Monday, 31 December 2012

Beautiful Ruins - Review

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I opened Beautiful Ruins and began to read I was delighted by the setting, a small coastal town near Cinque Terre on Italy’s scenic north-western coastline, and by the characters, a young Italian inn keeper, Pasquale Tursi, owner of the “Hotel Adequate View”, and an apparently very ill American bit-part actress, Dee Maray. The descriptive prose was marvelous and the possibilities seemed endless. The time was 1962.

But the second chapter plunged me into today’s Los Angeles and into the world of motion pictures. Not someplace I want to be at the best of times. To say I found the shift disorienting would be an understatement. Subsequent chapters bounced me from the past to the present and from one set of characters to another in such dizzying succession that I almost had to keep a scoreboard to have any idea of where this novel was going. We are in 1945, 1962, 2006, the present, 1846, 1978, 1962 again, and so it goes. The plot, such as it is, diverts to tell the story of the Donner Party and its cannibalism, of the second rate career of the rock star who is Burton’s supposed illegitimate son, and of the rise of a thoroughly detestable Hollywood producer. We are transported from Italy to Los Angeles, to Idaho, to Seattle, to Edinburgh without any obvious overall scheme. Most of the characters other than the above mentioned Dee and Pasquale are thoroughly detestable, shallow types. Much of the plot revolves around the making of the movie Cleopatra, a 1960’s flop starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and the aftermath of that production. Burton plays a pivotal but (the author assures us in the after notes) fictitious part in this book.

Finally, in the last chapter all the diverse roles are brought together. But by that time I no longer cared. Actually I no longer cared long before the last chapter. The book is worth three stars, because it us well written and literate, but as a novel, I believe it fails on every other level. And yes, I’ve read some of the five star reviews of this book. I can’t believe they read the same book I did.


View all my reviews

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I currently have three published novels and one short story. I hope you will add them to your reading list and let me know if you enjoy them. All are on my Goodreads page, so you can share your 'review' there if you choose.  To purchase one of these books, just click on the link and choose the vendor of your choice.

 • Abigails Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?


 • The Memory of Roses ~ The enduring love story of two generations of the McQuaid family unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu. It is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.


 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!


 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some startling situations:  
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by an old love;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who also moves into the family home.  And unbeknownst to her, he is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 
It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Character Study - Alyssa James in SONATA

I always begin any new book by choosing a setting I know and love, and then by creating the characters I want to put in that setting. Only after that do I start thinking about the plot. Then I write a synopsis for that plot before I write page one of the book. 


Any of these three things, setting, characters, or plot, can change as my story grows, but I have a very complete plan before I start any new novel.

This is, of course, just my way of writing. I realized that many very fine authors have started with the first line of their stories and kept going until the last lines. Who could ever forget “Scarlet O’Hara was not a beautiful woman.” And “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” I don’t know whether Margaret Mitchell was a planner or a seat-of-the-pantser. But somehow I suspect she was the latter. Gone With the Wind has a spontaneity that I don’t think could ever come from advanced planning. But perhaps I’m wrong. After all, she gives us a detailed backstory of how Scarlet’s mother came to marry the improbable Irishman O’Hara.

I like complex multigenerational stories. And I really like older men. In Sonata Sean McAllister, the father of my heroine Sayuri, is a fifty-something millionaire tech tycoon. He’s handsome and fit. He swims and kayaks. And he’s been a widower for eighteen years. 

His daughter, my heroine, Sayuri, comes home after studying in Paris to find him engaged to a woman she’s never met and about whom she knows nothing. Who is Alyssa James? Below is the brief character study I originally drew of Alyssa. As Sonata developed, Alyssa became much more important to the plot than I originally intended, and I watched her character shift and change as my story shifted and changed. Alyssa James, as I originally drew her below, developed into a quite different character by the end of my story. That sometimes happens. Still, for me, it’s important to have a clear image in mind for each of my characters before I begin writing.

Alyssa James:
Sean McAllister’s fiancĂ©.  Sean met her when her firm was hired to do some consulting for his business. Alyssa emigrated to Canada eight years ago from Great Britain. At thirty five, she’s nearer Sayuri’s age than her father’s. Alyssa is the first woman Sean has been serious about since his wife’s death, 16 years ago. 

Alyssa has blond hair, worn in an elegant French twist and an English peaches and cream complexion.  She’s a bit shorter than Sayuri, graceful, sophisticated, worldly. She wears expensive designer clothes and stiletto heels and wouldn’t dream of going out without a hat. Her long fingernails are painted crimson. Expensive scent. (Guerlain?) She wears furs. Extremely feminine, she carries herself like a model.
 
She’s given to occasional sarcasm with Sayuri when Sean isn’t around. Sugar sweet when he is.
Alyssa James is the picture of an older man’s trophy wife, apparently in it for financial security and social position. She sees Sean’s daughter, Sayuri, as a potential threat.
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Below is a brief excerpt from Sonata that gives a hint of Alyssa’s character at the beginning of my story.

Alyssa smiled. “You must stay with us while you’re in Vancouver. The house is certainly large enough for all of us. I hope you’ll continue to consider it your home.” 
Sayuri was shocked into silence. Was she being told, none too subtly, that she was a guest on her own home?
Her father spoke sharply. “Of course Sayuri will stay here. Where else would she stay?”
“Just as I said, dear. We must organize some dinner parties and perhaps a dance to welcome your daughter back to our home.” 
Sayuri threw a startled glance at her father. Our home? Alyssa was living here? She took a deep breath.  Of course she’d be living here. After all, they weren’t children and they were engaged to be married. 
She turned to Alyssa and responded. “I have an incredible amount of work ahead of me in the coming months, preparing for my upcoming recitals and for my performance with the VSO. And I’ve been invited to replace the cellist in the Amalphi Quartet.  On top of that, I’ve agreed to take some advanced students at the Conservatory and give some Master Classes at the University. I’m afraid I won’t have much time for socializing.”
A small frown crossed Alyssa’s features. “I shouldn’t think you’d need to teach, Sayuri. Surely your father can support you until your concert career builds in North America. You should concentrate on performing.”
“But I like teaching. It’s as important a part of my life as performing.”
Alyssa shrugged her shoulders, a small dismissive gesture. “As you like. We’ll keep the social life to a minimum until after your recital at the Chan. We must have a reception here after that. And of course you’ll be involved in our wedding. We’re having the rehearsal dinner at the Club and a reception after the ceremony here at the house. We’ll bring in caterers for that. It’s a bit beyond Nora and Joseph, I’m afraid.”
Her father cleared his throat. “We were hoping you’d play at our wedding.”
Sayuri tried to hide her dismay. The wedding was that imminent? “Of course I’ll play for you. When is it to be?”
Alyssa answered. “Six weeks from today. We were just waiting for you to arrive.” She put her arm through Sean’s and smiled at Sayuri. “Shall we go in to dinner?”


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I currently have three novels and one short story. I hope you will add them to your reading list and let me know if you enjoy them.  All are on my Goodreads page, so you can share your 'review' there if you choose.



 • Abigails Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?


 • The Memory of Roses ~ The enduring love story of two generations of the McQuaid family unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu. It is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.


 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!


 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to discover some startling circumstances:  
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 
It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Character Study - Sayuri McAllister from Sonata

Yesterday as he was drilling away at me left eye tooth, my dentist asked “When you’re writing, which comes first, characters or plot?” There was no way I could answer him with a rubber dam in my mouth, but the answer would have been, “Characters, always characters.”
 
I may have the germ of a story idea in my mind, but it doesn’t take form until I know my characters.  Before I write the first line of any book, I write detailed character studies. I do this even for the less important characters. Only in that way will they behave in a consistent way as I get them into and out if trouble in my story. 

Below is the study I wrote for my heroine in Sonata. As I wrote the story I made some minor changes, but for the most part, here she is. Please meet Sayuri McAllister.

Sayuri McAllister—heroine.  Sayuri is twenty-nine when the story begins. She comes from a wealthy family. Her father, Sean, is a Canadian tech tycoon. Her mother, a Japanese woman he met through a business colleague when on a trip to Japan. It was a love match, not well accepted by either family. 

Sayuri shows signs of musical talent early. She attends the local public school and, after school each day, the Vancouver Academy of Music for classes in music theory and history. She studies with the first chair cellist of the Vancouver Symphony. While still in high school, she plays with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. 

After graduating from high school, she majors in cello performance at McGill. Her life to this point has been made up of nothing but classes and lessons and long hours of practice. She has had little time for anything else.
 As the story opens Sayuri is returning from Paris where she has spent two years studying with the famous cellist, Cecile Dubois and then another three years on the concert circuit through-out Europe. She has played both solo recitals and as a soloist with orchestras. She is now an accomplished performer, planning to audition for the first chair cellist’s position in the Vancouver Symphony and preparing for a solo recital at the Chan Centre. She is fluently bilingual, English- French and speaks Japanese as well.

Sayuri is a strong young woman, self-reliant and secure emotionally. She is very much her own woman. She’s had some sexual experience but not much, not a virgin but she does not give of herself casually. **note: I changed this and made her a virgin.

Physically, she’s tall and long legged. She has straight silky dark hair worn back and caught at the nape of her neck. Soft, doe-like, almond shaped brown eyes. Oval face. Creamy complexion. Wears no make-up except lip gloss. Graceful as a dancer. Likes to wear casual clothes, low heeled shoes, slacks and sweaters, vortex jackets— not really into jeans. Never wears hats or carries an umbrella. Doesn’t mind getting wet. Has a wardrobe of formal professional clothes for performances. Most prized possession—her Guarneri cello. 

Sayuri is a one hundred percent modern Canadian woman, independent and self-sufficient. She’s focused on building her own life and career. She has kept in touch with her Japanese grandparents, and when she visits them, to please them she observes the customs of that country. She knew her Canadian grandparents only briefly. They objected strongly to their son’s marriage and she was in her teens before she ever met them. They died soon after, leaving her independent financially.
She has had a series of casual boyfriends over the years at McGill (Montreal) and in Paris, but none she was serious about. She hasn’t time in her life for serious relationships. She was in love with Michael Donovan when she was in high school—but cut him out of her life when he strayed once.
On meeting Michael as an adult, she is once again attracted to him and she is prepared to be a bit more tolerant of his past indiscretions, if she can just get him to make a move in the present. Trouble is, he’s now a detective with the Vancouver Police, and is investigating a major robbery at her father’s house—and he suspects that her father may have been involved.

 
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I currently have four published fiction novels including Sonata. I hope you get a chance to read and enjoy them:

 • Abigails Christmas ~ A holiday fantasy about a Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing!

 • The Memory of Roses ~ The enduring love story of two generations of the McQuaid family unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu. It is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.

 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find a robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame; Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding Sayuri. It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Abigail's Christmas - A holiday romance with a touch of magic!

Abigail's Christmas is a wonderful Christmas story, perfect for the romantics on your list, and only $3.99!  

When Abigail went out on Christmas Eve to look for a tree to brighten her drab apartment, she wasn’t expecting to end up with her dream man on a sleigh ride in the Rockies with a wedding in the offing!

An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.

To purchase, click here and choose the vendor of your choice.
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Excerpt:

The following takes place on Christmas Eve.  Abigail has just met Scott who graciously helped her find a Christmas tree for her new apartment.




“This is it,” she said when they finally reached the big old house.
“You live here?” he asked, incredulously. 
“Only in a small corner of here. My flat is upstairs. Up many stairs.” 
Hoisting the tree further up on his shoulder, he said, “Lead on.” 
As they entered the house, Mrs. Flannigan opened her door. “I wondered what all the commotion was. I see you’ve found a tree. Be sure you get the needles off the carpet after you drag that thing upstairs. It’s never going to fit you know.” 
“Good evening Mrs. Flannigan. Merry Christmas.” 
“Humpf.” The door closed. Scott and Abigail looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Inside the flat Abigail said, “I’ll make us some mulled cider while you try to get the tree into its stand.” 
Scott examined the small room. “Just where did you think this would fit?” 
“If we move the table and chairs it can go there, against the wall.” 
“It’s a least a foot too tall, and the branches will take up half the room.” 
Abigail looked at the tree, at the ceiling, and at the man who stood there trying to prop it up in a space for which it was clearly too tall. “Oh, dear. I did so want a big, full tree. We can move the table and chairs over, but I don’t know what we can do about the ceiling.” 
Scott smiled and shook his head. “I’m afraid we can’t do anything about the ceiling, but maybe we can take a foot or two off the bottom of the tree. I don’t suppose you have a saw?” 
“Do I look like the kind of girl who’d have a saw?” 
“No. I didn’t think so. I’ll go downstairs and ask Mrs. Flannigan. Is there a Mr. Flannigan?”
“I think so but I’ve never seen him.” 
A few minutes later Scott was back with a small hacksaw, and soon after that the tree was standing securely if slightly tilted to the left in its holder. Abigail handed Scott a mug of hot cider and the two stood admiring the results of his labor. 
Abigail studied the tree. “Is it a little off center?” 
“Not if you lean a little this way when you look at it.” 
Abigail laughed. “I haven’t had so much fun in years.” 
He stopped what he was doing and looked at her, suddenly quiet and serious. “Neither have I.” 
For a long moment they stood simply gazing at each other. It was Abigail who, embarrassed, turned away to start unpacking the lights. She handed them a string at a time to Scott and he began stringing them around and through the branches. 
“So how did you end up in the restaurant business?” 
“Sort of by accident. In high school I was a hockey player — a pretty good one. I figured I’d be playing professionally. But I had an accident and injured my knee badly. With surgery it was fixed up, but not well enough for professional hockey.” 
“You know, I thought hockey player when I first saw you. So what did you do?” 
“I went to college. Took a degree in business and management. I tooled around for a few years working for other people then went out on my own. Started my own business, McKenna Solutions. I love good food, and the restaurant business has always interested me. So many restaurants don’t make it past the first year. They can have a wonderful chef, but if they don’t understand good management and don’t know how to market their business they fail. That’s where I come in. If they’re well located and offer good food I can keep them from failing. I have a number of clients here in Vancouver, and in Whistler and Lake Louise and Calgary. I travel among them.” 
Abigail opened the boxes of fine glass ornaments and together they began placing them on the tree. “So that’s what you’re doing at Luigi’s?” 
“Not exactly. Luigi was on the verge of bankruptcy when he came to me. I liked his cooking, and he’s in a great location, so I decided to buy into his business. He gets to cook, which he loves. I get to eat his cooking, which I love. And we both make money.” 
“You live here in Vancouver then?”Abigail asked. 
“Not really. I keep a small place here, but home is in the mountains, near Canmore.” 
“I’ve never been there. It’s near Banff and Lake Louise isn’t it? I’ve heard it’s beautiful.” 
“As close to heaven as you can get.” Scott mused. “But what about you? You said at the restaurant that your family isn’t here in Vancouver?” 
“They’re in Halifax. That is, my brother and his family. They’re all that’s left. My parents are both gone.” 
“I’m sorry. No boyfriend then, no husband or ex-husband?” 
“An ex-fiancĂ©, if that counts.” 
“Nope. Can’t say that it does.” 
“What about you? Wife, girlfriend?” 
“Married once. Too young. It didn’t take. She wanted bright city lights and night life and I’m just a country boy. I can hole up for days in my mountain cabin with nothing but the elk and deer for company.” 
“That sounds heavenly to me.” Abigail stood back to look at the work in progress. “I think if you stand on that chair you’ll be able to put the angel on top,” she said, unwrapping the beautiful ceramic tree top ornament they had chosen together. 
“I think that about does it. Ready to throw the switch?” 
“Okay. Here we go.” Abigail drew her breath in sharply. Never had she seen a tree as beautiful. “I don’t know how to thank you,” she began. “I couldn’t have done this alone. And I so needed this Christmas tree.” Tears came to her eyes as she sat on the love seat and gazed at the shimmering lights. 
Scott said softly, “So did I, only I didn’t know it. But there’s one more thing needed to make our Christmas Eve complete.” 
He went over to the kitchen counter and picked up the mistletoe. He walked back to the loveseat and held it over her head. Then he kissed her gently. “Thank you, Abigail Johnson. I expected to spend just another lonely evening, and instead…well, thank you.” 
He sat down on the loveseat beside her, put his arm around her and pulled her close. 
Too soon, Abigail thought. It’s too soon. I shouldn’t have let him kiss me. But it was so nice. So…she snuggled down against him, her head on his shoulder and was asleep in moments.