Book Reviews

Book Review: Bethlehem by Karen Kelly

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Bethlehem by Karen KellyBethlehem by Karen Kelly
Published on July 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fiction
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 304
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

With the writing chops of Ian McEwan and the story-craft of Lisa Wingate, Karen Kelly weaves a shattering debut about two intertwined families and the secrets that they buried during the gilded, glory days of Bethlehem, PA.

A young woman arrives at the grand ancestral home of her husband’s family, hoping to fortify her cracking marriage. But what she finds is not what she expected: tragedy haunts the hallways, whispering of heartache and a past she never knew existed.

Inspired by the true titans of the steel-boom era, Bethlehem is a story of temptation and regret, a story of secrets and the cost of keeping them, a story of forgiveness. It is the story of two complex women—thrown together in the name of family—who, in coming to understand each other, come finally to understand themselves.

Kelly’s debut novel makes a terrific splash in weaving together the tale of two complex women, both haunted by the tragedies of the past and the unrelenting nature of love in its most daunting form – uncontrollable.

Uprooting his family to the town of Bethlehem, PA and its lustrous history of the steel industry, Joanna discovers the faults in her marriage run deeper than she anticipated.

It is only under the cruel light of the endless blue skies she begins to see the dark truth of not only her own life but the thunderous echoes of the past. Often left to her own devices due to her husband’s busy work schedule, Joanna finds herself taken with the eccentric caretakers of the home.

She floated in Chap’s arms like a feather in a stream, with a strange, transcendental feeling of utter fulfillment, made more bewildering by the fact that she hadn’t realized it had been missing before.

Her new connections lead her to make a curious connection with her mother-in-law, a woman whose story mirrors Joanna’s in an almost uncanny way.

Bethlehem is a vibrant, soapy, and absorbing debut. It’s romantic without being sappy, mysterious without being dour, and realistic with its descriptive passages of aureate architecture and old-money opulence.

What makes Bethlehem such a startling novel and a departure from the tired and true romantic sentiments is its disavowal of a fated “to be.” There is a sadness to love, the idea that being enraptured by one may blind you to the truth.

Karen Kelly makes an exhilarating debut with this historical fiction novel. Stick with it. The beginning can be daunting due to its many character introductions and alternating usage of the timeline.

Rest assured you will be eased into the complicated family relationships between the Collier and Parrish families. The delicate intricacies of their family relationships form the underlying foundation of this story and beg the question of familial history – if one does not understand the past is it doomed to repeat?

Only when Susannah recognizes the imposter, does she impart a moral to the woman who became so inexplicably linked to her in the past and the present.

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About Karen Kelly

Karen Kelly has a BA in English from Vanderbilt University,
and lives in Edina, Minnesota.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea BobotisThe Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis
Published on July 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fiction
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 320
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

Some bury their secrets close to home. Others scatter them to the wind and hope they land somewhere far away.

Judith Kratt inherited all the Kratt family had to offer—the pie safe, the copper clock, the murder no one talks about. She knows it's high time to make an inventory of her household and its valuables, but she finds that cataloging the family belongings—as well as their misfortunes—won't contain her family's secrets, not when her wayward sister suddenly returns, determined to expose skeletons the Kratts had hoped to take to their graves.

Interweaving the present with chilling flashbacks from one fateful evening in 1929, Judith pieces together the influence of her family on their small South Carolina cotton town, learning that the devastating effects of dark family secrets can last a lifetime and beyond.

Told against the backdrop of customary Southern decorum, The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is the sprawling saga of the Kratt family.

The central narrator, Judith, is unreliable, not always likable. She cares more about the legacy of her family and the value of her heirlooms than she does about her surroundings. Borne into the prosperous Kratt family, Judith grew up under the rigid thumb of the oppressive and injurious Daddy Kratt.

Cotton and blackmail kept the Kratts in business for years until a tragic incident cast a permanent shadow over them. Quincy, Judith’s brother, was murdered.

Rosemarie, Judith’s sister, has always believed Judith was responsible for Quincy’s death. Because of this, she fled the suffocating small-town of Bound, never to darken Judith’s doorstep again.

Since then, Judith hasn’t left her home. She’s been in a shut-in for 65 years with only Olva, a family friend with secrets of her own, to keep her company.

The story is told with two alternating narratives, one from when Judith was only 15 and one in present-day Bound where Judith is 75. The segments of the novel set in the past follow the events leading up to Quincy’s death.

Andrea Bobotis is a competent writer. The world of Bound is fleshed out through lustrous descriptive passages. You can feel the swelter of Southern heat, feel the blanket of dust coating the untouched miscellaneous objects in the old Kraft house and see the splinters of the sun’s rays filtering through the windows.

This story less about the mystery and more about establishing the arcs of its central characters. It also focuses heavily on how the past can inform the present.

Because The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is more intrinsically motivated, the ending feels somewhat anticlimactic. Everything de-escalates quickly, and the core conflicts in the book wrap up a little too neat.

But that doesn’t make this novel any less of a compelling read. Despite feeling underwhelmed by the final chapters, I felt wholly gratified by the understanding of Judith’s inventory. What makes her family history worth preserving?

One has to learn how to hang on, and also when to let go.

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About Andrea Bobotis

A native of South Carolina, Andrea holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Virginia. She lives with her family in Denver, Colorado, where she teaches creative writing to youth at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She also teaches yoga and is a national parks geek.

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: The Dream Daughter

  • Author: Diane Chamberlain
  • Edition: Kindle
  • Published: Oct. 2, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Star Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • Goodreads

The year is 1970 and Caroline Sears’ baby is diagnosed with a fatal heart defect. She assumes all hope is lost and that she may lose her daughter before she is ever born. Luckily for her, Hunter, her sister’s husband, has a plan in order to prevent that from happening. A maverick of time travel, he has a plan to send Caroline into the future, to the year 2001 to be exact, in order to get the medical care she cannot get in the current era and save her child.

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