Arts & Culture

Literary Scene

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Ryan Van Cleave reviews three books about love.

by Warren Adler

When this book came across my desk, I had to give it serious consideration. A short story collection from the author of War of the Roses and Random Hearts? Who wouldn’t be intrigued? Set in a condominium retirement village in Florida, the ten stories in The Sunset Gang reveal that getting older doesn’t mean that you ever stop thirsting for love, life, and happiness. With his well-developed brand of dark humor and artfully developed characters, Adler has created a stirring story that will appeal to many readers – even those who haven’t yet had to look up the word “geriatric.”
Some of the more striking stories in this collection?
• “The Detective,” which is about the perils of pride and the power of compassion.
• “Yiddish” tackles how an ancient language can help a pair of people rediscover themselves and their almost-forgotten desire for love.
• “The Demonstration” is perhaps the most overtly politicalstory in the book. It powerfully speaks to issues of anti-Semitism and hatred.
While I reviewed a softcover version of this book, I did listen to a bit of the audiobook and wow, Colleen Crimmins does a first-rate job with that. She really makes the rich Florida world come alive. It’s a rich, memorable read. Plus, there’s also much to learn in these pages about the art of living well.

One Billion Seconds:
There’s still time to discover love
by Poppy & Geoff Spencer

This is an odd book. It’s not exactly a memoir, not exactly a novel. Sort of a self-help book, too, but without so many bullet points. While it’s the story of Poppy and Geoff, it’s told through the perspective of Jessie, an ethereal entity or “relational choreographer” something like good old Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Well, whatever this is, Florida Gulf Coast authors and relationship experts Poppy and Geoff Spencer have created a product that’s interesting, honest, and compelling. It’s kind of a star-crossed lovers story where miscommunication worthy of a TV drama nearly ruins it all, but a daring phone call many years later give them a second chance. The real takeaway? Effective communication is the secret to relationship success.
So, if you’ve ever wondered how two people, twice-divorced, can still believe in a committed, lasting marriage, this book offers an answer. Give it a shot today and maybe you’ll discover the potential for your own fairytale ending.

Rating: 4/5

by Joan King

Florida author Joan King’s debut novel is set in rural Oklahoma – a location she knows well, having grown up on the family farm there. This story takes place near the end of World War II and it follows seven-year-old Gracie Timmons, who has a world of trouble around her. A deceased mother. Running afoul of moonshiners. Taken in by a spinster storekeeper while her soldier father fights for freedom. No wonder she spends most of her time locked in a closet, praying for her father to return home and be her salvation.
When her father, Sergeant Aaron Timmons, finally does return home, he’s no hero. Thanks to three years as a POW and suffering through the Bataan Death March, he experiences fits and spells that we might today call PTSD. Readers know he’s a bit…off by how much he treasures a stolen Bible and a row of little boxes he says are filled with the bodies of dead soldiers. But when push comes to shove, he’s willing to confront the troublesome moonshiners who are working on the family farm and figure out how he can care for young Gracie.
Much of the inspiration for this book, reports King, comes from her uncle Jimmy, who was a POW in Germany in WWII. In many ways, this book of historical fiction is designed to honor him and thousands more who survived the war but came home forever changed.
At times, the language is striking and the dialogue terrifically spot on. But from time to time, my mind connected this story with the movie Lawless, and the narration of young Gracie felt like it wasn’t quite adequate to get at the emotional nuance and resonance this rich setup offered. Still, there’s much to enjoy here, for sure.
If you’re a fan of the geographic area or the time period, go ahead and bump this up a quarter coffee cup.

Rating: 3.5/5

Like this? Check out Ryan’s other reviews.

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