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Archive for August, 2009

sentence-of-marriageSentence of Marriage

By Shayne Parkinson

Genre: Historical Fiction

Original Publication Date: 2006

Book I in the three-volume saga, Promises to Keep

Buy Link: http://www.lulu.com/content/472164

I’m a very lucky girl in regards to the books I’ve been getting for review. They just keep getting better and better. Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson is no exception. It’s book one in a three-volume set titled Promises to Keep and one of the best historical novels I’ve had the pleasure to read in years.

New Zealand farm life in the 1880’s is hard and twelve-year-old Amy dreams of a life beyond the boundaries of her small community. Although snug in the warmth of her family’s love, Amy wants to be a teacher and experience the excitement of living in a city far from the isolated valley she calls home.

When losing her mother shortly after her birth, Amy and her older brothers are raised by an adoring father and strict, but loving Granny. Six months after Granny’s death, Amy is adjusting well to managing their home alone. When her father returns from a business trip with a new wife in tow, Amy and her brothers are shocked, but determined to make the best of it. Unfortunately Susannah finds farm life less than appealing and generally makes life miserable for all, especially Amy. Two and a half years later, Susannah’s younger brother comes to stay for the summer and Amy makes a choice that will change her life forever.

Although some of the plot is predictable in Sentence of Marriage, this in no way diminished the impact the story had on me because of the fresh way it was presented. The characters come alive on the page and with the breathtaking imagery drawn by Parkinson, the cinematic effect is undeniable. I felt as though I were watching the events unfold on a large movie screen. The author has a special gift for using specific words and phrases to bring the period and location into reality without it being overdone. The fact that I sat up reading until three-thirty in the morning, knowing I had to get up before six, speaks for how riveting the story is. I found it impossible to put down.

Not many people are totally good or totally evil and the author offers a superb mix of both good and evil characters with both good and bad traits existing in both. I was fascinated by Amy’s father, Jack, and enjoyed watching as different facets of his personality emerge. But one of the best characterizations I’ve ever seen is in Ms. Parkinson’s portrayal of Susannah—a selfish, conniving, self absorbed woman who seems, at times, to be on the verge of madness. Yet the author wisely gives the reader small glimpses of Susannah’s humanity, making her even more frighteningly real.

Negatives?? I screamed when I realized I’d read the last page. I wanted more, more, more, and I wanted it very badly. That’ s not a true negative though, is it? I have a feeling the story is about to take a decidedly even darker path, but I’m not worried about that. Sentence of Marriage has a darker storyline, but the warmth, humor, love and affection emanating from the characters make it both appealing and captivating. I’ll be buying a download of Book II in the Promises to Keep saga later this week and I heartily recommend this series to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and even those who don’t usually.

–Willow

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Belva-Plain-WhispersWhispers

Belva Plain

Dell, March 1994 (Mass Market Paperback)

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Whispers-Belva-Plain/dp/0440216745

 

Since I have read and enjoyed many of this author’s books in the past I was pleasantly surprised, while browsing at my favorite used bookstore, to come across a title I hadn’t seen before. Knowing without even reading the synopsis that I was going to like the book, I took it home and started reading it that same afternoon. As always, I was hooked by the opening sentence:

    ‘In dodging Robert’s hand, the furious hand aimed at her face, she fell and struck the edge of the closet’s open door instead.’

So begins WHISPERS, a gripping story of love and abuse in modern-day America.

When pretty, naive Lynn is swept off her feet by her handsome and charming boss, Robert Ferguson, at age twenty, it seems like a fairy tale come true. A rising star in a fast-growing company, the ambitious and loving Robert promises to make all of Lynn’s dreams come true. She has no reason to believe he won’t make good on those promises. However, as early as their tropical paradise honeymoon, the storybook romance is tarnished as Lynn discovers another side of Robert — a violent temper she never would have believed lurked beneath his charming exterior. Wanting to believe in his goodness and hoping for the best, she forgives his brutality and moves cautiously ahead into their future.

The years pass and the couple experiences all of the good and bad of life– the birth of children, the tragic loss of a child, friendships, success, and beneath it all, the ever present threat of Robert’s anger. Lynn tells herself the abuse is a small price to pay for all of the goodness the marriage holds, a lovely home, healthy children and the comforts of being the wife of a successful executive. Knowing she must be strong and keep the marriage intact for the sake of her children, she hides the scars, wipes away the tears, and goes on. But when her carefully concealed secret is discovered and her children begin to hear the faint whispers of gossip Lynn realizes she must look within herself and find the courage to leave.

With her classically eloquent writing style, Belva Plain paints a startling portrait of spousal abuse in corporate America and creates a realistic heroine in the character of Lynn Ferguson. So realistic that I found myself struggling along with her, almost believing with her Robert’s empty promises that things would get better. I was outraged at his cruelty, not only toward his wife, but toward shy, overweight Annie, his eleven-year-old daughter. I cried with Lynn through the bad times and cheered with her through the good. I was that wrapped up in the story.

Inspiring and evocative, WHISPERS is a story of a family’s heartbreak and redemption, and of a woman’s long journey back to herself. I recommend WHISPERS to anyone who enjoys finely crafted, resonating women’s fiction.

— Honeybee

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halfway-to-each-otherHalfway to Each Other

By Susan Pohlman

Genre: Memoir

Guideposts, September 2009

Preorder Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Halfway-Each-Other-Brought-Family/dp/0824947800

Susan and Tim Pohlman are living the American Dream in LA. It’s the dream life Susan always wanted, but behind the closed doors of the Pohlman home, things are far from perfect. Susan is disillusioned, unhappy, and secretly plotting her divorce. She plans to tell Tim after they wrap up a business trip to Italy.

Having a free day in Italy with no business to conduct, Tim suggests they spend it together. Although reluctant, Susan agrees. Surprisingly, the day is idyllic. When Tim confesses to hating his job and makes the crazy suggestion that they sell their home in LA and spend a year in the small town on the Italian Riviera in an effort to renew their love and marriage, Susan balks. She has a lot of painful emotions tied to her decision for divorce and can’t even imagine the reaction of their two children, fourteen-year-old Katie and eleven-year-old Matt. Yet the day had been wonderful and if there was even a small chance to save their marriage, shouldn’t she be willing to try?

Tim finds an apartment for them to view and after much soul searching and conversations with God, Susan tells Tim if the apartment is great, they’ll do it. But if the apartment is horrible, they’ll forget the whole idea. Tim agrees. Although lacking curb appeal, the place is large with a wall of windows and a balcony that looks onto the sea. Having made the agreement, Susan puts her faith in God for the first time in years and they sell the house, pack up the protesting kids and make the move.

I received this book and sighed. I laid it on the coffee table to remind me to read it, but I was reluctant. I’d read similar books over the years, both fiction and non-fiction. To be honest, I found them all a bit tiresome. Waking up to a stormy, torrential rain filled day, I picked the book up and decided to read the first few pages. I finished it later that evening. Once I’d started, I couldn’t stop. Ms. Pohlman tells her story with a fresh, unique voice and excellent writing.

This isn’t one of those, ‘lets move to Tuscany and live the simple life’ stories, even though that’s exactly what they do for a year. And although this sounds romantic, the family must adjust to a life so far removed from their previous one, they might as well be on a distant planet. None of them speak Italian and this alone causes many a hardship.

Halfway to Each Other is a story about creating lasting bonds—bonds of love, of family, and of friendship. And it’s a story of renewal—the renewal of love between a husband and wife, a renewal of family, and a renewal of faith. This is a true story and I found it very believable. These are not perfect fictionalized characters. They’re genuine, vulnerable, and charming. I don’t know if there’s a way to describe the Italian Riviera without romanticizing it. It is after all, beautiful and romantic. The author did a wonderful job with this. But what impressed me more was the way Ms. Pohlman did not romanticize the Italian people. They’re full of flaws, unadulterated, charismatic, and captivating.

I can’t begin to explain the variety of emotions I experienced while reading Ms. Pohlman’s first book. It’s full of subtle humor and I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, this touching, heartwarming account brought me to tears. I truly enjoyed my time with the Pohlman family and I highly recommend this book to all. If there is a negative, it’s only that, far too quickly I came to that last page. I wanted more and when Susan Pohlman writes another book, whether fiction or non-fiction, I’ll be there to get my copy.

 –Willow

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WFTRWaiting for the Rain

M. Jean Pike

Champagne Press, 2007

ISBN 978 1 897445 21 1

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Waiting-Rain-M-Jean-Pike/dp/1897445210/

 

This has been a rainy week in my world so it seemed the perfect time to settle in with Waiting for the Rain by M. Jean Pike. I wasn’t sure what to expect after reading the description on the back cover. The book had more depth and beauty than I expected. I found it to be a breath of fresh air in the paranormal romance genre. It is skillfully written, full of unique scenes, a few colorful characters, heartache, sacrifice, drama, suspense and of course a sexy leading man. In some ways the story reminded me of a modern, adult version of Tuck Everlasting. This book is a love story that offers hope but . . . is that hope medical, miracle or magic—readers will have to decide. If you like unpredictable books you will enjoy the many twists the author takes you on in this story.

The book is categorized as a paranormal romance novel and although it is a romance, it is not light, fluffy or full of silly sexual innuendos. The romance in Waiting for the Rain is believable and tasteful. The paranormal aspect will come upon readers slowly and quickly build into a beautiful tale. This book is easy to read in one sitting, but you better start it early in the day because you may not want to put it down until you get to the end. This is an emotional love story that shows the hope a sacrifice can offer one we love. Readers will go through a swing of emotions while reading of a love that sacrifices and heals but may not be destined to endure forever.

Readers will enjoy the way the author gets right to the heart of the story. It only took me a page or two to be hooked. The leading lady, twenty-eight year old Willow (Willy) is diagnosed with cancer. Before telling her husband, Tom, her sad news, he announces that he wants a divorce because he has found someone new. Having no desire for his pity, Willy refrains from telling him her medical news and instead agrees to the divorce and turns to the help of her friends. Realizing her time on earth may be coming to an end she desires to follow one of her dreams. Always an admirer of the majestic eagle, she wants to photograph one before she is too frail to do so. Her journey into the woods proves to be a life-altering trip. After experiencing car trouble and lack of cell phone reception, she meets Darby, a reclusive, gruff but handsome stranger with plenty of tragedy of his own. War veteran Darby lives in Baker’s Gully away from humanity with his faithful dog Lucky as his main companion.  The beautiful art work on the book cover gives a brief glimpse into the world that will captivate Willy who is strangely drawn to Baker’s Gully and can’t seem to rest until she finagles a way to stay in the abandoned rose covered cabin not far from Darby’s place.

Readers won’t be surprised when Willow and Darby begin to fall in love, but will be surprised by the direction their love takes them.  Both have lost a first love, neither is looking for a new love yet they are drawn to each other as in a fairy tale. If you believe in true love, if you believe miracles or magic can get you where you want to go, this book is for you.

The book is well written with accurate portrayals of the time period involved.  The main characters are fully developed and the scenes are beautifully described.  Through clear and vivid descriptions, readers will feel like they have been to Baker’s Gully before. I enjoyed getting to know Willow and I was fascinated by Darby. I appreciated the depth of both characters. Willow’s situation is easier to figure out but readers will have questions as they get to know Darby, his past and his beautiful property. Could Darby have the secret to the fountain of youth? Will he be able to help Willy? Will Willy let him? These are questions that come to mind for the reader. The author introduces to some colorful minor characters with interesting pasts and hearts of gold. Some readers may not approve of the lifestyles and choices of certain characters but will find them believable and true to form throughout the story. Readers will sense a heart of friendship in Sid, the loyalty of hard as nails lawyer Zoe, the jokester in off-color, disgruntled Toots, and the weakness in the loves of Tom and Marilyn.  The development of these characters allows the author to insert scenes written with humor, sarcasm, grief, romance, sacrifice, sorrow and love.

The ending of the book causes one to stop, think and review the story as a whole. If you are like me, you will reflect upon it for a time. Willow and Darby stayed with me for several days after I left Baker’s Gully. This is a thought-provoking story that reminds us that into every life some rain must fall. Rain is there for all of us. Our lives can be spent remembering the rain, waiting for the rain or embracing the rain. A choice is offered.

Jean Pike has given us a fresh, unique love story: A love for all times.  Waiting for the Rain is a keeper! I predict that readers will want to return to Baker’s Gully to read this story more than once.

–Pearl

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