Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was an event that shattered many lives, involving many more people than is glazed over in middle school history lessons. John Wilkes Booth is portrayed as a crazed actor who decided to murder the president in a theater while he watched a play.

Most people don’t realize that Booth’s actions affected many lives and lead to the ruin of his associates and family members. Fates and Traitors, by Jennifer Chiaverini, examines what if must have been like for three women who never met one another, but whose lives were changed forever that day that Booth committed his crime.

Booth’s mother and siblings, who didn’t even share his political sentiments, lost friends, careers, and met with serious shame and social isolation in the aftermath of the terrible event-and all knowing that their beloved but difficult family member had committed a terrible crime and met with a terrible end.

Miss Lucy Hale was a lovely debutante and daughter of a Union senator who was enchanted by John Wilkes Booth and his charms and found herself dragged into the tabloids when her youthful near-engagement to the assassin was dragged into the media. Heartbroken, she dealt with serious shock and reputation deterioration and her father’s own loyalties were questioned.

Mary Surratt ran a boarding house which served Confederate sympathizers, and her establishment became a place at the center of the plots which eventually lead to the murder of the president. Fringe-involved as she was, she met the noose with the rest of the plotters, leaving her daughter motherless.

So many lives affected by the actions of one man who believed he was saving the country. Fates and Traitors is a great reading choice for American history lovers, especially if you enjoy seeing the lives of women who made history in their own way, but never made it into the textbooks.

The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper

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Charlotte Bill is a nanny with the most prestigious appointment imaginable…Tending the children of the Duke and Duchess of York…children in line for the throne of England. The world of the royals is full of jewels, and gold, and glamour-but it’s speckled with deep dark secrets, and the cold comforts of a royal home-and Charlotte is quickly realizing that these children need her love and care more than she could have possibly imagined.

Despite the challenges, Charlotte, nicknamed Miss Lala by the children, spends years of her life raising an entire generation of children, sacrificing her own chances at love, home and hearth for a duty which has become her greatest life accomplishment. Charlotte sacrifices everything to ensure that the children, especially the last born son, Little Prince John, are safe and cherished until adulthood. No matter what it takes or who she will lose from her own life.

Stretching from 1897 through 1959, The Royal Nanny, by Karen Harper, tells the tale of a devoted nanny, and the details of royal family life. If you like historical fiction, especially the royal variety like Philippa Gregory, you will love this novel. I couldn’t put it down. Check it out!

The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

Two very different women, from very different worlds, cross paths following the devastation of the Great War and embracing the Jazz era. Dolly Lane is a chambermaid from humble beginnings who seeks stardom, glitz and glamour. Loretta May is a beautiful and glittering actress and celebrity who wants to do a bit of good before she is taken by her terminal illness.

In a world of lost love, tragedy, and inhumanity, lives intertwine and a little sunshine peeks out. A musician must come to terms with his war trauma, a wounded soldier must remember what he has lost so he can move on with his life, a girl with a tainted past must face her past decisions and let go of her guilt, and a woman envied by all must use her gifts selflessly to finally get closure and let go of life.

The Girl from the Savoy, by Hazel Gaynor, is a novel about facing demons and embracing the future, and letting go of whatever is standing in the way of life and love. If you liked Hazel Gaynor’s previous works, The Girl Who Came Home, and A Memory of Violets, you will love The Girl from the Savoy. If you’re looking for a quick, fun weekend read, this one probably won’t be your best choice. The Girl from the Savoy will pull at your heartstrings and give you a lesson in human failings and that little glimmer of hope that keeps us all moving. If you want a book with a touch of historical fiction and a literary feel, pick up The Girl from the Savoy, by Hazel Gaynor, today.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant, came up as a recommendation on one of my many booklover sites (I believe it was librarything.com but it could have been goodreads.com). I read The Red Tent a year or two ago and found it gripping and heart-wrenching, so I approached The Boston Girl, by the same author, Anita Diamant, with caution. I thought it was likely that I would love the book but I was afraid of the commitment. Am I the only one who has that problem sometimes? The struggle is real.

Anyways, I buckled down and read The Boston Girl, and it was just as enticing and upsetting as I expected. Addie Baum is an elderly woman dictating the story of her life growing up in Boston to her granddaughter. The third daughter of Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s, her path was a rocky one, but full of sweet memories, love and good friends.

The Boston Girl addresses the struggle of immigrant families, the nuances of growing up Jewish during a tumultuous time, the difficult relationships between mothers and daughters and sisters, the shocking introduction of men and dating for a very naïve young woman, and the pain of loss followed by the warmth of togetherness shared by kindred spirits. If you love books that deal with women’s issues and focus on the feminine, The Boston Girl is a wonderful example…If you think you can handle it. And if you have a box of Kleenex by your bedside. The Boston Girl is not a fun summer vacation read, and not light reading by any standard…But I loved it. And some of you might love it, too.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

1942 Philadelphia and World War II is pulling able-bodied men and boys from every corner of the country. Young Maddie Hyde and her husband, Ellis come to blows with his crusty, uptight, disapproving upper class parents and are thrown out, disinherited and with limited financial support. Along with Ellis’s best friend Hank, a crazy plan is formed to travel to Scotland and finally find proof that the Loch Ness Monster exists…Thereby exonerating his father’s reputation which was ruined when he tried to do the same…And putting Ellis back in his father’s good graces.

But the spoiled, entitled little rich kids are about to learn what war has done to the rest of the world while they have been throwing back champagne at parties. The Scots are less than impressed by the rude, drunken American travelers and Maddie is about to learn what it is to be a friend, to serve the greater good, and to be grateful for life’s little blessings… If she can manage to survive the horror that becomes her marriage in the process.

At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), is a novel about the monsters that come in all shapes and sizes, a touch of magic (some helpful and some very, very dark), love, loss, and the importance of thinking about what good you can do in the world. Not quite a coming-of-age story, but a story about how one young woman becomes the woman she was always supposed to become, despite the many people in her life who have tried to stand in her way.

 

Travel and Reads : Mark Twain and Hannibal, MO

 

So I’ve decided to devote a few posts each year to my geeky booknerd travel escapades. Normally I just review books and keep it simple, but lately my wanderlust has gotten a little out of control (blame it on my 30s creeping in) and I know I’m not the only nerd out there who thinks literary travel is the best idea ever.

Last summer my husband dragged me on a 20+ hour road trip to visit his grandparents, who live by Lake Michigan (we live in Colorado), and I was originally totally opposed to the idea (what is there to see in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana on the route between? NOTHING.). But I decided to be a good sport and put my best foot forward. I logged onto Google Maps to look at the route and noticed some little gold stars only a little skip from the route. At one point I had saved the Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Riverboat, and Mark Twain Caves in hopes that one day I would visit them. With a little prodding, my husband agreed to stay the night in Hannibal, MO and hit a few geek-out spots before finishing our trip to Michigan. That little side trip turned out to be the highlight of 2015 for me!

Hannibal is a small town, everything is very green and the mighty Mississippi runs through it. Believe it or not, I was bummed that I couldn’t stay longer, apparently the city offers Ghost Tours at night, Riverboat rides, and there’s a lighthouse you can visit. I saw these places but my husband wanted to get on the road so our visit had to be limited to top picks.

So first off we visited the Mark Twain Boyhood Home. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) came from a family that was pretty well-to-do and the house is near the river. Visitors can imagine Huckleberry Finn climbing aboard a raft, running from the law or heading out for adventure. The possibilities are endless and it’s easy to see where the author got his greatest ideas.

Next we walked down to the river, which was swollen and muddy thanks to serious rainfall recently, but somehow that made it even more “mighty” and amazing. Definitely the widest river I’ve ever seen in person. We could see the Mark Twain Riverboat docked on the shore.

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It began to rain, so we ran to the truck and headed to the Mark Twain Caves for a tour. Let me recommend to everyone that athletic shoes that can get dirty are probably best. I wore sandals and it wasn’t pretty. As you travel through the caves the guide gives detailed description of Tom Sawyer’s adventures and the  inspiration Clemens derived from playing in the never-ending caves as a boy.  The icing on the cake was a brief mention that the outlaw Jesse James and his crew hid out in the back of the caves after robbing a local bank, and they even signed the wall. All-in-all, we all loved the cave tour and I highly recommend it to all of you adventure-loving booknerds.

Before you visit, be sure to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures Huckleberry Finn, if you can’t get your hands on even more Mark Twain literature! Look forward to more booknerd travel posts in the future and please feel free to comment if you have any awesome literary travel spots to share!

 

Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise: by Oscar Hijuelos

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When I heard about Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise, by Oscar Hijuelos, I was intrigued by a novel that claimed to be about a decades-long friendship between Mark Twain and his friend, Sir Henry Morton Stanley (who was supposed to be a legendary explorer but admittedly, I had to look him up).

I adore reading about friendships between literary greats. I’ve thrown myself whole-heartedly into Hemingway and his expat literary and artist friends, I adored reading the amazing J.R.R. Tolkien and his friend C.S. Lewis…The very idea that two literary geniuses might sit and have a discussion together makes me wish I could have been a fly on a wall somewhere…Under a beach chair, in a seedy bar in Paris, in a Gatsby-like party wherein F. Scott Fitzgerald had too many drinks. The location doesn’t even matter because it would have been fascinating no matter what. So naturally I figured that Twain and Stanley must have been amazing together. A famous explorer of Welsh origins who wrote travel books about his exploits in Africa and the iconic American literary great, Mark Twain (also known as Samuel Clemens)…How could they have met? What did they have in common to extend the communication between them for more than 30 years?

I had the extremely good fortune to stay in the hometown of Mark Twain (Clemens), Hannibal, Missouri late last summer and I stood on the banks of the muddy and mighty Mississippi river and watched a riverboat at the dock, saw his home and the caves that inspired Tom Sawyer. I think Mark Twain is fascinating. He faced so much tragedy but he still had optimism that people could learn to do the right thing, it’s all over his writing and it’s evident in the way he lived his life. He had many children, he traveled the globe, he gave lectures in intellectual circles, and he stayed with his wife until she passed away and brought her with him on his travels whenever she was able. So a man he thought was a worthy friend must have been an amazing person…Right?

Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise, by Oscar Hijuelos, did not glorify Sir Henry Morton Stanley. He was as different from Twain as is possible. Which I struggled with the entire novel. I didn’t understand their friendship at all except that I believe that the author saw a sympathy for Stanley in Mark Twain, and that optimism deep within him had hope that Stanley was a good man. And maybe he was. What the novel did best was show that the two men were very human. Not just famous figures but real men with real troubles and human failings. I try to tell myself that’s a positive thing. Because honestly, I’m not sure I could have tolerated Stanley for a day, maybe not even an hour. Which probably makes it an extremely well-written book. I wish I could have enjoyed it more.

So I would love to hear from other readers about their own impressions after reading Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise. If you haven’t read it, and you want to give it a try, the audio version by Hachette Audio is impeccably narrated and very enjoyable to the ears.

 

 

 

 

Villa America by Liza Klaussman

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There is a certain amount of romanticism attributed to “The Lost Generation” a term that was popularized by Ernest Hemingway and used in his novel, The Sun Also Rises. Artists like Ernest himself, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, and more make up the list of figures associated with this time period. More fascinating is that many of these writers and artists found themselves in the same social circles, and even travelled the globe and found one another as Expats in Europe. One such place where individuals convened was Villa America, a home built by Gerald and Sara Murphy in Cap D’ Antibes. Gerald had a brief success as a painter, and his wife was known for throwing lavish parties for their social circle.

There have been quite a few novels written about the Lost Generation, books about the tumultuous relationship between Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald), or about the many conflicted relationships of Ernest Hemingway (The Paris Wife, Mrs. Hemingway) many other novels exist and the appeal is intoxicating. The colorful personalities of famous literary figures and artists who were drawn together following the War and set the tone for the time with a determination to create something new and bold and honest and maybe even shock the world- What conversations they must have had at the dinner table! What must they have thought about one another! The very idea is enough to set a literature junkie’s head spinning.

Gerald and Sara Murphy were key figures during the era, of all of the characters listed above, they were the most settled and they often hosted get-togethers in their home, bringing everyone together and enjoying the excitement and novelty of the incredible combination of personalities. They are often fringe characters in the other novels, somewhat treated as necessary to the story but less than interesting. Villa America, by Liza Klaussman, delves deeper into the lives of the painter and his socialite wife who dared to make a life for themselves outside of the confines of traditional American society and create a world of creativity and thinkers around them. Sara and Gerald earned their own bit of the limelight, Gerald as a painter and Sara was rumored to be the inspiration for beautiful, charismatic characters in works by both Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and was even painted by Picasso. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “Tender is the Night” after inspiration received during his times at Villa America, and it has been said that the characters are based on his friends there and the novel, “Villa America” is written to delve deeper into the world that inspired Fitzgerald’s novel.

In short, if you love The Lost Generation as much as I do, don’t miss Villa America, by Liza Klaussman, and the audiobook by Hachette Audio is worth a listen, too.

The Uninvited: A Novel by Cat Winters

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Ivy Rowan wakes up one day after being struck with Influenza. An epidemic has taken over the town and before she got sick, her father and brother had committed a terrible crime. Deep in her gut, something is telling her that it’s time for her to leave home and go out on her own in life.

Out in town, everything is in turmoil. In addition to the epidemic, soldiers are being sent to fight in the Great War overseas, dying in battle, coming back wounded, leaving behind widows and wives to fend for themselves. Ivy finds a place to board in town and seeks out a German man who was wronged by her family members-she wants, more than anything, to help him in some way.

Ivy finds herself confused, nothing is as it should be, the world is such an ugly place and she wants desperately to find beauty and warmth in it. She wants desperately to make a difference in someone’s life…But there is one terrible hitch-women in her family have always had a “gift” of seeing spirits after they have passed, right before something terrible happens to someone close to them….And she keeps seeing the spirits of the departed all around her.

What are the spirits trying to tell her? Is someone close to her in danger? Can she help enough to make a difference to someone? Can she form a connection with the German man that will give him comfort in his time of misery?

The Uninvited, by Cat Winters, is a psychological thriller sprinkled with ghosts and set in the time of the Great War. A combination of so many genres makes for an addicting and intriguing read. If you don’t like “ghost stories”, I would steer clear of this one, but if you can handle a touch of the supernatural in your reading, The Uninvited is very strange and interesting. If you like books that twist your perception and reality, The Uninvited is for you!

The Tide Watchers by Lisa Chaplin

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Lisbeth has nothing left. Abandoned by her husband, her newborn son stolen, she has been forced to work as a tavern wench and unable to leave the France to return to her native Britain in dangerous times with Napoleon plotting to take over the world. A handsome stranger saves her from an unpleasant encounter with ruffians, and offers her a deal she can’t refuse.

He will save her from her miserable situation, get her son back for her and take her to safety…If she will help the British spy network to spy on the American inventor who is working on submersible watercrafts which could change Britain’s efforts against Napoleon and bring them levels of intelligence they’ve never had before. She will, of course, do whatever it takes to convince the inventor that she can be trusted…Even if her virtue is at stake.

Thrown into a world of politics, crime, murder, espionage, and even a touch of romance, Lisbeth’s life is being turned upside down. Can she escape to safety in the end? Can she get her son back? Who can she trust? What will she do to save her son from the clutches of his horrible father? Will she give up all of her principles? Where will she end up, if she fails?

The Tide Watchers, by Lisa Chaplin, is NOT a quick, easy weekend read-the novel is intelligent and full of history and politics. If you want a novel that’s meaty and complex, The Tide Watchers is for you. I, personally, enjoyed it very much and look forward to the inevitable second installment of Lisbeth’s story.