The Secret of Clouds @AlysonRichman

From the #1 international bestselling author of The Lost Wife and The Velvet Hours comes an emotionally charged story about a mother’s love, a teacher’s promise, and a child’s heart…

the-secret-of-cloudsMaggie Topper has left the bustling life of a New York public relations world to become a teacher on Long Island, a job she adores and one at which she is quite good. She is approached to tutor a homebound child who is too ill to attend daily classes and, although Maggie is uncertain at first due to a past trauma of her own, she comes to enjoy and look forward to her time with Yuri, the young Ukrainian-American boy who is quite ill. Soon they are bonding over baseball and their mutual love of reading and writing. As  her weekly visits become routine, Maggie discovers more about Yuri’s parents’ tragic life that they left behind in Ukraine, including their survival of the horrific Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

This is so much more than just Maggie and Yuri’s story. Told in alternating timelines, there are flashbacks to Katya and Sasha’s time spent in Ukraine. We read as their love unfolds and grows and their struggle to reach a decision about leaving their families behind to come to the US. We also have Maggie’s interactions in her private life as she struggles with relationships: private, familial and with her other students in the classroom. It is a joy to watch as she grows as a woman, as a teacher and as a friend to those around her.

The Secret of Clouds touches on so many important topics and, if there was one critique, and really there are none but if there was to be a minor one, it would be that there almost were too many important topics covered. The Holocaust is a recurring topic and a very poignant section of the book is when one of Maggie’s co-workers recounts a memorable story of an art teacher who taught Jewish children in the concentration camps, most of whom were killed. The story is tragic and beautiful but brief. There is Chernobyl and the horrific after-effects of this disaster, how even today this tragedy still is playing out physically and mentally in those who were affected and their offspring and even in their offspring. And then there is Maggie and her parents, her familial relationships, her budding romance, her work as a teacher. It was quite a lot for a short book. All of that not withstanding, Richman does an incredible job weaving it all together seamlessly and the book flows brilliantly so that it is over before you realize and far sooner than you wish for it to be.

This is a rare book about friendship on so many varied levels. It is a look at cross cultural relationships and how important it is for each of us to interact with one another. Most importantly, it is about hope and love and learning to live a life with a full and open heart. It will make you smile, cry, and laugh but, most of all, it make you ponder long after you turned that very last page.

With a grateful heart to #Edelweiss, #AlysonRichman and @BerkleyPub

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The Dream Daughter @dianechamberlain

The Dream Daughter is a moving novel illustrating that a mother’s love knows no boundaries….

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Carly has been dealt two blows within a short time-frame. The year is 1970, and she has just been informed that her husband has been killed in Vietnam. The child she is carrying has been diagnosed with a heart defect and will either die before or shortly after its birth. This child is her only remaining connection to the man she dearly loved and she will go to any lengths to save its life – including traveling into the future where the medical care is available.

Remember the cult classic Somewhere in Time? It was a fabulous novel made into a movie starring Christopher Reeve. I was one of its devoted followers and watched the movie over a dozen times. I love time travel when it is done well; after all, I doubt it will be much further into our own future that it is possible. Things that I once thought of as “space age,” now are my reality so time travel isn’t a leap of faith for me. The Dream Daughter is one of those rare books that does do time travel well.

Diane Chamberlain creates a story of familial love, a mother’s desire to protect her child both in the present and in the future and she does it in a manner that is completely realistic, well developed and, most importantly, thoroughly engaging. As readers we can feel the compassion, fear and hope that Carly feels. We come to understand her actions – both in the present and future. I laughed with her, cried with her and was angry with her. It is a heartbreaking tale at times and, in fact, my heart did break throughout the story. But there is more to this domestic tale than sadness; it is one of hope and wonder. That an author can pull this off so well is a testament to her incredible writing skills.

Because a majority of the story is told in 1970, there is a lot of what is now our history, but Carly’s present. I was amazed at the way that Chamberlain handled the events of that era. It was a time of the Vietnam War, Watergate, the rise of the Beatles, the Kent State massacre and so much more. All of these events play a large role in the storyline, as does the 911 World Trade Center tragedy. It was interesting to read about these events from the viewpoint of historical context.

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Dream Daughter, there were a few minor detractions. Of course it is not written from a scientific standpoint so if one is looking for the science of time travel you won’t find it here. There also were times that I felt there was too much minutia and, rather than pulling me into the storyline, it made those sections of the book drag. Despite those minor irritants, however, the book is wonderfully written with characters that will not be soon forgotten. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Thank you to #StMartinsPress and #Netgalley for my copy of The Dream Daughter, on sale October 2, 2018.

 

The Exes Revenge by Jo Jakeman

A satisfyingly noir tale of three abused women seeking their revenge against one man. 

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Phillip Rochester is one of the cruelest, most manipulative, abusive men that these three women could imagine but they didn’t have to imagine him. He was their reality. When his current wife, Imogen, is told that she must move out of her house – which they own together – or face consequences, Imogen is well aware of what those consequences might entail. She has a son by this man and he is threatening to take away their child – not because of love, but because he seeks revenge on anyone he perceives as wronging him. Imogen snaps and does something incredibly rash not realizing that her actions ultimately will involve the other women in Phillip’s life.

I will admit that I found The Exes Revenge incredibly satisfying. It begins with Phillip’s funeral so we know from the start that he dies – thankfully. The story, told in present and past revelations, imparts the sequences of events leading to his death. As it unfolds we realize that every person who has had contact with Phillip has, in some way, been abused by him. In the era of the #metoo movement, this book is perfect as each person, from his wives to his lovers, in-laws and his own child, has been abused by him.

This isn’t “just” a story about abuse, however. It has some wickedly humorous moments and these three women most certainly do not start out as anything other than enemies: the ex-wife who is still in love with Phillip, the current wife who has been left for the third, much younger and prettier lover. How they interact with one another is quite rich.

The vengeful ex-wife story has been told repeatedly in literature, however, The Exes Revenge is a fresh, very honest and candid look at the lives of women who are abused. I either have been that woman or knew them. They are your neighbors, sisters, daughters and friends. There simply are too many women who have been verbally, physically, sexually or psychologically battered for the story ever to grow old. The ending, how Phillip actually dies, is priceless. I could read and re-read that chapter over and over again. Perhaps I’m just in a very cynical mood lately, but endings like this one provide immense gratification, as does the entire book. It is a fast paced page-turner that I highly recommend.

Many thanks to the author for an advanced copy of this debut thriller and also to Berkley Publishing Group for my physical copy of the book. Much love!

 

 

 

 

Hard Cider

Hard Cider is a meandering, tangled tale that takes you on an emotional path toward a beautiful resolution.

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Women’s Contemporary Fiction is not a genre into which I often delve. The scenarios in the book either are so far from my wheelhouse that I cannot relate, or they mirror my own problems so closely that there is no escape or joy in the reading for me. However, because I absolutely adore hard cider, I had to give this book a try. What a wonderful surprise I had in store for me within the covers of this book!

Abbie Rose Stone has retired from teaching, navigated the stormy seas of infertility, adoption, raising her somewhat eclectic family to adulthood and, now, is ready to begin the next chapter of her life – one of her own choosing – making hard cider. Neither her sons nor her husband are completely on board with Abbie’s plan, but this is her passion and something she wants to do, with or without their support. As she prepares her orchard, meets with other growers and learns her trade, she begins to feel confident in what she’s doing. That confidence, however, is threatened when a young woman comes to Abbie with a secret that could potentially destroy the tenuous threads of Abbie’s family.

When I began reading Hard Cider, I felt as though I was trapped in a maze that was going no where. There is a bit of skipping forward from one time to the next that left me rather confused. The author spends a great deal of time on minute daily details of Abby’s life and then skips entire months or years into the future. At first, this was frustrating; however, as I continued following along Abbie’s story, I found that this style worked really well. Not only did it work, the details and the flowing prose of Abbie’s thoughts, deeply pulled me into her life and that of her family. Soon realized that the conversations Abbie was having with her grown children were, in fact, some of the more difficult conversations I’ve had with my own adult kids. The messages she would tell herself in order to remain calm while discussing problems with her husband – yep, I had done, said and thought those things as well. Rather than boring me or pushing me to set the book aside as “too familiar” with my own life, I was further drawn into the story as I related more and more to Abbie and her life. I, too, began an “adventure” at mid-life, one that had no support from my immediate family. Watching as Abbie grew as a woman and as an entrepreneur helped me to see how I, too, could grow and change. It is, in essence, a “coming of age” story for women in the 21st century. It helped, too, that I love heirloom apples, cider making and hard cider because there is a lot of information about this process within the book which also highlights the incredible beauty of the Midwest that I have come to love so dearly.

I suspect that this might not be a great read for men; it is, after all, labeled as Contemporary Women’s Fiction. However, I would not categorize it as “chick lit” either. Hard Cider is a solidly written story about women, their strength, character and growth. It’s a short read, very enjoyable and one that I highly recommend.