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Aaron C. Brown RSS Feed (New York, New York United States)

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The Reason: It's About More Than Just the Money
The Reason: It's About More Than Just the Money
by Quentin Brent
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.58
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Strong plot and good actions scenes aren't enough to make this a readable thriller, November 29, 2015
The strength of this book is its intricate plot. Its main weakness is complete reliance on simple declarative sentences and wooden dialog. The lists of facts get monotonous. It's made worse because they are not even strung together in coherent paragraphs, they're just information piled on information, with the reader having to fill in the connections. For example:

"No matter how mad he was with her, he'd always returned her calls and messages. She'd only ever been with one man--Zane. Growing up, Tina had lived a sheltered life."

The story is told from multiple perspectives and jumps around in time over many years. All of the major characters are hiding important information from both the reader and each other, and loyalties and alliances are constantly shifting. This would put great demands on the reader to keep straight even if the writing style made it easy. As it is, you have to take notes to make any sense of events. If the author could embed the same information in graceful stories, showing you what the characters are like and what they are thinking instead of telling you, it keeping track of things would be effortless. Remembering logical stories is easy, retaining lists of semi-related facts is hard.

The author's addiction to telling, not showing, makes it impossible to communicate subtleties like character development or feeling. The characters have to resort to extreme behavior or unrealistic language to show they have any emotion at all. For example, a key scene that is supposed to define one major character reads:

"The sweat formed by the hot day was mixing with the blood on Tec's camouflage khakis, creating a stench that matched the violence that created it."

That declarative sentence is certainly graphic but even if the reader is familiar with the smell of blood mixed with sweat (I'm not, personally) it doesn't do much to help us understand why Tec engages in apparently senseless but intense violence. Or a moment of silence is explained by:

"Being wanted for multiple murders and conspiring to commit terrorist acts never made for entertaining chitchat."

Here the author substitutes wild overstatement for anything insightful about his characters. In a different book, this might be an attempt to be funny, but there is no trace of humor in this story.

There is no normal dialog that could help shape impressions either. Each conversation appears to be a one-up contest filled with either obscure threats or sexual innuendo. These are often extensively annotated by the author, who does not trust the reader to understand the words he puts in his character's mouths. A lot of other information is repeated as well.

The one thing the crude style is good for is action scenes. There are plenty of them in this book, and they are very good. The one objection I have is the aftermath of violence is not realistic, characters absorb serious injuries and shake them off on the same page. No one is ever permanently injured (plenty of people are killed, which I guess is permanent), traumatized or even afraid of the pain.

The complicated plot begins with a standard black ops story in which the supertough killers discover they are despised pawns in a game played hopelessly entangled good guys and bad guys. The author tosses in an unusual element in that the characters do not bind together against the duplicitous higher-ups, they try to outscheme each other and the puppetmasters. Then there are two clever, if not very credible, financial subplots. One of them involves a complicated microeconomic scheme with insurance, bankruptcies and corporate takeovers. The macroeconomic aspect ascribes a darker motive to quantitative easing than even skeptical economists have imagined.

The author is clearly very talented. The story is inventive and original, the characters could be interesting if we got to know them better. The action scenes, often the weakest parts of thrillers, are top-notch. But the style that describes fights, chases and explosions is too clumsy for people and feelings; and in any event quickly becomes a chore to read.

Murder by Matchlight (Dover Mystery Classics)
Murder by Matchlight (Dover Mystery Classics)
by E. C. R. Lorac
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.95
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2.0 out of 5 stars Colorful characters but a weak mystery, November 27, 2015
Edith Rivett, who wrote this book under the pseudonym E. C. R. Lorac was a prolific mystery author in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. She has a highly artificial style. Each book opens with a wildly melodramatic murder. There is an inventive but improbable investigation by police (usually as in this one by Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald assisted by Detective Inspector Reeves). The reader is treated to obviously telegraphed clues, which are often repeated for emphasis. The murderer is captured or killed, and someone explains the overelaborate plot to one of the slower characters.

The best parts of the books are the colorful, if not very credible, cast of characters. This one includes a sharp-tongued octogenarian housekeeper, a fussy historical expert, an extroverted antiques dealer, a charming rogue actor, a talented illusionist couple and many others. Even some of the minor characters are memorable.

The mysteries are usually unsatisfying. The spectacular features which make the crimes unusual or puzzling seldom figure into the conclusion. In this one, as in many of her books, they are entirely unexplained. She will often invent information for her solution that was not given to the reader, in this one she pulls out a fictitious scientific fact. Her solutions often have holes, this one requires the reader to accept a number of extremely improbable coincidences, on top of the psychotically overcomplicated murder plot. In fact, this actually follows the conventions of a manor house mystery, in which the isolated house limits the pool of suspects to a small, well-defined group. However the mystery is set in the middle of London, so there is no reason to concentrate on the small group.

The story is set in London, in November 1944. Surprisingly for a book published in 1945 it gets a lot of facts wrong. For example, by November 1944 only rockets were falling on London, the air raids described in the book ended in May 1941 (there were some air raids from January to May 1944, but they did not achieve the level of devastation described in the book). The book does describe accurately the difficulty of navigating in blacked-out London, but not the strict rationing. The police procedure is entirely fictional. Whenever a scene requires details about London at the time, the author skips quickly over it with generalities. Edith Rivett was evacuated from London for the war, and presumably relied upon some dated and incomplete second-hand reports.

Today this book has mainly historical interest, but some readers may find it worthwhile for the parade of characters.

Murder on the Last Frontier (A Charlotte Brody Mystery)
Murder on the Last Frontier (A Charlotte Brody Mystery)
by Cathy Pegau
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.06
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2.0 out of 5 stars Mild mystery/romance/historical travelogue undercut by some graphic violence, November 24, 2015
The heroine of this barely-there mystery, Charlotte Brody, is more Nancy Drew than Carrie Cashin (for younger readers, make that more Maddie Hayes than V. I. Warshawski. Yes, there is a murder on the last last frontier, and some serious other crimes including blackmail and arson, but they take up only a small part of the plot and there is negligible detection. There's a bit more interest in romance and scenery, but not enough to get the plot out of second gear. The strongest theme in the book is a modern take on suffragette/prohibition social politics circa 1920. Unfortunately, it's not very authentic or incisive, and the issues are not very germane to 1919 Alaska anyway.

Although the book is slow, predictable and light on content, it is pleasantly written. There are a variety of characters who have some appeal, but they're pretty thin and do not develop. What brought this down from three stars to two, in my opinion, is some gratuitous intense violence that is out of place in this kind of story. The violence will not shock readers of more serious mysteries but it kills the light mood necessary to enjoy the book.

Gold!: The Story of the 1848 Gold Rush and How It Shaped a Nation
Gold!: The Story of the 1848 Gold Rush and How It Shaped a Nation
Price: $9.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How the 49ers changed US history, November 22, 2015
Unlike other gold rushes in world history, the California 49ers rushed to a place filled with tremendous economic opportunity beyond mining. Moreover it occurred shortly after the Mexican-American War in which the United States obtained New Mexico and California from Mexico, and at the beginning of the "manifest destiny" phase of US westward expansion. For these reasons, the California Gold Rush transformed the country in the decade before the Civil War.

This book tells that story in a series of vignettes about a few key individuals in the Gold Rush, plus a lot of less key folks who were famous for other reasons, like Robert James (father of Frank and Jesse), James Reed (leader of the cannablistic Donner party) and Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon Church). This gives considerable insight into the effect of the Gold Rush on the entire country, but means there is limited space for discussing the actual discovery, mining and aftermath.

The story is surprisingly tame given how colorful the material is and the author's skill with sensational material in most of his other books. It's a pleasant and informative history, but it will not keep you at the edge of your seat. It also gives little feel for what life was actually like at the time. The place descriptions are detailed and vibrant, and there is a lot of primary material quoted from letters and newspapers, but the book does not take the reader back in time. If you ignore the giant one-word title with exclamation point and look only at the subtitle, you'll get a better idea of what the book is like.

Overall, this is an competent journalistic account of the 49ers and their place in US history that is mildly entertaining rather than thrilling or incisive.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street: The String Of Pearls
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street: The String Of Pearls
by Thomas Peckett Prest
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.58
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3.0 out of 5 stars Third-rate formulaic and melodramatic novel that casts a fascinating light on early Victorian London street life, November 21, 2015
Rated as a novel, this would be two stars. The story makes little sense and the writing is energetic but unskilled. In fact, it's more comparable to a season of a television series than a conventional novel. Each part advances the overall plot a short ways, but also includes a stand-alone story plus a two-part subplot that ends on a cliff-hanger that is resolved at the beginning of the next part.

No doubt this format was adopted for the same reason it appealed to television writers. You can read one part for enjoyment even if you haven't kept up with the overall story, once you read one part you have an incentive to get the next, and once you've read a few parts you can get hooked on the entire narrative. Although this makes eminent economic sense, it does not lend itself to good literature. Even a great writer like Charles Dickens struggled with the format, and his middle and upper class readers did not demand as strict adherence to it as the publishers of penny dreadfuls for urban street youths.

Modern scholarship assigns the authorship of this book to two writers who alternated installments. That may be correct, but there are five distinct styles. Some of the chapters are so loosely related to the story that I suspect they were written for other series--or perhaps written to hold in reserve when writers failed to come up with a scheduled installment on time--with a few details pasted in for this story. The original main story gets forgotten until the last installment, as the creators discovered their demon barber subplot had more possibilities than their missing-lover-foreign-adventure one. Some of the subplots are entirely tangential to the story, one involves only an overheard conversation, and more than a few of them are left unresolved.

We know that both this book in particular, and early penny dreadfuls in general, were used in "penny gaffs," informal plays with one-penny admissions. For that purpose the book has some standalone comedy and thriller scenes. The audience for penny dreadfuls and penny gaffs in this period were young males in London working as street peddlers, messengers and similar non-industrial, low-skill occupations. They would spend most of their time in public, with likely an informal or crowded communal space to sleep and perhaps store a few possessions.

The book is notable for its deep contempt for religion, aristocracy, industrialism, professions and middle-class life. Some of the themes are stolen from Dickens. The villain Sweeney Todd is deeply villainous, of course, but also brave, resourceful, clever and strong. The only character who is both virtuous and effective is a magistrate, perhaps modeled on Henry Fielding and the Bow Street Runners, and he and his crew make a brief and late appearance. You might also list Hector the dog in this category, but he gets forgotten, along with several other characters.

There are a number of powerful allegory scenes and some extended meditations on social issues. These are the best-written parts of the book but they do nothing to advance the plot or develop the characters. To give an idea of how thoroughly the authors mash up their plot I have to include some mild spoilers. However, although this is the nominal main plot of the novel, it gets very little attention, and is probably too confused to spoil. Nevertheless, if you want to avoid spoilers, skip the next paragraph.

Mark Ingestrie is the nephew of a lawyer, being trained in law, but restless. He gets an opportunity to leave the country on a gold mining expedition with his expenses paid by a mysterious patron. On the way to the mine, his ship founders, and he gives another man an incredibly valuable string of pearls to return to his lover Johanna. Several characters ask why Ingestrie would give the pearls to another person on the same ship, who presumably has an equal chance as Ingestrie of surviving the shipwreck. This question is never answered. When we learn that Ingestrie announced his intention to change his name on the voyage and the new guy with the pearls looks exactly like Ingestrie, we either have an allegorical portion of the story or preparation for an identity switch, but nothing comes of this. Anyway the new guy with the pearls gets picked up by another ship, where he falls in love with another male passenger. When the happy couple gets back to London, we learn that the pearls belonged to Queen Victoria, who loaned them to another aristocrat who was in some kind of trouble--presumably Ingestrie's mysterious patron, although why that guy gave them to Ingestrie to take on a dangerous mining venture is never explained, nor why Ingestrie feels he can give them to Johanna. When Ingestrie gets back to London (yes, he survives too, although how is never explained) he see Johanna talking to a man in a park and instantly decides she has been faithless. He does not return to his mysterious patron, or his uncle, or any other friend or relative, nor does he get a job, he simply wanders until his clothes are in rags and he is near starvation. After a harrowing adventure he sees Johanna again and forgets that he had given up on her.

Overall, this is an amusingly over-the-top melodrama with a few good passages that do not add up in any way to a novel, or even a coherent narrative. It sheds some light on Dickens, and early Victorian London street life, and a kind of proto-socialist/anarchist urban ideology, and of course, the modern version of the Sweeney Todd tale.

Ocean Park
Ocean Park
by Michael Walsh
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Some great elements, but not a satisfying mystery, November 19, 2015
This review is from: Ocean Park (Paperback)
While there's a lot to like in this book, it needs a lot of work to be a first-rate mystery. The virtues are the beautifully evoked sense of place, the poetic descriptions, a complex, layered story and an impressionistic light touch.

One problem is the book is a throwback to the 1970s, and 70s stereotypes of ethnic gangs. Although people carry mobile phones in the book, they never use them nor their cameras, nor GPS, nor the Internet nor social media, nor body or security cameras, nor modern alarms. None of the technology used in the book was introduced in the last 50 years. The crime rate is a 70s paranoid fantasy. The story involves more stranger murders in a couple of months in one small town in Massachusetts than there were in the entire state last year. It is set in a town that could be Gloucester Massachusetts, which has not has a homicide of any sort this millennium, and no robberies last year, and only two stolen cars reported. Violent ethnic teenage gangs clash over drug distribution networks like in a 70s blaxploitation movie; and the Southeast Asian immigrants have recently arrived in numbers not seen since the late 70s. The police characters would all be at home in a 70s police novel: the miserable alcoholic cop, the female cop who spends much of the story dressing up as a hooker for undercover work, the cop whose ambitious wife cheats on him, the Catholic cop with murky ties to the church, the black cop with the storybook middle-class family, the crooked cop; plus non-police characters like the crooked Congressman, the violent bikers and the virtuous vigilante veteran.

Another problem is this is a police procedural that gets police procedure all wrong. The crimes are not investigated, the characters stomp around and things happen. It's never clearly exactly what crimes they are trying to solve, or why, and least of all how they are trying to do it. Although all the true corruption is within the system--the good guys are as isolated as The Untouchables--both good and bad cops commit outrageous and egregious civil rights violations against the almost entirely innocent populace.

The author seems to intend an impressionistic tale with lots of loose ends and connections the reader has to infer. He does that well, but neglects to frame things. Even an impressionistic book needs a beginning and an end, as well as narrative energy and character development; at least if it wants to succeed as a popular mystery rather than high art that no one reads for pleasure.

Overall I would recommend this book only for mystery fans who value originality and talent over a well-crafted tale. I think this author may turn out first-rate popular novels some day, but not today.

America Is Not Broke
America Is Not Broke
by Scott Baker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nearly unreadable book on an important topic, November 16, 2015
This review is from: America Is Not Broke (Hardcover)
Although I am directionally sympathetic to the ideas expressed in this book, I found it to be nearly unreadable. The problem is the author has not actually written a book, he has instead pasted together a collection of articles written over several years for different audiences, heavily edited transcriptions of conversations he's had with various friends, email correspondences and other scraps of writing. Instead of a clear exposition in a rational order, the reader gets multiple overlapping and repetitious accounts that never quite define the question under discussion, nor come to a discernible conclusion.

An even worse flaw is the author jumps right into detailed arguments about minutiae rather than explaining the main points. For example, the book opens with an argument for eliminating or ignoring limits on the Federal government's ability to issue currency without debt. The entire discussion consists of extensive quotations about technical matters of law and historical practice. Surely the important point is whether replacing debt with unrestricted currency issuance is a good idea or not. If it is, then we can consider what steps, if any, need to be taken to make it legal (and those should be in a book written by someone who knows something about law, aimed at lawyers and other specialists). If it isn't a good idea, then we don't need to worry about how to make it legal.

The author claims his book details five major ideas. One of the five (repatriating offshore corporate profits) is neglected entirely. The discussions of the other four all cover minor side issues only, and are all done in an inconclusive debate format in which the author quotes extensively from hair-splitting arguments made by other people, claims he doesn't agree but never quite explains why, and then moves on to the next topic.

For example the section on monetizing government assets is entirely concerned with an argument about the total value of government assets, and none of the people he quotes seem to know much about that. As with the issue of divorcing currency from debt, the important point here is whether it is a good idea to replace taxes with either selling or generating additional income from government assets. If it is a good idea, then it's worth asking how much money we can hope to raise this way. If it's not a good idea, then the capacity doesn't matter. Moreover if we do want to know the capacity, it would make sense to start with official accounts and explain what adjustments should be made; and that book should be written by an economist specializing in this matter, to be read by other economists.

At least the parts of the book mentioned above relate to the stated topics. About half the book does not even do that. For example, there is a section on the ten worst CEOs, and another section on the legality of Detroit's bankruptcy filing. The author does not appear to know much about these topics, the sections could be cut-and-pasted from ranting blogs. But the bigger problem is they don't have anything to do with how to fund government. They seem to be included as generic populist red meat to stir up emotion and distract from the missing logic relating to the main points.

The biggest problem is an incorrect framing of the problem. Contrary to the author's repeated claim, no one says America is broke. The Federal Reserve accounts show a net worth of $130 trillion, and that number excludes some important items. What people do say is that the government has promised more money than it can reasonably be expected to raise through taxation or borrowing. The "fiscal gap," the present value of government promises (including pensions, social security, medicare, loan guarantees and so forth) and estimated expenditure minus projected tax revenue, could be $210 trillion (there is wide disagreement about that value as it depends on a lot of hard-to-forecast items).

To put that on a per capita basis so the numbers are easier to comprehend, America is like a guy with $400,000 in the bank, who has plans to spend $650,000 more than he earns over his lifetime, including money set aside for his retirement, money promised to his kids for college, money promised to support his aged parents and so forth. No one would say this guy is broke, but he does need to make some choices today, or he will be broke at some point in the future. He can try to earn more, spend less, renege on promises or expropriate assets currently owned by others.

The author's appealing solution is to spend more and increase promises like social security; earning more painlessly due to increased economic productivity from the increased spending; and to cover the shortfall by expropriating all the land, natural resources and natural monopolies in the economy (including Facebook, for example).

This dramatic solution raises obvious questions. Could it work? Is it fair? Is it wise? How could it be implemented? None of these questions are answered in this book, but the reader has to wade through a lot of dense pages to figure that out.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2015 12:49 PM PST

MIKE Force: A Novel of Vietnam's Central Highlands War
MIKE Force: A Novel of Vietnam's Central Highlands War
Price: $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An old-fashioned war novel and a fascinating slice of history, November 9, 2015
The Vietnam War was pretty complicated in general, but the MIKE Force (Mobile Strike Force Command) in the central highlands (a mountainous region in west central Vietnam that bidders on Laos and Cambodia) was absurdly complicated. US Special Forces plus Australian Army Training Team personnel organized and trained indigenous forces from the Degar, Bahnar, Hmong, Nung, Jarai, Khmer Krom and Montagnards ethnic groups to fight under US Army command, and later under the South Vietnamese army. It was a country wide mobile strike force battling the Viet Minh, Viet Cong, and the North Vietnamese army. Each of its constituent groups had ancient alliances and grievances with the other groups, with lowland Vietnamese of various stripes and with French, Dutch, Japanese, British and Americans who passed through.

This novel does not shy away from the complexity, it faithfully chronicles the often divided and conflicting loyalties of its many characters. Moreover, there are a lot of major characters, each with his (in a few cases her) own history and ambitions. Yet it is an old-fashioned war novel in that these complexities never make the entire war seem insane or irrelevant. It is not politics or goals that are meaningful, it's what happens on the battlefield; the point is not who holds what territory, but the effect on the men who fight (plus a few key support personnel). This is Band of Brothers meets Beau Geste, not Catch-22.

I know of only two other accounts of Mike Force, despite its obvious dramatic possibilities: a memoir by Lewis Burress and a bad Tom Selkeck made-for-TV movie. This book is clearly better than both in terms of accuracy and story-telling. The writing is journalistic, not embroidered, and it conveys both the complex facts as experienced by combat officers, and the feel of the place. On the negative side, it is a long book that would be easier to get through if the writing were more stylish and the focus a bit broader. And the author is not quite up to the task of guiding the reader through all the complexity, you may need to refer to maps and take notes to keep it all straight.

I recommend this book as an enjoyable story that teaches some neglected history. It could be easier or more fun to read, and it doesn't break any new ground in understanding war, but it is realistic, action-packed and serious.

The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace
The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace
by Eric Rauchway
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.17
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining stories, staggeringly unsupported conclusions, November 8, 2015
The Money Makers is a well-written, entertaining history of economic and war policies of Franklin Roosevelt's administration. The author combines telling detail with broad context, keeping things simple enough for a coherent story, but complex enough to capture important interactions. It is basic enough to be read without previous knowledge, but even most people familiar with the period will learn a lot of important new detail.

However the author aspires to do more than tell the story, he wants to argue that Keynes was right and Roosevelt was wise and effective, and that we should accept Keynes' ideas today, and apply Roosevelt's methods. This is incredibly ambitious. There is enormous disagreement about the causes of the Great Depression and WWII, about Keynes' influence on ideas and policies, about Roosevelt was trying to do and how those attempts influenced events compared to what another President might have done and about how US policies affected events. And even if all those things were settled, there would be disputes about how to apply those lessons today.

This book tackles the enormous task of defending its thesis by ignoring it. Issues are discussed only in terms of how they were understood at the time. There is no account of retrospective analysis, or insight from comparisons with other places and times, or advances in theoretical understanding. No competing perspectives are addressed in any serious way. As best I can tell, the author's argument is that he can imagine worse states of the world in 1945 than actually occurred, so we should emulate Keynes and Roosevelt today.

Based on the author's previous work, my guess is he is a good historian and writer, who wanted to do a serious popular history of New Deal economic and foreign policy. He accomplished that, but made an unfortunate decision to jazz it up with a sound bite of a thesis too crude and overconfident for even a grade school history text, in an attempt to stir up some politicized reviews from people with no interest in history.

By all means read this book for an education in the Roosevelt administration, it's a four or five star history. But if your interest is in the subtitle, you don't need to buy the book, because nothing in it adds support or nuance to the bald statement following "how".

The Brontë Plot
The Brontë Plot
by Katherine Reay
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.40
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4.0 out of 5 stars A barely-there romantic plot set in wondrous, glorious, elegant color and mood, November 3, 2015
This review is from: The Brontë Plot (Paperback)
This is a book about the surfaces of things, filled with evocative descriptions of light, color, texture, smell and taste, with a minimalist plot that proceeds glacially and some interesting ideas that the author never probes deeply. It is a series of set-piece scenes that last from one to four pages, almost like diary entries, with no transitions. Almost all are either the main character sitting and thinking, or the main character talking to one other person. When one scene is finished the focus shifts abruptly to the next.

There is a paragraph to set each scene, emphasizing mood over physical location or other elements, then the thinking or talking (or rarely, action) occurs, then the next scene. Even when motion takes place, such as when the characters are in a car, the presentation is static. The action that there is in the story mostly takes place in between scenes, or else is presented as the thoughts of the heroine immediately afterwards. In fact, I wonder if this were originally written in diary format, and the author decided to change that decision at the last revision.

No one walks into a restaurant, instead a typical set-up sentence is, “Amidst an intimate space of soft blue and grey, silks and pale velvets, she found Helen sitting alone at a white linen-covered table.” Another example is, “The sweater proved more difficult. She touched the dark orange V-neck. The one James said lit her hair on fire—in a good way. She then fingered the softness of a light purple cashmere crewneck. It seemed a purple day, veering to a soft lavender.” That’s just the sweater, she still needs to pick out blouse, skirt, tights and shoes; do her hair with a straightening iron; find bag, coat, keys and phone; and she’s just gotten out of bed. This kind of thing leaves little space in the pages for action.

The result is a book that is a sensual pleasure to read, but one that will disappoint readers looking for plot, character development, action, philosophy, romance, suspense, satisfying resolutions; or anything else other than mood. Women’s clothes, hair and eyes are described in loving detail, but little else about their appearance. Men (the heroine’s male interior decorator boss Sid is a woman for this purpose) are treated differently. We always know the overall impression of their appearance: crisp suit, relaxed jeans, unshaven, and so on; but never the details of color or fabric. Male hair and eyes take a back seat to their expressions, “The way his smile tipped up on the left side was so perfectly imperfect that it took all of Lucy’s will power not to push up the right side to match it.”

The intellectual theme of the book is the power of stories and their opposition to truth and trust. These are subtle and powerful ideas, but the author skates on the surface, concerned with the feeling of things, not with probing analysis. This is not a criticism, the author does a wonderful job of illuminating the surface aspects of soothing, beguiling but untrustworthy fiction, without taking any philosophical position.

The heroine loves English literature, but only the canonical reading list of Victorian novelists. It’s hard to believe anyone loves say, Charles Dickens and Beatrix Potter, equally; along with Lewis Carroll and the Brontës, but has never discovered less famous authors. And her appreciation of the literature seems limited to the most romantically dramatic scenes and the lives of the authors, there is no mention of the beauty of the language, or the social context, or the complexities of the plots; nothing but dramatic interactions of character with circumstance.

The reader is given details of place by light, color, texture and feel, but not other information. It helps a lot if you know Sherwin-Williams paint colors by number (I had to look them up on the Internet, and computer screens are not reliable in this regard).

A good deal of pages are devoted to descriptions of tourist London. To get from Dukes Hotel to Portobello Market (admittedly, the heroine takes a roundabout route) she passes The Tower of London (a good half hour in the wrong direction), St. Paul’s Cathedral, Covenant Garden and Drury Lane (across the Thames in a third direction). These places are not important to the plot, nor are they described, they are merely listed to set the feel of London. When passing Drury Lane, Lucy exclaims, “Hey, the Muffin Man lives here.” The sound of the name evokes a memory of a nursery rhyme, the place itself is not relevant, the reader is not told where Drury Lane is or what it looks like (and, in fact, it has been more or less helicoptered into the book for no reason other the opportunity for Lucy to remember the Muffin Man). After Drury Lane the travelogue continues, “He drove past the Silver Vaults with a ‘I’ll have you back here later’ and double-backed toward the Thames, passing the Royal Opera House, before cutting down Whitehall to Churchill’s War Rooms.” At this point, after a 90 minute, two-page drive entirely irrelevant to the plot, Lucy gets out of the car, farther from Portobello Market than when she started, an easy ten minute walk from her starting point. But the point is that reader knows Lucy’s in London with many of its most famous landmarks--to an English literature student anyway--evoked. It’s an extended version of those movie shots of the Eiffel Tower to let the viewer know it’s Paris, or taxis stuck in Brooklyn Bridge traffic to demonstrate New York.

The book is pretty accurate in general, but a few howlers slipped in. Nelson did not defeat Napoleon at Waterloo. He was killed ten years earlier at Trafalgar, and as an admiral, would have been of limited use 100 miles from any ocean. It’s true that English Kings have been crowned at the spot of Westminster Abbey since Harold Godwinson and William the Conquerer in 1066, but construction of the current building was not begun until 1254. While the church has many Gothic elements, it is certainly not, “the height of Gothic architecture.” It is a transitional style from Romanesque, and it cannot compare to Reims Cathedral or any of dozens of other masterpieces of Gothic style.

I recommend this book to readers who love light, color, style, texture and mood. The author weaves these elements masterfully. But if you prefer crisp dialogue, elaborate plots or memorable characters, there is nothing here for you.

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