There are some changes going on at the Concord Monitor and in the midst of them, my column didn’t make it into last week’s Sunday book page. It’s slated to be in this week. Some of you have been asking about it so here’s a sneak peek:
August 2014 Mindful Reader column
New Hampshire author J.P. Francis revisits a little known part of our state’s history in a debut novel, The Major’s Daughter. Collie Brennan has left Smith College to assist her father, who is commanding officer of the WWII POW internment center, Camp Stark, near Berlin. In addition to helping in the office, she acts as a translator. Collie falls for August, an Austrian prisoner, who exchanges poems with her and plays Bach on the camp piano. She tries to fight her feelings, and confesses as much to her college friend Estelle, who is struggling with her own forbidden relationship – she has fallen for a Sikh who owns a flower shop in her Ohio hometown.
Francis tells the women’s stories, weaving more in about Estelle as the novel unfolds. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before – young women growing into adulthood at a time when their choices are limited — but it is told with interesting historical detail. Some of Francis’ writing tries too hard, as in this passage describing a lively girl who befriends Collie: “She reminded Collie of a spatula leaping from one bowl to the next to stir ingredients.” And the men are a little typecast: the hard-drinking macho bad guy, the boring but reliable younger son, the country club eligible bachelor, the forbidden love who quotes poetry.
Despite these flaws, there was something about this book that compelled me to read to the end – which didn’t turn out as expected. The Major’s Daughter is a decent freshman effort and I hope J.P. Francis enjoys stronger editing next time around.
Manchester author Bishop O’Connell’s new novel The Stolen is billed as “an American Faerie Tale.” It has some of the traditional aspects of fantasy – fae, goblins, and wizards, magic and ways to travel between worlds, for example – but with a healthy dose of action sequences. Caitlin, a single mom in New Hampshire, is attacked outside a bar. A strange man named Brendan, who turns out to be “an outcast Fian warrior,” intercedes and sees her home, where they discover that her little girl, Fiona, has been taken. Caitlin’s best friend Edward, it turns out, is really a wizard who put protective wards around her house, so when he realizes they’ve been breached, he shows up as well. The three of them, along with a “fae magister” named Dante, work together to find Fiona and overcome the evil forces behind the kidnapping. If you like urban fantasy, Celtic mythology, or page turning action, you’ll enjoy The Stolen. I liked the humor and the way O’Connell blurs the line between the magical and the mortal worlds.
A Year After Henry is Cathie Pelletier’s latest novel. Set in fictional Bixley, Maine, it’s the story of how Henry Munroe’s son, wife, ex-lover, and brother are doing a year after his premature death. Pelletier is a master of evoking small town northern New England, and one thing I appreciate about her work is that she tells stories of people and emotions we’re all familiar with. You’ll probably recognize Henry’s mother who takes casseroles to her daughter-in-law. And Evie, who is from away but wants to put down roots. Larry, who is recovering from a nasty divorce and just wants to see his son. And Jeanie, who married her high school sweetheart, didn’t live happily ever after, and is trying to start living again after his loss. It may seem strange to describe a book about grieving and betrayal as hopeful, but in Pelletier’s skilled hands, it is.
New Hampshire author Shannon Stacey’s new contemporary romance, Falling for Max, is also set in a small town in Maine. Stacey writes with heart and humor, and her characters are unique. Max in particular was not what I was expecting in a romantic lead, and that was refreshing. Falling for Max is as much about the community as it is about love interests Tori and Max, and I liked that. The town store, diner, and library all felt cozy and familiar, but not predictable. Tori is a graphic artist and Max paints “historically accurate model trains,” and they each work from home, which captures the dilemma young people face today in wanting to live near their extended families but needing to support themselves. The emotional conflict in the book was also familiar and realistic but freshly told, and not tied up in a neat bow by the end of the book. A good beach read.