Thursday, September 29, 2011


I loved this book.  I loved reading it, the story, the cover art, the photo insets, almost everything about it.  It's probably blasphemous for me to say, but I enjoyed it more than The Great Gatsby.

Set in a post-Depression Manhattan, it follows the trials and triumphs of a small group of friends (and sometimes lovers) in a glittering, Art-Deco New York City. Katey Kontent (yes, the name is a bit self-conscious, but so is Katey) is the narrator of the tale and is far from content.  She works as a secretary in a very respectable firm and finds fun where she can with her friend Eve Ross.   Both of their fates take a turn on New Year's Eve in a dark jazz club -- the night when Tinker Grey comes into their lives.

The overall theme is that life is an adventure unwritten, and not every turning reveals good fortune.  When a shattering accident affects all in their small but close-knit group, it sends each shard of their relationship in multiple directions.  

Publicity postcard for Rules of Civility
Rules of Civility refers to George Washington's book of the same name in which he laid out guidelines for keeping polite company.  Tinker sometimes references it, though often ironically.  This book instead creates its own witticisms and aphorisms.  There are too many to recount, but a favorite, early on, is "Learning dance steps was the sorry Saturday night pursuit of every boardinghouse girl in America."  And I couldn't agree more with this sentiment: "No matter how much you think of yourself, no matter how long you've lived in Hollywood or Hyde Park, a brown Bentley is going to catch your eye.  There couldn't be more than a few hundred of them in the world and every aspect is designed with envy in mind."
Fashion photo by Hoyningen-Heune, 1938
Towles sets out a very metered pace and in a structured narrative.  It spans exactly one year, told in flashback.  Interestingly, Towles manages to withhold "how it all ends" despite the fact that he begins at the end.  Effectively, it shows the reader how "naive" we are, just as Katey is.  Also quite effective are the photographs by Walker Evans that mark sections of the book.  This series of subway candids reminds us easily read body language and facial expression is, particularly when our guard is down.  Washington's Rules of Civility do not apply here.

As a setting - time and place - it is incredibly well-researched, but comfortably so.  It doesn't feel forced or sound like it is name-dropping for effect.  There is only one portion of one chapter that falls flat.  The rest is as effervescent as a newly popped bottle of champagne.

Many thanks to the folks at Viking/Penguin for the review copy.

Book: Hardcover 
5.98 x 9.01in 
352 pages 
ISBN 9780670022694 
26 Jul 2011
Viking Adult
18 - AND UP

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


And we have a winner!  Terry's comment was chosen on

Of Sherlock, Terry said: "As to why I love Mr. Holmes, he's the original, brilliant misanthrope. Before there was Gregory House, almost before there was even Allan Quatermain, there was Sherlock Holmes."

Thanks to everyone who entered and to the folks at Penguin Classics for providing the prize!

Keep sleuthing everyone!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I don't suppose it's entirely fair for me to be reviewing a classic.  It's fairly certain that the tales of Sherlock and Watson are good.  As one who grew up on them and the Granada series (Jeremy Brett IS Sherlock), it's hard to imagine my literary memory without them.   Rereading them was a joy.  I'd forgotten how lithe and modern the writing was.  Doyle also creates such vivid characters.  Each of their voices is different.  It's no wonder than 120 years later, people are writing new stories, blockbuster films are being made and critically-accliamed television shows keep people riveted to their sets.  Not to mention, scores of people making the pilgrimage to 221B Baker Street itself (yes, I admit, I went.  And it was wonderful).  

At Sherlock's house.
Penguin Classics has reprinted this collection of stories, which includes: "Silver Blaze", " The Yellow Face", "The Stockbroker's Clerk", "The Gloria Scott", "The Musgrave Ritual", "The Reigate Squires", "The Crooked Man", "The Resident Patient", "The Greek Interpreter", "The Naval Treaty", and "The Final Problem."  You can see Doyle's growing impatience with Sherlock as he reaches fatal finale at Reichenbach Falls. Not to worry, though.  It seems Sherlock isn't going anywhere for some time.  I'm pretty protective of Sherlock, but it seems in general his inspiration has brought about some fabulous story-telling.  

To win a copy of this book is elementary.  Please leave a comment below.  Include your first name, your email (at) com address, and phrase about why you love Sherlock.  US only, please.  Winner will be chosen at random on Sept 27 2011, at 11:59PM EST.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Anyone who knows me could have guessed I'd like this book just based on the cover.  Slightly creepy, old black and white photograph and a Victorian-style title. I came across this book while in a book store at the Newark airport, of all places.  My husband and I were headed to Scotland for our honeymoon but we had a six-hour layover, which left plenty of time to pour over the titles this shop had -- thankfully more than the usual top ten thrillers and romance novels.  

At the outset, the author makes it clear this is no typical scary story.  Our main character relates his confusion and desperate feelings when pieces of the strange tales his grandfather told him begin to come true.  A true teenager and constantly at odds with his parents, he struggles to discover what these clues mean. At times, the book reminded me of "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", "The Orphanage" and "Harry Potter".  But it is none of those things entirely.

To the book's credit, I had read nearly half of it before I realized it was probably meant to be in the young adult genre.  The plot, story and characters are strong.  The hints only become obvious as more characters his age come into the story and his interaction with them come front and center.  Riggs does not "talk down" to his reader, which is refreshing in any genre.  The main character, though confused, is not rash or inherently irresponsible.  He is not perfect, but neither should he be ignored -- an excellent role model for a younger reader. 

Perhaps the strongest characteristic is the inserting of bizarre photographs.  These are real photos that Riggs has found along the way -- in yard sales or in friend's collections.  He builds his "peculiar children" around them and their images make them far less fantastical.  Creepy, perhaps.  But more real. 

I must admit to having a soft spot for this detail.  I too collect cast-off and sometimes strange photographs.  I wonder about the people in them, and the ones that took them.  My book photo includes one such photo:

I even own an original photo by Yefim Tovbis, one of the people Riggs borrowed a surreal photo from. It's been a dozen years or so since I bought it but it's always had a place of honor on the wall.  It shows, as do the photos in this book, how striking images can alter our perception of reality and burn place on our memory.  

I highly recommend reading MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN.  It was great fun as an adult and can only imagine it must be so for a mid-late teenager as well.  I would not suggest it for someone younger than 10 or so since it can be a bit scary.  Although I was watching Hitchcock when I was 4, so judge for your own child.  


I did not receive a review copy of this book.

View the author's site here:

ISBN: 9781594744761
Book Dimensions: 5 3/16 x 8 3/16
Page Count:  352
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Book Price: $17.99

Monday, September 19, 2011

COVER IMAGE: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Great new cover.  Same great stories.

My review coming soon...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

BOOK PHOTO: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

This book draws some of its characters from strange portraits.  Reproductions of the photos are sprinkled throughout the book.  I too have a small collection of odd pictures, found at fairs, yard sales and museums.  Here I've couple the book with one of my favorites of a school teacher, his wife, and a rabbit in a top hat.  

My review of the book will be posted soon.