Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Chilbury Ladies' ChoirThe Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book through there Library Thing Early Reviewers program. I read this one almost two years ago and have yet to review it. I just didn’t know what to say about it. I read it, but it was a very slow read and I never really connected to it. I’m not sure why, because it gets high ratings on the review sites.

It wasn’t a particuarly memorable story for me. The story reminds me a lot of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—The setting is a small town in Great Britain during World War II. The people are facing hardship. They bond together and prove to be resilient. But still, there is a difference. I can’t put my finger on it, but I connected much more to ‘Guernsy’ and enjoyed it. ‘Guernsey' was a book club selection and often a good discussion improves how I feel about a book, so that may be part of why I feel that was a better book.

My rating: 2-1/2 stars ; review to follow

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Review: The Winter Sister

The Winter SisterThe Winter Sister by Megan Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a Feb 2019 Book ot the Month selection. It was billed as thriller, but to be honest, it wasn’t all that suspenseful.There was not a lot of suspense because we already know there was a murder 16 years ago, but there is a mystery, because the murderer has never been identified. Nevertheless, I did find it very interesting; almost ‘unputdownable’. I would call if more of a family drama with a touch of mystery.

The story reminds me a little of All the Missing Girls and The Long and Faraway Gone, where young woman solve confront cold case murders from the past. In this story, Sylvie is the younger sister who was 14 at the time of the murder of her older sister, Persephone, and Sylvie feels responsible. Her mother, who she was formerly close to, abandoned Sylive emotionally after Persephone’s death, submerging herself in drugs and alcohol.

There was a twist to the story that I guessed early on, maybe 50 pages in. But while I guessed the twist to the family drama, it could have gone 2 or 3 slightly different ways and I wasn’t sure which way it would go. The murderer was a little harder for me to figure out. The author did a pretty good job of playing ‘it was him….wait, no…it was him….wait, maybe it WAS him…’.

While I enjoyed the story, it left a few questions unanswered. These were not directly related to the murder, so it’s fair to say the story ended, but an epilogue telling a bit about the characters 5-10 years down the road would have left me feeling more satisfied with the book.

This is a great pick for readers who enjoy occasional mysteries and family dramas. This book will give book clubs plenty to discuss. There are discussion questions on the publisher’s website.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Review: A Well-Behaved Woman

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the VanderbiltsA Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

read Jan 2019
4 ★★★★
ebook borrowed from library

I read this one for an online book club I participate in. I’d heard good things about it, but didn’t have it high on my to read list, so I probably would not have gotten to it for a long time. That would have been sad, because I very much enjoyed the book.

This is historical fiction based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont. Alva came from a good family, a well-respected family, but a family that had suffered financial reversals. Her mother was dead and her father quite ill, so Alva and her younger sisters had no means of support. Alva saw it as her duty to marry well so that her sisters would not go hungry. She set her sights on Willam Vanderbilt, a son of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. Unlike the Smiths, the Vanderbilts had plenty of money, but no social standiing. All of their money could not buy their way into High Society, led by Mrs. Astor. Consequently, William was all for a marriage with Alva, who he saw as the ticket to his family’s entrance into society.

The bulk of the story takes place during the years of Alva’s marriage to William, and her journey into the upper ranks of society. It is a fascinating look into the workings of high society at the time; who was out and who was in, marriages of convenience, unfaithfulness, and partying. The Vanderbilts were know for building lavish mansions, some of which still stand today. Alva was very involved in the design of her family’s mansion, and reading the details of the planning and architecture were fascinating. (I’ve added The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home, the story of Willam’s brother George's home, Biltmore, to my reading list!)

I learned a lot from reading this novel—a keynote of good historical fiction for me. I had not realized that the Vanderbilts were not considered ‘good enough’ to be admitted into upper echelons of society. And while I knew the name Vanderbilt, I mostly knew them as a wealthy family whose descendants include Gloria Vanderbilt and her son, Anderson Cooper. I was not aware that many of the well-known institutions of today are associated with them—Vanderbilt University, Madison Square Gardens, the Belmont Stakes (this is actually associated with Alva’s second husband), among them.

After the death of her second husband, Alva became involved in the women’s sufferage movement, however the book barely touches on this aspect of Alva’s life. While she was well-respected by suffragettes, it seems others did not hold her in high esteem. I would have liked to have learned more about this aspect of her life.

This will make a great selection for book clubs, both those that want to have a serious discussion about social mores of the day and those that are just looking for a fun read!

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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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