Review: Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade (July 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 0425272028
  • Source: Publisher

The end of World War II was a pivotal time in our nation’s history.  Despite the struggle and loss brought on by the War, change was in the air, amid feelings of uncertainty intermingled with hope.  New York City’s Grand Central station was the starting point to so many: soldiers returning from war, wives and family members reuniting with their loved ones, individuals ready to embark upon a new beginning, a fresh start.  Bustling with thousands of people passing through it daily, it is also the site of so many emotions: love, loss, and heartbreak.

In Grand Central, a collection of short stories from some of the hottest author’s of women’s fiction (Alyson Richman, Jenna Blum, Sarah McCoy, Melanie Benjamin, Sarah Jio, Erika Robuck, Kristina McMorris, Amanda Hodgkinson, Pam Jenoff, Karen White), each entry focuses on one of these stories of reunion or, in some cases, separation.  Ten stories in total, all sharing the same space and time. The moment I heard of this collection, months ago, I knew it would be brilliant. I was not at all let down.

Each set of characters we are introduced to come from vastly different backgrounds. Women pilots, abused wives about to reunite with the husband that beat them, young women about to start a fresh new life…seemingly very different but all holding on to one thing in common: hope.

I’m not going to go through and break down each story; I feel readers should go in as blind as possible without any hint as to what is to come. Just know that it is simply brilliant, emotional, and breathtaking. I’m not a fan of touchy-feeling, emotional reads.  Yet Grand Central evoked these very feelings from me, leaving me feeling fulfilled, wanting to know more about each of these young women.

Yet what stands out to me most about this novel was actually unexpected and profound. One evening, my teen son asked what I was reading. I began to tell him; I barely got out more than World War II and Grand Central station. He asked to read part of the book…and he read it all. I was certain he was going to come back to me in a matter of moments, turned off by the female characters or their stories. The following day, I took it from him so I could peruse my notes and write my review. Inside, I found post it notes he’d left me, with comments like “This is so sad” and “I didn’t know about this!” or “I want to talk about this.” I was absolutely sold on this novel the first time I read it, but after reading his comments I reread it, wanting to relive the experience as he did. And we talked, for hours about women pilots, pioneers in that field,  of the Lebensborn Program in which young women were given the opportunity to have children in secret, children who would be whisked away and raised by the SS.  This collection of short stories granted me this opportunity with my son, one I will never forget.

I can continue to rave about this book for hours, honestly. Instead, I will close with my highest of recommendations. Truly, a must read for fans of all types: fans of historical fiction, descendants of those who fought in the War, for individuals looking for a truly dynamic collection of short stories.  This is one you will want to talk about, I guarantee. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Island of Doves by Kelly O’Connor McNees

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade (April 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0425264580
  • Source: Publisher

Susannah Fraser was promised a happy life with her husband, living in one of Buffalo’s finest homes. Instead, her home is a prison filled with physical and mental abuse. While all of her material needs are met, the life she is leading is a mere shadow of the life she’d hoped for. Susannah assumed that the abuse went on unnoticed. but when she is approached by a woman with promises of help and escape, Susannah can’t say no.

The journey to safety isn’t an easy one. She must leave everything she owns behind and travel by steamboat to the remote Mackinac Island. There, she meets Magdelaine Fonteneau, a woman who has made quite a life for herself as a fur trader. Magdelaine has offered her services to help women like Susannah escape abusive marriages. She calls each of these women doves; Susannah is the first of three to successfully make the journey. Magdelaine’s past is riddled with pain and loss and the unexpected friendship that forms between the two women allows them both to see the hope that life has to offer.

While the storyline in The Island of Doves is not a unique one, the strong and engaging characters are what make this novel an engaging one. Both Susannah and Magdelaine come from vastly different backgrounds but that doesn’t stop the two women from connecting and forging a strong friendship. Susannah thought herself to be helpless, so used to having others do things for her that she feared she was unable to forge a life alone. In turn, while Magdelaine has formed a strong and caring relationship for the young girls she teaches on the island, she has yet to be able to form such a close bond with her own son. So used to having those she loves taken from her, she pushes him away, afraid to lose yet another loved one. This isn’t intentional; it isn’t until Susannah points out her behavior that Magdelaine reflects upon the choices she’s made in life.

All in all, McNees has created a wonderfully addictive and heartfelt read in The Island of Doves. Her books are of a genre I typically do not read, yet I find myself looking forward to each and every book she publishes. Highly rewarding, highly recommended.

Mini-Review: The Good Daughter by Jane Porter

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade; 1 edition (February 5, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0425253422
  • Source: Publisher
Kit Brennan has always been a good girl, the good daughter, as far as her family is concerned. She’s teacher at a Catholic school, attends Mass every weekend, and wants to go the traditional route as far as marriage and having children are concerned. Yet as her 40th birthday nears, Kit wonders if taking the route preferred by her family is the best one.  She both a man her parents would approve of (on the surface anyway) as well as a man she knows they would shun. An even more difficult question: Should she wait for the perfect man to enter her life in order to start a family, or does she have what it takes to have one, through adoption, on her own? As her mother deteriorates further due to cancer, Kit soon realizes that sometimes life is meant to be lived in the moment, that an individual truly can’t be happy if they are continuously trying to please others rather than themselves.

The Good Daughter
is the second book in the Brennan sisters trilogy. Once again, Porter continues to create a truly rewarding and insightful read. She tackles a number of pretty tough subjects so eloquently and respectfully, packing quite a punch. Readers are given a bigger opportunity to embrace and love each of the Brennan sisters, a truly remarkable set of siblings. Upon wrapping up title, much like her other books, the characters resonate, often taking on stronger roles in my life than I thought imaginable. As I closed each of the Brennan sisters books, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to a dear friend. Yet knowing that a reunion is in future with another Brennan sisters book I’m left feeling hopeful, looking forward to the next saga in this family’s story. Highly recommended.

Review: Fonduing Fathers by Julie Hyzy

  • Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley (December 31, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0425251810
  • Source: Kaye Publicity

White House executive chef Olivia Paras grew up believing her father was a hero, yet during a recent visit to her mother she learns otherwise. Not only was he dishonorably discharged from the army, after his murder evidence was found, implicating him for selling corporate secrets. How had a man, buried in Arlington National Cemetery, be guilty of such charges? Ollie refuses to believe this claims and, with the aid of her Secret Service boyfriend, Gav, she must get to the root of what really transpired decades earlier. They locate a number of her father’s former acquaintances in an effort to find out more.Doing so, however, puts her life and the nation’s security at risk.

In the sixth book in the White House Chef mystery series, I truly appreciated how much of this novel revolved around Ollie’s search for the answers to her endless questions about her father. Fans of this series know how often Ollie gets wrapped up in danger of some sorts but in this novel, readers get to see Ollie up close and personal, quite vulnerable and desperate for answers. That’s not to say the crazy antics of the White House, the First Family and Ollie’s quirky cohorts aren’t portrayed at all, but in this case they serve as more of a backdrop than the main story. In actuality, in Fonduing Fathers readers actually get to see the First Family portrayed as typical people, the First Son, Josh, attempting to remain as normal as he can, pursuing his own passion in becoming a chef.

While I enjoyed every book in this series (my favorite cozy series!) this may be my favorite because readers get to see inside Ollie’s life, even if it does reveal dangerous secrets that should remain hidden. As mentioned above, this is the sixth book in the series. In many cases, I would suggest that readers new to the series pick up at any point but in this case I believe it is paramount to start at the beginning and watch Ollie’s evolution as an individual and as the White House executive chef. Highly, highly recommended.

 

Review: The Good Woman by Jane Porter

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade; Original edition (September 4, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 042525300
  • Source: Publisher

Meg Brennan Roberts is a successful publicist for a local winery. The oldest child in an Irish-American family, she’s always been the level-headed, sensible, and yes, somewhat boring child. One would think that her successful life as a working woman, wife, and mother would make Meg happy, but instead it has the opposite effect. She feels hollow, empty. She spends so much time transporting her children around to ballet, baseball and other extracurricular activities and juggling their schedules that she feels she’s missing out on life. Her husband, Jack, dedicated to his job. Unfortunately, this dedication is so strong that he doesn’t pay attention to Meg, even if she’s standing right before him.

When Meg is asked to go to London for a wine fair with her incredibly handsome and  boss, Chad Hallahan, Meg initially declines. Her family’s busy schedule won’t permit her to be away from them for the several days the trip requires. Instead of confirming this, Jack actually encourages Meg to go. It is in London that Chad pronounces his attraction to Meg. She is shocked, embarrassed, but also flattered. It has been quite some time since someone noticed her, was attracted to her. She loved Jack, but their sex life was less than stellar. He frequently turned down her attempts at love-making, insisting that they are both older now, not as free-spirited and adventurous as they once were. The thing is, their sex life would never be considered adventurous, even when they were younger. Chad’s revelation forces Meg to reevaluate her life, her marriage, and the levelheadedness she’s known for. For once, she banishes her conscious and dives in headfirst, allowing her heart, and her body, to make the decisions for once. The decisions, however, have reckless and irreversible consequences. Meg is forced to decide what is more important: to be the woman everyone wants her to be, or the woman she truly is, deep down inside.

The first book in Porter’s planned series spotlighting the Brennan sisters, Porter focuses not only on Meg’s life, but how her life relates to her loved ones around her.  While I appreciated the dedicated focus on each of the characters, this novel fell short for me. To be honest, I despised Meg’s character. One moment she’s a level-headed wife and mother, the next she’s dropping all obligations and having an affair. Porter attempts to create a realistic main character but instead, in my opinion, she creates a character that symbolizes, in a sense, all the behavior that isn’t realistic. It is possible that I’m living my live wearing rose-tinted glasses, ignorant to many of the experiences and situations Meg is forced to endure, but I doubt it. I can sympathize with her busy life and the occasional feelings of loneliness, but the average person deals with these situations in a completely different manner.

To be honest, I don’t read much chick-lit. Overall, I feel that I cannot form connections with many of the main characters. Honestly, in most cases I want to shake some sense in them, yell at them to grow a backbone. In accepting this book for review, I was attracted to Meg’s large family and its inner-workings. I’m fond of novels with strong family relationships and that aspect of this novel appealed to me. That said, while I didn’t get the anticipated reaction from this novel, I will continue to read the rest of the series. The next book, The Good Daughter, is scheduled for release in February and focuses on Meg’s younger sister, Kit, the one member of her family with which she seems to have the strongest bond and connection.

While I didn’t particularly enjoy this novel, don’t let my opinion alone sway you in reading this book. Looking at other reviews, my opinion of this book seems to be isolated.