Tag Archives: single parent

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 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.