REVIEW: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, BY TRUMAN CAPOTE

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Holly Golightly was one of those inexplicable young women who could best be described as memorable, since those who knew her never quite forgot her. And yet they never really knew her, either.

The first person narrator of Breakfast at Tiffany’s was clearly enamored with her, and sets the scene for his introduction of her by describing the brownstone in the East Seventies of 1940s Manhattan where he first encountered her. Her apartment below his, where one could almost see her ready to take flight at any moment, was not really furnished, but contained packing crates and a jumble of suitcases. I could almost see her there, with her quirky style, and the sound of chatter and happy laughter created an eternal ambience of joviality and fun.

We don’t learn much about her, as she shares very little. There were hard times in her past, and in the end, she disappears from the scene, almost as mysteriously as she appeared.

Having seen the movie, I will always see Audrey Hepburn when I imagine this fictional character, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the words that brought her to life for readers. A classic tale by a brilliant writer, this one earned 5 stars.

cropped-again-5***

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REVIEW: THE RAMBLERS, BY AIDAN DONNELLEY ROWLEY

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The three of them have a history, and now they represent a kind of New Yorker that is facing challenges, struggling against the past, and hoping for a future. They are college graduates pursuing their professions while also finding what they need in their personal lives.

Clio Eloise Marsh is an Ornithologist, a bird watcher, and a professor. She has a past that includes a mentally ill mother who sucked up all the air in the world around her, and then, took away any kind of hope for a future. Can Clio’s new beau Henry, a hotelier who is somewhat older than she, help her face her emotional past and give her hope for the future?

Smith Mae Anderson came from wealth and privilege, and she is Clio’s best friend from college and current roommate. But Smith’s past also tugs at her confidence, since the parental expectations are high and she is struggling to create a niche for herself, doing what she loves with her business called The Order of Things, a way of helping people to declutter their lives. She sees the process as a way of being in control of her inner and outer life.

Tate Pennington, also a student with Clio and Smith, created a software company that sold for a lot of money. Now he is pursuing his passion of photography, and may pursue an MFA to enhance his technical skills. Tate is still struggling to get past the dearth of his marriage to Olivia, while also finding himself drawn to Smith.

The Ramblers is all about what happens to these friends, and each of them alternately narrates the story. As we follow along with them individually, from their past to their present, we also get to visualize the world they see every day, from the oasis of The Ramble in Central Park to the world inside some gorgeous apartments and hotels.

I must admit that I loved when each of the characters’ narratives revealed their interior thoughts, from what they feared to what they loved and dreamed about. Watching how each of them moved slowly beyond what they most feared in their past lives to the hopeful futures kept me turning the pages. The story had a slow pace, which did not engage me quite as much as a faster paced book does…but the meandering story did offer the opportunity to feel a depth of understanding for the characters. 4 stars.

REVIEW: WHAT NORA KNEW, BY LINDA YELLIN

81jZMIRrKRL._SL1500_New York writer Molly Hallberg is approaching forty years of age. Working for an online magazine in Manhattan, she longs for her own column, and hopes to avoid working in the family’s upholstery business.

Her marriage to Evan, who was supposed to be the one ended when he cheated on her. Now she is cynical and trusts nobody. Which is why she seems to have settled for dull, boring Russell, who feels comfortable.

When her boss assigns a piece on romance, in the style of “Nora Ephron,” Molly is at a loss. How can a cynic write such a piece? And, predictably, the article falls flat.

Along the way she meets a bestselling author named Cameron Duncan, who is charming, flirtatious, and with whom she connects. There is just one problem. How can she trust him?

I loved how Molly, the first person narrator, had conversations with famous people in her head, as if practicing for real-life interactions. She ruminated about scenes from Nora Ephron movies, like Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and You’ve Got Mail.

Can Molly finally take a leap of faith, like the heroines in Nora’s movies? Is it possible for a cynic to learn to trust?
As Nora’s characters taught her:

“….You can’t settle for the wrong man; how can you not run toward love no matter how crazy romantic a fairy tale this story might seem?”

What Nora Knew was a fun journey along the road to romance, and I enjoyed the dialogue, the reminders of favorite movies, and the idea of creating your own happy ending. 4.0 stars.


SERENDIPITOUS TUESDAYS: INTROS/TEASERS — CLEANS UP NICELY — SEPT. 17

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Today’s featured read is one I won from Gilion, at Rose City Reads. The book, Cleans Up Nicely, by Linda Dahl, is the story of the hard-edged decadent art scene in the 1970s.

 

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Intro:  Her destination, that summer of 1977, is a luxury apartment building, upper Fifth Avenue, a slice of New York life completely alien to her.  After the doorman confirms she’s expected and nods her toward the elevators, Erica crosses a sumptuous lobby tastefully decorated with white leather couches and stainless steel tables covered with lavish flower arrangements.  She is shaking.  She awkwardly recites the all-purpose, three-line mantra that Addie McC. has assured her will always help get her through any situation.  In the paneled elevator, she rides to the floor below the penthouse, where Addie McC. ushers her into an apartment with yet more expanses of white; it feels like entering a thirties movie set—there’s even a French bulldog to go with the expensive view of Central Park.

***

Teaser:  Leaving his building stoned only on caffeine, Erica stumbled and reeled as if she were drunk.  She caught a bus, transferred to another, sat with her eyes tightly shut and willed herself not to think of him.  And to her surprise, she was successful.  (p. 125)

***

Amazon Blurb:  When twenty-something artist Erica Mason moves from laid-back Mexico to Manhattan in the mid-1970s, she finds a hard-edged, decadent, and radically evolving art scene.

Peppered with characters who could only come from the latter days of the turn-on-and-drop-out ’60s in then-crumbling New York (a spaced-out drummer who’s completely given up on using or making money, a radical feminist who glues animal furs to her paintings of vaginas, and icons in the making like Patti Smith), Erica’s New York is fast-moving, funny, and heartrending just like the city itself. Ultimately, her rite of passage is not only a love affair with art, men, alcohol, drugs, and music in the swirl that was the downtown scene in a radically evolving era in New York, but also a resurrection from addiction and self-delusion.

More than the study of a celebrated period of artistic expression, Cleans Up Nicely is the story of one gifted young woman’s path from self-destruction to a hard-won self-knowledge that opens up a whole new world for her and helps her claim the self-respect that has long eluded her.

***

I am eagerly anticipating plunging into this book, a tale that spotlights a long-ago time that means youth for some of us.  What do you think of the opening?  Would you keep reading?

 

ACCIDENTAL TWISTS & TURNS — A REVIEW

51TdC7TMTQLIn early 1995, Franny Banks sets a deadline for herself. She has lived in Manhattan for three years, trying to achieve her goal of becoming an actress. But the journey has been challenging, and she spends most of her time and energy waiting tables. And seeking auditions.

Immersed in acting classes and the occasional commercial, Franny feels her energy dissipating, as the progress is slow. At times it feels nonexistent. Then she starts interviewing agents, and signs with the second one she meets. She immediately gets a job…but then nothing happens afterwards. And the frustration mounts.

Her roommates, Dan and Jane, are fun characters who felt like people you might meet in the artistic world. Her crush on a classmate, James Franklin, sends up red flags, in my opinion. What will happen to Franny to turn her in a new direction? Will she finally achieve her goals, or will she change her career path entirely?

The time period reminded me of many things that are no longer part of our lives. Like pay phones instead of cell phones. The absence of the Internet in daily lives.

I enjoyed the premise of Someday, Someday, Maybe: A Novel, in that it reminds us that setting goals is only the first step in our journey. And that the path often takes us to unexpected places.

The story is narrated in Franny’s first person voice, accompanied by her Filofax entries inserted periodically through the chapters. Creative and fun. The story had some predictability, but with a few pleasant detours along the way. Four stars.

SERENDIPITOUS FRIDAY: BOOK BEGINNINGS & THE FRIDAY 56 — MAY 4

Welcome to some serendipitous fun today as we share Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and as we showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

My book today is another “graduate” of my Old TBR stacks, dubbed “old” by their longevity on said stacks.  Which means that the book just got lost in the shuffle.  The Tender Bar, by J. R. Moehringer, is a memoir.

J .R. Moehringer grew up listening for a voice: It was the sound of his missing father, a disc jockey who disappeared before J.R. spoke his first words. As a boy, J.R. would press his ear to a clock radio, straining to hear in that resonant voice the secrets of masculinity, and the keys to his own identity. J.R.’s mother was his world, his anchor, but he needed something else, something more, something he couldn’t name. So he turned to the bar on the corner, a grand old New York saloon that was a sanctuary for all types of men-cops and poets, actors and lawyers, gamblers and stumblebums. The flamboyant characters along the bar-including J.R.’s Uncle Charlie, a Humphrey Bogart look-alike; Colt, a Yogi Bear sound-alike; Joey D, a soft-hearted brawler; and Cager, a war hero who raised handicapping horses to an art-taught J.R., tended him, and provided a kind of fatherhood by committee. When the time came for J.R. to leave home, the bar became a way station-from his entrance to Yale, where he floundered as a scholarship student way out of his element; to his introduction to tragic romance with a woman way out of his league; to his stint as a copy boy at the New York Times, where he was a faulty cog in a vast machine way out of his control. Through it all, the bar offered shelter from failure, from rejection, and eventually from reality-until at last the bar turned J.R. away.Riveting, moving, and achingly funny, The Tender Bar is at once an evocative portrait of one boy’s struggle to become a man, and a touching depiction of how some men remain lost boys.

***

Beginning (Prologue):

We went there for everything we needed.  We went there when thirsty, of course, and when hungry, and when dead tired.  We went there when happy, to celebrate, and when sad, to sulk.  We went there after weddings and funerals, for something to settle our nerves, and always for a shot of courage just before.  We went there when we didn’t know what we needed, hoping someone might tell us.  We went there when looking for love, or sex, or trouble, or for someone who had gone missing, because sooner or later everyone turned up there.  Most of all we went there when we needed to be found.

***

Already I feel the poignancy of this tale from these opening lines.  I know it will be sad, but I’m also hoping there will be joy somewhere in all this neediness.

***

p. 56:  My mother pulled me to her and said she felt horrible about frightening me, but she couldn’t help herself.  “I’m so tired,” she said.  “Tired of worrying and struggling and being so—so—alone.

 

What do the rest of you want to share today?  I hope you’ll stop in with your comments and links.

AFTER THE FALL — A REVIEW

Life in TriBeCa in the late summer and early fall of 2001 seems precarious to Corrine and Russell Calloway, whose marriage may be on the skids.

Corrine has returned to her career, while still juggling motherhood and other commitments; Russell seems detached and distant, arousing all of the suspicions that have accompanied the two of them since their separation a few years previously.

“When she had yearned to be a mother, imagining what it would be like to be a parent, it had been easy to conjure the joy…the scenes of tenderness, the Pieta moments. What you don’t picture are the guilt and the fear that take up residence at the front of your brain, like evil twins you didn’t bargain for. Fear, because you’re always worried about what might go wrong, especially if your kids were born, as hers were, three months early.”

In the opening pages of The Good Life, we sense who these characters are, with their privileged lifestyle that should make them the objects of envy. However, we can also see the fraying seams of their existence.

Suddenly and totally out of the blue, their worlds are shattered by the events a few days later. The 9/11 events that turned a city into a shocking inferno, and the rest of the world into a frightening place to live.

In the aftermath, Corrinne happens upon a man near Ground Zero.

“Staggering up West Broadway, coated head to foot in dun ash, he looked like a statue commemorating some ancient victory, or, more likely, some noble defeat–a Confederate general, perhaps. That was her second impression….”

And she thus meets Luke McGavock, a man who will become a central part of her life in the weeks ahead. His life, too, is unraveling.

In these moments when the two of them connect, the tragic events seemingly open them to new possibilities. A little while later, they become connected further when they volunteer at a kind of soup kitchen for the rescue workers.

What will next happen between them? Will their common goals lead to something more? Will they reach out for the comfort of each other to assuage the ills of their marriages? Or will the baggage of their lives prevent a fresh start?

The author’s prose captured my attention and kept me turning pages. I soon came to care about Corrinne and Luke, and less so about their spouses, Russell and Sasha.

I wanted the journey to continue, with everyone learning valuable lessons from what had happened. But in the end, would the old habits and expectations cling to them all like the ash from the inferno? Would only a residual of the experience remain to remind them of what could have been? A story that seemed to promise much, but didn’t quite deliver what I hoped for. Four stars.

TUESDAY INTROS/TEASERS: THE GOOD LIFE — APRIL 24

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Just grab your book and share the opening lines; then find another excerpt that “teases” the reader.  Today I’m featuring a book that’s been on my TBR stacks, languishing away, and I’m now eager to dive in.  The Good Life, by Jay McInerney, is a story of love, family, conflicting desires, and catastrophic loss in his most powerfully searing work thus far.

Opening Lines:  Summer used to be as endless as the ocean when she was a girl and her family rented the gray shingled cottage on Nantucket.  Now she found it hard to believe she was already back in Manhattan and the kids were in school and she was already racing home, late again, feeling guilty that she’d lingered over a drink with Casey Reynes.  The kids had been home for hours after their first day in first grade, and she had yet to hear about it.

Women blamed themselves; men blamed anything but.

This was Corrine’s interpretation of the guilt nipping at her high heels as she cantered up Hudson Street from the subway, passing the hand-lettered sign in the window of their Chinese takeout:  FRESHLY GROUND COFFEE.  Guilt about leaving the kids for so long, about not helping Russell with dinner, about attempting to restart her long-dormant professional life.  Oh, to be grounded herself.  Seven-fifteen by her watch.  Still attuned to the languorous rhythm of the summer—they’d just closed up the house in Sagaponack four days ago—she’d barely had time to kiss the kids good-bye this morning and now the guests would be arriving at any minute, Russell frenzied with cooking and child care.

Bad mother, bad wife, bad hostess.  Bad.

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

***

Teaser:  How were you supposed to trust your judgment when your sense of proportion and balance had been shattered, when the governing body that generally checked your emotions was overthrown, anarchy threatening to break out at any moment? p. 161

***

Amazon Description:  Clinging to a semiprecarious existence in TriBeCa, Corrine and Russell Calloway have survived a separation and are thoroughly wonderstruck by young twins whose provenance is nothing less than miraculous, even as they contend with the faded promise of a marriage tinged with suspicion and deceit. Meanwhile, several miles uptown and perched near the top of the Upper East Side’s social register, Luke McGavock has postponed his accumulation of wealth in an attempt to recover the sense of purpose now lacking in a life that often gives him pause—especially with regard to his teenage daughter, whose wanton extravagance bears a horrifying resemblance to her mother’s. But on a September morning, brightness falls horribly from the sky, and people worlds apart suddenly find themselves working side by side at the devastated site, feeling lost anywhere else, yet battered still by memory and regret, by fresh disappointment and unimaginable shock. What happens, or should happen, when life stops us in our tracks, or our own choices do? What if both secrets and secret needs, long guarded steadfastly, are finally revealed? What is the good life?

Posed with astonishing understanding and compassion, these questions power a novel rich with characters and events, both comic and harrowing, revelatory about not only New York after the attacks but also the toll taken on those lucky enough to have survived them. Wise, surprising, and, ultimately, heart-stoppingly redemptive, The Good Life captures lives that allow us to see–through personal, social, and moral complexity–more clearly into the heart of things.

***

What are you sharing today?  I hope you’ll come on by with some comments and links.

LIVES DEFINED BY ACCIDENTAL MOMENTS — A REVIEW

A summer in 1922 marks a defining moment for Cora Carlisle, a middle-aged housewife from Wichita, Kansas. Her life is seemingly wonderful, but secrets lie behind the mask she wears. From her beginnings as an orphan child sent to Kansas on a train to the marriage full of deceit, Cora has much to hide. And a longing that she has expressed to no one informs her decision to chaperone a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks, a dance student.

What will Cora uncover in her free moments while Louise is in class? How does a journey that began with a secret agenda turn into something even more significant in her life for years to come?

Even after the summer is over, decisions made in the final days will affect many lives.

We follow Cora’s and Louise’s journeys from the twenties, with highlights of historical significance marking the passage of time. From the years of Prohibition to the later years when freedoms were granted to marginalized individuals, Cora finds her voice in the fights for those who have none.

And throughout the years, Cora keeps track of the ups and downs in the life of Louise Brooks, her charge during those momentous weeks one summer. The willful, difficult child who, for a shining moment, was famous. And then when her public life seemed over, she began another chapter.

In many ways, Cora has seen it all. In the closing pages, as she reaches the end of her life, a metaphorical train seemingly rumbles by, rocking gently while moving forward, following the passage of an orphan child on her journey to the accidental life she would never have otherwise experienced.

Beautifully portrayed characters filled the pages of The Chaperone, and each brought significant reminders of the times and settings in which they lived. Despite the fictional events, many factual moments were chronicled in the life of Louise Brooks. Imagining these surrounding events was the author’s gift to the reader. Wouldn’t we all like to know the true details in the lives of the famous? A five star read that captivated me from beginning to end, showing much more than I expected to find.

A PIERCING TALE OF LOVE LOST, FOUND, & EMBRACED AGAIN — A REVIEW

When Raymond Gaver’s plane crashes enroute from LA to NY, Charlie Leveque, his attorney, is the one to tell Raymond’s ex-wife Martha. Martha, who remembers hating Charlie for his role in turning her world upside down in the divorce from Raymond.

And now she discovers that he is the executor of the estate and the one to whom she must address financial requests for her son Jack.

Sorting through the detritus of a life abruptly ended brings these characters in close proximity with one another, and then, almost by accident, Charlie and Martha become friends. She begins to understand that he is not to blame for how Raymond tore her life apart, and, in fact, he has gone through his own divorce and is left trying to figure out how to raise his teenage daughter Phoebe. They realize they have more in common than they thought.

As their relationship begins to change and they become close, they discover that, as it turns out, their children are tight friends, who may be more than friends. Instead of making life easier, this complicates things.

The journey of these characters in forging their new lives, separately, and later together, is beautifully wrought, set against the backdrop of Manhattan life with all of its complexities.

Gutcheon has a unique talent for showing us what life looks like in Manhattan in the 1990s, and especially how to navigate life after divorce in these times. She is brilliant at dialogue, showing us the delightfully awkward movements of adults discovering new love, just as she also takes us right into the world of teenagers, with all their funky behaviors and appearances. We begin to see each of the characters; we hear what they hear and chuckle at their flaws, foibles, and missteps. Here is an excerpt that spotlights some of the issues for Martha and Charlie:

“Martha looked doubtful. She was so tired she could hardly remember why it was she couldn’t just fall into his arms and go to sleep. Why couldn’t they just tell the children to behave themselves? Think of the pleasure of cooking breakfast together for all three children, of going to bed together two nights in a row, of going to the supermarket together and deciding together what to cook, of taking a walk together without having to arrange baby-sitters or take three subways to get to each other to do it. Think of sitting together in lamplight after dinner, reading and looking forward to going upstairs to bed together, instead of looking forward to going out in the rain, getting in a cab, and going sixty blocks to sleep alone.”

We meet other characters along the way, like Sophie, Charlie’s ex-girlfriend, and her sister Connie, whose marriage is falling apart. These characters intersect with the others, almost randomly, but their appearances somehow shape and redefine the lives of our major players.

But what obstacles will appear to seemingly derail their lives? How do the complexities of sharing their domestic lives somehow prevent or complicate those ordinary moments? And how, finally, will each of them sort it all out so that the domestic pleasures can be accessible to them?

I loved Domestic Pleasures : A Novel and thoroughly enjoyed savoring the lives of such colorful and real characters that made me root for them, and long for their victories, even as they struggled. There were humorous and sad moments, just as there are in real life, in this memorable tale that I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys touching, piercing stories of love lost, found, and embraced once again. Five stars.