Monday, June 01, 2015

Family, drama, revolution: Freda Lightfoot's The Amber Keeper

Best known for her sagas of historical British life, Lightfoot’s newest release fits with the popular dual-narratives trend, in which family secrets from an earlier generation spill forth in a later era with dramatic results. Here the plot centers on the surprising suicide of Abbie Myers’ mother, Kate, and how it relates to the time Abbie’s adored grandmother, Millie, spent in Russia in the early 20th century.

In 1963, Abbie returns home to the Lake District from Paris after splitting with her married lover. Most of Abbie’s family, a truly sour bunch, blames her for Kate’s death, claiming that Abbie and her illegitimate daughter made Kate feel ashamed and despondent. Abbie doesn’t buy it, though, and turns to Millie for answers. As Abbie attempts to revitalize the family’s jewelry business, one revelation follows another as Millie speaks about her years as governess to an aristocratic Russian family.

The easy prose style draws one in immediately, and the setting of the early segments offers much promise: glittering St. Petersburg during the lead-up to the Bolshevik Revolution. However, the story is let down by over-the-top characters whose rapid emotional about-faces are hard to tolerate. Abbie puts up with terrible treatment from her father, brother, and ex and veers between telling them off and forgiving them. Countess Olga, Millie’s employer, is the epitome of cruelty and selfishness, although guessing what she’ll do next provides some entertainment.

The mystery surrounding Millie’s adoption of the young Kate from a London orphanage, and how a piece of rare amber came to be found in Kate’s belongings, pulls the two story strands together well, but more subtlety in the telling would have gone a long way.

The Amber Keeper was published by Amazon's Lake Union imprint in late 2014 in trade paperback ($14.95, 384pp) and ebook (currently $1.99).  This review first appeared in May's Historical Novels Review.

8 comments:

  1. Ah ha -- you are home from BEA. Hope you have recovered from that intense experience! However, I'm looking forward to reading about the new historical fiction you encountered while there.

    Love, C.

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    1. Just back as of Saturday night, and still recovering. the intense activity of BEA is very different than my quiet little college town in the summer. I'll post some pics and discussion sometime this week. I had a good time but don't feel I was as effective as I could have been. I got thrown off since I missed opening day (which was 1/2 day) due to a bad reaction to the previous night's Thai cuisine, and took it easy the rest of the show. I did a lot of resting and sitting in on panels rather than chatting with publicists at booths and waiting on hour-long signing lines. Not much to be done about that, but I still managed to pick up a fair number of books. :)

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  2. Glad you enjoyed BE A despite the tummy!
    I read this book soon after I read about Nikolai, the tsar and his family. I was in a Russian mood at the time! Liked this book very much.
    Thank you for the wishes.

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    1. Hope you enjoyed the day! And glad you liked the read.

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  3. In the best of circumstances the Javits Ctr. is a grueling ordeal for feet, knees, legs and back. Yikes!

    Nevertheless, whatever you say, it sounds as though you did a very great deal.

    Love, C.

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    1. I think I did a decent job of collecting books. Networking, though, I'll save for next year in Chicago. Or PLA in Denver next April.

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  4. Thanks for the honest review - I'm intrigued...

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    1. I seem to be in the minority, for what it's worth - and it's cheap enough in e-format for those who'd like to give it a try!

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