Tag Archives: accidental death

Charleston by John Jakes

We read Savanah for last month’s book club and decided to focus on John Jakes other stand alone book, Charleston, for this month. What a difference. While Savanah was a fun little book (if you can call anything about the brutality of the Civil War fun), Charleston was a completely different sort of novel. Beautifully written, full of action, pathos, and, at times, pandemonium.

It begins with the family’s “founding father” in 1720 deciding to marry his pregnant girlfriend who agrees on the condition that he change his last name to something nicer sounding. Influenced by the sounds emanating from a church tower in Charleston, he decides on Bell. Fast forward to the Revolutionary War and the Bell family who own and manage the wharf along with several homes and have a well known reputation within the community. Enter Edward Bell returning from law school in England after hearing that his home town is going to be invaded by the British. His father sends him to escort his mother, located at their nearby summer home, to a safer location, but he is too late. Local men, loyal to the crown, take it upon themselves to loot and pillage the revolutionary friendly family, and Edward’s mom is shot in the stomach. This begins a feud between the two families which interweaves throughout future generations. It’s also the first of many violent deaths which permeate the plot. The Revolutionary War takes it toll on the members of the Bell family, but the widows and their children carry on into the War of 1812 where Charleston’s harbor is once again invaded. Strife continues as the political climate changes the focus of the landowners who insist on slavery, despite the laws that restrict the slave trade in the town. This leads to the Civil War which once again pits neighbor against neighbor. The Union eventually wins out (spoiler alert) and somehow the Bell family survives the mayhem of the Antebellum South, barely, with some hope towards the future of Charleston, South Carolina.

Mayhem is the key word. I chose to listen to the audio read by George Guidall, an abridged version, and there appeared to be an excess of deaths, mostly murders, although Mother Nature had her hand in some spectacular means of demise. This book would make a great basis for literary bingo, or better yet, a drinking tournament. The reader can’t help but be sucked up into the drama, rooting for their favorites, booing the villains (and there are a lot of those to hiss at). Jakes has a talent for creating vivid characters and a fast moving plot and in Charleston he has not lost his touch. Any of his series is a good bet for an excellent read, including this historical novel which contains real life events and personalities along with the fiction. Four stars. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Calamity! Yes, it’s one calamity after another in the small seaside resort area in Pirriwee, Australia when Madeline sprains her ankle on her way to kindergarten orientation with her precocious daughter Chloe. New resident Jane with her son Ziggy assists the injured woman as they both drop their children off to meet the prospective teacher. Madeline and Jane end up on the beach at the Blues Blue coffee shop where Celeste, the mother of twins, joins them to help the injured party celebrate her birthday. The gift of champagne and flutes are perfect, despite the early hour, because Madeline is now f-o-r-t-y. The party atmosphere continues as they go to pick up their darlings until little Amabelle accuses Ziggy of choking her. Despite the tot’s denial, the parents end up sorting themselves into team Renata (Amabelle’s mum) vs Team Madeline. Amidst the conflict and resulting bedlam, the families deal with the normal chaos of raising children. While behind the scenes each couple has secrets which are slowly revealed, it is the flamboyant, gutsy Madeline who meets life head on, guiding her friends through their individual crisis. She even tries to be “civil” to her ex husband and new wife who also have a daughter attending the same kindergarten program, (although on PMS days, her behavior might not be “quite polite” towards those who have slighted her or her friends).

As the story progresses, bad behaviors escalate until the climax on Trivia Night, a costumed fundraising competition, where an altercation and death occurs. The event is alluded to via short vignettes placed at the beginning or end of a chapter, with various participants giving their take on exactly what happened through the questioning by Investigating Officer Quinlan. The reader is left trying to sort fact from fiction and figure out exactly who the victim might be.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is an amusing, witty romp dealing with societal pressures, spousal abuse, infidelity, love and loss, bullying, blended families, teen angst, working mothers, and fragile egos. Who knew a story about a class of kindergarteners could be so much fun!

Five stars for a “can’t stop reading” book. (For a real treat listen to the CD expertly read by Caroline Lee who makes each character your personal friend or enemy). We will have to wait and see if the upcoming version on HBO retains the flavor of the original novel when the locale is moved from Australia to California.

This review also appears on Goodreads.