Friday Book Whimsy: My Dear Hamilton

Probably inspired by the wildly popular musical Hamilton, the novel My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tells the story of controversial United States statesman and founding father Alexander Hamilton through the eyes of his wife Eliza Schuyler Hamilton.

I love to learn history via novels. It is always so much more real to me, and therefore I remember everything so much more easily. It is always necessary to keep the fact that it is a novel in mind so that you don’t assume that every teeny tiny part of the story is true. Eliza Schuyler, for example, simply couldn’t have been as perfect as the story lets on.

Eliza Schuyler was defined by the men in her life. She is the daughter of a strong general who fought in the Revolutionary War. From him she learned to be a patriot, to think for herself, and to do what it takes to help fight for the nation’s independence.

She marries handsome Alexander Hamilton, and then spends the rest of her marriage as his soundboard and his helpmate. Well, except for the times when he was having affairs.

The authors might have spent a bit too much time talking about Alexander Hamilton for a novel that purports to tell the story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. Still, I learned a lot about the early days of the nation’s history, about the creation of the Federalist Papers, and Hamilton’s role.

The pivotal story of Hamilton’s life, of course, is the duel  against Aaron Burr, a duel that he unfortunately lost. The truth about whether or not he wanted to duel, and whether or not he fired a shot remains to be seen. Even in this novel, while he told his wife he didn’t fire a shot, she doubts the truth of his statement.

It’s a good story, if a bit long. Quite a bit too long, in fact. I found myself doing a lot of skimming as the story went on and on. Still, it was a fascinating time in our nation’s history, and seeing the story from a woman’s view is a welcome change of pace.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Watching You

Before sitting down to write this review, I tried to think how to describe Watching You, the newest novel from author Lisa Jewell. I finally decided it’s like eating some kind of complex meal in which the flavors combine to create something wonderful and oh-so-satisfying.

Tom Fitzwilliams is a handsome and charismatic educator who has traveled from school to school, “fixing” them. He is successful, the husband of a beautiful young wife and the father of a gifted — if voyeuristic — young son.

But there is something a bit off about Fitzwilliams, starting with an interaction 10 years earlier with a mother who attacked him, shouting that viva was her life, her everything. Who or what is viva?

The novel includes a variety of characters, including recently-married Joey, who moves to the neighborhood to live with her brother, but is immediately obsessed with their neighbor Tom. There is Tom’s son Freddie, who sits in the window and watches everything that goes on in the neighborhood, and knows there is something a bit off about his father. Nicola, Tom’s adoring wife; Bess and Jenna, two high school students, one of whom is infatuated with the teacher, the other of whom distrusts him from the get-go.

The author doles out the information piece by piece, little by little. The reader knows from the beginning that a murder has taken place. What we don’t learn until the end is just who was murdered, and why. And, of course, the name of the murderer.

I loved this novel from beginning to end. I read it in a day-and-a-half, and was satisfied with how the novel wrapped up.

Great read!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Murder at Archly Manor

I’ll be honest with you; lately I’ve read so many of these mysteries featuring high-society lady detectives that they’re all starting to run together. Murder at Archly Manor, the first in what’s called the High Society Lady Detective series by author Sara Rosett, while not quite Agatha Christie material, was a fun romp with high society in 1920s England.

Olive Belgrade is a solid member of the aristocratic class in London, but that doesn’t mean she’s rich. In fact, she is barely making ends meet, and is finding job-hunting to be unsuccessful. While visiting relatives, she learns that her cousin Violet is newly engaged to a man that nobody trusts. There is too much about his background that is vague. This leads to that, and Olive is hired by her aunt to look into Alfred’s background.

To this end, Olive attends a weekend party given by an aristocrat who actually IS rich. Unfortunately, before Olive can find out too much, Alfred is killed. Olive sets out to find the murderer.

First novels are always hit-or-miss. The reader needs to learn a lot about the characters. Rosett does a good job of introducing us to Olive and her friends, making them likable and mostly believable.

I found Murder at Archly Manor to be a good cozy mystery, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: What the Dead Leave Behind

There are two era’s in which books take place that will suck me in every time, particularly if it is a murder mystery: a) I love the 1920s, just after WWI, when fun is the name of the game, and thoughts have not yet turned to the possibility of WWII; and b) the late 1800s in New York City, set among the Vanderbilts and the Roosevelts and the Astors. There is just something I find so romantic about that era, despite the fact that women were definitely considered second rate citizens.

A new series by author Rosemary Simpson features a strong-willed woman who lives in one of the famous Fifth Avenue mansions. The night of the real-life Great Blizzard of 1888, Prudence MacKenzie awaits the arrival of her fiance Charles, who must travel through the blizzard to see her. He never arrives, and is later found dead. She soon learns that though her father left her all of his money upon his recent death, the will declares that in order to receive the money, she must be married to Charles so he can manage her fortune. Otherwise, the money goes to her father’s young second wife. Prudence suspects foul play when Charles is found dead and buried under snow with an Ace of Spades in his hand.

Soon, Charles’ long-time friend Geoffrey Hunter, a former Pinkerton agent, shows up. He not only knows the meaning of the playing card, but suspects, as does Prudence, that there is something sinister about her father’s young wife and her dispicable brother.

I liked the character of Prudence, because despite living during a time when women really did have no power, she used her wits and her money to her advantage. Her evil stepmother tries to control Prudence by keeping her under the influence of laudanum, and I found that prequel to today’s drug problems interesting.

A new Prudence MacKenzie novel has just been released, and I am looking forward to reading it.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The President is Missing

Call me crabby, but I stopped reading James Patterson a long time ago. Oh, I made an exception sometime in the recent past to read I, Alex Cross, one of the series of over 25 books about fictional detective Alex Cross. I read that particular book because the series was selected in the PBS-sponsored Favorite Book Ever Read as one of the 100 chosen by readers. Upon reading the book, I remembered why I’d stopped. I found that book, like others in that series, to be predictable, and more graphically violent than I’d remembered. I’m getting old.

Having said that, I was intrigued last year to learn that Patterson had teamed up with President Bill Clinton to write a mystery/thriller involving the president of the United States. I don’t know how much involvement Clinton had in the writing The President is Missing, but I’m sure he contributed to the details involving the presidency.

Enjoying this novel (which I did) requires an incredible amount of suspension of disbelief. Most significantly, a reader would have to believe that a president could hide from everyone — even his own Secret Service. But I think many novels require a suspension of disbelief.

President Duncan faces a threat more serious than any threat faced by a past president. The bad guys (who are unbelievably smart and computer knowledgeable ) have created a computer virus that will shut down every segment of the United States, from security to finance to airports and highways. Through this virus, life as we know it will come to an end.

To prevent this from happening, Duncan (who happens to have been a special forces agent in his past) goes rogue. He hides where no one can find him and works with other really smart computer guys to stop the virus using intelligence rather than brawn. During this period of three or four days, the world faces disaster, but is ultimately saved. I don’t think that’s a spoiler.

The novel is long, and I approached it with some trepidation. To my surprise, I found the writing to be rather driving, and the story — though unrealistic — to be interesting. The villain behind the virus caught me by surprise.

The President is Missing ends with a speech by President Duncan to Congress that I found to be a bit political for my taste. However, I recommend the book with no hesitation.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Top Five for 2018

Every year, my reading goal is 100 books. I don’t think I have ever reached my goal, and this year I fell even shorter than last year. Nevertheless, I read some books that I really liked. Not all of my top five books were published in 2018. Furthermore, it was pretty hard to narrow my book list down to five.

Here are the five favorite books I read this year, in no particular order…..

Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall
Willow is 10 years old, and her mother Polly was in her 50s when she was born. Willow lives in fear that her mother will die before she is grown. As for Polly she lives life to the fullest, but carries the burden of secrets that she refuses to share with her daughter. And then when tragedy strikes, they take a trip back to Polly’s old stomping grounds and Willow learns her secrets.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine Gail Honeyman
Eleanor struggles with appropriate social skills, and prefers to live her regular, if boring life in which she never strays outside the lines. And then she meets Raymond, and their friendship opens her up to new possibilities. I loved this book primarily for the characters.

 

The Word is Murder Anthony Horowitz
In The Word is Murder, author 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 premise is as clever as can be, earning it a place in my top five favorites.

Be Frank With Me Julia Claiborne Johnson
Alice Whitley agrees to become the assistant to famed author Mimi Banning as she writes her first book in years to ensure that the book is completed. Part of Alice’s job description is taking care of Mimi’s 9-year-old probably-autistic son Frank, who is one of my favorite characters of all time. He is smart, funny, and loves to dress up like 40s movie stars. I enjoyed the story, and simply adored Frank.

Clock Dance Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors of all time, but I have been disappointed in her most recent efforts. I found Clock Dance to be back to the author’s standards, featuring characters with whom I could be friends. Willa Drake has had plenty of sadness in her life. Her mother was bipolar, and her first husband died in a road rage accident. She is comfortably settled into a pretty boring marriage with her second husband, when she gets a call that takes her to Baltimore and changes her life forever.

Honorable mentions: Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn; Caroline: Little House on the Prairie Revisited, by Sarah Miller; and Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell.

Next year: 100 BOOKS

Friday Book Whimsy: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

There’s a couple of reasons why I should have hated author Stephen King’s memoir/writing textbook On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. First, I dislike most memoirs. I believe that the majority of people are just like me with lives that are pretty ordinary. Thus, I believe one must be extraordinarily full of oneself to justify writing a memoir. Second, I am in the .00002 percent of the world’s population who has never — not EVER — read a novel by Stephen King. It isn’t that I am protesting his prolificacy. On the contrary, more power to a person who can come up with that many ideas. He has written 58 novels, six non-fiction books, and some 200 short stories. And I’ve read exactly none. I just am not a fan of horror stories that involve talking cars and snarling giant dogs. I’ve loved the movies made from his books, however. Go figure.

At any rate, despite the fact that I SHOULD have hated this book, instead, I loved it.

The first part of the book is mostly memoir — his own fairly self-deprecating story of his ordinary life growing up in the 50s and 60s. It was a nostalgic walk down Memory Lane for me as in many ways, his life duplicated mine and many other Baby Boomers. But the story of his youth painted a clear picture as to why he ended up being a writer, and specifically primarily a writer of horror fiction.

The second part of the book is a writing lesson. I will freely admit that I’m a writing geek. I love grammar and vocabulary, and I mostly always have. King’s lessons were not preachy, just practical. Basically, he says, if you want to be a writer, then you must write, write, write. Find a spot where you are comfortable and write. Pay attention to life around you and write. Find someone with whom you are comfortable and let them critique what you write.

Even if you aren’t a writer and have no desire to become one, this book is an interesting look at an ordinary man during one of the best times to be a kid, and told by someone who can write one heck of a good story.

Here is a link to the book.