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.

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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.

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Friday Book Whimsy: The Nest

searchA debut novel can be hit or miss. Gathering from the range of emotions generated by Amazon reviewers, The Nest, the debut novel by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is a bit of both.

For the record, however, I liked the book very much.

The four Plumb siblings have counted on receiving the inheritance set up by their father to become theirs when the youngest turned 40. Mr. Plumb’s idea was to just leave his kids a bit of money to give them a boost at a time when they would most need it. He hadn’t counted on the mortgage market boom (and a wise money manager who reinvested the money just before the market plummeted) to turn the small inheritance into a sizable amount. But the Plumbs had certainly counted on it, and lived their lives accordingly. They weren’t worried, because they knew “the nest” would be coming to them soon.

And then one day, the eldest Plumb – Leo – makes an irresponsible decision that results in the need to use the nest to settle a lawsuit. The other siblings are furious and waiting for Leo to tell them how he is going to fix their problems.

The Plumbs are dysfunctional and selfish and BESIDE THEMSELVES with anger toward Leo. As it becomes apparent that Leo has not learned from his mistake, the tizzy into which they’ve worked themselves begins to flatten out, and the family begins to discover what is really important and the need for family and the importance of taking care of oneself.

The publishers describe the book as humorous, and I can’t quite concur with that assessment. While their dysfunction was somewhat comical, it didn’t generate anything in the way of laughs. But despite the characters’ dysfunction, I found them to be likable once they stopped feeling entitled.

I found The Nest to be a good enough read to make me look forward to the author’s next offering.

Here is a link to the book.

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Friday Book Whimsy: Dimestore

searchThe best thing about this book was the title.

I love southern writers in general. I like reading books that take place in the south. I’m particularly drawn to the Appalachian area of southwestern Virginia and West Virginia. So I should love author Lee Smith.

It’s not fair of me to say I don’t, as I have only tried to read one of her novels. I say tried because I was unsuccessful. Fair and Tender Ladies – a novel told in the form of letters – simply didn’t grab my attention, and so I abandoned book.

But I was drawn to her memoir – told in a series of essays – one hundred percent because of its title. I grew up in a town that had not one, but two, dimestores, and I loved them both.

I didn’t love Smith’s memoir Dimestore quite as much as I loved dimestores themselves.

As I mentioned, what I am calling a memoir is actually a series of essays in which Smith tells us about her life as she grew up in the small Appalachian community of Grundy, Virginia, and beyond. Her father owned the local dimestore. For non-baby-boomers, dimestores were small versions of Walmart. You could find a little bit of a lot of things for a low price.

It’s true that I enjoyed the earlier essays more than the later essays because I loved hearing about her life growing up in southwestern Virginia in the late 40s and early 50s. I could relate, though my small town experience was in the Midwest. Let’s face it; small town America in the 50s was small town America in the 50s, no matter where you were. You could watch Dobie Gillis and the Mickey Mouse Club anywhere that had television reception. You could go out and play all day long without your parents arranging play dates.

I enjoyed the later essays a bit less because they were more about her experiences after college.  Smith actually spent the last couple of years of high school at a boarding school in Richmond, VA, and then attended college in Roanoke. But you can tell that her upbringing in the Appalachians impacted her life forever.

I also loved that she began writing at as a small girl, taking the Nancy Drew stories and rewriting them to include herself as one of the characters or producing a different ending. I was enormously impressed to read this fact, as it is something I would have LOVED to do, but wouldn’t have had the nerve.

I can’t heartily recommend the book unless you are a true lover of memoirs. I borrowed the book from the library, so I didn’t mind that I skimmed some of the later essays. I might have felt a bit cheated if I had spent cold, hard cash on the book.

With that caveat, I give it a wobbly thumbs up.

Here is a link to the book.

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