Monday, October 31, 2016

Just Jennifer

The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy

In this laugh-aloud no-holds barred memoir, stand-up comedian, writer Tara Clancy details growing up in Queens during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Tara was born to an Irish policeman and an Italian social worker, both with big families.  She spent part of her week with the "the Geriatrics of 251st Street" (her Italian grandparents and aunts and uncles), every other weekend with her father and the alternating weekends with her mother at her mother’s boyfriend’s home in the Hamptons, complete with a swimming lagoon and small motorized car for Tara’s use.  Tara tells her story in vignettes, not entirely chronologically, making the narrative a bit hard to follow.  She focuses more on her earlier life and spends less time detailing her high school and college years and her time since then, years that might make an interesting sequel.  The Clancys (and the Riccobonos) loved hard and played hard and Tara was the self-proclaimed Queen (or rat) or the neighborhood, in and out of the neighbors’ homes as if they were her own.  Tara’s honesty and entertaining narrative also illuminate the differences in social classes and shows how her mother’s family (especially her grandparents) who identified strongly with their Italian heritage reacted to the choices their children made as they grew up.  The out-of-time narrative notwithstanding, this is an enjoyable, quick memoir of a time not so long ago that will win Tara some new fans hoping for more of her life so far.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Just Jennifer

Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner

Novelist and short story author Peter Orner turns his attention to his own reading habits and preferences in this collection of essays that revisits some of his favorite books, classic (mostly modern) authors such as Virginia Woolf, Isaac Babel and John Cheever, as well as some more unknowns, Elias Canetti, Juan Rulfo and Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata.  These essays are not just reflections on the work but include personal recollections about where Orner read the work, what was going on in his life and why the book is so important to him.  In many of the essays Orner muses on fathers and sons as he mourns the loss of his own father and reflects in their time together and their relationship.  Orner is a watcher, an observer; some of his favorite places to read and write include the San Francisco hospital’s cafeteria, reading John Cheever in Albania or The Matisse Stories of A.S. Byatt in a run-down Victorian in Cincinnati.  Orner reveres the books as almost sacred objects, both physically and for the wisdom and solace contained within.  Of the Byatt he says it has a “beautiful light blue cover. On it two people are reading. There’s a window and tree in the background.”  Each essay is intimate and personal and reminds us that while reading and writing may be solitary endeavors books bind us not only to the characters within, their creators, but also to each other as they tether us to the world at large while allowing us to float freely wherever we may choose.  Sources and Notes at the end offer further insights to the works mentioned throughout the text.  

Just Jennifer

The Bitch is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier

In this second collection edited by Cathi Hanauer, (The Bitch in the House) over two dozen authors (nine from the original collection) reflect on being a woman in the modern world, feminism, and yes, getting older.  These essays, on topics ranging from relationships with husbands, exes, mothers, finding new men friend, having a baby using IVF without a partner, sex after menopause, co-parenting, and divorce, are brutally honest, but offer a light touch, assuring women we WILL get through it, gracefully, and maybe come out even better than before.  Best-selling author Ann Hood reflects on body image and a healthy weight both at her current age and as a younger woman who worked as a flight attendant during a time when a “perfect” physique was required.  Lizzie Skurnick writes about her decision to get pregnant without a partner, including her family’s reaction, her longing to have a “husband” during the pregnancy and the “what am I doing” moments when she realized how much money she had already spent on getting pregnant, but also how much more money she was going to spend over the course of her child’s lifetime.   The essays are divided into four sections (Me, Myself, and My Midlife Choices; Sex, Lies and Happy(ish) Endings; To Hell and To Hold; and Starting Over making it easy to dip into a section as the mood (or mood swing) strikes.  Read the essays that best suit your current place in life, read the essays written by your favorite writers, but don’t miss a single word in this entertaining, wise collection.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

New For November

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

This story of a family, told from the point of view of an unnamed dying grandfather slowly reveals the light and shadows of a marriage and a family, as well as the social context of their existence, as a grandson sees the history of the family he thought he knew in a different light, much the way moonlight reflects and refracts light with shimmering prose and insights.  As a grandson sits by this dying grandfather’s bedside, he tries to glean the last bit of information and family secrets his grandfather has to offer.  In a family that kept secrets as a way of life, the grandson learns more about his grandparents’ marriage than he was ever able to observe as a young child or a young man; he learns of his grandmother’s life growing up in France during World War II and her coming to America and living with a man who lies about his short time in prison during their marriage, a lie which she easily saw through.  Technology and space exploration and rockets are backdrops to this story which often feels more like a reflection or refraction, an autobiography than a novel, all with Chabon’s signature style, carefully observed, characters that are both new and familiar and footnotes to boot.   A November pick. 

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman’s books have always been touched with angels, good and bad, and her latest novel is no exception.  Just before their high school graduation, Shelby Richmond and her best friend Helene were in a horrible car accident, one from which Shelby walked away but one that left Helene in a coma hovering between the now and the hereafter.  Shelby spends the next years of her life wandering around also in an in between place while Helene, ensconced in a hospital bed in her childhood home, seeming unaware of what is going on around her, becomes a shrine to which people make a pilgrimage touting Helene’s ability to heal what ails them just by being in her presence.  The one person who probably needs Helene’s miracles, and forgiveness, the most is Shelby who cannot bring herself to visit her old friend.  Shelby follows a high school classmate to Manhattan after Ben professes his love for her, but she still has a hard time feeling anything except for Chinese food and now abandoned dogs; as she navigates a new city she learns there are souls just as lost as she, some more, learns to make friends, and yes, love again, all the while, being guarded by someone who knows her, someone who is real but is not ready to be seen until an unlikely set of circumstances throws them together finally making Shelby feel complete.  Alice Hoffman’s books have a magical realism to them that makes you want to believe in something more than yourself and to never lose hope.  A November pick.

I’ll You There by Wally Lamb

Sixty-year- Felix Funicello (yes, a distant cousin of THAT Funicello) is divorced and cheering on his young adult daughter Aliza as she embarks on a magazine writing career in Manhattan. One evening while setting up for his film club, the college professor is visited by the ghost of an early 20th-century female director who leaves Felix reels of film of his life, offering him the chance to re-enter his life in order to gain, perhaps, a new appreciation of the women in his life and how he got where he is today and where he might go from here.  As Felix revisits his life he sees his mother and sisters as he saw them as a child, but in the back of his mind he can draw on the knowledge and experience of a sixty-year-old as he “watches” the movies from the inside out.  He learns the circumstances of his sister Frances’s birth, a story that would have been enough as a focus for the entire book, but rather Lamb turns these memories and revelations into ways for Felix to understand his young adult daughter more and support her as she tries to break into journalism in New York City and becomes a mother herself.  Charming and witty, this book offers social history from feminism to pop culture.   A November pick.

Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Boston reporter Jane Ryland is on her way to interview a college administrator about date rape on campus when she and her producer witness a hit and run, unwittingly ruining an alibi, stumbling into something that she’d be better off nowhere near.  On the other side of town, her secret fiancĂ© homicide detective Jake Brogan is investigating the drowning death of Hollywood screen-writer, local adjunct professor Avery Morgan.  In Avery’s community, The Reserve, the residents are quiet and keep to themselves, but Avery’s next-door neighbor is particularly so making Jake have to work harder to find witnesses.  When Jane finds a young woman willing to go on the record about date rape, she quickly realizes that she may unwittingly have information that could help Jake, but how can she feed him the information without revealing her sources and how can she talk to the District Attorney about the hit and run she witnessed without compromising her position as a reporter and how can she and Jake ever tell the world about their engagement and get on with their lives without one of them giving up their livelihood?  Intricate plotting and an engaging, intrepid heroine and hero are trademarks of Ryan’s Jane Ryland series and her latest entry doesn’t fail to disappoint as Jane and Jake once again pursue parallel investigations that ultimately connect in most unexpected ways.  This series with its complex stories lines and complex characters is one not to be missed.