A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

I do not typically read novels about rich and glamorous people, but Beatriz Williams’ latest novel A Certain Age caught my eye. It caught my eye because it is a mystery hidden inside accounts of New York City life in the 1920s from the perspective of two women.

From the publisher:

As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. An intense and deeply honorable man, Octavian is devoted to the beautiful socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her. While times are changing and she does adore the Boy, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question, and there is no need; she has an understanding with Sylvo, her generous and well-respected philanderer husband.

But their relationship subtly shifts when her bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the sweet younger daughter of a newly wealthy inventor. Engaging a longstanding family tradition, Theresa enlists the Boy to act as her brother’s cavalier, presenting the family’s diamond rose ring to Ox’s intended, Miss Sophie Fortescue—and to check into the background of the little-known Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the pretty ingénue, even as he uncovers a shocking family secret. As the love triangle of Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie progresses, it transforms into a saga of divided loyalties, dangerous revelations, and surprising twists that will lead to a shocking transgression . . . and eventually force Theresa to make a bittersweet choice.

Williams is a master of description – not only of characters, but of scenes as well. She paints a vivid picture of New York City life with all of the glitz and rebelliousness of the Jazz Age. Williams captures the initial stages of the liberation of women – freedom to vote for the first time, beginning to work outside the home, and more progressive thoughts on some social issues.

Although it is hard to relate to the massive amounts of wealth of the two female main characters, it is not hard to follow along and sympathize or be revolted by their behavior.

Williams adroitly tells the tale from both the perspective of young and naive Sophie and older and experienced Theresa. This approach is a great way to tell a story, especially when both characters are interacting with each other. For example, Williams does this perfectly at the wedding announcement party for Sophie and Ox. Williams describes Sophie’s actions in one chapter and Theresa’s reaction to those actions in another chapter.

Apparently Williams is known for her plot twists and lives up to it by including plenty of these all the way to the end.

First Entrepreneur by Edward G. Lengel

Edward G. Lengel again brings his extensive knowledge of George Washington to his latest book entitled First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His – and the Nation’s – Prosperity. At 280 pages with 8 pages of black and white pictures, the book is a good read.

The United States was conceived in business, founded on business, and operated as a business—all because of the entrepreneurial mind of the greatest American businessman of any generation: George Washington.

Using Washington’s extensive but often overlooked financial papers, Edward G. Lengel chronicles the fascinating and inspiring story of how this self-educated man built the Mount Vernon estate into a vast multilayered enterprise and prudently managed meager resources to win the war of independence. Later, as president, he helped establish the national economy on a solid footing and favorably positioned the nation for the Industrial Revolution. Washington’s steadfast commitment to the core economic principles of probity, transparency, careful management, and calculated boldness are timeless lessons that should inspire and instruct investors even today.

The book is a treasure trove of unpublished knowledge on the business mind of George Washington. It is a fascinating look at a man many see only as a military and political leader. According to Lengel, Washington was  a businessman first and foremost. His thoughts on business influenced him throughout his life from beginning as a surveyor to leading the nation.

The book is an interesting and engaging read.

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The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

In the second book of the Tearling series, The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen delivers another well-written book. Although the book is 514 pages, it is a quick read.

Below is a synopsis of the plot from the publisher:

In this riveting sequel to the national bestseller The Queen of the Tearling, the evil kingdom of Mortmesne invades the Tearling, with dire consequences for Queen Kelsea and her realm.

With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, Kelsea has crossed the brutal Red Queen, who derives her power from dark magic and who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what she claims is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing. She finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. Soon Kelsea herself begins to change; she does not recognize either her reflection in the mirror or the extraordinary power she now commands. The fate of the Tearling—and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Queen Kelsea is running out of time.

In the second book, we finally start to get an idea of the pre-Crossing world. The Queen of the Tearling only made mention of the pre-Crossing time without any details. As described above, Johansen uses Lily as an avenue of portraying what was happening in the world then and how the Crossing occurred. This story line fills in some of the gaps in understanding the pre-Crossing and the post-Crossing worlds.

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The Pawnbroker by Edward Lewis Wallant

The Pawnbroker by Edward Lewis Wallant is a recent republication from the 1960s. It is an excellent portrayal of a Jewish man who survived the Holocaust and came to America.

Here is a summary of the book from the publisher:

For most of us, remembering the Holocaust requires effort; we listen to stories, watch films, read histories. But the people who came to be called “survivors” could not avoid their memories. Sol Nazerman, protagonist of Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Pawnbroker, is one such sufferer.

At 45, Nazerman, who survived Bergen-Belsen although his wife and children did not, runs a Harlem pawnshop. But the operation is only a front for a gangster who pays Nazerman a comfortable salary for his services. Nazerman’s dreams are haunted by visions of his past tortures. (Dramatizations of these scenes in Sidney Lumet’s 1964 film version are famous for being the first time the extermination camps were depicted in a Hollywood movie.)

The book is extremely dark, but considering the subject, this is totally understandable. The characters are very raw and jaded. Wallant brings forth the depth of the characters in his prose. Sol is to be despised for his behavior toward his customers and employee, but also pitied for what he went through at Bergen-Belsen.

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67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means

Although I know several people who attended Kent State University in the 1980s and 1990s, I never truly understood the events that occurred there on May 4, 1970. In college, I learned more about the tragic events surrounding the shootings. Howard Means in his book 67 Shots and the End of American Innocence brings to the forefront again the debate about what happened at the University that fateful day.

The book’s publisher provides a brief overview of the book:

At midday on May 4, 1970, after three days of protests, several thousand students and the Ohio National Guard faced off at opposite ends of the grassy campus Commons at Kent State University. At noon, the Guard moved out. Twenty-four minutes later, Guardsmen launched a 13-second, 67-shot barrage that left four students dead and nine wounded, one paralyzed for life. The story doesn’t end there, though. A horror of far greater proportions was narrowly averted minutes later when the Guard and students reassembled on the Commons.

The Kent State shootings were both unavoidable and preventable: unavoidable in that all the discordant forces of a turbulent decade flowed together on May 4, 1970, on one Ohio campus; preventable in that every party to the tragedy made the wrong choices at the wrong time in the wrong place.

I am still amazed to this day about several facts regarding the events surrounding the shootings: (1) that the National Guard, with no training in riot control, was deployed to the campus; (2) the Guard was issued and told to load bullets in their rifles; (3) University, town, and state leadership were either physically or mentally absent in the escalating situation; and (4) the University was not shut down after the events of Friday and Saturday nights prior to the Monday shootings.

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And After The Fire by Lauren Belfer

And After Fire Stack

Lauren Belfer has written a compelling novel on an unknown Johann Sebastian Bach cantata that is hidden until present day. The masterful work is entitled And After the Fire (452 pages).

An overview from the publisher:

In the ruins of Germany in 1945, at the end of World War II, American soldier Henry Sachs takes a souvenir, an old music manuscript, from a seemingly deserted mansion and mistakenly kills the girl who tries to stop him.

In America in 2010, Henry’s niece, Susanna Kessler, struggles to rebuild her life after she experiences a devastating act of violence on the streets of New York City. When Henry dies soon after, she uncovers the long-hidden music manuscript. She becomes determined to discover what it is and to return it to its rightful owner, a journey that will challenge her preconceptions about herself and her family’s history—and also offer her an opportunity to finally make peace with the past.

In Berlin, Germany, in 1783, amid the city’s glittering salons where aristocrats and commoners, Christians and Jews, mingle freely despite simmering anti-Semitism, Sara Itzig Levy, a renowned musician, conceals the manuscript of an anti-Jewish cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, an unsettling gift to her from Bach’s son, her teacher. This work and its disturbing message will haunt Sara and her family for generations to come.

Belfer expertly weaves the separate stories of Sara and Susanna into one compelling story. It is fascinating how Belfer efficiently switches from one character to the other even though they are centuries apart. A true masterpiece in writing.

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