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?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Spoonbenders: A Book Review

The premise is brilliant. The execution, however, is not.

This could have been a contender, if only an editor had taken a red pencil to the rambling segments that did nothing to advance the narrative. So much of the early parts had me falling asleep, only to find that things picked up considerably around page 130. Alas, the narrative wound its way back through the treacle and I have given up.

There is much to like about the story, with a tale of grifters and psychically gifted, mixed in with loan sharks and mob bosses and CIA operatives. Wit and humour can be found, but it's just too much work to find the jewels and I lack the time, and patience, to continue.

A little less dwelling on the angst of hopelessness felt by those at the bottom of the economic rung would have helped. Not all the characters in this novel are interesting, and there's no need to give them all equal time. The excessive amount of back story had me skimming in search of substance, and as I turned the pages I grew more disappointed because I wanted to like the story. The prose is well written. It's just that there's far too much of it.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to delve into a little fantasy. This one just isn't for me, so.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Bookshop At Water's End: A Book Review

Just as each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, so too are writers verbose in their own way. So many words in THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END. So much description, so much inner dialogue and lengthy ponderings.

For some readers, this is the sort of thing they can get lost in, while the rest of us cut through the verbosity with a machete. The story at the heart of this novel centers on the relationship between two women who became BFFs over the course of three summers, one BFF's brother, and the other's daughter. They are all exploring life issues and going through a period of personal growth, hence the need for a lot of words. Yes, there is a well-developed tale in THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END. The author just takes her time in telling it.

While this is not my preferred style, those who are fans of "lyrical prose" will find a narrative that keeps them engaged throughout. Bonny returns to a childhood summer home after a crisis, and calls in BFF Lainey to join her in a farewell to the house that Bonny plans to sell. Ah sure but the old ghosts of a long-ago summer return and the ladies are dealing with harsh memories of the night Lainey's mother went missing after a drunken spree.

Then there's daughter Piper, teen in search of herself, and Lainey's older brother who has long loved Bonny from afar.

They come together, they hash out their problems, the mystery of the mother's disappearance is revealed, and the strings are all neatly tied together in the conclusion.

For those who like a lot of prose in their summer reads, when the story is thin so the words are used to plump things up, this latest offering from Patti Callahan Henry will be welcome. But if you want your author to come to the point, you'd best find a different writer.

Review copy provided by Penguin Random House, with thanks as always.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Confusion Of Languages: A Book Review

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

That's the tag line that best fits this particular narrative.

Cassie Hugo is as structured as could be, a control freak whose military husband is deployed to Jordan. So aware of the dangers of radical Islam, she sees a Bin Laden in every Arabic face and threats around every corner.

She's annoying and unlikeable and if author Siobhan Fallon says it once she says it more than enough times. Cassie, being infertile, has an attitude about babies. I got it early on. No need to repeat.

Due to circumstances where you can't pick your friends because there's but a small pool of American embassy workers on hand, she tries to cozy up to Margaret Hugo.

Margaret is a stereotypical California girl, head full of clouds. You can get away with using stereotypes when you've won a few writing awards. But all those awards don't make for a likeable character either.

Cassie keeps her distance while Margaret rushes head-long into making nice with the natives. Being empty-headed, she's blissfully unaware of cultural differences and acts the role of ugly American, doing things her way in the assumption that she can bring people together through kindness. Kindness American style, which does not translate into Jordanian life. Hence, the confusion of languages.

The novel is told in first person by both Cassie and Margaret, so be on your toes as you read. Margaret's side of the story is revealed through her secret diary that Cassie discovers after Margaret goes missing, leaving her toddler in Cassie's care. Oddly enough, Margaret's journal is written just like a novel, with dialogue and everything.

As for Cassie, her narrative covers the time period from when Margaret dumps said toddler and she finds out what happened to Margaret, the chapters moving slowly through time as backstory is revealed and Cassie discovers some insight into herself. To use the military term, Margaret's good intentions result in a massive clusterfuck of trouble that descends on those she tried to help. The actions she takes drive the narrative and work to build the tension, so that you can almost forget how much you dislike all the characters and read on to see how the dust settles.

The story builds to a strong finish, with plenty of strong emotional elements. Some will love THE CONFUSION OF LANGUAGES and some will not get far once Cassie starts whinging about sloppy babies. Self-edit, skim, and get yourself to the meat of the story.

Review copy provided by Penguin Random House, thanks a million.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Before We Were Yours: A Book Review

Like THE ORPHAN TRAIN, author Lisa Wingate builds a novel from the bones of history and puts together a very compelling book.

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS presents an adoption scandal that blew up in the 1950's and juxtaposes it with a modern young lady under pressure to marry well, in keeping with her social position. Avery would much rather find out why the strange old lady at the nursing home was so obsessed with a bracelet that Avery was given by her grandmother than make wedding plans with her fiance.

Ms. Wingate creates a mystery for Avery, who sets out to uncover a family secret that might have remained hidden due to her grandmother's senility. Interwoven within this narrative is the tale told by Rill Foss, who is early shown to be the same old woman Avery knows as May.

Readers are given enough insight early on to understand much of the connection between May and Avery's grandmother, and the pleasure in reading the novel comes from following along as Avery discovers those same facts.

There is a great deal of heartstring tugging as Rill struggles to survive the ordeal of being kidnapped by the Tennessee Children's Home baby snatchers. Like the Catholic Church running the mother and baby homes in Ireland, there was a booming market for adoptable children during the 1930's through the 1950's. The same theme runs through BEFORE WE WERE YOURS, as Rill struggles to keep her siblings with her, only to watch them torn away in adoption.

We have some sexual tension, of course, between Avery and the grandson of the man who made it his life's work to find those lost siblings. Additional friction exists between the young lady and her mother, a dispute over proper place and future plans in a powerful, wealthy, politically prominent family. The fact that Avery's father is a Senator lends an added degree of tension because the possibility of scandal is the sort of thing that would put a quick halt to probing. Will there be such scandal, will it bring down the Senator, etc. etc., lends a little interest to Avery's less compelling narrative.

The story is well told and thoroughly enjoyable, right down to the happy ending that isn't overly saccharine.Things don't all work out in the end, like in real life.

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