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Showing posts from June, 2008

Review: A Rose for the Crown, by Anne Easter Smith

A Rose for the Crown is an ambitious first novel. Here Anne Easter Smith tells the story of Richard III--from another point of view.

The book is the story of Richard's mistress, called Katherine Haute. It is known that Richard had at least three illegitimate children, but history is fuzzy as to who their mother was. Smith surmises that Richard had one mistress that he was faithful to for a certain period of time that he then gave up when he married Anne Neville. Katherine Haute is fictional, but the world she lives in is not, and Smith is adept at telling a rich historical story in a way that so few historical fictional novelists can these days.

Kate Haute, born to a farmer, endures two unpleasant marriages before meeting Richard one day in the woods. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Kate become lovers, eventually having three children together. Their love story is at the heart of this wonderful novel, with the War of the Roses merely playing the role of backdrop. Richard stays comp…

Review: A Far Cry From Kensington, by Muriel Spark

Mrs. Nancy Hawkins, a war widow living in Italy, looks back on the time in the 1950s when she lived in a boarding house in South Kensington and worked as book editor at the financially floundering publishing company Ullswater and York. Her private and professional lives intersected when her neighbor Wanda, a Polish dressmaker, received a blackmail note and then a sinister phone call. When Mrs. Hawkins was fired from her job for calling author Hector Bartlett (who couldn’t write) a “pisseur de copie,” she got another job at a large firm known for hiring unusual people.

Mrs. Hawkins takes delight in freely dispensing advice, such as her no-fail rule for losing weight: always eat just half. Her mother-ish tone is very personal, very confiding. Most of the characters in this short, funny novel are weak, behaving in extremely foolish ways. Mrs. Hawkins is quick to point out these weaknesses in the people who surround her and to notice that those people are usually the most dangerous to deal…

Review: The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins

I first read The Moonstone about five years ago, and recently picked it up for a second time after reading The Thirteenth Tale, a modern book that was inspired by another Wilkie Collins novel, The Woman in White. Said to be the first "cozy" British mystery, The Moonstone features lost jewels from exotic places, a suicide, and the ever-present bumbling country detective. The tale of the Moonstone is a watered-down version of the Road Hill House murder, which had taken place eight years earlier.

A cast of characters converge on Lady Verinder's country estate to celebrate the 18th birthday of her daughter Rachel. Franklin Blake, her cousin, comes from London to deliver the Moonstone, a jewel bequeathed to her by a relative who fought in India and claimed the stone during a raid fifty years before. During the night after the party, the stone goes missing, and suddenly everybody behaves suspiciously, especially Rachel, who Sergeant Cuff suspects of stealing the Moonstone, and …

Review: Ghost Walk, by Rebecca Stott

Set in Cambridge in 2002-3, Ghostwalk opens with the death of a writer and seventeenth-century historian. Her son Cameron Brown, who discovered her body, enlists his former lover to finish the book his mother began. All Lydia Brooke has to do is convert Elizabeth's notes for the final chapter of the book into prose form. But as Lydia does so, she uncovers a mystery involving the deaths of five people in the late 1660s that may or may not be connected with several modern-day murders that have taken place. Added on top of all this is an animal-rights group, who may or may not be killing animals in and around Cambridge.
The writing style is OK (though a little confusing, what with the mixture of first, second, and third person narration), but there's a lot missing here. Newton's not a very interesting person to write about, and Stott doesn't do the scientist any justice in this novel. The modern-day characters seem a little bit flat, and Lydia Brooke, for all her intellig…

Review: Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson

Having read Devil in the White City, I was eager to read Thunderstruck. For the most part, I wasn't disappointed. Like its predecessor, Thunderstruck follows the stories of two men: Marconi, a young and hotheaded inventor, and Crippen, an unassuming middle-aged man who murdered his wife Belle and took off with his mistress, Ethel, to escape detection by the police. She clearly had no knowledge of the murder and regarded their flight aboard the ship Montrose (with her dressed as a boy) as a great adventure. Using the Marconi wireless system, the ship's captain was able to notify the police of their presence on board his ship.

As with his previous book, Larson writes this one as though it's fiction, deftly interweaving the two stories together. I found the murder mystery to be especially intriguing. However, I thought Larson could have toned down all the scientific stuff in the parts about Marconi. And there could have been less focus on him and more on the Crippen case. It o…

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is the true story of a murder that took place at Road Hill House in the English countryside. One night, at the end of June, 1860, three-year-old Saville Kent, son of a local factory inspector, was found dead in the privy of his family’s estate, his neck severed. A week later, Detective Jack Whicher, of Scotland Yard, arrived on the scene, and promptly determined that Saville’s half sister Constance, age 16, committed the horrible crime. What followed was a ghastly revealing of one family’s secrets in an era when the family and its home was considered to be sacrosanct.

Summerscale writes as though all this is fiction, and walks us right through the crime, from the time the Kents went to bed on that June evening up through a dramatic trial five years later and beyond. There were a number of brutal murders that took place around the time that London began to have its own specialized detective force, and these detectives were the inspiration for many fictional…

Review: Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

I originally read Devil in the White City last September. I tend to be addicted to those lurid Victorian murder stories, and Erik Larson’s first book is no exception. Set during the World’s Fair of 1893, in Chicago, this book centers around two people, one who builds and the other who destroys. On one hand is Daniel Burnham, architect and designed of the buildings at the World’s Fair; on the other Dr. H.H. Holmes, a Chicago resident who murdered somewhere over 25, but under 200, women in his World’s Fair Hotel.

The Fair itself was a marvelous event: Americans (and foreigners) were introduced to such marvels as Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix, and Shredded Wheat, and were treated to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Larson brings to life in almost fiction-fashion late 19th century Chicago, an era before automobiles ruled the streets, slaughterhouses predominated, and vice and violence were the norm. The relatively young city of Chicago was caught in an ident…

Book News: John Grogan (author of Marley and Me)'s new memoir

From Publisher's Lunch:
Author of the bestselling Marley & Me John Grogan's new memoir, THE
LONGEST TRIP HOME, has been announced for publication on October 21 by William
Morrow. "From his troublemaking childhood to his courtship of a fiery blond
named Jenny, Grogan writes about how he came to terms with who he is and what he
believes." It's called the "story of a son in the making, and of growing up in a
loving, but comically old-school Catholic family."

Grogan says in the announcement, "Even before Marley & Me was
published, I knew this was the story I wanted to tell next. The Longest Trip
Home is a story very close to my heart."

He'll promote his children's book A Very Marley Christmas, releasing
September 30, while touring for the new memoir, and the film version of Marley
(starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) is set for release on Christmas
day.

Author Event: Karen Abbott

Tonight I went to a book signing at Borders at Columbus Circle, with Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul. I missed Karen Abbott when her book was published in hardcover (her book party in New York was held at the Museum of Sex, which for some reason I missed), but now that her book's in paperback, I was excited to go see her read.
Actually, it wasn't a "reading" so much as Abbott talking about the book and the impetus behind it. I'm always interested in how authors are inspired to write, and Abbott's book began with some family history: one of her ancestors went to Chicago in 1905 and simply disappeared. While doing research, Abbott ran across the murder of Marshall Field, who was shot in the Everleigh club in the same year Abbott's ancestor disappeared. The resulting book, about a pair of sisters in turn-of-the-century Chicago who ran an upscale brothel and ran into adversity …

The EW Top 100 New Classics

Here's the link to the main article.

In bold are the books I've read; in italics are the books I plan to read. The list covers 1983-2008, and it looks as though both fiction and nonfiction are represented, as well as both literary and commercial fiction (Dan Brown, anybody?). In all, a very healthy mix.

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (…

Review: Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton

George Harvey Bone has a complicated mental disorder: he has schizophrenia, in which he has a split personality, which comes over him at unexpected times. George is deeply involved with the “Hangover Square” set of Earl’s Court, London, where he’s in love with the beautiful but dangerous Netta Longdon, who treats him despicably. Her whole set, George included, spend their days in idle dissipation, drinking and carousing all the time, as Europe teeters on the brink of the Second World War. But George has one mission: to kill Netta and her friend Peter.

What’s so wonderful about this book is that Patrick Hamilton gets into George’s head wonderfully, and he transitions back and forth between George’s “moods” easily. Every time that George slides into his second personality, he finds himself forgetting his mission. The tension in this thriller (a word I ate to use because it conjures to my mind commercial fiction) arises from this: will he or won’t he commit murder? Therefore, the ending o…

Review: The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto

In The Island at the Center of the World, Russell Shorto narrates the forgotten story of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, which covered what is now New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and a bit of Pennsylvania; and the town of New Amsterdam specifically. Beginning with the day that Henry Hudson sailed up the river that was later named after him (almost exactly 400 years ago to the day), to the sale of New Amsterdam to the English, this book is a social and political history covering the story of the early modern world. We meet a number of 17th century characters: Adriaen Van der Donck, the lawyer (for whom Yonkers, NY is named, after “jonker,” or landed gentleman, which Van der Donck styled himself as); Peter Stuyvesant, New Amsterdam’s peglegged governor; and Willem Kieft, the governor who was accused of mismanagement.

In this book, Shorto, who draws from documents being translated by Charles Gehring at the New York State Library in Albany, dispels the myth that colonial America began …

Review: Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

In Lady Audley’s Secret, Sir Michael Audley marries Lucy Graham, a governess. She’s a fragile-looking young woman of about 20 or so, whose outside appearance belies the deep, dark secret she’ll do anything to protect. But when a young man named George Talboys goes missing, his friend Robert Audley steps in and resolves to figure out what happened to him. Robert, a dissolute barrister, has a strong suspicion that his step-aunt is connected to his friend's disappearance.

I’m not going to give away (much) here, because it would spoil virtually the whole book and a lot of the enjoyment that goes with this reading experience, but suffice it to say that this novel was one of the great works of Victorian sensationalist novels that were published in the 1860s. It was sensationalist because it took the ideals of Victorian family-hood and turned them upside-down: it was nearly inconceivable that a woman could be capable of the acts that Lady Audley perpetrates here. Even today, this novel is…

Dreadful Book Covers: Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources, by David Mamet

Alright, so I'll be the first person to admit that I don't like book covers with a cartoon-ish design. But even if I did like cartoon/ Manga-ish covers, I still wouldn't be a fan of this one, the cover of Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources. The various parts of this cover aren't coordinated. And who's the creepy little man at the top corner? Both he and the angry-looking wolf are floating in space, literally. It's not funny, it just looks stupid.

Review: Love the One You're With, by Emily Giffin

In Love the One You’re With, Ellen is a 33-year-old photographer, married just three months to Andy. One day, in a crosswalk, she encounters someone familiar—her ex boyfriend, Leo. Ellen suddenly finds herself overcome with her past, as Leo invites her to shoot photographs for a major magazine, and later as she and Andy move to Atlanta. All of a sudden, Ellen finds her life changing way to fast.

Like Giffin’s first three books, Love the One You’re With is about the life choices we make. Ellen’s choice here is somewhat predictable, but the journey she makes toward that decision is poignant. In this novel, Ellen has the greatest sexual chemistry with Leo, and its easy to see why she was attracted to him in the first place. Her relationship with Andy, however, seems a little out in left field. In addition, Ellen herself got on my nerves, because she kept posturing herself as better than her husband’s family (desite the fact that they look on her as one of their own).

On the other hand, I t…

Monday Quiz: First Lines of Famous Books

All of these quotations come from famous novels--most of them English and American. The oldest was published in the late 18th century; the most recent, in 1999. Some I purposely made easy, others might take more effort. The rules are, you're allowed to look in books you own, but you're not allowed to look these quotations up online. Anyone who gets the extra credit is a hero in my book. For fun, see how many of them you can get:

1. “While the present century was in its teens, and on one sunshiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton’s academy for ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour.”

2. “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

3. “This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve.”

4. “Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York.”

5. “Wh…

Review: Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey, the daughter of a clergyman who’s had a reversal of fortunes, determines to get a job working as a governess to make ends meet. Her first post is as the governess to what must be literature’s most spoiled brats, the Bloomwood children of Wellwood House. After being subjected to employers that would put Miranda Pristley in The Devil Wears Prada or the Xs in The Nanny Diaries to shame, Agnes is fired (her gain, I think) and seeks another post, this time at Horton Lodge, where her charges are Miss Rosalie Murray and Miss Miranda Murray. While there, Agnes becomes acquainted with the village’s curate, Edward Weston. Its not difficult to guess what happens there.

Anne’s sister, Charlotte, glamorized and romanticized the life of a governess somewhat in Jane Eyre. Apparently, Anne’s description of the tribulations Agnes goes through are nearly true to life. The first few chapters are devoted to Agnes’s complaining about the treatment she receives at the hands of the Bloomwood chil…

Review: Holly Would Dream, by Karen Quinn

Holly Ross is an assistant at the National Museum of Fashion in New York City. A holder of a Master’s degree in fashion, Holly knows pretty much everything there is to know about the subject. In addition, she has an obsession with Audrey Hepburn films. Holly’s also engaged to her heart’s desire, and she’s about to receive a promotion at work.

But everything changes when the promotion is given to Sammie Kittenblatt, a New York society darling who got her job through a generous donation made by her parents. Then Holly’s fiancée cheats on her, and eventually finds herself fiancée-less, job-less, and living with her father in the basement of a pet hospital.

Things change for the better when Holly is given the chance of a lifetime: to lecture on a cruise ship traveling the Mediterranean, and to bring home a seven-figure donation to the museum that will get her her job back. Soon, however, things turn bad as Holly finds herself the subject of an Interpol investigation looking into the case of…

Dreadful Book Covers: Fanny Hill, by John Cleland

Last weekend, I spent a few hours crawling around on the floor of the Strand Bookstore, taking pictures for Dreadful Book Covers (and hiding from Strand employees and other patrons, harder than one might think). In search for more dreadful covers to adorn this blog, I uncovered the book above: Fanny Hill: Or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Originally written by John Cleland in the mid-18th century, Fanny Hill was the ultimate erotic novel and was ultimately banned for its bawdy content. I love (not) how the cover of this recently-published edition has the woman's anatomy clearly outlined. Not to mention, her tongue is sticking out, for some bizarre reason. Sexual desire, maybe? If so, this is a weird way to depict it. Random fun fact: John Cleland has the same birthday as F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Review: Franny and Zooey, by JD Salinger

Franny and Zooey is a short book. In fact, it was originally published as two short stories in the New Yorker—“Franny” in 1955 and “Zooey” in 1957, and then published together in 1961. Franny and Zooey Glass are brother and sister—Franny’s a 20-year old college student having a “nervous breakdown” as she explores Eastern religion, and Zooey’s a 25-year-old actor who still lives at home. Bookending the two is the rest of the Glass family: the five other children, who we never met, and Mrs. Glass, who talks in italics.

Salinger wasn’t one for “action,” per se—there’s a lot of saying, but not doing, in his novels. He tends to over-describe things—he even lists the entire contents of a medicine cabinet. Sometimes this can get long-winded and pointless, and it was easy for me to see why Catcher in the Rye overshadows this book. Franny and Zooey explore religion to a great extent in these stories, and their philosophizing went over my head in places. The dialogue is neurotic at times and fas…

Review: Wideacre, by Philippa Gregory

Its too bad that some readers can't get past the sex in this book, and take a look at what Wideacre really is: a brilliant debut novel by a woman who has really written some fine historical fiction. It seems that those who have read Philippa Gregory's later works (a la The Other BoleynGirl) are disappointed by the way she wrote this novel. While it is true that The Other Boleyn Girl is a finer book, Wideacre is commendable as well.

I for one found this to be an insightful and intriguing book. The heroine is much different that most heroines are: every reader hates her. I don't think that Philippa Gregory meant for Beatrice Lacey to be likeable. Yet no one within the novel seems to understand the real heart and soul of Beatrice, the young woman who will do anything to keep control of her beloved home. However, things seem to go very wrong, and in the end Beatrice finds herself asking, "is it all worth it?" I found myself asking the same question right from the get-…

Review: Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, by Alison Weir

This book took some time to get through. First of all, its quite long- almost 600 pages- and second, the material is a bit difficult to take in all at once. Here, Alison Weir takes a look at the murder of Lord Darnley, king consort to Mary, Queen of Scots. Its an interesting take on a mystery that has intrigued many scholars and non-scholars alike, though I'm afraid that Weir does not present any new evidence in this book.

In the first few chapters, Weir quickly skims over Mary's parentage, birth, childhood, and marriage to Louis of France. Like most nobles of the period, Mary's first language was French, her second the native Scots; she did not learn English until she was 26 years old. Weir goes into deeper detail over Lord Darnley (birth name Henry Lennox), to get a picture of the kind of man Mary married. Lord Darnley was not a popular person, first for his personality and second for what he aspired to (i.e., being king of Scotland in his own right, a privilege Mary luck…

Review: Devices and Desires, by PD James

Many people want Hilary Robarts dead. First of all, there's Ryan Blaney, the struggling artist and single father who she has been trying to evict from his cottage. Then there's Alex Mair, her former lover, who won't marry her and wants her out of the way so he can move to London. And finally, there's Neil Pascoe, against whom Hilary Robarts has drawn up a libel lawsuit. Which one of these people, if any, actually killed her?

On September 25th, Robarts's body is found on the beach by no less than Adam Dalgiesh, in Norfolk to deal with the personal effects of his aunt, who has recently passed away. The death is suspiciously simlar to the deaths of several other young women killed by someone dubbed "The Whistler." However, Hilary's death is different- someone has broken into her cottage.

"The Whistler," so called because he (or she) has been known to whistle after the deaths of his victims. He stalks only at night, and kills only young women. The…

Review: Missing Mom, by Joyce Carol Oates

Nikki Eaton is a 31-year-old woman who has a job working for a local newspaper, a married boyfriend, and more piercings than one can count. She lives 30 miles away from the house where she grew up. Her mother, Gwen, is the most likeable character in the book. A bleeding-heart type, Gwen takes in strays. Enter a young man out on parole from jail, who takes advantage of Gwen's hospitality, kidnapping her and then killing her in the basement of her home.

The book follows Nikki through the whole year after her mother dies. We meet her older sister, who increasingly gets frazzled as the trial gets postponed, and angry at the amount of stuff to clear out of their mother's house; there's Nikki's brother-in-law, Rob, who she's never felt completely comfortable with; there's Nikki's Neice and nephew; there's also her married lover, Wally Szalla, a local celebrity who is married with two kids of his own. There's also a police detective, who Nikki doesn't l…

Review: 13 Steps Down, by Ruth Rendell

Gwendolen Chawcer is an elderly woman who lives in a large, old house decayed by time and mildew. She's a stubborn woman, and lives in the past. She especially dwells upon a romance that took place fifty years ago with a man she hasn't seen since. Gwendolen gets confused easily, but has a few friends who check up on her every so often. They suggest that she rent out the top floor of the building to a lodger- and so Mix Cellini enters her life, albeit briefly.

Mix Cellini is obsessed with the life of a serial murderer, Reggie Christie, who lived in the neighborhood fifty years ago. This particular murderer buried his victims in the floorboards, then moved them to the backyard in order to escape detection. Six women were killed this way, including Christie's wife, who probably found out about the other murders. Christie's example is going to be the inspiration for the murder Mix commits. Mix is also obsessed with a local supermodel, Nerissa Nash.

Nerissa Nash is the most s…

Review: Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Frasier

Marie Antoinette: The Journey is the straightforward biography of a truly remarkable queen. Born into the large Hapsburg family, Marie was married before pubery to Louis, Dauphin of France and later Louis XVI. The book captures in precise detail the life Marie Antoinette lived at Versailles. The Revolution is not as central to Marie Antoinette's story as it might have been in another biography.

I got the impression from this book that Marie Antoinette was a very misunderstood woman, unlucky to be Queen of France at the end of the 18th century. Marie Antoinette wasn't as foolish as her contemporaries made her out to be; and Fraser, in this book, discounts the "Let them eat cake" story. Apparently, the phrase was said by someone else a hundred years previously and, though it might have been said by Marie Antoinette in this case, it was almost certainly taken out of context. It seems that much of the Queen's life was taken out of context.

Other major players in the st…

Review: The Tea Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly

I really did want to like this book, because I normally like historical fiction situated in the Victorian era.

The Tea Rose, altough well-written and extremely descriptive, didn't completely do it for me. For one thing, many of the things that occur in the story forced me to suspend my disbelief. Many of the events situations, and even people seemed contrived. It seemed unrealistic for working-class people to rise so fast in society, and for women to behave the way that Fiona did in this novel. It felt as though Donnely wrote about twenty first-century characters and then just placed them into a nineteenth century setting. Also, the villain in this piece seemed to be a caricature. I'm of the school that believes that historical fiction can deviate from events that actually took place, but that you have to make it seem realistic.

Another thing I didn't like were the jumps back and forth between two places--New York and London. I also didn't like how several people's s…

Review: Cassandra French's Finishing School for Boys, by Eric Garcia

Cassandra French is your typical twenty-something lawyer working in Los Angeles. She spends time with her friends, has a crazy mother (hers is on house arrest), a budding romance with a club owner, and hasn't been to the gym in weeks.

Except, she has one dirty little secret.

Tired of dating the same Neanderthals over and over again, Cassandra decides to do something about it. One afternoon, in a flash of inspiration, she kidnaps a 260-pound electrician who comes on to her at a baseball game, hoping to shape him into a man who will function properly in society. Thus, her Finishing School is born. Thngs come to a climax when she kidnaps Academy Award-winning actor Jason Kelley. Once you get past the fact that this book is supposed to be satire, its actually pretty funny and enjoyable. Although Cassie's friend Lexi is completely annoying, and Cassie's behavior bizarre, to say the least, our narrator has a lot of funny lines.

Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley is my third 1% Well Read book. It’s a completely absorbing masterpiece of crime fiction, in which Tom Ripley, age 25, goes to Italy to persuade his acquaintance Dickie Greenleaf to come home, at the behest of Dickie’s father. Once in Italy, however, Tom becomes obsessed with Dickie and his companion, Marge Sherwood. Tension arises, which leads to Tom killing Dickie and appropriating his identity.

I hate calling The Talented Mr. Ripley a classic, because it might turn people off from reading an extremely enjoyable book. The thrill is not so much in the crime itself, but in Tom’s emotional and psychological state and whether or not he will get caught. The story is told from Tom’s point of view, so we almost feel sympathy for him and not necessarily shocked at his actions. However, the reader must never forget that his perceptions are far different from the reality around him. The premise of the book is nearly unbelievable in and of itself, but somehow Highsmith ma…

Weekly Geeks #7

I haven't participated in Weekly Geeks for a while, but considering I just bought my very first digital camera, I couldn't resist this week's WG. So here are my photos:


The top photo is a picture of my bookshelves. I arrange everything alpabetically, with nonfiction being on the top row and fiction on the lower rows. If you look closely enough, you'll notice that my taste tends to run to historical fiction, chick lit, and British authors. In nonfiction, I love history. Some of the most common authors on my bookshelves include: Jane Austen, Sophie Kinsella, Anya Seton, Philippa Gregory, Laurie Notaro, and Jen Lancaster.

The bottom photo is another TBR pile. Yesterday, I braved the Brooklyn heat and went to an indie bookstore near Atlantic Avenue called Brooklyn Book Court. This is my haul from there. From the top down: Victor Hugo's Les Miserables (uh-oh; what have I gotten into?); JD Salinger's Franny and Zooey; Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black ( a murder myste…

Film adaptations: The Way We Live Now

Lately I’ve been watching the 2001 BBC version of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, a four-part miniseries. The BBC does wonderful adaptations of great novels, and I’m glad to see that they decided to make one of this novel.

David Suchet, of Poirot fame, plays the greedy, grotesque, nouveaux riche Auguste Melmotte, a Frenchman who buys (but doesn’t pay for) a disgustingly over-the-top, Versailles-ish home in London, and dreams of being the most important man in England, even as his fortunes decline after a disastrous dinner with the Chinese emperor. His whiney daughter Marie (played by Shirley Henderson, who you might remember as Shazzer in Bridget Jones’s Diary and Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter movies) falls head-over-heels in love with gambling-addicted society rake Lord Felix Carbury (Matthew MacFayden), who only wants to marry her for her money so that he may continue his dissolute lifestyle. Then there’s Lord Felix’s sister, Hetta, who falls in love with Paul Montague, an engin…

On Why I Have No Blogroll...

Blogger rolled out a new feature for layouts that, if you're a Blogger user, you might know about. Basically, instead of listing a bunch of links on a sidebar, it allows us to create a feed for blogs. I've been experimenting for the past 20 minutes or so, but there are some glitches, of course.

Review: Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown, by Adena Halpern

Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown is the story of Adena Halpern’s closet. If you’ve ever found yourself opening up your closet just to marvel at all the clothes you’ve amassed over the years (and maybe even tried some of them on, just for fun), you'll know what she talks about in this book. In little vignettes, she illustrates the major (and minor) moments of her life and what she wore on those occasions. She tells us stories of: the men’s boxer shorts she wore when she was a teenager, desperate to hide her curves; the six-inch heels that, at 4’11’’, she couldn’t live without; the $4,000 Vera Wang gown that Halpern bought after a breakup; and the Juicy Couture drawstring pants she practically lived in, in 2001 and 2002.

Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown follows Adena’s story from her childhood outside of Philadelphia, through college in New York, to her move out to LA to live with an old boyfriend, and to work. Halpern and I grew up in the same area (though not in the same …

Review: Chasing Harry Winston, by Lauren Weisberger

Having read so many bad reviews, I was surprised by Chasing Harry Winston. It’s actually much better than I expected it to be.

After being dumped by her boyfriend of five years, baby-obsessed Emmy (a restaurateur) decides that she’ll sleep with as many random men as possible. Tired of sleeping with many men in succession, ultra-glamorous, Brazilian Adriana decides to enter into a monogamous relationship and possibly get engaged. Leigh, a book editor, is tired of her life, despite a job she loves and a (seemingly) perfect boyfriend. One evening over dinner, two of the three decide to change their lives dramatically within the space of a year.

In Chasing Harry Winston, Weisberger dumps the format she adopted for her first two novels. In some ways, this is good, and gives Weisberger the chance to branch out a bit. This is no outsider-looking-in tale told from a whiney first-person perspective. There’s no hellish boss, no glamorous fashion or PR industry. The characters in this novel are su…

Film Adaptations: 84, Charing Cross Road

Thanks to my new Netflix subscription, I recently rented 84, Charing Cross Road, the movie adaptation of the book, starring Anthony Hopkins and Ann Bancroft.

Bancroft plays Helene Hanff, the feisty and funny New Yorker who writes one day to Marks & Co., Booksellers, to enquire about some used books. She gets a response by F.P.D, or Frank Doel, played to perfection by Anthony Hopkins, and their correspondence is conducted over the course of twenty years, from 1949-1969, although they never meet. Judi Dench plays Doel’s wife, Nora. All three actors bring the characters to from the book to life wonderfully. The only thing is, I wish I could have been alive at the time Marks & Co. was in operation—the bookstore of the movie is my ideal of a bookstore, with walls lined with shelf upon shelf of nothing but old books. If you liked the book, be sure to watch the movie as well. This is one of my new favorite movies.

Review: Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear

Its 1929, and Maisie Dobbs, thirty-something, opens her own detective agency. One of her first cases seems like an open-and shut case of infidelity, but after following the man’s wife to a cemetery, Maisie isn’t so sure.

Maisie, a former scullery maid, Cambridge graduate (though without the degree), and a nurse in France during the Great War, finds herself reliving old memories (not all of them good), as she pursues the case to The Retreat, a home for wounded and shell-shocked former soldiers. Immediately, Maisie has her suspicions about the place, and she sends in her friend, Billy Beale, to investigate.

The flashback scenes seem like something out of Upstairs, Downstairs, right down to the description of Ebury Place (Eaton Place in the BBC TV show). Even some of the characters are dead ringers for their TV counterparts. As far as the mystery is concerned, there’s really very little “mystery” to speak of—it’s pretty clear what’s going on from the beginning. The resolution of the case i…

Review: Please Excuse My Daughter: A Memoir, by Julie Klam

I’ve finally discovered the answer to a question I’ve had for a long time: what exactly do housewives do all day long? Well, Julie Klam wrote a memoir. Yup, a bored housewife who was too lazy to go out and get a job even before she married has written a memoir about being absolutely “normal.”
She grew up in a wealthy suburb, where she played hookey from school in order to go shopping with her mom. Later, she had trouble getting a job, so she chalks this up as “I was brought up to believe that women don’t work.” Please. Klam’s just l-a-z-y. Then, she dates an ex-con who steals $17,000 from her, and badgers her next boyfriend, Paul, with constant e-mails about wanting to get married. The rest of the memoir is a boring series of wedding details, baby details, and complaints about how horrible Klam’s life was now that she couldn’t afford to get her hair colored and that her size zero jeans didn’t fit. Poor Julie. Furthermore, she wants a job where she can afford to “go out to lunch and ge…