When knowing is a burden

The Fire in the Glass by Jacquelyn Benson

r/suggestmeabook: I want a mystery set in Edwardian England focused on a defiantly independent and lonely young woman with precognition.

Movie rating: PG

Pages: 494

Publisher: Vaughn Woods Publishing

Series: The Charismatics

From the publisher: For as long as she can remember, Lily has been plagued by psychic visions of the future. Never once has she been able to prevent the horrors she foresees from coming to pass. Now a mysterious fiend is stalking London. The tabloids shriek of vampires, but Lily knows the killer is a different kind of monster, one who could be caught and brought to justice before he strikes again.

The satisfaction at concluding a well told tale never gets old, and Jacquelyn Benson delivers that lovely feeling with this marvelous book. The characters are compelling and well drawn, the plot intriguing, and the prose lively. Even though this is envisioned as the first installment in the series, it feels complete in itself.

As she climbed, she watched for Cat, an enormous beast who did not belong to anyone in the house but was impossible to eradicate. Cat had a penchant for sleeping in places designated to endanger the lives of unsuspecting passersby.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Fire in the Glass

The details of Lily’s estrangement from her fellows may differ from what you or I may have gone through, but the experience of feeling excluded, of being different because of factors you can’t control—that’s not so different. Lily struggles with doing everything herself, taking on more responsibility than she should, just to protect her heart, to keep from being vulnerable.

She kept trying. She fought to win her lonely battle against fate despite the steely opposition of the nannies and the guilt, grief, and gutting frustration—right up until the day her mother died.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Fire in the Glass

But those details are what makes the story intriguing, as well as the way in which she begins to face up to her fears. There’s Estelle, the neighbor who has wormed her way into Lily’s heart, making her irreplaceable and any threat to her unthinkable. Estelle introduces her to the mysterious Mr. Ash, who asks for more faith than Lily has. Lily also meets the enigmatic Lord Strangford, who has secrets of his own.

The words resonated. Lily knew that fear. It had lingered at the back of her mind for as long as she could remember. Humanity was not kind to difference.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Fire in the Glass

The pace builds well over the course of the story, and the anomalies of Lily’s life as an Edwardian woman are dealt with head-on—mostly by her class and background justifying her refusal to act completely within society’s dictates.

The ton was generally happy to presume that a child conceived in sin carried the same loose morals in her blood like some sort of hereditary disease, one they apparently thought contagious.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Fire in the Glass

The theme of the willingness of powerful men to sacrifice powerless women is explored within the novel, and although most of those men still find themselves justified, there are some who are enlightened in the process. There’s a darkness at the heart of the story, but it’s a darkness which is being fought.

The Fire in the Glass was a pleasure to read, and I look forward to the next installment.


A tale of three gardens

A prepublication Big5+ review

r/suggestmeabook: I want a drama about women of various eras dealing with similar issues about work and love.

Edwardian, WWII and contemporary

Rating: PG

Publication date: 1/12/2021

From the publisher:

From the publisher: Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime.

1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer.

1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life.

Julia Kelly expertly explores the themes of women and work in two major past periods and contemporary England through the frame of a garden. What will you give up for your dream of work or your dream of love? We used to think we could have it all, but Kelly does a good job of showing that from the dawn of professional female artists, compromises have had to be made.

With blonde hair that was beginning to streak with silver, it would have been easy to think that the woman who dressed in demure pastels and high lace collars would be compassionate. Five minutes with Cynthia, however, and anyone would have been disabused of that notion. Cynthia was made of flint and dogma.

Julia Kelly, The Last Garden in England

At first, it was a little difficult to keep up with whose point of view was being discussed, despite the labeling of each chapter with each of the five women’s names.

Venetia was easy enough, given the unique name coupled with the earlier period, but I had a more trouble remembering which of the other four names matched which woman. The tone is fairly consistent for all these points of view, despite the fact that Venetia is first person and the other four are third party close.

Another theme she explores is the one of home: what constitutes one and when do we start wanting one? All of the women have different answers, and the answers morph with their character arcs, which are developed at a believable pace, as seasons change.

The choice to explore three different women during WWII is interesting. Of late, it feels like land girls and occupied country estates have been fairly thoroughly explored, but juxtaposing the land girl, the lady of the house, and the cook for the great house helps illuminate all of them in new and interesting ways.

The garden itself is lost on me. I have a vague sense of all the plants she was describing, but not the specifics of them or what a room in a garden is. However, it still worked for me, as the love of the various characters for the garden and what it symbolized to each of them came through.

A solid piece of historical fiction—probably not one to haunt my dreams, but The Last Garden in England was a good meat and potatoes read.