Thursday, May 17, 2018

Crashing the Party: From the Bernie Sanders Campaign to a Progressive Movement, by Heather Gautney. Verso, 2018


                    

A brief look at the 2016 Democratic primary, Bernie’s campaign, and the history behind them. Bernie’s own political history is in stark contrast to Hilary’s. He came up from the bottom, representing the poor and people of color, while Hilary (as well as Bill Clinton, and, for that matter, Obama) was funded by, and stood for, the class of people with money to invest in her campaign.



The author, a professor of sociology as well as staffer for Sanders, tells us how the appeal of the socialist message worked. He brought in the majority of the youth vote, and that of the lower classes and people of color. Sadly, the super delegates worked against him, causing him to lose even in states where he won the majority of the popular vote (how ironic that something similar worked against Hilary in the general election). An easy read; it’s the first political book I’ve found readable since Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Five stars.


The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Perfume Burned his Eyes, by Michael Imperioli. Akashic Books, 2018






The story starts with 16 year old Matthew in 1976. His estranged, bad example of a father dies, then his grandfather follows shortly. This plunges his mother into a depression that she treats by eating tranquilizers, but it also provides an inheritance that allows them to move uptown and into a fancy apartment building in New York City. When he takes a part time job as a delivery boy for a local Chinese restaurant, he discovers that the people who he thought were a homeless couple when he’d seen them in the lobby actually live in his building, just a couple of floors up. It is, in fact, Lou Reed and his trans girlfriend Rachel. When Reed takes Matthew on as an assistant, it’s down the rabbit hole for Matt. Adding to the surrealness of his life, he falls for a girl at school: Veronica, who is an outlier, a witch, and a part time prostitute. Between Reed and Veronica, Matthews coming of age is more abrupt than most people’s, and definitely weirder. Whether it’s driving a borrowed van having never driven before, accompanying Veronica on a trick, or watching Reed basically melt down, it’s a walk on the wild side.



Matthew comes across as real and a sympathetic character. He’s been torn from his past life at a vulnerable point in his life. He’s smart. While the story takes place when he’s 16, it’s written from his POV at 18, and he looks at himself clearly and maturely. And, despite the grim subject matter, it’s funny. Four stars.


The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Ecstasy, by Mary Sharratt. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018



I was torn about requesting this book. On the one hand, I love Mary Sharratt. Her writing really resonates with me. On the other, it’s about Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel. A couple of years ago I read a biography of her, and it did *not* portray her in a good light. It was in agreement with what I already knew of her: she was an anti-Semite, despite having married two Jewish men and having had affairs with others. She was emotionally abusive and controlling. She was, in most every way, a horrid person. But… Mary Sharratt! I had to give it a go. 

Sharratt paints Schindler in a totally different light. We meet a beautiful young woman who is serious about music and composing and longs to take advanced lessons, which her mother and step-father say is a waste of money. She is also wakening to the attractions of me; her first kiss is from Klimt – who her stepfather advises to get the heck away from the underage Alma. When she is given permission to take some more music lessons, she and her tutor fall in love, but they are forbidden to marry as the tutor is a Jew. Later, when she wishes to marry another Jew, composer and music director Mahler, it is all right- he has prestige and money. Her parents demonstrated some unpleasant prejudices to her! 

Head over heels in love with Mahler, she agrees to marry him under his conditions: she must give up her own music and just support him in his career. Take care of the house, the finances, and the kids when they come along, leaving him free to give his total attention to composing and conducting. It’s a brutal compromise. Numerous times, she longs to go back to composing or at least playing the piano, but it is forbidden. She finally has a nervous breakdown. 

I found this Alma Schindler appealing and sympathetic- women are still making the compromise she did these days (so do men, but not as often as women do). This is not the Alma of the biographies. I liked this Alma, and her sacrifice resonated with me. I could see how this could have made her bitter and cynical- ‘Ecstasy’ ends shortly after Mahler’s death, so we don’t see how Sharratt would have dealt with Alma’s later life.

I give the book five stars. Sharratt’s writing style is, as usual, wonderful, and she made a person I was prejudiced against likeable and well rounded.



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything!- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program, in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 


Monday, April 16, 2018

The Very Marrow of Our Bones, by Christine Higdon. ECW Press, 2018


When Lulu Parsons is ten, her mother and another woman from their small town in Vancouver disappear on the same day. No one knows what has become of them; have they been abducted, or murdered, or did they run away together? But Lulu has found a note and knows that her mother is alive. The absence of Bette Parsons tips Lulu into a life of criminal activity, sexual abuse, drugs, drinking, and sleeping with pretty much anyone who asks- and no one in the family is aware of this. She’s the youngest child in the family, and the other kids have no time for raising her. Her ineffectual father is at a loss as to how to deal with his family. Lulu’s voice, in first person, tells half of the story.



The other half, alternating with Lulu, is told in third person from Doris Tenpenny’s point of view. Doris is the mute daughter of the fire and brimstone preacher who expects unreasonable things of his family. She sells eggs and vegetables at their farm stand and customers tell her their secrets, as if they think being unable to speak means being unable to communicate. In reality, she is the most perceptive person in town. She and Lulu find themselves thrown together oddly, when the man who has abused them both leaves his property to the two of them when he dies in a strange accident.



The story is not just about Lulu and Doris, though; it has a huge cast of characters. More than once I got confused as to who people were. The story is not told in linear time but jumps around, which added to my confusion. Covering more than forty years, the story sees the people go through a lot of changes. Families rearrange themselves. I found the book irresistible- I could not stay away from it. The writing is lovely and some of the characters are just wonderful- I would love to be Doris’s neighbor! I give this book four and half stars; it’s a great story but there are a couple of places where it does drag a bit (Bette Parsons, I’m looking at you).


The link above is an affiliate link If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tiffany Blues, by M.J. Rose. Simon & Schuster, 2018






While the narration starts in 1957, after the destruction by fire of the former home of Louis Comfort Tiffany, much of the action takes place in 1924 and even earlier. Painter Jenny Bell tells the story of the summer she and her best friend, rich socialite artist Mix Deering, spent in Laurelton Hall as part of a young artist’s intensive. During this eight week period, eight young artists have total artistic freedom, and at the end, the piece judged the best earns them a show at the Tiffany store.  



Jenny has a hidden past and a big secret, but she doesn’t realize that she’s not the only one at the intensive with those. As she blossoms personally, so does her palette. A love affair, and the friendship of Louis Comfort Tiffany himself, make her feel that maybe, just maybe, all could be well. It soon becomes obvious, though, that someone is out to drive Jenny away, or worse



The author has a way with description. The Laurelton Hall was a gorgeous place, decorated within an inch of its life, with multiple water features inside and out, stained glass windows everywhere, Art Nouveau trim, and stunning gardens around it. Rose paints this setting for us in glowing detail, as well as the wonderful clothing and jewelry the women wore. It almost made me cry that this building (it was real, as was the summer artist retreat) is gone and that these descriptions are the only way I have to see it. It’s a suspenseful story, and I enjoyed the characters. The story does have a very slow place, though, I think because of the focus on the descriptions. But I was quite willing to move slowly through the world of wealth and art in 1924! Four and a half stars.



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received a free e-copy of this book from Net Galley in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

My Patients and Other Animals: A Veterinarian’s Stories of Love, Loss, and Hope, by Suzanne Fincham-Gray. Spiegel & Grau, 2018






This is the memoir of a vet, but it’s not the jolly, feel-good type like James Herriot. It starts with her having to fire a gun at a pony’s forehead by way of euthanasia, as part of her veterinary training. Then she comes to the US to train more at a prestigious teaching clinic, meaning to go into research after attaining her license. But the exposure to the animals while training made her change her mind (she had never had a pet); she decided she wanted to work directly with dogs and cats instead. This, despite the intense hours, the pet owners who were sometimes not terribly agreeable, the sadness of losing a patient, and the basic lack of a life outside the clinic.



Once working for a regular clinic, she finds that it’s not like the university; in the ‘real’ world, there are a lot more financial constraints to deal with. She couldn’t just order up every test available, but had to work within the owner’s budget. She also finds that the staff isn’t ready to do everything she tells them to do the way the university interns did, and she manages to upset more than one technician- they never taught human relations in vet school.



But during these years, she gets her first pet- a senior cat- who is soon joined by a second one. She also meets the man who becomes her husband, who is a dog person. She learns the incredible bond that can form between people and their companion animals. While I felt that when she first started, she was lacking something, she describes as she becomes the complete animal person. I enjoyed the book a lot, even though it’s not a ‘warm fuzzy’ animal book. She’s an internal medicine specialist, so her cases are more complicated than the usual run of spay/neuter, worms, etc vet visits. Four stars.


The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review 

Neither of these things influenced my review 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Fairies of Sadieville, by Alex Bledsoe. Tor Books, 2018






When Justin’s beloved thesis advisor dies suddenly, it’s up to Justin to clear out his office- which is packed ceiling to floor with books, papers, tchotchkes, and boxes. One box proves to hold a short reel of ancient celluloid film. Curious, he takes it to a friend who works with such things, and they get to see what is on it. A woman sprouts wings and flies away- and the advisor has written on the reel “This is real”. So when Justin’s new advisor tells him that his proposed thesis is unacceptable to him, he decides to take a chance that researching the film will provide something unique enough to suit the advisor.



Some research tells Justin and his girlfriend, Veronica, that the film was shot in Appalachia, in a spot where an entire town disappeared instantaneously. They decide to head there to see what they can find. The tiny town of Needsville, the closest place to where Sadieville once stood, seems welcoming. A guide to where the film was shot is even provided to them.



The POV alternates between Justin & Veronica, and Sadieville before it vanished, so we get to know more than they do, but we still don’t know it all until their guide takes them to where the entrance to the Sadieville mine used to be. What they find there could not only change their lives, but the lives of everyone in Needsville.



When I requested this book, I didn’t realize that it was the end of a series of books about the Needsville area and the people there, the Tufa, but the story does manage to stand on its own. The author has managed to create a wonderful sense of place- the Appalachias have become a place I would love to see- and also a good sense of the Tufa as a people, despite not spending much time with any single one of them. I loved the combination of small town humanness mixed with Celtic fairie lore; the story presents a big question to the Tufa; do they want to stay in our world, or go back to fairie? What about their friends and lovers, and children? It’s a complex issue. Four and half stars.


The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received a copy of this book free from Net Galley in return for an unbiased review 

Neither of these things influenced my review.