The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

This story alternates between9780393081428.jpg 1919 San Francisco and 1960’s Napa, California. In 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is holding on to a dream that her long lost love, David, is still alive somewhere. David has been missing since the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, when it ripped Vivien’s home and entire world apart. Vivien knows grief all too well, which is how she is able to comfort complete strangers who have lost loved ones, when they come to her asking her to write an obituary.  Sadly, with both the Earthquake and the Spanish influenza, Vivien is very busy writing obituaries, and many of which are for young children. Vivien believes that dates (date of birth, date of marriage, date of death) do not matter so much as the deceased person’s story – their passions, their loves, their quirks. Her talent allows her to write perfectly fitting tributes for so many lives.

In 1960’s California, Claire is stuck in a loveless marriage with Peter. She is under-appreciated and her hopes and passions stifled by her husband on a daily basis. She wouldn’t dare leave him because of their young daughter, Kathy, and fear of what she would do on her own. Then, she meets Miles, a man who appreciates her, listens to her, and makes her come alive in ways she has never experienced before. Will she decide to remain with Peter, sacrificing any chance at future happiness? Or will she go against what is expected of her and attempt to start over.

This is a wonderful, historically-rich tale of family, loss, love, hope, and courage. Both Vivien and Claire are strong women and lovely characters who will draw readers in and capture their hearts. The author brings the two women together in a most unexpected and extraordinary way at the end. I would highly suggest this story for fans of historical fiction, romantic fiction, and mainstream adult fiction. It’s a quick read, but it will remain in your memory far after you turn the last page.

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.

The Secrets of Lake Road by Karen Katchur

I really enjoyed this story, especially because of the rich atmospheric scenes. As a reader, I really felt transported to the little lake community with its local legends and secrets. The story has a little bit of everything: mystery, suspense, coming-of-age, guilt, and regret. The story takes place in a mostly secluded lake community, where 12 year old Caroline’s family has been coming each summer for years. Caroline, as well as her 16 year old brother Johnny love the lake, but their mother, Jo, doesn’t stick around because the memories from her troubled past at the lake are too vivid. When Jo was 16, her boyfriend Billy drowned, and his death was deemed an accidental drowning. Only Jo, and her husband Kevin, who was Billy’s best friend, know the truth.

Caroline tries to ignore her mother’s aversion to the lake, and enjoy a summer of relaxation and stealing glances at her brother’s cute best friend, Chris. Her brother Johnny spends his days hanging at the beach Pavilion, chatting up young girls who fall all over themselves for him. When a seven year old girl, Sara Starr, goes missing from the beach, all the old lies & secrets threaten to surface, while rescue workers search the lake for Sara’s body. When a human bone is brought up from the bottom of the lake and is found to belong to Billy, the investigation surrounding his death starts up again, with help from Billy’s older sister Dee-Dee, who will not rest until she finds out the truth. Now that the investigation is opened up again, the tension between Jo and Kevin builds as well. Does Kevin know more than he is letting on about what really happened to Billy? As it turns out, Sara’s mother, Patricia, spent her summers growing up at the lake. She claims to have been there the night Billy drowned. What does Patricia know; and will she come forward with information while her own daughter is missing?

The author does a fine job of creating tension lines between the characters so that at any second, one could break. Caroline feels estranged from her mother, and she knows Jo is running from something. She is determined to figure out what, but also determined to find Sara, as she was one of the last ones to see Sara alive that day on the beach. The family drama of three generations of women is an interesting dynamic of this novel. Caroline, her mother Jo, and Jo’s mother, “Gram,” each have unique personalities and attitudes toward the lake. When those personalities and attitudes clash, doors slam and more cracks in their already unstable relationships form. What will it take to bring the family back to a sort of peace again? You’ll want to read this one. The plot twists keep coming until the very end, and the story will stick with you long after you finish reading.

I received a signed copy of this book in a contest. I was in no way compensated, or asked to provide this review.

The Girl Without a Name by Sandra Block

This book will be published September 8, 2015 by Grand Central Publishing.

The Girl Without a Name is a psychological suspense novel that I really enjoyed. Dr. Zoe Goldman is a psychiatrist completing her residency in the children’s psych ward. Certain events in Zoe’s past are still coming back to haunt her, and she actually sees a psychiatrist herself, which is rather ironic. Zoe’s real mother and foster mother have both passed away and her only remaining family is her brother, Scotty, and dog, Arthur. She also has a boyfriend, Mike, who is an ER doctor. When a new patient arrives, Zoe begins to doubt some of the treatment courses the attending physician, Dr. Tad Berringer, prescribes. The patient, referred to as “Jane,” because her identity is unknown, is a young African American girl in a catatonic state who doesn’t remember where she came from, or how she ended up in the hospital. She has a peculiar scar on her ankle, and is mysteriously being given medications even though no once claims to have prescribed them for her. Zoe begins working alongside a seasoned police detective with whom she has come into contact in her past. She starts to uncover clues about “Jane,” and puts her own career in jeopardy to ensure that “Jane” is safe. It doesn’t help that Dr. Berringer is a married, heartthrob who begins to take more interest in Zoe after he informs her that he is getting a divorce. Will Zoe fall for his charm? How can she know who to trust with the truth about the patient. The plot is fast paced, and I read it very quickly.

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

This is a fabulous story set in the 1960’s in the rural South. Jane is a newlywed, fresh out of college and eager to start her first “professional” job as a social worker. As she becomes increasingly involved in the daily lives of her poverty stricken clients, both white and black families, her wealthy pediatrician husband tries harder to convince her not to work. He would rather her join the Junior League and waste her days away with the other country club wives, as it looks bad for him to have a wife who insists on working. Jane, however, finds great pleasure in her work, as she is truly helping those in need. Soon she meets the Hart family, 17 year old Mary Ella, her 2 year old illegitimate child William,  grandmother Nonnie, and 15 year old Ivy. The girls work on a tobacco farm, which is where their house is located, while William is barely supervised by Nonnie. Mary Ella has some sort of mental illness, William is deemed “slow”, and Nonnie has multiple health problems. Ivy, though she keeps the family together as best as she can, also suffers from epilepsy. As Jane gets to know them, she softens and becomes especially close to Ivy, which could soon cost her a lot in her own personal life.

This story reads quickly because something is always happening to keep the reader’s interest. The way the author depicts daily life in these poor families is heart wrenching, raw, and real. I wasn’t aware of the history about sterilization of colored women, epileptics, poor people, and people of low IQ during the 1960’s. The author includes historically accurate notes at the back of the book that are mind blowing. What a terribly sad thing this was for so many people who weren’t even given a choice. The author put together a beautiful story which brought this important and somewhat overlooked topic of government mandated sterilization to life. I would highly encourage reading this book. It would be an excellent choice for book clubs to discuss.