Three Good Things by Wendy Francis

three good things

  • Title:  Three Good Things
  • Author:  Wendy Francis
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  January 2013 – Simon & Schuster – 256 pages
  • Source:  Review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis (publisher): Ellen McClarety, a recent divorcée, has opened a new bake shop in her small Midwestern town, hoping to turn her life around by dedicating herself to the traditional Danish pastry called kringle. She is no longer saddled by her ne’er-do-well husband, but the past still haunts her—sometimes by showing up on her doorstep. Her younger sister, Lanie, is a successful divorce attorney with a baby at home. But Lanie is beginning to feel that her perfect life is not as perfect as it seems. Both women long for the guidance of their mother, who died years ago but left them with lasting memories of her love and a wonderful piece of advice: “At the end of every day, you can always think of three good things that happened.”

Ellen and Lanie are as close as two sisters can be, until one begins keeping a secret that could forever change both their lives. Wearing her big Midwestern heart proudly on her sleeve, Wendy Francis skillfully illuminates the emotional lives of two women with humor and compassion, weaving a story destined to be shared with a friend, a mother, or a sister.

My take:  I found Three Good Things to be a quiet novel about finding out and remembering what’s most important in life.

I think many readers will be able to relate to Ellen and Lanie and their circumstances but, that said, I wish each sister would have been even more fleshed out. At 256 pages it seemed there was room to do so.

There’s a little drama toward the end of the book that wrapped up a bit too conveniently but I still enjoyed the book. I liked the Midwest setting and I’m now craving some of Ellen’s kringle. There’s even a recipe at the end of the novel.

Sunday Post

Book arrivals:

Thanks to Sourcebooks for the generous 12 Days After Christmas eBook sale!

shadowy horses to the moon and back take a chance on me rumor has it

Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell

Take a Chance on Me by Jill Mansell

Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell

 

Congratulations to Jodi Thomas!

chance of a lifetime

Chance of a Lifetime hit #20 on the NYTimes Bestseller List (Paperback Mass-Market Fiction).

You can read my review here if you missed it.

Reviewed last week:

Saving Each Other: A Mother-Daughter Love Story

News From Heaven – The Bakerton Stories

This week I’m reading:

Three Good Things by Wendy Francis

The Underside of Joy (audio) by Seré Prince Halverson

Happy reading!

News From Heaven – The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh

news from heaven

  • Title:  News From Heaven – The Bakerton Stories
  • Author:  Jennifer Haigh
  • Genre:  Short Stories
  • Published:  (expected) January 29, 2013 – Harper
  • Source:  Review copy from Harper

Synopsis: Set in Bakerton, Pennsylvania— the company town that was the setting of Jennifer Haigh’s award-winning bestseller Baker TowersNews from Heaven explores how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become. Through a series of connected stories, Haigh brilliantly portrays this close-knit community from its heyday during two world wars to its decline in the final years of the twentieth century. Exploring themes of restlessness, regret, redemption and acceptance, she depicts men and women of different generations shaped by dreams and haunted by disappointments.  A young woman glimpses a world both strange and familiar when she becomes a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New York City. A long-lost brother makes an unexpected and tragic homecoming. A woman must come to terms with a heartbreaking loss when she discovers a shocking family secret. A solitary middle-aged woman tastes unexpected love when a young man returns to town. And characters familiar to fans of Baker Towers—indomitable Joyce Novak, her eccentric sister Dorothy, and their mysterious younger brother Sandy—return for an encore performance. Written with poignant realism, News from Heaven deftly captures our desire for escape and our need for connection, and reveals the enduring hold of a past that remains ever present in the lives of ordinary people struggling to understand themselves and define their place in the world. 

My take:  I shouldn’t be surprised that Jennifer Haigh’s collection of short stories made me rethink my automatic response to the format. Normally I don’t care for them at all. I find them bleak, depressing, and a chore to read. Not so with News From Heaven. Reading each story was like paging through a scrapbook. There’s history, relationships, celebrations, heartbreak, regrets, and even a bit of optimism. 

Bakerton, Pennsylvania was home to the coal mine that employed most of the men from town. Once the mine was mined out the jobs were gone and the town was thrown into hard times. Haigh’s connected stories cover the ups and downs of the townspeople – from the  mine owners to the workers and everyone in between.

I grew up in a small town so I could identify with the aspect that Joyce in “Desiderata” acknowledged of everyone knowing your story – or at least thinking they know. I don’t live there anymore so they don’t know the rest of my story. That’s not the case with the older residents in Bakerton. More than likely they were born there, raised families, and will eventually die there. Their complete stories known to all.

My favorite story (if I must choose one) was Broken Star. It’s about Regina, a girl in her early teens, and the summer her young aunt and cousin came to visit.  I also liked the final story in the collection: Desiderata. The high school principal died a few months earlier and his wife is sorting through his things. Poignant, relatable, uplifting. Really, though, I enjoyed each story.

Jennifer Haigh is one of my favorite authors. I know it’s only January but I expect News From Heaven to be on my 2013 Favorite Books list. It was a pleasure to read.

Note:  I read Baker Towers several years ago (the month it was published) and although I remembered the general story there was a lot I forgot. If you haven’t read Baker Towers I recommend doing so before News From Heaven. It’s not imperative but it could help in your overall enjoyment of these connected stories.

Saving Each Other: A Mother-Daughter Love Story by Victoria Jackson and Ali Guthy

Saving Each Other

  • Title:  Saving Each Other: A Mother-Daughter Love Story
  • Authors:  Victoria Jackson & Ali Guthy
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  October 2012 – Vanguard Press
  • Source:  Review copy from FSB Associates

(Book flap synopsis) On the surface, Victoria Jackson is the American Dream personified: from a troubled childhood and unfinished high school education she overcame immeasurable odds to create a cosmetics empire valued at more than half a billion dollars. Married to Bill Guthy—self-made principal of infomercial marketing giant Guthy-Renker—Victoria’s most treasured role was mother to three beautiful, beloved children, Evan, Ali, and Jackson.

Suddenly, Victoria’s dream life is broken as she begins to battle a mother’s greatest fear. In 2008, her daughter, Ali, began experiencing unusual symptoms of blurred vision and an ache in her eye. Her test results led to the diagnosis of a disease so rare, the chance that she had it was only 2%. Neuromyeltis Optica (NMO) is a little understood, incurable, and often fatal autoimmune disease that can cause blindness, paralysis, and life-threatening seizures, and afflicts as few as 20,000 people in the world. At the age of 14, Ali was given a terrifying prognosis of between four to six years to live.

Saving Each Other begins just as Victoria and Bill learn of Ali’s disease, starting them on a powerful journey to save Ali, their only daughter, including bringing together a team of more than fifty of the world’s leading experts in autoimmune and
NMO-related diseases to create the Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation.

Told in alternating viewpoints, Victoria and Ali narrate their very different journeys of coming to terms with the lack of control that neither mother nor daughter have over NMO, and their pioneering efforts and courage to take their fight to a global level.

Bringing their story to light with raw emotion, humor, warmth, and refreshing candor, Saving Each Other is the extraordinary journey of a mother and daughter who demonstrate how the power of love can transcend our greatest fears, while at the same time battling to find a cure for the incurable.

My take:  As a parent of a child who has an autoimmune disease I was very interested in reading Saving Each Other. I’d never heard of NMO before but now feel I have a general understanding of it. That’s mostly due to the format used by Jackson and Guthy. Written in diary form it was easy to understand their feelings as they were introduced to the disease at the time of Ali’s initial attack. I could relate to their search for medical help that would actually help. I was in awe of how quickly the family started a foundation that would make a cure for NMO it’s focus.

Victoria Jackson was the major force behind making things happen even while fighting anxiety and other issues. Bill Guthy was “the funder”.  And Ali just wanted to be a normal high school kid – play tennis, be with friends, anything but be a poster child for NMO.

As memoirs go I found Saving Each Other fascinating. Yes, the family had means to seek the best treatment for their child but they also shared the knowledge gained through their search. The GJCF (Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation) continues to work for a cure of NMO.

Website:  www.guthyjacksonfoundation.org

 

Sunday Post

IMG_1302Blog news:

In these days of Debt Ceilings, Fiscal Cliffs, Underwater Mortgages I find myself feeling anxious – not about those phrases as they apply to my personal life. No, I feel anxious because I can delete a word from each phrase and substitute Book:

Book Ceiling

Book Cliff

Underwater Books

See where I’m going with this?

I have a few more review requests to honor and then 2013 will become

The Year I Read My Own Books (did you hear the echo?)

I really mean it this time 😀

I have bookcases of unread books that I’ve bought over the years and they weigh on my mind. A lot. I won’t even tell you how many books are on my reader.

I’ll still blog about the books I read so I hope you’ll continue to visit.

Last week:

Review of Chance of a Lifetime by Jodi Thomas

Chance of a Lifetime by Jodi Thomas

chance of a lifetime

  • Title:  Chance of a Lifetime (Harmony series #5)
  • Author:  Jodi Thomas
  • Genre:  Contemporary Romance
  • Published:  December 2012 – Berkley Books
  • Source:  I received a review copy from the publisher

Synopsis:  [Jodi Thomas, the] New York Times bestselling author takes us back to Harmony, Texas, where big dreams are brewing—and anything and everything is possible… 

Emily, the local librarian, has started a writing group, but as the group stumbles through both the fiction and reality of their lives, they’re learning much more than how to write. But Emily suddenly has other things on her mind when a friend from her past shows up in Harmony’s library. Now she must deal with a secret she’s kept for fifteen years—a secret that changed her life and threatens to shatter her future.

Meanwhile, new lawyer Rick Matheson thinks he’s in charge of his world until accidents start happening all around him. Just when he realizes someone is trying to kill him, he meets a beautiful U.S. Marshal named Trace Adams. Now that the marshal has given him an even stronger reason to go on living, he must learn to take a chance on life to dream bigger—and love better—than he ever has before…

My take:  If you’ve followed my reviews of the Harmony series you probably think they all sound similar. But that’s because they are consistently good! I love the small town setting and characters. I love the stories Jodi Thomas writes for her characters.

Main characters from previous books make appearances in Chance of a Lifetime but in this book the spotlight shines on Emily and Tannon, Rick and Trace, and Beau and his mystery girl. In typical fashion, Jodi Thomas kept me guessing to the end about how things would wrap up for them all. I enjoyed their stories and can’t wait for the next book in the Harmony series. Write fast, Jodi 🙂

This is a series and I suggest starting from the beginning:

  1. Welcome to Harmony
  2. Somewhere Along the Way
  3. The Comforts of Home
  4. Just Down the Road