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The Amber Keeper by Freda Lightfoot

The Amber Keeper

by Freda Lightfoot

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695173,491 (3.68)2



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A young woman, Abbie, returns to her family's home in England following her mother's death. Abbie's family blames her for her mother's death, but the real reason her mother died remains a mystery, possibly connected to the big secret her grandmother, Millie, has kept from everyone. Millie spent several years in Russia working as a governess for an aristocratic family, during the last few years before the Revolution, a story she has not told anyone in any detail before. As Millie finally tells her granddaughter about her past adventures in Russia, the truth of her mother's death comes out.

This was a well crafted novel, with the modern family drama providing a nice frame for an interesting bit of historical fiction that shows life in Russia during the build-up to the revolution from the perspective of the aristocracy. I wished that Abbie was a bit better informed so she could have understood more of what was happening around her, but the fact that she was so clueless about Russian current events and politics was believable. ( )
  JBarringer | Dec 30, 2017 |
‘The cave, the cave,’ yelled Jonathon. Fay appeared with a wriggling Carrie desperate to escape the confines of her pushchair. ‘Can we come too?’ her sister-in-law asked, her tone revealing her own eagerness to escape for a while.


The Amber Keeper was recommended to me by a friend and I really wanted to like it. Not least because I had not enjoyed her previous recommendation all that much either.
So, deciding to DNF was - and this is unusual for me - hard.

So, anyway, why did the book not work for me?
Well, The Amber Keeper tells the story set in the 1960s of Abbie, an un-wed single mother who returns to the Lake District for her mother's funeral. In the aftermath of the funeral and the squabble about inheritance etc. Abbie spends a lot of time talking to her grandmother and finds out about her gran's time in Russia during the years of the Revolution.
I really like the premise of the plot. What I had an issue with was the delivery.

Let the book speak for itself:

"Abbie felt a sudden hopelessness overwhelm her as she sat gazing out of her bedroom window, her transistor radio playing Andy Williams singing Can’t Get Used To Losing You, which was exactly how she felt right now. To lose her mother just when she needed her most, needed that much-longed-for reconciliation, was more than she could bear. How cruel life was at times. If only she possessed her grandmother’s strength. She watched the whooper swans preparing to leave Carreckwater for their summer breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra. How far those beautiful birds must have to travel, and to a region even colder than this one. Rather as Millie had done when she’d sailed to Russia."

Why is it important that Andy Williams gets a mention?
Why the reference to her grandmother's strength? This is before her gran reveals her story in the book, and up to this point there are only vague references about family secrets - and not much about her gran.

And most important - and most annoying to me - why do I need to know that whooper swans have summer breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra? I'm sorry, but unless the swans feature in the story, I do not want to read about their summer breeding grounds.

(Btw, I checked - there are no further references to the swans. So, why....?)

So, puzzled, I continued to find this:

" ‘Sorry I didn’t manage to call yesterday, Gran, only we took the children out on Coniston Water for a treat.’ ‘Good for you. Cheer you all up, I expect.’ ‘Indeed it did.’ Abbie sipped her coffee as the two lapsed into a comfortable silence, watching a house martin flying frantically to and fro as it gathered material for its nest."

I think the author may be a twitcher. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does not move the story forward or create any of the much needed atmosphere. Nor do the references seem to be metaphors for anything. So, still puzzled I read on.

"Both women lapsed into silence for a moment as they recalled happier days, then Abbie gave a little sigh.
‘I still can’t get my head around why Mum would do this. It’s quite beyond my comprehension. But then she was never easy to understand.’
‘It’s true she was rather a complicated person, a bit screwed up, as you young people would say. But then she had a lot to deal with, not knowing exactly who she was, for one thing.’
‘That must have been awful for her.’
‘I’m afraid it did trouble her greatly.’
Abbie tried to recall when first she’d learned that her mother had been adopted, perhaps when she was being something of a problem during her own teen years. Kate had told her that she considered herself fortunate to have enjoyed a good upbringing with loving parents, which included being privately educated at a local girls’ school, when she could so easily have suffered a deprived childhood confined in an orphanage."

It was at this point that I had to laugh. I mean, it can be difficult to convey to readers how characters might feel, but fear not - in this book, the author does an awesome job at telling you exactly what people think and feel and why they do it.
Incidentally, when trying to contrast growing up at an orphanage with growing up in a loving family - who cares about the private education at a local girls school?

From here the reading became less laugh out loud and more strenuous because of the amount of eye-rolling I felt compelled to engage in. So, at risk of causing permanent damage from eye-strain I decided to skim through the rest of the book and see if it does get better. Then the following caught my attention:

" ‘Good for you. Amber is beautiful, likened to the sun because of its colour and clarity. There are many myths and legends attached to it, not least that it is considered to possess healing properties, often worn by children when they are teething. And significantly it is a symbol of fidelity, meant to represent everlasting love,’ Millie said with a smile.
‘Oh, I like that. We could do with a bit more fidelity in this world, judging by all the scandalous goings-on in this Profumo affair. What his lovely wife feels about her MP husband sleeping with a woman who is also having it off with a Russian diplomat, I dread to think. Poor woman!’
‘Windmill girls, or so they think, and the dreadful scandal is having to be carefully kept from Lady Astor that her son has become an innocent victim in the affair, a scapegoat in fact, just because he allowed Stephen Ward to use a cottage on the Cliveden estate."

How do you get from making jewelry to the Profumo Affair? And most importantly - WHY??? It has nothing whatsoever to do with story - and none of it is ever mentioned again. (I checked.)

Is it just thrown in there the give the story a sense of being set in the early 1960s? If so, why not do this by setting the scene rather than by throwing a reference to a political scandal that most people outside of the UK have not heard of?

And for what it's worth, don't get me started on "poor" Lord and Lady Astor. How could they not have know what was going on at Cliveden. They were there!

Anyway, I'm digressing - much like the book. Unlike the book, however, I'm not trying to tell a story.

In summary, The Amber Keeper is an interesting story but the patronising, over-explaining, info-dumping, tell-rather-than-show kind of writing drove me nuts! ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Quick easy read very loose historical fiction.
Not my type of read. Typical multiple lovers misunderstandings getting in the way of their true happiness only to be resolved in the end with happy ever after- kinda sappy romance/ little mystery that I am sure many other women would love. ( )
  KarenHerndon | Apr 11, 2015 |
Where are all the reviews for this one? I thought that this was a great book. Here we have two tales interwoven. Abbie’s story in the present and her grandmother’s story in the past. The transitions back and forth are smooth as we discover her grandmother’s secrets and find out who her mother really was. The book is full of intrigue and mysteries. The characters are real and believable and the story line is a good one and kept my interest. I was taken with this book from the start. The writer has a nice writing style and the story flows along. It has enough action to keep you engrossed. The whole book is interesting, but the ending is the best part. We have here two very strong women in two different time periods. I give this one a 5 out of 5. ( )
  Pattymclpn | Feb 22, 2015 |
Chock-full of twists and secrets and delicious discoveries, spanning time and countries. And the revelations right at the end are the happiest ones of all! See full review at www.bubblebath-books.com ( )
  bubblebathbooks | Jan 9, 2015 |
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"Set against the backdrop of revolutionary Russia, The Amber Keeper is a sweeping tale of jealousy and revenge, reconciliation and forgiveness. English Lake District, 1960s: A young Abbie Myers returns home after learning of her mother's death. Estranged from her turbulent family for many years, Abbie is heartbroken to hear that they blame her for the tragedy. Determined to uncover her mother's past, Abbie approaches her beloved grandmother, Millie, in search of answers. As the old woman recounts her own past, Abbie is transported back to the grandeur of the Russian Empire in 1911 with tales of her grandmother's life as a governess and the revolution that exploded around her. As Abbie struggles to reconcile with her family, and to support herself and her child, she realizes that those long-ago events created aftershocks that threaten to upset the fragile peace she longs to create"--… (more)

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