Sunday, May 25, 2008

Skeletons at the Feast

If you have not read Chris Bohjalian's new book  Skeletons at the Feast, go find it at your local library or bookstore. The title may leave you puzzled when you first hear it, but it's the story of a once wealthy German refugee family trying to outrun the Russians who are closing in during the waning days of WWII. Fearing the atrocities of the Russians, many ordinary Germans would rather die than submit, so they are racing against the clock to reach American and British lines. This particular family is also sheltering a Scottish POW who was forced to work on their farm and with whom the daughter has fallen in love. Two of her brothers are still fighting for the glory of the Third Reich. Her mother cannot believe the stories she has heard about the fate of the Jews during Hitler’s reign, and it takes a young man hiding out as a Nazi to complete the circle as all of their stories begin to collide on the road to redemption for some and freedom for others.

Bohjalian has written a beautiful book with an interesting assortment of characters that bring a different perspective to WWII. He tells the reader of ordinary people during times of extraordinary hardship while evoking emotions of fear, despair, hope, love and tenderness.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Forbes 400

All the Money in the World: How the Forbes 400 Make and Spend Their Fortunes
by Peter Bernstein and Annalyn Swan
 If you ever wondered about inherited wealth vs. earned money; blue collar billionaires; high school drop outs who became financial superstars; Ivy league grads vs. state schools  for making the "400" list ; top philanthropic multi-billionaires; “eccentric” very, very rich people;  which person in today’s dollars would have been the wealthiest American in our history;  well this is the book for you. It’s interesting with lots of tidbits for the curious (kind of like a People, Money, Newsweek, Fortune, Forbes and WSJ rolled into one --- with a touch of the Robb Report. So if you are fascinated with the superrich you’ll be able to find out in chapters such as “What It Takes, Making It, Spending It, “ how the Forbes 400 works, lives and spends. You’ll understand the risks and rewards of the lifestyle and the vast differences in the way the 400 live their lives and the vast differences in the make-up of the 400 themselves. You’ll also find lots of little sidebars such as which members of the list served prison time, which have given the most money to charity, which women top the list, what cars they drive, and family feuds over inheritances, etc. All in all a very interesting book worth a read – perhaps a chance for the authors to get on the list if we all buy this book and subsequent ones…

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Four Queens

When is the last time you read a book  so intriguing that you wanted to take the phone of the hook, ignore the doorbell, and forget about doing anything but reading the rest of the story? Well this might be that book - it was for me and it is not even fiction. 

Nancy Goldstone's, Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe,**** is a beautifully written history that is so fascinating it reads like a novel about four sisters, a clever mother and ambition matched by success. It was the time of knights, crusades, kings, and troubadours in medieval Europe. Each sister made a brilliant match marrying some of the most powerful men of their time (including the Kings of France and of England) , surviving wars, crusades, and rebellions. Their stories are interwoven in the fabric of the thirteenth century. Family disputes over dowries (how many times can a father promise the same castles?), triumphs, heartaches and petty jealousies as they grew into powerful women (all actually became queens) are all duly noted. How they raised families, formed political and social alliances and their lasting impact on the times is also explored in detail. Nancy Goldstone writes with heart and makes the sisters come to life.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Heroines

The Heroines, is an intriguing debut novel about a young teen and her mother whose B&B is host to a cast of literature’s finest (and most tragic) heroines from Ophelia to Hester Prynne and Scarlett O’Hara. The daughter narrates and tells  about  being ordered to play with Hester’s daughter Pearl (can we say “playing “pillory”) so the two unwed mother’s can share notes. The narrator is cautioned by her mother that she must keep two secrets: don’t tell anyone you see heroines (albeit they are garbed in modern clothing) and  never  tell the heroines the rest of their stories or they will not go back to meet their dreadful fates. Can you blame them? Frankly Scarlett you will give a damn about this book. 
No wonder the young narrator ends up accidentally (so to speak) in a psych ward. An interesting take on a  remarkable  situation. Who hasn't wished that book characters would come to life?  For readers of children's books it may remind you of  of an adult “Inkheart” with a tad less drama, a lot less fantasy and slightly more heart.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sundays at Tiffany's

Sundays at Tiffany's is a James Patterson book you'll want to  sit and read one afternoon especially if you remember your imaginary childhood friend. Did you have tea at the St. Regis with yours? Perhaps not but Jane does until at age nine Michael her protector, best friend and playmate vanishes... 

In her thirties Jane is still a loner, but has become a famous playwright (can you guess what her play is about? Perhaps even tea time at a big hotel with a certain pal?) She expresses her love for Michael through the story she can only tell from her memories. And then Jane meets her special someone but he is very familiar...Can you guess where this is going?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

For Children of All Ages

Need something fun to read aloud to the little ones? These books will delight the kids and also make you smile - don't be surprised if they ask you to read them again and again.

Here is the list:

1. Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed by Eileen Christleow
and the story is  "one fell off and hit his head...."

2. Five Little Monkeys Sitting In A Tree  by Eileen Christelow   another page turning, giggle a minute book that the wee ones will love.

3. Dr. Seuss The Foot Book comes in a board book version for little hands but will cause big belly laughs.

4. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb... the dum, ditty, dum, dum, dum will surely please, the monkeys make toddlers smile and the rhymes are just fine. Also in board book form for wee ones.

5. Wheels On the Bus... yes, it is the song in book form - a little gem for the under five set and perfect for singing if you dare. 

Thursday, May 1, 2008


When you hear the name Lancelot, you may first think of fair Guinevere and the legend of Arthur and his knights.  These myths are told and retold throughout history and novels have also drawn upon them for story lines and character development. One of the more interesting uses of both Lancelot's name and chivalry is found in a masterpiece  by Walker Percy titled LANCELOT. Like its author's chosen home of New Orleans a city of shadows, ghosts, and duality where nothing is as it seems,  Lancelot Lemar a modern day self professed (or self imagined white knight "wanna be," shares his story from a psychiatric ward - your first clue that all is not well in the world of his legal mind. 

This is the book your college instructor would have you tear apart by layers -- searching for hidden meaning, recounting philsophy, digging for clues from Percy's own history to flesh out the demons that haunt Lancelot in the story. On the other hand it is just a great book to pick up and read. You'll laugh, you'll  ponder the crime that led to Lancelot's insane asylum admission and  you'll marvel at  Percy's words and  the passions they evoke as he describes Lancelot's love of chivalry, his overwhelming need for the romance of the past - even if it is all an illusion. It is said  that the difference between the North and the South is that in the South we 
appreciate our eccentrics -- well, I suspect except for the terrible violence, Lancelot would be revered south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Is Lemar haunted? Is Lamar crazy? His narrative will leave you guessing and you can decide for yourself. Whatever you think, don't miss a chance to read the words of a classic novel by a truly gifted writer.