Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Set in early nineteenth century England, the chapters alternate between two narrators: Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. Anning and Philpot are two female historical figures that influenced fossil science despite the restrictions set upon their gender by nature of the time period. The novel tells the engrossing story of the lives and work of two very different women separated by age, class, education and station in life but bound by a passion for fossil hunting upon the beaches of Lyme Regis in Dorsetshire, England. The story is told over a span of two decades beginning with the spinster Philpot sisters' move to the quiet, small, coastal village of Lyme Regis. Chevalier does a tremendous job of creating distinctive voices for the two narrators.
As much as the story is about the contributions that Anning and Philpot made to the field of geology through discovery of fossils of previously unknown, long extinct species, it is also about the friendship between these two remarkable women. It is also a story of the coming of age of both women in their own time. Readers of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy reading about women's early contributions to the scientific field, will love this book. I recommend you pick it up the next time you're in the library.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie
Thursday, January 20, 2011
The novel alternates between the third person perspective of four characters: Penny, Ivan, and Mary, all Irish; and Sam, an American. Each character has their own demons and past tragedies and misfortunes that need exorcising and that have in different ways marked them forever. The novel is set in Kenmare, Ireland, a small town where everyone knows everyone else's secrets no matter how hard they try to hide them, heal them, bury them, or run from them.
Mary, called Mary of the Sorrows by townsfolk due to the inordinate number of tragedies that have marked her from birth, has her father and her best friends and her work to keep her busy. She's completely closed herself off from love and new acquaintance, and thus she has no time for the handsome new neighbor named Sam who moves in next door. However, in the wake of an injury requiring Mary's care and that he take up residence on her living room floor to recover, the two form a tentative friendship.
Ivan, Mary's cousin and best friend, is still recovering from his wife taking his kids and running off to England with her lover the year before. Lately his kids have been withdrawing from him, and he can't help but worry that he's losing them for good and that something is terribly wrong in their English home.
Penny, Mary's best friend, has been carrying on an affair for the past five years with her first love who's the love of her life. Unfortunately he's married with kids and ultimately chooses his kids over Penny. Left devastated by the end of her affair and her lover's move to Cork, Penny drowns her sorrows in beer, wine and vodka. Soon she becomes jealous of Mary's burgeoning friendship with Sam. Penny is determined to dig up the man's secrets and expose them in a scathing article in her newspaper. She embarks on a research project that cannot end well for anyone once all of Sam's secrets are exposed to Mary and the entire town.
Sam is seeking refuge from a lifestyle and an addiction that nearly killed him and destroyed his relationship with his family. However, Sam's addiction is the symptom of devastating personal demons stemming from a highly traumatic incident from his teen years. It has haunted him and derailed his life ever since.
This story is is as much about people working through the issues that haunt them and hold them back as it is about the boundaries and bindings of friendship. I recommend you check out this title the next time you're at the library.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Abbe grew up in apartheid South Africa while the country was rumbling painfully toward progressive reform and revolution. The daughter of an alcoholic, controlling, malicious, violent and abusive father and a mother whose spirit, heart and family are broken and trampled down to dust by her husband and unhappy marriage, Abbe fell for the opposite type of man for her husband: Greg. A methodist preacher-man, Greg lives his life by the tenets of Christ: forgiving, quiet, dispassionate and forever turning the other cheek and refusing to fight back. Now a wife and mother and years into her marriage Abbe longs for passion and a reprieve from the boredom that permeates her marriage and her life in idyllic Hawaii where her husband shepherds a reluctant and increasingly mutinous flock.
Upon returning to a friend's house where they left their three year old daughter while they went to a movie, Greg and Abbe walk into every parent's nightmare: their daughter has been struck by a car and rushed to the hospital where she dies in surgery. Devastated, Greg and Abbe retreat into themselves and withdraw from each other, each coping with their grief in their own ways. Increasingly consumed by her grief and sorrow and withdrawing from church, friends, and the world, Abbe spends her days and weeks in her home watching the clocks and completing the daily ritual of winding the grandfather clocks. As deeply hidden secrets and truths come to light in Abbe's marriage, she recalls her childhood in South Africa and the weeks and years that led up to the deaths of her parents and beloved grandmother. It becomes clear that her childhood also holds long buried secrets and that Abbe and her brother have different recollections and perspectives on their mother and their childhood.
Infused with the culture and steeped with the superstition of her South African homeland, this vividly and beautifully written story is tragic and heartbreaking. Complicated characters and complex story alike grab the reader and won't let go until the last page. I highly recommend you check out this book the next time you're in the library.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
As girls Alexandra and Jane were best friends. Then Jane got pregnant at 17 and left school to raise her son while Alexandra went away for college. The friends lost touch and haven't seen each other since. Years later when coincidence puts Jane and her self-absorbed, unstable, creative genius sister, Elle in an elevator with Tom, Alexandra's desperate husband, and a stranger named Leslie. Tom is desperate because months ago Alexandra vanished from a Dublin suburb and since then has not been seen nor heard from and all leads on the case have gone cold.
After their meeting in the elevator, a friendship blooms between the four former strangers who become united in one cause: raising awareness about Alexandra's disappearance in an effort to bring her home. While Alexandra's mysterious disappearance and unknown fate are the impetus for the friends' bond and for the story, the story's focus is not the stereotypical whodunit mystery of where Alexandra has gone. Instead this is the story of the months after her disappearance as told from the perspective of her friends and family and its effects on their lives and relationships. Jane, Tom, Elle and Jane each have their own demons with which to wrestle and through their friendship each finds the strength to move on.
Capable of both humor and heartrendingly sad passages throughout the story, this is a beautifully written novel that is hard to put down. The friends' journeys are as compelling as the mystery of Alexandra's disappearance. I recommend you check out this book the next time you're in the library.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Dorothea and her brother Jimmy were raised in total isolation and seclusion from the modern day world, society and people by their father who is controlling and overprotective in the extreme. One could argue that his brand of overprotective borders on abuse or neglect as it is left both children extremely ill prepared to deal with and relate to the outside world. Then Jimmy moves to the city and when their father sickens and Jimmy's letters cease, Dorothea follows her brother to the big city to find him and bring him home to their father. Dorothea's mission is complicated thousand fold by the facts that she has never had any contact with the outside world and her knowledge of history, society and technology stops at the 1950's thanks to the way she was raised and educated by her father.
Upon her arrival in the city, happenstance puts her in Stephen Spaulding's cab. Stephen himself has ceased living and has cut off most contact with friends and family in the wake of the crushing grief and trauma from an unspeakable tragedy two years ago. A former physician, he reluctantly takes Dorothea under his wing and the two of them trail Jimmy to several of his former addresses before he is finally found in the county hospital psychiatric ward after suffering a nervous breakdown that resulted in gruesome self-mutilation. The reality of Jimmy's situation and condition is heartbreaking in so many ways because it is due to both his upbringing and their father's refusal to divulge any details about the family's past. It is this past and the answers it holds that are the key to healing Jimmy.
There are two suspenseful stories told in this book. There is the story of the tragedy that resulted in the disintegration of Dorothea's and Jimmy's family over a period of several years, and there is also the story of the present as Dorothea and Jimmy try piece together their past as everyone rumbles toward a shocking revelation regarding the secrets and lies their father told them. Beautifully written, at turns humorous and gut wrenching, this book is hard to put down until the last page.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie