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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

MAGICAL ISLAND, SECRETS, & BETRAYALS -- A REVIEW

Our story opens in the current day, with an elderly woman named Anne sharing some time with her granddaughter Jennifer. But then Anne discovers a letter...something that catapults her back in time, to 1942, and her year on a South Pacific Island during WWII.

We are there with her then, as she tells the story in the first person narrative. Uncertain of the future she has chosen for herself with her fiancé Gerard, she decides to join a group of Army nurses in Bora Bora. She accompanies her lifelong friend Kitty.

At first the story unfolds slowly and gradually, which is perfect, since it gives the reader the opportunity to really see the setting, incorporate the many experiences, and understand the numerous layers to the characters.

At the heart of this story is an old bungalow—more of a hut, actually—but a budding romance begins here and soon is the key theme. It becomes the centerpiece for something truly magical, and some secrets shared here are the kinds that stay with the characters for the rest of their lives. Additionally, there is nothing like being in the midst of a war zone to accentuate vulnerabilities and remind people of potential losses. Some real losses add up in the following pages.

What defining moments toward the end of Anne's stay on the Island will inform the rest of her life? What does Kitty do to sever the bond between them? And how does a violent act feel like another kind of betrayal?

As The Bungalow: A Novel drew to a close, I was rapidly turning pages as the final keys to the puzzle began to fall into place. Not all secrets were revealed...some puzzling elements left the reader wondering. But these details only added to the somewhat surreal experiences shared by the characters. Absolutely wonderful and a definite five star read for me. Recommended for those who loved Jio's first book, The Violets of March: A Novel, as well as anyone who enjoys a good mystical setting and a bit of romantic suspense.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

THE LONG TERM EFFECTS OF MISTAKEN ALLEGATIONS....

In a story that seemingly opens upon an ordinary, yet hot summer day in the year 1935, we meet several characters in a family, from the youngest daughter Briony to her older sister Cecilia. Their "cousins from the North" are arriving, and Briony, who fancies herself to be a talented writer, has created a play. One that will really impress her older brother Leon.

At thirteen, Briony is at that age when she thinks she knows more than she does, and, in fact, she must drive that point home in every situation. Unfortunately, this trait will change her life and the lives of everyone around her by the day's end.

A young man named Robbie Turner, the housekeeper's son, will make several appearances throughout the day, and in one such encounter, Briony sees Cecilia and him at the fountain, interacting in a way that confuses and astounds her. Later, a series of events involving a letter, another encounter, and in the evening, something that seems like a sexual attack will set in motion life-changing moments that will unwind and unfold irrevocably, casting Robbie as a violent predator and severing the ties of a family.

Throughout the pages of Atonement, we follow Robbie in his war struggles and are privy to his thoughts about Cecilia, with whom he corresponds; he seems to be hanging on to the thread of an idea that something might change, that Briony has recanted.

Then we jump to Briony, who has turned to the back breaking and difficult challenge of nursing, turning away from her dream of writing. Is she trying to make amends in some way?

Throughout her life, she regrets what happened, and even writes various "fictional" accounts of that day. But will she be able to atone for what she did? Does she now understand the irreversible damage?

The final portion of the book shows Briony as a woman of seventy-seven, celebrated at a birthday party. In the moments leading up to her party and afterwards, she seems contemplative, reflective, and possibly sorry.

Let me say that the story was absolutely chilling in portraying the long term effects of mistaken allegations. Perhaps in some ways, we see Briony "pay" with the losses, but in the end, she has people around her. What of Cecilia and Robbie? I do not believe that Briony "innocently" made her charges out of misunderstanding. In my opinion, she was a vindictive, selfish little girl who wanted more attention than she was getting and found a way to obtain it. The fact that she had a somewhat successful writing career after all, and was celebrated...well, she did not pay enough. Let us say that I found everything about this character repugnant.

The story was one I shall never forget, even though at times it moved slowly, bogged down by details that felt cumbersome. Brilliant writing kept me going, however, as did my curiosity about how the author would bring about the final "atonement." Four stars.

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Mary Ann in Autumn: A Tales of the City NovelHanna's DaughtersMiss Hildreth Wore BrownElizabethSolomon's OakSolomon's Oak

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