Monday, April 14, 2014

Netherwood by Jane Sanderson

I have found a new author to enjoy – Jane Sanderson!  Netherwood is a historical fiction novel set around the year 1902 in the fictional town of Netherwood in England.  Eve Williams is the wife of coal miner, Arthur Williams, and the mother of three children.  She is known for her great cooking.  When tragedy strikes, Eve must make the most of her talent to help her family survive.  

The mines at Netherwood are owned by Lord Netherwood.   The Earl has a pretty, but unfaithful wife, an eldest daughter with great management skills, an heir with no management skills or interest in running the estate, and another son and beloved youngest daughter.  He also has a vast staff that sees to the running of the estate.

I loved the weaving together of the various characters and plot lines, it is an epic saga set during a fascinating period in time.  The book is marketed to lovers of Downton Abbey, which includes me!  It is actually set ten years before Downton Abbey and focuses on Eve and the Netherwood aristocratic family’s story.  There are side stories about the servants as well, but they aren’t half of the story as they are in Downton Abbey.  That being said, I think Netherwood stands on its own merits from Downton Abbey as a great book and engrossing saga.  It is not a Downton Abbey clone, but will appeal to those looking for a great story set during a similar time.

I also was very fascinated by the story of the coal miners and their families.  I went to college in Houghton, Michigan, which is the heart of Copper Country.  I took a great class about copper mining and am very interested in it.  I thought Netherwood did a great job of capturing the triumph and tragedy of working in a mine.

Overall, I loved Netherwood and am currently entranced with its sequel, Ravenscliffe.  I highly recommend this book.

Book Source:   Review copy from William Morrow an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.  Thank-you!

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: The Signature of All Things
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Read by:  Juliet Stevenson
Penguin Audio
Length: 21.5 hour (18 CDs)
Source:  Review Copy from Penguin Audio – Thanks!

Eat, Pray, Love, was pure torture for me.  Needless to say, I was wary of picking up another book by Elizabeth Gilbert.  But then I kept hearing wonderful reviews of The Signature of All Things.  It was not a memoir, but a historical fiction novel about a botanist.  That sounded like a book right up my alley.  I put it on my “to read” list and was more than a little happy to receive an audiobook copy from Penguin Books to review.   I was not disappointed by this novel.

Henry Whittaker is a poor Englishman that wants to improve his lot in life. With pluck and a head for business and botany, Henry becomes an 18th century explorer sailing with Captain Cook on Cook’s last voyage.  He eventually ends up in South American learning about the Quinine trade.  He learns everything about to grow it in other locations and to make a great profit. This is the start of his vast botanical empire.  He marries Beatrix, a practical Dutch woman from a botanical family of her own and they settle in Philadelphia, building a grand estate, White Acre.

Henry and Beatrix only have one daughter that lives through childbirth, Alma.  Alma is a plain, sensible girl with a thirst for knowledge and a heart full of passion. Beatrix and Henry have a regimented education for Alma starting from her infancy. She gains a new sister after her parents adopt Prudence, a girl who lost her parents due to tragedy.  Prudence is a beautiful girl and then a beautiful young woman that makes Alma feel for the first time that she is plain.  The two do not form a bond, but become closer when Retta Snow moves next door and inserts herself into the household.  The three grow up together, but a love triangle (or perhaps quadrangle) tears them all apart, and Alma is left alone at White Acre caring for her father and managing the Whittaker estate and business.  
 Alma continues in this role and becomes an expert on moss.  It is not until she is a woman of 48 that she meets the love of her life, Ambrose Pike.  You’ll have to read the book to see what happens next, but Alma discovers herself and journeys around the world from Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam. 

I was riveted.  I loved how Alma was a strong woman that truly discovered herself and came into her own in her fifties.  I liked how I thought I knew what the story was about, but that the book kept surprising me along the way.  I also enjoyed that Gilbert wrote it in the style of a Victorian novel.  I felt like I could have been reading a vintage novel written during that time period.  

This was a great audiobook to listen to.  It was long, but a riveting story.  Juliet Stevenson is a wonderful narrator.  I have enjoyed books she has narrated before, but she was especially excellent narrating The Signature of All Things.  The only part I didn’t like about the book was that there is a CD that dragged on forever where Alma learns how to pleasure herself.  I so didn’t need to hear about it.  I was not on board and thought it was a side bar that should have been edited out.  Then as I continued through the book, it all clicked together on why you learned that about Alma.  

Overall, The Signature of All Things was a unique novel with a strong heroine and a great historical and scientific setting.  I highly recommend it.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Left Neglected was the April Book Club Selection for the FLICKS Book and Movie Club. We just had our meeting this past Thursday and had a fun discussion of the book.  Although the daughter of the host for this month pointed out that we really should be called the eating, drinking, and talking club . . . which is true!

Sarah Nickerson is a mother and a successful business woman as a Vice President of Human Resources at a major company.  Her husband Bob is just as driven at work as Sarah is and together they try to lead the most successful business lives they can while also raising three young children, Charlie, Lucy, and baby Linus.  One day while driving to work on a rainy day, Sarah was paying attention to her phone rather than her driving and was involved in a terrible car accident.  The accident caused her to have a brain injury that basically made her believe that the left side of her body didn’t exist.  

This throws Sarah and Bob’s lives into a tailspin.  Sarah’s estranged mother comes to help out with everything and the two are able to finally talk about the past.  Charlie is diagnosed with ADD and together with Sarah’s diagnosis they work on trying to take the best path forward.  Life does not always turn out the way you want it to, how do you deal with changes in your life’s plan?

I thought this was a great follow-up read to our club’s having read Me Before You by JoJo Moyes a few months ago.  I thought this was a great example of another way that you can move forward after a tragedy.  It was an interesting book, although depressing.  It was worth it for the good ending.  My favorite quote from the book was the following:

 “The civil engineers who planned and designed these roads probably never conceived of this many commuters.”

I love finding quotes about civil or environmental engineers in literature!

Book Source:  Kewaunee Public Library. Thank-you!

The Banishment (Daughters of Mannerly #1) by Marion Chesney

Title: The Banishment (Daughters of Mannerly #1)
Author: Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton)
Read by: Lizzie Stanton
Blackstone Audio
4 hours and 23 minutes
Source: MP3 Audio through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium – Overdrive on my Droid

The Beverly family is very proud of their family estate, Mannerling, and have taught all six of their daughters to be proud as well.  The eldest Miss Beverly, Isabella, is beautiful and has been taught to only accept the very best offer of marriage.  She is more than a little surprised to go an entire season in London without an offer, and also surprised that she was rated a “bore” for only conversing about the wonders of Mannerling.  After returning home to her estate, Isabella is hit with the news that her father has gambled away not only the family fortune, but the beloved Mannerling estate as well. 
Isabella is chosen as the daughter to try to win the heart of the new owner of Mannerling, Mr. Judd.  Mr. Judd is not the nicest of fellows and Isabella finds herself longing to spend more time with her neighbor, Viscount Fitzgerald.  As an Irish peer he was considered not good enough for Isabella before Mannerling was lost, but as a true gentleman, Isabella wonders if her previous prejudices should not be reconsidered.

I really enjoyed this short audiobook.  I LOVE regency romances and this sweet and simple story hit the spot in a particularly stressful period of my life.  Lizzie Stanton was a great narrator.  I look forward to listening to the next in the series.  Jane Austen this is not, but if you like regency romance novels, this will probably hit the spot.