the fast crowd, but Archie, Harrison and Dayana are awkward outsiders to that world.

Josie and Jack may seem perfect, but they have their demons. Josie, queen of the social scene, has a terrible secret. Jack is a hulking football star with a violent temper. The others also struggle. Archie clings to his sketch pad and wonders how he fits into his adoptive white family. Harrison’s dad abandoned him and his mom and he suffers from major anxiety. Dayana’s parents aren’t getting along and she pops pills to cope. In addition, past dynamics from years ago interfere with their current relationships.

As the former friends awkwardly circle each other, Harrison launches an investigation. Soon the group must confront painful details about their parents’ lives. Harrison determines the crash might not be an accident and tries to convince the others with his extensive research.

I enjoyed this fast read, set in River Bank, New Jersey, a town I hadn’t heard of, but was surprised to find in a familiar part of the Jersey shore. In addition to the tragedy, the author packs a lot of major developments and problems into these high schoolers! Probably not realistic and that is my one gripe with the story. The high school setting and dialogue seemed true to life, but I hope no sample set of high schoolers has this many things to deal with.

In addition to suffering tragic loss, Kreizman introduces important themes into his story, including love, friendship, sexual identity, family relationships, fitting in, anxiety, sexual abuse, and drug addiction. While these are all important, I think the story would have been better if the author focused on fewer issues. As a result, the story reads more like a soap opera. Pretty interesting because Kreizman used to write for television soap operas and even spent time as a writer for the WWE. I laughed when I read that because those plots are really over the top!

Despite these comments, I’d still recommend The Year They Fell as an engaging story with modern themes and plenty of teen angst. I also love the cover and think the title is great because it makes potential readers wonder what the story will be.

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Book Review: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward
by
Ann Napolitano

Rating:

Eddie Adler is twelve years old when his family boards a plane to move across the country. He’s grown up in Manhattan where his father has homeschooled Eddie and his fifteen-year-old brother, Jordan. Now the Adlers are headed to Los Angeles where his mom is set to start a new job as a screen writer. There are 192 passengers on the Airbus and when it crashes in the flatlands of northern Colorado. Eddie is the only survivor.

Badly injured and stunned by his new circumstances, Eddie moves in with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey. It’s going to take a long time for Eddie, now Edward, to adjust. He makes friends with Shay, a girl across the street and together they try to make sense of their place in the world. As they grow, their friendship becomes an anchor they both need. At the house, Edward’s aunt and uncle are trying hard, but they have their own personal struggles and marital issues, something Edward becomes more tuned into.

In addition, the Internet is exploding with stories about Edward and the crash and his aunt and uncle do their best to protect him. But is that the right thing to do? What’s the best way to heal and move on? A chance discovery points to a solution but it means confronting the events and memories of his family and the other passengers.

People say Edward is lucky to have survived. He wonders how that could be true.

The story alternates between the day of the crash and Edward’s new life with his aunt and uncle and leads up to what happened that made the plane crash. In the pre-crash chapters, readers learn about the sometimes-tense dynamics in Adler family as well as the backstories about other passengers on the plane. These include a business magnate with several ex-wives and children who hate him, an injured soldier who is trying to come to terms with a recent encounter, a young woman hoping to make a new life, a free-spirited woman who believes in reincarnation, and a cut-throat young executive with a drug problem.

One of Edward’s biggest challenges is to shake survivor’s guilt, especially the feeling that his brother should have survived instead. To Edward, Jordan was on the brink of thinking for himself and doing something great. Pain washes over Edward when he reaches his own fifteenth birthday, and later passes his brother’s age. He understands it’s because he both misses his brother and what his brother has lost.

Although Edward’s experiences are tragic, they lead to a touching coming-of-age story in which Edward strikes a balance between past and present. I enjoyed Dear Edward very much. It’s very readable and I felt like I understood how Edward was feeling throughout it all. I recommend it to readers who enjoy stories about love and overcoming grief.

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Book Review: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
by
Elif Shafak

Rating:

Tequila Leila, a prostitute from Istanbul, has been murdered and her body left in a dumpster. Though prostitution is legal in the city, she’s part of a class that is considered nothing. Her family has disowned her, but Leila has five friends who love her. And in the minutes just after death, her mind is working and remembering dear friends. During these 10 minutes and 38 seconds, in which a recent study supports the idea that, after death, the brain is still active for a period of time, Leila reflects upon a life of many difficulties, but one that has also brought her love and friendship.

Leila’s mind travels to the city of Van, where she was born in 1947, to the second wife of a tailor. Shafak describes her childhood and events that drive her to Istanbul to lead a life that has shamed her family. Friends are few, but the ones she makes, become her new family. They represent varied groups of misfits and lost souls and their stories are included in Leila’s reflections. Readers learn about specific times in her life through the 60s and 70s, leading up to her death in 1990.

Leila also recalls many historical events and political movements, some violent, in Turkey and Istanbul, a city that connects Europe and Asia, and one in which there are many opinions about religion, politics and government. Readers get a larger view of Istanbul during these times as world events occur.

When her body is discovered and sent to the city morgue, Leila’s friends must find a way to give her a proper burial, for she is otherwise destined to be sent to the Cemetery of the Companionless. It is in these final hours that the reader learns how far Leila’s friends will go to honor her.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World was longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize. The book is divided into three parts, The Mind, The Body and The Soul, although most of it is dedicated to The Mind. This is the strongest part of the story. The rest of the book takes on a more comedic tone and, in my opinion, doesn’t match the thoughtful and moving sections of the first part. I think it detracts from what is an otherwise excellent story. Still, I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to readers who like something different. I learned a lot about Turkey and Istanbul as it relates to Leila’s story and real events.

Want to read some other reviews? Here’s what other bloggers are saying about 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World:

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FictionFan’s Book Reviews – REVIEWS OF BOOKS…AND OCCASIONAL OTHER STUFF

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Dairy Queen with my father

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

“I can help you with that,” my Dad offered. I was sitting on a bench, eating a Dairy Queen cone. I had just taken a small lick, the vanilla swirl still nearly perfectly perched on the cone. Dad was sitting next to me. It was hot outside, but not as hot as it had been in our station wagon that summer afternoon. Even with the windows down and the air blowing through the car, the backs of my legs still stuck to the seat and I was much happier sitting on the bench with my cone.

We had been returning from the shore that day, going home the “old way” where there were plenty of places to stop when Dad pulled us into Dairy Queen for an ice cream break.

Dad already had a cone and I think he was just trying to help me from losing my whole tower of ice cream in the hot sun. There were good-natured jokes in our family about Dad helping us with our ice cream, to look out when he offered to help, but I’m sure he was just trying to keep mine off the steamy sidewalk.

I thought I had my cone pretty much under control. I had turned it in my hand to look for drips around the base and was ready to lick away any trouble spots. I was deciding in my mind how I would eat this cone. Slowly, I thought.  I loved the cool creamy feel of the ice cream on my tongue.

“I think it’s starting to drip, Honey.” Dad again. I didn’t see any drips, but I was only five years old and maybe he saw something I didn’t. “Here, let me help you before you lose the whole cone.” He reached over to me and I gave him the cone and watched him take a healthy bite off the top of my vanilla tower. I felt a little sad as I saw the top section of the ice cream disappear. I think he must have liked being a dad on this hot sunny day. I didn’t mind too much because I had two sections left and he was taking care of me.

Happy Father’s Day! Do you have special memories of your father?

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The Epic Minivan: When Four Wheels Become a Part of the Family

I didn’t want to get a minivan. I liked my Geo Prizm. I had two little guys buckled snugly in the back seat and I was comfortable in my small car. But our family was growing. I was eight months pregnant and we needed a bigger car. As much as I wanted to keep things as they were, three car seats would not fit in the back seat of my sporty Prizm.

The van joined our family about two weeks before our next son was born and that was the beginning of an epic era. I joined the parade of moms in minivans, traveling our streets and moving our children through their days — first preschool, then kindergarten, grade school, parks, grocery stores, the mall. A few years later, another baby boy arrived, but there was plenty of room! Our bigger boys happily shifted their seats for the baby.

For years, our van was filled with the things our young children loved: little cars and toys, plastic play phones, books, markers, and papers. Each boy decorated his area with stickers, some from cashiers for being good, some from the doctor for being brave, others from school or party bags, with each sticker marking time. And I drove our boys with a mother’s pride. Oh, to look back in the mirror and see four little faces doing their little boy things!

Then middle schoolers became high schoolers and growth spurts meant more trips to the grocery store. The back was filled with sports equipment as we headed to practices and games. The van had a new purpose and I was a willing driver.

My husband and I watched our children grow, but in many ways we were suspended in time and the van was our constant. In this bubble, we traveled together, always as a group of six, to visit grandparents, go on vacation, or simply go out for a family dinner. Days upon weeks upon years.

Then, in a blink, we were loading up the van to take our oldest son to college. Six of us drove him to college and five of us came home, happy for him but a little sad, too. And while it was the beginning of something new, we held onto the van. It was in pretty good shape and we still needed it, we reasoned. In another blink, our next son was off to a different college, and this time, there were only five of us to help with the move. Yes, we were beginning to see a change.

After 16 years, the van was showing its age. The windows weren’t working as well, the horn was harder to beep, and the directional signal blinked weakly. As we faced the inevitable, I felt a twist of anxiety. The van had kept our family together. What would happen now? But the fact was that our boys were becoming adults, with their own paths to travel. And while our lives will always be connected, we were all facing new directions.

I drive a new and smaller car now. And after accepting the change, I made a happy discovery. The connection to our children, minus the van, is just as strong. Perhaps that faulty directional signal was telling us something — that it was time to let go and get a new car, one that would drive us confidently down new roads.

 

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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
(A Mostly True Memoir)

by
Jenny Lawson

Rating:

If you are looking for a great story about being different and making it anyway, I highly recommend Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. In some ways, it is a classic success story about perseverance, but mostly, it’s a shout-out to anyone who’s not mainstream. Because Jenny Lawson is the opposite of mainstream.

Through a rambling, often irreverent and always hilarious “where is this story going?” narration, with plenty of colorful vocabulary, Lawson tells you about her childhood, depression, anxiety and illness, her family, early jobs, marriage, motherhood and how she became a blogger and writer.

Yes, Lawson is The Bloggess, here on WordPress, and you can read her latest post here. Nielson recognizes her as one of the Top Most Powerful Mom Bloggers and Forbes ranks her on their Top 100 Websites for Women.

Lawson may likely have had the most unique childhood, ever. She and her younger sister grew up in a rural town in western Texas. Their father ran his taxidermy business out of their house, never hesitating to share his enthusiasm for his unconventional job. Wild animals were frequent visitors, including squirrels, raccoons, chickens, armadillos and pigs, and they were all part of Lawson’s quirky family.

When she was a young girl, Lawson desperately wanted to fit in at school, but she did not. In high school, she suffered from an eating disorder, tried drugs, was into Goth, and had many other anxieties. But she also had a superpower: humor. And it saved her. I laughed out loud throughout her story, not because of her struggles, but because of how she describes them. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She holds nothing back. She’s full of human flaws and she gives herself completely to her readers. By the end of the book, I felt like I had made a friend.

Lawson’s chapters reveal a keen understanding of the human condition and a genuine appreciation of her life and family. She writes,

I can finally see that all the terrible parts of my life, the embarrassing parts, the incidents I wanted to pretend never happened, and the things that make me ‘weird’ and ‘different,’ were actually the most important parts of my life. They were the parts that made me me.”

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was published in 2012 and is Lawson’s first book. Furiously Happy was published in 2015 and her newest book, You Are Here: An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds was published in 2017.

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