Friday Book Whimsy: A Well Behaved Woman

One of the things I always have to remind myself when I read historical novels is that, given that they are novels, the perspective depends on the whims of the author. I’ve read books — both novels and nonfiction — in which New York City socialite Alva Vanderbilt is presented in a somewhat unfavorable light. A Well Behaved Woman, by Therese Anne Fowler, takes a different angle.

The wife of C.J. Vanderbilt, whose father made a fortune as a railroad magnate, Alva Vanderbilt helped bring the Vanderbilt family into the upper echelons of 19th Century New York City society alongside the Astors. How and why she did this is in the eyes of the beholder.

Her family had been well respected in the south, but her father lost all of his money in the Civil War. They were destitute. In this novel, Alva used her beauty and brains to win over C.J. Vanderbilt, who made no bones about the fact that he was marrying her because he felt she could use those same attributes to help his family be accepted by the New York City old money families.

She is utterly successful in this task, hosting elaborate balls, building several homes in New York City and Newport, RI (where the wealthy spent summers in their “cabins”). She had everything but the true love of her husband. Instead, she yearned to be with the man who eventually became her second husband following a scandalous divorce, something not ever done before in her social circles.

She went on to see her daughter marry into a British royal family, and was active in the women’s suffrage movement.

Whether Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was a strong and brave woman or simply an ambitious money-seeker, or someone in between, there is no question she left her mark on New York City.

Here is a link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: The Floating Feldmans

I admit to not hesitating to pick out a book because of the title or the cover. So The Floating Feldmans by Elyssa Fiedland caught my attention on both accounts. I mean, really? The Floating Feldmans? Who couldn’t want to read a book with that title?

The Feldmans aren’t close. They haven’t gathered all together for over 10 years. Annette Feldman is celebrating her 70th birthday, and she thinks it’s high time they do. She and her husband David invite them all — their daughter Elise and her husband Mitch and their teenaged son and daughter, and their son Freddie and his girlfriend Natasha — on a Caribbean cruise.

However, it seems that each of them has a secret. David has a serious illness and they haven’t told their kids. Mitch has quit his job without telling his wife. His wife, on the other hand, has developed a serious shopping addiction. And how on earth is Freddie, who failed at nearly everything he’s ever done, able to afford a suite on the ship for he and his gorgeous girlfriend?

I will admit to having a bit of a hard time getting into the book. The characters seemed so angry and unlikable, and their snarkiness towards each other got on my last nerve. It was only the clever dialogue and the descriptions of the cruise ship that kept me going.

I was glad I did, because they all redeemed themselves in the end, and parts of the book made me laugh out loud. Since my husband and I like cruising, I could definitely relate to their cruising experience.

The Floating Feldmans was worth my reading time.

Here is a link to the book.




Friday Book Whimsy: One Thousand White Women

According to a footnote from Jim Fergus, the author of One Thousand White Women, during the presidential term of Ulysses S. Grant, consideration of a program by which white women would volunteer to wed members of Indian tribes as a way of assimilating the Indian people into white culture was actually considered. Considered and, not surprisingly, dismissed.  One Thousand White Women is the story of what might have happened had the program actually taken place.

May Dodd, the feisty daughter of well-to-do parents in the mid-1800s, left home to live with (but not marry) a man of lesser means. The unmarried couple have two children before May is sent by her parents to an institution for the mentally insane. Her diagnosis? Promiscuity.

She is all but kept as a prisoner, understandably unhappy to be confined and without her children, and there is little-to-no chance of ever seeing the light of day again. So when she learns about a new program being offered by the U.S. government that allows women to volunteer to marry Cheyenne Indian men and have their children, she is eager to join. It is her only hope of getting out of the institution.

What follows is a story about the female friendships, about attitudes of whites for Indians and Indians for whites, about the settlement of the Old West, and an eye-opening look at the treatment of the Indians at the hands of the U.S. government.

I thought the author’s use of May’s journal to tell her story was interesting, and found the writing to be compelling. It was a clever way to provide a peek at the life of Native Americans as they were being pushed out of their own lands. May Dodd’s loyalty and commitment to doing good made her a likable character. While her independence struck me as quite unrealistic in 1875, I hope that even in those days, a few women were able to stand up for themselves and fight for the rest of them.

I’m not sure the idea would ever have worked in real life, which is why it was never carried out. It made for a good story, however.

Here is a link to the book. 

Friday Book Whimsy: September

Once in a while, I’m in the mood for a tome. A real multigenerational novel that has surprises and family drama and things that work out in the end. And, it takes many luxurious reading hours to get to the end. I am especially fond of an epic novel if the writing is good.

 And it is no surprise that the writing in September, by Rosamunde Pilcher, is better than good. Her writing is extremely readable, her stories are complex and interesting, and her characters are likeable. She was one of my mom’s favorite authors, and if she was good enough for my mommy, she’s certainly good enough for me.

The story revolves around a ball/party that one of the characters decides to throw in honor of her daughter in September. There hasn’t been such a gala in many years, and the event brings home unexpected people. Violet Aird has been an important person in many people’s lives, and much of the story revolves around her. Her granddaughter Alexa is one of the unexpected people who is coming, and bringing her new boyfriend.

But the story mostly revolves around Pandora, who left the village years and years ago and never returned. Now, she is returning for this party. While happy she is coming, everyone wonders what is causing her to make an appearance after so long.

Well, you have to wait until the end of the novel to find out.

My favorite novel by this author is The Shell Seekers, so it was fun that there was a connection from that book to this book. The main character in The Shell Seekers was the grandmother of one of Alexa’s boyfriend’s grandmother. This story takes place in Scotland, always a good locale for an epic novel.

I read the book in the fall, and that added to the fun, given the novel’s title.

I recommend the book, and many of Pilcher’s (who passed away in February of this year) books.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Cold Way Home

The Cold Way Home is author Julia Keller’s 8th book in the Bell Elkins mystery series. Keller’s wonderful novels appear to be a well-kept secret. And it’s a secret that should be let out to the masses, or at least the masses who like mystery drama, because Keller is a wonderful writer.

The books are somewhat dark, if realistic. They take place in the small town of Ackers Gap in the mountains of West Virginia. The troubles we hear about regularly on the evening news have been taking their toll on this community. Opioid and heroin addiction is claiming many of the young people who still live in this almost-ghost-town. The coal mines have shut down, and there are few jobs left for the people of the town. I have followed Bell from the beginning, when she was the district attorney. As the novels went on, more and more secrets from her past were revealed. Now she is no longer the district attorney, but has started an investigative business with her friend and former sheriff Nick Fogelsong, and a former deputy assistant who is now a paraplegic from a drug-related shooting.

Their first case is a doozy. A woman is found dead at a long-abandoned mental hospital located out in the middle of nowhere. The mental hospital was rumored to have used experimental (and horrific) medical practices during its time of operation. The woman was killed with a hatchet and no one knows why she was killed, or even why she was at that particular spot.  I will admit that the murderer’s identify was about as unexpected to this reader as in any mystery novels I’ve read. I literally gasped out loud when I learned the truth.

Keller’s writing is exceptional. Her descriptions are so clear and eloquent that you can hear the trees as they blow and feel the cold in the air. The story is told from all three of the private investigators, and the three couldn’t be more unique. The author weaves their personal stories into the novel, making us feel almost like they are our friends too.

I love this mystery series, and have recommended it to many. The Cold Way Home is no exception.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Evvie Drake Starts Over

Sometimes it feels good to read a book that makes you smile, not only as you’re reading it, but after you put the book down. Evvie Drake Starts Over was a book that left me smiling long after I closed the book. Well, shut off my Kindle. Author Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for National Public Radio, and has a good handle on everyday normal people. People like Evvie Drake.

Eveleth Drake gets the call from the hospital that everyone dreads: her husband has been killed in a car accident. The thing is, Evvie had been busy loading up her car with her personal items intending to leave her husband before he arrived home that evening. Her husband Tim is the highly respected doctor in the small Maine coastal town in which they both have lived their entire lives.

But Evvie’s secret — the thing no one else knows — is that Tim was not a good husband. He belittled Evvie at every opportunity. He blamed her for any thing that goes wrong. He was emotionally abusive at every turn and it was getting worse. And she had had enough. But her inability to reconcile the fact that he died at the same time that she was getting ready to escape leaves her ashamed and unable to move ahead with her life, even as the months go by.

At the same time, far away in New York City, Yankees star pitcher Dean Tenney has what professional athletes call the yips. He can no longer throw a straight pitch. He has tried everything to no avail.

The two have little in common except for a mutual friend Andy. Andy has been Evvie’s confidant about everything since Tim’s death except the truth about her husband. And Andy has been Dean’s best friend since childhood. He recognizes that Dean needs to get away from New York City, and suggests that he rent a home in Evvie’s oversized house.

The two agree to sharing a home, provided neither asks questions of the other. That works until they become friends, and then their friendship begins to blossom into something more.

Evvie Drake Starts Over is a story of friendship, love, and the importance of learning who you really are and how much you are able to withstand and still survive. Blossom, in fact.

I loved the dialogue in this book, and I was left wishing that I could be best friends with all of the characters. I really enjoyed the story of Evvie Drake.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: This Tender Land

When I look back at my reading list thus far in 2019, it seems as though I’ve read a lot of books that take place during the Great Depression, or just after. It’s probably accidental, though I will admit to a somewhat perverse enjoyment in reading books set around this troublesome time. The people who lived through those years were/are so stalwart because they had to be in order to survive. They have an enviable sense of loyalty and tenacity.

Those attributes are readily displayed by the main characters of  This Tender Land, a novel written by one of my favorite authors, William Kent Krueger. The novel is set during the Great Depression, mostly in Minnesota, but all along the Mississippi River into St. Louis. It tells the story of three boys and a young girl who are forced to grow up quickly.

The Lincoln School provides education and shelter for young Indian children as a way to integrate them into society — in other words, make them act like white kids. The problem is that it is run by a greedy and wicked woman and her dopey husband who does whatever she asks him to do.

Odie O’Banion and his brother Albert are not Native Americans, but find themselves there after both their mother and father died. Odie, in particular, finds it hard to fit in, and pays the price through beatings and solitary confinements. One day, things get out of hand, and he is forced to flee. He convinces his brother and another friend, an Indian boy named Mose, to steal a canoe and make their way down the Minnesota River towards the Mississippi. A young girl named Emmy, whose mother recently died in a tornado, convinces them to take her along so she doesn’t have to live at the school.

They meet many obstacles along the way, and encounter a variety of people — both good and bad — as they try to outrun those who are hunting them.

I love Krueger’s writing. It is lyrical and beautiful and firmly realistic. His characters, too, ring true. Twelve-year-old Odie is the narrator, and while I liked him a great deal, I will say that his dialogue seemed a bit advanced for his age. That didn’t interfere one bit with my enjoyment of the novel.

I found This Tender Land to be a very satisfying read.

Here is a link to the book.