A riveting and ominous tale of loss, love and heartbreak set in both 1919 and the early 1960s.  The 1919 story involves a past love who most likely perished in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and a woman, Vivian, who cannot get over her loss.  Vivian is “the kept woman” to David, a married man who might or might not leave his wife for her.  The earthquake ends whatever future they might have, but Vivian is determined to find him and she is still hoping for a passionate, heartfelt reunion all the way until 1919, when she finds out the truth. 

Tying in with that is the tale of Claire, a 1960s housewife who sees her love for her husband and the life she has made for herself slipping away.  It’s not that she’s powerless to do anything about it…it’s just that she is unsure whether she wants to stop her sedate, mundane life from slipping out of control.  Her story is set during the inauguration of President Kennedy in early 1961; she looks to Jackie Kennedy as an icon for beauty, stability and class.  As President Kennedy and Jackie’s story sets out, her own story begins to crumble…including her husband walking in on her affair with another married man and then her pregnancy by either her lover or her husband. 

At first, I could not see how these two stories would intersect but as the stories progressed, Hood sets up patterns of misery and disillusionment in each woman that is so compelling that really doesn’t matter.  And then with the connection between 1961 and 1919 is revealed, it is believable and natural.  I’ve read most every novel (she also writes some nonfiction) Hood has written and to the best of my memory, this is the first time she has set a novel in two different time periods (usually, her novels involve one main character (usually female) with her own set of issues and concerns).  Well, for a first time out, the concept works, bringing to life both women, both of their worlds and both of their fully fleshed out emotional struggles.  The vibrancy and passion in the writing helps us to both visualize and sympathize with both ladies’ tales of pain.  A lesser writer would have had trouble creating sympathetic characters out of two adulteresses, but Hood’s careful attention to the character’s inner turmoils allow us to not only sympathize with the two ladies, but possibly even relate to them. 

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Told from the point-of-view of both a stepmother and a teenage girl, this novel really delves deep into what makes a family tick.  The stepmother, Andi, is a woman desperate for a child of her own.  She marries a man with two children…a pre-teen girl who causes little if any trouble and a full-blown teenager who is more than makes up for her sister’s lack of trouble.  Andi’s struggles with her new marriage, her husband and her step-kids seem realistic and not fake in anyway.  Emily, the teenager, comes to life on the page…angst and depression and self-hate all included.  Green lets us watch this family’s troubles play out…never forcing us to feel something that seems unnatural or unrealistic.

This is a heartwarming book about the troubles of one family and how they preserve and overcome.  This is the first Jane Green book that I read all the way through and I would definitely read her again.  She’s not totally “chick lit” (or at least this one wasn’t).  There was a depth to this novel that most Kinsellas and other Chick Lit connoisseurs lack.  I liked the characters and the development of them throughout the story.  There were times when certain parts went on too long, but over-all, this is a good, solid story about family and the troubles they bear. 

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This book begins with Japanese “picture brides” on a boat to early 20th Century America to meet their husbands.  These brides are young girls (some 12 or so) who have been shipped off by their parents with the intention of having them get married, have families and basically have better lives than they would in Japan.  The end of the book covers the heart-wrenching years of the Japanese Internment Camps during the post-Pearl Harbor era in the Western USA. 

I absolutely loved the story, the lyricalness, the lushness and the tone of this novel.  Otsuka has a gift of being able to express series of complex emotions with just a few words.  Her writing style seems natural, fluid, yet filled with power.  She does a fantastic job of creating a scene with as few words as possible.  Less, if definitely more here.  After-all, the novel is around 120 pages.

Saying all of that, I still found myself wanting a little more.  NOT more of the words…more of the individual characters and their own stories.  This novel is told in the first person plural voice (or point of view).  Meaning: WE did this, WE did that. With such powerful stories to tell, I wish Otsuka would have picked one or two women to focus on instead of the global “we.”  This does not mean I did not like the book.  I loved it.  I just would have loved it even more had there been a little more individual detail.

But, I understand why she choose the plural voice to write it.  The subject matter here is highly emotional…and by keeping it in the plural, both Otsuka and the reader are able to keep a fair and appropriate distance.  Either way, a must read for all…

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One of the better novels I have read in a while…this one makes you laugh, cry and long for your friends.  Rayner, a Brit, weaves a compelling tale filled with sudden loss, friendship, gradual loss, sexual identity and all sorts of relationships.  The main characters are the storytellers here…Karen who experiences sudden loss right at the beginning of the book, Anna, who is Karen’s friend and is in the midst of a doomed relationship with a man with dependency problems, and Lou who enters Karen and Anna’s lives through sad happenstance and who is dealing with her own private identity battles.  All of these characters on their own would make compelling fiction, but all three of them create a vivid and dynamic tale that not only holds the reader’s interest, but inspires them as well.  An excellent novel!

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One of the best beginnings of a mystery (historical or otherwise) I’ve read in a long while.  I was just literally fixated for the first 100 pages.  After that, we gets a little too convoluted with less-than-necessary characters and too many plotlines that pop up and lead nowhere.  But, it is a must read for those first chapters!  The story revolves around nurse Bess Crawford who is working the frontlines during WWI when she stumbles upon a body that was not shot, but rather had its neck broken.  On her way to report this, she faints and succumbs to the Spanish flu, an epidemic that taking almost as many lives as the war. Once she is better, she finds out that the only people who know of this “mysterious” body are dead, most likely having been killed. Bess is a fabulously feisty character who is almost as good of an amateur sleuth as she is a nurse.  A mother and son writing team work under the pseudonym Charles Todd and their writing is highly vivid and strong and the way they create the mounting suspense leaves the reader craving more.  I could not put this one down.  I will continue to read this Bess Crawford series for sure!

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A light, fun mystery set in the South of England near Brighton. I am tempted to call this one a COZY mystery (meaning violence are downplayed or treated humorously with a light, refreshing take) but sometimes, that scares people off so I will not call it that. But, it really is a cozy. But, please do not be scared off. This is a fun, highly entertaining mystery that you will miss if you avoid anything “cozy.” The two main characters, Carole and Jude, are spunky middle-aged ladies who relish a good chance to sink their teeth into a good crime story. Carole and Jude are Brett’s continuing characters in his Fethering series…this book is the tenth in the series. Here, Carole and Jude set about trying to prove the innocence of a friend, the owner of a local pub where a murder is committed. The pub, before the murder, had been targeted with some other unsavory offenses (a poisoning (explains the title of the book) and an influx of biker-type clientele that was scaring away the other regular customers. So, Carole and Jude set about proving that the pub had been targeted specifically for some reason and the murder is a result of that harassment. Brett, most famously known for his famed Mrs. Pargeter mystery series, seems to enjoy writing Carole and Jude. The two amateur sleuths are enormously fun to read and Brett’s easy-going writing style makes this a top-notch mystery, filled with humor and dry wit. Do yourself a favor and ignore the “cozyness” of it and read it just for fun. You will not regret it!

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Another great, fun story by Wolff, who is getting stronger and stronger as a storyteller. The writing is solid, but Wolff’s forte is forming bright, vivid female characters who face their troubles head on with passion. A British native, Wolff’s young career women all start off less than resilient but then end up conquering heroes. In this novel, Phoebe starts off by opening her new vintage fashion shop, fresh from a badly broken relationship and the death of her close friend. Through both events and a series of wonderful supporting characters, Phoebe comes into her own (her store being a success doesn’t hurt either!)! In addition to the story and characters, I also enjoyed leaning about vintage haute couture. A must read for chick lit-ters and those who enjoy light, breezy women’s fiction.

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Berg’s latest is a great, strong piece on not only loss, but on coming to terms with oneself. We meet the main character, Helen, months after she has lost her husband of many years from a sudden heart attack. Her daughter Tessa is on her own and Helen has to find a way to come to terms with being alone. I found the way Berg constructed Helen to be very believable of what a recent widow might go through. I didn’t think Helen’s reactions were too over the top or corny. This is a good summer beach read…it’s short, well-written and uncomplicated.
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One of the more delightful surprises in fiction in recent years, this Keyes book was a beach read that turned out to be a little more than that. I’ve read quite a few of Keyes books before but this one is probably my favorite of hers…it’s fresh and engaging and simply delightful. Told from the POV of three London ladies: 1. Gemma, who has a neurotic mother and is still mourning the loss of her stolen-out-from-under-her-by-her-best-friend boyfriend…2. Lily, who is the best friend who stole Gemma’s boyfriend…and 3. Jojo, a literary agent who ends up representing both Gemma and Lily. I loved the way Keyes weaved all three stories together…yet giving each of the 3 enough space for us to get to know them all. Even though each change of character is marked with the ladies’ name before the chapter, towards the end, we knew each of the three enough to know whose part we were reading. A great way to tell a fun, entertaining story!

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A different type of fiction from Keyes…who normally sticks to one main character throughout her stories. This time, she jumps between four female characters…all of whom are connected by one devilishly charming and seductively powerful man. There is Lola…who has just been tossed aside by said man – for another woman. And Grace, a journalist who has more than her fair share of history with the man. And Grace’s twin sister Marnie, who has been in love with the man for a long time. And finally Alicia…the woman for whom the man dumped Lola. An interesting concept that leads to a fascinating work of fiction – a good study of women and what they will and won’t do because of love.

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