Book – How can a mother abandon her seven year old son at an orphanage with promises that she will return for him and still leave him there for years after she is famous and prosperous? Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford tells the story of William, now 12, a resident of Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage in the 1920s. He still has loving memories of his ah-ma and is certain that a woman named Willow Frost that he sees in a film advertisement is his actual mother. William is determined to track her down wanting to know why he was abandoned. He tries to escape the orphanage with dreams of re-uniting with his mother. This book follows the trials and stories of both William and Liu Song (Willow Frost). This is a wonderful story of a “boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past—both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness” ~ from the book jacket. Ford also does a great job of conveying a vivid sense of the time period and atmosphere. A thought provoking novel that would be great for book discussion groups. If you enjoy this book you should also read Ford’s first book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
Book – William Talmadge is a lonely orchardist tending acreages of apricots and apples at the foot of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest. His life is forever changed when two pregnant girls decide to take refuge on his property. He feels protective of these young women, since he is still haunted by his sister’s disappearance 50 years ago when she was a teenager. He slowly builds trust and a relationship with sisters Della and Jane, but tragic consequences leave him unexpectedly caring for Jane’s baby as she flees and tries to confront and take revenge on the ghost of her past. Talmadge is heartsick at her leaving and works at her redemption as he strives to protect her from her from the psychological traumas she had suffered. Set in the early 20th century this story gives a great insight into the hardships and lawlessness of the old West. Beautifully written, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin explores the complexity of human nature. This book has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus and is a great choice for book groups.
Book – To what lengths should parents go to keep their child alive? Should they do it even if it’s illegal? Is it really in the best interest of the child? The Adoration of Jenna Fox explores these questions and addresses issues of medical ethics. I don’t usually read young adult science fiction books, but I was mesmerized by this one. Jenna wakes up after being in a coma for over a year. She is 17 and has almost no memory of her previous life. Her parents try to jog her memory by having her watch videos of her childhood. As she slowly recalls events in her life, new mysteries surface for Jenna. Why did her family move from Boston to California, especially since her father still works there? Why is her grandmother cold and hostile toward her? She is remembering having two best friends – why aren’t they getting in touch with her? This is an interesting story of suspense that would appeal to both adults and teens driven by Jenna trying to define her identity. This book has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal. The next book in this series is The Fox Inheritance.
Book – Many thought the Spains had the perfect life. Sweethearts as teenagers, they are happily married with two wonderful children. They buy their dream starter house in a luxury development in Broken Harbor near Dublin. But something goes horrifically wrong! Patrick and the children are brutally murdered and Jenny the wife and mother is miraculously found still alive at the murder scene, but barely. It is up to veteran detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy and his new rookie partner Richie Curran to solve the crime. As the detectives further their investigation they find that things are not what they seem. The victims’ façade of the good life begins to unravel and secrets and various suspects surface including the Spains themselves. We also learn of Kennedy’s mysterious attachment to Broken Harbor. The author, Tana French, is a master of psychological suspense and this book will not disappoint. This is the fourth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. They do not need to be read in order, but if interested, here are the titles in sequence: In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, and The Secret Place.
Movie – The Hundred Foot Journey is a wonderful movie about rivalry, family, love and self-discovery. In the midst of political unrest, the Kadam family’s restaurant is set on fire resulting in the death of their matriarch and chef and loss of their family business. The father and his children flee India for Europe and by chance they settle in a small village in France. The oldest son Hassan learned much about cooking from his mother, so the family decides to open a restaurant. It is located directly across the street from an exclusive haute cuisine restaurant owned by Madame Mallory, who is obsessed with earning another Michelin star for fine dining. As you can imagine, Madame is none too pleased with her new neighbors’ eatery complete with a garish Taj Mahal facade and blasting Bollywood music. To further complicate things there is a growing romance between Kadam and Madame’s sous chef, Marguerite. Totally delightful and guaranteed to stimulate your culinary senses. We also have the book by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred Foot Journey, that the move is based on.
Book – The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is the coming of age story of Thea Atwell. She is 15, lives on a ranch in Florida with her parents and her twin brother, and is already an accomplished horsewoman and beauty. She has always been very close to her family and sheltered, as she and her brother are homeschooled and really don’t have any friends except for each other. Thea’s world is shaken when the Depression begins and she is sent away by her parents to an exclusive equestrian boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains as a punishment. We see her adjusting to her new school and making friends with privileged Southern belles as she tries to overcome her feelings of guilt and homesickness. The reader will keep turning the pages as the story slowly unfolds to reveal the reason for her banishment by her family from her beloved home. This is not a cozy read as it is full of scandal, sex and secrets. The book has received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus.
Book – The Magician’s Assistant is a magical story of loss, discovery, and healing. Sabine has been Parsifal the Magician’s lovely statuesque assistant for over 20 years in L.A. Parsifal marries her shortly after his male lover, who is also friends with Sabine, dies from AIDS. It is only a brief time later that Parsifal also dies and Sabine surprisingly learns that her husband has a mother and two sisters in Nebraska, when he had claimed that he had no family, as they were all dead. Sabine and Parsifal’s family meet and Sabine learns about Guy as a boy growing up in the Great Plains and his mother and sisters learn about Parsifal the magician from L.A. The family is enchanted by Sabine as she demonstrates some of the magician’s tricks and they all form a very special bond as they share the details of the magician’s life and eventually face up to the painful reason why he left his home, abandoned his family, and took on a new identity. Beautifully written and insightful.
Book – The Falls is a haunting tale that stays with you even after you finish reading it. It begins tragically, as Ariah’s newly wedded husband throws himself into Niagra Falls on the first day of their honeymoon. Ariah becomes known as the “Widow Bride of the Falls” and considers herself damned, but remains in the area. She meets Dirk Burnaby, a handsome successful lawyer and they soon marry. Life is good for the Burnaby’s. They have 3 children, a lovely house, and Dirk’s law practice is thriving. All that begins to unravel when Dirk is approached by a young mother pleading for his help. As a result, he decides to launch a lawsuit against a chemical company polluting the Love Canal that causes environmental disasters and illnesses of nearby inhabitants, including the woman and her family. Dirk becomes obsessed with the case and commits all his time and resources to it. Although his heart is in the right place and his need for justice is intense, he is no match for corrupt politicians and big businessman. His altruistic act leaves him ruined and his family broken. Though his children were young at the time of his lawsuit, when they reach adulthood they re-explore the man that their father was and take up his cause to restore honor to his name. This absorbing story spans over thirty years and is very thought provoking and well researched. It is an epic family drama with characters that are well developed.
TV Series – Another winning series from Masterpiece Theater – Mr. Selfridge is the ultimate armchair shopping experience. The story revolves around the actual American retail magnate, Harry Selfridge, who owned and operated an exclusive department store in London called Selfridges which opened in 1909. Born in Wisconsin he married Chicago socialite Rose Buckingham. He gained his retail experience from Marshall Field’s where he worked for 25 years. Selfridge wanted to bring shopping to a new level for Londoners. He wanted his customers to view shopping as a pleasure instead of a necessity and he embraced the philosophy of “the customer is always right”. He wanted Selfridges to be a place to spend the day and money as customers dined in one of the elegant restaurants, relaxed in the library or reading and writing rooms, and perused extensive displays of merchandise handled by an expert sales staff. The series magnificently portrays the glamor of the store, as well as gives us an intimate look into the lives of Harry and his family, and some of the fascinating characters of Selfridges. A must see. Fans of Downton Abbey will be sure to enjoy this too.
Book – Meet Helen, Grace and Ruby – young women from very different backgrounds. Each fascinating with her own set of baggage and secrets. However, they all share the same dream of fame and the three become fast friends working as dancers at the glamorous Forbidden City Nightclub in San Francisco in 1938 just as the World’s fair is set to open and rumors of war circulate. The story spans 50 years and the girls tell their own stories through alternating voices. They share in each other’s ups and downs and rely on one another through unexpected challenges and changes in financial situations.
Working at the prestigious club, these strong and independent women are looked upon as delicate “China Dolls” dressed in beautiful glittering costumes and makeup. They all hit bumps on their road to stardom, but manage to overcome the obstacles. But their bond of friendship is jeopardized with the bombing of Pearl Harbor that results in betrayal and the revelation of hidden secrets.
Well researched by author Lisa See this is a rich story of dreams, relationships, and the endurance of the human spirit.