Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Girl in the Red Coat

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

The anguish and heartbreak of a mother and daughter torn apart is exquisitely told in this story brimming with emotion and pain.

Single mom Beth Wakeford can't shake the feeling that someday her eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, will disappear. Irrational, perhaps ,but since her husband, Paul, left her for another woman, she's constantly fearful of losing another loved one. Carmel has always been a little "different",  a dreamy, spiritual sort of child that her teachers describe as "being on another planet". She loves her mother, but the hovering and over-protectiveness are hard for even a child to bear.

 On a foggy, dismal Saturday morning Beth's premonition comes true. She and Carmel visit a delightful outdoor festival.  The many tents are filled with puppeteers and storytellers dressed in glittering costumes. Try as she might, Beth can't seem to hold on to her daughter's slippery hand. Carmel finds a hiding place, seizing the moment to be alone, not realizing her little game opens the door for a stranger to abduct her. Minutes turn into hours and still no sign of the little girl in her signature red coat. Panic becomes hysteria and a mother's worst fears soon become reality.

Hours turn into days as Beth relentlessly searches for her daughter. Religious zealots claim Carmel must have special "powers" and false sightings lead to crushing disappointment.  Beth  marks each and every day on the calendar that goes by, while Carmel loses all sense of time. Never fully understanding the complexity of the reasons behind her capture, Carmel begins a journey that will take her farther and farther away from a mother and father who cling to one another, never giving up hope that someday their daughter will return.

Clearly, Hamer has a  commanding vocabulary and expressive style of writing.  She convincingly conveys the invisible thread that connects mother and daughter, even though they are physically apart. Although the minor characters are not always fully developed, the author's deep insight into the mother daughter relationship makes up for any shortcomings.

As the plot unravels piece by piece, readers will undoubtedly hope for a happy ending where mother and child find their way into each other's arms again.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Flight of Dreams

Flight of  Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

In the twilight hours on May 3, 1937, the German dirigible know as the Hindenburg exploded and burned in a mere thirty-four seconds while attempting to land at The Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey.  Of the ninety-seven people aboard, thirty-seven perished, thus ending travel in a rigid, floating airship called a zeppelin, forever.

Many notions remain as to what exactly occurred on the three day "uneventful" luxurious voyage from Germany to America, but the fact is, no one really knows. Author Ariel Lawhon fervently believes that this grand journey was far from "uneventful", even though the survivors eighty years ago steadfastly stood by their recollections of it being a predictable but splendid trip. In a riveting and compelling story, Lawhon combines her extensive research with a fictional take on what could have happened. The people are real, the tale is conjecture, and the result is thoroughly fascinating.

Each chapter introduces the reader to characters bearing names that become familiar as the plot unravels. Emilie Imhoff is the "Stewardess", a widow in mourning, hiding a deadly secret, and falling for Max Zabel, the "Navigator" who holds her heart in his hands. Endearing fourteen-year-old Werner Franz is the "Cabin Boy" who grows up quickly amidst the scheming and collusion on board. Sassy Gertrud Adelt is the "Journalist", stripped of her press pass by the Nazis, traveling with her charming, older husband, and missing the young son they left behind. She is determined to uncover the motives of the mysterious "American" while rumors swirl about a bomb on board. The hours and minutes tick by while passengers partake of savory foods and tempting cocktails in the smoky lounge. They unwittingly assume the voyage will end smoothly, never imagining impending doom.

The cleverly written plot offers great insight into what it must have been like to float effortlessly above the stormy, turbulent waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The author combines interesting facts with intrigue to write a story about a mystifying disaster that to this day, defies explanation. She has taken liberties with a sizable amount of research to write a plausible theory. I would encourage the reader to scan the author's notes at the end of the book. It explains how and why she decided to write about this perplexing catastrophic event in history. The heartache and anguish that followed are all too real. Immense sorrow only adds to this rich and well-told story, as do the moments of joy for some of the survivors.

At the end, speculation and questions still remain as to what really happened to the pride of Germany.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Under the Influence

Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard

Helen's life has officially hit rock-bottom. As a result of a DUI conviction, she's lost custody of eight-year-old son, Ollie, her social life consists of going to AA meetings, and her waning photography career amounts to nothing more than encouraging children to smile in school photos.

One evening while working for a caterer, serving drinks to the sinfully rich at a posh art gallery, she meets philanthropists Ava and Swift Havilland. It's quite flattering to have people of their stature take an interest in you and your opinions. She willingly accepts their offer to get to know them better.

Soon Helen is a vital part of the Havilland household. She attends lavish parties at their palatial home, wears designer clothes ( with the tags still on), and busies herself cataloging the valuable art collection. No one ever speaks of the mysterious accident that left Ava in a wheelchair; in fact her fulfilling life as a paraplegic is celebrated every day with her gregarious husband, Swift. Helen is in awe of their kindness to the less fortunate, the money spent on rescuing dogs, and the passion for life that appears to define every aspect of their lives.

When Helen tenaciously enters into a relationship with Elliott, an accountant her new friends deem   "boring", she finds herself questioning her own feelings for him. They subtly remind her that a partner should be exciting and stimulating, not dull and tedious. Helen reluctantly listens ,even though her heart seems to tell her otherwise. When Swift promises to hire a prominent attorney to help her gain custody of her son, she knows this could be the chance she's waited for so long. A life with Elliott is no longer a priority.

When shy, sullen Ollie finally meets the Havillands, he turns into a different child. Happy and content, he is surrounded by Swift and all the opulence he and Ava can offer. Every waking minute is spent learning to swim, riding in fast cars, and accepting fabulous gifts showered upon him. They treat him like a son. While Helen delights in Ollie's resurgence and renewed interest in spending time with her again, she can't shake Elliott's warning. He's done some digging into the perfect couple's business dealings,.hinting that the grandeur and spectacular lifestyle are a facade. But Helen brushes her fears aside. Life is finally going her way.

Impending doom now builds as Ollie witnesses a tragic accident that puts Helen in a very compromising situation. It's abundantly clear that it's her turn to repay Swift for his extraordinary kindness, even at the expense of her own son.

This well-paced novel with rich characters and gripping plot, explores the vulnerability in all of us. How easy it is to fall prey to those we trust when we are at low points in our lives. And how difficult it is to pick up the pieces after we realize our mistakes.

From the author who wrote After Her (reviewed under suspense/thriller October, 2013), Maynard once again writes about a flawed family having the courage to start over again.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Black Rabbit Hall

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

The rugged, windswept Cornish coastline sets the stage for this alluring, romantic mystery. At the center of it all, is the once majestic, sprawling countryside estate known as Black Rabbit Hall, an ancestral home belonging to the Alton family. Ominous secrets lurk behind walls now crumbling in disrepair.

In the late 1960's, Hugo and Nancy Alton escape from hectic London to spend mellow and magical vacations at Black Rabbit Hall with their four spirited children. It's here where time seems to stand still, where the stars shine brighter than anywhere else on Earth, and endless, carefree days of relaxation melt into cool, enticing nights.

In an instant, life changes for Hugo and his children when his beloved Nancy ventures out on a stormy night, riding her faithful horse, Knight. The resulting tragedy changes the very core of this close-knit family. Twins Amber and Toby struggle to cling to fond memories of their copper-haired, vivacious Momma while guiding and consoling little brother, Barney, and sister, Kitty. Nothing will ever be the same; even more apparent when Hugo brings home the cold, elusive, Caroline, and her dark, strikingly handsome son, Lucian. Responsibilities weigh heavily on Amber's shoulders, while Toby becomes distant and calculating. Their lives become increasingly intertwined with devastating outcomes. And somewhere in the dense forest that the children once gleefully explored, lies the truth behind what really happened to their mother.

Thirty year later, Lorna Dunaway is convinced that Pencraw Hall (known to the locals as Black Rabbit) is the perfect venue for her upcoming wedding reception.  Fiancee Jon heartily disagrees. There's a menacing, sinister ambiance to the place. But Lorna can't be dissuaded. The estate draws her into a trance that she finds impossible to escape. The current matriarch, Caroline Alton, extends an invitation to Lorna to stay for a few nights, much to Jon's chagrin. With her mind in a fog, Lorna uncovers morbid clues from the past that unlock repressed memories. Lorna realizes that she's in the middle of the lies and chaotic madness of events that happened years ago. Her struggle to understand the connection to Black Rabbit Hall, becomes an obsession, resulting in inconceivable truths.

Any comparison to author Daphne du Maurier is certainly justified. This ethereal, dreamy mystery combines suspense with forbidden love, adding enough twists and turns to keep the reader thoroughly engaged until the riveting end.

Cleverly written and positively entertaining, author Eve Chase's debut novel is a must read for romance suspense enthusiasts.