The Wartime Sisters

The Wartime Sisters

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman (Historical Fiction)

Another World War II novel, this one set in Springfield, Massachusetts, at the Springfield Armory. The author grew up in the area and has done a thorough job of researching the armory’s history and physical setting. She has read all of the old armory newsletters,  knows how the officers and their families lived, and understands how work in the munitions factories went. Still, I have a hard time thinking of this as historical fiction, for the story that is told could be set anywhere, any time. The armory and World War II simply provide an interesting (and currently popular) environment.

Two sisters have been estranged for most of their lives. Ruth, the serious one, has always resented her younger sister’s beauty and active social life. Everyone notices Millie; Ruth is invisible. They go their separate ways as adults, but then circumstances throw them back together when Millie shows up at Ruth’s door with a two-year-old and a husband who is MIA.

Ruth is happily married. Her husband is an officer stationed at the armory, and she has young twin daughters. Still, she is reserved and unsure of herself in social settings, and when Millie comes back into her life, old resentments flare. She relives every petty conflict and every perceived slight from their youth. Millie, meanwhile, is struggling to make ends meet and to take care of her child. She takes an armory job making triggers. But instead of endearing her to Ruth, their reversed social status only seems to make things worse. Ruth finds Millie a burden she must endure. Millie longs to get away from her bossy older sister.

The blurb for the novel refers to “deep secrets” that each sister carries, but they weren’t that deep nor were they a big surprise. There is some tension, a fleeting moment or two of danger, but any dangerous situations are quickly resolved. In short, there’s not a lot of new stuff here. As for the era, other than some name-dropping and a rare reference to a restaurant or club where Jews are not allowed, we’re not overly aware of the times. The war doesn’t really influence our protagonists’ daily lives beyond the fact that the armory makes arms and there’s a shortage of sensible shoes. The working class goes to work, and the haughty officers’ wives could be high society matrons anywhere.

Three stars.

This reviewer received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

This book will be released on January 22, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

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Alternate Side

Alternate Side

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen (Literary Fiction/Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Alternate Side is a character-driven slice-of-life story, the type at which Anna Quindlen excels. You get to know her people as though they were friends. As with most of us, their lives have moments of drama among mostly no-big-deal daily stuff, but because you know these people, you’re interested. If, perchance, you can identify with them and their problems, all the better.

Nora Nolan and her husband, Charlie, live in a closely knit New York City neighborhood of comfortably rich people with housekeepers and a shared handyman. They all know each other, socialize at catered neighborhood events, but are not quite friends. In other words, they don’t bare their hearts to one another. Still, they care about each other, and when something happens to one, the others come to help.

After nearly thirty years together, Nora and Charlie have grown apart. Their twins are graduating from college and moving on with their lives, leaving an empty nest. While Nora loves New York City life, Charlie wants to move to a warm climate where he can golf year-round. She has a job she enjoys; he’s not all that happy in his. Little things he does are starting to annoy her. He’s threatened by the possibility that she will take a new position with status greater than his. When an act of violence rocks the neighborhood, she and he see the incident very differently.

Having grown up in a friendly Midwestern neighborhood where block parties were common, I could identify with the measured camaraderie among neighbors. And being of a certain age, I could understand how Nora and Charlie felt. This story also deals with race relations, class privilege, and what are often referred to as first-world problems, yet refrains from passing judgment. If you are looking for fast-paced action , mystery, or romance, this book is not for you. But if you enjoy fine writing, Alternate Side is that.

Grandma gives Alternate Side five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Alternate Side will be released on March 20, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

The Visitors

The Visitors

The Visitors by Catherine Burns (Literary Fiction, Thriller)

For all of her life, Marion has been the object of ridicule from her peers, her older brother, John, and her highly opinionated mother. Now a spinster in her 50s, she lives with John in the big old house where they grew up. Timid and out of touch with the world, she stays in the house and does her best not to irritate John. But John keeps “visitors” in the cellar, and while Marion manages to put them out of her mind most of the time, she can’t ignore them forever, especially when John becomes disabled and she’s the one who must take care of them.

This debut novel is less of a thriller and more of a chilling character study, with its creepiness coming from the fact that basically “invisible” people like Marion and John could be your neighbors just down the block. I was immediately drawn into Marion’s world where her dead mother’s haughty voice continues to regale her with judgmental observations, and strangers who show Marion the most basic kindness populate her daydreams of having normal relationships and a meaningful life. Then there are the occasional references to the visitors in the cellar, the backward glances at pivotal incidents in her painful childhood, and her daily ups and downs as the slovenly, not-so-bright woman living in the decrepit mansion with her creepy bachelor brother. Together they add up to a story that brings Marion to life. I came to like her and feel for her and couldn’t help but wonder how she would cope with the visitors in the cellar, when that time came.

The reader sees everything through Marion’s eyes and Marion’s way of thinking, and it’s a fascinating journey. While what’s going on in the cellar may seem potentially off-putting, it’s handled well and does not become the focus of the tale. Instead, we’re with Marion as she melds her past and present in an effort to create her own future. And, of course, to take care of the visitors.

Grandma gives The Visitors five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Visitors will be released on September 26, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Brazilian Husband

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The Brazilian Husband by Rebecca Powell (Women’s Fiction)

The Brazilian Husband is classified as a “Romance” on Amazon, but to me this incredible book was everything but. It is a fascinating story full of secrets, suspense, and surprising revelations set against the backdrop of heartbreaking shantytowns, terrifying urban crime, natural beauty, and the resilient, exuberant people of Brazil. It kept me reading from page one, and I never wanted to put it down.

Judith is a Londoner whose husband of fifteen years has committed suicide. Together with their daughter, Rosa, she is fulfilling his request to take his ashes home to his native Brazil, a place they never managed to visit together.

Judith knew Edson was gay when she married him; it was an arranged marriage paid for by his lover, Gavin, in order to hide the men’s relationship while keeping Edson in Great Britain. What she hadn’t bargained for was the baby girl he brought with him, whom she would raise as their daughter, nor did she expect to fall in love with Edson himself.

Rosa, about to turn sixteen, blames Judith for Edson’s suicide; she doesn’t know her father was gay, nor does she know that Judith is not her natural mother. All of that changes in Brazil as they search for Edson’s family. Nothing is as he said it was, including the circumstances of Rosa’s birth.

While I don’t normally review Romance novels, I was willing to accept this book from the author because she lived and worked in a woman’s shelter in Brazil, which promised authenticity for the setting. I am so glad I did. Rebecca Powell is an extremely talented writer who knows how to keep a story moving while creating a strong sense of place and vibrant characters whose lives and fates I cared about. There is romance, but nothing formulaic about it. Rather, it’s a stirring story with believable people seeking to understand, accept, and love one another under extreme circumstances.

Grandma gives The Brazilian Husband a rousing five stars.   5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

History of Wolves

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History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Literary Fiction)

History of Wolves is a beautifully written coming-of-age story that grabs hold of the reader on many levels and does not let go. Emily Fridlund’s descriptive prose carries one into the wooded reaches of northern Minnesota to experience first-hand the isolation and loneliness, not only of this remote area but also of fifteen-year-old Linda who lives there with her aging hippie parents. Born into a now-defunct commune and raised in a cabin in the woods, Linda is an outsider in her school and pretty much of a loner. When a married couple with a small boy moves into a summer home across the lake, she befriends the young wife and agrees to babysit their four-year-old. But something’s not quite right, and Linda, in her naïveté, doesn’t know how to respond.

The story is narrated by Linda as a twenty-six-year-old, and as she includes more details about her dysfunctional family and a questionable teacher-student relationship in her school, she also makes occasional reference to “the trial” and questions “they” would later ask her. Something bad is going to happen, and we are skillfully taken there while learning to care more and more about Linda and those around her. A sense of foreboding grows until we realize what’s going to happen, and then we wait anxiously to learn how the trial will play out.

The author poses questions that remain with the reader: What’s the difference between what we consider doing and what we end up doing? At what point, if any, are we obligated to take responsibility for the well-being of someone else? What do we owe our friends in terms of loyalty? Linda’s need for connection and acknowledgement from others colors her view of what’s happening around her, and her inexperience with life and desire to please leave her without the wherewithal to act appropriately. But what would we have done under the same circumstances?

Grandma gives History of Wolves five stars. 5 stars

History of Wolves is scheduled for release on January 3, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.