Book Reviews

Review: Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

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My Interest

I’m slowly reading or listening my way through Agatha Christie’s books. It was time for another audio book and nothing I’d requested was in at the library so I took the first AC that was available. It sounded good.

The Story

“…her rocking horse nostrils…”

An extremely sheltered and isolated American family is abroad for the first time. The mother, once a warden in a women’s prison seems to have a hypnotic control over her adult children (really her step-children, but they remember no other “mother”). Two of her children are overheard talking about “she’s got to be killed.” One son has managed to marry, but only by sneaking out at night. Once caught, Mother arranges for a distant cousin to come stay and “allows” him to marry her. She has not lived in the same way as her husband’s family.

Meanwhile, a peeress–the American-born wife of a peer not a peeress in her own right, is a Member of Parliament is one of the group visiting and staying in the same location as the family.

“Lady W. was a very well-known figure in the English political world….When Lord W, a middle-aged, simple-minded peer whose only interests in life were hunting, shooting, and fishing, [met her on an ocean voyage and then married her] the match was often cited as one of the examples of the danger of ocean voyages. The new Lady W lived entirely in tweeds and stout brogues, bred dogs, bullied the villagers, and forced her husband piteously into public life. It being borne in upon her that politics were not Lord W’s metier, she graciously allowed him to resume his sporting activities and stood for parliament [throwing herself into political life–especially at Question Time]. Cartoons of her soon began to appear–always  a sure sign of success.”

A French doctor is also part of the group. Naturally, sleuth Hercule Poirot just happens to be in the group as well. When one day the [step]mother is found dead, the usual suspects are rounded up and several red herrings are disposed of with quick dispatch. In due course (as no doubt Lady W would say) the real murder is revealed in Poirot’s usual fashion.

My Thoughts

Aside from loving the wonderful description of Lady W–who naturally brought Lady Astor instantly to mind, I found the uber-sheltered adult children chillingly reminiscent of some of the similarly sheltered or intentionally totally isolated very far-right homeschooling families in the USA today. [The family in the book had been educated by a succession of governesses]. I can think of two families I have knowledge of whose adult children are even up to the mid-40s in age and still all live at home and work only in their family business–I am reliably informed there are many others

The two popular huge t.v. homeschooling families, the Duggars and the Bates, before being on tv kept their kids almost that isolated. The near-cult to which they belong stresses “right response” training so that children learn to obey parents instantly and completely. The response of the adult children in Agatha Christie’s story are as “programmed” as that. They exhibit a nearly hypnotic response to their step-mother’s admonitions. They year for freedom, but like their real-life counterparts, have been raised to fear everything outside the family, so can’t muster the courage to just leave. The new wife (daughter-in-law) knows there is another world. This is why marriage is a risk to such families and why so many of the marriages are arranged. But, like in this book, even the most carefully arranged marriages can open a new window and let in fresh air. Or, would that be open Pandora’s Box or a can of worms?

This was easily my favorite Agatha Christie book due to the family’s isolation and Christie’s foreshadowing today’s far-far-right parenting. Eerie, spooky, even creepy-real. Like Cathy Ames in East of Eden–that voice! That creepy, controlling voice. Dear old Ags nails it yet again! I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

4.5

Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

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20-books

Historical Fiction

Book Reviews

Women in Translation Month Review: The Florios of Sicily: A Novel by Stefania Auci, translated by Katherine Gregor UPDATED

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My Interest

I was looking for an audio book and saw this cover–that was it! I had to listen. (FYI: The painting on the cover is Reading By the Sea by Vittorio Matteo Corcos). That it fit the bill for Women in Translation Month was just gravy.

The Story

Beginning in the late 18th century, we follow the upwardly mobile Floiros from a dull, uninspiring life in a rural village, to the mid-19th century when they have become extremely prosperous and important. The begin with spices/medicinal herbs and catch each new wave of innovation, riding it to a handsome profit.

Small Spoiler Alert

Vincenzo, son and nephew of the original men is the main mover and shaker. He and his mistress, Giulia, make up much of the story. She waits and finally achieves what she wants–marriage to Vincenzo after the birth of a son. Their daughters know they do not matter to their father and express themselves on the subject to their very dear little brother.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, I just didn’t “love” it. I actually did love the sound bytes of Italian history interspersed within the story. I know very little history of that entire region so those were fascinating. The information on medicinal use of spices and herbs was also interesting. This was based on a true story which helped me stay interested. This was a sort of Sicilian version of Taylor Caldwell’s The Captains and the Kings, but sadly pretty dull. None of the characters really “came alive” in this book. I’m not sure if that was due to the author or the translator. At nearly 500 pages, it was a job to stay with it once I discovered no one was really firing my imagination.

Annoying thing: Unless “valet” means “butler” in Italian, the translator messed this up. I’ve never heard of a valet serving at table unless maybe the butler was just murdered and Hercule Piorot hasn’t figured it out yet! A man who looks after another man’s wardrobe, shaves, and possibly even barbers and helps dress him, wouldn’t know a lot about saucing the fish at table.

My Verdict

3.0

The Florios of Sicily: A Novel by Stephania Auci, translated by Katherine Gregor

20-books

Historical Fiction

 

Book Reviews

Review: Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

My Interest

I learned of this book first from blogger Bookish Beck. This year I was reminded of it by blogger Swirl and Thread. Please be kind and visit their blogs and leave a comment. We bloggers live for comments.

Dervla’s journey took place in 1963–the year after I was born. How interesting to see what the world was like 60 years ago outside of the USA or Europe. I had many strong, independent female relatives and love to travel so I knew this book would be a good fit for me.

The Story

Dervla took off on her bike called Roz and headed to India. This, however, was not completely a bike journey. The title tells it all–“with” a bike, not necessarily “on” a bike. There were times out of politeness, sanity, or politics that she accepted rides or boarded a bus or train to get farther a long. In some countries it was completely against the culture for a woman to be alone. In other places threatening men made it quite an ordeal to be alone. She was brave, resourceful and usually very canny about who to trust.

Dervla developed an affinity for the Afghani people–citing the men as “gentlemen” always. Pakistani men often got her admiration, too. She disliked India. This soon after partition and the creation of Pakistan and India that might been a more common opinion–I’m not sure. She got frustrated, but stayed polite, when people mistook Ireland for part of the U.K.

Her journey was often very physically taxing and dangerous. From snow to heat she experienced it all. I’m sure she wanted to quit many times, but did not record much in the way of self-doubt.

Here are some of the quotes that struck me:

I don’t claim to know the right answer to the under-developed problem, but I feel most strongly that the communist answer is less wrong than the Western.” 

Odd to hear about communism from a non-American perspective and to hear it referenced in a good way, but this was 1962 before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“nothing like religion for spreading ‘brotherly love'”

“having to be noncommittal irritates me more than anything in the world” 

I love that she declared a road “jeep-able.” The motor sport of off-roading was in its infancy then, but she saw it clearly.

Paraphrase: The wealth of the West and the poverty of the East are equally detrimental.

My Thoughts

I’ve left this book un-reviewed for several weeks. I just couldn’t get a good handle on where to start with it. I admired Dervla’s courage and tenacity on her journey. Her political observations (albeit with 60 years of hindsight!!) sometimes seemed very naive–but would they have been thought so at the time? I’m not sure. She was writing in the era in which the First World discovered what was then called the “Third World Countries” and began sending out a new sort of missionaries–Peace Corps volunteers, VSOs, and similar, going forth to boldly proclaim the religion of free enterprise, human rights, and democratic government. Most of those young, idealistic volunteers would have devoured this book and probably agreed with her.

I do plan to read her late 80’s/early 90’s African book as she goes through Malawi at the time I was serving there as….wait for it….a Peace Corps volunteer. (I was a little older than the volunteers of the early ’60s–I would turn 30 months after my service ended).

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel literature about unusual trips though her prose isn’t always novel-like. I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

3.5

Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

Book Reviews

Review: The Hotel Portofino by J.P. O’Connell UPDATED

Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

If I watch tv (on my laptop–I don’t own a t.v. and don’t subscribe to any streaming service except the pretty lamentable Amazon Prime [no extra channels]) I watch PBS. Masterpiece is a favorite though I don’t watch every show–less and less of them appeal to me these days. I found this book on Netgalley (it was still available even though it was already published) and learned that it was on PBS (I’ve linked below to the trailer). I haven’t looked into whether this is a “real” novel or the “script” novel from the t.v. show. No matter–I loved the script novels of the original Upstairs, Downstairs (I still have them) and of The Duchess of Duke Street (ditto). If it tells a good story, I’m for it.

The Story

How do you cure a tired marriage being lived in a tired country? Move. What to do with an over-age son lingering in the house? Arrange a marriage for him. Bella Ainsworth, husband Cecil and “shell-shocked” son, Lucien, have upped sticks and moved to the Italian Rivera to open a seasonal hotel aimed mostly at British tourists. They’ve brought their servant and her teen-aged son to help them. Along the way, affairs are started, Mussolini’s thugs threaten, art is dubiously sold and much, much, more! And all on the gorgeous Italian Riviera just outside Portofino.

My Thoughts

I listened to the audio and it was a great story! No Dowager Countess, but otherwise fans of Downton Abbey really will like this one. This was a fun addition to my summer and I look forward to bingeing the show! And, apparently the show is going to have a season two–so stay tuned. 

My Verdict

3.5

Hotel Portofino by J,P. O’Connell

Did you watch Hotel Portofino? Have you read this book? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Historical Fiction

20-books

Book Reviews

Review: The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen UPDATED

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My Interest

I used to be a big-time international politics junkie. I loved it. Until I didn’t. I realized it made me nervous and affected my sleep and concentration–like social media before social media existed.

Way back in college I had older friends–he was an Israeli by heritage and birth, born the year of independence in Haifa. She left South Bend and immigrated to Israel at age 16. Both served in the Army in the ’68 war. They introduced me to Israeli politics and taught me a graduate level course in Jewish faith, culture, and life. I am grateful.

I learned of this book via this post at A Life in Books. Won’t you click and read her post, too? Bloggers live for comments.

The Story

“The history in my regular schooling was all about progress, a world that brightened with the Enlightenment and steadily improved; a world that would continue to improve illimitably, so long as every country kept trying to be more like America and America kept trying to be more like itself.”

If the name The Netanyahus sounds familiar it’s due to middle boy in this book–Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu,  twice Prime Minister of Israel. He makes the US evening news sometimes. That’s why it sounds familiar.

The story here is of a fictionalized interview for a professorship at a small Liberal Arts College in New York State that Benjamin’s father went to in the 1959-60 school year. The babysitter having pulled out at the last second, Benzion Netanyaho packs up his acerbic wife and their three total hellion sons–Bibi being the middle one, and drives through deep snow in an ancient borrowed car (the car on the  cover is way too new). As Benzion struts his stuff as an expert on the Spanish Inquitions, his wife offends, his sons wreck havoc and the denizens of Corbin College are given an unforgettable course in what not to do on a job interview.

Benzion’s host, Ruben, a professor forced to take the host role because he is the only Jewish professor at Corbin College,  is a humble man–he puts up with playing Santa at a Christmas party, doesn’t deck the mechanic who feels his head asking “Had your horns checked lately” and stoically other macro-aggressions served up in a WASP-y late 1950s liberal arts college. His wife can only watch in horror as the Netanyahu family destroys her home–including the brand new color TV. She has worked hard to be admitted to the society of the college, to try to make headway at the library and has to stand back and watch an acquaintance destroyed by Mrs. Netanyahu–all with out “losing it.” We won’t even “go there” on the problems of Judy–Rueben’s daughter, and what happens when the Netanyahu brothers come to town!

My Thoughts

“and yet the fact remains that the youth today is more sensitive than ever. I admit I don’t know how to understand this phenomenon and have sought to approach it “economically,” asking the question of whether an increase in sensitivity has brought about a decrease in discrimination, or whether a decrease in discrimination has brought about an increase in sensitivity to when, where, and how it occurs.”
 

The quote above was so “today”–right?

This was in parts hilarious. It was a send-up of all the pretentious b.s. of academic job interviews (been there). It is hard to convey just why so much was funny if the reader does not know Academia. The battles over status, the coveted endowed chair professorships, the endless committees and the lifetimes their meetings waste, the search for ever more arcane subjects to become an expert on–it’s drivel, all of it.

But there is an entire class of workers whose economic livelihood depends on convincing people that yes, in fact, the Spanish Inquisitions–multiple–re-converted the Jews to Judaism. [Trust me, that’s not even on the crazy-o-meter today–you should have to read some of the truly “out-there” PhD dissertations even in a relatively sane subject like business!!] The obscene over-production of PhD degree holders has made finding esoteric niches even harder to find then the long-ago mentioned darter snail in a proposed Tennessee dam sight.

While there was much to laugh at, I did feel the book lost some of its luster near the end. I have no clue what makes a book worthy of a Pulitzer Prize so I cannot comment on whether or not the book truly deserved it.

My Verdict

Summa Cum Laude

4 Stars

20-books

Historical Fiction

Book Reviews

Review: Our Last Days in Barcelona: A Novel by Chanel Cleeton

My Interest

If, like me, you loved Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba likely you’ve wanted to know more of the Perez sisters’ story. When I saw that this book was that “more” I was soooooo excited!

WARNING: If you have not read Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba, this review will have spoilers!! Sorry, it just isn’t very realistic to review a sequel without them!

The Story

It’s now 1964 and the Perez family is settled into life in Palm Beach after fleeing Castro’s Cuba. In spite of the passage of a few years, they are still morning the death of their son/brother, Alejandro. Beatriz is in Barcelona and her sister, Isobel, married for the good of the family to an older husband, Thomas, is worried about her. Isobel goes off to Barcelona to find her sister who is still working for the CIA. The second story line is of their mother, Alicia, a young wife and mother running away from her husband’s betrayal to Barcelona in 1936–her visit overlapping with the start of the Spanish Civil War. 

Like in When We Left Cuba, the Perez sisters in the present, and their mother in the Civil War years, face a variety of dilemmas that test their character, beliefs, and family pride. Love or rejection, personal growth, and an awakening of their souls are to come.

My Thoughts

Aside from one modern use of “agency” that just HAD to rear it’s ugly, out-of-place, head, this was a fabulous story. I loved Isobel coming to terms with the fact that her world had been so “insular” and all that that realization did for her. I also loved that Alicia did the “hard” thing [no spoilers]. Are there coincidences that beggar belief? Well, yes, but don’t let them ruin such an excellent read. With each book, Cleeton’s characters get more believable in spite of necessary coincidences to pull the story into shape. I think this is my favorite of Cleeton’s books (so far!).

My Verdict

4.2

I can’t stop at just 4 stars, but maybe 4.5 is just a tad over the limit.

Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton

Book Reviews

Review: Last Summer on State Street: A Novel by Toya Wolfe

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My Interest

It sometimes feels like my first 10 years were spent in the backseat of my dad’s company care driving one direction or the other on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago. The huge Federal housing project known as The Robert Taylor Homes, those reddish or cement-colored apartment buildings were one of the main landmarks. Another such project, Cabrini Green, was where my Dad’s cousin, Sister Mary Benet, had once taught an 8th grade of about 50 kids in one class at St. Joe’s. The Projects. That’s all you had to say to call up an image of urban poverty, crime and governmental good intentions run-amok. Except it wasn’t really “good intentions.” That expressway we drove on was put there for a reason: It segregated Chicago.

A Little Lesson

Yes, you can skip to my review below, but maybe take a moment and skim this, ok?

In the 1990’s even liberal commentator (and one of my personal heroes) said in a commentary on the CBS Evening News, that welfare no longer worked. About the same time as the Clinton Administration started reforming and remaking what we called “welfare,” (public assistance of all forms), sociologists, urban planners, criminologist, public health officials, and social workers threw in the towel on the failed experiment that was high density federal housing.

Back in the beginning these “projects” were meant to help both widows raising children on limited public assistance and working poor who had trouble, like today, finding affordable housing. But then, during LBJ’s Great Society and on into the Nixon administration (yes, the GOP had a role) people were begged and cajoled into taking welfare. This was to do what some people are screaming for today–level the playing field. Now it wasn’t merely widows who would be helped, but it would be hard to get help if there was a man in the house. Need I say more about what happened? Well, I will. The working poor got out of there. Generations then grew up in which no one had held a job in some families, or held one rarely in too many families. Crime took over. Life in the Projects became untenable.

End of Lesson

The Story

Children don’t get to be children no more” (-Mama Pearl)

“At Robert Taylor we were always watching the world through those bars like we were in captivity and wouldn’t ever be free.” (-Felicia)

It’s the late 1990’s and the Robert Taylor Homes (and other similar projects around the country) are meeting with the wrecking ball. Felicia (aka Fe Fe), her friend Precious and two other girls from their building and school, Stacia and Tonya, love to jump rope– Double Dutch. Felecia’s mother does what welfare was meant to do–makes a loving, caring home for her two children. Precious is a very rare child in the Projects–she has an intact family with two loving parents. Her father is a Seventh Day Adventist elder. Tonya’s mother is hard-edged addict, but Stacia’s mother is into drugs sales and gang warfare. Stacia and her 12 siblings (well, those left at home) have a reputation for evil. But right now, Stacia is a girl wanting a friend. Over the course of this summer all will change for the girls. and their families.

As the buildings come down and those not “lease compliant” wait for the letter to facilitate their move that never comes, gangs lose the buildings that constituted their turf and that causes big problems. Age 12, the girls are still “girls,” but Stacia, with big sisters wants to grow up and earn the respect of the big sisters.

Stacia goes one way while her new friends go another. There is, of course, collateral damage. Human collateral damage.

My Thoughts

The emotion in this book is too real. Children forced to learn the ways of criminals or at least to live side-by-side with them and stay safe. Coming of age is hard enough in a stable, well-funded home with two solid parents and a low crime rate in the neighborhood. What we asked kids born into the Projects to do was to magically fly through it all untouched. Possible for a few, but most were hurt along the way. That is what Toya Wolfe has done so beautifully–to show us the path to adult hood in that place.

That sort of poverty, seemingly without regard to race, creed, color, or urban vs rural location, does something to the young men. They get lost in the maelstrom, sinking to the baser elements of human nature–not usually by choice. Being “jumped” into a gang is a real event. It isn’t just a choice. Often boys who stand out for the wrong reason are forced, humbled, into it.  Our juvenile and adult prisons overflow with such young men. Many were on a good path, but were targeted and “inducted” into that nefarious brotherhood, crashing their plans for good. Parents cannot control it not only because, as Mama Pearl said, “..they was so busy trying to work to put some food out that they forgot to ask their boys what they wanted to be and how they was gonna get what they wanted….” Even those who did ask, did support their boys, still watch it happen. 

But because for girls, “…you need to tell people [your goals] too, that that’s where you goin’. Something about a girl with a plan lets people know you ain’t got time for foolishness.” (-Mama Peral) -Mama Pearl] but for boys this can backfire. Fitting in may be safer, if not easier. For girls like Stacia in the story, girls from homes infected tFor girls like Stacia in the story, girls from homes infected by the syphilis-like disease of the family’s soul, a disease” brought on by a lack of an immune system to protect the family from hurt, betrayal, cruelty, injustice, self-loathing and a twisted sense of family pride and honor (not to mention a lack of civility and love), fitting with the family can be the only way to survive. Stacia’s appalling story, which contrasted so vividly with the aptly-named Precious’s family cocoon of love, security, ambition, and support, perfectly illustrated why the Projects had to be eradicated. d.

Promise me you ain’t gonna hang out with girls like [Stacia’s family]. That was cool when you was little, but you gettin’ bigger now and hangin’ with the wrong people can mess up your life. People like Stacia don’t want the kinda stuff you want. You got big dreams. Them kinda girls ain’t spinnin no globe and lookin’ at the world. They ain’t gonna get out the ‘hood like you. Even when they move they still gonna think like people in the Projects… ‘Project Mentality’…you ain’t gonna have that kind of mind.” (-Felecia’s brother) 

One part of the story hit home so hard: The day Felecia’s brother “grew-up” and “left” home. It re-opened that wound that never really closed for me of that day when my own brother left home. Like FeFe, I’d felt myself to be (in the most innocent, childlike way) “his girl.” He was always in my corner, always making life better for me. And, then, he left (because he’d grown up). I wanted to hug Felecia and comfort her, tell her he’d still be “there” for her.

I also was “there” with Felecia when, that scary, unsettling, yet wonderful feeling of the first time a male body “stirred” her. For me it was at just a slightly younger age than Felecia’s experience. Oh those feelings! What to do with them, how to live through them, wanting them to go away because they were so unsettling, yet wanting them never to end. How “ripe” we are at first lust. For Felicia, though, it was even scarier due to who, what, and wear. 

What was done to Black people in slavery, what was done to them during Reconstruction and Jim Crow, what was done with the building of the Dan Ryan Expressway and all those other dividing lines–in Chicago, that all erupted at the end of the 20th Century. Felicia and her friends were in the crossfire, they were the collateral damage. That, some, in their way rose like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes and still made a satisfactory life for themselves is amazing.

This book is an instant classic of coming of age at the end of the 20th Century.

Last Summer on State Street: A Novel by Toya Wolfe.

I listened to the audio version

My Verdict

4.5

For More on Life in Chicago’s Projects and their local neighborhood see:

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There are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. Oprah made this book into a movie many years ago.

An American Summer: Love & Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz, is a sort of sequel to There are No Children Here.

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Hoop Dreams [documentary]

Book Reviews

Review: The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

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Thank you to #NetGalley for giving me a free copy of the audio version of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

This sounded fun and a little Stephanie Plum-ish so I requested it. Happily, I was right.

The Story

Hannah Brooks works as what is usually called a bodyguard (executive protection agent). Jack Stapleton is a Hollywood mega-star–the object of many fantasies for his rugged good looks and his role in blockbusters like The Destroyer. When Jack’s mother is diagnosed with cancer he goes home to Texas to be with her and, you guessed it, Hannah is assigned to be his bodyguard. When visiting with his family they must fake a dating relationship to keep from worrying his mom about him needing security. 

Meanwhile, a Hollywood bombshell with a personality similar to that one royal’s American wife, whose surgically enhanced looks are called “weaponized beauty,” is known to be Jack’s girlfriend. And then there’s the Corgi breeder-stalker. Yeah, who’d have thought someone who loves adorable Corgis would be a stalker? 

But after the first few days are Hannah and Jack faking it or are they really falling for each other?

My Thoughts

This is a fun, clean book. No “ick” anywhere! I think it has what they call a “trope”–right? Faking a relationship is a “trope, right?” Cool. There is nothing to dislike in this book though I thought the ending and epilogue could have been a tad less preachy in tone and a little shorter but it isn’t really a big deal because it wasn’t political preaching. I loved Hannah and Jack and adored Jack’s parents. I really, really liked Clipper. But Bobby (he prefers Robby)–keep him, ok? This is the perfect beach or pool rom-com for Summer 2022.

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center releases on July 19, but is available for pre-order.

Book Reviews

Review: The Messy Lives of Book People (UK: The Book Share) by Phaedra Patrick

Today I’m in a collaborating with The Reading Ladies blog to help readers find their One Must Read Book of Summer 2022!! Click this link to go to The Reading Ladies blog and see all the great book suggestions!

My Interest

So much to love–let’s see: In the UK, but not in London; someone who works a normal job and has a normal life but rises to a challenge that helps reach a goal she maybe thought was now unreachable. I’m in! That she isn’t a 20-something, but a 40-something married with two young adult kids is just gravy.

 

The Story

Liv Green married and became a Mom young. She’s taken jobs to make money for her family–not gone after a career and certainly not a career as a writer. A while back Liv wrote to ask for a job with a favorite writer, local celebrity Essie Starling. as a cleaner (not a “maid” as the blurb says! Someone who comes in just to clean is not a “maid”) and was surprised to be hired. As their relationship, never a “friendship,” just a working relationship grows, Essie discovers that Liv knows her Georgia Rory books well–has the details down cold, details that the author herself sometimes has to stop and think about. When the author dies her last wishes insist that Liv finish her work in progress. A handsome, but somewhat stuffy, attorney shares the news with her–news that could change her life in more ways than one. But is the attorney hiding something?

Meanwhile, Liv’s husband, Jake, and young adult sons Mack and Johnny, are at home wondering what’s up with Mum. Jake’s business is struggling and he is being evasive about it–often taking calls from his sister about the family firm while hidden away in the coat cupboard. Understandably, their marriage now is not all that it could, or should be, due to the secrets being kept.

As Liv works to finish the book she gets to know folks who knew Essie. She also learns about writing and about herself. As she “gets into character” to write more of Georgia Rory’s adventure, she experiences new adventures that were denied her as young mother on a tight budget. She grows and changes in ways she never expected.

My Thoughts

Like in all such books you must accept a few amazing coincidences, but that’s part of the fun. Yes, I figured out the big secret, but like the coincidences, that’s just how such books work. None of it detracts from a good story.

I loved Liv, Essie, Jake, and Anthony–they were so real and believable.  Liv and Jake truly cared for each other and for their boys. Anthony’s emotion was real and raw. Liv was sincere and hardworking and for once that was handsomely rewarded. While she was only around 40 or 42, (says I from the lofty perch of “only” 60) I loved that an “older” writer got a break in a story–that was so encouraging to me even if she is fictional.

I loved the image the author painted describing tears as having “waterfalled down her face.” (On the flip side of creativity, if she’d written “socked foot“–as in sock-clad foot, one more time I’d have screamed. Someone should have caught the repetitive use of that phrase. Picky, picky, picky me!). Hank’s bar theme was perfect for a crime writer–very creative idea to toss in there. He was perfectly dressed in his jean jacket and t-shirt. Finally, I liked that the story mentions Liv listening to Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen and a few other books that I’ve liked (sorry–I lost my note with the titles). Those were fun additions to the story and made me relate even more to Liv.

I’ve enjoyed each book by this author that I’ve read so far–so much so that she has become a “must-read” author for me. I don’t understand though, why her publishers seem to think the UK and US markets need such different titles and covers for her books. Either title, either cover, this is a wonderful story.

I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

4 Big Stars

(If you are new here, I have rarely given a 5 star rating. This is a great rating for me).

The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick

aka The Book Share (A play on the best selling book The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary, eh Marketing Department?) in UK is currently on sale for £1.99.

My Reviews of Other Books by Phaedra Patrick

Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

The Library of Lost and Found: A Novel by Phaedra Patrick

one-great-summer-read-2022

Book Reviews

Review: Lost Summers of Newport

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My Interest

The Gilded Age is a favorite of mine and the Cottages of New Port are on my Bucket List. I really enjoyed Lauren Willig’s Band of Sisters (click for my review) last year. (I’ve read one book by Karen White but have no memory of it–it’s just in my Goodreads “Read” list. I haven’t read any by Beatriz Wiliams though I started one and ran out of library time). Plus, I was intrigued by the idea of a committee of three writing a novel (apparently it is their second novel written as a trio).

US map showing Rhode Island credit  Photo Credit for Cottages Photo

The Story

The book cycles through alternating chapters telling the story of three members of the Sprague family (or their staff) in their Newport “Cottage” (i.e. mansion). Ellen, in 1899 (the Gilded Age) is music teacher to Maybelle Sprague whose brother wants her married off to an Italian Prince (this is the era of the Dollar Princesses–aka, Cora Crawley of Downton Abbey or Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome and his cousin’s wife, Newport’s own Consuelo Vanderbilt). In 1957 we have Maybelle’s great-granddaughter the oh-so-helpfully nicknamed “Lucky,” the 50’s upper-class party-hosting wife (JFK and Jackie are guests) of hard-drinking, Mad Men-ish skirt-chasing Stuyvesant Sprague, and daughter-in-law of secret-holding Dudley Sprague. In the present day (2019) we have TV host Andie who interacts with Lucky’s grandchildren while filming a reality show around the rules of “Don’t go near the boathouse” [cue the warning music] and “Don’t try to talk to Lucky” [more warning music]. Secrets, of course, abound!

My Thoughts

This is THE historical fiction beach/pool book of the year! Exactly what I needed for my commute, too. Never mind that enough clues are dropped that even I guessed one of the big secrets! Or that there are eye-rolling things happening everywhere. This was a darned good read from start-to-finish. Improbable? Sure, but why let that spoil any of the fun? It’s a beach or pool book — just roll with it (like the waves of the sea).

A few annoying things:

But why, oh why, do people try to voice children with crap like “I founded a worm?” or have them stuff crap up their noses when they are school aged?? Ugh!! And can’t anyone do anything to show affection to a little boy but tousling the kid’s hair? (It’s as annoying and ubiquitous as the guy always “tenderly” tucking a lock of hair behind the woman’s ear). The kid things were made worse by the reader doing super annoying speech impediment of w for r for the kid! (Hopefully he’s getting help for this at that school he’s always puking to get out of attending). More reader problems included pronouncing the Latin “Pater” as “Patter” and can’t decide if Joanie says “Ma-Ma” or “M’ma” (ala Prince Charles)–I didn’t think even the Preppy-ist of 50s era Preps said “M’ma” but who knows, right? 

My Verdict

3.5

Lost Summers of Newport: A Novel by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White