Sunday, April 29, 2012

'The Year of the Gadfly'

We live in a world rich in stories.  Sometimes, we live them.  Sometimes, we imagine them.  With such a plethora of adventures in our paths, there are many who pay attention and have lived to tell the tale.  I honor those people; the writers who have the courage to put those stories out for us to see are in a class of their own.

Especially those who write about academia.  

And so it goes with the new novel, 'The Year of the Gadfly', by Jennifer Miller.  I'm sure that comparisons to 'The Secret History' and 'The Starboard Sea' will be made.  But Ms. Miller's novel, while full of mystery, intrigue, teenage angst, and unrequited love, is extremely original.  Her main character, Iris, a fledgling reporter, is the force that drives the story to it's ultimate conclusion.

'...Gadfly' is a story to which most of us can relate; belonging, ridicule, exclusion, cliques, secret societies, revenge.  But Ms. Miller goes a step beyond with her well-told tale.  

Iris Dupont is a new student at the storied Mariana Academy.  A budding journalist with an obsession with the reporter, Edward R. Murrow, she is carrying tragic baggage.  When she tries to break into the ranks of the Devil's Advocate, the underground newspaper published by Prisom's Party (named after the school's founder), the school's secret society determined to expose lies, she is confronted with a vast conspiracy of blackmail, rumors, and a sordid past, which includes her science teacher, Mr. Kaplan, and an albino student, Lily, a girl who left school abruptly, never to return.

The mystery, and how it is solved, drives this story to an ending that left me begging for more.

Teenage angst has never been more interesting.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

'Goodbye for Now'

Some might think that technology and romance are mutually exclusive.  How can one that is cold and logical even try to meld with the other, which is warm and totally illogical?  Insane, actually, if you've ever been in love.

But I just finished reading the wonderful novel, 'Goodbye for Now', by Laurie Frankel, and she not only manages to bring both together, but takes them one step beyond.

It begins in a simple, 21st Century way...

Sam Elling is a programmer for an internet dating company, and he creates an algorithm that matches people with their soul mates.  When he tests his creation, Sam meets Meredith, the love of his life.  But the new program is such a great success that Sam loses his job.  Customers are quickly finding their soul mates...and not returning to the site.

As Sam and Meredith's relationship takes hold, her grandmother, Livvie, dies.   Out of love,  genius Sam creates a computer simulation of Livvie from her correspondence---e-mail, Facebook, Skype, etc.  It is such a great success with Meredith, who loves being able to see her beloved grandmother once again (although she realizes that Livvie isn't 'real'), that the couple starts a company called 'RePose', which is based upon the same principle.  Their business soon takes off, and they are able to help others deal with their own grief.  In the meantime, Sam and Meredith's love grows deeper and stronger, to the point that they can't live without the other.   But what if one if them had to?

The premise of Ms. Frankel's novel is what drew me to it.  Yes, it is a love story.  And, yes, it does deal with technology.  But that's what makes this story work.  Although I was at first creeped out at the thought of being able to correspond with a beloved dead friend/family member, it occurred to me that it would be an interesting way to say my final goodbye if my loved one had died suddenly.  Although the computer simulation wouldn't have any idea what I was talking about, it would make me feel as if I found some kind of closure.

However, good stories don't run solely on interesting premises.  The characters have to grab our hearts.  We have to care about them.  And in this story, I loved them all so very much.  Ms. Frankel has given us not only a romantic story with real characters, but she has also made us stop and think about a business like RePose.

If it were real, would you use it?  And if you did, how long would you use it?

Ms. Frankel has given us two questions that will raise many discussions.  But I'm sure that you will have many more.

Although 'Goodbye for Now' won't be released until August 2012 by Doubleday, I suggest you put this title on your 'to be read' list.  Film rights have already been sold.

Monday, April 16, 2012


I know that I should be reading (and, believe me, I am in the middle of a great book), but I have become obsessed with a charming little b/w cat who is going through an existential crisis. He's French.  He's Henri.  My cats are also obsessed with him...or perhaps it's the birds that are just out of Henri's reach.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

'Jasmine Nights'

When I finished reading Julia Gregson's novel, 'East of the Sun', I was stunned, to say the least.  It was so intriguing, so well-written.  The damn story flowed so well that I couldn't put it down.  I became so involved, and grew to love every character, good and bad.  I told my Borders customers about it and they, in turn, recommended it during their book club meetings.  

And now, to my delight, I was gifted with her third novel, 'Jasmine Nights'.  It sat on top of the stack of books I received, like a Christmas present chanting, "Open me!  Open me!"  There I sat, her novel in my hand, and it was everything I could do not to flop down on the couch and devote my entire evening to Ms. Gregson's  fine story.

'Jasmine Nights' is the story of Saba Tarcan, a young singer living in Wales, who is hired to perform for the ENSA, the British version of the USO, during World War 2.  But as her contribution to the war effort grows more intense, she is soon recruited by the British Secret Service to help rescue a spy being held under house arrest in Turkey.  To complicate her life even more, she falls in love with Dom, a British pilot.

This isn't just a 'girl-meets-boy' story.  And it isn't just a 'girl-loses-boy' story.  It is that, and more.  And it doesn't contain a cut-and-dried ending, either.  Ms. Gregson's research is impeccable; it's very obvious that she knows of what she writes; her inspiration for Dom, the pilot, is based on her father, who was also a pilot during the war.  And, like Dom, he was shot down and badly burned, but aided by the skills of a top-notch surgeon, he recovered his good looks.

The characters in this deeply-felt novel are beautifully drawn; from Arleta, a fellow performer who becomes Saba's closest friend, to Ozan, the entrepreneur who knows more than he is telling.  There are some horrific, almost terrifying events, and the intricate twists-and-turns kept me reading late at night.  As each chapter takes its turn in telling the adventures of Saba and Dom, all you want is for them to meet once again...and, perhaps, finally stay together.

But it is a story that is not just driven by their romance.  It shows us the horror of war; how it humbles us, and how people found joy and gratitude in the simplest gestures.

This reader is very happy that Ms. Gregson has graced us with another fine story.  But now, I'm hungry for more.  

She has spoiled me.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


What is it about British history that holds us in such wonder?  Even adoration?  

So many talented authors have mesmerized us with their historical fiction; Phillipa Gregory, Patrick O'Brian, Jane Dunn, Kathleen Winsor (I read her 'Forever Amber' under the covers at night when I was but twelve years old) and, most recently, Hilary Mantel's 'Wolf Hall', the winner of the Man Booker literary prize.  And don't forget all of the fantastic mystery stories written by England's finest.  

Perhaps we yearn for a monarchy.  Or perhaps we just love the pomp and circumstance.  But when more current events color new British history novels, the skies darken when Hitler is mentioned.

And he is an unseen presence in 'Abdication', the new novel by Juliet Nicolson.

In 1936, when Herr Hitler is coming into power in Germany, a young woman is hired to be a chauffeur and secretary for Sir Philip Blunt.  May Thomas is just nineteen years old, but an expert in driving and all things mechanical.  When the story opens, she is driving an American woman to 'the fort', the country home of Prince Edward and his mistress, Wallis Simpson.  The American visitor is Wallis' school friend from years past; out of sympathy, Wallis has invited Evangeline Nettlefold for a visit.  Evangeline is plump, almost bald, and a bumbler when it comes to English manners and protocol.  But Prince Edward doesn't seem to mind; his attention is thoroughly focused on the skinny Mrs. Simpson.  The story centers around May and Evangeline, and their mutual attraction to Julian Richardson, a friend of Evangeline's godmother's son, Rupert.  Of course, we all know that Edward becomes king after his father's death.  And then abdicates for the woman he loves.  But the scenes with Evangeline and May are the true centerpieces of this novel, and inevitable secrets are soon uncovered.  

While one wants nothing but the best for May, one only feels sympathy, almost pity, for Evangeline.  May is young, bright and beautiful, and has the whole future ahead of her.  But, I must confess, I was more interested in Evangeline.  You feel her discomfort.  You feel sympathy for her awkward mistakes.  Although I was a bit put off by her, I still felt bad for her situation.  Ms. Nicolson has done a wonderful job in conveying the mood of the country and its culture.  Her characters are sharply drawn, and the descriptions of Jewish persecution in England were terrifying.  But, as we all know, the citizens of England pulled together and protected each other.

So, yes, I'll admit it here.  I'm mesmerized by all things British.  Their courage, their patriotism, their sadness when a beloved figure gives up the throne for love.

Even the pomp and circumstance.

And, might I add, Monty Python and Doctor Who.