The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing by Gavin Edwards

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“Six people left in the world and one of them is Bill ******* Murray”, I just kept thinking about the scene in Zombieland with Murray and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). There is just something about Bill Murray that seeps through every character he plays, you want to laugh with him, even if he is laughing at you. Fan or not, this book of stories about him is delightful. “Even when he’s engaged in everyday activities, Bill seems suffused with mischief,…” I think there is certainly mischief there, and a bit of mystery. He plays a jerk beautifully, a reminder of the guy in class who could be a smart ass with whiplash inducing ease, the one you wanted to hate but secretly maybe crushed on or wanted to be. The moments he has with fans, strangers, co-stars certainly shows someone that likes to throw you off, even just to get a reaction out of you. Not all actors have an overflow of charisma, it’s the same for the average man- some people just have an extra spark- he is one of them. This book is not all laughs, there are relationships that soured, the story of him hiring a deaf woman… well, I have to admit it’s childish but clever too. For some of us, he’d probably be too much to handle- not everyone is the ‘invite yourself to the party’ sort but it’s marvelous on screen. The stories are contrary though as well, he seems to not want people to take themselves so seriously, and yet he himself can be difficult and serious. I am not sure what exactly I like about him having to be chased down for roles in movies, but it seems fitting. Acting aside, if stories and encounters can explain who the man is then these speak of a man who is witty, funny, a bit of a mystery, charming but more in how he draws attention to silliness, and maybe someone not easily defined. We never really intimately know celebrities, sometimes we barely know those closest to us, but through stories you can catch a glimpse of the way Bill Murray the man lives. There is just something infectious about him. I’ve been watching his films since I was a kid, and have a few personal favorites. Even at a young age I found him attractive, but couldn’t pin what it was until I got older. It is in the twinkle in his eyes, that he can have fun anywhere and he is enjoying something you just haven’t noticed, that he is having the time of his life and you should invite yourself in.
Fun read.

Random House Publishing Group- Random House

Publication Date: September 20, 2016

The Gospel According to Johnny Bender by Dean Lilleyman

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“Bad things happen in good stories though, don’t they Blackbird.”

One for the reader who wants something unusual and off the popular shelves.

This was strange and a bit more edgy than my usual read. I hate rating it because it seems to be a unique genre in it’s own right. Luckily on my blog I don’t have to worry about star ratings! This story is like being drunk itself. I had moments where I had to go back and read again just to keep my head straight. It is dark and who do we, the reader, trust in this story set in the village Endendale as it is having another carnival decades after the first in 1979? “Remembering is like pretending…” as pieces of a puzzle past to present come together, the telling is eerie and strange. Some people do seem to be stuck in time here, from what terrible thing happened in 79. And just what happened is shocking and a slow reveal. So much happened. Some of the people are terrible, and are they worse than Johnny Bender? You have to read to find out. Read to know what happened to the young drowned girl. Wrong choices, mistakes, meanness, confusion, cracked skulls. I will never look at carnival gold fish the same again. This is perfect for those that love indie fiction, a stray from the mainstream formula. There will be some people that can’t follow it because of the all the conversations with ‘blackbird’. You have to sink into the unique style and flow down that river with the dead as the party goers dance oblivious to how time stopped for one. Disturbing.

Urbane Publications

Publication Date: July 7, 2016

Valley of the Moon: A Novel by Melanie Gideon

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“How to wait,” she said, looking down at me with pity. “It’s the hardest thing to learn.”

 

Lux is torn between two times (which may as well be two worlds), a single mother with the demands of raising her son Benno , she isn’t free to stay at the glorious place either she has conjured with one heck of an imagination or  that truly exists. Connected to nature in a way so many people neglect to embrace, Lux recharges her soul camping in Sonoma. It is how she keeps keeps herself strong in the chaos of raising Benno alone. Those of us that need nature have an affinity for her character.  Nature isn’t as quiet as many think, it has it’s own form of noise but it soothes us. It is an energy that feeds, rather than saps. A fog that beckons her leads her to a community called Greengage, a place removed from modernity. Their clothing is old fashioned and certainly not cheap costumes. Are they some crazy cult? Is this a movie set?  Is time standing still for these people? Could it be possible? The fog is a threatening dangerous presence for them, where Lux is free to come and go through without losing her life.  She does , however, lose time (a loss of life in it’s own way) the people of Greengage cannot enter the fog without harm. Their leader, Joseph Bell is at a loss to figure out how to save his people. He is swamped with guilt. Having started Greengage as a place where everyone pulls their weight to help each other, it has turned into a living nightmare entrapping them all. Is the earthquake the cause of all their suffering, the event that brought the fog and Lux?

Fall back to 1906  on the other side of the fog: Joseph is married to Martha, and yet he finds himself irresistibly drawn to Lux. A man with a curious nature, yet steady presence he is fascinated by her modern ways. There is nothing nightmarish about Greengage for her, and that makes her a mystery. Could she be his people’s salvation? Unlike  1975 and all her hardships (the bills she has to pay, the strain between her and her father, the difficulties of raising a child alone) here she finds a farming community free of all the attachments and distractions of the modern world. Joseph works alongside his hundreds of people, all are connected to nature as a means of survival, a sort of ‘off the grid’ so many can only idealize. Lux admires Martha for her strength and knowledge of herbs, her wisdom. She is beyond charmed by the place but how much time can a mother afford to lose when she has a son to raise, naturally she must sacrifice her desires once she discovers that just like everything one hungers for in life, it has teeth. Complications arise within her family because of time loss, and how can she possibly explain to her son that she hasn’t abandoned him without sounding insane? Even if her friend Rhonda, who has been vital to her ‘mini-breaks’ by caring  for Benno, can be convinced she is telling the truth, it is impossible to prove to everyone else.

The past, anytime I read about traveling back in time (I am one of those nostalgic for bygone times rather than the future) brings to mind two things: A Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris” and a video I love on the internet from Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows called Anemoia. How can you be nostalgic for times your haven’t lived in? And why do we always think the past is better than the present (which is the humor of Allen in the movie I mentioned). The past just charms some of us, we romanticize it and it’s a beautiful escape to read about a woman going back in time. Her heart is split in two, with her son and with the people of Greengage. How will she create a life when she is half in it? You have to read to find out. It isn’t only a romance, it is interesting how the fog is both terrifying and a gift. This is a bit of it’s own genre. This is a darling tale.

Random House Publishing Group- Ballantine

Publication Date July 26, 2016

 

 

An Abbreviated Life: A Memoir by Ariel Leve

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“I am in hiding, an emotional fugitive.”

I held my breath in sorrow for Ariel, even what passes for normal when there isn’t anything to measure your life against, she knew her mother’s behaviors were ‘off’. Being a child and unable to have your own feelings validated, always walking on eggshells, wondering which mommy you will deal with today, it has to do something to you. The painful part of memoirs for me is knowing you can’t step in and help and it isn’t fiction. On the other side of the coin, obviously her mother wasn’t normal and needed help, it’s interesting how adults don’t know how to step in and often when they do it makes things worse or nothing happens. Without pointing fingers (for legal reasons) anyone with someone in their life who is histrionic and a grand manipulator, they know full grown adults can tremble around such people. Most people don’t like scenes, and so many of us can’t untangle ourselves from expert manipulators- I don’t care how smart you profess to be. When it’s coming from someone you are related to or love, there is guilt, because we are supposed to love each other no matter what, especially if it’s your parent (honor thy mother and father etc). I have seen and been told tales of such a parent, and I don’t care if it’s labeled abuse or not, speaking to an adult that has lived with such a parent, it lingers like a bad smell. And sometimes, removing yourself is vital to survival. So why didn’t anyone save her? I thought about that, because her mother was ‘crafty’ and could easily convince others that she was fine, and she tells us as much. It’s tricky.
A mother’s love should be without strings attached, minus conditions, ideally anyway. This isn’t so for Ariel. The cringe worthy moments when her mother made scenes, begging even for a man ‘not to leave’, or embarrassing her at school, or in front of friends is gut wrenching. (again without saying who, I know a similar incident of someone I love dearly being humiliated when he was a little boy by his mother, he is in his 70’s- these things stay with us). Thinking about the exciting people her mother knew didn’t take the sting out of her version of such gatherings, who cares what celebrity is at your house when you are just a little kid who needs rest and has to get up for school but the adults are chaotic or loud, partying ’til the break of dawn.’ It sounds silly, but to those who know sleep deprivation it’s awful! If you care for children, you know this isn’t right.
Reading about Ariel’s life I have to admit, many people dismiss the suffering children of privilege go through, as if having things and money makes everything that happens to them okay. “Well you can’t think I am a bad mom because I gave you everything.” I have always felt when you raise children, you don’t keep a tally of what’s owed you. You give and nurture them because it’s an expression of love, and it’s your job to guide them. You don’t get to erase bad treatment because you ‘gave so much,’ anymore than abusing your partner is fine as long as you say sorry with gifts. I imagine this is a young woman people would envy from afar and never imagine how lonely and abused she was. The good is the people who were there for her, but choices she has to make later in life about her mother aren’t a quick fix, certainly it is something she still internalizes and struggles with, but necessary, so very necessary. This is about a little girl who in so many ways was her mother’s keeper, and maybe will get a second chance at childhood through love.

 

Out now  Harper Collins Publishers

The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin

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“Nothing in heaven or earth is content to be alone, and so there must always be something more.”

‘She has come into her life with the randomness of a comet, but it is no ill fortune that she brings, and he will keep the world at a distance so that no random harm befalls her.” Of course we know, no matter how fragile our loved ones are, we cannot contain their life in a manner than hides them from harm. Despite her damaged arm, Caroline grows up and becomes her father’s assistant. When Caroline’s adoptive father Arthur Ainsworth takes his own life after watching his labor seemingly come to nothing as others surpass him, she is left with his work and his hunger. But she is also a woman of passion for the blacksmith’s son.
She falls in love with Finnegan O’Siodha, connected to her heart as much as the stars are connected to the heavens. But her father left her with a madness, a madness to know more about the sky, still the madness of love beckons. Finnegan had helped her father build his telescope but war has come and with it has swept him from her dreams and arms. Finn cannot let go his love for her either, regardless of the danger he finds himself in as Ireland swirls with violence. Leaving for London to find him, she discovers more than stars in the sky and collects more losses. Forging on, she is still clinging to hope that Finn will return to her, that they will have a life full of children. She ventures out into the world her father wanted to protect her from. There will be heartbreak, and she will have to adjust to everything that has changed. This is for anyone that loves historical fiction, and while there is a love story it isn’t just one between a man and woman. It is a love story of one’s passions.
In the end, it may take another to pull her out of her loss and urge her to return to her life’s work. “They are an unlikely pair, mismatched travelers, but there is no accounting for the forces that throw people together.” Much like the discoveries above, life too has endless possibilities. The early mapping of the solar system is fascinating, and the building of telescopes so very intricate a process. This is a hard book to review for me because it is full of historical events and while it is also about love and relationships it is not what I would call a romance. There is a lot I don’t know about how people got their start studying the solar system,  it is far more interesting than I ever considered.
Really enjoyed it.

Bloomsbury USA

Publication Date October 11, 2016

Quality of Quantity by James J. Houts

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“Time is cruelly physical to the old and psychologically arduous for the young.”

This is a book I think ‘Lads’ will enjoy. Not to say women won’t, but as I read along I was entertained by the stories of lust, love, fighting… I particularly enjoyed the moment when he fights the school bully who has tormented between sixth and seventh grade. Naturally he has a moment of popularity when the sexy Reese makes her move on him, although he has a girlfriend. I laughed too about this: “Never a functional liar and terrible at keeping secrets the next time I called Melissa, I needed to decide if honesty really was the best policy or if deception might work best. I chose poorly and picked honesty- of course Melissa broke up with me.” Ha, being good has it’s punishments too. He turns shallow in high school, leading his life in the ideal image of a macho dude. Isn’t this familiar to many of us? Maybe sometimes honesty and the outcome makes a young kid think ‘hey- maybe I should grow up and tell self-serving lies, be evasive, and why not enjoy the pleasures of decadence?’ He goes on to love many others, of varied cultural differences. Travel, an expatriate, finding that there is no one left to impress. Lots of sexy women, the girls the girls, ego…What happened when he stopped objectifying women? Well you have to read to find out.
The chapters titled by songs made me sing my way through, reminding me of music I haven’t heard in a while. Oddly, this is the second book I have read that mentioned chewing tar ball gum? I had never heard of such a thing. When the roads in the summer get hot, little asphalt comes up and the kids chew this, turning their teeth black- which is a memory set off when he sees men in Taiwan with black teeth from the nuts they ate for sexual prowess. It is funny how memories exist in a web, tickle one thread and an old part of your life makes an appearance in the center.
There is silence in some family secrets, shameful things that happened to his twin. His own ‘scumbagging’ is hard to read, the reality of exploitation fictionalized or not is too close to reality. Maybe women read such things differently, firing up our sisterhood instincts- I can’t say. I just felt my hackles rise. There is a bit of explicit interactions, and he finds upon reflecting back on his years in Asia that he is a part of the very things he hates (particularly after what happened to his twin sister). In Buddhism he changes his life of excess, particularly sexual excess, taking part in exploiting women and in sense the narcissistic life he created for himself. Some of the stories made me laugh, many I was cringing and thinking “Heath, you’re a pig.” But that’s kind of the point, he was- and he changes. Do I think woman are going to think it’s wonderful and have warm fuzzy feelings because he changed? Eh, maybe a few. I understand the point of writing about Heath’s tales is to show how embracing eastern philosophy and facing that he was damaged by his childhood past he was able to better himself. Still, there are moments I thought “I can’t stand this guy.” Maybe that was the point, because there were early instances when I rooted for him, but his older self was less palatable.
Certainly a break from my usual reading, it was different. I just feel like this is more one for the guys.

Available now May 2016

Cheyenne Spring Publishing

Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

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“This will be another sleepless night. I have so many dead to sit up with.”

The words in my review are weak and small, it’s hard to review someone’s life story, particularly one as heavy and brave as this one. But I’ll do my best.

Scholastique Mukasonga tells us her heartbreaking flight from Rwanda during ethnic cleansing. Unearthing precious memories about those she lost is the beauty in the atrocities. What greater depths of pain than losing your family and so senselessly. We hear these horrors on the news, feel pain but it passes until another event takes it’s place. In memoirs we personalize it, connect to suffering and allow it to burrow in our hearts. It certainly must have been a painful process excavating the past and yet there are beautiful reflections such as the story telling, the spirituality, the laundry washing in the lake water (where there are crocodiles), working fields after school. There is a gorgeous sense of community that so many of us don’t have.

But terror, the soldiers bursting into homes night or day, the inhumane treatment. These are things that can be told but never truly felt to the extent of those who experienced it. Forbidden to pick up bodies? Children seeing people discarded, is there anything more horrific? I didn’t know much beyond what I have seen or read about the Tutsi and the Hutu. Imagining not being able to contact your family for fear they would be harmed, not having news of them, visiting finally but having to leave. Rushed reunion, wondering when a massacre will come? And when it does, while machetes are ending the lives of loved ones- still she must SURVIVE! Adults, elderly, children… so many. “There were survivors, of course. No genocide is perfect.” That must be the harshest two lines I have read, it just guts you. How did she manage to keep her humanity in the face of such horror? When her niece Jeanne-Francoise recounts what happened to her father, I caught my breath- imagining his suffering but worse, the sick torture of the young girl’s mind and soul as she brought food to her imprisoned father. Man’s cruelty to his brother knows no bounds, but we have to believe kindness and love is the same too. Seeking refuge with family that are split down the middle, some want to protect, other’s don’t want the risk of having you there… it’s easy to imagine what you would do, always something brave, talk is cheap. I don’t know how you live with this and relive it all in the writing, but it’s vital such stories be told. My admiration is high. It is a glorious form of courage and though I am disturbed, I was strangely uplifted too. ” Rare are the survivors who could find their loved ones’ remains and bury them in a grave.” To imagine refugees returning to the land they fled, trying to hold tight to any remaining family, hoping to rebuild again… how to staunch a bleeding heart, how to have hope for such a future clouded over with the shadows of so many dead and lost? Scholastique Mukasonga must live “in the name of all the others.” Heavy, unflinchingly raw, inspiring.

Pub Date 04 Oct 2016

Archipelago Books