Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg, The Traveling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones, The Tygrine Cat by Inbali Iselrles, and A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

A book that I really want to read when it comes out next week, reviewed on Shelf Awareness:

Review: The Dream Lover
Elizabeth Berg (Tapestry of Fortunes
has a gift for creating characters who reflect the emotional lives of
ordinary contemporary women. In The Dream Lover, George Sand, the first
female bestselling writer in France, is in her 70s. Aware she is
beginning to fail, she recalls her astonishing life, full of enviable
literary accomplishments and famous friends and lovers, to find "the
beating heart of what I most truly was." That vital thing is the need to
love and be loved, "for the rest," she says, "is dust."

What comprises "the rest" in Sand's case is, of course, a very great
deal. Born Aurore Dupin and raised by her grandmother on the family
estate in Nohant, Sand marries young but eventually leaves her
philandering husband for Paris, intent on becoming a writer. She finds
work as a theater critic for Le Figaro, dressing as a man so that she
can buy the inexpensive tickets forbidden to women. Her novels, which
she writes at night, are lavishly praised for their eloquence and
unsparing depiction of the realities of domestic life, especially for
women. Her circle of lovers and friends widens to include Chopin, Liszt,
Hugo and Flaubert. She lives for the passion of each new affair before
it, too, runs its course.

It is the actress Marie Dorval, Sand's dearest friend and one of a very
few women in her close circle, who most breaks Sand's heart. Marie knows
Sand best. "You have an expectation of something that cannot occur," she
says, of Sand's unhappiness in the face of love's inevitable

Berg's prose is lovely, recalling the rhythms of 19th-century speech.
The story proceeds episodically, much as a life might be remembered. Her
Paris and Nohant are flawlessly rendered, rich with the textures of
daily life. She avoids loading her narrative with extraneous details,
keeping the focus on her protagonist, through whose distinct sensibility
we experience the fictional present. The tension that fuels The Dream
Lover comes from making the larger-than-life experiences of its
extraordinary historical protagonist secondary to her emotional core and
her consuming need for love. A less ambitious writer might have used
Sand's glittering and unconventional life to affirm the attainability of
everyday fantasies, but Berg, with her trademark sensitivity and
compassion, has instead imagined a more human George Sand, one who is
ultimately defined by the universal need to be true to oneself, and to
an abiding love. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and
The Traveling Tea Shop was a clearance book at Barnes and Noble, and it looked like my kind of chick lit, considering how much of an Anglophile that I am and a lover of a good cuppa tea and sweets. Unfortunately, the book reads like it was written for pre-teen girls, and the characters are as simple as the prose. Though there is something to be said for a book that is so easy to understand that you know what will happen throughout the book by page 25, I usually prefer my protagonists to be not quite so cliched and stereotypical. Laurie, the main character, runs a foodie travel company with her friends, and when she meets a famous TV chef, Pamela, and books a trip through New England with Pamela and her spoiled, obnoxious daughter Ravenna and her mother, spunky meddling senior Gracie, things are supposed to go awry, and of course secrets are to be revealed, and everyone is supposed to fall in love and find themselves. During this journey by red double-decker bus, the group stop at specific hotels and restaurants and bakeries that actually exist, and talk to chefs who are real, but they do so in a disturbingly "product placement in a movie" fashion, with paragraphs that ooze a fawning servility that makes the reader wonder whether or not the author was paid to place an advertisement for these establishments in her novel. Each cake or cupcake is more delicious than the last, each chef more amazing, each town in New England full of beauty and wonder. Having actually lived in Cambridge, Mass, where Harvard is located, and several other towns nearby, I know for a fact that Boston and Cambridge aren't that beautiful, and the prices for food and drink are astronomical and therefore not easy for students to afford. As a graduate student, I couldn't afford most of the places in Harvard Square, and forget going out to clubs at night, I couldn't afford even one drink, especially after paying huge rents on my one room in an apartment with three other people. I could not afford to eat anything but Ramen noodles and beans, and I worked nearly 35 hours a week in addition to writing my master's thesis. I drove a car for a blind woman for awhile, and traffic in Boston and Cambridge is horrifying, drivers speed and honk and are obnoxious and traffic is always bumper to bumper. So I can't imagine that a huge red English bus would just sail through without at least encountering a fender-bender or a few rude drivers yelling and cutting the bus off. I have also been to Connecticut, which is also not what most people would call beautiful, and I have lived in a Maine town that bordered a town in New Hampshire. While they were nice little towns that were quaint and all, and the lobster and other local dishes were fresh, they certainly weren't something to go into rhapsodies of bliss over. Another problem with the characters is why they're all so solicitous and in thrall to the horrid Ravenna. Seriously, the main character blubbers and apologizes and nearly loses the supposed love of her life because she feels she somehow needs permission from this vile teenage creature to proceed with a relationship. Laurie is so servile, such a wimp that it is difficult not to despise her. But then, Pamela also knuckles under to her daughter and is, for some bizarre reason, terrified of the child. Ravenna's father also somehow thinks his daughter is the second coming, which is just plain weird, as he hasn't even been around for most of her life. The only person in the group with any spine at all is granny Gracie, who is manipulative and used for comic relief from the rest of the fools in this book. I'd give this book a very generous C-, and I would recommend it to those who like the brainless Harlequin romances of the 1960s-70s. 
The Tygrine Cat by Inbali Iserles is that rare book that straddles the YA/Adult genre with ease. It concerns the lives of feral cats and of two groups of cats locked in a struggle for the souls of kitties everywhere. Here's the blurb:
Ancient tribal rivalries among cats come down to one kitten, Mati, unaware of his status as the Tygrine heir, against the powerful Suzerain of the Sa Mau, and it is all played out as Mati attempts to find a home among the feral cats of Cressida Market. Left on shipboard by his mother, Mati ends up at Cressida Lock far from his Egyptian birthplace. The Cressida Cats are wary of strangers but an elderly tom takes him in and two kittens befriend him. Unfortunately, an assassin is not far behind. Mati's struggles for acceptance are complicated by events set in motion by the Sa Mau, intent on domination of the cat world. Readers will sympathize with the courageous kitten, applauding his ultimate success and the difficult decision he makes about his best friend Jess, whose loyalties lie with the human world. The allusions to Egyptian mythology add interest. But the world of this fantasy also involves a spirit dimension, Fiåney, that is less clearly explained, and travels there are a convenient but not quite believable device for moving the characters along. First published in England, this first novel should appeal to lovers of animal fantasies looking for somewhere to go after Erin Hunter's Warriors series. Reviewer: Kathleen Isaacs 
I disagree with Ms Isaacs that the spirit dimension isn't clearly explained. I felt that it was well outlined by Mati in her encounters with the ghosts of wise cats long dead, including his momcat. The prose is just sophisticated enough to keep the story from being childish and the plot is intricate but still moves at a graceful pace. Though I wish that Mati understood and came into his powers before the very end, I was totally caught up in the lives of the feral cat colonies and in the life of the cat Jess, who has an elderly man to care for. I'd give this nice short fantasy an A, and recommend it to cat-lovers and those interested in feline history.
A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear is the 12th Maisie Dobbs mystery novel. Having read and loved all her previous mysteries, I was excited for this one because I knew Maisie had gotten married to James Compton at the end of the last novel, and I was hoping that this book would find her settled and happy before the dawn of the second world war (the novel takes place in 1937).Unfortunately, SPOILERS AHEAD, Maisie's husband dies in an airplane crash and she miscarries their child, so when we actually get into the story with Maisie, she's grief-stricken and avoiding returning home because she can't face the sympathy of her relatives and friends in England. While sailing home, she gets off the ship in Gibraltar, and uncovers a mystery while there that absorbs her time and helps keep her mind off of her pain. Here's the blurb:
Maisie Dobbs returns in a powerful story of political intrigue and personal tragedy: a brutal murder in the British garrison town of Gibraltar leads the investigator into a web of lies, deceit, and danger.
Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England: her aging father, Frankie Dobbs, is not getting any younger.
On a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn't ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, "You will be alone in a most dangerous place," she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.
And the danger is very real. Days after Maisie's arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar's Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on "the Rock"—arguably Britain's most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way.
There's an air of sadness that permeates this novel, and Maisie herself seems isolated and stubbornly unhappy. While it seems that she could find solace with her beloved father and friends, she prefers to throw herself into this dangerous case and she seems to lack compassion and the touch of psychic understanding that she usually displays. While I understand that everyone grieves differently, I was worried that Maisie would harm herself halfway through the novel, and by the end I was glad that she'd chosen to live and help others, but was distraught that she might never return home to her elderly father. Still, Maisie is a strong woman, and I am sure that she will come back to herself in the next novel, ready to take on the Nazi threat in WWII with her nursing and sleuthing skills. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to all the fans of Maisie Dobbs mysteries.

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