Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Days Like These: A Novel by Sue Margolis

Days Like These: A Novel. Sue Margolis. Penguin Publishing Group. December 2016. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451471857. 

Judy Schofield hasn’t been doing well since her husband passed away.  Now, her daughter and husband are hoping to do medical work in Nicaragua and ask Judy or Nana to babysit for the six weeks they will be away.  While her daughter has a lot of anxiety about this arrangement, Judy takes it in stride and agrees to watch her granddaughter and grandson.  Little does she know what she’s in for, despite the fact she raised two children on her own quite fine!
The children are cooperative and sweet for the first twenty-four hours. Then starts the bickering, insulting, and hiding of belongings.  Meals seem to calm things down but what to watch on TV, what toys to play with, what books Nana should read and when, extension of bedtime, and so much more finally get to Judy and she gets it that she’s going to snapping sharply very soon.  Fortunately, she keeps her cool and keeps them from killing each other. 

Meeting the other Moms at the local school is a challenge.  The social satire of this novel is depicted in a funny but real way.  One mother insists on overseeing everything, cornering other mothers into volunteering for the next community fair.
While the plot is rather novel in the first half of the book, the remainder are pretty much what the reader expects.  Yet there is enough cuteness and feistiness in these children to keep the story alive. Just how far can Nana be tortured without losing her cool completely?  And what is it about contemporary kids who are never allowed to be alone without something to do?  How about just “being?”  In one sense, Nana can help her daughter and her grandchildren to realize that life does have a significant purpose and it’s not about social meetings where everyone compares food and clothing or being busy at every waking moment. 

Days Like These: A Novel is a lovely story that warms the heart while it keeps a few darts of adrenaline floating in the reader’s heart and brain.  Judy meets people who embrace life.  There should be more to come, but who knows the long-lasting effects of this one perfect day! Nicely put together, Sue Margolis!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

When All The Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz

When All The Girls Have Gone.  Jayne Ann Krentz. Penguin Publishing Group. November 2016. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780399174490.

Charlotte Sawyer’s stepsister Jocelyn is away on a no-contact retreat far from home.  But that need to know basis becomes very important when Charlotte finds out that Jocelyn’s good friend, Louise, has not overdosed on drugs but instead has been murdered.  All of a sudden, Jocelyn has disappeared and it turns out she left her retreat after the first night.  Charlotte is now afraid for her sister’s well-being. 

It turns out that several women had formed what was an investment group.  A cousin of the murdered woman hires Max, a private eye investigator who lost his previous job because it went all wrong.  It’s clear Max is the hero of this story as his investigative skills are immediately obvious.  He finally gets out of Charlotte that Jocelyn had a troubled past and they wonder if this is involved, even though Jocelyn had been clean of drugs and rough living for many years.

No spoilers here – readers will be shocked when they find out that one’s past follows one for years and has consequences, some of which one can involve more than an obvious victim and perpetrator of crime.  These women all know there is more than meets the eye than people know about their “investment” group but now realize they are in some very deep trouble that is beyond their control.

Other deaths will happen and families will become more involved, even Max’s family.  A secondary part of the story involves how Max and Charlotte work closely together and a romance appears to be in the making, along with some cute humor. 

While the plot is serious, there’s an easy flow to the story that stops it from being oppressive.  Even the humor that is intermixed helps cut down the fear that Charlotte and these women feel – and rightfully so!  All in all, When All The Girls Have Gone is a nice read and seems to end as if there is more to come in a sequel.  For those who love crime fiction and mysteries, you’ll be pleased with this contemporary, dramatic novel!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Victoria.  Daisy Goodwin. St. Martin’s Press. November 2016. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9781250045461.

Daisy Goodwin wrote the novel, Victoria, while she was writing the screenplay of the PBS series due to be shown beginning in January 2017.  It is also ironic that it follows the biography of Victoria by Julia Baird almost simultaneously being published.  The novel about Victoria, however, is confined to the time between Victoria first becoming Queen of England at the age of 19 up to the time when she marries Albert in the early nineteenth century.  This is a very young Victoria, whose deepest consolations vacillate between her little dog Dash and the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne or William Lamb.  So anxious is she to shed the advice of her domineering mother and her mother’s lover, Sir John Conroy, that Queen Victoria flounders, making many huge mistakes but somehow making up for them with her gracious ways.  Lord Melbourne clearly was the ruler’s right-hand man.

Although Victoria has received an education in history and other appropriate subjects for her role, she displays a child-like ignorance of many of the issues of pivotal importance in her kingdom.  So, we see how rebellion in Ireland, the protests of the Chartists, and other “situations” required Lord Melbourne’s guiding hand; but this is true of every day.   At the same time we see her kinder nature evident in those rebels who escaped hanging because of the Queen’s merciful nature. 

Queen Victoria’s reputation is almost permanently ruined when she makes a very bad judgment about one of her ladies-in-waiting.  Thus the Queen has her first taste of the people’s favor dramatically turning, along with the realization that she rules with the approval (or not) of her subjects.

Many more fascinating scenes fill the pages of this notable novel soon to be seen in film.  Read it to the vicissitudes of how this young woman grew into the noble, intelligent and wise ruler of Great Britain for sixty-three years.  Daisy Goodwin has once again captured the essence of an age, royalty, and the world surrounding royalty!  This reviewer eagerly anticipates the film version of this notable historical novel!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird

Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire.  Julia Baird. Random House Publishing Group. November 2016. 752 pp.  ISBN#: 9781400069880.

Victoria the Queen, from the moment she was born, defied tradition.  She lived during an age when women were possessions of their husbands and thought to be dim-witted enough to need a man’s decisions, protection and directions in order to survive, let alone be called successful.  But Victoria also grew up to live in an age when warfare took away men and women began to envision a future of meaning and interesting living.  So Julia Baird’s biography of this intriguing young woman, devoted wife and lover, and formidable Queen is riveting reading indeed!

To begin with, Victoria’s mother is a domineering creature whose eye is on the prize of royalty but who believes she will be Regent who will control all of England.  Through those frustrating years, Victoria sets to learn all she can about the kingdom she knows she will eventually inherit.  This provides some rowdy, contentious scenes but as we later learn, Victoria is built of sturdier mettle than even her mother realizes. 

Upon marriage, Victoria turns into a workhorse but one who is perhaps overly amenable to her counselor, the Prime Minister, who is really more of a father figure than subject of the Queen.  This troublesome relationship ends with her marriage to Prince Albert, who little by little assumes Victoria’s duties as she is so busy carrying, birthing and raising nine of her children.  Yet somehow Victoria keeps hold on a certain amount of ruling until that becomes total upon Prince Albert’s death.  Victoria seems to have suffered from recurring bouts of melancholia, aggravated immensely by her husband and some of her children’s deaths. 

The remaining, many years of Victoria’s rule are rife with friction and deep love from other men, Disraeli on the positive side and Gladstone a fearsome opponent, just two examples.  Victoria had very strong opinions and this at times led her to support conflicts with gruesome consequences and ignore events that turned out to be momentous, history-changing conflicts. Her determination to control her children produced both love and discord that literally also affected the future course of European history. As Victoria’s kingdom expands into India and Africa, so does her responsibility and love for these lands.

More than all the above, this is the life story of a very down to earth, proud, strong and weak, faithful, loyal, dependent and independent enigma of a woman who ruled the Kingdom of England for almost as long as the present Queen Elizabeth.  You will experience all possible thoughts and emotions while experiencing all of the vicissitudes of this remarkable and worthy Queen of a magnificent empire!  Julia Baird has crafted an exceedingly well-researched (notes, glossary and bibliography are included), intriguing biography that tells the truth in all its failures, successes and in-between moments that constitute the life of royalty.  Highly recommended historical biography!!! Wonderful!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Waiting Room: Love Is More Ferocious Than Terror by Leah Kaminsky

The Waiting Room: Love is More Ferocious Than Terror. Leah Kaminsky. Harper Collins Publishers. November 2016. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9780062490476.

Children of Holocaust survivors carry a heavy burden!  Dina is living in Haifa, Israel, with her husband.  She’s expecting a child but wonders how her looming fear regarding the warning of an expected terrorist attack by Palestinians will affect her child.  She’s originally from Australia but came to Israel when she visited and found that she felt at home in a way she never had before.  But time has passed and terrorism is a constant nemesis which allows no one to relax – ever!

Add to the mix that her dead mother visits Dina all the time, correcting her behavior, throwing out Jewish maxims, leaking her melancholy mood into the very fiber of Dina’s being.  At first Dina is silent, since she knows that her mother’s memories are never absent, a condition normal for survivors of those awful camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.  Dina’s father was silent but by the end of the novel he too will come to share his story.

The result?  Dina is constantly exhausted and not just from her pregnancy.  Her practice as a doctor is filled with severely and moderately sick people, hypochondriacs needing attention (more survivor guilt), and occasional outbursts of hatred toward Arabs, children, etc.  Dina’s focus lately is an overwhelming need to get away – anywhere, anytime, anyplace!  She and her husband are becoming more and more estranged every day and the only reason she doesn’t return to Australia is she doesn’t believe she can take her child away from its father.

Despite all the doom and gloom above, Dina’s got a feisty sense of humor which manifests in almost every situation she finds herself.  However, it usually never passes the thinking stage. The remainder of the story involves the individual stories of her parents, a secret about their family that Dina never imagined, and Dina’s reconciliation with the past and present.  It’s a long, dark, funny, and beautiful journey!

So many novels have been crafted about the Holocaust and its survivors, but Leah Kaminsky has created a unique story about growing from survival which hits the reader as endearingly realistic!  This is a fine, fine work of historical fiction that should be must reading not only for adults but also young adults and/or high school students. 

It is said that history is repeated if one does not learn from it – Leah Kaminsky has given us a character who travels a long journey toward ending a destructive cycle and reentering life.  L’Chaim!

Ray and Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald's Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away by Lisa Napoli

Ray and Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away. Lisa Napoli. Penguin Publishing Group. November 2016. 368 pp. ISBN#: 9781101984956. 

Ray Kroc, the founder of the world-wide famous McDonald stores, began with little money but a large imagination.  Lisa Napoli has given the reader a fascinating look at how this mega-business began.  Not only were the ideas waiting to be born by Ray and other entrepreneurs but also the machines that facilitated the delivery of “fast food” within minutes of being ordered.  So, we learn how hamburger presses, French fry cutters, and mixers to make multiple shakes at a time were made.  We hear how company policy was made on how franchise owners would all operate the McDonald stores the same way, including the precise timing for making hamburgers, fries, soda and shakes.  No one could deviate with his or her own version of what was better depending on geographic areas.  Ray’s first and second wives wanted quick success but grew increasingly frustrated at the ups and downs of this process, financially as well as technologically.  His third wife changed his life completely and added the final touch to a dream come true!

Joan Kroc, on the other hand, saw her poor, younger years as ones that would shape the rest of her life but certainly not in the way that most people would expect.  Joan had few talents except for a dazzling, sexy voice.  She was also quite beautiful and took care of her appearance carefully for the rest of her life.  Her empathy with people who were trying to make a living with the lowest minimal wage made her a gift giver whom some called overly generous and others called crazy.

Crazy or not, the reader is uplifted at the way Joan tipped tax drivers and waiters/ waitresses, founded and supported the McDonald’s House institution for families with children suffering from cancer, and it just goes on and on with National Public Radio receiving a shockingly large ($200,000,000) donation, as well as other donations to zoos around the world and a radio station, et al.

Ray and Joan… is fascinating reading sure to please all readers! Very nicely presented Lisa Napoli!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Semi-Scripted: A Wanderlove Novel #2 by Amanda Heger

Semi-Scripted: A Wanderlove Novel #2. Amanda Heger. Diversion Publishing. November 2016. 224 pp.  ISBN#: 9781686303030.

Marisol Gutierrez is a nurse come to Los Angeles, in her mother’s place, to win a grant for their failing medical practice.  Marisol’s nervous about the interview to come but decides she will fill the waiting time by going to her favorite game show.  When approaching the site, Marisol sees a bunch of strange characters such as a man wearing nothing but a dirty diaper, characters covered in multi-colored glitter and makeup.  No entry for this show and not surprising given the oddities trying to gain entry.

Marisol wanders away and is immediately accosted by a guy named Evan who is inviting her into what the reader learns is a failing game show.  All those strange people dressed and made up weirdly are also waiting.  Evan is an intern on the show and he knows they are a breath away from being canceled.  So his job is to recruit guests who will be invited to come onstage and become part of the show. However, the guest has no idea what will happen but has to agree anyway.  The upshot after a comic wait is that Marisol’s playing of the part in the game is a winner and boosts the ratings above the normally dismal number.  So now the game show owner says they are away from the danger zone but on a probationary status, one week at a time.

Marisol, meanwhile, has bigger things on her mind.  Her interview for the grant is horrendous and now it turns out she has to give a presentation to the Board, proving her quest for the grant is more worthy than that of the other applicants.  Marisol’s in a panic and so is Evan.  For Marisol is not ready for the presentation and Evan has been told to get Marisol back or the show’s a goner.

The remainder of the novel takes up these two quandaries, with Evan and Marisol being more and more drawn to each other with many funny moments included. Amanda Heger has written a comic, contemporary novel that leads the reader through a light, crazy and dramatic journey in Los Angeles, California where anything can happen – and does!