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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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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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edge-of-winterThe Edge of Winter

By Luanne Rice

Bantam Books (c) 2007

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Edge-Winter-Luanne-Rice/dp/055358765X

 

For my family, the third week in July is Lake Week. Every year I look forward to this seven-day hiatus from my real life; a week of beach, bonding with family, and of course, books. On the day before we left, I searched through my TBR pile for the perfect beach read, thinking something sunny and glamorous and oh so romantic would be just the thing. I don’t know what made me grab Luanne Rice’s The Edge of Winter. Set in a small Rhode Island community in late February, the book hardly seemed to fit the bill. But after skimming the first two pages I found myself at the point of no return, and so I packed the book into my beach bag, along with my sunglasses and my jumbo-sized coffee cup. I’m so glad I did. Filled with complex relationships, The Edge of Winter is a heartwarming story of hope, redemption, and second chances.  

For fifteen-year-old Mickey Halloran, it has been a winter of changes as she and her mother, Neve, rebuild their lives in the wake of a painful divorce from the father who seems to have forgotten her. As if being abandoned by her father wasn’t bad enough, Mickey and her best friend, Jenna, seem to be growing apart. As they brave the elements and ride to a secluded cove in a state park one frozen February morning in the hope of spotting a rare snowy owl, Mickey senses their childhood love of bird watching is something Jenna might be outgrowing. Leaving the park, Mickey is injured when her bicycle skids on a patch of ice. She is aided by Shane West, a reclusive surfer boy she knows from school, and park ranger, Tim O’Casey. When Neve shows up at the emergency room, Mickey learns that a warrant has been issued for her father’s arrest for nonpayment of child support. Mickey struggles to work through her feelings of betrayal. When it seems things can’t get much worse, her beloved snowy owl is injured and Neve, Tim, Shane and Mickey, along with Tim’s elderly father, Joe, WWII veteran and bird rehab specialist, must all pull together to save the owl. Thus begins an emotional journey that explores the relationships between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, best friends, and lovers of all ages.

Though painted on the canvas of a stark winter beach, the setting is utterly beautiful, sprinkled with wildlife, glittering waves, and the first hints of spring. The characters are well drawn and likeable, and the plot is multilayered and symbolic. The owl’s damaged wing seems to represent the faltering relationship between Tim and Joe, while a mysterious WWII U-boat that lies beneath the cold, still water represents the deep secrets of the past. The author skillfully weaves all of the story elements together to an ending that is both satisfying and memorable.

I found The Edge of Winter to be a most heartwarming and compelling read, and I’m anxious to check out many more titles by this talented author.

— Honeybee

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four-wives-paperbackFour Wives

By Wendy Walker

St. Martin’s Griffin Edition – April 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-36772-5

Website: http://wendywalkerbooks.com

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Four-Wives-Wendy-Walker/dp/0312367724

Affluent suburbia with its tree lined streets, pretty homes, and lush green lawns. An idyllic setting, but like the black fungus invading the verdant lawns, a plague of discontent has settled over the wives of Hunting Ridge. Four wives, four friends, living lives that are inherently the same, yet different. All stay at home moms, all filled with the same discontent, but using different means of coping.

Gayle Beck comes from ‘old money’ and takes pleasure in the social status it guarantees. Her life appears perfect to anyone looking from the outside. But inside her beautiful 1890’s farmhouse, things are far more sinister and getting worse each day. She deals with her husband’s rage, and a young son who continually grows quieter and unhappier. Gayle wonders how much longer she’ll be able to keep up the appearance of a woman in control; even with the aid of the many pills her doctor prescribes.

Janie Kirk is a woman of great beauty and expert homemaking abilities. She’s the perfect wife and mother. Janie likes her life in Hunting Ridge, but grows restless and dissatisfied with her passionless marriage and the husband who doesn’t know nor does he care to know the real woman he’s married to. Turning to a torrid affair could spell the end of everything for Janie.

Marie Pesseti, a part time divorce attorney struggling to have it all. Marie was going crazy being a full time, stay at home mom and opened her own small law office specializing in father custody cases. She feels she’s losing her husband and daughters to the Hunting Ridge way of life, which she abhors. Working a difficult case and dealing with a cute new intern, Marie is close to taking a step that may change her life forever.

Love Welsh, a former child prodigy and illegitimate daughter of the great Alexander Rice is Marie’s next-door neighbor. Love is having a difficult time keeping things together, her home is a mess and she rarely has time to do much more than brush her hair. She knows her life is a wreck and worries constantly about her children, but can’t seem to find the energy to rectify it. A letter from her estranged father causes the ghosts from Love’s past to resurface and things go from bad to worse. Love develops horrific, debilitating back pain, but all the medical tests fail to explain the reason for it.

When it fell to me to read and review FOUR WIVES, I wasn’t sure if I could do it justice. It just isn’t my kind of story. There’s nothing I dislike more than reading about women with expensive educations, too much money and do too much whining. Women who have it all, but are never happy. Women who are doing what many women would love to do—stay at home and raise their children instead of going to a back breaking job and leaving the kids in day care, so they can make enough money just to get by. But keeping an open mine, I turned to the first page. The excellent writing pulled me into the story. The phenomenal characterization kept me there.

Although I found these four women unlikable, I liked them anyway. All four women are devoted mothers and fearful of making any choices that would adversely affect their children. I became absorbed in their lives and couldn’t stop turning the pages. Even though their lives are so far from my own, I could see tiny pieces of myself in each of them. I too have suffered from a bad marriage, dissatisfaction, depression, restlessness, and bone deep weariness. I too have had to keep my silence, and make tough choices for the good of my children and my sanity.

The characters created on these pages are so real, I could easily picture them as friends or sisters and like my own family and friends, I took them into my heart, faults and all. I rooted for them to make the right decisions. I wanted to shake Gayle and kept hoping she’d tell her shrink to F-off, and then kick her good for nothing husband out of the house. Marie is a snotty little witch devoted to family, loyal to friends, full of strength, courage and integrity. I loved her and could definitely see her as a best friend. I wanted to alternately hug Love, and shake her. And Janie, I wanted to slap her, hug her. I cried for her. And in the end, she broke my heart.

Ms. Walker is a gifted writer and knows how to keep her reader’s eyes glued to her words. Skillful plotting builds the tension page after page. I kept waiting for the hump to come. The one where the story loses me for a while and I can put it down to tend to necessary chores. It didn’t happen and the chores were left until I’d turned that last page. I highly recommend this book to all women regardless of their life’s circumstances.

FOUR WIVES is about women and sentiment, passion and marriage, motherhood and most of all friendship. I defy you not to find a small bit of yourself within its pages. It’s been several days since reading this story and I can’t get these women out of my mind. They aren’t easy to forget and I imagine will be with me for a long time.

  –Willow

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–Working Girl Reviews

https://workinggirlreviews.wordpress.com

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thememorykeeperThe Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Kim Edwards

Penguin Books, 2006

ISBN 0 14 303714-5

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Memory-Keepers-Daughter-Kim-Edwards/dp/0143037145/

Spring is turning into summer, which means cool mornings, hot days and mild evenings. To me it also means it is porch time. I love to read while sitting on my porch on a warm spring day. Some weekend mornings will find me starting the day on the back porch with my coffee and a book. If I don’t get my reading time in until later in the day I grab my book and a glass of lemonade and head to the front porch. If it is a particularly busy day my porch time might come just before sunset. A few nights ago I was cozy on my porch swing and so engrossed in a book that I stayed until it got too dark to see the words on the page. The book I was engrossed in this time was The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. This book drew me in from the start and really held my interest for the first several chapters. The story got a little bogged down towards the middle but from mid-book on I was hooked again and didn’t want to put it down until I reached the end.

This is a story about good intentions, a bad choice and lives forever altered. The tragedy begins one snowy winter night in 1964 when Doctor David Henry an orthopedic surgeon has to deliver his own twins due to a blizzard that keeps his wife from reaching the local hospital. With the assistance of his nurse Caroline Gill, they deliver a boy (Paul) and a girl (Phoebe). The boy is healthy and his delivery went well. The doctor soon realizes another baby is on the way but when she is born he immediately recognizes the signs of Down’s syndrome. He makes a split second decision that will forever haunt his family. Rather than tell his wife Norah that Phoebe is born with Down’s syndrome he asks Caroline, the nurse to take the baby to an institution. Although a horrific thing to do without consulting his wife, readers must remember that the institutionalization of special needs children was much more common in 1964. Upon seeing his newborn daughter, David had an immediate flashback to his childhood. He watched his parents live in fear of losing his frail sister, who was born with a heart defect and had no chance of surviving into adulthood. David has vivid memories of her illness and the loss her death brought to his world. David’s desire to protect Norah from the sorrows of raising a frail child played a role in him giving Phoebe away. He tries to convince himself that he is acting to save his wife from heartache and loss. However, as expected, his act causes its own heartache and is the foundation of a wall that will forever separate him from the closeness he desires with his wife and son.  After Norah revives from the delivery he tells her one baby died. He even allows her to hold a memorial service and visit the cemetery plot hoping she will put it behind her and focus on Paul.  The day of the service he catches a glimpse of Caroline in the crowd and realizes he made a terrible mistake. After the service he rushes to Caroline’s apartment only to find her packed up and gone. Unbeknownst to him she didn’t have the heart to leave baby Phoebe in the institution and instead flees town determined to raise the baby herself.  Two wrongs didn’t make a right and Caroline had plenty of secrets of her own. The doctor had a change of heart and made some attempts to right the wrongs of his past. It was too little too late but his efforts left me thinking more favorably of him than I did earlier in the book.  Caroline should be admired for her love and devotion to Phoebe but she is not without guilt. She was secretly in love with David and holds onto Phoebe to get closer to him.  She later marries truck driver Al and creates a comfortable life for the child. She is tireless as Phoebe’s advocate in education and society in general but through the years she refuses to let David right the wrong and be involved in Phoebe’s life. The novel switches back and forth and readers follow the children in parallel stories as they grow up, attend school, play sports, get jobs and eventually meet their first loves.

It was short sighted of David not to understand how the death of a child would impact his wife. He builds his wall little by little. Watching his wife’s grief over her loss doesn’t break his silence. The couple grows more and more distant and each of them make choices that further harm their marriage and alienate their son.  David’s lie shades his marriage as he forever lives with his guilt. His act did not spare his wife. Norah ends up spending years mourning her lost child and wondering why her husband has put up a wall. Paul grows up in the shadow of his parent’s strained relationship with small twinges of longing for the sister he never knew but lost. Norah becomes a successful businesswoman but often runs to the arms of other men.  David has a successful practice but hides in his photography. Paul has the normal ups and downs of childhood followed by rocky teenage years. He copes by getting lost in his music. The book is full of sad people. As I read I found myself angry at the characters one minute and rooting for them the next. Surprisingly, Phoebe alone seems to have a positive outlook on the life she has been dealt. She accepts her lot and lives in the peace her family members seek. Readers will love Phoebe and her simplistic view of life, her contentment and joy in all situations.

While I read the book I had many different emotions: Shock, anger, sorrow, compassion, sadness and the longing for resolution. As I have said before in previous reviews I like happy endings. As I got further into the story I didn’t see how there would ever be a resolution that would bring healing or joy. The ending wasn’t quite what I expected but given the events of the story a nice neat happily ever after just wouldn’t fit this one. The author’s ending left me with a few questions but was more realistic than if everything had been resolved in a neat and tidy way. Living to justify the past only haunts the present. Life brought a lie and perhaps only in death could the truth be revealed.

This was a good book and I would recommend it to readers, but I do want to point a few negatives. I don’t feel the author fully developed some of her minor characters. Norah’s sister Bree was a colorful character but not developed to her full potential in the story line. The author could have done more with Caroline’s husband Al as well. The biggest disappointment to me was the character of Rosemary. She seemingly had a major impact on the doctor yet her character fizzled out and never reentered the story. At first I thought maybe the author tried to introduce too many minor characters, but I think it’s more that she tried to add too many minor details about these characters and then didn’t know where to go with them. We see bits and pieces of their individual lives but some of the pieces never really fit with the overall plot and come across as miscellaneous tidbits. Some of these could be left out to help shorten the story and move the main plot along at a better pace. My second negative piggybacks this and is the author’s wordiness. The book was draggy in a few places and I think it was because she added too many wordy descriptions and retold things more than once. She described the same outfit numerous times and often mentioned a character’s physical features more than once. For me, once I know it was a floral skirt or that someone’s hair is black, the author doesn’t have to keep telling me. These are small minuses in an otherwise well written story. I really enjoyed the way the novel is written in parallel fashion flipping back and forth between Caroline / Phoebe and The Dr and his family. As I read about Paul and his adventures Phoebe was never far from my mind and then I was happy to get back to her story when the author took me back to her story line. I enjoyed the day the two finally met and the relationship they were able to salvage.

This is a powerful story centered around an event that is unthinkable yet highly believable for the time period. At various points while reading I was filled with sorrow for each character in the story. One lie caused huge damage but keeping the secret all those years, did even more. The story will make readers think about choices and how one decision can change so much. Family ties are strong and loss isn’t always forever. This novel shows that there is hope for even the most tangled lives. This is a book of love and loss. It is a story of family secrets, parallel lives, and a love strong enough to heal the past.

— Pearl

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promisethemoon1Promise the Moon
By Elizabeth Joy Arnold
Bantam Books, June 2008
Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Promise-Moon-Elizabeth-Joy-Arnold/dp/0385340664  

It’s silly but I was drawn to this book by the pretty picture on the cover. I thought it would be a book about promises and hope. It was, to a degree, but it was also a bit depressing. I guess I should have expected that from a book that centers on war and suicide. I was hoping the focus would be more on the promise and less on the tragedy.

Promise the Moon by Elizabeth Joy Arnold is about Natalie, a young widow and her two young children, Anna and Toby. We meet the grieving family soon after Josh’s suicide. They feel angry and betrayed that Josh made it home from the war only to make a choice to leave them. We soon learn that Josh arrived home from war physically safe and sound but brought post traumatic stress along with him. Not until midway through the book do we learn the degree of the coping skills he utilized as he tried desperately to return mentally. Young Toby, the one who found his father after he shot himself, immediately stops talking.

Natalie wants to reassure her children of their father’s love for them so she hides a note and pretends that their father is writing to them from heaven. Josh used to put little notes in a secret hiding place in the bathroom for Toby and Anna. He always told the kids the notes were one way he showed his love for them. Natalie was only going to leave one note but when Toby found it he started talking again and the letters seemed like a way to help him cope. The letters end up leading to deception and lies and cause trust issues for Anna. Anna feels guilty about how she acted before her father’s death and has her own secrets as she gains more information about her father’s past.

In the midst of their sorrow the family is uprooted when they are forced to leave the base for “civilian” housing. Natalie moves back in with her parents, including her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. One of the first things Toby does in the new house is run to the bathroom and look for a note. Natalie vows not to send any more letters, so when he stops talking again Anna takes the task upon herself. Even though Toby knows his dad is in heaven, he believes Josh still writes to him. Anna won’t admit to her mother that she is writing the letters and as she reads the letters, Natalie begins to question where the information is coming from. Suddenly the letters reveal things only she and Josh could know. Could he possibly be writing to them?

As she adjusts to being back in her childhood home and helps care for her mother, Natalie she sees hints of a mental illness that plagued her husband upon his return from war. She finds his PDA chock full of notes that clearly helped him make it through his daily routine. Only after reading his detailed notes does she realize how hard he tried to appear to be better. She senses that he wanted desperately to be the Josh she married. She reads through the entries and gains insight into his worlds but she can’t bring herself to read the entry posted on his last day of life.

A chance meeting with an old high school sweetheart and contact from a soldier buddy lend emotional support and additional information to help the family come to terms with Josh’s death and the real reason behind his suicide.

The story is compelling but several times, as I was reading, the book seemed to be dragging on. There was a little too much repetition of events for my liking. The author set out to show how grief impacts a family but she almost included too many scenarios in her attempt to show the array of emotions. I feel that is what caused the book to drag along.

Promise the Moon is not a light read. The author deals with tough issues but the issues are a reality. War happens, military suicide happens and loving families are shattered. Although it is an emotional book readers will find the promise if they stick with the story until the end. Readers will grow to care for these characters as they bond together to deal with their loss. When the last page was turned I was satisfied with the ending. It is possible to find hope and happiness after tragedy but the road to get there is long and bumpy and you may need a friend or two to help you stay the course.

Pearl

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