Tag Archives: death

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

What makes Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson so special is not the story, although the plot is full of subtle wit and unforseeable plot twists, but the rich and quirky characterizations of the personalities living in the small town outside London, England.

At first Major Pettigrew seems kind of opinionated and stuffy, but his relationship with Mrs. Allie, the shop keeper of Pakistanee descent, softens his attitude, and making him endearing to the reader. We find ourselves rooting for the Major as he attempts to surreptitiously woo the widow while remaining a perfect gentleman.

To make the enjoyment even more complete, add in a couple of obnoxious, money grubbing in laws, a son who pursues prestige over tradition, a Lord willing to sell out the entire village in order to maintain his decadent lifestyle, a crass, egocentric American Industrialist whose annoying behavior threatens to ruin every gathering he attends, and a woman’s group who between gossiping sessions run many of the social events expounded upon in the novel.

In short, the Major finds himself having difficulty dealing with the death of his brother and Mrs. Allie, the local shop keeper, who happens to be in the right place at the right time, is able to comfort the man. There is a spark between the two and as they both deal with their own personal challenges involving the embarrassing indiscretions of various family members, they find a moments relief and even joy in each other’s company.

A major focal point in the tale is the story of the two matched rifles, Churchills, which were presented to the Major’s grandfather by an Indian Maharaja, as a reward for protecting his daughter from harm by some rebels. While the Major expected to inherit the pair, his father gave one to his brother with the expectation the two would be reunited upon one of their deaths. No such stipulation was written into the will and much to his horror, his sister in law is mentally spending the money to be earned by selling the family heirloom(s). The Churchills seem to drive the plot forward, somehow relating to the various interactions of the characters throughout the plot.

While there is a bit of action, along with a few plot twists, most of the story focuses upon the life of the Major as he pursues his interests (such as plotting the ways he can keep both Churchills) while trying to advance his relationship with the alluring Mrs. Allee. His clever, deprecating remarks to the questionable comments of his fellow townspeople result in numerous laugh out loud moments, a personal barometer of a book destined to be a favorite. The contentious relationship between father and son also inexplicably brings a smile to my face as despite their different viewpoints on life, they reluctantly share a love which goes beyond kinship. Kudos to Simonson for a superb debut novel as well as to Peter Altschuler who was the spectacular reader of the audiotape.

My five star rating shouldn’t be a surprise and I hope the movie version lives up to the cleverness of the author’s original text.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

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The Mad Countess (Gothic Brides, #1) by Erica Monroe

It’s lucky that The Mad Countess (Gothic Brides, #1) by Erica Monroe was a novella because there wasn’t too much of a plot to keep our interest. It’s my understanding that Hestia, a local witch, claimed to be the daughter of Lord DeLisle and placed a curse on his two daughters when he refused to accept a patently false paternity. First Aunt Evelyn Brauning and then Lady Claire Deering’s own mother went mad. Madalane was placed in the Ticehurst Asylum whose treatment ended with her unintended fatality. The loss affected both father and daughter with dad removing himself from society as much as possible and Claire being dubbed the Mad Daughter. She accepts this label convinced that she can never marry or have children because she is destined to meet the same fate as her mom. Theodore Lockwood, Earl of Ashbrooke, her childhood playmate, has secretly been in love with Claire, and follows her to Keyvnor Castle in Cornwall for the reading of Lord Brauning’s will. She reveals her inner most thoughts and he tries to logically explain that her fears are nonsense, but some supernatural phenomena convinces him that perhaps there’s more to the story. Together that find a way to reverse the curse so they can be together.

Teddy has remained a virgin saving himself for his beloved Claire. After getting caught together in a storm in the middle of a maze, Claire decides to allow herself one moment of passion as long as Teddy takes precautions. He kind of knows what to do and gets some sort of satisfaction, but it certainly didn’t seem to set off any major fireworks for her, and honestly, it wasn’t too exciting for the reader either. His method of birth control also left much to be desired.

The best part of this Regency Romance was the ceremony of the Bocka Morrow Coven of witches who want to undo the harmful spell which the now deceased Hestia inflicted on the innocent sisters.

The plot moved forward mainly through the reflections of the two main characters, often repetitive. Better to have used the space to develop the secondary characters (or give some more depth to Clare and Teddy), many who I assume will be players in future novels in the series. There were a few apparitions who make a brief appearance that also might be of importance later. Referring to the movements of a few unexplained ghosts and revealing a raving woman with dementia locked in the attic does not make this a gothic novel, especially when these random acts are disconnected from the central story.

Luckily the book was short enough for a quick read without getting too annoyed by Monroe’s style of employing numerous means of expressing the same sentiment. This title was previously included in the Mystified Anthology.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Since The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is a murder mystery of sorts, it’s difficult to summarize without resorting to spoilers. Suffice it to say that daughter Laurel Nicolson witnessed her mother Dorothy murder a man when she was sixteen and now that her elderly mom is on her death bed, the sixty plus year old daughter decides this is her last chance to discover the truth. Her brother Geoffrey, a babe in his mother’s arms, was celebrating his second birthday, so he only has a vague feeling that something untoward happened on that date. Now, fifty years later, Laurel decides it’s finally time to clue him in so they can work together to figure out the details of their mom’s past.

Moving back and forth through time, from the present (2011) to the strife of wartime London (1941) to life as part of a loving family with five children (1961) and various years in between, the plot unfolds giving us bits and pieces of the tale – like a giant jig saw puzzle which has just enough blank spaces so that the big picture remains unrecognizable. Unfortunately, it takes way too many pages to discover the truth, and not until the disconcerting ending does the story finally come together.

While there are some obscure clues at the beginning of the book, by the time their relevance is revealed we’ve forgotten the details. With a slow start which doesn’t pick up until much later in the narration, I feel the main problem is the characterizations. The self absorbed Dolly is just plain unlikeable and at times her actions are despicable. She’s not the only one portrayed in a bad light. Laurel, a famous actress, is not a warm and fuzzy figure, even if the reader is sympathetic to her quest. Her numerous siblings are one dimensional, although the quirky Geoffrey has been fleshed out a bit. While the main focus was developing the convoluted plot (there’s a lot of tragedy along the way providing some sort of logical explanation for the evolving action), I felt more time should have been spent providing some depth to the secondary personalities. In my mind, any book over four hundred pages needs to justify the extra length and despite the surprise ending, this one fell short.

Four stars (just barely and only because of the “twist”) but it could have been so much better with a little tweaking.

I’ve Lost My Way by Gale Forman

By the time a child graduates from high school and reaches the magic age of eighteen we give them the right to vote, access to the armed forces, and the title of adult. Perhaps the term of Young Adult would be more accurate. Whatever the name, these youngsters are still children tied to the apron strings of their parents, just playing acting at the game of grown up until such time as they are able to actually grow into the role.

In I’ve Lost My Way, Gale Forman takes the lives of three such individuals who are facing the cusp of adulthood and all the issues which go along with the job description. Each encounters a dilemma which will affect the direction of their entire future. Not only do they need to deal with their personal issues, but wrapped up in the process is their relationship with their parents and the changes which will occur as they pull away from the family nest to pursue their own future path.

This however is just one day where their lives accidentally intersect in New York’s Central Park and they develop the sort of friendship with a youthful exuberance that can make a difference. Only the young can enjoy the camaraderie of strangers, as they come to each other’s rescue not knowing the whys and wherefores on a life changing day. Freya, a singer on the cusp of greatness, faces a glitch in her future plans, while Harun is looking for a way to escape an inner secret which he knows will lead to turmoil with his parents. Then there’s Nathaniel, armed with a backpack and a map, far from home and overwhelmed by the hustle of The City. Through their own voices we find out their backstories and what has brought them to this current moment in their lives. This diverse, unlikely trio discover the joy of an unencumbered friendship which doesn’t judge, but uplifts each of them at the lowest moments of their eighteen to nineteen year existence.

A smoothe read, easily completed in one sitting (you won’t be able to stop yourself from finishing this one), with a set of strong characters and a somewhat open ended conclusion which makes anything possible. As an aside, I’m giving a shout out to fans of Tolkien who value the sanctity of his Lord of the Rings – Ms Forman, Nathaniel’s actions could easily be considered sacrilege. Please, honor the ring!

Five stars and a thank you to both Netgalley and Edelweiss for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch

This book made me cry.

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.” And that was enough!

Fredrik Backman has created a truly eccentric personality in main character Ove, a grumpy malcontent with a big heart underneath who’s a stickler for the rules (as he conceives them) but grudgingly lends a hand (actually he takes over) to make sure the job is done right.

Despite the way Ove views the world, or maybe because of it, you kind of have to love this guy even wth his negative attitudes towards almost everything, except his wife who he dearly loves, (although he also has a soft spot for the Saab he drives). Fate in all its glory, both the good and the bad, keeps dictating Ove’s path, interceding when it seems like there’s no way forward. Not too long, (336 pages), A Man Called Ove is a mesmerizing read, one of those can’t put it down books which instantly peaks your interest. I really can’t say too much more or I’ll spoil the “fun” as you discover the whats and whys on your own.

The translation from the original Swedish can be jarring at times (I’m not a fan of first person narration), but there are some clever phrases that will bring a smile to your face and even an occasional laugh. My only complaint is that Ove acted older than his fifty nine years, but then again, he was born an old man. This one has been on my “To Read List” for awhile and it did not disappoint. I can see why A Man Called Ove was a New York Times Bestseller for almost a year – a perfect choice for a movie (made in Sweden in 2015). Five stars. Enjoy!

The greatest compliment : May I be “unlike you in the smallest number of ways”.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende explores three individuals whose lives inexplicably intersect via a freak winter storm, a sick cat, and a run to the market for diapers. There’s 60 year old Richard Bowmaster who is living in a fog after tragically losing his Brazilian wife and child. His coworker and tenant, 62 year old Lucia Maraz, has survived her own life of upheavals in Chili, escaping the danger by moving to Canada and emigrating to the United States. Finally there’s 23 year old Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented refugee from Guatemala assisting a disabled boy whose father is involved in questionable business practices.

When Evelyn “borrows” her boss’s Lexus for a quick run to the supermarket, she’s caught in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when Richard’s car skids into the rear of the vehicle. Panicking, she ends up at his home, terrified of the consequences when her temporarily out of town employer returns home. Somehow Louisa and Evelyn end up with Richard in his apartment huddling together through the night while a freak blizzard rages across Brooklyn and into the surrounding regions. It’s not just the minor fender bender, but what’s inside the trunk that has them all in a sweat despite the cold.

Thus begins a bizarre road trip to an isolated location far away from the boundaries of the “incident” to get rid of the evidence. Close quarters and fear create the perfect environment for confidences as the three tell their personal stories and develop an unbreakable bond through this illicit deed. Back in Brooklyn is the “rest of the story” providing closure long after the threesome have resolved their accidental dilemma.

I’d like to highlight Lucia’s tale involving the Military coup d’etat in Chili in 1973 where President Salvador Allende was overthrown by armed forces and the national police. It is not a coincidence that the author’s last name is also Allende since this leader was Isabel’s “uncle” which endangered not only her life, but those of loved ones. I’m sure this particular tale invoked some strong emotions from Isabel’s past when she was actively involved in helping those on the “wanted” list find safe passage, which is inherently reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of the characters in this novel.

There was a lot to take in (almost too much to absorb) as the atrocities in Lucia’s and Evelyn’s childhoods are revealed. It is almost impossible to imagine living a life of terror, waiting for someone you love to be killed, or worse, not knowing whether or not the missing are still alive – not to mention your own dangers in an unstable country. Intertwined is the scenarios of those loved ones who influenced the decisions of the trio.

Without maintaining a specific focus on the immigration issue which is currently stalled in Congress, the reader is still left to ponder the attitude of American society towards undocumented workers who have fled their beloved homeland in order to stay safe, as well as the belligerence towards their children who were brought up in this country and know no other home.

While these timely issues make this a must read book (please note the President mentioned the violent M-13 in his 2018 State of the Union Address), I did have difficulty with the choppiness of the story as the plot flipped back and forth between the three main characters revealing their backgrounds piecemeal. I actually cheated and skipped ahead to read each biography in full (one at a time) which gave me a better understanding of their motivations. Oops, sorry Isabel. Allende had the difficult task of condensing their lives into a relatively brief narrative when each of the characters could have easily filled the pages of their own book (including some of the minor players). The conclusion neatly wraps up the details with a bit of poetic justice and a touch of romance thrown into the mix.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for proving an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

If The Story of Arthur Truluv was a movie, you’d find it on the Hallmark Channel. Elizabeth Berg has created one of those melodramatic, heart wrenching, over the top dramas filled with the angst of loves both lost and found as three disparate characters find comfort as they form an unusual sort of alliance.

You have the teen girl who doesn’t know where her life is headed living with a father who has been disconnected from his daughter since the tragic death of his wife. Maddy doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone at school and even the new boy indicates he is not interested. Since everywhere she goes her peers whisper and mock, she skips school to spend time reflecting at a local cemetery. She’s not the only one who finds the locale soothing. It is here that Maddy meets octogenarian Arthur Moses, an elderly gentleman who every day brings a bag lunch to his wife’s gravesite to enjoy a meal with his long gone mate. Somehow the two form a connection and Arthur lets Maddy know that he’ll be there for her if she ever needs a friend. Then there’s Arthur’s elderly neighbor, Lucille, who spends her days sitting out on her porch keeping track of all the doings, collecting gossip the way some people collect stamps. Her opinionated manner is excused by her skill in the kitchen, freely sharing her creations with Arthur. Arthur, who mostly eats canned beans and franks (which he divvies up with his cat), sympathizes with the lonely woman as he eats her mouth watering butter orange blossom cookies. Somehow, through a series of events, the three end up facing the future together finding comfort and even happiness as they create a unique sort of blended family transcending the usual mother, father, child homelife.

Add in a kind hearted teacher who reaches out to his artistic, though lackluster student, a lost love who finds his way home, and a skeevy boyfriend who just wants a good time without any commitments, and you have a charming little story perfect for a rainy afternoon.

While the simplistic style fits the subject matter and the rotating point of view between the three main characters gives us a decent grasp of their motivations, I had a problem with the use of present tense to tell the story. Very few are able to use this technique successfully, and Berg, unfortunately, is not one of those authors, at least not in this book. Perhaps modifications were made before publication, since my copy was an ARC provided by Netgalley (in exchange for an honest review). I also felt the ending was too abrupt, I would have liked a little more closure, especially considering the book was only 220 or so pages (and give us some dates, not just clues from the headstones). Of note, however, were the sweet little vignettes from the graveyard, where Arthur was able to relate telepathically with the deceased and share bits and pieces of their life and death with the reader. Three and a half stars.