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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Name is Resolute

My Name is Resolute (#379), Nancy E. Turner's latest novel, has completely restored my faith in well-written and meticulously researched historical novels!  In fact, I think it's so good I gave it a rare five star rating on GoodReads

It's the epic story of one Resolute Catherine Eugenia Talbot, kidnapped from her parents' seaside plantation in Jamaica by Saracen pirates as a young girl.  It's the beginning of the eighteenth century, and over the course of the novel, she endures much as a slave as she exchanges captivity with the Saracens along with her older sister and brother for a series of other masters where she survives and learns a most valuable skill.  She ultimately winds up in Lexington, Massachusetts where she is forced to take a stand for what she believes in.  All the while she has one dream - to return to her home in Jamaica where she is convinced her mother awaits her.

Resolute is such a strong character that you can't help but hope that she will achieve her dream, even though the reader realizes she will never attain it.  But the ride along the way filled with cruelty, pirates,emotional wounds, Indians, bears and Tories will keep you glued to the pages to find out what happens next. 

Ms. Turner says that for the first time she's added a bibliography to her novel, and it's welcome here.  I spotted a few old friends on the list, and some I'd like to read in the future.  I don't know if I've ever read a book that so clearly explains the effect of British taxation on the American colonists, and in terms the average reader can clearly grasp.  Bravo, Ms. Turner!

The Daring Ladies of Lowell

I was really looking forward to Kate Alcott's The Daring Ladies of Lowell (#378).  To say I was disappointed in the book would be an understatement.  Good historical fiction illuminates the time and place where the story is set.  The best succeeds in transporting you there.  The wheels came off this cart pretty soon as far as I was concerned.

The "Golden Age of the Mill Girl" was an early Industrial Revolution phenomenon in America.  It didn't last very long as Ms. Alcott does point out in this novel.  But the relationship between Alice Barrow, the mill girl here, and the son of the mill owner seems contrived and unconvincing, almost as though it's included as a sop to those female readers who were expecting a romance.  Frankly, I think the book would have been stronger without it.

There really wasn't much mystery to the murder which occurs here, either.  I'll bet any reader will have the answer figured out in a few pages.

But what really bothered me about this book was the amount of misinformation that was included that would have taken only a few minutes on a computer to verify.  Yes, I realize that this is a work of fiction, and that much license can be taken.  But on the other hand, I believe the author also has a duty if he or she chooses to write in this genre to make an effort to get the background right, especially if she is a journalist.  For example, Ms. Alcott describes the mill girls' mandatory attendance (That part is true.) at St. Anne's Church in Lowell, with its white steeple .  As you can see in the link to its website,   St. Anne's Church, Lowell, MA  it doesn't have one now, and never has.  Maybe it doesn't bother anyone else, or maybe no one else would even notice that there are so many factual errors in this novel.  I, on the other hand, used to work as a gallery guide at the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum.  This was precisely the material I was responsible for learning and passing along to visitors, including the first group of Park Rangers for the first urban National Park in the country - the Lowell Historical Park ( Lowell Historical Park )  Click on this link to see what the mills and boarding houses looked like - it's an experience to tour this park with a handful of looms all going at the same time.  I ran a spinning jenny, a carding machine and two different looms as well on every tour, so I also have a pretty good idea of what some of the dangers involved were. 

If you're looking for a novel to shed some light on the plight of some of the first working girls in America, I can't recommend The Daring Ladies of Lowell.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress

The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress (#377) is Ariel Lawhon's juicy speculative novel about what could have happened in the real life 1930 case of New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater's disappearance.  He vanished in a taxi cab from a New York City street one August evening and was never seen or heard from again.  It was a case that gripped the American public's imagination for years.

In the New York City of 1930, it was a time of mobsters and showgirls, Cole Porter and Billie Holliday, jazz clubs and speakeasies.  It was the perfect time and place for mob bosses like Owney Madden to run the town with the police in their pocket, and politicians owing them favors.  It seems certain that Joseph Crater was one of those politicians who owed Owney Madden.  After Crater disappeared, his wife Stella was suspected of having a hand in it, but it seems there could have been any number of likely suspects. It was a dangerous game they were all playing.  The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress proposes one theory of what could have happened.

What does seem certain is that the Judge was mixed up in the graft and corruption of Tammany Hall, and that the witnesses due to testify before various commissions investigating sales of judgeships and other political influence peddling mysteriously disappeared themselves or were murdered.  We'll probably never know the truth in this case, but it's an fascinating world to visit in this book.

The Husband's Secret

The point on which the plot turns in Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret (#376) is a letter written by an ordinary suburban Sydney husband which he intended his wife to read only in the event of his death.  She, of course, does wind up reading it while he is still very much alive.  Once read, she cannot unknow the contents much as she might want to.  A simple plot device, but in Ms. Moriarty's hands the entanglements and connections and relationships between the characters are masterfully woven and slowly, bit by bit, unraveled in this morality tale.

This was a book club selection I had no intention of reading since I was not going to be able to attend the discussion.  But it was so difficult to snag a copy to read, when I saw it on the short list table at my local library, I couldn't resist seeing what the fuss was about.  In the end, I found it hard to put down until I had finished devouring it!  I can guarantee that The Husband's Secret will provide much fodder for our group's discussion.

I don't want to give anything away here, but if you do read this book, you'll be questioning the characters' motivations, and more importantly, asking yourself what you would do if you were confronted by the same situations.  It's a provocative premise.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The First Rule

This  Joe Pike novel by Robert Crais was published in 2010, but the Eastern European mobsters who are the focus of this crime novel may be even more relevant today, given the political climate.  The First Rule (#375) of the title refers to the Thief's Code, the written set of rules which all gang members must adhere to, or forfeit their lives.

Joe Pike is a former mercenary, former policeman, and all-around intimidating quiet force to those who get on his wrong side.  But he's loyal to a fault, and when one of his former mercs decides to leave that life, marry and settle down, Joe keeps an unobtrusive eye out for him and his family.  Everything changes the night  Frank Meyer, his wife and two young sons are killed in a brutal home invasion.  The only survivor of the attack is their nanny, and she's not likely to ever regain consciousness.  Pike sets out to avenge these murders, but the more he pokes around, the murkier the picture becomes.  There is more going on here than meets the eye and Pike calls in his partner, Elvis Cole, and calls in a lot of favors from his mercenary days to clear Frank's name and find the ones responsible.

This book, like Crais' other works, is compulsively readable.  The action is non-stop as the layers are peeled back one by one and the motivation at the heart of the murders is revealed.  I've been a fan ever since I discovered Suspect. (See my post of 4/26/13.)  I'm glad I still have a stockpile of his books to catch up with!  A great read.