Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Tudor Housewife by Alison Sim

This book is--depending on your needs--either a great refresher course or an equally good introduction to what life was like for women from all social classes in Tudor England. A brief book, 168 pages including notes and index, it contains chapters that provide an overview of marriage, childbirth, housework, education, food, medicine, business, and religion in 16th century England.

I think this is a useful reference book for a historical novelist or a student of the era to add to their bookshelves.

Ms. Sims has also written other books on various aspects of Tudor life including food, servants, and pastimes, all definitely worth reading in my opinion.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tabby The Couch Potato

This is Tabby watching the movie version of the Jodi Picoult novel My Sister's Keeper.

We both liked the book better.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

This novel tells the story of a dying village in 19th century Cape Cod inhabited mainly by poor widows, spinsters, orphans, free Negros, and other social misfits, as well as roving bands of stray dogs. Though others view the inhabitants of Dogtown with disdain, scornfully saying that “only whores and witches live in Dogtown,” they are a plucky band rich in spirit even though the cupboards may be bare and their pockets empty.

There is Black Ruth, a Negro woman who has chosen to live her life as a man and work as a stonemason. And Tammy Younger, the meanest woman in town, who terrifies children, including Oliver, the nervous and neglected nephew she raises. Also raising a “nephew” is the local whorehouse madame, the aging blonde beauty Mrs. Stanley. This boy, despite his angelic beauty, has a hard heart and spends his whole life in quest of wealth and respectability, trying to distance himself from the Dogtown doxies he grew up with--raven-haired Molly and flaxen-haired Sally. Then there is Judy Rhines, a lonely but independent spinster, who briefly knows a secret and forbidden love with a freed slave, Cornelius Finson, and finds a new lease on life as a housekeeper. And petite and balding Easter Carter, who runs a rooming house and is always there for those in need who in turn feed her desire for company.

This novel charts the lives on Dogtown’s denizens until they either die or leave the village. There is beauty and ugliness, the best and worst of humanity, and humor to be found in these pages. I loved this book, it was like sitting down with a gossipy elder who is a great storyteller and hearing stories of the eccentric people from their past in such a way that they seem to live their lives all over again as the story progresses. This is one of those books I hope to have the time to read again someday.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The False Friend by Myla Goldberg

I really wanted to like this book, it sounded so intriguing: Two little girls, Celia and Djuna, go into the woods, but only one comes out. Celia claims Djuna got into a stranger's car. She is never seen again and the mystery remains unsolved, yet another tragic entry in the annals of mysterious disappearances and child abductions. Fast forward 20 years and repressed memories are bubbling to the surface of Celia's mind. She now claims the story she originally told was wrong, there was no car or abduction, Djuna fell down in the woods, into a hole or well, though the fact that others recall seeing the car and there were extensive searches of the woods and no body or any other trace of Djuna was ever found, contradict this. But Celia is determined to find out what really happened and returns to her hometown and looks up her old friends.

But does she find out? Unless I missed it, there is no conclusion or closure to this story. We do learn that Celia and Djuna tormented and bullied another girl mercilessly, which Celia's memory had also blocked out, but we never really discover what happened to Djuna, only that she was not a very nice little girl, and neither was Celia, they were each other's best friend as well as worst enemy. I just felt the book ended too abruptly, even if the mystery must remain unsolved, as missing persons cases tragically often do.

Celia's relationship with her boyfriend, Huck, also mirrored the book, something that began with a promising start but traveled the road to nowhere. Though there was no resolution to that relationship either, I had the feeling that though it might drag on, with both parties struggling to make it work and convince themselves they are happy, it was destined to fizzle.

Overall, the book was like looking forward to a big Fourth of July fireworks display only to have it rained out at the last minute.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Star Island by Carl Hiassen

This highly entertaining novel with its cast of quirky characters chronicles the saga of Cherry Pye a twenty-two year old blonde booze and drug addled pop star, who sings like a frog with emphysema, but still manages to lip-synch her way to the top from her early days of stardom as a buckskin clad cowgirl on a Nickelodeon kiddie show.

Hidden in the background, but always on call, is Anne DeLusia, Cherry’s “undercover stunt double” who pretends to be Cherry whenever she is too “indisposed” to appear in public. But when Anne is kidnapped by a crazed paparazzi obsessed with Cherry the race is on to get her back before the fact that Cherry has a double hits the scandal sheets and entertainment gossip shows. Leading the search are Cherry’s indulgent stage mother, mild-mannered father whose life revolves around charity golf tournaments and a menage a trois with a bisexual Danish couple, Cherry’s plastic surgery enhanced identical twin publicists, a manager with a thing for kinky sex with barely legal beauties, and a no nonsense bodyguard who wields a weed whacker prosthesis in lieu of the typical artificial hand and a face that inspires nightmares.

This is a fun, fast read for anyone who has even been amused or appalled by the antics of the young blonde pop stars, actresses, models, and heiresses who just can’t seem to get their act together and the tabloid photographers and newshounds who dog their every step.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

This was an interesting novel about a stereotypical set of characters you would expect to find in the halls of any high school who attend their 40th high school reunion. they are all there: the class jock/heartthrob, the blonde cheerleader beauty queen, the nerd, the social misfit etc. The story shows how things change and how they stay the same, and how the way we perceive people is sometimes quite different from how they really are. Through the pages of Ms. Berg's novel we get to see how their lives turned out and what their hopes and dreams are now as in middle age they revisit the high school years that were supposed to be the happiest days of their lives and every one of them stood poised on the brink of a bright future.

Divorcee Dorothy hopes to have one last chance to fulfill her fantasy of attracting the high school football star, Pete, the boy all the girls were mad about. Poor plain Mary Alice, the social outcast who was always made fun of and left out, is still alone, but we discover she never minded as much as others thought, and that she has made peace with her solitary existence. Brainy nerd Lester, now a widowed veterinarian, is content with the single life since he has never found a worthy successor to fill his late wife's shoes. And Candy the class beauty queen married well and became an obedient society wife with no children (her husband didn't want them) and gave up her dream of being a nurse. The most popular girl in school has no friends, except her pet bulldog, Esther, only numerous acquaintances. Then there is Pete, the school's star jock, now a middle-aged man juggling a mistress and a wife, who regrets that he can't turn back the clock, but he won't let a heart attack stop him from attending the reunion and making one last attempt to win back his wife.

The Last Time I Saw You is a book of surprising revelations, of saying farewell to old dreams and hello to new beginnings. Though the characters represent the stereotypes that can be found in any school, behind these facades lurk surprisingly real human beings, all realistically rendered. This is an enjoyable read that makes a person think, but not enough to ever induce me to attend any of my high school reunions.