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.

After You

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sequel to Me Before You is every bit as good. But don’t expect it to be like Me Before You. Lou has changed. Will’s death left a hole in her heart that money and travel has not healed. Jojo Moyes gives us an unflinching look at love and loss, and how sometimes it takes a devastating accident, and to have our world turned upside down before we find how to move on. I loved all the zany characters and all their faults. I have half a mind to read everything else Jojo Moyes has ever written…

Book Description: Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started. Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars really, but I’m rounding up. After reading all the controversy around this book’s publication, I was quite pleasantly surprised. I loved the stream of consciousness style back and forth between past and present. The humor of To Kill a Mockingbird is fully present here. And I thought the social commentary quite illuminating of that time and place in our history. While the ending was a bit weak (this story was not a finished novel), it made me think. About shedding childhood illusions and recognizing that the people we love aren’t perfect. About racism and bigotry, which are still big issues today. This book probably cannot stand on its own – if you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird, I would read that first. You don’t have to, but I think having that context makes it more meaningful. I wish Harper Lee had gone on to write more. One could probably write a whole commentary on how her editors suppressed a voice for contemporary conscience in favor of the childhood fantasy. Not that To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t a gem, and a wake-up call for social justice – just that we all have to grow up and she had so much more to say.

Book Description: Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—”Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.

The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I were a “romance” reader I would undoubtedly have given this book a higher rating. It is the story of two sisters navigating life during the Nazi occupation of France. Although I wouldn’t call it a romance, it is written like a romance – told in a highly dramatic fashion. The plot is ultimately satisfying. Although the first half of the book was rather slow (I’ve abandoned other books by Hannah for the same reason), I stuck with it and by the second half I was thoroughly invested in the characters and what happened to them. There were some errors with facts (hummingbirds in France?) that left me wondering what historical facts I could trust. But nothing was so jarring that it threw me out of the story. The framework is “true” and is based on real people who risked their lives to save downed pilots and Jewish children. This would make a marvelous movie.

Book description: In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive. Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

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.