Titans

Titans

Samantha Gordon had from childhood known that she was adopted. Separated from her twin brother at birth, she begins to question who she is and where she came from. Throughout this novel, Samantha is seeking answers to her heritage and background. Although the answers she seeks are revealed almost from the very beginning ,the reader is caught up and taken along with Samantha on her journey to discovery.

More of a family saga than historical fiction, “Titans” is a novel about ranchers and oil in Texas, set in the early 1900’s.

Readers will be introduced to several (fictional) founding families in Texas; the Holloway, Gordon, Singleton and Waverling family all have their stories, some of which are detailed and others left to the reader’s imagination.

“The Gordons were landed gentry. In 1820, the patriarch of Las Tres Lomas de la Trinidad had come to what was then a province of Mexico and established a ranch he stocked with a breed of cattle native to the region known as Longhorns. In 1867, Neal, along with his father and two younger brothers, owned the beginnings of what would become one of the largest ranches in Central Texas, but prosperity was nearly fifteen years away. Comanche raids and Reconstruction were wreaking financial havoc…”

All the way through I was wondering if Samantha will ever find her true parents and discover that she has a twin brother.

“Life expectancy for a woman in 1900 was forty-eight, and she was almost halfway through her allotment of years upon the earth. Her ship was firmly underway on an unalterable course, and there was no setting it in another direction.”

Some of the book was a little repetitive and sometimes it seemed the sentence structure a little awkward (maybe could have used better editing?) However it did engage me and raised questions about the dilemma ranchers faced; whether to risk drilling for oil in the days when much of the technology was yet undiscovered, or whether to continue running the ranch as before, dependent upon the weather and beef prices in order to make the mortgage payments.

The character I liked most of course was Samantha. Her loyalty is commendable although her choice to take over the ranch from her stepfather, rather than pursue her interest in paleontology, could have been made more of in this story.

“No, she had no regrets. Las Tres Lomas de la Trinidad was the place where she was meant to be, no matter that her ‘fit’ for it did not come from inherited blood. The wide-open range, where the wind blew fresh and unobstructed and the only smells and sounds were natural to the country, was for her a vast laboratory that offered plentiful opportunities for scientific exploration and analysis. Land and livestock management required paleontological skills. Samantha had rigged up an outdoor workshop with basic tools for testing water, soil, grass…she felt at home on a horse, with cattle and cowmen, and when her father discovered she had a head for making judicious financial decisions, she became indispensable to the business operations of the ranch.”

There are real-life situations and character struggles; Sam’s stepfather Neal vacillates between his love for his stepdaughter and feelings of possessiveness. He cannot hide his disgust at her pursuit of her biological family. Samantha’s true mother is shallow and longs for position in society. Todd Baker is weak and disloyal and Billie June, Sloan’s sister, chooses to indulge in a relationship that threatens her family’s security. I did wish that Nathan, Samantha’s brother, had been more developed as a character.

I had read Meacham’s “Somerset” and really enjoyed it. When I looked up the author I was surprised to find that although she had written a couple of light romances previously, she did not begin serious fiction writing until after retirement, at the age of 65! Her novel “Roses” became a NY Times bestseller within days, although it had taken five years to write.

I found “Titans” started out with a strong beginning but for some reason, the second half petered out for me. Samantha’s birth story was a dilemma that was perhaps drawn out for too long. “Titans” is ‘escapist fiction’, and although it does have its weaknesses (an unfortunate and rather unlikely tragedy occurs late in the book), it is a book to immerse yourself in if you enjoy reading a family saga-type book.

I had always meant to read “Tumbleweed” and “Roses” after finishing “Somerset”. I found this latest book written by Leila Meacham on the ‘new reads’ shelf at the library and it gave me the impetus to look this author up once again.

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September

September

“September” is a novel set in Scotland about several characters who are invited to a dance party for a young lady turning twenty-one. Katy Steynton, the honoree, plays a very minor role in the novel (in fact the reader hardly meets her until close to the end of the book). However there are several characters invited to the dance who come from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences, and who make choices that affect not only themselves but their loved ones.

Edmund and Virginia Aird must decide whether sending their young son Henri to boarding school is a tradition they want to keep. This decision has made inroads in their marriage and their struggles are painful and exasperating. Edmund’s daughter Alexa has found a boyfriend (who finds it all too easy to simply move in with her and no one, including her parents, seem to find this sudden disclosure at all unsettling). Noel, who happens to be Penelope Keeling’s son (remember the self-absorbed Noel from “The Shell Seekers”?), has to decide whether he is ready for a permanent relationship. Archie Balmorino is haunted with memories from his military service in Ireland and a prosthetic leg that gives him daily reminders, as if his nightmares were not enough. And there is Archie’s provocative, disturbing sister Pandora who has not been home for twenty or more years, who now impetuously decides that it is time to return to her childhood home and sad past.

I doubt there are very many who are not familiar with Rosamunde Pilcher. I have read and enjoyed several of her books over the years. “September” is a book I chose to fulfill part of my “Read Scotland” reading for this year.

I read Pilcher for the comfort of reading about cosy home atmospheres (I loved the character of Penelope Keeling in her “Shell Seekers” book), gardens, food, and everyday life in Scotland. However, like many other reviewers, I wish her characters were portrayed with more of a moral foundation and not so overtly promiscuous, or so ready to discard fidelity to their marriage vows.

I didn’t really ‘connect’ with any of the characters in this one, but I did appreciate Violet Aird (Edmund’s mother), although at one point I wanted to yell at her “stop hesitating and tell Virginia to grow up!!!” Although I enjoy my share of various genres (mysteries and trying to solve them before the author does it for me. Non-fiction just for the pleasure of learning something new. Historical novels to immerse myself in another time period), I like to once in a while, read ‘escapist’ fiction; light, cosy, fireside books that I can lose myself in for just a few hours. When I finished reading “September”, instead of the ‘light and cosy’ read I had expected, I found tragic lessons to be learned (the guilt incurred with adultery; hypocrisy; choices and their consequences; courage versus despair). I also regretted some of the situations the author chose to include (although I recognize that many would argue ‘but this is real life!’ For me, this is the tragedy because ‘real life’ often occurs as a result or consequence of personal choice.) However I also realized that rather than ‘escapist’ fiction, this novel does point out the complexity of human existence and the flawed choices we all tend to make.

This is not a book of ‘hopeful endings’ but rather an expose of life in one small community in one period of time and learning to cope with the repercussions of interpersonal relationships. Although I can’t say I enjoyed it as much as I had hoped, it does have value in giving the reader (at least, it did so for me), a desire for living life with integrity and dogged perseverance to meet with determination and fortitude whatever life brings.

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The Foundling

The Foundling

The Duke of Sale for all of his twenty-four years has been pampered, indulged, cosseted, and dictated to. A sickly youngster,

“he was the Most Noble Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, Duke of Sale and Marquis of Ormesby; Earl of Sale; Baron Ware of Thame; Baron Ware of Stoven; and Baron Ware of Rufford… all of these high-sounding titles had been his from the moment of his birth, for he was the only surviving offspring of the sixth Duke..”

Thus begins the story of “Gilly”, the Duke of Sale. Gilly will soon be twenty-five and come into his inheritance; that is, if his attendants will let him. From the beginning it seems that Gilly is destined to be full of surprises:

“…he had not only survived, but had grown into a perfectly healthy young man, who, if not as stout as could have been wished, or of such fine physique as his uncles and cousins, was yet robust enough to cause his physicians very little anxiety. The chief of these had more than once asserted his belief that the little Duke had a stronger constitution than was supposed, since his hold on life had throughout been so tenacious, but this was an opinion not shared by the anxious relatives, tutors, and attendants who had the Duke in their charge.”

Lord Lionel Ware, Gilly’s uncle and guardian, certainly does not think Gilly either capable nor sufficiently knowlegeable to direct his many household affairs under his own steam. Even the choice of a bride has been removed from him. So, one day, Gilly rebels.

“I think,” added the Duke, “that I might now and then – just now and then, you know, Padbury! – clean my guns for myself.’

Even the footman looked shocked at this, but, being only an underling, could only exchange glances with the fellow footman who had accompanied him to the side entrance. The butler, the steward, and the keeper all directed looks of deep reproach at the Duke, and the middle-aged man in the neat garb that proclaimed the valet exclaimed: ‘Clean your guns for yourself, your Grace! I should think not indeed!

Telling no one where he is going or why, the Duke of Sale suddenly disappears. The reader can only imagine the consternation of his relatives, household staff, and guardians. Where can he be? has he been kidnapped for ransom? met with an accident? what fearful event has caught Gilly unprepared and unequipped to meet it with aplomb?

The reader however is not caught by surprise. Heyer has cleverly let the reader in on Gilly’s misadventures (and indeed he has met with danger and even kidnapping). All is not lost however; Gilly finds the inner resources that he (and in fact, no one else either) never knew he had. Coming across a foundling orphan in need of a wise head and direction, Gilly rescues a poor maiden in distress. But he also saves himself from (almost) certain death, aids a young runaway (Tom), who will continue to need the Duke’s assistance in one scrape after another, and somehow manages to fall in love. When all is said and done the Duke of Sale meets every challenge successfully, surprising not only himself but also his entire household.

This coming-of-age Regency novel was full of surprises, twists and turns, and a fast read! Just when Gilly extricates himself from one scrape, another immediately rises to meet him. The reader is kept entertained and in suspense all the way through, and for once, romance takes a back seat (although not for long), in much of “The Foundling”.

Another great Heyer read, I found myself pulling for Gilly all the way! His character is so likable and the reader cannot but hope that he will come out on top.

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The Reluctant Widow

The Reluctant Widow

Miss Elinor Rochdale is, at 26, for all intents and purposes, ‘on the shelf’.

Elinor’s father has died, leaving her penniless from his gambling debts. With no other option left to her, Elinor applies (and secures) for a position as governess. On her way now to her new place of employment, the reader finds the first twist in this entertaining read as Elinor is hustled into a carraige meant for someone else.

This mix-up of identity results in Elinor, instead of being installed in her new position as governess, in the unenviable position as newlywed to a young profligate whose faults include other vices even worse than simply losing money at the races or betting in a ‘gentlemen’s card game. However,

“How often has one been forced to observe that the most tragic events are for the best!”

Such is the ‘spin’ that Becky, (otherwise known as ‘Miss Beccles’) Elinor’s childhood governess and lady companion, puts on Elinor’s recent marriage to Eustace Cheviot, a drunkard, gambler, and reprobate. Luckily for Elinor though (and this novel is full of both lucky and unlucky circumstances), Eustace Cheviot has met with a sad accident on the day of the marriage. He conveniently passes away, leaving her with a huge dilapidated estate along with several debts to be settled.

A simple plot? not really. When you add intrigue, international spies, a hidden staircase and a missing document, you have all of the ingredients of a historical suspense/mystery/romance, one that continually keeps the reader guessing.

I usually enjoy the characters in Heyer’s novels and this one was no different; however for some reason I could not warm to Elinor in this one. It seemed to me that all she did was complain of her lot. It is true that she had many unexpected surprises in store for her (some very unpleasant indeed) and her reactions are often natural ones. Yet for someone who was in such dire straits as she, it could not have been anything but a relief to her to have been ‘saved’ in her need of a livelihood. However the humor of each situation that arises, along with the author’s masterful dialog, is well done and creative.

Perhaps the loose ends were all too neatly and quickly tied up in the final chapter, but “The Reluctant Widow” certainly rates as one of my favorites. It is certainly easy to see why Heyer’s novels are so addictive and popular.

A fun and fast read for those who love Heyer’s sparkling prose or fiction set in the Regency era.

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Someone Knows My Name

Someone Knows My Name

“Do you hate me?” he asked.
“Should I?”
“Might you not hate all white men indiscriminately? You would have good reason.”
I poured myself more water from the carafe. “If I spent my time hating, my emotions would have been spent long ago, and I would be nothing more than an empty cowrie shell.”

This historical fiction novel is the story of Aminata Diallo, a young girl stolen from her African village and sold into slavery.

The story follows ‘Meena’ through her life under a brutal slave master on an indigo plantation in South Carolina, where she learns to read. After she is sold, she learns how to keep accounts and handle money under a Jewish master in Charles Town. After Meena discovers her new master had been instrumental in the sale of her son, she takes advantage of the chaos during the start of the Revolutionary war and escapes.

The novel is hard to put down as Meena learns to survive and provide for herself among the harshest of living conditions. When the war ends Meena takes refuge in Canada and from there is able to travel, back to Africa, and ultimately to England.

“Sometimes, late at night when I had trouble sleeping, I would lug a bucket of water up to the woods. I would find a quiet spot under the trees and the stars, and stare up at the same drinking gourd I had admired as a child. In the cool night air I would enjoy splashing the warm water on my skin and wonder, sometimes, if anybody from Bayo had survived on the night I was stolen.”

Harsh, brutal, incredibly gut-wrenching are only some of the terms I can think of to describe the author’s depiction of the slave trade in the late 1700’s, but there are also many instances of determination, resilience, courage, and steadfast endurance. I have to admit that this is not a light, pleasant read, and occasionally I found myself putting the book aside for a breather. The story is so well told and Aminata’s plight so engaging, I was always drawn back to reading more.

That Aminata (nicknamed “Meena” by those who cannot pronounce her name) is intelligent and resourceful is pretty obvious to the reader and she takes many folk by surprise, both white and black, by her talents both as a midwife (she had accompanied her mother on several births among the neighboring African villages), her educated speech and her literacy.

Readers will be happy to discover one event that brings a happy ending for Meena but I will not take the opportunity to spoil it for those who have not yet read the book. There was much here I had never learned in history, and the plot much more involved than I will attempt to describe here. I was sad to read about the failure of the British to keep their promise to free those slaves who fought for them during the Revolutionary War. Their additional empty promise of free land that resulted in the first black settlement in Nova Scotia, the living conditions described and the determination to gain freedom made this for me an un-putdown-able read. The connection with William Wilberforce made this book all the more appealing.

“The headman had many other questions. What did I mean by the statement that not all toubaba (white men) were devils, and how could it be possible to see good in some of them?
I replied with a question of my own: “Do you not know the human heart?”

The author admits in his afterword that Araminta is a character he created; however, (and tragically), many of the situations described here were factual.

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Glory Over Everything

Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House

When I found this book on the library ‘New Reads” shelf, it looked intriguing and since it was one of my favorite genres (historical fiction), I picked it up and brought it home. Although I haven’t had as much time lately in my schedule to devote to pleasure reading (something that I am going to change! now. : ), I read this book in just under three days.

Although I had not previously read “The Kitchen House”(the first book in this series), I found I was well able to follow the story line.

“Glory Over Everything” is very fast moving, as the reader is caught up in the events of Jamie Pyke Burton.

James Burton is a young teen, escaping events from his childhood. He relates his story from the time he arrives in Pennyslvania and is able to secure an apprenticeship with a silversmith, up to adulthood.

James is for all intents and purposes in shock and trying to recover from the knowledge of his past and his own grievous actions that resulted in his fleeing for his life. Henry, an escaped slave who never stops fearing his return to slavery, takes pity on the young James and saves his life, assisting him with food and encouraging him to find work. Now well established in business, James has inherited a house and servants but one day Henry shows up at the door with a dilemma.

Henry’s young son, Pan, has been caught and sold into slavery. Although James fears his true identity and heritage will be discovered, he takes up Henry’s plea to travel South and find and rescue Pan.

Because the subject matter is both historical and tragic (slavery is never ever going to be a pleasant subject to write about), there are depictions of brutality that will make the reader cringe, but the author does not dwell on overly descriptive scenes. I appreciate that this time period in America’s history would be difficult to write very sensitively about; being that the treatment of slaves was so often extreme and tragically, unrestrained, my sympathy lies with any author who attempts to write realistically and believably about this era.

It is unbelievable that such events did happen and that the condition of slavery existed for so long. Perhaps the author is challenging the reader to identify within their own personalities, whether they would attempt to be a ‘Henry’or ‘Robert’, or instead simply sit back and accept (or tolerate) another human being’s distresses.

The author does not try to sugar-coat this time period nor does she write excessively graphic. I do wish that James had not engaged in a romance with a married woman; the author seems to excuse Caroline’s flaws and choices by assigning her husband his own can of worms that lead to an impossibly broken marriage relationship. (That is true however for all of us; the imperfections of human nature often excuses our personal failings if we in turn can identify those of others close to us.)

“Glory Over Everything” is not a calm, relaxing read; it is full of drama and pathos. James Burton himself shows cowardice at times, perhaps illustrating the author’s purpose in revealing human nature at its worst. It is fast moving and entices the reader on, hoping against hope that there will be a happy ending for its characters.

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A Memory of Violets

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London's Flower Sellers

When Matilda Harper takes on a new job as assistant housemother for a charity, she has no idea what is ahead for her. Leaving her country home in the Lake District, Tilly finds not only satisfaction in her new work, but also new vistas, new experiences, new friendships, and an unexpected enigma. Coming across a notebook hidden deep within her room cupboard, Tilly begins to unearth the tragic story of two very young sisters, separated on the streets of London and never reuniting.

Tilly finds a parallel with the sisters in the diary she reads to her own life, as she struggles with her past and attempts to overcome her own failures.

“I know it will be hard for you to hear this, but I only ask that you try to find it in your heart to forgive your mother. She meant no malice. She struggled to understand her emotions, to understand the space which she and you inhabited…Perhaps we all deserve a second chance? Perhaps we are allowed to make one mistake which can be forgiven?”

This story brings to life the poverty and struggle to survive for many orphans and disabled young girls in London in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Based on the incredible philanthropy of John Groom (in the novel is portrayed as Albert Shaw), the author wanted to illustrate how simple acts of kindness and reaching out to help the unfortunate can make a huge difference to the livelihood of those less fortunate.

“Mr. Shaw saw an opportunity to teach the crippled girls to make the silk flowers themselves and provide housing for them while they were in training. This takes them off the streets and gives them a year-round occupation that isn’t dependent on the seasons, or the weather. They make violets, primroses, and daisies for Mothering Sunday, and buttonholes for the announcers at Christmas.”

Although I enjoyed this book tremendously, I did find the (very few) scenes with imaginary ‘ghost’ (for lack of a better word), a bit overdone. The presumption for a character unable to find peace in the after-life until her sister was found would have been, for me, better left out, but on the whole I enjoyed the story. Tilly’s romantic interest was, as often occurs in fiction, predictable, as was the identity of the financial contributor to the orphanage. I enjoyed learning about an aspect of nineteenth century life in London that previously was unknown to me; the existence of the ‘flower girls’.

I did not know until after I finished reading this book that it was a bestseller. I appreciate that the author could have made such a sad story much more graphic, especially considering the times and the setting, and although she described the hardships and difficult circumstances well, she did so without making the novel lose its appeal.

“It’s a funny thing, grief, isn’t it,” she said. “It brings about a great change in people, makes them forget about the little things they had time to fret and worry over the day before, like the fact that they’ve an ache in their tooth or a missing button or a new hole in their boot or that it’s raining for the fourth day in a row. Grief washes all that away… They tell you it will pass, that there’ll be a day when you wake up and your heart doesn’t ache, a day when you don’t cry, but laugh and smile and remember the person you’ve lost with great fondness. You can’t believe that day will ever come. But it does…”

The author explains her motivation in writing “A Memory of Violets”: “During my research, I was surprised to discover that many of the youngest flower sellers were orphaned, blind or physically disabled in some way. I also discovered the work of Victorian philanthropist, John Groom, who gave these young girls and women a home at his ‘crippleage’ where he taught them how to make artificial flowers. Their work became widely known in London, and eventually led to their involvement in the very first Queen Alexandra Rose Day in June 1912.” (from http://www.shereads.org/when-history-…<

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