Sunday, December 25, 2011


Kate Dalton's job running a women's shelter brings moments of fear, drama, and sometimes scrutiny.

When a battered wife's ex-husband shows up one day, wielding a knife and threatening both of their lives, the outcome jeopardizes not only Kate's livelihood, but her whole way of life.

Turning away from this life, she strikes out, heading from Arkansas to the West...Far away from everything repugnant about the job and hoping to discover something new. But a stopover in Grassy Ridge, Oklahoma, at the request of the battered wife Amanda Blake, leads to an unexpected detour of another kind. Amanda's plea that Kate take her son with her arouses the kind of angst Kate has always tried to avoid. Connections.

So as she leaves Grassy Ridge with Amanda's ten-year-old son Way-Ray in tow, Kate is very uncertain of what the future holds. But upon her arrival on the coast of Oregon, events unfold and anchor Kate and Way-Ray to a new community and new dreams.

An Uncertain Refuge is one of those stories full of suspense, emotion, and the kind of hope for the future that often clings to each of us as we chart our courses in life. I loved the poignancy of this story of battered bodies and souls; I enjoyed Kate's dilemma, as she struggled against the constant childhood tapes playing out in her head, warning against risks; and I was totally captivated by how the growing bond between Kate and Way-Ray catapulted her into the kind of life and connections she had always feared. Sometimes what we fear the most is just what we need.

I highly recommend this story for anyone who loves the unexpected discoveries in life that come from a place of uncertainty and fear. It's a story for those who dream of righting life's wrongs...and moving beyond to a place of refuge. Five stars.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Even as Holly Golightly's special place was Tiffany's, Hope McNeill's is definitely Pug Hill.

Before we get very far into this story, we learn how much Hope loves pugs—and the pugs that congregate on their own special place in Central Park.

Hope is an art restorer at the New York, of course; she is also a thirty-something single who is in a not-very-satisfying relationship with Evan at the beginning of this story. We also learn early on that Hope's older sister Darcy is the "pretty one," the one she, Hope, is always compared to and found wanting. Or so she believes.

Hope's parents are about to celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary, and her mother has asked Hope to make the speech. Now if there's anything Hope hates more than a life without Pug Hill, it would be making speeches.

Which is why we find her signing up for a class in Overcoming Presentation Anxiety at the New School.

I loved the character of Hope—both in this story and the one that follows, A Pug's Tale—so for me, this one was a great journey we can take, along with Hope, as she explores her life, her career, and the men she has met along the way.

While preparing for a speech about that very topic in class, she remembers Benji Brown from high school. And in deconstructing what she loved most about that relationship, she discovers the necessary ingredients to what would make a happy relationship for her.

Funny, sometimes sad, and always captivating, Pug Hill is a story I won't soon forget. I loved how Hope, as the first-person narrator, seemed to invite the reader into her head and her heart. You can't help rooting for her, as she ambles along, hoping to find that special feeling we all seek in our lives. Someone who loves us just as we are. Five stars.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


When we're children, we sometimes feel as though others have a better life than we do. Especially if our family is different in some way. Maybe the difference is that one or both parents are alcoholic. Or perhaps the difference lies in some type of abuse going on in our lives. Maybe our family is poor.

Whatever we're dealing with, we are schooled in the homes where we grow up to keep the secret.

Jessie Sholl's secret was her mother's hoarding behavior, and in this insightful memoir, Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding, she shares not only the behavior, but many of the emotions, the history, and the ways in which her mother's disorder affected her life. And then she described how she finally broke free. Much in the way the children of alcoholics do: by accepting that she could not change her mother's behavior. Once she did that, she could step back and not take responsibility for it.

But before that could happen, she had to go through a process and some very painful, ugly realities on the road to freedom.

Like a conversation, Sholl describes her life, her feelings, and how she gradually if she is telling it to friends or to a support group. Something she discovered at a point on her journey: an online group for the children of hoarders.

She also begins to develop a great deal of insight into what her mother's world view looks like. In a get-together toward the end of this journey toward recovery, she, her mother, and her husband are having lunch.

"While they talk, I find myself imagining that I've shrunk myself down, so tiny that I'm microscopic. As this microscopic being I'm able to enter my mother's mind. Once I'm in, I try to look around. It's dark, too dark to see. But I can feel what's in there. And there's so much. It's filled with isolation and disregard and abuse. It's filled with uncertainty and self-doubt. It's filled with laughter, too. It's filled with friendless winters. It's filled with salty breezes and ten happy years with a man who truly loved her. It's filled with chaos and emptiness when that man was gone...."

In this excerpt, we come to understand the etiology of this disorder for one woman and her family. A captivating five-star read that I will never forget.

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Laurel\-Rain's bookshelf: to-read

Mary Ann in Autumn: A Tales of the City NovelHanna's DaughtersMiss Hildreth Wore BrownElizabethSolomon's OakSolomon's Oak

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