Monday, August 12, 2013

Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke

I feel like I'm always telling the same story.  You know the one about the book that somebody pitched me for review that I accepted, and once it arrived in the mail I had second thoughts and wondered what on earth had taken hold of me that I accepted it, and blah, blah blah and so on?  Well, I've done it again with Rutherford Park. I'm always in for good historical fiction, but not so much the Lords and Ladies cavorting about with their awesome wealth and occasionally scandalous problems.  I've never gotten around to cultivating an interest in Downton Abbey either (though I've been told in no uncertain terms that I should) which, apparently, would put me right in the demographic that would have this book marketed to them.  That said, despite it being the sort of book with the Lords and Ladies and scandals marketed toward an audience of a show I don't watch, something about Rutherford Park caught my eye and landed it on my doorstep.  Perhaps the fact that it takes place in the moments before the outbreak of World War I, perhaps it's just been a few minutes since I'd read any good historical fiction and I was feeling weak.  Happily, the story ends (as it usually ends) with my enjoying the book a good deal more than I expected to when I was busy second-guessing my decision.

Rutherford Park is the palatial home of Lord William and Lady Octavia Cavendish.  Nestled in the Yorkshire countryside, the peaceful-appearing estate is an island unto itself, but the secrets that run deep among the Cavendish family and their staff  and the coming of war threaten to fracture the idyllic, if suddenly fragile, life the aristocratic family has come to know.  As World War I looms on the horizon William struggles to maintain his family and their refuge at Rutherford Park even as his nearest and dearest seem to be moving beyond his grasp.

In Rutherford Park, Cooke allows us to sneak a peek beneath the proper and orderly surface of the Cavendish family and their estate.  William takes comfort in order and propriety, but his wife Octavia chafes at the bonds of what is considered appropriate behavior for the lady of the house.  She longs to show her love effusively, to walk barefoot in the grass, to cuddle her children instead of resigning them to the staff to raise, but William despite being well-meaning is embarrassed by her improper behavior.  The couple's children, Harry, who wants nothing more than to fly away from an indiscretion that ended in tragedy; na├»ve Louisa, who is about to make her debut in society, and Charlotte, the youngest daughter who might just be a budding activist for change are each slipping away from William and Octavia in their own ways.  As William rushes to gather his family back to himself and to the safety of Rutherford Park in the days before the war, past indiscretions and current scandals threaten to undo the life he and Octavia have built together.

In such a book as Rutherford Park, it might be tempting for the author to focus solely on the Cavendish family.  Their feelings and foibles certainly could a whole book make.  However, Cooke makes the wise decision to take on the estate as a whole exploring the lives of the many servants who keep the wealthy Cavendish household up and running.  From the housemaids, Mary and Emily who made their escape from the dangers of mill work only to come face to face with other heartbreaks, to the footman, Nash, who delights in the occasional book of poetry pilfered from William's library, to the farrier, Jack Armitage, who shared an unexpected and perplexing moment with one of the Cavendish daughters, Cooke breathes life into the whole breadth of characters that make Rutherford Park tick.  The result is a book that quietly explores the beginning of the end of a way of life through the co-mingled lives of a family whose wealthy way of life is becoming unsuitable and unsustainable and the people whose existence as mere servants is slowly drawing to a close.

Rutherford Park is an unexpectedly deep and wide portrait of not just a family but an entire estate's worth of people.  Rather than focus on drama and scandal, Cooke makes the excellent decision to zero in on her characters' inner lives.  As a result, characters both major and minor leap off the page, and much to Cooke's credit she manages to make very nearly all of her cast sympathetic to readers who might not agree with their actions but who might well commiserate with their feelings and motivations.  If you are a lover of historical fiction or can appreciate a few great character studies, you'll find much to enjoy in Rutherford Park.  Recommended!

(Thanks to the publisher, Berkley Publishing Group/Penguin, for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Loose Leafing: Currently

It seems I haven't afflicted you so much with my personal rambling lately, so I lifted this "currently" thing that all the cool kids are doing on Sundays anymore (like Kim and Suey and everybody) and have tweaked it to my liking.

Time:  9:00 PM Sunday night (yeah, I'm totally late, but it's never too late to be current, am I right?)

Place:  My kitchen table (the desk is currently being hogged)

Consuming: For lunch, I was exploring my new appreciation for sushi.  Okay, I come from rural central Pennsylvania, I am a way late comer to sushi.  Happily, a fancy new hibachi steakhouse opened in our humble little town recently, and Sundays are half-priced sushi days, so you can take a chance on new things without wasting a ton of money.  Philadelphia Roll is my stand-by, but I decided to branch out and try a Volcano Roll today, but we think maybe they brought me a Godzilla Roll instead.  So I ate that, and I quite liked it.  I see way more sushi in my future.   Then, we had steaks on the grill for dinner.  (Why yes, I am living the high life these days, thankyouverymuch).

Reading:  I just started Stargazey Point by Shelley Noble.  Okay, looking back, I might have picked this from William Morrow Paperback's blogger outreach e-mail simply because the cover is just so pretty.  Which is a good way to choose books, of course.  The jury is still out on the book itself.  But, I mean, come on.  Look at that cover!  Pretty!!

Listening:  I am 100% addicted to Spotify.  I have this swell catch-all playlist that has just about any random song that comes to my head lumped all together, and it you say...quite eclectic when listened to on shuffle, which I quite love.  This week's theme in adding to the ridiculous playlist?  High school nostalgia!

Watching:  Speaking of being 100% addicted, why oh why did it take me until last month to finally start watching Breaking Bad?  Seriously (Wait, is my boss here?  I mean, seriously but not seriously, okay?), I am on the point of calling off work a couple of days this week to catch up with it before the last season starts. Also, nothing I do seems as important as watching another episode.  Reading?  Eh.  Sleeping?  Meh.  Working?  Oh definitely not.   That's right.  This just in:  TV show about cooking meth is dangerously addictive.  Cue ironic laughter.

Buying: A new mattress, at last!  (and embarrassing quantities of cheap e-books, but that goes without saying).  Next hurdle, cleaning up my dump room for when it gets delivered on Tuesday so that I won't shame myself and everyone who lives with me.  If I survive "Attack of the Killer Underbed Dust Bunnies," maybe I can live the good life for another week...  Maybe.

Not Buying:  The services of my chiropractor every week.  *crosses fingers*

I'd love to stay and chat some more, but really, all this is keeping me from the next episode of Breaking Bad.   =P