Review 1787: The Girl from the Channel Islands

I selected this book mostly because of its setting. That it is based on a true story sounded intriguing, too.

About a hundred pages in, I began to think about not only why I wasn’t buying this novel but also why it it made me uncomfortable. Perhaps this is a politically incorrect statement these days, but for me to accept the idea of a Jewish girl having a romance with a German officer during World War II, I had to feel the love. But I wasn’t feeling it or reading about it. I was reading about sex, and I didn’t think a Jewish girl who knew what was going on in those times would risk everything for sex.

This is down to the author, I’m afraid, whose writing is merely workmanlike. I didn’t believe this story, true or not, so I stopped reading it.

Salt to the Sea

To Bed with Grand Music

Lilac Girls

Review 1783: Himself

Mahony has been raised to believe that his mother abandoned him on the steps of an orphanage. However, when Sister Veronica, who hated him, dies, he finds out that he was left with a note telling him his true name, his mother’s name, and “she was the curse of the town, so they took her from you.” So, he travels to Mulderrig, County Mayo, to find out what happened to Orla Sweeney.

Mahony is an attractive young man, and at first he is warmly received despite his mid-70’s hippie rig. Soon, though, the word is out, and most of the townspeople want him gone. Orla was wild, a thief and a prostitute, and she just up and left. But he finds a few supporters who believe she was murdered: Mrs. Cauley, an impressive old actress; Bridget Doosey, the slatternly housekeeper for the nasty local priest; and Shawna Blake, who takes care of Mrs. Cauley.

And, although they can’t really help him, Mahony can see the dead. When he was a child he saw them, but they faded until he set foot in the town. There’s only one dead person he can’t see—Orla.

This is a peculiar, dark story. I loved it. I first read Kidd about six months ago, and she hasn’t disappointed.

The Hoarder (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort)

Things in Jars

The Haunting of L.

Review 1774: The Silent Companions

In the mid-1800’s, a badly burned Elsie Bainbridge is confined to an asylum. She is said to be dangerous. She cannot speak and has not been able to tell what happened to her. Her doctor suggests that writing her version may save her from being executed.

In 1635, Josiah and Anne Bainbridge excitedly begin preparing for the arrival at their home, The Bridge, of King Charles and Queen Henrietta Maria. Josiah decides, however, that their daughter Hetta will not participate in the festivities. Hetta was born with a deformed tongue, and Anne blames herself, because she took herbs to conceive when her doctors said she could not.

Elsie’s written account begins when she arrives at The Bridge to live there after her husband’s unexpected death. She finds the house decrepit and the people in the neighborhood unwelcoming. Then she and her companion, Sarah, find the silent companions, some wooden cut-out figures that appear lifelike.

This novel seemed as if it was going to be a good old creep fest. It was certainly a ghost story, but I prefer something—I was going to say that could actually happen, but that’s silly. I guess I prefer something more subtle without freakish gory events.

As far as the approach taken to the material is concerned, although all the chapters except the ones set in the asylum are supposed to be written, the later ones as Elsie’s account and the earlier as a diary, neither of them are convincing as such.

Although I make a final caveat that I don’t believe the doctor’s treatment reflects psychiatric treatment of the times, I am not saying I disliked this novel. I thought both stories were compelling, but not so much so that I didn’t think of these things while I was reading it.

The Poison Thread

This House Is Haunted

The Séance

Review 1773: A Civil Contract

Remembering back quite a few years to the last time I read A Civil Contract, I didn’t classify it as a favorite Heyer. As I was younger then and more romantic, I was disappointed in its plain and prosaic heroine. Now that I am more mature, I look at it with completely different eyes.

Adam Deveril is a dashing captain who has been serving in the Peninsular wars when he is abruptly called home because his father unexpectedly died. This death makes Adam Lord Lynton and leaves him heir to a huge amount of debt. Although the family has never been wealthy, Adam has had no idea just how his father’s spending habits and mismanagement have put the estate into debt.

Adam thinks there is no solution but to put his townhouse and the family estate on the market. Being a proud man, he ignores his businessman’s recommendation to look for a wealthy bride.

Adam also feels obliged to inform Lord Oversly of the state of affairs, since Adam had been hoping to wed his beautiful daughter, Julia. Oversly acknowledges that Adam can no longer be considered eligible to marry Julia but remarks that he and Julia probably aren’t well suited anyway. However, both Adam and Julia are heart-broken.

Oversly says he thinks he can help Adam. Soon, Adam is surprised to receive a visit from Jonathan Chawleigh, a wealthy but vulgar businessman. Chawleigh suggests that Adam’s financial problems can be solved if only he would marry Chawleigh’s daughter Jenny.

Adam’s pride does not permit him to consider this offer, but he agrees to meet Jenny. He finds her plain, plump, and matter-of-fact as well as poorly dressed. He does not even realize he has met her before, for she is a schoolfriend of Julia’s. Almost against his will, he marries her.

Maybe I’m giving away too much, but this is the story of how a young man learns to throw away his romantic illusions and begin to appreciate his thoughtful, supportive, affectionate wife. Thus, its intent is a little more serious than most of Heyer’s novels, and it also has a great deal to say, off and on, about the state of Europe at the time.

I had to laugh, because this time through I found myself impatient with Adam and Julia’s romantic yearnings and appreciated Jenny’s good qualities and hidden heartache a good deal more. The book is also not lacking in Heyer’s usual amusing dialogue, although most of it is between other characters than the two main ones.

The Convenient Marriage

Cotillion

Friday’s Child

Review 1772: The Fall of Light

The Fall of Light is like all the Irish epics rolled into one, minus the gruesome murders. It’s the tale of Dierdre of the Sorrows applied to one family.

It’s the early 19th century, and Francis Foley is moving on again. Throughout his life, he has become angry at his fate and moved from one place to another. This time, he’s had a great argument with his wife, Emer, and she left the house. Now, he and his four sons are on the run, because he broke into the lord’s house, stole his telescope, and burned the house down.

They have been heading west, for Francis believes they will make their home on the Atlantic Ocean. But when they reach the River Shannon, Francis, always hasty, never to be denied, says they must cross it where they are without looking for a bridge or ford. They cannot even see the other side. And in that fateful crossing, Francis is swept away from his sons Tomas, the twins Finbar and Finan, and Teige, who is only 10.

One by one, the brothers lose each other, and the story becomes each one’s journey to find a family and a place in the world, through famine and terrific hardships. This is a lyrical, lush story that makes the journey of a family into a tale of mythic proportions.

Four Letters of Love

History of the Rain

This Is Happiness

Review 1769: The Man from St. Petersburg

Back in the days when Ken Follett and John Le Carré were the major names in the espionage genre, I used to read both and sometimes confuse them. However, at some point I realized that, of the two, Le Carré is really the master of the genre and the better writer, so I stopped reading Follett. When Pillars of the Earth came out, I read that and decided that historical fiction was not Follett’s genre (I know many would disagree), so I stopped reading him altogether. This is a long way of staying that I picked up The Man from St. Petersburg by mistake.

The premise is intriguing. It’s 1909, and Winston Churchill wants to avoid a war with Germany by making a pact with Russia. The czar wants Prince Aleksey Andreyevich Orlov to handle the negotiations, so Churchill wants Lord Walden, whose wife Lydia is Orlov’s aunt, to handle the British side. Back in Russia, the anarchists want a revolution, which they believe would be kicked off by a war, so they want the negotiations stopped. One of the anarchists, Feliks, must kill Orlov, and he goes to England to do so.

I thought that sounded interesting, but not too far in I felt like Follett was just putting his characters through their paces, making them do what he needed them to do. The diplomatic conversations lacked the subtlety they actually would have had. They just seemed crude and too direct. Finally, a major plot point that was supposed to be a surprise on about page 80 was too loudly telegraphed on page 10. I stopped reading about one third of the way into the book.

Code to Zero

Munich

The Revolution of Marina M.

Review 1768: Venetia

I didn’t remember Venetia as being one of my favorite Georgette Heyer books, but actually I liked it very much. It features a sparkling heroine.

Venetia Lanyon has lived almost secluded in the Yorkshire countryside. When her mother died, her father became a recluse and refused permission when the time came for Venetia to be brought out by her aunt. Now 25, since her father’s death she has been taking care of her brother’s estate until he returns from the wars, at which time she plans to take a house with her younger brother, Aubrey. Although she has two suitors, she cares for neither of them and believes she will need to be there for Aubrey, who has a bad hip and does not relish meeting people.

The Lanyons’ neighbor, Lord Damerel, is seldom home and has such a bad reputation that when they were children Venetia and her brothers called him the Wicked Baron. Venetia is out picking berries one day when she meets Damerel. He at first mistakes her for a village girl and kisses her. However, he soon finds his mistake and doesn’t know what to make of her reaction. Fairly quickly, they find themselves friends.

Of course, this will never do, think her friends and relations, and we’re off for another funny romp with Heyer.

Black Sheep

Regency Buck

Frederica

Review 1766: China Court

Old Mrs. Quin dies, leaving her beloved house, China Court, dilapidated from lack of money and her even more beloved garden tended only in a few places. Her descendants gather, assuming the house and contents will have to be sold to pay for the taxes and the leftover money divided. Among them is Tracy, her only grandchild, who loved the house as a child but was taken away by her mother to lead a wandering existence. Mrs. Quin’s children are indignant about the presence of Peter St. Omer, who abandoned an aimless life four years ago to work the estate farm at Mrs. Quin’s encouragement.

When the will is read, there is a surprise for all, as Mrs. Quin has left the house to Tracy and the farm to Peter with an unusual proviso. But can they find the money to save the properties?

China Court was the novel I chose to read for Rumer Godden Week, hosted by Brona at This Reading Life. With a great deal of fluidity, it tells the story of the lives of several generations of Quins in their home of China Court. It moves back and forth among generations, the shifts triggered by an object or a smell, as it tells what happened to the family—the smart girl denied an education because of her sex, the wife madly in love whose husband was unfaithful at the first opportunity, the girl in love with one brother who married another.

Godden does this skillfully, inserting the seeds of the stories into the first chapter so that readers want to find out about them. She structures the novel by dividing it up like a book of hours, beginning each chapter with a description of the page of that hour from a specific book. I was perplexed about the reason for this device, but all is eventually made clear.

Godden uses a similar technique in A Fugue in Time (written in 1945) but less successfully there, I think. In this novel I became very involved in the stories of some of the characters and the fate of the house. Godden has perfected this approach to fiction by the time she published this book in 1961.

A Fugue in Time

The Lady and the Unicorn

A Harp in Lowndes Square

Review 1765: Brooklyn

It wasn’t until I finished reading Colm Tóibín’s latest novel on Sunday that I noticed no review for Brooklyn, which I was sure I had read. I looked back at my old records, and sure enough, I read it in March 2016, but mistakenly removed the flag from my notes that indicates I haven’t reviewed it yet. So, here goes.

Brooklyn is a quiet story set in post-World War II Ireland and New York. It is about the tension between yearning for home and desiring to make your own way in the world.

Eilis Lacey has finished a bookkeeping course and is eager for work, but the only job she can find in her small Irish home town is clerking at Miss Kelly’s store on Sunday mornings. Her brothers have emigrated to England for work, and the family is supported by her older sister Rose, who works as a bookkeeper. Rose wants more for Eilis, so she arranges for Father Flood, a visiting priest, to find Eilis a job in Brooklyn.

The best he can do for her is a clerk’s job in a department store, Bartocci’s. Eilis enjoys her job, but she is frightfully homesick and does not much enjoy living in Mrs. Kehoe’s boardinghouse. Reasoning that being busy will make her less homesick, Father Flood signs her up for courses at Brooklyn College.

Soon, she is making a new life for herself, doing well in her courses, and even finding a boyfriend, a cheerful Italian plumber named Tony. She is finally settling into her new life when something unexpected occurs that takes her back to Ireland and a choice between her two lives.

Written in Tóibín’s graceful prose, Brooklyn is a quiet but powerful character study and exploration of the immigrant experience in post-World War II America.

Nora Webster

The Empty Family

Galway Bay

Review 1764: Literary Wives! The Summer Wives

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

In the summer of 1951, young Miranda Schuyler arrives on Winthrop Island for her mother’s wedding to Hugh Fisher. There, she is immediately drawn to the young fisherman, Joseph Vargas, one of the lower class full-time population of the island that is in summer also occupied by the wealthy elite. She doesn’t care about his social position, but her new stepsister, Isobel, claims him for her own despite being engaged to someone else.

In the summer of 1930, a very young and naïve Bianca Medeiro falls madly in love with Hugh Fisher. She does not understand how he views their relative social positions and believes that having sex with him means they are spiritually married, despite his engagement to another girl.

In the summer of 1969, Miranda, now a movie star, returns to the island, where she has been a pariah since the events of 1951. Slowly, we learn what happened back then and what led to Joseph’s imprisonment for the murder of Hugh Fisher.

My Review

Literary Wives logo

First, I have to say that this is absolutely not my kind of book, so I only read it because it was a selection for Literary Wives. I have read one other book by Beatriz Williams, but I’m guessing it was improved by being a collaboration with two other writers, Lauren Willig and Karen White. The Summer Wives is definitely chick lit, which I do not read, so I will attempt to comment on the other aspects of it.

The plot develops so slowly that I considered quitting about page 50, when nothing much had happened except girls swooning over boys. I was about at page 5 when I thought I knew every secret that was going to be revealed, and I was just about right, barring that by then only a few of the characters had appeared. I also expected more of a sense of what the island looked like and who the characters were, but they were very much one- or maybe two-dimensional.

The dialogue was uninteresting, and the writing was either fairly mundane or overstated. For example, Bianca is stunned at being given gin to drink, not surprised, not startled, but stunned.

The novel picked up a little at the end, but had a frankly unbelievable ending. And what is this fascination chick lit books seem to have with wealth? The novels all seem to be about rich people or poor girls brought into worlds of wealth. So, of course, Miranda’s mother marries a wealthy man and despite Miranda having been ostracized from the family at a young age, she doesn’t become just an actress but a movie star.

What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

Well, really not much. Despite its title, the novel isn’t really about wives so much as a series of illicit relationships and love affairs. In fact, the word “wives” is used ironically, I think. Bianca considers herself married to Hugh despite his engagement to another woman and is shocked when he actually marries her. The marriages that are depicted are all in some sort of dysfunction. Hugh Fisher and Bianca Medeiro marry others but cheat their spouses throughout their marriages. Miranda has just left her abusive husband who, of course, is a movie director. Another middle-aged wife has been seducing the young men on the island. These are not sincere depictions of marriage but stereotypes, and I find nothing much to say about them.

The Forgotten Room

War of the Wives

An American Marriage