Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Wishing Tide by Barbara Davis

The Wishing Tide.  Barbara Davis. Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451418784.

Lane Kramer escaped from a devastatingly bad marriage, loss of a child, and the manipulations of her family!  Her wounds are deep but her strength formidable as she finally settles in Starry Point, North Carolina where she starts afresh by renovating and running a bed and breakfast inn on the beach.  It’s a quaint home resembling a castle more than a home and yet Lane has made into a cozy, welcoming home that appeals to every visitor.  It’s now the end of the season and Lane’s anticipating time to write the light articles as a free lance writer that keeps her financially secure.  She once was a writer but that, as far as she’s concerned, was just another failure.  Little does she know the cycle of adventure and chilling mystery about to infiltrate every aspect of her life!

On the evening before the storm hits, a young, handsome man, Michael Forrester, knocks on Lane’s door and literally begs her for shelter.  She ambivalently agrees and he soon becomes a fixture planning to remain through the winter.  He’s also a writer, but a scholarly, academic writer researching the life of Charles Dickens. Shockingly, the reader finds he knows intimate details about her home and the haunted home across the street, a secret only revealed to the reader and not to Lane, at least not for quite a while. How can a relationship develop with so much chaos and pain lurking with no apparent resolution?

Add to the mix that Lane meets a scary woman, Mary, who appears as a bag lady and who gradually shares her story, at times sounding rational and at other times exhibiting frightening and bizarre behavior.  While Michael tries to warn Lane about the dangers Mary poses, Lane’s compassion and curiosity propel her to discover a story that is phenomenally Gothic and terrible, involving more people on this quiet island than the reader could originally imagine.

To say more would spoil a magnificent thriller of a tale, one that is sure to please every reader who loves a dark, Gothic tale with more twists and turns than anyone could predict.  The evolution of Mary’s story is carefully plotted at just the right pace, a story that will bring healing and wholeness to many but not until much suffering and forgiveness has been broached.

The Wishing Tide is a fine mystery and romance story that this reviewer recommends for great reading any time of year!  Finely crafted, Barbara Davis – oh, and this would also make a phenomenal movie!

House of Wonder by Sarah Healy

House of Wonder.  Sarah Healy. Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 352 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451239877.

Jenna and Warren grew up as twins in a small New Jersey town throughout the 1950s and thereafter.  Their mother was a famous beauty queen who was primed for fame but neglected and abused in every other way.  Jenna was born without trouble but Warren had to be delivered half an hour later by C-section.  Warren has an obvious mental disability but is sweet, loving, smart and extremely sensitive to those whom he trusts.  He and Jenna have an obviously close relationship; all they have to do is pull on an earlobe when in distress and the other will come to help immediately!

Jenna is grown now and has a daughter of her own, Rose.  She is drawn back to her hometown when her mother starts exhibiting strange behavior arising from shopaholic tendencies.  One senses something else is wrong with Priscilla but as with Warren the disorder is never named and that’s a good thing as the reader is drawn to learn more about them rather than stereotypically labeling them and fitting future behaviors to that label.  We also are able to discern the positive aspects of their personality that we might miss otherwise!

This is the story of Jenna returning to help her mother and Warren, who is beat up severely and accused of the random, frequent robberies in the neighborhood.  Add to that that Rose’s absent Dad has now returned and wants to be a father, although his new wife makes everything more than difficult.  The bright life in Jenna’s world is an old high school friend Bobby who is preparing to be a doctor and his daughter Gabby.  Both of their children have a prescient feeling about their relationship which makes it all the more endearing as their relationship grows into something lovely!

Many secrets are gradually revealed throughout this novel that hurt but hurt less than the lack of ability to explain the way things have evolved with Priscilla and her family and her husband.  There’s something wonderfully unique about this story that manages even in the worst of scenes to maintain a respect and love for each other that supersedes all else.  Love isn’t easy but it is healing when one sticks around long enough to observe, reflect and act rather than react.  Love is precious in this highly recommended novel about family, dysfunction, mystery and growth!

The Garden of Letters: A Novel by Alyson Richman

The Garden of Letters: A Novel.  Alyson Richman. Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425266250.

Elodie is a cello prodigy living in Verona, Italy during WWII.  Her childhood is free of worry and stress as she is concerned only with music. She has a photographic memory and so remembers every score after she has played it only one time.  Add to that the heightened sensitivity she exhibits as she melds into her cello and infuses emotion into every piece she plays, no matter how different or complex! She’s a wonder and her parents appreciate and nurture her very special gift, so wonderfully told that the reader can feel the music and ambiance it creates through each description!

One day her father, a music instructor, arrives home after being brutally beat up by some German thug soldiers.  He never really recovers but that event changes everything for Elodie and her mother.  Elodie changes her name to Anna as she evolves into a trusted and respected member of the Resistance movement working to thwart the coming invasion by Germans.  Her service is heightened by the tender but passionate love affair that develops between Anna and the bookseller/Resistance leader, Luca.

In between these scenes is another story of a love memorialized in an exquisite arrangement of love letters from Angelo serving in the war and Dalia.  It’s a “Love Story” of beauty and heart-rending sadness that lives on forever.

After much suffering and loss, Anna is taken home by Angelo with only the purest of intentions.  For those who have lost much know that they have much to give to fellow travelers of devastation.  This leads to a new story that is heightened by Anna’s fierce loyalty and dangerous field activities that have led her to this quiet, healing place in Portofino, Italy! 

The Garden of Letters is lyrical, poetic, literate historical fiction of the highest order!  Alyson Richman is one hugely talented writer whose writing displays the beauty and sensitivity she has infused into her characters, without sacrificing the starkness and terror of WWII along with the nobility and courage of Resistance fighters.  Gorgeous, extraordinary historical fiction this reviewer insists is must reading!