Tag Archives: books
Taking a break from my regularly-scheduled Wednesday photo posts to talk Gatsby. Honestly, can one have too much Gatsby in their life?
I doubt it, old sport.
Like so many teens, my first exposure to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic came in high school. The Great Gatsby was assigned reading my sophomore year — and though I’ve always been a reader, it took an introduction to this work to get me excited about literature. Gatsby was a gateway drug. I sprang to Austen and Dickens after this 1925 classic, devouring Shakespeare and Welty in turn. Heck, I even humored Hemingway. I was addicted.
Because Gatsby is accessible, entertaining, absorbing and all-around fantastic, I didn’t spend my time as a student afraid to approach Great Literature. I wasn’t scared off by serious tones and symbolism. The Canon of Fabulous Works didn’t intimidate me. My obsession with reading launched my English studies in college, which sharpened my writing skills, which led to my career as a writer and editor.
Can I thank Gatsby for that?
In a way, yes.
But as a lovesick teen girl, I wasn’t focused on the corruption of the American dream or costs of decadence. At 15, I became enamored with the Jazz Age classic because I considered it a love story. (And maybe it still is.) Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy seemed unrelentingly optimistic and just . . . sweet. Ignorant to the book’s messages, I read it purely as the story of a man who could never forget his first love. Convinced he need only money and luxury to lure Daisy away from the privileged, “careless” life she shares with Tom Buchanan, Gatsby sets off to make it big. And win Daisy back. Her green light is a beacon of hope — one that declares he can have anything he’s ever wished for . . . if he never eases up.
It’s interesting now, examining the story as an adult. I’ve read the book three times and am halfway through a fourth. We went to see Baz Luhrmann’s latest film adaptation on Sunday . . . and I became obsessed with the story anew. No matter how many times I hold Gatsby up for inspection, analyzing his motives and means and parts, I can still uncover more layers. Almost a century after it landed in the hands of its first readers, we still have so much to talk about.
That is the magic of Gatsby. Of Fitzgerald’s writing. Of that particular era of history, the 1920s: so rich and vivid and compelling. Despite some lukewarm to derisive reviews of “The Great Gatsby,”
I loved the film. I loved it so hard. Leonardo DiCaprio was a charismatic, convincing Gatsby, and I viewed his pursuit of wealth and the so-called American Dream with fresh eyes. Daisy’s portrayal by Carey Mulligan was the perfect mix of disaffected ingenue and fragile mess, which I adored, and I despised her all over again.
And can we talk about the music? I know people are all over the place with this one. Executive produced by Jay-Z, the film’s soundtrack features eclectic music — hip-hop, alternative rock — and modern tunes punctuate some of the movie’s most pivotal scenes. As Gatsby and Nick fly in that iconic car and the New York skyline comes into view, a haunting bar of Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind” caught me off-guard. But I liked it. It took what could have been a staid interpretation of an iconic story and turned it around. I downloaded Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” from bed the next morning. I just . . . couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s so haunting.
The whole film is haunting.
The modern feel isn’t for everyone, I know. And that’s okay. But even the departures from Fitzgerald’s text — notably a framework where Nick is telling Gatsby’s story from a sanitarium, where he’s being treated for alcoholism and depression, among other ailments — just added to the narrative; for me, it didn’t take anything away. I like that Gatsby is still provoking us to imagine things differently, to ask questions and draw the text into the current world.
Did I think the movie was flawless? No. Nothing ever is. But I didn’t go into “The Great Gatsby” wearing my critical glasses. I wanted to be transported, entertained and dazzled — exactly what I’d expect from a Luhrmann film. And I was. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, I blinked in the dim light. I felt disoriented. Even knowing precisely what was going to happen didn’t save me from feeling breathless throughout the movie, and somehow still shocked by its close. I wanted things to be different.
When I got home on Sunday, I dug through my bookshelves until I found my tattered old copy of Gatsby. It’s underlined and highlighted, dog-eared on pages where a passage or two struck me, and worn around the edges from getting stuffed into book bags and purses. I’m 100 pages into my latest reading. Despite being such a relentless lover of literature, I never re-read books. Ever. Seriously, Gatsby is the only book I’ve ever read more than once — and being on a fourth reading is sort of ludicrous. But seeing the film provoked so many new questions . . . and I wanted to be able to compare the film and book after a fresh reading of the text.
But I can’t really do that. Not really. It’s not fair to intricately compare a book to its cinematic counterpart; they’re two different ways of storytelling. Overall, would I declare the film “faithful” to the beloved text? Yes, I would. And if I agree with some of the quibbles about Nick’s role, for instance, that doesn’t dampen my overall enthusiasm. Gatsby moves me like no other story, and “Gatsby” on the big screen was an incredible experience.
I loved it. And if you love the story, too, I trust you’ve got your tickets.
I have to sort out my feelings on this.
Maryanne O’Hara’s Cascade has been on my radar since I caught a glimpse of its gorgeous cover last summer, and Audra’s review tipped this into “book lust” category. Why it took me another nine months to read it? Honestly, I don’t know.
But since finishing Cascade early Sunday morning, it’s been lingering behind my eyelids. I read the last 100 pages in a sitting, almost breathless to discover what would become of star-crossed Desdemona, but felt something akin to grief upon finishing O’Hara’s captivating story.
I didn’t want to say goodbye.
Sometimes books speak to us — uniquely, exclusively. The elements of a particular story combine to seem formed just for you . . . and so it was with Cascade. I should preface my review by acknowledging my deep, overwhelming fear of water. Of drowning. Of being pulled under. The idea of an entire town being purposely dismantled and flooded to form a reservoir — of a place that once existed but has since been razed, morphed into a lake — is both fascinating and horrifying.
Cascade, Massachusetts is the kind of quintessential New England town you’d imagine Norman Rockwell’s subjects to inhabit. It’s idyllic and quaint, filled with friends and gossips — a place where everyone truly knows your name. Desdemona “Dez” Hart Spaulding grew up here, buried her mother and brother here, and shelved her dreams of art and New York to provide for her father in the last months of his life. Broke and facing homelessness, Dez agrees to marry Asa Spaulding, a goodhearted pharmacist, so William Hart will be safe in his final days. She’s so absurdly grateful for a roof over her head that she never hesitates to bind her life to Asa’s.
It’s the 1930s. The Great Depression. After the Roaring Twenties, after the Great War changed everything. As news of dust storms blotting out the sun clutter newsreels and bread lines curve around buildings, Dez knows she should be content — grateful — for the relatively comfortable life she shares with Asa. But after her father’s death, a feeling like claustrophobia pushes the air from her lungs.
And things are heating up in town. Long rumored but never made official, word is spreading that the state is finally ready to build a new reservoir for Boston. With its proximity to water and the city, Cascade seems the ideal choice. When Massachusetts sends out Stan Smith, a portly worker for the Water Authority, gossip and worry seep into the town’s very pores. Dez befriends Stan after he stops into her husband’s pharmacy, trying to glean information or a shred of hope for Cascade’s future, but the flood waters already seem to inch around the town. If chosen, Cascade faces imminent ruin. Complete demolition. To be filled until nothing remains.
In that atmosphere of uncertainty, a friendship between Desdemona and Jacob Solomon begins to blossom. A Jewish peddler carrying on his father’s traditions, Jacob also has artistic ambitions — and finds a kindred spirit in Dez, the savvy and creative daughter of a play master. With an appreciation for Shakespeare thanks to her father, Dez is worldly and interesting and nothing like most of the folks in Cascade: a group typically content to drink their root bear floats at Asa’s soda fountain and malign Jacob’s good name because he’s “one of them.”
With tensions brewing in Europe and in New England, Dez is faced with an earth rapidly shifting beneath her feet. And it’s time to make a move.
Reading Cascade was such a lush, complicated experience. My description doesn’t do justice to half the threads weaving O’Hara’s moving novel together — but a girl has to try. Of the many elements happening in one 350-page book, the connection brewing between Dez and Jacob captivated me completely. My heart literally ached reading about their friendship, however brief, and the story’s progression found me desperately hoping for something I knew could never be. Without giving anything way, I felt splintered by the novel’s close. Just splintered. Gut-punched.
And that’s the mark of a great story.
And this was a great story . . . the first 5-star book I’ve read in almost a year. A wholly unique tale. One with which I sympathized, and empathized, and became completely swept inside. Between its mirroring of Shakespearean classics and historical tidbits of life just before Pearl Harbor, O’Hara does a masterful job of portraying a town facing imminent destruction just as millions face a gruesome end in Europe. The distrust of the Jewish population — and of Jacob — was devastating, and made me thankful for the intervening years since World War II.
Just as interesting was the art scene — a vivid world portrayed through Dez’s work and connections. New York seemed a wholly familiar and unfamiliar place through O’Hara’s pen: a world I know but do not know. I loved the descriptions of Dez’s paintings and plans, and the light-filled studio rooms in which she would recreate safe spaces. It was romantic and lovely. And the overarching theme — “nothing gold can stay,” if you will, or nothing and no one lasts forever — made me sad and reflective but ultimately . . . hopeful? Yes. Hopeful.
There’s so much I want to talk about, but so much I cannot talk about. This is a story you need to experience and devour yourself. Though it took me 80 pages or so to become fully invested in Cascade’s future, I feel changed as a reader for having read this book. It was magnificent. There aren’t too many novels I’d herald as “a triumph,” the hyperbole of that making me squint, but seriously: Cascade is phenomenal. It touched me. It made me cry. It broke my heart. It raised so many questions.
I absolutely loved it, and it’s time to discover it for yourself.
5 out of 5!
I love daydreaming about Paris.
It’s one of my favorite pastimes, in fact. The people, the architecture, the desserts . . . all tantalizing. Intoxicating. Absorbing. If I had the funds and vacation time (both quite elusive these days), I’d be on a transcontinental flight faster than you can say macaron.
But alas. Until I can sip wine beneath the Eiffel Tower in person, I’ll have to settle for delightful stories like Eloisa James’ memoir Paris In Love.
After surviving cancer shortly after her mother recently died of the disease, Eloisa James convinces her husband, son and daughter to move abroad for a year to discover what the Parisian life is all about. With Anna and Luca settled in a new school and Alessandro learning the local ropes, Eloisa settles in to absorb the city and work on several books.
A popular and prolific romance novelist, Eloisa makes no bones about her French journey: though she may wish she and her family came away from the experience with amazing “life lessons” or a greater appreciation for family or the passage of time, what their year abroad really taught her was to try and be in the moment. Life is just life. Told as a series of vignettes, Paris In Love is a compilation of her skillfully-crafted Facebook and Twitter updates from their time in the City of Light — occasionally expanded into short essays about subjects as diverse as Anna’s burgeoning friendships, French food, a nearby dance school and more.
It was a different reading experience — and a quick one. James’ thoughts are shared in paragraph-long snippets that, while chronological, don’t necessarily connect from one page to the next. The results felt like reading someone’s travel journal: little glimpses of day-to-day life for a stranger in a strange land, trying to blend with the locals while getting some work done. The most charming passages focused on Luca and Anna, Alessandro and Eloisa’s children, and I looked forward to hearing about their ex-pat adventures in school.
Francophiles and armchair travelers will find Paris In Love to be a fast, delightful read — and James’ fans will welcome an opportunity to know the author better through her memoir. If Paris lacks sparkle for you, you’ll likely find the descriptions hum-drum — but if you’re looking to escape to the other side of the Atlantic for a few hours, James’ invitation to come along is a fun one.
4 out of 5!
When Queenie Wake fled Texas for brighter lights, she never imagined she’d be back. Her fantasy life working as a chef in New York City wasn’t all she’d imagined, sure, but it was better than wandering North Star pitied as one of two daughters her pistol of a mother left behind. And running from Everett, her first love, seemed easier than ever dealing with the pain of his marrying someone else.
But life has changed. After an incident in a New York kitchen, Queenie finds herself unemployed and homeless in one fell swoop. Crawling back to Merry Carole, her older sister, is the only sensible option — at least until she gets on her feet. Soon she accepts a unique position: cooking death row inmates’ last meals at a nearby prison.
The job is hard. And weird. And she has fellow prisoners for sous chefs, but they diligently — and quietly — work on anything Queenie asks. Between the struggle to create the “perfect” last meal for these doomed souls, dealing with Everett’s reappearance in her life and trying to balance the judgment of her community with her own dreams, Queenie is in a bind. And there’s just one question on everyone’s minds: will she finally stay, or will she go?
Liza Palmer’s Nowhere But Home is an entertaining story I couldn’t put down, even when I eventually wanted to smack Queenie in the head for being such a numbskull. (I have that reaction pretty often.) As much about the roles and expectations of family as it is about accepting love, Palmer’s novel is layered and compelling.
As our star of North Star (sorry, that was cheesy), Queenie is the youngest child of a notorious town harlot who met an untimely end years before. Long shadowed by her mother’s seedy life and dramatic death, Queenie wants to avoid her legacy when possible — except in the kitchen. A famed cook just like her mama, Queenie still fields requests for the Number One: her mom’s signature dish. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this elusive mother, a woman who named her daughter “Queen Elizabeth” so no one could turn their nose up at her. She obviously had issues, poor parenting among them, but had to have done something right to have such kindhearted girls.
Because make no mistake: Queenie is kindhearted. She doesn’t want you to think so, and she’d die before you told her such a thing, but this woman — a narrator who has tried so hard to escape the past, to harden her heart, to avoid pain and confrontation — is really just a broken shell. It takes coming home to North Star, her sister and her star quarterback nephew to begin to put the pieces together again.
“Friday Night Lights” and the Texas football atmosphere are mentioned on the back cover . . . and that scared me a bit. Far from a sports fanatic, the idea of an entire town flipping out over football is foreign to me. But I understand that, you know, Sports Are Great and all; I’m just a book nerd. But Palmer doesn’t go overboard. Queenie’s nephew, Cal, has finally brought honor to the Wake family name — and no one in North Star is psyched about it. But I thought the town dynamics were well-played and interesting, and I wanted to slug the busybodies trophy wives who couldn’t stand to see Merry Carole and Cal happy. What a bunch of jerks.
Overall, this novel is very . . . balanced. Equal parts family dynamics, romance, friendship and dealing with an unsettling past, none of the many plot threads overwhelmed the others. Just as I was getting a little irked with the back-and-forth between Everett and Queenie, we flip over to Queenie dealing with her tumultuous past. Or dealing with the rude parents of her nephew’s teammates. Or pondering her next move. It was easy to read, fast-paced but introspective, and that’s just not something I see too often.
You know, honestly? I’d originally slapped a 3-star rating on this one and called it a day. Though I liked the book, I didn’t think it really resonated with me. But I finished it more than a week before penning this review, and so many details — and emotions — came flooding back just now. It’s rare that a seemingly lighthearted story gives me so much to chew on . . . and that bumped this one up for me. You know, I really liked it. It was really good.
Fans of women’s fiction, small-town dynamics, Texas-set novels and stories that ponder what it means to let go will find much to mull over with Nowhere But Home. Queenie is a heroine as unique as her name, and I wouldn’t hesitate to add this one to your burgeoning to-be-read stack. It’s worth it.
4 out of 5!
After getting engaged, I was amazed by how many people asked one interesting question: was my dog going to walk with me down the aisle?
For some dog lovers, the idea of tying the knot without their four-legged friend is impossible. Whether their canine is standing in as “best dog” or simply soaking it in from the audience, our pups — our confidantes; our buddies — are members of the family. And they want in on the action.
Katie Preston Toepfer and Sam Stall penned Wedding Dogs: A Celebration of Holy Muttrimony — and it’s just as cute as you’d expect. A collection of photos from weddings across the country, each spread features photos of a canine collaborator along with the story of the wedding they attended. With the Humane Society estimating that approximately 78.2 million owned dogs take up residence in more than 39 percent of U.S. households, I’m surprised we don’t see more pups as ringbearers.
In the introduction, Toepfer writes, “For those who know the joy of being loved unconditionally, who know what it’s like to be greeted each day by a flurry of fur-spinning excitement, this book is for you. Whether or not your precious four-legged friend was a part of your wedding day, or even if you’re yet to tie the knot, I hope this book will be a source of laughter, joy, and inspiration.”
Though we don’t plan to include Rudy, my family’s beloved golden retriever, in our nuptials, Spencer and I often joke about how he would react to being coerced into walking down an aisle. Rudy has a mind of his own — and the lure of so many people around to throw him a ball would be too distracting. There’s really no telling what he would do.
And he was totally not interested in other dogs’ fifteen minutes of fame with this publication.
In Wedding Dogs, some of my favorite spreads featured Lexi and Hayden, two Labrador retrievers who wore flowers around their necks, and a trio of pugs included on their owners’ wedding announcements (they were banned from the formal ceremony!). There are so many great photos, though, and the stories are equally precious. Written in vignettes, it’s the sort of book you can easily “ooh” and “ahh” over on a lazy afternoon, soaking up the gorgeous scenery and equally heartwarming pup stories.
So grab a glass of champagne and celebrate in spirit! These well-mannered pups — and their creative owners — deserve a toast.
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest discussion
Well, it’s a Monday — and I reckon it’s time for another giveaway. Just takes the edge off, eh?
Courtesy of Harlequin, up for grabs are two copies of Deanna Raybourn’s A Spear of Summer Grass. If that lovely cover isn’t enough to entice you, perhaps the description is:
The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house, until gossip subsides.
Amidst the wonders — and dangers — of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for — and what she can no longer live without.
If you blend glamour from The Great Gatsby and romance from “Out of Africa,” you are beginning to grasp the stunning new novel that is A Spear of Summer Grass.
please fill out this form.
Giveaway is open only to entrants with U.S. or Canadian addresses. The contest will run until 12 p.m. on Friday, May 3, when two randomly-chosen winners will be emailed for their mailing addresses. Good luck!
CONTEST CLOSED, edited on May 3: Congrats to Caitlin and Lisa S, our randomly-chosen winners! Ladies, I’ve emailed you.