Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I've Got You Under My Skin, by Mary Higgins Clark

I’ve Got You Under My Skin
Mary Higgins Clark
(Simon & Schuster, 2014)

Author Mary Higgins Clark is dependable—she knows how to  write thrillers.  The characters are interesting, her books are paced well.  I’ve Got You Under My Skin is no exception. 

A rich socialite was murdered 20 years ago and Laurie Moran, a television producer of reality shows, wants to bring all the suspects together again—the grief-stricken husband; the dead woman’s daughter and three of her friends who were celebrating their high school graduation 20 years ago at the home with a large party and a sleepover; the long-time housekeeper; a close family friend; plus an old girlfriend of the husband who also shows up to watch the filming of the TV show.

The show’s producer, Laurie Moran, is no stranger to murder herself.  Her young husband, a physician, was brutally gunned down five years ago while he played in the park with his young son. Then the killer with startling blue eyes looked at the terrified young boy and told him, “Tell your mother she’s next, then it’s your turn.”  Laurie, her son, and her father, an ex-cop, have lived under this threat ever since.

Every person participating in the reality show comes under suspicion for the socialite’s murder as scenes from 20 years ago are staged for the show.  Each person is interviewed by a famous criminal lawyer, and long-buried secrets come to the surface.  While attention is focused on the 20 year old murderer, the notorious “Blue-Eyed Killer” stalks Laurie and her son unnoticed, plotting his final revenge.

The basic premise that people who suffered so much already would allow such an invasion of their privacy by participating in a reenactment TV show seems a little far-fetched to me, but the author explains it satisfactorily.  The police and media made them all suspects 20 years ago, so this represents an opportunity for them to clear their names.  However, it turns out that each person has a good motive for murder of the socialite, and no one has an alibi. 

Although the ultimate outcome is predictable, there are surprises and a few plot twists.  The book goes down easy, making it a good choice for summer reading.
 
Clark's books have sold over 80 million copies.  To read about Mary Higgins Clark's interesting life, visit her website here.
 
 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The War of Art reviewed

The War of Art
Steven Pressfield
(Grand Central Publishing, 2002)

Pressfield’s small gem of a “self-help” manual is divided into three “books” or sections.  In Book One Pressfield labels the enemy of positive endeavors, whether it is creative act of writing, painting, gardening, or efforts toward getting healthier, as Resistance.  Resistance seeks to prevent us from pursuit of “any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity.”

Resistance seeks “to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”   Resistance is the enemy within, though Resistance often leads us to point our fingers at others, at the circumstances of our lives, in our attempt to cast the blame away from ourselves for failure to pursue our heartfelt dreams. 

Pressfield has a wonderful list of the insidious characteristics of Resistance, then he explains each in the short chapters of Book One.  For example, Resistance is always lying, so we must learn to tune it out.  Resistance isn’t personal, it attacks each individual who seeks betterment without prejudice or favoritism.   Resistance recruits allies, the Resistance in other people.  They who themselves are stuck may unconsciously interfere with another person’s efforts.

Our war with Resistance is a fight to the death, Pressfield maintains.  It is a “take no prisoners” war of art.  Resistance seeks to prevent us from becoming who we are meant to be.

After painting a rather grim picture in Book One, Pressfield informs us in Book Two that Resistance can be defeated—by turning “pro” in attitude.  Show up and do the work.  As Somerset Maugham told someone who asked him if wrote on schedule or only when he felt inspired:  “I write only when inspiration strikes.  Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”  Resistance is a bully, says Pressfield.  When you stand up to a bully, he/she most often backs down.
 

 
Book Three personifies the forces that help us combat Resistance.  We can think of them of muses or angels, Pressfield writes.  Angels, or the muses, reside in the Self.  Resistance is in the Ego.  We must do our work for our Selves, our happiness, not for fortune or attention or applause.  

The Universe gets behind us when we make the effort.  Goethe says, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Begin it now.”  Or as Pressfield states, “The same everyday miracles are happening in all our heads day by day, minute by minute.”

This book was loaned to me by a friend.  So far, I’ve read it twice.  The first time I really was struck by the description of Resistance, an entity I recognized in all its forms.  The second time I read it, the concept of “turning pro” really jumped out at me.  It seemed fairly easy, don’t worry about overcoming each manifestation of Resistance, just show up and make the effort. 

While I haven’t yet made the acquaintance of any muses or angels described in Book Three, I’m sure they are lurking around here somewhere.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep showing up. 
 


 
Steven Pressfield is the author of multiple books of  historical fiction, including The Legend of Bagger Vance; various screenplays; and other books of non-fiction.  He is a graduate of Duke University and a former United States Marine.
 


 

 

 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Worthy Brown's Daughter



Worthy Brown's Daughter
Phillip Margolin
(HarperCollins, 2014)

Former attorney and author, Phillip Margolin, was compelled to write Worthy Brown’s Daughter when he read of a court case that took place in the Oregon Territory in 1850’s. A slave family named Holmes was brought to the Oregon Territory by their owner, Colonel Nathaniel Ford, with the understanding that they would work as indentured servants for Ford for a number of years, after which they would be freed.  The Holmes family upheld their part of the bargain but when the time came for Ford to free them, Ford freed the parents and one young child, but kept the family’s other children.  The family found a white lawyer who agreed to represent them and sued Ford for the return of their children.  In 1853 the Oregon Supreme Court Justice, the Honorable George Williams, ruled in the family’s favor but one child had already died in Ford’s care.  Margolin was so moved by this story that he decided to write a historical novel based on this sad situation.


 
The result is Worthy Brown’s Daughter set in Portland, Oregon in 1860 when Oregon was a new state (having achieved statehood in 1858), and the legal system still had a Wild West quality to it.  Worthy Brown, a freed slave, is faced with a problem similar to the Holmes family.  His former owner, Caleb Barbour, a scoundrel and an unscrupulous lawyer, reneged on his agreement to free both Brown and his young daughter Roxanne if Brown worked as an indentured servant for Barbour. 
 
Worthy Brown meets a young lawyer Matthew Penny, newly arrived in Oregon and still grieving the death of his young wife on the Oregon Trail crossing, and asks Penny to help him free Roxanne from Barbour.  Penny takes the case but complications arise, people die, others fall in love.  Meanwhile, Penny is faced with a moral dilemma that threatens to destroy both himself and Worthy Brown. 
 
Margolin uses compelling characters to tell his story.  Some are lawyers, others are wealthy movers and shakers in the state of Oregon, while some are unsavory individuals drawn to the opportunities in the West.  Occasionally the characters sound a bit “wooden” but it doesn’t detract from the story.  Margolin's experience as a criminal defense attorney adds realism to the legal strategizing and court scenes.

Picture of author Phillip Margolin
(Photo courtesy of Portland Tribune, Jaime Valdez)
 
The plot moves quickly, demonstrating Margolin’s background in suspense.  His prose is terse and to the point, befitting one in the legal profession.  The reader also gets a historical perspective of Portland during this time period.  In the author’s notes, he indicates when he has taken liberties with dates of actual events. 
 
My niece gave me this book, and it turned out to be enjoyable summertime reading.  Thanks, Carrie!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Reading Mediocre Books

I don’t know why I read mediocre books, but lately I’ve read several.  For the most part they weren’t terrible, or at least they had some redeeming characteristics, or I wouldn’t have finished them.  In some instances I read them because I had purchased them, albeit on sale, and wanted to get my money’s worth. 

“What about your time?” a voice inside my head asks insistently. Another small voice whispers seductively, “You see what gets published, you can do as well.”  The discussion continues ad nauseam as I critique the books in my head.

 
A Talent for Murder
R.T. Jordan
(Kensington Books, 2009)
Purchased on sale, this book got my attention because the protagonist, Polly Pepper, is an older actress and an amateur sleuth who is the “nice” judge on a reality show, “I’d Do Anything to Become Famous.”  Other than Polly Pepper having a flamboyant personality and life style that was somewhat amusing, the book had few redeeming characteristics.  The answer to the question of what people would do to become famous turns out to be have sex with anyone, no matter what their gender, and to kill each other.  Perhaps the author, a publicist at Walt Disney Studios, was trying to show the absurdity of television reality shows and the depths to which people who produce and appear on them have sunk, but it didn’t work for me.  I was left wondering why I had read the book.


The Devil's Puzzle
Clare O'Donohue
(Plume/Penguin Publishing Group, 2011)
The Devil’s Puzzle is part of a series featuring Nell Fitzgerald who helps her grandmother run a quilting store in the small town of Archer’s Rest.  The events in this book take place during the preparations for the big Fourth of July celebration when a skeleton is found in the yard of Nell’s grandmother.  Everyone in town is a suspect as old secrets and former relationships surface, creating lots of red herrings.  There is nothing wrong with this mystery, but it didn’t really engage me—not the characters, the setting, the milieu, nor the plot—but I did complete it to see “who done it.”  Another reader might like this book better.  At least it is suitable for sharing with my older friend down the street who likes mysteries and sewing.


Double Shot
Diane Mott Davidson
(William Morrow, 2004)
I picked this up on sale because I used to read this cozy series by Diane Mott Davidson and enjoyed the capers of the caterer, Goldy Schultz, and her friends.  Dead bodies turn up in the course of their catering jobs, and Goldy solves the mystery and cooks a lot.  I like the cooking part and the setting in Colorado, but nothing else works in this mystery.  Goldy’s abusive ex-husband is murdered, and the reactions of the characters are unbelievable, especially Goldy’s teen-age son who is devastated despite knowing how his father treated his mother, other women and people in general.  The father was totally immoral, and the reader is supposed to believe a teen-age boy would have no concern or awareness of this face, nor exhibit any ambivalence about his father.  The ending is equally absurd.  This is a book that must have been written on deadline with no one much caring about the content.
 

Christmas Carol Murder
Leslie Meier
(Kensington Books, 2013) 
Loaned to me by a friend and certainly the best of the lot here, this is another cozy series that I’ve read and enjoyed in the past. Small town newspaper reporter Lucy Stone and her family live in Tinker’s Cove on the coast of Maine—okay, that is two pluses upfront for the series: small town newspaper and coastal Maine.  The recession has hit Tinker’s Cover hard and the number of foreclosed properties is growing, and the town is cutting back on the hours of their employees, creating further hardships for the holidays.  Local company, Downeast Mortgage is one of the main culpable entities as they made balloon loans to people in town that they now can’t pay, and the mortgage company is foreclosing on people rather than letting them restructure their payments.  When a letter bomb kills one of the mortgage company’s owners, there is no shortage of suspects.  Juxtapose this with the local production of “A Christmas Carol” and you have the setting for a Christmas morality tale. 

For a bit of an upgrade in my reading life, I’ve now switched to historic fiction.  Stay tuned for that review.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Spell of a Magic Garden

Garden Spells
Sarah Addison Allen
(Bantam Trade Paperback edition, 2008)
 
 The Waverleys are an “odd” family—different from others.  They grow plants in their yard that have special properties.   Claire Waverley knows how to cook with the herbs and flowers grown in her yard (as did her grandmother before her)—how to combine the plants to produce certain feelings and behaviors.  Claire is a sought-after caterer who lives alone, content to cook for others and tend her garden. 
 
At least Claire is content until nights when the sliver of a moon smiles down provocatively, “the way pretty women on vintage billboards used to smile as they sold cigarettes and limeade.”  Because Claire dreams of her childhood on the smiley moon nights, she stays awake all night, avoiding sleep and the dreams of rootlessness, a mother who went from man to man, job to job, who stole to live and created such fear and insecurity in her daughter.  On these nights Claire would work in the garden “…so wound up that frustration singed the edge of her nightgown and she set tiny fires with her fingertips.”  
 
If people eat apples from the Waverleys’ special apple tree, the individuals will see the most significant thing that will happen to them in their lives—either positive or catastrophic events.  For this reason, the Waverleys guard this tree and immediately bury any apples that fall from the tree, to protect people from knowing a future they can’t control.  The apple tree portends things that are going to happen in the garden, throws apples at people when it gets bored and apparently has feelings of its own.
 
Claire’s existence is turned upside down when a young male art professor moves in next door, about the same time her younger sister Sydney shows up after years of absence with a young daughter, Bay, in tow.  Sydney is hiding from her ex--her daughter’s abusive and dangerous father, although she doesn’t immediately confide in Claire. 
 
Again Allen has created likable characters though they may be strange.  A favorite is Evanelle, the Waverley women’s great-aunt, who has the compulsion to give people things that they don’t know they need but soon will.  She doesn’t know why she has to give away strange items but she has done it all her life. 
 
I enjoy the way Allen weaves in magical elements that seem totally reasonable.  Art professor Tyler Hughes has "...tiny pinpricks of purple light hovering around him, like electrical snaps.”
 
Allen is adept at engaging all the reader’s senses, “…Sydney [as a child] would sit in the hallway outside the kitchen and listen to the bubble of sauce boiling, the sizzle of things in skillets, the rattle of pans, the mumble of Claire and Grandma Waverley’s voices.”
 
In describing another character, Allen paints a vivid word picture: “…her hair was blond and her boobs were big.  She drove a convertible, wore diamonds with denim, and she never missed a homecoming game.  She was so Southern that she cried tears that came straight from the Mississippi, and she always smelled faintly of cottonwood and peaches.”
 
This novel is light summertime reading on one level, but also deals with universal themes—self-discovery and learning to love and trust.  It is about coming home, literally and figuratively.  Equally important, it’s just fun to hang out awhile with author Sarah Addison Allen in the world she has created in Garden Spells.
 
 

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Sugar Queen is a Sweet Treat



The Sugar Queen
Sarah Addison Allen
(Bantam Trade Paperback, 2009)
 
 

 
I was introduced to author Sarah Addison Allen when I found this book in a box of books in my mother’s basement, put there for anyone in the family to take.  I was surprised when I later opened the book to find that I had given the book to my mother, which she duly noted along with the fact that she had read it.  I was looking for light fiction when I started to read the book, but didn’t dream I would grow to love this author and her “Southern Magical Realism.”  It goes down easy.  The veil between reality and the supernatural shifts back and forth as if blown by a summer breeze.

This book was read as part of the Once Upon a Time reading challenge.  See prior post for more information.  You will note I didn't read what I had intended to read because I got fixated on Sarah Addison Allen's books!

Josey Cirrini is controlled by her wealthy, domineering, self-centered, and bitter mother, Margaret, though Josey’s situation begins to change when she discovers a strange woman hiding in her closet.  Della Lee Baker, a beautiful woman from Josey’s hometown, has a bad reputation and a self-destructive streak, so Josey surprises herself when she decides to let Della Lee stay in her closet for a while. Della Lee is there to help Josey live a real life, instead of remaining under her mother’s domination.  Josey, in turn, helps Della Lee find closure to situations in her life.

Allen’s books are sensory treats.  She evokes scents and sights to set the tone for her books, each set in a fictitious North Carolina location.  This genre will not be for everyone, but I love her descriptions, e.g. “feathery frost on the windowpane,” the locales and the characters.  

The characters often have immutable characteristics shared by everyone in their family.  The men in the Pelham family can’t break a promise once it’s given.  Other characters are associated with specific scents and powers, e.g. Josey Cirrini, the main character, smells like peppermint. 

“[Julian] smelled of alcohol and of something else, like if you took a match to a rosebush.”  He is the charismatic evil seducer: “He was beautiful, like he’s been carefully drawn with a charcoal pencil, every line perfect, every smudge delivered.” “Julian was sitting with Chloe, surrounding them both with in a cloud of rosy-black smoke that only the women in the bar could see….Chloe was stuck in his smoke, entranced by him.  She couldn’t get out alone.”

Beside Julian, Margaret Cirrini is one of the more villainous characters but eventually the reader develops some empathy for her, and she becomes a more sympathetic character.  Rawley Pelham, the local taxi company owner, has a secret that binds him to the Cirrini family.  Adam Boswell, the Carrini’s mail carrier and the object of Josey’s unrequited love, has his own hidden past.  Café owner Chloe Finley and her estranged boyfriend Jake Yardley are torn apart by a betrayal and a secret.  Every character has unrealized hopes and dreams and secrets--secrets that must be disclosed before individuals can achieve happiness.   

Chloe has a strange relationship with books.  They appear unbidden to her and always have a message for her if she would heed them.  When Chloe seeks to buy a house, the homeowner says:

Books can be possessive, can’t they?  You’re walking around in a bookstore and a certain one will jump out at you, like it had moved there on its own, just to get your attention.  Sometimes what’s inside will change will life, but sometimes you don’t even have to read it.  Sometimes it’s a comfort just to have a book around.  Many of these books [in this library] haven’t even had their spines cracked.  ‘Why do you books you don’t even read?’ our daughter asks us.  That’s like asking someone who lives alone why they bought a cat.  For company, of course….

 I would love this book, if for no other reason than this passage!

While each of Sarah Addison Allen’s books contains dark forces that threaten the well-being of the characters, these are dispelled by the end of the novel.  Remember, this is “magical realism.”

 

 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Love of Reading is a Precious Gift

I had the pleasure this week of delivering children’s books to several early childhood programs.  The daughter of one of our faculty members at LSUHSC Children’s Center collected gently used books as part of her Bat Mitzvah, and then donated the books and other literacy materials to our department.  Some items we kept for our waiting room, but we gave one basket of books to an inclusive child development center, two baskets went to a large Head Start center, and I delivered two baskets of paperback books to the elementary school around the corner from my house.  We are trying to promote in the students at these schools a love of reading--one of the greatest gifts an adult can give a child.

Presenting a basket of books to Goldman Child Development Center
This afternoon I attended a baby shower for the daughter of a dear friend.  The event was filled with conversation, delicious treats and gifts that will welcome baby Grace into the world in a couple of months. 



A suggestion of spring in Louisiana with tulips at each table
 
 
Young helpers assist the mom-to-be
Expectant mother poses with her friends while some of us "photo bomb" in the back.

It was lucky the shower was held a couple blocks from my house, because I was getting ready when my sister and mother called from Virginia to chat a few minutes.  They were excited that it was snowing in the mountains, and it looked like they would get several inches before it was over.  My sister said she and her husband were more excited about the prospect of sledding in the afternoon (once it snowed a bit more) than her young grandsons were.

With my mind on children and snow, I decided to review a children’s book that I recently purchased from a new thrift shop in my neighborhood.  As soon as I saw the book, I loved the cover art and the title of the book and the fact the author was a Newbery Honoree.  I brought the paperback home to read before I pass it on to a great-niece or great- nephew.


Ruddy doesn’t always enjoy his visits with his Grandmother Silk.  He loves computers, playing outside and getting dirty.  Grandmother Silk has perfect hair and wears high heels all the time—even her bedroom slippers have high heels.  She doesn’t have a computer and the only television show he can watch at her house is Masterpiece Theater.  She lives next to a lake, but doesn’t like to take walks.  She has a garden full of herbs, vegetables and flowers but only Lucy who comes to cook every day is allowed to pick any vegetables.  Ruddy usually visits in the summer, but this year is different—he has to stay ten whole days in the fall while his parents take a cruise.  The only good thing is his grandmother agrees to buy him a gorilla costume and take him to the zoo for Halloween.
Then, the unexpected happens and a big snow storm hits the night before Halloween.  It knocks down trees, which knocks out the electricity and blocks the roads.  Ruddy and Grandmother Silk have no heat, no lights, no water and no help for days.  They must stay warm with the wood fire places, cook on the gas stove top, haul water from the lake and figure out how to amuse themselves—and they succeed. 
Ruddy observes that Grandmother Silk seems to get softer as the days go by.  Finally electric workers from Kentucky arrive to repair their electric lines.  The storm created such an emergency that workers from all over have been called in to help.  At first Grandmother isn't sure she likes the men from Kentucky but soon she and Ruddy are outside holding a flashlight to help them see, and once power is restored, everyone gathers together for hot chocolate.

This chapter book for young readers is an engaging, sweet story, which was published posthumously in 2003 after Fenner passed away in 2002.  British Illustrator Amanda Harvey provides the delightful and humorous pictures for the book.  Snowed in with Grandmother Silk was named an American Library Association Notable Book, a Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book, and a Center for Children’s Books Gryphon Honor Book.  It's a perfect book for a snowy day.
 

Snow today in my mother & sister's neighborhood posted by a friend on FB.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bloodroot and Rosemary Biscuits


While looking for books to donate to a church media sale, I happened upon Susan Wittig Albert’s Bloodroot, published in 2001, which has been on my library shelves for quite awhile.  I  tried reading this mystery before but didn’t get far.  The setting is the Mississippi Delta rather than the herb shop and tearoom in the Texas Hill Country of Albert's other China Bayles mysteries. 
I picked up the book again and decided if it didn’t hold my interest this time, I would donate it.  I must have been more amenable to reading about the South this go-around, because I finished it quickly.  I actually enjoyed learning some back story about China and her mother Leatha, with whom China has had a troubled relationship in the past. 

The aunt who raised Leatha and who owns the family’s Mississippi plantation is ill with a degenerative neurological disorder, and Leatha is caring for her when secrets from the family’s past begin to emerge, and Leatha asks China for help.  China’s legal skills from her former career are called into play, and some unexplained ghostly assistance points China in the right direction.
Ill-conceived and extreme measures taken to hide family secrets lead to unnecessary deaths, and the sins of the fathers must be uncovered in order to move forward.  The decisions of the characters propel the plot at a more leisurely pace so this isn't a "sitting on the edge of your seat" mystery.  While the characters are fraught with human frailties, the reader is left with hope for the future.

Of course, there is the usual information about herbs in this series, and since I’m taking a Master Gardener class, I try to pay attention to all the Latin names! 
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis)

Master Gardener binder at my desk--reading this week's assignment!

My reading also inspired me to make some rosemary biscuits though I didn’t use the exact recipe provided in the book.  I had some heavy cream in the refrigerator left over from Christmas and decided to make cream biscuits from a recipe found here on the Internet.  Essentially you add heavy cream to a mixture of flour, baking powder, sugar, salt.  I added dried rosemary to the recipe and they turned out well.  I was able to use the leftover cream, but these rich biscuits certainly aren’t something I would make often. 
Toasted rosemary biscuits with honey for breakfast

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Drinking Wine and Reading About Scotland

I’m finally getting my house back in order from the Christmas holidays, which is important because we have Mardi Gras decorating to do!  Today I took a break from cleaning and went to my wine group where the conversation ranged from paranormal activity to a recent overseas trip to men and bosses, but we found time to drink a little wine and comment on the wine-dessert pairings. 

 


Chocolate cake made of chickpeas in background!
I’m also continuing to review books I read over the holidays.  I probably should have been drinking a single malt whiskey, rather than wine, before I reviewed this book set in 1950's Scotland.
 
Atria paperback, 2013

Part of a severed leg is found in the laundry of a local hockey team by the neighborhood nurse and “hockey mom” who washes the uniforms each week.  Is it a macabre joke or something more sinister? 

At the very least, it is a front page story for the Highland Gazette and captures the interest of reporter Joanne Ross and her colleagues—fellow reporter Rob McLean; Editor and Joanne’s romantic interest, McAllister; and photographer Hector Bain.  The situation soon takes a more gruesome turn, and all the investigative skills of the Highland Gazette staff are brought to bear on the case.  

A beautiful American jazz singer has also appeared in the village looking for information about her airman husband who died in a plane crash several years before off the Scottish coast.  Is her appearance related to what is happening in the village?  Her inquiries seem innocuous, but someone doesn’t want her finding answers and will go to any lengths to stop her. 

Other newspaper employees featured in this book are the young receptionist Fiona and grizzled deputy editor Don McLeod, plus various family members of the news staff.  The characters and the setting of a small town newspaper in a Scottish seacoast village are major reasons for the charm of this series by A. D. Scott, the pen name of Deborah Ann Nolan.  Another strength of Scott's series is the fact that the characters and their situations evolve and change with each book.

The plots are sometimes far-fetched and this one doesn’t always appear logical to me, but unhinged villains aren’t logical in their actions.  The climax drags in this book, and then one unfinished piece of business is hurriedly completed in a flurry of tidying up unresolved plot elements.  None of this would deter me from reading additional books in the series, however. 
 
To read my review of one of Scott’s earlier mysteries, A Double Death on the Black Isle, click here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Reading My Christmas Gifts


The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty
G.P. Putnam’s Son, 2013



The lives of three families are intertwined and forever changed by a tragic incident that occurred years before in this offering by Australian author, Liane Moriarty. 

Cecilia Fitzpatrick, a highly successful Tupperware representative and mother to three talented daughters, is living a well-ordered, dream life.  Her handsome husband loves his family, has a successful job and hides a horrible secret.

Rachel, an efficient school secretary, a doting grandmother and a grieving mother, lost her only daughter years ago under mysterious circumstances.  While Rachel appears to have it all together, her unresolved questions about her daughter's death fester under her placid exterior and threaten to erupt with tragic results.

Tess’ marriage is torn apart when husband Will falls for Tess’ best friend and cousin, Felicity.  Tess takes her young son and moves in with her mother in Sydney and falls into a relationship with an old boyfriend who may be a murderer.

The three families’ interwoven situations emerge, as different chapters introduce their lives and secrets, until their stories become one and the book races to its climax.

Moriarty successfully uses multiple perspectives to tell the story.  I wasn’t fond of the characters initially, finding them to be clichéd (wronged wife, grieving mother) and, for this reason, the book gets off to a slow start but eventually becomes a page turner.  The plot has multiple twists and turns as the truth is slowly revealed. 

In the end, there are some surprises when  the author shares secrets that only she knows—explaining the past and the mistakes that were made, telling the reader what would have happened if the circumstances had been slightly different, and revealing what the future holds for some characters.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Stories of the Beat Generation

 
I knew the authors labeled “The Beat Generation” weren’t choirboys.  After reading The Typewriter is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation, by Bill Morgan, I realize the full impact of this group’s self-centered  and self-destructive  behaviors on those around them. 

In 1943, Lucien Carr, a troubled and wealthy young man from St. Louis, enrolled in Columbia University where he met Allen Ginsberg.  Carr was a friendly guy and invited Ginsberg to meet some of his Greenwich Village friends.  Through Carr, Ginsberg met William Burroughs and another man, David Krammerer, who like Carr was from a wealthy St. Louis family.   Krammerer was a gay man obsessed with the young, attractive and heterosexual Lucian Carr.  Carr’s circle of friends also included two young women from well-to-do families, Edie “Frankie” Parker, and Joan Vollmer Adams, a young pregnant war bride.  It was through the women that Carr and Ginsberg met Jack Kerouac, as aspiring writer from a working class family who Edie was dating at the time.

Photo of Kerouac & Carr
(from Allen Ginsberg Trust)

Because Kerouac and Carr wanted to “see the world,” they hatched a plan to become seamen and travel to France, then Paris, where they hoped to live after it was liberated from the Nazis.  Krammerer found out about the proposed adventure and wanted to go along, since he was like an obsessed groupie  when it came to Carr.  After a long night of drinking and arguing about the trip, Carr stabbed Krammerer with a pocket knife and pushed him into the Hudson River, causing him to drown. 

David Kammerer
Carr immediately confessed what he had done to Burroughs and Kerouac.  Burroughs advised Carr to contact a lawyer and turn himself in, while the working-class and less worldly Kerouac felt Carr should try to hide all evidence of the crime and then helped him do it.  After a day or so, Carr’s conscience got the better of him and he told his mother's lawyer and turned himself in.  Burroughs and Kerouac were also arrested as material witnesses. 
Burroughs, whose grandfather had invented the modern adding machine, was immediately able to post bond and get out of jail.  Kerouac’s father refused to help him, and Kerouac got out of jail only because he and Edie Parker got married and she used her trust fund money to get him out.  They later divorced when Kerouac didn't feel comfortable around her well-to-do family. 

Carr avoided serious prison time for killing Krammerer,  because Columbia University and Carr’s lawyers depicted him in court as a young man who was defending himself from an older sexual predator.  Carr spent two years in a reformatory for the crime.  Charges against Kerouac and Burroughs were dropped.
The film, Kill Your Darlings, depicting Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Ratcliff), William Burroughs (Ben Foster), and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), is coming to the Robinson Film Center in Shreveport and is based on this incident.
 
The Carr-Krammerer affair was merely the first of many tragic exploits surrounding this group of writers.  Burroughs, despite being gay, ended up marrying the friend of the writers, Joan Adams.  They were both addicted to drugs and heavy drinkers.  While living in Mexico, Burroughs would accidentally kill Joan—shooting her in the forehead while trying to shoot a whiskey glass off her head. 
Many of the circle of friends and acquaintances surrounding the Beat writers were unstable.  One man, Bill Cannastra, who like Burroughs had attended Harvard, boarded a subway in New York after a night of barhopping.  He then decided he wanted to return to the bar after the subway doors had closed.  He tried to crawl out the window after the train started.  He wasn’t totally out the window when the subway reached the end of the platform.  He was knocked out of the window, onto the tracks and crushed by the train in full view of his horrified friends. 

One of Cannastra’s closest friends was a woman named Joan Haverty who moved into Cannastra’s loft apartment after his death.  Shortly thereafter,  Kerouac  stopped by the loft looking for Carr. He met Joan and, within two weeks, Kerouac and Joan were married despite the fact neither seemed to be in love with the other.  The marriage ended in divorce, but Joan bore Kerouac a daughter.   Kerouac would spend the rest of his life denying his paternity and trying to avoid paying child support.
There were other well-known friends, such as Neal Cassidy, and those not so well-known.  The Typewriter is Holy explores the interactions of this loosely knit, yet enmeshed, group.  Ginsberg emerges as the most sane of them all, and he was in and out of therapy his whole life. 

Along the way, some seminal works of literature were written.  For almost 40 years, author Bill Morgan worked as an editor and archival consultant for nearly every member of the Beat Generation.  He is well-informed about his subject matter, but this was a hard book for me to read.  These are important writers, but the story of their lives and works is like watching a series of train wrecks.