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Review: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

by Mohsin Hamid

” We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees. Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. 

For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. 

But in between we can create. “

It is incredibly rare that I will read a book that is so profound that it temporarily renders me speechless. Rarer still that I will sit with the book, long after I have finished it, clutching it to my chest as if that action can force it to continue, but knowing that it is a lifeline now broken, and nothing – not even my desperation for more – can put it back together again. The story is over, the story has been told, and it is time to move on, albeit with a part of this story moving along with me.

Our narrator has set our book up as a detailed set of instructions on how to get yourself filthy rich in rising Asia. Each chapter revolves around  a subject matter that will move you closer and closer in the direction of your goal and once you obtain it, there are further instructions on how best to keep yourself on top. However, the narrator also knows that everything that goes up must also come back down again, and as such, has included a series of steps for accepting this predetermined fate.

Coming along for the ride is a young boy with no name. He is a strong boy, able to bypass death and the severe illnesses  that are common in childhood among the populated village in which he lives. He lives with his family on a compound where several extended families also reside. His father, the breadwinner, works in the city and only occasionally is able to come home for visits. After one such visit he decides it is time – that even though he can barely afford to take care of himself, he can stand being apart from his family no longer, and the boy travels the perilous journey to the city along with his mother and two siblings.

This is, of course, the first step to getting filthy rich in rising Asia. You must be in the city.

The boy is the youngest of the family and as such has the privilege of education, his older brother having to leave school when he becomes of a qualified age (somewhere around 12) to begin work so as to help provide for the family. The boy’s sister was sent back to their village of birth for an arranged marriage once she (somewhere around 14) becomes of age. The boy knows that an education is a “running leap towards becoming filthy rich in Asia,” but he also knows it is not something easily achieved. He will have to overcome the obstacles of financing if he can even get into the city’s college – so it’s a good thing that he has learned a few tricks on the streets from which he has been raised.

Step Two : Don’t Fall in Love

” You call her that night but she does not answer. You try again the following day with the same result. Later in the week you get hold of her, finally, yet she is distracted, busy getting ready for a shoot. Occasionally thereafter, when you manage to speak with her, you are able to have a brief conversation, but she is always occupied when you suggest a meeting. You find this perplexing, and consider how best to proceed. You do not know much about women, but you know a fair bit about sales, and it is apparent to you that this is a case when you must let the customer seek you out, lest you devalue your product completely. So you wait. And she does call. Not often. Not even every month. But sometimes, usually late in the evening, after she has watched a film, and her voice is languid with impending sleep, and perhaps with alcohol as well, and she speaks to you softly for a few wonderful minutes from the comfort of her bed She does not invite you over, or propose an encounter elsewhere, but she keeps in touch with you and your life, and this, while at times is quietly painful, gives you a measure of hope. “

This step is perhaps the most difficult of them all, as most teenage boys have a hard time not noticing pretty girls. One pretty girl in particular lives the boy’s neighborhood and while she is not obviously beautiful, she has an alluring cadence about her that makes it impossible for the boy to resist her, especially as she does’t seem to pay much attention to the boy, except of course when she needs something. The pretty girl is an imprint on the boy’s mind, the epitome of all that is love – even if he has no idea what that is or what it means. It will become something he will never be able to shake.

This girl will be the only constant in the boy’s life, traveling in tandem on her own path to getting filthy rich in rising Asia, but she will attain her goals playing by an entirely different set of rules. The boy will grow into a man, the girl will grow into a woman, but his infatuation with her will never wean and as such will cause many problems in his life. Not least of which will be his difficulty in giving his heart to anyone else.

“Your brother accepts their return with a handshake, and also, wordlessly, the rolled banknotes hidden in your grip. It shamed him initially to receive help from his younger sibling, but not so much anymore, and he no longer insists on telling you over and over the stories of his difficulties as a father in the face of runaway prices, even though those stories remain pressing and true. 

Instead he sits you down on his rooftop and asks you about yourself, lighting a joint and sucking a series of shallow puffs into his scrawny chest. The evening sky is orange, heavy with suspended dust from thousands upon thousands of construction sites, fertile soil gouged by shovels, dried by the sun, and scattered by the wind. As usual your brother encourages you to wed, expressing by doing so an abiding generosity, for a family of your own would, in all likelihood, diminish your ability to contribute to the well-being of his. 

“My business fills my time,” you say. “I’m fine alone.” 

“No person is fine alone.” “

The man diligently continues down his steps – he (tries to) avoids idealists, he learns from a (shady)  master, he works for himself (in his own shady business) and he is prepared for violence (from equally shady competitors).

Water is a hugely sought after commodity in the man’s city and the quality of water is so poor that sickness floods the city. The man decides to take advantage of the shortage of quality water and uses old bottles he steals from garbage cans and various places to boil water and repackage it, marking it up at a premium price, thus getting him closer to his goal of. . . you guessed it – getting filthy rich in rising Asia. The man is smart about his business because he is following the set of instructions laid out in the book and as such, has no doubts that his goal will be achieved.

But the man has hard lessons to learn. While his main purpose in life has always been to get filthy rich in rising Asia, and he has carefully followed all of the steps, he has also missed out on many things and areas of his life are sorely lacking. And the truth of the matter is. . . the brutal honesty is. . . that once you move forward, you can never move backwards. The time you lose is gone forever and while having focus on one goal is admirable, if one does not have balance in their life it will eventually take it’s toll. He will watch his mother pass painfully away, his father die of a broken heart, his sister leave the world alone, his brother struggle to hang on for his own family. The man will not understand the things he missed on his path to becoming rich until it is too late.

He will have a family of his own but it will be only a shimmer of what he could have, if he’d only followed Step 2 to the letter.

“You reencounter each other at a pharmacy, a crowded micro-warehouse stacked with pallets not much bigger than matchboxes, mostly white, bearing text too minute to be legible, even while squinting, and, on occasion, iridescent seals of hologrammed authenticity that shimmer like fish in the light. You are progressing incrementally to the counter, buffeted by those who push forward out of line, reliant on strangers who acknowledge you and are good enough to wait. Ahead you see a figure turn after paying for her purchase, a figure you think you recognize, and you are seized by a powerful emotion This emotion is akin to panic, and indeed you consider shoving your prescription back into your pocket and making for the exit. 

But you stand your ground. As the figure approaches, she frowns. 

“Is that you?” she asks, not for the first time in her life. 

You lean on your cane and scrutinize the wizened woman before you. 

“Yes,” you say. 

Neither of you speaks. Slowly, she shakes her head. She rests her hand on yours, her skin smooth and cool against your knuckles. 

“Do I look as old as you do?” she asks. 

“No,” you say. 

“I thought you were an honest boy.”

You smile. “Not always.”  “

And the man will grow into an old man and will realize that sometimes you are better off not being filthy rich in rising Asia.

This book was phenomenal, and I know that any review I could write about it, any words I could say – they could never do the book the justice it deserves. This short novel (a mere 228 pages) held in it more emotion and more honesty than the majority of the books I have read in the last 30 years that I have been a fool for literature. It is uniquely written in a style and a voice that I have never read before, and  I am very anxious to read more by the authorMohsin Hamid. The Pakistani born, American educated, English resident has a modern and superbly thought out way of approaching the art of storytelling. The subject matter (money being the ultimate goal in life) may not be revolutionary, but the telling of this tale certainly was.

I give How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia five out of five stars, and I am going to be so bold as to state it will be the best book I will read all year.

Perhaps, even in this entire decade.

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Recommendation: Something Blue

Something Blue

by Emily Giffin

” I ripped out a page and wrote: “Steps to Becoming a Better Darcy.” I thought for a second, replaying Ethan’s speech. Then I wrote:

1. Go to an ob-gyn in London and prepare for motherhood!

2. Be more healthy, i.e., eat better, no caffeine or alcohol

3. Find some new girlfriends (no competing with them!)

4. Let my family know that I’m in London and that I’m okay

5. Get a job (preferably a “do-gooding” job)

6. Stop buying clothes (and shoes, etc.) and start saving money!

Then, because something still seemed to be missing, I threw in a catchall:

7. Refine my character (i.e., be more thoughtful, less selfish, etc.) “

Emily Giffin is a Queen in the land of chick-lit, whether she likes the title or not. Face it – when your novel is turned into a movie starring Kate Hudson, you have to admit that your book is one of those that is thrown in a beach bag with sloppy dog-eared  page markers and smudged pages from greasy chip fingers. It’s a novel that will be passed around in a book club full of women drinking wine and spiked coffee on a lazy Saturday night somewhere in the MidWest, spending more time filling their glasses than speaking on the unforgettable nuances or unexpected plot twists of your latest story.  Giffin’s books are never going to go down in history as “the next Great American Novel” nor will they ever be on any high schooler’s required reading list. Women read Emily Giffin while taking a bubble bath or sipping on a glass of red wine on a Friday night as they try to get over the fact that “he who must not be named” (and no, I’m not talking about Voldemort) hasn’t called, all while trying hard not to accept that he’s just not into her. While some authors will fight against their books being labeled “chick-lit”, I have always thought it best to simply accept and embrace the title, as these books always seem to be bestsellers, extremely mainstream, and future film scripts.

Something Blue wasn’t the one turned into a movie, however. It was Something Borrowed, Giffin’s first published work. The story follows Rachel, a solidly good girl who plays by the rules until she finds herself in the ultimate taboo – in love with her best friend’s fiancee. And what’s worse, he is in just as much in love with her. Darcy, the best friend whose shadow Rachel perpetually falls under, has always gotten everything she has ever wanted – by hook or by crook. Her flamboyant and bratty personality dwarf her best friend’s dreams and accomplishments and you truly don’t feel sorry that Darcy is losing her man.  Dex (the fiancee) is the handsome and perfect-on-paper king to Darcy’s queen and while Darcy cannot wait to plan her perfect wedding, she’s having a hard time fitting in meetings with her wedding coordinator around secret sexual liaisons with Marcus, the groomsman she’s currently sleeping with.

Rachel and Dex fall in love – that real kind of love that comes around only once in a lifetime (if you’re lucky). They know it’s wrong. The readers know it’s wrong. I mean, stealing your best friend’s fiancee – no matter how annoying said best friend is or how willing said fiancee is to be stolen- is a big no-no in the world of girl code. But you root for them and you’re happy for them, and even though Darcy can be a pain in the rear, you hope she can find happiness too. I mean, if Rachel loves her, then you know that Darcy has some redeemable qualities.

Something Blue is where Darcy finds that happiness, in the most unlikely of places – in herself.

” I had nothing to say to that, so I just turned the tables right back on him and said, “I knew it all along.” 

This was a total lie. I never in a million years could have foreseen this moment. The shock was too much to bear. But that’s the thing about the sucker punch; the sucker element hurts worse than the punch. They had socked it to me, but I wasn’t going to be their fool too. 

“I hate you both. I always will,” I said, realizing that my words sounded weak and juvenile, like the time when I was five years old and told my father that I loved the devil more than I loved him. I wanted to shock and horrify, but he only chuckled at my creative putdown. Dex, too, seemed merely amused by my proclamation, which enraged me to the brink of tears. I told myself that I had to escape Rachel’s apartment before I started bawling. On my way to the door, I heard Dex say, “Oh, Darcy?”

I turned to face him again. “What?” I spat out, praying that he was going to say it was all a joke, a big mix-up. Maybe they were going to laugh and ask how I could think such a thing. Maybe we’d even share a group hug. 

But all he said was, “May I have my watch back, please?” “

Spoiled Darcy is used to having it all and not having to work too hard to get it. She lives a glamorous lifestyle in one of the most prestigious cities in the world and she is adored by men (whether they belong to her or not is beside the point). But when she finds out her best friend, mousey little Rachel, has stolen her fiancee and worse – that Dex is actually in love with Rachel over Darcy and is leaving her veritably standing at the altar, she finds her world shaken. She’s not necessarily sad to say goodbye to Dex; more like she is embarrassed to have had the tables turned on her for once. The fact that she’s losing her picture perfect man to a woman she has never deemed true competition is a hard pill to swallow. To compound the problem, Darcy finds out she is pregnant, and if she’s quite honest, she is not sure who the father could be. Unfortunately no amount of denial will change the fact that she is about to become Darcy with a forever Plus One.

After obsessing over Rachel and Dex and their relationship so much that she has exhausted everyone around her, Darcy decides to flee New York to London and crashes into the world of her childhood friend, Ethan. Her plan is to transition her sparkling and amazingly lavish lifestyle from one impressive city to another, but reality soon slaps her in the face. Darcy does everything she can to avoid the real world and impending changes in her life, including falling into another relationship with another wrong guy. She cannot resist trying to fix her problems with all her old tools of the trade and mistake after mistake begins to take it’s toll on her formally indomitable spirit.

Soon enough, Darcy finds herself surprisingly disturbed as she begins to see herself through Ethan’s honest eyes and realizes that she has to change herself from the inside out if she has any hope of being a decent mother. In the brilliantly charming writing style of Emily Giffin, Darcy is slowly transformed and redeemed – with a lot of laughs and some heartache along the way. Darcy has to find a way to move on from spoiled socialite to nurturing mother, a path that is difficult for even the most skilled of women. Putting someone else first when you’ve always been the star of your own life is a difficult role to commence, and Darcy is finally ready to finish something she has begun.

” As I looked at the picture of us, I thought about everything that had happened between Dex and Rachel and me, deciding again that the cracks in our relationships had been a breeding ground for deceit. Dex and I had cheated on each other because we weren’t right together in the first place. Rachel betrayed me because our friendship was a flawed one. I lied to her about Marcus because of the same negative undercurrent — the unspoken competition that can corrupt even the best of friendships. That had ruined ours. 

As much as I wanted to hold them responsible, I knew that I was not blameless. We were all accountable. We had all lied and cheated. But despite everything, I knew we were still good people. We all deserved a second chance, a chance to be happy. “

Something Blue is a great read for any lover of the chick-lit genre, and I suggest reading Something Borrowed first. There is also a prequel to Rachel and Darcy’s friendship before their tangled love triangle – The Diary of Darcy J. Rhone. But I will say, I enjoyed Something Blue much more than it’s counterpart – Darcy is obnoxiously snobby and full of herself, but the transformation is so endearing and I love it when you find yourself cheering for someone you previously didn’t think deserved it. I felt much more invested in Darcy than I did Rachel and the layers that had to be removed before she could truly find something pure and good in herself were fun to read.

” Love and friendship. They are what make us who we are, and what can change us, if we let them.” 

If you read Something Blue and enjoy Giffin’s writing, I also suggest Baby Proof – my favorite of her novels. It chronicles the lives of a couple who upon marrying, mutually agree that they will never have children. The husband decides to change his mind and the couple split, leaving the wife in a serious bout of contemplation about her future as a mother. . . or as a single woman.

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Review: Lost in a Book

Lost in a Book

by Jennifer Donnelly

“The second vulture screeched. He shook his head, and then his wings. Death’s pale cheeks flushed with indignation. 

“I know there are rules, Truque!” she said. “I know I cannot go to the girl before her time. But what if she comes to me? What if I can bind her here? That changes things, doesn’t it?”

The vulture considered his mistress’s words, then dipped his head and grabbed the book with his sharp talons. Death opened a window, and the two birds swooped off into the night. As she watched them go, her sister’s words came back to her.

You have no idea how the story ends. 

Death’s bloodred lips curved into a grim, determined smile. 

“Oh, but I do,” she purred. Because I intend to write it!” “

Lost in a Book is a Disney sanctioned novel that I came across via FaceBook. The marketing for the book must be very good because ads for it popped up onto my feed multiple times a day! I follow several Beauty & the Beast groups and I guess those cookies are working in my favor. I am so glad I came across this sweet little book. It was really fun to read and a great perspective.

I don’t know much about Jennifer Donnelly other than she is very involved on her FaceBook page. I love it when authors take the time to interact with their fans, and she has many. There is something very charming about the back and forth between a fan giving a compliment and an author receiving it and responding. Social media is a great platform for celebrities and their adoring masses to come together, and the praise for this novel has been substantial.

Lost in a Book is the tale of Belle’s time as an unintended guest of the Beast’s enchanted castle. The time period (if you are going by the movie) is after she has arrived and tried to escape, only to be set upon by a pack of wolves in the forest and saved by her captor, the Beast. The Beast has gifted Belle with her very own library and she is determined to begin the task of tidying it up, along with the help of her friends and familiar faces – Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and Chip. The library is a disaster of dust and grime and they spend a few days and many hours cleaning things up so that it can be a place for Belle to find sanctuary. Books have always helped Belle escape the tribulations of her life and she needs them now more than ever; being separated from her father is heartbreakingly difficult.

” “Reading became my sanctuary,” Belle continued. “I found so much in those books. I found histories that inspired me. Poems that delighted me. Novels that challenged me. . .” Belle paused, suddenly self-conscious. She looked down at her hands, and in a wistful voice said, “What I really found, though, was myself.”  “

What Belle doesn’t know is that a trap has been set for her. Two sisters, Death and Love, have been playing with her life on their chessboard of fate, watching her from a veritable distance. Love, of course, is hoping that Belle will begin to see the good in the Beast, allowing the spell to be broken and for the both of them to live happily ever after. Death on the other hand is hoping to claim Belle’s life as part of her collection. They place a bet on Belle’s life, each hoping that their wish will become reality, but what Love doesn’t know is that Death has decided to cheat. She places an enchanted book in Belle’s library, one that will come to life and tempt her into another world. If Belle takes three things from this magical world inside the book titled Nevermore, and leaves three things in return, then she will be bound to the world forever and as such, meet her eternal end.

Belle finds the book in secret room within the library and cannot hold herself back from entering. In it, she finds a world that is amazing and all that she has ever dreamed of. Inside the book of Nevermore is the city of Paris and it’s outskirts, parts of her country that Belle has always dreamed of visiting but never had the means. She also encounters a handsome duke named Henri and a startlingly curious Countess who offers to take Belle under her wing and show her the lays of the land.

” Belle was taken aback by the countess’s title. “Terres des Morts. . .” she echoed. “Land of the Dead? I’m not sure I wish to meet her!”

The young man laughed. “It’s a horrible title, I agree. It was given to an ancestor of the countess’s. After he’d won a particularly bloody battle. It is much more fierce than she is, I promise you.”

Belle hesitated. “What is this place?” she asked.

“A bit of magic, like all good books,” the man replied. “An escape. A place where you can leave cares and worries behind.” He smiled. “At least for a chapter or two.” He offered her his arm. 

Belle bit her lip. She cast a glance behind her. It wasn’t too late to leave. It wasn’t too late to run out of the chateau, down the drive, through the portal, and back to the Beast’s castle. 

But there, she could only read stories. Here, it seemed, she could live one.  “

Belle comes back from the book and is torn. She loved her adventure while visiting the magical land inside the book with the Countess and her new friends, but she also is finding a particular fondness for the inhabitants of the enchanted castle and the Beast. His behavior and demeanor are no doubt mercurial, but she is slowly beginning to see the good inside of him. He is making an effort and although it often feels as if he is taking one step forward and three steps back, everyone is hopeful that the Beast will honestly and valiantly earn Belle’s trust and eventually, her heart.

Belle had stood there for a long moment, staring at the empty doorway. 

The gift the Beast had bestowed upon her was so incredibly generous, it was almost unbelievable. She felt as if the Beast, who had caused her so much sorrow, was now doing everything in his power to undo it. 

Everything, that is, except letting her go. 

“What are you?” she’d whispered. 

Was the Beast the snarling savage who’d imprisoned her father, then herself? Was he the cultivated reader who could recite lines from a sixteenth-century poem? Was he her adversary? Her friend?

Or was he somehow all of these things? “

Despite the Beast’s best efforts, something always seems to go wrong in his attempts to woo and romance Belle. He plans an outing to take her ice skating and ends up coming down with a cold. He tries to hold a polite conversation with her and he cannot control his temper. The enchanted objects of the castle try to smooth things over but between the Beast’s rages and the sorrow Belle is feeling over the absence of her father in her life, she has a very hard time resisting the temptation that is the magical book and world of Nevermore. The Beast however, continues to try and connect.

Something was wrong — very wrong. The Beast could feel it. 

“Why aren’t you eating, Belle? Are you not well?” he asked. 

“I’m fine, thank you. Just not terribly hungry,” Belle said, giving him what was clearly a fake smile. She laid her spoon down. “I didn’t sleep well last night. In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll take my leave.” 

The Beast raised an eyebrow. “Where are you going?”

“To the library.”

“Would you like to go for a walk through the grounds instead? The brisk air will put some color back into your cheeks. You look so pale this morning. Surely you’ve noticed.”

“How could I?” Belle asked. “There aren’t any mirrors here.”

“True.”

“Because you broke them all.”

The Beast cleared his throat. “Also true,” he said. “Personally? I like books better than mirrors,” he added, trying to lighten the mood. “Mirrors only show us what w are. Books show us what we can be.” “

Little does she know, but her new best friend inside the book is none other than Death herself, working her own brand of magic against any love Belle may feel in the real world. She is able to persuade Belle into tasting several things from Nevermore which half binds her to the book, and she cunningly begins to try and find ways to steal things from Belle which will finish the trap. Belle is finding so much joy and solace in what she believes to be the perfect world that she ignores the warnings that Love has sent her way. She continues to go back and forth between the worlds and ignores the physical attachment she is beginning to form to the book. Each time she goes back and forth it proves to be more difficult to get back into the real world.

” “Goodbye, Madame Comtesse,” Belle said as they stepped into the drive. “And thank you again for everything.” 

There was a note of melancholy in Belle’s voice. The countess noticed it. “What’s the matter, child?” she asked. 

“Nothing,” Belle said wistfully. “At least, nothing that doesn’t make me sound like a complete ingrate. I just. . . I wish I didn’t have to leave. Ever. I wish Nevermore was real.” 

The countess smoothed a stray piece of hair off Belle’s forehead. Her touch was as cool as marble. “Does it matter if it’s not?” she asked. “Life can be so difficult, and stories help us escape those difficulties. It’s all right to lose yourself in one, Belle. Isn’t that what you’ve always done? And this one is your own story, for goodness’ sake! What harm can there possibly be in that?” “

Belle is being further manipulated by Death each time she enters the book and finally, things come to a head. She has bound herself to Nevermore by leaving three things and taking three things, and she must embark upon a perilous journey to escape if she wants to keep her life intact. Relying on Love’s emissaries and her own wits, she struggles through puzzles and problems to try and find her way out and back to her Beast — someone that she now realizes she cares more for than she did before.

Jennifer Donnelly brings a bright and appropriate new story to the beloved world of Beauty & the Beast; one that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages. The narrative is such that a 10-year old and a 30-year old can each enjoy the story and appreciate the addition to a world they already love. I especially loved the nod to the original author of Beauty & the Beast’s tale, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. The author wrote the story of Beauty and her Beast in the 1700’s and although it has been cut down and penned under other names as well, Donnelly used the original author’s last name Villeneuve as the name of the village Belle comes from.

Please note that Lost in a Book follows the storyline of the live-action film and not the cartoon. As a result, if you have not seen the live-action movie, you may find a few discrepancies. I really enjoyed this addition to my favorite fairy tale. I give Lost in a Book 4.5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for any and all age groups interested in learning more about Belle’s time in captivity at the Beast’s enchanted castle.

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Recommendation: Chances

Chances

by Jackie Collins

” Costa Zennacotti stared at the girl sitting across from hi, his ornate carved wood desk separating them She spoke rapidly, gesticulating wildly, making faces to emphasize a point. Christ! He hated himself for having such thoughts, but she was the most sensual woman he had ever laid eyes on. . . 

“Costa?” the girl questioned sharply. “Are you listening to me?”

“Of course, Lucky,” he replied quickly., embarrassed because she was only a slip of a girl — what was she now, twenty-seven or -eight? — and ye she was so bright and knowing. She probably knew what he was thinking. 

Lucky Santangelo. Daughter of his lifelong best friend, Gino. 

Child. Liberated lady. Temptress. Costa knew her as all of these things. 

“So you see” — she fumbled in an oversized Gucci bag and produced a pack of cigarettes — “no way is it the right time for my father to come back into the country. No way. You must stop him.” 

He shrugged. Sometimes she could be so stupid. How could she expect anyone to stop Gino doing exactly what he wanted? As his daughter, she above all others should know that. After all, Gino and Lucky, they were two of a kind, they were as alike as two separate people could ever hope to be. 

“Are you going to tell him?” she demanded. “Well?” She demanded. “Well? Are you?”

Costa thought it best not to mention that at that very moment Gino was in a jet circling the city. Soon he would be landing. Soon he would be back. Lucky would just have to face the fact that her father would be taking over again. “

There are few books that I have re-read.

It’s not that I don’t desire to or have the time to do so, I just simply have so many books that I want to read that  it’s difficult for me to re-read something just for the sake of it. My library is filled with dozens upon dozens of unread books and more come out each day that I can’t wait to get my hands on,  so many of my favorite books are safe from dog-eared pages and broken spines.

Not so the case for Chances, an epic novel written by notoriously acclaimed British author Jackie Collins. My copy of this book has been read so many times, that I finally had to break down and buy a new copy a few years ago. The binding was so badly broken that pages were falling out! I’ve read this book probably 100 times since I first picked it up at around age 13. . . not that I would ever allow my own 13-year old to read this; I snatched it from my aunt’s stash one summer when visiting my grandmother. I was bored and had already plowed through the few Babysitter’s Club books I’d thrown in my backpack. I found a box of paperback books abandoned in the closet and made my way quickly through them, my innocent and young mind blown by what I read in my first of many (I have read and own them all) Jackie Collins novels.

Jackie made her debut onto the writing scene with The World is Full of Married Men, a salacious novel that pushed and frequently broke the boundaries of etiquette and certainly of morality for the time it was published – but a book that could not be put down by most everyone who read it (even if they refused to admit being associated with it). The book was banned in a few areas, adding fuel to an already out of control fire, and pushed Collins to crank out several more scandalous stories (several of which have been transitioned into film).

Chances, however, choose a different path than that of her previous works. While the scandal was still there, as was the sex, the focus was on the story and it’s captivating characters. I call this novel “epic” because it spans several different decades and generations, as well as chronicling the lives of several very different main characters in extreme detail. The reader is consequently bonded to each character and the author weaves their lives into the other with such creativity and pizazz that I as an author myself, have always truly admired. Jackie Collins is the reason I wanted to write my own stories. She is the reason I write my characters with such description and with such depth. She is why I am drawn to strong female leads and she is why I love a good twist.

Reading Chances at age 13, I was introduced to Lucky Santangelo, a woman that I would begin to literarily follow for the next two decades. The Santangelo Novels span nine books, with Lucky being a (and sometimes the) main character in them all.

The book opens up with a city-wide blackout in 1970’s New York and the reader is introduced to all of the main characters in real time:

  • Lucky is a headstrong, talented, scrupulous woman who is also wild and sometimes unpredictable. Her father, the notorious crime boss Gino, is due to come back into the country after being exiled because of tax issues. She is appealing to his attorney (and lifelong best friend) to block her father’s return to life as she knows it and more importantly, to the business life. In Gino’s absence, Lucky has taken over – and she is unwilling to share the seat of power anyone – especially with her father. In a heated fury, Lucky leaves her mentor’s office and finds herself trapped in an elevator when the city plunges into darkness, sharing the enclosed space with a stranger named Steven Berkley, of which she has more in common than she could ever believe.
  • Steven Berkley is a successful black district attorney and is working on a case against high profile mobster Enzo Bonnatti (consequently, the man is also Lucky’s godfather),  when he finds himself encased in an elevator with an enigmatic and shocking young lady. He tries not to be attracted to her, but he just can’t help himself. Readers are introduced to his mother, Carrie, as she travels through the dangerous streets of Harlem on her way to pay a blackmailer who has been contacting her on the phone. Carrie currently lives a life of affluence and wealth, but that wasn’t always the case. Secrets from her past are threatening to destroy her quiet and contented life and she has to take matters into her own hands to protect everything she holds dear.
  • And finally, Dario Santangelo, who is Lucky’s younger brother.  The attractive but petulant young man finds himself trapped in his own apartment when the blackout hits. A one-night stand he picked up off the street is stalking him through the darkness with a knife and Dario has to wonder, did his father finally get fed up with his tawdry tastes and send someone to murder him?

After becoming somewhat acquainted with our main characters, we then are taken back in time to the year 1913. The story of Carrie and Gino’s lives are told in parallel and come together only briefly, but in a poignant and long lasting way. Carrie grew up poor, thrust into the world of prostitution at a very early age and was driven nearly into the ground by a deviant pimp who hooked her onto drugs in an attempt to further control her. Carrie tries to get her life together and is taken in by a benevolent patron who cleans her up and gives her a job as a maid, but it doesn’t last forever, forcing Carrie to strike out on her own again and pick up where she left off. The ups and downs of her life leave her near death, but she eventually finds a way to claw herself out of ruin and find love in the unlikeliest of places.

” The noise hit Carrie first. Early morning noises: children shouting, milk bottles clinking, dogs barking. 

Then the discomfort of lying on the ground with her foot throbbing and body shivering.

She opened her eyes and for one long moment thought she must be dreaming. She was lying in an alley — stark naked — and it was morning. She sat up in a panic. Where was Whitejack? Dolly? Lucille? How had she gotten here? What was happening? 

She hunched up, bringing her knees to her chest to cover her nakedness, and shrunk back against the wall. Her head hurt. Her throat was dry. Tears filled her eyes. 

What was she doing here? She blinked hard to stop the tears. Think Carrie. Think.

Vaguely she remembered a party. It was all a blur, really. Whitejack gave her a shot of magic and she went on and did her stuff. 

Frantically she stood up, pressing her back to the wall. It was then she realized she was in the alley outside her window. 

She threw herself into the room and only then allowed herself to break down in a paroxysm of sobbing. She was truly scared. It was getting so she didn’t know herself anymore. Drugs were killing her mind. They were killing her. “

Carrie gives birth to a son, a beautiful baby boy named Steven. He is the light of her life and her reason for everything. Under the guidance of his stepfather, Steven grows up to be an intelligent and successful man of color in a white man’s world, blessed with privilege and wealth. His journey isn’t always easy though, and his mother has to bail  him out a time or two – if unbeknownst to him at the time.

Gino is the teenage son of Italian immigrants, growing up in the hard parts of New York where he learns early on that an honest man can make an honest living, but it probably won’t be prosperous. It is the era of bootleg liquor and speakeasies and Gino is determined to get a cut of the pie. He strikes out on his own after years spent involved with two-bit gangster types and begins his own businesses – both on the up and up and on the down low. He meets who he believes to be the love of of his life and devotes himself to her from afar, only to have his heart beaten to a pulp, subsequently hardening him against women forever – or so he believes.

” At fifteen he was street-wise, a bright sharp boy who knew how to keep his mouth shut. He was admired and looked up to by the kids on the street. Sough out by the older boys when they could make good use of him on one of their minor jobs, and idolized by the girls. 

Grown-ups were suspicious of him: a fifteen-year-old boy with the bleak hard eyes of a man. Somehow, in spite of his ready smile, there was something almost threatening about him. 

He was not very tall — five foot six inches, a fact which bothered him — and religiously he worked on his body, running, playing baseball, doing knee bends, pushups, stretch-outs. 

He had black curly hair, another physical fact he didn’t like, so he plastered on the grease to smooth it down. His complexion was dark and clear and he was not bothered by the unsightly acne which seemed to plague his friends — a definite plus. He was not good looking in the convention sense — his nose too big, his lips too fleshy– but he had a wonderful smile and good teeth. 

The combination worked. Gino Santangelo had style.  “

Lucky is his daughter, and one of her earliest memories is of her mother’s dead body floating in the family swimming pool, the result of a business deal gone bad. She is bundled off to boarding school at a young age and spends much of her growing up under the eye of anyone but her father. Lucky befriends a vivacious and playful girl at school, a shipping heiress named Olympia, and they run away to the South of France together for what she believes will be an adventure of a lifetime. After being dragged back home by her father, she is sure she will be sent back to boarding school but is holding out hope that her father will allow her to remain at home to learn the “family business” under his tutelage. Unfortunately for her, neither of these is an option and instead, Lucky is married off to the less than desirable son of a senator who owes Gino a favor.

The relationship between father and daughter is an estranged and volatile one. Lucky has grown into a wild woman and is just as stubborn and opinionated as her father. Gino views women as the lesser sex and would prefer it if his daughter was more like her mother, his beloved Maria, but it is simply not in Lucky to be soft and serene. To say the two can never see eye to eye is an understatement. Gino has always envisioned passing his businesses along to his only son, Dario, even though the boy could not be less interested in anything to do with his father (or his sister for that matter). Dario is only interested in spending money and picking up transient men.

His black eyes were as deadly as hers. “Because I’m tellin’ you, that’s why. And watch your language. Ladies don’t talk like you.” 

She put her hands on her hips and arrogantly faced him. “I ain’t no lady,” she mocked. “I’m a Santangelo. I’m just like you — and you ain’t no gentleman.”

He stared at his wild black-eye daughter and he thought, Christ! What have I raised here? I’ve given her everything money can buy. What more does she want?

“Why don’t you just shut up and sit down?” he said wearily. 

This made her even angrier. “Oh, sure! Shut her up. She’s only a woman, what does she matter? Shut her up and marry her off, and who cares whether she’s happy or not?” She took a deep breath and hissed, “You’re a male chauvinist who thinks women are only good for screwing and cooking. Keep ’em in the kitchen or the bedroom where they belong. Is that what you did with mommy before she was murdered? Did you lock-“

He cut her words off abruptly by hitting her across the face with all of his strength. 

Costa jumped up from the table. “Gino!” 

Dario watched uneasily but did not move. 

Lucky was desperately trying to control the burning tears which threatend to slide down her face. “I hate you,” she hissed. “I really hate you. And I never want to see you again.”

“Lucky–” Gino began. 

She stormed from the room. “

 When Gino is sent away to Israel to avoid jail time, Lucky sees her chance to step in and take over, much to Costa Zennacotti’s digress. Costa has known Gino since they were children and has always protected Gino’s interests. He cannot hold the pushy Lucky back though and soon enough, she is mixed up in the business in all aspects, helping to complete a huge hotel project with investors that are not exactly honest businessmen. She will eventually learn her lessons, but Lucky always comes out on top. She is ruthless and cunning, just like her father before her, and she is fit for the business even if her father cannot accept it.

The book careens in and out of time as well as in and out of the character’s story lines. Jackie Collins is a master at this – pulling characters together while also giving them their own individual spotlight. I read somewhere that for decades, Jackie only wrote her books using regular pen and paper. I cannot imagine how she kept things so straight with twining timelines and elaborate connections. I also love how she adds in real-life characters (Lucky is named after the mobster Charlie Luciano, better known as Lucky Luciano, who plays a significant role in Gino’s business life). This is something that Jackie has always been known for and in later novels such as Hollywood Wives, readers had a wonderful time trying to figure out just who she was writing about. Jackie has never been shy about admitting to the fact that she enjoys pulling characters right out of real life and adding her own twist to their fates.

The climax to this novel is stunning, bringing all of the characters together in such a way that is so brilliant. . . each time I have read this book I am still floored by how it all comes together. Jackie Collins is undeniably a storyteller, and I have always found it a shame that her books are marketed more as works riddled with sex and bad language, thus cheapening her immaculately told stories. Sure there is some sex, sure there is some bad language – but you wouldn’t expect Lucky to ask a fellow gangster for something nicely, would you?

Chances is the first of nine novels in the series; the first five in my opinion are the best. They are in depth and stay true to the original stories. The latter four are also good, but felt rushed and were written later in Jackie’s life. I was disappointed to find Steven’s story trailing off as the novels were written, and he ended up being nothing but an afterthought in later novels – if he was mentioned at all.  Lucky’s story is passed on to her son and her daughter as we watch them grow up and have their own trials.

The Santangelos was Jackie’s final published work before she died of breast cancer in September of 2015. It was the perfect send off for both Jackie in the literary sense and for Lucky and Gino, in my opinion.

The books in the series are as follows:

I give Chances 5 out of 5 stars. I truly, truly love this book. It is the one book that I can read over and over again and never tire of. If you’re looking for a stunning story with a shocking twist of an end, centered around strong characters and an old-fashioned mob war, then this book is for you. While she has written many books I have thoroughly enjoyed, Chances will always be my absolute favorite.

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Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been complied and recompiled many times over many years and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travelers and researchers. 

The introduction begins like this:

Space,’ it says, ‘is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts in space. Listen. . . and so on” “

 

I’ve never been one to pick up a fantasy novel on my own. I have always much preferred fairytale fiction and the popular “chic-lit” style of writing. I’ve noticed lately how much I’ve become attached to historical fiction and how much I naturally move towards series as a preferred way of reading. Nothing intrigues me more than a good set of books. Characters I can sink my teeth into through book after book and the slow unraveling of their layers. . . getting to know them on deep levels and forming attachments. I strongly feel that it is incredibly difficult for an author to truly know the in’s and out’s of their main character(s) through the writing of just one novel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book that my husband (shall we call him, The Beast?) brought to me last week on our date night at the bookstore. It’s something we have done literally since our first date – combing the aisles independently for something that catches our eye, scoping out the hardcovers to see if they have come down in price yet, perusing the clearance section to see what treasures have been added. We come together every so often and reveal our finds and sometimes we have something for the other. The Beast already owns a well-worn copy of Hitchhiker’s at home, but because he once loaned it to a previous girlfriend (let’s call her Fat Anaka, shall we? A totally random name, I promise) I consider it tainted and refused to read it when he offered it a few years ago. He decided I should give it another try and bought me my own crisp copy (brand new for $4 at the Half-Price Book store).

So, I’d heard of it. But again, picking up a fantasy book is not my first choice. It’s not even my second. I’ve devoured all of the Game of Thrones books and have spent many a time in lands of witches and warlocks, vampires and immersed in other dimensions, but it’s only after I’ve dragged myself away from the sordid and melancholy lives of all of Henry’s eight wives that I will willingly choose a book of fantasy.

I’ll say, while it took me a little while to understand what was going on in Hitchhiker’s, but it did have me giggling  just a few pages in. We are introduced to the unassuming Arthur Dent, who is somewhat in denial of the fact that a highway is about to be built right through his house – until the bulldozer shows up quite literally at his door. He is automatically affronted and of course the only way to deal with this problem is simply to refuse to take it lying down. . . except that’s what he um, does, kind of. . .when he lies down in front of the bulldozer so they can’t demolish his home. Not that he particularly likes his home, but it’s the principle, you see.

His friend, the ambiguous and cleverly disguised Ford Prefect decides that he must rid Arthur of this situation and take him out for a drink – or two, or three. The end of the world is happening in oh, say 4 and a half minutes or so, and the best way to be blown up is while mightily intoxicated. Ford is an alien of sorts, if you can call him that. It’s all a bit ironic to call anyone alien in this book, especially once the truth about Earth is revealed, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Ford is an avid reader of and researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an enormous collection of snippets and articles about every planet and system in the….galaxy. Where to get the best cocktail, how to play a certain drinking game, and what to do if you’re trapped on a Vogon spaceship is all right there in the electronic book. Ford has been stuck on Earth for a lot longer than he’d anticipated and he’s gathered so much research that he’s now completely agreeable with expanding upon the entry for the planet in the Guide.

” ‘If you’re a researcher on this book thing and you were on Earth, you must have been gathering material on it.”

“Well, I was able to extend the original entry, a bit, yes.”

“Let me see what it says in this edition, then. I’ve got to see it.”

“Yeah. OK.” He passed it over again.

Arthur grabbed hold of it and tried to stop his hands shaking. He pressed the entry for the relevant page. The screen flashed and swirled and resolved into a page of print. Arthur stared at it.

“It doesn’t have an entry!” he burst out.

Ford looked over his shoulder.

“Yes it does,” he said, “down there, see at the bottom of the screen, just under Eccentricia Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six.”

Arthur followed Ford’s finger, and saw where it was pointing. For a moment it still didn’t register, then his mind nearly blew up.

“What? Harmless! Is that all it’s got to say? Harmless! One word!”

Ford shrugged.

“Well, there are a hundred billion stars in the Galaxy, and only a limited amount of space in the book’s microprocessors,” he said, “and no one knew much about the Earth, of course.”

“Well, for God’s sake I hope you managed to rectify that a bit.”

“Oh yes, well I managed to transmit a new entry off to the editor. He had to trim it a bit, but it’s still an improvement.”

“And what does it say now?” asked Arthur. 

Mostly harmless,” admitted Ford with a slightly embarrassed cough. “

Ford is by chance able to save Arthur from being included in Earth’s complete destruction by way of becoming stowaways on a Vogon spaceship – the very people who have just blown up the planet to make way for a galactic speedway. Their adventures continue as they are caught upon the ship by it’s grumbling yet poetic Captain and ultimately and ceremoniously tossed out, presumably to their untimely death in the deep, dark depths of space itself.

” “Oh, er, well the hatchway in front of us will open automatically in a few moments and we will shoot out into deep space I expect and asphyxiate. If you take a lungful of air with you, you can last up to thirty seconds, of course. . .”said Ford. He stuck his hands behind his back, raised his eyebrows, and started to hum an old Betelgeusian battle hymn. To Arthur’s eyes he suddenly looked very alien. 

“So this is it,” said Arthur, we are going to die.” 

“Yes,” said Ford, “except . . . no! Wait a minute!” He suddenly lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur’s line of vision. “What’s this switch?” he cried. 

“What? Where?” cried Arthur, twisting round.

“No, I was only fooling,” said Ford, “we are going to die after all.” “

To their complete and utter amazement, they are saved by a passing spacecraft. This particular ship is full of surprises, one being it’s pseudo captain and President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, who happens to be Ford’s “kind of cousin.” In any event, they know one another and there is immediately an undercurrent of trust on board. Arthur is both horrified and exalted to find that the other passenger in attendance is a woman with whom he previously tried to hook up with a party (and was subsequently rejected by) – a fellow dark-haired Earthen named Trillian.

As they travel through space together a few revelations come to light and it culminates with the “discovery” of a legendary planet – Magrathea. This planet’s sole purpose was to design and build luxury planets for the rich and famous. Anything you could desire in a planet can be made here, for a price of course. The planet was thought to have been destroyed or lost but in fact, has only gone into a sort of hibernation since the economy began to falter some years ago.

The foursome lands on the planet and split up to explore. Arthur ends up on his own and meets up with a native of the planet, who begins to tell him the real reason that Earth was. . . built — to discover the true meaning of life. A machine named Deep Thought  previously handed the answer over but the consensus was that the answer simply wasn’t good enough. In actuality, Deep Thought believed that “mankind” actually did not know the real question they were trying to ask.

The path by which this question shall be answered is a tenuous one and is riddled with intrigue and humor. Not everyone agrees that we should know the meaning to life, or rather, not everyone agrees as to who should be the one to unveil the true answer.

” “We demand,” yelled Vroomfondel, “that demarcation may or may not be the problem!” 

“You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, “and we’ll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. you want to check your legal position you do, mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job, aren’t we? I mean what’s the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?” 

“That’s right,” shouted Vroomfondel, “we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!” “

The foursome eventually meets back up and has to flee the planet unexpectedly – for reasons that I won’t spoil, but I promise they were entertaining and quite unexpected.

This book is very short, clocking in at 180 pages. It’s a quick, fun story that has a lot of clever humor. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy originally began as a talk radio show and is a widely popular and beloved British written work. The series has a cult following and I am anxious to read the remaining books to carry on with Arthur’s travels. I found him to be the most interesting character in the bunch. A feature film was made in 2005 and Arthur’s character was played by the brilliant Martin Freeman. I could *hear* him speaking as I read Arthur’s dialogue and it fit so perfectly, it makes me very excited to see how things pan out for him and the group of misfits he has gotten himself caught up with.

The books are available in a collective format, meaning all books in one *or* you can buy them individually. They are as follows:

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  2. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  3. Life, the Universe and Everything
  4. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish  
  5. Mostly Harmless
  6. And Another Thing. . . 

There are also several companion books and short stories and published radio scripts that relate to the omnibus.

I give The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 4 out of 5 stars. I would have rated it higher had the author explained just a tad bit more about the fantasy world we were so violently thrown in to very early on. I spent a few chapters confused and I personally need more of an explanation. But that’s just me. Pick it up if you’re looking for a quick, charming, funny read.

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Recommendation: Grave Sight

Grave Sight

by Charlaine Harris

“Sometimes I dream I am an eagle. I soar above them, noting their remains, bearing testimony to  their disposal. I spy the man who went hunting with his enemy – – there, under that tree, in that thicket. I spot the bones of the waitress who served the wrong man – – there, under the collapsed roof of an old shack. I detect the final destination of the teenage boy who drank too much in the wrong company – – a shallow grave in the piney woods. Often, their spirits hover, clinging to the mortal remnants that housed them. Their spirits do not become angels. They were not believers during life, why should they be angels now? Even average people, people you think of as “good,” can be foolish or venal or jealous. 

My sister Cameron lies somewhere among them. In some drainage pipe or under some foundation folded into the rusted trunk of an abandoned car or strewn across a forest floor, Cameron molders. Perhaps her spirit is clinging to what is left of her body, as she waits to be discovered, as she waits for her story to be told. 

Perhaps that’s all they desire, all of the silent witnesses.”

Harper Connelly is a professional.

Some might say she’s a professional freak.

But no matter what they say, she always gets the job done.

Harper can find dead people. If she’s in the vicinity, she can sniff out a dead person’s place of demise like a bloodhound on a hot trail. She can sense their final moments and help piece together the dreadful puzzles of murder, suicide, or natural caused death for family members and desperate law enforcement officers. What she can’t do is stay in one place for long because as mentioned earlier, more often than not, she is considered a freak of nature. A witch. A devil woman. Someone who is just not normal. It’s almost as if people think it was her fault she was struck by that bolt of lightening.

“His eyes lit up. He was thinking I’d faked my results before, somehow, and that now he’d unmask me. And he’d get his money back. He had about a ton of ambiguity resting on his shoulders. 

I stepped gingerly onto the nearest grave, the ground chilly under my bare feet. Since a cemetery is so fully of death, I have difficulty getting a clear reading. When you add the competing emanations from the corpses to the effects of the embalming process, you have to get as close as you can. “Middle-aged white man, died of. . . a massive coronary,” I said, my eyes closed. The name was Matthews, something like that. 

There was silence while Hollis read the headstone. Then Hollis growled, “Yes.” He caught his breath jaggedly. “We’re going to walk now. Keep your eyes shut.” I felt his big hand take mine, lead me carefully to another patch of ground. I reached down deep with that inner sense that had never failed me. “Very old man.” I shook my head. “I think he just ran down.” I was led to yet another grave, this one father away. “Woman, sixties, car accident. Named Turner, Turnage? A drunk, I think.”  “

The disappearance of her sister, Cameron, haunts her. One mystery and possible murder she cannot put to rest. The one person she cannot find.

Tolliver is her brother, sometimes bodyguard, only confidant, and booking agent in the spectrum of the supernatural. They travel the seemingly endless roads together; wrapped up in mysteries and sometimes  becoming part of the murderous puzzle personally, no matter how much they try to stay out of it.

The tiny town of Sarne has a problem. A teenage girl is missing and no one wants to talk about it. Harper was brought into the backwoods narrow-minded community under false pretenses and it’s glaringly obvious that she isn’t wanted. Not only do they think she is weird, but they find fault in her brother as well – – Tolliver isn’t the warmest cookie in the oven, and it suits him to be stoic and reserved. The townsfolk openly shun the pair and make the job as hard as they possibly can. What secrets is this provincial town hiding? Why don’t they want this murder solved?

“I didn’t exactly feel like all these deaths were my fault, but I didn’t feel good about them, either. I’d done what I’d been hired to do, with no idea what the consequences might be in a confused place like Sarne.”

Harper dives into the job anyway. She’s got some time between gigs and she is being paid. At the bequest of the presumed victim’s mother – a woman with too much time and money on her hands – Harper and Tolliver roll up their sleeves and get to work. Very quickly however, Harper finds herself involved in not one but two murders, and the town is again not at all happy to hear her news. The teenage girl is dead by murder, as is her boyfriend. All under very mysterious circumstances.

Something a little too fast and furious to be called romance is heating up between Harper and the town’s police deputy, but it has to take a backseat as even more strange things begin to happen. Someone is hell bent on sabotaging Harper and Tolliver, and will go to any means necessary to send their message — including it seems, another attempted murder. Harper is distraught when Tolliver is thrown in jail and she is on complete edge. And she has a reason to feel that way.

“Suddenly, from inside the room there was a grip on my upper arm that spun me around, then I was stumbling into the room and meeting with the rug with a speed that was terrifying. 

I rolled to my feet and launched myself at my attacker, pushing him right back out the open door. Never let yourself get cornered. You have to fight instantly, I’d found as a teenager, or your opponent has the upper hand; your injuries hurt too much, or you get scared. And you have to go with it with every fiber of your being. Pull, bite, strike, scratch, squeeze; let go completely. If you’re dedicated to hurting someone else, it doesn’t register so much when they hurt you. I hardly felt the two pounding blows the man got in on my ribs before I grabbed his testicles and clamped down, and then I bit hi on the neck as hard as I could. “

The book revs up to an exciting and climatic ending where the mystery is solved, but more questions about Harper, her brother, and her dead sister Cameron are left the table. This is book one is a series of four, entitled The Harper Connelly Mysteries. I haven’t read the others as of yet, but I have them stacked on my nightstand ready to read. They are quick, fast, and easy reads — which I love for a good rainy weekend. The ending was a bit predictable, but aren’t most mysteries these days? It’s hard to fool your reader when they spend all day watching CSI and How to Get Away With Murder. I was much more intrigued with the characters than the subsequent plot line, and I’m looking forward to reading more about Harper. I hope we get closure on her sister’s disappearance.

Along with much of middle America, I became a fan of Charlaine Harris after the debut of her vampiric-telepathic-werewolvian-fairyesque books – The Sookie Stackhouse Series. It’s a set of 13 novels and several companion pieces set around an awkward Southern blonde who waits tables in the local bar and becomes wrapped up with not one, not two, but a nest of vampires and as slew of other creatures. This book series was transformed into a highly successful television series for HBO called True Blood, starring Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer. It spanned seven seasons and strayed far from the books as each season progressed, much to The Belle’s dismay.

Charlaine Harris writes mostly about the supernatural and their counterparts, and writes them into modern day story lines. Vampires are a part of society, living openly next to mere mortals. Werewolves aren’t stuff of legend, but more like your neighborhood furry friends. Men can transform into animals on a whim. Women can read minds and market their talents to the highest bidder. A lot of her stories are set in the South, and all are a mystery in some way or fashion. She writes in a very relatable style that makes it easy for the reader to become quickly caught up in the story and just as quickly finish it. Her books are not long and can be read over a weekend. The stories flow and move fast.

The other books in the series are as follows:

  1. Grave Sight
  2. Grave Surprise
  3. An Ice Cold Grave
  4. Grave Secret 

There are also three graphic novels set around Grave Sight.  There are currently four films surrounding The Aurora Teagarden Series written by the author, starring Candace Cameron Bure. Aurora is a librarian who meets once a month with The Real Murder Club to discuss unsolved crimes.

I recommend Grave Sight with a rating of 4 out of 5 stars. Again, it’s a quick read, a lends itself very well for the reader on the go. You can pick it up and put it down, read chapters at at time or just a few paragraphs and have no trouble picking up where you left off. If you enjoy reading about Harper, keep your fingers crossed that she will make her way to the small screen as several other of this author’s heroines have!

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Review: Rhett Butler’s People

Rhett Butler’s People

by Donald McCaig

“He was alone; he would always be alone. Rhett could endure being unloved. He could not live without loving.” 

There are few books that I read that pull me in and keep me a willing prisoner. Few books can make me laugh and cry in equal measure,  encouraging me to succumb to emotions I’m not typically comfortable with.

There are even fewer books that I’ve read that have strong male characters that I’d love to get to know in real life. Love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with, to pick their brain and become enamored with in person. Men like Jamie Fraser of Outlander. Gino Santangelo of the Chances series. Matthew Clairmont of the All Souls Trilogy. Monsieur Perdu, curator of books and emotional librarian, of The Little Paris Bookshop

And Mr. Rhett Butler.

Rhett Butler’s People ended up being one of those books, with one of those characters, that I just could hardly bear to put down. I was hoping to learn more about the man who has charmed women with smiles and witty comments, with unexpected chivalry and undeniable criminality,  and I was not disappointed in the slightest.

There are few heroes who can make the transition from literature to the silver screen and back again, procuring and then keeping a captivating hold on an audience of millions for generations to come. Unfortunately many a man has been written to perfection in a book or a short story, but has lost his charm and sparkle once his character hits a television set. The same can be said vice versa.

However, Rhett Butler is not one of those men.

Mr. Butler captured the hearts of a nation in a book that at the time and for decades to come, was and has been considered a scandalous and racially charged masterpiece. Soon after his famous introduction via a heated exchange in a Southern belle’s plantation library, the rakish rogue with devastatingly good looks and insurmountable wit was brought to the theater, portrayed by the handsome Clark Gable. It was a casting of roles that could not have been better. Women around the globe swooned at his devilish charm while men admired his spirit and “don’t give a damn” attitude. Gone With the Wind was an instant classic.

” “Lurid Tales, Tom. Lurid tales are the South’s principal export.

When you describe us to your friends, remark the devilishly handsome, gallant Rhett Butler.” “

But where did Rhett come from? How did he become such a cad in a world full of Charlestonian gentlemen? Where did he go after he abandoned Scarlett on her journey back to Tara, with a gravely ill Melanie Wilkes and baby hunkered down in the back of her wagon and a trail of fire skimming at their feet? What made Rhett think he could behave the way he did – his flashy style and devil-may-care attitude? Why was his best friend a self proclaimed “fallen woman”; one Belle Watling, owner of a whore house? Where was his family?

If you’ve read Gone With the Wind or seen the film version, then you know what the story is about. A Southern Belle in times of war and it’s aftermath. Love and hate, slaves and freed men. It can produce images that are painful and difficult to read and watch, especially as a white woman. No one likes to speak of slavery. In Rhett Butler’s People, a different perspective is readily given. Whilst Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled and beautiful child of an Irish immigrant cotton farmer, expects African Americans to do her bidding and blatantly believes them to be below her, Rhett Butler’s views are different. He grew up on a rice plantation that owned slaves, but the oldest son of the Butler household believed the black man to be his equal, even from a young age. In fact, he preferred the slaves to his own family, finding solace, unconditional love, and in one case a father figure in the men of the different race.

“Ten days later, when Rhett returned to Broughton, Will had been buried in the slave cemetery and Mistletoe had been sold South. Broughton Plantation was miles of drowned, stinking rice plants.

Langston Butler was personally supervising a gang repairing breaks in the main trunk while Watling’s gang restored the interior trunks. Men trundled wheelbarrows of fill; women and children emptied pails and buckets in the breaches. 

Rhett’s father’s boots were filthy and he hadn’t shaved in days. His soft hands were cracked and his fingernails were broken. Langston Butler greeted his son, “We accounted you dead. Your mother is grieving.” 

“My mother has a tender heart, sir.” 

“Where have you been?”

“The free colored Thomas Bonneau saved me from the hurricano. I have been helping his family restore their homestead.”

“Your duty was with your people.”

Rhett said nothing.”

The story is told in the perspective of several different people, all of whom are close to Rhett and could be considered part of his lifeline, his own heart’s blood.

They are his people:

Rosemary Butler is his baby sister, the one family member he has and will always have affection for no matter what mistakes she makes as she grows into a belle herself. We follow Rosemary’s life from childhood to late adulthood, weeping alongside her as she suffers great losses during the war and as she learns lessons the hard way. Readers witness a transformation come about in her that is awe-inspiring and graceful.

Andrew Ravenel is one of Rhett’s childhood friends. The son of a gambling plantation owner who eventually loses everything worth anything, Andrew is constantly trying to find his place in the world and to make a name for himself – whatever the cost.

Scarlett O’Hara is the love of Rhett’s life, but she is in love with another.

Melanie Wilkes, a genteel and steadfastly loyal woman who is as respectable as they come. She considers Mr. Butler her friend and that is an honor taken very seriously by the other women of the Southern order.

Tunis Bonneau, a freed black man who dances the dangerous dance of the blockades.

Will Benteen is the wife of Scarlett’s sister and chief officer at Tara after the war. His guidance is helping to turn the plantation around, but he is met at every corner with a mysterious and nefarious display of sabotage. He is trying to keep everything moving for the people he shares his life with; women and children and a mentally crippled Ashley Wilkes.

Tazewell Watling is the presumed bastard son of Rhett Butler and he has a bone to pick, to say the least. Readers share his chronicled journey from an orphanage in New Orleans to boarding school in England, back to a masked ball in the Crescent City and an eventual trip over the pond to help heal the wounded heart of his caretaker.

And lastly, Ms. Belle Watling, the overseer’s daughter, business owner and partner, mother to Taz  and Rhett’s best friend. This relationship was the most significant to me, as a reader of both Gone With the Wind and this book. She was a woman I did not like, when told from Scarlett’s perspective, but came to admire and respect greatly in this book.

The war is coming and there’s no stopping it. The South has their beliefs, as does newly elected President Abraham Lincoln. Rhett Butler doesn’t know any other way to shield those he loves from this excess of greed, destruction, devastation, and senseless pride than to try and make as much money as he can, as quickly as he can, so he can provide for their futures – if they have end up having one. Luckily for Rhett, that while he was kicked out of West Point, he still has common sense and ingenuity on his side.

“Rhett Butler wasn’t too sentimental to profit from Southern blunders. The South grew two-thirds of the world’s cotton and Rhett knew Lincoln’s navy would blockade the Southern ports. After the ports were closed, cotton prices would skyrocket. Rhett’s cotton would be safe in the Bahamas before Federal blockaders came on station.

The money was nothing; ashes in his mouth. Rhett felt like a grown-up watching children playing games. They yelled, they gestured, they pretended to be Indians or Redcoats or Yankee soldiers. They strutted and played at war. It made Rhett Butler want to weep. He was helpless to prevent it. Utterly helpless.” 

But before he strikes out for California in search of gold, gambles for a living in New Orleans, and has miscellaneous adventures in Cuba and the Caribbean, he is invited to a barbecue on an old plantation called Twelve Oaks, courtesy of a young businessman named Frank Kennedy. It is there that he is to meet the one and only woman who will ever be able to hold him. The woman who will be in control of his heart for the rest of his life, whether he likes it or not. They are fated, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. And it is a fate met in tragedy time and time again.

“Frank hastened to his duty. With a polite nod to his host, Rhett withdrew to a quiet corner of the veranda. He wished he hadn’t come. 

Twelve Oaks buzzed like a honeybee swarm on its mating flight. There’d be marriages made today and doubtless a scandal or two. Swirling through the floral and Parisian perfumes, amid the gaiety, flirting, and jests was romance, as fresh as if no man or maid had experienced romance before. 

Rhett’s eyes fell on a very young woman in a green dancing frock and his heart surged. “Dear God,” he whispered. 

She wasn’t a great beauty; her chin was pointed and her jaw had too much strength. She was fashionably pale — ladies never exposed their skin to the brutal sun — and unusually animated. As Rhett watched, she touched a young buck’s arm both intimately and carelessly. 

When the girl felt Rhett’s gaze she looked up. For one scorching second, her puzzled green eyes met his black eyes before she tossed her head dismissively and resumed her flirtation. 

Forgotten the looming War. Forgotten the devastation he expected. Hope welled up in Rhett Butler like a healing spring. “My God.” Rhett moistened dry lips. “She’s just like me!” “

Much like it’s predecessor, Rhett Butler’s People isn’t all about romance. It’s not even mostly about romance. It’s about the people in Rhett’s life who make him who he is and who he becomes. It is a story of the decisions and hard choices he must make on behalf of those people and the paths that he is subsequently put down because of them. Many, many blanks are filled in for the fans who always asked themselves –“What happened to him? Where was he? Why is he like this?”

Instead of witnessing the evolution of a boy into a man during difficult times, we see that Rhett was always Rhett. He was always true to himself and what he believed. Even if it was the unpopular opinion. Even if it meant being stricken from the family Bible.

I loved this book. I can’t believe I let it sit on my shelf for as long as I did. I picked it up for $2 in the clearance section of my local bookstore more than a year ago and always meant to get around to it, but got involved in several other series and just didn’t have the time. I urge any fan of Gone With the Wind – whether literary or through film – to read this book. It is not an overly descriptive tome when it comes to the war; the author does not get bogged down the way some can when speaking on battles. It flows naturally and fluidly. And actually, so does Gone With the Wind. I know some people shy away from it because it’s a large book, but it’s not as difficult to read as one might think. I don’t recommend reading Rhett Butler’s People unless you’ve either read Gone With the Wind or seen the movie – or else you’ll find yourself asking what the hell he saw in that spoiled brat Southern belle, anyway.

Some of the language is not for the faint of heart. Due to the subject matter – the reasons for war and the spirit of the South – certain words that are not acceptable in today’s society are thrown around loosely and easily. It makes one uncomfortable. But I think that’s important. I think it’s meant to make us uncomfortable.

If you’ve read Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett, you will be confused and/or surprised at the last part of this book. It is written as if the book Scarlett was never in existence. There is zero bridge between these books other than the fact that it has some of the same characters. According to some research I did, the estate of Margaret Mitchell believed Scarlett to be a bit of an embarrassment and Rhett Butler’s People was meant to take the place of it. I didn’t much care for Scarlett and so I was thrilled to have this book replace it in my mind as to the proper ending for two people such as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler.

I give this book five out of five stars and urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and read it! And if you don’t, well then frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

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Recommendation: The Witching Hour

The Witching Hour

by Anne Rice

“Who in God’s name are you? she thought. The incongruity of it struck her slowly, along with a completely alien thought. This is not what it appears to be. this is some form of illusion I’m looking at! And with a sudden interior shift, her anger passed into suspicion and finally fear. 

The dark eyes of the being implored her. He raised his pale hands now and placed his fingers on the glass. 

She could neither move nor speak. Then, furious at her helplessness and at her terror, she cried:

“You go back to hell where you came from!” her voice sounded loud and terrible in the empty house. 

As if to answer her, to unsettle her and vanquish her totally, the intruder slowly disappeared. The figure went transparent, then dissolved utterly, and nothing was left but the faintly horrible and completely unsettling sight of the empty desk. 

The immense pane of glass rattled. There came another boom from it as though the wind had pushed against it head on. Then the sea seemed to settle. The rushing of water died away. And the house grew still. “

Diving into a work written by Anne Rice can be a daunting task, to say the least. She has a way of writing that completely envelops you as a reader, bringing you into her twisting and turning world of the occult, vampires, and sexual deviancy with as clear a vision as if you were standing in the middle of the French Quarter yourself. Her Vampire Chronicles are legendary and her unique style at telling a tale is spellbinding and bewitching. If you’re ready to embark upon an adventure that will wind you through decades of the Mayfair family’s life, be prepared to put in the time. Anne Rice can spend three pages describing a perfectly serene and near reverent setting for you, and then challenge your sense of propriety with a shocking revelation or scandalous taboo all in the same chapter. You need time to read this book. It’s not something you’re going to fly through while lounging poolside or during quick reads while sitting in carpool. The Witching Hour is a marathon, not a sprint. But in my opinion, the novel is a perfectly woven tale with the most unique sense of mystique.

I began my journey with this acclaimed author by reading this very dense tome, the first in a series of novels known as the Mayfair Witches Trilogy. I soon learned that what I’d read about the author in my previous research was true – Anne Rice does not write anything easily. Her writing style is meaty, heavy, and full of a lyrical sense of description that can sometimes be daunting to sift through. Whether you like how she writes or not, her descriptive voice is mesmerizing and admirable. She sets scenes up with a deliberate and nearly obsessive amount of detail, but all while keeping her characters rather ambiguous and most definitely mysterious. After reading, I still felt there was much I could learn about the lead characters and I enjoyed that. Not having it all put on the table allows much room for interpretation and for growth, something that I admire in any writer. It’s not easy to hold things back from your reader and allow them to come to their own conclusions about characters; as writers our first inclination is typically to throw it all out there at once because we know our characters better than anyone. They are typically a piece of our very self. The character development of Mayfair beauty Rowan, her devoted lover Michael, and the devious ghost Lasher evolves like a previously cocooned butterfly as the trilogy spans on.

Rowan Mayfair is an accomplished surgeon living in California. She was adopted at birth by a distant relative and only later in life discovers her immediate family who are residents of New Orleans, Louisiana – the Mayfairs. Rowan has gifts she doesn’t understand, namely the power to kill or heal via telekinesis. Several incidents involving her seemingly malicious talent have traumatized her, making her closed off to others in the emotional sense. She tries to use her burden for good and through helping others and the field of medicine seems like the perfect match.

After Rowan saves a drowning man, her life takes a turn. Michael Curry is undeniably handsome, enigmatic, and charming. They soon become obsessively involved with one another. When he decides to move back to his hometown of New Orleans to work on restoring his dream house, she follows suit. The trip allows her to delve deep into the family history she wasn’t aware she had. She goes from being an only child to two less-than-devoted parents to being the heiress of a family so huge she can barely keep them all straight. They are respectful to her in an almost chilling manner, as she is the last of the female line, someone very important to their lineage.

“Once the glass doors of the restaurant called Commander’s Palace had shut behind them, and Rowan had realized they were now in a faintly familiar world of uniformed waiters and white tablecloths, she glanced back through the glass at the whitewashed wall of the graveyard, and at the little peaked roofs of the tombs visible over the top of the wall.

The dead are so close they can hear us, she thought. 

“Ah, but you see,” said the tall white-haired Ryan, as if he’d read her mind, “in New Orleans, we never really leave them out.” “

In Mayfair tradition, the legacy and subsequent fortune is passed down through maternal lineage, from one woman to her first born daughter. Rowan is the last of the female line and as such bears a responsibility of the largest magnitude. Rowan becomes the designee of the family estate and eventually ruler of a strange ghost-man named Lasher, who appears to her as the keeper of the Mayfair women. The nefarious ghost has haunted and stalked the women of the family for generations using seduction of the highest form as the chief tool in his bag of tricks. His greatest wish is to become human so that he may walk the world freely and he needs a Mayfair woman to help him achieve his goal. The novel goes back and forth through time, taking the reader to different eras and annotating different Mayfair women’s battles with the spirit.

“”And Stella was the one shot by her own brother.” 

“Yes, and that was a terrible thing, to hear Daddy tell it. Stella was the wild one of that generation. Even before her mother died, she filled that old house with lights, with parties going on night after night, with the bootleg booze flowing and the musicians playing. Lord only knows what Miss Carl and Miss Millie and Miss Belle thought of all that. But when she started bringing her men home, that’s when Lionel took matters into his own hands and shot her. Jealous of her is what he was. Right in front of everybody in that parlor, he said, ‘I’ll kill you before I let him have you.’ “

Aaron Lightner is a prominent member of an order called the Talamasca, an ancient group of scholars who study all things supernatural and prepare case files with as much information as they can garner. Aaron has followed the lives of the Mayfair family as part of his life’s work and is well aware of the spirit Lasher’s ill intentions. He has insight as to the spirit’s motivations and means and becomes friend to both Rowan and Michael as the story progresses. His retelling of the information he has gathered through the years is a beautiful puzzle with the elusive Mayfair family ever at the center. He knows something is about to come to a head but he isn’t sure what or how. As Aaron’s sense of urgency increases, the reality that Rowan is indeed in danger (as her female predecessors were) comes to fruition – but there is always hope of beating Lasher if one continues to push forward and doesn’t give up trying to solve the mystery.

“All these years he’d known that man wasn’t real. All his life he’d known it. He’d known it in the church. . . 

“Michael, that man is waiting for Rowan,” Lightner said. 

“Waiting for Rowan? But Lightner, why, then, did he show himself to me?”

“Listen, my friend.” The Englishman put his hand on Michael’s hand and clasped it warmly. “It isn’t my intention to alarm you or to exploit your fascination. But that creature has been attached to the Mayfair family for generations. It can kill people. But then so can Dr. Rowan Mayfair. In fact, she may well be the first of her kind to be able to kill entirely on her own, without that creature’s aid. And they are coming together, that creature and Rowan. It’s only a matter of time before they meet. Now, please, dress and come with me. If you choose to be our mediator and to give the file on the Mayfair Witches to Rowan for us, then our highest aims will have been served. “”

The history of the Mayfair family is so interesting and engaging, I just loved it. The way Ann Rice presents it is deep and magical and makes you feel as if you reading something you shouldn’t be privy to. The secrets are deliciously scandalous and I was thrilled to learn even more in the second book, Lasher. One characters in particular, Julian Mayfair, was extremely riveting; but I won’t give too much of his own personal story away. The story retells the lives of many decades of Mayfair women and their dealings with Lasher.

Many of the questions raised in The Witching Hour are laid to rest in Lasher. The third book in the trilogy, Taltos, I felt was unneeded. It felt as if the author was too involved in her characters and was having a hard time letting go. As a result, I had a hard time getting through the book and would not recommend it unless you are just a diehard fan. Three other books follow spurs from the Mayfair family tree- Merrick, Blackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle.  These books weave the Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches Trilogy together with familiar faces and unique story lines.

The Witching Hour provides a beautiful portrait of New Orleans and the Garden District, narrating a history in such a lovely way that you never doubt the love Anne Rice has for her city of birth. She lived there on a grand property (much like the Mayfair family home) for much of her 41 year marriage, selling and making the exodus to California to be closer to her son after her husband’s death. She writes of her city as a lover recounts infatuation with their beloved; New Orleans runs through the very veins of this author and I’m sure more than one reader of her work if traveling down the French Quarter, has turned their head to see if a vampire is lurking in the shadows behind them.

I rate The Witching Hour 4 out of 5 stars, recommending it only to a reader who has the time and energy to put into reading it. It’s a book clocking in at over 950 pages and takes a few chapters before you really get into it. Be prepared to expect and accept the unexpected and throw out the idea that anything can be taken at face value. Anne Rice dictates and categorizes the natures of the supernatural in a way that makes you wonder what sort of otherworldly company she keeps.