Thea and her twin brother Sam are growing up on a
prosperous Florida citrus farm in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Their parents are well-meaning, but solitary and strange. Thea and her cousin Georgie become sexually – uh – well -- “involved” might be the word I’d pick.
Thea’s parents find out and punish her by
sending her away to an exclusive but remote riding camp for girls in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. Thea is an excellent horsewoman and the meat of the story is how she survives camp and “finds herself.” She is naïve and immature, but acutely aware of her sexuality.
This leads to trouble, of course.
After the second plot point, the author drones on and on for pages and pages, winding the story
down to its whimpering finish. The book is nicely written, but a little too slow to start; a little too long to finish. The middle three-quarters are excellent.
Three out of four stars.
Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky is a new novel by an established author. I read Together Alone by Delinsky three years ago and this Sweet Salt Air confirmed what I wrote in my review back then.
“Hmmmm,” I said to myself. “Self: This must be ‘romance’ fiction.” I don't like romance fiction.This might be a form of the romance category because I kind of liked it. I tolerated it.
Romances, I understand, have several common denominators: A romantic relationship is primary. The plot is predictable. Everything works out in the end.
That's this book to a T. Two romantic relationships are the main threads of the plot. I figured out what was going to happen by the time I was one-third into it. The surprises were not surprising. The finale was obvious.
Two characters dominate.They’re childhood
friends who meet again at a home in Quinnipeague, Maine, where they spent many summers together while growing up.
Charlotte, the protagonist, is a freelance journalist and photographer. She’s not married, has no children and lives a life that’s footloose and free. Her assignments allow her to travel all over the world.
Nicole is a Martha Stewart clone. She loves to
cook and entertain and make things look pretty. She has a husband, Julian, who has MS and she wants to have a baby, but is reluctant to do so because of his medical issues.
The two friends are writing a cookbook together
about herbs and recipes of the inhabitants of
Two romances unfold. Charlotte meets Leo. He has
a prison record and a shady past and a reputation for being gruff and grumpy. Nicole’s husband’s MS symptoms are getting worse and his treatments are not working.
A long-kept secret (there’s always a secret, isn’t there?) is revealed and the friendship (as well as the cookbook) seem doomed. But just as it was in Together Alone, everything gets tied up too nicely, too neatly, too predictably. I read the whole thing – all 400 pages – with some enthusiasm, so the it must have something going for it. Three out of four stars.
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison., I loved this book. It is another psychological give and take, push and pull, his and her take on events, much like the recent bestseller Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (which I reviewed in this blog on 4/11/2013.) Chapters alternate points of view: first Jodi, then Todd.
The two have been living together for 20 years but have never married. They are an odd pair. Jodi, a psychotherapist, believes if you ignore something, it didn’t happen. Jodi is also a stickler for order, routine and domestic perfection.Todd, a self-made entrepreneur, is a serial philanderer who finds himself caught in a mess of his own making.
Early on, we know that Jodi will commit murder and Todd will be the victim. But how Harrison gets to that precise point and what happens afterward makes for a gripping read. Released in June 2013, this new novel gets four out of four stars from me.
Enon by Paul Harding is slated to be released in September 2013. Charlie Crosby’s 13-year-old daughter Kate is killed in an automobile accident while riding her bike home from the beach. He’s devastated.
After the funeral, Charlie’s wife leaves.For good.
The plot concerns the next year of Charlie’s life as he wallows and wades through grief for his adored daughter. Apparently, Charlie and his wife were not happy, so he invested everything into his relationship with his daughter.
Charlie grieves. He decends into drug use, more drug use, worse drug use, burglary, and more.
The plot sagged in the middle.
At first, I wanted to say, “Snap out of it Charlie and start healing yourself.” After a few hundred pages of irresponsible and self-destructive behavior, I wanted to say, “Sorry, Charlie” and throw the book aside.
Alas, I forced myself to finish it. Two out of four
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I think Elizabeth Gilbert overanalyzed and
overdramatized her divorce, her life, her new lover and the possibility of a second marriage in her previous two best-selling memoirs Eat, Pray, Love and Commitment.
I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love. But about half way
through, I wanted to shake Gilbert until her head wobbled and say, “Stop dithering and make up your mind!”
Commitment was one long dither about
the institution of marriage.
The Signature of All Things, however, is fiction. It’s a crackling good beautifully-written multi-themed family saga. Five hundred pages of family saga!
The protagonist is Alma Whittaker, a big-boned, unattractive, intelligent, educated woman living in Philadelphia in the middle of the 19th century. She becomes a brilliant botanist, a scholar, an expert in her field, a respected published author, all unusual feats for women at the time of America’s Civil War.
Alma is not quite as brilliant, however, when it
comes to love. She’s starved for affection, sexual fulfillment and . . . . true love.
Alma’s search for love begins with a crush that
is cruelly squelched, then an unusual marriage to Ambrose Pike, who she thinks will be her soul mate. The marriage gets off to a bad start and goes downhill rapidly. Ambrose is packed off to Tahiti to paint pictures of orchids. He dies.
Alma travels to Tahiti to figure out what happened.
The plot involves scientific exploration, adventure, travel, sociology, psychology, sex (or the lack thereof), theories of evolution and religion – even
Charles Darwin himself. An amazing amount of research must have gone into the creation of this novel. Elizabeth Gilbert – hats off to you. The Signature of All Things is to be published in October 2013. Four out of four stars.