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The Visionist

The Visionist
Rachel Urquhart

When May Kimball finally left her abusive drunken husband, taking her children Polly and Ben with her, Polly took a lamp back into the house for one last look at the father she hated. Teenage Polly dropped the lamp, burning the house to the ground and killing her father.
May took her children to the safety of the nearby Shaker religious community, and left them there. Polly was taken under the wing of another young girl, Charity, who had been raised as a Shaker her whole life. Charity was a devout believer who had been ostracized for a skin condition.
In the safety of the Shaker community, Polly began to speak of the rhings she imagined in her dissociative state when her father raped her. The Shakers took these words as divine revelation and began to see her as a “visionist.”
Meanwhile, fire inspector Simon Pryor was looking into the fire on the Kimball farm. His plan was initially to help his corrupt employer buy the property cheaply. As Simon Pryor dives more deeply into the issues of inheritance on the farm, he begins to question his own motives.
All the while, Polly is moving towards her moment of truth. Is she really a Visionist? Has Charity’s faith been misplaced? What will happen when the whole truth is finally laid out?

The Visionist alternates narrators between Charity, Polly and Simon Pryor. To be honest, at first I skimmed Simon’s chapters because I wanted to read more about the growing friendship between the girls. But as his story unfolded, he developed into a very interesting character.

The Visionist excels in two areas. The first is the characters. Not only are Polly, Charity and Simon well-written, but there is a whole cast of supporting characters that are well developed with just a few lines.
The second is the portrayal of the Shakers. It is clear that Urquhart did extensive research into this historical sect. It would be easy to portray them with skepticism, but she treats them with warmth and respect. The details of Shaker life make this book come alive.
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The Visionist is an outstanding first novel. I hope the author writes another one just as good, because I would like to read it.

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The Kept

The Kept
James Scott.

The Kept is a novel about family, about the things we do for the people we love, and the lengths to which we will go to protect them. Its also a story about revenge, and about how one action can not balance the scale of another.
Elspeth came home to her remote family cabin from a stay in the city, working as a midwife, to find her husband and four children had been murdered. Her last son, 12 year old Caleb, was nearly mad with hunger and grief. Mistaking her for the men who killed his family, he shot her.
When Elspeth recovered just a little, the two of them struck off on a long cold trek to the nearest city, looking for answers.

Scott draws his characters with fine lines, revealing their inner lives in action and gesture. He uncovers information slowly, so that when the facts are finally stated, you are surprised but feel like you also knew it all along.
Sadly,  Scott creates these characters and then ruins them. Most of this book, people are starving, freezing and bleeding- or all three at once. The Kept is about family, and about revenge- and it doesn’t end well.

James Scott has produced an excellent first novel. I didnt precisely like it, because it was so bleak, but I still admire his talent. I am eager for him to write another book soon…maybe one with some hope.

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Dad Is Fat

Dad Is Fat
Jim Gaffigan

This book by a stand-up comedian has been very popular for several months now. I wasn’t very interested until I saw a few of his quotes on Pinterest, and then I was like, “well… I’d better check it out.”
Here’s Gaffigan’s basic premise: a fat ginger nerd somehow manages to marry a hot woman who totally has it all together. They have 5 kids in like 6 years and live in a 2 bedroom apartment in New York. ITS HILARIOUS.

From posts about home births to holidays to strollers to mealtimes, there’s nothing about little kids that Gaffigan doesn’t make hilarious. (And, for the record, also makes me go “I’m so glad thats not my life.)
Oh and an added bonus? This is clean comedy. Oh there’s messes aplenty, but no language or inappropriate jokes. 
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You might like: books by AJ Jacobs (another funny nerd who married  a woman thats way too good for him)

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Love Saves the Day

Love Saves the Day
Gwen Cooper

When Prudence’s human, Sarah, doesn’t come home, the little tabby cat starts to worry. Before too long, Sarah’s daughter Laura and her husband Josh come to pack up all Sarah’s things, and take Prudence and the boxes to their own apartment. Laura and Josh don’t understand the most basic things about cat care (like introducing yourself properly, or how and when to feed a cat.) Prudence finds refuge in the room filled with Sarah’s boxes. The things she digs out of the boxes draw the humans in; Josh is fascinated by Sarah’s musical past, while Laura uncovers photos and memories she thought were long gone.
Eventually, Laura relates the story of the first cat she loved- a neighbor’s cat called Honey. Josh and Laura are able to find common ground in the Sarah boxes. And Prudence realizes shes been lucky to find a loving home not once but twice.

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Its not common to read novels narrated by feline characters. Dogs, yes; cats, no. But I read and loved Cooper’s first book Homers Oddessy about her blind kitten (and other feline babies) and I knew if anyone could write a cat’s voice, it would be her.
Love Saves The Day is a sad book; I won’t lie. A lot of it deals with how it feels to lose someone we love. But it also illustrates what it means to love someone,  and what it means to be a family. Best of all, the character of Prudence is every bit the perfect cat
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You might like: Homers Odyssey, Cooper. Feline Mystique, Simon. Telegraph Avenue, Chabon.

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The Supreme Macaroni Company

The Supreme Macaroni Company (Valentine Trilogy #3)
Adriana Trigiani

Valentine, the Italian-American heroine of Very Valentine and Brava Valentine returns in this heart-warming story of love, family, shoes, and of course food. Valentine has revitalized her grandfather’s shoe business, making bespoke wedding shoes and launching a line for upscale department stores. She has also finally found love with a man she met in Italy, Gianluca. But nothing is perfect, and Valentine faces plenty of challenges.
First, of course, there is the massive Italian family wedding. Trigiani’s writing is especially fun and descriptive as she writes about food and dresses in a way that makes the scenes come alive. For Valentine, the wedding is not nearly so hard as the marriage. Long a single woman, she is used to being independent and strong, and has no idea how to really work in a partnership with Gianluca. The cultural and age differences between them only make the problem worse.
Valentine faces professional challenges too, and has to decide what the future of her manufactured shoe line will be.
And of course, Valentine’s family drama never stops. Her brothers and sisters and their spouses are not always supportive of her, altho she tries to help them. But her parents are a solid example of what love and partnership can look like in a marriage, even after many years.
I don’t give away story endings, but The Supreme Macaroni Company does have an unexpected plot development. Its enough to make  you wonder about Valentine’s happily ever after- but then Trigiani shows us that happiness takes many forms and can be found in many places. Valentine was never totally a typical rom-com heroine so why should her story have a typicsl ending? But all the things that made this story great are there in the end: Valentine’s stength, her family, and of course love.
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Identical

Identical
Scott Turow

25 years ago, Cass plead guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, Dita. Now, he is almost finished serving his prison sentance. His identical twin brother, Paul, has meanwhile climbed the political ladder and is now a state senator running for mayor. Dita’s brother, Hal, has never been quite convinced that Paul was not involved in the murder. Hal is now a sucessful real estate tycoon, who retains the services of Evon, a former FBI agent. He directs her to research Dita’s murder with the help of Tim, a very old private investigator who was  on the case 25 years ago.

In Identical Turow brings the courtroom drama for which his novels are famous. He includes complicated details about doing DNA and fingerprint analysis on identical twins. He switches back and for from the present drama between Cass, Paul and Hal- and what happened 25 years ago. He writes a nice backstory for Evon, including her complicated relationship with her current girlfriend.
Turow writes all of those things well, but he is most famous for (and I like him best for) his plot twists. Identical certainly has plot twists! I feel like there were 3 major ones in this novel; I did guess one (primarily because I was looking for it) but was happily blindsided by the other 2. I will say just this- its not an accident that the characters in Identical are Greek, and their names allude to more than one myth.

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You might like: Defending Jacob, Landay. The Prestige (movie)

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The Book of Someday

The Book of Someday
Dianne Dixon

Olivia grew up with a father who wqs physically present but emotionally and mentally checked out. Her stepmother was physically, emotionally and verbally abusive. Now an adult,  Olivia has turned her experiences into a novel that is selling well. But she still anticipates that everyone she meets will hurt and reject her.
When she meets Andrew at a party, she is charmed by the handsome stranger. He wins her over with romantic trips and expensive gifts. But is he too good to be true? Has Olivia found the love of her or just another man that will leave her?

Micah is an artist, world-renowned for her photography. But her photos never have any people in them. When she receives a serious medical diagnosis, she wonders if it is punishment for things she has done. Instead of getting medical treatment, she begins to travel around the country trying to get in touch with people she has wronged. Can Micah have a second chance? Or does she have to die to pay for what she has done?

AnnaLee is a young married woman who loves her husband, Jack, and daughter, Bella. But she struggles because Jack doesn’t work hard and provide for the family. Their lives are thrown into disarray when Jack’s teenage neice (who wants to be called Persephone) comes to stay with them for the summer. AnnaLee struggles to love the unhappy wild girl the same way she loves Bella. Can Jack man up for his wife and child? Can AnnaLee’s love and patience win over Persephone? Or is it too late- have their choices already gone too far?

The stories of these three women- Olivia, Micah and AnnaLee- are of course linked. The author does an excellent job, tho, of drawing the stories together gradually; so that the reader starts to put the puzzke together but is still a little surprised when the last piece clicks into place.

The Book of Someday is a beautiful story, and the characters have a lot of depth. Each of them grows throughout the story in ways I didn’t anticipate when I opened the book.
The one criticism that I have of the book is that perfect strangers tended to share well-articulated insights into their innermost selves upon first meeting people. I understand why the author did this- she was trying to show not tell- but it struck an unrealistic note.
Can I just mention that the cover was exceptional? The “notecard” image was raised with textured edges. That was what first drew me to this book.

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You might like: The Language of Flowers, Diffenbaugh.