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Friday, June 18, 2021

Review of THE LAST BOOKSHOP IN LONDON by Madeline Martin

 2.5 Stars

As a bibliophile, I’m a sucker for books about books, libraries, and bookstores, so I was immediately drawn to this book.  I wish I’d resisted its lure because it proved to be shallow and formulaic.

Grace Bennett and her best friend Viv move to London in 1939 just before the beginning of the war.  They move in with Mrs. Weatherford, a friend of Grace’s mother, and her son Colin.  With Mrs. Weatherford’s help, Grace gets a job with Primrose Hill Books.  She tidies and organizes the shop for Mr. Evans and slowly makes herself indispensible.  When war is declared, she volunteers as a warden with Air Raid Precautions and begins reading aloud inside tube stations during the Blitz. 

Part of my issue with the novel is the character of Grace.  She is so saccharine.  Everyone seems to love her as soon as they meet her; both Mrs. Weatherford and Mr. Evans “adopt” her and become parental figures.   The people who are not enamoured with her are eventually won over by her compassion and generosity.  The first handsome man who comes into the shop is immediately romantically attracted to her.  Her only flaws are that she is somewhat shy and considers herself not to be brave. 

The book is so predictable because it is so formulaic.  After the first few chapters, I was able to correctly predict who would survive and who wouldn’t.  Even the title suggests what will happen to Paternoster Row and what will not happen to Primrose Hill Books.  The novel is historically accurate, but seems to just check off items from a list:  air raids, blackouts, food rationing, victory gardens, evacuation of children, etc. 

The author tends to tell rather than show.  How many times must we be told that “no one in the world had the spirit of the British.  They were fighters.  They could take it”?  Grace finds courage because “she was British.  What’s more she was a Londoner, baptized as such by the firestorm of war, by bombings and incendiaries.”  When St. Paul’s Cathedral is undamaged, “It was a mark of the British spirit, that even in the face of such annihilation and loss, they too had kept standing.  ‘London can take it.’” 

When Grace begins working at the bookshop, she is not a reader.  Of course she becomes a book lover – because a handsome man recommends a book to her!  When she finally opens that book, “Word after word, page after page, she was pulled deeper into a place she had never experienced and walked in the footsteps of a person she’d never been.”  Then, over and over again, it is repeated that books provide pleasure and “an escape from exhaustion and bombs and rationing.”  Books make Grace a better person because they provide a “profound understanding for mankind”:  “Over time, she had found such perspectives made her a more patient person, more accepting of others.”  All of this is true, but the reader doesn’t need to be told this if events clearly show this.  Nonetheless, the author feels compelled to repeat that “It is through books that we can find the greatest hope” and “Books . . . [are] a reminder that we always have hope” and “For in a world such as theirs, with people of spirit and love, and with so many different tales of strength and victory to inspire, there would always be hope.”  I do not like being treated like a stupid reader!

This is a book for those who want an unchallenging read.  It slavishly follows the historical fiction formula with a strong romance element.  It did not engage me and is totally unmemorable.

Monday, June 14, 2021


 4 Stars

I chose this as an audiobook for morning walks because the title appeared on the longlist of the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

The novel is set in 1984 in Barbados, in the fictional town of Paradise with a stretch of beach known as Baxter’s Beach.  Eighteen-year-old Lala is trapped in a violent marriage.  Her husband Adan kills a rich white man, Peter Whalen, during a robbery on the night Lala gives birth to their daughter.  That murder is followed by another death, and more tragedy. 

The novel is organized into short chapters giving the perspective of various characters.  Lala, Adan, Mira Whalen (the widow of the murdered man), Tone (a beach gigolo and Adan’s partner in petty crimes), and Sergeant Beckles (the police investigator) have several chapters, but other characters like Esme (Lala’s mother), Wilma (Lala’s grandmother), and the Queen of Sheba (a prostitute with whom Beckles is infatuated) also receive some attention. 

Despite the number of characters, there is no difficulty differentiating them.  What is amazing is that sufficient information is given about each that their behaviour is understandable.  Backstories are provided for several characters so their motivations make perfect sense.  The childhoods of virtually all the characters include poverty, violence and abuse.

A major message is that lives are defined by trauma generation after generation.  Lala, for example, is raised as she is because of the experiences of Esme and Wilma.  Lala lives in a beachfront shack with 25 cement stairs to the sand; there is no banister and that serves as a perfect metaphor for her life.  It is not unexpected that Lala wonders, “What woman leaves a man for something she is likely to suffer at the hands of any other” because “for women of her lineage, a marriage meant a murder in one form or another.”    

This is not a book for the weak-hearted.  Murder, rape, incest, domestic violence, drug dealing, poverty, and prostitution all are featured.  For tourists, Paradise may be an escape from reality, but for the locals, Paradise is the reality they are trying to escape.  Unfortunately, escape seems impossible because events conspire to entrap people.  Tone wants to rescue Lala, but Sheba’s need to escape the attentions of Beckles means Tone is ensnared.  Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in the ending, but it is faint.

The prose is beautiful, and the narration by Danielle Vitalis is exceptional, but readers should be forewarned that the novel is heart-breaking.  It is so full of tragedy as to be emotionally exhausting.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Review of DARKNESS by David Adams Richards

4 Stars

A new novel by David Adams Richards always excites me.  He is an author whose books I insist on buying in hardcover.  Like so many of his previous books, this one enthralled me.

John Delano, at the behest of Cathy MacDurmot, investigates the violent death and accusations of murder made against her brother Orville.  As a child, Orville was bullied and shunned because of a physical deformity and his impoverishment, but he eventually became a renowned archeologist.  The people living along New Brunswick’s Miramichi River, where he grew up and chose to live after extensive travels, took pride in his accomplishments but also envied him.  Some tried to use Orville’s fame to advance causes but he, a man of principles, refused to help those whom he knew were only interested in their own personal gains.   His behaviour made him an easy target for gossip and rumours which destroyed his reputation and led to his being charged with murder. 

Most of the book is Delano’s lengthy recounting of what he has learned about Orville, his death, and the charges of murder.  His telling is convoluted and focuses on various people – Brenda, Orville’s first love; Milt Vale, a literature professor Orville encounters at university; Eunice Wise, Orville’s neighbour; and Gaby May Crump, a poor child whom Orville tries to help – and involves flashbacks to various time periods.  It soon becomes clear that Orville’s fate is connected to a novel written by a young man whose work is deemed by some to be “’clumsy – awkward, inelegant and untrained.'” 

Characters from other novels appear or are mentioned, most notably the protagonist of Mary Cyr, Paul Amos of Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul  and John Delano of Principles to Live By.  There are similarities among the characters of these books.  So often his protagonists are people who are at odds with a society where appearances, status, and political correctness take precedence.  For instance, John Delano is much like Orville; both are intelligent men with uncompromising codes of honour.  John focused his life on rooting out evil whereas Orville was devoted to a search for beauty:  “’goodness, kindness and simplicity – and that’s the beauty he was seeking, it was nothing else than that.’”  Like Mary Cyr, Orville is a deeply wounded person who falls victim to exaggerated rumours and sensationalized gossip. 

Orville believes evil exists, and this novel, like others by David Adams Richards, has its villains.  Eunice Wise is self-righteous and totally lacking in empathy:  “’She relished her right never to really care, but to pretend to careThe Handmaid’s Tale would titillate and rule her life, but no real handmaid would she help.’”  Eunice reminds me of Melissa Sapp in Principles to Live By who portrays herself as an altruist but is a hypocrite because she only does what will aid her personal ambitions.  Several of the seven deadly sins – pride, greed and envy - make their appearance, and the willingness of some people to use and manipulate others knows no bounds. 

What is always impressive about DAR’s books is the memorable characters.  The author takes great pains to explain the motivations of characters – why they behave as they do and make the choices they do.  Orville, for example, who is dead and appears only in flashbacks, emerges as a complex character with positive qualities and flaws.  Orville is maliciously maligned and scapegoated, but he is at heart a gentle, caring man who possesses the qualities of true beauty he spent his life seeking.  The motivations of other characters are also thoroughly detailed so that their reactions and decisions are predictable and totally realistic. 

There are a couple of elements in the book that troubled me.  One is the inter-connectedness of all the characters - though I grew up in a small town and know first-hand how everyone knows everyone.  It is not unusual for a young man to fall in love with a young woman, but what are the chances that this particular young man born to this father will meet and fall in love with this young woman with her “father” and background?  Another issue is how John Delano uncovers some of the information; for instance, how could he know that a man stopped at a service station and “’was at that moment two feet from’” an item in the luggage compartment of a bus, or that, for one woman, a man’s name “’seemed to hover near her at moments in the day’s sun, or at night as she walked the sidewalk home’”?

As always, DAR strikes out at people for whom he feels contempt.  There are some wonderful one-sentence disparagements:  “’He listened to broadcasts by the vast, sweeping CBC that he found so pleasurable to listen to, where so many of our broad-minded reporters live in like-minded cubby holes for thirty years’” and “Many did not take his doctorate seriously – or as seriously as they would have if they had thought of it themselves.  It’s amazing how certain academics can slough things off.’”  Of course, people who “’”put on” sensitivity, or concern, or equality’” are targets for his scorn, as are those who are part of “the rumour mill of rural Canada, the glut of Tim Hortons gossip.’” 

A novel by DAR is always multi-layered.  There is so much to parse, but this is supposed to be a review, not an academic essay.  I am, once again, impressed by his compassion for the poor.  His books demonstrate a deep understanding of human behaviour and show the consequences of judging others on the basis of appearance, background and gossip.  The book deserves to be read and re-read.

Darkness makes several references to the long-ago relationship between John Delano and Cathy MacDurmot; I understand that one of DAR’s first novels, Blood Ties, introduces the MacDurmot family and describes John and Cathy’s relationship.  I’m off to try and find a copy and read it.

In the meantime, here are links to my reviews of other of David Adams Richards’ novels:

Mary Cyrhttps://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/2018/05/review-of-mary-cyr-by-david-adams.html

Principles to Live By:  https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/2016/06/review-of-principles-to-live-by-by.html

Crimes Against My Brother:  https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/2016/12/canadian-book-advent-calendar-day-18-r.html

Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul:  https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/2015/07/from-schatjes-reviews-archive-incidents.html

The Lost Highway:  https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/2017/09/archival-review-lost-highway-by-david.html

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Review of THE MISSING TREASURES OF AMY ASHTON by Eleanor Ray (New Release)

 3.5 Stars

This book is for readers who enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Amy Ashton once dreamed of being an artist, but the betrayal of her boyfriend Tim and her best friend Chantal eleven years earlier sent her life spiraling out of control.  Finding it difficult to trust people, Amy chooses to love things instead since they won’t abandon her.  She has collected a variety of things (cups, lighters, ashtrays, vases, wine bottles, newspapers), giving them a safe place where they are loved.  Her hoarding, however, means that there is virtually no free space in her home.

New people move in next door, and the two young boys, Charlie and Daniel, cause havoc in her backyard, inadvertently uncovering something that sets Amy on another search to find out what happened to Tim and Chantal when they disappeared.  Her investigation is assisted by Charlie and his father Richard.  Can she learn what happened to Tim and Chantal?  Can she learn to let go of things and make room for people in her life?

Via flashbacks, the reader learns about Amy’s relationships with Tim and Chantal and the events leading up to their disappearances.  What these flashbacks also reveal is the rationale for the items Amy collects.  She formed attachments to objects connected to a particularly meaningful memory, “surrounding herself with belongings that made her remember a past long gone.”  Since she doesn’t smoke, the collecting of lighters and ashtrays, for instance, was puzzling.

The book becomes a mystery when Amy becomes an amateur investigator determined to find out what happened to the two most important people in her life, “her lifelong best friend and boyfriend of ten years.”  The solution to the mystery is somewhat predictable, especially after Amy reconnects with an acquaintance from the past.  Unfortunately, a piece of the puzzle revealed at the end just doesn’t feel right; it seems unrealistic and the reader must suspend disbelief. 

Amy is an interesting character.  Though her administrative job is not her passion, she maintains a “carefully cultivated image of controlled competence” at work.  More than anything, she wants not to draw attention to herself, so she dresses in drab colours and avoids social interactions.  She is preoccupied with making sure “that no one would ever hurt her like that again” and protecting her collection:  “She had a responsibility to keep her beautiful possessions safe.  They trusted her.”  The flashbacks show her as a person full of life and humour; because of what happened, she has virtually no life so the reader cannot but feel sympathy for her.  Certainly she does not have a happy life; she admits that her collected treasures “made her feel almost happy at times.”

The message of the book is the importance of learning to let go of things that don’t matter.  Though she would be best to get therapy, Amy does start to realize that there are things that are suffocating her and she needs to remove items to make space for people:  “Real life needed space to grow.”  The book also emphasizes the importance of accepting people’s flaws.  After all, we all have baggage because “No one travels lightly through life anymore.’” 

Amy enjoyed books, “with stories where people made mistakes and learned from them and grew.”  That is a good description of this book.  It is quirky and heartwarming, reminding us that second chances are possible. 

Note:  I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Review of BONNIE JACK by Ian Hamilton (New Release)

 3 Stars

This is a quick, easy read, good for a summer day on the beach or at the cottage or in a Muskoka chair in the back yard.

Jack Anderson was abandoned by his mother in a Glasgow movie theatre when he was six years old.  She left to take his sister Moira to the washroom and never returned.  He is now a successful multi-millionaire nearing retirement.  In all those years, he has not told his wife Anne and their children about his past.  After finally sharing his story of abandonment and adoption, he and Anne travel to Scotland to see Moira whom he has located.  While in the country of his birth, Jack learns he has more family than Moira, and meeting them has unexpected consequences. 

The novel is very readable.  What irritated me, however, are the unnecessary details that are included.  For instance, do we really need to know what everyone is drinking?  At the beginning we learn that “Anne liked gin martinis [while] her husband drank Scotch.”  In fact, there are over 25 references to Scotch, not including mentions of Scotch eggs and Scotch pies!  Some of the conversations don’t sound natural; for example, would a wife say to her husband of many years, “’You know I have a degree in English literature from UMass Amherst’”?

Descriptions of houses focus on windows and doors: Jack and Anne’s house “had two storeys, with six windows on the upper floor facing the road, and two huge windows on either side of a bright red double door on the ground floor."  Later, we have this description:  “Harry’s house was built of brick, with a red slate roof, a large window to the left of the front door, and three windows across the front of the second storey.”  Then a pub “had a brown brick façade that was black in places, and small, dirty windows on either side of a glass door etched with thistles.”  Moira lives “in the middle of a row of rather grimlooking houses, their doors set into walls of grey stone with windows on either side.  Some of the doors had been painted bright colours.”  This fixation on windows extends to characters always walking to a window and looking out; this happens at least 15 times.

There is considerable suspense.  Chapters often end on a dramatic note with announcements like “’He’s dead’” and “’She’s had a visit from one of the Baxter boys.  We need to talk.’”  Unfortunately, there are elements that require some suspension of disbelief.  Duncan Pike, “a top-notch lawyer,” becomes important in the latter part of the book, but some of his behaviour is rather shady, if not illegal.  And “’Scottish criminal royalty . . . who run most of the drug and prostitution business’” and are not averse to physical violence would feel bound by a contract? 

Jack is not a likeable character.  His nickname in the business world is Bloody Jack, and he admits, “’I didn’t get the nickname Bloody Jack by being a nice guy.  I trust no one.  Everyone is disposable.’”   He also admits to having trust issues; he has kept secrets from his wife and children for much of his life and his conversations concerning postponing his retirement are never mentioned to Anne:  “’I love Anne, but there are things I don’t tell her, and some of those things she has a right to know. ‘”  I don’t understand what Jack’s appeal is to Anne; she always seems to be walking on eggshells and reacting so as not to upset him.  He has difficulty accepting people who disagree with him, and he seems incapable of forgiveness.  When he makes what most people would consider a right decision, it is only because of his own self-interest and fear.  And we are to believe that such a successful man has not really given more thought to his retirement and what that entails?  In terms of character, Jack is not Bonnie Jack, and I found it difficult to care about what might happen to him.

There are many unanswered questions at the end, so I would not recommend the book to anyone who likes complete closure.  Despite its flaws, it is entertaining.

 Note:  I received a digital galley from the publisher via NetGalley.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Review of THE TIDAL ZONE by Sarah Moss

 4 Stars

2020 was my year for reading Maggie O’Farrell; 2021 is becoming my year for reading Sarah Moss.  After being impressed with her Ghost Wall and Summerwater, I thought I’d read one of her earlier novels.

The novel’s narrator is Adam Goldschmidt, an underemployed academic and stay-at-home dad.  His wife Emma is a chronically stressed, overworked, and exhausted doctor so Adam is the primary caregiver to 15-year-old Miriam and 8-year-old Rose.  When not taking care of the household (shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry) and the girls’ activities, he is writing a guidebook on the post-war reconstruction of Coventry cathedral. 

One day Miriam collapses at school.  She is revived and hospitalized for a time to determine why a healthy teenager would suffer cardiac arrest.  Since the cause cannot be determined, the family has to adapt to living with the possibility that Miriam might again stop breathing at any time.  The book focuses on life’s impermanence and learning to live with that uncertainty:  “how can we live once we have understood that any or all of us may be killed while tying our shoes or going up the stairs?  While reading a novel, or writing one?” 

Miriam must face the possibility of death but the novel focuses more on Adam’s reaction to “the new reality in which death stood in the corner of every room and came to breathe over my shoulder whenever I took my eye off him.”  As expected, he worries and struggles not to be overprotective but to give Miriam “her own tidal zone.”  Like the parents of a newborn, he regularly checks that his daughters are breathing.  Miriam has had a brush with death and their safe world has been shattered, but a parent’s daily responsibilities continue:  “Everything is paused, except that Rose still needs to go to school and to eat her meals, and the laundry must still be done and the bathroom cleaned.”

Adam finds some comfort in being part of a global web of suffering parents:  “It is normal for children to die.  Look at Syria, at Palestine, at Eritrea and Somalia.  Look at the tidelines of beaches in Italy and Greece.  Look, while we’re on the subject, at certain parts of Chicago and Los Angeles.”  He tells Emma that “’the way things are for us now is the normal one, globally and historically.  It’s everyone else who’s anomalous.  Everyone who doesn’t think it could happen to them. . . . It comforts me to think that most parents in most of time and most of the world have lived with this fear as a matter of course.’” 

The message is that we are all fragile and though we should acknowledge the possibility of sudden death, we should not let it dominate our lives:  “there is death and suffering and evil” but “there is beauty” too.  Though we should appreciate life and health and life’s ordinary extraordinariness, “May we forget.  It is a pity that the things we learn in crisis are all to be found on fridge magnets and greeting cards:  seize the day, savour the moment, tell your love – May we live long enough to despise the clichés again, may we heal enough to take for granted sky and water and light, because the state of blind gratitude for breath and blood is not a position of intelligence.”  We must continue living because “’You can’t go round not loving things because they’ll die.’” 

Interspersed with the family narrative are two other stories of rebuilding and moving forward after a catastrophe:  we learn how Coventry cathedral was designed and reconstructed after being bombed during World War II and about Adam’s father’s life in the U.S. after his Jewish parents “crossed the seas to escape bad times.”

Readers in England will undoubtedly note the many criticisms of the National Health Service, the publicly funded healthcare system.  Emma comments that the NHs is so stretched that “’the only people who get treatment are the ones who aren’t safe’” and “’the whole system is now running on the last dregs of the goodwill of burnt-out doctors.’”  Adam notes the injustice “that we are all in a country that pays young women more to impersonate elves in a shop than to give expert care to critically ill children.”

The book shows role-reversal parenting.  It is the woman who is the workaholic who is usually home late and even when home is working.  Adam is usually the only father dropping off and picking up a child at school, and faces challenges because of his gender.  For example, he takes Rose to a swimming pool for a birthday party and has to rely on the help of another woman:  “the father of daughters too young to be sent alone into the women’s changing room . . . must take them with him into the men’s room.  Even stay-at-home dads who know how to use the delicates cycle on the washing machine and clean a toilet before it needs doing can’t go into the women’s changing room.  The power dynamic between small girls and a room full of naked men is not . . . the obvious way round.”  When he waits in the lobby and watches the pool to make certain Rose has come through the changing room to the pool, he is told, “’Some of the mums don’t think it’s right, a man standing there watching the kiddies like that.’”

 Like the other Sarah Moss novels, this one is thought-provoking.  Though it touches on serious topics, there is humour.  And it is so beautifully written and breathtakingly realistic!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Review of THE ASH MUSEUM by Rebecca Smith

4 Stars 

This novel covers five generations of the Ash family over a period of one hundred years; though England is home for the Ashes, there are forays to Canada and India; in fact, two members of the second generation are born in Canada and two members of the third generation are born in India.

The book is about the search for somewhere to feel at home.  In the early twentieth century, Emmeline and Edward try to make a “life as homesteaders” in Canada, but Emmeline finds “The sky was too big.  The land stretched away too far.”  Their grandson Jay, born in India, is brought to England as a teenager.  Though England is his home and he refuses to discuss his childhood in India, he is always looking for “his view”.  His situation is like that of a vagrant pelican seen by Jay’s daughter Emmie and granddaughter Jasmine:  “that pelican, a vagrant, all alone in the wrong country.  What could a vagrant pelican do?  Where would it live?  Was it always on a hopeless quest for another of its kind?”  Emmie, because she is of mixed race, encounters prejudice as a schoolgirl and wants to be like the rhododendrons and azaleas:  “The flowers seemed at home and part of the English forest though their ancestors had come from the Himalayas.”

As the title suggests, the book is organized like a visit to a museum.  There are many short chapters, each one based on an artifact that might have found its way to a museum of the Ash family.  As the introduction makes clear, the tour is not arranged chronologically:  “Our guide offers a path through the museum that we hope visitors will find enjoyable and enlightening.  If you wish to view the displays chronologically . . . you will have to start elsewhere.”  This arrangement is appropriate because it is disorienting at times for the reader, thereby mirroring the disorientation felt by the characters who suffer traumatic loss (a parent, a spouse, a home) and must find a way to proceed. 

The non-chronological structure also allows the reader to see connections that might otherwise be less obvious.  I loved the common interests that appear in various generations.  Emmie and her great-aunt both work in a library.  Emmie and her paternal grandmother Josmi collect pieces of broken china.  Objects are passed down through the family so we see how Emmeline receives a fur coat and how it is eventually used by her great-granddaughter. 

The reader is emotionally engaged in various ways.  Josmi’s fate is heart-wrenching, and Emmie’s experiences at school will shock and anger.  There is sadness because life does not work out for all characters as they might wish, and several people experience tragedy.  But there is also romance, sometimes totally unexpected.  And there is also humour; I especially enjoyed a chapter devoted to Margaret.  She sees a busker with a sign “Spare Change Pleaz” and she thinks, “How could one know if one’s change was actually spare?  The busker was underselling himself too.  If he hadn’t had that sign, people might have been inclined to drop notes rather than coins into his hat.  And he should have had a comma before ‘please’ and spelled it correctly.”

Several issues are examined.  For instance, colonialism is addressed:  “The whole history of mankind . . . is a story of conquering and stealing and taking and selling, of finding ways to dominate, to enclose, and to slaughter.”  Emmie’s thoughts are noteworthy on this topic:  “It was good, Emmie thought, that her [English] grandpa had been one of the people who’d helped make India a great nation, although if it had already been one when England was full of savages, there must have been a time when things went wrong.”  Racism is addressed.  The comments made by Audrey Pheasant and Sue Namey are clearly racist.  Emmie, however, is not subjected to the jeers and physical attacks that a classmate faces:  “Was it because she was a paler shade of brown?  Was it because she was a girl, and so people treated her more kindly or saw her as less of a threat?  Could it have been because people had seen her [white] mum?”

There are many characters, but it is not difficult to differentiate them.  Some I wish had been more developed.  James, for instance, takes Josmi, an Indian woman, as a lover and has two children with her.  He tells her he loves her but he never tells his family about her.  Though she appears in a picture of dancers, James writes to his mother, “You wanted to know who the dancers in the photograph were – those dancers are nobody.”  Did he love Josmi?  Was he too cowardly to say anything to his family?  Was he trying to spare the feelings of Lucinda who was viewed as his intended wife?  Lucinda’s behaviour towards James’ children is admirable, but she seems almost too good to be believable.

This is a very enjoyable read.  It has interesting characters to whom the reader can relate, addresses important issues, and is emotionally engaging.  I enjoy visiting museums so this tour of a family’s artifacts was perfect for me.

Note:  I received an eARC from the publisher.