Friday Book Whimsy: The Sweeney Sisters

I am one of three sisters, and trite as it might seem, my sisters are also my best friends. There is something about that family bond that brings people close even with personality differences.

The Sweeney Sisters, by Lian Dolan, is a story about three sisters who feel that same family bond. They all have red hair, inherited from their late mother, but that is the only thing about the three that is similar. Their differences don’t impact their love for one another.

When their father suddenly dies, the three women must come together to prepare for his funeral and handle his affairs. This is no easy task as he is a famous author, and he had committed to another novel, which is finished but missing. The situation is massively complicated when they suddenly learn that they have another sister, the result of an affair their father had with a neighbor.

Liza, Maggie, and Tricia Sweeney must suddenly accept the fact that their father was no angel. They must try to understand how their father could have been unfaithful to their mother. And their new half sister Serena must try to find a place within this tight family circle.

Dolan’s characters are flawed, and sometimes predictable. But because of my relationship with my own sisters, I loved seeing these three — then four — girls come together to accept the new twists and turns in their lives. And I loved the way they all accepted each other despite their differences.

I enjoyed this book very much. And the fact that their house was ocean-front didn’t hurt things a bit.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Cemetery Road

You can count on a few things when you pick up a Greg Isles novel. It’s going to be lengthy. It’s going to be violent and include a lot of pretty, well, imaginative sex. It’s going to take place in the south, probably Mississippi, in the most corrupt town imaginable. And you aren’t going to be able to put it down.

Cemetery Road, the author Greg Isles’ latest offering, fits the bill perfectly.

Marshall McEwan left his hometown in Mississippi after college, with no plans to return. He becomes a well-respected Washington D.C. journalist. Unfortunately, his father becomes ill. McEwan comes home to try and save the newspaper his father published for years.

It takes no time before he starts up an affair with his old girlfriend, a gorgeous woman named Jet, who happens to be married to a childhood friend who saved his life in Afghanistan. It also takes no time before he becomes immersed in the corruption of a group of men called the Bienville Poker Club. These men have gotten into bed with a group of Chinese businessmen who have invested in a huge project that could be held up by the murder of one of McEwan’s closest friends, an archeologist who has discovered historical evidence of Indian tribes in the very land that is to be developed.

Chaos, corruption, murder, and general mayhem ensue, leaving in its wake a town nearly destroyed by its very existence.

Isles is one of the best mystery writers around, which is why I’m willing to read books that I would otherwise put down without a second thought. I finished the lengthy book in a day-and-a-half!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: An American Marriage

Ripped from the headlines, and a book I almost didn’t read because of the uneasiness brought about by the topic. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones is the story of a young African American couple whose lives are dramatically impacted by a false accusation.

Celeste and Roy haven’t been married long when they make a visit to his parents. Celeste is an artist and Roy is a successful business executive. On their way home, they stop in a small motel, and do what many couples do — have a verbal disagreement about something or other. Roy storms out of the room to cool down, and runs into an elderly white woman at the ice machine, where they have a brief conversation.

Later that night, the woman is raped by a black man, whom she insists was Roy. Celeste knows that it absolutely wasn’t, because he was with her the entire night. Nevertheless, he is convicted and sent to prison for the crime which he did not commit. Celeste tries to hang on to hope, but as years pass, she turns to her best friend Andre for comfort.

An American Marriage is the story not only about a situation we often hear on the news, but also the story of how love exists under dire situations. The author is a beautiful writer, and while the story line is serious, the book wasn’t depressing. Perhaps that’s because I’m a white woman. But I tend to think it can be attributed in large part to Jones’ beautiful and uplifting use of language.

While I approached the book with some trepidation, I found I couldn’t put it down, and it has stuck with me despite having read it some time ago.

Very good book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Word is Murder

Author Anthony Horowitz has created and written some of my favorite mystery television programs — Foyle’s War being my most favorite of all. As a writer of fiction, he is known primarily for his young adult books, with Alex Rider being perhaps the most well-known. But I fell in love with him originally for a book I reviewed a while back called Magpie Murders, a cleverly-written mystery story within a mystery story. Intrigued by that book, I quickly read a couple of Sherlock Holmes stories that he had written. Many have attempted to duplicate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but most haven’t succeeded. Horowitz did.

I was very excited, therefore, to see that he had a new novel being released. The premise of The Word is Murder was again so, so clever. And the result, I’m happy to say, met my expectations.

In The Word is Murder, Horowitz literally writes himself into the book as one of the characters. A disgraced police detective, let go from the London police force, is hired as a consultant for the case of a mysterious murder of the mother of a famous actor. In Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson style, the detective — known only as Hawthorne — hires Horowitz to work with him on a case, and chronicle it by writing a diary.

The actor’s mother visits a funeral home one day, making arrangements for her own funeral. This isn’t particularly unusual. However, what IS unusual is that she is murdered that very afternoon. Hawthorne and Horowitz work together to solve the mystery.

The character of Hawthorne is modeled directly after Sherlock Holmes. He is brilliant and cocky and brash. Horowitz writes himself as a likable Watson.

The ending was a surprise, and quite gratifying.

I will warn you that, while I absolutely LOVED this book — finding it so incredibly clever — I can see where a reader might be turned off by the way Horowitz portrays himself. There is lots of name-dropping, lunches with Stephen Spielberg, and so forth. It didn’t deter me. I recommend this book with great gusto!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Whole Town’s Talking

Quite frankly, no one could have gotten away with this book except the author Fannie Flagg. For what other author would someone be patient enough to read a book in which most of the characters are dead and buried? Especially if it’s not a horror story?

As far as this reviewer is concerned, Fannie Flagg will never write a story as funny, poignant, and compelling as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, but I’m glad she keeps trying. While I don’t absolutely LOVE every one of her books, I think it’s safe to say that they nearly all – or at least the ones I have read – make me smile.

That’s because the stories are all character-driven, and her characters are all lovable. Even if they’re dead.

The story begins many years ago with Lordor Nordstrom, an immigrant from Sweden homesteading in Missouri. The area in which he lives is made up entirely of Swedish immigrants. With Lordor taking the lead, the people eventually begin building the makings of a town, which they call Elmwood Springs, with Lordor serving as mayor. They build businesses, churches and even a cemetery.

The town becomes a bustling community with loving friends and neighbors, business owners, preachers, and all manner of people who make up a normal town. But things become interesting when people begin to die. Because lo, and behold, though they are buried in the cemetery, they are still able to talk and observe what’s going on in their little community.

And that’s about all that happens in the book. The story is told almost primarily through the voices of the dead. And it’s okay. Because they people of Elmwood Springs watch out for each other whether living or dead.

There are so many characters over so many years that it becomes confusing for the reader, or at least for this reader. Still, I enjoyed the book very much and it left me feeling good.

That’s about as good a compliment as I can give a novel.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Cancel the Wedding

Cancel the Wedding, a debut novel by Carolyn T. Dingman, isn’t a book I would have picked up to read without a bit of urging by someone I trusted. A fellow reader who knows I like mysteries recommended it a bit hesitantly, as she knows I am not a huge fan of a strictly romance novels, but assured me that though it had a bit of debut-novelness about it, the writing was good, the story was more than just romance, and the mystery was fun.

So, despite the novel’s title, I dug in. My assessment? I enjoyed the story but I was equally glad I had gotten the book from the library rather than paying hard-earned money for it.

That said, I recommend the book for fairly light reading.

The book’s protagonist Olivia has a powerful job that she hates, a handsome and smart fiancé with whom she is bored, and an interesting life in which she is largely disinterested. The only interesting part of her life is that her recently-deceased mother had left instructions in her will to her two daughters to return her ashes to the small town in Georgia where she grew up but never talked about to her daughters.  Their mother specifically instructed that half of her ashes would be sprinkled in the lake and the other half onto a certain gravesite.

Both daughters put off the task until Olivia realizes how dissatisfied with her life and thinks perhaps a change of scenery would do her good. She and her niece Logan head off to Georgia and a change of pace.

Upon arrival, Olivia comes face to face with the knowledge that there was more to her mother’s life than anyone in her family knew. She takes it upon herself to try and solve the mystery.

The romantic element comes when she meets Elliott, who not only helps her discover the truth about her mother’s past, but actually personally finds the final link.

This is not a terribly meaningful novel that will change a reader’s life. But Dingman’s writing is solid and the story kept my interest, despite being fairly predictable. I do love books that take place in the south, and this fit the bill to a T.

I recommend it for someone looking for a light-hearted novel to distract them from their real-life difficulties.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Last Days of Night

imgresWhen I was young, there was a section of the children’s area of our public library that featured a series of biographies ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt to Florence Nightingale to Booker T. Washington. I read them all.

And so I remember that I read all about how Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. That’s it. Nothing murky.  He was responsible for those light bulbs that we use every day of our life to light up our world.

But was it really that simple? Of course not; nothing ever is. What is unarguably true is that he was the first person to hold a patent for the direct charge light bulb.

The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore, examines the invention of the light bulb, and the eventual replacement of gas lighting with electric lights in this entirely readable, eminently fascinating account of the legal battle waged between Edison and George Westinghouse, who had also invented a light bulb, but his used alternating current.

It’s hard to imagine that someone who cares about or understands science as little as I would enjoy this novel. Nevertheless, I loved this book. It will undoubtedly be among the top five books that I’ve read this year.

Not only could I not put it down, but I drove my husband (who studied engineering for a time in college) practically crazy with my unending did you knows.

Do you know the difference between direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC)? (He did.)

Did you know that they used alternating current (AC) the first time they used the electric chair, and it was a horrific and unimaginable failure? (He didn’t.)

Moore’s story begins in New York City in 1888. George Westinghouse hires a young, untested attorney named Paul Cravath to handle his literally billion-dollar case in which Thomas Edison is suing him over the simple question: who invented the light bulb.

Moore (who was the screenwriter for the wonderful movie The Imitation Game) uses real characters and real situations to tell an absolutely riveting story about the battle, which takes the young Cravath into the heights of society in New York City in the late 19th Century. His portrayals of the key figures – Edison, Westinghouse, Cravath, Nikola Tesla – paint a different picture from what I read in those little biographies as a child. They fought a seemingly unending battle over power – both electrical power and social power.

Don’t let the fact that this is a novel about the light bulb stop you from reading this book. It is an absolutely glorious story that involves corruption, romance, intrigue, and rollicking fun.

I have scarcely enjoyed a novel quite as much.

Here is link to the book.  


Friday Book Whimsy: Under the Influence

imgresUnder the Influence, by author Joyce Maynard, is a book about recovery. Following an unpleasant divorce, Helen is lonely and vulnerable. To compensate for her sadness, she takes to drinking a glass or two, and then three, and then a whole bottle of wine each night after putting her 7-year-old son Ollie to bed. Circumstances requiring her to drive her son to the hospital after such a night lead to her getting a DUI, and eventually to her losing custody to her ex-husband and his new wife. Helen is devastated.

One night, while working for a caterer at a party, Helen, now sober, meets Swift and Ava Havilland, a charismatic couple who take Helen under their wing. She is swept up in their high-energy and exciting lifestyle and becomes creepily devoted to them. So does her son Ollie.

Readers learn in the first chapter that the relationship is not going to be a good one and will not end well. That increases the tension in this compulsively readable novel. Maynard is about as good a storyteller as it gets.

The Havillands frankly gave me the creeps. I think that is the author’s intent, which is why we learn from the get-go that the relationship is doomed. But we have all met people who are so interesting and so much fun that even if we know it isn’t good for us, we love being with them. Swift and Ava made Helen feel loved.

I enjoyed watching the character grow throughout the book. She meets a very good man, and the author does a great job of seeing how Elliott helps Helen to recover. The story’s climax is disturbing and predictable all at the same time.

The end, while somewhat mysterious, is satisfying.

When I grow up, I want to write as well as Joyce Maynard.

Here is link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: My Name is Resolute

imgresI first became acquainted with author Nancy E. Turner from a trilogy she wrote about Sarah Prine, a fictitious Arizona settler, whose stories are based on the author’s real-life great-grandmother. These is My Words, Sarah’s Quilt, and The Star Garden are wonderful books that tell about the settling of the area around Tucson and beyond back in the 1800s through Sarah’s diary.

In the way that sometimes happens when you read as much as I, the author fell off my radar screen until recently, when I learned about the intriguingly titled My Name is Resolute. I won’t kid you; it had a really slow start for me. I drudgingly made my way through nearly 100 pages before the story caught me and didn’t let me go. If you read this book, you will likely ask yourself how on earth it couldn’t capture me from the get-go, and I don’t have a good answer.

The story is filled to the brim with interesting characters and every kind of adventure that you could possibly imagine – Indians, pirates, pioneers, Scottish highlanders, good people, bad people, and soldiers from both sides of the Revolutionary War.

In 1729, 10-year-old Resolute Talbot, her sister Patience and her brother Andrew are kidnapped by pirates from their home in Jamaica. Her parents are British nobility who relocated to that island. Their parents are killed in the attack, and the three begin their life of great hardship and sorrow – being kept as slaves — leading ultimately to adventure and excitement. They eventually land in the New World, first Montreal and eventually Lexington, Massachusetts.

My Name is Resolute is an epic novel full of swashbuckling adventures. Eventually, Resolute settles in Lexington, marries, raises a family, and plays an important role in the years before and during America’s War for Independence.

It’s perhaps somewhat tasteless to describe a novel as full of sadness as this as being fun, but it was, indeed, just that. Resolute is a character that I will long remember, as are the others. Strong-willed and self-sufficient, even as a young girl, the novel allows us to see her grow up to be a strong and independent woman. I loved seeing what the world was like during that period of time.

The author is a marvelous writer, and her words could have been written in the mid- to-late 1700s, they read so true to life.

It is a long book, so settle down for a lengthy adventure.

Here is a link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile

searchAs long as I remember that I am reading a NOVEL (and therefore take things with a grain of salt), I think learning history from fiction works best for me. Because of this, when I became familiar with The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile, by C.W. Gortner, I was eager to use it as a basis to learn about this renowned queen of Spain. After all, all I really knew was that she was the mother of Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine and the monarch who sent Christopher Columbus on his mission that ultimately changed the world.

Oh, and then there was that whole Spanish Inquisition thingy.

For someone who loves historical fiction as much as I, it is remarkable that I had never heard of Gortner, who, in addition to Queen Isabella, has written novels of real-life characters ranging from Queen Isabella of Spain to Coco Chanel.  To the extent I can tell, this novel was well-researched and stuck fairly close to the queen’s real life.

This isn’t to say, however, that it wasn’t a sympathetic version of Isabella, but as they say, context is everything. And it IS a novel.

No one believed I was destined for greatness.

These are the opening words of the novel, which is written in first-person.  Isabella becomes Queen of Castile in somewhat circuitous fashion, and after much drama involving sex and lies. But not sex and lies from Isabella, who was a loyal soldier of Christ and a supporter of the people of Castile.

Isabella’s story is extraordinary, to say the least. She was an independent woman, committed to ruling Spain and her subjects as she believed God willed. The book is a love story about Isabella and her beloved king Fernando of Aragon. But it is also the story of sheer will, good intentions, and misguided loyalty to God in times that were tumultuous at best.

The author provides context for what ultimately resulted in the Spanish Inquisition. As it is a novel, the actions aren’t approved or disapproved, just presented in an interesting manner. But there is much more to this interesting queen and the impact she had on the entire world, which ended up being much larger than anyone imaged.

The novel is lengthy, and dragged in parts. Overall, however, I enjoyed this novel very much, and recommend it to anyone who likes to become acquainted with history via novels.

Here is a link to the book.