Jenna, a single mom, asks her older sister Betsy to watch her children while she attends an artist retreat to reconnect with photography. Despite her infertility issues and resulting melancholy (unbeknownst to Jenna), Betsy agrees, as she’s always been a mother figure to her unpredictable sibling. Both sisters find themselves outside their comfort zones and in turn, find their way back to each other, all this while waiting for a hurricane to hit.
Denton portrays a complex sister relationship of unspoken jealousies, fears, and parental love, and how a challenging economy affects marriage and livelihood, as Betsy supplements her husband’s dairy farm with educational tours. There’s a subtle lesson in this novel to follow your heart and take responsibility for your talent, to be true to yourself. The only taint is the author’s apparent expectation of her readership all being Christian, so that the story sometimes feels preachy and insular. It doesn’t seem credible for an infertility specialist to advise a couple to pray for a natural pregnancy after a failed treatment. This is a small blemish on a wonderful story of sisterhood and authenticity. I was fortunate to receive this lovely novel through NetGalley.
Amber comes to from a coma, but realizes that she is not awake, only aware. While in her hospital bed, she hears her husband and sister discuss mysterious happenings related to her car accident. Flashbacks to a week before bring the reader up to date slowly through an unreliable narrator. Journal entries from childhood fill in blanks and spew a haze of ambiguity regarding the sisters, until the reader is delightfully confused and enlightened repeatedly, like the proverbial roller coaster ride. Feeney plops out a big, ole’ shocker at the end—twice!—that makes the reader go, “Hmm…” It’s a fun read and worth the time to try to figure out what’s going on between the sisters, and if anyone is trustworthy, or if all of them are constantly scheming. The journal is brilliantly done, without revealing anything. Much murder and mayhem ensue, beyond the family, a deliciously wicked family. I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy from the publisher of this fantastic novel.
Ellis and Michael begin a lifelong friendship after Michael’s mother dies and he comes to live with his grandmother Mabel, both boys sharing the affection of Mabel and Ellis’ mother Dora. The delicacy of their first love romance shatters as Ellis yields to society’s mores after a turning point in France, and even Michael understands that Annie is “the one.” Loving Annie draws Michael into their orbit, expanding her idea of family to include him and his grandmother. Although readers are familiar with the horrific stories of gay men succumbing to AIDS, Winman carefully portrays Michael’s unique perspective on his friends’ deaths—he returns to France where he grieves for all that he’s lost in his life. The first half of the book focuses on Ellis after all of his losses leave him off-kilter, wondering what to do with himself. The second half flashes back through Michael’s journals, a candid look at a man whose fulfilled expectations disappoint. This is a gorgeous story of how love grows to include those who might be estranged by circumstances. I was fortunate to receive a copy through a Goodreads giveaway.
Singing woke Anthony each morning. He went to bed anticipating the morning serenade. Of course it was in Irish, so he didn’t catch all the words, but the clear voice of his wife Aisling urged him from bed with a yearning to touch her and hug her and kiss her and call her his precious. Life began for him when he saw ash-blond Aisling working in a public house on his visit to Ireland to meet long-lost cousins found through his ancestral investigation. One of the cousins knew her name, but that was all. Not even a summer romance; no words exchanged, only a smile that stopped the world for Anthony.
He returned to the village of his cousins as a Christmas gift to himself. He went to the public house each evening for supper. Until she spoke more than business with him. He met her parents, promising them to care for her until the end of his days, promising as many trips home for her as possible. Aisling came home with him to Connecticut the following summer, after an Irish wedding in her hometown, which all of his cousins attended.
Within a year of marriage, Anthony was working from home, while Aisling attended college to become a kindergarten teacher. In October, she became pregnant. In December, she was no longer pregnant, returning to school hollow-eyed and trembling, but looking forward to the internship at a nearby elementary school in the spring.
The next autumn, the second baby died. Grief carried over from the first child, her sorrow sung out to the world. By the end of spring, Aisling was ready to try again. Alas, she could not bring a child to life. Unable to console his wife, Anthony brought her mother to Connecticut. Mama made no difference, as Aisling weakened, listless, refusing to eat. True melancholy ate her from the inside out. Her kindergarten class missed their student teacher. The family of every child attended her funeral.
Between the school and Anthony’s home is a park where the children claim they hear singing, but not in words. They don’t know Aisling speaks Irish. This is why Anthony brings his work to the park. He visits the same bench every single day, listening to Aisling sing until her voice becomes wind.
After the death of his son, Judge Coleman uses his influence and connections to foster and adopt 9-year-old African-American Anton, convincing his mother Anton is happier with the Colemans. She’d been kidnapped and drugged by her dealer, leaving Anton locked in their apartment during a heat wave with little food, until he escaped a week later, unaware of his mother’s whereabouts. Judge Coleman’s position and wealth boost Anton up through the ranks of politics, with Anton choosing to have no contact with a mother he believes rejected him. The secrets seep out eventually, damaging the Coleman’s marriage and Anton’s relationships with all of his parents, as Anton desperately tries to determine his identity.
The crux of the story is that a black mother’s son is stolen from her by a white man, whiffs of slavery nipping at her heels. As Umrigar presents white privilege and systemic racism within the judicial system, she attempts to garner sympathy for a man in a powerful position based on the loss of his son and his emotional distress debating his desire to have a child and the ethical choice to keep a family together. He chooses poorly and everyone struggles with his decision.
Blackbird House witnesses unusual love stories throughout its lifetime, from the young wife waiting for her husband to return from the sea to the orphaned young woman who had no home coming to live with the disfigured man who believed he would never feel the warmth of a woman. Often the yearning is only fulfilled when it can later refuse to be acknowledged. The townspeople care for the inhabitants of the isolated home.
The characters’ circumstances are nearly as tangible as the people themselves and Hoffman has carefully shown these influences in every interaction. Each resident connects somehow with previous owners of the house, often as a relation, but always in spirit, sharing the strength to live in a harsh environment. The gorgeous prose draws the reader into the stories easily.
Maddie and Ellis are trapped by money—his family’s—while a second world war rages in Europe, as he cannot serve in the war due to a medical condition. When his father kicks them out of his family home for their unseemly behavior, Ellis determines to win back his love by redeeming the family name from his father’s loutish attempt to prove the Loch Ness monster. In Scotland, Maddie is alienated by her husband, whose loyalty is to his best friend and their travel companion Hank. She discovers more about her marriage and their friendship than Ellis does about Nessie, and she begins to question everything about her life, and even her husband’s “medical condition.” As Ellis and Hank display boorish behavior toward the locals, Maddie finds comfort in their compassion for her. She ends up caring for an injured employee of their inn, endearing herself to the innkeeper and his employees.
This story flows well, with characters who retain their integrity, as allies shift and secrets come to light. Gruen represents the complexities of emotions and relationships, with betrayals and revelations as catalysts. Class distinction in all its petty elitism is laid out perfectly, emitting its fear and paranoia. In the end, a love story emerges like a butterfly.
Aubrey is alone, with only her position as psychic consultant to law enforcement to distract her from the fact that her husband Levi has taken their son away in the hope that he can somehow circumvent the inherited psychic ability unfolding in frightening ways in their only child. As Levi reports on a mysterious murder connected to a crime family, Aubrey reconnects with Zeke, her first love, who visits her unexpectedly, and has always understood her psychic power better than anyone, perhaps even her spouse. Levi suspects her friend is involved in the homicide, but Aubrey knows better, as their jobs lead them to the same crime. Spinella keeps the reader guessing about Zeke’s motives and actions. When their son is kidnapped, Levi questions Aubrey about Zeke, but she maintains focus, and they reunite to save him.
The Ghost Gifts series presents ghosts as an actuality, invisible to all but a few. Complex characters play out complicated dynamics with psychic ability at the core of the conflict. Spinella carefully weaves it into the story as one more thing to deal with in the life of Aubrey and her family. She is considered a paranormal romance writer; however, her stories are fantastic mystery thrillers, as well as unique ghost stories.
Laura Spinella gifted me an autographed copy in a giveaway and I love it!
Leni doesn’t understand the love that binds her mother in marriage to a man suffering from PTSD. Hannah’s sympathetic view of a Vietnam War POW is heartrending as he struggles to assimilate back into a normal life in Seattle. After inheriting a cabin in a small town, he decides to take his family to Alaska to avoid the government and live off the grid. Kristin Hannah is familiar with the harsh wilderness of Alaska, and she depicts well the lifestyle of those who choose to live where one mistake can cost you your life. All characters are well developed and their reasons for living in such isolation are hinted at and sometimes told outright. The reader can feel the lure of the landscape and the wildlife, and the pragmatic nature of small town Alaska, where everyone takes care of even the most resistant newcomer. As Leni comes of age and finds herself falling for her classmate and friend, her father’s paranoia escalates to dangerous heights for his family. This is when Leni discovers her mother’s breaking point, and eventually her own need for the kind of freedom that Alaska offers. Leni’s story is one of many that show how living outside the mainstream can become a lifestyle choice, a necessity for the soul. Her parents are not unusual in their challenge to maintain a marriage in the face of one partner’s personal demons. When external influences exacerbate those demons, the other partner finds the limit to the relationship.
This is a gorgeous novel of Alaska, a setting that comes across as a main character in the story, ever present, a big personality.
I’m thankful to have received a digital ARC of this wonderful story through NetGalley.
Patricia sacrifices her social life and romance to care for her mother, whom everyone assumes is going through “the change.” Patty knows better, but doesn’t know how to help her mother find herself after accommodating her husband their entire marriage. As she and her siblings come of age, they move on and away from their parents, becoming distinctly different individuals who come together in the end for Patty’s wedding. Told in short story form, going back generations, the women in Patty’s ancestry lay a foundation of accommodation and depression that she is determined to escape. The women in these stories are strong, but historical convention keeps them in check, and they don’t have the tools to continually fight social mores of gender expectations. The writing flows so well that the stories lead right into each other, though they can, and have (and won prizes), stand alone. Together, they show the pattern repeated by each generation of women in choosing partners to “save” them from their families, judging poorly based on immediate escape. That they stay with their ill choices is more a matter of their time in history, as shown by Patty’s mother being unable to get a driver’s license without her husband’s or father’s permission.
The tales in this book depict would-be heroines succumbing the constraints of patriarchal society, straining to be free. That Patty’s father has a “heart attack” when her mother announces that she is leaving him will be familiar to many women. Thus she stays out of obligation, a heart-rending decision.