The Sunday Salon: 1/16/2011

Happy Sunday fellow Saloners! I have not been awake for very long (it’s Sunday, after all!), but my plans for the day consist of laundry, cleaning and reading.  The perfect Sunday, in my opinion.

My reading week was kind of fast paced, at least for me.  I read three books–The Polski Affair, by Leon Gildin, What I Thought I Knew, by Alice Eve Cohen and A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, by Atiq Rahimi. They were all three enjoyable but all seemed kind of fleeting.  I think I need to find a longer book to sink my teeth into.

I did try to read Ken and Thelma, by Joel Fletcher, which is a biography about John Kennedy Toole, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces, and his relationship with his mother.  Dunces is one of my top two favorite books (Gone with the Wind being my other fave) and my book club is reading it this month, so I thought the biography would add a bit more to my experience of the book, but it was so boring.  Fletcher just kept focusing on Thelma and what a kook she was.  I felt like Ken was not a focus.  I put it down after about 50 pages–my first DNF of 2011!

I think this week I am going to reread Dunces.  It has been two years since I originally read it and I know, being my favorite book, it deserves a reread.  I confess though, I suck at rereading.  I did it all the time in high school.  You can bet if I liked a book then, I was going to read it at least 3-4 times, but I have fallen out of that and I don’t know how to fix it.  So we’ll see if I make it all the way through Dunces or if I move on to something else.

I hope you all enjoy your Sunday and make sure to let me know what you’ll be reading today!

Book Review: The Polski Affair

The Polski Affair

Leon Gildin

Diamond River Books

204 pages

I admit, I am kind of tired of books about the Holocaust.  It just seems as if that is one topic that has an overabundance of novels and nonfiction alike, so I was a bit afraid that The Polski Affair would prove to be just another one of those books that was a bit too played out for me.  Luckily, that was not the case at all.  I think the reason I was able to appreciate this book where other Holocaust books have failed me is because it was a different vein of the topic.

Hotel Polski was a hotel in Warsaw Poland where Jewish residents could se refuge, with the ultimate goal being escape from Europe .  The crazy part of the whole scheme is that the Nazis were involved, and were allowing Jews to stay in Hotel Polski and buy passports to other countries as a means of escape.  Unfortunately, this unbelievable opportunity usually ended in death for the Jews involved.  After weeks in Hotel Polski, they were loaded into trains to go to what they thought would be their new countries, but instead they were sent to prisons and death camps.  From what I have since read on the “Polski Affair”, as it’s called, it seems that part of the problem was that the countries in South America were refusing to honor these passports, so the Nazis instead transported the Jews to the death camps.  Whether or not that is the case, or whether that was actually the plan from the start, seems to remain somewhat of a mystery.  Obviously, my knowledge on the whole affair is extremely limited, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Anyway, The Polski Affair is the story of Rosa Feurmann, later known as Anna

Hotel Polski

Adler, who is a Jew seeking refuge in the Hotel Polski.  She initially infiltrates the hotel dressed as a Polish maid, because while she has heard that Nazis are allowing Jewish asylum in the hotel, she is obviously a bit incredulous and doubtful.  After a few weeks, she catches the eye of the Nazi commander, Peter Hauptmann, who decides to make her his “assistant”.  Her job duties entail running errands for him, dining with him, and occasionally sleeping with him.  While Rosa is weary of Peter, to say the least, they also form somewhat of a bond, and there is a definite passion between the two.  Rosa has an internal battle because she despises the Nazis—before this point, they had killed her husband and two sons, so the humanity she sees in Peter, or Googy, as she calls him, scares her.

This book had one issue for me, and that is the fact that there was little character development.  The Polski Affair is very fast paced and plot oriented, so the reader knows what Rosa and the other characters are doing, but we aren’t given as much inclusion into their thoughts.  I have a feeling this might be a bit polarizing for some people, and could turn them off the book completely.  I myself was perfectly rapt the entire way through though, so while I definitely noticed the aforementioned, it didn’t end up being a problem for me.  In fact, I almost read the book in one sitting.  I had about twenty pages to go and wanted to finish so badly but my eyes were failing me and I ended up falling asleep.

For anyone who wants a small piece of history, this is a great book to read.  I am now thinking that I may have to seek out more Holocaust related books, whereas previously I couldn’t stay far enough away!

Other Reviews:

The Boston Bibliophile

Caribous Mom

This book was sent to me by the publisher for review.

Book Review: Cranford


Elizabeth Gaskell

Penguin Clothbound Classics

304 pages

I have decided that for 2011, I want to make a more concerted effort to read classics.  As an English Lit major in college, I feel like maybe I was so deluged with classics that once I graduated in December 07 that I pretty much threw that genre to the wayside (if it can even be referred to as a genre!).  The first on my list to tackle this year was Cranford , by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I read Sylvia’s Lovers last year for the Classics Circuit and thought it was really well done, so I was anxious to read more Gaskell.

Cranford is a look into a predominantly female town and the dynamics therein.  It’s more subtle than your typical novel, in that it is more of an expose of everyday life than anything else.  The narrator is a woman named Mary who is younger than the other women of the town and is not a resident of Cranford , although she stays with Miss Matty Jenkyns for prolonged visits.  Matty is one of those sweet older ladies who always wants to do right by everyone else and is careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings.  This leads to her being one of the most revered women in Cranford , which is evident by the end of the book as far as everyone’s treatment of her goes.


The edition of Cranford that I read was the Penguin clothbound classic, and I loved that it included so many essays, as well as an in-depth introduction (which I couldn’t read until after I had finished Cranford , as the introduction contained spoilers), a glossary and endnotes.  It’s nice to have all that information to refer to, and often when I am done reading a book that had an impact on me, having essays regarding the text is almost as good as having an actual person to discuss the book with!

Admittedly, there were times when I was a tad bit bored with Cranford , but it helped that I knew exactly what I was getting into.  This is definitely more of a character driven novel over plot, so while that doesn’t always work for me, I made certain to pick Cranford up at a time when I was looking for that type of book.  It has convinced me now even more that I would like to read more of Gaskell, especially Wives and Daughters, which seems to be a favorite among other bloggers!

Other Reviews:

Rebecca Reads

things mean a lot

I purchased this book from Anthropologie.

This book counts towards the Victorian Lit challenge.

Sunday Salon: 1/9/2011

Ahhhh . . . another Sunday. I felt like this week went SUPER quickly, which was surprising, given that going back to work after the holidays is usually brutal.

I read one book this week, but it was a good one–Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell. I actually really liked it and the edition I read had very helpful endnotes and a glossary.

I have been really yearning for classics right now, so Cranford really hit the spot.    I think part of the reason is because I am completely obsessed right now with collecting both Persephones and Penguin’s clothbound classics.  Of the latter, I only have one.  Yes, you guessed it–Cranford!

The only place where I have seen them is at Anthropologie, but they are also available on Penguin’s website.  I love having nice editions of old classics, and these have embossed linen covers.  I don’t know when I will be able to purchase more, but hopefully soon!

Obviously Persephone was something I learned about through other blogs.  I now have four of the Persephone classics (with one on the way).

Mariana, by Monica Dickens

The Making of a Marchioness, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Little Boy Lost, by Marghanita Laski (coming soon!)

Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson

My mom bought all but the Laski one for me (isn’t she so nice?!). Apparently the woman who owns the knitting store she frequents is from England and she sells the Persephone classics in her shop.  She told my mom the other day that she has quite a respectable collection of the regular Persephones at home, of which I have ordered four but who knows when  they will make their way here from across the sea.  In fact, I have absolutely no idea what I ordered, although I know there was another Dorothy Whipple in there!

So anyway, that’s enough rambling for one day.  I have pretty much gotten all my household chores done, and although I have some laundry to occupy me, I am hoping to spend the rest of the night reading! I hope everyone else has had a nice Sunday so far!

Book Review: Fool Me Once

Fool Me Once: Hustlers, Hookers, Headliners and How Not to Get Screwed in Vegas

Rick Lax

St Martin’s Griffin

304 pages

I have never been to Vegas.  What’s more, I always figured Vegas just wasn’t for me.  I have had absolutely no desire to ever make the trip.  I am now going to have to rethink that stance, after reading Fool Me Once, by Rick Lax. Originally, I agreed to review this book for two reasons, the first being that I thought the title was funny.  The second reason was because I was told the humor of Fool Me Once was in the same vein as Tucker Max’s shenanigans.  I can see the comparison, but Fool Me Once is definitely a bit more polished.

Rick Lax is a lawyer by default because, while he passed the bar, he isn’t practicing law.  Instead, he decides to go to Vegas for a few weeks in order to penetrate the depths of deception.  When you think about it (which I admit I hadn’t previously), Vegas is the connoisseur of deception.  You’ve got women flaunting every fake body part known to man, magicians performing tricks on every corner (prostitutes too, and gambling going on from dusk till dawn.  Rick quickly becomes enveloped in the lifestyle, to the point where his visit goes from being a few weeks to being somewhat permanent.  The problem is, Rick thinks he is in the know, when in fact, Vegas plays his just as hard as it does everybody else.

I didn’t think the memoir was quite as seamless as it should have been.  There were points where I was unsure of what was happening, as there seemed to be absolutely no segue.  Overall though, it was a minor issue when it comes to a book that I pretty much read in two sittings.  Due to my hesitance with visiting Las Vegas in the first place, I was worried that I was too hasty in agreeing to read Fool Me Once.  What could possibly interest me about such a book?  Well, obviously I didn’t end up facing that problem.  I thought Rick was an endearing memoirist.  He seemed suave at times, but then he would act completely naïve in other situations, which made me think he would probably be pretty fun to hang out with.

If you’re looking to book that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but is able to encapsulate the chaotic nightlife of Vegas (with some Criss Angel thrown in!), you should be certain to check out Fool Me Once.

Other Reviews:

None that I found.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review by the author.

Book Review:Mistress of the Art of Death

Mistress of the Art of Death

Ariana Franklin


400 pages

Adelia Aguilar is what we may now refer to as a forensic examiner.  She performs autopsies on the deceased in order to determine the cause of death.  Her profession is a bit different though, given that she lives in 1171.  As Mistress of the Art of Death starts out, Adelia is on her way to Cambridge to investigate the death of one child and the disappearance of three others.  Peter is the first child to have disappeared, and the only one whose body has been discovered.  He has immediately been granted sainthood, as rumor has it he was crucified.  The finger of blame is immediately pointed at the Jews, and they are subsequently imprisoned for their own safety, as lynchings begin to take place.  Peter, meanwhile, is elevated to sainthood and thus revered.

Adelia arrives in Cambridge with Simon of Naples, who is an investigator.  She attempts to mask her identity, as a female doctor is not the norm for that time period.  She immediately sets forth attempting to solve the mystery of the murders.  This is difficult at first, because Adelia is used to examining bodies, not investigating the circumstances.  Yet, in this instance, she is thrown right into the investigation, along with Simon of Naples, and try as she might, she can no longer stop herself from hypothesizing on the circumstances.

I expected Mistress of the Art of Death to be a straightforward mystery, but it surprised me in the sense that there was quite a bit going on.  We have religious intolerance as a main theme, which gets even more intense, as Adelia was raised by a Jew.  She has that tie to the imprisoned Jews, along with the fact that Simon is Jewish.  Therefore, they have to tread carefully while still keeping an open mind.  Adelia’s gender also plays a large role in the novel, as the time period is not very kind to women.  She faces many limitations and much secrecy as far as her gender is concerned, and throughout the novel she always seems to outwardly spurn her sex, as though being a doctor and being a woman are mutually exclusive.  That issue became a bit infuriating for me at times because I found Adelia to be a bit obstinate in certain points of the book, and I wanted her so badly to open up!

I have had my eye on this book for awhile, and then Meghan, from Medieval Bookworm, hosted A Tournament of Reading in 2010.  I am ashamed to say that this is the only book I read for the challenge, and I didn’t even finish it until 1/1/2011! I loved the medieval time period though, and I thought Franklin did a great job portraying the way life was.  Ultimately, I am no expert, so the book could have been full of fallacies for all I know, but it felt genuine to me.  By the time I finished the book, I was adding the second book in the series to my wishlist and kicking myself for not buying it when I was at B&N a few days ago!  Has anyone else read on in the series?  What did you think of the other books?

Other Reviews:

Medieval Bookworm

Rhapsody in Books

things mean a lot

I purchased this book from Borders.

This book counts towards A tournament of Reading.