REVIEW: A DANGEROUS CROSSING, BY RACHEL RHYS

 

1939: Europe is on the brink of war when young Lily Shepherd boards an ocean liner in Essex, bound for Australia. She is ready to start anew, leaving behind the shadows in her past. The passage proves magical, complete with live music, cocktails, and fancy dress balls. With stops at exotic locations along the way—Naples, Cairo, Ceylon—the voyage shows Lily places she’d only ever dreamed of and enables her to make friends with those above her social station, people who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.

But Lily soon realizes that she’s not the only one hiding secrets. Her newfound friends—the toxic wealthy couple Eliza and Max; Cambridge graduate Edward; Jewish refugee Maria; fascist George—are also running away from their pasts. As the glamour of the voyage fades, the stage is set for something sinister to occur. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and Lily’s life will be changed irrevocably.

My Thoughts: For me, a crossing such as this would be the last thing I would choose. I get a bit claustrophobic when confined to any sort of space, and surrounded by water…well, I can imagine how every conflict would be exacerbated and tiny issues might become huge, and then there would be no escape.

Mix in personalities that should never be mixed…and nothing good will come of any of it.

Despite the glittering parties that could almost make someone like Lily feel carefree, there was always that sense of class distinctions beneath the surface, reminding her of her place in the world.

I disliked Max and Eliza immediately. They were fake and rude and abrasive. But for some reason, Lily was drawn to them.

I could understand her wanting to spend time with Edward, although his inconsistencies were annoying and mysterious. Maria was someone I felt sorry for…but I could also understand Lily’s reactions toward the end.

Ida, a cabin mate, was harsh and judgmental. And then there was George, seething with rage, an undercurrent of open hostility present in every word he spoke.

A pleasant and somewhat unexpected surprise awaits them all in Melbourne, when Eliza introduces them to the actor Alan Morgan and his wife Cleo (Bannister). * A little tidbit about how the author chose that moniker for a character came from the blogger Cleopatra Loves Books.

Aboard the ship was a mixed pot of trouble that could not help but boil over. The mysteries that unfolded in A Dangerous Crossing seemed inevitable and I couldn’t stop reading. There were parts in the middle that dragged for me, but I pushed on, knowing I would enjoy the ending. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: CLEVER GIRL, BY TESSA HADLEY

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Central to Clever Girl: A Novel, the story crafted by Tessa Hadley, is the character of Stella, the daughter of a single mother who has chosen to keep her daughter in the dark about her father.

We first meet these characters when they live in England in what is commonly known as a “bed sit.” It is the late 1950s when the story begins, but almost immediately, we are thrust into the 1960s, when Stella is ten years old. Something happens then that changes her ideas about her mother, and for years afterwards, the two of them are on a collision course.

What changes Stella’s mind about her mother? About herself? And how do her altered perceptions somehow dictate the course of her life from then on? How will she discover her “cleverness,” and why does she submerge it for a time in her life?

Like many coming-of-age tales, we see how Stella takes on the issues of the times and makes choices because of what is happening around her. The story is narrated in Stella’s first person voice, so her perceptions do color what is happening. Sometimes the story seems to be told from a distance, many years hence, and we discover that she is retelling events from that perspective: the perspective of a much older woman who is looking back at her life.

Thus we tend to question the accuracy of what has happened. Time and distance often alter events, and I suspect that this has happened in Stella’s case. The effect of this “looking back” seems to place a scrim between the narrator and the reader, leading to difficulty in following the story at times. She seemed to move back and forth between the moments of her life, and then, as if struck by an anecdote or event, she shares her perspective.

After years of barely scrounging along, she suddenly rediscovers her “cleverness,” attends university, and finally takes on a professional life and a marriage. At this point, Stella’s narrative shifts into a more insightful form. I enjoyed these latter pages more, and felt a connection to her life and her story. 4.0 stars.

A JOURNEY THROUGH A TANGLED WEB OF DECEIT — A REVIEW

11156902In an upscale suburb of Glasgow, a young woman named Sarah Erroll has returned from a trip. She is asleep when she hears a noise. And then two young men enter her room, and from that moment on, everything about her life spins out of control.

In another part of the city, a woman named Kay is admiring a lovely bowl and thinking of its history. She is a house cleaner, so the loveliness of it is not a regular part of her life. A single mother of four kids, she struggles to make ends meet.

Pregnant with twins, Detective Inspector Alex Morrow has just returned from a funeral. Her life is a tangle of connections that she would rather forget. But she is thrust into the midst of an investigation of the murder of Sarah Erroll.

And then, a few days later, a wealthy banker charged with the financial ruin of others has hung himself.

How do all of these lives entwine? What connections are there between them, and what will Alex unexpectedly learn about her own family as she begins to unravel the secrets, deceptions, and mysteries behind Sarah’s murder?

From the beginning, we know the identities of the two young men, but do not know who did what during the frantic moments on the stairs in Sarah’s house. How will the inspectors finally sort it all out, and who will finally point them in the right direction?

The End of the Wasp Season was a captivating story that had me riveted to the pages, with emotions aroused immediately for the various characters, from the flawed children of the dead financier, Lars Anderson, to the sad life of Sarah, as her mother’s dementia cost her a fortune. Then there is the narcissistic Lars Anderson himself and how his choices rippled outward to affect all who crossed his path. Even each detective left an indelible mark on the pages as they seemingly came to life. Especially those, like the power hungry DS Grant Bannerman, who evoked contempt from this reader. In my opinion, this book is Mina’s best so far. Five stars.