Sunday, October 16, 2016

3 Stars - The Pursuit of Pearls by Jane Thynne

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Perfect for fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, Robert Harris, and Susan Elia MacNeal, here is the next thrilling historical novel featuring Clara Vine, the British actress and special agent who glides through the upper echelons of Nazi society, covertly gathering key intelligence—and placing herself in mortal peril.

In the spring of 1939, the drums of war beat throughout Europe, but nowhere more ferociously than in Berlin. The film studio where Clara Vine works is churning out movies, but each day that she stays in Germany is more dangerous than the last. Spying on the private life of the Third Reich, passing secrets to contacts in British intelligence, falling into a passionate affair—any of these risky moves could get Clara shot. So she is wholly shaken when someone close to her is murdered instead. The victim is Lottie Franke, an aspiring costume designer and student at the prestigious Faith and Beauty finishing school that trains young women to become the wives of the Nazi elite. While the press considers Lottie’s death in the Grunewald forest the act of a lone madman, Clara uncovers deeper threads, tangled lines that seem to reach into the darkest depths of the Reich—and to a precious discovery that Hitler and his ruthless cohorts would kill for.


I enjoyed the story, but it took me a while to get into this one as opposed to Thynne's earlier book, The Scent of Secrets. 

Clara Vine, an actress concealing her Jewish identity in Nazi Germany, has been hand-picked by Leni Riefenstahl to star as the personification of the German spirit. One would make much of the choice, but Clara is pre-occupied with other things, namely the murder of a young "Faith and Beauty" woman and her extracurricular spying activities. She pines for her missing beau and dithers over a mission guaranteed to expose her, and after rubbing elbows with numerous Nazi elite manages to learn something that will change Europe, not for the better.

Again, I like the story, and I think I could like this series. I have the next book in possession, which takes the story into the actual war and I look forward to it. I think Scent was a more interesting story mainly because of the interaction between Clara and Eva Braun - I was more interested in Clara insinuating herself directly into danger zone, where here she kind of moved in and out of it.

Friday, October 7, 2016

2.5 Stars - Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Non-Fiction, Entertainment
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

The hilarious behind-the-scenes story of two guys who went out for coffee and dreamed up Seinfeld—the cultural sensation that changed television and bled into the real world, altering the lives of everyone it touched.

Comedians Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld never thought anyone would watch their silly little sitcom about a New York comedian sitting around talking to his friends. NBC executives didn’t think anyone would watch either, but they bought it anyway, hiding it away in the TV dead zone of summer. But against all odds, viewers began to watch, first a few and then many, until nine years later nearly forty million Americans were tuning in weekly.

In Seinfeldia, acclaimed TV historian and entertainment writer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong celebrates the creators and fans of this American television phenomenon, bringing readers behind-the-scenes of the show while it was on the air and into the world of devotees for whom it never stopped being relevant, a world where the Soup Nazi still spends his days saying “No soup for you!”, Joe Davola gets questioned every day about his sanity, Kenny Kramer makes his living giving tours of New York sights from the show, and fans dress up in Jerry’s famous puffy shirt, dance like Elaine, and imagine plotlines for Seinfeld if it were still on TV.


I enjoyed Armstrong's book on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, more so than this one - I'm thinking it's because I went into that book with less knowledge of MTM than with Seinfeld. I think this had the potential to be a definitive history of the show - Armstrong seems to rely heavily on interviews with writers and outliers (guest stars, people who inspired characters) with zero input from the four principles and Larry David. All through reading this book, I got the feeling we could learn more about the workings of the show. Much of what Armstrong tells here, I got from Fred Stoller's Kindle single, My Seinfeld Year.

It's a decent book, but I wouldn't call it definitive.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

3.5 Stars - Cakewalk by Rita Mae Brown

Publisher: Bantam Books
Historical Fiction
Buy: AMZ

About the Book

Continuing in the exuberant tradition of Six of One, Bingo, and Loose Lips, New York Times bestselling author Rita Mae Brown returns to her much-loved fictional hamlet of Runnymede, whose memorable citizens are welcoming both the end of the Great War and the beginning of a new era.

The night a riot breaks out at the Capitol Theater movie house-during a Mary Pickford picture, no less-you can bet that the Hunsenmeir sisters, Louise and Julia, are nearby. Known locally as Wheezie and Juts, the inimitable, irrepressible, distinctly freethinking sisters and their delightful circle of friends are coming of age in a shifting world and are determined to understand their place in it. Across town, the well-to-do Chalfonte siblings are preparing for the upcoming wedding of brother Curtis. But for youngest sister Celeste, the celebration brings about a change she never expected and a lesson about love she ll not soon forget.

Set against the backdrop of America emerging from World War I, Cakewalk is an outrageous and affecting novel about a small town where ideas of sin and virtue, love and sex, men and women, politics and religion, can be as divided as the Mason-Dixon Line that runs right through it and where there's no problem that can't be cured by a good yarn and an even better scotch. With her signature Southern voice, Rita Mae Brown deftly weaves generations of family stories into a spirited patchwork quilt of not-so-simple but joyously rich life.


So, if you've never read this series, know they are not written/published in chronological order. If you like a straight timeline, it sort of goes like this:

Six of One (though this one hops back and forth)
Loose Lips
The Sand Castle

I'm giving this 3.5 stars. With this finished I have read all of Brown's Runnymeade stories. I didn't enjoy the last two published, Loose Lips and The Sand Castle, and I thought I had come to the point where I wouldn't read any more. There's something about the time period that drew me in this time, though, and that cover is a delight.

It's been more than a decade since I read Six of One, the original story of Celeste Chalfonte, and Bingo (which is all Juts and Wheezy - sisters who battle constantly - as cantankerous old broads), and I can't rely on memory to note continuity errors. Doesn't matter to me, because I like Cakewalk for what it is - a story within the greater Runnymeade universe that centers on Celeste, who is the strongest character in the series. 

Everything takes place within a months-long span in the early 20s. Wealthy Celeste copes with losing one lover to her brother and gaining a new one, while housekeeper Cora copes with daughters Juts and Wheezy. If you're familiar with the other books, you know what to expect.

I'm almost tempted to revisit Six of One to see how the stories mesh.