The Kennedy curse struck early and hard, with Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. Kick was the fourth child and favorite daughter of her father Joe. At 24, Kick married Billy Hartington, future Duke of Devonshire, very much against her family’s wishes. Billy was a Protestant, and Kick – Irish Catholic. Her brother Joe was the only family member to attend her wedding. But marital bliss was short lived when Billy was killed in action in France, shortly after D-Day. Kick later began an affair with Earl Peter Wentworth Fitzwilliam, also a Protestant, married man, gambler and drinker. She was on her way to Cannes with Peter when he insisted the plane take off in turbulent weather. The plane crashed and both Kick and Peter were killed. Her father identified her remains, and she was buried in England.
Barbara Leaming writes a very detailed account of the glamour, wealth and tragedy that seems to follow the Kennedy family.
It’s always fun to read about someone starting over in life. That’s one of the reasons we love books, to escape from the world we live in. Not saying that we are dissatisfied with the life we live, but reading offers opportunities to learn about other locations, lifestyles, and feelings. Hopefully we learn something from the adventures that our characters take.
In the Runaway Midwife, the main character is Clara. She is a caring midwife who enjoys her work but everything goes wrong at exactly the same time. Her marriage is sour, a pregnant friend she is caring for dies from a rare disease and Clara is blamed, and her daughter is basically out of touch on the other side of the world.
Clara reacts by escaping to Canada, our neighbor to the north. Because we live in Michigan, I saw several discrepancies in the novel that perhaps those who do not live adjacent might not see. It did not detract from the main story but compels me to note, out of awareness.
The island in Canada that Clara snowmobiles to is inclusive, and the people who live there year-round are an eclectic group of independent souls, friendly but not necessarily welcoming. That’s fine because Clara is hesitant to allow anyone to discover her true identity. Clara takes on a new name and rents a cottage with cash, first for the spring and summer, later extending through the year.
Interspersed throughout the novel is Clara’s awakening to nature and herself, you can sense the beauty and solitude of the island. Clara has a journal where she notes birds arriving back after their long sojourn of winter vacation in the south. There is her tentative attempt at friend-making at the hippie camp. There is caring and birth and dying. There is flirtation, mystery, crime and yes, love. The author does a good job of character development and dialogue and this allows the reader to flow along with the story. This book has a feel-good ending as well. In my opinion, readers will enjoy this book.
With March Madness just round the corner, you might want to pick up Cookie Johnson’s biography, Believing in Magic. Cookie tells of her on-again, off again, relationship with local MSU hero, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Cookie reveals her fears, heartache and anger when her husband of 45 days tells her, and the world that he is HIV positive. Throughout their marriage of ups and downs, Cookie is resilient. Magic introduces her to a child from a previous relationship – Andre, and their own child announces that he is gay. Yet Cookie manages to rise to every occasion with amazing strength and solidity, advocate for ways to fight disease and establish a line of premium denim clothing. Her story is well written, and you will feel the happiness and sorrow that make up “Cookie”.
P.S. Her given name is Earletha.
Now that the election is over, and a new president is about to be inaugurated, you may find Kate Anderson Brower’s, The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House, very interesting. This book offers behind the scene interviews with White House staff members, both past and present. Employees offer tantalizing descriptions of the first families and their relationships with them, describing how they accommodate and fulfill every need for those called to our highest office.
These employees are held to near impossible standards of privacy, and Brower emphasizes that longevity and continued discretion of these individuals indicates an unstoppable devotion to this institution. The staff describe tragic events in history that changed us all, but they also provide fascinating insight into those responsible for decision-making during those tragedies.
You may find yourself understanding and empathizing with the enormity of those charged with representing us all despite our own political views or assumptions.
If you haven’t read any of Linda Castillo’s Amish series, you are really missing out. In Among the Wicked, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder, is asked to go under cover as an Amish widow, in upstate New York. Kate was raised Amish, but left after a traumatic incident, and the sheriff feels that Kate can infiltrate the Amish community in his jurisdiction. A teenage girl is found dead and there are rumors of child abuse.The sheriff fears foul play, and the new Bishop is high on his guilty radar. This is no easy assignment, and Kate asks a few too many questions and finds herself in extreme danger. With no one to talk to or anyone to help, Kate must handle the situation with only her wits. What she uncovers will surprise you, and keep you reading late into the night. Castillo does not disappoint in her latest Amish mystery.
In 1942 Enrico Fermi and a team of scientists were working on a top secret project called the Manhattan Project. This was the research on developing the atomic bomb done at Stagg Field, the University of Chicago football stadium. The Accidental Agent by Andrew Rosenheim tells the story of a fictional FBI agent who is asked to determine whether or not a Nazi has managed to infiltrate the research group. Many of the scientists in the group were European immigrants and some of their credentials had been difficult to verify. Is it possible that one of them had been recruited as a spy? Jimmy Nessheim had asked for an extended leave from the FBI to attend law school at the University of Chicago. Since he is in the right place and has the perfect cover story, he is asked by his superiors to resume his Special Agent status to observe the scientists’ work. The novel is filled with shadowy characters, including two ex-girlfriends and thugs from his past. As Jimmy tries to understand just how far the Manhattan Project is progressing and if all the scientists involved are who they say they are, all sorts of complications emerge. The book has interesting and understandable details about the nuclear experiment. It also has the noir feel of 1940’s spycraft.
There have recently been several novels released about the lives of private citizens trying to survive the German occupation of Paris during WWII. Lilac Girls, All the Light We Cannot See, and The House of Dreams have all used real life characters to enhance their stories. Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under the Nazi Occupation by Anne Sebba is the non-fiction story of many of the brave women who either struggled against the Nazi regime or collaborated with the invaders and were then often prosecuted for their actions after the war ended. Some of the names are ones we are familiar with, some are ones that we have never heard about. The fashion designer Chanel was well known for selling to the Germans, then when the Americans arrived in Paris, they were given a free bottle of perfume for their wives or girlfriends. Rose Valland, an employee of an art museum, managed to keep a detailed list of many of the art works that the Germans had removed from France which was useful in getting art works returned to their original owners. Many women’s actions are documented for the duration of the war. My only criticism is that the book is divided into time periods, making it difficult to connect with a particular woman’s entire life story.