Category Archives: Romance

The Distant Hours

By Kate Morton

Published by Washington Square Press

Copyright © 2010

 

“The Distant Hours” is not only a great title for this book, but for all of Morton’s work. She excels at haunting her pages with imagined lives and visions from England’s Victorian and post-Victorian past. In reading this story you’ll find out what the distant hours are, and you’ll begin to see how relevant it is Morton’s writing.

 

Edie Burchill has always felt a bit disconnected from her parents and from her extended family. Her parents seem the practical sort and her mom’s family is the brash and crude sort with a chip on their shoulder for any who they perceive to look down their noses at them. Edie; however, is bookish and a bit of a dreamer. She longs to be closer to her family, especially her mother, but their differences make it hard to cross the chasm.

 

When Edie’s mother receives a letter that had been lost in the post for decades, and she sees her mother’s dramatic reaction to its contents, she must know more. And even though her mother stonewalls her at every turn, Edie slowly uncovers her mother’s past which includes her rocky relationship with her family and her days as a child evacuee from London during World War II when she spent a glorious year in the English countryside at Middlehurst Castle with the Blythe family. So in addition to uncovering her mother’s history she also unravels the secrets that waft in the air and seep from the stones of Middlehurst Castle. Edie learns of the personal heartaches of the twins, Percy and Saffy, and of their little sister Juniper Blythe. She is eventually entrusted with two horrible secrets that have their roots deeply entrenched in Edie’s favorite book “The True History of the Mud Man,” which just so happened to be written by the Blythe sisters’ father, Raymond.

 

As I’ve mentioned in a previous review, I absolutely love Kate Morton’s writing! The way she descriptively creates a setting and a mood is just phenomenal. And her acumen with character development keeps the story riveting. Her characters motivations and secrets are never presented entirely upfront; she slowly feeds you what you need to know about a character until you have a much more complex person that what you started with. In this story Percy and Saffy Blythe, the twins, are perfect examples of this. They are each initially described as the opposite side of the same coin; one the picture of strength and purpose and the other weak and motherly; however, by the end of the story these notions are nearly turned on their side.

 

Having read “The Forgotten Garden” and now “The Distant Hours,” I’ve really begun to hone in on Mortons’ forte as a mystery writer. She excels at writing the decades and even centuries old imagined cold-case. She knows how to dig from the present to the past, how to make family research look exciting. While she is not the first to write these types of stories it works now more than ever as people are becoming more and more interested in the uncovering of family history. The interest is not just in one’s own family history, but the histories of famous people and of complete strangers.

 

If I had any criticism at all, it might be that on rare occasions what is presented in a flashback chapter might be just as interesting if discovered in the present. This of course may take a little from the character development that I gushed about earlier. To be completely honest though, “The Distant Hours” was just so thoroughly engrossing that few negative thoughts popped into my head.  If you have yet to read a Kate Morton book then “The Distant Hours” is a great place to start.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Drama, Europe, Family, Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, War, Writers

The Forgotten Garden

By Kate Morton

Published by Washington Square Press

Copyright © 2008

A genealogical mystery spanning nearly 100 years and 2 continents, “The Forgotten Garden” captivates the senses and the imagination.

Cassandra lived with her grandmother Nell in Brisbane, Australia, until recently when her grandmother died. Nell left Cassandra their home and the antiques business that they worked in together. In addition she left a somewhat perceptible secret which had implications to a mystery that Nell was trying to solve.

It was always a little odd how different Nell was from her sisters and the rest of her family, but Cassandra didn’t think much of it until after Nell’s death when her great aunts tell her that Nell had known for quite awhile now that she was not a blood relative. By way of a little white suitcase that Nell received after her father’s death and the diary that Nell kept of her own identity search thereafter, Cassandra begins to piece together the clues of Nell’s family history. This mystery will take her to London and then to a cottage and garden on the Cornish Coast where she will find links in her family history that she could not imagine. Through this journey of discovery through her ancestor’s tragic lives she will slowly begin to cope with her own tragic history and begin to move beyond it.

Kate Morton has written a riveting mystery riddled with loss and loneliness that ultimately ends in truth and contentment. This novel shifts back and forth between three main characters that lived decades apart. At the beginning of each chapter Morton clearly tells us what place and time period you are reading from so the book is in no way confusing. You would think that skipping between time periods might slow the book down; however, it provides the necessary history for the reader to see where Cassandra is headed or where she has been.

In addition, Morton’s characters in this book are often gloomy and burdened with secrets, and yet for a few of them she draws them towards the light making us take pleasure in their company. She also paints a moody yet beautiful picture of the Cornish Coast which is made all the more so when contrasted with the glaring sun and oppressive heat of Australia. She makes me want my own cottage on the Cornish Coast. “The Forgotten Garden” is a spellbinding novel with a surprising yet fitting climax that I highly recommend.

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The Scarlet Pimpernel

By Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Copyright © 1905

The French aristocracy is headed to the guillotine at the end French Revolution and the only one willing to save them is the Scarlett Pimpernel.

After the French Revolution royalty and nobility are being sent to the guillotine daily, but no European country wants to step in and stop the madness. But there is one man who will risk his neck for these aristocrats and he is known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel.

At the beginning of the story the Scarlet Pimpernel has confounded the murdering French Revolutionaries at every turn sneaking condemned men, women, and children out of France and over to England right under their captors noses. So the French Republic Government sends it’s Chief Agent of the Committee of Public Safety on a mission to England to root out the identity of the Scarlett Pimpernel and to ensnare him on French soil to have him killed. This agent,  Citizen Chauvelin, enlists the aid of a former acquaintance, French expat, and high society darling of fashion Marguerite by black mailing her. Marguerite has no idea who the Scarlet Pimpernel is but she is mildly infatuated with him. When she does find out who he is she will fall madly in love with him, but will it be too late to save him?

The Scarlet Pimpernel is obviously a historical novel set in the 1790’s. While the story contains historical figures, it is obvious that the author was on the side of the Aristocracy and that history is not as much of a concern as is telling a good story. In that Orczy does a wonderful job. Though it really doesn’t come as much of a surprise who the Scarlett Pimpernel turns out to be it is still a great tale with mild intrigue, daring-do, and romance. Having read some of Alexander Dumas works, which center in and around this time period and which are generally long, highly-detailed stories, I found this book to be an extremely easy read in comparison and in general quite fun to read. This book was originally written for an adult audience, but today it translates very well as a classic for youth to read as well.

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Snow Falling on Cedars

By David Guterson

Published by Harcourt Brace

Copyright © 1994

San Piedro, Washington is a sea worn island of tall wild cedars and well tended strawberry fields. These things in addition to the islands weather, isolation, and confinement mold the personality of its residents. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is at once a romance, mystery, and historical drama that, for some, will elicit reflection and strong emotions.

Hatsue and Ishmael grew up together on San Piedro Island, and slowly a secretive and complicated relationship developed between them. In the 1930’s and 40’s interracial relationships of any kind were publicly difficult. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and thrust America into World War II any naïve hopes that Ishmael or Hatsue had of making a life together shattered.

Over 10 years later, the two are thrust back into contact. Ishmael now runs the small town newspaper that his father started and he is covering a rare event in Amity Harbor, a murder trial. The defendant is Hatsue’s husband Kabuo Miyamoto; he is accused of killing another man, a former friend, over the ownership of his parents’ old strawberry farm.

The start of Kabuo’s trial coincides with a massive snowstorm which incapacitates the town. However this storm is also going to lead Ishmael to a fortuitous discovery and a moral dilemma. Will he want to share what he learns?

David Guterson has written a story of love and war, and pride and prejudice, that is at times ethereal and then plummets to the harsh and occasionally indelicate.  His descriptions of San Piedro and its surrounding waters are heaven like for anyone who can visualize them – misty and green, white and windy, and the occasional sun dappled strawberry field. These scenes are contrasted against flashbacks of a dead man at sea, an autopsy, war time in the Pacific and European theaters, Japanese interment in American, and the prejudices that existed on both sides.  In addition there are unnecessarily descriptive sex scenes (which rarely ever add anything to a good story) and the possibly necessary, however unenjoyable, profanity laced wartime conversations.

The author adroitly tells his story in and out of flashbacks which would normally turn me off, but he fills them with such meaningful detail that you can’t help but to see the point and the beauty of it. In this way he rounds out so many characters; it is actually difficult at times to tell who the main characters are. He spends so much time with so many characters expressing their physicality, motivations, idiosyncrasies, relationships, and etc. “Snow Falling on Cedars” is just an extremely well crafted story filled with repression, anger, and desire that captivated my attention.

 

1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

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Scotched

Scotched

By Kaitlyn Dunnett

Published by Kensington Publishing

Copyright © 2011

Liss MacCrimmon and the Moosetookalook crew are back in another deadly tale. Moosetookalook is hosting the first annual Maine-ly Cozey Con, a mystery writer’s conference, and murder is the Maine event.

The Maine-ly Cozy Con was lured to Moosetookalook by Liss’ aunt Margaret who knows the producer of the event. This mystery conference is the brainchild of a former town resident, Nola Ventress.  Nola has a disreputable past in town, but she agreed to bring the event to The Spruces Hotel as a favor to Margaret and because The Spruces has the unusual distinction of being the site of a real life murder.  Nola makes one big mistake though, in an effort to get some publicity she sends program information to a well known mystery book blogger. While the idea is well intentioned, she didn’t stop to realize that this blogger was mostly well known for her scathing book reviews; she rarely had anything good too say.

When this blogger shows up in person and begins to snoop around and hassle various writers and residents of Moosetookalook, it isn’t long until Nola realizes her mistake and Liss has more murders to investigate. This time however, Liss goes barking up the wrong tree when she is looking for a suspect. This mistake might just save her life in the end though.

While it is slightly far-fetched for such a small town to have so many murders, the reader must let themselves be taken by the fantasy to enjoy the Dunnett’s stories. Dunnett of course alludes to this in “Scotched” when she draws a parallel between Moosetookalook, Maine and Cabot Cove, Maine of “Murder She Wrote” fame. If one can allow this to pass they are in for an enjoyable murder mystery. While one would never mistake the Liss MacCrimmon series as being hard core, suspenseful murder mysteries, it can be said that she writes a solid story that has you guessing till the very end.

I have to say, I don’t know how many more murder mysteries you can squeeze a 27 year old former Scottish dancer, current Scottish Emporium owner, bride to be, and resident of small town Moosetookalook into. If I could, I would recommend a Scottish Wedding Murder for Liss and Dan. If Dunnett wishes to continue writing about Liss’ meddling, Liss is going to have to travel much more. Portland would be nice. How about Aroostook County?! I hear they grow great potatoes up there, and who knows maybe she could dig up a Skeleton while she’s digging in the dirt.

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The Corpse Wore Tartan

By Kaitlyn Dunnett

Published by Kensington Publishing

Copyright © 2010

The Liss MacCrimmon Scottish Mysteries continue with “The Corpse Wore Tartan.” In an effort to help her boyfriend Dan Ruskin, and boost business in her Scottish specialty shop, Liss has been helping coordinate the visit of the SHAS (Scottish Heritage Appreciation Society). The SHAS holds an annual celebration of Scotland’s beloved poet Robert Burns in a different location every year, and this year they have chosen a grand hotel called “The Spruces” which was recently opened by Joe Ruskin, Dan’s father. A Successful event like this could do wonders for the Spruces reputation and financial outlook.

The arrival of the SHAS brings with it many cantankerous members with old grudges and financial problems. As expected the occasion begins to unravel quickly with a stolen brooch, a barbed and insinuation filled speech, and the death of a high ranking SHAS member. To top this all off Maine does not have the nicest weather in late January, and this proves to be no exception as Moosetookalook is hit with a double header blizzard knocking out power and anyway out of the hotel. The thief and murderer are trapped, and in addition all the SHAS members and other guests staying in the hotel will have to be lodged and fed without hope of compensation. This could spell disaster for Liss and the Spruces on so many different levels.

I really enjoyed Dunnett’s endeavor on this go round. I read the Second book in the series “Scone Cold Dead,” and while I liked it I didn’t really care for the love triangle that she introduces. I thought why does love have to be so hard? I also wondered: why does Liss have to be so hard headed and independent. Kaitlyn really handled each of those things very well in this installment, though I won’t give anything away. And as with the second novel I found the mystery easy enough to follow, although if she added one more character I think I would have needed to start taking notes just like Sherri Willett. Also, the twist in the identity of the killer at the end of this book, while so very simple, took me completely by surprise because among the many scenarios I considered I never thought of the one Dunnett concocted. Once again, this is a first rate mystery series for those, like me, who aren’t into gore, serial killers, or psychomaniacs.

As an aside, the Liss MacCrimmon Scottish Mysteries always remind me of the SNL “All things Scottish” skit and the line “If it’s not Scottish, It’s Crrrraaaap!” not that they are in any way similarly hilarious, but rather it is this whole celebration of how cool it is to be a Scottish. Kaitlyn Dunnett seems to have a love for “all things Scottish” and it spills out in her Liss MacCrimmon books. While I’m not Scottish (I’m Welsh/English) her books make me wish I was on occasion.

 

 

 

 

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Scone Cold Dead

By Kaitlyn Dunnett

Published by Kensington Publishing Corp.

Copyright © 2008

Review by A. Kendrick

Liss MacCrimmon was a dancer for a Scottish song and dance troupe called Strathspey, but she had to give up her life of travel and performance when she blew out her knee. Now she lives in a sleepy little Maine backwater called Moosetookalook where she runs a Scottish Emporium. You would think that Liss’ life would be very quiet and boring, but that is the furthest thing from reality.

Liss’ has taken quite nicely to her new quiet life. She runs the Emporium, teaches dance, and even has a boyfriend, Dan Ruskin. She seems rather satisfied with her life, but she has booked Strathspey for a show in a nearby college town, and she begins to feel pangs for her old life. Something goes terribly wrong though, when, at the after show party the troupe’s manager dies of an apparent allergic reaction, but with a little digging by the local police it becomes clear that this was no accident; it was murder!

Kaitlyn Dunnett has won me over with a female sleuth who is not only independent but attractive, a beautiful New England setting, and a love for Scottish/Gaelic heritage. This murder mystery was light, fun, and happily devoid of any gore. There is no super surprise as to who the killer was, rather there is a slow reveal and a moment of enlightenment. It is kind of nice when you are figuring out who the murderer is just before the author reveals it. (It makes you field smart and intuitive, even if you aren’t.) One caveat to my enthusiasm for this story is that a mild romantic triangle begins to develop which, unfortunately, does not come to resolution in this book. I don’t really care for romantic cliff hangers myself. All in all though, this is a quick, enjoyable read.

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