Monday, October 5, 2015

The Splendor of Ordinary Days: A Novel of Watervalley by Jeff High

The Splendor of Ordinary Days: A Novel of Watervalley.  Jeff High. Penguin Group (USA). October 2015. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451474100.

Luke Bradford, in this third Watervalley novel, has become more attached to the rustic beauty and pleasant, interesting people of Watervalley, Tennessee.  Part of it is the satisfaction he experiences with his medical practice and the stronger part is definitely his budding romance with Christine Chambers.  However, there’s always something brewing in the town that starts out small and grows with distressing power and the latest quandary is what keeps Luke from giving his whole heart to the town and the decision to permanently stay.

The latest conflict involves a phone call one night that there’s a fire close to the Mennonite community nearby.  Once the first responders arrive, they stop as they realize they will not be needed, for the Mennonite have their own fire brigade and reject any outside involvement.  The only man who has plenty of experience with the Mennonites is Luther Whitmore but what that is seems completely unknown to the townspeople.  When Luther, editor of the town newspaper, pens an irate editorial in the paper, though posed as a news story, the residents fail to see a connection and instead start conversations that put veterans to the forefront.  The town is proud of all the men who died in past wars over the last hundred years and so everyone accepts Luther’s irate words as gospel truth.
The secrets around this problem will gradually be revealed, as well as an effort to honor military veterans in the town with a memorial.  Luke, however, has an uncanny ability to warm up conversations and several characters in the book wind up eventually sharing their military and secular secrets, in this novel yielding forgiveness, repentance and healing that can only benefit Watervalley.

Luke and Christine will battle their own personal challenge, the first to test their deep love and personalities.

The Splendor of Ordinary Days… is a wonderful read with muted conflicts but high energy when it comes to being protective and caring toward each resident of the valley.  The descriptions of animals and setting, as well, are gently presented and make the reader feel he or she is also a resident, fully satisfied and loving one’s surroundings and neighbors.  Nicely crafted, Jeff High, again!  Recommended to all and the earlier novels in this series as well!

Another Woman's Daughter: A Novel by Fiona Sussman

Another Woman’s Daughter: A Novel.  Fiona Sussman. Berkley/New American Library. October 2015. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425281048.

Celia Mphephu wants the best for her daughter, Miriam.  Celia works as a maid for Michael and Rita Steiner in 1960s Johannesburg.  This white couple thinks the world of Miriam, teaching her to read and paying for her to go to school, even though that schooling is far from normal for Miriam, who much preferred the Afrikaans school.  Eventually Miriam makes an Indian friend and that makes all the difference in the world.  Celia is shocked galore when the Steiners offer to adopt Miriam and take her with them back to England, offering her opportunities that would otherwise be impossible.  Later on we will find that lies and more lies have been told and the truth kept secret, but for now in a vividly brutal scene Celia realizes she cannot do otherwise but sacrifice her daughter for a while.

Miriam discovers in England a dual world, one in which she becomes well-educated but also one in which she is the victim of prejudice that is more subtle but no less traumatic.  Over time Rita Steiner becomes obsessed with her work world in the field of medicine and the gentleness of Michael is Miriam’s only saving grace.  Even then Miriam will be shocked several times before the end of the novel over the Steiner relationship and what they have kept from her.  Miriam will also fall in love with an astonishingly gentle, understanding man whose love is tested when Miriam insists after many years of returning to Africa to search for her own identity.

These are the years of the harshest apartheid treatment in Africa, and the narrator does not spare the reader the reality of the brutal treatment of black Africans.  However, this is also the time period when rebellion takes root, when protests over the Soweto tragedy and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela erupt. 

To say more would deny the reader the full impact of this poignant story. While it does not go into depth about both sides of the fire storm beginning to grow in Africa, it speaks for those white and black residents in Africa and abroad who were sensitive to, allied with, or fiercely opposed to the apartheid realities.  For that reason as well as a story carefully crafted, this reader highly recommends this potent, truthful historical novel!

Chance Harbor by Holly Robinson

Chance Harbor.  Holly Robinson. Penguin Group (USA). October 215. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451471505.

Catherine and Zoe, two sisters who look like each other but couldn’t be more different, are now separated. Zoe, the rebel in the family who did drugs, dropped out of school and more, ran away, leaving her daughter Willow with Catherine and Russell.  The latter seemed like the proverbially successful, married couple but are now separate as well, Russell having sired a father by his high school student Noel.  Catherine is having a hard time coping with it all, especially in light of the fact that her father has recently passed away and her mother, Eve, has decided to sell the family summer home, Chance Harbor, on Prince Edward Island.  Sounds like a course in Family Dysfunction 101.  The difference herein is how does each character deal with the gradual revelations that initially stun all of them and what kind of new relationships develop as the family life evolves?

Numerous descriptions of beautiful Chance Harbor will engage every reader, a place where it’s safe to relax and let nature heal, if possible, what needs to be let go and what needs to be grabbed and dealt with.  It’s the perfect combination of seashore and rugged living!  Near to Catherine’s home are wooded and mountainous areas where hiking and fresh air also serve to relax and fully engage with the present moment! The environment clearly parallels the family’s turbulent transformation that is patiently and poignantly described.

As the story evolves, strong feelings are verbalized and secrets are revealed, especially with the undoing of Catherine and Russell’s marriage, the reappearance of Zoe who is now clean, repentant and willing to try to undo the damage she left behind years ago.  New romances will emerge, one’s that respect the past and serve to accept a different kind of future.  Willow is a young woman who has her own moments of wisdom and mistakes, and she is able to demonstrate how one opens up to see something other than stereotypical patterns which enables Catherine and even her grandmother Eve to realize the past need not be repeated.

Chance Harbor is a lovely novel with some very complex interactions that seem rather edgy but which are transformed at just the right moment to scenes that keep the reader fully engaged.  The reader finds that he or she wants to know how the relationships of mother-daughter, father-daughter, sisters, and lovers will grow or terminate.  Very carefully crafted story about love that endures the worst that life can throw, stays solid where it should and leaves behind the dross! Highly recommended contemporary fiction!