REVIEW: SMALL BLESSINGS, BY MARTHA WOODROOF

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Professor Tom Putnam is a bumbling, kind, and quiet individual, just making it a day at a time.

And then, out of nowhere, a chain of events unfold to turn his world topsy-turvy, but in ways that seem like gifts. First he meets Rose Callahan, a quirky woman who is the Assistant Manager at The Bookshop, near the university. She has been like a rolling stone her whole life, as she and her single mother moved from place to place. Almost as if they were afraid of settling down. What is it about Rose that, despite her nomadic history, gathers those she meets into a circle of warmth around her, making the world seem like it is bursting with sunshine?

Even Tom’s troubled and fragile wife Marjory is drawn to Rose.

Small Blessings: A Novel is one of those books that seemed to wrap itself around me like a cozy shawl, as each character brought something special to the canvas. Even loud and ebullient Iris adds her own unique presence, once we manage to see beneath her obnoxious demeanor, along with the somewhat cranky Agnes, Tom’s mother-in-law, who conceals a sharp legal mind behind her fa├žade.

Most of all, among the unexpected gifts in each of their lives, the presence of young Henry will change everything about the predictable world they had all lived in for so long. But Henry comes with baggage…not only the kind that hides in the folds of his backpack, but the mysteries of his past. What, if anything, does another professor, Russell Jacobs, have to do with Henry? And why are all of these people keeping so many secrets?

Even as we wonder about the intricacies of their lives, we bumble along, almost like Tom, savoring the moments…and then, as startling as a flash of lightning, everyone is thrust into a dangerous situation. Who will save the day? And what will finally happen to make Rose realize that it is okay to be happy?

Set somewhere in Virginia, not too far from Charlottesville, this story is one that made me keep turning those pages, connecting with these characters and their lives, as if we might knock on their doors one day. Five stars.

Review: The From-Aways, by C. J. Hauser

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Leah meets Henry in New York, but falls for him because of his oddities, as well as the stories he tells about his childhood in Maine. They marry too quickly, before they really know each other. Will they realize that they have nothing in common?

Quinn has been the caretaker during her mother’s illness, so when she dies, there is a void. Her mother’s last request is that she go to Menamon, Maine, to try to find the folk-singer father who abandoned them. Scrappy and smart-mouthed, Quinn gets a job at the local paper, an apartment above the town diner, and tries to shore up the courage to meet her father. But falling in love with her roommate, Rosie, was never part of the plan.

In alternating chapters, we follow Leah’s and Quinn’s first-person narratives, and learn each woman’s thoughts and feelings. Of the two, I liked Leah the best, as Quinn seemed too impulsive and careless, rushing blindly into all kinds of situations. Her girlfriend Rosie, was similar and before either of them could realize the extent of their poor choices, it would be too late.

A news story that is likely to divide the town further brings the two young women together on a hot-button issue. How can these two outsiders fit in? Will their pursuit of the perfect topic alter their position in the town? Will Leah’s marriage fall apart?

The From-Aways: A Novel is an engaging tale about small-town life…specifically, small-town life in a fisherman’s paradise. It is about people not wanting their town to change; people who love everything the way it has always been. When outsiders force changes on them, there will be hell to pay. 4.0 stars.