Reviews by Auntie Anne
It's been two years since the 9/11 terrorists attacks. The panel of jurors to select a design for the Ground Zero memorial for the victims had been so careful to keep the hundreds of submissions anonymous. They meticulously reviewed and voted on each design until they had eliminated all but two. They each weighed in, argued and deliberated over each one. Then the envelope with the name of the contest winner is opened. The winner is an American Muslim architect, Mohammad Khan.
Instantly the news is leaked and New York City is thrown into a frenzy over the controversy. The families of the victims, still grieving for their loved ones, are angry and appalled. The media does whatever possible to distort the flow of information to fuel the fire. And political posturing abounds. In the middle of the firestorm stands "Mo," quiet and confident in his right as an American to submit his design which to him represents hope and healing. The selection committee looks for a way to take the prize away from him.
The author of The Submission, Amy Waldman, is a former bureau chief for the New York Times. So she knows of what she writes. She does a masterful job in taking the reader to the heart of the controversy, seeing the issues from all sides. The characters are so believable that you will almost feel that this is nonfiction.
Amidst the shadows of the World Trade Center they had grown up the best of friends, full of hopes and dreams. Markie was the crazy, irresponsible one. All the boys were in love with beautiful Sally, but her heart belonged to Markie. Tom was the fixer, and they all knew they could count on him to help them out of a jam. Vicky and Tom had always been together. Jack, Tom's half-brother, had always lived life on the edge. Sensible and smart, Marian had a solid plan for her life, which, of course, included Jimmy. They called him Superman. Jimmy McCaffery was the hub of this circle of friends.
Life had always revolved around Jimmy. That is until one tragic night that changed everything for them all. 20 years later, James McCaffery, Captain of Ladder 62 Firehouse in New York City, died a hero saving people from the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. His heroism subsequently became legendary at a time when devastated New Yorkers deparately needed heros. But then a series of articles in the New York Tribune newspaper called his character into question. Like a falling house of cards, the search for the truth about Jimmy McCaffery and what happened that night 20 years ago begins to destroy the lives of everyone involved.
Rozen does an excellent job of immersing the reader in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy and its devestating effects on New Yorkers. Absent Friends bounces back and forth from NYC post-9/11 to episodes in the lives of the main characters as children. This gives the reader multiple perspectives on, and insight into the depth of their relationships as children and adults. The author unravels the mystery of Jimmy McCaffery with memories of remorse, regret and guilt as seen through the eyes of his old friends. In the end, a quote from Jose Latour at the beginning of the book rings loud and clear. "All I know is that the surest way to make enemies is to always tell the truth."
Beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash is the toast of the town. She is probably the most wealthy and eligible young heiress of the Gilded Age in America, since her father is one of the new American billionaires of the 19th century, making his mark in flour. Their family mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, puts the Vanderbilts’ down the street to shame. Her mother’s every move is in gilded and diamond-studded excess, so that there is no doubt who has the most money in town. Mrs. Cash has determined that the most ideal marriage for her daughter would be to a British nobleman – say, a duke, perhaps. So Cora and her mother are off to England to find a titled husband for Cora. Literally, quite by accident, she meets the dark, handsome and mysterious Lord Ivo Maltravers, the Duke of Wareham. In no time flat, he asks her to marry him. Everybody’s happy – end of story. Right?
Not so fast . . . there are a few things not quite right here. For one thing, our handsome Duke is broke. So did he marry Cora only for her money? Does he really love her? For sure, Cora is madly in love with her husband, which is also problematic. Since there appears that Ivo might be having an affair under Clara’s nose. Clara soon finds out that money can’t buy happiness, especially under the critical eye of the “Double Duchess,” Ivo’s jealous and deceitful mother. The rigid traditions of Victorian-era British aristocracy make mincemeat of Clara’s attempts at making a name for herself in the London social scene, to the point of humiliation. Can this marriage possibly be saved?
I normally do not read romance novels, but the vivid details of this period in history, the costumes, customs, food, and social lives of the upper class of the Gilded Age really drew me into the story. The author deftly used the culture clash of American new money vs. Victorian tradition to move the plot along. There were plenty of twists and turns in the plot, so that you were always second-guessing what you thought was going to happen. The cast of supporting characters was delightful, including Prince Bertie himself. The American Heiress is Daisy Goodwin’s debut novel, which came as a surprise to me. Her writing is excellent and mature. This was really a fun summer read.
The setting is the alluring social scene of New York City in 1938. Katey Kontent (“like the state of mind’), our heroine, is the daughter of a Russian immigrant. Smart, witty and fearless, we first find Katey working at a Wall Street secretarial pool and living in a boardinghouse with her roommate Eve. Katey and Eve pinch pennies all week so that they can go out on the town on the weekends. Until New Year’s Eve when Eve’s social-climbing eye manages to land them in the path of Tinker Grey, a handsome New York up-and-comer banker. Soon Tinker takes them under his wing and introduces them to the world of New York’s wealthy. Thus the story unfolds. These are three very complex characters, each with their own story to tell. Eve has tunnel vision as far as her social status and the power it can bring. Tinker, of course, is not the person he appears to be. But Katey is a shining star. Looking to improve her job status, she uses her brains and guts to move up from the secretarial pool to the upper echelon of Conde Naste magazine. She manages to sidestep every bump in the road, and there were quite a few, with grace and a strong sense of self. We see her grow through her experiences and applaud her successes.
Rules of Civility is a very sophisticated, classy book, reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald in its smart dialogue and strong sense of the setting and time period. With a dry martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other, the terrific characters stroll through the book with an edgy reality that only New York City can provide. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes reckless, sometimes heartbreaking, this first novel by Amor Towles is a must read.
“War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say, and it seems to me I have been saying it forever.” - Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War
In war-torn Europe of 1940, Frankie Bard, an American broadcast reporter, delivers intense person commentary on the London blitz and the forced evacuation of the Jews elsewhere in Europe. In Franklin, Mass., on Cape Cod, newlywed and newly pregnant Emma Trask anxiously awaits the return of her husband, a volunteer doctor stationed in London. Iris James, the single, 40-year-old new postmistress of Franklin, feels an immense responsibility in holding the town’s secrets in her bags of mail. Sarah Blake, the author of the Postmistress expertly weaves together the lives of these three very different women who live in two very different worlds. Frankie’s world is one of devastation, destruction and violence. For Emma and Iris, small-town America is home where its citizens go about their ordinary lives with their heads buried in the sand. As the United States reluctantly edges closer to getting actively involved in this horrible war, the entire country listens to the accounts of Frankie in disbelief, trepidation and horror. The United States at this time in history was trying hard to convince itself that the war in Europe would not touch them. But through the eyes of Frankie, Emma and Iris, the reader sees the tragedies of war that indiscriminately touched the lives of everyone.
This is a very powerful book, written about a very difficult subject in a dreadful time in our nation’s history. But I guarantee, once you pick it and start reading, you won’t be able to put it down! You will care very deeply about the fates of these three women.