Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

letters from skye

  • Title:  Letters from Skye
  • Author:  Jessica Brockmole
  • Genre:  Historical Fiction; Epistolary
  • Published:  July 2013 – Ballantine Books
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.
 
June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.  (publisher)

My take:  When a poet living on the Isle of Skye receives a letter from a fan in the US neither has a clue to what has begun – a friendship that will become much more. Letters from Skye is an epistolary novel about Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn and American David Graham. She’s in her mid-twenties and married and he’s a few years younger – still in college. But they are on equal ground in most other things. Their letters begin during WWI before the US enters the war. Elspeth’s husband soon enlists and leaves for the front. David and Elspeth continue to correspond sharing their secrets, hopes, and dreams.
I loved reading their letters that told everything from the goings on of their everyday lives to life-changing world events. Woven into the book are letters from Elspeth’s daughter Margaret (a young woman in her twenties) to her sweetheart Paul a (WWII) RAF pilot. So the eras have changed but some of the circumstances have not. The reason for the inclusion of their letters becomes clear as the novel progresses.
This is a very romantic novel – not romance in the modern sense (although there is that as well) but rather mostly in tone. There’s such longing in the letters. That longing was heightened by the lack of immediacy that comes from waiting weeks for another letter. For me that added to the enjoyment. I won’t say more about the novel because I think readers should find out what happens on their own.
If you like epistolary novels and this era I think you’ll like Letters from Skye.  Highly recommended.

Note:  A few pages in I decided to purchase the audiobook. I listened while I followed along with the print edition. If you like audiobooks I highly recommend you experience Letters from Skye that way. The narrators’ wonderful performances increased my enjoyment of the novel even more!

Audiobook info:

  • Title:  Letters from Skye: a novel
  • Author:  Jessica Brockmole
  • Narrators:  Elle Newlands, Katy Townsend, Lincoln Hoppe
  • Published:  July 2013 – Random House Audio

The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank

the last original wife

  • Title: The Last Original Wife
  • Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Narrator: Robin Miles
  • Published: June 2013 – HarperAudio
  • Source: Purchased

My take:  When Leslie falls into an unmarked manhole while following her husband, his best friend and his new wife (who happens to be half Leslie’s age) down a street in Edinburgh and they all fail to notice – that is the first sign that she is no longer cherished. The second sign is when her husband leaves her hospital room to play his planned round of golf at the Old Course.

When Leslie and Wesley (no, really) return to Atlanta she decides to put some space between them and accepts her brother’s offer to stay at his Charleston home while he’s in Italy. While away from her family Les does a lot of thinking about her relationship with her husband of 30 years and whether she wants to stay in the marriage. She also considers her two grown children and how they take her for granted as much as their father. What Les needs most is the courage to put herself first for once.

I laughed a lot but Dorothea Benton Frank addressed some serious issues as well. I can’t say I related to Les and Wes’s marriage problems but I’m about the same age as Les and think that’s what made me like her all the more! It’s the first of Frank’s books I’ve read so I’m happy to see she has a nice back list.

Narration: After reading a few reviews on Audible I understand some southerners took issue with the narrator’s accent. I’m not from the south so I couldn’t tell you if the narration is correct in accent or not but Robin Miles’ performance kept me listening and walking (and often laughing). I was thoroughly entertained.

Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman

looking for me

  • Title:  Looking For Me
  • Author:  Beth Hoffman
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  May 28, 2013 – Pamela Dorman Books
  • Source:  Review copy from the author

Synopsis (publisher):  Teddi Overman found her life’s passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky. She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and eventually finds a way to open her own shop in Charleston. There, Teddi builds a life for herself as unexpected and quirky as the customers who visit her shop.  Though Teddi is surrounded by remarkable friends and finds love in the most surprising way, nothing can alleviate the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to Kentucky.  It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and to find herself at last. But first she must decide what to let go of and what to keep.

My take:  Looking for Me is the story of Teddi Overman, a woman who found her talent for restoring furniture as a young teen and made it her life’s work. With love and great care she gives cast aside pieces a second chance.  That theme repeats in the lives of a few characters – most notably Teddi’s best friend, her brother Josh and a man who reminds her of Josh, Gabe. Whether furniture, old books, or animals, they repair the broken down for another chance at life. The novel is filled with great characters – Teddi’s coworkers, friends, and relatives. I enjoyed each one.

What I loved most about Teddi was her kindness and compassion for pretty much anything or anyone. She had such a pure heart and optimistic spirit and saw the good in everyone. And yet she was human – she had her limits when people pushed her. I’d want to be her friend. The goodness she sent out to people in her world came back to her time and again.

I had such a good feeling while reading Looking For Me that I didn’t want to say goodbye to Teddi and her world. It’s a story filled with heartbreak, friendship, love, mystery and so much more. It is one of those books I know I’ll read again and I rarely do that. I hope you’ll read it soon.

The Lost Husband by Katherine Center

the lost husband

  • Title:  The Lost Husband
  • Author:  Katherine Center
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  May 2013 – Ballantine Books
  • Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis (publisher):  After the sudden loss of her husband in a car crash, Libby Moran falls on hard times – so hard, in fact, that she’s forced to move in with her hyper-critical mother. There, sleeping on the pull-out sofa so her two children can share the guest room, she can’t stop longing for the life she had. So when a letter arrives from Libby’s estranged aunt offering her a job and a place to live on her goat farm, Libby jumps at the opportunity. But starting over is never easy. With an aunt who is nothing like she imagined, a shaggy farm manager with a tragic past, a psychic at the feed store who claims to be able to contact the dead, and a bully at her daughter’s school, country life isn’t at all what Libby expected. But it also offers her what no other place can: A chance to define the good life for herself. A chance to piece together the mysteries of her own past. A chance, even, at love. And, finally, a chance to bring herself, and her family, back to life.

My take:  I love Katherine Center’s novels. They are wonderfully relatable, funny and heartstring tuggers. Her latest, The Lost Husband, is no exception. When it comes down to it, Libby is every woman. Like I said, relatable. Life hasn’t turned out the way she expected yet, despite that fact, she keeps trying her darnedest to keep her family moving forward.

The offer to move to her aunt’s goat farm comes at the right time. She knows she can’t keep living with her domineering mother if she has any hope of a life. A fresh start in new surroundings is just what she and her two young children need. And a new life is exactly what they get.

From her eccentric and loving aunt, to the nice yet mysterious farm manager, to the interesting young woman at the feed store, Libby’s new life is populated with strange but caring people. And they’re all doing their best to move forward as well.

Center is a gifted storyteller and I loved this one. It’s a story of hope and never giving up – trying your hardest even in the darkest moments. Because when all is said and done – it’s worth it. Loved it. Highly recommended.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

me before you

  • Title:  Me Before You
  • Author:  Jojo Moyes
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  December 2012 – Pamela Dorman Books
  • Source:  Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis (publisher):  Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

My take:  This will be brief. I loved this book. It’s a story that made me laugh out loud and brought me to tears. Louisa is a character who lights up the page and I couldn’t help but cheer for her as she started to put herself before the needs of everyone else. That wasn’t an easy thing for her to do because she’d put herself last most of her life. I’d love to read her story about ten years from where the book leaves off.

As sad as this book was it was also quite uplifting. The point to live in the moment and appreciate each moment was a theme throughout the novel. There’s also a highly debatable topic that I’m certain would invite lively discussion for book groups. I’ve only touched the surface here. It’s a wonderful novel that I’m still thinking about weeks after turning the last page.

I highly recommend Me Before You – it’s on my 2013 Favorites list. Now I need to track down Jojo Moyes’ backlist. If you’ve read any of her previous books do you have a recommendation?

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life

  • Title:  Life After Life
  • Author:  Kate Atkinson
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  April 2013 – Reagan Arthur Books (544 pages)
  • Source:  Review copy from the publisher

Synopsis (publisher):  What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? 

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. 

Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?

My take:  What a unique story! It’s the first of Kate Atkinson’s novels I’ve read and after a bit of a sluggish start I really liked it. Sluggish because I started reading and then life got busy for me. It took me about a week to read the first 200 pages. So I recommend reading this book in as few chunks of time as possible. I think that would have helped me get into the rhythm of the story more quickly.

I really don’t want to say much about the plot because the synopsis tells enough. Kate Atkinson’s writing is lovely. With each lifetime another layer of Ursula’s story was added. And with each lifetime I cared more about Ursula. There were a couple of times in the second half of the book that I found myself in tears quite unexpectedly. That just doesn’t happen to me very often.

Atkinson brings to life London during the blitz as well as Germany in the time leading up to WWII. We see it all through Ursula’s eyes and feel the powerful emotions felt by many characters.

So, if you’re up for a memorable novel I think you might like Life After Life. It’s filled with good characters, settings, and a compelling era. It would be a fabulous book club selection. There are definite philosophical points to discuss. I know that Ursula, Hugh, Teddy and all the others will stay with me for a long time.

My thanks to Reagan Arthur for sending me the book.

Audiobook: The Good House by Ann Leary

the good house

Synopsis (Publisher):  The Good House tells the story of Hildy Good, who lives in a small town on Boston’s North Shore. Hildy is a successful real-estate broker, good neighbor, mother, and grandmother. She’s also a raging alcoholic. Hildy’s family held an intervention for her about a year before this story takes place – “if they invite you over for dinner, and it’s not a major holiday,” she advises “run for your life” – and now she feels lonely and unjustly persecuted. She has also fooled herself into thinking that moderation is the key to her drinking problem.

As if battling her demons wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Hildy soon finds herself embroiled in the underbelly of her New England town, a craggy little place that harbors secrets. There’s a scandal, some mysticism, babies, old houses, drinking, and desire – and a love story between two craggy 60-somethings that’s as real and sexy as you get. An exceptional novel that is at turns hilarious and sobering, The Good House asks the question: What will it take to keep Hildy Good from drinking? For good.

My take:  Hildy Good is like that neighbor lady who knows everybody and will tell you everything about them. She’s lived in the quaint New England village of Wendover her entire life and knows all the secrets of the town’s major players. She has a big chip on her shoulder due in part to her family’s intervention which made her feel betrayed and downright angry. Also, the real estate market has suffered in recent years and Hildy needs to sell some houses.

Now, as crusty or salty as Hildy may seem she does have a softer side. She will quietly help people in need without making a big deal out of it. BUT pity the person who crosses Hildy or suggests she might want to stop drinking because she will turn on the poor soul and lay him or her out in no uncertain terms. Hildy sometimes feels as persecuted for her drinking as she might imagine her ancestor felt when she was tried for being a witch in Salem!

As the novel progresses, drama unfolds in Wendover that involves people who are close to Hildy. I began to wonder if certain characters were who I originally thought they were. This is Hildy telling the story so how reliable can she be given she’s still drinking. Ann Leary kept me guessing in the second half of the book.

I enjoyed The Good House and look forward to reading more of Ann Leary’s books. Hildy Good is a character that will stay with me and will undoubtedly bring a smile when I think about the book. I love it when that happens. Recommended.

Narrator:  I adored Mary Beth Hurt’s performance. The voice she gave to Hildy Good was perfect. I also liked how she voiced Frank, the man who was Hildy’s boyfriend when she was a teen. I’m so glad I decided to listen to this book!

  • TItle:  The Good House: A novel
  • Author:  Ann Leary
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Narrator:  Mary Beth Hurt
  • Published:  January 2013 – Macmillan Audio
  • Source:  I bought it