The Lady is Daring by Megan Frampton (Duke’s Daughters series, Book 3)

Lord Carson (Bennett), heir to the Marquis of Wheatly, has avoided matrimony twice, both times to daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Marymount. In the first book of Megan Frampton’s Duke’s Daughter series, Lady Be Bad, Lady Eleanor ends up marrying Bennett’s younger brother Alexander and in the second book it’s his best friend who winds up with one of the other sisters, Lady Olivia. It seems three times the charm in The Lady is Daring when the Marquis urges his son to woo one of the remaining two siblings since he needs money to support his extravagant lifestyle. Bennett, who spends his days running the estate and his evenings trying to find investors for his business ventures, doesn’t have the time or inclination for an arranged marriage to benefit his dad’s other family – a mistress and their two children. Lord Carson’s disdain for his father is matched by his love and devotion for his invalid mother who only wants what is best for her son.

Then one night, Bennett’s life takes a turn when he has a bit too much to drink and somehow believes it’s a good idea to take a nap in an empty carriage.

In the meantime, Lady Ida, youngest daughter of the Duke, has decided to steal this very carriage so she can “rescue” her wayward sister who ran away with their dancing instructor and was now ostracized from society. This headstrong, singleminded plan of Ida is yet another example of the rash behavior of an adventuress who is more inclined to follow her own interests instead of the strictures of The Ton. She disdains the entire idea of matrimony since, after all, who would want to marry someone like her who is more concerned with topics such as gas lighting instead of more lady-like pursuits such as embroidery?

Unfortunately, Lord Carson refuses to allow Lady Ida to proceed without his protection, disrupting her plans. He reasons that since she is the sister of his brother’s wife, he can’t very well leave her to fend for herself. The two disparate personalities somehow find a commonality and a romance is inevitable as they deal with the numerous obstacles which they encounter on their quest. Bennett even finds Ida’s obsession with the mating habits of hedge hogs endearing.

The Lady is Daring was takes place in 1846 making it a Victorian Romance. Don’t look for historical accuracy, or for that manner common sense, in this “traveling” comedy of errors. However, if you are looking for a fun, quick read with some steamy love scenes, this book is for you.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club Which Revolutionized Stand Up written by Budd Friedman with the help of Tripp Whetsell and an introduction by Jay Leno

If you are fascinated by all things Broadway, yearn to read memoirs full of namedropping, and love the world of comedy, then The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club Which Revolutionized Stand Up written by Budd Friedman with the help of Tripp Whetsell and an introduction by Jay Leno is the book for you.
Full of comments and tributes from the recognizable major players who found the Improv a haven, Budd tells his saga of the hows and whys of the Improv’s existence and the details which led to not only its success but its role in launching many a comedian into the national spotlight on both coasts. Surprisingly readable, this is the opportunity to be the fly on the wall and discover the behind the scenes scuttlebutt of what happened when both the newbies and established members of the “Biz” let their hair down. A good book to add to your voyeur collection.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

I suppose I did not need to listen to the audiotape of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff which went into the gossipy specifics surrounding the first 200 days of President Trump’s Administration since I lived through the drama. Why subject myself to the painful events of the recent past, especially since the majority of the details just confirmed what I had already guessed (or read in the news).

Historically, it’s good to have a first hand account of what was obviously a chaotic White House. The author planted himself on a sofa and just observed, like a fly on the wall, the ins and outs of the West Wing. Often speaking with the participants who were able to vent their frustrations – sometimes off the record, sometimes in exasperation – the author, who originally was going to document Trump’s first 100 Days in Office, decided to stay an additional 100.

While some turmoil is expected when a new administration first takes over the White House, the total dysfunction of this particular administration was a result of the infighting and lack of experience of the individuals who surrounded and advised the President. Little did voters realize that when you elect an outsider to the political system, they don’t have a clue on how to govern. Their only hope is to rely on advice from competent people who understand the system, but Trump’s style was to wing it, often disregarding the guidance given to him by the “adults in the room”. Unfortunately his chief advisors were Steve Bannon and Jerod & Ivanka Kushner who were often at odds. The White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, was mostly overlooked and doomed to become one of the many who were forced to leave their position. While the main players were antagonistic towards each other, ultimately the President made his own decisions, disregarding what few facts he was willing to entertainment, replacing them with his gut feelings or making stuff up as he went along. The Press was right there reporting Trump’s actions in disbelief, responding to the outright lies repeated by Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway who tried to twist the stories into something which resembled reality aided by the Fox News Network.

The author goes into the minutia of day to day life including the comings and goings of the key players ending with the ouster of Bannon and the beginnings of the new Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, who it was hoped could contain the impulsive President from repeating such ill advised actions as firing FBI Director James Comey (which resulted in the hiring of Special Counsel Robert Mueller who began a serious investigation into the illegal activities of individuals like Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn – he pleaded guilty – as well as exploring the details surrounding the Russian tampering in the 2016 Presidential Election involving criminal actions such as the release of private emails from key Democrats.

With lots of anecdotes and observations, this is a good way to get a feel for the environment in the Trump White House and provide some information for future historians to analyze. The Trumps are such colorful characters that a slew of publications have followed their actions after less than two years in office. In one newspaper article an unnamed source attempted to relieve some of the public’s anxiety, allaying our concern with the tidbit that there are handlers in the Oval Office watching over the President to make sure he doesn’t start World War III. Listening to some of Trump’s comments, I’m not sure just how effective their efforts are going to be in stemming the tide.

I found Wolff to be a pompous, self righteous character with a huge ego to match, but despite the repetitions in his narrative and his obvious bias, the author does admit that these are conclusions based on his own perceptions, many of them backed up by news reports.

So, if you want to relive this nightmare and review the 2017 White House political dynamics with some hindsight perception, I give Fire and Fury three and a half stars.

I listened to this one on tape, read by Holter Graham with the author’s note read by Michael Wolff.

Please note: I “read” Fire and Fury in October 2018. So much has happened since then, someone needs to write another book.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Armor Towles

Who are these people who didn’t love Armor Towels’ novel A Gentleman in Moscow? Perhaps they are readers who like shorter books (this one was over 400 pages) or are more interested in action novels than character studies (fans of James Patterson?).

Perhaps they felt the entire premise was ludicrous, but I can assure them that house arrest is a common concept, not just in Russia, but throughout the world – even in the United States (think ankle bracelet). While a five star hotel like the Metropol (a real site still in existence in Moscow today) might not be a common locale, it definitely made for fascinating reading.

Then again, perhaps the reluctant reader is not a fan of Russia and found name dropping of that country’s cultural icons pretentious instead of endearing. Oh, Anna Karina (I read that one in college) and The Nutcracker (who doesn’t love a good Christmas time story – I can hear the music and see the dancers as we speak). Or they did not like Towles’ take on Russian History feeling his interpretation of events were too harsh.

Perhaps the reader got bogged down in the details. Towles admits he had to carefully lay out the specifics in the first half of the book in order to manipulate them in the second half providing a full circle of events. While some might have been bored, I found each little tidbit delightful, especially when the pieces were gathered up into a whole bouquet of events. Such a shame for those of you who stopped reading too soon.

There is also the possibility that the reader could not discern the charm of the Count, the very charm which led the authorities to spare his life. The same charm which led to a deep friendship with both the staff and the guests within the establishment. A gentleman through and through, his gentile manner, full of warmth and humor, created a character which should be long remembered in the world of literature.

Then again, these “readers” might not have appreciated the author’s craft, his ability to shape a phrase that elicits a knowing smile or creates three dimensional characters that we grow to love and care about. I feel sad thinking about those who missed out on this opportunity.

It took Towles a year and a half to write this novel and another three years to complete the editing process, fleshing out the historical details (I loved the little footnotes which seamlessly provided a background to events), nicely integrating fact and fiction. I expect though, that as he wrote the characters took on a life of their own and while he followed an outline, the book pretty much generated its own specifics.

Ultimately, I forgot I was reading a book since I was so immersed into the story, like a fly on the wall joyfully watching as events unfolded (some totally unexpected), delighting in the particulars and enjoying the clever turn of phrase. While the majority of the book was written from the Count’s point of view, there were several sections with a third person narration explaining events.

So, when you hear that the premise of A Gentleman in Moscow is about a Russian Count under “hotel” arrest at the Metropol for over thirty years (beginning in 1922), that description is just the tip of the iceberg, it is about so much more with the little things which are sure to create an afterglow as we digest the entire concept that one can live a full and rich life confined to one location.

You know this book is appreciated since it has not yet been released in paperback requiring those who of us tired of waiting for a copy to become available at the local library to purchase our own hardcover. No borrowing since everyone else is hanging on to their copy.

Kudos and a well deserved five stars.

People Hate People by Ellen Hopkins

At a time when hate has become a common occurrence where children are being held in detention centers while their parents are deported or bombs are being sent through the mail to high profile individuals or a synagogue has become the target of gunfire during a religious ceremony, these events, whether sanctioned or not, are the result of mistrust and resentment towards those who are not considered a part of main stream society. Nationalism (versus Patriotism), a part of the Make America Great Again Community, has become an accepted way of life for too many in the United States to the point where some individuals feel justified in acting out their feelings of hatred towards those they resent – for whatever reason.

Ellen Hopkins uses this darkness as the theme for her newest YA novel People Kill People. In her introduction she decries the rise of gun violence in this country and attempts to explore the reasons why someone might pick up a gun with the intent to do harm. Her unique style of combining freestyle poetry and introspective narratives introduces the reader to a group of struggling teenagers whose lives intersect through their reactions to their individual situations. Each faces varying issues, some dire others seemingly innocuous, but all internalized and possibly life changing.

We have seventeen year old Grace; her homeless boyfriend Daniel; Daniel’s half brother Tim, a skinhead; and Tim’s good friend Silas who is stalking Grace but finds solace in Tim’s cousin, the badass Ashlyn; Grace’s sister Cami who is a teen bride married to Rand with a two year old son Waylon; and Grace’s former best friend Noelle who was seriously injured in a car accident as a result of the shooting which killed Grace’s father. Their interactions create a story which ultimately leads to a shameful calamity.

I personally found this book difficult to read. The details were so tragic, the choices at times devastating, the introspections so negative I was left with a depressed view towards life, grateful that my own trials seemed trivial by comparison. This is definitely not a PG book since the dark subject matter  includes violence, sex, and numerous deplorable activities. Yet these subjects, while fictional, are based on real life events which occur too often in society, so I suppose they need to be addressed and discussed by the upcoming generation if attitudes have any hope of changing for the better.

Hopkins unique style provides smooth transitions as we “Slip into” each character’s skin and then “Fade out”,  helping us understand the motivations behind each of their choices.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Rabbit and Robot by Andrew Smith

Two spoiled teenage kids, sons of the richest men on earth, end up stranded on a luxury liner space vehicle and it looks like they are the last humans alive in the universe, or at least that’s what they think. It’s a world of cyborgs, war, drugs, and a crazy video series featuring Bonk and Mooney in the absurd and at times totally confusing novel Rabbit and Robot by Andrew Smith.

Cager Messer and Billy Hinman have led a sheltered life with carefully selected friends who are interviewed for the position. Basically ostracized from the general world at large, the two boys are usually left to their own devices and watched over by Rowan, Cager’s caretaker since birth. A cynical world is revealed full of curse words, sexual innuendos, bodily functions, and cyborgs who are obsessed with one thing or another unwittingly imparted into their being by disgruntled, happy, or horny workers. While these advancements of technology might be considered useful tools, like a toaster or can opener, their lifelike compositions make them difficult to ignore until, that is, they become infected with a “virus” and begin behaving unlike any modern human being.

Lots of twists and turns, this story is sure to appeal to the gross side of any preteen/teenage boy but might turn off anyone sensitive to antisocial behaviors such as constant swearing, erections, and farting. A “fun” little bit of entertainment with short chapters, lots of sumptuous meals, and some pompous robots who are prone to pontification along with their own fair share of gratuitous violence.

Despite the disgusting details, I’m giving this one four stars with a thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

 

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

Yes, I realize that not everybody has read the Anne of Green Gables series. I know, it was a shock when I realized that someone could spend an entire childhood without knowing the kindred spirit of Anne Shirley, but I can only hope they’ve at least seen one of the miniseries created from these books.

Luckily for us, Sarah McCoy is a fellow fan. What fascinated her was the little comment Marilla made to Anne about John Blythe, Gilbert’s dad, who had once been her beau until they had some silly quarrel and she was too proud to back down. That aside stuck in McCoy’s craw and motivated her to develop an entire back story about Marilla Cuthbert leading to research on that area of Canadian history and a trip to Avonlea in Prince Edward Island (where she developed a connection with the descendants of Lucy Maude Montgomery, the creator of Anne of Green Gables) with her mother who had introduced Sarah to these beloved books. Wanting to do justice to Montgomery’s intent, McCoy studied her original words so as to stay true to the characters while also allowing herself some poetical license in the writing of Marilla of Green Gables.

Marilla’s tale starts with her brother’s collapse in the barn and the decision to send for an orphan boy to help around the farm (we know how that turned out), the reader is then taken back in time to a thirteen year old Marilla, her twenty one year old brother Matthew, her pregnant mother Clara and hardworking father Hugh who had just completed their new gabled home for his growing family. We get to intimately know their personalities, friendships, and the doings of the town which shaped Marilla’s demeanor. We meet Rachel White, Marilla’s best friend; the disdainful Pyes; the neighborly Blythes. We discover the origin of the beloved broach which Anne is accused of losing, and the famous cherry cordial which Diana mistakenly imbibes. Marilla is not immune to the beauty of her home and she is the one who names it Green Gables. Her close ties to her brother Matthew are evident even though there is an eight year difference in their ages.

Sarah, you couldn’t have picked a more worthy subject and I’m pleased to say you’ve done it justice. For those who love Anne with an “e”, you will delight in getting to know the back story behind the straightforward, intelligent, strong willed, but secretly kindhearted Marilla. Despite getting teary eyed more than once (after all I know how it all ends), it was well worth the angst to discover the details, fictional thou they may be, of one of the most stalwart characters in literature.

And if you felt McCoy strayed too far from Montgomery’s intent/style to portray life in Avonlea during the mid-19th century, then there is a solution – Write your own book.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss and William Morrow Publishers for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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