Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

Title: A Fall of Marigolds
Author: Susan Meissner
Publication: Penguin, trade paper, 2014
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
TBR Challenge: This is the third book I have read from the 2019 Challenge, created by Roof Beam Reader.
Plot: In this novel, Meissner weaves together two tragedies, nearly 100 years apart yet connected by an unusual scarf of marigold-patterned Indian fabric. Taryn Michaels is a textile expert who lost her husband on 9/11 just as she was about to meet him at Windows on the World to tell him she was pregnant, while Clara Wood is a nurse who, back in 1911, witnessed the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Both women were traumatized by their experience and survived by devoting themselves to their work. Clara takes a job on Ellis Island, nursing immigrants not considered well enough to disembark immediately, and caring for a patient whose deceased wife owned the scarf. Taryn brings up her daughter quietly, while working at a fabric store on the Upper West Side. She tries to forget the events of the terrible day of World Trade Center attacks, including the client who consulted her about a rare scarf. Both women seem to be in a holding pattern, while friends and family want them to move on with their lives.

My Impressions: I am a big fan of books set in dual time lines and, fortunately for me, a number of authors have embraced this sub-genre. In my opinion, the most successful of these writers is Susanna Kearsley but in Secrets of a Charmed Life I was impressed by the way Susan Meissner weaves historical elements into her fiction. Several years ago, at a book signing in Rhode Island, Kearsley mentioned that it is difficult to make the two different time fames (usually one historical and one present day) equally compelling to the reader, which is interesting to contemplate, although the situation in this well-written book by Meissner was somewhat different. Here, I was impatient with both heroines’ prolonged melancholy, despite recognizing each had been through a tragic experience from which it would be hard to recover. And although it echoed my own feelings, I was annoyed by characters, particularly the doctor who works with Clara on Ellis Island, who pushes her to forget the tragedy she experienced, not realizing that recovery does not happen on a set time frame. While this story is meant to convey the possibility of hope and loving again, the overwhelming sense of desolation that permeates most of the book somewhat exhausted this reader.
Off the Blog: I am visiting my sister on Cape Cod for a few days, writing from a deck that radiates serenity despite the Marco Polo cries from nearby nephews and nieces.

Windows on the World:  My friend Shelia was asked to speak at a conference at Windows on the World the morning of 9/11 but she declined because of a business trip.  When her trip got canceled, she forgot to tell the organizers she was now available so witnessed the events of that day from her nearby office instead of being there.  We were supposed to meet for a drink that night and she had purchased a box of Scotchmallows for me, which she remembered to snatch as she fled from her office that morning amidst all the horror . . .

Source: Personal copy. Thank you to Ellen Edwards for recommending this author.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Withering-by-Sea and Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell

Title: Withering-by-Sea and Wormwood Mire
Author and Illustrator: Judith Rossell
Publication: Atheneum, hardcovers, 2016 and 2017
Genre: Middle grade historical fantasy
Plot: In Withering-by-Sea, we meet Stella Montgomery, an eleven-year-old orphan being brought up by three disagreeable aunts and their spiteful maid Ada in the Hotel Majestic, somewhere in Victorian England. Stella longs for adventure but the closest she has come is reading about the Amazon in the Atlas she cherishes. When a desperate visitor to the hotel gives her something to hide, Stella is plunged into danger, forcing her to flee from a magician who wants to harm her. In the process, Stella makes friends (courageous Gert, part of a dancing act, and Ben, the unwilling assistant to Professor Starke) and starts seeking the truth about her own background.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Travelers by Chris Pavone

Title: The Travelers
Author: Chris Pavone
Publication: Broadway Books, trade paperback, 2017 (2016).
Genre: Suspense
TBR Challenge: This is the second book I have read from my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, sponsored by Roof Beam Reader. I need to accelerate or I won’t make my goal!
Plot: Will Rhodes is a travel writer for The Travelers, a magazine that sends him all over the world for stories about ex-patriates living in exotic locations. However, like most people in publishing, he and his wife, Chloe, are underpaid and trying to get by. They live in Brooklyn, where they have been trying to fix up a brownstone. After Will is tempted into a one night stand with a beautiful stranger, everything starts to go wrong for him. His secrets come between him and his wife, and between him and his boss. Suddenly, the exotic locations he used to enjoy turn into dangerous places where he doesn’t know if he is the hunter or the hunted. Can Will extract himself from what seems to be an international conspiracy before it destroys him?
Brooklyn brownstones
My Impressions: This is the third book I have read by Chris Pavone, and falls between the other two in appeal. The Accident, which I read in 2014, was about a mysterious manuscript that could provide fame and fortune – or possibly death – to those seeking to publish it, but I found the characters so unlikeable it was the publishing background that primarily motivated me to finish. The Expats is about Kate Moore, living in Luxembourg as an expat wife who is hiding a secret about her past. She also appears briefly in The Accident. I found her a convincing and entertaining character. Here, the pace is slow and it took me a long time to care much about Will Rhodes, who seemed to me to have asked for all the trouble that comes his way. Fortunately, the book accelerates once Will starts being chased around the world and the second half of the book takes place at quite impressive speed. It wound up being suspenseful and a good summer read.
Off the Blog: I baked delicious banana cake for my mother's birthday!  I wish you could come share the leftovers.

Source: Personal copy

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Frederica by Georgette Heyer, Chapters 14 - 17

In which Alverstoke makes a move that unnerves Frederica, Jessamy comes to grief in a Pedestrian Curricle, Harry is rusticated, Lady Elizabeth comes to town, and a balloon ascension is planned
Chapter 14

Alverstoke surprises everyone by turning up for what Betsy Ray’s family would call Sunday Night Lunch. He dresses down in morning dress and manages to be the most elegant man in the room without no effort. Felix is delighted to see him and thanks Alverstoke for arranging the trip to the New Mint with Mr. Trevor (although it is doubtless Charles who did the legwork). Darcy Moreton is struck first by Alverstoke’s friendly response to Felix’s greeting and then by Alverstoke’s “warmer and more intimate” smile for Frederica.
Good God! mentally ejaculated Mr. Moreton. Sits the wind in that quarter? 
This is just a bit awkward as Darcy was interested in Frederica himself (a pity Georgette didn’t give him his own book later; a modern author would be encouraged by her editor to do so).  Frederica introduces him to the other guests, which include the older gentleman she considered for Charis, some young ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Moreton, Endymion, Chloe, Charles, and Lord Buxted. The three gentlemen fear that Alverstoke will be critical of their attendance but he merely smiles at them before ingratiating himself with Miss Winsham. After observing the group, Alverstoke concludes that Endymion is infatuated with Charis, Charles and Chloe with each other, and Lord Buxted is indeed interested in Frederica. He decides that if Charles and Chloe last, he will need to help Charles get a government position with advancement potential. He talks to Sir Mark Lyneham, the possible older suitor for Charis, but dismisses him when Lyneham talks about putting Charis in a frame to look at, and tells Frederica he won’t do at all and asks if she like him to find a likely widower. She gives a decided no and Alverstoke says she can command his services at any time and puts his hand over hers.
She would have drawn her hand away as she spoke, but he prevented her, lifting it from the bannister, and lightly kissing it. She had the oddest sensation of having suffered an electric shock; she even felt slightly dizzy; and it was several minutes after he had left her before she went back into the drawing room. It was no longer customary for gentlemen to kiss hands; and although oldfashioned persons frequently kissed the hands of married ladies, his lordship was not oldfashioned and she was not married. She wondered what he meant by it, and was obliged to give herself a mental shake. Probably he meant nothing at all, or was trying to get up a flirtation.
Later in the week Jessamy hires a Pedestrian Curricle, a sort of bicycle, which he has seen people riding in the park. See Sarah Waldock's blog for more (by the way, her books look fun and I am adding them to my TBR - has anyone read them?)  He takes lessons, planning to surprise his family, but has a disastrous fall when Lufra tangles with another dog. The resulting chaos unnerves him and anxious to spare Frederica worry, he blurts out that his guardian is the Marquis of Alverstoke. When he reaches Berkeley Square, he tells first Mr. Trevor and then Alverstoke his tale of woe, mostly incoherently. Despite having no experience with adolescents, Alverstoke calms him down and Band-Aids his wounds, and agrees to advance him the funds to cover any damage he caused. The most sensible line of the book is when Alverstoke tells Jessamy he will be a better parson if he develops an understanding of human frailty. Then he earns Jessamy’s devotion by commanding him to study less and (pretending it is a favor) spend time exercising Alverstoke’s horses.
Chapter 15

Frederica is mortified that Jessamy sought help from Alverstoke instead of her. She worries that she dragged the boys to London to their detriment and is embarrassed that she is further indebted to him. She is, however, grateful that Jessamy is happier now and enjoying riding Alverstoke’s horses. Alverstoke notices a new young man pursuing Charis – he is a very eligible gentleman, Mr. Peter Navenby, who has already brought his mother to call upon the Merrivilles. He teases Frederica about Navenby’s prospects and they discuss the muttonheaded-aspects of Charis and Endymion. Those watching them in conversation while regarding Charis assume she has caught his interest. Lady Buxted, who has disliked them both since the ball, talks trash about them to her sister, but Lady Jevington said they are “[v]ery unaffected, pretty behaved girls, both of them. Charis is a beautiful ninnyhammer; but I believe Frederica to be a young woman of superior understanding.” Lady Buxted says what if the beautiful ninnyhammer becomes their sister-in-law? Lady Jevington (who sees much more than we realized) tells Louisa she is a fool.

In the meantime, 21-year-old Harry Merriville has been sent down from Oxford for some undergraduate horseplay so has naturally headed to London (as someone mentioned, the rented house on Upper Wimpole Street must be surprisingly spacious). He tells his sisters it was practically his duty to be rusticated so he could check on his family. Harry has heard Alverstoke is a rake and tells his sisters that it isn’t appropriate for Alverstoke to act like their guardian. This upsets Frederica because it is both unfair to Alverstoke and critical of her decision making. Jessamy reassures Harry that Alverstoke is all that is proper, and describes all their new relatives. Harry goes to call on the Marquis himself, but expecting a dandy he is impressed by Alverstoke’s athletic form. Alverstoke exerts his charm with Harry, refuses to tell him what he expended on Jessamy’s Pedestrian Curricle incident, and says if Harry gets into trouble to call Alverstoke to bail him out instead of Frederica. He ends by giving Harry an introduction to Gentleman Jackson’s boxing school (who better than my former author, Candice Hern, to provide some background). Harry is excited about this, although is unsure whether he likes Alverstoke or not. The Marquis had no such doubts. Within ten minutes of making Harry’s acquaintance, he had recognized in him not only his father’s merits, but also his failings. A pleasing boy, with frank, well-bred manners, whom it was impossible not to like; but one who lacked strength of character, and would always be amiably ready to let another shoulder his responsibilities.
And why the devil should I shoulder them? The Marquis demanded of himself. I must have windmills in my head.
Chapter 16

Harry and Endymion find they are soulmates due to being sports-mad, which unfortunately means he doesn’t fully share Frederica’s disapproval of Endymion and Charis’ relationship. Charis tells Harry she is afraid Frederica will ask Alverstoke to separate them and asks for his help. He tries to talk Endymion up to Frederica but it is uphill work, and Frederica is indignant when Harry says Endymion’s prospects are good because Alverstoke is too old to get married.

Frederica herself has received two offers of marriage: one from Lord Buxted and one from Darcy Moreton, both of which she fails to take seriously and declines. Lord Buxted offers to mentor her brothers – which Frederica knows they would dislike intensely – and Mr. Moreton is dismayed at the very idea. Frederica knows Alverstoke is the only person her brothers accept as a mentor:
“he had behaved as though he really were their guardian, so that she had come, insensibly, to regard him as one to whom she could turn in any difficulty. This vexed her, for she had not previously looked for support or advice; and she had a shrewd notion that if she were to maintain her own strength, she must not allow herself to fall into the habit of depending on him. . . . Had she been told she was rapidly becoming an obsession with him, she would have been incredulous.

Chapter 17

Alverstoke is being careful not to start any rumors about his partiality for Frederica, and even sets up a new flirt as a decoy. He never thought seriously about a wife and did not want to be bored by a long term relationship, but now Frederica has cast “him into a state of unwelcome doubt.” He even admits he’s become fond of Felix and Jessamy. He can’t figure out exactly why Frederica has captivated him:
A frown gathered on his brow as he thought this over. The devil of it was that the more he saw of her the stronger grew the feeling he had for her, which was not love (an emotion which belonged to one’s salad days), nor yet mere liking Call it affection! It caused him to think about her far too much for his peace of mind; and (really, he must be growing senile!) to be constantly aware of a wish to list the burdens from her shoulders.
Alverstoke has noticed the sisters are wearing dresses that have been refurbished over the season but wrongly assumes it is Frederica sewing long hours by candlelight. He is unaware of Charis’ skill with a needle. He anticipates that Harry will lose money gambling on horses, so keeps an eye on him, and when he sees Frederica is worried, he arranges an expedition to the opera so he can find out why. He is able to reassure her that Harry is a normal young man who may get into minor scrapes but is unlikely to follow in his father’s footsteps. Frederica is reassured and grateful for his opinion; she wonders why he has interested himself so deeply in their affairs. Alverstoke is at a crossroads: he does not want to make a declaration to Frederica and it is also the first time in his life he has been interested in a woman who seems to think of him only as a friend.
Another family member arrives in London – Alverstoke’s youngest sister Eliza has received letters from Lady Buxted and Lady Jevington about the Merrivilles and come to investigate. Alverstoke tells her that guardianship is purely nominal but he is outed when Felix arrives unexpectedly. There is to be a balloon ascension in Hyde Park and Lord Buxted invited the Merrivilles to attend with him. Felix knew that would be torture for him so impulsively said he was going with Alverstoke and is now hoping to make it true. Frederica forbade him to plague the Marquis so he has just come to ask him. Lady Elizabeth intervenes before the Marquis can say No to say she would like to go to the balloon ascension with them.


Does Alverstoke’s handling of the Pedestrian Curricle incident show (whether he likes it or not) that he is ready to be in loco parentis to Frederica’s brothers?

Admittedly, Harry is only 21 but he has less sense of responsibility than Jessamy. Perhaps Frederica over-sheltered him during the years of their father’s illness? Should he do more to either support Frederica or to persuade her of Charis’ lasting passion?

What is really going on in Alverstoke’s head and how should he proceed?

Alverstoke doesn’t even seem to like the best member of his family, Lady Elizabeth! What do her and Harry’s arrivals add to the story?

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Title: The Rest of the Story
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publication: HarperCollins, hardcover, 2019
Genre: Young Adult

Plot: When Emma Payne’s father remarries, she unexpectedly needs a place to go while he is on his honeymoon. The surprising suggestion is that Emma visit her mother’s mother in working class North Lake, two hours away. Emma’s mother was an addict who overdosed years ago, and Emma has had no contact with her mother’s family since she was 4, although she remembers stories her mother told her as a child. When she arrives, she meets cousins she didn’t know existed and learns her grandmother runs a motel. She also learns that her Calvander family know her as Saylor, which is her middle name. Determined to pull her weight, Emma Saylor is soon changing bedding and scrubbing toilets with her cousins and Roo, the cute son of her mother’s best friend. Cleaning allows time for contemplation about her mother’s sad end; why doesn’t Emma remember more about her childhood visit; the contrast between North Lake and the affluent resort side of town, known as Lake North, which is where Emma’s mother first met her father. Although it takes strategy, Emma finds she fits in on both sides of the lake and, ultimately, has to make a choice regarding where she actually belongs.

My Impressions: A new Sarah Dessen is always a treat, and after a few that were only so-so, I felt this one returned to her usual high standard. Emma is introspective and allows the reader to share her reactions and feelings and, as always, the author makes you care about her. Like many heroines of this genre, Emma is trying to figure out who she is – with the added complication of learning she has two names – Emma, her comfortable suburban self, and Saylor, her can-do summer lake self. Knowing your mother was an addict and died from her addiction would be stressful for anyone and one can’t blame her father for shielding her from that part of her heritage, but it is hard to believe that her paternal relatives living just two hours away gave up on all contact with Emma. Her father didn’t even know Emma’s grandfather had died!

Coming to North Lake brings Emma Saylor close to her rediscovered family, helps her realize all the things she can do – drive, clean (you can tell Sarah Dessen has deep cleaned some rooms in her time – I wish I had those skills!), hold her own against anyone who challenges her, and reclaim memories of her mother. Dessen excels in depicting relationships, and the best part of the book is the way Emma Saylor and her three cousins establish friendships. If there was a flaw, it was that the story is light on romance.   Roo is appealing (except for his name) but very understated.
Off the Blog: It is day lily season and I am pleased that the crimson and peach bulbs I planted have finally emerged! Gardening is an uphill battle for me.
Source: Library copy but I hope to attend a book signing later this month in Falmouth and purchase my own. Not long ago I learned that my father and Sarah Dessen’s father were college classmates, although I doubt they knew each other.  Funny to think she might have turned up at Harvard instead of becoming a Tar Heel!   My elder nieces and I did meet Sarah in 2013 - see photo (proof!).