Tag Archives: family life

March by Geraldine Brooks

If one were to ask my favorite childhood author, although a difficult choice, I would have to say Louisa May Alcott, specifically Little Women (although there are other of her novels which I also hold dear). There’s a reason I named by third daughter Elizabeth, though she’s a Liz or Izzy and not a Beth.

Perhaps I was responding to the authentic voice of the author. Certainly basing her novel on members of her own family brought a touch of normalcy to the words. Of course, as a nine year old I didn’t ponder these things, I only knew that I had grown to love each of the sisters, reveling in their interactions with one another and their struggles in their daily lives. I was also attracted to the time period and the formal language, so different than the common vernacular of Brooklyn in the 1960s. Jo’s love of books and writing was another draw, binding her to my heart in a way that few other literary characters managed to accomplish.

So when I discovered that the title of the book March by Geraldine Brooks was actually in reference to the absentee father in Little Women, I decided that this was a novel which needed to jump to the top of my “To Read” list. Although I had heard of March (after all it was published over ten years ago), at that time in my life the focus was on children’s books as I was working in an Elementary/Middle School Library. Luckily, a good book remains readable whether opened the day it’s published or years later, especially one which has been so thoroughly researched.

I can see why March won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2006 due to the talent of Brooks who was able to successfully replicate Alcott’s style from the original novel. Bronson Alcott, a teacher not a preacher, was a fascinating man who obviously had a big impact on Louisa’s life. The chance to get a better glimpse of this individual, even via a fictional lens, is an opportunity not to be missed. Using the background of Alcott’s family (with a few poetic liberties) plus the details from Little Women set during the time frame of the Civil War, the reader gets a glimpse into the life of Robin (Father) March who is off at War throughout a major portion of Little Women. We get his young years as a peddler in the South, eventually becoming a preacher and settling in Cambridge where he meets his wife Marmee, with their abolitionist tendencies leading to his decision to meet the battle cry as a Chaplain at the age of thirty nine leaving behind his wife and four daughters.

Here we experience the conflict through March’s eyes with all the horror and inhumanity which war entails. We get the cleaned up version which he includes in his letters to his family, then the nitty gritty including the moments which he would rather forget but feels guiltily compelled to reveal. Occasionally there are reflections he shares which mirror the original work, but the majority of the story veers off into his own previously unreleased past. It’s not until Marmee gets the letter that her husband is gravely wounded that we begin a true parallel to Little Women as details from this book intertwine with her discoveries about her husband’s past. While most of March is from the father’s point of view, while he lays sick in the hospital, it is his wife who picks up the story and reveals the events leading up to his eventual return home to his daughters, including the gravely ill Beth.

While some of the actions of wartime made me squeamish, the realism of the story, along with memories of my childhood favorite, kept me engaged throughout the novel. That events which occurred at the beginning of March’s tale had an impact on later circumstances shows the talent of Brooks who was able to draw the entire contents of her plot full circle. The PTSD which infiltrates the protagonists being, makes one wonder about his future as a husband and father as even common events seem to bring up ghastly memories of his guilt ridden experiences from over the previous year, forcing him to live a double life, presenting an artificial front to hide his own internal conflicts. While not necessarily reflected in Alcott’s work, it gives the reader a new perspective into the inner workings of a patriot who has discovered that supposed “heroism” comes with a lot of baggage.

Five stars.

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The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

I was happy with this simple, but witty little story of three Australian families. The first wife is struggling with her unfaithful husband, well, not quite unfaithful yet, but thinking about it. It’s who he’s been playing mind games with that has her completely in a dither, so it’s off to Mummy’s with her little boy to sort things out. Then there’s the widow who has never gotten over the tragic death of her teenage daughter. She’s the school secretary who everybody pussyfoots around in deference to her sensibilities. Finally there’s the -oh so perfect wife – who isn’t quite sure how or why she and her husband haven’t done the deed in like forever, or at least six months. Is she losing her appeal? After all, she’s given birth to three daughters who command a lot of her attention and he does travel a lot. Then she finds “the letter”!

These minor crisis were enough to keep my interest, but then, bang, half way through The Husband’s Secret, author Liane Moriarty pulls her first twist and my attention notches up a level or two. Of course, I expected this, after all, twists are this author’s trademark, and I remained open for the next surprise which braided these three lives together. While there is a satisfying resolution, this is not a happily ever after tale, just as life itself isn’t without its complications due to the numerous minute choices we make. An epilogue gives us the “what ifs” that we each can’t but wonder about our own lives.

An engaging, well written novel (even though I listened to the audio version, expertly performed by Caroline Lee who has read other books by this author). My only complaint is that I didn’t get to this book sooner.

Five Stars

Three Weeks to Wed by Ella Quinn (The Worthingtons, Book #1)

The Earl of Worthington is a friend of Marcus and Sebastian from Ella Quinn’s The Marriage Game Series. After seeing how happy both men are in their marriage and the fact that their wives are expecting, Mattheus decides that it’s time that he, too, settle down. After being forced to stop at a nearby inn to escape a severe storm, he meets a lovely lady who seems to fit his intellectual needs, and after exchanging a kiss (obviously her first) he becomes even more mesmerized. When this same woman knocks on his door after hours and they spend an amorous night, he is determined to make this former virgin his bride. Yet the following morning she has disappeared and the innkeeper refuses to admit she ever existed. He unsuccessfully searches and ends up sketching her likeness in the hopes of getting his friends to identify the mystery woman.

Matt is right, Grace Carpenter is a lady of quality. She, too, was forced to stop for the night due to the same storm, even though she didn’t have much further to travel. When Worthington arrives, she was more than happy to share the parlor and spend an evening with a gentleman she has been in love with since her first season in London. Unable to wed due to the burden of a large set of siblings under her charge, she decides to experiment with one night of passion before retreating from society. Unfortunately, once is not enough and she pines for the love she has finally found and now must give up.

Little do the pair realize they have mutual friends and when Grace accompanies her younger sister, Charlotte, to London for her first season, she has a difficult time hiding her identity from her one night stand, who unfortunately resides directly across the street. It doesn’t take long for Matt to track her down and become irretrievably entangled in the lives of the Carpenter Family. He, too, has siblings of similar ages, including Louise who is also being introduced to society. Altogether the children (eleven in all), 2 Great Danes, a stepmother, a couple of cousins, aunts and uncles, and various employees, become entangled as the two lovebirds sort out the obstacles to their happiness. Marcus and Phoebe as well as Rutherford and Anna, are active participant in the antics with other familiar characters from the Marriage Game Series making an appearance, including the meddling dowagers who like to play Cupid.

Three Weeks to Wed is a wonderful introduction to the Worthington series which runs in between debutanrsbooks 2 and 3 of the Marriage Game Series. In fact, by the time Robert romances Sabrina, Matt and Grace have already been wed. While there is a bit of excitement when a no good uncle turns up looking for his inheritance, most of the tale revolves around an introduction to all the characters and the details surrounding the preparations necessary for launching two young ladies into society. I personally enjoyed reading about the shopping excursions, designer gowns, and elaborate repasts, as well as the antics of a group of lively children. The entire courtship takes place over a three week period, prior to the official start to the season which begins in Book 2 of the series. Luckily the couple decide to quickly wed because they go at it like rabbits, every chance they get, more lustful than romantic. However, having a head start on the family situation and the peccadilloes of the numerous characters should make the remainder of the series more enjoyable. Quinn has created a universe where, as a fly on the wall, the reader can vicariously enter The Ton of Regency England. Three and a half stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

Sheriff Les from a rural Appalachian community has just a few weeks left before he takes an early retirement, more than ready to spend his time communing with the beauty of the mountains attempting to capture their loveliness with his paint brush.

Yet, a lot happens before the big day. Who knew that life in a small town was so full of adversity. From poaching, trespassing, theft, the cooking of meth, child endangerment, and bribery to an environmental disaster, all occurring over a one week period. The reader is exposed to this whirlwind of activity as Les attempts to tie up all the loose ends without hurting the townsfolk he feels compelled to protect.

At first I found Above the Waterfall confusing before I figured out the narrative was a back and forth between the Sheriff and Becky Shytle, the Park Ranger. Each of the characters has some baggage which make them somewhat damaged. Unfortunately none of them are especially endearing which makes it difficult to be more than superficially concerned about the traumas they face. Becky is the most appealing of the bunch with her love of nature and poetic skill. Despite her childhood exposure to violence and unrealistic feelings of guilt, she is the one who trusts her instincts even when the evidence points to a forgone conclusion.

The ending (or lack of a conclusion) leaves an opportunity for further discourse in other novels as Ron Rash often has recurring characters intermingled throughout his novels about small town life in the Appalachia Mountains.

Three 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.

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.

The Marquis and I (The Worthington, 4) by Ella Quinn

Lady Charlotte Carpenter has been kidnapped. She’s not worried, since she and her sister have taken lessons on self protection plus she has a gun in her basket (along with her docile traveling cat). If only she could get the lock picked in time to escape. In the meantime, her abduction has been witnessed and the butler has cornered Constantine, the Marquis of Kenilworth, into going to the rescue as none of the men of the house are in the vicinity. Despite the inconvenience, Con’s chiverous upbringing necessitates he help this damsel in distress. Then there’s the young groomsman Jemmy, hitching a ride on the back of the coach, ready to assist in the rescue. Miss Betsy, a villain from previous books in The Worthington series, has convinced the innkeepers that the girls she sends their way are runaways needing to be reunited with their loved ones (actually paying customers who desire a particular woman). Constantine is able to rescue Charlotte, but somehow word gets out that they’ve been alone together and without a chaperone to vouch for their innocence, Con must marry his rescuee in order to save her from ruin. Charlotte, however, doesn’t want anything to do with the handsome Con who keeps bad company and has a mistress. Despite their public betrothal, she leads him on a merry chase, even allowing another suitor to publicly court her. Through a convoluted series of events, including a second revenge abduction, the two develop a mutual love and respect for each other and find the same happiness bequeathed on other members of the Worthington family.

While there was a good story somewhere in the Marquis and I by Ella Quinn, there was just too much busyness in a plot that seemed to drag on. The repetitive, mundane dialogue became annoying, despite the delightful characters (mainly the multitude of Charlotte’s younger brothers and sisters with their pets). The sexual encounter between the betrothed couple lacked the amorous touch although the experience made them want to move the wedding date forward. Charlotte’s insistence that she couldn’t marry Con because he had a mistress (even after he broke off that relationship and helped his former paramour restart a new life) and her other pigheaded attitudes made her the least likeable of all the Worthingtons and Constantine, despite his rowdy background, was rather docile through the entire story, especially considering all the crap thrown his way (although the little ones glommed onto him). While I usually read these Regency Romances quickly, this one dragged so much I had to force myself to pick up this book on more than one occasion. A plus was the inclusion of characters from previous books in The Worthington series and even some names from the The Marriage Game. If you’ve read through the majority of these publications, you’ll be familiar with many of the members of The Ton, from the memorable busybody, Lady Belamny, to the sought after dressmaker, Madame Lissette.

Still, shame on you, Ella Quinn. Next time take more care and edit your work into a more readable format and spice up that dialogue (and the sex). Two and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.