Review: Bethlehem by Karen Kelly

Hardcover, 304 pages                 Published July 9th 2019 by St. Martin’s Press

ISBN13: 9781250201492      Setting:  Bethlehem, Pennsylvania(United States) 

Rating: 4*

Set during the gilded, glory days of Bethlehem, PA two women come together, not realizing that in a short time, the secrets of betrayal and temptations they’ve held and kept will one day bind them together in a way that neither could have ever expected.

Arriving at the grand ancestral home of her husband’s family, Joanna is hoping to fortify her cracking marriage. But what she finds is not what she expected: tragedy haunts the hallways, whispering of heartache and a past she never knew existed. And her mother-in-law Susannah, is not someone who makes Joanna feel welcome.  Too many women in a house that has seen too much tragedy and heartache and kept too many secrets.

It was touted as a historical based on the titans of the steel-boom era, namely Bethlehem Steel, but it turned out to be more than that in what I would describe as women’s fiction.  Joanna has had to give up the house and home she had lived in with her husband and two children to move into the families humongous ancestral home.  Living with her husband’s grandmother and mother who had held the title of mistress of that home.  It made Joanna feel somewhat non-essential.  Everything was taken care of by numerous family retainers who Joanna felt had more claim to the home than she would ever have.  

Feeling somewhat neglected Joanna fell into the habit of spending her time in the nearby cemetery  where she made friends with the quirky cemetery keepers and their enigmatic grandson.  She also discovered the tiny gravestone of baby “Hayes” whom she wanted to uncover the mystery of who he was and why no one had claimed it to give him a name.

*** The book started slowly and to be honest, it was something I struggled with, but slowly the story started to make more sense as the author kept up the past and present theme of Susannah’s and Joanna’s life.  Both would discover that their lives were similar but different.  The characters were well defined, the pace did pick up, and it was a pretty good summer read.   

Thanks to Net Galley for providing me the ARC of this book for an honest review.

Marilyn Rondeau

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Review: The Favorite Daughter by Patti Callahan Henry

Paperback, 368 pages                                    ISBN13: 9780399583131

Published June 4th 2019 by Berkley Books     Rating: 5*.  

I am sorry to say that this was my first experience in reading this author’s work, but after this taste of her prose, visualization and emotional pull on my very soul, it will not be the last.  What a blessing it is to discover an author who can write such a moving and relatable tale with such insight into the aftermath of both the protagonists aching hearts.  

It was ten years ago, when Lena Donohue experienced a wedding-day betrayal so painful that she fled the small town of Watersend, South Carolina.   After coming to terms with broken heart she reinvented herself in New York City. Now as a freelance travel writer, the one place she rarely goes is home – until she learns of her dad’s failing health.

Returning to Watersend means seeing the sister she has avoided for a decade. But she can’t ignore her brother who runs the family’s Irish pub and has borne the burden of his sisters’ rift and the brunt of watching his father slowly succumb to the despicable disease of  Alzheimer’s.   Seeing firsthand how their father’s memories are slipping away, the siblings rush to preserve his life in stories and in photographs.  While doing the research into her father’s life and memories, some inaccuracies started to unfold which lead Lena to discover the truth of what set her apart from her best friend and sister even before the betrayal of the wedding day disaster.  

I admit to being easily and emotionally moved and truthfully I had to put this book down several times before I could continue reading because of the tears that came to my eyes.   However, I wouldn’t have missed the chance to experience this story and thank God that I had the opportunity to read and review!   Excellent and brilliant!

Marilyn Rondeau

Review: My Ex-Best Friends Wedding by Wendy Wax

Paperback, 368 pages                     Publication: May 14th 2019 by Berkley Books

ISBN13: 9780440001430   RATING;  5*

Loved this story of a  wedding dress passed down through generations until it unravels the tangled threads of the last three women who wore it.  It’s about friendship, family, and forgiveness and I couldn’t put it down!  NOTE: At times I really wanted to reach in and shake some of the protagonists to knock some sense into them!  HOWEVER – I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK!

It had been carefully stored away for safekeeping, a timeless ivory wedding dress, with scooped neck and cleverly fitted bodice, whispering of Happily Ever Afters. To Lauren’s mother Kendra, who wore it briefly; to her daughter Lauren who’s looking forward to wearing it; and Brianna her best friend who got to wear it first.  To all three women  it’s a reminder of what could have been, the promise of a fairy tale, and a friendship torn apart. But as Kendra knows firsthand: it wasn’t the dress’s fault.

Once closer than sisters, Lauren and Bree were sisters of the heart!  They grew up together, shared the same dream together, but then made choices that transformed their lives as they grew apart. Each held just a bit of resentment against the other blaming each other allowing broken promises and unfulfilled dreams to destroy their friendship. 

Now as a successful author, Lauren returns home to the Outer Banks, fiance in tow, to claim the dress she never thought she’d wear. While Bree, a bookstore owner, grapples with the realities of life after you marry the handsome prince. As the former best friends wrestle with their uncertain futures, they are both certain of one thing: some betrayals can never be forgiven.

Never expecting her past to catch up with her, Kendra struggles with a secret she’s kept for far too long. She vows to make sure the dress will finally bring Lauren and Bree back together – knowing they’ll need each other to survive the coming storm after the bomb drops from the revelation of her life.  

Marilyn Rondeau

REVIEW: Missing Pieces by Susan Clayton-Goldner

  • Print Length: 274 pages.           Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing (April 17, 2019)
  • ASIN: B07PGR4Y3M                           RATING: 5*

How many times have you uttered or thought the words, I hate you I wish you were dead about a parent?  Well most teens might have that reaction when the words “NO” were uttered when you really thought you were in the right and the parent was stupid and didn’t understand. However for Emma / Lillianna these were thoughts and words she spoke and thought for most of her life against a father whom she basically didn’t understand.  But when it came down to it, would Emma / Lilliana be able to refuse to see or forgive a man who she blamed for what she considered her horrible childhood?

For the last twenty years Lilliana Fergusson pretended her father was dead. She moved to Oregon—far away from her childhood home in Delaware—changed her name from Emma to Lillianna and vowed after her mother died to never go home.  But then her brother, Greg, phoned, begging her to come back to help care for their father who had been diagnosed with a dangerous, aortic aneurysm.  Again Lilliana is adamant in her refusal. When did her father, ever take care of her?

Speaking to her husband after refusing her brother, Lilliana was convinced that yes, it was her decision, and yet maybe she needed to give herself one last chance before regrets would be all she had left.

Lilliana’s father, Calvin Miller, was a disabled WWII veteran. He had survived a grenade explosion that killed his best friend and  took off most of his right hand as well as leaving him with osteomyelitis in his leg, a bone-destroying infection, that refused to heal. His surgeon believes Calvin’s only chance for survival is amputation of his leg before trying to fix the aneurysm.  Would Lillianna be able to put to rest the hatred she’d held for the father she ran from twenty years prior and would some of that healing fold over to herself as she learned about the life her father had lived.   Can she leave her safe life and reenter the minefield of her childhood?

Exceptional writing and hard to put down – Highly recommended.

Marilyn Rondeau