Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hello From the Gillespies: A Novel by Monica McInerney

Hello from the Gillespies: A Novel.  Monica McInerney. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 624 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451466723.

Every year Angela Gillespie sends out a friendly, chatty Christmas letter for the holidays.  She fills it with bits and pieces of her perfect life in the Australian outback, a life she never dreamed she would spend most of her life in when she was a young woman living in England.  But here she is; only this year she gets more of her recent, severe headaches when thinking about what she should include as her year’s news.  A good friend Joan tells her to write the way things really are, to “let it rip.”  So all of a sudden, rather than bursting into tears, she takes her friend’s advice and really does write all about her dysfunctional family, from her neglectful, unromantic husband who barely talks to her, through her girls who have great dreams about careers but have really lousy relationships with boyfriends or are depressed, all the way to her youngest son Ig who spends his life chattering away, like he’s bonkers, to his imaginary friend.  Happy Holidays!

A terrible accident happens which is quickly resolved over several days; however, while she is dealing with that, her husband (without reading it) actually presses the send button for the Christmas letter to over a hundred family and friends. Oh, my God! Imagine Angela’s thoughts and feelings when she discovers what beloved hubby has done! And more how he feels when he realizes what was in the letter about himself and one of their nastier relatives!  In plain and simple English, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and the bubbling, boiling pot overflows with an amazingly large bevy of previously unshared feelings and words!

Add to that the fact that the girls have lost their jobs and are returning home, expecting a monetary handout that might not be so forthcoming.  This then is the story of a family that finally is compelled to begin listening to each other, becoming sensitive to each other’s thoughts and feelings as well as words, in all becoming a real, mature adult family.  The process is riveting, totally engaging and absolutely delightful!

Hello from the Gillespies… is a thrilling read about which readers can say, “Oh yeah, that’s how it is in my crazy family and world!”  It’s a refreshing look at a normal Australian (is definitely universal) family that evolves through blood, sweat, tears and eventually hugs and kisses.  Highly recommended!!!!!

The Story of Fester Cat: How One Remarkable Cat Changed Two Men's Lives by Paul Magrs

The Story of Fester Cat: How One Remarkable Cat Changed Two Men’s Lives.  Paul Magyrs. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425275047.

Fester was a neighborhood outdoor cat for most of his life.  He was considered cool and full of wisdom on how to survive on the streets.  We meet several of his friends and acquaintances, most of them hairy mats of messy fur, skeletons showing, missing teeth, fleas and showing battle scars from their rough skirmishes on the streets!  Then all of a sudden life begins to change when one of his friends gets adopted by a human family that is moving far away from Manchester and at the same time Fester meets Paul and Jeremy!

What a change for good old Fester!  At first it’s a funny bit of culture shock as he certainly isn’t used to being cared for so well and they have to get used to his occasional dumps (they call it accidents, ha, ha!) until they get sharp and get him a kitty litter, which of course he treats like a special throne where he drops his sacred gifts for his loving owners!

Little by little owners and Fester establish their favorite spots, a companionship that grows deeply upon these gay men who discover a different kind of love present in their lives.  There are many funny moments such as when Fester is introduced to a fancy patronizing friend of his owners or when they take him for his “beauty” appointment (a la vet).  Little by little Fester’s health is restored as much as possible!  He’s now a permanent fixture in their lives and it’s a lovely, lovely relationship they share with the reader as Fester explains his owners’ individual and collective habits and idiosyncrasies.

It’s been a long time since a book made me both laugh and cry, but this one did it all and more!  It’s a tender, humorous, startling, agonizing and precious memoir that every cat lover absolutely must read and everyone else as well!  Marley, move over – this is the reverse story but every step of the way to the end is delightful, engaging and so, so memorable!  I’m writing this as one of my own two beloved felines is butting my head for a bit of cuddlin’ which means I have to stop typing but not before I state I will never stop remembering this superb feline memoir! Kudos and thank you, Paul Magyrs for sharing this gift from your lives!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious General by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General.  Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Company. September 2014. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780805096682.

Let me state from the outset this reviewer has absolutely no interest in examining this book for political purposes!  Instead, this reviewer’s father served in the U. S. Army under General Patton and had tremendous respect for his person and leadership. Thus, this reviewer’s fascination grew to desire to know more about this man who was loved and hated by so many in military and civilian circles!  While other books have been read about Patton, this is not a comparison or contrast review; rather it’s a stand-alone objective review of a book about a truly great man whose actions changed the course of WWII in Europe.

O’Reilly and Dugard pose the theory that General Patton was killed because he was too outspoken and considered dangerous to others vying for power and vying to create a European order after WWII that would favor certain countries over other countries.  There is actually very little evidence for this so-called murder other than the accounts of those present at the time and reports that mysteriously seem to have disappeared or gone missing, with very little response from those who should have known about those documents.  Whatever happened, the story of this anti-Patton plot makes for fascinating reading!

Some background is given to the backgrounds of Patton, Churchill, Roosevelt, Lenin, Stalin and other world leaders who were pivotal during the coming Second World War!  The authors examine these characters with what they know will fascinate readers – just enough personal and political information to whet the appetite for more – some of it unnecessary but which builds the “story” being presented.

The authors tell the story of WWII battles led by Patton and that is also mesmerizing reading because it is also an intimate look at the political and military leaders making the decisions about the war.  We read about how Patton arrived in France and moved through that country into Southern Germany.  There a huge competitive campaign emerged in which Patton desired to be the first to reach Bastogne and later Berlin, a competition with Britain’s Montgomery that grew fierce indeed! 

Patton’s verbal gaffes were amusing, inflammatory, truthful, lies, and totally destructive to policy, depending on who was the target of those comments and who was fitting them into or rejecting them into American military and political goals.

In many ways, this book reads like a novel. One has to remind one’s self that this is the account of a real General whose life was almost larger than life for those who served under him or with him and whom one could accurately call a “shaper of history.”  Some have decried this account for leaving out certain facts about Patton’s attitudes toward Jews and political predictions or attitudes.  The reader must judge those accusers after examining what they know and don’t know about Patton and differing written accounts – fiction or non-fiction.  The best?  The worst?  Somewhere in between?  That’s for others to argue.

This reviewer highly recommends Killing Patton as a great read about the man, the war, the assassination theory and one account of a pivotal period in world history! 

The Night Shadow by Cheri Vause

The Night Shadow.  Cheri Vause. GWL Publishing. October 2014. 442 pp.  ISBN#: 9780992883669.

Esther Charlemagne is a scarred Private Investigator.  She’s had a bad history with her ex-husband Freddie and lost her only son, the latter a devastating loss from which no one could recover fully. So she’s learning to live with all that pain and at the same time resisting looking at it too much because she deep down blames herself for all of it.  This makes her ambiance pretty much like a brick wall to her long-time friend and partner, Aiden “Mac” McManus, who loves her to bits but holds back because of that obstructive wall Esther has built around herself. Thank God they’ve got enough sarcastic humor and skill to bind them together as investigators!

The story begins where they’re staking out a suburban street, looking for a “peeping Tom” who’s been frightening the neighbors.  Next they are staking out another home to find out whether the lady of the house is cheating on her hard-working, very upset husband.  The duo investigators have a heart as they realize just how crushed the cheating dame’s husband will be.  Their work, they acknowledge, has very serious consequences for those left behind when their work is finished. But now they pick up a case that gives Esther the creeps, really bad feelings that this is going to turn out all wrong for everybody involved.

On warm summer night, a young ballerina who had just been selected to dance for Ballet Master Balanchine in the New York City Ballet Company.  Right now, however, that joy is crushed under the fact that she’s just been dumped by her boyfriend.  After a short while, she’s trying to muster enough energy to begin practicing her dance routines when she realizes she’s locked into her dressing room closet, a room she’ll never leave alive!

The story then races forward with plots and counter-plots that involve another ballerina under psychoanalytic therapy, two sisters and friends who vie for attention, a history of family madness, fires that bear a similar nature to each other, love-hate relationships that bind and distort reality over time, and much more. During these dynamic events, Esther and Mac are getting closer as Esther very, very slowly learns to trust again; one wonders whether they will ever marry as it seems they go two steps backward for every step they move forward!

The Night Shadow is exciting, thrilling crime fiction that every fan of the genre will love.  The conflicts evolve slowly as quick-moving events make the reader fly through the pages.  There’s enough psychology in the novel to fascinate fans who love to try to figure out the profile of a killer or killers!  All in all, a great read that should be a best seller and would make a terrific movie as well!