January Book Recommendations
Our Tomato book reviewers have two novels, and memoir. Cloud Cukoo Land is the follow up to the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All The Light We Cannot See. Debbie, My Life, published in 1988, is for everyone who loves the heydays of the great entertainers. And California Sisters is a beautiful and gut-wrenching novel.
A Novel of Extraordinary Imagination
In Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr artfully weaves multiple stories within a story in his inventive novel, a follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize winner, All the Light We Cannot See. In Cloud Cuckoo Land he creates a cast of seemingly unrelated characters in several timelines – past, present, and future. The reader is challenged to discover the connections between them but will be rewarded by hanging in to the end of 600 plus pages.
The framework of the novel is an imagined tale attributed to the Greek philosopher Diogenes in which Aethon, a foolish shepherd, embarks on a wondrous journey in search of Cloud Cuckoo Land, wishing he could be transformed into a bird and fly to a utopia in the sky. This story provides the structure for the individual stories that emerge.
These story lines encompass five characters living in three different centuries and four different places. We have an elderly Greek man named Zino Ninis who is learning ancient language syllable by syllable; Seymour, an environmental terrorist who plants a bomb in a new real estate development; Anna, a young girl enthralled with books who is haplessly working in a house of embroidery in 15th century Constantinople; Omeir a poor Bulgarian peasant who is drafted by Sultan’s army in their attack on Constantinople; and Konstance, a teenager living aboard a spacecraft launched decades before, headed to a distant planet.
What in the world?! you may be thinking. Indeed, it takes nothing less than creative genius to craft a novel of such extraordinary imagination, and it requires a willing partner in the reader to follow his vision. A recurring theme throughout the novel is an homage to the power of words and stories, and the magic of books opening worlds to us. GET THE BOOK.
~ Joan Pagano, owner of Joan Pagano Fitness, NYC
A Delicious Read
I was inspired to read Debbie: My Life, by Debbie Reynolds with David Patrick Columbia from the “Three Tomatoes” newsletter of February 11, 2022 which linked to a new documentary video, “Last Night in New York” chronicling the life of David Patrick Columbia, founder and editor of “The New York Social Diary.”
In this documentary, David describes his two-year collaboration which included hundreds of hours sitting with Debbie Reynolds in her LA home while she revealed the intimate details of her life. Being a Debbie Reynolds fan, I just had to read this book. Kudos to both Debbie and David for a delicious read!
Born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, TX in April 1932, this is the fascinating memoir of Debbie Reynolds; born into poverty and who never planned a career in Hollywood. An ex-tomboy, she wanted to become a gym teacher! On a whim at 16, she entered a beauty pageant and won “Miss Burbank” which earned her a screen test with Warner Bros. Studios…and so launched the acting career for this very reluctant star.
From her Hollywood and show business career to her two disastrous marriages while dealing with difficult challenges of being a mother and stepmother, Debbie’s story will pull you right in as if she were sitting beside you. So well written, full of drama, highs and lows, Debbie bares her heart and soul being brutally honest about her life and those around her. She reveals why she never married the love of her life, RJ Wagner; how Frank Sinatra tried to warn her not to marry singer Eddie Fisher…and why she didn’t listen. How right he was! Eddie, who ditched Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor, however, did give Debbie her two children, Carrie and Todd, the greatest joys of her life. Surprisingly, Debbie and Liz were good friends both before; and after Liz ditched Eddie Fisher. (Karma’s a bitch!) Debbie recounts her even worse second marriage to compulsive gambler and womanizer Harry Karl, who frittered away her millions leaving her broke and sleeping in her car! Poor girl, she was so trusting and naive.
Along the way, Debbie dishes on all the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood and gives a revealing look at the inner workings behind the scenes of movie, TV and Broadway studios, the good, the bad and the ugly. Included are many fine, well-placed photographs of Debbie, her family, friends, and other stars. This is more than just the saga of a legendary Hollywood star, it is a poignant story of a true survivor; someone who emerged battle scared, but ultimately triumphantly resilient. It is a real page turner; very difficult to put down. I recommend it to everyone who loves the heydays of the great entertainers. GET THE BOOK.
~Ellen Seymour, Hershey, Pennsylvania, retired caterer, avid gardener and cook
A Gut-Wrenching Novel About Two Sisters
California Sister by Gloria Mattioni, is a beautifully written but also a gut-wrenching novel about two sisters. These two sisters are very different in character, one lives in California and the other one in Italy. Even though they do not live close to each other, they are very much bonded in heart and soul. They have remained close through the years in spite of the distance between them. Claire and Ondina are the two sisters brought up in a dysfunctional family. They promise each other at a very young age that they will always be there for one another. Claire who lives in Los Angeles, California is the take charge, in control one with an adventurous side. She is also an author writing mystery novels. Ondina lives in Italy. She is the free spirit one and enjoys writing songs.
One day Claire receives a phone call from Italy telling her Ondina has collapsed and in the hospital. She rushes to Italy to be with her sister. Once she arrives she learns how grave the situation is with her sister. She is told her sister suffered a brain aneurysm, the prognosis is not good and more than likely she will not make it. Claire believes her sister is strong and can pull through this ordeal, all she will need is great medical care, her love and support. Ondina cannot speak a word or move her body. Claire puts her career on hold to care for her sister for the next year. She has her in and out of a couple of facilities. She really is determined to make her sister well again. She has to make some very difficult medical decisions for her sister regarding her care. She is also faced with the question, would my sister want to live in this state for the rest of her life? As a reader, you are constantly cheering Claire on for her determination of wanting to make her sister well again.
This book defines a sister’s love, obligation and heartbreak. Gloria Mattioni has written a story so beautifully told about sibling love and family. I have a sister who means the absolute world to me, so this is an unimaginable heartache for me. This is one of those books that will stay with you long after you have read the last page. The main question will be “what would you do given this situation with a sister or a loved one”? I highly recommend this book. Loved this book and the gorgeous cover too. GET THE BOOK.
~Francene Katzen, Richmond, Virginia, advocate for parents who have children with drug addictions