The Bookends

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

By: Susan Rivers

Seventeen year old Placidia Fincher lives a privileged life with her family. She is a tomboy that has a love for horses, especially the wild ones. Major Hockaday comes by her father’s property to buy a mule and Placidia is attracted to this rugged older man. He feels the same and the two are quickly married and she leaves everything behind to start a new life on a 300 acre remote farm far from her family. Just days after becoming husband and wife, the major is called back to the battlefield. Young Placidia is left with the Majors young son and more responsibility than she has ever had. By the time he returns two years later, his young bride is accused of adultery and infanticide. Placidia refuses to talk about the accusation nor defend her herself. What happened during those two years?

BECKY This Civil War story is told completely through correspondence and diary entries. For the most part the letters are conversations between Placidia and her cousin Mildred. We do get quite a bit of information but they are the only characters we get to know for awhile. What did you think about this style of writing?

PAM I typically like this style of writing, but I did find it a bit cumbersome at the beginning. However, once I became more familiar with the characters and the time frame of each letter, I was able to see the connections and the story began to fit together. I felt that it frequently took me a bit to catch on to what the author was implying in different social situations and relationships. I wondered if it was the language the author used. Did you find that, as well?

BECKY Absolutely! I had a hard time following this story and I often wanted more information than what was provided in a letter. This style also didn’t paint a vivid scene in my mind. I usually have a very good picture of the characters and the setting, but this book was like watching a black and white television show. The story however, although it took awhile to develop, was quite interesting. The reality that women were left with the heavy responsibility of taking care of property, farm animals, servants and often children, gives a different glimpse into the realities of war. Do you think that the author was successful, using this style of writing to show how grueling that time was for Placidia and women in general?

PAM I agree that the story developed and drew me into the interesting mystery. Although it took a while to see the entire story and get a feel for the characters, eventually the author did portray the difficulties women faced during the war. Also, the author offered a glimpse into the social order, where women were considerably lower than men. This became even more of a challenge when a woman was in charge of her land and the people working it and had to deal with the men in town and on neighboring farms. Did you find this frustrating, as Placidia worked as hard as any man?

BECKY For me, it was more upsetting to read about men benefiting from a woman in such a desperate situation. We are introduced to a few unsavory men that took advantage of the environment the war created. She really had no means or experience to effectively protect herself and that was something that I hadn’t thought about before. Not only was she physically vulnerable but her livestock and stored food supply were equally at risk. What I found most intriguing in this story is the servants she interacts with. I had a better picture of these individuals than the two main characters. Did you find that storyline interesting?

PAM I agree, Becky. I also had a more complete picture of the servants, than the two main characters. The storyline of the servants connected many pieces, as we were able to see the interactions between different families. The servants were often temporarily moved to different families and homesteads when there was a need. This allowed us to discover information that helped to piece together the story of Placidia. She would not have been able to withstand the period of war without her servants by her side. Although, some were loyal and some were definitely not. Were you able to have a better understanding of this story through these relationships?

BECKY Some gave more light and understanding to this story than others. I would have loved hearing more from their point of view as the story moved along. With the correspondence style of writing this wasn’t possible but I did enjoy that some of those stories come to life as we move towards the end of the book. There was so much to address in this story with loss, forgiveness and the conclusion of the mystery. Did you like how this story came to an end?

PAM I had mixed feelings about the ending of the story. Ultimately, it was what I would consider a happy ending. However, the events and hurt that had occurred throughout the story were hard to completely wipe away. As we approach the end of the book, some of the characters’ children discover certain truths that had been meant to rest forever. This causes much discussion in the families. Did you feel that it was better to learn the truth, even though it changed perceptions or is it sometimes better not to know?

BECKY That’s an interesting question. I enjoyed the truth and how it was revealed. If it wasn’t presented then I think I would have felt cheated and assume a second book to follow. I can’t say that I would have been interested in a second story but I did want to know what happened to that baby and this marriage. I think it’s time to say goodbye to this story and move to The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti. Zoe is living a lavish lifestyle but her secret past is sneaking up on her. Will her previous life be revealed or will she be able to lock it safely away?

The Bookends

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

By: Fredrik Backman

Elsa and her granny are inseparable. Nobody understands Elsa the way her grandmother does. She is often called different and faces bullies every day at school. At night, Elsa escapes into her grandmother’s fairy tales. Everyone thinks her grandmother is crazy, but she is Elsa’s only friend in the world. Elsa embarks on a great adventure when her grandmother dies and leaves letters that must be delivered to many people she wronged. Her life will never be the same.

PAM I was drawn to this unique story idea and completely lost when I realized this was the same author that wrote “A Man Called Ove.” I loved the quirky characters in that book and was not disappointed in this story. I was quickly pulled into this story with its very eccentric characters. Elsa’s grandmother made me laugh from the beginning. Did you find yourself drawn into this tale from the beginning?

BECKY I did not immediately connect to this story. There is little background preparation before the story starts so I floundered for a bit. The characters throughout the book are enjoyable and well developed. I just would have liked a bit more explanation of the fantasy part of the book so that I could have appreciated the magical essence of this story from the beginning. What is created later in the book is a sweet story so it was worth the initial confusion. Granny tells Elsa fairy tales and has created an imaginary place called Land-of-Almost-Awake. They access this land via the wardrobe in Granny’s apartment and travel to the various lands by riding cloud animals. Was it just me or would you have liked to see at least a map at the beginning of the book to set the stage for the Land-of-Almost-Awake?

PAM I would have loved to see a map with all of the different lands Granny created! This would have been a great visual for the different stories, as well as characters. Granny is very different than other adults that Elsa knows. We come to learn of many interesting stories about Granny and her experiences as we travel through this story. Do you think this helped form the unbreakable bond between granddaughter and grandmother?

BECKY Elsa is only seven when her grandmother passes away so I think the multiple stories that are revealed to her definitely helped etch Granny’s character in Elsa’s young mind. Before passing away, Granny has written several letters of apology to various people. Elsa embarks on something like a scavenger hunt to deliver these letters, and ultimately learn more about her Granny and the people that live around Elsa. Was there too much going on in this story or did you like the flow of the story?

PAM There was definitely a lot going on with the story and it was like jumping on a fast moving train at first. However, all of the pieces began to make sense and fit together as the story continued. So, although if felt very scattered initially, I loved the way everything tied together with Granny’s fairy tales. Elsa is bullied by other students at her school and her grandmother was always her biggest advocate, coming to her defense in meetings with the administration. Was this storyline about bullying challenging to read and did you worry that Elsa’s mother was not as strong of a defender for her?

BECKY Poor little Elsa was often cornered at school by bullies. It wasn’t graphic but it sure tugs at the heart strings when you read this story. For example, “Like many children who are different, she’s good at running.” That is just upsetting to read. I didn’t dislike her mother but she wasn’t one of my favorite characters. She had a lot going on in her life and although it’s not an excuse I could identify with not having enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. Her executive job keeps her busy and she doesn’t have much time to actively parent Elsa. She also has a new marriage and is soon to deliver Elsa’s half brother (whom Elsa calls Halfie). I think that she relied on Elsa’s grandmother without realizing that Granny was starting to lose her mind and that Elsa really needed her mother. Unfortunately, Elsa also has a distant relationship with her father. What did you think about this quiet man?

PAM At first, her father’s attitude toward her really upset me. However, as we continue through the story, we are given the opportunity to understand him and his feelings about his daughter. It took me a while, but as secrets unravel, I came to appreciate this character and his love for his daughter. There are many eccentric neighbors in Elsa’s building that are involved in Granny’s tales. One of my favorites is a large animal called a wurse. Elsa discovers this creature from the fairy tales after her granny passes away. She saves this creature and quickly finds a friend that is loyal and gives her the support she has never found in a friend. Did you love this friendship between Elsa and the wurse?

BECKY I agree that this was a sweet friendship but it too was a bit confusing. I believe that this creature was a huge dog that belonged to her grandmother (although it lived in an apartment and ate chocolate). When you read this book you have to embrace that it is told from a seven year old’s point of view and there is a great deal of imagination employed throughout the story. If you can do that then I think you would enjoy this story. It’s time to say goodbye to Elsa and crack open our next book set in 1865. Next month join us as we discuss The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers.

The Bookends

All Is Not Forgotten

By Wendy Walker

* * * We feel compelled to warn our readers that this is a sensitive topic and the story has graphic descriptions. This book is not for everyone. * * *

Jenny Kramer is a teenage girl that wanders a few hundred feet away from a local party. She is brutally violated in the woods behind the house where the party is given. While doctors are treating her physical injuries she is given a drug that will medically erase the traumatic memories of this assault. In time she physically heals from this horrific event but she will never be the same. Her country club mother, Charlotte prefers to pretend this tragedy did not touch their picture perfect world. Her father, Tom is obsessed with identifying the attacker and wants justice for his daughter. Dr. Forrester is familiar with this drug and its effect on victims. Will Jenny and her family, find the answers they need to completely recover from this nightmare.

BECKY This is such a tragic topic and it was difficult to read sections of this book. However, it is a disturbing but interesting psychological thriller. There are plans to make this into a movie and I am curious how they will retell this story. I encourage you to start the book when you have the time to read at least the first few chapters. I began by reading a small section and it took me awhile to get used to the style of storytelling. Pam, would you agree that it took a while to wrap your head around this story?

PAM I completely agree. It took me some time to become familiar with the author’s style of storytelling, specifically which character was talking. Parts of this story were very difficult to read. However, the author’s descriptions were of a clinical or investigative nature, which allowed the reader to be distanced from some of the emotion. Did you feel that the author used this type of description?

BECKY That is a great observation and although it took a bit to get use to, I enjoyed the distance it created. Once I acclimated to this style of writing it intensified the creepy factor for this story. It felt like I was reading a diary or listening in on a private conversation. What did you think about the possibility to erase memory through medical intervention? Would it be a blessing or a curse?

PAM I think it would first appear to be a blessing to anyone looking into this possibility. However, the emotional fallout described in the book would make anyone think twice. Perhaps a victim cannot fully heal and move past an event without the traumatic work of coming to terms with the details. As parents, we want to protect our children from anything harmful, either physical or emotional. This would have seemed as a blessing for their daughter. Tom questioned this method from the beginning, but Charlotte was insistent that it be used as soon as possible. If she had known the risks, do you feel Charlotte would have been as certain?

BECKY Charlotte wanted to put this tragedy in her past. I think that she would have brushed the risks aside because she wanted a fix for this terrible circumstance. I wonder what choice Jenny would have made if the decision would have been completely up to her that evening. Later in the story she will meet Sean and he has some experience with this drug treatment for PTSD. What did you think about this character? Was he a good support for Jenny or did he make the situation worse?

PAM What an excellent question about Jenny. I wonder what she would have chosen that night. Sean faced his own tragic events and is going through a similar experience with effects from the drug, as well as trying to come to terms with issues that have always caused personal struggles. Jenny and Sean had very different events that led them to their intersection, but find an understanding friend in each other. They felt that the other really understood when nobody else could. I was a bit uneasy about this relationship, although it did make a big difference for Jenny. Do you think this friendship helped Sean or gave him more to overcome?

BECKY He was an interesting character and I would have enjoyed learning more about him and his past. I feel that for both of them it was a relief to find someone that understood a similar pain. I think that focusing on Jenny was good for Sean and the connection was a balm for his scarred past. Do you agree that the female author was successful portraying significant male roles?

PAM Honestly, I didn’t realize the author was female until later in the story. I often read on my kindle and find that I do not refer to the title or author while reading a book. That means I usually cannot remember the name of the book I am currently reading! I find this to be true about the author, as well. I was convinced by the narrator of the story, although it was a male character. Since this character was telling the story from a personal, as well as a professional angle, it was an interesting perspective. Did you enjoy the way he told the story?

BECKY I enjoyed the style in which the narrator manipulated my mind while reading. At first we are held hostage not knowing whom was telling the story. Then later it was like you were reading a case file and only small bits of information is revealed. As disturbing as the situation was for this young girl, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. I would look for this author again and I hope it is made into a movie as I think it would be interesting on the big screen. It is time to say goodbye to Jenny and pick up the next book. Please join us next month as we discuss, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman.

The Bookends

Breakthrough

By: Michael C. Grumley

A group of marine biologists are conducting amazing research with dolphins, Sally and Dirk. The team is making great strides in translating the language of dolphins, which will change our understanding of this amazing animal forever. Meanwhile, something unexplainable is happening around the world. Naval investigator, John Clay, is tasked to solve the mystery when one of the strange events involves a nuclear submarine. As these two seemingly unconnected groups come together to solve the puzzle, they realize that the world is in danger and it is up to them to save millions of people.

PAM Becky, this book was different from anything we have read in some time. Many different storylines converge into one as we follow this story. I especially enjoyed the dolphins and the connection between them and the group researching their language. Did you find this part of the story intriguing? Did you find it plausible?

BECKY I think dolphins are amazing creatures and the idea of communication with them seems plausible. However, in this story the computer quickly allows the humans to talk clearly with these two dolphins. I did not find that believable but this is a science fiction story so it works. The storyline that I enjoyed most was the research team in the Antarctic. They were studying the Rhonne Ice Shelf and I could hardly put the book down during one section of the story. If this became a movie I would go just to see how they would reenact this part of the book. The idea of a huge section falling into the ocean and creating a tsunami was fascinating to me. What did you think about this small part of the story?

PAM I agree with you about this part of the story. I also found it very interesting. Honestly, I enjoyed the different story lines and the different types of science represented. The idea of the tsunami was terrifying, but their solution was creative to say the least (I wonder if it would really work). The character that led the research trip to the Antarctic was a woman that had not been taken seriously by some of the people in power in the country. She was determined to gather evidence and prove her theory to be accurate. In order to do this, she gathers a team of researchers and heads into the inhospitable environment of Antarctica. Did you admire her drive to find the truth? Or did you find this trip to be a bad idea?

BECKY I loved her drive and spunk. The trip was dangerous and put her team in a treacherous situation, but the research was necessary to complete and it made this storyline very exciting. We also get a glimpse into how our government might handle a danger that could potentially kill millions. Telling the truth could cause a panic of epic proportions so, is keeping it a secret a better choice? Did you feel like the government officials were realistically represented and how did this part of the story make you feel?

PAM I’m sure there would be disagreement among the people involved. I also feel that the difference in opinion between the scientists and elected officials would occur, as they have different information and different perspectives. One of the officials was very demeaning and dishonest. He made me very mad! Ultimately, his decisions (that he was not cleared to make) led to incredible danger for many. He also was disgusting in his behind the scenes manipulation. I kept hoping that his true character would be revealed to all. Did you feel the same about this character?

BECKY I completely agree with your feelings about this man. There was nothing likable about him but I enjoyed the chaos he caused in the story. The author did a fantastic job creating a character that stirred such emotion in the reader. When I started this book I didn’t realize that it is the first book in a series of four. Did you enjoy this story enough to continue to read the whole series?

PAM I enjoyed the connection with the dolphins enough that I plan to read the next book in the series. It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here. You know how much I love stories with animals as main characters! Are you planning to pick up the next in the series?

BECKY This is not the type of book I would usually pick but I really enjoyed it and will read at least one more in the series. I hope that a few of the characters return in future stories. I appreciate that the author completed this story and did not leave unresolved cliffhangers so you were forced to buy the next book. Were you satisfied with the resolutions to the different storylines?

PAM I completely agree! I love when an author organizes a series in a way that allows a reader to read one or all and still get an entire story. I did feel that the storylines were resolved completely, but I hope to gather a little more information about a few of them in upcoming books! We will be reading a very different genre next month. Join us as we discuss All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker. We will be introduced to a tragic story of a teenage girl that suffers a brutal attack and is given a drug to erase her memories of the assault. The author takes us through the challenges this teenager faces, while the reader unlocks the mystery of the crime.

The Bookends

The Life We Bury

By Allen Eskens

Joe has a college assignment to interview a stranger and write a biography. He approaches a local nursing home to see if they have someone that would be interested in telling their story. It is here that he meets Carl Iverson and Joe’s life will never be the same. Carl is a Vietnam veteran that has been convicted of rape and murder. He has spent the last thirty years in prison but has recently been paroled to this center because he is dying from pancreatic cancer. This story will become more than just a grade for Joe.

BECKY Joe is a struggling college student that had a challenging childhood. He never knew his father, his mother is an alcoholic and his brother has special needs. He is juggling school and a job as a bouncer at a local bar. He just wants to complete this English assignment, that he procrastinated starting, and move on. I love this character. He doesn’t wallow in self pity but has accepted his dysfunctional situation. This story starts off quickly. Did you get to know Joe well enough before we meet Carl, the topic of his school assignment?

PAM Although the story moves quickly, the author does a great job of introducing us to Joe. I loved this character from the beginning and had a great sense of his loyalty and integrity. I felt connected to him from the beginning and continued to feel this way throughout the book. Joe decides to search for a subject for his assignment at a local nursing home. Since he has waited so long to begin, he hopes to find someone who will talk to him about their life. He is matched up with Carl, albeit reluctantly, by employees of the center. Carl agrees to talk with Joe and they begin to learn about each other. What were your first impressions about Carl?

BECKY He was a dynamic character that we slowly get to unravel. Originally I thought that this would be a story about a good guy versus a bad guy but there was so much more to this story. We learn a great deal about Carl’s character when the two men first meet. He will only let Joe write his dying declaration after Joe promises to be honest. A thread of honesty will weave throughout this story and reveal much more than what we originally see from both characters. The author has been a criminal defense attorney for 25 years. When I read that fact I thought that this story would have a heavy courtroom drama feel. In reality it’s primarily based on relationships. What did you think about the sweet connection between Joe and his special needs brother, Jeremy?

PAM This relationship helped the reader to see Joe’s true character. Understanding this connection between Jeremy and Joe illustrated the layers of feelings that Joe felt. He wanted to escape a difficult home environment, but feels responsible for his brother’s safety and well being. I was saddened that Joe was forced to choose between his brother and school. But, more importantly, that his mother had no boundaries and didn’t have any respect for Joe or Jeremy. Their deep and loving relationship was contrasted with their relationship with their mother. Did this character bring out similar feelings for you, Becky?

BECKY You don’t want to get me started on that character! She made my blood boil but I love that it was a raw character. She was undiagnosed but clearly struggled with a bipolar disorder and alcoholism. I was angry with the way she treated her two sons and although she had a small role, it had a mighty impact on Joe and the story. What did you think about Joe’s neighbor and love interest, Lila?

PAM I had a hard time deciding if I liked her character at first. She definitely didn’t want anything to do with Joe at first. She also was very judgmental about Carl and the case against him. However, the way she interacted with Jeremy made me reconsider and gave her character much more depth. She turned out to be a very loyal and supportive friend to Joe and Jeremy at a time when they both needed one. Were you surprised by her connection to Jeremy?

BECKY Lila was a guarded person and it was hard to see her softer side, until she started to interact with Jeremy. I wouldn’t say that it surprised me that she came to care for Jeremy, but it definitely helped me to like her character more. What didn’t flow for me in this story is Joe’s relationship with her. I saw them more as friends than involved in an intimate relationship. Once they get heavily involved I felt like the story line took a turn from a human connection story and moved towards an implausible action theme. What did you think about the last part of the book?

PAM The last part of the book was certainly full of action, which was a surprising turn for me. I agree that it transformed the story from the original idea. The author continued to weave the human connection through the story, but it seemed to get lost in the action. Did you feel that the ending wrapped up the story sufficiently?

BECKY The second half of the book was not what I expected but it was an interesting ending. The author pulls all of the story lines together and we are left with a glimpse of the characters future. Next month we will explore Breakthrough by Michael Grumley. This story has something for everyone with a touch of mystery, science fiction, military action, marine biology and even a little romance.

THE BOOKENDS

The Ballroom: A Novel

By Anna Hope

Sharston Asylum, located in England, was the unlikely location of a love story set in 1911. Although men and women are kept far apart in the asylum, they come together on Friday nights to dance in the stately ballroom. The men and women look forward to this time and hope they were well behaved enough during the week to earn their admittance. Ella Fay and John Mulligan, two of the patients at Sharston Asylum, encounter each other as Ella is attempting to run away. They meet again in the ballroom and a courtship begins in this unlikely place.

PAM This unique story intrigued me and I was drawn to read more. The author introduces us to the characters and their stories, as well as the asylum itself. I found the stories, as well as their daily lives to be very bleak. What emotions surfaced as you read about the nurses, doctors, and patients?

BECKY My grandfather spent most of his childhood in an orphanage so this story stirred a number of negative emotions. It is hard to believe that not that long ago we would place people in institutions like this. The idea that, as a society, we felt that they were to be locked away and forgotten is hard to comprehend. In this story we meet Ella and John who are not mentally challenged but have been sent to Sharston for minor issues. Ella for breaking a window at her job in a factory and John for melancholia which resulted after losing his wife and child. The days are uneventful and the nurses are uncaring. The most interesting character to me is Dr. Charles Fuller. His first love is not medicine but music and he starts a program to see if exposure to music has a beneficial effect on patients. What were your first impressions of this character?

PAM Initially, I felt that Dr. Fuller cared for the patients and their quality of life. In an environment where men and women were admitted against their will and had no say about their rights or treatment, I thought he would be an advocate for them. However, his character did not continue along the path I thought he was traveling. He had escaped his parents and their oppressive expectations when he secured this job. Dr. Fuller went through significant changes in his beliefs (and his character) during this story, with many underlying themes woven throughout. He is initially drawn to John’s story and decides to focus on this patient. How did you feel about Dr. Fuller’s attention being directed to John?

BECKY First, I think that we have to paint a picture of John. He is a tough and stoic Irishman that is in a trusted position to work digging graves at the asylum. In my mind he was similar to Hugh Jackman in personality and physique. We don’t know much about him initially, but I quickly liked him and wanted the best for his character. At the beginning of the book I thought that the doctor would be a champion for John as he encouraged him to attend the dances and was interested in his opinions. However, as the story progresses the doctor wrestles with his own demons and he begins to obsessively focus on John. Were you as quickly drawn to John as I was, or did another character grab your attention?

PAM I pictured him the same way you did! I was also drawn to his character from the very beginning. He was very stable and appeared content in his work. He struggled with a painful past and preferred to hang back and go through the paces of the day. Therefore, he initially resisted the doctor’s request to attend the dances. Once there, he met Ella and his quiet and solitary world began to change. Ella was not content in the asylum and was constantly looking for opportunities to escape. Were you surprised that these two were drawn to each other?

BECKY They were different personalities and there wasn’t much opportunity for the men and women to mingle until the Friday night dance so this was not a typical romance. I wouldn’t say that their connection surprised me but I did enjoy this unlikely relationship. What I found disturbing is that neither one where mentally ill yet they were unable to leave the asylum. They were held, and treated, as if they were prisoners. The staff was unkind and they were subjected to psychological abuse. The most disgusting was when Dr. Fuller became interested in the eugenics movement. It was a belief that those with less desired traits should be sterilized. Unfortunately, patients in the asylum fall into this category. What do you think of the author’s ability to develop this dark character?

PAM I found this very upsetting, as well. The patients had no control of their lives and were treated so poorly. This environment of complete power over other people was even more disturbing as we saw the slide of Dr. Fuller. He lost the ability to see the patients as people and became a firm believer in the eugenics movement. This belief that he could (and should) sterilize as many patients as possible without their (or their families’ permission) illustrated just how broken the system had become. The author painted an interesting picture that led me to believe, at first, the doctor cared for his patients and wanted to enrich their lives. However, as we follow him through this story, we see a dark change. I felt that she was inferring he was suffering from a struggle with mental health. Did you feel this, as well?

BECKY Absolutely! How ironic that a doctor with mental illness is working at an asylum. This is a talented author that created a dynamic plot. I think that a book club would have many topics to discuss. It’s time to leave this dance and meet Joe next month in, The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens.

Happy New Year!

The Bookends

bookends-dec2016A Quilt for Christmas

By Sandra Dallas

Eliza’s husband has joined the Kansas volunteers to fight the Confederates. While he is gone she must care for her two children and their land to the best of her abilities. It is physically difficult to manage the farming but so far she is able to feed her family and store just enough away for the colder months ahead. Her only relaxing time is during a monthly gathering with quilting friends from the community. Although her home is full and food supplies are stretched to their limit Eliza has welcomed in a young war widow that is in desperate need of shelter. Although it is challenging she is happy for the extra help and companionship. What she isn’t sure about is the additional request to hide an escaped slave for a few days. Eliza is faced with a difficult and dangerous decision.

BECKY This story revolves around a group of women that are, for the most part, in similar situations. Most of the husbands are away fighting the war or have died in battle. Their most relaxing and normal times are during their monthly quilting gathering. As a quilter did you enjoy the descriptions of the various quilts and their ability to bring different women together for a common purpose?

PAM I did! Sandra Dallas frequently brings the art of quilting into her storylines. I think she does this for exactly the reason you mentioned above. It brings women together like few things do and I could picture the women sitting around the quilt frame, discussing events in their lives while making these pieces of art. I especially loved the importance a simple scrap of fabric given to a fellow quilter held. Eliza created a very special quilt for her husband from some of these precious scraps. He used this quilt to keep him warm, while away at war. Do you think she intended it to do more than warm him in this scary time?

BECKY I don’t quilt but every book that includes this art clearly shows that there is a message in every quilting design. Eliza was sending her love, support of his decision to go to war and reminders of their family in this one quilt that would also provide desperately needed warmth. I wish that the book cover would have included this quilt in the design as my imagination probably isn’t accurate. What did you think about Eliza’s character? I had some challenges connecting with her. I liked her but she felt one dimensional to me and I found myself wanting to know less about her storyline and more about some of the other characters.

PAM I agree that a picture of the quilt design would have been a wonderful addition to the book! Eliza obviously loved her husband very much, but I struggled with their formality towards each other. I realize that was probably normal for that time period, but I found it sad. Perhaps with the amount of work that was required for the women of that time in that area, they had to be stronger and show less emotion. Did you find that interesting about Eliza?

BECKY You have a good point. Maybe relationships were different during that era. I think that she was stoic and that made her hard to connect to but I did admire her strength. She had to face physical and mental challenges so that was an interesting facet to her character and it brought back memories of stories my older relatives would relay. I much prefered spunky Missouri Ann the war widow that came to live with Eliza. She was an extra set of hands around the house and gave Eliza companionship. However, her male in-laws had a mean spirit and were not going to let her move on without some conflict. What did you think about the hostile group of men and in contrast the hard but caring mother-in-law?

PAM Great question! That part of the story was very sad. Missouri Ann was stuck with a family that didn’t want her, but didn’t want to let her move on. The Stark men were demeaning, mean, and filthy. But, Mrs. Stark was a kind soul who was stuck in the middle of this family. She missed Missouri Ann and her granddaughter when they went to live with Eliza’s family. However, she knew they needed to escape and tried to help them be free. The Stark men caused trouble for the women, but with their strong spirits and supportive neighbors, they were able to overcome the challenges. I loved that Missouri Ann was determined to tell her young daughter that her father (Hugh Stark) was a good man, although we later learn that this was not the case. How did you feel about this little lie?

BECKY That spirit is what makes me love this character. She could have easily told her daughter the ugly truth but chose to create a more loving memory. That tells me a lot about her heart and I thought it was incredibly loving. Soon after Missouri Ann comes to the house, Eliza is approached with a request to hide a runaway slave, Sukey. Not only is this a dangerous choice but Sukey is weak, sick and recovering from a severe beating. Did you like this storyline and did the author paint a vivid picture of what that experience might have been like?

PAM I thought this storyline allowed us to see Eliza in a different light. Her character was very straightforward, honest, and faithful. When she was asked to hide Sukey, she was told the background of the runaway slave. When she heard these details and what Sukey was accused of, she had to put herself in another’s place and answer some difficult questions. This process gave Eliza’s character a new dimension, as she considered slavery, motherhood, and faith. Missouri Ann’s father in law is hunting runaway slaves and the women suspect he will come looking for Sukey. Were you surprised that Eliza agreed to shelter Sukey with this added danger?

BECKY What surprised me is that she would put the children in that danger. Two were young enough that it would have been difficult for them to fully understand the need to keep this woman a secret. I have to say that this storyline, although interesting, wasn’t very believable. Sandra Dallas normally has direct ties to Colorado in her stories and I have always loved the setting of old Colorado. This story is completely set in Kansas with just a few mentions of Colorado. Did you miss that special touch in this story or were you content with a different angle?

PAM I did miss the Colorado connections in this book. That is one of the reasons I am drawn to Sandra Dallas books! However, although the story was short on Colorado details, it was long on the amazing relationships of women in a difficult time and area. This is another reason I enjoy this author; the depth of her characters and their connections to each other. Next month, we will explore unique friendships and relationships as we discuss The Ballroom: A Novel by Anna Hope.

The Bookends

bookends_nov2016Secrets of a Charmed Life

By Susan Meissner

It is World War II and children are being evacuated from London, as bombing appears imminent for the city. Emmy and Julia Downtree find themselves separated from their mother and moved to the countryside. They find a welcoming home in a cottage in Cotswold. Emmy wants to stay with her young sister, but also yearns to follow her dreams of designing wedding dresses. Emmy’s choice and the events that follow will change the course of many lives.

PAM I was drawn to this book and knew I must read it as soon as I finished the back cover. I was not disappointed and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Becky, did you find yourself engaged with this story?

BECKY This book captivated me from the beginning. The story begins in the present as Kendra, a college student, is interviewing 93 year old Isabel, a survivor of the Blitz during World War II. I thought that the story would bounce back and forth from the present to the past. I was wonderfully surprised to find that the book primarily stays in the storyline of the past. I don’t mind that type of storytelling but it seems like so many books use this style that it’s getting a little overused. Did you get enough of a glimpse into the present story or were you left wanting to know more?

PAM I felt that the glimpse into the present time was perfect. The author gave me enough information to know there was a connection to the past, while leaving most questions unanswered. This allowed me to discover the truths, in time, through the story of the past. Emmy has a close relationship with her sister, Julia. However, her relationship with her mother is more complicated. What did you feel was the cause of the challenges in their relationship?

BECKY Anyone reading this that is a mother to a teenage girl will completely understand the chasm between these two. Mothers and daughters, during the teen years especially can have a tumultuous relationship. Emmy wanted a future her mother didn’t support and had to parent her little sister. What teen wouldn’t dig their heels in? I thought that it was a realistic relationship and I enjoyed learning more about the mother as the story grew. We are just getting to know the dynamics of this family as the bombs start to drop. The writing lulled me in and I could hardly put the book down as the planes flew overhead and the neighborhood starts to crumple. Did the author paint a descriptive scene for you as well?

PAM I was also pulled into the book with the descriptions, as well as the characters. Many of the characters lived daily with regrets about their decisions. As I witnessed the unfolding of the story, I felt distressed by their regrets and the agony that accompanied them. If Emmy knew the outcome of her choices, do you believe she still would have been tempted to chase her dreams?

BECKY The abrupt separation from her sister caused lifelong issues so she certainly would have avoided that pain if possible. I do however believe that she still would have pursued her dream but that fateful day would have been handled differently. Wouldn’t we all make different choices if we could have a glimpse into the future? I would love to listen in to a bookclubs discussion about this topic. Here is another item to think about. Did you know that half a million children were evacuated from the city during this time? They were sent to live with families in the country for an unknown amount of time. Can you imagine being presented with that situation?

PAM I can’t imagine having to send my children away. This would be so difficult! We want our children to be safe, but it would be scary to be separated during such uncertain times. Plus, not knowing the people in charge of your children would be terrifying…such a leap of faith was required in that situation. However, the girls were extremely fortunate to connect with an amazing woman that cared deeply for them. How did you feel about this character?

BECKY I really enjoyed Charlotte and although it was a small role, she has a big impact on the story. She was the motherly influence that they didn’t have back in London. I love that she not only opened her home to these two children but she also gave them chores and boundaries. However, it wasn’t enough to satisfy Emmy. After some careful planning she decides to run away and return to London for a meeting that might provide an opportunity for her to work on her dream to be a designer. How did you feel about her decision to leave Charlotte, Julia and the safety of the country?

PAM It was incredibly frustrating for me to read this part of the book. Charlotte was a stable and loving woman who was so good for these girls (and they were good for her) and Julia depended on Emmy, much like a mother figure. However, Emmy was young and determined to find her way in the world. I understood her desire to take charge of her life and strive for something more than her mother had. However, it was quite a risk to leave the safety and love of Charlotte’s home. As Emmy is preparing to leave, Julia confronts her and won’t let her go without her, creating a big decision for Emmy. Putting yourself in her shoes, would you have made the same choice?

BECKY I am not a risk taker so I can’t imagine making the choice to return to war torn London. I would have happily enjoyed a quiet country life. However, Emmy’s return to the city is when the book really starts to take off. This was a great pick Pam and I can’t wait to read her other books. It’s time to leave London and the Blitz behind. However, we are still in the war zone as we read A Quilt for Christmas by local author Sandra Dallas. We will meet Eliza and a handful of other women that are struggling to keep their lives together while their husbands are fighting in the Civil War era.

Have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving season!

The Bookends

bookends-oct2016Secrets of Hallstead House

By Amy Reade

Macy is desperately trying to heal after unexpectedly losing her parents in a car accident. As a nurse, she accepts a temporary job to care for a wealthy widow that is healing from hip surgery. She’s moves to an estate that resides on an island outside of New York State. Macy is not receiving a warm welcome as she tries to call this island her temporary home and refuge. Strange things are happening and she desperately wants to protect herself and her client that she has come to adore.

BECKY I picked this book because we wanted a spooky mystery for our October issue. The descriptions are beautiful and the author painted a very good picture of the home, the island and the characters. The story however is somewhat simplistic and I couldn’t sink my teeth into this mystery. The reviews are very good so it must have something to do with me. Did you connect to this story?

PAM I was eager to read this book after reviewing the summary. However, I agree that it felt quite one-dimensional and had much more potential than was realized. I did love reading the descriptions of the area and felt that the author did an amazing job of transporting the reader to the location. The beauty and isolation of the island adds to the suspense of the story, as Macy is stuck with a handful of strangers. She is serving as a nurse to an elderly woman recovering from a recent hip surgery. Did you enjoy this character?

BECKY Alexandria was my favorite character. I enjoyed her balance of strength and loving attitude. However, I found it unlikely that a wealthy, mature businesswoman would be so laid back about odd happenings around her home. She had enough fear that she locked her bedroom door but not enough to increase security around the house or island. Did you find this situation to be believable?

PAM I completely agree with your take on this character. Alex was a strong woman that had persevered through very difficult events in her life. It was not believable to me that she would accept her fear and sit back and wait for something to happen. Although Alex was a loving character, everyone else on the island clearly resented Macy and didn’t bother to hide their feelings. Vali and Leland are an elderly couple that help take care of Alex and the house. They are especially nasty to Macy, but are very devoted to Alex. What were your thoughts about these characters?

BECKY They were creepy characters that had great potential. I enjoyed their dedication to Alex and understood why they were protective of her and the island. However, I expected a deeper development of their storyline that just didn’t happen as the story progressed. If a Stephen King story is too scary for you then this might be the right book for you. What you get is a suspenseful mystery with a little romance thrown in too. Did you enjoy the addition of a love interest for Macy?

PAM This aspect of the story provided a character that Macy was able to find a connection with and count on. Initially, he is unfriendly and suspicious of Macy, as are Vali and Leland. However, with time he and Macy become close and she finds a friend in him. Did this change seem abrupt to you or did you feel that the author developed this story line?

BECKY Like the mystery in this book, the romantic relationship had a light feel to it. There were no hot and graphic love scenes. As I was reading I didn’t expect this development so it did feel a bit abrupt. I didn’t feel like it was necessary for the story but it did give her an ally that knew the island and it’s inhabitants well. Which was needed as she was captive on this small island and she had zero nautical skills, including the ability to swim. I was much more fascinated by the area that is described in this story. Google Thousand Islands before reading this book and it will give you a wonderful foundation for the story. I never knew that this area existed and the pictures that I found made it very intriguing. If you were Macy, would you have accepted this job and would you have stayed as weird things started to happen?

PAM If I were Macy, I would have accepted the job to get away and try something new.  However, with the lack of welcome from the inhabitants on the island, I would have certainly struggled to stay and finish the job. But then, I would have missed some action! Next month we are going to travel to another country, as well as another time. We will read about two sisters that are separated by the ugliness of war in Secrets of a Charmed Life, by Susan Meissner.

The Bookends

Bookends-Sept2016We Never Asked for Wings

By Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Letty Espinosa has relied upon her mother to raise her children. She works numerous jobs to support her two children, her mother, her father, and herself. However, she has never been responsible for her children, other than in a financial aspect. Her children, now fifteen and six, become her responsibility as her mother and father return to their home in Mexico. Letty must learn many lessons as she discovers how to become a mother to her children.

PAM This book caught my attention, as we enjoyed another story by this author quite some time ago. I struggled greatly with Letty’s character. I was frustrated by her behavior and the choices she made with respect to her family. Did you have trouble connecting to this character?

BECKY Letty was not a character that I enjoyed very much but she would create some interesting conversation for a book club. She is in her thirties but is just now taking responsibility for her two children. The first is born when she is a teen so it gives us a small glimpse into the realities of teen pregnancy. I think that this story sugar coated her transition to full time motherhood, especially with a teenager, and that is what bothered me. Would you have liked her better if her struggles were more realistic?

PAM I think I would have respected her more if the struggle were more realistic. However, I still don’t think I would have connected with her because her choices were so immature and self-centered. As Letty reflects on her experiences as a mother, she obviously feels slighted by her mother. She was spared the responsibility of being a mother, but she also missed the bonding and special experiences with her children. How did you feel about this aspect of the story? Did you feel that it flipped the perspective of the reader?

BECKY That’s an interesting point to make. I think that was possibly the author’s intention but it didn’t work for me. I didn’t like Letty from the beginning of the story and liked her even less by the end. For the most part, I feel like the characters weren’t developed much and it felt like a young adult novel to me. Letty’s son, Alex and his love interest, Yesenia, were the most interesting part of this story. What did you think about this young love?

PAM I enjoyed this aspect of the story and it helped me to connect with Alex. Alex and Yesenia have numerous challenges in their personal lives and their school lives. These challenges ultimately bring them closer together and they begin to rely on this relationship for support. Did you feel that they found this in each other, as they lacked it at home?

BECKY This was such a sweet relationship, as only young love can be, and it definitely filled a void that each one had. Alex was struggling with losing his grandparents and adjusting to his mother. Yesenia’s arms became the safe haven for his broken heart. Yesenia was living with her mother and had a physical impairment that created a difficult situation for her at school. Although these last two characters are small in this story, they created the most interesting situation. Yesenia’s mother, Carmen is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. It gave us a small glimpse into that world and their struggles.
I would have loved for the author to have delved deeper into that topic. Were you left wanting more or were the other storylines
enough for this book?

PAM This storyline provided a look into the world of illegal immigrants from a specific point of view. The author shows the reader this world through the viewpoint of a family. Although I would have liked the author to go a bit deeper into this storyline, the others were also intriguing. When their grandparents return to Mexico, it throws the family into turmoil. But, do you believe they knew what they were doing for this small family?

BECKY The grandfather was ready to spend his final days in his true home, which was Mexico. The grandmother was completely dedicated to her husband and chose not to leave his side and adamantly stayed with him. I guess that it’s possible that the grandmother arranged this situation to force Letty to mother her children, but I don’t think that she left with the intent to put Letty’s family back together. I was shocked that the grandmother abruptly left two children that she had been raising and hoped that Letty would step up to a position that she had ignored for fifteen years. I feel like the grandmother was forced to choose between her husband and the grandchildren. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know the grandparents well during this story. Do you think it would have added more insight and a greater connection if we could have known these characters better?

PAM Knowing their side of the story would have helped me understand the dynamics between Letty and her mother and how they shaped the relationships within the family. A long time ago, we read another book by this author, “The Language of Flowers.” Now that we have discussed a second book, would you be tempted to pick up another by this author?

BECKY I would definitely look at this author again. I enjoyed the storyline and flow of The Language of Flowers more than this book so I will look at some reviews before automatically buying her next novel. It’s time to move on to a spooky book for the October issue. Join us next month as we read Secrets of Hallstead House by Amy Reade. Macy is a nurse that has accepted a temporary job to care for a wealthy lady recovering from surgery. This should have been an easy job on a beautiful island, but strange things are happening in this remote area near Canada.