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Mr. August "Literature lover" RSS Feed (Highland Park, IL)

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One Plus One: A Novel
One Plus One: A Novel
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Mixing up the Classes in a Superb Novel, August 21, 2014
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I must admit this is a “romantic” novel that caught my fancy. The writing is spot on and the characters are fascinating. If you are looking for a great page-turner that does not insult your intelligence, read this book.

The author gathers a group of misfits who have profound thoughts and talents. Money is the central issue, but it makes no claim on your class or station in this novel set in England.

If anyone out there has juggled bills, “robbed Peter to pay Paul,” you can identify with Jess Thomas. She is a young mother whose husband, Marty, has left her because he is depressed. He sends her no money and yet she is sympathetic to his plight and safeguards his old Rolls in the garage. She also is the best mother to Tanzie, a 10 year old maths prodigy and Nicky, her stepson whose affinity for eye makeup sets him up to be bullied by the Fisher family, their crude neighbors. Jess works multiple jobs cleaning homes and tending bar to make ends meet, which they never do. She is the eternal optimist, however.

Filling out the main cast is Ed Nicholls, a client of Jess, who is a software genius. He gets himself in trouble when he is accused of insider trading. This is the part of the book I really liked. Moyes takes on a sophisticated financial felony and presents it to the reader without making excuses. On one hand, the Thomas’ group, who are poor and living in government housing, is contrasted with rich Mr. Nicholls. He is a unique character, especially when he offers to drive them to Scotland for Tanzie to compete in a Math Olympiad. The long, long journey is riotous and the pluses and minuses as each misfit’s idiosyncrasies emerges.

There is resolute sadness in the story, from death to heartbreak. Ms. Moyes holds it all together and gives us a quirky novel, which is thoughtful and cheery.

The Good Girl
The Good Girl
Price: $9.46

4.0 out of 5 stars First Class Emotional Entanglements and a Crime, August 14, 2014
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This review is from: The Good Girl (Kindle Edition)
When the reader has the opportunity to get inside the mind of the criminals, the rationalization of a killing, kidnapping or bank robbery, for example, creates a more plausible story. It gives the character some soul or harnesses itself to pure evil.

In this debut novel, Mary Kubica exposes some of her characters’ flaws and intents by presenting the book in short chapters alternating from the point of view of Gabe Hoffman, the detective, Eve, the mother, and Colin Thatcher, the criminal. I would recommend the book based on the string of events and the one isolated setting. Colin abducts Mia Dennett with the end game to deliver her to Delmar, a big-time thug, who will extort money from her famous father and possibly kill her.

Kubica takes us quickly into Colin’s mind and his desperate thoughts during and after the abduction. His volatile reaction and decisions open up to the nuances of the novel. Mia, the captive, is sequestered with Colin in a squalor cabin in Minnesota, hiding out. Colin has no definite goal in life except to care for his sick mother, Kathryn. He has the typical deprived childhood, which becomes rather stereotyped. The living arrangements and the day-to-day boredom and bone-chilling cold in the cabin juxtapose the stark coldness of the crime. Their time in that cabin seemed endless and was sometimes as monotonous as their chicken noodle soup.

Mia’s family consists of her beautiful, guilt-ridden mother, Eve, her spoiled, favored sister, Grace, and the husband and father, James, the prominent judge. James’ responses to Mia, Gabe and Eve are rather haughty and pretentious and often clichéd.

The reader is aware from the beginning of the novel of survival and the wretched debate of nature versus nurture. There is a twist at the end, which I did expect; there had to be a final piece to have enticed the reader to the very end. Kubica worked her main characters into an overt manic struggle, except for James and then Grace becomes a non-entity.

This novel is inspiring for a debut. Her literary technique moving us from before and after the crime with Eve, Colin and Gabe and finally Mia, is difficult and she does an admirable job. The novel did not have the sophistication of Gone Girl but this is a worthy first novel.

A Circle of Wives
A Circle of Wives
by Alice LaPlante
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.30
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4.0 out of 5 stars How Well Do You Know Your Spouse? 4.5 stars, August 9, 2014
This review is from: A Circle of Wives (Hardcover)
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In someone else’s literary hands, this novel may have been a shallow chick-lit summer read. Not so with the talent of Alice LaPlante. She guides us through the lives of John Taylor, M.D. and his brilliant plastic surgical career and his other “vocation” as a bigamist condoned by his legal wife, Deborah.

The book starts out with the sudden death of this prominent surgeon, who is dedicated to performing surgery on children with defects; he is not a cosmetic or vanity doctor, which is contrary to his medical partners.

John tells his society wife that he must have love. No surprise to the reader, Deborah is adamant about not losing her prestige, money and social position. The couple has three children, who are really brushed aside by the author. We needed to know more about them. Dr. Taylor’s ability to juggle his busy practice and three marriages is orchestrated by Deborah who not only tolerates these love nests; she is the supervisor of all trysts that are in John’s schedule.

Deborah condones her husband’s duplicity by approving of two other “non-legal” marriages. The other wives believe they are legally married to this unusual man; M.J. has a 6 year marriage to John, she is a bookkeeper with a damaged background, including her loser brother, Thomas. She is nothing if not loyal. The most interesting of the three wives is Dr. Helen Richter, also a medical doctor, who practices pediatric oncology, so heartbreaking and infrequently successful. She is the most complex, her moods changing with a hidden anger beneath a challenging career and love life. She is only married to six months when John is found dead of a heart attack in a hotel room.

Enter Samantha Adams, a detective in her late 20’s, a law-school drop out who is determined to solve this possible murder. LaPlante created distinct characters who combine tortured emotions with their need for seduction and a mainstream lifestyle. The narrative is filled with singular persons who function in this book about fakes. Fake marriages, plastic surgery, and provocative relationships keep the novel moving. The finale was a bit weak, but I discounted it all as I wondered why John Taylor, M.D. seemed to try and be the man each woman needed. I kept wondering about his unfulfilled artistic achievements that simmered inside of him. Where does all that fit in?

The Liar's Wife: Four Novellas
The Liar's Wife: Four Novellas
by Mary Gordon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.68
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perceptive, Enchanting Revelations, July 31, 2014
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There are four novellas in The Liar's Wife, great title of the book and the first novella. Novellas have always interested me. Why aren't they short stories or novelettes? It seems that a novella has up to 70,000 words; short stories are usually 7500 words. The novella allows for more characterization and some action as opposed to the short story that is compacted and usually champions its theme in a tight setting and abbreviated plot.

I have always admired Mary Gordon. She has a questioning mind, which is reflected, in her characters. Much of her work touches on Catholicism. These four novellas bring in some Jewish introspection as well.

In this rather intellectual compilation, Ms. Gordon presented us with worthy characters. "Liar's Wife," is the best of the four, Jocelyn, her ex-husband from 50 years earlier visits a wealthy, married woman in her inherited home in New Canaan, Connecticut. He is an Irishman and he has driven up in in his commercial truck and parked in this tony neighborhood. This surprise visit, he has also brought his current female partner, triggers vivid memories of when she lived in Ireland and discovered he was not what he seemed to be. His compounded lies became the catalyst for her to return to America and safety. She is a worrier by nature, and is vulnerable to the slightest fear. Her present husband is Jewish and they have three homes, her ex-husband has a truck. The story's theme is solid and there is passion beneath the surface.

The three other novellas involve Simone Weil (a real person), a French philosopher in New York, in 1942. Her former student, Genevieve, married to a Jew also, becomes confused as she meets up with her teacher who now is sacrificial and a producer of schemes.

Fine Arts is more sexual, with a graduate student, climbing the scholarly ladder by sleeping with the married mentor. And Thomas Mann in New York reflects on the now 90 year old man who tells us about his introduction of Mr. Mann at a lecture in 1939.

I liked these novellas better than some of her recent novels. She seemed to question subtleties and passion in sometimes volatile settings. Highly recommended.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Setting a New Standard and a 5 Year Warranty, July 26, 2014
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My dad was in the lighting business his whole business life. I remember when he traveled to college and lighting shows, coming back with new innovations. He told me that the present day bulb would evolve into something else.

He sold many lamps, especially the old gooseneck desk lamp, and talked about the need for more controlled and longer-lasting lighting. Because of my upbringing, I am aware of lighting when I enter a room, restaurant, auditorium, etc.

So I know he would have understood the features of this bulb and its applications. We used this bulb for an art deco table lamp that draws attention. The bulb was easy to screw into the socket. We instantly were impressed with its warm glow, enhancing the details of the lamp as we used the dimmer. I am impressed. We had an old dimmer switch and the Bulbrite bulb adapted to this switch smoothly.

The base of the bulb is quite different than the fluorescents and not that I know the details of its development, but I would imagine that the engineering is first-rate. I did look up the company and discovered the president has won several lighting awards. This appears to be a well-tested product.

The box contained the usual information including 800 lumens, energy cost of $1.32 per year and providing the definitive information that it replaces the 60W incandescent.

Lucky Us: A Novel
Lucky Us: A Novel
by Amy Bloom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.60
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You Can Fake Pretty”, July 21, 2014
This review is from: Lucky Us: A Novel (Hardcover)
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This meaningful phrase was stated by Clara Wiilams, a black cabaret singer, who suffers from vitiligo, a skin depigmentation. Her skin looks white, often mottled, but she is a black woman who captures the heart of an older white man.

The story opens with Hazel telling her daughter, Eva, our narrator, that her father’s wife has died and they should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for them. What happens when they arrive at this house of mourning shocked me but it is an exceptional opening event to this novel. Hazel abandons Eva, leaving her well-worn suitcase on the front porch and then takes off.

This is 1939 and Eva is 12 years old; she now becomes the younger sister of beautiful and outspoken, Iris, and lives with her father, Edgar Acton, a college professor. Despite the differences between Eva, who is bookish and plain, and Iris, who is saving her pennies for Hollywood and Vine, they get along. Iris does not seem to resent her, but Iris’ agenda is so far-reaching, they are thrown into a peculiar world. They run away and Ms. Bloom provides fabulous scenes from lesbian Hollywood parties, Hedda Hopper to tenement living with a motherly landlord. Iris is not street smart enough to outlast the Hollywood competition.

The family needs to reinvent themselves and Edgar enters the picture, broke and in need of a job, even though he stole the girls’ meager savings before they left. They drive to Great Neck, New York and Edgar is hired as a butler (he practices on the trip) and the Torellis accept the entire family and move into a home on their property. Life becomes somewhat normal until Iris falls obsessively in love with Reenie, the married female cook.

The author creates secondary characters that are not squandered. There is Francisco, a make-up artist, his sisters, Gus, Reenie’s husband and Danny, the child Eva and Iris stole from a Jewish orphanage. Life moves as one incredible event fade into another. For example, Gus is of German descent and someone reports him as a German spy and he becomes a prisoner in our country, similar to the Japanese. He flees America and moves to Germany, where life is somewhat worse. All of this is recorded in letters he sends to Eva, who is now a full-fledged teenager.

Bloom’s historical expertise is woven into the story during and after the war. She doesn’t miss a trick, whether it’s Jewish influx and housing or the government buffoonery. Each character is singular. Edgar, who is really Isador Vogel, has questionable credentials. Reenie’s fate is a shock. The entire cast is strong and meaningful. There was some of the earlier John Irving with her diverse characters placed in loony situations.

Falling in love shape their lives. Falling out of love is often a devastating blow but there maybe some luck around the corner. Bloom has them move on, whether it’s mopping up the floor or creating a phony transcript to get into medical school. Highly recommended.

Not My Father's Son: A Memoir
Not My Father's Son: A Memoir
by Alan Cumming
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.88

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual and Provocative Memoir, July 12, 2014
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I didn't know what to expect before reading a chronicle of this famous Scottish actor. He is a talented professional with kudos from the stage, screen and television. Now, he can add his writing skill to his credits.

From page one, I was impressed with his writing style and the emotional impact broadcasted throughout the book. He is a demonstrative man who moves the reader back and forth from his childhood to a 2010 reality show. It is a clever technique allowing him to unveil his abusive life as a young boy in Scotland to a super talented performer. He is not a braggadocio; we don't hear tales of how wonderful he is. When we learn of his brutish father, it would be a natural assumption that he went into acting to validate and lose himself. Not so. He just loves to act and he can champion many diverse roles.

Alan's "father" is impossible to accept as a decent man. Cruel to both his sons, he freely gives out physical and emotional punishment. Alan's fear of the next paternal onslaught is palpable. The man should have been in jail. We do not find out why his mother allowed it to happen most of the time. I don't accept the reasoning but Alan puts his mother, Mary Darling, on a pedestal. She was a sharp observer to her sons' agonies.

In the throes of the TV show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" Alan is committed to uncovering his family's past, specifically his maternal grandfather. There are mysteries to disclose and Alan is affected with overwhelming emotions. Moreover, Alex tells his brother, Tom a startling revelation, divulging a life-changing paternity admission. This information catapults Alan into a tailspin and believes he has the answer to his father's cruelty. But yet, the man was an equally opportunity abuser, handing out his mistreatment to both sons. We live in the world of DNA now, which can provide many answers and some solutions.

Alan Cumming does not seem to possess the egos of many actors. He is self-effacing and is devoted to his family and friends. His range of acting is remarkable. If you want to read a highly emotionally charged memoir, this will book will be the one for the year. The Scottish landscape and Alan's childhood home is a bonus.

All Fall Down: A Novel
All Fall Down: A Novel
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $10.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plunging Into Hell, July 6, 2014
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Jennifer Weiner is my wisecracking girlfriend who really is smart. She may seem superficial at times but she knows the score and is a big cheerleader for women. She does not take their problems lightly and, at the same time, she can punish them for their lack of confidence or ability to discern the problem.

Here we have Allison Weiss, a Jewish girl, from the East, who wrangles with herself over almost every little thing. She is an only child who has an only child, Eloise, aka Ellie, who is annoying. This 5 year old screams out certain words as Allison insists on placating her. Why? Guilt that she is not a good enough mother or making up for what she lacked by her own mother?

The gist of the story, centering on addiction, is her overwhelming responsibility for raising her daughter, acting as cheerleader for women, and serving as the breadwinner. Her husband, Dave, is not moving up the corporate and/or publishing ladder and becomes a poor provider. Instead of helping his wife, his silence and disapproval seems to rain on Allison's sensibilities. She becomes a controversial blog writer and her talent helps maintain their lifestyle. As an only child, she is responsible for her wonderful father who is plummeting into dementia and her mother who, she believes, has led a charmed life as she kept her distance from Allison.

Weiner's vivid description of the ascent into pill addiction peppered with alcohol is fascinating. She gets into her soul and the reader can feel the craving and the deadly inability to stop. The addict will do anything for the next pill or the next fix, just to feel somewhat normal. Forgot about the highs, Weiner brings Allison to "rock" bottom.

Weiner helped me understand addiction and the description of the treacherous withdrawal is the best I have read. The author takes us to a rehab clinic that houses a heterogeneous group of patients, who have terrible lives and deadly demons. Her husband drives her to this mediocre place, with an air of coldness and loathing.

Allison moves through the stages of addiction, denial and withdrawal with clarity and intelligence despite her horrific dependence. There are a few twists in the characterizations, which made sense. Some parts of the novel were tedious and became encumbered and repetitive. Addicts repeat their transgressions and Weiner, at times, reprises the same scenes too many times. Her levels of blame and agonies were introduced in replicated venues and scenes.

Weiner drew me into the characters; I did not have to like them, but she made sure I understood Allison Weiss. I wish I had a better grasp on her husband's thoughts and wonder if he had any guilt. I did learn enough about drugs for a lifetime.

Guerlain Abeille Royale Intense Restoring Lift Nourishing Day Cream for Women, 1.6 Ounce
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Offered by Club Distributors
Price: $104.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars Equal in Quality to Many Nourishing Creams, July 2, 2014
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I am a big fan and user of Guerlain. This is an expensive cream and it does not make my skin feel greasy or overly hydrated. However, I don't believe it is any better than more inexpensive moisturizers that promise restorative results. I haven't noticed a visible difference in my skin since using it. However, I am pleased with the quality and although, it is rather high-priced, it is not in the $300 or $400 per jar category!

The Arsonist: A novel
The Arsonist: A novel
by Sue Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.20
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Candid View of Family Crisis In a Meandering Plot, June 26, 2014
This review is from: The Arsonist: A novel (Hardcover)
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Frankie (Francesca) Rowley returns to the United States after 15 years establishing sites in Africa as an aid worker. She is semi-heartbroken and burned out and retreats to her family's summer home in Pomeroy, New Hampshire. Her parents, retired academics, have converted their summer home to a year round residence as they become one of the town people rather than the summer people.

Sue Miller's primary cast is the immediate family with Frankie, her mother, Sylvia and her father, Alfie. As the three of them are grappling with their reunion, the town explodes with at least six fires, which are not accidental, but arson. Frankie, now her in her 40's, meets Bud Jacobs, the new owner of Pomeroy's newspaper and former dynamic D.C. political journalist, twice-divorced and setting down new roots in this small town. He is a wonderful secondary character, he is smart, thoughtful and cares about people. The sexual scenes are filled with passion and nuance. There seems to be instant and realistic attraction, but Frankie has not decided what she wants to do with the rest of her life. Ho-hum.

The mystery of the fires initiates a lack-luster investigation and one of the least exciting detective stories. However, the gist of the story is Sylvia and Alfie's marriage. Sylvia is inwardly dissatisfied with her marriage; she no longer loves Alfie, even as he is plummeting into Alzheimer's. When we meet him, he is in the early stages and his lucid moments apparently bring him recognition of his doomed failings. Alfie's deterioration provides the crux of the story as any spouse or caretaker can identify with Sylvia's, anger, solicitousness, solitude and the ultimate worry about money. Sylvia's myriad of emotions provides a solid basis of the novel. Her guilt and anger are front and center.

So this non-idyllic retirement evolves into helplessness and bird's eye view of Alfie vanishing into dementia. Ms. Miller's writing is excellent; I am a fan of her talent to tell us about family imbalance and foreboding.

Despite Miller's excellent grasp of identity issues, the plot does not provide the same depth of fascination. Frankie's floundering about her future endeavors, despite the ultra-sexual and exciting relationship with Bud, becomes unsettling. The denouement regarding the arson is anti-climatic. Read this novel for Miller's insight into midlife crises, she is at the top of her form. When I wrote my review of The Senator's Wife a few years ago, I encouraged the reader to stay with it, keep reading. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for this book. The mystery fails to "ignite," but Miller captures the complications of another family in a disaster.

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