Thursday, April 18, 2024

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo -- BOOK BEGINNINGS


BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

Thank you for joining me for Book Beginnings on Fridays. Please share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week. You can also share from a book that caught your fancy, even if you are not reading it right now.

MY BOOK BEGINNING

One sunny April afternoon in 1990 two Englishman strode up the steps of London's Tate Gallery, passed beneath the imposing statues atop the pediment — Britannia, the lion, and the unicorn — and made their way through the grand portico into one of the world's great museums.

-- from Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. 

I just started this nonfiction book about an elaborate art scam and am completely sucked in. 

YOUR BOOK BEGINNINGS

Please add the link to your Book Beginnings post in the box below. If you share on social media, please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag.

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THE FRIDAY 56

The Friday 56 is a natural tie-in with Book Beginnings. The idea is to share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your featured book. If you are reading an ebook or audiobook, find your teaser from the 56% mark.

Freda at Freda's Voice started and hosted The Friday 56 for a long, long time. She is taking a break and Anne at My Head is Full of Books has taken on hosting duties in her absence. Please visit Anne's blog and link to your Friday 56 post.

MY FRIDAY 56

From Provenance
After several more visits to Jane Drew's country home, Drewe began systematically widening his circle of art world acquaintances by dropping her name and inviting members of the establishment to lunch with them. He reserved tables at Claridge's or at L'Escargot in Soho for such eminent Londoners as the former head of the Tate Gallery, Alan Bowness — Ben Nicholson's son-in-law — and the art critic David Sylvester, who had once had his portrait painted by Giacometti.

FROM THE PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION

Filled with extraordinary characters and told at breakneck speed, Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller. But this is most certainly not fiction. It is the astonishing narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate cons in the history of art forgery. Stretching from London to Paris to New York, investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo recount the tale of infamous con man and unforgettable villain John Drewe and his accomplice, the affable artist John Myatt. Together they exploited the archives of British art institutions to irrevocably legitimize the hundreds of pieces they forged, many of which are still considered genuine and hang in prominent museums and private collections today.


Book and Birthdays -- BOOK THOUGHTS


BOOK THOUGHTS

Books and Birthdays

Today is my husband’s birthday so I baked his favorite German chocolate cake! 

I have other birthday plans in the works, but I'm going to take a book break first. I plan to put my feet up for a few minutes with this terrific book, Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by husband and wife writing team Laney Salisbury and Aly Sugo. I've only just started it and am completely sucked in. It’s mesmerizing.

Here’s a bit of baking trivia for you. Every time I make this cake for my husband, I am reminded that “German chocolate cake” has nothing to do with Germany. “German’s Sweet Chocolate” is a type of baking chocolate developed in the US by Samuel German in 1852 for his employer, Baker’s Chocolate.

A newspaper invented the recipe for German chocolate cake in the 1950s. It is a popular cake, mostly because of the coconut pecan frosting. But don’t try to order it in Germany! They don’t know what you are talking about.

I don’t know if German chocolate cake is even a thing outside the US. Is it?

To be honest, this is a "Perfect All American Chocolate Butter Cake" from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Hubby likes any chocolate cake with this frosting (which I make with toasted, unsweetened coconut and toasted walnuts instead of pecans). I find a real German chocolate cake to be a little pale and sweet. I picked this recipe because it isn't difficult and doesn't require the eggs to be separated. I am always put off by having to whip and fold in the egg whites separately.  

And to be even more completely honest, I messed it up. Despite baking chocolate cake for my husband at least a dozen times, not to mention baking in general for about 55 years, I had some kind of brain blip yesterday and put in half the butter! That’s why the layers are so thin. I was ready to start over and make another cake, but Hubby saved me from myself. He said he would like it no matter what, even if it was more like a giant cookie. Fortunately, we tried it this morning and it is good. A little dry, yes, but not bad. The frosting is delicious and saves the cake.



Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Kingsley Amis, Favorite Author -- BOOK THOUGHTS

 

BOOK THOUGHTS
Kingsley Amis, Favorite Author

"If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing."
~ Kingsley Amis in Lucky Jim

Kingsley Amis was born on this day in 1922. He is in my pantheon of favorite authors, right up there with Graham Greene, Jim Harrison, Iris Murdoch, Philip Roth, Muriel Spark, and Evelyn Waugh.

But Amis holds a special place in my reader’s heart. His Lucky Jim book, which I first read in a college lit class, opened my eyes to the idea that “literature” could be funny. Until then – after books in school like The Grapes of Wrath, A Separate Peace, and Othello – I assumed all “good” writing was stone cold serious. I even missed the funny bits in books like Huckleberry Finn and Oliver Twist because I was sure anything I thought was funny must be a mistake on my part, not intentional. 

Then a professor assigned Lucky Jim and I couldn’t help laughing. Here was poor Jim Dixon, bumbling his way through college (as a new professor) just like me and my friends: Jim trying to go to class hungover, struggling through a lecture while drunk, getting rejected in love, wanting to impress the adults, and making embarrassing gaffes. I was laughing and my professor was explaining how the novel was a turning point in English literature. Turn away, I thought. I want more of this.

Because of Amis, I learned to read "good books" for pleasure, not just because I should. So I’ve been an Amis fan going on 40 years. I’m still less than halfway through all his books because he was prolific. He was fortunate to live in a time when the publishing industry tolerated popular authors writing anything they wanted, as long as they turned out a new book on a regular basis. Along with the comic novels of which he was the master, he turned his hand to mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, poetry, biography, and essays. He was also a prodigious letter writer, especially with his buddy Philip Larkin.

The picture above is my collection of Amis books. Those I’ve read are on the left. This includes four volumes of Lucky Jim, which even I recognize is excessive, but I love the Penguin triband and the later Penguin with the Edward Gorey cover. Those in the stack on the right are the ones on my TBR shelf, including two biographies.

Have you read anything by Kingsley Amis? What’s your favorite? 

I keep a bibliography of Kingsley Amis books here on Rose City Reader, noting those I've finished, those on my TBR shelf, and those I have yet to track down. 




Thursday, April 11, 2024

Last Chance in Paris by Lynda Marron -- BOOK BEGINNINGS

 

BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

Thank you for joining me for Book Beginnings on Fridays. Please share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week. You can also share from a book that caught your fancy, even if you are not reading it right now.

MY BOOK BEGINNING
Only an idiot would travel without a book.
-- from Last Chance in Paris by Lynda Marron. Well, that sentence caught my fancy! I don't know exactly where she is going with this idea, but I appreciate the sentiment. 

Last Chance in Paris is Marron's debut novel. It is the story of a couple who goes to Paris to save their marriage and crosses paths with several others on their own adventures in the city. Sounds like a fun read and it's getting a lot of buzz in Ireland where Marron lives. 

I am adding Last Chance in Paris to my "French Connections" list of books set in France. 

The book isn’t out in the US yet. But I ordered a copy from Blackwell's in the UK. The price was reasonable and free shipping to the US – can’t beat that! I may have been tempted to order several other book while I was at it – love those British editions we can’t get over here. Shopping at Blackwell's, even online, brings back happy memories of shopping for my school books at the original Blackwell's in Oxford when I was there for a year of college. 


YOUR BOOK BEGINNINGS

Please add the link to your Book Beginnings post in the box below. If you share on social media, please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag.

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This preview will disappear when the widget is displayed on your site.
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THE FRIDAY 56

The Friday 56 is a natural tie-in with Book Beginnings. The idea is to share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your featured book. If you are reading an ebook or audiobook, find your teaser from the 56% mark.

Freda at Freda's Voice started and hosted The Friday 56 for a long, long time. She is taking a break and Anne at My Head is Full of Books has taken on hosting duties in her absence. Please visit Anne's blog and link to your Friday 56 post.

MY FRIDAY 56

-- from Last Chance in Paris:
There was, rising in her gut, a feeling of guilt that she had led him on and was about to let him down, combined with irritation that she was somehow responsible for first stalling his disappointment.

“C'mon, Claire — we're nearly there.”
PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION
When her husband suggests a romantic break, Claire feels obliged to say yes but immediately regrets it. After the tragedy they've been through, how can one weekend in Paris save their marriage? Claire and Ronan aren't the only people on a make-or-break visit to the City of Love. There is a big-shot movie producer from Hollywood, full of regret for a life ill-lived; a student from Boston, torn between love and duty; a Ukrainian refugee struggling to protect her little sister; and an old woman from Dijon, hoping to be braver than she has ever had to be before. When their lives briefly intertwine, something extraordinary happens...








Wednesday, April 10, 2024

On Commingling -- BOOK THOUGHTS

BOOK THOUGHTS
On Commingling

Do you commingle your books?
 
My husband and I commingle our finances, and even our music CDs. But we would no sooner commingle our books as we would our socks!

The picture above is a snapshot of my husband's shelves in our home library. We may keep our books separate, but I get the lion’s share of shelf space. He gets this wall. I, on the other hand, get two walls in this room, another wall in a den downstairs, two built in bookcases in the living room plus a freestanding bookcase, a bedroom bookcase, shelves in my home office, and built in shelves in the kitchen for my cookbooks. 

The inequity in distributed shelf space is perfectly justifiable, even reasonable. I simply own and read more books than he does. He mostly reads history books, which are on these shelves. They are dense and big and take a long time to get through. He just finished a biography of Oliver Cromwell that, I swear, weighed four pounds. When he wants a “light” read, he turns to general nonfiction or adventure nonfiction. He loves a good shipwreck or mountain adventure. There is nothing he likes better than getting to the part of an adventure book where the explorer's journal notes, "And then we had to eat the sled dogs." 

When he does read fiction, which is rarely, he visits my shelves. I did get him to start reading Slow Horses right now, before we watch the show. However, he's already creased the spine, which makes me shudder every time I see it. I think I prefer it when he doesn't read my books, even if it means we can never share the experience of reading the same book. Unless I want to read about ship wreaks and sled dogs. 

There's another reason Hubby can't complain about me hoggin the bookshelf space. He has a vinyl LP collection (jazz mostly) that takes up almost as much room as my books. 

So, do you share shelf space with your family or do you all stake out your own territory? Or, as Anne Fadiman describes it, are you a lumper or a splitter?


Thursday, April 4, 2024

Cabaret Macabre by Tom Mead -- BOOK BEGINNINGS

 

BOOK BEGINNINGS ON FRIDAYS

Well, what happened last week? Beats me! I totally spaced Book Beginnings! I must have had my mind on Easter. Sorry!

Thank you for coming back this week for Book Beginnings on Fridays. Please share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week. You can also share from a book that caught your fancy, even if you are not reading it right now.

Hopefully I'll pay a little more attention going forward and not skip a week. 

MY BOOK BEGINNING
The steamer trunk had leather handles, brass fittings, and a dark, hardboard shell.
-- from Cabaret Macabre by Tom Mead. I like that opening sentence. It doesn't plunk you right into the middle of the action, but it hints at the mood of the book. Steamer trunks are long gone, so it points to an earlier age. And there is something romantic and adventurous about a steamer trunk. 

What do you think? Would you keep reading? It jumps right in to explain that the steamer trunk was found washed up on a beach, which is enough to drag me into the story. What could be inside?

Cabaret Macabre is the third book in Tom Mead's historical mystery series featuring Joseph Spector, an "illusionist" turned sleuth. The first two books are Death and the Conjuror and The Murder Wheel. Cabaret Macabre comes out on July 16th from Mysterious Press and is available for preorder now. I was fortunate to get my hands on an early review copy. I also want to read the first two and there is time before this one comes out. 

Tom Mead is an English author and fan of Golden Age mysteries. His Joseph Spector books are "locked room" mysteries that pay homage to the classic mystery books of the 1920s and '30s. 


YOUR BOOK BEGINNINGS

Please add a link to your Book Beginnings post in the linky box below. If you share on social media, please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag so we can find each other. 

Mister Linky's Magical Widgets -- Thumb-Linky widget will appear right here!
This preview will disappear when the widget is displayed on your site.
If this widget does not appear, click here to display it.


THE FRIDAY 56

The Friday 56 is a natural tie-in with Book Beginnings. The idea is to share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your featured book. If you are reading an ebook or audiobook, find your teaser from the 56% mark.

Freda at Freda's Voice started and hosted The Friday 56 for a long, long time. She is taking a break and Anne at My Head is Full of Books has taken on hosting duties in her absence. Please visit Anne's blog and link to your Friday 56 post.

MY FRIDAY 56

-- from Cabaret Macabre:
The gunman was gone, but he could not have got far. The returning footprints terminated abruptly by a side window.
FROM THE PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION
Victor Silvius has spent nine years as an inmate at The Grange, a private sanatorium, for the crime of attacking judge Sir Giles Drury. Now, the judge's wife, Lady Elspeth Drury, believes that Silvius is the one responsible for a series of threatening letters her husband has recently received. Eager to avoid the scandal that involving the local police would entail, Lady Elspeth seeks out retired stage magician Joseph Spector, whose discreet involvement in a case Sir Giles recently presided over greatly impressed her.

Meanwhile, Miss Caroline Silvius is disturbed after a recent visit to her brother Victor, convinced that he isn't safe at The Grange. Someone is trying to kill him and she suspects the judge, who has already made Silvius' life a living hell, may be behind it. Caroline hires Inspector George Flint of Scotland Yard to investigate.

The two cases collide at Marchbanks, the Drury family seat of over four hundred years, where a series of unnerving events interrupt the peace and quiet of the snowy countryside.



Tuesday, April 2, 2024

March 2024 -- MONTHLY WRAP UP

 


MONTHLY WRAP UP

March 2024

Thanks to an unexpected, unusual, but much appreciated lull in my workload, I read more books in March than I’ve ever read in one month as an adult. I now have a glimpse of what retirement might look like and am looking forward to it all the more!

See any here you’ve read and enjoyed, or want to?

Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope, the second book in the the Palliser Series, which I am reading this year as part of a group read on Instagram. 

Fay Weldon’s Love & Inheritance Trilogy: Habits of the House, Long Live the King, and The New Countess. The novels are set in London society at the turn of the 20th Century. They have strong Upstairs, Downstairs themes, which makes sense because Weldon wrote several episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs, including the first, prize-winning episode. She published these three books in 2012 and 2013, shortly after Downton Abbey captured the collective imagination, and there are many similarities! The trilogy was thoroughly entertaining, if light fare compared to Trollope.

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David, Britain's foremost food writer. This is a collection of food, restaurant, and travel essays, many from newspaper columns and magazine assignments.

My Kind of Place by Susan Orlean is a collection of travel-inspired essays. This is one of my #TBR24in24 books. It reminded me that Orlean used to live here in Portland where she wrote for our weekly alternative paper, Willamette Week

The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dominick Dunne. Before he reinvented himself as a novelist, Dunne was a television producer in Hollywood. This memoir, chock-o-block with personal snapshots of celebrity society in Hollywood in the 1950s and ‘60s, would be insufferable without Dunne's charm and frank admission of how badly he messed up his life later on.

The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas by Paul Theroux, about his 1978 train journey from Boston, through North and South America, to Patagonia, another TBR 24 in '24 read.

The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life by Charles Murray, a common sense guide to adulthood, which I wrote about here.

Menagerie Manor by Gerald Durrell, about starting a private zoo on Jersey, was the first first book by him I've read, but won’t be my last. Another TBR 23 in ’24 read. I'm going to pass this on to my daughter-in-law who is a vet at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. because I think she will find interesting the comparison between a private zoo in the 1960s and '70s and a public zoo now. 

I’ll Never be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier. This is du Maurier's second novel and I found it tough going. I'm in a Du Maurier Deep Dive reading group on Instagram and we are down to the last few books. This one is my least favorite DDM book so far. The main character is unattractively immature and I wanted nothing to do with him. If I weren't a du Maurier completist, I would not have finished it. 

The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle, a wine-themed cozy mystery set in Marseille. Loved it. 

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto was my book club pick for March. I am pleased to report that everyone in the group enjoyed it, which is unusual for book club! 

Songbook by Nick Hornby, the only author I like enough to read a 20+ year old book about pop music.

The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary. I read this because it is on Anthony Burgess's list of Top 99 Novels in English, one of my favorite lists for reading inspiration. It might be a classic about the life of an artist, but there is a reason you don’t see it around much anymore. The protagonist, artist Gully Jimson, is highly unlikeable, which made the book a slog for me. Oddly, by one of those reading coincidences, in The Old Patagonian Express, Paul Theroux mentions in passing and without context that some wall art he sees from the train window would make Gully Jimson proud. I am happy to cross this one off my TBR 24 in ’24 list.

Slightly Foxed, Issue 81, Spring 2024
. I like to include these in my lists of books read so I can keep track of which ones I've finished.  

His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle, which brings me to the end of the Sherlock Holmes series. Several years ago, I found a boxed set at an estate sale and jumped right on it, intending to read (and reread) them straight through. But my enthusiasm waned and it's taken me almost 14 years to get through all of them. 

NOT PICTURED (READ WITH MY EARS)


Foster by Claire Keegan, my other book club’s latest pick. This is an excellent novella about a young girl in Ireland sent to live with foster parents. We don't meet until April, but I am sure the book will be a popular one. 

A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin. I have been working my way steadily through his John Rebus books, making a concerted effort the past year and a half. This is book 23 of 24 (so far), so I am close to wrapping up the series. I love the books, but it's a long series! 

What were your March reading highlights?






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