REVIEW: SHADOW DANCING, BY JULIE MULHERN

 

Visiting a psychic is outside the norm for Ellison Russell. Finding bodies is not. Unfortunately, the psychic’s crystal ball says she’ll soon be surrounded by death. Again.

Drat.

Now there’s a corpse in the front drive, a witchy neighbor ready to turn Ellison and her (not so) little dog into toadstools, and a stripper named Starry Knight occupying the guest room.

How did 1975 go so wrong so quickly?

Ellison must handle Mother (who’s found a body of her own), make up with a certain handsome detective, and catch a killer, or the death surrounding her might be her own.

My Thoughts: Whenever I open the pages of a new Country Club Murder novel, I know I am in for a treat. Like all the previous novels, Shadow Dancing brings Ellison Russell back to us in a delightful way.

As always, Ellison is up to her eyeballs in murder…and when she visits that psychic, she opens another strange door.

Mr. Coffee feels like another character in these books, as Ellison loves her coffee…and her coffee maker. She regularly talks to hers.

Ellison’s mother Frances Walford is her usual judgmental self, but with her own anxieties in this outing. I always enjoy seeing what she will do next.

Let’s not forget Anarchy Jones, who was on the outs with Ellison at the end of the last book. He is back now, and as protective as ever.

1970s Kansas City reminds me of how I enjoyed that era, with no cell phones and the quirky décor of the homes.

How does Ellison get drawn into the lives of girls working in strip clubs? What will she learn about some of the men who frequent those places? What new danger lurks for her? After several murders and a few red herrings, Ellison figures out who is behind the mayhem. Another 5 star read.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

COFFEE MORNING ON SATURDAY: REMINISCING…

Nothing tastes better than morning coffee, and I love having mine in this little office nook, with the new TV playing nearby…

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On Thursday, I wrote a post called Coffee Morning:  Hot Day Ahead, and I mused about how I’ve lived in these parts for almost 46 years.

I wanted to share another photo from back in those early days, but couldn’t find it anywhere!  Which reminds me that I really need to better organize my online photos…by date, at least.  I’m doing that now, but the older ones were missing those vital details, so despite searching through endless folders, I couldn’t find the one I wanted.  What do you bet that I’ll find it now?  LOL

Meanwhile,  I went to the source of the photo:  the album.  I have a stack of old albums on a closet shelf.  I found and scanned this picture…to spotlight the three boys, with the youngest one in his ORANGE backpack.  We were spending the day in Roeding Park, where they have Storyland, the zoo, boat rides, etc.  This photo was snapped in May 1972.

 

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I never go to that park anymore.  It has run down a bit…although I did read that the zoo was undergoing some improvements.

Back then, we were living in one of the outer small towns, 70 miles from the city…and I hated that town!  It was always surrounded by fog and tumbleweeds.  It reminded me of that town in Texas, the setting for the movie The Last Picture Show, which, incidentally, was playing then in the dust-filled theater in that town.

 

I couldn’t wait to get out…and we actually did move from there a few months later.  To the city with this park and a few other amenities I enjoyed.

A peek at the interior world back then….before we moved to the city.  Posters and beads…and leopard print pillows.

 

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Avocado green was another favorite color back then…and note the stacking plastic bins.  They were old Carnation containers for products.  We got them from a dairy in Northern California before we moved.  We also used them for the kids’ toys.

 

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Back to reality, the 21st Century.  I’m still reading The Sunshine Sisters, having finished Good Me, Bad Me yesterday (click title for review).

 

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Earlier today I discovered an upcoming release from another favorite author:  Diane Chamberlain.    The Stolen Marriage is an emotionally captivating novel of secrets, betrayals, prejudice, and forgiveness. It showcases Diane Chamberlain at the top of her talent.

One mistake, one fateful night, and Tess DeMello’s life is changed forever. It is 1944. Pregnant, alone, and riddled with guilt, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly gives up her budding career as a nurse and ends her engagement to the love of her life, unable to live a lie. Instead, she turns to the baby’s father for help and agrees to marry him, moving to the small, rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows her no affection. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry but see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain. When one of the town’s golden girls dies in a terrible accident, everyone holds Tess responsible. But Henry keeps his secrets even closer now, though it seems that everyone knows something about him that Tess does not.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes Hickory, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess knows she is needed and defies Henry’s wishes to begin working at there. Through this work, she begins to find purpose and meaning. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle the truth behind her husband’s mysterious behavior and find the love— and the life—she was meant to have?

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I love finding upcoming releases from old and new favorite authors.  What have you discovered lately?  What are you reading?

What moments in the past remind you of who you once were?

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MUSINGS ON A “COFFEE MORNING”

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Welcome to my Interior World.  Today is one of those “Coffee Mornings,” the kind with a little blogging, some blog visiting, and lots of coffee.

I’ve gone through a whole pot so far…and I’m trying to decide if I should stay here on my laptop…or pick up the book I’m reading.

Yesterday was my birthday, and I did nothing all day long!  I had celebrated with my daughter at a brunch on Sunday…and I was tempted to go to Marie Callender’s and use the “birthday coupon” they sent me.

But….I couldn’t seem to move.

By the end of the day, I had made a decision by not making any kind of choice.  Except staying put on the couch, or in front of the laptop, or in my bedroom.

 

 

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I started watching a DVD that came in the mail on Monday.  I am not sure what made me think of this 1970 movie…Probably it was seeing the female actor playing in another role.  She is not well-known these days, but I remembered loving her and Richard Benjamin in this film, which I first saw in…wait for it!  1970, of course.

Diary of a Mad Housewife stars Carrie Snodgress, as well as Richard Benjamin.  (I also read the book, Diary of a Mad Housewife, by Sue Kaufman.  Also in 1970-ish).

 

 

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I can’t say that I was disappointed by the movie, since it really took me back to that era and the expectations placed upon housewives then.  But the husband (Benjamin) was verbally abusive and I wanted to throw things at him.  Did I feel that way back then?  I’m sure that I must have…as I abandoned my own role and started a new life, following a divorce.

A long journey has led me from that place.  I’ve had a long career, have now started my free-lance life, with blogging and six novels published (check my website).  My children are grown, and so are most of my grandchildren!

In retrospect, I’m sure that I can conclude that the events for me back then…might have happened in a completely different lifetime.

I have a saying:  “I feel like I’ve lived numerous lives…and you can explore my incarnations through my works.

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In the present, I am reading…a lot.  I finished Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett, and loved it (click for my review).  I am currently reading a book that has been on my stacks for a little while…since June.  Confess, by Colleen Hoover, a novel about risking everything for love—and finding your heart somewhere between the truth and lies.

 

 

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Here is a glimpse of me back in 1972…after I had changed course and started moving in another direction.

 

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So…it is safe to say that my birthday has been a time of musing for me.  Pondering the past…and savoring the present.

Where do your thoughts take you on a Coffee Morning?

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REVIEW: EAT THE DOCUMENT, BY DANA SPIOTTA

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The 1970s were a pivotal time for those in my generation, so I was drawn to Eat the Document: A Novel. I participated in my share of protests against the Vietnam War and the tragedy of Kent State.

From the synopsis, we learn: “In the heyday of the 1970s underground, Bobby DeSoto and Mary Whittaker — passionate, idealistic, and in love — design a series of radical protests against the Vietnam War. When one action goes wrong, the course of their lives is forever changed. The two must erase their past, forge new identities, and never see each other again.”

As the story opens, Mary has put five states between herself and what happened. She is using the name “Caroline,” and it is obviously an informal kind of name change, as we will discover later how she makes the change more permanent. And what that kind of change feels like…as if her life, as she knew it, is now definitely over.

The story sweeps back and forth between the 1970s and 80s and into the 1990s, and we see some similarities between the protests back then and those in the later era. The story spotlights some characters living in Seattle, like Nash, who manages a bookstore called Prairie Fire Books, and the store owner, Henry, who seems to have some dark urges governing his days and nights.

We focus a bit on Jason, the 15-year-old son of the newly recreated Louise (who was once Mary, then Caroline, and a few other reinvented selves). From Jason’s point of view, we see that he is struggling with what he feels are secrets his mother is keeping. He senses something.

Will Jason discover Mary’s past? Will Nash and Mary connect at some point? Who is Nash? Mary/Louise’s movements through the 1970s and onward have brought her to Washington, closer to what is happening in Seattle.

As the past converges on the present, we can look back and feel the flavors of the times as they were changing…and appreciate how, in the present, there is still something of the past that lingers. A captivating read that kept my interest, except for a few chapters that introduced some of the 1990s characters. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE SECRET LIFE OF CEECEE WILKES, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

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CeeCee Wilkes was a vulnerable, sixteen-year-old girl who had lived in foster homes after the death of her mother when she was twelve.

The letters she carried with her, the ones her mother had written to serve as a guide to her as she matured, would be her only touchstone. But nothing in her mother’s letters or the life she’d lived could have prepared her for the charming, manipulative Tim Gleason.

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes begins with a prologue in the present, with a young woman named Corinne, who watches as the woman she knew as her mother confesses a horrendous secret in front of TV cameras.

We then flash back to 1977, and to an event that changed CeeCee’s life forever.

In alternating narratives told by Corinne, by CeeCee, and then Eve Elliott, the persona she took on while in hiding, we learn about the fear and vulnerability the young girl faced one terrible night in a remote cabin, and how she spent the next period of her life in hiding. And tried over the years to be the best mother she could be to the baby she “stole” in order to protect her.

What really happened in that remote cabin? What would finally bring the truth out? What price would CeeCee (Eve) have to pay for telling her story? And how would Corinne bury the bitterness and anger she feels in order to reach out to the woman she knew as her mother?

This was a story that spotlighted many issues of morality and choice, and which allows the reader to root for CeeCee despite her wrong choices. I could not stop reading or caring about the characters, flawed though they were. I loved this story and would recommend it for all who enjoy family stories and for those who are fans of Chamberlain. 5.0 stars.

THE LONG JOURNEY DOWNWARD

17435052Artist Erica Mason moves to New York, after an idyllic time spent in Mexico, exploring that art scene and moving past it.

Cleans Up Nicely opens in 1977, with Erica showing us what her life looks like after. Told in her first person narration, we see that she has “cleaned up nicely,” but the path is a new one. And she feels the disparity between her life now and the “outsides” of the life of Addie McC, who lives in a luxury building. And who is a member of AA, this new world Erica is navigating.

Flash back to the early 1970s, and the story reverts to a third-person narrative from Erica’s perspective, revealing the slow slide down to her “bottom.”

The trip down would not be a straight path. There would be many ups and downs, and whenever she almost seems to have an epiphany, the trickery of denial will insert itself, reminding her that she just needs to control her drinking and using. And she does. For a time.

The reader sees the moments of exhilaration, the fun, the conviviality of the drinking culture that is like a euphoric high that keeps Erica going back for more. What Erica wants to ignore, and even push away from consideration, are the occasional blackouts that occur with greater frequency. And how her behavior dramatically changes, turning her into a person she does not recognize.

What will ultimately penetrate Erica’s denial? How will she finally accept what is happening to her? And will she find her way to sobriety, while still retaining her creativity?

Before her realization, however, an awareness begins to creep in:

“Lying back on the chaise longue with wine, Erica confirms the truth for herself: the relief of drinking! Then, by the fifth or sixth glass, she remembers another truth, the one she always forgets until it is too late. Which is, oh shit, not again! Because once again, not intending to, she has overdone it; she is captive once more to the bottle. And all she can do is drain the thing dry and wake up with the hangover of her greed, her weak will, her shameful lust for the stuff…here she is again, lost in the desert of drunkenness. Ending in some pointless fall, some crying jag, some late-night phone calls. God help her if she goes out on the streets.”

The author has created very true-to-life characters that bring into focus the scenes in this story, reminding me of the times in which they are living. As if I were there with them. Sometimes I feel as though I am those characters, and the slide downward is mine. I almost inhabit their worlds. The bottoming out process is described with such accuracy, revealing much about the author’s ability to explore that universe. A compelling and captivating five star read.

IN SEARCH OF “SPECIALNESS” — AN ELUSIVE JOURNEY

15815333The six of them met when they were fifteen, sixteen years old, during the summer of 1974. A time when the country was poised to watch President Nixon resign his office in disgrace. That event was not as pivotal to the self-absorbed teens as their own agenda: discovering their creativity and finding their special niche. They were attending, for their first summer, a unique camp in the Berkshires called Spirit-in-the-Woods.

They were so special in their own minds that they labeled themselves “The Interestings.” Yes, perhaps the title was meant to be ironic, but their narcissism was also showing.

Over the many pages that follow, we see the group of them morph into their young adult/college age selves, followed by their twenty-somethings. And on and on. And with each year that passes, life chips away at their “specialness,” until some of them are shadows of their former selves. Tragic events reduce their numbers, but the core of them remain connected, sometimes only occasionally.

Ethan Figman, Jules Jacobson, Ash and Goodman Wolf, Cathy Kiplinger, and Jonah Bay. Who among them would find success and happiness, if only for awhile, and who would lose huge pieces of their original selves until there was nothing recognizable remaining?

Narrated from different perspectives, we come to know the hopes, dreams, insecurities, and flaws of most of them, some more than others. Whose startling success will surprise, and sometimes diminish, the others? Who among them will hold a secret that lasts for most of a lifetime?

Of the six major characters, Jules and Ethan felt the most like people I wanted to befriend, even as others seemed so narcissistic as to arouse feelings of disappointment and even anger. Those with a sense of how special they are—that entitlement—would cause me to turn away from them.

Having grown up in those long-ago years, I could relate to the times that were a-changing, from the 70s, with their artistic, liberating, and creative focus, to the 80s, with all the shiny moments and brilliant wealth, followed by less gilded times as the years flew by.

Themes of friendship, loss, the meaning of talent, aging, and how time changes us all resonated with me. Through the years, as the financial and social disparity between some of the characters seemed to result in feelings of envy and even bitterness, it became harder to recall why any of the friendships remained. The fact that some loyalties survived the onslaught of change is a testament to the strength of youthful experiences and those connections formed then. But as the story draws to a close, and as some of the characters attempt to recapture that time in their lives, they realize that you really can’t go back. And, in going on, sometimes the secrets and lies that erupt change the landscape of their lives forever. But what still connects them will see them through.

In some books of this length, I often feel like I can’t wait to get to the end, for the book to finally conclude. But in The Interestings: A Novel, I realized that I wanted to be part of these characters’ lives indefinitely. A resounding five star read!

JOURNEY TO REDEMPTION: A REVIEW — NOV. 29

When three teenagers, high on life and some substances, drive into the wrong neighborhood one hot summer afternoon, their lives will be changed forever.

A racial epithet, then a mad scramble to drive away, only to be stymied by a “turnaround” in the street…and the episode ends in violence. One boy is dead, another two injured.

Thirty-five years later, we see the ramifications still unfolding in shattered lives; anger and hate rippling forward and outward; and in the midst of it all, there is also hope for redemption and reparation.

Set in Washington, D.C., beginning in the 1970s, The Turnaround explores themes of hatred, fear, ignorance, and dashed dreams. Of all the characters, Alex Pappas is the one who seems strongest, with his steadfast movement toward the goals his father established: maintaining the family diner, putting aside a “little something” for the future; and family loyalty.

Meanwhile, in counterpoint, are the Monroe brothers: James and Raymond. Their family values were also strong, but somehow, they each seemed to stray off track. But a strong sense of loyalty sustains them over the years, and gradually brings them back to a place of strength and purpose.

How do these three characters connect again after all these years? What is Raymond’s plan to heal the breach? And how will the wild card, Charles, violent and seemingly without any redeeming qualities, try to muck things up?

In the end, this story had a satisfying feeling, as we see how the physical “turnaround” that changed their lives can be a metaphorical one. Indeed, they can find a resolution to their damaged lives. Five stars.