The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R Sloan

The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R. Sloan

“There’s nothing the public loves more than to tear down someone who was once their idol.”

It had been years since Gloss had exploded onto the music scene and then dissolved into disaster when Cassidy deserted the pop girl band, seemingly out of nowhere. Even so, the other surviving band members were still taken aback upon learning of Cassidy’s untimely death. While she was never solidly “one of them,” she did spend a lot of time with them – on tour, in rehearsals – so why did they all feel clueless about what happened to her? Or were they?

This novel is reminiscent of Daisy Jones and the Six, in that it testifies to the drama and strain of sudden fame and exhaustion of the traveling pop star. The image promoted by the media is often completely disparate from what is behind the curtain, so to speak. Moreover, there are so many who rely on, and prey on the maintenance of this image. We see this sort of thing happening on social media often enough with the ordinary person – imagine how magnified it is for the extraordinary.

The narrative here is very effective. The voice swivels around from Cassidy before and during her time in Gloss to the various members of Gloss in current day, post-Gloss. The story is built, layer by careful layer, from this rotation of storytelling and from it we get a gradual, global perspective. The few “aha” moments are quite satisfying and make for an overall, really fun read.

I highly recommend this – as entertaining as a Gloss concert might have been in its heyday!

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

 

Amazon.com: The Book of Longings: A Novel: 9780525429760: Kidd, Sue Monk:  Books

Ana is not the typical Jewish girl of her era, the first century, just outside ancient Jerusalem, under Roman rule. She is acutely aware of her powerlessness, even while she is better off than many, with her father being first scribe to the Tetrarch. No, she is still female and still feels the sting of having little agency over her future. While others her age appear to anticipate with wonder their upcoming matches and engagements, she is filled with dread. This is not the life she seeks. Ana is a writer of stories, hungrily stealing away with any papyrus and ink she might snatch from her father’s cache. She documents the pain and the courage that she witnesses in the women around her. She cannot imagine herself with any man – that is, until she stumbles upon the man called Jesus…

This fascinating novel of historical fiction imagines Jesus not as a celibate ascetic, but rather more as a man. He is pious and righteous and utterly generous and he promotes kindness, forgiveness, love and all of the doctrines for which he is known and beloved. But he is also human, with human instincts and human desires.

More importantly, the focus of the novel is not directed toward Jesus, but rather on Ana. The message here, I believe, is that we are ALWAYS hearing about the men. We always hear about how righteous they are and how they opine. Very few women are highlighted in the Bible, for example, and if they are, it is often to let us know whom they have “begotten,” or worse, if they have not been able to “beget.” There is quite a lot of violence toward these women, and there is quite a lot of hushing and rejection of them as well. Ana makes it her business to tell their stories, the stories of her women, not only of the Bible, but also of her peers and her family. She sees it as her mission to ensure that they are not forgotten, as women often are.

The characters depicted here are lifelike and enduring in our minds. We are drawn to Yaltha, Ana’s aunt, for example, because of her untiring loyalty and rebellious spirit. We also have deep sympathy for her because, bit by bit, her dark and tragic history is revealed to us. She has been so mistreated but yet she remains steadfast in her devotion to Ana. We cannot help loving her for this.

This is a beautiful work of imagination and imagery that I believe will stay at least with me for a long time. I’d very much love to hear what others think of it as well!

The Secrets We Keep by Kate Hewitt

The Secrets We Keep by Kate Hewitt

Tessa is praying that this summer in the Finger Lake region of New York will be a reboot for her family.  Back home in Brooklyn, her daughter, Katherine, so shy and disconnected, and her son, Ben, energetic and rambunctious, have had such difficulty making friends, just as Tessa herself has.  Maybe this is just what they need.  When they meet the family in the beautiful house next door, they are a bit taken aback.  Rebecca, and her 3 children appear at first to be the type of New York family they have been trying to escape.  On the other hand, Rebecca does seem different, offering something of herself, some vulnerability that Tessa has not seen from the Brooklynites she’s encountered.  Could this ben the friendship she’s looking for?  Could this be her opportunity for change?  

The writing  in this novel is wonderful in that it plays into the stereotypes of the Manhattan upper-crust socialite and the Brooklyn self-righteous idealist – and presents motherhood and its challenges as the great equalizer.  Both Tessa and Rebecca are battling their own demons — and demons do not see caste, do they?  Loneliness and trauma can exist in anyone, no matter how they may look on the outside.  Moreover, it can blind us to other people’s pain as well, even the pain of our own family.  

I would have liked to have known more about Charlotte, Rebecca’s daughter.  She is described only as “easy” and beautiful, and confident,  but there is clearly more going on with her, as we ultimately learn.  It might have been interesting to add a third voice,  to learn what is going on in her head.  She is obviously a much more complicated character, even at only 11 years old, but we are only allotted surface details.  

This is a gripping novel that will keep you reading late into the night and it is also guaranteed to wrench at your heart – but, I think, you will also be glad you’ve read it!

 

The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard

The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard

 

Nine months after a stormy night in a small town in New Hampshire, 2 baby girls were born to 2 different families within 2 hours of each other, earning them the moniker of the “birthday sisters.”   Ruth was brought home to her parents’ farm, home to many generations of Planks who were deeply rooted to their many acres of New Hampshire soil.  Dana was brought home to her family, the Dickersons, a bohemian, nomadic household.   And even though the Dickersons’ wanderings soon took them away from their small town, Ruth’s mother, in particular, made a strong effort to keep the families in touch.  Who could explain that magnet that kept pulling the families together, when they felt so very different?   

There was so much in this novel but yet I felt a bit let down.  The writing was solid, as expected in a novel by Joyce Maynard.  The characters are complicated and messy (in a good way!) but yet somewhat predictable and just this side of stereotypical.  I think it is the plot that was most disappointing, for as it builds to what is likely the crescendo, we also kind of know what is likely going on.  We’ve figured it out already and are just watching it play out.  And though there are some subtle turns of events that are revealed, we’ve sort of guessed at these as well, and we take these in as expected.  I did not have a huge “aha” moment, which I crave from a book like this.  

I don’t think I’m cynical–  I love a good plot twist!  I just didn’t find any here, where I felt it needed one. 

I”d be very curious to hear what others think!  Please write and let me know…! 

 

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy: 9780307475480 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

Although Noel is a grown man, he doesn’t think it odd that he still lives with his parents.  He goes about his business and they go about theirs.  In fact, they are so immersed in their own quirky religious observances and their own private anxieties that they are oblivious to the fact that Noel has been spending every evening sitting alone at (and often being kicked out of) the neighborhood bar. Life may have continued along this path, had Emily, Noel’s older cousin from New York,  not come to visit, in order to reconnect with her Irish roots. Emily quickly immerses herself in their little community and in her tactful way, provides Noel with the support he needs to confront his alcoholism. But will he be able to continue to be strong when he is confronted with the ultimate stressor of them all?

Within the pages of this entertaining novel by Maeve Binchy, we are introduced to a colorful cast of characters that are intertwined with Noel and Emily. We are invited into the fabric of their stories almost as if we are yet another one of their idiosyncratic neighbors ourselves, and we delight in their successes and worry over their problems as if they are our own.  Because they are depicted with such extraordinary detail, they are tactile and 3-dimensional.   Binchy’s imagination is in full evidence here.

While there is a bit of blind faith in believing this story and how it all plays out, it is worth the bit of the stretch for the fun of it.  Follow along and you will be entertained, you will laugh and worry, and you will not “mind Frankie” at all!

 

 

Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams

Amazon.com: Our Woman in Moscow: A Novel (9780063090231): Williams,  Beatriz: Books

Ruth has always been more like an older sister than a twin to Iris, guarding her and shielding her to the extent that she could, especially after losing both their parents. When in Rome at the start of WWII, Ruth is fully aware that Iris is falling for this seemingly noble Sasha Digby, but she still believes it safest for Iris to leave when the Americans are evacuated. When Iris defies Ruth, she incises a rift between the sisters that cuts deep and festers for years. So why is it Ruth whom Iris calls upon when she is suddenly lost in the abyss of Communist post-WWII Russia? Will Ruth be able to save her sister this time?

Beatriz Williams never, ever disappoints. Using her chatty, familiar, and utterly engaging storytelling style she has created a truly suspenseful historical fiction masterpiece in Our Woman of Moscow. The secrecy and counterintelligence of the post-WWII era is a centerpiece of the novel and sadly, feels eerily relevant today, as we are still at war, albeit virtually, with suppressive, paranoid Communist regimes.

What I love so much about Williams’ books is that her female characters are strong women of substance and dominate the plots. And while there are a few good men, so to speak, there are many who are weak and vulnerable. Most importantly, here in particular, the men– and even some women– are duped primarily because of their preconceived notions about women. This is the sweetest part.

Another MUST READ by Beatriz Williams!

The Golden Child by Wendy James

The Golden Child: A Novel: James, Wendy: 9781510737914: Amazon.com: Books

Charlotte is what many would call a “queen bee.” She is always at the center of activity– pretty, smart, and sporty, with many friends who admire her — while her older, yet more sedate sister, Lucy, seems happy just to hang on the sidelines. Their mother, Beth, has been preoccupied with their upcoming return from New Jersey to Australia, so while there have been some signals of trouble, it hasn’t felt like much more than normal “girl stuff” to her. Could it be that she’s missed something enormous, even in her own daughter?

This is a disturbing and yet utterly engaging novel that anyone who’s ever known or ever been an adolescent girl can relate to. (And if you’ve ever been a mom of one, it tugs at your heart strings like few stories do.) It highlights the cruelty of the adolescent girl dynamic, the targeting of others for random imperfections, quirks, or non-conformities and the ostracizing of others for the least infraction of an ever-changing, “accepted” norm. In the age of social media, it is magnified a million-fold and it is irreversible. And horrifying.

The writing here is crisp and engaging and the characters, while somewhat stereotypical, are still extremely plausible. The author also utilizes the technique of incorporating blog posts from the characters to interject their innermost thoughts, which adds both a deeper dimension and a clever diversion to the plot. It’s an intriguing read that keeps you turning the pages – with a satisfying twist of events right up until the very end.

This is not a “MUST READ” but it’s quick, slightly disturbing, and yet intriguing one, if you have the time.

The Missing Letters of Mrs. Bright by Beth Miller

The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright: An absolutely unputdownable feel good  novel about love, loss and taking chances - Kindle edition by Miller, Beth.  Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

It is time for Kay to end her marriage. She does not have a solid plan of what she will do, but she knows it is time. Her life just has not worked out the way she’d hoped –she has not accomplished even half the goals she’d listed as a young and optimistic teenager. Maybe now is the time to begin to work on them. She’d enlist Bear to come with her to conquer some of these goals – Bear would understand, if anyone would. That is if Bear is ok. She hasn’t actually heard from Bear in months. As Kay seeks out her dear friend, she begins to also discover more about herself, and develop the courage to follow her own, true path.

This story is sort of “midlife crisis lite.” While Kay is truly going through a difficult time, and her decision impacts many around her, no one really seems to be that bothered by any of it. She herself is maybe a bit thrown, and while she has no idea what she’ll do for money or where she’ll live, she seems to not be worried about these details. Likewise, her husband is a bit shocked and maybe doesn’t get out of bed for a few days, but then bounces back so quickly that he’s already moved on by the time she’s returned for her things. Her daughter is bothered by it, but she is, in fact, mobilized out of her own quagmire of stasis, so it works out for her as well. It all fits just a little too perfectly.

On the other hand, this may be just the right tone for this moment, as Covid is still raging, as our country is still so divided, and as we are all struggling to make it through our days – maybe this is the one place where things can work out alright and life can fit back into place. Maybe that is what fiction is for?

Windfallen by Jojo Moyes

Amazon.com: Windfallen eBook: Moyes, Jojo: Kindle Store

Lottie and Celia are almost as close as sisters – in fact, they’ve been raised as sisters for the past few years, although Lottie is acutely aware that she is only with the Holden family as long as they continue to generously support her. However, when she and Celia stumble into the acquaintance of new, artsy friends at the Arcadia estate, Lottie’s eyes are opened to a new kind of freedom, a new way of living that just might present opportunities – or perhaps danger. She is not quite sure.

Fast forward to the present time, and we meet Daisy, whose life seems to be falling apart. Her partner has walked out on her and her infant daughter, and she is left to sort out their upcoming project of restoring a controversial estate -yes, Arcadia. Will she be able to navigate this overwhelming time in her life? Her sister does not seem to think so, but she must prove her wrong. She has to…

Here is another winner by Jojo Moyes. While it did not grab me immediately, I will admit, it grew more and more magnetic with each chapter. It may be that Lottie’s character, while complex and reserved, was so, perhaps, hardened by her circumstance that she was ever so slightly less likable and therefore less relatable. On the other hand, once we meet Daisy, we find her so much more of an open book, her emotions so raw and apparent, that she breathes a sort of spark into the story, enlivening it with her heart and energy. We love her from the start and root for her until the end. Both characters are beautiful in their own ways, of course, but they differ in how relatable they are, I felt.

Moyes beautifully depicts an undertone here of the social conflict between old/conservative thought and new/liberal perspective. The setting is a small, harbor town in England, where everyone knows everyone and families have long-held histories of judging others’ families for past ills. Arcadia, with its modern design, intrinsically represents– both physically and by its inhabitants — possibility, openness, and forward thinking. The town, and its people, are always whispering against those in Arcadia, fearing what it represents and rising up against it in various ways. And Lottie, for her part, becomes caught in between, at once part of Arcadia and then fighting against it, because of what it represents to her at different junctures of her life.

This is definitely worth reading. I don’t think it rises to a “Must Read” but it comes fairly close!

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Untamed: Glennon Doyle, Glennon Doyle Melton: 9781984801258: Amazon.com:  Books

Just as a cheetah in a zoo is caged and trained to repeatedly chase after what she perceives as prey, so too are women caged in by society’s expectations and rules. We live and breathe in the norms around us — the standard of the thin, beautiful, smart, soft, modest, quiet, unassuming, and all-giving idea of the perfect woman — and cannot avoid striving for this, even when we are not even aware that we are doing so. This is what Glennon Doyle becomes aware of as she watches this caged cheetah pace back and forth and sees that she is not much different from this animal. It’s just a bit more complicated for her to work her way out of her cage, as it involves more than just her own life – it involves the lives of her husband and children as well.

In this memoir, Doyle reflects, through tiny moments and vignettes, about her metamorphosis as she moves from inside the cage to outside. She reflects back through her journey through recovery from bulimia and substance use, disentangling from a dishonest marriage, and tiptoeing through tightrope-like moments of parenting. Unlike many of us who struggle with similar issues, she also had to do this while living as a public figure, so had to also contend with answering to the public about this deeply personal process. What she learns, however, is to use her anger and her pain for good. She learns that rather than trying to escape these feelings, sinking into them actually can make her stronger.and push her into constructive action.

This is a powerful book that has many lines of wisdom contained within. Here are 2 of my favorite lines:

“If you are uncomfortable – in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused — you don’t have a problem, you have a life… You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy.”

and

“Maybe Eve [from the bible] was never meant to be our warning. Maybe she was meant to be our model. Own your wanting. Eat the apple. Let it burn.”

This is an enriching read for both women and men. It will open your mind and your heart and force you to look both inward and outward.

Another MUST READ! (This list is growing so long!)