Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Sixth-Avery Hays

The Sixth-Avery Hays

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 353
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2013
Novel

Welcome to the gaslit, cobblestoned streets of Paris, 1910. Florbela Sarmentos, 21, knows what she wants: art, romance, and to free her father from the prison of Portugal's despotic King Manuel II. Born in Lisbon, educated in London and at a painting academy in Cherbourg, France, the cosmopolitan Florbela moves to Paris and takes up residence in the wildly bohemian enclave of La Ruche, there to pursue a creative life. Some of the yet-to-be-discovered artists living in her building are Diego Rivera, Amedeo Modigliani and Marc Chagall. By day she paints, and by night she attends parties with the residents of La Ruche, who introduce her to collectors and creative spirits in Paris's fabled Sixth Arrondissement. Along the way, Florbela attracts several hot-headed admirers, two of whom become so inflamed with jealousy that they become each other's deadly enemies

Ok, usually I do not have patience for books reveling in the Parisian bohemian scene mainly because it all always seems too idealized for words-careful constructions of a myth of an artistic lifestyle and a harkening to a golden age. However, Hays really recreates this (still mythical) world in lush, lovely detail. Perhaps it's that even as the protagonist meets all the major artists of the 1910s (Marc Chagall, Diego Rivera, etc), she is not a 'Mary Sue'-she is not magically also an amazing artist. (Though as a side gripe: how come in such books, people arrive in a new city and immediately know where to get their art supplies? I've been in Salonika for two months (and I've been here before) and I'm still looking for linoleum.) Perhaps, it's the small sub(?)-plot of the overthrow of King Manuel II that Florbela is involved in that tempers the idealist leanings of Paris. I don't know how Hays managed it but I enjoyed the recreation of a period where idealists could be communist and revolution seemed around the corner and the prose conveyed an enthralling and seductive optimism that suspended my usually cynical nature. I really enjoyed the larger than life characters traipsing through Florbela's studio.

Florbela is both a rational and warm character who is easy to like (and thus the legion of suitors is not strange seeming). Her stubborness to pursue the life she chooses is quite modern but she also shoulders her responsibilities (to her imprisoned father) in a timeless self-sacrifice as necessary. The Portuguese and Parisian plotlines dance each other becoming more or less important with physical proximity so that if Florbela's in Paris, it's Paris you're in and vice versa (though Portugal is not as well realized). The thriller aspect is light and subtle until the climax of the novel which makes it seem even more thriller-like by contrast. A pleasurable read.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Disappearance of Lizzy Ross-Jessica Schein

The Disappearance of Lizzy Ross-Jessica Schein

the facts
satisfaction: side/down
pages: 120
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2013
Novella (Series)

Mimi Lerner and Lizzy Ross have been best friends since high school began and now, as seniors, they've made big plans together—from a trip to the Bahamas only months away to going to college the following year and ruling it like they do high school. But when Lizzy goes MIA after a party Mimi throws at a posh Manhattan hotel, everything is suddenly up in the air and Mimi must face facts: Lizzy Ross may not be the girl she knew, and the life she thought she'd have is going in a very different direction. 

What an incredibly spoiled protagonist! It was the point, I know, but I really didn't care for it. I mean, I finished the novella (grateful for its short length) and was hit with the question of “what was the point of that?”. There's no resolution and I now know it's the beginning of a trilogy which makes it all a bit more hard to understand. Why start the trilogy with such an unrelateable character that made the book seem a bit like the cry of The Rich Have Problems Too! That is a message, I am wholly uninterested in hearing as it has no originality and is incredibly, unreflectively privileged in a way guaranteed to make those without such privilege see red. This book was essentially page after page of Mimi moaning about her next fix or about her twisted relationship. I gave it credit for really bringing to life a character I had such strong feelings of hate for but in the end, I have no idea what the purpose of this was.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Idea of Perfection-Kate Grenville

The Idea of Perfection-Kate Grenville

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 401
gender: F
nationality: Australia
year: 1999
Novel 

Harley Savage is a plain woman, a part-time museum curator and quilting expert with three failed marriages and a heart condition. Douglas Cheeseman is a shy, gawky engineer with jug-handle ears, one marriage gone sour, and a crippling lack of physical courage. They meet in the little Australian town of Karakarook, where Harley has arrived to help the town build a heritage museum and Douglas to demolish the quaint old Bent Bridge. From the beginning they are on a collision course until the unexpected sets them both free.

I enjoyed this novel-the coming together of two self-conscious awkward people was sometimes a bit too realistic but handled very well. I really enjoyed the way the contrasts worked-two people damaged deeply by an upbringing coming together contrasted with a perfectionist, somewhat self centred woman destroying herself- to make the overall messsage clear: Perfection is in the imperfections. I also really enjoyed the use of concrete as a metaphor to demonstrate the importance of both strength and flexibility-something I'd not read before. The book feels a bit stark-the understated prose is as unflinching on the sun blasting down on its setting. It made the personal, the not-usually voiced self-consciousness of the unsure truly ring out and stand out. You're thrown into this unforgiving landscape of sun, broad expanses of panorama, and the insecure minds which have time to dwell in the lifestyle of a small, isolated town.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

That Touch of Ink-Diane Vallere

That Touch of Ink-Diane Vallere

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 281
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2013
Novel (series)

When interior decorator Madison Night receives a five thousand dollar bill in the mail, she knows it's a message from her past. But when she discovers a corpse while trying to learn of the bill's value, Madison suspects her former lover wants more than a reconciliation. His actions belie his intentions, and even a gallon of daisy yellow paint can't hide the writing on the wall. Madison follows a circuit of rare dollars and common sense and discovers a counterfeit operation, a jealous lover, and the true value of her independence.

I feel like I must first start with a disclaimer statement. If you think people who live a vintage lifestyle, dealing in antiques and dressing according to the ideals of a 'golden age', are annoying, you will not tolerate this book. I personally do not like the entire vintage lifestyle and certainly hate 1960s-1970s style but I have a tolerance for those who do as long as they're analytical about the social constraints as well which thankfully Vallere's main character is.

I read around the sometimes too detailed vintage lifestyle indicators and found I really enjoyed the underlying story. It was a complicated mystery that got resolved in a messy way so that felt right. The heroine does not do things that seem too stupid nor is she superhumanly strong which is kind of a rare character to find. She is merely human and as such a very well written character. The plot races a bit but doesn't hesitate to calm down a bit without lagging. The love interests (all a thousand of them, it sometimes seemed) are a bit two dimensional but the mystery/thriller aspects are so well handled I forgave that. Overall, a pleasing mystery to read.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Red Chrysanthemum-Henry F. Mazel

Red Chrysanthemum-Henry F. Mazel

the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 179
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2013
Novella

Alexander Rada doesn’t want to be called Alexander, or Alex for that matter -- Rada will do just fine. It’s the summer of 1945, and army Lieutenant Rada has just arrived in Tokyo to witness the official surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces on the deck of the battleship Missouri. Rada has a history. He was a cop in L.A. before the war. A disgraced cop. Along the way, he learned to speak Japanese, and now he’s working at GHQ as a translator for General MacArthur. To almost everyone’s surprise, Rada is transferred to the military police to stop an assassination of a top communist. And the thing is, Rada just hates communists. He finds himself attached to a Japanese partner working for the Occupation forces -- and even more attached to a unique, beautiful Japanese woman. Love is in the air, and Rada is bound to mess it up.

Let's be frank, when I started this I wasn't sure I would be reading it through to the end because there was just something about the style of the writing that failed to grab me but I looked at the slimness and pushed through. The story itself just scooped me up and transported me away from my reader's skepticism, suspended my belief, and I ended up speeding right along. I mean, Rada is just not very likeable for me and so I didn't care about him. And the details seemed a bit light on the ground. While Mazel describes the aftermath of the war on Tokyo, he does so through the entirely self-centered viewpoint of Rada who doesn't seem to care about the city. Rada instead engages into exoticism-seeing the Japanese women as objects; an attitude I tire of in less than a minute and thus I could not enjoy the novel as much. Perhaps Mazel wrote it too well.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pray for us Sinners-Peter S. Fischer

Pray for Us Sinners-Peter S. Fischer

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 248
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2013 
Novel (series)

Joe finds himself in Quebec but it's no vacation. Alfred Hitchcock is shooting a suspenseful thriller called "I Confess" and Montgomery Clift is playing a priest accused of murder. A marriage made in heaven? Hardly. They have been at loggerheads since Day One and to make matters worse their feud is spilling out into the newspapers. When vivacious Jeanne D'Arcy, the director of the Quebec Film Commission volunteers to help calm the troubled waters, Joe thinks his troubles are over but that was before Jean got into a violent spat with a former lover and suddenly found herself under arrest on a charge of first degree murder. Guilty or not guilty? Half the clues say she did it, the other half say she is being brilliantly framed.

From the title I really expected a different type of book but I was pleased to note that it is a Hitchcock reference that was in alignment with the film noir style of the book. It is like a blast from the past of a book that felt like a homage to the mystery sleuths of the film industry. That is set within the film industry with the sort of details an insider knows really adds another level to the development of atmosphere. The mystery itself is kind of fun (you know, clue like) with an emphasis on story telling. The entire book is well wrought with a pleasant pace and a resolution straight from the old school. Excellent for fans of the classics.
And after all, everyone is fascinated with Hollywood's auteur Hitchcock right?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dream of Time-Nancy J. Price

Dream of Time-Nancy J. Price

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 472
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2013
Novel

"Each night, when Robin drifts off to sleep, she finds herself dreaming about the life of a woman in the Victorian age. She soon realizes it's not a dream at all, but she is truly slipping into San Francisco's past. While living two lives -- one as a mom in the modern day, the other as a proper young lady at the turn of the century -- she discovers how she's being sent back to a bygone era is only the first mystery. A much more important question is why she's there"

I'm of two minds about this novel.
I loved the unusual premise-living two lives through time travel while asleep. I was excited by the possibilities of it all. Adding a mystery pumped up the complication of the plot and kept me intrigued by all the twists and turns. The Victorian era was well researched and Price inserts some lesser known details and seems to have seriously considered the household differences between our society and the Victorians.
However, the main character seemed almost too young to have even thought about having two kids. Maybe it's my own youth but she makes somewhat baffling decisions and seems a bit flighty. Then there was an element of wish fulfillment-she too easily shrugged off the mores of Victorian society and replaced them with a thoroughly modern sensibility and was still taken seriously-she was definitely having her cake and eating it too. The writing style was a bit too unpolished with all these pop culture references that ironically make me feel like the book will not age well. Finally, there's the love interest who is too modern for a man who grew up in 1900-I mean, it was almost too easy.
Yet, despite all my objections I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Obstacles to Young Love-David Nobbs

Obstacles to Young Love-David Nobbs

the facts
satisfaction: side/down
pages: 422
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2010
Novel

From one of the greatest comedic writers of a generation comes a story of love, faith and taxidermy. 'Three mighty obstacles threaten the burgeoning love of childhood sweethearts Timothy Pickering and Naomi Walls. They are Steven Venables, a dead curlew and God.'

Oh Nobbs, I've tried, I've tried to like you as a writer-so many people tell me how much they enjoy your books but I can't. Where to start? The predictable, the painfully predictable, plot? The dull, almost trite writing style? The more I think about it, the more I want to change this book's rating to just down. I spent most of the book being like OH! GET ON WITH IT! Because really? More than 10 'coincidences', oh wow, it was meant to be! Well, obviously.
Ergh, I have better books on my to-read list...though I also have worse so my conclusion is just ambivalence.