Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Promise – Ann Weisgarber

Review (Amazon):  Young pianist Catherine Wainwright flees the fashionable town of Dayton, Ohio, in the wake of a terrible scandal. Heartbroken and facing destitution, she finds herself striking up correspondence with a childhood admirer, the recently widowed Oscar Williams. In desperation, she agrees to marry him, but when Catherine travels to Oscar’s farm on Galveston Island, Texas—a thousand miles from home—she finds she is little prepared for the life that awaits her. The island is remote, the weather sweltering, and Oscar’s little boy Andre is grieving hard for his lost mother. And though Oscar tries to please his new wife, the secrets of the past sit uncomfortably between them.

Meanwhile, for Nan Ogden, Oscar’s housekeeper, Catherine’s sudden arrival has come as a great shock. For not only did she promise Oscar’s first wife that she would be the one to take care of little Andre, but she has feelings for Oscar that she is struggling to suppress. And when the worst storm in a generation descends, the women will find themselves tested as never before.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: realistic

Sorry I’ve been off the radar for a while. I started and quit two separate books before I got through this one–both of which I do intend to pick back up at some point. This spring has been a whirlwind for me that I’m just about out of.

This book was set (mostly) in Galveston, which living in Houston, I’m well familiar with. I’ve also been to Dayton, Ohio which is where the main characters are originally from. So it made the book kind of easy for me to relate to. The other connection is that this book focuses partly on the 1900 hurricane of Galveston, which I have read Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson previously (great book if you’ve never read it) and if you have been watching the news, Houston this past week went through some of the worst rainfall/flooding it’s had in many many years. (A week later, some roads are still impassable.)

The book begins with two separate stories. In Dayton, Ohio, Catherine Wainwright is trying to figure out her life. She moved back to her hometown from Philadelphia where she had been an up and coming musician–a pianist with the orchestra. She was involved with a man from Dayton whose wife was handicapped (I was never clear exactly what was going on with her), and she wrongly believed his tales that they could be together. She moved back to Dayton to be with him, but he wouldn’t divorce his wife, and she was left in scandal. The towns’ folk gossiped about her, and stopped sending their children to take piano lessons from her, her main source of income. Destitute, she began thinking of options. She remembers a man from her childhood, Oscar Williams, and writes him a letter.

At the same time as Catherine is going through her crisis, Oscar is going through his own. The love of his life, his wife Bernadette has died along with their second child in vitro. Their remaining child, Andre is four, and he is sent to the orphanage while Oscar gets his bearings. Oscar moved to Galveston to find his own life, abandoning his father’s career (and ultimate demise) of hauling coal. Oscar owns a dairy farm on the ridge of the island where he is well respected for his kind ways. His nearest neighbors are the Ogdens, and the children (in their late teens and 20s) work on Oscar’s farm. Wiley and Frank T. work on the farm, and Nan works in the house. Nan and Bernadette were best friends, and Nan promised to look after Andre for Bernadette.

 

Oscar and Catherine mail back and forth. Oscar asks Catherine to marry him, and she agrees. She leaves immediately for Galveston, using her last  money and leaving debts in her wake. Andre has returned from the orphanage, and Nan is looking after him. Catherine is in for a huge shock upon moving to Galveston. It’s nothing like Dayton. The weather is hot and humid. The town is rough, and the island is remote. She is different and has never had to do regular house duties before. But Oscar bought a piano for her. Oscar wants Catherine to help raise his son to be more cultured like she is, but Andre (and Nan) want nothing to do with her.

The marriage is strained from the start–both Catherine and Oscar struggling to get over the loved ones they have lost, and for Catherine, the situation is even worse. She has no friends and is in a foreign place. She tries to get along with Nan, but Nan envisioned that Oscar would ask her to be his wife, so she has her own struggles to get over. Eventually Nan realizes that she can’t stay in the situation, especially when she sees Andre begin to warm up to Catherine. Her last day is a Sunday, the day the storm is to roll in.

The Ogdens have been in Galveston a long time so they prepare Catherine enough as to warn her but not to scare her. But this is not just any hurricane. This is still the largest natural disaster in American history. As the storm progresses, even on the ridge, they begin to notice that the water is getting too high. The bayou has been breached. The Ogdens go back to their home to ride out the storm. Oscar comes back to the farm, but he needs to let his animals out so they don’t spook themselves being tied up. The storm is getting very bad now, and as he is walking back to the farmhouse, he floats off where Catherine can no longer see him. She can’t risk Andre’s safety so she takes him and a collection of her and Oscar’s personal items and goes into the stairwell of the attic, singing Andre songs to keep him calm. The storm passes and as they go back downstairs, they realize that the house is  OK. The water line is partway up the walls of the first floor (over the 12′ piers). There is sand and mud in all parts of the downstairs, but there is no sign of Oscar.

Eventually Wiley comes by. Frank T. is also missing, having been swept away in town. The orphanage too is completely gone, and only a couple orphans survived. Most all of the cattle and horses have died as well, leaving an awful stench. Wiley takes Andre back to the Ogden’s where Nan and Mrs. and Mr. Ogden remain. Catherine decides to stay in case Oscar comes back. During this time, while looking for some paper to leave Oscar a note, she finds a letter from his sister. His sister writes him about Catherine’s scandal back in Dayton, however, as it was dated before the wedding, she realizes that Oscar loved her regardless. She realizes how much she loves Oscar and how she will ensure that things will be different when he returns.

She goes outside and sees Nan. She begins trying to catch her attention, but while doing so, she trips on some debris and falls, right in the path of a rattlesnake. She’s struck twice and Nan helps get her back in the house, but Catherine does not survive.

Oscar’s body was never found, or was never identified. Nan in the end kept her promise to Bernadette by taking care of Andre.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

I feel a bit apathetic towards this book. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. It was well written and the love story didn’t make me want to gag. In fact, it seemed pretty realistic, especially for the time. My main reservation with giving this book a higher ranking was that it didn’t really seem like a whole lot happened throughout it. When I read Isaac’s Storm, I was left completely aghast by how tragic and terrible this hurricane was, however, reading this book, I was not struck by the same emotion at all. All in all it was a decent quick read which I did enjoy.

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Persuasion – Jane Austen

 Review (Amazon): First published in 1818, Persuasion was Jane Austen’s last work. Its mellow character and autumnal tone have long made it a favorite with Austen readers. Set in Somersetshire and Bath, the novel revolves around the lives and love affair of Sir Walter Elliot, his daughters Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary, and various in-laws, friends, suitors, and other characters, In Anne Elliot, the author created perhaps her sweetest, most appealing heroine.
At the center of the novel is Anne’s thwarted romance with Captain Frederick Wentworth, a navy man Anne met and fell in love with when she was 19. At the time, Wentworth was deemed an unsuitable match and Anne was forced to break off the relationship. Eight years later, however, they meet again. By this time Captain Wentworth has made his fortune in the navy and is an attractive “catch.” However, Anne is now uncertain about his feelings for her. But after various twists and turns of fortune, the novel ends on a happy note.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: Sweet

You know what the best thing is about classics? They’re free! Thanks to the Gutenberg project, you can get any book that is out of copyright for free.

This book is our classic for the year, and in general, I’m pretty meh on classics. Typically they are so slow and I feel like the story has been retold in countless portrayals over the year so if I haven’t read the book, it’s typically not a fresh read for me. This is only the second Jane Austen book which I have read (I have read Pride and Prejudice before which I liked).

The main character of this book is sweet 27 year old Anne Elliot. She lives with her older sister, Elizabeth, and her megalomaniacal father, Walter. Her younger sister Mary is married and lives with her husband and two kids. Anne’s father has wasted his money and refuses to cut back his lavish habits, so the decision is made for he, Anne, and Elizabeth to move to Bath and rent out their expensive home in Somersetshire to an Admiral. Anne has no desire to go to Bath, so she remains in Somersetshire, planning out a few places to stay as to prolong the eventual move.

Anne stays with her sister Mary to start out with as Mary has all sorts of issues, particularly hypochondria. Anne helps out with the children, and while there, Captain Wentworth comes to Somersetshire to visit his sister who now lives at Kellynch. When Anne was 19, she was engaged to be married to Wentworth, however her family friend Lady Russell (replacement mother of sorts) convinced Anne to break it off because she was too young and he had no status. Both Anne and Wentworth are cautious around each other, and Wentworth seems more than interested in Mary’s husband’s sisters.

A small group including Mary, Anne, and the two sisters, agrees to travel to Lyme Regis with Wentworth to visit some of his officer friends. One is in mourning as he has just lost his fiancée. Anne connects with his somber situation and they realize they both love poetry. While walking along, she catches the glimpse of a man who is walking alone, and she finds out from Mary that he is none other than the presumed heir of their estate. He had a falling out with their father years ago when he did not marry Elizabeth, securing the situation. While in Lyme, one of the sisters takes her flirting with Wentworth too far and falls, getting a severe concussion. She remains in Lyme to recover while most of the others return home.

By this time, it seems Anne needs to move out of Mary’s for her own sanity, so she decides to travel with Lady Russell to Bath. She finds from her family that William Elliot, the same man who Anne encountered in Lyme, has shown renewed interest in being part of the family. It’s initially suspected that he wants to pick up things with Elizabeth since his wife died, however, Lady Russell believes instead that it is Anne who is the object of his attention. Although Anne much likes Mr. Elliot, she believes that he is hiding something.

She is still trying to figure out exactly what he is hiding when Captain Wentworth appears in Bath. Wentworth is icy toward Anne, but upon the announcement of engagement for both of Mary’s husband’s sisters, Anne assumes it is because he is disappointed by that. She receives information that an old classmate of hers is also living in Bath, and she decides to go see her. Mrs. Smith, widowed, is completely destitute, and she explains to Anne the reason–Mr. Elliot!! When Mrs. Smith heard from her nurse that Mr. Elliot was courting Anne, she knew that she had to warn her. Mr. Elliot was solely focused on money and married his wife solely for that purpose. It had not worked out the way that he wanted and he led Mr. Smith into expenses beyond what he could afford, eventually leaving Mrs. Smith with nothing.

Anne knows that she needs to inform Lady Russell about this information as she has already disapproved of Wentworth once but seems quite taken by Mr. Elliot. Charles and Mary arrive with Charles’s sister and her fiance. Mary appears to see Mr. Elliot out the window, although he was supposed to have already left Bath. When Anne looks, she sees him speaking to Elizabeth’s friend Mrs. Clay. The arrival of Mary has detoured the plan to speak to Lady Russell. In the meantime, Anne and Wentworth reconnect and decide that they were right so long ago and should be married. Even Lady Russell agrees that it is nice to see Anne happy. Obviously the announcement foiled the plans of Mr. Elliot. He left Bath shortly thereafter, followed soon by Mrs. Clay, who had also been trying to get into the family wealth by hoping to marry the widowed Walter Elliot. Anne and Wentworth marry, and help Mrs. Smith get back onto her feet.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

For a classic, this read fairly smoothly. Austen’s work always feels more modern due to her strong women characters. The downfall, like many classic novels, is that it never got really interesting. The book sort of hummed along at a steady pace, perhaps the only exception being when we find out about Mr. Elliot’s past which is still fairly tame in modern experiences. All in all, I thought it was good enough to finish!

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