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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

China Bayles and Ruby Wilcox Learn About the 1900 Galveston Hurricane From an Unusual Source

Widow's Tears (China Bayles, #21)Widow's Tears by Susan Wittig Albert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So glad I've returned to this series. I had gotten kind of tired of it, because the focus on China Bayles and her sleuthing was beginning to be rather repetitive. But in this and the prior book, while China makes several appearances, the story focuses on one of the other main characters of the series. In Widow's Tears, China's partner, Ruby Wilcox takes the lead. Ruby has psychic abilities with which she has dabbled but, having great respect for the potential power of unleashing them, Ruby has always backed away when the pull grows too strong. When she gets an urgent call from a childhood friend to come to visit the site of one of Ruby's earliest experiences she is reluctant, but Claire is a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser who went off the deep end into this life when her husband was unexpectedly killed. Claire has inherited a deserted Victorian mansion from her aunt but the mansion is eerie and Claire needs Ruby to come help her determine if it is haunted. It is in this mansion, that as a child, Ruby saw the image of a Gibson girl type lady on the stairs and was frightened by the experience. Nevertheless, Ruby leaves Pecan Springs for a vacation at Claire's but does not tell China of her past association with the place.

Interspersed with the story of Claire and Ruby are chapters describing the Galveston Hurricane of Sept 8, 1900. There is a reason for this seeming digression but it is better for the reader to work along with Claire and Ruby to discover what connection there is between the tales. I have read one of the references Susan Albert makes to the storm that devastated the city of Galveston, Isaac's Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Eric Larson. In the end of Albert's book it would seem that Claire may write a book about the storm--hope she does as well as Larson. I'm so happy I read his book first--it definitely made this one much more striking.

As I've said, China does make several appearances and midway through the book, joins Ruby and Claire at the mansion, having driven from Pecan Springs through a windy, rainy, slippery road storm. Hmmm, the stage is set.

I have only two minor criticisms of this foray into China's series--first, have no idea why the character of the Rawlings were introduced--they did nothing to drive the story. Second, in one scene China says if she knew what was coming she would have thought what had already occurred would be quite mild. That is paraphrasing--but the implication is that there is going to be some heavy duty stuff around the corner--and when it didn't appear, I felt let down. In fairness, I may have expected much more because I'd read the Larson book. Therefore, a reader who had not, might find the climax more climatic than I.

All in all, with a basis in a true historical event, this is one of the best books of the series, so far, in my opinion. It is not necessary at all to read the whole series from beginning as I have, but it is nice to be familiar with the characters--it is like visiting with old friends.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Return to Ballybucklebo, Fingal O'Reilly and His Service in The Royal British Navy in WWII

An Irish Doctor in Love and at Sea: An Irish Country Novel (Irish Country #11)An Irish Doctor in Love and at Sea: An Irish Country Novel by Patrick Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While this could certainly be read as a stand alone, it would be far more enjoyable if at least a couple of the earlier books have been read first. The series follows an older GP, Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly practicing in the Ulster County town of Ballybucklebo. It is in the earlier books that we meet O'Reilly as a widower living at One Main St with Mrs Kinkaid, his daily housekeeper. His surgery is attached to his home and it is here and in the local watering hole, The Duck, that many of the town's denizens are introduced to the reader. My favorite is Donal Donnelly, a man who falls into it and comes up roses every time--he is just amazing. There is the local aristocrat who is anything but aristocratic in his dealings with the townsfolk. And there is Bertie Bishop, the town Councillor. They are all here in this installment but their characters are built in the older books and here we see how they have changed over time, or not.

Again, in the earlier books, we meet Fingal's fellow doctor, Barry Laverty, when he first comes to town. It is really fun to see how the relationship has grown and developed. There are references to Fingal's wartime service, the loss of his first wife, his relationship with Barry's father in the older books, too.

All that being said, Patrick Taylor so deftly describes and develops his characters that they are appealing even if their earlier escapades are unknown to the reader--I've just found them more like old friends having met them before. In this part of the story, Fingal is 25 years away from the war but he is reminded of many of his wartime experiences and the story goes back and forth between the present--that is to say the '60's in Ulster and the British navy in World War II and Fingal's service.

For some such flashbacks might be disconcerting but those who have read the prior books will recognize the characters and enjoy the elaboration of themes that were only referenced before. On the other hand, such throwbacks in memory will be totally understood by the older reader, who also has built up a past of memories and who probably at certain times revisit them as well. For the younger reader, Barry's relationship with his fiancé, Sue, who is off in France and has met a young Frenchman with whom she is enjoying the sites, will resonate. As will the maternity cases and young child cases the doctor's encounter. If there is an interest in history, especially naval history, that theme will also appeal.

All in all, this series is interesting, the characters appealing and the setting bucolic. Ballybucklebo is a neat place to spend a few days, if not a lifetime.

This review is of an Advance Uncorrected Proof provided for unpaid, honest review by Goodreads.

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