Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg

Once Upon a Time, There Was You

Elizabeth Berg (Adult Fiction)

DISCLAIMER: This is going to deviate a lot from my normal review format because I just can’t bring myself to devote any more time to this book, so here goes…

Synopsis: Two people (John and Irene) who never wanted to get married to each other get married to each other, have a kid (Sadie), get divorced, and are brought together again because their now eighteen-year-old daughter did something ridiculously and mind-numbingly stupid.

Why I read this: I read Berg’s Open House and rated it 3/5. It was okay enough that I decided to take another chance and read The Story of Arthur Truluv, which I rated 4/5. I was feeling pretty good and dived into Once Upon a Time, There Was You. I now find myself in a hate-love-hate relationship with Elizabeth Berg. I blame Arthur for this false sense of security.

Questions: First, What was the actual point of this book?!; Second, What in the world was Berg thinking when she wrote the event involving Sadie that sets the stage for her parents’ reunion? It felt forced and came absolutely out of left field. I don’t mind a shocking event if it’s going to add some depth to the story, but this one felt wildly out of place and came and went faster than promises made on election day; Third and Fourth, Who wrote the synopsis for this book and Did they even read the book? When tragedy strikes, Irene and John come together… Tragedy? That’s REALLY overstating what happened. What takes them longer is to remember how they really feel about each other. That might be the case if it wasn’t for the fact that Irene’s mouth has been estranged from her brain for quite a while so that any relationship involving her is doomed as soon as her lips part. There are more examples, but my brain is beginning to hurt a little bit now.

My rating: Every book I read automatically begins with a star. I mean, the author actually published a book and I haven’t so there’s that. I gave it another star because the relationship between Sade and her father was nice and the ending between John and Irene—unlike other parts of the book—actually made sense and was appropriate.

Moral of the story: Always go with your gut instincts, no matter how terrifying or humiliating the consequences may seem to be. Just suck it up, buy yourself an iced white chocolate mocha, hide under the covers, and wait for common sense to kick in…or the sugar and caffeine, whichever comes first.  

Rating: 2/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

Heft by Liz Moore

Heft

Heft 

Liz Moore (Adult Fiction)

Arthur Opp hasn’t been weighed in years.  Back then, he was 480 pounds, but he’s probably between 500 and 600 pounds now.  He lives in isolation in an aging yet expensive brownstone in Brooklyn and hasn’t taught a college class in eighteen years.  Kel Keller is seventeen, athletic, and popular amongst his friends.  He’s a poor kid from Yonkers who attends an affluent school and dreams of playing professional baseball.  What these two very different people don’t realize is that they have something in common…a woman by the name of Charlene Turner.  Charlene is Kel’s mother and Arthur’s former student and she is about to alter both their lives when she decides to pick up the phone and ask Arthur for a simple favor.  Suddenly, Arthur is forced to open himself up to the outside world while Kel is forced to open his eyes to discover the girl his mother used to be.

I really enjoyed Heft and was impressed with Moore’s proficiency in writing as a middle-aged ex-professor struggling with obesity and isolation and then as a teenaged boy caught between the worlds of poverty and prosperity while dealing with his mother’s insecurities.  The story moved along at a nice pace and rarely lagged, even through multiple character flashbacks.  There were several supporting and interesting characters in the story, but the one that stood out to me was Arthur’s maid, Yolanda.  She’s a spitfire and truly the yin to Arthur’s yang.  We see a whole new side of Arthur when Yolanda is around and that was a pleasure to experience.  Despite the praise, I did have a few issues with this book that prevented me from giving it a full five-star rating.

The first problem I had (might not be as big a deal to others) was when Moore was writing as Arthur.  For his “voice”, she chose to flip back and forth between using an ampersand (&) and the word “and”.  At first, I thought maybe something slipped by copy editing, but when it happened repeatedly and then when she started a sentence with an ampersand (and she even began a paragraph with it), I just about popped.  This is a deliberate style choice that Moore made for this character, but it prevented me from totally immersing myself in Arthur’s story since I had to constantly decode such sentences as “I read it twice. & then I read it three more times.”  *pop*

Another problem was the last part of the book. Although Moore delivers a story that is touching, insightful, and uplifting, I felt that at the end of the book, there was something missing.  If I were to describe it (so as not to spoil the story), it would be like buttoning your shirt and realizing only when you got to the bottom that your shirt was uneven.  You’re going along button to hole, button to hole, button to hole, but despite everything going swimmingly, it doesn’t end up right.  Moore gives us a beautifully written story that seamlessly fits together but the end of the book seems a bit off and I ended up with more questions than answers.

Aside from those issues, I did love how Moore presented Arthur and Kel with such fearless honesty.  Both men are flawed, fractured, and burdened with regret and loneliness, but they are also proud despite their brokenness and willing to open up their hearts regardless of the risk that love often carries with it.  Usually when a book presents two different character threads, I find myself enjoying one more than the other, but with Liz Moore’s Heft, I enjoyed both Arthur and Kel equally and loved laughing and crying with each of them.

Heft is an enjoyable read offering up a message of hope, forgiveness, redemption, and second chances.  It also serves as a reminder to never underestimate the full impact of a seemingly simple act…like making a phone call or asking for help.  As the Dalai Lama once said, “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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