Thursday, December 26, 2013

Paris Requiem

By Lisa Appignanesi
Arcadia Books, 506 pgs
Submitted by the publisher
Rating: Spectacular

Three ideas to consider:

"Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" - and what of Justice

"Live as domestic a life as possible...And never touch pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live." Charlotte Perkins Gilman describing Dr. S. Weir Mitchell's rest cure prescription 

"Too early a death implicates us all." - Marguerite de Landois

Paris Requiem by Lisa Appignanesi is a thrilling and intoxicating blend of history, psychology, politics, social caste, art, sex, madness and murder. Stirred by a lesser hand those ingredients too often don't blend but sit uncomfortably atop each other in their separate strata. I am developing a theory that Ms. Appignanesi is actually a master chemist, a world-class vintner, or a magician, because in her hands these elements produce a concoction as dangerous as sodium cyanide, as deliciously rich and smooth as Bordeaux, and as surprising as if she had indeed pulled a rabbit out of a hat. Perhaps she is all three. 

Paris Requiem is the story of three families (two of which are family by birth, one of which is family by necessity), a city, two countries, generational change, and what happens when industrial and technological revolution both shrinks and expands the world simultaneously. Our first family is the Nortons of Boston: elder brother James, younger brother Rafe and their sister Elinor. Our second family is the Arnhems of Paris: sisters Judith and Rachel and their father. Our third family is the bohemian and artist community of Paris brought together by their patron Marguerite de Landois ("a thoroughly modern woman"). The city is Paris in 1899; the countries are France of the Belle Époque and the United States of 2013, by implication. 

Our story begins in the spring of 1899 as James Norton (who is most comfortable wrapped "in the soft blanket of habit), Esquire and Harvard Law professor, reluctantly disembarks in Paris on an errand for his mother. The formidable lady has dispatched James to fetch his younger brother Rafe (he who "had always been so hungry for life in all its beauty and all its sordidness"), a journalist for the New York Times, and younger sister Elinor (Ellie) home with him. The good Puritan mother has decided that they've tarried too long in the City of Light. James arrives as several events coincide to threaten chaos: Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish man convicted of spying (the infamous Dreyfus Affair - look it up), is released from prison by the supreme court; the President of France is assaulted; there are demonstrations by anarchists (read: libertarians and/or libertines), Republicans (read: democrats and/or constitutionalists) and "patriots" (read: fascists, xenophobes and/or racists, also see Tea Party) in the streets; the government falls; women are disappearing and turning up dead. From Le Journal, Paris, le 30 mai, 1899 - "Police are quick to attribute these deaths to suicide. Why not? After all, two of the women were listed prostitutes whose degenerate lives, according to our guardians of morality, deserve no better end. Two others were homeless vagabonds." The latest of these women turns out to be Olympe Fabre, formerly Rachel Arnhem, actress and lover of Rafe Norton. 

In no time flat James is swept up in the hunt for clues and a killer. Let me assure you that he and Rafe and various players, including a delightful chief inspector of the Paris gendarmes and a fairly shifty reporter friend of Rafe's, do discover the clues and find the culprit. But in my view that's not the most fascinating story of Paris Requiem, merely the narrative. The many things James finds in between are the actual story of Paris Requiem.
hysterical (adj.) 1610s, from Latin hystericus "of the womb," from Greek hysterikos "of the womb, suffering in the womb," from hystera "womb" (see uterus). Originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus. - Online Etymology Dictionary
hys·ter·i·cal /hiˈsterikəl/ adjective 1. deriving from or affected by uncontrolled extreme emotion. "hysterical laughter" synonyms: overwrought, overemotional, out of control, frenzied, frantic, wild, feverish, crazed. 2. PSYCHIATRY relating to, associated with, or suffering from hysteria. "the doctor thinks the condition is partly hysterical" another term for histrionic (denoting personality disorder). - Google
Cookie-cutter propriety (assume your shape!) dementedly insisting upon conformity at all costs, born and grown and malevolently nurtured during the period following the industrial revolution, has finally clashed violently, indeed fatally, with a resurgent individuality. And the women, by god the WOMEN, just won't stay in their assigned spaces. You say you were born female to who, where? Then you belong here. No, here. Right here. NOT over there. Come back this instant. You can't do that; you can't go there; you can't BE THAT. And if you insist on doing that, going there, being that, then the new rather squishy science of psychiatry will brand you with "hysterical." You will require a "rest cure." You will require drugging. If all else fails then you will require confinement. Deviations, most certainly sexual deviations, from the "norm" are pathological. I believe the true story Paris Requiem has to tell is the story of the Industrial Revolution and its effects on society. As Ellie laments, "Once I thought I would do something with my time on this earth, Jim. Something great. Something useful. Something beautiful. But nothing...nothing has come of it. There's nothing for a woman like me." As for me I believe that the mindset that allows this sort of sentiment, "...her eyes veiled in a sadness which only accentuated her beauty," is the real pathology. If I'm less beautiful when I'm strong and happy then you can scoot yourself right out the door. Move along, Monsieur. Rapidement!

Paris Requiem tells this story vividly by hanging it on the trope of a murder thriller. The characters are diverse and complex, their motivations sympathetic. The city itself becomes a character: Paris the Siren. You will smell the orange blossoms, taste the café au lait, hear the clop of hooves on cobblestone and the Seine rushing past. You will sense the urgency. The sentences are frequently powerful enough to stop your brain in its tracks; seemingly of its own accord it will return and read that sumptuous sentence again and again. I considered crafting this entire review of quotations from the book; no, seriously. I may still do that. For example, page 106:
Young men with unsavoury expressions and large hats lounged against door jambs and smoked, at once indolent and poised for action like so many cowhands. From the late afternoon gloom of a tavern came the sound of a guitar and a baritone drawling a song of insolent inflection.
Or this, page 354: 
The air was thick with duplicity and something else, an unnaturalness. Through the miasma he sniffed at treacherous liaisons.
The plotting is impeccable although some may find the pacing a little slow for their personal taste. It is a long book, 506 pages, and we don't learn the ultimate secret until the very end. But I enjoyed it so much. The parallels between the political situation in Paris in 1899 and the political situation of the United States in 2013 are myriad and astonishing. The personal is political. Perhaps we can learn something. I do believe that for the truth we must turn to fiction. I was particularly proud of James, a man who at the beginning of this tale could be described as caring for nothing so much as "the trains running on time," who wished for nothing so much as "clear demarcation lines." By the end of this tale he was able to be described by a police officer as "altogether unruly." 

Returning to Le Journal, Paris, le 30 mai, 1899: "...But what if prostitution and vagabondage are the symptoms of their plight and not its cause?...Were the lives of these women really worth so little that they could fling them away? Or are there foul forces at play here - as foul and murderous as those which condemned Captain Dreyfus...?"

Lisa Appignanesi is the author of seven previous works, including the prize-winning Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors, which I'm going to order here in about fifteen minutes. The research for that book directly relates to Paris Requiem. Appignanesi is a past-president of English PEN and is the chair of the Freud Museum, London, and Visiting Professor in Literature and the Medical Humanities at King's College London. She was awarded an OBE this year for her services to literature.

I'm going to close this review with the quotation that opens Paris Requiem
Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that what have you had? - Henry James, The Ambassadors

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Texas!

Yep, we really do this here...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Welcome Canada!

This afternoon it is my privilege to welcome our favorite neighbor to the north, Canada, to Texas. Whadda'yat?

Welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina!

This morning I am delighted to welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina to Texas. Dobrodošli!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Welcome India!

This afternoon it is my privilege to welcome India to Texas. Aapka swaagat hai!

Welcome Germany!

This morning I am delighted to welcome Germany to Texas. Willkommen!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Welcome Italy!

Tonight I am delighted to welcome Italy to Texas. Benvenuti!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Happy Birthday to Keith Richards!

I wanted to invite y'all to the party - check out my Facebook page for the Happy Birthday Keef Party: all Keef all the time! Lots of music, cool pics and fun facts. Come on over!

Welcome Poland!

Today it is my privilege to welcome Poland to Texas. Witam!

Welcome Brazil!

This evening I am delighted to welcome Brazil to Texas. Bem-vindos!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Welcome China!

This afternoon it is my privilege to welcome China to Texas. Huānyíng!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rattlebone Tales Volume I

By Grant Kauffman
12 Rounds Media, LLC, 191 pgs
Submitted by the author
Rating: 3.0

The Twilight Zone. This is what I was thinking throughout this collection: The Twilight Zone. Cue music

Rattlebone Tales Volume I by Grant Kauffman (a Texas author) is a collection of 8 short stories and some of them will rattle your bones. And your brain. The author draws inspiration for these stories from some unlikely places: the housing bubble, the slippery slope of reactionary politics, and possibly the establishment where he gets his hair cut. Mr. Kauffman is a versatile writer, able to conjure down-home Texas as well as suburban tract and sophisticated wealth.

The first story "An Old Soul" is one of the best of this first collection. The 15-year-old boy recounting this tale is indeed an old soul, possibly as old as evil itself. A local family has been murdered in a home invasion and our protagonist (?) dares his buddies to accompany him on an expedition to find out for themselves if the rumors that the house is haunted are true. His friends wisely decline but that doesn't deter our hero, who appears to be nursing a nascent adrenaline jones, from investigating on his own. Do y'all remember how Dolarhyde in Thomas Harris's Red Dragon chose his victims? Keep that in mind. I will not reveal the plot twist sprung on us on the next-to-last page of this story. Mr. Kauffman is fond of plot twists and, luckily for us, good at them. Something to contemplate: once you experience the extraordinary can you ever again be satisfied with the ordinary?

"Granddad's Cellar" is another standout, the story that inspired the cover art which is quite well done. My curiosity was roused and the pacing is flawless. The suspense in this tale had me resisting the urge to glance ahead. It takes place in East Texas which, in my opinion, is actually the Old South, not Texas. It's a tricky business to wander too far east of I35. This is important to the plot. Jacob Rustin is about to be initiated into the real family business and nothing is as it seems, including his grandfather "...a stranger he had known for over seventeen years..." Turns out Granddad's cellar may as well be the entrance to hell, a veritable Ploutonion at Nacogdoches

Now this is a first collection and as such is expected to be uneven. Mr. Kauffman is a versatile writer, able to conjure down home Texas as well as suburban tract and sophisticated wealth. The only thing that really concerns me here is an abundance of female stereotypes. There is the gold-digger, the bitter divorcee, the provincial big-haired soccer moms. I understand that stereotypes have generally become stereotypes for a reason. Note that word "generally." There is danger in assumptions and lack of empathy. There is potential here, oh yes. Shades of R.L. Stine, perhaps even of Stephen King. They had to start somewhere and this is as good a place to start as any, and better than most. I await Volume II.

Grant Kauffman is also the author of Project 14: The Legend of Beelzebub's Bluff, a YA adventure/fantasy about a group of five kids who get trapped in a cave system in Texas. It is available as an ebook and paperback on Amazon. You can reach Mr. Kauffman on Facebook and Twitter

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Winners of A Cold and Lonely Place Giveaway

Reminder: Sacre bleu and anonymous who told me about meeting Sara J. Henry need to get in touch with me and provide your mailing addresses by Monday morning, December 16 or I will be forced to draw 2 more names. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Welcome Malaysia!

This afternoon I am thrilled to welcome Malaysia to Texas. Dialu-alukan!

Welcome Bahamas!

This morning I am thrilled to welcome Bahamas to Texas!

Welcome Russia!

This morning I am delighted to welcome Russia to Texas. Dobro požalovat'!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Winners of A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry

Congratulations! My Heart, Sacre Bleu, Mary, Austin and Anonymous II (that's my improv there) have each won from TexasBookLover (copies generously provided by Crown Publishing) a copy of A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry. I have sent an email to each winner. The folks at Crown Publishing will ship your books directly to you. Thank you everyone for participating and we'll do it again soon!

Welcome Thailand!

This afternoon I am delighted to welcome Thailand to Texas. Yindī t̂xnrạb! (Yin-dee-ton-rab)

Welcome Serbia!

This morning it is my privilege to welcome Serbia to Texas. Dobrodošli!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Welcome Ukraine!

This afternoon I am pleased to welcome Ukraine to Texas. Laskavo prosymo!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Welcome Finland!

Tonight I am delighted to welcome Finland to Texas. Tervetuloa!

Last Chance! Give-away for A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry


Okay boys and girls! The lovely folks at Crown Publishing Group have provided 5 copies of A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry for me to give away. The contest begins RIGHT NOW and will close at midnight CST on Tuesday, December 10th. This contest is open to every single human being on the planet over the age of 17. Those of you who've participated in my previous contests know the drill. For all the newbies out there here are the rules:

1. You must be a follower of TexasBookLover. You can follow on the home page of this blog.

2. You must leave a comment on this post or the original review post for the book letting me know that you want to be entered in the drawing.

I'll choose 5 winners with RandomPicker (previously accomplished with strips of paper and a hat) on Wednesday, December 11th and post the results that evening.

Please leave a comment or shoot me an email at if you have any questions. Good luck!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Update: Contest for A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry

Just a quick reminder that the contest to win a copy of A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry ends at midnight, Tuesday, December 10th. Only four days remain until the contest closes and I pick the winners! For a link to my review please click on the title of the novel above. This is the link for the original post with the contest rules. Thank you and good luck!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Music That Doesn't Suck

Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice! I'm sure I missed a couple of holidays in there but whatever you celebrate (or if you don't celebrate any of them) I wish you a lovely season full of whatever it is you want it to be full of. Over the last few days I have started posting a song each day on my Facebook page under a category called "Christmas Music That Doesn't Suck," 'cause most of it is ATROCIOUS.

Please refer to the right-hand side of this page, about midway down, and you'll find that the Texas Music Playlist has been replaced by the Christmas Music That Doesn't Suck Playlist. Also, here's the link if you want to view on YouTube: Please send any complaints here Enjoy!

Welcome New Zealand!

This morning I am also thrilled to welcome New Zealand to TexasBookLover. Kia ora!

Welcome Australia!

This morning I'm delighted to welcome Australia to TexasBookLover. G'day!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Welcome Egypt!

This morning I am privileged to welcome Egypt to TexasBookLover. I will be in Egypt next month and hopefully will be able to say fursa sa'ida in person!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Welcome South Africa!

This is my favorite part - this afternoon I am delighted to welcome South Africa to Texas. Y'all have 5 official languages, in addition to English, and I hope I get this right:



Le amogetswe!

Siya namkela nonke!

Kenang ka kgotso!

Give Away Contest for A Cold and Lonely Place!

Okay boys and girls! The lovely folks at Crown Publishing Group have provided 5 copies of A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry for me to give away. The contest begins RIGHT NOW and will close at midnight CST on Tuesday, December 10th. This contest is open to every single human being on the planet over the age of 17. Those of you who've participated in my previous contests know the drill. For all the newbies out there here are the rules:

1. You must be a follower of TexasBookLover. You can follow on the home page of this blog.

2. You must leave a comment on this post or the original review post for the book letting me know that you want to be entered in the drawing.

I'll choose 5 winners with RandomPicker (previously accomplished with strips of paper and a hat) on Wednesday, December 11th and post the results that evening.

Please leave a comment or shoot me an email at if you have any questions. Good luck!

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Cold and Lonely Place

By Sara J. Henry
Broadway/Crown/Random House, 294 pgs
Submitted by Crown Publishing Group
Rating: 4.0

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. - Ian MacLaren (Rev. John Watson)

It is winter in Lake Placid, New York, the Adirondacks, and so bitterly bone-numbingly cold that your eyelashes will freeze if you stay out for any length of time, say, three minutes. Winter is a character here, imposing itself on everyone and everything. It must be respected. (I have a dear friend who contends that hell is actually cold.) The land, the Adirondacks, is also a character, integral to the plot. Troy Chance, freelance journalist, is covering the construction of the annual Winter Carnival ice palace for the local newspaper. This entails lots of men and heavy equipment and gigantic blocks of ice. They dig these ice blocks out of Saranac Lake to construct the ice palace. All is going according to plan until they find that one of the ice blocks they dig up contains the body of Tobin Winslow, a newly-arrived-in-town mystery man.

Troy knew Tobin; he dated Jessamyn, one of Troy's (Troy is a she) housemates. Tobin has been missing for weeks and everyone assumed he had just blown out of town the same way he blew in. There are no visible injuries to the body and no obvious cause of death. Is it murder, suicide or accident? And if the death was not murder then where is Tobin's truck? Jessamyn, of course, is suspected early on because she's the girlfriend. Troy herself is questioned as a housemate of the dead man's girlfriend. And no, she didn't like Tobin at all. She considered him little more than a frat boy slumming it, for reasons of his own, in an insular hard-scrabble mountain town.

Troy's editor at the paper asks her to write a series of articles on Tobin's life. She reluctantly agrees and as soon as she begins researching and asking questions a hornet's nest buzzes to furious life. In short order there are: hang-up calls in the middle of the night, threatening emails and notes, someone lets the air out of her tires, someone breaks into Tobin's cabin and ransacks the place. The further Troy probes the murkier the story becomes. Then Tobin's sister Win arrives in Lake Placid, drawn by the articles Troy has written. The two quickly form a dynamic duo to find out what happened to Tobin Winslow.

There are no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that the secrets uncovered among family and friends of the deceased are potent enough to scramble your brain and require years of therapy. Page 195 is a whopper, I'm telling you. The metaphor is keys. Keys figure prominently. Tobin's keys are missing. He kept a key under a flowerpot on his porch and who knew it was there? Turns out there's a safe deposit box but where is the key to it? No one locks their doors in this neck of the Adirondacks but they begin to do so before this story is finished.

Problems first, get them out of the way, there are only a couple. First, there is a subplot involving Jessamyn and her long-lost father that struck me as a distraction. I wanted to swat it like a housefly. Second, the last chapter should've been titled "Epilogue." Each character is addressed in his or her own paragraph or two, telling you exactly what happened to everyone involved, laid out for us as if we were middle-schoolers. I could visualize the big red bow tied around the story. But those are minor stumbles, really.

Sara J. Henry
A Cold and Lonely Place is a good mystery. It is not a thriller; there's no gore; and it's not particularly suspenseful, at least not in the way we've come to understand the term in the time of James Patterson, et al. I don't recall even the suggestion of blood. This novel doesn't need the special effects department; it reminded me strongly of Agatha Christie. Then I discovered that the author's first book won the Agatha Award. Troy Chance is an intriguing character. You don't find many female leads who are flawed and fiercely independent and are allowed to remain so, with no man coming along by the end of the book to melt their defenses, blah blah blah, and everything goes gooey. No thank you. There's no extraneous love story harnessed to the works and do you KNOW what a relief that is?  Instead of improbable romantic entanglements we get to feast on authentic female friendships. Troy remains stubbornly in character throughout the novel, triumphantly imperfect, taking whatever lumps come her way as a result. We don't even know what Troy looks like. Read that again. Here: WE DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT TROY LOOKS LIKE. The freedom is heady, yes?

The plot is well paced. It begins with a bang on page one with the discovery of the body. There are no lulls here but do not expect the story to get in your face or scream at you. It follows you around and whispers, makes suggestions; maybe prods you in the ribs with a finger. The story accrues. If you are patient it will reward you. A Cold and Lonely Place is the second book in Sara J. Henry's series starring journalist Troy Chance, following the Agatha Award-winning debut Learning to Swim. I'm gonna go to the library now and pick up the first book.

And I have exciting news about this one! The lovely folks at Crown have provided me with five copies to give away. Come back tomorrow and found out how to win a copy for yourself or to give as a holiday gift.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Tomorrow, Thursday, November 28th, is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. As children we are fed a bunch of fairy tales about pilgrims and "Indians." Ignore that. We will gather tomorrow in small groups and large, family, friends and possibly a couple of total strangers from our third trip to the supermarket because my sister can't say "No" to anyone. She is kindhearted. I will spend tomorrow with people I love, people I like, people I can take or leave, and a few that could disappear into the nearest hole in the ground and no one would notice. There will be old folks, middle-aged folks (that would be me), young folks, a few small children and a couple of babies. According to my calculations, at any one time there could be as many as 30 people in the house. There will be a couple of loved ones we'll miss this year, my father and my Uncle Chad; both gone too soon, only a month apart.


The menu: turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, giblet gravy, corn, green beans, asparagus, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, butterscotch pie and strawberry cheesecake. As I left to come home this evening Grandma Jimmie had her head stuck in the fridge muttering about cookie dough. 

After we're all so stuffed we can't move it'll be time for football. The Aggies took off for another conference last year with their tails between their legs. This year we'll stomp on Tech.

Hook 'em!

Here's wishing a very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours

Sunday, November 24, 2013

2013 National Book Awards

The 2013 National Book Awards (United States) were presented by the National Book Foundation at the 64th annual ceremony and benefit dinner in New York, New York last Wednesday evening, November 20th.

Toni Morrison presented the Literarian Award to Dr. Maya Angelou for outstanding service to the American literary community. This is the ninth year the Foundation has presented the Literarian Award, which was established in 2005 to recognize an individual whose work has enhanced the literary world during a lifetime of service.

E.L. Doctorow was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL). The DCAL was created in 1988 to recognize a lifetime of literary achievement.

For the first time, the National Book Foundation made available The Contenders: Excerpts from the 2013 National Book Award Finalists, a free National Book Award eBook series available for download in a variety of formats. Pretty handy. This way you can sample each of the finalists to help you decide which books you might want to check out of your local library or purchase.

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Drum roll please! And the 2013 National Book Award winners are...

Fiction: James McBride, The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead Books/Penguin Group USA)

Nonfiction: George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

 Poetry: Mary Szybist, Incarnadine: Poems (Graywolf Press)

 Young People's Literature: Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Welcome Turkey!

This afternoon I am delighted to welcome Turkey to Texas. Hoş geldiniz!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Welcome Indonesia!

This afternoon it is my privilege to welcome Indonesia to Texas. Selamat datang!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Welcome Belize!

Oh I love y'all! Today I get to do this twice. This morning I am also delighted to welcome Belize to Texas. ¡Bienvenidos! 

Welcome Peru!

This morning it is my privilege to welcome Peru to Texas. ¡Bienvenidos!