St. Martin’s Press, February 9, 2016.
After she loses her fiancé in the Vietnam War, Laurel Haley moves to England, taking a job as companion to an eccentric older woman with a fascinating past. On a short trip to Paris, she meets an intriguing man and begins to believe in love again – but the relationship does not last, and its tragic ending is shrouded in mystery. In the present day, Laurel’s daughter Annie is also engaged to a soldier, who is soon to depart for the Middle East. Before her wedding, Annie wishes to learn more about her absent father, and the personal history that her mother has always kept hidden.
We are told that Annie is a young English Literature student, yet she can’t seem to form a coherent sentence. Her immaturity is frustrating, and she acts like she’s the heroine of a historical romance novel – she thinks it is completely romantic that her fiancé is going off to war, and doesn’t consider the realities or risks of her situation at all. The novel overall is very patriotic, with an excess of references to 9/11 in only the first few pages. It seems like the author is trying very hard to draw parallels between Vietnam and Iraq – there are many, but here it feels forced. Annie seems to be impressed by tragic circumstances, but doesn’t have a deeper sense of emotional responses.
Luckily, Annie’s English Lit degree leads her to pick up an old book from her mother’s library – it is about a woman known as the Duchess of Marlborough, and Annie begins to think that this woman may be a link to her mother’s past. When Laurel proposes a trip to the United Kingdom to settle an inheritance there, Annie decides to tag along and investigate. Both Annie’s motivations and her language are very simplistic, making me feel like this is perhaps meant for younger readers, although nothing in the synopsis implies that it is a young adult novel. I also felt like the scenes set in the past were anachronistic, with slangy language inappropriate for the historical setting.
Annie uses the book she has found as a jumping off point for her “research,” in which she just hangs around the local pub and asks strangers what they remember about the Duchess. She meets a man named Angus who has a possible link to her mother, Laurel – although she is unable to make the obvious connection between the two. Instead of just talking to her mom about her past, Annie lurks around and causes trouble in a Nancy Drew sort of way. I did get drawn into the historical sections, written as a dialogue between the Duchess and her interviewer, especially as she discussed her acquaintanceship with contemporary literary figures – but Annie’s sections quickly became tedious.
The interview format grew old as well, and I found myself wishing for more real narrative action. The banter between characters was longwinded instead of being witty, and even the infamously odd Duchess became monotonous as she told her story. As a romance novel, this is a light and simple read – it just wasn’t what I was expecting. Also, be warned that only a very small part of the book is set in Paris. Overall, I found the novel very predictable, and the ending abrupt. It is a quick, easy read, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you may enjoy this one.