The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry

IDEA
The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre- Women’s fiction
Length: Full Length (239 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

As we like to say in the south: “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Ella’s life has been completely upended. She’s young, beautiful, and deeply in love—until her husband dies in a tragic sailing accident while trying save her. Or so she’ll have everyone believe. Screenwriter Hunter needs a hit, but crippling writers’ block and a serious lack of motivation are getting him nowhere. He’s on the look-out for a love story. It doesn’t matter who it belongs to.

When Hunter and Ella meet in Watersend, South Carolina it feels like the perfect match, something close to fate. In Ella, Hunter finds the perfect love story, full of longing and sacrifice. It’s the stuff of epic films. In Hunter, Ella finds possibility. It’s an opportunity to live out a fantasy – the life she wishes she had because hers is too painful. And more real. Besides. what’s a little white lie between strangers?
But one lie leads to another, and soon Hunter and Ella find themselves caught in a web of deceit. As they try to untangle their lies and reclaim their own lives, they feel something stronger is keeping them together. And so they wonder: can two people come together for all the wrong reasons and still make it right?

I’m not from the South but I have a weakness for books set there. Maybe it’s the sometimes quirky characters or the strong sense of place and The Idea of Love had both.

It’s the story of two people, neither of them in a good place in their lives. Both fall into the trap of lying to each other. It was fun, sometimes funny, and I loved both Ella and Hunter. They were well-rounded characters who you cheered for. I thought they were perfect for one another but sometimes I wondered what was going to happen when they found out about the other one’s secret. It was fun getting to that part in the story and gave the book their must turn the page quality.

I also enjoyed the setting with its colorful characters and yes, there were a few quirky ones thrown in there. I thought the ending was great, loose ends tied up and everyone got either what they deserved or a very happy ending.

If you like books set in the south, and love a good splash of romance thrown into the mix then I think this is one to add to your summer reading list.

Her Wild Oats by Kathi Kamen Goldmark

oats
Her Wild Oats by Kathi Kamen Goldmark
Publisher: Untreed Reads Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (169 Pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Myrtle

A smart young woman, Arizona Rosenblatt, leaves home and her role as assistant to a high-powered Hollywood executive when she discovers her husband is having an affair with a woman from Jews for Jesus; and thirteen-year-old Otis Ray “Wild Oats” Pixlie, boy genius harmonica player. In the end, Otis Ray learns what it means to be an adult, Arizona discovers the life she wants, and they both figure out the true meaning of love and family.

What could a thirteen-year-old boy harmonica player and a beautiful twenty-eight-year-old executive movie assistant have in common? You wouldn’t think much, until their paths cross.

Arizona Rosenblatt is the lady running the show in this non-stop story of love, loss, betrayal, and everything in-between. Convinced her husband is a dangerous, unfaithful, lying, and cheating man, Arizona packs up and hits the road. With nowhere to go, or no place she really wants to be, Ari ends up in a most unlikely place … Murphy’s Corned Beef ‘n’ Cabbage Emporium in the middle of nowhere off California’s Highway 5. And she just can’t seem to leave. She spends her days at Murphy’s and her nights across the street at the Sleepy Time Motel. Hours turn into days, and days turn into weeks, but there is never a dull moment.

The downside to this tale is that it often has a confusing storyline. There were so many lives playing out simultaneously, it was difficult to stay focused. In the beginning, the reader is led to believe this is a story about Arizona and her husband Jerry, but the attention they deserve must soon be divided amongst a whole cast of characters. One person after another enters the story and they each have their own dynamic tale to tell. It seemed five or six unrelated novel-worthy stories were rolled into one. I think this book would have hit its mark had most of its secondary characters played a more minor role, or no role at all, which would have allowed Arizona and Oats to shine.

The entourage of people who come and go through the doors of Murphy’s Corned Beef ‘n’ Cabbage is far too many to keep track of, but the one who stole my reader’s heart was Otis Ray (Wild Oats) Pixlie, a thirteen-year-old harmonica player. He could easily have won the starring role in this story, but instead he shares it with Arizona. His country personality was realistic and well crafted. He is the solid character who gave this story its staying power.

Country music fans will especially love this fast-moving story filled with Hollywood-style drama!

Square Affair by Timmothy J. Holt

AWQUEARE
Square Affair by Timmothy J. Holt
Publisher: Christine F. Anderson Publishing & Media
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (244 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

In the small Midwestern town of Dewers, among the turmoil of the 1960s, the conversations of five men leads to sexual exploration, which takes them and the town on a journey through good and evil that will change the entire community and confirm the town’s resolve to survive.

Arrested on charges of public indecency for anonymous sex in the courthouse restroom, five men reveal complex, unknown, and differing motivations for their actions. As they face not only criminal prosecution, but also the tribunal of Dewers, two questions are on their minds: Who am I, and is anyone out there like me?

Clara May and Frieda, guardians of Dewers gossip, narrate Square Affair, where the reader becomes a citizen of Dewers: walking the square, in a bar drinking, trick-or-treating, in a store buying a hat, or in a car gossiping.

Sometimes sleepy little towns aren’t as sleepy as you might think. Take Dewers, IL, for example. On the outside, it looks like your typical little Midwestern hamlet, but once you step inside, dig around for a bit, you’re bound to uncover things you’d never expected. Or, you could just ask Clara May and Frieda. Nothing happens in Dewers that the two of them aren’t privy to.

Square Affair was a change of pace for me. While I love historical novels, when I reach for one, it’s usually not set in the recent past. Set in the 1960’s amidst all the changes sweeping through our country, I got a good look into the way people thought and acted in a time when I wasn’t even alive. Having grown up in the 1980’s, the idea that someone might be homosexual (and, in turn, engaging in a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex) wasn’t ever a surprise or revelation to me. However, in the 1960’s, life was much different.

The five men involved in the ‘Affair’ as the locals called it, covered all the bases. Happily married, unhappy in their relationship, single, you name it. One knew he was gay even before the Affair, while others weren’t even sure why they’d indulged by the time the book ended. It was very realistic in its portrayal of the townspeople, both those directly involved and those who weren’t. Square Affair also gripped me in a way that most things don’t. I will admit it – I was angry during so much of this book. These men were lonely, confused, suffering, and yet, all they earned was ridicule and scorn and hatred. It was difficult to continually remind myself that this was a different time in our country.

The one issue I did have with the novel was that some of the dialogue was stilted, predictable even. Although, once you got into the story, you noticed it less and less because the characters took over. Told in revolving points of view that include the men involved in the affair, their wives, and a few townspeople, it is mostly directed by town gossip queen, Clara May. Before each new point of view is introduced, you got a bit of insight from Clara May and her pal, Frieda. I found this an interesting and different way of prefacing each chapter and gave you a little insider information on each player before you ‘met’ them.

Square Affair is a thought-provoking look not just into our past, but into all that small town living is. For someone who wasn’t alive during the time period, it was an eye-opening read.

Letters to Nan by Matthew Wooding

NAN
Letters to Nan by Matthew Wooding
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (52 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

James has always had a special bond with his Nan, from their summers in the garden to their raspberry blowing at the television. When James is offered the opportunity to follow his boyhood dream in Europe, he can’t wait to tell her. But she has news for him as well – she’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He’s hesitant to leave, but when she hands him a ticket to England, he knows he has to go. He promises to write her every week to help her keep him in her memory. She promises to never forget. Seven years later, James stands at the door of the nursing home, wondering if Nan will be anything like he woman he remembers, and if she’ll remember him…

What happens to the love shared by family members when the memories that created it are fading away?

James and Nan have such a close, loving relationship. My favorite scenes were the ones that explored all of the things they used to do together when James was younger and Nan was healthy. Discussing these common interests provided a lot of material for character development. They also helped me to connect with the characters deeply because I had so many opportunities to see parts of their personalities that probably otherwise wouldn’t have shown up.

The first section of this book focused on James’ career. I was a little surprised to see so much time being spent on discussing what it’s like to pursue that particular job given that this is a fairly short work. The author’s reasons for introducing the audience to the characters in this manner were eventually made clear, but it was still puzzling to wait so long to meet Nan. This was a minor bump in a story that I otherwise really enjoyed, though.

It’s heartbreaking to watch a loved one suffer the side effects of Alzheimer’s disease. This tale captured what it feels like to live through this with incredible accuracy. I was especially impressed with how Mr. Wooding included clues about the progression of Nan’s disease in the conversations she has with James. Their conversations were painfully beautiful and realistic given how much she had declined since last seeing her grandson.

Letters to Nan was wonderful. I’d especially recommend it to anyone who has personal experience with this disease.

A Fireproof Home for the Bride by Amy Scheibe

BRIDE
A Fireproof Home for the Bride by Amy Scheibe
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (384 pgs)
Rated: 3 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Emmaline Nelson and her sister Birdie grow up in the hard, cold rural Lutheran world of strict parents, strict milking times, and strict morals. Marriage is preordained, the groom practically predestined. Though it’s 1958, southern Minnesota did not see changing roles for women on the horizon. Caught in a time bubble between a world war and the ferment of the 1960’s, Emmy doesn’t see that she has any say in her life, any choices at all. Only when Emmy’s fiancé shows his true colors and forces himself on her does she find the courage to act—falling instead for a forbidden Catholic boy, a boy whose family seems warm and encouraging after the sere Nelson farm life. Not only moving to town and breaking free from her engagement but getting a job on the local newspaper begins to open Emmy’s eyes. She discovers that the KKK is not only active in the Midwest but that her family is involved, and her sense of the firm rules she grew up under—and their effect—changes completely.

Set in Minnesota mid twentieth century, A Fireproof Home for the Bride is a dark, reflective novel of one woman’s struggle to … evolve, I guess… past her upbringing. This isn’t so much coming of age as it is the escape from a lifestyle. The worst of it isn’t that there is rife racism and sexism, it is that it is so much the norm. Although hate-driven action is there, the everyday hate, seeing it simply as ‘the way it was,’ seems somehow very much worse.

Emmaline Nelson grows up in this world that makes the modern reader cringe, then very nearly squirm. We wonder if it could have been true, and how any person could even hope become a ‘someone else,’ a person with a different outlook, coming from such origins. The story does provoke thought, along with the unease. However, the writing is rather wordy, and if literary equals boring, then many a whole passage is very, very literary. However, characters are well-developed and incredibly diverse. There is hatred, expectations; a whole life planned and caged and the people around Emmy are all part of it. Yet, some of those people have a surprising side: a secret, or are simply more sympathetic side than we first suspect. The quality of characters, or of our main character’s development, is certainly excellent. The overall style of writing is top-notch as well.

A Fireproof Home for the Bride is certainly more reflective than gripping. Sadness pervades the story, and ultimately, it is disturbing. It is a valuable read, but I cannot say it was entirely enjoyable.

Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester

 

LIFE
Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester
Publisher: John Murray
Genre: Mainstream Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (218 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

This is the story of Lillian, a single woman reflecting on her choices and imagining her future. Born in the Midwest in the 1930s; Lillian lives, loves, and works in Europe in the fifties and early sixties; she settles in New York and pursues the great love of her life in the sixties and seventies. Now it’s the early nineties, and she’s taking stock. Throughout her life, walking the unpaved road between traditional and modern choices for women, Lillian grapples with parental disappointment and societal expectations, wins and loses in love, and develops her own brand of wisdom. Lillian on Life lifts the skin off the beautiful, stylish product of an era to reveal the confused, hot-blooded woman underneath.

Lillian’s life was not the ordinary for a woman in the last half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. Her observations, inner feelings, outer actions, indiscretions, and hard-won wisdom make compelling reading.

Lillian On Life is thought-provoking and best when read in short segments, with time between to think about what Lillian learned, and how she handled it in respect to what she wanted and what was expected of her. As a single woman making her way in the world from Missouri to Paris, London, and New York, she struggles with self-esteem issues, unresolved parental issues, and relationship issues.

She learns early that “male pride” is like an electric fence—not to be touched. Each man she has a relationship with reinforces this belief. As spinsterhood sets in, she makes peace with her place in the life of the man she is seeing—whether he is married or single.

Alison Jean Lester’s seemingly simple, understated writing style immerses the reader’s senses into the monotony of life, the glamour of life, the characters’ personal secrets, and the emotions or lack of emotions in relationships that may linger but never last.

The tangled webs woven in Lillian’s life and how she either lives with them or moves on reveals much about humanity and the defense mechanisms used to survive and find peace with decisions made, whether good or bad.

A memorable bit of wisdom offered in the book is: Speak for yourself. Don’t let anyone else speak for you, because they only see what you DO, not what you WANT TO DO.

Lillian On Life is unusual story and gives the reader pause for thought on how his or her own life is playing out.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

STILL
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (336 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life–and her relationship with her family and the world–forever.

Talk about putting things in perspective…

I picked this book up at the urging of my book club. We decided to read this book before the movie came out and discuss what we’d read. The discussion hasn’t taken place yet, but I’m sure there will be a lot to talk about.

Having someone who is currently dealing with Alzheimer’s in my family, I doubly wanted to read this book. I’m both glad I did and very much haunted by it. Many people are in the same situation Alice finds herself in–losing her small memories, like where her keys are, where her Blackberry cord went…little things. But it’s the adding up of those little things and adding of some big things that signals the start of the scary part.

Ms Genova writes Alice in a flowing manner. She’s easy to follow. Soon I was swept up in her story and turning pages as fast as I could read. I was right there with her in the story and seeing through her eyes how it felt to have those mental pieces fall apart. My heart ached for her. My heart ached for her husband. The guy is trying to deal, but being a scientist and an extremely intelligent person, he struggles with how to handle the situation. There currently isn’t a cure and even if he wants to find one, he needs to be there for her. Talk about a tough situation.

I won’t reveal the ending, although I’m sure you can assume, but you will need tissues. If you want a book that will move you, make you look at others through a slightly softer filter and make you appreciate what you’ve got in your own life, then this might be the book for you. But seriously, don’t forget those tissues.

Detour Trail by Joy V. Smith

TRAIL
Detour Trail by Joy V. Smith
Publisher: Melange Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (138 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Westward bound on the Oregon Trail, Lorena Emerson is alone after her uncle is killed by a thief trying to steal his money belt. Ignoring the wagon master’s advice to go home, she rounds up others needing help, and they join a later wagon train and are soon slogging through dust and mud and steep mountain passes. It’s a long way to Oregon, and because another woman needs her help, Lorrie again goes her own way, leaving the wagon train and the Oregon Trail to travel onward—off the beaten path—with her small group of wagons. She’s helped by members of her wagon train, people she meets along the way, and the mule, Jake, an integral part of the story. You’ll meet them as they join in her travels and encounters with enemies she also meets as she searches for a new home and supplies as winter reaches out its icy hands…. Settling the frontier isn’t easy!

Her uncle, a lawyer, has taken her off to a new start. They’ll move west to Oregon and start a new life without the greedy relatives who want her inheritance. Things start to go wrong a lot sooner than expected. Thieves try to take her uncle’s money belt. Her uncle ends up dead and so do the two thieves. Now the wagon train master tells her to go back home. She can’t go on alone. Oh yeah? Lorena Emerson may never have been on her own before, but she’s determined to go west and make herself a new life. Now she just has to figure out how…

Ms. Smith writes a good western tale. She points out the hardships and the glories that are all part of life on the trail. She also has good and bad people populating her stories so there are challenges for her characters. I really liked Lorena. She started shy but she bucked up and defended herself. She’s a strong woman with a good head for planning and organization. The men in her life are mostly nice and good friends with her, but it takes a while for her to find love.

Wagon trips were hell. There were food shortages, wagon problems, sometimes illness, and no rest for anyone. When Lorena starts trying to get a group together to travel with her, she never realized she was developing a small, mixed family. She finds a young brother and sister and a Negro couple, and finds another wagon train that will let them join them. The problem is that there is a pregnant woman on the new train that is having problems from the travelling. When Lorena hatches another idea, the pregnant woman and her family joins Lorena’s little family and they look for a place to settle.

The characters are strong, work hard, defend themselves and offer each support. Lorena needs that since she never learned how to cook! Now she’s got free meals everywhere.

The pace is strong, there’s plenty of hard work and action to keep your interest and, while there are sad spots, for the most part this is a positive story about life in the west and how settlement changed it.

Tzimmes (and don’t forget the cheesecake and the strudel) by Arthur Marshall Fell

CHEESECAKE
Tzimmes (and don’t forget the cheesecake and the strudel) by Arthur Marshall Fell
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (90 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Tzimmes (and don’t forget the cheesecake and the strudel) is a humorous story about Dr. Sam Landover, an unpretentious high school mathematics teacher, grounded in Jewish tradition, who despite himself gets tangled up in the middle of choosing a rabbi for Shalom Center. Improvising his way through the confusing jumble, the story becomes a mixed-up stew, like the tasty Jewish dessert called tzimmes.

Want to learn a little bit about the Jewish religion, Jewish people, and how no matter what faith or none, all people can act a bit silly? This is the book for you.

Mr. Fell writes a tale about two rabbis who are looking for work. It’s a humorous look at life with Jewish touches. I know nothing about the Jewish faith, so his glossary at the back of the book was quite helpful. Most of it I understood without referencing that. I found the story amusing.

There are two shuls in the local area and both are looking for a rabbi. There are men and women on the boards of both, and the applicants are one male and one female. When the vote is tied, the decided voter abstains from voting. They need help!

I’ve never thought about feminism being a factor in a Jewish environment. I’m used to men holding all the positions of importance (even in the Catholic life I grew up in) and was surprised they had a female rabbi. It gets even more complicated when the two rabbis’ begin to develop a romantic interest in each other.

Mr. Fell’s main character, Sam, has to walk the tangled path between the two shuls and try to maintain peace in each. I like how he handles the problem and resolves it with the best results you could hope for. While they are busy eating cheesecake and talking religious differences, you begin to find yourself chuckling and turning the page to see what happens next.

This is a good humorous read with some Jewish terminology that can mean more than one thing and a fun result at the end.

The Christmas Journal by Kimberly B Jackson

JOURNAL
The Christmas Journal by Kimberly B Jackson
Publisher: Prism Book Group
Genre: Holiday, Inspirational
Length: Short Story (54 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Ashley Moore’s life forever changed the day her mother died, and she was sent to live with relatives. Now, ten years later, Ashley returns home, hoping to connect with her estranged father. When she learns he’s decided to reopen the family’s Christmas lodge for the upcoming holiday season, Ashley volunteers to help. While cleaning, she discovers her mother’s journal detailing the last month of her life. Will the book hold the answer as to why her dad sent her away? Who is the mysterious Adam her mother keeps mentioning in the diary? Can the words of her mother reconcile father and daughter in time for Christmas?

After years of silence, the answers will bring a family together.

Ashley comes back home, after being away several years, to her family’s Christmas lodge. While cleaning the lodge she finds her mom’s diary and with it comes questions as well as answers that would shake her world.

The Christmas Journal is not from a genre that I normally read though I would say that whenever I do read any book like this it just touches my heart and this book did it again and again. Kimberly Jackson did a great job painting a picture of the different scenes. At the same time, I would have liked a little bit more descriptiveness in some.

I was with Ashley and her father from the start to the finish. In every step of the way there were parts of the journal which allowed the cleaning of lodge to come through and give a semblance of normality.

This was a refreshing change that touched my heart and gave me hope.  You get a slice of music, with a dash of hot British abs and touch of family and love with a heart touching emotions that will leave you wanting more and more. I can easily recommend it to anyone who loves a sweet story.