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THE UNFORTUNATE IMPORTANCE OF BEAUTY: A Novel ~Amanda Filipacchi

Monday, September 21st, 2015

THE UNFORTUNATE IMPORTANCE OF BEAUTY is a story picked by my book group for our discussion in September.  I ran into one of our members at the grocery store who was reading ahead as she is headed back to school in a few days and she said, “our next two books are weird!” I was hoping that meant weird and wonderful and not just strange.   I have to say it was a very interesting premise and the humor made me smile as I turned pages and settled in for the cover-to-cover experience.

About the author from Amazon:

“Amanda Filipacchi is the author of four novels: Nude Men, Vapor, Love Creeps, and, just out, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty (W. W. Norton, Feb. 2015). Her fiction has appeared in Best American Humor and elsewhere. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. She earned an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University. She lives in New York.”

The story is a rather amazing testament to friendship.  There are four friends, who gather for the Nights of Creativity.  Georgia has written several novels, Jack is a person who can resolve conflict, Lily is a brilliant composer of music, Penelope works at being a potter and selling pottery, but her craft is putting pieces back together, and Barb who is an award winning costume designer.   Gabriel was a member of the group, but he committed suicide and changed the group’s lives.  His suicide note said that he was in love with Barb but not worthy of someone who was so beautiful.

Barb reacts to this sadness by making and wearing a fat suit of clothing inclusive of messy teeth and a wild and frizzy grey wig.  She has worn this cover-up/costume for the last several years.  Barb also believes that her father had affairs when her mother’s great beauty began to fad and they divorced.   She hopes someone will overlook her “ugly” veneer and love her for herself.

Georgia leaves her laptop in a cab and she can no longer write until it is returned a number of days later.  Her novels are quite popular. Georgia is clever with words and ideas.

Lily who is not very attractive at all and can write beautiful music which drives folks to purchase office supplies or purchase books at Barnes and Noble falls in love with Strad who can not see her as beautiful at all and the group begins to help Lily with her obsession of him.  The group encourages each other and cares for each other and develops some absurd solutions to help problem-solve and find happiness.

The humor is not knee-slapping or belly laughing material, rather makes this group more loveable and likeable and charming.  There is a constant undercurrent about beauty and a condemnation of Strad but not a true or real solution to the society’s influence. There is a strong message about how persuasive our culture is and the role of marketing and how that changes minds and uniforms us into roles.  The characters need to come to their own conclusions and ideas and then proceed into society with the strength of friendship holding them together.

It was an interesting and fun read and I was happy to be introduced to this book and this author.   I will ask at our next gathering who discovered the book and why they chose it for us to discuss.  Certainly THE UNFORTUNATE IMPORTANCE OF BEAUTY will produce an interesting discussion evening.

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THE LAST GOOD PARADISE: A Novel ~Tatjana Soli

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

“Everyone encouraged one to ‘live the dream,’ but no one talked about how to pay for it.”   “He was learning the hard way that even divine cooking didn’t make one immune to being unloved.  Sadly, food wasn’t always enough.”  (Unproofed copy at 25% of Kindle reader)

Ever dream about living on an isolated island in the South Pacific?  THE LAST GOOD PARADISE is about that very concept of escaping to a remote island, having no fancy amenities handed to you and relaxing to a happiness of self-discovery.  Soli has put in more twists and turns than you can imagine including such amazing back stories of each of the characters that it is very difficult to put this book down.

I recommend this book to folks who like to read about how a character reaches their best potential and wants to ameliorate the back-story into the reality that is surfacing into the story now.  This is a study in responsibility and relationships between individuals and commitments and how they are going to play out their own happiness and future.  I found the writing compelling and the words kept me reading in the few draggy/ redundant moments; I was not actually on a sunny atoli in the South Pacific having nothing to do and gourmet food arriving on time!

THE LAST GOOD PARADISE introduces us to Ann and Richard a Los Angeles power couple that is attempting to become pregnant and about to open their own restaurant.   Ann is an attorney who has been making the money and saving for this big adventure of Richard’s when their plans become a train wreck and they hurriedly gather their savings and race out of L.A.   They travel lite, taking only a backpack and a tourist bag full of cash; and a brown one-piece bathing suit!

When they get to the remote resort, they meet Loren, a Frenchman, who won the resort in a poker game; he has chosen this remote lifestyle for his own.  A most interesting fellow, who has brought Titi, of the Royal family, and her childhood betrothed, Cooked to help him run the resort, reclaim their heritage, and become the owners upon Loren’s death.

Dex and Wende are aging rock star and his young muse, both are attempting to escape from the pressure of the public and move forward onto new pathways and adventures.  After 2 months of being isolated, the events on the island assist Dex in writing new songs for the band and Wende has found her own passion and not just being the muse and “hottie”.

There is an underlying environmental issue, which begs for some responsible re-action and recovery in that it has truly affected lives and the way of life,  also the whole problem of the  huge resorts for the wealthy including the theft of the land and lifestyle from the original people.

I have read all of Tatjana Soli’s novels and enjoyed them all.  This is the first one I have been sent for review.  I liked this story very much and think others would also as it required me to take a look at the choices I had made and my responsibilities over my life.  Was I a follower or a “wild-child”?

I think book groups would enjoy this read, as there is a lot to discuss.  I think a study guide would very much enhance this book.

About the author from the TLC Book Tour page:

“TATJANA SOLI is a novelist and short story writer. Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, was the winner of the James Tait Black Prize, a New York Times Notable Book, and a finalist for the LA Times Book Award. Her critically acclaimed second novel The Forgetting Tree was also a New York Times Notable book . Her stories have appeared in Zyzzyva, Boulevard, and The Sun, and have been listed in Best American Short Stories. She lives with her husband in Southern California.”

Tatjana Soli Twitter

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2 A.M. AT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS: A Novel ~Marie-Helene Bertino

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

“GIRLS, thinks Ben.  Flutelike, gauze-filled, late-afternoon sunshine.  Rainbow bracelets on the carpet.  They use their tongues to wet their lips. Girls.  They pretend to like each other.  Dotting their i’s with hearts, arching their backs, manipulating their confusing hair with flat irons, curling irons, glisten, extra, ultra hold, hold my purse, hold me close, no duh, bubble gum, gym socks, tube socks, tubes of gloss, tube tops, purrs, pert collars, full hair, full tits, just the tip!  Their sound, the upper notes of an xylophone.  Their legs, downed in fur, Girls.

“The one from Ben’s Advanced Lit class says, ‘That dress is vintage.  You can totally tell.’”  (From location 66% on unproofed Kindle Copy- highlighted)


2 A.M. At the CAT’s PAJAMAS is a unique and driving debut novel that I am sure will capture your imagination and turn the pages not “even” fast enough for your desire of finding out what happens next.  Do not even think about speed reading this book, because you will miss the magic and delight captured within every word on the page.  It is wonder FULL and does not miss a beat, you will be sorry if you do not know this book; you will want to share this with you friends right away even if the speed confuses you – I am sure you will read it again to capture the whole experience.

Philadelphia on Christmas Eve Eve at 7am in the morning, we are introduced to nine year old Madeleine Altimari practicing her shimming and heading off to her last day of school before the holiday.  Madeleine is an amazing little girl and her mother has recently died of cancer; her father has given up and just sits in a chair listening to music. Madeleine just wants to sing, she is anticipating making and tasting her first caramel apple at school  and that which starts out as an okay day goes from cockroaches to worse, until the most amazing experience  of a lifetime becomes hers.

Serina Greene is Madeleine’s fifth grade art teacher and she has just moved back to Philadelphia after a divorce. She is re-connecting with high school “friends” this evening for a dinner party. She is apprehensive about the event when she discovers Ben her high school prom date will be attending.  Serina’s father has abandoned her also just a few days before that prom.

Lorca is the current owner of the CAT’s PAJAMAS the second best jazz club in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.  He has just a few hours to come up with $30,000 to pay off the fines against the club and keep it open.  He is having troubles with his 16 year old son who wants to play jazz guitar with the Cubanistas the current band of the establishment.

The quirky and interesting other characters in the story just keep arriving at the correct moments in time and then are all pulled together by “all that jazz!”  The reader will want to get to know each and every one.

2 A.M. AT THE CAT’S PAJAMAS is a unique and sparkling novel which will refresh and release your spirit.

Marie-Helene Bertino Blog   
Marie-Helene Bertino Facebook

You and I will have to discover Bertino ourselves…She is winning awards and Oprah approves of this book!

TLC online book tours ent me an unproofed copy of this book for review on my Kindle.  Wow, am I very happy that they did – What a sweet treat.  Thank you

Please Share – Thank you

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FURTHER OUT THAN YOU THOUGHT: A Novel ~Michaela Carter

Monday, August 18th, 2014

“As if wisdom could arrive cleanly as mail, or the newspaper on one’s doorstep.  As if wisdom didn’t come from getting dirt under one’s nails.” (Page 11)
“ __ how small she wished she could become.  So she could hide from even herself” (page 77)
“If things weren’t hard, something was wrong.” (page189)
“After all, she was the one with the key.” (page226)

FURTHER OUT THAN YOU THOUGHT is a fictional story about a week in 1992 in Los Angeles.  After receiving the early uncorrected proof copy from TLC online book tours for review, I immediately read the cover and was thrilled to be reading a work by such an amazing poet and writer – Michaela Carter.  Several of her poems have been included in our poetry study group over the years.


The cover said, “Combining poetry and sensuality with an edgy urban sensibility Further Out Than You Thought is a celebration of life and a haunting story of love, friendship, and one woman’s quest for redemption.”

Gwen is a doctoral candidate in poetry, working as a nude dancer in a strip club in L.A.  She is our confused and sorting heroine of the story.  She also pays the way for the others to live and rationalize their lives.  Valiant is an older lounge singer who is suffering in the last days of AIDS, who is smoking himself and possible drinking himself to death while living in Gwen’s apartment building.  Len is Gwen’s boyfriend and a musician who attempts to sell his CDs on the street corner dressed in a revolutionary period costume.  I would have to say that cockroaches are high up on the character list along with dirty dishes, disorder, and dysfunctional actions.  Nothing resolves until the Rodney King Riots began and the whole city was shut down to control looting; the city was permeated with smoke from the burning fires.  Everyone was stuck at home, with no view or running out of distractions.

Almost every chapter of FURTHER OUT THAN YOU THOUGHT had a theme song and shared lyrics and poetry.  When I had finished the book, I went back and noted the metaphor or concept these words entered into the theme of the story. It was not a very fruitful exercise and I was left with tons of metaphors that seemed to overwhelm the story. Red, red, red, water, water, water, smoke, smoke, smoke, drinking, drinking, drinking, drugs, drugs, drugs, dance, dance, dance, dark, dark, dark; the list is even longer and  I personally found it exhausting to read and attempt to figure out.  Too much poetry?

The backstories of the three friends were well done and kept the story moving forward for me.  I so felt a sense of release when the trio decided to head to Tijuana to escape the riots and curfews and the ocean air allowed for clarity of thought to arise.  I was happy dancing when Gwen found the Grandmotherly Mexican Psychic and she believed the reading of the cards.  Whew! It was relief for the reader also.

Several days after finishing this book, I went for a walk to think about Robin William’s death and review all that I know about suicide, pain and healing.  It struck me that the erotic parts of Further Out Than You Thought are all based on the American addiction to violence and how it permeates our lives and is so common it is out of the awareness. Violence is common as dirt.  In this story, it is the riptide and strong undercurrent in the search for meaning and happiness.  The strawberries are blood red and release juicy, sweet joy.

“Michaela Carter is an award-winning poet and writer.  She studied theater at UCLA and holds a MFA in creative writing, and her poetry has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, won the Poetry Society of American Los Angeles New Poets Contest, and appeared in numerous journals.  Recently she cofounded the Peregrine Book Company, an independent bookstore in Prescott, Arizona, where she works as a book buyer and story-teller. She lives in Prescott with her partner and two inscrutable children and teaches creative writing at Yavapai College.  This is her first novel.”

Michaela Carter Online
Michaela Carter Facebook
Michaela Carter Peregrine Book Company 

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