Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Summer Girls

The Summer Girls by Mary Alice Monroe

Summer has officially arrived. Time for a beach read! So, so many authors from which to choose, but let's start with Monroe's newest release. If you have read any of her previous works, you know that she is an active conservationist-an expert in the many facets of sea turtles. Once again, Monroe's love of ocean creatures is at the center of this story-this time an astonishing dolphin that helps to heal old wounds.

Eighty-year-old Marietta Muir (Mamaw) invites her three granddaughters to spend the whole summer at the  ancestral home, Sea Breeze, located in South Carolina's Lowcountry near Charleston. Armed with a hidden agenda, she longs for the days when the girls spent carefree days on the beaches together years ago.  First to arrive is Carson from L.A.-an unemployed photographer, broke, restless and eager to accept the invitation. Dora, the eldest, finds her life in turmoil. Once a beautiful woman,  her husband, Cal, has left their spacious Victorian home unable to deal with their son Nate's autism. Harper then arrives from New York City. The youngest sister is a delicate beauty controlled by overbearing Georgiana. Born to three different mothers, the girls shared the same father, Parker, Marietta's deceased son. Over-indulged, irresponsible, and an alcoholic, Marietta fears that the sins of her son will torment his daughters' lives forever.

This is the first book of a trilogy, focusing on Carson. Her love of the ocean leads to her encounter with an amazing dolphin. Marine biologist, Blake, becomes a love interest. This airy, light, breezy plot also offers the reader an insight into the world of autism and how an incredible ocean mammal opens up all sorts of possibilities in a child's life. Soon you realize that sisterhood is complex, secrets perhaps should stay hidden, and forgiveness is easier said  than done. Anticipation of the next two books takes hold and you just might learn some interesting facts along the way.

Relax, close your eyes, feel the sea spray, and enjoy this book oozing Southern charm.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

In 2008, Pulitzer Prize Winner Strout wrote this powerful novel. You may recognize the author's name from her most recent book  The Burgess Boys.  This book is a collection of thirteen narratives, all revolving around one central character, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, living in picturesque Crosby, Maine.

Easy to envision Olive-a large, out-spoken, imposing woman who has great difficulty accepting the changes in her small town and the world in general.  So many sides to Olive-patient, understanding, vulnerable, yet stern and judgmental towards those she loves the most. At times you will hate her and find her actions difficult to tolerate. Then again you may feel her pain and loneliness.  In each chapter you will meet the townspeople of Crosby, and what a motley, troubled group they are. Henry is Olive's loyal, long-suffering husband. Adult son Christopher is distant and removed. He  blames his mother for his tyrannical upbringing. There is a pianist playing night after night in smoky lounges, haunted by a past love. Meet Kevin, intent on ending it all, finding hope at the most unlikely moment. Chapter after chapter continues to introduce the reader to a myriad of characters with hidden secrets, conflicts, emotional upheaval, yet all possess the will to survive.

While reading this book, I experienced highs and lows. Some of the themes may or may not engage you. However, Olive will linger in your memory as an enduring  woman who comes to realize a deeper understanding of herself.

Bet you don't forget her.....      

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Kathryn Stockett wrote an immensely popular novel called The Help, later adapted into an Academy Award winning film. For those of you who enjoyed either the book or the movie, Grissom's debut novel will keep you captivated.  Find the answers to the gut-wrenching prologue... 

Lavinia is a seven-year-old orphan from Ireland who arrives as an indentured slave on the steps of a tobacco plantation. It is determined that she will work and live under the direction of the slaves of the kitchen house not far from the spacious, elegant big house. Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter, accepts her role as caregiver and mentor to the frightened child. As time passes, Lavinia bonds with her new adopted family, even though she is constantly aware of her  own skin color. It becomes increasingly difficult for her to straddle both worlds, especially when the opium-addicted master's wife Martha, expects Lavinia to spend countless hours  at the big house bringing comfort and consolation. Enter Marshall, the troubled  master's son who harbors a childhood memory destined to destroy him.    

Many, many strong characters fill each chapter of this book and you will delight in the revelations each one brings to the story. Belle and Lavinia alternate as narrators throughout the book. It is a story of friendship, loyalty, deep, hidden secrets and misunderstandings, tragic endings, and hope. Lavinia  is forced to make difficult decisions as the story of slavery is expertly examined. At the heart of it all-Belle and Lavinia's  profound love and devotion regardless of race or class.


Friday, June 21, 2013

The Kings and Queens of Roam

The Kings and Queens of Roam by Daniel Wallace

Whimsical folklore. Fantasy. A fairy tale. Some readers may stop reading here, but let's continue!  Always reaching for new authors and a new literary experience, I chose this book because I  heard of Wallace's previous works, namely Big Fish, which is being made into a movie by Tim Burton. Certainly not the genre I usually read, yet I found myself drawn to the story of two sisters consumed by grief and loneliness.

Helen and Rachel McCallister live in a town called Roam. They are the granddaughters of patriarch, Elijah, who founded this strange and unusual spot. Once a thriving hub of silk production, it has become a dying village where its residents long to escape.  Helen is bitter, older, conniving, and from all accounts, a truly ugly woman. Her sister, Rachel is kind, soft-spoken, a vision of loveliness-and blind. When their parents die in a tragic, unexpected accident, Helen realizes that Rachel is now dependent on her for everything. Unfortunately, Helen seizes the opportunity to convince Rachel that the world is a dark, dangerous place.  Rachel truly believes she cannot survive without Helen. And so the cruel lies begin until that one monumental moment when Rachel learns the truth, and Helen realizes that her tender, helpless sister is perhaps not so helpless after all.

Where is Roam? No one really knows. In this town live ghosts, vicious dogs, lumberjacks, magical waters, and bears! So many side characters too numerous to mention, but they all play a part in the fantasy. As a reader, you may very well be drawn to the 288 pages of sibling rivalry, jealousy, well-developed characters, and often, a touch of humor. I believe you will want to keep reading simply to find out how it ends.

Remember, "What tangled webs we weave...."    

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Whiskey Beach

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts

In the mood for a good Nora Robert's read?  If so, you might want to give this one a try.  The author expertly helps the reader visualize the shores of Whiskey Beach in Massachusetts. High above the hissing, crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean  sits ancient, magnificent Bluff House. Long ago, pirates sailed the sea and legend has it that the gold and precious jewels of Esmeralda's Dowry are still hidden somewhere in this forlorn location.

Eli Landon has returned to his ancestral home, Bluff House, having been accused, but never convicted of killing his wife.  A former successful criminal defense lawyer, he now finds himself without a job, friends, or purpose in his life.  His grandmother has had a serious, life-threatening  fall, and Eli has agreed to look after the home while she recovers. Upon his return, he soon realizes that he feels a strong sense of belonging and wonders why he stayed away so long. He meets quirky, attractive housekeeper, Abra Walsh, who is determined to nurse Eli back to health both physically and emotionally. Together they discover secret, hidden passageways in Bluff House, and evidence that someone has been digging trenches in the basement.

Enter a Boston police detective who is convinced that Eli has managed to get away with the murder of his estranged wife, Lindsay-after all, she was in line to walk away with her share of the Landon whiskey fortune should they divorce. Combined with her infidelity, it only seems logical that Eli would be a prime suspect. Once Eli begins to take control of his life, he decides to confront these accusations and prove his innocence.

Could the search for lost treasure and murder somehow be related?

Nora Roberts will take you on a suspenseful journey to the very end with twists and turns along the way. I think you will have fun getting there.....

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tigers in Red Weather

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Recently, I read a short, concise book review in a magazine about Tigers in Red Weather, published in 2012.  Intrigued, I decided to put this book on my summer reading list-so glad I did.  Written by Liza Klaussmann, great-great-great granddaughter of Herman Melville. Guess it's in the genes.

Cousins Nick and Helena have been best friends since childhood. Now that World War II has ended, they find themselves at the proverbial crossroads of their lives.  Helena has tragically  lost her first husband, a casualty of the War.  Longing for happiness again, she anticipates her second marriage to a Hollywood producer.  Nick awaits the return of her veteran husband, Hughes, and domestic life in a small Florida cottage.  Unfortunately, both women find that reality does not match their dreams.

Ten years later, Helena and Nick have now returned to Tiger House, the old, majestic family estate on Martha's Vineyard.  Memories flood their minds-hot, sultry summer days, boats docked on white, sandy beaches, and midnight cocktail parties. They hope to recapture a piece of these glorious days now that they have returned to Tiger House with Helena's son, Ed, and Nick's daughter, Daisy .

The story is written from the point of view of five different characters.  At the center, is an unsettling mystery-a gruesome, sinister murder of a maid who has been found in a deserted hideaway.   Deep family secrets, hidden desires, unraveling relationships, are all part of this story. You will find yourself immersed in Klaussmann's superb character development. Ed is strange and obsessed, Daisy is idealistic and in love with a man who does not return her affection, Hughes, a changed, detached man since returning from war, Helena married to an impostor and addicted to pills, and Nick, harboring a secret that threatens her very existence. The story ends with a desperate act of violence by one of the main characters.

This is the author's debut novel.  Check it out and happy reading!      

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Burgess Boys

The Burgess Boys By Elizabeth Strout

Adult siblings face a major family crisis in this best seller.  A deep profound novel that I think you will enjoy if you are willing to take the time to sort out all of the characters.  This is the first time I have read Strout, and I plan to read her earlier works based on this selection.

Jim Burgess  is a successful defense attorney in Manhattan married to Helen, a proper, wealthy Connecticut socialite. Brother Bob,  also an attorney, works for the Legal Aid Society in New York.  Bob's twin sister, Susan, has stayed behind in their hometown of Shirley Falls, Maine.  She is a lonely, unhappy divorcee who is attempting to raise her only son, Zach , a troubled, distant teenager.  Susan makes an urgent, desperate call to her brothers begging them to return to Maine to defend Zach who has been charged with a hate crime.

And so the brothers return to their hometown where deep childhood memories begin to surface.  Bob has been belittled his whole life by Jim and seems to take it in stride because he idolizes his brother.  He is haunted by the accidental circumstances of their father's death.  Susan simply chooses to ignore Bob while heaping praise and adulation on Jim.  She is totally overwhelmed at the thought of being a single mother to her withdrawn son. Yet it is Jim who harbors a deep, dark secret, one that threatens to forever change his life.  Jim's successful, dynamic career and his supposedly idyllic marriage to Helen are all a  facade.

The hate crime is a major part of the novel  and sets the stage for tension and fear in the small community of Shirley Falls.  There seems to be stories within stories as the book evolves. Envy, guilt, bigotry, deception, forgiveness, and ultimately, love of family-this book has it all.

Six Years

Six Years by Harlan Coben

If you want to be thoroughly entertained by a captivating thriller, choose this selection by Coben.  One of his best-this book will keep you guessing!

Jake, a college professor, and Natalie, an artist, seem destined to be on their way to a life of happiness.  That is, until Natalie suddenly announces she is marrying someone named Todd. Natalie passionately begs Jake to promise to never attempt to contact her again.  She has requested the impossible.  He honors her wishes, goes on with his life, but in the ensuing years ahead,
Natalie is never truly out of Jake's heart and mind.

Six years pass.  Jake happens to read Todd's obituary in the newspaper.  He feels compelled to attend the funeral even though he knows this will break his promise to Natalie he made so many years ago.  While Jake hides in the shadows of the trees surrounding the quaint chapel where the funeral is being held, he spots the grieving widow.  It is not Natalie. She lied to him.  And so the story begins....

Jake's quest to find the truth becomes the core of his being.  Idealistic memories begin to unravel.  Friends from their past claim to not recognize him.  He returns to the camp where they met and is told no such place ever existed.  People he once knew are purposefully attempting to dissuade Jake from searching for Natalie, but why?

A suspenseful mystery about lost love, broken hearts, deceit, and a willful man's determination to find the truth.

Starting Now

Starting Now  By Debbie Macomber

Not everyone wants to read complicated novels.  Sometimes bright, airy, less intense selections find their way onto our summer reading lists.

Debbie Macomber's books fall into this last category.  Her earlier works centered around the characters on Blossom Street, mainly a store called The Good Yarn.  She returns to that same locale with some old familiar faces and a few new ones along the way.

Libby Morgan is a successful attorney in a large Seattle area law firm.  However, just when she thought her tireless hours and dedication had her on  track to become a partner, she finds herself unemployed due to the recession.

Remedying unemployment should be relatively easy with her credentials, but unfortunately, it is not.  Idle months go by and with many hours to fill, Libby actually cultivates friendships, volunteers with infants at the local hospital, and becomes a mentor and confidante to a thirteen-year-old unwed mother with a difficult home life.  Along the way, a handsome doctor (supposedly with a heart of stone) becomes an intricate part of her life.

The story lies in how Libby and Phillip manage to come to terms with their deepening love and respect for one another while Libby is still determined to succeed in her career believing she can have it all.  Can Libby find that elusive balance in her life?

As a reader, you will probably guess how the story ends, but may enjoy the journey along the way.    A book of friendship, faith, and compassion.