Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Remarkable Journey by Larry King

Reviewed for Edwards Book Club
Published by Penguin Canada, 2010

What a strange feeling to be reviewing "My Remarkable Journey" by Larry King! With a rare gift of communication, he takes us on his journey through life beginning as a little Jewish kid in Brooklyn through local radio to global TV fame. From the loss of his father who died of a heart attack at work and the loss of his grandmother two weeks later, Larry King seems always to be looking and finding love only to lose it again. The book is very revealing, honest and fascinating, not because of all the famous names that populate the book, but because of how these people react and communicate with him. The respect for who he interviews, and the respect which is shown him comes through loud and clear. But so, too, comes his downfall with his arrest and in his own personal life at that particular time.

He reads people with great insight and passes it on to the reader. Sure, he sometimes comes off sounding a little self-absorbed, especially when he is not on the air, but it is his story, and in fact he may not even be aware of it. He is just as often overwhelmed by his success and often feeling undeserving. But get him on the air with any influential person, or even as he would say, the plumber, and lightning strikes. On the air or in the book he has a way of letting his guests, and his readers, feel comfortable and thus interested. While reading this book, I felt that I really got to know a lot about Larry King, but also some understanding of why he has married so often and divorced so often, and a feeling of family seems to exist around his children and himself. The shock of learning his first wife had given him a son he never knew about toward the end of the book when she was dying, soon gave him one more son to love.

I think the best parts of his book, though, are those from breakfasts at Nate 'n Al's. There he is one of the guys, with friends he grew up with, friends he has made since and maybe that is "home" after all. My personal take is, if you still have friends you knew as a kid, you have had a meaningful and successful life.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fire In The Hole: A Year in the Life of the World's Sorriest Stuntwoman by Colleen Kelli

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by iUniverse

I truly enjoyed this hilarious yet edgy book, Colleen Kelli had me laughing in the first paragraph, and in the next paragraph sensitive to the pain of the breakup of her relationship. Like so many people, the split between Colleen, nicknamed "Pea" by her girlfriend and partner, whose nickname is Pickle, comes in a standoff where Pickle takes a stance and says if that's what you want just go! And so it goes, with every kind of emotion, as this actress decides she hates Los Angeles and wants to move to Albuquerque. If that weren't enough personal trauma, her sister has just committed suicide.

Our heroine is definitely not your typical girl-next-door type.  She comes from a dysfunctional family, lacks confidence, and converses with an alter-ego named Trevor in her mind.  On the other hand, maybe Trevor is a steadying influence or guardian angel. Classed as a memoir, some is true, some is mostly true and some is strictly fiction, and what a fascinating imagination it is!

Her efforts and excuses, hopes of success and failure at the same time, really come to light once she auditions as a stuntwoman... no, actress,, stuntwoman it is, at a Western Town theme park, Gunsmoke Gulch. I’ve seen a Western Town theme park, and Gunsmoke Gulch sounds so familiar! The description certainly fits.

The characters are somewhere between misfit, accident prone, Shakespearean actor, and bizarre. Not Colleen, though, she is just a sensitive mass of confusion, bordering on the flip side of calm and rational. This motley group is one part family, one part support, one part zany and totally madcap, the whole becomes great fun. In Albuquerque she has been staying at her cousin's home, but as she starts her training, she moves out; well, kind of. Colleen heads back to L.A. to retrieve her belongings, moves her furniture into her new place in Albuquerque, then goes back to her cousin's while they’re out of town for a week, because they have air-conditioning, TV, and food.

There is so much underlying the humour in this book, I'm not sure I can really do it justice. It's a wonderful book, easy and fun to read, hilarious in spots, and heartbreaking in others as Colleen flounders her way through the miasma of her new workplace, learning a new vocabulary as she joins the others in the crew, doing everything from washing toilets to working stunts. All the crew have their own quirks and dysfunctions from Shakespeare-spewing Quint to "Murphy's Law" Bob.

The biggest problem at work that Colleen has, though, is being trained by Doyle. By the end of the first week, she is well into her training of making bombs, followed by punching on the chin, kicking in the groin (harmlessly), and trying to avoid learning how to fall off a two-story building.  Shades of Metropolis, every move is timed like clockwork! She is so tied up in time that she can't sleep. Soon Doyle is determined to have her hanging on a 30 foot flagpole mounted atop the hotel, three stories high. He is installing a flexible flagpole meant to "break", swinging her out toward the audience, where she is to "slip" and fall. The book reminds me of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

She has already had enough of trying to fall off roofs without breaking her neck. But under all this weirdness is a very depressed woman, one who finally seeks help.  As she tries to find herself again, her personal life is falling to pieces.  Behind all the laughs there is grief and insecurity, much like the adage of clowns hiding sadness.  This is what I mean by so much going on in the book, all taking place within one year, hence the title, that nothing is cut and dried.  Fortunately for us, the readers, her life is all laid out for us, and like so many others with similar problems, we have to laugh at what life has tricked us with. Colleen's quick wit is wonderful. This is an enjoyable and insightful read, you never know what to expect next and everything is a surprise.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bader Field by Carl David

Reviewed for Review The Book
Published by Nightengale Press

This book is biographical although that is not its main purpose. First and foremost, it is a plea to young people primarily, but to anyone, that suicide is not an answer to anyone. With the premature death of his older brother, with whom the author has had an exceptionally close relationship, much of the early part of the book gives an insider look at how this death touches and affects everyone who ever knew him. Bruce had everything to live for to the eye of all beholders, but he failed to let anyone into his inner struggles, whatever they may have been.

Too many who are on the edge of this precipice feel that they cannot burden their families and friends with their existence rather than talking to someone, anyone, no matter how large or small the perceived straw that would break them. They must learn to realize that there will be far more of a burden, and blaming of selves, than could ever crush those same people by sharing their feelings, deeds, or whatever overwhelms them.

The book actually begins with the death of Sam David, Carl's father, which takes us on the journey of memories and hence to the suicide of Bruce as an integral part of the memories. Carl David, through his memories, wounds, and lifelong struggle with "why" and "is it my fault?" demonstrates how much of a burden is placed on those who knew and loved Bruce. Though few families seem to share the closeness and love of the David family, the suicide did happen.  But this is not a sad book, it is meaningful, historical, and brings to mind an age gone by as Carl takes the reader through his memories from the 1950s on. Great memories of days gone by he shared with Bruce, memories of growing up with an amazing bond with his father, a lifetime of good memories.

The sudden death of his father at the age of 58, while on a buying trip in England, once again throws the family in turmoil. This event, as fraught with sorrow and  blame as the death of Bruce, almost puts his mother over the edge, adding to the anxiety. But this also brings a wealth of memories, although always with that sadness that clings. By this time, Carl has been married less than a year. Some people would call it paranormal, others would call it echoes, or a passing thought, but a feeling of the presence of the two departed makes itself known many times, a feeling of connection, and sometimes a warning.

Aside from the fears of mortality and loss, the book is full of the love, and the closeness this family has.  There is a bit of history of how the David David  Gallery, and the gallery is another theme throughout the book. This is where Carl learned the art business, along with his older brother Alan. When their father died so suddenly of a heart attack, the two brothers took over the Gallery.  When Carl's boys were old enough to show interest in the workings of the business, they, too, were eventually running the family business.

Another theme throughout the book is flying. Sam David was an excellent pilot and had his own Aztec plane, teaching the teen-aged Carl how to fly. Carl's memories flow on the hours spent with his Pop in the air. Carl lost his interest in flying when his father died, but after many years of not realizing how much time he spent trying to be like his father to keep his memory alive, he and his wife instead took to boating. This was probably the most major event to change the direction of his dwelling on the past. No longer did he dwell, but enjoyed the memories for what they were.

This book is a testament to handling whatever is thrown at you; not only that, but how to sort out the good from the tragic, incorporate those memories and go on. Carl chose to write the memories as a way for his sons to know their grandfather, who and what he was and the gentle, all-encompassing love and compassion he represented. This is perhaps his greatest gift.

Note: The David David Gallery is still in existence, and some of the works of art that Carl speaks of in his book can be seen on their website and Carl's

Friday, October 8, 2010

Maps and Shadows by Krysia Jopek

Although this book is a novel, it is a story told from the hearts of four people of a family of five, beginning with the brutal Soviet invasion of Poland, essentially the first day of World War II, followed by the Germans and the subsequent deportation of its former citizens, this book is an eye-opener to what it is like to have no country. For Poland has disappeared from the globe before and is about to be wiped off the map again.

The story is so terrible and the writing so lyrical, the juxtaposition emphasizes both the interrupted and horror-filled lives with the beauty of the writing.  This book is about a part of the war that is not often told. This was a fitting way to tell it.  I learned a lot from this small book that larger tomes never told me. Each person, except the youngest, tells their story separately throughout the book. Even though the family is separated several times, you know it is always together in their minds, hopes and dreams. They share a past, present, and a hope for the future even when hope seems lost.

Interspersed throughout the book are poems, beautiful poems. Krysia Jopek through her poems and through her novel shows how very talented she is.  I am thankful for the opportunity to "know" this family and the hardships faced by the Polish people as they are moved like pawns from the frozen bleakness of Siberia, and thrust into the equally bleak heat of Africa. It is a wonder that anyone survived. And, of course, many did not.

This is a wonderful book of a little-known time at the beginning and running through the entire time of the war. So much could not be said through the ensuing years because of the traumatic events some remember too clearly, and some have put away somewhere where they hope they will never recall it again.  I definitely recommend this book on several levels, especially for the writing.

An interview with Krysia.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Organ Grinder and The Monkey by Sam Moffie

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Xlibris

I found this book unsettling, not in my comfort zone, although I can see there is humor, angst, poverty, imagination, unique characters, believability and hope. The story is mostly either in conversation or thoughts. Although I found the one-liners by Constance got tired very quickly, it seemed right. I loved the comical efforts to keep the memory of Dean Martin alive, Seymour's father's obsession. Seymour's Italian parents are divorced, his father gay and his mother fixated by the fact. It is very uncomfortable for him as a child to have overnight visits with his father, and yet daytime visits run fairly smoothly. The scene in which the character of Seymour is traumatized was difficult for me to read.

What I liked about the book was the building and shaping of the three main characters, Seymour, Irving, and Constance, from their struggling beginnings in the small, decrepit towns of Ohio and Massachusetts, to their lives in New York. The connection between Seymour and his "Papa" (grandfather) is a great comfort to this young impressionable boy, and a steadying influence for him. From him, Seymour became well-versed in the history of the town. With a chance to get away from Steubenville with an inheritance, Seymour's goal is to become a veterinarian, for which he has a special talent.

Irving, the son of radicals, mother Jewish and father Irish, gets assistance from a policeman in his old town, and decides to set his goal on being the "best cop in New York", a handsome goal that certainly has it's pitfalls in a world of corruption, but as a person who believes everything is a conspiracy, he has a better chance at keeping clean than most. Constance's ambition from her earliest days is to be a dancer with the Rockettes. Constance, raised by her mother alone, is both talented and beautiful. Her beauty plays against her in New York. These three innocents have never been out of their small towns before.

All three of our unlikely protagonists are very different with simply small town life and college as their connection. The novel is complex, informative, and shows us a slice of life that is almost impossible to overcome. Sam Moffie is definitely an exceptional author with his own style. Events throughout the book will take the reader through hilarity, tragedy, and determination against the odds.

Even the therapist is not altruistic, she is expecting to get a best-selling book out of her sessions with Seymour. He has now been diagnosed with split personality. Complications and changes soon begin moving thick and fast. Irving attends Al-Anon as well as therapy, trying to deal with his drug and alcohol addicted wife. Constance has everything she needs to be a Rockette and/or stand-out actress, but with no resume, she is now the victim of playing small parts off-off Broadway, and full-time dancer at the strip-club, S.T.R.I.P. It is hard not to become involved in the lives of these characters, a sign of a good author. This is definitely not a "feel-good" book but the intricacy and readers' fascination with every aspect of life, it is one of the best of its type. The book is intense, raw, with acts of deviant sexual extremes, and politically incorrect; shocking yet insightful. It speaks to a time of corruption, desperation, and victims of circumstance.

The characters, their dreams, their trials, their achievements all stand up to the test. The changes in Seymour's life midway through the book, build the story to the final outcome, as the story's focus speeds up. Interestingly, it seems at this point much like a thriller with cheat sheets, the reader knows who, but the characters don't. Few people other than the therapist come out ahead. “The Organ Grinder and The Monkey” was a "Best Books, USA Book News" Award Finalist. In the version I read, there are some Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussions in the back.