Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Marriage Plot – Book Review

She used a line from Trollope’s Barchester Towers as an epigraph: “There is no happiness in love, except as the end of an English novel.” Her plan was to begin with Jane Austen. After a brief examination of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility, all comedies, essentially, that ended with weddings, Madeleine was going to move on to the Victorian novel, where things got more complicated and considerably darker. Middlemarch and The Portrait of a Lady didn’t end with weddings. They began with the traditional moves of the marriage plot – the suitors, the proposals, the misunderstandings – but after the wedding ceremony they kept on going. These novels followed their spirited, intelligent heroines, Dorothea Brooke and Isabel Archer, into their disappointing married lives, and it was here that the marriage plot reached its greatest artistic expression. – from The Marriage Plot, page 22-33

Jeffrey Eugenides newest novel is set in the early 1980s and opens at Brown University in Rhode Island. Madeleine Hanna, an English major with a flair for the romantic, is writing her senior thesis on the marriage plot – unaware that her life will soon evolve into a more complicated version of her thesis. As Madeleine navigates the complex literary world of the 80s, trying to unravel the meaning behind the idea of semiotics, she meets Leonard Bankhead. Leonard is charming, erotic…and bi-polar (a fact which eludes Madeleine early on, but gradually becomes a factor in their relationship). Mitchell Grammaticus has been secretly in love with Madeleine for a long time. He is also deeply entrenched in religious studies and decides, after graduation, to travel with his friend Larry to Europe and then to India where he confronts the larger questions of life and love.

The novel follows these three characters in parallel and intersecting narratives as they navigate college, graduation, sexual freedom, feminism, mental illness, love, divorce, and finally maturity.

The Marriage Plot is all about the journey of its characters. Filled with humor, sadness, and an honest look at growing to adulthood during the 1980s, the novel drew me in completely. I graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1982, and so much of Eugenides observations of college life during that time period rang true to me. In many ways, Eugenides’ novel reminds me of another book I read earlier this year: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Both authors provide a perspective of middle-class America and depict deeply flawed, fully developed characters. That said, I slightly preferred The Marriage Plot – it is funnier, less cynical, and more optimistic than Franzen’s tome.

All of the characters in The Marriage Plot are struggling with their own demons. Leonard’s battle with bi-polar disorder is brilliantly drawn. He is a tragic character. Mitchell struggles with his own identity as a man, as well as how his life fits within the greater scheme of the universe and God. He was, perhaps, my favorite character in the book. Madeleine holds a romanticized view of life and has a hard time letting go of the typical female desire to “fix” the one she loves. Her growth, from idealistic college student to a woman who begins to finally recognize her worth as an individual, is triumphant.

Ultimately the book is a deep and satisfying novel about romantic love reflected against our societal mores and history. Eugenides brilliantly uses literary references and draws parallels between Madeleine’s senior theses and the books she reads to help the reader gain further understanding of the characters and their relationships with each other.

The Marriage Plot is a character-driven, literary novel which will appeal to readers who enjoy literary fiction. Also readers who survived college and its aftermath during the early 1980s in the United States will find a lot to love about Eugenides’ latest effort. I found the novel to be an intellectually stimulating, greatly satisfying reading which I can highly recommend.

  • Quality of Writing:
  • Characters:
  • Plot:

Overall Rating:

Other reviews:

Have YOU read and reviewed this book? Leave me a link to your review in the comments and I’ll add it to the list above.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book.

Mailbox Monday – November 28, 2011

Welcome to this week’s edition of Mailbox Monday.

This month Mailbox Monday is being hosted on the dedicated blog for the meme. You can check that blog to see the complete tour schedule in the left hand sidebar.

Here is what arrived at my house this week:

Thanks to James Meader at Picador, I received an Advance Readers Edition of Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (due for release in the US in March 2012) which was a 2011 Finalist for the Man Booker Prize, won the 2011 Giller Prize, and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.  The novel opens in Berlin in 1939 where a young trumpet-player named Hieronymus, is arrested in a Paris cafe. The star musician was never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sidney Griffiths, the only witness that day, still refuses to speak of what he saw. When Chip Jones, his friend and fellow band member, comes to visit, recounting the discovery of a strange letter, Sid begins a slow journey towards redemption. Half-Blood Blues is described as “an electric, heart-breaking story about music, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.

Esi Edugyn has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006). Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Edugyan has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. She has taught creative writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria. She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Read more about Edugyan and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Algonquin Books sent me a copy of Maman’s Homesick Pie:  A Persian Heart in an American Kitchenby Donia Bijan as part of BOOK CLUB (discussion on this book will happen on Nicole’s blog on December 13th). Donia Bijan’s family fled to California’s Bay Area in 1978 when the Islamic revolution in Iran threatened their safety. Award-winning chef Donia Bijan’s memoir centers around her mother. Evoking a vibrant kaleidoscope of cultures and cuisines, she shares thirty inspired recipes from her childhood, her French training, and her cooking career.

Donia Bijan graduated from UC Berkeley and the Cordon Bleu in Paris. After presiding over a number of San Francisco acclaimed restaurants and earning awards for her French-inspired cuisine, she ran her own restaurant, L’Amie Donia, in Palo Alto for ten years. Since closing her restaurant in 2004, Bijan has divided her days between raising her son, catering, and writing her memoir. Learn more about Bijan and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Hyperion Voice sent me an Advance Readers Edition of Arcadia by Lauren Groff (due for release in March 2012). This from the publisher: “Arcadia is the romantic, lush, haunting story of the American Dream and of a gifted young man born into an idealistic community.” The novel takes place in the late 1960s in Western New York State where several dozen idealists set out to live off the land. Centered around a young boy – Ridley Sorrel Stone, known as “Little Bit – the story evolves over three generations as Little Bit grows into a man.

Lauren Groff was born in 1978 in Cooperstown, N.Y. She graduated from Amherst College and has an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her short stories have appeared in a number of journals, including the New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, One Story, and Subtropics. She was awarded the Axton Fellowship in Fiction at the University of Louisville, and has had residencies and fellowships at Yaddo, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and Ragdale. Groff’s first novel, The Monsters of Templeton (2008), was a New York Times and Booksense bestseller, and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers. Her second book, Delicate Edible Birds, is a collection of stories. She lives in Gainesville, Florida with her husband and two sons. Read more about Groff and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Did any amazing books find their way into YOUR home this week?

Sunday Salon – November 27, 2011

November 27, 2011

Good morning and welcome to The Sunday Salon where bloggers post about their reading and invite conversation. Check out the Facebook page for other links.

My post this morning is going to be short and sweet. I think I should have left off my gratitude about good health on this post because no sooner had I posted that, then I came down with the flu. I’m laying low today with the television (I love bad movies on Lifetime when I’m sick) and my latest read and hoping that my fever will break and I’ll start feeling better soon.

In case you missed it, I posted about transparency in blogging this week in the wake of the Friday Reads debacle. I hope that I will continue to get bloggers filling out the survey on that post. Here is another link in case you missed the first one: Click here to take survey

My goal is to get a picture of how many bloggers are accepting payment for content and what their disclosure practices are…as well as why bloggers might NOT be accepting payment for content. Some people have asked whether paid advertisements in their sidebars are considered paid content…really I am asking about payment for actual content a blogger is writing (like reviews, giveaways, author interviews, etc…). I am planning to share the results of the survey (without giving any identifying factors for those who answered the survey questions) sometime after December 1st. Please note, you can complete the survey anonymously. If I share any comments from the survey, I will respect your privacy and not reveal who said what. I am not pointing fingers, but hope to get an idea of how we view disclosure and transparency. I hope you’ll consider participating.

I do not have any reviews to share with you today, although I did finish reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (and loved it), and I should finish Bruce Machart’s short story collection today. With Thanksgiving, and then getting ill, I have not had time to craft any reviews this week. I hope you’ll visit again in a couple of days to see what I thought of these two books.

Until then, have a great day – I hope whatever you are doing today involves a great book!


For those readers in the United States who are celebrating Thanksgiving, I wish you the most wonderful of days tomorrow.

Today I am grateful for:

  • Family, near and far
  • Friendships which have survived distance, illness, and misunderstandings…and for the joy, love and comfort those friendships have brought to me through the years
  • The cry of a hawk, the fleeting glimpse of a deer, the sway of a pine tree, a sunset..all those things in nature which we often do not take the time to appreciate
  • The animals who share my life
  • Good health
  • And last, but certainly not least, my incredible husband who is my best friend and confidant, and whose love and support carries me through even on the worst of days…

There must be more, but those seem to be the most important. What about you? Are you feeling grateful today?

Transparency and Why It is Important

**Update 4:30 PM (PST): Please read this post by Erin of Hey There is a Dead Guy in the Living Room for further clarification about Friday Reads and how it is administered.


A controversy surrounding the Friday Reads meme got me thinking about the issue of bloggers being paid for content they post to their blogs. This is not new stuff. Book bloggers have been going round and round about the idea of paid content for a while now. Let me just say up front – I do not have a problem with bloggers making money from their blogs. I DO have a problem with bloggers posting paid content or promotional material and not fully disclosing it.

Maybe I should define “full disclosure.”

  • It should be obvious to visitors to one’s blog if there is paid content – readers should not have to do an extensive search to find disclosure information.
  • I don’t think a one line, small print “disclosure” hidden on one’s blog constitutes full disclosure.
  • I don’t think providing a link to another site where one “discloses” is full disclosure.

Not only should bloggers indicate on their “About” page that there is paid content on their blog (or that they might get paid by readers clicking through links on their site), but if a specific post is generating revenue for a blogger, the disclosure should also be on that particular post. Why? Because many readers use feed readers to access blog content and they will never see the “About” page.

My thoughts about disclosure are not just my personal opinion. The FTC has specific guidelines regarding this which have been updated to include what people must do… not only on their blogs, but on Twitter and other social networking sites. They are very clear. Every blogger should read these guidelines because disclosure effects us all.

The Friday Reads meme is interesting in terms of disclosure because it is not really a blog. Yes, they have a website but how many people actually visit the website? Most people access the meme through a Twitter hashtag or visit the meme on the Facebook page. Up until yesterday, if you visited the Friday Reads Facebook page, there was nothing at all in the information about the organizers getting paid by publishers for hosting book giveaways or having “twitter parties.” In fact, this is what their “About” page said about the meme:

FridayReads is not a corporate endeavor, but rather is a labor of love—and crowdsourcing—from readers. We’re grateful, though, for the authors and publishers who donate prizes each week! Prizes—books and magazines—are awarded to randomly selected FridayReads participants each week, and as the number of participants grows, so do the prizes available. So be sure to ask your friends to participate, too.

They specifically indicated that the meme was not a corporate endeavor (ie: business) and that it is all about the joy of reading. They indicated their prizes are donated, but they omitted that they were also being paid to advertise the giveaways. They did not mention the twitter book promotions which were also paid. If you can believe author Jennifer Weiner (who tweeted about this extensively on Friday), they are being paid a significant amount of money. So, what on its face appeared to be just another fun meme in the book blogging/reading world, was actually a business which was dependent on reader participation to be successful.

I find this disheartening because it feels deceptive.

Yesterday Bethanne at Book Maven and the founder of Friday Reads updated the Facebook page with a disclosure, and posted a “full disclosure” on her site. She explains how the whole thing unfolded and indicates that she is rethinking things and wants to be clearer in the future. I applaud that, however I can’t help but notice that the only comments being approved on her post are in support of her. I tried to post a comment and it has yet to be approved – it was not rude, but it was not supportive. **Please note that my comment has now been approved (Bethanne has commented on this post below). I noticed this morning Bethanne notes she is holding comments which are “negative” so she can clarify their content. I don’t really get that. A comment is someone’s opinion and it should not be censored just because the commenter doesn’t agree with your position. But, it is her site, and I suppose she is entitled to make these kinds of decisions. It does make me wonder, however, how many people like myself tried to post a dissenting comment and have been shut down.

My intent here is to not trash a particular person, but to bring to light why bloggers should disclose and be transparent on their blogs.

Amy from My Friend Amy wrote a wonderful, thoughtful post about disclosure yesterday with which I completely agree. In that light, I thought I would share with my readers a few facts about my blog.

Giveaways on my site are handled in one of two ways:

  1. A publisher offers a book for giveaway and mails the book to the winner. I post about the giveaway. I do NOT get paid. Rarely do I agree to a publisher sponsored giveaway of a book I have not read. Why? Because I don’t want to promote a book I did not like or could not recommend.
  2. I decide to give away a book that I have gotten from a publisher or author (either I don’t want to read it, or it is an extra copy, or I’ve read it and want to share it with someone else). I mail the book to the winner. I do NOT get reimbursed for postage. I do NOT get paid for posting the giveaway.

I also do not get paid for posting reviews (although I was asked by an author once if I would read and review her book if she paid me to do so – I said “no” because I felt that would have been a conflict of interest).

In fact, there is no paid content whatsoever on Caribousmom.

I AM an Indiebound affliliate. In fact, I’ve been an affiliate with them for nearly two years. By posting Indiebound widgets on my site, I COULD earn money if someone clicks through and then buys the book. That said, in light of full disclosure, I can tell you I have earned $1.47 from those widgets over a two year period. Even still, I put a disclosure statement on every single post that contains these widgets. I do not assume that readers will go to my “About” page to read my disclosure there.

I receive complimentary books from publishers, publicists and authors to review on my blog. The source of every single book I receive is disclosed – first on my weekly Mailbox Monday, and also when I review the book. No one has to guess which books came to me “free” because I tell them right up front.

I occasionally participate in book blog tours, and when I do, I disclose that the book came to me from the publisher and I give links back to the tour site (if that is applicable).

Just so people know, my blog is not free. It is a paid platform. I pay for it to be hosted and maintained. It is not cheap. I have probably spent at least $100 over the last 12 months mailing out books to people in my blog hosted giveaways (maybe more – I don’t keep track). My blog, in terms of money, is a losing proposition. No one would do this unless they loved it. Which is why I do it.

Now, before I start getting comments calling me bitter or saying this post is sour grapes or telling me I could find ways to monetize my blog if I wanted to, let me say that I have never been upset that I do not make money here. I posted about this here some time ago. And, as I said in the first paragraph of this post – I have nothing against bloggers who DO choose to monetize their blogs.

That said, I do not think we can be objective when we are getting paid by a publisher to promote a certain book, whether it be through a review, giveaway, guest post or author interview. This type of paid promotion is VERY different from advertising on our blogs or writing reviews for third party sites who pay us for our objective opinions – somewhat like print reviewers. Bloggers who are essentially employees of the publishers absolutely need to disclose that to their readers. Why? Because we count on honesty from the blogs when selecting books. And I think that assumption of honesty is what makes book blogs successful. Who wants to read reviews which are NOT honest? Why bother?

I also think that any challenge, meme or event which serves to make money for its organizer as an outreach of a publisher is, by definition, a business and should be disclosed as such so that participants can make an informed decision as to whether or not they wish to support that challenge, meme, or event.

Now that I have ranted…if you are still here, I would love to have you take a survey. You can complete it anonymously. I would like to close the survey on December 1st:  Click here to take survey

Finally, I welcome your comments whether you agree with me or not. Please, however, keep it civil. Comments which are mean, abusive or make personal attacks will be deleted.

**Please note that my blog is set to hold comments in moderation if the person commenting is new to my blog OR if they include a link in their comment. This is to prevent spam. I am working today, so there may be a slight delay in approving comments…but I will try to monitor this post frequently. Thanks for your patience.

Mailbox Monday – November 21, 2011

Welcome to this week’s edition of Mailbox Monday.

This month Mailbox Monday is being hosted on the dedicated blog for the meme. You can check that blog to see the complete tour schedule in the left hand sidebar.

Here is what arrived at my house this week:

The folks from Random House sent me an Advance Readers Edition of I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella (due for release February 2012). Most people are familiar with Kinsella’s wildly popular Shopaholic series. In her latest novel, Kinsella brings to readers another hilariously funny female protagonist: Poppy Wyatt. When Poppy has her cell phone stolen, she is in a panic. She quickly recovers when she sees another phone which has clearly been discarded. But as she texts all her friends with her new number, the phone rings and strange man’s voice demands, “Excuse me, who is this? Why are you answering this number?” In this stand-alone novel, Kinsella explores the love-hate relationship we have with technology.

Sophie Kinsella is a bestselling author with more than 20 million copies of her books in print worldwide. Sophie wrote her first novel under her real name, Madeleine Wickham, at the age of 24, while she was working as a financial journalist. She submitted her first ‘Sophie Kinsella’ novel anonymously to her existing publishers and it was snapped up without her editors knowing that she was already one of their authors. It wasn’t until Can You Keep a Secret? was published that Kinsella revealed her true identity for the first time. Kinsella was born in London. She studied music at New College, Oxford, but after a year switched to Politics, Philosophy and Economics. She now lives in London, UK, with her husband and family. Learn more about Kinsella and her work by visiting the author’s website.


Readers wishing to purchase books featured in this post from an Indie Bookstore may click on the book links below to find Indie sellers. As an Indiebound Associate, I receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.

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Sunday Salon – November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011

Good morning and welcome to this week’s edition of The Sunday Salon. Don’t miss other bloggers’ posts – visit the Facebook Page for links.

This morning I woke up to several inches of snow on the ground. I am so not ready for winter. If only it could hold off until after Thanksgiving.

This has been an interesting week for me. As some of you may know, I have been participating in Nanowrimo. I started out way ahead in my word count because the story I am writing has been in my head for a long time. But a funny thing began to happen as I wrote this novel – the characters and their motivations, the purpose for the story, began to coalesce and come together for me and it surprised me. It was not the story I thought it would be – it was something far better, something deeper than I had realized. Because of that, I stopped writing for a few days. I needed to think about where I was going and what I was dong. I wanted to honor this story and these characters. So, I am far behind in word count, but way ahead in terms of story. I don’t know if I’ll hit 50,000 words by November 30th (I’m currently at 22,000)…and it does not matter at this point (I’ve completed Nanowrimo several times and those novels have sat un-edited for years). This is a novel that I want to spend time with and build slowly. This is the novel that I feel I have been waiting to write. So, at the end of the month, I may not have hit that arbitrary number, but I will be well on my way to completing something of which I will be proud.

Last week I finally finished Tides of War by Stella Tillyard. I liked the book, although it was a slow start for me. I think history buffs who like books chock full of characters will appreciate this one (read my review).

I am loving my current read: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I read Middlesex years ago and loved it (read my review). The Marriage Plot is a very different story from that of Middlesex, but it is no less compelling. I love how Eugenides creates character, I love his humor and irony. I can see why bloggers are giving this one high ratings. I hope to finish it in the next couple of days, so watch for my review by mid-week.

Next up in my stacks is the short story collection Men in the Making by Bruce Machart. I can’t wait to sink into these stories because I have grown to really love Machart’s writing.

By the way, do you follow the book award announcements? Greg at The New Dork Review of Books posted about whether readers really care who gets nominated and wins these awards.

It is an interesting question and it caught my attention because I was wildly excited about Jesmyn Ward winning the NBA for her stunning novel Salvage the Bones (read my review). I love the award lists – if only to troll through them drooling over books I want to add to my towering TBR pile. What about you? Do you follow these lists? Are you likely to pick up a book simply because it was nominated or won an award? Greg is asking people to weigh in on his post, and I would love to hear from you as well.

In non book news, I have been quilting like a demon trying to finish up some projects before the end of the year. I want to start 2012 with a clean slate, so to speak!

What are you doing on this Sunday before Thanksgiving? I have some housecleaning and menu planning to do. I will probably carve out some writing time. And then I will be sinking into Jeffrey Eugenides wonderful prose.

Have a wonderful week!

Weekend Cooking – November 19, 2011

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

*Photos in this post are clickable to enjoy a larger view

There is something about the shortening of the days, the baring of the trees, the frost which whitens the ground on most mornings…which makes me want to hibernate in my kitchen, cooking up warm and comforting foods.

Recently I purchased In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark which is not just a cookbook, but a meditation about food and the stories that accompany the foods we remember and love the most. The book has been sitting on my counter and this week I finally delved into it. I was looking for a different way to cook the boneless, skinless chicken breast I had taken out of the freezer and I found a recipe in Clark’s book which caught my attention.

Clark reminisces about Thanksgivings past with her uncle Danny – a man who loved the dark meat of the turkey the best:

Every Thanksgiving when I was a kid, my uncle Danny used to say, “I like my turkeys built like Jane Fonda, with small tits and a big ass.” – from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, page 145 –

The point of the story was that Clark also prefers the moist and juicy dark meat over the dry breast meat, and so her cookbook has only one recipe for chicken breasts…a recipe that she envisioned made with honey and spices and sweet potatoes – something moist and flavorful. Her recipe for Spiced Chipotle Honey Chicken Breasts with Sweet Potatoes (page 147) looked delicious…but I had a little bit of a problem. I did not have Chipotle chiles in Adobo sauce or sweet potatoes, and I am allergic to Cumin. Undeterred, I decided to go forth with the recipe with some substitutions. Instead of Chipotle chiles, I diced up some red peppers, and instead of sweet potatoes, I used Russet potatoes. I left out the cumin.

The recipe calls for roasting the potatoes for 15 minutes before topping them with the chicken breasts which have been rubbed  with honey, cinnamon, cider vinegar, the peppers, and kosher salt and roasting the dish in a 400 degree oven for an additional 25-30 minutes. The smell of cooking chicken with the rich tang of cinnamon had my mouth watering. The result was  scrumptious. I do think that it would have been even better with sweet potatoes, but I did not miss the Chipotle chilies at all.

I also baked some butternut squash as a side…and decided the perfect dessert was apple pie hot from the oven.

I am eager to continue exploring Clark’s homey cookbook…I’ll keep you posted!

Do you love to cook? Don’t miss other bloggers’ Weekend Cooking posts – head over to Beth Fish Reads to catch all the links for today!


Salvage the Bones Wins the National Book Award

I don’t usually make these kinds of announcements on my blog because, well, most of the time everyone knows the results of an award before I do for some reason.

BUT, I was so excited to see that Jesmyn Ward took the top award for fiction this year at the National Book Awards – and not just because she is a young, uber talented author, but because I read her book earlier this year and was blown away by it (read my review).

I have not yet read all the books short listed in the fiction category, but I had hoped that Ward would win because her novel is original, raw and so beautifully written that it is unforgettable. You’ll see me gushing more about this book because it will undoubtedly be on my Best Books of 2011 list.

Have you read Salvage the Bones yet? If so, what did you think? If not, is it in your to-be-read stack?

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Tides of War – Book Review

Dorothy Yallop pressed her shawl and set the iron down flat on the hearth. Behind her through the window the River Waveney spilled out into the meadows and caught the last of the light from the bleached winter sky. A rising breeze moved through the naked willow branches; snow was on the way from the west. In the darkness the current of war came upriver on the evening tide, pushed unnoticed into every rivulet and stream, and seeped into the frosted ground. – From Tides of War, page 12 –

The year is 1812, the place England. The unconventional and personable Harriet Raven is about to say good-bye to her new husband, James, as he leaves for the Peninsular War as part of the Duke of Wellington’s troops in Spain. Thus begins a new chapter in Harriet’s life – that of the wife left behind while her husband fights battles on foreign soil.

Stella Tillyard’s debut novel is sprawling and filled with characters both historical and fictional. Harriet takes center stage in London and is joined by the Duke of Wellington’s savvy and independent wife, Kitty, along with the ever loyal Dorothy Yallop. While Dorothy waits patiently for the return of her husband, Kitty begins to invest her money through a questionable source, and Harriet becomes enamored with Frederick Winsor who is bringing light to London through his newly conceived Gas  Light and Coke Company.

Meanwhile, a bloody war is unfolding in Spain where James Raven, Dr. David McBride, Major George Yallop, Robert Heaton, and the unfaithful Arthur Wellesley (Lord Wellington) wrestle with their own demons and temptations.

The novel moves back and forth from Spain to London and spans the years 1812-1814. Narrated in multiple points of view, it portrays the struggles and strengths of the women who carried on their daily lives in London, as well as the brutal horror of war in Spain – including obscene war crimes, horrible injuries and sexual transgressions. Tillyard’s strength is her ability to bring to life the effects of war, especially for those men who peopled the battlefields.

[…] here in Spain, and in the army, all our pasts drop away from us. Stand in line though we do, the ranks invisibly rearrange themselves so that the ribbons of standing and wealth that tied us together at home fall away. – from Tides of War, page 127 –

Tillyard also illuminates the challenges women faced in the early part of the nineteenth century – their dependence on men, their lack of freedoms, their rather uneventful lives – and demonstrates the unusual freedoms which war brought to them. Not only were most women not allowed to have their own money, but they were also held to a high standard of loyalty…which their husbands were not.

It was not what he had done in Spain. That was to be expected. It was what Harriet had done, her betrayal of her marriage vow. – from Tides of War, page 314 –

Tillyard writes with authority, deftly handling the changes in point of view, and moving the narrative forward. Tides of War has a huge cast of characters and assumes some knowledge of the historical time period. Because of this, I found myself having to reference the character list at the back of the book, and even research some of the history of the time. Despite a slow start, the novel pulled me in and had captivated me by the midpoint.

Readers of historical fiction and those who appreciate a narrative which includes dozens of characters and introduces multiple viewpoints, will enjoy Tides of War.

  • Quality of Writing:
  • Characters:
  • Plot:

Overall Rating:

FTC Disclosure: This novel was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

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