Review: The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs

Review: The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan WiggsThe Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow on August 13, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The #1 New York Times bestselling author brings us her most ambitious and provocative work yet—a searing and timely novel that explores the most volatile issue of our time—domestic violence.

At the break of dawn, Caroline Shelby rolls into Oysterville, Washington, a tiny hamlet at the edge of the raging Pacific.

She’s come home.

Home to a place she thought she’d left forever, home of her heart and memories, but not her future. Ten years ago, Caroline launched a career in the glamorous fashion world of Manhattan. But her success in New York imploded on a wave of scandal and tragedy, forcing her to flee to the only safe place she knows.

And in the backseat of Caroline’s car are two children who were orphaned in a single chilling moment—five-year-old Addie and six-year-old Flick. She’s now their legal guardian—a role she’s not sure she’s ready for.

But the Oysterville she left behind has changed. Her siblings have their own complicated lives and her aging parents are hoping to pass on their thriving seafood restaurant to the next generation. And there’s Will Jensen, a decorated Navy SEAL who’s also returned home after being wounded overseas. Will and Caroline were forever friends as children, with the promise of something more . . . until he fell in love with Sierra, Caroline’s best friend and the most beautiful girl in town. With her modeling jobs drying up, Sierra, too, is on the cusp of reinventing herself.

Caroline returns to her favorite place: the sewing shop owned by Mrs. Lindy Bloom, the woman who inspired her and taught her to sew. There she discovers that even in an idyllic beach town, there are women living with the deepest of secrets. Thus begins the Oysterville Sewing Circle—where women can join forces to support each other through the troubles they keep hidden.

Yet just as Caroline regains her creativity and fighting spirit, and the children begin to heal from their loss, an unexpected challenge tests her courage and her heart. This time, though, Caroline is not going to run away. She’s going to stand and fight for everything—and everyone—she loves.

My Review:

The Oysterville Sewing Circle turned out to be a lovely story with multiple themes – and everything I expected from this author. Particularly after last year’s marvelous Between You and Me.

First of all, this is a story about home – the Robert Frost version of home being the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Because as the story begins, Caroline Shelby is returning to tiny Oysterville because she needs to take refuge. Her life has both fallen apart and moved in a direction that she never expected, and she needs help and a place to heal.

Secondly, this is most definitely a love story – in multiple senses of that phrase. Partly, it’s a lovely second-chance-at-love story. The love of Caroline’s life is also back in Oysterville. They missed their chance back in high school, but chance has come around again – and this time they are both mature enough to grab it and hang on tight.

There’s another kind of love in this story. Caroline has returned to Oysterville with two children in tow, children that she never expected or planned to have. But that she agreed to care for out of love for her best friend, suddenly dead of a drug overdose. Over the course of the story, she comes to love Addie and Flick not just for their mother’s sake, but for their own. And it’s Caroline’s metamorphosis from slightly reluctant and completely overwhelmed guardian to adopted “mom” that gives the story much of its heart.

The soul of this one comes from the darker circumstances that gave birth to both Caroline’s need to flee New York and her guardianship of Addie and Flick after their mother’s sudden death.

Because their mother Angelique was a top-tier fashion model who had been chewed up and spit out by the cutthroat fashion industry. As had her designer friend Caroline, who had seen her award-winning designs stolen by the man she believed was her mentor.

Once the truth finally comes out, Caroline discovers that she got off relatively easy, but that the damage that same man had done to Angelique was more than she could survive. Which leads to the three darker themes of the story.

Angelique was a high-functioning drug addict who hid her addiction well, until it killed her. Whether the man who regularly abused her got her hooked or simply drove her back to drugs when she couldn’t bear the beatings any longer is not known. But his physical abuse of Angelique as well as his deliberate destruction of Caroline’s career shines a bright light into the crawling darkness of the #MeToo movement.

And Caroline’s need to do something, anything, to give women like Angelique a safe place to talk, to be listened to, and to be heard, exposes the hidden-yet-not-hidden secret cesspool of domestic abuse, that it happens everywhere, even in small, seemingly perfect places like Oysterville.

And that both domestic abuse and addiction affect every person around the abuse and the addiction in ways that ripple out like a stone thrown into a pond.

Every town needs an Oysterville Sewing Club – and women like Caroline who stand up to become beacons of hope – and who receive hope themselves.

Escape Rating A: This was one of my airplane books on the way back from Ireland. I had 8 hours to kill, which meant plenty of time to read. The part of the trip I spent in Oysterville with Caroline absolutely flew by – pun definitely intended.

This is a story with a lot going on, taking a surprising dive into areas that don’t seem like the province of women’s fiction – particularly not so many all in the same WOW of a book.

There were a lot of things that I loved about this story. I think that the biggest was that Caroline never has all the answers. She just has questions – and the more she questions the more comes to light.

Caroline’s part of the story both echoes and illuminates the #MeToo movement. In her case, it was never about sex – only about exploitation. She had the ideas, but her supposed mentor had all the power. Her attempt to fight back against his blatant theft destroyed her career and left him even better off than before. And it’s both utterly disgusting and absolutely believable.

What made the story for me was Caroline’s attempt to understand what happened to her friend. Both because she feels guilty that she didn’t see the signs of the addiction, and because she didn’t speak up about the abuse that she suspected was going on. Out of her desire to understand, and admittedly to expiate some of her guilt, she starts the organization that becomes the Oysterville Sewing Society in order to give women in her old/new community a safe place. A place that she also needs.

And out of that comes her own healing, both emotionally and for the career that she thought was dead in the water. That she gets justice for her friend, and a happy ever after for herself and her children, is icing on a very lovely cake.

Bittersweet chocolate is my favorite, after all.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

 

Review: Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs

Review: Between You and Me by Susan WiggsBetween You and Me by Susan Wiggs
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on June 26, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Deep within the peaceful heart of Amish country, a life-or-death emergency shatters a quiet world to its core. Number-one New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs delivers a riveting story that challenges our deepest-held beliefs.

Caught between two worlds, Caleb Stoltz is bound by a deathbed promise to raise his orphaned niece and nephew in Middle Grove, where life revolves around family, farm, faith—and long-held suspicions about outsiders. When disaster strikes, Caleb is thrust into an urban environment of high-tech medicine and the relentless rush of modern life.

Dr. Reese Powell is poised to join the medical dynasty of her wealthy, successful parents. Bold, assertive, and quick-thinking, she lives for the addictive rush of saving lives. When a shocking accident brings Caleb Stoltz into her life, Reese is forced to deal with a situation that challenges everything she thinks she knows—and ultimately emboldens her to question her most powerful beliefs.

Then one impulsive act brings about a clash of cultures in a tug-of-war that plays out in a courtroom, challenging the very nature of justice and reverberating through generations, straining the fragile threads of faith and family.

Deeply moving and unforgettable, Between You and Me is an emotionally complex story of love and loss, family and friendship, and the arduous road to discovering the heart’s true path.

My Review:

Between You and Me is not quite what I was expecting. Much in the same way that neither Reese Powell’s nor Caleb Stoltz’ lives turn out quite the way that they – or anyone around them – expected.

The unexpected can turn out to be wonderful.

Reese Powell and Caleb Stoltz don’t seem to have much in common, at least not on the surface, and they certainly live lives that should never have intersected. But life is funny that way, and sometimes we meet the people we really need to when we really need them.

Even if, or especially because, they challenge us and everything we thought we believed. The best laid plans of mice, men and especially parents go oft astray.

Caleb’s nephew is injured in a tragic accident, and his tiny Amish farming community does not have the resources needed to keep the boy from bleeding out. His nearly severed arm is a lost cause, but the boy’s life isn’t – at least not yet. When the life flight helicopter comes to take Jonah Stoltz from Middle Grove to Philadelphia, Caleb rides along.

His first ride in a helicopter, something that he has always longed to do.

While Caleb may be Amish, his heart has always yearned for the wider world. When he went on his rumspringa, his version of going wild was to attend college. He had no plans to return to Middle Grove and his abusive father.

But when his older brother and sister-in-law were murdered, Caleb took up his duty and returned to care for his niece and nephew. Not just because he made a promise to his brother as he lay dying, but to prevent his father from abusing the two children who would otherwise be left in his care.

Jonah’s tragic accident gives Caleb a tiny, tempting chance to break away from his life for a brief moment, and in his care for the boy he lets himself take it.

Reese Powell is a fourth-year resident at the hospital where Jonah is taken. She’s part of the trauma team that preps the boy for surgery. And something in her heart reaches out to the boy whose life has just irrevocably changed, and to the lost, lonely man who is truly a stranger in a strange land in the urban setting.

Just as Caleb takes this brief opportunity to break free of the life he is expected to lead, in her friendship with him Reese discovers an opportunity to examine what she wants for herself, and to break free of the heavy weight of her parents’ expectation.

They expect her to become a pediatric surgeon so that she can become a partner in their high powered and highly successful OB/GYN IVF practice. A practice that produced Reese herself. But what they want for her is not what she wants for herself. Not that Reese does not want to be a doctor, but that she wants to be a different kind of doctor than her parents, or than her parents have planned for her to be.

And even though their attempts at any relationship beyond friendship seem doomed to failure, that they try gives both of them the courage to discover what they are truly searching for in life.

It might even lead them back to each other.

Escape Rating A+: Upon reflection, I don’t think that the blurb matches the book all that much, except for its final paragraph. Between You and Me is deeply moving and unforgettable, and it is an emotionally complex story of love, loss, family, friendship and just how difficult it can be to find your own true path and the people who you need to have walking that path beside you.

But this isn’t a story about faith, except possibly faith in oneself. It also is not a story about beliefs, at least not in the religious sense that feels implied in the blurb. Instead, it feels a story about the intersection of duty and commitment, about the weight of promises made and the guilt of promises broken. And how sometimes it’s necessary to break the literal meaning of a promise in order to keep the spirit of it.

Caleb is Amish, but he has never been baptised in the faith. In other words, he has always had plenty of doubts, and those doubts have kept him from becoming a full member of the community. He promised his brother that he would raise his children in Middle Grove, but he did not promise to make any religious commitments of his own to the community.

Caleb has always had a foot in both camps. He lives in Middle Grove, but he works for the English in nearby Grantham Park, as the lead horse trainer for the Budweiser Clydesdales as well as other big, beautiful horses. And he does accounting on the side.

Much of the clash of cultures in the story is about the clash within Caleb’s heart. He wants to leave. He’s always wanted to leave. A big part of this story comprises the circumstances that finally make him realize that he needs to leave, both for his niece and nephew’s sake and for his own.

It’s often a hard choice, and it’s one that we see Caleb struggle with every step of the way.

Reese’s problem often seem much easier, but that doesn’t mean that her difficulties aren’t real or that we don’t feel for her as well. Because we do.

There is a romance at the heart of Between You and Me, but this is not a romance in the genre sense. The story here revolves around Caleb’s and Reese’s separate journeys to find themselves and the truth of their own hearts – not in the romantic sense but in the finding true purpose sense.

The happy ending is their reward for taking the difficult path. And it’s the reader’s reward for following them on their journey.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

Review: Map of the Heart by Susan WiggsMap of the Heart by Susan Wiggs
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on August 22nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Susan Wiggs—an author “who paints the details of human relationships with the finesse of a master” (Jodi Picoult)—returns with a deeply emotional and atmospheric story of love and family, war and secrets that moves back and forth across time, from the present day to World War II France
An accomplished photographer, widow, and mother, Camille Palmer is content with the blessings she’s enjoyed. When her ageing father asks her to go with him to his native France, she has no idea that shes embarking on an adventure that will shake her complacency and utterly transform her.
Returning to the place of his youth sparks unexpected memories—recollections that will lead Camille, her father, and her daughter, Julie, who has accompanied them, back to the dark, terrifying days of the Second World War, where they will uncover their family’s surprising history.
While Provence offers answers about her family’s past, it also holds the key to Camille’s future. Along the way, Camille meets a handsome American historian who stirs a passion deep within her she thought she’d never experience again.

My Review:

I picked up Map of the Heart because I absolutely adored last year’s Family Tree. And while I did like Map of the Heart, it just didn’t suck me into reading it in a single non-stop day the way that Family Tree did.

I want to say that Map of the Heart is two stories blended into one. But that happens on more than one axis, making me wonder if I should describe it as two stories, or perhaps four.

First, it’s a time-slip story. While most of the action takes place in the 21st century present, there are significant chapters that occur in the mid-20th century past, in the midst of the Italian, and subsequently German, occupation of southeastern France during the dark days of World War II. And much of the 21st century action revolves around discovering the connections between that old history and today in the lives of the story’s protagonists, particularly Henry Palmer, nee Palomar, his daughter Camille and her daughter Julie.

But the story also has its 21st century “before and after”. The beginning of the story takes place in Camille’s tiny hometown of Bethany Bay, Maryland. And all is far from well. Five years previously, Camille’s husband Jace was killed in a tragic accident, and the formerly adventurous Camille retreated from the world into her safe space in her small town. Jace’s death left her afraid to risk, not just for herself, but also for her daughter Julie. Julie was 9 when her father died, and is now 14, ready to begin stretching her wings while still having a nest to fly back to. Instead, Julie’s life seems to be on hold while Camille retreats in fear from the universe. And in her continued self-absorption, Camille doesn’t recognize that Julie is suffering from the hell that is mean-girl high school bullying.

And as if her fears for Julie are not enough, Camille is still reeling after her beloved father’s year of cancer treatment. Henry’s cancer is currently in remission, but they all know that this is only a reprieve and not a cure.

In the midst of the mess she already has, two events burst the safe shell of Camille’s little world. Professor Malcolm Finnemore needs Camille, in her professional capacity as a restorer of found archival film, to process the photos retrieved from his father’s old camera – the last pictures that intrepid journalist Robert Finnemore took before he was captured by the North Vietnamese Army and never seen again.

And the tenants residing in the old farmhouse that Camille discovers her father still owns back in his native France send him a large trunk filled with mementos of the life that her father left behind – including old photographs of his beautiful but haunted mother and his despicable father, a Nazi collaborator. Henry Palmer wants to go home, to deal with the ghosts these mementos have brought to light.

Julie wants to escape her tormentors by any means available, and France sounds like a great place to go. Camille just wants to keep her little family safe at home, so that she doesn’t have to confront her fears, or anyone’s ghosts.

But the exposure of Julie’s suffering keeps reminding her that even home is not safe. And that her fears should not continue to cripple her daughter, or keep her father from closure of his own griefs.

And if she can heal just a bit of what’s holding her back, the handsome Professor Finnemore is also in France, just waiting to help her the rest of the way. If she can bear to let go.

Escape Rating B: So this story is split along two different axes. We see Camille and her family in the present, and also her grandmother Lisette in the past. A huge part of this story involves Camille’s search to make the two connect. Because at first they don’t. Lisette, just like Camille, was a photographer. And her photographs of herself and of her disgusting husband lead Camille to an inescapable conclusion – blond and blue-eyed Lisette and her equally blond and blue-eyed husband could not have been the parents of black-haired and brown-eyed Henry. Genetics don’t work that way. Since Lisette died giving birth to Henry, her part in his parentage is not in question, leaving her husband’s part in grave but oddly hopeful doubt. Finding out that one is not the son or the granddaughter of a despicable Nazi collaborator would, after all, come as a great relief.

Camille is hunting for the truth of her own heritage. Most of her hunt takes place after she bows to the inevitable and accompanies her father and her daughter to France. And it is at that point, when she finally, reluctantly boards that plane, that the story itself takes wing.

Unfortunately, that point is literally at the halfway point. The first half of the story, back in Bethany Bay, felt like a slog for this reader. Seeing the situation that Camille, and Julie, are escaping from is necessary, but for this reader it went on much too long. It’s not just that it is all depressing, although Julie’s situation certainly is depressing, it’s also the way that Camille drags her feet just drags down on the story. Her almost-pathological resistance slows the story to a crawl until she finally gets on that damn plane.

At first, the brief trip back to Lisette’s past, while interesting, doesn’t change the tone. Her part of the story is dark, because her history was dark. And while all of these issues are important to the story as a whole, they just didn’t move much. I didn’t need them to be happy, that wouldn’t have been appropriate, but I did need more of a sense that they were moving the story forward and not just wallowing. Your mileage may vary.

Once the action moves to France, the story kicks into gear. Camille’s hunt for her family’s history was fascinating, and the involvement with and explanation of the uses of “found film” was very interesting. There are quite a few projects and specialists who deal with these issues in the real world, and what they discover often brings to light first-person perspectives on events that were thought to be lost. (If this part of the story grabs you, check out The Rescued Film Project)

Reviewer’s note: One thing that this book does well is to convey the sheer and utter hopelessness that happens when one is the victim of bullying. Anything that you do, or that your family attempts to do, just makes it worse. It always happens away from adult supervision, and the packs of bullies are very good at protecting themselves. Because they are often led by the popular kids, and because other kids want to be part of that in group and not become victims themselves, the one being bullied is left with nowhere to turn. And the more isolated the victims become, the less likely anyone on the outside is to believe them. I am speaking from brutal experience, which made me both empathize deeply with Julie and desperately want that part of the story to move on – fast. That Henry was still scarred by his own experiences of bullying, even though those events were more than a half-century in the past, rang entirely too true.

Review: Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

Review: Family Tree by Susan WiggsFamily Tree by Susan Wiggs
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on August 9th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For readers of Kristin Hannah and Jodi Picoult comes a powerful, emotionally complex story of love, loss, the pain of the past—and the promise of the future.
Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes.
Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Manhattan home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child.
But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a year-long coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she's lost.
Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned ex-cop. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.
Family Tree is the story of one woman’s triumph over betrayal, and how she eventually comes to terms with her past. It is the story of joys unrealized and opportunities regained. Complex, clear-eyed and big-hearted, funny, sad, and wise, it is a novel to cherish and to remember.

My Review:

I read this yesterday in one gloriously delicious reading binge – which seems totally appropriate considering the amount of absolutely yummy cooking that occurs within the pages this book. I couldn’t put this one down because the story is excellent.

This is a story about starting over. Annie Rush is the fortunate or unfortunate recipient of the universe’s biggest do-over. After a tragic accident, Annie miraculously wakes up from a year-long coma to discover that whoever she was, she isn’t that person anymore. And that she’ll have to figure out how much of that person she used to be she either wants to, or even can, incorporate into the person she has become.

Robert Frost famously said that “home is the place that, when you go there, they have to take you in.” Annie goes home. Or to be more accurate, Annie gets shipped home, while she is still in that coma. Her husband, star of a Hollywood cooking show that Annie conceived and produced, cuts his losses and divorces her while she is so far out of it that the organ harvesting vultures are circling.

But Annie survives. And she wakes up, a bit like the patients in the Robin Williams’ movie Awakenings, to find out that the world has gone on without her. She has to run to catch up. But first she has to learn to run, and even to walk, again.

Even though she doesn’t yet remember the recent events of her life, her past in Switchback Vermont at her family’s maple sugaring farm Sugar Rush, her first love, and the love of cooking that she inherited from her Grandmother, are very much at the front of her mind.

But she has to figure out who she wants to be when she grows up all over again. And to do that, she has to remember everything that went into making her the person she had been before the accident. Even the betrayals.

In order to have the future she always wanted, Annie first has to deal with the past. She has a second chance, and this time she’s going to get it right. And hang on to it.

Escape Rating A: This book is a bit too big to read in one sitting, but I did read it in one afternoon/evening/night marathon. We all have things in our lives we would like to do over, and this is a marvelous story about second chances.

As Annie examines her old life, as the memories come back to her in bits, she is able to see what happened, where things went right, where they went wrong, where she drifted, and where she lost her way.

On the one hand, her ex was an absolute bastard for divorcing her while she was in a coma. On the other hand, the Annie who woke up was much, much better off without his lying, cheating ass. That part of Annie’s healing is to get her own back from this arsehole will make readers stand up and cheer. It’s always fun when a slimeball gets its just desserts.

But the real story is Annie’s building a new life by figuring out which parts of the old life were important, and which were just eddies in life’s current that she had drifted into by accident or mistake. She also wakes up with a much more realistic, if slightly cynical, view of the world and those who people her world. The new Annie feels more thoughtful, and more interesting, than the old Annie.

There’s a love story here as well. One of the big things that Annie gets to do over is a second chance with her first love. We see them in Annie’s memories, both very young, very much in love, but not certain of themselves or each other. They lose each other along the way, through a series of unfortunate accidents and absolutely terrible timing. Now they are both adults, and they have a bit better chance at figuring out what is really important and what can be worked around. And they still almost blow it again.

That they finally, finally don’t is what gives this story its beautiful happy ending.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.