Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

  • THE BOOK
    • The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
    • Published August 25, 2016
    • One other work by author: The Address

  • THE PREMISE
    • Darby, whose father is deceased and mother is remarried, comes to New York City from Ohio to attend the Katherine Gibbs (Secretarial) School. The year is 1952 and young Darby will be living in the Barbizon Hotel which is for women only. 
    • The Barbizon was a famous place and still exists. It is the building shown on the book cover.
      • Many real-life famous women stayed there early on in their careers but the book only seems to care that Sylvia Plath lived there once for a few weeks in 1953.
      • The hotel converted to condos in 2005. Supposedly some of the older residents were grandfathered in and still live in rent-controlled apartments. 
    • The second main character is Rose who lives in an apartment with her boyfriend in 2016.
      • The boyfriend dumps her and she ends up staying in one of the older ladies' apartments upstairs. 
      • The lady is away for a few weeks and might be...Darby!
    • Rose, a journalist on hard times, decides it would be a good story. She starts trying to piece together the past along with a hunky war photographer. She does this by going through Darby's things in the apartment Rose is squatting in.
    • Back in 1952 Darby's story and the big mysteries of the woman who leapt to her death (or was pushed) from the hotel and the woman who got her face slashed and scarred are revealed.
    • The story alternates between Rose in 2016 and Darby in 1952 but by the end is mainly focused on Rose.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I was so excited to read this book but was disappointed. So much promise in the premise!
      • Darby!
      • New York City and the Barbizon Hotel in 1952!
      • Katie Gibbs secretarial school!
      • Snooty models on whose floor Darby is assigned a room when the Katie Gibbs floor is full!
      • Darby is supposedly plain as well as a country hick. Her favorite dress is laughed at by the snooty models!
      • Darby and her new friend Esme, one of the cleaning staff, going to a jazz club!
      • And then the real focus of the story is Rose in modern day.
      • Bah.
    • I wanted WAY MORE Darby and friends than I got. And a subsidiary character, one of the models named Stella, is more fleshed out in the current day story than in the past but you really learn nothing of the in-between.
    • Rose is a very difficult character to like. Therefore I don't care about her love life. I don't think this was the best framing device because it took over the whole story.
    • This book is not remotely trashy like Valley of the Dolls or Scruples (more's the pity). But in those books I really enjoyed the parts where the characters --- Anne in Valley and Billie in Scruples --- are living life in New York while working as secretaries or going to Katie Gibbs. I wanted more of that in this book.
      • I wanted to meet all the models!
      • See if Darby got a makeover!
      • I wanted Darby to make real friends.
      • Read about the 1952 romances!
      • Bah.
    • It's not a BAD book, just not what I hoped to read.
    • Recommended for anyone interested in a small slice of fiction that takes place in 1952 New York. 
    • ★ ★ ★

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Word by Word by Kory Stamper

  • THE BOOK
    • Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper
    • Published March 14, 2017
    • First book by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author works for Merriam-Webster as a lexicographer. She writes definitions for words in the dictionary.
    • There are chapters about every facet of definition writing: meaning, pronunciation, etymology, part of speech, usage and more.
    • Everything you wanted to know about dictionary writing but were afraid to ask...for fear someone might tell you.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The author is funny and sometimes a bit profane, bringing some liveliness to what many might think a dull subject.
      • For a bunch of people, especially readers (including me), the idea of writing for a dictionary or an encyclopedia is a dream job.
      • The author has a blog and a Twitter feed. I follow both and here's a recent tweet:
        • "Dear Mr. Man, Thanks for writing. Rest assured I did see the comment you left on my blog. I have not approved it because it's stupid."
    • One chapter covers the usage of the word "irregardless". Many people would tell you "it's not a word" but because it is used often to replace the correct word "regardless" it gets a place in the dictionary because of its usage. 
      • Irregardless is incorrect because it has a prefix (ir-) and a suffix (-less) which both mean "not". 
      • "Regardless" is equivalent to "not regarded" or "without regard".
      • That means "irregardless" is equivalent to "not not regarded" or "not without regard" which, as a double negative, takes you back to "with regard". That's why it's incorrect usage. But many people still USE it so it needs to be in the dictionary.
      • The point is that the dictionary is a snapshot of the language at the time it is written.
    • I find the history and meaning of words to be fascinating so I really enjoyed this book.
    • Recommended for people who love words. Also enjoyable for those who read World Book Encyclopedias as kids.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan

  • THE BOOK
    • The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
    • Published February 14, 2017
    • First novel by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • Taking place in 1940, just after the start of World War II, the story concentrates on the fortunes of the women in the town of Chilbury, England. 
      • It is located in Kent, notable because it is between London and the coast, where German bombers will soon be passing over.
    • With the men off to war the vicar cancels the church choir because he doesn't think it will work without men's voices.
    • A female music professor comes up with a way to keep the choir going, now called --- you guessed it! --- the Chilbury Ladies' Choir.
    • Due to class differences some of the women have a hard time adapting to new circumstances but most of them rise to the challenge.
    • By the end of the story the bombs have started to fall.
    • The novel is told from the point of view of several characters via their letters and diary entries so is thus an epistolary novel.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I really enjoyed this book and hope for a sequel someday. The story only goes up to September 1940 and there is so much more war to come for the women in town.
    • The level of description that the writers include in their letters or diaries is somewhat unrealistic: very, very detailed in the way of a novel but not a 13-year-old girl's diary!
      • This did not take away from my enjoyment of the story but I can see that it might be a dealbreaker for those who prefer strict realism.
      • To me, it's a novel told in a different form. I say, go with it and enjoy the ride!
    • I just love the slice of life stories that take place in England and this one is no exception.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy novels about England and World War II. Some people have mentioned in their reviews that it reminds them of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (I read this but too long ago to recall specifically). Others mentioned the PBS series "Home Fires" which I haven't watched.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

  • THE BOOK
    • The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
    • Published March 7, 2017
    • Author's first novel for adults. Also wrote two books for the young adult series The Book of Ivy.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story takes place in two time frames. 
      • One occurs when 15-year-old Lane Roanoke moves to her grandparents' home in Kansas after her mother's suicide.
        • She meets her cousin Allegra, who already lives with her grandparents after her mother "ran off" after Allegra was born.
        • Lane also meets a guy and starts a romance with him.
      • The second occurs 11 years later. Lane now lives in California but her grandfather calls and asks her to return to Kansas because Allegra is missing.
        • She searches for clues as to Allegra's whereabouts and rekindles her romance with the guy she left behind.
    • We learn, bit by bit, and through the 2 time frames, what the backstory is on the whole family of Roanoke girls.
    • And incest. LOTS and LOTS of incest.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • You kind of know incest is going to be a thing early on in the narrative but you don't really understand the whole thing until the end.
      • Spoilers in inviso-text (highlight with your cursor to read them): The grandfather molested his two sisters, his daughters, AND his granddaughters. He does this by grooming them so that they all come to believe that this is what they WANT. (Until they catch on to the whole sick thing and leave or kill themselves.) His granddaughters are thus also his daughters. Lane ran away as soon as she figured it out, the same summer she arrived, and wasn't molested. Grandma knew about the whole thing and murdered her last daughter as a baby so Grandpa would  love her again. 
    • The only real mystery is what happened to Allegra. The solution is appropriate to the story. The story is not a true mystery book however.
    • Not my favorite book but I liked parts of it. That would be the parts where we learn about life in the small town where the story takes place. 
    • The ending is hopeful.
    • Recommended for those who like mysteries but with a strong sexual element to them. Or if reading Flowers in the Attic didn't bother you.
    • ★ ★ ★

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Prince Charles by Sally Bedell Smith

  • THE BOOK
    • Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life by Sally Bedell Smith
    • Published April 4, 2017
    • Other works by author include: Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch; Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess; and For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years.

  • THE PREMISE
    • This is an up-to-date biography of Great Britain's Prince Charles.
    • It includes his long-time relationship with Camilla, the marriage to Diana, his relationship with his parents and siblings, and his interests in gardening, architecture and running his many charities.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Prince Charles seems to be exactly the way you think he'd be: stuffy and modern all at the same time. Stuck in tradition but also forward looking and ahead of his time on some issues (global warming, non-GMOs, and farming without chemicals, for example).
    • It is obvious in hindsight that he should never have married Diana but rather married Camilla in the early 1970s when they were originally together. But he was told to marry an aristocratic virgin, someone without a past, and Diana fit the bill. Camilla, alas, did not.
      • It seems to me that many of Diana's "mental issues" were more immaturity than anything else. (The bulimia and cutting that she later suffered through were definitely mental conditions but they weren't developed in a vacuum.) She went into it thinking they were in love. He still loved Camilla; Diana wasn't imagining things. She just didn't have the tools to deal with it at the age of 19.
      • She was royally screwed. (Pun intended.) Even if someone had sat down to say, "This is your job: have a couple of babies (the heir and the spare) and then live your life as you want, but discreetly, while Charles goes back to his mistress, and someday you will be the queen of England," her only real choice would have been to stop the wedding.
      • These opinions aren't in the book, by the way. They are mine.
    • As I read through Charles' story I found myself wondering if any of this would someday be included in the TV series "The Crown". Let's hope so!
    • You come away for quite a bit of sympathy for Camilla who seems like a great broad by every account. I think she will indeed be called queen someday rather than "princess consort" but time will tell.
    • Recommended for royal fans but not a must-read. Some parts are a little slow.
    • ★ ★ ★