Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime

Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime by Diane Leslie
3 stars

Reasons for reading: read a good review of it long ago so it's been on the TBR list for a while; Historical Fiction for Triple 8 Challenge

Description: "Tucked away in her parents' lavish Beverly Hills mansion, young Fleur de Leigh has all the benefits of a privileged and glamorous upbringing. Or so she is frequently told. Fleur's mother, a flamboyant, ambitious B-movie actress and eponymous star of The Charmian Leigh Radio Mystery Half-Hour, and her aloof father, currently reduced to producing the TV game show Sink or Get Rich, casually entrust their daughter's welfare to a procession of nannies, cooks, and character actors. Surrounded by falsies, false eyelashes, and lust for fame, Fleur seeks to learn from her eccentric caretakers the difference between genuine love and its many imitations."

First line: "We'd been studying Bedouins in my fifth-grade class, how they carried only what they needed or loved on the backs of ornery camels, and how other, territorial groups kept them hopping."

My thoughts: Weirdly, I'd thought this was a mystery. I had to switch it from the Mystery to the Historical Fiction list at the last minute.

I'm not really sure how I feel about this one (I seem to be saying that a lot lately!). It was witty and I enjoyed the old Hollywood setting (Fleur sneaks into the grounds of Pickfair and the Barrymore mansion). I liked the structure - each chapter lasts the length of the stay of one of Fleur's nannies or other transient adults in her life. Some of the nannies are very funny indeed and some are scary. And I was pleased by the ending, where Fleur learns to stand up to her truly odious parents. But I seem to have read a big bunch of (admittedly very different) books involving bad parents in the space of a few weeks, so that might have affected my reaction - though I'm sure the Leighs are meant to be parodies, they're so terrible I found them really hard to stomach.

I also have a feeling maybe I didn't get below the surface enough. For example, there are discussion questions at the end of the book and one of them is "The word crime in the title is used as a metaphor. What crimes take place in Fleur's household? What is Fleur's crime?" Well...her parents are walking crimes against parenthood and there are some actual crimes (like theft) that take place, but I have no idea what Fleur's crime was. I actually shouldn't read questions at the ends of books, they make me feel dumb. :-)

To me, the whole tone of the book felt cold, I think that was the problem, and so it left me a bit cold. When I read the author's note and discovered the book was fairly autobiographical, I thought "Aha, that explains it, there's a lot of bitterness there." But overall, it seems to have warmed reviewers' hearts, even leading to comparisons to my beloved Eloise at the Plaza, so perhaps I missed something.

(But honestly, what is up with that hideous cover??)

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