Monthly Archives: September 2012

“Better Off Without Him” by Dee Ernst

“Better Off Without Him” by Dee Ernst is comedic novel that will have you laughing from the first page.

The main character is Mona Berman, a very successful romance novelist who lives in the suburbs of New Jersey. The drama begins when Mona’s husband, Brian, after two decades of marriage, comes home from work in the middle of the day to tell her that he is leaving her for another woman. Her reaction? “I was perfectly willing to do whatever it took to get my marriage back to where I thought it was, say, oh, two hours before.”

“Better Off Without Him” is told in the first person, so it reads like a diary. Using a lot of wit and sarcasm, Mona relates the trials and tribulations that follow Brian leaving her. Throughout the book, as Mona gradually realizes that her marriage was really not as successful as she thought it was, her humorous thoughts and feelings on the subject are perpetuated by feedback from close friends and family and the other characters around her.

There is always something going on in Mona’s big cozy house, and she loves that. Mona has three teenage daughters, Miranda, Lauren, and Jessica. Her two best friends, Patricia and Marsha, live close by. Her personal assistant, Anthony, is always around. Her Aunt Lily suddenly shows up after having sold her Brooklyn apartment with no place to live. Mona’s plumber, Ben, is practically on retainer, there are so many issues in her house for him to attend to. And Mona has a whole other set of friends and activities at her summer beach house neighborhood on Long Beach Island.

Everyone will laugh when reading this book, and one particular demographic—mothers in their thirties and up—will connect well with and understand Mona. She worries about her drooping physique, the wellbeing of her children and how to find a sex life now that she’s single. Some readers will also learn from Mona; she starts off wobbly, but with the support of friends and family, realizes how talented and awesome she really is.

Dee Ernst is a talented and humorous writer. The story flows well, makes sense, and you can imagine Mona Berman as a real person: hanging out at home, dealing with tension, feeling elated. You will wish “Better Off Without Him” could go on forever.


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“War Brides” by Helen Bryan

“War Brides” by Helen Bryan is a work of fiction based on true World War II stories told to Bryan by family and friends in the United States and England.

This story is about the unsung female heroes of war; the women whose husbands were off fighting or working for intelligence divisions. Unprepared for the stress and trying times of war, the wives were left home by themselves, sometimes for years, to fend off enemies, raise the children and keep the household, and help the war effort on the home front.

“War Brides” follows a small group of women in the small English town of Crowmarsh Priors:

Evangeline Fontaine comes from a wealthy but dysfunctional family in New Orleans, Louisiana, whose fortune is slowly diminishing. Evangeline is a lazy, spoiled, rebellious young lady who, having grown up with brothers, is constantly getting into mischief and trouble; when the book starts, she is pregnant with the child of a black slave.

Alice Osbourne was born and raised in Crowmarsh Priors. The daughter of a vicar, her only contact with a man was with Richard Fairfax, who proposed marriage to her and then went to the United States, only to return married to Evangeline. Left alone to care for her mother and the church, Alice fears that she will never marry.

Antoinette Joseph—Tanni—a Jew living in Germany, is forced to marry Bruno Zayman and flee in the middle of the night as the Germans are closing in on the house. She leaves her mother, father and two sisters in that moment, never to see them again—and spends years of her life trying to find them.

Elsie Pigeon Hawthorne grew up dirt poor in Crowmarsh Priors. One of eight Pigeon children, she and her siblings had to wrap rags and dishtowels around their bodies on laundry day. Though she is a rebellious teenager, she married at fifteen years old.

Frances Falconleigh is also a wildcard. Having grown up without a mother, she lacks grace, manners and basic etiquette. After having rejected nanny after nanny and being rejected from schools, she runs “wild in London with a fast set of unsuitable men.” Frances grows up to join the Special Operations Executive (SEO) and become one of England’s most active and proud spies.

Penelope Fairfax, a relative of Evangeline’s, joins the SEO and helps enroll families in Kindertransport so children will be in a safe place during the war.

Despite their differences in background and personality, the women come together in crisis and become lifelong friends; they help each other through bombings, births, miscarriages, weddings, nursing wounded husbands, housing and feeding refugees and the endless search for lost relatives. “War Brides” is a remarkable story about women’s strength and their will to carry on for the next generation.

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“Make Him Beg to Be Your Boyfriend in 6 Simple Steps” by Michael Fiore

“Make Him Beg to Be Your Boyfriend in 6 Simple Steps” by Michael Fiore is a Self Help dating book for women. (Actually, the cover says, “A Special Report.”) This book gives specific instructions on how to hook a guy and make him a boyfriend.

A lot has been written in the past about how to hook a man, how to flirt with a man, how to marry, and how a woman can use the male courtship process to her advantage. Most of the these types of Self Help books were written by women for women; “The Rules” was probably the best selling of all. “Make Him Beg to Be Your Boyfriend” is one of the few that has been written by a man; yet it actually follows some of the same logic as “The Rules.” This is particularly interesting, because Fiore makes it clear that his girlfriend, who he’s totally head-over-heels in love with, followed these steps to get him and he appreciates all of it.

First, Fiore explains the six reasons why the man is not your boyfriend yet: He wants variety; he doesn’t see you as a girlfriend; he believes you want to be casual; he’s been burned before; he’s a player; he’s already in a commitment.

Then Fiore leaps into the four basic steps behind making that man your boyfriend:

1) “Shoot down” his unconscious objections
2) Make him chase and earn you
3) Make him feel like he’s going to lose you if he doesn’t take action
4) Make him feel like it’s his idea for entering into a relationship

Fiore gives warnings in the introduction about how straight he’s actually going to be: “Warning #1: Read the whole damn report” and “Warning #2: I don’t pull punches.” He also fully admits these are games, and that some of them are a little cruel. And he assures that all of them work.

The material for this book was originally Fiore’s blog, and it’s still active at That’s probably why the tone is simple and no-nonsense. A straightforward explanation and instruction manual, “Make Him Beg to Be Your Boyfriend” gives women the tools to successfully find a boyfriend.

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“Pines” by Blake Crouch

“Pines” by Blake Crouch is a thrilling work of fiction. You will be hooked from page one.

Ethan Burke, the main character, is a man on a mission. The story begins with his waking up in a place called Wayward Pines. It is an idyllic setting: beautiful Victorian houses surrounded by gorgeous park and grass fields, majestic cliffs and a crystal, rolling river. But he is badly hurt. And he discovers that he has no wallet, no money clip, no ID, no keys, no phone. He only finds a Swiss Army knife in one of his pockets.

Burke gradually starts to remember: He is a Secret Service agent who came here to search for two other agents. But as he learns what happened to them—and to him—he discovers that Wayward Pines is not as pretty on the inside as the outside. And as he tries to find reasons for things around him that don’t add up, he senses that he’s heading for trouble.

The man is built for action; he has superhero endurance. Burke was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the second Gulf War. Later he joined the Secret Service. He has incredible stamina, an excellent arm, impeccable aim and he can ignore pain and extreme thirst and hunger if it means getting out of danger. He can take on and take down pretty much any enemy, even as fear rushes through him.

The story is mainly about Burke, but it does touch on his wife, Theresa, and their son, Ben. Burke longs for them, remorseful of his mistakes as a husband and father. He also has nightmares about his time as a prisoner of war, being tortured by a man called Aashif; his emotional shortfalls seem to stem from when he was a soldier.

This book is a successful cross between “The Bourne Legacy,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Planet of the Apes.” The ending, with all its wild explanations, makes sense.  The narrative is non-stop engaging action with twists and turns the entire way. This book would make a fun movie; you will enjoy all of “Pines,” from beginning to end.

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“Between Eden and the Open Road” by Philip Gaber

“Between Eden and the Open Road” by Philip Gaber is a collection of contemporary poetry and stories.

Gaber wrote these pieces apparently while ignoring classical literature boundaries. There are some stories, some poems, and some hybrids (combination of poetry and prose). All the titles are lower case, in the style of the poet e.e. cummings. The works are all non-traditional formats.

A lot of pieces read like they are exercises in sarcasm; some are downright sardonic. There are witty and funny moments:

“He was the Monday morning of human beings.”

“I was looking for healing, so I drove to a house of ill-repute.”

“Blew into town like a reputable vagrant….with…. a quarter of a chip still left on my shoulder….”

Some lines are downright strange: “Ursula’s still exfoliating quiet hysteria from her pores…” Some lines are cryptic: “That’s the price you pay for living the life of the oblique mystic minstrel.”

Some stories, though very short, are divided by Roman numerals: I, II, III, etc.

The section entitled, “the dust of everyday life” is about someone named Picasso. Is this a true story? Is it a story based on an anecdote the author heard? It seems so. The section entitled “to leave the consideration of the self behind” might also be about or be a vague reference to someone famous that the author knows.

There are no classic elements here: no metaphors, no Shakespearean influences, no flowery phrases. The writing is short and blunt; the longest piece is five pages. The imagery is stark. Some pieces seem dreamlike. There is not necessarily a beginning middle and end to each piece—or to the whole collection. The closest thing to a conclusion is the section “my humbug,” which might suggest the author’s intentions—if there are any. But its placement at the third-to-last entry suggests otherwise.

If you see this type of writing as free expression, then it really is a pure form of art. If you enjoy reading contemporary literature that seems more like flows of thought than structured story, “Between Eden and the Open Road” is for you.

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“Kat Fight” by Dina Silver

This book is fun to read. “Kat Fight” is a light, cute love story written with a healthy dose of humor. The city of Chicago is the backdrop for what would make a predictable movie plot but works as a witty page-turner.

Kat, the main character, is an executive assistant at the advertising office of Lambert & Miller. Kat is the child of divorce and that, she says, makes her quite nervous about relationships and quite unsure of herself at work. During her parents’ divorce, and in the years following, she often felt stuck between two arguing parents, totally detached from her father and alone in the world. She is desperately in love with her boyfriend, Marc, and assumes they will get married some day. But she is often disappointed when he doesn’t make her a priority. Kat is always worried, also, that her unpredictable boss, Brooke, in a shaky marriage herself, will fire her at any moment.

Kat does an entertaining job of balancing her relationships and career. She wants to tell her best friend Julie about dating Ryan; she wants to tell Ryan about her complicated relationship with Marc; she wants to tell Marc about dating Ryan. She also wants help Brooke get over her philandering and condescending husband, Drew. Through all this drama, Kat gets constant support and help—mostly with funny, poignant texts—from her confidant, co-worker, and lover of all things drama, Adam.

An example of enjoyable Kat humor: When Ryan randomly shows up at a bar where Kit and friends are watching a Red Sox game, Kat says, “Everything is happening so fast I can hardly keep up with which sweat glands needs to be wiped….Adam wafts me with the drink menu.”

As an interesting epilogue, author Silver gives a “Ten Fun Facts about ‘Kat Fight’” that verify some of the stories in the book. “Kat Fight” follows Kat through romantic and friendship foibles to her taking ultimate control of her life. In a moment of clarity on the way to the airport, determined to win back Ryan, Kat states, “I’m done letting everyone else take control. It’s my turn to take a stand for what I want.” These are just a few examples of how Silver makes “Kat Fight” such an enjoyable read.

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