June has just arrived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, circa 1944. It is a town that has just been built, but does not exist on a map, and the job she’s been hired to do involves monitoring gauges on machines she is not even told the purpose of. Her roommate, Cici, is more seasoned and while she could care less about the purpose of her job, her real purpose is to search for a husband among the many soldiers who are stationed right here in Oak Ridge. Meanwhile, Joe, a Negro construction worker who has also come to the town looking for opportunity, misses his family deeply and just means to keep his head down and earn as much as he can in order to send his good wage home, while trying to keep his younger friend out of trouble. Eventually, these lives converge as their mission in Oak Ridge comes to a crescendo, and they all become swept up in a historical moment in our dark history.
This is an effective historical fiction novel about a very bleak moment in the history of the world. While it deals with this global issue, it tells the story through the lens of fictional but realistic individuals who were involved in the production of this most destructive weapon ever created – and used! – on our planet. It relates the social and political class and racial issues that were on everyone’s minds at the time, whether it was finding a husband for the women who did not have access to higher paying jobs, or accessing decent housing because of one’s skin color. It also reveals the attitudes towards the final product of Oak Ridge of each of the participants, which varied widely from pride to guilt. The army’s secrecy throughout the whole project is stunningly creepy.
I’d recommend this book as a both an important piece of historical fiction, and as just an engrossing read. I listened to it on CD and it held my attention the whole way through!
This is the poignant story of a loving family: parents, Rosie and Penn, and their 5 boys; that is, they believed they had 5 boys until the youngest, Claude, declared that he wanted to bring a purse to kindergarten instead of a lunchbox. Gradually, it became clearer that Claude was much happier in dresses than pants and identified more with the princess in his father’s bedtime fairytale than the prince. While his parents and brothers were accepting of this, they were fearful that people around him were not, and they went to great lengths to protect Claude, who eventually called herself Poppy. As the story unfolds, we learn that while intentions may be pure, our actions may not be in others’ best interests and over-protection can lead to inadvertent harm.
This is a fictional story, but it has all the markings of a story that is true. Every character is endowed with a dynamic, vulnerable, and big-hearted quirkiness that makes all of them larger than life. We come to love each member of this family almost as our own. The story is enriched with some detail of how Claude/Poppy’s experience affects the other members of the family – as it certainly would – and their own struggles with growing and seeking their own identities. And most genuinely, Poppy’s struggle is not straightforward – she is not sure what her journey will be like or where it will end. This is the true meaning of a non-binary identity. One does not have to be male or female. While this may be hard for many to comprehend, it is even harder for others to squeeze themselves into one or the other, and I believe because of that, we all just have to get over ourselves and accept the vast space in-between.
I loved this novel, both for the message within and for the beauty of the story on its own merit. It is a story of a family dealing with a secret that they learn doesn’t have to be a secret. It is a story of a family learning to cope with difference, which most families have to deal with on some level, as no one is exactly like anyone else anyway. And it is a story about love and family bonds that keep a family tied together no matter what.
In looking for something different to read, I stumbled upon this thriller from the 1980’s, which was so much more substantive and nuanced than I ever imagined.
It begins in 1919, when Will Henry Lee is appointed the Chief of Police in the tiny town of Delano, Georgia. Things are fairly quiet until the first body turns up – that of a young boy, naked, with suspicious marks on him. This case is niggling at him but life goes on and he is forced to move on with the times. As the years pass, the case becomes buried deeper and deeper in layers of race, power, politics, and in simple human nature and the ultimate resolution is a shock to everyone.
This story is so carefully delivered, over time, even over generations, and the reader’s patience is rewarded with an exquisitely intricate plot. There is a horrifying overlay of the deep south’s history of racial bias which, sadly, is quite poignant and relatable today. So too, are the political power plays, the small town alliances, and injustices. Timeless, apparently.
The writing, too, is sharp and clear, with poignant dialogue and a few great scenes. My particular favorite scene is one in which the wife of Billy, Will Henry’s son, buys a shotgun and shows what a woman can do all by herself to protect herself from the nasty Klansmen who are out to get her and her husband. I won’t give it all away, but I’d say that scene alone is worth reading the book for!
This book is a definite page-turner and one that will stay with me for awhile. I’m not sure it’s a “must read” but it’s close!
Miranda Schuyler has just arrived back home to Winthrop Island to hide away from her life just a bit. She just wants some quiet, to try to repair her relationship with her mother and her half-sister – if possible – and to heal, both physically and emotionally. What she doesn’t expect is that on arriving back here, all of her memories and the emotions tied to them would come flooding back as well. And with them, much of her understanding of her world might just be turned upside-down.
Beatriz Williams creates the most wonderful female characters – they are strong, smart, witty, and often rebellious without ever losing their femininity or grace. They are characters who drive the plot, who outwit the demons, and who, while we guess will be victorious in the end, we never know exactly how. There are always clever plot twists and there are sometimes dark details, but there is always a lightness and humor in the telling. And Miranda, with her story, certainly falls in line with this pattern.
Williams also utilizes the shifting of voices and of time to build the story from various vantage points. I love this technique. I find this builds suspense and keeps the motion of the story moving forward, even when we’re essentially hearing backstory. It enriches both the story and the people in it and deepens our understanding of both. Because sometimes it isn’t the “what” that is the mystery of the story but the “why” – and here is a good example of that.
I really enjoyed this book – and am hoping to read all of her books at some point!
This is a love story that starts, ironically, when the world feels like it might end – in New York City, on 9/11/01. Lucy and Gabe feel it too – they reach for each other, barely knowing each other, and then it’s over. But years later, when they meet again, the spark is reignited, and this begins a heartbreaker for Lucy that she endures quite in spite of herself.
The voice is what is unique in this story and I think is what engages the reader. It is written from Lucy to Gabe, almost as a letter, which gives it a very intimate feel. On the other hand, because we only hear Lucy’s voice, it can sometimes feel one-dimensional. There is no layering of the plot, but rather a single-mindedness of the narrative becomes almost droning as the novel progresses.
What is more deeply troubling about this novel, however, is that once again, the outwardly independent female character is bound to a male character and jumps to his beck and call each and every time. I felt myself literally growing angry as Lucy again and again fell into this same pattern. While Lucy does not go with Gabe when he needs to travel for his life work – hurrah for her – she then pines for him throughout the rest of the book, answering his calls whenever he deigns to reach out and dropping everything for him when he needs her. (Really? We’ve not moved past that?). And while she notices when her new boyfriend, Darren, makes plans without her input- and gets angry about it – she never stands up to him or says anything about it. Why can’t our female characters be unequivocally strong? I’m tired of this.
I think this book was off to a great start, and had great potential but was just disappointing on multiple levels. Oh, well!
Harit does not imagine how he will ever escape the droll and bizarre routine of his life, working in Men’s Accessories in a department store with the tedious and talkative Teddy, and then on returning home each day, having to dress as his dead sister for his mother to appease her denial of the death. This just seems to be his life. Likewise,, on the other side of their Cleveland suburb, Ranjana is questioning how she should adapt to what she has found on her husband’s search history on their shared computer, which suggests the possibility of an affair. Now that their one son is off to Princeton, does this mean that their life together will change? Not that she’s been all that satisfied, as she’s had to express herself through the writing which she’s all but hidden from everyone but her little writing group that she sneaks off to once a week. Eventually, her world collides with Harit’s in an unusual way, and the two of them find what friendship really means and how deeply it can enrich their lives and enable each of them to grow into their best selves.
This is a very quirky, sweet novel that highlights the immigrant experience and shows how important it is to find community and support from others. Neither of these characters has just arrived to the United States and neither is young, but both are still grappling with finding themselves in the context of their families and their histories, given their own talents, limitations, and orientations. They each reach out for friendship and learn that it may be hard to find honesty where you hope to find it.
I believe the strength of this story rests in the character development, as each character is rich and layered and colorful. Each one is traced out at different times in the story and we travel through time and country with each as they track back to the center of the action, successfully reinvigorating the story with a new understanding of each character. It is similar to the experience of getting to know those in our own lives as we ask more and more about them and learn more and more about their past.
This is an interesting read – colorful, quirky and sweet. Enjoy!
Nikki has been caught between feeling like she’d let her family down by walking out on her legal education and feeling resentful that they’d tried to control everything in her life. She couldn’t imagine letting her family arrange and control as much as her sister did – even going to the extreme of seeking a possible arranged marriage! – but then again, here she was, working in and living above a bar. Was this a better option? When an opportunity arises to teach women in an Indian cultural center to write stories about their lives, Nikki applies and gets the position. Little does she know that these women have stories to tell that will shock and amaze her. And as she comes to know these women, she comes to also uncover the mystery surrounding a single voice that has been stifled forever…
This book was surprisingly engaging and ultimately suspenseful. What started out quite innocent and almost superficial grew into a much more complicated plot and twisted and turned quite unexpectedly. Characters that one would have guessed would have been staid and traditional showed not only a cheekier side, but actually true, deep-seeded bravery. This made a book that I initially felt nonchalant about become much more meaningful to me.
I am still unsure if the sexually explicit scenes in this book are totally necessary. I am not prudish and I do not shy away from this. I know why they are here. But I felt they were a bit too long. (I almost got a little bored with the off -shooting they provided.) I’d be interested to hear what others think about this.
A worthwhile read, in the end, though. Please add comments – I’d really be interested to hear what you all think about my issues with this book!