Tag Archives: grief

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Grief and Loss Affect Everyone Differently

Grief impacts individually uniquely. A sudden death in an accident or suicide affects the survivors differently than a slow death from cancer or dementia. A violent death is different than a natural peaceful one.  The type of loss often affects how survivors will respond. So do the beliefs of the dying person and their family about an afterlife. Grief has many faces, depending on the person grieving. Only one character in these three novels seems to value religion.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Luke, the protagonist of When I’m Gone, a widower with young children, has watched his wife die of cancer.  In The High Cost of Flowers, an already dysfunctional family with adult children deals with a mother who has dementia.  In The Storied Life of A.J Fikry, a widowed bookseller discovers a toddler a mother has left in his store’s stacks with a note, and it changes his life.

When I’m Gone, by Emily Bleeker

Luke, arrives home from his wife Natalie’s funeral with his children — Will, 14, May, 9, and Clayton, 3. Will’s eyes are red and wet. May says she’s hungry. Clayton is still sleeping in the car seat.  Natalie’s mother, Grandma Terry, has left food for the family before making her escape. She has never liked Luke and had never wanted Natalie to marry him because Luke’s father was an alcoholic wife-beater.

Natalie had planned the perfect funeral for herself and took care of all the details before she died. She knew that Luke would have trouble coping with the house and children after her death so she planned that, too.  When Luke walks into the house he finds the first of many almost daily letters from Natalie on the floor in front of the mail slot. They were definitely from Natalie, but who was delivering them?

The continuing letters help Luke cope with his life as a widower. Natalie’s best friend Annie helps out a lot, but she has her own secret.

Natalie knew Luke would need more help with the children than Annie could provide, so in one of her letters, she urged him to hire 21-year-old Jessie to watch the children after school. Why was it so important to her that Luke hire Jessie?

Luke also keeps running into a Dr. Neal in Natalie’s letters and as a contact on her phone. He doesn’t like the jealous feelings and suspicions that rise up in him. Who is this Dr. Neal? Why was he so important to Natalie?

Follow Luke and Annie’s grief journey as they get to know each other better. Find out Annie’s secret and who has been putting Natalie’s letters through the mail slot. Discover the secrets only Dr. Neal can reveal. Don’t miss When I’m Gone.

The High Cost of Flowers by Cynthia Kraack

Dementia is hard enough to for a family to deal with when there is an abundance of love between family members. When siblings alienate each other and fight constantly, it’s almost impossible to share the care and decision making.

 

Family matriarch Katherine Kemper and her neighborhood friend Janie had done everything together before Katherine had a stroke. The stroke left Katherine with dementia. Her husband Art tries to care for her at home with some help from Janie and his children Todd and Carrie.

As the book opens, Art reflects on the old pre-stroke Katherine he loved and wishes she were back. His old life of puttering in the garden and seeing friends is gone. He feels the pain and frustration of all who care for loved ones with dementia.

Art’s Life as Katherine’s Caregiver

Janie tries to help out, but the demented Katherine berates her and accuses her of stealing her diamond and trying to poison her with the food she often brings over.  In the first chapter, Janie has brought over some chili, and Katherine refuses to eat it. She often has tantrums now.

As Art prepares to heat the chili, Katherine says: ‘That’s not one of our containers. Did that woman make that food? Are you going to eat out of it or is it poisoned just for me?’ Katherine is itching for a fight Art doesn’t want.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels
Janie tries to help by bringing chili for Art and Katherine

 

She crashes a soup bowl on the end of the granite counter sending shards flying everywhere. Then she stomps on the bowls, cuts her feet, and attacks Art with a piece of the glass. She then smashes another dish and picks up pieces of it to throw in Art’s face.  One piece connects with Art’s forehead. When he demands to know what she’s doing, she replies:

I’m trying to make you ugly so women won’t  want you. So you won’t put me away. I want you to bleed. like me.

Then she cries and reaches out for him. He gets a sharp pain in his chest and calls 911.

Rachel

Meanwhile, their estranged older daughter Rachel is running along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago. She fights loneliness after her separation from her husband David since he had an affair. She is a trained therapist who has written family self-help books.

Later that evening she sits pondering the changes in her life as she eats dinner and works at home.  Her parents’ physician, Dr. Wagner calls to inform her that both her parents are in the hospital and her siblings are both out of town. He asks Rachel to come to Minnesota and help out. He wants to place Katherine in a care facility for patients with dementia. Katherine, as well as Rachel’s siblings, have always opposed this, so Rachel anticipates a family fight.

A Portrait of a Dysfunctional Family

Katherine has always been domineering and abusive. Both her husband and children have been her victims. Rachel’s siblings Todd and Carrie are already alcoholics when we meet them in the book. Catherine has told Rachel not to call her “Mom” and doesn’t want her around. At family functions, Catherine has tantrums mixed with episodes of dementia.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels
Todd and Carrie are already alcoholics

It’s evident to the reader that Catherine is too sick for  Art to be able to continue to care for her at home. Art, Todd, and Carrie try to pretend this isn’t true. After Catherine attacks Art with the broken glass, he realizes she needs more care than he can give and Art and Rachel move her to a care facility. Rachel supports him, but her siblings still resist.

They blame Rachel for moving to Chicago where she’s not close enough to help. She has really moved to keep herself and her son Dylan away from the Kemper family dysfunction. Except for Rachel, all of the adult Kempers drink too much. That’s how they deal with the family problems.

Families in Crisis, Hurting People

Author Cynthia Kraack offers us a window into the unhappy lives of the characters. We see their family dysfunction clearly whenever the family or siblings gather. It’s one thing to know about dementia and abuse intellectually. It’s another to see it happening as family members push each other’s buttons and use words to manipulate and hurt each other. Sibling rivalry hangs over all family interactions.

We watch as Katherine goes in and out of the real world within seconds. One minute she’s lucid and the next she’s wondering who that stranger in her room is or seeing long-dead family members around the dinner table. She may become suddenly violent, then wonder how her victim got hurt, and then cry like a baby.  An observer might see all these behaviors within an hour. We see Katherine’s pain and confusion and her family’s pain as they watch.

Learn to recognize early signs of dementia in the video below.

My Personal Response to the Book

This book grabbed my attention from the first pages. The characters were so well developed you could almost predict what they would say or do by the middle of the book. The plot, though, had some twists I didn’t expect. I won’t give any spoilers.

The focal point of the book was Katherine and her dominance in the family. Everyone had to focus on her when in her presence. She was the elephant in the room when she wasn’t present. Ironically, at the end of the book, when Katherine finally dies, what’s left of the family is celebrating July 4 together, and no one was answering their phones when the nursing home called to notify them of her death. They had started a new tradition of turning them off when together.

I would recommend this book to those who have grown up in dysfunctional families or who give or have given care to those with dementia. Those who have alcoholics in their families or are grieving lost loved ones will probably identify with characters in this book, too. The book may also help those who need to make a decision about getting institutional care for a loved one unable to continue living at home.

Of all the main characters, the only ones I might have enjoyed spending time with were Rachel and Art. The others would tend to suck away my energy.

The book is well-written except for a couple of typos in the eBook that weren’t caught by an editor.  The plot moves swiftly and many of the characters become more functional as the book progresses. Those who depend on alcohol and or drugs find that they aren’t a lasting cure for pain. Those who are willing to forgive hurts and face their problems honestly discover there is hope.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

Get The High Cost of Flowers at Amazon for a revealing peek into the lives of a dysfunctional family caring for their mother who is no longer herself.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel

No bookseller or bibliophile should miss this book by Gabrielle Zevin. Every chapter is prefaced with A. J. Fikry’s thoughts on specific stories which turn out to be significant in the plot. And who is A .J. Fikry?

 

A. J. Fikry is a grieving bookseller who lost his wife less than two years prior. She died in an accident driving an author home from a signing. He’s become a grumpy 39-year-old man who tries to drown his grief in drink, and he’s lost interest in his life and his bookstore Island Books on Alice Island. He has a very rare copy of Poe’s Tamerlane which he plans to sell someday to finance his retirement. Meanwhile, he keeps it in a locked glass case in the store below the apartment where he now lives alone. He has few real friends but very specific book tastes.

A Bad Start for a Relationship

Amelia Loman, a new sales rep with Knightley Press in the Boston area, is about to call on Fikry for the first time. She is the replacement for former rep, Harvey Rhodes. Although she has made an appointment to see Fikry, he doesn’t seem to be aware of it. She gets off to a bad start on the way to his office when her sleeve catches on a stack of books and knocks down about a hundred of them.  Fikry hears the commotion, approaches her, and asks, ‘Who the hell are you?’ He tells her to leave.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

A.J. says they have no meeting. He’d never gotten word of Harvey’s death. He reluctantly does let her in so she can pitch Knightley’s winter list. She doesn’t expect to get an order. She begins to tell him about her favorite book, Late Bloomer, but he says it’s not for him. He said Harvey knew what he liked and Amelia challenges him to share his likes and dislikes with her. He does.

Grief Leads to the Loss of Tamerlane

Later that night A.J. regrets treating Amelia so badly. He goes up to his apartment and reminisces about past book discussions with Harvey. He puts a frozen dinner in the microwave to heat, as usual, and while waiting he goes to the basement to flatten book boxes.

By the time he gets upstairs again his dinner is ruined. He throws it against the wall as he realizes that although Harvey meant a lot to him, he probably meant nothing to Harvey. On further reflection, he realizes that one problem of living alone is that no one even cares if you throw your dinner against the wall.

He pours a glass of wine, puts a cloth on the table, and retrieves Tamerlane from its climate-controlled case. Then he places it across the table from his chair and leans it against the chair where his wife Nic used to sit. Then he proposes a toast to it:

‘Cheers, you piece of crap,’ he says to the slim volume.

Then he gets drunk and passes out at the table. He “hears” his wife telling him to go to bed. One reason he drinks is to get to this state where he can talk to Nic again. `

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

When he wakes the next morning he finds a clean kitchen, a wine bottle in the trash, and no Tamerlane. The bookcase is still open. He hadn’t insured the book because he had acquired it a couple of months after Nic had died. In his grief, he forgot to insure it.

He runs to the police station and reports the theft to recently divorced Chief Lambiase. He admits everyone he knows is aware that he had the book. The police find no prints and the investigation goes nowhere. A.J. knows he’ll never see the book again.

Maya

After news of the theft gets out,  Island Bookstore’s business picks up. After a day of rather difficult customers, A.J. closes the store and goes running. He doesn’t bother to lock the door. He doesn’t have anything worth locking up anymore.

J.J.’s review of Bret Harte’s Story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” introduces this chapter.  In his review, he calls it an “Overly sentimental tale of a mining camp that adopts an ‘Ingin baby’ whom they dub Luck.” He admits not liking it much in college, but that it had brought him to tears as an adult.

When A.J. returns from his run, he hears cries coming from the children’s section. As he investigates the source, he sees a toddler holding the store’s only copy of Where the Wild Things Are.  As A. J. asks her where her mother is, she cries and holds out her arms to him. Of course, he picks her up. Then he sees the Elmo doll on the floor with a note attached.  The child is two-year-old Maya and the mother wants her to be raised in the bookstore.

A.J. reports the abandoned child to Chief Lambiase. Lambiase and A. J. decide that A.J. will keep the child until Monday when social services will arrive. The next day, the mother’s body washes to shore.

Are you wondering

  • What will happen to Maya?
  • Who is Maya’s father?
  • What happened to Tamerlane?

It’s fairly easy to guess the answers to the first two questions. The clues are there. As to the last, I don’t want to be a spoiler.

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels

My Critique

I will admit I loved the book, but I didn’t love all the characters.   The author introduces Maya’s father early in the book. I didn’t like him then and didn’t change my opinion. He appeared in the book long before A.J. found Maya.

Grief and loss appear in many forms: bereavement, infidelity, suicide, terminal illness, and material loss. Yet there is also love. We watch as love for Maya transforms A. J. Fikry as surely as “Luck” transformed a mining camp’s residents.

Bibliophiles, writers,  and booksellers will relate to A. J.’s constant references to and opinions of well-known books.  He also describes events in his own life in terms of writing techniques and plots. Booksellers will be quite familiar with the problem customers Fikry deals with. They may or may not share his opinion of book signing parties.

All parents of toddlers will relate to the challenge that faces A.J. as he learns to care for Maya.  Foster and adoptive parents will enjoy watching A. J. interact with Jenny, the young social worker who is stuck with Maya’s complicated case. By this time Maya and A.J. had developed a relationship. He was not ready to put her in the system unless he had a say in her placement. You can imagine how that went.


There is too much gold in the book to display in this small space. The characters are very well-developed. Several subplots and characters I have not described will also captivate readers. I loved the book even more the second time I read it. Please don’t miss this treasure if you love people or books.

Don’t miss our other reviews that also deal with how people face grief and loss.

 

Grief and Loss: Reviews of Recently Read Novels
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Book Review of Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber

Book Review of Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber
CCO: https://pixabay.com/en/computer-laptop-macbook-work-911165/

I thoroughly enjoyed  this romance mystery, Morning Comes Softly –the story of a lonely Louisiana librarian, Mary Warner, who took a risk to find love. While her library pages were putting newspapers away one day, they happened to see a personal ad for a wife placed by a Montana rancher, Travis Thompson, who was caring for his brother’s orphaned children after he and his wife had been killed in a drunk driving accident. The pages encourage Mary to apply, but she rebuffs them. She had given up on the idea of ever finding a husband and at first she rejected the idea. Then she began to realize she did want marriage and children and the thought of the orphaned children of the rancher’s brother and his wife touched her heart.

Travis loves his brother’s three children, but doesn’t know the first thing about parenting and he can’t cook. He realizes he can’t be a real father to the children while running the ranch, and he’s afraid the social workers who check on the children will put them in foster care if he doesn’t satisfy them that someone capable will be looking after them. He has been persuaded by his friends to place the ad, and as a last resort, he does.

Mary takes the risk of answering the ad, and a correspondence develops between Travis and Mary, in which even the children have input. After several letters have gone back and forth, there is finally a phone call, and Mary goes to the ranch to meet them and marry Travis.

Book Review of Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber
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The wedding is just the first step to turning five people  into a family. I can relate because my husband and I adopted two older children. We also cared for my oldest nephew for the year his parents could not be home with him. It’s never an easy adjustment to build a family from from people who have not all lived with each other before. Love comes softly. Mary learns to love Travis and the children. She is not so sure that all of them love her back. Step-parents have to earn love and trust from their step-children.

Mary’s relationship with Travis is also awkward because neither seems anxious at first to consummate the marriage. Travis really wanted a caretaker for his children more than he wanted a real wife. He is obsessed with finding the drunk driver who is responsible for the death of his brother and sister-in-law, and spends most of his free time doing his own investigation. That is also a major thread in this book. He has promised himself and his brother’s oldest son that he will find and bring that person to justice. Things come to a head when the sheriff closes the investigation.

I had a good idea who the killer was from the time the subplot reached its climax. The author dropped plenty of clues from which the reader can figure it out. The question is whether Travis can forgive. Until he can, it doesn’t appear the marriage will ever become healthy either.

I enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book. I admired Mary’s determination to take a risk and commit herself to making a very unusual marriage work. I genuinely liked her as a person. It was a bit harder to identify with Travis’s hatred for the person responsible for the accident that killed his brother, though I appreciated his willingness to commit himself to taking in his dead brother’s children. It’s hard not to love the children as each responds individually and age-appropriately to the loss of their parents and being thrust into a newly forming family. I even felt a bit sorry for the “villain” and his family, though I won’t spill the beans as to their identities. I don’t want to spoil your own detective work.

If you like romance with a touch of mystery and you enjoy watching families with a rough start overcome their relationship problems, I believe you won’t want to miss Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber.

Read my Reviews of two of the Rose Harbor romances pictured  below on Review This!


Legal Thrillers by Mark Gimenez

 

Gimenez The Common Lawyer
Buy The Common Lawyer at Amazon

Does every life matter? Mark Gimenez deals with this question in his legal thrillers. I reviewed the The Color of Law, on Review This recently. I finished The Common Lawyer two days ago.

Each of these books got off to a slow start and then started moving so fast I didn’t want to put it down. In fact, once I reached the point where the action picked up, I couldn’t go to bed until I finished the The Common Lawyer. In each book the lawyer protagonist is faced with a life-changing moral dilemma where he has to weigh conscience against money.

The reason the books get off to a slow start is that Gimenez wants to be sure the reader gets to know the main character very well before he goes into action. So after a short Prologue in which a mother helps her five-year-old daughter escape from a research hospital where she is being used a guinea pig in experiments – we meet Andy Prescott.

Andy is a lawyer who only got admitted to law school because his mother was on the faculty of the University of Texas. He barely made it through law school and only passed the bar on his third attempt. He cannot get a decent job in the legal profession, but stumbles on a way to earn enough to support his biking lifestyle by getting traffic tickets dismissed. He had discovered that if he asked for a jury trial for his clients, the calendar would be backed up so far it might take two years to get to court. By the time of the trial, the officer would not come in to testify and the case would be dismissed. Andy would get tickets dismissed for a $100 fee with a guarantee that if the ticket were not dismissed, he would pay it himself. He had never had to pay a ticket. That’s a good thing, because he never had enough money to pay a ticket.

Andy’s office is in a part of Austin known as SoCo because of its location on South Congress Avenue. It would be helpful to see a map and other information about SoCo as you read this book. A good portion of this book is spent on Andy’s bike rides in the Austin area. You will enjoy the books more if you have a map in front of you, or at least have a map to consult, The web site shows you not only a map, but also a photo of Guero’s Taco Bar, one place Andy was often found. Another place Andy would hang out with his friends was Jo’s Hot Coffee. The Jo’s Hot Coffee Facebook Page will help you visualize that part of Andy’s lifestyle, since it has photos and even a video. It is dog friendly, so Andy often takes his dog Max there at breakfast time and buys muffins for him, too. Geography is more important in this book than in some others because a lot of the action takes place in the restaurants and on bike trails or the streets of SoCo.

Back to Andy’s office. Andy rents a very small office space located above Ramon’s Body Art. Ramon is Andy’s landlord and Andy pays $200 a month for his space and to share Ramon’s computer and restroom. Tattoos are an important part of SoCo culture. Not having a tattoo marks one as an outsider. Andy’s desk is a card table. His advertising is by business card and word of mouth. Many of his friends collect tickets people drop off for him. He appears at Municipal Court to get the tickets dismissed. Andy lives in a one-bedroom apartment in SoCo and can only afford it because it is awaiting renovation, and his landlord was transferred to California and isn’t thinking about it.

Andy lives to ride his mountain bike. He is a daredevil who carries extreme sports to their limits. He has crashed and totaled bikes many times. He runs red lights in the city. Near the beginning of the book he is going full speed with no brakes and has to take his bike over a high ledge on a back trail in the Barton Creek Greenbelt because three elderly lady hikers are looking at a map in the middle of the trail and freeze when they see him coming at them, unable to stop. He either has to hit them or go over the side. He gets pretty beat up, but doesn’t break any bones. He was lucky enough to land in the lake. His bike is history. His wealthy friend Tres was with him and helped him get to a safer place to rest. Andy always rode as fast as possible and took unnecessary risks.

When he wasn’t working or riding his bike, he sat around Guero’s Taco Bar or Jo’s Hot Coffee with his three best friends. Tres had a trust fund and a “hot” girlfriend, the kind Andy would like but only money could attract. Dave and Curtis were friends from Andy’s UT days. Curtis was a math TA at UT, and the friends relied on him for any kind of tech support they needed. While they were consuming food and beverages, all but Tres read the personal ads in the Lover’s Lane section of the online Austin Chronicle, trying to find some girl to go out with. The first chapters of the book focus on watching Andy go about his daily routines, wishing he had more money for a better bike, talking to the judge at court, meeting his buddies, riding his bike, thinking about how to find a “hot” girl, and living a life that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Then one day a billionaire, Russell Reeves, well-known philanthropist, shows up at his office with his driver, Darrell, and his life changes. Reeves was referred by his secretary whose ticket Andy got dismissed. Reeves wants to renovate some old properties to create a low income housing development, but is afraid if he sends a high-powered corporate lawyer into SoCo, the populace will fight him just because he’s from the wealthy part of town. So he hires Andy, who is already accepted by the community, to convince the people to approve of the renovation. Russell offers Andy $400 a billable hour for this. Andy accepts, does his job, and gets a great new mountain bike and a motorcycle with money enough left over to buy his mother a proper birthday present and move into nicer living quarters. The girls finally know he’s alive.

Then Russell wants him to take on another assignment. According to Reeves, he has 17 ex-girlfriends he did not treat well in his younger days and he wants to make things right with them. He asks Andy to find them, talk to them to see how they are doing, and take their pictures so that he can make sure they are the right women. He will give Andy a trust fund to pay expenses, including hiring a private detective. As Andy goes down the list, he finds the first six women, each of whom happens to have one very sick child with a condition medical science can’t cure. But the seventh woman can’t be located and the detective says it’s because she doesn’t want to be found.

On his mother’s birthday, Andy visits his parents at their more rural home. They inquire about Andy’s new job. They press Andy for details about the new assignment, which seems rather strange to them. Andy thinks it’s all good, but his parents are wary. They are liberals who don’t trust those who got rich in corporate America. Even though Reeves has used a lot of his money for good, Andy’s parents think Andy is being used and is likely to be caught in a trap. His father warns him that ‘when things don’t seem right, they’re usually not.’ Even Andy has to admit that the cover story for his assignment to find the women doesn’t make much sense.

Here’s more you should know about Reeves. His seven-year-old son Zach has a rare incurable form of cancer. The doctors think he won’t last more than a year. Reeves has spent freely of his billions to try to find a cure. He has even opened The Reeves Research Institute on the campus of UT. So far, it hasn’t helped find a cure any faster. He s despairing, afraid he will lose his son. One study has been published by an anonymous doctor that indicates a “Person X” has stem cells that might help Zach.

Andy’s father, Paul, is also dying of cancer. He needs a new liver, but has at least a two-year wait to get one. Andy would like to save his father. Both Andy and Reeves would do anything possible to save their loved ones. Andy has met Zach and played video games with him. He admires Zach’s fighting spirit. Zach asks Andy for a private conversation and wants to talk about death since Zach couldn’t get his father to talk to him about it, so Andy tries to answer his questions. Zach has a genius I.Q. but that doesn’t tell him all he wants to know about what’s ahead for him.

Meanwhile, Andy hires a detective who is willing to stray from approved legal practices, unlike the detective Russell had recommended. He does locate the seventh woman. Andy finds her and talks to her, but her seven-year-old daughter is perfectly healthy. He is surprised by this. The woman, though, says she is fine and needs no help. (Andy had given each of the first six women a million dollars from Russell, and Russell had also used his influence to get the very best medical help for the children who needed to get into special facilities. ) By the time Andy gives Russell the address of the seventh woman, she disappears again.

Andy finally confronts Russell about the parts of his story that don’t make sense and accuses him of deceiving him about the purpose of finding the women. Russell comes clean and admits he is looking for the patient with the perfect immune system – Patient X. He is convinced the seventh woman, or her daughter, is Patient X. Andy keeps looking, but becomes unsure it’s the right thing to do. The list was actually the mothers of the children who were part of the experimental research referred to in the Prologue. Reeves had somehow gotten the list of patient names and their mothers, knowing that Patient X had been one of them.

Meanwhile, two people approach Alvin Adams, a research publication editor, in Queens. Adams had edited the research article about Patient X. The first to approach him is a lawyer, Mr. Smith, who bribes him to reveal the confidential name of Anonymous, who did the research. Adams stuffs the envelope containing the bribe money into his pocket and goes out to try to drink away a headache. As he starts home he is approached by someone in a black sedan who demands to know what Alvin told the lawyer. When he refuses, the man pulls a gun and asks him if the confidentiality is worth dying for. He decides not and reveals Tony Falco’s name. The man kills him anyway. Meanwhile, Tony Falco has moved his research to China where the political environment makes it easier for him to conduct his research.

By the time you get to this part of the book, you realize that two parties are both trying to find Patient X. Russell sees her as the only hope of saving his son. The thugs hired by the pharmaceutical companies want to kill her, but Andy doesn’t know about them yet. Andy is still looking for the woman he now knows is Patient X to help Zach, and maybe his father. But when he locates her again, the plot takes a surprising twist.

Andy has to choose between betraying his client, Reeves, and being disbarred while also losing the money that will make life easier for himself, or risking the life of Patient X by making her visible again. By this time Andy has become close to Zach and may also be falling in love with the mother of Patient X. His creative solution to this dilemma will have you on the edge of your seat until the book is finished.

Alerts: Some readers may be offended by the way some men seemed to consider women mere sexual playthings, and others may be offended by the portrayal of the anything goes dress and mores of some of the people. Parts of the plot are highly unrealistic, but unless extreme biking in large doses and bike chases bore you, you will still enjoy the book.

Check prices at Amazon. 

Find Gimenez books at eBay.

Cancer is the Villain in These Youth Novels

Cancer is the Villain in These Novels  for Young Adults

These two books aimed at teens and young adults do not have happy endings, so be warned. The books are very different in tone, but cancer is the villain in both of them.

Raoul (The Angel of Music Book 1): The Plot

Viktor and Christine Homeless in Amarillo

The first book, Raoul (The Angel of Music Book 1) opens with two homeless people, a father, Viktor Daaé, and his eleven-year old daughter, Christine,  leaving the Greyhound Station in Amarillo, Texas, as it closes on a snowy night. Someone directs them to a shelter. They receive kind treatment.

Before leaving, Viktor takes the stage in the dining hall with his violin, which he always carries in its case, and Christine sings with a voice developed far above what one would expect for her age. When she sings, it’s said to be with the voice of an angel.

Homeless In California

When they leave the shelter, they head for California, where Viktor hopes to find work with his violin.  He hopes to play in a symphony orchestra someday. He had been a musician in Chicago until his wife died of cancer. Their goal had always been to go to Los Angeles to enroll Christine in the Belen Conservatory of Music. They wanted  Christine to train to develop her vocal talent. Now Viktor is determined to carry on with that dream.

Cancer is the Villain in These Youth Novels

To earn money for food when they get to Santa Monica, father and  daughter  play and sing on the Promenade. A policeman says they need a permit to play there and shoos them away. They discover government policies make it hard for the very  poor to make a living . The process they go through to get a permit is indicative of this. They slept in the park that night.

Viktor Finds Work and a Place to Live

The next day they go to City Hall to get a permit. Viktor gets a part time job in a local coffee shop, but only because the owner sees Christine.  Viktor convinces the owner he will be reliable – that he’s not a drifter. The cafe owner helps Viktor get a room in a transient motel and says he’ll pay the first week and take it out of Viktor’s wages. Christine must stay inside all day and let no one in.

At night they busk on the pier to bring in more cash. Victor had been a professional violinist in Chicago, and Christine is a musical prodigy, so they quickly find an appreciative audience and collect a lot of money in Viktor’s violin case. One whose attention they attract is Zoë, a young woman dressed all in black. Next to her is twelve-year-old Raoul, dressed in a private school uniform.

There are frequent flashbacks in the book. We learn how Viktor met Christine’s mother and what happened to her.  We discover how Viktor, originally from Sweden, came to be in America.  We also find out how other characters introduced in the book become important in Victor and Christine’s story.

My Review of Raoul (The Angel of Music Book 1)

The book is well written.The author provides enough background to help readers of all ages who are paying attention anticipate what will happen next. The end is sad, but there is still room for hope.

I enjoyed watching the characters interact, especially Raoul and Christine.  Zoë is a sort of governess to Raoul and lives with his very wealthy family. All have music connections to the Belen Conservatory of Music. As the book progresses, Raoul and Christine become friends, and we begin to wonder if they will have a future together.

I see one fault in the book from an adult standpoint. Everything falls into place a bit too neatly to be realistic. The characters are vivid and developed enough so that one can predict how they will behave. Although many of the minor characters are no angels, the main characters are all caring people who like to help others.

It’s a heart-warming story, if a bit sentimental in tone, and I enjoyed it. I suppose one could call it a coming-of-age story. It is very sympathetic to the homeless. It will be of special interest to young adult music lovers. The complete trilogy below is a modern retelling of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. This book is just the first volume.
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Here is the complete  trilogy.

 Raoul (The Angel of Music) (Volume 1) Erik (The Angel of Music) (Volume 2) Ghost (The Angel of Music) (Volume 3)

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James Patterson and Emily Raymond’s First Love: A Review


At first, I couldn’t believe Patterson was writing a book whose main characters had no qualms about breaking the law. It stars two teens who are in love and afraid to admit it to each other. It begins in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

The Characters

Axi, the girl, is sixteen wants to run away from home. She wants her close friend Robinson, the boy, seventeen, to come with her. She has the itinerary all planned and has decided they will go by bus. Robinson agrees to come. He has other ideas about the transportation, though, and wants to ride in style.

He steals a Harley. This freaks Axi out. She is basically a good kid. In fact, Robinson’s pet name for her is GG – Good Girl. She is the more academically inclined of the two. Her name for him is Scalawag.

Axi’s Family

It is three weeks from the end of the school term. Robinson hasn’t been going to school anyway. He doesn’t seem to have a family — at least he never mentions one. Axi is a good student, but she thinks getting away is important enough to ditch those last three weeks of classes.

We learn that Axi’s mom had left after her other daughter, Axi’s little sister Carole Ann, died of cancer. Axi’s dad was an alcoholic. Before she left on the trip at 4 AM, Axi kissed him goodbye, but she didn’t wake him or leave a note. She wasn’t happy with any of the drafts she had written so she skipped the note altogether.

On the Lam

On their travels the two do many wild and illegal things, stealing other vehicles as they go, and even worse. Axi is often terrified at some of the things Robinson does, but she goes along with them. She follows Robinson’s directions, hoping they won’t land in jail. They never did suffer the kind of consequences you might expect for their behavior, but readers won’t really care.

You are far into the book and past the crazy stuff when the real truth of how and where Robinson and Axi met comes out and Axi has to deal with a crisis. I won’t spoil it for you.

My Opinion of First Love

 

 First Love

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Readers will enjoy watching Axi and Robinson banter back and forth and tease each other, and they will sympathize with how vulnerable the two feel when it comes to expressing their hidden feelings. The book’s beginning is so humorous that readers are caught off-guard when the first hints of how the book will end come out.

This book is outrageous, unrealistic, and funny at the beginning. The humor continues until almost the end. The characters are engaging and even if you don’t approve of all they do, you will still love them. You will want to grab some tissues as you near the end as you finally come face to face with what is real life for too many of today’s youth.

Review of Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards died about five years ago of breast cancer. She had  announced the diagnosis in 2004 after the election in which her husband, John Edwards, lost his bid to become Vice President of the United States. Eight years earlier, in 1996, the Edwards had lost their 16-year-old son, Wade, when the car he was driving was pushed off the road by the wind and he lost control of it. At the end of  2006. Elizabeth learned of what she called John’s “indiscretion”  with another woman, and at the beginning of 2010 the two separated after John publicly  admitting fathering a child with another woman.

Quote from Resilience by Elizabeth EdwardsElizabeth’s first book, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers, which I have not yet read, was published in September, 2006. Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, followed in May, 2009, a year and a half before her death. In this book, Elizabeth Edwards shares her journey of bereavement, fighting her cancer, and dealing with her husband’s betrayal. She also reveals how hard it was to have planned one kind of life and to face the fact that the life she had planned was going to be much different than she had been prepared for.

Mary Elizabeth Anania Edwards grew up in a military family. Her father was a Navy pilot, and she spent part of her childhood in Japan. That was when she first learned a bit about resilience from her tutor, Toshiko. Toshiko had been a beautiful woman. She had trained for a decade in one of the top courses in Japan to become a geisha , and her future had looked very bright. When she finished her course, she went home to visit her parents in Hiroshima in August, 1945. Unfortunately for her,  that was when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on that city.

Toshiko was knocked to the ground and badly injured. Her skin was charred and her hair was burned. After months of treatment, she was able to resume what for some might have been a normal life, but it was not the life she had trained and planned for, since she had lost her beauty — an essential for her planned career. Elizabeth shares Toshiko’s story and what she learned from her.

A large part of the book deals with Elizabeth’s internal processing of Wade’s death and her own grief work. I lost my Jason when he was fourteen, two years younger than Wade, also in an accident. I can identify with much that Elizabeth shares here. I believe most bereaved moms will recognize her feelings as some part of their own. She got more support than many of us had, since she was a public figure who got thousands of letters from the public. She also got support from internet support groups, which did not exist yet when I lost Jason. My support came from my family, church and other home school families.

Bereaved mothers will find much here that may help them keep going as Elizabeth shares her own experience of trying to put the pieces of her life back together. She shares her struggle to understand why her son, who was a good person, who did nothing to contribute to his accident happening, who had a bright future ahead, would die when he did. Why did God allow it?

Knowing what I do about grief, I personally believe that losing Wade may be a contributing factor in the other trials that follow. A major emotional stress, and the death of a child is one of the greatest a parent can face, can make the body more susceptible to disease. Although no scientific research proves a link between stress and breast cancer, Elizabeth mentions a common result of bereavement — not eating normally  and not being able to sleep.  A poor diet and sleep deprivation  can lower resistance to disease.

Here is more information on dealing with the death of a child. This article states that the death of a child can take a toll on one’s health. Research of long-term effects on bereaved parents indicates the death of a child from unnatural causes such as accidents can be associated with mortality of the mother: “Bereavement was associated with long-term mortality due to illness (e.g., cancer) for the mothers, presumably because of stress, a weakened immune system, or poor health behaviors.”

This same study indicates  that divorce rates among bereaved parents are eight times that of the norm. As far as we know, John’s infidelity did not begin until after his wife was diagnosed with cancer, eight years after Wade’s death. No one really ever gets over the death of a child — the thoughts of it just become less frequent over time. Perhaps the double blow of losing his son and the possibility of losing his  wife, added to the side-effects of her treatments and the frequent separations when he had to travel, were all contributing factors to the infidelity.

Be that as it may, whatever the causes, Elizabeth has to deal with it all. She shares from her heart how each challenge impacted her, what she felt, and what she did. She relates the help she got from others and how what she’d learned from her family had helped her face her own situations. She shares her doubts and her attempts to understand her faith in light of Wade’s death. Since the Plan A she had for her life had been blown apart, she tries to construct a Plan B.

In conclusion, Elizabeth makes it clear that each of us must find our  own path through pain and grief. We won’t all be on the same grief timetable. We aren’t competing with each other in the immensity of our grief nor in how well we handle it or how long it lasts. Most people will not have to deal with all three of Elizabeth’s sorrows at the same time, as she did. We will deal with whatever sorrows and challenges life throws at us. They won’t seem less just because someone else may have had more.

This book will not take your own pain away, if you are facing similar circumstances. It will not provide a plan to fix your life. That you will still need to work through yourself. It will give you some company as you work through grief and loss. It will encourage you to know that it is possible to find your own resilience.

 

 By Elizabeth Edwards: Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers