Book Review: Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton

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Title: Mourning Dove
Author: Claire Fullerton
Narrator: Claire Fullerton
Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
Publication Date: June 25, 2018

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Purchase Links:
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Mourning Dove
Claire Fullerton
Narrated by Claire Fullerton
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, June 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

The heart has a home when it has an ally. If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, 18 months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s 10th birthday.

Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold.

Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world, as they find their way to belonging. But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?

Mourning Dove is a compelling Southern family tale that, by turns, had me smile, tear up, laugh out loud, even get irritated with certain characters’ inflexibility, especially Posey and her husband, the Colonel, step-father to Millie and Finley. If things didn’t go exactly the way they expected, there would be hell to pay and life was frequently uncomfortable for the children.

As Millie and Finley grew up, they learned not only how to live with the rules of the household but also found their own way. The two are devoted to each other whether together or apart and they truly depend on each other through all the joys and despair of life. Still, family and friends are caught very much by surprise when a terrible thing happens even though they knew a darkness was brewing.

A couple of things pulled me out of the story occasionally. I’m a born and bred Southerner and some of the author’s pronunciations were different from mine; for instance, she would say “in-TRIC-a-cies” while I say “IN-tric-a-cies” and “de-COR-ous” while I say “DEC-or-ous”. Also, as a Mary Baldwin alumna, I know that it did not change its designation to University from College until 2016, many years after the time period of this story. I also have never heard of the bride’s family being responsible for hosting the wedding rehearsal dinner, especially back then. All that aside, I really did enjoy hearing about places, mannerisms and Southern culture so similar to my own upbringing. Although I managed to talk my parents out of doing the whole debutante thing, I did spend several years in cotillion 😉

I don’t always think an author narrating her own book is a good idea but Ms. Fullerton does bring the characters and the ambience to life, especially because Millie is telling the story. This is a deeply thoughtful look at the South of the 70’s and 80’s and is a true evocation of a time and place that was quite unique. Well done!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

About the Author/Narrator

Claire Fullerton grew up in Memphis, TN and now lives in Malibu, CA. She is the author of contemporary fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set in Connemara, Ireland, where she once lived. Dancing to an Irish Reel is a finalist in the 2016 Kindle Book Review Awards, and a 2016 Readers’ Favorite. Claire is the author of A Portal in Time, a paranormal mystery that unfolds in two time periods, set on California’s hauntingly beautiful Monterey Peninsula, in a village called Carmel-by-the-Sea. Both of Claire’s novels are published by Vinspire Publishing. Her third novel, Mourning Dove, is a Southern family saga, published in June, 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. She is one of four contributors to the book, Southern Seasons, with her novella, “Through an Autumn Window”, to be published in November 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire is represented by Julie Gwinn, of The Seymour Literary Agency, and can be found on WordPress, Twitter (cfullerton3) Goodreads, Instagram ( cffullerton) as well as the website under her name.

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Book Review: The Marvels by Brian Selznik

The MarvelsThe Marvels
Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-44868-0
Hardcover

I believe that, right before blowing out every single candle on the cake, a young reader somewhere made a spectacular wish for a book filled with gorgeous illustrations and a fabulous, fanciful story rich with quirky characters, adventure and mystery.  Mr. Selznick fulfilled this wish in grand fashion.

To open The Marvels is to be immediately immersed in a harrowing adventure at sea.  In the blink of an eye….or to be precise, the turn of several pages, invested in the story of a shipwreck with spunky survivors.  Illustrations that seem to float above the pages “tell” a compelling, heart-tugging tale.  Delightful drawings seem to reach out and wrap around the reader, securing you in the story well before Mr. Selznick weaves his word magic.

When Mr. Selznick does put his pen to paper to write rather than draw, the result is no less stunning.  His young, out-of-place-and-underfoot main character, Joseph, embodies awkward instances we’ve all endured.  In his earnest desire to genuinely bond, to actually belong…he easily elicits empathy.

When the sweet, stubborn boy tracks down his eclectic, enigmatic uncle in London, Joseph is sure he’s off to a terrible start.  Genuine curiosity, compassionate neighbors and most importantly, time, make the reunion more palatable and the untold story of Joseph’s past is slowly revealed.

In a sly, subtle shift, Mr. Selznick spins two separate, yet supporting stories in one brilliant book.  Both with breathtaking backdrops: The Marvel family in the theatre and Joseph’s in his uncle’s frozen-in-time home.   In the end, it seemed that I was moved by two different families.  I was close, but not correct.

My very favorite parts of the book occurred to me days after I’d finished the story.  Mr. Selznick managed to encompass serious social issues such as loss, suddenly and inexplicably; alongside of loss that is excruciating slow, as two men deeply in love are both infected with AIDS.  Intrigued and impressed, I finished the book by reading the Afterword, where Mr. Selznick sprung one more surprise.  A large part of this fantasy is based loosely on the lives of two very real people.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2016.

Book Review: The Long Way Home by Ann M. Martin

The Long Way HomeThe Long Way Home
Family Tree Book 2
Ann M. Martin
Scholastic Press, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-35943-6
Hardcover

The story begins in 1955 when Dana and her twin sister turn seven years old. Dana loves New York City where her family lives in a spacious townhouse and they all get to dress up for taxi rides to fine restaurants and glamorous parties in honor of her famous writer father. She attends a private school and excels in art. In fact, her father persuades his editor to let her illustrate one of his novels.

In the first third of the book, accounts of important events in Dana’s life are told with childlike optimism and revolve around typical childhood problems. (Even the reverse attributions—said Dana rather than Dana said—remind one of children’s books of yore.) Each chapter is dated several months apart as the reader follows Dana and her family from year to year.

Then, tragedy strikes, and Dana’s charmed life takes twists and turns that turn her life upside down. During her teen years, Dana must use all of her inner resources to adapt and survive as she makes her way home, in all senses of the word. Right along with Dana, the reader cringes when the world tosses her a curve and smiles when she zips back with force.

Ann M. Martin skillfully weaves all kinds of life issues into this story. The flawed characters and real-life situations let each reader form opinions about the characters’ actions and approaches to life. At the same time, the historical setting is well-drawn and the coming-of-age story believable. Preteens and up will enjoy this story and want to read other books in the series.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, March 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: Sweet As Cane, Salty As Tears by Ken Wheaton

Sweet As Cane, Salty As TearsSweet As Cane, Salty As Tears
Ken Wheaton
Open Road Integrated, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-6246-7246-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

There is nothing more dangerous than a spooked rhinoceros. It is just before lunchtime when Huey, the prized black rhino of Broussard, Louisiana, erupts from his enclosure, trampling a zoo employee on his way to a rampage in the Cajun countryside. The incident makes the rounds online as News of the Weird, and Katherine Fontenot is laughing along with the rest of her New York office when she notices the name of the hurt zookeeper: Karen-Anne Castille—her sister.

Fifty years old, lonely, and in danger of being laid off, Katherine has spent decades trying to ignore her Louisiana roots. Forced home by Karen-Anne’s accident, she remembers everything about the bayou that she wanted to escape: the heat, the mosquitoes, and the constant, crushing embrace of family. But when forced to confront the ghosts of her past, she discovers that escape might never have been necessary.

The first thing that struck me about Sweet As Cane, Salty As Tears was the cadence of the language, the Cajun dialect. I spent a few years in Louisiana and was immediately taken back to that time. The sound of it felt accurate and, sure enough, the author hails from the very area he’s writing about.

Is this a happy book, a funny one? No; although there are spots of humor, especially when the sisters start going after each other, this really is a tale of the human condition, warts and all. The Fontenot family, down to all the grandkids and nieces and nephews, are a proud lot and make the most of what little they have in life but, above all, they are family. They may have major fights but, when all is said and done, they are loyal. Grand Prairie and Opelousas, Louisiana, are home to this Cajun clan.

When Katie-Lee aka Katherine left for New York City so many years ago, it was to escape a tragedy she just couldn’t cope with and, in doing so, she broke the hearts of all her siblings and her mother. Her life there has been fairly good but certainly not exciting or particularly comforting and she has little to look forward to other than more of the same. The occasional visit home was not enough to satisfy anyone and was never comfortable but they stayed in touch through Facebook. When tragedy strikes again, Katie-Lee heads home again and finds that perhaps it’s past time for a change.

The essence of the family connections and what all these people mean to each other is at the core of the story but it’s the characters themselves who captured my heart. The siblings—Kurt Junior, Karla-Jean, Kendra-Sue, Katie-Lee, Karen-Anne and Joey aka Kane are rambunctious, contentious, rowdy, smart, all the adjectives you can think of, and the sisters are like as not going to end up in a physical brawl just because it’s hot or somebody said something wrong. I appreciated Mama and Daddy, too, but it’s that bunch of kids I most enjoyed watching as they grew up and had families of their own.

As Southern fiction goes, Sweet As Cane, Salty As Tears is one of the most memorable books I’ve read and I’m going to go get an earlier book, The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival, to get another taste of the area if not these particular people. I do hope Mr. Wheaton intends to take us back there again soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

Book Review: Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Havana LostHavana Lost
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, August 2013
ISBN: 978-1-938733-38-3
Trade Paperback

Author Libby Hellmann, with a number of Chicagoland detective mysteries to her credit, has moved in a new direction. This novel continues that move, beginning with the excellent Set The Night on Fire,  continuing with A Bitter Veil, and now this novel. Here we have a love story set against the turbulent and dangerous background of the Cuban Revolution. The story of two lovers from wildly different circumstances form the catalyst that drives this story.

Hellmann’s skills as a writer have continued to improve and her talent is most obvious when she deals with the principal characters, Luis the revolutionary, follower of Fidel Castro and his inamorata, Francesca Pacelli. She’s the teen-aged daughter of Tony, the American manager of a luxury casino and night-club. Pacelli is a confidant of Meyer Lansky, among others in the nightlife enterprises of Havana in the late 1950’s. Hellmann has created a vibrant, colorful Cuba of the 1950’s on the brink of a revolution as Castro’s oppressive and revolutionary force move to take over the island nation.

The evolution of Francesca Pacelli from a headstrong hormonal teenager in exotic Cuba to a steely, self-assured Chicago matron, head of a far-flung business enterprise, is fascinating and very well handled. One can argue that the Angola device (you’ll have to read the novel for explanation) carries the principals far afield and is something of a distraction. Never mind. The central story is compelling and what gives this novel its fire and its depth of feeling, is the character movement. Consistent, logical, rising out of circumstances, Luis Perez and Frankie Pacelli set in motion both life-affirming and tragic, nearly inevitable violent confrontations set against the wider forces of the times.

The scope and sweep of this novel is spectacular, beginning in the 1950s and terminating in today’s difficult circumstances, from Cuba to Africa to Chicago. But over and over, Hellmann effectively brings the focus down to the individuals important to this narrative. Truly, a novel to be savored.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: Twice a Spy by Keith Thomson, Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer, Did Not Finish by Simon Wood, The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly, and Mystery by Jonathan Kellerman

Twice a Spy
Keith Thomson
Doubleday, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53079-8
Hardcover

This sequel has more action packed between the covers than a fast-paced hockey game.  Charlie Clark and his father, Drummond [who suffers from the ups and downs of Alzheimer’s], find themselves in Geneva on the lam.  They fled the U.S. facing criminal charges and while in Switzerland, Drummond is being treated with an experimental drug, which seems to be helping reduce the effects of his disease..

All of which has little to do with events that ensue.  To begin with, Charlie’s lover, Alice, is kidnapped to force the Clarks to reveal where an atomic device is located, in return for her release.  Then the action gets underway at an unbelievable pace, vaulting Charlie into a whirlwind of activity to frustrate the bad guy but save his girlfriend.

The tale takes us from Europe to the Caribbean and various points in the U.S. from Langley to the Gulf Coast, with the Clarks fighting not only terrorists, but the CIA, Secret Service, and everyone in between. The plot moves at an incredibly rapid rate, if somewhat implausibly. Nevertheless, it’s an easy and entertaining read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Only Time Will Tell
Jeffrey Archer
St. Martin’s Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-53955-9
Hardcover

This aptly titled novel is the prelude to a series entitled The Clifton Chronicles, covering the lives of several characters over the span of a century.  In the hands of the author, Jeffrey Archer, it follows the life of the main character, Harry Clifton, from his birth shortly after World War I to just short of WWII with more curves than a talented big league pitcher.

The story is told in succeeding chapters from the point of view of various persons, each contributing some insight into the questions raised in the last summation.  It takes Harry from a fatherless tot to a school truant to a talented choir singer and his education right up to his acceptance at Oxford.  Meanwhile his life becomes complicated as he grows up by virtue of his background:  the mystery of his father’s death, his mother’s struggles to support him, his questionable parentage.

No comment is necessary regarding Mr. Archer’s ability to write a solid story, and to end it in cliffhanger fashion so readers will look forward to the sequel.  It remains to be seen how ingenious he can be in the next book in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Did Not Finish
Simon Wood
Crème de la Crime, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-78029-007-2
Hardcover

The advice usually given to authors (and would-be authors) is to write what you know.  And that is just what ex-racecar driver Simon Wood has done.  He has written a mystery with motorsports as the theme; sort of a Dick Francis novel on wheels, if you will.

It all begins the night before a big race when a nine-time champion threatens to kill his rival, who is in the lead to capture the title.  When the rival actually is killed during the race under suspicious circumstances in a collision with the champion, Aidy Westlake undertakes to prove it was a case of murder.  Throughout all sorts of hardships and dangers, he doggedly continues his mission, until the plot inevitably takes a sharp turn.

Filled with loads of details on the racing scene and the people and equipment that make it possible, the novel moves spiritedly apace.  It is filled with suspense and startling revelations, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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The Fifth Witness
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-06935-9
Hardcover

The saga of the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, continues, following his previous appearance as a special prosecutor.  Times are hard and money scarce.  To scratch out a living, Mickey is now advertising in TV for clients facing foreclosure of their homes.  There is in this era no shortage of potential clients, and a thousand dollars here, a monthly payout there, and bills can be paid.

When one of his clients is arrested for the murder of a bank’s home loan officer, Mickey is once again a defense lawyer, giving the author to do what he does best: a dramatic courtroom story.  The drama is there, but a little bit of a potboiler, with the reader pretty much knowing not only the outcome of the trial but what follows.

Mickey, however, remains an interesting continuing character and we can be certain the sequel will take him into new territory once again. The author is excellent in constructing a plot that moves forward in a logical and careful manner, albeit with few surprises.  Written with aplomb and, to a degree, the flippancy necessary for Mickey’s personality, perhaps the next novel in the series will unveil more depth to the character. Make no mistake, however:  this one’s a good read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Mystery
Jonathan Kellerman
Ballantine, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-345-50569-9
Hardcover

Sometimes the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” refers to a good thing.  Certainly it applies to the Alex Delaware series.  For 25 novels, the basic plot has remained the same: a crime is committed and Dr. Delaware and Lt. Sturgis investigate, analyze, philosophize and eventually solve it.  This 26th story in the series is no different.

A beautiful young woman, obviously waiting for a “date,” first observed in a rundown hotel by Alex and his paramour Robin, is found later up in the Hollywood Hills shot in the face.  Sturgis invites Alex, by chance, to witness the scene, and the good doctor is able to identify the victim by the way she was dressed.  There is little in the way of clues or evidence, but that doesn’t stop them from researching and theorizing ad infinitum.

One would think that an author would tire of characters and plots after so many novels, but they remain fresh and interesting, readable and enjoyable.  So when’s the 27th?  It will undoubtedly be recommended as well.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

Book Review: The Master of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche

The Master of Jalna
Mazo de la Roche
Pan Books, Ltd., 1954 (first published in 1933)
ISBN 0330202626
Mass Market
Also available as a trade paperback re-issue from XYZ Publishing

The Master of Jalna is the fourth by publication date, tenth by story chronology, of 16 novels spanning a hundred years from 1854 to 1954.  Known as the Whiteoak Chronicles or the Jalna series, they told the saga of a Canadian family and Jalna, the family manor.  The books are usually listed chronologically by story line rather than by date of publication but each can be read independently.  I first read the whole series in my 20’s and then picked up half of them on a book trip my daughter Annie and I took in 2005 to the world’s biggest collection of bookstores, Hay-on-Wye in Wales.

In this entry in the series, Renny Whiteoak, owner of Jalna, must take over where Grandmother Adeline left off, carrying on the family traditions.  His daughter, Adeline, has inherited her namesake’s red hair and strong-willed ways and raising her is a challenge for Renny and his wife, Alayne.  Along the way, Renny develops a love for Claire, his best friend’s widow, and must also deal with a financial crisis that threatens the family estate.

Mazo de la Roche published Jalna, the first book in the series, in 1927 and achieved instant fame and fortune at the age of 48.  Interestingly, the book first appeared in an American magazine, Atlantic Monthly, where it won a $10,000 award, rather than in a Canadian publication.  She went on to write 15 more books in the series and all were bestsellers.  A movie version of Jalna was released in the 1930’s and there was a later CBC television series.  The house in Ontario believed to be the inspiration for Jalna is maintained by a museum association.

Something about the Whiteoak Chronicles has stayed with me all these years and I was delighted to find so many of them on our trip.  Re-reading them has not been a disappointment and I’m just as invested in this family’s saga as I was back then.  I’m looking forward to tracking down the volumes I don’t have.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2010.