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Graceann Macleod "Books Fuel My Life" (London, UK)
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An Independent Woman
An Independent Woman
by Howard Fast
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars He Should Have Quit While He Was Ahead, 8 Oct. 2009
AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN is, overall, a disappointment. Two characters return from the dead due to sloppy editing, and many plot points from previous books in the series are rehashed. If you're reading all six in a row, as I did, there will be an uncomfortable amount of repetition. There were a few moments that were reminders of why I love Howard Fast's writing. There is a sequence that takes place in Israel which is fast-paced, moving and inspirational. The final twenty pages or so, encompassing Barbara's passing, are beautifully written and brought tears to my eyes. I can tell that Mr. Fast based this loss on his own experience of losing his beloved Bette.

Because I so loved the Levys and Lavettes, I am glad I read this book, if only to get to spend another 300 or so pages with them. It wasn't as good as the earlier efforts, or as good as it could have been, however, and that is a pity. Recommended for hard-core fans of the series, but you won't miss a great deal if you have to skip it.


Legacy
Legacy
by Fast Howard
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Barbara Lavette, Aging Gracefully, 21 Sept. 2009
This review is from: Legacy (Mass Market Paperback)
THE LEGACY is the fourth in the six books of the Lavette Saga - this volume concentrates on Barbara's opposition to the Vietnam war and her son's adventures in Israel.

Howard Fast masterfully ties many threads together to make a very interesting quilt. Several diverse and well-written characters make appearances. Barbara and her mother, Jean, are especially well executed. Barbara's crises of guilt and depression over various issues are believable and compellingly expressed. The very real fear that every parent of a son at that time had - that their child might be sent away to fight in a conflict on the other side of the World - is palpable.

Once again there is a boring subplot about a spoiled brat who can't decide what they want out of their life. Thankfully, it was short in duration, but it was enought to reduce my rating from five stars to four. Otherwise, The Legacy is a gripping read. Sadly, as is the case with a series that spans almost a century, I had to say goodbye to characters I'd come to love; I kept hoping they would be with the story for just a few more pages, because they began to feel like family. That, to me, is one of the highest marks of an enjoyable series.


The Establishment (Coronet Books)
The Establishment (Coronet Books)
by Howard Fast
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The McCarthy Era with Barbara Lavette, 17 Sept. 2009
As this third entry in the Lavette Family Saga begins, Barbara and her new husband Bernie are navigating difficult married waters. His heart is in Israel, and she resents the competition. Where the story goes from here is, as always, an energetic journey.

The largest part of the novel is given to Barbara's testimony before HUAC, and the repercussions of that testimony. As Howard Fast lived through this period, he clearly used his own painful experiences to give life to these sequences, and the prose crackles as a consequence.

Tom Lavette and his first wife, Jean, are beautifully drawn and continue to grow. I'm so sorry that they are aging - I know it won't be long before I'll be saying goodbye to these characters, and I'm dreading it.

My only disappointment, and the only reason the book has been reduced to four stars rather than five, is the disappointing subplot regarding Sally Lavette. It made the story drag. I really didn't care much about what was happening to this spoiled brat; I was anxious to get back to Barbara and the others. Likewise, Barbara's brother Tom does not have much to recommend him, but I realize that the stage has to be set for his further adventures in the remaining three books.


Second Generation
Second Generation
by Howard Fast
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Continuing the Lavette Saga, 15 Sept. 2009
In THE IMMIGRANTS, Howard Fast began the story of the Lavettes, focusing on Dan and his wife, Jean. This second volume concentrates on their daughter, Barbara, and what adventures she has! From 1930s labor strife, to pre-WWII Paris to Calcutta to San Francisco, there is very little that doesn't make its way into Barbara Lavette's experience.

Howard Fast writes in a way that keeps one turning the pages. When you feel you've heard enough from one character, he focuses on someone else for a while. There is a vast tapestry of characters here, some of whom are only introduced with an eye toward their greater importance in later volumes of the series. Barbara is an amazing, interesting character, and I loved her immensely. I also came to admire Jean (a character I almost loathed in THE IMMIGRANTS) due to her steadily maturing nature in this second episode.

The sequence focusing on the D-Day landings at Normandy was excellently written and extremely exciting. It's very difficult to write about a battle without it being either overly dramatic or excruciatingly dull. Fast walks a very fine line here, brilliantly. He also mines his own experiences as a liberal, Jewish artist in the War years in order to provide anecdotes that drive the narrative. I can't wait to see what he does with the McCarthy era and HUAC in book number three, THE ESTABLISHMENT.


The Immigrants
The Immigrants
by Howard Fast
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars The Start of a Saga, 12 Sept. 2009
This review is from: The Immigrants (Hardcover)
The Lavette Family saga eventually took six books to tell, so The Immigrants has the feel of setting up the story for the directions in which it is to go. Beginning with Daniel Lavette's parents arriving at Ellis Island, we meet the patriarch of this fascinating family as he is born in a bucking boxcar on the way to the West. Five hundred pages later, we have gotten to know a rich tapestry of interesting characters, each with their own backstory, faults, foibles and virtues.

There were points where I felt that The Immigrants could have been trimmed a bit, and for this I gave the book four stars rather than five. Having said that, I love stories that take their time and unfold in interesting ways, so I loved this book immensely. The threads eventually come together, and we are assured that those characters we meet in this first book will be revisited in the next ones, so there is every incentive to keep reading.

This is a worthy addition to the Fast canon. In the tradition of John Jakes (another of my favorites) he never fails to satisfy.


Praying for Sheetrock: A Work of Nonfiction
Praying for Sheetrock: A Work of Nonfiction
by Melissa Fay Greene
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Downside of Eden, 5 Sept. 2009
Coastal Georgia is a frequent destination for me. Whenever I have to be away from it, I am planning the next time I'll be able to smell the marsh, feel the sand in my shoes and hear the musical voices of the residents. I have been to Darien many, many times, but my first visit was in 1994, long after the initial events in this book took place. Reading PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK was educational, to say the least. What Melissa Fay Greene does in her narrative is show you the different Dariens - the black experience is (or was) far different from the one enjoyed by whites in this historic community.

It is said that there are two sides to every story; in SHEETROCK, there are significantly more than that to be found. McIntosh County is a prism, and the truth is refracted through every possible angle. Greene tries not to take sides. She offers as much of a journalistic approach as possible, starting with the early 1970s and the corruption in the local government, and ending with the changes in the life of Thurnell Alston, the man who, with others in his community, stood up to the status quo.

At times, Greene's writing approaches the poetic. Her use of language is nothing less than stunning. She evokes the true beauty of this part of the world, and reminds me, even in the bleak passages, why I love it so. Few other authors I've read have been so successful in bringing the environment to mind, even when describing the mosquitos and choking dust on a dry day. Almost anyone can write a beautiful sunset; it's a truly excellent writer who can narrate a lack of plumbing and make it interesting.

PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK may not prove to be interesting to everyone who reads it. Those who have ties to the McIntosh County will get the most out of it, I believe, and others may be bored. As someone who loves Coastal Georgia, and American history, I was fascinated.


True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, Margaret Hilda Roberts and Susan Lilian Townsend
True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, Margaret Hilda Roberts and Susan Lilian Townsend
by Sue Townsend
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual Entry in the Series, 30 Aug. 2009
I had the feeling, as I settled in to reading True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, that Sue Townsend had a number of ideas for sequences, but none of them quite fit into a full-length novel. Thus this entry. That's not a complaint, but the book is not entirely Adrian, and Adrian's sequences skip spaces of time. Those expecting an "All Adrian" entry in the series may be disappointed.

The book starts just about where the second one left off, and then segues into essays set up as radio broadcasts, permeated with Adrian's trademark self-delusion. Then Sue Townsend offers several pieces based on her own life, the most amusing being about her love of England. The third segment consists of a "newly-discovered" set of diary pages from one Margaret Hilda Roberts. The conceit is that they are undated, but are suspected to be from the early years of WWII. This is the weakest portion of the book, because Margaret is tremendously unlikeable and the writing lacks the humor that infuses Adrian's sequences. Finally, the funniest sequence is a letter from a mysterious citizen asking for help in getting people to like her. This piece is sheer brilliance, and if it fit in no other book, I'm glad Ms. Townsend released this one so that she'd have a way for us to read it.


Showman: Life of David O. Selznick
Showman: Life of David O. Selznick
by David Thomson
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating, Frustrating Man, 30 Aug. 2009
As a long-time fan of Gone with the Wind, I've naturally grown interested in the man in whom all points of that beautiful film meet (to paraphrase Vivien Leigh). In this exhaustive, thoroughly researched biography from film historian and critic, David Thomson, I've learned much more than I ever thought I would about the bundle of nerves, energy and (sometimes) delusion that was David O. Selznick. Precocious as a child, Selznick was involved in his father's film work from the very beginning, showing an astute, if irritating eye for detail, and starting a lifelong habit of papering the world with correspondence. It is due to this correspondence, and the family's foresight in retaining it, that Thomson has been able to provide as full a picture of Selznick as he has. Thomson was given full access to the family files and other records, and received ample cooperation from Selznick's sons as well as his first wife, Irene. Jennifer Jones opted not to become involved, which is a shame, because she could have given an interesting perspective on Selznick's final years.

Nobody comes off terribly well here, and there are no stereotypical "heroes" or "villains." Selznick is generous, funny, loving and genuinely interested in film. He is also mercurial, paranoid, childish, deluded, unfaithful, self-pitying and self-destructive. The people with whom he comes in contact are shown in equally even-handed ways.

As other critics have noted, there are other, better books to read if you're interested only in the making of Gone with the Wind. Contrary to how history remembers him, Selznick did a great deal more than produce just that one film, and his entire life and career are covered here. Reading this full-length portrait of the man gives one an excellent idea of just what kind of energy and drive it took to helm these productions, and what a trial it must have been to keep up with such a person. Selznick was completely blind to the stress he caused his co-workers and staff. One illustrative story is that of Selznick dictating well into the wee hours of the morning and his guest suggesting that perhaps Selznick's secretary was tired. "I'm so sorry," Selznick said to the exhausted woman, "I should have offered you a benzedrine."

There were a couple of things that didn't sit well with me with regard to Thomson's telling of the story. The first is the standard auteur's conceit (subtle, but present, in this volume) that all European film is superior to all American film, which is a generalization that has always rankled. Films made in Europe aren't better simply because of where they are made, and there are American films that are superb. Also, Thomson seems to be fixated on Selznick's looks and how "ugly" he was. While not centerfold material, he was not repulsive by any stretch of the imagination, and it is thoroughly understandable that he would attract attention from women who like a great smile and an exuberant nature. On these two points, I realize that Thomson is entitled to his personal opinion - I was just hoping that he would retain the objectivity used so well in the rest of the book.


There Really Was a Hollywood
There Really Was a Hollywood
by Janet Leigh
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truthfulness and Good Taste Can Go Hand in Hand, 21 Aug. 2009
In the preface to this memoir, Janet Leigh discusses meeting a cabdriver who, when told she is working on a book, advises her that he hopes it won't be a trashy "tell-all." While she doesn't veer in the opposite direction, making her reminiscences sugary-sweet, she does follow the gentleman's advice and provides a tasteful rendition of her life. She is honest, but not mean-spirited. That is a very fine line to walk, but she walks it fairly well.

Most people picking this book up will do so because of her years with Tony Curtis, and a large portion of the book is devoted to that era in her life. She also goes over her childhood, first romances and marriages and start of her career, and her insecurities. The book ends with the start of her marriage to Bob Brandt - a marriage that lasted for more than 40 years and only ended with her passing in 2004. Miss Leigh is humorous, gentle, even-handed and classy. It's an excellent look behind the glamour that we see on the red carpet - not all she experienced was pleasant, and she's truthful about that. She lays no blame on any one person for her unhappy moments, and even her most negative comments (about von Sternberg) are shared in an elegant manner.

The only thing I didn't care for, though I understood the reasoning behind it, was Miss Leigh's use of third-person narrative for the first 50 pages of the book. This was the period when she was still Jeanette Morrison, and she doesn't write in the first person until she "becomes" Janet Leigh. Reading a memoir in this way is difficult and, in the end, annoying. If it weren't for that, I would have given There Really Was a Hollywood five stars.


Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
by Geraldine Brooks
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars "Those With Less Somehow Make Shrift to Share", 17 Aug. 2009
In Geraldine Brooks' masterful novel of the plague based loosely on real events in the village of Eyam, Derbyshire, everyone undergoes transformations. Not least the lead character, Anna Frith. As a servant to the rector and a miner's widow, she has her feet placed in two very different worlds. As those worlds collide, she learns the stern stuff of which she is made.

At times in YEAR OF WONDERS, one is unsure how much more bleak description there is to be borne. You are warned right on the cover that it is a "novel of the plague," after all. Then, as if to give readers a breather, Brooks offers passages of such simple beauty that I found myself re-reading those segments in sheer admiration.

YEAR OF WONDERS is a surprisingly fast read, given the subject matter. I breezed through it in a matter of a few days of stolen moments. When I had to stop reading in order to attend to some task, I found myself wondering how Anna was faring, and looking forward to getting back to her.

Will everyone love this interesting, startling book? The reviews here at Amazon would indicate that there is some disagreement on that. Did I love it? Absolutely.


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