Firefly Lane

20170615_144436-1

Firefly Lane

by Kristin Hannah

June 2017

Firefly Lane is the second Kristen Hannah book I’ve read and I really wanted to like it. I liked Home Front (even though it made me cry like a baby) and expected to enjoy this one as well. However, I was disappointed. One of the main characters was a totally narcissist and it basically ruined the book for me. She never changes, which was so unfortunate! The story is of two girls, Kate and Tully, who become best friends in high school and stay friends through ups and downs over the years. The book chronicles their years by the decade. Tully is always only concerned about herself and puts what she wants above everything and everyone. Spoilers: in the end Kate dies of breast cancer and still, Tully is so concerned about herself that she doesn’t even go into the church for the funeral!

Honestly, if it weren’t for Tully’s extreme selfishness, I would have enjoyed this book. I like Hannah’s writing and her plot was moving. I appreciated her drawing awareness to cancer and how that was an incredibly personal aspect to her story. I really wanted to like this one, so I’m sad I didn’t.

Summing it up: As much as I enjoy Hannah’s writing, I don’t recommend this book. The one “friend” was too self-obsessed and that was challenging to read. Did anyone else feel the same, or did that not bother you? I’d love to know!!

All the best, Abbey

Letters from Paris

20170311_164151-1.jpg

Letters from Paris

by Juliet Blackwell

March 2017

I was beside myself with excitement when I saw Blackwell’s second book, Letters From Paris, on the bookshelf! I adored her first book, The Paris Key (my review here – https://twentyninewillowlane.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/the-paris-key/). Seriously, anything French draws me in and this one was just spectacular. I love Blackwell’s writing and her plots. Once again, I got swept up in Blackwell’s story; wrapped up in her characters’ journeys.

Claire is a successful business woman, but returns home when her grandmother gets sick. There she finds a beautiful plaster mask that she adored as a child. Her mother died in a tragic accident, so her grandmother raised her. Her grandmother’s dying wish is that Claire would go to Paris to find out about the woman behind the mask. Claire agrees and after her grandmother’s passing, she makes plans to go. Once in Paris, Claire quickly finds the shop where the mask, L’Inconnue, was made. She is overwhelmed by the quantity of plaster masks and the abrupt nature the of rugged man running the shop. There’s a young woman translating who helps Claire. When she realizes Claire speaks French, she begs her to stay at the shop and translate while she runs out (since her brother is rather abrupt with customers). Claire agrees as she has nothing else to do and quickly gets caught up in shop life, as well as life in Paris. Spoilers: Claire ends up moving to the shop where Armand, the plasterer, also lives. They start off with a turbulent relationship, which slowly evolves into love as they get to know each other and spend more time together. They share loss of loved ones; Claire, her mother and grandmother and Armand, his daughter. By the end of the book they are a solid couple, strong and secure, not just infatuated with each other. The story of L’Inconnue is woven throughout the book. Sabine is a young girl whose only hope of survival in Paris is by becoming a model for artists (and becoming their lovers). The one artist she models for turns violent over time. She is unhappy, but has some hope as she has fallen in love with another artist, a plasterer. He is determined to free her, so they concoct a crazy plan: Sabine fakes her death and her lover makes her death mask. She is unclaimed, so is forever known as L’Inconnue and is remembered in mystery. In fact, she runs off with her lover, changes her name, and lives a long, respected life as the wife of the plasterer (and that same family has run the shop Claire is working in for years). When Claire discovers that Sabine drowned and later figures out that she faked her death, a few things click into place about her own mother’s death and she finds out that her mother faked her death to get out of a violent relationship. Claire is crushed that her mother would leave her and disappointed that her mother continues to keep her distance. She’s found her new home though and is able to work through the emotional side of things and find happiness!

Summing it up: I adored this book and I absolutely recommend it! I hope you read Blackwell’s books and then tell me what you think!

All the best, Abbey

Chronicle of a Last Summer

20170216_161328-1.jpg

Chronicle of a Last Summer

by Yasmine El Rashidi

February 2017

I’m always interested in reading about different times and cultures so when I saw, Chronicle of a Last Summer (a novel about Egypt), I was excited to read it. As much as it was a quick, readable novel, I ultimately felt “meh” about it, which was disappointing. It was very political, and that subject is very hard for me to get into. It was beautifully written though and highlighted three points in the young woman’s life: childhood, young adult, and middle age. It was enjoyable to see her grow and form opinions throughout her life.

Summing it up: It wasn’t my favorite book, but I did enjoy parts. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

All the best, Abbey

Now and Then Friends

20170223_084024-1.jpg

Now and Then Friends

by Kate Hewitt

February 2017

After loving Rainy Day Sisters, I was eager to read the next Hartley-by-the-Sea novel. I loved the town and characters and I couldn’t wait to go back! Sure enough, I loved Now and Then Friends. The writing was raw and heartfelt; the characters filled with emotion. There were new people and new challenges, and I loved watching them grow and change. Reading Hewitt’s books (at least these two) is like coming home – comfortable and soothing. I can’t wait for the next book!

Rachel (the young woman who cleans Juliet’s bed and breakfast from the first book) takes center stage in this book, along with her former friend from primary school, Claire. Rachel is jaded from a life filled with hardship. Her younger sister, Meghan, has a son she’s raising on her own, and her other sister, Lily, is one test away from getting into a prominent college with a sold career. Her mother broke her back when Lily was only 6 weeks old and has been bed ridden ever since. Her father left them all after Rachel started going to college, so she had to quit, returning home to care for her mother and sisters. Ever since then, Rachel’s run the household and restarted her mother’s cleaning business.

Claire has always had it all. She’s been coddled and cared for her whole life and has no will or desire to make her own decisions. Everyone’s always made them for her – from her older brother, Andrew, keeping an eye on her throughout school; to her parents getting her a job and place to live after college; to her fiancé dictating her every move and want. One day the apathy is too much and Claire gets drunk at a party, embarrassing Hugh. He recommends to her parents that she go to rehab for a drinking problem. Instead of arguing that she doesn’t have a problem, Claire goes. But when the few weeks are over she refuses to stay with her parents in London, deciding instead to live in their house in Hartley-by-the-Sea. There she embarks on a new life – one in which she can think for herself.

Claire and Rachel bump into each other when Rachel comes to clean Claire’s house. It is awkward because their friendship is rocky at best. Back in primary school the girls were best friends, Rachel looked out for Claire and was the only true friend Claire had. But when they reached level 6, Claire acquiesced to her mother’s plans and became friends with the popular girls, expecting Rachel to join in. However, Rachel felt rejected by Claire and refused to show it. She tried once to go to Claire’s house, but it was her birthday party and Rachel got turned away at the door (and realized she didn’t get invited). Ever since, Rachel’s been hurt and Claire’s been indifferent.

Spoilers: throughout the book, Rachel faces her bitterness and blindness to the needs of those around her, from Claire, to her sisters, to her mother. Andrew in particular points things out, originally in an attempt to get Rachel to look out for Claire, but then because he genuinely cares for Rachel. Claire faces her ineptitude and starts to think for herself. She gets a job at the post office/general store, working for the bristling owner, Dan. It is a great start, and soon she is standing up to her parents, brother, and friends. She begins to know her own mind and is able to act on it. In the end, the girls make up and become friends again, even going into the cleaning business together. Rachel lets go of the chip on her shoulder, finally allowing people to help her, like Andrew, her sisters and Claire. Her mother has a stroke and she wants to go back to school, so letting people in is the only way she can live her life. She also falls for Andrew, which is super sweet. Claire stands up for herself and rejects a job offer from her parents. She wants to stay in Hartley-by-the-Sea, working for Dan (they totally fall for each other) and working with Rachel. It is a beautiful happy ending.

Summing it up: I loved this book and I absolutely recommend it! But read Rainy Day Sisters first!

All the best, Abbey

Silences, or a Woman’s Life

20170215_101621-1.jpg

Silences, or a Woman’s Life

by Marie Chaix

translated by Harry Matthews

February 2017

This book will follow me for a while. It was moving and beautiful, but also haunting and raw. I have never read anything like it. It was like reading a dream, the edges of the story being faded and vague, but the heart of the story staying clear. It reminded me of Me Before You because the story is about the choice of dignified death or not and the struggle to let go when the one you love is ready to leave. In this story a young woman’s mother is slowly dying. She has had a full and challenging life, including falling into a coma at 50 and coming out of it an old woman. She lapses back into a coma and the daughter has no choice but to take her to the hospital where the doctors and nurses keep her alive by any means, even though the daughter knows her mother is ready to go. In one particular paragraph the struggle is described by the daughter. She says, “I’m abandoning her. She’s in their hands. She belongs to them. They will do ‘everything they can to save her’ -to bring her back to life. What do they know of her life? By what right to they intend to bring her back to it? We are all now caught up in the mechanism of gradual death. We are passive agents in the useless struggle that will play itself out between four white walls, where ‘no trouble will be spared’ to try and delay the outcome already inscribed in the stats or on the brow or in the palm of the hand. There is an unknown date that follows us like a shadow from the morning to the evening of life, as indelibly inscribed on us as a tattoo: the moment when everything comes to a stop. Why are we so afraid of that moment when at last we sense it’s here, right next to us, just beyond the bedroom door? Why do we erect against it this tentacular human apparatus of impossible rescue that is bound to break down on the appointed day, at the appointed hour?” The whole book is written in this beautiful script and portrays the struggle. She recounts her mother’s story and dreams and is heartbroken over how her life is being drawn out. She says, “I can still remember how you longed for an ordinary life: you would have looked to be a serene old lady, sitting in the shade of lindens in front of the family house, watching your grandchildren scampering across the meadow. You would have enjoyed opening old cupboards, slipping lavender sachets between white sheets, something big copper pots full of red jam, and Sundays, after Mad at the village church, striking along paths of your garden counting the rosebushes in flower, your steps slow, your arm resting on that of a man whom the years would have chastened.” The fact that it wasn’t to be that way is sad. I think the contrast between what could have been and what was makes her mother’s death that much more heartbreaking. In the end, the doctors draw out her death by over a month before she takes her last breath.

Summing it up: this book was haunting and deeply moving. I definitely recommend it.

All the best, Abbey

Maybe Someday

20170126_130705-1

Maybe Someday

by Colleen Hoover

January 2017

Well, I’m back to another Colleen Hoover and to staying up until 3 am to finish reading. I really loved Maybe Someday. Hoover’s writing sweeps me away every time and I fell for her characters before the end of the first chapter. It’s so enjoyable to dive into one of Hoover’s books and be unable to leave until the story is over. There’s something wonderful about books like that.

On Sydney’s 22nd birthday she finds out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with her roommate. She’s devastated and leaves her apartment having nowhere to go. Across the common, Ridge feels guilty because he was the one to tell Sydney her boyfriend was cheating on her, so he puts her up for the night. They have just started getting to know each other over the previous two weeks. Ridge is a musician who has writer’s block. He’s plays the guitar brilliantly and Sydney is drawn to his music; listening to him play every evening as they each sit on their patios. She begins to make up lyrics and Ridge can tell. He reaches out to her in order to hear her lyrics, hoping it will help his writer’s block. He’s right and after taking her in, he proposes free housing in exchange for her lyrics. Sydney reluctantly agrees, even though she doesn’t believe she’s any good. Spoilers: Ridge and Sydney start working together and falling for each other. The problem is that Ridge already has a girlfriend and he is fiercely loyal to her. Attraction is hard to battle, though they do their best. Ridge is deaf, which makes things more complicated. He often wants to hear the vibrations of Sydney’s voice, which requires a lot of intimacy. One day they can’t fight their feelings and kiss. After that, they commit to resisting even harder, especially for Ridge’s girlfriend, Maggie. Ridge is crazy in love with her and loyal to a fault. Maggie has a terminal illness and Ridge will never leave her. After several months of this struggle Maggie has a set back and goes to the hospital, putting things into perspective for Ridge. He decides to end the relationship with Sydney, but while he’s gone, Maggie finds all his messages to Sydney and realizes what’s going on. She refuses to talk to Ridge for a few days and Sydney moves out not telling him where she’s going. Ridge is distraught until Maggie finally talks to him. When she does, she ends things, and not because she hates him. She’s been struggling to live what’s left of her life adventurously and with abandon, but Ridge is holding her back because he wants to protect her. Maggie realizes that she will be better off without Ridge and he without her, even though it’s hard, so she ends it. Meanwhile, Sydney is heartbroken, but wants to have her own life, even if Maggie and Ridge don’t stay together, so she cuts off all contact not knowing where things are at. Ridge’s other roommate, Warren, has become friends with Sydney and stays in contact with her, eventually telling her that Ridge is single, but respecting her need to stay cut off from him. This lasts for a few months, during which time, Ridge writes Sydney a few songs and plans a concert for her. On the night of the concert, Warren gets her to the venue and Ridge sings his heart out (a big deal because he’s been nonverbal since he was a kid), begging Sydney to give him a chance. Of course she agrees and they are finally able to be together! Such a beautiful ending.

Summing it up: this is another great one from Hoover. I love her love stories.

All the best, Abbey

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

20170113_125956-1

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

by Jan-Philipp Sendker

January 2017

This is another Book Club book that I read even though I knew nothing about it. Even after reading it, I’m not sure how to describe it. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was unlike anything else I’ve read. It was beautiful and moving, but you didn’t get the full picture until the very last page. That being said, the book swept me along and even though I wasn’t sure where I was going, I couldn’t wait to get there. I definitely enjoyed this book, probably in part because it was so different.

Julia is a young law school graduate. The day after her graduation her father disappears without trace. Four years later her mother has found a letter addressed to someone named Mi Mi in Burma and Julia decides to track her down. She flies all the way to Burma where she meets a man named U Ba who knows the story of her father’s childhood and what has happened to him. Spoilers: ever so slowly U Ba relates the story of Julia’s father, Tin Win. He grew up in a small Burmese town and soon became an orphan, left to be raised by a kindly neighbor. Around 8 years old, he mysteriously looses his eyesight and becomes completely blind. While he is engrossed in his own loneliness, he also is coaxed to learn from the monks in town. He soon becomes the top of his class, learning how to read braille and excelling in his studies. Tin Win learns to navigate his world, even in his loneliness. One day he meets a girl named Mi Mi, who has her own handicap. At birth, her feet were misshapen and she has never been able to walk. Mi Mi and Tin Win form a fast friendship, soon becoming inseparable: Tin Win carrying Mi Mi and Mi Mi being Tin Win’s eyes. Tin Win’s hearing expands at this time, allowing him to hear even the heartbeat of the tiniest insect. His hearing is so vivid, it’s how he identifies people, including Mi Mi and how he knows she’s near. Their friendship is steadily moving towards romance and the two of them have never been happier. One day, Tin Win’s uncle sends for him, and Tin Win cannot refuse. He says goodbye to Mi Mi and they sleep together for the first time before he leaves. Once with his uncle, Tin Win is effectively trapped. Hi uncle wants to help him, and he must do what his uncle requests. So, Tin Win has eye surgery and gets his eyesight back, he also attends a prestigious school and rises to the top. Before long he is on his way to New York for a career in law. All this time he and Mi Mi have been writing, but his uncle has confiscated every letter. Tin Win must honor his uncle, so is forced to stay in America, rather than return home to be married off. In America, he marries and has Julia and her brother. He is able to love Mi Mi and stay faithful to her, while faithfully loving his American family. He leaves only when he senses that Mi Mi is dying. He returns to her on her death bed. They have one night together, full of love, and are found dead the next morning. Julia is learning all of this years later and struggles to reconcile her father’s past with everything she new about him, and also struggles to accept that he is actually dead. She is able to come to terms with it and finally puts two and two together and figures out that U Ba is Mi Mi’s son, from the one time she and Tin Win made love. Julia is able to accept everything, and even finds peace in learning her father’s full story. It is a beautiful and moving ending, even though it’s difficult.

There were two paragraphs that moved me. They are a little long, but I’d like to quote them to share and to keep from forgetting. 🙂

Tin Win’s teacher talks to him about fear when he is first at school. “‘Every one of us knows fear,’ he said. ‘So well! It encircles us like flies around ox dung. It puts animals to flight. They bolt and run or fly or swim until they believe themselves safe or until they keel over dead from exhaustion. Humans are no wiser. We see that there is no place on earth where we can hide from fear, yet still be attempt to find one. We strive for wealth and power. We abandon ourselves to the illusion that we are stronger than fear. We try to rule–over our children and our wives, over our neighbors and our friends. Ambition and fear have something in common: neither knows any limits. But with power and wealth it is just as with the opium I sampled more than once in my youth–neither keeps its promises. Opium never brought me eternal happiness. It only demanded more and more of me. Money and power do not vanquish fear. There is only one force more powerful than fear.'”

Later, U Ba talks to Julia about death. She asks him how long it took him to get over his parent’s death. He says, “‘Over it? I’m not sure I would put it that way. When we get over something, we move on, we put it behind us. Do we leave the dead behind or do we take them with us? I think we take them with us. They accompany us. They remain with us, if in another form. We have to learn to live with them and their deaths. In my case that process took a couple of days . . . .Once I understood that I had not lost them I recovered quickly. I think of them every day. I wonder what they would say at a given moment. I ask them for advice, even today, at my age, when it will soon be time to be thinking of my own death.'”

Summing it up: I loved how contemplative this novel was. It was beautiful and thought-provoking. I really enjoyed it and I definitely recommend it.

All the best, Abbey