REVIEW: THEN & ALWAYS, BY DANI ATKINS

 

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Rachel Wiltshire’s life was upended one night when a tragic event changed everything.

Now, five years later, while attending her best friend Sarah’s wedding in their hometown, an unexpected fall and a head injury change everything again.

But what Rachel remembers about her life in the past five years is not at all what everyone says it was…how could she have misremembered the past five years? And were her memories wrong, or are those around her telling an untrue version?

Then and Always: A Novel was definitely a story that made me ponder all the “what-ifs” in life. What if I had taken that road…or perhaps that one?

As Rachel begins to unravel the mysteries of her own life, a surprising number of twists and turns take her into some untraveled places.

An unforgettable story that kept me turning the pages. And then, in the final pages, a totally surprising twist makes me question everything I thought I knew about this story. Awesome read! 5.0 stars.

FROM THE INTERIOR: THE KALEIDOSCOPE TURNS AGAIN – GONE GIRL

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With the upcoming movie release of Gone Girl, it is impossible for me not to think about the book.

I read and reviewed the book two years ago, and in honor of that, I am reprising my review here.  Back then, on July 30, 2012, I reviewed the book on my Rainy Days and Monday blog, and entitled the review:  The Kaleidoscope Turns.

Are you nostalgic about the book as the movie release approaches?  Have your opinions or feelings changed, now that we will all be seeing the characters from the book on the Big Screen?

Here is my review:

 

Imagine, if you will, a happily-ever-after kind of marriage that slowly turns into a worst-case-scenario: a minefield of hidden explosives. You would then understand a little bit about the lives of Nick and Amy Dunne.

She was the main character in her parents’ Amazing Amy series that made them rich. She was the only child, spoiled, receiving all the attention, yet craving something more.

And there is Nick, born in the Midwest and dreaming of a special kind of life. A writer, someone who could also claim the spotlight. But then the economy collapsed. He and Amy both lost their New York jobs and that life. It’s back to Missouri to Nick’s hometown for the two of them, and the slow dismantling of the perfect life begins.

Suddenly a dramatic shift: it’s their fifth anniversary and Amy is gone. The search, the spotlight on Nick as a killer, and the now flat and devastated turf of their lives is shown to the clamoring public.

Told through alternating points of view, we see Nick’s story and what he shows us in bits and pieces; then we see Amy’s tale told through diary entries.

But in several surprising twists and turns, we begin to form a new picture of each of them. Gone Girl: A Novel reminds me a bit of the kaleidoscope toy I enjoyed in childhood: you turn it one way, and the pieces assemble. Then, with another shift, you have something entirely different.

Gillian Flynn kept me captivated all through this story, and I kept guessing about how things would unfold, but she surprised me still again. Could I even imagine how it would all turn out? No…but then again, grab your kaleidoscope and watch it all reassemble in still another way. Five stars!

 

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REVIEW: TEARS & TEQUILA, BY LINDA SCHREYER & JO-ANN LAUTMAN

519eAHHAVVLWhen Joey Lerner lands in LA, she is on one more stop in a gypsy-like journey, a series of flights from the pain and loss in her life.

She has a temporary place to stay with an old friend, Kat Jenkins, and a job interview at a place called Oasis. Her resume looks like a reflection of her flights along the way, but it is varied enough to land her a job as a handyperson….and then, unexpectedly, Joey is assigned a task of substituting as the grief counselor for a grief group. A gig that turns into something more or less regular. She has become a person who can fix broken things, even as she helps fix broken people.

The owner of the place, Daniel Wyndham, is a gorgeous hunk from Australia, and soon Joey finds herself more and more drawn to him.

But behind the scenes, someone is plotting her own brand of revenge, centering it on Oasis, Daniel, and Joey.

Will Joey realize that her new gig and the new people in her life are just what she needs to help with her own grief? Will she finally find a home, or will someone set on revenge destroy it all before she can settle into this new life?

The characters felt like real people that became a kind of family to Joey, and their stories made Tears and Tequila: A Novel a wonderfully rich tale of how people can work through their grief and find a support system along the way. I loved learning more about them all: Tamara and her daughter Maya; Maggie; Alli; Sam and his newborn Andrew; Dave, who is carrying a huge secret; and even Del, the doctor with a deep problem he is hiding. Best of all was lovely Berta, a mentor to Joey, and a guide in her own grief work. In the end, there were some triumphant moments that made me want to celebrate. A lovely 5 star read.

REVIEW: AN ITALIAN WIFE, BY ANN HOOD

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From turn-of-the-century Italy to America in the 1970s, we follow one woman’s story, with all of its layers and the changes wrought in the world around her, watching how she clings to the old traditions even as everyone else is desperately becoming American.

Josephine Rimaldi had been happily playing and dreaming, and the next day she was getting married. She was fifteen, but the marriage had been arranged many years before. Still, the reality was astounding.

And then, after the marriage, the couple spent a few days together, and then he went to America to set up their lives. It would be nine years before he would send for her, but she had happily picked up with her normal routine…until it was disrupted again.

In America, Josephine started having babies right away, and they came one after the other until she said “enough.” But then something happened…something unexpected, like a gift. She fell in love with the ice man.

What would come afterwards would change her life forever, reminding her of other losses, the most poignant being the loss of home and a self that no longer defined her.

Generations of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are chronicled, as An Italian Wife takes the reader into the times recognized by Americans as the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

At the beginning is a chart that lists the Rimaldi children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, but the story moves between them quickly, and each time I had to check the chart to see who we were dealing with. The story was not linear, moving back and forth, and somewhat confusing. Like the times. A poignant story that engaged me, even as it often confused me. 3.5 stars.

FROM THE INTERIOR: BOOK BEGINNINGS/FRIDAY 56 – “THE HOME PLACE”

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Welcome to some bookish fun today as we share Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and as we showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

If you have been wanting to participate, but haven’t yet tried, now is the time!

What better way to spend a Friday?

 

Today I am spotlighting an ARC from Amazon Vine, from an author I have never read.  But the blurb sold me.  The Home Place, by Carrie La Seur, a debut novel…which would explain why I’ve never read the author!

 

 

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Beginning:  (Chapter One:  Sunday, 2 A.M., Mountain Standard Time

The cold on a January night in Billings, Montana, is personal and spiritual.  It knows your weaknesses.  It communicates with your fears.  If you have a god, this cold pulls a veil between you and your deity.

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56:  Helen slams down her fork, or tries to.  Her hand is curled awkwardly around the implement, so that her hand bangs the table instead and she must disengage her fingers deliberately, one at a time.

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Blurb:  Carrie La Seur makes her remarkable debut with The Home Place, a mesmerizing, emotionally evocative, and atmospheric literary novel in the vein of The House Girl and A Land More Kind Than Home, in which a successful lawyer is pulled back into her troubled family’s life in rural Montana in the wake of her sister’s death.

The only Terrebonne who made it out, Alma thought she was done with Montana, with its bleak winters and stifling ways. But an unexpected call from the local police takes the successful lawyer back to her provincial hometown and pulls her into the family trouble she thought she’d left far behind: Her lying, party-loving sister, Vicky, is dead. Alma is told that a very drunk Vicky had wandered away from a party and died of exposure after a night in the brutal cold. But when Alma returns home to bury Vicky and see to her orphaned niece, she discovers that the death may not have been an accident.

The Home Place is a story of secrets that will not lie still, human bonds that will not break, and crippling memories that will not be silenced. It is a story of rural towns and runaways, of tensions corporate and racial, of childhood trauma and adolescent betrayal, and of the guilt that even forgiveness cannot ease. Most of all, this is a story of the place we carry in us always: home.

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This one sounds like a book that will keep me hooked all the way through.  What are your thoughts?

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REVIEW: THE SILENT SISTER, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

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Riley MacPherson’s family has suffered numerous losses, and the troubled history that seemingly hovers over them all is about to get a lot worse. Leaving behind her stable life in Durham, where she is a school counselor, she takes a leap into the past, returning home to New Bern after her father’s death, to settle up his estate. There she finds her angry brother Danny living in his reclusive trailer in the forest, and even though she tries to reach out to him, he keeps her at arm’s length.

The task of going through her father’s things will be hers alone, as Danny refuses to be part of it. An old friend of her mother’s, Jeannie Lyons, is an irritating addition to her life as she sorts through everything, and between Jeannie and her daughter Christine, who are readying the home for estate sales, etc., Riley feels overwhelmed and annoyed with their very presence.

But as Riley begins to search through her father’s effects, more questions appear, and she begins to wonder about the family’s hidden secrets and the lies that stood between her and the family she longed for. And suddenly, her connection to Jeannie changes, as more is revealed.

What is the truth behind older sister Lisa’s supposed suicide? What lies under the surface of Lisa’s privileged life as a music prodigy? How did their father manage to change the course of all of their lives by one series of actions? And who is Jade, living across the country in an alternate life?

Riley’s story is narrated in her first person voice, in the year 2013, while Jade’s narrative takes place in the 1990s, following one secret night that changed all of their lives.

How will their lives reconnect, and what threats still await them all? A wonderfully unputdownable story, The Silent Sister is a testament to the strength of family attachments in spite of the secrets that lie beneath the facades. Set in North Carolina, occasionally veering off into Virginia and then to San Diego and Seattle, I followed the characters on their journeys. I loved this story, and would recommend it for all Chamberlain fans, and for any who enjoy a good story of family secrets, lies, and deceptions. 5.0 stars.