By Anna Carlisle
Crooked Lane Books
September 12, 2017
In this second installment of the Gin Sullivan Mystery series, Gin is on a leave of absence from her medical examiner's position in Chicago. She is back in her hometown of Trumbull, PA, where she helped solve the death of her younger sister.
She reunites with her high school love, Jake Crosby, who has had a tough life having gotten into trouble when young, but now he is trying to redeem himself by constructing upscale residences on acreage he purchased in an estate sale. One of the luxurious homes is about completed; Jake’s hoping his financial worries will cease, but things go awry when he gets an early-morning phone call stating the house is engulfed in flames.
Jake hurries to the scene, frustrated and angry. Did someone set this fire on purpose? If so, why? Is this the work of the disgruntled son who did not inherit this parcel of land after his mother's death? Thinking things couldn't get worse Jake learns they also have discovered the remains of a dead body on the property.
Because the corpse appears to have been buried a long time due to decomposition, they assume this may be a victim of the Civil War. If this is the situation, Jake's whole project would be shut down and the area declared a historical site.
While Jake frets over his future and a possible arrest, Gin works as a consultant for the local medical examiner, which can appear to be a conflict of interest, considering what happened on Jake's property.
Detective Stillman assigned to the case is rude to both Jake and Gin, especially because he is out for Jake. He rubs Gin the wrong way, definitely not thrilled dealing with a woman "sticking her nose in his business!"
The two live together in Jake's home, yet the closeness they once shared is strained. Jake keeps things close to the vest and will not confide in Gin, and he somewhat resents Gin for coming from a well-to-do family, where he struggles for every cent. But Gin persists to clear Jake, which doesn't sit well with him and causes them friction as shown here:
"I'm trying to help you!" Gin protested. Meanwhile, I find out you've been talking to a bankruptcy lawyer without even discussing it with me first!"
A blank expression settled onto Jake's face. "I hate to break it to you, but this is just the way it goes for regular folks. Sometimes you can't buy your way out of your problems. . . ."
. . . Gin stood rooted in place for a few moments, fuming. He was determined to go it alone, which meant that she could either accept the cold, empty silence between them for however long it took Jake to snap out of his funk--or she could leave. There was a third option—the most difficult, the one that would require the most of her.
She could keep trying to convince him to let her in But until Jake saw a way out of his current problems, there was no way he would be receptive. Which meant that their relationship was riding on the investigation.
This fast-paced whodunit which easily stands by itself offering several subplots as well as offering up both Gin's and Jake's personal angst for examination. Mysteries, as well as dangerous situations, abound, piquing curiosity up to the unanticipated conclusion.
By Wendy Corsi Staub
Crooked Lane Books
November 7, 2017
With the impactful opening of: "Bella Jordan squints and takes aim. Just as she presses the trigger, a voice bellows, 'Mom!'" readers are quickly drawn in.
Bella and her six-year-old son Max find themselves in Lily Dale, a summer cottage colony in rural New York. The area, mainly dormant between Labor Day and Columbus Day and deserted for six months due to blizzards across the Great Lakes, is a well-known spiritualist community populated by psychic mediums.
By coincidence Bella and Max settle here. They had been on their way to Chicago to stay with Bella's deceased husband's mother. On a stop, they discover a pregnant tabby and bring her to a nearby animal hospital where she meets Dr. Drew Bailey. A microchip discloses she is Chance the Cat, belonging to Valley View Manor's innkeeper, Leona Gatto, a woman who was recently murdered. Bad weather and car trouble forces them to remain. Is this a twist of fate?
The owner of the inn decides to renovate and hires Bella as the new manager, offering them a home.
One evening while Bella is in the kitchen, she notices a glint of light outside the window in the middle of Cassadaga Lake. Concerned, because of the frigid cold and lack of boaters, she believes it may be a night fisherman, but her curiosity is piqued when she hears the sound of a gunshot and a scream. The following morning she discovers a tarp on the shore which happens to contain a dead body. Bella contacts the police, learning the victim was part of a crime syndicate that allegedly transports stolen property from Canada into New York.
Max befriends Jiffy, who lives a few doors down. The boys decide they're too old to be met at the bus stop, but that doesn't stop Bella. Jiffy's mom Misty is a little too lax when it comes to her son which is a concern to Bella, and with a killer on the loose, Bella takes no chances.
A snowstorm is predicted, and Max is showing the symptoms of a bad cold, so Bella keeps him home. Bella's neighbor, Calla, shows up bearing treatment for Max:
"'I'm here to . . . deliver this to Max, from Gammy.'' She holds up a mason jar wrapped in a dish towel. 'It's still hot.'"
"'What is it?'"
"'Lime and ginger pho soup. She said to tell you it would have been better if her Crock-Pot was working, but she did the best she could on the stove. Oh, and she says it's the best cold remedy, and she hopes he feels better soon."
"How does she know he's sick?"
"'You didn't tell her?"
"'I don't think so."
Calla shrugs, handing over the jar of soup. "It's Lily Dale."
"Ah, yes, Lily Dale—not merely a typical small town where everyone knows everyone else's business, but an atypical small town whose psychic residents seem to know . . . well, everything. Maybe that's why Bella seems to be the only one around here with a nagging concern over the body in the lake."
Due to the storm, school is dismissed early, but Jiffy doesn't return home.
Though the murderer hasn't been apprehended, no one appears frightened. Then a second body is found—that of a neighbor—so the clairvoyants try to find clues as to Jiffy's disappearance as well as the identity of the killer.
Dead of Winter is written in the present tense which adds tension to the story. Several scenarios are played out presenting differing subplots, making this a fast-paced and suspenseful thriller. This is the third installment of the Lily Dale series, blending sleuthing, the paranormal, and a touch of romance to produce a spectacular whodunit.
By Kelly Simmons
August 29, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
The Warner family has owned a summer house on Nantucket for more than three decades. Alice and Tripp, parents to Tom and Caroline, always spend their vacation there, especially to enjoy the Fourth of July festivities.
This year Alice summons Tom and Caroline, her husband John, and preteen daughter Sydney to the island. Tripp, having undergone cancer chemotherapy, is acting strangely, and Alice needs them all together to access and watch out for him.
The dysfunctional relationship starts with Alice, the snotty and pretentious matriarch who will not tolerate change. She is stressed out by Tripp's behavior since his treatment for he shows no inhibitions and observes no boundaries. Unable to handle his new personality, she decides he would fare better in a facility.
Uptight and controlling Caroline is extremely hard on Sydney. At an age where Sidney wants to spread her wings, Caroline keeps a keen eye on her, refusing to be out of her sight. John is a Casper milquetoast who goes along with whatever his wife says, realizing he has no say, even if he feels Sydney is being browbeaten; Caroline's past offers reasons for being strict.
Tom Warner is laid back, recognizing he's disappointed his mother by not becoming a professional man. He owns a service-based business selling wine to wealthy connoisseurs around the world, and the family scoffs at his profession equating it to a lifeguard or golf pro. But Tom takes it in stride, believing he is the blame for all and any mishaps. He accepts he and his sister cannot get along though she always blamed him for her unfortunate past and also believes he was the favored sibling.
Sydney suffers from the turmoil the most. Her mother tries to keep her close and Tripp entices her into his grandiose schemes, pulling her in two directions. She understands the difference between right and wrong, though the temptation to step outside of her mother's comfort zone is appealing.
Trouble begins when a neighbor commences a lawsuit against the Warners to remove their widow's walk, stating it takes away from his view. He and Alice become involved in a bitter tug-of-war that turns nasty. One incident makes the Walkers leave their home and rent a cottage until the defacement of their property can be eradicated.
Tragedy strikes and Tripp perishes, having Tom heading to his father's favorite spot to reminisce:
"My father loved Altar Rock because other people overlooked it, drove right past. Let the tourists stay on the edges, burrow in the sand. We are up and away from the others, so we can see, so we could know. Maybe so we can learn. And find a way home to how we all used to be. My father and mother, in love once. My sister and I getting along just fine. The neighbors taking care of one another in their own way. Pooling their resources, their gin and their clams and their boats and their bicycles. Not fighting over the ocean, over what everyone knew wasn't theirs.
"I don't know precisely what my father was looking for as he starting his climb that spring and summer. All those stairs, over and over. Maybe he simply knew what was happening, what was coming. That he wasn't well. That there was something else wrong with him and his wife was going to have to lock him up, or in, or down. That his granddaughter was not going to follow him wherever he went, that he would not be granted a second chance.
"So he just kept trying, kept seeking higher ground. Until it gave way. Or maybe, just maybe, until he found the courage to fly."
Each character speaks in their own voices in separate chapters, including those of the caretaker and the housekeeper of the seasonal properties to give a better understanding of the situation. Personal thoughts and feelings are disclosed to offer insight into the actions taken.
No one knows what happens in other families—the stresses they face, the hardships, the sadness, and pain. The Fifth of July encompasses the lives of one family, who share their angst and deep-felt emotions as they try to come together to become whole before they are all destroyed.
By Shari Lapena
Pamela Dorman Books
August 15, 2017
Karen Krupp loves Tom, her husband of almost two years. They live in a well-appointed house in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in New York. Meticulous almost to the point of being obsessive, Karen takes pride in all she does. Her home is spotless, her cooking is perfection, and she always obeys the law.
Tom, an accountant, looks forward to being with his wife after a hard day's work. He still can't believe his fortune to be married to Karen and be blissfully happy. One night he is puzzled upon returning home and finding the front door ajar. He calls for Karen, but the house is empty. A search leaves him a bit frantic. Her car is gone, though her purse and cell phone remain behind, and their dinner is left half prepared in the kitchen.
A call to friends offers no hope, so Tom dials 911, even though he understands the police will no doubt brush him off. Karen hasn't been missing 24 hours, and she is an adult, free to go as she pleases. Tom realizes this behavior is atypical of Karen. She would never act like this.
Within minutes the doorbell rings surprising Tom upon seeing two detectives on the steps. He can't fathom they would answer his call so quickly, but by the look on their faces, Tom senses something is terribly wrong. They inform Tom that Karen has been in a terrible accident and is in the hospital. The strange thing, this happened in a seedy part of town. Why was Karen there and at night?
Tom rushes to Karen's bedside, distraught and confused. He, along with the authorities need answers. Unfortunately, Karen cannot remember anything about the incident. Tom remains with her as she recovers, hoping she can explain her actions.
Not long after, a corpse is discovered in an abandoned restaurant in the area where Karen crashed. The man shot three times is left with no identification or personal effects. The police are stymied, wondering if Karen knows this man and if he was the reason she was nearby.
Tom is dazed, confounded, and speculative about Karen. Does he really know who she is? Brigid, Karen's neighbor who lives across the street, is a constant presence, offering assistance and comfort to Karen and Tom. Brigid presses Karen for information, but is unsuccessful, which frustrates her. How can Karen say she's her best friend when she won't divulge anything? Did Karen have anything to do with the dead man? Questions abound, and the cops dig deeper determined to pin the murder on Karen.
The author manages to catch the attention through the many twists and turns in the plot, yet the writing proves somewhat pedestrian. The characters are not well developed, and there is more "telling" than "showing" in this novel. An example of this is when Tom searches his home trying to find clues as to what Karen is secreting from him:
Then Tom had done two things. He'd searched online for a local criminal lawyer and made an appointment. And then he'd torn the house apart...
...The kitchen had taken the longest. He felt through the cereal boxes, the bags of flour, rice, sugar—anything that wasn't sealed. He took everything out of the every cupboard and drawers and looked all the way in the back. He felt unseen surfaces for anything that might be affixed to them. He looked at the top shelves of closets, under the rugs and mattresses, inside suitcases and seldom-worn boots and shoes. He went down to the basement, breathing in the musty air and waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light.
The reader is caught up in the drama of the scheme which carries this story. More in-depth retrospective for every player is needed, distinguishing them from each other as well as allowing one's imagination to evolve throughout the manuscript rather than describing things step-by-step as they unfurl. With this one negative in mind, the overall scenario of this book proves to be exciting right up until the unexpected and shocking conclusion.
By Debbie Macomber
August 8, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Because someone has gone astray and made mistakes, do they deserve a second chance, even if their missteps have meant being incarcerated?
Shay Benson's life changed as a teen after her mother died. Her worthless and abusive father left leaving her to care for her younger brother, Caden.
Shay is trying to move on when an agonized Caden begs for her help. Caught up in the drug scene, he owes a lot of money. If he doesn't come up with it, it could cause him his life. Shay, employed as a teller, falls for his pleading and consents to steal from the bank when he promises to return the funds.
Responsible for Caden, she realizes taking the money is wrong, knowing she'll be in serious trouble, but she must protect her brother. Of course, once Caden gets the cash, he takes off, and Shay is facing a three-year jail term for embezzlement. Angry for being taken in Shay is determined to rebuild her life upon her release, refusing contact with Caden.
Released from prison before Christmas with a few hundred dollars and no place to go, Shay is dropped off by a bus in front of a church where she goes to think and be out of the cold. There she meets Pastor Drew Douglas, a man suffering his own private hell, grieving over the loss of his wife some years prior. He sees something in Shay, and through his connections he gets her admitted to the Hope Center in a one-year program allowing her to get back on her feet.
Belligerent and aloof, Shay soon becomes involved with the curriculum and loses the chip in her shoulder. Drew often checks on her and they become friends. She is drawn close to Drew's children, Sarah and Mark, relishing in the warmth of a family life she never experienced. Due to her past, she will not allow herself to dream of finding love or marriage.
Drew takes her to dinner after completing the program as she is rebuilding her future. Her belligerence now gone, is shown here:
Once the server left the table, I continued with our conversation. ''When I first came to Hope Center, Lilly asked me what my dreams were. At the time I was in a dark place and unable to see my way out of this black hole. Any dream I'd ever hoped to have had been destroyed. There was no going back.'' I paused when I saw a sad look leak into Drew's eyes. ''That was how I felt at the time. Do you know what Lilly said to me?''
"Tell me,'' he urged.
"She said any dream would do. And so I gave her a list of what seemed like impossible dreams that I once had before my life went to hell in a handbasket. And a funny thing started to happen. The longer we talked, the more I felt hope creeping into my heart. It astonished me to learn that all it took was a few discussions with Lilly. My hopes for the future, things I had once set in my mind, dreams that had seemed forever lost, all at once they felt real. Achievable.'
Drew has conflicting feelings. Grateful to Shay for getting him out of his depression, he is attracted to her, impressed she is working hard to build a new life. He sees her as warm, selfless, and caring, one he could picture in his life. His kids love her, so what better endorsement is that? Only thing, the parishioners and church elders do not trust her, believing she and her past sets a bad example.
Written in alternating chapters in the voices of both Shay and Drew, this emotionally-charged novel offers redemption as well as mystery and romance. Ms. Macomber delves deep into the mind of a woman who loves to the point of not considering the dire consequences. A heartwarming tale showing how to heal, forgive, and be a better person, Any Dream Will Do proves second chances can help one change.
By Victoria Redel
June 27, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Nothing is quite like the bond of true friendship, and no one realizes this more than Anna as she fights another battle with dreaded cancer which has returned yet again. With the support and comfort of her "Old Friends," Helen, Molly, Ming, and Caroline, Anna faces her upcoming demise with composure.
An independent and dynamic middle-aged woman, Anna gains power from the besties she's had since grammar school. Also, many love her including her not-so-ex-husband, Reuben, her sons, brothers, and many neighbors in her western Massachusetts town.
Though embarking on a depressing, yet inevitable topic, the subject is handled with grace and style. The many chapters contain subplots with several of the characters, referring back into their history with each other, comparing their past times with more recent events.
These five women each tell their particular story, contributing their joys and sorrows, depending on their closeness to help them through any crisis. Anna is the catalyst of the group as her opinions, advice, and familiarity make them turn to her while at the same time they wonder how they will live without her.
Close as they all are, Anna conceals the inner musings she does not share with these women, such as:
"Even with all these friends—more than more people could manage or even want—she's had loneliness. She feels it now. It has always been there. Certainly with Reuben, hadn't there been loneliness? She tried not to let her children see that hem of her loneliness, though they sensed it . . .
"Maybe, always, that separation, that scratchy husk of loneliness was preparation for this. So she would not be frightened of leaving. She'd been frightened for so many years. And then she wasn't."
As Anna weakens, her friends surround her with love as well as trepidation, as they all tiptoe around the mention her imminent death. Only Helen, who believes she is the closest to Anna, asks, "Are you afraid?"
Anna's thoughts turn to: "This is what Helen has never asked, what over all these years of treatment and period of health Helen and The Old Friends have trained themselves not to ask. It was a tacit agreement. The answer too obvious, it loomed in each moment's specific worry."
"'Are you afraid?'" Helen repeats. And now above everything, Helen needs to hear Anna's answer. Ming tilts her head, and Molly glances in the rearview. Helen sees they all genuinely don't know. They've been so busy with their own fear. None of them have dared to ask her."
A riveting and emotional story, Before Everything dares to delve into a matter no one wants to discuss. In spite of this and because of the impact and closeness of these women, they dare to express their fears and heartaches while they still cling to hope for Anna's recovery.
Each character voices his or her internal thoughts and anxieties, covering the whole spectrum of immortality from different points of view. The essence of this tale is the sharing and love between one another—not a maudlin read, but a depiction of affection, strength, and how one person can affect the lives of so many.
By Elin Hilderbrand
Little, Brown and Company
June 13, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Do identical twins share more than the same DNA? Are their temperaments, needs, and desires similar? Elin Hilderbrand's The Identicals explores the lives of Tabitha and Harper Frost, so matching in looks it's easy to mistake one for the other.
When Harper and Tabitha were growing up. Lots of people thought they were interchangeable. They looked exactly alike, so therefore they were exactly alike.
Harper resides on Martha's Vineyard, where, after her parents' divorce, she went to live with her father, Billy. Easy-going and a free spirit, Harper often dips her toes into the deep waters of disaster. Fired from a job for making a drug delivery, not knowing the contents, she fortunately wasn't incarcerated. Currently she is having an affair with Reed Zimmer, the local doctor treating her father and whose wife Sadie discovers Reed's infidelity. With the Vineyard as small as it is, Harper becomes the topic of the newest scandal.
Tabitha lives on Nantucket, after winning the short straw and being raised by her snobbish and pretentious mother, Eleanor, a well-known dressmaker and boutique owner. Never married, Tabitha is raising 16-year-old Ainsley who proves to be more than a handful. Tabitha's character is snooty like her mother, and she cannot manage relationships with men. After she lost her son Julian as an infant, the hurt has remained for years and also caused an estrangement between her and Harper.
Tabitha, Eleanor, and Ainsley go to the Vineyard for a memorial after Billy's death. Tabitha, mistaken for Harper, is accosted by Sadie, causing a ruckus. Again dismissed from another job, Harper only wishes to escape her home where gossip runs rampant.
Returning to Nantucket, Eleanor takes a fall and is airlifted to a Boston hospital where she requires surgery. Tabitha knows her mother expects her with her, but what about Ainsley? With no social life and her past lover dumping her for another, younger woman, who can she rely on? When Ainsley informs her mother she begged Harper to take care of her, her mother is livid. Tabitha doesn't want her sister in any part of her life, but Eleanor requires she be with her, regardless of the fact that the business and their local store, which Eleanor owns and Tabitha manages, is failing.
Harper sees this as a chance to flee from her duplex, even though she should stick around to sell Billy's home. She hates being the brunt wagging tongues and leaving for a while should stop the rumormongers. Tabitha tired of being responsible for her hard-nosed mother and irascible daughter gives in and offers to renovate Billy's house; remodeling is something she always dreamed of doing. This way they can attain a better sale price, and Tabitha will finally have some time to herself.
Each at the other's domicile, they are more settled and stress-free. Harper befriends Ramsey, Tabitha's ex-lover, while Tabitha falls in love with Sadie's brother. Quite a mishmash of emotions and what many would consider a huge contradiction.
Ramsey questions Harper about her sister: "Explain to me how she can be so uptight, and you can be so laid-back. Was it always that way?"
Was it always that way? Tabitha had long been an approval seeker, whereas Harper figured if other people didn't like her, they could buzz off. Harper was, by nature, lazy and easily distracted . . . As an adult, it seems, the traits that distinguished the twins from each other had only become exaggerated and solidified. . . .
The sisters may be indistinguishable in appearance, but that's where it ends. Once close as two peas in a pod, their 14-year separation leaves them bitter and entirely different in their outlook and views on life. What happens when the women find themselves in each other's shoes? Will they be able to discern the reasons why the other acts as they do? Will this give them the impetus to let bygones be bygones and reclaim the love they once shared?
The Identicals delves into the complexities of family interactions dealing with discord, misunderstandings, and hurts. A compelling read, slowed down somewhat by the name dropping of places and goods, it tends toward the ostentatious, yet the sentiments and disparity of the well-developed characters carry the plot to a satisfying conclusion.
By Shelley Noble
William Morrow Books
June 13, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Every family member shares some of the same personality traits, as is with the four generations of Whitaker's. The matriarch, Lenore (Leo) and her now deceased husband Wes along with his sister Fae, for years, hosted galas at their extensive mansion set on the Connecticut shore. With Wes's passing the two women depend on Leo's grandson-in-law to handle finances, and they are reclusive.
Wes and Leo parented George, who disappointed his them by not following their artistic proclivities and Jillian, a well-known actress. Another son, Max perished while serving the country in war. George is aloof and standoffish wanting nothing more than to shove his mother and aunt in assisted housing. He will not forgive his father for handing over the estate duties to his Dan Barrister, his niece Vivienne's husband.
Jillian dropped her young daughters, Vivienne and Isabelle (Issy) at the Muses by the Sea, her parent's compound when she became famous. Jillian's abandonment rankled the sisters, making their relationship chilly at best, as well as their feelings toward their mother.
Vivienne is only interested in status and what money can buy. Things go awry with her marriage, and she dumps her three children with Leo to search for Dan who has gone missing. Her offspring, Stephanie, embarking on the teen years is sullen, whereas younger Mandy takes after her mother by being a drama queen, and Griffin, the youngest, is bewildered and cranky by being deserted.
When Leo ends up in the hospital after a fall, the police contact Issy as to the welfare of the children. Issy, a workaholic, designing museum sets for a Manhattan firm is baffled, not realizing the youngsters are at the shore, and also upset about Leo's health. She rushes to the home she hasn't visited in years, dumbfounded to realize her sister pulled her mother's act by leaving the kids in Leo's care.
As Issy reunites with her beloved grandmother and colorful, yet eccentric aunt, she's wrenched in several directions. Why did Vivienne take off after Dan, and where did he go? How can she attend to the nieces and nephew she doesn't know, especially when her job is calling? But more important, how can she help Leo and Fae whose once palatial home is falling to ruin around them?
Issy phones Jillian with whom she is estranged hoping to attain some funds, after learning the family is destitute, but is shocked to hear her mother is penniless:
"It pushed Issy right over the brink. 'I'm not bitter, I'm pissed. I haven't asked you for anything in twenty-four years. And when I finally do give in to ask for a loan--a loan--so that your mother and my grandmother can stay in her own home after my sister--that's your other daughter--robbed her blind. What do I get? You. Broke? What if I hadn't called? Who would you have sponged off then?'"
Each well-defined player displays distinct traits setting them apart from the others, yet they prove to be alike in many ways:
Leo spends most of her time living in the past, communing with her dead husband and son, though she is not maudlin.
Fae, an unconventional and fascinating individual, lives in a fairy tale, wearing multi-colored clothing and drawing her magical stories on the town sidewalks.
Jillian is selfish and narcissistic, and with her celebrity standing waning as she's aged caused her to seek out the generosity of different men.
Vivienne, self-absorbed like her mother blames everyone for problems she faces, chiefly by denigrating Issy.
Issy carries the burden of believing she's been unwanted all her life, though Wes, Leo, and Fae showed her unconditional acceptance. She buries herself in her career with no attachments so she cannot be wounded further.
Stephanie is on the cusp of becoming a young woman and despises her situation, showing scorn to everyone until Fae takes her under her wing with her mystical tales and Issy displays love and kindness.
A story built on frustrations, insults, and loss, Shelley Nobel offers a poignant, thought-provoking family saga with each player well described both in the physical and emotional sense. The locale illustrates a charming, yet run-down backdrop for what once was the site of a captivating manor of the wealthy and illustrious. References to artists and performers, along with a portrayal of the local ecology provide much more than a broken family who needs to come together. Well-written and character driven, The Beach at Painter's Cove combines a juxtaposition of the differences and similarities of generations.
By Hazel Gaynor
William Morrow Paperbacks]
August 1, 2017
In 1917 while in the throes of the First World War, nine-year-old Frances Griffiths left her home in Cape Town, Africa, with her mother to stay with her aunt in Cottingley, England. Frances, sad and missing her father as he fights in the battle, soon adjusts and becomes great friends with her cousin Elsie Wright, who is seven years her senior.
Frances is drawn to the beck, an enchanting forest and stream behind her aunt's home, and much to her mother's consternation spends most of her free time there. One day, Frances spots mystical colors in the woods, believing wholeheartedly they are the fairies alleged to reside in the countryside.
Letting only Elsie in on her findings, the two decide to photograph the sprites to prove they do exist, though it seems they are only visible to Frances. Elsie, a talented young artist, draws illustrations of fairies and she and Frances set the stage for photos appearing so real, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, states they are in fact authentic, and writes about them using the pictures, causing quite a sensation across Europe and later the world.
Now, it's 2017, and Olivia Kavanagh returns to her childhood home in Ireland. Her grandfather recently died, and she learns she inherited his book shop, Something Old, which sells rare and antique books. Olivia reminisces over the happy times spent there, and though she should be in London planning her nuptials; finally settling down at age thirty five, Olivia feels torn. Does she really want to get married? Can she leave her nana who is in a nearby nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's?
Frustrated with her options and thrilled to own Something Old, can she cancel her wedding, with which the preparations are already in full swing? Doesn't she owe it her fiancé to follow through even though it doesn't feel right to her?
A note Pappy left Olivia encourages her to believe in herself and live the life she desires. Along with his missive, he leaves a memoir written by Frances Griffin 100 years earlier. Olivia is enchanted by the musings from that era with tales of sprites and fairies, and she yearns to learn more about this captivating child as well as information about her own heritage.
Olivia's melodious prose contains similes and metaphors adding a flowery description to her tale. The following is such an example when Olivia mentions the loss of her beloved grandfather:
The awful reality of his absence hit her, ripping through the shop like a brick through glass, sending broken memories of happier times skittering across the creaky floorboards to hide in dark grief-stricken corners. He wasn't there, and yet he was everywhere: in every cracked spine, on every dusty shelf, in the warped glass at the windows and the mustard-yellow walls. Something Old wasn't just a bookshop. It was him—Pappy—in bricks and mortar, leather and paper. He'd loved this place so much, and Olivia knew she must now love it for him.
Olivia's conversations with her grandmother do not offer much, for the older woman's recollections are sporadic at best. Many years ago Olivia's mother gave her a silver-framed photo of a little girl among fairies, and she wonders her nana knows if it's still around. Fascinated by history and the Irish fantasies Olivia procrastinates canceling her upcoming marriage.
Author Gaynor weaves an account of fiction with the century's old historical information from Frances's memoirs. One cannot help but be enthralled by the drama and excitement as two young girls discover their mystical beck foretelling mysteries exposed only to children.
Frances's writings from the past intertwine flawlessly into the novel, and facts from a century ago are divulged in the eyes of a child as shown here:
Cottingley, Yorkshire. June 1917.
The weeks passed quickly blown away by the stiff spring breezes that whistled down the chimney breast and blew the blossoms from the trees and tugged at my hat as I walked up the hill from Cottingley Bar tram. The only thing the wind couldn't blow away was the dark shadow of war that hung over us all like a thundercloud. But I was happy at Bingley Grammar, and as the days lengthened and the last of the snow thawed on the distant hilltops, so too did my indifference to Yorkshire. Best of all, the warmer weather meant more time to play at the beck at the bottom of the garden, where Elsie often joined me.
While Olivia contemplates her future, she listens to her heart to discover the woman she is destined to be. At a time when folks needed something to believe in during a horrendous war, Olivia knows she must believe in herself. The meshing of both stories produces a delightful read.
June 13, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
What constitutes being a mother? Is it giving birth to a child or loving and caring for one who isn't born to you? This is the premise for Emilie Richards' latest release, The Swallow's Nest.
Lilia Swallow couldn't be happier; she loves her handsome husband Graham, the California home she inherited, and her career. For the past year, she has been diligently watching over Graham throughout chemotherapy sessions after being diagnosed with lymphoma. Though her own business as a home design blogger is her passion, Graham now is her primary concern.
After the long and tedious treatment, Graham is in remission, so Lilia holds a party to celebrate the good news. Their friends and Graham's colleagues gather to wish him continued recovery. Then an uninvited guest arrives, thrusting a three-month-old infant into Lilia's hands declaring he is Graham's son. She is leaving him to Graham for he did not keep his promise to support both of them. Lilia believes this is a mistake until she sees the guilty look on her husband's face. They had talked about children, but with Graham's uncertain illness Lilia thought they should wait. It looks he got what he wanted, just not with her.
The baby's mother, Marina comments upon handing over the child with Lilia: "You'll have lots of time to think about this moment and what a horrible person I am. But while you're at it, don't forget I gave this baby life. Think about that, Lilia, when you're feeling superior. I did something you couldn't be bothered to do. And think about what it was like for me to manage everything on my own up to this point when I was promised so much more."
Intensely shocked, angered, and hurt, Lilia flees home to the comforting arms of her family in Hawaii. She misses Graham, realizing she cannot be angry at baby Toby, so she decides to go back and be a mother to this child. Tensions are high between Graham and her though he is very repentant. Graham explains he worried he wouldn't survive and because she wouldn't get pregnant, he needed to have a part of him remain.
Soon Lilia and Toby form a deep bond, and she couldn't love him more if he were her own. At almost a year since Toby's arrival, Carrick Donnelly, Graham's best friend, and attorney suggest they petition for adoption. During that time Marina makes no attempt to connect with her baby.
Then Graham's conniving mother with whom he's been estranged for years devises a plot for Marina to legally regain the boy. A custody battle commences.
Deeply emotional, three women are vying for a child's life. Who will the courts decide is the best mother for him? This novel offers genuine compassion, forgiveness, and selflessness as the real meaning of motherhood.
By Dorothea Benton Frank
May 16, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Eliza and Adam Stanley are parents to two precocious twin sons, Max and Luke. They rent a condo on the Isle of Palms, a barrier island near Charleston where they unexpectedly meet Carl and Eve Landers, and daughter Daphne. They hit it off until Eliza learns Adam and Eve were intimately close in high school. Adam still appears to be besotted by this beautiful woman, whom he never disclosed his relationship with to Eliza. Was this meeting truly unexpected?
Eliza feels threatened and is determined not to like Eve. Carl experiences jealousy, though he and Eliza try to brush off negative thoughts. He flirts shamelessly with Eliza, while he and Adam find themselves in competition on the golf course.
The couples buy condos at Wild Dunes and vacation together every year, cementing their friendship. Also, Adam's dad, Ted comes with Clarabeth, a woman he later marries, and Eve's eccentric mother Cookie, decides to join the group, making for a humorous and trying time for all. Cookie, brazen in speech, dress, and attitude makes a play for Ted, which amuses the younger folks.
Young Max, being supervised by Clarabeth and Ted at the playground falls, breaking his arm and needs medical attention. They rush him to the hospital where Carl, a pediatric surgeon, makes sure he receives the best care possible, further bonding the families.
Years pass and Eliza and Carl still sense an attraction between Eve and Adam but think nothing of it until one day Adam goes to the island to perform repairs on their property. At the spur of the moment, Eliza plans to surprise him only to find him asleep on Eve's couch with her curled next to him wearing only a skimpy robe.
Fury sets in, and Eliza thinks of all she has given up for Adam and the boys. She heads to Greece, her mother's birthplace, and where she's always wanted to go. Eliza's pain and Adam's ignorance of his actions are shown in the following when she is summoned home after Clarabeth's death:
"I'm glad you're back," Adam said.
"Only until Monday, then I'm going back to Greece."
"I know, but how long will you be away?"
"A week, maybe two. I'm not sure."
"Eliza! You can't just leave me like this and expect everything to be the same when you get home, you know."
"Adam? That's the point, isn't it? I don't want everything to be the same when I return. Got it? You've got a whole lot of soul-searching to be before there's a chance to make things right between us again."
"I've already done that. I want things right between us."
"How do you know?"
"Because I saw Eve. And I know now that I'm just not interested in her like that."
"Really? Where'd you see her?"
It's amazing how men have no clue, but believe a simple apology can fix everything. Eliza, feeling betrayed, no longer trusts the man she's loved for decades. When a disaster happens, fate brings the four of them together for a reason.
Once again Dorothea Benton Frank invites us to the Lowcountry of South Carolina where she captivates her readers with a moving tale of love, family, and heartbreak, only to confirm there can be a happily-ever-after no matter the circumstances.
By Kate Southwood
W.W. Norton & Company
May 16, 2017
Eighty-two-year-old Margaret Doud Maguire is in the hospital recovering from a heart attack. With the Christmas season approaching, all she wants is to be home. She is the last of the Doud family, having lost brother Porter and sister Estelle, but her two daughters, Joanne and Lee, and granddaughter Melissa are there for her.
Written as a memoir, elderly Maggie reminisces about her life. All she desired was to be a dutiful wife and loving mother, and after all these years, she sees her girls as strangers.
Gathering in Maggie's Iowa home, she hopes to reconcile with them before she passes away. She doesn't believe she was the mother they deserved, and Garfield, the girls’ father, always bullied her. Looked up to and respected in the community, Garfield operated his dental practice out of his house. Larger than life, he demanded to be in control and ruled his family harshly.
Maggie, a naive, small-town girl when they married, was cowed not only by Garfield but also by his mother, Lillian with whom they lived. Garfield served in World War II, which made Lillian overly domineering, putting Maggie under her thumb. Lillian more or less raised Joanne with Garfield's blessing, until he returned home, leaving Maggie feeling rejected.
Garfield ruled his family with an iron fist. Maggie deferred to him for everything. Some remembrances of him include passages like these:
Garfield brooked no dissent. If he knew a thing, he knew it, and he dismissed all contradiction that did not derive from an expert source. I could never question him on dentistry, not even as he practiced it on our girls. I was not only not a dentist; I had only a high school diploma to my name. So he never asked my opinion when he put Joanne in his chair at the age of seven; filled her mouth with fluoride and walked away, saying, ''Don't swallow, that's poison.''
Also: No one ever needed to think a thought around Garfield; he would think them for you. You needn't ever wonder about anything, either, or cultivate opinions or judgments. He'd cheerfully set you straight. Pointing out weakness where he saw it was an indoor sport, and Garfield constructed fine qualities like kindness or caution as weakness when and where it suited him. He felt entitled to do it, somehow, and if you didn't agree that he was doing you a service, that was all right; he knew he was, and that was good enough for the both of you for now.
Garfield claimed Joanne as his own after her birth, raising her in his Catholic faith, allowing Lee to attend Maggie's Presbyterian Church. They grew to be a house divided.
One Sunday after services, Lee and Maggie came home and found Garfield dead. The girls were still young: Lee age seven and Joanne 15. Maggie did not suffer his loss. Joanne happened to be home when Garfield perished, and after his passing took up her father's mannerisms, becoming hard-headed and opinionated, causing Maggie much distress.
The prose is distinctive through with an example as the following: Our breakfast eggs fluttered and spat in the pan, yolks humped up and the edges gone brown in the fat.
Evensong holds many accounts of Maggie's history and the angst with her family. The chapters, flip-flopping between the present and the past can be a bit confusing, but is overall successful in this book. Southwood does not use quotation marks, nor does she separate dialogue from narrative within paragraphs. Yet the story works and it can't help but make readers consider their upcoming demise and the regrets in their lives.
This novel may be regarded as depressing; however, it offers food for thought as well as the suggestion that it's never too late to make changes in one's life.
By Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
May 8, 2017
All seven of the adult Justus siblings are together in their childhood home on Cape Cod facing the impending demise of their father. This is a family hopefully like no other, as their idea of camaraderie is to belittle and demean each other, with the hope of looking good in their mother's eyes.
The mother constitutes the main problem. The matriarch and well known, long time resident of their small Massachusetts community, she does not know how to show love to her children and is happiest when antagonism runs high. A tightwad and narcissist, this old woman pits her grown offspring against one another, all for the sake of her enjoyment. She demands continuous attention, takes no responsibility for her untoward actions, and refuses to cite any accomplishments other than those of her doing. When things go wrong, it is always someone else's fault, and how dare one of them declare she could have anything to do with a negative situation.
The older she becomes, the more she turns into an infinitely sneaky, curmudgeonly, and crafty shrew. The only child she condones is Angela, who died after birth and with whose spirit she constantly communes.
Fred, a lawyer, is the oldest sibling whom mother only tolerates. Next is Floyd, a poet and Harvard professor; sisters Franny and Rose, who devote their attention and lives to their mother; Hubby, the obese nurse; and Gilbert, Mother's favorite because she considers him her "diplomat." Finally Jay, the third son, is the author and narrator of this novel.
Jay relates his history of growing up in this insidious family, sharing all the barbs, disappointments, and hurts he suffered throughout the years. Even as he matures into old age, he is still seeking acceptance from his mother and siblings and isolates himself such that he does not have friends.
The mother puts on a regal face to outsiders, though the following is noted by Jay:
"What the world knew of us was untrue. We shut the door of our big, respectable-looking house and withdrew to the dilapidated interior of wobbly tables and uncomfortable chairs and dim lights, backing into it like rats protecting their nest, baring our yellow teeth, not just keeping the world out but actively engaged in the hopeless self-deception of keeping up appearances."
Constant disparaging phone calls between the siblings go something like this:
"Just talked to Franny. She says you upset Ma. Why do you keep doing this?"
"What are you saying?"
"That this isn't the first time," Fred said. "Ma's an old woman. Can't you talk to her without shouting and blaming?"
He was angry with me on Mother's behalf; so was Franny, so was Rose, so was Gilbert. Hubby was in New Hampshire. Mother had told them all. Fred, as the eldest, was taking the initiative to reprimand me.
"Don't you see that she does the best she can? She deserves better than to be vilified by her children. We should be honoring her. She gave birth to us."
Mother's own motto. But I was amazed. The woman who had betrayed my secret was now spreading the story that I had abused her. She egged them on to oppose me, to defend her. And what had I done? I had objected to her using me as gossip.
Amazon classifies this book as humor, but there appears to be nothing humorous in this tale. Why would adults, especially those bound by blood, relish hurting each other, and why would they continue to seek their mother's approval if it was never forthcoming?
Though the prose is very articulate, the premise of this story is depressing enough to make one wonder why the characters tolerate the treatment they receive and also give, and wonder why they aren’t estranged from each other. Being related does not mean one should put up with endless degradation. The one redeeming quality of this story would be to remind the reader that life is short, and we should be kind to one another.
By Gian Sardar
G. P. Putman's Sons
May 16, 2017
“A seductive and mesmerizing thriller.”
Thirty-three-year-old Abby Walter cannot seem to shake the horrifying and recurring nightmare that has plagued her for years. In it, she is in a dark meadow where she is buried alive only to awaken to the panicky feeling of ingesting dirt and being unable to breathe. This dream that eluded her for 14 years suddenly returns in full force.
Abby resides in Los Angeles with Robert, her male friend of four years and the one she hopes to marry even though he is hesitant to make their relationship permanent. When Abby receives a notice of her class reunion, she decides to return to her childhood home in Minnesota. Realizing the answers may be found where they commenced, she is hopeful that once there she can unearth clues to her dream.
Aidan Mackenzie, Abby's school-girl crush, attends the reunion. He is employed as a police detective and at once, they discover the sparks are still there for them both. Though Abby is guilt-ridden, concerned about her feelings for Robert, she confides in Aidan about her night time terrors. His attraction is evident, and though he is searching for a serial rapist and killer, he promises to help her find out why her sleep is being cursed.
Tension occurs between Abby and her mother, and her mother can't or won't offer any assistance as to why Abby should be continually afflicted with the harrowing nightmares. Soon Abby begins to believe someone is stalking her and wonders if her dreams are a forewarning. Her fright is palpable:
"Ghosts. The usual reason for fears of basements, attics, or closets at the ends of long halls. But Abby's never believed in ghosts. Nothing flits in the corner of her eye; her rocking chair never moved on its own. For her, the fear is suffocation, breath faster and shorter, world compressing, everything heavier and heavier till she's gasping, an open-mouthed futile plea."
Though Abby's mother claims no knowledge she can share with her, Abby senses a strong connection with her grandmother, Edith. In her mother's basement, Abby locates correspondence from Edith and a velvet box containing a diamond ring which Abby always hoped would be hers. Hidden beneath the lining, she discovers a perplexing note. Aidan and Abby peruse the letters and pieces come together including information about someone named Claire.
"Dreams that started long ago. The name Claire Ballantine a new addition. A woman who disappeared in 1948, an event that forever impacted her grandmother."
What could this woman and Edith have to do with the terror Abby experiences while she sleeps?
Through her inquiries, Abby learns that in 1948, Claire was married to the wealthy businessman, William Ballantine. Claire loved William, though he engaged in an affair with Eva, a "common" woman from a small town. Dominated most of his life by his father, William suffers remorse about Eva, knowing his father would be appalled; however, he loves Eva and wants to spend his life with her. What happened to Claire and what could the message Abby finds have to do with her grandmother?
You Were Here is an enthralling tale which takes place over two generations. The voices of the three major characters—Abby, Eva, and Claire—look into the past and illustrate different lives and how they converge, contributing to a seductive and mesmerizing thriller.
By Mary Torjussen
April 11, 2017
Hannah Monroe, a thirty-something British woman, is excited. A senior manager for an accounting firm, she's on her way home from a successful training session, a course that could yield a coveted promotion. She cannot wait to tell her live-in lover Matt the good news.
Life couldn't get much better for Hannah. She owns a house she loves, is employed at a job that gives her complete gratification, and adores her boyfriend. But a problem arises when she arrives at her unoccupied house with no sign of Matt. The emptiness suggests he never lived there. In bewilderment, Hannah searches every inch of her home discovering Matt's belongings—his clothing, photos, music, kitchenware, and even his television are gone.
Hannah grabs her cell to call him, finding his phone number has been erased. There are no signs of his existence, and even a search of Facebook produces nothing. It's as though he was never part of her life.
Hannah is stunned and at first wonders if they have been robbed. Unable to fathom what is happening with Matt, she phones her best friend Katie and begs her to come. Katie offers little solace stating Hannah needs to move on and forget Matt. But Hannah cannot.
This disturbing situation affects Hannah in all aspects of her being. Her job suffers; she starts drinking; she no longer takes pride in her appearance or in keeping her house clean; and she loses a lot of weight.
Strange things happen, too. Tulips in her kitchen that she needed to dispose of suddenly turn into fresh buds. Where did they come from? She receives strange texts and calls and thinks they're from Matt, though it's not his phone number. Also, she believes someone has been coming into her house while she's out.
One day she discovers an envelope mixed in with the mail containing a single sheet of paper with the word satisfied typed on it. The horror starts and Hannah wonders if she is going mad.
I stared down at the paper in my hands.
I started to shake. Who had sent this? What did it mean? Why would anyone send something like that?
. . . This was my proof I wasn't going mad. All the other things, the texts from unknown numbers, the odd phone call at work, and the flowers that came back to life, even the CD in the car: all of them could question my state of mind. I knew that as far as my nerves and my memory were concerned I wasn't the same as I normally was. I was quite aware that I was obsessing and probably making things worse for myself. But this . . . this piece of paper proved that it wasn't me. Someone was out to get me!
Soon the fixation to find Matt and learn why he left takes precedence over everything. Hannah will not stop until she learns the truth.
Each chapter of Gone Without a Trace concludes with a cliffhanger, making it impossible to put down. The plot is filled with spine-tingling emotional suspense, and the ending proves to be shocking.
By Megan Miranda
Simon & Schuster
April 4, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Leah Stevens is worried about her friend Paige, for she determines her boyfriend Aaron, is evil. A professor at a nearby college where several young girls have died, she feels he's somehow involved in their demise. After Aaron drugs Leah, she warns Paige about his devious ways, though to no avail.
She explains her fright: ...he'd mixed us all drinks before they left. And something happened to me. I'd sat on the pulled-out couch, watching television, and my head had gone woozy and my stomach sick, and I'd put down the cup, noticed a blue debris in the bottom, mixed in. Like pulp but grainy ...
How I'd run to the bathroom, feeling something desperately wrong but not sure what it was. How I had opened the medicine cabinet, looking for something for my stomach or my head, unsure which—when I'd see the vial in his name ...
A journalist for a Boston newspaper, Leah pens an article about the suspicious student deaths, insinuating, but not naming Aaron, as being responsible. After the story breaks, Aaron hangs himself, and Paige takes out a restraining order against Leah for harassment. With her career blowing up, Leah is asked to resign.
All she hopes is to find a quiet place to start over. As she prepares to leave Boston, Leah reconnects with Emmy Grey, someone she shared an apartment with eight years ago. She's allegedly finished her stint with the Peace Corps and is dealing with a nasty breakup, so she too wants to leave the area. Emmy recommends a rural western Pennsylvania town where, luckily, Leah is offered a teaching position. Without possessing a checking account, Leah signs the lease on a ranch with Emmy promising to pay her share in cash.
Before the semester begins, Leah shares a drink with Davis Cobb, the school's coach. He shows an interest in her, but she rebukes his advances because he is married. Then Leah receives emails and hang-up phone calls from him that disturb her at all hours, and one night Cobb comes to her house, drunk.
On the way to work, caught in traffic due to an accident, Leah learns a young woman has been severely beaten and dumped near the lake. Governed by her reporting instincts she runs to the scene, but cannot get information. Later she discovers the victim bears a striking resemblance to her. Fearful Cobb mistook this woman for her; she notifies the police of his behavior.
Because of conflicting work schedules, the women hardly see each other, yet after several days Leah concludes her friend has not been home. She believes Emmy is staying with James, a guy she is dating, though there's no way to contact her for she doesn't have a cell phone. Believing she is a night clerk in a motel, Leah checks out the local ones to no avail then decides to inform the authorities of her absence.
Leah peruses Emmy's possessions for clues but finds nothing. There are no personal papers, receipts, phone numbers of family members, or anything even to prove she exists. Investigator Kyle Donovan, who befriends Leah, also turns up nothing.
Confusion sets in for Leah: Detective Donovan wanted to know the facts, the type of things we report in the paper. But these weren't the right questions for me and Emmy. I didn't know where she was from, the names of her parents, her blood type or the place of last residence.
When James is found dead in the car Emmy had been using, Leah becomes a suspect. Is Emmy playing her? Is her past coming back to haunt her? If so, why? Also, does her Boston situation connected to what is currently happening?
Listed as contemporary woman's fiction, The Perfect Stranger is better classified as a psychological thriller. The distinct and well-defined characters add to the suspense, complete with twists and turns, and will make the reader wonder: Do we really know those we are close to?
By Darcey Bell
March 21, 2017
Stephanie, the author of a Mommy blog, writes to connect with other women to help her overcome her loneliness and recover from the death of her husband Davis, and half brother, Chris from a car wreck three years ago. Fortunately, her five-year-old son Miles is a distraction for her grief and the center of her existence.
Emily, a chic and sophisticated woman with a high-powered job at a design firm in Manhattan, befriends Stephanie. Emily's son Nicky is Miles' best friend, and Stephanie is thrilled to finally be part of a tight female relationship.
Though the two women are as close as sisters, they do not disclose everything about their pasts or their current lives. Stephanie often takes Nicky home from school with Miles, or he stays at Stephanie's if Emily needs to work late. Stephanie adores Nicky as if he was her own child and is happy the boys get along so well together.
One day Emily asks Stephanie to do her a small favor by taking Nicky home with her and Miles until she can fetch him later that night. Of course, Stephanie complies, expecting Emily to phone when she is due to be there. Always in constant touch with each other, when Emily doesn't show up or respond to any texts or calls, Stephanie begins to panic. Emily always contacts her and not just when it's about Nicky. Could she have been in an accident? Abducted? Where is she?
Stephanie doesn't want to worry Emily's husband Sean who is in London for business, but when another day passes with no word from Emily, her concerns escalate. Sean believes Emily is away for work, but Stephanie envisions all kinds of devious scenarios.
It is here where Stephanie uses her blog to seek advice. Though she never divulges personal information, she feels compelled to do so now:
"This is going to be different from any post so far. Not more important, since all the things that happen with our kids, their frowns and smiles, their first steps and first words, are the most important things in the world.
"Let's just say this post is . . . MORE URGENT. WAY more urgent.
"My best friend has disappeared. She's been gone for two days. Her name is Emily Nelson. As you know, I don't ever name friends on my blog. But now, for reasons you'll soon understand, I'm (temporarily) suspending my strict anonymity policy."
Through her correspondence, Stephanie unburdens her uncertainties hoping for solace or answers. Then when Sean returns, Stephanie convinces him she is not just another hysterical mom. An investigation commences with the police notified, but they put Emily took off. Stephanie knows better. Emily loves her son and would never leave him. Something is terribly wrong.
The days pass, and Stephanie's blogs grow more passionate from her fright about Emily and her paranoia about foul play. United in their loss, she works hard to comfort Nicky and Sean. She and Sean become close, though Stephanie senses he is withholding things from her.
Stephanie becomes more concerned and does some investigating of her own. What she finds out about her friend is upsetting, leaving her to distrust the woman she thought she knew so well.
Penned in the first person voices of both Stephanie, Emily, with input from Sean, as well as the blog posts establishes Darcy Bell's debut novel of psychological suspense as an intense, captivating, and astonishing thriller ending in an unforeseen and surprise ending; the premise: Be careful who you trust.
By Emily Cavanagh
Lake Union Publishing
March 14, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
The Bloom girls lost their father when their parents divorced, yet when they learn of his passing from an aneurysm, it's like losing him again. Fired from his much-loved teaching job, he moved to Maine to open a restaurant two years after his marriage ended.
Cal, the oldest of the three daughters, is closest to him. A student at Yale when her parents split, she strived to get ahead and accomplish every goal she set to where she boxed herself into a corner. She is a successful lawyer, married, and with two young girls, always remaining stalwart and commanding. She learns of her dad's passing and becomes inconsolable. Her thoughts revert to their closeness:
"At some point, Cal had stopped having fun. Or, when she really looked at her life closely, somehow had never learned how to have fun . . .
". . . Her father hadn't been 'fun' either, but he knew how to access something in Cal that few others did. He had seen through the external shell she offered up to the world. He had seen her fear and insecurity that lay beneath it. With her father, she could doubt herself, because she knew he would build her back up. Most of Cal's life was about being in control—taking care of 'everything.' But with her father she could be needy and soft because he would be strong and in control for her."
Cal arrives at the cottage they are to share before her siblings. She shuts down by crawling into bed, and the others arrive not knowing what to make her unlikely behavior.
Violet, the middle sister, is ambivalent in her feelings about her father. She remembers him as gentle and loyal, but when rumors acted inappropriate with the young men on the swim team he coached, she became perplexed. When this happened, and he didn't fight for himself, she withdrew from him. At 15 and confused, when the divorce is announced, she considers it his admittance of wrongdoing.
Her life is a hodge-podge of activities as she is promiscuous and carefree. Determined to be a poet, she teaches classes at Boston University and at a high school to support herself. She breaks off a relationship with the only man who seems to love her and crashes at a friend's. This is her observation of her current lifestyle:
"She was tired of the artist's struggle. She was too old not to be able to pay her rent, too old to be living with roommates, far too old to be sleeping on someone's couch. Maybe a little stability wasn't such a terrible thing. And maybe it was time to let go of an identity she created for herself when she was too young to know any of those things would matter. Maybe her father had really known what was best, and Violet had shrugged away his words, too stubborn and angry to bother listening."
Meanwhile, Suzy, the youngest had been kept in the dark regarding her parents' breakup. Young when it happened, Cal, Violet, and their mother wanted to protect her. At her job, she falls in love with her boss, declaring herself a lesbian; however, theirs is a tenuous association, and when things go bad, she runs to the comfort of an old boyfriend and ends up pregnant. She never realized her father's perspective of her, and now upon his death, she ponders the past:
"Suzy often wondered if her father had wished for a boy if maybe her birth had been a final and unsuccessful attempt. He'd never made her feel like a disappointment, but she knew there were times he felt unnumbered and out of his depth with the problems and drama of raising three daughters. As children, they were as close to him as they were to their mother, but as they entered adolescence, each of them slowly distanced themselves from him. It was hard to know how much of this had to do with their divorce or if it would have happened eventually, but the three of them came to rely on their mother, or more often, on each other."
The sisters are now thrown together in an awkward position. Cal sequesters herself to a bedroom not wanting to be disturbed, leaving Violet and Suzy stymied about how to proceed with funeral arrangements. Fortunately, their dad's partner steps in to handle everything, taking this weight off their shoulders, though their guilt prevails.
Through this confusing and emotional situation they share their anguish, while discovering things about themselves and their dynamic which brings them closer together. The Bloom Girls is a profound story of love and loss while demonstrating how remorse and unleashed secrets can harm a family.
By Emily Jeanne Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
February 21, 2017
Every family has skeletons in their closets and deals with problems at one time or another.
Such is the case with Ms. Miller’s novel, The News from the End of the World. Cape Cod is the setting and where twins, Vance and Craig Lake grew up. Now in their forties, with Vance living in D.C. with a girlfriend finds his life unraveling. His relationship is over, and he heads to Craig’s home to crash.
Craig is the father of seventeen-year-old Amanda, the child of his first wife who died in a freakish accident. Not long after her death, he met and married Gina who gave birth to Helen, now 7, and infant Cameron.
Gina is unhappy with her life, feeling something is missing, and Craig, owner of a construction company is anxious about their financial situation after going beyond his means renovating their historic house.
Vance arrives unexpectedly adding to the tension within the family dynamic. He adores his brother’s children, though the precocious Helen tends to get on his nerves with her constant jabber.
Amanda proves to be another story. Vance has always been close to her, and he is surprised to find her home for she is supposed to be in Chile with a group of other kids disciplined for offenses they committed at school. Amanda was caught smoking a joint, and because she is an A student and close to graduation, she was able to get into this program rather than be expelled. So why is she back?
Amanda is close-mouthed and will not confide in Vance yet is in a constant standoff with her father. Vance feels like he’s landed in a snake pit and doesn’t know how to handle things or if he should even try. For him, being back in town reminds him of transgressions on his part when he was young, which does not bode well with his conscience.
Middle-aged Vance has no accomplishments he can be proud of or a family of his own. An argument between the brothers has Vance contemplating his life and actions.
Now in the hallway, he can’t help recalling Craig’s words—side-show, pathetic, reckless—and, of course, that Vance doesn’t care about anyone else. Craig is an asshole, he thinks, and moreover, he’s wrong. Vance’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t care enough, but that he cares too much.
With Amanda, the niece he loves as if she were his own, he feels pain at his inability to connect with her and help her through a tough period.
And Amanda: he’s been too timid, too afraid to open his eyes and see what’s been staring him in the face all along. He should have guessed that very first morning—her pale, swollen face, the look of despair. He should’ve known that look.
Written in the diverse voices of several characters, one cannot help but empathize with the differing situations while getting to the crux of each one’s concern.
This visit back to Vance’s roots not only has him reflecting on his current situation but also his actions throughout the years. He recognizes it’s time to take stock and change his ways. His brother and family are all he has, and he understands they need him as much as he needs them. Contemplation runs deep, making this a thought-provoking read.
There’s a flaw deep inside him, a defect, a hold. There’s no other explanation. This is something he’s always known but only rarely, so very rarely, had the courage to admit.
All families suffer from some dysfunction or problems, and this novel is sure to open many eyes. Filled with angst and apprehension, this presents the realistic insight into modern predicaments, yet demonstrates things can change and families can mend.
By Jane Corry
Pamela Dorman Books
January 31, 2017
After a whirlwind romance, young solicitor Lily marries Ed McDonald, an up and coming artist. Now residing in a small London flat, Lily gets her first criminal assignment on an appeal for convicted murderer, Joe Thomas.
Lily, still wet behind the ears, carries insecurities about her weight, attractiveness, and ability to handle this task. Joe is daunting, and her visit at the prison is uncomfortable. Lily feels an attraction to him, though he is not straightforward with her about his actions in his girlfriend's death.
Unnerved, Lily requests the assistance of Barrister, Tony Gordon, a seasoned lawyer though Joe insists Lily play an integral part in his hearing. Lily soon finds herself working all hours.
Neighbors, nine-year-old Carla Cavoletti and her mother, Francesca are distant. Carla is a manipulative little girl who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Always teased for being "different" due to being Italian makes her furious. Wanting to be like her peers, she desperately covets a caterpillar pencil case that all the students have, and one day she steals one. Outside after lunch, her biggest tormenter hits her in the eye with a football and she screams to go home. An aide walks her there but hesitates to leave her when they arrive finding the apartment vacant.
Lily appears and takes charge of Carla until her mother returns, but she first brings her to the hospital to be examined. While with Lily, Carla slips how she stole the case, deciding she can trust Lily. She soon ingratiates herself into Lily and Ed's lives.
Ed immediately falls in love with this beautiful and exotic child and is obsessed with drawing her. Carla spends every Sunday with the McDonalds where she latches on to Ed while Lily is swamped with work. Ed only desires to paint her.
Lily and Ed drift apart, as she keeps on track of her case in hopes of getting ahead in her career. When Joe is freed, Lily is made a partner. Carla and Francesca are forced to move back to Italy to prevent a scandal after Lily discovers Francesca and and the married barrister Tony having a torrid affair.
Years pass and Ed makes a fortune from Carla's portrait. Lily's life is busy as ever, yet now the McDonald's have a new home and are living in prosperity. Carla, now grown, completes law school and goes to London to practice, though her primary motive is to hit up the McDonald's for money. She modeled for Ed's painting which brought in millions, so she believes she is entitled to compensation.
This is when Carla's malevolent persona appears. She worms her way into Lily's office as an intern, then into Ed's heart. He divorces Lily, and when Carla gets pregnant, Lily knows any hope of reconciling is fruitless, even though she acknowledges their marriage was over long before Carla came on the scene.
When Ross, a mutual friend of both the McDonald's informs Lily of Ed's upcoming nuptials, Clara is befuddled:
"And now Ross's early warning of a definite wedding date--soon to be heralded in the gossip pages--tidies things up. Shows me that there is no chance of Ed and I ever being reconciled, even if I wanted to be. Which I don't.
"That's the other odd things about a long marriage ending, at least for me. However bad it was, there were also good patches. And it's those that I tend to remember. Don't ask me why. I don't dwell on the rows when Ed was moody or drunk. Or how he used to hate it because I earned far more than he did, and how he'd throw fits when I was home late from work. ...
"The thing that really breaks my heart is that Ed now does these things with 'Her'. I remember reading an article once about a woman who husband had married someone else. Two things had struck me. First, she's been unable to say the other woman's name, only referring her as 'Her'....
...The second was that this woman had been unable to comprehend how there was now another out there, bearing the same surname and sharing the same habits with the same man the first wife had once known intimately."
Each woman' story is told in separate chapters, though Lily's is written in the first person with Carla's in the third. Lily as the protagonist is finely defined and one cannot help but sympathize with her. Carla's machinations make her easy to despise and moves the novel along with the many plot twists attributed to her diabolical nature. The unexpected conclusion proves that old cliché of "what goes around comes around" is actually true.
By Lousie Gornall
January 3, 2017
Young Adult Fiction
Many suffer in silence from mental illness. Since there are usually no outward appearances of the illness, most believe nothing is wrong. This is not the case for 17-year-old Norah who is dealing with agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She is a prisoner in her home with her whole life revolving around her malady.
Getting to her therapist's office is a chore for both Norah and her mother. Whenever Norah places a foot outside the door of her house, she practically collapses and needs her mom's assistance to get her into the car and to her appointment. Along the way, dread fills her thoroughly presenting the crushing sensation of impending death. Though Norah knows these feelings are unreasonable, she cannot help herself as her brain is short-circuiting on her.
A new neighbor moves in next door; a striking teen named Luke. Nora glimpses him from her window while she is shooing an annoying bird off the sill. Luke waves, thinking she is flirting with him, which makes Nora writhe in fright. Later when he spies her at her front door with a broom trying to drag in grocery bags left there, he comes onto the porch to help. She freezes, not only afraid of him but fearful of being considered a freak.
Norah's home is her sanctuary where she can deal with her situation, insecurities, and be herself. No known factor caused Norah to become like this, yet she manages her phobias in a disciplined manner. Panicked by germs, she washes her hands continuously, and she follows rituals for to deviate from them would, in her mind, bring a complete shutdown. In spite of being housebound, she likes to sit by the open front door to inhale fresh air and watch what is happening around her cul-de-sac.
Norah describes her fears in the following ways:
"Panic is bad. Panic mixed with disdain for yourself is worse. . . .
"God. I'm such a freak. I want to climb out of my own skin.
"The room undulates. There's no one here, but I feel like there are hands on me, pushing me around and around in a circle. My head throbs; my teeth start chattering.
"Most of the time I can ride out a panic attack. I just curl up in a ball and wait for it to pass. There's something about knowing it will come to an end that I'm certain of. Despite the way my body behaves, it feels manageable. But when it's cut with anger or rage, something shifts, and control feels further out of reach."
This is what happens after an incident passes:
"Moss has started to cover up my skin by the time this panic attack is spent. . . .
"I'm sticky, and there's this residual tremor jit-jit-jittery-bugging its way through my muscles, but it's time to stand and retake control of my limbs. I need a soundtrack, some droll overture played on the world's smallest violin, as I pull myself up and force my knocking knees to take the weight. It's like finding your strength after an intense bout of flu. I wobble across my bedroom, clinging to everything I pass, trying to make it to the kitchen because it's a couple of degrees cooler in there and/or, at the very least, I can climb inside the gargantuan fridge and ice myself off."
This situation is difficult not only for Norah, but her mother also has to learn how to cope with her daughter's anxieties. She demonstrates empathy though she has never dealt with these experiences which must be challenging for her.
Soon, Luke becomes a regular at Norah's house. He slips notes to her through the mail slot. They text, then later he brings ice cream to share while watching horror movies. Norah now envisions kissing him, even though the human mouth contains icky bacteria. She questions why he likes her when he could have his pick of any girl, and she considers herself damaged goods.
Norah suffers an unthinkable existence. Compassion and understanding are key factors while trying to comprehend her demons.
Gornall's moving account of this complicated ailment, from which she herself struggles, writes this fictionalized tale describing it in all its frightening detail. To those who never grappled with emotional illnesses, this story offers insight into the disorders. Those who do face this will understand they are not alone.
By Jessica Treadway
Grand Central Publishing
December 6, 2016
Joy Enright is a high-school senior in Chilton, New York State. She’s not only smart, but she also inherited her mother Susanne's artistic talent, and she plans to attend a prestigious art school upon graduation.
Susanne is a fine arts professor at a nearby college living under stress. Her husband Gil may lose his business and their home, and suddenly Joy starts behaving differently. She dyes her hair black and becomes withdrawn, yet Susanne chalks it up to teenage angst. Amid her anxiety, Susanne begins an affair with Martin Willet, a striking African American graduate student who helps her to forget her troubles.
Harper Grove, best friends with Joy forever, realizes Joy is not herself. Joy takes up with "bad girl" Delaney Stowell and her two minions, all but shutting Harper out of their little clique. After Joy is arrested for drugs, Harper wants to help her and follows her to Elbow Pond where the kids hang out.
Though grounded, Joy meets Delaney. Harper tries to reason with her, knowing she's up to no good, but Joy dismisses her. Then the cops are at Harper's door asking about Joy who seemingly disappeared and is alleged to have drowned. Harper mentions seeing a black man in a car nearby wearing a ski mask, which is only partly right, for the man did not have a mask. The police present her with a photo of Martin Willet whom Harper identifies as the one she witnessed. A ski mask discovered in Martin's home prompts his arrest.
Meanwhile, Tom, son-in-law to the town's interim police chief Doug Armstrong is called to recover Joy's body supposedly in the pond, but his search comes up empty. Later, when Joy's strangled body is discovered in the woods, Tom determines his father-in-law is withholding information and does some digging on his own after Susanne contacts him for help.
Doug does not believe Tom is fit for his daughter, yet when Tom learns certain details that implicate Doug, his conscience has him informing the authorities though this may destroy his marriage.
Harper is drawn in many directions. She falsely identifies Martin as wearing a ski mask putting suspicion on him, but how can she face up to her lie? Her mother, acting strangely for years, is finally out of her shell, going out of the house and doing things she hasn't for a long time. Harper fears her lie will push her mom back into her old ways.
Susanne confesses her affair to husband Gil as they prepare to bury their child. She cannot sleep at night holding herself responsible for Joy's death.
“After she began the affair with Martin, it occurred to her that maybe part of the reason she'd deviated from her marriage had been to alleviate the existential panic she felt at night: now it was guilt that gave her insomnia, rather than despair. At least the guilt was focused. She could perseverate on what a bad person she was and how horrible she felt about betraying Gil, instead of the misty, inchoate notion that someday she too (if she was lucky! That was the hell of it!) would be committed to the care of others [like her mother-in-law in the nursing home.] Waiting to die. . . .
“When she imagined herself [in her mother-in-law's situation] she thought about Joy coming to visit, with her own husband and maybe a little girls, Susanne's granddaughter who would chase the resident pet cat and provide tiny pockets of joy to Susanne and the other inmates [her reference to the residents] with her cute voice, her funny questions, and her outsized smile.
“But now that could never happen. No grown-up Joy, no granddaughter. The idea that her daughter had died, had experienced this most profound event before she did, was beyond fathoming.”
While Harper wrangles with her dishonesty and the grief of abandonment and loss of her friend, Susanne deals with her guilt, along with Tom's principles with Doug's deception to find the actual culprit in the killing of this young girl.
Treadway's characters are well fleshed out, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing at every point up until the poignant conclusion.
How Will I Know You? is a complex tale where four families are inexorably tied together in fear, guilt, shame, and sorrow. How they persevere in their individual situations demonstrates the power of the human condition along with the necessity to carry on despite harrowing circumstances.
By Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke
Simon & Schuster
November 15, 2016
Casey Carter is in love and about to wed wealthy Hunter Raleigh III. They attend a gala for Hunter's foundation when Casey becomes violently ill. Everyone believes she is drunk, yet Hunter insists they head to his summer home in Connecticut. Unable to function, Casey passes out on the living room couch to awaken later upon hearing gunshots. She staggers to the master bedroom where she discovers Hunter covered in blood and fatally wounded. A trial ensues with Casey receiving a manslaughter verdict with a 15-year prison term.
For the duration of her sentence, Casey maintains her innocence, and when she is released, she is determined to clear her name and find Hunter's killer. Her cousin Angela remains steadfastly in Casey's corner, and Casey asks her to contact Laurie Moran, director of the TV show Under Suspicion to help her track down the real culprit. Casey's mother and Angela are against it, suggesting she change her identity and get on with her life, but she cannot live a lie letting others believe she killed the only man she loved.
Laurie is skeptical about taking this on assignment yet realizes even after these many years Casey's story will increase her ratings. Her romance with attorney Alex Buckley, who once worked with her on the show, is waning since he left to devote himself to his practice. She now must deal with Ryan Nichols, a narcissistic replacement and nepotism hire by Laurie's boss. She instantly dislikes the man but has no choice in the matter. Her relationship with Alex turns cooler as he will not discuss Casey with her, and she senses he is withholding information.
It is up to Laurie and her team to dig through old files and consult with various possible subjects as to who may have committed the crime although everything points to Casey as being guilty.
Blood tests prove Casey ingested Rohypnol the night Hunter died, but the pills later found in her evening bag suggested she planned the whole thing in a resentful rage. Gabrielle Lawson stated Hunter intended to cancel their wedding; a much more suitable candidate for an up-and-coming bachelor with political aspirations. It was also well known that patriarch General Raleigh did not want his son to marry Casey, and Casey's old flame, Jason Gardner wrote a tell-all book about her volatile and envious nature. With all indications of guilt, Laurie's investigation demonstrates Casey displayed the means, motive, and opportunity.
"Means: As Hunter's future wife, Casey had taken up his hobby of shooting and knew where he kept his weapon.
"Motive: Casey's engagement to a member of the Raleigh family raised her social station considerably. She could also be extremely jealous where Hunter was concerned. Hunter's father was pushing him to break up with Casey, and just days before his death, Hunter was photographed with socialite Gabrielle Lawson at his side.
"Opportunity: Cased faked her illness to create a partial alibi, claiming to be asleep during the murder. Then after she shot Hunter, she took Rohypnol so it would appear as if someone had drugged her."
Between incriminating email blogs, bad press, and secrets held not only by Hunter's family and Casey's ex her chance for exoneration also does not look good, though Casey persists. Then when Laurie meets with a secondary character, the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
This third installment in the Under Suspicion series co-authored by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke is a prime whodunnit offering twists and turns up until the somewhat expected yet climatic conclusion.
By Linwood Barclay
November 1, 2016
The quiet upstate New York town of Promise Falls is having big troubles. Most of the residents are becoming sick, causing a disastrous situation. With symptoms of light-headedness, severe vomiting, visual disturbances, and irregular heartbeat, librarian Patricia Henderson is the first to succumb to this devastating illness.
As more of the townsfolk fall ill, Hillary and Josh Lydecker report their 22-year-old son George is missing, and they are beside themselves with worry. Though a rebellious kid, he never stays away from home for long. To add to their fear, their younger daughter texts them from upstairs stating she thinks she's dying.
Before long, the village is in chaos. People are passing away with no clue as to what is causing their illnesses and deaths. This all happens after a series of strange events recently took place.
The town's water is found to be tainted, and officials traverse the streets with bullhorns warning people not to drink from the tap. Who is contaminating the water and trying to destroy Promise Falls?
In addition to this madness, Detective Barry Duckworth is called to nearby Thackeray College after a student is killed. Upon his investigation, he notices this murder carries the same M.O. as that of two other young women within the past few years. One of those had been Olivia Fisher, engaged to marry a local named Victor Rooney. Due to meet at the park the day she died attacked, Victor was late, and though her screams were heard by many, no one saved her. Did Victor go off the deep end doing this as a form of retribution?
Duckworth, "speaking" in his own voice throughout the novel, speculates: "Just how angry was Victor Rooney about this town's failure to measure up? Angry enough to get even somehow?
"Angry enough to start sending out messages? Like twenty-three dead squirrels strung up on a fence? Three bloody mannequins in care ‘23’ of a decommissioned Ferris wheel? A fiery, out-of-control bus with ‘23’ on the back? And then there was Mason Helt and his hoodie with that same number on it, and what he had supposedly told the women he's assaulted. That he didn't mean to harm them, just to put a scare into them. That it was kind of a gig?
"And finally, there was today's date. May 23. A day Promise Falls would never forget. In a year or two or even less, some would suggest a memorial in the town square with the names of everyone who had died this day."
Barry is up to his armpits in problems and adding to them is former Mayor Randall Finley, who plans to regain his position. Finley owns a bottled-water company, and though known to be underhanded and devious, he shows up offering his product without charge and demonstrates a great determination to help. Barry wonders if he poisoned the municipal supply to regain everyone's respect.
With a cast of many characters, this third edition of the Promise Falls trilogy can be somewhat confusing, yet the tale does stand on its own. It is a genuine page-turner filled with suspense. The reader will be eager to read the first two books to gain a clearer insight into this third offering. And when you think you may have this crime solved, Linwood Barclay surprises with an extra twist.
By Nicholas Sparks
Grand Central Publishing
October 4, 2016
What is the definition of the “perfect life”? Does it mean owning a wonderful home, having a beautiful wife, a daughter you adore, and an executive position for which you've worked hard at for 13 years? Russ Greene has all this and believes things could not be any better. Sure, his work is stressful and he doesn't get to spend as much time with Vivian or five year-old London as he'd like, but isn't that the price one pays to have it all?
Russ’s one frustration at how much money Vivian spends, but he can't fault her, as she agreed to be a stay-at-home mom and raise London while he supported the family. So as charges mount up, Vivian dresses in style, which is not lost on Russ' womanizing boss Jesse Peters.
Russ remarks about this to Vivian, making her angry so she turns a cold shoulder to Peters, which ticks him off. Peters soon finds ways to belittle Russ, so perceiving the inevitable he decides to open his own firm. He experiences difficulty attaining clients, thanks to Peters blackballing him while assuring Vivian their savings will carry them. She does not alter her lifestyle, and Russ denies her nothing.
A few months pass with depression and dissatisfaction setting in, and Russ discerns Vivian pulling away from him and becoming combative. She lands a well-paying job with a man Russ considers cutthroat and devious, yet his say doesn't matter. What was to be part-time to help with bills turns out to become more than full time with Vivian traveling constantly. Russ is left with child care and household duties as well as getting his new venture off the ground. When Vivian is home, she never lifts a finger, showing her passive-aggressive, boorish, and completely selfish side.
Russ understands his marriage is faltering, but he loves his wife and gives into her at all times. The one benefit of their situation is he is able to spend more time with London, and they build an unbreakable bond. With his parents, his sister Marge and her partner Liz living close by they become a sounding board.
Vivian travels often from their Charlotte, NC, home allegedly to assist her employer in opening a new office in Atlanta. Vivian is secretive about her life, and Russ ponders relocating to keep them together as shown in this paragraph:
"And yet . . . if I suggested the possibility of moving the family, I wasn't sure how Vivian would respond. Would she even want that? I felt as though Vivian and I were sliding on ice in opposite directions, and the more I tried to hold on to her, the more determined she seemed to pull away. She had a desire for secrecy that nagged at me and while I'd assumed that we'd support each other in our employment challenges, I couldn't shake the feeling that Vivian had little enthusiasm for that kind of mutual reliance. Instead of she and I against the world, it fell like Vivian against me."
Russ descends into despair, questioning himself at every turn, wondering what he did wrong to cause this dissension.
"I wished I could be another person. Or, better, yet, I wished I could be a stronger version of me and I wondered whether I needed professional help. I wondered if professional help would change anything. Knowing me, I'd end up trying to please my therapist."
Russ's angst is palpable, but one cannot evade speculating why he does not “man up”! Why is he so agreeable to Vivian, even to her outrageous demands? Both he and Vivian love their daughter, but Russ becomes a doormat with Vivian's threats and accusations. Though sympathy is natural toward Russ, he needs a good kick in the butt.
As usual for Sparks, he touches the soul of emotions while giving the reader a lot to complain about. Russ's struggles and pain escalate throughout the novel, concluding in a manner one would expect with Russ's nature, though that doesn't necessarily leave one cheering him on.
By Debbie Macomber
October 3, 2016
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Julia Padden, a salesclerk in the men's department at Seattle's Macy's, is upbeat and vivacious. She has worked there several years while attending school to attain a degree in communications yearning for a higher-paying job in a field she loves. A coveted position is now open but lies between her and another candidate with the deciding factor going to whoever writes a blog that gets the most traffic. This endeavor becomes disconcerting for Julia does not know who her competition is, and her current Christmas decorations theme does not seem popular.
Julia groans when she steps into her building's elevator on her way to work and encounters her surly neighbor, Cain Maddox. The man sets her teeth on edge with his demeanor and never acknowledges her cheery "hellos." To make matters worse, she catches him red-handed stealing her newspaper. Confrontation doesn't faze him, which only angers Julia more, making her phone her best friend, Cammie for advice.
Cammie, ever the optimist, has the solution: "Kill Cain with kindness and write about it." Julia is indecisive, but after much thought decides to go ahead with the plan, entitling her blog "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Her first entry reads as follows:
I'm wondering if anyone else has encountered a genuine curmudgeon this Christmas season? This reason I ask is because I believe Ebenezer Scrooge lives in my apartment building. To be fair, he hasn't shared his views on Christmas with me personally. One look and I can tell this guy doesn't possess a single ounce of holiday spirit. . . .
. . . To put it mildly, he's not a happy man.
Just this morning I discovered he was something else: A thief.
She concludes her post for the day, adding, "I'm not convinced kindness can change a person. We'll find out together. I welcome your comments and ideas. . . ."
The next day upon seeing 50 hits on her page, Julia is surprised and delighted. She thinks she may be onto the start of something. She buys Cain coffee at Starbucks, where he usually stops in the morning, and she brings him homemade cookies, both of which he rejects. This proves to Julia what a Grinch he is and gives her the impetus to place more effort into softening him up.
Before long, her daily posting garners several more readers with many offering suggestions. In addition, Cain's tough outer shell begins to crack, and to Julia's astonishment, she finds herself falling in love with him. When he discloses things about his past, she fears she's made a mistake with her blog. She wonders what Cain would do if he knew she was writing about him and if it would end whatever closeness they are starting to share. As much as Julia wants this new job, is it worth the risk of hurting another?
Twelve Days of Christmas is a charming, heartwarming holiday tale. With poignant characters and an enchanting plot, Macomber again burrows into the fragility of human emotions to arrive at a delightful conclusion.
By Elizabeth Lesser
September 20, 2016
Marrow: A Love Story is not just a memoir about two sisters facing a traumatic situation; it is also the account of how they share by finding the way to accept themselves as well as others.
Elizabeth (Liz) Lesser is across the country at a wedding when she receives a call from her younger sister, Maggie telling her she is sick. She is diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer she will die from if she doesn't have immediate treatment. She suffers through it hoping for a cure only to have the insidious disease return after seven years. Now the only hope for survival depends on getting a bone marrow transplant.
A sister with three siblings, it is Elizabeth who is the perfect match to be a donor for Maggie, and she does so willingly and with adoration for her sister. Elizabeth travels from her New York residence to Maggie's in Vermont where she stays for six days.
It is at the Dartmouth Medical Center in New Hampshire where Elizabeth is given injections of Neupogen for five days to propagate more stem cells to attain anywhere from two million to five million stem cells. On day six, she returns to the hospital where and IV is placed in a large vein. It takes about six hours to cycle the blood through a machine, called apheresis, a process where the stem cells are separated from her marrow blood cells, and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor after the whole bloodstream has been circulated several times. Then the stem cells are harvested and frozen until they can be injected into Maggie.
Meanwhile, Maggie undergoes rigorous chemotherapy and full-body radiation to destroy all the cancer cells from her body before she can receive Elizabeth's donor cells. Unfortunately Maggie's process takes a while, and she is not able to be given the harvest for a few months.
Elizabeth, cofounder of Omega Institute, which offers workshops focusing on health and healing, psychology and spirituality, and creativity and social change, suggests to Maggie that they should attend therapy together. A scholar of learning about humans as individuals, this was a chance for the both of them to get to the crux of their relationship beginning from childhood onward to eliminate old wounds and become more at peace with each other.
Her reasoning behind wanting therapy is as Elizabeth states in the following: "I want to check out if there is anything within me—in my thoughts and my feelings and my memories and my body, all the way down to the marrow of my bones, to my tiniest stem cells—that might interfere with the success of the transplant. And if there is, I want to examine it, hold it to the light, and let it go."
Maggie's purpose is simple. She wants to live; she wants the transplant to work.
With the meshing of cells, they become "Maggie-Liz" working together to save Maggie's life. In their session, Liz quotes from the Persian poet Rumi what they come to embrace: "Out beyond the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." The therapy brings them to their "field" of acceptance and love. Through this, they depend on the doctors for the bone marrow transplant while they two enjoy a "soul-marrow transplant," getting to know and understand each other and love them as they are as they bond as one.
Many different authors and intellectuals are cited throughout the text giving credence to Elizabeth's quest for healing for Maggie. She also includes snippets from Maggie's journal through her journey toward recovery.
While she notates Maggie's illness, she illustrates how individuals are vulnerable and afraid to speak our minds or ask for what we need. Every human is imperfect, yet unique in their own way and what is most important in life is to love yourself, love others, and be forgiving.
A very profound and intense tale, Marrow offers enlightening with food for thought for everyone.