Sunday, 20 December 2015

'EMPRESS' BY SYLVIA WALLACE





In the early 2000 I discovered—what would become a goldmine of mine for the next decade or so—a gigantic used bookstore in downtown Ottawa. Called The Book Market, it held three floors of blast-from-the-past goodies verging from fiction to non-fiction.  So you can imagine the thrill I felt that first time around filling up my basket with many ‘80s glitz and glam novels; aisles and aisles of them; so much so that as of today many titles in my overflowed library are still unread.  EMPRESS by Sylvia Wallace (the other half of bestselling author Irving Wallace) isn’t one of them.  I picked it up quite early, and with good reasons.  It’s all about “a woman on a dangerous pinnacle of love and power” during her decadence days in Hollywood and beyond. And you all know by now how I feel about those types of heroines in those types of novels: Heavenly!


You also know that this feeling can easily turn on you when you least expect it, even when you’re on the verge of declaring the novel a champion.  Yes, dear readers, that’s exactly what this Sylvia Wallace’s creation has done to yours truly.  This story of an insecure movie star who naively marries a Middle Eastern Shah is such a grabber at first, filled with many delectable and even emotional scenes. Wallace's writing is vibrant as she introduces her colorful cast of characters via many flashbacks, which skillfully humanize her heroine. The discovery of the sham around her makes for an intense read. One can't help but root for her ability to fight back. And does she. Yet, ironically, that's exactly where the downfall of what was a truly unique reading experience begins: EMPRESS switches gears and becomes a serious political drama. The author tries hard to hold her readers through it, with a kidnapping, a shooting, a true love for oneself and for a country, but it’s already too late. The damage is done. The thrill of escapist fiction is gone, and EMPRESS ends up being just so-so. Perhaps Ms. Wallace should have been told that politics and light reading don't mix very well—in my case anyway.
 

The used bookstore where I got tons of mass market paperbacks like this one is no more.  It has closed its doors in 2013 after many successful years.  Another branch still exists but like EMPRESS it barely fills my heart with joy since it is as small as my reading room.  But I am so thankful of having discovered downtown Book Market because it led me to find other unknown writers whom I came to love and cherish still.  In the era of the digital publishing isn’t it fun to own a piece or two of forgotten gem that shouldn’t have been?

  

Until next post—Martin

US hardcover
 

 

Monday, 7 December 2015

'MISTRAL'S DAUGHTER' BY JUDITH KRANTZ




OK, let me start this review by saying that of course I adore big family-oriented sagas with many sins and oh-so many secrets. I'm always the first in line when any book resembling what is already mentioned comes out. So imagine my joy when picking up (thirty odd years later, mind you) the paperback edition of MISTRAL'S DAUGHTER by the lady of all lady writers, Judith Krantz.  The Judith Krantz who has made PRINCESS DAISY such a fun and addictive read. Not to mention the classic of all classics, SCRUPLES. Two great books which deserved all of their mega-successes. 

 
 
Well, dear readers, I guess the saying three's a crowd is true, for Krantz's third novel may have been another smash to many eyes, but not so much to yours truly. Don't get me wrong, all the melodrama is in there: the innocent yet bold heroine, the manipulative and abusive foe, the temperamental but loving hero, steamy steamy love scenes galore... well, you get my drift.
 

Despite those pluses, somehow Krantz failed to capture the essence of her first two novels. The desire, the need to tell a great story behind the glitz and glamour is there yet missing. It's as if a wall has been built up between Krantz's talent and deadline, and her need to stay on automatic pilot was her safest bet.
 

Indeed, in her third outing originality is out the door and replaced by a paint-by-the-numbers plot and tiresome descriptions of sceneries and cathedrals. Yes, Mistral is a painter and Krantz tries her best to be true to him, but the line between reality and fiction can only be saved by editing and, alas, in Mistral's Daughter, editing is in constant need.
 

That said, the novel is still better than many releases out there. Judith Krantz is at her best when she lets her imagination run wild, and there are parts in Mistral's that are pure Krantz. The bowl of fruit scene, for instance, where Maggie, dressed in nothing but painted fruits, struts her stuff (in pre-second World War II) for all the world to see. Krantz can easily make the unbelievable believable. Plus any scenes involving the character of evil Kate is pure delight. The last one in which she discovers she will no longer be needed is so perfectly told I was enthralled by Krantz's talent as a writer. If only these sparks of ingenuity could have been constant, MISTRAL'S DAUGHTER would have been another hit in my eyes as well.
 


 


 
Until next post—Martin


US hardcover