What are you reading the week of November 23, 2019?
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My only complaint about the book is with the publisher, not the author. Printing color photographs is expensive and they apparently didn't want to gamble on a new author. So all of the photographs are in black and white. The B&W photos sometimes make it difficult to identify some of the features the author is describing. The writing is vivid and interesting. It's a shame that the illustrations are less so.
His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander (5 stars)
(an historical fiction annual fave/Christmas farce/read by Susan Duerden ~ my favorite Regency narrator)
Love how LT ER free books give me the opportunity to meet new authors, especially really good ones.
By William Pack
Author, William Pack has written a captivating biography of the life of Houdini. The book is short (about a 130 pages) and covers the very interesting highlights of his life and career. I found out about this book when the author came to our library and did this wonderful program on Houdini. He even demonstrated Houdini's escape from a strait jacket. I definitely would like to read more about Houdini.
All the Stars In the Heavens – Adriana Trigiani
Digital audiobook performed by Blair Brown
Historical fiction based on real-life Hollywood drama: the love affair between Loretta Young and Clark Gable that resulted in a love child.
I like Trigiani’s writing. I like the way she draws the reader in and moves the story forward. Because I already knew the basics of this story I did feel somewhat impatient to “get on with it.” And yet, the “will they / won’t they” (or more accurately, “when and how will they”) did add to the tension and kept me turning pages.
I really liked the secondary story of Alda and Luca – two people who met because of their work with the movies and the movie stars. Their steady love story is a direct contrast to the multiple relationships / marriages / breakups / divorces of the Hollywood stars.
I was also happy to learn more details of the intricate relationships between Hollywood legends such as Spencer Tracy, David Niven, Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard. And to get a peek at the difficulties of filming on location. Reading this book made me recall all those movies I watched with my mother on TCM, “wasting” half a day (or more) sitting up in her bed with coffee and cinnamon rolls, entertained by the glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Blair Brown does a marvelous job of performing the audiobook. A trained actress, she really brings the characters to life. And I’m glad she didn’t try to imitate the distinctive voices of the Hollywood legends.
Passing – Nella Larsen
Irene Redfield is doing some shopping while on a trip to Chicago, when she stops for a brief rest and some tea at an elegant hotel’s restaurant. She notices a woman at a nearby table keeps staring at her and she’s immediately concerned. Could the woman have somehow discerned that Irene is not white, but a Negro?
Larsen was part of the Harlem Renaissance and this book is a marvel of social commentary. In this slim volume Larsen explores issues of black/white identity, of the desire to get ahead and the societal obstacles to that path, of male/female relationships, and female-female rivalries. There is tension, fear, anger, joy, desire and hope. We get a wonderful glimpse of middle-class Black culture in 1920s Harlem. And that ending!
My F2F book club had a stimulating discussion.
A word of caution re the introduction: Definitely read the introduction, which will give you much insight into the book, the author’s background, and the critical thoughts of various experts. BUT … read the book FIRST, as the introduction will contain major spoilers for what happens in the novel.
I am reading on an on-again off-again basis The Black House by Peter May, which is very good. It is no fault of the author that I can't concentrate on his writing. This tale starts with the discovery of a body in a boatshed on the Isle of Lewis (Scotland), which is markedly similar to a murder committed in Edinburgh. Fin MacLeod of the Edinburgh police was born in Lewis and is dispatched to his childhood home to see if the murders are linked.
On an even more desultory basis, I'm reading Queens of the Kingdom: the Women of Saudi Arabia Speakby Nicola Sutcliff, also very good. It's based on interviews by Sutcliff with women of every background about being a woman in that male-dominated society, and about what women do with their lives there.
Mad About the Major by Elizabeth Boyle (4 stars)
(Bachelor Chronicles novella/London 1818/spoiled daughter of a duke and a rake named Major Kingsley/three favors)
The Library Book – Susan Orlean
Book on CD read by the author.
On April 29, 1986, there was a disastrous fire in the Los Angeles Public Library. The conflagration reached 2000°F and burned for more than seven hours. It was the single biggest library fire in U.S. history, consuming 400,000 books and damaging 700,000 more. This is the story of the fire, the investigation, and the building / rebuilding of the library.
Like many of us, Orlean spent many of her formative years in her local public library. She devoured books and came to know the librarians. But she had all but abandoned libraries in college and young adulthood. When she moved to Los Angeles her son was six years old. A school project to interview a city worker inspired him to interview a librarian. So Orlean took him to the local library and shortly renewed her love and fascination with public libraries. On a tour of the Los Angeles central library her tour guide casually mentioned the fire. Orlean had never heard of it! She was living in New York at the time, but how could she have missed such a major story? (How could I have missed it?!) Orlean began looking into it and this book is the result.
Orelan did extensive research, interviewing past and present librarians, including survivors of the fire, scientists and fire marshals, and family members of the primary suspect. The result is a comprehensive story, not just of the fire, but of libraries in general.
There is much to like about this book, especially for a library fan such as myself. Orlean alternates chapters focusing on the story of the fire and the investigation into it with chapters that outline the history of the Los Angeles Public Library. Both story arcs were interesting, and I was happy to learn about the history of the LAPL, the historic city librarians, and the politicians or bureaucrats who championed or hindered the development of the library. But … I really wanted mostly to know about the fire, the investigation and the rebuilding of the library. All the detail about how this or that city librarian fought for a share of the budget, instituted innovative programs, built the collection and promoted the public library, however interesting, was, to me, a distraction and disruption from the main story of the fire.
I guess I should have realized that would be the case from the title. It’s NOT called “The Library Fire” but “The Library BOOK” (emphasis mine). Still, it’s a fascinating book and my F2F book club was enhanced by our own City Librarian’s presence and contribution to our discussion.
Orlean narrates the audiobook herself. She is not a trained voice artist and I didn’t like the tone and timber of her voice to start out with. By the second disc I had gotten used to it, and just focused on the story, but I think it would be a better audio experience with a professional voice over.
Empty Mansions – Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr
Audiobook narrated by Kimberly Farr.
Subtitle: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
From the book jacket: When Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the 19th century with a 21st-century battle over a $300 million inheritance.
I remember the news coverage when Ms Clark was “discovered” living in a hospital room while her several mansions stood empty. Despite being generally healthy, she had lived in hospital rooms for some twenty years. She saw virtually no one but her private duty nurse. Even her attorney and accountant were limited to phone conversations with her. She never let any of her relatives know she was in the hospital, insisting that all correspondence be directed to her Park Avenue penthouse, where a caretaker dutifully brought the mail to her hospital room. The same caretaker took phone messages and Huguette would then phone the person back from her hospital room, never letting on she wasn’t actually in her home.
I found this completely fascinating. Dedman went back in history to outline her father’s early life and the way he made his fortune. He was definitely of the “robber baron” class, ruthless in business dealings and rather crooked in his political career. Huguette was his youngest child, born of his second marriage. She and her five half-siblings shared his fortune upon his death. And it was a massive one.
This story made me so very sad for this woman who, for all her wealth, lived such a lonely and limited life. And yet, she appeared to be quite happy and content to live as she did. By many accounts she was vivacious and charming, loved painting and music, but she was intensely private and preferred the company of the many dolls she collected, apparently playing with them in the elaborate dollhouses she commissioned. Was she taken advantage of by her caretakers? Was she competent to handle her own affairs? What happened to all that money?
As I read this, I could not help but think of an elderly relative whose primary caretaker is a tenacious gatekeeper. Certainly, there is no massive fortune at stake, and we DO have contact with the relative, even going out to lunch now and again, but I can see how a trusted person could take advantage of that trust for someone all alone in life.
Dedman partnered with the reclusive heiress’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell Jr, to write this book. Paul had never met his cousin, but he had many telephone conversations with her over the years, as well as some correspondence. Transcripts of their phone conversations are included in the book, as well as the text of some of the cards and letters she wrote him.
Kimberly Farr does a fine job of narrating the audiobook. As an added bonus those sections of the book where a conversation between Huguette and her cousin Paul occurred are actual tapes of the real conversations, so the listener hears Huguette’s own voice.
"The Lost Princesses" series by Jody Hedlund (YA)
Readers should start with Always: A Prequel Novella to get the background to the main action in the trilogy.
The Evening Star: the Rise and Fall of a Great Washington Newspaper by Faye Haskins (NF)
Story of DC's prominent newspaper
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the Journey by Jody Revenson (NF)
Backstage look at the popular "Harry Potter" story on stage
Grace Among Thieves – Julie Hyzy
Book three in the Manor House Mystery series, starring Grace Wheaton, curator and manager of the estate / museum in the North Carolina mountains.
As cozy mysteries go, this is a pretty good series. I like Grace, who is generally calm in a crisis, and obviously competent at her job. She does seem to take more chances and she has a blind spot where romance is concerned. I like most of the supporting characters and wish that her roommates Scott and Bruce had a larger role in this episode. Her irascible assistant Frances is a hoot! Millionaire Bennett’s stepdaughter Hilary is a distraction but provides some needed tension. My stars but that woman behaves like a teenager, and a spoiled brat teen at that! Of course, Grace will help the police discover the culprit, proving her worth to Bennett and further securing her future role at Manor House.
A writer comes to town to do research on a book about a death at a lake and is found dead in the same location. I am not sure how to review this book. I had a hard time with this book though at times I really enjoyed the writing and I felt like I was understanding what was going on and then another narrator is introduced and another side to the story and I just got discombobulated. However, I had to see who the killer(s) were and so I finished it. According to Wikipedia, there were 11 narrators or narratives in this story and it seemed like it. I would read another Hawkins book because I loved her first book but this one not so much.
So, as a member of Coates' white audience, I can say that this book added in very important ways to my understanding of Coates' subject matter, but more importantly to my understanding of the enormity of my ignorance on these issues. Coates writes of the always fraught experience of walking down the street, any street, in America as a black person. He speaks not of "white people," but of "the people who think they are white" and calls us "Dreamers," people who are able through our own privilege to believe in a dream of an upwardly mobile and potentially color blind society, secure in the fantasy of our own innocence regarding racism. It all touched a nerve for me, having grown up in a liberal household with the mythology of an American Dream hypothetically accessible to all. Please believe me that I am barely scratching the surface of Coates' powerful material with this synopsis.
You'll find a somewhat more in-depth (or at least longer) review on my 50-Book Challenge thread: https://www.librarything.com/topic/301698
* “Merle Miller of Yank Records a Surprise Party at Eniwetok as the Last Enemy Stronghold in the Marshalls is Secured” from A Treasury of Great Reporting: "Literature Under Pressure" from the Sixteenth Century to Our Own Time edited by Louis L. Snyder
* “Let Children Solve Their Own Problems” by Douglas F. Parry from Magazine Digest - August 1949 edited by Murray Simmons
* The chapter on the Philadelphia Phillies from 1963 Official Baseball Almanac by Bill Wise
* “On a Vanished Garden” from Leaves in the Wind by Alpha of the Plow (a.k.a. A. G. Gardiner)
* “Beginning Lessons” from Creek Walk and Other Stories by Molly Giles
* “Figures” from Blues Poems edited by Kevin Young
* “Twilight in the Smog” by Orson Welles from Esquire Magazine - 40th Anniversary Celebration edited by Don Erickson - Finished!
* Here's a link to Esquire's online version of this amazing, disturbing essay, which connects quite closely with Between the World and Me: https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a3638/fifth-avenue-uptown/
Earlier this week I read Another Brooklyn and loved it. Now I’m nearly finished with Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions which is a lot of fun.
>28 richardderus: I haven't read any Simak in ages! I always loved his books when I was a teenager. Way Station and Cemetery World were particular favorites. It wouldn't surprise me in the least that his stories haven't aged well from a social perspective. He had rather old fashioned ideas even when I read him in the 70's! But he could evoke a rural atmosphere of bucolic simplicity in the midst of spaceships and interstellar commerce. The future is big and open and full of wonders, but it's populated with small town people living their lives as they always have. And that is both reassuring and slightly melancholic. George Pal's SF movies from the 50's are in much the same vein. I wonder if I can find All Flesh is Grass for the Kindle? I've wanted to read it for years.
Simak's old-fashionedness wasn't as wearing on my in the 1970s, though I was never his biggest fan to begin with. Good, readable stories was all I asked him for, and more often than not got from him.