Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Guardian Angel's Journal: A Novel by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

The Guardian Angel's Journal: A Novel. Carolyn Jess-Cooke. Guideposts. April 2011. 304 pp. ISBN #: 9780824948795.

Margaret Delacroix has died. In a highly unusual and ironic twist, she has been assigned to be a guardian angel to herself but with the new name, Ruth. This, however, is no easy task as her job has four rules that must be followed in her mission. She must be a witness to everything Margot does, feels, and experiences. She must protect Margot from the forces attempting to interfering with the choices Margot makes. Third, she must keep a record, a journal, of all that happens; and fourth, she must "love Margot." The latter doesn't appear to be too daunting a task until the reader gets deeper into the story.

Margot has been born into a childhood of heart-rending suffering, abandonment, cruelty, and abominable experiences that make the reader cringe and sadly cause the divine light she was born with to gradually wane and almost disappear. Another way of saying this is that life's knocks have made Margot into a tough cookie who is extremely needy but who guards against any intrusion into the minute fragment of vulnerability left. So begins a life of alcohol, drugs, destructive relationships, and lack of vision that has been surrendered to the stronger elements around her.

What is particularly intriguing in this story is what one would call the proverbial battle between "good and evil," a stereotypical phrase this reviewer dislikes; but that is exactly what is transpiring between the guardian angels and demon angels surrounding most of the characters. This battle, for example, is depicted in the pattern of paralysis in a person's self-esteem that blocks freedom in any shape or form. Or perhaps it is an illness that takes hold and will not let go until death. These challenges form the fascinating part of this story, with some very frightening and very tender moments sure to touch every reader.

The Guardian Angel's Journal: A Novel is not light reading but is a tale that will remain with the reader, ultimately affecting the way he or she makes choices, connects to or disconnects from the divine, and loves or rejects love of all shades and variations appearing in one's day-to-day life. Thoughtful, provocative, horrific, and endearing - what a combination! Nice job, Ms. Jess-Cooke!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ten Beach Road by Wendy Wax

Ten Beach Road. Wendy Wax. Berkley Books/Trade Paperback. May 2011. ISNB #: 9780425240861. Includes Reader's Guide.

Three families' lives are shattered upon discovering that the money they thought was wisely invested is gone via Matthew Dyer's Ponzi scam. Maddie Singer's husband, Steve, loses his job because he has invested his client's money in Dyer's scam, and Steve simply quits mentally and spends his days wielding the remote control on the living room couch. Maggie is determined to find out if the mysterious "mansion" in Florida on the Gulf side has any potential as their last hope for financial survival.

Avery Lawford is a co-host on the popular TV home and garden show, "Hammer and Nails." Little by little, her role in that show is reduced to smiling and looking pretty, until the day comes when she is sacked and without any help from her ex-husband host, Trent. She also is absolutely stunned on realizing that what she thought was her nestegg is gone into Matthew Dyer's illegal financial dealings. All she has left, as well, is a share of ownership in this Florida "mansion."

Nikki Grant, a professional matchmaker, discovers that the brother she herself raised has turned out to be the man who has duped not only individuals but also charities and other needy institutions out of their principal funds as well as interest. In fact, he has even left his own sister nothing to grasp for living on a day to day basis except for a third of a share this unknown Florida residence, Bella Flora.

These three woman, plus Avery's mother and Maddie's daughter, slowly arrive to discover their seaside Florida home is nowhere near sellable status. The story begins as they begin the grind of restoring this architectural masterpiece, disguised as a broken-down shack, with the hopes of thus recouping at least a small portion for their financial survival.

The story evolves with wonderful descriptions of restoring and decorating this beautiful home, with the assistance of many unexpected sources and experts. We share the strengths and weaknesses of these women, who carry unique stories of betrayals and secrets but manage to transcend them to complete the task at hand and forge friendships that are both priceless and eternal.

The Chinese call every challenge an opportunity, refusing to be daunted by the ferocity or formidable quality of any problem. That attitude becomes the lodestone guiding these women, as well as a sense of thankfulness. When the task is finally very near total completion, more dark revelations and storms threaten it all. That is when we see and come to love the feisty, caring characters of these women forging new lives and refusing to surrender to anything or anyone.

Funny, heart-breaking, romantic, and so much more, Ten Beach Road is a superb read that depicts all facets of women in distress and woman who exponentially grow as they learn to trust one another and reinvent the rest of their lives. This story about recovery and restoration on so many levels is just delightful!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell

Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet. Stephanie Cowell. Crown Publishing Group (pb). April 2011. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780307463210.

Claude Monet, an early 19th Century artist, refuses to take over his father's business and suffers from his passionate compulsion to become a renowned artist. Initially a mentor indicates to him that he lacks discipline, a fact to which he responds with openness. Forced to earn money because his family will not support him and lacking a patron, Monet moves to Paris where he forms a strong bond with other emerging artists such as Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, and Manet. Each artist's work is characterized by unique qualities such as Renoir's portrauts, but Monet is riveted by a desire to accurately depict the different variations of light and shadow he observes in city and suburban landscapes. He and his friends live, dine, and work together, inspiring and arguing with each other about the new forms of art they are trying to create and which they hope the public will acclaim.

It is only when Claude meets Camille that his painting begins to manifest the passion, mystery, and beauty she represents to him. Yet he is slow to realize that Camille has dreams and secrets of her own, although little by little she claims that he is all she desires. As they begin to live together and have children, Camille sacrifices her dreams of becoming a famous author, singer, and actress so that Claude will be free to immerse himself deeper in his art. Living in destitute conditions, they struggle to maintain that dignity and hope that for too long seems elusive. Misunderstandings with colleagues and secrets about clandestine relationships threaten to destroy what they have, beginning with the Great War which drives their colleagues to different parts of Europe for different reasons.

Finally, the public begins to accept the "Impressionists," as these artists label their group. It's a bittersweet victory as the years of loneliness and struggle take their toll on all, yet the deep love between Claude and Camille survives the vicissitudes of their own weakness and world affairs, revealing a momentous love story that remains for sure the greatest force behind Claude's creations.

If you're looking for a story that goes beyond the proverbial "struggling artist" stereotype, this is a superb novel. Claude and Camille evokes the powers of observation and emotional sensitivity vital to the creation of magnificent art. Stephanie Cowell is a master at slowly revealing the essence of central characters, depicting artistic pieces in a way that mekes one want to run to see the actual works and presenting the day-to-day ups and downs of endearing yet stormy relationships that totally engage readers. This novel is one more example of this author's immersion in great art and music that so easily emerges as a literate love story of a renowned artist and his muse. Wonderful!!!