Friday Book Whimsy: The Summer Country

An epic mystery that takes place on a sugar plantation on the lush island of Barbados in the 1800s was a somewhat unexpected pleasure when it came to summer reading.

It’s 1854, and Emily Dawson is the daughter of a poor minister and his wife (who has devoted her life to fighting for the end of slavery). Being the poor relations, it was always expected that when her much-loved grandfather passed away, the family’s shipping business — which began in Barbados — would go to her cousin Adam. What wasn’t expected is that her grandfather would leave her the title to Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados.

Emily accompanies her cousin Adam and his wife to Barbados where she learns that Peverills is nothing but a crumbling burnt-down building, having been destroyed by a fire in 1816 by frustrated and angry slaves. What could her grandfather have been thinking?

Emily decides to stick it out and do some detective work of her own to try and find out her grandfather’s motives. What she, working alongside a black physician who was formerly a slave, discovers is a shocking secret that changes the way she looks at her life.

The Summer Country, by Laura Willig, is set against such a beautiful background that is in sharp contrast to the ugliness of slavery and the pretentions of the wealthy landowners. It seems not a whole lot changed between 1816 and 1854.

I enjoyed this novel a lot, admittedly largely because of its setting. Still, Willig knows how to spin a yarn and create unforgettable characters. It was a really good summer read.

Here is a link to the book.

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.