Quick Lit

Romance, murder, mystery, history…all happy endings – books fun and fast to read or listen to, but I will soon forget them – unless I write them down.   So here they are:

TheSummerWives   Summer Wives

Beatriz Williams’ Summer Wives has all these ingredients as she follows a wealthy family with influence on Long Island.  I found myself rereading the first few chapters to identify the characters as they aged – the story jumps a few decades back and forth, and the ending had me do a double take, but it is a happy one, despite all the waves crashing and beautiful people with issues.

The characters and setting reminded me of Julia Roberts’ early film, “Mystic Pizza” – the island has the wealthy 1 percent summer crowd, but the hard working year-round residents, mostly Portuguese Americans, catch the lobsters, work in the country club,  and keep the lighthouse glowing.  The summer of 1951 ends in death and the conviction of the island hottie, lobsterman Joseph Vargas.  When Miranda returns home after 18 years away, with Joseph escaped from prison, the plot reveals a motive for his confession, with twists and turns keeping you guessing until the end.

All We Ever Wanted

Emily Griffin’s All We Ever Wanted has the lies and scandal of a Lianne Moriarty novel (as in Big Little Lies).  The picture of a teenage girl’s backside gone viral is the catalyst for opposing reactions from families and community.  The ending here is also a little hard to believe – but it is happy.  Need to know more?  click here  

41pYhoGoKDL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Goodbye, Paris

This light romance has a “Room With A View” vibe, with young British Grace meeting her lover, David, for weekend trysts in Paris, but Anstey Harris’ Goodbye, Paris  has more about music and betrayal than Paris.  An immediate crisis is created when David rescues a pregnant woman who has fallen onto the subway train tracks; he suddenly becomes a reluctant hero.  Pictures of him and Grace immediately go viral, but, oh dear, Grace is not his wife.

Although Grace was a promising cellist, her confrontation with her slimy professor left her broken, so now she makes and repairs string instruments – violins, cellos – and sells them in her little music shop, waiting for her married lover to leave his wife and children.  David is clearly a smooth talker who will never leave his wife, and, at times, I wanted to smack Grace out of her dazed stupor, but, as I listened on Audible, I hoped for the catharsis that eventually happens.  Grace finally finds the courage to resist David’s charms and play her cello again.  Lots of romance with a plot worthy of A.J. Fikry.

51vkzW8KqZL._AC_US218_The Home for Unwanted Girls

Joanna Goodman’s story reminded me of Lisa Wingate’s  “Before We Were Yours,” but this time the historical note addresses the Duplessis Orphan Scandal in Canada, with over 20,000 orphans who were falsely labeled as mentally ill when their orphanages were turned into psychiatric hospitals by  the Canadian government in the 1950s.  Most of these children – who were not mentally ill – were left in the care of the nuns  by unwed mothers. The Catholic Church profited by the increase in government subsidies with the order for their “change of vocation” from orphanages into insane asylums – the government paid only $0.75/day for orphans, but $2.35/day for those who were mentally ill.

Goodman creates a fictional story about a fifteen year old girl forced to give up her newborn daughter by her parents.  By the time Elodie is five years old, the orphanage has changed to an insane asylum and she is forced into menial labor and caretaker duties for the older insane patients. Challenges to the nuns’ iron-fisted discipline result in horrible torture, isolation, lobotomies – reflecting the reality of those institutions.  Life is hell for these children.

The story has the mother Maggie searching for her daughter, and includes romance and intrigue to counter the misery of the historical context.  It still always amazes me how this happened not so long ago.

Cocoa Beach

Unknown   Despite Beatriz Williams’ complicated plots with murder, deceit, and harrowing escapes, she always delivers a happy ending, and Cocoa Beach is no exception.  With American volunteers in London during World War I, wealthy aristocrats in Cornwall, and rumrunners at a posh plantation in Florida during the Prohibition, the varied settings add to the historical context of a fast-paced melodrama of romance and intrigue.

Virginia Fortesque, young American volunteer ambulance driver, meets Simon Fitzwilliam, the tall dashing British doctor, and, of course, they fall in love as she drives him across the battlefields.  Their lives are complicated by their families.  She has a wealthy father who has been imprisoned for murdering her mother; he has a wife and son, with a huge debt attached to the ancestral home.

When the war ends, he divorces his wife, marries Virginia, and leaves to make his fortune at the downtrodden family investment in Cocoa Beach, Florida, while she returns to her family in New York.  When he dies suddenly, she and their two year old daughter travel to Florida to settle the estate.  And so the real story begins.

Williams cleverly changes tacks frequently, as she alternates between the war years and the present in 1922.  No one is who they seem, and the intrigue hardens into murder for greed, with lies about everything.  The reader is never sure who is telling the truth until the end.

Virginia remains the only character who is decent and true, the victim of the villains surrounding her.  If you read Williams’ A Certain Age, you may remember her as a minor character whose father is accused of killing his wife, Virginia’s mother.  Williams fleshes out her story in Cocoa Beach, with her usual successful combination of romance, mystery and murder, adding a dash of prohibition and infidelity, and the compelling formula of distracting foils and dangerous tension.

Fun and compelling – Cocoa Beach is a great beach read.

Review: A Certain Age

A Certain Age

9780062404978_p0_v3_s192x300    Although set in the nineteen twenties with smatterings of The Great Gatsy, Beatriz Williams’ A Certain Age reminded me more of an Oliver Goldsmith comedy of manners (She Stoops to Conquer) or an Oscar Wilde farce.

Married to a wealthy philandering husband,  middle-aged socialite Theresa Marshall has her own love interest – a handsome young aviator, Captain Octavian Rofrano.  All is well until she sends her Rofrano,  as her brother’s emissary – his “cavalier” (think Miles Standish) to propose to young Sophie Fortescue on her brother Ox’s behalf.  Rofrano promptly falls in love with Sophie.

The story follows the plot of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier, using the love triangle with the same character names, and capitalizing on the frivolous diversions of the rich.  Williams uses New York City after World War I as her setting and substitutes a murder mystery for the scheming servants in Strauss’s plot to sustain the action.

Although the action begins slowly, the plot thickens with clever insertions from the New York Times Herald gossip columnist, Patty Cake, who neatly summarizes in two or three pages what has taken chapters to reveal.  The romantic liaisons are sometimes more humorous than titillating – the lover hiding under the bed – but Williams succeeds in maintaining the sensuous aura of her woman of a certain age, the older Theresa, seducing her much younger lover.

Just as in the opera, all ends happily – well, in this case except for a few dead bodies.