Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Storycatcher - by Ann Hite

The Storycatcher
by Ann Hite


Shelly Parker is a 16-year-old, naïve, black servant to a white household in the North Carolina mountains during the Depression. She seriously despises the young white lady she is required to serve. She is also jealous of her, because this white child is in love with Shelly's older brother. Will leaves abruptly, without a note for her or her mother, but Shelly suspects something more serious is the cause. After Will leaves, Shelly is visited by the ghost of a young black girl, born in the 1870s. Shelly tries to ignore the ghost, but she is drawn into her story. Before the story's end, Shelly will experience the very real situations the ghost of Armetta Lolly needs to have aired before she can be at rest. It has been a long story in the making. Shelly must catch the story before everything comes unraveled and the price for the truth costs her life.

My Review
I had a hard time with the alternating first person writing style. The book has a family tree including many of the speaking characters, but not every person speaking is in that tree. It's a bit hard to follow, but it's worth pushing on through. This story is set in the mountains of North Carolina and alternates with the salt-water marshes of Georgia. There is an undercurrent of unease, and the very first line of the story pulls the reader in like an undertow. A white man from New York City is bringing his black girlfriend to visit Georgia during the Great Depression. How could you not hold your breath for the coming storm? 

As you read on, you encounter women with very different opinions and actions, both white and black. It's filled with tension, and it isn't long before there's a murder with blame placed on the racial scapegoat. These women react differently to such events, and while they are polarized by the racial norm, they also find common ground. The story twists and turns as everyone tries to maintain their footing, even the shades, ghosts, and memories fade in and out of the telling.

Shelly, a 16-year-old black girl, must help other ghosts tell their story. They are bound to the people, places, and events until the telling brings them peace. Once satisfied, they can move on to their well-deserved rest. Shelly must find strength to stand up to the white preacher, Pastor Dobbins, and discover his horrible past that sent him to Black Mountain. I found myself cheering her on, and was surprised by the person who provided the support she needed. 

I loved the colorful descriptions, the amazing history, and the final justification this story wove. Even now, days after reading, I find myself drawn back to the story. While it takes a little effort to read, this story completely makes sense, and the telling with multiple first person insight is brilliant. Don't pass this story over. Even if you are less impressed than I was, you'll be amazed at the rich history of the time and the veiled struggles of the day.

Moderate sexual tension and situations, PG13. Sexual discussion is appropriate for the time for behind-the-scenes descriptions among women. Does not rise to the level of erotica.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Banquet of Lies by Michelle Diener

Banquet of Lies
Banquet of Lies
by Michelle Diener

Widely-traveled Giselle Barrington has accompanied her father on many of his business ventures abroad where he also doubles as a spy for the Crown. She hopes to write a book one day about the stories she has learned from the places they have visited, including the recipes she has collected. Fate, however, has other plans. Quite suddenly, her father is murdered while she hides just feet from him in the dark garden at a gala event. She becomes the subject of an intense and hostile hunt fleeing from Switzerland back to her homeland in England. She knows she cannot return to their home while protecting her father's last secret, but to whom can she turn for safe shelter and a place to puzzle out the identity of her father's killer? Set in 1812, the world is in the throes of war, women are seen only in domestic duties within a clear caste system of propriety and conduct, and only the spies are free to roam. Allegiances are questioned and subterfuge complicates every seemingly normal action. Can she save her own skin and return with honor to the life her father intended?

My review 

I had a hard time setting this book down. I literally read each night until my eyes burned. Diener has a great writing style, and this little gem is an easy to follow mystery full of vibrant visual images. She shows masterful skill at just sketching the details of the shadow man allowing your mind to fill in every dark and deceitful detail. Heroine Gigi (Giselle) is often caught in compromising situations that have her questioning her own decisions at every turn. The story is perfectly balanced with all types of tension at just the right moments. Diener's characters are full of life and suitably complicated, filling the story with life without wasting a word.

I wanted to fall in love with Lord Aldrich, but he had just enough bad boy in him that made me, and Gigi, hesitate. He's also a battle-tested soldier in Her Majesty's service. He returned home when his brother passed on to take up the reigns of his family's manor and concomitant social responsibilities. Although the Crown is at war with France, he dreams of having a French chef, and he gets one thinking it a good stroke of luck. He begins to hear questions of loyalty from his club cronies, and the head of his own house staff. He gets suitably concerned and begins to pay close attention to the woman hired as his chef.

Gigi needs a place to hide, but also needs to be close enough to her family home to keep a wary eye out for the man who murdered her father. She has always had a flair for cooking ever since her French mother began teaching her traditional cuisine as a child. What better way to hide in plain sight? She is careful to speak a broken mix of English and French, and exudes the perfect temper and kitchen attitude to complete the persona. Her every move is watched by the butler, the Lord, and the shadow man who is after that missing document. Close calls and accusations leave her exposed as a spy, but there seems no one who can come to her aide. Sadly, her decision to hide as a French chef doesn't seem as wise as she first thought.

If you love intrigue, a glimpse of the back-scenes of high and low society in London in the early 19th century, you'll enjoy this book. Clever clandestine tricks, handsome and powerful men, some sordid household relationships, and the wonderful backdrop of London, it's Indiana Jones meets Downton Abbey and it WORKS!