The Paris Wife

The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A three-star average book for me. Interesting enough, and well-researched and written, but not a style of writing (leaning toward romancy chick-lit) that I seek out nor a time and place that I am interested in. I read this because it fit my “wife” titles theme, and the bookclub is reading Hemingway next – an author I have never read. If you enjoy Paris, the 1920s, and biographical fiction this would be a lovely book for you. My overall impression of this doomed marriage is that Hadley was woefully out of her element. She would have made the perfect 1950s housewife with kids, but Hemingway was a man who enjoyed women, drinking, action (bull-fighting), and the bohemian lifestyle of the rich and famous expats of 1920s Paris.

Book description:
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history and pours himself into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

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Flying Too High

Flying Too High (Phryne Fisher, #2)Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another delightful installment of mystery, sex, and adventure. Bert, Cec, and Dot all take center stage in this one. Phryne buys a house (221B), hires Mr. and Mrs. Butler, and does daredevil tricks on the wing of an airplane. I’ll definitely continue to read these. Hard to say yet whether the books or the TV series is better…

Book description: Walking the wings of a Tiger Moth plane in full flight would be more than enough excitement for most people, but not for Phryne―amateur detective and woman of mystery, as delectable as the finest chocolate and as sharp as razor blades. In fact, the 1920s’ most talented and glamorous detective flies even higher here, handling a murder, a kidnapping, and the usual array of beautiful young men with style and consummate ease. And she does it all before it’s time to adjourn to the Queenscliff Hotel for breakfast. Whether she’s flying planes, clearing a friend of homicide charges, or saving a child, Phryne does everything with the same dash and elan with which she drives her red Hispano-Suiza.

Cocaine Blues

Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1)Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries television series, so was eager to try the books. This did not disappoint. The writing is just as sparkling as the protagonist. Is Phryne too perfect and talented to be true? Of course, and that is half the fun! Plus the setting is just exotic enough to be fascinating, and there is plenty of period detail and description. There is adventure, and humor, and if I hadn’t listened to an audiobook, I would have been writing down memorable quotes. I may have to resort to rereading the ebook just to find them again. Like the TV show, this will be one I will visit again. The book goes a little deeper than the television show. Familiar secondary characters are Dot, her maid, Bert and Cec, the cab drivers, and her friend the Scottish doctor. There are some plot differences in the TV show, but they are relatively minor. I think they did a good job with the TV adaptation.

Book description: Phryne leaves the tedium of English high society for Melbourne, Australia, and never looks back. The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honorable Phryne Fisher―she of the green-gray eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions―is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia. Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism―not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse―until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street.

The Other Typist

The Other TypistThe Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally, a book to get me out of my book slump. Well narrated, Gretchen Mol kept my interest. On the surface, this is the story of a rather sheltered woman (orphan raised by nuns) who develops almost an obsession in her friendship with an exotic and beautiful woman who joins the typists at the police station. But before too long, the listener will realize that Ruth is a very unreliable narrator. Just who is she? Who is Odalie? There is something very unsettling about her obsession. I won’t say more, except that my face to face book club had a lot to say about this book, and there were at least three different interpretations of the ending. The book has been criticized for its ambiguity, but I think that is one of the strengths of a good psychological novel. This will undoubtedly be made into a movie, and it will be interesting to see what they do with it.

Book Description: Confessions are Rose Baker’s job. A typist for the New York City Police Department, she sits in judgment like a high priestess. Criminals come before her to admit their transgressions, and, with a few strokes of the keys before her, she seals their fate. But while she may hear about shootings, knifings, and crimes of passion, as soon as she leaves the room, she reverts to a dignified and proper lady. Until Odalie joins the typing pool. As Rose quickly falls under the stylish, coquettish Odalie’s spell, she is lured into a sparkling underworld of speakeasies and jazz. And what starts as simple fascination turns into an obsession from which she may never recover.

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The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog)

The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My difficulties with audiobooks continues. I don’t know if it is the style of this book or my aging brain, because I did enjoy the story and the telling of it, but I had to go back and relisten to the first couple of disks and finally get a print copy to read alongside. The second half seemed to go better, and I may or may not finish reading the print copy. But that is by no means a complaint of either the book or the narrator.

This debut novel by Australian Kate Morton is an homage to Rebecca and other gothic-style romances. It would appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, and I was picturing the actors of the TV series as their counterparts in this novel as I listened. As in Downton Abbey, we see life from both the upstairs and downstairs points of view, the devastating effects of WWI on the family, and the unraveling of the social structures in the 1920s, especially for women. There are family secrets, too, which are readily guessed by an astute reader. The plot is slow-moving and drawn out. Probably the British title The Shifting Fog fits better than The House at Riverton. As a gothic novel, I expect the house to be a character in its own right, and I just didn’t feel it here. So probably 4 stars as a period piece, 3 stars for plot and development. I would like to have learned more about Grace’s life after the events of 1924 and how it affected her. As it is, this is just the confessional of a very old woman who has kept a secret for nearly 75 years.

Book description: Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline. In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they — and Grace — know the truth. In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace’s youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

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The Chaperone

The ChaperoneThe Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Can’t really add much to the description below without giving away spoilers. The story is anchored around the trip to NYC with Louise Brooks (a real person), but encompasses so much more – Cora’s childhood in the orphanage in NYC, being sent west on the Orphan Train, being adopted, her marriage and the secret that cannot be revealed to anyone, and the events that change her from a life circumscribed by propriety to become a supporter of birth control and women’s rights, and a home for unwed mothers. The themes touched on are just as relevant to today as to the 1920s. Bottom line – Cora goes to NYC to look for her past and ends up finding her future.

Book Description: Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever. For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.

The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to describe. It is not exactly historical fiction although it is set mostly in the 1920s. The geographical setting is very well described, but it could almost take place in any time frame. Tom is a survivor of World War I, but it could be any war. Nor would I call this a suspense thriller as it has been labeled. It is more of a domestic fiction – people make choices and choices have consequences. You could call it a love story, but it’s not a romance. So let’s call it a study of flawed characters and an emotional ride. You want to give them advice, but of course, you can’t. You can only watch helplessly as they make heartbreaking choices. The ending is probably realistic, but there were so many other ways it could have turned out. This will make a good movie. It needs proper costuming to make this a historical drama. 3 1/2 stars that I am rounding up to 4.

Book description: After the horror of World War I, Tom Sherbourne welcomes his new job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, an isolated island with no residents aside from him and his wife Isabel. But times on the island are tough for Isabel as she suffers multiple miscarriages and a stillbirth in just four years time. When a boat with a dead man and a young baby washes ashore, Isabel convinces Tom to let her keep the baby as their own, but the consequences to her actions may be dire.