Archive for December, 2013

The Burgess Boys

I decided I wanted to read read Elizabeth Strout’s newest book The Burgess Boys after reading her Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge. I think this book is better. Siblings Jim, Bob & Susan Burgess reunite when Susan’s son Zach ends up in trouble with the law. Susan is the only family member who never left the community of Shirley Falls, Maine, brothers Jim and Bob having long since moved away. They are both lawyers currently living in New York City, but as different as day is to night. Jim is a high profile corporate lawyer often in the national spotlight, Bob is a legal aid lawyer who chooses to remain out of the limelight. With a freak family accident long since buried in their psychies, all 3 try to deal with Zach’s stupid actions one evening that cause national news headlines, and outrage among old time Shirley Falls residents and the newly arrived community of Somali immigrants.  This is a really timely story. It deals with the delicate issue of immigrants fitting into the American way of life – or not, and how hatred and bigotry can be overcome with compasion and forgiveness in the most unlikely circumstances. Strout has portrayed a slice of life in small town American as it most probably is right now. The old having to cope with the new, where ideas and ways of life conflict and create tension. Strout is a great writer, and she deserves high praise for this book. It’s a real winner.

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If you’re a Jane Austen fan you’ll love Longborn by Jo Baker. It’s the servants’ story of Pride and Prejudice. In this delicious book most of the action takes place below stairs, with Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, taking centre stage while scrubbing, darning, lugging, polishing and working herself to a frazzle. Under the watchful eye of Mrs. Hill, the stern housekeeper, and starry-eyed Polly the kitchen maid, Sarah often dreams of a life outside Longbourn. When new footman James arrives, a mysterious lad with little to say, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall is shattered and forever changed. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey or the classic Upstairs Downstairs, you’ll love being immersed in the comings and goings of not only the staff at Longbourn but the Bennetts and their 5 eligible daughters. While life is drudgery, calloused hands, cold feet and slim pickins’ downstairs, it’s new bonnets and ball gowns, eligible bachelors, and keeping up appearances upstairs. After all, nothing is more important than getting those 5 girls married off successfully is there. This is a charming book. Great to read on a cold winter night when you’re comfy-cosy and can really appreciate the mood and feeling Baker creates in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars, when the gap between classes was so evident and life for those below stairs was so harsh. I thought it was great.

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