“Us,” A Dark, Comic Novel on Marriage

“I think our marriage has run its course. I think I want to leave you.”

So begins “Us” by David Nicholls, an audiobook preformed by writer/actor David Haig that had me laughing out loud.

Haig’s crisp, upper crust British accent is spot-on in his portrayal of Douglas Petersen, a 54-year-old biochemist who reveals the past and present of his marriage, taking listeners on a grand European tour he arranges to win back his wife Connie’s heart.

“Us” is black humor at its best; though the subject matter is bleak, the failure of a 20-plus-year marriage, and the angst a father endures parenting his moody 17-year-old son Albie, in clever Nicholls’ hands, the turmoil takes on a light-hearted air. Here’s a novel with lift-out-able quotes and wisdom wrapped in tongue and cheek humor.

David and Connie meet at a shindig thrown by David’s sister. She’s convinced David to come, but partying isn’t his cup of tea. Rather socially inept, David’s passion is directed toward the microscopic study of fruit flies.

Gorgeous and gregarious Connie, an artist, is coming off a disastrous four-year relationship. Connie is a wild child who attracts men like the flies David studies. At the party a dashing possibility appears on her radar, Jake a trapeze artist. It isn’t long before Jake oversteps his bounds, and chivalrous David steps up to the plate in a scene that defies belief.

Though Connie claims she is “remedial when it comes to science,” and David doesn’t know his way around an oil painting, they make beautiful music in bed beginning a couple-ship that weathers rough waters through the years.

In short vignettes, their struggles come to light as the estranged couple and their bored son travel from England to the continent to view the usual tourist sites, leaving readers aching to follow their lead.

If international travel isn’t in your budget, invest in “Us.” It’s the next best thing, and you won’t have a minute’s trouble with jet lag.

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Guest review by Dawn Kitchell, educational services director, The Missourian.

Oprah’s Newest Offering in Print and Audio Book

Oprah Winfrey has been inspiring her audiences to live their best lives for decades and continues to do so in her latest, a treasure of reflections and encouragements.

“What I Know for Sure,” released in print and audio in 2014, is a collection of short essays published as personal columns in O, The Oprah Magazine. The title was born from a 1998 interview question Winfrey struggled to answer from the late Chicago Sun-Times film critic, Gene Siskel.

“Tell me, he asked, ‘What do you know for sure?’ ” It’s hard to imagine Winfrey, the master of the interview, stumped, but she said the question “stopped me in my tracks,” and eventually became the title of her monthly magazine column and the “central question of my life.”

The book contains 14 years of Winfrey’s magazine columns, edited with the wisdom of reflection. The chapters are organized by theme — joy, resilience, connections, gratitude, possibility, awe, clarity and power — each filled with thought-provoking anecdotes.

In Joy, Winfrey reflects on taking the stage with Tina Turner and overcoming her insecurities to enjoy the experience. “What I know for sure is that every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and step out and dance — to live life free of regret and filled with as much joy, fun, and laughter as you can stand.”

These thought-provoking essays remind readers to be grateful, trust your instincts, read good books, appreciate your age, nurture and love yourself, use words to uplift, and so much more.

Fans of Winfrey will appreciate the audiobook as well as the print version. Read by the author, listening along feels like eavesdropping on an intimate four-hour conversation with Oprah sharing her advice on wringing the most from life.

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“The Nightingale,” Two Sisters Courageous Efforts in the French Resistance

Recently, I set aside “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah because the initial love scene seemed schmaltzy. After taking it off my “to-be-read” pile I gave the title another chance. The revisit resulted in a full day absorbing a 438-page book I couldn’t put down.

While there are boo-coo novels set during World War II, not many focus on the French Resistance, and fewer still delve into the role women played in the effort.

In “Nightingale” we meet French sisters, Viann and Isabelle, as different as can be, but eventually connected not only by familial ties, but also by the courage they display aiding victims of the Nazis. The agonies endured are difficult to read because they’re representative of what really happened during that time.

Viann is 14 when her mother dies, and Isabelle is 4. Their emotionally distant father, ravaged by World War I, turns to alcohol, and leaves them with a stranger like so much “soiled laundry.” Viann is grieving and complacent, but Isabelle is headstrong, and remains so.

When Viann gets pregnant as a teenager, marries her childhood sweetheart and loses her baby, parenting Isabelle becomes too trying. Antoine, her husband, sends Isabelle to her father, who ships her off to boarding school.

It’s the first of many schools that don’t work for the rebellious girl, who at 19 returns to her father in Paris. He insists she can’t stay, and arranges travel to Le Jardin, to live with Viann in the family’s country home in the Loire Valley. By this time, Viann has a daughter and her husband is away fighting in the war.

Isabelle’s journey is fraught with danger when, to France’s shock, Paris falls to the Germans. Isabelle joins a river of refugees fleeing the city, escaping into the woods where she stumbles onto Gaet, a handsome young member of the Resistance. Isabelle is instantly drawn to him in an encounter that seems soppy.

Once you’re past that section, the novel redeems itself and becomes riveting as each sister makes her mark, Isabelle joining the Resistance, and Viann rescuing Jewish children while billeting first a kind Nazi officer, and then a twisted, cruel one.

Highly addictive “The Nightingale” will captivate lovers of historical fiction and those seeking a well-told story that’s easy to follow. I’m thrilled I picked it up again.