Book Review – Amethyst Dreams

  • Title: Amethyst Dreams
  • Author: Phyllis A. Whitney
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/11/2017

I started reading Phyllis A. Whitney romantic suspense and mystery novels when I was in junior high, and pretty much flew through as many as I could find in libraries and that I could buy from used book shops. Even in my 30s, when I was a member of the Ladies Literary Guild book of the month club, I ordered quite a few of her books. But my tastes changed, and Amethyst Dreams is one of those romances that sat on a shelf, unread, for years. In summer, I sometimes want to read something light that requires no thought whatsoever, and that’s when I turn to romantic suspense fiction; it’s a diversion.

Anyway, Phyllis Whitney’s Amethyst Dreams is typical of her style of books. It’s a bit old fashioned, even in word choice and writing style. The plot revolves around Hallie Knight, having just discovered her husband has had an affair, she accepts an invitation she might otherwise have ignored. Hallie is invited by the grandfather of her best friend from college, Susan, to his house on Topsail (pronounced Tops’l), a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. Hallie rushes away from California and her troubles, to North Carolina. She meets Susan’s grandfather, a curmudgeonly old man known as the Captain. He spends most of his days in bed, occasionally goes out to the desk of his ocean-side house in his wheelchair, and is cared for by his housekeeper/nurse Mrs. Orion. When Hallie meets the Captain he asks her to find out what happened to Susan, who went missing years ago. Hallie is perplexed, she’s not a detective and has no clue. Perhaps the novel would have been better if she was, but we’ll get to that.

Hallie meets Mrs. Orion’s son, Corey. She meets the Captain’s son, Ryce, once husband to Susan, now married to Louise. Eventually, she meets the Captain’s first wife, Anne, an artist currently renting a house on an even more isolated island than Topsail. And she meets the next-door neighbors, Fergus, Carlina, and their daughter, Dulcie. Everyone has secrets, even the little girl – who saw something involving Susan’s death. For, everyone thinks Susan did die, rather than simply leave her odd little family.

A few chapters from the end of the book, Hallie meets a soap opera actress, Brenda, who had fled to the island after being involved in a scandel. She’s staying with her aunt in a tower home – a house build by converting one of the island’s old missile silos from the second world war. Brenda and her aunt are also hosting a guest – who turns out to be Hallie’s husband Paul, who followed her from California.

The remainder of the plot has the Captain promising to leave his money to Hallie, basically because he’s angry at his son for marrying Louise. Hallie, of course, keeps refusing to take the money. And by the end of the book, it looks like the Captain will recover anyway, despite being on death’s door for the entire book.

The last few chapters rush to an ending, with revelation piled upon revelation. We discover what happened to Susan (essentially an accident, though the death was covered-up – rather than reported). Hallie, after a few dates and conversations with her husband, decides to take him back, make her marriage work, and return to California. The other couples in the book, also with martial problems, all seem to suddenly solve their issues. Poof – happy ending. Sigh.

One of the main problems in Amethyst Dreams is it feels so old fashioned. Hallie supposedly had some type of job in California, which had led to her meeting her husband, Paul, a literary agent specializing in selling books to Hollywood to be adopted to films. Whereas, Paul’s job is depicted as exciting – we barely know what Hallie did, and whatever it was – it comes off as a support position that anyone could do. Plus, Hallie doesn’t act like a professional woman. Hallie’s constant refusals of the Captain’s money are also rather ridiculous. I kept wanting her to grow a pair (so to speak), ditch her husband, and use the Captain’s money to go back to school, open her own business, study art or cooking or something in Europe, in other words, I wanted to see Hallie grow and become independent, rather than agree to go back to her louse of a husband.

Secondly, the ending of this book is very rushed. Brenda is introduced, from nowhere, and she has more agency than the heroine – and between the two of them, everybody is confessing their secrets, leading to the information as to what happened to Susan coming out. In my head, while reading, I could mentally convert this story into a Nancy Drew mystery – or even an episode of the original Scooby Doo Mysteries cartoon series – and the ending might have been more interesting. But Hallie doesn’t do any investigating, she doesn’t look it to the sinkhole known as Pirate’s Pit. She barely investigates the “club house” beneath the Assembly Building where Susan, and her friends hung out as teenagers. But instead, people simply randomly come forward and confess their secrets held for decades – because that always happens.

Third, the book is told in first person – which is a lousy choice. The books I remember reading from Phyllis Whitney as a teenager usually were written in third-person omniscient style, though I remember some in first person which were often not my favorites. Overall, it was a bit diverting, but there are so many issues with this book I cannot really recommend it.

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Book Review – The Moon and the Sun

  • Title: The Moon and the Sun
  • Author: Vonda N. McIntyre
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/22/2017

The Moon and the Sun is part historical novel set in the court of Louis XIV (the Sun King) of France, and part SF/Fantasy novel. The entire novel takes place at Versailles except the opening chapter and the epilogue. The novel opens with Father Yves de la Croix leading an expedition to locate and find the sea monsters – which they do, and return them to the Court of Louis XIV. Yves returns with a living female “sea monster” and a dead male to dissect. Meanwhile, his younger sister, Marie-Joseph de la Croix, has adopted to her new situation at court. It is much better than her previous one living in a convent in Martinique.

Marie ends-up training the female sea monster, whom she quickly realizes is a Sea Woman, as well as documenting the dissection of the dead male. But more than that, Marie’s knowledge of music and forbidden interest in mathematics, means she can understand the Sea Woman. The creature communicates through music, a music that Marie can interpret. None of the men around her can understand the sea woman, and none believe Marie that the creature is human.

This forms the crux of the novel. Marie, as she learns more and more about the Sea Woman, sees her as an intelligent person – no different than a human being. Yves wants to dissect the sea monster, to learn what he can about it. King Louis XIV want to eat the sea creature because he believes doing so will grant him immortal life. And Pope Innocent wants to bring the creature to Rome to be tortured into converting to Christianity.

The reunion between France under Louis XIV and the Pope is also an important subplot of the novel.

But this is also the Court of Versailles, so the intrigues of court, affairs of the various women, and Marie’s growth as a young woman at court, also form a major portion of the plot. And I will say this – Vonda N. McIntyre manages to make the various alliances, affairs, and such, clear, understandable, and not boring. I loved the way she described the French court because it was understandable. Marie, and her slave/servant Odelette (Haleed) are wonderful point-of-view characters. I actually enjoyed this as much as a historical novel as I did the story of the sea monster.

As stated earlier, Marie trains the monster, understands her cries, keens, and music as communication and not only trains her – but starts to interpret her stories. However, these stories inevitably are extremely sad, and extremely critical of the men of the land. This does not help her cause to win freedom for the Sea Woman. Working with the Sea Woman also causes Marie to see that keeping a Turkish woman as a slave is wrong. She decides to free the woman, and even calls her sister as well as using her given name of Haleed. The times, however, do not give Marie the right to free her own slave – only her older brother Yves can do that since he owns all the family property.

This novel weaves together the French court, Marie’s growth, the intriguing history of the Sea People as told by the Sea Woman, Haleed’s history, and even Marie’s slow awakening of dealing with men (she rebukes some but does fall in love). It’s an excellent and fast-moving novel with a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed it very much.

Highly recommended.