12 January 2014

Pieces of 2013, Part Two - November and December Book Report

Time to close up 2013, reading-wise.  Here are the rest of the books I read during the past year, and what I thought about them.

Ellis Island, by Kate Kerrigan.  Well, I have to say first of all, that I won the second book in this series in one of the Goodreads First Reads giveaway - and the author herself sent me this book as well as the second one, with a nice note, from County Mayo, Ireland!  That was really exciting to me,and - at least in my opinion - really nice of her.

Ellie Hogan has grown up in rural Ireland, with parents who are not necessarily a  dream come true.  Her mother's family owned a store, and did not offer credit to their neighbors during the Great Famine.  Her father works for the British Government.  So she already feels like an outcast.  That is, until she met John Hogan, who moved in with his aunt and uncle after his parents died.  Ellie and John become fast friends and eventually marry, even after Ellie has told her parents she plans to join the convent.

John is involved with the IRA.  He is injured to the point where only surgery will allow him to walk again.  When one of Ellie's former schoolmates writes to tell her about her glamorous life in turn-of-the-century New York City, and mentions there would be a place for her in the wealthy household where she works, Ellie sees the chance to earn the money for John's surgery.  Despite his objections, she travels to America and takes a position in a wealthy socialite's household.

At first, Ellie is the proverbial fish out of water.  But the longer she stays - and she ends up staying for three years - the more she loves America, the freedom she has, and her life. She has an opportunity to leave service and take a typing course, which allows her to live her own life.  John has his surgery back in Ireland, and though she sends him a ticket to join her in America, he refuses.

As she is feeling settled, and even wondering if her marriage to John is still worth it, she receives a telegram informing her that her father is dying, and that she needs to return home.  She does so, reluctantly, and at first, deeply bitter at leaving her modern life to rejoin the backwater rural life of her home village.  Various events occur while she is home in Ireland, and the end of the book finds her content with her life there, and taking steps to change things and being very successful.

This book was a good read.  Of course, it helps that it takes place during one of my favorite time periods in New York.  But Ellie and her family are complex people, and their lives are not all happiness.  Her New York life is so interesting, and glamorous, while her life in Ireland is more basic with her being more responsible for her own happiness.

I am looking forward to seeing what happens to her next.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker.  I read some reviews of this book and was intrigued.  It is the "Pride and Prejudice" story, but from the viewpoint of the servants at the Bennett household.

Each chapter has a passage from the original work to start.  The characters from the Austen novel are of course here, but figure in only in how they relate to the house staff, which consists of Mr. Hill (footman and valet), Mrs. Hill (housekeeper and cook), Sarah (kitchen maid and maid to the  daughters of the house), Polly (young kitchen maid), and for a while, James (footman).  The author has made these people not only interesting, but thoughtful, and very cognizant of their place in the world.

One of the things I really liked about this book was that, knowing the story and characters in "Pride and Prejudice," it was interesting to see how the day-to-day lives of the house staff, and their positions as servants made them privy to some things, and pretty left out of others.  For example, Elizabeth's entire relationship with Darcy is mentioned when he visits the house once and then later when he arrives to ask Elizabeth to marry him.  The fact that it is the main plot of the other book, and just an event that moves this story along, is both fascinating and also kind of weird.

Overall, I liked this book.  Some things were harder to wrap my imagination around than others, but it was a very enjoyable read.

Holly Blues, by Susan Albert Wittig.  My first read this year of Christmastime books, and an enjoyable one.

Lawyer-turned-small-businesswomen China Bayles is busy getting ready for Christmas, both personally and with her business, where she sells herbs and herbal products.  She is looking forward to making a good holiday for herself, her husband, her stepson, and her niece Caitlin who has recently joined her family.

Then her husband's ex-wife Sally suddenly shows up.  Sally is pretty much a disaster, and as usual seems to have troubles.  This time, however, China takes pity on her and asks her to spend the holidays with them.

Of course, things can't be easy, right?  Pretty soon, it appears that Sally is being stalked, China and her family feel threatened, and new evidence appears in the cold case murders of Sally's parents years ago.

This was a fun read, with information on the origins of many holiday traditions, and even some recipes at the end.  If you like holiday reads, and enjoy cozy mysteries, you should probably enjoy this one.

Trouble Under the Tree, by Heather Webber.  Nina Quinn has taken a job during the Christmas season preparing an indoor "Christmastowne" - a place created by an old schoolmate that will be themed that way all year round.  Usually, Nina and her crew do their landscaping outside, but this was a chance to keep everyone on the payroll during the off-season.

Weird things keep happening at the site, and even Nina's stepson thinks there is something wrong about the place.  When a body turns up under the big tree during the lighting ceremony, Nina decides to investigate.  Between this series of events, someone sabotaging her mother by placing inflatables on her lawn and rooftop (which offends her sensibilities), and mysterious behavior by her only sister, Nina has a lot going on.  Her fiance also seems to have become uninterested, and she can't decide how that makes her feel.

Not great literature, but a fun holiday read.  I enjoyed it.

A Wee Christmas Homicide, by Kaitlyn Dunnett.  This was a series and an author that was new to me, so I figured I'd give it a try.  Liss MacCrimmon owns the Scottish Emporium in Moosetookalook, Maine, and at the beginning of the story, she has a brilliant idea to help bring visitors to the town, since there isn't any snow for the skiers and snowboarders.  She learns that one of the items she is selling, some tiny bears dressed in different outfits, are the latest toy craze, and are sold out nearly everywhere.  She convinces the other business people to have a Twelve Days of Christmas festival, luring customers with the fact that there are plenty of the wee bears in her shop and a couple of others in the town.

The bears sell out immediately, except for those in the shop across the street, where the proprietor raises the prices to a ridiculous level.  First, one of the tiny bears displayed in the window is found with a bullet through where its heart would be ... soon after, the store's proprietor is found with a bullet through his heart.  Liss feels guilty, since the whole thing was her idea, and she begins to investigate what may have happened.

This book was enjoyable enough to finish, but nothing that made me really anxious to read other books in the series.  The whole thing with the toy bears reminded me of Christmases past when Cabbage Patch dolls and Tickle Me Elmos were toys that people were willing to go to any lengths to acquire.

The Diva Cooks a Goose, by Krista Davis.  Sophie Winston has a lot going on, with hit being Christmastime.  But when she shows up at her brothers' house on Christmas Eve to find that all of their Christmas gifts - as well as all the others in the neighborhood - have been stolen, she gets involved trying to figure out just what is going on.  Several other things happen to complicate matters and her life, both personally and otherwise, and she spends a lot of time trying to figure out how and if they are at all connected.

Also - who left two kittens in her house?

This was a fun read, as I enjoyed Sophie's immediate and extended family, and since it took place in suburban Virginia, I was familiar with a lot of the setting, which made it enjoyable.

I am finding this series to be entertaining, and will likely read the one installment prior to this one that I missed.

Christmas on Jane Street : A True Story, by Billy Romp.  This is a short book, but very interesting and enjoyable. The Romp family has been coming to Jane Street in New York City for years.  They arrive the day after Thanksgiving in their camper, and stay until the end of the day on Christmas Eve, selling Christmas trees, wreaths, and bows from their Vermont farm.

The book details one particular year, when Billy (the father) feels that his eldest daughter Ellie is moving away from him and the family, suddenly having different interests and values.  He details how it changed the whole family dynamic, and what he discovered about himself and his family, as well as the people they have come to know each year during the holidays.

If you want a holiday book that evokes the best of New York at holiday time, as well as a simple story about a real family, you'll enjoy this book.  I found their life during the time they were on Jane Street each year to be fascinating, and I could see myself rereading this on a regular basis.

At the end of the edition I read, there is an afterword, where Billy catches us up on what has happened to the family since then.

It all makes you want to go out and buy a Christmas tree from his family!


And that sums up my reading for 2013.  A pretty wide variety of things, and I did surpass my Goodreads goal for the year, which pleased me.  Each of the books above were on my Nook, so I can't offer them to anyone.  I've already finished my first book for 2014, and am looking forward to what the next year brings in books! 


KSD said...

I may have to check "Longbourn" out. I'm currently reading "The Yard," and am totally involve.

Kym said...

So many books! I was wondering about Longbourn; I think it would be an interesting perspective. . .

kathy b said...

I finished a book already too!!! Dad is Fat. Very funny

elns said...

You have been a reading machine! Thank you for the awesome reviews. It's fantastic you read so many different kinds of stories. I might have to get Longbourn for my mother and then get her to lend it to me. hehe. Looking forward to seeing what you read in 2014!

Unknown said...

How lovely to get a eview from a Goodreads comp winner - so looks like I'm the winner too and delighted you enjoyed it! Thank you for the generous review and warmest wishes from the windy west coast of Ireland. x