Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Future She Left Behind: A Novel by Marin Thomas

The Future She Left Behind. Marin Thomas. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2017. 336 pp. ISBN #: 9780451476302. 

Katelyn Pratt’s life moves from sedate satisfaction into a whirlwind question mark when her husband, after twenty years of marriage, has divorce papers served on Katelyn.  He’s found a new, young love and left his wife with his mother, who is probably the most annoying woman in the world of St. Louis.  Shirley Pratt is a snob who is constantly mocking or correcting her daughter-in-law.  But her husband has decided the house will go up for sale and his mother will move into a senior apartment complex that Shirley decides isn’t ready yet for the way she wants it.  Result: she has to stay with her daughter-in-law until the apartment is ready.  Katelyn decides to take a trip back to her hometown in Little Springs, Texas.  The only problem is that Shirley has to go with her because her son is too busy with his new girlfriend.

This is the crux of this funny but frustrating novel.  However, Shirley is about to meet her match with Katelyn’s mother, Birdie.  Although Birdie gave up her dreams, like Katelyn did, she’s no shrinking violet.  She puts up with Shirley’s comments to a point but then is an expert at shifting the topic.  At the same time, Katelyn meets an old love, Jack, and other events happen to make her take a long look at what works and what doesn’t work in a good life.

This is a novel about transformation, leaving behind loneliness and embracing the fact that connections with other people is not fraught with fear and rejection. Instead Katelyn and Shirley will evolve with new experiences and reflection on attitudes and errors from the past. 

Despite the frustration, this is a delightful story that this reader found very enjoyable and recommends as a contemporary, very real story that speaks to families anywhere in the world!  

The Life We Bury: A Novel by Allen Eskens

The Life We Bury: A Novel. Allen Eskens. Prometheus Books. October 2017. 303 pp. ISBN #: 9781616149987. 

Joe Talbot, college student, has his hands full.  His mother is an alcoholic who is probably bipolar and his brother is autistic and being forced to undergo too much change for his vulnerable psyche.  Joe’s got an English assignment in which he must interview a subject and write a biography, including beginning chapters, an outline, and a finale.  He chooses Carl Iverson, a man convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl, Crystal Hagen.  As his interviews begin, he meets several people who will change the course of his interview into an investigation.  Those people are Lili, a neighbor in his apartment building; Virgil who served with Carl in Vietnam and a former law clerk who was present during the trial of Carl.

The first question to be answered is why Carl pressed for an early and quick trial.  And why is he desiring this “dying declaration” when he’s previously been silent on the whole matter? 

It’s almost ironic that Joe is incapable of using some tough love on his own mother who has no problem taking Joe’s last monies to pay her bail rather than get sober while he becomes insistent on following the course of his investigation to its completion for a man who a few weeks ago was a stranger.

Readers will be shocked by the turns in this plot as accounts from Vietnam and a diary, as well as detailed questions completely turn this case around.  The course of this tale puts Joe’s safety into a perilous scene indeed.

Readers need to hold judgment as the beginning of this novel seems to tie up a story into a seamless tale.  The best is yet to come, and Allen Eskens provides an riveting tale that is sure to please readers who love good criminal fiction/thriller novels.  Nicely crafted and highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic. Alice Hoffman. Simon & Schuster. October 2017. 384 pp.  ISBN #: 9781501137471. 

The Rules of Magic is a prequel to the well-known novel and film, Practical Magic.  It doesn’t matter if one hasn’t read the other novel; this is a stand-alone story in which Susanna Owens trains her two daughters and son not to do things that would allow the public to know both their horrendous family history or their present strange powers.  Yes, in 1620 their ancestor was charged with witchery.  Such a heritage is indeed hard to live with!

There are many rules that Susanna makes her children obey but they go ahead and do all those things anyway.  Franny, Jet and Vincent have their own unpredictable ways and support each other in when to and when not to use their powers.  Foretelling the future, reading the thoughts of other people, and other skills all are minor talents. The one that really matters to them is their mother’s warning not to fall in love.  This then is the heart of this novel.  For how can one stop oneself from falling in love?  But they also know that the one they fall in love with will die if they marry.  No spoilers here but at times the reader holds one’s breath because we come to believe that falling in love will turn tragic. 

Aunt Isabella is a wonderful character whose wisdom shared with these three young but inexperienced characters saves the day.  Her dry sense of humor and blunt advice delights the reader as well.

Franny, Jet and Vincent figure out how to live with their curse or blessing, depending on how one looks at it, and maneuver around it eventually.  Many will die or get hurt, charming connections are found, and many surprises are in store regarding love.  Through it all, the siblings maintain a very special connection and sense of humor about it all. 

In between their escapades is a delightful look at the 1960s where one smells wonderful flowers, herbs and food; hears memorable hippie music of that era; and more.

The Rules of Magic is one more example of Alice Hoffman’s exquisitely skilled writing which is superb and must reading!

Eden's Gates by Charles Roberts

Eden’s Gates. Charles Roberts. Strategic Book Group, LLC. January 2014. 722 pp. ISBN #: 9781609118044.  

Lavinia Williamson, raised in an Abolitionist family, marries a Virginia plantation owner who owns slaves.  For the most part, the slaves are treated well who work in the house, but those who work in the fields suffer from the harsh work and the treatment of overseers.  Lavinia thus becomes a careful slave runner, helping slaves to escape to the North.  But this is an extremely dangerous enterprise for the cost of escape is huge and death is the likely outcome of being captured. 

Lavinia and her husband have lost a daughter to death, and their marriage has become shattered, aggravated by Lionel’s affairs with other women and the slave women.  Now, she discovers Henny, a young slave, whose eyes are a perfect replica of her dead daughter’s eyes and Lavinia knows that Lionel has fathered her.  When looking at Henny, Lavinia knows she can find peace and some comfort in raising this young girl as her own daughter. But the cost of doing this is more estrangement from Lionel.

This then is the essence of this novel which focuses not only on raising Henny to read and write and be a cultured lady but the tension of more slaves escaping and Lavinia’s part in their freedom through the Underground Railroad (as it was then called, a journey from house to house all the way to the North of America).  It covers the effects of one woman’s arrest after aiding over two hundred slaves to escape. 

Many of the scenes in between these highlights allow the reader to observe the Southern belle mentality that often sets the standards of behavior but also exposes the hypocrisy and unchristian behavior toward those who believed in the equality of all men and women despite color. 

Eden’s Gates is an intriguing, engaging read reflective of a time in American history when animosity and division failed to stop the Abolition movement from effectively growing and freeing thousands of slaves.  Commendable and highly recommended historical fiction!