Bethlehem by Karen Kelly

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I wanted to love this book more than I did. First of all, the cover was intriguing, as the name of the novel. 3.5 Stars.

In the 1960’s a young nurse Joanna, who grew up in a middle class family, marries Frank Collier, whose family ran Bethlehem Steel and are very wealthy. Due to the death of Frank’s father, Wyatt Collier, Frank and Joanna, with their two children, move in with Frank’s mother Susannah Parrish Collier and grandmother Helen Parrish at the family’s grand mansion. Frank is a work-a-holic. Joanna gets bored and starts a friendship with a gardener at the local cemetery. There is a mysterious headstone for a baby at the cemetery. Susannah and Helen seem to be keeping secrets. Alternate chapters take place in the 1920’s when the Susannah was the youngest of Helen’s three teenagers who the constant companions of the Wyatt and Chap Collier, the sons of the Parrishes’ best friends, Charles and Frances.

I was at first confused by the fact that Frank’s family ran Bethlehem Steel. I thought perhaps this was a fictionalized biography of real people who actually worked there. A quick google search make it clear that this was not the case. I also didn’t like that almost every single character had a nickname. Doe = Dorothy; Susannah = Sassy; Hollins V =Kit; Hollins IV = Hep; Genevieve = Gigi; Helen = Heddy; Davida = Daisy; India = Itty; Francis was Frank and one of the three Charles was Chap. With so many names floating about it was hard to establish who was who at first. The women characters were certainly more interesting, but all of the characters were likable and believable. The families were close knit and loyal to each other.

My favorite quotes:

Doe: “I’ve learned a thing or two in my antiquity —- chief among them that things are seldom what they seem. Often the person who appears the most . . . impenetrable . . . is, in truth, the most fragile.”

Susannah: “When I was a young woman, my mother gave me an exceptional gift. She said it was one that her father had given her. It was just a simple sentence, but it helped me through some pitch-black hours. What she said was this: ‘I’m never here to judge you; I’m only here to help you.”‘

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