Friday Book Whimsy: Razorblade Tears

It’s clear that author S.A. Cosby isn’t afraid to tackle the difficult issues of the day. His 2020 novel Blacktop Wasteland made many readers like me squirm while looking at what it’s like to be poor and black in America, especially the south. The protagonist in that book wanted so much to escape his life of crime, but didn’t know where to go. That novel was one of my favorite reads of 2020.

Razorblade Tears will be one of my favorite reads of 2021. The protagonists this time are the unlikely combination of a white father and a black father whose gay sons were killed. The police haven’t found the killers, and Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee are pretty sure nobody is trying too hard.

Like the protagonist in Blacktop Wasteland, Ike served his time and has kept a clean record since being released from prison. Buddy served time too, but he isn’t too worried about staying out of trouble because he is poor and uneducated and has very little to lose. Each man suffers acutely from the memory of how he reacted to learning their son was gay.

They intend to make up for their sins by finding out who murdered their boys, leaving a daughter behind.

The story is told in measured tones. The author paints such a wonderful picture of the anguish felt by each man for the way they treated their sons, and how they intend to make up for their shortcomings, no matter what it takes, no matter how much they have to lose.

Razorblade Tears is not a cheerful book, but it is a rewarding read. I loved watching the two men develop throughout the story. The ending, while not what I would call lighthearted, was entirely appropriate and satisfying.

Don’t miss this wonderful book, and this amazing writer.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Godmothers

You probably remember the movie Godfather II in which Michael Corleone tells his brother Fredo, “Nobody goes against the family,” and then has him killed because he had gone against the family. Now imagine four godmothers instead of a godfather, and you are ready to sit down and enjoy The Godmothers, a novel by Camille Aubray.

Filomena, Amie, and Lucy are three very different women with secrets of their own. The three women are strangers to one another, but fall in love with three brothers who, unbeknownst to them, have ties to the New York City mob. Throw in Petrina, their sister-in-law, and you have what amounts to a fearless foursome. They become friends and are godmothers to one another’s children. They live in the same house together, cook meals, take care of each others’ kids, and try to find their place in their new opulent and powerful world.

And just when things are going pretty well, World War II hits America. It becomes incumbent upon the four women to handle mobsters like Lucky Luciano and other real-life mafia bosses, keeping their families safe and trying to successfully get out of a business that most people are unable to escape.

I loved these feisty women, who, despite the wealth and power held by their families, are determined to hold everything together by themselves, and figure out a way to become free of mafia ties. In a world where the word feminism had never been heard, these four women were feminists of sorts.

While I’m not familiar with the ways of the Mob, I’m pretty sure that in real life, these women wouldn’t have survived some of the situations in which they found themselves. However, those situations, and the women’s responses, made for a fun and exciting read. The author threw in some real-life NYC mobsters, and that made the book even more interesting.

This book gets a thumbs up.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Malibu Rising

From its title, Malibu Rising sounds a bit like a beach read. I have nothing against beach reads, but I haven’t even been in the vicinity of a beach this summer. In fact, aside from a trip to Vermont, I mostly haven’t been outside of my back yard. Still, author Taylor Jenkins Reid wrote two of my favorite books of all time: Daisy Jones & the Six, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I was ready to give this book a try.

What I like best about this author is that she doesn’t tackle books in a traditional way. Daisy Jones & the Six is presented as an oral history, making it unique and extremely readable. I hoped for the best from Malibu Rising, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Every year, Nina and her siblings (Jay, Hud, and Kit) hold a summer-ending party. Nineteen eighty-three was no exception. Except this party changed many lives completely.

These four are the children of a famous singer who knows how to entertain but doesn’t know how to be a faithful husband or a good father. He leaves his family when the children are young. His wife tries her best, but sadness and the stress of raising four kids alone drives her to drink herself to death when Nina — the eldest — is only 16 years old. She reaches out to her father, but doesn’t hear back from him. She quits high school to take care of her siblings the best that she can.

While the bulk of the story takes place in a single day, flashbacks tell the story of how the four cope with their unusual family situation. Once she turns 18, Nina takes over the restaurant that her mother’s family always ran. Jay becomes a professional surfer, while the youngest — Kit — tries to figure out where she fits into the family.

They author’s description of the party are vivid and crazy. There are no invitations, if you hear about the party, you can come. Alcohol and drugs are plentiful. Famous people mix with blue-collar workers. Nina’s siblings look forward to the party every year. This year, Nina — in the midst of getting a divorce from her famous husband — is not as enthusiastic.

Normally back-and-forth stories are troublesome to me. I sometimes find them confusing. The author’s telling of this story is, however, seamless. The characters are interesting and realistic. Most important, though they could be obnoxious, they are likable. Well, at least the main characters are likable.

Malibu Rising is a story of survival and figuring out who you are amidst chaos and confusion. The ending was satisfying, except for the fact that I wasn’t ready to be done reading. Yes, it was that good.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Lilac Girls

It’s not difficult these days to find a novel that takes place during World War II. But it’s refreshing to read a WWII novel with a bit of a different twist. Though fiction, The Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly, features real-life New York philanthropist Caroline Ferriday, whose heroic story needs to be told.

Caroline Ferriday was a fledgling actress who found her niche working at the French Embassy in New York City. Her work took an important turn as Hitler’s armies became more powerful, and it looked as if France was going to fall. Her role was to assist the French people who had fled to the United States to either return to their families in France or bring their loved ones to the United States. Her work became even more important when the Germans overthrew Poland and the war escalated.

Kasia Kuzmerick was a young Polish girl who watched her country fall into pieces around her. Feeling helpless, she became involved in the resistance movement, couriering messages back and forth. She was eventually caught in the act, and she, along with her family, is captured and sent to Ravensbruck, an all-women concentration camp in northern Germany. Ravensbruck is notorious for the medical experiments conducted on many of the women. Referred to as the Ravensbruck rabbits, they were mutilated and purposely infected with bacteria so that the new antibacterial drugs called sulfonamides could be tested on them. They were mostly refused subsequent medical care, leaving many permanently disfigured.

One of the German doctors working on these experiments was young Herta Oberheuser, who became involved as a means of using her medical degree and making something of herself in the new Reich. Oberheuser is not a fictional character. She routinely performed horrific surgeries on young women as part of the experiments.

The story of strength and optimism and ability to overcome horrific circumstances is as compelling as a story can get. At the same time, the contrast between good and evil (Ferriday and Oberheuser) takes your breath away, especially knowing the the circumstances and the stories are all too true.

I highly recommend this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: No Time Like the Future

Actor and author Michael J. Fox lives with Parkinson’s Disease. He was diagnosed in 1991 with early onset PD. Since that time, he has written four novels about his life with PD. More important, in 2000, he founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation to research cures for this yet-uncurable disease. His foundation provides support for both people with Parkinson’s and for the caregiver. Thanks to this foundation, a whole heck of a lot of money is going into research about the disease.

I pay particular attention to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and to the founder himself, because my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009. I asked my husband once if it bothers him to read Fox’s books or see him on television. He gave a resounding no, saying instead the man inspires him. I find that to be amazing.

No Time Like the Future is Fox’s fourth book. I will admit that I have not read the other three. I was coaxed into reading this particular book, and was ever-so-glad that I did. Fox’s writing is funny and smart and self-deprecating. He doesn’t wallow in his sorrows, but instead, is forthright about his condition and how he and his family live and cope with the disease.

No Time Like the Future tackles an unrelated issue that the actor recently went through, that being a spinal cord issue requiring very risky surgery. His recovery was obviously impacted by the fact that he experiences the symptoms of PD, and his ability to work so hard to recover is inspiring.

His story gave me perspective and made me laugh at the same time. I frequently read parts out loud to my husband, saying, “Don’t feel bad. Michael J. Fox is going through the same things you are!”

Fox, of course, has the advantage of wealth and fame. As such, he is able to experiences that we will never obtain. But I didn’t find that offputting at all. Instead, I was reminded that pushing forward, and even more important, laughing at your own foibles, is critical in facing this disease.

I think the book would be interesting to anyone who knows a person with PD. I also, however, think it is just a well-written and funny story.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Bodies in the Library

Sometimes a lightweight, easy-to-read-and-solve mystery is just what the doctor ordered. The Bodies in the Library, by Marty Wingate, does the job most agreeably.

Hayley Burke takes on the position of curator of Lady Georgiana Fowling’s First Edition library in Bath, England. The First Edition Library features books written during the so-called Golden Age of Mysteries, offering authors such as Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. She is hired for this position despite the fact that she has never read a single mystery story. Her expertise lies in Jane Austin novels. Still, she knows she can learn, and hopes she does so before her board of directors figures out she doesn’t know a thing about detective stories.

And then Hayley is presented with her own mystery. She has agreed to allow an Agatha Christie fan fiction writers’ group to meet weekly in the building that was once Lady Georgiana Fowling’s home, and now is the library and Hayley’s living quarters. Before she knows it, one of the members of this group is murdered. The victim is killed elsewhere and carried into the library, left for Hayley to find.

Hayley puts on her Miss Marple thinking cap and sets out to help the police solve the mystery. It is the best way to show the board of directors that she is capable of doing the curator’s job. She is faced with clues and red herrings and even a handsome love interest.

The book was a quick and fun read, as long as you can get past the fact that while the title is The Bodies in the Library, there is only one body ever found in the library — or anywhere else in the book. I presume that is because the title is so similar to an Agatha Christie novel — The Body in the Library — featuring Miss Marple. But when Hayley puts on her own Miss Marple hat, she solves the mystery.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Personal Librarian

I will be perfectly honest with you. Any book that has the word library or librarian in it is bound to catch my attention. The Personal Librarian, an historical novel by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, about Belle de Costa Greene, therefore called out to me. I was glad it did.

Belle de Costa Greene was a light-skinned Black woman who became J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian in 1905, and served in that capacity until 1938. After the senior Morgan passed away in 1913, Ms. Greene worked for his son and heir, Jack.

Belle de Costa Greene was born Belle Marion to an educated and well-respected black family in Washington D.C. Belle’s mother elected to pass both she and her children as white in order to make their lives easier and safer. She changed their last name to de Costa Greene, and claimed the family hailed from Portugal. Belle’s father was an attorney who served as dean of the Howard University School of Law and was the first black student and first black graduate of Harvard.

Ms. Greene worked at the library Princeton until she was introduced to J.P. Morgan. Morgan’s library and art collection was his pride and joy, and for good reason. He was determined to make it one of the best libraries in the country, and hired Belle to help make that happen. Belle became like a member of the Morgan family, and made her way into New York City society. All the while, she was silent about her Black ties.

I enjoyed learning the story of this remarkable woman who was an unusual success, given that she was a woman. She struggled with her secret, unsure as to whether or not it was the right thing to do. But she was able to support her family and have one of a most exciting job, something she wouldn’t have been able to do in 1905 as a Black woman.

I enjoyed learning about high society in New York City, about book and art collecting, and about the emergence of the women’s suffragette movement. The writers’ were able to give the reader a real flavor of the time in history, about living in New York City, and about the struggle for both women and black Americans during this difficult time.

I recomend the book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Surviving Savannah

During my formative years, I studied the history of a variety of ships that sank. The two most obvious, of course, were the Titanic, which ran into an iceberg, killing 1,500 souls, and the Lusitania, a British luxury ship that was sunk by the Germans, killing nearly 1,200 souls and contributing to the World War I tragedies. But I had never heard of the sinking of the Pulaski, a steam ship that sank to the bottom of the ocean as it made its way from Savannah, GA, to Baltimore, MD, killing 100 souls in 1838. While I might not have studied it, I’m pretty darn sure it made history class in Savannah. The ship’s boilers exploded the first night at sea, killing some of the wealthiest members of Savannah’s society who were heading to cooler climes for the summer.

Patti Callahan’s historical novel was written following the discovery at long last of the ship in 2018. Yes, friends, that ship stayed lost for 180 years. The discovery of the sunken ship after all these years solved one of the greatest mysteries of our time.

The author tells the story of the explosion, and the fight by some of the people who survived the disaster. Callahan mixes real-life people with fictitious characters to give the reader a taste of how hard people will work to save themselves and the ones they love. The characters are bold and brave. The descriptions of the long days they spent without food or water, baking in the hot sun, and how they survived, are riveting.

The book is part history and part mystery. It was interesting to read and provided me with a history lesson, proving that I still have plenty to learn, even in my dotage!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Wild Women and the Blues

I consistently judge a book by its cover. A cover that I find interesting or beautiful or amusing will draw me in as quick as you can say Louie Armstrong. Wild Women and the Blues, a debut novel by Denny S. Bryce, had a beautiful cover. It also had an interesting story that took place in one of time periods I most enjoy reading about.

It’s 1925, and the city of Chicago is lively and catches the spirit of the Jazz Age. Honoree Dalcour comes from the south, and wants to make a name for herself during this period when anything goes. She can sing and dance, and the Dreamland Cafe is where Anyone Who is Anything goes to have fun. It is the largest and most successful black-and-tan venue in the city, which is why she is thrilled to get a dancing gig at the club.

But while the city is alive with music, it is also alive with bootleg liquor and mafioso. Can you say Al Capone?

Fast forward almost a century, and film student Sawyer Hayes is eager to become a household name like his father. His hope is to interview Honoree Dalcour, who is 110 years old and lives in a rest home. Though very old, her mind is still in place. He wants to hear the stories of what life was like when Chicago was at its liveliest. He hopes to be able to connect her to the famous (and real life) film maker, Oscar Micheaux, long deceased.

Though 110 years old and very frail, Honoree has many stories to tell about the shenanigans of that era. And she will only tell the stories to Sawyer, and only at her own pace.

Wild Women and the Blues caught my eye 100 percent because of the spectacularly beautiful cover, I will admit. But the story kept me reading. There were lots of surprises along the way, including a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. The stories include her best friend Bessie, and the love of her life Ezekiel, who left her inexplicably years before, but has returned. There is romance and mystery and intrigue galore. The author mixes real-life characters with ficticious in a way that makes the novel all the more interesting. All the while, you can practically hear the music playing and smell the cigarette and marijuana smoke and hear the gunfire.

I really enjoyed the book, as well as the cover. And, by the way, there is a scene in the book in which Honoree is wearing the dress displayed on the cover!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Last Thing He Told Me

At 40, woodworker Hannah Hall has not yet met anyone until Owen Michaels walks into her shop. It is nearly love at first sight. Before a year has passed, she and Owen are happily married. Owen’s teenaged daughter Bailey is not as happy about the whole thing as are Owen and Hannah.

And then one day, Owen disappears. He doesn’t come home from work, and a bit later, a stranger — a student whom Hannah doesn’t know — appears at her door to deliver a message from Owen. Two words: Protect her.

Hannah doesn’t even have to think twice to know exactly who he means. He is undoubtedly talking about his daughter Bailey, who lost her mother to a car accident when she was a mere child. She doesn’t remember her, or frankly, much about her life before she and her father moved to Sausalito.

With the news of Owen’s company being caught in a financial atrocity, and Owen missing, Hannah knows she has to protect Bailey, despite her stepdaughter’s distrust of her. It’s what Owen would want.

As the two try to figure out what’s going on, they learn that Owen was not who he purported to be, and frankly, neither one of them know who he really is. But Hannah is determined to figure it out, and to protect Bailey at all costs.

I will tell you that the last time I read an entire book in a day was probably when I was 10 or 11 years old. I simply couldn’t put The Last Thing He Ever Told Me, by Laura Dave, down. The writing was terrific, but more importantly, the driving story kept me glued to the book. A chapter would end, and I would tell myself, I will only read one more chapter. Before I knew it, the day had passed and the book had ended.

I loved this book.

Here is a link to this book.