Open House, by Elizabeth Berg

Cover ImageFinished listening to on 6-27-08, rating 3.5/5, fiction, pub. 2000

“There were just families yelling at their kids not to drown and teenagers walking around like billboards, acting as if their bodies would never change.They’re so oblivious to the fact that they’ll get older.  Sometimes I want to grab them and say, ‘Hey!  I used to look like you!  Ha-ha-HA!!'”

“Yes,” Lydia says.  “That’s what I want to say to you sometimes.”  She sips her tea.

My God.  Of course that must be true.  Of course it must!  What’s a little cellulite next to a face full of deep wrinkles?  What’s a face full of deep wrinkles next to infirmity?  When does the time come when you stand in front of your grown-up woman’s mirror and feel contentment for what you see there?  Ever?—Chapter 12

Sam is a 42 year old mother, daughter, best friend, and soon to be ex-wife.  She has never had to support herself and 12 year old son, Travis, and has decided that the best way to do this is to take in boarders at her large suburban home.  Travis is not crazy about the idea and everybody else just thinks she’s crazy.  First there’s mature Lydia, then sad Lavender, and finally fabulous Edward.

She goes on a shopping spree at Tiffany’s.  She calls Martha Stewart and Martha calls her back.  She makes new friends.  She goes on a date.  And most importantly, she stops crying.

I love the rare simplicity of Elizabeth Berg’s writing and her ability to tell a story with real depth in such a concise and readable way.  Her characters are always recognizable as someone you know or might meet someday.  This story of a woman facing life after divorce is a triumph.  I’ve read quite a few of Berg’s books and by the end I always feel as if I’ve gained some insight. This is no exception.

Famous Epitaphs

Here’s how to play…Identify these famous writers by the inscription on their tomb. Leave a comment with the # and the author and I’ll cross it off the list. No Googling, that’s cheating and no fun! If you know them all, please guess every one!!!! But also feel free to guess for fun  🙂

1. “I told you so, you damned fools.” –HG Wells

2. “Beren” –JRR Tolkien

3. “The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.” — Kurt Vonnegut

4. “Quoth the Raven, Nevermore EDGAR ALLAN POE, Jason

5. “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” ROBERT FROST, Dave

6. “Called Back” — Emily Dickinson

7. “The Stone the Builders Rejected” –Jack London

8. “Don’t Try” — Charles Bukowski

9. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” — F Scott Fitzgerald

10. “And alien tears will fill for him, Pity’s long, unbroken urn. For his mourners will be outcast men, And outcasts always mourn.” — Oscar Wilde

The Bone Collector, by Jeffrey Deaver

Cover ImageFinished 6-23-08, rating 4/5, fiction, pub. 1997

 I remember seeing the movie with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, but the only thing I really recall with any detail is Denzel as a quadriplegic.  The book is not as easily forgettable. 

 Lincoln Rhyme was a brilliant criminologist for the NYPD until he was injured in the line of duty.  Now he is paralyzed and desperately wants to die.  Patrolwoman Amelia Sachs has just found her first dead body and is about to be whisked into a high profile, politically charged case without her consent.  The two become unlikely partners in tracking a serial killer who is leaving as many living victims as dead ones.

The fast-paced action is balanced with two totally unique characters.  Rhyme and Sachs are complicated and their interaction and growth made me want to start reading the next Lincoln Rhyme book immediately.  And that rarely happens.  There is lots of violence.  Two scenes in particular were disturbing (rats and a mouthful of carotid artery) and were the only reason I didn’t rate this book a little higher. 

My only other issue is that I have a copy of the book with Denzel on the front, so that’s how I’m picturing Rhyme, but it is clear in the book that Rhyme is not black.  I think Sachs said at one point that he looked like Robert DeNiro.  I like picturing Rhyme as Denzel (who wouldn’t?),  but when repeated references were made to his white skin it threw my mental picture off. 

It’s a great thriller and I highly recommend it.

Four Seasons in Rome, by Anthony Doerr

Cover ImageFinished 6-19-08, rating 4.5/5, memoir, pub. 2007

Subtitle-On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

“Too much beauty, too much input; if you’re not careful you can overdose.”  (Winter)

“It is a Metropolitan Museum of Art the size of Manhattan, no roof, no display cases, and half a million combustion engines rumbling in the hallways.”  (Winter)

Doerr won the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and was awarded a year in Rome with a home, an office, and a paycheck.   This memoir is his love letter to Rome, his wife, and his two young boys. 

Anthony, his wife, Shauna, and their six-month-old twins, Owen & Henry, arrive in Rome in the fall.  His first perceptions of Rome took me back to our own trip to Italy in April.  The discussion of the toilets, the crazy traffic, the confusion on how to order and pay, the absence of fat people, and the absolute awe of the history, all made me smile in agreement and remembrance.  Moving into winter there is the visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and watching the Pope being carried by, the five minutes alone in the Sistene Chapel, and seeing the Pantheon for the first time.  The game of bus golf sounds wonderfully fun and just up my alley.  Take a bus (or train) and randomly get off at stops and see what’s there before doing it again.  In the spring the Pope dies and a new one is chosen right in their backyard.  Shauna is hospitalized.  The heat of summer overwhelms them and they take weekly trips out of Rome to Umbria.

My copy is marked with lines and exclamation points that make it easy for me to go back and read my favorite passages (there are many).  I have already gone back and read many of the passages and pages I loved most and I just finished the book yesterday.  He has passages on Rome, on parenting, and on the splendor of life that will stick with you.  I highly recommend this memoir- especially if you love Italy or have had twins.

Anthony Doerr Book Signing

Anthony Doerr was at Joseph-Beth last night and Jason & I went to hear him speak.  He looks like his dust jacket photo and seemed like a genuinely nice guy.  The crowd was full of family and friends.  He grew up in the Cleveland area (Novelty), so the evening had a reunion atmosphere with Anthony being the long lost relative.  There were also a few local authors on hand to support him.  It was an enjoyable reading.

He read from three sections of his book, Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, and then answered questions.  I am still reading this latest book and was really hoping to see the twins that he wrote about so lovingly, but they weren’t there.  The couple in front of me had come all the way from Pittsburgh to meet him.  He was self-deprecating enough to be really charming and I encourage you all to check him out.  He’s written something for everyone.  He has a book of short stories, a novel, and a memoir.

The Author’s Toolkit, by Mary Embree

Finished 6-18-08, non-fiction, rating 1.5/5, pub. 2000

This is a slight book that claims it is “a step-by-step guide to writing a book”, however if that is what you are looking for then this is not the book for you.  This is a book for someone who have zero knowledge of how a book gets published.  This is not a book to help you through the process of writing a book.  The second chapter on Researching is full of obvious suggestions like; use the internet, libraries, encyclopedias, almanacs, magazines, dictionaries, etc.  So, if you do not realize that the internet is there to help you, this is the book for you.

I could go on about some of the nuggets of wisdom contained in this book (“write from the heart” “show don’t tell”  or on letters to publishers “the print should be sharp and dark enough to read easily”), but I won’t.  The only chapter I found of any interest was Chapter 6 about Copyrights.  Also, I see that there is a revised edition that has 60 more pages.  I cannot say that I have any hope these extra pages will be helpful, but it’s possible.  Since I have nothing else to add except more complaints I think I’ll stop here.  If you are serious about writing and publishing a book, read Stephen King’s On Writing or even Walter Mosely’s This Year You Write Your Novel.

Phantom Prey, by John Sandford

Cover ImageFinished 6-16-08, rating 3/5, fiction, pub. 2008

Cop turned investigator, Lucas Davenport, is back in his 18th novel.  This time he’s investigating the Goth scene after a wealthy young woman who fancies herself Goth goes missing.  The mother of the missing girl is friends with Weather, Lucas’s wife, and she leans on Lucas to find her daughter. 

Almost as soon as Lucas begins, three more Goths are killed with little time between.  And when Lucas is shot, he knows that he is onto something big.  There was also a secondary investigation involving a bad man named Siggy and his pregnant girlfriend, Heather.  It was this secondary story that I liked the most.

I’m a big fan of this series, but this one was not one of my favorites.  It was good, but it didn’t draw me in as quickly as it usually does.  And there a distracting amount of colons used in the book.  I know that seems weird, but if you read it let me know if you saw it too.  And the story with Del and Cheryl was a little predictable.  I highly recommend the series and I always think it’s better if you start a series at the beginning (which would be Rules of Prey).

Pepper Pike, by Les Roberts

Cover ImageFinished 6-12-08, rating 3.5/5, mystery, pub. 1988

 “Cleveland is a pretty good place to live, I guess, if you don’t mind the weather.”    Chapter 4

This is the first in the Milan Jacovich mystery series.  Milan is an ex-cop and current private investigator.  He is called one night to play body guard for 12 hours, only when he arrives, there is no body to guard.  The next morning he is contacted by the wife of the missing man and Milan is hired to find him.

Milan is forced to come in close contact with the rich of the CEOs and politicians to the powerful of the mob.  He is shot at and beaten up and in the end, shoots someone too.  Where is the mysterious Richard and is he still alive?  While trying to answer this question, Milan finds himself dating Richard’s ex-mistress and getting kicked out of the Chagrin Valley.

This book is wonderful in its depiction of Cleveland.  There are so few books that are set in this city and is the perfect backdrop for this gritty detective.  It’s nice to feel at home as you sit down to read.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Les Roberts Book Signing

Jean and LesThis is Jean and Les.

Last night I met my friend, Jean, at Joseph-Beth in Legacy Village to hear and meet author Les Roberts.  It was a standing room only crowd. Les has lived in Cleveland since 1990 and has written a series of mysteries featuring detective, Milan Jacovich and the city of Cleveland.  I must admit that I have never read any of his books, so I bought the first one in the series last night.  I’ve enjoyed the first two chapters, but more on that in a later post.

A few interesting tidbits…All the characters in his book are based on someone he knows or has seen.  He warned those of us who where there that we might end up in one of his future books!  The name of the detective is really a dentist in the Cleveland area.  This is his first Milan book in six years, but the last one is being made into a movie with Les as an executive producer.  He plans to have over 90% of the movie shot in Cleveland which brought a huge round of applause from the crowd.  When asked who he would like to play Milan he answered, Robert Mitchum, which could be a problem since he is deceased and unavailable.

He will be signing books in downown Cleveland at the Galleria on Friday from 11:30-1:30 and an Saturday from 1-2 at Borders.  His website, has lots of fun facts and news.