Small Great Things

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Small Great Things

by Jodi Picoult

Summer 2017

I will preface this post with a disclaimer: it’s been a few months since I read Small Great Things, so the plot is a little fuzzy. That being said, I have mixed feelings about this book. I really liked it for a lot of reasons, but I really struggled reading it as well. It discusses a very challenging and difficult subject: racism. I remember reading it and struggling reading the hate from one character in particular. It was so hard to read. The book is told from three different perspectives: Ruth, a black labor and deliver nurse, Kennedy, a white defense lawyer, and Turk, a white supremest who accuses Ruth of killing his son because she is black. The book follows the three of them from the tragedy of Turk’s son dying to the accusal and arrest of Ruth, to the entire trial. I really liked this book because of how it portrayed racism, how emotionally intense it was, and because it was a legal story. The emotions were raw and at times challenging, but honestly, it was an excellent book. Spoilers: after all the turmoil, Ruth is acquitted because Turk and his wife show their true colors. Kennedy is thrilled because justice is served. Turk and his wife cannot repair their relationship after the death of their son and separate. Turk is able to recognize how destructive and wrong his racism is and slowly changes his perspective completely.

Summing it up: this book was challenging, but worth it and I recommend it!

Best, Abbey

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How to Find Love in a Bookshop

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How to Find Love in a Bookshop

by Veronica Henry

November 2017

Many of you know by now how drawn I am to certain titles and premises (Paris, anyone?). Well, bookshops are another, so it’s no surprise I checked out this book. I picked it up just the other night and read it in one sitting. It was adorable, endearing and engrossing. There were lots of characters and I got completely swept up into all of their stories and wanted to know what was going to happen to each one of them. I was hooked by the first page, which I think is a mark of a well-written book. I think I especially enjoyed this story because it was so sweet and endearing. The characters were relatable and most of the book took place around a bookshop . . . how much better can it be?

The story follows Emilia, the bookshop owner’s daughter. She loves books and her father, and comes rushing home from overseas when her father’s health fails. He passes away and she decides to keep the bookshop running even though it is a huge endeavor. She has multiple speed bumps that come her way, including massive debt and a flood, but she is determined to persevere. There are quite a few other story lines as well from new mom, Bea, who misses her former designer job; to Jackson who has recently separated from his girlfriend, but wants to reconnect and build a family with their son; to Thomasina, a shy cook and baker trying to build her life and may just be falling in love; to Sarah, who had a special connection with Julius and wants Emilia to know; to several other characters as well. Spoilers: Emilia is able to rebuild and brand her father’s shop and is successful. She also falls in love with Marlowe, who also knew and loved her father. Sarah becomes a mother of sorts to Emilia (who lost her own mother in childbirth), and all the couples that come in and out of the story end up with happy endings!

Summing it up: I loved this simple, heartfelt story and highly recommend it!

Best, Abbey

Some memorable quotes:

“After all, a town without a bookshop was a town without a heart.” – Julius

“And she knew, from all the books she had ever read, that life was complicated, that love sprang from nowhere sometimes, and that forbidden love wan’t always something to be ashamed of.” – Emilia

“It was an unusual situation, thought Emilia, but then — what was usual? The whole point of life was you couldn’t ever be sure what would happen next. Sometimes what happened was good, sometimes not, but there were always surprises.” – Emilia

The Shark Club

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The Shark Club

by Ann Kidd Taylor

October 2017

I heard about The Shark Club somewhere. At this point, I literally can’t remember where I hear about books. Between friend recommendations, following fellow readers on Instagram and working at the library, I hear about books all the time! So, I heard about The Shark Club somewhere and ended up really enjoying it. I read it in about two sittings and was completely caught up in Maeve’s story. She had this journey that was so compelling and enjoyable to read. In addition, the writing flowed and transported me to another place. I especially enjoyed reading about marine biology and sharks. It’s a subject I know little about, so I found it fascinating to read. My one let down was actually the ending, in a way. The book was leading toward a certain outcome and then that did not happen. It was a nice ending, but a little jarring because it was unexpected to me. I still really liked the book though and keep thinking about it!

Maeve is a marine biologist specializing in sharks. She travels the world doing research and is finishing up her current travel. She’s working with another researcher, Nicholas, and while they have been professional the whole time, there is something more between them and they talk about doing more projects together and being more to each other. Maeve has to return home to compile her research however, and she is in for an unpleasant surprise when she gets there. Growing up, Maeve had her grandmother and her twin brother, Robin, as her parents died in a plane crash when she and Robin were six. They bonded with a neighborhood kid, Daniel and the three of them were inseparable. As young teenager, Maeve was bitten by a shark and Daniel saved her. Since then, Maeve has been obsessed with sharks; learning all about them and now studying them professionally, and trying to save them from shark-finners (people who capture sharks, cut off their fins, and throw them back into the ocean to drown). She and Daniel fell in love and got engaged, only to break it off when Daniel had an affair and got his lover pregnant. It’s been seven years since then and when Maeve returns home, she is met by Daniel who has moved back to town. Maeve has to come to terms with her past with Daniel, which is compounded by the fact that her brother has written a novel based on her and Daniel’s life. Spoilers: Maeve gives Daniel a second chance after she meets his spunky, ocean loving daughter and learns that his lover passed away recently. For a while they get along well, but then old problems emerge and painfully, Maeve realizes that she can’t be with Daniel just because she loves his daughter. It’s very sad because she and the little girl start “the shark club” and bond really well. Maeve also forgives her brother for writing his book and decides to give Nicholas a chance now that she’s not being pulled in another direction. As a side story, there is a shark-finning operation going on and she is able to find the people responsible and bring them to justice.

Summing it up: I literally got swept away by this book and even though I was taken off guard by the ending, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it!

Best, Abbey

The Lost Letter

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The Lost Letter

by Jillian Cantor

October 2017

Do you know how sometimes a book calls to you for whatever reason? Maybe the title, or the cover, or the synopsis? Sometimes those gut instincts are sometimes waaay off and the book is a dud, but other times, it is right on the money. The Lost Letter was the latter for me. Something about it pulled it into my hands and I read it in a single afternoon. I was enthralled. This book was immensely moving. Parts were inspiring, parts were heartbreaking, but overall it was beautiful. This is a book that oscillates between past (1930s) and present (1980s), which is one of my favorite styles of writing. The chapters were short and the characters were so real. I literally couldn’t put it down. This is a book that will stay with me for a while!

The story follows Kristof, a young orphaned apprentice to a Jewish stamp engraver. He is welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Faber and their younger daughter, Miriam, but their older daughter, Elena is standoffish. Kristof struggles with learning the trade, but he falls in love with the whole family, their religion, and he slowly gets better at stamp engraving. Flipping to the 1980s, we follow, Katie, a recently divorced woman who is dealing with her father having Alzheimer’s and recently being put in a home. He has given her his vast stamp collection and she decides to get it appraised to see if there is anything valuable. The stamp expert she brings it to, Benjamin, finds one with a hidden edelweiss and he and Katie are determined to learn it’s story. Spoilers: Kristof and Elena fall in love after they are left alone (Miriam is sent to England for safety, her father goes to America and her mother is sent to a concentration camp). After a little while they are separated and Kristof moves to America waiting for Elena to join him someday. She doesn’t and he changes his name, marries, and has a daughter. He also finds out that Elena’s father died shortly after arriving in America. Elena believes that Kristof is dead, so marries a friend and gets trapped behind the Berlin Wall. Eventually, Katie learns that her father is Kristof and she travels to Germany after the Wall is torn down and finds Elena, delivering the letter (with the curious stamp) to her since it was from her father. Elena is hesitant and aloof at first, but later decides to come to America to see Kristof. Even with his Alzheimer’s he recognizes her and they are finally happy together again. Side note, Katie and Benjamin have a sweet love story and end up together as well.

Summing it up: I was smitten with this book from the very first page and I loved it!! I highly recommend it it!

All the best, Abbey

A Mother Like Mine

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A Mother Like Mine

by Kate Hewitt

September 2017

Hewitt came out with a third Hartley-by-the-Sea book! I was so excited to read it since I loved the first two. Happily, Hewitt did not disappoint. She once again wove a moving story about two hurting individuals who heal their relationship after much time and effort. It’s beautiful. Hewitt writes in a compelling, realistic way that really makes her storyline believable. It’s one of my favorite things about her writing. I also love her characters. They are people you can absolutely picture and imagine meeting. Hartely-by-the-Sea is the perfect back drop as well. I really think Hewitt is just brilliant. I love her writing, her characters, and the heart she puts into each one of her stories.

This time, the focus is on Abby, a single mom raising her young son, Noah and helping her grandmother run a cafe. Abby was abandoned by her mother when she was two and her grandmother raised her. Abby left for vet school, making it three years before getting pregnant. Noah’s father was not happy, but before he could really accept it, he died in a motorcycle accident. Abby returned to Hartely-by-the-Sea and her grandmother to raise her son. Fast forward five years and Abby is settled into her routine. That is until her mother, Laura, comes back into her life. There is deep pain between Abby and Laura so things are rocky, to say the least. Spoilers: in a tragic turn of events, Abby’s grandmother dies, leaving Abby and Laura to sort out their issues alone. As only Hewitt can write, Abby and Laura slowly forge a relationship, starting with owning the cafe together and revamping it. Through many arguments and heart to hearts, they begin to forgive. Laura softens and learns to put aside some of her selfishness to be a grandmother to Noah and a mother to Abby. Abby lets go of a lot of her hurt and begins to trust that her mother will stay around and not leave her again. Laura goes so far as to get Abby and Noah their own place so they can stop being cramped in the apartment next to the cafe. In the end, Laura’s past comes to light when she explains to Abby that she had an affair with a married man in town (Claire West’s father) and then got pregnant. He wanted an abortion, she did not. He threatened her for a while, until finally, Laura left Abby in the care of her grandmother and left to start a new life. Laura was just 16, young and scared, and even though it was easy in a way to not have a baby to care for, she regretted leaving and missing all of Abby’s life. However, just as things are falling into place, the cafe burns down due to an electric fire. Thankfully, no one is hurt and Laura and Abby get plenty of money to rebuild the cafe. Abby’s father waltzes into Laura’s life for a min to make amends in the form of a huge check that Abby uses to go back to vet school. Abby and Laura form a true mother/daughter bond and the book ends quite happily.

Summing it up: I loved this book so much and I highly recommend it!

All the best, Abbey

A Man Called Ove

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A Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman

August 2017

Every summer my Book Club watches a movie and does a pot luck. It’s amazing. We usually choose a movie based on a book we have read or could choose to read on our own. So this summer we chose, A Man Called Ove. We hadn’t read it for our club, but it had been on my TBR list for a while. Generally speaking, it’s really important to me to read the book before watching the movie, so I was determined to read the book before our meeting. I’m so happy I did. The book was phenomenal and the movie made a lot more sense because I read the book first. Side note: I enjoyed the movie as well! I loved the tone of the whole book. It was lighthearted, especially for the serious subject matter. The book made me feel the whole gamut of emotions. I laughed and cried and truly enjoyed the whole story.

A Man Called Ove is the story of an older Swedish man named, Ove. He has had a hard life, filled with loss. His one love was his wife and she has recently passed away. In addition he just lost his job of several decades. He is lonely and depressed and decides to kill himself because there is nothing left to live for. He takes care of his unfinished business and goes to hang himself, but the rope breaks. Ove is a bit of an odd man and likes things in his neighborhood to be a certain way, like no driving through the residential area. New neighbors move in and do their best to befriend Ove, but he wants nothing to do with them, especially since they do things differently than he does. Spoilers: He tries again and again to kill himself, but every attempt is interrupted for one reason or another. Ever so slowly, Ove opens up to his neighbors and begins to change and see hope. He begins to have reasons to stick around. From helping his new neighbors, to a boy from town, to a wayward cat, to a nemesis (who now has Alzheimer’s). People need him and he begins to realize that he wants to be there for them and not kill himself. It is beautiful watching Ove move from tragedy (losing his dad when he was a teenager, losing his only unborn child when he and his wife were in a bus accident, and seeing his wife lose her mobility in the same accident) to love (like when he gives his new neighbor’s daughter an iPad for her drawing). He has a beautiful story and continues to develop his friendships with his neighbors, living a fulfilled, happy life. In the end he dies in peace and happiness, with the cat by his side.

Summing it up: the story was so heartwarming. I really loved it and I highly recommend it.

All the best, Abbey

P.S. How do you pronounce, “Ove?” In the movie it was, “o – veah.” But I’ve heard it “ooov” and “of” too. Thoughts?!

A Well-Tempered Heart

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A Well-Tempered Heart

by Jan-Philipp Sendker

July 2017

This book is the sequel to The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, which I loved. It was a beautiful story (blogged here: twentyninewillowlane.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/the-art-of-hearing-heartbeats) and I was looking forward to reading A Well-Tempered Heart. It started out fine, but I couldn’t really get into it. I skimmed a bunch and then got hooked at the end. I actually loved the end . . . A. Lot. The book is divided into three parts, so it was part three that I adored.

A Well-Tempered Heart resumes ten years after the first book. Julia is a successful lawyer, but has been estranged from her mother and brother ever since she told them her father’s story. She’s also broken up with her boyfriend of five years. She doesn’t have a great personal life, but she’s not unhappy. But then, she starts hearing a voice in her head that asks relentless questions about her life and what she’s doing with it. It is slowly driving Julia insane. Spoilers: long story short, Julia finds out that the voice is a restless spirit that got lodged with hers. In order to release it, she needs to discover the spirit’s story and why she’s at unrest (this is where I checked out). Well, naturally she figures it out: it’s a mother who had to choose which of her two sons would face a likely death. Julia ends up finding the son that miraculously survived and they fall in love. She’s supposed to leave though, so he breaks things off. Julia goes to return home, only to realize that that’s the last place she wants to be. She ends up staying and the voice disappears for good. It’s a beautiful ending!

Summing it up: I didn’t love most of the book, but the ending pulled me in, so I’d recommend it!

All the best, Abbey