Tuesday, December 22, 2015

This Is My 500th Post on Butterfly Books!

Wow! Here we are at post 500 on Butterfly Books, fellow bibliophiles! I have three books to review, and a tidbit about the new Harry Potter play, but I just wanted to pause a moment to reflect on all the books and book news that I've posted in the past 10 years. I think I've read and reviewed over 1,500 novels and non fiction titles on this blog, and though I don't post a review for every book I read, I do feel that I give a fair shake to those that I do, and I would say that at least 80 percent of my reviews are positive.
Now as we head into 2016, here's to more reviews and book news and information on the reading life.

On Stage: Harry Potter & the Cursed Child

The three lead actors have been announced for Harry Potter and the
Cursed Child
"the West End play that's been referred to as the eighth part of the
series," Deadline Hollywood reported. The cast includes Jamie Parker as
an older version of Harry, Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger and Paul
Thornley as Ron Weasley. The play will open at the Palace Theatre next
summer, "unfolding in two parts, which are intended to be seen in order
on the same day (matinee and evening), or on two consecutive evenings."
Previews start June 7.

Parker is currently playing Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls at the Savoy
Theatre, while Dumezweni has the title role in Linda at the Royal Court
Theatre. Thornley played the role of Dodge in London Road at the
National and reprised it in the film version.

"I'm so excited with the choice of casting," Rowling said. "I can't wait
to see Jamie, Noma and Paul bring the adult Harry, Hermione and Ron to
life on stage next summer."

Pottermore offered a peek
at the play's synopsis: "It was always difficult being Harry Potter and
it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the
Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

"While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs,
his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy
he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son
learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler was a much different book than I was expecting.I was hoping it would be a fascinating novel about antique books and smart librarians who like to solve mysteries they find in books. It wasn't.
Apparently, circus owners/managers keep a record book about life on the road, in which they record the amazing and the mundane things that happen in their lives. The protagonist of this novel, a librarian named Simon, is the son and brother of two women who were involved in the circus. He is contacted, out of the blue, by an Iowan antiquarian bookseller who sends him a circus book that contains the name of his grandmother and other women in his family who have performed as "mermaids" and yet have all drowned on the same date (not the same year, obviously). He is now afraid that his sister will also drown on the cursed date, and delves deeper into the books history in order to try and find a way to spare her. 
Here's the blurb:
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.
One June day, an old book arrives on Simon's doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drowned--always on July 24, which is only weeks away.
As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon's family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?
In the tradition of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, The Book of Speculation--with two-color illustrations by the author--is Erika Swyler's moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.
First of all, The Book of Speculation isn't nearly as well written, nor are the characters as charming and fascinating as those in Water for Elephants and the wonderful Night Circus.  It is obvious that the author has read and tried to emulate these authors, but she never really manages it, probably because the book's characters are cynical, crude and often cruel. I really disliked Enola, Simon's sister, who is quite a nasty creature, and though her boyfriend is frightening to look at, he seems merely sensitive and decent next to her. Enola has the audacity to tear pages from a book, and she blows into Simon's life as disruptive as the bomber she was named for. She comes across as mentally ill, and Simon's overreactions to everything seem to make him stupid as well as mentally unbalanced. Neither are likable characters at all. Then when their neighbor reveals that he had a long term affair with their mother and gave their father the money for their home, which is now literally falling apart and over the cliff, things get even murkier and more bizarre.  As Simon has been having an affair with the neighbor's daughter Alice, who is a coworker and who he grew up with, this reveal gives him further opportunity to act insane and burn all the circus memorabilia that he can find, in some lame attempt to "break the curse." The he nearly drowns, and then they all decide (Alice, Enola, her wierd boyfriend and Simon) to go on the road together and Simon decides to write his own Book of Speculation.  And that's the end of it. Interspersed between the modern day chapters is the actual history of the book, and the strange "wild boy" and first "mermaid girl" who started with the circus hundreds of years ago. All this history does is make the reader realize how brutal life was in the past. Again, not many people to like in the past in the circus, as they were mostly abused and half-dead homeless and feral children before they were picked up by the circus and turned into an "act" by Mr Peabody. I found the prose to be muddy and confusing, the plot to be winding and obscure and the characters strange and unlikable. I'd give this book a B-, which is generous, and I'd recommend it to anyone who found the Church of Marvels to be a good read (I didn't.) 
Moonrise by Cassandra King is a romance/mystery that is a modern retelling of Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca. Here's the blurb:
When Helen Honeycutt falls in love with Emmet Justice, a charismatic television journalist who has recently lost his wife in a tragic accident, their sudden marriage creates a rift between her new husband and his oldest friends, who resent Helen’s intrusion into their tightly knit circle. Hoping to mend fences, the newlyweds join the group for a summer at his late wife’s family home in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Helen soon falls under the spell not only of the little mountain town and its inhabitants, but also of Moonrise, her predecessor’s Victorian mansion, named for its unique but now sadly neglected nocturnal gardens. But the harder Helen tries to fit in, the more obvious it is that she will never measure up to the woman she replaced.
 Someone is clearly determined to drive her away, but who wants her gone, and why? As Emmet grows more remote, Helen reaches out to the others in the group, only to find that she can’t trust anyone. When she stumbles on the secret behind her predecessor’s untimely death, Helen must decide if she can ever trust—or love—again.
Emmet's friends are a vicious lot, using slicing commentary and cruel gossip like characters from a Noel Coward play. By comparison, poor Helen seems like quite the rube, so innocent and easily duped and hurt that she can't help but put her foot into it at every turn. Because she's supposed to be in her early 40s, and a TV chef at that, I found her naive ways to be a bit difficult to believe. I realize that is supposed to make the reader love her more, because she's innocent and the victim in all this, but I found myself getting exasperated with her because it was clear that one of the women was setting her up and trying to destroy her marriage. That her husband, who is supposed to be in his 60s is also so easily duped stretched my credulity even further. I couldn't imagine why neither of them fought back until the last second. They took everyone's gossip and innuendo at face value, when it was obviously false. The people I know who work in TV are a skeptical lot, and I just don't buy this happening to any of them, especially the older news veterans. Any journalist worth his or her salt establishes the facts first, and corroborates them before accepting what is said. Still, the prose was nice and clear, and the plot not too twisty. I liked Tansy and Noel and Linc and Willa. King has created some memorable and interesting characters in the aforementioned who make the novel shine in spots. There's a decent HEA ending and I was glad that things worked out for the best. I don't want to spoiler the plot by going into it further, but I do think this novel earned a B+, and I'd recommend it to those who read and enjoyed Rebecca.  
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams is the second book of hers that I've read. The first was The Secret Life of Violet Grant, which I read and reviewed a few months ago. This novel takes place in two time periods, in Europe in 1935-38, and in America in 1966. Here's the blurb:
Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler's problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she's finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician.
But the car's new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe, and a love so profound it transcends decades. As the many threads of Annabelle's life from World War II stretch out to entangle Pepper in 1960s America, and the father of her unborn baby tracks her down to a remote town in coastal Georgia, the two women must come together to face down the shadows of their complicated pasts.
Indomitable heroines, a dazzling world of secrets, champagne at the Paris Ritz, and a sweeping love story for the ages, in New York Times bestselling author Beatriz William's final book about the Schuyler sisters. Publisher's Weekly said:"In Williams’s fifth novel, devotees of her Schuyler sisters can follow the fate of renegade Pepper Schuyler and the aftermath of her affair with a married politician in the fall of 1966. Similar to the author’s other page-turners, there is a parallel story here about another young woman, in this case Annabelle Dommerich, a Christian Frenchwoman whose life in 1935 is upended when her Jewish lover disappears and she ends up marrying a high-ranking German officer. How Annabelle and Pepper cross paths in 1966 is rather contrived—Annabelle purchases the vintage 1936 Mercedes Special Roadster that Pepper has restored, and the car turns out to be the very one that Annabelle and her German husband drove to flee Germany and come to America before World War II began. Unfortunately, the travails faced by Pepper, pregnant with the married politician’s child and on the run from his goons, pale in comparison to Annabelle’s heartbreaking love story and subsequent rebound marriage against the backdrop of Hitler’s rise to power and the horrifying consequences of his regime. Though Williams tries to give both narratives nearly equal weight, Annabelle’s distinctive character and story are far stronger than Pepper’s. Nonetheless, the happy ending will surely satisfy the bestselling author’s many fans."
I have to agree with Publisher's Weekly's reviewer that Annabelle's story is far stronger than Pepper's, but that is because I believe the times were much more intense and the stakes higher for lovers, especially unmarried females, in the years leading up to World War II. The thing that bothered me most about the inevitable twist at the end SPOILER ALERT is that Johan was still a Nazi and a German Baron who either looked the other way or helped kill innocent people in the name of fascism in the years leading up to the outbreak of war. Though he claims he doesn't have anything personal against the Jews, he still doesn't do anything to stop his fellow Nazis from putting them in concentration camps and murdering them by the millions. Men, women and children, some Jews, others Catholics, or gays, or gypsies or political dissidents. So for the so called innocent Annabelle to spend the rest of his life with Johan and give birth to his children (and help raise his other children) seems just wrong to me, and certainly out of character for her. She keeps talking about how he loves her and is well hung (yes, they go there, sadly) and a good father to Stefan's child Florian, but I don't see how that mitigates his guilt for what he was and what he did as an officer in the Gestapo. Yes, Annabelle finds Stefan, the supposed love of her life, again at the end of the novel, but I don't know how she can look him in the eye after living as the wife of the man who put him in concentration camps twice! So she's in her 50s, or near to it when they meet again, and Stefan is probably in his late 60s or early 70s, and of course they still manage to look so good that they just jump right into bed together, like old times! As I am in my 50s, and I know men in their 60s, I can honestly say that it rarely works that way. And these are years before Viagra, mind you. I just doubt that Annabelle, after having 3 children, still had the perfect breasts of her youth. Gravity has its way with us all, Ms Williams. Still, I liked Annabelle, especially her need to rescue Pepper, and I also liked Stefan and Florian, once he was a grown man. Williams prose was excellent, and she is adept at storytelling and keeping the plot on tract and moving along at a measured pace. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone interested in the years leading up to WWII and the mid 1960s.

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