“The Rain Watcher” by Tatiana de Rosnay

Genre:           Historical and General FictionThe rain watcher
Publisher:     St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:     October 23, 2018

To begin with, let me tell you that the real characters in this family saga are not the characters, but rather Paris itself and the weather.   I read and enjoyed Tatiana de Rosnay’s previous historical novel “Sarah’s Key” which also takes place in Paris but during WWII.   I found her soon to be published novel, “The Rain Watcher” less enjoyable.  The story mostly takes place in the present.  The author’s descriptions of the city in a natural crisis will take your breath away.  Unfortunately, the rest of the plot will not.

In this tearjerker, you will meet a family whose members are filled with pent-up tensions along with secrets (sounds like most families to me).  The adult daughter and son are joining their parents in Paris for their dad’s 70th birthday.  Both offspring suffer from Post Traumatic Stress for different reasons.  The son is gay and was bullied as a child.  At almost 40, he still has not come out to his dad.  The daughter as a teen was in a car accident where she was the sole survivor.  The mother has her own secrets.  The son is a well-known photographer.  The story is narrated in the first person through his photographer’s lens—good descriptive writing.   In a nutshell, the dad has a stroke and the mother gets pneumonia.   Somehow, while taking care of their parents, they all heal as a family.    If only it is this easy in real life.  Not even one shrink makes it into the plot filled with dysfunctional characters.  I didn’t expect to find such a worn out cliché from this talented author.

Now here is the interesting part of the novel and why the book can be marketed as historical fiction:   In between the soap opera, we learn about the evocation of Paris in 1910 when the actual Seine River flooded.  The powerful event is well researched and horrifying.   In “Rain” we read a fictional story that’s set in midst of a real disaster.  The father is now in the hospital.  He cannot communicate but is aware of what is happening as the evacuation begins.   This is the best writing in the book.  The water floods the first floor of the hospital and panic sets in.  The City of Lights is now without electric light.  You will feel the father’s terror as he is moved in a coffin-like sealed casing.  Think of the movie, “The Poseidon Adventure” but in a building filled with sick, helpless people.  Unfortunately, this chapter is not enough to save the novel, with its ceaseless rain, which gives the whole book a dreary feel.  Although much happens, it is still a slow read.  As I said, all in all, this is a story about Parisian weather and not much else.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Lie With Me” by Sabine Durrant

Genre:        Mystery & Psychological Thriller Lie with me
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pub. Date: January 11, 2018

Have you ever told a lie? Most of us have. The question in this psychological thriller is guessing who is telling the truth and who is lying. I don’t think I just wrote a spoiler because the reader will wonder this for him/herself relatively early in the novel. This is an unusual thriller. I would even venture to say that this is a work of literary fiction. Usually, mysteries and psychological thrillers are written in a rapid pace. “Lie With Me” reads slow. Since I enjoy the slower pace of foreign movies, the novel is a good fit for me. Think the 1994 French film, “Léon: The Professional.”

Paul is a character in this book who is a major loser. Jobless at age 40, he moves back home to live with his mom. Paul tells so many lies he confuses them. He can forget what is true and what is false. He has written one novel in his youth and twenty years later he is still trying to hang onto his 15-minutes of fame. He meets an old college friend who is ultra-rich. Through him, Paul meets Alice, who is also ultra-rich and another member of the 1%. Paul is fascinated with them and their lifestyles. He tells some whopper lies to Alice, becomes her reluctant beau and worms his way into their annual Greek holiday. He seems to have the notion that somehow they will transform him into a good person living the good life, (as Leon the character played by actor, Jean Reno, hoped the child would transform him.) The reader is aware that he wants to be Cinderella. We also know that Paul is a pathological liar—but is he a murderer? The author, Sabine Durrant, gives deliberately confusing hints to the reader when she goes back and forth in time.

Durrant has written a different kind of beach read, one that begins and ends with a lie. The novel’s development comes from the characters rather than the plot, which I enjoy. My only issue is that about three quarters through, I did figure out the truth. There was (at least for me) no big ending twist. It was the author’s writing style that kept my interest to want to finish.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Clock Dance” by Anne Tyler

Genre:           Literary FictionClock Dance
Publisher:    Penguin Random House
Pub. Date:    July 10, 2018

“Clock Dance,” the latest novel by the author Anne Tyler, affectionately known as the bard of Baltimore, is filled with her familiar themes and quirky characters, but it is not up to par with her earlier works.  The gist of the book is that the heroine has four defining moments of her life, which is categorized into four years.   The reader only gets flashing glimpses of the first three defining moments, which is part-one.  I found this annoying.   Characters come and go as if they are walk-ons in a play.  However, once the novel is completed, the reader will get what Tyler was up to— a slow start with a strong finish.  I enjoyed the novel though I am not sure that the threadbare writing, which she is known for, isn’t too bare in part-one.

Part I:  In 1967, our heroine is a schoolgirl wondering what happened to her unstable mom who has disappeared.  She is too young and frightened to cope.  In 1977, she is a college student flying home with her bossy fiancé.  Suddenly, on the plane, the man sitting on the other side of her whispers, “This is a gun, and it’s loaded.  Move and I shoot.”  Once again she is too frightened to act.  When the flight is over the man just gets up and leaves.  She informs her soon to be husband what happened, and although she is shaking with fear, he tells her that she is being histrionic and that “all’s well that ends well.”  She agrees.  (This was hard to buy,  because although she is subservient, she is not stupid.)   In 1997, she is a young widow too traumatized to do what needs to be done to move forward.  In 2017, she is married, once again to another bossy man who patronizes her.   By this time in her life, she is way too timid, mild-mannered and insecure in her abilities to handle almost any situation by herself.  She is more than willing to be a passive bystander in her own life.  As a female reviewer, I wanted to jump into the pages and scream at her to grow a spine.

Part II continues in 2017, it is the bulk of the book and where all its strength lay.  But by this time, I was almost ready to give up on our heroine.  Which I wonder is what the author intended the reader to feel.  But, in 2017, our heroine surprises us.   She finally takes a stand in her own life and learns she is cable of making not only the simplest of decisions but the major ones as well.  For fear of spoiling, I will not share how her wake-up happens, but it is almost comical.  As usual, Tyler’s warmth for her characters shines through.    I am a fan of the author.  Still, I almost ditched the novel.   If Tyler did intend for a slow start, hoping that it would pay off in the second half of the book, then she made a heck of a gamble.  Or, maybe part-one was not written to be intentionally maddening.   Possibly, Tyler didn’t realize just how frustrating part-one actually read. Though, this is also hard to buy since Tyler is a Pulitzer Prize winner.  No matter, either way, I am glad I read her latest work.  Though I am not sure other readers will feel the same.  Still, I recommend the novel to fans of literary fiction.

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“Rust & Stardust” by T. Greenwood

Genre:           Historical Crime FictionRust
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:    Aug. 7, 2018

Mini-Review

“And the rest is rust and stardust.”—Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

In the summer of 1948, a real-life 11-year-old girl named Sally Horner was kidnapped by a child molester in Camden, NJ.  At the time Vladimir Nabokov was working on his famous novel and struggling.  He supposedly was about to burn the manuscript when his wife showed him the newspaper saying: “I found her. Volodya, stop! I found Lo.”  This is the fictional account of the girl who inspired the famous novel “Lolita” (which Nabokov called his ticking time bomb,) as well as Sarah Weinman’s true crime essay and soon to be released, “The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World.”  (It appears that soon “Rust and Stardust” will have sales competition).  If you have read the famous book or seen the movie, Lo appears to be a child temptress.  Sally Horner was not.  As the book rightly shows, Sally’s misfortune began after she stole a composition notebook from a Woolworths (remember them?) The kidnapper witnessed the minor theft and pretended to be an FBI agent taking her to jail.  Her young gullible mind fell for it and she spent the next five years traveling around with her kidnapper, who posed as her stepfather.  This book should break your heart.  Unfortunately, the author, T. Greenwood, has written a novel filled with way too much detail, reading almost like a newspaper itself. I was impressed by her end-notes, but not her style of writing.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Terms of Endearment” by Larry McMurtry

Terms of Endearment

Genre: Comedy-Drama
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 1975

You have seen the movie and probably read the book (they are dissimilar). So you are probably familiar with the author, Larry McMurtry’s, two characters Aurora Greenway and her daughter Emma. Aurora, a well-to-do widow, “is the kind of woman who makes the whole world orbit around her, including a string of devoted suitors.” Emma, as her mother feels, married beneath her, which is a constant source of friction between them—the line that reads Emma’s husband “ain’t fit to kick off a porch” in this book is a term of endearment because she loves her daughter. Get it?

I enjoyed the movie and I am a fan of McMurtry, so it felt like a no-brainer that I would enjoy the book. Unfortunately, it is just an okay read. For once, the movie is better than the book. In both, I didn’t cry (possible spoiler) when Emma dies of cancer. Neither seems very realistic, though at least Emma loses her hair in the novel. Debra Winger remained beautiful until her character dies. Other variations from book to movie are that the novel is 75% about Aurora, which is okay since she is a very funny character. The book switches to the daughter at the end of the novel, but the reader doesn’t have time to connect to her, leaving one without the intended waterworks. There is no Jack Nicholson astronaut character in the novel, but there is Aurora’s maid, Rosie, of twenty-two years, and her husband, both are wonderful characters. Petite Rosie argues “I might not be no bigger than a chicken, but I got fight.” The husband thinks that his wife “is no more buxom than a door-jamb” and he is smitten with voluptuous Aurora, making for good comedy. It is clear that the acclaimed author is a master with words. His dialogue and imagery are superb. And even if his pacing is off in “Endearment,” his skills might be worth the effort of reading the novel.

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“Born Trump: Inside America’s First Family” by Emily Jane Fox

Genre:           BiographyBorn Trump
Publisher:   HarperCollins
Pub. Date:   June 19, 2018

I wanted to read “Born Trump,” I confess, because of the promised juicy gossip on the Trump kids. What I got instead was a few chapters of Trump’s campaign, his election win, and the early months of his Presidency. I most certainly didn’t want to relive the chaos of his transition into the White House, but that is what I got. The author, journalist Jane Fox, writing is all pizzazz without much depth, reading like magazine advertisements. She is neither privately for Trump nor against him, but her writing can be mean-spirited towards him. And since the US President (that is a gulp for this reviewer) has lived his whole life on Page Six of the NY Post. And later in life as a reality TV star, there really isn’t anything new in this book if one is familiar with the family. Since, I grew up in Queens, NY I had heard a lot of dirt.

So skip the book and here is the skinny. As children, the three eldest kids lived on their own floor in Trump Tower, and almost never saw their parents Donald and Ivana. They pretty much raised themselves with help from their Au Pairs and private boarding schools. I guess that is the norm for the rich and famous. Fox goes into the trauma the kids went through during their parents’ ugly and widely broadcast divorce. Especially when the then-wife, beautiful blonde model, Ivana Trump, and then-mistress, beautiful blonde model, Marla Maples had a public brawl with each other on the slopes of Aspen, Colorado, (poor little rich kids.) All three have stated that this was a tough time for them as children. As a 6-year-old child, Eric acted out often in his private school once calling his teacher, a bitch. However, 12-year-old Don Jr. and 8-year old Ivanka seemed to have had it the hardest. It can’t be easy reading about your dad’s sex life it in the newspapers.

My thoughts: I was impressed that Don Jr. spent his high school years doing all he could do to appear to be just a regular Joe. This included dock work at Mar-a-Lago. He even showed up at college driving a truck. His parents traveled behind in a limousine (famously forgetting to bring the needed college supplies). I did begin to respect Ivanka (a one-time blonde model) a bit since she converted to Modern Orthodox Judaism for her husband. She has publicly said that she basically grew up without religion in her life. Becoming a practicing Orthodox Jew must have been a major feat to pull off. However, a daddy’s girl she will always be. Eric has said of his older brother “Donnie’s always been my friend, a mentor…in a way, he raised me.” It seems that Eric is the real builder in the family. However, all three are capable of running an empire by themselves—meaning they must have natural or schooled intelligence regarding real-estate. Donald’s daughter from his marriage to Marla Maples, Tiffany (a blonde model) has never really been part of the family. Raised primarily by her mother in California, Tiffany would visit her father several times a year in New York and vacation with him at Mar-a-Lago. The youngest son, Barron born to Melanie (a model, get my drift yet?) is hardly mentioned except that before moving to the White House he lived on the same floor that his stepsiblings once occupied. I was pleased that the author left him alone. I agree with Chelsea Clinton, who grew up in the glare of the White House: “Barron Trump deserves the chance every child does-to be a kid.”

The best and only dirt in the whole book is when Fox becomes mean-spirited. My favorite is when she writes that “the name Barron is one of the pseudonyms Trump uses while pretending to be a member of his press team.” Or that Trump as a dad “spent time with the children on his terms, when it suited him.” Another good dig is from Tiffany’s friend: “she dyed her hair brown….they popped into Trump’s office to say hi and he took one look at his daughter and said, she needed to bleach it back.” The author’s endnotes are respectable, but who knows what is truth or fiction (just like politics) when it comes to the first family, where everything is flashy, and appearances mean everything. To quote Andy Rooney, “People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe.”
19, 2018

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“The Great Believers” by Rebecca Makkai

The Great BelieversGenre:          General Fiction
Publisher:    Penguin Group Viking
Pub. Date:   June 19, 2018

The Grim Reaper follows all in this novel.  Think of Scrooge without a happy ending.  The author, Rebecca Makkai, writes about the 1980s AIDS outbreak.  The novel is set in the heart of Chicago in an area known as Boystown.   There are two storylines, told in alternating chapters: one is in the 1980s and the other is in present time.  The book opens in the past.  We meet a close-knit group of friends, most of them gay men, attending a “celebration of life” party after the death of one of their own.  Across town, the actual funeral is going on in a Catholic church.  Since the parents didn’t invite their deceased son’s lover to the funeral, the friends have their own sort-of-service for him.  The whole gang is at this party including his straight, younger sister.  She disowns her parents and family the way they disowned her older brother.  Her brothers’ friends adore her.  She often says that she has100 older brothers.  In the present, the little sister is now a middle-aged woman searching for her estranged daughter, who may or may not have joined a cult.  She has the help of one last brother who survived the epidemic.  He is now in his eighties.  I smiled when they first laid eyes on each other for the first time in many years.  They each had the exact same thought—how can he/she be so old?

The author does a good job describing the terror of the early years of the virus.  The kid sister watches her brothers die one by one.   You might cry because you will grow fond of these men.    Some have big personalities.  Others have sweet and shy ways.  They come from all walks of life, and the author makes sure you get to know each character as if you met them personally.   If you do not cry, you will still feel the heartbreak of the times.  The agony of making the decision to take the test, waiting on the test results, waiting for the symptoms, and then waiting for a horrendous death.  Makkai also shows the emotional scars on the present-day lives of survivors.  The sister has had a life of depression, which of course affected her adult relationships as well as her mothering skills.  The author is so passionate on the subject of HIV/AIDS that it came as no surprise to learn that the disease has touched someone in her life.

The story is good, but not on the level of “The Boys in the Band.”   “Believers” reads similar to “The Philadelphia Story.”   You will cry, but you are aware that the author is manipulating your heartstrings.  My only issue in the novel is in the present when the focus is on the sister’s search for her daughter.  This extra plot wasn’t needed.  It reads like a private detective tale that in no way could compete with the superior story told while in the past.  Overall, this is a well written, ambitious historical novel of a horrible time in America when very few Americans felt compassion for those who were locked in the jaws of the disease.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear that God sent this disease to punish the immoral.  It was the gay men’s isolation (no one would even physically touch them) that hit me the hardest.  They only had each other.  This is a huge-hearted novel display the staggering toll of the epidemic.  And, although it is a story is about death, once completed, you will have a stronger sense of life.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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