Thursday, August 24, 2017

THE COTTINGLEY SECRET by Hazel Gaynor (A Review & Dessert Pairing)

Hazel Gaynor
Published by William Morrow on August 1st, 2017
Hardcover, 399 pages
Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism


The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?


"Like fairies, stories will not be rushed", and this one certainly wasn't! Although I was captivated by the concept behind The Cottingley Secret, I found its execution somewhat underwhelming: achingly slow even for someone who, like me, doesn't mind dwelling on contemplative (and sometimes repetitive) descriptions, introspective tones, and lyrical passages.
I am fond of dual timeline narrations and I found the connection between the two main characters (Frances and Olivia) to be cleverly harmonized. However, Frances' voice and the unfolding of the historical thread (based on the true incidents of the Cottingley Fairy Hoax) sounded more persuasive and convincing than Olivia's present day storyline.

The author's fictionalized account of those astonishing events is clearly backed by extensive and rigorous researches, as the copious post scriptum to the book shows. Don't skip those final pages: history buffs and lovers of all things fairies will enjoy Hazel Gaynor's insights and leads to further readings. My rating: 3 stars

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild,
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can
(Irish Proverb)

“You know, Frances, I sometimes think there’s too much truth in the world. Too much certainty and scientific fact. We don’t always need an explanation, do we? Sometimes all we need is something to believe in, something to give us hope and to remind us how remarkable the world can be, even in the middle of a war.”

For The Cottingley Secret I couldn’t think of a better dessert pairing than Fairy Cakes. They’re not fairy themed cakes, as someone might think: wildly popular in the UK, they’re a smaller variation of what we commonly call 'cupcakes', but unlike the American version, they’re made of a lighter sponge cake and favor a more delicate glace icing as opposed to the buttercream traditionally used in the US. A 'fairy cake' is also a type of cupcake with its top cut off and replaced in two pieces, like wings. The etymology of the name ‘Fairy Cakes’ is due to their petit size, small enough to be enjoyed by the tiny mythical creatures. No wine to match this time - just a cup of good English tea. Enjoy!


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

THE DREAM KEEPER'S DAUGHTER by Emily Colin (ARC Review plus Dessert & Wine Pairing)



Emily Colin

 Published by Ballantine Books on July 25th 2017

Paperback and Kindle Edition, 480 pages

Time-travel, Romance, Paranormal Fiction


An archaeologist discovers her presumed-missing boyfriend is trapped more than a hundred years in the past—a love story that transcends time and place, from the author of the New York Times bestseller The Memory Thief.

Eight years after the unsolved disappearance of her boyfriend Max Adair, archaeologist Isabel Griffin has managed to move on and rebuild her life with her young daughter, Finn, her last tie to Max. But after a series of strange incidents, Isabel begins to wonder if Max might still be alive somewhere, trying to communicate with her. She has no idea that the where isn’t the problem—it’s the when. Max has slipped through time and place, landing on his ancestral family plantation in 1816 Barbados, on the eve of a historic slave uprising. As Isabel searches for answers, Max must figure out not only how to survive the violence to come, but how to get back to his own century, the woman he loves, and the daughter he has only ever met in his dreams.   


Truths of the heart revealed through bizarre cosmic conjunctions seem to be a leitmotif in Emily Colin’s books (read my review of The Memory Thief here). Her second foray into the paranormal romance field, The Dream Keeper’s Daughter, echoes themes and plot devices she successfully employed in her debut novel– love and loss, coping with grief, emotional healing, the complex workings of the human heart, the delicate interplay of love and time put to the test by a supernatural phenomenon. What her fans will be delighted to know is that, in her new release, Colin ups her game: the paranormal treatment takes a new exciting direction with the introduction of a brilliant time-travel paradox (a time slip, to be precise), a poignant historical backdrop, and elements derived from the Celtic folklore. The result is an imaginative and highly absorbing read.

South Carolina archeologist Isabel Griffin thought she would never hear the voice of her long-lost boyfriend again after he mysteriously disappeared in a clearing on his parents’ Charleston estate. Until one day, seven years later, while she is supervising a dig in Barbados, she receives an unexpected phone call from him imploring her to keep their daughter Finn safe. Only seventeen years old, Max Adair’s vanished without leaving a trace, and what is even stranger, he couldn’t have possibly known he had a daughter because Isabel found out about her pregnancy just before he inexplicably fell off the face of the earth. To complicate the matter even more, six years before Max’s disappearance, Isabel’s mother ‘dematerialized’ in the same obscure circumstances, in the same geographic area, during a cocktail party hosted by Max’s parents. The thing is, Max involuntarily, and for reasons to him unknown, traveled one hundred years back in time  and winded up in the middle of a Barbados sugar cane plantation owned by his ancestors during the slave rebellion of 1816. He stepped in a so-called ‘Thin Place’. According to the Celtic mythology, thin places are spots where the great beyond and the physical world meet and mingle, where the boundary separating the living and the dead is as thin as a veil. Legend has it that the Adair estate is home to one of those mythological places.

And this is where the author delivers a masterstroke of narrative finesse: in these wondrous gateways, usually heavy with the weight of historical grievances,  our relationship with time is altered. Time speed in Max’s dimension is slowed down: days in eighteenth-century Barbados correspond to years in Isabel’s life.   And that’s not to thin places holds a transformative power, leads to spiritual breakthroughs, to revelations and new awareness. Torn between his burning desire to see his Isabel again and the overwhelming feeling he landed in that point in time to uncover a mysterious historical link, Max finds his way back to the twenty-first century, but what sums up to about a week on his ancestor’s plantation (and what an eventful week) equals eight years in his family’s life, eight years through which Isabel faced the loss of the love of her life without any closure, went through a rocky pregnancy, raised her daughter by herself, and put herself through graduate school–the only fixed star in her chaotic existence is her good, reliable, and ever-present friend, Ryan. Ultimately, the conundrum at the heart of the story is not so much about the existence of a portal to a different space-time dimension as it is about the resilience of a young love and its ability to hold a fragile bond against the filters of time. As The Time Traveler’s Wife aptly claimed in Audrey Niffenegger’s popular time-travel novel: “It’s hard to be the one who stays.”

The strongest asset of The Dream Keeper’s Daughter is the fascinating and well-conceived time slip motif with the heart-pounding turn of events unfolding on the Caribbean island during the dramatic escalation of violence and bloodshed known as the Bussa’s Revolt. Emily Colin recreates that historical scenario in highly enjoyable bite-sized chapters, with tantalizing shifts of scene, timeline, and voices (the narration alternates between Max’s and Isabel’s POV). The resolution seems to sink in comparison to the soaring pace and intensity of its premises; the author overindulges in her treatment of the love triangle trope and use of love scenes. All in all,  an intriguing page-turner. 4.5 stars out of 5.

***An e-copy of the book was graciously provided by the Publicist via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased and honest review.


 Courtesy of Robert Carter from the Peninsula Grill, in Charleston, South Carolina.

One of the best features of Emily Colin’s latest novel, The Dream Keeper’s Daughter, is the narrative style, a binary system of alternating POVs (Max and Isabel), locations (Barbados Island and Charleston, South Carolina), and time periods (1816 and 2016)...such a dynamic and enthralling way to reel us in two different storylines! The dessert that comes to mind is the Ultimate Coconut Cake,  a Southern treat infused with coconut and fresh vanilla, layered, topped with a fabulous icing, and rolled in freshly toasted coconut. The perfect sipping companion? Asti Spumante,  a highly perfumed and sweet Italian wine boasting fruity and floral notes.