on January 15, 2013
I rarely bother to write a review with 87 already online. The book is engrossing if you enjoy multigenerational stories that weave together two families for about one hundred years. This one involves four generations, the last two still living. I found the foundation story(ies) to be utterly engrossing and I often stayed up late reading when I ought to have been asleep, but I'm giving it only four stars because Riley uses a literary technique I find annoying as well as detracting from the overall pleasure of reading the book. The primary character is present generation 8 year old Aurora and "her" interruptions in the "Dear Reader" mode are distracting and unneccessary. These outside-the-story interruptions don't provide information that moves the story forward and her thoughts could have been made part of the book without taking her thoughts outside of the story. I downloaded the sample before purchasing the book and almost skipped it because it begins with the italicized "Dear Reader" technique. It is supposed to convey the idea that the book is actually a diary or memoir of her life and that of her immediate ancestors, but the details of each generations trials and errors couldn't possibly be known in such detail by anyone other than the characters themselves. I would have preferred the generational stories to have been told in a straightforward manner moving from generation to generation without the added component that Aurora is an "old soul" who has an Irish 6th sense, a psychic nature, who "knows" things without explanation. Aurora lives in Dunworley House, the descendent of the Lisle family who was the local Squire, and their neighbors, the Ryans, who once leased their land from the Lisles but now own it. Early on in the book, the current lady of the Ryan household, Kathleen, in conversation with her adult daughter, Grania, gives the impression that there have been generations (as in hundreds of years) of bad feeling between "the Squire's family" and their lower class neighbors. As the story unfolds, that isn't true. Kathleen's grandmother, Mary, was a servant in the London household of Alexander Lisle, head of the family, and becomes nursemaid to Mr. Lisle's foundling child, Anna, which eventually does link the two families in a surprising way. Lisle is not married, is in some sort of diplomatic work, and he brings home the baby in 1918, during the Russian revolution. That adorable child, apparently of Russian birth, grows up to be a nasty world famous ballerina, but the real source of ill feeling is Kathleen's personal problem because of a devastating incident between her mildly mentally handicapped brother, Joe, and Gerald, the son of the Big House,in their late teens. Kathleen and Lily, Gerald's half-sister, have actually grown up best friends which has included Kathleen's "simple" brother, Joe, who suffers from unrequited love of Lily as they pass through puberty. Anna has grown up to marry Sebastian, Alexander's younger brother, but since Alexander never formally adopted Anna, they are not relatives. Sebastian has a son, Gerald, from a first marriage, and Lily with Anna, who is rarely home. Lily is self-centered, spoiled, and doesn't appropriately deal with Joe's adoration of her, but the tragedy that occurs is caused by the evil Gerald. The implication of bad feelings between the two families for generations is much overplayed. Historically, there likely was some ill-feeling because the Ryans were tenants and the Lisles, the Squire family, would have played out the class warfare that was part of the times in which they lived, but there's nothing unusual or personally malevolent ever revealed about the two families until the tragedy involving Joe and Gerald. Kathleen holds a fine grudge and rears her two children, Grania and Shane, to be leery of the Lisles. When Grania encounters the waif-like 8 year old Aurora on the cliffs one night shortly after arriving from NYC, Kathleen warns her repeatedly not to get involved with the family. Aurora's mother, Lily, is dead, and she is being reared by her father, mostly in London. Grania has left behind her career as a sculptor and her lover of many years, Matt, in NYC, when she flees after a miscarriage for reasons that are not revealed until the end of the book. Aurora is strangely adult-like and quite clearly believes in reincarnation. There's reference to her having read something about Hindu beliefs and Nirvana. She believes her mother to be in Heaven, believes she sees her on the cliffs at times, and also that her mother communicates with her, sharing knowledge with her that there is no rational way to explain her having. The references to reincarnation, the notion that souls live in groups in Heaven that reincarnate together over and over, which is, in fact, a common Western belief written by those who believe in reincarnation, who report past life regressions in which they've lived with current relationships in the past, etc., is not well developed. Those references are sort of dropped in and not fleshed out. There's just this touch of New Age thinking thrown in, including the idea that when we die, one or more people who loved us and preceded us in death will be there at the end to greet us and take us to our new home in Heaven. I'm trying to avoid plot spoilers, so I'll leave it that the ending is bitter sweet, with all the ends tied up and the family animosities resolved. Getting to the end was an enjoyable process and it is, overall, one of the best stories I've read in some time, spoiled by the interruptions of Aurora in the pretense she is writing all of this as her memoir. Because Aurora often makes comments that imply she is at the end of her life, and this action is taking place in the present day, her interruptions are also perplexing in that it appears she is writing this many decades into the future that none of us have yet lived. People who love Hatfield/McCoy generational stories will love this one taking place on the coast of Cork in Ireland. My axe to grind with the "Dear Reader" part is a personal pet peeve. There is one other teeth grinding aspect to the writing that almost seems petty to mention, but Riley is Irish and writes in Irish sentence construction. I like this; I love novels written by Irish writers. And, having read other novels that take place in Cork, she has Kathleen speak in Cork colloquialisms that enhanced the reading for me. What Riley didn't do well, not surprisingly, was write "American". When she has Matt, Grania's NYC boyfriend and his ex-girlfriend converse, I could hardly stand it, wondering why her editor didn't correct her ideas about how we talk. Not only was her constant reference to Matt as Matty annoying, as though he were a toddler, the dialogue is stilted using stereotyped American-speak, such as, "gonna" instead of "going", but worst of all was the repeated use of the word "real" instead of "really" when the adverb was needed. I will admit our educational system has gotten very lax about teaching proper sentence construction, and I do hear people say "real" when "really" would be proper, but when writing a book it would be easier for the consumer to read proper grammar. They also called each other "hon". Is this really how the rest of the world thinks we speak? If so, I'm mortally embarrassed. They were two well-educated upper class New Yorkers who certainly would have been taught to speak properly, and how often do you hear couples call each other "hon" in every other sentence? Some US editing would have improved those blessedly brief conversations. Overall, this is a book people looking for new authors who write in this genre will enjoy. Despite some grousing, I have just downloaded her first book after reading the sample. In the process, I see that she has a new book coming out later this year which follows the same pattern of generational strife, but it takes place in France and I probably will pass on it. I love books that take place in Ireland and England. I'm not that interested in French locales and history. But, Riley fans who have not recently checked her page will be happy to know her next book is scheduled for publication.