Friday, March 09, 2018

The Italian Teacher: A Book Review

He has a way with words, author Tom Rachman, a lyrical quality that entices a reader to suspend disbelief and enter the world of Pinch Bavinsky, the solitary hero of THE ITALIAN TEACHER.

The protagonist is the son of a Jewish bundle of neuroses who hates her mother (a requisite character trait these days, it seems) and a narcissistic artist whose time comes and goes over the course of the novel. Religion does indeed figure in this novel, however, but it is Pinch who is the true believer, worshipping his ne'er-do-well father. It is a faith that forms the son and guides his choices, for good or ill.

Pinch grows up in the shadow of the famous man who is too busy bedding women to take much heed of his son, although they do form a rather tight bond, the origins not discovered until later. Such is the stuff that drives a narrative that is quite compelling, as the reader goes along for a rather sad ride through the life of Pinch, with all its misery and inability to form relationships.

His is the solitary life, his focus centered on getting his father's attention while trying to avoid his somewhat unstable mother's smothering. A young man full of enthusiasm for art ends up as a language teacher, his life's course plotted by a father whose motivations are unclear until you reach the end - but it's that kind of tension that keeps you turning the page.

The prose is so lovely that you'll despair of ever being able to write nearly as well, and the story at times so far-fetched that you almost can't believe the path it has taken, but it's a delight all the same. The conclusion is a tribute to true love and the tight bonds of friendship, the sort of ending that you'd hoped for as you discover more about Pinch, his father, and his mother.

This was one of those rare books that I stayed up well past bedtime to finish, a pleasure to read.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Enchantress Of Numbers: A Book Review

History has forgotten so many women, and author Jennifer Chiaverini brings them back to life. In her newest work of historical fiction she presents the life of Ada Byron King, daughter of the poet Byron, a woman now considered the mother of computer coding.

ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS is well researched, and the nuggets of information that pop up in the narrative are never intrusive. Ms. Chiaverini paints a subtle picture of life at the end of the Georgian Era when Ada, daughter of a peer, was being raised by a mother who wished to create a rational, non-imaginative child.

Readers might be a bit skeptical about the early chapters, where Ada relates her infancy as if she was recalling incidents, but read on and the clunky opening fades away as the heart of the story is revealed. Through a difficult and most un-ordinary childhood, a woman with a penchant for complex mathematics arises, and much of the middle section revolves around her efforts to pursue advanced studies while the world expects her to take her rightful place as wife and mother.

A woman's mind was considered a delicate vessel in those days, and too much study was thought to be physically debilitating. It is just one of many issues that Ada had to beat back with guile and clever turns of phrases to reach her goals.

Ada struggles, she perseveres, and in the end she trimphs, although you might have a feeling that her marriage was not so happy as the author depicts it. This is fiction, however, and Ada faces more than enough difficulties to drive the narrative to a positive conclusion. The opening chapters that cover her mother's miserable union with Lord Byron are more than enough dysfunction for one book.

You will most likely have an urge to study Byron's poetry after reading ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS, to see Ada through her father's eyes and gain a little insight into his view of his failed marriage and the mother of his only legitimate child. The novel focuses largely on Ada's mother's images, and her determination to keep Ada from every becoming like her father.

Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this one.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

If You Can't Trust A Pastor

Abingdon Press expects their authors will not tell a lie when asked if the content being submitted is all original.

When the author being queried is a man of the cloth, well, you'd have to take him at his word. He knows all about that whole 'false witness' business that appears so prominently in the Bible. And it wasn't just the minister's word, but the signed contract that included a clause about original content.

They don't want to deal with plagiarism at Abingdon Press.

So much for trusting a pastor.
Thou shalt not bear false witness, or something like that

Rev. Bill Shillady was, and may still be, pastor to a flock that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton. He tended to her spiritual needs while she was running for office, a time of great stress and many moments of doubt. It was the garden at Gethsemane, you'd imagine, what with the personal attacks on top of a determination to reach the top of the political heap. Who wouldn't welcome some wise words from God?

After the election, the reverend compiled all those wise words he had sent along to Mrs. Clinton over the course of her campaign, turning it into a book of daily devotions. He sold the work to Abingdon Press, which handed over the usual boilerplate contract that included that pesky clause about original material.

Books relating to current events have a very brief moment to shine, and Rev. Shillady pushed his work through to meet that glowing opportunity. He could have done with a few more weeks, to review a few more times what was his original material and what was being quoted from other sources who should have been credited, but were not.

As it turns out, there were quite a few passages that Rev. Shillady had not composed all by himself. In a work of non-fiction, that's not a bad thing, but it's up to the author to acknowledge the source of the non-original pieces.

The first instance was discovered and corrected, with the author of the snippet granting Abingdon Press the right to use his words.

One slip does not a pulping make, but it turns out that more than one deep thought and prayer was lifted from other sources.

Rev. Shillady told Abingdon Press that STRONG FOR A MOMENT LIKE THIS met their requirements, but the book did not. The press is on the hook for the cost of publishing, printing, and then pulping every copy. They pulled the book from shelves and there does not seem to be much interest in re-issuing a corrected version.

The shining moment has passed. Mrs. Clinton is about to go off on a book tour to promote her own version of events during the failed campaign, and there won't be any interest in the devotionals that guided her along the way once she starts pointing fingers of blame.

The publisher trusted the pastor and he let them down. In order to save money on editing, the publisher relied on the author to check and verify. An expensive lesson, to be sure, but isn't all publicity good publicity? Who ever heard of Abingdon Press before this, and how many potential book buyers will take a look at the website to see if there's anything else that might be of interest to buyers in search of religious themes?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Future She Left Behind: A Book Review

Authors are advised to "blow something up" in the first five pages of a novel, to grab a reader's attention. Marin Thomas does exactly that in THE FUTURE SHE LEFT BEHIND, blowing up protagonist Katelyn Chandler's comfortable life by introducing a divorce decree that ends twenty years of marriage.

Katelyn commences on a journey of personal discovery as a way to recover from the shock, with her mother-in-law along for the ride. Their relationship is stereotypical, but when you want light reading, it's not a flaw.

Back home in small town Texas, our heroine reconnects with her mother who's been largely ignored while Katelyn was doing the dutiful mammy thing and being what she thought was a good wife. She contends with some old feelings for the town bad boy who was once her darling, back before she set off for the big wide world to pursue her artistic talents.

There's the usual twining and twisting of personal interaction, romance blossoming all around, while Katelyn and Jackson dance around their past with eyes on a potential future. Sexual tension abounds, and let's not forget Katelyn's mother-in-law softening her hard edges as she develops an affection for the local widower.

Lots of touchy feelies to be had in this novel that moves along at a nice pace, though it does drag a bit through the middle. A large chunk of prose is taken up to show his difficulties in dealing with his alcoholism and recovery that could have been edited a bit for length.

All in all, THE FUTURE SHE LEFT BEHIND is perfect for a weekend read when you want to escape from the madness of the real world and go to a place where everyone is happy in the end. We need more of that than ever these days.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Address: A Book Review

Author Fiona Davis moves her attention from the Barbizon to the Dakota in THE ADDRESS, an intriguing tale that once again intertwines narratives from the past and present.

Her modern day (somewhat, as we're in the 1980s here) protagonist is a recovering alcoholic interior decorator who is distantly related to an architect involved in creating the Dakota in New York City. The reader's guide to the past is a British emigre who has come to America to manage the brand new apartment building that the owners hope will become THE address of the upper echelon of society.

Bailey Camden is seeking a fresh start by remodeling her rich cousin's flat, and finds a sympathetic ear in the building's superintendent who is also off the drink. They end up discovering some mysterious trunks stowed away in the depths of the Dakota, and that starts Bailey on a quest to find out how exactly she's related to Theo Camden the architect who was murdered by the Dakota's original lady manager.

Sara Smythe, the illegitimate daughter of nobility, finds a fresh start as the lady manager of the Dakota, but there's that handsome architect Theo Camden hovering around the fringes, shooting off sparks of sexual attraction. Except he's married with children, wouldn't you know. Well, a girl can't resist, can she, and before long she's up the stick.

Scandal doesn't begin to describe her predicament in the 1880's.

The story of Sara is revealed to the reader as Bailey uncovers bits and pieces of that narrative, the whole puzzle coming together with some well-crafted tension.

Then Ms. Davis creates an ending reminiscent of her earlier work, in which things happen that don't fit what's been set up because she wanted a particular ending. The cruelty of the antagonist comes out of the blue due to a general lack of clues sprinkled in earlier, even though she tries to lay them out at the end.

THE ADDRESS is an enjoyable read, in general, and worth the time for fans of historical fiction who enjoy the use of factual details to add depth to a novel.

Thanks again to Penguin Random House for the review copy used here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

STILL LIFE: A Book Review

Still LifeStill Life by Sean Gleason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sean Gleason demonstrates a rare ability to write fiction that reflects our ordinary, very real, lives. Reading STILL LIFE is like sitting in Louisa Patch's farmhouse, experiencing the highs and lows with her as she struggles to find success in the thoroughbred industry...and show her family that they wrong about her career choice.

Between caring for her special needs daughter and running a horse farm, the last thing she needs is another problem, but here comes her older sister with a new husband in tow. Louisa sees through him at once, and sets out to split the pair before her sister gets burned.

At the same time, she's working hard at building a relationship with the farm's owner, while an old flame is working twice as hard to build a relationship with her. She can't keep Cecil out of her life when she needs an ally to help her prove that she's right about the brother-in-law, who has managed to turn her family against her. The next thing she knows, she's in a racehorse syndicate with a mysterious backer who's hiding in plain sight.

The novel is deliciously complex, the narrative so compelling that you can't stop reading. Perfect for a weekend read when you need a few laughs and a few tears.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 21, 2017

Commercials As Educational Tools

You've seen the advert, most likely, and chuckled over the concept. What sort of robber would take a taxi away from the scene of the crime? So clueless, those criminals.

As it turns out, the premise behind Geico's getaway car ad has a ring of truth to it, and if a pair of burglars had taken the time to watch and learn, they might not now be sitting behind bars.

Anthony Wickliffe and his mate Darvell White thought they could find some serviceable pieces in an area of Chicago that is currently gentrifying. The West Town neighborhood is popular with the young millenials, who may not have much money but they are fond of electronics, large televisions, and the latest smartphones.

Also, they are at work all day earning money to pay for those luxuries, so no one is home, right? All the neighbors are away as well, block after block of recent graduates who had the sense to get professional degrees in things like accounting or finance.

So off they go to the streets where people have objects worth stealing. They break a few back doors, grab what they can, and tuck the goods in their little local hideaway for later retrieval. If you're going to steal small things, you have to steal in quantity, and that takes multiple entries. Even the thickest of criminals could see that multiple door smashings in a short period of time could cause alarm.

And then too, someone might have an actual alarm and you'd want to be light on your feet to escape before the police come. You can't run like the wind with a 60 inch flat screen on your back.

Once the goods have been got, however, a thief has to transport them home so the items can be put up for sale at the nearest flea market, or fencing operation, or maybe even Ebay. You wouldn't want to use your own car for such an operation because what if your vehicle is spotted on some surveillance camera? You never know who has cameras mounted, so it's best to travel in disguise.

What better disguise than a taxi?

The driver comes to you, wherever you are, and takes you to where you want to go. Taxis are everywhere, nondescript, and the cops could never connect you to the scene of the crime.

If only Mr. Wickliffe and Mr. White had paid closer attention to the Geico ad. Their clever business fell apart when the police were in the area investigating an earlier break-in. The authorities were watching a live shot on a security camera when they saw the gentlemen retrieving the stolen goods in the alley. The authorities watched them get into a cab and spirit the items away.

Colleagues of the viewing party easily apprehended the pair, in the cab, with the goods.

So it will be off to prison for the two, who should have paid closer attention to the Geico commercial and skipped the whole 'call a taxi' portion of their devious plan. Did they have no friends willing to loan them a car?