Posted on February 15, 2011 by willbranthicks
This book works on several levels: as a convoluted gothic yarn, as a mystery, and as a collection of love stories and love-denied stories. I started it at the end (thankfully) of a reading drought, in which little really interested me. The Distant Hours sufficed quite nicely – although the book took some time to get going, I eventually got hooked on its interlocking storylines that pack in family intrigue, a supernatural character in a classic (fictional) book, and a bookish protagonist circa 1992.
The main setting for the novel is Milderhurst Castle, a centuries old manor in southeastern England. The Blythe family has lived in Milderhurst for forgotten ages, and Raymond Blythe is famed as a writer of a bestselling children’s book. He has three daughters from two different wives and dotes on his children, perhaps a little too strangely. As they grow up, the castle and its immediate surroundings become both a refuge and a prison for the three, as their father’s peculiar expectations of them psychologically tie them to the castle and its upkeep. The youngest sister, Juniper, makes the most valiant attempt to flee when she actually moves to London in 1941 and falls in love. But, it’s not meant to be…
The book jumps between the early World War II era and fifty years later, when Edie, the main character, finds out through old family letters and talks with her mother how they are linked to the Blythe sisters and their uncanny fate. Edie’s mother actually stayed at Milderhurst for a year during the war and became friends with Juniper. It is Juniper’s letter that arrives fifty years too late that startles Edie’s usually staid mother and jolts Edie into digging further.
Family madness, murder, and the curious conceit of the Mud Man, a character from Raymond Blythe’s book, all add up to a satisfying read, with enough shocks towards the end to keep you going – just the ticket for a rainy thunderous night (and there are plenty of them here).
(William Hicks, Information Services)
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Posted on September 9, 2009 by willbranthicks
When I first started reading this book, the premise of it struck me as something like “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” in an English manor house setting. All the elements of a Gothic thriller are here – the grand but crumbling mansion, skeletons in the closet, etc. The narrator is Ginny, the older of two sisters who has lived at her family’s estate house largely alone; her sister Vivian left abruptly some 47 years ago. The story begins with Vivian’s return. Ginny is unnerved at her sister’s presence and its disruption on her daily routine. Totally at a loss as to her sister’s motives, Ginny shadows her fervently, convinced that Vivian wants something more than just a convivial reunion. Tempers flare, the proverbial closet-bound skeletons are let out, and…well, you’ll have to read it.
The manor house in The Sister is a character in its own right, a silent partner to Ginny and her reclusiveness, yet uncannily alive, a bricks and mortar creature that protests against its own decay and neglect. The descriptions of the house and of the surrounding Dorset countryside bring a breath of life to the book, which does have its dry passages; the reader will probably learn far more about moths than they care to know. The interesting parts are the flashbacks – the family history that gradually reveals Ginny and Vivian as adversaries rather than loving sisters. It’s well worth reading as a study in dysfunctionality and how perceptions within a family differ from sibling to sibling.
(William Hicks, Information Services)
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Posted on June 24, 2009 by willbranthicks
If you’ve enjoyed Jan Karon’s Mitford series, you may be interested in Medlicott’s bestselling Covington series. Like Karon’s novels, these books are set in a small town in the North Carolina mountains, and, as in the Mitford series, the main characters are senior citizens who provide loving assistance to local residents of all ages. The series tells the stories of three women, Grace, Amelia, and Hannah, who share a home in a small town. Despite some tensions and arguments, they provide each other with support.
The series begins with The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love, and I recommend that you begin there and read the novels in order. While I have not read the earlier books in the series and therefore found it a bit difficult to get into Promises of Change, the eighth book, I soon understood enough of the characters’ pasts to feel as though I was reading about old friends and to decide to watch for future books in the series. If you plan to start at the beginning and to read the entire series, you may want to stop reading this review now to avoid spoiling the suspense as you read the earlier books!
In Promises of Change, Hannah is happily married to Max, who lives across the street from the ladies, although she continues to maintain her home with Amelia and Grace. Max’s estranged son Zachary returns from India, bringing his pregnant wife with him. While the three women and Max all welcome the young family with open arms, Zachary brings many tense moments to everyone around him, and Hannah fears that her happy, peaceful life will be forever spoiled. Amelia enjoys her new career as a photographer but worries that the young woman whom she views as her daughter may move away. Max wonders if his dairy business is too much for him because of his advancing age and his other interests. Grace assists a young character who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, and many of the local people lose money in a scam. The young minister in the local church struggles with the difficulties of counseling parishioners. And these are just a few of the many story lines!
(Helen Snow, Information Services)
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Posted on August 4, 2005 by willbranthicks
The Rose Queen
The Chocolate Lover
The Venetian Policeman
The Unsuspecting Gourmet
Why would an all-black-wearing, music-loving, ethnic food-eating, shoes-are-important-to- me teenage girl from Queens move with her older sister to the middle of nowhere America, also known as Venice, Indiana, also known as “the Europe of the Midwest”? Well, it wasn’t for the Chinese food. Sophie and Sam Shattenberg find themselves in America’s heartland and on the run from their evil stepmother after their father dies. They now have to lay low and blend in because when they ran, they took $300,000 from their father’s bank account, which legally should have gone to their stepmother. As if being a felon, a fifteen year old and the new girl in town isn’t difficult enough, Sophie becomes the prime suspect in the disappearance of Venice’s most unlikable popular girl. When Sophie and Sam decide to hurry matters along by finding the missing Rose Queen themselves, they embark on an exciting new hobby of private investigation, specializing in missing persons. And really, how ironic is it that two teens who are trying desperately to stay missing persons themselves are so good at finding other missing persons?
The four books in this series so far are fun, quick reads that are full of mystery, humor and just a little romance. The Young Adult Library Association chose this series for its annual “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers” list.
(Brandon Bensley, Children’s Department)
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