Saturday, August 20, 2016

They Left Us Everything

They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson

In this poignant, moving memoir, Canadian author Plum Johnson writes how her mother's death didn't bring the relief she so often longed for; instead, she's left with the pain of regret over what might have been.

The novel chronicles Plum's life as the only daughter of a staid, strict, and proper British father and a flamboyant, eccentric, outspoken American mother. Along with her brothers, Plum grew up with parents remarkably different in temperaments, separated for months on end, yet bound to one another with a resolute belief in their Christian faith and commitment to family. While Plum's father slowly succumbed to the agonizing effects of Alzheimer's, her mother remained spirited to the end, finally surrendering to the effects of old age, never revealing the deep, enduring love she had for her child

After her death, Plum discovers many treasures revealing the person behind the woman she never really knew or understood. As she and her brothers prepare to sell their beloved family home on a picturesque lake in Ontario, they begin the daunting task of sifting through the "pocket litter" left behind. They discover over 2000 personal letters, mementos, and keepsakes from the past that offer a snapshot into the complicated lives of parents who loved one another in spite of the extraordinary obstacles they faced.

Anyone who has cared for an elderly parent will relate to this inspirational story, written with warmth and humor. Candid and reflective, this well-written narrative will undoubtedly bring the reader to tears as the author describes her feelings of grief and remorse about the impasse she and her mother faced in telling one another their true feelings. So often we wait until tomorrow to ask questions about the past, to express love, to forgive.

Sometimes tomorrow never comes.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Wistful and nostalgic, Arden Arrowood returns to Keokuk, Iowa, a sleepy little town along the Mississippi River, to claim the family home that bears her name. Bequeathed to her by her paternal grandfather, Arden is happy to leave behind the shambles of the life she's created. This unexpected gift may give her the chance to finally discover what really happened on that fateful afternoon so many years ago when her precious, tow-headed twin sisters vanished from sight. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance are foggy. All she knows is that she was somehow responsible.

Soon after that horrific day, Arden was whisked away by her despondent, pill-popping mother and her fast-talking shyster of a father, to begin a new life as a vagabond, traveling from town to town. Now she's back home in a  place filled with memories. Maybe somehow, in these familiar surroundings, she can relive that agonizing summer and truly remember what she thinks she witnessed. This town, its people, and a resplendent, once awe-inspiring home, may very well hold the answers.

 Readers will enjoy dissecting and examining clues to discover the answer to a complicated puzzle. Much like her first novel (The Weight of Blood suspense/ thriller) the author draws upon her childhood days spent in the Heartland of America and masterfully conveys images of the serenity of the Midwest.

 "Memory is a slippery thing". This theme is reiterated over and over throughout the novel as much as the mystery itself.  Along with nostalgia..."the bittersweet longing for a time and place left behind",  the reader will fully understand by the end of the book, how fragile our minds really are.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Wicked Boy

The Wicked Boy
The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

In the summer of 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes murdered his mother, Emily, with casual coldness. His younger brother, Nattie, conspired with him, apparently aware of his brother's intentions. After executing their plan, they went about their usual daily lives, while their mother's body began to decompose and rot in a locked upstairs bedroom. Only when relatives began to question Emily's whereabouts, and an unbearable stench permeated the home, was the gruesome scene discovered.

In this true, incredibly well-researched novel, the author examines the lives of the brothers at home and in school before the crime. With a father often absent at sea, the boys appeared to have a love/ hate relationship with their mother. Nattie often followed the lead of his older brother, blindly succumbing to the great influence his sibling had over him. Robert was a peculiar, highly intelligent boy, prone to painful, persistent headaches. He was obsessed with "penny dreadfuls" (small, pocket books, popular during that period ) that  encouraged adventure and glorified crime. They spoke to the wanderlust within him.

The remainder of the book focuses on Robert's trial, Nattie's plea bargain, and the role a man by the name of John Fox played in the days following the murder. He was an older, somewhat feeble-minded dock worker whom Robert befriended and invited to stay at the family home, even with a decaying body close at hand.

Beyond the murder itself, this book sheds light on the social mores of England during the late 1800s. It's enlightening to learn how patients with psychological problems were diagnosed and treated during those years. Pages of photographs are intermittently added to enhance the story, as are the interviews with acquaintances and experts that share theories behind the perpetrator of this violent deed.

I encourage reading the epilogue at the end of the novel. The subsequent outcome of Robert's trial and life thereafter will surprise and mystify you.