Bethlehem by Karen Kelly

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It was definitely the ending to Bethlehem (link to the Goodreads description so I don’t have to repeat it. 😉 ) that boosted this to a 4-star read for me! Because all along I was feeling like it was a 3 possibly a 3.5 star story….but it was that ending and the coming together with the greater revelation of the secrets, who held them and for how long that caused a bunch of tears to leak out of my eyes.

This is a good dual-storyline book with Joanna in the 60s and Susannah (and her mother Helen) in 1918. Although, the eras aren’t well represented or used to their full advantage – there definitely aren’t any major events to ground the timeframes, especially in the 60s. They really don’t come into play here and there are only fleeting mentions of flappers or flapper and jazz styles. Otherwise they are simply dates used to strictly set context between Joanna’s storyline and Susannah’s (and sometimes Helen’s).

If I could articulate it as well as I’ve been thinking of it – I would perhaps be better able to express the “looseness” of it all, especially with the 1918 parts. Sometimes there seemed to be a focus on Helen, the matriarch, and sometimes on Susannah – Susannah is truly meant to be the focus, but it’s fairly loose and wispy – a little fuzzy around the edges for the most part. I was wishing and hoping all along for greater strength/oomph and clarity for both Helen and Susannah – it wanted to be one or the other, and it could have been both had there been some more oomph in their characters and backstories. Joanna’s storyline really wasn’t strong either used only to show possible repetition/similarities to Susannah’s life. It just didn’t quite get there, you know what I mean? It’s very loose to use that term again.

The description in part states this: It is the story of two complex women—thrown together in the name of family—who, in coming to understand each other, come finally to understand themselves. However, too many times it became kind of a story of three women because of its sometimes emphasis on Helen.

What is clear throughout however is the extreme (white) privilege of Susannah and Helen’s lives. A combination of two powerful families that made their money (extreme wealth) from the steel industry, Bethlehem is filled to the brim with privileged characters given ostentatious names like Kit, Chap and Wyatt and nicknames like Sassy and Itty. There is no shortage on the mentions of Arabian horses, Yale crew boys, presidential dinners and lavish debutante parties so that it became almost nauseating as it was also becoming fairly predictable.

Overall, it’s perfect for a summer read – it’s light, it’s nice, and for me it was that ending to make this a satisfying read. I only wished there was more development of the characters and more time given with them to settle in deeper with their backstories.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for early access to this one. It was also listed on my 20 Books of Summer list too (Which I’m going to talk more about in a future and separate post.)