Posts tagged: Phyllis

Book review: The Lost Saints of Tennessee

By , February 16, 2012

The lost saints of TennesseeThe Lost Saints of Tennessee
by Amy Franklin-Willis

Amy Franklin-Willis first novel, The Lost Saints of Tennessee is a story of family and the struggle to love each other despite of our faults and failures.

At midlife, Zeke Cooper finds himself fleeing his West Tennessee hometown and his grief and guilt over the death of his twin brother, anger at his mother’s misplaced dreams and the failure of his marriage. He seeks solace with older cousins on their idyllic farm near Charlottesville Virginia, a place where as a young man Zeke had aspirations of graduating from the university there and perhaps becoming a writer. Making peace with his dying mother and a house full of sisters, Zeke eventually picks up his feet and continues moving along life’s journey.

Franklin-Willis’ story is southern without being hokey and emotional without being overwrought.

- Phyllis

Book review: Lady Almina and the Real Downtown Abbey

By , February 13, 2012

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle
by Fiona Carnarvon, Countess of Carnarvon

If you’re suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal it’s time to open up Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy Of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon, the current lady of the castle that provides the setting for Downton Abbey.

Like Cora Crawley in the PBS Masterpiece tale, Lady Almina was a wealthy heiress, the illegitimate daughter of Sir Alfred Rothschild. His fortune injected a strong dose of capital that provided electric lighting, modern bathrooms and other amenities to Highclere castle and enabled his daughter and son-in-law, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, to literally entertain royally.

One of her first duties as Lady Carnarvon was to organize a 3 day visit by the Prince of Wales which cost 360,000 pounds in today’s money and involved redecorating and copious amounts of food.  Not all was extravagance though.  Like the Crawleys, the Carnarvon’s converted their castle into a hospital during WW I.  They also played an important role in the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

This story of the real people who lived in Downton Abbey’s set should tide you over till season 3.

- Phyllis

Book review: The Cellist of Sarajevo

By , July 1, 2010

The Cellist of Sarajevo
by Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Canadian author Steven Galloway, is a brief novel of four ordinary people trying to maintain their humanity in the midst of war.

A young father meticulously makes his way through Sarajevo’s streets to bring back water from the brewery, the only safe source of water in the whole city, provided by springs deep beneath the earth. He loves his family. He wants to help his grumpy old neighbor lady. He keeps moving, one excruciating step at a time. Every intersection is perilous and snipers kill in an instant.

A man old enough to yearn for retirement finds himself toiling in the only bakery still operating in the city. He dreams of Sunday picnics and playing with grandchildren. Every day his walk to work is perilous. He is all alone in the city after his wife and son escaped on the last bus out of Sarajevo.

Amidst this danger, a cellist appears at 4pm daily on the spot where 22 people were gunned down standing in line for bread. He plays Albioni’ Adagio, a piece of music from 17th century Venice discovered in the rubble of WW II’s firebombing of Dresden surviving that other terrible war. Is he playing for the dead or the living?

Arrow is the sharp shooter assigned to protect the cellist daily. Morally repulsed by this task, she was recruited for this duty against her will because she served on the university rifle team. Each of these characters yearns for normalcy and strives for humanity. This is an elegant and thought provoking little book.

- Phyllis

Book review: Candyfreak

By , June 24, 2010

Candyfreak: A  Journey Through The Chocolate Underbelly of America
by Steve Almond

For grown up fans of Willy Wonka, this memoir of a candy lover is a mouth watering Valentine of a book and an ode to America’s independent candy makers which are finding it more and more difficult to survive in today’s world of corporate giants like Hershey’s and Cadbury. A lifelong candy fiend, Almond claims to have eaten candy every day of his life and professes that there are 3 to 7 pounds of candy available in his household at all times.

Traveling around the country visiting local candy companies, Nashville’s own Standard Candy Company, maker of the famous Goo Goo Cluster is featured. Did you know this local company makes its bread and butter manufacturing various nutrition bars and candy bars for other companies and only makes their signature candy bar 10 days a month?   Also featured is the Idaho Candy Company’s Idaho Spud, first created in 1918.  It is a marshmallow like confection made of agar, a seaweed product, flavored with maple, sprinkled with coconut and rolled in cocoa to look like a potato.

Almond’s writing style is hilarious and if you get a hankering for any of the unique confections he describes there’s a list of handy websites offering these goodies for sale so we can all savor the joy.

- Phyllis

Book review: Peninsula of Lies

By , June 17, 2010

Peninsula of Lies:  A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love
by Edward Ball

What Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did for Savannah, this story does for Charleston.  I’m not sure why this story never achieved the same level of bestsellerdom but it’s just as lurid and fascinating.

It is the story of Gordon Langley Hall, the only son of parents who were “in service” to British aristocrats. After making his way to America he somehow managed to inherit the personal fortune of elderly American heiress Isabel Whitney. Hall headed to Charleston where he embarked on a grand restoration of an antebellum home on Society Street, filling it with fine antiques and making a place for himself in Charleston society. Adding further to his celebrity status he somehow managed to publish a string of  biographies, including one of Lady Bird Johnson.

All of this is scandalous enough but the real story begins when he takes up with a much younger African American man, changes his name to Dawn and has a sex change operation at Johns Hopkins. Bear in mind this all took place in the late sixties and early seventies. Think of the gossip. But wait, there’s more. Dawn shows up with a baby. Author Ball is to be commended for sorting the truth in the midst of a Gordian knot of lies, deceits and conflicting stories in this entertaining read.

- Phyllis

Book review: Maisie Dobbs

By , June 10, 2010

Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear

My favorite mysteries feature women detectives who rely on pure intellect to solve their cases. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Dorothy L. Sayers Harriet Vane come to mind. Add to this list Maisie Dobbs, nurse, veteran of the First World War, Cambridge educated, psychologist and private detective. This series by Jacqueline Winspear begins with Maisie Dobbs and continues with the seventh volume, Mapping of Love and Death, due out in March 2010.

Begin with this first volume, for background on how a bright working class girl developed into the remarkable Maisie. Starting out as a servant after the death of her mother, she is taken under the wing of Lady Rowan, the vivacious and progressive aristocrat who recognizes Maisie’s talent and sees she receives a first rate education after intense tutoring by her friend psychologist Maurice Blanche. During WW I Maisie finds herself a nurse in a field hospital in France where she treats victims of mustard gas and other horrific injuries before she and her fiancé, surgeon Simon Lynch are both injured themselves.

This war experience provides the foundation for all of Maisie’s work as a private detective, giving her compassion and understanding as she navigates the harsh realities of post war England when the tremendous death toll of the war left many damaged souls as well as social and economic devastation. Somehow, the conclusions she reaches while solving her cases move Maisie and her clients a little closer to healing the wounds of war. For mystery lovers who relish plowing through multiple volumes at once, this character driven series is a prize.

- Phyllis

Book review: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

By , November 29, 2009

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (vol. 1)
By Marjane Satrapi

As our nation emerges from years of isolation from Iran and attempts to engage a nation whose actions are frightening, this autobiographical graphic novel serves as an excellent primer on the history of Iran’s theocracy. For readers not tuned into graphic novels, don’t be deceived by the comic book format. Satrapi, born in 1969, is a child of the revolution but also the child of progressive, well educated parents who are at first elated by the overthrow of the Shah. They are quickly disillusioned when the Islamic regime evolves into the same sort of totalitarianism and fear suffered under the Shah. Marjane’s story continues in Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.

- Phyllis

Book review: The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British

By , November 28, 2009

The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British
By Sarah Lyall

Written by a New York Times reporter living in London and married to an Englishman, this is a delightful choice. With wit and humor Lyall explains the intricacies of British culture. She describes the elaborate game of cricket, so popular in Britain and its former colonies but a complete mystery to most Americans. Another chapter is devoted to the heckling that goes on in the House of Commons during prime minister’s questions as well as the blatant sexism in parliament that is shocking to Americans. Lyall also examines the differences between the generation of Brits who came of age during WW II, the queen’s generation, and the post war generation of Princess Diana. For anyone interested in our cousins across the pond this is a jolly good read.

- Phyllis

Book review: Escape

By , November 27, 2009

Escape
By Carolyn Jessop

What a harrowing story. What a brave woman. Born into the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints, Carolyn became the fourth wife of Meril Jessop when she was 18. This was not one big happy family. Jessop was abusive and controlling. The wives were jealous and cruel to one another and each others children. Carolyn gave birth to 8 children with no prenatal care and received no financial, physical or emotional support through four life threatening pregnancies and the serious illness of her 7th baby. This book offers insight into this mysterious religious sect and is the story of a brave woman’s survival and fight for her children.

- Phyllis

Book review: Skeletons At The Feast

By , November 26, 2009

Skeletons At The Feast
By Chris Bohjalian

Set in the final chaotic days of WW II, the Emmerich family flees their prosperous farm, hoping to avoid the approaching Soviets. With them is Callum, a Scottish POW who worked on their farm and never went back to prison after the growing season and secretly in love with the Emmerich daughter. They journey through bitter cold and witness death and brutality along the way. They are joined by a young Jewish man who has managed to escape capture for 2 years by disguising himself as a German soldier. Paralleling their journey is that of a group of concentration camp prisoners marched west to an aircraft plant where they are fed only enough to stay alive. At the beginning of the book Frau Emmerich and her family are proud Nazis, enamored of Hitler and comfortable on their elegant estate. As they suffer and see with their own eyes the evil inflicted by the Nazis they realize what fools they have been. While the plot of this book centers around the horror of war, its strength lies in its hope for the future and a message that life goes on and that life is good.

- Phyllis

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