The Bookends

The Vanishing Year
By Kate Moretti

Zoe Whittaker appears to be the star in her own Cinderella story. She went from sharing a small apartment and shopping at thrift stores to a sleek Tribeca penthouse and designer clothes. Henry Whittaker, a Wall Street tycoon swept her off her feet and brought her into his world. Now, Zoe is separated from her previous life (and friends) by miles, as well as circumstances. But, Zoe’s secrets are coming back to haunt her. Five years ago, Zoe ran from her previous life and created a new life in a new place. Now, the danger that caused her to flee is close and she must decide who she can trust as secrets are revealed.

PAM I found this story as I browsed the new fiction section of our library. It sounded like an interesting and suspenseful tale! We meet Zoe as she is heading an elite event for a philanthropic organization in the city. Right away, we find that she does not feel a part of this life and is nervous about her past. Becky, what were your first impressions about Zoe?

BECKY I quickly liked this character. She was easy to connect to and I enjoyed how her story is revealed. She is currently living what appears to be a perfect life. We quickly see that maybe everything isn’t as beautiful as it first appears. Do you like the pace of this story and the style of writing?

PAM The story gets moving quickly and we begin to see troubles in Zoe’s life. I did like the writing style and the way the author reveals pieces of the mystery, but keeps the reader guessing how pieces fit together until the end. Zoe feels grateful for her new lifestyle, but we begin to see that she has very little freedom. Did you feel she was more accepting of this because she had gone through such hard times growing up and was comforted by the offered security?

BECKY I suppose that her past could have played a part in the seduction of this wealthy lifestyle. However, I think it’s more likely that she was slowly seduced, and controlled by Henry. I think that it was easy to put her guard down and enjoy all the pleasures that her new lifestyle provided without realizing the isolation that came with his love. She didn’t see that her cash allowance or the watchful eye of Henry was a prison. What did you think of Henry when we are first introduced to him? Did you think he was her knight in shining armor?

PAM I had a bad feeling about him from the beginning. There was always an edge to him or a condescending comment aimed at Zoe. When we come into the story, we are already seeing some issues in the relationship. When do you think she began to realize that it wasn’t all perfect?

BECKY I like how this character was developed but there was a bit of a disconnect for me regarding how trusting she was in this relationship. Zoe had a challenging childhood so I found her immediate dependence on Henry to be unlikely. I would have expected her to be more scrappy and guarded instead of blindly being lead by this man. However, she began to question her marriage when she accidentally sees Henry while he is working out with a beautiful woman. He is an expert at manipulating the situation but she began to start putting the puzzle together after that. Along with the marriage came a seriously devoted housekeeper, Penny. She is in charge of everything in the home from decorating to selecting dinner. Did you like the development of this character that was cold with Zoe but intensely involved in all aspects of this home?

PAM The development of this character certainly added to the unease and feeling that something was not right in Zoe’s home. The coldness that Zoe received from Penny and the brush off from Henry when she tried to discuss the situation helped to make Zoe feel isolated. Adding to her isolation is the distance that has been created between her and her friends. Zoe was working at a flower shop when she met Henry and was very close friends with one of her coworkers. She hasn’t seen any of her friends in quite some time and begins to try and connect with the friends that she left behind when she married Henry. They are reluctant to accept her after her abandonment of them. How did you feel about these three characters?

BECKY Those relationships were realistically portrayed as she delt with friends that felt abandoned. Zoe had to deal with hurt and betrayal as she mended those relationships. It also gave us a glimpse into Zoe’s past as she reconnects to her old lifestyle. There is more to this story but we are avoiding a few topics so we don’t give too much away. Do you think that a book club would have interesting discussion or is this more of a book to read on a beach vacation?

PAM I think there are some deeper topics that would drive a book club discussion around this story. I know I had some questions that would be fun to discuss in greater detail! We will go in a completely different direction with our next book: The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Join us as we discuss a 104 year old woman, Ona, and the boy that reignited her interest in life.

The Bookends

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

By: Susan Rivers

Seventeen year old Placidia Fincher lives a privileged life with her family. She is a tomboy that has a love for horses, especially the wild ones. Major Hockaday comes by her father’s property to buy a mule and Placidia is attracted to this rugged older man. He feels the same and the two are quickly married and she leaves everything behind to start a new life on a 300 acre remote farm far from her family. Just days after becoming husband and wife, the major is called back to the battlefield. Young Placidia is left with the Majors young son and more responsibility than she has ever had. By the time he returns two years later, his young bride is accused of adultery and infanticide. Placidia refuses to talk about the accusation nor defend her herself. What happened during those two years?

BECKY This Civil War story is told completely through correspondence and diary entries. For the most part the letters are conversations between Placidia and her cousin Mildred. We do get quite a bit of information but they are the only characters we get to know for awhile. What did you think about this style of writing?

PAM I typically like this style of writing, but I did find it a bit cumbersome at the beginning. However, once I became more familiar with the characters and the time frame of each letter, I was able to see the connections and the story began to fit together. I felt that it frequently took me a bit to catch on to what the author was implying in different social situations and relationships. I wondered if it was the language the author used. Did you find that, as well?

BECKY Absolutely! I had a hard time following this story and I often wanted more information than what was provided in a letter. This style also didn’t paint a vivid scene in my mind. I usually have a very good picture of the characters and the setting, but this book was like watching a black and white television show. The story however, although it took awhile to develop, was quite interesting. The reality that women were left with the heavy responsibility of taking care of property, farm animals, servants and often children, gives a different glimpse into the realities of war. Do you think that the author was successful, using this style of writing to show how grueling that time was for Placidia and women in general?

PAM I agree that the story developed and drew me into the interesting mystery. Although it took a while to see the entire story and get a feel for the characters, eventually the author did portray the difficulties women faced during the war. Also, the author offered a glimpse into the social order, where women were considerably lower than men. This became even more of a challenge when a woman was in charge of her land and the people working it and had to deal with the men in town and on neighboring farms. Did you find this frustrating, as Placidia worked as hard as any man?

BECKY For me, it was more upsetting to read about men benefiting from a woman in such a desperate situation. We are introduced to a few unsavory men that took advantage of the environment the war created. She really had no means or experience to effectively protect herself and that was something that I hadn’t thought about before. Not only was she physically vulnerable but her livestock and stored food supply were equally at risk. What I found most intriguing in this story is the servants she interacts with. I had a better picture of these individuals than the two main characters. Did you find that storyline interesting?

PAM I agree, Becky. I also had a more complete picture of the servants, than the two main characters. The storyline of the servants connected many pieces, as we were able to see the interactions between different families. The servants were often temporarily moved to different families and homesteads when there was a need. This allowed us to discover information that helped to piece together the story of Placidia. She would not have been able to withstand the period of war without her servants by her side. Although, some were loyal and some were definitely not. Were you able to have a better understanding of this story through these relationships?

BECKY Some gave more light and understanding to this story than others. I would have loved hearing more from their point of view as the story moved along. With the correspondence style of writing this wasn’t possible but I did enjoy that some of those stories come to life as we move towards the end of the book. There was so much to address in this story with loss, forgiveness and the conclusion of the mystery. Did you like how this story came to an end?

PAM I had mixed feelings about the ending of the story. Ultimately, it was what I would consider a happy ending. However, the events and hurt that had occurred throughout the story were hard to completely wipe away. As we approach the end of the book, some of the characters’ children discover certain truths that had been meant to rest forever. This causes much discussion in the families. Did you feel that it was better to learn the truth, even though it changed perceptions or is it sometimes better not to know?

BECKY That’s an interesting question. I enjoyed the truth and how it was revealed. If it wasn’t presented then I think I would have felt cheated and assume a second book to follow. I can’t say that I would have been interested in a second story but I did want to know what happened to that baby and this marriage. I think it’s time to say goodbye to this story and move to The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti. Zoe is living a lavish lifestyle but her secret past is sneaking up on her. Will her previous life be revealed or will she be able to lock it safely away?

The Bookends

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

By: Fredrik Backman

Elsa and her granny are inseparable. Nobody understands Elsa the way her grandmother does. She is often called different and faces bullies every day at school. At night, Elsa escapes into her grandmother’s fairy tales. Everyone thinks her grandmother is crazy, but she is Elsa’s only friend in the world. Elsa embarks on a great adventure when her grandmother dies and leaves letters that must be delivered to many people she wronged. Her life will never be the same.

PAM I was drawn to this unique story idea and completely lost when I realized this was the same author that wrote “A Man Called Ove.” I loved the quirky characters in that book and was not disappointed in this story. I was quickly pulled into this story with its very eccentric characters. Elsa’s grandmother made me laugh from the beginning. Did you find yourself drawn into this tale from the beginning?

BECKY I did not immediately connect to this story. There is little background preparation before the story starts so I floundered for a bit. The characters throughout the book are enjoyable and well developed. I just would have liked a bit more explanation of the fantasy part of the book so that I could have appreciated the magical essence of this story from the beginning. What is created later in the book is a sweet story so it was worth the initial confusion. Granny tells Elsa fairy tales and has created an imaginary place called Land-of-Almost-Awake. They access this land via the wardrobe in Granny’s apartment and travel to the various lands by riding cloud animals. Was it just me or would you have liked to see at least a map at the beginning of the book to set the stage for the Land-of-Almost-Awake?

PAM I would have loved to see a map with all of the different lands Granny created! This would have been a great visual for the different stories, as well as characters. Granny is very different than other adults that Elsa knows. We come to learn of many interesting stories about Granny and her experiences as we travel through this story. Do you think this helped form the unbreakable bond between granddaughter and grandmother?

BECKY Elsa is only seven when her grandmother passes away so I think the multiple stories that are revealed to her definitely helped etch Granny’s character in Elsa’s young mind. Before passing away, Granny has written several letters of apology to various people. Elsa embarks on something like a scavenger hunt to deliver these letters, and ultimately learn more about her Granny and the people that live around Elsa. Was there too much going on in this story or did you like the flow of the story?

PAM There was definitely a lot going on with the story and it was like jumping on a fast moving train at first. However, all of the pieces began to make sense and fit together as the story continued. So, although if felt very scattered initially, I loved the way everything tied together with Granny’s fairy tales. Elsa is bullied by other students at her school and her grandmother was always her biggest advocate, coming to her defense in meetings with the administration. Was this storyline about bullying challenging to read and did you worry that Elsa’s mother was not as strong of a defender for her?

BECKY Poor little Elsa was often cornered at school by bullies. It wasn’t graphic but it sure tugs at the heart strings when you read this story. For example, “Like many children who are different, she’s good at running.” That is just upsetting to read. I didn’t dislike her mother but she wasn’t one of my favorite characters. She had a lot going on in her life and although it’s not an excuse I could identify with not having enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. Her executive job keeps her busy and she doesn’t have much time to actively parent Elsa. She also has a new marriage and is soon to deliver Elsa’s half brother (whom Elsa calls Halfie). I think that she relied on Elsa’s grandmother without realizing that Granny was starting to lose her mind and that Elsa really needed her mother. Unfortunately, Elsa also has a distant relationship with her father. What did you think about this quiet man?

PAM At first, her father’s attitude toward her really upset me. However, as we continue through the story, we are given the opportunity to understand him and his feelings about his daughter. It took me a while, but as secrets unravel, I came to appreciate this character and his love for his daughter. There are many eccentric neighbors in Elsa’s building that are involved in Granny’s tales. One of my favorites is a large animal called a wurse. Elsa discovers this creature from the fairy tales after her granny passes away. She saves this creature and quickly finds a friend that is loyal and gives her the support she has never found in a friend. Did you love this friendship between Elsa and the wurse?

BECKY I agree that this was a sweet friendship but it too was a bit confusing. I believe that this creature was a huge dog that belonged to her grandmother (although it lived in an apartment and ate chocolate). When you read this book you have to embrace that it is told from a seven year old’s point of view and there is a great deal of imagination employed throughout the story. If you can do that then I think you would enjoy this story. It’s time to say goodbye to Elsa and crack open our next book set in 1865. Next month join us as we discuss The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers.

The Bookends

Breakthrough

By: Michael C. Grumley

A group of marine biologists are conducting amazing research with dolphins, Sally and Dirk. The team is making great strides in translating the language of dolphins, which will change our understanding of this amazing animal forever. Meanwhile, something unexplainable is happening around the world. Naval investigator, John Clay, is tasked to solve the mystery when one of the strange events involves a nuclear submarine. As these two seemingly unconnected groups come together to solve the puzzle, they realize that the world is in danger and it is up to them to save millions of people.

PAM Becky, this book was different from anything we have read in some time. Many different storylines converge into one as we follow this story. I especially enjoyed the dolphins and the connection between them and the group researching their language. Did you find this part of the story intriguing? Did you find it plausible?

BECKY I think dolphins are amazing creatures and the idea of communication with them seems plausible. However, in this story the computer quickly allows the humans to talk clearly with these two dolphins. I did not find that believable but this is a science fiction story so it works. The storyline that I enjoyed most was the research team in the Antarctic. They were studying the Rhonne Ice Shelf and I could hardly put the book down during one section of the story. If this became a movie I would go just to see how they would reenact this part of the book. The idea of a huge section falling into the ocean and creating a tsunami was fascinating to me. What did you think about this small part of the story?

PAM I agree with you about this part of the story. I also found it very interesting. Honestly, I enjoyed the different story lines and the different types of science represented. The idea of the tsunami was terrifying, but their solution was creative to say the least (I wonder if it would really work). The character that led the research trip to the Antarctic was a woman that had not been taken seriously by some of the people in power in the country. She was determined to gather evidence and prove her theory to be accurate. In order to do this, she gathers a team of researchers and heads into the inhospitable environment of Antarctica. Did you admire her drive to find the truth? Or did you find this trip to be a bad idea?

BECKY I loved her drive and spunk. The trip was dangerous and put her team in a treacherous situation, but the research was necessary to complete and it made this storyline very exciting. We also get a glimpse into how our government might handle a danger that could potentially kill millions. Telling the truth could cause a panic of epic proportions so, is keeping it a secret a better choice? Did you feel like the government officials were realistically represented and how did this part of the story make you feel?

PAM I’m sure there would be disagreement among the people involved. I also feel that the difference in opinion between the scientists and elected officials would occur, as they have different information and different perspectives. One of the officials was very demeaning and dishonest. He made me very mad! Ultimately, his decisions (that he was not cleared to make) led to incredible danger for many. He also was disgusting in his behind the scenes manipulation. I kept hoping that his true character would be revealed to all. Did you feel the same about this character?

BECKY I completely agree with your feelings about this man. There was nothing likable about him but I enjoyed the chaos he caused in the story. The author did a fantastic job creating a character that stirred such emotion in the reader. When I started this book I didn’t realize that it is the first book in a series of four. Did you enjoy this story enough to continue to read the whole series?

PAM I enjoyed the connection with the dolphins enough that I plan to read the next book in the series. It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here. You know how much I love stories with animals as main characters! Are you planning to pick up the next in the series?

BECKY This is not the type of book I would usually pick but I really enjoyed it and will read at least one more in the series. I hope that a few of the characters return in future stories. I appreciate that the author completed this story and did not leave unresolved cliffhangers so you were forced to buy the next book. Were you satisfied with the resolutions to the different storylines?

PAM I completely agree! I love when an author organizes a series in a way that allows a reader to read one or all and still get an entire story. I did feel that the storylines were resolved completely, but I hope to gather a little more information about a few of them in upcoming books! We will be reading a very different genre next month. Join us as we discuss All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker. We will be introduced to a tragic story of a teenage girl that suffers a brutal attack and is given a drug to erase her memories of the assault. The author takes us through the challenges this teenager faces, while the reader unlocks the mystery of the crime.

The Bookends

The Life We Bury

By Allen Eskens

Joe has a college assignment to interview a stranger and write a biography. He approaches a local nursing home to see if they have someone that would be interested in telling their story. It is here that he meets Carl Iverson and Joe’s life will never be the same. Carl is a Vietnam veteran that has been convicted of rape and murder. He has spent the last thirty years in prison but has recently been paroled to this center because he is dying from pancreatic cancer. This story will become more than just a grade for Joe.

BECKY Joe is a struggling college student that had a challenging childhood. He never knew his father, his mother is an alcoholic and his brother has special needs. He is juggling school and a job as a bouncer at a local bar. He just wants to complete this English assignment, that he procrastinated starting, and move on. I love this character. He doesn’t wallow in self pity but has accepted his dysfunctional situation. This story starts off quickly. Did you get to know Joe well enough before we meet Carl, the topic of his school assignment?

PAM Although the story moves quickly, the author does a great job of introducing us to Joe. I loved this character from the beginning and had a great sense of his loyalty and integrity. I felt connected to him from the beginning and continued to feel this way throughout the book. Joe decides to search for a subject for his assignment at a local nursing home. Since he has waited so long to begin, he hopes to find someone who will talk to him about their life. He is matched up with Carl, albeit reluctantly, by employees of the center. Carl agrees to talk with Joe and they begin to learn about each other. What were your first impressions about Carl?

BECKY He was a dynamic character that we slowly get to unravel. Originally I thought that this would be a story about a good guy versus a bad guy but there was so much more to this story. We learn a great deal about Carl’s character when the two men first meet. He will only let Joe write his dying declaration after Joe promises to be honest. A thread of honesty will weave throughout this story and reveal much more than what we originally see from both characters. The author has been a criminal defense attorney for 25 years. When I read that fact I thought that this story would have a heavy courtroom drama feel. In reality it’s primarily based on relationships. What did you think about the sweet connection between Joe and his special needs brother, Jeremy?

PAM This relationship helped the reader to see Joe’s true character. Understanding this connection between Jeremy and Joe illustrated the layers of feelings that Joe felt. He wanted to escape a difficult home environment, but feels responsible for his brother’s safety and well being. I was saddened that Joe was forced to choose between his brother and school. But, more importantly, that his mother had no boundaries and didn’t have any respect for Joe or Jeremy. Their deep and loving relationship was contrasted with their relationship with their mother. Did this character bring out similar feelings for you, Becky?

BECKY You don’t want to get me started on that character! She made my blood boil but I love that it was a raw character. She was undiagnosed but clearly struggled with a bipolar disorder and alcoholism. I was angry with the way she treated her two sons and although she had a small role, it had a mighty impact on Joe and the story. What did you think about Joe’s neighbor and love interest, Lila?

PAM I had a hard time deciding if I liked her character at first. She definitely didn’t want anything to do with Joe at first. She also was very judgmental about Carl and the case against him. However, the way she interacted with Jeremy made me reconsider and gave her character much more depth. She turned out to be a very loyal and supportive friend to Joe and Jeremy at a time when they both needed one. Were you surprised by her connection to Jeremy?

BECKY Lila was a guarded person and it was hard to see her softer side, until she started to interact with Jeremy. I wouldn’t say that it surprised me that she came to care for Jeremy, but it definitely helped me to like her character more. What didn’t flow for me in this story is Joe’s relationship with her. I saw them more as friends than involved in an intimate relationship. Once they get heavily involved I felt like the story line took a turn from a human connection story and moved towards an implausible action theme. What did you think about the last part of the book?

PAM The last part of the book was certainly full of action, which was a surprising turn for me. I agree that it transformed the story from the original idea. The author continued to weave the human connection through the story, but it seemed to get lost in the action. Did you feel that the ending wrapped up the story sufficiently?

BECKY The second half of the book was not what I expected but it was an interesting ending. The author pulls all of the story lines together and we are left with a glimpse of the characters future. Next month we will explore Breakthrough by Michael Grumley. This story has something for everyone with a touch of mystery, science fiction, military action, marine biology and even a little romance.

THE BOOKENDS

The Ballroom: A Novel

By Anna Hope

Sharston Asylum, located in England, was the unlikely location of a love story set in 1911. Although men and women are kept far apart in the asylum, they come together on Friday nights to dance in the stately ballroom. The men and women look forward to this time and hope they were well behaved enough during the week to earn their admittance. Ella Fay and John Mulligan, two of the patients at Sharston Asylum, encounter each other as Ella is attempting to run away. They meet again in the ballroom and a courtship begins in this unlikely place.

PAM This unique story intrigued me and I was drawn to read more. The author introduces us to the characters and their stories, as well as the asylum itself. I found the stories, as well as their daily lives to be very bleak. What emotions surfaced as you read about the nurses, doctors, and patients?

BECKY My grandfather spent most of his childhood in an orphanage so this story stirred a number of negative emotions. It is hard to believe that not that long ago we would place people in institutions like this. The idea that, as a society, we felt that they were to be locked away and forgotten is hard to comprehend. In this story we meet Ella and John who are not mentally challenged but have been sent to Sharston for minor issues. Ella for breaking a window at her job in a factory and John for melancholia which resulted after losing his wife and child. The days are uneventful and the nurses are uncaring. The most interesting character to me is Dr. Charles Fuller. His first love is not medicine but music and he starts a program to see if exposure to music has a beneficial effect on patients. What were your first impressions of this character?

PAM Initially, I felt that Dr. Fuller cared for the patients and their quality of life. In an environment where men and women were admitted against their will and had no say about their rights or treatment, I thought he would be an advocate for them. However, his character did not continue along the path I thought he was traveling. He had escaped his parents and their oppressive expectations when he secured this job. Dr. Fuller went through significant changes in his beliefs (and his character) during this story, with many underlying themes woven throughout. He is initially drawn to John’s story and decides to focus on this patient. How did you feel about Dr. Fuller’s attention being directed to John?

BECKY First, I think that we have to paint a picture of John. He is a tough and stoic Irishman that is in a trusted position to work digging graves at the asylum. In my mind he was similar to Hugh Jackman in personality and physique. We don’t know much about him initially, but I quickly liked him and wanted the best for his character. At the beginning of the book I thought that the doctor would be a champion for John as he encouraged him to attend the dances and was interested in his opinions. However, as the story progresses the doctor wrestles with his own demons and he begins to obsessively focus on John. Were you as quickly drawn to John as I was, or did another character grab your attention?

PAM I pictured him the same way you did! I was also drawn to his character from the very beginning. He was very stable and appeared content in his work. He struggled with a painful past and preferred to hang back and go through the paces of the day. Therefore, he initially resisted the doctor’s request to attend the dances. Once there, he met Ella and his quiet and solitary world began to change. Ella was not content in the asylum and was constantly looking for opportunities to escape. Were you surprised that these two were drawn to each other?

BECKY They were different personalities and there wasn’t much opportunity for the men and women to mingle until the Friday night dance so this was not a typical romance. I wouldn’t say that their connection surprised me but I did enjoy this unlikely relationship. What I found disturbing is that neither one where mentally ill yet they were unable to leave the asylum. They were held, and treated, as if they were prisoners. The staff was unkind and they were subjected to psychological abuse. The most disgusting was when Dr. Fuller became interested in the eugenics movement. It was a belief that those with less desired traits should be sterilized. Unfortunately, patients in the asylum fall into this category. What do you think of the author’s ability to develop this dark character?

PAM I found this very upsetting, as well. The patients had no control of their lives and were treated so poorly. This environment of complete power over other people was even more disturbing as we saw the slide of Dr. Fuller. He lost the ability to see the patients as people and became a firm believer in the eugenics movement. This belief that he could (and should) sterilize as many patients as possible without their (or their families’ permission) illustrated just how broken the system had become. The author painted an interesting picture that led me to believe, at first, the doctor cared for his patients and wanted to enrich their lives. However, as we follow him through this story, we see a dark change. I felt that she was inferring he was suffering from a struggle with mental health. Did you feel this, as well?

BECKY Absolutely! How ironic that a doctor with mental illness is working at an asylum. This is a talented author that created a dynamic plot. I think that a book club would have many topics to discuss. It’s time to leave this dance and meet Joe next month in, The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens.

Happy New Year!

The Bookends

bookends-dec2016A Quilt for Christmas

By Sandra Dallas

Eliza’s husband has joined the Kansas volunteers to fight the Confederates. While he is gone she must care for her two children and their land to the best of her abilities. It is physically difficult to manage the farming but so far she is able to feed her family and store just enough away for the colder months ahead. Her only relaxing time is during a monthly gathering with quilting friends from the community. Although her home is full and food supplies are stretched to their limit Eliza has welcomed in a young war widow that is in desperate need of shelter. Although it is challenging she is happy for the extra help and companionship. What she isn’t sure about is the additional request to hide an escaped slave for a few days. Eliza is faced with a difficult and dangerous decision.

BECKY This story revolves around a group of women that are, for the most part, in similar situations. Most of the husbands are away fighting the war or have died in battle. Their most relaxing and normal times are during their monthly quilting gathering. As a quilter did you enjoy the descriptions of the various quilts and their ability to bring different women together for a common purpose?

PAM I did! Sandra Dallas frequently brings the art of quilting into her storylines. I think she does this for exactly the reason you mentioned above. It brings women together like few things do and I could picture the women sitting around the quilt frame, discussing events in their lives while making these pieces of art. I especially loved the importance a simple scrap of fabric given to a fellow quilter held. Eliza created a very special quilt for her husband from some of these precious scraps. He used this quilt to keep him warm, while away at war. Do you think she intended it to do more than warm him in this scary time?

BECKY I don’t quilt but every book that includes this art clearly shows that there is a message in every quilting design. Eliza was sending her love, support of his decision to go to war and reminders of their family in this one quilt that would also provide desperately needed warmth. I wish that the book cover would have included this quilt in the design as my imagination probably isn’t accurate. What did you think about Eliza’s character? I had some challenges connecting with her. I liked her but she felt one dimensional to me and I found myself wanting to know less about her storyline and more about some of the other characters.

PAM I agree that a picture of the quilt design would have been a wonderful addition to the book! Eliza obviously loved her husband very much, but I struggled with their formality towards each other. I realize that was probably normal for that time period, but I found it sad. Perhaps with the amount of work that was required for the women of that time in that area, they had to be stronger and show less emotion. Did you find that interesting about Eliza?

BECKY You have a good point. Maybe relationships were different during that era. I think that she was stoic and that made her hard to connect to but I did admire her strength. She had to face physical and mental challenges so that was an interesting facet to her character and it brought back memories of stories my older relatives would relay. I much prefered spunky Missouri Ann the war widow that came to live with Eliza. She was an extra set of hands around the house and gave Eliza companionship. However, her male in-laws had a mean spirit and were not going to let her move on without some conflict. What did you think about the hostile group of men and in contrast the hard but caring mother-in-law?

PAM Great question! That part of the story was very sad. Missouri Ann was stuck with a family that didn’t want her, but didn’t want to let her move on. The Stark men were demeaning, mean, and filthy. But, Mrs. Stark was a kind soul who was stuck in the middle of this family. She missed Missouri Ann and her granddaughter when they went to live with Eliza’s family. However, she knew they needed to escape and tried to help them be free. The Stark men caused trouble for the women, but with their strong spirits and supportive neighbors, they were able to overcome the challenges. I loved that Missouri Ann was determined to tell her young daughter that her father (Hugh Stark) was a good man, although we later learn that this was not the case. How did you feel about this little lie?

BECKY That spirit is what makes me love this character. She could have easily told her daughter the ugly truth but chose to create a more loving memory. That tells me a lot about her heart and I thought it was incredibly loving. Soon after Missouri Ann comes to the house, Eliza is approached with a request to hide a runaway slave, Sukey. Not only is this a dangerous choice but Sukey is weak, sick and recovering from a severe beating. Did you like this storyline and did the author paint a vivid picture of what that experience might have been like?

PAM I thought this storyline allowed us to see Eliza in a different light. Her character was very straightforward, honest, and faithful. When she was asked to hide Sukey, she was told the background of the runaway slave. When she heard these details and what Sukey was accused of, she had to put herself in another’s place and answer some difficult questions. This process gave Eliza’s character a new dimension, as she considered slavery, motherhood, and faith. Missouri Ann’s father in law is hunting runaway slaves and the women suspect he will come looking for Sukey. Were you surprised that Eliza agreed to shelter Sukey with this added danger?

BECKY What surprised me is that she would put the children in that danger. Two were young enough that it would have been difficult for them to fully understand the need to keep this woman a secret. I have to say that this storyline, although interesting, wasn’t very believable. Sandra Dallas normally has direct ties to Colorado in her stories and I have always loved the setting of old Colorado. This story is completely set in Kansas with just a few mentions of Colorado. Did you miss that special touch in this story or were you content with a different angle?

PAM I did miss the Colorado connections in this book. That is one of the reasons I am drawn to Sandra Dallas books! However, although the story was short on Colorado details, it was long on the amazing relationships of women in a difficult time and area. This is another reason I enjoy this author; the depth of her characters and their connections to each other. Next month, we will explore unique friendships and relationships as we discuss The Ballroom: A Novel by Anna Hope.

The Bookends

Bookends-Sept2016We Never Asked for Wings

By Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Letty Espinosa has relied upon her mother to raise her children. She works numerous jobs to support her two children, her mother, her father, and herself. However, she has never been responsible for her children, other than in a financial aspect. Her children, now fifteen and six, become her responsibility as her mother and father return to their home in Mexico. Letty must learn many lessons as she discovers how to become a mother to her children.

PAM This book caught my attention, as we enjoyed another story by this author quite some time ago. I struggled greatly with Letty’s character. I was frustrated by her behavior and the choices she made with respect to her family. Did you have trouble connecting to this character?

BECKY Letty was not a character that I enjoyed very much but she would create some interesting conversation for a book club. She is in her thirties but is just now taking responsibility for her two children. The first is born when she is a teen so it gives us a small glimpse into the realities of teen pregnancy. I think that this story sugar coated her transition to full time motherhood, especially with a teenager, and that is what bothered me. Would you have liked her better if her struggles were more realistic?

PAM I think I would have respected her more if the struggle were more realistic. However, I still don’t think I would have connected with her because her choices were so immature and self-centered. As Letty reflects on her experiences as a mother, she obviously feels slighted by her mother. She was spared the responsibility of being a mother, but she also missed the bonding and special experiences with her children. How did you feel about this aspect of the story? Did you feel that it flipped the perspective of the reader?

BECKY That’s an interesting point to make. I think that was possibly the author’s intention but it didn’t work for me. I didn’t like Letty from the beginning of the story and liked her even less by the end. For the most part, I feel like the characters weren’t developed much and it felt like a young adult novel to me. Letty’s son, Alex and his love interest, Yesenia, were the most interesting part of this story. What did you think about this young love?

PAM I enjoyed this aspect of the story and it helped me to connect with Alex. Alex and Yesenia have numerous challenges in their personal lives and their school lives. These challenges ultimately bring them closer together and they begin to rely on this relationship for support. Did you feel that they found this in each other, as they lacked it at home?

BECKY This was such a sweet relationship, as only young love can be, and it definitely filled a void that each one had. Alex was struggling with losing his grandparents and adjusting to his mother. Yesenia’s arms became the safe haven for his broken heart. Yesenia was living with her mother and had a physical impairment that created a difficult situation for her at school. Although these last two characters are small in this story, they created the most interesting situation. Yesenia’s mother, Carmen is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. It gave us a small glimpse into that world and their struggles.
I would have loved for the author to have delved deeper into that topic. Were you left wanting more or were the other storylines
enough for this book?

PAM This storyline provided a look into the world of illegal immigrants from a specific point of view. The author shows the reader this world through the viewpoint of a family. Although I would have liked the author to go a bit deeper into this storyline, the others were also intriguing. When their grandparents return to Mexico, it throws the family into turmoil. But, do you believe they knew what they were doing for this small family?

BECKY The grandfather was ready to spend his final days in his true home, which was Mexico. The grandmother was completely dedicated to her husband and chose not to leave his side and adamantly stayed with him. I guess that it’s possible that the grandmother arranged this situation to force Letty to mother her children, but I don’t think that she left with the intent to put Letty’s family back together. I was shocked that the grandmother abruptly left two children that she had been raising and hoped that Letty would step up to a position that she had ignored for fifteen years. I feel like the grandmother was forced to choose between her husband and the grandchildren. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know the grandparents well during this story. Do you think it would have added more insight and a greater connection if we could have known these characters better?

PAM Knowing their side of the story would have helped me understand the dynamics between Letty and her mother and how they shaped the relationships within the family. A long time ago, we read another book by this author, “The Language of Flowers.” Now that we have discussed a second book, would you be tempted to pick up another by this author?

BECKY I would definitely look at this author again. I enjoyed the storyline and flow of The Language of Flowers more than this book so I will look at some reviews before automatically buying her next novel. It’s time to move on to a spooky book for the October issue. Join us next month as we read Secrets of Hallstead House by Amy Reade. Macy is a nurse that has accepted a temporary job to care for a wealthy lady recovering from surgery. This should have been an easy job on a beautiful island, but strange things are happening in this remote area near Canada.

The Bookends

Bookends_Aug2016Relativity

By Antonia Hayes
Ethan is a brilliant young man with an intense interest in physics and astronomy. Although intelligent and mature, he struggles at connecting with his peers and is a bit of a loner. His mother Claire, has been raising him on her own and has sacrificed much to create a loving but protected world for him. His father has been absent from his life but Ethan’s curiosity is beginning to grow and he wants to know more about this man. Her carefully constructed life is about to tumble when Ethan gets sick and she is forced to confront secrets that have been buried for years.

BECKY At first glance this book might look like it is for a science enthusiast. Do you think that you have to love physics or astronomy to enjoy this story?

PAM I don’t think it is necessary to enjoy and engage in the story. However, it certainly enhances the details of the tale (I am speaking from personal experience as I do love physics and astronomy!). The author drew me into the book right away. Did you find this to be true for you, as well?

BECKY I would never claim to love physics or astronomy but this story did pull me in quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the way this story developed. Ethan was delightfully written and stole my heart right away. He is considered a savant but was easy to relate to. What did you think about this precocious young boy?

PAM I was also drawn to him from the beginning of the story. I agree with you, Becky; he was easy to relate to as we follow him through his daily routines, adventures, and discoveries. Ethan is being raised by his mother, a retired ballerina. What were your thoughts about this complex character?

BECKY I like the way this character was developed. As I read I felt like she was someone that I would be friends with and I applaud her commitment to be a great mom, but I did get angry with her later in the story. Claire’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Ethan’s father, and his family hit a nerve for me. For very different reasons, I grew up without my father in the picture but his family was an important part of my life so it ruffled my feathers. Claire has severed all ties with the whole family. However, now that Ethan is twelve there are questions that he wants answered and he would like to know more about his father. What did you think of this fractured relationship?

PAM I completely understood Claire’s reasons behind separating Ethan from his father and his family. However, as Ethan got older, he had many questions about his father and his past. He became more desperate to find answers to these questions, but Claire wanted to keep the past buried and keep Ethan away from the family. Ethan was determined to learn about his father and was able to find clues as he searched their home and his mother’s phone. Did you expect Ethan to follow his leads? Would you have done the same?

BECKY Ethan had a significant clue fall into his lap so I wasn’t surprised that he continued his search. I didn’t have that much curiosity about my father because of my relationships with the rest of his family. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like her choice to create separation from the whole family especially Ethan’s grandfather. Clever Ethan also attempts to make a time machine to learn more about his history. What did you think about this addition to the story?

PAM I loved this aspect of the story, as it captured the type of thinking (with no limits) often seen in children. Ethan was so sure that he would be able to create a time machine to go back into his past and he lost no time in implementing his plan. He had spent some time in the hospital, where he had become fast friends with his roommate. She was a regular in the hospital, as she experienced frequent seizures. She was just what the doctor ordered for Ethan at this point in his life. He struggled to make friends and his one true friend had recently succumbed to peer pressure and alienated Ethan. Did you love this new friend?

BECKY She was a darling addition to this story. Although a fairly small character she had a large impact on Ethan’s journey. I was left wanting to know more about this little lady. I love that the author included the harsh reality of not being accepted by peers and the weight of an illness while you are young. That type of writing gave depth to the characters. There is a layer to this story that we won’t discuss as it would be better to put the pieces together as you read. I mention this only to highlight that this story would give a book club some interesting topics to discuss. The author based this story on some of her own experiences and maybe that is why it has such a good flow. I enjoyed this book and have recommended it to others. Would you be interested in another story by this first time author?

PAM I would be very interested in another story by this author. I was drawn into the story immediately and absolutely loved the science component! We will continue this theme of mothers and the children they love as we read We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Letty Espinosa must learn to be a mother to her children after many years of being a bystander in their lives. Will she be able to make this transition? Join us to find out!

A special thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for an advanced copy of Relativity in exchange for an honest review.

The Bookends

Bookends-July2016The Forgotten Room: A Novel

By Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig
Dr. Kate Schuyler works in a private hospital in Manhattan in 1945, when a wounded soldier is brought in with a leg injury. Kate feels an instant connection to him and is shocked when he acts as though he recognizes her before losing consciousness. She finds a picture that is exactly her image in his belongings and this begins a search for answers. The mansion which houses the private hospital holds secrets about two women who seem to be linked with Kate. Olive was a servant in the great mansion during the Gilded Age. Lucy Young’s search for a father she never knew brought her to the mansion during the Jazz Age. How are these women connected and what secrets do they hold?

PAM This book caught my attention as soon as I read the summary of the three intertwined stories. I enjoyed traveling between the different times and the different roles the women held in society. However, I initially found it challenging to keep everyone straight in the different storylines. Becky, did you find this as well?

BECKY I’m glad that you mentioned that nuance. At the beginning of the book it was a struggle to see each story develop and separate the characters. However, it was worth the confusion. We follow three generations of women, in three time frames (1892, 1920 and 1944), in one New York mansion. This is the first time that I have read a book with three authors. I had to do some digging to gather a little information on this trio of accomplished ladies. It seems that they are all friends and after an evening together they decided to write this story. They would write a chapter and then pass it on to the next. It wasn’t until the end that they all came together to polish the final draft. To date, it is a secret which story was written by whom! Could you tell that there were multiple authors or did the story flow well?

PAM Thank you for looking into this…I love it! What a great way for friends to share in something special. I wondered if the authors each took a character and divided the story in that manner. But, I couldn’t sense a significant difference in the writing of each time frame. I don’t think I would be able to discern the different authors of each chapter. It is quite impressive that they achieved the flow as they merged three styles. The authors states that it didn’t feel like work because they had too much fun. Thinking back to the story, do you feel that their enjoyment of the process of writing together was apparent in the book?

BECKY I know that authors often have a team that help develop a book so maybe this is not all that uncommon. However, they clearly are well connected and there was a common thread throughout the story so their joy was certainly evident. Was there a timeframe that you enjoyed more than the others?

PAM Although I enjoyed parts of all three time periods and their characters, my favorite was following Kate in 1945. I loved the determination of her character and trying to piece together what had happened in the past to bring her and Captain Ravenel together. Did you enjoy the doctor or was there another character you connected with more strongly?

BECKY I too enjoyed all three storylines but my favorite was the 1890 story with Olive. She is a young girl that becomes a servant in the Pratt mansion. Her interest is not in a life of service but to seek revenge for her father. He designed this beautiful mansion but was never paid for his service. All three stories have lies, secrets and romance. There was quite a bit of information to keep track of during this story. What did you think about the male characters? Were they as interesting as our three ladies?

PAM They were as interesting as the ladies, in my opinion. These characters were also as varied as our ladies. Each had a very different role and goal in his time period. However, they were all intricately involved in this complicated story. Did any of these gentlemen stand out to you?

BECKY I was most drawn to Captain Ravenel in the 1945 storyline. He was not completely coherent when he was brought to the hospital so this situation simmered for a while. Kate was a serious lady and this relationship exposed her softer side. This story has more than just romance. What type of reader would you recommend this book to?

PAM This story would appeal to readers of many different genres. We have romance, mystery, as well as some historical and cultural references of the different eras. It was interesting to compare and contrast the roles and expected behaviors of women during each time period. Did you feel that these three female characters behaved as expected? Or were they pushing against the societal norms of their times?

BECKY All three women were strong and determined. In their own way, they each pushed against the mainstream idea of a woman’s role. I loved their feisty spirit and enjoyed the strong female characters. Let’s continue with this theme next month as we read Relativity by Antonia Hayes. Claire is a single mom to Ethan, an extremely intelligent young boy. She has given up everything to be a committed mom but the past is something that she can no longer hide.