REVIEW: THE BEST OF US, BY JOYCE MAYNARD

 

In 2011, when she was in her late fifties, beloved author and journalist Joyce Maynard met the first true partner she had ever known. Jim wore a rakish hat over a good head of hair; he asked real questions and gave real answers; he loved to see Joyce shine, both in and out of the spotlight; and he didn’t mind the mess she made in the kitchen. He was not the husband Joyce imagined, but he quickly became the partner she had always dreamed of.

Before they met, both had believed they were done with marriage, and even after they married, Joyce resolved that no one could alter her course of determined independence. Then, just after their one-year wedding anniversary, her new husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the nineteen months that followed, as they battled his illness together, she discovered for the first time what it really meant to be a couple–to be a true partner and to have one.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of the author, and have read a couple of her memoirs already, so I was happy for the opportunity to travel with her and her husband on this journey.

I could relate to being single a long time after a previous marriage, and how sharing one’s life with a partner, even someone you truly love, would have its adjustments.

Imagine, then, that once the two of them had found compromises and wonderful ways to be together, how truly devastating such a diagnosis would be. I admired the way they made a full time job out of searching for treatments, and how this new journey in their partnership would open up new ways to be together. Their “new normal” was not what they had wished for, but it was what they had. And they were together, working toward a common goal.

One thing I’ve learned about Joyce Maynard’s writing: she speaks her truth, even if it does not always put her in a flattering light. She tells of her flaws and foibles, her missteps, and even the negative feelings she might have about her situation. Who wouldn’t want a less challenging road to travel? But it was their road together, so it would be the path she treasured.

As death drew close, the author writes: “I was a different person than the woman I’d been eighteen months earlier. Grief and pain had been harsh, but they had served as teachers. We had been through a conflagration, the two of us, and I would have given anything to have avoided it, but we’d emerged like two blackened vessels from the forge.” The ordeal “had turned us into two people we might never have become if the disease had spared Jim. Better ones, though only one of us would survive this.”

As I reached the final page of The Best of Us, tears flowed as I took in the beauty of a love discovered later in life, a love that lasted just a few years, but turned out to be a forever love. 5 stars.
***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE COMFORT OF OTHERS, BY KAY LANGDALE

When we first meet Max, the eleven-year-old boy living with a single mother, we see him using a Dictaphone, taping his thoughts. Then one day, he looks across to the house next door, the one at the center of the compound, and sees Minnie, who appears to be writing in a diary.

Caught up in the alternating narratives of Max and Minnie, we are soon immersed in the story of their lives, and my empathy peaked, until I couldn’t wait for the next episode from each of them.

Eleven-year-old Max is frustrated by the changes in his life after his single mother connects with the man who fixes the boiler. A man unnamed, who seems annoying, at the very least, and somewhat verbally abusive. His teen daughter is a bully, and Max discovers how to deal with her, but I attribute his ability to do so from his newly found connection to Minnie.

Minnie is elderly, living with her older sister Clara, in Rosemount, the home at the center of the compound. Minnie’s writings in her diary recount events from the past that she has kept secret, specifically what happened to her in the early 1960s.

Set in England, The Comfort of Others takes place in the present, but veers into the past through Minnie’s entries. Max’s tapes are about his summer in the present, but also reveal how the intrusion of his mother’s new boyfriend has impacted his life.

My favorite parts were when Max and Minnie share their feelings with each other, and Minnie gives Max some ideas about how to deal with his mother’s boyfriend. He stands up for himself, expressing his feelings bravely and directly.

Minnie and Clara make life-altering decisions that sprang from Minnie’s ability to resurrect the secrets of the past and look at events in a new light.

An interesting story about friendship, secrets, and how communication can change lives. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: ANOTHER BROOKLYN, BY JACQUELINE WOODSON

Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.

But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

My Thoughts: In the narrative voice of a young woman named August, we follow her journey back to Sweet Grove, Tennessee, and forward to Brooklyn in the 1970s.

Memories and moments that seem to come in flashbacks are snippets out of time, revealing nostalgia and loss. A death, a missing mother, friendships that seem forever but then are not…all of it is seen from the character’s adult perspective.

Sometimes flashes come that signal fantasy, not reality. And then reality slams into her with all of its dangerous brutality.

Dead bodies are discovered nearby; drug addicts hide in the hallways; and children disappear when white women come for them.

Another Brooklyn is a panoramic view of a time, of dreams, and of how reality can turn grim…or hopeful. It snaps a portrait of growing up Girl in times that were a-changing. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER’S END, BY PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY

Bonny Blankenship’s most treasured memories are of idyllic summers spent in Watersend, South Carolina, with her best friend, Lainey McKay. Amid the sand dunes and oak trees draped with Spanish moss, they swam and wished for happy-ever-afters, then escaped to the local bookshop to read and whisper in the glorious cool silence. Until the night that changed everything, the night that Lainey’s mother disappeared.

Now, in her early fifties, Bonny is desperate to clear her head after a tragic mistake threatens her career as an emergency room doctor, and her marriage crumbles around her. With her troubled teenage daughter, Piper, in tow, she goes back to the beloved river house, where she is soon joined by Lainey and her two young children. During lazy summer days and magical nights, they reunite with bookshop owner Mimi, who is tangled with the past and its mysteries. As the three women cling to a fragile peace, buried secrets and long ago loves return like the tide.

My Thoughts: Bonny’s journey back to Watersend would resurrect old memories, secrets, and the pain of the past, but it would also remind her of the magic she always felt there. And she needs that magic now, just after a tragedy in her job as an ER doctor leaves her floundering.

With Piper still healing from a broken relationship, the two of them wait and are soon joined by Lainey, who has her own wounds from the past. The pain of the summer that her mother went missing. For years she has searched, but to no avail. The art she creates helps her express the pain and communicate to those who see it.

Owen, Lainey’s brother, is the love Bonny has longed for ever since those days in Watersend, but the more they draw together, the more they seem to part. Owen’s urges take him on journeys that she cannot follow. Adventures that help him push away the pain of the past.

Mimi, as the owner of the bookshop, is the source of all wisdom to Bonny, Lainey, and especially Piper. She offers a refuge, some suggestions that feel like treasures, and, in the end, she has the answers to some very deep questions.

How do Mimi and her friend Loretta fill in some gaps for Lainey? What will Piper find in the small town that will heal the wounds of loss? Will Owen finally come to stay, or will he constantly be on the move again? What does Bonny decide about the old life she left behind in Charleston?

Multiple narrators carry us along in The Bookshop at Water’s End and fill in the missing pieces of their stories. A beautifully wrought tapestry combining art, medicine, and books…the stories would offer meaning and magic for their souls. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publishers via NetGalley

 

REVIEW: WHAT REMAINS, BY CAROLE RADZIWILL

A stunning, tragic memoir about John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette, and his cousin Anthony Radziwill, by Radziwill’s widow, now a star of The Real Housewives of New York.

What Remains is a vivid and haunting memoir about a girl from a working-class town who becomes an award-winning television producer and marries a prince, Anthony Radziwill. Carole grew up in a small suburb with a large, eccentric cast of characters. At nineteen, she struck out for New York City to find a different life. Her career at ABC News led her to the refugee camps of Cambodia, to a bunker in Tel Aviv, and to the scene of the Menendez murders. Her marriage led her into the old world of European nobility and the newer world of American aristocracy.

What Remains begins with loss and returns to loss. A small plane plunges into the ocean carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., Anthony’s cousin, and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Carole’s closest friend. Three weeks later Anthony dies of cancer. With unflinching honesty and a journalist’s keen eye, Carole Radziwill explores the enduring ties of family, the complexities of marriage, the importance of friendship, and the challenges of self-invention.

My Thoughts: In a non-linear fashion, the author tells her story. She begins by describing the horrific plane crash that killed John and Carolyn, soon followed by her husband Anthony’s death from cancer, and then takes us back to some beginnings. Back to childhood and her large extended family. Her childhood seemed chaotic, yet filled with loving moments with cousins and neighbors. Her grandmothers figured predominantly in her early years.

How she came to be an intern at ABC News, which took her to interesting places and stories, and eventually to Anthony Radziwill, would be a serendipitous journey.

What led to finding a real-life prince, a cousin to the country’s Kennedy “prince”? That story would take the reader on a fairytale journey. But then the fairytale turned into something else. A stunning diagnosis, and constant hospital visits and treatments for the cancer that would define their lives over the years, even while they optimistically tried to plan for a future by renovating an apartment on Park Avenue.

Along the way, the author completed an MBA, almost as if she knew the future they were planning would be hers alone, that Anthony, despite their optimism, would not make it. Her talents and her determination would serve her well, as she went on to reinvent herself and find a new journey.

Knowing how it would all turn out, it was difficult to keep turning the pages and finding more sadness as I neared the end of What Remains. But I had to admire the courage and the ability to keep moving ahead, despite it all. An inspirational story that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WATCHING THE DETECTIVES, BY JULIE MULHERN

Ellison Russell wanted a decorator, not a corpse. Too bad she finds Mrs. White in the study killed with a revolver. Things go from bad to worse when she finds Mr. White in the dining room killed with a candlestick. With so many bodies, is it any wonder Detective Anarchy Jones’ new partner considers Ellison a suspect?

With the country club gossips talking a mile a minute, an unexpected cocktail party, a visit from Aunt Sis, and a romantic decision, Ellison hardly has time to think about murder. Unfortunately, the killer has plenty of time to think about her.

My Thoughts: In this fifth book of the series, Ellison is her usual wise-cracking self who talks to her Mr. Coffee in the mornings and regularly resists the push and pull of her mother’s directives.

Her teenage daughter Grace is as feisty as ever, but she is not like the annoying teens we often see in books. She has a layer of maturity that can only come from being Ellison’s daughter.

Watching the Detectives is set in the 1970s, in St. Louis, Missouri, like the previous books in the series, but this book introduces some new elements: spousal abuse in the country club set, something Ellison was not expecting. Another new element: a detective partnering with Anarchy, an annoying man named Detective Peters. From the descriptions of him and his crumpled trench coat, he could have been a stand-in for Colombo. Except that he lacks that detective’s amiable approach.

As always, the red herrings kept me guessing until the very end…and then Detective Anarchy Jones rides in to save the day. 5 stars for this delightful and fun read.

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TUESDAY EXCERPTS: “THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER’S END”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a NetGalley e-ARC from Patti Callahan Henry:  The Bookshop at Water’s End, a story about the women who spent their childhood summers in a small southern town and discover it harbors secrets as lush as the marshes that surround it…

 

Intro:  (Prologue – Mimi the Bookseller)

We are defined by the moods and whims of a wild tidal river surrounding our small town, cradling us in its curved basin.  We don’t shape it; it shapes us.  The gray-blue water brings us what it will and only when it desires.  One sweltering, languid afternoon as I shelved dusty paperbacks, I looked up to see a ghost.  The girl was the spitting image of a woman I knew years ago—too many summers ago to count.  It could have been another whim of the river.

***

Teaser:  (Lainey McKay) Once Daisy had run off to find George and Piper, I tossed the letters back into the box.  I carried it all to the garage and then used my phone to video chat with Tim so he could see I was about to set up my studio (46%).

***

Synopsis:  Bonny Blankenship’s most treasured memories are of idyllic summers spent in Watersend, South Carolina, with her best friend, Lainey McKay. Amid the sand dunes and oak trees draped with Spanish moss, they swam and wished for happy-ever-afters, then escaped to the local bookshop to read and whisper in the glorious cool silence. Until the night that changed everything, the night that Lainey’s mother disappeared.

Now, in her early fifties, Bonny is desperate to clear her head after a tragic mistake threatens her career as an emergency room doctor, and her marriage crumbles around her. With her troubled teenage daughter, Piper, in tow, she goes back to the beloved river house, where she is soon joined by Lainey and her two young children. During lazy summer days and magical nights, they reunite with bookshop owner Mimi, who is tangled with the past and its mysteries. As the three women cling to a fragile peace, buried secrets and long ago loves return like the tide.

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

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REVIEW: GOOD ME, BAD ME, BY ALI LAND

Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.

My Thoughts: In Milly’s first person narrative voice, we see the world around her from her perspective, and it is a sad, emotionally devastating world.

Living in the foster home of a psychologist named Mike, one would think she would have the best care and treatment available to her, but early on I could tell that Mike had his own agenda, and he could also be clueless about his own family. His wife, Saskia, is remote and probably narcissistic, and his teenage daughter Phoebe is able to hide her feelings, her attitudes, and her behavior. Not just in a typical teenage way, but in a hurtful, pathological way.

Milly, on the other hand, proves to be adept at her own secret agenda, and as more time goes by, we see her behavior ratchet up to an extremely manipulative level as she hears her mother’s imaginary voice guiding her and reminding her that she has to make her own wishes come true.

What will Milly do to secure her future? How does Phoebe’s behavior backfire on her? And how, finally, does Milly have the last word? A chilling story, Good Me, Bad Me captured me and held me hostage for the duration. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: EVERY LAST LIE, BY MARY KUBICA

Description: Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon.

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit.

My Thoughts: Alternately narrated by Clara in the present and Nick “before,” Every Last Lie carries the reader on a fast-paced ride. Back and forth between the red herrings and the truth that seems well hidden, lurking beneath another sea of lies, I could not stop reading.

Why does Maisie have nightmares about a black car chasing them? Who is the “bad man” she sees in her dreams? Who keeps showing up in Clara’s back yard, leaving muddy footprints?

There are several seemingly threatening characters that might be perpetrators: the neighbor, Theo, who is aggressive and leaves bruises on his wife, and who has been in a shouting match with Nick. Then there is Connor, his once best friend and former partner, who shows up in the middle of the night to hit on Clara, and who had also been in a loud argument with Nick days before his death.

Surprisingly, there are some unexpected possibilities that show up at the last moment. And every time you turn around, another secret and lie is unveiled.

The strangeness of Nick’s story leads us through events until that fateful moment, and we think we have the answers…until a video shows up, revealing exactly what happened. But could it be true? Or is there more to the story?

I was shaken to the core by all the twists and turns, not wanting to miss a single sentence, just in case the final reveal would be hidden there, ready to jump out at me. A stunning read! 5 stars.***My e-ARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “EVERY LAST LIE”

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is an e-ARC from NetGalley from an author I enjoy:  Every Last Lie, by Mary Kubica, has a release date of June 27.  This newest book is an exhilarating thriller as a widow’s pursuit of the truth leads her to the darkest corners of the psyche. 

 

Beginning:  (Clara)

They say that death comes in threes.  First it was the man who lives across the street from my father and mother.   Mr. Baumgartner, dead from prostate cancer at the age of seventy-four.  And then it was a former high school classmate of mine, only twenty-eight years old, a wife and mother, dead from a pulmonary embolism—a blood clot that shot straight to her lungs.

And then it was Nick.

***

56%: (Clara)

Theo and Nick have never liked each other much, and yet it seems completely ludicrous that he called the police on Nick, and we didn’t know.  Or maybe Nick did know, and only I didn’t know, I think, wondering why in the world Nick wouldn’t tell me if a neighbor had phoned in a complaint to the police about him.

***

Synopsis:  Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon.

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit.

Told in the alternating perspectives of Clara’s investigation and Nick’s last months leading up to the crash, master of suspense Mary Kubica weaves her most chilling thriller to date—one that explores the dark recesses of a mind plagued by grief and shows that some secrets might be better left buried.

***

I am excited about reading this newest book from Kubica.  What do you think, based on the synopsis and the excerpts?  Would you keep reading?

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