Saturday, June 29, 2019

Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry by Richard Kirshenbaum

Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry.  Richard Kirshenbaum. St. Martin’s Press.  June, 2019; pb, 320 pp.; ISBN #: 9781250150950.

Two beauty industry icons are at war in both personal and entrepreneur affairs.  They are Josephine Herz and Constance Gardiner.  So what does it take to rise to such a level of rivalry and glamor?  This is their story, which includes their amazing ideas about beauty that went beyond popular ideas of how women could dress in the most attractive style possible and wear a fragrance to enchant everyone around the wearer. 

Josephine Herz is out to offer beauty salons where one could get a full-day spa treatment that would enhance one’s skin and hair appearance.  Her goal was to make women feel like royalty and to attract higher-end customers in society’s eyes.  She always hired the most talented staff including the African-American assistant, CeeCee, who stayed with her as brilliant aide and lover, until an ultimate betrayal (since being homosexual was illegal during the 1930s in America).  CeeCee then moved her talents to the competition.

Constance Gardiner’s business began with door-to-door saleswomen who were enabled to become their own part-time businesswomen, earning up to 40% profit.  They were highly skilled and trained sales personnel who knew how to make every housewife gradually open up to exposing what they had and what they needed.  Ultimately, they were convinced that the pretty colors and colorful shades of makeup would give them that extra “something” that would enliven their marriages or lovers. 

Each woman was ashamed of her origins and Josephine tortured by her failure to extract one sister from war-torn Poland.  Constance always wanted to be more than she was and defied the era’s anti-Semitic tendencies.  Pride and ego were everything and kept them moving forward despite the weaknesses they displayed in their choice of aides, friends and lovers.

Both women open salons around the world and monitor their success and occasional flaws.  After Josephine dies, the Gardiner business sues for a stolen mascara product – a la CeeCee – but in the end, Constance has to admit that their rivalry was actually a parallel journey to be toasted in victory!!!!

Richard Kirshenbaum has crafted an account of the best and worst in the lives of the beauty icons of the early twentieth century, sparkling with descriptions of their virtues and vices, their friends and rivals, their brilliant discoveries and their hatred of the competition’s successful development.  It’s a grand read which would make a phenomenal movie.  For those who love style, fashion, business, makeup, salons, and more, enjoy the dramatic ride of Rouge….

The Good Sister: A Novel by Gillian McAllister

The Good Sister: A Novel. Gillian McAllister. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright June 2019, pb, 400 pp.; ISBN: 9780525539391.

Martha and Becky Blackwater are extremely close sisters.  However, all that closeness is blown to bits when Martha’s eight-week-old baby, Layla, is found dead while in Becky’s care.  Becky quit her job so become Layla’s nanny.  The death of Layla, though, exposes many aspects of Becky’s life that might be construed by the jury at the trial to indicate Becky was at fault.

The chapters are narrated by the Blackwater family, acquaintances, neighbors and others who knew both sisters.  The author does a marvelous job at depicting the thoughts and feelings of these narrators during the trial with a sensitive touch.  Martha is fraught with guilt about returning to work on the charity group she created plus guilt at leaving a daughter who suffered from reflux from birth and spent most of her awake time crying from discomfort.  Becky is overwhelmed with this new job but feels too guilty to admit it; instead, she descends into drinking too much and too frequently, to the point that her child Xander is frequently afraid of her.  Others see warning signs of danger, including yelling from Becky’s home at odd times of day and night.

The parents of both sisters are anxious but try to be supportive of both sisters.  They have lost a grandchild but love their children.  No one seems to know the truth of what happened, that is until the very end of the story.  It’s unforgettable when this secret is revealed.  All still have to learn to live with the loss and the aftermath in this breach of trust and love that almost destroys an entire family.

A memorable, finely-crafted novel, The Good Sister is a good read about relationships and what challenges do to them in the present and future.  It’s also a warning about making false assumptions from evidence that is highly subjective.  Every situation is unique and above-second-guessing.  Nicely done, Gillian McAllister!

The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel by Jeanne Mackin

The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel.  Jeanne Mackin. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2019; hb, 352 pp.; ISBN #: 9781101990544.

“Clothes…are moods, desires, the quality of our souls and our dreams made visible.”  Of color – “If blue is the color of paradox, and red the color of life and death and the passion between beginnings and endings, then yellos is the color what is most precious…of sunshine, of gold, of sins’ halos…the color of eternity…” and so much more.

Lily Sutter, overwhelmed by grief for her dead husband, visits her brother Charlie in Paris, France in 1938.  Charlie is in love with a married woman who want Lily to accompany them on their nights out in Parisian society.  German officers are a constant presence with war looming in the minds and hearts of everyone; however, they party, dine, and spend money galore knowing that drastic changes lie in the near future.  Lily will meet someone unexpected eventually but go through so many challenges and problems before that chance at love occurs.

Lily is invited by Elsa Schiaparelli to work for her as an artist who paints backgrounds for her designer shows each season.  Elsa and Coco Chanel are constant and virulent opponents in the world of fashion design. 

The two dominant themes running through every page of this delicious, sumptuous story are the beauty of fashionable clothing and designs and the unique personalities vying for superiority.  Sometimes that competition comes close to murderous disaster.  Anyone in love with color and clothes will fall in love with these sensual, rich descriptions of styles created to present a theme such as those of carnivals, seasons, astrology and so much more.  Colors are blended with brilliant jewels and scarves, handbags, hats, etc. to enchant the eye and shape of a wearer. The reader wants to see more from these two astonishingly talented fashion designers. So competitive are the designers’ introductory shows that scouts watch for anyone taking notes or making drawings to put in the press ahead of other writers. Lily’s artistic talents add brilliance to each collection.

Elsa is a rabid hater of fascism and Coco uses the ever-present Germans for what she later knows may be dire circumstances needing protection and survival. Heartbreak, however, follows for so many.  Elsa has an independent daughter, Gogo, who initially seems a spoiled brat but when necessary becomes Elsa’s greatest supporter and strength. 

The Last Collection… is glorious historical fiction superbly presenting character and personalities that each reader will remember for a very long time!

Irreversible Damage - The Katie Suarez Social Justice Series - A Novel by JL Ruiz

Irreversible Damage: The Katie Suarez Social Justice Series: A Novel. JL Ruiz. WPR Publshing.  May 2019. pb, 218 pp.; ISBN #: 9781889379944.

Katie, the heroine of this novel, is a Mexican-American raised by two Mexican lawyers in Paradise Valley, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.  This is her tragic and eventually positive story of how President Trump’s political campaign against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who are “Dreamers” has yielded horrific, tragic results for families, friends and acquaintances.  It all begins with the deportation of a Mexican for not having proper immigration papers, an act that destroys his family.  The author within this novel does a superb job of explaining how Mexicans began their history of high art and culture by the polices of Spanish invaders who ruined the reputation of Mexicans to less than second-class citizens.  This is the same attitudes and though processes that began in America under Trump, a program devised to portray Mexicans as rapists, drug dealers and criminals.  It’s a policy that was strengthened by false advertising in the news media and elsewhere.  It was cemented by Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona’s actions of deliberately arresting and deporting Mexicans.  It was approved by those who found these actions united their basest beliefs which now had public approval.  It turned people into prejudiced individuals who really didn’t need or use reason to confirm their biases.

Katie’s family became over fraught time riddled with argumentation and fragmentation.  A young man, Mark, is convicted of a sexual crime because of the prejudiced influence of a school bully.  Mark is murdered in prison and her parents wind up divorced because of the indescribable grief and fragmentation.  Katie’s school project is given a poor grade because the teacher cannot move past her own prejudices about the low status and behavior of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. 

This then is how Katie is first overwhelmed by phenomenal pain, anger and sad frustration but then rises up like a phoenix from the ashes of her tragic life to fight for unification of people despite their cultural diversity.  It’s an unforgettable story because it is so well-researched, accurate and truthful about the current state of Americans who have been fed a pack of false lies and biased news reports.  Katie becomes a lawyer who forms several anti-defamation groups.  We are all equal and deserve to treat and be treated in that reality; this is a must read for young adults and adults.  It should be mandatory reading in high schools and colleges.  Its accounts and educational advice will and should influence American government and politics today and in years to come!  Highly, highly recommended reading – MUST reading!  It is an American story about us all!