Monthly Archives: September 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

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Songs of Willow Frost is the much-anticipated second novel by Jamie Ford.  I loved his first novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, so was excited to see Songs waiting for me.  Several reviews I read said it was tinged with sadness, and I wasn’t sure I wanted sadness for my next read.  I thought I would just try a few pages…and I was immediately hooked.  Songs is the story of young William Eng, a 12-year-old boy living in the 1930s in a Seattle orphanage run by nuns.  His companion is Charlotte, a sensitive and kind girl who is blind.  All of the boys celebrate their birthday on the same day with an annual trip to town for a movie.  At the movie, William sees a poster for Willow Frost, who he believes is his mother.  He becomes determined to run away from the orphanage to meet her at one of her performances.  When he confides this to Charlotte, she encourages him and runs away with him.  Willow is William’s mother.  When she was a child, her name was Liu Song.  Her father died, and her mother remarried so they could survive in Seattle.  Her mother became ill and died, and Liu Song’s step father became even more abhorrent. 

Songs alternates between William and Willow’s point of view, telling the story of how William came to end up at the orphanage and how Liu Song became Willow Frost. While it is tinged with sadness and melancholy, it is at the same time a gripping and tender story, with a few surprises.  The harshness and misfortune, while necessary to the story, is thankfully not overly graphic. 

I highly recommend Songs of Willow Frost. It is an excellent second novel, and one of the best books I’ve read this year. 

The Falmouth Memorial Library owns a copy of Songs of Willow Frost.

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The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

ashfordaffairTwo women, two time periods, a little geneology and one dark secret.  The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig is some enjoyable historical fiction.  You may have read Willig’s previous Pink Carnation series set in the Napoleonic era–this novel is an unrelated stand-alone, and my first read by this author.  I found The Ashford Affair was a quick, light read, but very enjoyable when that kind of book fits the bill.

Clementine Evans is a Manhattan attorney, at a turning point.  Her engagement is off, she doesn’t make partner at her law firm, she isn’t particularly happy…her life is falling apart.  She attends her grandmother Addie’s 99th birthday party out of obligation, and learns of a long hidden family secret.  Intrigued, Clementine sets out to learn more, and in the process, finally grows up and out of herself.  The book alternates between Addie and Clementine, moving back and forth between the past and the present, and slowly peeling back the layers of the secret.  We discover Addie was an orphan and went to live with wealthy relatives in Ashford Park when she was a young girl.  As is often the case in literature, she was not welcomed easily.  She does befriend her cousin Bea, and their friendship is tested, so alas, the family secret.

The ending is satisfying.  If you like good characters, a family saga, a great landscape and a little romance, this will make for a good read.

The Falmouth Memorial Library owns a copy of The Ashford Affair.

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The Returned by jason mott

the returnedIt’s strange, I picked up this book for several reasons-it’s a debut novel, it has garnered rave reviews and it sounded like an apocalyptic zombie book about people returning from the dead and while people do return from the dead this book this couldn’t be further from a zombie book if it tried.  This was one of the most thought provoking, intense books I have read in a long time.

As the book begins, little Jacob Hargrave arrives on his parents’ doorstep in Arcadia, N.C. 50 years after he drowned in a river.  His parents, Harold and Lucille have very different views of Jacob’s return to their family.  Harold, the one that found Jacob that summer day 50 years ago, drowned, wants to believe that the boy that has returned is Jacob, but in his heart he doesn’t feel that the boy that has returned is the same boy that died.  There is something missing.  Lucille,  a lifetime churchgoer, who prior to Jacob’s returned thought the Returned were somehow devil’s work,  believes that Jacob is a miracle sent  by God.  Harold and Lucille’s difficulties in accepting Jacob’s return is just a small ripple symbolic of much larger waves that the Returned are causing  within the community and society as well.  Some people are welcoming them and others are not.   The government creates a new department , the International Bureau of the Returned, that in the beginning is supposed to help facilitate reintegration of the Returned in society.  However, as the numbers of the Returned grow,  the military is brought in to “keep order”.  Soon, there is a anti-Returned movement called the “living movement”.

Throughout the main storyline, that of Lucille, Harold and Jacob, – the author recounts various “Returneds” experiences.  Each experience is unique and it is through these experiences that Mott explores issues of religion, civil rights, war and tolerance. As the characters wrestle with these issues so do you.  What would you do?  What makes us human?  So, this may be a book about dead people, but I have never thought so much about life and living before when I read a book.  This book will challenge you and that’s not a bad thing-is it?

The Falmouth Memorial Library owns a copy of this book.

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Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson Mystery Series

One of my favorite writers is Maine author Julia Spencer-Fleming.  A lawyer and mother and then novelist, Spencer-Fleming writes a great mystery series about an Episcopal priest-Clare Fergusson, and the Chief of Police-Russ Van Alstyne in Millers Kill, New York.  Theirs is an unusual partnership.  While you might think a nice scenic small town in the Adirondacks would have minimal crime and mystery, it doesn’t.  Turns out Millers Kill is a hotbed for intrigue and mayhem and Clare gets involved with each and every situation.

I have been reading each installment when published, and then eagerly awaiting the next book.  Why?  I like a good mystery, but I love the characters.  Well-developed, likeable, believable, yet they are a little larger than life in a way that makes for great fiction.  Clare either has some super hero to her or some bionic parts to survive each book.  I never get tired of finding out what is next for Clare and Russ and the other residents of Millers Kill.  The suspense is great.  It is the safe kind of suspense you find in a series, when it seems that no matter how treacherous the plot, the main characters will ultimately live to see another book.  I used to like crime procedurals, but gave them up when I tired of the gory details.  These books have the suspense of the crime procedural, but are not as harsh.  I don’t feel like there are any parts I cannot “unsee.”

On top of the suspense, there are the politics of a small town and the relationships of its residents, as well as the politics at Clare’s church.  Another thing I love-the Maine references.  Names and places that crop up in Millers Kill are quite familiar to Greater Portland.

ITBM-pbIf you like Maisy Dobbs, Ruth Galloway, Armand Gamache, give Clare Fergusson a try.  Start with In the Bleak Midwinter, and wind your way up to Through the Evil Days, which comes out in November.  I am just savoring the last few pages of an advance reader copy, and look forward to telling you all about the 8th installment in the Clare Fergusson Mystery Series.

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The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

silentIf you have been looking for another “Gone, Girl” then you might try A.S.A. Harrison’s “The Silent Wife”.  A chilling thriller about a marriage, a way of life and what a woman will do to fight to keep what she thinks is rightfully hers.   While there are similarities between these books, this is a much   more reserved psychological look at the disintegration of a marriage than “Gone, Girl”.

Alternating between Jodi and Todd’s point of view,  the reader feels the drama unfold.   Jodi, a therapist, the “wife” of “The Silent Wife”  has been with Todd for 20 years without ever marrying him, even though most of their friends think of her as “Mrs. Gilbert”.  Todd, a contractor, loves Jodi in his own emotionally stunted way,  but has several affairs throughout the years that Jodi chooses to ignore because they have never amounted to much-until Todd meets Natasha, the daughter of one of his best friends.  Natasha dazzles Todd with her lush youth and is the polar opposite of the slender, dark, proper, passive aggressive Jodi. 

There is a  restrained, intensity to A.S.A. Harrison’s “The Silent Wife” that is just as scary as any overt graphic violence could be because you perceive  the anger that seethes  beneath the polite restraint.  In many ways, Jodi is like the book, ladylike with some horrifying tricks up her well-tailored sleeve. Unfortunately for all of us,   A.S.A. Harrison will not be writing any more books,  as she died shortly after publishing “The Silent Wife”.  This novel may be entitled “The Silent Wife” , but the quiet psychological tension shouts from every page.  If you enjoyed “Gone, Girlby Gillian Flynn, then you will most likely enjoy this book. I will say that this is a perhaps more mature (if that is the right word) version of “Gone, Girl”.  Jodi might not be as twisty and naughty as Amy from “Gone, Girl”, but she sure does give her a run for her money with her clever, passive aggressive psychological mind games.  Game on!

The Falmouth Memorial Library owns a copy of “The Silent Wife” in its collection.

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The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

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“A diamond is forever”

Frances Gerety’s famous tag line for De Beers is the clever link for J. Coutney Sullivan’s latest novel.  Part Mad Men-esque fictionalized memoir of Gerety and part novel about marriage,  The Engagements is smart and well written.  It will hook you and keep you reading.  I wanted each of the five stories told to be a novel by itself, but as I turned the last few pages, I realized the richness of telling all of these stories together.  Despite the diamonds, this isn’t a quick beach read, and I was delighted with the substance.

We meet:

George and Evelyn, well to do and together for 30 years, trying to come to terms with their son’s pending divorce and new girlfriend in the early 1970s.

James and Sheila, a down on his luck EMT and nurse trying to make ends meet in Boston, in love despite their parents’ opinions.

Kate and Dan, living together with their three-year old, but never planning to marry, helping Kate’s gay cousins plan their nuptials.

Delphine and Henri,   antique musical instrument dealers in Paris, navigating a new musician in their lives.

A diamond engagement ring appears in each story, tying the characters together–a technique I didn’t pick up on until about halfway through the book.  It was a pleasant surprise each time the ring appeared. 

Sullivan’s characters are well-developed.  They are not all likeable, but they create some beautiful examples of compassion and forgiveness.   I could see the choices they would make coming, but couldn’t always tell whether or not they would be caught.   Sullivan has a definite sociological slant and is without judgement-there is no inkling of better or worse from the author, but more a history of the different situations in which people find themselves, how some opinions change over years, and how some just don’t.  The Engagements is a worthy read.  After such a good book, finding my next read will be a challenge.

The Falmouth Memorial Library owns a copy of The Engagements.

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