Friday Book Whimsy: Best Reads of 2017

My reading goal each year in terms of quantity is 100 books. I never make it, despite the fact that I think I read a LOT. In 2017, I read 91 books (and am in the process of my 92nd as we turn the pages of the calendar to 2018). That is three more than I read in 2016, and two fewer than I read in 2015. I abandoned a number of books this past year, however, which may account for fewer total books. I also had more books to which I gave a bad review than I usually have, and I don’t know exactly why that is. Generally, operating under my standard reading rule which is Life is too short – and there are too many choices – to read a bad book, I don’t finish books I dislike. This year, however, I did that on a number of occasions. Maybe I’m finally getting more mature!

I read a number of new books, but as usual, I also read a number of books published prior to 2017. So a couple of my favorite books of 2017 which are listed below were actually not published in 2017.

Having given you all of this useless background, here are the books I most enjoyed reading in 2017, with a link to my review…..

The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn
Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and stories about strong women are always of interest to me. The Alice Network is based on the true story of a network of women spies during World War I. It is 1947, and New York City socialite Charlie St. Clair begins searching for her beloved French cousin whom she doesn’t believe perished in World War II as most assume. In the course of her search, she meets Eve Gardner, who was a member of the Alice Network during WWI. The two stories intermingle, and a great novel is the result.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate
Speaking of historical fiction, this excellent novel was based on a fact so horrifying that I almost couldn’t believe it was true. In 1939, five children who live with their parents on a riverboat in Tennessee are left alone one night when their father is forced to take their mother who is having a dangerously difficult labor into town to the hospital. While they are gone, a group of people, claiming to be government officials, enter the boat and take the children to an orphanage. Run by real-life Gloria Tann, poor children were kidnapped and then sold to rich people unable to conceive. Decades later, the daughter of a United States senator, comes across the practice and learns her family’s part in it. Great storytelling by the author.

I Found You, by Lisa Jewell
I just finished this book and haven’t yet reviewed it. Nevertheless, it is definitely one of the best books I read this past year. Jewell is the author of another book I liked – The House We Grew Up In – one of my favorite books of 2015. Single mother, somewhat bohemian in her lifestyle, Alice Lake comes across a man sitting on the beach in front of her house. She greets him only to learn that he has no memory – he doesn’t know his name, his background, or why he is sitting on the beach in this little English village. The book is a combination of three story lines that connect in a way that I dare you to predict. The story is so clever that at one point, I was so taken by surprise I thought I might have whiplash.

The Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
Speaking of clever, this murder-within-a-murder mystery is one of the more interesting books I have ever read. The charm of Hercule Poirot meets the serious police business of Harry Bosch. The author is the creator and writer of Foyle’s War, one of my favorite PBS mystery series. His writing is outstanding and I’ll bet you can’t figure out the ending.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters, by Juliette Fay
This novel is a delight from beginning to end. The father of four girls in the early 20s finds himself unable to work when he is seriously injured on the job. The family is in despair when the mother decides that the girls will learn to become acrobats and work the vaudeville circuit. Part love story, part adventure novel, part history lesson. I loved these characters and nearly everything about the story.

Happy reading in 2018!

Friday Book Whimsy: Shelter Me

A few months ago, I reviewed The Tumbling Turner Sisters, author Juliette Fay’s most recent novel. That particular novel may well end up being one of my favorite reads of 2017 (though it was written in 2016). What’s more, following my post, I got a very nice email from the author thanking me for my review. Now, my mom would say that was just good manners, no?

Because I enjoyed that book so much, I decided to give another of her novels a try, and started with her debut, Shelter Me, written back in 2008. First novels can be risky business. The characters can be flat. The story is often somewhat predictable while the style can be unpredictable.

Shelter Me hooked me with the storyline, and kept me with the realistic characters and behaviors. I really liked the novel.

Young mother Janie is still reeling from the unexpected death of her much-loved husband, who was killed in a motorcycle accident. Feeling totally unprepared to be a single mother to her young kindergarten-aged son and toddler daughter, and unable to fully accept what has happened, she lives a life full of anger, confusion, and loneliness.

But suddenly a few months after her husband’s death, a stranger shows up at her door holding a piece of paper that turns out to be a contract for him to build a front porch on to their house. Her husband had made the arrangements, planning to surprise her with the beautiful addition to their home.

After getting over the surprise, Janie gives Tug permission to go ahead with her husband’s wishes.

Now, stop right there. Isn’t that a sweet premise for a book plot? There is just something so delightful as the idea of a husband surprising his wife with a front porch. I think I would have loved this novel even if that was the only thing good about it.

But it wasn’t. Janie’s sadness, often displayed as anger, is so realistic that I could practically feel her rage around me. The supporting cast – an aunt who could be annoying if she just didn’t love her niece so darn much, a neighbor who simply won’t let Janie push her away, and Tug, who is using the front porch to hide his own issues – are believable and likeable.

There was a story line relating to the parish priest who tried his best to provide Janie comfort that seemed unnecessary and simply odd, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Highly recommend.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Tumbling Turner Sisters

searchHow can you not want to read a book with a title like The Tumbling Turner Sisters? I fully admit that I was drawn to Juliette Fay’s historical novel simply by its title, alliteration included. The book didn’t disappoint. It was a sweet story from beginning to end.

I know little about vaudeville, and frankly, never really considered it at all. After reading this book, however, I know a bit more and found that I learned about history and how people lived during vaudeville’s heyday via the novel.

The story, which commences in 1919, begins when Mr. Turner gets in a bar fight and loses the use of his hand, and therefore, his job. The family was going to be destitute until Mrs. Turner decides that vaudeville would be the perfect way to bring in income and make her life more interesting to boot. At her urging, her four daughters – three teenagers and her eldest whose husband dies of Spanish flu on his way home from serving in World War I — begin teaching themselves to become acrobats – tumblers, really. Once they have trained themselves sufficiently, they find a manager and begin to tour in the vaudeville circuit, primarily in the New York area.

The story is told in two voices – Gert’s and Winnie’s, two of the teenagers. Gert is independent and restless, happy to be an entertainer. Winnie tumbles because it’s what she must do for the family, but would rather have stayed in high school and then attended college. What I really liked about the author is that even if the reader didn’t know who was narrating by the chapter title, we would be able to tell. The voices are that unique.

The story is sweet and entertaining. Fictional characters mix with real-life characters (such as Archie Leach, who was an acrobat in vaudeville before becoming Cary Grant). Each chapter begins with an actual quote from someone who had begun his or her career in vaudeville. Some of the quotes made me laugh out loud.

The characters are likable and the plot is interesting. Lessons are taught without being preachy. The book was fun and entertaining. I will definitely read more by the author, of whom I had never heard prior to stumbling onto the novel.

It would be a great book club read.

Here is a link to the book.

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