Entries Tagged 'Reviews' ↓

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

A bellwether is one that takes the lead or initiative; one that sets trends; an  indicator or predictor of something.  In Bellewether  by Susanna Kearsley, the eldest son chooses to name his ship Bellewether because he says it will lead the other ships across the waters.  When his mother corrects his spelling, he responds that Belle is the French word for Beauty.  I can’t help thinking that Susanny Kearsley chose this title to emphasize to the reader that the family in her story was a bit ahead of their time, and to encourage us to become bellwethers in our own time.

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

 

Product Carnegie's Maid

Marie Benedict creates an unlikely yet believable love story that provides what she imagines could be the explanation for Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist to generous philanthropist.  The tale is told from the point of view of Clara Kelley, a poor farmer’s daughter who has immigrated from Ireland to America in hopes of finding work and being able to support the family she has left behind.  Her journal entries detail how she finds herself serving as a lady’s maid for the mother of Andrew Carnegie.  When she catches the attentions of Andrew, her strength and determination keep her focused on what matters most–her family.   This slow-paced story gives the reader an opportunity to imagine the life of a lady’s maid in the days leading up to the Gilded Age in Pittsburgh, PA.  It also encourages thoughts about the influence of strong women in times when ladies were not expected to have strength.

If you enjoy thinking about days gone by and wondering how things might have been, you will enjoy this charming tale.

A Side note:

Carnegie’s Maid may be the second book by author Marie Benedict (The Other Einstein was the first), but it is not the second time she has written and published historical fiction.  Under the name Heather Terrell, Marie also wrote historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thiefand Brigid of Kildare as well as YA novels Eternity Fallen Angel, and The Books of Eva.  Marie is a lawyer turned author in pursuit of a longtime dream to unearth hidden stories of women in history.

 

 

Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison

Store favorite J.T. Ellison, whose thrillers typically take place in Nashville, is back with another venture into domestic noir. Last year’s No One Knows, about a young woman coping with the apparent death of her husband after he disappears at the Opryland Hotel, was somewhat of a departure for Ellison, since her books are usually part of a series. It was a heck of a read and Lie to Me is, too.

Ethan and Sutton Montclair are writers living in a gorgeous home in downtown Franklin, TN, when Sutton suddenly disappears. She leaves a short note and practically everything else, leaving behind her phone, laptop, and identification. Ethan is left reeling. Should he call the police? Or will they just assume he’s to blame for Sutton’s disappearance? Did Sutton hurt herself? Or is she getting back at him for what appears to a plethora of marital disputes?

Ellison brings in a strong female detective, the kind of character she’s great at writing, and a web of uncomfortable facts, half-truths, and all-out lies. Just like all her previous books, once you get about a third of the way in, you’ll have to finish immediately. So, clear your schedule and enjoy the ride.

Available as a digital audiobook here.

 

Fen by Daisy Johnson

Fen, a debut short story collection by Daisy Johnson, is captivating. While the characters and stories are not formally connected, meaning the characters from one story don’t know the characters from another, they are all set in the marshy Fenland region of eastern England. The local pub, the Fox and Hound, is visited by characters in more than one story and is the not-so-metaphorical watering hole of the weird and wild people who populate these stories.

There is a mystical quality to these stories, which feel almost like they could be lost tales of the Brothers Grimm. There’s a connectedness to nature which makes the characters fluid–maybe a boy is really a fox, maybe a girl can become an eel–and reminds me of Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and To the Bright Edge of the World. Johnson shows the raw and confusing emotions that are a natural part of adolescence and early adulthood. I can almost imagine a couple of these stories as surreal (or perhaps it’s magical realism?) retellings of 90’s standard girl reading material, as if Sweet Valley High or the Babysitter’s Club were full of girls yearning to be women…who just happened to do so by eating the men they date or  having an affair with a sentient house. If I’ve made these stories sound strange, it’s because they are, but rarely have I seen the pain of growing up explained so truthfully.

Exes by Max Winter

Exes is a debut novel told in inter-connected stories all (mostly) set in Providence, RI. The first story introduces us to Clay Blackall, a man who is emotionally lost and directionless, seemingly unable to cope with the death of his brother. Each story has a new narrator, but in between these stories are sections that read like footnotes but are actually Clay’s reaction to the other characters’ stories.

The people who make up Clay’s Providence are artists, Quakers, ex-cons, and mediocre husbands. Each voice is distinct, from Cliff Hinson, an amiable squatter, to Hank LaChance, a recently widowed former hockey player. Winter’s characters each have an undeniable sense of self, which is crucial to making their woven-together stories work. They’re like real people living in a city they feel is still a small town, seeing the same people over and over and gradually becoming each other’s backstory. One story is written as a commencement speech, in which Jake, a character already referenced in several other stories, outlines the way people have come and gone from their school. In it, he is speaking to his classmates and their families, knowing they know everyone he mentions and that they remember the changes the town has undergone. In effect, all the stories work in a similar fashion: when you see the same people your whole life, your stories blend together and you develop a storytelling shorthand because your audience already knows so much of what you want to say. What works so successfully in this novel of multiple narrators is that some of them embrace that shorthand and others ache to be free of it.

Winter’s prose is darkly funny and full of observational asides (see Mark Slepkow’s comments on egg commercials in “Jubilee”). The novel is a moving portrait of grief, from a brother trying to pull together all the pieces of his dead loved one’s life, and of what it means to be part of a community, whether you like it or not.

The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies

The Redemption of Galen Pike is a collection of flawless short stories and flash fiction. Setting, character, and plot are of such a variety that the strongest similarity between the stories is that each is more surprising than the last. Davies deftly turns every situation, and the world, on its side.

In surprisingly few pages, Davies creates whole worlds, one story after the next. The titular story is not only about the vile Galen Pike, but also shows the residents of a small town striving for civic improvements in spite of the indifference of local officials. One story tells of both the lives of a New York family and the personal history if their immigrant nanny. Another story, revolving around a body washed up on the beach, unveils a shocking reality, a world unseen at the story’s onset. In fact, that is the uniting characteristic of all these stories: each one contains a twist, a surprise that leaves the reader shocked and puzzled, often to the degree that you may find yourself re-reading the story to find clues. The twist is never cheap though, never tacky, and the stories themselves are not misleading. Instead, each story unfailingly finds the heart of the matter and strips it bare.