Review: The Ocean Liner by Marius Gabriel



What do Rose, Pat, and Teddy Kennedy, young Elizabeth Taylor, music legends Arturo Toscnini and Igor Stravinsky as well as silent film star (and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth’s dear friend, Patrick Plunket) Fannie Ward have in common with two young Jewish women fleeing Hitler, a host of Americans, and a guy known as “Naughty Nighty”? All are on the U.S.S. Manhattan as it leaves Europe in September 1939–as the Nazis are invading Poland.



Embed from Getty Images


The story of the voyage begins before the sailing. Rose Kennedy is struggling with her disabled eldest daughter, the beautiful and tragic Rosemary whose mental age was that of a small child, but whose physical and sexual maturity was that of a woman of her chronological age–21. Rosemary’s sexual prowling, her unmanageable temper and the resultant seizures as well as the Kennedy’s need to “hide” Rosemary’s “defects” would soon put the Kennedy family on track to the most horrific mistake of their lives–Rosemary’s tragic lobotomy.

Though, in later years, Mrs. Kennedy would write about how the children helped Rosemary and how she was a valued part of the family and during the White House years of their brother Jack, Eunice Kennedy Shriver would found the Special Olympics as a way of honoring Rosemary, the truth was she was shunted from school to school and hidden away. Only her father, isolationist Ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, could control Rosemary. It was to him that the fateful decision to try the new surgical procedure fell. And, it was on him that the guilt rested for the remained of his life.


This book is both historical fiction and historical “what it.” I loved Cubby’s story. An “if only” for the ages.  An “if only” that so many deserve. The author did a fabulous job creating that–as well as creating Stravinsky seeing his “Rite” reborn and re-shocking people. I loved, too, that the Confessing Church–the break-away part of the church in Germany that refused to have Christ and Christian rituals be Nazi-fied, the church of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was mentioned favorably in the story. What a shame though, that all self-proclaimed American Christians were shown as bigots and loud-mouths.

Stravinski and Toscanini

I also found it odd that, in that day and age, Rachel had apparently shared such a deeply private part of her life with relatives and gotten her self disowned. Naughty Nighty himself, joyously proclaiming, “Cocktails–of course–my cock, your tail” [something like that] was probably not a good idea given that he sailed in and out of British ports. Homosexuality was a crime and was enforced well into my lifetime.

I loved all the inter-weaving of the famous and the unknown. The author spins a marvelous story, presenting characters with depth and personality. He built such tension that I had to sit in the driveway and listen to more of one part of the story–I couldn’t leave it till I knew the outcome!

A few odd things

JFK certainly received attention for his book, Why England Slept, but seeing him as President or envisioning all the boys going into politics wasn’t a realistic idea at the time of this story–Teddy after all was only about eight. Joe, Jr. was the “Crowned Prince” and the one upon whom Joe, Sr, had his hopes pinned. JFK came to the fore only when his elder brother was killed in the war. I also have no idea why, in the consultation for Rosemary’s surgery, the doctors kept calling Joe Kennedy “Senator.” He never held elective office.

“Taps,” and not the British “Last Post” was played at JFK’s funeral–they are not the same piece of music [see below]. This error is really a bit offensive.

The author, although British, seems not to realize that quite a portion of the British Aristocracy were in favor of appeasement and many openly supported Fascism–at least until the war finally began. This is a strange omission.

Finally, how odd to hear of someone in a “puddle of sick”? I know, from reading countless British books and seeing British t.v. that “sick” means “vomit” but this would be odd to many, many Americans who call “being ill” being “being sick.”  The British “being sick” would be “vomiting” or “throwing up” to Americans. This was one place the publisher should have changed the wording for the American edition. Minor point.





If you are interested in Rosemary Kennedy’s life, you may want to see Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter that I reviewed here.







Review: A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair


Cressida Chance of Brede Manor–that sounds like a fairly typical country house, Lord of the Manor, sort of book heroine, right? Well, do read on.  In 1942 Cressida has a host of interesting lodgers–billeted there for the war, of course. Household help has vanished to the factories or women’s branches of the military so Cressida pretty much has to buck up and run the whole show herself–which she does, capably, and often in trousers. The previously obligatory tweed skirt, twin set and pearls being stowed in the airing cubbord for the duration owing to lack of stockings or new girdles.

Along the way, we learn of her romance and marriage and the secrets and complications thereof. Also, understandably, there is a lot of thought on the war and how or when life will return to normal.  Or if normal ever really can return. After all, they are now engaged in a life that requires “kitchen-friendly dining conversation” (p, 64). How well will the Port travel with that–even in its fine decanter?

More to the point, forgetting normal, was there really a point to this life? “There were times… when life seemed so depressingly pointless” (p.110). Pointless because people still envied others. Pointless becuase the right people married the wrong people. The people wanting the job had the wrong job. The interesting people were out there but not found. Yes, Cressida had to give this a lot of thought as she sunk her hands into the hot washing up bowl without the aid of Marigold gloves.

Then there is Tori, lovely [male] Tori who opines “Is Christianity strong enough” (p. 136) for all of this? They wondered a bit. I found this to be very, very prescient of today, especially as it followed a discussion of hatred and how the Germans had whipped it all up with propaganda. Again, very prescient.


As I read it I thought the author or the not-very-good Chilbury Ladies Choir must have read this book–the good parts of that sad novel were like parts of this one. I loved how, in spite of no servants, in spite of terror from above, in spite of rationing and no loved ones around, they got on with life, found satisfaction in doing what had to be done and, for women like Cressida especially, they found some freedom. Why women like her especially? They still had local committees and charities and voluntary services, but with the men and servants gone they had time to do things that mattered and to test themselves, to see what they were truly made of. All of this put them in good stead for the even grimmer postwar years. It let them become persons in their own right. I liked that.

My rating

4 Stars

Because there’ll always be an England even if the sun would soon set on the British Empire.



Joceyln Playfair, bio and photo credit

A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair, whose name sounds a bit like a Bond Girl. Re-published by the very wonderful Persephone Books.

Review: The Heirs: A Novel by Susan Reiger


The Story

Wealthy Manhattan attorney Rupert Falkes dies leaving a a ton of money and some interesting secrets for his wife, Eleanor, and five sons to enjoy and sort thru.

My Thoughts

I loved this fictional family! They were fun, funny, well mannered and caring, but not at all “perfect.” Eleanor had both a life and a family–which I admire. She was wealthy and did not have to work so she didn’t. I like that, too. Rupert was charming–I hope if there’s a movie that Nigel Havers will play him–that’s how charming he was! But…you knew there’d be a few “buts” right? But, Eleanor’s response? I’d have had her checked for dementia!  Especially given the response of the “other side” (trying to avoid spoilers here). I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have had such a sanguine response to that situation!

Nonetheless this is a gem! Comparisons were given in a one review to Salinger’s Manhattan stories and I was reminded of Laurie Colwin’s books such as Family Happiness.

My Verdict

4 Stars

The Heirs: A Novel by Susan Rieger

Thanks to Sarah’s Book Shelves for putting this book on my radar.



Nigel Havers

Review: Two Steps Forward: A Novel by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist



The Story


American artist Zoe and English engineering professor Martin are both recovering from loss. Zoe has been widowed, Martin divorced. Both have grown or about-to-be grown children. Both are at a career crossroads. They end up walking a long pilgrimage route in France and Spain. Zoe, true Californian, to “find’ herself, Martin to test a cart he’s designed for hikers.


My Thoughts

Zoe was one of the most annyoying characters ever. Even with a co-author it seems Graeme Simsion still struggles to write “real” women. He did a little better with Rosie in The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, but even she needed more to make her truly believeable. Her hatred of Christian religion, of churches, of clergy and nuns was so shrill and so self-important I wanted to throw the book away. Even her eventual mini-ephiphany didn’t help. She just developed more polite speach about religion.

I really couldn’t understand what Martin saw in her much of the time. She was so self-absorbed! I only really felt an emotion for her other than annoyance after she talks to her daughters. But, honestly? I could almost understand Keith’s choice. UGH.

All of Zoe’s annoyingness was further aggravated by the audio book performer sounding like a teenager. That was a huge problem for me. Had Zoe been 20 she’d have been understandable. But she wasn’t.

Martin was more understandable. He was more real, too.  “More real,” but not truly real in that I could be emotionally involved with him and his story. I felt he was just a deliberate opposite of Zoe.

The walk itself turned into the most PC trek in history–though I did enjoy the story of the end, the last stage of the walk.

In the end I decided the publisher wanted this book to keep Rosie fans happy. It is not a “bad” book [no, I’m not condemning it with faint praise]. The Rosie Project was a unique story. The Rosie Effect wasn’t. This one isn’t either.  It is a good pool book or beach read or a fun book to pysch you up for a pilgrammage or bucket list trek. Book Clubs can sample Spanish tappas and French wines while they pretend they’ve read it. And no one will realize they haven’t.



Two Steps Forward: A Novel by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist



Review: Not That Kind of Mother by



The Story

First, I’m trying hard to avoid spoilers!

Rebecca Stone is a poet and a mom living a privileged, well-off life in the power circles of Washington D.C. with her British diplomat  husband, Christopher. Overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for her first child she turns to Priscilla, the African American woman the LaLache League supplied as a breast-feeding coach. Then things get complicated.  As in Priscilla, Rebecca’s lifeline, dies. And, Rebecca decides she must adopt Priscilla’s newborn son, Andrew.

My Thoughts

Embed from Getty Images

In labor, walking the halls of the hospital, Rebecca spots a photo of Princess Diana and Prince Charles leaving the hospital with their son. That photo marks the beginning of Rebecca’s motherhood just as the plane crash into the Potomac forever marks the start of her relationship with Christopher, her husband.

Diana is a someone Rebecca admires–almost like an extension of her self.  Throughout the years their lives have interesting parallels–though Rebecca does not put on protective gear to walk thru a cleared and fully safe mine field. The comment about how it was easy for Diana to be a good mother seems to be the reason Rebecca can’t cope and must hire a nanny. That Rebecca can then write poetry again just as Diana could hand her sons off to nannies and then lunch at San Lorenzo or show up at hospitals or “secret” meetings with the homeless with press in tow. Prime Minister John Major’s strained  announcement in Parliament that December day seemed to have been the reason for one of Rebecca’s odd decisions.  Shame Christopher was an old Etonian and hadn’t gone to Gordonstoun, its all that was missing.

Embed from Getty Images

I loved, too, that the most-loved child in Rebecca’s life is Andrew–with that other father. Just like the Queen and her second son, Prince Andrew, whose paternity has long been snickered at.  Just as Di’s own second son has endured whispers –especially after his own mother famously said “Somehow we had Harry.” “Lady Di” is raising a son fathered by Charles. So cool that he wove all this through the book. Even JFK, Jr. got a mention at the appropriate time.

And, just like in real life, it was all about “Diana”–well, that extension of Diana called Rebecca Stone.  Rebecca who never really listened to anyone–just wanted to be seen listening, wanted to be known for doing good, for caring. Rebecca who didn’t need to be told how to care for a black child’s skin or how to prepare her ‘baby’ for that day when he would be stopped while driving black. Rebecca whose success as a poet was just so natural–so expected because of Diana’s role in it.

Just as Diana expected her mere presence would (as it DID) bring in the millions her causes and charities needed, just as she knew  people would care deeply about things if she did so, so Rebecca’s success with her Diana-infused words was effortless, casual, success. and totally worthy of her. Blushing at the awards–looking up thru her bangs. Wearing the emeralds. A life of such extreme privilege. Only Rebecca stopped short of meeting the Dodi who was being pushed at her–why? Odd. That seemed like something was cut out of the story.

The Little Extra Story

Embed from Getty Images

Early on in the story a string of initials–not an acronym, but a series of letters, screamed out at me: BCCI. If you don’t recall it, you’ll want to Google it. Then the words “the Secretary”–as in the Cabinet–the heads of departments of the U.S. Government. That kind of “secretary.” (“Minister” would never work in a country partially founded by religious fanatics and in a government created by revolutionaries wanting to be done with England. They are Secretaries.)  He’d known all these presidents. Clark Clifford’s name, face and resume was in my mind from the first mention, though he was never given a name in the book–a fixture in nearly every class in my political science major. Those would be meaningless references to most readers, but they are a part of the minor story line and understanding them helps.

Final Comments

I found a lot to keep me interested in this book. But there were places were I felt something had been chopped out.  I couldn’t understand the “thing” that happened with Rebecca’s marriage for example. That just didn’t add up.  There were expected events, events the story seemed to be leading to,  that didn’t happen. Cheryl seemed to always want to tell her the “real” story on Priscilla. Why only that one little detail? I expected more.

The ending was just an end–like shutting off the car in the parking space. It seemed like bait and switch from what I’d been reading, what the story was leading up to. Her son Andrew, her baby, her marvelous accomplishment, of course got a mention in her speech. He was as important as Al Gore.  I could picture Rebecca with ridiculously heavy eye-liner and pooling tears looking into her audience as though it was the Panorama camera.

Reviewers have remarked how odd it is that a man could write believable prose about motherhood, about breast-feeding. I’m not sure it is odd. He’s a writer. He observers, he emotes, he imagines. He also “mothers” his children with his husband.  Loving care-giving is all mothering.

My Verdict



Embed from Getty Images

Review: Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel by C.W. Gortner



Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel rose truly from rags to riches. One of the first women to dominate the fashion scene with her designs she had a colorful and controversial life. But her style endures today. This novel tells her story in fictionalized form.



My Thoughts

When I picked up this audio book, I knew only that Chanel’s style was fabulous, that Chanel No. 5 was the best-known perfume ever and that Coco Chanel had hung out with Winston Churchill and been the lover of the Duke of Westminster. That’s a lot, but also not much.


Left photo: Randolph and Winston Churchill with Chanel. Right photo: Chanel with “Bend’Or,” Duke of Westminster.  Photo credits left   right

C.W. Gortner brought Chanel to life. She did not live by any rules but her own. She did not like any style but her own. And, it all paid off  handsomely. Until…. Let’s say that World War II was not her best time and leave it at that so there aren’t any spoilers. Her circle of friends and lovers were an interesting and ecclectic mix to say the least. I have to say, I could not stand her friend Misha! Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I nearly gave up because of her.

I liked that Chanel gave credit to the nuns who raised her from mid-childhood onwards for teaching her to do precise work–to pay attention to detail. That’s very rare today–to hear ANY sort of praise for anyone religious.

The reviews for this book seemed to feel the author glossed over the World War II “issue”. Not knowing anything of it I cannot comment on the validity of those remarks. Like I said, it was not her best time.

Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel by C.W. Gortner

My Rating




Top 5 Wednesday: Summer Reads



Here are the new books I’m looking forward to reading this summer:


#1 The Obvious One–How Hard Can it Be? By Allison Pearson

(It’s been in so many of my posts.)

How Hard Can it Be? is the belated sequel to I Don’t Know How She Does It. Can’t wait to read it!


#2 Us Against You: A  Novel by Frederik Backman

Sequel to Beartown


Beartown was an outstanding novel–I am almost afraid to read the second book, but I’ll have it shortly and do intended to stick it out regardless of the story.


#3 The Summer Wives: A Novel by Beatriz Williams


This just sounds like a good summer read.  I don’t think I’ve read anything by th is author before though. Summer Wives: A Novel.


#4 Late Bloomers’ Club: A Novel by Louise Miller



I enjoyed her previous book, City Baker’s Guide to Country Living. The Late Bloomers’ Club: A Novel.


#5 The Non-Fiction One: Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown


The Queen’s late younger sister, Princess Margaret, had one of the most wasted or colorful [take your pick] lives of any royal born in the modern era. I can’t wait for this one. Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown


Recently released books I’ve reviewed:

Click linked title to read the review.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrota

Love and Ruin: A Novel by Paula McLain

American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew by Annejetvan der Zijl

Diggin In: A Novel by Loretta Nyhan

Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen


Top 5 Wednesday has a group you can join on Goodreads where you’ll find the weekly topics. Then put up your post and tell the group! Simple! Or do a video and post it!


Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Chose to Not Finish


I do not finish books for these reasons:

  1. It’s boring me to death (or at least putting me to sleep)
  2. There are too many historical errors
  3. A character annoys me too much
  4. I run out of time on a library check-out and can’t renew
  5. Something idiotic happens
  6. The reader is just wrong for the audio book
  7. Right book, wrong moment

#2 and # 5 are important. I gave up on WILD when dear Cheryl praised herion useage. Really??? Are you THAT stupid? and I’ve given up on countless historical fiction titles for things that were just plain wrong. One Thousand White Women was among those.


When I’ve Kept Reading or Listening


Recently I chose to finish the completely improbable story of the Chilbury Ladies Choir by  Jennifer Ryan even though the historical inaccuracies were many because I wanted to understand why it got such sensational reviews. I decided it was because the editors were too young to realize the story was improbable.

I also kept listening to the Last Girls by Lee Smith even though Baby made me want to scream and throw the cd out the car window because I like Lee Smith’s writing and because the other characters had come to matter to me.


The Ones I Gave Up On Recently



White Houses I tried in print. It was “fine” it just wasn’t my vision of Eleanor OR of Hick.  I also tried Daughters of the Night Sky in print. How anyone lived after making a joke at the expense of the Red Army in a Red Army barracks was beyond me! My Dear Hamilton, unlike her earlier book, America’s First Daughter, just didn’t hold my interest.  My Grandmother…. was just plain annoying and I’ve loved everything by Fredrik Backman.  Carnegie’s Maid was too superficial. Inheriting Edith lost to only awful audio performance Cassandra Campbell has ever given.


What about you? What makes you give up on a book? Or, do you slog on to the bitter end? Leave me a comment with your answer.

Top Ten Tuesday is held each week at the blog Artsy Reader Girl. You can join in any time. Here are the rules. And here are all of this week’s posts!

Six Degrees of Separation: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell


Because I have not read this book I had to look it up on Amazon to learn about it:
The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.


My Chain


#1 Outliers by Malcom Gladwell.




The first book that came to mind wasn’t Blink, his later best-seller, but Outliers, which I have in my business collection in my day job as a librarian. I’ve read parts of it during downtime. I like his style of writing and his thoughts are very prescient. He thinks we “pay too much attention to what successful people , and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringingOutliers by Malcom Gladwell.


#2 Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother



Amy Chua’s book also looks at success–at forcing your children to be successful. It caused a firestorm, but I understood her. Now, what to do with a kid like mine who didn’t care if you punished him or took away [name anything] etc., he just continued doing it his way? Many folks saw her book as near child abuse. Why? No sleepovers. No play dates [I hate that term, by the way]. I really didn’t see what the big deal was. None of those things are very helpful in the long-term, but then I could see the other side, too: neither is trigonometry unless you want a math or science career [I also am sick to death of the acronym STEM]. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.


#3 The Devil Wears Prada




To most readers (or viewers) this book (or movie) was

Think Tiger Woman As Boss.  Having worked in law firms for many, many years before my current job, I thought she was pretty reasonable. The Devil Wears Prada  by Lauren Weisberger or the movie.


#4 The Swans of Fifth Avenue




The name “Prada” led me to the fashionable ladies who befriended Truman Capote–the women he called his “swans.” The lived to be beautiful ornaments and were extremely successful at it in a time in which a woman’s success was still measured by her husband’s career. The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin.


#5 An American Wife




The Swans and the idea of the wife as part of the husband’s success (or failure) led me to The An American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld, that tells the story of a modern-day, fictional (fictionalized?) first lady–FLOTUS.


#6 The Rules


Combining the themes of achieving success and success as a successful man’s wife brings me to The Rules. Yes, it’s a fun read, no, I didn’t obey them (and consequently am not the wife of a successful man!!), but one tabloid reported that former actress turned Mrs. Prince Harry, Meghan Markle did. Hard to argue that bagging the future King of England’s only sibling isn’t marital success, right?


The Bonus Round


This movie is usually described as a “romp.” That’s 60s movie-speak for a  rather sexist comedy about a timid man and “bombshell” (aka the leading lady). But no look at success could succeed without it! Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Review: Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrota


Eve Fletcher is a divorced, 46-year old director of a town’s Senior Center. Her only child is off to college, and she’s discovered a lack of…well…just about everything fun in her life. She sets out to “get a life” and does so in some great and some odd ways.

What I Liked

Eve was totally relatable [well, except for the “odd” part mentioned above]. She spent her evenings like I often do–playing Words With Friends, liking friend’s posts on Facebook, looking at fabulous stuff on Instagram and trying not to think about work or what her son could be up to. Her job was realistic, too–not some made for Hollywood thing that no one does or that never pays enough to afford THAT house. She was very real.

Margot’s story was at times cringe-inducing and at other times poignant. I’m still trying to imagine getting to go on a “potty party” with a group of gals out for the evening as a cool, cultural bonding thing. Whatever. We know the origin of Margot’s story well. I thought it was handled well and written in a believeable manner.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the uber-hip “As sh$-” and “As F**#” were used –were they used? That’s how seldom. Victory for literature on that front.

What I Liked Less

This is not a book for prudes–trust me. Though what I often call the “ick” factor was  related to the story and didn’t feel like it had been forced in after the book was finished. It’s a couple of Eve’s “odd’ choice in trying to find fun.

Though I loved the end for both Eve and her son I felt like I fell off a cliff to it. A safe landing, to be sure, but still falling off a cliff.


Was this serious or a send-up? I’ll leave it to you to decided when you read it.

Interesting question posted about the book on Goodreads that I also asked: Why WAS Brendan’s the only story told in first-person?


3.0 Stars

A good pool or beach read if no one is reading over your shoulder.


Be watching for Kathryn Hahn to star in the HBO movie of Mrs. Fletcher.