Friday Book Whimsy: The Nature of Fragile Things

San Francisco has a history of earthquakes, but perhaps the most famous of all happened in 1906, before building codes and a scientific understanding of the San Andreas Fault. The 1906 earthquake was one of the worst to hit northern Colorado, and it destroyed 80 percent of the city of San Francisco, and killed some-3,000 people.

The earthquake and its destructive aftermath is the stage for much of Susan Meissner’s interesting novel, The Nature of Fragile Things. The story starts off mysteriously, with what is clearly a hearing in which the main character, Sophie Whalen, is testifying.

Sophie left Ireland under mysterious circumstances, and lands in a New York City tenement where she is surrounded by filth and crime, hunger and loneliness. She is so desperate to escape her circumstances that she answers an ad placed in one of the NYC newspapers from a San Francisco man seeking a wife and mother for his 5-year-old child. The arrangement is made, and Sophie makes the long trip to San Francisco, knowing virtually nothing about her soon-to-husband.

He meets her at the station, and they immediately go to the justice of the peace to be married. He then takes her home to meet his little girl, Kat, who hasn’t spoken since her mother died. While Sophie wants to make her new arrangement work, it is clear that things aren’t what they should be. Martin Hocking is handsome and generous, and has bought a beautiful home in which the three can live. He travels extensively for his job, being gone weeks at a time. When he’s home, he has little to do with either his wife or his child.

Sophie comes to love Kat like she is her own child, and intends to make the best of things. That is, until one day, while Martin is out of town, Sophie gets a surprise visitor that changes everything. It so happens that is the day before the earthquake hits.

Sophie, Kat, and her visitor are left homeless following the earthquake, and struggle to make their way to someplace safe. They watch the city crumble around them and begin to burn. They fight to find safety.

The Nature of Fragile Things is a story about courage and resilience and friendship. The author offers realistic descriptions of a city under great duress, and the kindness — and lack of kindness — displayed by others in crisis.

The story took many twists and turns, leading to a surprise ending.

I enjoyed The Nature of Fragile Things very much.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Women in Black

After reading a series of books that were somewhat dark, it was a pleasure to stumble upon The Women in Black, a novel by Madeleine St John. This book, like the book I reviewed last week, takes place in the 1950s, but this time the location is one with which I am less familiar — Sydney, Australia.

This quirky, quick-reading novel features four characters, all of whom work at Goode’s Department store in Sydney. The women who work here are recognizable because of the black dresses they are required to wear.

Patty is married to Frank. Her biological clock is ticking, but unfortunately her husband pays little attention to her. As long as she puts his steak in front of him every night, he is content. He eats and then goes to bed.

Fay is single but would love to be married, but she hasn’t yet met the right man. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to her that she will ever find happiness.

Magda works is the fancy dancy dress department of Goode’s. She and her husband moved from Slovenia, and have worked hard at acclimating to the new culture, but maintaining their roots. She wants to own her own dress shop someday.

Along comes young Lisa, who is hired to work during the busy Christmas holidays. Lisa is eager to find her way into the world. She just graduated from high school, and is awaiting her final grades to see if she will get a scholarship to attend the university. Even if she does, her father will fight her all the way. In his opinion, women don’t need college; they need a husband and kids.

These four women come together under funny circumstances and are tied together in unexpected ways. They all find out that nothing in their lives is more important than knowing who they are and what’s is important, and friendship.

The author has a very unique writing style. The characters were all so very likeable. I read the book in a day-and-a-half, and it left me smiling and feeling like we can tackle anything in the world with patience and friendship.

I recommend this book!