book review · family connections · family secrets

FRAGILE CONNECTIONS: SECRETS BEHIND THE FACADES — A REVIEW

 

Mira and Max Zielinski are about to celebrate their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and the grown children will soon be descending upon the family home.

As Mira contemplates their descent, she reminisces about moments in the past and about how, despite her efforts, none of them seem to share her values. For Mira, a professor, is an aging flower child, while each of her children seems to represent the antithesis of her beliefs.

Katya, Ivan, and Irina–whose names were chosen from Mira’s “Russian novel phase”–have each distanced themselves with their own versions of those names: Kat, Van, and Reenie.

Real Life & Liars is told from the points of view of Mira and the three children, with Mira’s story in first person narrative while the rest are in third person voice.

As the family assembles, they each come to “the party” bearing secrets, disappointments, and resentments.

As Mira’s secrets are released, what will be the fall-out on the assembled family? What will each of them discover about the connections between them? Will the unleashing of their secrets reveal the fragility of their connections, or will they discover new strength in the ties between them?

Katya’s apparent self-confidence and perfection as the oldest has rendered her almost unapproachable at times. So much so that Van, struggling with his career choices, wants to know how she managed to achieve such perfection. She replies:

“There is no perfect. Only real life and liars.”

A perfect example of how each of them has constructed false images of the others. In reexamining these beliefs and reassessing their own choices, can they finally find a way to move on from their childhood roles?

From the first page, I loved the character of Mira. Her imperfections, about which she made no apologies, offered a real person to enjoy as she blundered along, dealing with her secret and with the confusing realities of her children’s lives.

To me, Katya seemed the most annoying, in her bossy, dramatic, and sarcastic way, while Irina’s whining made me want to slap her. And yet each of them suffered with their choices and hid their real selves behind the facades they had created. I loved this story: five stars from me.

book review · family connections · family secrets · family tragedy

HENRY, THE HEART OF THE FAMILY — A REVIEW

Henry is the heart of the Bommarito family. During their early childhood, River, the mother, often sank into a deep depression that felled her for days and weeks; her daughters, Cecilia, Isabelle, and Janie tried to manage. Caring for themselves, each other, and mostly for Henry—who is mentally challenged and often needs their assistance, as well as their protection.

Cecilia and Isabelle are fraternal twins, but they often feel each other’s anger, pain, and sadness. Janie copes by counting, checking, and isolating herself; she also writes bestselling crime novels. Isabelle is a well-known photographer, now sidelined from that career due to the horror she has witnessed in troubled parts of the world and a secret pain she keeps to herself. She also deals with certain aspects of her history by “sleeping around.” Cecilia is the one who remained close to home, but copes by overeating and lashing out at those around her.

When River requires surgery, Isabelle and Janie come home to Trillium River, the small Oregon village where their grandmother has a house, and where River has been living for several years. They are needed to help care for Henry and their grandmother, who believes she is Amelia Earhart.

Coming home brings many of the childhood memories to the forefront, and as each of Henry’s sisters tries to deal with their mother and each other, they experience all over again the troubled and painful life brought about by their mother’s neglect, frequent verbal abuse, and the abandonment by their father.

Henry’s Sisters is narrated in the first-person voice of Isabelle, but we soon come to understand and know each of the sisters and feel their emotional connections; despite their pain and anger, sometimes directed at one another, they clearly love and need each other.

So when one crisis after another challenges them, what will they do to get through? How will the family bakery begin to inspire their creativity and feed their souls? And when an unexpected reappearance from the past brings up unwelcome feelings, how will they cope?

As one final sad blow brandishes its fierceness, bringing out the best and worst in them, what will ultimately remind them again of the strength of their love for one another?

I enjoyed meeting and connecting with the characters in this book, all flawed, somewhat quirky, and totally human. I was sad to close the final page on this family. I could relate to aspects in each of them, but felt especially connected to Isabelle, trying to make a life on her terms, even as she struggled with the demons of her past. Five stars.


book review · family · family secrets

MISSTEPS, MISUNDERSTANDINGS, & DARK SECRETS — A REVIEW

A family saga, The Sisters: A Novel sweeps the reader forward from 1927 through the year 2007, depicting the branching out of a family tree that was torn asunder through missteps, misunderstandings, and horrific secrets that seemingly set the tone for many more secrets and misunderstandings. Almost as if errors, missteps, and wrong choices were written into their genetic code, the two Fischer sisters seemingly leap into an unseen future without one another and not knowing why.

As mysterious as all this sounds, suffice it to say that when Mabel Fischer, the older sister, sets a plan in motion, she has high hopes that she is saving her sister Bertie. On the other hand, Bertie only sees betrayal and spends the next several decades covering her tracks and severing all ties.

Meanwhile, each sister carries on separate lives for the generations to come.

But as each sister nears the end of her journey, her thoughts will be with the other, remembering and seeking to fill in the void that would have been their familial bond.

I could not stave off the sadness that rippled through me as I read this story. Like tossing a stone into the stream and then watching it as it floats away, these characters could seemingly do nothing to right the wrongs in their lives. Each sister told pieces of her story to her daughters, but without the missing perspective, the other side of it all, there was no resolution. No mending of the torn fabric of their lives. The characters seemed doomed to continually make errors within their individual families, repeating mistakes and failing to correct the old ones. The seeds of this dysfunction were planted long before, when a dangerous secret set the tone for the rest of their lives and the lives to come.

As much as I connected to the characters and their stories, I felt frustrated by the inability of any of the characters to set things right. Yes, they went on with their lives and did the best they could—but without any kind of closure. I would recommend this story for those who do not mind long, detailed stories that seemingly go nowhere, with loose ends that do not come together. Four stars.

book review · family connections · family secrets · family tragedy

MEETING THE WORLD WITH HOPE IN HER HEART — A REVIEW

Deeply hidden secrets spark the storyline in Heather Gudenkauf’s second book, and we only gradually come to know them, as they are revealed in snippets throughout the novel.

Told in alternating points of view, we meet each character, one by one, and come to understand their connections to one another and to a little boy named Joshua.

Allison’s horrific crime strikes a chord with anyone who has ever given birth and felt the need for secrecy. What we learn later is shocking and somewhat understandable, given the nature of the other characters and their backstory.

Charm plays a role, as does Claire; Brynn’s role seems more like a supporting one…at least in the beginning.

I loved the pace that gradually defined who the characters were and their relationship to the core plot of These Things Hidden. In short chapters devoted to each character, there is a subtle unfolding in dramatic bursts that leads finally to a satisfying conclusion. Five stars! I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves dramatic stories of family, secrets, and the connections that bind people to one another.

book review · family connections · family secrets

FAMILY CONNECTIONS & HARD LIFE LESSONS

Lindsey and Alexandra Rose are twins—fraternal twins, of course. And they couldn’t be more different from one another. Not only do they look different, they have assumed very distinct roles and purposes in life: the responsible one and the beautiful one.

Living in New York and working for an advertising agency has been a dream of Lindsey’s for a long time, and she finally seems to almost have it all. She prides herself on her work ethic, which borders on workaholic behavior at times, but she delights in hearing the continual praise about her accomplishments.

Alex lives in Washington, D.C., and has a glamorous job as a TV personality, with occasional modeling gigs.

Whenever the two sisters are together, Lindsey feels herself disappearing into the shadows, with her sister taking up all the space and air in the room. Consequently, the two have not talked nor seen each other much in years.

When Lindsey is vying for a huge account, and also hopes to be appointed to a vice president position in her agency, her world looks like it’s finally coming together perfectly. Then something happens to ruin it all—a huge disappointment, a subsequent scandal, and a loss that sends her catapulting home to Bethesda, Maryland where her parents live.

Over the next few months, Lindsey is reminded once again about how it feels to be around Alex, and the feelings are not happy ones.

What will it take to finally draw the sisters together? Will they ever move beyond the rivalry that has stalked them since they were children? And what family secret will change their perspective about everything they believed about themselves and each other?

I must admit that I didn’t like Alex very much. Perhaps I was too empathetic about Lindsey’s feelings and the disappointment of being “less than.” Maybe I only saw the selfish side of Alex. Or maybe I actually only could see Lindsey’s point of view. But when things started to change, and when some of Alex’s feelings came out, I could see that the two of them were not as different from one another as they’d believed.

The Opposite of Me: A Novel is the kind of family story that shines a light on parenting issues, sibling rivalries, and the hard lessons that we all have to learn along the way. Five stars.

book review · family connections · family secrets

LYRICAL COMING-OF-AGE TALE — A REVIEW

In the long hot summer of 1973, two young teenage girls push the boundaries, hoping to experience whatever it will take to make them cool, sexy, and happy.

For Jamie, the exploration is about a motherless girl searching for approval and acceptance, which is why she is so willing to follow the lead of her cousin Fawn, who has ended up in Moline, Illinois because she is trouble personified. Fawn’s version of the events that brought her to Illinois casts her in the most positive light possible. And to Jamie, who has been shunted back and forth between relatives after her mother Suzette took off one day years before, Fawn’s behavior may send up red flags, but she is ill-equipped to interpret the signs.

A Ticket to Ride: A Novel (P.S.) alternates between Jamie’s point of view and her Uncle Raymond’s, and as we follow the story arcs of the two characters, the picture fills in and presents the full story. Each chapter is titled with songs from the era, and sometimes, I could almost hear the music lilting in the background.

As the summer draws to a close, these two young girls seeking excitement have stumbled upon a whole world of trouble and tragedy.

As Jamie is trying to sort out and understand what has happened, she and her uncle finally sit down to talk, and in a few moments of soul-searching honesty, Jamie learns the whole saga about her mother and what happened so long ago. Examining the realities of the past and revisiting the moments of one hot summer full of errors in judgment, Jamie will finally begin to discover her place and her identity.

The characters are multilayered, with all the facets of real people trying to make sense of their lives, the choices they’ve made, and the possibilities that are left for them. Four stars for an insightful story that, while it may not be for everyone, is a relevant coming-of-age tale set during a unique time in history.

book review · family connections · family secrets · murder · mystery

ONE CHILD & ONE WOMAN ON A COLLISION COURSE WITH DANGER — A REVIEW

In a complex world of the juvenile court system in San Diego County, bureaucrats and individual social workers struggle daily to save the children in danger. For one social worker, Bo Bradley, the daily battle is enhanced because of her own condition of manic-depression (bipolar disorder). Only one person with whom she works knows of this condition—her friend and colleague, Estella Benedict. But whenever the symptoms begin to reappear, a difficult job becomes almost impossible.

When one day a four-year-old boy, tied to a mattress in an old shack on an Indian reservation, is rescued by an old Indian woman, life just got a whole lot harder. Saving the boy, who turns out to be deaf, from whoever hurt him and is still trying to kill him, becomes a full-time obsession for Bo Bradley. Like a one-woman army on a hunt-and-capture mission, she digs into the clues at hand, flies to a neighborhood in Houston, Texas, and begins to realize that the only way to save the boy is to hide him.

Intermingled with the tale of rescuing the boy called “Weppo,” the author weaves a bit of Bo’s history, including the loss of her own sister—also deaf and plagued with manic-depression–many years ago. A Native American theme casts Child of Silence and its characters into a tapestry of mysticism and spiritualism that lends beauty and hope to the story of one child and one woman on a collision course with danger.

Five stars!

blogging · creative impressions · family secrets · NaBloPoMo

TUESDAY IMPRESSIONS — JAN. 18

Craig Robinson - Berlin Photographer

Today descended like a dark, cold blanket—no fog, just a lot of darkness, even at this hour.

Surreal….

I could use a lamp like the one in my header, lighting my pathways today.  Speaking of the lamp in my header, my eldest son, Craig, Berlin Photographer, captured this a few years ago.  As I gaze at it, I am carried along fantasy pathways.  Many who have noticed it have mentioned that Narnia springs to mind.

I love images like this one.

Or how about some of these images, captured by the same photographer (my amazing son!) in an old abandoned sanitarium outside of Berlin.

Beelitz Sanitarium

Or how about these decaying images:

BEAUTY IN DECAY

Capturing the ordinary moments in our lives in a unique way is the gift of the creative photographer.

I try to capture those moments in the life around me through words.  As a blogger/writer, my journey takes me next to my WIP, in which my characters are leading me along, hoping that I will see the world through their eyes.

Meanwhile, I have posted my Teaser Tuesday for today at my Potpourri blog.

I entered a new header at that site that also conveys ordinary moments in a unique way, from the vision of Mary Engelbreit.

I like the sentiment expressed in this one:  Everything You Want in the World is Just Right Outside Your Comfort Zone.

What is your vision for today?  What thoughts are carrying you forward into your day?

book review · family connections · family secrets · social connections

WHEN LIFE GAVE HER LEMONS….

Young widow Ellen Wood feels as though she’s treading water in the first few months after her husband’s death. Her eleven-year-old son Charlie is her primary focus, as well as the books she edits for romance author Allegra Howard. Her Victorian home is her sanctuary, and between maintaining that home for herself and her son, and working from home, she scarcely even needs to leave it—which suits her fine, because she loves this home that seems to embody everything precious in her life.

So when she learns from the accountant that there is no more money, and that the life insurance will not pay off on her husband Nick’s death because he died from his own “reckless behavior,” she must do something. Quickly, if she doesn’t want to lose the one important thing in her life.

Ellen’s sister Hannah suggests she take in boarders. The home is huge and can accommodate several, so the procession of candidates begins. When the three boarders join Ellen in her home, and when one of them turns out to be Allegra Howard, who needs a home and an assistant, a whole new world opens up for Ellen.

While the plot may be slightly predictable—I’ve read a few stories in which the financially-strapped have taken in boarders—this one has a few unique plot twists that set it apart. I loved the setting—I’m a fan of British surroundings—and it didn’t hurt that one of the boarders is someone who can actually help Ellen become more independent.

All of the characters in The Home for Broken Hearts felt like real people, and the sibling rivalries between Ellen and Hannah had many layers. A few secrets came to light along the way, too.

What did Ellen discover in her journey, and what did each boarder contribute to the lessons she learned? And what unexpected obstacles did she have to overcome?

I kept turning pages, enjoying and savoring each of the moments until the end…which came much too quickly. Since I have loved every book by this author, I’m not surprised that I’m granting this one five stars.

book review · family connections · family secrets · MEMORIES

REASSEMBLING THE MISSING PIECES OF THE PAST….

Therapist Kate Sinclair seeks to repair other people’s lives. Her own stable marriage and handsome home are like the icing on the cake of a perfect life.

But when Kate’s emotionally fragile sister Jo Lynn develops an obsession with alleged serial killer Colin Friendly, the first signs of trouble begin to appear. At around the same time, an old love interest from Kate’s past surfaces and starts making overtures, even tempting Kate with her own call-in radio show (he owns several radio stations). Adolescent hijinks from Kate’s oldest daughter Sara add just enough high drama to the mix to tear into the now fragile fabric of Kate’s stable life.

As her life begins to unravel, missing pieces of a puzzle about the past begin to trouble Kate, with nightmares interrupting her sleep. Her mother’s symptoms of Alzheimer’s add to the confusion. Meanwhile, Jo Lynn and Sara become bosom buddies, both lashing out at everyone around them.

Once Colin Friendly is convicted and given the death sentence, Kate believes that things will finally calm down. Unfortunately, the trouble is only beginning.

What new pieces of the puzzle from Kate and Jo Lynn’s past will come to the forefront? What surprising move will Jo Lynn make, and what will finally bring the whole family to the point of crisis?

The suspense builds while all the characters are suddenly thrust into a highly dangerous situation. Missing Pieces, told in the first person voice of Kate, is one of those books that you cannot put down. (If you do put it down, like I did briefly, it may disappear; that is why I had to get the book from the library to finish it). It was well worth the slight delay in my reading momentum. Once I picked it up again, though, I was drawn again into the very real world of the characters that is believable and memorable.

Five stars.