Posts Tagged love

book review: A Theory of Love


A Theory of Love by Margaret Bradham Thornton. Ecco| May 2018| 275 pages | $27.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-274270-4

RATING: ****/5*

–review by Amy Steele

“Bermeja was the name given to the eight-mile stretch along Mexico’s Pacific coast halfway between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. Surrounded by a thirty-six-thousand-acre nature preserve, Bermeja was referred to as the land where nobody was born and nobody died. Protected by high cliffs and jungles and wetlands, it was often separated on its eastern boundary by flooding rivers.”

Although the couple in this novel hasn’t fabricated a relationship, A Theory of Love reminded me of Glimpses of a Moon, one of my favorite novels by Edith Wharton. In it, a young couple decides to marry so that they can travel around on an extended honeymoon staying at their friends’ lovely homes. In A Theory of Love, Helen, a British journalist, meets lawyer turned financier Christopher while she’s on assignment in Bermeja. He’s there for a bit of relaxation on his surfboard.  Author Margaret Bradham Thornton takes readers to Bermeja, Saint Tropez, London, Sussex, Fontainbleu, Chamonix, Tangier, Milan, Havana and New York.

She’s a journalist in the trenches and he’s interacting with financial elite. That could be why the relationship doesn’t fare well. Could also be the jetset nature of their relationship. His company is rather new and he’s working long days, seven days a week and isn’t able to invest the time in the relationship that Helen desires. Perhaps they’d have fared better if they’d worked out these logistics before marrying. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Figure out where you want to live and if you’re both morning people or night owls and if you want to have children and such.

The characteristics which attract them to each other may be the details that drive them apart in the end. I particularly enjoyed the ritzy scenes. They’re elaborate but not grossly obscene.  For instance, Christopher’s mother is involved in equestrian affairs: “She finds talented working students and gives them good horse to ride, and that works for a while until she feels they have been disloyal or unappreciative, and then that relationship falters.” They attend a fancy dinner party hosted by a French businessman (he’s CEO of his family’s chemical company) and his artist wife Penelope–“She was a photographer, and while she spent more time on the decoration of her seven houses than on her photography, she had resisted the cliched hallmarks of the wealthy wife and dressed in a bohemian style.”

Helen wants everything upfront and laments that she didn’t know everything about Christopher before they married which seems impossible and also rather dull. If you already know each other than what do you talk about? Christopher is in the let’s see what happens mode. Thornton writes: “He had come to value, maybe even cherish, a sense of patience—of letting things play themselves out. Perhaps his ability to see how things would develop or unravel allowed him this equanimity. He understood that events had their own interval sense of motion.”

Thornton writes: “She was thinking about how they seemed to be moving away from each other and wondering why neither one of them tried to do anything about it. there were times when it felt as if he had lost her, as if he were thinking so intensely about what was in front of him that he would forget her, as if his mind were emptied of all thoughts of her.”

Sounds like mindfulness to me and honestly, I didn’t particularly like either character but that’s never been essential to my enjoyment of a novel. A good writer makes you continue to read despite the characters. I liked their non-relationship relationship and pondering if they’re getting what they feel they should from each other. There’s mysterious elements to it all. In addition, Christopher thinks his business partner may be involved in illegal activity and as Helen faces an unexpected pregnancy, he’s engulfed in an investigation. This novel effectively ponders attraction and love while languishing in beautiful scenery and prose. It’s a wonderful indulgence and escape.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Ecco.

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book review: On Love

bukowski_on love

On Love by Charles Bukowski. Ecco| February 2, 2016| 224 pages | $24.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-239603-7

RATING: ****/5*

 “I’ve done the town, I’ve drunk the city. I’ve fucked the country, I’ve pissed on the universe. there’s little left to do but consolidate and ease out.”

–from “the trashing of the dildo”

I’ve come to appreciate poet Charles Bukowski recently. I read mostly Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver. On Love is the third Charles Bukowski anthology from Ecco—the first two are On Writing and On Cats. I’m missing On Writing so hoping someone will gift it to me.

This poetry collection is perfect for both the Bukowski fan and the neophyte. Love becomes broadly defined to include: writing [in the poem “Carson McCullers,” Bukowski writes: “all her books of terrified loneliness/ all her books about cruelty/ of the loveless lover/ were all that were left of her.”; a typewriter [“we get along”]; books [“the first love:” “they brought me chance and hope and feeling in a place of no chance, no hope, no feeling.”]; his daughter [“poem for my daughter”]; sex [“the shower”]; lust; and commitment. In “I can hear the sound of human lives being ripped to pieces,” Bukowski says of creativity: “I don’t know why people think effort and energy have anything to do with creation.”

Writing for Bukowski means slitting his veins. He’s realistic and open. He relishes his experiences. He carefully contemplates then shares with his readers. He writes candidly and with full emotion always. He doesn’t censor or make anything especially pretty but he makes everything brim with feelings.

In “raw with love [for N.W.]:” “I will remember the hours of kisses our lips raw with love and how you offered me your cunt your soul your insides and how I answered offering you whatever was left of me.” It’s dirty and visceral and brash and honest. Bukowski writes: “I care for you, darling, I love you, the only reason I fucked L. is because you fucked Z. and then you fucked R. and you fucked N. and because you fucked N, I had to fuck Y.” Yes this from “blue moon, oh bleweeww mooooon how I adore you!” One of my favorite poems in this compilation is “a definition” in which he broadly, specifically and uniquely defines love—“love is what happens one day a year one year in ten” and “love is betrayal” and “love is what you think the other person has destroyed” and “love is everything we said it wasn’t” and “love is an old woman pinching a loaf of bread.”

The un-Valentine’s Day gift to give to that special someone. Or read it aloud to a friend or a lover. Read it by yourself in bed, in the tub, in the sun, in a snow storm. Soak it in.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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The Engagements: book review


The Engagements by J.Courtney Sullivan. Publisher: Knopf (June 2013). Fiction. Hardcover. 400 pages. ISBN13: 9780307958716.

In the mid-40s a young female copywriter created that now well-worn saying “A Diamond is Forever” for a De Beers advertising campaign. Frances Gerety worked in the copy department of N.W. Ayer and Son among mostly men, never married and for the most part enjoyed her independent lifestyle. At the time, women in advertising worked on “women’s products” and provided the “women’s perspective” to particular clients [think about when Peggy on Mad Men gets called on for her opinions on lipstick or home cleaning products instead of airlines and cars]. Author Courtney Sullivan writes: “Others treated her like an exotic pet—a woman of forty, who worked alongside their husbands, with no apparent interest in a husband or children of her own.” I’d like to read an entire book about Frances Gerety.

Sullivan weaves Gerety’s story among those of four couples to illustrate love, marriage, commitment. Engagements, marriage, big wedding extravaganzas don’t interest me. I abhor diamond rings and would never wear one. Think about the suffering and wars fought in order for women to wear something that symbolizes their desirability. Wedding and engagement rings symbolize societal expectations, status and possession. People marry for varied reasons: love (of course); companionship; financial security; fear to be alone; to have a family and check off the societal expectations to-do list. The novel’s strength lies in its feminist meditation on relationships.

Wealthy, near-retirement Evelyn and Gerald met during college in the late 1920s–he a Harvard student from a wealthy family, she a Wellesley scholarship student. Gerald’s best friend, also Evelyn’s first husband, who died in WWII connects them. Financially struggling Sheila and James married when Sheila became pregnant. Sullivan writes: “Her friends, who she had felt so superior to back then, had seen their average-looking husbands grown into men with money and power, the sort of guys who took them to the Bahamas for an anniversary, or out to dinner in town every Friday night. And what did Sheila have? The formerly handsome teenager who failed to live up to his potential.”

Parisian Delphine married her friend and much-older business partner Henri, settling into a comfortable, passionless marriage that pushes her toward an affair. Describing Delphine, Sullivan writes: “It was absurd that she had not had a boyfriend to speak of since university, and that boyfriend was now married with two children, and living in a vineyard in Bordeaux, while she still managed to get her heart broken every year or so; she was a hopeless romantic with a taste for unkind men. It was absurd that she was thirty-three and yet still unsure about what to do with her life.”

Kate and her husband live together with their daughter and no intention to marry. Of Kate, Sullivan writes: “She hated the way a bride would raise up her bouquet in victory after saying “I do,” as if she had just accomplished something. She hated that even normal-sized women dieted for their weddings so they looked like bobble-head versions of themselves. She hated all the money thrown into some dark hole, when it could have been put to good use in a million other ways.”

The novel zigzags back and forth through various time frames as well as from couple to couple. The time shifts could be smoother. I found myself looking back to the beginning of chapters to recall which decade I was in when it should be obvious. When a few characters finally interact it’s rather choppy. It gets a tad confusing with so many characters but there’s a character for every reader. For me, I appreciated Kate as well as Delphine.

Sullivan excels at creating vivid characters and situations which engulf readers from page to page. Her writing reflects hot button topics– gay marriage, feminism, blood diamonds, cohabitation, affairs– in a smart manner without alienating anyone. It’s a well-written, thoughtful and engaging read.

RATING: ****/5

ps. Reese Witherspoon purchased the book rights so read this before it becomes a film!

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Random House.

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some favorite films about love [not always happy] for Valentine’s Day

Though I rarely have a valentine on Valentine’s Day and am not a particular fan of the holiday, I’m hopeful to find LOVE someday. Here are some of my favorite love stories on film.

Brokeback Mountain
“I can’t quit you.” That just says it all. Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger show what unconditional love is all about.

Love & Sex
Kate [Famke Janssen] is a magazine writer given the assignment to write about love and sex: a guide for single women. She hasn’t dated since she broke up with Adam [Jon Favreau]. In writing the article she recalls past romances and Adam keeps coming back. It’s hysterical and Janssen and Favreau are great together.

Romeo & Juliet
Shakepeare’s classic story of star-crossed lovers gets the updated treatment with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
When a romance goes awry, would you want to erase all memories of it and that person you loved? That is the unique concept behind writer Charlie Kaufman’s script. Under the astute direction of Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey, ranks as one of my favorite films. It is a fabulous and romantic film. It’s amazing and thoughtful and the performances are brilliant all around [Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood].

The Apartment
Love Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon together here. Such a romantic classic and it won Best Picture in 1960. Fran [MacLaine] is an elevator operator in CC. “Bud” [Lemmon] Baxter’s office building. She keeps having affairs with married men. Bud falls for Fran and wants to protect her at all costs.
“That’s the way it crumbles . . . cookie-wise.”

Roman Holiday
Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn together. I need not say much more. Audrey won an Oscar for her performance as a rebellious princess who sets off to explore Rome on her own. She meets an American newspaper reporter who wants a real scoop. He pretends he doesn’t know who she is to get the story but then they fall in love. Oh so romantic!

Love and Basketball
Friends since they were children, both Monica [Sanaa Lathan] and Quincy [Omar Epps] are ace basketball players. Both make very different decisions about their relationship, the sport and their academic careers. It’s a fantastic sports film and feminist love story [written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood].

Kate & Leopold
Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman make time travel so appealing. Do you ever wonder if you were born at the wrong time or in the wrong place? I’ve thought about it. This is a fun and sweet film.

Pride & Prejudice
Keira Knightley stars as Lizzie Bennet in this Jane Austen classic. This is probably my favorite adaptation [excluding the miniseries with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth].

Two literary scholars are studying Victorian poets who had an affair. This brings together Maud [Gwyneth Paltrow] and Roland [Aaron Eckhart] as they attempt to uncover the mystery of the Victorian affair. Based on the wonderful novel by A.S. Byatt.

The Whole Wide World
Writer Robert Howard [Vincent D’Onofrio] created the Conan the Barbarian series. This is the true story of his love affair with a small town school teacher Novalyne Price [Renee Zellweger].

Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset
It’s imperative that you do a double feature of these Richard Linklater romantic films starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

A brokenhearted street musician [Glen Hansard] meets a keyboardist [Marketa Irglova] and for a week they make music together and fall in love. The soundtrack is spectacular too.

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book review: My Name is Memory

Title: My Name is Memory
Author: Ann Brashares
ISBN: 978-1594487583
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (June 1, 2010)
Category: modern fiction/ women’s fiction
Review source: publisher
Rating: 2.5/5

After reading My Name is Memory, I thought: is it possible that a successful young adult author [The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series] cannot always make a transition to a successful adult author? It takes an extremely tapped in and versatile writer to write for a number of audiences. Not that younger readers don’t read adult books and older readers don’t read YA books. Those are classics. My point is that not every writer can be Meg Cabot: writing convincingly about children, teens, and adults. My Name is Memory is similar in genesis to The Time Traveler’s Wife, yet hardly as moving. It can be considered part historical fiction, which must have required quite a bit of research for author Ann Brashares. At first glance, I thought My Name is Memory would be a quick read but I just wasn’t all that interested in the characters.

In My Name is Memory we are introduced to a romance between Daniel and Sophia, now named Lucy in present day. The romantic part begins during high school when Lucy feels a strong attraction to Daniel. Of course, this can easily be called a crush. What we soon find out is that Daniel has known Sophia since the year 541 in North Africa. He’s hung up on Sophia, whose house he burned down with her in it as part of a resistance movement fighting an uprising. Oh, the innocence of a blossoming romance in one’s youth. That’s right. Daniel isn’t a time traveler but he keeps being reincarnated, as we learn many people are, and he remembers each past life quite vividly, something that not everyone does. To avoid confusing himself, Daniel calls himself Daniel in every reincarnation whether in Africa, Asia Minor, or Virginia. Throughout all his various lives—mostly in Europe and America—he sees Sophia in her various other lives. In our present day, it seems now is the time for the two to finally connect at the same age.

Why does Daniel love Sophia on sight alone? Brashares never provides a solid answer to that question. The past lives of Daniel are somewhat intriguing but My Name is Memory drags on. I’m going to blame the Twilight-effect. It’s the lust-love of one’s youth and I don’t find it productive to romanticize it because the young woman usually gives up her future goals for the young man. Lucy does go to college and then graduate school but she constantly thinks of Daniel and goes exploring what she believes are weird dreams that he explained to her in high school as past lives. At the time, she thought this to be [understandably] the most bizarre and scary thought. She barely has a social life now. And when the two finally connect? A night of passionate unprotected sex and Lucy finds herself pregnant from the one encounter. My Name is Memory is far more of a cautionary tale than a love story. I just didn’t buy into it.

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My Name Is Memory

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Paper Heart: now on DVD (re-posting of film review/interview)

The review of Paper Heart, which I saw at a press screening, is a re-post of my review and interview from August.

Paper Heart is a thoughtful, revolutionary and sweet examination of love. At the beginning of the film, 23-year-old Comedienne/ writer Charlyne Yi admits she does not know what love is and feels incapable of being in love. She says that she has never been in love.

“I haven’t been in that many relationships either for the reason of not feeling mutual about the person— them not liking me or me not liking them—or the idea of getting to know someone and not hating them in the end or it just not working out,” Yi elaborates. “Not even hate, it just doesn’t feel right. It takes so much time to realize that. I think when this idea occurred I was 18 and I was new to the world and I was like, “I don’t want to hit on people at bars.” I think it was just me scared of the world and having to dive in and meet strangers and meet them in a way that you are so comfortable that you can be yourself and to learn about them too and for them to be comfortable to a point where you either: A. feel the same way about them or B. have to grow apart and that’s kinda scary.”

Most likely, a lot of people can probably relate, including this critic, who has never been in true love [only unrequited] and is a decade older. This is why Paper Heart will move many people, hit a nerve, and win over audiences with its honesty.

“Do you believe in love?” Jake Johnson asks me during our sit down at Felt in Boston. “Do you believe in the ability to love? If this was an interview during Paper Heart, do you believe that there’s love?”

“Well, I’m pretty cynical about it now because I have this ex-boyfriend who broke up with me after two years and yet we’re still friends,” I explained. “It’s been eight years. We would have been good people to interview. Well, he’s an engineer so he doesn’t talk at all. He mimes things.”

“You’re not still in love with him are you?” Yi asks in a gentle tone.

“Yeah, I still love him,” I say. “It’s just this weird relationship and obviously he really cares about me. We go on dates. We do everything a married couple does except do anything intimate.”

“This is the best interview ever!” Johnson says excitedly while clapping his hands.

Yi takes her quest on the road to find all love-related answers. Her goal is to change the way she thinks. Johnson plays Nick [aka the director], someone whom Yi can confide in and someone who also can nudge her along here and there.

“It was weird because it was going to be a really small part but along the way we realized how essential this character was and we’re so lucky we had him,” Yi admits. “Otherwise, it would be a lot of me going [she uses a funny voice], “Ah, hey camera.” You know you’d never get any information or see the character growing.”

Interspersed in Yi’s pursuit for answers is a tender, evolving pseudo-relationship between Yi and all-around modest good guy Michael Cera, who in the film she meets at a party in Los Angeles. Cera tells Yi he’s seen her do stand-up and then asks someone about her saying she’s “mysterious.” Soon after the party, the two go on a first date. The budding romance is at times awkward but slow and gentle.

“There’s like 300 hours of footage for an hour and a half movie. I think I said the line, “So what’s going on with you and Mike?” probably no joke, 6,000 times in different takes,” Johnson stresses. “Because a lot of times we’d be in a beautiful location and [Nick] would say, “Let’s just do a scene.” And it would start with asking about Mike and where would it be in different points of the relationship so when they were editing it they could use any scene they wanted.”

A charming aspect of Paper Heart comes when Yi asks real people throughout the United States about love in its various modes. In Lubbock, TX, scientists literally explain the science of love: the biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, and mechanisms of the heart and brain that make a person feel like she or he is in love. Bikers in Oklahoma City explain their love/hate relationships, while in Las Vegas, Yi questions people at the quickie wedding chapels. At the L.A Zoo, she wants to film animals expressing love. Yi interviews older couples about their first dates.

“I think [Paper Heart] made me more hopeful in that sense,” Yi admits. “Love to me is doing the most boringest thing, like washing clothes with a person, and enjoying their company still and feeling the same way. And knowing all their faults and still accepting them and hopefully vice-versa.”

Yi then heads to Atlanta where in an adorable scene she talks to a group of rambunctious children about [icky] love and boyfriends and girlfriends. During an interview with interview with Sarah Baker, a romance novelist, the author explains the importance of HEA ending—happily ever after and states that one partner has to sacrifice for the other. Yi discusses divorce with a lawyer and judge in a family court and love and marriage with a gay New York couple.

During this entire exploratory trip, Yi has managed to IM Michael quite a bit and has gone on a few dates. At one point Yi says: “Nick I’m starting to really like Michael.” Since everything between Yi and Cera seem to be moving along quite well, Nick wants the documentary to end in Paris, the City of Love. Unfortunately, Cera is growing tired of everything on camera and ends it with Yi before this can happen. “I’m sad that he wants me to love him and I can’t,” Yi laments. They go to Paris anyway where Yi is visibly miserable the entire time. On their return, they head to Toronto because Yi missed Cera. She doesn’t allow the cameras to follow her inside this time.

“The reason we made the film is that love is universal and everyone wants to mean something to someone,” Yi explains. “I’ve met people who’ve seen the film and it’s made them appreciate what they have or if they don’t have that love it inspires them. It might make them less bitter about love. So that’s great.”

“I also think it is love told through the eyes of a 23-year-old girl,” Johnson adds. “So I think that’s a good way of looking at it. Obviously that’s just another perspective of it.”

Paper Heart is a revelatory delight not to be missed.

Grade: A

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CD review: Norah Jones

Norah Jones
The Fall
Blue Note Records

The Fall is supposed to be an experimental record for Norah Jones and though I hear some country and some varying arrangements throughout, I hear many similarities to 2006’s Not Too Late. Both albums I adore for their sultry, somnolent qualities. Yes, that’s a good thing. Mellow, soothing music heals the heart. It reaches the soul. Jones methodically reveals her emotions through each song. She’s carefully crafted this album. The appeal of Jones is her bluesy, sultry moodiness and her moments of lilting purity. She’s not easy to categorize: not a pop singer, not a jazz singer, not R&B, not blues. Jones does succeed to combine all the best elements of each of those genres for her own signature sound. Jones wrote the majority of her songs and there’s an aching, longing and loneliness running through many of the songs. Stories of lying and cheating men, unfulfilling love and self-doubt. And Jones sings it all with aching maturity, wisdom and elegance. Singing with longing and tinges of regret on “I Wouldn’t Need You” Jones sings: If I could replace/ The things you gave me/ If I could see my face/ Without the tragedy/ Then I wouldn’t need you/ No I wouldn’t need you/ No I wouldn’t need you/ To love me/ But I do. “You Ruined Me” is a country-laced confession: You’ve ruined me now/ Though I liked it/ Now, I’m ruined/ I’m trying to part/ With what’s in my heart/ You’ve ruined me and how/ I thought I liked it/ And haven’t we all been here on the luscious, swirling “Stuck:’ Why can’t it be easy?/ Easy?/ Why don’t you leave?/Leave me?/Leave me be?/I can see you swaying/ I can’t hear what you’re saying/I’m sitting here stuck/ And plastered to my seat/ I think up a reason to leave/ when you finally stop speaking/ I’ll take a long slow/ Walk down Washington Street. On her last song, the vaudeville-inspired “Man of the Hour,” she honors the one who many never cheat on her or hurt her: her dog.

For anyone who’s been in love, wants love or has had a broken heart, The Fall will surely mend some wounds while you cry through the pain. That’s the power and wonder of music. That’s why music is such an essential aspect of my life.


–review by Amy Steele

[review copy courtesy of Blue Note]

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