We Own The Sky

April 18

   I am absolutely surprised by how much I liked this debut novel. Surprised because We Own the Sky is about a child who dies, and whose father drowns his sorrows in alcohol. Not my usual cup of tea, but I literally could not put this book down, can’t stop thinking about it, and would be glad to read it again.

   The setting is contemporary London, and the main characters are Rob Coates, his wife Anna, and their son Jack.  Rob is a talented computer programmer who has sold his business to a large company, and he no longer has to work very much.  He met his wife Anna, an accountant, when they were at Cambridge together. After a great deal of difficulty, they have a son, Jack, who is the light of their lives. When Jack is just five years old, he begins having health problems, and tragically he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery only offers a temporary respite to his symptoms, and when problems return, Jack and Anna are told that there is nothing else that can be done for Jack.

   Rob turns to an on line support forum called “Hope’s Place” to learn more from other families in similar situations. On the site, parents gather to talk about their children’s illnesses and their frustration at ineffective treatments. Through Hope’s Place, Rob reads about a controversial clinic in Prague that might offer a cure. Anna, the rational, data driven accountant, is dead set against anything that has not been proven, researched, and documented.

    The title of the book, We Own the Sky, comes from a website that Rob created. On the site, he posts stunning panoramic photographs he has taken of places that he and Jack visited together. It becomes a form of therapy for him, and although it’s easy to dislike Rob because he is coping with grief by numbing himself with vodka, he ultimately becomes a sympathetic character.

    Allnutt is from the U.K., but he’s lived and worked in Prague since 1998. Currently in remission, he wrote We Own the Sky when he himself was having chemotherapy. I recommend his book highly, and I can’t wait to discuss it with book clubs.



The Friend

April 18

   This is such an unusual book – I finished it and started it all over again immediately.

   Small, 212 pages, and a nice sized book to hold in your hands. On the brightly colored cover, a dog – a Harlequin Great Dane, which looks like a cross between a Great Dane and a Dalmatian because of the spots.

   The Friend – who is the title character? Many friends, most unnamed, and the nameless main character, in a first person narrative, seems to be talking about them, to them, and talking to the dog, wishing it could talk back.

   Early on is a memorial service for an author/professor who our narrator knew well – she was one of his students, and a lover, despite the characters of Wife One, Wife Two and Wife Three. The deceased committed suicide and suicide is much talked about and wondered about in The Friend. (Somehow I did not find that depressing or grim.)

   Our narrator is also a writer, though not very successful it seems. She is serving as a writing mentor for women recovering from trauma, which she is urged to use as the basis of a book. Literary references abound; when talking about a subject, our narrator quotes literary greats, which I found fascinating. The future of writing, of fiction, of books is pondered, and has kept me thinking.
The book is told mostly in dialogue; interior, written, in person.

   There are many friends in the book, mostly unnamed, except notably for the Great Dane Apollo, a posthumous “gift” from the suicide author/professor. This gift of a 180 pound dog does not fit well into a rent controlled 500 square foot Manhattan apartment which forbids pets, though “love will find a way.”
   Heller McAlpin, reviewing for NPR, sums this book up as follows. “Nunez deftly turns this potentially mawkish story into a penetrating, moving meditation on loss, comfort, memory, what it means to be a writer today, and various forms of love and friendship.”
I agree! I can’t wait to read this for the second time, and I know it will be an interesting book club discussion!

Published February 2018


The Garden of Small Beginnings

January 18

This delightful paperback was published May 2, 2017.

An uplifting story about a garden; planted, nourished and enjoyed by a broad cast of varied, likeable, realistic and quirky characters. 

Young widow Lilian, an illustrator, has been asked to take a 6 week gardening class at The Los Angeles Botanic Garden in preparation for illustrating a series of boutique vegetable guides for the venerable Bloem Garden Company.  Not a gardener, Lilian reluctantly arrives at the first Saturday morning class with her two daughters  and her very supportive sister Rachel in tow.  Also in the class are some of the most enjoyable characters I've read about in a long time.  At the lead of the garden project is attractive in every way Edward Bloem, head of his family garden supply company, and commissioner of Lilian's illustrations.

At the heart of the book is the theme of change, and each of the gardeners experiences change in their own way.  The beginnings of the title refer not only to newly planted and growing vegetables, but change that comes over everyone in the group, and new directions that their lives will take.  

Each chapter begins with a short and interesting little tutorial on how to plant the fruits or vegetables for the week's project. (disclaimer:  Iam not a gardener, and enjoyed these lessons!)  The author writes with such quirky dry humor that I really did laugh out loud reading this book.

I recommend The Garden of Small Beginnings to anyone who wants a great lighter read, a book to take on vacation, or a book that will make you feel like you have been on vacation.

Sometime you can judge a book by a cover - I think in this case, it's true. This is Abbi Waxman's first work of fiction, hopefully there is more to come. 


The Trust

December 17

This is the latest from Wilmette attorney Ronald Balson, who authored Once We Were Brothers, Saving Sophie, and Karolina's Twins. Again, lawyer/detective/investigator Liam Taggart is the hero.

Liam receives a phone call from his cousin Annie in Ireland: Uncle Fergus is dead, and Liam needs to be in Ireland for the funeral in three days time. This is strange, as Liam had been estranged from his Irish family for 16 years, (after they discovered that he was a CIA spy.) Stranger still is that when Uncle Fergus's will was read, Liam was named executor and trustee, chosen over Fergus's children and common law wife. Furthermore, the trust specifies that if there is any suspicion about Uncle Fergus's cause of death (and a fatal gunshot wound to the head sounds suspicious) none of Fergus's assets, and they are considerable, can be distributed to any heirs until the cause of death is resolved and the people responsible for it have been identified and brought to justice.  The Taggart family does have its enemies, though who would kill Uncle Fergus? And why would Fergus write these instructions into the will - did he know he was at risk for murder?

Understandably, the heirs are anxious to get their hands on their share of Fergus's money, and they resent that Liam is in charge.  Liam, a new father, is not too happy with the responsibility either, and would really rather be home in Chicago.  Liam's wife Catherine, also an attorney and usually his co-investigator, is off stage in this book, at home with a new baby and unavailable to race around Ireland with him. The author brings in Catherine's expertise via phone calls between husband and wife.

This is a good, fast-paced read in which suspense and plot twists abound.  Layers of bad guys are suspected, threatening phone calls received, and family members die one by one.



The Story of Arthur Truluv

December 17

This is a lovely story from Elizabeth Berg, author of Tapestry of Fortunes and The Last Time I Saw You. 

Main character Arthur has lost his wife Nola, the love of his life.  Each day, he faithfully visits her grave, bringing his chair and lunch so he can eat his midday meal with her.  He talks to her about this and that, tidies her grave site, and promises to come back the next day.

One day he noticed a teenage girl wandering among the graves, occasionally sitting down.  Why, he wondered, would she be there during the school day, and why on earth would she be wearing all black clothes, with rips in her jeans, and a ring through her nose like a cow?

He introduced himself, her name is Maddy. She likes to come to the cemetery during her school lunch to take photographs, and compose poems,  She likes the peace and quiet, away from the students who tease her. Arthur and Maddy form a deep friendship, talking often and deeply.  She nicknames him "Truluv" for his everlasting love for his late wife.

Later, Maddy gets herself into quite a predicament, and runs away from home.  Her kindly teacher and wife offer to take her in, she knows it won't work out.  She and her dear friend Arthur come to an arrangement that works out beautifully for both of them.  I won't ruin the book by telling you how it turns out, though rest assured that neither Arthur nor Maddy are lonely again.

I don't often cry while reading, for this book, I advise having a few kleenex at hand.