Thursday Book Feature: Cottage by the Sea

Cottage by the Sea
by Debbie Macomber
Copyright 2018.

After losing most of her family as a result of a mud slide near Seattle, Annie retreats to the seaside village where her family rented a cottage for several summers. By a miraculus twist of fate, she is able to rent that same cottage. A physician’s assistant, she finds a job at the local clinic. In her quest for healing, she affects the lives of a shy six-foot artist with whom she falls in love, her reclusive landlady, a teen-ager with an abusive stepfather, and other characters, all needing relief from their troublesome burdens.

I’ve always enjoyed Debbie Macomber’s work, and Cottage by the Sea didn’t disappoint me, but there are a couple of things I don’t like about this and other books she has written. First of all, the author uses way too much unnecessary narrative. As I’ve said before, it’s better to show and not tell, and too much narrative bogs a story down. Another thing I don’t like is her use of adverbs. It’s always better to use a stronger verb, and in the case of dialog, what a person says should speak for itself without the adverb. Because Debbie Macomber tells such heartwarming stories that make me feel good, I’m willing to put up with these pitfalls.

That said, Cottage by the Sea was a great end-of-summer read for me. According to the author’s note at the beginning, a mud slide near Seattle actually happened several years ago. I like the way this author uses real-life events to tell a compelling story. I also appreciate her not including descriptions of sex. There are better ways to show two characters in love like kissing, hugging, hand holding, and body language. Sex scenes are unnecessary and bog a story down.

I downloaded this book from Audible, and it was hard to put down. The narrator did an excellent job portraying each character. Although one minor plot detail could have been handled differently, I found the ending very satisfying. If you don’t have time or enough money to retreat to a seaside village, I suggest you read this book instead. You’ll be refreshed.

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
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Review: Sweet Tomorrows

Sweet Tomorrows

by Debbie Macomber

Copyright 2016.

 

This is the last of the author’s Rose Harbor Inn series. Jo Marie, the proprietor of the Inn at Rose Harbor, has been in love for three years with Mark, her handyman and formerly a military officer. A year earlier, Mark leaves on a dangerous mission in Iraq which Jo Marie doesn’t know about until after he’s gone. When she hasn’t heard from him in over a year, she assumes he died at the hands of terrorists and goes on with her life. She meets Greg and develops a relationship with him. She then learns that Mark is still alive, and she’s torn between the two men. Mark must also decide which is more important, Jo Marie or his career.

Then there’s the story of Emily, a teacher starting a new job in the fall at a local elementary school. She rents a room at the inn on a weekly basis through the summer months while looking for a place of her own. Having been jilted twice, she has given up on love until she meets Nick, the owner of a nearby house she wants to buy. She must decide if her heart is worth the risk of a third break.

I downloaded this book from Audible, and the narrator, who reads all the books in this series, does an excellent job as usual. I love the way she portrays each character and the way Debbie Macomber tells each character’s story from his/her point of view. The author’s reading of her introductory letter at the beginning of the book adds a nice touch. I’m sorry this is the last book in the series, but I guess all good things must come to an end.

Emily, the jilted schoolteacher, reminds me of my late husband Bill. Before he met me, he had two previous engagements that didn’t work out. Yet, he worked up the courage to propose to me, and it all turned out well in the end, despite his suffering two strokes that paralyzed his left side. You can read our story in My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

 

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

 

Review: A Girl’s Guide to Moving On

A Girl’s Guide to Moving On

By Debbie Macomber

Copyright 2016.

 

Leanne and her daughter-in-law, Nichole, divorce their cheating husbands and move from a suburb to separate apartments in downtown Portland, Oregon. Both ex-husbands try to convince their wives to return to them, but Nichole and Leanne have had it. Nichole meets Rocco, a tow-truck driver, who pulls her car out of a ditch. Leanne meets Nicholai, a Ukrainian student in an English class she teaches at the community center. Things heat up when Leanne’s ex-husband is diagnosed with terminal cancer and Nichole’s ex-husband threatens to file for full custody of their three-year-old son, claiming that Rocco is a negative influence.

This is another of many books I’ve enjoyed from Audible. The two narrators who read alternating chapters from Leanne’s and Nichole’s points of view do an excellent job. Debbie Macomber’s reading of her introductory letter at the beginning of the book adds a nice touch.

My favorite scene was at the beginning of the book when Nichole, after finding out that her ex-husband has finally decided to sign the divorce papers, backs her car into a ditch, and Rocco, the tow-truck driver with whom she falls in love, eventually comes to her rescue. The most memorable character, I think, is Nichole’s three-year-old son, Owen. His resilience in the face of his parents’ divorce is inspiring, and his interest in tow-trucks after meeting Rocco is amusing. This book delivers a powerful, yet uplifting message about forgiveness. I recommend it to everyone and hope those in Leanne and Nichole’s situation can learn to let go of the past and move on.

Reading this book helped me put my life in perspective, especially at the end when Leanne cares for her dying ex-husband. At least my late husband Bill didn’t cheat on me so caring for him after he suffered his first stroke that confined him to a wheelchair was a no-brainer. I did this for six years, and my caregiving experiences are detailed in my new memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, which can be purchased online from Amazon, Createspace, and Smashwords in paperback and various eBook formats.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

 

Holiday Review: Dashing Through the Snow

Dashing Through the Snow by Debbie Macomber. Copyright 2015.

 

Four days before Christmas, Ashley and Dash, who barely know each other, end up sharing a rental car from San Francisco to Seattle when no flights are available. Ashley, a graduate student, hopes to surprise her mother for Christmas, and Dash, a former military intelligence officer, has a job interview in Seattle. Along their journey, they pick up and abandoned puppy, encounter a motorcycle gang, petty thieves, and a strange character who calls himself Stan the Man, and become involved in a case of mistaken identity. One thing I like about this author’s books is that everything turns out all right in the end, and this one is no different.

I downloaded this book from Audible. Although Debbie Macomber doesn’t narrate it in this recording, she reads the introduction at the beginning in which she explains how this story was inspired by her husband Wayne saying that he hated flying and wished he were on a no-fly list. I thought my imagination ran wild at times, but this story takes the cake. It never occurred to me that an ordinary U.S. citizen could be mistaken for a terrorism suspect. Since I plan to fly to Florida in March and perhaps California in April, I hope there are no terrorism suspects running around with my name. I also hope that after reading this, Wayne is re-thinking his wish to be on a no-fly list. To learn more about Debbie Macomber and her books, go to http://debbiemacomber.com/

Since one of the main characters in this story is trying to get home for Christmas, please click below to hear me sing a song that echoes this sentiment. Wherever you are, I hope you can be home for the holidays, if only in your imagination.

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Vote for my new book idea.

Vote for my new book idea.

 

October 2015 Reviews

Talking with Kids: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Blindness by Brian K. Nash. Copyright 2011.

In this short memoir, the author describes his experiences as a public speaker during the 1980’s to kids in a Kansas City elementary school during an entire day, starting with the first grade class and moving up to the sixth grade by the end of the day. He starts the book by relating how silly questions asked of blind people like “How do you brush your teeth?” made him want to educate others on blindness. He describes how he touched on different topics in each class including Braille, guide dogs, and adaptive devices. He relates anecdotes from his childhood he told the kids like the time when he was about six and tried cooking bacon on the stove and got distracted by a phone call from a classmate and burned the bacon like any sighted kid would do. He describes the kids’ fascination with his Braille watch and talking calculator and how they enjoyed playing with his guide dog when he allowed them to do so.

He also describes eating lunch in the cafeteria with several teachers and the school social worker. During the meal, he related more anecdotes like the time when he, as an adult, was barbecuing outdoors and got distracted by the antics of neighborhood dogs like anyone with good eyes might do. This amused everyone except the social worker who told him that his blindness wasn’t funny, that he acted irresponsibly, and that she hoped he would be a better role model for the children. At the end of the book, like any sighted guy, he expresses regret that he neglected to get a particular female teacher’s phone number.

My late husband and I have each given presentations on blindness to children of all ages but never for an entire day as Brian Nash did. However, I gleamed some ideas I might use the next time I’m asked to give such a presentation. For example, when Nash was asked how he could tell the difference between candy bars when he ran a vending stand, he gave the teacher a $5.00 bill and asked her to buy a bunch of candy bars from a nearby machine. He then demonstrated to the children how he could tell one bar from another by its shape and size. He gave the candy to the teacher to be handed out later. I wish I had the forethought to do something similar years ago when a kid asked me how I could tell the difference between a bag of potato chips and a can of pop.

I recommend this book to anyone curious about blindness, especially people like that social worker who have such blatant, negative attitudes about disabilities. Brian Nash has written several children’s books and one other adult nonfiction book. To learn more about him and order his books, go to http://www.dvorkin.com/brianknash/ .

***

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Copyright 1945.

This modern classic novel gives us a glimpse into the lives of an English Catholic family during the earlier part of the 20th century between the two world wars. The family lives in a country estate called Brideshead, and the older son’s name is also Brideshead. There’s also a younger son, Sebastian, and two daughters, Julia and Cordelia.

The story is told from the viewpoint of an outsider, Charles, who befriends Sebastian at Oxford. Sebastian turns out to be an alcoholic, and when the family tries to confine him for treatment, he disappears. Charles leaves the university and becomes an artist, traveling all over the world, marrying, and having a couple of kids.

Ten years later, he meets Julia on a ship returning to England. She’s also married, but they have an affair that lasts a couple of years until they decide to divorce their spouses and marry. Then Julia’s father dies after a long illness, and she tells Charles she no longer wants to marry him because he’s not of her faith. In the prolog and epilog, the military has commandeered Brideshead during World War II, and Charles, now an officer, returns with his company.

I found this story intriguing and sad. Since this is a classic, I hate to say anything negative, but the narrative is often bogged down by too much description and back story and not enough conflict. I must admit that because of this, I dozed off once or twice while listening to this excellent recording of the book produced by Hachette Audio and narrated by actor Jeremy Irons. If I wasn’t curious to see why the Brideshead estate held such significance for Charles, I probably wouldn’t have finished the book.

***

Lost and Found in Cedar Cove by Debbie Macomber. Copyright 2013.

This is actually a short story that is part of the Rose Harbor Inn series. I downloaded it from Audible, but it’s also available on Kindle. Several months after widow Jo Marie opens her bed and breakfast in the fictional town of Cedar Cove, Washington, she makes plans with her handyman Mark to build a rose garden.

While they’re outside looking for the perfect spot for it on her property, her dog Rover wanders off. Jo Marie is devastated. She lost her husband in Afghanistan, and now her dog is gone. The ending is predictable, yet happy.

Some might argue that this tale doesn’t have enough conflict. This may be true, but who says you have to have a lot of conflict in fiction? There’s enough in the world as it is, and I think it’s nice to escape to a place where lost dogs are found in a timely manner.

***

Come Home, My Heart by Phyllis Campbell. Copyright 1988.

Susan, an obstetrician, loses her vision after a brain tumor is removed. She is left to cope with sight and career loss plus reactions of her fiancé Eric who thinks she should let him and his mother take care of her. She refuses to do this, and after going through a rehabilitation program, she moves to a poor rural community in Virginia where she works as a social worker at a medical clinic. The remarkable ending nearly moved me to tears.

This is a sweet story. However, although the author is blind and did a great job portraying Susan’s feelings after she loses her vision, I found her portrayal of sight loss and adjustment to be unrealistic. Take for example a scene in the hospital. After Susan’s surgery to remove the tumor, she receives a visit from Ann, a counselor from a local agency that serves the blind. The reader learns that Ann is also totally blind, but she doesn’t appear to use a cane or dog. It seems to me that Susan would hear the cane tapping or rolling on the floor or the jingle of the dog’s harness as Ann walks into the room. She would also hear the cane bumping against things as Ann tries to find a place to sit or Ann telling the dog to find a chair. However, Ann just walks into the room and sits down as if she were fully sighted.

I was also disappointed in the way the author skims over Susan’s rehabilitation which takes approximately six months. It’s bad enough to lose vision you once had, and it takes a lot of courage to leave familiar surroundings and travel to a place unfamiliar to you when you can’t see. I would like for the author to have shown more of Susan’s struggles with adapting to the rehabilitation center’s way of life, learning to walk with a cane, read Braille, and prepare a meal. She could have created more conflict by having Eric continually badger Susan to leave the facility and marry him. I realize this would have made the book longer, but it might have created a better story. As it is, Susan appears to breeze through the program with flying colors and little contact with Eric, and the social worker position at the rural health clinic seems to fall right in her lap.

I also have a hard time believing Susan’s acceptance by virtually everyone in the small community where she works after her rehabilitation. It’s probably true that some people may wish to unveil their problems to a blind social worker, but there should have been a few nay sayers. Granted, one man, not realizing she’s blind, asks her what kind of doctor she is when she trips over a patient on the floor during an emergency, but he’s the only one. When I worked in a nursing home, one of my many bosses couldn’t work with my disability. Something like that would create more conflict and make the story more interesting. It also would have been nice to show Susan interacting with others in the community besides the patient involved in the emergency and her family, the staff at the clinic, and the nearby handyman and his family.

It’s nice once in a while to escape to a world where everything’s easy. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is otherwise. It’s hard to get back on your feet after losing sight you once had, and even in the 1980’s, it was hard for blind people to find work. However, despite the book’s downfalls, Come Home, My Heart is a heartwarming tale to be read during the holiday season since it ends with a Christmas miracle. For more information about Phyllis Campbell and her books, go to http://www.phylliscampbellbooks.com/ .

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Vote for my new book idea.

September Reviews

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naiomi Jackson. Copyright 2015.

When I read a review of this author’s debut novel in the August 24th issue of The New Yorker, it sounded like an interesting read, and it was. During the summer of `1989, two girls from Brooklyn, Phaedra, 10, and Dion, 16, are sent by their mentally unstable mother to Barbados to live with their grandmother in a small community called Bird Hill. Accustomed to their mother being gone a lot and caring for her younger sister, Dion resists her grandmother’s regimen of attending vacation Bible school and church and doing chores. On the other hand, Phaedra embraces her new life and takes an interest in her grandmother’s career as a midwife. Both girls make friends and become involved in the community.

After their mother commits suicide, their estranged father comes to Barbados. Wealthy, with a woman, and a resident of Florida, he wants the girls to live with him. Phaedra doesn’t trust him and wants to stay with their grandmother. Dion wants to be with their father, but after he and others brutally beat someone she knows who is homosexual during a festival, she realizes he’s not the man she thought he was and returns to her grandmother’s house, more than willing to live her new life.

This book brought back pleasant memories of my own grandmothers who each cared for me for a short time when I was Phaedra’s age. It’s a coming of age novel, but I recommend it to anyone of any age.

***

My Home Away from Home: Life at Perkins School for the Blind by Robert T. Branco. Copyright 2013.

Years ago, I reviewed Deliverance from Jericho by Bruce Atchison, about this author’s mostly negative experiences at a school for the blind run by the Canadian government. Robert Branco gives a more positive account of the eight years he spent at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, from 1969 to 1977. After spending five years in a public school sight-saving class, he started at Perkins when he was twelve and graduated at the age of nineteen.

Like many such institutions, Perkins had its darker side: sadistic housemothers, bullies, and policies and methods of instruction and discipline that didn’t make sense, but the author also shares more pleasant memories of field trips, singing in the chorus, learning to play the piano, taking classes in science, math, and Spanish, sports, and other events. He also shares how blind kids, like their sighted counterparts, got involved in sex, drugs, and other illicit activities. Closer to the end of the book, he touches on adaptive devices in the 1970’s such as the Perkins Brailler, Optacon, and abacus and explains how changes by a new administrator, who was also blind, made Perkins less institutional. He also describes his training in the use of the white cane and daily living skills.

One thing I didn’t like about My Home Away from Home is that it reads more like a textbook than a memoir. I would like to have seen more dialog and action punctuating the narrative. Nevertheless, the story held my attention, reminding me of my own experiences at the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind. I definitely recommend this book to parents and educators of blind children.

***

Family Life by Akhil Sharma. Copyright 2014.

In this novel, 40-year-old Ajay reminisces about life after his family’s immigration to the U.S. from India in the late 1970’s. Two years after they settle in New York, his older brother Birju, after diving into a swimming pool, suffers a serious head injury that leaves him brain dead. After Birju spends two years in a nursing home receiving unsatisfactory care, the family buys a house in New Jersey, and Ajay and his parents become full time caregivers with the help of aides who are hired when the family can afford them.

Despite his responsibilities, Ajay manages to get excellent grades in school but is isolated from other kids in elementary school and junior high. In high school, he acquires a girlfriend. The stress of caregiving drives his parents to fight and his father to drink and eventually check himself into a New York hospital for treatment and start attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings after he’s released.

Birju’s condition, Ajay’s grades, and the father’s alcoholism bring the family a lot of positive and negative attention from other Indians in their community who feel Birju could be healed, alcoholism is a dreaded disease, and intelligent people should be worshiped. Ajay’s acceptance to Princeton only makes matters worse. Nevertheless, he goes to college, graduates, and becomes a successful investment banker, eventually managing to pay for round-the-clock care at home for his brother. He then meets a girl and realizes he’s in trouble.

Having been a caregiver, I found myself relating to this story more than most people probably would. Fortunately, Bill could still talk and feed himself and was alert most of the time. Birju couldn’t do anything except breathe and perform other bodily functions. Although he received plenty of sensory stimulation at home, it was hard to tell how aware he was of what went on around him.

The ending left a lot to be desired. I would like to have known how much longer Birju lived after Ajay became a successful investment banker. What happened to his parents? Did they stay in the house in New Jersey or move elsewhere after Birju died? It’s a good idea to leave some things to the reader’s imagination, but I can only imagine so much.

***

Silver Linings by Debbie Macomber. Copyright 2015.

This is the fourth in the author’s Rose Harbor Inn series. Jo Marie, a widow and the owner of a bed and breakfast in Cedar Cove, Washington, has four guests: two women attending their 10th high school reunion, and a newlywed couple on their honeymoon. Her love/hate relationship with the handyman, ongoing throughout the series, takes an unexpected turn.

Kelly and Katie hope to settle the score with past high school flames at their reunion and end up getting more than they expect. If you read Starry Night, you may remember Finn and Carrie, the newlyweds. After traveling across the country on their honeymoon, they spend one night at Rose Harbor Inn before returning to their home in Alaska. Unlike previous books in the Rose Harbor Inn series where issues are resolved during one weekend, Silver Linings spans a longer period of time from September till January, leaving the reader wondering until the end.

I like the way Debbie Macomber introduces characters from past books. First of all, there’s Finn and Carrie, so much in love with each other, a stark contrast to Kelly and Katie’s love gone awry. Later, Jo Marie receives a postcard from Roy and Maggie. In Love Letters, they’re the couple who came to the inn to resolve their marital difficulties and are expecting their third child. As usual, the ending leaves us waiting with baited breath for the next installment.

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

Vote for my new book idea.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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

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Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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