If we could talk to the animals…

indexThe One and Only Ivan, a middle grade bestseller and 2013 Newbery winner, has something to appeal to animal lovers of any age. Inspired by the true story of a real captive gorilla, Katherine Applegate tells of unexpected friendships and kindnesses from the point-of-view of a gorilla.

After being stolen from his family in the jungle Ivan is raised by well-meaning humans until he grows too big to be a pet. He then finds himself caged and isolated from others of his kind for decades in a sad little mall. He spends his days watching TV, painting, and conversing with two friends: Stella, an aging elephant crippled by abusive trainers, and Bob, a stray dog who has made the mall his home. When Ruby, a new baby elephant is brought in to attract more visitors, her sadness causes Ivan to see his domain is for what it is. He promises to help her. With understanding from the janitor’s young daughter, Ivan is able to communicate their plight. You’ll have to read it to find out how.

Quotes:

 “Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.”

“I have been in my domain for nine thousand eight hundred and fifty-five days.”

“I’ve never asked for a promise before, because promises are forever, and forever is an unusually long time. Especially when you’re in a cage.”

“Is there anything sweeter that the touch of another as she pulls a dead bug from your fur?

With its themes of friendship, compassion, and hope, Ivan reminded me of Charlotte’s Web, hence, I happily recommend it to you and any young ones you know.

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Whom do you trust?

51fhux5OR3L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In Delia Ephron’s latest, Siracusa, two couples vacation together in Sicily where their marriages as well as their friendship unravel when flaws are exposed. The story is told in retrospect, with each of the characters giving their own questionable account of a tragic event that is only revealed to the reader at the end when secrets come to light with a bitter vengeance. A literary whodunit.

Ephron (yes, she’s Nora’s sister) lets each of the main characters have their say with distinct voices. While none of them is particularly likeable, they are intriguing.

Michael—an arrogant, womanizing writer of some notoriety, who is a “year behind on a book he isn’t writing.”

Lizzie—Michael’s wife, also a writer, trying to win him back, but doubting her self-worth.

Finn—Lizzie’s former lover, a free-spirited restaurateur who goes on late night rambles striking up conversations with everyone he meets.

Taylor—Finn’s chic, controlling wife, devoted to their beautiful ten-year-old and creepily quiet daughter, Snow who is also on this trip. Snow suffers from (or hides behind) a super shyness “syndrome,” which only her mother believes is real. Snow rarely speaks above a whisper so her mother speaks for her. See? Creepy.

Themes of marriage, friendship, motherhood, secrets, lies, and betrayal weave throughout in a compelling and sinister way.

A few quotes to illustrate Ephron’s wry and stinging observations:

“’Divine the insecurity and compliment it,’ I heard him say not long after he’d used the trick on me.”

“Betrayal of this magnitude is the exclusive province of married couples.”

“The only power worth having is secret power…like having an ace up your sleeve or a gun in your boot.”

Ouch! Recommend.

Can you separate fact from fiction?

https://i0.wp.com/nvlorie.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/8cfdcc0d-b5c1-4e22-8704-c96cb5da1469.jpg?ssl=1&w=450This column is from seven–yes, SEVEN–years ago and it seems there are at least a few people who still can’t separate fact from fiction. Your in-box and Facebook page are probably filled with rants from one or two. Even when Snopes is free and easy to use. This retired teacher is compelled to repeat the lesson one more time. Click here to read about the lost art of critical thinking.

Some lighter reading, now and then…

My Best Friend's Girl by [Koomson, Dorothy]        Landline: A Novel by [Rowell, Rainbow]

 

Both these books feature young women, both focused on their successful careers, but with personal lives that are a bit of a mess. One is unmarried and the other married with two little girls. Both books demonstrate the power of even lighter fiction to show us what is true about love, sacrifice, friendship, trust, jealousy, and regret. You know, the big stuff.  And both allow characters to hear loved one’s voices from the past.

In My Best Friend’s Girl, BFFs Kamryn and Adele become understandably and bitterly estranged when Kamryn discovers that Adele’s daughter Tegan, was fathered by Kamryn’s fiancé. After years of silence between them, Adele dies but not before exacting a promise from Kamryn that she will care for and adopt now five-year-old Tegan. Kamryn’s life and priorities are turned upside down when motherhood is thrust upon her, a role she never aspired to. That role is made even more difficult by grief. Letters from Adele add a poignant touch to this angst-y but heartwarming story.

To her ex, Kamryn says:

“You’re the only person on earth I’d wanted to have a child with, and you did it with someone else. Someone I loved. That’s why I had to leave. I couldn’t stay when you’d made a baby, a new life, with someone else.”

And about Tegan:

“At least she knew she had me. I wasn’t her mum, but I was there.”

In Landline, the voice from the past arrives via an old yellow trimline phone found in the childhood bedroom of Georgie, a television comedy writer in Los Angeles and married mother of two. Because of a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to finally get the show she and her writing partner (and too-handsome best friend, Seth) have dreamed about since college, she stays behind when her husband Neal and girls go to Omaha for Christmas. Georgie’s mother believes that Neal has left Georgie, which begins a cycle of self-doubt. Had she been a neglectful wife and mother? Had Neal really left her? With her cellphone dead, she calls Neal on the landline and the Neal who picks up is the Neal she fell in love with fifteen years ago. Before marriage, before children. She’s careful not to break the spell throughout a week as she and Neal talk every night on that old yellow phone. This Neal still loves her.

“Georgie,” he said. “I love you. I love you more than I hate everything else. We’ll make our own enough–will you marry me?”

“Somebody had given Georgie a magic phone, and all she’d wanted to do with it was stay up late talking to her old boyfriend.”

These two books appealed to me because I wanted to explore the concept of friendship in Women’s Fiction. How friends support each other and how far they’ll go to fulfill a promise or commitment is compelling, but so is the push and pull between those friendships and all our important relationships–marriage, parenthood, even work. The novel I’m working on focuses on some of those elements and I wanted to see how these authors handled them. I was not disappointed.