REVIEW: IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT, BY JUDY BLUME

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The opening lines of In the Unlikely Event take place in 1987, with an unnamed character experiencing great anxiety as she ponders whether or not to board a flight to Newark, NJ. She is suffering the angst of belonging to a very special secret club of members joined by a tragic winter long ago.

Flash back to December 1951, to a small New Jersey town called Elizabeth. Christmas lights are out and there is gaiety in the air. It won’t be long, though, before everything changes for the residents of this picturesque town.

The first plane crash comes only days later, with everyone aboard dead. It landed in a riverbed, so the damage below was negligible.

The residents of the town haven’t even recovered when, in January 1952, the second crash occurs. And a month later, another one.

Henry Ammerman is a journalist covering the story for the local newspaper, and he finds a measure of fame through his provocative columns, as he probes the questions that plague them all. What is happening? Are the crashes coincidental, or is there some kind of sabotage behind them? Some blame “the Communists,” while the teenagers mention aliens.

As the story unfolds, we meet numerous characters, some seemingly random and their presence in the tale becomes readily apparent, as they connect in some way to the plane crashes. Like Ruby Granik, a young dancer and a victim; or Kathy Stein, who has been dating Steve Osner, a resident of Elizabeth, also dead in one of the crashes.

Miri Ammerman, the daughter of single mom Rusty and niece of Henry, is fifteen, and her life is shaken by these happenings, just as the life of her best friend Natalie Osner takes a strange turn. Has Natalie been “taken over” by the deceased spirit of one of the victims?

Even as I loved certain aspects of this novel, the numerous characters, most mentioned only once or twice, were confusing and distracting. I would have loved to dig more deeply into the lives of the primary characters, like what has Rusty been feeling all these years, raising Miri alone, with no help from the father? And when he does appear, why is she so reluctant to let him help? How do the core characters deal with the aftermath of these events?

Then, almost abruptly, we flash forward to 1987, with Miri returning to Elizabeth for a memorial of that strange year. And in a quick summarizing of events, we are caught up on what has transpired in the lives of those residents, another reminder of how much I would have enjoyed the story with more depth and a focus on the core characters. An engaging novel, however. 4 stars.

REVIEW: MY REAL CHILDREN, BY JO WALTON

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Confusion. Holes in her memory. A surreal sense of two separate lives that veered from one path into two during her younger years.

Patricia Cowan remembers a few incontrovertible facts about herself. She was born in Weymouth, England, in 1926. She attended Oxford University. And at one point, she was involved with a man named Mark.

But did she marry Mark and have four children and five stillbirths? Or did she live with Bee and have two biological children and one whom Bee gave birth to, but who was also her “real” child?

In both lives, Patty (or Trish or Pat) ended up with memory issues, living alone in a home, trying to piece together the lives she had lived and the choices she had made.

My Real Children was impossible to put down, and one could feel confused before reaching the final page. But along the way, the story of each life is told in alternate chapters, from the perspective of either Trish (four children, married to Mark) or Pat (living with Bee and with two children of her own and one who was not).

The narration is a summary of life moments, skipping ahead quickly in order to bring decades of two separate lives to the reader, from the 1940s to 2015. There were many characters, but some of them left an indelible print on the lives of our narrators, either through loving kindness or condescension, as in the case of Mark. He treated Trish badly, and demanded from her all the things an old-fashioned male chauvinist would expect from a wife. It is easy to see how an alternate life with a loving partner like Bee would appeal to Trish/Pat. The children in the life of Pat and Bee were more loving as well.

Could Patricia have imagined that life as an escape from the dreary one she shared with Mark? If the “real children” were the ones she shared with Mark, she would have to accept that they were dismissive and condescending, instead of the loving, caring children from her alternate life. In the end, however, Patricia concludes that they are all her “real” children, as she loved them all, no matter how they came to be or how they treated her.

I won’t stop thinking about this story and what it reveals about the nature of choice and memory. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy a good “sliding” reality tale. 4 stars.

SERENDIPITOUS WEDNESDAY: WAITING FOR “FLIGHT PATTERNS”

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

Every week, we gather around the blogosphere and search out the upcoming book releases, sharing our thoughts and blurbs.  Today, I am eager to feature another book from a favorite author.  I love spotlighting eagerly anticipated books on this blog, the place where I can shout out about my guilty pleasures.

Today’s feature is from another author I have enjoyed for several years.  Karen White’s newest book, Flight Patterns, is coming on May 10, 2016.

 

 

 

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Blurb:  The New York Times bestselling author of The Sound of Glass and coauthor of The Forgotten Room tells the story of a woman coming home to the family she left behind—and to the woman she always wanted to be…

Georgia Chambers has spent her life sifting through other people’s pasts while trying to forget her own. But then her work as an expert of fine china—especially of Limoges—requires her to return to the one place she swore she’d never revisit…

It’s been thirteen years since Georgia left her family home on the coast of Florida, and nothing much has changed, except that there are fewer oysters and more tourists. She finds solace seeing her grandfather still toiling away in the apiary where she spent much of her childhood, but encountering her estranged mother and sister leaves her rattled.

Seeing them after all this time makes Georgia realize that something has been missing—and unless she finds a way to heal these rifts, she will forever be living vicariously through other people’s remnants. To embrace her own life—mistakes and all—she will have to find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and the secrets she was forced to keep…

***

Only five months ago, I read this author’s stunning book, The Sound of Glass (click for my review); the characters and the settings showed me that, once again, Ms. White had outdone herself.  I can’t wait for this newest novel!

What are you waiting for?  Come on by and share….and please leave a link to your post.

***

REVIEW: X, BY SUE GRAFTON

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In the opening pages of X,  (Kinsey Millhone Book # 24), we meet Teddy Xanakis, who is determined to somehow steal a valuable painting from the home she once shared with her ex-husband. She believes it is hidden in the basement, and hopes to develop the perfect plan. If she can get her hands on it, she can have its value assessed.

Fast-forward to Santa Teresa, CA, where Kinsey Millhone is plugging away as a private investigator, working, as usual, on a few cases. We get to see old familiar faces, like Henry, from whom she rents her studio garage apartment; the staff at Rosie’s diner, a favorite watering hole down the street; and Ruthie, a friend from the past, whose husband Pete Wolinsky, now deceased, once worked with Kinsey while she was training at the Byrd-Shine Detective agency.

Assorted detectives and probation officers fill the canvas, and soon we see Kinsey meeting up with a woman who needs help finding out about her birth son, who has been in prison. The woman invites her to her spacious home and pays her cash for the job. She says her name is Hallie Bettancourt, and that her son is Christian Satterfield, imprisoned for several bank robberies and now released.

Soon we learn that Hallie’s tale is fake, that the home was not hers, and nothing at all is what it seems.

Set in the eighties, the novel reflects the absence of current technology, but also mirrors some of our current issues in California, like the ongoing drought.

To what lengths will Kinsey go to find out what is happening? What will she do about some notes that Pete left behind that somehow connect to an old lawsuit? Why does the name Ned Lowe keep popping up? And who is breaking into Kinsey’s office and Ruthie’s home, just to mess things up and flaunt his or her activities?

As with all my previous favorites from this author, this novel takes the reader on a roller coaster ride, and along the way, we watch Kinsey following people of interest, and sit with her while she takes part in stakeouts. Nothing is boring about her activities, as we are gifted with her internal monologue; we capture a glimpse of how her mind works. We learn a little more about her every time we turn a page. I enjoyed the traits that make her interesting, like her dogged persistence when working a case, her friends and their quirky traits, and her fondness for peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. She shares bits and pieces about her various love interests as some of them show up in the present.

Just as life does not offer a gift-wrapped resolution to all loose ends, this novel does not either, but it leaves us with the possibility that justice will prevail. I enjoyed everything about this book and loved how Kinsey left us with some philosophical conclusions of her own. 5 stars.

***I received this e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

SERENDIPITOUS TUESDAY: EXCERPTING “X: KINSEY MILLHONE BOOK #24”

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Today’s feature is a book from an author I have enjoyed, and whose mystery series has brought to life one of my favorite heroines.  Sue Grafton’s latest is X (Kinsey Millhone Book #24).  I received my e-ARC from NetGalley:  release date – August 25, 2015.

 

 

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Intro:  In the Beginning:

Teddy Xanakis would have to steal the painting.  What other choice did she have?  She believed it was a Turner—a possibility she couldn’t confirm unless she shipped it to the Tate in London, where the Turner scholars, Evelyn Joll and Martin Butlin in particular, could make a judgment about its authenticity.  Unfortunately, the painting was currently in the basement of the house that was now solely in Ari’s name, where it had sat for years, unrecognized and unappreciated.  She might have blamed herself for the oversight, but why on earth would anyone expect to find a priceless painting in such homely company?

She and Ari had bought the house when they moved from Chicago to Santa Teresa, California.  The estate had been owned by the Carpenters, who passed it down from generation to generation until the last surviving family member died in 1981, having neglected to write a will.  The estate attorney had locked the doors and put the house up for sale.  Teddy and Ari had bought it fully equipped and fully furnished, right down to the rolls of toilet paper in the linen closet and three sets of sterling flatware in the silver vault.  The antiques, including several exquisite Persian carpets, were appraised as part of the purchase price, but in the process a small group of paintings had been overlooked.  The attorney had paid the taxes owed, handing the IRS and the State of California the hefty sums to which they were entitled.

***

Teaser:  (After the divorce)

Teddy made three trips to the house, thinking she could walk in casually and remove the painting without attracting notice.  Unfortunately, Ari had instructed the staff to usher her politely to the door, which is what they did.  Of one thing she was certain—she could not let Ari know of her interest in the seascape or her suspicions about its pedigree. (2%).

***

Blurb:  X:  The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.

X:
 The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.

X: 
The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim.

***

I always eagerly await each new “alphabet book”…and I am as fond of the writing style and MC as I have ever been.  What do you think?  Do the excerpts pique your curiosity?  Does the blurb?

***

REVIEW: LOST LAKE, BY SARAH ADDISON ALLEN

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After sleepwalking through the year following her husband Matt’s death, Kate Pheris is ready to escape her Atlanta home, which she has just sold. Devin, her eight-year-old daughter needs a change, too, so instead of moving in with her mother-in-law Cricket, as planned, Kate impulsively jumps in the car and heads to Lost Lake.

While clearing out for the move, she had found an old postcard from her great-aunt Eby (one her mother apparently kept from her), and suddenly wants to reconnect. Her last time at the summer camp, when she was twelve, was when she last felt free and happy.

Meanwhile, at the retreat, Eby is pondering her own changes. A developer has repeatedly approached her about selling, and since she would need a lot of money to fix things up, just to continue, she has verbally agreed to do so. Plus, they haven’t had a lot of guests lately.

Lost Lake is a lovely, magical tale about nostalgic moments, the past connections that remind us of love lost, and hope for a different kind of future.

Devin is a delightful character who sees the magic in her surroundings, and her quest for an “alligator box” keeps things interesting. Eby thinks of her past and her great love, George, who has passed on. Selma and Bulahdeen, two elderly women who come every year, have their own unique stories to share. Then there is Lisette, whom Eby saved years before when she jumped from a bridge in a suicide attempt. Lisette doesn’t talk…her notes are her means of communication. She has “ghost-like” conversations with someone sitting in a special kitchen chair.

What memorable moments from Kate’s past remind her that she is finally where she needs to be? What role did a local man, Wes, have in Kate’s past, and will he help her find a future?

Recommended for those who enjoy magical tales with just enough reality to make the story believable, I give this book 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: IT’S YOU, BY JANE PORTER

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Grief has followed Alison (Ali) McAdams around in the more than one year following the death of her fiancé, Dr. Andrew Morris. She stays busy working in the dental practice she shares with Andrew’s father, the same practice that now has a hole in it where Andrew once worked.

She believes she is moving along okay, despite the rage she still feels as she goes over the details of Andrew’s death: his suicide. It came out of nowhere, of course, and that is the hardest part for her. How did she miss the signs? Were there any signs?

On this particular day, however, her anger is further aroused by a stupid, hateful note left on her car: Learn to park: Asshole.

Was the note the impetus she needed to take a break from it all? Perhaps. Or could it have been her dad’s fractured wrist? Whatever the motivation, Ali is soon arranging for a flight to Oakland, and then a shuttle to Napa, where her father now lives. In a senior citizen home, in the independent living section. She’ll be taking a break from Scottsdale, AZ, and the life she lived there with Andrew.

In the days she spends in Napa, she meets several of her father’s cronies in the home, including a ninety-four-year-old woman named Edie. There is something compelling about Edie, but she is also crotchety, feisty, and a bit abrasive. Still, Ali can’t resist the connection she begins to feel for the elderly woman, especially after Edie shares some of her stories from the war years in Germany. There were secrets and betrayals…and the sadness and loss could have defined her. Instead, Edie seems more engaged in life than some younger people. And then there are the two handsome grand-nephews of Edie’s: Craig and Chad Hallahan.

It’s You is alternately narrated in the first person voices of Ali and Edie. Edie’s perspective is interesting, in that we also read portions of diaries she kept during the 1930s and 40s in Germany. She first went to Germany to study music, but over time, became entrenched in her life there. We learn about her lost love, Franz.

Why does Ali impulsively decide to fly to Germany, after reading Edie’s diaries? What does she hope to learn there? Can this be a journey of healing? Of starting over?

I enjoyed the characters and the brief appearance of Meg, Kit, and Brianna Brennan, from the Brennan Sisters novels. I kept rooting for a romance for Ali, but it probably made more sense for her to very slowly begin again. The ending was lovely…although it was a bit rushed, after the slow build of the rest of the story. Definitely a 4 star read.