More Like Her by Liza Palmer

She's got it all. At least that's what it seems like to speech therapist Frances Reid upon meeting her lovely, talented and successful new boss, Emma Dunham (who happens to be the first ever female headmistress at the posh Markham Prep School. Ahem, she's that perfect.). Perfect job, husband, house and life and to top it off, Frannie discovers she's actually a really nice person. While in comparison, Frannie's life could nicely be described as a train-wreck. But what do we really know about our friends lives, if anything at all? That's the question Frannie and her friends must ask themselves when tragedy strikes Markham School and Emma Dunham in particular.

I honestly do not know how Liza Palmer keeps doing it. Really. This latest novel*, More Like Her, contains one of the touchiest subjects out there -- bullying, abuse, and hello...death and she just pushes it all upfront and forces you to deal with it straight on -- all the time feeling like you're right there. Especially in all those moments when the characters are dealing with messy aftermath of hurt and guilt for trying to get on with their lives. Because that's really where this book excels. You'd think reading a novel where every couple of pages someone is falling apart would be annoying at best or even slightly embarrassing, but no. Not remotely so. Frannie and company's grief is so real and honest and open that it becomes impossible for you to even think of addressing the circumstances any other way.

What I especially loved was that Liza Palmer gave each of her characters room to deal with such a horrible event in their own way. Be it healthy or not. Frannie wants to 'taaaalk' about it all, Jill doesn't want to ever speak of it again and Lisa, well, Lisa finds the silver lining through it all. And then there's Sam. Sam about broke my heart numerous times with his quick Southern boy charm and manners and his definite un-okayness with it all. But it was just so understandable, warts and all. Every single reaction felt real and while utterly sad in theory it was thoroughly suffused with Liza Palmer's trademark dry wit to keep everyone moving along.

One thing I really like about Liza Palmer's books is that she doesn't dumb down to her audience. She doesn't explain every reference or give her readers time to catch up, she simply drops these little or big nothings along the way and expects you to be with her 100%. Can I say how much I love that about her books? It's like mental gymnastics in the best way possible. This is never more apparent in Frannie's case as she often leaves much unsaid (or halfway said) and expects the reader to follow along. And can I just say: I'm totally with you, Ms. Palmer, totally.

*Just do me a favor and stay far, far away from the publisher's book description. It's waaayyy too spoilery for it's own good. Grrr..

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Leeswammes' review
Peeking Between the Pages review

book source: my local library

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

2013 where have you gone? That seems such a trite statement, but I honestly cannot believe we are well into April and I still have not posted a single review this year. Shameful, really. Despite my good intentions to share with you all the good, bad, and even some not-so-great books I've come across this year, I just hadn't hit that one story that I wanted to natter on and on about. Then I finally settled in with a book my dear book friend Angie had recommended ages ago, one I had picked up around Christmastime but had never gotten around to reading. The book was The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley and the rest, shall we say, is history. Because this book, my friends, is one I will never forget.

As a best-selling historical fiction author, Carrie McClelland is accustomed to her characters speaking to her. And once again, that same fire and inspiration is beginning to flood her dreams as she embarks on her latest project: a novel set during the attempt to restore Jacobite James Stuart to the Scottish throne in 1708. Embracing historical accuracy to a fault, Carrie decides to relocate to a small cottage within shouting distance of the ruined Slains Castle where much of her story takes place. And in a move seemingly decided by fate decides to use the name of her own ancestor, Sophia Paterson, as her heroine.

While staying at Cruden Bay, Sophia's story begins to flow with an ease previously inexperienced by Carrie. Aided by the amiable locals and her friendly landlord (not to mention his two very charming sons) Carrie slowly realizes that every insignificant detail, every plot twist, even the layout of the castle she has been spot on in writing about -- even before she learned the historical facts. As the line between history and fiction continues to blur for Carrie, she finds herself drawn to her ancestor Sophia who faced heartbreak beyond compare and joy without measure. All of which lead her to question, what if we could tap into the memories stored in our very genes?

When I first heard about The Winter Sea as a sort of time-travel romance I was intrigued. The only book like that I had previously read was Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, which while fun, didn't ultimately do much for me. So happily unawares at what I was getting myself into, I started The Winter Sea expecting such similar tepid fare. How utterly wrong I was. The Winter Sea is like Outlander's more mature, more experienced, intelligent older sister saturated with honest, real emotions and historical treasures like the descriptions of the French court at Saint-Germain and Sophia's stay at Slains Castle. Yet despite the profusion of history described, The Winter Sea is never once plodding or boring. Quite the opposite, in fact. The two stories of Carrie and Sophia were woven seamlessly together. I was always anxious to find out how Carrie would fare in Cruden Bay with her two very different, yet, similar suitors but I quickly became desperate to discover how the bright Sophia would fare in such turbulent times. Because Susanna Kearsley did not let that woman travel the easy road in no way, shape, or form. But thankfully, she did surround Sophia with people who loved her and watched out for her, including the brilliant Countess of Erroll who gave this piece of piercingly accurate advice after Sophia went through some truly heartbreaking events.
'I do promise that you will survive this. Faith, my own heart is so scattered round the country now, I marvel that it has the strength each day to keep me standing. But it does,' she said, and drawing in a steady breath she pulled back just enough to raise a hand to wipe Sophia's tears. 'It does. And so will yours.'
'How can you be so sure?'
'Because it is a heart, and knows no better.'
"It knows no better." That very line right there got struck right in my heart. The sensitivity and depth of emotion in these chapters did not just induce minor sniffling on my part, but full-out shoulders-shaking, tears-streaming crying. And all because Ms. Kearsley's characters had sunk their lovely hooks deep into my heart and refused to let go. But never fear, because despite my extreme worry that Ms. Kearsley would not be able to give these people I had fallen quite in love with the happily ever after they deserved (you can't change history after all), she somehow pulled it off. Beautifully. To me, this story is all about the power of hope and love and learning to never give up. A truly beautiful book that I would recommend to anyone.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
~ The Adeventures of an Intrepid Reader review
~ Angieville's review
~ Book Harbinger's review
~ Luxury Reading review
~ Tempting Persephone review

Book source: purchased