Friday, April 24, 2015

Two Halves are Better than One

Title: The Perfect Elizabeth : A Tale of Two Sisters
Author:  Libby Schmais
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffi
ISBN: 978-0312270803
Pages: 228

Liza and Bette are two sisters who seem to be opposites, but together they seem to be a Perfect Elizabeth. Bette is scholarly and driven to complete her PhD on food in the English Novel and Liza is unfocused and has a job she dislikes. Liza wants to write a book, but doesn’t have the confidence to move forward – which is true for her lack-luster love life with Gregor.  Bette, on the other hand, continues to be heartbroken over her divorce. But, Liz eventually becomes feed up with her job and quits without a plan, moving in with Gregor to save money.  Bette meets a man who sweeps her off to California and both sisters need to learn to live apart and build their own identities – though both struggle with this.  Without many prospects, Liz visits Bette in California and pitches her children’s book, which gets picked up as a cartoon. Things quickly change for both women and with more confidence, they embrace their new lives. 

This was definitely a beach read – fairly easy to read and not taxing.  At first I was a little annoyed with both characters as they seemed quite whiny – a bit like Bridget Jones’ Diary (which I did not like).  But, eventually, both woman recognizing their own agency and made some choices that helped them discover themselves.  

There is a short reading group guide at the end. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Twisty Mystery with Shades of Classics

Title: The Prisoner of Heaven
Author:  Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 978-0062206299
Pages: 304

Many years ago I read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind based on a recommendation from a friend, and knowing that a lot of book clubs were reading it.  At first I struggled to get into the book, with some very long descriptive passages. But, I was eventually drawn into the idea of a Cemetery of a Forgotten books.  Since then, I’ve wondered what book I would select to be mine.  I don’t know yet.

When I was in New York, I found The Prisoner of Heaven in a used bookstore.  I wasn’t even looking for it. I was a little worried about reading the books out of order, considering there is another book between them – The Angel’s Game.  However, The Prisoner of Heaven promised that each book could stand alone, and the reader did not need to read them in order.  Fortunately, I took that advise and read The Prisoner of Heaven.

Daniel is all grown up with a wife and son.  He works with his widowed father at the bookstore, along side Fermin, who is soon to be married.  However, a creepy stranger enters the store and purchases a very expensive book and signs a scary, cryptic message for Fermin. Daniel begins to investigate and hears the full tale of Fermin’s life before the first book.  With shades of The Count of Monte Cristo, Fermin’s background returns to potentially ruin his marriage.  However, Daniel steps in to try and help investigate and free Fermin from his fear.  

I was entranced by the book – it had delightful language and an intriguing plot. I couldn’t put it down and anticipated picking it up when I had to put it down. Now I need to find the second one to see if it was just as good.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fiction Imitates Life?

Title: The Fiction Class
Author:  Susan Breen
Publisher: Plume
ISBN: 978-0452289109
Pages: 296

In the backroom of a used bookstore, I was browsing, not intending to purchase anything. But, my hand touched The Fiction Class and my eye was drawn to the cover.  I left the store with the book (yes, I paid for it).  I related to the main character with her aspirations of being published and her struggle to care (both physically and emotionally) for her aging mother in a nursing home.  It hit close to home.

Arabella writes in her small apartment in New York, while making a living editing other’s work and teaching a fiction class.  A new semester begins, yet it is similar to semesters before – a class of people who want to write for a variety of personal reasons, but many don’t want to commit to the hard work of writing and revising.  And, after class, Arabella has to visit her ailing mother in the nursing home. Vera doesn’t always welcome Arabella and they have a complicated past.  But, Vera reveals that she has a story to tell and wants her daughter to help her finish it.  Vera’s story is a thinly veiled retelling of her own life, but by reading it, Arabella begins to see her mother as a person, rather than her mother.  Arabella brings the story to her fiction class, and she also begins to open herself to the students she teaches.  Both of these changes help her re-define herself separate from her childhood narrative and bring closure to many open wounds.

Although the book is not a how-to book, the author inserts the writing exercises that Arabella brings to her class – and some of them are useful.  And, though there were many tears through the book (from me, not the characters) the ending was quite satisfying. 

The author has a website for the book, which includes the writing exercises here: