Tag Archives: 1920s

Book Review: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston (5/5)

10 Jan

I don’t remember how I came across this title. It was probably a Goodreads ‘recommended books’ related to another 20s novel I read. I’m so glad I found it, though! This book was a real treat. I’ve never read a graphic novel before but I have to imagine it would be something like this. Oddly, my first thought when I picked this book up off the shelves was how heavy it was! It only took a quick flip through to realize that’s because the pages were high-quality photo pages and there was ink soaked into every inch of those pages to cover them in amazing images. I was ready to devour this book.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

Summary from Goodreads:

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is a visually stunning, totally unique, full-color novel in the form of a scrapbook, set in the burgeoning bohemian culture of the 1920s and featuring an endearing, unforgettable heroine. Caroline Preston, author of the New York Times Notable Book Jackie by Josie, uses a kaleidoscopic array of vintage memorabilia—postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket stubs, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus and more—to tell the tale of spirited and ambitious Frankie’s remarkable odyssey from Vassar to Greenwich Village to Paris, in a manner that will delight crafters, historical fiction fans, and anyone who loves a good coming-of-age story ingeniously told.

This book was too much fun. I devoured it. I read in the acknowledgments that the author got a lot of the images off of eBay. It’s obvious she spent a lot of time getting the images together and I loved that. It also seemed really convenient that the character descriptions and clothing matched the images exactly. I’m guessing a lot of that was Preston being inspired by the images but I found it a bit hard to believe that Frankie’s beaus always looked like magazine models. I could overlook this, though. The story was fun and encompassed so much of life in the 20s it was a little convenient, but it was really perfect and a great way to visually explore the time period.

The characters were a little bland because the dialogue and narration were reduced to allow the images to tell the story. Some of the side characters took on stronger personalities than Frankie herself. Her roommate at Vassar struck me as a memorable personality but now I can’t remember her name, haha. I wasn’t expecting strong characterization, though, so this didn’t bother me. The images were beautiful and told a great story.

I both loved and hated Jamie. Mostly hated, but there was something redeeming about him in my mind. He stuck with me the most, either way. He obviously did things with Frankie he shouldn’t have when they first met. I think he paid the price for what he did by ending up alone in Paris. He gave her a job when she needed one, obviously. I also think he helped her grow up. She was very innocent at the beginning of the book and she started to be her own woman in college, but it was really when she ran away to Paris that she had to be herself and she was scared to do that. After her second run-in with Jamie, she was much more confident and able to go after what she wanted. So yes, he was a terrible person, but he was very important to her.

A lot of the things Frankie did were things I would have liked to do but never dared. I would never run off to Paris with no plan and hope to be a writer. I would ignore my fun but reckless roommate at school. She was brave in ways I am not and I wanted to be her sometimes, but I didn’t quite relate to her. Her friendships in high school were the closest to my life and those seemed to be over by page 15.

Caroline Preston Image via Entertainment Relm

Caroline Preston
Image via Entertainment Relm

The images in this book were amazing. I wanted to rip pages out and put them above my computer for inspiration while I write my 1920s themed novel. I’m so impressed that Preston spent the time to find them all and that she wove them into the story so well. I’m sure what she could find dictated the plot slightly, but it didn’t feel that way. I enjoyed being swept up into a time period so visually.

If anything, the worst thing about this book was that I read it so fast. I finished it in three days and could have finished it in a single sitting if I wanted to. Maybe more text, pages without images, would have given it a deeper plot. Or maybe something a bit longer. I would have liked a little more depth with the characters, though. Though it would have been impossible to make them authentic, photographs would have been great. Maybe doctoring some could have worked.

Frankie is running away from her past, but it’s only when she comes home that she’s happy. She may have bobbed her hair and tried to be a Lost Generation writer, but it’s the farm and her mother where she finds happiness. I think too often people run away or hide from their lives like Frankie tries to do. But in the end, she has to remember who she is and where she comes from before she can be happy. I think it was an appropriate ending and one you don’t see a lot in books.

Writer’s Takeaway: As a writer, I feel like I have to avoid images because they are for children’s books. It was nice to see a book for YA and adult audiences with pictures used so liberally and effectively. I know that my book will not be able to publish images, but it’s made me think about collecting pictures to remind me of the people in my book and the time period they were living in. I have one picture now that I keep above my computer but I’m thinking of collecting some more.

This book was fun yet short and very different from other books I have read. A full Five out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
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The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt | alibrarymama

Book Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine (4/5)

11 Jun

My good friend Katherine loves fairy tales. She reads them, writes them: everything you can imagine about fairy tales that an MFA candidate would do, she does with fairy tales. She’s enjoyed a lot of fairy tale retellings lately and this one takes place in the 1920s so she was pretty sure I would enjoy it. And she was darn right.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Summary from Goodreads:

Jo, the firstborn, “The General” to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.

The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud to the Swan and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself.

Everything I’ve read about New York City in the 1920s makes me want to live there. The high fashion, the dance clubs, and the woman’s rights movement at the times combine perfectly for a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. I thought Valentine brought the setting and characters to life well. Each girl had her own quirk and personality and while I couldn’t name them all for you, I never got them confused. The only criticism I have is that the first part of the book seemed really loosely bound to a timeline. It skipped around the girls going out for the fist time, trying new clubs, etc. Only once the Kingfisher was raided did it pick up a consistent timeline. I enjoyed it from then on, but it was two hours into an eight-hour story. I also think the description above gives you more than half the book, which is a bit more than you normally see in a description. Maybe don’t read it?

Jo was a great protagonist. She had a very strong personality and her maternal instincts were admirable. I believed each of the sisters as her own character, especially Lou and Ella. I thought their father was a bit hard to believe, but it was a fairy tale so some beliefs had to be suspended. The idea that he could have 12 daughters and be supporting them while interacted with no one, not even some servants, was unbelievable. Whatever he did, he was around the house a lot to be able to stop them from leaving in the middle of the day yet he was somehow very rich. I got the impression he was involved in some bootlegging, but Prohibition was established in 1920 and the crash of ’29 didn’t seem to have come yet. If they’d been dancing for around 10 years, he had to have money from somewhere else before he started bootlegging. OK, time to stop with my 1920s history now. Getting off the soapbox.

Though I liked Jo, Tom was my favorite character. He never pretended to be something he wasn’t and he was very giving. The first time he’s in the modern timeline, he’s helping Jo out of a tough spot, no questions asked. Without spoiling the ending, he does something for Jo that’s completely selfless and puts someone between them that they both care about very much, all at Jo’s insistence. He’s the kind of friend and partner I would want in any situation. On top of everything, he’s smart.

I think I related most to Jo. I only have one younger brother and have never been locked in the upper floors of my father’s house, but I led a group of 50 while in college. Trying to keep people from fighting and in step with the rules can be a challenge and I think I handled my group much like Jo. I was a bit of a militant, but only when we needed to be safe. She had a good leadership style that I appreciated.

Genevieve Valentine Image via the Author's Website

Genevieve Valentine
Image via the Author’s Website

I loved the ending. I’m going to talk about it here so if you haven’t read the book, skip this paragraph. I was glad that the story arc was finished when Lou came back and not when the younger twins were found or when their father died. It was a very fitting ending wich made me so happy. I was worried it would end sooner.

The beginning of the book was too muddled for me and it gave me a bad impression of the book. Later it was reversed, but it wasn’t the best place to start. It gave me the impression that there wasn’t much of a plot. I was worried about this being a cohesive story, but I was counting on that description to give me a plot.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Susie Berneis and I thought she did a good job. It was nothing outstanding, but she did a good job with voices, especially the father. He’s the only one who stands out to me as having a unique voice but with so many female characters, I’m not surprised.

The biggest lesson I got from this book was about family. A lot of books lately have dealt with the strength of non-traditional families and I like this message. Jo was a mother figure to all her sisters, even Lou, in the space their absent mother left. These were girls with no father and no one to raise them. To be honest, I’m wondering how they learned to read. But as soon as one of them learned, Jo would have been sure everyone else learned the same thing.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book had to walk a thin line between mystical and realistic. Of course, it’s a fairy tale retelling, but at the same time it’s giving a very concrete setting of New York City, a very tangible place. I think the beginning of the book was more mystical and the ending more concrete. I would have liked if these were blended more.

Entertaining and a great setting. Four out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

19 Feb

I love the 20s and I talk about it a lot so I’m not surprised that my book club moderator  recommended The Diviners to me. It was right up my ally. It was paranormal without the vampire romance and very, very 20s.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Summary from Goodreads:

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

This book bothered me a bit at the beginning and a bit at the end. Between those, I was enraptured. The story of Evie and her uncle in New York was really well crafted and the action around Naught John Hobbs was well paced. You can see that my rating of 4 stars is high because of this. The issue I took with the beginning of the novel was the sudden and over-saturated use of 20s slang. As someone who’s writing a 20s novel it was too much. There are some words that needed to be introduced (jake, swell, hooch, etc.) but there were some that were unnecessary and added too purposefully. I remember an early scene when Evie’s parents are talking to her about what she did to be sent away and she’s asked if she has anything to say for herself. She looks to her mother who wears glasses and says, “I hope I never need cheaters” (glasses). That was really unnecessary and I remembered it the rest of the novel. Thankfully I either got used to the writing style or it became less forced because I didn’t think about it much toward the end of the novel.

The other thing that bothered me was the end. I was on the second to last disk when the climax hit. I was a little disappointed because many of the main characters and narrators weren’t involved in the action at all. I brushed that aside a bit but after the fight, there was so much more of the story to go that I was confused where it was heading. The last disk was setting up for a sequel. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s good to set up for a sequel when you’re writing a book, but I realized that two of my favorite characters wouldn’t even make it into the action until the next book and all the feelings I had for them needed to be put on hold. That was frustrating. The set-up for the sequel seemed forced; like the author forgot to do it before the climax and just tacked it all on to the end. The pacing really fell apart for me there.

I liked that the characters all seemed like a stereotype of a 20s social class at first but as we got to know them they had something or another that made them unique. Memphis has his gift, Theta has hers, Henry is hiding part of who he is, and Evie can be all talk and no action. Bray let on to these slowly which helped me like the characters. None of them seemed over the top, especially for the time. Mable was a favorite of mine because she reminded me a bit of a character in my novel. I was sad she disappeared from the story a bit at the end.

Sam Lloyd was my favorite character. And it’s not because we share a name. I liked his good/bad guy blend and enjoyed not knowing what he was ever really after. I was disappointed when his character wasn’t very involved in the final battle. He was obviously being set up for the sequel, which I’m not likely to read for some time now. I wish I’d seen more from him.

I related to Mabel a lot because she reminded me of myself at her age. I was reluctant to ‘do what the cool kids did’ or break any rules no matter how much I agreed with them. Heck, I shiver at work every day because I won’t buy a personal heater because it’s against the fire code; I’m still Mabel! Again, I wish she’d been around more at the end, she seemed to disappear from the book.

I liked when Jericho, Evie, and Uncle Will went to visit the Brethren. I thought the plot moved really well through that section and that the characters developed a lot. I liked the problems they ran into because they seemed really realistic to me. Sometimes I don’t want people to escape because it seems too convenient, but this one played well.

I’ll ignore my complaints about the beginning and end of the novel when picking my least favorite part. I’ll have to say Isiah’s story was my least favorite part. I thought he was a really great character but what happened to him at the end bothered me because it didn’t develop him and really only diminished his importance in the impending sequel. I wanted to see more from Isiah and Memphis and I was really disappointed that there was nothing more.

The audiobook I listened to was the Listening Library version narrated by January LaVoy. LaVoy did an amazing job at not only giving the characters their own voices but using speech patters and slang of the 20s. I’d imagine it took a lot of research to be able to narrate a book like this one. I also enjoyed that Bray did an introduction at the beginning and an author’s note at the end. It gave the audiobook a really nice touch.

I liked what Bray had to say about looking beyond a person’s appearance. No one was what they seemed in this novel, though that was mostly due to supernatural powers. At the same time, Jericho was someone Evie never would have looked at if she hadn’t been forced to get past her initial thoughts and it seems like Uncle Will has a lot he’s been hiding as well.

Libba Bray Image via Barnes & Noble

Libba Bray
Image via Barnes & Noble

Writer’s Takeaway: I think handling multiple points of view can be really challenging and despite my feelings about the pacing of those other points of view toward the end of the book, Bray handled it very well throughout most of the book. Though Evie narrated most of the book, Memphis still had a lot to say and chapters that jumped to the victims, Theta, and others, kept me interested along the way.

Enjoyable but with some flaws that detracted from me being completely engrossed. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfilled 1920-1939 in the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Review: O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn (2/5). It wasn’t for me, unfortunately.

8 Jul

A while ago, I cut myself from registering for First Reads. I decided I had enough books to read that I didn’t need to get another. But then, of course, I had some spare time at work and decided to browse. What’s the harm, right? Well, let me tell you because I won one. It’s set in the late 1920s and if you know me, you know I’m a sucker for anything 20s. The worst part was that I really, really couldn’t get into it. I just couldn’t. I’ll elaborate later.

I received this book for free on Goodreads in exchange for a fair review.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

O, Africa! by Andre Lewis Conn

Brothers Micah and Izzy Grand are having the time of their lives making movies in the late 1920s. Their comedies have audiences in stitches and their star actor doesn’t seem to be fading any time soon. However, their production company as a whole is on its way down. Their boss has an idea; go to Africa and get stock footage which they can sell to other companies and while they’re there, film another movie. Two birds with one stone, right? Well, in theory anyway.

In reality, Micah is in debt to a gangster who’s convinced him to pay off his debt by filming a second movie during their time in the DR Congo (Belgian Congo in the 20s). The natives of the village the boys visit are used as extras in their film and Izzy grows close to the prince.  [SPOILER ALERT!] In a twist, the prince kills one of the crew members and the team returns to New York with nothing to show. Izzy, distraught over the loss of his lover, returns to Africa, desperate to make things right and restore order to the village. Micah must traipse across the ocean after his brother, squandering the last dollars he has in hopes of helping his brother home.

This book really didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t sure how big of a release it would entail but I saw the book on the shelves of Barnes and Nobel last week so Conn must have made bank on this one. I didn’t find the humor that funny and it seemed a bit forced. I liked the plot for the first half, but the second half fell apart for me. Izzy was the only character I liked and he became my least favorite character: someone I couldn’t relate to. By the end, I liked Micah only because he was the only character who hadn’t gone off the deep end. Well, maybe Rose, Micah’s mistress, but she still didn’t do it for me.

I don’t think the characters were meant to be believable. As part of the Roaring Twenties, everyone was bigger than life and that goes double for the movie business. People had the disposable income to spend on movies and the men in the field were taking it to the bank. I think Micah ended up being the most believable throughout. At first, my attraction to Izzy was that I could relate to him because he was logical and even-headed. Then he went crazy at the end and I couldn’t figure out why. The secondary characters were a little easier to believe; Henry the silent film star and Rose, Micah’s black mistress (talk about a scandal in the 20s!).

If forced to pick, I’d say Rose ended up being my favorite of these two. I don’t agree with her morally, (having a relationship with a married man when she herself is married) but she was looking out for herself. When she wanted a baby to take care of, she knew where to go. When she needed protection, she had her brother to turn to and knew where to find a husband who would take care of her. She saw the bright and flashy life that Micah had and knew she wanted something less gaudy. She had an even head on her shoulders.

Andrew Lewis Conn. Image from RandomHouse.com

Andrew Lewis Conn. Image from RandomHouse.com

I related to Micah at the end. He knew he had to throw away his last dollars to go see his brother and bring him home. This is a very raw human emotion of love and family ties and it resonated with me on a primitive level. If my brother were in trouble, I would want to go help him, even if he was in primitive Africa. To me, this was the most ‘real’ thing Micah did.

My favorite part of the book was the opening scenes where the brothers are filming a movie with Henry Till and Babe Ruth. It was great to see a historical figure as memorable as Ruth make an appearance in the book. The writer pulled in some other well-known figures of the day later in, Charlie Chaplin being the one I remember. It helped root the book in the 20s.

Izzy’s return to Africa was my least favorite part. The things he was doing over there were too much for me to process: talking to a dead body, making movies out of clips of the dead king, not eating, living in a junk field. It was too much. I thought Izzy was a well-developed character until this point. I wish the book had ended sooner so I didn’t have to see him like that.

I felt a lot of the book was about the fragility of man. Micah’s comfortable life in New York is fragile and his relationships came to a head many times in the book. Izzy’s sanity is fragile and he deteriorates quickly. The villagers are easily influenced by their contact with the Western film-makers and it skewed their perception of reality. Ultimately there was a way to put each of these back together, but it was a lot of work and effort by all those involved.

Writer’s Takeaway: Oh boy. I think my lesson from this book was about how to incorporate humor into my work. I like when there is one character that can make me laugh consistently or when appropriate, but I felt Conn was using all of his characters as comic relief all too frequently and not in the appropriate times. It made all the characters seem like jokes and belittled their problems.

Not my favorite. 2 out of 5 stars.

This book fulfills ‘Foreign Country: DR Congo’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

Like this review? Let me know on Goodreads!

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Post:
O, Africa by Andrew Lewis Conn | 52 books or bust

Book Review: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

10 Dec

Coming down the home stretch! I’ve got 21 more days to go and four more books to finish! Expect a good number of book reviews in the next few weeks.

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

This book was recommended to me by one of my supervisors at work. She said she really loved it and I put it on my list, figuring that I would get to it eventually. Well, it’s eventually. I almost read this sooner, but I’d just finished The Paris Wife and I needed a change of pace. I listened to this title on audiobook from the local library.

Anne Morrow was an ambassador’s daughter before she was the aviator’s wife. It was in Mexico City, visiting her dignitary father that she first met Colonel Charles Lindbergh. Seeing in Anne the co-pilot he’s been searching for, Charles doesn’t forget her and their quick romance is filled with airplanes and the wide open sky. Anne jumps into Charles’ world with two feet, earning her pilot’s license and learning to operate a glider. ‘The First Couple of the Sky’ is America’s favorite and the media attention can only be avoided when they’re together in the air. When their first child, Charles Jr., is born, the two don’t slow down. They seem to be away from their child more than with him and the couple finally buys their own house to settle down in and be a family. When tragedy strikes and their son is kidnapped, the results will break Charles and leave Anne grieving alone for the son she never really got to know. As her five other children grow and leave, Anne finds her self more and more alone as Charles leaves for war, conferences, and meetings. No one could accompany the lone eagle forever.

I tried not to, but I found myself comparing this book the The Paris Wife while I read it. Between the two, I’d say I liked Benjamin’s book better. They both focus on the wives of famous men from the 1920s and how the men outshone their wives in every way possible. I found Anne a stronger and more likeable character than Hadley and I’m glad I’m ending my foyer into 20s wives on a strong note.

This book, more than anything, made me dislike Charles Lindbergh. He’s portrayed as controlling, manipulative, and very arrogant. His anti-Semitic tendencies were enough to make me dislike him, but forcing Anne to publish a book where she explained that she agreed with him was abhorrent. A man who would father seven children out of wedlock is not a very likeable character in any book. (According to Wikipedia, this is true. It’s not known if Anne was aware.)

Anne’s journey is to find herself an identity that is separate from Charles’s. She wants to be known as more than the Aviator’s wife and starts this by being an author. Anne studied English in school and always wanted to write. She ghost-wrote for Charles but wanted her own turn at the page. Her book was successful, maybe only slightly bolstered by her husband’s fame. After the youngest, Reeve, left home, Anne got her own apartment and her own friends. She became known among them as the writer of the group and relished in this identity. She had flirtations, one even more than a flirtation, and felt that finally she was her own woman. This was only solidified when she denied Charles the absolution he wanted regarding the European children. It took until her husband’s death, but Anne finally stepped from Charles’ shadow.

Besides his flight, the one thing people always remember about Lindbergh is the kidnapping. There was an afterward in the copy I had that Benjamin had written and she said that the Lindberghs have been affected more by the media than any other people alive, perhaps excluding Princess Diana. Their loss was so public and the search so wide spread that it took on a life of its own. They way its described in Benjamin’s book almost broke my heart to see the unusual struggle that the two had to go through because of their celebrity status. The writing really made me feel for the Lindberghs.

Writer’s Takeaway: I said at the beginning that I enjoyed this book more than The Paris Wife and I think I’ve deduced why. Hadley was a very unlikeable character while I was rooting for Anne the whole time. Hadley wasn’t to focus of her own story, Ernest was always the focus. The story ended with a change in Ernest, not Hadley. Anne’s story was wholly her own with a character arc not defined by Charles. I think this highlights a good lesson for writers. Our characters need to be more than a set of eyes. They can see someone else’s story, but they have to have their own as well. In The Great Gatsby, Nick is watching Gatsby’s story, but he is his own character and he is dynamic. When the protagonist and narrator are different people, one must make sure both change.

Three out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

9 Dec

I’m on a roll with really good book club books! I just finished our December book and I loved it. Yet another highly recommended that I think you should read.

 

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

I was excited about this book and getting back into my book club. I’d taken the month of November off from this one in order to concentrate on NaNo and read some things I’d been wanting to read for a change. It was an easy choice because their choice didn’t interest me at all and was an 800 page presidential biography. I’ll not mention it here by name. One of the women whom I normally sit by said this is one of her favorite books and I will freely admit I loved it. 80 pages per day is not normal for me.

Returning home to Australia after World War I, Tom is looking for nothing more than the peace he fought for in Europe. He takes a job as a lighthouse keeper and after a few postings is sent to Janus, an island 100 miles off the western shore that is only visited quarterly by the supply boat. The night before he is to leave for his posting, he meets Isabel and through a series of letters the two fall in love and are married. Janus is a lonely place for the two and their attempts to start a family are foiled three times by miscarriages and stillborns. When a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a baby, Isabel is sure it’s a sign from God and convinces Tom to not report the incident and that they can raise the child as their own. The perfectly happy adopted family is fine in its isolation on Janus, but when they return to shore three years later, their secrets start to haunt them.

The ending of this book had me staying up late and sneaking a few extra minutes onto my lunch to read to the end. The concept of the whole thing was so unique that it really captured my attention. The lighthouse was very well described and obviously well researched. I think Stedman did a wonderful job of describing the loneliness and isolation that the family felt on that island and how that sense of solidarity influenced their decision to keep baby Lucy. I was describing this book to a co-worker and my boss walked by and told me she loved this book, too. I think it strikes a chord.

Stedman’s book focuses on regret, the thin line between right and wrong, and motherhood. Tom is consumed by regret for what he has done to Hannah, Lucy’s biological mother, by depriving her of raising a child. Lucy is loved and well cared for by the Sherbourne’s but she is loved and missed by Hannah. Tom regrets that he never followed the procedures of reporting the dead man, Hannah’s husband, Frank, and that leads to his ultimate confession. He regrets leaving notes for Hannah and decides to take all of the blame for the crime rather than have Isabel spend a day in jail because he knows he would regret that happening.

Even at the end, it’s somewhat up in the air as to if the Sherbourne’s did the ‘wrong’ thing. They didn’t mistreat Lucy at all and in fact loved her, giving her memories that lasted the rest of her life. But they hurt her biological mother and gave the biological father an improper burial. Is that wrong? Lucy didn’t seem to think so, she loved the Sherbourne’s and even after being reunited with Hannah, wanted to see them again.

While I’m not myself a mother, I loved the points Stedman made about motherhood. While Hannah birthed Lucy-Grace, Isabel raised her. Which is more the mother? The one geologically related or the one who knows the girl’s every word? It’s a very controversal topic and I had no idea how the debate would go until the very end. That’s part of what I loved about the book.

From a historical perspective, I was excited to see that this book took place in the 1920s. It was interesting for me to see the Australian perspective of the inter-war years compared to America where prohibition was followed by deep depression. The depression didn’t make a big impact on the character’s lives. It was alluded to when Isabel’s mother mentioned a cloth shortage, but there was little else to remind the reader of what was happening in Europe and America. I really liked this historical tidbit.

Writer’s Takeaway: What I enjoyed the most about this book was that Stedman took on a topic with no right answer that no one had asked before. As writers, we can’t be afraid to take on controversal topics. Writing has changed the world before because writers weren’t afraid to make waves. Stedman isn’t afraid either and I look forward to reading anything else she writes, I know it will be thought-provoking.

Highly recommended book. A full five out of five stars.

Until next time,Reader, write on.

Book Review: The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

7 Nov

Because NaNoWriMo seems to be going well for me, I’m going to take a break today and write up this book review. I wanted to be sure to get these words down before I forgot anything about the book.

Book Cover from Goodreads.com

Book Cover from Goodreads.com

The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

I received an advanced reader copy of this book as a part of Goodreads First Reads program. I’m not sure if my copy is exactly the same as the published manuscript as I did find one typo. Maybe it got caught?

The Tilted World is a piece of historical fiction that takes place in 1927 Mississippi. Little remembered in history, the Mississippi River reached record heights that summer, threatening to flood the surrounding valleys. Federal agents Ingersoll and Ham are sent to the town of Hobnob to track down a bootlegger, but soon find a plot to blow up the levee and flood the town a bit more pressing. Complicating everything is the relationship between Ingersoll, the bootlegger, Dixie Clay, and her husband, the wheeling and dealing Jesse who sells moonshine all over the south.

I would identify the two themes of the book as motherhood and looking past prejudices. One of the central characters of the book is a baby named Willy. Ingersoll found Willy at the scene of a fatal shoot out where the infant’s parents were killed. An orphan himself, Ingersoll couldn’t bring himself to leave Willy at an orphanage and asked around Hobnob for a family that would take the baby. He was referred to Dixie Clay and her husband, Jesse, who lost a baby not long before.

Dixie Clay’s fierce love for her adopted son is a central theme of the book. She cares for him when he’s sick, takes him to the still with her when she’s making moonshine, and protects him from her temperamental husband. A mother’s love drives much of the plot.

The other theme is prejudices. Ingersoll is a federal agent who specializes in busting moonshiners. Dixie Clay is a moonshiner; the two should hate each other, but they don’t. The ability of the characters to look past what they do and see who the other person truly is as a human is another big theme of the novel. It’s a sort of a ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ theme.

As a writer of 1920s fiction, I was really excited to read this book. I knew nothing about the Mississippi flooding, which is the largest natural disaster in US history. I really enjoyed the history of this novel along with the mystery of who was going to sabotage the levee.

Jesse is the central antagonist in the novel as he works against both Dixie Clay and Ingersoll. He raises several issues of loyalty in the book; loyalty to his wife and loyalty to his community. Jesse’s faithfulness is questionable at best when it comes to his marriage. He frequents homes of ill repute, but is never honest about if it’s for business purposes or for his personal enjoyment. He gets angry at Dixie Clay when he suspects her infidelity, but her questions of him go by without comment.

His loyalty to the town causes the deaths of hundred of his fellow Hobnobers when (spoiler!) he takes a bribe from New Orleans in exchange for blowing up the levee. He was promised a run at governor and a huge sum of money to sabotage the levee and let Hobnob flood, leaving New Orleans safe from high waters. Jesse is loyal to no one but himself.

Writer’s Takeaway: Because I’m so engrossed in the 1920s with my own novel, there were a few things that bothered me about this book from a period standpoint. The biggest was that Dixie Clay’s house, in rural Mississippi and far from town, had electricity. My research showed that electricity was in most large cities, but I find her having electricity in such a small, out of the way house very hard to believe. I think it should have been edited out, especially because it wasn’t relevant to the story. But that’s just my opinion.

The pace of this novel was done very well. I was intrigued enough to keep reading but the authors didn’t give too much away at a time. Because the narrative bounced between Dixie Clay and Ingersoll, the reader always knew more than the characters and it was a race to see if they would figure everything out in time.

Every time I thought, “This is an irrelevant detail,” the authors would prove my wrong and bring all of the nuances of the text full circle. As a reader, I appreciate when the authors clear up all loose ends.

Overall, enjoyable and well written. Three out of five stars.

Until next time, Reader, write on.

Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

17 Sep

I’m flying through books, trying to meet my Reading Challenge goal of 70 books this year!  I’m currently at 51, 2% ahead of schedule.  This one was an audiobook and not my favorite one at that.  Read on for a review, but be forewarned of spoilers!

The Paris Wife by Paul McLain

I love historical fiction and I love the 1920s so The Paris Wife seemed like an obvious choice.  It was a recommendation of of my book calendar (I’m telling you, that thing is killing me slowly).  McLain’s story is about Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway.  If you’re not familiar with Hemingway’s personal life, he is considered to be something like the jock of the writing world.  He was a womanizer who love big game hunting and bullfighting.  I love his no-frills writing and that he writs about Michigan, something I hold dear to my heart.

Hadley doesn’t think much of herself as she reaches her late twenties and has been turned down by the one man she loved.  When she meets a young man named Ernest Hemingway, she’s swept off her feet, despite the warnings of her good friends.  The two marry and soon enough are off to Paris to pursue the writing scene that Ernest feels he has to involve himself in to be the writer he wants to be.  The life in Paris is like nothing Hadley’s ever experienced before.  There are homosexuals, polygamists and of course more alcohol than she knows what to do with.  They begin a wild life and parties, vacations, friends, and love.

As I’ve already discussed with my friends on Facebook, this book seemed to fall flat to me.  Hadley was not a very likeable protagonist from the beginning and never grew on me.  She was foolish in a lot of her daily decisions and seemed overall weak.  What was most memorable to me was the picture painted of Hemingway.  He started off very likable, but when his first stories got good reviews, he stepped on the people who helped give him a shot.  He was unappreciative of all he was given, including Hadley’s love.

I know that some of my frustrations with Hadley come from a difference of almost 100 years, such as her letting the maid raise her child and the focus on wealth and the desire to be so rich that life is a game.  It’s hard for me to relate to this.  I try to focus on the main themes of the novel: devotion, love, and the complications of friendships.

Hadley’s love for Hemingway is undying, as she admits late in the book.  He can offend her good friends, his own mother, even herself, and Hadley will love him and stay devoted to him.  She lets this take control of her toward the end and it’s somewhat sad to see her fall apart.  Throughout much of the novel the two are so strong that when they tell friends that they’re splitting, many are in complete shock that such a solid couple could stumble.  The ups and downs of the friendships in the novel are a very curious thing.  I can’t think of a single character that remained friends with the Hemingways for the whole novel (though I wish F. Scott Fitzgerald had, he was a great character!).  Friends come into your life for a season and a reason before they leave.

The reader can probably tell I wasn’t a big fan of the book and wouldn’t recommend it.  I had The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin next on my list, but in light of this book, I’m going to take a break and put that on the backburner.  I will say that I really want to read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises now that I’ve finished The Paris Wife.  If it’s the mix of bare boned prose and bull fighting that I’m anticipating, it will be amazing.

One of the themes that McLain beautifully explored was infidelity, which I’ve never seen done so believably before.  Many books will have one character turned suddenly cold or hateful, but McLain has Hadley and Ernest ride out their separation slowly and painfully, the way a couple would.  The ending was very touching and for sure my favorite part of the book.

Overall, I thought it dragged too much in the middle and the ending went by almost too quickly.  The Fitzgeralds were my favorite characters and I loved the historical accuracy of the piece.  The Lost Generation is so often talked of in terms of their writing and not written about so this was refreshing.

Writer’s Takeaways: I think the first person point of view worked well in this case.  Without it, the piece would sound too much like a history without the fiction.  Being inside Hadley’s mind helped me feel that this was as much a story McLain made up on the spot as it was well-researched.  As someone who hopes to write more historical fiction going forward, this is very worthy of note.  As I said before, I think it dragged a bit in the middle and there could have been a bit more ‘fat cutting’ to bring the piece to more bare bones as Hemingway would have done.  But perhaps not doing so is ironic.  Hm.

Two out of five stars.

Daily Prompt: Excitement

8 Sep

So, I realized that that the post I wanted to be published tonight went up last night instead.  Oh well.  I guess I’ll just have to write up another post for tonight.  Am I right?!

I liked doing the Daily Prompt yesterday, so I’m going to do it again today.  Again, these are my characters from a scene not (yet) in my novel.  I’m just getting to know them better.  Here, we’re visiting June, my female protagonist.

The Daily Prompt: Excitement

June was shaking with anticipation.  She hadn’t been to this barber shop since Donny’s father was shot there.  The bullet holes that Benny’s guys had fired were still in the back wall.  The distillery that had been there was gone and the owners were new.  The blood of Donny’s father was long since cleaned up, but the memory was permanently etched in the plaster.

“All of it, ma’am?” the barber asked.

“All of it,” June replied, her voice revealing that she wasn’t quite as sure as her words implied.

The snip snip snip of the scissors was all she heard for a time.

“You need to stop shaking, ma’am.  You want a straight line and I can’t guarantee that with all your shaking.”

“I’m sorry,” June said.  “I’m just so excited.”

The big man smiled.  “Lots of ladies are excited to finally get their hair bobbed.  Though, most of them did it years ago!  What made you finally change your mind?”

June thought a moment on what the best response would be.  Was it that she knew her brother would be mad?  Was it that she finally felt like the flapper mentality was creeping into the crevices of her brain?  Or was it that she wanted to impress a certain blonde who she knew would be enthralled?

“I got a new hat and I just knew that it needed some short hair to make it look like the bee’s knees.  It just had to be time for a bob!”

The barber let out a chuckle and made his final snips.  It hadn’t taken long and there was no going back.  June fingered the ends of her hair as she gazed in the mirror.  The long flowing red locks were short and came to an abrupt end like a sentence cut off by a whining child.

“It looks wonderful, ma’am.  I’m sure you’ll be quite the sheeba in your new hat.”

June grinned.  That was the plan, after all.

Daily Prompt: Luxury

8 Sep

I’m very familiar with prompts.  A weekly writers group I attend does one to three each meeting, and then we share with the group.  I convince myself that these prompts will help me come up with new ideas for novels and short stories.  After almost a year going to this group, it’s happened only once.  My husband’s solution was to try using my characters in the prompts to help me get to know them better.  Total times I’ve done this: 0.  I do think it’s a great idea.

So here’s attempt #1.  The Daily Prompt for today was ‘Luxurious,’ the one luxury you can’t live without.  And here’s my attempt to show my male protagonist, Tony, within these confines.  Enjoy!

 

Driving down the street, Tony couldn’t wipe a satisfied grin off of his face.  The grey Lincoln attracted attention on its own, there as no need for him to draw even more by cruising slowly and making eye contact with pedestrians.  He loved the feeling of being seen in the car.  A Lincoln meant money and a need for speed.  It meant he was living the high life in his penthouse apartment and that alcohol was a lucrative business.

If Tony had been a gentleman, he would have picked up his date in the grad car and driven her to a restaurant where he would woo her with a gourmet meal and champagne straight from France.  But honestly, what seventeen year old heir to a mobster throne is a perfect gentleman?  He parked the car behind the hottest speakeasy in Cicero and waited for attendants to open the door for him.  There was a group of fine looking debs huddled near the door.  Tony smirked, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel tonight.

“Ladies,” he said, coming up to them with a smile.  “Why are you waiting outside of this fine establishment?  Wouldn’t indoors suit you much better?”

A tall girl in a navy blue cloche giggled.  “They won’t let us in yet; they say the place is packed and there’s not enough room.”

Tony grinned.  “Nonsense.  I’m sure these fine gentlemen can find some space for three dolls.”  Every girl blushed.  “Come on, you’re with me.”  He started walking to the entrance which was carefully hidden next to the garbage pile.

“Was that you who drove up in the Lincoln?” a girl in a red knee-length dress asked.  “It was really nifty.”

It was too easy.  “Yes, yes, that’s one of them.  The black one’s my favorite but I could only get the grey one tonight.”  The girls exchanged excited glances as Tony knocked on the door.  A small panel slid open and the bouncer eyed him up and down quickly.  The loud jazz poured out of the hole and Tony’s heart started to rush in anticipation of the evening.

“Tony Pellerito?” he asked.

“That’s me,” Tony said, flashing a smile.

The door opened quickly.  “No need to speak easy tonight, Mr. Pellerito.  Welcome.”

Tony flashed the three girls a devilish smile and walked in.  He put an arm around two of the girls as they followed.  Life was just too easy for Tony these days.