Friday, December 28, 2012

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Claire Roth is an artist and a fake. The only successful original painting she created was signed by another artist who was struggling creatively when he was invited to produce a work for a MOMA show of new talent. This other artist was also Claire’s lover and her former art teacher, so she did not mind helping him over his creative impasse. But the episode ends in scandal and heartache.

Fast forward three years, and Claire is supporting a minimal lifestyle in Boston by making reproductions of famous paintings. No gallery will show her original work because of her involvement in the earlier scandal. But this situation changes unexpectedly when famous gallery owner Aidan Markel offers her a one-woman show and $50,000. The deal is presented if Claire agrees to create a reproduction of a famous Degas painting that was stolen at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Claire is not convinced the Degas that Markel shows her is indeed the original, but even if it is, how bad would it be for her to just copy it? And how awful would it be if she also took Markel for her next lover?

Mystery, passion, deception, and a dose of art history make the thoroughly enjoyable “The Art Forger” anything but painting by numbers.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen

Ari Seth Cohen, in his blog-based book, Advanced Style (2012), turns ageism on its heels. His exquisite photography and meaningful words capture the essence of growing older with dignity and beauty.

I have never considered "old" a bad word, the author writes.  To be old is to be experienced, wise, and advanced.  The ladies I photograph challenge sterotypical views on age and aging. They are youthful in mind and spirit and express themselves through personal style and individual creativity...The fashion these women display is merely a reflection of the care and thought they put into every aspect of their lives.  These photos offer proof that the secret to remaining vital in our later years is to never stop being curious, never stop creating, and never stop having fun. 

Advanced Style is not only a beautiful coffee table book, it is an inspiration for any woman at any age.  Not only are the featured clothes and accessories exquisite, but the women photographed are admirable in the statements they are making. Their attitude about themselves and about life is amazing!

Check out Ari Cohen's blog at

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I have never read anything by Carlos Fuentes, I am sorry to admit, so when I read a review of Vlad, I decided to give it a try.  Excellent.  Vlad, of course, refers to Count Vladimir Radu, also known as Vlad the Impaler (but his friends just call him "Vlad").  Vlad has left, or rather been forced out of Romania and has decided to move to Mexico City. He contacts his old friend, Don Eloy Zuringa, an attorney  asks him to arrange a house. And I mean Zuringa ia an old friend. 

Zuringa, thought to be in his 80's has been an attorney in Mexico City for as long as anyone can remember.  Navarro is one of Zuringa's staff attorneys. Navarro is tasked with finding lodging for Zuringa's friend. The client (who is nameless at this point) wants a house that is remotely located, with large lots on 3 sides and abutting a ravine on the 4th. A tunnel has to be run from the house into the ravine. And all the windows need to be bricked over. "OK" thinks Navarro - he will have his wife, Asuncion, a real estate agent find the property. Vlad is thrilled with the house and the location. Navarro's life will never be the same as Vlad starts to take over Navarro's family.

This short (125 pages) book was simply wonderful. Quirky and well written the story shows just how one man can slide into a major life transformation without realizing it is even happening. How trust in your spouse and friends can sometimes lead to unintended consequences for you. I recommend this book.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Innocents

In the June 2012 issue of Vogue, Francesca Segal discusses the classic from which The Innocents is based.  Whereas The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, takes place in 19th century New York, The Innocents is set in the Jewish enclave of Temple Fortune (London), circa 2012.  Like the Edith Wharton novel, The Innocents deals with young love and the allure of the forbidden.  Segal's use of literary allusion provides a timeless look at upper-class society.

Adam Newman is the childhood sweetheart of Rachel Gilbert, a good-hearted young woman raised in the security of a protective and loving family. Having lost his father at an early age, Adam has been welcomed into the Gilbert home like a son.  He is particularly close to Rachel's father and works as a lawyer in his firm. But as plans for a large wedding are being made, Adam begins to feel suffocated.  The close-knit family within the insular Jewish community offers security but insists on conformity.  To make matters worse, Rachel's cousin Ellie comes to visit and Adam falls passionately in love with this troubled beauty.  Unlike Rachel, Ellie is uninhibited and promiscuous.  Her life has been a series of bad choices leading up to a scandal with an older married man.

In beautiful prose reminiscent of  The Three Weissmann's of Westport (Cathleen Schine, 2010), Segal explores the conflict between the safe and conventional versus the exotic and the unknown.  She also deals with the dilemmas of young love amidst the strength of family bonds. In the character of Adam, we see a young man who has never dealt with the grief of losing a parent, whose very development has been stunted by repressed anger.  This is the quality he shares with Ellie, whose self-destructive bent threatens to pull him under.  The chemistry between them, and the sense of impending disaster, keeps this novel moving from the first page to the last.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Last Policeman: A novel

"The end of the world changes everything from a law-enforcement perspective."

Earth is about to be destroyed.  All over the world people are killing themselves, have stopped doing their jobs or are just going berserk, but Hank Palace, a homicide detective in New Hampshire, is trying to keep up with his investigations and the suicide of Peter Zell just doesn't add up.

 There are 2 stories in this book. One story line runs through Hank's life trying to just do his job while society is slowly falling apart around him.  In the background is a parallel story of the asteroid heading straight for earth.  This impending calamity is effecting people's lives - bucket lists, drugs and sex binges, religious awakenings and some people who just want to continue on with their lives.  The two lines intersect with a resounding crack when Hank realizes that everyone is not going to believe what ever  it is that is going to happen.

His sister, her husband, fellow detectives, suspects in other cases all are involved in the death of Peter Zell.  The federal police, newly created to help contain lawlessness that increases the closer the impact day comes, are deliberately not helping him.  The story line has enough twists to keep it interesting.

I am careful about what I read when it comes to apocalyptic themed books, and usually don't read them.  But I liked Winters' Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, so I broke my rule.  This is a well written murder mystery with some psychological aspects and a smattering of morality issues woven into it.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Trapeze, by Simon Mawer

Why would a young woman, who verges on the shy side, decide to be a spy during WWII? What would go through her mind and what events would lead her to parachute in blackest night into Nazi-occupied France? Understand her thinking and follow her path in the beautifully written "Trapeze."

The latest novel by Simon Mawer, the critically acclaimed author of "The Glass Room," "Trapeze" is an exciting war-torn adventure with characters who will haunt you long after you finish reading their story. Main character Marian Sutro, a Brit, is also a native French speaker, which makes her an attractive recruit for the “Inter-Service Research Bureau.” Soon she is undergoing commando training and enrolled in a “school for spies.” But all espionage and no romance would make Marian a dull girl. And dull she is not. As her duties expand, so do the number of aliases she takes on (“Live the person you are pretending to be”), as well as the number of lovers.

As this historical novel progresses, readers see a basically ordinary girl take on an extraordinary life. After her first parachute jump, she thinks, "How will anything, ever again, be as exciting as this?" But for the reader, the excitement continues throughout Marian's training, and her introduction to what is literally the physics of war culminates in a nail-biting finale.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Heading Out to Wonderful

Heading Out to Wonderful, by Robert Goolrick, is a tale of forbidden love and its consequences. Set in rural Virginia circa 1948, it recounts the story of Charlie Beale, a mysterious stranger who walks into town with two suitcases: one filled with cash and the other containing a fine set of butcher knives. He secures a job in the butcher shop and soon meets a cast of local characters, including the richest, meanest man in the town and his teenage bride. He falls passionately in love with her movie star image. As time passes, Charlie befriends the shopkeeper's family, including their son, Sam.  Sam is only 4 years old when the story begins. We learn from the opening line that it is Sam, now in his 60s, who is our sympathetic narrator.

The thing is, all memory is fiction...Of course, there are things that actually, certifiably happened, things where you can pinpoint the day, the hour, and the minute.  When you think about it, though, these things seem to happen to other people. (p. 1)

Many themes of the book reflect the life of the author. This is graphically depicted in his memoir, The End of the World As We Know It (2007). As Janet Maslin of the New York Times writes: "It follows the senior Goolricks from high times to low ones, when 'my mother and father went on until they didn’t care enough to read or dress or cut their own toenails or defend themselves against alcoholism and cancer and filthiness and disrepair and rats in the house.'” (New York Times, March 26, 2007)  But what damaged him for a lifetime occurred when he was 4 years old. Maslin writes that it is described by Goolrick in pornographic detail. The child abuse, coupled with his general home life, led to a troubled youth and adulthood. As a child, he set his grandmother's curtains on fire. As a teenager, he roamed the streets inebriated and high on cocaine.  He began a life-long struggle with self-mutilation. He had affairs with men and women.

If events in Heading Out to Wonderful appear melodramatic, they pale next to those of his real life. Charlie Beale is sympathetic and tormented--a lonely soul who befriends a child and ultimately betrays his innocence.  Throughout the book, Charlie seeks salavation for a past not disclosed. He visits many churches but, in the end, worships at the feet of a woman.

Goolrick, perhaps through the voice of the book's narrator, Sam, tries to understand how he ended up living alone with nothing but ghosts from the past. Along the way, he exposes the bigotry of small town life before civil rights and captures the degradation of being black in the rural South. Indeed, the most decent characters in his novel are the African Americans Goolrick depicts.

Heading Out to Wonderful is a thought-provoking period piece that highlights the fragility of childhood and the difficulties of existence. It is a cautionary ballad well worth reading.

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