REVIEW: THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER, BY PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY

 

Ten years ago, Lena Donohue experienced a wedding-day betrayal so painful that she fled the small town of Watersend, South Carolina, and reinvented herself in New York City. Though now a freelance travel writer, the one place she rarely goes is home—until she learns of her dad’s failing health.

Returning to Watersend means seeing the sister she has avoided for a decade and the brother who runs the family’s Irish pub and has borne the burden of his sisters’ rift. While Alzheimer’s slowly steals their father’s memories, the siblings rush to preserve his life in stories and in photographs. As his secret past brings Lena’s own childhood into focus, it sends her on a journey to discover the true meaning of home.

My Thoughts: Colleen and Hallie were as close as two sisters could be until the betrayal that changed everything between them. I was immediately caught up in the family stories that unfolded in The Favorite Daughter, and for most of the book, I was angry with Hallie, on Colleen’s behalf. But then, almost like turning a page and finding a completely different version of reality, another perspective revealed itself.

The pub that was the centerpiece of the family life in Watersend was based on an Irish pub and another family story that was only fleshed out near the end. A journey to Ireland, a travel memoir that incorporates Colleen’s search for home, and the ultimate reunion kept me turning pages until the end. 4.5 stars.

***

PLAYING AROUND WITH PHOTOS…AND POSTS…

Good morning!  There is sunshine outdoors today, but in the past week, we have had rain…and even hail.  I will never get used to that sound!

Since I’ve been playing around with this blog (new header above), I also plumbed the depths and I am posting an excerpt from  2015.   Four years ago looked quite different around my house…and also with my granddaughters, who were high school seniors then.

2015:

First feature for today:  my two lovely granddaughters, Aubrey and Fiona, are enjoying their “bookish” senior year doing some non-bookish things.

In this photo, Aubrey and friends are enjoying some free time from bookish pursuits:

 

 

Aubrey and Friends - Seniors

 

And in this one, Fiona, with another of her various “new looks,” is enjoying some time with her mom, while letting us know, by flaunting her Monster Java drink, that she has non-bookish things on her mind.

 

 

Fiona & another new look and her mom

 

And on to some bookish shots:  Here is one of my bookish corners, with some of my older books…and a few family photos.

 

 

bookish corner

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Shortly after I took the photo of the corner bookshelf above, I purged it…and now it looks like this:

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I do enjoy looking back in the past, even as I am plotting the future.  What does your past (and present) look like?

***

 

REVIEW: THE MAKING OF US, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Lydia, Dean, and Robyn don’t know one another. Yet. Each is facing difficult challenges. Lydia is still wearing the scars from her traumatic childhood. Wealthy and successful, she leads a lonely and disjointed existence. Dean is a young, unemployed, single dad whose life is going nowhere. Robyn is eighteen. Gorgeous, popular, and intelligent, she entered her first year of college confident of her dream to become a pediatrician. Now she’s failing her classes. Now she’s falling in love for the first time.

Lydia, Dean, and Robyn live very different lives, but each of them, independently, has always felt that something was missing. What they don’t know is that a letter is about to arrive that will turn their lives upside down. It is a letter containing a secret—one that will bind them together and show them what love and family and friendship really mean.

 

My Thoughts: Their story began before they were even born, and the nature of their births would not be usual. Perhaps these facts of their existence might explain why each of them, still unknown to one another, felt as though something were missing.

The Making of Us was an engaging story of family, relationships, and how connections come about in unexpected ways.

We first meet Glenys, a young Welsh woman who longs for a baby. But no baby comes. Then Glenys makes an unconventional decision that changes everything.

We see her daughter Lydia, drifting through life after her mother’s death when she is three. When her father dies when she is in her teens, she moves to London, attends university, and creates a product that leads to substantial wealth.

In alternating voices, we meet each of the young people whose lives began on separate paths but will soon connect. The information that jumpstarts each of their new lives moves the story along until the reader is fascinated, feeling connected to the characters and each of their adventures.
In the end, I longed to spend more time with them, not wanting to say goodbye . 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE RED ADDRESS BOOK, BY SOFIA LUNDBERG

 

Meet Doris, a 96-year-old woman living alone in her Stockholm apartment. She has few visitors, but her weekly Skype calls with Jenny—her American grandniece, and her only relative—give her great joy and remind her of her own youth.

When Doris was a girl, she was given an address book by her father, and ever since she has carefully documented everyone she met and loved throughout the years. Looking through the little book now, Doris sees the many crossed-out names of people long gone and is struck by the urge to put pen to paper. In writing down the stories of her colorful past—working as a maid in Sweden, modelling in Paris during the 30s, fleeing to Manhattan at the dawn of the Second World War—can she help Jenny, haunted by a difficult childhood, unlock the secrets of their family and finally look to the future? And whatever became of Allan, the love of Doris’s life?

 

My Thoughts: I was hooked on The Red Address Book from the very first page. I loved Doris, who at 96, looks back on the life she has led, filling in her memories from names in her address book. Stories she narrated for us in alternating storylines take us to the past and then bring us back to the present. I felt as if Doris was a friend, and that her experiences in the past could have happened to people I knew and loved.

Jenny is her great niece, with whom she Skypes regularly. So when Doris falls, and then later has a medical crisis, Jenny comes to her in Stockholm, bringing along her youngest child, Tyra. The reunion fills in the blanks for Jenny, and also brings closure to Doris about some missing parts of her life. There was a great feeling of joy, as well as sadness, as the book came to a close.

This memorable story is one that I will never forget, and it earned 5 stars,

***

REVIEW: THE FAMILY GATHERING, BY ROBYN CARR

 

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Thoughts: I have enjoyed the two previous books in the Sullivan’s Crossing series, so The Family Gathering was a lovely reunion of characters from the past. Each book focuses on a primary character, and the supporting characters are there to fill out the story. The characters feel like old friends at this point, and their issues are very real, ranging from bad relationships to mental illness.

Dakota Jones is an interesting guy who has stayed away from family due to the traumas of their childhood. But some things happened to bring him to Colorado, where two of his siblings reside, and there he begins to feel the warmth of family connections. Especially when some strange events happen that seem to threaten his newfound stability.

I liked Sid, the young bartender who has her own intriguing backstory, and when Dakota and Sid begin to overcome their negative relationships of the past and trust again, I could see good things ahead for them. If the crazy women who are stalking Dakota can be stopped!

How will Dakota’s efforts to help his sister Sedona make him feel more connected? What will happen to further cement the relationship between him and Sid? A delightful 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: LOST & FOUND SISTERS, BY JILL SHALVIS

 

After losing her sister in a devastating car accident, chef Quinn Weller is finally getting her life back on track. She appears to have it all: a loving family, a dream job in one of L.A.’s hottest eateries, and a gorgeous boyfriend dying to slip an engagement ring on her finger. So why does she feel so empty, like she’s looking for a missing piece she can’t find?

The answer comes when a lawyer tracks down Quinn and reveals a bombshell secret and a mysterious inheritance that only she can claim. This shocking revelation washes over Quinn like a tidal wave. Her whole life has been a lie.

On impulse, Quinn gives up her job, home, and boyfriend. She heads up the coast to the small hometown of Wildstone, California, which is just a few hours north, but feels worlds apart from Los Angeles. Though she doesn’t quite fit in right away, she can’t help but be drawn to the town’s simple pleasures…and the handsome, dark-haired stranger who offers friendship with no questions asked.

As Quinn settles into Wildstone, she discovers there’s another surprise in store for her. The inheritance isn’t a house or money, but rather something earthshattering, something that will make her question everything she thought she knew about herself, about her family. Now with a world of possibilities opening up to Quinn, she must decide if this new life is the one she was always meant to have—and the one that could finally give her the fulfillment she’s searched so long for.

 

My Thoughts: Unsettled by the bombshell news she receives at the beginning of Lost and Found Sisters, Quinn will struggle to accept the secrets of the past and develop connections she had never anticipated.

Wildstone feels like the kind of story book small town, in which news travels quickly from one hour to the next, and the people who live in the town feel friendly and warm. Except for the ones who are not.

Quinn is a likable character, and I had to admire how she dealt with everything, especially the most unexpected aspect of the lawyer’s news.

But as she begins to feel at home with her new normal, she also has to learn that not everyone in small town life is kind. Not everyone has good intentions. But with the love of her own team of supporters, she finds a way to fill the empty spaces inside. She finds a way to start over. A lovely story of building a family, overcoming the past, and making new connections. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SEVEN DAYS OF US, BY FRANCESCA HORNAK

 

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.
 
For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems. 
 
As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.   
 
In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…

My Thoughts: In alternating narratives, Seven Days of Us revealed the Birch family dynamics, showing us how each family member experienced the enforced togetherness.

Olivia, back home from saving lives in Liberia, was my favorite character. She was definitely not that thrilled to be in such close proximity to her family members, since she had been away and following her own path for years.

Emma, the matriarch, was definitely someone used to giving of herself, even to her own detriment. Her secret will change her life and her family going forward.

Phoebe, as the youngest and the only one of the offspring still living at home (at twenty-nine!) was an annoying, entitled brat, IMO. Everything all week long was all about her and her marriage plans. It was interesting to watch how things changed for her when her fiancé made a big and unexpected decision. She started to show a little bit of empathy for others.

Andrew, the patriarch, seemed oblivious to much that was going on, but when the surprise guest arrived, he began to look at life differently, even starting to assess some of his choices.

The setting of the dilapidated cottage surrounded by beautiful countryside brought me right into the lives of this English family, and I could imagine spending a week there in real life. The ending brought some good and some sad moments for the characters. There was something to savor in this story that felt so real, and earned 5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: ODD CHILD OUT, BY GILLY MACMILLAN

 

How well do you know the people you love…?

Best friends Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad have always been inseparable. But when Noah is found floating unconscious in Bristol’s Feeder Canal, Abdi can’t–or won’t–tell anyone what happened.

Just back from a mandatory leave following his last case, Detective Jim Clemo is now assigned to look into this unfortunate accident. But tragedy strikes and what looked like the simple case of a prank gone wrong soon ignites into a public battle. Noah is British. Abdi is a Somali refugee. And social tensions have been rising rapidly in Bristol. Against this background of fear and fury two families fight for their sons and for the truth. Neither of them know how far they will have to go, what demons they will have to face, what pain they will have to suffer.

Because the truth hurts.

 

 

My Thoughts: Set in Bristol, a community in the UK, Odd Child Out is a story of friendship, of betrayal, of loss, and of people from very different worlds brought together in unexpected ways.

The author portrays the boys, Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad, through the eyes of their families and also from their own perspectives.

Because of his illness, Noah comes across as a self-absorbed teenager, possibly with a sense of entitlement, but in the end, we see more depth to him. We learn that, in many ways, he is also thinking of others when he takes certain dangerous actions.

Abdi has struggled with life in the UK, and even though he doesn’t remember the country from which they came, his family shows him what that world was like through the years as they carry on despite their struggles. Secrets that will come back to haunt them all drive Abdi to take some risky steps, while struggling with a terrible incident involving Noah and the Feeder Canal. Not knowing the truth lends itself to self-blame and bold actions.

DI Jim Clemo’s narrative added that extra piece to the story, showing the reader how the police deal with the social tensions of a community divided by their fear and fury. His own poor choices in a previous case add to the caution he takes with this one. But in the end, he follows his best instincts and brings in a good outcome.

Letters written by Noah and found afterwards evoked great emotion in the characters…and in this reader. There were plodding aspects to the tale, but overall, it was a beautifully wrought story that earned 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE RULES OF MAGIC, BY ALICE HOFFMAN

 

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

My Thoughts: In the early part of The Rules of Magic, when Franny, Jet, and Vincent were children, I struggled to stay interested. I only connected with the story when the characters grew into adulthood. The magic, curses, and potions were the least interesting aspects for me. I did enjoy the setting and the era: Manhattan in the 1960s, with a short summer visit to Aunt Isabelle’s home in Boston. Massachusetts was a dreaded place, according to their parents, who clung to the old stories of witches being burned at the stake there.

The children, however, loved the relative freedom of Aunt Isabelle’s home. Her rules were simple: 1) Do as you will, but harm no one; 2) What you give will be returned to you threefold; 3) Fall in love whenever you can.

As we follow the adventures of the siblings, we learn a bit more about the ways they strive to avoid love…and how they each fail at it in some way or another. Tragic things do happen around love, but is it because they allowed love into their lives, or because they are human?

Would they find their own answers? Would they finally come to terms with the love issue? How does this prequel set things up for Practical Magic, the story that follows? 4 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: ANY DAY NOW, BY ROBYN CARR

For Sierra Jones, Sullivan’s Crossing is meant to be a brief stopover. She’s put her troubled past behind her but the path forward isn’t yet clear. A visit with her big brother Cal and his new bride, Maggie, seems to be the best option to help her get back on her feet.

Not wanting to burden or depend on anyone, Sierra is surprised to find the Crossing offers so much more than a place to rest her head. Cal and Maggie welcome her into their busy lives and she quickly finds herself bonding with Sully, the quirky campground owner who is the father figure she’s always wanted. But when her past catches up with her, it’s a special man and an adorable puppy who give her the strength to face the truth and fight for a brighter future. In Sullivan’s Crossing Sierra learns to cherish the family you are given and the family you choose.


My Thoughts: It did not take long to completely immerse myself in Any Day Now, and relate to Sierra Jones, a wonderful, feisty character. A survivor of a dysfunctional family and a troubled past…she brought all these key ingredients to a story that also aroused my empathy and made me root for her.

In Book One, I had already met some characters at Sullivan’s Crossing, a small Colorado town, like Sully, who was a father figure for Sierra and a kind and compassionate mentor for almost everyone.

California (Cal) was the loyal and protective big brother to Sierra, and his newly created family with Maggie, Sully’s neurosurgeon daughter, added a wonderful sister figure to the mix.

Growing up with a mentally ill father taught Cal and Sierra survival skills, although their father was not a violent or abusive man. He just lived with delusions and his own version of reality.

I liked the unique names of the Jones children: California, Sedona, Dakota, and Sierra…interesting quirks that set them apart.

Besides mental health issues, the story dealt with substance abuse, treatment, and recovery, and my work with clients over the years helped me connect to the stories told by those in recovery.

Of course there was a bit of romance. Who wouldn’t fall for the gorgeous firefighter named Conrad (Connie) Boyle? I enjoyed the slow and gradual connection that grew between Sierra and Connie, an appropriate progression for wounded souls.

Just when I was sinking into the daily drama of addiction and recovery, a stunning danger came reeling into Sierra’s life, the detritus of the messy past that Sierra had been fearing, and there were some intense moments that kept me glued to the pages…and then came that predictable yet comforting happy ending. 4.5 stars.

***