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Alan A. Elsner "Alan Elsner, author" RSS Feed (Washington DC)
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A Heat Of The Moment Thing
A Heat Of The Moment Thing
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ditzy heroine searches for love, February 26, 2015
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This fairly harmless tale straddles the line between "chick lit" and "romance." It has a ditzy heroine getting herself into all kinds of trouble and a few of the more graphic sex scenes from the romance genre. It's not a totally successful merger but the book is kind of likable in a "Notting Hill" kind of way. It's two and a half stars but I'm rounding up.

Rebecca, the heroine, meets Matt, the male lead when she accidentally swims into the end of a swimming pool cutting her head. A delicious young man tends to her, keeps her calm and speaks to her in a chocolatey voice until the medics arrive. Next week, when she arrives to begin a new job, it turns out he's her boss. The long arm of coincidence stretched pretty far, I would say. There are sparks but she won't date a boss - until she does. She also won't date a former schooldays boyfriend who was cruel - until she does. She won't drink too much - until she does. She won't do lots of things - until she does.

I won't go into all the twists and turns of the plot. Suffice to say that our heroine spends inordinate amounts of time feeling sorry for her herself and making very poor decisions. She also spends a lot of time agonizing over her body (is she too fat or just "womanly?") and what to wear. The hero, Matt, is way too good to be true. He raised his younger brother who is disabled after his father died and mother decamped and spends his free time running an activity center for disadvantaged youth. The rest of the time is spent polishing his halo.

Eventually our heroine will hit rock bottom and gain self-awareness (up to a point). That clears the way for a remarkably rushed (and botched) HEA scene. This book had promise and could have been a lot better.


Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession
Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession
by Ian Bostridge
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.12
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep and fascinating, February 22, 2015
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This lavishly produced and illustrated volume is a testament to the wide-ranging intellect of Ian Bostridge. I am awaiting the delivery of his recording of Winterreise as a companion to this book having grown up on the classic recording by Dietrich Fischer-Diskau and Gerald Moore. I want to see how the many insights in this book are translated into performance.

The book is divided into chapters, each one analyzing the 24 songs of the cycle. But actually the texts by Wilhelm Mueller are just the jumping off point for wide-ranging meditations about the times in which the poet and composer lived and the intellectual currents that were then flowing. There are occasional insights into performance and the music itself but we also learn about the repressive politics of the Austrian Empire which Schubert and his circle chafed against; we learn about (and see) the art of Kaspar David Friedrich, the poetry of Byron and Goethe, the science of snowflakes, the significance of the Linden tree in German poetry and art - we even learn that Schubert (and Goethe) were avid fans of the novels of James Fenimore Cooper and that on his deathbed Schubert split his time between correcting proofs of Winterreise and reading the latest Wild West adventure.

It seems that Ian Bostridge knows everything. What has he not read? Which connection has he not drawn? What is a will o' the wisp and how does it happen? How quickly did the stage coach travel from Frankfurt to Berlin? What happened tp charcoal burners at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution? What symbolic role do crows play in western civilization and our consciousness?

The portrait of Schubert that emerges here is very different from the chubby, smiling fellow of popular myth. Bostridge quotes a tirade he is said to have unleashed not long before his death at two musicians who approached him to write a song for them. "You call yourselves artists? Blowers and fiddlers is what you are, the whole lot of you! I am an artist. I am Schubert, Franz Schubert. And don't you forget it! And if the word art is mentioned, it is me they are talking about, not you, not you worms and insects, you crawling, gnawing worms that ought to be crushed under my foot - the foot of the man who is reaching for the stars."

Bostridge observes how carefully Schubert put the song cycle together, changing the order of some of the poems to achieve particular effects. Even his decision to include or exclude exclamation marks from the titles of some of the songs was deeply calculated. He knew he was writing a masterpiece and he wanted it to be perfect.

There are so many gems in this book, acute observations that illuminate the way we listen to this masterwork. Bostridge observes, and this never struck me before, that in Schubert the major key often seems sadder than the minor. He tries to explain the true horror of the syphilis that the composer grappled with the last five years of his short life and the awful (and totally ineffective) treatments then available for it. He links the mood swings brought on by the disease to some elements of the music. He examines Schubert's Catholic faith (or lack thereof), observing that the six masses he composed all omit the lines about life everlasting and resurrection.

This is a deep and fascinating book that will repay frequent return visits. It deepens our admiration for the song cycle by a man on the edge of death who tackled the deepest issues of the human condition.


Home by Morning (A Powell Springs Novel)
Home by Morning (A Powell Springs Novel)
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting history, so-so romance, clunky writing, February 19, 2015
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This book stands out from the average romance because of its historical setting. It takes place in 1918 in rural Oregon at the outbreak of the great flu pandemic which killed millions across the globe.

Jessica Layton, who grew up in the small town of Powell Springs before leaving to become a doctor, returns for a short visit to see her sister en route to a research appointment in Seattle. Her arrival coincides with the first case of influenza and she is pressed to stay for a few weeks to help grapple with the emergency until a permanent doctor arrives. Complicating matters is the fact that her first love, Cole, is still on the scene and has been courting her younger sister, Amy.

The historical aspects of being a woman doctor in an age of prejudice is well captured and several of the town characters come vividly to life. Also well captured (clearly the result of considerable research) are the symptoms and sufferings of the victims. Jessica sets up a makeshift hospital in the town school and does her best to cope. Meanwhile, the attraction between Jessica and Cole still burns brightly - but what about Amy?

Much less successful than this drama are the changes in scene where we suddenly fly to France to see what's happening to Cole's brother who is fighting at Verdun. This clearly sets up a sequel to this book -- but it is fairly ruinous because it slows things down and seems irrelevant. It's also not compelling compared to so much of the moving and vivid writing that emerged from the First World War.

Another sub-plot involving a local prostitute and her no-good husband also slows things down and seems disconnected from the main story.

Finally, when we reach the obligatory explicit sex scene, the writing becomes embarrassingly awful. "Their previous, interrupted explorations of intimacy now stacked up to create a feverish hunger that was both mature and years in the building." Sounds like an architecture textbook.

It's a pity because the central story is compelling. I wish the author had had enough faith in her original tale and her central characters to just stick with that.

I looked up some history about the Great Pandemic in Oregon and found the following: "Small towns across the state were especially hard hit. In Denio, a public health nurse expressed her concerns about the situation there, saying “there is no food, no bedding and absolutely no conception of the first principles of hygiene, sanitation, or nursing care.” In an attempt to deal with the crisis, a hotel was transformed into a hospital. But even then, the situation was still serious and the nurse begged those outside the community to “send supplies before we get snowed in for the winter.”

If anything, the situation as described by Alexis Harrington in Powell Springs was less dire than the reality.

To conclude, this author has created a pretty good historical novel and then weighed it down with the trappings of the romance genre while trying to build an audience for a sequel. Could have been excellent, ends up being merely a touch above average.


Stuck
Stuck
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good start - but loses momentum, February 18, 2015
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This review is from: Stuck (Kindle Edition)
Two people are stuck in an elevator together. They are total opposites. Gina is a sharp-as-a-tack financial advisor determined to make it to the top of the business world. Brad is a sculptor of wood and furniture builder who lives in the boondocks with his two daughters, his wife having died some years before. She likes the city, he likes the country. She wants the fast track, he wants the slow track.

But during their hour together in the dark, with no power and no way to see each other, they talk and create a bond. When the elevator suddenly lurches downward, there is a desperate kiss. And out of that is born the beginnings of what could be a relationship.

The best part of this book is that very section in the elevator when two diametrically opposed people discover an attraction. The rest is taken up with a process of trying to see if they can bridge the gulf between them. Gina can't have children and has convinced herself she doesn't want them. Can she become a replacement mother to two needy girls, one a sulky teen going through puberty? Can Brad, who is a bit of a Luddite, allow his daughter to have a cellphone? Would he permit a computer in his home?

As you can see, major major dilemmas and issues. This reader became a little tired of them. And the physical attraction between the characters is described in words but is not convincing. These are two grown-ups yet they behave like teens on the brink of their first relationship. Still enough has been created in the opening chapter to want to find out how it gets resolved. The climactic scene, I found, disappointing. After all the molehills that have been constructed, one would have expected something really romantic to happen to get these two together. Sorry, didm;t do it for me.


The Right Chord
The Right Chord
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Two annoying people try to get together, February 18, 2015
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This review is from: The Right Chord (Kindle Edition)
This book about two characters who are attracted to one another but keep saying and doing the wrong thing eventually became tiresome and annoying. Grace is a violinist in an orchestra, 31 and single, a little passive with low self-esteem. Harry writes science fiction, is emerging from a nasty divorce and has an 8-year-old son and a dog.

Harry moves in next door to Grace. There are sparks but neither one of them can get on the same wavelength as the other. Just when it seems as if they will break through, they miss the opportunity. Neither has the guts to express their true feelings until the very end. The keep second-guessing each other -- and both often speak and act inappropriately. Their kisses are magic - but the book is not sexy. There is no real depth to the description of the attraction between them. We have to take the author's word for it.

It all ends suddenly with the magic three words -- but this reader had no confidence their love would last. People don't change. These two have the dire weakness of failing to see the other person's point of view. They are both too much absorbed in themselves. Six months after the end of this book, they are definitely at loggerheads again. One year later, who knows if they're still together.


Dept. of Speculation
Dept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.34
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever examination of a marriage, February 18, 2015
This review is from: Dept. of Speculation (Hardcover)
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This slim volume, which is easily read in a couple of hours, looks at first glance to be a collection of aphorisms. But it slowly dawns on the reader that there is a story being told here in an elliptical way -- it is the story of a marriage from first love through childbirth and child rearing and then through infidelity. We never know the names of any of the characters but we see them grow, age, love and hate and eventually reach some kind of stasis.

It's very clever and the writing is often quite brilliant -- one example: "I decide to make my class read creation myths…In some, God is depicted as a father; in others as a mother. When God is a father, he is said to be elsewhere. When God is a mother, she is said to be everywhere."

Despite the intellectual fizz of this book, it does have some emotional depth. Halfway through, the narrative turns from first to third person when the love between the couple starts to fall apart. But the book deliberately keeps the reader at arm's length. The overall effect is like examining a relationship that has somehow become a physical object that one could study in a lab or scrutinize through a microscope. You see the atoms swirling around but the overall feeling is lost.

This is the kind of book where you need to underline particularly striking phrases (and there are many) in order to remember them. Unfortunately I found 24 hours after reading it that most had already escaped my mind.


An Old-Fashioned Darling: A Novel
An Old-Fashioned Darling: A Novel
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars very old-fashioned, February 16, 2015
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I'm not sure if this was ever a good book but it seems awfully dated now. The protagonist is assistant editor of what used to be known as a "girlie magazine" called "Quiff" (haha hilarious). He's carrying on three simultaneous affairs with married women, whom he refers to as "Long Island," "Brooklyn" and "Jamaica". We gradually become aware of his disgust with his life which he can't quite admit to himself but manifests itself in various self-destructive acts.

There are a couple of other male characters - his boss and his friend, presented as caricatures and played for sardonic laughs. Interestingly, none of the female characters are much developed (no pun intended. The climactic scene is a photo-shoot for the magazine which turns into an unpleasant orgy.

I guess there is some interest in this book as a cultural artifact of the early 1970s, reminding us what an unpleasantly sexist era that was. But there is not enough in the protagonist or the plot to maintain much interest. I simply never got involved in this book and was glad when it was over.


The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors
The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Colorful account of medieval struggle that ripped England asunder, February 16, 2015
I went to high school a couple of miles from the site of the Battle of Barnet without ever understanding what it was about. Now, decades later, thanks to this highly readable popular history, I do. (Two rival factions of the Yorkists clashed and Edward IV emerged victorious while the Duke of Warwick, his friend turned rival, was killed).

This book takes us back to mid-15th century England and examines the dynastic struggle known as the Wars of the Roses, which came about, the author says, due to the inability of Henry VI to exercise power and function as a monarch..He had come to the throne at the age of 9 months on the untimely death of his father, Henry V, one of England's greatest warrior kings who had succeeded in conquering much of France.

While Henry was still a child, the nobles surrounding him managed to hold things together, although the French inspired by Joan of Arc were already reversing most of his father's gains. But once Henry VI took over, things fell apart. He is described here as a man wholly unsuited for power. He suffered from some form of severe mental illness and at one point became catatonic for a year. He was dreamy and saintly and disengaged from reality. At one point, he declared a "Day of Love" to reconcile the warring factions around him.

England, the author says, only functioned if the king functioned. The king's job was to provide justice, law and order, and make war. Henry could not do any of these things and in the power vacuum that was created by his inability, powerful nobles led by the House of York stepped forward to claim the throne.

The cast of characters is somewhat bewildering since most of the chief ones are named after English counties and keep changing sides. The reader has to remember who is Suffolk and who is Gloucester and who Hereford etc. This book also describes some of the colorful women characters of the age, notably Henry VI's wife, the formidable Margaret of Anjou, truly a warrior princess with an iron will who had all of the traits that her husband lacked but was blocked from seizing power directly because she was a woman.

The battles described here vividly were amazingly bloody and the victors had no mercy on the defeated, usually chopping their heads off in short order. Leaders were expected to be right in the thick of the fighting - but if they were killed, this was usually the signal for their armies to flee. Once these clashes began, it was hard to know what was going on. There was little overall strategy, just bloody slaughter.

One poignant story related here is the death of Owen Tudor, an obscure minor Welsh noble who fell in love with Henry V's widow, Queen Catherine. His love was returned and the two were married and had children, thereby founding what became the Tudor dynasty which took over after the Wars of the Roses finally ended.

Owen led a charmed life but his luck ran out when Catherine died and he lost royal protection. More than 60 years old, which was ancient in those times, he was led out to execution. The book says that his last words recalled his wife, the princess of France and Queen of England. "That head that shall lie on the stock was wont to lie on Queen Catherine's lap," he said. Then he "put his mind and heart wholly unto God and full meekly took his death."

The Wars of the Roses were not about great historical issues but simply a struggle for power that ensued when a inept King failed to exercise power. Had Edward IV, who emerges from the book as a capable and energetic monarch, not died at the age of 41 but lived long enough for his heir to achieve maturity, we would never had had the Tudors. Edward was a prodigious eater, drinker and womanizer. His appetites probably helped kill him.But life was so fragile then. They had to live to the full. Anyone could be struck down by disease or in battle at any time. One is amazed actually by the amount some of these characters did in their short lives, tramping from one end of the kingdom to the other.

Against all odds, Henry Tudor won the throne and kept it. The rest, as they say, is history.


Falling for You
Falling for You
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Formulaic and chaste, February 16, 2015
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This review is from: Falling for You (Kindle Edition)
This formulaic romance between a single mother and ex-hockey star offers very little to the reader, not even sex since the characters never get beyond kissing even though he is 38 and she just a little younger. I never once believed in the paper-thin characters and their trivial dilemmas. He lives alone in an 18-room mansion. She lives with her son in 6-room house. The solution? They'll find a 12-room home to live in together. Please!


Bittersweet
Bittersweet
Price: $1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Above-average love after bereavement, February 16, 2015
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This review is from: Bittersweet (Kindle Edition)
Definitely an above-average read despite the hackneyed plot. Zoe meets Adam who falls for her but she is oblivious and he doesn't make his feelings clear quickly enough. Then his cousin Josh shows up and sweeps her off her feet. Fast-forward four years and Josh is dead of cancer leaving Zoe with a six-month old son.

The rest of the book is about Adam's slow and patient efforts to win a second chance with Zoe. The book is written entirely from her point of view. What I liked about it was that it gave due deference to the depths of her sorrow instead of just writing it off. The baby, Logan, is also a real character who develops over time from an infant to a toddler. And in Adam, the author has captured a character with different facets and some depth. Even the sex, when it finally happened, is fumbling and awkward instead of the usual perfect mind-blowing and unreal experience books in this genre usually offer. It seems more anchored in reality, while remaining a romantic fantasy.


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