Tag Archives: Vintage

Spunky Ladies, Part Deux

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman: A Mystery by Tessa Arlen (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 310 pages)

Class confusion erupts as rascal nephew Teddy Mallory’s body is found hanging in the woods of Lord and Lady Montfort’s country estate the morning after their much celebrated annual summer ball. The setting is the English country manor house and grounds as well as miles of fertile farmland that is worked by hundreds of families dependent on the estate for a livelihood. The time is the early 20th century Edwardian Era.

Author Tessa Arlen has taken on the shifting social dynamics of upper crust society just after the dawn of the industrial revolution. There are strict unspoken rules observed as the gentry interact with their social peers. The set of social rules for interactions between the gentry and their manager servants (in this case, the housekeeper) and the household staff she commands are just as rigid.

To Arlen’s credit, her characters are made real by their thoughts, actions and feelings. The beautiful annual event has been turned into the search for the murder of Lord and Lady Montfort’s college age nephew who has always been difficult but lately has gotten himself deeply involved in criminal activities.

Clementine came downstairs for dinner early. She had taken care over her appearance and had chosen her dress thoughtfully; it was part of her resolution not to let the side down, it was important to keep up appearances at times like these. Her friends gathered together in miserable little huddles throughout the room and were a far more introspective and reserved group this evening, compared to the convivial get-together of the preceding night.

The reader can’t help empathizing with the houseguests trapped into staying while Teddy’s death is being investigated. The lot of them fear that there is a murderer among them. Lady Montfort (Clementine Talbot) takes on the challenge of solving the murder with the help of her stalwart housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, and together they forge a bond and take on sleuthing that most would deem inappropriate, especially since the local constabulary is actively seeking the murderer.

A well-recommended debut novel.

Vintage Gloss

Vintage: A Novel by Susan Gloss (William Morrow, $14.99, 320 pages)

Fast forward to present day Madison, Wisconsin where Violet Turner, a late twenties divorcee and owner of Hourglass Vintage, revels in expressing her individuality in a community that encourages folks like her. Hourglass Vintage, a clothing shop featuring many high-quality items, serves as the nexus for several women of varying ages and backgrounds, each of whom is faced with a life crisis.

Author Susan Gloss patiently sets out the circumstances that bring these women together. April Morgan, a pregnant teenage math wizard who has had a rough childhood and Amithi Singh, a comfortably settled middle aged naturalized citizen who emigrated from India with her academic husband 40 years ago, find refuge at Hourglass Vintage in the person of their most empathetic friend, Violet, when their lives are derailed by deceit and abandonment.

As April’s midsection grew, so did Violet’s sense of longing. She knew it was ridiculous to be jealous. April hadn’t had an easy life, and wouldn’t any time soon. Still, there was a luminosity about her lately, a quiet confidence. Violet had seen it in Karen’s face when she was pregnant with Edith, and she feared she’d never know the feeling herself.

Vintage is Gloss’ debut novel and it is reminiscent of The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean (reviewed on this site in March of 2011). Both proprietors face challenges as they struggle to maintain a vintage clothing shop. Violet has the advantage of having weathered a disastrous marriage, if that’s an advantage, and she knows how to stand up to bullies. April has been forced to step up and be the adult in her childhood with a bipolar mother who has recently died. Amithi is discovering that her world is not what it has seemed to be and she needs to sort out a new approach to her life.

The novel allows the reader breathing room so that the ups and downs experienced by the characters are not overwhelming. Clearly, this is not a tearjerker story.

Well recommended.

Rosemary and Crime

Rosemary and Crime: A Mystery by Gail Oust (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 310 pages)

Rosemary and Crime is the fourth book written by Gail Oust and the first of her Spice Shop mysteries. The main character and narrator is Piper Prescott, the recent former wife of C J Prescott, III, Esq. who is an ambulance chaser. Piper has plunged her divorce settlement money into Spice It Up!, a culinary seasonings boutique situated in Brandywine Creek, Georgia, an up and coming town where she is a Yankee among the Southern townspeople. The opening day for her shop is ruined by the murder of a local celebrity chef, Mario Barrone, who was scheduled to present a cooking demonstration.

“Must have been awful,” Gina continued, “what with finding Mario’s body and all.” She scooped a forkful of chocolate chess pie, a classic Southern sweet, into her mouth. “It it’d been me, I would’ve screamed bloody murder.”

Piper’s BFF Reba Mae Johnson, mother of twin sons, a widow and owner of Klassy Kuts beauty salon, jumps in to assist after the unfortunate discovery of Mario’s body by Piper focuses all the town’s attention on the crime. Naive Piper has picked up the murder weapon and left her fingerprints as she enters through the back door of Trattoria Milano, Mario’s high-end restaurant the night before her shop is set to open.

These better-than-average gal pals get themselves into some hilarious scrapes as they work furiously to solve Mario’s murder. Their nemesis is Police Chief Wyatt McBride, a recent hire in Brandywine, who has returned to his hometown after a law enforcement career in Florida.

Several of the males in this story have mighty character flaws to overcome as author Oust portrays them making many demeaning comments and acting in chauvinistic ways.

Recommended for readers who enjoy cooking and light-hearted drama.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were received from the publishers.

You can read a review of The Secret Lives of Dresses here:



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Full of Grace

Pictures of You: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books, $13.94, 336 pages)

There was no cause and effect.   There was no karma.   The truth was that he wasn’t so sure he understood how the world worked anymore.

At the start of Pictures of You, two women – April and Isabelle – are literally driving away from their marriages when they collide on a foggy highway.   Only Isabelle survives.   And she’s joined in the role of survivor by her husband Charlie, April’s husband Sam and his needy 9-year-old son, Sam.   In his neediness, Sam comes to view Isabelle as an angel placed on earth to rescue him.

It’s quite an amazing set-up for an extremely well written novel by Caroline Leavitt.   Leavitt writes in a calm, methodical, factual style that calls to mind both Michelle Richmond and Diane Hammond; and like those authors (and Elizabeth Berg), she intends to impart a few of life’s lessons in the process of telling a story.   One lesson has to do with powerlessness:  “You could think you understood things, but the truth was that you could never see the full picture of someone else’s life.”

Then there’s the fact that we look for something more than human in times of grief and trouble:  “Maybe tomorrow, the angel might be the one to come for him.”   “People believed in angels when they were most in trouble.”

…he had somehow photographed her so that her shoulders were dark and burly, as if she had wings under her dress…  (as if) she might spread them to lift off the ground and fly away.

Sam’s desire to make something sacred out of the very human Isabelle is a representation of the notion that everyone seeks comfort and safety in life.   When Sam’s father reads the obituaries in the newspaper, “He (doesn’t) bother to brush away his tears…  each one said the same thing:  Come home.  Come home.”

Isabelle, however, is the one who has the clear chance to re-start her life, and the reader will be intrigued to see what choices she makes.   The beauty of Leavitt’s telling is that what the reader thinks is going to happen does not.   And this, in itself, makes it a very special book.

Pictures of You concludes with a perfect ending in which everything is fully and satisfactorily resolved.   There’s also a Hollywood-style postscript, a look back from 21 years later, that adds a nice cinematic touch to the account.   All in all, this is an amazing second novel.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Magically written, heartbreakingly honest.”   Jodi Picoult

The reader who enjoys this book may also want to read American Music: A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn.  

  You can find our review of American Music here:  https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/late-for-the-sky/

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Come and Get It

Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy by James A. Roberts (HarperOne, $25.99, 368 pages)

“The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated.”   – H. L. Mencken

Author James A. Roberts is a professor of marketing at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.   There’s no doubt that he knows of what he writes.   In some ways Shiny Objects is similar to The Man Who Sold America by Jeffrey Cruikshank and Arthur Schultz, and Shoptimism – Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What by Lee Eisenberg.   Among them, the three  books capture a wide view of the marketing tricks, human weaknesses and buying trends that are behind the urge to attain the American dream.

Shiny Objects is clearly written for readers in the USA.   Author Roberts tailors what could easily be just another self-help book into a person-centered experience complete with memorable quotes at the start of each chapter (such as the one posted above).   He includes graphs, charts, sidebars and illustrations that enliven the very serious subject – compulsive acquisition that most folks cloak in the guise of the pursuit of the Great American Dream.

There is a strong interactive presence in many chapters that gently allows the reader to respond to the questionnaires that are designed to reveal personal tendencies, proclivities or urges related to material possessions and their appearance – which is, sadly, a false one – of granting happiness.

There is some original research associated with the writing of the book as well as numerous well-annotated references, data and quotes.   Roberts also references his survey of other researchers’ research on consumption/consumerism.

The marketing classes at Baylor presented by Dr. Roberts must be very popular given his smooth conversational style and ability to weave useful strategies through his narrative.   Perhaps this book, which is highly skeptical of the marketing practices in this country, is his way of offsetting the marketing skills he teaches in his college classes.   This quote makes the point: “The primary goal of this book is to make the argument that lasting happiness lies outside the consumer realm, beyond the shiny-object ethos.”

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Shiny Objects was released on November 8, 2011, and is available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.   “Shiny Objects is ultimately a hopeful statement about the power we each hold to redefine the pursuit of happiness.”   Amazon

Readers who find this book interesting may also want to consider Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (Vintage, $15.95, 336 pages) and Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt (William Morrow Paperbacks, $15.99, 315 pages).

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One Fine Day

One Day: A Novel by David Nicholls (Vintage, $14.95, 448 pages)

David Nicholls’ novel One Day was recommended by my friend and colleague Joseph (the passion and dedication behind Joseph’s Reviews) who shared that this book was “just about the best love story I’ve ever read.”   So with high expectations I sat down and finished the novel over the course of “one day” without disappointment.

Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew meet on their college graduation day.   Although their backgrounds are far from parallel and they have nothing in common when it comes to their future plans, they make a commitment to a lifetime of friendship.   Following a failed attempt at a romantic interlude (that we discover toward the end of the story), Emma continues to hope that the relationship will evolve into more than friendship as Dexter desires Emma but finds distractions in just about every woman he encounters.   The reader witnesses the ebb and flow of their relationship as Nicholls presents a synopsis of their lives written on the same day each year over a 20-year time span.

I enjoyed both characters as the story evolved.   Even during Emma’s continuous search for her life’s purpose and throughout the stages of Dexter’s egocentric lifestyle, I found their relationship heartwarming.   Emma’s ability to see the “real” Dexter and love him desperately even during his destructive phases, and Dexter’s continuous need for Emma’s support without the constant need for her companionship, presents an honest portrayal of the challenges and benefits of long-term friendship.   I enjoyed the cultural references outlined throughout the decades and was amused at the familiarity of the relationships I have with some of my own lifelong friends.   I won’t reveal any more of the details of Emma and Dexter’s story but will assure you that it is unpredictable and won’t disappoint.

Nicholls has great skill in blending humor, wit, devastation, and confidence in his characters and storyline, which he presented through detailed and vibrant dialogue.   I agree with my friend Joseph; this is one of the best love stories I’ve read.   It was an immensely enjoyable read and truly deserves the accolades it has received.   I am also a fan of actor Anne Hathaway so I believe that this wonderful storyline, combined with Hathaway’s talent, will make the movie version (coming out next week) well worth seeing.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “Every reader will fall in love with it.   And every writer will wish they had written it.”   Tony Parsons

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