The Dream Daughter: A Novel by Diane Chamberlain

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“But what are they?” I asked, beginning to panic. “Your findings, what did you see?”

Scary words when you’re pregnant and the news isn’t good, “Your findings, what did you see?”. Caroline has already lost the father of her child, to learn that her unborn baby has a heart defect is horrifying. The time is 1970, and all hope seems lost until her brother-in-law, a man with his own mysterious past, a physicist, confides a deeply shocking secret, one that may change her entire future and that of her unborn baby. At first, it seems as if he has lost his mind or is playing a joke. Can playing with time be the answer? This ‘leap’ she must take, if Hunter is to be believed, will save her baby’s life but if it’s all madness, it could cost Caroline her own.

It is to Caroline Hunter Poole owes his own happiness, once just a strange guy with broken bones and deep depression stuck in a wheel chair none of the other physical therapists wanted to work with. Hunter chose her, the only PT he was he was willing to have take him on, feeling she reminded him of someone he once knew. It isn’t long before she feels he’d be perfect for her sister Patti. Patti and Hunter marry, he feels tight as brothers to Caroline’s husband Joe before his tragic death. How could he stand by and watch Caroline lose the one thing, her baby, that gave her any happiness, any hope after such loss? It will expose his secret to confide in her a path to save the baby and explain the mysterious incident that landed him in the hospital to begin with.

This story hits the heart of a mother, because the truth is for most women a child is loved the moment we carry them. It is many a pregnant woman’s fear that something could go wrong for her unborn baby. In Caroline’s case, it’s true. What mother wouldn’t consider the absolute impossible if it meant salvation for her child? Wouldn’t cling to even another’s ‘fantastical story’ if it could be true? This tale turned my thoughts to medical breakthroughs, while miraculous for some came too late for others. Time, in that instance, can feel like it plays favorites much kinder to future generations. But that’s a game we can all play, some of our simple illnesses today, in bygone times, snuffed out many lives.

Caroline will be displaced, and trapped by the windows of time may still lose everything she holds dear. How much do we sacrifice for love? What if the one chance your child has means letting go forever?

This is a unique story about time travel and  how happy endings aren’t always destined to play out the way we planned. A unique twist as usually time travel novels are about love between a man and woman this instead is a mother and child love story. Wonderful.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

St. Martin’s Press

 

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The Caregiver: A Novel by Samuel Park

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In America, there  were no metaphors. If a woman trusted her partner she didn’t say that she would set her hand on fire. When a woman had all the power, she didn’t say she had a knife and a piece of cheese in her hands. When she didn’t like an offer, she didn’t tell it to go back to the sea. 

It isn’t lost on me that I read this novel while going through my own health scare, mine is intestinal. Books find us when we need them, without a doubt. It deeply saddens me to learn the author passed away from stomach cancer at the age of 41, more so after reading at the end of the book what he wrote in 2017 for the New York Times Sunday Review. “I had a 9 Percent Chance, Plus Hope.” It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.

Samuel Park surprises me with how perfectly he could write from the perspective of female characters. Getting into the female mind is no easy feat my friends. Mara Alencar adores her mother beyond life itself, Ana is her gravity and is willing to do anything to put food in her daughter’s belly and a roof over their heads. Life is hard, but she never shows the exhaustion and sadness her single mother status puts on her shoulders. Working as a voice-over actress, a beauty herself, it’s not nearly enough to keep them afloat and this is just one of the many reasons Ana finds herself entangled in a dangerous scheme. With bravery, or stupidity, she becomes involved with young rebels out to take down the corrupt Police Chief, holding captive their friends in Rio De Janeiro. No one is a better actress than Ana, a talent that they sorely need to distract the Chief. Chaos ensues when their plan takes a dangerous turn, and nothing will be the same for Ana and Mara. The child sees more than her young mind can process.

Mara doesn’t know who her father is, but has always lived a happy life in the light of her mother’s love. Lately, her mother has changed and paranoia overtakes her, the threat of the Police Chief a shadow over their future. As Mara comes of age, she becomes as impulsive as her mother, and it is in her forceful nature that she falls in love for the first time. The boy of her chosing a dangerous pick. Mara acts out in desperation to save her mother, and through terrible loss learns that what she thought she knew about her mother may all have been lies.

Mara escapes to America and works as a caregiver in Bel Air for Kathyrn, a woman dying of stomach cancer. Living as an immigrant who works for a wealthy woman is an eye-opening experience, considering her apartment is a shared one in the ‘not-so-nice part of Hollywood.” Ten years after first moving to America, Mara still finds herself surprised by her new country. The vast wealth, in comparison to Brazil, never fails to amaze her where even those who are poor, ‘look expensive’. There is a certain charm in all the little things Mara notices that we Americans take for granted.

It’s at heart both an immigrant experience and a tender, moving story about a mother who just wants to give her child a good life and prospects for a better future. It is how the country we inhabit shapes our destiny, for better or worse. Yes read it, and don’t pass over “I Had a 9 Percent Chance , Plus Hope” at the end. The world is heavier with the loss of Samuel Park.

Publication Date: September 25, 2018

Simon & Schuster

 

Travels with Foxfire: Stories of People, Passions, and Practices from Southern Appalachia by Foxfire Fund Inc Phil Hudgins and Foxfire Student Jessica Phillips

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They thrived by making do, and when change came, they drew on their basic wit and common sense to adapt rather than simply surrender to it.

I’ve never had the pleasure of reading Foxifire books, but when I saw this for grabs on Netgalley, I had to read it. I am fascinated by all things Appalachia, it’s such a shame that their culture is changing so much, as all things must. What better way to preserve the history and stories than in a collection of interviews? Several of the people have since passed away but not without leaving an indelible impression. Stories of bootlegging, hunting, water dowsing, and ‘where the music dwells.’ I have a particular fondness for the section on arts and herbs in the story of Eve Miranda, Medicine Woman. It’s an art form understating herbs, plants, root knowledge and all its healing properties. What a wonderful inheritance to pass down the family line, and there is something endearing about a woman who shares the knowledge she has gathered. I would read a book just about her. Following her tale is the Hayes Boys story, the gatherers of wild ginseng. Maybe not everyone finds plants to be adventurous but they can be!

There is humor in the interview with “Privologist” Mary Frazier Long. Having grown up in Southern Appalachia  she lived in a time where she had to use the outhouses. The funniest tidbit to me is, ‘You knew not to go see certain people at certain times, ” Long recalled “because that’s when they were in the outhouse. You could look out and see when they were going.”  I think the majority of us have grown up with indoor plumbing, so it is a curious thing to imagine.

Music too is deeply rooted in the heart of Appalachia. I admittedly never knew so many songs were taken from classic ballads and folk songs from the Appalachian Mountains and made popular by artists like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. I did, however, love to sing a song with my cousin by The Kingston Trio titled “Tom Dooley” and knew it was a ballad based on the murder of Laura Foster. Why were we singing it in the 90’s? Likely found the record in my grandmother’s stash. Gospel, Bluegrass, there is a heavy influence coming from the Appalachian Mountains most people don’t realize.

Yes, many of the folks in the interviews are now elders, the remaining witnesses of a time that is slipping from our fingers. A rich source of history, folklore, and knowledge that isn’t easily obtained. They are the sort of folks you’d love to spend an evening with as they regale you with tales from their lives. Some of that living has been hard scrabble or dangerous. If you’re curious about mountain living, this is for you.

It’s an enjoyable collection, which has made me curious about the Foxfire books as it became a way of sharing food recipes, traditions, and life on the mountains. It’s a wonderful way to preserve history and reminisce, with the start of the collection aptly titled “The Way It Was.”

Publication Date: August 18, 2018

Knopf Doubleday Publishing

Anchor

Albert Einstein Speaking:A Novel by R.J. Gadney

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His curiosity constantly gets the best of him.

I thought I knew quite a bit about Albert Einstein, boy was I wrong. While Albert and Mimi Beaufort impact each other’s lives after she dials a wrong number (or right, according to Einstein), this is far more a story about Einstein’s life from his birth to his death. Born with a misshapen head, according to his mother, it’s funny just how important that ‘head’ one day becomes. Different from the beginning (his parents fearing he may be dumb) Einstein is curious, and it is this curiosity, this rebellious soul that inspires him to be a force in history. While his genius is exciting and inspiring, his personal life saddened me quite a bit. There is a coldness in how he treated his first wife, Mileva and the audacity of a contract seemed like such a cruelty, one that certainly wouldn’t go over well in present day! To have gone from such strong adoration and love for her to this calculated behavior just goes to show you can love the entire world, be kind and curious of people from all walks of life, because he was certainly engaging, and yet have a wreck of a personal life. How much more it must have hurt that he was so beloved and kind, yet to her he was nothing of the sort in the end. Albert was a man of many secrets, a ladies man too! Mileva certainly wasn’t the first heart he pulverized. Before her, there was Marie Winteler  who was getting too serious for Albert’s tastes. He knew his life was to be science, that was all that was occupying his mind and it would be unfair to lead dear Marie on (well more than he already had, his flames cool on a whim it seems). So science it is and Mileva, whom he was once enthralled by, recognizing in her a like-minded soul. The devastation in Mileva’s life is that she was on the path of scientist as well, only to be eclipsed by her husband, becoming only Mrs. Einstein. Is it so shocking she became such a ‘drag’ on poor Albert? Maybe because I am a woman I sympathize with what he put her through, rather than feeling sorry for Albert. The beginning of their love is beautiful, in spite of his mother’s disapproval he married Mileva and there is no denying that their passion was once genuine. If she succumbed to jealousy or disappointment that her life lost all possibility (academically, career) while his flourished, how much can we fault a woman who tolerated his cruel side and raised their children. It’s possible too the loss of her first, their secret child, had taken it’s toul on her spirit. One of his son succumbing to severe mental illness, she too was the one handling it all. His eldest son Hans and Albert too were often estranged. It’s known that many great men and women show a different face to their own children, spouses. A shame, a sad thing to learn of a great man. So he was human and flawed. I remember whisperings that Mileva helped him with his proofs which has also been disputed, who knows, she was certainly an intelligent woman by her own right. She remained to mother his children, cast off, as he conquered the world. How could one not feel compassion in her place?

So on to his first cousin Elsa, whose daughter he later has his eye on, tsk tsk old boy! Yes, first cousin, you read that right! Elsa is his chosen one in the end, and their marriage lasted until her death.  Too, he was a rascal with professors, or a pain in the…. depends on who you ask. All this womanizing while hobnobbing with the most famous and important people of the times, naturally he was admired by many for his brilliance. His genius cannot be denied, despite his sometimes less than stellar behavior. It is well-known his biggest regret is his involvement in petitioning the atomic bomb, naturally he feared Germany might develop it first, and that guided his decision. Hated by the Nazi’s, renouncing his citizenship and his membership to the Prussian Academy enflames the party.  The violence goes against science, is inhumane and undermines everything Einstein stands for. As a Jewish man, naturally he is horrified by the anti-Semitism. That great big head of his, at this point, now has a $5,000 bounty on it, requiring 2 armed officers protecting him. Fearing for the fate of Jewish scientists in Germany, Einstein travels to Chartwell England to visit with Winston Churchill to see what help he can provide. There really isn’t anyone, it seems, that Albert didn’t rub elbows with! His fight is against those that would suppress intellectual and individual freedom, his voice is great and he isn’t one to cower from a fight. His Jewish activism was just as important to him as being a scientific revolutionist.

It’s amazing how much happened during his time, in a century dominated by science, he was at the top. As much a celebrity as those he met, who often were his fan, he was able to fit in just as perfectly with the likes of movie stars as fellow scientists like Marie Curie. He certainly hated racism, as evidenced by his support for Marian Anderson, one of the most celebrated voices of the twentieth century, who knew he was a bit of a civil rights activist? There were fears, he lost friends to suicide, mental illness rising within his own son and certainly there were many dark moments in the life of this great man. He was  always fascinating and lived a rich, fuller life than many of us can even imagine. He wasn’t perfect, who knows if this can be attributed to his genius or simply the strange state of all human beings.

While Mimi is a part of the story, the heart of the novel is Einstein and his incredible life, he was certainly such an interesting creation that I don’t think literature could even invent.

Publication Date: June 22, 2018

Canongate Books

Boomer1: A Novel by Daniel Torday

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They were baby boomers. They had and they had and they had, as if that was the very condition of their own existance- having, owning, getting, living out Bellow’s I want, I want, I want- while he and his generation had not. They, too, wanted plenty, but they did not have.

For Mark Brumfeld his talents as a Bluegrass musician, journalist, and now holding a PhD in English- life hasn’t taken him to the places his youthful dreams promised. Unlike the baby boomer generation (his parents included) with their endless possibilities and still feasting on the spoils of the war generation, all he has to show is mounting debt, and a broken heart after his girlfriend Cassie refuses his marriage proposal. Tail between his legs, he has to move back home and live in his parent’s basement. There is no postwar high for his generation, and he has a lot to say about it. If he wanted to buy a house, if he ever had a solid job, there isn’t a chance he could afford one. It’s those baby boomers hogging up all the jobs, out-staying their welcome here on planet earth, refusing to give up the reins of power. They are the reason the millennials  can’t have anything! His Boomer Missives (videos online) have a following, and before he knows it he is a national threat.

Cassie is a Midwestern girl who wants nothing more than to change her entire being. A bassist in an all female punk band that she founded, it isn’t long before she is replaced by someone who has played with bigger names. Just like that, she’s out and heartbroken. It is by chance she and Mark keep running into each other, and he brings her back to the stage, what she loves doing. A year in, they are living together, making music, spending time in bed, nothing too serious but Mark is depressed. Nothing he wants is happening fast enough, everything is just wrong in the world. Old love returns in Cassie’s life, maybe Mark isn’t the one? His funk is a heavy weight but maybe he can turn things around, ambushing her with a wedding proposal that costs him far more than he could imagine, making it impossible for him to remain in his apartment. His future suddenly feels like a limp thing, he moves back with his parents, his career prospects dead yet Cassie’s is thriving, taking directions where the only way is up, and making a lot of money. If Mark is love-sick, Cassie’s memories of their time together are completely different. So why is it that when he takes part in ‘activities’ she is suddenly being interviewed by the FBI? Surely Cassie loved him at some point, but she wasn’t fully committed to him, wasn’t really that serious. She knew he was lonely, broken when he left, but he had his thing, his passion in his boomer missives. Just what has he done?

Mark’s mother never dreamed her adult son would be living at home again, and never in her wildest imaginings did she think he would be sharing his ‘revolutionary views’ with the world in her own home, marking her for the rest of her life! Certainly in the two weeks prior to clearing out her things to make room for him she wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect! Once the sort of woman who wanted to become nothing like her own parents (similar to Cassie in many ways), to escape the snares of motherhood, convention, she had her own bohemian existence, her musical talents, a ‘what if’ past to  visit, at least in her memories.” …she was the emperor of her memory palace and not even her son or her husband was invited to join her.”  A life she had to give up, decisions to make that led her here, living in a home with a son who has gotten himself in far more serious trouble than he ever intended.

Each character has spent time changing everything about themselves from their names to shaking off their upbringing. Mark’s mother Julia says as much in the telling of her past. Each wants reinvention at some point in time.

Characters are on the cusp of becoming, it is easy for some and impossible for others. Who doesn’t want the golden apple of success? Are the baby boomers really as bad as Mark believes, or have they too given up on their own dreams? What is more emasculating than failure, having to return home and feel like a ‘man child’, reverting? What about the baby boomers who are meant to be enjoying their golden years but are giving shelter to their full-grown children who can’t seem to catch a break? Or do they all just really need a good kick in the arse?

Cassie is an interesting character, confused about where she is going, who she loves, what she wants and for whatever reason opportunities seem to present themselves to her. Maybe it’s in her attitude, her desires. Mark is disgruntled from the start, maybe he is just in his own way, not to say he doesn’t have legitimate complaints, lord knows times are hard and it can feel like the luck of the draw is not in your favor. You can work hard, you can educate yourself to the point of your brain  exploding but success isn’t guaranteed. But the frustration of youth is clearly genuine, and it’s understandable why the baby boomers and the millennials clash so much and sometimes seem to come from different planets. Truth is, they are trying as hard as they can but it is highly competitive, and jobs don’t fall out of the sky. Are there lazy millenials, of course, but there are just as many working their fingers to the bone just to stay afloat.

There is so much angst in his boomer missives, creations taking on a life of their own. An interesting story though I wasn’t really in love with the characters, I was still interested in where all of this was leading.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

St. Martin’s Press

 

 

 

 

Listen to the Marriage: A Novel by John Jay Osborne

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“I honestly don’t know, I’d like him to suffer but he seems to be immune to suffering. He seems to always land on his feet.”

Listen to the Marriage made me realize I would make a terrible therapist, I was so fed up with their issues. You can see all the problems from the outside, of course it’s entirely different when you’re in it. This is the story of Gretchen and Steve, their marriage has fallen apart and it isn’t for any one reason, it never is. Sometimes Sandy, the marriage counselor, drove me nuts. She’s meant to be the calm, maintain the gravity but people don’t really love to open up to walls. I know, they’re adults, we are all meant to be very mature when dissecting our mistakes, seeing the obstructions we place in our own lives, but old hurts, old behaviors are hard to conquer. Steve and Gretchen betray each other with affairs, they want to give up and yet both are still clinging. Gretchen feels nothing ever really lands on Steve, nothing affects him as it does her. Take their children, for example, he certainly treats them as if he is babysitting when it’s his turn (that is a very common complaint women have, at least my generation).  Naturally the children are pawns,  happens in so many separations and divorces, which makes it a step in the right direction they are in therapy.

Gretchen isn’t perfect, Steve is sort of on a cliff and she seems undecided, do I want him, do I want to end it. She is wounded, and she wants him to feel pain too, it shouldn’t be easy for him to just be forgiven and he gets his marriage and family as is. Who the heck wants to be the victim all the time? She holds the power, though, and he is trying, he does want to change. Steve hasn’t really ever had a chance, nor a reason, to be a better more involved father. This is a chance for him to be present, and when it begins to work she gets scared.

How many marriages could be saved if people could learn to understand their own behavior patterns and each others? It’s a lot of humble pie partners have to swallow, a lot of wrongs each person must own to get past all the wreckage. Is it possible for Steve and Gretchen to remain together, or if it ends, to do so without destroying their children and each other?

I was admittedly sick and tired of the couple, I know there is an important lesson here, learning to listen to my spouse’s needs, not simply my own. Fair is a hilarious word in marriage as much as in life. When exactly has fair ever played into anything? Most of us figure out early on tit for tat gets you nowhere, there is aways fall out. A balanced marriage isn’t an easy thing, both partners have to be willing and present. Even when we ‘know thyself’ and understand why we do what we do, we are creatures of habit and it’s hard to break old ways. When you try to, sometimes your wife/husband won’t let you, because they have seen you as being one way for so long that it’s hard from them to trust the new you, or give you room to grow.  Gretchen does that with Steve as much as he belittles her as a person.

Women often feel furious their husband isn’t helping enough as a father all the while refusing to let him take the reins. We often want it done our way, not his. The other side of the coin, what to do if your partner isn’t interested much in parenting? Therapy can’t always fix everyone, some people just aren’t willing. Luckily that’s not the case with Steve and Gretchen, both equally screwing up their family and yet both still wanting it to work, maybe.

If you want to play therapist, this is for you. Taking place in office visits, Sandy guides Steve and Gretchen through marital counseling. I wanted to divorce them both at times, but I also understood each side. Are we all this difficult, self-righteous and self-centered? It’s so hard to see ourselves, isn’t it? We all have our own level of ridiculous.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

 

 

 

Her Pretty Face: A Novel by Robyn Harding

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She was having a girls’ day out. Like other women did. Like women whose children didn’t require special diets and structured routines and constant research into treatments and behavioral modification therapies.

Frances Metcalfe clings to the hope that life will be better now that her troubled son is accepted into Forrester Academy, but like all the elite places in the world, it too has it’s hierarchy and one that doesn’t easily forgive children who deviate from the norm. When her son Marcus gets back at a student for bullying him, it’s vile and ‘disturbing’ to the child’s mother and any chance of fitting in seems lost forever, once again they are outcasts. Frances may as well be back in school herself, unlike the wealthy parents she and her husband have modest means, a second mortgage on their house to afford their son’s tuition, anything to help him get a ‘clean slate’ and flourish as he begins middle school. Unlike her handsome, charming husband she is nothing like the other mother’s, not at 5 feet and carrying excess weight, she’s never going to fit in. With their disapproval, she is sinking further into depression. Her social anxiety is at an all time high and the other women aren’t even attempting to make it easy on her. Then salvation arrives, in the form of Kate Randolph.

Kate doesn’t worry so much what the other mother’s think, she is just as beautiful and wealthy as any of the mothers. She doesn’t need anyone’s approval, in fact she enjoys sparring with the other mothers, cutting them down to size which is exactly what she does to Alison Moss in support of her new friend. When Kate’s around, the weight of the world is lifted and why she accepts Frances in all her awkward glory is a mystery, even Kate’s son Charles is the opposite of Marcus, naturally loved by everyone and like a godsend when her son has a meltdown. Charles and Kate save the day, finally her son has someone at school who is in his corner. Nothing could warm her heart more, after years of therapy and struggle, it’s such a welcome site she could cry. For once, she has found support, a mother and son who don’t treat her son like a freak. Could life finally be turning around for the better?

The two form a deep bond, Kate pushing Frances to tap into her wild side. Not all of their fun is ‘harmless’. Kate’s daughter Daisy knows her mother has another side, that she has high expectations of her, Charles is the apple of her eye while Daisy feels unwanted. Daisy should have a perfect life, “Girls who looked like Daisy were instantly popular, no matter the defects in their personality.” So why is she so sad, and distant from her mother, whom she looks so much like? Moving around so much takes its toll, and  teenaged Daisy is flirting with her own disaster. Both Kate and Frances have dark secrets, ones that makes it wise to keep one’s guard up but both are vulnerable with the other, the trouble is one of them is a cold-blooded murderer. Just whose secret is the most devastating?

DJ is a character that wants justice, just a child when his sister was brutally murdered. Amber Kunik is at the heart of the tragedy, and he refuses to forget her. The novel has short chapters that reach into the past, the trial of Shane Nelson for her murder. The moment that changed the entire trajectory of Dj’s life.

Both women are hiding from something, or someone. Each are haunted by the transgressions of their youth that have cost other people everything. Someone is going to uncover their devastatingly shocking secrets, and neither family will be the same. The bonds of their friendship will be tested, just how much do they really know about each other?

This story was engaging and sad. Any mother can empathize with Frances and her struggles with her son. What mother doesn’t want their child to thrive, to be happy and have friendships. In any child with difficulties it’s the little things that make or break your heart, the slights and rejections are just as brutal an attack on a mother’s heart as the child’s. Lacking the confidence to stand up to the ‘in crowd’ (let’s face it, the popularity contest in school can be just as ridiculous in the adult world) who wouldn’t welcome the edgier Kate? Kate’s life is by no means perfect either, she has her own issues that Daisy has a knack for putting a spotlight on. Both women are deeply damaged in different ways. Dj breaks your heart, his story gets tangled in theirs and his own plans go wildly awry, and still it’s hard not to feel for him too. This book evoked both horror and sympathy.

Shocking, brutal and sad both women are guilty but which one can be forgiven? What will it cost the children when revenge comes to call?

Publication Date: July 10. 2018

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Gallery/Scout Press