Tag Archives: family life

The Next Person You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

In today’s paper there is an article about a young couple who were recently married and killed in a freak roll over car accident on their way to their honeymoon. While there are many such incidents throughout the United States, what makes this one especially tragic is that these were two young people at the pinnacle of their happiness. Nothing is as sacrosanct as a bride and groom. I am silently sending my condolences to their families in this most grievous loss of life.

Perhaps that’s why Mitch Albom used a wedding to start off his newest novel, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, a sequel to a book by a similar title published in 2003. My first reaction was “Oh, no! Not on their wedding day!” since obviously in order to have a tete a tete in heaven, you must be recently deceased. Albom takes us through that happy time and the series of events which followed sending both lovebirds to the hospital where extraordinary measures are necessary to perhaps preserve a life or two.

Then we are in heaven as the former spouse, sans honeymoon, meets the five individuals who most strongly influenced their past. Through the details revealed in their interchanges we get the backstory which led to this fateful day. Back in real time, we discover what happened to those impacted by the couple whose lives had taken such a tragic turn.

I have a copy of The Five People You Meet in Heaven sitting unread on my bookshelf (my brother gave it to me as a Christmas present, at my request, shortly after it was published). While it was obvious that this book was a sequel, with some common characters to both novels, you don’t need to read the first to understand the second. The language is simple, slowly revealing some reinterpretations of an earthly past which changes the viewpoints of everybody involved, including the reader. While one person might personally take offense at actions (or inactions) from various situations, when secrets are shared both discover that there are perfectly plausible explanations for everything. As understanding dawns, peace can be found, and what better place than heaven to achieve this “life” changing miracle. As the song says “Was blind, but now I see!”.

While Albom shares the Grace of God through his words, the story, almost a fairy tale, seems contrived. At times I want to shake the characters in frustration at their stupidity, or I wonder at the dynamics of some of the situations – “Now, really?” I also felt like Albom was being condescending, forcing us to learn a lesson which we might not want to hear. Yet, there were some interesting aspects to the story with several outlooks we might not have considered on our own. Ultimately, I anticipated the outcome and was grateful I guessed correctly since, despite the tragedy, I was able to leave with a good feeling deep in my soul. What more could you ask about a book with the word “heaven” in the title?

Three stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads

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Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

If you didn’t notice the author of your most current read, it wouldn’t take long before you realized Clock Dance is an Anne Tyler book. Her stories always deal with the nitty gritty of life, focusing on flawed characters who both triumph and fail in their struggles, full of angst with a touch of humor thrown in to keep it interesting.

Willa Drake is a reactionary, not a rebel, but someone used to reacting to any given situation, trying to smooth out the cracks which get in the way of moving forward. First there’s her mom – a difficult woman (probably manic depressive) with wild mood swings who blows up at her family for relatively minor reasons, disappearing until her disposition changes. At one point when it looks like her mom is gone for good, the eleven year old Willa imagines successfully stepping up and filling the void to keep the family intact. This opportunity is over before it really begins, and the hinted abusive relationship continues, with Willa’s father constantly doing the “repaving” necessary to maintain a somewhat placid home life despite the strife. While Willa is able to adapt, her younger sister’s reaction is more rebellious, causing a rift between siblings which is never quite healed. Jump forward in time to Willa’s Junior Year in college, when she and her boyfriend, Dexter, are meeting her parents over the Easter break. We quickly discover that Dexter is domineering, firmly cajoling Willa down the path which is most beneficial to his needs, not hers. Ironically it’s Willa’s mother who calls him out on his selfishness, but the confrontation just pushes Willa farther along into a relationship which leads to more of the same – going along to get along – even if it means forgoing her own dreams. Once again, as a wife and mother, she finds herself placating husband and sons to keep the peace. Fast forward to 2017, with second husband Peter, a “retired” lawyer a bit older than 61 year old Willa (who he deferentially calls “little one”). I’ll let you guess the dynamics of their relationship.

Here is where the story gets interesting. Not particularly close to her two unmarried sons, Willa gets an unexpected phone call which sends her on a mission to Baltimore to assist her oldest boy’s former girlfriend who is in the hospital. Accompanied by a misgiving Peter, she goes to the rescue of this stranger who needs her help in caring for her precocious nine year old daughter, Cheryl (no relationship to her son). Kind of a convoluted mission, but one which just seems right. Finally we are able to see Willa crawl out from the shadow of others, possibly learning how to stand on her own two feet.

A marvelous character study of a wimpy pushover who we hope finds the inner strength to become her own person with an entire cast of quirky characters lending a hand in defining this journey. Tyler brings us back to her beloved Baltimore, as Willa, a somewhat petrified driver, learns how to navigate the streets as she chauffeurs her charges throughout the town. While this is a quick, simple tale, there is a lot of symbolism lurking throughout the narrative which will provide fodder for book club discussions.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein

First of all, I’d change the title from Chemistry Lessons to Love Potion Number Nine, at least that’s the tune I was humming while reading this G rated love story perfect for young teens. A loving family is torn apart when Mom succumbs to cancer. Dad turns to physical activities to work out his grief, while daughter Maya finds an internship transcribing notes at the MIT lab where her mother did research in Epigenetics. A high school graduate, Maya is looking forward to her Freshman year at Cambridge, but the summer is ruined when her boyfriend Whit, already a film major at Boston University, decides he’s ready to move on to greener pastures. Devastated at this betrayal, she turns to her best friend Bryan, for comfort. Theirs is an unusual relationship, with this talented fellow, immersed in the acting world, a pal to not only Maya, but also Whit, and even her dad. Obviously gay, Bryan is a welcome overnight guest, and her father even feels comfortable when Maya finds herself after hours at his place. Of all the characters, Bryan is the most grounded, with excellent advice and a huge shoulder to cry upon.

When Maya discovers that her mom was working with pheromones to manipulate romantic relationships (make love last), she decides, with the help of her mother’s former graduate student lab assistant, to continue the experiment with the hopes of reawakening the attraction of her former boyfriend. In order to make the study more valid, she needs to test the procedure on two other subjects. The selections have results which are definitely a surprise to Maya, but the reader will certainly have a premonition that this scientific query with a lack of definite controls, does not have a foregone conclusion.

Meredith Goldstein has come up with a rather crazy idea for a research topic, but a fun little way to write a teen romance. It was nice to read a story for once involving loving parents, good friends, and moderately behaved teens where higher educated is expected and welcome. Perhaps the scenario sounds like a fantasy, but there’s just enough tension to keep the silly plot interesting. Great for fans of the Boston area and Willy Wonka (two words – Whiff Walk).

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Lord of Secrets (Rogues and Riches, #5) by Erica Ridley

Through her original series, the Dukes of War, Erica Ridley has created an entire world in Regency London whose background continues with the current series, Rogues and Riches. Lord of Secrets (Book #5) runs concurrently with the other novels where past events are now revisited as the couples attend a ball hosted by the Earl of Carlisle with references throughout to the Grenvilles as older brother Heath, heir to the baronetcy, is in search for a bride to please his demanding mother who also wants to marry his sisters to eligible gentlemen in The Ton. She’s doomed to fail since oldest daughter, Camellia, dreams of a scandalous singing career and middle daughter, Dahlia, spends her time running a girls school in the rookery, hardly a pastime to endear her to the aristocracy, while the littlest sister Bryony – well, let’s say that she’s the wildest of the bunch.

Brother Heath so wants to please his mom, yet the simpering youngsters barely out of the school room do not appeal. While looking for a slightly older potential mate, he doesn’t neglect his duty to scan the room for any wallflowers who would like to dance. He meets one lovely vision with red hair dressed in pink whose conversation peaks his interest, but she slips away. Once he discovers that she is simply a paid companion, that should end his interest, but instead he finds excuses to spend time with her, all under the guise of his friendship with Lady Roundtree . Even as he realizes that anything beyond “friendship”, and even that, is unacceptable, he still can’t stop himself.

Miss Eleanor “Nora” Winfield is a distant cousin who has been called into service as a paid companion to Lady Roundtree after the poor woman fractured her ankle. After living in poverty on a pig farm with her brother and grandparents, she suddenly finds herself in the lap of luxury even if she is treated like the hired help. With a luxurious place to sleep, gorgeous clothes appropriate for the social events attended by the elite, and sumptuous meals far beyond her simple tastes, Nora feels guilty knowing how her family is living hand to mouth. With the money she earns, life will be a little easier back home. To while away the time and give her brother a notion about her current lifestyle, she draws elaborate sketches along with funny caricatures based on her personal experiences and the scads of gossip which Mrs Roundtree loves to share with whomever will listen. To Nora’s chagrin, one of the pictures ends up in the local paper and becomes the talk of the town. Her caricatures are in high demand carrying a price tag which will give her family some stability. Yet, these same pictures have the potential to hurt others, an unintended consequence to a harmless activity.

Even worse, Grenville, known as the keeper of secrets and the fixer, is on the hunt to discover the perpetrator of these despicable drawings – one which includes his own sister. Nora must choose between her family and the man she is growing to love. Even though it’s a forgone conclusion, it was fun watching the two love birds find their way.

Full of witty dialogue, tender moments, amusing scenarios, and the comfort of old friends, this is the best book of the Rogues and Riches series so far. Yes, there was still a bit too much repetition, but it was manageable. My favorite scene was when Nora receives a warm reception from Grenville’s sisters while my biggest uncertainty is the question: “Where is the Baron?” He hasn’t once made an appearance even though his children are constantly requesting an audience.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

March by Geraldine Brooks

If one were to ask my favorite childhood author, although a difficult choice, I would have to say Louisa May Alcott, specifically Little Women (although there are other of her novels which I also hold dear). There’s a reason I named by third daughter Elizabeth, though she’s a Liz or Izzy and not a Beth.

Perhaps I was responding to the authentic voice of the author. Certainly basing her novel on members of her own family brought a touch of normalcy to the words. Of course, as a nine year old I didn’t ponder these things, I only knew that I had grown to love each of the sisters, reveling in their interactions with one another and their struggles in their daily lives. I was also attracted to the time period and the formal language, so different than the common vernacular of Brooklyn in the 1960s. Jo’s love of books and writing was another draw, binding her to my heart in a way that few other literary characters managed to accomplish.

So when I discovered that the title of the book March by Geraldine Brooks was actually in reference to the absentee father in Little Women, I decided that this was a novel which needed to jump to the top of my “To Read” list. Although I had heard of March (after all it was published over ten years ago), at that time in my life the focus was on children’s books as I was working in an Elementary/Middle School Library. Luckily, a good book remains readable whether opened the day it’s published or years later, especially one which has been so thoroughly researched.

I can see why March won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2006 due to the talent of Brooks who was able to successfully replicate Alcott’s style from the original novel. Bronson Alcott, a teacher not a preacher, was a fascinating man who obviously had a big impact on Louisa’s life. The chance to get a better glimpse of this individual, even via a fictional lens, is an opportunity not to be missed. Using the background of Alcott’s family (with a few poetic liberties) plus the details from Little Women set during the time frame of the Civil War, the reader gets a glimpse into the life of Robin (Father) March who is off at War throughout a major portion of Little Women. We get his young years as a peddler in the South, eventually becoming a preacher and settling in Cambridge where he meets his wife Marmee, with their abolitionist tendencies leading to his decision to meet the battle cry as a Chaplain at the age of thirty nine leaving behind his wife and four daughters.

Here we experience the conflict through March’s eyes with all the horror and inhumanity which war entails. We get the cleaned up version which he includes in his letters to his family, then the nitty gritty including the moments which he would rather forget but feels guiltily compelled to reveal. Occasionally there are reflections he shares which mirror the original work, but the majority of the story veers off into his own previously unreleased past. It’s not until Marmee gets the letter that her husband is gravely wounded that we begin a true parallel to Little Women as details from this book intertwine with her discoveries about her husband’s past. While most of March is from the father’s point of view, while he lays sick in the hospital, it is his wife who picks up the story and reveals the events leading up to his eventual return home to his daughters, including the gravely ill Beth.

While some of the actions of wartime made me squeamish, the realism of the story, along with memories of my childhood favorite, kept me engaged throughout the novel. That events which occurred at the beginning of March’s tale had an impact on later circumstances shows the talent of Brooks who was able to draw the entire contents of her plot full circle. The PTSD which infiltrates the protagonists being, makes one wonder about his future as a husband and father as even common events seem to bring up ghastly memories of his guilt ridden experiences from over the previous year, forcing him to live a double life, presenting an artificial front to hide his own internal conflicts. While not necessarily reflected in Alcott’s work, it gives the reader a new perspective into the inner workings of a patriot who has discovered that supposed “heroism” comes with a lot of baggage.

Five stars.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

I was happy with this simple, but witty little story of three Australian families. The first wife is struggling with her unfaithful husband, well, not quite unfaithful yet, but thinking about it. It’s who he’s been playing mind games with that has her completely in a dither, so it’s off to Mummy’s with her little boy to sort things out. Then there’s the widow who has never gotten over the tragic death of her teenage daughter. She’s the school secretary who everybody pussyfoots around in deference to her sensibilities. Finally there’s the -oh so perfect wife – who isn’t quite sure how or why she and her husband haven’t done the deed in like forever, or at least six months. Is she losing her appeal? After all, she’s given birth to three daughters who command a lot of her attention and he does travel a lot. Then she finds “the letter”!

These minor crisis were enough to keep my interest, but then, bang, half way through The Husband’s Secret, author Liane Moriarty pulls her first twist and my attention notches up a level or two. Of course, I expected this, after all, twists are this author’s trademark, and I remained open for the next surprise which braided these three lives together. While there is a satisfying resolution, this is not a happily ever after tale, just as life itself isn’t without its complications due to the numerous minute choices we make. An epilogue gives us the “what ifs” that we each can’t but wonder about our own lives.

An engaging, well written novel (even though I listened to the audio version, expertly performed by Caroline Lee who has read other books by this author). My only complaint is that I didn’t get to this book sooner.

Five Stars

Three Weeks to Wed by Ella Quinn (The Worthingtons, Book #1)

The Earl of Worthington is a friend of Marcus and Sebastian from Ella Quinn’s The Marriage Game Series. After seeing how happy both men are in their marriage and the fact that their wives are expecting, Mattheus decides that it’s time that he, too, settle down. After being forced to stop at a nearby inn to escape a severe storm, he meets a lovely lady who seems to fit his intellectual needs, and after exchanging a kiss (obviously her first) he becomes even more mesmerized. When this same woman knocks on his door after hours and they spend an amorous night, he is determined to make this former virgin his bride. Yet the following morning she has disappeared and the innkeeper refuses to admit she ever existed. He unsuccessfully searches and ends up sketching her likeness in the hopes of getting his friends to identify the mystery woman.

Matt is right, Grace Carpenter is a lady of quality. She, too, was forced to stop for the night due to the same storm, even though she didn’t have much further to travel. When Worthington arrives, she was more than happy to share the parlor and spend an evening with a gentleman she has been in love with since her first season in London. Unable to wed due to the burden of a large set of siblings under her charge, she decides to experiment with one night of passion before retreating from society. Unfortunately, once is not enough and she pines for the love she has finally found and now must give up.

Little do the pair realize they have mutual friends and when Grace accompanies her younger sister, Charlotte, to London for her first season, she has a difficult time hiding her identity from her one night stand, who unfortunately resides directly across the street. It doesn’t take long for Matt to track her down and become irretrievably entangled in the lives of the Carpenter Family. He, too, has siblings of similar ages, including Louise who is also being introduced to society. Altogether the children (eleven in all), 2 Great Danes, a stepmother, a couple of cousins, aunts and uncles, and various employees, become entangled as the two lovebirds sort out the obstacles to their happiness. Marcus and Phoebe as well as Rutherford and Anna, are active participant in the antics with other familiar characters from the Marriage Game Series making an appearance, including the meddling dowagers who like to play Cupid.

Three Weeks to Wed is a wonderful introduction to the Worthington series which runs in between debutanrsbooks 2 and 3 of the Marriage Game Series. In fact, by the time Robert romances Sabrina, Matt and Grace have already been wed. While there is a bit of excitement when a no good uncle turns up looking for his inheritance, most of the tale revolves around an introduction to all the characters and the details surrounding the preparations necessary for launching two young ladies into society. I personally enjoyed reading about the shopping excursions, designer gowns, and elaborate repasts, as well as the antics of a group of lively children. The entire courtship takes place over a three week period, prior to the official start to the season which begins in Book 2 of the series. Luckily the couple decide to quickly wed because they go at it like rabbits, every chance they get, more lustful than romantic. However, having a head start on the family situation and the peccadilloes of the numerous characters should make the remainder of the series more enjoyable. Quinn has created a universe where, as a fly on the wall, the reader can vicariously enter The Ton of Regency England. Three and a half stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.