Friday Book Whimsy: Sold on a Monday

Some time back, I read (and reviewed) a novel written by author Lisa Wingate entitled Before We Were Yours. Her novel took place in the late 1930s, and was the story of children who were kidnapped by an orphanage and then sold. The story was based on fact. It was one of the best books I read that year.

Because of my connection to that book, Sold on a Monday, by Kristina McMorris, caught my attention. It too, took place in the 30s, this time during the Great Depression. The story was based on a real photo taken during the Depression that the author came across while doing some research. The photo was of two small children sitting in front of a rundown farmhouse next to a sign that read 2 Children For Sale. Off she went with an idea for a historical novel.

Reporter Ellis Reed is lucky to have a job during the hard times of the early 30s. He is the society writer for a newspaper, a job he loathes. He yearns to be an important journalist. In the course of work, he comes across a sign advertising the sale of two children. He shoots a photo, but is unable to interview anyone.

When he returns to his office, he convinces his boss that the story is important, and the editor agrees to print it along with the photo. Unfortunately, the photo — and the negative — are destroyed. What are the chances? So he does that thing that reporters are not ever supposed to do. He sets up a fake photo and writes a fake story. Bad things ensue.

In the meantime, Lily is stuck in the dead-end job of being the newspaper’s secretary, while she really wants to be a writer. Since she is a single mother of a little girl, she knows she can’t be choosy. When Ellis’ dirty deed leads come to her attention, the two of them work together to try to make things right again.

Perhaps this book would have worked better, had the author based the story on these two children in the same manner that Wingate’s story was of the kidnapped children. Instead, the children become almost an afterthought with the attention focused on the two protagonists. Unfortunately, the author’s character development and ability to move a story along made this a book I slogged through. I finished the novel, but was left feeling that the story could have been so much more.

In her Afterword, we learn that surprisingly little is known about the real photograph. There apparently is some evidence, however, that the mother who was selling the children wasn’t doing it because she was poor, but instead, just because she wanted to be childless.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Sentence is Death

Author Anthony Horowitz is one of my favorite writers. He is the creator of and writer for two of my favorite Brit mystery programs: Foyle’s War and Midsommer Murder. He has also joined the legion of folks who have written Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but done a much better job of most. With his  2018 novel The Word is Murder, he came up with one of the most clever story ideas I’ve ever come across as a reader. He continues this clever idea in The Sentence is Murder.

What is the idea? With a wink at Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Horowitz writes himself –not a takeoff on himself, but actually his very own person — as a character in the book. In fact, he is Dr. Watson to London private investigator Daniel Hawthorne’s Sherlock Holmes.

London attorney Richard Pryce is found dead in his home, having been hit over the head with a bottle of expensive wine. It seems clear from the get-go that one of his clients — a famous, if odd writer is the murderer. After all, she threatened to kill him with a bottle of wine in front of a restaurant full of people. Still, just like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, nothing is as it seems.

though Horowitz (the character) is getting much better at figuring out the nuances of the mystery, he still is pretty klutzy when compared to the much-more astute Hawthorne.

The mystery is good, but the real fun is reading about Horowitz’s insecurities and problems around writing and producing real-life shows like Foyle’s War as part of the story line. And it was fun to get to learn a bit more about the heretofore secret life of the brilliant detective Hawthorne.

I loved this book, and can’t wait for the next.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Orchardist

It’s rare that I’m quite as conflicted about a book as I am about The Orchardist, a debut novel by Amanda Coplin. Though I love books that take place in the American West of the 1800s, I also  generally dislike sad books. Personally, there is so much sadness in the world that I would rather read a book that is uplifting.

In its way, however, The Orchardist is uplifting. It features some of the kindest fictional people I have ever come across. They are contrasted, however, by characters that are sheer and truly evil.

William Talmadge (known only by Talmadge throughout the book) cares for apple and apricot trees in Washington in the late 1800s. One day, two young adolescents, both clearly pregnant despite their young age, wander onto his property, desperately hungry. Still, they are like wild dogs, fearful of every move he makes. He provides food by setting it outside where they can eat without his presence.

It becomes clear that they have been living in an unbelievably horrific situation, from which they have escaped. Still, taking these girls under his wings leads to circumstances that he could never have imagined.

So, my conflict comes from this being a sad book written by a new author whose prose is utterly beautiful. The book is unique and while sad, also provided evidence that the definition of family doesn’t have to come from blood.

Though disturbing, The Orchardist challenged all of my senses, and overall I found it to be a very satisfying read.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: Someone

Someone, by Alice McDermott, is a novel I probably wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been for a book club. Though the author is quite prolific, I haven’t read a single one of her novels. The cover is unremarkable, so that wouldn’t have grabbed my attention. That’s one of the good things about a book club. You read things you might otherwise not even consider. I’m very glad to have read Someone.

I will admit that for me, Someone had a slow start. In fact, I was prepared to dislike it, much like a toddler might stomp their feet at being forced to eat an unfamiliar food. I was a few chapters in before I realized that the plot line which was escaping me was doing so for a good reason. Their really isn’t a plot line.

Instead, in what is almost a series of vignettes, the life story of Marie Commeford — a totally unremarkable woman — is doled out to the reader, piece by piece. She lives with her mother and father and her brother Gabe who is seemingly destined for the priesthood. It begins with the nearly-blind young Marie waiting on the porch of her Brooklyn home for her much-loved father to come home from work. In stories that jump from one period of her life to another, we watch her develop, learn to love, face the death of her parents, marry and have children. There is nothing particularly unforgettable about any of these events. She is a likeable old woman who becomes a likeable old woman.

It is the story of how Marie becomes comfortable with her ordinary self. At the same time, she watches her brother struggle with his sexuality and eventually leave the priesthood.

McDermott’s writing was simply beautiful — like reading a poem. It is absolutely what made this novel a delight to read. I will be reading more of her books in the future.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Best Cook in the World

Former New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Braggs grew up in the Deep South. His family members weren’t aristocratic Charlestonians. He didn’t cut his teeth in fancy restaurants in Atlanta, GA. He grew up poor, with oil under his fingernails from fixing his own broken-down cars. His father was a ne’er do well who had almost no role in Braggs’ life except to give him his last name. But he was reared by a loving mother and her poor but kind family, who knew how to love and how to cook, perhaps in that order.

Braggs pays tribute to his upbringing — and his mother in particular —  with this combination memoir/cookbook The Best Cook in the World: Tales From My Momma’s Table. Given my love for stories about the South, and my appetite for southern cooking, this book was a dream come true. Braggs writing makes me ashamed to refer to myself as a writer.

I was only a little ways into the library book when I knew I’d have to buy the book using CASH MONEY, something I rarely do these days. While the stories he tells about his extended family are funny and told with such love, it’s the recipes to which I will refer again and again. If it was a paper book I owned, the pages would be tattered.

I loved The Best Cook in the World. While I suspect many of us think those words could refer to our own mothers’ cooking, Braggs use of his mother’s very own words to describe the cooking method gives the reader such a picture of his mother that she could be our mother too.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Widows

It’s 1924, and Lily Ross learns that her husband — Sheriff Daniel Ross — is killed while transporting a prisoner. She is devastated by the news. But even more surprising is the arrival at Lily’s front door of a woman — Marvena Whitcomb — looking for Daniel, wanting him to help find her missing daughter. It doesn’t take long for the two women to realize that Daniel had a few secrets. When Lily is asked to take over the job as sheriff, she is determined to find the answer to some of the questions being raised. Like Daniel really overtaken by the prisoner, or is there something else going on in this mining community? And in order to find out the answers to some of these questions, she must rely on the help of Marvena, who shared Daniel’s love with Lily.

The Widows is the first of two books written by author Jess Montgomery that are based on the true story of Ohio’s first woman sheriff.  I enjoyed the book very much. I got a history lesson, both on Ohio’s first woman sheriff (Lily Ross is a real-life person though the story isn’t necessarily true), but also some insight on the fight for better conditions social justice, and even unionization of the mines in the east and northeast United States during the early 1920s.

I am eager to read the next book in the author’s Kinship Series.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Last Midwife

I like books that take place in 1800s, especially if the setting is the Midwest, particularly Colorado. For this reason, I am especially fond of books by Denver author Sandra Dallas, whose books often take place somewhere in Colorado.

The Last Midwife, by Sandra Dallas, takes place in a fictional town in Summit County, Colorado, in 1880. Since my mom and dad lived in Summit County before they retired, I have a special interest in that area.

Gracy Brookens has served her small mining town located high in the Colorado Rockies for many years. She would like to quit, but the women of the town rely on her for her expertise. Not only has she delivered nearly every baby in the town for years, she also served as the only person in the county with any kind of medical background.

While Gracy has many friends, she also has enemies, including the medical doctor who finally came to serve the community. Still, she continues to be the person upon whom the women rely. That is, until a baby she delivers — the child of a powerful man in the community — dies sometime after Gracy leaves who she believes is a healthy child. What’s more, she is accused of murdering the baby.

While many people know that she is innocent, Gracy has her share of enemies as well. After all, a midwife learns lots of secrets while being with pregnant women in labor.

I really like Sandra Dallas’ novels, and this was no exception. Having said that, some of it seemed a bit unrealistic and forced. The ending — coming literally in the final sentence of the book — came as a surprise. I like surprises.

Overall, I recommend this book to fans of the author and fans of stories about midwifery.

Here is a link to the book.