Vanishing Velazquez: A 19-Century Bookseller’s Obsession With A Lost Masterpiece by Laura Cumming (5 out of 5)

•May 25, 2016 • Leave a Comment


It’s been almost 6 weeks since my last post. To any and all who follow, my apologies. Between the worst writer’s block I’ve encountered in a long time and my father’s health, I have not been able to summon the muse to sit in front of a computer and do what I love to do and what normally comes so naturally. I have had this book about a month and it just sat there. Thank you to Barb at Simon & Schuster, for sending me a copy so I could read it before it was released and because it was a book that she so enthusiastically got behind, that it sparked my interest in reading again. Because the girl who reads one book a day? Has been reading the same book for over a week. This is NOT me. But this? This helped pull me out of the funk. Well worth it. Anyone who loves books, art, and a great historical puzzle needs to read this. Right away. It is out and on the shelf at your local independent bookstore. Go grab a copy.

Laura Cumming is an art critic and the author of this unbelievable story. John Snare, a bookseller, heads to a liquidation auction and is instantly captured by a portrait of King Charles I. However, the age of Charles at the time of the painting, along with the age of the painter the work is credited to, do not add up. Snare begins his own investigation into the matter, and the path to discovery leads to one Diego Velazquez,  who had one long-lost portrait of Charles I that the art community had been looking for generations. Velazquez was the official painter of the Madrid Court. The rumor was that Charles I, in the act of proposing marriage to a Spanish princess, only had a short time in which to have his portrait officially done, and Velazquez was the only probable answer to the riddle. However, in taking his theories public, John Snare is ostracized, tried for fraud in a court of law, and almost loses his family in the struggle to have his suspicions confirmed in the art community. You find out not only a lot about history, but also about how an obsession can take control of one’s life and knock sense out of the ballpark. The struggle to authenticate a work of art along with the stubbornness of the artists and those who collect art, almost as an occupation of sorts, is an eye-opening one that Cumming narrates deftly and to the enthrallment of the reader. If you like art, or even if you’re not a huge fan of art (myself, in this case), but like a compelling story of whodunit and happenstance, tragedy and politics, crime and punishment, this is the book you need to read.


Positive by David Wellington (5 out of 5)

•April 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment


Telling someone to be positive takes on a whole new, creepier meaning in this page-turning book. I like zombie novels. But this is a bit more than a zombie novel. I kept texting my coworker when I got done reading it that it was his new book. I try to find books for Matt to enjoy. The last couple, I’ve done well. This one? I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was. I mean- seriously good. And reading parts of it made me yearn for root vegetables. So in turn, I texted my coworker about the book, telling him the title was “Root Vegetable Massacre”. Of course, that’s  not it. I joked about it being called “The Possession”. Then I texted him a bunch of strange metaphors for it. I’ll leave it simple here and say I loved it. A lot.

Many years have passed since a plague has decimated most of the population. Finn and his family live in a barricaded part of New York City. No matter how you try to outrun an infectious plague (see “The Stand” by Stephen King, for further reference), it’s often living right next door- or with you. In this case, in his mother. Finn’s got the positive sign tattooed on his wrist- and now a two year incubation period to prove he’s not infected with the deadly plague. He realizes he’s going to be sent to the facility where the others in the same situation are at, to keep from infecting others. On his way, his escort is killed, and Finn is on his own in a sparsely wooded area, full of no one but other devious signs of nature- not to mention bloodthirsty, evil driven humans. And zombies. And humans. There are so many moments throughout the book where you just don’t know what the fuck is going to happen and when, and the shit gets scared out of you (wear a diaper). The reality of the broken down shell of the world that is left after the apocalypse, the politics involved with what’s left, and the barest necessity of living in that with no guarantees of anything or anyone remaining unscathed- pretty scary. And Wellington does a bang-up job of writing that environment. Finn’s having to survive in the wilderness of his worst nightmare? Reading it as written by Wellington reminded me a lot of the novel version of “The Revenant”, a movie that I loved to death. The triumph of the human spirit, versus the bloodthirsty whore of Mother Nature? Nothing like it, my friends. Zombies and bloodshed? Nothing like it, my friends. I enjoyed this book a ton. Go pick up a copy.

Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah (4 out of 5)

•April 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment


Nicki Clements is a compulsive liar. She’s not being 100% honest with her family, nor anyone else. The way things normally catch up to one who does this all the time? That’s where this novel dares to tread. I have read Sophie Hannah before, and she can always be counted on to deliver the goods. The last few of her books I didn’t connect with on much of a level at all. This one? I had no fucking clue what this Nicki broad was up to and what she was going to do next. I wondered if she was even who she said she was. I just finished Lisa Lutz’s “Passenger” a few months back and the character in that book reminded me a lot of Nicki- except Lutz’s character was more funny. Nicki is a little bit more complicated and not as fun as that character was. I saw some parallels between the two chracters, that’s why I’m referencing back to Lisa Lutz’s book. There were moments with Nicki that I wanted to smack the crap out of her. She got a bit tedious at times, and that was the only reason I didn’t give this five stars. Nicki’s crap catches up with her a thousandfold when she is sitting in a pile-up on the road and the police are checking every single car for something. She spots the cop and panics, does the illegal U-turn, and peels out of there. You guessed it… someone notices her dodgy behavior and she’s nailed for it. The cops pull her in for questioning in the murder of a notorious newspaper columnist, Damon Blundy. Blundy’s murder brings with it a ton of questions, and the one she can’t- and won’t- answer is the one that would free her. But she won’t ante up. Why? What’s the deal here with her and this guy? Who was the cop and why did he freak her out so much she fled the scene of a roadblock? Who killed this guy? Why? How does Nicki play into this whole mess? Method of death and motive make it no clearer, and Nicki, if she can manage it, tries to avoid letting those secrets that she’s locked away in her Pandora’s box and get exonerated… but it doesn’t work that way, friends. This book throws you all sorts of curve balls. That’s good, but when you are wanting to smack the crap out of the character (similar to how I felt about Amy from “Gone Girl”, in fact. And you know I’m in the minority who didn’t love that book in the least), how much sympathy are you going to have for her down the road? That was the hard part for me. Overall, though, I really think Hannah has done a superb job crafting this book. I enjoyed it on multiple levels and really enjoyed the twists and turns, and ultimately, the outcome of it as well. It’s now out in paperback.

Bucky F*ucking Dent by David Duchovny (5 out of 5)

•April 15, 2016 • Leave a Comment


I wait for the day this man writes his memoirs. I DO hope it’s on the list. Then again, he treasures his privacy and probably wouldn’t make those memories public. You have to respect that. You know, I’m biased because I LOVE David Duchovny. I really liked Holy Cow, his first fiction book that came out last year, and I loved this one- although for a host of different reasons. As I was reading this book- similar to when I was reading Holy Cow (although that was different because Elsie is a female, and David is NOT), I could hear his voice narrating the book. I told my coworker Andrew this, and he said he could see that, having snuck a peek at the book. That made it even easier to read. There’s a love of baseball here, but more importantly, there’s the love between a son and his dying father. That, given my situation at home with my dad, hits hard. There were points reading this where I had to set it down because it made me cry. Sometimes, it’s cathartic to have a book do that for you. This book is such a book. Of course, you have the trademark Duchovny humor. The same sort you would imagine if you engage him in a Twitter conversation about politics, for example. (Or he takes to Twitter to expound on a book that he loved and that deserves major kudos- “The Cant-idates” by Craig Tomashoff, for the record). But you also have the unusual feat of a fictional book with a highly unusual premise grabbing your attention with the lead characters, and keeping that attention until the end of the book. It’s a book you should pick up and gift your own father with on Father’s Day. Seriously- my first post closer to Father’s Day is going to be a gift guide for books for Father’s Day…. and not the atypical “BBQ”, “golf”, etc. books…different books. This book is out now. Go grab a copy from your closest bookstore.

Ted lives with his battery operated goldfish. He’s an Ivy League grad who took a turn down a different road- to the ballpark, where he plays Mr. Peanut at Yankee Stadium, while waiting for the ghost of the next great American novel to visit him. He gets a phone call telling him that his estranged father Marty is dying of lung cancer, so he packs up and moves home. It quickly becomes apparent that Marty is THE die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, and every time his Red Sox lose, his condition takes a turn for the worse. Ted, battling between his grief at his father’s worsening health and attempting to be the good son and take care of his dad in his waning days, comes up with the harebrain scheme to end all harebrain schemes. With the help of the neighborhood friends and his dad’s grief counselor, he stages the illusion of a Boston Red Sox winning season (this takes place during the Carter presidency, when the BoSox were in the same dregs as the Chicago Cubs. They had not yet seen the glory of that World Series ring), to get his father to rally. Things, as you can guess, don’t quite go according to plan. And that, my friends, is why this book is so incredibly easy to get into and stay into. I can’t tell enough people how great of a read it is, and how quirky and yet quietly heartbreaking in others. But don’t just listen to me- go get a copy!

Lust & Wonder by Augusten Burroughs (3 out of 5)

•April 15, 2016 • Leave a Comment


I really had high hopes for this one. My friend Dylan and I were talking about this Wednesday night (Augusten’s prior books). I gave him a rundown on this one and he said “It sounds boring”. At that point, I was on page 40 something. I read a hundred pages more Wednesday night, and then the rest yesterday. It went quickly. Too quickly. I always love Augusten’s books because you’re having so much fun with whatever oddities he’s got floating around his orb that you don’t want it to end. I took forever to finish “Running With Scissors” as well as “Dry”, because you were so INTO it that you didn’t want it to end and move onto some grossly inferior book. Well, this one..not so much. I did enjoy it much more than the previous book, but more of Augusten’s essays of whimsy in the romantic volleyball court, just didn’t resonate with me like it did. He didn’t strike me as bitchy, vapid, or boring, just…. it read like a book or two I’ve read in the past year. By other authors in similar places in their lives, where they wonder about the hopscotch board of their love lives.I mourned with him with the sense of loss in some parts of the book, so that hasn’t changed. I laughed a bit, but it wasn’t the infectious joy that I usually welcome a book by him. I guess the simplest way to phrase it is to say “Something’s missing”. I’m not quite sure what that something is, but I got through it quickly, not much stuck with me, and at the end, I dispelled a sigh of relief. Yes, because things end well for our hero, but also because it was over. Sadly, not something I want to say about any of his books. Here’s waiting with anticipation for his next book!




Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick (3 out of 5)

•April 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment


I haven’t read an Amanda Quick in a long time. My neighbor gave me money to get this for her…she read it and RAVED about it….. so I gave it a shot… Well, it’s not bad, but it’s also not unforgettable in way of romance with a bit of mystery involved. This one has a traveling stenographer who is terrified of intimacy but she falls headfirst for the mysterious archaeologist whom she enlists to help her figure out who is killing people (among them, her best friend Anne) in the small, mysterious town they are in. The archaeologist has his own secrets, which you’re led to believe are incendiary and will set the book aflame with its reveal. Uh, no. That really doesn’t happen. Strike one.
Their courtship is quick, fierce, and not at all the norm. Which, usually, I like…but these two? Have about as much chemistry as Sarah Palin and Kermit. Strike two.
Strike Three was that there were some missing holes in this patchwork romance. Plot-wise and in the stories of some of the supporting characters. Those holes? Were not wrapped up…which means….the reader is ending this going “WTF” and scratching their head in befuddlement. That was me. Still love her books and the “Arcane Society” are still some of my favorite books to recommend, but this one? I’d have to go with a mediocre 3 stars.

Alice In Chains: The Untold Story by David de Sola (5 out of 5)

•April 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment


As far as musical biographies go, this is one of the best ones I’ve read in awhile. Such a talented group of guys- and to have one of them taken down by the hell of heroin and the other one starting with heroin and leading to prescription drugs- is heartbreaking. The author does a fantastic job of detailing the beginning, middle, and end of their career, their solo projects, their other bands, as well as all of the people involved in the rise and fall of the band. The fact that Cantrell, Kinney, and Inez attempted to continue on shows how lasting the nucleus of talent here was. The true story of Layne Staley’s life is given most of the book here, as it should be, given that this was his dream and ultimately, it led to the nightmare that consumed his life. The author does a very thorough job of interviewing all members of the AIC dynasty, including family members of Staley’s, as well as his former fiancée Demri (a fellow addict whom many blamed for his addiction and decline), who is given a human depiction by the author’s talented paintbrush. You can only read so much shit in tabloid magazines, or at that time, heavy metal and music magazines (of special note, the Rolling Stone article where the band photo turned only into Layne, and the article about their meteoric rise to fame turned into Layne’s addiction instead, destroying Layne’s fragile soul). Say what you want, people, this man saw his immense talent and dreams take him to the apex, only to have it take him down and away from all of those who loved him- his family, his bandmates, his friends, and yes, his fans. What did I like about this book? The author sheds light on ALL members past and present of the band, and he is unflinchingly honest about the demons that the other members of the band faced as well, with greater success. He also goes knee deep into the AIC catalog, their relationships with former manager Susan Silver and a host of others, as well as bringing us into the AIC world after Staley and Starr’s deaths. He takes us into the present with the surviving members, and doesn’t leave any stone unturned in how AIC was such a singular act of immense talent and raw emotion. Not easy to do with the story as it was, but de Sola manages to do that. There were points in this book where I was in tears because of how fucking sad it all ended up. I ended up with a strong desire to not only revisit the AIC catalog, but to turn more people onto them. Everyone who loved this band should read this book.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,258 other followers