Reviewed: “After Before” by Jemma Wayne

60.jpgJemma Wayne took me for a ride with After Before.

There are breathtaking highs and bumpy lows in this story of three women; Lynn, a dying fifty-eight year old who gave up everything for her family, Vera, a lost late twenty-something who gave up her family, and Emilienne, a young woman who lost her entire family.

Aspects to the story make it deserving of five stars and aspects of the story make it worthy of just three stars. So I give it four stars, because the ending brought tears to my eyes and made me want to tell people to read it despite the flaws.

The flaws themselves are really personal preference issues.

Vera was a wild-child at university and in the story she carries a bible with her and begs God to make her good and worthy now. She doesn’t do this so much because she is a born-again Christian, it seems, as she does because Luke, Lynn’s son and Vera’s fiance, is extremely devout and she wants to be “worthy” of him and the expectations he has set for her. As an agnostic single woman, I can’t identify with her very much. I wanted to her to decide that she is good enough, no matter what Luke thinks she should be, and that if he can’t accept it, he can’t have her. There were brief flashes of her leaning that way but she never seemed to follow through.

And it isn’t that I can identify with Lynn much better, but I do like her more. She comes across to Vera as cold, harsh, and unforgiving but it is only because she has set up a complicated and delicate web of support to keep herself moving in life and her diagnosis starts to shatter that. It’s hard to judge her for her actions toward Vera, who reminds her so much of herself, given that.

Lynn shines, though, when it comes to Emilienne – usually called Emily in the story. A survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Emily becomes the at-home carer for Lynn when Vera cannot do it. Lynn and Emily are the most unlikely of companions but they quickly become for each other exactly what the other never knew they needed. It is not the easiest relationship, but it is the best. It is tragic and it is beautiful in it’s tragedy.

Not knowing much about the Rwandan genocide, the most fascinating part of the book is Wayne’s carefully written backstory for Emilienne. It is harsh and it is unforgiving and… I don’t imagine the genocide there was anything else.

This book is not for those who want stories of easy happily ever afters. But if you want to read something that will make you think and make you wonder and something that will stick with you long after you read it, you should read this book.

I received a copy of After Before from NetGalley and Legend Press in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

Reviewed: “As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust” by Alan Bradley

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustI’ve got to start by saying that I didn’t realize there were six Flavia de Luce books before As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust when I picked this book up to read it. It’s a credit to Alan Bradley and Flavia de Luce that the only consequence of reading book seven first is that I now want to read the first six books.

Flavia de Luce is a twelve year old student sent far from her English countryside home to a boarding school in Canada because she comes from a long line of talented people – who are probably better described in the first half dozen books. Suffice it to say, Flavia is a chemistry whiz and a well-practiced hand at the art of solving murders.

Lucky for her, Miss Bodycote’s is a hotbed for mystery and murder.

Everybody’s a suspect, and a potential victim really, and everyone at the school has secrets they keep at all costs. It’s the perfect place for Flavia to practice her craft and it all begins on her first night – when a badly body drops out of the chimney of her room.

Flavia leaves no stone unturned and no question unasked, and she does it with a light and fresh inner commentary on all the workings of her mind and the world around her. There isn’t any doubt that she’s wise far beyond her years and that makes her an incredibly fun character to take a journey with.

I want to spend more time with Flavia de Luce!

I received a copy of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dustthrough NetGalley and Random Publishing House – Bantam Dell in exchange for an honest & original review.

Reviewed: “Meadowlands: A World War I Family Saga” by Elizabeth Jeffrey

MeadowlandElizabeth Jeffrey’s novel set at Meadowlands – the family estate of the Barshams in rural England – during the span of the First World War is a splendidly intricate portrayal of a family and their servants.

The book is likely classified first as historical fiction but there are so many sub-genres to the story that it’s almost hard to know where to begin. History, war, romance, family, friendship, drama, love, women, men… Jeffrey has managed to cover it all with “Meadowlands.”

The war is the over-arching theme to the story. It colors every action that Sir George, Lady Adelaide, Miss Gina, Miss Millie, James, Ned, Polly, Tom, and so many more take in the story. It’s not an overly long, epic sort of book so some of them are minor, supporting characters but it does not make them any less nuanced and individual from one another where it may have been easier to make the common things they share define them.

The primary focus on “Meadowlands” falls on Gina Barsham and Polly Catchpole. The story is told in relation to how it effects and alters them. Gina is the privileged daughter on the family estate – one who tolerates her mother’s antiquated ideas on upper class and lower class while founding a soup club to feed the poorest war wives, widows, and children in the nearby town. Polly is the daughter of the Meadowlands estate manager who goes to work as a maid, and later ladies maid to Lady Adelaide, in the house. She does her work the best she can – including being integral to the soup club the town, and most of England, so badly needs – and lets it distract her from the nearly lifelong love she’s felt for James Barsham, the second son of the estate – someone she believes she can never have.

With the focus on Gina and Polly, two entirely likable and relatable characters in large and enjoyable canvas, the novel could be considered one of friendship first and foremost. The two don’t want the same things from life and they don’t need the same things but neither ever lets the other down, even if it means incurring the anger and frustration of Lady Adelaide for mixing classes of people into her rarefied world.

“Meadowlands” is, in the end, a story of heartbreak and hope, of love and loss, of perseverance and pride. It is fantastic.

“Meadowlands: A World War I Family Saga” will be available for purchase April 1, 2015.

(I received a copy of “Meadowlands” from Severn House Publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest & original review. This review will be cross-posted on NetGalley, my Goodreads account, and my blog.)