Sunday, September 25, 2011

The King of America by Samantha Gillison

This novel is inspired by the life of Michael Rockefeller, the millionaire’s son who vanished in 1960 while studying the customs and rituals of the Asmat tribe and collecting native art in Dutch New Guinea.

Stephen Hesse, is the firstborn son of one of the world’s richest men, Nicholas Hesse, and his working-class wife, Marguerite, the daughter of the charwoman who cleaned his rooms at university, born before she was replaced by a more suitably pedigreed blonde wife and a litter of fair-haired children more in keeping with Nicholas’s social standing and political ambitions which later win him the governorship of New York. Stephen grows up a shy, serious, bookish boy who in his loneliness and isolation immerses himself in history and art and spends his summer visits trying to win his father’s love and approval. As a senior at an elite boys’ school he experiences an attraction to the new Latin master that proves mutual when the two share a kiss during a walk on a rainy day. Whether the affair goes any further physically isn’t disclosed as this novel rarely ventures behind bedroom doors. A few years later, as a young man in college, we witness Stephen's first real romance with an older, rather unconventional woman, Sheila, he meets on Fire Island who has a passionate on again/off again affair with an artist boyfriend who lives in Paris six months of every year. But the relationship is doomed to failure when Sheila chooses the bohemian life she has over what Stephen and his father’s money can offer.

Bored and disenchanted, Stephen briefly considers dropping out of college to join the army, until he attends an anthropology lecture on ritual male violence and, using his father’s influence, worms his way onto an expedition to the lush tropical paradise of Dutch New Guinea where naked, painted and befeathered tribes still practice headhunting, cannibalism, and magical rites. His mission is to collect art for his father’s museum, The Hesse Museum For Primitive Art, and to also keep a written record of the expedition. When Stephen becomes captivated by the Asmat bisj poles, elaborately carved and painted totem poles made to honor their dead ancestors, he refuses to listen to common sense and wait until the monsoon season has passed, and thus the stage is set for tragedy with headlines blaring THE KING OF AMERICA SEARCHES FOR HIS CROWN PRINCE as helicopters fly overhead and dugout canoes and Navy ships patrol the water and volunteers beat through the bushes searching for Stephen or his body.

Those who know me or regularly read this blog know I have a fascination with missing persons cases, and the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller is one of what I call “the cases that haunt me,” so I really enjoyed this novel. Though I must stress it is a work of fiction loosely based on the real story and the author has taken numerous creative liberties in creating her cast of characters, I felt it gave me a better understanding of the young man at the center of that tragedy and the events surrounding his loss . There were times when I felt the novel was a tad cold, or dispassionate, when I thought a little more depth or detail would have served it better, but nonetheless I didn’t put it down until I reached the final page, and if I didn’t have so many books piled up waiting for me I would gladly read it again.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Smouldering Fires by Anya Seton

Set in the 1970s, this novel revolves around Amy Delatour, a nearly friendless high school misfit, the type of girl who doesn’t know how to make the most of her looks and wears the wrong clothes, glasses, and her pretty reddish-brown hair scraped back, up and out of the way in a granny knot. She is fascinated by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, particularly his poem “Evangeline” which harkens back to her own French Acadian heritage. She is also troubled by an unexplainable fear of fire and haunted by strange dreams. Her hardworking, pain-wracked widowed mother, Sarah, is brusque, critical, and resentful, and the only real affection in Amy’s life comes from her French-Canadian grandfather, “Grandpere” Pierre Delatour ,who has filled her receptive mind with tales of their ancestors' exile from Nova Scotia in 1755 and the horrors and cruelty they endured.

The new English teacher, Martin Stone, takes an interest in Amy when they discuss her independent study project—she wants to write a paper about the real Evangeline, whom she believes was her ancestor, Ange-Marie. Intrigued by the hidden depths and brightness Amy hides under her glasses, granny knot, unattractive clothes, and quiet demeanor, her reference to “dreaming true,” and her inexplicable phobia of fire, Mr. Stone, who has an interest in psychology and the paranormal, decides to try hypnosis to unlock Amy’s subconscious and uncover the root of her problems and the source of her fear. But when Amy begins to speak in the voice of Ange-Marie, her 18th century French Acadian ancestress, her desperate longing for her lost love Paul, and fire, Martin enlists the aid of his old girlfriend and college classmate, Claire Colbert, and the two attempt to unravel the mystery of Amy/Ange-Marie and discover if this is evidence of a deeply disturbed personality, a schizophrenic perhaps, or genuine proof of reincarnation, the echoes of a past life intruding upon the present.

This is the final book by one of my favorite authors so it saddens me to say that this is a lackluster finale to her writing career. I wonder if perhaps she was trying to recapture the glory of Green Darkness, one of my all-time favorite books which also deals with a case of reincarnation, though at much greater length and depth than in Smouldering Fires, which appears skimpy and rushed in comparison. In Green Darkness the modern-day characters’ Tudor England past life personalities and surroundings were fully developed so readers could become immersed in their lives and emotions, and the turmoil of the times they lived in, but that is definitely not the case with Ange-Marie and her beloved Paul, they are wispy, pallid dream figures in comparison. I do not know the details of Mrs. Seton’s life, perhaps she had grown disenchanted with writing by this point or there were other problems in her life during the writing of this book that kept her from rising to the challenge that every book is and giving it her best. Maybe she was tired and just wanted to be done with it? I only know that Smouldering Fires, much to my regret, in this readers’ opinion, does not smoulder at all, the fire has gone completely out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Tabby will be four years old on September 17th, but we're celebrating a few days early.

The tiger stripe cake:

Modeling her new dress.

Naptime! She's all tired out from eating cake and watching her two favorite movies--Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Wizard of Oz.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lost by Jacqueline Davies

This novel interweaves the story of the missing persons case that fascinates me most of all, the 1910 disappearance of heiress Dorothy Arnold from New York’s Fifth Avenue, with the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory the following year.

Lost is the story of two young women, both, in their own way, lost though they may not know it. First, there is the mysterious Harriet Abbott, a woman clearly too refined and educated for the menial sweatshop labor of finishing sleeves at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory for $6 a week. What is a woman who clearly springs from wealth and means and is unaccustomed to this kind of work and taking care of herself doing in a place like this? Then there is Essie Rosenfeld, a poor Jewish girl from the city’s teeming tenements who dreams of owning her own hat shop someday, but in the meantime is torn between her love for her neighbor Jimmy, a young law student who encourages her love of books, and her preoccupation with providing the best for her little sister Zelda, and her resentment of the mother she believes does all she can to crush her every fragile chance at happiness.

Essie and Harriet strike up an unlikely friendship, but after seeing some old newspapers Essie begins to suspect that Harriet is not the widow disowned by her family and fallen on hard times after the death of her husband that she claims to be. And when her brother Saulie is arrested and Essie goes to the police station to bail him out she sees the Missing poster with a face she knows all too well blazoned on it and realizes that Harriet is really the high society girl Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold who mysterious disappeared, vanishing in broad daylight, while shopping on Fifth Avenue.

But truths will be obliterated, burned away or laid bare, agonizingly scarred and blistering by the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that soon follows on March 25, 1911. And I won’t spoil the story for anyone by saying what those truths are.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I thought it was such a clever idea, and though it is marketed as a young adult book, I highly recommend it to adults as well. It wonderfully captures the atmosphere of life in New York in 1911 and the deplorable and unsafe working conditions the girls who plied the sewing machines in the sweatshops and factories endured.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tabby Says: Time To Get Back To Work!

As I start writing my next novel, Tabby, my little helper, gets her schoolgirl dress on and strikes a pose with my notebooks and her favorite rattle balls.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Review & Giveaway of The Tudor Throne at Historically Obsessed

Review and Giveaway of The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy (Mary & Elizabeth by Emily Purdy) at

Thanks Lizzy!

The Accident by Linwood Barclay

I always eagerly anticipate the date when the latest thriller from Linwood Barclay hits bookstore shelves, he has a wonderful knack for creating gripping tales of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. And his latest is no exception.

The Everyday Joe hero, Glen Garber is a contractor feeling the bite in his bank account as building and remodeling jobs become scarce due to the housing and mortgage crisis. His wife, Sheila, hopes the night school business course she is taking will serve her family in good stead by helping her land a better job now, and, later, when Glen’s business picks up again, she plans to take over managing the company’s books and accounting. But everything changes one night when Sheila doesn’t come home. Glen and their eight-year-old daughter, Kelly, set out in his truck to retrace Sheila’s route and discover the devastating truth—Sheila and two others have been killed in a car accident that she apparently caused.

Glen knows his wife better than anyone--though moments of confusion and doubt occasionally crop up to cloud his judgment--and he is convinced she could never have done this. When he sets out to discover the truth, like the layers on an onion, they slowly peel away to reveal the sordid and surprising secrets of his neighbors—blackmail, adultery, massive debt, and, even closer to home, some suburban housewives, friends of, and including, Sheila herself, have become involved in selling fake designer handbags. It all started as a lark, a way to earn some extra cash in these tough times, fun girls’ nights hosting “purse parties” in each others’ homes, but the ladies soon got in over their heads, trafficking in counterfeit prescription drugs besides purses and owing thousands of dollars to organized crime types who aren’t afraid to put a bullet in somebody’s brain for even the most trifling thing. And Glen soon finds himself fighting to keep Kelly safe and to hold all the pieces of his life together as everything threatens to shatter like the glass in his daughter’s bedroom window the night a bullet came through it.

I have read several of Mr. Barclay’s books, which I have reviewed on this blog, and this, I think, is his best to date. As the story progresses like the twists and turns of a maze complications abound, and the solution to Sheila’s death comes as an unexpected surprise.

Linwood Barclay’s The Accident is a fast roller coaster of a book that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys a good mystery or thriller.