The library has been very cooperative in making books available for me this summer...
America's Reluctant Prince: the Life of John F. Kennedy Jr. by Steven Gillon
This was a very interesting biography of JFK Jr. that was published on the anniversary of his death in a small plane crash.
The author was very up to the task for two reasons. First, he is an accomplished historian, with a specialty in modern American history, so he really knows a lot about the eras he's writing about. Second, he was friends with JFK Jr. for many years - they first met when Gillon was his TA at Brown and continued to see each other regularly over the years, particularly to play squash. While Gillon readily admits he was in JFK's "outer circle" rather than a very close friend, he still was able to include many personal anecdotes which added to the narrative.
The book covered the entire span of JFK Jr.'s lifetime so there was a lot about his father's presidency and assassination - though from the lens of how it impacted his son. Neither of the parents came off looking perfect, though they were very humanized. Jackie, in particular, was often described as very controlling - of her children, the secret service charged with protecting her children, etc. We also learn of JFK Jr's positive relationship with Aristotle Onassis and how he was negatively impacted by his death as well as the deaths of his father and uncle.
It was also interesting to read about JFK Jr.'s relationship with other famous Kennedy's including his uncles Robert and Teddy as well as their children. While he was also quite friendly with some of the children of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Jean Kennedy Smith, his closest relationship was with Anthony Radziwill, the son of Jackie's sister. In his last few months he was very upset by Anthony's decline due to cancer.
While I enjoyed the personal parts of the book, there was a lot of focus on JFK's efforts to build George Magazine, as well as the relationships he had through the magazine. While I understand the importance of this to telling the story of his life, to me it was less interesting.
Finally, I thought the author's insights into JFK's failing (potentially at least from the author's point of view) marriage and why he was a risk taker were very interesting and may partially explain why he was piloting a plane through the Martha's Vineyard fog when he was not certified to fly with instruments alone.
All in all a really interesting read.
Before we Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
This fiction novel is loosely based on historical events - where the director of a Memphis adoption agency stole poor children from their parents and sold them to wealthy families all over the US.
This book goes back and forth in time, and while you know that the stories will end up tied together, it is not so immediately obvious as to render the book too predictable.
In the past, Rill Foss is the oldest of five children living on a Mississippi shanty boat. While they are poor, they seem to be happy and for the most part their parents are doing their best. When their mother goes into labour with twins, and a local midwife is unable to deliver, the parents are forced to go to the hospital. Rill is left in charge and does her best to keep things together but eventually the children are seized by child welfare authorities. They are led to believe they will be taken to their parents but are quick to learn the awful truth.
The children are put in an orphanage where they are physically and mentally abused as well as put on display for potential adoptive parents. Rill works hard to keep her family together and in alternate chapters we learn what she is capable of - and what she is not.
The present day chapters deal with Avery Stafford. She is a young attorney from a wealthy family, engaged to be married to a long time family friend who is equally wealthy. She returns to her home in South Carolina to be groomed to take over her ill father's place in Congress. While there she visits a nursing home and is intrigued by photos which one of the resident has on display - of several women who remind her of her grandmother. She tries to get information about it from her grandmother - but she is suffering from dementia and only utters some words and names which make no sense. So Avery does some detective work of her own to figure out what's going on. And in finding out more about her past, she makes some decisions which also affect her future.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
This book was just pure enjoyable fluff. Olive Torres, who has always considered herself the unlucky twin, is maid of honour at her twin sister's wedding. Because she is allergic to seafood she does not partake in the seafood buffet which gives everyone at the wedding severe food poisoning. The only other person who has not eaten the tainted food is her sworn enemy, the groom's older brother, Ethan.
As luck would have it they are forced to take the honeymoon of their siblings which is non-cancellable. Not terribly surprising things happen when they are forced to spend a week together in Hawaiian paradise - but many of the scenes (such as when the meet both Olive's boss and Ethan's ex) are very humorous.
Not at all great literature but fun if you're in the mood.
Surfside Sisters by Nancy Thayer
I usually try to read one Nantucket based Thayer book every summer and this one didn't disappoint. Her books are all fairly similar but well written with interesting characters.
This one details the lives of two island based friends - Keely and Isabelle. While they were inseparable growing up, they did come from different backgrounds. Keely was an only child of working class parents while Isabelle's father was a very successful lawyer so Isabelle lived a much more adventurous life. Both girls dreamed of being writers - and Keely also pined after Isabelle's older brother Sebastian.
As the girls grew, jealousies over careers and men interfered with their friendship. This tells the story of their time together, apart and slowly coming back together.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Bali Kaur Jaswal
While I didn't enjoy this as much as Jaswal's prior novel, Erotic Tales for Punjabi Widows, which was more humorous, I did still enjoy the story.
In this book, the mother of three British born Punjabi girls leaves them a deathbed wish - travel to India together the following summer to make a pilgrimage which she describes for them, and scatter her ashes.
The three girls set out together despite all of their differences - the eldest is a straight laced school principal, the middle daughter is an out of work actress who is plagued by a recent Youtube scandal, and the youngest has just entered into an arranged marriage and is living in Australia with her husband and interfering mother in law.
As the sisters spend time together, they learn each other's secrets which pulls them closer together - surely accomplishing what their mother intended.