August Reviews

Country by Danielle Steel. Copyright 2015.

This story is about seizing the day. In San Francisco, Stephany Adams, a stay at home wife and mother, discovers her successful lawyer husband, Bill, has been cheating on her. She decides to stay married to him for the sake of their children, but it’s a loveless relationship. Seven years later, her children have left home with two employed and one in college overseas. At the age of 52, Bill has a fatal heart attack while skiing, and everything changes. Stephany must deal with grief and her children’s anger at her for being alive while their so-called idyllic father is dead.

Several months later after a weekend with friends in Santa Barbara, Stephany is driving home when by accident, she ends up on the road to Los Vegas and decides to go there. After a night spent playing slot machines, she decides to drive to the Grand Canyon, a place where she’s never been. There, she meets country singer Chase Taylor. She follows him back to Vegas, attending several of his concerts, then accompanies him to Nashville.

Still reeling from her husband’s death and not used to being independent, Stephany needs to figure out who she is and what she wants to be. For the time being, she’s willing to be with Chase in Nashville while he’s recording another album and getting ready for more performances. After visiting her son in Atlanta and her daughter in New York, she returns to San Francisco and carries on a long distance relationship with him. Later, he comes to San Francisco, and she goes with him to Los Angeles where he meets with record company executives. While there, the press catches them together in public, and their photo appears in tabloids and on YouTube. Stephany’s family and friends are shocked, and Stephany still doesn’t know whether she belongs with Chase. She eventually figures it out, as they seize the day together.

Having once wanted to be a singing star, I’ve always been fascinated with their lives. After reading Willie Nelson’s and Linda Ronstadt’s memoirs, I believe Danielle Steel’s depiction of such a life is realistic. I downloaded this book from Audible, and the male narrator with a southern twang does an excellent job, especially with the voices of Chase and other male characters.

Reading books like this helps me put my life in perspective. I was also widowed at an early age, and before that, I cared for my husband who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. All the while, Bill was there for me, and I always felt loved.

That wasn’t the case with Stephany. Even before she found out about her husband’s affair, he rarely spent time with her and the kids, although after his death, the kids wanted to believe he was a terrific dad. I think that is worse than what I went through.

Here’s an interesting irony. Stephany’s first husband’s name was Bill, the same as my late husband. Chase’s last name was Taylor, the same as my husband. How about that?

***

Another Chance at Life: A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Journey by Leonore Dvorkin. Copyright 2009.

This is a short but to the point account of one woman’s experience with breast cancer. As the author states in the beginning, it’s for women who may develop breast cancer later in life. If you’re a man, you might want to skip this one.

Leonore Dvorkin starts by explaining how she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 and her decision to have a mastectomy. A resident of Denver, Colorado, she talks about traveling to Kansas City to visit her family and her mother and sisters’ wish that she would just have the lump removed simply because it was what they would have done. She also touches on her family’s reaction to her novel, Apart from You, before it was published in 2010. She discusses how she and her husband bought a Polaroid camera and took pictures of her naked body the night before her surgery.

She describes what it was like to have the breast removed, assuring readers that such surgery for the patient is nothing more than having a good night’s sleep. She knew what to expect since she had numerous surgical procedures in the past for varicose veins and other difficulties, and she touches on those. I was amazed to learn that HMO’s normally expect a mastectomy to be an out-patient procedure. Afterward, the patient is monitored for a few hours for complications and then sent home. In Leonore Dvorkin’s case, because she suffered from nausea as a result of morpheme she was given for pain, she was allowed to spend the night. I’m so thankful I don’t use an HMO for insurance, but it’s possible that nowadays, things may have changed. I hope I never have to find out.

Leonore Dvorkin then goes on to describe her recovery at home and the relief she felt upon learning she didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy. She talks about difficulty sleeping as a result of prescribed pain medication and a shoulder injury that made her rehabilitation more difficult. She touches on how her husband cared for her, not just after the mastectomy, but after other operations she had beforehand.

Several months after the surgery, she was ready to return to her job tutoring foreign languages at a Denver college and resume teaching weight training classes in her basement. She describes how she went to a store in Denver and bought a prosthetic breast and a mastectomy bra. In the end, she explains her attitude and how reducing stress and changes in diet and exercise made her feel better and gave her more confidence. She also discusses how she will age gracefully. This book includes appendices with resources and information about her particular type of breast cancer.

I like this author’s attitude. She doesn’t take cancer lightly but doesn’t wallow in self-pity or poor self-image either. I especially liked the way she describes how a prosthetic breast fits into a mastectomy bra and gives advice on how to buy and use them. I hope I never get breast cancer, but if I do, after reading this book, I hope to be able to deal with it and move on.

***

Apart from You by Leonore Dvorkin. Copyright 2010.

This novel, set in the 1960’s, depicts love and betrayal among college students. Elizabeth and Allan attend a university in Bloomington, Indiana, and are engaged. They endure a period of separation while Allan goes home to live with his parents and work for a year before returning to school. During the spring semester of that year, Elizabeth falls in love with Brian, a teaching assistant who was her instructor the previous year. She moves in with him and doesn’t tell him the truth until five weeks later when he proposes to her. The ending is predictable.

Breaking with conventionality is the book’s theme. When Elizabeth and Allan part, they agree to date and sleep with others, although they’re in love. Being old-fashioned, I believe that if you truly love someone, you shouldn’t even think about dating someone else. I almost decided not to finish the book, but the story is entertaining, especially when a former girlfriend of Brian’s and a former boyfriend of Elizabeth’s appear briefly. The scenes on campus brought back pleasant memories of my own college days, although they were in the 1980’s with a more modern culture.

This book contains explicit descriptions of love making, another thing I could have done without. In this case though, the erotic scenes effectively illustrate the irony of the fact that to Elizabeth, Brian is merely a distraction until she and Allan can be reunited. This book is probably more suited to young adults than old foagies like me, but I enjoyed reading it.

***

Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis. Copyright 2014.

This is a collection of whimsical short stories. In the title piece, a writer, considered lazy because of the use of too many contractions, is denied a writing prize. In another tale, two neighbors with the same last name are at odds over a rug. A third story takes the form of a letter to the manufacturer of frozen peas in which the writer complains about the picture on the front of the package.

Some stories are translations while others appear to be inspired by dreams. Some are humorous, others serious. Some stories left me feeling like I wanted to know more. This collection grew tiresome after a while so I didn’t finish it.

***

A Perfect Life by Danielle Steel. Copyright 2014.

Since this author’s birthday is in August, I thought I might read another of her books before September. However, this is the first Danielle Steel novel I started and decided not to finish. After the first chapter, I didn’t like the main character, a work-aholic television reporter with a blind daughter she rarely sees because the girl has spent most of her life in a school for the blind.

Others who read the book told me Danielle Steel’s portrayal of blindness is unrealistic and demeaning to those of us with visual impairments, but I didn’t read far enough in the book to determine that myself. The fact that the girl is blind isn’t even mentioned in the first chapter, but knowing this ahead of time made me despise her mother all the more. If I don’t like a main character, I can’t sympathize with her, and frankly, I don’t care what happens.

***

Love Letters by Debbie Macomber. Copyright 2014.

This is the third in the author’s Rose Harbor Inn series. Jo Marie, a widow, has opened a bed and breakfast in the fictional town of Cedar Cove, Washington, and each book in the series tells the stories of different guests who stay at the establishment for a weekend. When they arrive, there is usually some sort of conflict in their lives that is resolved by the time they check out.

This time, love letters are involved in one way or another in the stories that unfold Roy and Maggie’s marriage is falling apart, and Maggie’s discovery that she’s pregnant during their get-away weekend at Rose Harbor Inn doesn’t help matters. Eleanor comes to Cedar Cove to meet a man with whom she has been conversing online and ends up meeting her long-lost father who supposedly abandoned her and her mother when she was a baby. As usual, everything ends happily, and the reader gets a glimpse of what will happen in the next book.

This series reminds me of a television program I watched years ago, Fantasy Island, in which people with conflicted lives travel to a tropical island where there conflicts are resolved through their fantasies. The books in Debbie Macomber’s Rose Harbor Inn series have made me cry and laugh. I can’t wait to read Silver Linings, the next book in the Rose Harbor Inn series.

***

Speaking of love letters, during her introductory letter, Debbie Macomber expresses the hope that readers will come away from this book inspired to write their own love letters. I’ve done just that in the form of a poem dedicated to my late husband. Click on the link below to hear me read it.

***

TO BILL

Honey, I love you, always will.

Even now that you’re gone,

no one will come between us.

I know you want me to be happy,

but I was only truly content with you.

I hope you haven’t found anyone else,

like to think you were pleased with me.

When my time comes,

I hope you’ll be there.

Dying scares me,

but if you’ll take my hand,

as you did on our wedding day,

say, “Hi sweetie, are you nervous?”

I’ll respond as I did then,

“No, now that you’re here.”

***

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/to%20bill.mp3

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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Breast Exam

Note: I wrote the following in 2009 when my husband was still alive. I thought of it after I just finished reading Another Chance at Life: A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Journey by Leonore Dvorkin. I’ll provide more information about this in my end-of-month book wrap-up.

BREAST EXAM

I’m sitting on the toilet, moving the index and middle fingers of my right hand up, down, and around each breast as the radiology technician showed me. There are no lumps. I stand, repeat the procedure, and still find no lumps. In the shower, I rub a generous amount of soap on both breasts and repeat the examination a third time. Still, there are no lumps.

As I finish showering, I reflect on my first mammogram eight years ago. A friend e-mailed me a list of ways to prepare. One suggestion was to insert my boob into the refrigerator and close the door. Another was to place my breast behind one of the back tires of my car and have someone drive over it. Either way, I would have a feeling of what it would be like to have a mammogram. These suggestions didn’t make sense until I had my first procedure.

The mammogram machine was a tall contraption with an adjustable top. I stood, leaning against it while my breast was squashed between the top and bottom. I held my arm corresponding to the breast being examined straight out to the side and clutched a bar on the side of the machine.

Two views were taken of each breast, one side to side and one top to bottom. The top to bottom ones weren’t bad, but the side to side were excruciating because of my short stature. I had to stand on tiptoe so my breast could be aligned properly. At one point while the picture was being taken, I wondered what would happen if the power went out. Would the machine lock, trapping my boob between its metal jaws? For the next eight years, I allowed my bosom to be subjected to this torture, and for what?

As I climb out of the shower and reach for my towel, I think about my mother who died of cancer ten years ago. Not in her breast, it was the dreaded disease all the same. During the last six months of her life, she was weak from chemotherapy, and Dad took care of her. The oncologist gave her a good prognosis a couple of weeks before she passed. It was a shock when she lay down on the afternoon of December 15, 1999, closed her eyes, and never woke up.

Fortunately, this didn’t happen while I was a child in need of her care. I was living on my own and holding down a job, and I only needed her companionship and moral support. I realize now that if I were to die, my husband Bill would be lost without me. Unable to care for himself, he would be forced to spend the rest of his life in a nursing home. After working in one for fifteen years, I know they’re not bad places, but living in an institution, no matter how pleasant the surroundings or friendly the staff, isn’t the same as living at home and being cared for by the one you love.

So I’ll continue to examine my breasts once a month. When I receive a card in the mail from the radiology clinic reminding me it’s time for my yearly mammogram, I’ll pick up the phone and arrange to have my boobs squashed.

“What are you doing?” Bill asks, as I climb in bed beside him and reach under my pajama top.

“I’m doing my monthly breast exam. Remember? I do it when I’m sitting, standing, in the shower, and lying down.” There are still no lumps.

I turn, put my arm around him, snuggle against him, bury my face in his hair. “You don’t want me to die of breast cancer, do you?” I say, as I kiss him.

“No,” he answers with a laugh. “Can I examine your breasts?”

“Sure,” I answer, positioning myself so he can reach them.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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