Unsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

37959904

“I’m out of the habit. I’ve been trying not to want. Just, you know, as an endeavor, like quitting smoking.”

Willa Knox is living the life that many people are today, hitting middle age and caring for ailing parents, or in-laws, housing their adult children with grandkids in tow, wondering where all their money went, losing jobs despite years of dedication and loyalty. In Willa’s case, she is the designated ‘crises handler’ and it worked fine for years, with her mother to help rally behind her but now she is gone. Iano has been the free spirit in the marriage, after more than 30 years she can’t just expect his romantic, fun side to suddenly turn serious, despite being overwhelmed by everything that seems to have gone wrong. It is time, however, for her make everyone face the reality of the crumbling innards of their lives and the home in Vineland, New Jersey she’s inherited from her aunt. There is nothing romantic about this money pit. She cannot do this without everyone pitching in.

Her plan to relay the bad news is met with even more, her son Zeke is on the phone with sad news of his own, now the family must make room for him and his infant son. He is devastated by the new reality of his life, a shocking turn for the worse, Willa cannot let him be swallowed up by it all. Feeling herself like a worn out mother, she spends her nights and days trying to help her grandson, Aldus get on some sleep schedule while giving her son the space he needs. On the verge of tears herself, was it really this hard mothering a wailing infant when she was a young mother,  her advanced age proves motherhood is exhausting now. It’s becoming a full house not to mention a ranting Greek, her elderly father-in-law on oxygen, declining but still ticking, loudly! He’s actually pretty funny as a character, but some of us know all too well in reality such people are a right pain in the arse! Her daughter Tig, also lives at home at twenty-six and couldn’t be any different from her brother. Always free-spirited, Tig surprised Willa by returning home out of the blue one day. This after a year of no news, and there isn’t even time to ask what happened between her and the man she was with because more rotten luck hits Willa between the eyes.  On the tide of her feisty daughter’s return came the news of the college’s closure where Iano worked, and with it the house they were living in.

Iano isn’t making enough to hold her family or home up. The bills have become a paper mountain, one that the measly pay can’t hope to conquer. Her freelance work is more embarrassment than help. For once, Tig has a job while her more successful brother Zeke doesn’t, which she can’t help but point out, but Zeke does have a plan. Of course the two are political opposites too, so insert fiery conversations within the family, when good old Iano isn’t throwing in his knowledge and old grandpa’s inflammatory views. They are beginning to feel the burn of their decline, problems with insurance, not enough money to keep their heads above water, something has to change. They have done everything right in life, and look how that is turning out!

If Willa can get help restoring her home then things could look brighter, because they certainly can’t afford the numerous repairs.  But first, she has to find out if there is any truth that one Mary Treat, a well-known scientist in her own right and Darwin’s friend and advocate, ever lived in her home. This could be of interest to the Historical  Preservation Society, and be of great support in getting the help they need!

Who she discovers instead is Thatcher Greenwood, a scientist and teacher whom ruffled the feathers of Landis and his community for trying to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution. Naturally this is in direct conflict with their belief  in God, and their own leader Landis whom they follow blindly, despite any sort of evidence that exposes said beliefs as false. I think you could insert a president’s name if you’re so inclined, at least I imagine the author does. It is the early days of marriage too between Thatcher and his wife Rose but despite her evident beauty and charms, it is Treat who is like-minded, whose peculiar behavior (counting ants, studying nature) Rose sees as a ridiculous, unwifely spectacle and Thatcher finds enigmatic. A friendship grows between them. His morality comes in direct conflict with his marriage and their future (dependant on Landis) when something shocking occurs and he has to decide whether to tell the truth or lie to keep Rose’s social dreams a reality.

Going between different time periods, both share the same house, that is crumbling. Both Thatcher and Willa are falling apart as well. What are people themselves if not houses, innards and all? Both are at the mercy of the political winds of their time.

I am a fan of Kingsolver’s earlier novels, and while this is different from my favorites, it has its strengths. She always writes beautifully, so I find myself highlighting passages, but I am not sure everyone will relate to this one. For one thing, many people are tired of conflict in political views, we just can’t escape it, not in our homes nor in our books. It’s evident here, in both time periods: family, the state of healthcare, youth, age, racism, greed, science vs religion, nature, environmental destruction, the changing state of marriage… well… It’s obvious characters remain bull-headed in their beliefs despite evidence to the contrary, which seems to be speaking in a round about way as to how people are now.

It will depress younger people, but Willa’s struggles are all too familiar to many of us. There are periods, if you live long enough, where life just keeps dumping on you. It’s magnified if the ‘climate’ of our times is pitting brother against brother, or…er… sister against sister… Doing things right aren’t a guarantee, because we are entitled to nothing, friends. So try to breathe, even if your house is caving in, what else can you do anyway? Really there aren’t any ‘right’ solutions even in this novel. It did feel like I was sitting down and listening to someone who hates the current state of things, her political leanings, which I am not always adverse to, it’s what writers do, share their views, but sometimes you want to escape and right now everyone is shouting over each other already. In all honesty you cannot really tune out, because everyone is already carrying on about it all, on tv, in our homes, on the street, at the store, in waiting rooms, between bathroom stalls, you get it…  Well written but I can’t deny that I am tired hearing the same thing over and over. I already know what everyone is so angry about, every aspect, I don’t live under a rock. But if you feel “Unsheltered” and in a daze about where this thing you call life is rolling, open this book and commiserate with Willa.

I enjoyed reading about naturalist Mary Treat though, what fun a book about her alone would be!

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

Harper

 

Advertisements

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang

39344110.jpg

So, thirteen-year old Cora had shivered and cried, wondering if her numbed left arm and leg would work again, or her garbled speech would right itself. And they did- only a few hours later. It never happened again, but the incident reminded Cora that her body held dark sway over her existence.

Cora, birthed three weeks too early in shame to Elizabeth, an unmarried socialite is born with an anomaly, two hearts. When her mother dies giving birth to her, a doctor discovers her extra heartbeat, assured having a chinese father follows all the other pecularities brought to the docks by those ‘foreigners’. Being of mixed blood certainly causes these oddities! Immediately the doctor is hungry to have her for dissection, when she dies of course, because he has no doubt her death will come soon. With the baby, this anatomic jewel,  she would be a great gift to medicine, something to dissect and study! He will pay them, it’s obvious they live in poverty and sorely need the funds.

Charlotte herself knows all too well what life is like as a family outcast, cut out of the family for her own ‘sins’. With her cousin Elizabeth passing and the threat of the doctor looming over their heads, she devises a plan to hide the child. One baby girl takes on two lives, as Jacob and Cora Lee, twins. So begins the adventures of Cora, Queen of Resurrectionists, employed by anatomists! Instead of gowns and all that glitters she chases down the dead from funerals to cemeteries to make a pretty penny. Even the poor that often “died in such dreadfully ordinary ways” can line her pockets, but competition can be fierce! It’s the unique bodies with oddities that are in high demand, people like Cora herself. She watches her marks, waiting until death takes them, keeping always to propriety as a lady should, even when dealing with the stink of death.

Before long, such people are dying unnatural causes, disappearing! Cora knows someone is hunting them and the killer may well be on her heels. Worse, she has met a mysterious medical student, Theodore Flint, poaching her business who knows all too well about Cora Lee’s fierce reputation. Disguised as Jacob, Cora and Flint come to an arrangement and everything gets muddled as her feelings for him become more than just business. Running from passion and love is nothing compared to the killer coming to collect a most sought after oddity for his collection, Cora herself.

Containing two hearts makes it that much more fitting that Cora has led a life as two people in order to survive but Flint could unravel the only protection she has, if he discovers her brother doesn’t even exist. The timeline beginning in 1850 with Cora’s birth, was ripe with body snatching for medical studies you can research this and find out the shocking reality. Too, this is a feminist story in the split necessary for Cora to take on the role of Jacob to navigate the rougher side of life. Cora is fiercely intelligent, full of medical knowledge and yet Jacob is the one the invite to the Grand Anatomical Museum is extended to by Theo Flint. In a world where women were less, Cora has risen to legendary status. Her own aunt and mother’s removal from the well to do family because of their pregnancies out-of-wedlock was the norm of such times and yet we see amazing strength and courage in Charlotte taking on the care of her niece. These were mean times if you didn’t have money, which is why as vile as body snatching is, it’s a sink or swim existance and people did what they needed to in order to survive! Bigotry against mixed- blood children, xenophobia, the poor versus the rich, sexism, it’s all here and it’s quite an adventure.

I was engaged to the very end and genuinely feel Cora makes for a fascinating young woman! This is one to add to your TBR pile, I was still guessing how it would all come together and the ending is just right.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Lake Union Publishing

Amidst This Fading Light by Rebecca Davis

40933219

Time could do many things; soften the blow of misaligned teeth, erase a dead girl’s name and fade memories that ought to be forgotten.

One family moves into Germantown, the Picketts, treated with suspicion, disrupting the ways of the founding families. Following in the footsteps of his older brother Marlowe, Reggie buys the old weathered Himmel homeplace, but one Mrs. Honora Brow says to her audience, “Well, I’ll be. Didn’t you feel that chill?” The Brows have always held sway over the people of Germantown, known to be gifted in the art of ‘Prediction’. The woman who holds fast to her ‘gut feelings’ and it doesn’t bode well that the Picketts don’t hold her in high esteem, as do the rest of the townsfolk. Mrs. Picket is never wrong, how dare these inferior people doubt her? But no one could imagine the stink of tragedy clinging to the Picketts and how it would change the entire town.

This is a brutal tale of the ways in which life picks at people, like vultures. It is about what remains to be salvaged in the wreckage, and the ways in which we are tied. Taking place in the Piedmont region of North Carolina during the Great Depression, choices to be made, actions that horrify our sensibilities today were a reality that had to be confronted. The sorrow begins in Chapter 1, with the passing of a child and a large black pot. A people made of stronger stuff, in a time that snuffed you out with any sign of weakness in character.

Quince isn’t the boy Reggie hoped for, he feels robbed of strapping sons to help work the land and carry on the Pickett name and he never let’s Quince forget it. The slight, dreamy boy gets under his father’s skin while his wife Helen knows the boy is of a tender nature, but Reggie must toughen the boy, and it goes back to his own father, “There was nothing more destructive than his father’s displeasure.” And so the cycle continues. His uncle Marlowe is more successful with the right sort of boys, strong, helpful. Everything is much easier for him, and it eats at Reggie to compare their lives, to know his son could never live up to his inheritance, not like Marlowe’s boys. Years pass, Marlowe has plans, banking on Quince’s tragedy, always wanting something from him. The vile, heartless decision just to make money is enough to turn anyone’s stomach. The horrors never seem to want to release Quince, not even with the gentle touch of love to ground him to the present.

Lela is new to town and quickly befriended by young Louise Pickett, but she can’t help but notice her quiet brother, Quince. So begins their relationship that takes them through blinding grief, deep abiding love, the shaky years of college and the uncertain future that waits for them.  The Picketts come to define Germantown, not necessarily for the better. Something about other people’s tragedy makes those close to it think they own it. Neighbors are often too near, judging as Honora does from the start, setting the Picketts up with her smug, superior ‘facts’ about that chillingly odd brood, and yet on the flip side of the coin you have Lela’s family and their unwavering support. A tale about the whims of fate from illnesses, war, abuse, birth, love and everything in between.

It’s a heavy read, sometimes you really need to light that match and burn down the painful reminders of your past to ash.

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

Southern Fried Karma

The Girl on the Doorstep: from the bestselling author of The Workhouse Children (A Black Country Novel) by Lindsey Hutchinson

cover143161-medium

Rosie was afraid, she’d heard about gypsies taking off with young children.

Maria Valesco is a ‘dreaded’ gypsy, the sort that Rosie has been warned to fear, but as she is crying on the steps of her cottage, with a mother who ‘won’t get up’ and no father at all, Maria is her salvation. It’s either trust in the gentle, kind Gypsy or be sent to the workhouse, the harsh reality for poor orphans in the late 1800’s, England. Rosie and Maria become like mother and child, befriending the ‘cut-rats’ (people who work on canal) and are treated just as lowly as the Romany.  Coming of age, learning the traditions of the Maria’s people, traveling in a caravan has been a life of love, but all that ends with a loss and Rosie finds herself dependant on the kindness of Margy and Abner Mitchell. Soon, she is living on their boat, until she can figure out what to do with her future.

Rosie has the gift of second sight, and before long word spreads and she has clients. Not everyone likes what they hear about their future, and Rosie has uncomfortable predictions for Margy too, involving a woman and her own beloved son and grandchildren. Rosie’s own love is uncertain, falling for a much older and very married man. Then there is the  Jake Harding, a Romany bandolier who wants her desperately as his monashay (wife), despite discovering that she wasn’t Maria’s biological daughter, hence not a true Romany. He is dangerous, and won’t give up. The man she has fallen in love with has complications of his own, and the future of his sons are utmost in his mind, despite his growing feelings for Rosie.

The Mitchell’s daughter in law has caused them nothing but untold grief, kept them from being around their grandchildren and son with her devious lies and manipulations. I actually thought Sarah was needed in this novel, with her flaring temper. Every family seems to have that one difficult person, pulling everyone’s strings, making a mess.

With every step Rosie takes, and despite her gift of sight, things keep going wrong. While she has brought hope and friendship to the Mitchell’s, her own life seems to be under a dark cloud. Is it truly darkest before the dawn? Will Rosie have the happy ending she desperately longs for? beginning with the devastating grief of a child losing her mother and growing into a strong young woman raised by an incredible selfless gypsy, Rosie’s future couldn’t possibly end without genuine love. This is a delightful, historical fiction with characters whose lives have a lot of difficulties besides making a living. Most of them caused by other family members. What’s a love story without obstacles?

August 7, 2018

Aria

Before We Died (Rivers, #1): by Joan Schweighardt

40102009

“It was Clementine, the old italian hag who passed herself off as a fortune-teller, who started it all.”

Jack and Baxter, Irish American boys need to get away from work on the docks and have themselves an adventure, get past their Da’s passing, at least according to the hag. Their plan is to make a fortune themselves, by tapping rubber trees in the South American rainforest, dangerous dream for men who barely have a pot to piss in. They cannot imagine the deadly competition nor all the danger besides human beings that awaits them.

Readied with provisions such as food and medicine (one to prevent malaria in particular) they will travel with a team of men, make camp, build their own abode, quickly learn the tree tapping process with little time to spare before the wet season. Jack and Bax are figuring out that money won’t be as quick to come as they had imagined, that one season isn’t even enough to even out expenses. But if someone as rich and successful as Carnegie himself said the ‘best opportunity today is in rubber’, then the brothers from Hoboken, New Jersey are on their way to untold wealth! It isn’t long before they suffer the threats, from fish( those that can swim up any human orifice), caiman, piranhas, vampire bats with a liking for toes, mosquitoes and other insects. Soon everyone is ‘verbalizing their fears’, such as the story of the river snake that rules it.

Then there are the ‘savages’, the caboclos whom some of the men would as soon as shoot then see alive and ‘wasting space’. Afterall, what good are people who can’t read or write, know nothing of the civilized world? The caboclos rely as much on their tapping season, desperate to bring in enough rubber to support their own families. The canoes too are frightening , floating along at nearly surface level, vulnerable to creatures in the water as those threatening from the land. If illness overtake the men, they are likely to be left behind like garbage. The elements are not friendly, particularly to men who are laboring to the point of exhaustion against nature’s clock, the workload heavier to shoulder as men deal with fevers. Storms rush at them, taking down bridges. Will they ever be able to complete their tasks? Then, the jaguar is near, the howl of monkeys can wake a man from dreams dripping from the sweat of fear.

The brothers become captives of the Gha- ru which for me was the best part of the entire novel. The Chief of the tribe holds their fate in his hands, and the women are full of nothing but love and nurturing. They are one with the hostile environment, the land and it’s animals, a fruitful existence for the Gha-ru. Their mysterious healing ways could be salvation, but they could also be the brother’s doom.

Will the brothers survive, return to their mother with untold riches, or will this really be a story before they each die? One thing is certain, they underestimated their journey and the savageness of the Amazon. It isn’t the things you expect alone that become obstacles, but the wild things you couldn’t fathom.

Before We Died is a fascinating historical fiction about the rubber industry, when you think about the products we take for granted its wild to know people have lost their lives to secure it. It’s not often modern folks examine the things we surround ourselves with and think about how they were produced, on whose sweat and blood. Just look into the history, it certainly destroyed indigenous societies and forced untold numbers to work, because any resistance was met with violence or death. Of course as with anything in high demand, it brought immigrants and cities grew as well. (Tires, pencils, Tupperware, latex, shoes,the list of rubber products is long) Rubber barons made a killing (literally).  This novel takes you into the start of the boom, with the story of Jack and Bax, a telling of why and how some men took on the challenge of rubber tapping. This is the first in the River series.

Publication Date: September 15, 2018

Five Directions Press

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

37007910

“And Lydia,” she added before I could dart away back to the stable, “you must never show the world what it is that you have inside of you.” 

It is 1821, banished to ‘the edge of the world’, according to her sister Catherine anyway, the Montrose family find themselves living in the much more isolated Willow Hall, having had to flee Boston. A portrait of a doomed ancestor on the Hale side presides over the library, always watching, one of grim fate, that of a witch who was hanged. It seems that scandal seems to follow the women, and now thanks to Lydia’s eldest sister Caroline, they have had to give up life in society, no more parties, visits with friends and it all hits their mother hardest. Rumors destroyed them “We’ve only been here a day, but it already feels too full of ghosts of a happy family that might have been“, things will only get worse. Something sinister is lurking, and both Emmeline and Lydia will be caught up in its terror.

Little Emeline is dreamy, delights in exploring their new surroundings with images of mermaids playing in her mind. It may well be this childish fancy that endangers her. The romance isn’t all hummingbirds in the heart, Lydia isn’t as beautiful as her sister Catherine and her intended needed, for appearances sake, to be well rid of her and the stink of scandal. Maybe it wasn’t a great love, but it aches all the same that he abandoned her  when family could have used some support and broke things off, chosing the cowards way. Is love through with her? What is the story behind the mysterious Mr. John Barret, whose partnered up with their father? Are the rumors true, that ghosts and all matter of supernatural beings haunt their new home? Emeline believes so. After their chance meeting with Mr. Barrett, Catherine delights in having visitors, male ones to be exact. Lydia knows she is scheming, her beautiful sister is always up to something. Her improper sister seems bent on ruin.

Lydia’s peculiar nature is growing stronger, she is seeing things, messages in mirrors, a woman in the night, or is it simply a ‘figment of her imagination’? Whom dare she confide in  about the things that are happening to her? Everything is about to turn dark, and Lydia’s powers bind her to her dear sweet sister  Emeline in ways she never had imagined. Caroline has her own future happiness, survival to contend with and she will do everything she can to secure it. But at what cost?

Lydia’s family isn’t the only one whose past is clouded, there is more to Mr. Barret than meets the eyes. Not all menace comes from outside forces either. Her inheritance is an unusual one, an ancestor long dead may have answers, but her mother may have been keeping her in the dark. What are her reasons?

Without giving anything away, I found the story similar to gothic stories I used to read in the summertime, well-loved, battered copies from my grandmother’s bookshelves. I was always surprised that despite its lack of sex there was always some depravity within. The same holds true here, nothing was easy for women back in the day.  Easy to scoff at what was considered ‘ruinous’ in bygone days but reputation was serious, it was about more than just being snubbed. Any whiff of indiscretion and there goes your standing in society, your very livelihood too, business connections, even maids would leave you standing in the lurch. It didn’t make for sisterly affection when one sibling is self-involved at the risk of brining down her entire family. Imagine the deeds of other family members barring you from future success, or hope for a happy marriage? There is romance, but it isn’t the entire story. It is about protecting family, even to one’s own detriment. Supernatural forces come into play, wreaking havoc on a family that already has disturbances of its own making.

Secrets have a power of their own too, depending on who knows them. Will Lydia be strong, brave enough to embrace her abilities and salvage what she can from her family ruins? An enjoyable read that has haunts, family scandals, deaths, and a witch whose blood still flows in the veins of her descendant. This is will be out in October, the perfect month for all things otherworldy.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Harlequin

Graydon House

 

 

 

The Dream Daughter: A Novel by Diane Chamberlain

37638145.jpg

“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