Tag Archives: embezzlement

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

It was on Memorial Day 1938 when Willa realized that everyone seemed to be keeping secrets from her, which lead to her honing in on just one goal in life – to surreptitiously ferret out the unspoken mystery. What the twelve year old fails to realize is that sometimes there are some very good reasons to keep the truth hidden from view. Looking back she is only able to lament her aptitude at acquiring such potent sleuthing skills, but by then it is too late to unremember her discoveries.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows captures the essence of small town life during the depression era where everybody has nothing better to do than keep their nose in everybody else’s business. There are no secrets between “friends” – or are there?

The story unfolds through the eyes of matriarch Josephine (Jottie) and other members of the Romeyn Family as they struggle through the summer heat in Macedonia, West Virginia. A parallel story intersects their lives when Layla Beck, an upper crust daughter of a US Senator who (after a major disagreement with her father) ends up boarding at the Romeyn house while writing the history of Macedonia’s Sesquicentennial for a WPA project.

As Layla sets out to learn the true story behind historical Macedonia (versus the boring “official” accounts of the founding members), she discovers a talent for something other than being the center of attention at social events. The back story about her former life as a debutante is revealed via a flurry of letters back and forth between family and friends.

Lottie reveals her innermost thoughts through flashbacks to her childhood. Barrows slowly reveals details about the devastating loss which has colored Lottie’s life resulting in her “old maid” status. Rumors abound about her past, but In order to avoid a potential scandal which might hurt the children, especially with Willa asking questions, she strives for respectability. Lottie spends her time helping her beloved brother Felix take care of his two daughters, Willa and Bird, whenever he is out of town on the frequent business trips necessary to acquire some cash to help them through the hard times.

There is so much to this story it is impossible to summarize the details. Expect quite a bit of rambling towards the beginning as the author introduces a myriad of characters. It takes a while to keep them all straight (an annotated list of townsfolk would have been helpful, although there is a Romeyn family tree for reference), but once the events start to snowball, the reading pace picks up.

One of the highlights of the story is the various eccentric personalities found in Macedonia. Barrows makes us a part of the community through their thoughts and actions, especially those of main characters Lottie and Willa. Willa, in a way, reminds me of Scout from Montgomery’s To Kill a Mockingbird, somehow getting caught up in all the action. Lottie’s childhood stories are both entertaining and informative in helping the reader get a handle on her personality. Whether you love or hate the smooth talking, womanizer Felix depends on whose eyes you view him with – as a brother, a father, a friend, or a curious neighbor.

While the ending isn’t totally unexpected, it was at times a bit confusing, yet despite these flaws, The Truth According to Us is still a beautifully written book.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Random House for providing this ARC in exchange for a honest review.

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Crossfire by Dick Francis and Felix Francis

Where’s a man to go after having his leg blown off while serving his Queen and Country in Afghanistan? Once released from the hospital with a perfectly usable prosthesis (which clicks when he walks) Captain Tom Forsyth proceeds to the one place which he has avoided most of his adult life – his childhood home. It’s not that he doesn’t find comfort in the physical surroundings, it’s just that he and his mother always seem to get into a major altercation, nitpicking each other over minutia. It doesn’t help that he blames his mother for her failed marriage to his absentee father and her remarriage to his stepdad.

Yet Tom needs some sort of roof over his head, so home he goes – to the house and stables belonging to the renowned trainer of supreme racehorses – his mom, Josephine Kauri, also known as the First Lady of British Racing. Once you hear the word “racing”, the reader knows they are in “Francis Land”. Crossfire (loosely referring to the movement of a horse who counter canters during a race as well as to the outcome of being caught between the action of two firearms ) is the last novel written by Dick Francis with his son Felix.

It doesn’t take long for Tom to realize that something is wrong in his childhood domicile. With a lot of prying and a bit of curious snooping, he discovers his mom is behind in her taxes, has lost a shitload of money in a shady investment, and is being blackmailed to the tune of 2000 pounds a week, as well as being forced to lose certain races.

Through a series of fortuitous events as well as some clever surveillance, Tom is able to discover the source(s) of his mother’s possible downfall including the potential loss of her reputation (more important to her than money) as well as resolve a childhood crush, and find a focus for his uncertain future.

Well written with lots of action and intrigue as well as some LOL humor, this is a definite book to add to your must read list.

While I read Crossfire when it first came out, this time I listened to the CD and Martin Jarvis does a superb job of bringing the story to life. While some might contend that this title doesn’t meet the standards set by Francis’ previous books, I would like to argue that Crossfire has all the components of a great read – compelling characters, an exciting plot, an unforeseen resolution, all told with a light humorous touch. Add in the horses and it just doesn’t get any better.

Five stars!

This review also appears on Goodreads.