Saturday, June 18, 2011

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Book description:
It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows, which he hopes will honor his family business and earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered.

Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman, which ultimately force her to protest against the company she has worked so hard to cultivate. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces to a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

This is a tough review for me because despite the fact that I really wanted to love this book, I just couldn't. I found Clara a strangely flat character despite the interesting times in which she lived; it was hard for me to feel an emotional connection to her. I always felt that Clara was remote and found myself more interested in the other women and the glassware than in Clara herself.

The writing was wonderful and I love that the story was inspired by true events, but I guess I think Vreeland tried too hard to tread the fine line between fact and fiction and so missed the mark on both. 3.5 stars even though I feel bad saying that...

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls

Book Description:
What sane woman would consider becoming any man's ninth wife?

Bess Gray is a thirty-five-year-old folklorist and amateur martial artist living in Washington, DC. Just as she's about to give up all hope of marriage, she meets Rory, a charming Irish musician, and they fall in love. But Rory is a man with a secret, which he confesses to Bess when he asks for her hand: He's been married eight times before. Shocked, Bess embarks on a quest she feels she must undertake before she can give him an answer. With her bickering grandparents (married sixty-five years), her gay neighbor (himself a mystery), a shar-pei named Stella, and a mannequin named Peace, Bess sets out on a cross-country journey—unbeknownst to Rory—to seek out and question the wives who came before. What she discovers about her own past is far more than she bargained for.

When Bess finally finds that special someone who wants to share his life with her, Rory has just one small surprise- he has been married 8 times before! As she tried to work through her feelings about his past and theor future, she embarks on a cross country road trip from DC to take her grandparents to their new home in AZ, stopping along the way to meet as many of Rory's former wives as she can find.

From the description and flap copy, I expected a standard chick-lit book, full of humor and froth. What I got instead was a well-crafted family drama that explores love in all its different incarnations. The backstories here are poignant and complicated, giving the book a depth that I did not expect. Bess and Rory are great characters, as are Bess' friends and grandparents (who sounds quirky in the flap copy but are actually quite tragic in their way). I found it hard to put this excellent novel down and highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

Book Description:
While in Memphis, psychic Harper Connelly senses-and finds-two bodies in a grave. One of a man centuries-dead. The other, a girl, recently deceased. Harper's investigation yields another surprise: the next morning, a third body is found-in the very same grave.

An outstanding follow-up to the series opener, this offering continues the story of Harper (the lightning-struck girl who can see dead people) and Tolliver (the step-brother that manages the business they built on her skills). Once again the murderer isn't hard to figure out early on in the story, but once again it doesn't really matter- the gradual sharing of information about Harper and Tolliver's lives and their past is more than enough to capture reader interest. I can't wait to read the next book in the series!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

Book Description:
Harper Connelly has what you might call a strange job: she finds dead people. The way Harper sees it, she's providing a service to the dead while bringing some closure to the living-but she's used to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. Traveling with her stepbrother Tolliver as her manager and sometime-bodyguard, she's become an expert at getting in, getting paid, and getting out fast. Because for the living it's always urgent-even if the dead can wait forever.

The start of a new series, this paranormal mystery about a young woman struck by lighting who can now locate the dead and see the moment of their passing is surprisingly good. Though it doesn't take long for the reader to figure out the mystery, it really doesn't matter- it is the characters that carry this book along amd make it impossible to put down. I've read other books by Harris and enjoyed them, but this is head and shoulders above The Southern Vampire Series or the Aurora Teagarden mysteries. Highly recommended even if you don't normally enjoy Charlaine Harris.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Book Description:
Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he's obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis--all the result of a mysterious accident that made Christine an amnesiac. With the encouragement of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to help jog her memory every day. One morning, she opens it and sees that she's written three unexpected and terrifying words: "Don't trust Ben." Suddenly everything her husband has told her falls under suspicion. What kind of accident caused her condition? Who can she trust? Why is Ben lying to her? And, for the reader: Can Christine’s story be trusted?

In this well-written "thriller", Christine wakes up every day unsure of who she is, unable to believe she is the middle-aged woman in the mirror. She can't remember her husband or the life they led together. She can't remember anything. Eventually she finds a journal and learns she has been seeking answers and then the book builds to an interesting climax that I won't reveal here.

This story is solid and engaging, but I just never got the spine-tingling thrill I had expected. It was an interesting read, and I did enjoy it, buthe lack of real tension as the book moved towarded the big denouement made it easy to put down when interrupted. I was left feeling vaguely let down and dissatisfied which is why I'm only giving it 3.5 stars.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Book Description:
Be careful what you wish for. Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts’, suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage.

Though I found this book slow going for the first 50 or so pages, I eventually found myself pulled into the story. The improbably named American heiress Cora Cash is wealthy enough to be the prime catch of the season, and her mother is determined to use that status to marry into a titled English family. Cora is determined to get married to escape from her overbearing mother, especially after her first love turns down her proposal to dedicate himself to art.

Though there was nothing unexpected about the plot, I did find the characters engaging, and welcomed the few glances into the life and views of the servants involved in all these family machinations. Cora's naivete can be annoying at times, and she certainly isn't the brightest heroine, but she is nevertheless a well-meaning girl who does attract the reader's sympathy as the story develops.

A good summer read once you sink into the story.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tassy Morgan's Bluff by Jim Stinson

Book Description:
San Andreas, California. It may be a quaint town, but its residents have high hopes for its future as a tourist destination. There's Bill the Fixer, the handyman who sidelines in chain-saw sculpted redwood totem poles; real estate agent Margaret Nam, who plans to make a mint rehabbing beach shacks; and Jimi, the well-to-do hairstylist whose chair is the epicenter of town gossip. Amid their town's growing pains, widower Lincoln Ellis and Tassy Morgan, a recently divorced painter, meet and-much to their surprise-sparks begin to fly.

This light read filled with quirky characters thrown together by improbable circumstances was a delightful summer read. The setting is great, the small town politics accurate, and the cast of characters is truly original. Tassy and Linc make a great couple and I loved reading about their efforts to maintain Tassy's dilapidated cottage in the face of machinations by the town council.

My only quibble is that the end of the book seems rather sudden and doesn't tie up all the lose ends for the characters other than Tassy and Linc. If this is the start of a series with more books to follow that flesh out the rest of the oddballs introduced here, then I would bump it up to 5 stars.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

Book description:
Seventy-seven-year-old Marylou Ahearn is going to kill Dr. Wilson Spriggs come hell or high water. In 1953, he gave her a radioactive cocktail without her consent as part of a secret government study that had horrible consequences.

Marylou has been plotting her revenge for fifty years. When she accidentally discovers his whereabouts in Florida, her plans finally snap into action. She high tails it to hot and humid Tallahassee, moves in down the block from where a now senile Spriggs lives with his daughter’s family, and begins the tricky work of insinuating herself into their lives. But she has no idea what a nest of yellow jackets she is stum­bling into.

Before the novel is through, someone will be kidnapped, an unlikely couple will get engaged, someone will nearly die from eating a pineapple upside-down cake laced with anti-freeze, and that’s not all...

Despite a wonderful title, entertaining premise, and funny opening, this book ultimately fell flat for me. Billed as a comedy, this book takes too many dark turns for me to find it amusing. Plotting and maybe even carrying out revenge on the doctor that tricked you into participating in secret government research- perfectly fine and potentially funny. Turning your attentions to ruining the lives of his already fragile grandchildren when you discover he is afflicted with Alzheimers- not OK and not at all funny.

This read like two separate stories to me- one a serious and interesting look at family disfunction, one an amusing tale of revenge. When combined into one book though, neither story as allowed to live up to its potential. 3 stars.