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review 2018-05-28 23:27
FROM HAPPENSTANCE, LOVE
Miss You - Kate Eberlen

4:57 PM EST. A few minutes ago, I finished reading this novel, my eyes brimming with tears. I am now basking in an afterglow of quasi-orgasmic satisfaction, for this was a story that spoke to my heart and mind, captivating me throughout its 433 pages.

The story begins in Florence (Italy) in August 1997. Two young ladies from the UK - friends from childhood - are nearing the end of a summer holiday before each will embark on different paths. Tess, who had recently received her A-levels, has secured a place at University College in London. Her close friend, "Doll" (her full name is Maria Dolores O'Neill), is set to be a beautician. "Doll" is the lively, engaging, vivacious, ballsy sort of friend who is a nice complement to Tess who is deeply sensitive, quietly resilient, a bit naive about some of the ways of the world, with an abiding passion for art and literature. 

Then there is 'Gus' (short for Angus) who is also in Florence at the same time. He is with his parents. Together they are the picture of the staid, self-contained English family. Gus is the dutiful son. But inwardly, he is uneasy and anxious given that he will soon be going to London to study medicine, to become more independent and learn who he really is. While exploring the city on his own, Gus has a chance meeting with Tess. It was a fleeting, awkward encounter for both of them - as such meetings between 2 people can be, especially if there is a sudden, mutual attraction. 

Sometime later, Tess and Gus meet a third time near the Ponte Vecchio. Gus was standing in line for ice cream when "... I'd felt a tap on my shoulder, and there she was again, smiling as if we'd known each other all our lives and were about to go on some amazing adventure together." Tess then informs him about "this brilliant gelato place just down Via dei Neri where you can get about six for the price of one here!" In response, Gus tells Tess that "I don't think I could manage six!" Ruefully, he then confesses to the reader that "[m]y attempt at wit had come out sounding pompous and dismissive. I wasn't very good at talking to girls." I could totally relate to Gus when you find yourself unexpectedly in the presence of a person who is singularly attractive to you. But you're at a loss for words in a vain attempt to both impress and ingratiate yourself with that person. Opportunity lost. In Gus' case, he "stared at [Tess] like a moron with sentences jostling for position in my head as her smile faded from sparkling to slightly perplexed before she hurried off to catch up with her friend." 

Each succeeding chapter follows the paths made by both Gus and Tess over the next 16 years. Gus tells his developing story in one chapter in a given year that is followed by Tess sharing with the reader the ups and downs in which she found herself in that same year. Most of Gus' life is clouded over by the tragic death of his older brother, who is clearly the apple of his parents' eyes. Tess returns home and is soon engulfed by a family tragedy that will seismically alter the trajectory of her life. And yet, through the passing of years, the reader is witness to how chance or Fate may bring together or keep apart 2 people perhaps destined for each other.   Example: Gus attends in July 2013 a Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park (London), where "[a]bout six people in front of me, I noticed a tall woman tracking the ephemeral silvery-white image as it floated over her head, her expression as innocently delighted as a child gazing up at a circus trapeze artist, her lips syncing with the words of the song. Almost as if she had sensed me watching her, our eyes met, her mouth stopped moving and time stood still. Then the butterfly flew away and her face merged back into the darkness."

The ecstacy and the agony. Both Gus and Tess became real people to me the more I read this novel. And as I said earlier, once I read the last sentence, I wanted to cry. But felt embarrassed to do so, though I was alone in my apartment. (I wonder if the author of "MISSING YOU" has received any offers to auction off the rights for a movie adaptation. If so, this novel could be made into a really good movie - provided the mistakes are avoided that bedeviled the movie adaptation of David Nicholls' novel, "One Day".)

Suffice it to say, "MISSING YOU" is a winner.

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review 2018-03-31 15:58
A NOVEL THAT READS LIKE A PATCHWORK PLAY
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

"EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN" offers the reader a broad look into the lives of 4 people between September 1939 and June 1942. First there's Alistair Heath and his friend Tom Shaw. Both of them were sharing a place in London at the time war was declared. Alistair promptly enlisted in the Army while Tom (who didn't share Alistair's keenness to join the Forces and felt that the war would soon resolve itself) continued in his job in the education department. Then there's Mary North and her childhood friend Hilda. Mary - who hails from an affluent background with a father a Member of Parliament - returned to the UK from finishing school in Switzerland, set on finding a job that would put her in the heart of the war effort. She ends up being placed in a school to teach a number of pupils, one of whom is an illiterate African American boy named Zachary (whose father came over to the UK to work as an entertainer in a minstrel show). It proves to be a short-lived job as Mary's class is relocated to the countryside without her. Mary goes to see Tom - who has some pull in the system - to see if she can be placed in another teaching position. 

In the meantime, Alistair proceeds with his training, endures a rigorous, extended outdoor exercise, and is later sent to France with his unit. 

While the writing is generally good, the story of these 4 people as the war went on, didn't really gell with me. Mary seemed rather flippant, though she had a certain, at times admirable forthrightness. Once she got it in her mind that she was in love with Tom, she went after him. Tom comes across as the self-effacing, tight-lipped Englishman. Alistair's unit got caught up in the chaos of the German Blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the spring of 1940 and barely manages to escape to Britain via Dunkirk. He returns as a shell-shocked officer. For him, the war has already changed his outlook in many ways. He and Tom get together and Tom coaxes him into going out on a date with him and Mary and Hilda. Hilda sees the war as a great adventure and is eager to find a man who suits her fancy. Alistair seems to fit the bill. But the date was rather odd. I won't spell out the particulars of it. But shortly afterwards, Alistair's unit is posted overseas and the relationships among the 4 people become strange and rather convoluted. 

This novel is not a keeper.

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review 2017-10-27 23:47
IN THRALL TO THE DANCE OF TIME
On With The Dance - Michael Hardwick

"ON WITH THE DANCE" is a continuation of the 'Upstairs, Downstairs' series of novels and carries the Bellamys and their servants into the early post-World War I years. 

The novel begins in July 1919, on the day that the Victory Parade is scheduled to take place in London. Richard Bellamy, now a member of the House of Lords, had recently returned from France with his new wife Virginia (and her 2 young children; like Richard, she had been a widow for several years following the death of her first husband, a naval officer, early in the war), where they honeymooned and took in both the Paris Peace Conference and Versailles, where the peace treaty formally ending World War I had been signed on June 28th.

 

Since his remarriage, Richard is no longer living at 165 Eaton Place and is looking for a new house near Hyde Park with Virginia. He meets after the Parade has run its course, with James, his son, who is as morose and restless as ever. Though the war has been over for 8 months and James has fully recovered from the wounds he sustained at Passchendaele, he has been aimless and with little enthusiasm for getting his life on a firm track so that he can begin to move forward and settle himself. Georgina (his cousin by marriage - the 2 had hovered on the edge of falling into a full-scale wartime romance given the smoldering attraction each had for the other; however, since the Armistice and the various shocks - personal, social, and economic - taking place in Britain as everyone tried to adapt themselves to a peacetime world - their passion had ebbed and died, though both remained as close friends) tries to cajol James into enjoying the fireworks outside. But James' enthusiasm has apparently been used up through his earlier participation that day in the Victory Parade. 

The staff at Eaton Place has a new footman and under-parlour maid. Edward, now discharged from the Army, and his wife Daisy had left the employ of the Bellamys several months earlier to eke out a living for themselves. Both pay a visit to their former colleagues 'downstairs', trying to display a new air of confidence, that in truth, neither has. Edward's job as a door-to-door salesman isn't getting him any closer to establishing for himself, Daisy, and their unborn child the type of success he craves for himself. 

The novel goes on to take the reader into the lives of both the Bellamys and servants over the next 4 years. And what a whirlwind those years prove to be! Years full of happiness, heartbreak, and anguish. Again I couldn't help but marvel over how a novel with 156 pages could be so engaging and compelling.

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review 2017-10-25 19:44
'UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS' Goes to War
The War to End Wars (Upstairs Downstairs, #4) - Mollie Hardwick

THE WAR TO END WARS” follows hard upon “The Years of Change”, seeing the Bellamys and their servants at 165 Eaton Place through the four years of the First World War. Richard Bellamy, the father, a Member of Parliament, is given - as the war progresses - additional duties and responsibilities through his work with the Admiralty. His son, James, has rejoined the Army and is sent to France before the end of 1914. At first, the war is like a liberation for James from the discontent and restlessness that had a great effect on his moods from time to time. (Hazel, his wife, suffered from his neglect and occasional harsh temper – yet busied herself in various social activities in support of the war effort.) He takes pride in being in command of troops at the Front and sharing in their joys, sufferings, and sorrows. But as the war drones on into stalemate, James becomes disillusioned with the war and while home on leave, made the mistake of making his views known to a journalist. As a result, he was posted to a staff position in the UK, which he hated. But eventually, he is given active command of a new unit and is sent back to France. (Unbeknownst to James, it was Hazel’s influence with one of the Army’s high-ranking officers she knew as a social acquaintance that brought about James’ combat posting.) In the meantime, young Georgina Worsley (she was 19 when the war began), determined to do her bit, volunteers in a nursing program and upon passing, does a lot of the menial work nurses were often given in UK hospitals. She also worked with doctors and tended to wounded soldiers brought home from France. Eventually, Georgina is sent to France, where she works in a field hospital not far from the Front.

The servants in the Bellamy’s household (Mr. Hudson, the head butler and the acknowledged leader of the staff ‘downstairs’; Mrs. Bridges, the cook; Edward, the footman; Ruby, who worked closely with Mrs. Bridges in the kitchen; Rose, the head parlour maid; and Daisy, the under parlour maid) experience many ups and downs that seem to parallel the course of the war itself. Edward joins the Army and marries Daisy (both are very much in love) shortly before he is posted to France with a close friend who had been Best Man at his wedding. There, he manages to survive the hell of the Battle of the Somme. After many months in France, he is granted leave and returns to Daisy just before Christmas 1916. Together, they see in the new year, 1917, along with the rest of the Bellamy staff. But Edward is not quite the same. His nerves are shot. Shell-shock.

How it was that Mollie Hardwick was able to pack in so much drama and suspense in 220 pages amazes me. There were moments in reading “THE WAR TO END WARS” that I had to hold my breath or hold back tears. The world of the Bellamys and their servants became my world, too. For anyone who was a fan of the original ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ TV drama or became a fan of ‘Downton Abbey’, you’ll love this book.

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review 2017-10-20 03:19
Years of Change (Upstairs Downstairs) - Mollie Hardwick

Before 'Downton Abbey', there was 'Upstairs, Downstairs.' This book, 'THE YEARS OF CHANGE', is based on an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs that takes the Bellamy Family and their servants at 165 Eaton Place from the spring of 1912 to August 1914. 

Once I began reading 'THE YEARS OF CHANGE' on the subway to work earlier this week, I didn't want to put it down. For all of its 239 pages, it was packed with some of the most lively, intense, and at turns joyous and tragic family drama that I've encountered in a novel for quite a while. The reader also gets full views of what the lives of both servants and their so-called 'betters' (i.e. the ones upstairs as represented by the Bellamy Family) were like in considerable detail. For instance, the Bellamy son, James, a rather restless, impatient and frustrated man who had left the Army (he had been an officer in India) to take up a job in London -with his father's help - with a trading company, had married a typist in haste after professing undying love to her. After the first few weeks of shows of passionate devotion and affection, the marriage settles into one of stultifying indolence. One couldn't help but feel sorry for Hazel, James' wife, who clearly deserved better. There is a scene at a hunting party in the countryside (to which James had been invited by one of his moneyed, propertied friends) in which all the invited couples had retired for the night after a day of hard riding and shooting. James was peeved at Hazel for having defied his edict that she not ride. But she had been urged on by Lady Diana Russell (who had fancied James for some time - but having been spurned by James when he was feverishly in love with Hazel, she settled for a marriage offer from another man of her class she didn't love) and several of her friends to join in the hunt. Besides, they assured Hazel they would have a placid-tempered horse for her to ride. Well, Hazel was given at the last minute a more spirited horse to ride, which gave her a fright and made her a spectacle before James and his conferes. Hazel suspected that James, having regretted married her, was awaiting his chance to steal away in the night to Lady Diana's room for some "horizontal refreshment." After all, under such circumstances, it was not at all unusual for the rich and privileged set in Britain to quietly swap partners overnight. So long as discretion was observed and maintained, there was no reason for complaint from an aggrieved husband, or cause for public scandal. 

"THE YEARS OF CHANGE" is packed with so much. I enjoyed becoming acquainted with the Bellamys, the young Lady Georgina Worsley (a distant relation of the elder Bellamy's newly arrived from a Swiss boarding school), the society in which they lived with all its complex social standards and rules, as well as the servants 'downstairs - Mr. Hudson, the head butler and manager of staff; Mrs. Bridges the cook; Edward, the footman; Daisy, the sweet assistant parlour maid he came to love; Rose, the head parlour maid; and Ruby, the loveable, well-meaning, and unassuming kitchen servant. This is a novel that, once you begin to read it, you'll probably find yourself staying up all night to reach the finish. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
 

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