Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

The Chain

The Perfect Ghost: A Novel by Linda Barnes (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 310 pages)

I know it’s not art… but it’s writing. It’s work, a bold answer to the inevitable question What do you do? It’s a way to support myself beyond mere and meager subsistence. It’s a life. It’s my life.

The Perfect Ghost (nook book)

This is a story that devolves before the reader’s eyes. The Perfect Ghost begins as a novel filled with beautiful language that brings to mind Maggie Pouncey’s novel, Perfect Reader. Ghost is about a ghost-writer, Em Moore, who works with a partner — the public face of the team — to write a highly successful non-fiction book about Hollywood celebs. When the partner suddenly dies, Em must fight tooth and nail to convince the publishing company to let her finish a follow-up book about a famous film director for which she and her deceased partner had a contract.

Unfortunately, author Barnes — who in the past wrote numerous mysteries — is not content to stick with this intriguing story line. Instead, the book veers off the main road (that of a novel) and turns into a diversionary journey (a mystery) about multiple crimes. As in most mysteries, all is resolved in the final pages. But by then the thrill is gone.

At just 300 pages this story is almost a novella, which means that not too many hours of reading will have been wasted. That’s small comfort, very small. You know an author is in trouble when she begins larding the story with lines from Shakespeare’s plays.

“All’s well that ends well.” Such is not the case here.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on April 9, 2013.

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Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.00, 279 pages)

Ever wonder if those fabulous songs, novels and paintings that make life so much more enjoyable can only be created by a few brilliant and troubled people?   Maybe you aspire to be more creative, or you wish it for your children.   Jonah Lehrer, the thirty-something scientific writer, has done an in-depth study of the creative process.   He begins his latest work, Imagine, by focusing the first half on the individual and the way the parts of his brain interact.   The second half of the book explores what happens when groups of people work together in the attempt to be creative.

Because Lehrer is an engaging story-teller, the reader gladly accompanies him as he learns about what led to some of the most memorable individual creativity of recent time.   For example, Bob Dylan is the subject of the first chapter.   Later in the second part the reader hears the back story about some of the most amazing corporate breakthroughs that produced winning products like the Swiffer Sweeper.

This is no magazine quick-read or glossy book with simple highlights to quote at the next family gathering.   Rather, Lehrer blends his discussion on neurology with diagrams and clearly written text that is fascinating, rather than academic or – heaven forbid – boring.   He concentrates on what makes us who we are and our unique humanness.   As progress is being made in the exploration of the human brain, new findings and concepts have come to light.   Our brains can be seen in action through the use of equipment such as the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.   The results of these studies and experiments that were conducted while scientists were peering into active brains are fascinating.   Lehrer uses the “You Are There” technique to draw the reader into appreciating the scientists and researchers he showcases along with their contributions to understanding creativity.

There are some requirements for achieving notable creativity.   It’s not a matter of being zapped by a great idea.   As Lehrer states, “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of working memory.   For one thing, there is a strong correlation between working memory and general intelligence, with variations in the size of working memory accounting for approximately 60 percent of the variation in IQ scores.”   Moreover, the poems, plays and novels we have enjoyed from writers like W. H. Auden or William Shakespeare, were not produced in brilliant flashes of insight.   The authors dedicated time and energy to writing and rewriting their works until the result was perfection.

Lastly, Lehrer makes a great case for nurturing the youth among us by fostering in them what he calls “the outsider view.”   It’s not memorization or rote school work that will foster creativity; rather, it’s taking a step back, detaching from the obvious and fostering an alternative view.

“According to the researchers, the advantage of play is that it’s often deeply serious – kids are most focused when they are having fun.”

Imagine is a well-paced learning experience that keeps the reader’s attention and is never overwhelming.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Jonah Lehrer earlier wrote How We Decide, which is reviewed here along with The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar:  https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/the-art-of-choosing/ .

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(A) Kiss from a Rose

The Weird Sisters: A Novel by Eleanor Brown (Berkley Trade, $15.00, 368 pages)

“See, we love each other.   We just don’t happen to like each other very much.”

This is the story of three sisters, and of their retired Shakespeare-spouting professor father and a mother stricken with cancer.   They are three very different sisters, which is what creates the tension in this family novel.

Firstly, there is Rose (Rosalind), the oldest and smartest one, born six years before the second child and twelve years before the youngest.   She has found a perfect man to marry but with one small problem:  He’s teaching at Oxford and wants to stay there, thank you very much.   Secondly, there’s Bean (Bianca), the glamorous middle daughter fired from her job in New York City due to a crazy little thing called embezzlement.   She’s a beauty but not quite perfect.   And, thirdly, there’s Cordy (Cordelia), the baby, the wild one pregnant with the baby of an unknown father.   Cordy’s always been a wanderer.   Is she finally ready to settle down?

It’s their mother’s cancer that brings them back together under the same roof in a small town in Ohio.   There’s not much oxygen to spare…  You are likely thinking that this is going to be one very predictable read; if so, you would be wrong.   This is a novel that surprises and delights.   Author Eleanor Brown seems to tell the story in flawless fashion – I kept looking in vain for the seams in the tale.   They’re there somewhere, but they seem to be woven with invisible thread.

Brown’s journalistic voice contains a beautiful tone which is never too strong nor too weak.   It simply feels like one is listening to someone accurately describing and detailing the events of three sisters’ lives.   And there’s likely more than a trace of real life in The Weird Sisters, as the author just happens to be the youngest of three sisters.

“There’s no problem a library card cannot solve.”

Anyone who loves literature and the greatest writer in the English language will treasure Brown’s educated and clever references to the writings of William Shakespeare.   Each of the daughters is, naturally, named after a character in one of the Bard’s plays, and their lives sometimes feel as if they’re characters in a play.

As the story unfolds, the three sisters must deal with their mother’s mortality and with their own coming to grips with what it is they actually want out of life.   In one sense, each of them must decide between an external (public) or internal (private) version of achievement.

Boomers and those of a younger generation will identify with the struggles of these late-maturing sisters:  “When had our mother gotten so old?   Was it just because she was sick?   Or was this happening to us all without our noticing?…  There was no one wondering about it – we were all getting old.”

“We were all failures,” thinks Bean at one point about herself and her siblings.   But they all wind up successes in a story that is wrapped up so beautifully well.   Contentment is the reward for the reading.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Weird Sisters was released in trade paperback form on February 7, 2012.   “Hilarious, thought-provoking and poignant.”   J. Courtney Sullivan, author of the novels Maine and Commencement.

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A Summer Reading List

Our local fish wrapper challenged its avid readers to come up with their own list of books to read this summer.   Here’s my list of ten (10):

Shut Your Eyes Tight: A Novel by John Verdon (July)

The second retired NYPD Detective Dave Gurney novel from the author of the mind-blowing Think of a Number.

Very Bad Men: A Novel by Harry Dolan (July)

Not quite as good as Think of a Number, but a close and exciting runner-up.

Fault Lines: A Novel by Anne Rivers Siddons (January)

From the author of Off Season, it’s set in the redwood country near Santa Cruz, with stops in Atlanta, San Francisco, and Hollywood-Los Angeles.

Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger (June)

The true story of the monumental love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.   “Reads like a Shakespearean drama.”   USA Today

Skipping a Beat: A Novel by Sarah Pekkanen (February)

Her debut novel, The Opposite of Me, was endorsed by Judith Weiner.   Enough said.

Guilt by Association: A Novel by Marcia Clark (April)

I’ve read it, but it was so much fun that I look forward to reading it again!

The American Heiress: A Novel by Daisy Goodwin (June)

What happens after a storybook wedding?

The Astral: A Novel by Kate Christensen (June)

This story has as many weaknesses as it has strengths, but it is highly engaging in an inexplicable way.

Robert Redford: The Biography by Michael Feeney Callan (May)

Biographies of famous but  secluded figures tend to be either brilliant or full and complete disasters.   I’m interested in seeing which category this one falls into.

Before Ever After: A Novel by Samantha Sotto (August)

A debut novel about a woman who finds out that her dead husband (going on three years) may very well be alive.

Joseph Arellano

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(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet

Exposure: A Novel by Therese Fowler (Ballantine Books; $25.00; 384 pages)

Author Therese Fowler has written the 21st century version of Romeo and Juliet.   Fowler portrays the complexities of the modern-day teenage romance highlighted by cell phones, computers, and on-line social networking.   She does an excellent job demonstrating the dangers of our advanced technologies when it comes to teenagers and the sharing of personal information in her upcoming novel, Exposure.

The star-crossed lovers, Anthony Winter and Amelia Wilkes have everything in common, excluding the financial status of their families.   Their shared passion for theatre brings them together in their affluent high school’s production of As You Like It, which in verse summarizes their own love story:

No sooner looked but they loved

Their commitment to one another begins with a secret romance shielded from Amelia’s arrogant father, Harlan, who shelters Amelia with the primary goal of ensuring that she ends up with the ideal partner who will provide her with a rich life, not the poor unfortunate one he had as a child.   He hopes for Amelia to pursue a business degree at Duke University and to find a shadow of him, a man with money and power who will provide her with the wealth that he finds essential for happiness.

Anthony, the talented and non-conformist son of a single mother was abandoned by his father before he was born.  He is fortunate to attend Ravenswood, the esteemed private school where he meets Amelia, only because his mother, Kim, has been hired to teach Art and French.   Kim, a supportive mom doing the best she can to raise Anthony with the limited resources she has, supports the relationship between her son and Amelia, knowing all too well the power of love and romance.

As Amelia and Anthony spend their time contemplating their plan for the future they become closer and, as a result, intimate.  Following graduation Amelia will reveal both their relationship and plans to attend New York University for drama while they both pursue careers on Broadway.   Months away from graduation their relationship becomes physical and, being the artists that they are, commemorate their relationship through writings, texts, e-mails, and photos.   This intensifies their relationship, which is presumed to be private and innocent (Anthony is 18 and Amelia 17), while they are away from one another…

One unfortunate day Amelia’s father hacks into her computer and finds explicit photos of Anthony.   Outraged and presuming that his innocent, naive daughter has been the victim of a heinous crime, he instinctually calls the police and begins an investigation that results in a series of events altering the lives of everyone involved.

Fowler expresses the true nature and concerns of sexting, and the repercussions of the open access that our children have to the Internet and other related avenues for sharing information.

Yes, Exposure may also take you back to relive the story of your first love… or the one that got away.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Exposure will be released on May 3, 2011.

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What the World Needs Now is Love

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Harper, a division of HarperCollins; $17.99; 448 pages)

When we meet Lena, her final year of high school is ending and she has one last summer to spend with her best friend Hana before the demands of adulthood claim her.   Like many almost-eighteen-year-olds, she sees cracks forming in her bond with Hana, and they worsen when she discovers that Hana has been listening to forbidden music and breaking curfew to sneak out to illegal dance parties.

Unlike many almost-eighteen-year-olds, Lena does not feel the need to have a last hurrah.   In fact, she is counting down the days until she can embrace the life that the government will plan for her, right down to selecting the boy she will marry.   Why?   Because when she turns eighteen, she will undergo the cure for the affliction that took the life of her mother: amor deliria nervosa – in a word, love.   And she can barely wait.

In the dystopian world of Portland, Maine, of the not-too-distant future, the government has determined that love is the root of all evil, and the remedy it has devised not only prevents its occurrence but also erases the memory of the fevered, distracting, roller-coaster emotions that plague those afflicted in their teen years.   Lena, short for Magdalena, as in Mary Magdalene, is anxious to prove to the couple that raised her – and to Portland, in general – that she is not like her mother.

But, of course, then she meets Alex, and she realizes that she’s wrong.   “If pneumonia felt this good,” she says, “I’d stand out in the snow in winter with bare feet and no coat on, or march into the hospital and kiss pneumonia patients.”

Delirium is a bit slow to get rolling, but readers who hang with Lena through her first “evaluation” for her “pairing” will be rewarded with a love story reminiscent, in some ways of Romeo and Juliet, as well as an exploration of other forms of love, and a nail-biting chase scene at its climax.

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver – whose debut novel, Before I Fall, was a New York Times bestseller – is the first book in a trilogy.   So Shakespeare can rest assured that Lena will not by any other name become a Juliet.   It will be interesting to see who she does become.

Highly recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Delirium was released in hardcover form on February 1, 2011.

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Tomorrow Is A Long Time

Tomorrow’s a Long Time for Teen Lovers

Exposure: A Novel by Therese Fowler (Ballantine Books; $25.00; 384 pages)

Therese Fowler’s novel, Exposure, is the latest attempt to bring Romeo and Juliet to modern-day audiences.   In it two seemingly well-adjusted teens, Anthony and Amelia, fall for each other with Amelia shielding the relationship from her controlling father, Harlan, a wealthy automobile dealer.   The two attend a prep school in North Carolina where Anthony’s mother is an art teacher.   The young lovers are theater enthusiasts who meet during a school performance and conceal their intimate relationship.   They are hoping to head for the Big Apple after high school because Anthony aspires to attend NYU.

Anthony is described as an Adonis and Amelia as her father’s princess, on the cusp of womanhood and striving for her independence.   Nothing is easy, of course, and complicating their dream of running off to New York is the fact that her father, a colossal snob, will only accept the “right” man for her daughter.   That person is an equally well-bred snob, whom – in Harlan’s mind – Amelia will meet attending Duke University.

The relationship turns sexual soon enough and further complications ensue.   While on a family vacation, Amelia requests that Anthony send her naked pictures of himself, and he obliges.   Of course, Anthony is 18, and Amelia one year shy of “adulthood.”   Soon thereafter, Harlan discovers the pictures on her computer, setting off a chain of events that nearly destroys everyone in the story – the survivors’ lives are forever altered.

Anthony’s mother has tacitly approved of the relationship, often recalling her youth.   She eventually ends up trapped in the mire herself.   Amelia’s mother, who probably could have prevented the unraveling, is incapable of standing up to her husband as Harlan self-righteously declares all-out war on the boy.

Fowler does well early on to intersperses character development with the plot.   The story boldly tackles a contemporary issue – sexting.   The legal and education systems are dumbfounded as to how to deal with this matter.   Concurrently, teens seem ignorant of the magnitude and implications of their actions, while many parents appear relatively oblivious as to the extent of the problem.

Some might question how big of a deal sexting is in the first place, but this reviewer speculates that those people would quickly change their minds if compromising photographs of their 13-year-old daughter were circulating around school.

A minor critique is that the dialogue seems a bit forced at times.   The rest of the storytelling is strong.   Exposure is a worthwhile and relevant tale about the perils of growing up in a modern digital age where the standards of morality are ever changing.   Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in the state of Wisconsin.   A review copy was provided by the publisher. Exposure will be released on May 3, 2011.   “Provocative, timely, and compelling…”   Meg Waite Clayton

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