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Alice

Alice I Have Been comes up with the story of the muse of the author who wrote Alice in Wonderland.  Told in first person by 81-year-old Alice, who is tired of being the true Alice in Wonderland, the book explains that being Alice is not as wonderful as it would seem.  Growing up, Alice was the daughter of the don of Oxford, and so grew up on a stuffy campus with a very proper mother.  Alice and her sister began spending time with a shy, stuttering professor who liked to take them for picnics and take photographs of them dressed in costume.  He told them stories that Alice convinced him to put to paper, ultimately leading to Alice in Wonderland, and forever changing Alice’s life.

TomThumb

Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Warren Bump, who only grew to two feet, eight inches tall, had a personality that more than made up for her size, as The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb explains. Vinnie was born to a family with siblings that were normal size and one sister who was even smaller than she.  Vinnie made her own decision to leave the safe home of her family to travel with a riverboat show just prior to the Civil War.  She then managed a spot in the famous show by P.T. Barnum, whose best friend was Tom Thumb – another star of his show.  After their pint-sized marriage, Tom & Vinnie became celebrities of their time, meeting President Lincoln and his wife, and touring the country and the world to meet their fans.  Vinnie’s story is an incredible one, and this book, told from her point of view, is a great read.

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Astronaut

The Astronaut Wives Club tells the true story of the women behind the first astronauts.  These women were celebrities just as movie and TV stars are celebrities today.  They were hounded by the press wherever they went and were always expected to look and act perfectly – as the support for the brave husband risking his life to try to go into space.  The astronauts and their families even had exclusive contracts with Life Magazine, giving the magazine access to the family house while an astronaut was on a mission, meaning that the wife had to maintain her calm and composure while not knowing if her husband would be blasted into a million pieces.

The Astronaut Wives Club starts with the wives of the initial astronauts, and follows them from their homes to the bases, and ultimately to Texas, where they all built fancy houses and attended fancy balls.  It then introduces more wives as more astronauts were added to the program.  It then introduces still more wives as more astronauts were added when NASA’s mission went from going into outer space to travelling around Earth, and finally to landing on the moon.

I found it difficult to keep track of each of the initial women, let alone more women and men when they were added to the mix throughout the book.  As a result, when some men ultimately passed away (either on a mission or flying planes), it was a bit difficult to remember which family would be affected by that death.  But that is my only criticism – the insight into each of the women that the book highlights were well-written and very in-depth and transformed this nonfiction piece into a novel that I could not put down!

UnderWideandStarrySky

Under the Wide and Starry Sky is another novel that focuses on the wife of a great artist – a style similar to The Paris Wife (Paula McLain), Loving Frank (Nancy Horan), The Aviator’s Wife (Melanie Benjamin) and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (Therese Anne Fowler).

Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, from Indiana, had been living in California with a philandering husband when she decided to take her 3 children to Europe to study art.  They started in Belgium but ended up in Paris when her youngest child became seriously ill.  After the stress and toll that illness and death took on Fanny, it was suggested to her that she go to Grez – a quiet country inn outside of Paris – to recuperate.  Little did she know that it was a popular place for artists (painters and writers) of the time.  As a result of this stay in Grez, Fanny met Robert Louis Stevenson for the first time.

Robert, a Scottish man ten years younger than Fanny who had just finished studying law, came from a wealthy family, but risked being cut off from financial support if he decided to become a full-time writer.  Robert had been sickly with bad lungs his entire life, but was at his best health when he met Fanny.

Fanny and Robert ultimately married, after tribulations involving Fanny’s divorce from her current husband, Robert’s illness flaring up as he traveled from Scotland to California, and living hand-to-mouth in England.  Robert ultimately found success with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island, but his health did not improve until the family finally uprooted to Samoa.  Fanny’s fight with Robert’s peers to gain recognition for her part in Robert’s success (both in keeping him alive and in helping edit and talk through his stories) plagued her throughout her time as Robert’s wife – yet again a them with the wives of great artists.

LostLake

I have loved all of Sarah Addison Allen’s books, and this newest release was no exception!  Allen mixes a little bit of fantasy in with her novels, creating worlds that seem like they exist, but with a little magic.  Lost Lake follows Kate and her young daughter Devin as they take a spur of the moment trip to southern Georgia where Kate’s great aunt Eby owns a lake resort.  Kate’s husband had died recently and they were ready to escape.  Kate had great memories of being at Lost Lake when she was a young girl, and meeting a young boy (Wes) with whom she shared many adventures.  When Kate arrives at Lost Lake, she discovers that Eby is considering selling the property, and that the last few regular guests – Jack, Selma and Buhladeen – have come to enjoy one more summer.

Interspersed within the chapters about Kate are chapters about Eby, and how she came to own Lost Lake and also how she met her mute best friend Lisette in Paris on her honeymoon.  The magic creeps in during chapters about Selma and Wes’ little brother Billy who died just after Kate had been there when she was young.  Soon everyone’s story lines all come together and bring hope that when they all cooperate, they can work to save Lost Lake and keep it open.

See my previous reviews of other Sarah Addison Allen books:

The Sugar Queen (*****)
Garden Spells (*****)
The Peach Keeper: A Novel (*****)
The Girl Who Chased the Moon: A Novel (*****)

Sisterhood

I was pretty disappointed in this historical fiction book, considering I think I discovered it on one of Amazon’s “Best of [Month]” lists.  The Sisterhood is split between two time periods – 1) the Inquisition in Spain in the 16th century, and 2) Spain in modern times.  The story set in the Inquisition is far and away more interesting than the modern times story, since the modern times section contains so many coincidences that it is just too hard to believe (even acknowledging that it is fiction).

The Sisterhood is a  group of nuns from a Spanish monastery that shield its secrets – namely that it takes care of daughters/ young women / former brides needing refuge from the men of the time (i.e., fathers looking to marry them off or men looking to beat them into submission), regardless of those women’s religious beliefs.  The Sisterhood’s secrets are in a leatherbound book and a corresponding medallion.  These two items eventually find their way to a related convent in South America, and ultimately end up in the hands of Menina, an orphan in South America who is adopted by a husband and wife from the southern US.  As a college student Menina travels to Spain as part of a research project into art history and lo and behold, she ends up at Las Golondrinas convent – the convent  as the location for both storylines.

Again, while the storyline in the 16th century was at least interesting, the interplay between the two time periods was so unbelievable as to provoke a muttered “Really?” from this reader!

WheredYouGoBernadette

Laugh-out-loud, cute, adorable, hilarious, quick read…  Have I written enough buzzwords so that anyone reading this review will immediately pick up this book? I hope so, because that’s the point – I LOVED it!!!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is the story of Bernadette, mother to Bee, a 15-year old girl, and Bernadette’s husband (Bee’s dad).  The three live in an old rundown former girls’ school in Seattle.  Bee’s dad, Bernadette’s husband, is a bigwig at Microsoft, and he and Bernadette moved to Seattle after he developed some products (i.e., they have plenty of money, but Bernadette, an architect, has not gotten around to fixing up their living arrangements).  The story is told via correspondence between Bernadette and old friends, Bernadette and her ‘personal assistant’ in India, and emails between other people in Bernadette’s life (primarily two mothers of other children at Bee’s school).  The main point of all of the correspondence is to see Bernadette’s craziness (quirkiness?) – usually kept hidden behind her big sunglasses and written correspondence (instead of physical interaction) – beginning to surface.

I love that Bernadette’s tale is told through correspondence and also through first-person stories told by Bee.  She is adorable, and her mother is – even though weird – a very likeable character.  For a very enjoyable read, I highly recommend Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

OceanAtTheEndOfTheLane

A quick little read, I really enjoyed this fantasy/ real-life fiction book! The main character is a lonely seven year old boy who doesn’t get along with his younger sister and prefers instead to read books high up in the trees in his backyard.  One day he meets his neighbors, the Hempstocks, and his adventure begins.

The Hempstocks are three women (well, 1 old woman, 1 motherly-age woman, and 1 girl – known as Grandma, Mother, and Lettie).  Lettie befriends the boy (who is not named!) and the boy soon begins to realize that something odd exists at the Hempstock farm.  It is like they are in a world all their own, even though they are right in the land next to the boy’s house.  Some kind of hemispheric-monster comes onto the Hempstock land, and before Lettie can banish it, a piece of it gets into the boy.  As a result, the monster reincarnates into a nanny hired by the boy’s parents.  The nanny then proceeds to torment the boy and seduce his father.  Only with the help of the Hempstocks can the boy rid himself of the awful nanny.

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the boy is remembering these events as he has gone back to the Hempstock land as a man after his father passed away.  Even though there were a few ideas that were a little out-of-this-world, the book made it easy to try to picture all of the wild events as they occurred.  I really enjoyed this speedy little fantasy novel!