REVIEW: INVISIBLE ELLEN, BY SHARI SHATTUCK

18693626Ellen Homes lives life on the sidelines. Overweight and with a scar on her face, she not only feels invisible, but she sets up her life to reinforce that feeling. She works nights, cleaning, at Costco; she lives in a studio apartment where she can view all of her neighbors and keeps notes on their activities; and she is afraid to voice her needs. She learned invisibility early in her life in a series of foster homes, after being abandoned by her abusive mother.

Then one day, she observes a blind woman on the bus: someone who is not afraid to ask her for help in finding her stop. And captivated, Ellen follows her off the bus, and serendipitously, sees three men attack the woman and grab her purse. Suddenly, Ellen finds herself in an unlikely position. She does something….by tripping the runaway purse snatcher and further incapacitating him by stepping hard on his foot.

What begins as an ordinary Good Samaritan moment changes everything about Ellen’s life. Temerity, the blind girl, swoops in and includes Ellen. Invites her to dinner, brings her along on other good deeds…and soon Ellen is involved.

What other serendipitous moments bring Ellen into further involvement in helping others and changing her outlook? How will Ellen, Temerity, and Temerity’s brother Justice team up to bring a halt to a crime?

Invisible Ellen is a captivating story of how life can change and turn in a whole new direction by one act. And how one act can lead to more, until someone on the sidelines feels needed. How someone invisible can truly become a participant in life instead of simply an observer. Four stars.

SERENDIPITOUS CHANGE: A BREATH OF FRESH AIR — A REVIEW

3287Sarah Moon is a cartoonist, a wife, and a would-be mother. She thinks she has the perfect life, but while undergoing fertility treatments to achieve that dream of motherhood, she discovers that all is not as perfect as she’d believed. She finds her husband Jack in bed with another woman.

Fleeing from her life in Chicago, she returns home to Marin County, where she grew up as the daughter of an oyster farmer. In a place where she was the sarcastic and dorky artist, a place that reminds her of her social awkwardness. But the place she had shunned suddenly promises to be just what she needs.

And an old crush from high school, Will Bonner, is turning out to be her best friend. He is the Captain of the fire department, focused intermittently on a series of arson conflagrations that simmer like an undercurrent beneath the surface of the unfolding romance between Sarah and Will. Can Will and Sarah be more than friends? Will an unexpected pregnancy that had resulted from that last fertility treatment further complicate her life, or bring her just what she needs? And what explosive events will unfurl, revealing dark secrets beneath the surface of all their lives?

Just Breathe is one of those stories that unfolds in some predictable ways, but also offers a glimpse of realistic characters, beautiful settings, some intense drama, and that feel-good kind of life we all crave. Showing us the struggles two people must overcome resonated with me; and the challenge of Aurora, Will’s adolescent stepdaughter, complicated the budding romance between Sarah and Will, even as her presence added extra layers of complexity to the tale. Four stars.

THE “POSITIVE STONES” OF SORROW — A REVIEW

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The horrific and gruesome murder spree in August 1969, beginning with five people, including Sharon Tate, will forever taint a time—the sixties—and cast a legacy of loss and pain upon the generations that followed for the families affected: first the Tates, and then the LaBiancas, who were murdered the following day.

But Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice is primarily the story of one family, the Tates, and is told in the voices of Patti Tate, Sharon Tate’s sister; her mother Doris; and Patti’s daughter Brie. From their perspectives, we learn a bit about what life was like for them…after.

The manuscript, intended to be Patti’s autobiography, was finished after her death by Alisa Statman, her friend, along with Brie Tate. Statman also drew upon material from interviews, journals, and filled in the gaps with her personal interpretations.

I began this book believing that I would learn more about the Tate family and how they suffered afterwards. And I did learn that. But I was surprised by how much I also learned about the various aspects of the prison system in California during the time period following the murders, and how changes in the law forced the Tates—beginning with Doris, who was the strongest advocate—to actively petition and speak out against the potential release of these gruesome murderers to parole, after their death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

The toll taken on Doris and Patti in the aftermath must have greatly contributed to their untimely deaths. Definitely their experiences affected the family members for all time. But, as Brie has stated in the final chapter:

“Sorrow may seem a pitiful emotion, yet I am blessed by it. For it has left me a legacy of love, determination, and courage handed down by my mother and my grandparents before her. They taught me that we learn our greatest lessons through hardship. And through that hardship, they taught me not about fear and retribution, but about giving.”

To turn the pain and sorrow into “positive stones” to pay forward, Brie Tate’s legacy is thus not only about pain and loss but about the blessings that accrue from positive action.

 
The book was long and detailed, and at times, wore me down with all the information, some of it quite grisly, but in the end, I felt renewed and as if I could take away something worthwhile from the task. Four stars.