Friday Book Whimsy: A Certain Age

I’ve gone through a period where it seems as though many books I’ve read take place during either World War I or World War II. I don’t need to tell you that, while they are often interesting, they are also invariably and understandably sad.

Perhaps the time period in which it takes place – the 1920s — is the thing I liked best about A Certain Age, a novel by one of my favorite authors, Beatriz Williams. That time of glamour and jazz in which people acted as though Prohibition didn’t exist, and women were freed from their corsets and gaining more and more independence. And what could be better than a novel set in the Roaring Twenties in New York City?

Wealthy Mrs. Theresa Marshall, a woman approaching middle age and bored with her marriage to a rich older man who is a serial philanderer, fights her boredom by becoming involved in an affair with a considerably younger man. She has no plans to divorce her husband, as they have a kind of understanding. But her young lover Octavian, has fallen for her and would like to get married. That is, until he meets Sophie, the daughter of a newly-wealthy man who has a mysterious past. If you are an opera fan, the plot might be familiar to you as the book is loosely based on an opera by Richard Strauss called Der Rosenkavalier.

One of my favorite things about Beatriz Williams is that many of her novels are based on different members of the wealthy Schuyler family. As such, many of the stories are loosely related. In A Certain Age, Sophie’s best friend is Julie Schuyler, who we learn is the great aunt of the main characters in three of my favorite Williams novels: Tiny Schuyler of Tiny Little Thing, Pepper Schuyler of Along the Infinite Sea, and Vivian Schuyler of The Secret Life of Violet Grant, all of whom are sisters. Not necessarily pertinent to the story, but fun nevertheless.

I will admit that it took me a bit of time to get into the novel. I felt it started slowly. Furthermore, I initially found Theresa to be offputting. She appeared to be shallow and every time she called Octavian Boyo, which she did all the time, my skin crawled. As the novel progressed, however, I began to understand the complicated Mrs. Marshall, and even grew somewhat fond of her. Sophie was a wonderful character, and I loved watching her come into herself, despite her sad past.

A Certain Age is a romantic novel wrapped in a mystery, and the ending was satisfying, if somewhat predictable. I love Beatriz Williams’ writing, and A Certain Age didn’t disappoint.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Along the Infinite Sea

imgresWhen last I saw Pepper Schuyler in Tiny Little Thing, she was pregnant with her boss’ child (modeled clearly after one of the Kennedys) and had found and completely rehabbed a vintage Mercedes Benz that she discovered hidden in her aunt’s barn. At the end of that book, Pepper had taken off in the car to places unknown.

Pepper Schuyler is the youngest of the three Schuyler sisters about whom author Beatriz Williams writes many of her books. I met Tiny and Pepper in Tiny Little Thing, and Vivian in The Secret Life of Violet Grant. The fictitious Schuyler family is old East Coast money which probably wasn’t earned legally and which provides for a grand way of life in the 1960s, when the stories are told.

Early in Along the Infinite Sea, Pepper sells her car for a whopping (especially in 1966 dollars) $300,000 to Annabelle Dummerich, a beautiful and glamourous newly-widowed 50-something woman who has a mysterious past. Annabelle takes pregnant Pepper under her wing and brings her home to her beautiful house by the ocean in Palm Beach.

From then on, the author uses her favorite style – back and forth in time and place – from Pepper’s story in 1966 East Coast United States to 1935 Europe – Germany and France – as the world begins to prepare for war and where Annabelle begins her mysterious journey.

Annabelle’s story involves a love affair with a German Jew who she later learns is a resistance fighter. She falls in love, and he with her, but she learns a secret about her lover which leads to her marrying Johann von Kleist, a Nazi officer. She is pregnant with her Jewish lover’s baby, and he knows this and agrees to raise the child as his own.

The story touches on the persecution of Jews, before and during WWII, the role women played in history, and the power that wealth can bring. Williams’ story-telling is amazing. Her back-and-forth writing style, often ending chapters at a critical moment, thereby preventing the reader from putting the book down.

Williams’ novels definitely have a romance element, but while plentiful, the romance doesn’t drive the plot. The story was realistic and compelling.

I believe we have run out of sisters, so I am eager to see how Williams’ tackles other subjects. Along the Infinite Sea  is a book that I can recommend with confidence.

Here is a link to the book.

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Friday Book Whimsy: The Secret Life of Violet Grant

9780698153479I’m pretty sure the more high-falutin (and also better) book reviewers out there in the internet universe would not say this, but I will: What draws me to a book is not necessarily just the plot. I’m a sucker for book titles and book covers. Back when I belonged to a particular book club that was made up of busy working women ( many of whom were also mothers), we would literally look at the size of the font of a book we were considering (back when everyone read paper books) as we made our book choice for the next meeting. Little font = too long to read a book. I’ll bet the New York Times book reviewers don’t do this.

But I will admit that I chose The Secret Life of Violet Grant, by Beatriz Williams, at least in part because of the title (which implied an element of mystery) and the cover, which featured a beautiful woman who could have been my mother back in 1914 (except that my mother was not even a gleam in her father’s eye in 1914, but still…..)

But more to the point, the book tells the story of another one of the Schuyler sisters, two of whom I met in Tiny Little Thing, and with whom I fell in love. Or at least like.

But the one I didn’t meet in Tiny Little Thing was Vivian, and this is her story, along with Violet’s.

It is 1964. Vivian, who is fresh out of college and works for Metropolitan Magazine, comes home from work one day to find a notice that she has a box awaiting her at the post office, coming from Switzerland. She goes down to pick it up and meets a young man – a doctor – also there to pick up a package. Her package turns out to be an old suitcase packed with random items that she eventually learns belonged to her Great-Aunt Violet, someone she hadn’t even known existed.

The story is told in two voices and from two periods of time, which seems to be a favorite style of the author. The suitcase – and Vivian’s mother’s family’s reaction to it – intrigues Vivian and she vows to figure out Violet’s history.

Violet’s story takes place in pre-WWI France and Germany. She had moved there several years earlier to follow her dream of being a research physicist, much to the Schuyler family’s horror. In their world, women’s roles were to be mothers and wives. There she meets and marries a fellow scientist who is old enough to be her father and turns out to be not so nice a fellow. Romance, mystery, and social trauma ensue.

Back to the doctor I mentioned who Vivian met in the post office. A lot of Vivian’s story is connected to the doctor, with whom she falls in love – and he with her. But things are not always smooth sailing in the literary world, and ending up with the doctor doesn’t come easily.

The romance part of the story rather got on my nerves I’m afraid. I’m not particularly opposed to romance as part of a story, but oh, for heaven’s sake! Having said that, the author is in my opinion a tremendous story teller and I am able to endure all of the sexual antics (and the sex is in no way graphic, just frequent) so that I can find out what happens. Just as in Tiny Little Thing, the entire mystery isn’t solved until the last page of the book. Really good story telling.

It was fun to read a book about both of these periods of time in which I find myself very interested. I recommend this book highly.

Here is a link to the book.

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