Wednesday, August 20, 2008

TBR Day. Tapestry / Karen Ranney. 1995

There are times when I read a book and I marvel at the mind behind the words. A mind that’s able to evoke so many different ideas and emotions that I continue to think about the book long after I finished reading it. I am left unwilling to start another book because I want to continue to enjoy what I just read, by thinking about it or going back to re-read various sections. This is what happened to me after I read this month’s TBR installment, Tapestry by Karen Ranney.

I’ve gushed over Ranney’s books before. And it is worth noting that she has a new book out on Tuesday. I am so all over that one. It’s already available to pre-order on Fictionwise. But back to Tapestry. Here’s the blurb:

Tapestry is the story of first love/only love. Laura Blake has been in love with her next door neighbor, Alex Weston, ever since she was a child. The Seven Years War separated them, however, and in the intervening years, Alex lost his youthful enthusiasm for life while Laura grew into a woman--more certain than ever of her feelings. Alex returned home from the war horribly scarred, and it is his attitude about his disfigurement and his resultant reclusive life that poses the greatest threat to their happiness. Laura manages to convince Alex of the power of love. But then, fate steps in and separates them once again.

A blurb like that simply cannot do this book justice. It’s a historical set in the early 1760s in England--a time that appears to have been full of political upheaval. Prime Minister William Pitt plays a role in the story and Ranney makes the period come alive, even if you aren’t very familiar with the history and politics of 18th century England. And frankly this is what a good historical should do—give you a sense of time and place without requiring you to know a whole lot in advance. In fact I became interested enough to go read a few Wikipedia entries about Pitt, Frederick of Prussia, and the naval battles Alex was in.

I think the easiest way to describe this book is that it is two stories. Laura had loved Alex as a little girl and made up her mind way back then that when she grew up she would have him. Alex goes off to war while she is still young and when he returns she’s now 18, but he refuses to see her or any of their neighbors. Due to his disfigurement, he’s cut himself off from everyone and lives a very lonely life shut up in his estate. In the “first” story Laura hatches a plan to worm her way into his life and eventually succeeds, although not without some bumps along the way. The story is told with humor and has overtones of a fairy tale as everything becomes so perfect. It is a lovely romance as Laura teaches Alex that he’s lovable and that their life together is worth fighting for. Only just as perfection is reached you realize that there is still nearly half of the book to go! Obviously the book is about to take a turn.

And turn it does. In the “second” story Alex, who had been doing some work for Pitt, agrees to go in person on a mission for Pitt. While on this trip, Alex is caught up in another naval battle and this time the ship he was thought to be on is destroyed with all hands lost at sea. With no one the wiser that Alex has been captured by the French, Laura suffers the worst imaginable tragedy and descends into a profound grief that makes her a shadow of the young, vibrant, happy girl she’d been. The reader realizes that Laura had really been a rather protected, one-dimensional girl whose life had revolved around Alex. She exists, but no longer lives--until she is befriended by another widow who gives Laura something to live for. Laura grows up and becomes a woman who learns how to deal with life on a whole new level, with maturity and determination, even if it must be without the kind of happiness she’d known with Alex.

This part of the book deals with profound grief and how people are changed by it. The grief and its consequences is beautifully and tenderly written. Ranney doesn’t make us wallow in it with Laura, but we are given a chance to understand and experience what Laura must go through in order to learn to live again. At some point she needs to actually make the choice that she will live (not just exist) and she will do it without Alex. And it’s this part of the book that made a good book great. This is a fine and realistic portrayal of grief. And because it's less than half (or even less than a third) of the book, the romance and happy ending are not overshadowed by it. I never felt that I needed to call this a "dark" book.

So, when we all finally learn that Alex actually survived, we see that Alex has to deal with the fact that Laura is not the same woman that he left behind. In the 2 years he’s been gone, Laura and their life together was frozen in time—but only in his mind. He comes back expecting things to be just like they were. But how can they be? She thought he was dead. She had no choice but to move on. Alex has to adjust his thinking as well. Alex has to love the woman Laura's become, not the girl he knew before. While brilliantly done, I do wish this part of the book had been just a little longer. But that’s the ONLY tiny complaint I have about the book.

After I read this, I went to Ranney’s website to see if she has anything there to say about the book. It appears that Tapestry was her first published book, although not the first one she wrote. In response to a compliment about Tapestry, Ranney says (#7) this:

I was in such pain when writing Tapestry that trying to mask it was foolish - it came out anyway. There is one scene in the book where I couldn't stop crying. Not mild tears, but great huge, gulping sobs. My keyboard stopped working, and I couldn't help but think I shorted it out by crying so much. The book helped me walk through my pain, helped me heal, and although I've never been able to read Tapestry through again, I'll always look on it with great fondness.

Isn’t that interesting? I cried my way through more than one scene in this book. I’d love to know which one she sobbed through, although it’s probably none of my business.

While Tapestry is out of print, it is available for only $3.20 if you’re lucky enough to own a Kindle. Online, used print copies are going for over $7.00 each. Tammy & Ali, if you are nice to me and don’t bug me about my two (two!) unfinished summer projects I’ll let you borrow my copy.

Go forth and read it. Highly, highly recommended. 5 stars. A+. Whatever.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Phyl's 5 Phaves from July

This month I read some good ones. But my 5 favorites were:

5. Fairyville by Emma Holly. Hot. Very hot. It is Emma Holly after all. But a delightful story that includes a world that was fun and interesting. Great characters. And hot. Very, very hot. Let's move on, shall we?

4. Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves. A very humorous story about 2 people who are as different as night and day. They are from the same town in Texas, but meet in Las Vegas where they end up getting married, only to regret it the next morning. Once back home they decide to maintain the fiction of the marriage for a month (the reasons are good ones). And of course in the process they fall in love and discover how to live with their differences. I laughed and I cried. I love a book that can make me do both.

3. Embraced by Love by Suzanne Brockmann. This is an early one by Brockmann that I found at the library. An unusual story in that it begins 5 years into the h/h's marriage. Their lives are turned upside down by tragedy and it almost ruins their marriage. They have to learn how to reconnect. I am just getting into reading Brockmann's books and I can see why people like them so much. And this was not your run-of-the-mill story. Well done.

2. Sea Witch by Virginia Kantra. I almost wrote a review of this one. I should have. This is a different paranormal in that the heroine is a selkie; there's not a vampire in sight. Good because I'm getting tired of vampires. Anyhow, selkies are portrayed as very independent, almost hedonistic creatures. The heroine really has to change to make a relationship work. And she has to be self-aware enough to understand what that change means. I think Kantra wrote it just right and it was very believable. The sequel, Sea Fever was just released and sits upon Mt. TBR.

1. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. This is a relatively short book that is probably marketed as general fiction with romantic elements. It is mostly about a heroine with a special magical gift. She's a wounded spirit though and isolates herself from relationships. Her long lost sister shows up on her doorstep with a young daughter in tow. At the same time she meets her new next door neighbor, a single man who's very interested in her. Suddenly her world is turned upside down and she learns to trust and let herself love. This is a wonderful book with richly drawn characters. Pretty amazing considering how short it is. My only wish is that there had been more of it. Allen has a new book out and since it's harcover I've got it on reserve at the library.