The Boston Girl

The Boston GirlThe Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review contains spoilers!

I enjoyed listening to this story of a woman growing up and finding a career and love in the 1920s, but I’m struggling to say anything much about it. It is written as an 85-year-old being interviewed by her 22-year-old grand-daughter. You would think she is much younger. Addie keeps it upbeat and optimistic. She never calls her sister’s death a suicide, for example, attributing it to being clumsy in the kitchen, (unless I’m reading more into it than there was). Topics like working in sweatshops, World War I, the Spanish flu, the Depression, and discrimination of Jews and immigrants are minimized. She skips almost completely over World War II and the Holocaust, which must have impacted the Jewish community even in the U.S. She fell into a wonderful career and married a wonderful man, and it’s all a little too good to be true. So consider this an uplifting, even inspirational tale, told by someone who could be your own grandmother, or great-grandmother. My own grandmother wrote short stories about herself and her ancestors for her grandchildren that sound very much like this, just on a much smaller scale.

Book description: Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, the spirited daughter of an immigrant Jewish family, born in 1900 to parents who were unprepared for America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End of Boston, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, to finding the love of her life, eighty-five-year-old Addie recounts her adventures with humor and compassion for the naïve girl she once was.

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The Destiny Waltz

The Destiny WaltzThe Destiny Waltz by Gerda Charles

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have made it halfway through this book, and I just can’t go any farther. I’m giving it two stars, because there was enough there to keep me going for over 200 pages, but I’m just not getting any more out of it. It is exceedingly slow and introspective. The characters are, yes, self-conscious to a fault, anxious, defensive, and obviously don’t have a clue what happiness is. The convoluted dialogue is hard for me to imagine anyone actually participating in. I realize this was written in the late 1960s but it felt so much older. I don’t know what else was published in Britain in 1970, but seriously? this is the winner of the first Whitbread award?

KIRKUS REVIEW (Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1972):
Although this is basically a sentimental book (the title referring to the theme song of one of its two central characters — a former band leader — indicates that), it hasn’t the appeal of her Logical Girl (1967) and it is more consistent with her earlier work which offered a substantial sociology of Anglo-Jewry. Throughout the first half of this book, ostensibly dealing with the making of a documentary by four or five people, Gerda Charles examines the soul of the Jew always suffering from his Jewishness without even the “”protection of stupidity””; always worrying his way, self-consciously but ambitiously, out of his “”small”” world of the People of the Book at a time, 50 years before this, when in their crass ignorance they were not even “”People of the Word.”” This is the past inherited by the Jewish poet, minor, ingrown and consumptive, who will be the subject of the documentary; but it also imposes its allegiances on Michele, a writer and a teacher and a Rabbi’s daughter, and Jimmy Marchant, the band leader, who have never found personal happiness. Less susceptible to it is Georges Franck, director of the documentary — a charmer, a betrayer who finally will hurt everyone in connection with this project but still will enable Michele and Marchant to find some sort of compromise together for their half-lives. . . . The novel moves very slowly since the author is far more interested in permitting her characters to assess themselves and each other — it is sometimes talky but not preachy. At one point she questions whether life should take precedence over art — in this case it is life, and Gerda Charles, with her very level intelligence and practical realism, deals with it on just those terms.

Mistletoe Murder

Mistletoe Murder (A Lucy Stone Mystery #1)Mistletoe Murder by Leslie Meier

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a temp job with a mail-order company (Signals) about the same time this book was written, which brought back some memories. Read this for the small town atmosphere and the day to day lives of the characters. The plot was okay, although there were incidents (the family cat) that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the murder. In this case, it was just a contrivance to get Lucy into a dodgy part of town to get kittens, and add some social commentary. It wasn’t bad over all and there were some nice humorous moments, but it wasn’t enough to get me to read any farther in the series.

Book description: As if baking holiday cookies, knitting a sweater for her husband’s gift, and making her daughter’s angel costume for the church pageant weren’t enough things for Lucy Stone’s busy Christmas schedule, she’s also working nights at the famous mail-order company Country Cousins. But when she discovers Sam Miller, its very wealthy founder, dead in his car from an apparent suicide, the sleuth in her knows something just doesn’t smell right.

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Orphan Train

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another winner. Perhaps a bit too good to be true, happy-ever-after, but who cares? We all need a good Hallmark movie of a book now and then. My great-grandmother was sent to Canada at age 6 as one of the “Home Children” so this is a topic that interests me.

Book Description: Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life—answers that will ultimately free them both. Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

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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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Dead Wake

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a presentation on Margaret Mackworth and the sinking of the Lusitania at our annual St. David’s Day luncheon in March, I was greatly looking forward to reading this. Although Erik Larson tells a good story based on thorough research, I was left wanting. I would like to have learned more about the passengers, and less about the minute by minute whereabouts of the German submarine that sank the Lusitania. This was more of a story about the two ship captains with a few asides about Woodrow Wilson and a few of the passengers. Although Margaret Mackworth was mentioned, I learned virtually nothing about her. And what about the members of the Gwent Male Voice Choir that were on the ship? It’s not a bad book but I don’t think it lives up to the author’s reputation. I shall have to try Diana Preston’s Lusitania.

Book description: On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

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.