Friday Book Whimsy: The Hotel Nantucket.

Author Elin Hilderbrand is a prolific author, known for what is termed her “beach reads.” As much as I read, and as much as I enjoy a summer read, I have never read a book by this author. It won’t be the last one, because I enjoyed The Hotel Nantucket very much.

The Hotel Nantucket was once a well-respected hotel, known for entertaining the well-to-doers who habitat Nantucket Island in the summer. Unfortunately, the hotel suffered a serious fire in 1922 that killed a housekeeper, whose restless spirit wanders the hotel waiting for someone to discover the truth about the fire and putting her at peace.

Much like the hotel, Lizbeth Keaton has also suffered a setback, breaking up with her long-time fiance, with whom she ran a successful restaurant, after learning that he was involved with another woman. She leaves him and the restaurant behind. Lizbeth is delighted to be hired by billionaire Xavier Darling to run the completely remodeled Hotel Nantucket. Darling purchased the old hotel and spent millions bringing the it back to life. Everything about the hotel is perfect. The restaurant is run by a famous chef. The spa is magnificent. The rooms are sheer perfection with not a wrinkle or spot of dust to be found. The question is, can Lizbeth and her staff — all who have complicated histories and secrets — meet Darling’s goal: to receive a perfect score from the hotel critic who can make or break hotels? Thus far, no one has ever received a perfect score.

The hotel occupants have as many secrets as the staff. Shortly after the hotel opens, a mysterious woman and her two adorable children arrive, asking for a room for an unknown period of time. What’s more, she will pay cash, and money is no object.

The story is told from different vantage points, but it isn’t confusing at all. And the ghost of Grace, the housekeeper who died in the fire, isn’t a bit offputting. She’s merely an observer, and, while she plays a strong role in the story, it isn’t in any way a ghost story.

The Hotel Nantucket is a luscious novel that leaves the reading wishing they were rich enough to afford the thousand dollar rooms.

I loved this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Out of the Easy

There’s scarcely a better location for a gritty novel than New Orleans, and that makes the already-very-good novel Out of the Easy, by author Ruta Sepetys, even better.

It’s 1950. Teenaged Josie Moraine is the daughter of a prostitute. Her mother isn’t the kindly sex worker who does what she needs to help her daughter. Instead, she is a selfish, greedy, completely dishonest woman who cares little for Josie and doesn’t mind using her for her own selfish needs.

But Josie isn’t alone. The successful female brothel owner Willie Woodley has taken Josie under her wing since she was a small girl. She, along with the other prostitutes and Willie’s faithful staff love Josie and take care of her as if she was their own family. In a way, that’s exactly what they are.

Josie works at a bookstore owned by a friend, and is saving her money to leave New Orleans and attend her dream college, Smith. But an unexpected murder places Josie right in the middle, and her mother is all part of the game.

I loved the characters in this novel. But I mostly loved the picture of this textured city, especially in the 1950s. The contrast between the rich families who lived in the wealthy Garden District and the poor families who lived in the French Quarter gave the novel a heavy dose of reality. Still, the characters were not stereotypical, at least not all of them.

The story moves at a quick pace, and the ending was satisfactory, if somewhat predictable.

I really enjoyed this novel.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Run Rose, Run

Ok. Sometimes we’re not in need of great literature. Sometimes we just want a story with likeable characters and a plot line that isn’t too ridiculous and moves along at a brisk pace. Sometimes, when everything in life seems so complicated, you need a little Dolly Parton.

Run Rose, Run, a novel co-written by the world’s most prolific author James Patterson and the world’s most famed (and perhaps the nicest and most generous) singer and songwriter Dolly Parton, fits that description to a T. I don’t know how much James Patterson wrote or how much Dolly Parton wrote. She, of course, is a phenomenal songwriter and lyricist, so there’s reason to think she contributed a fair amount. All I know is that it was a briskly-paced novel that kept me reading.

AnnieLynn Keyes has escaped her difficult past and hitchhiked her way to Nashville. She knows she has talent, but everyone who moves to Nashville thinks they have talent. AnnieLynn is quickly discovered by country music queen Ruthanna Ryder in an offbeat bar where her last-minute performance is overheard by the right people. Despite the fact that Ruthanna Ryder has quit the music business for good — or so she says — she still is a well-respected voice in the country music world.

While AnnieLynn seems to be moving quickly towards a career as a singer/songwriter, her past begins to catch up with her. Will she make it in the world of country music, or will she fail to outrun her past.

The story is loaded with lots of kick-ass music lyrics, likely contributed by Ms. Parton. There are a fair amount of holes in the story line, but I will not hesitate to recommend the book to lovers of country music and fairly nonviolent thrillers.

God bless you Dolly Parton!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Paris Apartment

Lucy Foley was the author of a book — The Guest List about which I was somewhat ambiguous. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t like it. I recall that one of my biggest problems with that book was that I really didn’t like any of the characters. I have learned over my 60-some years of reading that it really helps me to enjoy a book if I like the characters.

I had somewhat of the same reaction to The Paris Apartment, a book by the same author.

The protagonist Jess is running from a crime she committed. She contacts her half brother Ben, a journalist who lives in a fancy apartment in Paris. He reluctantly agrees to let her stay with him for awhile. However, when she arrives, Ben is no where to be found. There are signs of a struggle, but no clues as to where he could be.

Jess begins trying to find her brother. The house in which the apartment is located is divided up into several apartments on different levels. Sophie and her husband Jacque are very wealthy, having made money from a wine empire. Nick lives on another floor, and has secrets of his own, including that he is gay. Antoine is an abusive husband whose wife leaves him early in the book. Mimi is quiet and mousy, and very much in love with Ben.

Jess suspects from the get go that each of these people have their own secrets, and the secrets are not good. Though they say they are willing to help her find her brother, it seems as though they all make finding him more difficult.

The storyline had flaws and inconsistencies, but the plot kept me reading. I tried very hard to figure out what happened to Ben and who among the group of shady characters was responsible for his disappearance. Some of the plot twists were predictable, but I will admit that the ending caught me by surprise.

I liked the book, but disliked the characters.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Under the Bayou Moon

Sometimes all you need is a lovely book with an interesting story, a few villains, and a whole bunch of romance. Given the difficult times we face, sitting down with characters with whom you want to spend time is a blessing. Under the Bayou Moon, by Valorie Fraser Luesse provided such a delightful break from reality.

It’s 1949, and America is slowly recovering from the difficult years of war and poverty. Ellie Fields, a young teacher who has spent her life in small-town Alabama, feels like it’s time to shake it up a bit. She accepts a teaching position in a small town in the bayou country of Louisiana, not far from New Orleans. Though this move seems insignificant, for Ellie, it is the first time living away from her home. The Cajun culture of the new town in which she now resides is as different from her past experience as you can get.

The townspeople look suspiciously on outsiders, and the new schoolteacher is no exception. It takes some time, but before long, she has made some new friends. She also becomes aware that the Bayou community is running into its own cultural roadblocks. Politicians are pushing to make it illegal to speak the native Patois French language.

Before long, she is teaching some of the community elders whose English is very limited how to speak the language. At the same time, they are teaching her to speak French.

Toss a rare white alligator into the mix, an alligator that is not only naturally endangered, but is being hunted by people trying to do away with what many people think is nothing more than a myth.

The characters were kind and likable and a wonderful part of the entire sweet story. As for the setting, I’m not kidding when I say that you can practically smell the gumbo cooking and the corn bread coming out of the oven. You can hear the cicadas sing and clearly envision the alligators’ eyes peeking out of the water.

Under the Bayou Moon was a refreshing change of pace, and a wonderful story. I highly recommend the book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Lost Summers of Newport

I have always loved reading novels about how the rich lived during the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, with their big mansions on Fifth Avenue in NYC and their so-called “cottages” in Newport, RI. The Lost Summers of Newport paints a picture with words of the world of the rich, and there are no better “word painters” than Beatriz Williams, Karen White, and Lauren Willig.

The three have authored several novels, each tackling a chapter. I have enjoyed some more than others. The Lost Summers of Newport is almost certainly my favorite. The stories of the three women are interesting, though all very different.

It’s 2019, and Andie Figuero, a struggling single mother, has agreed to produce a reality television program called Mansion Makeover. The program features mansions in need of repairs, and it seems like a fit for Andie, who has her degree in historic preservation. However, things become complicated when her bosses want her to concentrate on the rumors of the families who lived there instead of the work being done on the house.

It’s 1957, and Lucia “Lucky” Sprague is stuck in an unhappy marriage with an alcoholic husband. She would like nothing better than to run away with the man she loves, Teddy, and her little girl, Joanie. But results of some of her actions and secrets she learns too late seemingly prevent her from finding true happiness.

It’s 1899, and Ellen Daniels is hired by John Sprague to teach his sister to sing. His goal is to get her married off to a wealthy Italian prince in order to save his home. He will stop at nothing to ensure the match takes place, and he holds Ellen fully responsible in making that happen. She has little choice, however, because she is running from her own demons. Sprague’s sister Maybelle, as quiet and demure as can be, has no interest in the prince, but wants to find love elsewhere.

The secrets that connect the women are revealed to us as the story moves along. I was so interested in the secrets myself that I could scarcely put the book down.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post

Marjorie Post was one of the richest and most influential women of her time. She wasn’t your typical heiress/socialite, though she was wealthy enough during her life to do just about anything and live just about anywhere. Her life is chronicled in this bio-novel written by author Allison Pataki. Pataki’s bio-novels have given us peaks at such lives as that of Napoleon Bonaparte’s mistress and Benedict Arnold’s wife.

Marjorie Merriweather Post was the daughter — and only child — of C.W. Post, the founder of Postum Cereal Company. From the time she was a small child, she helped her father establish his business by gluing cereal boxes together in their barn near Springfield, IL. When C.W. Post passed away in 1914, his much-loved daughter inherited the business. Her first marriage was a dismal failure. She subsequently married E.F. Hutton, who helped her expand the business by buying out other food companies such as Hellman’s and Jell-O, thereby establishing General Foods Corp.

She never found peace when it came to love, having been married a total of four times ending in four divorces. Still, she had a strong sense of self, something that her father had taught her from the cradle. She also had a strong sense of philanthropy, from establishing and financing a hospital for vets in New York City during World War I, to purchasing (and thereby saving) precious pieces of Russian art while married to Joseph E. Davies, who was appointed by FDR as a ambassador to the Soviet Union.

While her life was interesting in so many ways, I was surprised to learn that she originally built Mar-A-Lago, in Palm Beach, FL, now famous as one of the many homes of former President Donald Trump.

I love learning history from novels, and I carefully fact-checked the story as I read about the fascinating life of Ms. Post. The book was interesting, if somewhat long. It really was like reading a biography, only including dialogue. Still, I recommend the book for anyone who likes historical novels.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Murder at Mallowan Hall

I’ve loved author Agatha Christie since i was 12 years old. I’ve read all of her mysteries, many more than once. Or twice. I am unfailingly impressed at how she weaves her stories, how she carefully tosses out her red herrings, and how she wraps the mystery up at the end of the book.

Murder at Mallowan Hall, by Colleen Cambridge, is the first in a new historical mystery series that takes place at Mallowan Hall, the fictional home of famed author Agatha Christie and her second husband, archeologist Max Mallowan. In real life, Christie and her husband remained happily married in their rural English estate until Christie’s death, though it was not called Mallowan Hall.

In the novel, Christie hires her personal friend to be their housekeeper and manage their estate. Phyllidia Bright and Christie are long-time friends, and Bright is hired because she has the author’s complete trust. For her part, Bright is protective of her friend and faithful as all get-out. Plus, she has a crush on Hercule Poirot.

Things are fine until one day, Bright is opening up the house, and stumbles upon a body in the library. She recognizes the person as a fellow who had shown up late the night before uninvited and a stranger. The Mallowans are having a house party that weekend, and no one wants to make a fuss. They allow the man to spend the night, but the good intentions have a tragic ending.

Bright does all the right things. She calls the police. She alerts her employers. She does what she does best: manages the crisis. However, when it becomes clear to her that the local police are inept at best, she begins working on solving the crime herself, with Christie giving her own advice and input. And when a second person is murdered — this time a member of the staff — Bright realizes the murderer must be someone attending the house party. Who could be next?

I found the plot to be clever and fun, or at least as fun as a murder mystery can be. I liked the fact that it wasn’t Agatha Christie who solved the murder, but instead, her intelligent and faithful friend.

Murder at Mallowan Hall is purported to be the first in a series, and I’m looking forward to book number 2.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Shop on Royal Street

Karen White is one of my favorite authors. She writes everything from romance to mystery, and does it well. Some of of my favorite books from her were what was called the Tradd Street books. The series included seven novels that took place in Charleston, South Carolina, and featured Melanie Trenholm (nee Middleton). Melanie was a real estate agent who has OCD, and therefore likes her living abodes clean and modern. She inherits an historic home in the heart of downtown Charleston that not only comes with history, but also with ghosts. It is in the first book of the series that Melanie realizes that she has the power to see into the spiritual world, something she inherited from her mother.

White ended the series after four books, much to my dismay. It was a delight, therefore, when I learned that the author was coming up with a new series featuring Melanie’s stepdaughter Nola, who doesn’t have the gift of sight, but also isn’t afraid of ghosts. Her lack of fear turns out to be a good thing, because when Nola moves to New Orleans and buys a fixer-upper, it becomes immediately clear that the house is haunted.

While Nola can’t communicate with the ghosts, her once-upon-a-time boyfriend Beau Ryan can, though he is unwilling to admit to his gift. Still, since Nola bought the house from Beau, the two are thrown together again with the goal of solving a mystery that is keeping the ghosts alive.

I enjoyed this first book in the so-called Royal series. It isn’t a horror book at all. It’s quite a light-hearted portrayal of the spiritual world. It isn’t quite a romance novel either, though there is definitely a romantic tension between Nola and Beau. The story is a bit of a romp and the characters were charming. I particularly liked Nola’s roommate, who is a southern bell with grit, an ability to cook, and the manners of a southern princess. The portrayal of New Orleans is appealing as well.

The Shop on Royal Street is a fun novel to kick off summer.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love

When I was a child, I had a pen pal. I found her name in the back of a magazine sent to our house by one of the insurance companies used by my parents. In that magazine, there were postings for youngsters who wanted someone with whom they could correspond. I don’t remember the name of my pen pal. What I do remember, however, is how much fun I had writing those letters to a total stranger. And it was even more fun to open up the mailbox and see an envelope addressed to me in her lovely cursive handwriting.

That would have been in the late 1950s or early 1960s, right about the time that 27-year-old Joan Bergstrom sent a fan letter to 59-year-old Imogene Fortier in the book Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love, by Kim Fay. Joan is a single career woman who has just begun a career writing in the food section of a Los Angeles newspaper. She sends Ms. Fortier the letter because she has enjoyed reading the older woman’s simple missives about life on an island off the coast of Seattle in a Pacific northwest magazine.

The letter captures the attention of Imogene because Joan has included in the letter a sample of the spice saffron, something completely unfamiliar to her. It is the 1960s, where women were the cooks, and foodstuffs that we take for granted now were foreign in some parts of the country. Imogene had never tasted fresh garlic, so saffron was a completely unique experience.

That letter was the impetus for a relationship between two women who, despite their age difference, are drawn together by food and friendship, shared via letters. Through their correspondence, they become familiar not only with one another, but with their lives and their challenges and their loves and hates. Joan challenges Imogene to look at food a bit differently, and Imogene accepts the challenge with joy. Imogene’s joy is shared with her husband, a typical mid-20th century man who has never cooked a meal in his life, and who looks at his life as a predictable drudge. But he takes on the initial challenge of saffron, and his life is never the same. Pretty soon he’s preparing foods from other cultures and using ingredients that they have to work hard to find.

I really liked this book. I enjoyed the way their lives were presented to the readers via letters. The author allowed us to share in the excitement of cooking, and to learn how food can draw people together. Having grown up in the midwest, I was also amused to realize how different the cooking styles were then than they are today. It was the rare cook who left the safe lane of everyday cooking.

If you are a foodie, read this book. Imogene and Joan are a lot of fun, and a good example of true friendship.