Posts Tagged 1920s

book review: Newport



<em>Newport</em> By Jill Morrow. William Morrow Trade Paperback| July 7, 2015|356 pages |$14.00| ISBN: 9780062375858

rating: 3.5/5*

Newport hooked me from page one as a page-turner in which to immerse oneself during a weekend or holiday. There’s the beautiful sepia cover with a blonde young woman with ringlet waves in deep thought in front of phonograph which drew me in. I wanted much more of what I saw on the cover. Newport and the 1920s. Two subjects with sophistication, flair and romantic nostalgia.

Dashing and successful Boston attorney Adrian de la Noye travels to Newport with his young associate/protégé Jim Reid to revise a client’s will. Bennett Chapman plans to marry the much-younger and stunning Catharine Walsh and his children aren’t thrilled over the marriage or their father’s plans to include her in his will. It’s been twenty years since Adrian last visited Newport and his story along with that of the secretive Catharine Walsh and her daughter Amy unfolds. Utilizing séances where Amy serves as a medium for Chapman’s departed wife’s messages to him, her children and others in the room. She declares that Catharine Walsh and Bennett Chapman must marry. She also exposes secrets about everyone. Is it a scam perpetrated by the grifter mother-daughter team or is Mrs. Chapman truly speaking from beyond? Morrow traverses from present day to twenty years earlier and includes several [fairly predictable] twists.

“For as long as Jim had known Adrian de la Noye—and that was practically all of Jim’s twenty-five years—the man had never seemed ruffled or out of place. Such ease was to be expected in the sanctified halls of Andover and Harvard, which Jim had attended on Adrian’s dime. Adrian had been born to fit into places like that, and he called both institutions his alma mater.”

Author Jill Morrow unfortunately does not sufficiently establish setting or time. It could have been nearly any time and any place in the past. If the book wasn’t called Newport I wouldn’t be able to guess where we were. First it was off-season and besides the main seaside mansion that the characters visit and a walk two characters take along the beach, Morrow didn’t really describe what I’ve come to understand about the Newport historical days with the Four Hundred—a group of old money families—holding elaborate and exclusive parties. It unfolds that the Chapman family is new money and therefore not well-regarded by the Newport set. Adrian de la Noye summered on Cape Cod although he partied with his friends in Newport often. This is a character-driven novel where mysterious, broken characters propel the story-lines. Once the reader starts she wants to know exactly what happened and what will happen. For genuine 1920s allure one is better off reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise or Erika Robuck’s Fallen Beauty or countless other novels set in the Jazz Age.

Visit Newport around the holidays to see the mansions decked out gorgeously in holiday decorations.

–review by Amy Steele

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

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book review: The Last Nude

The Last Nude , by Ellis Avery. Publisher: Riverhead (January, 2011). Literary fiction. Hardcover, 320 pg.

The Last Nude transports the reader to 1920s Paris and the expat art world. It’s an impressive work of historical fiction as the place and the characters become so vivid and recognizable to the reader. This makes The Last Nude a book you are hesitant to put down. It’s immensely engrossing.

Above my desk I have a small framed print of Tamara de Lempicka’s “My Portrait,” in which she sits at the wheel of a bright green car in a gray hat, gray scarf and bright red lipstick. I also have “Saint Moritz”—a striking woman wearing a red and white turtleneck ski sweater. I’ve always been drawn to these art deco paintings. The colors, the attitude, the soft edges. All very appealing. So when I saw The Last Nude by Ellis Avery, I knew I had to read it. I wasn’t disappointed.

Avery’s descriptions of Paris are elegant and magical, yet also gritty. The reader should be enraptured by Paris. How can one not? It’s such an artistic, fashionable, beautiful city. I stayed in Paris for some time, many years ago and a novel as descriptive as this one brings everything right back to me in full color. It’s a true delight. Avery focuses on many ex-pats like Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Peripheral characters include the Seine and Sylvia Beach’s famed bookstore Shakespeare and Company.

The Last Nude imagines an affair between Tamara de Lempicka and one of her models– the one who sat for “The Dream” and “Beautiful Rafaela.” She’s a young woman of 17, recently arrived in Paris, naive to the ways of the art world and the excessiveness of the 1920s as well. Tamara seduces Rafaela and Rafaela falls quickly and intensely in love with Tamara. Of course artists can be selfish and cruel but Rafaela gives her whole heart before learning about Tamara’s shortcomings. This is a novel about the roaring, stylish 20s, art, survival, love and betrayal.

I marveled as I pulled the brown dress over my head. Sleek fashion plate, focused artist, resplendent lover, competent mother: I had seen four Tamaras in two days.

When Tamara finds Rafaela she’s turning tricks and surviving by any means necessary—in most cases trading her body for dinners, food, gifts. She’s a stunning young woman but also naïve and impressionable. She admires Tamara’s independence [or seemingly so because later we find out that Tamara, as most artists of the time, had a benefactor], talent and sexual freedom. Rafaela quickly becomes obsessed with Tamara and believes they’re in a mutually exclusive relationship. But it’s the twenties and Tamara is an artist. Who is Tamara really? Rafaela doesn’t find this out until later.

The Last Nude resonates with and enthusiastic first love and the reality of supporting oneself as an artist. In imagining the liaison between artist and muse, Ellis Avery crafts an engulfing novel. She makes life in the 1920s pop from the pages.

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: author Caroline Preston

Amy Steele: Why did you want to write a story in the scrapbook format?

Caroline Preston: I like to say the idea of making a scrapbook novel was 40 years in the making. As a little girl, I used to pour over my grandmother’s flapper scrapbook filled with dance cards, letters from old boyfriends, ocean liner tickets, and even long curls snipped when she got her hair bobbed.

My first three novels were what I guess you’d call “conventional” format—i.e. just words. My third novel Gatsby’s Girl was inspired by the meticulous scrapbook F. Scott Fitzgerald kept about his first love, Ginevra King—her first note to him, her handkerchief, and a newspaper clipping about her marriage to another man. Later he would turn the story of his unrequited crush into The Great Gatsby.

When I was casting around for the idea for my fourth novel, I wanted to create something that was as visual and powerful as a scrapbook. And then I had a crazy idea—why not make a novel that WAS a scrapbook. Not a digital scrapbook, but a real one made of real stuff that I cut up with scissors and pasted together with glue.

Amy Steele: What came first—the story or the memorabilia?

Caroline Preston: I started with my character, Frankie Pratt, and the outlines of her story, which was set in the 1920’s. I imagined an 18-year-old girl who wanted to become a writer and her journey which would take her to Vassar, Greenwich Village, and Paris.

Then I hunted down and bought all the things that a girl like Frankie would glue in her scrapbook—postcards, movie tickets, Vassar report cards, menus, sheet music, fashion spreads, popular magazines, a New York subway map, a Paris guidebook, and of course love letters. In all, I collected over 600 pieces of vintage 1920’s ephemera.

author Caroline Preston

Amy Steele: How did the memorabilia dictate the story?

Caroline Preston: Frankie’s story changed and evolved as I found surprising things—for example an original book cover for The Sun Also Rises. The book caused a huge fuss in Paris when it came out in 1926 because everyone recognized the characters, and she would be right there to bear witness.

Amy Steele: Why did you choose to set Frankie’s story in the 1920s?

Caroline Preston: Like a lot of people, I have a romantic obsession with the 1920’s when very aspect of life (especially for women) was turned upside down and reinvented. Women cut off their hair and hemlines, got the vote, went to work, and felt freed from Victorian behavior codes. Writing Frankie Pratt was a chance for me to indulge in some lovely time travel.

Amy Steele: How would you describe Frankie Pratt? What do you like best about her?

Caroline Preston: When the book opens in 1920, Frankie is an 18-year-old girl living in a remote New Hampshire village. She has ambitions for herself—she wants to go to college and become a writer—and is able to overcome financial hardships to get herself to Vassar. After college, she heads off to Greenwich Village and Paris on her own to follow her dreams. I love her contradictions—gutsy, wildly romantic (which results in a few bad choices), unwilling to take no for an answer, but also a sensible and principled Yankee girl at heart.

Amy Steele: Where did you get a lot of the things featured in the scrapbook?

Caroline Preston: I had a surprising number of 1920’s items in my own collection of vintage paper. I stopped at every roadside antique store and junk shop I passed—from Mississippi, Virginia, New York and Illinois. (My favorite store is Whiting’s Old Paper in Mechanicsville, Va.) And also over 300 items from eBay—so many that my mailman complained.

Amy Steele: What did you like about working as an archivist?

Caroline Preston: As an archivist, I sifted through trunks and boxes of old family papers. It reminded me of hunting through the attic of the house I grew up in.

Amy Steele: How did you transition to writing?

Caroline Preston: I didn’t start writing until I was 40 and had had my third child. I’d worked as an archivist for 15 years, and wanted to turn some of those fabulous stories I’d unearthed into fiction. My husband, the writer Chris Tilghman, encouraged me to give it a try. A year later, I finished my first novel, Jackie by Josie.

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DVD review: House of Eliott

House of Eliott: The Complete Series
Starring: Stella Gonet, Louise Lombard, Aden Gillett

Beatrice: Evie, you’re unstoppable.
Evie: I think we both are.

In a beautiful packaged set, now you can have the complete collection of the popular British drama from 1991, House of Eliott. It has series one, two and three in lovely casing that fits the decorative and captivating series about two sisters in 1920s London. From the creators of Upstairs/Downstairs, The House of Eliott manages to examine class differences in London through the inner-workings of a design house. It’s done in a lively, dramatic manner. You become invested in all the characters over the course of the series.

We see the wealthy, attractive Eliott sisters who frequent extravagant parties and have elegant friends and then additionally peek into the lives of those who work for the House of Eliott—the seamstresses who toil and worry about money. Both rich and working class have one thing in common: relationship issues.

The two single sisters find themselves without money after their father’s death. 30-year-old Beatrice basically brought up 18-year-old sister and therefore, sacrificed her own goals and future. Both women are strong, independent and creative. Beatrice [Stella Gonet] is the sensible, conservative sister while Evangeline [CSI’s Louise Lombard] is the spirited, inquisitive and adventurous one. The stisters could not be more different but they have that special sibling bond and both have an interest in creating fashion. This makes them work well together. Evangeline [Evie] is the designer/the creative one and Beatrice has the business sense, the ability to see how to make it work. As one character said in the beginning the two sisters were not paid what they were worth. At first the women design clothes according to the interests of their clients but they decide to challenge themselves and create an original collection. During this time, suitors come in and out of their lives, and the women struggle to reach success in a fickle, competitive industry. The costume design, period sets and characters make House of Eliot a must-see.

At the beginning, the Eliott sisters sell their home and Beatrice considers a position as caretaker of an elderly woman. Evie applies for a dance instructor position after learning all the hot moves from the housekeeper. But the women have big dreams and these positions do not suit them. A chance encounter with Evie and a philanthropist Penelope leads to the introduction of Penelopes’ playboy/photographer brother Jack [Aden Gillett]. He ends up hiring Beatrice to work for him and she keeps him completely organized but knows she and Evie want to be involved in the fashion world. They go to work for a woman in her design house. Instead of learning as apprentices, the woman disapproves when Evie garners more attention and requests for designing than she does. After that a big name designer hires the much sought after sisters and ends up stealing Evie’s designs.

The sisters make the daring decision to go into business for themselves with Jack’s monetary support as well as that of Evie’s godfather. Beatrice is the businesswoman while Evie has the eye and the talent to design. The sisters argue over different concepts and plans for their company. They clash over operational and design matters. Evie dates two very different men and this also causes a rift between the two sisters. Beatrice is at that “spinster” age for most in England at her time and Evie is young, beautiful, and inquisitive and attracts many suitors while her sister focuses on work. Evie is dedicated to design though, especially after a tragic event breaks her heart: she travels to art museums and takes in concerts and immerses herself to other cultural activities to gain new ideas for an original collection.

As with any proper and really worthwhile British series, House of Eliott has its bounty of dramatic moments, cliff-hangers, tragedies, scandals and winning episodes to propel it.

Activist Penelope remains conflicted on her friendship with Evie and her relationship with her brother Jack, who has become a partner in House of Elliott: “It makes me so mad. All this care and attention lavished on so much nonsense.” At a charity ball, she stood on-stage and expressed her distain for all its attendants, admonishing them for all the money they spent on their outfits for the event as well as the wasted money she and her organization used to plan and present it. She said that they all should have donated money directly to the organization. As a sub-plot, Penelope’s story provides a view into the other side of wealth: she selflessly and ardently works to help the unfortunate and puts herself in harm’s way time and time again. At the end of series one, she contemplates traveling to Africa with a missionary. Jack moves away from full-time photography to the film industry. He also grows fonder of Beatrice and their relationship moves from platonic to romantic. They make a wonderful pair—although they have their ups and downs. From the first scene he’s in, actor Aden Gillett commands the screen as Jack; a charming, honest, experienced and it turns out, quite sentimental, gorgeous man.

The Eliot sisters attract upper-crust clientele and the business is going very well. As Beatrice, Gonet shows her sensible side but also exhibits a strong sense of self. She’s gone this long without a man to support her and knows she can do it on her own. She loves Jack but does not need Jack. Lombard shines as Evie, a sprite, eager young woman who cannot wait for her next adventure or challenge. They attend lots of parties. Others do not treat them as fairly as they treat their workers and soon money is swindled, an affair with Evie and a diplomat threatens the reputation of House of Eliott and the sisters must make some difficult decisions. Wanting children and a more domestic home life, Jack suggests a separation to Beatrice. She works so much and is so career-focused and he knows it will not change and he does not want her to give up the business which provides her with such self-identity and pride. He is doing rather well with his film business as this point, but he also wants a family and Beatrice is just too involved with the House of Eliott.

The House of Eliott provides viewers with flair, drama, intrigue and an intricate journey for the sisters Eliott to come into their own. At any age, with enough focus, anyone can do what many view as impossible. Beatrice and Evangeline are dedicated and determined to make their way on their own terms and will let very few obstacles or few people lead them astray from accomplishing their ultimate goal: a successful fashion house.

The first season of House of Eliott begins with the two strong sisters supporting one another and the final series ends the same way. House of Eliott shows two very different yet connected women succeeding in a competitive industry, during a complex time in London.

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