Book Event

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Sense of Belonging

In Marisa de los Santos' book, Belong to Me, we meet Cornelia and Theo, childhood friends who seemed to have been destined to marry. When they move from NYC to a small town near Philadelphia to be near his hospital, they hope to find more togetherness time and a few good neighbors. Within a week Cornelia meets a smart friendly waitress and the town trendsetter, two women who will change her life. Piper (aka Viper) is the perfect suburban mother, the kind who wears makeup and linen pants to the bus stop. Her husband is spending a lot of "overtime" at the office, but her friend is dying and she doesn't notice or care about anything else. Lake, the waitress, is an earth mother type with a great sense of humor and a mysterious past that she takes pains to conceal. She moved across country ostensibly to place her genius son in a great charter school, but Dev suspects that she is really tracking his father. The lives of these characters intertwine in very unexpected ways culminating in the revelation that might destroy a marriage.
If you're looking for a good read with well-drawn characters and lots of surprises, this book might "belong" on your bedside table.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When a Vermeer isn't a Vermeer, or I Bought What?

When is a painting considered a treasured masterpiece worth millions of dollars and then in a blink of an eye, it's an embarrassment viewed as poor quality art worth a few dollars at most? Read The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick and you'll find out the answer to that question as this book explores the true story of Han van Meegeren, a Dutch forger who fooled most of the art world.

Van Meegeren was a second rate artist who successfully painted several works which he passed off as having been done by Johannes Vermeer. The forgeries have many flaws in them, making one wonder how the art world was duped into believing that the works were authentic. While Van Meegeren wasn't gifted in artistic technique, he was skilled in the psychology of forgery. He knew that if he could get art critics to authenticate the artwork, there wouldn't be much problem in getting eager art collectors to purchase them. He developed a technique to age his paintings so that they would pass scientific tests done to verify the age of the materials. Abraham Bredius, who was considered to be the leading authority on Vermeer, judged one of Van Meegren's forgeries as being authentic, and the rest of the art world jumped on board and agreed that the painting was 100% genuine.

After that, it was smooth sailing for Van Meegeren until he was arrested after World War II had ended and he was charged with collaborating with the enemy. What happened was that he was connected with the sale of what was thought to be a genuine Vermeer, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, but it was really one of his forgeries. The painting ended up being sold to Nazi Hermann Goering, who was a fanatical collector of art masterpieces. The sale of a national treasure to an enemy was a crime that was punishable by death. Since forgery was a far less serious crime, Van Meegeren confessed that he had really painted the supposed Vermeer, unfortunately no one believed him. In court, to show that he really was the painter of the Vermeer in question, he demonstrated his technique and was able to convince the court that his story was true.

This book raises many issues regarding the art world, including the debate over what is art, egoistic art critics who authenticate artwork by instinct rather than through scientific investigation, and the plundering of art during wartime. Van Meegeren had been angry at the art world because his paintings were criticized for being trite and not innovative. He felt that the art critics were hypocritical and he certainly got his revenge when his forgeries were promoted as beautifully painted genuine masterpieces.

My one criticism regarding the book is that it had a lot of buildup and seemed to take awhile before it got to the climax of the court trial. There were many preliminary chapters about other forgers, forgery techniques, and other information that could have been edited down a bit. Other than that, I found the subject very intriguing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Travel back in time

TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney
Such a great book! It is one of my all-time favorites. A book that has the magic to allure you with the wonder of time traveling back to a simpler time. Finney, with meticulous detail and the support of numerous old photographs, recreates New York in 1882. We and the main character, Si Morley, marvel as we walk over the old streets, see places where one day great skyscrapers will stand, gaze on a traffic jam of hansom cabs, and discover the arm of the Statue of Liberty sitting in Madison Square awaiting the rest of its body. There’s a mystery, suspense and wonderful writing. You must read this!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

When Death Tells a Story You Better Listen

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Death has been extremely busy in World War II Germany, so he is surprised when his attention is caught by a young girl. He first notices her when he comes to pick up the spirit of her brother and sees her steal her first book (The Grave Digger's Handbook). This girl Liesel Meminger leaves such an impression that he feels compelled to share her story - and it's some story. Liesel is an illiterate daughter of communists who is placed in a foster home by her mother. Her foster parents, Hans, a kind painter and accordian player and Rosa Hubermann who is quick with sharp word (she especially enjoys calling people Saumensch-filthy pigs) give her a loving home. Hans also gives her a gift, one that will sustain her through the difficulties that lie ahead, he teaches her how to read. Along with her friend Rudy, who once painted himself black and pretended to be Jesse Owens as a tribute, Liesel tries to survive the tumultuous times. Faced with hunger, bombings, book burnings, Nazis, fear and suspicion, Liesal steals and reads books to cope. Then things become even more difficult and dangerous when her foster parents hide a Jewish man, Max in their basement.

The narrative style of the novel is interesting, with plenty of asides and foreshadowing. The story is heart wrenching at times and heartwarming at others and you can't help rooting for the strong, yet vulnerable Liesel. Quirky and intelligent, it is a great read. Interestingly this book was first marketed in the United States as a young adult book, but quickly became popular with adults as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The past haunts the present

Family secrets of Nazi Germany are at the core of this powerful first novel told in two narratives that alternate between New Heidelberg, Minnesota, in the present, and the small town of Weimar near Buchenwald during World War II. Trudy is a professor of German history in Minnesota, where she's teaching a seminar on women's roles in Nazi Germany and conducting interviews with Germans about how they're dealing with what they did during the war. But her mother, Anna, won't talk about it, not even to her own daughter. Trudy knows, she remembers, that Anna was mistress to a big Nazi camp officer. Why did she do it? Was he Trudy's father?
A great book for discussion groups and a wonderful study in how our past influences our present.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Jewish in an Arab World

SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ by Dalia Sofer is based on the author’s family who escaped from Iran in 1982 when she was 10, and her story mirrors her family’s experiences. On a September day in 1981, gem trader Isaac Amin is accosted by Revolutionary Guards at his Tehran office and imprisoned for no other crime than being Jewish in a country where Muslim fanaticism is growing daily. In anguish over what might be happening to his family, Isaac watches the brutal mutilation and executions of prisoners around him. His wife, Farnaz, struggles to keep from slipping into despair, while his young daughter, Shirin, steals files from the home of a playmate whose father is in charge of the prison that holds her father. Far away in Brooklyn, Isaac's nonreligious son, Parviz, struggles without his family's money and falls for the pious daughter of his Hasidic landlord. The heartbreak of a family who wishes to be Iranian in a country that reminds them and punishes them for who they are fills the reader with sadness. The story is very well told and the reader feels vividly their pain. Reading this in tandem withThe Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucille Lagnado is a revelation of struggles in the Arab world to be Jewish and accepted.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm Ready For My Close-Up

Why did Jun Nakayama abandon his silent film career at the height of his popularity? In The Age of Dreaming, Nina Revoyr narrates the story of a handsome Japanese movie star who, in the early 1900's, took Hollywood by storm. In collaboration with the famous director Ashley Tyler, and the sophisticated actress, Elizabeth Banks, Nakayama made several intriguing films that brought him popular and critical aclaim. But after ten years of fame he abandoned his career and began a quiet life in obscurity. Revoyr starts her tale in the 1960's when Nakayama is "rediscovered" by Bellinger, a screenwriter who has studied his movies and thinks he would be perfect for a part in his new script. While researching Nakayama's films, he becomes captivated by the still unsoved murder of Ashley Tyler, and tries to link this mystery to the japanese actor. As Nakayama revisits his past to try to prevent the truth from being revealed, he begins to realize that his choices had consequences that affected the lives of many people, and that he still might have a chance at redemption.
Unspooling slowly, like a silent movie, The Age of Dreaming goes beyond the murder mystery, into the craft of film-making itself. After reading the novel, I researched collections of silent films, and promised that I would look beyond the comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin to explore some of the dramatic films that are still available. Through Revoyr's characters, who are based on real people who lived in the Hollywood movie community, the silent film tradition is revived and celebrated.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

You can't go home again (or can you?)

Pregnant, ashamed, and tired, grad student Willi Upton returns home to Templeton where she knows she can recuperate in the only place that never changes. Templeton (read Cooperstown), however, is failing to cooperate. Glimmy, the town's answer to the Loch Ness Monster, dies and surfaces in the middle of Lake Glimmerglass. Her hippy single mom is dating a conservative preacher and joins him in prayer for Willi's soul. The dumb jock heart-throb who never left town after high school is wooing her with words like "hegemony."

While she waits for her married archeology professor to call and profess his undying love for her and their child-to-be, her mother proposes a research project. Willi knows that she is twice related to Marmaduke Temple, founder of their town. She had always been told that her father was one of three random men at a hippy gathering, but her mom revealed that this was a tale concocted to preserve his identity. She challenges her daughter to read letters and genealogical archives that pertain to her family and deduce her true biological roots. The only clue her mother gives her is that, like Willi, her father also had family ties to Templeton's founder.

Lyrically written, The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff makes the small upstate town of Templeton the main character of this novel. Groff explores the history of Templeton through its residents' stories; including those of the original Native Americans, settlers, town characters, and literary figures. In the end, Willi learns how to redefine the meaning of family, and how to finally embrace change.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A New Design on Life

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan is one of those novels that makes one reflect upon the role of women, and the degree of progression that has occurred over the last 100 years or so. Even though his name is in the title, this book isn't about the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Well, it is and it isn't. The focus of this historical novel is on Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a woman Wright had fallen in love with after designing a new home for her and her husband Edwin. Wright is more than just her lover, he is the catalyst that ignites a fire within her to embark upon a whole new life. A life where she has the freedom to have a career of her choosing and her own identity, instead of just being Mrs. Edwin Cheney. It is an age of modernization as Wright tries to usher out the old classical style of architecture and introduce one that is more natural and practical. Meanwhile, Mamah Cheney is trying to bring in a new era where women are able to have a spouse and career of their choosing. Unfortunately, neither one of them has an easy time as the constraints of society try to force them into the conventional way.

Mamah Cheney makes the difficult decision to leave her husband and children to attempt a life with Wright and to also fulfill her dream of translating books. No matter how you feel about her choice, one has to emphasize with her as she anguishes over not having her children by her side and having to face the vicious attacks from Victorian society. For those of you who don't know what happened to Mamah Cheney, I won't reveal it. But suffice it to say that the tragic events that occur make this story all the more heartbreaking.

Nancy Horan deftly weaves historical fact with dramatized events to create this slice of one woman's personal fight against a society resistant to change. For other stories with similar themes, The Awakening by Kate Chopin and "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman are both worth investigating.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What Was Lost... and Found

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn

This quirky, quick read is part mystery and part commentary on alienation and mall culture. In 1984 England, Kate is a a ten year old orphan living with her disinterested grandmother. A loner, her only friends are Adrian, the 22 year old son of the local newsstand owner and Theresa, a bright but troubled schoolmate. Most of her spare time is spent being a "girl detective," trying to solve mysteries and prevent crimes (rather unsuccessfully in her own assessment.) With her faithful stuffed monkey by her side, Kate turns her attention on the Green Oaks mall, where she is sure she will have her big break. Staking out the bank and watching people, Kate writes everything she sees in her ever-present notebook, into which we are given a glimpse. Then Kate disappears. Flash forward to 2003, where the story turns to the lives of two disaffected employees at the Green Oaks mall. Lisa, Adrian's sister, is unhappy in her relationship and in her job at a mega-music store. Her brother, who was the main suspect in Kate's disappearance, has also vanished and only contacts his sister once a year via mail. Kurt is a security guard at the mall who, in the middle of the night, starts seeing a little girl with a stuffed monkey on his video monitor. The two pair up in an attempt to find the girl and instead must face the past and decide on whether they will keep living lonely, unhappy lives.

At times laugh-out-loud funny, at times heart wrenching, this novel is an outstanding debut by Catherine O'Flynn. Especially recommended to anyone who has ever worked in a mall.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bershert (It was meant to be)

Ayelet Waldman's Love and Other Impossible Pursuits begins at "happily ever after" and slowly unravels towards grim reality. Emilia Greenleaf, a young lawyer, is used to getting what she wants, and she wants Jack, a partner in her law firm. Since she realized that he was her "bershert," she had no ethical problems with seducing him away from his beautiful obstetrician wife and their precocious five year old son. Now Jack and Emilia are married and live in an expensive townhouse off Central Park West. But her life is no fairy tale. She and Jack lose their baby Isabel after her first day at home. Her stepson William wants nothing to do with her and is driving a wedge between her and Jack, much to the delight of the scorned wife. She is furious that her parents are reuniting after thirty years of hatred fueled by Dad's indiscretions. And Emilia has a secret that is too horrible to tell anyone, especially Jack. Can a marriage based on romance and magic adjust to the real problems of life? Read it and find out!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane Setterfield is an exciting story that takes you into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies, and half-truths. The main character, Vida Winter, is a famous author who has secrets she has never revealed to anyone, but has told different versions of her life at different times. Ms. Winter has chosen Margaret Lea, a young authoress of biographies, to finally tell her true story.
Each chapter is so interesting and well developed that I only allowed myself a chapter a day to prolong the pleasure of this book. I felt as if Scheherazade was telling this wonderful story that needed to be slowly savored. It is a unique book from a first-time author. Try it!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Art of the Crime

The Art Thief by Noah Charney will make you wonder if the painting you are admiring in a museum is really the great masterpiece it purports to be or is it really a forgery made by a master craftsman? After reading this book, one would hard pressed to not be suspicious of the authenticity of the artwork in a museum. The author brings us into the world of art thefts and forgeries, where great masterpieces are cleverly stolen by knowledgeable and crafty thieves who may actually be respected scholars who are well versed in the tools and methods used in art theft and forgery. Charney assembles an intriguing cast of characters such as an eccentric art professor and a comical French inspector who always seems to be eating gourmet meals. Charney, who is an art scholar and consultant on the prevention of art crime, utilizes his experiences to create this fascinating tale. Charney mixes in true accounts of art crime in with his fictional tale, such as the still unsolved theft of thirteen works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. After reading this novel, you will never look at a painting the same way again.

If you are interested in other novels about art thefts and forgeries, you might want to check out books by Aaron Elkins, Jonathan Gash, and the Vicky Bliss mystery series by Elizabeth Peters. In the future, I'll be reviewing a new book entitled The Forger's Spell, which is about one of the most masterful art forgers in history, Han van Meegeren.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Ties That Bind

The Seamstress by Francis de Pontes Peebles mixes the tales of Robin Hood with the mannered novels of Henry James to create a portrait of life in early 20th century Brazil. Two orphaned sisters are adopted by their seamstress aunt who teaches them the ways of sewing and couture. It is an inheritance that serves them well when one becomes a fine lady and one becomes an outlaw. The author interweaves her story of the lives of the sisters with fascinating Brazilian history that encouraged me to go to the encyclopedia and find out what was true and what was fiction. A must for historical fiction buffs!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Reader Services Joins the Blogosphere!

Welcome to the East Meadow Public Library's new Book Blog where you will find book reviews, new services, a calendar of our book programs and lots more. We're looking forward to your comments, questions, and suggestions. Hope you enjoy reading what we're writing!