REVIEW: ALL THE HOUSES, BY KAREN OLSSON

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How does one come home again, after launching an adult life, albeit one that is somewhat floundering? Helen Atherton is trying to find out how to do just that, and how to reconnect with her father, Tim Atherton, whose connection to the Iran-Contra Affair of the 1980s lent a certain intrigue to his life back then.

Her father’s heart condition gives Helen the perfect excuse to change course, and try to write something meaningful about her father’s life and his work.

Helen is the middle sister, sandwiched between her “perfect” older sister Courtney and the younger, somewhat elusive sister Maggie. When Helen comes back to Washington, D.C., she sees that the ties between the siblings are unraveling. She doesn’t understand either of her sisters, and they don’t seem to understand her.

All the Houses was somewhat disjointed, going back and forth between the past and the present, and in both cases, we see Helen floundering. Her recollections of parties her parents threw in her childhood seemed to be her way of trying to understand how her father had made the choices he did, and why he is so detached from life now. His former colleagues and friends seem to have slipped away, and he lashes out. Was everything in his career defined by the mistakes he made?

I didn’t care that much about the characters, although my favorite parts were watching Helen in the present, trying to forge a new life. Her memories of the past seemed like selective memories, as she tried to find meaning and hope in the events that defined her father and his career. 3.5 stars.

LET’S CURL UP AND CHAT!

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Good morning, and welcome to my Office Nook, where I spend most of my mornings.

Today is my eldest son’s birthday…and I wish he were here!  But he and my lovely DIL Gabi spent more than a month with us in the summer, and we keep up nowadays via Facebook, etc.

 

 

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We won’t mention his age, because then you might figure out mine!  LOL.  Here is a photo of him in 1987…Yikes!  That spiky hair.  We enjoyed sharing some of these photos with his wife Gabi…she met him long after these days….

 

 

Craig - 1987

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As I searched through various blog posts, I realized that October was the last time I purged…and then there was the carpet cleaning, as well as the office reorganization.

So is it time again?  Should I do more?

Well, I don’t want to cut too deep, as today’s Intros from Diane, at Bibliophile by the Sea, reminded me of a book that I hoped was still on my shelves…and it was!  Yay!

Family Tree, by Barbara Delinsky, is one I loved.  I read it back in 2008, before I really immersed myself in blogging.  So it deserves a reread, don’t you think?  And a proper review?

 

 

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I love this cover!  Here’s the blurb:

 

Dana Clarke has always longed for the stability of home and family—her own childhood was not an easy one. Now she has married a man she adores who is from a prominent New England family, and she is about to give birth to their first child. But what should be the happiest day of her life becomes the day her world falls apart. Her daughter is born beautiful and healthy, but no one can help noticing the African American traits in her appearance. Dana’s husband, to her great shock and dismay, begins to worry that people will think Dana has had an affair.
The only way to repair the damage done is for Dana to track down the father she never knew and to explore the possibility of African American lineage in his family history. Dana’s determination to discover the truth becomes a poignant journey back through her past and her husband’s heritage that unearths secrets rooted in prejudice and fear.
Barbara Delinsky’s Family Tree is an utterly unforgettable novel that asks penetrating questions about race, family, and the choices people make in times of crisis—choices that have profound consequences that can last for generations.

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In my post-purging weeks, I have busied myself with new headers and themes, and here’s what I’ve done at my website –  here’s the newest header:

 

 

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And a screenshot showing the background:

 

 

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So…perhaps I can focus on other things for a while.  No more purging through the holidays?  I still have two bookcases full of donations to take to the library.

 

 

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Meanwhile, I’ve been curling up with The Perfect Son, by Barbara Claypole White…and I’m enjoying it!

 

 

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Let’s curl up and immerse ourselves in our books!  What are you reading today?

 

 

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REVIEW: HOUSE OF GLASS, BY SOPHIE LITTLEFIELD

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Jen Glass keeps control of her world with lists written in neat handwriting in pretty notebooks. Her sister Tanya makes fun of her obsession, but Jen knows that her list making is a way of organizing her thoughts, so when the time comes to act, you don’t waste precious moments on false starts and dead ends. She fears a loss of control, and would do anything to avoid it.

Now Jen and Tanya are in Murdoch, clearing out their deceased father’s apartment. Jen is appalled by the detritus of their father’s life. He had left them years ago, and their mother had died shortly afterwards. There are no sentimental memories for Jen.

Her own life, back in Calumet, is arranged the way she likes, with a beautiful home, handsome husband Ted, and two beautiful children, Livvy, a teenager, and Teddy, a preschooler.

But there are niggling doubts about how perfect her life really is. Ted has lost his job, Livvy has become more and more belligerent, and Teddy has stopped speaking.

So when Jen returns home, after dealing with her father’s things, she is hoping to start putting her world right again. Suddenly, out of the blue, Jen and Ted’s world crashes down around them when intruders break into their home and hold them captive. For 48 hours, nothing at all is under their control, and the author shows in excruciating detail how wrong their world has become. Frightening and heart-pounding, House of Glass reveals the inner thoughts of the characters as they suffer through the horrendous experiences.

But then, from some hidden place inside, where memories of the past were locked, Jen found the strength to take action.

How did their world turn upside down? Who or what brought the evil into their home? How did the events of those two days bring the past back into Jen’s memory, helping her reconcile the past with the present? And how would she begin again? The characters were flawed, but relatable, except for the perpetrators, who were pure evil. I would definitely recommend the book for those who love thrillers, and I enjoyed how the past informed the present. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE ROCKS, BY PETER NICHOLS

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The lovely Mediterranean setting was a great draw for this book, but the unusual writing style left me feeling confused a lot of the time.

The writer takes us from the present, in the opening chapter, and then swerves back to the past, and we see the characters in their earlier incarnations.

Two primary characters, Lulu Davenport and Gerald Rutledge, octogenarians at the beginning, were once in love…and as the story spins back in time, we see what happened to them over the years. Their children and grandchildren are the recipients of their legacy and their traditions, and while I love the idea of such events, I simply did not enjoy The Rocks: A Novel.

Many others will probably engage with this story, but I was not one of them. Three stars.

REVIEW: THE HOME PLACE, BY CARRIE LA SEUR

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She thought she had escaped her broken family and the detritus of her life in Billings, Montana. But Alma Terrebonne, a successful lawyer living in Seattle, finds herself roped back into the family left behind, with all of its lies, secrets, and crippling memories.

On an early Sunday morning in January, a phone call takes Alma back, to the sad consequences of her sister Vicky’s party-loving life, and the eleven-year-old niece who needs her.

How will Vicky’s death change everything about Alma’s life? Will the old family homestead bring back good memories as well as bad? And who, if anyone, has taken Vicky from them? Her brother Pete and her grandmother Maddie, as well as the bitter and angry aunt and uncle, Walt and Helen, will arouse the bitterness of the past, as well as bring more questions in the present.

I could not stop turning the pages, as secret after secret is revealed, and then, just as I finally started to suspect what would come next, the stunning surprise was more malevolent than I had imagined.

The author takes the reader along for a ride as we explore the Big Sky country, with the gorgeous land, and as we learn of the threats that landowners are facing from those who wish to grab their mineral rights, we feel a righteous indignation for those who stand firm to protect what is theirs. The Home Place: A Novel is an evocative tribute to family, its bonds, and the heritage that allows them to stay connected, despite the secrets that often threaten to damage them all. Recommended for those who enjoy family drama, a little mystery, and the thrill of uncovering the secrets of the past. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: HOME, BY TONI MORRISON

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What does it mean to come home?

For Frank Money, it means finding his way back to Lotus, Georgia, to rescue his fragile sister Cee. In 1950s America, the adversity a black man faces is clearly shown to the reader, from the moments on a train or in a restaurant, to his discoveries in Georgia upon his return. He is clearly suffering from some kind of Post-Traumatic Stress, as the images that war within his head follow him wherever he goes.

What has happened to Cee in his absence is devastating, but the strengths of their bonds help the two of them recapture a sense of family and home. And a scene near the end illustrates the essence of this feeling.

A short novella with beautiful prose, Home (Vintage International) was memorable and captivating. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: EVERGREEN, BY REBECCA RASMUSSEN

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They were two people wanting a quiet life. So when Emil and Eveline moved to Evergreen, Minnesota, to start their married life together, they were prepared for the challenges of living in the forest. But what would separate them and keep them apart for too long would come unexpectedly and would change everything. Their story began in 1938.

After the birth of their son Hux came the news of Emil’s father’s illness. Emil’s departure to Germany would come at a time when wars were heating up, and leaving Germany would become an impossibility. Time passed, and while her husband was away, Eveline somehow managed, with the help of neighbors.

Until one day when a visitor came and took from Eveline something that would leave her powerless to change the consequences.

After an untenable decision changes lives, the story leaps ahead to 1954…and then again to 1961, with Hux an adult seeking his lost sister Naamah. In the end, the year is 1972, and while many separations have come and gone, there is a bond that links them all.

What happened to them all is revealed through the pages in a tale that sweeps across time and generations.

The emotional impact of Eveline’s decision would have an effect on all of their lives, but the reader only sees the after-effects in others. Without a look into her mind and heart, or seeing how Emil reacted to what she’d done left me struggling to make sense of the missing pieces of Emil and Eveline’s story. Leaping ahead across time left this reader with a disjointed feeling. A sad feeling of missed opportunities for healing. But then, finally, as Evergreen: A novel drew to a close, there was one recurring theme: mothers and children, separated, could be reunited, as if the past no longer defined them. 4.0 stars.

Review: The Stories We Tell, by Patti Callahan Henry

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They are Savannah’s power couple. Cooper and Eve Morrison have a beautiful home on property handed down through the Morrison family for years: his e-publishing business is successful, just as her letterpress studio is, where she produces Fine Line, Ink…cards and logos, and other creations.Cooper travels constantly to find customers and investors, and Eve’s studio occupies the old barn on the property.Living in the guest cottage is Eve’s sister Willa; the two are best friends who have survived harsh childhoods filled with disapproval. One of the company’s most successful card lines is based on their Ten Good Ideas from childhood: their answer to the Ten Commandments.But one night a terrible accident happens. Cooper and Willa are both injured, and Willa has suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her memory is affected, and what she does put together about that night is in direct opposition to Cooper’s story. And it isn’t a story that makes sense to Eve, either.

But will they ever learn the truth? And if they do, what will happen to their carefully constructed world?

The Stories We Tell: A Novel is a wonderful tale of family, secrets, and how the truth can ultimately set you free, even if it seems as though your world is crashing down around you.

It was impossible not to engage with the characters and want to discover everything that has happened. I was rooting for Eve…and even Gwen, whose behavior was horrible at times. But she could only handle her pain by acting out.

In the end, I felt a great satisfaction with how the truth unfolded…and even if things played out in a slightly predictable fashion, I didn’t see how the details would fit together until nearly the end. I liked the idea of how we each have our own stories, and how new beginnings come out of endings. 4.5 stars.

Review: The Headmaster’s Wife, by Thomas Christopher Greene

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At the heart of The Headmaster’s Wife is the role family, tradition, and expectations play in the unfolding of our lives.

For generations, the Winthrop patriarchs have been headmaster of this small prep school in Vermont. Lancaster is steeped in its proud traditions, and almost as if there is no choice in the matter, the roles are passed down from father to son.

Arthur Winthrop and his wife Elizabeth are living in the lovely and welcoming home provided for the headmaster, and their lives are set in certain ways. Their routines mark their days.

But as our story opens, in a section called Acrimony, Arthur is narrating in his first person voice, and what we are learning seems incredible. The tale alternates between Arthur’s version and a third person account that seems to be taking place in a Manhattan police station.

Before we can even sense the accuracy of what occurs, we are brought into the section called Expectations, and Elizabeth’s perspective is revealed.

Was their destiny set for them because of their choices? Or were the traditions and expectations of others responsible for what transpired for the characters? How do grief and the frightening events of the 21st Century affect Arthur and Elizabeth as their lives seemingly implode?

In the end, in the section called After, some more revelations and mysteries of the past are resolved, and there is a hopeful aura that surrounds the characters.

This story was difficult to review, as so many potential spoilers lurk around every corner. Suffice it to say that whatever you thought might happen, you will be surprised. I think that I will recall and reflect on these events and these characters for a long while. 5 stars.

REVIEW: TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNT ABOUT LOVE, BY SARAH BUTLER

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What if the whole of your life you were searching, struggling to find your place in the world?

As the youngest of three daughters, Alice is approaching her thirtieth birthday, but has yet to find her unique connections to the world and to others. She doesn’t mesh with her older sisters, who seem to look upon her as the black sheep. She can feel their criticism whenever they look at her, and they question her choices. Her relationship with Kal has also failed, yet a part of her wants to reconnect with him.

Meanwhile, she has come home to London, to the house near Hampstead Heath, because their father is dying. By the time she gets there, from Mongolia, he is very near the end. She doesn’t feel like she belongs here, and she restlessly longs to be away again. When she sits with her father, she feels as though she needs to ask him something. But does not.

Daniel is a man without a conventional home who has memories of a time and a love, and is now on a quest to find someone. Does he hope to find a place in the world too? Despite his apparent rootlessness, he sees the beauty in the world around him, and remembers love in all its wonder.

Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love is narrated alternately in the first person voices of Alice and Daniel, and as we watch them seemingly coming to a place of connecting, we also see Alice coping with clearing out her father’s house after his death, taking on most of the responsibility because she has been gone so much.

Why is someone leaving little gifts for her on the wall by the front door? Is the man named Daniel someone she has known? Is he trying to tell her something?

We are left with more questions than answers, although, at the end, there is a sense that Alice has come to some kind of decision about her life, and Daniel seems to have decided something as well. This is a story about love, loss, and finding connections, but it is also a story that reveals our connections to the places where we live and to the past we have left behind. A lovely and poignant tale that made me feel both sad and hopeful. I had wished for more closure for the characters, and then I realized that we can almost write our own ending. 4.5 stars.