Tag Archives: death

Brave New Earl by Jane Ashford (The Way to a Man’s Heart, #1)

Miss Jean Saunders is a woman with a mission. When she hears how her deceased cousin’s child is being neglected, she finds herself at Furness Hall in Somerset, facing the distraught Benjamin Romulus, Earl of Furness, languishing in the library starring at a portrait of his late wife, unable to deal with the cause of her death, his son Geoffrey. Left to fend for himself, watched over by one of the servants and a young “wanderer” Tom, the five year old has the run of the house. His precocious, inquisitive nature gets him into all sorts of scraps and he appears all but naked before the “newly arrived “guest”, brandishing a tomahawk from his grandfather’s collection of native artifacts. Embarrassed, Benjamin realizes perhaps he hasn’t been paying attention to the details of his son’s life, too wrapped up in his grief to deal with much of anything. When his meddling Uncle Arthur shows up, it’s agreed that Jean will stay for awhile to help Benjamin get back on track, with the first order of business finding an acceptable governess to teach the tot some manners.

Jean, used to rotating from home to home, visiting numerous relations with extended stays, is adept at rolling up his sleeves and helping out. That’s why she is always welcome, but not back to the Phillipsons, Geoffrey’s maternal grandparents, who are relieved that the tyke is staying put and won’t be interfering with their settled lifestyle. Miss Saunders is an interesting character, if not an enigma, to the Earl, whose sensibilities are slowly awakened by her outspoken, witty ways. Jean, wealthy enough not to need a husband, has numerous unresolved issues from her childhood, but she, too, is drawn to the Earl as he slowly comes out of his shell. Romance ensues despite the antics of the little pitcher with big ears who seems to be everywhere and wants to explore everything.

Jane Ashford in Brave New Earl presents us with delightful characters, a tender romance, tons of humor, and room for some of the secondary players to shine in Book 2 of The Way to a Lord’s Heart series, as Arthur Shelton, the Earl of Macklin, continues on his quest to assist other aristocrats wallowing in grief.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss and Sourcebooks Casablanca for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve

It happens! Not very often, but often enough. A plane crashes! Sometimes in your own “back yard”! I remember that midwinter’s night about nine years ago, bitterly cold and clear, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence, NY, not even ten miles from my house, even closer to the Buffalo International Airport. Everyone knew someone affected, such as the cantor at the synagogue up the street, the wife of a professor at UB who was teaching a class I was taking at the Teacher Center on Asian Culture. We were discussing the Great Wall of China and I said that was on my bucket list, “what’s that,” he asked; awkwardly I realized my mistake as I explained the term, knowing it was too late for his wife to make such requests.

Pilot error! I thought about the pilots who didn’t realize how quickly those wings would ice up on a Buffalo winter’s evening or how important that they maintain control and not rely on the autopilot so as to avoid the danger of a stall. I thought of their families, their spouses and parents, their friends, and how they all suffered along with those of the other 47 on board (plus the older gentleman in the home where they crashed) on that fateful night just minutes from landing safely.

So when I picked up The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve, I was reading a scenario I had already mentally examined, yet living it through the eyes of fictional character Kathryn Lyons, whose husband was accused of committing suicide at the expense of the 103 passengers and crew on board the Heathrow to Boston flight. This is a heart wrenching tale, pulling the reader into the roller coaster of emotions which result from such a tragedy. Through a flashback of thoughts we are given the details of what appears to be the perfect marriage, yet there are little hints that something was somehow a little off kilter, just mildly, but in retrospect significant. In this way Kathryn starts to piece together the truth with the support of union rep Robert Hart who helps her navigate past the disruptions of the questioning reporters, the investigators from the Safety Board, and even the FBI, as well as assist her in creating enough semblance of normalcy to provide closure through a memorial service and the upcoming Christmas holidays. Kathryn can’t completely fall apart because she has her fifteen year old daughter Mattie to care for, although her grandmother Julie is there for support, just as she was when Kathryn’s parents tragically died.

Well written, full of angst despite some tender moments, and, while not altogether unexpected, there are a few twists and turns in the story that propels us through to the end. Paying attention to the little details might provide enough clues to answer some of the questions left after reading the open ended conclusion, especially since Shreve doesn’t let the plot drag on, but keeps it going just long enough to get the job done.

I would be remiss in not examining the life of the author, Anita Shreve, who died this past August at the age of 71 from a reoccurrence of breast cancer. Shreve, who grew up in Boston but spent her summers in Maine, believed that the focal point of any story should be the family home -“a house with any kind of age has dozens of stories to tell”. The particular residence in The Pilot’s Wife was an 1890s white-clapboard house with a mansard roof located on the coast of southern Maine reminiscent of the place where the author spent her summer vacations. Her love of this childhood spot extended to the sea, a setting which becomes like an additional character in the narrative. When Shreve overheard a conversation about a plane crash, she thought of her father, who was an airplane pilot, and couldn’t help imagining how she would feel if she were the pilot’s wife. That lead to this novel as well as the 2002 screenplay she wrote for the made for television movie.

Jack kept a lot of secrets from his wife, and ironically Shreve also had her share of secrets. Her husband Osborne, a childhood sweetheart she reconnected with in later years, confessed that she was so quiet about her personal life that even he didn’t know the names of two of her former three husbands. Perhaps the need for intimacy is why the author preferred to write her stories in longhand, feeling that it brought her closer to the subject matter than the use of an electronic device.

Her last book, The Stars Are Fire, which I recently read, takes place in the same relative locale in Maine with a vintage house and the sea also playing a major role in that story’s development. It is sad that there will be no further endeavors by this particular author whose name was thrust on to the public’s radar when The Pilot’s Wife was chosen for the Oprah Book Club in 1999.

A compelling read. Four stars.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Everyone in Brooklyn was a Dodgers fan at Ebbots Field, at least until the team moved to Los Angeles. If you lived in this borough of New York City from 1951 to 1952 you probably attended Brooklyn College (my father did) and spent time at Coney Island eating a hot dog at Nathan’s. The sand was hot, the ocean cold, the beach was so crowded you had to stake out a good spot, but it was home.

In Brooklyn you lived in a building, often in tiny apartments, saving up money to move where you could have a plot of land of your own. (Actually our apartment was large, inherited from my grandmother who was the original tenant – gotta love that rent control). Having a house with a yard was a dream which every child carried in their heart (and we had to move to a suburb in Buffalo to get that house).

Despite being a large, crowded city, the neighborhoods kept life intimate. You knew the people in your building and the vendors in the local shops, mainly family owned. Yet in between was the busyness of Brooklyn which carried a flavor not found in the surrounding small towns in upstate New York.

Being a diverse metropolis, the rules were a little different. While the various ethnic groups congregated amongst themselves, the shopping centers had to be open to all, whether Irish, Italian, Jewish, Hispanic, or Black, especially here where so many immigrants settled after making the trip across the Atlantic.

This is the city where I was born (at the Caledonia Hospital on Caton Ave). It’s not necessarily the exact place described in Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, but my childhood occurred a few years later. (My grandparents were also born in Brooklyn, but their folks came over from Eastern Europe at an earlier, even more desperate time in the late 1800s). Yet, the feel is recognizable.

Enter Eilis Lacey, an Irish immigrant from the small town of Enniscorthy, who is sponsored by Father Flood in her move to his Irish Parish. He sets up a room for her in an Irish Boarding House with 5 other Irish girls, and arranges for a job as a salesgirl at Bartocci’s, a local department store. Then when Eilis gets homesick, he signs her up for night classes at Brooklyn College to earn her certificate as a bookkeeper, a subject she studied back in Ireland. She meets a nice boy at the Friday Night Dances at the Parish and her life seems perfect, but “stuff” happens.

Eilis is the type of person who goes along to get along. She’s from an era and a culture where women don’t have much of a say in their lives. They are obedient children who marry, keep house, and have children of their own. Ellis seems to go with the flow, unable to speak up when events spin out of control forcing her on a path which she isn’t sure is the right one for her. Her first job back in Ireland is at a local grocery store and the owner simply sends for her, unasked, when she discovers Ellis has a talent for figures. Rose, Ellis’ older sister, arranges for her to travel to America, and “surprises” her with the “fait accompli”. Her behavior at the rooming house is dictated by the owner, and her free time is guided by her housemates. It takes feigning an illness to get out of the Friday night dance, since Ellis doesn’t have the courage to outright refuse to go. Even her beau decides when their relationship should go to the next level and she just guesses that this is okay, although in her heart she is unsure. Fate seems to be her guideposts, and the tide of life sweeps her along its path to the next steps on the most convenient road.

I’m not judging, since her life doesn’t seem to be a hardship, one just wonders what “might have been” and the author even gives us a taste of that before he pulls the rug out from under the reader and has circumstances steer Ellis’ direction back on track.

A delightful and easy read on a bygone era in a beloved (for me) spot. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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.

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.