Friday Book Whimsy: Mistress of the Ritz

If I had a bucket list (which I decidedly don’t), one of the things on the list would be to spend a week at the Paris Ritz Hotel. The trickiest part of achieving that goal would be that I would want to visit the Ritz during the period of time that Claude Auzello was the director of the famous hotel, and his wife Blanche was its mistress.

Mixing fiction with interesting fact is the bedrock of a good historical novel. Melanie Benjamin’s novel Mistress of the Ritz focuses on the period of time during World War II, specifically when the Nazis had taken over Paris, and subsequently made the Ritz Hotel their headquarters.

Claude Auzello fell immediately in love with Blanche, an independent American who now lived in Paris. She soon loved him back, and they married shortly after they first met. Much to his surprise, Blanche wasn’t interested in allowing Claude to have a mistress in the way French men do, at least according to Claude. Still, the two made a good and loving partnership as Claude worked his way up to director of the renowned hotel, stomping grounds of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Coco Chanel during World War II.

Mistress of the Ritz tells the love story of Claude and Blanche Auzello, but also the love story of Blanche and Claude with the Ritz Hotel. As the world was going crazy around them, the Ritz provided a solid foundation.

With Claude unaware, Blanche becomes associated with the French resistance movement, and eventually is discovered. But Claude has secrets of his own. No secret, however, is greater than the fact that Blanche came from a Jewish family in New York City and had changed her name to protect herself.

I loved this book, both for the history and for the romance. I give Mistress of the Ritz a big thumbs up.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Sun Down Motel

Those who follow my reading choices know that I’m a big fan of mysteries. What most people don’t know is that I have developed somewhat of an interest in scary books. Not horror novels like Bring Me Flesh; I’ll Bring You Hell, a book by an author named Martin Rose, of whom I’ve never heard, and whose books I will never read. But a good ol’ gothic mystery novel with a side of ghosts can bring me satisfaction. The Haunting of Hill House, by writer Shirley Jackson is a good example of the type of scary book to which I’m drawn. Hauntingly scary, but no Freddy Krueger popping out of the closet.

So when a book called The Sun Down Motel, by Simone St. James, an author noted for her creepy novels, comes across my computer screen, you can understand why I was immediately hooked. Last year I read The Broken Girls by the same author, and was suitably impressed. And I have stayed at enough motels with signs that looked just like that illustrated on the cover to be drawn in.

Carly Kirk is at loose ends. She misses her deceased mother. She isn’t finding satisfaction in college. And she has always wondered what happened to her Aunt Viv, who went missing 30 years earlier, before Carly was born. So she drops out of school, and heads to the upper New York town of Fell to retrace the steps of her aunt, and make a true effort to find out what happened and why the police were never able to close the case. All she knows is that Viv ran away from home and found work as the night clerk at The Sun Down Motel in Fell, NY.

Carly arrives in Fell, and begins renting the apartment in which Viv lived.  Soon she accepts a job as the night clerk at The Sun Down Motel. In the course of retracing her aunt’s steps, Carly faces some of the same challenges faced by Viv. The challenges include nightly visits from the victims of the serial killer the police and Viv’s family think murdered Viv.

The Sun Down Motel is part ghost story, part romance, but mostly a mystery with an ending that might take you by surprise. I found the novel to be a great escape from the trials around me.

Here is a link to the book. 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

My reading interests have changed somewhat during these two months+ of sheltering in place. If you told me I had to read Crime and Punishment or Moby Dick, I think I would break down and cry. I don’t need deep thinking or meaningful literature; I need comedy or romance or if I’m feeling really spiffy,  a good mystery.

Given this state of mind, I set aside some of the beefier books that I had downloaded from the library and began reading a book I had purchased some time ago dirt cheap because I liked the title. The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, by Kelly Harms, provided some fairly easy reading that contained a pretty good message.

Amy Byler hasn’t quite recovered from her husband and the father of her two kids — a girl teen and a boy ‘tween — leaving them without a thought of what would happen to them. Amy worked hard as a school librarian to keep the house where their family had lived since the beginning. With work and raising two kids all by herself, there is little time left for herself.

Then one day her husband shows up after being gone for three years, ready to forgive and forget, and eager to make up for lost time with his kids. He encourages Amy to attend a conference in New York City and connect up with her friend who lives there. And, what’s more, he gives her his credit card.

This leads to that which leads to an almost magical two weeks, in which she agrees to be part of her friend’s magazine article in what they are calling a Momspringa. A chance for overworked and tired and isolated mothers to take time for themselves. In this case, she receives almost a complete makeover, and a chance to see most of New York City without worrying about her kids. 

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler offers readers a chance to dream about a life of luxury and indulgence. I can’t say that I could particularly relate to Amy’s life situation, but there are a lot of single mothers who definitely could. However, even for me, the book provided some laughs, a little romance, and a peek into how the other half lives in an exciting city.

The message to take away from this book, even for those of us who are not overworked parents, is that we all need time for ourselves.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler was a fun and relaxing read. I enjoyed it very much.

Here is a link to the book.

 

 

 

Friday Book Whimsy: Book Challenge, The Last

Today I will conclude the book challenge I have been pondering for the last few weeks. Click here to see Part I and Part II.

A book that reminds you of home: It sort of depends on what I consider home. For this purpose, however, I am calling home the place where I spent my formative years — Nebraska. Therefore, the book that most reminds me of my home is My Antonia, by Willa Cather. I, of course, am nothing like the main character — Antonia Shimerda. Her family are Bohemian immigrants who lived and farmed in southeast Nebraska in the late 1800s. She befriends Jim, who is newly arrived from the east coast. The reason this reminds me of growing up in Nebraska is because the people are down-to-earth, hard-working, honest, and live simple lives. That describes my experience growing up in the Midwest.

Favorite romance book: Can you really get more romantic than Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte? I mean, the wild and enormously troubled Mr. Rochester sees the good in the poor orphan girl who has led a tragic life up until she becomes a governess to Mr. Rochester’s child. the book apparently illustrates classism, sexism, and all sorts of -isms, but I simply adore the love between the two main characters, even after he loses his eyesight. Oh, and the crazy wife in the attic.

Favorite male character: Lots of favorite male characters, but I’m going to go with Father Tim, from Jan Karon’s Mitford series. I wish that Father Tim could be my spiritual advisor and my friend.

Favorite female character: I like many female characters, but one who has stayed in my mind is Eleanor Oliphant, from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I loved everything about Eleanor Oliphant. I love her outlook on life, I loved how she rose above her dysfunctional upbringing, and I loved her friendship with Raymond. I reviewed the book here.

Your favorite writer: Man, this is a hard one to pin down, but given my answer to the last question which follows, I think it would have to be the late Kent Haruf. When this Colorado author passed away in 2014, I literally cried, knowing that there would never be another story about fictional Holt, Colorado. I own every one of his books, and since I’m a dedicated library enthusiast, that’s saying a lot.

Your favorite book of all time: That would have to be Plainsong. The story takes place in the fictional small town of Holt, on the eastern plains of Colorado. It introduces a group of people who are only marginally connected, but who come together as though they were a family. The dialogue is as true as in any book I have ever read. The writing is lyrical and spoke to my heart. The characters are realistic and likeable, though some are broken. The McPheron brothers — two old bachlors who are ranchers — are wonderful and true.  Eventide takes over where Plainsong leaves off.

Well, what do you think of all of my choices? What are your choices?

Friday Book Whimsy: Book Challenge, Part II

Today’s post will continue the Book Challenge I found recently on Pinterest. Read last Friday’s post for Part I.

A book that made you laugh: I often find author Bill Bryson to be smug and mean-spirited. But he’s often enormously funny. A Walk in the Woods is a book that caused me not only guffaws, but often laughing until I had tears rolling down my cheeks. It’s a book that makes me forgive him for his smugness.

A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving: I purchased the Kindle version of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple when it was first released without knowing much about the book. When I took a look and saw the format, I was immediately uninterested in reading it. The book is mostly a series of text messages, memos, school documents and so forth. There is very little narrative. So it sat in my library for months before I dove in. I loved the book, as I indicated in my review.

The first novel you remember reading: What else? Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Oh, I read Nancy Drew and other kids’ mystery books, but Little Women was my first real novel. I loved it the first time I read it, and the many times I’ve read it since. And I always cry when Beth dies. Oh, spoiler alert.

A book that you wish more people would read: I have no way of knowing how many people read any given book, but I have a general sense that author Julia Keller is hugely underappreciated for her dark and richly textured Bell Elkins series. The stories take place in West Virginia and feature a county-prosecutor-turned-private-detective in partnership with the former sheriff and former deputy. The novels are not cheerful, but the characters are interesting and likeable, and Keller’s descriptions and stories ring true.

Favorite title of a book: I’m a sucker for a good title. I’ve also been known to pick a book from its cover. One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow has both. The book, written by Olivia Hawker, will be one of my favorites of 2020. Read my review here.

A book you love but hate at the same time: There has only been one time that I can recall that upon reading the ending, I literally threw the book across the room. Thank heavens I wasn’t yet reading on Kindle, because I’m not sure I would have been able to resist the impulse even then. That book is Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. The story was so compelling that I couldn’t put the book down. But that ending. Oh. My. Goodness. And that’s all I’ll say in case you’re one of the 10 people in the world who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie.

That’s all for this week. To be continued.

By the way, I would love to get your answers to these same questions. Last week’s too.

Friday Book Whimsy: Book Challenge

While aimlessly perusing Pinterest (which provides recipes that I pin but almost never make, but at least doesn’t get political), I came across something called The Book Challenge. Loving a good challenge almost much as I love a good book, I’m taking the challenge, and sharing it with you for the next few weeks…..

Best book you read last year: I reviewed my post of January 3, 2020, in which I shared my five favorite books of last year. After considerable thought, I decided that my favorite book was Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda HolmesI like how the author empowered the protagonist. I liked the baseball tie-in. I liked all of the characters. I liked the ending.

A book that you’ve read more than three times: I have read very many books more than three times. I read very quickly, which allows me to read many books, but also results in me not always remembering them very well. I can — and do — reread books very often. But there are those kind of books, and then there are the kind of books that I reread because I love them so much. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, is one such book. I guess I love the atmosphere created by the author. Who gets any creepier than Mrs. Danvers?

Your favorite series: Oh, I love so many series. I’m a big mystery reader, and once I read a book that I like that is part of a series, I must read them all, and in order. But if I have to choose, I pick the Inspector Gamache series written by Louise Penny. Gamache solves mysteries in the small town of Three Pines outside of Montreal. There are 15 books in the series, with another book being released in September. Inspector Gamache is kind, fair, loving, and smart as can be.

A book that made you happy: Britt-Marie Was Hereby Fredrik Backman, made me very happy, and gave me a character that I think of very often. Britt-Marie left her cheating husband, and handled it by being very OCD and critical. That is, until she ends up coaching a terrible kids soccer team. She is surrounded by odd characters and a life that is definitely not made for someone who likes things just so. How she lands on her feet was absolutely delightful.

A book that made you sad: I tend to not choose to read books that make me sad. I also avoid movies with sad endings. No thank you to Terms of Endearment or Steel Magnolias, thank you very much. The Light Between the Oceans, by M.L. Stedman, thankfully, didn’t involve death by cancer. But it was a very sad story about a woman who has been unable to carry a child to birth who finds a boat carrying a dead man and a living baby at the lighthouse where she and her husband live and work. They decide to keep the baby, telling no one of its existance. Things don’t work out well. Very sad.

Continued next Friday….

 

Friday Book Whimsy: Ask Again, Yes

The ability to forgive: We might think we can do it, but should someone do something to someone we love, could we actually forgive them? I would like to say yes, but I can’t promise. Ask Again, Yes, a novel by Mary Beth Keane, is the story of broken families and forgiveness that is almost beyond imagination.

Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson are New York City police officers.  Francis and his wife Lena have three children, one after another. She is struggling with motherhood and loneliness, and is happy to learn that Brian and his wife Anne are moving next door in the small NYC suburb in which they reside. Unfortunately, Anne doesn’t have any interest in the friendship that Lena craves.

However, from the time they are little, Brian and Anne’s son Peter and Francis and Lena’s daughter Kate are the best of friends. As their friendship grows, tensions rise between the families, culminating in a major tragedy that understandably splits the families completely apart.

Though Peter and Kate no longer live near one another, they don’t forget about each other. Eventually, they reunite and marry. Unfortunately, the events of the past make it difficult to move forward. Both Kate and Peter were severely impacted by what happened.

Ask Again, Yes is filled with hope and love and the grace that comes from forgiveness. It also paints a clear picture of how mental illness impacts more than just the immediate the family.

I enjoyed this book very much.

Here is a link to the book.