Summer of ’69

I missed my chance to meet Elin Hilderbrand in June on the Cape, but my friend sent me her book, with a personalized note from the author.

th    It took longer than I had anticipated to read Hilderbrand’s Summer of ’69, but maybe I really didn’t want to leave the Nantucket beaches, imagining myself eating lobster and ice cream, while walking the storied town. Following Hilderbrand’s New England family while they summered in Nantucket and Edgartown transported me.  The times seemed simpler, yet it was a year with its own excitement – the landing on the moon, Ted Kennedy and the Chappaquiddick incident, and Woodstock are all featured in the story.

The women are the main features: Kate, her mother, and her three girls control the narrative, with peripheral husbands, one a scientist who is working on the moon landing and another who visits on weekends.  A son who is fighting in the Vietnam War ventures into the story on the sidelines through letters and flashbacks, and assorted boyfriends represent the good and bad of the times, with a nod to MeToo.  But Kate, Blair, Kirby, and Jessica are the stars – each offering perspective from a range of ages – from a blossoming thirteen year old to a rebellious free spirit, along with a soon to be mother of twins, and a distraught mother drinking away each day from worry about her son in the war  The determined grandmother has her moments as she vainly tries to control the lives of her daughter and granddaughters, but each has her own battle with herself, and in the end overcomes self-doubt and outside influences to have a happy ending.

A good beach read – even if you are not at the beach.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Another delicious Gothic murder mystery by the author of The Woman in Cabin 10 and In A Dark Dark Wood, The Turn of the Key has Ruth Ware’s trademark twists and enough suspense to keep you reading through the night.  If you are familiar with Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (available for free from Project Gutenberg), you will know the similarity in the titles is no accident.

Both novels revolve around a caregiver of children – a governess in James’ 1890 story and a nanny in Ware’s.  Both involve ghosts – real or imagined – wreaking havoc on the surroundings, and both lead to the revelation of whether or not the caregiver is guilty of murder.  Both are scary.

Ware sets her story in an updated Victorian smart house with an automation system controlling lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances and a sophisticated home security system, but she cleverly maintains the Gothic aura by keeping sections of the house, especially the creepy attic and the overgrown garden, in old-fashioned mode. Setting the story in the Scottish Highlands helps too.  Both James and Ware knew a threatening house must have a past, preferably with a murder or two to stir the possible malevolence instilled in its walls.  The death of a child figures prominently in both stories.

The protagonist in The Turn of the Key, the nanny, is writing a letter from prison to solicit the help of a well-known attorney.  As she tells her side of the story, the reader suspects she is an unreliable narrator, but Ware keeps the story off balance by creating circumstances showing she might be innocent.  The big reveal at the end of the story identifies the murder victim and the murderer – and it caught me by surprise.

Ruth Ware has been compared to Agatha Christie and Wilkie Collins (author of the Woman in White), but her modern Gothic tales amazingly update the eerie and mysterious, translating the thrills into today’s world.  A smart house with computer glitches can be scary.  She always delivers a good story with a surprise ending, and I can’t wait for her next one.

The Turn of the Key is due for publication in the United States on August 6th.

 

 

Reluctantly Returning to Reading

When I read a book a day, I never imagined not wanting to read.  Most of my life revolved around stories professionally and personally but when my own story became the drama, it’s plot was too complicated to let any other in.  Needless to say, I won’t reveal the personal – those who know me already have it – but my unexpected separation from bibliotherapy taught me to savor moments of inspiration and not take them for granted.

Kate Atkinson’s Transcription survived the purge of my bookshelves with two boxes of notable reads sent to the library annual booksale.  I uncovered its red cover under the dust jacket and it followed me until I gave in and opened to the first pages.  Many of you have already read this complicated spy novel with a twist I almost missed at the end, and Atkinson has already produced another book published last month.  But if you haven’t read Transcription, its story holds enough historical information to tease you into wondering what is indeed fact, as well as Atkinson’s trademark knack for plot twists to keep you  reading between the lines of the characters’ lives in this tale of espionage and treachery.

Juliet Armstrong flashes back to her life as a secretary secretly transcribing conversations for the British spy organization MI5.  Jonathan Dee neatly summarized the novel in his 2018 review for The New Yorker with enough detail to satisfy your curiosity if you are still deciding if you want to read the book – Kate Atkinson’s Spy Novel Makes the Genre New.

The Author’s Note at the end of the book led me to more books.  Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices is listed as  one of Atkinson’s references.  Firzgerald’s 1980’s novel tells “the fictionalised experiences of a group of BBC employees at Broadcasting House, London, in 1940 when the city was under nightly attack from the Luftwaffe’s high explosive, incendiary, and parachute bombs.”  I became a fan of Fitzgerald after reading The Bookshop.

Atkinson’s newest publication revives her detective series with Jackson Brodie as the star Cambridge detective.  Of course, I need to backtrack to the first book – Case Histories – and maybe proceed to the other four before my library waitlist number for her latest, Big Sky, comes up.

So I have books to anticipate, and more.  A friend sent me hardback copies of the newest Elin Hildebrand and Jennifer Weiner books; my stack is growing again.

What have you read lately?

Related Reviews:

Late In the Day

My mother liked to say after my father died, all sins were forgiven when someone died young while the rest of us had to muddle on into old age.  When Tessa Hadley has one of her four main characters die unexpectedly and suddenly in the first chapter, his story is just beginning but he is not the hero of the piece.

Lydia and Christine have known each other since childhood, best friends forever, with compatible boyfriends who evolve into husbands and a foursome of dedicated friends as adults.  Inevitably, even their children become best friends.

In her review Johanna Thomas-Corr calls them “two upper-middle-class boho couples who sit around listening to Schubert…”

Hadley neatly fills in the backstory with flashbacks and updates, noting  the differences between the two women – Christine, willowy and fragile, a serious Ph.D. candidate who decides to pursue her talent for art when Zachary admires her work; Lydia, a flashy and charismatic schemer, who is happy to be lazy.  Lydia’s unrequited love for Alex, the poet with Czech refugee parents, drives her to marry wealthy Zachary, who has been dating Christine. Christine marries Alex, and the foursome survives, but it’s complicated. In one phone call, three decades of tangled friendship and love is dissolved.

Rebecca Makai’s review for the New York Times notes:

As their lives unravel, we wonder with Christine if the “questioning of impervious male knowledge had always come to women at a certain age, in their prime, as they grew out of the illusions of girlhood… By the end, the romantic fates of the couples’ two grown daughters are still being left to fate and chance, while Christine and Lydia begin for the first time to make their own choices…It might not be history that frees us, Hadley seems to suggest, but personal history, a late coming-of-age.”

I’m a fan of Tessa Hadley, having first met her on The London Train.  Once referred to as the British Anne Tyler, Hadley’s strength is not in the plot but in the nuances in her characters.  Have you read any of her work?

Related Review:

A Letter to Ruth Reichl

Dear Ruth,

Thank you, Ruth Reichl, for returning to writing your memoirs.  Although I enjoyed your novel, Delicious! and tried the recipe in the back of the book for gingerbread cake, I missed your real life.  I laughed so hard at your disguises in Garlic and Sapphires and felt so nostalgic when reading Comfort Me with Apples.  I missed your life commentary with funny asides and endearing messy foibles.

9781400069996  Now you are back with Save Me the Plums – just when I need motivation to read again.  I look forward to your tale about your adventures with one of my favorite defunct magazines – Gourmet (I miss reading it too.)

Kate Betts teased me with her review yesterday in the Sunday New York Times, calling it “a poignant and hilarious account.”   She mentions recipes – oh joy!  I may have to eat chocolate cake while reading.

I am off to find your book….

Related Review:  Delicious!