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Monday, January 31, 2011

Mad For Maisie- Birds of a Feather

As part of the I'm Mad for Maisie Read Along sponsored by the bookclubgirl, I read the second book in the Maisie Dobbs series, Birds of a Feather.  Although it is set in 1930, and World War I had been over for little more than a decade, the effects of the war are still being felt.

Maisie's assistant Billy, who was badly injured during the war, has become addicted to pain killers. His wife comes to Maisie concerned about her husband, and confirming Maisie's own suspicions that something is wrong with Billy.

The main mystery concerns the disappearance of a young woman whose wealthy father owns many grocery stores. Her disappearance comes on the heels of the deaths of three other women, women whom Maisie discovers were friends of the missing woman.

There are many possible suspects, but when the police narrow it down to one of the dead women's husbands, Maisie believes they have the wrong man. She uses the methods taught to her by her mentor Dr. Blanche, both scientific and intuitive, to find the killer. (Again, it could be a forerunner of the popular TV series CSI crossed with The Mentalist.)

My favorite line in the book is one of Dr. Blanche's teachings to Maisie:
"Coincidence is a messenger sent by truth. (That) there are no accidents of fate."
Maisie still visits Simon, the doctor she fell in love with during the war, at the hospital where he will never recover. Her compassion is touching, but in this book it appears that Maisie is ready to move on to having a romantic relationship with another man. She has two possible suitors: Dr. Dene and Inspector Stratton. It will be interesting to see in future books which man may win her heart, and whether either man can stand up to the memory of Simon.

Again, I loved the description of Maisie's clothes. I would love to see illustrations in the book of Maisie's outfits.

I also found the characters in this book more rounded out. Joseph Waite, the wealthy father of the missing girl, is intriguing. He is overbearing with his daughter, but he is kind to his customers and to the families who lost sons and husbands during the war.  Joseph's relationship with his daughter caused Maisie to reflect more on her own relationship with her father, which seems more distant as the years go by.

The Order of the White Feather was something I had never heard of before this book, and it was incorporated well into the story. Young women tend to be dramatic, and the way in which these young ladies thought they were helping the war effort caused more pain than they could have ever imagined. And in the end, it caused them much pain too.

I'd like to see Maisie become more emotionally open, and hope that in future books in the series, we see her find some happiness.  Perhaps in the next novel in the series, Pardonable Lies.  If you enjoy historical fiction and female protagonists, Maisie is the lady for you.

My review of the first book, Maisie Dobbs, is here.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My review of Kim Edwards LAKE OF DREAMS

This month's Book report from the Citizen is my review of Skaneateles' native Kim Edwards' new novel The Lake of Dreams.
Many of you will know her from her book The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which spent over 2o weeks at the top of the New York Times best seller list.
Click on the link here: share

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Miss Abigail's Guide

Eve Plumb & Manuel Herrara
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

A few years ago I received a book in the mail, asking for a review. It was written by Abigail Grotke, who lived in Auburn as a child. Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage was a charming book,  filled with tips from books written many years ago.

It had cute illustrations, and it really was a delightful book. Here is my review, from the Citizen.
Miss Abigail.

Late last year, I read an article on Broadwayworld.com that Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage was being turned into an off-Broadway show starring Eve Plumb, Jan from the Brady Bunch. I thought it was a wonderful idea, and couldn't wait to see it.

I went yesterday, and it was so much fun! It reminded me of another off-Broadway show, Love, Loss & What I Wore, in that it is a terrific show for a group of girls to see.

There is a lot of audience participation in the show, so be prepared to be pulled up on stage to play the game "Love, Lust or Stalking" or be asked to learn flirting moves from Miss Abigail.

The story revolves around Miss Abigail giving advice, while her lovesick assistant Pablo (the handsome and talented Manuel Herrera) tries to get the courage to tell Miss Abigail he loves her. The chemistry between the actors is wonderful, and both of them are very good at improvising with audience members.

I loved the set design- a couch and chair in front of shelves filled with books. All of the marketing materials are very eye-catching and well done. They even sent a thank you note the following day, along with a picture that Miss Abigail took of the audience.

There is a funny film explaining sex that had the entire audience guffawing. If you want a good laugh, go see Miss Abigail. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage Aux Folles won the Tony Award last year for Best Revival of a Musical, and Douglas Hodge won the Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

Hodge and Kelsey Grammer, the lead roles, are leaving the production on February 13th, so I had to see them before they left, and am I glad I did.

When I opened my Playbill, a piece of paper fell out stating that the role of Hanna would be played by Todd Lattimore. Hey, he's from my hometown of Auburn, NY! I was pretty excited about getting to see him perform, and he was wonderful.

Hanna is one of Les Cagelles, the female impersonators/dancers from the nightclub owned by  Georges (Grammer). Albin (Hodge) is also known as Zaza, the star of the show at the club, and is Georges' long time companion.

If you've seen the movie, The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, you know the story. Georges' son Jean-Michel is marrying the daughter of a conservative politician, and the parents are going to meet. When Jean-Michel's birth mother doesn't show up, Albin dons his female clothes and takes her place. (Which rightly belongs to him, anyway, as he raised Jean-Michel with Georges.)

Hodge is pitch-perfect as Albin, playing the role with the right touch of sass and heart and diva-like behavior. He so deserved the Tony! He is funny, and touching and has the loveliest voice. He is wonderful as Albin and Zaza.

Todd Lattimore got to play the showiest Cagelle role of Hanna. Hanna is a dominatrix, and he knows how to work that whip. He has some funny lines, and Lattimore delivers them with gusto. All of the Cagelles are stunning; muscular, amazing dancers. The song "La Cage Aux Folles", with Les Cagelles dancing in a huge birdcage is so beautifully done, it's breathtaking.

The showstopping song, The Best of Times, sung by the company, is a classic Broadway song. All of the music by Jerry Herman was terrific, just perfect for the show. I just wish the woman sitting behind me didn't feel it necessary to sing the song along with Hodge. And that she didn't talk to her husband the entire show. (How did I end up sitting in the middle of a bus tour group, anyway?) She could have waited until the reprise, when the audience was invited to singalong.

The show is really great, it will make you laugh and believe in love again. If you get the chance to see it before Hodge leaves, you must do it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Devil's Star

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett
Published by Harper Collins
Hardcover, $25.99

I used to read some crime fiction writers - Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta series (the older ones), Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton- but I haven't read much lately. I read many books, but I am one of the few who hasn't read Stieg Larsson's The Girl With trilogy, so I thought I'd get back on the wagon with Jo Nesbo's The Devil's Star.

Nesbo has a lot of buzz about him in the publishing world, and since he is from Norway, he is also Scandinavian like Larsson, so perhaps that will encourage more people to read his novels.

The Devil's Star continues the story of police detective Harry Hole, who has been in such other Nesbo novels as The Redbreast and Nemesis. Harry is a mess; he is an alcoholic, too involved in his work (and about to get fired), and these flaws have distanced him from his girlfriend and her young son.

When women are found murdered in Oslo, a serial killer is on the loose, and Hole must work with a detective he believes is involved in the death of his former partner. Her death precipitated his decline, but a serial killer means pulling himself together and finding the killer.

I always say that I learn at least one new thing from every book I read, and in this book, one of the characters, a criminologist, states that
"the most characteristic trait of the serial killer is that he's American."
That made me take notice, and it's really a lousy category in which to be number one.

Nebso writes well and it's not too gory or bloody, thank goodness. The characters are well drawn, especially Hole. The author really nails the effects of alcoholism, the ugliness and desperation of it. You want to root for Hole, and you want to slap him at the same time.

When Harry takes his girlfriend's young son to a place where the serial killer has been, his girlfriend is furious. Harry knows she will be, but it didn't matter.
"He knew he could give her an answer. He could have said that what he was 'doing' was trying to save lives in the city, but even that would have been a lie. The truth was he was 'doing' his own thing and letting everyone else around him pay the price. It had always been like that, and it always would be, and if it happened to save lives, then that was a bonus."
That passage nails the character of Harry in just a few sentences.

The mystery of the story- who is killing these women- is interesting, and Nesbo throws in enough red herrings that when you think you may know whodunnit, another suspect pops up.  The action is well paced, and this book and its characters are very cinematic. It would make a terrific movie.

The setting of Oslo is unique, and it's really another great character in the book.

The Devil's Star is crime fiction at its best; it's literate, and complex, and Harry Hole is a character I want to know more about. Fans of Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly should add Jo Nesbo to their list of authors to read.

Rating 4.5 of 5

Hush by Kate White

Hush by Kate White
Published by Harper Collins
Hardcover, $24.99

I don't read many mystery/thriller books, (mostly because I don't like the whole women-in-jeopardy-thing) but once I picked up Kate White's Hush, I found I couldn't put it down.

Lake Warren (why do they always have names like that?) is going through a bitter divorce, and now her soon-to-be ex is suing for full custody of their two children. She runs her own small marketing firm, and she is in the middle of working on a big presentation for a hot-shot fertility clinic.

She makes the mistake of sleeping with one of the playboy doctors at the clinic who ends up murdered after their tryst. If she tells the police she was there, she could lose custody of her children. Instead, she decides to find out who the murderer is. Oh yeah, and someone is calling her and leaving frightening messages on her phone. Is it her ex-husband or the real murderer?

There is also something odd going on at the clinic. Was the doctor killed by a jealous husband, because of  gambling debts, or did he find out something illegal was being done at the clinic?

The author does a good job creating characters with believable motivations. Any mom can relate to panicking at the thought of losing her children, and making bad decisions because of that fear.

White also paces the action in the novel so well, it's a real page turner. Lake gets herself into more than a few jams, and your pulse will race as she extricates herself. I will say that one of those jams involving water was a little over the top for me, but it was scary.

The mystery of who killed the doctor keeps you guessing right up until the end, and I have to confess I was surprised. The setting of Manhattan is used to good effect, you really get a good sense of the city.

If you're looking for something to take you out of your day and you have a few hours on your hands, pick up Hush. Just remind yourself to breathe while you're reading it.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Buffalo Unbound

Buffalo Unbound: A Celebration by Laura Pedersen
Published by Fulcrum Publishing 
Paperback, $16
Laura Pedersen wrote a hilarious book titled Buffalo Gal, about her life growing up in the snowy city of Buffalo, New York in the 1970s. As I grew up in Auburn, New York, two hours away but just as snowy, I totally related to her stories of making your way through feet of snow to get anywhere.

I literally doubled over with laughter at Pedersen's skewered sense of humor about her family, friends and hometown. Now she has written a new book, Buffalo Unbound, telling why Buffalo is such a great city.

Buffalo has taken it's share of knocks over the years, losing industry, jobs, and population. But a turn around occurred when The New York Times ran a story a few years ago about people who were moving from New York City to Buffalo to take advantage of the inexpensive, spacious housing and opportunity that a city trying to recover affords young families.

Pedersen recounts canceling her subscription to Forbes magazine after it ranked Buffalo #8 on its list of Top Ten Most Miserable Cities. She decides to give the reasons why this is not true by writing this book.

She starts with the fact that since so many people have left Buffalo, there is plenty of room, and you never have to wait in line for anything. No traffic jams, no getting to the beach at sunrise to get a good spot.

Buffalonians have always been tough, and Pedersen illustrates this by telling of Margaret St. John, who refused to move her nine children during the war of 1812 when the British were on the way to burn the town. The British general was impressed by St. John, and left her family home alone.

Pedersen explains that her own neighbors also had nine children and went on family vacation just once in 30 years, and so she understands St. John's position perfectly. She wasn't taking all those kids anywhere.

Buffalo has always been very staunchly Catholic, and the story of Father Baker explains this. In the late 1880s, Buffalo was beginning to discover pockets of natural gas.  Father Baker got $2000 from his bishop and invited drillers from a gas company to come drill on church property.

They struck gas, and the money from the wells went to provide services such as the Infant Home, Working Boys Home, and as the Great Depression struck, Father Baker was able to provide food, medical care and clothing for hundreds of thousands of Buffalonians.

Father Baker has been placed in nomination for sainthood in the Catholic Church, and his influence is felt to this day in Buffalo.

Pedersen's chapter on the Blizzard of 1977 is interesting, and I like her suggestion for a
"Western New York holiday gift list:  generator, chain saw, wood chipper, carbon monoxide detector, Yaktrax (chains for your shoes), Buffalo Sabres Snuggie."
If you know what she's talking about, you will appreciate this book. Ethnic festivals, chicken wings, the polka, the disappointing Buffalo Bills, Frank Lloyd Wright, and sponge candy- all of these get their due in this interesting book about the pride of being from Buffalo.

Buffalo has many designations, the Good Neighbor City among them. Pedersen closes with
 "No, Buffalonians have it right. Join the club and pay your dues. Find others. Celebrate your joys and mourn your losses together. Stick with the herd. Swim with the school. Stay with the flock. And my mother says to wear a hat."
Pedersen blends humor with history in this love letter to her hometown. In the days when we are all seemingly connected only by the internet, this book is a welcome reminder about the importance of a true community like Buffalo.

Rating 4 stars out of 5

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Erin Kelly, an author to watch

One of the great joys of reading is discovering new authors. Last week while on Twitter, I had the opportunity to receive a copy of a new book from Pamela Dorman Books author Erin Kelly. Her first novel, The Poison Tree, was publishing the following week, and Erin was going to be doing a reading and signing at the Barnes & Noble store a few blocks from my apartment.

Erin's enthusiasm for books, and mysteries in particular, was apparent from the moment she stepped up to the podium and started talking about her book. She said "my favorite books have a body count", and she recounted her love of Agatha Christie, whose book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, is the one Kelly holds dearest. She humorously called it "a gateway drug" to other mystery books. She also names Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca and Donna Tartt's A Secret History as inspirations.

She spoke of her fascination for the possibilities that the genre of mystery holds, and for her first novel, she wanted a protagonist for whom death would be shocking- no police officer, no pathologist. Her main characters are college students. They are on "the cusp of adulthood", celebrating their "last hurrah" before responsibilities take over.

She calls The Poison Tree a coming of age novel and a murder mystery in reverse. In her novel, we know from the beginning who committed the murder, and must read on to find out who the victim(s?) were.  I like that unique concept.

Kelly read from the book, and if there is an audio version, she should be the reader. She reads with gusto, and it is apparent from the way that her face lit up and she became most animated that Biba is a favorite character. Her lilting British accent is charming, and it called to mind a scene from the movie Love, Actually, when the British Colin is in a bar in Milwaukee and he holds three lovely ladies in thrall with his accent. (Anyone get this reference? Anyone?)

During the Q&A, she expanded upon the themes of her book. She believes that everyone has secrets that they are afraid others will find out, something in their past that they fear will come back to haunt them. She also thinks that everyone's dirty little secret is that they both despise and love their own parents. Hmmm, that sounds intriguing to me.

I like to ask authors who they are reading, and she likes Tana French (I loved her novel Into the Woods), Nicci French (no relation to Tana), and Ruth Rendell, especially her early novels written under the name Barbara Vine. She also said that she loves TV procedurals, like CSI,  but doesn't like graphic gore on the written page. I agree with her on that point.

Kelly said that she daydreamed the novel for six years, and she finished it after she had her baby. She has written for the UK versions of Elle, Marie Claire, and Glamour, and she has gotten rave reviews for this, her first novel, called an "atmospheric psychological thriller", and it has moved to the top of my TBR list. Ms. Kelly is definitely an author to watch for a long time to come. I'll post a review soon.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Maisie Dobbs Review

I'm so excited to be a part of bookclubgirl's I'm Mad for Maisie Read Along.  I read the first Maisie Dobbs book by Jacqueline Winspear a few years ago and fell in love with the quiet, smart Maisie. This challenge gives me a great reason to read all of the rest of the books in the series.

Maisie Dobbs takes place following World War I in London. It's an era that I didn't know much about, and so soaking in all of the atmosphere that Winspear so painstakingly researched was a revelation. Although I'm not much of a clotheshorse, I really enjoyed how the author described Maisie's clothes. My mother-in-law designs and makes antique clothes, and as I read this book, I thought of how much she would love this.

I like how Maisie is so intelligent, yet she doesn't have all the answers. The way she mimics the posture of the person with whom she is talking to make them more comfortable with her fascinated me. Her mentor Dr. Maurice Blanche's psychological insights to Maisie, such as
"Never follow a story with a question, Maisie, not immediately. And remember to acknowledge the storyteller, for in some way even the messenger is affected by the story he brings,"
are illuminating, and useful to the reader.

Maisie's straddling of two different classes of society- her father's working class and her benefactor's aristocratic one- makes for interesting conflict for her. Her father, a groom on the estate where Maisie is a maid, wants a better life for Maisie, yet fears losing her completely to her new life. Lady Rowan, her employer and benefactor, is an interesting character and I hope we get to see more of her in future books.

And in the end, it was Enid, Maisie's fellow maid, who was the greatest influence on Maisie. Her words to Maisie about her duty to help the boys in the war effort may have had the deepest effect on Maisie's life.

Maisie Dobbs starts in 1930, after Maisie has become a private investigator, and establishes the adult Maisie before taking us back to her childhood and the story of how Maisie got to where she is. It is a good technique because we are so invested in Maisie's adult life before we see how she got there.

I felt that the author's take on the horrors of war resonated deeply. So much of what happened to the men and women who fought in war is universal and timeless. While techniques of war have changed greatly since World War I, the awful effects of it have not. I liked seeing war from a female point of view.

But my favorite quote from the book has to do with reading, of course.
"The feeling inside that she experienced when she saw the books was akin to the hunger she felt as food was put on the table at the end of the working day. And she knew she needed this sustenance as surely as her body needed fuel."
That just might be my new Facebook quote.

Since Maisie is a private investigator, there is a mystery to be solved, and mystery fans will be satisfied with this part of the story. But for me, the story of Maisie's life is what I felt most deeply about and I look forward to finding out more about her in the books to come.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

Friday, January 14, 2011

So I saw the new Spiderman Broadway show

Last night my husband, sons and I saw Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway before the guys went back to college. I was really looking forward to it, since I love Broadway and there are few shows that I can get them interested enough in to see with me.

I usually go to Wednesday matinees, where the audience is mostly an older crowd of females. This show had about 65%-35% male-to-female ratio. (If you're looking to pick up guys, this might be a good alternative to the bar scene.)

The good news is that the first act is amazing. I mean jaw-dropping, how-did-they-do-that amazing. When Spiderman flies over the audience and into the balcony, it turns everyone in the audience into fanboys. The first act recreates the Spiderman mythology, which was helpful for me as I was only slightly familiar with Spiderman. (I'm more of a Batman girl.)

We meet the geeky, nerdy Peter Parker, who regularly gets bullied at school. He is love with neighbor girl Mary Jane, whose boyfriend is the head bully at school, which is ironic since her father bullies her. The best song in the show is a duet between Peter and Mary Jane titled "No More", where Peter and Mary Jane mirror their frustration at the abuse they have to take.

Reeve Carney makes a fine Peter Parker, and Jennifer Damiano is wonderful as Mary Jane. I saw her in Next to Normal, which showed off more of her singing and acting talent, but her beautiful, strong voice is a highlight of this show as well. Her second act song, "If the World Should End", is terrific.

The Green Goblin, formerly known as Dr. Norman Osborn and played to perfection by Patrick Page , is a fantastic villain. The scene between Page and Carney on top of the Chrysler Building is a dramatic highlight, and when the Spiderman and Green Goblin aerial performers take over and fly over the audience while engaged in battle, it is stunning. It blows away anything I have ever seen on Broadway. Kudos to Daniel Ezralow who choreographed both the dances (which are excellent) and the aerial performances.

The sets are incredible, starting with the desks in the classroom, to the Chrysler Building to the New York skyline, with bridges, subways and cars to Peter Parker's fire escape. I've never seen anything like it.

The costumes reinforce the comic book aspect of the show, and I particularly liked the scene where criminals overrun New York, and Spiderman vanquishes them. It was very comic book-crossed-with-1960's-TV-Batman, but updated for the 21st century.

At intermission, my eyes were just wide open and all of us were speechless. Then came the second act, which features a new villain, Arachne, a mythological spiderwoman. This is where the show lost me. The character of Arachne is not well formed, and her storyline is confusing. T.V. Carpio plays Arachne, and she has a lovely voice and stage presence. Arachne's Furies, while they have interesting costumes and their dance is clever, their song adds little to the story, it actually slows it down.

Six of Spiderman's vanquished bad guys come back to wreak havoc, and while they are cool to look at, I'm not sure how much they add to the show. The Green Goblin from Act 1 is much more interesting. Director Julie Taymor uses lots of video screens in this act, and the multimedia presentation brings an exciting new element to Broadway, but again, it goes on a bit too long.

There was one short pause in the show, a technical problem that was quickly corrected.  The end of the show comes rather abruptly, without a clear resolution, or a show-stopping song. The songs, by U2's Bono and the Edge are good, but nothing really remarkable. You can recognize familiar U2 chords throughout the show. I do think there are a few songs too many in show, and maybe a few cuts could be made there.

Last night, the producers announced that the opening of the show would be moved from February 7th to March 15th to work on the second act, and that is a good thing. Taymor should take the elements that make Act 1 so strong, and stretch that out into Act 2. After the show ended, I thought if she ended at the end of Act 1, it would have been a much better show. It's almost like two different shows.

Taymor and company have brought a new crowd to Broadway with Spiderman, now let's hope they can tweak the second act, and make it a success. I'm rooting for them.

We got discount tickets to the show, which may not be available for  much longer, given that the show has sold-out many performances. Even with its flaws, I would recommend seeing Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, if only for the amazing spectacle of entertainment that it is. I thought it was cool when Mary Poppins flew over the audience, but Spiderman takes it to a whole new universe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers
ISBN 978-1-59448-773-6
Published by Riverhead Books
Hardcover $25.95

Heather Sellers can't recognize faces. Not just faces of people she knows casually, but her coworkers, her family, her boyfriend and his sons. She has had this problem her entire life, but didn't know she had a problem; she thought everyone processed faces the way she did.

Perhaps Heather didn't realize she had a problem, because there were bigger issues in her family. Her parents had mental health concerns, but as a child, it is hard to recognize that when that is your normal. Her mother was most likely a paranoid schizophrenic; she refused to answer the phone and put blankets up to cover the windows she nailed shut.

Her father left the family, and when Heather could no longer take living with her mother, she moved in with Dad. He secretly wore woman's clothes and had a major drinking problem. How Heather managed to survive living with her parents is a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.

Heather never married, but in her late thirties, she met a wonderful man named Dave, who had two sons, and was divorced from his wife, who had mental illness. Because of his ex-wife, Heather felt that Dave would understand her, and he did. But Dave had issues too.

Heather and Dave eventually married, but they lived in separate homes in the same city because they couldn't agree on purchasing a home. Dave had bad credit problems, and he was rather casual about parenting.

Heather's face recognition issue led to problems at work; she would pass by her colleagues and ignore them because she didn't recognize them. They felt she was snobbish and rude. Imagine the stress of living your whole life constantly afraid that you would run into someone you knew.

Eventually, she dug around and found a diagnosis for her: prosopagnosia. Once she had a diagnosis, she found a doctor who could help her. She appeared on the Today Show, which was a big step for her, admitting her problem to the world at large.

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know will appeal to fans of Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle.  Both women survived difficult childhoods with mentally ill parents, and because of that, they became strong adults.

Sellers had the added problem of her condition, which she at times feared was a manifestation of mental illness, like her mother's. She writes with brutal honestly about herself, her parents, her boyfriend, and her indomitable spirit shines through.

I admired her ability to basically raise her self and take care of her parents. It must have been difficult to write about her childhood, and she doesn't blame her parents or feel sorry for herself, which is remarkable. I did find her relationship with her husband frustrating, and was glad when she resolved it.

Reading this book made me a little more empathetic to people around me; you just never know what they are going through.

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Barbara Taylor Bradford's Playing the Game

Playing the Game by Barbara Taylor Bradford ISBN 978-0-312-57808-4
Published by St. Martin's Press
Hardcover, $27.99
I can vividly remember reading Barbara Taylor Bradford's first novel,  A Woman of Substance,  back when I was in high school. Her heroine, Emma Harte, was a brave, strong protagonist, a woman who could overcome anything and run a huge department store, while navigating the tricky waters of romance.

I read many of Bradford's subsequent books, but I haven't read one in awhile. Bradford has been a successful author for over 30 years, mostly by sticking to her formula of strong female characters overcoming the odds through hard work and strength of character, and adding in a forbidden romance.

Her latest novel, Playing the Game, sticks to the formula. Annette Remington is a successful art dealer in London, married to a much older man. She becomes famous for selling a long-lost Rembrandt painting at auction, and soon the entire art world knows who she is.

But Annette has a secret from her past, one that her husband knows of and has used to keep control of her. Bradford weaves tidbits of Annette's disturbing past, expertly piquing the reader's curiosity about the truth. We know that Annette and her sister Laurie were the victims of violence in their childhood, and that Laurie is now in a wheelchair. Is the secret related to their childhood? And why does Annette panic when someone comes looking for a woman named Hilda Crump? All these questions keep the reader turning the page.

While I found the novel to feature typical characters in a familiar plot, with a beautiful woman keeping a secret while falling into forbidden romance, it is the setting that elevates this novel. I found the art world totally fascinating, and Bradford does a marvelous job immersing the reader into that world.

One of the most compelling reasons that I read is that I can learn about something I never knew before, and this book is filled with interesting facts about fine art, art restoration and art forgery. I learned that a priest hole is a small room in old homes where, during the Stuart period in England, aristocratic Catholic families hid their priests when the soldiers came to search the houses. I never knew that before, and now I have new cocktail party conversation.

Playing the Game comes at a good time; many people are talking about Steve Martin's novel, An Object of Beauty, and this is a good companion book for those looking to continue their immersion into the world of fine art.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Five- Volume 11

This week's Friday Five is sadly dedicated to the closing of one of my favorite events venues, Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle store in NYC. I've seen many terrific authors and Broadway performers there, and I will miss the store and its friendly staff.

Friday Five- Five Fantastic Events I've Seen at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle Store

  • The Cast of Broadway's Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson- The cast, starring the charismatic Benjamin Walker as Andrew Jackson, gave a rollicking performance of songs from their emo-rock show. The guys who played John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and John Calhoun were hilarious. I bought tickets to the show the next day and it was so worth it. A fun, enthusiastic show.

  • The Cast of Broadway's Promises, Promises- Sean Hayes, from TV's Will & Grace, proved himself to be one of the funniest men around as he asked questions of the cast of his show. He had everyone in the room rolling on the floor, including his castmates.

Patti LuPone
  • Patti LuPone- The Broadway diva dished dirt on her career, including her famous firing from Sunset Boulevard, as she promoted her autobiography, Patti LuPone, A Memoir. She sang five songs for us and it was magical. She gave me goosebumps.

  • Liza Minnelli- Another legend, Ms. Minnelli appeared to promote her new CD, and she sang four songs for the huge crowd of people. She was as great as you thought she would be, and she spoke to everyone who got a CD signed. A classy lady.

  • Jennifer Weiner- I've seen her twice at B&N, and going to one of her signings is like going to a big luncheon with all your best girlfriends. Weiner uses inappropriate language, and if you are a relative or friend or work with her, watch out: she will be making fun of you and telling people things about you you do not want anyone to know. That's what makes her great- she's one of us. But she's one of us who can write fun, moving books. 

RIP B&N Lincoln Triangle. At least I still have 86th St. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kim Edwards at Barnes & Noble

The new year started out wonderfully as I had the pleasure of attending a reading and book signing of Kim Edwards, who is promoting her new book, The Lake of Dreams.

Many of you know that Kim wrote the fantastic novel, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which became a smash hit in 2006 when it came out in trade paperback. It actually began a trend whereby books that didn't sell well in hardcover became really popular in paperback. Seeing its success, many publishers began bypassing hardcover versions of some books and going right to trade paperback, enabling many books to reach a much wider audience more quickly.

Edwards' new book is set in a village in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, much like her hometown of Skaneateles. I grew up in Auburn, ten minutes up the road from Skaneateles, so this book intrigues me a great deal.

At the Barnes & Noble on 86th St. in New York City, Edwards kicked off her book tour. She read a bit from the book, and then talked about it. The book is a first person narrative about Lucy Jarrett, who goes back to her hometown to find that what she has been told about her family is not necessarily the truth, a theme similar to The Memory Keeper's Daughter.

Lucy finds some papers hidden in a cupboard about her ancestors, and the book has two parallel stories- Lucy's current day story, and the story of her ancestor. What intrigues me most about this book is that Edwards uses a lot of local flavor- the suffragette movement that started in Seneca Falls in 1848, glass blowing (Corning Glass is located less than 2 hours from Skaneateles), stained glass windows (much like the Tiffany ones in Willard Chapel in Auburn)- to tell her story. This book should be of special interest to those who live in Central New York.

Edwards then answered questions from the audience, and there were many good ones. Many people were moved by The Memory Keeper's Daughter, and one woman told the author that she loved how the author was able to make the reader identify with each character in that book. I agree, Edwards did a marvelous job not making anyone out to be the 'bad guy' in the book. She made the reader understand each character's motivation, and how difficult it was to make a life-altering decision.

Many people commented on Edwards' use of poetic language, and spoke of how beautifully she writes for her characters. One person asked if she began with language or characters first, and while Edwards said "they are interwoven, it begins with character."

Another question concerned whether the author plotted out her story lines, or whether it was more of an intuitive process. Edwards spoke of studying how various authors wrote, and said she believes most authors fall across a continuum, with those who write intuitively, like Nadine Gordimer, on one end, and those who plot everything out first, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, (whom Edwards was surprised to find did this) at the other end. Edwards feels she falls more towards the intuitive end of the spectrum.

Writing The Lake of Dreams took Edwards almost four years, and she actually was in the midst of writing it when The Memory Keeper's Daughter hit the stratosphere in 2006. She put it away, but Lucy's story stuck with her, and she began again.

It was a delight to meet Ms. Edwards, we spoke warmly of our hometowns, and she told me her brother Mark owns one of my family's favorite restaurants, Doug's Fish Fry, in Skaneateles. I can't wait to read The Lake of Dreams, and will post a review very soon.

My review of The Memory Keeper's Daughter appeared in the Citizen in June of 2006 and you can find it here.  If you haven't read that one, you are missing a great story, masterfully told.

You can find out more about Kim Edwards and her books at her website, www.kimedeardsbooks.com