Thursday, September 26, 2013

Final Words

That will be my last post for now.  I appreciate everyone who has read along and encouraged me along the way.  If you ever get stuck for something to read, just ask: I am always excited about something I am reading!  I may return sometime, but in the meantime, VERY BEST WISHES!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Marina Adair continues her Napa Trilogy with another amusing romance


Summer in Napa

Marina Adair’s Summer in Napa (340 pages, $12.95, Montlake Romance) follows her Kissing under the Mistletoe with her story about the Napa Valley and the DeLuca family.

This time, a younger member of the family, Marco, takes an interest in Alexis Moreau, who has come limping home to Napa after a breakup with her husband and co-restaurant owner in New York.  She has taken a room over her grandmother’s bakery, and while there seems quite willing to help with the baking.

Meanwhile, her romance gets off to a rocky start.  Marco likes her, but they had a history dating from their high school days, and this does nothing but make Lexi nervous.

Just when it seems that she and Marco might be on solid ground, and as she tries to open her own restaurant in Napa, the rug is pulled out from under her, when her ex sues her for all her recipes and even those of her grandmother’s bakery.  It is complicated how and why this happens, but it does, and it creates a crisis for Lexi.  Not only does she feel unable to compete or make it in any way on her own, but also she wonders whether Marco can have time for a loser like her.

Needless to say, they work things out. And as they do, Adair extends her range of likable eccentrics who populate her version of the Napa Valley.  This novel is a quick read, and a fun read, and with Adair’s other novels about the Napa Valley promises to hold its own among the work of other romance writers.

Marina Adair

Summer in Napa is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Marina Adair sets her romance in the Napa Valley at Christmastime

Kissing Under the Mistletoe

Marina Adair’s Kissing Under the Mistletoe (310 pages, $12.95, Montlake Romance) is the first in her series of Napa Valley romances.  While certain staples of romance description, especially moments of sexual intensity that only manage to tease the principle characters, leave me unimpressed, Adair has a way of creating winning characters and putting them in very amusing, if not always believable, situations.

In this novel, Regan Martin, a talented wine expert, has come to Napa to fill an important job vacancy.  When she arrives, however, she finds she has stepped on the toes of the most powerful local wine families, and her job disappears before her eyes.

The family, the DeLucas, have a longstanding tradition of power-broking in Napa.  Now they are a younger generation—four brothers and a single sister.  It seems that Regan was having an affair with the sister’s husband.  Regan didn’t know about her, Abigail, and when she did discover that the boyfriend was married, she was in the process of being fleeced by him, too.  Regan has come out of this affair with a daughter and a whole family of enemies.

The oldest brother, Gabe, is the one who is commissioned to deal with Regan.  And while he has blackballed her from getting a decent job in any winery in the country, he nevertheless finds her breathtakingly attractive when confronted with her face to face.  Regan feels exactly the same about him, and the two characters spend hundreds of pages trying not to get into each other’s pants—or getting into them and then figuring out how to get beyond that lapse.

While this is going on, Adair creates a whole assortment of other characters in her Napa setting, and she does a wonderful job with characters' descriptions, sometimes at the level of caricature but often with a deft hand at the revealing detail or telling secret.

Kissing Under the Mistletoe is not for everyone.  But if you like a fast moving romance with good characters, then this one might be for you.

Marina Adair

Kissing Under the Mistletoe is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ben Fountain writes about the Iraq War without leaving Texas


Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (307 pages, Ecco, $14.99) is the most stunning Iraq War novel to have appeared.  Bravo Squad, so-called because of a misnomer that sticks, has had a visible and very highly publicized success in Iraq and has returned home for honors and celebration.  We meet them on the last day of their leave, as they are feted at a Dallas Cowboys football game.  They are guests of the owners and they have a role to play during the halftime show.

The novel takes place only during, as well as immediately before and after, the football game.  There are a few flashbacks to a day or two before, but they only help to amplify our understanding of the main character, Billy Lynn.  Billy is a nineteen-year-old from Texas who was one of the key players in a battle that resulted in one of his good friends being killed in the field.

Billy is a slow thinking young man, but he is good looking enough to find himself often in the spot light.  When he has to speak, he does; and sometimes what he says is profound.  Billy started thinking more because of Shroom, the friend who was killed.  Shroom told Billy what to read, how to carry himself, how to be self-aware.  His death has affected Billy deeply, and the sorrow of that loss infuses the entire narrative.

Billy and his squad are busy knocking back whatever form of alcohol they can get their hands on.  Their sergeant, Dime, checks up on them from time to time, but it seems that mostly they do what they want.  After all, they are being wined and dined as victors from Iraq, and everyone around them in Texas and elsewhere wants the reassurance that what they did in Iraq has larger significance for the war.

One person who buys this line is Albert, their now-resident Hollywood producer who is promising to bring in a deal.  As he throws around huge numbers that a film deal would bring to the soldiers, they get off on all sorts of fantasizing about who might play what roles and how their story will look when turned into a Hollywood project.

They are all asked, but Billy is especially asked, how they did what they did; what it felt like; and whether they were scared.  Billy has a rote answer, but each time he is asked, it becomes clear that he has no language to describe the intensity of that moment of holding his dying friend in his arms.

As the game gets started and the soldiers settle into their comfortable seats in the owner's box, sipping Jack and Coke, Billy locks eyes with one of the cheerleaders that will be performing during the game.  This cheerleader seems to be interested in Billy, and when they meet later on, she clearly seems to be ready to spend time with him.  She gives Billy something to fantasize about while he and his buddies are getting hammered during the game.

She plays in his mind against the memories of his time with his family, especially his sister Kathryn, who is trying to persuade him to resist the army’s demand that he return to Iraq.

Fountain's novel is a wonderful satire of the world of the Dallas football club and the ranks of Americans who are trying to support this war without knowing anything about what it is.  At the same time, it is a deeply touching story about a young soldier growing up through his experience of war, especially as he has this distance on his own actions and tries to put everything together as he prepares to step onto the halftime stage in the football stadium.

Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Jacqueline Winspear takes Maisie Dobbs into harrowing memories of WWI


Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather (336 pages, Penguin, $16) is another of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels.  Set in 1930, this novel begins when Maisie is called to the offices of a difficult wealthy financier.  Maisie is meant to find his daughter who has gone missing.

Maisie is happy to take on this case, but as she makes inquiries about the girl and her friends, it turns out that some other girls that were associated with the missing girl have been murdered in suspicious circumstances.

Winspear does a wonderful job of creating a feeling of that era between the wars, and she creates the war as a memory for her characters very beautifully.  In this case, it seems to have something to do with the war, that these women were together before the war and that they have hardly socialized since.  What holds them together, or why the young heiress has fled, are all baffling to Maisie.

She seems to unravel the mystery and find the girl almost at the same time, but that does not really tell her what she is to do about the situation.  She has a young heiress who does not want to go home, several other girls who have been murdered, and a man who hardly deserves to be called the girl's father.

This is a case for Maisie Dobbs, and all I can say is she pulls it off beautifully.  That is another way of saying that Winspear is at her most deft in bringing all the details of this plot into an effective resolution.

Jacqueline Winspear

Birds of a Feather is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.