Monthly Archives: May 2012

Review – Bonds of Earth by G.N. Chevalier (5 Stars)

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Scion of Hudson Valley aristocrats John Seward and the son of poor Irish immigrants Michael McCready have only one thing in common—they have both been broken by the First World War, John in body, Michael in spirit. Once a promising young medical student, Michael now does massages—and more—in a Bowery bathhouse, while John lives the life of a recluse in his family’s country mansion.

When Michael is blackmailed into taking a job as a gardener on the estate, their paths cross. John is too wrapped up in his own crippling pain and misery to even acknowledge Michael, while the young gardener only sees that John’s selfishness makes his servants’ lives difficult. But as time goes on, Michael realizes the extent of John’s injuries, and John realizes that Michael might hold the key to his survival.

Bonds of Earth is the kind of book that sucks you into a time far removed from the present, and makes you feel as if you’re living there, right beside the characters. The men—and the side characters as well, John’s other servants, Michael’s family and the transvestite bathhouse owner that rescued him as a young boy—are real people, with faults and foibles; sometimes they’re admirable, and sometimes they’re irritating. John and Michael, despite being thrown together first through the machinations of the little granddaughter of John’s servants, and later, through Michael’s role as John’s physical therapist, honestly can’t stand each other at the beginning, and even through the end of the book sometimes have difficulty understanding or trusting each other. It only makes their relationship more realistic. There are moments when you’re so in sync with the emotions of the characters that you wish you could reach through time and space and comfort them. Or, sometimes, slap them.

And not just the main characters, either. I wanted to yell at Thomas Abbott, John’s servant, for mule-headedness; hug Sarah, the granddaughter, who has had so much tragedy in her young life, and stab Uncle Padraig repeatedly. Millie, the bathhouse owner, has her own story that I’d love to sit and hear, though I know it would make me cry. And as far as Margaret, Michael’s beloved sister, is concerned…!

Chevalier also has a deft hand with the historical elements here; never too heavy-handed, s/he sketches the time and setting in such a way that the behavior and reactions of the characters flesh out both. I picked up very little anachronism—I don’t know enough about the use of massage and physical therapy in the medicine of the day to know if that was accurately presented, so that didn’t bounce me out of the suspension of my disbelief. About the only quibble I have with the book is in the persona of the kindly Doctor Parrish, who plays a bit of a deus ex machina in several spots. However, I didn’t find it overpowering or unbelievable, just a little convenient.

I love stories set in the early twentieth century—it’s a time of such radical change and turmoil, the elements of a gentler, more refined age (at least in perception) juxtaposed against a backdrop of invention and revolution. Bonds of Earth does a lovely job of that juxtaposition—the quiet gardens and wholesome village life throws the horrors both John and Michael suffered in the nightmare of the European war into high relief, making them just that much more horrible. We suffer with them as they find their way through their nightmares, their traumas, their memories, into the small quiet space where they can find each other.

Bonds of Earth is a wonderful, slice of life historical that I can recommend unreservedly.

Buy it here or here

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Clear Water by Amy Lane (4.5 Stars)

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Okay, Isabel’s reviewing another Amy Lane book, but hey, the woman’s prolific, and I love her. I really do. Both as a writer and as a person—she’s really just as sweet and quirky as you’d imagine.

Her characters are quirky, too. Sometimes I wonder they’re that way because she is so imaginative, or if she’s consciously trying to not make them stereotypes. (Because, let’s face it, stereotypes are a serious danger in Romancelandia.) Either way, they’re usually memorable.

In Clear Water—a book I love and have read three times—it’s not just the main characters that are quirky. The secondary characters are quirky. The tertiary characters are quirky. Hell, even the fauna is quirky. There’s only one exception, and he’s glaring. But let me get to that organically.

Patrick is a young man who suffers from affluence and severe adult ADHD. While this does, indeed, make him quirky, it’s also a really accurate and painful depiction of the disorder—Ms. Lane obviously is familiar with it. Patrick is a sweet, intelligent boy whose neural misfires cause no end of distraction. His father, a wealthy, driven businessman, doesn’t understand him or the effects of the disorder, and writes him off as a flake.

He’s not a flake. He has real issues with self esteem, both because of the disorder and because of his father’s apparent indifference, but when he meets Whiskey, an ex-hippie scientist who lives on a decrepit houseboat in the river, he begins to display the depth of intelligence and practicality that his issues and his disorder mask. He finds a place assisting Whiskey and his partner-in-the-scientist-sense, Fly Bait, with their research, and eventually is pivotal in discovering the cause of the frog anomalies they’re studying. (See? I told you even the fauna was quirky!)

About the only real evidence of flakiness I found—I don’t count the erratic physical effects of the ADHD—is Patrick’s poor choice of boyfriends. And this was where my suspension of disbelief derailed—because Patrick’s boyfriend is such a stereotypical scumbag that I didn’t understand how a bright person like Patrick—self-image issues aside—couldn’t have figured out what he was up to. He was painted as so unpleasant and ugly that I couldn’t find what Patrick was attracted to. I think it would have been more believable if he’d been a little more slick—and not in the greasy way he’s described in the book. It was almost disappointing to see how predictably evil Scumbag Boyfriend turned out to be. I think I would have been more convinced if the Scumbag Boyfriend was a clean-cut businessman, to contrast with the scruffy Whiskey and make Patrick’s choice the more interesting.

But that was the only major quibble I had, and it really wasn’t that big a deal. The rest of the story is funny and charming and delightful. Fair warning—there is quite a bit of age difference between Patrick and Whiskey, and Patrick’s emotional innocence, as well as Whiskey’s role as Patrick’s protector and rescuer, makes that difference more noticeable. But it’s not squicky; Whiskey is very sensitive to it, and Patrick grows so much in the course of the book, that by the time the story ends, you can’t imagine one without the other. And to my mind, that’s exactly how a romance novel should end.