Reviews by Auntie Anne.
The setting is New York city in 1987. The AIDS epidemic is rampant, and has personally touched the quiet suburban lives of 14-year-old June Elbus and her family. June's beloved Uncle Finn, a famous but reclusive artist, has died of AIDS. June's mother, who was Finn's sister, has forbidden Finn's longtime partner to attend the funeral. Mrs. Elbus refuses to speak of this horrible illness that her brother has died of far too young, leaving June
grief-stricken and desolate. June was a very unusual teenager who fantasized about living in the Middle Ages. Typically dressing in long skirts and lace-up boots, she lugged around a copy of The Medieval Reader, and planned to be a falconer when she grows up. She felt that her Uncle Finn was the only person alive that understood her and made her feel special. They shared many secrets and special places that they would visit together in New York
City. But when Finn died, June discovers an even bigger secret that her Uncle never shared with her - his partner, Toby.
Several days after the funeral, June receives a package in the mail - a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn's apartment, and a note from Toby asking to meet her. After seeing Toby several times, June realizes that he is not the monster that killed her Uncle that her mother has made him out to be. He misses Finn as much as she does, and they form a powerful bond based on their mutual loss and unlikely friendship. From start to finish, with
Toby's help, June emerges from a self-absorbed awkward teenager to a young adult who has come to understand much about the upside down world she lives in.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a beautifully written, very tender coming-of-age story, which is a first novel for Carol Rifka Brunt. A moving story of love, grief and renewal, this book will leave you thinking about it long after you've finished it.
"Let me tell you something, son. When you’re young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand-new penny, but before you get to wonderful you’re going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, stop and take a good, long look, because that may be as far as you’re ever going to go.” This is the advice given to 5-year-old Sam Haislett, the speaker of which should have heeded his own advice.
Charlie Beale was a handsome, charismatic 39-year-old war veteran in 1948 when he wandered into sleepy Brownsville, Virginia. He carried with him two suitcases, one full of money, the other full of knives. Charlie liked what he saw in Brownsville and decided to stay. He talked the local butcher into giving him a job (hence the suitcase full of knives), and soon he became well-liked by the townspeople, and adored by young Sam, the butcher's son. The day that beautiful, young Sylvan Glass walked into his life, Charlie Beale was never the same. "She went off in his head and his heart like a firecracker on the 4th of July."
Sylvan Glass was the teenage wife of Boatie Glass, the richest, greediest, and most mean-spirited man around. Sylvan was raised in a backwoods burg to dirt-poor parents who were sadly desperate enough to sell her to Glass. Although she had no education, Sylvan was wiley enough to reinvent herself into a Hollywood starlet wanna-be, fashioning her new personna from movie magazines and afternoon matinees. So when Charlie, along with young Sam always in tow, entered her life, she saw him as a means of playing out her fantasy life. Unfortunately, Sam was always there as an innocent witness, reading comic books at Sylvan's kitchen table, while she and Charlie were upstairs. It's obvious from the start that this flirtation can come to no good. And the reader gets a personal accounting from adult Sam Haislett who narrates tragic events of the story.
Heading Out to Wonderful reminded me of a runaway train. It started out nice and calm, even passing some beautiful scenery along the way. But soon enough you realize that the train is out of control as it picks up speed. You're hoping that the crash won't be that bad because you have become invested in the book's very well-developed and interesting characters. Then comes the crash, and, wow, you never saw that one coming!
A Booklist reviewer says that Goolrick, in Heading Out to Wonderful, "creates a mesmerizing gothic tale of a good man gone wrong." It is mesmerizing indeed, a book you won't want to put down. It is implied at the beginning of the book that Charlie Beale had somewhat of a checkered past, and I sure would like to have found out where he got all that money in his suitcase. The author bypasses those key bits of information. But other than that, I give this book two thumbs up.
Betty and Joseph Weissmann had been happily married for nearly 50 years, or so Betty thought, when Joseph announced that he wanted a divorce to be with his girlfriend, Felicity. Thus dumped and turned out of her luxurious Manhattan apartment she called home, Betty crash lands in a rundown Westport, Ct. beach cottage, relying on the smothering kindness of Uncle Lou. To make matters worse, both Betty's daughters run into their own streak of bad luck, and move in with Betty. Literary agent Miranda must file bankruptcy after it's leaked that some of her authors' steamy memoirs were in fact fiction. And Betty's other daughter, Annie, is so deeply in debt she can no longer afford her apartment. Once they move in with Mom, both girls promptly fall in love—Annie rather awkwardly with the brother of Joseph's lover, and Miranda with a lothario actor quite a bit younger than her. In true Jane Austen style, mischief and mayhem runs regretably over these romantic relationships as the three women figure out how to turn their lives around.
The Three Weissmann's of Westport has been labeled a modern-day homage to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. It's a very well done read-alike, I might add. Her characters are engaging, humorous and sad all at the same time. This book is full of wit and wisdom that will bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye.
In this sequel to Wish You Were Here, Emily Maxwell is adjusting to being a widow, living alone, mourning not only her husband's death but the upsetting changes in her quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood. Like any grandmother, she looks forward to the Christmas visit from her children and grandchildren. But when her best friend and sister-in-law, Arlene, ends up in the hospital, Emily has to face another change in her life. Since Arlene had driven her everywhere, Emily now had to drive herself. So she buys a new car and reluctantly becomes a much more independent person. These small events in Emily's life have an unexpected effect, making her a much stronger person, one that looks forward to what life has to offer, even at the age of 80.
Stewart O'Nan has a talent for putting life under a microscope, enabling his readers to understand their own lives. What may seem very ordinary becomes a heartfelt examination of human nature and the milestones of one's life. O'Nan's sympathetic portrayal of characters such as Emily Maxwell gives them dignity, as he makes readers privy to their thoughts, motivations, and dreams. If you like literary fiction that is slower paced, written in a lyrical, richly-detailed but spare style, you will enjoy Emily Alone.
" The Lady of the Rivers" is the third book in Philippa Gregory's The Cousin's War series, a fictional accounting of the War of the Roses between the Lancasters and the Yorks for the crown of England. The story of Jacquetta Rivers, the Dowager Duchess of Bedford, is an especially compelling one, particularly from the aspect of women's lives of this era. It was a world completely controlled by men, and the only way that women could control their own destiny was through witchcraft or spirituality. Said to be a descendant of the river goddess Melusina, Jacquetta was an eye-witness to one of the most important power struggles in British history. She was the second most powerful woman in England in the early 1400's, and played a key role in the story of the York's and the Lacaster's rule. Her daughter Elizabeth became the Queen of England when she married Edward IV, and again when she married Henry Tudor, King Henry VII, making Jacquetta Henry VIII's maternal grandmother.