The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog)

The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My difficulties with audiobooks continues. I don’t know if it is the style of this book or my aging brain, because I did enjoy the story and the telling of it, but I had to go back and relisten to the first couple of disks and finally get a print copy to read alongside. The second half seemed to go better, and I may or may not finish reading the print copy. But that is by no means a complaint of either the book or the narrator.

This debut novel by Australian Kate Morton is an homage to Rebecca and other gothic-style romances. It would appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, and I was picturing the actors of the TV series as their counterparts in this novel as I listened. As in Downton Abbey, we see life from both the upstairs and downstairs points of view, the devastating effects of WWI on the family, and the unraveling of the social structures in the 1920s, especially for women. There are family secrets, too, which are readily guessed by an astute reader. The plot is slow-moving and drawn out. Probably the British title The Shifting Fog fits better than The House at Riverton. As a gothic novel, I expect the house to be a character in its own right, and I just didn’t feel it here. So probably 4 stars as a period piece, 3 stars for plot and development. I would like to have learned more about Grace’s life after the events of 1924 and how it affected her. As it is, this is just the confessional of a very old woman who has kept a secret for nearly 75 years.

Book description: Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline. In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they — and Grace — know the truth. In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace’s youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

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The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to describe. It is not exactly historical fiction although it is set mostly in the 1920s. The geographical setting is very well described, but it could almost take place in any time frame. Tom is a survivor of World War I, but it could be any war. Nor would I call this a suspense thriller as it has been labeled. It is more of a domestic fiction – people make choices and choices have consequences. You could call it a love story, but it’s not a romance. So let’s call it a study of flawed characters and an emotional ride. You want to give them advice, but of course, you can’t. You can only watch helplessly as they make heartbreaking choices. The ending is probably realistic, but there were so many other ways it could have turned out. This will make a good movie. It needs proper costuming to make this a historical drama. 3 1/2 stars that I am rounding up to 4.

Book description: After the horror of World War I, Tom Sherbourne welcomes his new job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, an isolated island with no residents aside from him and his wife Isabel. But times on the island are tough for Isabel as she suffers multiple miscarriages and a stillbirth in just four years time. When a boat with a dead man and a young baby washes ashore, Isabel convinces Tom to let her keep the baby as their own, but the consequences to her actions may be dire.

The Secret of Lost Things

The Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book much more than I did. The premise sounded so promising – a coming of age story, a lost manuscript, a large used bookstore, a Melville tie-in. I love literary stories, and there is some beautiful language here, but it wasn’t enough to make it 3 stars for me. In fact, if this hadn’t been an audiobook, it might have been a DNF. The characters were outrageously quirky – not a normal person in the bunch – and had such promise, but they were not developed enough to make me care about them. The plot ultimately went nowhere, with lots of loose ends. It didn’t really work for me as a coming of age story – did the main character grow and change during the year the book takes place? Did the lost girl find herself? Nor did it work as a literary mystery. Some of the characters were creepy, but there wasn’t much in the way of suspense.

The book might work as an exploration of lostness. I’m just not sure anything was found by the end of it. Rosemary is lost and alone when she arrives in New York City. She strikes up a friendship with Lillian, an Argentinian woman whose son was “disappeared.” At the book store, she finds another friend, Pearl, a black wanna-be opera singer transexual. And then there is Walter Geist, an albino losing his eyesight, and probably his mind. A second theme explored is obsession and its consequences. That’s where Melville and the manuscript come in. Geist seems to represent both Moby Dick and Ahab, with his obsession for both the manuscript and Rosemary. Rosemary develops a crush on Oscar, a handsome but emotionally unavailable coworker who is also obsessed with finding the manuscript. Lillian, of course, is obsessed with the need to find her son, or at least find out what happened to him. Sex and sexuality might be a third theme – the naive Rosemary, the lonely and repressed Walter Geist, the asexual Oscar, and the delightful transexual Pearl, who might be my favorite character. In her own way, she comes across as the only one who isn’t lost. She’s real and honest.

This isn’t a bad debut novel. I would read a second book about Rosemary, hoping for the further development of some of the characters, and answers to some of the loose threads. Sheridan Hay definitely has potential.

Description: Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little other than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city. Taking a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books called the Arcade, she knows she has found a home. But when Rosemary reads a letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville, the bookstore erupts with simmering ambitions and rivalries. Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure and evocative portrait of a young woman making a life for herself in the city.

The Innocent

The Innocent (War of the Roses, #1)The Innocent by Posie Graeme-Evans

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have recently become addicted to the Australian television drama McLeod’s Daughters created by Posie Graeme-Evans, so when I discovered she is also an author I had to check it out. The Innocent is the first of a trilogy about a romance between Edward IV and a fictional illegitimate daughter of the ousted Henry VI, Anne de Bohun. It isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t particularly good either. It is a light sort of romance with a historical setting and lots of period atmosphere (if not always accurate.) It is also light on any actual history or plot/character development. The heroine, Anne, is entirely too good to be true. There is no evident “reason” for why these two love each other, other than some sort of “occult” fate or destiny. Quite implausible in my opinion. The characters are shallow and predictable. And the consummation is disappointing. The Piers/Aveline thread in the first third of the book did a good job of creating tension, but once it was resolved it had no bearing on the rest of the story. If you don’t care about historical accuracy or believable characters this is a nice sort of book to lose yourself in for awhile, but I don’t think I will be reading the sequels.

Book Description: The year is 1450, a dangerous time in medieval Britain. Civil unrest is at its peak and the legitimacy of the royal family is suspect. Meanwhile, deep in the forests of western England, a baby is born. Powerful forces plot to kill both mother and child, but somehow the newborn girl survives. Her name is Anne. Fifteen years later, England emerges into a fragile but hopeful new age, with the charismatic young King Edward IV on the throne. Anne, now a young peasant girl, joins the household of a wealthy London merchant. Her unusual beauty provokes jealousy, lust, and intrigue, but Anne has a special quality that saves her: a vast knowledge of healing herbs. News of her extraordinary gift spreads, and she is called upon to save the ailing queen. Soon after, Anne is moved into the palace, where she finds her destiny with the man who will become the greatest love of her life — the king himself.