Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review - Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda Fitzgerald can certainly be viewed as one of life's tragic characters, coming of age in the post-war period of the 1920's, under the spell of the rakish F.Scott Fitzgerald, with booze and fun aplenty, and without quite enough backbone to acknowledge how tragic her life was becoming or wanting enough to do anything about it.

Fowler's fictional portrayal of her is certainly kinder than real life probably was.  And this is the reason that reviewing this book is so difficult.  If one has read any biographies of the principle characters (F.Scott, Zelda, Hemingway-both Ernest and Hadley), it is difficult to find oneself, as a reader of fiction, having as much sympathy for the character painted here as the author does.

Zelda is depicted as a good time girl whose passion is ballet (although she studied as a young girl it is hard to believe that she suddenly decided as a married woman in her late 20's to pursue this as a career).  I wondered the whole time I was reading about her dancing antics if the underlying motivation wasn't just a way of thumbing her nose at her husband's wanting her to stay focused on HIS career.

The travel scenes of Paris, Italy, Hollywood and Florida are quite similar to what we see in any bios of the players.  It was an OK read, fun if you've not read anything about the lady, but the caveat to any reader is that IT'S FICTION and it's hard to separate what might be fact from fairy tale.  It's well written, and certainly exhibits a very sympathetic view of Ms. Fitzgerald.  I just couldn't get excited about Zelda's life from reading it here.  I'd be interested to see if Ms. Fowler can write some fiction without having to center it on real life.  She writes well, and I'd love to see what else she can do.

Title:  Z:A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Author: Therese Anne Fowler 
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (2013),  Hardcover, 384 pages 
Genre: Historicial biographical fiction
Subject: Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald
Setting: all over the world
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? It's was a long list nominee for the Maine Reader's Choice award.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review - The Signature of All Things

Title: The Signature of All Things
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publisher: Viking Adult, 2013, e-galley
Genre: Historical Fiction  
Subject: Women's roles, botany  
Setting: England, high seas, South Pacific, Philadelphia PA  
Source: e-galley from the publisher  
Why did I read this book now? Reviewing for consideration for the Maine Readers' Choice Award.

This lovely book has been sitting in my "awaiting reviews" queue for almost a month. Although I have not been a big fan of previous Elizabeth Gilbert books, this one changed my mind. Her gentle, well-researched, and charming story of Alma Whittaker gives us a clear and perceptive look into the Age of Enlightenment and its interest in botany and its attitudes toward women. Alma is well-educated and shows us the world of gardening, plants, art, publishing, and exotic flora world-wide.

Alma's character is one that invites us to look at  early 19th century women in a new light. There are also other women of note in the story: her mother Beatrix, who is portrayed as a strong women with many talents, well educated and speaking several languages, but who is still often subservient to her husband, and who does not show her daughter any warmth or what we think of as motherly nurturing. She is raising a future botanist, a successor to herself (as it turns out) and is determined not to allow any feminine "weaknesses" to emerge in her daughter. There is Alma's adopted sister Prudence, raised in the same mold as Alma, and also not receiving (or giving) any warmth or friendship towards her sister. In the background is her mother's maid, Hanneke, who is always there to provide what little warmth Alma can expect from life, w.hile still maintaining her mistress Beatrix' stiff upper lip.

Her father, Henry Wittaker, is self-made man who has emigrated to American in 1776 after sailing the world with Captain James Cook.  Henry is a strong and central character throughout the story. In fact, Gilbert sees him as so significant that she devotes the first four chapters of the book to filling in his background and life motivations to show how they influenced his daughter's upbringing.

From the first though, the reader is drawn to Alma. She's not beautiful but she's brilliant, talented, stubborn, inquisitive, and determined to learn as much about the world of botany as she can. As she goes through life, she marries, separates from her husband, finds her true calling the in the world of mosses, cares for her widowed father, and finally, sails the world in search of her heart's dream. It's high drama, but every bit of it is believable. It's scientifically detailed, but it's gripping and easy to understand and enjoy. It's a romance, but it's certainly no bodice-ripper. It's historical fiction, and as such, it serves up a delicious slice of life during the age of high seas adventures, far-off lands, and life before the industrial revolution.

As I was finishing my draft of this review, our local TV station  - WCSH6 in Portland Maine - had an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, where she describes the book as "Pride and Prejudice" meets "Master and Commander."  On their website they posted the "share" code for all to see. (I apologize for the 10 second commercial at the beginning of the clip.) It was a fun interview recapturing the charm I felt reading the book. It's a read I'm more than glad I finished, and one which I'm looking forward to reading again in the future. The e-galley was given to me by the publisher, Viking Adult, for review as one of the long listed books for the Maine Readers Choice Awards. It is certainly one I'm considering for nomination to the short list.
  Many thanks to Viking for making the review copy available and to WCSH6 for sharing the video.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day

Today November 11th is a day when we're supposed to stop and reflect on the service and sacrifices our friends, relatives and fellow countrymen and women have made on our behalf in military service down through the years and around the world.  Here are some of my family who have answered the call over the years.

From left to right...My Great-grandfather, Charles G. Blaney, who served as a Bosn on the USS Dixie during the Spanish American war. Bob's father Sgt Manuel Branco, who served with Patton during WWII, my father Warrant Officer Martin Yannuzzi, who served in the Merchant Marine during and after WWII, and my sweet hubbie, Ensign Bob Branco,here in this picture aboard the USS Forrest Sherman in the Mediterranean Sea during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

With this many connections, I had to join up, so here's Tutu with her parents in August 1966 for my commissioning as an Ensign in the Navy.  This was during the Vietnam War when I served as a personnel officer at the Naval Schools Command in Newport RI.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if our children - and those in every nation around the world -  never had to join the military or fight in wars?  We can only pray and work just as hard for peace as we did to win wars.

Veteran's Day blessings to all who have served, are serving now and will ever answer the call in the future.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Strike from the Deep-- Veteran's Day Special

Mr. Tutu (AKA Bob Branco)  is off to the New England Crime Bake this weekend, so Tutu has a few days of uninterrupted reading ahead.  I may even get some time (or mental energy) to finish up about four reviews that are awaiting to be written. 

In the meantime, I'm gathering some unbiased reviews for Strike From the Deep to post here next week in connection with a giveaway I'll be sponsoring.  I'm not sure I can be unbiased as a reviewer, so I'll let others speak.  I do confess to having a secret crush on the main character Captain Jason, but we won't tell Mr. Tutu about that.

Both Bob and I are Navy veterans, (this snap is definitely from our YOUNGER days) and he's decided to celebrate the Veteran's day weekend by offering the Kindle e-book version of Strike From the Deep as a free download today thru midnite (PST) Sunday. You can get your free download (no Kindle needed) by clicking here.

So download away all you faithful followers, and enjoy a thrilling adventure on the high seas. Many of our friends who have read the book say it's even more exciting than the Tom Hanks movie that's playing right now.

To all my fellow veterans - may you enjoy your weekend and know that we're both thankful to have served after, with or before you. It's a wonderful country, and one worth fighting for.

P.S.  Autographed print copies can be ordered from the website -