Saturday, December 15, 2012

Drinking with Dead Drunks by Elaine Ambrose & A.K. Turner

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Author
Read: November 26, 2012

Essays on drinking with some of the most notorious drunk writers in literary history, including Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote, John Cheever, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Frederick Exley, O. Henry, Charles Bukowski, Jack London and Edgar Allan Poe. This is the second book in the Drinking with Dead Writers Series. Authors Elaine Ambrose and AK Turner embark on a fictional romp through literary history, indulging in excessive libations along the way.

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Edgar's True Love by Alex Eckman-Lawn
Used with Permission of the Artist
The second round is on me! Okay, not really. Elaine Ambrose and AK Turner have once again picked up the tab, inviting readers to spend happy hour with some of the most talented alcoholics ever published in Drinking With Dead Drunks, book two of the Drinking With Dead Writers series.

I absolutely loved Drinking With Dead Women Writers and was thrilled when I learned the authors were going to release a sequel. Like the first book, Drinking With Dead Drunks is a collection of humorous mock interviews with famous writers, but where our first pub crawl was dedicated to the ladies, our second belongs strictly to the men.

What bibliophile wouldn't jump and the chance to meet with Tennessee Williams at the Carousel Bar or sit in Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon with Jack London? Admit it, you want to watch The Raven with Edgar Allan Poe, question Hemingway about how his war time experiences inspired A Farewell to Arms, and even the suggestion of discussing Holly Golightly with Truman Capote thrills you from head to toe. 

My favorite aspect of these books is that Ambrose and Turner supplied very little of the dialogue for their interviewees. Instead they lifted lines from their works or personal quotes, essentially characterizing each subject through his own words. It is a fantastically creative approach that when combined with Ambrose and Turner's keen sense of humor creates a wonderfully witty and unique fiction that can't fail to entertain. 

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“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.” 
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Siren of Paris by David LeRoy

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: December 2, 2012

Born in Paris and raised in the United States, 21-year-old Marc Tolbert enjoys the advantages of being born to a wealthy, well-connected family.. Reaching a turning point in his life, he decides to abandon his plans of going to medical school and study art in Paris. In 1939, he boards a ship and heads to France, blissfully unaware that Europe -- along with the rest of the world -- is on the brink of an especially devastating war. When he arrives at l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, more ominous signs surface. There are windows covered with tape, sandbags shielding the fronts of important buildings, whispers of Parisian children leaving the city, and gas masks being distributed. Distracted by a blossoming love affair, Marc isn't too worried about his future, and he certainly doesn't expect a Nazi invasion of France. Marc has a long journey ahead of him. He witnesses, first-hand, the fall of Paris and the departure of the French government. Employed by an ambassador, he visits heads of state, including the horribly obese gray-haired Mussolini and the charismatic Hitler. He witnesses the effects of the tightening vise of occupation, first-hand, as he tries to escape the country. He also participates in the French resistance, spends time in prison camps, and sees the liberation of the concentration camps. During his struggles, he is reunited with the woman he loves, Marie, who speaks passionately of working with the resistance. Is she working for freedom, or is she not to be trusted?

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Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1983-077-14A / Licht / CC-BY-SA

I have very mixed feelings regarding David LeRoy's The Siren of Paris. I think the premise is great, but as I reader I found it a challenging piece to complete.

I'm gonna be upfront here, I had to reread several pages. I kept feeling as if I was missing something. I'm willing to admit I am somewhat distracted by the holiday season, the hustle and bustle of the festivities, but this was more than that. Though I am loath to admit it, I had genuine trouble following the plot over the intermittent timeline. It was an artistic approach, but confusing just the same. At least where this reader is concerned.

Another problem I had was the brevity in which the supporting cast appeared. Nigel and Dora for example, or even Sylvia. I wanted to see more of these individuals. LeRoy has a gift for creating believable cast members. I guess what I'm getting at is sour grapes in that I felt many of these characters were taken from me too soon.

On the other hand, I liked the material that LeRoy incorporated into the story. There is a lot here, particularly when it came to life in occupied France and the perpetual fear and danger in which the members of the resistance lived. I've seen plenty of movies and documentaries, but this is really the first fiction I've come across to incorporate these topics and I must say I was impressed by LeRoy's efforts.

I read a blurb for this book which referred to the story as thought-provoking while praising its examination of revenge versus forgiveness. The Siren of Paris wasn't the easiest of books to read, but it certainly met my expectations in terms of concept as set forth in that description. It is a toss up really, though I recommend the title, I can't say it is for every reader.  

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"You should have left Paris, Marc, and never returned," she said before the charges were read to him by the Gestapo officer. Marc groaned under the weight of this most painful moment, feeling a mixture of regret and shame. The light of his soul turned dark as obsidian and the clock began to run. 
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Monday, December 10, 2012

Guest Post: When a Horse is Not a Horse by David LeRoy

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Author David LeRoy
“Sometimes David, a white horse is just a white horse,” she said to him at the break during the workshop. 

“Maybe you let a white horse go to waste, but I don’t,” he quipped back with a  smirk.  

In the crowd I hang around with, it is fashionable to write stories or novels that explore only the physical layer of existence.  This can also include the emotional and mental layers, since both are a part of physical existence.  However, the spiritual layer is often off limits today, because it is considered sentimental or even superstitious.  

This is ironic because so many of our movies absolutely dive into this playground of meaning.  Hollywood knows our inner drive to understand what we do not fully comprehend, and it works hard to craft stories that both entertain the viewer and cast a fog of mystery.  

Another current trend in symbolism is explaining the meaning up front instead of allowing readers to project their own interpretations.   

Readers are sentimental and superstitious, even if they say it is not true.  Our minds are hard wired to see patterns.  The conscious mind may dismiss the pattern, but the subconscious absorbs it.  

One dimensional symbols have only one meaning; for instance, the American flag  is the symbol of a nation.  Take the flag and fold it into a triangle; it is given to a widow of war and later held by a son who never saw or met his father.  Now it is transformed beyond just the symbol of a nation.  It becomes a symbol for the unseen father. It may drive a character to join the military to be spiritually closer to the father that he never knew in life.  Put the character in a circumstance where he has to choose between saving the flag or saving his own life, and now the flag becomes a burden, and its destruction is a doorway for the character to achieve freedom from the past.  

The Tree of ….( what are you thinking?)

The Four horses of the ( where does your mind go to?)
The Garden of….(what comes to mind first?)

All the phrases above are strongly associated with religious symbolism in our culture today, even for people who are not religious.  

By carefully incorporating symbols into a story, weaving them together, giving each physical element multiple possible meanings on a psychological and spiritual level, you create a richer story.  Upon finishing the story, the reader was not only entertained; he knows, on a subconscious level, that there is more here than can be gleaned through one reading.  He may talk to others who have read the story, look up reviews and see what others had to say, or read the story again.  In today’s time-crunched world, that is magic .  

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About the Author: A native of California, David received a BA in Philosophy and Religion at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego. After returning from a European arts study program, he became interested in the history behind the French Resistance during World War Two. Writing fiction has become his latest way to explore philosophical, moral and emotional issues of life. The Siren of Paris is his first novel. You can visit him at website.

About the Book: Born in Paris and raised in the United States, 21-year-old Marc Tolbert enjoys the advantages of being born to a wealthy, well-connected family.. Reaching a turning point in his life, he decides to abandon his plans of going to medical school and study art in Paris. In 1939, he boards a ship and heads to France, blissfully unaware that Europe -- along with the rest of the world -- is on the brink of an especially devastating war. When he arrives at l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, more ominous signs surface. There are windows covered with tape, sandbags shielding the fronts of important buildings, whispers of Parisian children leaving the city, and gas masks being distributed. Distracted by a blossoming love affair, Marc isn't too worried about his future, and he certainly doesn't expect a Nazi invasion of France. Marc has a long journey ahead of him. He witnesses, first-hand, the fall of Paris and the departure of the French government. Employed by an ambassador, he visits heads of state, including the horribly obese gray-haired Mussolini and the charismatic Hitler. He witnesses the effects of the tightening vise of occupation, first-hand, as he tries to escape the country. He also participates in the French resistance, spends time in prison camps, and sees the liberation of the concentration camps. During his struggles, he is reunited with the woman he loves, Marie, who speaks passionately of working with the resistance. Is she working for freedom, or is she not to be trusted?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fiji: A Novel by Lance & James Morcan

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: July 5, 2012

Fiji is a spellbinding novel of adventure, cultural misunderstandings, religious conflict and sexual tension set in one of the most exotic and isolated places on earth. As the pharaohs of ancient Egypt build their mighty pyramids, and Chinese civilization evolves under the Shang Dynasty, adventurous seafarers from South East Asia begin to settle the far-flung islands of the South Pacific. The exotic archipelago of Fiji is one of the last island groups to be discovered and will remain hidden from the outside world for many centuries to come. By the mid-1800's, Fiji has become a melting pot of cannibals, warring native tribes, sailors, traders, prostitutes, escaped convicts and all manner of foreign undesirables. It's in this hostile environment an innocent young Englishwoman and a worldly American adventurer find themselves. Susannah Drake, a missionary, questions her calling to spread God’s Word as she’s torn between her spiritual and sexual selves. As her forbidden desires intensify, she turns to the scriptures and prayer to quash the sinful thoughts – without success. Nathan Johnson arrives to trade muskets to the Fijians and immediately finds himself at odds with Susannah. She despises him for introducing the white man’s weapons to the very people she is trying to convert and he pities her for her naivety. Despite their differences, there’s an undeniable chemistry between them. When their lives are suddenly endangered by marauding cannibals, Susannah and Nathan are forced to rely on each other for their very survival. Written by father-and-son writing team Lance & James Morcan (authors of The Ninth Orphan), Fiji is an historical adventure-romance published by Sterling Gate Books. A feature film adaptation of Fiji is currently being developed.

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Sunset at Nananu-i-Ra, Fiji © Hermann Luyken
(CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL), via Wikimedia Commons
Lance and James Morcan's Fiji presents me with a lot of challenges as a reviewer. The content is there, but the finished product could benefit from some fine tuning.  

Not being in any way familiar with Fiji or its history, I found the book both fascinating and bewildering. The Morcans offer up tons of great material, but I couldn't help wondering how much of it was fact and how much was fiction. My questions could have been alleviated by the inclusion of a historic note at the end of the novel, but alas, Fiji lacks any attribution to source material. Not only am I still in the dark as to what research went into the book, I am also at a loss on where to begin my own search for information. As a fan of historic fiction I find this fairly frustrating. 

Now, I beg forgiveness, but I wasn't aware I was venturing into bodice ripper territory when I began reading Fiji. "Susannah knew she was in danger of being overwhelmed by the intensity of her sexual fantasies. Her forbidden desires were like demons she couldn't exorcise..." I have nothing against the genre, it isn't my favorite, but that is beside the point. Anyone remember my review of or unpleasant kerfuffle with the author of Beloved Pilgrim? I don't like getting blindsided. The blurb led to me to believed this would be a historic piece and while it does incorporate a lot of fascinating period components, I felt they were in competition with the romance elements of the book. The result left me confused and not particularly satisfied one way or the other. 

Finally, the descriptions are wordy, significantly so. I appreciate the desire to create a believable setting and developed cast members, but sometimes what you don't say, the things you leave to the imagination are more compelling and significant than the things you do. Beginning to end I found myself wishing the narrative didn't include quite so much embellishment. 

The final line of blurb is an interesting promotional tool. I personally found it very interesting that Fiji is being adapted for film and after a little digging, discovered the project has been taken on by Morcan Motion Pictures. That's right, this father son team work in multiple mediums. This of course has no affect on my review of their book, though it may explain some of mechanical problems I identified in my reading. Film allows an artist expression through physical nuance and visualizations that are almost, if not impossible to replicate on paper. It is merely an observation, but it is entirely possible that my comments and criticisms might stem from the fact that the Morcans may have more of a familiarity with storytelling as applied to film rather than traditional print publications. 

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Life and death are nothing to these people, so I'm damned if I am going to risk my life to help them. 
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God Save the King by Laura Purcell

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read:  November 14, 2012 

London, 1788. The calm order of Queen Charlotte’s court is shattered by screams. Her beloved husband, England’s King, has gone mad. Left alone with thirteen children and a country at war, Charlotte must fight to hold her husband’s throne in a time of revolutionary fever. But it is not just the guillotine that Charlotte fears: it is the King himself. Her six daughters are desperate to escape their palace asylum. Their only chance lies in a good marriage, but no Prince wants the daughter of a madman. They are forced to take love wherever they can find it – with devastating consequences. The moving true story of George III’s madness and the women whose lives it destroyed.

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Rococo by Nikelena
Used With Permission of the Artist
Stateside we really don't learn a lot about George III. If anything he is a vague shadowy figure from our high school history books, the king who lost America, though to be completely honest I'm not sure too many people could tell you even that much off the cuff. Personally I've read histories of the American Revolution and have dim recollections of the 1994 film starring Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren, but such shoddy and shallow background material could hardly be considered adequate preparation for the story that unfolded under Purcell's pen in Gad Save the King.

Generally speaking, I really liked this piece. The exploration of George's condition and how it stigmatized his family both publicly and privately made quite the emotional backdrop for the story of three tenacious women, each struggling to grasp a fragile vestige of love and affection in a world literally gone mad. Not to negate the trials of her daughters, but Charlotte's experiences in particular struck a chord with me. Often overlooked by history, you cannot help but wonder at this woman; how she dealt with the mental deterioration of her spouse, the premature deaths of several of her loved ones, how she navigated the tangled relationships of those family members that survived and how she balanced all of this against her duties as Queen of England.  

If I rated on content alone, I'd be all in, five stars, two thumbs way way up, the whole deal, but I don't. I'm one of those nitpicky readers who has a lot of trouble accepting the mechanics of a book. For example, I love alternating points of view, just not here. God Save the King is told from the varied perspectives of Queen Charlotte, Princess Charlotte (known as Royal to limit confusion) and Princess Sophia. Usually I have no problem with this format, but I found the beginning of the book focused heavily on Charlotte and Royal which, for me, made it difficult to accept Sophia later on. Additionally I felt at times the three voices struck the same note and began to run together. Ideally I would have liked to see more distinction between narrators as well as a more even distribution of face time with the reader. 

Do I recommend the piece? Yes, wholeheartedly. Purcell is a promising new author who has channeled her obvious love for the Georgian era and the Hanoverians into a compelling piece of fiction. A few hiccups here and there, but nothing time and experience can't remedy. Will definitely be on the lookout for her work in the future. 

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There is no chance the King will consent to his daughter marrying into such lineage. For Augusta and the rest of them, the never ending waltz between Kew, London, and Windsor will continue. Their lives will keep their feet trained to the same continuous cycle...
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

#BookReview: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty. A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★   |   Obtained from: Personal Library   |   Read: Multiple Occasions
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Eponine: Happiness I've Never Known
© ThreshTheSky, Used with Artist's Permission
How does one review Victor Hugo's Les Misérables with any measure of justice? Perhaps the better question is can one do the book justice at all? I sincerely doubt I possess the aptitude for such an undertaking though with the impending release of the newest film adaptation, I admit the novel is often on my mind. A staple of my personal library, the story has ranked among my all-time favorites for more than a decade and I could resist the temptation to revisit it.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to say I read the abridged version three times before attempting the unabridged version and I really can't recommend one over the other. The story itself holds a special place in my heart, but I have absolutely nothing against this period of French history and loved every minute I spent with the original. I suppose which version you read depends on personal taste, how far you're willing to deviate from the central story line to explore period politics and themes, but if the question is to read or not to read, the answer is most definitely to read.

Les Misérables is one of those rare stories that truly withstands the test of time. I know that sounds pompous, but that doesn't make it any less true. First published in 1862 Hugo’s representation of the human condition is as relevant today as it was when it was penned. Valjean's compassionate nature, Fantine's intense maternal devotion and Javert's ardent dedication and strict sense of duty are moving are moving and intensely relatable. Even in their most desperate moments, readers can recognize something of themselves in Hugo's cast.

The story is a tragedy, but unlike Shakespeare's work, Hugo's epic is hauntingly beautiful. Like it or not, the human experience can't be packaged in a decadently wrapping box and neatly given to anyone. Injustice, class conflict, the struggle for basic rights, heartbreak... these are powerful concepts, uncomfortable, but powerful and no one brings them to life quite like Hugo.

I'll grant it's intimidating, but 
Les Misérables is more than worth the effort. An absolute must read.

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The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Fever: A Novel by Mary Beth Keane

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 19, 2012 

Mary Mallon was a courageous, headstrong Irish immigrant woman who bravely came to America alone, fought hard to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic service ladder, and discovered in herself an uncanny, and coveted, talent for cooking. Working in the kitchens of the upper class, she left a trail of disease in her wake, until one enterprising and ruthless “medical engineer” proposed the inconceivable notion of the “asymptomatic carrier”—and from then on Mary Mallon was a hunted woman. In order to keep New York’s citizens safe from Mallon, the Department of Health sent her to North Brother Island where she was kept in isolation from 1907-1910. She was released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary—spoiled by her status and income and genuinely passionate about cooking—most domestic and factory jobs were heinous. She defied the edict. Bringing early twentieth-century New York alive—the neighborhoods, the bars, the park being carved out of upper Manhattan, the emerging skyscrapers, the boat traffic—Fever is as fiercely compelling as Typhoid Mary herself, an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the hands of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes an extraordinarily dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable character.

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Illustration that appeared in 1909 in The New York American

It wasn't my intention to start in on New York history, but it appears I'm on a little bit of a kick. Between Ellen Horan's 31 Bond Street and now Mary Beth Keane's Fever, I am getting quite the education. The latter is of course the topic of this review and fair warning, I'm going to analyze content here so if that is going to bother you, abandon this review while you can. 

The Big Apple really comes alive under Keane's pen. Through Mary she illustrates the lives of the working class, the clamoring streets they walked every day and the crowded tenements in which they lived. She recreates the flawed and inequitable justice system and reveals the growing pains of a medical field still in its infancy. Its a rather refreshing change of pace considering the multitude of novels that focus on shady business deals or passionate affairs.   

Though I really appreciated Keane's re-imagining of turn of the century New York, I can't say the storytelling was entirely to my taste. Molly spends twenty-seven months a North Brother Island before going to her first hearing and not once in that period does she give thought to the theories that landed her in quarantine, the people who had died, or the doctors who were keeping her a virtual prisoner. She doesn't even wallow in loneliness, self-doubt or boredom. Nope. For twenty-seven months all she does is think of and exchange letters with Alfred. Pleasant "How are you? I'll be home soon." type letters. It isn't until chapter eight, nearly a third into the book, when Mary is listening to the court proceedings that the reader begins to get to know her and her story. All things considered I have to wonder at Keane's decision to illustrate Mary's initial stay at North Brother Island as she doesn't utilize it as a platform for character or plot development. From this reader's perspective the entire section is seemingly unnecessary. 

I admit that last bit sounds harsh and it comes off much more critical than I want it to, but at the end of the day it is how I feel. Please don't take my comments for more than they are. Keane really comes through in the latter two thirds of the book and I would hate to think my commentary steered anyone away from this title. The piece is a slow starter, I don't understand why the author went the route she did, it didn't exactly work for me, and that is all I am trying to say here.

Generally speaking I liked this book. Yes, I felt there was a hiccup, but beyond that I enjoyed what Keane did here. Typhoid Mary is a name many of us are familiar with, a name we associate with an infectious disease and death. Too often we overlook that she was born Mary Mallon; an immigrant who came to America looking for a start, a woman whose life and freedom were taken from her even as she realized her dreams. Keane understands this and through her work, fiction though it is, she has given this poor woman's memory a measure humanity.   

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They can't lock up everyone who carries the fever. The best alternative right now is to let you go on condition that you will never cook for hire again. You are no harm to anyone unless you are cooking. 
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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beauty Possessed by Ben Lokey

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read:  November 1, 2012 

On June 25th, 1906, Stanford White, New York City’s leading architect and man about town was shot to death while attending a musical performance at Madison Square Garden’s rooftop theater, a building of his own design and construction. Harry K. Thaw, eccentric heir to a Pittsburgh railroad fortune, had pulled the trigger, marking the final act in a struggle between the two men over Thaw’s young wife, the model and showgirl Evelyn Nesbit. By her sixteenth birthday, in 1900, Evelyn Nesbit was known by millions for her underage sexuality, sparking an entirely new industry of news and gossip and signaling the beginning of America’s growing obsession with beauty, glamour, celebrity and sex.

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Evelyn Nesbit
Ben Lokey's Beauty Possessed is one of those pieces I have a really hard time reviewing. I love historic fiction, but I can't go any higher than three stars on this. For the record a three from me is typical and generally means I liked a book, but for whatever reason I can't say it was a great read or a five star, run up to strangers on the street screaming 'you have to read this!' kind of book.

For those who read my reviews on my blog, I apologize as this it gonna sound very similar to what I said about Protecting His Wolfe. For me, content and execution carry equal weight. I loved that Lokey exposed me to material I had never before encountered, but I feel much of the subject's power was lost in the telling. The erratic shifts from first to third person narrative, sometimes in the past tense and others in the present, disrupted the flow of the story and made the text choppy and uneven. 

Speaking of pacing, I do not like the timeline of events as they appear in Lokey's work. It is not uncommon to see a prologue of sorts, a brief introduction, before a narrative backtracks to the beginning of the story, but Lokey extends this intro for such an extended period that the backtracking to Evelyn's early childhood at the beginning of chapter four seems out of place. 

On the same note there are sections like the last two paragraphs of chapter eight. Present tense third person narration of Evelyn's entry into modeling is seamlessly followed by a first person past tense exposition of Stanford's life. Its a bizarre formatting choice that comes off as unpolished.

You might have noticed I've spent a lot of time on the execution, virtually ignoring the content of Lokey's work. I think the author picked a wonderful story. As the blurb states, Stanford White's murder has it all; beauty, glamour, celebrity, sex. Thing is, I can't speak to the accuracy of it. Until reading Lokey's work I'd never heard of these individuals so I am really at a loss beyond exhibiting an appreciation for the basic story line.

Not my favorite piece of the year, but certainly better than the average kindle freebie.

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Living the life of an artist's model? Absolutely not! It's unconventional. Absolutely bohemian. 
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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 11, 2012

For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong. Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness. Drawing on the rich history of the twentieth century—from the late twenties to the mid-sixties—and featuring cameos from such notable characters as Joseph Kennedy and Amelia Earhart, The Aviator’s Wife is a vividly imagined novel of a complicated marriage—revealing both its dizzying highs and its devastating lows. With stunning power and grace, Melanie Benjamin provides new insight into what made this remarkable relationship endure.

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Mr. and Mrs. Lindbergh
I was excited about getting the chance to read The Aviator's Wife before the official release. Really excited. What I wasn't expecting was how much I would outright enjoy Melanie Benjamin's interpretation of Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  

From the moment her engagement was announced in the papers, the real Anne Morrow was defined by her relationship with Charles. Even today her story lives largely in the shadow of her legendary spouse. Benjamin's book is of course a fiction, but it still offers an interesting glimpse at the hurdles she must have faced. 

The Aviator's Wife begins when Anne was a college student. Privileged but insecure, unsure of the path she wanted to forge. Then, she meets Lindbergh. The plot charts a course through the early years of their marriage, her struggle with his expectations and her efforts to live up to them. It continues on, the young couple become parents, lose a child, and piece together a life while combating the specter of their own celebrity. The book culminates in Charles' death, Anne's reflections on their marriage and the revelation and personal acceptance of her own legacy. 

In short, Benjamin packs some pretty  powerful stuff into of one of the most recognizable marriages in American history. And she does it well. I loved this piece, this story of a woman who lost herself in the roles she felt she had to play: daughter, sister, wife, aviator, author, celebrity, mother. The Aviator's Wife is really about the strength the real Anne exhibited to the world, the courage and fortitude that kept her and Charles together even as the most private moments of their lives graced headlines around the globe. Fiction though it is, Benjamin's work really captured that. 

I swear the book isn't as touchy-feely as I make it sound in this review. Benjamin presents a very dynamic characterization of an incredibly fascinating individual and the events that shaped her life. From the first page to the last, I was absolutely blown away by The Aviator's Wife. 

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I did it. I sat there and nodded and clapped. And I've regretted it everyday of my life since. 
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Unhallowed Ground by Daniel Mills

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 8, 2012

In the summer of 1891, Henry Feathering travels to Bittersweet Lodge at the invitation of his reclusive widower uncle. Under the shadow of the dilapidated old mansion, Henry falls in love with the enigmatic Clemency St. James and proposes to her in the shelter of a locust grove. As the newlyweds settle into the lodge, they soon learn of the house’s sordid past—ghostly visitations, unexplained illnesses, and madness—which now plagues Henry and Clemency, creating an irreparable rift between them. Can they salvage what is left of their marriage? Or will the unbridgeable distances dividing men from women, the past from the present, and the living from the dead doom them to the fate of what lies beneath the grave of a young girl buried on these unhallowed grounds...

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Victorian Bride Detail by Stacy Hill
Used with Permission of the Photographer
Daniel Mills' Unhallowed Ground is definitely a noteworthy piece, but that being said, I have mixed feelings about the story. 

To Mills' credit, he really captured the style and flow that characterizes gothic literature. The voice he crafted for narrator Henry Feathering would do Poe proud. Mills' wording strikes the same cords and in that respect I really have to applaud this piece. 

Still, I can't bring myself to go higher than three stars. While I enjoyed the dark, haunting beauty of Unhallowed Ground, the book did not speak to me. I want to stress this is strictly a matter of personal preference and not a comment on the author or quality of his work. I simply like stories to pack a little more of a punch than what I found here. This is a good book, just not one for my bookshelf.

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"No doubt you are like me when I was your age. Secure in youth, you have the luxury of skepticism. But she is not at peace. Lily Stark's presence pervades this house..."
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Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Lincoln Conspiracy: A Novel by Timothy L. O'Brien

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Read: November 3, 2012 

A nation shattered by its president’s murder. Two diaries that reveal the true scope of an American conspiracy. A detective determined to bring the truth to light, no matter what it costs him. From award-winning journalist Timothy L. O’Brien comes a gripping historical thriller that poses a provocative question: What if the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was wider and more sinister than we ever imagined? In late spring of 1865, as America mourns the death of its leader, Washington, D.C., police detective Temple McFadden makes a startling discovery. Strapped to the body of a dead man at the B&O Railroad station are two diaries, two documents that together reveal the true depth of the Lincoln conspiracy. Securing the diaries will put Temple’s life in jeopardy—and will endanger the fragile peace of a nation still torn by war. Temple’s quest to bring the conspirators to justice takes him on a perilous journey through the gaslit streets of the Civil War–era capital, into bawdy houses and back alleys where ruthless enemies await him in every shadowed corner. Aided by an underground network of friends—and by his wife, Fiona, a nurse who possesses a formidable arsenal of medicinal potions—Temple must stay one step ahead of Lafayette Baker, head of the Union Army’s spy service. Along the way, he’ll run from or rely on Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s fearsome secretary of war; the legendary Scottish spymaster Allan Pinkerton; abolitionist Sojourner Truth; the photographer Alexander Gardner; and many others. Bristling with twists and building to a climax that will leave readers gasping, The Lincoln Conspiracy offers a riveting new account of what truly motivated the assassination of one of America’s most beloved presidents—and who participated in the plot to derail the train of liberty that Lincoln set in motion.

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Robert Todd Lincoln
To say Timothy L. O'Brien's novel The Lincoln Conspiracy is a captivating read seems almost redundant. I mean, what book involving Lincoln doesn't captivate the imagination? In this regard I feel the term has been overused. So how then should I describe this piece? Striking certainly applies, though provocative, surprising and compelling are all equally appropriate. 

I think the most appealing aspect of the book is O'Brien's obvious passion for the time period. I've seen authors slap a date under a chapter heading and call their work historic fiction, but that isn't the case here. Even in the earliest pages, as Temple rides desperately through Washington's streets, the reader really gets a feel for the time and place of the story. Being able to create and effectively transport a reader like this is key in this genre and O'Brien nailed it. 

I know what you're thinking. This author can paint a scene. So what? To a certain extent you're right. Great scenery is one thing, but what about story? I got to be honest, I'm not a huge Lincoln fan, but even I had a hard time putting this book down. Truth is I really like the whole conspiracy theory thing. O'Brien's twist may be a little far-fetched, but it is undeniably entertaining and at the end of the day that's what really matters to this reviewer. 

Up till this point I've done nothing but offer up praise, so why not a perfect five for five? Earlier I stated how impressed I was with the setting of the piece. Perhaps this is why I was somewhat disappointed with O'Brien's cast. In some respects, their personal histories for example, were very well thought out, but I could never truly picture them in the world O'Brien created. I think it was the dialogue. Fiona, Temple, Augustus, Baker; they all seemed to have the same voice. I know, small potatoes in the scheme of things, but I personally found it rather frustrating.  

Overall, The Lincoln Conspiracy is a bit of a slow starter, but more than worth the effort. A wonderfully detailed, engaging, action packed mystery that will keep you guessing till the final page.  

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Gold is good in its place, but living, brave, patriotic men are better than gold.
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Check out all the stops on Timothy L. O'Brien's The Lincoln Conspiracy virtual book tour

Monday, October 29
Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, October 31
Review & Giveaway at The Book Garden
Feature & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Thursday, November 1
Review & Giveaway at JulzReads

Friday, November 2
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Monday, November 5
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review & Giveaway at Drey’s Library 

Tuesday, November 6
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Review & Giveaway at Griperang’s Bookmarks 

Wednesday, November 7
Review at Book Drunkard

Review at Peppermint, Ph.D.
Thursday, November 8 
Review at Book Dillettante 
Friday, November 9
Feature & Excerpt at Beth’s Book Reviews
Saturday, November 10
Author Guest Post at JulzReads
Monday, November 12
Review at A Book Geek
Tuesday, November 13
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Review & Giveaway at Always With a Book

Thursday, November 15
Review & Giveaway at The Novel Life
Monday, November 19
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Review at Lit Addicted Brit
Author Interview at Tribute Books

Tuesday, November 20
Feature & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry

Wednesday, November 21
Review at Crystal Book Reviews
Review at Unabridged Chick
Friday, November 23
Review at Sir Read A Lot
Author Interview at The Novel Life 
Author Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Monday, November 26
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Review & Giveaway at Words and Peace
Tuesday, November 27
Review at A Bookish Affair
Author Interview & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, November 28 
Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Thursday, November 29
Review at The Musings of a Book Junkie 
Author Interview at My Reading Room
Friday, November 30
Review at Impressions in Ink
Monday, December 3
Review at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Review at The Bookworm 
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Giveaway at A Writer’s Life: Working with the Muse
Tuesday, December 4
Review at Paperback Princess
Review at Cheryl’s Book Nook
Wednesday, December 5
Review at Luxury Reading
Thursday, December 6
Review at One Book at a Time
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Friday, December 7
Review at A Chick Who ReadsAuthor Interview at My Reading Room