Book Review May 2012


May is the beginning of the summer gift-giving  season (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations, weddings) and the publishers’ output reflects that demand. This month brings two novels commemorating the anniversaries of major historical events, a sequel to one of my favorite novels of the past couple of years, and a second memoir by an artist whose work deserves a wider readership.

On June 3, 1937, Edward, Duke of Windsor, married Mrs. Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American. Almost exactly 75 years later, we have Abdication: A Novel by British historian Juliet Nicolson, which tells the story of the events leading up to King Edward VIII’s abdication and marriage. Through the viewpoints of characters on the periphery of the action, the reader sees the backstage action and the true characters of many famous people. May Thomas, a chauffeur to Sir Philip Blunt, is privy to his efforts to avert the constitutional crisis that would arise from the king’s marriage; Evangeline Nettlefold, a childhood friend of Wallis Simpson, watches the development of Wallis’s and Edward’s relationship and marvels at the hold she has over him. Cameo appearances by Oswald Mosley, Winston Churchill and Princess Elizabeth add to the story’s realistic tone. Readers unfamiliar with the history will get a good feel for the crisis the royal romance provoked without having to wade through torturous detail. If you enjoyed “The King’s Speech,” you’ll enjoy Abdication!

One hundred years ago, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe is set in 1915 Boston, three years after the tragedy in which Sybil Allston’s mother and sister were drowned. Sybil is still haunted by the loss of her mother and sister, and she spends much time and money on a spiritualist, trying to make contact with them again. When her black-sheep brother returns home with his lady friend and a former flame of Sybil’s reappears in her life, events draw her from her overwhelming grief into real life once again. Scenes from the last night on the Titanic are interspersed with the novel; reading about the lavish décor and splendid entertainment only make the reader’s foreknowledge of the sinking harder to bear; the clever twist of setting the story three years after the tragedy allows the author to deal with its aftermath very creatively.

If you enjoyed A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron, you have reason to rejoice—he has written a sequel entitled A Dog’s Journey. The story starts with Buddy, now an old, tired dog, making the acquaintance of Ethan’s granddaughter, Clarity, a toddler much in need of canine supervision. Shortly after that, Buddy is put to sleep. When he is reborn, he tries to find Clarity because he remembers she needs a dog to love. If you have read the first book, this one will be familiar; but if you enjoyed the first book, you’ll love this one, too. Make sure you have a box of tissues nearby!

Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama is cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s second graphic memoir. Her first, Fun Home, was about her relationship with her father, a closeted homosexual, and her coming of age and coming out as a lesbian. Her new book explores her fraught relationship with her mother, a talented woman whose ambitions were unfulfilled in her life as a mother and high school teacher. Through the lenses of literature and psychoanalysis, Bechdel compares and contrasts her life with her mother’s, and thus illuminates both. This is My Mother, My Self for a new millennium. Take a chance on this graphic memoir!      

Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.


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