Audiobook Review: What Is Left The Daughter

What is left the daughter?  A heartfelt and often sorrowful letter from her loving father, on her 21st birthday, many years after their parting.

Marlais, today is March 27, 1967, your twenty-first birthday. I’m writing because I refuse any longer to have my life defined by what I haven’t told you. I’ve waited until now to relate the terrible incident that I took part in on October 16, 1942, when I was nineteen.

What Is Left The Daughter is a beautifully written tale about love, longing, family ties, WWII, and surprising tragedies.  You know that you’re in for an interesting character study when the book starts with the double suicide of the protagonist’s parents.  Interestingly, while this terrible incident kick-started Wyatt Hillyer’s road to self discovery, it wasn’t the pivotal moment of the novel.  It just served as Wyatt’s starting point.

At the age of seventeen, and newly orphaned, Wyatt leaves his childhood home and moves to small town Middle Economy outside of Halifax.  Here, he lives with his Uncle Donald, Aunt Constance, and their adopted daughter, Tilda. It doesn’t take long for Wyatt to fall head-over-heels in love with Tilda, and it’s an even shorter distance to Tilda’s encounter with the German student Hans Mohring, with whom she falls deeply in love.  They marry.  Wyatt is then forced to spend a great deal of time with his cousin and her new German husband. Wyatt’s aching pulses throughout the story.  You just want him to scoop Tilda in his arms and whisk her away.

During a time when the Canadian community of Halifax is faced with daily reports of U-boat attacks at the hands of the Germans, the reception for Hans is lukewarm at best.  WWII was not a convenient time to fall in love with a German, regardless of that individual’s best intentions.  Tilda is soft-spoken but headstrong, and she knows what she wants.  She will not step away from Hans, much to the chagrin of her father, who follows every move of the Germans with an obsessive eye.

When the Newfoundland ferry Caribou becomes the newest German victim, Wyatt’s family is stricken, as they understand that Aunt Constance, Tilda’s mother, had been aboard.  Tilda is in despair.  Uncle Donald is inconsolable. Wyatt is heartbroken.  And looming over all of this is the gloomy discomfort that surrounds Tilda’s marriage, which now grows markedly.

Unremittingly, another tragedy follows.  This one manages to be more horrific. This one has even more power to shape the futures of everyone involved.  It’s this point-of-no-return where everyone take a different path.  The question is, will those paths lead these fascinating people back to one another?

While reading these accounts, it’s almost possible to forget that you’re privy to a father’s letter; a letter that serves as a confession.  The layers of Howard Norman’s book are limitless, and you’ll begin to understand in incredible detail what makes each character tick.  You’ll develop an unshakable affection for the people in Wyatt’s letter, and for each of their emotional plights.  So many of the relationships often teeter on the brink of failure, and when one person manages to cling to the next, the emotion the reader feels can only be described as relief.

There are many other characters who will steal your heart, from the quirky town stenographer Lenore Teachout, to the ever-wise bakery owner Cornelia Tell.  (The bond of friendship that grows between Wyatt and Cornelia was one of my favorite story lines of the book.)  Howard Norman did a marvelous job of creating compelling characters, from Uncle Donald’s profession as a toboggan craftsman, to Tilda’s calling as a Professional Mourner.  You just don’t get to read about people such as these every day.

This audiobook was narrated by Bronson Pinchot, and I was pleasantly surprised by his range.  He captured the innocence and determination of Tilda, the anger and grudge behind Uncle Donald, and the quiet longing of Wyatt. Overall, Pinchot did a fine job, and I would listen to him again.

I enjoyed What Is Left The Daughter even more than I anticipated, and will look for more titles by Howard Norman with great expectations.  4 stars for this terrific story!

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The final review, discussion questions & answers for Booktime with Bess: An Unmarked Grave

(Please click on the book’s cover image for a great book trailer for An UnMarked Grave!)

Well, here we are, at the end of the Book Club Girl’s final book in the Bess Crawford series! We read 4 books already? The time went by so quickly. Thank you to Jennifer @bookclubgirl.com for organizing this wonderful read-a-long! This was my very first foray in to participating in a read-a-long and I thoroughly enjoyed.

So wrapping up, I must say that in the 4-book series, my very favourite was A Bitter Truth (#3 in the series). An Unmarked Grave started out (for me) with Huge promise. It was gripping and we saw Bess in great peril and adventure this time around! Moreso than she has ever found herself in. However, I found her battle with the Spanish influenza to be quite rushed (she suffered and survived in 2 short chapters I think?)and the murder mystery and final, solved reason for the multiple murders to be…ahem…well…lame. What happened to the ending of this novel? It really fell apart at the end. The twists, the turns, the adventures were so top rate! And then the ending comes along and the reason for the multiple murders is revealed and for me, fell spectacularly flat. I was disappointed. However, like Jennifer says, the suffering and the length of the war is taking its toll and the description of it is well done in this story. And again, Bess really finds herself in some harrowing troubles which were all exciting to read.

Now, on to the discussion questions and my answers to them:

1) In each of the previous books in the series, we saw Simon Brandon take on a increasingly bigger role in investigating crimes with Bess and in this book, the Colonel and Bess’ mother are also actively involved in her search for the killer. What did you make of this?

Simon definitely played a major role in this book, and I really enjoyed his involvement, but also how Todd threw in some trouble for him too. Overall, I really liked the development of Bess’ relationship with her parents and the role they play in helping her solve these mysteries. I think her Mom was more front and centre this time too, which was great fun.

2) Both Bess and Simon fall ill in this novel – Bess from the Spanish Flu epidemic ravaging both France and England and Simon from his wounds. What did you think of each of them in their more vulnerable states and why do you think the authors chose that for them?

Above I noted that I liked how Todd put Simon out of reach and in some trouble for some of this story, it certainly added to the anticipation of what was going to happen to Bess. Also above, I felt the Spanish Flu that Bess came down with to be too rushed, in my opinion. It did add to the great mystery and was a great twist of events for the book so I thought it was great!

3) There were several suspects put forth throughout the course of the novel. How did you feel when the killer, and his motives for killing, was finally revealed?

Ah, see, I revealed so much in the beginning of my review. ☺ When the killer and his motives were revealed in the end I was greatly disappointed. I thought it to be very lame and was so surprised at the limpness of the reason. It made the multiple murders and the attempts to hunt down and silence Bess quite far-fetched!

4) I loved the scene of Bess working alongside the doctor to save Sargeant Mitchell, with her father looking on. As far as we know this is the first time he’s seen his daughter in action as a nurse and what she can do. What did you think of that scene?

I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Bess, her family and Simon very much in this story. I like how everything is progressing with her and look forward to the 5th in the series!

Review: Mudbound

Jackie:

WOW! This was one of those books that you just cannot put down right from the start! A great pick for the Wink 3 Book Club– I hope everyone likes it as much as I did! Mudbound takes place in 40s era Mississippi following WWII. It is the story of 2 families working against the mud, floods and signs of the times. The narration alternates between 6 characters and what each perspective brings to the story is what makes this book a must read! Hillary Jordan did a FANTASTIC job making each character real, believable and unique. There was not one I wanted to get to as I was reading another, everything was perfectly placed.

Henry McAllen has just purchased a cotton plantation. It is a bit on the dilapidated side but owning land is all he has ever wanted. He drags his young family with him, the plan being to set them up in town until he can get the place fixed up, but due to a series of unfortunate events they end up having to live in the old farmhouse. Laura was on the brink of old maid hood when she married Henry and she knows that she is lucky to have him. As much as she hates the place she must do as her husband says (like any good woman of the 1940s would) and leave her city life to make due at the farm. It has been christened Mudbound because of its constant state of muck and life is difficult there. To make matters worse they have also “inherited” Henry’s Pappy who just an all around nasty character– reminiscent of one Ras Belanger from The Homecoming of Samuel Lake (winner of the Literary Hoarder Most Hated Villain Award!!).

The Jacksons are a black family that sharecrops with Henry on Mudbound but because it is 1940’s Mississippi they are treated no better than dogs, really. They must cow-tow to the white people, obey their every command, sit in the back of the truck, get served last, use separate toilets fountains and entrances. Henry is pretty darned racist by today’s standards but he is more of a fair landlord than they are used to. Hap is the patriarch, a hard worker and a man of God. He does not believe in credit and hopes to make enough money to eventually own his own land. His wife, Florence is 10 000 times stronger than anyone in this book and is a fantastic character! Her “tell it like it is” attitude and the way she can read a person or a situation is GREAT!! you will want to cheer for her and protect her from her inevitable heart-break.

I loved all my children, but I loved Ronsel the most. If that was a sin I reckon God would forgive me for it, seeing as how He the one stacked the cards in the first place. ~Florence

He set about making me love him from the first day he arrived. Complementing me on my cooking and doing little things for me around the house. Things that said “I see you. I think about what might please you.” I was starved for that kind of attention, and I soaked it up like a biscuit soaks up gravy. ~ Laura

Trouble starts when 2 heros return to Mudbound from fighting in the war. Jamie is Henry’s brother, an Air Force pilot who has seen a lot of combat. He is dashing, handsome and everything that his brother is not. He also not coping well with whatever happened to him during the war and he has become a tad wild– drinking and whoring without remorse. Ronsel is Hap and Florence’s son, a tank commander who worked for General Patton himself in one of the first all black tank crews. He had gotten used to be treated with respect in Europe and returning home to the hate-filled Mississippi Delta has not been easy for him. Jamie and Ronsel strike up an unlikely friendship and the tension begins. What happens will NOT allow you to put down this book until you are finished!!! 5 star read for me FOR SURE!

Penny:

Just as Creative Loafing Atlanta says in the trailer: “sucks readers in like quicksand.”

And all I have to say to that is, UH HUH and AMEN! Like Jackie says above, I could not put this book down! Here is another book that I just burned through. I think I read it in 2 days! I was on the edge of my seat and glued to the pages the entire time! The characters, the events, the sorrow, the hatred, Mudbound has it all and will definitely be a book that stays with me a long, long time. You can watch the trailer for Mudbound here: http://www.hillaryjordan.com/mudbound_trailer.php

What struck me, and will stay with me for so very long is how remarkably (astonishingly) well Jordan has captured hatred for your fellow man. From Nazi Germany and its hatred of the Jews, to the Southern US and its blistering hatred of the black man.

Through (my favourite) character Ronsel’s eyes you catch a glimpse of the Nazi German treatment of the Jews in the concentration camps through his breathtaking account of what he finds when coming upon a concentration camp. Jordan’s description of the overpowering stench and the sight of people with nothing more than sticks for limbs and hollowed out eyes, her description of bodies falling in great waves as the Nazi guards guns them down, Ronsel’s sight of the piles of bodies in the sheds where they were being burned, puts you right there. You saw it, you smelled it, you felt it. You can see and feel Ronsel’s disgust as he shoots down, without any second thought, these evil guards.

Ronsel becomes accustomed to being treated with a fair amount of respect in Europe. The colour of his skin has no real or great impact on his treatment by the Europeans. For that, he is at first bewildered and then, he wishes never to return home to the Mississipi Delta. And it is upon his return where again, I was struck by this seering hatred in the southern US for the black man. Again, Jordan brilliantly characterizes the hatred and struggle. It’s downright shocking really when you’re reading.

Yes, I agree with Jackie here, as every single character in this book is splendidly and perfectly portrayed. They moved this story along at a fast, intense-filled pace. You will bleed for these people (well, for some of them, the others you wish to rot in the blazing depths of hell.)

It’s going to be a few days before I can really pick up another book and settle in to it. I’m still too worked up by Mudbound!!

Hillary Jordan has recently released her second novel, When She Woke. I will absolutely be reading this one in the very, very near future!!

Humble commentary from a Literary Hoarder…

 Well, today’s Windsor Star reports that the (trailblazing) CEO of the Windsor Public Library will not be returning to work ever again for the WPL.

Many over the few years of which Holmes was in command, complained of his changes and the speed with which those changes occurred to our public library. Windsor is unfortunately not a city that embraces change well. But for this Literary Hoarder, those changes were incredible, necessary and so welcome!

In his short term, Barry Holmes revolutionized WPL’s services. He brought the public library system to the forefront and made it slick, cutting-edge, fashionable even! He implemented Bibliocommons, a powerful and amazing search engine and stylized social networking site for the library’s goods; emphasized the Overdrive system (audio and digital books); abolished overdue fines; and won the Windsor Public Library an innovation award. Along with the esthetically pleasing changes he brought to many of the (run-down, tired and old) branches around the city, he also spear-headed the push to move the main downtown branch in to a brand-new, state-of-the-art-facility, thereby bringing the public library to the forefront of our city’s cultural and entertainment diversification efforts.

Therefore, this Literary Hoarder is sighing with deep disappointment with the news reported today. The changes Holmes brought to our public library system were exciting, bold and fresh and I was so excited to see the possible relocation of the main branch to the riverfront in a spectacular and new environment. Now, with Holmes all but leaving only his dust behind, I fear that each of his tremendous efforts will be mothballed and that Windsor will revert back to its old, tired and ancient ways. I know many are trumpeting and cheering this loss, but for me, I only think of how rather unfortunate it all is for this city.

Now I know Mr. Holmes was not clean and tidy in all aspects of his public CEO role, anymore than former Chair Maghnieh was…but I sincerely hope Windsor does not turn back the clock on his innovative practices and push to bring the public library system into a modern era.

This Literary Hoarder will miss you Mr. Holmes.

CEO Barry Holmes departs Windsor’s library

CEO Barry Holmes departs Windsor’s library
Windsor Public Library CEO Barry Holmes is seen in this April 2012 file photo. (Dan Janisse / The Windsor Star)
Posted by:  Doug Schmidt

Barry Holmes is no longer the embattled CEO of Windsor Public Library.

But whether he “voluntarily resigned his employment,” as the board said today, or he was “constructively dismissed,” as Barry and his recently acquired lawyer claim, that is a question likely headed to the courts.

“Should Mr. Holmes decide to make a legal claim against the library board, such action will be vigorously defended by the library board,” recently appointed library board chairman Peter Frise said in a brief statement read to reporters following today’s board meeting.

It’s just the latest sad chapter in a scandal that erupted after it was revealed in April that then-board chairman Al Maghnieh — the since-disgraced but continuing Ward 10 city councillor — was going loose and fancy on a Holmes-approved library credit card.

No sooner were questions raised by city councillors about Barry’s position in Al’s self-confessed craziness than the CEO called in sick at the start of May — and he’s been calling in sick ever since.

Bottom line on the latest development? Frise  said the board has been advised by Barry’s lawyer that “Mr. Holmes will not be returning to employment with the Windsor Public Library.”

I just don’t think Windsor book lovers have read the last chapter on this taken-from-true-life story.

More to come.