THROUGH STREETS BROAD AND NARROW by Gemma Jackson

A tale set in 1920’s Dublin, in the vast tenement district, chronicling the poverty and struggle of its inhabitants, told through the life of Ivy Rose Murphy, complete with an Angela’s Ashes alcoholic father, a mother who abandoned the family, and a vile, evil local priest.

Here is the official plot description:

On New Year’s Day 1925 Ivy Rose Murphy awakes to find her world changed forever. Her irresponsible Da is dead. She is grief-stricken and alone – but for the first time in her life free to please herself.

After her mother deserted the family, Ivy became the sole provider for her da and three brothers. Pushing a pram around the well-to-do areas of Dublin every day, she begged for the discards of the wealthy which she then turned into items she could sell around Dublin’s markets.

As she visits the morgue to pay her respects to her Da, a chance meeting introduces Ivy to a new world of money and privilege, her mother’s world. Ivy is suddenly a woman on a mission to improve herself and her lot in life.

Jem Ryan is the owner of a livery near Ivy’s tenement. When an accident occurs in one of his carriages, leaving a young girl homeless, it is Ivy he turns to. With Jem and the people she meets in her travels around Dublin, Ivy begins to break out of the property-ridden world that is all she has ever known.

It is kind of cozy noir, as things progressively get better, in spite of a snag here and there.  I found it a lovely read, and there is a sequel, too.

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PORTRAIT IN SEPIA by Isabel Allende

Portrait in Sepia is actually the middle volume of a trilogy, between Daughter of Fortune and House of the Spirits.   I read House of the Spirits long before I started this blog, so it is not among my musings here, and have not read Daughter of Fortune.  But never fear, this is a stand alone novel, you don’t need the first volume at all.

It is the story of a young woman, daughter of a beautiful young girl who dies in childbirth, granddaughter of a Chilean woman and a Chinese man, very unusual in the later part of the 19th century in San Francisco, and of the neer-do-well son of a very wealthy Chilean couple, also living in San Francisco.  The son refuses to acknowledge his paternity, and a male cousin formally adopts her so she will have a name, and still belong to the Del Valle family.

There is a great deal about grandmother Paulina Del Valle, an obese but astute woman who has such a head for business that the family’s money soon becomes the family’s great wealth, and they have a huge mansion in S.F. where she dominates the social scene.

The little girl, Aurora (Lai Ming) is brought up by her Chilean grandmother and Chinese grandfather until age five, when the grandfather is murdered by the tangs, the wife wants to take his body back to Hong Kong for burial, so the grandmother turns the child over to the wealth grandmother.  At some point, they return to Chile, to Santiago, a back water compared to San Francisco, but is the biggest most progressive city in Chile.  There, Paulina sets up shop again as the big cheese, the granddaughter Aurora falls in love with a handsome son of a ranching family several days travel from Santiago, where they have vast landholdings that had been in the family for centuries.  The marriage fails, because the husband has been in love for years with the wife of his brother.  The granddaughters perfects her craft of photography, and when she learns her grandmother Paulina is close to death, travels to Santiago and never returns to her husband.

The story covers the Chilean civil war, a couple of them, actually, and runs from 1862 to 1910, and is told in the form of a memoir by Aurora. The title refers to her feeling that although family members and events from early in her life are clearly outlined in the black and white photos, and the later ones in the color she begins to use in her film, a lot of her family history is not clear, and appears more as a portrait in sepia.

A fine story, as are all Allende’s books.

Oh, did I mention the translator?  It is Magda Bogin.  Allende writes in Spanish, being a native born Chilean.

BORN CONFUSED by Tanuja Desai Hidier

I think this is a YA, although it does not seem to be classified as such.  It is a coming of age story of a teenage girl in New Jersey.  Nice change from all those boy coming of age stories.

It is a light hearted first person narrative of a 16-going-on 17-year old Asian girl who was born in India, but at an early age her parents moved to the US to finished their educations and work as doctors.  Her BFF is a blonde American sweetie, and they have been friends since early grammar school.

During this year, the BFF who has been dating a loutish loser, tries to fix up Dimple, our Asian gal, with a loser friend of her loser boyfriend, which does not go well at all.   Dimple’s parents invite over to the house an old friend from India who has an eligible college age son, with an eye to making a match.  Seemed kind of young to me, but this is not my culture, so what do I know?

The BFF makes a huge play for the Indian young man after her loutish boyfriend dumps her, gets what she thinks is a modeling job with a prestigious magazine, which turns out to be just gofer work, and reveals herself (at least to me) as being a narcissistic self-involved person not worth bothering with, but about whom Dimple has pages of ruminations and musings about selfishness, friendship, yada yada yada teenage yada yada after they have a falling out.

Our Dimple likes taking pictures and makes a small name for herself as a photographer at a multicultural event when her astonishing photos of a beautiful transvestite are lavishly displayed.  The nice young Indian potential mate shows himself to be as patriarchal as every other India man, but I don’t think we readers are supposed to see him that way.  I saw him that way.  You know, in that Eat, Pray, Get a Man, way.

It is all about being different from the majority, both culturally and in appearance.  Identity is always a crapshoot, and the title refers to this dilemma of fitting in.

It was sweetly written, and what teenage girl of any stripe does not feel she is different from everyone else?  Right?

 

ENCHANTED GLASS by Diana Wynne Jones

I have come to realize that every time I read and write about a fantasy work, I preface it by saying ‘I almost never read fantasy’,  and that I have said this so often that now I am forced to admit that actually I DO seem to read fantasy, just not as often as sci fi or detective fiction.  My bad.

Enchanted Glass is another delightful offering by Diana Wynne Jones, this time about more down to earth magicians, and a somewhat less down to earth character, and some wonderful other-worldly ‘counterparts’, people who sort of resemble in an exaggerated way normal people in the town.

When Andrew Hope’s magician grandfather dies, he leaves his house and field-of-care to his grandson who spent much of his childhood at the house. Into this mix comes young Aidan Cain, who turns up from the orphanage asking for safety. Who he is and why he’s there is unclear, but a strong connection between the two becomes apparent.

Actually, these are YA or even for children, but the child in me certainly enjoyed it.  There is a lot of dark fantasy out there, and it is lovely to chance upon work that doesn’t feel like the magician’s apocalypse.

THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Morton

Kate Morton’s  five novels have all been New York Times bestsellers, Sunday Times bestsellers and international number 1 bestsellers; they are published in 34 languages, across 42 countries.   So I figured, hmmmm, might be good.

This was a great story.  Not really exactly ‘Women’s Fiction’,  but because of the lack of blood, battles, (except for the scenes of the London blitz) and car chases, may not be to every male’s taste.

Here is the summary:

During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion.

The crime Laurel witnesses is her mother stabbing to death that stranger.  Gasp!

Yep, great story.  Gotta get ahold of her other books.