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.)

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Reviewed: “Chasing Chaos” by Jessica Alexander

Chasing ChaosChasing Chaos is Jessica Alexander’s story of the years she spent as a humanitarian aid worker in, among other places, Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, and Haiti.

I had reservations about this book, I’ll admit. I don’t want to read “look at me and all the amazing things I did” stories and I was worried that this would be that. I worried for nothing. Alexander is careful to make sure the readers know that while possibly noble and, for lack of a better phrase, humanitarian her intentions are there are as many times that life is still crappy as they are that she was able to make a real difference.

Her presence in the refugee camps in Darfur didn’t result in people being able to move out of the camps. In fact, after she left the population of the camp she was at skyrocketed. But she helped thirsty children get clean water, help women be safer when they collect firewood, and help men remain leaders in their village communities so that life can continue with as much normalcy as possible.

It’s much the same in the other places she works, and I’m sure in the places any humanitarian aid worker works.

What’s most compelling about this story is how eye-opening it is. We’ve all seen the telethons to raise funds for the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Sandy, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti… and we give our $10 to the Red Cross or whomever through our smartphones. We call ourselves do-gooders, say we did all that we can, and go about our lives. I’m not saying that everyone needs to volunteer for a year in some war-torn place, because those places don’t need or want all of us there.

I’m only saying that we need to remember that just because the telethon ends and Anderson Cooper packs up and goes back to New York and his cushy studio, that doesn’t mean the humanitarian need is over.

There are still people living in tents in Haiti. They had an outbreak of cholera there in 2012 that killed over eight thousand people. You didn’t know that, did you? They could still use your $10 there.

The one section of Chasing Chaos that absolutely floored me was what Alexander said at the end about total donations and that while $17 billion went to humanitarian aid causes in 2012. That seems like a lot but it’s nothing compared to how much was spent on the London Olympics in 2012. Sometimes I worry about I priorities. I know we need things like the Olympics but I don’t understand why they have to cost so much when that money could be so incredibly useful somewhere else…

I think everyone needs to read this book.

I won an advance reading copy of Chasing Chaos by Jessica Alexander in a Goodreads giveaway.

Reviewed: “So Long, Daddy” by H.B. Gilmour

This is yet another book that I rescued from a trip to the dump. It was a little while ago, so I don’t remember exactly why I saved it, but I did. And I only got around to reading it now. It surprised me.

So Long, Daddy was written in 1983 and it’s about the late ’70s, early ’80s high life in New York City. Models, photographers, clubs, sex, and drugs are the topic at hand. Only H.B. Gilmour has woven children into the story, specifically children who were abandoned by a renowned photographer and orphaned by a suicidal breast cancer sufferer. Maddie and Jason’s mother decides that the only place for her children is with the father they don’t know. The problem is that she hated him so badly that they hate him too, without knowing him.

Naomi is a loosely defined lawyer who works for the publishing house that handled Maddie and Jason’s mother books. For some reason, apparently the 1983 stereotypes of it being so odd that a woman is a lawyer that she’s the best candidate for childcare, she’s put in charge of their welfare. Only she’s got her own father issues.

There’s a bunch of sex, drugs, and resentment after that.

Then, to my dismay as I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning to finish what was actually and oddly interesting story, everything wraps up in about five pages and we all live happily ever after.

The book might still get a trip to the dump.