5 Stars 2019

Here’s my list of favorite reads during 2019! Many are not new, but in my estimation, great reads. I appreciate your continued patronage and send best wishes for a happy holiday season and peaceful New Year.

  1. The Late George Apley
  2. Everyone Brave is Forgiven
  3. The End of Loneliness
  4. Leonardo da Vinci
  5. Giovanni’s Room
  6. The Alice Network
  7. Olive Kitteridge
  8. All the Lives We Never Lived
  9. Flyboys: A True Story of Courage
  10. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
  11. Les Miserables
  12. The Living
  13. Maggie Brown and Others: Stories
  14. Pork Pie Hat
  1. Grateful American: A Journey From Self to Service
  2. . Sophie’s Choice
  3. . The Riddle and the Knight: In Search of Sir John Mandeville
  4. . American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt


(Please note: the books are listed in the order in which they were read.)

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That’s Hollywood

The Great Pretenders by Laura Kalpakian is a fictional novel with a lot of action. Set in California during the McCarthy era, its main character Roxanne goes against many 1950’s conventions by opening her own agency for aspiring Hollywood screenwriters. However, many talented writers are in hiding after being shunned as Communists during the Red Scare. Roxanne hatches a plot to use other writers who aren’t shunned to front for those who remain in hiding by submitting scripts to the studios with the hope that she can aid the good writers from the past as well as the ones acting as fronts.

In the process of her subterfuge, she meets and fall in love with an African-American reporter who becomes involved in the fight for civil rights being played out in Alabama. Obviously, her bi-racial Love relationship goes against 1950’s social morays, and troubles ensue.

There’s definitely a lot of rules being broken and secrets being kept in this novel; in my opinion, too many. I thought the communist scare was plenty by itself. The addition of the race riots as a bit too much for me and I questioned whether a privileged girl raised in Hollywood by studio moguls would have taken the actions Roxanne did. I had difficulty buying the dual storyline. It’s not a bad novel, but it made me feel as if the author was overzealous in her desire to correlate communism with prejudice in the South. The main character’s upbringing didn’t jive with her actions.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. However, recent personal health issues required me to listen to the audiobook instead. It drove me nuts that the reader repeatedly mispronounced the word “picture”! She kept saying pitcher! I’m surprised and disappointed no one caught that error because the word picture was so often used.

I regret to say this novel has a message, but it didn’t come across for me.

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The Apple from the Tree

American Princess: A novel of first daughter Alice Roosevelt by Stephanie Marie Thornton is a well researched book about President Theodore Roosevelt’s first child who led a very colorful life.

Alice’s mother died only two days after giving birth leaving TR bereft. Baby Alice looked so much like her late mother that TR had great difficulty even looking at her. He did love his daughter along with his second wife with whom he had additional children, but Alice was an independent, intelligent woman whose antics captured the attention of the media throughout her fascinating long life.

She married a philandering politician from Ohio and gave birth to the daughter of a married man, also a politician, with whom she had an affair for years. Yes, Alice broke many rules of convention, but the story of her life and political prowess is captivating.

I’ve read and own several books about the Roosevelt families and this is a welcome addition to my knowledge about their lives. Considering the current state of political turmoil in the U.S., this book reinforced my belief that politicians are in a class of their own!

Alice’s life was in many ways glamorous, but she had more than her fair share of sorrow. She was quite an interesting character!

After finishing this book, it occurred to me that my love of reading historical books stems from the desire to gain knowledge from people who have walked the roads I have yet to tread. Told in the first-person, this historical fiction is one I highly recommend.

Please note, I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Expendable Lives

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff  is a historical fiction novel set during and after World War II. It begins in New York near Grand Central Station where an unknown woman has been hit and killed by an automobile. This attention grabber leads the reader and one of the story’s main characters named Grace on an intriguing hunt for the truth about the dead woman.

Inside the station, Grace, a recent war widow, discovers an abandoned suitcase containing photos and personal items. Inexplicably, Grace pockets the pictures of twelve women , but leaves the suitcase behind. Something makes her want to find out who these women are and so her quest begins.

What follows is a short step back in time to London and France after Grace finds out the women were Allied radio operators working behind the lines in France prior to the D-Day invasion. With the aid of her late husband’s friend, Grace discovers the fates of the women in the photos.

I enjoyed this story with one exception based on previous nonfiction books I have read about radio transmissions and operations during World War II which taught me about radio codes. For security, the codes were often changed. That didn’t happen in this novel and I wondered why not.

I think this story could have been told by a different character without the aid of present tense Grace as well. Her side story doesn’t really enhance the tale. Overall, I enjoyed the novel because of my fascination with war stories. I recommend it!

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Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout was a sequel novel I looked forward to with great anticipation. Unfortunately, it left me feeling disgusted. I say this because this short story collection includes some content about the prickly Olive Kitterage, but it also includes off color chapters which in my estimation, lent nothing but smut purely for the sake of it and I found it distasteful and distracting.

The Olive segments provided a continued story about her life which were interesting; her husband dies and she remarries. Olive still offends many people she encounters. But, the stories about a couple of people left me wondering why’d you go there Strout?

There are feet and tongues wagging all over the place and this reviewer’s opinion is that the gratuitous sex segments of the novel should have been left out because they made the novel offensive to me. This is a sequel which I cannot recommend. It is a huge disappointment.

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Finding Truth

The Riddle and the Knight: In search of Sir John Mandeville by Giles Milton is a non-fiction book published in 1996. This is another library book sale discovery which, quite frankly, left me amazed.

Milton, a British journalist, discovered Mandeville’s book in a local bookstore and decided to investigate the famous story told centuries prior which had a profound influence on future explorers.

Following the footsteps of Sir Mandeville through Cyprus, the Holy Land and Syria, the author found truths and plagiarism, but his exhaustive research tells a fascinating tale of an Englishman who lived in the fourteenth century whose travel guide based on his pilgrimage was widely read and published centuries ago. It is without question that well-known future explorers such as Christopher Columbus were inspired by the book.

This is a great book filled with amazing historical facts and places. I loved it! Highly recommended!

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Breaking the Rules

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton: A Biography by Connie N. Wooldridge is a YA book, but due to its content, I’m a bit surprised. I found this at a library book sale and brought it home because I’ve read and studied some of Wharton’s award winning novels.

Born into a wealthy, upperclass family in New York, Edith led a life of privilege. She came from old money, and lived during the era when new fortunes were being made and class wars pitted the nouveau riche against the old established wealthy families.

From an early age, Edith exhibited unusual behaviors and an interest in writing which made her stand out from the rest. Her father died at a young age, but her mother saw to it that Edith was married to a man who came from old money in order to ensure her daughter’s future security. Unfortunately, many years later it became apparent that Edith’s husband had a mental illness and they eventually divorced.

Edith was a dedicated, successful writer who became the first woman to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize. She lived much of her life in Europe, preferring it to the U.S. What truly amazed me were her many contributions to the war effort in France during World War One. She was quite fearless and chose to live in Paris during the war.

She had close relationships with other writers of her era. Henry James was one of the many who admired her and her work.

I learned a great deal about Wharton’s interesting life and enjoyed this book sale acquisition immensely. I recommend it!

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