Friday Book Whimsy: The Giver of Stars

Jojo Moyes has written a good number of books. A couple have been made into movies, I believe. I, however, have read nary a one nor seen any movie made inspired by the author. Maybe I live on a desert island without any kind of media.

At any rate, I am not ashamed to say that I read The Giver of Stars because it was a Reese Witherspoon book club choice (what can I say?) and because it takes place in the hills of Kentucky and has strong women characters. Boom.

Alice Wright — born and brought up in England — married Bennett Van Cleve for two reasons: to escape her boring life and because he was a hunk who happened to be visiting England with his father from the United States. Some of us have married for worse reasons.

Anyway, following the marriage, they move from England to the small town in the hills of Kentucky where Bennett’s father owns and runs a coal mine. Much to her surprise, Bennett has no interest in consummating the marriage and obeys whatever orders his father gives — and there are some doozies.

So when Alice learns that President and Mrs. Roosevelt have started a program where library books are delivered on horseback to rural, backwoods areas, she is immediately on board. Volunteering would provide some interest in her otherwise dull and sad life. There she meets a group of women who become her friends and give her the necessary backbone to withstand her miserable life. The book is all about friendship.

I enjoyed this novel so much. I loved the characters and the story, which is based on a real program that existed for a short time in the 30s following the Great Depression. I will admit that the controversy regarding whether or not the story was plagiarized gave me pause and impacted my opinions. I don’t know the truth of the matter. What I do know is that The Giver of Stars was a wonderful book from which I learned something new that took place in U.S. history.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsey: Top Five for 2019

In 2019, I read 84 books out of my 100-book yearly goal. I feel like I read a LOT, so perhaps my goal is too high. Nevertheless, I’m going to keep challenging myself.

Out of the 84 books I read, I would like to present my five favorite books. They weren’t all necessarily published in 2019, but I read them all this past year.

So, in no particular order….

1. Watching You, by Lisa Jewell
Tom Fitzwilliams is hired by schools in trouble. He is handsome and charismatic. There is a murder, and there are many folks who could be the killer, including Fitzwilliams. The author provides readers clues a little at a time, keeping us all guessing. Jewell is one of my favorite authors.

2. November Road, by Lou Berney
Maybe I liked this book so much because I am so familiar with the time period that this took place, right around the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Mobster Frank Guidry realizes that he inadvertently played a part in the assassination, and knows the mob will be coming to get him to keep him quiet. At the same time, housewife Charlotte leaves her husband taking her children, heading for L.A. The two meet, and despite the fact that Guidry initially only is interested in them as a cover, he finds real happiness, at least for a time.

3. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
Kya is abandoned by her family when she is 6 years old, and is left to take care for herself in the marshes of the southern Carolinas. As she faces the obstacles of life, she learns what is important and what isn’t. The story involves a delicious mystery as well.

4. The Chelsea Girls, by Fiona Davis
All of the author’s books to date have involved well-known places in New York City that add to her stories. The Chelsea girls takes place in the 1950s during the McCarthy period. The characters, who live in the historic Chelsea Hoel, represent several sides of the issue, and I not only found the book highly entertaining, but I learned a lot from reading it. Win-win.

5. Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes
I loved this book. It might have been my favorite of 2019. Evvie is literally packing up her car to leave her abusive husband when she learns that he has had a massive heart attack which eventually kills him. Evvie feels so guilty and distraught that she can scarcely get on with her life. She meets a professional baseball pitcher who has suddenly and inexplicably tanked. The two fall in love, and save one another.

Happy reading in 2020.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Cutting Season

Caren Gray grew up on Belle Vie, the Louisiana plantation where her mother worked as a cook and her great great great grandfather was a slave. The home has been in the Clancy family since the days when they owned slaves. Now she lives there with her young daughter, a single mother who manages the antebellum home which is now an historic venue.

One night a young Mexican woman who works cutting sugar cane for the Groveland Corporation next to Belle Vie is found with her throat slit. There is no apparent reason, and blame is quickly placed on one of the Belle Vie workers who is putting together a film documenting a murder that took place during the days of slavery. Caren is caught in the middle as it appears that her 9-year-old daughter might be a witness.

I have never read anything by the author, Attica Locke, but The Cutting Season won’t be the last novel of hers that I will read. She tells a good story, and I rather wish that Caren Gray would be an ongoing character, as I found her to be multidimensional and intensely interesting. I can’t imagine working someplace that had once owned my ancestor as a slave.

There were twists and turns in the storyline, and the ending was quite unexpected. I liked the joining of a mystery with a book with historical background.

This is the author’s second book, and I look forward to reading more.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Family Upstairs

It isn’t often that I can say that I simply can’t put a book down. I read The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell, in bed until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I read the next day as a Lyft driver took me downtown. And I read on my way home as well. I had to know — HAD TO KNOW — what happens to this oh-so-complicated-and-disturbed family.

Libby Jones finally receives the letter she knew would be coming when she turned 25. She rips it open and learns that her birth mother and father who had died years before in an apparent suicide pact left her their mansion in the Chelsea neighborhood of London that is worth millions of dollars.

She had a brother and sister, who vanished after their parents’ death. Libby, then only an infant, was found happily playing in her crib. What happened to her siblings and why did her parents commit suicide?

Meanwhile, while Libby is digesting her newfound wealth, Lucy is barely surviving, trying to provide food and shelter for her two children. She hasn’t forgotten that  the baby is 25, a reminder she sees every day in her diary.

And then there’s Henry, Lucy’s brother. Is he still alive?

I love author Lisa Jewell. Her novels never fail to keep me glued to the stories, which always take unexpected twists and turns. The Family Upstairs is dark, even for this author who takes the reader places you will have bad dreams about that night. Some of the twists didn’t surprise me, but others caught me off guard. Jewell’s characters are always interesting and often have dark sides. Libby and Lucy and Henry and Phin were no exception.

I really enjoyed The Family Upstairs, and give it a big thumbs up.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Turn of the Key

Author Ruth Ware specializes in thriller novels with twists and turns, generally with protagonists who are troubled and often with questionable pasts. I will admit to always looking forward to her next novel, and I will also admit to almost always wondering why I was so eager to read the book when it often leaves me troubled or dissatisfied by either the characters or the ending, or both.

Unfortunately, The Turn of the Key, Ware’s latest thriller, left me feeling the same as I felt with the others. Unfulfilled and somewhat disappointed.

Rowan Caine stumbles across a help wanted ad that seems too good to be true. She has been working for terrible pay at a daycare center, and would like to make more money and be more fulfilled. Here is an advertisement for a job that not only pays well, but meets all of her other needs — some independence, darling children, an extremely nice employer. She applies for the job and is quickly hired.

That, of course, is when all hell breaks loose. The children’s father almost immediately makes a pass at her. The mother seems too good to be true. The caretaker is tall, dark and handsome. Before long, one of the children is dead, and the nanny is the prime suspect. She knows she didn’t do it, but who did?

The author must have a fascination with houses. The house in her novel In a Dark, Dark Wood was made entirely of glass, which added to the creepiness of the wooded setting. In The Turn of the Key, the house is “smart,” operating using technology.Though the creepiness of being watched by cameras and operating all of the systems using voice or touch technology could have — should have — contributed to the creepiness of the book, it missed its mark. As did the references to spiritual activity, which were just silly.

I will admit that the twist towards the end of the book caught me by surprise, but by that time I had lost interest in all of the characters. The ending was completely unsatisfying.

I can’t recommend this novel, despite the potential it offered.

Here is a link to the book.

 

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.