Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa...and Me: A Memoir by Tony Cointrau

Ethel Merman Mother Teresa… and Me: A Memoir. Tony Cointreau. Prospecta Press, LLC. February 2013. 312 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9781935212348.

Adversity can produce many forms of dysfunction but also many forms of sensitivity and compassion that become a gift to those who are hungry for same.  It so often arises out of one’s own hunger for connection.  Tony (Jacques) Cointreau’s childhood was far from pretty, with a case of brutal abuse and really tough, nasty relatives who seemed to delight in inflicting discomfort if not actual pain on Tony.  Next to that were his parents who raised Tony on the “Real men don’t cry,” belief and showed zilch affection. Yes, they were the wealthy family famous for building the famous liquor business but that seemed to be the only bright side of this family who alternated living in the United States, Paris and Europe.  What a troupe!

This memoir charts the psychological nightmares, panic attacks, and other illnesses arising from this inhuman childhood, but Tony Cointreau seems to have been made of tougher stuff and the right people were always there to later bring him through each crisis.  This, the mid-1900s and later, was a time when therapy was not deemed a normal, helpful exercise. 

Tony, however, was gifted with surrogate mothers in the form of Lee Lehman, wife of the financier Lehman; Ethel Merman, a singer of momentous talent but also with a heart of gold; and Mother Teresa who truly saw God in every human being (despite what some biographies have said in denial).  This isn’t name dropping; Tony had a deeply meaningful relationship with these women and also had the support and friendship of numerous other famous people like Pierre Cardin and more. You truly get to know the surrogate “mothers” and this is a delightful, poignant aspect of this memoir that makes it very special. Tony’s lover is a relatively silent but dominantly supporting character throughout this account.

For Tony became a renowned singer in the USA and Paris, later took over the family business for a brief period and finally was drawn to Mother Teresa’s work in caring for the dying poor.

Outlining the above is not a spoiler at all; to read this memoir is a rich, inspiring experience, with a little something for everyone within its memorable pages.  Very nicely done!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

The Last Letter From Your Lover.  Jojo Moyes.  Viking Penguin. January 2013. 416 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143121107.

Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital after an awful car accident in the 1960s.  She remembers nothing but feels a sense of familiarity with certain people who come to visit her in the hospital.  Little by little she is able to retrieve certain memories but absolutely nothing about the accident and no one will give one iota of information about that pivotal event.  So Jennifer returns to her role as the wife of a cold man who is also a brilliant, successful businessman engaging in African mining.  Laurence is also oblivious to the conditions his business practices leave behind but Jennifer doesn’t discover this memory for a very long time.

It’s the letters Jennifer finds, one by one over a broad span of time, that bring back her memories of Anthony.  To say more would be a spoiler but suffice to say that Jennifer has a feisty nature that will not be cowed by the strict demands of her husband.  It would be nice to imagine a happily ever after story and that’s what the letters seem to imply.  The story, however, is more realistic in depicting how fate sometimes plays an intriguingly different hand to its players.

The story then rewinds to Jennifer’s pre-accident experiences, most importantly her meeting and falling in love with Anthony, a journalist who was well known for his expository articles about African atrocities which include the business and political spectrum of the African economy.  But Anthony has a wild nature that gets him in trouble and so he’s been temporarily corralled to home to work on local stories while the top brass decide if he should continue to work or be let go.  After meeting Jennifer, he is extremely distracted from his passion for Africa but doesn’t forget his past.  Now he has passion for both.

Years later in 2003, a young journalist, Ellie Haworth, is questioning her own affair to a married man when she comes across a letter in which a man begs his lover to follow him so they can travel to Africa and end their separation forever.  The story evolves in an amazing way to the discovery of the lovers’ names, story and the final path of their destiny.

Passionate love requires intense courage and determination at times.  Moyes’ novel is endearing and heart-breaking in its ever-changing scenes for the riveted reader.  But it is the intensity of the story that is passionately victorious and the reader never loses the empathy in these lovers or the countless other feelings arising from the other characters who would be called “minor characters” but who really seem to be controlled by a fate none previously imagined could come true!

Highly recommended! Great, great read!

Monday, March 17, 2014

War of Wings: A Novel by Tanner McElroy

War of Wings.  Tanner McElroy. Brown Books Publishing Company. March 2014. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9781612541549.

Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel, and other angels in Heaven are parties to a looming revolution against God.  Heaven is described as a heady, perfect place where the architecture is rather garishly glorious and nature yields only the most succulent of fruits.  God is really never actually seen because of the blinding radiance of His person and there is a touch of human envy in the way all the angels vie to be in God’s presence in order to “talk” with him.  Blind faith is the heavenly, ubiquitous law and the initial hints of “trouble in Paradise” begin with multiple questions about the origin of life and Lucifer’s need to sit at the right hand of God.  It all seems like petulant children vying for parental approval and favor until the initial discomfiting conversations transition to a nasty tone!

Surprisingly, Gabriel’s character is given a rather different slant in this story.  He seems to be a totally self-absorbed individual who is an athletic professional and a despoiler of nature in the nonchalant way he gorges on luscious fruits and discards the rinds like a true litterer who never gets caught and penalized.  Then there is the odd relationship he has with his best friend, Michael.  Michael consistently berates Gabriel for a lack of responsibility and lax attitude to his work for God.  Their constant bickering, however, suddenly becomes violent with physical fights and then avoidance of each other.

The fascinating part of this story, besides Lucifer’s seductive campaign to turn the other angels away from God, involves the asking of questions similar to those of the evolutionary crowd debating the creationists.  If God made all, who made God?  The origin of matter is never explained beyond the questions but it does succeed in getting pride to rise and rise and rise, becoming anger and then rebellion.  Women are also used to exacerbate the confusion and turmoil, as well as being used as tools to tempt the faithful to the side of evil. This reviewer was reminded, while reading this novel, of the debates and declarations of the great writer, C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.

War of Wings moves from a playful to serious and then dark tones.  Heaven’s light begins to dim as the looming war approaches!  However, even at the end, the resolution is not quite finished business and obviously seems like a transition point for a future continuation of this world-changing conflict which continues to today.  Very nicely plotted mix of religious and scientific thought!  Interesting, somewhat contrived but thoughtfully crafted and fascinating novel!