Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

evergreen (July8)

  • Title:  Evergreen
  • Author:  Rebecca Rasmussen
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  July 15, 2014 – Knopf
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband into the wilderness of Minnesota. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a new baby boy named Hux. But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, the unthinkable happens: a stranger arrives, and Eveline becomes pregnant. She gives the child away, and while Hux grows up hunting and fishing in the woods with his parents, his sister, Naamah, is raised an orphan. Years later, haunted by the knowledge of this forsaken girl, Hux decides to find his sister and bring her home to the cabin. But Naamah, even wilder than the wilderness that surrounds them, may make it impossible for Hux to ever tame her, to ever make up for all that she, and they, have lost. Set before a backdrop of vanishing forest, this is a luminous novel of love, regret, and hope.  (publisher)

My brief take:  Oh, Rebecca Rasmussen, you did it again. You reached in and wrapped your hand around my heart with your lovely but heart-breaking story. I loved most of the characters – and the ones I didn’t you made me understand why. These characters leapt off the pages as did the settings (which played as big a part as the main characters). I should have been tipped off by the quote before the story begins: “Tell me the landscape in which you live, and I will tell you who you are”.

It’s a story about the need for love and acceptance, and what happens when those are missing in one’s life. The question of ‘nature versus nurture’ ran through my mind with each generation. I loved what a minor character says at one point in the story:  “Every time you think you need to hold on, let go“. Without spoiling the story I’ll just say I think book clubs would find a lot to discuss with Evergreen.

Earlier I mentioned the story is lovely but heart-breaking. I turned the final page feeling uplifted and hopeful and so glad to have read Evergreen.

Instructions For a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

inst. heatwave

  • Title:  Instructions For a Heatwave
  • Author:  Maggie O’Farrell
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  June 2013 – Knopf
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  It’s the summer of 1976 and London is experiencing a heatwave that seems never-ending. One morning Gretta and Robert Riordan have a bit of breakfast and then Robert heads out as usual to buy the morning newspaper. He doesn’t come back.

The three grown Riordan children soon gather at the family home to try to figure out what’s happened to their father and to try to calm their mother. The three all have issues – in their own lives and with each other. Michael Francis, the eldest, is a history teacher in a local school. It’s not the job he’d dreamed of but it’s how things worked out for him. The school year is over and he has six weeks off to enjoy his children and try to figure out if his wife will ever speak to him again.

Monica is in her second marriage and trying to make this one work. Her step-daughters don’t like her and her husband seems inclined to take their side in any situation. She’s not a happy woman. Now that her sister is back home she’s finding it impossible to contain her anger over a past betrayal.

Aoife, the youngest Riordan, has lived in New York for several years. She’s found a job she loves, a man she might love, and continues to hide a secret that no one knows –  not even her family. It takes courage to go home again but she does.

If you have siblings there’s a lot to relate to in this novel. It was interesting to see them fall into the same patterns as when they were young and then snap out of it when they seemed to realize they didn’t have to continue that way. Coming from a large family I could relate to that and found humor in a few scenes.

Gretta and her children search for clues to find Robert. Eventually the search takes them to the west of Ireland. Along the way long-held secrets are revealed giving all a chance to forgive and move forward. I enjoyed Instructions For a Heatwave. It’s a family drama filled with secrets, lies, misunderstandings, forgiveness, real life.

A Week In Winter by Maeve Binchy

a week in winter

Synopsis (publisher):  Stoneybridge is a small town on the west coast of Ireland where all the families know one another. When Chicky Starr decides to take an old, decaying mansion set high on the cliffs overlooking the windswept Atlantic Ocean and turn it into a restful place for a holiday by the sea, everyone thinks she is crazy. Helped by Rigger (a bad boy turned good who is handy around the house) and Orla, her niece (a whiz at business), Chicky is finally ready to welcome the first guests to Stone House’s big warm kitchen, log fires, and understated elegant bedrooms. John, the American movie star, thinks he has arrived incognito; Winnie and Lillian are forced into taking a holiday together; Nicola and Henry, husband and wife, have been shaken by seeing too much death practicing medicine; Anders hates his father’s business, but has a real talent for music; Miss Nell Howe, a retired schoolteacher, criticizes everything and leaves a day early, much to everyone’s relief; the Walls are disappointed to have won this second-prize holiday in a contest where first prize was Paris; and Freda, the librarian, is afraid of her own psychic visions.

My take:  As it happens, I read Maeve Binchy’s final novel during a week in winter while on vacation. My parents’ home in sunny, warm Arizona was a great place to relax and read the book but I wouldn’t have minded reading it at a quaint inn on the west coast of Ireland!

A Week in Winter is about the people who are the first visitors to stay at Chicky Starr’s inn: Stone House. Binchy laid out the setting telling the reader how Chicky ended up rehabbing an old home into a lovely inn. Each chapter is about a different guest or couple who come to spend a week. So the novel is more a collection of connected stories that wraps up neatly at the end.

The characters are similar in tone to most of Binchy’s throughout her novels. I appreciated that. While I’m more a fan of her earlier novels over the recent ones I’d still recommend reading A Week in Winter. Binchy passed away shortly after finishing the book. It was a lovely final gift to her readers.

  • Title:  A Week in Winter
  • Author:  Maeve Binchy
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  February 2013 (US) – Knopf
  • Source:  I bought it.