Friday Book Whimsy: Sold on a Monday

Some time back, I read (and reviewed) a novel written by author Lisa Wingate entitled Before We Were Yours. Her novel took place in the late 1930s, and was the story of children who were kidnapped by an orphanage and then sold. The story was based on fact. It was one of the best books I read that year.

Because of my connection to that book, Sold on a Monday, by Kristina McMorris, caught my attention. It too, took place in the 30s, this time during the Great Depression. The story was based on a real photo taken during the Depression that the author came across while doing some research. The photo was of two small children sitting in front of a rundown farmhouse next to a sign that read 2 Children For Sale. Off she went with an idea for a historical novel.

Reporter Ellis Reed is lucky to have a job during the hard times of the early 30s. He is the society writer for a newspaper, a job he loathes. He yearns to be an important journalist. In the course of work, he comes across a sign advertising the sale of two children. He shoots a photo, but is unable to interview anyone.

When he returns to his office, he convinces his boss that the story is important, and the editor agrees to print it along with the photo. Unfortunately, the photo — and the negative — are destroyed. What are the chances? So he does that thing that reporters are not ever supposed to do. He sets up a fake photo and writes a fake story. Bad things ensue.

In the meantime, Lily is stuck in the dead-end job of being the newspaper’s secretary, while she really wants to be a writer. Since she is a single mother of a little girl, she knows she can’t be choosy. When Ellis’ dirty deed leads come to her attention, the two of them work together to try to make things right again.

Perhaps this book would have worked better, had the author based the story on these two children in the same manner that Wingate’s story was of the kidnapped children. Instead, the children become almost an afterthought with the attention focused on the two protagonists. Unfortunately, the author’s character development and ability to move a story along made this a book I slogged through. I finished the novel, but was left feeling that the story could have been so much more.

In her Afterword, we learn that surprisingly little is known about the real photograph. There apparently is some evidence, however, that the mother who was selling the children wasn’t doing it because she was poor, but instead, just because she wanted to be childless.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Tending Roses

Sometimes I dream about moving to a small town where everybody knows your name and you can walk to anywhere you need to go and the stress level is virtually nonexistent. But then I remember that there wouldn’t be a Whole Foods three-quarters of a mile from my house and I would be hard pressed to find an Asian market or a symphony hall. So I am satisfy my urge by reading about such a community.

For that reason, I enjoyed Tending Roses, the first in a series by Lisa Wingate. I had previously read — and reviewed — Before We Were Yours, also by the same author. I really liked that book and the author’s writing style. Tending Roses is very different, much cozier than the somewhat disturbing Before We Were Yours.

Kate and her husband Ben, along with their baby Joshua, come to visit Kate’s grandmother, mostly at the behest of other family members. Grandma Rose lives alone in the house where she brought up her children, but now, because of aging and increasing dementia, the family believes it is time for her to move into a nursing home. Kate has been asked to break the news to her grandmother.

It isn’t long before Kate realizes this is easier said than done. Grandma Rose is very happy where she is, and it becomes increasingly clear to Kate why this is so. The slower life in the smaller town is a big change — and a refreshing one — from their busy life in Chicago.

Days turn into weeks turn into months, and Kate becomes more and more peaceful. Adding to her quiet joy is a journal of stories apparently written by her grandmother that tell the tale of her life, and her wonderful memories of being a child and raising her family in this small town.

The book has a quiet charm that was refreshing after reading some of the graphic mysteries I mostly enjoy. I found myself rooting for Kate to convince her family that a slower, easier life is the way to go.

Here is a link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: Best Reads of 2017

My reading goal each year in terms of quantity is 100 books. I never make it, despite the fact that I think I read a LOT. In 2017, I read 91 books (and am in the process of my 92nd as we turn the pages of the calendar to 2018). That is three more than I read in 2016, and two fewer than I read in 2015. I abandoned a number of books this past year, however, which may account for fewer total books. I also had more books to which I gave a bad review than I usually have, and I don’t know exactly why that is. Generally, operating under my standard reading rule which is Life is too short – and there are too many choices – to read a bad book, I don’t finish books I dislike. This year, however, I did that on a number of occasions. Maybe I’m finally getting more mature!

I read a number of new books, but as usual, I also read a number of books published prior to 2017. So a couple of my favorite books of 2017 which are listed below were actually not published in 2017.

Having given you all of this useless background, here are the books I most enjoyed reading in 2017, with a link to my review…..

The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn
Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and stories about strong women are always of interest to me. The Alice Network is based on the true story of a network of women spies during World War I. It is 1947, and New York City socialite Charlie St. Clair begins searching for her beloved French cousin whom she doesn’t believe perished in World War II as most assume. In the course of her search, she meets Eve Gardner, who was a member of the Alice Network during WWI. The two stories intermingle, and a great novel is the result.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate
Speaking of historical fiction, this excellent novel was based on a fact so horrifying that I almost couldn’t believe it was true. In 1939, five children who live with their parents on a riverboat in Tennessee are left alone one night when their father is forced to take their mother who is having a dangerously difficult labor into town to the hospital. While they are gone, a group of people, claiming to be government officials, enter the boat and take the children to an orphanage. Run by real-life Gloria Tann, poor children were kidnapped and then sold to rich people unable to conceive. Decades later, the daughter of a United States senator, comes across the practice and learns her family’s part in it. Great storytelling by the author.

I Found You, by Lisa Jewell
I just finished this book and haven’t yet reviewed it. Nevertheless, it is definitely one of the best books I read this past year. Jewell is the author of another book I liked – The House We Grew Up In – one of my favorite books of 2015. Single mother, somewhat bohemian in her lifestyle, Alice Lake comes across a man sitting on the beach in front of her house. She greets him only to learn that he has no memory – he doesn’t know his name, his background, or why he is sitting on the beach in this little English village. The book is a combination of three story lines that connect in a way that I dare you to predict. The story is so clever that at one point, I was so taken by surprise I thought I might have whiplash.

The Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
Speaking of clever, this murder-within-a-murder mystery is one of the more interesting books I have ever read. The charm of Hercule Poirot meets the serious police business of Harry Bosch. The author is the creator and writer of Foyle’s War, one of my favorite PBS mystery series. His writing is outstanding and I’ll bet you can’t figure out the ending.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters, by Juliette Fay
This novel is a delight from beginning to end. The father of four girls in the early 20s finds himself unable to work when he is seriously injured on the job. The family is in despair when the mother decides that the girls will learn to become acrobats and work the vaudeville circuit. Part love story, part adventure novel, part history lesson. I loved these characters and nearly everything about the story.

Happy reading in 2018!

Friday Book Whimsy: Before We Were Yours

The plot of Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate, is so startling that it is hard to believe it is based on fact. So startling, in fact, that this reader kept going back to Wikipedia to confirm that the practice talked about in this excellent novel actually took place.

In the manner of many novels written today, the story comes from two viewpoints.

The first viewpoint is that of Rill Foss. It’s 1939, and Rill and her four younger sisters live with their parents on a riverboat outside of Memphis, Tennessee. They are dirt poor, but are a very happy family. One night, Rill’s mother goes into labor, and it isn’t long before they realize that the birth won’t be an easy one and can’t be handled by the local midwife. Rill’s father leaves her in charge while he takes his wife into the hospital in town.

A day or so later, a group of people claiming to have authority to do so come aboard the riverboat and take custody of the kids. The five girls are taken to an orphanage. They are told that their mother and the baby have died and that their father is too distraught to care for them.

The second story line takes place in contemporary time, and features Avery Stafford. Avery is the daughter of a South Carolina Congressman who is running for reelection. Avery works for her father, and is, in fact, being groomed to succeed him. While visiting a nursing home, Avery notices that a resident named May Crandall is wearing a bracelet just like one owned by her grandmother. She wants to find out if there is a link, but unfortunately her grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease.

In the way of many novels, Avery can’t let this go, despite her family’s encouragement to do so. And she eventually uncovers a truth about her family that will change her life.

Here is the part of the novel that is unbelievably and unfortunately true. The orphanage was, in fact, a place where people with enough money could buy a child. The woman who ran the orphanage was named Gloria Tann, and her adoption organization kidnapped mostly poor children and sold them from the 1920s until the government finally began looking into it in the 1950s. Tann died of cancer before the investigation became public.

While the subject matter is excruciatingly sad, Wingate’s writing is lovely and lyrical and makes the novel easy to read and not a tearjerker. The story is interesting, and while the ending was somewhat predictable, it made me happy nonetheless.

I enthusiastically recommend this novel.

Here is a link to the book.