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Posts Tagged ‘new england’

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The Van Meter family are gathering at their New England island holiday home to celebrate the wedding of oldest daughter Daphne. Patriarch Winn Van Meter should be looking forward to a joyous weekend, but he is facing it all with a kind of dread. He feels age creeping up on him; discontented with his life, and harbouring a lust for an entirely inappropriate woman, the scene is set for a disastrous couple of days. Meanwhile his youngest daughter Livia is recovering after a relationship break-up, his wife Biddy is patiently trying to ignore her husband’s erratic behaviour – and just why won’t the Pequot gentlemans’ club accept him as a member?!

I am in two minds about this book. The things I liked were: Maggie Shipstead’s turn of phrase. She has an amusingly cynical turn of phrase which made me smile in places at the absurdity of the situations. And…nope, that’s actually about all I liked.

What I didn’t like was almost all of the characters. It’s not necessary for me to like a character in order to enjoy a book, but there has to be something about them that makes me want to read about them – if not likeable, then they should be interesting. This book is told mostly from Winn’s point of view (albeit in the third person) and quite frankly he is not likeable, not interesting and ultimately pretty pathetic. I don’t think he is meant to be a likeable character, but I don’t know whether he is meant to be quite so exasperating. I am not sure in fact why anyone in his family puts up with him; he’s basically a privileged, narrow minded, self-centred egotist, complaining about how hard done to he is. Nothing is his fault, it’s always someone else to blame.

Livia was probably the second most prominent character and she wasn’t much better, although her youth and heartbreak excuse her somewhat. Unfortunately the most likeable characters – Dominique, Greyson and Biddy – are never really explored, because they are the most level headed and decent among the party, and this book is not about level headed decent people!

I realise it’s meant to be satire, but despite the eloquence of the writing, it’s not really funny enough to work. It’s not awful – it certainly held my attention – but it’s just…meh! While I realise that money and privilege does not preclude people from being depressed and unhappy, the things that were causing Winn to be miserable were so ridiculous it was just hard to feel any sympathy at all. I can see that some people might love this book – regrettably I’m not one of them.

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This book is aimed at young adults, but can definitely be enjoyed by older readers too.  Weaving fiction with fact, it tells the story of Mary Chase, a young girl living in Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 17th century, at the time of the infamous witch trials.  Mary and her mother and brother are horrified as a group of young girls accuse various members of the community of committing heinous supernatural deeds, and call them witches.  After being given only the flimsiest of trials, the women, and some men, are punished by hanging.  Despite their upset and anger, Mary does not initially know just how close to home the terror will strike, and when it does, she has to act fast to save those she loves.

I liked this book, partly because the subject itself is so fascinating, and also because there was actually a great story in there too.  The characterisation is not as strong as it maybe could have been, and the story did not always move quickly, but in a way that was a good thing – there was this creeping sense of terror, as it slowly dawned on people that they might be the next accused.  Also, some people found to their cost that to speak out against the accusers and the way the accused were being treated was also dangerous.

Although Mary and her family, and some of the other characters are fictional, there are many characters including the accusers and most of the victims of the persecution who were real people, and whose fates did transpire as they do in the book.  It would be an interesting introduction to the subject of the Salem Witch Trials, for anybody who wants to learn more the subject, although it is worth bearing in mind that some place names and dates have been changed (there is an author’s note at the back where she explains such changes).

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Set in 19th century New England, this is the story of Ren, a young boy who lives at St Anthony’s orphanage.  Ren cannot remember his life before he came to St Anthony’s as a baby, he has no idea who or where his parents are, and he certainly cannot remember why he only has one hand.  He is considered unlikely to ever be chosen for adoption, but one day a charismatic young man called Benjamin Nab calls at the orphanage claiming to be Ben’s older brother.  Ren leaves with this man, but it soon becomes clear that Benjamin is a fraudster and a criminal.  

The young boy soon finds himself involved with thieves, grave-robbers and murderers, and his hopes and dreams of ever finding a proper family seem to be fading fast.  Will Ren manage to disentangle himself from his new and dangerous lifestyle?  And will he ever uncover the truth about his parents?

I have divided thoughts on this book.  There are plenty of positives – I loved the atmosphere – I did feel that the writing evoked the time and place where the action was happening.  There were also a lot of fascinating characters within the story – it was hard to like some of them, but they certainly made an impact and for the most part were very well drawn and distinctive.  The writing is also eloquent and descriptive.

However, I did find that there were a couple of coincidences which occurred in the narrative that just seemed too convenient and lacked credibility.  Also, a few of the lesser characters seemed to be drawn from strong stereotypes, and at times there was a little too much going on – much of which seemed to serve no purpose in the storyline.

Overall however, this is an assured debut novel, and I would certainly be interested to read more  by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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