REVIEW: LIFELINES, BY HEIDI DIEHL

 

It’s 1971 when Louise leaves Oregon for Düsseldorf, a city grappling with its nation’s horrific recent history, to study art. Soon she’s embroiled in a scene dramatically different from the one at home, thanks in large part to Dieter, a mercurial musician. Their romance ignites quickly, but life gets in the way: an unplanned pregnancy, hasty marriage, the tense balance of their creative ambitions, and—finally, fatally—a family secret that shatters Dieter, and drives Louise home.

But in 2008 she’s headed to Dieter’s mother’s funeral. She never returned to Germany, and has since remarried, had another daughter, and built a life in Oregon. As she flies into the heart of her past, she reckons with the choices she made, and the ones she didn’t, just as her family—current and former—must consider how Louise’s life has shaped their own, for better and for worse.

 

 

My Thoughts: Lifelines opens with Louise ready to board a plane for Germany to attend her former mother-in-law’s funeral. Her daughter Elke has begged for her to attend.

In a sweeping style that takes us back and forth in time, we come to know these characters, with all their flaws and foibles. I enjoyed the peek back into the 1970s, with the cultural issues present in Germany heightened by the world known by Louise and Dieter…and then we see what happens when Louise returns to Oregon and meets Richard, who becomes her second husband. There is a push and pull between Louise, Dieter, and Richard as they struggle to set aside their past lives and move on.

In the present, Elke and Margot, children of the primary characters, show us how they try to find their way while attempting to understand what happened between their parents in the past. A saga that spotlights a time and its issues. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: KEEPING LUCY, BY T. GREENWOOD

 

Dover, Massachusetts, 1969. Ginny Richardson’s heart was torn open when her baby girl, Lucy, born with Down Syndrome, was taken from her. Under pressure from his powerful family, her husband, Ab, sent Lucy away to Willowridge, a special school for the “feeble-minded.” Ab tried to convince Ginny it was for the best. That they should grieve for their daughter as though she were dead. That they should try to move on.

But two years later, when Ginny’s best friend, Marsha, shows her a series of articles exposing Willowridge as a hell-on-earth–its squalid hallways filled with neglected children–she knows she can’t leave her daughter there. With Ginny’s six-year-old son in tow, Ginny and Marsha drive to the school to see Lucy for themselves. What they find sets their course on a heart-racing journey across state lines—turning Ginny into a fugitive.

For the first time, Ginny must test her own strength and face the world head-on as she fights Ab and his domineering father for the right to keep Lucy. Racing from Massachusetts to the beaches of Atlantic City, through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to a roadside mermaid show in Florida, Keeping Lucy is a searing portrait of just how far a mother’s love can take her.

My Thoughts: Set in the 1960s and 70s, in a time when attitudes toward special needs were uninformed and harsh, a young mother suffers a great loss at the hands of her own husband and father-in-law.

Striving to accept the loss of her daughter, Ginny tries to cope. But the news of the scandalous neglect at the supposedly “best place” for her daughter took her on a journey to discover the truth and take a stand with the powerful men in her family.

Throughout Keeping Lucy, I rooted for Ginny and Lucy, and wanted to shout for joy at each step forward that she took. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: EMILY, GONE, BY BETTE LEE CROSBY

 

 

1971:  When a music festival rolls through the sleepy town of Hesterville, Georgia, the Dixon family’s lives are forever changed. On the final night, a storm muffles the sound of the blaring music, and Rachel tucks her baby into bed before falling into a deep sleep. So deep, she doesn’t hear the kitchen door opening. When she and her husband wake up in the morning, the crib is empty. Emily is gone.

Vicki Robart is one of the thousands at the festival, but she’s not feeling the music. She’s feeling the emptiness over the loss of her own baby several months before. When she leaves the festival and is faced with an opportunity to fill that void, she is driven to an act of desperation that will forever bind the lives of three women.

When the truth of what actually happened that fateful night is finally exposed, shattering the lives they’ve built, will they be able to pick up the pieces to put their families back together again?

My Thoughts: Emily, Gone, was a gripping tale of loss that kept this reader on the edge of my seat. We follow the lives of the parents whose child has been kidnapped alongside the alternating narrative of the broken characters whose actions have brought such tragedy, and we come to feel compassion for each of them.

The story is one that could conclude any number of ways, but until the very end, you’re not sure what will happen to the characters. Could there be a satisfying ending, or will the pain be continuous?

I did like how the intricate pathways almost crossed several times along the way, and then in a somewhat serendipitous coming together of events, everything falls into place. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: DAISY JONES & THE SIX, BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID

 

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

 

My Thoughts: There was something serendipitous about the joining of Billy Dunne and his band together with Daisy Jones, a Hollywood girl who seems undisciplined, but who has the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll coming out of her pores.

Mixing these two performers had its problems…they each wanted to do everything their own way. How they managed to make it all work was interesting. But would they keep going indefinitely, or would their basic differences split them apart?

Reading the tale of how the band came together, and how they made it all work—for a while—was fascinating, but also a little challenging, as the writing style of a series of interviews felt more like a play and I had to keep checking to see whose narrative I was reading. The flow felt awkward, but I kept going because the story was one I wanted to follow. I love the 70s and the music from that time.

Toward the end of Daisy Jones and the Six, the story smoothed out for me and I enjoyed discovering what happened to the band and its members. 4.0 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE DREAM DAUGHTER, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

 

When Carly Sears, a young woman widowed by the Vietnam War, receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970, and she is told that nothing can be done to help her child. But her brother-in-law, a physicist with a mysterious past, tells her that perhaps there is a way to save her baby. What he suggests is something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Carly has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage she never knew existed. Something that will mean an unimaginable leap of faith on Carly’s part.

And all for the love of her unborn child.

The Dream Daughter is a rich, genre-spanning, breathtaking novel about one mother’s quest to save her child, unite her family, and believe in the unbelievable. Diane Chamberlain pushes the boundaries of faith and science to deliver a novel that you will never forget.

 

My Thoughts: While I have not read many books involving time travel, Diane Chamberlain’s books always capture me, so The Dream Daughter was definitely one for me.

Having lived in the 1970s, during and after the Vietnam War, I could relate to Carly and her issues, especially her concern about her brother-in-law Hunter’s idea to “send her” to 2001.

In 2001, the surgery for her child was a success, but several setbacks afterwards made it impossible for Carly to travel back to 1970 with her daughter. So she went alone.

From this point on, everything fell apart and turned out completely wrong for Carly. Searching for her daughter and trying to make up for the errors that followed kept me intrigued until the very end.

Some strange and unexpected events transpired, and for those who find the idea of time travel impossible to wrap their heads around, everything might seem unlikely. How did the September 11, 2001 date complicate events for Carly and her daughter? Would she find a way to fill in the years that eluded her?

By this point, I was held captive by each page, wondering how or if Carly and her dream daughter would connect again. An intense story that will keep me pondering the events. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE GREAT ALONE, BY KRISTIN HANNAH

 

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

My Thoughts: I love the setting and the era in which the story begins.  It takes me back to what was happening in my life in the 1970s.  The Vietnam War, protesters, Nixon and Watergate…and a feeling of a country divided. Not that different from the world today.

Ernt Allbright is the MC, who, along with his wife Cora and daughter Leni, hopes to find a new life in Alaska.  Ernt’s experiences as a POW in Vietnam have left him with nightmares, flashbacks, and rage.  A lot of rage.

Long winters in Alaska bring out his worst emotions…what will happen to his family in the isolated “great alone”?

Leni’s third person narrative kept me thoroughly engaged, and I felt such empathy for her experiences, having grown up in a family with domestic violence and rage. A family that relished its “outsider” status.

Leni’s fear that her father would eventually kill her mother held me by the throat, as I watched the intensity grow. Her friendship with Matthew opens up the world for her, but her father’s hatred of his family enhances the danger. Will Leni find a way to escape? What will need to happen before she can find the peace she craves?

A beautiful saga of an unpredictable wilderness and the people who brought a sense of belonging to Leni, The Great Alone spanned decades, and left me feeling the beauty of the land and the people who had found their place there. 5 stars.


***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

REVIEW: COLD AS ICE, BY JULIE MULHERN

 

Ellison Russell’s life resembles a rollercoaster ride. And rollercoasters make her ill. Her daughter Grace has a crush on a boy Ellison doesn’t trust and she’s taken to hosting wild parties when Ellison goes out for the evening. Worse, the bank which represents Grace’s inheritance from her father may be in trouble.

When a meeting with the chef at the country club leads to the discovery of a body, Ellison can’t afford cold feet. She must save the bank, find the killer, and convince Grace (and herself) that powerful women don’t need men to rescue them.

My Thoughts: The pages turn rapidly in Cold as Ice, and, as always, I am swept up into Ellison’s world of 1974 Kansas City, Missouri. The Country Club set figures into this new mystery, just as the ones before, and we meet some characters who might not have been in previous books, but they are all connected somehow to Ellison and to her mother Frances Walford.

Ellison and her mother have their issues, but in the end, they have each other’s back…but sometimes glare at each other and make choices that conflict.

Grace, Ellison’s teen, is as snippy and eye-rolling as ever, but she does surprise occasionally by stepping in and helping out.

Anarchy Jones, the detective who always seems to appear at the right time, is even more drawn to Ellison in this outing…but as the pages turn, he is more and more frustrated with her inability to stay out of his latest investigation. She is determined to save the day herself and not depend on a man, and he is determined to be the one to solve the case and her problems.

What will happen when their goals clash? Will they go their separate ways? Will there be anything for the two of them afterwards?

I loved this book…and enjoyed Ellison’s quirks: chatting with her Mr. Coffee; mixing it up with all the suspects in the case; and taking risks that could change everything in her life. Definitely 5 stars for me.

***

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.

***

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.

***

REVIEW: AMERICAN HEIRESS, BY JEFFREY TOOBIN

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She seemed to be living an idyllic life in the early 1970s. But Patricia Campbell Hearst apparently had a lot of unresolved issues: about her parents, Randolph and Catherine Campbell Hearst, their expectations, and even about her fiancé, Steven Weed, with whom she had been living in an ordinary Berkeley apartment while she attended classes.

But everything changed for her on February 4, 1974, a quiet Monday evening at home. A knock on the door, a request for use of the phone, and then a ragtag group filled the room, tying them up, and ultimately grabbing Patricia. Steven took off on foot. I thought: coward!

When I first heard about these events, I was living my own ordinary life, but with an interest in the counter-culture, even though I was working at a conventional social work job. But I was definitely intrigued by the events presented on the news.

In American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, Jeffrey Toobin has presented a compilation of facts obtained through hundreds of interviews and thousands of previously secret documents. His tome “highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown.”

Toobin’s writing style was engaging enough to be a fictional piece, with intensity rising as the events unfolded. Even as I had kept up with many of the events, this book reveals much that was unknown to the general public.

After the early days in a Daly City closet, blindfolded, Patricia (Patty) appeared to have “graduated” to more freedom within the house, free of the blindfold, and with the closet door open. Soon she was conversing with her captors: Donald DeFreeze (Cinque), Bill and Emily Harris, Nancy Ling Perry, Willy Wolfe (Cujo), and Camilla Hall. Others would come in and out of the group and exist on the fringes. They called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army, and ended their “communiques” with the signature words: “death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people.”

Their initial demands included a massive food giveaway which turned out to be problematic at times, and did nothing to bring about Patty’s release.

Throughout the two-year life on the run, there were bank robberies, shootings, carjackings, bombings, and a constant moving from one hovel to another, from SF to LA to Sacramento, and even eventually to a farm in Pennsylvania. But very early on, Patty seemed to have taken on the mantra of her captors, even the moniker of Tania, and identified herself as part of the group.

Then something changed after her arrest and incarceration. After her initial fist raising and her announcement of her occupation as “urban guerrilla,” Patty seemed to become subdued, more conventional, and her rhetoric morphed back to that of the American Heiress persona.

After the trial, the conviction, the commuted sentence…and her new life as Mrs. Bernie Shaw (she married her police bodyguard), we are left with questions…still. Was Patty brainwashed, or had she simply decided to take on whatever role served her best? Who was Patty Hearst, and how did she so quickly, like a chameleon, become whatever she needed to be? Only she knows for sure…or maybe not. A fascinating story. 5 stars.

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