CAUGHT UP IN THE TECHNO WORLD — A REVIEW

What if you looked around one day at the accouterments of the “perfect life” you were leading, and literally couldn’t breathe? What if the dreams you had and the people you love feel more like “gadgets” in your world, until you scarcely notice them? What if you feel invisible?

Successful New York lawyer Emily Aulenbach experiences all of these feelings one Friday, and acting on impulse, she leaves her office, goes home long enough to grab a few possessions, and takes off. Where will she go? Her path suddenly leads her to a place she left ten years before—Bell Valley, a small New Hampshire town that is a place of quiet peace. Surrounded by woods that seemingly beckon, along with a coyote’s call, Emily believes she can find her center again here.

Old friends are there, as well as those she hurt when she left abruptly years before. But soon she is caught up in finding that inner core that once directed her, and deciding how to rearrange the pieces of her life.

But she just can’t disappear. She still has to deal with those she left behind in New York, like the husband she loves. He, too, is immersed in that techno world and he is hurt by her actions. Will the two of them reconnect? Will they rediscover what drew them to one another? And will something that happens in Bell Valley help them do just that?

Yes, the themes feel familiar, but with the twist of texting instead of talking and computers instead of face time, we get to watch this couple as they weed through the extraneous layers of their lives to find out what they want. A new and exciting case in Bell Valley reminds them of what they once loved and helps them put the pieces together to form a new version of their lives.

I enjoyed Escape from the beginning to the end. In some ways, the character of Emily felt too predictable in the way she dealt with an old love and how quickly she found her center in this town. But the book earned four stars from me.

 

REVISITING THE PAST — A REVIEW

What if you never got over your first love? What if the fact that he became a famous rock star and wrote songs dedicated to that love tugs at that special place in your heart? Especially when the lyrics are a constant reminder of how things ended. So would you try to meet up with him years later, to avenge those moments, or seek closure of some kind?

Katie Hollis has grown up since those high school days…sort of. And a part of her does want revenge, or at least to right some wrongs. So when her rock star love Jake comes home to Vermont, back where it all happened, she has to go there and try to figure things out.

Dedication follows this character as she revisits the past in alternating chapters that unfold from sixth grade on, reminding us of what happened to the characters, even as she zeros in on those pivotal moments that will finally bring closure. Love lost can be a fabulous theme, and trying to see what could happen if the lovers reconnected tells still another story.

But I was not impressed with how Katie ignored what her best instincts should have told her. An adolescent love hardly ever holds up to the reality of maturity, and trying to rebuild something that was created on illusions seldom has a happy ending. I was relieved that she finally grasped that, but following her quest lost me several chapters before the end. By then, I was no longer even slightly interested in her big epiphany. Three stars for this one.

LIVES CAPTURED THROUGH A LENS — A REVIEW

Like capturing the world through the lens of a camera, the author shows us bits and pieces of the characters. We catch a glimpse here, with some shadowing; then we see something illuminated; and finally, when we see the whole, it is transformed. But then again, we see the focus shifting.

In this extraordinary and mesmerizing tale, we first meet the women whose lives intersect tragically on a foggy night on the Cape, three hours from their homes. Coincidentally, the two women have been living in the same town, but like ships passing in the night, haven’t connected. Then, out of nowhere, the driver of one car (Isabelle) comes upon another car stopped in the middle of the road, and the impact is unavoidable.

April, the other driver, dies, but her son Sam lives. But the mystery that brought each of these women to that place continues throughout the story, and how Isabelle’s “survivor guilt” motivates some of her behavior in the upcoming weeks is the thread that continues to connect these characters.

What happens when Isabelle finally meets Sam and Charlie (April’s husband)? Why does Sam feel the need to maintain the connection with Isabelle? How does Isabelle’s photography cement the bonds between her and Sam? What effect do these connections have on the three of them? Will the events of one fateful night tie them together forever, or will the circumstances that follow sever those ties inexplicably? And will Charlie finally learn where April was going on that foggy night?

In the final pages, surprising twists saved this story from any kind of predictability, and just when I thought I knew how it would end, I discovered how wrong I was. Throughout Pictures of You, I could almost feel a paranormal influence in some of the events. A nice segue that turned this tale into something unique and almost spiritual. Five stars.

IS MARRIAGE STILL A VIABLE OPTION? — A REVIEW

Marriage, and whether or not to marry, is the topic of Anne Roiphe’s memoir. In it, she explores the traditional marriages in history; the sexual revolution and its impact on marriage; the additional issues that children bring to the marriage; and how divorce and remarriage impact the individuals, the family, and the future.

In Married: A Fine Predicament, she explores each of these topics by describing examples from history, from books, and from her own experiences.

Talking about marriage, by necessity, also involves analyzing the different kinds of marriages and the expectations in each. For example, some marriages allow for infidelities, while others cling to monogamy. The author describes how the need for monogamy might seem contrary to some of her own experiences, like being a “revolutionary, a lover of freedom, a rebel against conventional bonds.” Yet in marrying her second (and last) husband, she realized, after getting to know him and his values (he felt disloyal if he dated more than one woman at a time), that she could not violate such a man’s trust.

After a thorough and detailed description of the various contemporary kinds of couples, from the living together to the married, and all the formats in between, she states:

“Marriage is not the only way to be respectable these days and social power is possessed by those who mock the rules (rock and rap stars, movie stars, wealthy men) and social disapproval carries no real sting in urban America and less than it used to across the land.” She goes on to say that “marriage can answer one human problem better than any other solution yet divined. It can assuage our loneliness.”

Obviously, this author is in favor of marriage, despite is many flaws and failings. She is not anti-divorce, as she writes that sometimes the ending of a marriage is the best solution for all.

Personally, I have experienced marriage and various forms of companionship in between, and while I have, finally, at this time, decided that my individual journey works best for me, I can see the appeal that others find in the institution. Sometimes the children of divorce suffer permanent trauma, but at the same time, the children in unhappy marriages may sustain life-long damage as well.

My conclusions are that each of us has to decide what works best in our own lives, and hopefully have the courage of our convictions.

This thoughtful, provocative, and meaningful exploration earned five stars from me.

A JOURNEY INTO THE DEPTHS — A CREATIVE EXPLORATION

Photograph by Craig Robinson, Berlin Photographer

THE BEAUTY IN RUINS

Sometimes when we embark on a creative exploration, we find unexpected things. Treasures, maybe; but the possibility always exists that we will stumble upon something dark and even frightening.

Interior journeys are like that, even when they’re not creative ones.  Reflecting on our thoughts; plumbing the depths of memory; and taking those reflections and thoughts to the story we are creating, or even the life we are living, can yield unique gifts for potential readers.

Sharing our true selves on the written page will shine through and strike a chord with someone out there.  If we remain on the superficial plane, without delving deep into the core of our being, that will show, too.

Like the image above (in the post) and on the header, sometimes our journeys will lead us to decadent places; however, there is also a beauty in the ruins. The past, even if it feels dark and forbidding, can tell us how to overcome our obstacles in the here and now.

What unexpected treasures have you discovered lately?

PAYING THE PIPER — A REVIEW

What will a self-sacrificing daughter do when her life of caring for her invalid father ends abruptly with his death? In the midst of her loss and pain, she must now make decisions that will determine her future. Will she go ahead and cut her ties to the life she led? Will she find an independence she lacked all these years?

These are the questions before Isabel Moore upon her father’s demise. She had loved him, looked up to him, and now she must create a new life without him.

Isabel’s friends Liz and Eleanor begin to step forward to aid in this metamorphosis. But it’s Liz’s husband John who offers Isabel an opportunity for a job she seems well-suited for. A job assessing the caretakers of the infirm, who are doing so with a government stipend.

First she must sell her family home, but she does so; she moves into a small apartment in the suburban town where she will work.

Another side-effect of Isabel’s new life includes the reawakening of her sexual being. Two men become a part of her new life, but in an oddly unexpected way, the men bring about a self-doubt that will ultimately result in Isabel’s turning away from her new life and returning to a life of self-sacrifice. But will she find what she seeks? Or will she ultimately decide that self-sacrifice is not the answer after all.

I enjoyed this passage which describes the conflicts Isabel faced in her new life as she was struggling to decide if she should go forward with her lover Hugh, whose wife had unleashed her fury upon Isabel in a very public way:

“There had been a gradual darkening in the background of my life with Hugh since he had first suggested leaving his wife. But after she had publically accused me of theft I began to accept the identity of a thief. I lived as though I had been forced into a hideout. It was February; the light was bad, as I imagined the light to have been bad in wartime London. I was afraid to go out of the house. It took a new kind of courage for me to go about the business of my daily life. I drove around the supermarket several times before I went in, trying to calculate the possibility of meeting anyone who had been at the party. In the years that I lived as the daughter of my father I had always been greeted with reverence and delight by shopkeepers, by people carrying groceries. I was the good daughter. I took care of my father. I had nothing to fear. Faces were open to me, for mine, they believed, was the face of a saint. Now faces would be closed to me, and I myself would learn to close my face…As the daughter of my father I was above reproach…..”

Exploring themes of good vs. bad; the pull of desire weighed against the unique place of self-sacrifice in one’s life; and the joys of the flesh contrasted with the possible rewards of giving to others, especially the undeserving–these provocative issues, and characters acting out these issues, populate this very compelling novel. Final Payments is all about what can happen when one makes choices, and it’s also about the consequences of those choices.

I could not help but award this wonderful book five stars. I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Mary Gordon’s work, as well as those who enjoy the exploration of these issues.

A JOURNEY OUT OF THE ABYSS — A REVIEW

Poised on the threshold of her dream life, author Nancy Kaiser and her husband Bob had finally reached the beautiful mountain in North Carolina, where they would be building that dream home. And then, with just a few words from Bob, including “I never wanted this house,” Nancy’s dream world crashed.

For the next few months, with a divorce underway, she struggled daily with the demands of finding another home in which to live, trying to sell the mountain land, and dealing with all kinds of obstacles along the way; clinging primarily to her animal friends, she truly thought she would never climb out of the “abyss.” In the “tunnel” at last, she would begin to make progress, but then another trauma (or tragedy, like the deaths of friends 600 miles away), and she would feel herself plunging back into the abyss. As each new piece of pain pierced her, like the information that her ex-husband, whom she now called “the impostor,” had already begun another relationship before they separated, but had waited until that day on the mountain to tell her he wanted out. Finding out, she felt doubly betrayed.

But she found some “spiritual guides” who helped her discover her own ability to use her positive energy. And very slowly, she started the climb upward and into a more peaceful balanced place.

What was so intriguing about Letting Go: An Ordinary Woman’s Extraordinary Journey of Healing & Transformation was the conversational tone of the author, who made me feel as though I were chatting with her, listening to her inspirational stories that could show the rest of us how to reclaim our own peaceful place when faced with life’s challenges. I found myself cheering her on, hoping that she would finally reach that balance she sought. Some of the journey included trips to beautiful places like Maui, Sedona, and Mt. Shasta, reminding us that Nature sometimes is our best inspiration.

Kudos to this wonderful and inspirational story that deserves five stars.

MID-MORNING REFLECTIONS

MOODY REFLECTIONS

This morning I woke up very early, wrote for awhile on my project for NaNoWriMo, completed a movie review here on this site, and did some other blog posts.

I’ve also updated my Reflections from the Edge page, just to spotlight some of what I’m musing about today.

When I get up very early, I’m sometimes a little overly caffeinated by mid-morning, so that’s where I’m coming from right now.

What do you think about when you’re creating something, challenging yourself?  Do you feel anxious or energized?  What do you do to enhance your success?