Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Good Wife by Jane Porter

The Good Wife (Final Novel in the Brennan Sisters Trilogy)  Jane Porter. Penguin Group (USA). September 2013. 432 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425253670
This is mainly the story about Sarah Brennan and her husband Boone, a famous baseball player; but it’s also about the feisty Brennan clan with their passionate loves and hates.  It’s also about Lauren Summers, a young woman who has been devastated by the loss of her lover and another huge loss that she copes with second by second, minute by minute.  Jane Porter has written a novel about the depths of marital, maternal, fraternal and sibling love and the depths one can experience in any one of those relationships. It’s also about how one handles fear of the loss of such great love by embracing the rock-solid love lying deeply within each character herein.

Sarah Boone knows her husband spends many a night out with fellow baseball players; because she sees so much extra-marital affairs in her own family she begins to fear it could happen to her. But she can’t really cope with it at the moment because the Brennan family is about to move through a series of the most untimely deaths in a row that one could imagine. Being a typical Irish clan means such raw emotions come out in unforeseen ways.  So one sister discovers her marriage is about to end, but she has no idea how that will flesh out because it happens far too rapidly for her to absorb.  A parent dies and the Boone sisters realize just how much this person held the glue together in the family and kept the constant small spats from erupting into gargantuan battles.  One sister is dating a guy the other sisters judge to be a misfit and unworthy of fitting in with this family.  The kids begin spatting when they start repeating what they hear their parents say that was truly meant only for private conversation.  Add to the mix that Boone’s career may be about to change; the question will it mean staying where he is, transferring to another baseball team or retiring all together from the sport; and how will they live depending on what the future holds?

Luanne on the other hand is grieving fiercely, so much so that she decides to move out of her hometown to escape the heartrending memories she holds close to her heart.  She attempts to open her own business and eventually will meet another friend of Boone.  She wonders whether she can trust again.

All in all these gals have a lot on their plates that affects every other decision they make and how they interact with indescribably potent feelings and thoughts that could break or bind them anew.  Tragedy can be depicted as real as it is but it doesn’t have to be over-burdensome.  Jane Porter has given a slice of how people discover weaknesses in their personalities and how they can transform those traits to strengths, both alone and with the support of a family who deep down love each other in a unique way.  In a crisis, over-the-top love wins every time where it should. 

This is fine contemporary fiction and highly recommended reading!

Between a Mother and Her Child: A Novel by Elizabeth Noble

Between a Mother and Her Child: A Novel.  Elizabeth Noble. Penguin Group (USA). September 2013. 448 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425267936.

There is no deeper love than that between a mother and child and there is no greater loss than that experienced by a parent who has lost that beloved child to death.  The life of Maggie and Bill Barrett changed irrevocably the day their son, Jake who died in the tsunami of Indonesia in 2004. Bill chooses to grieve in a totally different  way from Maggie, and their daughter Aly.  But Maggie senses that Aly is drawing farther and farther away from her. Yes she excels in her school work and is planning to go to med school but she’s like a taught spring ready to lash out and Maggie doesn’t have a clue about Aly’s grief and how she perceives the time since that momentous day that forever altered their lives.

Maggie asks Bill to leave and he begins to move on with his life which includes meeting a women with whom he is developing a loving relationship, different  though it is from what Maggie and Bill once had.  Maggie, on the other hand, relies totally on her emotional connection with her sister Livy or Liv, who lives in Australia and now on another anniversary of Jake’s death visits Maggie in England.  But Liv’s life is about to change as she will soon marry Scott. She would do anything for her sister but can she be as available to Maggie’s needs and should she be.   And Aly will meet someone special too, a surprise to the reader, the outcome which is unique and very real!

Liv comes up with a potential solution that is also unique, placing an ad for a companion for Maggie.  Kate seems to be the ideal person for this painful and burdened household, yet she has issues of her own that slowly become obvious due to Aly’s curiosity and the action that flows from her need to know.  This is a subplot that arrives at the perfect place in this poignant story.  There are, it turns out, many ways to lose a child besides death.

While this book does have some very sorrowful moments, for the most part there is a healthy mixture of tension, laughter, relief, release and more that is so engaging and keeps the reader glued to the pages.  The author clearly “knows” the emotional and mental map of losing a child and how the survival mode and more than survival mode can regress or progress.  Whether the reader knows or doesn’t know is irrelevant; this novel is lovingly and carefully crafted, unforgettable!  It deserves a wide, wide audience!  Well done, indeed, Ms. Noble!

There Are No Sad Dogs in Heaven: Finding Comfort After the Loss of a Pet by Sonya Fitzpatrick

There Are No Sad Dogs in Heaven: Finding Comfort After the Loss of a Pet.  Sonya Fitzpatrick. Penguin Group (USA). September 2013. 208 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425261132.

Numerous books describe experiences of human beings who have temporarily died and experienced what all refer to as an “afterlife.”  Now Sonya Fitzpatrick, a “pet psychic,” offers comfort to the innumerable pet owners who have experienced the devastating loss of a beloved animal. Whether the reader actually has lost a pet or knows of someone else who has suffered that loss, this is a book of comfort, a book of faith.  For it is the author’s premise that there is an afterlife that animals share with humans and even animals share with other animals.  These animals are capable of conveying their thoughts and emotions in just as real a way as humans are able to do. 

The author begins with her own experience of losing Ellie, a Rhodesian ridgeback, who was beset with suffering and let her owner know that she was content to “pass over” and be free of pain, adding a reassuring message that she would always be with the author in spirit. After Ellie passed, the author could feel her spirit laying across the writer’s lap and even her other animals made room for her presence next to her owner.  Thus begin many tales with a similar message. 

Some humans seem to have an ability to sense the presence of their pet who has died but remains in spirit and others do not; it is there that this author serves as a psychic who can connect with those animals and bring such relief and peace to these grieving pet owners.  It also includes other animals such as cows or cats, etc.  It enables owners to let go of guilt if their animal died in an accident.  Some owners even realize they may not have conveyed much love to their animal when alive but that these animals sensed or knew that love and want the owner to let go of the remorse they are carrying about not being more expressive or caring. 

The chapters include communications from animals who had been humans but reincarnated as animals to keep their love and union strong.  Or perhaps an accidental poisoning occurred and the animal is seeking to relieve the owner of unnecessary guilt. 

The stories continue with variety but always with compassionate caring and empathy between owner and pet, between heaven and earth.  This book will definitely be a lifeline for so many who have loved, cherished, lost and then re-found communication and love with a beloved animal whose earth life has made the remarkable transition to a heavenly existence.  This connection is priceless and cherished by all who share this experience, whether author/psychic or owner. Lovely, comforting read!

Little Island: A Novel by Katharine Britton

Little Island: A Novel.  Katharine Britton.  Penguin Group (USA). September 2013. Pb. ISBN #: 9780425266359.

Joy, Tamar and Roger, as well as other family and friends, arrive at the inn on Little Island, Maine for a memorial service for their late grandmother, who left very specific instructions for their part in the service, “Grace. Flowers. By the water. Have fun!”  Their mother, Grace, and father, Gar know that this seems like an impossible series of requests, in fact nothing short of a miracle.  For this family are all bearing a terrible grief over an accident that took one of their own years ago.  Roger has his own added grief to add to the stockpile.  But they aren’t morose characters at all; in fact they are like sparks of electricity that flash on each other.  Grace wonders whether it will all implode or explode over this family gathering!  Her efforts are noble and delicate throughout the entire family journey from the past to the present.

Joy’s son has just gone off to college and she’s got a hefty case of “empty nest syndrome” that brings her back to a very unstable part of her life. She wonders if she will revert to those behaviors or if she can find herself and a future.  Tamar is a professional working woman whose husband is really the parent in control of raising their gorgeous, bubbly, imaginative twin daughters.  Rather than being grateful, Tamar is riddled with guilt over her lack of maternal instinct and skills in caring for her lovely children.  Roger’s got lots of spunk and one never knows what he will dream up next.  But he’s unreliable and a former addict.  Grace and Joy wonder if the clan being together will free him from his addictions or draw him deeper, especially since they find out that a long lost love of his is now divorced and free again. 

Each segment of this visit brings new challenges and minor arguments; however, the marvelous part of this is that it’s not just barbs and battles but each character has a unique ability to reflect on what’s occurring externally and internally. That is the miracle that develops this story into an engaging, realistic and beautifully healing story.  A secret will eventually be revealed and once it is, then honesty issues from everyone and the healing can truly begin.  For guilt and blame lurk behind the battles until acceptance of each other’s role in the past gets aired.  Forgive and forget? One can never forget but can learn to accept one’s truest self.

Each will realize they must dare to do one particular act or say one particular thing that will free not only the other person but the one doing the acting or speaking.  Gar and Grace have raised terrific children who show their strengths and foibles endearing readers to recognize and perhaps identify with in similar or different ways!
Add to the story glorious descriptions of this island, the inn, favorite spots to picnic or swim, magnificent views and a lovely home crafted to welcome not only friends but tourists, and you have one delightful, memorable and well-crafted work of fiction which this reviewer highly recommends!

You Knew Me When: A Novel by Emily Liebert

You Knew Me When: A Novel.  Emily Liebert. Penguin Group (USA). September 2013. 352 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451419446.

Kitty Hill and her father moved to Manchester, Vermont in the 1990s after they lost Kitty’s mother.  It was just the right thing as Kitty quickly realized when she met a young girl exactly her age, Laney Marten, who lived two doors away from Kitty’s new home.  In between lived a single woman, Luella Hancock, who also became a wise, loving presence in Kitty’s life and who allowed the girls to swim in her pool, eat her food, and just visit.  Her home was their home.  Kitty and Laney immediately bond as best friends, “sisters” as they quickly realized.  Reading of how their friendship forms and deepens is delightful and how seamlessly Luella shares their lives as well.  But when Kitty falls in love, that all changes so quickly that it seems their bond is irrevocably broken until years later a second chance is given to them by Luella!

In between the missing years, Kitty has become a high-powered executive at a Manhattan, New York cosmetics company.  She’s a definite Type A personality who works around the clock, rarely sleeps more than a few hours, and has forgotten all about Laney and Luella in that small New England town.  But she is quite shocked to receive a letter with a message that forces her to return to Vermont and interact with Laney.  It initially isn’t pretty at all as caustic barbs and nasty comments fly, with each trying to either avoid or hurt each other.  Little by little, however, they learn to connect again but it’s a long, arduous journey at times.  As difficult as it seems, Emily Liebert knows exactly where to insert fluctuate scenes that forebode disaster one minute and hope the next.  Ironically, it’s not unbearable at all to read; in fact, it’s mesmerizing and the reader is rooting for a positive outcome, never sure where it will all unwind or mesh together.

You Knew Me When: A Novel is a novel about the often-heard phrase, “forgive and forget.” So many words have been written about others in which one will claim it’s impossible to do both, others who claim one can do only one, and others who say one can choose to do both.  Katherine’s journey leads her to discover the blend of Kitty and Katherine she is meant to be, and Laney realizes one can focus on dreams and betrayal of same that one totally misses what could really be even better than the original, ideal vision for the future.

This is a wonderfully constructed novel that will astonish, fascinate, and grip readers to every page.  The characters are vividly portrayed and interact with such dynamic dialogue that you won’t want to put the book down.  There’s an additional feature about style in dresses, jewelry and cosmetics that is unique in its own way that will appeal both to those who love beauty and style and those who’ve never quite given much attention to it.  Most of all, it’s about what it takes to mutually heal in a relationship, without any tragic drama.  A sense of humor and openness to the meaning of love in real, everyday situations is vital and Liebert masterfully presents the perfect blend. This reviewer loved this novel and highly, highly recommends it to everyone!  

Compound Fractures: A Novel by Stephen White

Compound Fractures: A Novel.  Stephen White. Dutton. August, 2013. 448 pp. hb. ISBN #: 9780525952602.

“What’s going on between us is about not being trusted…Do you ever think about morality? What we did?  How are we different from…They killed. We killed.” This is the essence of this mystery with enough convoluted twists and turns to confuse the most astute reader who can normally figure out the “who dunnit” twist in any novel of this genre.  Trust is the major issue dramatically affecting every single character in this story!

The story begins with Dr. Alan Gregory speaking with his therapist, Lila.  His issue of the moment is that he has to guarantee that no one will have access to her notes or comments on the therapy session before he can tell her what he needs to divulge.  But one can’t be too careful and there really aren’t any safeguards against professional lock pickers, as one will realize much later.

Two clearly known facts are that Alan’s wife, Lauren, was mortally wounded by a gunshot and lingered until her death a few weeks later.  Alan is devastated by her death but he is about to become more than devastated as the puzzle progresses and he learns more about the wife he thought he knew so well.  The second fact concerns a death on the Prado, a street in a Colorado town near Boulder; the victim appears to be a suicide.  Except how does the used gun wind up hanging up a chimney on a chain?  And why did Alan visit the scene of that death that all the wrong people know about?

Alan’s good friend, Sam, becomes rather evasive as it becomes clear that the Assistant DA of Boulder and some other women know fragments about that Prado death and Lauren’s death.  It’s not clear whether Elliott (ADA) is putting evidence together to pin Alan or Sam with a murder rap but it is very clear that the chemistry between Alan and Elliott is about as bad as it could get and the trust level between Alan and Sam is decreasing by the minute.

To say more would definitely spoil this riveting, puzzling criminal mystery tale that never gets dull, never stops confusing the reader and yet carefully and intelligently winds up connecting the dots in the riddles that keep appearing just when one thinks one is beginning to get a handle on it all.  To add to the thrill the final aspect involves someone intimately associated with 9/11.  While this is a stand-alone story, there are previous novels that concern Dr. Alan Gregory which readers may want to enjoy as well.

Compound Fractures is superb thriller or mystery fiction!

Welcome Home Mamma and Boris: How A Sister's Love Saved a Fallen Soldier's Beloved Dogs

Welcome Home Mama and Boris; How a Sister’s Love Saved a Fallen Soldier’s Beloved Dogs.  Carey Neesley with Michael Levin. Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. August 2013. 224 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781621451150.

Carrie and Peter Neesley are brother and sister who although born two years apart are like twins.  They think the same, act the same, react the same, and support each other through a difficult yet loving childhood.  Family is the cornerstone of their lives; and even after their parents’ divorce they bond together through the nasty part of their parents’ separation.  Throughout all of this, their tough familial bond gets them through horrors like 9/11. But at the same time, it’s obvious that Peter who has joined the Army is going to war! This practically shatters Carrie’s world but through Peter’s example she gets stronger, even though the fear is always looming in the background.

This is the memoir about what she learns from Peter and her world about real, nitty gritty tough war, its brutality and its beauty.  For Carrie begins a journey of helping the “cause” in a way the reader will love following.  Her world and that of her parents’ will be shattered when Peter dies, ironically not from a wartime wound.  Yet it is the war that produces the psychological effect and need for sanity that proves his undoing.  It really doesn’t matter how; the reality of this loss is beyond words as it is for every family who has traveled this grievous road.

Once again, though, Carrie rises above the pain and begins to focus on getting Peter’s dogs he adopted in Iraq (or perhaps they adopted him which is more like it) shipped from Baghdad, Iraq to Grosse Point in Michigan.  Having them and the life involving their training and care becomes the way Carrie and her family carry on Peter’s compassionate, caring nature, a skill that evolves into providing the same opportunity for other adoptions of stray dogs who have no future alive if left in the war-torn streets of Baghdad.

Mama and Boris… is full of suspense and poignancy that never descends to maudlin because it is such a real, real account.  It is the gift of hope that Peter and Carey share with each other and others in their worlds that makes the reader flip the pages, hope that transforms the worst possible darkness into the brightest light that creates new life, not only for the dogs who are brought to new homes but those who adopt them and share the dream of Peter and Carrie! 

In a world fraught with bad news and horror, Mama and Boris… is a warm, heart-felt account that will move the hardest of hearts.  Well worth the read for all!

In Falling Snow: A Novel by Mary Rose MacColl

In Falling Snow: A Novel.  Mary-Rose MacColl. Penguin Group (USA). August 2013. 464 pp. Pb. ISBN #: 9780143123927.

Iris and Tom Crane were brother and sister who were very close due to their mother’s early death.  Iris was actually more of a mother to Tom and yet they totally enjoyed growing up together.  Then came the day when Iris actually encouraged Tom to run away and join the Army.  Their father demands that Iris follow him to France and bring him home, not realizing that Iris was about to become encouraged to be part of a group of women (of all nationalities) who are creating a hospital for wounded soldiers.  And this hospital, Fondation Royaumont or The Scottish Women’s Hospital at the French Abbey of Royaumont north of Paris would be run by only women, some who were early suffragettes (after all, this is 1914, WWI) and some who just wanted to care for those who were sacrificing comfort and even life to ensure that Germans did not take over France. The dedication of these women in the harshest imaginable conditions emanates from these amazing, talented, intelligent women who can do everything a man can and more!  Even the male French officers and those who are healed in this place come to deeply respect what these women accomplish.

Iris is invited by the head of the hospital to help them and she literally becomes the right-hand assistant/nurse of Miss Iven.  She does find Tom but he won’t hear anything about returning to Australia with or without her.  For now he is working as a non-combatant, since he was only fifteen years old when he joined up.  Iris will fall in love gradually with a French officer and be offered a chance to have a totally different future by Miss Iven.  Her best friend Violet and Iris become inseparable and it is this moving friendship through thick and thin that enable both to survive this devastating war that keeps coming closer and closer to their hospital/home.  But Iris will make a phenomenal choice that happens so fast the reader is left reeling for quite a while!

Years later, Iris is reminiscing about her time in the War when she receives an invitation for a reunion; her granddaughter Grace is initially against the trip for Iris is frail and failing.  But Grace’s husband supports Iris’ desire to travel even while Grace and he are dealing with a devastating discovery about their own son, Henry. Add to that, Grace, a doctor, has her own personal crisis at work regarding a protocol of treatment she should have followed but didn’t because of the animosity she experienced toward the patient, for a very personal and painful reason. From here on, the story keeps switching between Iris and Grace where the surprises and shocks are multiple and totally unexpected – phenomenal to say the least!

In Falling Snow is a historical novel about relationships and bonding. It’s about support and treachery, sacrifices even beyond the medical work being done, about lost love and friendship, about jealousy and forgiveness, and so much more.  

This is a stunning novel that is very well written, always interesting, idealistic yet practical, funny yet solemn at appropriate times, poignant without being morbid yet oh so very realistic and moving!  If you love a heart-warming story, a mystery, a tender romance, a riddle, this is your next read!!!! Top ratings for this literate historical novel that reads like a contemporary work of fiction!  Superb job, Ms. Mary-Rose MacColl

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands: A Novel by Natasha Solomons

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands: A Novel.  Natasha Solomons. Penguin Group (USA). August 2013. 352 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780142180549.

Juliet Montague is living in England during 1958, a time when change is slow to happen, especially for a woman like Juliet who thinks artistically, “out of the box,” but who lives in a conservative Orthodox Jewish community. Her husband has abandoned her and her two children, Frieda and Leonard.  But she isn’t free to divorce him as only Jewish men can divorce women and not the other way around.  So she more often than not elicits pity and gossip from her mother’s friends and acquaintances and her children are taunted by other children who hear their parents’ gossip about their missing father. It’s not a happy place to live yet Juliet chooses to focus elsewhere.  Her remarkable gift is “seeing” what makes a beautiful, successful painting or sketch in spite of the fact that she’s never been to art school or studied art.  She will be the key to fame for sharing this gift and will realize a new freedom in the daunting but exciting process!

Juliet’s grandparents came to America not because they loved each other but because of circumstances amazingly described in these pages; but they have learned to build their lives around traditional Jewish living, a focus that Juliet lacks and which they and her parents are frustrated. They just don’t understand why Juliet is not satisfied with living as a “widow” in a sense, an opinion that will later stun Juliet when she learns the truth about her marital status years later.

After Juliet meets the artist Charlie who paints a gorgeous portrait of her, he and his friends know a treasure when they meet it and talk her into directing a gallery show of their most recent works.  Up to now Juliet has grown to hate her job in the family business, so this opportunity she grabs, again to the consternation of her family. Now she works daily with these budding artists who are changing with the times and expressing a “new” way of seeing life, be it in objects, landscapes, portraits, or abstract expression. The novel continues with Juliet having a love affair with an older “war artist” and describes how her children react in different ways.  One reverts to the family’s Jewish traditional way of life and the other develops a passion for art, one his mother fails to nurture in some ways and elicits indirectly. But nothing is set in stone and they too will evolve in unexpected ways that the reader will get totally caught up in.

To say more would be to spoil a grand story, a trip to America and back to England, the turmoil and evolution of her children’s lives, and Juliet’s coming to terms with who she really is and how grateful she is to grab life as it comes at her, regardless of other people’s opinions and standards.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands: A Novel is about living with passion amid the vicissitudes that life throws during the journey. It’s about truly “seeing” beautiful art, the meaning of tradition that comforts and doesn’t imprison, and more and more and more!  Well-crafted, full of humor and pathos, realistic yet transcendent, and more – this novel is highly recommended and a literate delight to relish and experience!!!