Monday, April 11, 2022

Review: The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki

Title: The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post

Author: Allison Pataki 

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Publish Date: February 15, 2022

Format: Print

Source: Library


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Mrs. Post, the President and First Lady are here to see you. . . . So begins another average evening for Marjorie Merriweather Post. Presidents have come and gone, but she has hosted them all. Growing up in the modest farmlands of Battle Creek, Michigan, Marjorie was inspired by a few simple rules: always think for yourself, never take success for granted, and work hard--even when deemed American royalty, even while covered in imperial diamonds. Marjorie had an insatiable drive to live and love and to give more than she got. From crawling through Moscow warehouses to rescue the Tsar's treasures to outrunning the Nazis in London, from serving the homeless of the Great Depression to entertaining Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Hollywood's biggest stars, Marjorie Merriweather Post lived an epic life few could imagine.


Marjorie's journey began gluing cereal boxes in her father's barn as a young girl. No one could have predicted that C. W. Post's Cereal Company would grow into the General Foods empire and reshape the American way of life, with Marjorie as its heiress and leading lady. Not content to stay in her prescribed roles of high-society wife, mother, and hostess, Marjorie dared to demand more, making history in the process. Before turning thirty she amassed millions, becoming the wealthiest woman in the United States. But it was her life-force, advocacy, passion, and adventurous spirit that led to her stunning legacy.

And yet Marjorie's story, though full of beauty and grandeur, set in the palatial homes she built such as Mar-a-Lago, was equally marked by challenge and tumult. A wife four times over, Marjorie sought her happily-ever-after with the blue-blooded party boy who could not outrun his demons, the charismatic financier whose charm turned to betrayal, the international diplomat with a dark side, and the bon vivant whose shocking secrets would shake Marjorie and all of society. Marjorie did everything on a grand scale, especially when it came to love."

My Two Cents:

Before reading "The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post," I really didn't know much about Marjorie Post even with all of the local connections to the Washington, D.C. area here (her Hillwood Estate in NW D.C. is lovely if you ever come for a visit). I was really looking forward to reading about her and learning more. As we see in this book, she really had a magnificent life! 

Marjorie Merriweather Post, a woman born into the prestigious Post cereal family. Her home life often seemed equal parts difficult and privileged as she faced her parents rocky marriage and blooming business that her father started. While Post's life definitely has a privileged glow, the underlying theme of the book often seems to be money can't buy happiness. The book follows her through her very young life and then as she begins to carve out a life for herself. She becomes the head of her father's cereal company during a time when women rarely had a seat at the table in any business. She is married four times: each time a new adventure and each of these relationships changes how Marjorie moves through the world. She is always her own woman even when the going gets tough!

Post is in great hands with Allison Pataki! I loved all of the historical detail that Pataki brings in, which really made the book come to life! Having been to places like the Homestead Hotel (the Omni Homestead now) and Hillwood Estate, the descriptions in the book really rang true! 

I really enjoyed this book and can't wait to see what Pataki writes next!



Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Review: The Unquiet Dead by Stacie Murphy

Title: The Unquiet Dead

Author: Stacie Murphy 

Format: Print

Publisher: Pegasus

Publish Date: April 5, 2022 (Yesterday!)

Source: Publisher


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The new Gilded Age mystery featuring the uniquely talented Amelia Matthew—who has the ability to communicate with the dead—as she uses her special talents to solve the murder of a young girl whose death has scandalized New York City.


Three months after her harrowing experience on Blackwell’s Island, Amelia is doing her best to come to terms with her new abilities to commune with the spirit world. The last thing she wants to do is hunt for another killer through the streets of Gilded Age New York. But when she and Jonas discover the body—and spirit—of a young girl whose kidnapping has electrified the city, Amelia’s resolve wavers. It breaks entirely when a fifteen-year old boy—the son of one of the club’s black waiters and his Irish immigrant wife—is accused of the crime.

With the city in an uproar and an ambitious reporter watching their every move, Amelia and her brother Jonas set out to discover the truth. And they have to do it quickly: in five days, the boy will be transferred to the brutal Sing Sing prison to await trial. For such a notorious suspect, it’s as good as a death sentence.

But all the evidence seems to point to the boy’s guilt. Worse, the murdered child wasn’t the first: there have been at least five other victims. As tensions rise throughout the city, the boy’s family is subjected to an escalating campaign of violence and intimidation, culminating in the firebombing of their home.

In the chaotic aftermath, Amelia taps into her special talents to search for the clues that will unmask the killer."

My Two Cents:

"The Unquiet Dead" is the story of Amelia Matthew, a young woman who has a particular talent where she can communicate with the dead. She is still coming to terms with this gift when the book opens. A slew of murders of young children and a potentially wrongly accused murderer shake Amelia from trying to come to term with her gift to diving in and using her gift before it's too late and more innocence is lost. 

Oh, this book really fit the bill for me! I love a good ghost story and I love how real the author made Amelia's powers feel. The world building in this book was really great. The author does a great job of not only making you care about the main characters but the secondary characters as well. She does a good job of showing some of the past and how it is still shaping how these characters move throughout the world. You are really pulling for all of them!

This is the second book in the author's series about Amelia's powers. Admittedly, I felt a little lost with some of the back story as I have not read the first book. While I ended up loving the characters, I do wish that I would have had more context for where they were coming from in order to connect with them a little sooner in the book. While you get a semi-recap of what happened in the book, I was definitely a little lost at first. I wish I had realized that this book was a sequel but that just means that now I need to go back and read the first book!

Overall, this was a great historical fantasy with strong gothic overtones and a good helping of mystery! I do recommend reading the first book first!



Monday, April 4, 2022

March Round-up!

 


My March in numbers:

  • I read a total of 15 books. 
  • Five of those books were books I already owned! (I wanted to read seven of my own books! Win some, lose some)
  • One of my March goals was to: Read at least two leadership books (already owned or not), which I did!

Best book I read this month: 
  • This was such a good reading month that I can't just choose one book!

April Goals:
  • Read at least seven of my own books (we'll try this again)
  • Read at least two leadership books. 

What are your reading goals for April?

Monday, March 28, 2022

Literary Locale: Hot Springs, VA and Marjorie Merriwether Post


 

It's been a hot second since I've been able to do a Literary Locale and this one happened quite by accident. A couple weeks ago, my husband and I escaped to Hot Springs, VA to the Omni Homestead. It's a grand historic hotel surrounded by nature and one of the biggest draws are the natural hot springs that are both on and around the property. We had a lovely time! 

Flash forward about a week and I'm reading Alison Pataki's latest book, The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post. For one of her honeymoons, she travels by train from Washington, D.C. to Hot Springs, VA. There is no longer passenger train service to Hot Springs but you can travel there by car and it's a relatively easy three hours from D.C.

The book pictured with some of the jewelry I bought at the hotel. I feel like Marjorie would approve.


The train service was said to be luxurious and a perfect way to start your travels to this restful place. The train station would have been just in front of this row of buildings:

The hotel would have been and still is the biggest structure around these parts. It is breathtaking even now:







The original hotel was built in 1766 but had to be rebuilt when it caught fire. When it was rebuilt, it went from a log frame hotel to a much grander place featuring the brick work that you can still see on it today. Hot Springs became a place for the well-to-do to escape from the heat (both actual and metaphorical) of Washington, D.C. 

The hotel has a fab library with pictures of many famous people who stayed at the hotel and it was amazing to see even just the highlights of that list. I would love to go back and it's easy to see why Ms. Post would have picked the Homestead for a romantic getaway!

Come back on Wednesday when I'll have a review of the book up!






Wednesday, March 16, 2022

On Vacation

I love to travel and as much as I love airplanes and trains, there is something beautiful about the classic road trip. It’s slower but I love being able to watch the world go by. I also love that it allows me to bring A LOT of books. 



I’ll be back with more reviews next week!



Monday, March 14, 2022

Quick Pick Review: A Train to Moscow by Elena Gorokhova

 Title: A Train to Moscow

Author: Elena Gorokhova

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Publish Date: March 1, 2022

Source: Borrowed


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In post–World War II Russia, a girl must reconcile a tragic past with her hope for the future in this powerful and poignant novel about family secrets, passion and loss, perseverance and ambition.


In a small, provincial town behind the Iron Curtain, Sasha lives in a house full of secrets, one of which is her own dream of becoming an actress. When she leaves for Moscow to audition for drama school, she defies her mother and grandparents and abandons her first love, Andrei.

Before she leaves, Sasha discovers the hidden war journal of her uncle Kolya, an artist still missing in action years after the war has ended. His pages expose the official lies and the forbidden truth of Stalin’s brutality. Kolya’s revelations and his tragic love story guide Sasha through drama school and cement her determination to live a thousand lives onstage. After graduation, she begins acting in Leningrad, where Andrei, now a Communist Party apparatchik, becomes a censor of her work. As a past secret comes to light, Sasha’s ambitions converge with Andrei’s duties, and Sasha must decide if her dreams are truly worth the necessary sacrifice and if, as her grandmother likes to say, all will indeed be well.

My Two Cents:

With everything going on in the world right now, "A Train to Moscow" feels particularly timely. In post World War II Soviet Union, Sasha dreams about becoming an actress even though the road may be difficult and it may put her in an undesirable spotlight. Her family is also worried for her and not fully supportive. In addition to her career aspirations, she also knows that her family is hiding a deep secret about her mysterious uncle.

I feel like I really haven't read a lot of historical fiction set in the time period in the book and I loved getting to know more about what it would have been like to live during that time. The world building in this book was really interesting and I loved all of the great detail that the author fit into this book. You can imagine exactly what Sasha is going through and all of the detail makes for a truly engaging read.



Friday, March 11, 2022

Review: The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb

Title: The Next Ship Home

Author: Heather Webb

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Publish Date: February 8, 2022

Source: Owned


What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Ellis Island, 1902. Francesca arrives on the shores of America, her sights set on a better life than the one she left in Italy. That same day, aspiring linguist Alma reports to her first day of work at the immigrant processing center. Ellis, though, is not the refuge it first appears thanks to President Roosevelt's attempts to deter crime. Francesca and Alma will have to rely on each other to escape its corruption and claim the American dreams they were promised.


A thoughtful historical inspired by true events, this novel probes America's history of prejudice and exclusion—when entry at Ellis Island promised a better life but often delivered something drastically different, immigrants needed strength, resilience, and friendship to fight for their futures."

What's the Story?:

Heather Webb is on my auto-read list and has been for a long time. Every time she comes out with a new book, I know that I am in for a wonderful, fully engaging story. This book is no different! "The Next Ship Home" is a richly detailed story about two women, Francesca and Alma, in early 1900s  New York City. These two women from very different places will cross paths in very surprising ways during a tumultuous time period in American history.

The character building in the book is really fantastic and I loved how real Webb was able to make both women feel. Francesca is running from a terrible past in her native Italy. She is willing to brave the unknown just to try to free herself and her sister from what would certainly be a terrible future. But is the unknown always better than a terrible known? 

Alma is a young woman trying to break free of being so tightly reliant on her family so she takes a job at Ellis Island. The work is hard and often emotionally draining as she sees people from across the world coming to America to find a better life. Will Alma ever truly have a life of her own design? Alma and Francesca end up being pulled together and linked throughout the story in ways that neither of them expect. The secondary characters are really amazing as well and I am totally pulling for a follow on story about Francesca and what happens after this book ends (no spoilers!!!).

The setting is almost its own character in the book. Ellis Island is a fascinating place and I love New York (who doesn't?). I believe this is one of the first histfic books that I have read about Ellis Island and I loved how Webb was able to capture the tumult of what it would have been like to go through Ellis Island during its heyday. 

Overall, this was a great story that had me captivated! This is one of the best books that I have read so far this year and I cannot wait to see what else Heather Webb comes out with in the future!



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