The She In Our Lives (Music Thoughts: The Women Who Raised Me, Kandace Springs)

KS_TWWRM_cover_re_1024xI have to admit I am new to Kandace Springs, although I shouldn’t have – she exemplifies the kind of singer I listen to and love. And she must be very good, as she is recording for Blue Note Records. She titled her album ‘The Women Who Raised Me,’ and above all, it is a fantastic title as I feel the same way towards the same woman she is referencing. This is obviously a tribute album to some of her favorite female vocalists – from Ella and Nina and Billie to more ‘modern’ singers ones like Sade and Bonnie Raitt.  She has some superstar guests in here, like Christian McBride on bass and David Sanborn on saxophone, so you know she ain’t playing. Springs has a full strong voice but not without some vulnerability, and I can tell she loves these songs, that she has lived through them, and understand the lyrics she is singing. I love her ‘The Nearness of You’ and on my Spotify app they play this with a video of her playing the piano and it enhances the aural experience. And I consider her a kindred spirit by picking to cover  ‘Pearls,’ my favorite Sade song of all time. I was taken by her slow-burn ‘Killing Me Softly’ and I hear she does a great live version of ‘First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’ on her live sets. I think this is one of those albums where I will find layers with each re-listening. I cannot wait for new revelations,

Chanel Classic (Perfume Thoughts: 31 Rue Cambon, Les Exclusifs de Chanel)

375x500.4178531 Rue Cambon is the boutique where Coco Chanel started the House of Chanel, and to this day her legacy stands there. So of course the perfume that would be named for that address has to be grand. And yes, 31 Rue Cambon is. When someone says a perfume smells French, this is what I envision that perfume to smell. It is a modern chypre, without the oakmoss, but you do not miss it. Jacques Polge, who signs this perfume, has crafted a modern perfume that feels and more importantly, smells like a classic.

It starts with a floral bouquet of iris, jasmine, ylang ylang, rose, and is fuzzed out by Chanel’s trademark aldehydes. It smells very Chanel, and at times, I feel like I am sniffing Chanel no 5. In my younger years, I probably would have called this very ‘old lady’ like, but now that I am older, I cherish it because it smells like a perfume you would wear when you want to wear perfume. It is a little ‘formal,’ I think, and I don’t know if it fits me wearing it while I buy groceries at Trader Joe. But with a nice cashmere sweater, this more than fits.

The Loves Of A Man (Book Thoughts: Enigma Variations, Andre Aciman)

29875935I remember, years ago, I read André Aciman’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and was so touched by it. I started recommending it to everyone, and to this day, mention it as one of my favorite books of all time. Now he has written another book that I love, titled ‘Enigma Variations.’ The book consists of five novellas, all exploring the loves of one man : Paolo, Paul, Pauly. They come at different stages of his life, with different loves of both genders. My favorite is the opener, ‘First Love,’ wherein a twenty two year old Paolo goes back to the Italian island where he spent his summers as a young boy, and where also he first fell in love with his mother’s carpenter. As he tries to find this gentleman, he finds out discoveries about his family and specifically his father. This is a story of an awakening, of a young man accepting terms from his first infatuation. Aciman writes with such intimacy and frankness that we cannot help but see ourselves in this characters. Years later we see Paul in ‘Spring Fever,’ when he suspects the woman he is dating is having an affair, only to realize things are not always what it seems. Here Aciman’s tone is serious but becomes playful, and I loved the way Paul interacts with different characters in the book. ‘Star Love’ finds Paul dissecting his years-long friendship and courtship with Chloe, and while I found their relationship interesting as it crosses and tests the gray areas, I found this part a little tedious. ‘Manfred’ is about obsession – about how we change and move our lives because of another, how we analyze instead of do, and how unexpected sometimes life can be. I found this novella fascinating, its frank sexuality talk immensely powerful in conveying that feeling of wanting, the senation of deep desire, and its payoff.  I wouldn’t say ‘Enigma Variations’ is as good as ‘Call me By Your Name,’ but I know what book I will be recommending to friends this year.

The Tea On Dickens (Book Thoughts: Serial Monogamy, Kate Taylor)

28250846Did you know that Charles Dickens had a mistress? Not that it matters, of course. Half of Kate Taylor’s ‘Serial Monogamy’ is about his affair with Nelly. The other half is set in modern day Toronto: Sharon finds out her professor husband is having an affair with one of his students. There are parallels, of course, and I get what Taylor is doing – the Dickens story is set up as a serial column she wrote for a newspaper. I liked both storylines but also had problems with both – in some ways I wish they were separated so we could get a fuller picture because I felt there were holes in each of them. But Taylor writes with an ease that will keep your attention.

Mapping Emotions (Book Thoughts: The A-Z Of Us, Jim Kibbler)

1518349There are a lot of map references in Jim Keeble’s “The A-Z Of Us,” starting with the title, of course,  which comes from the A-Z guide, which a lot of people used to use while traveling in London. This story is set around 2004, and I am sure people now have moved on to phone apps (I am sure there is a equivalent on the App Store) The metaphor of using a map to navigate our lives is a little heavy-handed here, but Kibbler sort of shuns the idea at the end, with one of his characters realizing that sometimes the most joyous moments in our lives happen at random times, without planning. I liked this book a lot with its flawed protagonists – Gemma and Ian – trying to figure out what to do after stumbling in different and similar aspects of their lives. The blurb asked that age-old question – can friends become lovers when it looks like they are meant to be, and I am glad the book did not fall into the trap of that premise. It is much more – it’s an insight into how these characters were able to overcome obstacles after they hurt people in the process. I also think it’s a love letter to London, my favorite European city. It made me want to visit again, even though I have been there numerous times.

Endless Love (Book Thoughts: I’m Glad About You, Theresa Rebeck)

25776196I wanted to read ‘I’m Glad About You’ because of its author, Theresa Rebeck, a known playwright, and is also the creator of one of my favorite show from a few years back, SMASH. I was expecting a book that was very New York – of urban people and how they connect. The book isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. This is a story of two people who meet in Ohio when they are teenagers. He is a Catholic and doesn’t believe in premarital sex. She is an actress and moves to New York to pursue his craft. I get that idea that sometimes you have to ask the universe why you still keep on running into the “one” even as your lives takes different turns, but the characters here are just so unlikable that I cannot root for either one, much less their getting together. The plot takes twists and turns that are interesting, but sometimes they don’t make sense at all. We have a villain that comes in and out of these people’s lives, but we don’t exactly know what his motivations are. The whole book seems overlong, yet the ending seems abrupt. I have a lot of problems with the book but strangely found it compelling. Rebeck has a fine ear for dialogue – the narrative feels like a screenplay, even a theater piece. The title of the book comes from the Navajo way of saying ‘I Love You,’ and I feel the same way about the book. It infuriated me, it baffled me, but I am glad it exists.

Sassy Charms (Book Review: The Charm Bracelet, Viola Shipman)

25663663“The Charm Bracelet,” by Viola Shipman is a sweet, heartwarming book about three generations of women in a family. It centers most on the grandmother figure, Lolly, and she is a spiky, cooky character, hip before she was. She has just been diagnosed by MCI, which sounds similar to Alzheimer’s disease, but not as bad, apparently: most who have been diagnosed can still lead daily lives. Her daughter and grand daughter comes to visit, and in the course of he book, we learn, told in flashback, of how Lolly lived her life. Each chapter relates to a charm in a charm bracelet. This book has definitely a lot of heart, and you really will fall in love with Lolly. But is heart enough? The writer, Viola Shipman, is actually a pseudonym for memoir writer Wade Rouse, and you can see some fine handcraftsmanship in story-telling. (The name is his grandmother’s) But there isn’t really enough of a story here, and the stop and go style sometimes made it tedious. And some stories – like Arden’s love story line – didn’t come across as authentic to me . But the action flows well enough, and the book slim enough to keep your attention. And you will read about an unforgettable character, Lolly, and that’s reason enough to pick up this book.

Truth Be Told (Book Thoughts: Truth In Advertising, John Kenney)

13547308Fin Dolan is at a crossroad in his life. He has been working in advertising, and his biggest account is a diaper brand. He gets a chance to do a Superbowl commercial for them, and this could put him in the big leagues. But, he is given a short time to do this. Meanwhile, he gets a call from his older brother, telling him that their father – who has been absent for most of their lives – is dying in a hospital in Cape Cod. And he has to realize that he is desperately falling in love with Phoebe, who also works at his office. All these stories are seamlessly told in John Kenney’s novel, which is a great exercise in reflection. I spent most of my weekend devouring all three hundred and twenty pages (or the Kindle equivalent) of this book. It shows how at some point in our lives we question what we do, what we value in our lives, and what we do to pursue our happiness. It also shows how death in family can change us, and make us ask questions we were too scared to ask before. I found myself identifying with Fin, even though he is the farthest thing from who I am. I found myself missing my old city, my old life, my old everyday. And in this book, I found a little corner of myself.

Modern Family (Book Thoughts: Multiple Listings, Tracy McMillan)

23492619I am getting out of my reading rut. Tracy McMillan’s ‘Multiple Listings’ helped a lot. This was a page-turner for me, as I finished it in a little more than a day. Daylight Savings Time also helped because the other night I couldn’t sleep and I just tore through this. McMillan gives us a father and daughter story, told in alternating point of view chapters between Nikki, a successful real estate appraisalist and Ronnie, her father who has just been released from prison and shows uop unexpectedly at her door. She doesn’t want him there. and he has nowhere else to go. I can’t exactly pin-point why, but at first I didn’t like the Nikki character, but I warmed up to her. The father, Ronnie, is a hoot – someone with worldly wisdom and isn’t afraid to impart it. I got engrossed in the story, and since McMillan is a television writer, the set up seems to be sitcom or hour-long dramedy ready. But these are three-dimensional characters, and by the end of the book I was sad to see them go.

Woman Of Wall Street (Book Thoughts: Opening Belle, Maureen Sherry)

25814539‘Opening Belle’ by Maureen Sherry has been optioned by Reese Witherspoon, and knowing this factoid, I automatically just imagined Reese as Isabelle, the main character in this book. Isabelle is a humorless bore, and I hope Reese infuses her charm to make the character come alive in the film. As a book, ‘Opening Belle’ is confused: it is part working woman tale, part Wall Street morality tale, and even a little bit Norma Rae-ish woman’s equality tome. It’s all so boring. Halfway through the book, when Isabelle starts talking about bonds and sub prime mortgage, I knew exactly where the book was headed (so no surprises there)  I cannot believe how unsympathetic Isabelle is: a lot of times I found myself taking the side of whoever is making her life miserable. I used to work with women like this main character: and they are all insufferable. This book is just as bad.

If you want a more entertaining Woman On Wall Street book, go for Erin Duffy’s Bond Girl.