Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

9780812996081_8119b.jpgMiller’s Valley is set to be published on April 5, 2016.

I’ve always been a big fan of whatever Anna Quindlen writes, one of my favorites is Black and Blue. Quindlen has a knack for making the reader feel like they are really submersed in the story and in the life of the family being portrayed. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this story, but I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

This is the story of Mary Margaret Miller, who goes by Mimi. It’s a coming of age story, in which the reader watches Mimi grow up and move on with life over and over again, despite some road blocks along the way. The largest of which being the fact that the government plans to flood the valley in order to build a dam, like they did to the neighboring town of Andover a few years back. Along with the day to day stress of family life in a rural farming community is the constant impending doom of when their home and life as they know it be flooded out from under them.

Mimi is not the type to cause any trouble within her family, because there are plenty of others doing that for her. Her older brother, Tommy, also her mother’s pride and joy, is and always will be a playboy, in and out of trouble for as long as Mimi can remember. Mimi grew up on the farm, one of the last remaining Millers of Miller’s Valley, where her family before her has lived for generations. Her father is a farmer and fix-it man, while her mother is a nurse at the local hospital. Mimi’s aunt Ruth lives in the little house just behind her parents house, and she has refused to leave the house for years. Mimi goes through school getting good grades and attempts to leave Miller’s Valley, things keep happening with her brother Tommy, father, aunt Ruth, or mother to hold her back.

My favorite part of this book are the deep relationships between Mimi and the other characters. Mimi narrates the story, so the reader gets to know how she thinks and recognizes all the times where she holds back what she really feels led to say or do, because she is appeasing someone else or keeping the peace, or what little is left of it. Her childhood relationships with friends, Donald and LaRhonda, sibling relationships with Ed and Tommy, and even the parent-child relationships with her father and mother are interesting and keep the reader’s attention. Will Mimi end up like her aunt Ruth, refusing to leave her home or Miller’s Valley? Or will she finally do what Tommy encouraged her to do, get out of Miller’s Valley while she can, in order to make a life for herself? You’ll want to read it to find out. Great story. I especially loved the ending, where Mimi as an old woman looks back on her life and really puts everything in perspective.

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The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

It’s not the things we remember, it’s the things we keep.

The Things We Keep will be published on January 19, 2016. If I were you, I would make a New Year’s resolution now to read it in 2016. This is such a beautiful, heart-wrenching story of family, friendship, and love, despite the odds stacked against the characters.

There are two story lines to start, but they intersect once the characters meet and end up in the same place. First, we meet Anna Forster, a 38 year old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but in the early stages. Anna’s mother also suffered from Alzheimer’s. After Anna has endangered both herself and others she loves, she has decided to live at Rosalind House, a prestigious, family-like assisted living facility in New Jersey. She knows most of the residents are elderly, but she also knows there is young resident named Luke, her age, and also with Alzheimer’s disease. As she and Luke get to know each other, sometimes starting over with introductions every few days and then every day, near the end, their love grows, despite the research that those without memory and speech (in Luke’s case), suffering from such an awful disease are not capable of falling in love.

In comes Eve Bennett, a young, talented chef with a 7 year old daughter named Clementine, who is quite the spunky little charmer, despite losing her father and then her home a few months prior. The Bennett girls’ energy is a welcome change to the quiet environment at Rosalind House. Eve is the widow of Richard Bennett, the leader of a ponzi scheme which caused thousands of people to lose their money and would have landed him in prison, had he not taken his own life first. Now a single mother and with no income, Eve must find a way to support herself, which brings her to Rosalind house in the role of cook. As Eve crosses paths and gets to know the residents, especially Anna and Luke, she makes some decisions that will forever change all of their lives. There, she also meets Angus, the skilled gardener who is also easy on the eyes.

I love Eve and Clementine’s interactions with the residents of Rosalind House. The author does a wonderful job of describing them so that the reader feels they know them as well. Much of the scenes are written from Anna’s perspective, and in light of her failing memory. Though humorous at times as she tries to come up with a word or does silly things, it is also deeply tragic and sad that she is withering away at such a young age. This story, and it’s characters will be in my thoughts for a long time, as the story really reminded me to hold on to what we have, because we ultimately do not know when our last moment with a loved one will be. It is truly a lovely story, and I would highly recommend that you read it.

The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans

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The Mistletoe Inn is the second installment in a Christmas series from Richard Paul Evans, referred to as “the King of Christmas Fiction.” The first book in the series, The Mistletoe Promise, was excellent. The books need not be read in order, like most series, because neither the characters nor the plot continue from the first to the second novel. One interesting thing Evans did, however, is to use the story line from The Mistletoe Promise as the book idea for the main character, an author named Kim Rossi, in The Mistletoe Inn. Well played, Mr. Evans. That was a really neat idea, and it brought back fond memories of the first book as I read the second one. I enjoyed The Mistletoe Inn just as much, if not more than The Mistletoe Promise. Every year around Christmas, I’m in the mood for a Christmas story, and Richard Paul Evans books are always perfect to satisfy my reader’s craving.

Kim Rossi is a newly divorced, single 32 year old aspiring writer who spends her days working as a finance officer at a car dealership. She is living in Denver, farther than she would like from her only remaining family member, her father. She lost her mother to suicide at a young age, and she still suffers from grief and guilt about her mother’s passing. To top it all off, she finds out some unsettling news about her father’s health. She decides to attend a writer’s conference at the Mistletoe Inn around Christmas time, in hopes that she will finally be able to get her novel closer to publication. The best part about the conference is that her favorite author of all time, H. T. Cowell, is the keynote speaker. Figuring she has nothing to lose, Kim spends Thanksgiving with her father and then sets off for the conference. The setting for the conference is beautiful, in wintry Burlington, Vermont. She meets a few new friends at the conference, namely Samantha and Zeke, as well as a few interesting characters, as well.

I won’t give away much more of the plot, because I want you to read and enjoy the story as much as I did. Let’s just say that the conference doesn’t turn out the way she thought it would, in more ways than one.

I truly enjoyed this book, and my only regret is that it was a very short read. I finished it in an evening, and then I wanted to read more about Kim and Zeke. Evans has an amazing way of bringing readers to spontaneous bursts of laughter and also tears with his romantic scenes and heart wrenching moments.

Now, to wait for the final installment next Christmas. I’ll be looking forward to it!

 

The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris

I had never read anything by this author before, but I had read an early review about this book and was intrigued at the mention of  Alcatraz Island being the setting for a missing girl, in a situation w9780758281180_ad6c3here only one prisoner knew the truth of her whereabouts. It sounded like a great story line, and I enjoyed the book though it started out a bit slow. As it turned out, the story details the life of a young Irish boy named Shanley Keegan, with the missing girl portion of the plot only revealed at the very end of the book.

As a child of 12, Shan is living in Dublin under the care of his abusive Uncle Will, an alcoholic with not much parental guidance or care. Shan’s parents had both passed, and he only recently found a letter to his mother from an American musician, who it turns out is actually Shan’s real father. Shan decides to go to to New York to find his father and try to find a better life than that in Dublin, where he performs vaudevillian acts in nightclubs to scrounge up enough money for a square meal every now and then. Most of the money he earns is snatched up by Will and spent at the local pubs.

On the ship en route to America, Shan happens to be in the right place at the right time to help break up a fight between an Italian American named Nick Capello and some other young lads. Capello, who Shan will find out is quite the ladies’ man, was keeping company with the other young lads’ girls. To thank Shan for his help, Nick repays the favor, helping Shan through immigration in New York, allowing him to pretend to be Tommy Capello, Nick’s little brother. As it turns out, the real Tommy Capello was a sickly child and died at a young age. Nick’s family takes Shan in as part of their own. After many attempts and no success, Shan decides to give up the search for his real father, and assume the role of a Capello. The story progresses until we found adult Shan, now in the wrong place at the wrong time, but also while trying to help Nick. He ends up in Alcatraz, where good behavior earns him the role of gardener for the warden’s greenhouse. Here he meets a little girl who will forever change his life.

I won’t give away any more plot details, because there are some major events that occur which must be read to be fully enjoyed and understood. Readers can’t help but root for Shan, as hard times continue to befall him, and his attitude and outlook remain positive. Even as a prisoner in Alcatraz, he tries to find good in others, concentrating on serving the time without any trouble so he can go “home” to the Capellos. One of my favorite things about the story is the strong family bond between Shan and the Capello family, even though he wasn’t born a Capello, they took him in and he was loved as if he were. I think, perhaps, this is how Shan had the strength to make it through so many of the hardships in his adult life.

Fans of historical fiction would love this story. It reminded me some of The Green Mile, without the fantasy bit.