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Surviving 26th Street
By: Carol June Stover
Publisher: PublishAmerica, LLLP
Publication Date: March 2013
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: July 23, 2014
Carol June Stover's second novel, Surviving 26th Street, is a candid work of fiction that focuses on the life of 'good wife' character, Laura Justice. While she may be happy with her title of mom and homemaker, her dream is to do more. However, the only place for a woman in the '50's was in the home.
Laura Justice's life wasn't necessarily the life she envisioned. After college, she experienced her first taste of independence. When she reconnects with Winton Justice, the last thing she imagined was he would eventually be her husband. She couldn't figure out Winton's draw-the sex? Or maybe it was his attentiveness during their courting stage that hooked her. No matter, once married, they packed up their worldly possession and headed for New York. The year is 1954 and Winton's 'can do' attitude was all Laura needed to follow him to the ends of the earth.
In the beginning, Winton was everything a good husband and provider could possibly be. He secured the perfect nest egg for his growing family in the quaint northern suburb of Mayfair, New Jersey. After his New York based advertising business implodes, Winton wastes no time moving on to the next hair-brained scheme. It's 1954 and a warm summer day. Nine-year-old Jane Justice sits in the usual place on their front porch of their 26th Street home. She knows her job: eyes on five-year-old Denton, her brother, and wait for the shouting match between her mother and father to die down before going back inside. When Winton announces his next sure fired answer to reaping millions and that the scheme includes sloth-like Hubert Hubley, it's only a matter of time before constant chaos pays a visit to the Justice home front.
Ms. Stover accomplished the task of writing a book that (I imagine) depicts what it must have been like to be a woman/mother in the 1950's. There is more than a sublime message throughout her novel that delivers a distinct message of: Women of the 50's were permitted to covet a career, but the reality was they were destined for nothing more than rearing children and making sure dinner was on the table each night for their man. While the pace is quick, the storyline itself was a bit too predictable. There were too many passages devoted to character Laura Justice's subservience to her husband. However, Ms. Stover is spot on with her depiction of Winton Justice: cad and brute wrapped up in one package. He is a believable and credible bully of a husband. When Ms. Stover does come around to writing in a backbone for Laura Justice, without giving too much of a spoiler, I was disappointed with Laura's reaction when she learns of the egregious acts her husband Winton engages in with one of their neighbors. Again, this is a quick read and I believe it could be shortened some-currently 404 pages. I would encourage Ms. Stover to focus on dialogue and build around it in her next novel. She demonstrates a strong ability when it comes to writing dialogue.
Quill says: Surviving 26th Street is a good read for women to reflect upon - 'you've come a long way baby'!
Tracy Guzeman defies the constraints of gravity in her debut novel, The Gravity of Birds, and has penned an absolutely stunning body of work.
Sisters, Natalie and Alice Kessler, are polar opposites. Natalie's beauty is obvious. It is her weapon of choice and in subtle and twisted ways uses it against her younger sister. Alice, on the other hand, is not necessarily a wallflower, but her gift of kindness resides deep within the folds of her being. Growing up in the same household was never easy. The girls were equally loved by both their parents. Years later and after the passing of their parents, trips to the lake house each summer had long-since ended. Natalie's beauty didn't falter, but her life was not what she expected. Since the age of fourteen, Alice had been a victim to the throes of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Once their parents were gone, Natalie's beauty was shelved for the rest of her life in order to live out her days as Alice's caretaker. It is only when Natalie's untimely death occurs that Alice realizes her life could have been the life she was meant to live.
Woven into the intricacies of the Kessler girls' existence is one Thomas Bayber. Nearly twenty years have passed since his summers on the lake in the home in proximity to the Kessler's retreat. Perhaps the reclusive painter, Bayber, had planned all along to resurrect the never seen "Kessler Sisters" rendition at this very moment in time... Dennis Finch had devoted his life to Bayber. How is it after so many years and the recent loss of his beloved wife that Bayber should need him now? Long gone (and somewhat forgotten), the notion of reviving their relationship is more than unsettling for Professor Finch. However, with Bayber, there was always a caveat or condition. When Finch agrees to Bayber's summons to meet, Bayber doesn't disappoint. It seems before he will agree to commission Finch with the sale of his unknown "Bayber masterpiece," he insists Finch must seek the services of (little known) art authenticator, Stephen Jameson.
Ms. Guzeman's prolifically haunting style completely consumed me. It took less than two days for me to devour the words in this 294-page novel and it is difficult to select one passage over another to site. Ms. Guzeman's carefully crafted characters' strengths and weaknesses leach into the readers memory and carry the reader down an endless and meandering river of an amazingly beautiful (and sometimes frustrating) story of disappointments, rivalries and ultimately, hope. There is one scene in particular I was so taken with that I tested it on a few of my (voracious reader) co-workers. Each and every time, their reaction was to look at me with woe begotten eyes and render their interpretation of its meaning to be maudlin. To the contrary, this reader was not only pulled to this passage that describes character Thomas Bayber, but for the remainder of the read, I often wondered if Ms. Guzeman had shed a tear or two when she carefully placed the following words onto her page: "...I was born old. My mother told me once that I looked like a grumpy old man from the moment I was born-wrinkled, pruney face, rheumy eyes. You've heard the expression an old sole? I was born with a head full of someone else's failed dreams and a heart full of someone else's memories..." Ms. Guzeman is worthy of every bit of praise for her near perfect literary prowess and I, for one, cannot wait to read her next novel. Bravo, Ms. Guzeman...bravo!
Quill says: The Gravity of Birds is a journey of desire, loss, resurrection and the underlying premise of 'what if' things had turned out differently. This is an outstandingly beautiful example of how utterly painful it is to arrive at the end of a story that was most certainly meant to be told.
The Winter Guest
By: Pam Jenoff
Publication Date: September 2014
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Date: July 9, 2014
One of the most imaginative writers once again delivers the harshest history in the most thought-provoking manner, bringing to life a tale of romance and suspense that is absolutely unforgettable.
For the Nowak twins, living in a very small community in rural Poland, WWII went from being a bit of gossip in the marketplace to absolute fear, watching their own citizens ripped from their homes in the night never to be seen again. Helena and Ruth Nowak are in charge of their siblings. With their father deceased and their mother living in a hospital in the city with hardly any chance of survival, the girls work hard to make sure that the youngest are taken care of. Ruth is the beauty of the family, taking care of home and hearth; while Helena is the stronger and braver of the two and does all she can to keep the household together.
One day a week Helena hikes over the rugged mountain pass to visit their mother, and on one such visit hears the moaning of a wounded soldier hidden in the forest. Trying to keep his presence silent so the enemy will not discover him, Helena gets the man into an abandoned chapel and tends to his wounds. His name is Sam, and he is an American paratrooper who escaped his plane before it crashed - a plane that carried important information that could help the resistance beat back the Germans.
Although a romance commences, Helena's frightening choice to help Sam by finding the people living in the darkness of Krakow who are readying to take on Hitler, puts her into a horrific and terrifying place, with twists and turns that show the Reich in their most monstrous form. As the story progresses, Helena and Ruth must face their own personal issues. Not only must they acquire passports and find a way to flee the country before it's too late; they must also face a heartbreaking betrayal.
The author, who stunned the world with The Kommandant's Girl continues book after book to create in-depth characters steeped in courage, forgiveness and humanity. The plot is magnificent, as well as frightening, and the ending is one that will not be forgotten for its absolute power!
Quill says: Jenoff's innate ability to deliver the best in fiction never ceases to amaze!