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review 2017-06-03 14:03
A gentle read for those who love books set in Britain, short-stories and Blithe Spirit
The Keeper of Lost Things: A Novel - Cecily Ruth Hogan

Thanks to NetGalley and Two Roads for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Although I am not sure this is ‘the feel-good novel of the year’ I’d have to agree it is a feel-good novel, although perhaps not for everybody.

The novel tells many stories, although it tells two in more detail, those of Anthony and Laura (later of Laura and her new family) and Eunice and Bomber. Although those stories are separated by forty years, they are parallel in many ways: an older man who puts an advertisement for an assistant, a younger woman —very young in Eunice’s case— who ends up becoming a personal friend of the man and whose life ends up enmeshed and entangled with that of her employer, both men’s work relates to literature (Anthony is a fairly successful writer of short stories and Bomber is a publisher), both males die leaving some sort of legacy to these women (and also asking them to fulfil their final wishes). As we read on, we might suspect that the relationship between these two stories runs deeper than at first appears, but it is not confirmed until very close to the end.

There are other important elements in the novel, which functions also as a collection of short stories, as Anthony, after experiencing a terrible loss, started to collect lost things, cataloguing them and using his study for safe keeping, in an attempt at recovering something he had lost himself. Throughout the novel, there are stories about those objects (written in italics so it is easy to differentiate them to the rest) interspersed with the two main stories. We are told, later in the book, that Anthony used those objects as inspiration for several collections of short stories, but the novel allows for several possible interpretations of what these stories really are. Are they imaginary stories? Are they the real stories behind the objects? If they are imaginary short-stories who has written them? Anthony? Somebody else? Each reader can choose whatever explanation s/he prefers and I’m sure there are more possibilities.

I mentioned the two main stories that frame the novel and the short stories within. Each chapter is told (in the third person) from one of the characters’ point of view (mostly Laura or Eunice) and this is is clearly indicated, as it is the year, because Eunice and Bomber’s story develops from the 1970s up to the current days. We get to know his family and follow his father’s illness (Alzheimer’s) that unfortunately later also afflicts Bomber himself. There are comments on movies of the period; there is the wonderful relationship with Bomber’s parents, the two dogs that share his life and an unrequited and impossible love story. Ah, and Bomber’s sister, Portia, her awful behaviour and her even worse attempts at getting her brother to publish one of her rip-offs of well-known and loved classics, that make for hilarious reading, especially for authors and book lovers. I must confess that, perhaps because their story develops over time and it has none of the paranormal elements added to the other, I particularly warmed to it. I found the depiction of the dementia sufferers (both father and son) touching, humorous and bittersweet, and although we don’t get to know Eunice well (other than through her devotion to Bomber and his life-work), she is a character easy to like and some of her actions make us cheer her on.

Laura’s story is that of somebody lost, perfectly in keeping with Anthony’s life mission. She made some questionable decisions when she was younger, married too young and her knight in shining armour turned up to be anything but. She is very insecure and full of self-doubt and that makes her a less likeable character as she pushes people away rather than risk being rejected, but she is also the one who has to change more and work harder to get out of her shell. Sunshine, a young neighbour, Down’s syndrome, also shares her point of view with the reader at times and becomes a member of the family, although she has her own too. She is less hindered by concern about what others’ might think, or what is right and wrong, and she has a special connection (not sure ‘power’ is the right word) with the objects and with the paranormal elements that later appear in the novel. Fred, the gardener, is the love interest, handsome and kind, but he seems to be there to provide the romance and second chance more than anything else, and he is not very well developed.

I’ve mentioned the paranormal elements. There is a ghost in the house and that takes up a fair amount of the book as Laura keeps trying to work out how to make things right. I am not sure this added much to the story but references to Blithe Spirit (that is being performed by an amateur theatrical group in the neighbourhood) put an emphasis on the effect the writer might have been aiming for (each reader can decide how well it works for them).

This is a well-written novel, with effective descriptions of objects, locations and people. There are elements of chick-lit (the descriptions of Laura’s disastrous date, her chats with her friend…), romantic touches, some elements of mystery, plenty of loss, death and second chances, a fair bit about literature… The whole feeling of the story is somewhat old-fashioned (and very British. I’ve lost count of how many ‘lovely cups of tea’ are prepared and drunk during the novel, and although that is partly in jest, yes, there is a fair amount of repetition, foreshadowing and signposting, perhaps unnecessary in this kind of story). Some of the references, including songs and films, will be lost on the younger generations. Everything is fairly gentle; even the bad characters (Portia) are only moderately nasty and they are the object of fun rather than being truly evil. There are gossip and misunderstandings but nothing really awful happens. No gore details, no huge surprises, no hot sex (I think you’ll have to buy Portia’s stories of Hotter Potter for that), and even technology only appears by the backdoor (people send text messages and a laptop and a website  appear towards the end, but this is not a book where characters follow mother trends).

Funnily enough, a publisher (rival of Anthony) sums up what the books he publishes should be like, thus:

I know what normal, decent people like, and that’s good, straightforward stories with a happy ending where the baddies get their comeuppance, the guy gets the girl and the sex isn’t too outré.

The structure of the novel and some of the short-stories are not at all like that, but the spirit behind it perhaps it and its charm might be lost on some readers who prefer more action and adventures and a more modern style of writing.

In summary, a gentle read, bittersweet, with plenty of stories for those who love short stories, of particular interest to lovers of books and movies set in Britain, stories about writers, the publishing world and women’s stories. It has sad moments and funny ones but it is unlikely to rock your world.

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review 2015-10-10 17:21
The difference phases of love experienced by Down Syndrome Lily (powerfull)
Life Entwined with Lily's: The Third in a Trilogy (The Lily Trilogy) - Sherry Boas

 

Life Entwined with Lily's is the last installment in the Lily Trilogy penned by experienced fiction author and journalist Sherry Boas.

 

In the first book, Until Lily, Ms. Boas introduces the reader to the trilogy's main character, Lily Eagan, born with Down syndrome. After her mother Jennifer dies, Lily and her siblings are cared for by Beverly Greeley, Jennifer’s only sister. Narrated from Aunt Bev’s point of view, we learn how the lives of the Eagan children and the Greeleys are changed forever.

 

In the second book, Wherever Lily Goes, Lily is living at a group home in Seattle mourning the death of Aunt Bev. Her sister Terry lives in Minnesota with her husband Jake Lovely and their three daughters: Laura, Katie, and Beth, an extremely disturbed and troublesome teenager. Through Terry's narrative, we learn about the Lovelys’ relocation to Seattle to give Lily a family and a home. Terry also recounts Lily's dilemmas, developmental issues, and unique family dynamics, including Lily's special bond with her dad, Pablo.

 

In Life Entwined with Lily's, the trilogy’s masterpiece, we get to know a more grown-up Lily, a young woman who dreams of marriage and motherhood. On her way to visit her dad in California, Lily meets Frank Stillwell and it’s love at first sight. Lily and Frank get married and live in a guest house in the Lovely's backyard. As the story unfolds, the reader will rejoice at Lily's marriage and be pleasantly surprised at her excellent mothering skills. But Lily's life will have its share of trials too.

 

The book is narrated by Beth, whose style is a sweet and sour mix of deep concern toward others and a search for self-worthiness. With this character, the author brings to our attention some of the issues facing adolescents: peer pressure, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, and abortion. It also explores how wrong decisions and actions can affect a teen’s self-esteem.

 

After reading the trilogy, Beth became my favorite character. The author discloses Beth's darkest secret, haunting remorse, and how her tormented soul finally found peace. She emerges as a strong and notably caring young woman.

 

Writing a trilogy is an enormous amount of work and a great challenge for an author. It requires a skillful hand to maintain each character's uniqueness throughout the story. Ms. Boas takes it a step further with the Lily Trilogy, the chronological story of Lily and her significant influence on others. She writes from three completely different points of view without distorting her characters’ idiosyncrasies.

 

Although they were written as part of a trilogy, each book could be read individually. However, to fully appreciate Lily's transformation, the trilogy should be read in its entirety.

 

I highly recommend the Lily Trilogy to readers who delight themselves in fiction based on real-life events and Catholic values. It not only tells a good story, but it could also bring hope to people dealing with a shameful past by demonstrating that all wounds are healed through God's redeeming love.

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review 2015-10-10 17:18
Down Syndrome Lily keeps influencing those around her
Wherever Lily Goes - Sherry Boas

 

Wherever Lily Goes is the second installment in the Lily Trilogy, penned by experienced journalist and fiction author Sherry Boas.

 

In the first book, Until Lily, Ms. Boas introduces the reader to the trilogy's main character, Lily Eagan, born out of wedlock with Down syndrome. She and her two adopted siblings, brother Jimmy and sister Terry, are sent to live with Aunt Bev and Uncle Jack Greeley after the death of their mother Jennifer. Narrated from Aunt Bev’s point of view, we learn how the Eagan children’s and the Greeley’s lives are changed forever.

 

In Wherever Lily Goes, Lily is living at a group home in Seattle mourning the death of Aunt Bev. Her sister Terry is married to Jake Lovely and lives in Minnesota with their three daughters: Laura, Katie, and Beth, an extremely disturbed, troublesome teenager.

 

One night during dinner Terry expresses her concern about Lily, and Jake suggests that the family relocate to Seattle hoping to solve two family issues: Lily's loneliness and Beth's self-destructive behavior and bad companions.

 

The Lovely family gets a new beginning, and both Beth's relationship with her family and her academic performance improve. Lily moves in with them and has a positive effect on the family--- to the extent of inspiring Terry and Jake to pursue having another baby.

 

As the story unfolds, the reader will enjoy the development of a tender and deep relationship between Lily and her Mexican dad, who she met after Aunt Bev's death.

 

My admiration for the author's storytelling skills continues to grow. In Until Lily, Aunt Bev's tone changes from antipathy to unconditional love toward Lily. In the sequel, Terry's humane narration speaks about Lily's dilemmas, developmental issues, and unique family dynamics.

 

This book will keep the reader engaged and motivated to get to know Lily better and learn about the life-changing effects she has on others.

 

I highly recommend this book to readers looking for an inspirational story on how to cope with the many challenges associated with raising a family while dealing with the needs of a loved one who has Down syndrome.

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review 2015-10-10 17:15
A powerful story about a Down Syndrome girl named Lily!
Until Lily: The First in a Trilogy - Sherry Boas

 

Until Lily is the first installment of the Lily Trilogy, penned by professional journalist and fiction author Sherry Boas.

 

Apostates Beverly and Jack Greeley enjoy their childless, healthy, and wealthy life. Bev's sister, Jennifer Eagan, is a devout Catholic, hard-working, single mom with three kids; Jimmy and Terry, who were adopted, and Lily, born out of wedlock with Down Syndrome. After Jen loses her battle to cancer, her children go to live with Uncle Jack and Aunt Bev, their court appointed legal guardians. Jack, however, finds the new and burdensome responsibility of caring for the children to be unbearable and abandons the family. Nevertheless, as the story unfolds, Bev's attitude toward Lily changes completely as she discovers that caring for her “daughter” was the most rewarding experience of her life!

 

Although at first I thought to write only one review highlighting the best of the trilogy, I decided to focus on each book's uniqueness based on the situations and thematic surrounding Lily.

 

While reading the trilogy, I was amazed at the author's competence to narrate Lily's story from three completely different points of view without losing each character's individuality and emphasizing pivoting events related to their interaction with Lily.

 

Until Lily tells Lily's story from Aunt Bev's point of view, from unfit and resentful aunt to appreciative and thankful „mother.“ Suffering from advanced Parkinson, she reflects upon her life before Lily and how different her senior years could have been if it wasn't for Lily's humanitarian personality. The reader will witness Lily's transformation from a small, strong-willed child to a grown, loving and compassionate woman caring for her mother.

 

I highly recommend this book to parents dealing with the challenges of raising children with Down Syndrome and to those considering ending a pregnancy as they question their ability to take on such a huge responsibility. The first installment creates awareness about Down Syndrome and shows the blessing of caring for these children.

 

 

Warning: You will need several boxes of tissues to carry you through the entire trilogy!

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review 2011-08-18 10:53
Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place - Terry Tempest Williams Terry Tempest Williams' words allow the reader to enter the world of the Great Salt Lake and envision all of it splendid winged creatures. Although I have never visited the Great Salt Lake, I have constructed it in my head while reading this book. It must be an awe-inspiring place. Mrs. Williams' struggle with her family's cancer draws the reader in even more; it is clear to see the passion in the author's words. And the way the author intertwines her stories on the Great Salt Lake with her family's trials and tribulations is spectacular. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in nature, someone who is dealing with loss or just has a compassion for mother nature and mankind. A very good read.
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