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

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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.

 

Rudyard Kipling’s The Gardner

Geoff Dyer in his interview in “By the Book” for the New York Times identifies his favorite short story – Rudyard Kipling’s The Gardner.  Dyer summarizes the story as he remember it:

“A mother goes to a large war cemetery on the Western Front in the aftermath of the First World Was, looking for the grave of her son. She meets the gardner who is taking care of the cemetery. The sense of vast and unendurable grief is all the more powerful for being expressed with such restraint and economy.”

images      I found Kipling’s short story online but connected with different aspects – we all interpret what we read with what we know and what we need.

  • “Then she took her place in the dreary procession that was impelled to go through an inevitable series of unprofitable emotions. The Rector, of course, preached hope… “
  • Michael had died and her world had stood still and she had been one with the full shock of that arrest. Now she was standing still and the world was going forward, but it did not concern her — in no way or relation did it touch her. She knew this by the ease with which she could slip Michael’s name into talk and incline her head to the proper angle, at the proper murmur of sympathy…

‘My nephew,’ said Helen. ‘But I was very fond of him.’
‘Ah, yes! I sometimes wonder whether they know after death! What do you think?’
‘Oh, I don’t — I haven’t dared to think much about that sort of thing,’ said Helen…
‘Perhaps that’s better,’ the woman answered. ‘The sense of loss must be enough, I expect. Well, I won’t worry you any more.’”

Link to Kipling’s “The Gardner” here

Wolf Hollow

9781101994825_p0_v2_s192x300     Bullies are mean and terrorizing.  Lauren Wolk’s coming of age novel Wolf Hollow demonstrates how ruthless and damaging lies and bullies can be.  Targeted for a young audience, the story’s message is appropriate for adults, reminding them not only of their responsibility to be aware of prejudicial labelling and scapegoating but also of the consequences of intolerance when left unchecked.

Although the story is set  in Western Pennsylvania in 1943, the theme is universal and could be happening today.  Annabelle, a precocious twelve year old who lives on a farm with her brothers and parents, narrates the story.  Betty, the new mean girl at school, who has been sent to live with her grandparents because she is “incorrigible” threatens Annabelle and her brothers; Betty is a “dark-hearted girl,” without morals or remorse, who beats Annabelle with a stick and breaks a bird’s neck.

Toby, the unshaven and tattered reclusive veteran of World War I,  roams the hills with his empty guns on his back; his mental health and morals are suspect and neighbors tolerate him as long as he stays out of the way.  But Annabelle’s mother, as well as Annabelle, see a harmless kind man with scars on his hand from the war, who lives a solitary life recovering from the horrors he faced as a soldier.  When Toby comes to Annabelle’s rescue from Betty,  Betty’s vengeful lies escalate to blame Toby for her own actions when she blinds a classmate and later tries to harm Annabelle’s brothers.

Betty’s determination to frame Toby awakens Annabelle’s protective instinct for the innocent man, and the plot turns into a series of soul-wrenching decisions and suspense as Betty unexpectedly disappears, and Annabelle determines her role in deciphering and exposing the truth.

The action escalates at the end, leading to a jarring but realistic conclusion.  Annabelle learns a lesson many adults are still grappling with:

“The stone made me aware for the first time that my life, however long, would amount to nothing more than a flicker. Not even a flicker. Not even a sigh…

And I decided that there might be things I would never understand, no matter how hard I tried. Though try I would.

And that there would be people who would never hear my one small voice, no matter what I had to say.

But then a better thought occurred, and this was the one I carried away with me that day:  If my life was to be just a single note in an endless symphony, how could I not sound it out for as long and as loudly as I could?”

Beautifully written…a book adults should discuss…

 

 

 

Finding Winnie – 2016 Caldecott Award Winner

9780316324908_p0_v3_s192x300When you think of Winnie the Pooh, you may imagine the Disney character or the rumbling voice of Sterling Holloway, but Lindsay Mattick tells the real story of the bear in her 2016 Caldecott winning book – Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear.

Illustrated by Sophie Blackwell, the story evolves into two tales: first, the saving of Winnie the bear cub from a trapper and his stint as the mascot of Captain Harry’s World War I regiment; next, as the bear in the London Zoo who played with Christopher Robin Milne “right inside her enclosure,” inspiring the little boy to rename his stuffed bear after her. Christopher Robin’s father, Alan Milne made Winnie famous by writing about the adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Mattock adds an “Album” at the back of the book, sharing family photos and the excerpt in the 1914 diary, identifying the day when Harry met Winnie – August 24th.  A picture of Christopher Robin and the real Winnie at the London Zoo in 1925 is included.

Canadians from Winnipeg are reminded of the bear’s roots and his savior, a local veterinarian World War I soldier, Captain Harry Colebourn, with a statue in Assiniboine Park.  Mattick, a descendant of Harry tells his story to her young son, his namesake, as a bedtime tale.                                   

“Sometimes the best stories are {true}.”

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