A Change in Altitude

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Overview

Margaret and Patrick have been married just a few months when they set off on what they hope will be a great adventure-a year living in Kenya. Margaret quickly realizes there is a great deal she doesn't know about the complex mores of her new home, and about her own husband.

A British couple invites the newlyweds to join on a climbing expedition to Mount Kenya, and they eagerly agree. But during their harrowing ascent, a horrific accident occurs. In the aftermath of the tragedy,...

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Overview

Margaret and Patrick have been married just a few months when they set off on what they hope will be a great adventure-a year living in Kenya. Margaret quickly realizes there is a great deal she doesn't know about the complex mores of her new home, and about her own husband.

A British couple invites the newlyweds to join on a climbing expedition to Mount Kenya, and they eagerly agree. But during their harrowing ascent, a horrific accident occurs. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Margaret struggles to understand what happened on the mountain and how these events have transformed her and her marriage, perhaps forever.

A Change in Altitude illuminates the inner landscape of a couple, the irrevocable impact of tragedy, and the elusive nature of forgiveness. With stunning language and striking emotional intensity, Anita Shreve transports us to the exotic panoramas of Africa and into the core of our most intimate relationships.

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  • A Change in Altitude
    A Change in Altitude  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
For many Americans, a one-year stay in Kenya would be an exotic adventure, a vicarious immersion in a vastly different multicultural place. For newlyweds Geraldine and James, it becomes something quite different. A terrifying accident on a climbing expedition on Mount Kenya changes everything, forcing 28-year-old Geraldine to reassess both her marriage and herself. Another probing domestic story by the author of the Oprah's Book Club selection The Pilot's Wife.
<b>Diane Makovsky</b> - Free-Lance Star
"A winner. Once again, Shreve's fans can approach her book with the confident anticipation that she will provide yet another satisfying experience. A Change in Altitude is an unusual kind of page-turner, part whodunit, part adventure story....Readers will vicariously enjoy all facets of this adventure in Africa from the safety of their own armchair."
Olivia Barker - USA Today
"Shreve takes readers from Nairobi's lush suburbs to its fetid slums, from the drawing-room world of the white gentry to that of its black servants....A Change in Altitude rises a few thousand feet above typical women's fiction."
Eliza Borné - Bookpage
"Prepare to cancel all your appointments as you race through this dramatic saga....Enthralling. The mountains Margaret must climb-literally, and figuratively-are difficult ones. Readers will be eager to learn if she successfully scales the peak."
Mary Foster - Newsday
"No one is better at gently, but thoroughly probing the interior life of her characters than Anita Shreve....A Change in Altitude reflects many of Shreve's familiar themes: loss and grief, the relationship between a man and woman, and how one moment can change a life forever. Shreve weaves a strong mix of exotic Africa and interesting characters, producing a potent story that will keep readers thinking about them long after the last page of the novel."
Valerie Sayers - Washington Post
PRAISE FOR A CHANGE IN ALTITUDE:

"Visual and sharply focused....Shreve knows how to keep a reader engaged."

Jan Stuart
Anita Shreve's salad years as a journalist for a Nairobi magazine lend a roiling authenticity to this tale of loss and disillusionment, set in Kenya in the late 1970s amid the paranoid declining months of Jomo Kenyatta's presidency…Shreve displays a keen radar for the insidious hierarchies of power and the cross-cultural ubiquity of the alpha male.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Shreve (Testimony), who worked in Kenya as a journalist early in her career, returns to that country in her slow latest, the story of a photojournalist and her doctor husband, whose temporary relocation abroad goes sour. The year-long research trip is an opportunity for Patrick, but leaves Margaret floundering in colonialist culture shock, feeling like “an actor in a play someone British had written for a previous generation.” When a climbing trip to Mt. Kenya goes fatally wrong, Margaret's role in the tragedy drives a quiet wedge between the couple. Compounding those stressors are multiple robberies and adulterous temptations, as well as Margaret's freelance work for a “controversial” newspaper. Written in a strangely emotionless third person, the novel is stuffed with travelogues and vignettes of privileged expatriate life, including the chestnut of Margaret feeling very guilty about being given a rug she admires. While some of these moments aren't bad, the scant dramatic tension and direct-to-video plot make this a slog. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Margaret and Patrick are 28-year-old Bostonians living in Kenya in 1977. He's a doctor researching tropical diseases, while she dabbles in photography. They live in the guest house of Brits Arthur and Diana. An impulsive plan to climb to the top of Mount Kenya elicits varied responses from the group, which eventually will include a Swiss couple as well. While most see a challenge, if a mild one, Margaret is terrified, scrambling for a way to back out. Ultimately, tragedy strikes, and everyone, including Patrick, looks to Margaret as its cause. The country's race relations contribute to Margaret's feelings of remorse, pushing her to find a job and perhaps a new love. VERDICT The usual pinpoint precision of Shreve's (Testimony) prose is not in evidence here, as readers must work to discover the novel's time frame, and accusations of Margaret's complicity in the accident seem out of proportion, as does her sense of guilt. People who might consider an excursion to Mount Kenya will undoubtedly cancel their airfare and buy a new armchair instead. Shreve fans will demand this one, though. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/09; online reading group guide.]—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Shreve (Testimony, 2008, etc.) sends a young American couple up Mt. Kenya, with disastrous consequences for their marriage. Margaret and Patrick have been in Nairobi for three months. He came to pursue research in tropical diseases while offering his services as a doctor in free clinics; she was bored with her job at a Boston alternative weekly and hopes to find more interesting photography opportunities in Africa. Neither is an experienced climber, nor do they especially like their landlords, Arthur and Diana, who suggest the expedition. But they go along anyway, and it's athletic Diana who falls to her death. Is Margaret to blame because Diana was exasperated by her slowness and enraged by Arthur's attentions to the younger woman? Patrick thinks so and says so to his wife; their relationship is on shaky ground for the remainder of the story. It's not clear precisely what Shreve intends to convey in her tale. She unsparingly depicts the poverty and corruption of late-1970s Kenya and sends Margaret to work at a reforming newspaper whose editor is eventually arrested, but politics are not a central concern. Margaret, the point-of-view character, is a sensitive and thoughtful observer who can't seem to take hold of her life. Patrick will strike most readers as cold and judgmental from the start; it's hard to understand what Margaret ever saw in him, and her attraction to a reporter at the Kenya Morning Tribune isn't much more compelling. The second climb up Mt. Kenya, taken a year after the first, does not in the least meet Patrick's goal of expunging the "deadly silence" and "devastating mistrust" that have enveloped the couple, but it does restore Margaret's self-respect and make clearthe state of their marriage. Commendably tough-minded and unsentimental, but not very engaging.
Mary Foster
No one is better at gently, but thoroughly probing the interior life of her characters than Anita Shreve....A Change in Altitude reflects many of Shreve's familiar themes: loss and grief, the relationship between a man and woman, and how one moment can change a life forever. Shreve weaves a strong mix of exotic Africa and interesting characters, producing a potent story that will keep readers thinking about them long after the last page of the novel.
Newsday
Olivia Barker
Shreve takes readers from Nairobi's lush suburbs to its fetid slums, from the drawing-room world of the white gentry to that of its black servants....A Change in Altitude rises a few thousand feet above typical women's fiction.
USA Today
Eliza Borne
Prepare to cancel all your appointments as you race through this dramatic saga....Enthralling. The mountains Margaret must climb-literally, and figuratively-are difficult ones. Readers will be eager to learn if she successfully scales the peak.
Bookpage
Diane Makovsky
Awinner. Once again, Shreve's fans can approach her book with the confident anticipation that she will provide yet another satisfying experience. A Change in Altitude is an unusual kind of page-turner, part whodunit, part adventure story....Readers will vicariously enjoy all facets of this adventure in Africa from the safety of their own armchair.
Free-Lance Star
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316020701
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 9/22/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 10.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Anita Shreve
Anita Shreve is the acclaimed author of fourteen previous novels, including Testimony; The Pilot's Wife, which was a selection of Oprah's Book Club; and The Weight of Water, which was a finalist for England's Orange prize. She lives in Massachusetts.

Biography

For many readers, the appeal of Anita Shreve’s novels is their ability to combine all of the escapist elements of a good beach read with the kind of thoughtful complexity not generally associated with romantic fiction. Shreve’s books are loaded with enough adultery, eroticism, and passion to make anyone keep flipping the pages, but the writer whom People magazine once dubbed a “master storyteller” is also concerned with the complexities of her characters’ motivations, relationships, and lives.

Shreve’s novels draw on her diverse experiences as a teacher and journalist: she began writing fiction while teaching high school, and was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975 for her story, “Past the Island, Drifting.” She then spent several years working as a journalist in Africa, and later returned to the States to raise her children. In the 1980s, she wrote about women’s issues, which resulted in two nonfiction books -- Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone -- before breaking into mainstream fiction with Eden Close in 1989.

This interest in women’s lives -- their struggles and success, families and friendships -- informs all of Shreve’s fiction. The combination of her journalist’s eye for detail and her literary ear for the telling turn of phrase mean that Shreve can spin a story that is dense, atmospheric, and believable. Shreve incorporates the pull of the sea -- the inexorable tides, the unpredictable surf -- into her characters’ lives the way Willa Cather worked the beauty and wildness of the Midwestern plains into her fiction. In Fortune’s Rocks and The Weight of Water, the sea becomes a character itself, evocative and ultimately consuming. In Sea Glass, Shreve takes the metaphor as far as she can, where characters are tested again and again, only to emerge stronger by surviving the ravages of life.

A domestic sensualist, Shreve makes use of the emblems of household life to a high degree, letting a home tell its stories just as much as its inhabitants do, and even recycling the same house through different books and periods of time, giving it a sort of palimpsest effect, in which old stories burn through the newer ones, creating a historical montage. "A house with any kind of age will have dozens of stories to tell," she says. "I suppose if a novelist could live long enough, one could base an entire oeuvre on the lives that weave in and out of an antique house."

Shreve’s work is sometimes categorized as “women’s fiction,” because of her focus on women’s sensibilties and plights. But her evocative and precise language and imagery take her beyond category fiction, and moderate the vein of sentimentality which threads through her books. Moreover, her kaleidoscopic view of history, her iron grip on the details and detritus of 19th-century life (which she sometimes intersperses with a 20th-century story), and her uncanny ability to replicate 19th-century dialogue without sounding fusty or fussy, make for novels that that are always absorbing and often riveting. If she has a flaw, it is that her imagery is sometimes too cinematic, but one can hardly fault her for that: after all, the call of Hollywood is surely as strong as the call of the sea for a writer as talented as Shreve.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 98 )
Rating Distribution

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(15)

4 Star

(24)

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(23)

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(13)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 98 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Climbing Mount Kenya when not experienced

    Climbing Mount Kenya sounded like a real challenge to Margaret and Patrick, especially when they had never climbed a mountain before. They had been in Kenya for several months, getting used to some of the customs, climate, and various groups of people living around them, and were enjoying most all of their experiences. A mountain climb sounded great. They rented housing while in Kenya and had met several people they now felt closer to. Patrick was a doctor who worked in a hospital but also spent much time helping the ill in villages and teaching them about disease and how to care for themselves

    They got together with several other couples, some with climbing experience, to plan the climb and taking some practice climbs in short mountains in the area to get acclimated. They learned what they had to take along, how to climb, how to breathe, what food was best to take, medicines needed, and what they personally might encounter with their own body and mind. Since they would share crude lodging during the climb, they had to adapt to that and what might occur with some of them physically and mentally.

    Margaret and Patrick were in love with each other but to what extent they were not sure. The climb brought some feelings and words out that started causing some doubt in both of their minds. The climb began when everyone thought they were prepared, slowly trekking up little by little, stopping, eating, and sleeping when scheduled. Rest time became different with Margaret, as she was not as ready to climb such a high mountain as she thought. Some things good and bad occurred. When one of the party unhooked herself from the group for some unknown reason and fell thousands of feet the entire trek was stopped. This upset all of them and the love between Margaret and Patrick got tenser.

    Margaret wanted to work and she went to one of the newspapers to get a photography position if they had one open. They hired her on a free lancing basis that she did a good job with and her work became steadier. She also met a handsome man that was paired up with her on assignments that caused her more questions than answers about her and Patrick.

    The descriptions of locations, people, customs, traditions, and most everything about the area is written so well. I had read a review that said the middle of the story "bogged down" but I found no such thing. The flow was great. As time went on, Margaret and Patrick decided to make the climb again which they did taking another couple along with them. The story will introduce the reader to much about Kenya and its many groups of native and other foreign people that came to Kenya. A very good read. Thanks Anita Shreve for another great story.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2009

    What a disappointing book!

    Anita Shreve is one of my favorite authors; however, this book was a bomb! I was glad to get it over with, the characters lacked depth, the plot was dull, the ending just left you hanging. Totally boring! I was not impressed with her previous book, Testimony, either. Would definitely tell people not to waste their money on either.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2009

    Do not invest your time

    I have read Anita Shreve before, but this book was a total disappointment from start to finish. The main characters were not developed at all and I learned so little about them, that I hardly cared what happened to them. They were shallow and completely self-absorbed and you wondered what drew them together to begin with. The secondary characters were weak, too. Everytime the storyline took a turn and I thought something was about to happen, it never really did. All twists and turns were dead-ends. The climbs were all too easy and all too quick for two people that were, supposedly, inexperienced climbers. They hardly seemed prepared to make the climbs in terms of supplies, preparation, etc. The Kenyan backdrop was interesting, but the story was severely lacking. In fact, it was less a story than it was a chronicle of events - none of which seemed pulled together very well to form a story. If you want to read Shreve, stick with some of her classics - "The Pilot's Wife," "Weight of Water," etc.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Don't waste your time

    I have read other books by Anita Shreve and really enjoyed them. This book however, was a complete disappointment. It's been a long time since I read a book and got to the end thinking...."I wasted 300 pages for that????" Yes, the story contains symbolism, and yes the author wants the reader to draw his or her own conclusions at the end; but the feeling of disjointedness, the under developed plot, and the wishy washy main characters make this book a true disappointment.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2012

    This book dragged on until the very end. Anita Shreve has writte

    This book dragged on until the very end. Anita Shreve has written better books - this was a one off. Would not recommend.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2011

    Not her best

    I have read every book Anita Shreve has written, this is not her best. I was very disappointed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2011

    Again, Anita did it right

    I had been a fan of Anita Shreve for many years. Then I found her less then her usual self. This book brings her up to snuff.It keeps you turning pages. A recommended read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2010

    BORING!!!

    This book was the most boring book I have ever read. I kept waiting for something to happen, but nothing does! I would not reccommend this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2010

    Regrettable!

    I really like Anita Shreve, and I was anxious to read books on my new Nook, so I splurged on this one - I so wish I had not downloaded it - if I could figure out how to return downloads, I would have done so halfway through! Although Shreve's writing style is still one of my favorites, I disliked each and every character and even the setting - based on what it described, I cannot understand why the characters would even want to stay in Africa. I forced myself to continue reading, hoping that it would prove worthwhile in the end, but I finished feeling very depressed and discouraged. Very disappointing, indeed!

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 27, 2010

    Different but interesting!

    A CHANGE IN ATTITUDE by Anita Shreve is a contemporary fiction set in Kenya. It is well written in depth and detail. I thought the ending left a few questions as to the characters future. It has distrust,marriage, tragedy, living in a strange and sometimes dangerous country, the consequences of unintended actions, and the struggle to climb to the top of Mount Kenya. The characters are interesting and will hold your interest. This story shows how an life can change in an instant. It gives an in depth description of Kenya and some of their issues. If you enjoy some small triumphs, struggles with marriage and relationships you will enjoy this one. This book was received for review and details can be found at My Book Addiction and More and Hachette.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2010

    What a disappointment

    I was so disappointed with this book, I had to force myself to read it. I kept hoping to find a twist or something but nothing. Her books have become so dull. Cannot compare to Resistance, Weight of Water, Pilot's Wife and such. Bring back the old Anita Shreve. I couldn't engage with the story, the characters, nothing.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Left much to be desired

    Although Anita Shreve's writing style is superb as usual, the plot and the characters of this book were disappointing. I found it unusual that Anita decided to fill this book with fluff rather than content. The end was abrupt and not fulfilling, I wish it would've been given a little more thought. Overall this book was ok.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2010

    Really good book

    Not sure why this one isn't getting better reviews; I found this to be one of Shreve's better books. I liked Margaret but couldn't stand Patrick, Arthur, Diana and the Dutch woman. I wished throughout that the protaganist would just tell them all to get lost. She didn't even do anything wrong! I just couldn't stand the attitude of her husband and friends. I liked the ending for two reasons. (I won't give it away). The African setting was absolutely spectacular. I also really liked Body Surfing, Testimony and Eden Close by this same author. You may also enjoy the books of Alice Hoffman; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and anything by Ruth Rendell (especially End in Tears) and Barbara Vine.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2010

    What a waste of time......

    I think every author, even excellent ones, write one stinker in their career. This is Anita Shreve's stinker. I found the characters to be stuffy, self-righteous, selfish, pompous and arrogant. I didn't care what happened to any of them, and halfway through the book I began skipping large chunks of the book, just to get the end. I liked the wild animals more than the people, and wouldn't have been sad if they all died in an avalanche.

    I'm hoping her future books will be better, as she's capable of so much more.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    Almost put it down several times.

    Had it not been that this book was required for a book club discussion, I would have put it down and never finished it. It lacked any plot to speak of, the characters were boring as hell, and the story line left a lot to be desired. I really had a hard time reading through it, and I kept thinking something would happen to make it more interesting reading. It didn't, and when I got to the end, I was looking for something to catch my attention. The beginning of the book was painful to read...not really capturing my attention, and darting from one thing to another. The middle of the book got a little more interesting, and the ending was a disappointment. Don't know if I would read anything else by this author.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2013

    A FANTASTIC READ!!! I found A Change in Altitude to be extreme

    A FANTASTIC READ!!! I found A Change in Altitude to be extremely captivating and intriguing! I have been long interested in wanting to learn more about Africa and its people . This was SO interesting in my opinion!The plot was very intriguing in and of itself! The characters were as usual very well drawn by Shreve. I read way in to the very wee hours of the morning and could literally not put this book down to go to bed!I wish there could be a sequel to see what happens to Patrick and Margaret next. Does she leave Africa or stay/where does Patrick go next as a doctor/does Margaret ever see Rafiq again/ I thought this book was multilayered and it really made one think about Africa and about Kenya in particularIt made one think about Margaret and Patrick's marriage and how these situations can arise in a marriage. It was a truly wonderful book, or should I say, experience,that Anita Shreve gave the reader! I wish there were an online barnes and noble book club for this book as I would enjoy discussing this book with others. The ending surprised me, but it gave a lot of food for thought..

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 25, 2012

    Easy reading!

    I've read other books by Anita Shreve and this is one of the best.Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2010

    Not my favorite Anita Shreve book

    I really enjoy reading the Anita Shreve books. Each provides a very real and honest look at complex relationships. Usually, I read them pretty quickly because I can't put the book down! This one was harder for me to get into to, but I stuck with it. The story become more interesting in the middle of the book, after the tragic accident that redefines the heroine's marriage and her view of her husband. The end left me wanting a little bit...a little confused about what the future held for the marriage. Not my favorite of her books, but if you are an Anita Shreve fan, worth the read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2009

    A Change in Altitude

    A Change in Altitude is different from books that I typically choose to read, and it took me some time to get into it. I am not a big fan of the adventurous, trek up the mountain kinds, but into the second part of the book, it becomes more interesting when delving into the lives of Margaret and Patrick. There is quite a bit of symbolism going on in this novel, very much of it at the very end. I was disappointed in the lack of closure the reader receives and how it leaves you wondering what happens. But this is where the symbolism comes in and lets the reader draw her own conclusions and figure out what is going to happen. The dialects and terms from Africa used in the novel make it confusing sometimes to figure out what the author is describing, but context clues help you to figure them out soon enough. After visiting the author's website, anitashreve.com, I learned that she actually lived in Africa for three years and actually climbed Mt. Kenya, so there is accuracy to the locations and towns described. Also, after reading her biography, I like the book a little more and want to read more of her work. I am not a fan of the cursing and the taking of the Lord's name in vain throughout the book. This story would make a great Lifetime movie, in case any producers out there are reading.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2010

    Glad It's Over!

    I love Anita Shreve books, Fortune Rocks, an excellent read, Eden Close, however, this was a difficult book to get through. I kept waiting for a real plot but was left disappointed. Forced myself to finish it. Hard to spend money on books and left wishing I had spent it on dinner instead. Characters were snobs except for Margaret. Just, not much there to enjoy. Sorry folks...

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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