Monthly Archives: August 2016

The After Party by Anton Disclafani

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I headed back to Houston (the scene of the second half of The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close) for The After Party by Anton Disclafani.  This gave me a chance to get to know some new socialites:  Cece Buchanan and Joan Fortier.  Cece and Joan have been friends for years, in fact, Joan’s family took Cece in during high school when her parents died.  And by ‘took her in’ I mean sent Cece and Joan to an elite East Coast Boarding school.  Jump ahead from 1930 to 1957, and both women are back in Houston, Cece maintaining her proper and conservative life with a husband and three-year old son, and Joan continuing to enjoy a wild and somewhat self-destructive single lifestyle.  While this is most definitely a story of the fancy lives of women of means, and the joys and pressures associated with their sorority like community, as well as a picture of a certain stereotype of 1950s life,  Disclafani’s tale is really about friendship.  It is also a character study of two women that most of us could find something in common with-they are just more purely their “type.”

Cece is a blender, conscious of not being noticeable; she plays everything safe as a rule follower and a worrier.  Joan, on the other hand, lives and loves fully and freely, carefree and without fear of consequences, much to Cece’s concern.  The novel goes back and forth between their younger school days in the 30s and the present which for them is 1957, and shows the way they need each other. She examines the intricacies, the complications, and the shifts in power in a time when women of wealth, particularly in Houston, were wives and mothers and followed strict social mores.

Disclafani takes her inspiration from her extended family, all of whom live just outside of Houston, Texas.  She visited every summer, and experienced many of the places and occasions from her novel.  She loves her characters and time period.  She says:

“…Houston in the ’50s? It was a city where anything — and everything — went. Watered by oil, organized by the women and men who would have been laughed out of the social registers in most cities, unbound by zoning laws or a sense of modesty — you can’t make Houston up, literally. The details were spectacular.” (from an interview with Anton Disclafani in the Star Telegram)

I thought The After Party was spectacular.  It was a read it in an evening and then next day until you are done kind of novel.  I look forward to her next book…
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The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

Election season 2016, and the bookshelves are filled with books about Trump and Clinton, about grit and perseverance, about the state of affairs in Washington, the United States, the world.  Taking a break from reading about our current campaigns, though not the topic, I read Jennifer Close’s new novel, The Hopefuls.  Called a “lighter, funnier version of House of Cards,” and for readers who “love and miss The West Wing,” the temptation to read this roman a clef was great.

Beth and her husband Matt move to Washington DC from Manhattan so that Matt can work for President Obama’s campaign.  Beth wrote for a magazine, but lets her career stall so she can be a stay at home wife with a part-time job at DCLove, a gossip blog.  Matt progresses to campaign manager for a new and dynamic friend who is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, uprooting and moving to Houston for the campaign and election.  Beth and Matt find themselves living with the candidate and his wife, and traveling the campaign trail, like it or not.

The Hopefuls was engaging, obviously based on some real life experience and happenings,  (Jennifer Close used to work for Conde Nast and her husband for Obama) and was a delightful escape into the social side of politics–an insider’s view that certainly won’t sell the life style but is a nevertheless hard to put down and perfectly timed novel about many of the dichotomies of political life.    Grab The Hopefuls and head to the beach or camp for one more witty, clever and most enjoyable summer read!

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Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford

There is no wondering what I thought of Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford.  I LOVED IT!  On vacation in an old house on an island with loads of wind swirling around me and a deliciously brewed cup of coffee, I put my feet up and cracked open this book, only to quickly fly across the Atlantic and  back in time to 1926 London to meet Maisie Musgrave.  Maisie is the Canadian child burdening a single mother who grew up in New York City, always wondering about her father, Edward Musgrave.  Of age to strike out on her own, Maisie goes to London and gets a job as an assistant at the BBC.  She begins working part time for the Director-General, John Reith,  and part time for Hilda Matheson, Director of Programs.  Mousy and unsure of herself to start, Maisie gains confidence and skill under the mentorship of Hilda, and also begins to stumble onto a story bigger than what is being broadcast.  Curious and taking advantage of her access to information, Maisie proves herself worthy of working on stories and begins to move up at the BBC.  Moving up puts her at risk…

Hilda Matheson was a real person who worked at the BBC when they were one of the few companies to hire women in positions of responsibility.  I loved the friendships among the characters, I loved the way this work of fiction depicted the seeds of World War II, and the MI5 and MI6 elements that kept me suspicious of everyone.  While I suspect this is a stand alone work of historical fiction, Maisie could easily become a series character, and I could easily read several more books about her.  If you are a fan of Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope mystery series, you will want to try Radio Girls.

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The Light in Paris by Eleanor Brown

 

THE LIGHT OF PARIS by Eleanor Brown

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown is the story of two women, Margie and Madeline, grandmother and granddaughter, and their journey to happiness and fulfillment, despite the family secrets they keep.

We meet Madeline, who has devoted herself to being the trophy wife of the very critical Phillip.  She makes her annual visit to her also very critical mother, a southern society belle with no chinks in her exterior armor.  While visiting, Madeline goes up to the attic and discovers a plethora of old letters and journals belonging to her grandmother, Margie.  Deciding they are better than the book she forgot to bring with her, Madeline begins to read and is quickly swept up into the life story of Margie in her post World War One heyday.  Madeline lives vicariously through Margie’s Paris summer, and then begins to create her own Paris summer, rediscovering painting, food, and befriending her mother’s charming new neighbor and proprietor of a new restaurant.

I enjoyed The Light of Paris.  While the characters and story lines were somewhat predictable, it was a satisfying read.  As a child, I was forever looking for an attic with old letters and pictures and clothing…someplace to discover the stories of ancestors.  Our attic was relatively organized and lacking artifacts, so I had to pepper my mother with questions about relatives.  I loved the stories she would tell, some for the moral, and some for the pure enjoyment of knowing and being related to these people.  I also favor these ‘women finding themselves’ stories, as well as fiction set partly in the World War I & II eras.  I liked that Madeline found her backbone and her courage through her grandmother’s story, as if Margie’s trials and heart aches were not wasted.

I am apt to try Eleanor Brown’s first novel, Weird Sisters soon!

 

 

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Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Before I begin, a disclaimer:  I love Anne Tyler’s writing and read everything she writes as soon as it comes out, regardless of plot description and reviews.   How delighted I was when I discovered Vinegar Girl would be in my vacation reading bag!  How disappointed I was when I finished it in one day, almost in one sitting.

In a time of remakes and rewrites of classics, Hogarth Shakespeare and Anne Tyler offer Vinegar Girl, a modern version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.  The story is about Anne, a single preschool teacher who lives with her eccentric father, who is a biochemist at Johns Hopkins on the verge of an amazing discovery, and her younger sister Bunny, pretty, 15, and many of the things that sensible but outspoken Kate is not.  Louis, Anne’s father, has an assistant named Piotr, upon whom he relies and unfortunately is in danger or being deported.  That is a recipe for an arranged marriage in Shakespeare’s day, and Tyler follows suit.  The tangle the ensues, and the way it is worked out makes for an entertaining and comedic read.  Whether you’ve studied Shakespeare or not, this slim volume is worth the read.  Perhaps it will even inspire a few of us to visit the Bard’s work.

A word about Hogarth Shakespeare, a part of Crown Publishing:

“For more than four hundred years, Shakespeare’s works have been performed, read, and loved throughout the world. They have been reinterpreted for each new generation, whether as teen films, musicals, science-fiction flicks, Japanese warrior tales, or literary transformations.

The Hogarth Press was founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf in 1917 with a mission to publish the best new writing of the age. In 2012, Hogarth was launched in London and New York to continue the tradition. The Hogarth Shakespeare project sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today. The series launches in October 2015 and to date will be published in twenty countries…. Hogarth Shakespeare authors include Jeanette Winterson, Anne Tyler, Gillian Flynn, Margaret Atwood, Jo Nesbø, Edward St. Aubyn, Howard Jacobson, and Tracy Chevalier”

from http://www.crownpublishing.com.   Additional details about Hogarth Shakespeare and titles out or soon to be out can be found at http://www.theshakespearebolg.com.

 

 

 

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