Book Report

Here is a quick book report on Daniel Torday’s novel Boomer1.

IMG_20181211_205509This novel explores the battle between boomers and millennials from the perspective of three people, Mark Brumfeld, his mother Julia, and Mark’s ex Cassie. In the beginning Mark has it all-a great career in media, a stellar education (he’s getting his PhD), a place in a bluegrass band, and Cassie. And then Mark loses it all and moves back in with his parents. Bitter, Mark dons a disguise, calls himself Boomer1 and uploads videos to YouTube solely blaming baby boomers for his lot in life. His videos go viral setting off a revolution and Cassie’s attention. Meanwhile Julia is dealing with her own issues.

Boomer1 seemed so promising, but Torday’s writing is pretentious and moves at a snail’s pace. Mark and Cassie are unlikable. And Julia is just meh.

Grade D

Revenants-The Odyssey Home by Scott Kauffman

Meet Betsy, the teenage protagonist of Scott Kauffman’s novel Revenants: The Odyssey Home. In the era of the Vietnam War and the turmoil that went along with those days, Betsy is deeply grieving the death of her older brother, Nate, who has lost his life while serving in Vietnam. Betsy goes into a tailspin of depression, acting in ways she knows Nate would never approve of.

Hoping to shake her grief, stay out of trouble, and get some meaning to her life, Betsy volunteers at the local VA hospital. Everyday she is dealing with patients who have witnessed atrocities she can only imagine and dares not think what her brother may have witnessed.

One of these patients is an elderly man, near death, who served in World War I, “The Great War,” as if war can be considered “great.” This gentleman has one wish, to go home to be with his family before he dies.

Betsy decides it is to be her mission to get this man back to his family before he dies even though she knows so little about him. He is a true mystery. However, Betsy isn’t the only one who is interested in this man. So is a crooked politician, Congressman Hanna, who has a great deal of control of this hospital and the small-town in which it is located. Congressman Hanna knows this dying patient’s name and if this man’s name is revealed, Hanna can pretty much say good-bye to his political career and his long marriage.

Betsy is not alone on this odyssey. One person who supports Betsy is her younger brother Bartholomew who shares her grief over the loss of Nate and offers her encouragement. And then there is aspiring newspaper reporter, Matt, who knows getting this scoop on this elderly veteran and how he is connected to Congressman Hanna would be a definite career change. However, he is there to help Betsy not use her.

Throughout the novel there are twists and turns as Betsy, along with Matt, learns more and more about what about this old man and how it infuriates Congressman Hanna. And there are times when Betsy feels the wrath of Hanna and wonders how it will affect her in the long run. Betsy and Matt’s relationship grows from one that at first strictly professional but soon grows to be a friendship (which a times hints at the romantic).

Interspersed throughout the novel are scenes of Betsy working with other veterans at the hospital and chapters devoted to the elderly veteran what he went through during World War I that were quite chilling indeed. These chapters really got into the crux of what war can do to one singular human being. And Nate’s letters home to Betsy are also a welcome addition. Sure, he’s a teasing older brother but he is also loving and kind towards his little sister.

At the end Revenants, things don’t go exactly as planned and things don’t get wrapped up in a pretty bow. But Betsy does learn one great lesson. She has more power than she originally thinks and if she realizes it she can use these powers to help others as well as herself. She does a lot of growing up during this journey.

For the most part I liked Revenants. Betsy is a heroine who is realistic, at turns a rebellious teen and at others an incredibly brave young woman. Matt is a wonderful support system and I admire his tenacity in getting this important news story together using good old-fashioned gumshoe journalistic tactics (especially in our age of clickbait and “fake news”). As for Congressman Hanna? Well, he is no mustache twirling villain, just sleazy and corrupt. I must admit I rather liked how Hanna was so threatened by a teenage girl and a cub reporter.

I do have a few issues. At times I forgot about Bartholomew and it was odd how Nate’s letters to Betsy there was nary a mention of Bartholomew.

But these issues are minor. For the most part I found The Revenants to be a very relevant novel, and even timeless in the year 2018 when it comes to war, politics, journalism, the plight of our veterans and people’s desire to make a difference.

Book Review: And Then I Am Gone-A Walk with Thoreau by Mathias B Freese

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There is one thing people realize once they come to their “twilight” years. They have more of a past than a future. This is a time when they often take stock of their lives – good, the bad and the ugly. Writer, teacher and psychotherapist Mathias B. Freese is one these people, and now he shares his journey in his thoughtful memoir And Then I Am Gone: A Walk with Thoreau.

Thoreau, of course is Henry David Thoreau author of the classic Walden Pond, which many of us probably read back in high school. For Freese, Thoreau is a muse who guides him during his journey of self-examination. Ultimately Freese is asking himself, not the cliché “What is the meaning of life?” but “What is the meaning of my life.”

And Then I Am Gone is divided into two parts. Part one sets up the tone for the book and provides several chapters focusing on moving to Alabama, finding happiness with Nina, a past love affair, his relationship with his children and his own childhood, his thoughts on Trump, writer Norman Mailer, the movie Citizen Kane, and Thoreau as therapy. Part two focuses on Freese’s new life in a new home, his journey with Thoreau and coming to grips with his own mortality.

Born and bred in New York City, Freese is a secular Jewish man now living in Alabama with his southern belle, Nina, an Irish-American Roman Catholic. Not surprisingly, Freese finds country life below the Mason-Dixon line a complete cultural shock and often has difficulty navigating a world so different from the hustle and bustle of city life. However, it does force him to come to grips with his past. Freese has had success with his professional life, but his personal life was often in shambles. Childhood was difficult with a mother suffering with mental illness. Freese has been married and divorced a few times, and is also estranged from his daughter but is closer to his son Jordan.

Okay, Thoreau. Just what is life all about, hmm? Freese wants to know, You wrote a damn book about it. Surely you’ve got the goods. Now pony up!

Freese has questions and Thoreau provides answers, which often leads to Freese having more questions. Needless, say this can be quite maddening, which often leaves Freese feeling downright pessimistic.

But as I kept reading And Then I Am Gone, I thought to myself. Well, maybe we’re not always meant to have all the answers to our questions after we ask them, whether we ask Thoreau, our best friend, a therapist, our horoscope or a stranger on the street. At times those answers will leave us not exactly happy or more confused than before. Or sometimes we will find clear, concise advice or wise counsel in a time of confusion (especially in one of the most messed times in our nation’s history).

I found Freese’s book to be a true inspiration as I go through my own journey of self-exploration and after year of great difficulty, self-care. There are times I look for answers and feel nothing but despair and at times I feel true joy. We’re not supposed to solve the mysteries life and just accept things are going to be murky. At times we live life to the fullest and at times we are slackers on the couch. we should just live our lives the best we can before we are shuttled off this mortal coil.

I also appreciated Freese’s vivid style of writing. He can be a curmudgeon but he’s also wise, funny, a true storyteller. And Then I Am Gone is a treasure of a book.

Now if only I had kept that copy of Walden’s Pond….

 

 

Book Review: I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

I first became familiar with Wally Lamb when I read his novel She’s Come Undone many moons ago. It was an Oprah’s Book Club pick, and though I’m usually not subservient to the Big O’s charms, I decided to read Mr. Lamb’s novel and really liked it. I was delightfully surprised a man could write a female character with such understanding, richness and depth. Now years later, I am not surprised a male writer can do this, just as I’m not surprised a female writer can write a male character with the same talent and skill. All it takes is some common sense and some empathy, which are traits of good writers.

But I digress…

Now Lamb is back with his latest novel I’ll Take You There, which features one Felix Funicello, who was first introduced in Lamb’s early work Wishin’ and Hopin’.

Felix Funicello (yes, he is related to the late Annette Funicello) is a film scholar. He has an affable relationship with his ex-wife Kat and is quite close with his daughter Aliza who is a feminist-minded writer for New York Magazine.

On Monday nights, Felix hosts a Monday night film discussion group at an old vaudevillian theatre where he shows films from Hollywood’s earliest days.  There are tales that old film legends haunt the dusty nooks and crannies of this old theater, but Felix figures that just a bunch of silliness until one night he is visited by the ghost of silent movie director Lois Weber and film star Billie Dove.

At first, Felix thinks he’s going a bit nuts as most of us would if ghosts visited us. But soon Lois Weber is taking him on a nostalgic journey of both the heartbreak and bliss of Felix’s childhood.
It is during this celluloid journey where Felix relives memories that at times are trivial and silly. But he also comes to grips with one memory that seared the very psyche of the Funicello family.

One of Felix’s earliest memories is of watching the Disney move Pinocchio with his older sisters Frances and Simone. From this moment, Felix is hooked on movies and everything related to cinema and Hollywood. And somehow just knows the movies will impact him long before the final credits of Pinocchio scroll on the movie screen before him.

Another early memory for a wee Felix is the Rheingold Beer search for a spokesmodel. Now remember, this is 1950s Brooklyn. You can’t vote for your favorite Rheingold Beer candidate via social media and the company’s website. You have to vote via a ballot box, and the winner gets a host of goodies and the possibility of fame and riches, how exciting! The Funicello children take it upon themselves to hustle up some votes for their favorite candidate Dulcet Tone, who they know better as Shirley Shishmanian, a local neighborhood gal. Miss Shishmanian changes her name because Shishamanian is way too ethnic, too Armenian. I have to admit this made me giggle considering today it’s a Kardashian world, and we just live in it.

But darker times loom for Felix and his family. Frances develops a serious eating disorder that throws the Funicello’s into a distressing episode of confusion, despair and hopelessness. Felix also learns the truth about Frances’ birth, which involves a ne’er do well uncle and a fallen southern belle.

And then there is Felix in the present. Just as his past is unfolding before him, his daughter Aliza is dealing with pressing issues, both professional and personal. One issue includes writing about the Rheingold Beer model search, a topic she finds rather unsettling as a committed feminist. However, the feature she does write is not one of self-indulgent finger-wagging. It is well-researched and nuanced and I really enjoyed reading it. She also makes decisions regarding her personal life that will bring true joy to both herself and her parents.

Once again Wally Lamb has written a novel that is both thought-provoking and just a satisfying read. I’ll Take Your There, does just that, takes you there, which means in my case, reminds me why I love books so much.