Review: “The House at Riverton” by Kate Morton

I enjoyed Kate Morton’s “The Secret Keeper” so much I ordered “The House at Riverton” as a treat for myself from Amazon.

In current day, a young film maker approaches elderly Grace Bradley to interview her about Riverton House, where she went out to service at the age of fourteen. The book, which is told in flashback, follows Grace as she becomes close to the children of the house (who are about her age), particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline. These are the years leading up to WWI and the world of the English aristocracy is about to change. Throughout the war and into the 1920’s, more changes come to society and to the family, who is rocked by their beloved son’s death. Then in 1924, a startling death occurs during a party at Riverton, and Grace holds the secret to what happened that fateful night – a secret she keeps for years.

As she is interviewed,  a Pandora’s Box of emotions and memories opens for Grace, now in her nineties. Will secrets remain secret? What exactly did happen that summer night?

Read it to find out!

I loved this book, which weighed in at 473 pages. I could scarcely believe it was that long as I read it quickly and it never dragged. I didn’t want it to end. I’m also a HUGE Downton Abbey fan, and this book fed right into my passion!

Review: “The Vatican Diaries” by John Thavis

On a whim I put in to receive “The Vatican Diaries” by John Thavis from Net Galley. Little did I know that Pope Benedict XVI was about to resign his position as Pontiff! As a lifelong Catholic, I thought I would find the insider’s look at the vatican interesting. What a fascinating read this was!

Just published last week, “The Vatican Diaries” (which is subtitled “A Behind the Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church) chronicles a variety of events and issues spanning the last thirty years. Author John Thavis was a key reporter for the Catholic News Service and spent many years inside the Vatican. His stories range from how the bells are rung when a new Pope is chosen to the sex scandal and how it was handled to some interesting characters and their personalities. Throughout his stories, which are deemed fact not fiction, the inner workings of the Vatican are revealed – the personalities and conflicts, the gossip and infighting, the lack of organization and cohesion. At times over the years the Vatican has made statements — or I should say has been quoted — and I’ve thought, “Wait – what??” This book showed some of these circumstances and how/why they came about.

I found this book fascinating. In light of Pope Benedict’s departure it is even more timely. As a Catholic I found interesting, but I think non-Catholics would find it interesting, too. Politics, power, religion, and relationships – truth can be stranger than fiction!

Thank you, Net Galley and Viking for my copy!

Quick Review: “The Midwife’s Revolt” by Jodi Daynard

“The Midwife’s Revolt” was a Net Galley find for me. It tells the story of Lizzie Boylston, a young woman left widowed at the start of the Revolutionary War, as she struggles to get by, to deal with the war and her farm, and to basically survive in 1770’s Massachusetts. Lizzie is friends with Abigail Adams and holds their relationship quite dear. In time she is pulled into intrigue and acts as a spy (dressed as a boy). Lizzie is a strong character, and this book follows her daily life (she is a midwife), her trials and tribulations, her relationships with her family and friends, and even has a little romance, intrigue and mystery added in. I felt while reading it that I was reading a fictionalized account of a person’s diary for that time period. Daynard has done her research here in accurately depicting a detailed picture of everyday life in the 1770’s in New England. At 440 pages it took a bit to get through, but I felt I was travelling along with Lizzie through the war, and read a bit each day.

A great historical novel for those who like this period and genre!

Thanks, Net Galley and Opossum Press for my copy.

America Saves Week – blog tour!

This week, Feb 25-March 1, is America Saves Week, and I’m excited to be hosting John Lanza, author of the Money Mammals series, on his blog tour. Check back this Friday when John answers questions and I review his book for children: “Joe the Monkey Learns to Share”. It’s a fun way to teach kids about being fiscally responsible!

Review: GARDEN OF STONES by Sophie Littlefield (releasing at the end of Feb., 2013)

Another recent Net Galley find for me was “Garden of Stones” by Sophie Littlefield. This story starts with a murder in modern-day Los Angeles with an unlikely suspect (an elderly and humble Japanese American women) and then travels to the past.

Fourteen-year-old Lucy Takeda is taken with her mother to the Manzanar internment camp at the outbreak of WWII. Lucy has recently lost her father and has the huge adjustment of going from being a confident and pampered child of privilege to a camp resident. Lucy’s beautiful mother, whose emotions and moods are both vulnerable and unstable, suffers from the harshness of camp life and the unwanted attentions of the male camp guards. Lucy is determined to adapt and make the best of their situation and to continue her studies. She befriends Jesse, another young internee, and finds her feelings growing for him. Then tragedy strikes and Lucy must learn to cope and to survive in the ever-changing and harsh world.

I enjoyed reading this novel, though there were several story lines in it (which all eventually come together). The present day focus is on the murder and the suspicion of Lucy as the murderer. Her daughter Patty is determined to prove her mother’s innocence, but first she must come to learn about and discover her mother’s true self and her past. Then we have the camp storyline, with Jesse’s story and Lucy’s mother’s story and a murder woven in. Next there is the “after camp” storyline of Lucy making a way for herself as a chambermaid in a motel. Eventually all the storylines converge in the present and all the questions are answered.

I’ve read several stories of internment camps, most of them as first person memoirs and often written for YA readers. Ms. Littlefield has done her research here as many of the harsh aspects of the camps are included. To me, the story would have stood by itself with just the storyline of the camp, and Lucy’s journey from being a protected child, to a camp refugee, to remaking herself after the war. I really didn’t need the murders or mysteries included, though I’m sure many readers will enjoy them. It was enough for me to read of the resiliency of the people who lived through these times.

Due to themes of abuse I wouldn’t say this is one for the kids, but I think adults will enjoy it. I just have to say, too – I love, love, love the cover!

Thanks to Net Galley and Harlequin for my copy .