Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening
Caring for her yard and garden was never much of a priority for Carol Wall, but one day she decided she had neglected it long enough. Her neighbor had a great yard, so she hired her neighbor’s gardener, Giles Owita. Mr Owita transformed Carol’s yard, trimming trees and adding colorful flowers; but he also changed her life. His advice on plant problems grew into advice on life problems. Mr Owita and Carol became more than an employee and employer; they became friends. Their relationship grew to include Carol’s husband Dick, Mr Owita’s wife Bienta, and the Owita children.
When Carol’s cancer relapsed, the Owita’s supported and encouraged her. When Mr Owita got sick, Carol rallied her friends to help his family.
Mister Owita’s Guide To Gardening is a charming memoir. Carol Wall writes with honesty about her own needs. She has a great deal of insight into both herself and others. I enjoyed the parallels she drew between a blossoming yard and a blooming heart.
Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is a story about gardening, of course, but its a story about so much more. Its a story about family, faith, healing and personal growth. Most of all, its a story about the friendship between Carol and Mr Owita.
The Sisters Weiss
In a very conservative Jewish family, sisters Rose and Pearl grew up close in age and close to one another. Like all sisters, tho, they also envied one another. When Rose, as a young teenager, brought home a book of photographs, Pearl reported her to their parents- with severe consequences.
Rose was sent to live with her grandmother and attend and even more conservative religious school. Instead of reforming her behavior, she took the opportunity to do more forbidden things- even enrolling in a college photography class. Rose’s family made one more attempt to keep her from straying, by arranging a marriage for her. Rose accepted it- until a few days before the wedding, when her groom told her she would have to give up her beloved photography.
Torn between family and tradition on one hand, and freedom and art on the other, what could Rose do?
The Sisters Weiss jumps forward forty years at this point, for the second half of the book. Both sisters now have daughters of their own- and haven’t spoken to each other in years. Its impossible to summarize without a spoiler for the first half, so I’m just going to leave it there. Except to say that the tension between faith and freedom repeats itself for younger generations.
I have read and enjoyed many of Ragen’s other books. This one, however, struck a surprisingly personal note with me. I also grew up in a very conservative religious family- altho not Jewish, and not as strict as the fictional Weiss family. I can very much relate to the struggles Rose and Pearl face- trying to find their place in both their faith and the world.
In The Sisters Weiss, Ragen has written an interesting story. She has also addresses complicated, real-life issues with understanding and grace.
You might like (both non-fiction): Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent
The Burgess Boys
The Burgess Boys is the story of a family: brothers Jim and Bob, and their sister Susan; as well as their respective spouses, exes, and children. When Jim, Bob, and Susan were very young, they were in the car when an accident killed their father. Bob has always believed himself to be responsible. The heavy burden he carries has led him to a solitary life in a small apartment with lots of alcohol. Jim, on the other hand, has become a successful and famous lawyer with a lovely family and a nice house. Unlike her brothers, Susan did not move to New York but stayed in their hometown, where she also has a small, cold life. Her only joy is her son, Zach- until his teenage prank mushrooms into a hate crime against the Somali Muslims that have immigrated to their hometown.
Zach’s legal case forms the framework for The Burgess Boys, but it is not the story: the story is the brothers, Jim and Bob, and their struggle to navigate their relationships with each other and the people around them. This is not a book with lots of action or major plot points, but it is a book with incredible character development. The narration rotates among a handful of main players, allowing the reader to see the characters from both their own and others perspectives.
Yes, The Burgess Boys is about immigration, racism, and the law. It is also about middle-aged marriage, divorce, and falling in love again. But ultimately, it is about family. It is about the narrative of who you are in your family, starting in early childhood, and how it shapes the person you are as an adult. Its about the Burgess boys, Jim and Bob, and the people they love -and hurt- the most.
After I’m Gone
When local big shot and bookie Felix Brewer skipped bail and disappeared, he left behind a wife Bambi, three daughters, and a mistress, Julie. When Julie disappeared ten years later, many people assumed he had sent for her. It was 15 years before her body was discovered.
Private investigator Sandy Sanchez is trying to solve the cold case of Julie’s murder. Digging into the past, he finds layer after layer of secrets and lies. But will he discover the truth?
After I’m Gone uses multiple narrators and weaves together accounts spanning many years. While it initially appears to be a story about Felix, it really the story of all the women he loved and left behind. Each one adds her own unique perspective to this novel.
Part mystery, part family drama, After I’m Gone is all page-turner. Telling a story from so many viewpoints is tricky, but Lippman did an excellent job. Each character has their own distinct voice but they tell one story.
The Baby Chase: how surrogacy is transforming the American family
Leslie Morgan Steiner
10-12% of people (or 1 in 8) struggle with infertility. Fortunately, the last 50 years have seen unbelievable advances in the field of assistive reproductive technology (ART.) Unfortunately for some people, all the technology in the world still doesn’t result in being able to conceive or carry a baby to term. They are left with 2 options: adoption or surrogacy.
The Baby Chase details the journey to surrogacy for one couple, Gerry and Rhonda Wile. Steiner weaves together their story with medical and technological facts that are detailed but accessible. For many reasons, a growing number of surrogate mothers are in India, and their history finds its place in the narrative too.
The Baby Chase is part human-interest story and part medical study. All the parts are well drawn and accessible with attention to detail.
The Deepest Secret
Tyler celebrates his 14th birthday in the backyard, after dark. He has a rare disease called “XP” which makes UV light fatal. His mom Eve has done her best to shelter him, and their family life revolves around a series of elaborate protocals to keep Tyler safe. The reality is, tho, he will still probably die before he turns 20. Tyler’s older sister Melissa seems to accept their unusual life, but as she nears 16, she starts to buck against her parents’ rules. Their dad, David, is working in another state and struggling to stay close to his family.
Tyler’s family thinks they are doing ok (fatal disease notwithstanding) until the night Eve’s best friend’s daughter Amy goes missing. The seach for Amy takes over all of their lives. The strain of this tragedy, on top of their daily struggles, might just be too much.
Tyler has a secret: he sneaks out at night with a camera. At first he just took pictures of wildlife and plants, but soon he discovered the irresistable thrill of peering into his neighbors’ lives. Everyone has secrets, and Tyler knows a lot of them. But its the one secret he doesn’t know that could be the hardest for him to face.
The Deepest Secret could be classified as a fairly standard women’s novel. The chapters narrated by Eve and David are like a lot of other chapters about two married, disconnected people. But the chapters from Tyler’s perspective elevate this novel above the ordinary. His character and voice are unique. Its rare to read a novel with a 14 year old boy that has been this well developed.
Everyone has secrets. And The Deepest Secret will keep you turning the pages, wanting to find out all of them.
This Dark Road to Mercy
Easter and Ruby have been living in foster care since the death of their mother. Then one day their father Wade shows up. He had previously relinquished his rights to them, but now he wants to take them from foster care and give them a home. Easter and Ruby are excited but wary, since Wade hasn’t been trustworthy in the past.
Brady Weller is the girls’ guardian ad litem, an advocate for them in the courts. He is a former police detective who was forced to retire after causing a fatal accident. He wants to make sure the girls are safe in a good home. He also would really like to solve a bank robbery cold case.
Pruitt is an enforcer for a local heavy, tryibg to tracking down his missing bank robbery money. Pruitt leaves a trail of bodies behind and his path comes dangerously close to the girls.
All these stories are set against the backdrop of McGuire and Sosa racing to beat the world record in home runs. Baseball forms the backdrop for this novel.
So what is This Dark Road to Mercy about? Is it about family? Is it a detective story? Is it about baseball? Yes, to all of these. In the end it might be about redemption, and finding mercy where you least expect it.