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Showing posts from May, 2008

Review: Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy Sayers

When a young advertising copywriter tumbles down a steep flight of stairs, the coroner deems his death an unfortunate accident. Mr. Pym, of Pym’s Publicity, suspects otherwise, and calls in Lord Peter Wimsey to investigate the case undercover as his badly-behaved “cousin,” Mr. Death Bredon. It turns out that the death of the copywriter is only a small part of the mystery, as Wimsey finds himself embroiled in the complicated machinations of a cocaine smuggling ring. What does Pym’s Publicity have to do with it all?

Dorothy Sayers worked as a copywriter at an advertising agency from 1921-1933, helped create the Guinness ads that are sometime seen today, and is credited with inventing the slogan, “it pays to advertise.” So Sayers knew her stuff, and it shows (she even goes into detail about what copy is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of legal repercussions).

There are quite a few characters to keep track of, and it’s nearly impossible for the reader to figure out who’s behind it all.…

Review: 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road is a delightful collection of letters chronicling the 20-plus years’ correspondence between screenwriter Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, bookseller of Marks & Co. It begins with a request in which Helene inquires after a series of books she wants to buy, saying that Barnes & Nobles’s sells “marked up, grimy schoolboy” copies of the books she wants (my, how things have changed!), and continues through a friendship between Hanff and Doel in which the two never meet. As their lives grow and change, Hanff and Doel’s friendship remains the one constant.

It’s a special friendship, and Hanff is sharp-tongued and witty, making her a delightful narrator. I have a feeling that not all of the letters are preserved here in their entirety, but they’re reprinted word-for-word, including Hanff’s idiosyncratic punctuation—no doubt due to the fact that she typewrote all of her letters, but nonetheless, the letters show Hanff’s personality and her rather abrupt way of corresp…

The Strand 80

In 2007, as part of its 80th birthday celebration, the Strand Bookstore at the corner of 12th and Broadway in New York City (famous for its slogan “18 Miles of Books”) decided to poll its customers for their 80 favorite books. There are some surprising books on this list, which is made up almost exclusively of fiction. There are many I've read, and a few I'd like to try. Here’s the list they came up with (the books I’ve read are bolded):

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
The Fellowship of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by JK Rowling
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
1984, by George Orwell
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
The Brothers Karamazov…

Dreadful Book Covers

On June 24, prolific author Joyce Carol Oates has a new book coming out, and I must say that the cover is dreadful! The title is My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike (dreadful in and of itself), and, as in her 2001 novel Blonde (about the life of Marilyn Monroe), Oates tries to take on a controversial subject: the death of Jon Benet Ramsey (only she gives the character a new name). I’m honestly surprised by this cover—considering some of the great covers Oates’s books have had in the past, I would have expected something better. But Oates’s name is what sells her books. Here, the little boy on the left looks downright creepy, and his back leg is at a weird angle. Plus, the cut-out “inset” doesn’t really work for me. What say you?

Ouch!

Lauren Weisberger’s third novel, Chasing Harry Winston, has been on my TBR list for a while now; I put it on hold from the library several months ago. It’s a novel about three friends who get together and make a pact to change their lives dramatically, all within the space of a year.

Well, the book was released yesterday and already it’s garnered some bad reviews.

From Entertainment Weekly: “There's something to disappoint everyone in Lauren Weisberger's flashy new novel, Chasing Harry Winston. Those who prefer to dismiss the author as a backstabbing ditz without a shred of talent will be sorry to hear her third book isn't entirely unamusing, with some saucy lines and one irresistible character. But anyone looking forward to a dishy beach read à la The Devil Wears Prada will be even sorrier to hear that the fluffy fun bits are lost in a blobby mess of a narrative… [it’s a] a gimmicky setup, but it gives Weisberger a structure — one that she promptly, foolishly ignores. The s…

Film Adaptations: Vanity Fair

Over the weekend, I watched Vanity Fair, the 2004 film adaptation of Thackeray’s novel. I read the novel about six years ago, when I was fresh out of high school, and I was curious to see how the movie stacked up. It's cases like these that the say is true that the book is always better than the movie--especially when the book in question is a classic. Of course, you can't always expect the movie to quite stack up to the book, but I must say that I was disappointed by this adaptation.

Reese Witherspoon plays Becky Sharpe, the orphan girl who aspires to rise higher than her station in life. She then spends time with her friend Amelia’s Sedley’s family, along with Amelia’s fiancée, the arrogant George Osbourne (played by a beautiful but miscast Jonathan Rhys Myers). Later, Becky goes to be the governess for the Crawleys, where she meets Rawdon and runs away with him. Becky’s tale gets overshadowed in the second half of both the novel and the movie as Napoleon threatens to invade.

Review: Silent in the Sanctuary, by Deanna Raybourn

In Silent in the Sanctuary, Deanna Raybourn continues where Silent in the Graveleft off. Lady Julia Grey has just spent six months in Italy with her two brothers, Plum and Lysander, Lysander’s wife Violente, and a friend named Alessandro Fornacci. The March children are summoned home by their father to the family’s ancestral estate Bellmont Abbey, a converted monastery. Once she arrives home, Lady Julia finds, to her surprise, that Nicholas Brisbane is one of the Christmas guests—along with his new fiancée, Mrs. Charlotte King.

Very soon, however, Lady Julia finds herself engrossed in the middle of a murder mystery, as a local curate turns up dead. Complicating the mystery is the fact that Julia’s cousin is found standing over the still-warm corpse, holding a candlestick. Then Julia’s family pearls go missing, and she finds that she may have more than one mystery on her hands. And where on earth has Julia’s great aunt Dorcas gone? Soon, everyone is snowbound in the abbey, with both a m…

Review: The Art of French Kissing, by Kristin Harmel

After being dumped by her fiancé and losing her job as publicist at Boy Bandz Records, Emma Sullivan has nowhere to turn. Out of the blue, her friend Poppy calls from Paris with the opportunity of a lifetime: to come to France and become the publicist for famed rockstar Guillaume Riche. It turns out that Guillaume has a penchant for getting into trouble—including hanging upside down from a rope thirteen stories up in the air. Adding to Emma’s trouble is reporter Gabe, who she finds herself attracted to. As an antidote to Emma’s dating woes, Poppy suggests going out and dating, not seriously, French men. Hence the title!

At first, the story seems formulaic, but it really picks up when Emma gets to Paris. Harmel really knows Paris well, and it shows in this novel (so much so, that there’s a guide to Emma’s Paris in the back of the book). It’s a light, frothy tale, one that hardly seems realistic at times—but we don’t go to chick lit for reality. Some of the characters seem wooden, and Gu…

Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson

Miss Pettigrew is a penniless governess out of work, when her employment agency sends her to fill a post as governess at the home of Miss Delysia LaFosse. But when she arrives, everything is turned on its head as Miss Pettigrew finds herself living in glamour for the first time in her life. Along the way, she helps out a few new-found friends, attends several glamorous parties, and finds herself being “not quite herself.”

The description of the book on Amazon is that this is a kind of modern day (1930s) Cinderella tale—which it certainly is. It’s a very charming, witty, and eccentric book, one that I enjoyed immensely. There are also a series of illustrations inside, which add to the magic of this very special little book.

Also reviewed by: Random Field Notes, Reading Matters, Bell Literary Reflections, The Boston Bibliophile, A Garden Carried in the Pocket, Shelf Love

This is Persephone #21 (endpaper below)

In which I reveal my TBR pile

Here’s a pile of books in my TBR list (of course the list itself is much longer!). From the top down:

1) Unnatural Death, by Dorothy Sayers. A mystery in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.
2) Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear. A mystery set in 1920s London.
3) Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey. Historical fiction set in 19th century London.
4) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte. Classic work of Victorian fiction, by the least-well-known Bronte sister.
5) Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winnifred Watson. 1930s novel about a penniless governess who “lives for a day.”
6) The Book of Air and Shadows, by Michael Gruber. Mystery.
7) Evelina, by Fanny Burney. Another classic.
8) East Lynne, by Ellen Wood. Sensationalist Victorian novel.
9) 740 Park, by Michael Gross. Nonfiction about “the world’s richest apartment building.”
10) No Fond Return of Love, by Barbara Pym. Pym’s works are always a treat.
11) Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy Sayers. Another Lord Peter Wimsey.
12) Please Excuse My D…

Review: Belinda, by Maria Edgeworth

I picked up Belinda when I heard that it was similar to Jane Austen. While there are parallels to Austen’s work, Edgeworth differs in that she was slightly more worldly than Austen was.

In Belinda, we follow the story of a young woman of uncommon good sense, who, at the behest of her aunt, goes to stay with Lady Delacour in London. While there, Belinda meets Lady Delacour’s protégé Clarence Hervey, with whom, of course, she falls in love. Mr. Hervey, however, may or may not be attached to another young lady. Lady Delacour has a secret, which she keeps from everyone except her overbearing servant Marriott and Belinda. The book touches on colonialism when Mr. Vincent, a man with a deep secret, enters the picture and threatens to steal Belinda’s heart. Along the way, Belinda learns by the example of her friends how to and how not to behave.

The novel is an 18th-century “will they or won’t they?” and the plot unfolds neatly, albeit dramatically. For a novel (or, as Edgeworth would have call…

Dreadful book covers

I was browsing in my local used bookstore this afternoon when I came across this version of East Lynne, by Ellen Wood, published by Rutgers University Press in 1988. East Lynne was originally published in 1861 and was considered "trash"--albeit popular trash--when it came out. Voila, the trashy cover! (If you can't enlarge the image, at the bottom, the caption is, "Look at me! I am your mother!" and the text in the circle at the top by the title reads, "The Great Emotional Drama").

Review: Blind Submission, by Debra Ginsberg

Angel Robinson is a bookstore employee when she decides to take a job working as the assistant to famed literary agent Lucy Fiamma in San Francisco. Lucy is your typical "boss from hell," and the character seemed a little too over the top at times. But Ginsberg depicts the inner workings of a literary agency to perfection, highlighting the ins and outs of this fast-paced part of publishing.
Angel latches on to a new, never-before-heard-of author, Damiano Vero, and Italian wo writes about recovering from addiction. Pretty soon, she begins receiving, by e-mail, a novel called Blind Submission, by "GA Novelist." The events that take place in the book are eerily similar to the things that occur in Angel's life. The author can only be someone who knows her intimately, so who is it? Damiano? Angel's ex boyfriend Malcom, a struggling, unpublished author? Or is it Anna, Angel's disgruntled co-worker? The answer is pretty obvious to the reader about halfway thro…

Review: Capitol Reflections, by Jonathan Javitt

Marci Newman is a healthy woman and high-powered attorney, so when she dies of a seizure on the floor of a courtroom, her best friend, Gwen Maulder of the FDA, suspects foul play. But Gwen, and her husband, as well as many others, find themselves in way over their heads when they uncover a sinister plot involving coffee, a Senator, and a major worldwide corporation.

In all, I didn't like Capitol Reflections. While the action was fast-paced and had me frantically turning pages (I admit I'm a bit of a sucker for action-adventure-mystery commercial fiction), I thought that a lot of the book was cliché, in a way. The characters are all stereotypes for the genre and don't have much three-dimensional-ness to them. The bad guys are all a part of a secret group called Tabula Rasa (Clean Slate in Latin--how predictable) a la the Da Vinci Code, and it doesn't take much guesswork to figure out straight from the beginning who Ops One is.

The writing is choppy and the plot dives off …

Review: Bitter Sweets, by Roopa Farooki

Bitter Sweets is the story of three generations of a Pakistani family. Beginning with Ricky-Rashid and his marriage to the duplicitous Henna, the story then jumps to their daughter Shona, who elopes to England. She eventually has two sons, Omar and Sharif. All the major characters engage in lies, lies, and more lies: cheating, adultery, plagiarism, etc. It gets to the point that the characters can't tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Everything comes to a climax when Ricky-Rashid has a heart attack, and the characters are forced to face their deceptions head-on.

The book is excellently written, with an eye for minute detail. Roopa Farooki's writing style reminds me a lot of Zadie Smith, especially with regards to the plot. It was maybe for this reason that I really liked this novel. I really look forward to reading more of Farooki's writing in the future.

Also reviewed by: Worducopia, Medieval Bookworm, Never Without a Book

Review: On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

In Zadie Smith's third book, On Beauty, she returns to the woderful storytelling that she showed in White Teeth. This time she brings the story to America, to the fictional Wellington College, in Massachussetts.
Howard Belsey is an Art History professor there, specializing in 17th century art. He is an Englishman, married to a woman from the Carribbean, Kiki. Their marriage is based upon that in E.M. Forster's Howard's End (a book that I strongly suggest reading, or re-reading, after or before you have read this one). However, instead of a mixed-class marriage, theirs is a mixed-race marriage. Kiki and Howard have three children: Jerome, who remains firmly fixed in the white world of their father; Levy, who maintains a black identity; and Zora, a brilliant student at Wellington, who is stuck in the middle between black and white. How their try to reconcile the difference is at the heart of this wonderful novel.
Their peace is shattered when Monty Kipps comes for a short st…

Review: The City of Falling Angels, by John Berendt

"Anyone who loves Venice, is a true Venetian... even a tourist, but only if the tourist stays long enough to appreciate the city."
So says Mario Stefani, one of the myriad of characters that populate John Berendt's latest book. If he is correct, then, John Berendt must be a true Venetian. Berednt spent years in "La Serenissima," investigating the occurence of the fire that burned the Fenice theatre on January 29, 1996. His investigation takes him to a variety of places, exploring Venetian culture and history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The book meanders; often one wonders, "what does Henry James have to do with the burning of the Fenice? But the characters are intriguing. John Berendt has a gift for observing and describing people, and he does this to perfection in The City of Falling Angels. There are the two ex-presidents of the Save Venice Foundation, dedicated to the saving of Venice as well as a petty quarrel over the running of the foun…

Review: The Ivy Chronicles, by Karen Quinn

Other readers have compared this book to Admissions, another tale of what parents will do to get their kids into the best private schools in Manhattan. However, I thought The Ivy Chronicles was funnier and more memorable.
The story follows Ivy Ames though a grueling year, as she loses first her job and then her husband. As a result, she is forced to give up her old apartment, her children's private school, and doggie day care. While the scenario is a bit contrived in the beginning, Ivy's decision to help upscale New Yorkers get through the admissions process of New York City day schools is interesting and funny. Like anyone else, Ivy is only human, worrying about her weight and whether or not the author downstairs likes her.
Ivy takes on about seven clients, including a mob boss; a Jewish/Gentile couple whose father won't allow his grandson to go to a Jewish school and tries to bribe Ivy at the tune of $ 1 million; a woman who tries to bribe the members of the Board of Trus…

Review: World Without End, by Ken Follett

World Without End is the story of several families in fourteenth century Kingsbridge, and a continuation of Pillars of the Earth. Pillars was about how the cathedral came to be; World Without End details the crumbling of medieval society as the town of Kingsbridge and its citizens witness the plague and the Hundred Years' War. Most of the characters are descended from Tom Builder's daughter, Martha.
Central to the plot are Caris, a young woman who enters the nunnery after an accusation of witchcraft; Merthin, who builds Kingsbridge's new bridge; his brother Ralph, who becomes a knight and has somewhat of a cruel streak; Godwin, the ambitious prior of Kingsbridge, who will let nothing stand in his way; Wulfric, a serf; and Gwenda, his wife.
The book has its good and bad points. Among the good: Ken Follett has a flair for detail, and he describes things with absolute precision. He's especially good with battle scenes, as in the scene where he describes the Battle of Crecy…
Alright, I've done it! I've created an inventory of my reviews here. If you've read and reviewed any of the books listed, feel free to leave a comment listing the link to your review.

Review: Katherine, by Anya Seton

This review was orginally written in 2004.

This book is more than just a good romance. It is an all-time classic. I am a younger reader, and so I don't have fond memories of the first time this book came out; but I'm glad that they brought Katherine back into print. It is one of those books that all lovers of historical fiction should read, not simply for the history, but because this is an elegantly crafted novel; unarguably one of the very best I've read in a long time. This novel is a great introduction to the works of Anya Seton.

The story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt is set against a backdrop of chivalry and heroic adventure during the 14th century. I thoroughly loved this novel; there are parts of it that still stay with me two months after reading it. Whenever I read historical fiction, I always look to see whether the author has done her research- Anya Seton most definitely did hers.

I decided it doesn't matter whether or not you love the heroes of this…

Review: The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of Mary Boleyn, sister to the infamous Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. Mary becomes caught up in a series of political intrigues, as her family plots to become more powerful, especially against the Seymour family. Mary gives birth to Henry's child; in the meantime, Anne swoops in to take her place as Henry's mistress.

Serving as backdrop is Henry VIII's court in the 16th century, where Henry and Katherine of Aragon's marriage is coming to an end. Tired of Katherine for not being able to produce a male heir, Henry breaks away from the Catholic Church in England and starts his own, so that he may divorce his wife. Philippa Gregory describes all of this in startling detail, as we watch Anne and Mary Boleyn vie for the King's affection. Power and status is what drives everybody involved. Its a fascinating look into life at court under the reign of Henry VIII.

We get to see what Anne Boleyn was really like. Of course, we'v…

Review: Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

A witty, brilliant piece of social commentary about America in the 20th century, Middlesex is the story of a Greco-American family. It is a series of vignettes about a hermaphrodite and his inbred family. Born as a girl named Callie in 1959, Cal Stephanides discusses with candor and insightfulness the story of his family. Middlesex is filled with deux ex machinae, those little twists and turns of fate which allow everything to "fall into place" as they were meant to.

I have no idea why I didn't pick up this novel earlier. But now I'm glad I did. While the subject seems, at first to be exceedingly strange, there is a lot of truth to what Eugenides puts out on the table for his readers. Cal explores the history of his family, beginning with his grandparents in a small town on a small island in Greece, who immigrate to the United States in 1922. Cal follows his grandparents as they find a new home and a new life in the strange city of Detroit, home to the Ford Motorcar C…

Review: The Master, by Colm Toibin

An intimate portrait of Henry James's life from 1895-99, The Master is the story of a great American author. Colm Toibin takes his reader deep into the psyche of this extremely complicated man, as we witness first the bomb of a play on the London stage, then move to a dinner party in Ireland to which he is invated, and the buying of his dream house in Rye.

Although the book is divided into eleven chapters, each with its own "time" and place, the action really isn't limited to a particular place. The narrative goes back in time to James's childhood, exploring the relationships he had with his siblings, especially his invalid sister Alice. The reader gets a look at Henry James's relationships with other authors, and the effect other writers had on him. We get a look into the inspiration behind Henry James's own works.

The subject of the book is infinitely fascinating; this book looks into the private life of a man who chose not to enter the Union army during …

Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susannah Clarke

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is an eccentric book. It takes a lot of time and patience; but in the end it is worth all the effort. This book is rather an odd one to classify- its like nothing else I've ever read. It puts me in mind of a combination of Edmund Spenser's The Fairie Queene and Dickens's Pickwick Papers. I would argue that this book is nothing like Harry Potter- the magic in the Harry Potter series in darker and more sinister, though the magic performed in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell turns out not to be all that it appears. Don't be intimidated by the length of the book- nearly 800 pages- this is a good, satidfying read which will have you hooked. The action centers around two magicians: Mr. Norrell and Mr. Strange, the former of which is determined to get rid of all the magicians in England aside from himself- and successfully wipes out all of the magicians of the city of York. He them goes to London, where he tries to bring the spirit of magic ba…

Review: The Egyptologist, by Arthur Phillips

With just the right kind of ironic humor, Arthur Phillps tries to capture the life of a fictional Egyptologist, Ralph M. Trlipush, in the latter part of the year 1922.

An eccentric old man named Barnabas Davies dies, with the intent to find, and compensate, illegitimate children he has scattered all over the world. The investigation leads to one Paul Caldwell of Sydney, Australia, born in the early 1890s and vanished mysteriously in the Egyptian dessert in the First World War. Who was Paul Caldwell? And who is (or was) Ralph Trilipush, the supposed English professor of Egyptology at Harvard University and engaged to the American heiress, Margaret Finneran? Through diary entries and letters, the author follows two stories: Trilipush's, as he prepares to uncover the tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharoah named Atum-hadu; and that of an Australian detective, Harold Ferrell as he recounts his story from a retiring home in the 1950s. The various perspectives each of these two narrators hav…

Review: Dark Fire, by CJ Sansom

Tudorian England is brought to life in this highly suspenseful novel of murder and mayhem in London.
Its 1540, and King Henry is preparing to divorce his fourth wife, the German Anne of Cleves, and marry "the harlot" Catherine Howard. All of London is on shaky ground, as loyalties shift back and forth. Everyone is concerned that, with Catherine as Queen of England, the country will be returned back to its Catholic past. Into all this comes Thomas Cromwell, advisor to the king and strongly out of disfavor due to the Cleves marriage. Cromwell feeels that he must get back into the graces of king by digging up Greek Fire- a Weapon of Mass Destruction that could make or break the future of England. He will give the king a demonstration on June 10th- an inocuous day, since it turns out to be the day on which Cromwell is arrested by the king's men. Greek Fire itself, a real substance, was invented by the Byzantines and needs petroleum in order to make it work properly. It is ca…

Review: Dissolution, by CJ Sansom

In 1537, having divorced his first wife and marrying a second, Henry VIII proceeded to close down the monasteries, which were a symbol of the power of the Catholic Church. This move was instrumental in the shaping of English society and politics during the 16th century. Although Henry had caused the Reformation in England to take place merely because he wanted an heir, he soon found that, like Martin Luther, there were problems with Catholicism- not the least of which was that the clergy were living much better than they ought to have. Their standard of living was so much higher than the average laypersons' that monks and their servants were living very long lives- sometimes into their eighties and nineties, uncommonly long for anyone to live in the 16th century. Dissolution refers to not only the process by which the monasteries were dissolved, but the process by which lives in England were irrevocably changed by the reformation. The dissolution of the monasteries left monks with…

Review: Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner

At first I wasn't sure how I wanted to rate Good in Bed. Cannie is a completely different kind of heroine- a plus-sized body is not usually what we get in the protagonist of a piece of chick lit. Usually I'm quite skeptical of the women in fiction who seem perfect- often they've got an ugly imperfection lurking beneath the surface. But with Cannie, its all out there: from her insecurities about her body to her insecurities about boyfriends and her career at a newspaper in Philadelphia, Cannie's feelings are typical of the way that many women in their 20s feel. Bruce seems perfect at first: he's Jewish, educated, and he's taller than Cannie is. After three years of dating, they "go on a break," which means different things for the two. Bruce writes an article which appears in a chick magazine: "Good in Bed," about plus-sized women- and Cannie in particular. Furious at first, Cannie confronts Bruce about the article, to which he really has no …

Review: Soapsuds, by Finola Hughes

The premise seems trite: a young woman moves from London to LA to appear in a long-running soap opera. But the content of this book is so funny at times that I couldn't put it down.
Kate McPhee takes on the role of Devon, a character who is quickly transformed into a lesbian detective when the producer sees chemistry between Devon and another main character in the soap. The reason for this change is the Queen: a longtime soap opera mainstay who, although nearly sixty, still pretends (through a lot of botox and plastic surgery) that she's 35, and goes into conniption fits regularly. Kate, just off the boat from London, is an outsider to the show, and is constantly made to feel so.
Kate quickly becomes embroiled in the politics of the set of Live for Tomorrow, which in itself reselmbles its own miniature soap opera: alcoholics, blonde bimbos, incredibly sexy leading men, chemistry between two major actors involved with the show, etc. The characters are all pretty stereotyped, bu…

Review: Love @ First Site, by Jane Moore

This was an immensely satisfying read, a breath of fresh air after the trite novels which usually characterize the chick lit category. I prefer the chick lit writers from Britain because their wit is dry and they can take any situation and take a look at it in perspective. The heroines of British chick lit also seem less shallow than the heroines of American chick lit. As a result, the characters are fresher and the subject is more appealing.
This book features the dating adventures of Jess Monroe, a woman who, at 34, seems happy in her single life in London. But secretly, she envies her sister, who has a perfect marriage and two children. This book takes a good, long look at the 21st-century way of dating- pulling it apart, sometimes exhibiting its merits- but always looking at it in perspective.
On her 34th birthday, Jess gets a card from a friend she detests- the friend has signed her up for a dating service, something which Jess has never even considered trying. At first, she is d…

Review: Green Darkness, by Anya Seton

In my opinion, Green Darkness wasn't quite as good as Katherine. It started off slow, and didn't pick up until the time travel back to the 16th century. But Anya Seton's command of the period of which she writes is commendable.
Celia Marsdon is an American who marries a member of the English aristocracy. Richard Marsdon lives in an area of England which is quite charming to Celia and her family members- manor houses complete with medieval-period ghosts are just one of the attractions that England holds for them. When she visits one of the medieval manors one day, Celia gets the odd sensation that she's been there before. A mystic named Akananda, a friend of the family, says that he feels as though he has met Celia and her mother in a past life- bringing to mind the idea of reincarnation, which is, or course, the whole theme of the book. He believes that Celia must relieve her past in order to make sense of the life she currently leads. It soon becomes quite clear that C…

Review: Snobs, by Julian Fellowes

Snobs is the story of London "society," and the people who aspire to live in the kind of world where everyone has a title. There is "a subconscious urge on their part to create the comforting illusion that England, or rather the England of the middle and upper classes, is criss-crossed with a million invisible silken threads that weave them together into a brilliant community of rank and grace and exclude everyone else."
Everyone pretends to know everyone else, even if they have never been introduced. In addition, there's a secret code whereby people know each other: in the bestowing of casual, rather ridiculous nicknames such as "pookie" and "sausage." The upper class "think the names imply a kind of playfulness... but they are really a simple reaffirmation of insularity, a reminder of shared history that excludes more recent arrivals, yet another way of publicly displaying their intimacy with each other." Newcomers can't use …

Review: Until I find You, by John Irving

Jack Burns is four years old when this story opens, and remarkably, he's quite mature for his age. Predisposed to take after his (supposedly) wayward Scottish, organ-playing, tattooed father, Jack's mother Alice feels an obligation to drag Jack halfway across the globe for a year so that William Burns might "perform his duty" to his son. She's always a step behind the elusive William, who seems to be rampaging across Europe in his quest for much younger women to seduce.
Alice Stronach, daughter of a tattoo artist, makes a living giving other people tattoos throughout Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Canada- some of them extremely suggestive. Jack finds that he has many memories from this time period, although not many of them are accurate. It's in Canada that Jack and his mother settle, and where Jack attends St. Hilda's, an all-girls school that is co-ed up until the 4th grade. Jack is continually haunted by the image of his father, both on the stage, a…

Review: Sex, Murder, and a Double Latte, by Kyra Davis

Sophie Katz is a writer of murder mysteries. Her latest book, Sex, Drugs, and Murder, has just been published, and a prominent Hollywood director has just committed suicide. Or has he? Sophie is immediately suspicious, because the way he chose to die also appeared in one of his movies. Soon it becomes clear that life imitates art; that is, life is beginning to imitate the things that took place in Sex, Drugs, and Murder.
Sophie receives a strange note that reads, "You reap what you sew." She also gets strange calls where the caller simply hangs up. Sophie's home is then broken into, then her car is ripped apart, and a woman is hatcheted to death in a park. These events are just too eerie for Sophie to ignore.
She comments that the person who committed all these acts must have been a genius; I beg to differ. None of the vandalism and murder that takes place in this book is original; Sophie has written about it in the past. I reason that a genius would have come up with hi…

Review: The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella

The Undomestic Goddess is the highly enjoyable and sexy (albeit unlikely) story of a young, up-and-coming woman. This book is just as funny as Kinsella's Shopaholic series- she hasn't lost her touch. Samantha Sweeting is a top lawyer in the City; she comes from a family of lawyers and desperately wants a promotion to the rank of Partner in her competitive law firm.
Sam is a workaholic whose days consist of working until 11, then maybe grabbing takeout. She has no idea how to operate her hoover, much less have the time to do laundry. There's a major mistake over a few monetary figures, and Samantha panics, running away. Eventually she finds herself in a small village in the Cotswolds, working as a housekeeper for a couple who have no idea who she is. Throw in a gorgeous man named Nathaniel who works as a gardener for the Geigers, and you have the setup for a nice romantic comedy. Which this book is, on the outside. But on a deeper level its a story about getting-or not gett…

Review: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

This novel offers an interesting, fresh look at the infamous legend of Dracula. Covering a period of more than 500 years, this book takes its reader from the Ottoman conquest up through the Cold War.
In 1930, a British graduate student named Bartolomeo Rossi recieves a strange old book with blank pages and an imprint of a dragon in the centerfold. One evening, a close friend at the univeristy shows up at his door, dead, and with two strange marks on the back of his neck. The book takes him on a journey that takes him to Eastern Europe: to Romania, where he meets a young woman who is descended from Vlad the Impaler, also known as Dracula; and to Istambul.
The book jumps forward twenty years, to when Rossi is a professor at an American university- probably Harvard, though the author never names the university. He has a graduate advisee named Paul, who finds a book that strangely is similar to the one his advisor recieved. One evening Rossi goes missing, and Paul teams up with a young wom…

Review: Pope Joan, by Donna Woolfolk Cross

This novel tells the fascinating story of Pope Joan, one of two women in history to hold the office of Pope (the other lived in the 14th century).

Very little is known about her life; indeed, contemporaries tried to erase the memory of "Pope John Angelicus" entirely. It has only been recently that interest in this remarkable woman has reemerged. All the major facts in this book (aside from the Viking attack, which didn't occur until few years later) are true.
Joan grew up in northern Germany, to a German mother and an English father (hence the name "Angelicus"). Not much was known about her childhood, but Cross does a wonderful job of trying to piece together the life she might have had. Her brother John was intended for the schola. When Joan, howver, displayed an aptitude and desire to learn, a Greek man was brought in to tutor her. That eventually led to Joan's attendance at the schola, where as the only female student there she was house in the manor of a…

Review: The Borgia Bride, by Jeanne Kalogridis

This novel follows the story of Sancha of Aragon, the granddaughter of the King of Naples and the daughter of one of the cruelest men in Europe. She weds Jofre Borgia, the weak and inneffectual son of Pope Alexander- and brother to the infamous Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia. Despite her upbringing, Sancha is in no way prepared for what awaits her when she goes to Rome.
Of course, Popes aren't supposed to father children, let alone admit that they're his. But this Alexander (born Roderigo Borgia) certainly does, even having his children live in the papal palace with him. Upon marriage, Sancha and Jofre are sent to live in Squillace, in a palace that seems like a hovel in comparison to the finery they lived in before they were married. Sancha is 16, and her husband is 13; despite his young age, he takes to carousing at all hours of the night.
When called to Rome by the Pope (a most lecherous man, whose desire is to meet his daughter-in-law), Sancha and Jorfe must go. When there, Sa…

Review: The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory

I first ran into Philippa Gregory's books about four years ago, with The Other Boleyn Girl- undoubtedly, one of her best books. With The Constant Princess, Gregory returns to the six wives of Henry VIII, this time with his first wife, Katherine (or Catalina, as she was known in her native Spain). The book focuses upon the first years, and less upon the later divorce from Henry. The narrative is told in a mixture of the third person and Katherine's first person (in italics). The book opens with Catalina's childhood. Already betrothed to the Price of Wales, she grew up on the battlefield as her parents attempted to conquer Granada and therefore unite Spain under a Christian monarchy. The opening of this book recouts how the keys to the Alhambra were handed over to Ferdinand and Isabella. Flash forward many years, and Catalina is newly arrived in England to wed Prince Arthur. England is absolutely nothing like Spain: its cold, it rains, the language is foreign to her, and the…