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: 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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