Friday, August 28, 2015

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy


The Dud Avocado
by Elaine Dundy

Guest review by Tarren Young – Thank you, Tarren!

I LOVED this book! Although it took me a month to read it, it wasn’t because it wasn’t fascinating; rather, it was the fact that I borrowed it from the library and had to stop every two to four pages to jot down ideas, quips or quotes from the book instead of being able to highlight in my own copy. This WILL be added to my personal library!

I was floored when, somewhere around page sixty-ish, I realized that this book was fiction and NOT memoir! And that is the number one reason why I loved this book: it’s fiction, but reads like memoir.

The book is told from the perspective of Sally Jay Gorce, a young (we’re not actually told her age, somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two) American who has finally made it to Paris on her Uncle Roger’s dime, in exchange for stopping her numerous runaway attempts from prestigious, and boring, boarding schools on the East Coast of America.

But the problem is, Sally Jay is, as we learn through her foibles, The Dud Avocado—and she doesn’t realize it through most of the story - that she’s green and just a kid. In fact, she gets rather temperamental at the mere mention of someone calling her “kid” which, coincidentally, happens a lot.

I really couldn’t help but laugh at Sally’s insights on her new friends who are “artists” in Paris, or as she calls them “The Hard Core,” and her pet names for all of them - such as the two that have beards and, even thought not related, look so much alike that she calls them “Beard Boring” and “Beard Bubbly.”
I truly think the reason I connected so much with Sally Jay is the fact that she is young and naïve and reminds myself of a younger me, sans the traveling and living in Paris on a two-year monthly stipend from a rich uncle.

Bunny trail: I just realized that mirrors are symbolic in the story because they appear every couple pages or chapters at the least, and I didn’t realize how much they were mentioned throughout the book until now. But it makes sense, as Sally Jay, often looks in and at mirrors, but has a hard time seeing the truth reflected back at her because she is so young and green. She is always trying to run away from something or run into something new and exotic instead of slowing down to reflect on things in her life, until it’s too late. By then she’s already wrapped up in a hot mess of trouble.

Pg. 44 “And in a way I kind of gave up on myself. I gave up wondering if anyone was ever going to understand me at all. If I was ever going to understand myself even. Why was it so difficult anyway? Was I some kind of nut or something? Don’t answer that.” ~I just can’t get over how much Sally Jay talks and thinks like me!

Part two is laid out in a journal format, still with chapters though. Of course the whole book is in first person, Sally Jay telling her own story. But I think it was nice to read the diary format and get into some really deeper things, and some things just quick and nitty gritty.

The avocado scene brings the whole story together. The whole metaphor behind the title, and ultimately true story of Sally Jay’s naivety and realizing that for how much she tried to act and tell herself that she wasn’t naïve, that she wasn’t green, that she was part of the “club,” she never really was, and the realization that she is a Dud Avocado really depresses her.

Honestly, I think this has, hands down, the best love scene I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s very sensual without being overly erotic. It makes you stop to admire all the background details and pine away to know the backstory and dream, longingly, that you too could also be one of those beautiful woman.

I still think Sally Jay is still a bit naïve at the end, even though she is getting married. She has spent her whole life running away from what society tells her she has to do—she doesn’t want to get married. She doesn’t want to have children and cook and do the domestic thing, so when she finally decides to say yes to marriage, she still thinks that’s the end of her life. That she will no longer have the chance to be exotic. I mean, “…it’s the end…!”  Is it not?



Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey


The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
By Elisabeth Tova Bailey

This is a beautifully written little book, fascinating in the information it presents as well as the ponderings of the author. The language is spare and precise, painting a vivid picture. There are no wasted words here. Though the impetus for the author writing the book is quite dire, it is a soft, quiet, thoughtful, humorous book – relaxing and restorative.

 “At age thirty-four, on a brief trip to Europe, I was felled by a mysterious viral or bacterial pathogen, resulting in severe neurological symptoms. I had thought I was indestructible. But I wasn’t. If anything did go wrong, I figured modern medicine would fix me. But it didn’t.” p4

Elizabeth Tova Bailey is laid out flat on her back. Her body cannot regulate its own temperature, if she sits up her blood pressure plummets and even rolling over causes her heart to beat wildly. After one setback, she is forced to move from her beloved farmhouse to a studio apartment in order to get the care she needs. Before leaving her farmhouse, a friend goes for a walk in the woods and happens upon a snail. She digs up some violets and soil, pots them and brings the little bit of woods and the snail in to Bailey.

“Why, I wondered, would I enjoy a snail? What on Earth would I do with it? I couldn’t get out of bed to return it to the woods. It was not of much interest, and if it was alive, the responsibility – especially for a snail, something so uncalled for – was overwhelming.”

It turns out to be the perfect companion. Bailey cannot stand much noise but the title of the book comes from the comfort she takes in the actual munching sound as the snail eats at night. “I could hear it eating. The sound was of someone very small munching celery continuously.”

Bailey’s medical plight is interesting but she is restrained in how much time she spends on it. Even more fascinating is the information she learns and shares about snails, her observations of her own snail and her ponderings.

On its nightly forays down off the violet pot onto the nightstand, the snail munches on some interesting things. “The night before, I had propped an envelope containing a letter against the base of the lamp. Now I noticed a mysterious square hole just below the return address. This was baffling. How could a hole – a square hole – appear in an envelope overnight? Then I thought of the snail and its evening activity. The snail was clearly nocturnal. It must have some kind of teeth, and it wasn’t shy about using them.” Bailey takes to sending out envelopes with little square holes and writing “eaten by my snail” with an arrow to the hole.

They do eventually move the snail from the pot of violets to a terrarium.

“With an old leaf here and a pine needle there, the terrarium looked as though a bit of native forest floor, with all its natural disarray, had been lifted up and placed inside. The moist, lush vibrancy of the plants reminded me of the woods after a rainstorm. It was a world fit for a snail, and it was a welcome sight for my own eyes as well.” p27
Snail behavior turns out to be fascinating. Apparently they will work together to escape from a farmer’s basket where they farm escargot in France and a copy of Darwin’s Descent of Man recounted a fascinating tale about an observation of a healthy snail searching for good forage and returning for a sickly friend which it then led to the food. p99

“I wondered what happened to snails during the last ice age, and so I asked the malacologist Tim Pearce if he thought a snail could outglide an advancing glacier. He speculated that some of the larger terrestrial snails might possibly outpace a very slow flow of ice.” p108


I highly recommend this book for the wealth of information that you never would have imagined regarding snails. They surround us in our yards and gardens but this will teach you to respect them, if not love them. I also recommend it for the sheer beauty of the writing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill






How Starbucks Saved My Life: 
A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else
By Michael Gates Gill

We recently began a thematic book club at our library and the first them was “beginnings.” I chose a memoir about starting a new chapter in life.

Michael Gates Gill seemed to be one of the good ol’ boys - the son of New Yorker writer Brendan Gill and a creative director at J. Walter Thompson Advertising for over twenty-five years. Then a new, younger, boss lets him go. Thus begins a lengthy journey of self-discovery that will take him places he’s been many times and yet never seen from his new perspective.

Gill starts his own advertising firm and things go okay at first but he slowly loses clients to bigger firms. He has an affair with a younger woman he meets at the gym. She gets pregnant and his wife divorces him. Now he’s living in a small apartment and trying to drum up business for his independent firm while spending time with his young child. Then he finds out he has a rare tumor affecting his hearing.

Gill is on a financial downward spiral but he loves coffee and the one treat he still allows himself is a latte. One day, in Starbucks, Crystal, a young African American manager jokingly asks “You want a job?”

He responds “yes, I do want a job.”

She’s skeptical but does the interview. She takes all his information and asks him “Would you be willing to work for me?”

He replies, “I would love to work for you.” To tell the truth, he still isn’t sure about this job but he knows he needs a job with a steady paycheck. The deciding factor for him is the full health benefits they offer, even to his children.

A couple weeks pass before she calls him.

For all his privilege at the opening of the book, Gill’s early life isn’t precisely easy. He gets beat up, doesn’t learn to read until he is ten and has lots of trouble with math. His father is very distant. He comes home unexpectedly during Gill’s 7th birthday party and says “My mother died when I was seven.” It’s the first and last time he mentions it.

Still, Gill goes to Yale and makes connections there that end up getting him job at J. Walter Thompson Advertising.

The writing has a very introspective style. Somewhat simplistic language but I thought it illustrated his simple thinking about how life was for him. Then when his good life falls apart he starts learning new concepts and learning that life isn’t as simple as his privileged life had previously taught him.

Maybe you already know all the concepts that he learns about in this book but I found the journey interesting and there were some good reminders for all of us in it. I would recommend it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sex, Murder and a Double Latte

 

Sex, Murder and a Double Latte
by Kyra Davis
 
Sophie Katz is a best-selling mystery writer in San Francisco, divorced and enjoying life with her cat, Mr. Katz. She’s looking forward to having one of her books turned into a movie fairly soon when the director/producer turns up dead, apparently having committed suicide in the exact same way one of his characters did, right down to the vanilla scented candles around the bathroom.
 
The only problem is, Sophie doesn’t buy it. She had talked to him recently and this was a man with plans, not one planning to check out.
 
Then Sophie gets an odd note in the mail saying simply “You reap what you sow.” She promptly throws it in the fireplace. She is disturbed enough to lose sleep but turns that to her advantage by using the time to finish her latest novel. Then the prank calls start.
 
Sophie’s friends include Dena, who runs a shop of products just for adults, Mary Ann, a make-up artist for Lancome, and Marcus, a hairstylist. Dena and Mary Ann also happen to be cousins.
 
Then she meets Anatoly at Starbucks, where she has gone to get a Grande Caramel Brownie Frappuccino with extra whipped cream in celebration of completing her book, when he swipes the last New York Times right out from under her hand. He was born in Russia, moved to Israel and has recently settled in San Francisco.
 
“Had he just insulted my coffee drink? Unbelievable! Everyone who had evolved passed the Cro-Magnon level knew that one should never make snide remarks about a person’s weight, religion or choice in caffeinated beverages, which meant he was most likely a Neanderthal. A Neanderthal with really good hands.”
 
But is Anatoly really who he says he is? It is going to be so much fun finding out.
 
I found this in our library’s Overdrive e-book catalog but I know it is also available in hard copy. If you’re looking for a thoroughly modern cozy mystery series, I recommend checking this out.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell


I am a latecomer to the ranks of Malcolm Gladwell fans so forgive me if I am a bit overly enthusiastic. I found a copy of the audio version of David and Goliath on my desk just before Thanksgiving. I wasn’t sure if I had ordered it or my husband had but I needed something for the long drive home, on the day before Thanksgiving, when the weather had turned bad, so I popped it into the CD player. I was entranced by the end of the drive. (Graciously, I allowed my husband to have it first since he had ordered it, but then I listened to it morning and night on my drive until I’d finished it.)

“David and Goliath is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By “giants,” I mean powerful opponents of all kinds – from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression. Each chapter tells the story of a different person – famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant – who has faced an outsize challenge…”

Gladwell begins the book with the titular story of David and Goliath but explains it a bit differently than you might expect. David and Goliath has long been told as a story where the puny underdog wins against the vastly stronger and more dangerous giant through a miracle.

Gladwell contends that “ . . . we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”

Goliath was a giant warrior, well prepared for close hand to hand combat with mighty weapons. He didn’t expect a small and agile shepherd boy to fell him from a distance with a slingshot then dash in for the kill once he was down.

Gladwell uses stories from distant history mixed with modern history. He compares some seemingly disparate stories and shows us how the outcome can be explained by similarities you might not realize, as in the stories of Vivek Ranadive, who ran a successful software company, and decided to coach his daughter’s junior basketball team, and Lawrence of Arabia. In these two stories, not having the same advantages as someone else forces each protagonist to approach his challenge in a totally fresh way.

“Ranadive coached a team of girls who had no talent in a sport he knew nothing about. He was an underdog and a misfit, and that gave him the freedom to try things no one else even dreamt of.”

Likewise, T.E. Lawrence was a poet, not a military man, but he used what he had.

“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources – and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.”

Gladwell covers so much in this book - the advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantage of advantages) as well as the theory of desirable difficulty and the limits of power. He explains the U curve and class size. He talks about college choice and whether you will be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is when Gladwell explains the principle of being a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond using the French Impressionists creating their own art show instead of sticking with the giant salon where they were lost in the crowd, and often laughed at. I think this is a great story which also illustrates my belief that we need to create the art we care about and then find the market rather than trying to conform to what we think others want.

I also particularly enjoyed his take on how dyslexia can affect how people approach challenges in a positive way and his points on how money makes parenting easier, but only up to a point, where it actually begins to make it harder.

I was absolutely fascinated by this book. There is a thread of persistence and audacity, being willing to face down the dreaded because you have nothing left to lose, that I have identified with at times in my life.


Gladwell’s reading was also particularly effective on the audio version. I recommended this to my writer’s group on the basis that the stories Gladwell tells are a great possible insight into character motivation, teaching you about the psychology of a possible character through stories. I think it’s also just fascinating insight into who people are and the way they function and thrive. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede





The Day the World Came to Town
by Jim DeFede

Most adults can tell you where they were when they saw or heard the news of the infamous day of September 11, 2001.  And the memory usually comes with a range of emotions including sadness and anger.

This book tells another story about that day, one that can bring a sense of healing and hope.

By 9:15 am on September 11, 2001, US airspace was declared closed.  All domestic airlines were required to land immediately at the nearest American airport.  All foreign airlines with US destinations were ordered to return to their countries of origin or to land in Canada.   This book is an account of how the people of Gander, Newfoundland, on the eastern coast of Canada (population: 10,000) generously opened their businesses, homes, and hearts to the 6,560 people (with a few animals, too) from around the world who descended upon the local airport during a time of great uncertainty, anger, and sadness.

The stories of the townspeople’s generosity and the response of the detoured guests are heartwarming.  My favorites include the respectful behavior of an executive of a high end clothing line who had to purchase underwear at Walmart.   And the Rabbi whose intuitive sense of purpose in this quiet place was validated by a visit with a local resident whose hidden past could now be shared.  And the man whose use of the local school’s computers to conduct a “little” business resulted in a large donation to the school. 

Soon after the last plane had left, the provincial government offered to fund a celebration for the townspeople, in honor of their service to the global community.  The townspeople declined, saying that they there was “no reason to throw a party just because they had helped a group of people who were in trouble…They did what they did for one reason only – it was the Newfie way.”

And what a wonderful way that is.

 Maryalice Little 14 October 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

Halfway to the Grave: A Night Huntress Novel by Jeaniene Frost


Halfway to the Grave: The Night Huntress Series
By Jeaniene Frost

I’ve been on an Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance kick lately. This first book in The Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost is more the former but there is a heavy dose of romance to it as well.  One description I heard said that if you could take the romance out and the story line still survived intact then it’s an Urban Fantasy. I’d say you could do that here but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Cat was going out to kill vampires, just a regular Friday night for her. (Most people don’t believe  vampires exist in this world.) Then a vampire named Bones captures her. When she comes to, she expects him to kill her but he wants information. He is quite convinced that she is human and must be working for a vampire to take out rivals.  Once he cottons to the fact that she is half vampire, he decides he’s going to train her and offers her a partnership. The other choice, of course, is death.

This is the beginning of a very interesting partnership. Bones has his own agenda and it is not quite what he tells Cat. (Once I got done with the book I had to go back and re-read the beginning, knowing what I now knew about Bones.) Bones trains her to fight better, toughens her up and they work together to kill the vampires who kill innocent people.

One complication, her mother, Justina, has always told Cat that she was the product of a rape by a vampire.  From the time she is 16 years old, Cat feels she has to atone for that by killing vampires, who must all be evil, as Justina tells her. It’s a good time as Cat unlearns some of her prejudices.

Just plain good old-fashioned vampire fun.

The series continues with several books, the second one “One Foot in the Grave” is another rollicking good time and I am currently reading the third in the series. I don’t want to give too much away but I am thoroughly enjoying them and I hope you will too.