REVIEW: SAFE WITH ME, BY AMY HATVANY

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When Hannah decides that, after a failed relationship, she should pursue her desire for children on her own, she uses a sperm donor and gives birth to Emily, the daughter who is everything she has ever wanted in a family.

But in one pivotal moment, twelve-year-old Emily is killed—struck by a car in front of their house. Submerged in grief, Hannah at first rejects the idea of donating Emily’s organs, but then changes her mind.

Now, a year later, she is still struggling with her grief and loss. She has moved from the Seattle home she shared with her daughter to an apartment over the new salon she is renovating. Her one friend and partner, Sophie, continues to manage the downtown salon.

Then one day, a woman and her teenaged daughter walk into the newly opened salon that Hannah owns, and she feels an instant connection to Olivia and Maddie. How will Hannah discover just what binds them together? And as Hannah and Olivia grow closer, what dirty secrets does Hannah discover are hiding behind the doors of the upscale home where Olivia, Maddie, and her husband James live? What will finally bring the truth to light?

Narrated from Hannah’s, Olivia’s, and Maddie’s perspective, Safe with Me: A Novel was an emotionally engaging read that had me eagerly turning pages. While the coincidences of the story seemed a bit convenient, I absolutely loved the tale anyway, hoping against hope that there would be a satisfactory resolution. Five stars.

A WOMAN REDEFINED BY HER CHOICES — A REVIEW

As a long time fan of all things Kennedy, I was eager to read Jackie After O: One Remarkable Year When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Defied Expectations and Rediscovered Her Dreams, hoping for more information than I had already gleaned from other sources.

While there were additional tidbits about the “one remarkable year when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis defied expectations and rediscovered her dreams,” there were also numerous scenes that felt like regurgitated facts from all the other stories I have read.

Perhaps these facts were included to help set this one year in a context, which is definitely understandable.

I did enjoy this excerpt that summed up the year:

“…chronic searching can take you around the world, but finding home within oneself is the most rewarding journey. And that’s what Jackie did in 1975. She had even begun to lay plans for a retreat that she could truly call her own–not at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, or on Onassis’s island in the Aegean, but a tract of land she acquired on Martha’s Vineyard, with the vast Atlantic defining the contours of her own private beach.”

Despite the repetition of material, I enjoyed this story of a woman previously defined by the men in her life who had finally carved out her own identity as a person.

However, some rather glaring errors throughout the text, such as referring to the assassination of JFK as occurring on 11/23/63 (instead of 11/22/63) and a few other editing mistakes led to granting this book three stars only. Read it for any information you might glean as a fan, but be wary that other facts could be in error as well.

ACCIDENTAL MOMENTS THAT RIP APART LIVES — A REVIEW

Who could predict that on such a seductively beautiful June day, the worst would happen? Filled with a secret tucked away and causing her heart to brim over, Maura Corrigan could never have known that, before day’s end, her life would change in unimaginable ways.

As we watch the events unfold, our hearts catch, knowing what lies ahead and unable to avert the disaster.

A death in the family is probably the most shattering event in life, and its after effects continue to ripple outward for months and years afterwards. Testing the ties that bind, sometimes the fragile connections rip apart.

Maura’s secrets and the guilt she feels will exacerbate the pain and loss and ultimately will delay the healing process. Before she can move on, she must confront what lies within; she must look to her marriage partner and reach out, despite their issues; and finally, she might decide that, to spare her beloved, the secrets must stay hidden.

Margaret and Roger Munson, Maura’s parents, are also struck by the pain and grief, and while trying to help Maura, must deal with their own marital strains. Roger’s career trajectory seems to have stalled, and Margaret’s role as a help meet is tested by Roger’s errors in judgment.

I liked these thoughts at the end of Those We Love Most:

“…the loss had, in the end, become their terrible unifier, the thing that had strengthened and cauterized them.”

Looking at pain and loss as a means to finally heal leaves the stricken with a ray of hope. Just as the richly detailed characters left me, as a reader, feeling as though I had felt some of their pain and come to know the issues with which they struggled.

Sometimes the story bogged down with detail and angst, but in general, this four star read kept me moving along and hoping for these characters to find their way.

A LONG JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF & LOSS — A REVIEW

Filled with themes of struggle, loss, and triumph, Rain portrays a family through the decades. From the 1960s to the mid-2000s, this journey of one family living in rural Australia is a testament to survival in the face of extremes.

A fire in the mill owned by the Wallin family is only the beginning of what seems like a trail of grief. The theme of rain peppers the pages, too; not just the seasonal rains that bring devastation but the symbolic rain of grief and loss.

But the rains can also remind us of other things, as in this excerpt:

 

 

 

 

 

(Carla, the third generation daughter is contemplating the rain). “I am waiting for the rain to pass so I can hike again through the bush—I go there in search of my guide. There is something about the rain. I have always found it comforting. It makes me feel warm even when it is cold. I love the way it smells, especially the way the bush smells after the rain. I love the way it tastes and I love the way it feels on my skin. Rain is life—everything grows from it….”

When I chose this family saga, I expected something quite different. I enjoyed the symbolism, the struggles, and the persistence of the characters despite the tragedies that seemed to flank them. Perhaps even because of the tragedies. But parts of the story seemed bogged down by a tendency toward “chronicling” the lives of the characters rather than showing them through their interactions and through dialogue.

I did care about what happened to them, but at times, I felt frustrated by the detached tone of the author. I would still recommend this book to those who enjoy family stories. My rating is 3.5 stars.

THE COST OF FAMILY SECRETS — A REVIEW

Loss presents itself in its many forms throughout this portrait of a family: the Ryries, who live in Nyack, NY, and seemingly live ordinary lives.

When their third child is born anencephalic, his death is a certainty. In fact, he lives for fifty-seven hours.

Then the family shifts into everyday life, with scarcely a blink, and their separate grief unfolds in symptomatic ways that reveal the testing of the bonds that connect them.

The Grief of Others is narrated in alternating perspectives, moving back and forth between the past and present. In the beginning, we see the ten-year-old daughter Biscuit struggling with her own ritualistic way of dealing with what has happened.

Paul, the thirteen-year-old, is silently suffering while being brutally bullied by classmates.

And John and Ricky, the parents, move along parallel pathways, seldom connecting at all, until it is soon apparent that the events of loss were not the trigger for their disintegrating marriage, but the instrument that casts a spotlight upon what is wrong in their relationship. Secrets, betrayals, and lies are all gradually revealed as the reader turns the pages.

A wild card in this tragic family portrait is Jess, John’s daughter from a youthful relationship; her unexpected appearance could tip the fragile balance between them all. She is in her early twenties and has only spent time with the Ryries once before, on a vacation to the family cabin when she was in her early teens.

Will Jess’s needs somehow breathe life into the disintegrating family? Will her presence somehow bring the family together? Or will her individual set of lies and secrets cast the final stone on the funeral pyre that seemingly defines the family group?

This story was beautifully crafted and the characterizations were rich and multilayered, lending an authenticity to the drama as it played out, showing the reader that families are often comprised of individuals living parallel existences until something or someone helps shift the balance to bring about a kind of catharsis.

I recommend this story for anyone who wants to understand the nature of grief, and its effect on individuals and on the family. Four stars. I deducted a star for one missing ingredient: emotion.