The Girls, by Emma Cline

Alienated teenage girl Evie Boyd is trying to cope with her parents’ divorce, a sudden rift with her longtime best friend, and the usual teenage confusion and angst-ridden misery. One day, while out on her own, she meets a charismatic older teen named Suzanne, and her summer takes her on a wild ride that no one will ever forget.

Suzanne lives on a ranch in northern California where she and various other social misfits have created a counter-culture community. The ’60s are no longer in full swing, but the free love and rejection of materialism and selfishness are like sweet nectar for impressionable Evie. The leader of the cult is Russell, and he encourages the women to share themselves with him…and anyone else he offers up as well. Drugs, sex, impoverished living conditions and a crowd of miscreant members of society…They feel at first like exactly what Evie needs. Her anger with her parents, her hurt at the rejection of her best friend, her feeling of otherness wherever she goes… She wants to be a part of something. To matter.

The commune welcomes her with open arms, but she learns the hard way that there is a price to pay, and it is her own innocence. As pressure increases on the ranch and Russell’s coveted record deal breaks down, the hive is stirred into a frenzy and Russell is about to test the loyalty of his flock in the most horrifying way.

Inspired by the events of Spahn Ranch and Charles Manson, The Girls, by Emma Cline, is an intense, “can’t-put-it-down” wander through the mind of a 14 year old girl ripe for the picking by Charles Manson and his followers. Anyone who has ever been a teenage girl struggling to find her identity and place in the world will be able to relate to this haunting account that will leave you stunned and without words, thinking deep into the night about what you just read.

Disclaimer: If you do not think you might want to read about a drug and violence driven cult that predates on teenage girls, I’d leave The Girls, by Emma Cline, alone. If you don’t mind a little grit, definitely find out for yourself what it’s all about.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

The best-selling author, Christina Baker Kline, most well known for her novel Orphan Train, has outdone herself once again. A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline, is unlike anything else. Poignant, not always kind, but always deep, this novel puts you in the head of Christina, a woman who spent her entire life in a small fishing community, living in a rural area. Inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s painting entitled “Christina’s World”, Christina Baker Kline tells the story of a woman who had a small life, but who is full of incomparable determination and grit.

Cursed with an unknown medical condition from a young age, Christina struggled to undertake tasks that others took for granted. Not one to simply accept a life of infirmity, Christina found ways to contribute just as much as everyone else in her large family. Giving herself to everyone else dutifully her entire life, she was always behind the scenes. Until she wasn’t.

A painter named Andrew Wyeth comes into town and introduces himself to Christina and her brother at their seaside home. He wants to paint the house, the landscape, the garden…Everything. Christina sees something in that painter, and she welcoms him to paint and roam as he pleases. Thus forms a friendship and a connection that would forever change their lives.

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, is a solid piece of classic American literature. Those of us who read the book or even just loved the movie (movies), basically fell in love with strong-willed Josephine (Jo) March and her passel of sisters-Amy, Meg, and Beth. Josephine was a tomboy and a nonconformist. Meg was the eldest and sensible to a fault. Beth had the biggest, purest heart. And Amy…. Well, Amy was adorable and a very comical character.

Amy wore a clothes pin on her nose because she was terribly vain. At one point, Amy throws Josephine’s manuscript into the fire in a fit of jealousy. The sisters were polar opposites and Amy was portrayed as a superficial ninny who was favored by her Aunt and frustrated the heroine to no end.

Many people are aware Little Women was based upon Louisa May Alcott’s life growing up in Massachusetts with her sisters. The Other Alcott, by Elise Hooper, delves into an aspect that many haven’t considered.  Was May Alcott so much like Amy March in real life? What were her real aspirations? What was it like growing up in the shadow of a sister who was a literary celebrity?

Meanwhile, May was trying desperately to carve out her own destiny as an artist. She traveled artistic circles during a time when art was changing drastically. She had a husband, a circle of friends, and her own life.

If you loved Little Women, you would probably enjoy The Other Alcott, by Elise Hooper, which is an adventure in perspective and a thrilling journey through the art world of the time-and also a journey into the ever-so-complicated world of sisterhood.

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

image

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.

FullSizeRender (4)

 

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

25067001

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.