Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review - Based Upon Availability by Alix Strauss

Based Upon Availability by Alix Strauss
published 6/10
352 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

From the very first page of this stunning novel, readers are drawn into the lives of eight seemingly ordinary women who pass through Manhattan's swanky Four Seasons Hotel. While offering sanctuary to some, solace to others, the hotel captures their darkest moments as they grapple with family, sex, power, love, and death.

Trish obsesses over her best friend's wedding and dramatic weight loss. Robin wants revenge after a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her older sister. Anne is single, lonely, and suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Drug-addicted rock star Louise needs to dry out. Southerner turned wannabe Manhattanite Franny is envious of her neighbors' lives. Sheila wants to punish her boyfriend for returning to his wife. Ellen so desperately wants children that she insists she's pregnant to her disbelieving husband. And Morgan, the hotel manager--haunted by the memory of her dead sister--is the thread that weaves these women's lives together.

My thoughts:

I'm having an unusually hard time writing this review, because my thoughts about this book are rather mixed. Parts of the novel worked well for me, and parts just bugged me enough to keep me from being able to fully immerse myself in the flow of the narrative.

I loved the idea of the novel - I'm a big fan of authors who can take several lives or events that seem to be completely random and weave those strands together into a cohesive whole. In many ways, Strauss was very successful with that aspect of her novel. She created 8 women who were nothing like each other - women who, under normal circumstances, would most likely never even meet - and found ways to entwine them with each other that felt surprising and yet natural. My favorite parts of the novel involved the interactions these women had with each other.

Having said that, I never really felt an emotional connection to any of the women in the story. They were all interesting, and fairly well-drawn, but none of them really drew me into their life in such a way that I HAD to know how their story was going to end. Morgan in particular was difficult to sympathize with - almost from the beginning, I felt like distancing myself from her.

I think Strauss is a good writer - and if you browse through other reviews of this book, you will find lots of readers who enjoyed this novel very much. I was just never compelled to keep reading, which is what I'm really looking for when I sit down with a story. Especially now, with my reading time starting to disappear, I want to find a book that makes me forget about everything around me, and get lost in the story. This book was fine, but never quite swept me away.

Finished- 6/20/

Source - review copy compliments of TLC Book Tours - thanks!

MPAA Rating - definitely R, for sexual situations, violence, and language

My rating - 6/10

Don't just take my word for it! If this book peaks your interest, check out the other stops on this tour (Hint - most of them like it more than me...):

Tuesday, June 8th: nomadreader

Wednesday, June 9th: Raging Bibliomania

Thursday, June 10th: Book Addiction

Monday, June 14th: Dolce Bellezza

Tuesday, June 22nd: Heart 2 Heart

Wednesday, June 23rd: Reading on a Rainy Day

Thursday, June 24th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

Tuesday, June 29th: Booksie’s Blog

Wednesday, June 30th: Starting Fresh

Date TBD: Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review - The Great Lover by Jill Dawson

The Great Lover by Jill Dawson
published 6/10
310 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In 1909, sixteen-year-old Nell Golightly is a housemaid at a popular tea garden near Cambridge University, and Rupert Brooke, a new tenant, is already causing a stir with his boyish good looks and habit of swimming naked in nearby Byron's Pool. Despite her good sense, Nell seems to be falling under the radical young poet's spell, even though Brooke apparently adores no one but himself. Could he ever love a housemaid? Is he, in fact, capable of love at all?

Jill Dawson's The Great Lover imaginatively and playfully gives new voice to Rupert Brooke through the poet's own words and through the remembrances of the spirited Nell. An extraordinary novel, it powerfully conveys the allure of charisma as it captures the mysterious and often perverse workings of the human heart.

My thoughts:

A few years ago, I became fascinated with The Bloomsbury Group, the cadre of writers and artists living in and around London in the early 1900s. I knew Rupert Brooke was an acquaintance of many of the key players in the group - specifically Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey - so I was eager to read this fictionalized account of his life.

I found Dawson's portrayal of two colliding worlds - Rupert's one of education and privilege, and Nell's one of hard work and struggle - to be quite compelling. By allowing both Nell and Rupert to share their story in their own voice, the contrast between their mindset and situation is stark. The reader never has to guess why this particular love affair is doomed to fail - the failure is inevitable, almost from the very beginning. And yet Dawson's skill as a writer kept me turning the pages, even as I knew already how it would end.

But I found this novel to be much more than a love story - really, it was an insightful and carefully constructed character sketch of two equally fascinating people. Rupert's free spirit and lofty ideals, and Nell's quiet intelligence and gentle care for those she loved made me care about what happened to each of them, quite separately from their relationship to each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed the reading of this novel. I don't think it will appeal to everyone - there is, at times, not a whole lot of plot, and I can imagine some readers will feel bogged down in the character's descriptions of rather mundane, everyday situations. But it worked for me, and I continue to be fascinated by this particular period of history, and it's vibrant but ultimately doomed heroes and heroines.

Finished: 6/6/10
Source: review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours - thank you!

MPAA Rating - most like R, because while the sexuality isn't explicit, it's prevalent
My rating: 7/10

If this book sounds interesting, check out the other stops on it's tour:

Wednesday, June 2nd: Books Like Breathing

Thursday, June 3rd: Eclectic/Eccentric

Monday, June 7th: Peetswea

Tuesday, June 8th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

Wednesday, June 9th: Bookstack

Thursday, June 10th: Nonsuch Book

Monday, June 14th: 1330v

Tuesday, June 15th: Literate Housewife

Tuesday, June 22nd: My Two Blessings

Wednesday, June 23rd: Thoughts From an Evil Overlord

Thursday, June 24th: The Tome Traveler