Friday, March 17, 2017

Irish Eyes are Smiling

In honor of St. Patrick's Day - a quick blog to honor those from Ireland who wield a mighty pen.



Most Notable Works: A Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest



Most Notable Works: Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, Dubliners


Most Notable Works: Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal


Poet

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Education is not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.




Playwright: Pygmalion, Candida




Most Notable Work: Dracula



Most Notable Work: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (series)


Most Notable Work: Angela's Ashes



Wrote many works of his own, but I mostly know his translation of Beowulf



Oh my - too many to list! An author I've not read, but want to read very much. For more information visit her website: http://maevebinchy.com/books/



Most Notable Work: Room but she has published other works: https://emmadonoghue.com


Considered to be the quintessential "Chick-Lit" author. I reviewed one of her early works (Watermelon), but haven't had the chance to read many more. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I loved this book. Complete page-turner for me. I read so many conflicting reviews before I opened it, I was worried it wouldn't be a thriller as advertised. But, I'm so glad I was wrong. Are there some plot holes - maybe - but I don't spend my time exploiting the wide world of kidnapping either so maybe I missed them out of lack of experience (seems to be the biggest complaint in other reviews which makes me wonder just what they are doing with their spare time?).

The Couple Next Door is a mystery/thriller novel by Shari Lepena. Anne and Marco are just going to a party next door. They had a baby-sitter lined up, but due to a family emergency, she cancels at the last minute. It's too late to get another sitter and Anne has really been struggling with postpartum depression; Marco just wants her to have a nice evening. And so it goes. The couple decides (chapter one here folks...giving nothing away) to attend the shindig next door and take the baby monitor, but not the baby. Their daughter Cora is asleep, she's barely six-months so she doesn't do a lot at this point. They place her lovingly in her crib and are off to the birthday dinner. They will check on her every thirty minutes - Anne will still do all her timed feedings - they share a wall with the other home as they live in "row" style housing - what could possibly go wrong? So. Much. Goes. Wrong.

Of course, I can't tell you the nitty-gritty of it all, but I will say it has a few surprises here and there. Lapena does an excellent job leading the reader down one path only to have you doubting what you thought you knew in the next chapter. Which is the mark of a good thriller.

I easily give this book a solid ☕☕☕☕☕ and would recommend it as a must read. Not quite as "insane" at Gone Girl, but definitely enough thrill to keep me guessing.

Now - for the plot. I feel I would be remiss if I didn't say this. What kind of moron leaves their six-month old baby at home alone to attend a dinner party?!?!?!? As a parent, I must question everyone involved in this choice. Whew - I feel better now.

For more information about Shari Lapena, visit her website at http://www.sharilapena.com/
where you can read an excerpt of her book.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

Hey there Downton Abbey fans - Julian Fellowes is back with a new drama. Released in an app (a new ground for Fellowes) as an episodic novel in the style of Dickens of a former time, the novel follows the story of two families: the Ballasis family of the Aristocracy and the Trenchards of the upper working class.

Secrets abound between the two families as mostly the women work their magic in how to deal with the possible scandal of it all. Starting with the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, an untoward romance, a possible sham of a wedding, a ruined reputation, and a child out of wedlock set the stage for veiled upperclass mystery spanning twenty-five years of both households. Servants gossip, ladies maids divulge, and slighted nephews seek to destroy out of jealousy. Belgravia has all the elements of the elitist upper class and its power pit against the desire to inherit such wealth.  Timeless emotions that spurn us all..."ambition, envy, rage, greed, kindness, selflessness..." run high in the ongoing plot to find out who really earns their keep, and their coveted title.

I did not read this in episodes from the app (found here - click!) but rather in novel format. The writing is superb and the historic details add the feel of time travel for the modern-day reader. As an avid watcher of Downton Abbey, it was easy for me to immerse myself in the world created in Belgravia, a suburb of homes in West London outside the city of Westminster that still exists today. I can't quite call this a #pageturner, but the story does move forward in a fairly brisk pace. I found myself talking to some characters, and not in a nice tone of voice, on more than one occasion. Scandal brings out the worst in us all it seems.

But only ☕☕☕ from me. While it has a Downton Abbey feel, it did not hold my attention like I had hoped. The characters were a little whiney and somewhat predictable. I saw the ending coming half-way through the book, and while that's okay, it did make the story a bit lackluster for me. I think there were so many twists and turns in Fellowes known work (to me) that I wanted more of that level of drama. This book was good - no doubt about it - but I could have put it down without knowing the ending. However, it was so well written, I wanted to finish it for that purpose alone. It's an easy read, not too much "thinking" involved, and sometimes that's just what a reader needs; a good, solid story and Belgravia delivers on that front. I think a mini-series would do the work more justice, and maybe that's Fellowes true strength - the screenplay, seeing the characters come to life in real time.

Maybe coming off of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald tainted my reading a bit - hard to top a novel like that. So take this review with a grain of salt. Belgravia is good historical fiction - it is.

What's next in the pile?






Saturday, March 4, 2017

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

The name Fitzgerald is synonymous with The Great Gatsby. As a high school English teacher, I am no stranger to the nuances of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his "roaring twenties" lifestyle, to include his vivacious wife Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. What I'd never really considered, until now, was what it might be like to be married to a man like Scott. And while Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler is a fictional account of their life from Zelda's point of view, it paints a harrowing journey of living with a literary mind.

Raised in deep south Alabama, Zelda Sayre was quite always the life of the party. Doing her part to support the war efforts, and by saying this I mean dances and hidden drinks and kissing by the light of the moon, her ebullient and alluring personality captured the attention of a young F. Scott Fitzgerald. At the time, he was serving his duty in the armed forces, but the decision of Armistice prevented him from ever seeing actual combat. Married far too young and far too soon before Scott's personality infiltrated the recesses of Zelda's life, an adventure begins - sometimes journeying to the top of Olympus, but more often plummeting into the river Styx.

Their tale is the height of the Jazz Age. The parties, the lifestyle, the drinking (despite prohibition) and the downfall hits them harder than The Great Depression. F. Scott Fitzgerald makes a name for himself, but this novel explores Zelda in all her glorious, glamorous, and complicated mess.

Fowler's writing is flawless - Zelda's first person narrative leapt off the pages at me. I could not put this book down and found myself rereading sentences with the same intense passion that I've read F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing. She can and does a phrase worthy of literary merit and praise. I felt as if Zelda was talking directly to me and my heart broke for her in ways I cannot explain. Fowler provoked anger in me at the boy-wonder of a husband that destroyed Zelda's sparkling persona, and internalizing that anger caused me to despise not only Scott, but his novels (I'm over this - still love Gatsby - but there were moments). After reading this, I see so much more in Fitzgerald's writing than before, particularly knowing that much of his fodder came from her. I know she was a victim of the "times" - but his abuse of her ideas hurts my soul. She is Daisy or Rosalind - her life became the backdrop of which he wrote his novels, and his corruption of her spirit leaves a black hole in me, as much as it clearly did in her. The afterward discusses the research of the Fitzgerald's lives, and for me I'm cleary #teamzelda.

You can purchase from Amazon The Collected Writings of Zelda Fitzgerald for a fairly steep price right now (it would not be the publishing industry if they couldn't make a buck off something). But, this collection of work establishes her as what she was all along - a true artist in not only the performing world, but the literary world. She is a member of the Lost Generation and one worthy of notice and praise. May she earn posthumously the credit she did not receive in her life. I know I will be changing my approach to teaching Fitzgerald, with Zelda taking center stage. She was his muse and had it not been for her, I'm not sure works like Gatsby would even exist.

This novel is a must read - it's an eye opening adventure based on real events. A resounding and full ☕☕☕☕☕ - this book will haunt me for quite some time.

This is Therese Anne Fowler's first novel, but I'm sure we can expect more great writing from her. To learn more about the author, visit her website at: https://thereseannefowler.wordpress.com

Side note: There's a lot about Hemingway in this and the sordid relationship with F. Scott that has seen much speculation over the years. I've never liked Hemingway - he's an ass and I thought so before, during, and after reading this book. Sorry for this little random rant, but just felt the need to get in a dig on ol' Ernest.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Watermelon by Marian Keyes

Watermelon by Marian Keyes is a "chick-lit" novel I picked up because I'm reading about how to write in this genre. Before you scoff, do recognize that "chick-lit" is simply a niche of women's fiction characterized by a humorous approach to some fairly substantial topics. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (an obviously well-known nod) falls into this category; as does The Devil Wears Prada and Something Borrowed. These books treat subjects such as loss, betrayal, work-woes, divorce, even death, with an approach that by no means undermines the seriousness of it, but lightens it just a touch with an understanding that life will press on.

Marian Keyes is considered a substantial hitter in this movement so I felt obliged to pick up her first novel. Watermelon tells the story of Claire, a twenty-nine year old married woman whose husband decides that he is going to leave her on the day their daughter is born. Literally - he walks out on her IN THE HOSPITAL without even learning his daughter's name. And to top this - apparently everyone knew he was having the affair, except Claire. Why don't people tell??? With no other options, Claire returns to her ancestral home in Dublin with her parents and two siblings (she's one of five) that still reside there. Helen is a handful and Anna is an ethereal spirit that seems to float thorough life high. Her parents, well...they seem as overwhelmed as Claire by the downtrodden turn of her life. And within this amalgamated group of people, Claire finds herself again - much to James's (the horrible husband) dismay when he wants to return from the dark side. It's a lesson learned for everyone involved.

The premise of this novel is great; well not so much for Claire's life, but for a novel wrought with conflict and possible resolution. And I wanted to love it, but I didn't. 😦 Claire has undergone a lot  - A LOT!!! But, she whines and whittles away too much for me. She passes through unrealistic long-term battles with herself that droned on quite a bit. While it established the necessary understanding of her "coming of age" (albeit a bit late in life) and adult responsibilities, there were times it was excessive. Just when I'd think she was getting it together (for her child!), she'd lapse into a fit of despair that required tip-toeing. She didn't shower unless forced. She didn't wash her hair for a month - I think it was the hygiene loss that killed it for me. I could handle the attitude, the drinking, the self-deprecating even, but not the lack of hygiene. And her parents were so weak - allowed the younger siblings to just walk all over them - just horribly. That was difficult to read. My parents, even as "hippie" generation as they are, would NEVER have allowed this behavior in their home.

But, in true "chick-lit" fashion, there were moments that were funny. Keyes does write with a quippy wit that makes you laugh out loud about a serious topic like being left by the man you love on the day you bear his child. And there was the new man in her life, and their relationship is a bit comical given that Claire has some serious trust issues going on - and rightly so.

Overall I'd give this book ☕☕☕ and I will pick up the next book in the Walsh Family Saga just to see how the family dynamics play out.

For more about Marian Keyes and her books, visit her website at: http://www.mariankeyes.com/home

The very fact that she bases her stories in Ireland πŸ€is enough to keep me reading on!