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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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!

 

 

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!

 

Bed and Breakfast by Lois Battle

bed and breakfast

This was a sweet story about Josie, the owner of a bed and breakfast, whose Christmas holiday is off to a crazy start with her friend having a heart attack in the middle a bridge game in her home.  This reminder of the vulnerability of life triggers her to invite her estranged daughters to come home for Christmas, much to their surprise, and it invites a lot of nostalgia mixed with emotional eruptions.

I think I’d describe this book as benign;  it’s a decent read, quick, keeps one’s interest, the characters are likable, the writing is passable – but there is nothing imaginative about it.  I did not learn anything new from it.  There was nothing culturally unusual about it.

I do find stories about relationships interesting – mother/daughter, wife/husband, generational conflicts, etc.  This touches on some of this.  But I found that some of this is left undone, or kept at the surface.  There is never a deep unpacking of the deeper relationship or feelings.  There is never the huge explosion that there should be when emotions run so high.

I was left wanting just a little bit more.  And in this case, that was not a good thing…

 

Distant Shores by Kristin Hannah

distant-shores

After 24 years of marriage, Elizabeth has finally come to terms with the fact that her husband, Jack, and her 2 daughters have all taken center stage in her life, leaving her to cast aside her own dreams and aspirations.  When Jack was a famous football star, she cared for her young daughters mostly by herself.  When Jack later became a smaller time sports caster, moving from town to town where opportunities arose, she duly followed. But now that the girls are both out of the house, she realizes that it is time for her to attend to herself – she just has to figure out whether that plan will include Jack or not…

This is a story that will, sadly, strike a familiar chord with many readers, I believe.  When the nest empties, it is often a challenge for couples to fill the void – or it is the time when the void has to finally be acknowledged.  Hannah describes this conflict with sensitivity, honesty and warmth, presenting both Elizabeth’s and Jack’s sides to a complicated story.

I think it was not good that I knew before reading this book that the author had written The Nightingale.  That book was so outstanding that I had elevated expectations for this one.  For example, some subplots were hinted at but then left undone.  One character, Kim, who Elizabeth met in a support group, was a mysterious, moodier member of the group.  It appeared that she was going to be more of a presence in the book (and it was an interesting possibility), but she was just sort of abandoned in a more underdeveloped state.

I would still recommend this book – it was a nice read – but manage your expectations if you’ve read The Nightingale!

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

the-last-anniversary

In this slightly outlandish story, Sophie finds herself sucked into the circumstances of her ex-boyfriend’s family, when his Aunt Connie has died and left her house on an island to Sophie.  This is no ordinary island, however.  It is on this island, where many years prior, Connie and her sister, Rose, walked into their neighbors’ house, expecting to have tea with their neighbors, Jack and Alice Munro, when they discovered their baby girl left unattended, with Jack and Alice having mysteriously vanished.  Sophie herself remembers visiting the island, now a shrine of sorts (and the source of a healthy income for the sisters), where the rooms were left untouched, still with bloodstains and an unfinished crossword puzzle, just as if they’d just deserted the room that morning.  As the events unfold, the family and their individual struggles and conflicts come to light and Sophie finds peace with her own life as she helps them with theirs.

As usual, Moriarty tells a tale that is alternatively amusing and tragic.  While the premise is a little far-fetched, the struggles that these quirky characters are coping with – relationship issues, depression, child neglect and worse – are quite realistic.  And Moriarty’s signature humor and warmth follow each character through to the end.

If you’re looking for a fun read with some substance, this is your book!

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

51toufzzzpl

OK, I’ll admit I’m a little obsessed with the writing of Beatriz Williams at the moment.  But it’s justified!  In this novel, she has managed, once again, to create characters that I’d love to go out and have a drink with.

This story, which takes place in New York just as the world is reeling from the effects of the first World War, weaves together the lives of Sophie, a reclusive innocent who secretly tinkers with “machines”, Octavian, a WWI air force veteran/hero, and Theresa, a middle aged NYC socialite.  As their lives become entangled, we gradually learn why Sophie’s life has been so sheltered by her father and how complications of love can bring out both evil and good.

Williams’ use of different voices enables her to truly uncover the personalities of her colorful and complex characters.  We hear from Theresa in first person – and her aggressive but coy and sardonic humor shines through.  On the other hand, we learn about Sophie in third person, but this is fitting as she actually knows little about herself, having been sheltered by her father and trying to break out.  And with each change of perspective comes a different tint in language and feeling.

What is also amusing is that all of Williams’ books either centrally or peripherally involve the Schuyler family of Manhattan, her fabricated, very large and very intriguing  family of characters.  In this book we get to know Julie Schuyler, who is rich and confident and worldly, but also admittedly dependent on her family for her fun – a woman typical of her wealthy 1920’s era.  She is a side character here, but serves as the vehicle that brings Sophie into the limelight of the story.

I can’t wait to read my next Beatriz Williams book!