A POTENTIAL BESTSELLER, THE AFTER PARTY by Anton Disclafani

Houston in all of its fifties glory–the heat and sun of Houston summers–River Oaks, The Shamrock, and the “…world of garden clubs and debutante balls”–is as much a character in this new (2016 publication) novel by the author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, as are Joan and Cece, the unforgettable main characters of The After Party.

Joan Fortier, “…the epitome of Texas glamor and the center of the Houston social scene…” and CeCe, her plain best friend and their strange friendship are at the heart of this novel. Joan is tall blonde and beautiful, everything CeCe is not, but CeCe is loyal and the only one who understands Joan (and the only one who will defend her to her critics).  It is the story of women’s friendships, family secrets and relationships, as well as women’s lack of power and status in the 1950’s.  In Houston, the “money flows as freely as oil, and the author who is an excellent story teller brings together “flawed characters worth knowing”and  involves the reader in the story of the novel as well as the intertwined stories of the two girls’ lives.

I considered it a good investment of my reading time.

BELOVED MESS: A Review

Beloved Mess by Kimm Crandall is a 2016 inspirational book that my church librarian was kind enough to order for our library at my recommendation.  I had read about the book, and it sounded like something that would help me in my day-to-day Christian walk. As the cover’s blurb said, it is “…funny, arresting, radical, and best of all, true.”

The author confesses to being a big mess.  In some ways, the book itself is a mess, but the author reminds us that by God’s grace, the messes are “beloved.”

The book is encouraging for people who have experienced depression and feel they are not good Christians or even good people because they do have these feelings.  Crandall points to our weaknesses, which are ok because we have “Christ who strengthens us.”  We are not strong, but because He is, it is ok.

Another jacket blurb points out, “God is not waiting for you to clean up your act before you come home to Him.  In fact, He wants you to stop trying to fix the mess and allow Him to wash it away.”

In all the messiness of life and the messes we get ourselves into, the author consistently reminds us that we and our messes are beloved by our Heavenly Father.

 

TWO GREAT CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Kenny’s Window, illustrated and written by Maurice Sendak is a true children’s classic.  Published in 1956, it marks the first time Sendak  writes the text as well as draws the illustrations. The poetic quality of the words is complemented by the soft greys and beiges of the dreamy drawings. Kenny, our protagonist is a dreamer, both figuratively and literally as well.  He dreams a dream in which he receives seven questions to answer, which he finds on a piece of crumpled paper in his pajama pocket the next morning.  In his nightly musings and dreams, he goes on adventures in search of the answers to the questions.  At the end, Kenny learns,”A wish is halfway to wherever you want to go.”As the book ends, Kenny, the dreamer, begins to wish, and what he wishes for in his dream-time, he gets.

A Man Named Thoreau, written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated, again in grey and blacks and whites, by Lloyd Bloom, tells of the life and thoughts of Henry David Thoreau. There are excellent quotes from Walden throughout, and the experience that was Walden is explained well and is aimed at a child’s understanding. The reference to Thoreau as a little boy sets the stage for understanding this man’s life, ” [Thoreau] had lived in Concord since he was a small boy…Most of them (the townspeople) thought he was a little strange.” There is mention of his literary friends, Emerson, Alcott, and others.  The narrative itself has a calm, soothing effect, much as one imagines Thoreau’s personality may have initially  been.  In the back appendix is a helpful timeline of Thoreau’s life.  For a sensitive child who loves nature and thinks about it, perhaps even marching to the beat of a different drummer, he/she will find a “hero” in Thoreau.

THE FAMILY : A Review

American Jewish immigrant stories are abundant, but this one tries to cover all branches of the family tree. It is the genealogy and history of the family that founded the MaidenForm Bra company and its rise to fame and fortune in America, the land of opportunity.  For part of the family, it is a Holocaust story; for another branch it is a story which takes on the founding of the state of Israel in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and the troubles which ensue. The action is a bit slow, but as examples of immigrants seeking a better life, it has something to offer.  It is detailed (maybe too detailed) and its many characters are hard to keep straight.

This was a Bargain Book from Deadalus Bookstore in NY City and a bargain at 3.98. I’m glad I read it.

Dear Committee Members by Julia Schumacher: A Review

This book was recommended by a colleague who has served on many search committees and has received many letters of recommendation for applicants, none of which could possibly be as clever or creative as the ones that the author strings together to create a novel.

It is a small book, and I checked it out from the Alvin Public Library.  I read it in a few hours during my private 24 hour Reading Marathon. The book is funny, sardonic, and too much like real life in academia.

The author has won awards for another novel, ALA Notable Book of the Year, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. She has written a short story collection and “five novels for young readers.” Schumacher explains she teaches at the University of Minnesota and has written many letters of recommendation.

What I am Reading, What I am Watching, and What I have to Read Next

What I am currently reading:

The After Party set in 1950’s Houston assigned for 3rd Tuesday Book Club at the Alvin library. I bought a copy. I am only 1/5 of the way in. It is due Tues the 20th.

Beloved Mess an inspirational book. Borrowed from church library.  Ordered because of my request.   Finished but copying pages and writing down quotes from famous “religious” people.

Passenger  It turned up in a box of donations for my LFL (Little Free Library) left at the back door.  My husband read it and said, “I think you will like this book.  I do.  I am half way through.

Two back issues of my New Yorker magazine.

One back issue of AARP magazine

The daily Houston Chronicle newspaper

What I am currently watching:
America’s Got Talent Finale  (watching  at this moment while I type during commercials and during clips I’ve seen.)  This has been some season!  How they will choose is unfathomable to me.

The Young and the Restless (about three episodes behind) I do not believe Adam died in the explosion, just for the record.

Anxiously awaiting the first episode of the new season of The Big Bang.  I’ve never missed an episode!

What I am about to read next:

Fellow’s new novel checked out from the Alvin Library (Downton Abbey author)

Three cozy mysteries a cousin sent which arrived in today’s mail

The last book of The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

Sunday’s Sunday School quarterly for next Sunday’s lesson

A set of reading quizzes

CONCLUSION:

I am an eclectic reader!

 

 

Stephen King’s Song of Susanna

During my own little 24 Reading Marathon (See earlier posts), I resumed reading King’s Song of Susanna, Book Six of The Dark Tower series (one  more to go!) This is a journey that has literally taken years, but one that has been totally worth the time and effort.

From the Calla and the wolves of book five to New York City in 1999 is a big leap, and the tet  of gunslingers get there by various “doors”, but eventually the ka tet are  all in the same time and place, although they have not encountered each other yet by the end of the book. What they find in 1999 proves to be both interesting and action-filled.  Characters from other books make cameo appearances, and old stories affect and merge with current developments. Horror and gore abound.  Strangest of all, I have never had the experience of an author writing himself into the plot as a character in the novel before!  Leave it to King’s imagination and creativity.

Great storytelling.  Great humor. Great suspense. Great adventure. And, Great dialogue.

 

JUST IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN

The Thirteen Days of Halloween published by Scholastic is a counting book closely patterned on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and is the perfect grandchild-gift for a little one.  The illustrations parody Tim Burton, and, as in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” repetition is built in.  By the time parent or grandparent and child have read the book a few times, the child will be able to count to 13! The little witchy-demon (good demon) girl has large, innocent eyes as she leads her various ghouls like werewolves and vampires and witches through their madcap, fun march through the gloriously colored pages and reaches the final countdown to Halloween night when all the goblins and beasties come out to play. It can be ordered through Scholastic or through the title at Barnes and Noble or from Amazon.

A second offering for any season is classic children’s author Eva Ibbetson’s Which Witch, a chapter book, guaranteed to make children and adults alike laugh out loud (or at least chuckle). It is a worthy book, although not as well known as Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13.

In this story, Arriman Podcaster, an unusual baby who grew up to become a famous Wizard, is waiting for his replacement so that he can retire. Harrington Hall, his magnificent, totally creepy manor house is guarded by the Wizard Watcher ( a four legged creature who talks, has a tail, and vaguely resembles a sea lion–a big one).  The Watcher is watching for the New Wizard predicted by the gypsy  fortuneteller to “come down the road.”

When this fails to happen, Arriman decides to marry and produce an heir to take his place.  He instigates a Miss America style pageant of witches, offering himself and his great Hall to the winner.  An abundance of witches is found in the area, complete with warts and weird animal familiars as well as Belladonna who is (horrors!) a white witch.  She speaks with animals, heals wounds by magic (or white witchcraft) and produces bunny rabbits and begonias instead of frogs, lizards, and other slimy things with her spells.

The book is wickedly humorous (pun intended)!

It is predictable enough to feel comfortable, but has enough twists and turns to keep the reader reading right up until the very end.

 

 

Perspective

A friend recently e-mailed me and mentioned that she had re-read Earth Abides, an apocalyptic novel, which she had recommended to me a couple of years ago, and I loved. She said it was strange, but on the second reading, she wasn’t as impressed with it as she was upon her first reading in her younger years.  We agreed that perhaps having read many more apocalyptic novels, just living life longer, having more life experiences, discussing books with others, and seeing movies changed our perspective toward “things”

I told her the perhaps, as Thomas Woolf said, you really can’t go home again: childhood homes seem smaller, first elementary schools look old, are entirely updated, rebuilt, or torn down. Maybe the same holds true for books.

I remember reading Catcher in the Rye in high school when it first came out, and no! it was not assigned.  I borrowed a friend’s paperback and kept it hidden from the teacher. I thought, “You go, Holden! Tell your parents ‘what for’!” At the age of forty in an Adolescent Literature class in graduate school, I wanted to turn Holden over my knee and paddle him.

All that said, it’s funny isn’t it how perspective can slant perception.

REVIEW: The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis (2016)

A friend from book club told me her daughter had written her first novel, and as a “collector”of debut novels, I was immediately interested.  I had to wait a couple of months for the book to come out for sale, but the novel was well worth waiting for!

It is the story of the Barbizon , a “proper” and safe hotel, a “suitable” residence for young women searching for fame, careers, and husbands in New York City.  The Dollhouse is set in (and chapters alternate between) the 1950’s and 2016.  It is the  story of Darby (and Sam and Esme, her new friends) in 1950.  Darby is a student at The Gibbs Secretarial School, a “plain girl” hosteled on then same floor of the Glamorous Ford Agency models.

In 2016, Rose, also a Barbizon girl, is employed as a journalist and has a tinge of scandal of her own. Her lover, Griffin, who has political aspirations and Jason, a photographer who helps Rose investigate Darby’s scandal and mystery, also appear in the story.

But, most of all it is the story of The Barbizon .

For me, this was a fascinating read, a real page turner which reveals its mystery  like the peeling of the layers of the cliched onion. I would give this fantastic novel a 5 out of 5 rating .