It’s a Mystery: Bring Me Back, by B.A. Paris

 

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My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For twelve years, Finn has endured widespread suspicions that he murdered his girlfriend Layla, who disappeared without a trace while the were vacationing in France. In the dearth of evidence about how and why that happened, no charges were ever brought, and Finn eventually managed to adapt, sadly moving on with his life, his regrets over her loss never far from his mind. In a twist of fate, he is now engaged to Layla’s sister Ellen, whom he’d met a while back at a memorial service. Finn is contented with this relationship, until one day, Ellen finds a tiny Russian doll on the wall outside their house. What a coincidence, seeing that both Layla and her sister both played with such dolls in childhood. When more figurines keep showing up – through the mail, at the pub, on the sidewalk – Finn becomes hopeful that Layla may still be alive, and perhaps has come back. A series of mysterious emails convince him that she has, and now his happiness is shattered.

Bring Me Back is one of the many psychological thrillers spawned by Gone Girl several years ago. The characters of Finn and Layla take turns narrating both the present and the backstory, and it gradually becomes apparent that each of them carry significant emotional baggage. Although the going is slow, the suspense builds inexorably, leaving Finn and the reader in a delicious quandary regarding the truth about Layla, and that’s why the ending comes as such a gigantic, wtf letdown. Both the resolution and its aftermath stretch credulity way past the breaking point, spoiling beyond repair what had been an intriguing plot. I suspect that a second reading could reveal a few hints regarding what was to come, but I’m not interested in finding out and will leave it at that.

 

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It’s a Mystery : The Perfect Wife, by Blake Pierce

The Perfect Wife (Jessie Hunt #1)The perfect  dupe

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

For a criminal profiler in training, Jesse Hunt is amazingly clueless . Less than halfway through this book, it was glaringly obvious that there was something rotten in Westport Beach, but Jesse’s incapable of adding 2 and 2. Her perfect husband is behaving suspiciously and erratically. Her practicum supervisors are breaking all the ironclad rules for her , and the infamous serial killer she’s interviewing knows all about Jesse’s life, past and present. She’s witnessing neighbors running around naked. This plot is so transparent and derivative, the writing so juvenile, the protagonist so gullible and hapless, that I couldn’t bring myself to finish The Perfect Wife.

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Historical Fiction: Green Darkness, by Anya Seton

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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I first read and enjoyed Green Darkness years ago while working my way through the novels of Anya Seton. Like most writers, she penned a single masterpiece, The Winthrop Woman, a brilliant piece of historical fiction. Having discovered my copy of Green Darkness at the back of a bookcase, I decided to give it another go, as it’s set in one of my favorite places and eras, late Tudor England.

Seton is skilled at recreating historical times in her books, and GD is no exception. That was the most impressive feature of this novel. With respect to characterization, it can’t hold a candle to The Winthrop Woman’s remarkable Elizabeth.

The protagonist here is Celia Marsden, the theme is thwarted love, and with religious zealotry and doctrine of reincarnation driving the plot, the experiences of 16th century Celia are replayed in the life of 20th century Celia. 16th century Celia is by far the most colorful of the two, and as she is unrelentingly headstrong and self absorbed, she is the creator of her own fate, about which we have a strong inkling from the opening chapters.The 20th century reincarnation of Celia is more mature and reasonable, but also less compelling. As important to the story is the physician, a wise, learned, and compassionate man who plays a large role in the fates of both women, and it is fun to figure out which other historical characters have counterparts in the future.

Though occasionally melodramatic, Green Darkness held my interest throughout, and while I enjoyed this “reincarnation” of the novel a bit less than the first time around, I’m glad, nevertheless to have revisited it.

 

Do you believe in reincarnation?

Historical Fiction: The Gown, by Jennifer Robson

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel piqued my interest following the  two recent royal weddings in England, which must have required prodigious feats of planning and organizing. Queen Elizabeth II’s own wedding took place seven decades ago, when she was still a princess and her country was grappling with the myriad deprivations caused by WWII. Discovering that the story was told from the points of view of the embroiderers of the wedding dress clinched the deal, and I raced through this fascinating book, enthralled by the details of the experiences of the ordinary women who created this most important gown. The narrative unfolds in two far apart years and places, London during 1947 and Toronto in 2016.

Norman Hartnell functioned as couturier to the royal family during the 40’s and 50’s, and he and his army of seamstresses and embroiderers would create Elizabeth’s top secret wedding dress, with much stress and drama along the way. One of these skilled embroiderers was a real life French refugee named Miriam Dassin, who later in the century would become world renowned as a talented textile artist. Miriam, who features prominently in the book’s historical narrative, will also play a role in the 2016 segments. The second is the fictional Ann Hughes, who takes her in as flatmate. Through their eyes, the reader experiences the making of one of the world’s iconic textile creations, the struggles of commoners during this prolonged era of deprivation, and the contrast between their lives and those of the aristocrats that cross their paths.

The modern narrative focuses upon a bequest made to Heather Mackenzie by her grandmother, a parcel of exquisite embroidered and beaded flowers. Her Nan had emigrated to Toronto from London in 1947, but since she had never mentioned embroidery to Heather, what was the purpose of the bequest? Her attempts to solve this mystery lead her to England and France, where she will serendipitously encounter Miriam Dassin, who had worked alongside Heather’s grandmother at Hartnell for a brief time.

Friendship, family, romance,  struggle, betrayal, and glamour all coexist in the pages of The Gown, which is well worth reading by those with an interest in textiles, history, WWII, and the endless ways in which humans can make lemonade when life hands them a lemon.

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Historical Fiction: At the Water’s Edge, by Sarah Gruen

At the Water's Edge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the water referenced in book’s title turns out to be Loch Ness, my interest is immediately piqued. In this particular novel, set in the final year of WW II, a pair of wealthy, 4F buddies, Ellis and Hank, set off for Scotland to find and film the famed monster, thereby redeeming their reputations as cowards and making their own mark on history. Hank has governments contacts, who improbably agrees to find them passage in an official convoy. Ellis drags along his socialite wife, Maddie, who quite rightly is terrified to cross the u-boat infested Atlantic. One of this book’s liveliest, most interesting passages recounts a u-boat attack and its aftermath, and serves to define the personalities of the three main characters, establishing Maddie as protagonist.

The spoiled, entitled trio are appalled by their quarters at the tiny country inn on the shores of Loch Ness, and rather oafishly, Ellis and Hank are openly disdainful toward the staff and the paltriness of food made scarce by rationing. From the moment of their arrival, a series of mildly comical events ensues (their outrage when the chambermaid fails to unpack their belongings, their bumbling attempts to spot Nessie, the staff finding ways to retaliate for their arrogance). Vivid descriptions of Loch Ness, wartime deprivations, and the culture and folklore of the area enliven the narrative. Toward the middle of the plot, Maddie is left alone at the inn for days at a time, and it is then that Maddie begins her journey toward self awareness and compassion, responding to the courage and kindness of the locals as they cope with the trials and fears of survival during wartime. Though a bit heavy handed, this is the central theme of At the Water’s Edge. Toward the end, the narrative descends somewhat into melodrama and romance, but it is heartening to see Maddie’s life grow much richer and more meaningful.

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History News: Last American Slave Ship Discovered

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Excerpts from National Geographic online :

 

The schooner Clotilda—the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans to America’s

shores—has been discovered in a remote arm of Alabama’s Mobile River following

an intensive yearlong search by marine archaeologists. The 109 captives who

arrived aboard Clotilda were the last of an estimated 389,000 Africans delivered into

bondage in mainland America from the early 1600s to 1860. Thousands of vessels

were involved in the transatlantic trade, but very few slave wrecks have ever been

found.

Importing slaves into the United States had been illegal since 1808, and southern

plantation owners had seen prices in the domestic slave trade skyrocket. Many

were advocating for reopening the trade.

Timothy Meaher, a wealthy Mobile landowner and shipbuilder, allegedly wagered

 Northern businessmen a thousand dollars that he could smuggle a cargo of Africans

into Mobile Bay under the nose of federal officials.

And he did. For more on this amazing story, click on the NatGeo link above.