Tag Archives: family secrets

The Antidote by Shelley Sackier

Fee (Ophelia) lived a charmed life as a child playing with her two favorite people, brothers Prince Rye and Prince Xavi. Then an invasive deadly illness overtakes the kingdom and Rye is shipped off to another land while the new Royal Highness Xavi (set to be coronated once he reaches the age of twenty one) stays behind to learn the ropes assisted by Sir Rollins and the Council. Fee is chosen to learn how to be a healer, studying the flora and mixing various herbal potions to serve the few remaining citizens of Fireli. The rest of the children have been transported to one of the other three realms until the ten year quarantine is lifted. Fee, who must stay hidden from view, only has contact with her best friend, sneaking out at night to spend some precious time away from the scrutiny of the dour Savva who is so critical of her work. Everyone must continue using the antidote to keep them healthy, with a special blend for the two “youngsters”.  Ten years later, Fee, now seventeen, is just biding her time until Rye returns and they can fulfill the marriage contract created by their now deceased parents. Yet the closer they get to the date when they can all reunite, the sicker Xavi becomes, making her fear he won’t make it to his twenty first birthday. Can she use her affinity with the plant world to work her magic and save her best friend? Will Rye forgive her if she fails and his brother dies. Reluctant, but desperate, she asks for help from Savva which leads to a series of unexpected events and secrets which provide answers for questions Fee didn’t know enough to ask.

In The Antidote by Shelley Sackier, the reader is also left in the dark, often not really understanding what is going on or why certain dynamics are important. Slowly they get to understand what is occurring as Fee’s eyes are opened to her destiny. While some of the revelations result in “AHA” moments, Sackier should have given us a bit more background to avoid the confusion. Yes, I appreciate the need for suspense, but if the reader can’t be engaged from the beginning, they just might decide to read a more mentally amenable book. Which would be a shame, because I just loved Fee, Rye, and Xavi, wholesome and well meaning characters whose hearts are in the right place despite their privileged place in society – primitive though it might be (sounding like a tale from the Middle Ages feudal era). Within the pages are lessons on good vs evil and the circumstances which motivate individuals to make questionable choices which benefit themselves to the detriment of others. Moral issues perfect for the YA audience.

However, even upon completing this book, I still had numerous questions about the whys and wherefores which the plot did not fully explain.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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A Spark of Life by Jodi Piccoult

Not only do I live in the same neighborhood as Dr Bernard Slepian, my son went to school with his children. As PJ entered third grade, there was a letter at his desk from the child who had been in that seat the previous June. This class assignment, in this particular case, was bitter sweet, since the welcoming words were from a boy whose parent had only recently been murdered by a sniper out to destroy another abortion doctor. His beautiful home with the large picture window in the normally crime free town of Amherst, outside Buffalo, NY, was the perfect site for a certain type of target practice. While the perpetrator was caught, the damage was done and those three boys and loving mother lost a dedicated father, husband, and doctor.

No matter how many clinics are closed or doctors are castigated, abortion will never be eliminated. If it can’t be done legally, there will be those who find illicit means to get the job done. We are currently at a crossroads, with the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice whose vote might finally overturn Roe vs Wade or severely limit its reach. I have watched as the rights of women to find affordable reproductive care (which goes way beyond the topic of abortion) have been eliminated along with the planned parenthood centers who provide Pap Smears, mammograms, prenatal and postnatal care, treatment for symptoms of menopause and other women’s health issues. There are other uses for hormone treatment besides birth control, yet, for some, the right to life of a fetus takes precedent over everything – even the life of the doctor who works in the field. With this mindset, it is no wonder that the maternal mortality rate (death of the mother in childbirth) has actually doubled over the past twenty years, especially in the minority community. Shocking!

That is why A Spark of Life by Jodi Piccoult is such a timely piece of literature. Here is an issue which has dogged the country for years without coming to a full resolution with both sides continuing to fight for what they feel is justice. This is also a concept where there is no legitimate compromise, since each side is firmly committed to their opinion which literally represents life or death. Where, to some, even birth control or the morning after pill to prevent pregnancy and the hated abortion, is unacceptable.

Piccoult attempts to present both sides of the issue via the story of a hostage situation at a Woman’s Health Clinic, where the authorities are trying to garner the release of the captives before anyone else gets hurt. To complicate matters, the chief negotiator discovers his daughter is amongst the prisoners, and he must do everything in his power to keep the situation from escalating including keeping the SWAT Team at bay. This is one of those backwards stories (with the ultimate conclusion as an epilogue) where the ending is the beginning and we count down the hours to slowly discover what motivated the events to unfold in this manner. There are a lot of “whys” to be discerned as the countdown begins.

While the topic is fascinating, the characters interesting, the issues compelling, I find this writing mechanism confusing. Perhaps it’s because I’m directionally challenged, but I like my books to be mostly chronological. The backwards recitation also requires alot of repetition which I find annoying at best. While I understand the desire to apply a new approach, this topic is too important for games.

However, I don’t want to dissuade you from reading this book. Piccoult has a way of bringing important issues to the forefront and this is a dialogue which remains vital for our society, especially with so many visible cases of misogyny and the resulting Me, Too Movement.

While for me this was a three and a half star book, I’m giving it a four star rating due to its relevance to upcoming legislative events. I’m looking forward to some interesting discussions. Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Everyone in Brooklyn was a Dodgers fan at Ebbots Field, at least until the team moved to Los Angeles. If you lived in this borough of New York City from 1951 to 1952 you probably attended Brooklyn College (my father did) and spent time at Coney Island eating a hot dog at Nathan’s. The sand was hot, the ocean cold, the beach was so crowded you had to stake out a good spot, but it was home.

In Brooklyn you lived in a building, often in tiny apartments, saving up money to move where you could have a plot of land of your own. (Actually our apartment was large, inherited from my grandmother who was the original tenant – gotta love that rent control). Having a house with a yard was a dream which every child carried in their heart (and we had to move to a suburb in Buffalo to get that house).

Despite being a large, crowded city, the neighborhoods kept life intimate. You knew the people in your building and the vendors in the local shops, mainly family owned. Yet in between was the busyness of Brooklyn which carried a flavor not found in the surrounding small towns in upstate New York.

Being a diverse metropolis, the rules were a little different. While the various ethnic groups congregated amongst themselves, the shopping centers had to be open to all, whether Irish, Italian, Jewish, Hispanic, or Black, especially here where so many immigrants settled after making the trip across the Atlantic.

This is the city where I was born (at the Caledonia Hospital on Caton Ave). It’s not necessarily the exact place described in Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, but my childhood occurred a few years later. (My grandparents were also born in Brooklyn, but their folks came over from Eastern Europe at an earlier, even more desperate time in the late 1800s). Yet, the feel is recognizable.

Enter Eilis Lacey, an Irish immigrant from the small town of Enniscorthy, who is sponsored by Father Flood in her move to his Irish Parish. He sets up a room for her in an Irish Boarding House with 5 other Irish girls, and arranges for a job as a salesgirl at Bartocci’s, a local department store. Then when Eilis gets homesick, he signs her up for night classes at Brooklyn College to earn her certificate as a bookkeeper, a subject she studied back in Ireland. She meets a nice boy at the Friday Night Dances at the Parish and her life seems perfect, but “stuff” happens.

Eilis is the type of person who goes along to get along. She’s from an era and a culture where women don’t have much of a say in their lives. They are obedient children who marry, keep house, and have children of their own. Ellis seems to go with the flow, unable to speak up when events spin out of control forcing her on a path which she isn’t sure is the right one for her. Her first job back in Ireland is at a local grocery store and the owner simply sends for her, unasked, when she discovers Ellis has a talent for figures. Rose, Ellis’ older sister, arranges for her to travel to America, and “surprises” her with the “fait accompli”. Her behavior at the rooming house is dictated by the owner, and her free time is guided by her housemates. It takes feigning an illness to get out of the Friday night dance, since Ellis doesn’t have the courage to outright refuse to go. Even her beau decides when their relationship should go to the next level and she just guesses that this is okay, although in her heart she is unsure. Fate seems to be her guideposts, and the tide of life sweeps her along its path to the next steps on the most convenient road.

I’m not judging, since her life doesn’t seem to be a hardship, one just wonders what “might have been” and the author even gives us a taste of that before he pulls the rug out from under the reader and has circumstances steer Ellis’ direction back on track.

A delightful and easy read on a bygone era in a beloved (for me) spot. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

What are the elements an author uses to create suspense? One dramatic devise is to slowly release “clues” throughout the narrative leading up to a “big reveal” at the optimal climatic moment. The ultimate success of any thriller is when the reader is kept confused and clueless right up to the proper “ah ha” moment with a surprised “I didn’t see that one coming”. Failure results when the plot is either too obvious (I figured the ending out in the first couple of chapters of the book) or too erroneous (What the ???? This doesn’t make sense.) In the mix is the author’s artistry in creating the perfect “gimmick” as a means of imparting the necessary details.

In All the Missing Girls, the author, Megan Miranda, uses reverse chronology. Along with both an introduction and epilogue, the story counts backwards from day fifteen to day one of events with each chapter adding a bit of background about the details surrounding the disappearance of two girls, ten years apart. The story is told from Nicolette Farrell’s point of view as she revisits her hometown of Cooley Ridge in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina to help her brother Daniel in the care of their aging father who is at a facility. With his apparent encroaching demensia, it is time to repair and sell their no-longer-needed family home. Yet the process brings back old memories of the disappearance of her best friend Corinne after their celebration at the local fair following their high school graduation. The resulting accusations and recriminations from the local community led to Nic’s flight from home and relocation to Pennsylvania. Yet her brother Daniel and pregnant wife Laura, along with her Dad, remained a link for her to touch base from time to time allowing an occasional reconnection with her high school sweetheart Tyler. Now, ten years later, she’s engaged to Everett, a high end Philadelphia lawyer, and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter. It isn’t long though before Nic’s world turns upside down when Annaleise turns up missing, rekindling all the horrors associated with the loss of Corrine. As the tale “progresses”, Nic reveals specifics about both mysteries through her analysis of past events as she revisits the sites containing the ghosts of her past.

There were various problems inherent in this type of format. It was harder to keep track of events necessitating repetitions and calling for a quick read to keep the various particulars front and center. The opportunity for in depth character development was also hindered, since too much information would take away from the end result, especially since Miranda wanted to maintain a sense of mystery as we tried to figure out the guilty party. There were also a lot of dead ends left dangling as Nic’s thoughts rotated from present to far past to recent past.

For me the results were muddled. None of the characters were particularly likable, especially the two victims, and even the townspeople were petty and judgmental. Outsider Everett was the only one who had my sympathy as he tried to do the right thing and ended up getting kicked where it hurts. The conclusion, while acceptable, didn’t blow me away, but overall, a worthwhile read.

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

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

First of all, to the critics who complained that this book did not prominently feature Louise Brooks, let me remind you that Laura Moriarty chose to write a NOVEL called The Chaperone (not one entitled Louise Brooks and That Time She Needed a Chaperone). This means the book includes: 1) the childhood events which motivated Cora to become Louise’s “chaperone” leading to 2) the actions that occurred when Cora was “the chaperone” which resulted in 3) a major change in Cora’s life due to her experiences while being “the chaperone”.

Ultimately, The Chaperone is a book of secrets. At the beginning, Cora Carlisle seems to have the perfect life with her soon-to-be college freshmen twin sons and a handsome, successful lawyer husband who dotes on her. Despite the fact she was socially active in the upper echelon of Wichita, Kansas, when Cora discovers that a neighborhood girl, Louise, needed a married woman to chaperone her on a trip to NYC for an internship with Ruth St Denis, she calmly agrees to be that escort. She knows her husband cannot refuse her request and off she goes. Via flashbacks, we discover that Cora has an unknown parentage and spent time at the Home For Friendless Girls prior to being selected to ride the Orphan Train where she was “adopted” by a loving couple in Kansas. This journey to New York City is an opportunity for Cora to discover the identity of her birth mother. After a month in Manhatten, Louise is accepted into the Denishawn Modern Dance Company, the only one in her class who receives that honor. Cora returns home, affected by the events which occurred on her quest, situations which were alternately successful, disappointing, and life changing.

Over time, Cora develops from a staid and straight laced patron into a more modern woman. Her conversion coincides with the openness of the roaring twenties. Eventually she sheds the confines of society, just as she removes the restrictions of her corset. With this loosening comes an independence – a freedom to become her own person and take on a leadership role in the community. Issues such as prohibition, adoption, gay rights, reproductive rights, and suffrage are explored. This book has a lot of substance to it, reflecting the “good old days” up until the 1980’s with numerous historical tidbits thrown in so the reader gets a good feel for life in the Midwest in the 20th century.

May I point out that even if the events of this book seem unrealistic, as far as the details about Louise Brooks is concerned, this is a matter of truth being stranger than fiction. The fact that the actresses’ “package” was opened at an early age might have contributed to her sexual openness as a teen and her difficulty forming relationships as an adult. All her biographical information is documented in Lulu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks as well as in other tomes exploring the life of this iconic, albeit tragic, film star. The other incredulous fictional occurrences can also be explained. The Orphan Train was a true phenomena which has gotten some attention through recent literature. Beyond that, every family has their closeted skeletons – from adopted children, to unknown spouses, to unidentified parentages, to sexual or abusive relationships – all secrets which are often kept from children and family members. So is it that hard to believe that Cora and Alan were able to maintain the image of a perfect family while behind closed doors they had an unusual arrangement? (One which they could not share with the outside world, not even their own children.)

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Chaperone, I wish Moriarty would have edited the lengthy second half of the book. There were some scenes which could easily have been eliminated, tightening up the plot without losing the essence of the novel. Yet, this book had a lot to say, forcing us to examine our own past and wonder what hidden secrets remain unknown from our ancestry. Four stars.