Novel Emphasizes Value of Friendship Over Love

That Part was True

by Deborah McKinlay

Copyright 2014

 

Jack and Eve have two things in common. They’re both divorced from spouses who left them for other partners, and they both love to cook and eat. Jack is a writer in the U.S. Eve lives in England.

After Eve writes Jack a fan letter, they begin corresponding and develop a friendship. By telling the story mostly from alternating viewpoints of Jack and Eve, the author gives us a glimpse of their lives: Eve’s struggle with her daughter’s wedding, Jack’s difficulty with writers’ block and relationships.

Jack and Eve support each other through hard times, and during their correspondence, they talk about meeting in Paris, but life gets in the way, and that never happens. As close as they get to each other through their letters, you’d expect the friendship to blossom into love, but it doesn’t. Nevertheless, the book has a satisfying ending. It includes recipes Jack and Eve share with each other in their letters.

In a recording of this book from Hachette Audio, Jack’s part of the story is read by an American male, and Eve’s by a British female. The narrators do an excellent job portraying these characters. I also like the way the author develops characters through dialog instead of narrative, in other words, by showing, not telling. In a sea of romantic stories, with their ups and downs and broken hearts, this book is an island where friendship is beautiful and not complicated by love.

***

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.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: Elizabeth the First Wife

Abbie-1

Elizabeth the First Wife

By Lian Dolan

Copyright 2013.

 

Elizabeth is a professor at a community college in Pasadena, California. Ten years earlier, she divorced her movie-actor husband, and she’s content with her life, although her family encourages her to be more ambitious. Then her ex, out of the blue, makes an appearance in her classroom, much to her students’ delight, and asks her to work with him on a summer theater production of Shakespeare’s A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream in Ashland, Oregon.

A cast of such characters as Elizabeth’s meddling mother, her Nobel-Prize-winning physicist father, an Australian film director with weird ideas about how A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream should be staged, and a Congressional Chief of Staff make this a comical, heartwarming tale. There’s also a political controversy, but as Shakespeare once said, “All’s well that ends well.” The book includes a Q & A with the author and book club discussion questions.

I was drawn to this book because of my family’s love of theater. When I was born, my parents were living in New York City, and I believe they hoped to make it to Broadway, but when I came along, I guess they decided to make more realistic career choices. My brother and I acted in high school and college plays and participated on speech teams but also chose other occupations. My brother’s a physicist, like Elizabeth’s father, but hasn’t won a Nobel Prize yet.

At the beginning of each chapter of the book, the author inserts humorous commentary on Shakespeare and relationships in the form of excerpts from a book Elizabeth is writing. Although these are cute, I found them distracting at times, especially when the previous chapter ended on a cliffhanger. However, I slogged through them because the story intrigued me, and I wanted to know how it turned out. If you like humor and romance, you’ll enjoy this book, even if you’re not into Shakespeare.

***

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.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: Wishful Drinking

Abbie-1

Wishful Drinking

By Carrie Fisher

Copyright 2008.

 

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you probably remember Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. However, she acted in other films and wrote a novel. Wishful Drinking is a short, humorous memoir covering her life in general, though she shares some anecdotes from her experiences filming the original movie, like how Mark Hamill burst a blood vessel in his eye while filming the Death Star trash compactor scene.

She talks about what it was like to grow up as the daughter of two celebrities, singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, how her father left her mother for another woman when Carrie and her brother were kids, acting with her mother in plays and performing in nightclubs while in New York, her on-again off-again relationship with Paul Simon and others, and waking up one morning to find a dead man in bed next to her. She touches on the birth of her daughter, a product of one of the other relationships, and describes her struggles with drug addiction and mental illness. She ends the book with a quote from Star Wars and says no wonder she was mentally ill. She could never get that speech out of her head.

I was a Star Wars fan in the 1970’s, and after learning through The Writers Almanac that Carrie Fisher’s birthday was this month, I thought now would be a great time to read this book. I had to laugh at one point when Carrie Fisher said she was once diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and didn’t believe she had it. It occurred to me that after everything Princess Leia goes through in the original Star Wars series, she would be a great candidate for post-traumatic stress disorder. I wonder if Carrie Fisher ever thought of that. Even if you’ve never heard of Star Wars, I think you’ll find this book delightful.

***

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.

Like me on Facebook.

 

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.