Friday, April 9, 2021

Good Neighbors and French Exit ... Two Winners This Week!

 

What a surprise this novel was! I didn't really know what to expect. I had heard some good comments about it and it was on sale, so I got it.


WoW! 


Razor sharp satire, biting social commentary, mournful heartbreak and desolate tragedy combined with a soupcon of science fiction create a book of startling humor and rage and awareness and, well, shock.
 

Set less than ten years in the future, the story takes place with America living through climate change unabated. It's not the keystone of the book - but, it's always in the background. And the way the environment is viewed, and traversed by the population ran incredibly true to American form for me. The characters were all alarmingly familiar - as I'm sure they'll be for anybody who grew up in the middle/upper middle class neighborhoods of the east coast.
 

I can't even say more because I feel that divulging any more details will spoil it for anybody who picks this up...as I hope you do! I don't belong to a book club, but I want to join one just so I can discuss this book with others!
 

If you follow my book reviews, you know that I rarely give a 5 ☆☆☆☆☆ rating, as I consider that a next-to-perfect book. That's how I feel about this one. I can't imagine anything that would have been an improvement.

 This is a brilliant combination faery tale, comedy of manners, social satire, and character study wrapped up with a ribbon of dysfunctional family tragedy...or is it hope? I haven't yet sorted out my feelings about this intriguing and bewitching book about the most endearing, frustrating, irritating, charismatic and curious people I've run across in a novel in a good long while.


While I was completely captivated by it - in fact, I just finished it after reading through the entire night without sleeping to get to the last word - I realize that this book is not going to be to everybody's taste. In fact, I can even imagine being in a different mood and not caring for it myself. I'm so glad that I was in a receptive move last night, because I was rewarded for it! It is at various times hysterically funny, heart-rendingly sad, extraordinarily fanciful, razor-sharp perceptive, and forcefully passionate.

I'm not going to re-write a mini-synopsis of the story when the advertisement synopsis does a perfectly good job of it:

Frances Price – tart widow, possessive mother, and Upper East Side force of nature – is in dire straits, beset by scandal and impending bankruptcy. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there’s the Prices' aging cat, Small Frank, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband, an infamously immoral litigator and world-class cad whose gruesome tabloid death rendered Frances and Malcolm social outcasts.

Putting penury and pariahdom behind them, the family decides to cut their losses and head for the exit. One ocean voyage later, the curious trio land in their beloved Paris, the City of Light serving as a backdrop not for love or romance, but self destruction and economical ruin – to riotous effect. A number of singular characters serve to round out the cast: a bashful private investigator, an aimless psychic proposing a seance, a doctor who makes house calls with his wine merchant in tow, and the inimitable Mme. Reynard, aggressive houseguest and dementedly friendly American expat.

Brimming with pathos and wit, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind ‘tragedy of manners,’ a riotous send-up of high society, as well as a moving mother/son caper which only Patrick deWitt could conceive and execute


If you're in the market for a quirky, non-stop roller coaster ride, I can't recommend it highly enough. If you enjoy Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson films, this is the literature version! 
 
Thanks for stopping by - hope you've been given some good tips for a book that will make the coming week enjoyable!

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(¸.•´ (¸.•´) Tristan



Saturday, April 3, 2021

Four for the Price of One!


Four short reviews today ... keeping it quick and clean and moving on!

This book was recommended to me by a friend, so I just got it without even knowing what it was really about. Then I read a few reviews by people who really didn't care for it. They all seemed to have the same objection to the book: the characters were unlikable. I don't actually find that a valid reason to dislike a book. I don't "like" Fagin, or Bill Sykes or Mr. Bumble, but that doesn't mean I don't like the book Oliver Twist ... and I don't plan on having anybody like Scarlett O'Hara be my best friend, but that doesn't keep me from reading Gone With the Wind every couple of years! I don't need to best friends with the characters, as long as it's a good story and told honestly and unpretentiously (a little wit and humor never hurt either!).

So, that being said, I loved this book! You are forewarned about what you're getting into from the very first sentence: "Ivy Lin was a thief but you would never know it to look at her." Right off the bat, you are thrown off balance. There are many different kinds of thieves: from bank robbers to con artists to international secret spies to shoplifters. What kind is Ivy? I'm not telling you. If you're intrigued enough to find out, as indeed I hope you are!, you may be surprised. And at much more beyond. Ivy is a multi-faceted, many-layered, paradoxically lazy and industrious woman with an agenda. I will admit, there were things she was willing to do to achieve her agenda that surprised - even shocked - me. Yet, somehow, I was never turned off from reading her story - I wanted to know how it played out ... if she would succeed and if so, how. And, for some bizarre reason, this very unlikable woman got under my skin and I rooted for her to win - though what the prize was going to be I never really knew.

The writing is clear, clean, with original uses of descriptions and a vision of a Chinese-American born to Chinese immigrants that we don't often read about or see in media.

Go ahead - give Ivy a try. She's worth the effort!

 


This was a delightful little surprise. A quick one-day read, thoroughly entertaining, this is a modern version of a period Agatha Christie murder mystery. It takes place in the roaring 20's - always good for period music, fashion, fads and political descriptions - at a posh Egyptian hotel almost at the foot of the Great Pyramids. The leading 'detective' is, of course, an amateur sleuth, who is daring and clever and amusing - oh, and a beautiful single woman. There is the usual assortment of supporting characters, villainous, virtuous, friend and foe. It's a fairly fast paced tale, told by the leading lady who is witty and judgemental and a quite good narrator. As I have read dozens (and dozens) of these murder mysteries I was sure I had it all figured out. Naturally, I was completely off the mark, and the guilty culprit was as much of a shock to me as it was to the detective!

If you like a good, almost-innocent, fun, fast murder mystery read, I heartily recommend this one.

 


Some of the most intriguing mystery/thrillers and complex characters I've read in the past few years have come from Scandanavia ... from the Dragon Tattoo series to the Nordic-noirs of Ragnar Jonasson and Kjell Eriksson. The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankell is another to add to the ever-growing list of authors being translated for English readers.

I found this one particularly interesting as the horrible murder and the bizarre mystery that follows is based on a neoNazi group. It's very different reading about the descendants of the people who grew up in the Nazi 'neighborhood' written by a European, rather than by what American authors feel about it. Granted, it's not the main focus of this book, but the difference in the way the characters are written is quite evident.

The well-established tropes in modern Scandinavian crime writing are all in play here. A blood-splattered crime scene tells a seemingly simple story of a crime of passion, but the acute, gruesome details illuminate a richer, thornier backstory. And it requires the appropriately downtrodden loner detective (this time recently diagnosed with tongue cancer - tongue cancer?!) to decipher all the minutiae of clues, both direct and circumstantial.

The bleak winter landscape of rural Sweden is written about in stark, bleak language which brings it to life; reading about the cold in this book makes you shiver. The blistering torment of the inner monologue we're privy to in Detective Stefan Lindman's mind is in direct counterpoint to the quiet, reserved, reticent manner of his social discourse.

The only reason I couldn't give this book four ☆☆☆☆ is I truly believe it's about 50 pages too long. At almost 400 pages, it could have been shortened. Of course, this could be entirely the result of the translation and perhaps the original book wasn't quite this wordy - but, whatever - this is the one we're given to read. And it's really only an issue right towards the end. I was completely engrossed in the book until just about the last hundred pages, and almost as if a switch was flipped, I was waiting for it to wrap up.

I actually spent three nights reading this one. I took my time with it. It's not a fast read. But, it's a good one.
 


This had to be the most disappointing book I've read in a good long while. I (like everybody) have heard so much about it; read so many glowing reviews; read and watched so much discussion about the film, that I was quite anxious to dig into it. sigh. Dig is right. What a gully to slog through. First and foremost: a thoroughly unpleasant and self-interested and self-involved group of people. And this is not a short book, so we are with these people for a good chunk of time. Second, it's written in the first person (by one of the aforementioned unpleasant and thoroughly self-involved people), so there is no other point of view to be gained at any junction of the journey.

I did give it three stars instead of two because admittedly the final shocker(s) in the last several dozen pages was definitely a head spinner.

This was absolutely a case of my letting reviews get to me. If I hadn't known that this was a top NYTimes bestseller with glowing reviews from everywhere and that it was getting a glossy film adaptation starring Tilda (one of my favorite actors!) Swinton, I would have abandoned it within the first third of the book. I thought it was obnoxiously repetitious. I can't say too much about what was repetitious because it would be spoiling the plot for anybody who is crazy enough to pick this one up LOL. And, I know that a lot of people will. The subject matter is too controversial, the concept is too juicy, and the reviews are too splendid not to be intrigued. I get it. I fell for it. But, don't frown when I tell you that I told you so!

 That's it for today. Thanks for stopping by ... I hope you found something that sounds intriguing that you will read!

And ... have a lovely holiday weekend!

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(¸.•´ (¸.•´) Tristan


 

 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies ... a review

Follies is, if not my absolute favorite, in the top 3 of my favorite musical theatre pieces. I saw the original production on Broadway four times. I've seen the 2001 and 2011 Broadway revivals, and quite a number of regional productions. To say I'm a tad obsessed with it would not be an overstatement. So, when I found out about this book which I never knew existed, I couldn't wait to get it and dive in. It was really everything I could have hope for it to be. It's basically a rewritten form of the detailed and exacting journal kept by Ted Chapin, the 20 year old Production Assistant (the 'gofer') of the original production from before the rehearsals started through the out-of-town Boston try-out and the Broadway previews and opening night.

If you like musical theatre, this is a must-read book. There is always talk about how much changes between starting the rehearsals for a new show and the finalized production of opening night. This book exhibits just how that happens. With the boxloads of thrown out materials (scripts, songs, scoring, characters) and re-choreography after painstaking rehearsals to learn a number and new staging and direction and lines for scenes that were presumes 'set.' Changes (which are expensive) to the sets and costumes. Changes (which are emotional) to the casting). Although this book is specifically about the production of Follies, you needn't be familiar - or even like - the piece to get a heck of a lot from this book. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the process of theatre geniuses (and what else can you call Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince and Michael Bennett?) doing what they do better than anybody else.

If you have no interest in the musical theatre, this book is not going to hold anything for you at all. But, if you love theatre - especially musical theatre - this is one terrific book to read. I tried to read it slowly so I could bask in the reflected talent I was reading about. But, I found it impossible to put down and in two evenings I finished it. It's a very easy book to read - Chapin, the author/narrator, is quite personable and makes the arduous and treacherous journey to Broadway magic enjoyable and educational. I know it's very rare for me to ever give a book 5 ☆☆☆☆☆, as I consider a 5 a close-to-perfect book. And I certainly can't compare this book to Don Quixote or Anna Karenina or Beloved or To Kill a Mockingbird as far as literature; however, it totally succeeds at the goals it has set for itself. I recommend it without reservation.


If you'd like to read more about the Broadway production of Follies,
click HERE to read about it on Broadway Gold.

Thanks for stopping by!

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(¸.•´ (¸.•´) Tristan

Dorothy Collins and John McMartin
as Sally and Ben singing "In Buddy's Eyes"

Dorothy Collins and John McMartin
as Sally and Ben singing "Too Many Mornings"

Michael Bartlett as Roscoe
"Beautiful Girls"

Kurt Peterson as Young Ben, Michael Bartlett as Roscoe, Gene Nelson
as Buddy, Arnold Moss as Dimitri Weissman, and John McMartin as Ben

John McMartin as Ben and the Loveland company
singing "Live Laugh Love"

The Loveland showgirls
 
The 6'7"-in-heels head showgirl in the Loveland sequence
Yvonne deCarlo as Carlotta and the cast
Alexis Smith as Phyllis in "Beautiful Girls" parade
Alex Smith as Phyllis, John McMartin as Ben,
Dorothy Collins as Sally and Gene Nelson as Buddy

Yvonne de Carlo as Carlotta, Alexis Smith as Phyllis and
Michael Bartlett as Roscoe with the cast in "Beautiful Girls"

The Loveland sequence company
Ethel Shutta as Hattie singing "Broadway Baby"
Yvonne deCarlo in "Who's That Woman"
Alexis Smith as Phyllis singing "The Ballad of Lucy and Jessie"
surrounded by the Loveland showgirls

 


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale ... a review

 

I don't remember who recommended this book to me (I should keep a list of these things - but, then I'd have to keep a list on my desktop of where the list is being kept, and then - well ... anyway), however, I am so glad they did! I also don't know how this book published twenty years ago escaped my attention; obviously, I wasn't paying attention!

Some authors have the unique gift of writing in a way that makes poverty - especially Great Depression poverty - seem almost beautiful. Truman Capote, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison were/are all able to create a private, secluded world of hard scrabble and destitution that existed in a bubble of familial love and compassion and comraderie. Joe R. Lansdale, the author of The Bottoms, is that kind of author. Though the characters in this novel are dirt poor and the plot line is squalid and grubby on the surface, the author has put a 'spit shine' on the whole thing and it has sparkle and romance to it that perhaps it doesn't deserve, but, nonetheless it's there and it's a joy to live through. As Tom says in the opening of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, "The stage magician gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

The book is a narration by a very elderly man in a nursing home as he reminisces about his youth in a small town in East Texas. It's a coming of age tale that involves family history and discovery, awareness of Jim Crow racism, violence, rape and alcoholism, and finally a serial killer. Though the serial killer follows the story through the entire book, it is - in no way, shape, or form - a thriller. It's no more a serial killer book than To Kill a Mockingbird is about child abuse. It's a strategic part of the narrator's history - but it's not the focus of the author.

I'm not going to write more about it, because I'm afraid that I will spoil it for anybody who decides to take my prodding recommendation and reads it. This is one terrific book.

¨)
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•´) Tristan

 


to read more of my book reviews, visit
Tristan Robin Blakeman Goodreads Book Reviews


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Let Love's Wings Soar!


 

Happy Valentine's Day!

¨)
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(¸.•´ (¸.•´) Tristan

Friday, November 20, 2020

Merchandising an American Icon

Oh, American merchandising! 


In the classic 1950 Disney movie, Cinderella's faery godmother gives her a silver ball gown and bibbity boppity boos her strawberry blond hair into an updo.
 
 
The ball gown is silvery and shimmery and white and sparkly - and perfect to set off those all-important glass slippers (which we never are to learn exactly how she is able to walk in). He hair is still that lovely shade of strawberry blonde, which keeps her from looking too much like a California surfer chick...but like a - well - prototype for decades of Disney princesses!
 
However - to mix faery tale metaphors - there is a poison apple in the mix here.
 
When the designers for the merchandising for the film went to the drawing boards, they thought that the dress looked too bridal, so they changed it to blue - and also lightened her hair, because the solid buttery shade of yellow was an easier color to manufacture!
Not to mention, with so many Cinderella dolls to sell, they had to make sure that the ball gown was easily distinguished from her wedding gown - because selling two gowns for a doll was much better for the cash drawer than selling only one!
 

Was this merchandising tweak successful?

Well, now, today, everybody thinks that Cinderella wore blue to the ball - even people who have never seen the classic film! Does it matter that it's not true? Not a bit. After all - impossible things keep happ'ning every day!
 
Even when Disney remade Cinderella as a live-action film, they changed the color of the ball-gown from silver to blue to strengthen the merchandising image, not the original film!


This fascinating piece of useless trivia brought to you by ... Enchanted Revelries and me!

Now, go make something beautiful!

¨)
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•´) Tristan

 and I leave you with the enchanting stage magic of the 2013 Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical Cinderella, starring Laura Osnes and Victoria Clark singing the transformation song Impossible


 



Saturday, November 7, 2020

America Has Been Put Through Enough, Mr. President - I'm Weary and Worn Out

It has been a long while since I posted here. I have been rather distraught and disjointed and semi-dysfunctional over the events of 2020 in America. From the pandemic and the dreadful response to it by the government; the tragic race-baiting and rioting; the racist profiling and murdering of people of color by some police officers; our President's litany of lies, distortions, misinformation and deceit spread throughout the country by social media almost daily; and, finally, the election. I'm just bone-tired of it all. It has been - by far - the most dreadful year of my life. And nothing bad happened to me personally! Even though I take the attempt to destroy democracy in my nation somewhat personally.

As always, John Pavlovitz (who I now refer to as my best friend - with my tongue firmly in my cheek, as I've never met the man), has written a short essay which expresses exactly how I feel, but in words that are succinct, comprehensible - and not worthy of censoring!

President Trump, Haven’t You Put America Through Enough?













 

 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Americans and Their Abusive Relationship

I know, I know, I know ... it's very bad form to post political opinions on an arts and travel and unique special interests blog like this one. And I haven't in over a decade, so I am pretty good. But, we are in a most unusual time in our nation - in the world! - and I read this very short essay by the marvelous John Pavlovitz today. It articulates exactly how I feel about this issue right down to the last comma and period. So, I'm going to post it in its entirety here. I hope you read it, and take from it what you will

Americans Need To Get Out of This Abusive Relationship

 

 

 

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(¸.•´ (¸.•´) Tristan


John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past four years his blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said has reached a diverse worldwide audience. A 20-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. In 2017 he released his first book, A Bigger Table. His new book, Hope and Other Superpowers, arrived on November 6th.

Press

Chicago Tribune
Anti-Trump pastor John Pavlovitz doesn’t want thoughts and prayers; he wants hope and action

Billings Gazette
Former megachurch pastor visits Billings, makes appeal for more kindness amid disagreements

Chicago Tribune
Just in time for Thanksgiving, instructions on building a bigger, more inclusive table

Indy Week
How Raleigh’s John Pavlovitz Went from Fired Megachurch Pastor to Rising Star of the Religious Left

Religion News Service
John Pavlovitz, digital pastor of the resistance, pitches a bigger Christian tent

John on Facebook →
John on Twitter →
John on Instagram →
John on YouTube →
Pledge at Patreon →
Give through Paypal →
Order John’s New Book →
Contact John →

 

 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Birds of a Glorious (Pink) Feather ...

As I was surfing and browing around the internet, I stumbled upon this image of a bird family that intrigued me. The vibrant shocking pink color of the feathers was the first thing that caught my attention, but then I noticed the unusual shaped beak, and that the male and female of this species looked remarkably similar (unusual for 'show-y' birds!), not forgetting that the beaks on the babies were obviously going to grow into that strange platypus-shape - but start out more like little duck beaks. I did a little searching and discovered that this is the Roseate Spoonbill from South America.
 
Well, of course I realized how fun it would be for a Pink Saturday post to search out other pink and fabulous birds, both exotic and domestic. And, to my surprise, there were no small supply of them! From parrots and pigeons (yes! pigeons!), to canaries, a rare cardinal species, not to mention the gorgeous Flaring Pink Gorget!
 
I've assembled a Pink Saturday dozen for you to enjoy! I hope you find them as enchanting and almost magical as I do!
 

 


... and of course, I couldn't complete the dozen without a photo of stunning pink flamingo!
 

As always, thanks to Beverly for hosting Pink Saturday blog hop - be sure to check out the other offerings at the link here.

... now go and make something beautiful!
¨)
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•´) Tristan

 ... and just one little addition - with the dozens of books read during the shelter-in-place order for the pandemic, I have just read my absolute favorite book of the year.

 
Becoming Duchess Goldblatt...A Memoir by Anonymous 
 
My Goodreads review of Becoming Duchess Goldblatt:
 
I opened this book with no expectations. As I am a fairly fast reader, I was halfway through it when I realized: whoa! This is something special. Something not to be glossed over. This is something to be savored. So I started over, and read slowly, relishing every delicious word combination and whimsical improbable possibility.

I only wish I had discovered Duchess long before the book was written and I was made aware of her. She is a magical, enchanting, and devilishly clever wordsmith who has the ability to envelope her reader in genuine love and compassion and the care that would come if the reader were one instead of one of thousands.

I can't even begin to say what this book is. It's not a novel. It's not a biography. It's not a roman à clef. It's not a book of humor. It's not a self-help book. It's not a celebrity expose. It's not the story of survival and emotional courage. However, it's all of those things.

If treasures like "Sometimes I tie your words in linen with a little lavender and mint and use them as a poultice for my weary old heart" and "If you find yourself feeling embittered, roll around in a barrel of kosher salt until encrusted, and then set yourself in a collander to drain" or "A lot of people go very Martha Graham when dancing on their enemies' graves. Me, I like flamenco. I want the souls of the dead to feel it" excite and thrill you and make you smile, rush out and get this book!

It's less than 200 pages...you can easily read it twice in once sitting. And, when you read it, you will want to read it again!