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Friday, November 9, 2012

I've Got a Secret


Growing up, I was addicted to I've Got a Secret, a game show in which four celebrity panelists had to discover a guest's secret. The show, first hosted by Garry Moore and then by Steve Allen, ran from 1952 to 1967, revealed mostly innocuous secrets like Harpo Marx disguised as his brother, Chico; the last surviving witness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; and little-known Olympic and World records. I used to love trying to outguess the panelists; to figure out by their questions what the secret was.

Much like this week as I read The Secret Keeper: A Novel1, by Kate Morton. Until almost the very end, even though Morton sprinkled her beguiling story with lots of subtle hints, I was flummoxed trying to suss out the secret of Dorothy Smitham, Laurel Nicholson's 90-year-old mother dying of cancer. Juxapositioning events in modern-day England with past events during the London Blitz of 1941, Morton does a fine job of mesmerizing her reader in this mildly Gothic, psychological mystery that is steeped in intrigue. Well, it's not really a mystery, per se, so much as a complex machination of four deeply-flawed characters whose lives intertwine. It opens with the killing of a minor protagonist, but we know who did it. The mystery—Dorothy's secret—lies not in the what, but in the why—the participatory, almost heroic reasons that causes her to...Well, I'd spoil it for you if I said anything more. But in following Laurel's quest to uncover and then eventually keep her mother's secret, we are methodically and spell-bindingly led to the astonishing answers.

The Secret Keeper is, as all of Kate Morton's novels are, my kind of book. Like her previous three (The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, and The Distant Hours), it has just about everything a good read should have: believably real-life characters; intrigue; history; lasting romance; descriptive, narrative passages; and a strikingly fresh, unassuming writing style that fluidly carries the plot line along to its unexpected surprise ending. Okay, maybe not so unexpected, as the clues Morton weaves into her story should be relatively unproblematic for the savvy reader to piece together. But, still, this is a novel that kept me captivated—and nearly flummoxed—from the opening paragraph on through to the bitter-sweet ending.

A relatively young Australian-based author, Morton combines her vast knowledge of English history with her love of both the dramatic arts and English literature—she holds a degree in each—into a rich tapestry whose thematic threads will keep you, as it did me, thoroughly engrossed. To say that Morton is a great writer, one who should appeal to adult readers everywhere, is almost an understatement. But, to tell the truth, it's not a secret.

~~~~~~
1 © 2012 by Kate Morton. 418 pages; hardback First Edition published October 2012 by ATRIA Books, A Division of Simon & Shuster, Inc., New York, NY.

 
11:26 am est          Comments

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

'Tis a Gift to Be...
 

It always amazes me how quickly the seasons change. One day it's warm and sunny and I'm out on the tennis courts, and the next it's bitingly cold outside and I'm huddled inside under a blanket by the fireplace trying to keep warm. Most of the leaves in my neighborhood have fallen, and a few local stores have started to put up Christmas lights and advertise holiday sales; which heralds the advent of Thanksgiving only two weeks away. Now, I guess, is the time to start thinking about gifts, and the real meaning of the gift of giving.

Parallel to my last posting about The Giving Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini, today’s is also about giving of oneself. And, like Jennifer's latest novel, An Amish Gift: A Novel**
by Cynthia Keller is also set in eastern Pennsylvania. Indulge me, folks. I am on a distinct roll here with a pattern to my current reading habits. Thanks to the editors of AuthorExposure.com, I was sent an advanced electronic version of Keller's novel, which was just released in hardback and in e-reader format last week on October 30. Here is the review that I wrote for them.

Amish comprise the majority of Lancaster County, where tourists clogging small towns ogle a quaint culture whose way of life, deeply rooted in Germanic/Dutch traditions, eschews “modern” electricity, language, music, fashions, alcohol, and motor-driven vehicles. A tourist myself, I often wonder what it would be like to be neighbors.

In An Amish Gift , the fourth of Cynthia Keller’s Amish-themed novels, Jennie Davis and her family—husband, Shep; their two teenagers, Tim and Willa; and Scout, their loving Labrador—find the true meaning of giving when they move into the heart of Lancaster farm country. An inheritance from Shep’s unknown, elderly distant cousin includes a small, neglected, run-down house next to a dairy farm and, in town, a grimy, bicycle shop, the business of which, Shep, as the new proprietor, is determined to “make work”, despite previous failures that left his family in dire straights. Tim and Willa are soon disappointed with their new circumstances, set up barriers, and distance themselves from their parents and new schoolmates. Jennie, hoping the house and business “with no [financial] strings attached” will be a “new beginning”, tries to put a positive spin on their “lost cause”. She thinks to herself in the first captivating chapter that “[we] …will simply find a way through…it would work out…” together.

But Jenny soon finds herself left alone trying to make the house a home, ends meet, and keep the family together. On an early morning walk with Scout, she meets Mattie Fisher, Amish mother of eight, who, with her husband, Abraham, owns the large diary farm a half-mile from the Davises’. Jenny becomes friends with Mattie, drawing strength from her calming demeanor and quiet, stoic resilience. Their families soon intermingle. Bonds of friendship form between Tim and Peter, Mattie’s eldest; Willa and Hattie’s daughter, Nan; and even aloof Shep becomes close to Abraham, helping to mend fences and milk cows. In this charming novel, Keller paces Jenny and Mattie through a year of tragedies and heartaches as the two neighboring families face, share, and overcome daily trials and tribulations together.

I really enjoyed this easy-to-read, yet intricately poignant novel which can be enjoyed by both older teens and adults. Keller paints a realistic “insider’s view” of Amish life, emphasizing how its seemingly “simplistic” culture can give complex gifts of wisdom and strength to even the most troubled and obdurate “outsider”. Jenny’s innermost thoughts and feelings are revealed as she, inspired by Mattie and her family, tackles hard tasks to bring warmth, love, and stability back into her own. The straight-forward plotline, also relating Jennie’s and Shep’s past, is true-to-life. The protagonists are so carefully sculpted with intimate insights into their psyches that I felt as if the Davis and Fisher families were friends of mine, living right next door.

This is a great holiday read that will buoy the reader up with joy and tear-jerking warmth as Jennie shares both tangible and intangible gifts of the heart with her friends and family.
 
I recommend that you add An Amish Gift to both your holiday reading and gift-giving lists. It's a great read that should not be missed.
~~~~~~
** © 2012 Cynthia Keller. 256-pages; hrdbk. Ballantine Books, New York, NY.

12:24 pm est          Comments


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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:

the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Forty-Thirty 
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast

Bethlehem

Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood

 

 

Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her fourth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
and 
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA
.

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,