Guilty English Pleasure: More Than You Know by Penny Vincenzi

English author Penny Vincenzi‘s books are like granola bars – not much more nutritious than candy, but their mini chocolate chips and tiny marshmallows or sweetened dried cranberries satisfy a candy craving, with a few nutritious oats and nuts tossed in.
None of the author’s later books have ever appealed to me as much as The Spoils of Time trilogy, a saga of the Lytton publishing family in London. (The start of the trilogy, No Angel, was the first of her books to be published in the U.S. – in 2004 – and several books later, that’s the one that’s still mentioned on the cover of this one.) But I still find her books addictive, and whip right through each new one.
In More Than You Know, fashion journalism and fashion design in the sixties (which the author had first-hand experience of) form the backdrop of the drama that plays out when headstrong career-girl Eliza Fullerton-Clark – whose shabby genteel parents are struggling to maintain their large village house, Summercourt – falls for the working-class, chip-on-his-shoulder Matt Shaw – who is well on his way to making his first fortune in property development. Money and class; marriage and career; tradition and changing times…all these make for a stormy relationship between Eliza and Matt, eventually bringing them to the brink of the vicious child custody battle alluded to at the beginning of the book.
But that’s just one of the multiple story strands that readers of More Than You Know will be following. Along with the relationship ups-and-downs of Eliza’s brother and Matt’s sister (not together), Eliza’s ex-beau Jeremy (handsome and rich, like Matt, but from Eliza’s upper-class world), and friends of Matt’s or Eliza’s, there are soaring or flattening career arcs – with Eliza caught between motherhood and her burgeoning fashion journalism career and Matt working with cutthroat competition (sometimes within his own office) – the siren call of the kinds of temptation that the swinging sixties and seventies were rife with, parenting struggles, and too many other plot threads to mention, all switching back and forth across each other.
Penny Vincenzi is a master of the sexy, literary potboiler. More Than You Know will be devoured by her fans, but it might not be the one to hook a new reader unless the London fashion scene is a big draw. I still recommend No Angel if you’re trying to decide whether you’ll like Penny Vincenzi or not.

Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from Doubleday through NetGalley.

More Than You Know (published as The Decision in the U.K.)
Vincenzi, Penny
Doubleday
Pub Date: April 3, 2012
978-0-385-52825-2
608 pp.
a

Apologize, Apologize! by Elizabeth Kelly

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I’ve waited a long time to post about Apologize, Apologize!, the tragicomic first novel by Canadian author Elizabeth Kelly, because it’s hard to describe and it’s the kind of book that you should read without hearing too much about it first. Also, the readers I’ve suggested it to at the library so far didn’t love it as I did. But online paperback sales are good, so it must be finding its readers. It’s a good book to take on vacation, if you’ve built in some time for reading on the deck.
The Flanagan family of Martha’s Vineyard is dysfunctional, but so comically, wittily, and outrageously so, that you have to laugh. You will probably feel sorry for straight-laced Collie, the narrator, whose mother constantly compares him unfavorably to his younger brother Bing, who is charming, handsome, athletic, impulsive — everything that Collie is not. Here’s Collie early on in the book:

“What did my parents see in each other? In Ma’s case, I think it was a simple matter of aesthetics and disorder. Pop was a good-looking anarchist who appeared to believe in everything and nothing at the same time all the time.
Of course, I might be overthinking the matter.
‘It’s good to have a man around,’ she said, ‘In case the sewage pipe ruptures.'”

Fair warning: The novel is dark comedy, not a light-hearted laugh-a-minute, and the theme is redemption. But it’s a really good book and you should read it. (Even if you decide not to take it on vacation.)
Read The New Yorker review of Apologize, Apologize!.
Apparently, it is going to be made into a movie, too.
Check the Old Colony Library Network for availability.

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

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Richard Russo must have had fun writing That Old Cape Magic — a thinking person’s beach book. No, it’s not Empire Falls or The Bridge of Sighs, but it’s not intended to be.
Instead of sitting down and opening a vein, as writers are said to do, author Richard Russo might have sat down at his computer and opened a bottle of locally brewed Shipyard beer to launch himself into the story of ex-screenwriter Jack Griffin. Griffin’s marriage unravels on Cape Cod, in Truro, where he and his wife, Joy, celebrated their honeymoon many years before. The story jumps around—from Griffin’s childhood with two eccentric academic parents to the early years of Griffin’s marriage to his parents’ declining years and Griffin’s own daughter’s eventual wedding—succeeding in the neat trick of making you muse about the nature of marriage and parenthood while you laugh…and wince. A perfect end-of-summer read.
In an entertaining Q&A on Knopf’s Web site, Russo says his two daughters were both married during the period in which he wrote That Old Cape Magic, confessing that he imagined a disastrous wedding scene for the book as a way of warding off catastrophe in real life. (His ploy worked.)
Richard Russo talks on tape with New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus here.

>Infinite Jest and Other Postmodern Challenges

>It’s not too late to rise to the challenge laid down by “endurance bibliophiles around the world” to read David Foster Wallace’s 1000+-page novel Infinite Jest and post your comments on the Infinite Summer blog.

If you’re looking for something postmodern, but a little shorter to tackle this summer, check out the Los Angeles Times list of 61 Essential Postmodern Reads on its Jacket Copy blog. I’ve only read 11 on the list, and confess to having started and given up on a couple of others, including Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

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