Friday Book Whimsy: The Glass Ocean

It is not their first rodeo when it comes to co-authoring a book for fiction-writers Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig. A couple of years ago, the three prolific novelists co-authored The Forgotten Room, a bestselling novel that I reviewed and frankly didn’t like all that much.

So, it was with some trepidation that I decided to read their newest crack at co-writing a historical novel, The Glass Ocean. I’m happy that I took the risk, because I liked this effort much more than I liked The Forgotten Room. In fact, I looked back at my review of The Forgotten Room to see if I was somewhat unfair. Book reviews are subjective, of course, but I concluded that my review was on point as far as my opinion of that book went.

Like The Forgotten RoomThe Glass Ocean is the tale of three women from different eras But this book also features a doomed ship, the Lusitania. Socialite Caroline and her husband Gil are passengers on the ship that was fated to never reach its destination, and led to the United States declaring war on Germany in 1917. The Lusitania, of course, was destroyed by the Germans, and many of the passengers who died were Americans. Gil talks Caroline into accompanying him on the ship’s maiden voyage, and she reluctantly agrees. She loves her husband, but their marriage seems to be shaky and Gil is secretive and distant. Robert Langford, a long-time friend of Caroline’s, is happy to keep her company in his stead and books passage.

In the meantime, Tess and her sister are also passengers. They are small-time con artists, but Tess is ready to go straight. Her sister convinces her that this will be their last dishonest effort, and it will change their lives. It involves a piece of music — a lost Strauss waltz which belongs to Gil and is being carried to England on the ship.

Meanwhile, fast-forwarding to this century, Sarah — who is the great granddaughter of one of the Lusitania’s porters — wants to write a book about the ship because she discovers some interesting information that would offer the world a different angle. She turns to Robert Langford’s great grandson John, who is looking for something to do since his career in Parliament has been damaged because of an unrelated family scandal.

There are secrets galore in this lively novel, and many questions about loyalty. Who are patriots and who are German spies?

Some controversy about whether the Lusitania was, in fact, carrying weapons to England as the Germans maintained or was simply a passenger ship continues to this day. The book, in fact, is unclear about the ship’s role in the war. It isn’t unclear, however, about whether the characters help or harm the war efforts.

I found The Glass Ocean to be a very interesting and informative novel.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Flight Pattern

Karen White is one of the more prolific authors whose books I read. I have found some to be really good and some to be not so good. Flight Patterns was not only really good, I think it might have been the best that I have read to date.

First of all, it incorporates beekeeping into the storyline. And since members of our family have taken up beekeeping (read this post), it is a topic of utmost interest to me. White begins each chapter with a fact about bees, and I found that in and of itself very interesting and fun. Though bees are part of the story, the story itself is not about beekeeping. So if bees aren’t your thing, don’t let that discourage you from reading this very good novel.

Georgia Chambers has been estranged from her family for 10 years. She resides in New Orleans, where she works with china, mostly antique Limoges china. She knows everything there is to know about china patterns, which is what brings her new client James Graf to her. He has found amidst his things a couple of pieces of very unusual china that bears a bumblebee pattern, and he wants to find out the history.

This leads to that, and Georgia finds the need to go back to her home of origin in Apalachicola, Florida – a real town located in the panhandle of the state, on the Gulf of Mexico. She has not seen her sister Maisy, her mother Birdie, or her grandfather (who is an apiarist) since something devastating happened 10 years earlier. Just what that event was is kept a secret throughout the book, with just bits and pieces of clues provided the reader. All we know is that Birdie hasn’t spoken  a word since then, and Maisy won’t have anything to do with Georgia.

The character of Georgia was one of the most interesting characters of any Karen White novel I’ve read. She was private, cold, and yet likable. The pain she feels by being separated from the family she loves so much is spelled out so clearly, I could feel her pain myself. Maisy’s anguish and Birdie’s – well – craziness, are handled in such a way as to not make them disagreeable characters, only troubled.

As all of the pieces fall into place, the reader begins to understand what created such a divided family. The ending was satisfying and not schmaltzy.

Flight Patterns might be one of my favorite reads of 2017.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Forgotten Room

imgresIt’s certainly not the first time several authors collaborated to write one book, but I believe it might be the first time I have read a novel written by multiple authors.

The long-awaited The Forgotten Room was authored by three well-known and prolific fiction writers, Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig. The three “W’s”. Not too complicated to figure out how to alphabetize on the cover.

Willig is the author of a number of historical romance novels; White has written somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 novels, most taking place in the Low Country of South Carolina. Beatriz Williams has authored five or six period novels. I recently reviewed Tiny Little Thing, which may be one of my favorite reads of 2016 (though I recognize it’s only March).

I don’t know the back story of how these three authors came to write a novel. Nor do I know how they decided who wrote what. The details have been purposely kept secret.

The Forgotten Room is about three women in three different decades, all united in some way by a ruby necklace and a room in an upper New York City mansion. Olive lives in the late 18th Century, the daughter of the man who designed the house, but was mysteriously fired and subsequently committed suicide. She becomes a maid for the family living in the house to find out why her father was fired and never compensated for his work. A decade or so later, her daughter Lucy rents a room in the mansion, which in the Roaring Twenties has become a boarding room for women. Her goal is to find out who was really her father. And finally, Lucy’s daughter Kate, a physician, treats patients in the home which has become a hospital for returning war veterans.

All three women own the necklace at some point, and all three women have history in the forgotten room in the mansion.

I wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. I liked the idea of this book. I just didn’t find myself drawn into the story.

As mentioned earlier, the authors have not revealed how the book was written. They purport that it was written in round robin style as opposed to each author taking charge of one of the characters. I will say that the writing styles were seamless. I couldn’t tell who wrote which chapter.

But I will also tell you that I just didn’t ever grow to care one bit about any of these three women. Their stories were illogical and implausible. I am fully willing to ignore the implausibility that takes place in most romantic stories. This time, I just couldn’t forgive it.

Each author has a novel coming out soon, and I can’t wait to put this one behind me.

Here is a link to the book.

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Friday Book Whimsy: The Sound of Glass

imgresAuthor Karen White has written somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 novels. I’ve read a handful with mixed opinions. Mostly positive, I’m happy to say.

The Sound of Glass was by far my favorite to date.

Based on my somewhat limited sampling, it appears White attempts to address a fairly serious issue in each of her novels. In The Sound of Glass, she tackles the very serious subject of domestic violence. Domestic violence, of course, is a topic that makes us cringe. White’s handling was done with an adept hand and lots of grace. Her story, however, also requires a fair amount of suspension of reality. That fact doesn’t deter from the fact that this is an interesting story with likeable characters.

The primary character is Merritt, whose husband Cal, a fire fighter, recently died on the job. Much to her surprise, she learns soon after that his grandmother has left him (and so now, her) the family home in Beaufort, South Carolina. Needing a change, Merritt leaves her Maine home to move to South Carolina to take up residence and refurbish her husband’s family’s home.

Through flashbacks and conversations with others, the author weaves the tale of three generations of domestic violence survivors. In addition to that topic, however, we also are given the opportunity to meet one of my favorite characters, Merritt’s stepmother Loralee. Loralee is only five years older than Merritt, and the mother of a 10-year-old son, Merritt’s half-brother Owen. The pair shows up uninvited on Merritt’s Beaufort doorstep, and changes Merritt’s life forever.

There is romance, and a bit of mystery and characters that are hard to forget. One of the things I like best about Karen White is that her books often take place in the low country of South Carolina, and her descriptions are vivid and beautiful.

There is just enough romance to be fun, and just the right amount of mystery. I enjoyed the book very much.

Here is a link to the book.

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Friday Book Whimsy: The Color of Light

740854Jillian Parrish is divorced, pregnant, and understandably unhappy with her situation. She decides to move, along with her 7-year-old daughter Grace, back to her grandmother’s house on Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. The house was Jillian’s only escape from a terribly unhappy childhood in Charleston where she lived with her mother and father.

And so begins author Karen White’s novel The Color of Light, a novel I’m afraid I found to be mostly forgettable. And since White has become one of my favorite authors, I was hugely disappointed by my lack of interest in Jillian’s life.

During Jillian’s formative years, her very best friend on Pawley’s Island – Lauren – disappears and is never found. Lauren’s boyfriend Linc is initially suspected, but there is never evidence to support his involvement, and eventually the case fades away. Jillian moves away, marries a man she doesn’t love, has a daughter – Grace —  and gets pregnant again, about the same time that Grace begins having conversations with an invisible friend named (you guessed it) Lauren. This brings Jillian back to Pawley’s Island.

Perhaps White tried to stuff too many gimmicks into one novel. The Color of Light is a romance novel, a ghost story, a coming-of-age story, and a tale of an unhappy childhood. Though all of White’s novels (or at least all that I have read) involved a romance, none that I have read thus far has the romance as front-and-center as it is in this book. I am not opposed to romance in a novel – in fact, I rather enjoy a love story – I personally don’t want it to drive the story. I felt as though this novel might as well have had heaving bosoms on the cover. And let’s face it, no one is as beautiful as Linc found Jillian, both when she was pregnant and when he would blissfully watch her while nursing the new baby. Because seriously, in real life, nursing involves leaky breasts and exhausted mothers.

The Color of Light was predictable and uninteresting. Except, of course, for the setting, which was spectacular. White does such a good job of painting a picture with words when describing life on the islands in the Low Country of South Carolina.

I found myself wondering throughout the book just why a particular story line was necessary. For example, I never really understood the point of making Jillian be pregnant, unless it was simply so that Linc could help her walk, well, anywhere really since she apparently couldn’t walk by herself because of her physical state. Really? In Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth, O-Lan is working in the fields and goes inside the house, gives birth, wraps the baby up in a blanket, and goes back to work!

I will continue to enjoy Karen White’s books, because even in this one book of hers that I haven’t liked, I continued to read it because I find White’s writing to be exceptional. I just felt this wasn’t her best effort.

Here is a link to the book.

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Friday Book Whimsy: The Beach Trees

10283872My brother tells the story of a kid with whom he attended high school. The kid was a smart, serious student (I’m trying to avoid using the term nerd, though I think that’s what he was). Apparently he loved to read. He loved to read so much, in fact, that he would walk through the halls of the school reading a book while changing classes.

I thought about that kid as I read The Beach Trees by Karen White. I couldn’t put this book down. I would read while I cooked. I would read while I got ready for bed. I would read in the car while Bill did errands. It was, quite simply, a really good book.

I have mentioned that I have only recently discovered this author, thanks to the recommendation of a cousin. And recently, while discussing the author, my cousin mentioned that The Beach Trees was her favorite of the many books White has written. Mine too, at least so far.

At the age of 12, Julie Holt’s sister goes missing on her watch. Now Julie is an adult, and still hasn’t come to grips with the tragedy. When her friend Monica passes away and makes Julie the legal guardian of her 5-year-old son and leaves her property in Biloxi, Mississippi, Julie heads south to meet Monica’s family, and try to find out why her friend ran away from her family years before.

What she finds out is that the house in Biloxi was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. As Julie tries to figure out her next moves, she becomes involved in figuring out the layers that make up the family’s history.

The story is told in a back and forth manner – first Julie’s story, then Monica’s grandmother Aimee’s story. Sometimes when authors use this particular style, it can be confusing or I will find that I’m interested in one story but not the other. In the case of The Beach Trees, I was interested in both stories and felt the author did a wonderful job of moving both stories forward.

There is a love story involved, in fact, several. All of White’s books (or at least all I’ve read) have a romantic element. But this story, and others that I’ve read, are not driven by the love story. In fact, in The Beach Trees, that part of the plot was mostly incidental.

The final secret isn’t revealed until the very end of the book, and I wasn’t even close to predicting at least some of the surprise. That was what kept me reading. That, and learning about the ravages brought about by hurricanes. I was reminded that Hurricane Katrina wasn’t the first time the area was impacted. In fact, Hurricane Camille plays an important role in this book. White’s description of Hurricane Camille as it hit the area is vivid and really made me feel like I was living through the storm.

I highly recommend The Beach Trees.

Buy The Beach Trees from Amazon here.

Buy The Beach Trees from Barnes and Noble here.

Buy The Beach Trees from Tattered Cover here.

Buy The Beach Trees from Changing Hands here.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: 2015 Must Reads

I have read a few 2015 releases already – World Gone By, by Dennis Lehane; Under the Same Blue Sky, by Pamela Schoenewaldt; and A Spool of Blue Thread,  by Anne Tyler, to be specific. I enjoyed all three, and have posted reviews of them all.

But there are a few 2015 books that have either recently been released or are yet to be released that I wouldn’t even think of missing for a variety of reasons.

In no particular order….

Few would argue that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most important American books of all time. The characters are unforgettable. Scheduled to be released on July 14, Go Set a Watchman is, for all intents and purposes, a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. What makes this book particularly unique is that it was actually written and submitted years before To Kill a Mockingbird. Thought to be lost, the manuscript was found and will be released. Go Set a Watchman features the same characters as To Kill a Mockingbird, but 20 years later.

Sadly, author Kent Haruf passed away last year, but not before completing Our Souls at Night, which was released May 26. Set in the same fictional eastern Colorado town of Holt, Our Souls at Night is the story of two elderly people, both who lost their spouses several years ago, who find friendship and love in their later years amidst the small town gossip. Kent Haruf writes the most unbelieveably beautiful prose imaginable. I have this book sitting on my ebook shelf, and am eagerly looking forward to finishing the books I have borrowed from the library to dig into this one. I’m certain I won’t be disappointed.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows was released June 9 to much acclaim. Barrows is the author of the much-loved (including by me) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Barrows’ newest novel takes place in 1938 in a small West Virginian town, and tells the story of a young girl forced by her father (a United States Senator) to live in this small town despite her boredom. Boredom that is until she meets the Romeyn family and begins to unravel some family secrets. Sounds very good.

Julia Keller has become one of my favorite authors, and her protagonist Bell Elkins is one of my favorite characters. Last Ragged Breath, which will be released on August 25, is the next in the dark mystery series that also takes place in a fictional town in West Virginia. Her novels are contemporary, however. Keller’s writing is phenomenal and richly realistic. I can’t wait for this book to come out.

Speaking of mystery series, I’m eagerly awaiting Louise Penney’s next book The Nature of the Beast, featuring my beloved Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The mysteries take place in a fictional small town near Quebec in Canada. Penney’s writing is imminently readable, but for me, the series is all about C.I. Gamache. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I want him to be one of my BFFs.

Our favorite bail bondsman Stephanie Plum and her gang of hilarious friends will be back November 17 in Tricky Twenty-Two. I am compelled to include this book, not because it is great literature, but because every single one of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels have been so funny that I am in danger of, well, never mind. There is no way in the world I would miss a single one of these mysteries. The Stephanie Plum books are one of several that I really prefer to listen to as opposed to reading simply because the woman who narrates the books – Lorelei King – is absolutely tremendous.

Author Sue Grafton will be releasing the next in her so-called alphabet series featuring private investigator Kinsey Milhone on August 25. I used to love this series, but as of late, it has began to feel repetitious. Still, there are only so many letters in the alphabet, and this novel, entitled X, is the third from the end. I can’t quit now. For the past 23 books, I have been wondering what Grafton would title the X-book. You know, like A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, L is for Lawless, O is for Outlaw, etc. I haven’t been able to think past X is for X-ray. Instead, Grafton went for simplicity with the title simply being X.  Who knows? Maybe Grafton will start over with double letters. You know, like AA is for Awesome Aardvark.

All the Single Ladies, by Dorothea Benton Frank, is a must-read for me simply because I absolutely love her settings, all of which are the low country of South Carolina, near Charleston. Her books always feature a strong-willed woman facing difficult circumstances and coming out unscathed. I like Frank’s writing. All the Single Ladies was released June 9. The story centers around three women facing the death of a fourth woman. I hate books where characters die, but I will undoubtedly give this one a try.

My new favorite author, Karen White, has a new novel out, released on May 12. The Sound of Glass follows a familiar Karen White theme – a young woman learns she has inherited a family estate that, of course, has a secret attached. The Sound of Glass takes place in Beaufort, South Carolina, which is a draw for me. I’m not sure I’ll get to this novel right away as White is very prolific and I have only recently begun reading her books. But I will definitely read it sometime soon.

Are there books either recently released or soon-to-be-released that you are going to read?