All posts by flos56

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is not your typical self help book. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert does discuss deep philosophical questions about life and the choices we make, but her main focus is herself. It’s HER spiritual quest and if the reader finds comfort or develops a similar reality base, well good for them, but that is not her purpose for this saga. Trying to deal with a difficult divorce and the end of a torrid relationship, Gilbert finds herself on a one year journey divided between Italy (where she eats her way through the country while learning the language), India (finding some answers while exploring her spirituality at her Guru’s Ashram) and Bali, Indonesia (where she splits her day visiting a medicine man, a healer, and her lover since, despite her vow of chastity, she is having an affair with an older man from Brazil).

Gilbert is a beautiful, intelligent, witty, well traveled woman with an eye-opening way of expressing herself. I listened to the audiotape read by the author which is well enunciated and extremely literate, perfectly capturing the essence of her words.

This is one of those books I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t read when it was first published. To make matters worse, I didn’t see the movie either, although I hope to remedy that situation soon. However, the one advantage of coming late to the table with this one, is the irresistible tidbits of information which have recently been disclosed to the public.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a woman who has led a fascinating life and continues to astound us with her choices. She was a bartender during her youth at a bar in the East Village of NYC (revealed in an article entitled The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon, Gentleman Quarterly, 1997), and the movie Coyote Ugly (2000) is based on those experiences where she met her first husband. Divorced after almost nine years of marriage, Gilbert took a sabbatical from life to figure things out (on her publishers dime of $200,000) which resulted in Eat, Pray, Love (2006). She ended up marrying her fellow world traveler in 2007 (after he was detained and threatened with deportment), despite his multi-country connection – children in Australia, family in his native Brazil, a gem business in Bali, and then her, a wife in New Jersey, where they jointly owned an East Asian Decorative Import Store (Two Buttons) which was sold in 2015. In between Gilbert has written a best selling fiction book, The Signature of All Things (2013) which I have read (but not yet reviewed) plus in 2015 published another “self help” tome, Big Magic, whose audio was sent for me to review although it is still waiting unopened in its box. In addition, Gilbert wrote another memoir in 2010, Committed, which examines her life and marriage after Bali. A 2015 article for the New York Times, Confessions of a Seduction Addict, scrutinizes her obsession with flirtation and the results of the lustful urges which destroyed her marriage. However, the juiciest bit of gossip is the fact that she has recently divorced husband number two to be with the love of her life, her hairdresser and girl friend Rayya Elias, (remember Liz’s unmanageable mane) who was mentioned several times in Eat, Pray, Love. She has shared with the public that Rayya has terminal cancer and Gilbert wants to be there to provide love and support, which included a recent Ceremony of Love, although not a formal marriage.

Let’s just say that Elizabeth Gilbert has been living her life between the pages of her memoirs and needs some time to catch up with herself.

My immediate response to Elizabeth Gilbert after reading her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, is for her to relax and use that innate sense of humor to lighten up. The search for truth and the meaning of life is overrated, so just sit back, enjoy, and stop fussing. With all the pray and meditation, one would think she’d have had her problems put back in their place, but no – her regrets constantly reared their ugly heads. Move on and don’t look back or at the very least, let it catch up with you instead of looking for trouble since no matter how hard you try to hide from it, it will always find you. As far as any guilt for not wanting children, I think Gilbert made the right decision. Some women aren’t meant to be mothers and her career path and egocentricity (and I mean that in a nice way) would interfere with a fulfilling family life. Better to focus on being the favorite aunt and spoil those nieces.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a delicious way of looking at life and is the master of a well turned phrase making anything she writes a pleasure to read (or listen to on tape). While some might think this book is boring since, plot wise, not much happens, her pilgrimage along with the fascinating people she meets along the way more than make up for the lack of action. I especially loved the irascible Texan Richard (real name) who is full of droll advice and nicknamed Liz “groceries” to boot. For those readers who consider Gilbert a narcissist, well, if I had two popular movies based on my life released before I was forty years old and got to travel the world hobnobbing with all sorts of intriguing individuals while also making a bundle of dollars, I’d also be a little full of myself. (It’s not as if anyone pays me for what I write here on my blog).

Four stars. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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Lord of Night (Rogues to Riches, Book 3) by Erica Ridley

First of all, suspend all sense of reality, and forget that this book takes place during the Regency era since there’s a lot in this plot which would otherwise not make sense.

Lord of Night by Erica Ridley, Book 3 of the Rogues to Riches series, deals with Dahlia, the middle sister of the Grenville family. In Book 2, Lord of Pleasure, eldest sister Camellia, a prodigy known for her singing talent throughout the Dukes of War series, has wed the Earl of Wainwright and gone off to pursue her passion for opera, a fate which would ordinarily have caused social ruin for the entire family. If that weren’t enough of a scandal, Dahlia runs St Giles School for Girls, a boarding home for indigent girls teaching them skills which will keep them off the streets as beggars, thieves, or, even worse, prostitutes. Unfortunately, running a business costs money for things like rent, uniforms, supplies, food, etc. Dahlia, whose father is a Baron, needs to maintain her connections with The Ton to solicit the necessary funds to keep the doors open, and she isn’t above a little pilfering, playing a sort of Robin Hood, to protect her interests. Her mother and the rest of society don’t understand her fervent dedication and wonder aloud why she doesn’t devote her efforts to running a finishing school for the right type of patron instead of wasting time on those ruffians.

Enter Bow Street Runner Simon Spaulding, passing by while the Night Watchman is playing hooky, who rescues Dahlia’s latest recruit, a girl in danger of being robbed and raped by the dangerous element in the notorious St Giles neighborhood. Spaulding arrests the ruffian and promises to return to make sure they are all safe, a departure from his usual routine which becomes a habit of sorts. All of a sudden he finds himself actively involved in the life of the two dozen “refugees” and their matron, even giving up an hour of his time each week to assist in their dancing lessons. While he becomes fond of the students, it’s their teacher who has beguiled him, teaching him that his life should include something besides work. Yet if he wants that promotion he needs to capture the Thief of Mayfair, then perhaps he might even consider matrimony. Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize that Dahlia isn’t quite what she seems and that certain maiden also knows that she can’t marry an inspector, even if he is the bastard son of a Duke. If she wants her school to continue she needs someone with deep pockets willing to support her “little project”, (not to mention that marriage would transfer all the property she owns over to her husband’s domain). She can’t allow that to happen which is why she’s made special arrangements with her best friend and partner, Faith.

This is her dilemma, that and her growing attraction to the officer who would reject her if he knew the truth about her real identity and her thieving ways, especially since they have supposedly been confiding in one another.

This is one of Ridley’s better stories, full of charm as the young “ladies” find their voice, the detective discovers the joys of friendship, and Dahlia falls in love. There are a couple of twists before the two lovebirds find their happily ever after with appearances by some of the characters from previous books.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Lord of Pleasure (Rogues to Riches series, Book 2) by Erica Ridley

Michael Rutland, the Earl of Wainwright, commonly referred to as the Lord of Pleasure, is sick of constantly having his life appear as a caricature in the newspapers. It’s not his fault that women are taken not just with his title, but also his good lucks. All he does is try to be polite and complimentary to those he meets – so, why the fuss? And if he does consider a tryst with a woman of his acquaintance, it’s not with a debutante, but a more worldly woman, often a widow. He’s not the sort to take advantage or “ruin” a young lady. Yet, his critics accuse him of all sorts of things, mostly sordid. To make matters worse his best friends, Maxwell Gideon and Lord Hawkridge, have taken to displaying those very illustrations around his favorite hangout, the Cloven Hoof. Determined to change his reputation he vows to live quietly and keep his face out of the “comics” for forty days. Bets are made and the wager begins. No saint, he decides to attend the Duke of Lambley’s infamously bawdy Masquerade Ball for some discreet entertainment. Here he meets and becomes fascinated by Lady X. Of course, the rules of the establishment are “no names” (thus the masks) and neither Lambley or the amiable doorkeeper Phillip Fairfax are talking (see Lord of Chance, Book One of the Rogues to Riches series).

Then there’s Miss Camellia Grenville whose parents have just revealed she is to marry Mr Irving Bost from out of the way North Umbria. He’s coming in a month to start the marriage process, willing to make her his wife, sight unseen, based on her reputation as a good girl who never causes trouble – unlike her two hoyden sisters, Dahlia and Bryony. Despite having a father who is a Baron, the Grenville family seems to live on the fringes of The Ton, with their claim to fame the popular musicales they perform in their home. Middle daughter Dahlia runs a school for disadvantaged girls and has developed a distaste for Lord Wainwright when he inadvertently criticizes her endeavor causing her to lose some prospective critical funding. All three sisters band together in their hostility towards the earl who seems as frivolous as the scandal sheets imply. When they do meet, he is not given a warm welcome but asked to leave. The eldest daughter intrigues him with her bluntness versus the swooning he usually gets from females, even ones at the advanced age of twenty six. Little does he know that she’s the beautiful and alluring Lady X who is stealing his heart. Nor does she suspects he’s the bewitching Lord X who charms her each Saturday while she takes advantage of her last moments of freedom before the unwanted looming marriage.

Well written and intriguing with witty repartee and some interesting side trips, Lord of Pleasure is one of Erica Ridley’s better Regency Romances – Book 2 in the Rogues to Riches series. While the Musicales at the Grenville home featuring Camellia as the soloist, accompanied by her sister Bryony and brother Heath (Dahlia has no musical talent), have been repeatedly referred to as a must see event in the Dukes of War series, the sisters have never been front and center and the trio presents an interesting dynamic. The cluelessness which over shadows the entire affair provides a few head wags and while the Grenville parents seem heartless in marrying off their eldest daughter who would prefer to spend her days reading or huddling with her siblings, they truly love her and want what’s best. They even support, albeit reluctantly, their headstrong offspring in some outrageous life choices (see future books in the series).

While the author’s tendency to repeat the main character’s angst is evident, it seems under control and only mildly annoying and we won’t mention those parts of the book which don’t reflect the Regency period.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Lord of Chance (Rogues to Riches, Book 1) by Erica Ridley

With Philip Fairfax it’s feast or famine. His parents, living at the edge of The Ton have no idea on how to manage their expenses, so more often than not they have to sell their possessions in order to stay in their rented London townhouse, unless, of course, Philip has a lucky streak playing cards. It seems their son has been gambling since his teen years, keeping his family afloat on more than one occasion. We first met Phillip in Erica Ridley’s Dukes of War series when he’s present at the marriage of his sister Sarah – (both times). When Sarah needs time to think he whisks her off to his friend’s house, Lady Katherine Ross. Everything works out nicely for his only sibling, and now she’s happy with her husband and twin sons living not far from their family home.

Too bad Phillip isn’t doing as well in the Regency Romance, Lord of Chance by Erica Ridley. His usual luck has been eluding him and he’s had to flee to Scotland to evade his creditor. Philip needs 2000 pounds or it’s debtor prison – and how can he help his parents if he’s in jail. Yet the charming, affable young man always has hope. Surely he can talk his way into getting more time to come up with the cash. Plus tonight has been especially lucrative, thanks to his lucky charm, Lady Fortune, sitting in the corner watching them play. Yet somehow, she’s the one who ends up with the 200 pounds and he’s left without enough blunt to pay for a place to sleep. Escorting the lady back to her room, she is assailed by an unsavory character. Thinking to save the day, he discourages the intruder by claiming to be her husband and she agrees. Little do they realize that publicly stating their marital status is the same as exchanging their vows before a magistrate – or at least it is a legally binding marriage by Scottish Law. Now Phillip is the husband to Charlotte Devon and she has added a whole mess of burdens to her own stack of problems. Seems the young miss is searching for a reputable life after growing up the bastard daughter of a courtesan. If only she could find her father, perhaps he would accept her with open arms. The family jewels, which she wears in the hopes of being identified, are her only connection to the Laird she hopes to smoke out of hiding. Now she must follow her husband back to London and give up her dreams of respectability. Even worse, how will he feel when he discovers her mother’s profession. Since the two look so much alike, men are always pointing a finger in recognition, an embarrassing situation she wants to avoid. Perhaps Phillip and Charlotte, each with their own millstone to carry, can resolve their issues together as a husband and wife team. If not, there is always annulment, as long as they don’t consummate the marriage, which might be difficult because there is an amorous feeling growing between the two who now physically live and sleep together.

One can’t help but root for the charismatic Anthony who endeavors so hard to take care of his family which now includes a wife. Charlotte, however, is an unknown, who attempts to be supportive, but tends to be a little self centered and narrow minded while trying to resolve her “daddy issues”. Anthony, of course, comes through in the end, finding an unusual means of digging himself out of the hole he’s created. He’s also learned his lesson and gives up his gambling habit (a little hard to swallow, but okay) replacing it with a new “hobby”. Charlotte also has an “eye opening experience” which affects her outlook on life and promises to repair her strained relationship with her mom. With money issues taken off the table, here’s to a happily ever after ending for the young couple as the Rogues to Riches series continues.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

Opening Blurb: Grandfather Kemal is found in a vat used to color the kilim rugs he sells, meaning he literally “dyed”.

Orhan’s Inheritance is the perfect title for Aline Ohanesian’s premiere novel about a young man, Orhan Turkoglu, who inherits the family business when his DeDe dies. His bequest is unusual since a father usually passes his property to his son, not his grandson, but the 1990’s are modern times even in Turkey. Yet traditions remain strong and Mustafa threatens to take Orhan to court and challenge what he considers a bogus will. It’s not that the father wants to run the family business, he’s never earned an honest days work, it’s just the principle. Orhan fears his father will either neglect the business or sell it and waste the money, negating all his efforts to create a successful company.

However, that is not the gist of the story. The most unusual aspect of the will is that the deed to their family home is to be transferred to 87 year old Seda Melkonian, an unfamiliar name belonging to an elderly women living in an Armenian Nursing Home in Los Angeles, leaving him, his father, and his aunt without their beloved residence. Seda is the key to Orhan’s true inheritance and he travels across the ocean, his grandfather’s sketch book in hand, to have this stranger sign papers so he can keep his childhood home in the family as well as discover the mysteries of his Dede’s past.

Bopping back and forth between present and past, the reader is exposed to the genocide perpetuated against the Armenians living in Turkey during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, when the Turks sided with Germany in World War I. The Armenian Death March, where able bodied men were murdered or imprisoned and women, children, and the elderly were forced to leave their homes and walk to the Syrian dessert, is prescient to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. Similar to the attitudes towards those of the Jewish faith, the Turkish people resented the affluence of their Armenian neighbors – angry at the fees they charged when lending money, angry that they were Christian instead of Muslim, angry that the women were seen in public without covering their bodies (wearing a bonnet was not enough), angry that their success make them feel somehow lesser. So when the Turkish Army took action, the populace remained mum, even though it was their former friends who were taken away and shot as traitors. They blamed it on the war where casualties are to be expected, but there is a difference between war and genocide, a fact that needs to be acknowledged when a population of 1.7 million is reduced to 300,000.

Based on the memories of the author’s grandmother, Orhan’s Inheritance gives us a glimpse into the mind set of those who live in Turkey, a modernized Middle Eastern country with one foot still in the past.

A thank you to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 4 stars.

Savannah or A Gift for Lincoln by John Jakes

If you are looking for one of John Jakes sweeping sagas, then Savannah is not the book for you. This quaint little (by Jakes’ standards) Christmas story, if you can call any book set during Sherman’s March to the Sea “quaint”, Is a somewhat quiet interlude lasting from the newly established Thanksgiving, 1964, through a couple of weeks into the new year. Yes, there is looting and destruction by both Yankees and Rebs, but Savannah plays the perfect host, welcoming their enemies hoping to avoid the burning experienced by the neighboring city of Atlanta. Here we meet General William T Sherman, an unusual type of soldier, slovenly in appearance but determined to end this war once and for all.

Yet, Sherman is not the main event. This is the story of twelve year old Harriet and her widowed mother, Sara Lester, who are forced to leave behind their rice farm and move into Savannah when the fields are flooded by the rebs to help slow the advance of Sherman’s army. Moving in with her best friend, Mrs Vastley Rohrschamp (who both fears and secretly welcomes the idea of being somehow defiled by the enemy), the three women try to get by as best they can in times of uncertainty and poverty. Hattie, a headstrong, reckless young lady, is the main focus as she wages her own battle against the Yankees, even going so far as to kick General Sherman in the shins. His reaction surprises her, and afterwards she feels comfortable enough to ask him for assistance when the need arises. Still, Hattie admits they can never be friends since her heart belongs to Dixie and she cannot forgive the deaths of her father and others who were killed in the war.

There’s some violence, some love, some evil doers, and some kindhearted gentlemen looking out for the three companions. As I said, a sweet little wartime Christmas story.
This one was perfect for listening, with an abridged audiobook read by Dylan Baker.

Oh, and the subtitle “A Gift for Lincoln” refers to the telegram Sherman wired to President Lincoln on December 22nd with the message, “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

Three stars.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck is another World War II story, but this one comes from a different angle, exploring the mayhem in Germany after the Allies storm Berlin and the Fuhrer is dead. In the small villages throughout Germany, the common people supported Hitler and are secretly angry at the Americans who have taken over. Necessities are scarce, not only food and clothing, but fuel needed for the coming winter months. They refuse to believe the atrocities described on the radio and the films depicting emaciated prisoners being released from the concentration camps are in their minds a hoax (or much worse, really German prisoners who have been mistreated by the true enemy). Although deep down they know the truth, they refuse to take any blame or even acknowledge a crime against humanity has been committed by their beloved country. In this case, pretended ignorance is bliss. Yet, even accepting guilt won’t change the past. Despicable behaviors were too often forced upon them in order to survive. In a way, they too were victims.

Yet not all Germans were culpable. Many were appalled by the Hitler regime and a small group, the German Resisters, set out to destroy the Fuhrer before he could do further damage. Unfortunately they failed in their attempt and were hanged for their efforts. Left behind were their wives and children and this is where our story takes us, to an old-fashioned Bavarian castle without modern amenities where three women and their young ones band together to survive the post war period.

Marianne von Lingenfels, married to Professor Albrecht, an aristocratic descendent of famed German Generals, played an active role in dissent, but, being a woman, is left behind to pick up the pieces when her husband and his compatriots are sentenced to death. Her childhood companion Conrad (Connie) Flederman has extracted a promise from her to look after his wife and son, and so she diligently seeks out Benita and their sensitive child Martin, and also tracks down fellow widow Ania Grabanek and her two reticent sons, Anselm and Wolfgang, rescuing them all from the deplorable conditions common in the aftermath of war. Together, along with Marianne’s own three children, Fritz, Elizabeth, and Katherine, they live in the Von Lingenfels’ ancestral Castle, working as a team to raise their newly formed family, surviving as best they can during the reconstruction of Germany.

The tale meanders back and forth between 1938, 1945, 1950, and 1991, presenting varying points of view as each of the characters explores their particular circumstances during those time periods revealing hidden truths through their introspections. While the modern day ending should be one of hope for those who survived such trauma, I found it eerily unnerving, even depressing, as the “family” has difficulty moving forward and discovering happiness. Even success is tinged with a sense of sorrow, as if the yolk of war crimes is a millstone which can never be set down.

This is a novel with a lot to say giving the reader a somewhat different perspective of the war, requiring some reassessing of the truths we learned about Hitler’s Third Reich. Jessica Shattuck’s mother was born in Germany in 1943 and after her death, the author spent time with her Grandmother trying to find out more about her mother’s childhood. This plus all the other research is evident and I can see why it took seven plus years to complete. While her personal family history inspired this book, it is a work of fiction and not strictly biographical, although the viewpoints of her grandmother, an unabashed Nazi, are definitely reflected in the tone of the novel. If you find yourself drawing some parallels between this story and the current political climate in the United States, then consider that a bonus. Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.