Best Kept Secret and Be Careful What You Wish For by Jeffrey Archer

9781250000989_p0_v3_s260x420The third book in Jeffery Archer’s saga of the Clifton and Barrington families – Best Kept Secret – resolves the inheritance issues from the second book, and introduces the next generation.  Sebastian, son of Emma Barrington and Harry Clifton, manages to uphold the family drama with his own escapades; one involves  Third Reich money laundered through a South American villain.  Beware – the ending is another cliff hanger, but since the principals of soap operas rarely die, the probable outcome is predictable.

My library request was granted the day before I was to leave on a trip.  Thinking I would savor the easy drama on my red-eye flight, I checked out the “hot pick” (due back in 7 days) – but couldn’t resist and read the book in a sitting the night before leaving.  Fast-paced fun family drama with a few diversions in the simple plotting.  If you are a fan, this book is the midpoint in the series, and Archer doesn’t keep readers waiting long for the next installment.

Be Careful What You Wish For

9781250034489_p0_v1_s260x420Almost a year later, the next installment of the Clifton Chronicles has appeared, with Harry a successful best-selling novelist and Emma as Chair of the Board.  This time someone significant does die unexpectedly in the middle of the story, but the drama continues as the Barringtons have their first luxury liner ship ready to sail.  The family may narrowly escape a financial destruction but the family nemesis, Martinez, may be leaving behind two sons bent for revenge.  Some of the principals may not survive the final pages with an IRA bomb imbedded in a vase of lilies.    – until the next installment.

Although Archer fills in the back story for those who either have not read the first few books – or for those, like me, with bad memories of who is who, I’m starting to think it would be more fun to read them in tandem – a marathon read that would take one cliffhanger into the next without as much of a wait.  Then I might remember who the good guys and bad guys are.

Reviews for Books One and Two:

Unfinished Desires

Priests and nuns who fail in their promises to be perfect models of morality are more than disappointing. When they fall short in living up to their feigned image, the revelation can be more devastating than if they had not taken religious vows – you expect better of them.

Mix this with teenage girls, confined in an all girls’ Catholic boarding school, and you have ignition. In her latest novel, Unfinished Desires, Gail Godwin mixes volatile teenage girls with nuns still wearing those restrictive habits, a metaphor for promoting the hide-everything habits of the nineteen fifties.

Suzanne Ravenel tells the story as an aged resident of the convent home where old nuns go to die. As she tapes her recollections of the Mount St. Gabriel’s School where she started as a student and ended as the Mother Superior, her sins of pride, manipulation, jealousy and vengeance slowly unravel. Even sex becomes a whispered intention. The energetic Mother Ravenel’s motives were not always holy.

Godwin uses Tildy Stratton and Chloe Starnes as the freshmen students under the raving Ravenel, who stir the pot. Tildy is distantly related to the Mother Superior; she and Chloe are cousins. But then, the story takes place in the South – and “everyone is related in the South.”

The story ambles along slowly, repeating scenes and reiterating the relationships among the characters – their familial as well as vindictive ties. At times, you will think you have read the paragraphs before in a previous chapter, and you probably have. As Ravenel writes her history of the school, the tease is the promise of a horrid plot enacted by the class of ’52 (Tildy and Chloe) that caused Mother Ravenel to take a year off to recuperate.

Godwin inserts the infamous 9/11 news as Ravenel reaches a breakthrough in her writing; amazingly, the news warrants only a page – possibly a comment that Ravenel’s personal trauma holds more weight for her than the tragedy of strangers.

The story line is trite and overwrought with petty drama. But Godwin expertly captures teenage girls with their inner angst at a time when thirteen year-olds are struggling with hormones and rebellion – yet still quavering on the edge of submitting to adult authority. Godwin clearly examines how the breakthrough from authority can be ugly, and how girls at that age can be cruel – mostly to each other.

As the story reaches its climax, embellished legends are stripped to reality; saints become sinners, and the metaphor for the false mask of religiosity in the Catholic Church is hard to ignore. The reputation of the devout patron saint on which the school was founded has conveniently been doctored. On the other hand, you might just enjoy the juicy melodrama, and keep the faith.

The ending never seems to come; Godwin is determined to take each character to completion – all the way into old age. In this case, following teenagers into old age is overkill – more than you want to know, but every single thread is tied at the end.

If you suffered through Catholic school and had the distinction of surviving indoctrination by the nuns, you will mostly appreciate the portraits of the women behind the veil. They are, after all, just human – but it is disappointing to find that out.

Every Last One – Anna Quindlen

Although you know better, you muddle along each day, taking life for granted.   It’s how everyone survives.  And then the unexpected happens…

Anna Quindlen is an expert at drawing you in, making you feel comfortable, part of the family. In Every Last One, you become immersed in the trivia of the Latham family, but, rather than being bored, you become part of their lives.   Expectations are low because you know what is happening; it’s all very Ozzie and Harriet – middle class parents trying to survive their teen-age children.

Mary Beth Latham is the novel’s star. She gave up dreams of writing when she married young.  Her daughter Ruby, who is now a talented and aspiring writer, is the high school literary magazine editor. Glen plays the stalwart husband – someone you’d see in a television series of the fifties.   Twin sons complete the portrait – Alex, the young jock, and Max, the brooding drummer.   Other characters come in and out of the scenes – friends and relatives who are only there to move the action.

For one hundred fifty pages, you are lulled into complacency. You expect something will happen, and when it does, everything changes.  Shock and then a numbing effect – like sleepwalking toward an ending that couldn’t get worse, you hope.   Suddenly, you are reading a different book; get out the box of tissues.

The book is all about coping, surviving, and living on. And the message is an old one that is usually ignored: appreciate what you have while you have it.   Through Mary Beth Latham, Quindlen offers the chance to think about how impossible it is to see beneath the tip of the iceberg of human emotions – “…The point is that I don’t know anything, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to know…ninety percent is under the surface…”

Quindlen’s hallmark is not so much the plot line or the characters, but the philosophical gems included between the lines.    So many notes that ring true –

“…We sit with people, and we tell them things, and we make up their lives in our heads, and we really know nothing about them…”

This is the author who wrote A Short Guide to A Happy Life, second only to Dr. Seuss’s The Places You Will Go, as a graduation gift  for words of wisdom.

So, read Every Last One, not for the story, but for the insights and maybe a catharsis of your own.