Simply Reading: A Young Wife

Sometimes, for unknown reasons, books will languish at the bottom of to-be-read stacks, get shoved to the back of shelves, or hidden underneath piles of enticing best sellers.

Sadly, that happened to A Young Wife, by Pam Lewis, a novel I unearthed from beneath a stack of paperbacks, library books, and review books. Little did I know what a gem had been lying in wait for me.

This book – with a very stunning cover, I must say – arrived in the mail one day, unbidden, from Simon and Schuster. Not an ARC, but a full-fledged, newly published hardbound. When I get review books that I haven’t requested, I’m sometimes a bit leery. And even though the blurb sounded like the kind of book I usually love – a historical novel set in the early 1900’s about a young Dutch girl who marries an older man and goes to live in the wilds of Argentina – for some reason I kept passing it by when it was time to choose a new book.

I decided to give it a go the other night, and I am so glad I did.

The novel was “inspired” by the “secret past” of the authors own grandmother, whose stories of life as a young bride in a place called Comodoro Rivadavia were filled with adventure, excitement, and beauty. But there was also a sense of mystery about her grandmother that author Kim Lewis wanted to explore. Why had she married so young (age 15)? Why had her grandparents immigrated to Argentina in the first place? Why did Lewis’ mother never utter her father’s name?

These kinds of questions are wonderful fuel for a writers imagination, and Lewis set them to work in this fascinating, fast paced tale of young Minke van Aisma, whose ordinary life in a small fishing village is catapulted into adventure when Sander DeVries, a wealthy merchant, hires her as live-in caregiver for his wife. Soon after his wife Elizabeth dies, Sander proposes marriage to Minke, and the two set off for the oil fields of Argentina.

Buy why would a 15-year-old girl marry a middle aged man she barely knows? Lewis does a fine job of portraying the secret attraction Minke has for Sander, the way a young girl can be attracted to the strength and sexual wisdom of an older man. And when Minke’s baby son is kidnapped and everything begins to go awry, the reader watches A Young Wife become a young woman with astounding courage and strength.

From Amsterdam to Argentina to America, this novel delivers in character, plot, and history.

I’m so happy it was still waiting for me there in my bookstack.

What’s the best book you’ve ever let languish in your TBR pile? Leave a comment with the title below for a chance to win a copy of A Young Wife. Winner will be chosen at random on Monday, April 23.

The Sunday Salon – Mystery Upon Mystery

It’s been a mysterious week – at least in my reading life.

I’ve completed two mysteries this week, one that took me to England in the early part of the 20th century, the other set in modern day in a small village outside of Montreal.

A Duty to the Dead is the first in a series of historical mysteries by Charles Todd, a mother-son writing team who also pen another series featuring detective Ian Rankin. In Duty, we meet Elizabeth (Bess) Crawford, an educated gentlewoman from England who has become a nurse in WWI (rather like Lady Sybil, from my beloved Downton Abby television series.) One of Bess’ young patients made a mysterious deathbed request, one she felt duty-bound to fulfill particularly because her feelings for him were deeper than those for most of her other patients. In carrying out this request, Bess becomes embroiled in a series of mysterious deaths related to this young solider and his family.

Watching Downton Abby fueled my interest in this time period, when the British aristocracy was facing great changes in their way of life as the demarcation among social classes begins to blur and women seek employment and fulfillment outside the normal parameters of home and marriage. Bess Crawford is such a woman, and I’m eager to see where life takes her next. The second installment of this series, An Impartial Witness, is waiting for me atop my bookstack. (Note: Join others in reading this series in a in the Book Time With Bess readalong hosted by Book Club Girl.)

Fast forward to the 21st century and the village of Three Pines, the small hamlet in Quebec where Louise Penny sets her mysteries featuring Chief Surété Inspector, Armand Gamache, his colleagues, and a quirky cast of villagers. I love these books, mostly because I’m a little in love with Gamache, a sensitive soul who so often speaks the feelings of my own heart. Like this paragraph on page 5 of A Trick of the Light

From far off Armand Gamache could hear the sound of children playing. He knew where it was coming from. The park across the way, thought he couldn’t see the children through the maple trees in late spring leaf. He sometimes liked to sit there and pretend the shouts and laughter came from his young grandchildren, Florence and Zora. He imagined his son Daniel and wife Rosalyn were in the park, watching their children. And that soon they’d walk hand in hand across the quiet street for dinner. Or he and Reine-Marie would join them. And play catch or conkers.

He liked to pretend they weren’t thousands of kilometers away in Paris.

And here I thought I was the only grandparent with fantasies like that. Silly me.

Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed this installment in the series, one that dealt with the murder of an art critic and delved into the world of modern art and all that goes on behind the scenes. Penny’s characters are all wonderfully fleshed out, and her research is impeccable. She also has a lovely website and blog where she shares tales of her life in the Canadian town where she lives with her husband and their dogs.

 As of today, I’ve moved away from mysteries and into the world of music. I’m now reading Marrying Mozart, a historical novel by Stephanie Cowell about the young Mozart and his early relationship with the daughters of the Weber family.

This one simply begs to be read with pastry and a cup of Viennese coffee at hand while a Mozart piano sonata plays softly in the background. Which sounds like a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon, doesn’t it?

So tell me, what are you reading this Sunday?

The Sunday Salon.com