REVIEW: CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

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Beginning in the late 1960s, in a town near Boston, at a time of both innocence and tragic world events, Cruel Beautiful World explores love, obsession, family ties, and what happens when one’s choices lead to loss, disappointment, and even betrayal.

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Gold was loved by her parents, and then when they died suddenly when she was only five, she and her sister Charlotte were taken in by Iris, an older relative, who cherished and gave them all she had to give.

So why was Lucy drawn into the web of her high school teacher William Lallo? How was he able to seduce her into a life on the run, a life in hiding?

What happens to Iris and to Charlotte after Lucy is gone?

Alternate narrators offer up bits and pieces of the characters’ lives, sweeping back to the turn of the Twentieth Century, when Iris falls in love with a man named Doug, a man who would ultimately betray her in an unexpected way.

Much of the story takes us into Lucy’s new life in Pennsylvania farming country, from the beginnings of her hideaway with William. We watch as the romantic illusions that had captured her so completely disintegrate. The illusions were soon replaced by isolation, fear, and ultimate loss.

I enjoyed the characters and their complexities, and how some of them managed to find ways to pick up the pieces, starting over again and again. We connect with Iris, Charlotte, and then there was Patrick, who ran a farm stand in Pennsylvania. Each of them brings the story to a place where we can examine their hopes, dreams, and costly errors in judgment. Can they move on? Will there be hope in this world they have created for themselves? A 5 star read for me.

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***My e-ARC was received from the publisher via NetGalley.

***

BOOKISH WEDNESDAY: WAITING FOR “INTRUSION”

Welcome to another Waiting on Wednesday event, hosted by Jill, at Breaking the Spine.

Every week, we search out upcoming book releases…and then gather around the blogosphere, sharing our thoughts and blurbs. Today’s spotlight is shining on a book from a new-to-me author:  Intrusion, by Mary McCluskey. Release Date – July 1.

 

 

 

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Synopsis:  A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives.

Kat and Scott Hamilton are dealing with the hardest of losses: the death of their only child. While Scott throws himself back into his law practice in Los Angeles, Kat is hesitant to rejoin the workplace and instead spends her days shell-shocked and confused, unable to focus.

When an unwelcome face from Kat’s past in England emerges—the beautiful and imposing Sarah Cherrington—Kat’s marriage is thrown into a tailspin. Now wealthy beyond anything she could have imagined as a girl, Sarah appears to have everything she could need or want. But Sarah has an agenda and she wants one more thing. Soon Kat and Scott are caught up in her devious games and power plays.

Against the backdrops of Southern California and Sussex, in spare and haunting prose, Mary McCluskey propels this domestic drama to its chilling conclusion.

***

I was drawn into this story by the loss, and then kept engaged by the machinations of an intruder posing as a friend.  What do you think?  Would you grab this one?

***

REVIEW: THE SHADOW YEAR, BY HANNAH RICHELL

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Dual time lines carry the story in The Shadow Year, from the 1980s to the present.

In the 1980s, we watch a group of post-graduate students try an experimental living arrangement in an old abandoned cottage in the Peaks District, outside of London. Kat, Mac, Ben, and Carla each have their own issues, but are willing to follow along for a while. Simon takes the leadership role, but will his quest for power ruin their efforts? As tensions, hunger, and power struggles take over, we see how this “Walden” experiment unravels. Especially after Kat’s sister Freya joins the group.

Meanwhile, in the present day, Lila is suffering the grief following the loss of her infant. She has memory issues, and as she sleeps, her dreams take her into the moments before her fall down the staircase. The fall that killed her daughter.

When Lila anonymously inherits an old cabin in the Peaks District, she is drawn into sorting through clues left behind. Will she figure out what happened thirty years before? Can the lives lived here before help her deal with her loss, or will they exacerbate her distress? And what, if anything, connects her to this place? What secrets are hidden here? Finally, what really happened to her that day on the stairs?

I was stunned by how events unfolded and what hidden connections were revealed. I had guessed some of the secrets, but the final reveal was one I didn’t see coming. 5 stars.

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “FOREVER, INTERRUPTED”

BOOKISH FRIDAY 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 I’ll be excerpting from a book I am reading:  Forever, Interrupted, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, the story of a charmed romance interrupted too soon.

 

 

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Beginning:  (June) (Ben & Elsie – newlyweds)

“Have you decided if you’re going to change your name?” Ben asks me.  He is sitting on the opposite end of the couch, rubbing my feet.  He looks so cute.  How did I end up with someone so goddamn cute?

***

56:  (January) (Ben and Elsie are asking each other questions about their parents, their lives).

“That’s really sad,” he said.

“It is and it isn’t.  My parents and I aren’t close.  But they are happy in their way and I am happy in mine.  I think that’s what matters.”

***

Synopsis:  “Have you ever heard of supernovas? They shine brighter than anything else in the sky and then fade out really quickly, a short burst of extraordinary energy. I like to think you and Ben were like that . . . in that short time, you had more passion than some people have in a lifetime.”

Elsie Porter is an average twenty-something and yet what happens to her is anything but ordinary. On a rainy New Year’s Day, she heads out to pick up a pizza for one. She isn’t expecting to see anyone else in the shop, much less the adorable and charming Ben Ross. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Ben cannot even wait twenty-four hours before asking to see her again. Within weeks, the two are head over heels in love. By May, they’ve eloped.

Only nine days later, Ben is out riding his bike when he is hit by a truck and killed on impact. Elsie hears the sirens outside her apartment, but by the time she gets downstairs, he has already been whisked off to the emergency room. At the hospital, she must face Susan, the mother-in-law she has never met—and who doesn’t even know Elsie exists.

Interweaving Elsie and Ben’s charmed romance with Elsie and Susan’s healing process, Forever, Interrupted will remind you that there’s more than one way to find a happy ending.

***

What do you think?  Could you read this book without tearing up?  I know that I have the Kleenex nearby.

***

REVIEW: THE HOUSE OF MEMORIES, BY MONICA MCINERNEY

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Arabella (Ella) Fox has learned a lot about loss in her life, beginning in childhood with her parents’ divorce.

But before that happened, while they were still a family living in Melbourne, Ella’s most vivid memories happened in a three-story terrace house in London, near the Paddington Station. The home where she first met her Uncle Lucas and was astounded by his messy house and his treasured fox collection. She was only seven then.

Her connection to Lucas Fox would continue over the years, and included their exchange of various faxes as a way of communicating.

Ella’s life after the divorce would be a time of adjustment, learning to live with a stepfather, a stepbrother, Charlie, whom she actually loved…and then along came Jessica, when Ella was eleven. Jessica would be a thorn in her side for many years. The spoiled child who had both her parents and loved having all the attention focused on just her.

But eventually Ella and Aidan met, on one of her visits to Lucas’s house, and the two married and had a son Felix.

When a tragedy befalls them all, Ella would flee back to London, where she immersed herself in Lucas’s world, and the world of the boarders he mentored…and tried to forget. And struggled with her rage. Her isolation would only increase her pain, however.

House of Memories was a beautifully wrought saga of family, loss, of emotions unacknowledged that grow and fester…and the story unfolds from various perspectives, beginning with our primary first person narrator, Ella. Occasionally, we glimpse Jessica’s perspective in her flamboyant diary entries. And then another narration consists of letters to Felix from an unknown sender…revealed at the end.

How would all of these characters reunite? What would need to happen before healing begins? I know that I cried occasionally throughout this story…and then, at the conclusion, my tears of joy were my way of showing how I felt about the denoument. 5 stars.

REVIEW: PRETENDING TO DANCE, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

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It is 2014, and in San Diego, CA, Aidan James and Molly Arnette are meeting with their social worker in preparation for being adoptive parents. After losing their birth daughter, Molly had a hysterectomy, and that loss has led to this frightening journey. Molly has many reasons for her fears, since she herself had an adoptive mother and a birth mother, both living in Swannanoa, NC, on a kind of compound called Morrison Ridge.

But Molly’s childhood is a secret to everyone who knows her, including Aidan. The lies have mounted up, however, as her fears grow through the adoptive process. Meeting the birth mother Sienna and worrying about her place in the child’s life, since they plan an “open” adoption, Molly must confront the past.

Pretending to Dance was an emotional journey for this reader. We follow Molly back into her past in alternate chapters, glimpsing her in 1990, as a fourteen year old girl during the “worst year of her life,” while also seeing the relationships she had with her adoptive mother Nora, her birth mother Amalia, and her beloved father Graham.

Suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, Graham had reached a point in his disease that required constant assistance. He maintained a therapy practice, however, which he dubbed “pretend therapy,” otherwise known as Cognitive Behavioral Self-Intervention. “If you pretend you’re the sort of person you want to be, you will gradually become that person.”

How did Molly’s “worst summer ever” lead to twenty-four years away from Morrison Ridge and the family she had known and loved? What events caused her to distance herself from the past and build up a wall of secrets and lies? What was the significance of the “family meetings” held regularly during that last summer? How did Molly’s rebellions further sever her familial ties? And now, years later, would Molly finally make peace with the past?

To say that I absolutely loved this book would be an understatement. Glued to the pages, I laughed and wept with the characters who felt so real that I wish I could continue journeying with them. The end brought the kind of serenity I seek in a book, even as I didn’t know until the end how it would all come together. Recommended for fans of the author and for all who love great characters and a wonderful story. 5.0 stars.

***This e-ARC was received from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, BY BARBARA CLAYPOLE WHITE

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Hannah Linden and Will Shepard are two damaged souls, brought together by circumstances and bound by the legacies of their broken lives.

Will, a best-selling author, has left Manhattan to go to North Carolina to deal with his aging father Jacob, who is being evicted from his assisted living home, while Hannah, a holistic veterinarian, is coping with her suicidal son Galen.

Will is also carrying the burden of a deep dark secret, the loss of his five-year-old son Freddie.

Hannah rents a cottage to Will and his father, on the recommendation of Hannah’s friend Poppy, who was an art teacher at the facility where Jacob lived, so the connections begin to form between them.

The In-Between Hour is a character-driven story of people dealing with their tragedies and their losses. Set in rural North Carolina, I could smell the scents of the wooded area and see the beautiful colors of the “gloaming,” described in this passage:

“As they crossed the gravel, a thrush–nature’s flautist–announced the gloaming. Another thirty minutes and darkness would fall, but right now the house and the cottage were suspended between day and night, caught in that moment when nothing was defined and everything seemed possible.”

The author’s characters were flawed human beings learning to deal with the effects of the past, with the tragedy of mental illness in their loved ones, and with terrible losses. At the same time, they are struggling to find ways to connect with others, even when their first instincts are to pull away and isolate themselves. A story I recommend for those who enjoy books about relationships, family dynamics, and dealing with loss. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: APPLE & RAIN, BY SARAH CROSSAN

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She was just three years old when she heard her mum and her nana yelling and shouting. It was Christmas Eve, and when her mother left, to head to NY and to find herself, Apple was sure that she would come back soon. She imagines her on Broadway, famous, and this fantasy helps her cope.

But it would be eleven years, and when her mum came back, she had a surprise with her. A ten-year-old daughter Rain, Apple’s sister.

Set in Brampton, England, Apple and Rain is a poignant story of family, loss, and redemption. It also shows, from Apple’s point of view, what her world looks like, with school bullying, friendships tarnished, and finding new friends. We get to feel what she’s feeling, and experience how poetry helps her reclaim her own uniqueness.

Rain’s obsessive attachment to a doll reminds us that sometimes the pains we hold inside are manifested in unexpected ways.

As I read this novel, a coming-of-age tale that reminded me of some of my own childish fantasies and fears, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. 4 stars.

REVIEW: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, BY DEB CALETTI

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Callie McBride is restless and unhappy with her marriage.  Despite their many years together, she and her husband, Thomas Bennett, are living parallel lives in their Seattle home.

 
When Callie discovers a woman’s phone number in her husband’s trash, she concludes that he is cheating on her.  She takes this opportunity to take off for Nevada, to her Aunt Nash’s old “divorce ranch”; the phone call from her mother Gloria, reporting that Nash is doing strange things, according to a caretaker at the ranch, is just the impetus she needs.

 
Her sister Shaye joins her at the Tamarosa Ranch, a place they both recalled from their younger years with fondness, so they are dismayed at the shambles it has become.

 
Not only is Nash behaving strangely—yelling and throwing boots at the agent from Land Management—but she has a whole room filled with boxes and detritus from 1951…and she doesn’t want them to see.  At one point she starts burning things.

 
What is Nash hiding?  Is she hoarding things from the past because they are treasures, or because there are dark secrets involved?

 
Alternately narrated by Callie in the present, and Nash in the past, we begin to uncover something that happened a long time ago; something that will affect the present.  And as we follow these journeys, we learn a lot about these interesting characters.  The Secrets She Keeps also shows us an insider’s view of how Callie and Shaye view marriage, and what makes it possible to survive all the bumps in the road.

 
The lovely settings, from Seattle to Nevada and Lake Tahoe, are familiar to me, and I felt as though I was right there with the characters.  In the end, I felt a strong connection to them all.  5.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE DAY WE MET, BY ROWAN COLEMAN

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Claire Armstrong is struggling to remember details about her life, about the people she knows and presumably loves, and the feelings attached to those people. She has been a teacher, a single mother to Caitlin, and now a married mother to Esther, who is three. But along the way, the details of her life have changed dramatically.

Why is everything around her, along with pieces of her very being, disappearing? And why does a man she just met by accident in a coffee shop feel so important to her? Why does she clearly remember him and keep meeting up with him? Who is he and what is their connection to one another? And why does her husband Greg seem like a stranger in their home?

It is a mystery, but is it a feature of her illness or one of life’s surprises? Alzheimer’s disease, which is Claire’s diagnosis, has a way of carving out bits and pieces of her mind and emotions, without rhyme or reason.

Multiple narrators, beginning with Claire’s voice, take us into the past, and then headlong into the present with its confusion and disorientation, followed by moments of clarity. We also read alternate narratives from Greg, her husband; Ruth, her mother; and Caitlin, her twenty-year-old daughter.

One of Claire’s tasks, in her lucid moments, is to somehow pave the way for those she leaves behind. But when she is not clear, she feels like a prisoner, which is why she constantly tries to escape. Running away blindly and then getting lost, she experiences a wide range of emotions, from delight at the escape to paralyzing fear at the moment she realizes she no longer knows where she is or even who she is.

Caitlin’s story is one that captured me, too, with her own personal struggles of identity, along with a quest to find her father, whom she believed had abandoned her. Will she find a new connection that can help heal the loss of another? And does she carry the gene that could bring out this disease in her own body? Does she want to know?

The Day We Met: A Novel is set in Guildford, with an occasional journey to London and Manchester. The story of Ruth, Claire, and Caitlin, as well as the people in their lives, is clearly etched against their surroundings, just as their connections to one another define them.

There were surprises along the way and some feel-good moments at the end as some earlier mysteries sorted themselves out. The way the story flowed between the past and the present seemed to illustrate very clearly how the lucid moments came and went in Claire’s mind. An unforgettable story that was both poignant and surprisingly happy, too. 5.0 stars.