Saturday, March 15, 2014

Comparing original to new...Rebecca v. Alena

When I was in high school I actually listened to my father (who was also my high school librarian) one day when he recommended the book Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I fell in love with du Maurier's book immediately. In fact, I loved it so very much I became penpals with the author. The most pressing question I had for her was the protagonist's first name. As I read I was constantly watching for her name to be mentioned. She was always referred to as "the second Mrs. de Winter". I sent my letter to Ms. du Maurier asking if the second Mrs. de Winter was actually a Rebecca as well. Her response ~ she had never really considered it and could never come up with a name that suited her for the heroine. She also felt the character did not need a name since she was narrating the story. After reading Alena, I believed Ms. Pastan had overlooked this major characteristic of Rebecca by naming the narrator in her book Cara, which truly confused me since I had read in a number of places, "our heroine - who remains nameless, like the heroine of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca."  However upon writing to the author (very much like my relationship with Ms. Du Maurier, but with e-mail) I learned the word cara is Italian for "dear" or "darling". I am so glad I contacted Ms. Pastan in order to clear up my confusion because it struck such a chord in me when I first read the word.

written by Rachel Pastan

Almost thirty years after reading it for the first time, Rebecca remains my second favorite book, the first being Gone with the Wind. When my husband came across Alena on his recent trip to Philadelphia during the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference he immediately grabbed a copy and had it autographed by the author (Yes, I do have an amazing husband!) I started reading it as soon as I finished the book I was in the middle of when he returned. I was so excited, but a little concerned because how could anyone actually try to mirror a classic?

So, I'm not going to say it surpasses Rebecca, but Ms. Pastan did an interesting job of thinking outside the box when she outlined the story. One has to remember the definition of homage - "something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another - tribute". I have to say the author does this very well.

A number of variations and similarities in the books can be made.

  • For instance, the protagonist, a curatorial assistant at the Midwestern Museum of Art, travels with Louise Haynes, the curator, to Venice for the Biennale in Alena. Where the main character in Rebecca travels to Monte Carlo as a paid companion to Mrs. Edythe Van Hopper. 
  • When Ms. Pastan's character meets Bernard Augustin they explore art together, while in du Maurier's classic the protagonist creates art - her drawings as she sits overlooking the Mediterranean while Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter courts her. 
  • Alena's heroine and Bernard do not have a romantic relationship. She becomes the curator for Bernard's Nauquasset Contemporary Museum a "very small...vanity museum", known as the Nauk. As is obvious in the character's name, the "second Mrs. de Winter" and Maxim do have a romantic relationship. Following a two week courtship the main character marries Mr. de Winter and they travel to Manderley.
  • Agnes, the business manager at the Nauk, is a great parallel character to Rebecca's Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper at Manderley. Both charcters remain extremely loyal to the main character's predecessor in each book, undermining and subtly suggesting each could never truly fill the shoes of Alena or Rebecca.
  • Another great parallel is a short scence, which might be overlooked by some readers is the visit Barbara (Bernard's sister) and Alena's heroine go on to meet Willa Somerset, referred to as "Aunt Willa" although I could not find any reference to an actual family connection. She not only serves on the museum's board, but also donated the land on which it sits. Rebecca's heroine travels with Beatrice (Maxim's sister) to visit Gran, their ailing grandmother. Both of these senior characters become disoriented during the visit, asking for Alena and Rebecca, respectively.
I will not ruin the storyline of Alena for those of you who will want to pick this book up to read. Like Rebecca there is mystery to Alena's death. Some reviewers have been extremely harsh with their comparisons of the two books. I will simply say Ms. Pastan has truly created an homage to Rebecca in the truest sense of the word. She has created her own story in which similarities can be seen throughout. I would recommend Alena, not only for the resemblance to one of my favorite books, but also because it is a delightful read. I'm sure those who love Rebecca will be see many instances of equivalence, however Alena can stand on its own merits as a rainy day, weekend, or beach book.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Top Down: A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination

Top Down: a Novel of the Kennedy Assassination
by Jim Lehrer

I was going to start this post by saying, "I'm not sure where my interest verging on obsession to the Kennedy assassination came from.", but that would be a lie. As far back as I can remember my father talked about November 22, 1963. At the time of the assassination my parents were attending North Texas State University (now University of North Texas) in Denton, about 40 miles north of Dallas. They did not travel into Dallas that fateful day. They did, however, drive into Irving to visit my maternal grandmother the following Sunday. This visit was particularly memorable because Oswald had just been shot by Jack Ruby and the news had just been released surrounding Lee Harvey Oswald's connection to Irving (where his wife Marina lived with her friend Ruth Paine). Evidently they ran up onto her front porch and started banging on the door, which scared my grandmother terribly.

I was not born at the time of the Kennedy assassination, but living my entire life in Dallas County, it is difficult not to know at least a little about the assassination. I was always fascinated by the triple underpass and the School Book Depository.

Top Down is another book hoping to achieve notoriety by being published in the year of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination. I have to say this book did not follow the path I thought it was going to based on the blurb. I'm not sure I agree with the statement, "a page-turning historical novel with the beating heart of a thriller," but it was a good read. Of all the fictional accounts of the assassination I have to say, Stephen King's 11/22/63 (even with all of the geographical mistakes) is still one of the best I've read. It better fulfilled my desire to know, "What if?".

Lehrer pulls from his own experience as a journalist covering Kennedy's visit to Dallas, but I wanted more. When the question is posed in the blurb, "...will it also change the course of history?" I assumed (my mistake because we all know what happens when we assume!) there would be more speculation as to what would have happened if the bubble top had remained on the limousine that doomed Thursday. I believe the storyline could have been better developed and not cut so short (the entire book is less than 190 pages). I liked the book and I would recommend it to others who are interested in this topic, but I would not add it to my must read book.

The next Kennedy related book on my list is Frame 232 by Wil Mara.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leaving Nelson - update

In July I wrote about a wonderful book written by Kim Moss I had the privilege to preview. I excited to announce the book will be available for everyone to read later this year. You can read more about the author on her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter. She is a fabulous author, a phenomenal teacher, but most importantly she is an amazing friend. I am so excited for her, but also for you because soon you will be able to read the first book in the trilogy about Bailey Baxter and her family. Here's to the start of something wonderful for you Kim!

NEW Update to the Update!!

Kim's book was released TODAY (3/18/14) on Amazon. Be one of the very first to read this wonderful new book by an extraordinary writer.

My Absence

I want to apologize for not posting reviews for such a long period of time. My excuse, I have been very ill. I did, however continue to read, of course. I just will not be posting reviews of all of the books.

Here are the books I read while I was out of commission.
by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
Left for Dead
by J.A. Jance
Merry Christmas, Alex Cross
by James Patterson

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

My Cousin Rachel
by Daphne Du Maurier

The Goldfinch: a novel
by Donna Tartt

Second Honeymoon
by James Patterson
 So, you can see that I continued with my passion for reading for these oh so many months. I will probably go back and write a few words about some of these books, because in all truthfulness they deserve it. I am currently writing a review on the latest book I finished reading Alena by Rachel Pastan, but I have a question for the author prior to posting my review. I want to make sure the information I publish is accurate.

Keep reading, because you know I will!