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“Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist”

By Meredith Goldstein

c. 2018, Grand Central Publishing

$26, $34 Canada; 272 pages

You don’t know what to do next. Say yes, or say no. Pick one or the other, make up your mind, just do it – though merely reading those words makes you hyperventilate. Should you laugh or cry or run for the hills?  You can’t decide. As in the new memoir “Can’t Help Myself” by Meredith Goldstein, you can’t do this on your own.

Breaking up is sometimes like ripping off a bandage; other times, love takes on a life of its own. Boston Globe columnist Meredith Goldstein had first-hand knowledge of this and so, following an emotionally messy split with a newspaper ad rep, she approached her bosses with an idea: how about an online column of advice for the lovelorn?

Looking for something different for their website, they gave her their blessing and the column became a runaway hit. That was a surprise for Goldstein, though she’d “sort of been an advice columnist for decades, at least to … family and friends.”

Much of her advice-learning came from her divorced mother, a Julliard-trained classical pianist who’d had to give piano lessons to make ends (almost) meet while her daughters were growing up. When she wasn’t helping her mother’s love life, Goldstein’s talents were tested by her sister, who “preferred big experiences and excitement…” There were friends who needed help, younger colleagues benefitting from Goldstein’s words and, of course readers - and so, every day, Goldstein opened her email, read the days’ letters, picked a few, and dispensed advice in a format that allowed readers to weigh in with their thoughts and experiences.

She advised shy-guys who’d fallen in love from afar, and lovers who couldn’t commit. She denied a letter-writer a “snooping pass” and told another to consider his amour’s age. She counseled “work wives” while gaining a “work husband” of her own. Goldstein’s columns took on romance and how to find it; she dealt with jealousy, immaturity, May-December romances, responsibility, parenting, and illness. And when a crisis hit her own doorstep, the love-advice columnists got a little love from her readers, too …

Let’s just get this out there: “Can’t Help Myself” is cute. It’s like binge-watching Friends on TV, or like finding a pile of your “Babysitter’s Club” books from Eighth Grade. It’s like a grown-up version of a pajama party with your BFF. It’s cozy.

But it’s not fluffy.

Quite the contrary, author Meredith Goldstein is serious about love and her job and her readers and that comes out clearly in this memoir; she’s also seriously funny when she pulls her family and friends into her story. As for the crisis inside, it’s a rolling arch that cradles this book with love and exasperation – but mostly love.

You need to find out more yourself. Bring tissues. You’ve been warned.

This is a perfect book for anyone who’s ever not known what to do next. It’s great for mothers, daughters, sisters, and for those who’ve lost love and found it again. If that’s you, then reading “Can’t Help Myself” is the best advice.

“Tomorrow: A Novel”

By Damian Dibben

c. 2018, Hanover Square Press

$26.99, $33.50 Canada; 335 pages

You have a little shadow. All day long, wherever you go, your dog is right beside you. He goes from bedroom to kitchen, to the garage, to the TV; if you’re there, so is he. He follows you everywhere – as in the new novel, “Tomorrow” by Damian Dibben, he’d even follow you through the centuries.

His master told him to wait by the cathedral steps.

And so he did, for 225 years, since the day they were separated by a crowd inside that stone building. He even slept nearby, waiting, in case there was one molecule of smell from the man he loved – but there was nothing.

Once, they lived in a palace and life was an adventure. His master had been a chemyst who could cure anything and his potions were known throughout the land, but few noticed that he never aged. Indeed, because of a powder his master created and the crescent-shaped belly scar they shared, they’d seen many centuries together, good times and bad, love, pain, and death. He thought about those times as he waited on the cathedral steps, until the day he caught a scent that made him think his master was near. He wasn’t.

Instead, it was the man named Vilder, a colleague of his master’s who’d caused much anguish. He was never sure if Vilder was benign or cruel, threatening or cajoling; Vilder interested him, and frightened him, both. He’d seen Vilder tender with his lover, a soldier; and he’d seen Vilder in a rage. He’d smelled danger then.

He smelled it again now, and though he had friends in the city and he’d been told to wait, he had to follow their enemy. He had to see if Vilder might lead him to a reunion.

Vilder, as he knew, could be the last link to his master …

The very first thing you’ll notice, as you start “Tomorrow,” is how the dog-narrator’s voice sounds inside your head. It’s got strength and intelligence, it’s keenly emotional, and it’s there immediately.

From that surprising beginning, author Damian Dibben takes readers on a tour spanning more than two centuries in a dazzling story that’s rich with details. The language is perfect, the scenarios lend a whiff of magic, there’s chance to shed a tear or two, and the history is dead-on. It’s fantasy without being fantastical – and yet, that’s still not the main appeal of this book.

What will pull readers in and keep them there is the narrator himself, a dog whose name we don’t learn until the end of the tale. This is an animal you’ll wish were yours. You’ll think of your own pooch as you read this story of faithfulness and friendship, loss, hope and despair. You’ll understand its urgency, and you’ll turn pages like mad …

Alas, because of its dark fairy-tale tone, this book won’t appeal to everyone. Even so, if you loved Umberto Eco, James Owen, or tales of palace intrigue, war, and danger, you’ll love “Tomorrow,” without a shadow of a doubt.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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