Tag Archives: family life

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende explores three individuals whose lives inexplicably intersect via a freak winter storm, a sick cat, and a run to the market for diapers. There’s 60 year old Richard Bowmaster who is living in a fog after tragically losing his Brazilian wife and child. His coworker and tenant, 62 year old Lucia Maraz, has survived her own life of upheavals in Chili, escaping the danger by moving to Canada and emigrating to the United States. Finally there’s 23 year old Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented refugee from Guatemala assisting a disabled boy whose father is involved in questionable business practices.

When Evelyn “borrows” her boss’s Lexus for a quick run to the supermarket, she’s caught in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when Richard’s car skids into the rear of the vehicle. Panicking, she ends up at his home, terrified of the consequences when her temporarily out of town employer returns home. Somehow Louisa and Evelyn end up with Richard in his apartment huddling together through the night while a freak blizzard rages across Brooklyn and into the surrounding regions. It’s not just the minor fender bender, but what’s inside the trunk that has them all in a sweat despite the cold.

Thus begins a bizarre road trip to an isolated location far away from the boundaries of the “incident” to get rid of the evidence. Close quarters and fear create the perfect environment for confidences as the three tell their personal stories and develop an unbreakable bond through this illicit deed. Back in Brooklyn is the “rest of the story” providing closure long after the threesome have resolved their accidental dilemma.

I’d like to highlight Lucia’s tale involving the Military coup d’etat in Chili in 1973 where President Salvador Allende was overthrown by armed forces and the national police. It is not a coincidence that the author’s last name is also Allende since this leader was Isabel’s “uncle” which endangered not only her life, but those of loved ones. I’m sure this particular tale invoked some strong emotions from Isabel’s past when she was actively involved in helping those on the “wanted” list find safe passage, which is inherently reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of the characters in this novel.

There was a lot to take in (almost too much to absorb) as the atrocities in Lucia’s and Evelyn’s childhoods are revealed. It is almost impossible to imagine living a life of terror, waiting for someone you love to be killed, or worse, not knowing whether or not the missing are still alive – not to mention your own dangers in an unstable country. Intertwined is the scenarios of those loved ones who influenced the decisions of the trio.

Without maintaining a specific focus on the immigration issue which is currently stalled in Congress, the reader is still left to ponder the attitude of American society towards undocumented workers who have fled their beloved homeland in order to stay safe, as well as the belligerence towards their children who were brought up in this country and know no other home.

While these timely issues make this a must read book (please note the President mentioned the violent M-13 in his 2018 State of the Union Address), I did have difficulty with the choppiness of the story as the plot flipped back and forth between the three main characters revealing their backgrounds piecemeal. I actually cheated and skipped ahead to read each biography in full (one at a time) which gave me a better understanding of their motivations. Oops, sorry Isabel. Allende had the difficult task of condensing their lives into a relatively brief narrative when each of the characters could have easily filled the pages of their own book (including some of the minor players). The conclusion neatly wraps up the details with a bit of poetic justice and a touch of romance thrown into the mix.

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

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Venn Diagram by Wendy Brant

Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant is as cute as the title suggests. High School Senior Eva (pronounced “ever” without the “r”), is gifted in mathematics and helps tutor other students who need a leg up. A PK (Pastor’s Kid), she has extra responsibilities involving her quadruplets siblings, the eees, who at three are a handful requiring more than one set of hands. With so many mouths to feed, her dreams of attending a top notch college hinge on receiving a hefty scholarship. Then she meets Zenn, (pronounced like Zenn Diagram), who captures her heart as she helps him up his math grades. Zenn is a true artist who also has dreams of attending a prestigious college despite his lack of funds to pay the all-too-expensive tuition.

Sounds like your typical teen novel, but there are a bunch of twists starting with a terrible car accident which occurred when Eva was a baby, killing her parents and leaving her with a rare gift/curse – the ability to decipher the emotions of people through physical contact with them or the objects they have touched. With small children it’s all pastel colors and sweet thoughts, but adults radiate complicated vibes which often leave Eva prostrate as their angst can be overwhelming. Eva fantasizes about touching Zenn, a feat she fears is beyond her ability due to the anticipated negative reaction. Somehow she must figure out how their relationship can move beyond the pupil/teacher stage, especially when Zenn seems to feel a mutual attraction. Of course, Eva is not the only one with a secret, and the mystery in Zenn’s life threatens to affect the future of both of their lives. Add in a lifelong best friend who kinda goes MIA when the popular athletic boy shows an interest and an interesting home dynamic which interferes with any thoughts of romance, and you have a fun little YA novel.

While this debut novel by Wendy Brant is well worth the read, the author needs to watch out for repetitive thoughts (Eva too often laments about her inability to touch Zenn and her difficulty going to her first choice college). However, there are several twists which will keep the reader guessing and a hopeful conclusion which seems reasonable without being too sicky-sweet. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Family Dynamics! The interpersonal relationships within a family create a complex pattern complicated by the cross purposes of each individual as they forge their own pathway towards the fguture. A mother, while she loves her children, has a slightly different connection to each based on their unique personalities. Sometimes there’s one who never seems to get things right and remains an irksome reminder of that illusive impeccable life we all daydream about in our youth. As my own offspring grew, I was amazed at the other parents whose unblemished children never caused them a moments anguish – always behaving appropriately, earning honors at school, scoring the winning run or goal on the sports team. My own children fell far short, although I loved them anyway and urged them to work hard and do their best in every endeavor. I concluded that either my children were subpar, or the other parents were liars (or at the very least in denial). In my experience there are ups and downs in each of our lives, joys and tragedies which pop up on occasion, and it’s the family unit who sticks together that helps us celebrate the highs and get through the low points of our existence. Such is life reflected in the theme of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

Elena Richardson is one of “those” mothers. She created the perfect life in the perfect community with the perfect husband and three perfect children. Unfortunately, she has four offspring. The youngest, Izzy, is a thorn in her side, resisting motherly (smothering) concern, choosing the contrary side of an argument, and just not quite jelling with her siblings. She’s not an evil child, just a soul who marches to the beat of her own drummer which drives a Type A personality like her mother to distraction.

Mrs. Richardson always planned to be a journalist but was not unhappy at her job as a reporter for the local paper which would never win her a Pulitzer but still gave her access to important information and people. Plus when she needed her credentials to do some sleuthing she was not afraid to call in those favors she had easily doled out over the years, assisting others yet keeping a tally for future reference. Things really start happening in her idyllic life once the nomadic Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl become tenants in their rental house. The photographic genius of Mia delights Elena who generously offers the super neat tenant a job as housekeeper/cook in exchange for enough salary to cover the lease agreement. Mia soon becomes a fixture in their home and Pearl develops into a sibling of sorts to the four teens, enjoying the luxuriously lifestyle which is the opposite of the normal hand to mouth existence of her daily world. Izzy latches on to the supportive, common sense manner of Mia, finding in her a comfort which is missing with her own mother. As the plot unfolds, the inner thoughts of each of the characters are revealed clarifying the life altering decisions which affect the outcome of all concerned.

The idea of motherhood is explored through various stories involving mother/child relationships. In a secondary subplot, Mr Bill Richardson, a lawyer, represents Elena’s friends the McCulloughs who are caring for and hopefully adopting an Asian child who was abandoned at the local fire station. The real mother, a coworker of Mia’s, now has a job, albeit for minimum wage, and wants her daughter back. The question remains – “Who will be the better parent?” – the struggling single parent birth mother or the well-to-do loving family who can provide for the baby’s every need? This issue divides the town, leaving even the presiding judge in a quandary about the best verdict.

I felt a connection to this story since Little Fires Everywhere takes place in the 1990s in a suburb outside of Cleveland during the some time period I was raising my own four children in an upscale community outside of Buffalo. Cultural references brought back memories of those days which compensates for the slow start of this novel. The author Celeste Ng has a talent for skillfully interweaving the lives of the secondary characters flawlessly into the narrative enriching the entire plot. However, while this well written book brings up some interesting questions, it also has some disturbing turn of events which leaves the reader in a wistful mood. There is more than enough finger pointing and blame which doesn’t distract from the pit-in-the-stomach feeling when things fall apart as secrets are revealed, tarnishing the golden glow of sublimeness and recognizing the reality that there is no such thing as smooth sailing. While there are promises of a positive outcome for some, the ambiguity of the future for others is disturbing and I’m not sure even the fire department can put out those flames.

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

Lord Haven’s Deception by Donna Lea Simpson

In Lord Haven’s Deception by Donna Lea Simpson, Jane Dresden finds herself in a quandary when her invalid mother sends her off with her sister, Lady Mortimer, to be married to some Viscount (with a reputation as a somewhat surly man) in Yorkshire. Originally promised to have a say in the matter, the distraught Jane decides to make a run for it once they reach the local inn, perhaps finding a home with her former nanny. However her escape goes awry when, disguised in a barmaid’s clothes, she is groped, loses her belongings, and ends up running through unfamiliar territory finding refuge in a barn. The next morning Mary Cooper, a young widow with a baby, takes the poor girl in, mends her “clothes”, and offers her hospitality with no questions asked, referring to her as her cousin Jenny to the outside world. Jane/Jenny, has always dreamed of the simple life in a cottage somewhere on the countryside, but soon discovers it’s a lot more work than she realized. While not wealthy, she has always had servants to do the chores, evidenced by her smooth, uncallused hands. Mary says nothing but watches wisely as she tries to teach her new charge some of the simple tasks necessary for existing on ones own.

Mary is experienced with deception as Lord Haven also finds solace in her humble abode, dressed in casual garb as he visits for a meal, happy to escape, at least for a little while, the responsibilities of caring for his estate, Haven Court. While Mary is grateful for his generosity of allowing her to stay on in her home after the death of her husband, she knows her place and refuses any advances, knowing he doesn’t love her just the solace she provides. When “Gerry” meets “Jenny” there is an instant attraction which develops into more as they explore the countryside taking walks together on the moors. After exchanging a kiss they both realize this duplicity can’t continue, each believing they can’t marry outside their station in life no matter what their heart dictates, not realizing that this entire time their marriage was already in the works.

There are also a slew of interesting characters back at the estate, including a shrewish mother and wisecracking grandmother and two sisters, one prim and proper, the other a wild child. Grand, who can be quite crude, is also astute and figures out the situation as Lord Haven scours the countryside for the missing, feared abducted, Lady Jane, not realizing Jenny is the one he seeks.

There is so much potential in this story in spite of the stupidity of the characters, yet it fails on several levels. First, there really isn’t enough plot to carry an entire novel, a novella would have been more fitting. Second, the filler was a continued repetition of thoughts and feelings which detracted from the whole. This is disappointing, especially considering there was an opportunity to do some revisions since this Regency Romance was previously released as A Country Courtship in 2002. So while I did enjoy the marvelously eccentric characters, I can’t give this book more than two and a half stars.

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

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

Opening Blurb: Grandfather Kemal is found in a vat used to color the kilim rugs he sells, meaning he literally “dyed”.

Orhan’s Inheritance is the perfect title for Aline Ohanesian’s premiere novel about a young man, Orhan Turkoglu, who inherits the family business when his DeDe dies. His bequest is unusual since a father usually passes his property to his son, not his grandson, but the 1990’s are modern times even in Turkey. Yet traditions remain strong and Mustafa threatens to take Orhan to court and challenge what he considers a bogus will. It’s not that the father wants to run the family business, he’s never earned an honest days work, it’s just the principle. Orhan fears his father will either neglect the business or sell it and waste the money, negating all his efforts to create a successful company.

However, that is not the gist of the story. The most unusual aspect of the will is that the deed to their family home is to be transferred to 87 year old Seda Melkonian, an unfamiliar name belonging to an elderly women living in an Armenian Nursing Home in Los Angeles, leaving him, his father, and his aunt without their beloved residence. Seda is the key to Orhan’s true inheritance and he travels across the ocean, his grandfather’s sketch book in hand, to have this stranger sign papers so he can keep his childhood home in the family as well as discover the mysteries of his Dede’s past.

Bopping back and forth between present and past, the reader is exposed to the genocide perpetuated against the Armenians living in Turkey during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, when the Turks sided with Germany in World War I. The Armenian Death March, where able bodied men were murdered or imprisoned and women, children, and the elderly were forced to leave their homes and walk to the Syrian dessert, is prescient to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. Similar to the attitudes towards those of the Jewish faith, the Turkish people resented the affluence of their Armenian neighbors – angry at the fees they charged when lending money, angry that they were Christian instead of Muslim, angry that the women were seen in public without covering their bodies (wearing a bonnet was not enough), angry that their success make them feel somehow lesser. So when the Turkish Army took action, the populace remained mum, even though it was their former friends who were taken away and shot as traitors. They blamed it on the war where casualties are to be expected, but there is a difference between war and genocide, a fact that needs to be acknowledged when a population of 1.7 million is reduced to 300,000.

Based on the memories of the author’s grandmother, Orhan’s Inheritance gives us a glimpse into the mind set of those who live in Turkey, a modernized Middle Eastern country with one foot still in the past.

A thank you to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 4 stars.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

When my book club was looking for some lighter fare to read I suggested Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty since I have enjoyed her other novels, and then when the regular study leader could not attend, I volunteered to facilitate. Since I was leading the book discussion, I took a more indepth approach to this novel, both reading the book and listening to the audiotape expertly narrated by Christine Lee. (Yes, some might argue the subject of this particular title isn’t actually in the “fluffy” category, but please note that we had been reading a series of books dealing with subjects such as the Holocaust, the War in Sarajevo, plus the Shakespearean Tragedy MacBeth.)

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the overall reaction was mixed which was also reflected in the numerous reviews I found on Goodreads. Perhaps I can’t change anyone’s mind as to the worthiness of this title, but I can attempt to give everyone an appreciation of Moriarty’s skill in developing the plot.

I presented this as a circular story where the reader is fed bits of information alternating between the past, present, and future in order to develop a complete understanding of the fateful incident at the barbecue. Even better was the suggestion of one of the book club members who called it a mosaic, or a puzzle which we put together as the story progresses, not seeing the entire picture until the very end. Either way, it took a lot of skill to pull it off, with every segment having an underlying meaning as it connected to the whole.

There are two components to the book, a “big” reveal and a series of smaller reveals. Many readers felt the build up to the incident at the barbecue which was not divulged until 60% through the book, was anticlimactic, as if disappointed that the event wasn’t even more tragic. However, it’s those small secrets which truly make this an excellent read. Moriarty’s real genius is the way she develops her characters. As their foibles are disclosed, we get to know them intimately so they become alive in our minds, especially since each of the characters gets to “speak” making the reader aware of their personal thoughts and motivations.

Like in real life, the relationships are complicated. Erica and Clementine’s close friendship involves mixed feelings of resentment and jealousy, but also an intimacy only found between people who have grown up together since childhood. While the marriage between Erica and Oliver is one between two soulmates, Clementine and Sam’s witty banter indicates a love in spite of their frequent spats, often involving their two young children Holly and Ruby. Add in some flashy, gregarious neighbors along with a grumpy old man who finds fault with life itself, plus some “interesting” parent(s), and you have 410 pages or 13 hours of reading pleasure.

Guilt is the theme, as each of the “cast” members has to deal with both the repercussions from the barbecue as well as the angst found in everyday life, while the resolutions from that fateful day changes the dynamics of the couples, leaning towards a promise of healthier future relationships.

With the successful mini series based on Moriarty’s book Big Little Lies being optioned for a second season, keep your eyes on the look out for Truly Madly Guilty to hit the big or small screen as well, especially since Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman have purchased the film rights. One wonders if they will once again change the setting from Australia to California.

Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

It Started With A Kiss (The Worthingtons, Book 3) by Ella Quinn

Lady Louisa Vivers is excited to participate in her first season, if only she could get rid of the attentions of love sick puppy Boswell, who fancies her for a wife. Everyone knows she is too strong headed and his tendency to dither makes them ill suited. On top of that dilemma, she thinks she is falling in love with Gideon Rothwell, a newly titled duke. Even while wearing gloves there is an undeniable spark of electricity when he touches her hand. He feels it too, but there is no way he can marry. His recently departed father who suffered from dementia has left their finances in ruins, first with gambling debts and then with an expensive mistress who continues to line her coffers with a forged writ of purchase. Yet, Gideon can’t help himself and after exchanging some passionate kisses on a terrace at a ball, Louisa announces their betrothal. Not what Gideon had in mind, but what else would such an innocent infer from his improper advances. Anyway, marriage doesn’t seem like such a bad option. He’s in love and wants his sweetheart in his bed. If he had his way they’d be married right away, but waiting two weeks for Louisa’s mother to arrive from out of town seems doable. Yet the scheming man has several ideas of some lustful activities before the nuptials, if they can ever be left unchaperoned, a difficult feat with such a large family keeping watch. Then there’s his close friend Matt, the Earl of Worthington, whose eagle eye is on the outlook to protect the reputation of his younger sister. Luckily Gideon’s mom heartily approves and even provides them with the opportunity for some “alone time”.

However, not all is smooth sailing in It Started With a Kiss, Book Three of the Worthington Regency Romance Series by Ella Quinn. There are some people out there who don’t like the way Gideon is handing his father’s debt and vow revenge. Gideon, mistakenly tries to keep the sordid details a secret from his bride to be, but the forceful Louisa expects honestly and wants an equal marriage sharing the good with the bad. How she will react to these omissions is an issue that just might put a crimp in their relationship. Despite everyone’s advice, Gideon stubbornly sticks to his plan unwittingly putting everyone he loves in danger.

On the plus side is a continuation of the lives of the characters from both the Worthingtons and the Marriage Game series. Matt Worthington and Gideon are school chums along with Marcus Finley and Sebastian Rutherford who both were married about a year (to Phoebe and Anna) prior to the start of this tale. Even Kit Featherton, nicknamed Mr Perfect, makes an brief appearance, dancing with a neglected debutante at his mother’s ball. Via all the previous novels, the reader is familiar with numerous members of The Ton, including their past and future endeavors.

Unfortunately, this one just made me work too hard. It would have made a great novella, but there was so much repetition that it dragged as a full length book. While the ending picked up, there was a vast middle which seemed endless. After awhile Gideon’s stubbornness and Louisa’s obsessions were annoyingly over the top. Despite a couple of witty back and forth repartees, most of the conversation was mundane, and the sex scenes were kind of placid, not the passionate encounters found in most of the other narratives. There just was not enough plot to carry the day. Three stars is generous.

A thank you to Netgalley and Kensington Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.