1. The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan. This novel is loosely based on real people and real events. It centers on the older two of the three van Goethem sisters, the headstrong and rash Antoinette, and the more conservative and reserved Marie. Both of the sisters were involved with the Paris Opera as dancers. Antoinette's sharp tongue gets her kicked out, so Marie is reluctantly dragged to a tryout, where it soon becomes apparent that she not only has natural talent as a ballerina, she also develops a drive to succeed. Antoinette, meanwhile, finds another job at a theater in an ensemble role and becomes romantically involved with Emile, a young man with a dark streak (to put it mildly). Together, they manage to earn enough to keep the wolf from the door and put food on the table- barely. But Buchanan's story painfully illustrates that drive and talent aren't always enough to get ahead, and Marie is especially pressured to compromise her principals in a world dominated by wealthy and powerful men.
All in all I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it. I did have two issues. One is fairly minor, but there were times when there was a flashback in the middle of a chapter, and it was difficult to tell it was a flashback. It was rather disconcerting.
The other is a little more serious; to get into this, I have to give away a bit of a spoiler; I hate doing this, and I'll try to keep it as bare bones as I can.....
Emile and another young man, Knobloch were accused of murder. Antoinette has evidence that could cast doubt on the case (fairly weak, but moving on...). She begs Marie to turn it over to the judge, in hopes of freeing Emile at the least. Now, this much I can follow, but Antoinette feels her evidence would not only clear her lover, but Knobloch as well. That, I don't follow. If anything, the evidence in question would further condemn him the way I see it (it would further cement his reputation as a liar, for starters). It's a fairly minor point, ultimately, but the logic just didn't make sense to me.
End of the spoiler.
2. Throw Like a Woman, by Susan Petrone. Any movie director looking for an idea for a great, believable story about a woman breaking through to major league baseball, the writing has already been done. Just pick up a copy of this book and adapt it.
I'm serious, this book feels so cinematic it would adapt well to the big screen. Get to it, Hollywood.
The book centers on an unlikely major league hero, Brenda Haversham, a divorced mom and former graphic designer forced to hold down a lesser paying job. She's having problems making ends meet. Through a chance competition at a Cleveland Indian's game involving throwing a fastball, Brenda is shown to have a very fast throw. Fast enough to attract the attention of baseball scouts. Never mind she's never even played high school softball before.
The story strikes me as pretty realistic. It's not all rose petals and easy street; Brenda faces a good deal of harassment on and off the field, and the difficulty of being separated from her two sons makes her wonder at times if this is really her calling. The ending is hopeful and upbeat, without feeling forced.
3. Out of Line: The Art of Jules Ffeifer, by Martha Fay. A must-read for Ffeifer fans, or any fan of the comic or illustration art form. Fay delves into Ffeifer's varied and storied career, from his roots as a child to his last years. The amount of work he accomplished is incredible. What was really neat to see were the preliminary sketches for several of his illustrations and cartoons- sketches that often get tossed. Ffeiffer himself was an interesting person; at times full of confidence but more often haunted by insecurities that plagued him even after he became an unqualified success. This attractive coffee-table style book focuses primarily on his lengthy career, which ranged from doing panel cartoons based on his favorite superhero comics, to more political commentary, to children's illustrations. In addition, Ffeiffer also was a noted playwright and writer, with his acerbic and pointed commentary reflected in his art, whether it be through drawing or letters.
4. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. I was given a young adult adaptation of Hillenbrand's full novel by a good friend when I was undergoing in-house physical therapy more than a year ago; finally got around to reading it. It's a biography of Louie Zamperini; to say his life was eventful would be an understatement. This would be a fantastic book for reluctant readers or those who might have had a troubled past. Zamperini was hardly the model youth; indeed, he was a delinquent. I find it tragic that if he were a youth today, I doubt he'd get the same opportunities that presented themselves then. That, to me, is a big takeaway. He was a petty thief who liked to stir up trouble and wasn't afraid to use his fists, much to his family's dismay. Finally, his older brother Pete was able to get through to him by encouraging Zamperini's love of running. Fast forward a few years, and Louie is competing in the 1936 Olympics, finishing eighth in the 5,000 meter race.
That in and of itself is a compelling story, but that's only the start. Later, Lt. Zamperini enlisted in the Air Corps as a bombardier. In May 1943, he and his crew were sent on a search mission to find a missing aircraft. They were assigned a plane with a reputation of being unstable (after reading this, I'm figuring there were quite a few planes that should have never seen the sky; Zamperini and his crew had several close calls due to mechanical issues in previous missions with similar planes. But I digress). While on the search, the plane malfunctioned and crashed into the ocean, killing eight of the 11 crew on board. One of the airmen, Francis MacNamara, died after more than a month at sea floating on a raft; Zamperini and the pilot, Russell Allen Phillips managed to land on the Marshall Islands after 47 days, and were captured by the Japanese Navy. From there, the two men were taken to a series of prisoner of war camps. Among other trials, Zamperini managed to catch the attention and ire of the infamous Mutsuhiro Watanabe, a sadistic guard at two of the camps. The chapters dealing with Zamperini's imprisonment were the hardest to read, what those men went through was horrific.
Another ironic twist: Zamparini's skills as a thief, honed as a youngster, not only save his life, but the lives of others on several occasions, throughout his time in the prison camps.
Zamparini was eventually freed, but his adjustment back to civilian life was difficult. He suffered what we now call PTSD and was haunted by nightmares for years after returning to the United States, particularly about Watanabe. The final chapters go into his fall into alcoholism and his eventual recovery.
I may have to check out the full novel now, but this book felt complete. It also includes an interview transcript between the author and Zamparini at the end.
5. What Do You See When You Look at Me, by Angela Ray Rodgers,with Grace Anna. I just got this book yesterday, and read it as soon as it was out of its packaging. OK, disclaimer: this isn't going to be an unbiased review. I know the family, have met them, and their daughter has the same form of dwarfism I have (albeit more severe). That said, yes, I loved this book. I think it would be a great addition to a school library. I can see parents reading this to their three-year-olds and younger elementary school students, and older students reading this independently. It's a positive look at a child with different needs, but it emphasizes the similarities Grace Anna has with her other peers. The book does not shy away from the realities: there is one page which shows Grace Anna waiting for tests in a hospital bed- a part of her life. But all in all, this is an upbeat and positive story, that highlights abilities and talents rather than problems.
Did not finish (been a while since I've had one of these)
The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You, by Lydia Fenet. I won this book through a drawing. I knew there might be problems from the first chapter, and ultimately, I just could not finish this one. In many ways that's a shame. Fenet is actually an engaging story teller. I really liked her personal stories about how she conducted, and later changed, how she conducted auctions at Christie's. There were times she made me laugh out loud.
The problem is this is supposed to be an advice book, and a lot of the advice is questionable to put it mildly. I'll give two examples: the moment I realized I may not finish the book, and the moment I closed the book and thought "yep, I'm done here!"
In the first chapter, Fenet describes how she managed to get an internship and Christie's. She got the contact information of the person in charge in interns, applied, and then called... and called.... and called... until she managed to wheedle her way into a sort of modified internship. Now, one, she admits that this was before caller id, so this would not work today. I'd also point out that in this day and age, your calls would not only be ignored (best case scenario), you would likely be served with a cease and desist order, be declared persona non grata on the property, and blacklisted from the industry you were hoping to get into. Even more egregious, a friend of hers was the one who set her up with the contact. Fenet's hyper-aggressive behavior could have easily put her friend's job in jeopardy. That is a no-no. Period. If you get an inside connection into a company, you treat it like gold and remember at all times that your behavior is going to reflect back on your friend. I've head of companies that no longer take inside recommendations because of problems they've had in the past.
The final straw was an anecdote (two anecdotes, actually), which she tried to portray as Queen Bee syndrome, and where she was pleading for women to stop tearing each other down and support each other. Now, I know Queen Bee syndrome exists, I've seen it. I've been a victim of it (thankfully not recently). I have no issue with the message of supporting and empowering other women (or anyone, for that matter). But one story she shared was about a conversation she overheard about someone who had just started her own business, and one woman was complaining about how she always seemed to be selling something. The other story was one Fenet got from someone else about her, about how someone snidely said that Fenet was good at selling herself.
Again, I know Queen Bee syndrome is an issue, but in both cases, the women being talked about need to do some soul searching. There is a razor fine line between being assertive and being obnoxious. People don't like being pitched to, unless they are seeking that product, and even then, there are limits. Constant bombardments of "hey, look what I have on sale now!!" are off-putting, and I suspect these women need to dial back- waaaay back- on their sales pitching, especially when their "audience" is assembled for purposes other than purchasing or donating.
Another did not finish (sort of)
Persuasion, by Jane Austen. I found this book while cleaning my house for the sale, and suspect it was left behind by a roommate. I started reading it a couple weeks or so ago. I did like the notes and historical context offered at the beginning by Linda Bree- I had not known a lot of this information. Now, ordinarily, I find I enjoy a book more with that sort of context, but I found even just reading a few chapters a real chore. I just disliked the characters, especially Sir Walter, who was a caricature, an entitled twit with no redeeming qualities evident.
Well, I went to add this book to my currently reading list on Goodreads, and to my shock discovered I'd actually read this one before three years ago (!!!) Wrote a review and everything. I do not recall ever reading this, but my review sort of matched up with the plot, so... I guess I did. My previous review was, essentially, "meh, it's ...OK." It's strange because usually if I reread a book (with only a few exceptions), I like a book more after a re-read. But really, I think I'd give this one star now. Ugh, it's so slow, so meandering, and I've already mentioned the vapid characters.
Needless to say, I'm relieved that I have read this before so I can move on to other, better books, because no, I'm NOT finishing this re-read. Ugh.
Currently reading: Fire & Blood, by George R.R. Martin, and Grant, by Ron Chernow.