Kathryn Lively, Reader

Kathryn Lively, Reader

Kathryn Lively loves to read and write fiction. She loves Rush (the band), Toblerone bars, Earl Grey (hot), and the Doctor. She spends too much money on books and Doctor Who t-shirts. 


Send an e-mail to arecafe at gmail dot com and she will give you one of her novels in eBook format for free.

3.5 Stars
Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
Beatlebone - Kevin Barry

Somewhere in the middle of Beatlebone the author squeezes in an interlude which explains the research that went into authenticating John Lennon's voice for this story, and the history behind Dorinish Island as once owned by the singer. Once you get to this part of the book you may think one of two things: 1) Uh, shouldn't something like this appear at the tail end of the story, like an Afterword?, or 2) Oh, thank God.

This is not to say the prose of Beatlebone will leave your eyes crossed. It's uniquely told, stream of conscious narrative married with rapid exchanges of dialogue, and given the focus of the book it's an appropriate presentation. I think that Barry's interlude in the middle works because it's unexpected, much like the things John experiences in this story, and perhaps unconsciously Barry tipped toward a similar "intermission" gag in the movie Help!

So it's 1978. Lennon hasn't cut a record of original material in about four years. He has a toddler at home and an island on the Western coast of Ireland, bought in the late 60s. He gets the idea if he spends a few days on this deserted floating rock and employs some Primal Scream therapy and chain smoking he'll rejuvenate his creativity. Getting there, though, is half the battle, most of the headache, and all over a trip more surreal than the back-masking on "Strawberry Fields Forever." Seems some of the locals are in no hurry to help John get to where he wants to go. In his de facto guide Cornelius, John find camaraderie and irritation in the same package. Cornelius wants to feed John blood pudding (not on a macrobiotic's menu) and drag him to a pub and help him dodge the press with a quick hideout in a hotel full of "ranters."

John just wants to get to the "fucken" island. What happens from there, a lost "album" spilling from John's mind like coming down from a magnificent high, is at once lyrical and bizarre. Makes you want to go back and find In His Own Write and Spaniard in the Works to see how they compare.

Barry writes in his interlude how he sees most Lennon-centric fiction as "character assassinations." It's easier to do when your subject can't speak up, but Beatlebone aims for an introspective John who doesn't treat everybody like crap. If you're looking for a more traditional narrative this book might drive you nuts, but it's worth the read if you can hold on.

4 Stars
Platinum Doll by Anne Girard
Platinum Doll - Anne-Hélène Suárez Girard

Long before we held the story of Marilyn Monroe as the gold standard for Hollywood tragedy, there was Jean Harlow. She was beautiful and talented, a competent film comedienne (go rent Dinner At Eight). I picked up Platinum Doll because I love Old Hollywood fiction, and I hadn't read a Harlow biography before, though I know her story.

Girard keeps the timeline limited to the beginning and peak of Harlow's fame, perhaps the few moment of happiness in life. You can't help but feel for young Harlean who wants a career and to please her overbearing mother (who makes Kris Jenner look complacent, damn) and her dissatisfied husband. Harlean/Jean sadly didn't have a long, happy life, but burned brightly like a star she was.

I enjoyed this book. If you love classic Hollywood stories I think you'll enjoy this.

ARC received from NetGalley.

3.5 Stars
Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan
Sinatra: The Chairman - James Kaplan

When I picked up Sinatra: The Chairman I didn't realize it's actually a Part Two. I opened the book to the aftermath of Sinatra's Oscar win for From Here to Eternity and am thinking, "Um, there was stuff before this, right?" Author Kaplan had written Sinatra: The Voice several years prior, and that book covered the life from birth through his first official "comeback" in the early 50s. What you get in Chairman is the rest of the story, of which twenty or so years are meticulously detailed. This is the genesis of the Clan, what later became the Rat Pack. This is the juxtaposition of professional successes in film and music and personal turmoil (losing Ava, Kennedy snubs). Every drink toasted, every woman romanced, every nerve set on edge due to Sinatra's impatience for retakes and rehearsals.

Chairman clocks in at close to a thousand pages, of which a hundred or so comprise the appendix. I'm reading at a steady clip, more than halfway through and curious how Kaplan handles the rest of Sinatra's life and is there room. If you want to read up on exploits post-Eternity through the mid-60s - struggling to stay relevant during Beatlemania, mediocre vanity film projects, Mia Farrow - you have a goldmine here. It's once the next decade begins, though, Kaplan seems to run out of gas. We go from a steadily detailed bio to a summary of Frank's sunset. Granted, one wouldn't consider the last twenty years of his life the peak of his productivity, but the bio at that point reads like a rapid downhill roll and gives it an all-too abrupt end. Did Kaplan strive to meet the centenary deadline or did he figure we weren't interested in the later years?

I did enjoy this book. My rating would be higher if not for the drop-off in the last quarter of Sinatra's life. I'm sure there's enough material to warrant a third part of the story if Kaplan were willing to commit to it.

4 Stars
Anything for You by Kristan Higgins
Anything for You (The Blue Heron Series) - Kristan Higgins

When it comes to series like Blue Heron and others one would read in the HQN line, I find if the characters are strong and likable and the setting has appeal it's worth to read the next one and see where the overall story takes you. Like with Brenda Novak's Whiskey Creek stories, I've had issues with some books here, but I enjoyed Anything For You, more so than book 4.

It's been a while since I read the last story, but book 5 brings us to restaurateur Connor and Jessica, who managed to cross the wrong side of the tracks to a respectable position in town...though some people haven't let her forget her past. After weaving through their backstory - flashbacks interspersed with current action we learn of Jessica's reluctance to have a long-term relationship with Connor - family issues and emotional baggage prevent her from opening up to him. Connor's stubborn nature can't wear her down, though it's not until they stop tip-toeing around issues that Jessica realizes she can have love.

I think this series could keep getting better if Higgins continues it. If not, AFY is a great place to leave Blue Heron, happily.

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley

3 Stars
Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner
Stars Over Sunset Boulevard - Susan Meissner

I wanted to read this title because I enjoy Old Hollywood fiction, and the premise reminded me a bit of A Touch of Stardust, which I enjoyed. Like that book, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is set during the filming of Gone With the Wind, but the movie is merely a distant backdrop in the story of two women with different ambitions in the 1930s. Audrey wants to be a "star," more so than being an actress, while Violet longs for a picket fence and family. The progression of their friendship could easily have existed without the GWTW subplot - unlike Kate Alcott's book, there's very little interaction between the film stars and the main book characters.

Overall, the book reads rather quickly, but seems to fall short in places. It's not exactly a love triangle story, and you might lose sympathy for one character in the story due to her meddling and manipulation of her friend and the gentleman in question. I suppose I had expected something different in the story.

ARC received from NetGalley.

4 Stars
I'll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones
I'll Never Write My Memoirs - Grace Jones, Paul Morley

In my memory, Grace Jones never played on the mainstream radio stations in Jacksonville, Florida in the 70s-80s - not when I listened. I get the impression after reading I'll Never Write My Memoirs that this wouldn't have bothered Grace. Her albums and songs have charted in the US, and with greater success in other countries, but like with many acts it took the launch of MTV to introduce me to this slender cat woman in gray, creeping up a staircase in impossible heels and barking out "Demolition Man" like she ordered you to listen. Grace Jones was and remains badass.

When I saw this book you bet I put on the brakes and got a copy. Anybody who survived Studio 54, industry discrimination, and Dolph *drool* Lundgren has a hell of a story to tell, and while going in with my own perception of Grace the entertainer I came away with a higher respect for Grace the person. This book, presented in the "as told to" format through rock journalist Paul Morley, ebbs and flows through her life in a colorful narrative, and unlike previous memoirs I've read where one senses a reluctance to confess, Grace lays it all out. One will hear legends of Studio 54 where Grace walked around naked - this book has that feel. There's no shame in revealing moments of shyness, anger (justifiable at that, particularly when people try to screw you come payday), and frustration (we can't hire you because XYZ). Grace makes no bones about her influence in music, either - I'm still trying to figure out the mysterious "Doris" she speaks of, an entertainer wanting to emulate and collaborate. I have it narrowed to two possible suspects.

If you are stickler for timelines, know that Grace warns early on how she doesn't keep track of time. Not good if you're The Doctor, but one expects a person like Grace Jones to remain timeless. Her story may hop around but not enough to distract. It's a fun ride with bittersweet memories of people from an era long gone and a strong message: you deserve compensation for your talents.

4 Stars
Van Halen Rising by Greg Renoff
Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal - Greg Renoff

I have a few "missed concert" regrets, and pre-Hagar Van Halen will always have a place in the Top 5. Yeah, I know Dave's back more or less, but we'll likely never see the Mike/Dave/Brothers combo again unless somebody raises a billion dollars on Kickstarter. We still have the records, though, and video memories. Reading through Van Halen Rising may leave you tinged a tad green if you're in the same boat as me. Author Renoff built this book from interviews with over 200 witnesses to the early days - with Anthony as the sole cooperating VH alum - and scores of archived articles. The book is as exhaustive in detail of the band's beginning as the research done to complete it.

As the title implies, Rising sticks to the genesis of the band through the release of Van Halen and subsequent early marketing of the band. If you haven't studied the band's history, you may not only find this an invaluable resource but understand Rising as almost prophetic. Well before anyone considered Van Halen might be signed, friends and supporters give insight to personalities and quirks that shape the band's legacy.

You'll learn David Lee Roth had always been a showman, if not a thorn in the brothers' sides - both cheerleader and headache. You'll scratch your head at passages of well-known names who had the opportunity to sign them to their labels before ultimately passing. If you're a fan you might snicker and wonder who still kicks themselves. Moreover, you'll read a story that seems less likely to happen anymore, the gradual winning over of music fans and the industry by a band playing a style largely regarded by critics as "dead." Had they began in the YouTube age they might have eliminated the middle man like so many groups do now, but I enjoy reading stories like this.

While reading this I was reminded of my husband telling me about the first time he heard Van Halen on the radio. "Eruption." He had to pull over the car to catch his breath.The spectacle on display in their early tours no doubt left a lot of people feeling the same way. It's not easy to translate that to print, but Renoff does the band justice.

ARC received via NetGalley

3.5 Stars
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Career of Evil - Robert Galbraith

A lot of readers here are calling this the best so far, and I liked revisiting the series but it took a while for me to get through. The story is darker and bloodier than the previous books, and as you're reading it you may get the impression the Cormoran/Robin dynamic is going to shift into shark-jumping territory. I won't spoil that, but will stick around for the fourth book to see how that pans out.

2.5 Stars
Answered Prayers by Truman Capote
Answered Prayers - The Unfinished Novel - Truman Capote

I'm giving this 2.5 stars. I imagine it could have been better had Capote bothered to finish it. According to the lore, Capote preferred to live as a celebrity than as a writer, having spent so much time resting on his In Cold Blood laurels.

Answered Prayers was designed to be a modern Remembrance of Things Past, but it comes off as crude and limp. PB Jones drifts through life, carried by society and sleazy jobs, and basically functions as the ear for people with lots of dirt to unload. The final story here is said to have killed his career and his standing in society. Lots there to make you go "mee-yow!"

3 Stars
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin

I became aware of Truman Capote early on - I wrote my first term paper on Breakfast at Tiffany's, and off and on over the years I've been fascinated by the man and the mid 20th century era of the New York socialite. Had Babe Paley, Slim Keith, and Pam Churchill existed in this time as they did in the 50s they'd all have reality shows, with Capote flitting around each one for his closeup. Capote, arguably, is the first "celebrity writer" in that he milked his successes for all they were worth and did his damnedest to parlay his talents into ongoing fame. If you know his story, you'll know how well that turned out. :/

Swans offers a dramatic account of Capote's friendships (if it can be called as such) with the doyennes of NYC chic, in particular Paley. Benjamin's retelling of events is done almost lovingly, but not entirely sympathetic of all the players. One might look down upon these women, wives of rich men, and ask why they deserve any respect - I can hear in my head the jokes Joan Rivers made about Jackie Onassis using sex as something else to do besides shop at Bergdorf's all day, you could apply it here.

Anyway, I found through the story that while I couldn't identify with any of the swans I felt the most for Babe Paley, who seemed to have her lot in life forced upon her. Her mother pushed her toward a high station, her husband wanted a classy woman on his arm to make him look good, Capote wanted an (gullible?) ear to bend and somebody to fawn over him. We find at the end a broken soul and the oft-told lesson of how money can give you many things, except the one thing you really need.

I liked this book. Readers might be irritated with the portrayals of Capote and Lady Keith, etc., but when you consider how irritating they probably were in real life, then perhaps Benjamin captured them well. There are moments of Capote cattiness, more so than you'll find in the PSH movie.

Having read this, I'm off to read Capote's Answered Prayers. You may want to read that first before you get into this.

4 Stars
Silence and Circumstance by Roy Dimond
Silence and Circumstance - Roy Dimond

I've read Christie for years, but never a novel based on Christie's life. Of course her disappearance remains a great mystery of our time. This is an entertaining scenario that brings together many names of the era with a cloak and dagger slant. There's more activity with these players than with Christie, but its nonetheless a fun caper.

3.5 Stars
The Virgin's Spy by Laura Andersen
The Virgin's Spy: A Tudor Legacy Novel (Tudor Legacy Trilogy Book 2) - Laura Andersen

ARC received from publisher via NetGalley.


I've enjoyed this alternative history saga of the later Tudor dynasty. With The Virgin's Spy we are delving later into Elizabeth I's reign and conflicts with Ireland, and the queen's desire to keep Ireland under her control all the while seeking the right marriage for her daughter to keep everybody happy. No small feat, especially when her daughter prefers the son of Minuette, the Queen's childhood friend.


Spy concentrates more on Stephen, Minuette's oldest son and his dealings in Ireland on behalf of the queen. Matters of the heart tempt his loyalties to the crown, and that's just one worry for England seeing as how Philip of Spain has married Mary, Queen of Scots and produced a heir. It seems wagons all over Europe are circling.


There's a lot going on in this book, and that might be why I didn't finish it as quickly as I have the others in the series. The stories are expanded beyond the original trilogy, which I loved, and moving on to supporting players who haven't held my interest as much. Granted, I did like the story but found I could put it down for a day or two before resuming.


Just a minor spoiler, the book ends on a cliffhanger, so we'll see how everything plays out in the next one.

4 Stars
Evergreen Springs
Evergreen Springs - RaeAnne Thayne

ARC received from NetGalley.


This is the second Haven Point story I've read. Evergreen Springs's heroine is a lady doctor and the sister of the previous story's leading lady. When Devin Shaw becomes the de facto physician for an old friend in her third trimester, she ends up linked to the extended family. This includes the handsome yet trouble horse trainer and his two children. Each has troubles in the past to overcome in order to make a Merry Christmas with each other.


Evergreen Springs is a lovely, sweet romance with many elements I likes in a small town romance - smart leads, solid backdrop of community, and a believable build up in the romance. If you like the small town romance you could like this series.

2 Stars
Dietland by Sarai Walker
Dietland - Sarai Walker

Dietland was the first pick in The Militant Baker's book club. I liked the premise of the story so I picked it up, and I enjoyed reading it in parts. Having finished today, it feels like I read two different books fused together and they didn't even out.


This is the story of a young woman called Plum. She is overweight, has been most of her life, and played the diet game. She's the token fat girl at the workplace, a media corporation thriving on making women feel bad about themselves, then selling them crap as band-aid remedies. Plum's bought into the whole thin is in mantra and is planning WLS when she befriends a group of women. Rebels.


Here's where it gets odd for me: the story motors along nicely with the daughter of a fraudulent diet queen working to improve Plum's self-esteem and sense of self without giving in to societal norms, then it takes this left turn with a subplot about a subversive woman (or group) called Jennifer kidnapping and killing men. Remember in Fried Green Tomatoes when Evelyn is telling Ninnie how she'd like to put bombs in Penthouse magazine and machine gun rapists' genitals?


Well, Jennifer's actually doing it. While it makes for interesting reading, it seems out of place in Dietland. I think if I had read Plum's story alone I would have enjoyed it more. The Jennifer thread misses the mark for me, I think because we really don't get into the heads of the people involved there. Plum watches TV news for reports on Jennifer and pieces together her indirect involvement with them. Like Plum, we are spectators in that drama and therefore can't get as close to it as we can with Plum.


Dietland is good in parts, but on whole it missed the target for me.

3.5 Stars
A Winter Wedding by Brenda Novak
A Winter Wedding (Whiskey Creek) - Brenda Novak

I'm giving this 3.5 stars, as it falls in between the better installments of the Whiskey Creek series I have enjoyed and the ones I didn't like.


We got Kyle's backstory in When We Touch, and throughout the series we've been reminded of the indiscretion that largely labeled him the most lovelorn man in town. It's taken nine books, but we're finally back with him. We learn all this time he's played reluctant hero (read: checkbook) to his ex-wife Noelle, who clearly hasn't matured since the first story. Something's always broken, rent is always due, she is always short on cash and convinced Kyle will realize he made a big mistake in leaving her. This cycle of whining and appeasement has worn on Kyle, and he's ready to sever it.


Since Whiskey Creek is short on single, eligible women (save for Noelle), country singer Lourdes Bennett moves in temporarily to regroup after a few career setbacks. Landlord Kyle comes through when the home she rents loses heat, and gradually they come to generate their own at his place. Their romance, of course, doesn't sit well with this ex, but I'll leave that drama for you to discover.


A few spoilerish side notes: the situation from the earlier books I didn't enjoy isn't mentioned in this book. I expect it will be addressed eventually - it's not something you can just drop. Also, much is made of Baxter's return to Whiskey Creek, something I hope parlays into a future book with him as the focus. Even if Novak self-publishes it.


Overall, though, I've enjoyed the holiday WC books and I'd rate A Winter Wedding among the WC stories I liked.


ARC from NetGalley

3.5 Stars
The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
The Bollywood Bride - Sonali Dev

Dev's A BOLLYWOOD AFFAIR was one of my favorite reads last year. If you look around, you'll find many readers felt the same way. AFFAIR was a delight - light and romantic and strengthened by familial ties and humor. It reminded me a bit of Moonstruck made into a Bollywood love story.


You'll see similarities in theme in A BOLLYWOOD BRIDE, though the story carries a somewhat darker thread woven into the story. Ria Parkar suffered trauma in her early childhood and discovered normalcy in Chicago summers growing up with her cousin and his friend, Vickham (Viky). What promises to blossom into a childhood sweetheart romance wilts with the interference of Viky's mother.


Now adults, Ria and Viky angst their way through the cousin's wedding preparations, with Ria trying to maintain the icy persona for which she is known. Gradually all the barriers break down because, of course, there's too much between them to ignore.


I looked forward to reading BRIDE because I loved AFFAIR so much. And...I liked this book. It's lacks the lightness of Dev's debut, but it tackles issues of mental illness and family tensions. It's a challenge to bring something heavy into a romance story, and Dev does it well. Where I nearly devoured AFFAIR in one sitting, though, I had to set BRIDE down on occasion and pace myself.


I did enjoy this book, however. I look forward to what Dev has for us in the future.

ARC provided by publisher in exchange for honest review.