Friday, April 14, 2017

Starting Over

A Hundred Pieces of MeA Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lucy Dillon's stories always have a dog and therefore are love stories. Not romance, but "women's fiction," so-called because it deals with the messy details of life like relationships, home, and life and death. This particular book is good for Green Valley folks, since most of us have either recently had to sort through our "stuff”, or will soon have to. The main character has just been through a divorce after being clear of breast cancer for two years; she's a project manager/designer for homebuilders and renovators, and in the face of having to rebuild her life she's taking the opportunity to downsize and reframe. She decides that out of all the knick-knacks, party frills, enhancers-but-not-necessities, she will keep only 100 items that will suit her life now and what she hopes it will be. There are great descriptions of the inner process of appreciation, memory, and letting go that certain items trigger, and Gina's story is told a lot in flashbacks that were confusing sometimes but interesting always. I've loved all of Dillon's books, and this one is very special, not only for the greyhound, and the insights into letting go, but for being a lot like life. Gina doesn't find a happy-ever-after; she finds the grace and strength to grab and build on love and happiness in the now. There are themes of youthful folly, love and regret, and some humor, too. A truly satisfying read for all Brit lit fans.

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One of the Best

All the Winters AfterAll the Winters After by Seré Prince Halverson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a rare pleasure and treasure! A novel that succeeds as a thriller, as literature, as travel guide and as love story: love of place as well as love of family and romance. Kache's mom and dad and brother all died in the same plane crash and survivor's guilt drove him from his native Alaska for 20 years. Now his aunt has called him to face the past.
She told him no one had checked on his family's remote, isolated home in all that time, but when he gets close, he sees smoke coming from the chimney. Nadia has been living there in hiding for the last ten years, no contact with the outside world. Kache's return brings both redemption and danger to the family he's got left, and the family he hopes to build.
Halverson manages to pull off great characters in youth, midlife, and old age. Though diverse in most ways, they all ring true. I enjoyed the story as a thriller: what or who is Nadia hiding from? What the heck is Kache hiding from? And Kache's remaining family are a big part of the story, too: his aunt and failing grandmother. There's gentle humor amid the elements of reconciliation and grief; there's coming to terms with changed perceptions, through maturing or compassion. Every family has its unspoken griefs and resentments...and unspoken forgivenesses, sometimes, too. It's also a true pleasure to have the state of Alaska, the landscape and attitudes, be a character intrinsic to the story. Alaska rings as authentic as in the Kate Shugak novels by Dana Stabenow, but Halverson sings her own tune beautifully. ~Em Maxwell

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Curious Charms

The Curious Charms of Arthur PepperThe Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a journey we get to take with 69-year-old Arthur Pepper as he discovers the life of the woman he never knew, his wife before they married. He's clearing out her closet on the one-year anniversary of her death when he discovers a solid gold charm bracelet hidden in a shoe. Readers may be reminded of Harold Fry, another fictional Englishman on a journey, but this is a sweeter, funnier, and ultimately more tender book than that one.
Arthur has mourned his wife greatly, but this discovery makes him doubt everything, especially their love. Arthur's journey over the course of the year as he finds the history behind the charms—she was a nanny in India! partied with the hoi-polloi! lived in Paris!—shows the path of a heart opening up to living again (for when grieving it seems we wait ourselves at Death's borders).
Arthur finds in himself a man he never knew, as well: adventurous, helpful and kind, and by the time his 70th birthday rolls around, he is ready to celebrate life and love again and cherish his wife's memory. In the end, this lovely book is life-affirming, charming, humorous and quirky—the perfect read, in other words. ~Em Maxwell

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