book review: Jonathan Unleashed

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Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff. Viking| July 2016| 275 pages | $25.00| ISBN: 9781101980903

RATING: 3.5/5*

There’s an absurdist quality to this novel about a millennial taking care of his brother’s dogs and growing attached to them. Jonathan loses interest in his job and his fiancée, which he may never have been terribly attached to in the first place. Author Meg Rosoff finds much to say about ambling about mindlessly and figuring out one’s sense of place. She also adeptly and amusingly describes both millennials and hipsters. What I couldn’t bear was that the titular character Jonathan allowed things to happen around him and as a result to him without particularly caring. Excellent writing but not the best story I kept reading for the turns of phrase and superb vocabulary like “He never once mentioned the Byzantine quality of his dogs’ inner lives, the practical and spiritual difficulties of caring for other sentient beings..” also: “Once he took her out to lunch and tried to explain the ties that writers had with pens, how writing with a gel pen felt like slipping around in mud or transferring lines straight from brain to page, while a ballpoint indicated a frugal no-frills personality, someone you’d barely want to know.” Definitely worth reading for the high-quality writing.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Viking.

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book review: The Muse

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The Muse by Jessie Burton. Ecco| July 26, 2016| 416 pages | $27.99| ISBN: 9780062409928

RATING: ****/5*

Sometime I might want to read (or perhaps write) a novel from one viewpoint in one time period. Historical fiction does draw me in particularly with vivid descriptions, an established sense of place and depth of character. The Muse intrigued me by its lovely black cover, the title and the settings: 1960s London and 1930s Spain. A muse generally refers to someone who influences one’s art. Author Jessie Burton created two independent-spirited and determined women despite their circumstances and the time periods. But who’s kidding anyone? Women still have it tough in 2016. In this novel I didn’t think a muse existed. Although without giving anything away there might be an unexpected muse. Flip the expectations for a muse. This is Burton’s second art-focused historical fiction novel. The Minaturist came out in 2014. I wanted to adore it but just couldn’t. It was quite well-written but a bit too melodramatic. The Muse fares much better mainly because the characters pursue their own artistic goals.

“Ever since I could pick up a pen, other people’s pleasure was how I’d garnered attention and defined success. When I began receiving public acknowledgement for a private act, something was essentially lost. My writing became the axis upon which all my identity and happiness hinged. It was now outward-looking, a self-conscious performance.”

An exclusive London art gallery hires Odelle Bastien, a well-educated immigrant from Trinidadian, as a secretary. Her interesting manager Marjorie Quick quite likes the young woman and they commence a friendship of sorts. Odelle aspires to be a published writer. At a wedding she meets the dashing, sophisticated Lawrie Scott who brings a painting to the gallery for appraisal. The painting causes quite a stir. The narrative turns to 1930s Spain where Olive Schloss lives with her family in the small town of Arazuelo. Her father, a Jewish art dealer, fled Vienna in advance of Nazi persecution. A talented painter, Olive Schloss earned acceptance to the Slade School of Art but her father doesn’t think highly of female painters. Olive never tells her father. Burton describes how Olive feels after finishing a painting: “She had made, for the first time, a picture of such movement and excess and fecundity that she felt almost shocked. It was a stubborn ideal; a paradise on earth, and the irony was it had come from a place to which her parents had dragged her.” Half siblings Teresa and Isaac Robles become ensconced in the Schloss family. Isaac Robles paints as well as carries out revolutionary missions in Spain. For Olive who becomes involved with both there’s deceit, betrayal and secrets galore. Burton connects the two women through this one mysterious painting and its back-story.

As often happens I preferred one time period and character arc (the 1960s story-line) to the other. The chapters involving Odelle definitely captivated me the most. She’s from Trinidad, a country under British rule during the 1940s when she was a child. She’s dating a white guy. Burton’s writing in Odelle’s voice –the Trinidad speaking-style with her friend as well as focusing on how others react to Odelle, how the young woman feels and how she finds her place enhances this novel. Burton writes: “I hadn’t scrapped with the boys to gain a first-class English Literature degree from the University of the West Indies for nothing.” I’d have preferred an entire novel about Odelle. I understand the need for this intrigue or a desire to examine several time periods but Olive’s story-line became a bit trite and dull. Odelle stays true to herself at all times while Olive falls for Isaac and allows her art to become influenced and overshadowed by him. A definitely strong summer read, pack this one on your next long weekend getaway.

–review by Amy Steele

 

<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Ecco. </em>

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new music: Tomemitsu; DYAN

Tomemitsu, “Can’t Stop Thinking”

First thought: this sounds a bit like The Jesus and Mary Chain. The beat. The deep whispery vocals. So L.A. artist Tomemitsu has the whole 90s shoegaze thing down. It’s a pretty, meditative song. Most of us overthink things. Clearing the mind isn’t easy but songs like this definitely help to take you out of your own thoughts for a moment. That said now I’d rather go listen to The Jesus and Mary Chain on Spotify. This single is off Tomemitsu’s sophomore album Loaf Eye. He collaborated with some of his  musical friends in Los Angeles including Colleen Green,  Devin Ratliff and Erik Felix of So Many Wizards, as well as Christina Gaillard and James Roehl of Crown Plaza.

 

DYAN, “Days Upon Days”

Hypnotic synthpop in the vein of Chvrches and Beach House. there’s something about the beginning of this song that sounds way too familiar. I know it’s difficult not to sound like other artists but this melody sounds like a Beach House song. While Alexis Marsh possesses passionate vocals and this song rips into you with an unencumbered intensity I can’t get beyond the familiarity of the opening riff. DYAN posits itself as not quite as inventive and emotional as Chvrches and Beach House but promising. DYAN’s Looking For Knives will be available on CD and digital formats July 29th with 2xLP colored vinyl release to follow.

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Summer Book Readings in the Boston-area

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Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Sarong Party Girls

Brookline Booksmith

Wednesday, July 27 at 7pm

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Peter Kramer, Ordinarily Well: The Case for Antidepressants

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, July 26 at 7pm

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Deborah Levy, Hot Milk

Harvard Book Store

Thursday, July 28 at 7pm

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Cindy Peyser Safronoff, Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs. Victoria Claffin Woodhull and the Battle for the Soul of Marriage

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, August 2 at 7pm

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Anna Solomon, Leaving Lucy Pear

Harvard Book Store

Wednesday, August 3 at 7pm

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Anu Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life

Harvard Book Store

Thursday, August 4 at 7pm

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Annie DeWitt, White Nights in Split Town City: a novel

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, August 9 at 7pm

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Jennifer Haigh, HEAT & LIGHT

Newtonville Books

Tuesday, August 16, 7PM

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Amy Gottlieb, The Beautiful Possible

Newtonville Books

Wednesday, August 17 at 7PM

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Meg Little Reilly, We are Unprepared

Porter Square Books

Tuesday, August 30 at 7pm

 

 

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TV review: Indiscretion

 

INDISCRETION starring: Mira Sorvino; Christopher Backus; Cary Elwes; LisaGay Hamilton; Melora Walters directed by: John Stewart Miller written by: Laura Boersma and John Stewart Miller

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It’s not always a guarantee when couples act in films together that it’ll work. Superbly talented Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino excels at her craft. If you watched Underground you saw her husband Christopher Backus in supreme creep mode. In the psychological thriller Indiscretion, New Orleans psychiatrist and politician’s wife Veronica [Sorvino] and artist Victor [Backus] partake in a steamy weekend fling. Veronica asks him why he isn’t out with some younger woman on a Friday night. He responds: “Girls my age don’t really have any life experience other than throwing up on Bourbon Street.” Interesting as there’s a 14 year age difference between the duo who have been married for 12 years and have four children. I’m a Mira Sorvino fan! She’s brilliant and lovely and kind.

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As Veronica she’s tough, sexy and smart. Plus there’s intense onscreen chemistry between Sorvino and Backus. There’s sweet chemistry between Sorvino and Elwes. Veronica tells her psychiatrist friend: “It made me feel like anything could happen. Guess I just wanted male attention.” The film starts with Veronica in a sit-down interview and that’s interspersed throughout the film—a strong indicator something wicked will happen. Add to the scenario that Veronica’s husband Jake [Cary Elwes] had a very public affair recently. Elwes glides smoothly as the seemingly perfect politician.  It’s mentioned by Victor: “Why’d he cheat? Why’d you cheat? Why are you here?” Of course when Veronica attempts to end the affair with Victor, he refuses to accept that they won’t be together. Victor befriends her husband and daughter. Indiscretion contains all the elements one wants in a Lifetime movie: sex; betrayal; attractive, success family with families; deranged lovers and violence. The story’s not too predictable and the film brims with all the emotions. A few twists and turns and a surprising ending will keep you riveted. Plus Sorvino’s eyelashes are on fleek! Tune in to find out what Victor does to destroy that which he cannot have and how Veronica protects her family.

Indiscretion premieres on Lifetime Saturday, July 23, 2016 at 8:00PM (ET/PT)

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show review: An Evening with Jack & Amanda Palmer

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An Evening with Jack & Amanda Palmer

First Parish Church–Lexington, Mass.

Monday, July 18, 2016

For the two decades that I’ve been a music critic my mom hasn’t been to any shows with me. We crossed that off the to-do list last night when my mom and I went to see Jack and Amanda Palmer perform songs from their debut album You Got Me Singing. A sold-out sweaty crowd packed the pews in the 90 degree stuffiness and ultimately enjoyed an intimate evening filled with songs and love and hugs. I’ve witnessed first-hand and spoken with the devoted Amanda Palmer fans who will travel hours to see her. They also support her art projects. This new album is fully backed by Patreon. Amanda’s a genuine, heartfelt soul and spectacular performer. The tour started in D.C. where Jack Palmer lives then traveled to Amanda’s hometown of Lexington, Mass. before continuing on to her other homes of New York City and upstate New York. It’s pretty well sold-out so enjoy if you managed to snag a ticket. It’s a moving, exquisite treat. Music heals. Music is an outlet and during these turbulent and violent times we need music more than ever.

Amanda came out solo with her beloved ukulele and walked up and down the aisles singing “In My Mind.” She then heralded: “This is church Thor and Amanda Palmer-style where our god is art.” She then sat down to the piano and played the alternately urgent and gentle song “Machete” which she wrote for her best friend Anthony who died of cancer last year. She explained that he taught her about compassion and love. He also left her his firearm collection which she’d like to just pitch to the bottom of the ocean along with all other weapons. Amanda’s father Jack stepped out with his acoustic guitar and sang the Leonard Cohen song “You Got Me Singing,” the title of their album. He’s quite comfortable performing. A gentle man with a deep, resonant voice, before performing the Phil Ochs song “In the Heat of the Summer,” John stated: “Like many folks songs, this one stays relevant.” It’s a subdued yet dramatic song. The pair spent years carefully choosing songs to cover over several years. Amanda admitted they could’ve recorded much more. There’s beautiful harmonizing between father and daughter. The instrumental opening act Thor & Friends added an eclectic, worldly orchestral back up with viola, drums, guitar, bass and xylophones.

Amanda took the lead on several songs including the Sinead O’Connor song “Black Boys on Mopeds,” a heartbreaking song rendered beautifully by Palmer: “these are dangerous days/ to say what you feel is to dig your own grave.” For the kiddie song “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,” Amanda said it was a good time to take out your babies to put to sleep or if anyone wanted a nap to “find a motherly figure and make a nest not in a rapey way, get consent.” Much applause. She proceeded to sing all wide-eyed with plenty of hand gestures. She might need to record one of those lullaby albums. The Noah Britton song “I Love You So Much” included an audience sing-along but not before Amanda started and stopped a few times before declaring “I’m playing in the wrong key. It’s C, not A.” Her father smiled, “That’s why I love live music.”

Besides Leonard Cohen and Sinead O’Connor many of the artists weren’t that familiar to the mostly alternative audience. That doesn’t mean people didn’t appreciate them. The album’s a love note. The performance an engulfing repast. While Lexington and Boston are not directly affected by tragedy, Amanda declared: “Everywhere is here and everyone that’s getting hurt is us. We need more music.” The opening act Thor & Friends charmed with its soothing meditative, positive-vibrations instrumental arrangements and entertained with Thor’s charm. Overall the evening proved to be a blissful love fest. Oh and my mom enjoyed it. Of Amanda: “She’s adorable and talented and happy.” Because her daughter is not.

 

–review by Amy Steele

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book review: A Certain Age

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A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams. William Morrow| June 2016| 241 pages | $14.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-240353-7

RATING: 3.5/5*

My summer reading doesn’t vary all that much from my reading the rest of the year. Who are these summer readers? People who only read in the summer, on a beach, outside or on vacation? People who only want to engage in activities that do not require much thought? I read A Certain Age quickly. Now a few weeks later I cannot recall details without consulting the book’s jacket. I’m thinking that this then classifies as a beach read.

New Yorker Theresa Marshall falls in love with her much younger paramour Captain Octavian Rofrano who becomes enchanted with a young woman, Sophie Fortescue, engaged to his lover’s brother. Theresa won’t divorce her husband because she’s comfortable and they have an understanding. Sophie is one of new money. Author Beatriz Williams explains: “Money. They had loads of money now: exactly how much, Father wouldn’t say. Virginia had a better idea, but she wasn’t talking either. All Sophie knew was that her sister’s pocketbook contained five hundred dollars, a sum almost beyond the reach of her imagination a single year ago, and that these five hundred dazzling dollars represented no more than a crumb or two of the daily bread that was now theirs, thanks to the ingenious simplicity of Father’s pneumatic oxifying drill.”

It is that time when one married more often for money and position than love. The novel swings back and forth between the two women as the love triangle becomes increasingly more complicated. Theresa amuses with her attitude and general joie do vive. Author Williams writes: “Naturally I put the whole episode behind me and plunged into a relentless week of—well, of whatever it is I did, before the Boy and I became lovers. I visited friends, I read books, I swam in the ocean, I went to every damned cocktail party between West Hampton and Montauk Point. I believe I compete in a horse show—if memory serves—on my favorite mare, Tiptoe. We won second place over the jumps. The ribbon’s hanging in the stable somewhere.”

–review by Amy Steele

 FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.

 
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