Friday, June 26, 2009

RA 101, Redux

I need blog help 101; perhaps a whole week to teach myself all the tricks of the trade. No wonder I'm having so much trouble writing this review for LJ! Look how wordy I am. I write a draft, count the words - did I tell you? 175 to 200? Impossible! Then I go through and begin removing all my favorite adjectives until the review is pared down to nothing and then I wonder, would I want to read this book if this was all I knew about it? Folks, it's harder than it looks.

So, onward and upward as our friend Bob Macomber says. Another book I just finished and really enjoyed was one I saw in the weeding pile with such a sweet cover I felt compelled to rescue it. The House on First Street, My New Orleans Story, is one of those non-fiction quasi-autobiographies with food, drink and remodeling thrown in. I just eat these up. I wasn't familiar with the author, Julia Reed, but won't forget her now. She has quite a pedigree as a journalist with many awards to her name, but after reading her story, I'd say it's a miracle she's still alive to write it! How do these journalists abuse their bodies so devastatingly and still look so damn good?

Do you ever wonder if it's really worth it to deny yourself an excess of experience for the long life trade off? I ask myself that every time I walk by Kilwins!! (and they usually win) At any rate, this book is a quick read and a great look at what miracles can be done when money is no object! Julia was certainly already doing very well by herself when she met and married a well known attorney and they bought an old historic house that was in major disrepair. Her stories echo those of Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes before her, yet her troubles seemed to be of her own making. There's a term "more money than brains" and, at the risk of sounding a little unkind, if the shoe fits......She trusted everyone! Tried to employ every down and out barfly she'd ever met in the city and oh, they took her for a ride. After fits and starts the house on First Street begins to resemble the grand dame it once was and, you guessed it, Katrina!

Ms. Reed's story takes a much more serious turn as she tells of the evacuation, the days after the levies broke when communication was impossible, the losses of those who were left behind or stayed behind to protect their property. She focuses on the folks she knew best, the business owners, chefs and restaurateurs who fed the hungry with salvaged goods. She has no use for the Governor of Louisiana and gets a bit politically righteous when speaking of FEMA and its disastrous non-response to the situation in the Crescent City. All in all this was a great build up to my first book discussion book next season, City of Refuge.

Betsy and I are off to a Colin Firth movie in a few minutes so I'll have to get to book number 4 tomorrow. A dreary day, the paper full of sad and difficult news, so a good day to head to Coconut Point and lose ourselves for a couple of hours.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

RA 101 - 4 Disparate Titles

OK, so it wasn't the US Open that kept me from blogging this weekend - though I did catch plenty of golf. It was the fantastic treat from Barbara Hoffert that arrived at the library for me Friday afternoon - Richard Russo's new book That Old Cape Magic. As you can imagine, Russo being one of my all-time faves, I was flying around the library to think that she trusted me to review this one. I read it in two days but had a heck of a time with the review - 1st draft sitting in the computer. It is SO much harder to review a book you love. Watch LJ for the results.

I've been all over the genre board lately with what I've been listening to and reading. For those of you who read this blog for readers' advisory I'll give you a down and dirty blow by blow of the latest titles. First up, I just finished The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz. Since this was the book I read during our rather paltry lunch break, I confess it look me a long time to get through it. Not the fault of the book, I don't think, more that it's hard to concentrate in the community lunch room and almost just as difficult when I dine al fresco by the dumpster!

The cover art intrigued me right away, not to mention that it was a starred review in Booklist. Literary fiction as well as historical fiction for those of you who are looking for categories, this book is about what happens when the crown prince of Japan falls for a "commoner," (one who had the audacity to beat him in a tennis match), marries her against the wishes of the royal family, and brings her into the severe confinement and stricture of the Chrysanthemum court.

The novel is based on a true story and Schwartz received much praise for his in-depth research since the Imperial Court of Japan is still shrouded in much secrecy. Book groups would find lots to discuss here; the loss of identity for a woman even in modern Japan once she becomes the potential bearer of the next crown prince, the pressure put upon her to renounce family and the outside world as well as her education and opinions. Talk could focus on choices we make in life, whether informed or not, and how we choose to live with them. And then there's love, is it enough? A very sad book indeed.

Espionage has always thrilled me. I think I'm a conspiracy theorist at heart. I've read most of John le Carre's work and was going to by-pass the latest until Nancy Pearl's glowing review forced me to listen to A Most Wanted Man. This is an extremely timely look at the "war on terror" and how governments interfere in the lives of innocent people, trying to make connections where none exist in an attempt to beat each other out in a great big contrived numbers game. The plot seemed just a tad unbelievable but I kept allowing myself to go with it cause, after all, what do I know about the terror war?

Still, why would a mother and son in Hamburg, Germany, take in a stranger off the street who appears to be deranged or dangerous, only to find that he's a Chechen Muslim who escaped torture and imprisonment to come to Germany to claim an inheritence from his Russian father who sired him out of wedlock? At the risk of being deported, this mother and son hook Issa, the stranger, up with a lawyer who represents immigrants in danger of being deported. The atty. Anabelle, hooks Issa up with a British banker, Tommy Brue, who holds the key to the money that will give Issa the freedom to study medicine and help the downtrodden Muslims of Chechnya. In my naivete, I wanted to believe that Tommy and Anabelle were truly good people caught up in something beyond their abilities. By the end of the book, as they were manipulated by German, British and U.S. forces, I wasn't so sure.

To be continued....I have to mow the lawn and the post is getting too long! Thanks for reading...

Friday, June 19, 2009

I have been reading, honest!

What happened? More than 2 weeks without writing. Here's the problem. I've been reading everyone else's blogs. In trying to figure out how to get my blog out there to more readers I've been looking at others and evaluating what they do that I don't. For one thing, most book blogs are much more colorful. They fill the page with cover art, pictures and links but, dare I say it? They aren't always that interesting. Sometimes they all seem to be saying the same thing about the same books and then I throw in the towel. It's just my style but I like a little personality thrown in with the books reviews. How what's going on in my life affects my choices and vice-versa is important to me.

I guess that's why I was so surprised to find that there's a minor controversy going on at Library Journal right how about the new format for reviews. I have not been given a written instruction as to the new format but read about it online after having noticed it in the June 1st issue. The basic plot of the book is set out for the reader and then there's a section marked "Verdict" where the reviewer gets to be a bit more out there in terms of raves or pans. It looked a bit funky at first but the further I read, the more I liked it. The reviewers sounded more human, as if they were actually talking to real people - much more blog like. I think it will fit my writing style so I made a comment on the forum encouraging people to give it a try.

I just wrote an article on summer reads for the Bonita Banner. I doubt anyone reads it but, for the few who do, I'm happy that the library is still in print. Worries abound here abound with all the budget whoo-ha.

One of the books that I can't stop raving about is The Help. I'm just blown away to think that this is a debut novel. The plot is so unlike the "same-old, same old" that seems to get published these days. Author Kathryn Stockett set her book in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early ‘60’s, where the civil rights movement had yet to gain steam. Budding journalist Skeeter Phelan, hoping to catch the imagination of an editor in New York, clandestinely meets with the black servants of the city’s most prominent families. Skeeter’s consciousness is raised as she records the sometimes funny, often heartbreaking stories of these invisible women who cook the meals, clean the clothes, and love the children of the privileged. Stockett ratchets up the tension by deftly weaving in the historical facts of Medgar Evers’ slaying and Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington as Dylan sings of changing times.

Listening to the downloadable version was especially rewarding as the various readers really brought the characters of Abeline and Minny to life. One gets a sense of the courage that it took for these two women to tell their stories of slave labor and abuse to a white woman, not to mention the fear they felt for their jobs and lives when and if the published volume hit the streets. I can't recommend this book enough. Great fodder for discussion.

At the risk of being too wordy I'll just say that I have three other books that I've just finished or am almost done with and I want to tell you about all of them. Plus I just began listening to Renegade, Richard Wolffe's behind the scenes look at "the making of the president," not to be confused with but getting lots of comparisons to the penultimate political book by Theodore White about JFK. More tomorrow if the U.S. Open gets rained out.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Florida Rep's Shirley Valentine

RUN, don't walk to this fantastic production of Shirley Valentine at the Florida Repertory Theatre in downtown Ft. Myers. Once again this professional theatre troupe, under the able artistic direction of Bob Cacioppo, has put together a stand out production that's already been so popular that the run has been extended for another week.

Now, I'm assuming that you're all familiar with the 1988 film of the same name but did you know that Shirley was first a play? I sure didn't. So, while I'm obsessing about how they can possibly turn the film I loved so much into a one-woman show, little did I know that, in fact, that's how playwright Willy Russell had envisioned it from the jump. He also wrote another great play/film Educating Rita. We have both of these in the library if you'd like a refresher.

I have been attending Florida Rep for years now and have witnessed some phenomenal theatrical productions, many that have left me either sobbing or too depleted of energy to move from my seat. Wit comes to mind or The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Shirley Valentine just left me so satisfied that I felt like I'd spent an afternoon catching up with an old, beloved friend.

Actress Lisa Morgan ( ) has an extensive, impressive resume. I like to
remind some of the snobs I run into who insist there's no "culcha" here in Southwest Florida, of the caliber of actors who are drawn here to work with the Cacioppos. Ms. Morgan has that rare gift of perfect comic timing and reveled in showing it off frequently as she spoke to the wall in her dreary little kitchen in foggy old England. I was reminded of the way Jon Stewart only has to look at the camera to get guffaws. Ms. Morgan has that same ability to deliver a line, stare at the audience and patiently wait for the "ah ha" moment. Her monologue on the discovery of the clitoris had the women in the audience wetting their pants. I thought the older gentleman sitting next to me was disapproving but discovered later that the poor guy just couldn't hear, as his wife had to repeat all the punchlines sotto voce.

Even if it's a little dated - Shirley is considered "over the hill" at the age of 42 - the feelings this play engenders are universal truths about love, acceptance and sins of omission. Shirley and her husband are empty nesters who go through their daily routines with little joie de vivre; they work, shop, come home to eat and sit in front of the telly. They no longer see each other. Yet Shirley reminisces about earlier years when she was a rip roaring pip with dreams of travel and adventure, longings that have been stifled by inertia. When a friend offers to treat her to a Greek Island escape the old Shirley comes to life in a most self-revealing way.

So come on....even the president attended live theatre this past weekend. Why can't you? Make the call right now. You'll be glad you did.