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.

***
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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.

***

REVIEW: THE SUNSHINE SISTERS, BY JANE GREEN

Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.
 
As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother’s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London—and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.
 
But now the Sunshine sisters are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy have never been close, their mother’s illness draws them together to confront the old jealousies and secret fears that have threatened to tear these sisters apart. As they face the loss of their mother, they will discover if blood might be thicker than water after all…

My Thoughts: The Sunshine Sisters was a beautifully woven story that brought the past and the present together, and revealed moments of discovery for the characters. Hope for new beginnings.

Multiple narrators offer the opportunity to feel empathy for the individual characters. Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy are the daughters who each felt the hurt of an uncaring mother who only seemed to think of herself.

Ronni was focused on her own needs to the exclusion of all else, but in the reunion brought about by her illness, more is revealed. Each character, perhaps especially Ronni, had regrets and felt the sting of what might have been.

Can Ronni’s plan to reunite her family bring out more for each of them? Will she take the drastic steps that she had envisioned?

I enjoyed traits about each character. I liked that Nell was independent and didn’t seem to need anyone to lean on…until the unexpected happened. I admired Meredith’s ability to forge a new life in London, a life that felt like growth for her. But when coming home helped her realize that her fiancé was controlling and judgmental, I loved that she was able, with the support of her sisters, to make the best choice for herself. Lizzy, spoiled and thinking primarily of her own needs, had to finally face the consequences of her actions, but those newly forged sisterly connections turned out to be just what she needed to finally accept herself.

While the story was wrapped up pretty neatly for the characters, I still felt a glow as I turned the last page, making this another 5 star read for me.

***

REVIEW: SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE, BY KRISTY WOODSON HARVEY

 

I am always eager to dive into a good book about family, especially one with Southern charm to add the topping on my day.

When Ansley Murphy moved her family to Peachtree Bluff, Georgia, due to financial losses discovered after her husband’s death, she made an independent life for herself and turned her love of interior decorating into a successful design business.

Slightly South of Simple shows the reader each of the well-developed characters through alternating narratives, but we primarily see them through the perspectives of Ansley and her oldest daughter Caroline. For a variety of reasons, all three sisters descend upon their mother’s house at the same time.

Pregnant with her second child, Caroline is devastated by her husband’s affair with a supermodel. She and their daughter Vivi take off for Peachtree Bluff, to heal and figure out what to do next. Caroline has some issues besides the advanced pregnancy and her separation from her cheating husband. We learn more about Caroline, as the story takes us from the present to the past and back. We feel Caroline’s present predicament, but are also gifted with a glimpse of the time back in college when she first met and fell in love with James Beaumont, whom she married only nine months later.

The other sisters are not as front and center in the story, but we do see them through the eyes of Ansley and Caroline. Emerson, an actress, seems to be overly absorbed in being extremely thin. What could be driving this behavior?

Sloane, the middle sister, is trying hard to support her military husband who is deployed more often than he is home, while raising their two sons on her own.

Ansley reconnects with her first love, Jack, just before her daughters all join her at the old home she inherited from her grandmother. Renovating that home helped her launch her business, and now she is fixing up Jack’s old boat.

I was intrigued by what had happened between Ansley and Jack all those years ago. He was her first love, but what had ultimately driven them apart? And what other secrets might they be holding onto? There were hints along the way about those secrets, and I knew that if they came out, nothing would ever be the same. A dilemma for Ansley, but moving forward might require the revelations that had kept them mired in the past. A fascinating peek into a family full of quirky charm and a propensity for telling it like it is with a dash of Southern gentility, I could not stop turning the pages until the very end. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SWEET LAKE, BY CHRISTINE NOLFI

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Family traditions, especially those involving a family business, can make for lifelong competitors.

Such is the case for Linnie Mayfair and her older brother Freddie.

Treat and Sarah Mayfair did not realize that they were creating a less than loving relationship between their son and their daughter. They thought they were doing what was right for the business and for the family. The family trust was structured in what they thought was a sensible way, but Linnie doesn’t agree. Can she learn to finally ask for what she wants and needs?

Sweet Lake is a charming tale set in small-town Sweet Lake, Ohio, and the Mayfair Inn is the family business which Linnie has been managing since her father’s stroke. When he turned the management over to her, and she began to slowly improve things, she had the expectation that she would retain control indefinitely. Her parents’ move to Florida seemed to reinforce that belief.

Then Freddie did something truly deceitful that further exacerbated the bad feelings, turning Linnie and Freddie into bitter enemies. Can Linnie ever forgive him? How will she manage to turn the inn into a thriving business when Freddie does his worst?

It might take a village to untangle the mess. How do the charming Sweet Lake Sirens, a group of midlife to elderly women, come up with a plan to bring the siblings together? What will Linnie’s secret admirer Daniel do to aid in the cause?

I love family drama, and there was more than enough keeping me turning these pages. I wasn’t sure how it would be sorted, but I knew that I was rooting for Linnie…and also hoping for a romantic connection between her and Daniel.

The author showed true-to-life characters with real life issues…and then offered us a glimpse of the characters struggling to make things right, just as real people would have to do. By the end, I was happy to learn that another book will follow. I am eager to revisit them all. Even Freddie. 5 stars.

cropped-again-5***

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “COMMONWEALTH”

Married to Books-BOOKISH LOGO

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is a recent purchase that I’m excited about.  Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett, is an enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

 

 

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Beginning:  The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.  Fix was smiling when he opened the door and he kept smiling as he struggled to make the connection:  it was Albert Cousins from the district attorney’s office standing on the cement slab of his front porch.  He’d opened the door twenty times in the last half hour—to neighbors and friends and people from church and Beverly’s sister and all his brothers and their parents and practically an entire precinct worth of cops—but Cousins was the only surprise.

***

56:  Patsy went off to get his water and Fix waited, opening his eyes so that he could watch her go.

“So then what happened?”  Franny said.  This was the deal of taking her father to chemo when none of the doctors spoke in terms of a cure:  this was the time she had, these were all the stories she was going to get.

***

Synopsis:  One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

***

What do you think?  Have you read this book?  Does it grab you?

***

REVIEW: FAMILY TREE, BY SUSAN WIGGS

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Growing up in Switchback, Vermont, Annie Rush had learned the love of cooking from her grandmother, and early on, she had a dream. Her childhood hobby, besides cooking, was taping herself cooking and talking about the process, as if on a TV show.

The family company, Sugar Rush, involved processing and distributing maple syrup.

Family Tree begins in LA, where Annie and her husband, Martin Harlow, produce a TV cooking show called The Key Ingredient. They have a beautiful home, and on the morning when we first meet Annie, she has just been interviewed by someone from People magazine.

And shortly afterwards, she discovers that she is pregnant.

Eager to share the news with Martin, she heads off to the lot, and approaches Martin’s trailer. In that moment, and in the subsequent ones, everything changes for Annie.

A year later, she is slowly coming out of a coma, with TBI, in a facility in Vermont. She has no memory, and it will take some time for her to piece together her life; it will take a while longer for her to realize how her fairytale story ended.

From there, our story sweeps back and forth, back to “then” and moving forward to “now,” pulling together the bits of the story of Annie’s life before college, and before she met Martin. Her love for her high school sweetheart Fletcher Wyndham seems destined to fail over and over again, as they constantly come up against bad timing.

The story captured my interest from the beginning, although I must admit that sometimes I wanted more time spent in the “now.” In the end, and somewhat predictably, we get a heartwarming resolution to the issues that interfered with Annie’s happiness, and we get to watch as she puts her new life together, “starting from scratch.” 4 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

 

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “A MAP OF THE WORLD”

Married to Books-BOOKISH LOGO

 

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is a book I read a while ago, and recently downloaded for a reread.  A Map of the World, by Jane Hamilton (Oprah’s Book Club), is my favorite by this author.  I also have the DVD and watched it the other night.

 

 

 

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Beginning: (Alice)

I used to think if you fell from grace it was more likely than not the result of one stupendous error, or else an unfortunate accident.  I hadn’t learned that it can happen so gradually you don’t lose your stomach or hurt yourself in the landing.  You don’t necessarily sense the motion.  I’ve found it takes at least two and generally three things to alter the course of a life:  You slip around the truth once, and then again, and one more time, and there you are, feeling, for a moment, that it was sudden, your arrival at the bottom of the heap.

(I just had to add the extra lines:  I loved the intricacy of these opening lines).

***

56:  I groped for Howard’s arm, his wrist, his suit coat, anything to grab hold of, and at the same moment something from behind that felt like a large vinyl purse poked me.

***

Synopsis:  From the author of the widely acclaimed The Book of Ruth comes a harrowing, heartbreaking drama about a rural American family and a disastrous event that forever changes their lives.

The Goodwins, Howard, Alice, and their little girls, Emma and Claire, live on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. Although suspiciously regarded by their neighbors as “that hippie couple” because of their well-educated, urban background, Howard and Alice believe they have found a source of emotional strength in the farm, he tending the barn while Alice works as a nurse in the local elementary school.

But their peaceful life is shattered one day when a neighbor’s two-year-old daughter drowns in the Goodwins’ pond while under Alice’s care. Tormented by the accident, Alice descends even further into darkness when she is accused of sexually abusing of a student at the elementary school. Soon, Alice is arrested, incarcerated, and as good as convicted in the eyes of a suspicious community. As a child, Alice designed her own map of the world to find her bearings. Now, as an adult, she must find her way again, through a maze of lies, doubt and ill will.

A vivid human drama of guilt and betrayal, A Map of the World chronicles the intricate geographies of the human heart and all its mysterious, uncharted terrain.  The result is a piercing drama about family bonds and a disappearing rural American life.

***

What do you think?  Do the excerpts grab you?  Does the blurb captivate you?

***