Even Cupid Screws Up Sometimes

It’s good to know that Love (aka Cupid) sometimes thinks she’s a jerk and admits to pulling stunts that rank high on the jerk spectrum. And boy, Love admits to mucking up the stables of love and wants to smooth out the love life of Gael in Leah Konen’s The Romantics.

Gael is days away from turning 18, loves movies and is about to tell his girlfriend of a few months “I love you” for the first time. What happens after saying I love you? Gael’s girlfriend doesn’t say I love you back and that confuses Gael. The next day he sees his girlfriend Anika and his best friend Mason getting cozy together.

Cue a John Hughes film epic of a betrayed boy who goes on the rebound.

Gael’s mother invites Anika and Mason to his 18th birthday dinner not knowing what is going on. And Gael promptly explodes and walks out on his own dinner and crashes into a girl on her bike as he’s walking away.

That girl is Cara, a college freshman who is nursing her own broken heart. Well aware that they’re both rebounding, Gael gets advice from Sammy, another college freshman who is tutoring Gael’s sister in French. Sammy’s had the same boyfriend for three years and Gael thinks she’s blissfully in love but he doesn’t know the truth, that things have come to an end.

Gael does his best to see his relationship with Cara as more than a rebound thing. Unbeknownst to Gael, he has been the object of love that Cupid’s been trying to fit together. His parents have ended their long marriage and Gael thinks everything he believes about love is now wrong. But as it happens, Gael wasn’t looking in the right direction when Love chucked an arrow at him.

Will he realize that he’s been in love with the wrong person and Love was trying to fix everything by pushing him towards the right girl? Is love even worth it if people aren’t going to stay together forever? Is it real or I can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? Sorry. I’m writing this with the TV on in the background. Commercials are longer than the show itself.

Watching as Love admits to wrongdoing and tries to clean up the mess of feelings was as satisfying as hearing a man ask for directions. And if you enjoy (like me) seeing Love make mistakes and attempt to fix them instead of letting a cliche happen, The Romantics is for you.

Hey! You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

Whenever I hear the Beatles song “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” I think of the loneliest 3 A.M. soul huddled in bed scribbling in a notebook about how much in love they are but they can’t tell anyone and it’s eating them alive. Or maybe that’s just me. Last week.

We live in an age when we can declare our feelings from the rooftops, hire a sky writer, and hire a four man mariachi band to follow our love interest around (for some reason all of my ideas would probably land me in jail or with a glovebox full of restraining orders.) We don’t have to hide our love. Unless that love is for your sister’s husband. But that’s a story for another day.

In John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Cyril Avery is born in Ireland at the end of WWII. His mother, a 16-year-old unwed mother, is chased out of town by the parish priest. She travels a few hours away and has her child. She gives him up for adoption. Cyril is adopted by two people who should have never been parents. They aren’t cruel to him, but they aren’t very loving and always remind him he’s not a ‘real Avery.’

When Cyril is 8 he meets Julián Woodbede, a boy who is everything Cyril is not: beautiful, bubbly, and beloved by almost everyone. When Cyril reaches his teens he realizes he’s in love with Julián. But this is 1950s Ireland where God’s hand is in everything and being gay is illegal. Cyril never confesses his love to Julián, although that love is the only thing he holds onto as he grows up.

Sex is never a loving event but furtive and quick, something done in the shadows or bathrooms. The threat of police raids hangs over every encounter. Cyril makes a life changing decision that sets him on a path he never expected, throwing his life into chaos. Will Cyril become loved and be able to love in return or will he spend the rest of his life sitting on his bed and scribbling about love in a notebook? Will he return to a changed Ireland where loving a man is considered a heavier sin than birth control?

The Heart’s Invisible Furies left me in tears. And I don’t cry uncontrollably. Unless I’m watching Dumbo. God, cue the water works on that one. But this book still has me wondering how Cyril’s doing and if he ever truly found the love he needed. I wonder if any of us find the love we’ve always needed.

A Book Where Another Teenager Dies

I have no problem staying five feet away from the man I love, mainly because he doesn’t exist. The problem is getting one to scale my fortress of acerbic and self-deprecating sarcasm. Picture it: me in another 40 years, dead in my kitchen with my 22 cats eating my face.

That escalated quickly.

In Rachael Lippincott’s Five Feet Apart, 17-year-old Stella has spent her life in and out of the hospital with cystic fibrosis. She finds herself in the hospital for a month’s stay as she builds up her lung capacity and is dosed with antibiotics. She’s climbed the lung transplant list and now all she has to do is stay healthy enough to get that lung. Stella is in control of her illness and is getting healthy and nothing is going to stop her.

Famous last words.

Will also has cystic fibrosis. The rule with CFers is they have to remain 6 feet apart from one another at all times to keep from infecting one another’s fragile lungs. Will’s CF comes at a higher risk: he has B. cepacia, an antibiotic resistant infection. People with B. cepacia aren’t eligible for a lung transplant because the thought is if they get a lung transplant it’s a waste of a good organ.

Will’s been all around the world but not as a tourist. He’s been in hospitals trying drug trial after drug trial to treat his B.cepacia and nothing has worked. This time he’s in the hospital for a new clinical drug trial. His lung capacity is supremely low and he has no faith the new drug will work. But Will has a plan. In two weeks he’ll turn 18 and be able to make his own decisions. He’ll unplug himself from all the machines, leave the hospital, and go see the world he’s only seen from hospital windows.

As you have probably guessed, Will and Stella fall in love but they can never touch. The rule is they have to stay six feet apart. Stella decides to make her own choice, and take back a bit of her life. She changes the six feet rule to five feet. It might not seem like much, but it makes Stella feel like she’s not being controlled by her sickness.

Told from alternating perspectives, Five Feet Apart is not only about falling in love. It’s also about deciding on a future when it seems like there isn’t one. The world could probably learn a thing or two from Stella and Will about surviving and keeping the fire of hope alive.

And don’t worry. They don’t die. I wouldn’t dangle this book in front of you if another teenager died. Then again, my narration can’t always be trusted. I mean, my face is going to be eaten by a large amount of cats 40 years from now. Can you trust a book review from someone like that?

Just read the book. It’s worth it.

Forgotten Gods

I’ve often wondered what happens to gods when people move from one country to another. When mass immigration from far-flung climes began, did people bring their gods with them? Or was all that water too much to cross? Yes, people brought their beliefs and their folklore but they tucked them away in cupboards and basements in the name of assimilation. But was belief enough to lure those gods vast distances before time passed and they became entirely forgotten?

In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, not only have people forgotten about worshiping their gods but they’ve begun to forget (and ignore) them in favor of two new gods: media and technology. The old gods have taken notice. No one sacrifices in their names anymore, their images are no longer scratched on walls, paper, or flesh.

Shadow Moon is an ex-con serving his last few days in prison. He has this overwhelming feeling that something dark is coming. He’s released three days early to attend the funeral of his wife who died in a car accident along with his best friend. At the airport on the way to the funeral, Shadow meets Wednesday, an older gentleman who seems particularly skilled in getting what he wants. At times a doddering old man and at others full of flickering eyes and thrumming lust, Wednesday offers Shadow a job. It takes some time to talk him into it, but Shadow finally agrees after seeing he has nothing left to go home to.

He becomes Wednesday’s chauffeur and gopher, driving him long distances to specific landmarks and to meet with certain people. Shadow thinks Wednesday might be a demented old man, grumbling about the old days and alluding to a coming war. He watches as the old god charms old friends like Mr. Nancy (aka Anansi from West African and Caribbean lore who takes the shape of a spider) and Ostara (better known as a pagan holiday appropriated by the Catholics into Easter) and a whole cast of gods and myths. At first, Shadow pulls a Scully (you know, from the X-Files) and doesn’t believe a word from Wednesday or the other gods until he finally has to admit all the strange happenings cannot be explained away. Shadow suffers from visions, something that never happened before he met Wednesday.

Meanwhile the ‘new gods’, representing the Internet and anything modern, kidnap Shadow and try to convince him to join their winning team and be one of the good guys. Why do they think they’re the good guys who will win? Even the Germans thought they were the good guys who would win. Each side thinks their stand is the right one. What Shadow can’t figure out is why he’s so important to both sides.

I can’t tell you that because the point of my blogs is to talk you into reading the book, a little “Hey, how are you? I think I have a story here you will like.” I hate spoilers. I especially hate reading anything that starts with SPOILERS AHEAD. Why don’t you just tell me Santa is not real or the Easter Bunny is a myth?

Fans of folklore and mythology will be entranced by this book, thoroughly enjoying the deeply created characters who stomp off the page and into the room. Who knows, it might even motivate a few people to take out their old gods, dust them off, and put them in a shrine. Would you look at the time? I have 300 candles to light and 2 hours of chanting to the ‘God of Books’ before sunrise.

Rumor Has It

What the heck must it be like to be so confident in yourself that you could see someone you like, march right up to them, and say: “You. I’m taking you home to my bed right now.” Not only to have the confidence to say that, but also the confidence to know that the person is going to nod yes, take your hand, and let you lead them to a place where you can be alone. Mind you, I’ve just downed more than half a box of cold medicine, a feat that would impress Keith Richard, so I’m also wondering how men can have sex with a lamp on or the curtains open, letting all that new moon shine down on, well, all that moon.

In Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L.C. Rosen, Jack is a promiscuous high school student and I mean promiscuous in the best way possible: he likes himself and he likes sex. He likes it a lot. And for that, he’s become fodder for the high school gossip mill. The girls bathroom is right next to the boys and once a week Jack enjoys a solitary cigarette while listening to the latest news about himself through the thin walls of the bathroom. Evidently, any male he makes eye contact with becomes a conquest. It’s been said he was part of a forgy (an orgy of 3 or more people). Many of the rumors about him are wrong except that he does like sex. He’s just not about doing it for popularity.

One day he opens his locker and a note slips out. It seems he has a secret admirer. He can’t tell if it’s sweet or creepy. His best friend Ben, a romantic who is still waiting on his fist kiss, thinks it’s sweet while Jenna, with her razor sharp tongue, thinks it’s a little stalkery.

Jenna got kicked off the school’s newspaper for articles like which teacher was pulled over for a DUI, so now she does online news. She wants Jack to answer sex, relationship, and life questions for her blog. He’s reluctant to put himself out there, giving advice he’s afraid might mess someone’s life up. But he starts reading submitted questions and gets hooked. His answers to questions would make Doctor Ruth turn bright red and fall off her sex therapist chair.

Jack begins to get more notes slipped into his locker. They’ve gone from sweet to restraining order worthy. The notes begin to threaten his friends and his mother. Jack’s always been close with his mom but lately he feels like they haven’t been connecting. He doesn’t know who his father is. His mom chose a sperm donor. One of the notes threatens her job. He does his best to keep the notes from her.

He confides in his beloved art teacher. (Why is there always that one teacher you know will be in your corner and fight for you? And why can’t that happen when you become an adult and get a boss?) She takes Jack and the notes to the principal. The principal basically says that Jack brings it on himself, wearing a little make up to make his looks stand out. Just when Jack is going to give up and give in to his stalker, he finds out who it is. And it’s not anyone who’d ever be on the suspect list.

Full of love, doubt, and confusion, Jack of all Hearts is about not apologizing for who you are or playing into the cliche of how everyone thinks certain people should act.

Excuse me, the other half of the NyQuil box is calling and Keith Richards is mumbling about how amazed he is someone can survive that ( except nobody can understand him so someone finds a translator.) Be yourself, have as much sex as you can, be safe, protect your heart but if it gets broken, let it be broken for awhile before you find the super glue in the junk drawer.

Unmade Families

At first it starts with the looks or rather the lack of a look. Death has an insidious way of making a person turn inward on themselves with grief. Eye contact doesn’t last long and the unending pats on the arms and bone crushing hugs that are wrapped up with so much unsaid, seem to go on forever.  Then there’s the other side of it, the people who know you’ve lost someone but they can’t bring themselves to offer any comfort. They freeze up and slide their eyes elsewhere, searching the horizon for some clue as to what to say.

After my mom died last March I went back to work after my bereavement leave, bracing myself for those who would descend on me and encase me in love and well-meaning but tired platitudes. The people I expected to find me and offer a few kind words avoided me. If we were walking on the sidewalk, they would cross the street to be free of my orbit of grief. And then there are the people who think grief has a shelf life: okay, it’s been 4 months, shouldn’t you be over this already?  Wow. With the power of that pep talk I am now free of my grief! Hallelujah! It’s a miracle! Grief has no shelf-life. There isn’t an expiration mark on me anywhere to tell me when grief will be done with me.

In Jonathan Tropper’s How to Talk to a Widower, Doug knows all about grief. His wife Hailey died a year ago in a plane crash and the man has been steeped in grief ever since. We’re talking mourning drunk every day for a year, the house packed to capacity with his dead wife’s presence. Doug’s seen as a bit of a loser. I don’t think he’s a loser but society – so good at making people miserable after being brainwashed into what they should be doing in their lives at a certain age – sees him as a slacker with no ambition.

And that was before his wife died. Before marrying Hailey, Doug just floated through life: not picking a career, going from one job to the next, excelling at being seen as a giant disappointment to his family. Especially by his father who was never an affectionate man until a stroke rewired his brain and he’s now ‘wild and unpredictable dad.’ Doug’s mother is a 1950’s throwback: a bottle of wine finished by midafternoon helped along with generous helpings of her anxiety medication.

She especially didn’t want Doug to marry Hailey. Not only was she 10 years older than Doug, but she had a teenage son to boot. But they fell in love despite the age gap and were prepared to live, well, if not happily after, at least satisfied ever after. But then Doug gets the call in the middle of the night that Hailey died in a plane crash on her way to a conference. Thus began Doug’s exile from happiness to abject despair over the loss of the love of his life.

A year goes by. Doug doesn’t see his stepson Russ much because the kid has gone to live with his father now that Hailey is gone. One night in a boozy haze, an officer shows up at the front door with Russ in tow, busted for being stoned. Russ told the cop Doug was his father. Doug thanks the officer and tucks Russ into his bed in his old room, unsure of what to do with the kid. Hailey’s dead; Russ isn’t Doug’s problem anymore.

After a full year in mourning, people begin to give Doug advice. Claire, his twin sister and a beautifully foul-mouthed banshee, tells him he needs to get laid. She’s full of advice for someone who thinks she’s not in love with her husband anymore. Bedding a random stranger is the last thing on his mind. Well, maybe not the last thing since the ethereal cougar down the street is still making him condolence meatloaf once a week and flirting with him so hard even Stevie Wonder can see it. He’s tempted but the memory of Hailey stops him-until he finally gives in. It’s as awkward and depressing as he thought it would be, but soon it becomes a regular thing with the amorous housewife who promises there are no strings attached. If you believe that, I also have tickets on a rocket ship ready to hurl through space and colonize Mars.

Meanwhile, his stepson Russ keeps getting into trouble at school and is always being bailed out by Doug. He doesn’t know what to do with the kid’s pain at losing his mother because he still doesn’t know what to do with his own pain, except for writing a massively popular blog called How to Talk to a Widower. He’s called into the school counselor’s office one day after Russ gets into a fight.

He is pleasantly surprised by the youth of the counselor and her quirky sense of humor.  He’s still boinking the luscious hausfrau, but he’s intrigued by the counselor who he accidentally runs into at the movies one day. Doug starts to feel things he doesn’t want to feel and he’s terrified. Will he ever be ready to put himself in a vulnerable position? What if Hailey was the love of his life and he spends the rest of his years comparing every woman he meets to her?

Added to the mix is his complicated relationship with his family, a family that makes the one from Arrested Development look sane. His father, once a distant man, now seems to be a different person in the second half of his life while his mother mixes booze and downers and watches the man she married decline into someone unexpected and new. Claire’s marriage seems to be imploding and his younger sister, who is savagely ambitious, needs to get the stick surgically removed from her backside. She’s about to get married to Doug’s friend. They met at Hailey’s wake and engaged in an inappropriate, non-funeral like way which Doug has not forgiven or forgotten.

In turns both hilarious and heart breaking, How to Talk to a Widower tells the story of a screwed up family, unexpected loss, and even more unexpected love in strange places.

A Thinner Elevation

When I finished Stephen King’s latest novel Elevation the other day, I couldn’t help but think of it as being related to another one of his earlier works writing under the pen name Richard Bachman: Thinner

Thinner is about a successful lawyer named Billy Halleck who is severely overweight. Driving home as he and his wife are engaging in a little hanky-panky, his car strikes and kills an old Gypsy woman. The charge of manslaughter is dropped by the judge (a personal friend of Billy’s) and as he’s leaving the courtroom, the elderly father of the woman he ran over caresses his cheek and whispers “Thinner.” I wish someone would whisper “Billionaire” or “Bestselling novelist” at me. Without the caress. It would really make my life easier, you know?

Soon, Billy begins to shed weight. At first, it’s all good because he’s morbidly obese. But he can’t stop losing weight. He begins to realize the old man cursed him. With the help of a former client with ties to the mafia, Billy tracks down the old man at a gypsy camp to ask him to lift the curse. Taduz, the old man, refuses, saying Billy has to pay for his wrongdoing. Before they leave the camp, Taduz’s great-granddaughter shoots Billy through the hand. Richie fixes him up with a mafia doctor who takes care of his hand.

Richie then goes back to the gypsy camp and goes all Godfather on them. Billy returns and Tazduz agrees to break the curse. He has a strawberry pie and has Billy drip his blood into the pie. Taduz says the curse can be lifted if someone else eats a piece of the pie. A transferred curse. The ending of Thinner is not a happy one but that’s what makes Stephen King….well, the king of horror.

King’s latest offering, Elevation, starts out with Scott Carey visiting his old doctor who retired years ago. Scott shares a wondrous and horrifying secret: even though his clothes remain the same and he doesn’t look like he’s losing any weight ,each time he gets on the scale he sees he’s lost weight. His old doctor is skeptical until Scott tells him to get a scale and he’ll make the doc a believer. Fully clothed, Scott steps onto the scale and waits for the doctor to do his thing.

Way over six feet tall and on the hefty side, Scott tells the doctor he’s losing about two pounds a day without the loss ever showing up on his body. The doc is still skeptical and tells Scott he needs to go to see a practicing doctor, get tests done, the whole she-bang. Nowhere on this planet is someone who loses weight and has nothing to show for it. Scott refuses. He’s not scared, even when the doc brings up the possibility of cancer. In fact, he’s never felt so wonderfully alive and eager to do things. He swears the doc to secrecy.

Down the block from Scott a couple moves in. They run a restaurant which is slowly tanking because they happen to be married to one another. As one kid puts it they’re “Lesbean.” One of them is a sweet heart while the other has a giant chip on her shoulder. They jog past Scott’s house and allow their dogs to use his lawn as a bathroom. And they don’t pick it up. Scott decides to confront them and does so politely. They take offense at being accused of letting their dogs poop on his lawn. They’re frosty towards him and change the path of their jog so they don’t go by his house. The small town is ripe with gossip about the female married couple. Many put their two cents in, declaring such a thing as two women married to each other an abomination. Soon, their  restaurant loses business and is on the verge of going under all because the town is not comfortable with their “lifestyle.”

Going on about his business, Scott weighs himself every day and night and sees that he’s still steadily losing weight but it still doesn’t show on his body. He’s still not afraid and in fact enters into euphoria as he gets lighter and lighter. He does the math and calculates how long he has left as his weight crumbles. He marks his calendar for when he believes he’ll cease to exist. He forms a close bond with the doc and the couple (after they patched things up and the chip falls off that woman’s shoulder) and he asks them to care for him as the pounds melt away. The due date on his calendar is counting down the days until….what? What will happen if he keeps losing weight? Scott has an idea of what’ll happen to him and decides to prepare himself.

I know many of you are Stephen King fans (I’m his number one fan) and drain his books dry as soon as they come out, but Elevation was unlike any other King book I’ve read. The story felt old and somehow familiar like catching a whiff of perfume and not recognizing the scent even though it’s on the very tip of your tongue. This tiny book can be finished in one sitting. However, after reading it you’ll wish the story had no ending and just kept going.

There you have it. Two Stephen King books about inevitable change and living with what you’ve dreamed of even if it doesn’t go the way you’ve planned.