The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson – Book Review

The Summer Guest

This novel is wonderful.  It mostly revolves around the two summers that Anton Chekhov spent as the “guest” (he was really renting a small guest house on the Lintvaryova estate) of the Lintvaryova family. My only complaint is that the story-line involved three separate women, Zinaida Lintvaryova, a doctor who has lost her sight and is dying from some form of cancer; Ana the translator of Zinaidas’ diary; and Katya the editor at the small publishing house.  There was no way that Anderson was going to make me happy here.  I wanted to know the whole story for each of the woman right away, and I didn’t want to wait!

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For me, the most compelling story-line was the one pertaining to  Zinaida.  I found so much to love about this character.  I enjoyed her friendship with Chekhov, and how she faced her fears and fought back against them.  Ana was also a compelling character mostly because Anderson let us into her world.  Katya was a harder character to get to know, this was done for a reason, as you will find out at the end of the novel.

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I.Levitan: Vesper Chores, 1892

I don’t want to let the plot out of the bag, however I do have to say that I enjoyed this novel and read it in two days.  I highly recommend this book.  Well done, Alison Anderson!

Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown – Book Review

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In 1935 New York, Dottie is trying to live the modern woman’s life.  She has broken free of her lower middle class Jewish life to become the head accountant in her office.  Even though she is hoping to become engaged, she maintains her own social life, handles her own money and is hoping to live a more modern and “free” life than the one her mother has lead.  At the same time, her mother Rose, is chafing against her life – the endless pregnancies; the non-stop work of making a home and making the money last from week to week; and the question is this all there is?  The one spot of joy in her life is the thought that Dottie, her only daughter will have a better life than the one that she herself has lived.

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Into this environment, Dottie finds herself pregnant.  Rose is also pregnant, but has kept the information to herself (she finds herself resentful and upset – she doesn’t want to start all over again with a newborn).

The different ways each women deals with their unwanted pregnancies shows up the extremely limited lives of women, the choices we make, and how we live with them.  I loved this book, and found myself completely understanding both choices.  I highly recommend this novel.  Well done!

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien – Book Review

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This novel is both a tour de force, and one of the more difficult books to read.  The novel begins with the arrival of a mysterious stranger, Dr. Valdimir Dragan, in the quiet Irish village of Cloonoila.  The arrival of the oddly charismatic stranger creates gossip and excitement in the village, especially among the women, who seem to believe him to be a romantic figure.  I really love the way O’Brien tells the story, from a different point of view than you would suspect, and how she draws you into the life of the little Irish village.

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The red chairs commemorating the dead.

As the novel progresses, some questions and suspicions begin to make their way around the village regarding Dr. Dragan.  For one thing, among his services that he offers is “sex therapist”, which due to the reactions of the villagers, he decides not to offer.  His practice is an amalgamation of “new age” therapies, which in itself brings some suspicion.

I’m not going to tell you who Dragan actually is however, since I want you to read this wonderfully written book.  O’Brien simply blew me away with this novel.  Well done, however be warned, as it is not for the faint of heart.

And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer – Book Review

AndAftertheFire

I really think this novel not only tells a great story, but also brings up valid, timely questions.  The crux of the novel is that after the death of her uncle, Susanna Kessler finds an original score by Johann Sebastian Bach in his house.  How her uncle came by the manuscript, and what exactly Susanna should do with it are some the questions the novel seeks to answer.

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This novel not only tells the story of Susanna, but also the story of Sara Itzig Levy, the first recipient of this score.  Personally, I found both stories to be riveting, and enjoyed the back-and-forth telling of each story.

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The novel also brings up the age-old question:  can hate speech, repeated over many many years, bring about hate and the acting on it?  While reading this intense novel, I found myself pondering that very question.  I found out facts from history which were new to me.  I also discovered some things regarding Martin Luther, that as a former Lutheran, I had been unaware of.

One of the reasons that I read, and probably many of you have the same reasons, are to learn something I don’t know, and to see life through someone else’s eyes.  This novel does both and in a wonderfully written way.  I highly recommend it.

The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe – Book Review

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This novel is based on the true story of Anita Hemmings who was the first black woman to graduate from Vassar College in 1897.  At that time, Vassar did not accept black woman, so Anita, who looked white was able to “pass”.

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Anita Hemmings, Vassar

The novel itself consists of Anita’s fictional last year at Vassar, from her new roommate, a moneyed New York “society girl”, who introduces her to a new world of the extremely rich, to her romance with a wealthy beau.  After three years of fading into the background and trying not to draw any notice to herself, Anita throws caution to the winds and embraces the new adventures that rooming with Lottie Taylor has brought her.  And, it is these very adventures that bring heartache, betrayal and the fear of dismissal to Anita’s life.

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Inside of a Gilded Age “home”.

Tanabe writes about the Gilded Age with such attention to detail, that you can see it all in your mind’s eye.  The rich have never lived in the same world as the rest of us, a fact that is made crystal clear in this novel.  Anita is brought into this world while taking the reader along for the ride, and it is quite an enjoyable one at that.

I won’t go into details, since I want you to read this novel.  I enjoyed it very much, and especially the fact that it was based on a true story.  I highly recommend this novel!