The Myth of You & Me by Leah Stewart

myth of you and me

After having moved so many times, Cameron is finally feeling fairly at home in her routine with Oliver, caring for him as she would an elderly grandfather.  But when she suddenly receives a letter from her ex-best-friend, Sonia, it cuts into her world and forces her to remember their friendship, and it chisels at the wall she’s build around herself.  Oliver furthers that by sending Cameron on a mission to find Sonia in his own underhanded way, and it takes Cameron on an odyssey through her past as a way to pave her future.

It took a bit of time for this novel to capture my full attention and I believe it was because it took me awhile to like the main character, Cameron.  She is introduced as a bit aloof, unattached.  But as I read on, I came to understand why that was so.  She’s had to move many times, as a military child, and so she’s had to adjust so many times to new situations and social norms.  And then there were the disappointments and the pain, one after the other.  She has hardened herself, now, and she’s afraid to be vulnerable.  However, as she succumbs to the pressure of having to search for Sonia, her heart is gradually pried open by the memories that come rushing back to her and she finds her humanity – and softness – again.

One of the most striking characters is Sonia’s mother.  She is severely mentally ill and abusive of Sonia both psychologically and physically.  What I think is so well portrayed in this novel is not only the abuse itself, but how the abuse instills a sense of helplessness in not only the direct victims, but in those around the victims, so that they, in turn, become casualties of the abuse themselves.  There is a clear ripple effect that causes very tragic collateral damage.  It almost seems to have affected those around Sonia even more, perhaps, than Sonia herself.  I wonder if this might actually be more realistic than we know.

This is a tender story of friendship and trust, forgiveness and humanity that I ultimately enjoyed more than I thought I would.  I think you will too…

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Playing with Matches by Carolyn Wall

playing with matches

Clea is a smart, but smart-mouthed girl who seems to not be able to stop herself from saying things that get her into trouble.  And while Auntie (her adoptive mother) loves her dearly, she still craves attention and love from her Mama, who seems to show love only to the men who come to her each night from the prison up the road.  As Clea grows older and the hurt grows deeper, Clea learns to internalize this hurt and drive it inward, until she finally learns how to cope and ultimately to forgive.

This is a poignant coming-of-age story, that blends flavors of the deep, poverty-stricken South into a young woman’s struggle with trauma and development of empathy and forgiveness.  While Clea starts off as a bold, outspoken, actually crass and rude child, she learns quickly that her words can do terrible harm.  And they do.  But she clings to words in other ways, and words ultimately become what save her.

The character I find the most beautiful in this story, actually, is Auntie.  Auntie is the one who has taken Clea in, an hour after Clea’s Mama has given birth to her, with no blood relation (in fact, she’s black and Clea is white) but only because she’s a human child with no one to care for her.  And she raises the child as she would her own child and loves her unconditionally.  She does not give Clea everything she wants, but rather she gives her everything she needs.  She sets admirable limits with her and guides her with wisdom and tenderness.  She is so very kind.

My only reservation about this book is that toward the end, there is a little more forgiveness than I think is realistic.  There is one character, in particular, who is extraordinarily evil.  Forgiveness for her may be beyond realistic – but maybe that is because I am not kind enough.  I’d love to hear others’ opinions on this one!

I definitely recommend this book – but it is pretty serious, so prepare yourself!

 

The Closers by Michael Connelly

the closers

Sometimes you just need to read a good murder mystery – and this one fits the bill.

Harry Bosch is just back on the job with the LAPD after being retired for a few years.  He’s assigned to the group of “closers,” who solve the unsolved cases, left open for years.  His first case is the murder of a 16 year old girl who had been murdered 17 years prior and new DNA evidence has just resurfaced that has given a new lead on the case.  Bosch is back with his old partner, Rider, and they are immediately set into motion.  But obstacles present themselves from both outside and inside the department – will he be able to see the case through?

I can’t say that this is a fun read, because the subject matter is quite tragic, but it is intriguing and challenging and engaging.  The writing is direct and crisp and the dialogue is brusque and realistic.  What is novel here to me is the use by the police of the press in their investigation, which is interesting (and as it happens, grossly unfortunate) – and I wonder how often that actually happens in “real life.”

I am also fascinated by the relationship that builds between police partners.  It becomes somewhat like a marriage of sorts.  There are signals, facial expressions, silent pauses that can be read by the partner that evolve into signals only the partner can pick up like tiny bits of morse code.  It is really like a spouse, because really and truly, survival is dependent on being able to read those glances and eyebrow raises in a split second.  This is referenced frequently in this story.

So while this is not an epic, “must read,” it is still a worthwhile novel if you’re looking for a murder mystery that will successfully capture your attention for a few days.

The Rector’s Wife by Joanna Trollope

the rector's wife

It is hard to live in a small town — but it is yet harder to be the wife of a Rector in a small town, as Anna has found to be the case.  When her husband is passed over for a promotion within the Church and he withdraws emotionally, she finds she has nowhere to turn.  The struggle for Anna is to find herself amidst the loss, even while upholding her responsibilities to the Church, her children, her husband, and ultimately, to herself.

This is a portrait of the struggle of women, particularly as seen historically within religious institutions.  They are typically only seen as instruments of support for the men who are doing the real work (the work of God in this case, but it can be applied to most any work, really); that is, the men are married to the church and the women are married to the men.  Anna, here, struggles to find who she is and what she can do herself.  She finds herself a part-time job – all she is doing is stacking jars at a local grocery store to make ends meet – and this is perceived as utterly rebellious by not only the parishioners but by her own husband.  Fortunately, she is strengthened by her experience and resists the pressures around her and when life suddenly turns around in an unexpected plot twist she sustains that strength and her dignity as well.

This happened to be a little paperback novel I picked up at a second hand book fair– I didn’t expect all that much and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the story.  Although written in the 1990’s, it was not so dated that it wasn’t relevant, including themes of bullying (although not calling it out as that),   and harassment of women.  It also taught me a bit about the Protestant church and the hierarchy of its ministers, which I feel I can always learn more about.

There were some issues with believability.  It seemed that Anna was someone that every man fell in love with (or at least the most handsome and the richest ones!) and every woman was jealous of.  Her daughter seems to have difficulty relating to her peers but gradually makes friends magically.  And so on…  But for the most part, it’s a reasonable read.

So, it’s not a “must read” but it’s certainly a thumbs up!

 

 

Angel Falls by Kristin Hannah

angelfalls

It is clear that Kristin Hannah’s writing blossomed dramatically between writing this novel and writing her master work The Nightingale.  I was hoping to be drawn into similarly beautifully drawn scenes with intricate plot lines as I was in that great novel – and I was sorely disappointed here.  While there started to be an intriguing idea for the story, and it began well enough, it just was not developed with the same sophistication and elegance as that later work.

This story begins with young Bret preparing the saddle early in the morning for his mom, Mikaela, to have her early morning horseback ride.  Suddenly, something was noticeably off and Bret watched as his mom started jumped the horse and the horse stopped and Mikaela was thrown forward, banging her head against a pole, sustaining a severe head injury.   The next thing they all knew, their lives were thrown upside-down, as Mikaela was in a deep coma and it was unclear if she’d ever recover.  What comes after tests the love each of the family members has for each other.

There are some truly brilliant moments in this story and the basic plot is a clever one.  The test of love that Mikaela’s husband, Liam, faces is a fascinating ethical dilemma that I think many would find paralyzingly difficult.  And there are tender scenes between the various family members that are quite sweet.

However, the writing itself is somewhat simplistic.  The plot could be more involved, with more story lines woven into the main one.  The characters could be much more multi-dimensional – they are extremely flat – and, wow, is the latter half of the story just pure saccharine-sweetness!  It felt as if the author herself got bored with the book about halfway through and just wanted to be over and done with the project, so she wrote whatever came out easily.  It was quite anti-climactic.

So, stick with The Nightingale, and forget about this one, I’d say…

The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

ladies detective agency

This is a book where writing is beautiful in its simplicity.  Mma Ramotswe is the first lady detective in Botswana, fulfilling both hers and her father’s dream of owning her own business successfully.  Although she is off to a precarious start, and has to take on occasionally less desirable cases (involving dogs, for example), she always uses her wise intuition and her cunning instincts to outsmart even the shadiest of characters.  And as we hear her cases unfold, we also get a taste of Africa, which is as rich an experience as the stories themselves.

Between the twists and turns of the story lines, the beautiful and colorful characters and the rich landscape in which the events unfold, this book is absolutely delightful.  I have seen it advertised for so many years and have not known what I’ve been missing all this time!  I now find myself wanting to read the other sequels to this to see what other adventures await.

I highly recommend this to all of you as well.  In this time of political distress, and when the news is so oppressively sad, this is a beautiful distraction.

 

The Book that Matters Most by Ann Hood

book that matters most

Ava is still feeling raw, even a year after her husband has left her for a woman who is famous for “yarning” statues and signs.  Thank goodness for her new book club, which has let her join for the new year.  Unfortunately, in her yearning to be accepted, she has sworn that she’d procure the author of her book to appear at their meeting at the end of the year – and it just might take the whole year to find this obscure author!

At first glance, this book appears to be a somewhat superficial novel – but it very quickly delves beneath the surface, plunging into Ava’s traumatic childhood, and focusing also on her daughter, Maggie, who is lost and has lost herself in Paris.  While there is not much discussion about feelings, there is much that is clearly felt, and the awkward moments are palpable in this book.  Maggie’s character, in particular, is extremely poignant and sympathetic, and I felt very drawn to her.  The change in voice from Ava’s to Maggie’s also helps to deepen the complexity of the plot and help move the story line along as well.  It is quite suspenseful in some parts, especially when it comes to Maggie, as she engages in some very dangerous behaviors.

Spoiler alert:  Don’t read the next paragraph if you don’t want to know my opinion about the ending…

Because my opinion is that the very ending is unfortunate.  The book is actually quite good.  I am not sure, however, why authors feel compelled to wrap their productions in such neat packages.  Life isn’t like that so why do stories have to be?  Even if the book had been as it is right up until the second to last page, it would have been ok.  But literally the last 2 pages undid the book for me – just sent it right down the path to cheesy.  Such a disappointment…

But overall, I’d still recommend this book – it’s a solid read and very engaging.  And I personally enjoyed the location – as most of it took place in my original home town of Providence, RI – which does not happen very often!