Reviewsmts

Terez reviews ballet performances for Bachtrack.com and The Classical Girl.

Terez’s book reviews have appeared in MostlyFiction, the Mid-American Review, Midwest Book Reviews and The Classical Girl.

 

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SEP 26, 2012
NEED TO BREATHE by Tara Staley

Forsyth Memorial Hospital. Groundhog Day, 1975

      The first time I see Miss Claire Marie, she’s thirteen inches long and weighs seven-hundred grams. Her eyes have barely gelled and opened, and her spindly arms look like the bones in a bat’s wings. Veins wiggle their way across her forehead and see-through skin. She has youth so bad it hurts, full of loosely-stitched tissues and organs. Lord-help, there’s something about the way Claire lays fighting in that bubble-shaped incubator that could make a heart do handsprings.

      Doctors move her to an isolated room and slip on gowns and gloves. They turn and look for Daddy Mick Harper. To tell him that, “well, they rarely make it at twenty-six weeks, we just want you to be aware. You want us to try saving her?”

So begins the story in Need to Breathe, the riveting, rollicking adventure of keeping young Claire Harper alive, a job given to narrator and “spirit foster parent” Millie Rose. Millie, who died giving birth in 1922, has been dispatched from the afterlife to help out. Claire, a preemie born a whopping fourteen weeks early, fighting for every breath, desperately needs that help.

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SEP 21, 2011
THE INVERTED FOREST by John Dalton

The dictionary defines “inverted” as reversed, upturned, and this aptly describes the goings on, again and again in John Dalton’s latest novel, The Inverted Forest, an impressive follow-up to his award winning debut, Heaven Lake. That the two stories are quite diverse in setting and subject serves the reader well, as Heaven Lake, set in Taiwan and China, was one of those wondrous, luminous novels difficult to surpass. The Inverted Forest takes place in 1996 in a rural Missouri summer camp, a sun-dappled, bucolic environment that still manages to impart a sense of subliminal unease.

A grand transgression has just occurred: the counselors-in-training have indulged in an illicit, late-night skinny dipping pool party, to the outrage of conservative-minded camp owner Schuller Kindermann, who fires them all the next day, leaving his staff to scramble for new counselors before the first campers arrive. New counselors are hired, but no time is left to prepare them, inform them, and thus when the first campers arrive, a mere hour behind the counselors, they are stunned to see not kids spilling out of the bus, but adults, severely mentally disabled adults. The disorienting, funhouse sense of inversion has begun.

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JUN 23, 2011
THE MADONAS OF ECHO PARK by Brando Skyhorse

The silent, overlooked residents of Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood play the starring role in author Brando Skyhorse’s debut, The Madonnas of Echo Park. The novel, really more of a collection of short stories, each narrated by a different character, presents to the reader different facets of both the Mexican and Mexican-American experience in multicultural Los Angeles. Skyhorse, winner of the 2011 PEN/Hemingway Award for this novel, was born and raised in Echo Park. An Author’s Note sets the story (it should be noted, though, that the author calls it a fictionalized account). The sixth-grade Skyhorse, unaware of his Mexican heritage—he’d been told he was American Indian—inadvertently insulted a classmate, a girl named Aurora Esperanza. This novel, then, is his apology to her, his attempt to share with the public the world of Echo Park.

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JAN 5, 2011
PAGANINI’S GHOST by Paul Adam

Cremona, Italy. On the eve of an important performance, local luthier Gianni Castiglione is called on to examine Il Cannone, the violin once played by Niccolò Paganini, which would be played that night by competition winner Yevgeny Ivanov. A minor adjustment is made and at the recital both violin and musician perform flawlessly. The next day, however, a concert attendee, a French art dealer, is found dead in his Cremona hotel. Two items are noted among his possessions: a locked golden box and a torn corner of a music score from the night’s previous performance. Gianni’s police detective friend, Antonio Guastafeste, enlists his help and the two soon find themselves on an international chase, on the trail of not just a murderer but of a priceless historical treasure, one worth killing for.

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SEP 23, 2010
AN UNFINISHED SCORE by Elise Blackwell

Classical music, and the games of evasion and deception we play with the ones we love, create the engine that drives this lyrical, well-crafted story by acclaimed author Elise Blackwell. The premise is simple but compelling: Career violist Suzanne hears over the radio about the death of her lover, orchestral conductor Alex Elling, in a plane crash. She can only grieve secretly amid the members of her household, which include emotionally-distant husband Ben, irreverent best friend and fellow musician Petra and her young, deaf daughter. Suzanne soldiers on, rehearsing with her string quartet, playing second mother to Petra’s daughter, until a phone call from her former lover’s widow changes her life a second time. Suzanne and Alex’s secret affair was no secret, in the end, and now his widow extorts a favor from Suzanne: to finish the viola concerto started by her deceased husband. Desperate to keep the affair secret, even now, Suzanne reluctantly agrees.

 

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July 23, 2010
SACRED HEARTS by Sarah Dunant

In 16th-century Italy, a noblewoman of marriageable age had two choices: marriage and children, or reclusion to a convent. With the price of wedding dowries rising ever higher, most noble families could only afford to marry off one daughter. The rest, for a much-reduced dowry, went to the convent. But “not all went willingly,” author Sarah Dunant states in her preface, a deliciously ominous portent of the story to come.

Sacred Hearts is the third of Dunant’s Renaissance Italy trilogy, following bestsellers The Birth of Venus and In the Company of the Courtesan, and it does not disappoint. The year is 1570. Sixteen-year-old Serafina, previously considered the “marriageable” daughter, has been spirited off to the convent of Santa Caterina after forming an inappropriate attachment to her common-born music tutor. Suora Zuana, mild-mannered and scholarly, is the convent’s dispensary mistress who goes to tend to the hysterical, raging Serafina her first night. A friendship of sorts forms after the abbess assigns Serafina to work as Zuana’s assistant in the dispensary.

Serafina, in spite of Zuana’s friendly overtures, is determined to leave, to meet with the music tutor who promised he would come find her. She uses her peerless singing voice, as valuable to the convent as her dowry, as a method of communication with him in the church, from behind the iron grille that separates nuns from parishioners. Having thus far refused to sing, she now astounds all who hear her. As a convent is endowed by its wealthiest patrons when it can produce such sublime music, by singing so beautifully, Serafina has inadvertently sealed her own fate. No convent would ever allow such a songbird to leave.

 

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MAY 2, 2010
HOW CLARISSA BURDEN LEARNED TO FLY by Connie May Fowler

Clarissa Burden is having a bad day. It’s hot, her marriage is stuck in a bad place, her writing is even worse. A two-time bestselling novelist, she hasn’t written a decent sentence in thirteen months. Instead she pours her mental creativity into fantasizing about the accidental (but not necessarily unwelcome) death of Iggy, her verbally abusive artist husband, sixteen years her senior. After seven years of marriage, Iggy largely ignores Clarissa and instead focuses his attention on photographing and sketching young, pretty nudes in Clarissa’s back garden. He hasn’t touched his wife in years. He resents and scorns her commercial success even as he milks the financial benefits. Things are not good.

Iggy and Clarissa are not the only occupants of the majestic old house Clarissa bought six months earlier. Nearly two hundred years earlier a Spanish woman, Olga Villada and Amaziah, her common-law husband, a free black under Spanish law, lived here with their young son, but were brutally murdered. Now, their spectral presences roam the house. Mysterious sounds—the strains of violin playing, the rolling of a child’s ball upstairs—distract Clarissa, as does the one-armed tree-cutter at her door, who is not what he appears to be. Even the fly in the kitchen (whose thoughts the reader is privy to) won’t leave her alone today.

 

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DEC 9, 2009
NOCTURNES by Kazuo Ishiguro

Music, musicians, strains of regret and longing for what never will be, come together to form Nocturnes, a collection of five short stories by Kazuo Ishigiro. Winner of the Booker and the Whitbread Prize, Ishiguro, an established master of the longer form (Remains of the Day, The Unconsoled, Never Let Me Go) experiments here with lighter, briefer fare and that’s what we get.

A nocturne, musically speaking, is a composition of a dreamy, languid mood. The collection’s subtitle reads “Five stories of music and nightfall.” As only a few of the stories actually take place in the night, it’s clear the metaphorical sense of the word is intended, as well. The twilight hours of a career, a relationship, the sense of time having passed too quickly, choices made that can’t be undone. Ishiguro, who himself struggled to find success in songwriting and music before turning to fiction, knows his subjects well. All five narrators are males, musicians or music lovers, looking for The Big Break, reaching, pondering the harsh prosaic reality of the business.

In “Crooner,” set in Venice, a famous singer from a bygone era enlists the help of a café guitarist to serenade his wife for reasons the younger musician hadn’t anticipated. “Come Rain or Come Shine” features an aging bachelor still trapped in the habits of his twenties, who visits longtime friends and becomes an unwitting pawn in their marital quarrel. In “Cellists,” a classically trained cellist is drawn to the praise and advice of a mysterious tutor whose own virtuosity is alluded to but never demonstrated.

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OCT 19, 2009
REAL LIFE & LIARS by Kristina Riggle

In Real Life & Liars, protagonist Mira Zielinski represents a new demographic for our times: hippie turned senior, at age sixty-five still free-spirited and defiant, who has decided to refuse treatment for her recently diagnosed breast cancer. She’s also decided to withhold the diagnosis from her three grown children, as they converge on the family home in Charlevoix, Michigan for a grand 35th anniversary party. As it turns out, however, the Zielinski children are bringing home a few secrets of their own.

Author Kristina Riggle’s intelligent, entertaining debut novel is tightly chronicled, covering four points of view over the course of the party weekend. Eldest daughter Katya is stressed over her unruly teenagers, her husband and his suspicious behavior, her own too-tight hold on maintaining the perfect life. Middle child Ivan, dreamy high school music teacher and struggling songwriter, can’t seem to find the right woman, even when she is right there under his nose. Irina, young and irresponsible, recently saddled with a surprise pregnancy and much older husband, is already questioning the wisdom of this latest impulsive decision of hers.

Amid the weekend festivities is a growing storm—meteorological and otherwise—that promises to bring these disparate issues to a head, bring family members face to face with their problems and each other, clearing the way, however violently, for resolution and redemption.

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