Sunday, January 20, 2019

Review: The Kennedy Debutante

The Kennedy DebutanteThe Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile, but hadn’t gotten to it. Last week, I'd finished my book club read and was on Overdrive looking for my next read when I came across this one on my wishlist. It was available so I checked it out. I’m really glad I did!

This book is exactly what I want from historical fiction! I learned something new—a lot, actually! Being a Boomer, I grew up knowing a lot about the Kennedy’s, but while I knew the name ‘Kathleen’, I really didn’t know much about her. In fact, until a few years ago, I think I had her and her older sister, Rosemary, fused into one person in my mind! So this was really an interesting read. The book also propelled me to Google, Wikipedia, etc. in search of more information! And I even picked up two ‘Kick’ Kennedy biographies at the library this weekend! Historical fiction at its best!

The story starts with Kick’s society debut, as she is presented to the King and Queen. I loved reading about the ‘requirements’ of society in the era, and how mother Rose positioned her family to be insinuated into society. In many ways the book reminded me of the ‘rules’ of Gilded Age society that I had just read about in A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts. Kick turns out to be a bit of a rebel, falling in love with a Protestant who would be exactly what her mother was looking for in a son-in-law had he been a Catholic. Her mother, and to a leser extent, her father, go to great links to keep the couple apart. I guess I was a little surprised to learn just how rigid her mother was, not only about this, but about many other things. While she had a reputation as a great mother with an ideal family, that was a smoke and mirrors image. She often placed appearances and her desires before her children’s well-being, at least in this story.

It was also interesting to read about the events leading up to WWII, especially from the perspective of the British. Father Joe Kennedy was the US Ambassodor to Britain at the time, so Kick was in London with her family in the years leading up to the war. One thing that really surprised me was the calm approach Londoners took to the bombings. They were prepared, and it was always in the back of there minds, but they seemed to take it in stride, going about their lives as normally as they could under the circumstances. I guess I’d pictured them as cowering in shelters just waiting for the next bombs to fall. I’m sure I would have!

Really, I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about the book. Rose was not a pleasant person, and of course I didn’t like the ending, but this story is based on fact, and a lot of times facts aren’t happy. If you are curious about Kathleen, a Kennedy afficiando, or just want to read more about the atmosphere in the times leading up to the war, pick up this book! You won’t be sorry!

read Jan 2019
5 ★★★★★
ebook borrowed from library

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Review: America's First Daughter

America's First DaughterAmerica's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had this book on my shelf for at least a year, and haven't gotten around to reading it until now. To be honest, even though I love the cover, and the synopsis is intriguing, I found the length of the book a little intimidating! Finally I picked it up and decided to trudge through it, and I'll admit it; after a quick start with the Jefferson family escaping from the British, the story began to drag a bit. But it quickly picked up again and I suspect the 'drag' was because I was getting to know the characters and the 'lay of the land'; where the plantations were located relative to each other. Once I got past that, the story moved very quickly.

I came to the book with a bit of knowledge—a very tiny bit—about Thomas Jefferson, but knew virtually nothing about his eldest daughter, Patsy Jefferson. What a strong woman she turned out to be! And while I'll always appreciate the sacrifices of Thomas Jefferson and his leadership in forming out nation, I now realize he was a flawed man.

The book was everything I ask of historical fiction. It is very well researched and the story flows smoothly. I learned something new (a lot actually!) and I was inspired to read more about it! The authors also included notes at the back of the book, explaining what liberties they took to move the story along—something I consider mandatory for a book to be good historical fiction! If you enjoy reading about our nation's early days and want to learn more about the women and men who played key roles, you definitely should add this book to your list!

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review: My Husband's Wife

My Husband's WifeMy Husband's Wife by Jane Corry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a hard review to write because my thoughts are mixed. I kind of wish I'd never picked this book up! The prologue pulled me right in. A women (at least I thought it was a women) lies dying on the floor and we are inside her head with her final thoughts. Immediately I wanted to know who she is, who killed her, and why!

The book alternates between the present and the recent past, filling in the background with the events leading to the current situation. The problem is that getting there was kind of boring. I wanted to get through it, because I wanted to know what happened, but I wasn't really enjoying getting there very much.

I'm not sure why this was; possibly a combination of facts. There was too much detail at times, and the book was a little too long. I think the story could have been told in fewer words. But another problem was that I don't think there was one likable character in the group, at least among the main characters. There were some auxiliary characters that I didn't dislike, but because they were bit players, they weren't well developed. It's possible that had I gotten to know them better, I wouldn't have liked them either.

The result of this is that, while I really wanted to know what happened, and who lay dying on the floor, it didn't really matter to me who it was, because whoever it was, was getting what he or she deserved! My only regret is that the others weren't also dying on the floor!

As much as I didn't appreciate this book as a solitary read, I think it would be an excellent book club selection. There is so much to discuss; poor decisions by the characters, motivations, justice; so much to discuss here. Often it is the discussion that makes a book worthwhile, and that is certainly true in this case!

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Friday, September 28, 2018

The Traitor's Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray AmericaThe Traitor's Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America by Allison Pataki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the cover on this book. That alone was almost enough to make me pick it up and read it. Almost, but not quite. You see, didn't know much about Benedict Arnold, except that he was a traitor to the cause of independence. But I didn't know the details, and I wasn't interested in reading a book that might make me like him. But when the Founding Mothers Book Club chose this as the first group read, I knew it was interesting enough to try it. I'm glad I did.

No problems with reading the book and feeling bad for Benedict. But more about that in a minute. First I need to talk about the main character, Peggy Schippen Arnold. From the moment we meet her, we recognize her as a whiny, manipulative, self-centered creature. While her family had Tory leanings that she picked up, she was more concerned with where her next fancy dress was coming from and how she could be the belle of the next ball than she was with who won the war; just win it and let me get back to my partying! She very quickly changed leaning when she met Benedict and realized the influence he had and the nice things he could give her. And as soon as she saw he chose the wrong side and she could have nicer things if the British won, she worked on him to change sides.

That said, I can't place the entire blame for his betrayal on Peggy; Benedict had some character flaws that made him susceptible to her influence. Based not just on this book, but on other sources I've read, it's easy to see that Benedict was a man overly-concerned with respect and his due. Once he felt disrespected, it was easy for Peggy to move in to convince him others may give him more respect.

The one part of the book that I had trouble relating to was the story with the servants. It's hard looking back from the 21st century to understand how Clara (the maid) and the others would suffer the abuse and fear so much for their jobs. The fear that they would be homeless if they left this employer, and that they would not find another job, was hard to relate to.

This was the best kind of historical fiction for me; I learned something I didn't know, and I was motivated to read more about the subject. The main story concerning Benedict and the betrayal appear to be based on fact, and I really appreciate that the author has taken the time in her notes to clarify what is fact, what is fiction, and what is speculation. This looks like a thick book, but once you are into the story, it is a very quick read!

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