REVIEW: VIVIAN IN RED, BY KRISTINA RIGGLE

 

Famed Broadway producer Milo Short may be eighty-eight but that doesn’t stop him from going to the office every day. So when he steps out of his Upper West Side brownstone on one exceptionally hot morning, he’s not expecting to see the impossible: a woman from his life sixty years ago, cherry red lips, bright red hat, winking at him on a New York sidewalk, looking just as beautiful as she did back in 1934.

The sight causes him to suffer a stroke. And when he comes to, the renowned lyricist discovers he has lost the ability to communicate. Milo believes he must unravel his complicated history with Vivian Adair in order to win back his words. But he needs help—in the form of his granddaughter Eleanor—failed journalist and family misfit. Tapped to write her grandfather’s definitive biography, Eleanor must dig into Milo’s colorful past to discover the real story behind Milo’s greatest song Love Me, I Guess, and the mysterious woman who inspired an amazing life.

MY THOUGHTS:
A dual time line story with a mystery at its core, Vivian in Red captured my interest immediately. Why did the vision of Vivian Adair topple poor Milo, and catapult him into the past via visions he now sees and cannot describe, as he has lost his voice?

Granddaughter Eleanor is aware of the visions, although she does not know the meaning. She may be onto something, however, as a stranger named Alexander has called to ask about Milo, and to suggest a more than passing connection between Milo and Vivian.

I liked how the story unfolded by showing us moments in the past, along with Eleanor’s searches from the present while interviewing Milo as best she can. Through gestures and yes and no questions, she finds out more than any of the others have managed. I felt a connection with Eleanor, the grandchild without parents, the condescension she feels from the aunts, uncles, and cousins. The one they now turn to for this final tribute to Milo: a biography that will come out at the same time as a musical revival from the past.

Milo’s son Paul and daughter Rebekah were annoying in the way they demanded things from Eleanor, so I was happy when she started standing up for herself, making them realize that she will do what she can, but at her own pace.

Her boyfriend Daniel has left her, so moving into her grandfather’s home feels right. While interviewing Milo and doing her research, she has time to ponder her choices.

From the glimpses into the past that revealed Vivian’s layers, I had mixed feelings about her. She seemed like a manipulative user who somehow captivated Milo, and is now holding him hostage in his silence. What were the secrets between them? How can Milo be freed from the past? Another brilliant book from an author I enjoy, this one earned 5 stars.

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CALL ME ZELDA, BY ERIKA ROBUCK

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F. Scott Fitzgerald and his lovely wife Zelda were legendary in their time. For the glitz and glamor of their lives, for their often chaotic behavior, and for the passionate yet stormy nature of their relationship.

Call Me Zelda is a story that began in 1932, in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, in the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic. Zelda was a patient, and Anna Howard, a nurse. The story is narrated in Anna’s first person voice, and we learn about the losses that have devastated her. How the ravages of war have hollowed out her very soul.

Almost as if the two of them were born to be connected, Zelda and Anna developed a close, almost symbiotic relationship that was mutually beneficial for a time, but then seemed to turn, until Anna was consumed by the needs of Scott and Zelda. Having a relationship with Zelda meant also having to relate to Scott, who proved difficult and challenging on the best of days.

Why was Zelda obsessed with finding her old diaries? Does her quest have anything to do with her assertions that Scott has “stolen” her writings and her ideas? That he has created his work from her life?

At one point in the story, there is a break between the Fitzgeralds and Anna, and only then is she able to start her own life over. To move past her losses.

And then there is a leap forward to post-WWII, when Anna is married to old friend Will, and has settled in with their three children: twins, Ben and Will; and Sara.

When Anna receives a letter from Zelda, years after Scott’s death and long since their last communication, all the old feelings of connection are stirred up. Will Anna take a final journey, at Zelda’s request, to search through the moments in Zelda’s past and find the diaries? And afterwards, what sad ending will finally close the chapter for the two of them?

An unforgettable tale that will stay with me, and which I enjoyed enough to award four stars. Recommended for those who love historical fiction and who won’t mind slogging through a lot of detail to reach the core of the story.

LEARNING EMPATHY, COMPASSION, AND THE FACT OF INJUSTICE

From this story’s beginning, we walk right into 1930s Southern life, visualizing the characters in this small town through the eyes of one of its children, Scout Finch, who narrates this wonderful tale.

With her older brother Jem and their summer friend Dill, these children explore the small world within two blocks of their home, imagining and fantasizing and sometimes obsessing over a mysterious man named Albert (Boo) Radley. The stories about him reveal a troubled young man contained in his home by his punitive father. But long after the father’s death, Boo stays out of sight.

Meanwhile, the town begins stirring over a controversial happening—Atticus Finch, a lawyer and the father of Jem and Scout has taken on the case of defending a black man against charges that he raped a white woman. Never mind that there is no physical evidence, nor are the “witnesses” even slightly credible. Finch pokes holes in the prosecution’s case, and Jem, Scout, and Dill, watching from the balcony, feel sure of an acquittal.

What these children learn from this case and the subsequent aftermath is that life is often unjust. But their father tries to help them see that understanding another person can only happen when you “walk in his shoes.”

Empathy, integrity, compassion, and yes, life’s injustices—all of these are brought home to these children growing up in a Southern small town during the 30s. When a surprising rescuer saves Jem and Scout from the evil of one bitter man, they also learn that things are not always the way they seem.

The ending of To Kill a Mockingbird (slipcased edition) was just a beginning, in a sense, as Scout, our narrator, comes to understand what Atticus has been saying all along…most people are “nice,” too, “when you finally see them.”