Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

Title: The Passing Bells
Author: Phillip Rock

Genre: Fiction (Historical / UK / 1910s / WWI / Country Estate / Social Class / War / PTSD / Journalism / Historical Figures Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (12/4/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Looooooooooooooooooved!
Did I finish?: Yes!
One-sentence summary: An epic novel following the intertwined lives of the rich and working class from 1914 to 1920.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Love.It. I'm a sucker for eye candy, and this is just lovely, like a still from a film.

I'm reminded of...: Anya Seton, Louisa Young

First line: The dawn came early, tinting a cloudless sky the palest shade of green.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: The cover!

Review: Given the Downton Abbey craze, I was apprehensive about this trilogy: was it any good or just a marketing ploy to cash in while DA is hot?

Thankfully, happily, awesomely, this book is good. Great. Another meaty hist fic that satisfies. This review, however, is probably going to be a hot mess, because how do I describe what is contained in these 500+ pages without just squeeing stupidly? Here goes:

The novel follows a few families and tangential individuals from 1914 through 1920, and at first, the enormous cast was be a bit overwhelming. There are the rich, titled, old money families, the wealthy trade families who are trying to gain their own social standing, the working class, the serving class, and everything in between.

As a result, this book is massive, in size, cast, and scope. Still, I loved every frickin' page. It's the kind of epic book I love to snuggle up with and devour over a weekend, and devour I did -- I was sneaking reads as often as I can. (I recommend not putting this down for any length of time -- given the size of the cast, it could be very easy to forget who is who.)

Opening at the beautiful, bucolic country estate of Abingdon Pryory, the reader basks in the refined dramas of the titled rich -- marriages, love affairs, training house hold staff -- before widening to incorporate a wider lens. As the residents of Abingdon Pryory move to London for the season, we meet the educated tradesmen, American relatives, reporters, and politicians. Then war strikes and everything changes.

Rock's writing style reminded me of the 'classic' historical fiction I love. There's a little romance -- some vague intimations of sex among the younger set -- and a leeetle bit of philosophic ruminations on war and violence. As this was originally written in the late 1970s, Rock has some distance from the era to insert a little sharp and wry commentary and observation. Early on, for example, one of his characters muses about the inequality of marrying American heiress made rich from trade while an Englishwoman with a successful merchant father is completely out of the picture. It's a darkly funny moment and this novel is punctuated with that -- the hypocrisy and beauty of the pre-World War I era.

Rock's characters do change and shift and I liked them, all of them. Some are selfish, some are jerks, some are badly behaved -- but I found all of them to be real and settled in their 'place' -- even as their place shifted as time went on. (Rock conveys that shift so very well -- when one of the titled rich girls seeks out her former maid, now a nurse, their interaction is painful and striking.)

If you like family sagas, this is your book -- while I normally bristle now at sequels, I am bouncing with excitement for the second book. I don't want to leave these people yet.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer all three books of The Passing Bells trilogy -- made up of The Passing Bells, Circles of Time, and A Future Arrived -- to one lucky reader!

To enter, fill out this brief form. You'll have a chance to enter each time I review a book in the trilogy. Open to US/CA readers, ends 3/1.  For another entry, see my review of Circles of Time and my review of A Future Arrived.

42 comments:

  1. OMG! Sounds amazing. Glad you enjoyed it so much.

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    1. Totally amazing -- worth all the hype!

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  2. Wow, you've made this sound fantastic!!

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    1. It is -- when thumbing through it to write my review, I found myself rereading long chunks!

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  3. You had me at "Loooooooooooooooved!"...but the Anya Seton comparison sent me right to the library catalog to place a hold. :)

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    1. Shan -- So.good. I think you'll love -- I think Rock is less romantic than Seton but has the same wonderful skill at making historical details effortless -- and resonant.

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  4. Great review, Audra! I am sold, would love to have a copy of this fabulous-sounding book!

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  5. I get very easily overwhelmed by huge casts, so I actually make spreadsheets! (groan!) But I do love these kinds of books, and your enthusiastic review makes it sound pretty tempting!

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    1. I was tempted to make a spreadsheet and only didn't because I didn't want to have to keep running to the computer! I want to tempt you -- this is worth the effort! :)

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  6. Sounds good! How had I not heard of it before?? Great review!

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    1. I'm shocked you haven't seen them yet -- since December I feel like I've seen this series everywhere! They're good -- worth the hype I've seen -- and so delish when you're in a chunkster mood!

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  7. I love, love, love this cover too. I wish I could have that dress. Love your point about the shift in Ivy and Alex's relationship. This book expressed really well the shift from the more ancestral, class-driven mindset to a more modern merit-based ideal.

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    1. They *might* be my favorite two characters, although I liked Fenton and Winifred as well. I even liked Lydia, especially when I hated her!

      I definitely want that dress.

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  8. I cannot wait to read this one. It looks so fabulous!!

    Kimberlee
    www.girllostinabook.com

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  9. Oh my, this sounds so good. I love a big book to curl up with. Especially since I have just jumped on the Downton Abbey wagon too.

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    1. I think you'll love this then. I've only seen one ep of DA, but knowing how the characters are, I think you'll see their circumstances reflected in this novel. I don't think DA goes into detail about the war -- isn't it set after WWI? -- so in this sense, the book really sets up vividly what that work must have been like.

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  10. I am drooling over this series!!!! Your review makes me want to rush to the store. I have the first book on the series but want the whole series before I start so I can just absorb myself in the series.

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    1. Colleen -- wait until you have all three as you *will* want to immediately dive in -- I'm chomping at the bit for book two!!

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  11. I really, really want to read this book and now you have just made that urge all the stronger! I am hoping to win the giveaway, but I don't think I can wait to buy them. I am going to have to restrain myself and see what happens. I do so want to read this series! Your review was natural and brilliant. I loved it!!

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    1. Heather, thank you for your lovely comments -- you're such a dear! This is a series worth lusting after!

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  12. I'm hearing nothing but rave reviews for this series, and coming from someone with your distinctive tastes, I cannot wait to read this! Thank you for the chance to win the books!

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    1. Joanne -- it is worth the raves. Really harkens back to classic hist fic, filled with wonderful ambiance, and some real meat so you feel immersed in the world.

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  13. Fabulous review, Audra. I agree 100% that it is a fabulous book! I have book two and wish I could just dive right in to it, but I have to get through some review books first.

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    1. Melissa -- I so envy your book 2 -- mine hasn't arrived yet and I'm dying!

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  14. I loved this book! I'll be posting my review sometime after Feb 1st because I also reviewed it for the Historical Novel Society. And books 2 and 3 just arrived in the mail yesterday, so I'm very very excited.

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    1. Sarah -- so envious! Books 2 and 3 still haven't arrived -- I'm on pins and needles!

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  15. I'm glad to hear you liked it! I've been seeing it at the bookstore and wondering if I should recommend it to hist fic folks- and it sounds like I should!

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    1. Absolutely -- honestly, if folks love any of those 20th century BBC costume dramas (I think Forsyte Saga), I think they'll love this trilogy.

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  16. I loved this one, too! I don't watch DA, so I joined the tour because it was a family saga and set during WWI. I like all the characters, too; they were all well crafted.

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  17. You've won me over with this review, Audra. It's not normally the kind of book I'd pick up, so I'm glad you wrote this, because I really want to read it now. Onto the TBR pile it goes!

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  18. I saw this listed in a DA readalikes list recently. I'm not crazy about historical fiction, but my exception to the rule is family sagas. This sounds great!

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    1. Rock jumps around a lot -- that'd be my only warning -- so it can be a bit frustrating as he drops major lines to pick another one with someone else -- but it was engrossing and I wanted more and more and more. So excited for the next book.

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  19. How on earth did I miss out on this tour?! I hope I win the giveaway! :) I love that you loved every page of this trilogy. That cover reminds me of another book about the same time period.

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  20. I just finished the first Bess Crawford book so I'm in the right frame of mind for this book and I KNOW I'm going to love it!

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra!

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  21. I missed this tour and I'm so jealous. This sounds amazing!

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  22. Wow, great review! I am glad you liked it so much :-) I admit to rolling my eyes a little at the Abingdon Pryory/Downton Abbey name linking but then you said right after that these books were written far earlier than Downton was, so that makes me feel better.

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  23. I looooooved this book, too, Audra! I'm so looking forward to read the rest of the trilogy. There were a lot of characters but Rock did a great job fleshing them out. I was happy that he detailed the lives of a handful of them so it wasn't confusing. I was also impressedwith the different story-lines and how well Rock handled them all. The more I read this book, the more I had difficulty putting it down, even for a few minutes!

    This is a great review, Audra. The scene you mention: when Alexandria seeks out Ivy about nursing...was wow, amazing. I liked this book far better than Downton Abbey, but I s'pose it's unfait to compare a 10 or 12-hour TV programme to 3 4-500-page books!

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  24. I hate reading long books, but this one does sound quite interesting. I may just have to get over my "fear" of them to read this. Thanks for the review.

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  25. Wow, these books sound awesome (just read the 2nd review). Thanks for the heads up!

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  26. And ta-da--- they were already on my wishlist (prob from this review in my inbox)!

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  27. Just my type of book love sagas that go on and on.

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