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The Better Downton Abbey?

The Better Downton Abbey?

posted by:
February 15, 2013 - 6:01am

HBO and BBC have partnered to bring Parade’s End, based on Ford Madox Ford’s classic modernist tetralogy, to the screen in a new five-part miniseries that will premiere in the US on February 26th on HBO. Ford’s novels, published separately between 1924 and 1928, were first combined and reissued as Parade’s End in 1950. The story follows Christopher Tietjens, the wealthy heir to the estate of Groby, who is serving in the British army during World War I. Christopher’s personal life is complicated by a love triangle. He is torn between his socialite wife Sylvia, who Graham Greene called "surely the most possessed evil character in the modern novel," and his suffragette mistress Valentine. Rather than focusing on the upstairs/downstairs themes of Downton Abbey, Parade’s End portrays a broader view of England and the English gentry around World War I. Parade’s End is a challenging but worthwhile read. The New Yorker’s Ian Crouch calls the novel “The Better Downton Abbey,” citing the characters’ sharper edges and the novel’s drama that excels where he feels Downton Abbey has begun to fall flat.

 

The miniseries was adapted for the small screen by Sir Tom Stoppard. Director Susanna White says that Parade’s End, which was commissioned before the Downton Abbey craze, is its own unique take on the time period.  Get a sneak peak at this critically-acclaimed drama, featuring the BBC’s Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher, here.

Beth

 
 

Web of Lives

Web of Lives

posted by:
February 11, 2013 - 8:15am

Beautiful RuinsSome reading experiences are meant to be savored. Jess Walter creates one in Beautiful Ruins, which begins in 1962 at Hotel Adequate View on the Italian coastline. Pasquale Tursi, who runs the hotel, is captivated by the blond woman who arrives at his hotel. She turns out to be a dying American actress, and thus begins a novel that sweeps over decades and contains a cast of captivating characters, all “beautiful ruins” in their own right. In the present day we meet Michael Dean, a film producer who has recently returned to favor with the popularity of a reality television show, and his long suffering assistant Claire Silver, who is in the process of discovering another line of work. Next comes Shane Wheeler who wants to make a pitch to Michael Dean with a screenplay about the Donner party. Other characters include a would-be novelist, a failed musician and a famous film actor. These lives are woven together in an unusual style that includes chapters of novels, film treatments and even a play.

 

The characters Jess Walter creates are completely realized and finely detailed. The story captures the imagination and you can’t help but care for this motley crew as they try to create something that matters, only to find themselves failing and falling and further affecting all the other lives around them.  Although the characters seem separated at the beginning of the novel, the stories begin to intertwine and blend, leading to an incredible crescendo. Thoroughly discussable, this novel is perfect for book groups. Beautiful Ruins will pull you in, capture your heart and will make you reflect on your own life choices.

Doug

 
 

Blood or Water?

Blood or Water?

posted by:
February 11, 2013 - 7:45am

yBooks about children in the foster care system tend to be a largely grim bunch. Fiction or fact, they are often filled with requisite accounts of, at best, benign neglect and frequently tell a far more horrifying tale. In her debut novel, Y, author Marjorie Celona explores the concept of family ties that bind both by blood and by choice.

 

The headline reads “Abandoned Infant: Police Promise No Charges” after a newborn baby is found in the early morning on the steps of the YMCA. The revolving door of foster families grinds into motion as baby Shandi gets shuffled about, her name changed to Shannon and her arm broken by a foster father. As a preschooler, Shannon lands in the loving home of single mother Miranda and her daughter Lydia-Rose who is the same age as Shannon. Miranda’s home is modest and her income small, yet she is determined to form a family which includes loving Shannon as her daughter, as Lydia-Rose’s sister.

 

Could the story end here? Instead, Celona goes on to explore the effects of abandonment and subsequent feelings of alienation on Shannon as she grows up in Miranda’s home. At the same time, she alternates Shannon’s story with that of her parents and grandparents, revealing the trajectory of events which led up to the morning at the Y. Celona uses Shannon as an omniscient narrator and allows her to completely relate her own story; this includes her search for her “real” parents. At the same time, she is recounting her biological family’s history, chronicling incidents occurring long before her birth. Ultimately, Shannon must figure out what constitutes “family” for her. For more about growing up in the foster care system, try Janet Fitch’s White Oleander or Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s biography, Three Little Words.

 

Lori

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The Fascination Continues

The Fascination Continues

posted by:
February 8, 2013 - 7:01am

The Missing Manuscript of Jane AustenJane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice remains one of the most popular and imitated classics although it has been two hundred years since its publication on January 29, 2013. Syrie James offers an intriguing addition to the many modern Jane Austen homages with The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, which presents a story-within-a-story, both of which will delight ardent fans. 

 

Librarian Samantha McDonough is travelling in Oxford when she stumbles across a letter in an old book of poetry. The letter is from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, and describes a manuscript Jane had lost while visiting an estate named Greenbriar in 1802. A missing Jane manuscript could be monumental and Samantha immediately begins researching. Her investigation leads her to the now-crumbling Greenbriar and its owner Anthony Whittaker. The two discover the pages in a secret compartment and begin reading The Stanhopes along with the reader. This purported Austen story introduces Rebecca Stanhope and her rector father, both snubbed by polite society because of a fabricated gambling charge. As Rebecca attempts to restore her father’s good name and discover the nefarious person spreading the lies, she encounters love. James does an excellent job of recreating Austen’s voice and setting and weaving two compelling stories. As the Stanhopes strive to regain their respectable position, Samantha and Anthony are caught up in their growing attraction, yet disagree on how to handle this invaluable treasure.

 

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Jane should be pleased as punch, although it is doubtful that she would ever surrender to such vanity. Syrie James is one of a multitude of authors, including P.D. James and Colleen McCullough, who have entries in the Jane Austen assembly. From spunky Bridget Jones to Colin Firth’s (as Mr. Darcy) unforgettable lake scene, Pride and Prejudice remains a touchstone for modern storytelling.   

Maureen

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The Wild Blue Yonder

The Wild Blue Yonder

posted by:
February 4, 2013 - 8:01am

 

The Aviator's WifeFrom the time he became the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927, Charles Lindbergh has been a source of national fascination. In her new book, The Aviator’s Wife, historical novelist Melanie Benjamin turns the spotlight on the woman behind the man. Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a fascinating persona in her own right, the first American woman to earn a first class glider pilot’s license, in order to become her husband’s co-pilot and navigator. Told in the first person, the novel begins with the couple’s brief, whirlwind courtship—romantic to Anne but perfunctory to Charles.

 

Anne is immediately smitten, and although he is less than attentive to her emotional needs, Charles’ prowess in the bedroom keeps her interest. She respects his keen intellect and career ambitions, while all the while wishing he was less distant. The Aviator’s Wife follows the couple through the highs and lows of their complicated marriage. Benjamin chronicles in detail perhaps their greatest tragedy, the infamous kidnapping of their firstborn, Charlie. She captures Anne’s paralyzing grief at the loss of her beloved son, and her sense of hope and helplessness as investigators attempted to find the boy.

 

Love, determination, convention, and duty ultimately fueled their marriage for 45 years. Although first and foremost a wife and mother of five more children, Anne managed to carve her own identity as a writer and feminist. Benjamin also illustrates Anne’s affair with her physician, sparked when she was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery. Charles never visited his lonely, ailing wife during this difficult time. And although Anne found her own respite, she is shocked and saddened to learn of her husband’s own indiscretions over the years. Well-written and engrossing, this historical novel proves to be an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

Paula G.

 
 

The Secret Life of a Suburban Wife

The Secret Life of a Suburban Wife

posted by:
February 4, 2013 - 7:01am

 

Something NewJanis Thomas introduces readers to a memorable, modern mom in Something New. Ellen Ivers has it all: a model husband in Jonah, three beautiful children, a comfortable home, even a lovable dog. She also has a few extra pounds, no career, and a life of boredom.  At forty-two Ellen is questioning her life of carpooling, kids’ parties, and after-school activities. Her life is in a rut and she’s let herself go physically and emotionally. When her cousin challenges her to enter a blogging contest sponsored by Ladies Living Well Journal, Ellen is initially hesitant. It’s been years since she wrote professionally and she questions what to write about and who would really be interested in her life as a housewife. At the same time, she meets sexy cop Ben Campbell who is clearly interested in her-- and as more than a friend. His words, “If you don’t try something new, you might as well just stop” motivate Ellen to enter the contest and initiate a self-refurbishment plan.

 

Ellen begins blogging, exercising, and taking time with her appearance. Her blog posts attract increasing numbers of readers and her treadmill time is really paying off. Jonah is not entirely pleased about the new Ellen and cracks in their marriage start to widen. Ellen is thrilled with her appearance and delighted that her relationship with the married Ben has moved beyond simple flirtation. But just as her confidence and newfound career are on the rise, her family life starts to unravel. The journey Ellen faces is familiar and important, but Thomas peppers the story with laugh-out-loud moments amidst the real life situations.  Ellen is a funny, honest, and recognizable character who ultimately must choose what it is that will deliver the fulfillment she has been seeking.   

Maureen

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Edwardian Fiction Abounds

Edwardian Fiction Abounds

posted by:
February 1, 2013 - 7:01am

 

Habits of the HouseSummerset AbbeyAshendenIn addition to being one of BBC’s most popular series of all time, Downton Abbey has inspired a new publishing trend. This winter and spring, publishers will release a crop of new books set in Edwardian England. One of the most anticipated of these novels has been Fay Weldon’s trilogy-starter Habits of the House. At the turn of the 20th century, the Earl of Dilberne’s estate is in dire financial straits. He plans to save the family fortune by marrying his son Arthur off to a Chicago heiress named Minnie O'Brien, but both Arthur and Minnie have secrets that might jeopardize the engagement. Weldon, who wrote the pilot episode of the original Upstairs, Downstairs, brings the time period and its social conventions to life effortlessly.

 

T. J. Brown’s Summerset Abbey is a story about three young women in an upper-class household. Rowena and Victoria were raised along with Prudence, their late governess’s daughter. Rowena and Victoria’s father is the second son of an Earl, but class never mattered in their bohemian household. The three girls have been like sisters throughout their lives. When Rowena and Victoria’s father dies, the girls must move to their uncle’s home, Summerset Abbey, which is run much more traditionally. All three are forced to confront class for the first time when Prudence must become Rowena and Victoria’s maid. Romance and drama abound in this story, but a shocking family secret jeopardizes the girls’ bond. Summerset Abbey is the first novel in a captivating new trilogy.

 

In these stories, place is often as important as the characters. Elizabeth Wilhide’s debut novel Ashenden follows an English country house through its various inhabitants over 240 years of its history. The house becomes the main character in the upstairs and downstairs dramas that play out in it. Wildhide’s extensive knowledge of architecture and design give Ashenden a unique twist all its own.

Beth

 
 

Independent Woman

Independent Woman

posted by:
January 31, 2013 - 7:45am

A Change of FortuneLady Eliza Sumner is a determined woman bent on recovering her fortune, her family name, and her dignity in A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano. Some slight obstacles include a lack of money, family, friends, and a loss of faith. After her father’s death, Eliza’s inheritance was stolen by his trusted manager and his wife, Eliza’s former governess. The despicable duo has fled to America where they are masquerading as British aristocracy. Eliza, with little more than enough money to pay for her way across the pond, arrives in New York with the intent of recovering her wealth and returning to London in a blaze of glory. She takes a post as governess to a wealthy family and begins plotting.

 

When Eliza’s employer presses her into attending a dinner party, a disguised Eliza (complete with padding and eyeglasses) meets the fabulous Beckett brothers – Zayne and Hamilton. Hamilton is an eligible widower who blames himself for his wife’s death and is devoted to his two children. Because of the failure of his first marriage, he has sworn off women and marriage. However, Eliza and he learn that they share a common enemy and find themselves thrown together repeatedly in their efforts to recover her fortune and save his business. Eliza and Hamilton aren’t without friends who try to help their cause, including Agatha, an opinionated suffragette who happens to be the eldest daughter of Eliza’s employers, Arabella, sister to the Beckett brothers, and Theodore Wilder, a dashing detective.

 

This debut inspirational historical romance is packed with humor, interesting characters, and a fast-moving plot. This is the first in the Ladies of Distinction series and will appeal to fans of Deeanne Gist and Cathy Marie Hake. For more fun with this zany crew, look for A Most Peculiar Circumstance in June where readers will be delightfully reacquainted with Theodore Wilder and Arabella Beckett.

 

 

Maureen

 
 

A Winter’s Tale

A Winter’s Tale

posted by:
January 28, 2013 - 7:45am

The Lady Most WillingFriends and bestselling historical romance authors Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway have teamed up to bring readers The Lady Most Willing: A Novel in Three Parts, the story of an outrageous kidnapping plot that leads to four unlikely romances. Although romance authors frequently collaborate on collections of novellas, Quinn, James, and Brockway decided to try something a little different. Each wrote a part of a story that would become one cohesive novel. The result was their first shared novel The Lady Most Likely: A Novel in Three Parts. The trio enjoyed that project so much that they decided to try it again. When Brockway suggested a plot inspired by one of her favorite movies, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Lady Most Willing was born.

 

Laird Taran Ferguson wants his nephews to marry and produce heirs to secure the family line, so he hatches a drunken plan to kidnap eligible young ladies for them to marry. What could possibly go wrong? He and his men decide to capture three young heiresses, Lady Cecily Tarleton and sisters Fiona and Marilla Chisholm, from a ball at Bellemere Castle. During the raid, Taran’s men are confused about one of the ladies’ identity, and Catriona Burns is mistakenly taken, too. The inept kidnappers steal a carriage for their getaway, and The Duke of Bretton, who was sleeping off a substantial amount of brandy in his carriage, is also inadvertently abducted. The whole group is brought to Finovair Castle where they are snowed in together, and fate and love soon intervene. This witty, warm romance is the perfect antidote for a chilly winter night.

 

Beth

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A Masterpiece Redux

A Masterpiece Redux

posted by:
January 25, 2013 - 7:01am

The Art ForgerBoston artist Claire Roth is slowly rebuilding her life after a scandal three years ago nearly derailed her painting career. Now working as a master copyist of famous works for an online art broker, she knows that it is only a crime to copy a painting if that painting is sold as the original. What happens when the lines blur, the craquelure appears authentic, and the stakes are high? In her taut, twisty tale The Art Forger, B. A. Shapiro  reveals the underside of the art world  that revisits one of the most famous art heists of all time and the daunting challenge proving art provenance.

 

When the posh, well-connected collector, Aiden Markel, approaches Claire about reproducing a painting "not quite on the up and up" she can't resist. In exchange, Markel promises to provide Claire with a large sum of cash and an opportunity for a one-woman show at his prestigious gallery. The painting in question is an Edgar Degas masterpiece stolen over 20 years ago from the Gardner Museum.  Before long Claire realizes that the painting, too, is harboring its own secrets, and her Faustian agreement may cost her more than her expertise.

 

Shapiro's prose is ripe for those who enjoy art world intrigue with a splash of romance. Narrated in Claire's painter voice, back stories shed light on Claire's past scandal and the eccentric collector Isabella Stewart Gardner. Sidelights about successful forgers throughout history and their techniques add interesting color, as do details of Degas' use of light and color.  Although Shapiro's painting and relationships are imagined, the 1990 Gardner art theft remains unsolved today. Readers looking to read fascinating, true art history should try Edward Dolnick's The Forger's Spell: a True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century or Ulrich Boser's The Gardner Heist: a True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft.

Cynthia

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