Review: The Rise and Fall of Lucy Charlton

The Rise and Fall of Lucy Charlton, Elizabeth Gill

Amanda

18595697From Goodreads…

A gritty, emotional saga about a tragic loss, a mysterious inheritance, and one woman’s determination to succeed in the male-dominated society of 1920s north England

1920, Durham. Since she was a child, Lucy Charlton has dreamed of working with her father in the family law firm. But a scandal shatters her dreams and, when her father disowns her, she finds herself on the streets, fighting for survival. Joe Hardy has returned to London after the Great War to find his life in tatters—his father is dead and his pregnant fiancée has disappeared. Then Joe learns he has unexpectedly inherited an old river house in Durham from a stranger called Margaret Lee. With nothing left for him in London, he makes arrangements to travel north and claim it. Lucy’s determination has finally secured her a job as a legal secretary, campaigning for the rights of the poorest in society. As Joe arrives in her office to collect the keys to his new home, she promises to help him uncover information about his mystery benefactor. But before long, the past comes back to haunt them both, with shocking consequences.

This story begins with Lucy being disowned by her family and cast out of her home, not the most cheery beginning.  We then meet Joe, who is returning from France to find out his father is dead and his fiancee has run off.  I was definitely a little worried this would be a very depressing book at this point.  I liked Lucy though and I liked her determination to survive despite her family.  I enjoyed reading about a young woman determined to push the boundaries of what society deemed acceptable for a young woman of her station.  In the beginning I found Joe to be somewhat less likeable, yes, he did come home to find nothing of what he expected, but he was far too willing to be carried along by the tragedies at first.  Thankfully he did come around into a likeable character.  I also liked the various minor characters of the friends and neighbors that Lucy and Joe picked up along the way.

The description for this book made it sound as though Lucy was rallying on the streets for her cause for the poor in general and I found that to be misleading.   Lucy’s drive to become a solicitor is to help others and the results are rather vague.  You’re told she’s successful and beloved in the office, but the only people you personally see her helping are her neighbors in Durham, you don’t meet her clients.  I’m not downplaying the events with her friends and neighbors as they were central to the story, but I think this tries to sell the book as a bit more than it is.  I think I was expecting more of a strident social activist or feminist like Emmeline Pankhurst.

This book definitely did wrap up all details happily, but not in the way I expected at the beginning.  I enjoyed the story overall.

I will say as a warning/spoiler that there is some sexual violence.  I don’t think it was out of line for the story nor was it excessive, but it did surprise me and might have been part of my initial hesitation when I started this book.

3 Stars

Thank you NetGalley and Quercus Books for this advance read copy!

Review: The Poisonwood Bible

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Title: The Poisonwood Bible

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Reviewed by Holly

I will admit that I read The Poisonwood Bible (for a second time) with a tinge of reluctance. Oh, not because I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but because I had just gotten three books upon request from the library, including Froi of the Exiles, but I timed things poorly and was headed out of town before I could realistically finish any of my library books, so I chose to start something I had on my Kindle and not try to pack 600 pages of Froi in my suitcase.

And that, my friends, may be the most entitled, overinflated “problem” I have ever described – a fact that is not without irony, considering the circumstances of The Poisonwood Bible.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

I had read this book years ago, and I knew I liked it. And then I read some others by Barbara Kingsolver, with mixed results (including The Bean Trees – loved! Prodigal Summer – not particularly memorable.) and somewhere in there I lost track of exactly what made The Poisonwood Bible so special. It jumped near the top of my list again recently, after I finished The Lady. Like I wrote in my review, my primary beef with that book (which I otherwise enjoyed) was that the parents, including Baptist preacher Dad, went to Africa as missionaries leaving their 16 year-old daughter at home. And, as I don’t know much about Baptist missionaries, specifically Baptist missionaries from the South in the late 1950s, I can’t fathom whether or not that is realistic. In The Lady, the Baptist parents from Georgia in 1956 leave their teenage daughter at home, which allows her story to unfold. In The Poisonwood Bible, the Baptist parents from Georgia in 1959 bring their teenage daughters along, 15 year-old Rachel and 14 year-old twins Leah and Adah, plus 5-year old Ruth May.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story that comes of that decision, told through the eyes of the daughters, with reflections from their mother in present day. I don’t love changing point-of-views as an end in themselves, but this book is by far my favorite example of a multiple POV story (at least, favorite that I can think of right now). The narrators are all very different – Leah is eager and earnest, Adah is dark and exceedingly frustrated to read as her chapters are doused in backwards sentences, Rachel is every bit a teenager and longing for an out – of her family and of the jungle, and Ruth May is just plain fun. At first, Leah seems the most reliable narrator of all the girls, though I’m not 100% sure what I think by the end.

While The Poisonwood Bible is not difficult reading, at times, it is difficult to read. The story is the story of the Price family is set against the story of the Congo – from Belgian colonialism to American neo-colonialism. It is hard to read about some of the choices that the Prices make, but it is harder to read about the country’s political and economic history.

But you should read it.

Parting words: “It is a dangerous thing, I now understand, to make mistakes with nommo in the Congo. If you assign the wrong names to things, you could make a chicken speak like a man. Make a machete rise up and dance.”

RATING: 5 Stars

Words I’d Like to Have Written

Holly

I often agonize over just the right word to express what I’m trying to say – to the point of ridiculousness. I try not to let my obsession with le mot juste (Bro Ruhl shoutout!) get the best of me, or I’d never get anything done, but I do have a dictionary (a book one, not an internet one) next to my desk for those times when I’m not sure if a word means what I think it means. Inconceivable!

Anyway, when I come across a passage or a paragraph that is full of the perfect combination of words, it makes my heart happy. So here, for your reading pleasure, are a few of the paragraphs that have made huge impressions on me.

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. ~Jeffrey Eugenides, in Middlesex

I’ll just let that one speak for itself. Love it.

Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them – a mother’s approval, a father’s nod – are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives. ~ Mitch Albom in The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Okay, I have not read that book, so I can’t speak for the story or the context. I saw a fraction of that quote, the part about the stories as stones upon stones, printed somewhere. I had to search for the full passage online, and I was not disappointed when I found it.

I am a dog, and I know how to fast. It’s a part of the genetic background for which I have such contempt. When God gave men big brains, he took away the pads on their feet and made them susceptible to salmonella. When he denied dogs the use of thumbs, he have them the ability to survive without food for extended periods. While a thumb – one thumb!  – would have been very helpful at that time, allowing me to turn a stupid doorknob and escape, the second best tool, and the one at my disposal, was my ability to go without nourishment… ~ Garth Stein in The Art of Racing in the Rain

Unlike the first two, this quote (and really, the next two pages) are more meaningful as part of the context of the rest of the story. The Art of Racing in the Rain is told from the perspective of the dog, which could definitely be, well, absurd. But, my favorite thing about this book is that Enzo the Dog’s point-of-view completely makes sense. It doesn’t come across as human, and it’s somewhere between “dog” and “how we people completely anthropomorphize our pets.” In this same section, Enzo is faced with a demented stuffed zebra toy. This whole scene is why this book stands out to me – Stein takes a situation – dog is left alone so dog tears something up – and turns the scene around, successfully enough that you not only feel sorry for the dog, but also understand (sort of) his motivation.

Next time my dog eats a blanket (or a door, or a plastic swimming pool, or a box of hot chocolate), I’ll try to remember that.

Any other collectors of favorite passages out there?

Waiting on Wednesday: Prisoner of Night and Fog

Prisoner of Night and Fog, Anne Blankman

Amanda

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

From Goodreads…

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In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

Sounds intense!

Review: Lost Lake

Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen

Amanda

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From Goodreads…

From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a novel about heartbroken people finding hope at a magical place in Georgia called Lost Lake.

Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it’s the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn’t believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake’s owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake’s magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost . . . until they are found.

Why are Sarah Addison Allen’s books never long enough?!  I think that has been my main complaint with the last few.  I need more!  Though I suppose I would far rather have that complaint then have a book that I was wanting to end.  When you start one of Addison Allen’s books you really can tell where the story is going to go, but they’re always happy (even when bittersweet) and the sense of whimsy that follows along is always enjoyable for me.  This book starts with Kate “waking up” after sleep walking through the year after her husband’s death and really watching her 8 year-old daughter for the first time in that year.  Kate and her daughter Devin find a postcard sent 15 years earlier from Kate’s aunt Eby at Lost Lake and they decide to drive the 4 hours to see if the resort is still there.  At the same time Eby has decided to sell Lost Lake to a developer and warns her last regular guests this will be the last summer.

This book starts out as a farewell to Lost Lake and a 1 day journey for Kate and Devin but turns into a magical summer.  I really loved getting to see Eby and her late husband as they honeymooned in Paris and the steps that took them to Lost Lake.  I wish we had been given more time with Kate as she was before Matt’s death (though Waking Kate, a free ebook, is one snapshot).  I feel I was given a certain impression of Matt and how he felt about life and I wish I had more depth to him and his relationship with Kate.  I think that would have added to the story for me, rather than just hearing that Kate fell apart when her husband died because that’s what the women in her family do.

I love the women that Sarah Addison Allen write, and I really like watching them find their own paths– in this book from young Devin to the older women, Eby and Lisette.  Also, I just love the magic.  Its not overwhelming, this is not a fantasy story, just a little bit of magic combined with everyday life which I think we all can use sometimes.   As I said, the ending is pretty predictable, but for me that did not take away from the pleasure of the story at all.  I also think this book was a triumphant return to writing for Sarah Addison Allen after her bout with breast cancer.

4 Stars

I won an advanced copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: A Star for Mrs. Blake

A Star for Mrs. Blake, April Smith

Amanda

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From Goodreads.com

An emotionally charged, brilliantly realized novel set in the 1930s about five American women-Gold Star Mothers-who travel to France to visit the graves of their World War I soldier sons: a pilgrimage that will change their lives in unforeseeable and indelible ways.

The women meet for the first time just before their journey begins: Katie, an Irish maid from Dorchester, Massachusetts; Minnie, wife of an immigrant Russian Jewish chicken farmer; Bobbie, a wealthy Boston socialite; Wilhelmina, a former tennis star in precarious mental health; and Cora Blake, a single mother and librarian from coastal Maine. In Paris, Cora meets a journalist whose drug habit helps him hide from his own wartime fate-facial wounds so grievous he’s forced to wear a metal mask. This man will change Cora’s life in wholly unexpected ways. And when the women finally travel to Verdun to visit the battlegrounds where their sons fought as well as the cemeteries where they are buried, shocking events-a death, a scandal, a secret revealed-will guarantee that Cora’s life and those of her traveling companions will become inextricably intertwined. Only now will they be able to emerge from their grief and return home to their loved ones. This is a timeless story set against a footnote of history: little known but unforgettable.

I thought this was a fantastic premise for a book. I was familiar with the concept of stars in the window for sons (and now daughters!) serving abroad and with the gold stars for those who lost a son during World Wars I and II, but I was not familiar with the government sponsored pilgrimages of these mothers to the graves of their sons.  Its kind of amazing that our government did that-and really what an undertaking that must have been.  (This short article is interesting for further reading.)  I liked that the group we follow in the book, Party A, is made up of such very different women, the maid, the socialite, the Jewish farmer’s wife and the widowed Mrs. Blake.  I believe that’s one of the good things about our military-all walks of life meet up together. Unfortunately, these soldiers died together, the mothers’ grief becomes a uniting factor across class, religion and race.

I think Smith got too carried away with her subjects and what could have been an interesting and touching story was too bogged down by extraneous details and side stories.  If Smith had been able to narrow down her focus I think she could have also done more to keep her characters real and language true to the time period.  It felt like every character you met had a back story, and they just didn’t matter. I would rather have gone deeper into a few issues, such as the separation of the white and African American mothers, than have read about the history of the Army General who planned the pilgrimages.  The fact that there is a “death, a scandal, a secret revealed” on the journey should be enough to keep the reader engrossed without overloading on irrelevant information.

There were passages in this book that I found quite moving, especially as the mothers visited the cemetery where their sons were buried and later the battlefield where they died. But the best parts of the writing I had to search for in between the trivial details or language that seemed to anachronistic to me.  I was invested in Mrs. Blake’s story as well as Bobbie’s and Wilhelmina’s, and I wish I had been able to be more interested in the other mothers.  This was definitely worth a read for the historical perspective and a different kind of women’s story.

Goodreads is giving copies away right now if you’re interested.  Scroll down on the Goodreads page to enter.

I received this book for free from Knopf in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Waiting on Wednesay: The Magicians’s Land

Waiting on Wednesdays: The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman The Magicians #3

Amanda

From Goodreads:

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In The Magician’s Land, the stunning conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Magicians trilogy—on-sale from Viking on August 5—Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story be­gan, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young under­graduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demi­monde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost for­ever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory—but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrific­ing everything.

The Magician’s Land is an intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemp­tion that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnifi­cent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole

I am definitely going to have to have a re-read of the Magicians and Magician King before August.  I can’t wait to go back to Brakebills!! Has Quentin grown up at all?  Lev Grossman’s email about the book says he thinks it may be the best he’s written-that definitely makes me want to get my paws on it!