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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A FAMILY TORN APART BY THEIR CHOICES -- A REVIEW

For someone who seemingly prefers a "loner" lifestyle, living amongst the packs of wolves he studies, Luke Warren suddenly is brought into the center of a controversy that rocks the human world in which he resides and impacts every member of his family and their community.

His daughter Cara, his long-estranged son Edward, and his ex-wife Georgie—all tell their version of the story and how each of them has been affected by Luke's choices. They do so in first person narrative, alternately showing us their truths and how they perceive the events of their lives, especially those in relation to Luke. We are also shown snippets from Luke that tell us much of what he has learned about wolves and pack dynamics. These snippets continue throughout Lone Wolf: A Novel, interspersed with those of family members, and later, of others who are brought into the story through their roles in relation to the family.

For one night, Luke and Cara are in an automobile accident that leaves him gravely injured and decisions must be made.

What led to Edward's abrupt departure six years before? What went on between father and son that tore at the very fabric of their lives? Why did Cara choose to live with her father in a trailer near a wolf compound instead of with her mother and her newly created family of husband and new babies? And what happened the night of the accident that Cara is keeping to herself?

As always, I found myself totally captivated by the story and the writer's style of communicating it. My emotions were captured and I began "taking sides," preferring some over the others. Then, as more of the story came to light, my loyalties shifted slightly; almost as if the new information tilted my perspective on its axis.

While Luke's story gave me insight into his life, his choices, and how he perceived families, especially the wolf families, I began to feel as if his "voice" was intrusive. It interrupted the flow of the story for me, and I just wanted to skip over his parts. I didn't, but I then realized that I had cast him aside like the "lone wolf" he was in the community of humans.

Cara was also a character that had to "grow" on me; for the most part, I felt she was particularly narcissistic. Yes, she was only seventeen, but she seemingly believed what she wanted translated into the way it should be. Her emotions ruled her to the point that she couldn't see anyone else's side of things. Toward the end, however, she did begin to show a glimmer of awareness of others.

One thing I can definitely say about each of the characters: they aroused feelings, which is the hallmark of good characterization, in my opinion. The plot was intensely captivating and kept me interested throughout the story. Definitely five stars.

Monday, March 26, 2012

SIFTING THROUGH BELONGINGS & REDEFINING RELATIONSHIPS -- A REVIEW

How does one say good-bye to the parents who have died and left behind not only their possessions but a host of memories? The grown children of Sydney and Laurus Moss must discover the answers as this story takes us from the process of dividing up things in the old summer cottage in Maine to the sorting out of moments that defined each of them.

At first I didn't like the writing style of presenting short snippets of the story from each character's point of view, but as I gradually grew accustomed to it, I could see how it gave a unique voice to the family and friends who "told" the story.

When at first it seemed as though Jimmy, the youngest, who immediately laid claim to the baby grand piano, was selfish and "entitled," by the end of the book there was another version of Jimmy. A more generous one.

And Monica, the middle "child," who appeared totally focused on herself, gradually showed the reader that there was much more to her story. Married to a charismatic minister (Norman Faithful) who left a law practice to lead congregations throughout the country while his wife tagged along as if she were an afterthought, Monica obviously suffered a great unfulfilled need first created by her demanding and punitive mother during those childhood years.

Eleanor Moss Applegate seemed oblivious to the needs of the others at times, but actually she was the one who took charge when none of the others were around to do that. And her husband Bobby was well-liked and occasionally the voice of reason.

As I read this sequel to Leeway Cottage: A Novel (P.S.), I began to recall parts of that book and enjoyed seeing how the family came together for each other in small ways, even when their rivalries seemed to dominate at times.

At the end of Good-bye and Amen: A Novel, I felt a sense of closure and almost as if I were with the characters in the beloved cottage, sifting through the belongings and redefining their relationships to one another. Four stars.

Monday, March 19, 2012

FINDING ANSWERS THROUGH UNEXPECTED SOURCES -- A REVIEW

It begins in 1987, with two little girls walking home from school. Rosie is older and in charge of her five-year-old sister Joanna. She concentrates on stepping over the cracks in the pavement. She grows impatient and tries to hurry her sister along. She thinks about the sweet shop ahead and is distracted, for just a minute. Then in a split second, Joanna disappears.

Despite endless searches, Joanna is not found. Years pass. Rosie feels exceedingly guilty and stuck.

Twenty-two years later, in the bustle of an early Monday morning in London, four people are crossing the square: a young couple, a cleaning woman, and psychotherapist Frieda Klein, whose early Monday morning walk is a routine for her. Her life is all about keeping her surroundings clean, orderly, and free of the chaos she sees in the world around her. The world populated by people like her patients. Early morning walking helps her clear her mind.

Blue Monday: A Novel is a mystery, a psychological thriller, and a story of what happens when chaotic minds flourish. So when one of Frieda's patients, Alan Dekker, begins having strange dreams of a lost child whom he describes completely and fully, and who then goes missing a day later, her intuitive radar sounds off alarms.

We are soon caught up in how Frieda and a police detective named Karlsson join forces to try to find the missing child. From early on, it appears as if the missing child from twenty-two years ago might share some common characteristics with the missing boy Matthew.

What does Alan Dekker have to do with any of these events? How does Frieda find an unexpected connection that eventually helps her and Karlsson arrive at some conclusions?

I enjoyed the flawed and somewhat compulsive psychotherapist and the determined detective. The two made an interesting pairing, with their quite different work patterns and ways of approaching problems. Other characters, like the burned out therapist Reuben and the Polish handyman Josef added a nice balance to the canvas.

Lest I spoil the story, I won't say anymore. Except that just when things started coming together, an unexpected twist set off alarm bells for me. But because this book is the first in a new series, I'm expecting more will be revealed. I can't wait! Five stars.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

MISMATCHED PAIRING -- A REVIEW

They came from two different worlds. And in high school, those differences could spell the end of them almost before they began.

Min Green and Ed Slaterton were "cut and pasted wrong into a background you could immediately—or, anyway, after fifteen minutes—see didn't match up, was how I felt." This snippet is in Min's narrative voice fairly early in the story, but for all kinds of reasons, she ignored her intuitions and plunged ahead.

Why We Broke Up is a captivating tale that, once I got through the early pages and out of my own head, I was back in that teenage world, remembering what it was like. How the very thing you shouldn't want is what you have to have.

Maybe it's that whole romantic thing drilled into us early on, with the Romeo and Juliet pairings as guides. It is not at all surprising that these kinds of pairings happen to teens; and actually, not just to teens. Why else would there be sayings like "opposites attract."

I enjoyed how the story unfolded, in a letter Min is writing to Ed...telling him about all the reasons why they broke up; why they were wrong for each other; and how she finally came to the part where the ending was inevitable. Along the way, we meet their friends and I enjoyed the dialogue that showed us even more the differences between Min's crowd and Ed's. Quirky illustrations of the treasures Min has collected add a little something extra to the narrative.

I liked this style of storytelling, and I'm eager to read more from this author. Four stars.

Monday, March 12, 2012

LETTING GO -- A REVIEW

Throughout Eden West's childhood, she fiercely loved her father David, with whom she had a special bond. He taught her to cook, the two of them planted a garden together that they dubbed The Garden of Eden, his paintings often featured Eden, and the special moments between them were like treasures. Especially since, for all of their years together, David also struggled with mental illness: an excruciatingly debilitating mood disorder that defined his interior world through voices, confusing thoughts, and the inability to quash those thoughts.

Like a rollercoaster ride, with the ups and downs marking the moments of their lives together, David seeks to find his own way of managing the voices and thoughts. The medications squash all creativity, so he fights them. Eden's mother Lydia has tried many ways to "manage" her husband, without success. Then, on one tragic night, ten-year-old Eden finds her father bleeding out in the bathroom.

After hospitalization and a period of recovery, David leaves again. And for the next twenty years, he is lost to her.

Eden's quest for her father takes her to homeless shelters, the streets, hospitals, and even morgues. She uncovers secrets and deals with the pain of betrayal. She has launched her career as a chef and dreams of starting her own restaurant. When she meets Jack Baker, who runs a homeless shelter, she may have just found a kindred soul.

Living outside society's rules and expectations is a major theme in Outside the Lines: A Novel. Resisting the efforts of family members to "fix" him is what works for David West. What finally brings him a measure of self-acceptance, however, could be the very thing that keeps him from an ongoing relationship with his daughter.

Alternating between Eden's and David's points of view, and swinging from the present to the past and back again, we gradually connect all the pieces of this beautiful family story together. We end up with these questions: What cements the bonds between family members? Is it doing what is expected, or is it letting go enough to let each individual chart his/her own path? A beautiful, emotional, and deeply satisfying story that earned five stars.

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

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