Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Claire Roth is an artist and a fake. The only successful original painting she created was signed by another artist who was struggling creatively when he was invited to produce a work for a MOMA show of new talent. This other artist was also Claire’s lover and her former art teacher, so she did not mind helping him over his creative impasse. But the episode ends in scandal and heartache.

Fast forward three years, and Claire is supporting a minimal lifestyle in Boston by making reproductions of famous paintings. No gallery will show her original work because of her involvement in the earlier scandal. But this situation changes unexpectedly when famous gallery owner Aidan Markel offers her a one-woman show and $50,000. The deal is presented if Claire agrees to create a reproduction of a famous Degas painting that was stolen at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Claire is not convinced the Degas that Markel shows her is indeed the original, but even if it is, how bad would it be for her to just copy it? And how awful would it be if she also took Markel for her next lover?

Mystery, passion, deception, and a dose of art history make the thoroughly enjoyable “The Art Forger” anything but painting by numbers.

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Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen

Ari Seth Cohen, in his blog-based book, Advanced Style
(2012), turns ageism on its heels. His exquisite photography and
meaningful words capture the essence of growing older with dignity and

I have never considered "old" a bad word, the author writes.  To
be old is to be experienced, wise, and advanced.  The ladies I
photograph challenge sterotypical views on age and aging. They are
youthful in mind and spirit and express themselves through personal
style and individual creativity...The fashion these women display is
merely a reflection of the care and thought they put into every aspect
of their lives.  These photos offer proof that the secret to remaining
vital in our later years is to never stop being curious, never stop
creating, and never stop having fun. 

Advanced Style is
not only a beautiful coffee table book, it is an inspiration for any
woman at any age.  Not only are the featured clothes and accessories
exquisite, but the women photographed are admirable in the statements
they are making. Their attitude about themselves and about life is

Check out Ari Cohen's blog at




I have never read anything by Carlos Fuentes, I am sorry to admit, so when I read a review of Vlad, I decided to give it a try.  Excellent.  Vlad, of course, refers to Count Vladimir Radu, also known as Vlad the Impaler (but his friends just call him "Vlad").  Vlad has left, or rather been forced out of Romania and has decided to move to Mexico City. He contacts his old friend, Don Eloy Zuringa, an attorney  asks him to arrange a house. And I mean Zuringa ia an old friend. 
Zuringa, thought to be in his 80's has been an attorney in Mexico City for as long as anyone can remember.  Navarro is one of Zuringa's staff attorneys. Navarro is tasked with finding lodging for Zuringa's friend. The client (who is nameless at this point) wants a house that is remotely located, with large lots on 3 sides and abutting a ravine on the 4th. A tunnel has to be run from the house into the ravine. And all the windows need to be bricked over. "OK" thinks Navarro - he will have his wife, Asuncion, a real estate agent find the property. Vlad is thrilled with the house and the location. Navarro's life will never be the same as Vlad starts to take over Navarro's family.

This short (125 pages) book was simply wonderful. Quirky and well written the story shows just how one man can slide into a major life transformation without realizing it is even happening. How trust in your spouse and friends can sometimes lead to unintended consequences for you. I recommend this book.

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The Innocents

In the June 2012 issue of Vogue, Francesca Segal discusses the classic from which The Innocents is based.  Whereas The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, takes place in 19th century New York, The Innocents is set in the Jewish enclave of Temple Fortune (London), circa 2012.  Like the Edith Wharton novel, The Innocents
deals with young love and the allure of the forbidden.  Segal's use
of literary allusion provides a timeless look at upper-class society.

Newman is the childhood sweetheart of Rachel Gilbert, a good-hearted
young woman raised in the security of a protective and loving family.
Having lost his father at an early age, Adam has been welcomed into the
Gilbert home like a son.  He is particularly close to Rachel's father
and works as a lawyer in his firm. But as plans for a large wedding are
being made, Adam begins to feel suffocated.  The close-knit family
within the insular Jewish community offers security but insists on
conformity.  To make matters worse, Rachel's cousin Ellie comes to visit
and Adam falls passionately in love with this troubled beauty.  Unlike
Rachel, Ellie is uninhibited and promiscuous.  Her life has been a
series of bad choices leading up to a scandal with an older married man.

In beautiful prose reminiscent of  The Three Weissmann's of Westport
(Cathleen Schine, 2010), Segal explores the conflict between the safe
and conventional versus the exotic and the unknown.  She also deals with
the dilemmas of young love amidst the strength of family bonds. In the
character of Adam, we see a young man who has never dealt with the grief
of losing a parent, whose very development has been stunted by
repressed anger.  This is the quality he shares with Ellie, whose
self-destructive bent threatens to pull him under.  The chemistry
between them, and the sense of impending disaster, keeps this novel
moving from the first page to the last.

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The Last Policeman: A novel

"The end of the world changes everything from a law-enforcement perspective."

Earth is about to be destroyed.  All over the world people are killing themselves, have stopped doing their jobs or are just going berserk, but Hank Palace, a homicide detective in New Hampshire, is trying to keep up with his investigations and the suicide of Peter Zell just doesn't add up.
 There are 2 stories in this book. One story line runs through Hank's life trying to just do his job while society is slowly falling apart around him.  In the background is a parallel story of the asteroid heading straight for earth.  This impending calamity is effecting people's lives - bucket lists, drugs and sex binges, religious awakenings and some people who just want to continue on with their lives.  The two lines intersect with a resounding crack when Hank realizes that everyone is not going to believe what ever  it is that is going to happen.
His sister, her husband, fellow detectives, suspects in other cases all are involved in the death of Peter Zell.  The federal police, newly created to help contain lawlessness that increases the closer the impact day comes, are deliberately not helping him.  The story line has enough twists to keep it interesting.

I am careful about what I read when it comes to apocalyptic themed books, and usually don't read them.  But I liked Winters' Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, so I broke my rule.  This is a well written murder mystery with some psychological aspects and a smattering of morality issues woven into it.

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Trapeze, by Simon Mawer

Why would a young woman, who verges on the shy side, decide to be a spy during WWII? What would go through her mind and what events would lead her to parachute in blackest night into Nazi-occupied France? Understand her thinking and follow her path in the beautifully written "Trapeze."

The latest novel by Simon Mawer, the critically acclaimed author of "The Glass Room," "Trapeze" is an exciting war-torn adventure with characters who will haunt you long after you finish reading their story. Main character Marian Sutro, a Brit, is also a native French speaker, which makes her an attractive recruit for the “Inter-Service Research Bureau.” Soon she is undergoing commando training and enrolled in a “school for spies.” But all espionage and no romance would make Marian a dull girl. And dull she is not. As her duties expand, so do the number of aliases she takes on (“Live the person you are pretending to be”), as well as the number of lovers.

As this historical novel progresses, readers see a basically ordinary girl take on an extraordinary life. After her first parachute jump, she thinks, "How will anything, ever again, be as exciting as this?" But for the reader, the excitement continues throughout Marian's training, and her introduction to what is literally the physics of war culminates in a nail-biting finale.

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Heading Out to Wonderful

Heading Out to Wonderful, by Robert Goolrick, is a tale of forbidden love
and its consequences. Set in rural Virginia circa 1948, it recounts the
story of Charlie Beale, a mysterious stranger who walks into town with
two suitcases: one filled with cash and the other containing a fine set
of butcher knives. He secures a job in the butcher shop and soon meets a cast of
local characters, including the richest, meanest man in the town and
his teenage bride. He falls passionately in love with her movie star
image. As time passes, Charlie befriends the shopkeeper's family,
including their son, Sam.  Sam is only 4 years old when the story
begins. We learn from the opening line that it is Sam, now in his 60s,
who is our sympathetic narrator.

The thing is, all
memory is fiction...Of course, there are things that actually,
certifiably happened, things where you can pinpoint the day, the hour,
and the minute.  When you think about it, though, these things seem to
happen to other people
. (p. 1)

Many themes of the book reflect the life of the author. This is graphically depicted in his memoir, The End of the World As We Know It
(2007). As Janet Maslin of the New York Times writes: "It follows the
senior Goolricks from high times to low ones, when 'my mother and father
went on until they didn’t care enough to read or dress or cut their own
toenails or defend themselves against alcoholism and cancer and
filthiness and disrepair and rats in the house.'” (New York Times, March
26, 2007)  But what damaged him for a
lifetime occurred when he was 4 years old. Maslin writes that it is
described by Goolrick in pornographic detail. The child abuse, coupled with his general home life, led to a troubled youth and adulthood. As a child, he set his
grandmother's curtains on fire. As a teenager, he roamed the streets
inebriated and high on cocaine.  He began a life-long struggle with
self-mutilation. He had affairs with men and women.

events in Heading Out to Wonderful appear melodramatic, they pale next
to those of his real life. Charlie Beale is sympathetic and
tormented--a lonely soul who befriends a child and ultimately betrays
his innocence.  Throughout the book, Charlie seeks salavation for a past
not disclosed. He visits many churches but, in the end, worships at the feet of a woman.