Monday, January 7, 2019

My winter break reading list

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

After reading Abbi Waxman's other novel, Other People's Houses, I decided to try her first book and am extremely glad I did.  It was really funny - I rarely laugh out loud while reading a novel, but I did reading this one - often.

The premise doesn't sound funny - 34 year old Lilian has been a widow since her husband was killed in a car accident three years ago.  She is also the mother to two young daughters - the youngest was a baby when her father died and does not even remember him.

We quickly learn that after her husband's death Lilian had a breakdown and was temporarily hospitalized leaving her quirky mother and younger sister in charge of the girls.  Now she is functioning, but not really living.

As an illustrator, Lilian is instructed to take a gardening course to get better knowledge for a book she may be hired to illustrate.  She decides to take her daughters and sister along for the course.  There they meet an eclectic group of people including the Dutch instructor who shows her she may be able to love again, a lesbian couple who are retired teachers, an older man who has a much younger wife, a single mother and her young son and a young surfer dude who hides some greater depth.

The interactions between all these people are humorous but realistic.  The scenes with Lilian's daughters, especially the younger one, are particularly entertaining.

Not a deep book though it does touch on important human relationships and how we deal with grief and eventually moving on.  I really recommend it for an entertaining read.

Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

My perennial favourite Nantucket writer has changed venues - to the U.S. Virgin island of St. John.  Irene Steele, a magazine editor who lives a seemingly idyllic life in Iowa City has her life thrown into disarray when her husband dies in a helicopter crash in the waters off St. John.  She and their grown sons, Baker and Cash, travel to St. John to recover his body and find out what happened.  There they discover their father lived a secret life, including owning a huge mansion they knew nothing about.  So they try to piece it together - including by meeting with the father and best friend of a young woman, Rosie Small, who also died in the crash.  In fact, Irene starts to fall for Rosie's father and both sons fall for her best friend, Ayers.

I don't want to say much more so you can work through the mystery with Irene, Baker and Cash.  I will say that since Hilderbrand's plans a trilogy, this book ends with more of a cliffhanger than her usual work.

Again, not great literature but an easy vacation read.

The Life Lucy Knew  by Karma Brown

The premise of this book is interesting - Lucy Sparks slips on the ice and suffers a head injury.  When she wakes up she's told the man she thought she was in love with, and remembers marrying, is actually her ex-boyfriend and she hasn't seen him in years.  Instead she is with the devoted, Matt who she remembers only as a colleague and friend.  Her psychologist describes her memory disorder as "honest lying" because she remembers things that didn't happen (including a wedding) in precise detail and really believes them to be true.

The story follows Lucy as she works with Matt and her family to try to put back the pieces of her life - either by remembering what actually happened or creating new memories.  I was really pulling for a happy ending and was glad the author didn't disappoint.

The Hour of the Fox by Kurt Palka

I actually found this book a bit slow for my liking though it wasn't terrible.  The book takes place in the 1970's.  We meet Margaret who has been fighting to establish herself as a lawyer in a male dominated world for decades.  Her husband, Jack, is a geologist and has always been supportive of her non-traditional goals.  However, their marriage is suffering as their only son, Andrew, a military pilot, has been killed in action.

As Margaret and Jack drift apart she decides to travel to Sweetbury, a small town on the Atlantic, where she spent her childhood.  She sets up a temporary office in the house she inherited from her grandmother and reconnects with her friend Aileen.  And when Aileen's son Danny is questioned by the police in death of two children, Margaret jumps into action to act as his lawyer.

The story takes place in Sweetbury as Margaret and Aileen struggle with what has happened to Danny and Margaret is personally impacted by the deaths of two young people as she has not fully come to terms with her son's death.  But there are chapters interspersed where we learn a bit of Margaret's backstory including her giving birth to an illegitimate baby as a teenager.

Finally we see how Margaret learns from this experience to try to repair her marriage.

All Things Consoled: a Daughter's Story by Elizabeth Hay

This is a memoir by the Giller Prize winning novelist, Elizabeth Hay.  When her mother develops dementia and her father starts to decline physically, Hay transforms from being daughter to being caregiver and she gives an honest detailed account of her experience.

In addition to exploring the indignities of the aging process, Hay recounts her always difficult relationship with her very volatile father and the impact that has on her ability to care for him in old age.  She also delves into the rivalries with her one sister and two brothers as well as the strain on their relationship which develops due to her taking the primary caregiving role, but expecting (and receiving) support from them.  Hay also benefits from an extremely supportive husband.

The book doesn't paint a pretty picture of aging, but it certainly gets you thinking about what lies ahead.

The Light we Lost by Jill Santopolo

I honestly couldn't put this book down.  It's well written, suspenseful and contains very engaging characters.  Lucy and Gabe meet as college seniors at Columbia on 9/11.  That day they decide they want to live meaningful lives - and though obviously attracted to each other, Gabe is in a relationship and they part ways and do not see each other again until graduation.

However, throughout their lives their connection remains - sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker but never out of existence even when they are physically apart.

I don't want to say too much as it will give away the ending, but the book is written entirely from Lucy's perspective as she recounts their relationship as well as other aspects of her life such as marriage and motherhood.  We are left wondering from the start when she is recounting the story and where Gabe is at the time and though she drops hint, we really have to wait until the last chapters to find out.

And in my view it was really worth getting to the end...

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