As a foul-smelling fog rolls in, Irish potato farmer Liam Hanley senses disaster. Bitter with life's disappointments, he is saddled with a wife who, for two years, has been mad with grief over the loss of their youngest child, and with five other mouths to feed. He feels that the weight of the world is on his shoulders and he can't stand any more misfortune.
This is the story of one family and a friend who strike out for America with the last of the family money to find a way to make a living, but it's so much more. It's the tale of the Irish who came in the 1800's, hoping for a land of opportunity, only to find that doors are shut in their faces and the opportunities are for others. Many of them ended up just as poor as they started out, only now they're in a foreign land, with no way to return home.
Many were taken advantage of on the journey, robbed by bandits and thieves, sick and dying of illness in steerage when they paid full fare for their passage, marked as fair game when they finally landed on shore and taken advantage of some more.
In this story, Clare Hanley and her brother Seamus, along with their friend Pierce Brady, leave Ireland during the Potato Famine to make their way to America. Along the way, there are many precarious situations and an interesting surprise when they follow instructions given by Madame O'Riley, a professional keener back in Ireland, to ask for a Patrick Feagles once they reach America. She also gives them a pendant that they are to show to him.
There are some definite twists to keep you reading, and a sad surprise nearer the end of the story. There's a bit of romance as well.
This novel kept my interest based on the history and the obviously impeccable research that went into it. When it came to the story, however, it fell a bit flat for me. Although there are lots of happenings, much of it felt flat and one-dimensional, maybe even superficial: "this is what happened", not a feeling of being involved as it was happening. At times the writing was also very "wordy", especially noticeable near the beginning of the novel. Example: "Davin rubbed the feral brown tufts of his hair." The word "feral" brings to mind ferocious, slavering beasts, definitely not hair. :)
This is billed as "Christian historical fiction", but I think it fits well into mainstream historical fiction. It is the first in a trilogy. I don't regret reading it; I did enjoy the history and some insights into subjects like the Irish Army of the Mexican Republic, where Irish soldiers switched sides to fight with Mexico against America, but I never truly connected enough to be curious about what happens next in the series.
QUOTES (from an eGalley; may be different in final copy):
Their voices emanated from the one-room, thatched-roof mud hovel where many of the Hanley ancestry were birthed with groans, raised in squalor, and died without distinction.
Liam struggled to console himself with the belief his life was too full of misfortune four God to strike him yet another blow.
BLOGGERS: Have you reviewed this book? If so, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section; I will also add your link to the body of my review.
Writing: 3 out of 5 stars Plot: 4 out of 5 stars Characters: 3 out of 5 stars Reading Immersion: 3 out 5 stars
BOOK RATING: 3.25 out of 5 stars
Sensitive Reader: Very mild and rare profanity
Book Club Recommendation: Maybe. For those that are interested in the historical aspects, yes. (less)
Almost two years ago, I read and reviewed my first Kate Morton novel, The Distant Hours - five stars for me all the way, with its gothic feel and mysteries within mysteries.
The Secret Keeper is another great read, artfully weaving between WWII England and present-day - telling the story of three women - Laurel, her mother Dorothy (Dolly), and an old friend of Dolly's named Vivien.
When Laurel is sixteen, she witnesses a shocking incident involving her mother. After telling her story to the police, she promptly tries her best to bury the incident. Her two-year-old little brother Gerald was the only other witness, and she hopes that he won't remember it either.
Present-day: Laurel is a well-known actress, and her mother is slowly fading in a nursing home. A photo drops out of an old copy of "Peter Pan" - a picture of her mother and a young woman named Vivien. In Dolly's lucid moments, Laurel begins to question her and becomes determined to know her mother's past before it is too late.
Ms. Morton is a masterful period writer - she vividly brings life during the Blitz to the forefront of the reader's mind. This tale of regrets, lost loves, and mistakes made will keep you turning pages far into the night. I was able to glean parts of the mystery earlier on, but the way the plot unfolded and the additional surprises made it well worth the read.
You will close these pages with a sigh, for Dolly is much more than she appears at first glance, a woman of tremendous strength who definitely deserved the second chance she was given.
QUOTES (from an ARC; may be different in final copy):
Youth was an arrogant place, and to believe simply that they were less adventurous than she was had suited Laurel just fine. Not for a moment had she considered that there might be anything beyond Ma's appearance as a happy wife and mother; that she might have been young once herself, and determined not to turn into her mother; that she might even be hiding from something in her past.
It was one thing at the 400, with him so dashing and handsome in the guise of Lord Sandbrook, but here, tonight, dressed in his usual clothing, all tattered and dirty from a night out working in the Blitz . . . Dolly shuddered to think what Vivien would say if she realized Dolly had a boyfriend like him.
Vivien shed desolation like an unwanted coat, and stepped towards the shining lights. It was all so simple really. She had brought about her family's death; she had brought about Jimmy's death; but now she was going to make sure Dolly Smitham was saved. Then, and only then, she would go to the Serpentine and make her pockets heavy with stones. Vivien could see the end and it was beautiful.
Writing: 4 out of 5 stars Plot: 4 out of 5 stars Characters: 4.5 out of 5 stars Reading Immersion: 4 out 5 stars
Luke Miller is a Catholic priest who was raised Jewish and disowned by his father when he gave up a UMASS scholarship for the seminary. His identical twin brother Aaron is high on the political scene, working as a campaign manager for Brad Thompson, a serious presidential candidate.
Luke's world is knocked off its foundation when Aaron is killed in an explosion that also takes the life of Brad Thompson and his wife. The two brothers, who had stopped speaking to each other the year before over a development deal, will now never have the chance to reconcile.
With the investigation focused on the now-dead candidate, Luke finds himself drawn into the mystery of the explosion. Was it the mob? Was it a terrorist attack? With an unlikely allies such as a homeless couple and a Muslim woman, Luke sets out on a journey that takes him as far as Riyadh to find the truth.
This is a well-turned mystery - one that does keep the reader guessing, as there are some twists and unlikely turns. I did enjoy it, despite some quibbles that I had with it. One quibble - the portrayal of Muslims and the not-so-subliminal messages that Islam is basically evil. Another quibble (along the same lines) - the mislabeling of Sharia law as derived from two primary sources of Islamic law - Sharia law is actually a man-made deliberate misinterpretation of the Quran, twisted to fit the purposes of those who took it upon themselves to interpret it thus. I feel that we shouldn't be so quick to point fingers at other religions. As a Christian, I'm well aware of the bloody history of most major religions, including my own. ANY religion or religious text can be twisted out of context to justify many injustices; that doesn't make the base of the religion murderous or evil. MAN is responsible for those injustices - not the Bible or the Quran.
So ... off my soapbox there :)
There were also some points during the reading where the writing felt a bit awkward and stiff, but only here and there. As the mystery began to wrap up, I was drawn in enough to have a very uneasy feeling about it all and there was a scene or two that made me extremely sad.
All in all, if you like a good, clean mystery that still has enough bite to keep its edge, this would make a good choice.
QUOTE (from a galley; may be different in the final copy):
He nodded as she reached up and removed the white linen Roman collar from his shirt while pulling him down to place a black kippah on his head. "Luke, just for today, don't be a Catholic, be a Jew."
Writing: 3.5 out of 5 stars Plot: 4 out of 5 stars Characters: 3.5 out of 5 stars Reading Immersion: 3.5 out 5 stars