Sunday, April 20, 2014

We'll Always Have Paris: A Mother-Daughter Adventure by Jennifer Coburn

We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother-Daughter Adventure.  Jennifer Coburn. Source Books. April 2014. 400 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781402288630.

Jennifer Coburn’s travels with her daughter, Katie, are fueled by the desire to avidly appreciate every moment one has, while one has it.  The loss of her father, Sheldon Coburn, is the source of her fear of losing to death and of an unspoken ambivalence about his life.  For he chose to immerse himself in smoking and pot and a free lifestyle that caused his young demise; although he tried to be all he could be to Jennifer, she perhaps didn’t really “get” his message of grasping every moment for its special qualities, a gift.  She and Katie are now, without both realizing it initially, on the journey to “get it!”

Throughout this memoir, they travel through Europe, to Paris, Italy, Spain, England and Amsterdam.  Sometimes they do the tour thing, usually with disappointing results, but their best moments are had in totally unexpected ways that are funny, poignant, frustrating, precious, and deeply memorable. 

Yes, they are the victims of scams, meet some nasty hotel personnel, get motion sickness on planes and trains, sleep in a famous “Shakespeare” room that is more like a New York City shelter full of homeless people, cope with skyrocketing temperatures, get caught up in the Italian version of a train strike, and other not so fun events but they handle them with humor and their “European shrug of shoulders” manner.

However, there are innumerable beautiful moments when they visit museums full of gorgeous art they fall in love with, climb up the Eiffel Tower, listen to opera and symphony concerts in Vienna, meet a famous actress on their trip from Europe to London, eat at simple but delicious restaurants and bakeries, walk along the banks of rivers and streams in every country, and so much more that carries the essence of this mother-daughter journey!

Interspersed into these descriptions are the memories Jennifer shares about her father’s life, from its early beginning as a briefly famous musician and singer to his eventual coping with his lung cancer and death.  One senses Jennifer trying to understand his life, and therefore her own, as she shares these memories, treasuring the moments she had with him and yet somehow finding something elusive about him as well.  Somehow her husband, William, captures it best toward the end of the account, but we must wait for that wisdom until she is ready to really “get it.”

The tone and style of this memoir is so comfortable, relaxed, honest, raw and beautiful that words themselves feel elusive to grasp the very heart of this MUST read book.  The reader is touched not only by each step of this heart-warming story that shows this author’s best writing to date.  Highly recommended!

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Hundred Summers: A Novel by Beatriz Williams

A Hundred Summers: A Novel.  Beatriz Williams. Penguin Group (USA). April 2014. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425270035.

Lily Dane and Budgie Greenwald (formerly Byrne) are best friends when they are college students.  Budgie has her eyes on Graham Pendleton and Lily falls instantly in love with Nick Greenwald at a football game in which he gets wounded.  Budgie has no limits and expects Lily to follow; but Lily is a sedate gal interested in reading and conforming.  The young man she adores, however, is Jewish and therefore unwelcome everywhere in this snooty Seaview, Rhode Island community that follows social mores precisely and brutally!

The years pass and now Lily and Budgie Greenwald return to Seaview for the summer, but by now Budgie is married to Nick Greenwald, surprise of surprises, and Lily centers her world on her sister, Kiki, who is still a child and a rambunctious, curious one at that! This is the story of multiple secrets, romantic affairs, misunderstandings, hedonistic excesses and more, all of which carry a brutal price for far too many family and friends.  Yet even though everyone knows everyone in this secluded summer vacation land, some know nothing until all is revealed in dramatic, heartbreaking, and beautiful scenes the reader will never forget!

A good romance always has some other elements that are the glue holding together the melodramatic and serene scenes that keep the reader rapidly flipping the pages, yearning to know more.  Sports and the vicious Hurricane of 1938, with a hint of WWII very briefly getting reference, remind the reader that the major events of this novel parallel the chaos and adrenalin-pumping action riveting the rest of the world’s attention, love and fear!

A very different technique is used in this novel to bring the plot to completion, including minor characters who don’t get much attention in most of the novel but who turn out to be the central forces that unite parents and children in their evolution from saints to sinners and vice versa.

A Hundred Summers: A Novel is a great read, perfect for the beach-going or home-resting readers who love a terrific mystery laced with sizzling, sensual, and sensitive romance!  Highly recommended!

Shape of My Heart: The Irish Pride Series - Book 3 by Kemberlee Shortland

Shape of My Heart: The Irish Pride Series – Book 3.  Kemberlee Shortland. Tirgearr Publishing. April 2014. pp.  ISBN#: 9781910234044.

Grainne has a huge secret with some honest motives, all of which are going to get her into some very, very serious trouble!  She’s moved back to Dublin and is determined to earn enough money to go to college.  So she works in her brother Kieran’s bar and moonlights as an exotic dancer at the Klub, a seedy dump that draws both innocent and not so innocent men out for a wild night of fantasy and lustful, oh so lustful thoughts…and more!  Grainne earns her money and goes home and is quite happy with this routine, given her past troubled history!

Now one particular night, Grainne notices a leering man in the audience who captures her attention and just won’t let it go.  This is JD, John Desmond, who finally tracks down Grainne after work and actually follows her home.  While he’s phenomenally attracted, obsessed actually, with hot Grainne, he’s got a larger mission which is to catch criminal elements who are really the backbone behind the Klub!  In one sense, he actually forces Grainne to cooperate with his plans.  While his aggressiveness annoys her to no end, she is also electrified by his hot presence and for quite a war; these opposite elements are warring with each other in every scene when they are both together and apart! 

Obviously, passion and some very, very steamy, sexy scenes will follow but there’s also a good plot behind the lightning bolts.  Danger looms for both characters, life and death terrorizing scenes, with plenty of fights to fill the gaps until the final clash that will determine who is really the power and how that will shape the future!

Some lovely legends are interspersed throughout this novel that explains the origins of our protagonists’ names along with some Irish history and language sure to intrigue the reader.  Yes, characters in Dublin and some other minor towns are a force to be reckoned with and the reckoning is both sweet and fierce!

This reviewer has been following the writing of Kemberlee Shortland for years, and I’m delighted to say her creative skills in crafting this romance novel have substantially increased and promise the reader a grand read to enjoy and will compel the same to dive into the other books in this notable, recommended Irish Pride series!  Keep the stories coming, Kemberlee Shortland – nice job indeed!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Conversations with Kennedy by Benjamin C. Bradlee

Conversations with Kennedy.  Benjamin C. Bradlee. W W. Norton & Company. November 1984. 256 pp.  ISBN#: 9780393301893.

Conversations with Kennedy begins by describing how Bradlee and Kennedy met, explains some early gaps in their brief friendship, and discusses the relationship that Bradlee was always the first to examine with caution.  For a journalist when is the line between professional journalism and friendship crossing and how does that affect the “story” one is writing and presenting to the public?  Kennedy, on the other hand, believes that with a biography or autobiography, one truly gets to know “who the man is,” really is; and it’s clear he saw Bradlee’s reporting and writing for Newsweek in the same vein.  Whatever way one sees such a friendship, it’s clear Kennedy trusted Bradlee, gave him numerous “scoops” and consulted with him on just about every possible topic that occurred to or around Kennedy or was on the current “map” of articles around the world.

In some ways, this reviewer couldn’t help thinking while reading about these conversations that the image of Camelot gets a beating in some of these stories.  For Kennedy, it appears herein, in how he scorned those who excoriated him in the press or those who said one thing and then did another in reality.  In fact, his motto of not getting mad but “getting even” is often repeated throughout these talks. 

For example, Kennedy is furious when the price of steel is raised during a time of economic insecurity, first by one company and then by all the others the following day.  Or when Kennedy gave scoops to papers that were meant to be released on a timed basis and then the writer would leak it to the press immediately. 

Perhaps there was some competition between Kennedy and his wife, as Kennedy seemed annoyed at times at the way Jackie could do no harm in the eyes of the press while reporters were always nitpicking away at him on a daily basis.  Several times Kennedy comments on Jackie’s excessive shopping habits, although she always defended herself.  But in other places, cost seems to mean nothing to either of them.
There is little of substance about the Cuba debacle but that’s probably because that crisis loomed long before this memorable friendship began.  It is quite clear who Kennedy trusted in his Cabinet and whom he tolerated; the same goes for members of the Senate who are itemized throughout these talks.  The last chapter of this book is notable for its accurate depiction of the acute depth of mourning by all who clearly were more than fond of this complex, intelligent man, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Conversations with Kennedy is an interesting read, giving a glimmer of “who the man really was,” but without much in-depth substance.  One element that must be recognized is the extensive, panoramic presentation of issues and events that Kennedy had to be aware of and on top of as to how he thought about each one.  Bradlee is to be respected and esteemed for maintaining his opinions about issues and frankly speaking them to Kennedy, often with unhappy feedback from the President.  No, it’s not a great book but it is a fascinating one, exposing the inner circles and opinions therein being shared and eventually winding up in Presidential policy or impact.  Recommended reading!

Beach Plum Island by Holly Robinson

Beach Plum Island.  Holly Robinson. Penguin Group (USA). April 2014. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451241023.

Ava, Elaine, and Gigi are grieving the death of their father in different ways.  Ava and Elaine are sisters from their father’s first marriage and Gigi from his second marriage.  Elaine lives each day as a successful business woman but at night trolls clubs and bars for drinks and a one-night stand, the latter the wildness that alone offers her consolation.  For she deeply resents that her father left their mother, causing the latter’s eventual mental and emotional descent into drink and then death.  Ava loves Elaine but seems powerless to offer any comfort and peace.  Ava instead buries herself in her art teacher work, her pottery business and raising her two teenage sons. That’s all about to change when she and Gigi meet weeks after the funeral!

Gigi is a young, teenage girl who dies her hair different colors and does pretty much what she wants as her own mother is so devastated by the loss of her husband she is oblivious to Gigi.  Mercifully, Gigi meets Ava and change begins.  Gigi meets Ava’s sons and it turns out they blend very, very well together as Gigi has a phenomenal singing voice.  Ava knows exactly what to say and what not to say, so Gigi learns to trust someone who really cares for her as a real sister would and respects her likes and dislikes.

To say more would be a spoiler, but suffice to say that Ava and Gigi decide to act on their father’s last words.  They discover they had a brother who was born with a physical handicap under mysterious circumstances that no one will discuss; the sisters decide to attempt to find him.  The quest is both arduous and comforting in a strange but beautiful way!

Meanwhile, Ava and Elaine separately meet men who will treat them respectfully as adults, accepting their grief but not treating them like fragile pots that will break.  They also are both attractive for their honesty, spoken with just enough firmness to elicit growth and without making these women hurt more than they already do. Add in some genuinely charming, fired-up romance!

Beach Plum Island is a perfect read for this springtime and upcoming summer.  The author is quite talented in the manner in which she has depicted wounded but capable women who need to grieve but also need to move beyond the poignant moments of their past history.  Sensitivity clearly enables every character in this novel to grow, to expose grievous secrets and to create new life that erodes the tension too long lying just below the surface.  Evolution yields good experiences for both main and minor characters.  Lovely, powerful story that is well-crafted – great read, Holly Robinson!

The Forgotten Daughter by Renita D'Silva

The Forgotten Daughter.  Renita D’Silva. Bookoutre. February 2014. 402 pp. ISBN#: 9781909490277.

Nisha’s parents are scientists who have never shown much love to their daughter but instead taught her to find solace in numbers.  She is a successful statistician in a Canadian university, but her world is about to fall apart.  After her parents’ death in a tragic car accident, Nisha receives a letter from them that was left with the family lawyer.  “You are adopted!”  Words that are like a tsunami breaking down her secure world and awakening her emotional side that she never knew existed, since that part of her being was repressed for years.  Now, the pivotal question in her life is “Why?”  She’s even reticent about her lover, Matt, who could not be more perfect if he tried.  Yes, she’s in love with him but can’t get the words, “I love you” out without feeling like she is choking.  So she says nothing and instead enters this new world of turmoil and gnawing ache as she wonders if she’s ever been loved!

Shilpa and Devi are in another part of the world, India, where they are preparing for Shilpa’s death.  Devi finds her mother’s journal full of delicious recipes and the diary-style journal of her mother, Shilpa.  Devi reads to her mother as she is lying in a hospital bed, slipping in and out of consciousness, the chances of her slipping into a coma and dying very, very real!  No more spoilers – suffice to say this is a story that is both tough as nails and soft as feather down.  The essence of it is yearning to be a woman, a wife, a mother, a connector of generations, with all the mental, physical and spiritual anguish that entails, especially as mother and daughter age and experience transitions in their relationship.  They understand each other so well and yet in many ways don’t have a clue about each other’s hopes and dreams, their respect for the aspects of Indian culture that is shared in this journal in the form of luscious recipes the reader will want to try for sure.

Nisha decides to travel to India to find her “roots” and hope it will give her some grounding to fill her life that feels so barren and empty, that yearns for love that only real family can provide.  Readers will not be disappointed at all and will be shell-shocked with surprise as the story progresses to a gracious, beautiful end!

The Forgotten Daughter is SUPERB contemporary fiction.  The descriptions of the food, drink, and fruit are presented with the art of one who truly loves food and knows how to sensually present it it to enliven the guest’s hunger, thirst, and more.  Adopted children often feel abandoned and forgotten by their real parents, but what a very different discovery lies ahead for each of these fascinating characters. 
This reviewer absolutely loved this gorgeous, well-crafted novel which is worthy of best seller status and all the awards one can give for finely written, literate fiction!!!! An absolute delight, a MUST read!!!!

The Red Lily Crown: A Novel of Medici Florence by Elizabeth Loupas

The Red Lily Crown: A Novel of Medici Florence.  Elizabeth Loupas. Penguin Group (USA). April 2014. 448 pp. ISBN#: 9780451418876. 

The Grand Medici Duke has died and Francesco has inherited rule of Florence.  His Court is full of decadence, rumors, betrayals, torture and executions.  His passion is not his rule but the world of alchemy in which he obsessively works toward creating the union of elements that will give him unlimited power.  While he has helpers, they are only tools that are necessary parts of the formulas that he is testing to achieve his vision.  He will then probably discard them as he has so many others.  Even his lover is a tool to feed his vision of abject power and the crueler the foreplay, the more satisfied is his insatiable lust for dominion.  He is a deplorable specimen of manhood but no one would dare say that ever-present thought to his face!

Chiara is the young daughter of a couple who are vowed enemies of the Medici family.  An accident has taken the life of Chiara’s father and left her with a huge scar, frequent bouts of the “falling sickness,” and voices she hears which she attributes to the Devil.  Those left in her family are starving to death and in desperation she takes one of her father’s alchemical tools and grabs the attention of Francesco Medici, a fate that is hopeful and hopeless in many dimensions.  For now, however, her family no longer need fear decimating poverty as she passes Francesco’s test to become the “virgin” acolyte in his alchemical quest.

Ruanno is Francesco’s other assistant, a man who has changed names and disguises multiple times.  While he speaks fluent Italian, he is from Cornwall, England.  There he learned all the secrets of metallurgy and doesn’t believe in alchemy at all but does respect the power and science of uniting metals.  He will use it in his secret plot to avenge someone in his past.  It is his kindness that saves Chiara multiple times.  As Francesco gets closer and closer to his goal, when he’s not involved in torturing and assassinating his foes and family, Ruanno and Chiara know they must make other plans for their future.

The Red Lily Crown… has a taut and ever-changing plot that never fails to keep the reader totally riveted. It makes up for some rather stereotypical characters but that doesn’t lessen the power of this story at all. The scenes of cruelty are potent and not for those with queasy stomachs but they do capture the essence of near-madness in the Medici family.  Drama should have been the Medici’s middle name and wealth is nothing but a tool to get more money, more sex, more danger, more, more, more!  For those who love a great adventure story or a truly evil villain and memorable foils to that demonic side, this is a novel you’ll love and definitely be unable to forget!  Great historical fiction!