Book Review: Madam

EBRPL Book, EBRPL Book Review, EBRPL eBooks/Audiobooks

Madam: A Novel of New Orleans by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin. Reviewed by Louise Hilton. 

Madam is set in 1897 New Orleans and centered around Mary Deubler, a prostitute in Venus Alley, a seedy area of the city that would soon be formally incorporated as the official red-light district known as Storyville. Mary is a well-developed character, perhaps due in part to the fact that she is based on the real-life Josie Arlington, one of the future Storyville’s most infamous madams.

We follow her trajectory from her time as Mary, the impoverished streetwalker with dreams for a better life for herself and her family to her reemergence as Josie, the refined and glamorous doyenne of one of the city’s so-called “sporting establishments”. The authors certainly capture the raucous environment of the Big Easy, replete with salacious details of the seedy underworld scene, licentious politicians, and cameos from colorful notables including Louis Armstrong and “Jelly Roll” Morton.

Having grown up in Louisiana, I had a few quibbles with some of the setting details: jambalaya does not have beans in it as the authors mention in one scene; it’s a café au lait that they serve at Café du Monde, not a “coffee au laits”; and we call them crawfish down here, never crayfish. Shudder. Overall though, Madam is an entertaining read.

NB: This review first appeared in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.) on 10/19/14.

Book Review: The Coat Route

EBRPL Book, EBRPL Book Review

The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury, & Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 Coat by Meg Lukens Noonan. Reviewed by Louise Hilton. 

The Coat Route is a quick and interesting read on the making of a $50,000 coat. No, that’s not a typo. Journalist Noonan set out to discover the story behind this unfathomably expensive overcoat crafted entirely by hand and to determine the role, if any, that bespoke (custom-made) clothes play in our fast-paced era of instant gratification.

Noonan journeys across the globe to trace the making of each element of the coat, from Peru (home of the vicuña, a camelid whose fleece is the finest in the world) to Florence and Paris (the lining) and finally to England (the buttons) and Australia (the thread). Fun fact: The tailor specializing in bespoke clothes who was commissioned for the coat even did the stitching for the book jacket. Noonan also gives a brief history of bespoke tailoring, especially that of London’s fashionable Savile Row, but laments that the word itself has been hijacked – there are even “bespoke” ice cream shops – which diminishes the significance of this centuries-old tradition.

$50,000 for a coat is of course an obscene amount of money, and a luxury only very few could afford. But Noonan presents the story in such a way that reading about the attention and care behind this and similar garments makes you think (and cringe) about the production methods of the cheaply made clothes with the all too familiar “Made in China” labels we so often put on our backs. In the end, The Coat Route is not only a commentary on the consumer society in which we live, with its “disposable” clothes and products, but a compelling ode to artisanal industries.

*An abridged version of this review was published in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.) on 8/17/14.

Book Review: Shocked

EBRPL Book, EBRPL Book Review

Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me by Patricia Volk. Reviewed by Louise Hilton. 

Shocked is Patricia Volk’s homage to both her glamorous mother Audrey and Elsa Schiaparelli, the eccentric Italian fashion designer who revolutionized the art world with her over-the-top creations (think lobster dresses and shoe hats).  Volk read Schiaparelli’s memoir as a young girl and recalls the profound effect it had on her – we all remember that one special book from our childhood that marked us – and how she relished any similarity she felt she shared with her idol.  Volk recounts her privileged New York upbringing (her father was the proprietor of a popular Garment District restaurant) and juxtaposes her family history with that of Schiaparelli.  It may sound like a contrived narrative approach, but Volk more than pulls it off, making Shocked a scrapbook of sorts, with photographs in each chapter of both her own family and the designer’s world.

The book itself is beautiful, with a mottled hot pink dust jacket (the title plays on one of Schiaparelli’s major contributions to the fashion world, the coinage of the color Shocking Pink), and the outline of the bottle for the designer’s perfume Shocking (Audrey’s favorite, naturally) on the book itself.

Audrey Volk embodied a certain archetype of women from a bygone era – applying her “face” every morning, meticulous grooming, putting great stock in appearances – but for all her polish and glamour, Audrey had a cruel streak and the most poignant parts of the memoir are when the young Volk struggles to please her.  Overall, Shocked is an engaging read and tribute to two larger-than-life women.

 

An abridged version of this review appeared in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.) on 6/22/14.

Book Review: X vs. Y

EBRPL 20somethings, EBRPL Book, EBRPL Book Review

X vs. Y: A Culture War, a Love Story by Eve Epstein and Leonora Epstein. Reviewed by Louise Hilton. 

X vs. Y is a cultural study written by two sisters, Eve from Generation X, and Leonora from Generation Y. They use Generation X to describe people born in the mid-sixties to late-seventies while Generation Y or millennials refers to people born around the early 1980s to late-1990s. The Epstein sisters discuss the differences (and overlaps) of their respective generations when it comes to such topics as pop culture (with chapters devoted to Books, Music, and Movies), dating, and technology. With lots of Venn diagrams and other fun graphics showing the major pop culture references of each of these categories, X vs. Y is a quick and entertaining read.

As a Gen Y-er, I had to laugh reading Leonora’s essay “How Cher Horowitz Became Gen Y’s BFF” extolling the virtues of the movie Clueless: “1997 was a big year for me. I learned leg hair was a scourge to be eradicated at all costs, Jockey training bras were the bomb, and Clueless was the greatest movie ever.”

The authors conclude with an interesting point about the newest generation: “Because Gen Zers have unprecedented access to information and media from both the past and present, they’ll face a different sort of challenge: figuring out how to locate value in the sea of media and entertainments they’ve grown up in. Eve has nostalgia for Sesame Street because it was one of three TV shows she ever watched as a child; would she have felt the same way if her options had been effectively limitless?” (My guess is yes, she would have because – let’s face it – Sesame Street is one of the best things ever.)

Comics Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

EBRPL 20somethings, EBRPL Book Review, EBRPL Comics

X-Men: Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

Days_of_Future_pastReviewed by Adam St.Pierre

Disclaimer: This review is written by someone who hasn’t read every single X-Men story arc, but has read quite a bit and loved every bit of the X-Men television show from the 1990s.

If you haven’t seen the newest installation of the X-Men movie franchise, Days of Future Past, you need to. Pretty much immediately. The film is a true comic book movie and does a phenomenal job of highlighting all of the characters from the highly lauded story line from Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t nitpick certain elements from the movie and compare it to the original story or talk about how certain characters were not written like that because you most definitely can do that and that kind of critique can be fun … but, ladies and gents, comics and by proxy comic book movies are supposed to be fun. 

Luckily, your library has two different collected editions of the Days of Future Past story line to help you get reacquainted with or introduced to that classic tale. Why do we have two different editions you ask? Well: The first collected edition brings together X-Men #138-141Uncanny X-Men #142-143, and X-Men Annual #4. This one is a good primer for folks that:

1.) Have not seen X-men First Class or cannot remember much about First Class

2.) Just want a short overview on X-men comics during the 1960s when it was mainly monster of the week

3.) Have not seen X-men Days of Future Past yet

4.) Don’t care about the minutiae and want the book quicker (the waitlist is currently shorter)

The only disappointing thing that I came away with this particular collected edition was that it only contains one issue that is relevant to the Days of Future Past story line.

The second collected edition is a Marvel reprint that came out earlier this year. It collects X-Men #141, Uncanny X-Men #142, New Mutants Annual #6, X-Factor #5, X-Men Annual 14, Excalibur #52, Wolverine: Days of Future Past #1-3, and Hulk: Broken Worlds 2. Which is basically every single possible issue that could deal with the Days of Future Past story arc. This is a great complete edition for folks that:

1.) Want to analyze every part of the movie and compare it to the source material

2.) Need to go back after the movie is over and fact check

3.) Want to have a protracted debate and compare it to the 1990s television show

Either collected edition is a fantastic read and honestly you could read one or both of them to get the full effect. Regardless, the T.V. show’s theme song is totally stuck in my head.