Sunday, September 20, 2015

Mrs.Sinclair's Suitcase

Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters

The suitcase is small, brown in color, with a muted tartan lining. Mrs. Dorothy Sinclair proudly writes her name with a flourish on the label inside, bursting with joy, knowing this little satchel will be filled with all the things her precious baby will ever need. World War II may be raging in England, but her thoughts are only happy ones as she awaits the birth of her son.

Roberta works diligently at her favorite place, the Old and New Bookshop.  Lost in her literary world, she loves to collect the little hidden treasures that seem to appear when she opens a used book; postcards and notes written on paper-thin stationery, yellowed with age, revealing secrets, musings, and tidbits never meant for her eyes. She is lonely and unable to admit her true feelings for her boss, Philip, knowing he is in love with another. This quaint shop where the"books are alive" is her refuge.

One fateful day, Roberta's father brings to her an an old suitcase that belongs to her 109-year-old grandmother, Dorothea Pietrykowski. In it, she finds an intriguing letter dated from 1941 written by Jan Pietrykowski, the grandfather she never knew. The letter chastises her grandmother for making a horrible decision that will haunt her the rest of her life, bringing pain and sorrow to a nameless young woman and her child. "Your soul shall not return from this that you do."  If only she could ask Dorothea or her father about this mysterious correspondence in a suitcase that bears the name of a Mrs. D. Sinclair. But her father is in failing health, and Roberta doesn't want to upset her grandmother who drifts in and out of the past and the present. Perhaps it's best to accept the fact that some memories are not meant to be revisited.

This is a mellow, satisfying, and beautiful story of two exceptional women at two different times, eighty years apart. The stories run alongside one another, and mesh in a truly extraordinary way.  In her debut novel, Louise Walters paints a vivid picture of life in the 1940s. Warplanes flew over peaceful farmland while people below, like Dorothea, struggled to maintain a normal life. Years later, a young, restless woman also struggles to find a purpose in her life, never realizing that the answers may lie in a battered suitcase from long ago.

A rich story of lost and reclaimed love, irreversible decisions, and what might have been.....

Friday, September 11, 2015

Black-Eyed Susans

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Yellow, orange, and gold wildflowers blanket the open fields, swaying in the summer breeze, their "black eyes" winking at you as you pass by. A lovely sight to see...

Unless you know that hidden below their beauty, are the graves of innocent girls.

Twenty years ago Tessa Cartwright survived a nightmare. Her body was dumped in a deep hole with those of two other girls who weren't so lucky. Wildflowers bloomed over the bodies until Tessa was miraculously discovered. The victims will be forever be known as the "Black-Eyed Susans". Her testimony helped to send the alleged killer to Death Row.

But now she knows the wrong man was sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. The real killer is free, taunting her with disturbing clues, daring her to guess his identity. When she finds these trademark flowers planted outside her bedroom window in the middle of winter, she realizes that this cruel guessing game is real. Tessa fears for her safety and that of her teenaged daughter, Charlie. Slowly and methodically, she begins to work with the innocent man's legal team and a forensic doctor to chip away at suppressed memories that may reveal the true killer's identity. What they don't know is that Tessa fears for her own sanity.The "Black-Eyed Susans" speak to her, encouraging her to keep reaching for the facts, even though the pain of the past is best left untouched. She begins to put names with decomposing faces. Tessa can't stop when she's come so far, even though the shocking truth is hard to accept.

The author weaves a somewhat complicated yet fascinating story about the power of the mind. The alternating chapters between the present and the year 1995 reveal the traumatic memories that a young girl repressed in order to survive. Even more revealing is the healing that comes from allowing those agonizing memories to surface to free the innocent. Not only is this a suspense thriller, it's also a timely reminder about the scientific gains made in the study of crime today.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Best Boy

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb

Meet Todd Aaron. An autistic, contented man in his fifties who loves to read The Encyclopedia Britannica (Mr. B) and research interesting facts on the computer (Mr. C).  At the Payton LivingCenter, he's one of the veteran residents. Todd has called this place home since he was eleven-years-old. He's been happy with the quiet seclusion Payton offers, but now he feels a restlessness deep inside his soul. After all these years, he wants to go home.

Home, however, only exists in his memories. And some of those memories are painful. Like the beatings and humiliation he endured as a child at the hands of a father who could not accept a son that was "different". Or a brother who enjoyed tormenting him in front of friends for a cheap laugh. But then he thinks of Momma and Todd's heart swells with love. His mother was special, a crusader for her precious son diagnosed with this mystery affliction called autism. Now that both of his parents are gone, Todd desperately hopes his brother, Nate, will finally agree to reunite with him. But Nate carries a resentment and a secret that make Todd's dream unlikely to come true.

As the story progresses, Todd's world begins to trigger anxiety. There's the taunting brain-injured roommate who loves to watch the "volts" in Todd's brain explode.  A new man on staff with wicked intentions pretends to be a friend; how it reminds him of his vile father. A pretty girl with one eye teases Todd with romantic overtures, convincing him to stop taking his medication in order to feel normal once again. If only he could go home to that place of tranquility and peace. So he plans his escape.

Eli Gottlieb has written an emotional, insightful story examining the fascinating mind of a high-functioning autistic man. Written in the first-person narrative, the reader soon becomes empathetic towards Todd and his struggle to survive in a world he often doesn't understand. By the end, I think you'll agree that this courageous man deserves admiration rather than pity.

As Momma said, "You were a best boy who became a beautiful man and made everybody who knew you very proud".