Out of the Clear Blue Sky

By Kristan Higgins

I could tell from the git-go that Kristan Higgins’ new book, in some ways, was a return to her lighter fare of yesteryear after her recent forays into more serious women’s fiction. As much as I love and even esteem her more recent books, (4 out of 7 were 5-star reads for me)I welcomed her return to her days of yore. It was great to see that a beloved author can, in a sense, “go home again” no matter what Thomas Wolfe says. I say, “in some ways.” Her first books were definitely romantic comedies while incorporating emotional serious issues along with the fun. And this one has that lighthearted tone. But this one is not a romance. Not at all. The book concludes with our heroine in a satisfying hopeful relationship with a great guy. But the journey to that end is a very minor aspect of Lillie’s personal journey.

The book begins as our heroine, a happily married mother of a son about to leave for college in far away Montana learns that her husband, Brad, “out of the clear blue sky”, tells her he is leaving her for a beautiful, younger, and wealthy woman, Melissa. The story is told in first person by Lillie with occasional contributions from “the whore” who has a substantial journey of her own. Actually more substantial than Lillie’s, truth be told. Lillie is a 41-year-old nurse-midwife on Cape Cod who loves her family, her home, and her community in which she is a popular fixture. Everyone knows and loves her. At first, all she wants is revenge, and her brilliantly successful efforts are very funny. Yes, we know her stunts are petty, childish, and even mean. And she knows it too, but darn it, she just can’t help it. Brad deserves it all and more. But even as we laugh at Lillie’s antics, we start to get to know Melissa, her other victim. Yes, she is shallow (she almost makes it an art form), materialistic, a user, and a husband stealer. But such is Kristan’s imagination and craft, that as we learn her story and get to know her, you (by which I mean I) got to kinda like her and actually admire her. There was a lot to “Missy Jo” that was quite endearing (word of the day!). I didn’t always like and admire Lillie. Lillie has a lot of growing to do and challenges to overcome. In addition to losing her son (in a way) and her husband and his family, she tackles a problematic mother (a Kristan Higgins fixture) a fractured relationship with a once-beloved sister, financial difficulties, a childhood trauma that continues to impact her life, a terrible tragedy in her past, and even a professional nemesis who must be vanquished. It’s kind of amazing all of the issues that are explored in this book, without the tone turning dark. As in all of Kristan’s books, there are some epic scenes, both hilarious ones and triumphant ones. And, as always, some great lines:

*He studied the wine list like it was a lost gospel

*”What’s your daughter’s name?” “Ophelia.” I winced. Who names their kid after the doomed innocent who commits suicide in Hamlet?

*…my own mother, who had the same maternal instincts as a lizard that eats her own eggs.

*“Calm down,” he said, because women love hearing that.

*“Name’s Harminee. Spellin’ it different to be special. Harminee Fawn.” Well, that would just about guarantee the baby would become a stripper, Melissa thought. Harmony was a beautiful name. Harminee though? Gosh.

*I turned on the outdoor lights and peered out. It was a woman dressed in high boots, a fur coat, fur hat and fur gloves. It was either Lara from Doctor Zhivago or Melissa. Sadly, it was not Lara.

*“Thanks for buying me,” Ophelia whispered. She took a shaky breath, and Melissa knew she was crying, and hugged her close.

And as always, we are blessed with another Kristan Higgins trademark, an adorable dog with personality plus.
So what kept this from being one the best of the best Kristan Higgins novels ever? Two things. First of all, I found that Lillie was a little too hung up on her son. The time between the marriage breaking up, keeping that from him so as not to ruin his last weeks at home, and him leaving for college really dragged for me. I honestly couldn’t wait for him to go. Thank goodness Dylan was an independent, well-adjusted kid (yes, thanks to Lillie being a perfect mother). No woman ever loved a son more than Lillie loves hers. And she does go on about it. And no son is more perfect. I couldn’t really blame her.

Of course, no husband who cheats on his wife will ever be a hero. But Brad “Bridiot” Fairchild has got to be the most contemptible human being on Cape Cod or in any Kristan Higgins book ever. Not the evilest Kristan Higgins creation, I hasten to clarify, because she has created some doozies. Even Melissa started to see his true colors before the ink was barely dry on the marriage license. And Lillie was married to this pompous pretentious dickhead for 20 years? Happily? And mourned his loss (or the loss of who she thought he was) so dramatically and sincerely? As she looks back on him and their life together, she sees him clearly. Getting shot of him should have been #bestdayever, #Thank-youGod, #IoweMelissabigtime, #GoodRiddance. I have to admit I got very impatient with our heroine. Maybe even a little disdainful? To be fair, late in the book she does explain why the strong Lillie was happy with the weakling husband, but not until the 96% mark! I think Kristan kind of piled on a little too much when it came to Mr. Brad Fairchild (that’s Dr. Fairchild, huh, huh, huh.), as entertaining as his weaknesses and assholery were. It intruded on the credibility of her main character.

As I finished the book (kept trying to stretch it out!) I felt that this must be one of her shorter books. But it turns out that it was actually one of her longer ones. I think that is a high compliment. I can’t wait to see what her next one is like.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 15, 2022

Malibu Rising

By Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Spoilers**

So. Many. People.
Given the storyline, I thought this would be a more character-driven plot. Well, there were undoubtedly a lot of them. Although the background of the main characters, the Riva family, was interesting enough and rife with possibilities, ultimately the characters were very flat and I was not emotionally involved. I neither loved nor hated them. They were just there.

Ok, so what about maybe a great plot? It was high concept as all of her books seem to be. I think one of the problems with it was the lynchpin that all the developments stemmed from: A famous star abandoning his wife and children and leaving them almost penniless to fend for themselves. It just wouldn’t happen, even back then. I don’t understand why June stood for it. But that is nothing to the implausible predicament that Nina and the children found themselves in when June died. Impossible. Even if a main character (Mick) would be so inhuman as to do what he did to his own children, he would have a team of PR people, lawyers, agents, etc. that wouldn’t allow it for fear of career-destroying public exposure. Not to mention jail time. The concept was contrived to within an inch of its life. I guess we were supposed to ignore that. It all just made me angry and contemptuous. I actually felt kind of insulted. And from then on, I questioned and argued with almost all the developments. Never a good sign when you can’t conjure up even a morsel of suspension of disbelief and just go with it. Oh, and by the way, “The Riva Mansion that goes Up in Flames and Burns to the Ground” in all of the publisher’s descriptions and blurbs? It’s not even the Riva Mansion! It’s Nina’s ex-husband’s! To whom she was only married a year! So who cares?! But it must be me, because Taylor Jenkins Reid is a top-selling author and this book is very highly rated.

The author kept bringing in side characters and going into their backstory as if they were going to be integral to the plot somewhere down the road. Somewhere down the road when all would come together in a thrilling conclusion and all would be revealed. But no, most of them were just random characters and had nothin’ to do with nothin’.

The big crisis between the two brothers was a non-issue. Am I the only one that didn’t understand why one should feel so guilty and the other so mad and betrayed? Is it because I’m not a guy?

But yet…it was no hardship to keep reading. I didn’t skip and was quite interested in what was going to happen. Everything just barrelled along as we got closer and closer to the big party and the promised dramatic confrontations. If I could have a book with her writing but with characters I could get invested in or a plot that made sense, or even a romantic romance, I would be all in.

But for our next blockbuster by Ms. Reid we have a whole book about the unsympathetic tramp who had an affair with Nina’s weak non-entity of a husband and then had the bad taste to take him back. Wonderful. Can’t wait.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

May 21, 2022

One-Hit Wonder

by Lisa Jewell

I wanted to give Lisa Jewell another try after the first book I read by her. Like the previous novel, I was intrigued by the concept behind this one.

Ana, a bonafide card-carrying ugly duckling is 25 years old. She is repressed and bullied by everyone around her, especially her abusive psycho mother. She thinks she is ugly because she is tall, thin, and has a big nose. Her beautiful and dynamic half-sister, whom she barely knew, has died suddenly and she must go to New York to put her affairs in order. Bee was a wild child and ex-pop star whose celebrity faded quickly. A One-Hit wonder in fact.

When Ana gets to New York she is saddened and disturbed to see how Bee lived and died. She falls in with her two best and apparently only friends, Lol and Flint. Together, they are determined to get to the bottom of what happened to Bee. It is soon apparent that Bee had been living a double life with many secrets. In the course of her investigations, and away from her mother, Ana blossoms into a swan, finds inner strength, confidence, and self-esteem, and falls in love. By the end, there is plenty of redemption, happiness, and hope for the future for our main character, Ana, and others we meet along the way. But the happiness and hope that is found are in the ashes of Bee’s tragedy.

I liked Ana but didn’t love her. She was kind and good. I guess I can’t blame her for being a doormat to her mother and others, because the primary focus of the book is how she gets herself up off the floor. However, her constant poormouthing herself and failing to see her striking beauty that is obvious to everyone else was irritating. I listened to this on audio, and I liked the reader’s characterizations of everyone except two other main characters: Lol (short for Lolita, we are finally told) and Flint. The accent and voice tone was over the top with these two, and actually gave me a bad impression of them throughout most of the book. Flint’s character really turned me off and his voice just exacerbated my initial dislike. I just didn’t see how he could be the love interest but there wasn’t anyone else. As the book went on, and we learn more about him, my feelings did change, but it was slow going.

The gradual solving of the mystery and anticipation of closure on several fronts were what kept me going with this one. There were some interesting characters, particularly the difficult mystery boy and the cruel neurotic mother. The final outcomes with these two came too easily and were too pat for me.  As welcome as they were. The author had to put a pin in an ugly problem looming on the horizon to get to a satisfactory conclusion. Not that I didn’t appreciate it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 19, 2022

Katherine’s Marriage

by D. E. Stevenson

Katherine’s Marriage was a good and worthy sequel to Katherine Wentworth, picking right up with Katherine and Alec on their honeymoon. In a cave. A very nice cave, but still. I really wouldn’t recommend this book if you haven’t read the first one and loved it as I did. The first couple of chapters kind of got on my last nerve with Alec and “the brownie.” When all was said and done, the only interest for me was continuing my acquaintance with characters that had so engaged me. And unfortunately, Katherine, at times, is a bit of a wet noodle here in contrast to the first book.

After their blissful honeymoon, in which we meet the laird, MacAslan, and his daughter, Phil, which apparently feature in one or two other books by D.E. Stevenson, the newlyweds are confronted with a few challenges. First of All, Alec’s neurotic and manipulative sister, who they thought had been neatly dispatched to Europe and then Australia, returns like Carrie from the Grave. She is horrified that her brother is married when she expected to return to her place in his house dominating his life. Unlike Katherine, who seems to have lost some of her charm and personality, Zilla hasn’t changed a bit. She returns in all her dark and hateful glory. How she is dealt with yields some entertaining chapters and tense moments. No sooner than that is solved than Simon, Katherine’s usually lovely 16-year-old stepson suffers a personality transplant similar to what happened in the first book. When we get to the bottom of that, the third and last crisis rears its head: Sir Mortimer Wentworth, Simon’s tyrannical grandfather with an anger management problem, summons Simon to scary Limbourne. He is not on his deathbed, but has had a health scare, which has caused him to re-evaluate his relationships for ill or good. There are some shenanigans with a new will, which is always good value in a rich English aristocratic family story.

The book ends on a happy hopeful note albeit a bit abruptly with a bit of an interesting drama left on the horizon. We also wonder what the future holds for Simon and Phil. And what about the Limoge jug in the first chapters? And what about Lance and Anthea? I would have read a third book. At the end of the story, Katherine is pillow-talking with Alec, “We’ve been married for sixteen weeks; I wonder what we shall feel like when we’ve been married for sixteen years.” It’s a rhetorical question. With a couple this nice, sensible, and devoted to each other, there is no doubt whatsoever. **3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 4, 2022

The Guest House

by Robin Morgan-Bentley

Heavily pregnant Victoria and her husband Jamie are trapped in a house with no way out when Victoria starts having labor pains. The couple who welcomed them into the guest house is nowhere to be found. Until they are.

I spent about 2 to 3 hours with this book. I started reading it and got to about the 7% mark, and I did something I haven’t done with a thriller in, like forever. I skipped to the end to make sure the baby was alright. I have a similar problem with dogs. Then I went back and started reading towards the end to understand what happened and what was going on. Then I wanted to learn more so I read randomly. I guess this just wasn’t the book for me. At least not for me at this time. For those with more fortitude than I had, I think this was an excellent, suspenseful thriller with some legitimate shocks for most readers. While it was very well-written, the justifications as to why the main couple felt so trapped with no way out didn’t hold water with me. The story the other couple expected the authorities to believe was inconceivable. And it seemed there was less and less reason not to take action as events occurred. I’m still giving it 4 stars. The fact that the suspense was just too much for me at this time, probably speaks well for the book. The problems I had with the plotting might not have been so bothersome had I read it cover to cover.

Thank-You to Net Galley and Poisoned Pen for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 28, 2022

Again, Rachel

by Marian Keyes

‘ “The truth must dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind.” Emily Dickinson.’

I loved much of this book. First, The Walsh family is a main character here, with each of the sisters maintaining the personalities that we have come to know and love or not love as the case may be. I hate it when an author does a sequel or a series and personalities that were interesting and intriguing, that made you want to come back for more, have vanished and we have reconstituted versions. The people we were introduced to and came to know throughout the Walsh family chronicles are the same people, yet some have been allowed to grow and mature. And some haven’t.

Confidence was usually seen as a positive. But Mum was from that generation of Irishwomen who prided themselves on raising children with rock-bottom self-esteem. Nothing galled them as much as an offspring with confidence.

 I definitely need to re-read Watermelon and Angels. And maybe skip through Anna’s story to find references to Angelo. After the last book, my favorite sister is Helen and I loved her role in this.

Rachel is back. She is 20 years sober and the head counselor at The Cloisters, the rehab center that saved her life back in the late 90s. Marian Brings back the patients and their heartbreaking yet entertaining stories that I found so involving in Rachel’s Holiday.

In here, clients gave only the most sanitized, tragic version of themselves. To get the full picture, you had to talk to everyone who knew them. It was a little like investigating a crime.

Readers of previous books know that Rachel and Luke got married, and now we find out they have now been divorced for 6 years and he lives in Denver, Colorado. She is in a happy relationship with another man, Quin, who is not easy, but he is interesting and complex.  In the beginning, Rachel is told that Luke’s mother has died and of course, Luke will be back for the funeral and to take care of his Dad’s affairs. Told largely in flashbacks we learn that, according to Rachel, Luke deserted her (but how can that be?) and we are taken through their heartbreaking story that led to that surprising circumstance. Meanwhile, we explore Rachel’s present life, her relationships, her work, and catch up with the Walsh family. And of course, Rachel and Luke are in the same country again. Rachel wants an explanation and apology from Luke but he is distant. It can’t be over for them, can it? But what about Quin? And what’s up with Luke’s long-time partner who came with him to Ireland?

In all of Marian Keyes’ books, The heroines go through horrendous times before getting to the happy and uplifting. Sometimes through no fault of their own, sometimes of their own making, or circumstances out of their control but exacerbated by bad decisions and self-delusion. Rachel part II was more heartbreaking than usual. I had some problems with some aspects of Rachel’s story and some of it was a little hard to swallow. Yes, it was long and drawn out, but in order for everything to come right, it had to be. Could Rachel have had her epiphany a little sooner? Maybe. could there have been a little more fair play with the reader? Hmmm. Not sure. But the book was as insightful, involving, and hilarious as usual. Marian is a master at balancing tragedy and comedy. And with a writer this good, the more words we are given, the better. So not too long for me.

After Anna’s story, Is Anybody Out There and Helen’s, the last sister’s, story there was an over 5-year gap.  Right before Marian came out with The Mystery of Mercy Close, she wrote a refresher to catch everybody up with the Walshes and kind of get them up to speed. If like me,  you have read Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family,  you can forget about what she told us about Luke and Rachel. This book completely retconns what we thought we knew about them. This is by way of fair warning. I wish I had had one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 27, 2022

Katherine Wentworth

by D. E. Stevenson

I realised that I was worn out in body and spirit with the strain of struggling along by myself, coping with the children and trying to make ends meet on an inadequate income. I had prided myself upon my independence and somehow or other I had managed . . . but now I began to wonder whether independence was so important. Perhaps one could pay too highly for it. Here, in this peaceful spot, with Mrs. MacRam to provide a firm cushion to lean upon, I gradually began to feel like a different creature. I felt years younger, with a returning zest for life—as one sometimes does when convalescent after a long illness. Colours looked brighter, food tasted delicious and every day was a pleasure.

Well, it’s a tie. This book is tied for my favorite D. E. Stevenson so far with Miss Buncle’s Book or the 4th in the Miss Buncle series, The Four Graces. But this is very different from the Buncle books. While those were clever and gentle satires of English country life and just funny, there wasn’t much funny or quirky about this one. It is a lovely family drama reminiscent of Rosamunde Pilcher’s best. It is about both the consequences of freedom and independence versus being “chained up” and, sort of conversely, the importance love and sharing one’s burdens.

Katherine Wentworth is a 27-year-old widow raising her 16-year-old stepson, Simon, and her two own young twins. Although a very happy “whole family” they struggle financially. We learn that her beloved late husband, Gerald, was from a very wealthy titled family but was cast off when he refused to fall in with his father’s plans for his future and made his own way after going to Oxford and later becoming a professor. To add to those sins, as a young man, he married an Italian girl who later died in childbirth. Katherine has had nothing to do with his family and vice versa. Meanwhile, she meets a former school acquaintance, the neurotic shallow Zilla who has a very nice and attractive brother. Despite being independently wealthy, Alec works as a successful lawyer much to his sister’s frustration. She is very possessive and manipulative and wants him constantly at her beck and call. In spite of Zilla, Alec and Katherine become good friends. At the end of Part One, Zilla offers Katherine, who sorely needs a care-free vacation, her remote cottage in the highlands of Scotland for the summer. And much to my wonderment, as I went into this book cold, Simon is contacted by his grandfather and summoned to his father’s family’s estate, Limbourne. It seems the heir is dead, and the estate and title will eventually pass to Simon. As Simon says, He wants to make sure I “don’t eat peas with my knife.”

**Some Spoilers**

Part two takes place at Limbourne. Simon refuses to go without his “Mums,” Katharine. Although they are welcomed courteously and treated well on the surface, Katherine and Simon know it is not for their own sakes, but because they have no other choice. The estate is entailed and Simon will inherit it no matter how the family feels about it. Yet, because Simon is an awesome kid, the tyrannical and intimidating grandfather genuinely likes and approves of Simon. Katharine is afraid. There is something not quite right with the family at Limbourne. There is something vaguely sinister and uncomfortable about the place.

Like everything else at Limbourne, the rose-garden was a model of tidiness. There were grass paths between the beds—paths of velvet smoothness—and there was not a weed to be seen. I thought suddenly of my daughter and her remark: ‘Funny sort of garden with no daisies!’ She would think this a very funny sort of garden, there was no doubt of that. The roses grew in orderly array, each little bush perfect in shape, bearing perfect blooms. I asked Medlam how he managed to attain such perfection and he explained that there was a nursery behind the beech hedge so that any bush which was not perfect could be replaced. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it, ma’am?’ said Medlam, looking round with complacency. ‘It’s the best rose-garden in the county.’ It was beautiful of course—roses are always beautiful—but to my mind it was too tidy and neat. The roses did not look happy; perhaps they were aware that if they failed in their duty to their owner they would be rooted out, thrown on the rubbish heap, and replaced by another rose-bush from the nursery garden behind the tall beech hedge…. He escorted me through a gate in the hedge. Here there were more roses, dozens and dozens of little bushes, their exquisite flowers filling the air with fragrance. There were red and white and pink and yellow roses in prodigal confusion. ‘I’m afraid it isn’t very tidy, ma’am,’ said Medlam apologetically. ‘It isn’t really for show, you see. We just plants them here temporary until they’re wanted.’ ‘I like it,’ I said. ‘The roses here look natural and happy and their scent is far sweeter.’ Medlam did not deign to reply to this piece of nonsense.

A Metaphor for Limbourne and its denizens

His grandfather wants to keep Simon at Limbourne and under his power. Simon has a good head on his shoulders and is devoted to Katharine and his half-siblings but will he be seduced by the wealth and advantages his Grandfather offers?


Part 3 takes place at the rustic cottage in Scotland where Katherine is spending the summer with her 2 young children. She has reluctantly left Simon on his own to spend another week with his newfound family. He is happy and excited to do so. Much to her surprise, Alec has come to stay nearby as well, and she is not sure how she feels about that. One night, without warning, Simon shows up ahead of time and he is behaving strangely and disturbingly. He claims everything is fine but Katherine knows better. What the hell happened? **End Spoilers**


This was so good. I loved the lovely Katherine and her family with their strength and wholesomeness matched up against their wealthy and outwardly nice but inwardly corrupted relatives. The inevitable romance turned surprisingly tender and touching. I sighed. I am just starting the sequel now and am anxious to read if we visit Limbourne again. Can this family be saved? This book ends on a hopeful note. Maybe?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 22, 2022

Summerhills

by D. E. Stevenson

**Spoilers for Amberwell**

I still love Clare. I haven’t forgotten her. For years I was utterly and absolutely miserable, but now it seems as if it had all happened in another life—or as if it had happened in a dream.” Dennis nodded. “I think I . . . can understand. But life is real, isn’t it? We can’t go on living in dreams. Look here, Roger, supposing you’d been killed in the war would you have wanted Clare to go on being miserable all her life?” “Goodness, no! What a horrible idea!” exclaimed Roger. Then he saw what Dennis had in mind. “Oh, I see,” he said slowly. “I never thought of it that way.”

I can’t imagine that this book would have much of an appeal unless one had read Amberwell. I think the Ayrton family would probably only be interesting in the context of the earlier book. Of course, having seen the Ayrton children through their troubles and triumphs in Amberwell, I was very interested indeed. The fact that Roger, Nell, and Anne, the characters we are most concerned with in this book grew up to be so happy and healthy is a major accomplishment considering their disturbing upbringing, and, in the case of Anne, her horrific marriage. It is a testament to the resiliency of children.

We meet all of our old friends to a greater and lesser degree and meet some new characters as well. Most are friends, but some are not. The book centers around Roger and Nell mostly. Roger is home from the war but still in the service. He has decided to set up a school for boys primarily so his son Stephen, so beloved by his beloved sister Nell does not have to be far from home, but can be toughened up, make friends, and cease being the center of the universe. His ambition is to include the scions of the privileged who can pay well to send their sons there but also to include the sons of less well-off servicemen. Much of the book concerns how the school takes shape. While Roger comes and goes, we meet Arnold who lost a foot in the war and will become the headmaster of the school, and re-meet Mary who sells Roger her old estate that she and her elderly parents can no longer take care of.

Intertwined with the building of the school are the love stories of Nell and Roger. There are also parties, an emergency trip to Italy, and an accident that puts a key member of the household out of commission. We see that Anne is happily and determinedly unmarried and ensconced with her Mr. Orme, the elderly vicar. Will she remain that way? One man is hopelessly in love with her. Poor guy. Along the way, we are treated to entertaining and thoughtful characterizations of everyone we meet. I was impressed with the author’s treatment of Roger, for example. He is somewhat of a stick in the mud and very traditional and somewhat stuffy. But though he may start off wrongheaded and mistaken in his opinions, when presented with evidence that contradicts his first instincts, he sees his way clear to wisdom and change. Another interesting character is Georgina, Stephen’s governess. She starts out to be a breath of fresh air and is certainly good for Stephen. But she changes into a manipulative and very foolish woman who is inadvertently responsible for bringing about the happiness of two couples. Poor Georgina. She was born a couple of decades too early. Poppet Lambert is back and is a delight. But I couldn’t help but think of a shocking interlude that took place in the first book. It is obliquely kind of explained in this book, but I always thought it was a very strange incident for the author to include in the first place.

So many deft sketches of so many characters I haven’t even mentioned. Not every loose end is tied up neatly and happily, but this is a dear gentle book with no darkness in it. And so it is a fitting and satisfying sequel to Amberwell. I confess I’ve become a little addicted to D. E. Stevenson.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

February 13, 2022

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

By Mark Toby

In the dream, Helen was not dead at all. she was in the bedroom, or the kitchen, out of sight, but within call, if I needed her…Pretty soon she would come to the door of the room, and look at us both, and smile. ad she might say something, or she might not.
So many nights it had been like that. So many little casual moments that I let slide through my fingers because they were so commonplace, so ordinary, so numerous.

This was a very cute if very short book (under 160 pages in the original hardback form.) It almost qualifies as a novella. I had just finished Ron Howard’s autobiography and he talked about the movie which he considers his best work as a child actor. It reminded me that the dramedy, a long-time favorite, was based on a book. It was not easily found for a price I was willing to pay.

It turned out to be as funny and touching as the movie. Sometimes more, sometimes less so. I was disappointed in the length but was surprised and happy that the movie was practically lifted from the book scene by scene. I had just hoped that there would be more to the story in the novel, not less. The movie actually adds some aspects and scenes that are not in the book.

Eddie and his father are recovering from the death of his wife a few weeks earlier and trying to get back to normal. It’s not long before Eddie starts to hint around, that as much as he loved and misses his mother, a new wife for his Dad and a new mother for him would not be unwelcome. After a minor false start, and a serious misstep, by the end of the book, Eddie’s wish is fulfilled.

The story is told mostly through dialogue between Eddie and his father. Their discussions and interactions are sweet, funny, and sometimes very touching. We are treated to many of Eddie’s ruminations and Tom’s reactions and inner thoughts as the plot plays out.

” Dad, you know why I like Elizabeth?”
“Why?”
“Because she doesn’t have skinny eyes.”
“Skinny WHAT?”
“Eyes. Like those ladies in the comic books who’re no good….You can always tell…they always have skinny eyes.”
It did sound very reasonable to me, and I decided to remember it. “No other clues? Just skinny eyes?”
“Well.”…The bad ladies always got big busts. Don’t get mad, Dad. It’s true. Very big. Skinny eyes and big busts is how you tell a bad lady from a good one.”

You will be relieved to know that the woman Eddie settles on very early on and the one Eddie’s father finally realizes is perfect for him has “round eyes” and a “medium bust.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 14, 2022

Amberwell

By D. E. Stevenson

This is the story of Five Little Children and How They Grew. I listened to this on Audible read by Lesley Mackie. With her gentle voice and slight Scottish accent, she added a lot to my enjoyment of this sometimes somewhat dark novel. While we hear about the children and their story it almost felt like I was being told a fairy tale and it was lovely, hoping as I was for happily ever afters for the children after the storms had passed. And lessons learned and justice served for those that required them.

The Ayrton children, two boys, and their three younger half-sisters are the children of two parents who don’t know or love their children or even care to. They are not socialites, jet setters, or workaholics, or V.I.Ps who are too busy with their own affairs to pay attention to their children. They are conventional and stolid pillars of the community. They keep the children from church and school and pretty much just ignore them unless they are of use or can’t avoid them. They just do not have any love in them. It was very odd.

Left to their own devices, they bring themselves up, thanks to a loving Nanny who unfortunately has little influence with the parents, and they do a wonderful job. Roger and Tom, in time, go off to boarding school where they learn that their parents and family are not normal. The reader spends the most time with Nell and Anne. The beautiful older sister, Connie, is nice as a little girl, but grows up only wanting to avoid unpleasantness and difficulty and doesn’t feel things very deeply. She gets married because that is what girls did and like her parents before her, we learn she is a horrendous parent, but in a different way. Nell and Anne are almost pathologically shy (unsurprisingly) sweet, and very close, with Anne being somewhat of a free spirit. They are both bright but ignorant scholastically and socially. It is Anne who was the most interesting with her fey ways, stronger spirit, and her unusual infectious laugh which is triggered mysteriously and unexpectedly.

It was no use of course. When Anne began to giggle it was hopeless trying to stop her. Anne shook with internal convulsions; she was seized with uncontrollable mirth and flung herself upon the bank writhing helplessly. The others caught the infection and laughed too. “What are we laughing at?” asked Gerald at last in a trembling voice. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “Come on, Anne. Tell us the joke.” “Anne can never tell you,” said Nell hastily …“Anne can never tell you the joke, and even if she does it isn’t a bit funny.

The war comes and has a dramatic effect on Amberwell, the center of the universe in this book. Mr. And Mrs. Ayrton are inconvenienced by the war, but that is the end of their involvement. But Roger and Tom go off to do their duty and become fine young men. Roger marries and has a baby. Nell comes out of her shell somewhat and becomes the dependable rock of the family. Anne, however, goes off to London with their Aunt and under her influence disgraces the family by eloping without the blessing of her parents. She disappears off the face of the earth. And we lose the most fascinating character in the book. Throughout the novel, the reader and Nell are consumed by Anne’s fate. Is she well and happily married? We have reason to hope, but why doesn’t she write? Or is she in dire straits? We don’t know until the end.

There are some sad and tragic times as well as a lot of growth and hope in this novel. Despite the happy ending, there were some disappointments and a boatload of loose ends and unrealized promise. Hopefully, the sequel (Summerhills)will resolve some questions and fates and provide some more closure. But I really liked this gentle and serious story with its intricately fashioned characters, insight, thoughtfulness, and atmosphere. **3 1/2 stars, rounded up**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 22, 2021