Review: Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

Under MagnolaBack in 1997, Frances Mayes took readers to Tuscany in her bestselling book Under the Tuscan Sun, her writing really captured being in Italy and building a life for herself in a foreign country. With her latest book Under Magnolia, Mayes brings readers to where she was trying to escape from – the past of her Southern childhood. In this book Mayes confronts her past, taking readers inside her tumultuous childhood in a 1940s South, so think eccentric family members, tradition, big houses, hot summers and lots of food.

Mayes’ parents had a volatile relationship fueled by passion, hostility and alcohol. Her father became ill at a relatively young age, but lingered on through many of Mayes’ high school days. Once he died, her mother became more aimless, under the thumb of her father-in-law who cut her off from much of the money and spending she was used to. Mayes spent her childhood feeling different from her girly sisters, but soon seemed to blend her intelligence with a southern girlish flair. It is this young girl who tries to escape her family bonds off at college.

I wasn’t really certain what to expect and I have to say I greatly enjoyed this book. It had been so long since I read Under the Tuscan Sun, I really didn’t remember all that much about Mayes, but it didn’t matter. You don’t need to know who Mayes is to enjoy her story, which is told in vignettes. Aside from Mayes lovely writing, her stories were charming, sad, funny – a whole mix. There were some times that I got a little lost in the timeline, but once I fell back into the storytelling, I really didn’t care. I was just happy to have such a wonderful storyteller take me on her journey.

** I received this book (an uncorrected proof) from the publisher for review. **

 

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Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

GoldfinchDo you ever get a book and start reading it without fully knowing what you’re getting in to? I find myself doing this a little more these days since many of the books I read are on my Kindle, which means I don’t have a back cover to consult before I get the book, and then while I am reading it. So, this was definitely the situation I found myself in while reading Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning book The Goldfinch.

Living in the NY-metro area I had heard about a painting at The Frick that was sending people there in droves because of reading the book, The Goldfinch. And having seen The Goldfinch around as a bestseller, both of these things together confirmed my need to read it. Now I’m not sure if I ever read the synopsis of the book, maybe I did, but I certainly wasn’t paying close attention because in my mind I was thinking that I would be reading something more like The Girl With a Pearl Earring or The Lady and the Unicorn than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

But enough about my bad synopsis reading comprehension and on to my thoughts about the book.

The book takes the reader through the extremely tumultuous life of Theo Decker, who was just another middle class, mischief-making, single parent teenager until tragic, terrorist events at the Met forever change the course of Theo’s life. Without a mother, his Dad MIA and his grandfather claiming to be unable to care for him, Theo lives with a classmate for his schoolyear, trying to regain some sense of bearings, but then his father returns (bimbo girlfriend in tow) to sweep him off to Las Vegas where 1/2 of his life path is set when he is introduced to drugs, alcohol and Boris, who becomes his high school BFF.

Once tragedy strikes Theo again leaving him an orphan he runs back to the only place he thinks of as home, NYC, and lives with an antique furniture restorer who he connected with before leaving NYC. Hobie trying to create stability in Theo’s life, and does provide him the guidance his father never could, and without meaning to, sets him up the the other half of Theo’s life, becoming a successful antiques dealer (who is still a drug addict).

All of this is story alone, but there is still the intrigue stemming from the horrible day at the Met. All which comes to a head, thanks to a reappearance by Boris when the boys are grown. There are so many pieces, layers and characters in this story. At times it felt never-ending, and when I was near the ending I nearly stopped reading the 700+ page book because I didn’t like where I was being taken by Tartt, but I have to say, she pulled it all together nicely in the end.

Tartt’s writing was so beautiful at times (but you don’t need me to say that, the book cover flair that says Pulitzer Prize probably tipped you off to that). She also created such vibrant characters (but with 700+ pages she has room to do that). But what I was surprised about was also the real sense of tension the book had, I wasn’t really expecting that either. At the end of the day I am so happy I didn’t throw away my time investment and trusted that the author was taking me on an incredible journey.