Friday Book Whimsy: Surviving Savannah

During my formative years, I studied the history of a variety of ships that sank. The two most obvious, of course, were the Titanic, which ran into an iceberg, killing 1,500 souls, and the Lusitania, a British luxury ship that was sunk by the Germans, killing nearly 1,200 souls and contributing to the World War I tragedies. But I had never heard of the sinking of the Pulaski, a steam ship that sank to the bottom of the ocean as it made its way from Savannah, GA, to Baltimore, MD, killing 100 souls in 1838. While I might not have studied it, I’m pretty darn sure it made history class in Savannah. The ship’s boilers exploded the first night at sea, killing some of the wealthiest members of Savannah’s society who were heading to cooler climes for the summer.

Patti Callahan’s historical novel was written following the discovery at long last of the ship in 2018. Yes, friends, that ship stayed lost for 180 years. The discovery of the sunken ship after all these years solved one of the greatest mysteries of our time.

The author tells the story of the explosion, and the fight by some of the people who survived the disaster. Callahan mixes real-life people with fictitious characters to give the reader a taste of how hard people will work to save themselves and the ones they love. The characters are bold and brave. The descriptions of the long days they spent without food or water, baking in the hot sun, and how they survived, are riveting.

The book is part history and part mystery. It was interesting to read and provided me with a history lesson, proving that I still have plenty to learn, even in my dotage!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Wild Women and the Blues

I consistently judge a book by its cover. A cover that I find interesting or beautiful or amusing will draw me in as quick as you can say Louie Armstrong. Wild Women and the Blues, a debut novel by Denny S. Bryce, had a beautiful cover. It also had an interesting story that took place in one of time periods I most enjoy reading about.

It’s 1925, and the city of Chicago is lively and catches the spirit of the Jazz Age. Honoree Dalcour comes from the south, and wants to make a name for herself during this period when anything goes. She can sing and dance, and the Dreamland Cafe is where Anyone Who is Anything goes to have fun. It is the largest and most successful black-and-tan venue in the city, which is why she is thrilled to get a dancing gig at the club.

But while the city is alive with music, it is also alive with bootleg liquor and mafioso. Can you say Al Capone?

Fast forward almost a century, and film student Sawyer Hayes is eager to become a household name like his father. His hope is to interview Honoree Dalcour, who is 110 years old and lives in a rest home. Though very old, her mind is still in place. He wants to hear the stories of what life was like when Chicago was at its liveliest. He hopes to be able to connect her to the famous (and real life) film maker, Oscar Micheaux, long deceased.

Though 110 years old and very frail, Honoree has many stories to tell about the shenanigans of that era. And she will only tell the stories to Sawyer, and only at her own pace.

Wild Women and the Blues caught my eye 100 percent because of the spectacularly beautiful cover, I will admit. But the story kept me reading. There were lots of surprises along the way, including a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. The stories include her best friend Bessie, and the love of her life Ezekiel, who left her inexplicably years before, but has returned. There is romance and mystery and intrigue galore. The author mixes real-life characters with ficticious in a way that makes the novel all the more interesting. All the while, you can practically hear the music playing and smell the cigarette and marijuana smoke and hear the gunfire.

I really enjoyed the book, as well as the cover. And, by the way, there is a scene in the book in which Honoree is wearing the dress displayed on the cover!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Last Thing He Told Me

At 40, woodworker Hannah Hall has not yet met anyone until Owen Michaels walks into her shop. It is nearly love at first sight. Before a year has passed, she and Owen are happily married. Owen’s teenaged daughter Bailey is not as happy about the whole thing as are Owen and Hannah.

And then one day, Owen disappears. He doesn’t come home from work, and a bit later, a stranger — a student whom Hannah doesn’t know — appears at her door to deliver a message from Owen. Two words: Protect her.

Hannah doesn’t even have to think twice to know exactly who he means. He is undoubtedly talking about his daughter Bailey, who lost her mother to a car accident when she was a mere child. She doesn’t remember her, or frankly, much about her life before she and her father moved to Sausalito.

With the news of Owen’s company being caught in a financial atrocity, and Owen missing, Hannah knows she has to protect Bailey, despite her stepdaughter’s distrust of her. It’s what Owen would want.

As the two try to figure out what’s going on, they learn that Owen was not who he purported to be, and frankly, neither one of them know who he really is. But Hannah is determined to figure it out, and to protect Bailey at all costs.

I will tell you that the last time I read an entire book in a day was probably when I was 10 or 11 years old. I simply couldn’t put The Last Thing He Ever Told Me, by Laura Dave, down. The writing was terrific, but more importantly, the driving story kept me glued to the book. A chapter would end, and I would tell myself, I will only read one more chapter. Before I knew it, the day had passed and the book had ended.

I loved this book.

Here is a link to this book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop

Yes, Lovers of Idgie and Ruth and Ninny Threadgoode, all who hail from the teeny tiny town of Whistle Stop, rejoice! They are back in Fannie Flagg’s followup novel, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop.

I loved the original book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and its subsequent movie, cleverly called Fried Green Tomatoes, so much that I think of those characters often. So it was with great joy that I discovered that Fannie Flagg has given us an update on those beloved characters.

Ruth, of course, died in the first book. She left Idgie grieving enormously, kept grounded only by Ruth’s son Bud. In The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, Bud has grown older and yearns to see Whistle Stop once more before he is too old to travel. Whistle Stop — like many towns who were left behind when interstate highways were built, or train stops were eliminated — has become nothing more than a ghost town. Wonder Boy tells us how Bud achieves his dream, and more.

The story is told almost like a series of vignettes, which threw me for a bit. It went back and forth in time, reintroducing some of the old characters and meeting brand new friends. Primary among the new friends is Bud’s daughter Ruthie. She has grown up hearing her dad talk about his wonderful childhood, and it has made her curious.

Idgie has grown older but has lost none of her pizazz. If anything, she has gotten feistier than ever. Through flashbacks and memories, we once again get to enjoy Ninny and hear her stories of Whistle Stop. We relive Christmas at the cafe. Even Evelyn — who is now a widow and enormously wealthy — plays a wonderful role in the story. I loved how the book ended.

Flagg’s writing makes the reader feel as though they are sitting next to the characters, drinking a Co-Cola and talking about the weather. It was such a wonderful story to read during a time when things aren’t always pleasant on the news.

I highly recommend this book, but you must read Fried Green Tomatoes first.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: When the Stars Go Dark

Author Paula McLain has written a number of historical novels. I’ve read them all, and enjoyed them very much. From her writing, I have learned about Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley, Beryl Markham and her love affair with Denys Finch Hatton, and Ernest Hemingway and another of his wives, Martha Gellhorn.

I was surprised to learn that the author had undertaken the challenge of writing a distinctly different kind of book — a detective mystery story of sorts. Since mysteries are one of my favorite genres, I was eager to read the book. It met my expectations and beyond.

Anna Hart works as a detective in San Francisco, where she specializes in finding missing children. A tragic event in her own life — for which she blames herself — forces her to take a leave of absence from both her job and her husband and child. She moves back to her home town of Mendocino to try and pull herself and her life back together. It was in Mendocino that she spent the best years of her life with her much-loved adopted parents.

Unfortunately, she no sooner gets to Mendocino and a young girl goes missing. Despite her own psychological problems, Anna can’t help but get caught up in the search for this girl. It reminds her of her own childhood in Mendocino when one of her friends is murdered and the case remained unsolved. Before long, the search for the girl becomes oh-so-familiar, as the past connects with the present.

While this is not a historical novel, I liked the way the author tied in real-life cases and real-life people into the novel. It gave the story a realistic feel and made the book even more readable.

I enjoyed the book very much. I hope the author undertakes this type of book again. I would even like to see the return of a more-at-peace Anna Hart.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Later

Hard Case Crime is a collection of hardboiled detective stories, some old reprints, some newer novels, written by a large number of different authors. Most of the authors’ names are familiar: Donald Westlake, Earl Stanley Gardner, Lawrence Block, Ed McBain, to name just a few.

One of the more familiar contributors to this collection is the oh-so-prolific author Stephen King. King is most well-known for his horror collection of books, many which have been made into spooky movies. But he has written a few detective/mystery books, and the ones I’ve read are as well-plotted as he scarier stories.

Later, by Stephen King, is one of the books in the Hard Case Crime collection, which is how it caught my eye. As usual, King did not disappoint.

Jamie Conklin is a young kid much like every other pre-teen. There is one distinct difference between Conklin and others: he is able to see an talk to dead people, primarily those who have died recently. He has admitted his “gift” to his mother, who has urged him to keep his secret to himself. Unfortunately, she doesn’t follow her own advice, and tells her girlfriend — a corrupt NYPD cop — about Jamie’s abilities. She immediately sees how this gift could help her advance her career and make good — if illegal — money out of the deal.

Jamie gets caught in the crossfire between his mother and his mother’s girlfriend, much to his dismay. And just when things are getting dangerous, help comes from an unexpected, if reluctant, ally. Parts of the book are plain scary!

King’s ability to combine pure mystery with just enough horror to keep it interesting makes for a really readable novel. Jamie is very likable, and the reader empathizes with the pull between his desire to keep his mother safe and helping a corrupt cop with her dastardly crime. I could almost feel Jamie’s preteen angst.

I really enjoyed Later.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Rose Code

I thought I had it up to HERE reading books that take place during World War II. I’ve read about this war from the perspectives of the British, the Americans, the French, and the Italians. What more could I possibly read?

The Rose Code, by historical novelist extraordinaire Kate Quinn, offered me a new perspective on a platter — a novel about the brilliant men and (mostly) women who worked at Bletchley Park, where the people who broke German military codes supposedly shortened the war by years.

The Rose Code features three very different female protagonists. There is Osla, a rich debutante who was presented to society in front of the king and queen. She yearns, however, to leave her social status behind and be something important in the world. She is dating the handsome Prince Phillip of Greece, before he becomes smitten with Princess Elizabeth.

Mab grew up poor on the the East End of London. Her childhood was difficult. She is determined to meet and marry someone who can bring her up in the world, and believes using her brains to decode military secrets can bring her towards that end.

Beth is quiet and mousy, kept ignorant of her own brilliance by an abusive mother and a father who refuses to stand up for her. She meets the other two women who are billeted at her home, and it is through them that she is brought into Bletchley Park to find and use her brilliant mind.

The three women go on to discover the presence of a traitor, and work together to expose him to the military. While doing so, they go through their individual joys and sorrows, all leading to the book’s climax.

The author gives such a wonderful picture of what went on at Bletchley Park, both the good and the bad. Being so intelligent — and doing important work on which the balance of the war could rest — created an experience of the war that is very different than others’. Insanity can lie just on the other side of brilliance.

The Rose Code will definitely be one of my favorite books — if not my favorite — of 2021.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: This Close to Okay

Tallis Clark is a family therapist. One evening when driving home from her office, she spots a man standing at the edge of a bridge looking for all the world like he’s about to jump into the water. Before she can change her mind, she pulls over and literally talks him off the ledge.

Tallis uses her training as a counselor to convince him to join her for a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe. While he won’t tell her why he is prepared to kill himself, he does respond to her kindness. Still convinced that he can’t be trusted to be left alone, she invites him to her house. She doesn’t tell him that she is a therapist by training and profession, justifying her action by telling herself as long as she doesn’t tell him, he isn’t her client and there are no ethical issues. Her intentions are honorable, though, because she just wants to keep him from going back to the bridge. He ends up spending several days with her.

This Lose to Okay, by Leesa Cross-Smith, is a well-told story, if somewhat unconvincing in parts. The two main characters — Tallis and Emmett — are realistic and likable, both troubled by their past, but both unwilling to share their whole stories with one another. Though I’m not terribly familiar with the practice of family therapy, I find it hard to believe that it wouldn’t be unethical to be coaching life practices like she did without admitting that she does this for a living.

Nevertheless, it is a story of friendship and understanding and trust. The author keeps us guessing about Emmett’s story until nearly the end. I found her continuing connection to her ex-husband to be somewhat tiresome. And Emmett’s role in continuing the connection was darnright unbelievable.

Still, I liked the book — and the author’s ability to tell a good story — very much.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Winter Counts

Virgil Wounded Horse is the enforcer on the Rosebud Reservation in southern South Dakota. He handles business that regular police — both on and off the Rez — ignore. Despite his life work, he has lost touch with his native Sioux roots.

One of the reservation council members approaches Virgil, asking him to handle the Rez’s newest and most difficult issue yet — heroin has made its way onto the Rosebud Reservation. Virgil is asked to find out how it’s coming in and stop its distribution in its tracks. He is hesitant to take on this dangerous task until the heroin problem hits close to home, to his own ward and nephew.

He enlists the help of the council member’s daughter, who also happens to be Virgil’s old girlfriend, and the two begin their hunt for the culprits. The hunt takes them all the way to Denver, where a powerful drug cartel is working hard to begin distribution on the Rez.

In the process of finding the root of the heroin problem, Virgil must come face to face with his own issues. As he does so, he becomes closer to his native roots.

Winter Counts, a novel by Native American David Heska Wanbli Weiden, hits to the heart of Native Americans’ issues in America. In that respect, it’s a difficult book to read. It’s hard to see how many American Indians live and what reservation life is really like. But it’s important for all of us to look at the problems facing natives Americans.

In addition to being an eye-opening novel, it is also a heck of a good mystery, and a good look at life on reservations, not just the Rosebud Reservation, but reservations around our country.

I highly recommend this book. It will be on of my favorites this year. I’m hoping it’s the beginning of a series. I want to see more of Virgil Wounded Knee.

Here is a link to the book

Friday Book Whimsy: The Postscript Murders

I first became familiar with Elly Griffiths when I read a couple of her Brighton mysteries, featuring D.I. Edgar Stephens and his friend, magician Max Mephisto. The books take place in the 1950s, and are fun because of the magician element. I stumbled upon a new book by the same author, called The Postscript Murders.

Natalka works as a caregiver for elderly people, and is very good at her job. One day, she visits one of her favorite clients, 90-year-old Peggy Smith. Given her age, her death shouldn’t be suspicious, except for three things. The day before, when Natalka visited Peggy, she was healthy as a horse. Also, as Natalka and her coworkers go through some of Peggy’s things, she notices that on her shelf are mystery books by very many writers, and they are all dedicated to Peggy. Finally, she finds a card with Peggy’s name on it, and her occupation is Murder Consultant.

Peggy’s neighbor, the dapper 80-year-old Edgar, is saddened by his friend’s death, and also suspicious. The two express their concerns to the friendly coffee shop owner Benedict, who opened up his shop after leaving a monestary where he had been a monk. The three vow to solve the mystery of Peggy’s murder.

Along the way, some of the authors who had dedicated their books to Peggy become murder victims themselves. D.S. Harbinder Kaur, who has been given these murder cases, isn’t sure whether the gang of three are helping or hindering her investigations. But they seem to find out things that she can’t.

The mystery’s solution was a good one, and the author’s writing is wonderful. But I will tell you what made this book one of my favorites so far this year were the characters. Both quirky and lovable, they wouldn’t stop until they found out who murdered the much-loved and much-respected Peggy. They do so, and find out just what a Murder Consultant is!

I highly recommend this book.

Here is a link to the book.