Blog Book Tour | “Letters from a Patchwork Quilt” by Clare Flynn

Posted Tuesday, 1 March, 2016 by jorielov , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I am a regular tour hostess for blog tours via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours whereupon I am thankful to have been able to host such a diverse breadth of stories, authors and wonderful guest features since I became a hostess! I received a complimentary copy of “Letters from a Patchwork Quilt” direct from the author Claire Flynn in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

Old World Arts & Crafts and a joy of letter-writing:

When I originally read the synopsis for this novel, I was hoping the title would yield to a revelation of how letters and quilts would come together to unite the story! I wasn’t entirely sure how Flynn would pull this off, but as I started to read the Prologue something quite wicked happened: the letters and the quilt were stitched together as one, thus lends the precursor glimpse into how Letters from a Patchwork Quilt picks up the story-line and the reader’s heart-centred attention! As who wouldn’t want to read a novel where a character discovers hand-written missives stitched protectively inside an heirloom quilt?

This is a nod towards old world arts and crafts and the joy of letter-writing, of which I happily am a fond appreciator of both on equal terms. I love the mystery of the premise inasmuch as the allure of how the letters were purposely and lovingly placed underneath the patchwork in order to be secured safe for time’s arrow to reveal them at a point in the future they were meant to be read again. Isn’t it a wonderfully delish premise that gives your mind a lot to ponder even before you open the pages inside Chapter One?! This is how I found myself on the precipice of the story and the intrigue of where Flynn would take me once I was fully ensconced inside her prose!

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Blog Book Tour | “Letters from a Patchwork Quilt” by Clare FlynnLetters from a Patchwork Quilt

In 1875 England, a young man, Jack Brennan, from a large and impoverished Catholic family refuses to be pushed into the priesthood and runs away to fulfill his dream of becoming a teacher.

Jack falls in love with Eliza Hewlett, but his dreams and plans are thwarted when his landlord’s daughter, Mary Ellen MacBride, falsely accuses him of fathering the child she is expecting.

Rather than be forced to marry his accuser, Jack decides to run away to America with Eliza. Just as they are about to sail, Jack is arrested and dragged from the ship, leaving Eliza alone en route to New York with just a few shillings in her pocket.

Places to find the book:

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9780993332418

on 1st October, 2015

Pages: 360

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Read an Excerpt

from ‘Letters from a Patchwork Quilt’ by Clare Flynn

 taken from Chapter 2

Jack lay on the bed trying to imagine what lay in store for him in his new life, nervous about the prospect of his first day as a proper teacher. His mind raced as he mentally planned his lessons. A gong sounded and he hurried downstairs and stood in the hall looking about him, wondering where to go. He was about to try the door next to the parlour, when he realised someone was watching him. A young woman was standing in the shadows, partly hidden by the coat stand, her voluminous skirts giving her presence away. Jack stepped forward, then hesitated. Was it polite to offer to shake a young lady’s hand? Not that she was that young. At least ten years older than him, he guessed. ‘You must be Miss MacBride?’

‘You can call me Mary Ellen.’

He was surprised that she was prepared to dispense with the formalities so early in their acquaintance, but said, as was clearly expected, ‘My name’s Jack, Miss, Jack Brennan.’

She stepped forward into the light of the gas lamp. Her dark hair was lustrous but with a small streak of premature grey at the temples. Her features were strong and pale as if sculpted from marble. He might have thought her beautiful, but for the dullness of her eyes and the absence of expression on her face.

She put her head on one side as if weighing him up, then turned and walked away, calling over her shoulder. ‘Hurry up, Jack Brennan. Papa hates lateness to table.’
He followed her along the hallway and into the dining room. Another gloomy room, although this time with a feeble fire burning in the grate. The dark green walls were hung with paintings: mostly featuring schooners making their way through stormy seas.

Mr MacBride was sitting at the head of the table. Without looking up he said, ‘Do you like paintings, Mr Brennan?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘I’m something of a collector.’

‘I can see that, sir.’

‘Know much about art do you, lad?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Neither do I.’ He didn’t elaborate on the reason for the collection. ‘Have you met my daughter, Miss Mary Ellen MacBride?’

‘I’ve just had that pleasure, sir.’

‘Pleasure? Don’t be getting ideas, young man.’

Jack swallowed. ‘I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean – I was just…’

‘Spit it out, man. Say what you mean. Mean what you say.’

Jack swallowed, trying to summon the confidence that he didn’t feel. ‘What I meant to say was it is an honour to make the acquaintance of both yourself and your daughter. I do not wish to cause offence.’

Mary Ellen, standing beside him, started to giggle.

MacBride barked at his daughter. ‘Don’t be tiresome, Mary Ellen. Stop that or you can go to your room.’

MacBride’s tone was sharp and Jack was taken aback. The woman must be approaching thirty and yet her father spoke to her as if she were a naughty child.

She sat down, her brow furrowed by repressed anger. Mr MacBride said grace and then the supper was consumed in complete silence, punctuated only by the sound of MacBride masticating his food. The meal was simple: a mutton stew with boiled potatoes and cabbage, but the portions were generous and Jack had not eaten so well in his life. He wondered whether to initiate some conversation, but decided to take his cue from his host, who ate with remarkable speed.

Jack took the opportunity to study his companions. Mr MacBride was short and stout and clearly enjoyed his food, eating with relish, while his tall, slender daughter barely touched hers, playing with it rather than eating it. There appeared to be little familial affection between them. Dinners at Virginia Lodge were unlikely to be the source of intellectual stimulation or conviviality, but, while the company may have been taciturn, Jack had no regrets about running away from home.

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My review of Letters from a Patchwork Quilt:

Letters stitched inside the piercings of a quilt become the mainstay of evidence which anchour the tale between the late 1800s (in the beginning it’s 1875) and 2015; where an unsuspecting discovery gives a woman an encouraging journey to attempt to re-align the letters and unravell the mystery time has kept from everyone who hadn’t realised the quilt in her hands to mend held a secret straight out of history.

Immediately thrust inside a young man’s life on the brink of adulthood, we enter Jack’s strict life where parents dominate his choices and where a sister wrecks havoc with his nerves by revealling his dreams in a life where choices are not given freely but disciplined out by force. It’s a heart-wrenching beginning to the story, as you see a young man who cares about the teaching profession and finds it’s his truer calling over attending the seminary which his parents profoundly insist that he wraps his head round as his chosen path.

Jack settled into a new life in Bristol, happily a train ride away from his former life where he hoped his family could not fetch him nor sneak out information on his behalf – it was here, after a kindness from his former teacher who mentored his dreams, he found an opening at a school who was in dire need of a teacher who would be willing to take on it’s students with the background of a Catholic. Jack, himself was in conflict with his faith due to his former experiences but willing to bite his tongue in order to pursue a better future for himself; he accepted the appointment thinking this would turn his tides. The house in which he gained room and board reminded me quite a bit about the darkly lit estate Jane Eyre resided in whilst she was a Governess, as Jack has entered the home of a man who still grieved his late wife where life had not quite moved forward without a stark emptiness of light.

Jack’s difficulties started with is lodgings being so close to Mary Ellen; a kept-away singleton whose reach in towne was forth-held by her father, of whom after the absence of his wife, elected to keep a short rein on his daughter. It’s his blindsided version of reality that blights the hope for Jack to carve out his niche as a teacher, as he’s under the shadow of a near-mad daughter and an accusatory father who would think the worst of him rather than the best. There are warning signs being fit together like bread crumbs, as Flynn allows her readers to clue into Jack’s plight a bit ahead of where the young lad will soon find himself. He’s a bit caught in the wheel between his own past with an overbearing father and the tender path of his future he’s trying to believe is possible for a boy like himself to achieve.

The interesting bit is how he forged a friendship with an unlikely alliance in Eliza, whose past was as rife as Jack’s for it’s downtrodden avenues, but each of them were united in the hope they held onto as it was a guiding light which strengthened as they grew closer to each other. Unlikely here, as this isn’t quite an easy towne to form friendships, as despite being away from his father, Jack was finding there was a marked measure of what society would accept of him and what society would not allow. This was an age of propriety and social norms of etiquette which followed stern rules without much yielding. Eliza was not easy to warm too until she recognised what she saw in Jack was a kind-hearted spirit such as herself who was simply trying to move up and make his way in the world. Theirs was an innocence of souls coming together out of the fragments of piecing together a life where hard work and success were not equally obtainable. Together they dreamt of travelling, including the long-oft ideal of America, where dreams could be encouraged through what was not yet known of a young country starting to emerge out of war.

There is tension between Protestants and Catholics, as well evidenced in history as much as in this novel, as it brings about difficulties effecting Jack and Eliza’s livelihood wherein the local Priest has his own prejudicial and maddening views to sour anyone’s stomach. The close-minded community is blinded to the needs of the parish constituents, making it quite difficult for progress and forward motion even on the level of education. Caught in the cross-fire are Jack and Eliza, who innocently were brought together by circumstance and then by the purity of true love were afflicted by outside perceptions which were unjustly brought against them. It’s a deafening turning tide, where what is right is not inherently obvious and where supposition can reign over your life. Thrown into the background is Mary Ellen whose wickedness for causing angst, grief and trouble for Jack is unbounded.

Eliza’s fate was just as sorrowful as Jack’s as this soon became a drama of every worse possible situation that could befell a couple; her misery began after the crossing of the North Atlantic where once landed she mistook a kind offer by a retired Doctor to be her benefactor and opted instead to try her hand in New York City. Grossly disfigured and horridly beaten her body, spirit and mind were so far injured she could barely find breath to reach up to touch the hope she once had before she boarded the ship. Her heart felt pulled towards Jack despite the apparent obstacle between them; and the more time she spent in America the harder her life was becoming. Flynn holds nothing back and portrays an immigrant story of great sacrifice, hardship and immense physical pain where lines are crossed between law and justice.

It was after this section seeing Eliza in New York City, beyond repair of her attacker and yet strong in spirit despite appearances I was quite curious when we would slip back to the current time of the novel, where the letters were stitched inside the quilt. Part of me wondered if it would have served better to break this story into different halves, where different sections highlighted different portions of the story whilst overlapping with the quilt-maker during the present time and then re-aligning with Jack and Eliza. There isn’t a lot to go forward on with the contemporary side of the time slip except what was learnt in the Prologue and I suppose I rendered this to be a slippage of time between both timescapes due to the letters than a short glimpse of the present exchanged for the past.

On page 157 I exited the novel – I simply could not take it any longer – instead of finding Jack in prison or a work camp for something he was not guilty of he’s instead being forced to marry Mary Ellen! Seriously? I couldn’t even fathom how he could be put through this hellish plight as he’d suffered enough and I had suffered alongside him; my heart ached for his life to have some measurable bit of happiness eked out of it but if it were to come to pass, I could not wait for it to appear. I was so dearly disappointed by the start of Chapter 19 I cannot even properly put it into words my frustration.

Fly in the Ointment:

I was quite surprised to find a very strong word on page 69 as the entire tone of the novel was a lovely respite from vulgarity and anything strong in both meaning and expression. I understand why the writer choose to use such a harshly bent word (if you relate it to the context of when and why it was said) however, I felt it would have been better to soften it a bit, as the overall narrative isn’t wickered out with strong language, but rather writ rather ‘clean’ as a whole. I am not sure then, why nearly 70 pages in it would be turnt askew for inclusion of a word that is so effectively strong when the temperament of the prior chapters were tame. Sighs. I find myself sighing whilst I am enjoying such a wonderfully written historical only to have it marred a bit by a word I’d rather not have seen. Especially as there are so many word choices nowadays, an alternative would have sufficed.

Although I love historical dramas, there was a point in this story where I felt too much was happening to both Jack and Eliza where neither of them would be able to overcome their circumstances. Every ounce of distress that could befall a character was included and at times, so quickly backed by another horrid set of circumstances that you had to wonder if either of them could recover fully in the end as it was such an oppressive state of living. I think perhaps as I had remarked on my review, if there had been portions of the story shifting between the present and the past, supplemented by the contents of the letters and then, enveloped inside the story behind the patchwork quilt itself – it might have swallowed the dramatic climaxes better as a whole. There were so many unanswered questions coming to mind, I found myself a bit bogged down in the severity of Jack and Eliza’s lives.

Also, once the story shifted out of Jack’s point of view from the moment Eliza took passage on the ship to America, we were disconnected from his plight which I could only have afeared worsened in our absence from his perspective. I had hoped for transitions between Eliza and Jack; almost as if their stories were entwined and tangibly being brought to the surface whilst interchanging one timeline for the other.

On the writing style of Clare Flynn:

Flynn grants you permission to tuck inside the harder hitting moments of Jack’s life as if you were right beside him as each affliction happened to him directly. She has a way with words, so emotionally writ to place you inside the emotional anguish Jack is experiencing that you find yourself hoping this young lad has a positive future ahead of him rather than the sombering one you’ve glimpsed at through this novel’s synopsis. He’s a true blue fighter in spirit, as he buckles down to get what needs accomplished when life throws him right of center to deal with situations that are outside of his control. Flynn yields his boyish enthusiasm for accepting the realities of his life as he’s living it, whilst giving us a firm hand of an idea what the late 1800s would have been like for Jack.

There is a Classic film this novel reminds me of – especially on the level of Jack’s appreciation and commitment to teaching. Although told in black and white, with a cast I know (yet unfortunately have forgotten their names of) it was set at a boys school where the main teacher became a figure of joy for young lads who were growing up at this school. The teacher dedicated his life to the profession and moved up in the ranks at the school as well; the only scene I remember outside of the school itself was when he almost fell off a mountain whilst he was speaking to a lady he was smitten with and that’s not a lot to go on, but the essence of that character I felt was well seen in Jack; or rather, as I had seen this other character first, I understood Jack quite well!

Flynn writes for readers who love to become fully absorbed inside their historical fiction, where the scenes are not too rushed nor are they absent of nuance. You get to feel fully centred inside her story and it’s a telling of a tale that ambles as it proceeds to honour where it’s writer wanted you to retreat for the short bit you’re with her characters.

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This blog tour is courtesy of:

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours - HFVBT

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My review was delayed by illness as I tried to re-schedule this review a few times to circumvent the hours I was unwell, realising it too late the hours had simply evaporated off the clock as the blog tour was ending long before I had the opportunity to properly read the novel and add my ruminations to the tour itself. Therefore, I hope my delayed thoughts will still be enjoyed by both the tour route visitors and the author herself, as I appreciated having a clarity of mind to finally dig inside the story’s heart.

Letters from a Patchwork Quilt Blog Tour via HFVBTs

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst bloggers who picked up the same story to read.

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{SOURCES: Cover art of “Letters from a Patchwork Quilt”, book synopsis, author biography and photograph, book except from Chapter 2, the tour host badge & HFVBTs badge were all provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and used with permission. Ruminations & Impressions Book Review Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: Unsplash Public Domain Photographer Sergey Zolkin. Tweets were able to be embedded by the codes provided by Twitter. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Comment Box Banner made by Jorie in Canva.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2016.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • 2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Tuesday, 1 March, 2016 by jorielov in 19th Century, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host, Britian, Bullies and the Bullied, Catholicism, Coming-Of Age, Content Note, Fly in the Ointment, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, History, Indie Author, Passionate Researcher, Prejudicial Bullying & Non-Tolerance, Time Slip, Vulgarity in Literature

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