Thursday, February 14, 2013

Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor

Union Street Bakery. Mary Ellen Taylor. Penguin Group (USA). February 2013. 352 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780425259696..

Daisy McCrae has come home to the bakery on Union Street, after being Vice-President of Suburban Enterprises.  She was a valued financier and never saw the crash coming as her colleagues invested poorly and she was one of those employees who were let go.  The end of a brilliant career is how she sees it.  In fact her heartfelt belief is that bad things will eventually happen and more besides.  So it works out smoothly that her Dad’s health is not so good; actually it’s simple to say her parents are getting older and they need help.  One sister, Ruth, can bake like a master and the other has a charming appeal to customers and a very skilled historian; but they all are horrific managers and the bakery is in some serious red trouble!

Daisy’s job is to rescue the sinking ship of this lovely store that so many love, whether they be locals or tourists who flock from springtime through the fall every year.  Refusing to unpack, she sleeps on a bed with a spring poking into her back and sets herself to work through a mountain of disorganized receipts and bills marked “payment overdue.”  Not a sweet homecoming for sure!  But her family, that is her adopted family, love her dearly and these pages are filled with the usual snappy family banter and some poignant tender moments that are very real!

Imagine Daisy’s shock when an elderly lady stops by the bakery one day and tells her to look for her birth mother and leaves her a journal and a letter so Daisy can begin the search. But what resistance lies within Daisy, compounded by the appearance of her ex-fiancĂ© Gordon.  While they split, it’s obvious they love each other but too much pain and barriers have to be surmounted before much can progress.

The journal becomes an exciting mystery to be solved for Daisy and her sister Margaret and the letter parallels their search, as well as a mean “ghost” who makes it clear to Daisy he wants her gone from the bakery.  No, you can’t predict the “slave” story related to the McCrae family and Daisy’s real mother.  Enjoy this wonderful story that makes the reader want to read faster to find out what happens but slower to relish the evolution of inner and outer dreams and reality!  Oh, by the way, some recipes are included that one will want to try because they are described oh so deliciously in the story!

Phenomenal story and fiction, Ms. Taylor!  Best seller material!

Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge

Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale.  Lynda Rutledge. Penguin Group (USA). February 2013. 336 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780425261026..

“Doesn't the soul have a memory?...If not, what’s all this living for?” This is the key question Faith Bass Darling asks Father George Fallow, the local Episcopalian priest. For Faith has late stage Alzheimer’s disease and knows her mind is shutting on and off so regularly that she can’t discriminate between real conversations with old friends and neighbors and the “ghosts” she keeps seeing and conversing with.  Faith was once a woman truly blessed or at least so she thought when she was younger.  But now one terrible tragedy, a marriage of convenience for her late husband, and a daughter who ran away has taught her differently.  She’s dropped her Baptist church-going; indeed in the recent past years she has lived the life of a recluse.  That’s all changed now because God has spoken to her.  She’s got the rest of one day to get it all right.

Everyone has tortured memories which are painful in this novel and yet Lynda Rutledge mixes humor, puzzles and a type of mystery plot in which we learn the separate but oh so connected story of each character. These include Father Fallow who has been a priest so long that he presides over services in a rote fashion that has absolutely no meaning for him; yet Faith is the one person whose honesty and pain have touched him deeply to search more for the next step in his journey.  Then there’s Sheriff John Jaspar who used to be best friends with Faith’s son Michael; he’s an African-American whose rage at racism once, he believes, caused the terrible tragedy in Faith’s life. Yet she continues to be kind to him. 

Faith’s daughter, Claudia, has been running for years but now she’s returned to find her mother selling “everything” in the house on the front lawn, specifically charging from a quarter to a dollar for antique furniture, Tiffany lamps, etc.  Claudia wants one thing which she believes will solve her problems but she’s going to get more than she bargained for and learn a great deal about her “real” problems in the process.  On and on it goes. 

A final group of scenes are so unexpected one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale is a wonderful, engaging novel about what really matters with memories and relationships, about moving past ideals and dealing with reality, about forgiveness, expectations, disappointments, and so, so much more! Superb fiction which should be a bestseller and would make a grand movie!!!! 

Where The Light Falls: A Novel by Katherine Keenum

Where the Light Falls. Katherine Keenum. Penguin Group (USA). February 2013. 480 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425257784.

Jeannette Palmer is studying art at Vassar College.  She’s a bright, promising student who suddenly because of a ill-planned adventure to help a friend elope is expelled from Vassar.  This is 1877, the dawn of the Belle Epoque, a daring, freeing time but not so free yet that such a scandal does not bring ruin to Jeannette and her family’s reputation.  To say they are appalled would be the understatement of all time.  What are they to do and where shall she be accepted now.  It is her spinster cousin, Effie, who suggests that Jeannette should study art in Paris, France, a plan that will transform both of their lives in the most pleasurable way possible!

This is a marvelous journey for both of these cousins and the reader alike.  Paris where the finest new artists earn their acceptance through the famous Salon judgments on a year-to-year basis.  Jeannette will later meet many of the most famous artists at the time or at least be exposed to their innovative and provocative paintings and sculptures.  For acceptable form is the norm and deviation from same could win one fame or ruin within days if not weeks and months.  Yet as Jeannette begins her drawing classes and later progresses to painting in oils, we share her learning of how to create line, form, movement, light, shadow and so much more.  At a certain point, the reader almost holds one’s breath as Jeannette strives to find what will be her unique artistic mark, the expression of the moods, tones, and hidden words spoken in now empty, silent rooms.  Rather than being tedious, the author conveys the mystery and magic of it all.

Edward Murer is the other main character, a survivor of the Civil War who was wounded and kept as a prisoner of war.  His addiction to laudanum for physical and emotional pain is an issue that appears and disappears in unexpected cycles.  As a war veteran, he is painfully sensitive to the essence of men and women, seeing beyond the facades and yearning to remain aloof from all that is false and devious.  No, he doesn’t immediately fall head over heels with Jeannette but instead very, very slowly develops an interest with her and her artistic friends and social acquaintances. 

There is where we meet many characters who overcome formidable challenges on every possible sphere – and those who don’t – Paris is really no different than anywhere else!  It is, however, the artistic and cultural center of a very specific historical time known as the Belle Epoque and Katherine Keenum renders a depiction of that time with panache that is delectable to experience!  A superb work of historical fiction that should be a best seller and would make a grand movie or Broadway show!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Fifth Man by James LePore

The Fifth Man.  James LePore. The Story Plant.  February 2013. 236 pp. eBook. ISBN #: 9781611880656.

Matt Massi has made a decision, it seems.  His father Chris Massie is a man who speaks little and listens carefully; and he has taught his son the same more by example than by excessive words.  Now Matt is a student at Columbia University but doesn’t have much time for studies as he has been contacted for his connection to his father – and Eastern Europe interests.  A tip off about a locked storage unit alerts him way beyond the message.  At the same time it also eventually connects him to the abused wife of an alcoholic bully, the latter whom he will murder in self-defense and the former with whom he will fall in love!

Next we meet the rest of the Massi “family,” including his “Don” father, housekeeper, man who assists Chris in finding information on any individual person -  or eliminating them, men in the “know” who never seem to be as on top as Matt’s father, and more.  A theft of valuable diamonds has been noted and a “find” of $2,000,000 certainly piques Matt’s interest but not out of greed!

Off to Greece and eventually further into mainland Europe where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be meeting another European leader on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 massacre of Americans by Middle Eastern terrorists. An attack on them would be felt across the globe but for what reason? Before that can even be prevented, multiple individuals enter the picture, all claiming to be part of the connections to the answer, including a sexy lady, a man who heads another mafia family in Europe, a “wolf”-like man, a “blonde” killer and so on.

James LePore describes the public’s fascination with the Mafia, a group of people who live an entitled life but who all yearn for something far more.  The essence of the mystery is about the courts of power, the motivations and tentacles of terrorists, and the necessity of discovering such plots before their devastating outcome in more ways than one. This novel, which is a sequel to LePore’s Sons and Princes, is superb, sparingly worded, tautly plotted, and engagingly intelligent enough to intrigue any reader.   A great read and with a promise of future novels about this classy, slick and superhuman family who choose to “handle” crime in many forms!