Two if By Sea, by Jacquelyn Mitchard*****

twoifbysea“Whoever really believed that thing you feared most would come to pass?”

It’s Christmas, and Frank is outside Brisbane, Australia celebrating with his wife Natalie and their family, awaiting the birth of his son. It’s to be a boy, and he’s so excited. But then the tsunami comes while he is away from the house, watching on high ground in speechless horror as Natalie and nearly all her family are washed away. Gone, just gone. Unthinkable!

I was fortunate enough to read this riveting novel in advance, courtesy of Net Galley and Simon and Schuster, in exchange for an honest review. And what follows the disaster is purest spun magic, laced with moments of breathless fear, anticipation, and gratitude. Because if this story doesn’t make you want to hold your family and even your pets close to you, nothing will.

Frank is in a boat assisting with the rescue effort when he pulls the little boy out of the sinking minivan. He has a child that appears to be 7 or 8 years old in a good firm grip, but the boy pushes his younger brother out and says to take him first, because he’s important. When Frank reaches back for the first boy after saving Ian, it’s too late. The van has gone down.

Frank tells himself that he will hang onto Ian for a bit, knowing that these family-destroying events are fertile hunting ground for pedophiles and other sick bastards on the hunt. That’s what he tells himself anyway. But ultimately, he can’t make himself drop the child off with the others that have been rescued, and the fiction develops that this is his nephew.

He takes him home with him.

One thing he had feared proves true: there are other people that are very interested in Ian, and willing to go to extreme lengths to find him and take him. Even the watchfulness of a former cop is challenged by those that are stalking his new little son. Ian has a way with people that is sometimes a better defense than what any cop could provide. Sometimes Ian’s method works; sometimes, not so much.

Mitchard incorporates elements of fantasy and the supernatural into this remarkable story, and when I sit back and analyze it, I don’t understand why I didn’t find myself rolling my eyes. When you take the story apart one step at a time, it seems absurd. No no no! But just as a lousy writer can’t make us believe much of anything, so can a gifted writer make us believe anything. Michard removed all doubt before it could even get a toehold near my imagination.

When I read something particularly excellent, I return to my desktop to see what else the author has published. In doing so, I discovered that Mitchard’s first novel is regarded as the second-most influential fictional writing in the UK (topped by Harry Potter, I am so sorry to report). That book will now hold place of pride on my extremely short list of books I’d be willing to pay for.

Whether you are headed to the beach or just looking for something to provide you with a really great weekend curled up at home, you have to read this book. So, as Ian advises, just “be nice.” Please? Get it and you’ll be glad you did!

This brilliant novel is available to the US public March 15, 2016.

reposting All We Had: A Novel, by Annie Weatherwax***** Comes Out Tuesday!

All We HadThis quirky, funny, poignant story had me from hello. How often have you read a really strong mother-daughter novel? The legendary Marge Piercy brought some our way, and of course Amy Tan. Does Annie Weatherwax deserve a place in such auspicious company? I think she does.
Ruth and her mother have nobody and nothing, apart from each other and whatever they can throw in the car, and most of that stuff might not actually belong to them. They sleep together on whatever flat surface is available, sometimes a nasty mattress in an unfinished basement, but they call no place home.
Sometimes it seems more that Ruth is raising her mother than the other way ‘round, and so the fur flies when her mother suddenly decides to exert authority.
Does this sound like anyone you have known? It rings true to me. I’ve known people like this, both professionally and in my personal life. A friend in social work once told me that this “type” of kid keeps it together until she is in her mid-20s and then falls apart, because she didn’t get to scream and act out as an adolescent. At least in developed Western societies, the adolescent stage is necessary to development; if a kid can’t do it at the socially acceptable time of life that most people do, she’ll do it later.
And the fact that I found myself thinking such things, making such predictions for a fictional character, proves exactly how real Ruthie and her mother became to me as I gorged on the literary feast Weatherwax has cooked up. I was notified by Net Galley that since the book was coming out August 5, it would be nice to have my review run in early August, just before its release, and so I set the galley aside when I hit 60 percent. Later, I told myself. You can read it later.
I couldn’t stand it. I have over 100 unread books, most of them used, some of them galleys with a sell-by date on them, but I dove back in mid-July, like a dieter on a chocolate binge. I’ll run this review on my blog in July and then run it again in August, because All We Had is not just any story. It’s the story that couldn’t wait.
Rejoining mother and daughter, then, we head westward. Mom is determined that come what may, Ruthie will go to college, and she has her eye on the Ivy League schools. No matter how many boyfriends she takes up with, moves Ruthie and herself in with, and then books it (sometimes with the guy’s car and almost always with some of his money), their journey continues toward New England.
That is, until they come to Fat River, Ohio, a place that proves exceptional. It is here that Ruthie becomes fast friends with Peter Pam, the transvestite waitress at the local diner. People are different here in Fat River. Nobody has a lot of money, but there is such character here, a sense of community surpassing anything they had ever believed was possible for people like themselves, and the cynical, wise-cracking, foul-mouthed Ruthie and her mom find their defenses breaking down, a bit at a time, as the town takes its hold on their hearts.
What happens from there you will have to learn by yourself. I couldn’t tear myself away. I don’t know whether this book will be a best seller, but I do know that I would have been the poorer for not having read it.
Highly recommended!

All We Had: A Novel, by Annie Weatherwax*****

All We HadThis quirky, funny, poignant story had me from hello. How often have you read a really strong mother-daughter novel? The legendary Marge Piercy brought some our way, and of course Amy Tan. Does Annie Weatherwax deserve a place in such auspicious company? I think she does.
Ruth and her mother have nobody and nothing, apart from each other and whatever they can throw in the car, and most of that stuff might not actually belong to them. They sleep together on whatever flat surface is available, sometimes a nasty mattress in an unfinished basement, but they call no place home.
Sometimes it seems more that Ruth is raising her mother than the other way ‘round, and so the fur flies when her mother suddenly decides to exert authority.
Does this sound like anyone you have known? It rings true to me. I’ve known people like this, both professionally and in my personal life. A friend in social work once told me that this “type” of kid keeps it together until she is in her mid-20s and then falls apart, because she didn’t get to scream and act out as an adolescent. At least in developed Western societies, the adolescent stage is necessary to development; if a kid can’t do it at the socially acceptable time of life that most people do, she’ll do it later.
And the fact that I found myself thinking such things, making such predictions for a fictional character, proves exactly how real Ruthie and her mother became to me as I gorged on the literary feast Weatherwax has cooked up. I was notified by Net Galley that since the book was coming out August 5, it would be nice to have my review run in early August, just before its release, and so I set the galley aside when I hit 60 percent. Later, I told myself. You can read it later.
I couldn’t stand it. I have over 100 unread books, most of them used, some of them galleys with a sell-by date on them, but I dove back in mid-July, like a dieter on a chocolate binge. I’ll run this review on my blog in July and then run it again in August, because All We Had is not just any story. It’s the story that couldn’t wait.
Rejoining mother and daughter, then, we head westward. Mom is determined that come what may, Ruthie will go to college, and she has her eye on the Ivy League schools. No matter how many boyfriends she takes up with, moves Ruthie and herself in with, and then books it (sometimes with the guy’s car and almost always with some of his money), their journey continues toward New England.
That is, until they come to Fat River, Ohio, a place that proves exceptional. It is here that Ruthie becomes fast friends with Peter Pam, the transvestite waitress at the local diner. People are different here in Fat River. Nobody has a lot of money, but there is such character here, a sense of community surpassing anything they had ever believed was possible for people like themselves, and the cynical, wise-cracking, foul-mouthed Ruthie and her mom find their defenses breaking down, a bit at a time, as the town takes its hold on their hearts.
What happens from there you will have to learn by yourself. I couldn’t tear myself away. I don’t know whether this book will be a best seller, but I do know that I would have been the poorer for not having read it.
Highly recommended!