The London Season

Past Imperfect by Julian Fellows was published in 2008. I happened upon it recently at the library. I am grateful I did because I loved it!

This is a “What If” story about an extremely wealthy Englishman named Damian who, at the end of his life, enlists the aid of a former friend in effort to locate a child he may have fathered many years prior. Having no heirs or relatives to leave his fortune to, Damian reaches out to the man he wronged asking for an immense favor. Damian wants his former friend to contact a number of women who might have borne him a child forty years earlier; a child to whom he intends to leave his fortune.

Weird thing about the former friend is that although he narrates the story, his name never appears in it!  There are however, many other names of the high society men and women with whom he interacts in this who had the baby/heir story. Fellows does a fine job of weaving the past with the present as his nameless narrator connects the present with his past all the while filling-in missing information.

I liked a great deal of this novel; especially Fellows’ knowledge of the hidden rules of the English upper class. In addition, his story made me take my own walk down memory lane. I reflected on the relationships I had with people 40 years ago and wondered to myself where all those people are now easily imagining if we were to meet now, we would be strangers having missed the in-between. This novel gave me new-found respect for the author. I highly recommend it.

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Held Hands

A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson is a wonderful memoir. In it, the author traces the interesting lives of seven generations of women in her family. Beginning with a famous great-great-grandmother who was a European flamenco dancer, and ending with her own story and those of her children and granddaughters, Nicolson, with the assistance of copious written records, reveals secrets and sorrows which help to define her life and the lives of the people who preceded hers in the family tree.

There are many beautifully written truths in this soul-searching memoir which I loved. I plan to mark them in order that I may look to them for support whenever I need a hand to hold. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

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Water, Water Everywhere

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is a highly publicized novel which came as a disappointment to me. Although there were things I liked about the book, the positives were far outweighed by negative reactions I had to a number of plot twists.

Because the story centers on the missing loving father of a seemingly innocent girl, I forged from beginning to end waiting for an answer to his whereabouts. The mysterious disappearance hooked me, but there was literally so much water in one form or another that I became drenched in an extremely unbelievable story.

For anyone reading this who has read the book, I must say that I found the life choices of Anna, the daughter, ludicrous at best.

My recommendation is to steer clear of this novel. It was too far-fetched for this reader.

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And Then There Were None

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris is a recent random pick off the library shelf. I didn’t realize at the time that I’d previously read and abandoned another of this author’s books. This time, I completed the book.

The story here is about a group of men and women who work for an advertising agency in Chicago which is rapidly shrinking due to a downturn in business. It is also about the employees reaction to news that their female boss has breast cancer. Both are weighty topics.

As a Chicago area native, I could relate to many local references in the novel. I’ve experienced business cutbacks as well so that too struck a painful chord. And even further, lost loved ones to breast cancer. The combination of the three made this an interesting read.

Despite the serious nature of the topics covered, Ferris interjects office humor which lightens the mood. I enjoyed the book almost all the way through. Towards the end, the story jumps to somewhere down the road in time and I felt like I missed something. It was as if the author thought it was time to wrap it up so he hit fast forward.

This is a short novel so I didn’t feel horribly cheated. I think Ferris is a writer with potential. I will keep my eyes open to see what he comes up with in the future. Much of this story hit home with me! I think anyone who has worked in an office will appreciate this novel.

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Triple Jeopardy

The U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos is comprised of three historical fiction novels – The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money. Published in 1938, the style of the books is unique. In addition to fictional stories, the author incorporated sections titled Newsreel and The Camera Eye. The thought process behind these sections are lengthy and best described by experts in the novel’s Foreward. Had I not read it, I would not have understood the author’s use of them.

After reading these books over a long period of time, I understand why the trilogy is included in the Top 150 Novels list. Dos Passos is an excellent writer who vividly describes the times in which he lived. He captures the sentiment and suffering of the common man during the early 20th century. The novels also include portraits of famous people such as Henry Ford, Isadora Duncan, Lindbergh, Stalin, and many others.

Although the stories contained in these novels are on the depressing side, I believe they have historical merit because they illustrate what life was like during the era of great change, war, and ideological upheavals. The book collection preserves the thoughts and actions of the common men and women who toiled and fought and lived and died. The writing is superb. I recommend one or all of the trilogy if you have the time to read them.

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Across the Pond

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff is the sequel to a book I read earlier entitled 34 Charing Cross Road. I strongly encourage you to read Charing Cross Road if you intend to read this book in order that it will make sense.

In this memoir, Hanff leaves NYC after her first book, based on her 20 year correspondence with a bookseller in London, has been published and well-received. The trip is one Helene has long dreamed of and she takes-off for England with much anticipation and a shoestring budget.

This short book is a diary of Hanff’s daily experiences. Having never traveled to any extent, it is filled with humorous observations written by a 55-year-old, martini drinking, single female with high expectations and a low tolerance threshold.

I recommend both books; especially for lovers of literature, travel, and history.  Hanff doesn’t mince words and that is what I get a kick out of in addition to her knowledge of great books. Enjoy!

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Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, A Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard is an engrossing, informative non-fiction history written by a talented author.

Churchill is another historical leader I find fascinating. What I loved about this book, is that it describes a period in young Churchill’s life rather than his role during World War II. The story is new to me and provided me with additional insight into the life strategy to which Churchill ascribed. He had a plan and always believed he was destined for greatness. In this book, we learn how he planned early on to achieve that goal using heroic action on the field of battle.

Surprisingly, his capture and escape from a prison camp in Africa while employed as a military correspondent and not as a soldier ended-up being his ticket to advancement in the political arena.

This is an exciting story which is well-written and researched. It further cemented my admiration of Churchill and my belief in his courageous nature and tenacious drive to accomplish his goals.

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