Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Fox From His Lair (book review)

Publication: William Morrow, 1966, hardcover
Genre: Fiction, set in England 
Plot: Annabelle Baird has drifted into an engagement with Philip Ancell, and when she travels to Portugal to be inspected by his employers, their differences become all too evident.  He is annoyed that she brought her nephews, and she is disappointed he does not understand that family comes first with her.  In contrast to the uptight hospitality of his critical employers, Annabelle is subsequently welcomed at the Oporto home of the Prendergasts (an expansive family I would like to visit myself).   At the airport, she runs into someone else from her small English town: Angus Pemberton, the irrepressible grandson of her employer. He has been working in Brazil for years but spent his childhood tormenting Annabelle and her sisters.  He is instantly more appealing and easier to get along with than Philip, but Annabelle has never trusted him and doesn’t plan to begin now.   Adding complication to her situation is a mysterious man on his deathbed who puts Annabelle in charge of a precocious child, Luis, going to England.  Once home, Annabelle has to figure out how to resolve her suddenly complicated romantic and family situation.

What I liked: Cadell wrote more than 50 books.  Her specialty was light, amusing romantic fiction full of quirky characters and a practical heroine who usually manages to enjoy them in an uncritical way.  She has a Facebook fanclub and apparently her daughter has written a biography.  Like Jane Aiken Hodge, Cadell must have fallen in love with Portugal as she set several books there and describes it in a very appealing way.  Her books are charming and occasionally laugh out loud or at least smile to oneself funny:

“…[W]e’re going to stay with the Prendergasts.”
“Prendergasts . . . Yes, I remember.  Two girls who stayed with you once.”
“You ought to remember,” she said coldly.  “You cut the ropes of our tent, sank our canoe, put moles into our sleeping bags, played a hose onto our hammocks, and let the bull out while we were picnicking.  Looking back, I’ve often wondered if you weren’t suffering from a case of arrested development.
“Could be,” he admitted readily.  His eyes swept over her.  “You haven’t changed.”
As so often in the past, she was left to draw her own conclusions as to what he intended to convey; now, as then, she had a strong suspicious that he had conveyed anything but a compliment.

What I disliked: The machinations behind the Luis subplot were confusing and not up to Cadell’s usual skill in resolving loose threads.  I would have been annoyed if I were Annabelle to have been so left out of the loop. 
Source:   My mother introduced me to Cadell, and as a teen, I read every one of her books in my library.   I liked that her heroines were independent and mostly had jobs.  I didn’t remember this one well but found this on the shelf in Brookline and decided it needed circulation.  I recommend checking your local library to see if any of her books are still available –  look for The Lark Shall Sing, one of my favorites (the heroine reminds me of myself).

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Heroes' Welcome (book review)

Title: The Heroes’ Welcome
Author: Louisa Young

Publication: Harper Perennial trade paperback, March 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction, set in 1919 England
 
Plot:  Second in a trilogy, The Heroes’ Welcome follows the stories of two couples whose relationships suffered during WWI and are now challenged by post-war adjustment.  In My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, Nadine Waveney became friendly with poor but relatively honest Riley Purefoy through a painter who teaches Nadine and employs Riley when they are both children.  As Nadine reaches adolescence, her mother decides her friendship with not-our-class Riley should not be encouraged but it is too late, they fall in love.  However, other factors result in Riley joining the army without a word to Nadine or his family and being sent to the trenches.   In France, his superior officer is well bred Peter Locke who married a suitably lovely young woman named Julia.  Riley survives the war long enough to be made an officer (American readers may not understand that it was practically unheard of for an unlisted man to be so elevated but the incredible loss of life in the trenches required a fresh supply of officers) and develops a sort of friendship with Peter before he is severely wounded.  His face is destroyed and he is sent to a hospital on the outskirts of London where the father of plastic surgery, Major/Doctor Harold Gillies, does his best to restore Riley’s health.  Riley’s nurse is Peter’s cousin Rose, for whom war work has provided meaning and self respect previously absent in her life.   Riley breaks off his relationship with Nadine to spare her being tied to a man without a face but, loyal and determined, she eventually tracks him down and convinces him she loves and does not pity him.  
Frognal House was the original building of the Queen's Hospital (later Queen Mary's Hospital), Sidcup where Riley was treated and Rose was a nurse
Where Riley has horrendous physical injuries, Peter returns intact but suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder before such psychological damage is recognized.  His well-intentioned but not very wife suffers most from his deterioration.  The five characters become inextricably connected not simply through the men’s service together in France but when Nadine, visiting the hospital at Sidcup, becomes friendly with Rose and Julia, who live nearby. 

In The Heroes’ Welcome, Nadine and Riley marry, to the distress of her affluent family and his poor one.  This bothers Nadine more than Riley, who has a fairly cold personality.  After some angst, their relationship develops well.  Peter and Julia have a much more difficult time.  Julia is recovering from a bizarre episode in the previous book where she undertook a treatment to preserve her beauty which involved washing her face with acid.  Her husband is indifferent, her three year old son is unnerved by her mood swings, and cousin Rose (the most interesting character) is pursuing an opportunity to become a doctor (although this is underdeveloped).  Rose is the only person who seems to recognize that Peter needs help and is potentially violent, but he is cruel and dismissive to her and basically rapes his wife when he can bring himself to touch her.   Riley has difficulty settling back into post-war life, primarily because his face prevents him from obtaining a job, but he makes some friends and starts a publishing company, aimed at providing helpful information to former soldiers trying to enter civilian life.  As Nadine and Riley’s lives approach normal, Peter becomes more and more psychotic and his relationship with Julia seems doomed to failure.  You must read the book yourself to learn what happens to these five tortured characters.

Audience: Fans of historical and/or Edwardian fiction, those interested in World War I. 

What I liked:  I have avidly read books set during World War I since childhood and had these two on my Goodreads list.  Young does a good job at showing how war changes people and that merely staying alive is not enough -  how difficult it can be for survivors to resume everyday life and the extent to which their families suffer with them.  There is also a great contrast between someone like Peter with invisible wounds, whose family background and finance afford him the luxury of becoming a recluse and drunkard while disfigured Riley is unwilling to be supported by his in-laws and is determined to find honest employment.  Riley seems to be ahead of his time in expecting the government to take a modicum of responsibility for its veterans, not that I disagree.

Fans of Downton Abbey may enjoy this series but I recommend beginning with the first book, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You.  If you are interested in shell-shocked soldiers, you might instead read the beautifully written Regeneration by Pat Barker.  For a look at another unequal (but more joyful) romance between an aristocratic young woman and a working class man, I recommend Kissing Kin by Elswyth Thane. If you simply miss Downton Abbey, try a book from my DA recommended list.

What I disliked: I had mixed feelings about these books.  Of course, I understand that Peter’s guilt at leading men to their deaths has prevented him from resuming a normal post-war life but his vicious behavior to his wife and neglect of his three year old son makes him a very unsympathetic character, and I did not enjoy reading about him.  It is also hard to sympathize with his wife, due to her treatment of their vulnerable son.   I was beginning to dislike Riley as well, but enjoyed the descriptions of his publishing venture.  Nadine and Rose were the most congenial characters, and Rose’s medical studies would have interested me because of my fascination with women's war work.  One hopes this will be covered in the third book.

Source: I received The Heroes’ Welcome from the TLC Book Tours and invite you to visit the tour to read other reviews:

Tuesday, March 10th: Tina Says …
Wednesday, March 11th: Giraffe Days
Thursday, March 12th: Open Book Society
Monday, March 16th: Peppermint PhD
Tuesday, March 17th: Read Her Like an Open Book
Wednesday, March 18th: A Book Geek
Thursday, March 19th: Helen’s Book Blog
Tuesday, March 24th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, March 25th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Monday, March 30th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Camelot Kids (book review)

Title: The Camelot Kids
Author: Ben Zackheim, @zackheim - Illustrations/design by Nathan Fox, Ian Greenlee

Genre: Juvenile Fantasy
Plot:  What would you do if an odd girl in a hooded cloak said, "You know you're a descendant of King Arthur's knight, Lancelot, right?" You'd probably do the same thing 14-year-old orphan Simon Sharp does: back away nice and slow. The difference is Simon's Camelot-obsessed parents recently died under mysterious circumstances.

But he learns the truth about their fate and his heritage after he's kidnapped by a drunk troll, rescued by a 7-foot elderly man named Merlin, and thrown into training with 149 other heirs of the Knights of the Round Table. Can Simon survive a prophecy that predicts the world will be saved through its destruction? Can he do it while clues keep popping up that his parents are alive?

The Camelot Kids is about one boy's struggle to solve a mystery and make it to tomorrow in a world both real and fantastic.


Why I Chose It:  Orphans.  You know I love stories about plucky orphans.  Here is a look at the book trailer so you can learn more about Simon Sharp.  

Audience: I am a prime example of an adult who never stopped enjoying juvenile fiction but when I read that the book begins with the hero being asked if he knows he's descended from King Arthur, I knew my sixth grade nephew Christopher was the perfect audience for this book and invited him to assist with the review. Christopher and his brother have loved knights and books about knights since they first began forming sentences about swordy guys as toddlers.  
Christopher's Take:   The Camelot Kids is a novel by Ben Zackheim about a 12-year-old boy named Simon Sharp. It is the first in a series. Simon’s parents died in a plane crash 2 years ago, and this lengthy story follows his journey from the streets of New York to the castle of New Camelot. Simon is sent to his eccentric Grandfather Victor, but meets a girl named Maille who tells him he is descended from Sir Lancelot. After being captured by a drunk troll and rescued by a fearsome 7 foot tall wizard, Simon is brought to New Camelot, the one place he really belongs. À la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson mashed together, Simon taps into his powers, then enrolls in an academy for aspiring knights. 

Christopher said the characters are interesting and well developed, and he felt they would continue to develop in the course of the series. He found the plot convincing and humorous, although felt at times the humor was a bit clunky. The ending was a cliffhanger for future books in the series and left him wanting to read more. While Christopher liked the King Arthur theme, he said that was not the key to enjoying the book. What he liked best were the characters. He also felt it was more targeted to middle graders than a YA audience; in fact, he said he would share it with his 4th grade brother.

Author: Zackheim is also the author of the Shirley Link girl detective mystery series.  After reading The Camelot Kids, I had already guessed he is an avid gamer but his enthusiasm for his readers is very charming.  I hope some of his young fans visit the Writer Tips on his website.

Source: I received The Camelot Kids from the TLC Book Tours in return for an honest review and invite you to visit other stops on the tour to read other perspectives on this entertaining book.

Monday, February 16th: Sweet Southern Home
Wednesday, February 18th: Walking in Faith
Monday, February 23rd: Jancee Reads
Wednesday, February 25th: Books Reviews by Lanise Brown
Thursday, February 26th: Just One More Chapter
Friday, February 27th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, March 3rd: Mom in Love With Fiction
Wednesday, March 11th: Once Upon a YA book
Thursday, February 12th: Ms. Bookish
Wednesday, March 18th: Nighttime ReadingCenter 

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