Lush and lavish: Amy Snow (review)

Amy Snow
Tracey Rees
Simon & Schuster

Life just seems to move at a slower pace in the summer. Afternoons are hot and humid, the evenings languid. We spend a lot of time on the deck and not so much time in front of the television. It’s a time when we try to break free from our daily routine.  Amy Snow, a novel published earlier this month, makes for a great escape. One of this novel’s blurbs reads: “An abandoned baby, a treasure hunt, a secret. As Amy sets forth on her quest, readers will be swept away …” Pretty accurate, I’d say.

Wealthy heiress Aurelia Venneway finds a newborn baby naked in the snow. Without a thought to propriety, she bundles the little girl under her cloak and rushes into the parlor.amy snow Lady Venneway is cold and distant; she’s just lost yet another pregnancy and the foundling is like a slap in the face. The orphan (named Amy Snow by Aurelia) is banished to the kitchen while the entire household staff tries to keep her out of Lady Venneway’s sight. For a time, Amy is Aurelia’s play thing–eight years younger, she adores the headstrong lady, and is game to join in any of Aurelia’s escapades. And then the two young women grow to be best friends. It’s harder now to stay invisible to Lady Venneway, but the consequences if Amy doesn’t are humiliating. When Aurelia becomes deathly ill–and the prognosis is dire–she demands that her parents permit Amy Snow to be her companion.

The real story begins after Aurelia’s death. Turned out of the house immediately after the funeral, Amy Snow is on her own. Or is she? A mysterious letter is secreted away in her skirt–and Amy soon begins the work of getting to know the real Aurelia Venneway. Before her death,  Aurelia arranged a scavenger hunt, of sorts, for Amy, each clue giving her specific directions: find Enwhistle’s bookshop; stay in Twickenham for three months; travel to Bath. At the end of her travels, Amy doesn’t simply adore her friend blindly but rather with eyes open to Aurelia’s charms … and her faults.

What adds even more fun to the novel is that it was an unsolicited manuscript, submitted by writer Tracey Rees to the Richard and Judy ‘Search for a Bestseller’ Competition–which makes the author’s story a bit of a fairy tale, just like Amy’s. Amy Snow kept me turning page after page–like the post title says, the novel is lavish. If you want to get lost in a world of nineteenth century manners, velvet dresses, carriages, stately horses, dashing young men, and strong-willed women, Amy Snow is perfect for your blanket or beach chair reading.

Time and tide: The Railwayman’s Wife (review)

The Railwayman’s Wife (NetGalley)
Ashley Hay
Atria Books

There’s nothing like a story set in a time long ago and a place far away, and Ashley Hay’s new novel The Railwayman’s Wife fills the bill. The fact that the main character Annika Lachlan is a reader and a librarian? Icing on the cake, my friend, icing on the cake. And would you look at this book jacket? I’d pack up and fly away quick as you could say ‘koala’!

Railwayman's WifeAni grew up in the Australian inlands “on the plains, dry as a biscuit”. When she met and married husband Mac, she moved to the coast where the light is clear and “soft breezes tease and tickle with the lightest scent of salty water”, where  the sight of the ocean–vast and rolling–surprises her even after a dozen years. Ani has it all: a lovely home, beautiful garden, sweet little girl, devoted husband. World War II has just ended, vets are returning, and the news–finally–is full of hope.

But of course it’s all too precious, isn’t it? There would be no story if there wasn’t some sort of struggle for Anikka Lachlan–so disaster strikes and struggle she does.

We get the story of Ani’s life with Mac in her memories of him as she tries to make sense of his awful death. (That really isn’t too much of a spoiler since the tragedy occurs in the first several pages.) Ani’s grief is made a little easier by the fact that she begins a job as the town librarian within a few weeks. She busies herself with shelving and ordering and record-keeping, barely managing to keep her overwhelming grief at arm’s length.

One of the first visitors she meets at the library is Roy McKinnon, returning soldier and poet. His best friend Dr. Frank Draper arrives home from the war soon after and the two men attempt to put the war behind them and resume the life it interrupted. But shell shocked and disillusioned, they scramble to regain their footing. The three share a kind of camaraderie in pain–which also brings about healing. And as Ani comes to the place where she can talk about Mac, she hears stories of his life apart from her that make us realize we never really know those to whom we are closest.

Anikka might have “had it all” at the novel’s beginning, but it’s at the end that she embodies a strength and a depth of heart that I admired.

[Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here:]

Writing Wednesday: 1966

Kent StateShe was twenty-one, page-boyed and wide-eyed. She carried groceries from the car and up the steps to the porch, the winding walks of the campus curving behind her across the street. Her wool knee socks and penny loafers were the campus uniform that fall and rarely did anyone fail to turn and look as she passed, tall. All auburn with legs up to here.

He followed her into the house, the shadow to her light, leather satchel and rolled prints under his arm. His turned up shirtsleeves were smudged with graphite and he was always five-o-clock shadowed by noon. 

It was a time that should have been oh-so-simple, what with Saturday card parties and football games. Rye bread at the bakery for twenty-five cents. The white Plymouth Valiant.

A time now melted away like the frozen custard that dripped down their little girl’s chin and left her sticky with memories.

P: Past and Present (A-Z Blogging Challenge)

Today is day 16 of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  The challenge began with A on April 1 and continues the alphabet throughout thepast and present
month, except on Sundays. My theme for the month will be this blog’s tagline: life, books, and all things bookish, so you can expect a little bit of this ‘n that. I’m still reading, though, and I’ll add reviews whenever possible. Thirty days of blogging is a huge commitment for me, but I’m looking forward to meeting and greeting new blog friends.
Today’s words: Past and present

In Writing Workshop a couple month’s ago, Emily read the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. It’s about finding ourselves at the “You are here” spot on the map that is our life. When you read it, you’ll find the poem evocative and powerful–a poem that can stand on it’s own two feet and doesn’t pussy-foot around. Those old photos Lyon writes about, the ones we press so carefully into scrapbooks (or toss offhandedly into shoe boxes)–those photos point to who we are and how we got here.
And in true workshop fashion, we wrote a copy change:

I am from the woman with the page boy and legs up to here,

     from the man with shirtsleeves rolled–

                smudged with graphite, the student.

I am from the college campus with winding walks

     and buckeyes rolling downhill–

from Saturday night card parties in attic apartments,

I am from the lab school where graduate students

        mined seven-year-old minds for gold,

              from Dick and Sally and Jane.

I am from a time when life was as clear as simple syrup–

A time melted away like the Stoddard’s frozen custard that dripped down my chin

     leaving me sticky with memories.

Update: I found this video of George Ella Lyon reading “Where I’m From“–it’s a must-see. Also mosey on over to Denice’s Day and read her P post: Photo. Denice is a friend, a photographer, and master-in-the-kitchen. Her post is a nice companion to Lyon’s video. 

Spill Simmer Falter Wither (review)

Spill Simmer Falter Wither (Edelweiss)
Sara Baume
Houghton Mifflin
release date: March  8, 2016

I realise that you were not born with a predetermined capacity for wonder, as I’d believed. I realise that you fed it up yourself from tiny pieces of the world. I realise it’s up to me to follow your example and nurture my own wonder, morsel by morsel by morsel.

There are not many books that leave me sobbing great heaves, my heart in my throat. Not many books that touch some deep darkness that not even I know exists. There are not many books that speak of the sweet tenderness that connects us to all creatures great and small.

But Irish writer Sara Baume’s first novel Spill into Falter Wither was just such a book.

spill simmer falter wither Once upon a time there was Robin and Ruby and Ray. But Ray doesn’t remember that time and since then has suffered neglect and despair. Ray never attended school. He never played with other children. His world was the little salmon-colored house in the village and the view he had from upstairs was his only window on the larger world. His father came and went (but mostly went), and Ray grew into some sort of understanding of his difference.

Ray had his books. The wide sweep of the ocean outside of Tawny Bay. Weekly visits to the post-office and grocery. Sometimes church.

Long years passed. Fifty-seven, to be exact. And a year after his father died, Ray brings home One Eye, a terrier mix from a sad excuse of an animal shelter. Like Ray, One Eye is damaged goods. Like Ray, One Eye is skittish, afraid even of tinfoil crinkling. Ray tries to win him over with sardines and chocolate buttons; he cobbles together a dog bed from a child’s easy chair so they can watch out the window together.

And so One Eye and Ray set out to rescue each other.   But can they? Is it possible to rescue another from sorrow and misery that has cut to their very center, leaving their spirit nicked and torn? Is it possible to make whole a heart that never had a chance to grow in the first place?

As if the story itself isn’t enough, Baume’s writing is evocative, her voice resonant. At times the pages read like poetry and it is a powerful and wonderful gift to come across a novel that allowed me to “nurture my own wonder, morsel by morsel by morsel.”