Tag Archives: Relationships

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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The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

My father died when I was nine years old leaving my mother a widow with four children, two boys and two girls. I was the oldest. Given the premise of the book The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin which begins with the sudden death of the father at the age of 34 (my father was 37) you would think I could relate to the lives of the four children left behind to deal (three girls and one boy) with this life changing tragedy. While my mom didn’t hole up in her room for three years like Antonia (Noni), she was largely AOL trying to make ends meet, leaving me to watch over my younger siblings. Yet I felt no connection with any of these four who despite their closeness, tended at times to be totally dysfunctional as they drifted apart over the years.

I found this a sad tale all around with even the “happy” times marred with regrets. Beginning at a poetry reading by 102 year old Fiona Skinner in 2079, she looks back on her life relating a past which led to the name Luna being included in The Love Poem, her world renowned publication. Starting with those early years, each of the siblings gets a chance to tell their story as they deal with life’s trials and tribulations directly affected by the traumatic events in their lives. Eldest Renee eschews love, focusing on her career in medicine, sensitive daughter Caroline supplants her own needs by marrying childhood sweetheart Nathan and starting a family, conflicted son Joe keeps searching for a father he can’t accept is gone, and baby Fiona has difficulty forming relationships, numbering and blogging her numerous one night stands. Eventually their issues are resolved, one way or another, and their relationships morph over the years, but the tone is far from upbeat. Then there is Noni who somehow is there but never really a substantive part of their lives, even after she reenters the world. Her preachiness makes her a less than sympathetic character and it is only on her deathbed that she reveals some truths which would have been helpful to share with her kids at an earlier date.

Centered on three locations, Bexley, Connecticut, New York City, and Miami, the narrative switches back and forth from various points of view, using present tense for Fiona then past tense for her siblings. The sections occurring in the future refer to several cataclysmic events, mainly in reference to the effects of climate change. There is a wrap up on the last few pages which brings some closure to those of us who completed the book.

While there were sections of this I enjoyed such as the passages about those childhood years and Joe’s story, the rest seemed to drag on and were at times mundane. I feel the plot could have been tightened up and I question some of the behaviors of the various characters which didn’t always align to my expectations from the text. I simply wasn’t in the mood to be depressed, despite a few upbeat moments.

The question is – does the death of a parent – sibling – child mar us for life, seemingly affecting every choice we make, or do we move on beyond the heartache to live our lives free from the guilt of still being alive?

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

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

We have the technology to create designer babies. Whether this is a desirable capability or the theme for a horror movie remains to be seen, but the ability exists to manipulate genes to result in certain predetermined outcomes.

In My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult creates a morally questionable scenario where little sister Anna Fitzgerald is conceived to provide the stem cells necessary to extend the life of older sister Kate, a victim of leukemia. Unfortunately, the stem cells turn out to be a stop gap measure and increasingly invasive procedures, such as the donation of bone marrow, are necessary to sustain her older sibling’s life. Their mother Sara is desperate enough to do anything to keep Kate alive, hoping each treatment will be the one to conquer the disease.

Anna truly loves her sister, but there’s a bit of resentment since her life revolves around Kate’s needs without any regards towards her own personal thoughts and desires. Now Kate needs a kidney and there is an expectation that Anna will once again step up to the plate – after all, isn’t that her “raison d’être”.  For once, Anna would like some control over her own body. Being only thirteen who has the final say? When does a child get to say “no more” even when her parents say “let’s do it”?

Having an ill child requiring the majority of a parents’ attention can be wearing on all members of the family. Anna isn’t the only one who feels neglected, the oldest sibling, a brother Jesse, seems like a lost cause, acting out in rebellion, usually in antisocial ways. Siblings of families I know who have a child with very specific needs often have issues coping with life. Much of what  Picoult describes rings true, yet there is quite a bit of over-the-top sensationalizing which is guaranteed to mess with ones emotions. This is one story that readily lended itself to a movie format where they added enough additional drama/trauma to hone the viewers  emotions to a frenzy. (By the same title released in 2009 starring Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack.)

Picoult is an expert at developing her characters, including a secondary story line involving a lawyer and his former love interest. I especially enjoyed the special relationship Anna had with her fire fighting father Brian who was caught in the middle between his love for all the players in his family.

I remember a similar scenario when in-vitro fertilization was new where a mother had a “genetically altered” child specifically to be a donor to her first born who needed “parts”. I was a new mother at the time and was conflicted. Society was horrified, yet I couldn’t condemn this decision, especially since my mantra is: “There but for the grace of God go I”!  Since then the use of fertilized eggs implanted in women who otherwise would be unable to have a child has been a godsend to so many, including my own daughter. I no longer have a negative viewpoint, but count my blessings on the miracles of science every time I hold my grandson.

Four and a half stars in spite of the tears I shed and an ending which felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. Even though I own a hard copy, I listened to this one performed by a large cast of characters:
Read by:
Julia Gibson
Jennifer Ikeda
Richard Poe
Carol Monda
Tom Stechchulte
Andy Paris
Barbara McCulloh

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

Every Sunday in the congregation at my church there is a immigrant from Iran who prays at the communion rail longing to reunite with her son who was left behind when she emigrated to the United States. Through hard work, perseverance, and a bit of luck she was able to sponsor the arrival of one of her sons, but her eldest is stuck overseas due to the current ban on refugees from certain middle eastern countries. Somehow he has made his way to Turkey and her heart is at high alert, hoping that his return to her loving arms is not just a pipe dream. Every time I see her, I pray that her dearest wish comes true.

So when I began to read The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim, I could vicariously relate to the premise. A husband, wife and young child have left Korea for the United States, not realizing that a Civil War was imminent or that the conflict between the North and South would wreck havoc with their lives. It seems that their youngest daughter was left behind with family members and now there is no way they can reunite despite their best efforts. The tale is basically told from three points of view, Inja who finds herself quickly migrating with her relatives to South Korea away from the rebels who are brutalizing their neighborhood in the North, her sister Miran who is becoming Americanized in her new homeland, and Najin their mother who is heartbroken that she cannot find a way to reconcile her family so instead sends frequent care packages to show how much she loves her displaced child. Even though they eventually once again become a family, the ten plus years of separation have repercussions that are not easily resolved, especially when there are secrets hanging over their heads.

A sequel to the novel The Calligrapher’s Daughter, much of this story is based on the author’s experiences as one of the children who came with her parents to the United States for an extended visit in 1948 only to be forced to stay put when the Korean War broke out in 1950, leaving her baby sister to survive the upheaval with the help of her grandmother back in their homeland. The friction portrayed between the siblings is based on reality, since it was not until Eugenia connected with her roots that she began to understand the dynamics which had influenced both their lives.

A great idea, despite the uneven pacing and plot development, made worthwhile if only as an exploration of an honorable people caught in an untenable situation. This is an approachable story dealing with a country which is very much in the news as our President plans to meet once again with Kim Yon Un to continue a discourse once again encouraging a ban on the development of nuclear weapons so that the 60+ year Korean conflict might one day be history.

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

The Lady is Daring by Megan Frampton (Duke’s Daughters series, Book 3)

Lord Carson (Bennett), heir to the Marquis of Wheatly, has avoided matrimony twice, both times to daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Marymount. In the first book of Megan Frampton’s Duke’s Daughter series, Lady Be Bad, Lady Eleanor ends up marrying Bennett’s younger brother Alexander and in the second book it’s his best friend who winds up with one of the other sisters, Lady Olivia. It seems three times the charm in The Lady is Daring when the Marquis urges his son to woo one of the remaining two siblings since he needs money to support his extravagant lifestyle. Bennett, who spends his days running the estate and his evenings trying to find investors for his business ventures, doesn’t have the time or inclination for an arranged marriage to benefit his dad’s other family – a mistress and their two children. Lord Carson’s disdain for his father is matched by his love and devotion for his invalid mother who only wants what is best for her son.

Then one night, Bennett’s life takes a turn when he has a bit too much to drink and somehow believes it’s a good idea to take a nap in an empty carriage.

In the meantime, Lady Ida, youngest daughter of the Duke, has decided to steal this very carriage so she can “rescue” her wayward sister who ran away with their dancing instructor and was now ostracized from society. This headstrong, singleminded plan of Ida is yet another example of the rash behavior of an adventuress who is more inclined to follow her own interests instead of the strictures of The Ton. She disdains the entire idea of matrimony since, after all, who would want to marry someone like her who is more concerned with topics such as gas lighting instead of more lady-like pursuits such as embroidery?

Unfortunately, Lord Carson refuses to allow Lady Ida to proceed without his protection, disrupting her plans. He reasons that since she is the sister of his brother’s wife, he can’t very well leave her to fend for herself. The two disparate personalities somehow find a commonality and a romance is inevitable as they deal with the numerous obstacles which they encounter on their quest. Bennett even finds Ida’s obsession with the mating habits of hedge hogs endearing.

The Lady is Daring was takes place in 1846 making it a Victorian Romance. Don’t look for historical accuracy, or for that manner common sense, in this “traveling” comedy of errors. However, if you are looking for a fun, quick read with some steamy love scenes, this book is for you.

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

The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

Our story, The Light Between Worlds, begins in London during the Blitz (the bombings of England’s capitol during WWII) where three children huddle together in an Air Raid Shelter waiting for their parents to join them when suddenly they find themselves in the “Woodlands” where the indigenous  creatures give them haven. Promised that they can return home at any time  to their original time and place, they take up residence in a castle, assisting in diplomatic discussions to prevent a war (which eventually breaks out anyway). After six and a half years, the two older siblings, James and Alexandra, decide its time to return home bringing the surprised and reluctant Evelyn with them. 

Back home they never quite readjust, especially Evelyn, who is living between the two worlds, longing for one while trying to find some sort of peace in the other. Six years later, Evelyn and James are both at their respective boarding schools while Alexandra has escaped the trauma of caring for her despondent  little sis by going to college in America. 

Told in two sections, from both Evelyn’s and Alexandra’s point of view, the past is featured in Italics. Most of the text is introspective as both girls reflect on their behaviors and their relationships. Poor James is also lost, not knowing what to do, and their parents are besides themselves, never understanding why their children are emotionally falling apart. When tragedy strikes, nobody is surprised, but there is enough guilt to go around. 

The author, Laura Weymouth, is from Western New York, my general location, and I was rooting for her debut novel to succeed. Unfortunately, C S Lewis did it so much better, so I recommend the YA population read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to see how it should be done. I don’t understand why Weymouth would write a book which has so many parallels to the classic The Chronicles of Narnia series. Perhaps this could be forgiven if the text were dynamic, but there is too much lamenting and not enough action. I would have liked to read  a lot more about The Woodlands so I could perhaps understand the attraction. To top it all off, at times I found the narrative confusing. Sorry, it just didn’t come together.

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

The Witch Elm by Tanya French

I fear Tana French must be clairvoyant. While her new stand alone novel, The Witch Elm, was being released here in the United States we were in the process of confirming a new Supreme Court Justice whose life parallels that of the main protagonist Toby.

Toby has been living the life of a privileged white male – popular at the Private High School he attended, good in sports with plenty of friends plus supportive parents; a man whose life has fallen into place, including a great job and a loving girlfriend who he’s crazy about (to the point where he’s thinking about hearth and home), when “BOOM” his life explodes with his past, including events which occurred when he was seventeen, coming back to haunt him and threatening to change his life forever.

Of concern is a bunch of distorted truths which if not illegal are definitely immoral, that were possibly behind the burglary which resulted in an injury that permanently affected Toby’s physical and mental health. While trying to put his life back together, a skull is discovered in the backyard of his favorite uncle’s home which leads to a murder investigation where Toby is one of the prime suspects. Complicating it all is his TBI which has blacked out his memories of the details of his teen years.

Of course, this is a fictional tale, not real life, although a news report about an unsolved English mystery involving a skull found inside a Wych Elm in 1943 was the original inspiration behind this story.

The question the reader must ask is if the inherent luck imbedded in our “hero” can get him through the muck and mire which has been thrown in his path. Some might think this smug, SOB deserves all the crap he is forced to endure, others will be more sympathetic since he has worked hard to earn the happiness which now eludes him. Ultimately, while we might believe what goes around, comes around, in truth, some of us fall into a vat of excrement and come out smelling like a rose. Well, maybe not a floral scent, but at least not a putrid odor.

French’s talent lies in her character development as we fall in love with Uncle Hugo and the family homestead complete with Sunday Dinners. Toby’s parents are the best and his two cousins, all only children, bond like siblings (and squabble like brothers and sister). The best friends hover in the background, included in the action since they were a part of those early years. All that’s left is to figure out exactly what happened and whodunit, which an obnoxious detective methodically sets out to discover.

It takes a third of the book to get to the murder, another third of the book to find out the guilty culprit, with the last third adding in some twists and turns. The Witch Elm was a steady read with a breezy style, although I did think it dragged a little in spots, but perhaps that’s because I wanted French to get to the point a little quicker so I could see if my suspicions were correct. I have to admit, there were numerous details I did not see coming.

While this story takes place in Ireland, it could easily be transplanted to any town in the United States.

All I can say is I hope our new Supreme Court Justice fares better than Toby and that recent events do not come back to bite us all in the butt.

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