The Ice Chorus by Sarah Stonich

Book Review
Title: The Ice Chorus
Author: Sarah Stonich
Publisher: Alma Books (Revised Edition)
Released: 2009
Pages: 312
ISBN-10: 1846880823
ISBN-13: 978-1846880827
Stars: 4.0

The Ice Chorus by Sarah Stonich is the picturesque, perceptive and contemporary tale of Liselle (Lise) Dupre, an amateur documentary filmmaker from Toronto who is torn between the men in her life: her self-absorbed, archaeologist husband Stephen, 17-year-old son Adam, once womanizing and now dead father Hart, and the lover she met on a Mexican vacation – Welsh painter Charles Lowan – who makes her feel like she has never felt before.

Exquisitely written with as much consideration of light and fluidity as the loving and precise brushstrokes of the story’s artist, Stonich reinforces the fact that nothing ever turns out the way we think it will. Their mature and deeply romantic love story is recalled in vivid, powerful flashbacks in which we feel Lise’s agony every bit as her ecstasy and are completely empathetic to her dilemma.

Author Nuala O’Faolain declared that, “Any woman who ever had her heart cracked open by a man should read The Ice Chorus.” And she’s right. I was hauntingly reminded of my most meaningful, romantic epiphany that occurred in Ireland seven years ago, and was attracted to the book’s synopsis for this reason.

After an intense affair with Charlie while on holiday in the Yucatán, Lise uncovers the real reason why she has avoided intimacy and allowed her marriage to simply happen to her. She had consented to a life that didn’t make her happy and only in Charlie’s arms did she discover the colours of love and how it feels to be genuinely understood.

“Sitting back, she framed Charlie in half shade, her gaze climbing to the hard line of his jaw, his deep temple and too-broad forehead. He would be considered plain by most.

“You choose what you see, I suppose.”

He considered her a long moment before touching her arm. “You should, you know.”

The nails of his fingers were rimmed in ochre, the same colour pressed into the fabric of his shirt. The weight of them on her skin was light, acute.

“I should what?”

“Do what that journalist suggested. Make a film of yourself.”

When he pulled his hand away, she felt marked.

“Elle?”

She froze. No one had called her that for a very long time. It took a moment for her to reply without her voice cracking. “Yes?”

Lise struggles with how to find the right time to end her marriage to Stephen, realizing that she’s bound to lose Adam in the split. Confiding in no one but her best friend Leonard, who is gay, Lise is soon forced to make a decision when Charlie’s art is exhibited in Toronto and everyone in the gallery is witness to seven remarkably intimate portraits of his “Elle”.

After many months of angst-ridden contemplation, Lise decides to start over again in rural Ireland where she builds her new life and waits for Charlie’s return. It is here that the novel begins.

While in Eire, Lise gradually forms a new familial bond with Remy (the local shanachie and hardware store owner) & Margaret Conner (an elegant cake maker with a deep, dark secret) and their prickly granddaughter Siobhan, characters that are as richly envisioned and fulfilled as the Irish seascape in Lowan’s painting; the catalyst for Lise’s decision. She rents a plain house in a remote village near the sea and embarks on a new journey of her own design. Lise slowly integrates into the lives of the villagers, who warm to her when she films them revealing how they met the love of their lives, and in the process exposes herself.

Sarah Stonich authentically depicts bucolic Ireland while smoothly weaving between the past and present and creates a “subtle, lovely evocation of the transforming power of love, forgiveness, midlife renewal and the power of art to transform life.” Her prose reminds me of the work of Maggie O’Farrell, Candida Clark and Lisa Carey, all of whom I love, and as she credits some of my favourite Irish writers (Edna O’Brien, Jamie O’Neill, Colum McCann) with inspiring her, I would not hesitate to read more of Stonich’s books.

The only complaint I have about The Ice Chorus is the way in which Stonich described Charlie’s return to Ireland which was all too brief and evasive for my liking. However, it did have a satisfying, albeit contemplative ending and was the perfect book to read as the year comes to an end and I reflect on my own journey of love and memory.

A Love That Makes Life Drunk by Karen Roderick

A Love That Makes Life Drunk by Karen Roderick

Book Review
Title: A Love That Makes Life Drunk
Author: Karen Roderick
Publisher: Pink Cupcake Publishing
Released: 2008
Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 0955791103
ISBN-13: 978-0955791109
Stars: 3.5

The title of UK author, Karen Roderick’s debut novel made me want to read it. A Love That Makes Life Drunk… Sigh, do you remember feeling that way about it? Do you remember a time when there was nothing but love and how it and great sex made you see the world in a different way; hear, smell, taste, and feel everything in the almost indescribably delicious manner that you’d never experienced before, and how you could barely recall those sensations when that love was long gone?

As I started reading, I fell in lust with this scandalous book. The author, who is an unabashedly girly girl with a cerise-coloured naughty streak, as well as writer of the blog, The Paperback Writer, has created my kind of dream guy in her main character, Jefferson James Howie, and it is through his eyes that we witness the love that makes his and Lillian “Lily Ellen” Mills’ lives drunk. Jefferson is a bit of a bad boy, who is always alluring: a handsome, elegant, sophisticated, successful London author; an intellectual with a wildly romantic streak who appreciates every last infinitesimal detail of the beautiful, young, intelligent and very sexy redhead (she’s a Masters student in the History of the Book) that he should not be falling in love with because she’s 12 years his junior and his brother’s girlfriend.

“I thought about why Lily’s parents potentially detest me. It could be the fact I’m 37 and she’s just 25, or that I’ve been sleeping with their daughter knowing she’s in a relationship with my brother; I imagine it’s both, topped off for good measure with the vulgarity of my novels and my occasionally arrogant and pretentious column.”

Jefferson Howie is in turmoil…deeply handsome, intelligent and successful, he is a man used to getting what he wants, that is, except the one thing he really wants – his brother’s beautiful girlfriend Lily.

Through a series of cleverly orchestrated meetings, Jefferson detaches himself from guilt to tempt Lily into his arms. Silently but deliriously, they collide against the back drop of the love letters of Anais Nin and Henry Miller. But is blood thicker than love and desire? With Jefferson’s sexy and charming narration, and Lily’s intensely emotional and sexually explicit Journal, we witness the honest and raw account of two people falling in love.

Karen Roderick has put so much love and effort, not to mention herself, into the creation of these lovers that the authenticity of the story is flawless. These are people who love to read (Miller, Nin, and Salinger), write, enjoy good food and fine wine, listen to music, travel to Paris and talk for hours about things they are interested in. I’ve been looking for a man like Jefferson Howie my whole life! However, I’m not a gorgeous natural redhead who has men buying expensive pink satin corsets for me, although I’m sure Playboy’s Miss May 1972, Deanna Baker – on whom Lily’s character was based – certainly was.

A Love That Makes Life Drunk is not the chick lit I expected it to be. It’s far too sexy and raw for that. In fact, it’s erotica, disguised as chick lit with a pale pink, innocent cover. Be aware of this and be discerning when recommending the book to friends. It’s a bit much for teenagers and should come with a sexually explicit warning label. Jefferson and Lily’s story is enchantingly electric with erotically charged, carnal, corporeal foreplay that leaps off the page. You will feel “clammy in the aftermath of their spectacular collision!”, that is, if you are comfortable with reading erotica, and I am.

However, I noticed my feelings about the book changing, the further I got into it. Like the love that makes Lily and Jefferson’s lives drunk, their story is just a little too over the top for my comfort, but that’s because I’m cynical when it comes to trusting men and believing in that kind of love. Roderick’s descriptions of their feelings for each other are too repetitive and go too far, making you feel as if you’ve completely overdosed on the sugar in those pink cup cakes that Lily is so fond of. Her use of journals as a way to reveal the past lives of the main characters, while done so in homage to Anäis Nin and Henry Miller, are cliché, and although the writer and Jefferson Howie are convinced that Lily’s journal is a brilliant masterpiece of literature, it’s just not. She’s no Anäis Nin and I have no idea how, realistically, Howie was able to make so much money (to pay for their £1.5 million Cotswold farmhouse or their chic, two bedroom Paris apartment) selling his writing either – imagination is definitely needed here. But then again, regular columnists for newspapers like The Independent or The Daily Mail in London earn quite a substantial salary and they’re not literary geniuses either.

Karen Roderick is a very courageous, distinctive writer and I applaud her for staying true to her vision. It is obvious that she is totally in love with Jefferson Howie and Lily Mills and I only hope their story is a reflection of her own happy union. Writing a book is a monumental accomplishment and she should be proud of her achievement. Learn all about her inspirations for the book at The Paperback Writer (karen-roderick.blogspot.com).

A Love That Makes Life Drunk left this chronically single woman with a hangover; which means I had a lot of fun reading it even if it wasn’t good for me. That being said, I am definitely a fan of Karen Roderick’s writing and can’t wait for her next book!

Sexiest Man Alive by Diana Holquist

Sexiest Man AliveBook Review
Title: Sexiest Man Alive
Author:  Diana Holquist
Publisher: Forever
Released: 2007
Pages: 352
ISBN-13: 978-0446617987
ISBN-10: 0446617989
Stars:  3.5

Well folks, the Hachette Book Group USA (Grand Central Publishing) have done it again! I have liked every book I’ve read that they have published and they’ve become my leading source for smart, fun chick lit. The latest absolutely, entertaining and, as addictive as fine Belgian chocolate gem I’ve read, is Sexiest Man Alive by the hilarious Diana Holquist. From the moment I picked up the book with its bare-chested stud muffin in a plush red towel lustily draped by perfectly manicured hands with cherry-coloured fingernails, I knew I was in for some fun! With the tag, “Every woman’s dream just became her reality”, I immediately flashed to my own fantasy with People magazine’s current sexiest man alive, Hugh Jackman, and shuddered with the possibilities! What woman hasn’t fantasized about getting it on with a famous movie star? If there is such a woman who exists out there, I’d like to know!

Sexiest Man Alive is the story of painfully shy, unknown costume designer, Jasmine Burns; a woman who becomes sick with shyness in the presence of attractive men and a very likeable character whom you find yourself rooting for all the way from the first pages. The unique thing about Jasmine is that she has a zany, psychic gypsy sister named Amy whose only power is that she can sometimes tell a person the name of their One True Love (when her spirit guide “Maddie” feels like telling her!) and the name of Jasmine’s O.T.L. is the same as People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, actor Josh Toby. It just so happens that movie star Josh is in New York City – incognito -to try to gain respect as a serious actor. He’s preparing for his stage debut in the role of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet in an off-Broadway production of the famous play by Willy Shakespeare.

Josh Toby happens to be in an arranged, fake relationship with his best friend/otherworldly beautiful superstar, Cleo Chan, who is really in love with him, and as Jasmine doesn’t realize the relationship is fake, she doesn’t think she’d ever stand a chance in hell with Josh.

Meanwhile, there is another Josh Toby…a librarian at the New York Public Library who would be much more suited to Jasmine’s shy personality, so Jasmine has to arrange to meet both of them and try to figure out which Josh Toby is her One True Love. Hilarity and cold showers ensue!

This book is fast-paced, funny, well-written, and a perfect summer beach read. If you’re going to write trash, make sure it’s excellent trash – Diana Holquist is Queen Trashionista. Sexiest Man Alive is as guilty a pleasure as Mayan Chocolate Häagen-Dazs and the sex scenes are almost as delicious! I was actually a little bummed out when I finished it!

At the end of Sexiest Man Alive you’ll find the Prologue for Diana’s next book, Hungry For More, and after reading it, I’ve decided that I will likely read everything this woman has to offer because her books are just way too much fun!