The Last Tuesday Book Club: Stolen Memories

Welcome to the second edition of the Last Tuesday Book Club. Last month we read The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro and there were some interesting points made during the discussion. My plan is to read a book every month and to discuss it on the last Tuesday blog post of the month. I hope more people join us in the coming months!

This month’s selection for our Last Tuesday Book Club was Stolen Memories by Mary Miley. Mary is also the author of the Roaring Twenties mysteries, as well as a large number of non-fiction books. Stolen Memories is a work of Gothic fiction and I found it to be an exciting page-turner. Here’s a synopsis:

It’s 1928. A young English woman in Paris is attacked and thrown into the Seine, where she is left for dead. Thanks to the quick thinking of two sailors nearby, she is rescued and taken to a hospital. When she awakens, she is alarmed to discover that she has lost her memory. She doesn’t remember marrying the man standing over her with angry, flashing eyes, and she doesn’t remember why she was in Paris. The man is demanding that she reveal to him where she has hidden a number of paintings, and she has no idea what he’s talking about. As the woman slowly regains some of her disjointed memories, she is disturbed to find that she still doesn’t remember anything about her marriage, her home, the paintings, or her family.

I loved the book. Gothic fiction is my favorite genre to read and this did not disappoint. There is a French chateau, a woman who has lost her memory, a mysterious man of wealth and a dubious past, missing artwork, and an attempted murder. It has all the ingredients of a dark mystery.

There are a number of discussion questions at the end of the book, and I have opted to choose a few of them and supplement them with my own questions. Please feel free to join the discussion in the comments below and ask any questions you  may have.

  • When does Eva/Claire begin to question her identity? Why does she initially explain away her doubts?
  • Dr. Thomas J. Barnardo was a real person who died in the 1950s. Was he correct, that heredity counted for very little and environment was everything? Would Eva have become Claire and Claire, Eva, if they had been adopted by the other’s parents?
  • Clearly, both heredity and environment (nature and nurture) play a role in every person’s development, but how would you rank the importance of each?
  • Did you recognize any of the other characters in the book, besides Dr. Barnardo, as being “real people?”
  • Why do you suppose Alex wanted the paintings back? Was it pride, financial need/want, determination, or something else? Was it a combination of things?
  • What did you think about Lianne’s role in bringing Eva/Claire to Luca? Do you think it was romantic imagination on Lianne’s part, or did she suspect that Luca meant Eva/Claire harm?
  • How do you feel about Alex’s sister Danielle? Do you like her? Dislike her? What do you think about her motives in visiting the chateau?
  • Why do you suppose Madame Denon and Cousin Pauline were in the book?

I reviewed Stolen Memories, giving it 5 stars. I hope you enjoyed reading and discussing the book. If you have any suggestions for a June book club selection, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. In the meantime, the selection for May is What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman. I’ve read The Plum Tree by Ms. Wiseman and she is an incredibly skilled writer.

Until next time,

Amy

The First Last Tuesday Book Club Meets Here Today

Welcome to the first Last Tuesday Book Club! For those of you who may not know, I’ve started a new book club on my blog. On the last Tuesday of each month, we will discuss the book we’ve read for that month.

The book for March was The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.

For those of you who haven’t read the book yet, here’s a quick synopsis:

You may recall reading in the papers back in 1990 that paintings worth over 500 million dollars were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in a stunning heist that still baffles investigators today. The paintings were by such masters as Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer, and Manet. The Art Forger is a fictional account of what happened following the heist.

Claire Roth, a struggling artist living in Boston, makes a meager living by reproducing famous paintings. She works for an online retailer of artistic reproductions and she is very good at her job.

Claire is somewhat of an outcast in the art community for reasons that are explained in the book. Because of her lesser stature in the art world, she is eager to score an opportunity for a one-woman art show in a famous Boston gallery. The trouble is, in exchange for being invited to do the show, she has to agree to copy one of the masterpieces allegedly stolen during the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist. When she becomes convinced the “original” which hung in the museum was actually a forgery, she becomes deeply entrenched in a web of deceit that could spell the end of her art career.

I enjoyed the book. It offers plenty of food for thought about the reasons certain artworks become “famous” or “classic.” Is it because of the inherent value of a piece of art or is it because a famous person painted it?

I’ve curated some discussion questions from several places online, and I’ve sprinkled in some of my own, too. Please feel free to join the discussion in the comments below and ask any questions you  may have.

  • Do you think Claire shares any of the blame for Isaac Cullion’s suicide?
  • Do you find Claire to be a sympathetic character? How about Aiden?
  • Can you imagine yourself in a position where you want something so badly that you would do anything–even something unethical or illegal–to get it?
  • Do you think Aiden loves Claire? Why do you have that opinion?
  • What about the lies Aiden and Claire tell each other, or the corollary of that, what about the truths they keep from each other–do you think they can love with that level of deception toward each other?
  • Who is your favorite character and why?
  • Why are Claire’s works suddenly very valuable at the end of the book? They’re the same paintings that haven’t sold for years–is it their intrinsic beauty that makes them valuable, or the artist’s reputation, or something else?
  • Did you leave a review of the book online? 🙂

I must confess that as of the writing of this post, I haven’t reviewed the book online yet. I’ve got to put that on my to-do list. I hope you enjoyed reading and discussing The Art Forger. If you have any suggestions for a May book club selection, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. In the meantime, the selection for April is Stolen Memories, a Gothic mystery by Mary Miley. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s queued up on my Kindle and ready to read.

Until next time,

Amy

A Review: The Impersonator

I am a member of Goodreads, a website I’ve mentioned on this blog before. As a quick review, there are lots of things I like about Goodreads: first, once a reader reviews a certain number of books, the site offers suggestions of books to read that are specific to the reader’s preferred genre(s). Second, the site allows readers to tag books that they want to read, books they’ve read, books they’ve reviewed, and many other categories. Third, readers can make friends on Goodreads that also post their reviews, suggestions, and reading progress. Fourth, a reader can join as many groups as she’d like. These groups have discussions that can be very interesting.

One of the groups I’m part of on Goodreads is called Gothicked. I’m also a member of the group called Ladies & Literature and one called Retro Reads. On the Gothicked feed one day, I came across a woman by the name of Mary Miley. She caught my attention because she asked me a question about one of my books. She indicated that she’s also an author of The Impersonator, a Roaring Twenties mystery. Not long after I heard from Ms. Miley, I went to Virginia to the Suffolk Mystery Writers Festival. While I was there my husband took our three kids to Colonial Williamsburg and explored the sights in the village. One of their stops was a bakery, where they bought me a treat – one of the best muffins I’ve ever tasted. It was a sweet potato muffin, and it’s not something I ever would have ordered. But it was delicious. At that bakery they also bought me a souvenir – a cookbook featuring recipes of some of the goodies at the bakery. Alas, the sweet potato muffin recipe wasn’t in the book, but something else was: the foreward, written years ago by none other than Mary Miley.

I emailed Ms. Miley and asked her if she was the same person who wrote the foreward to the cookbook and she answered that yes, she was the one who wrote it, long ago in a former life when she worked in Colonial Williamsburg.

It seemed like a sign: I was running into Mary Miley everywhere, so I needed to read her book.

I’m so glad I did.

The book follows the story of a young woman who is hired to play the role of Jessamyn Carr, the daughter and heiress of a couple who drowned at sea in the early 1900s. Jessamyn, or Jessie, herself disappeared in 1917 at the age of fourteen. Whether she ran away, fell to her death along the rugged Oregon coast where she lived, or was the victim of some other mishap, no one knows.

Well, almost no one.

Almost seven years after Jessie’s disappearance, her maternal uncle, Oliver Beckett, thinks he recognizes Jessie in a vaudeville performance. When he approaches the actress after the show, he finds out that the actress is not Jessie, but is, in fact, Leah Randall, who has been in vaudeville since early childhood. Oliver, a hard man with a love of money, asks Leah if she would be willing to take on a new role: that of his niece, Jessie. If Leah, a dead ringer for Jessie, can convince the trustees of the Carr estate and more importantly, the rest of the family, that she is really Jessie, then she and Oliver can live out their lives in leisure. There are only a couple problems: the charade has to go smoothly and quickly, before Jessie’s twenty-first birthday (at which time her cousin will inherit the fortune), and there’s a lot to learn. Oh, and there’s at least one person who really knows what happened to Jessie, so that person will know Leah’s an impersonator.

Leah initially refuses Oliver’s suggestion, but after she finds herself out of work and out of money, she agrees to take on the role. As the days and weeks go by, Leah finds that being part of a family, something she’s never experienced, has its highs and lows. She has made a promise to herself that she will find out what really happened to Jessie, and her investigations lead her into speakeasies, the seedier areas of 1920s-Portland, and some very dangerous circumstances.

I loved The Impersonator. Ms. Miley does a beautiful job exploring the worlds of vaudeville and Prohibition-era speakeasies. I love the descriptions of the Oregon coast and the house Leah moves into; it’s fun to read about the lives of the wealthy in the 1920s. Leah and the members of Jessie’s family are a group of well-developed characters; Leah is tough, but spunky and kind; her cousins, twin girls, are naive and fascinated by her; her male cousins are less so-they have a hard time believing that Leah is really Jessie and aren’t afraid to tell her so; Jessie’s aunt is cautious and can be overbearing; Jessie’s grandmother can be distant, but is shrewd and has a soft spot for Jessie.

The book is fast-paced and never feels like a history lecture. It had me guessing up to the very end, and what a satisfying ending it was! I found myself suspicious of almost everyone at one time or another, and it was great to be kept on my toes throughout the novel.

The Impersonator was the bee’s knees!

Until next week,

Amy