REVIEW: IDAHO, BY EMILY RUSKOVICH

 

Ann and Wade have carved out a life for themselves from a rugged landscape in northern Idaho, where they are bound together by more than love. With her husband’s memory fading, Ann attempts to piece together the truth of what happened to Wade’s first wife, Jenny, and to their daughters. In a story written in exquisite prose and told from multiple perspectives—including Ann, Wade, and Jenny, now in prison—we gradually learn of the mysterious and shocking act that fractured Wade and Jenny’s lives, of the love and compassion that brought Ann and Wade together, and of the memories that reverberate through the lives of every character in Idaho.

In a wild emotional and physical landscape, Wade’s past becomes the center of Ann’s imagination, as Ann becomes determined to understand the family she never knew—and to take responsibility for them, reassembling their lives, and her own.

My Thoughts: In the very beginning of Idaho, we are introduced to Ann and Wade at a time in their lives when Wade’s memories are beginning to fade.

I could visualize the scenery of their mountaintop home and understood why they remained there, even though Wade had lived there with his first wife Jenny, and their two daughters, June and May.

The story goes back and forth in time, to Wade’s childhood, Ann’s younger years, and then leaps ahead to a time in the distant future, when Wade is no longer a part of the picture. We watch as Ann carefully arranges her life so that she can move on.

We see the life Wade and Jenny had together, and then we flash forward to Jenny in prison, how she copes, and the one friendship she maintains with a woman named Elizabeth.

The tragedy that led to Jenny’s imprisonment was one that left this reader with many questions, and by the end, hanging in there and hoping for clear answers. Through Ann’s searching and imagining, we think we have it figured out…but it is only guesswork.

No clear resolution made the book feel frustrating, although it was well written. It will be one that stays with me, mostly because the book felt like a puzzle I could not quite solve. We do have a sense of Ann moving forward, however, and can visualize some of what lies ahead for Jenny. A 4 star read.

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LET’S CURL UP WITH “THE GOOD NEIGHBOR”

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

My feature today is a recent download:  The Good Neighbor, by A. J. Banner, a book that will forever change the way you look at the people closest to you…

 

 

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Intro:  (Prologue)

I’m drowning.  The river’s current is tearing me apart.  I’ve kicked off my boots, but my heavy jeans cling to my legs.  My chest burns with the need for air.  Where is she?  I’ve lost sight of her—no, there she is, too close to the falls.  Her head bobs to the surface, her pale face upturned.  Her lips are blue.

I strike out after her, but the current yanks me under; I swallow mouthfuls of water.  I fight my way upward, break the surface, spitting out mud and silt.  The rumble of the waterfall rises to an earsplitting roar.

***

Teaser:  Now, as we waited for Eris to answer the door, I could almost believe our lives were normal, that we were on one of our casual social outings.  I’d donned dark jeans, a brown knit sweater, and Rockports.  Everything new, except the gold necklace I’d found in the rubble, which I wore beneath the sweater, where nobody could see it—a reminder of my past life. (p. 66).

***

Synopsis:  Shadow Cove, Washington, is the kind of town everyone dreams about—quaint streets, lush forests, good neighbors. That’s what Sarah thinks as she settles into life with her new husband, Dr. Johnny McDonald. But all too soon she discovers an undercurrent of deception. And one October evening when Johnny is away, sudden tragedy destroys Sarah’s happiness.

Dazed and stricken with grief, she and Johnny begin to rebuild their shattered lives. As she picks up the pieces of her broken home, Sarah discovers a shocking secret that forces her to doubt everything she thought was true—about her neighbors, her friends, and even her marriage. With each stunning revelation, Sarah must ask herself, Can we ever really know the ones we love?

***

What do you think?  Do the excerpts grab you, make you want to keep reading?

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REVIEW: THE GOOD GOODBYE, BY CARLA BUCKLEY

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Rory and Arden Falcone have been inseparable since their birth, and despite the fact that they are just cousins, they could almost be twins. They look enough alike to be mistaken for each other.

 
Vince and Gabrielle are Rory’s parents, while Vince’s brother Theo, and his wife Natalie, are Arden’s.

Their connection is further enhanced by the partnership between Vince and Natalie in the restaurant they own.

But all is not perfect with the Falcones, and when Rory and Arden go off to college together, and even become roommates, could they all be too close for comfort?

The dynamics between Rory and Arden become more intense at college, with Rory as the leader and Arden, following along. But Rory has always been the confident one, spoiled and entitled, while Arden is quiet, perceptive, and artistic. Why is Rory able to control Arden? Why does Arden so willingly go along with Rory’s demands?

Then at home, there is trouble, as Vince’s poor investment puts the restaurant at risk.

It all comes to a head one terrible night when a fire in the dorm room puts Rory and Arden in the hospital fighting for their lives, while a friend, Hunter, is dead.

The Good Goodbye was intense and mysterious, and following the alternate narratives of Natalie, Rory, and Arden, we slowly begin to fill in the blanks of the past, present, and the moments in the hospital when the girls hang between life and death. We come to see that none of them are who we thought, especially Gabrielle, whose dark side comes to the foreground. I definitely could not put this book down, and even when I thought I had it all figured out, I was stunned by what developed. Recommended for all who enjoy a family drama, as well as fans of the author. 4.5 stars.

Review: Keep Quiet, by Lisa Scottoline

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Jake Buckman and his sixteen-year-old son Ryan have had challenges in their relationship, so when his wife Pam asks him to pick Ryan up at the movies, he sees it as an opportunity for the two of them to bond.For the ride home, Ryan begs to drive, so while it is past the hour when someone with a learner’s permit can drive, Jake agrees. Ryan’s joy makes him feel good.But suddenly, everything changes when they approach a blind corner on Pike Road. All it took was the two of them glancing at one another and away from the road for tragedy to descend.Their split-second decision will change their lives for the foreseeable future, and the secret will weigh upon them heavily. Ryan’s sports career and his college future could hang in the balance, but can he and his father hide what has happened?

In the unfolding story, it seems obvious that the two of them will be facing uncertainty and the possibility of discovery.

At this point in Keep Quiet, we meet characters like Dr. Dave, the coach and a therapist, who inserts himself into the lives of the Buckman family with unwanted advice and the kind of intrusiveness that can only anger someone with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Pam seems entirely too trusting of Dr. Dave, and while they have promised not to tell anyone their secret, there is always a risk. There was something oily and annoying about Dr. Dave, so I felt that there was more to him than met the eye.

And then there is the man who approaches Jake, claiming to be someone whose son is playing basketball, but who is not what he seems. Who is he and why is he moving in on them with just enough information to threaten their world? What is his angle, and how will Jake deal with him?

Even though I was rooting for the Buckman family, I did not like Pam, even though, in the end, she seemingly came through for the family. But her attitude throughout, until the final moments, was judgmental and harsh. She blamed Jake for everything, while not acknowledging her own mistakes or poor choices.

As the story drew to a close, I liked how new pieces of the puzzle suddenly came out, throwing a new slant on everything we thought we knew. The final resolution was a good one for Jake, Ryan, and Pam. An intense suspenseful tale that kept me rapidly turning pages. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: SUMMERLAND, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

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While many people think of Nantucket Island as a land of “wealth and privilege, a summer playground for those with a certain prep-school, old money, I-used-to-row-with-him-on-the-Charles type of pedigree,” others know that Nantucket is a real place, populated by real people: Year round residents whose lives unfolded quietly or dramatically, depending on the moment.Our story, Summerland: A Novel, takes us behind the scenes of those real world moments, beginning on a warm June night, when, after various graduation parties, four young people crashed in a devastating car accident that took one young woman’s life, left her twin brother in a coma, and changed life in the foreseeable future for everyone on the island.Penny Alistair, who was not drinking, was driving boyfriend Jake Randolph’s car, with two other passengers: Demeter Castle and Hobby Alistair, Penny’s twin. Eventually, Hobbie awakens from his coma to find his world drastically changed and his sports career over.

What set Penny on that dangerous course of action? Why was she driving so erratically, almost as if she wanted to die? What had Demeter told her in the dunes when they went there privately, just before that final car ride?

In the rest of the story, we slowly learn some answers…and have more questions.

We also discover more about the interior worlds of the parents, as well as the children. Zoe Alistair, single mom and a talented chef, has been having a secret affair with Jordan Randolph, Jake’s father, and the owner of the local newspaper. Lynn and Al Castle, Demeter’s parents, are caught up in their civic-minded world and blind to their daughter’s self-destructive bent. Ava, Jake’s mother and Jordan’s wife, spends most of her time in her dead son Ernie’s room, mourning his loss to SIDS at age eight weeks…and blaming her husband.

What I loved most about this story was that it is so much more than a beach read. Instead, it explores themes of relationships, conflicts, errors in judgment, and lost dreams. And while we are following along with the drama of the characters, the author shows us the settings, even allows us to drool over Zoe’s wonderful and creative culinary treats, and takes us along to enjoy a brief stint in Australia, where Jordan, Ava, and Jake go for a while after the accident.

The tale was so layered, transporting us back to the “beginning” of each character’s story as we follow that character’s narrative. Definitely a memorable book. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD, BY LEAH HAGER COHEN

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Ava and Fred Robbins grew up surrounded by woods and lovely places to explore. They had the freedom to wander, as their parents schooled them at home in an experimental fashion. Their parents believed that the best learning comes through experience. No Book but the World: A Novel is set somewhere in upstate New York, in a place called Batter Hollow. Clustered around the compound that is now a defunct school were buildings with names like The Annex and Art Barn. After the school shut down, families lived in the cottages, including the Robbins and Manseau families. Dennis and Kitty were two of the Manseau children.But something was not right with Fred. And apparently there was no diagnosis, as this freedom also extended to a life without labels.

Now Ava and Fred are adults, and a tragedy results in Fred’s arrest. Ava leaves her home and her husband for a time to drive up to Perdu, where he is in jail, to try to help “explain” Fred to his attorney. But in the process, she realizes that much of her childhood is unexplainable.

Narrated in four sections from the perspectives of Ava, Dennis (her husband), Kitty (her best friend & sister-in-law), and Fred, we discover bits and pieces of what that world was like through their eyes and their memories of that time.

Was it really all that idyllic? What emotions are now aroused for each of them as Fred’s situation turns even more serious?

I liked Ava, who suffered from a feeling of responsibility for Fred, something that had informed her life even in adulthood. Dennis, as Kitty’s older brother, had seemed an unlikely spouse for Ava, but he had a special understanding of her experiences. His kindness and empathy made him a likeable character. However, I found Kitty to be condescending, with a superior and antagonistic attitude. Her master’s degree in psychology lent an expertise to her approach, but sometimes it seemed to merely hide her arrogance. I had to wonder if she was covering something through this defensive posture. In the flashbacks to their childhood, there was a kind of cruelty in Kitty’s behavior, perhaps covering her discomfort with Fred and with the Robbins approach to parenting.

As the story winds down, inexplicable events turn everything we thought we’d sorted into more of a puzzle. With just a few words, the author turns it all upside down. As we contemplate what life was like for these characters, we learn some conclusions in Ava’s voice, as she dismisses the notion of freedom, in terms of her parents’ efforts to provide it:

“I see now they were mistaken. We are none of us free. We are tethered by our connections to other people, those we know as well as those we will never meet. What tethers us is our ability–our responsibility–to imagine them, to fathom their lives, their circumstances, what we have in common, what sets us apart.”

With these thoughts to ponder, I conclude the story with a final word: what is truth, what is imagining, and what memories can we trust? This story is one that will linger in my memory. 4.5 stars.