The Wishing Trees
John Shors (Adult Fiction)
Kate McCray died ten months ago, but her absence remains as fresh and painful for her husband, Ian, and their ten-year-old daughter, Mattie as the day she slipped away from them. Upon her death, Kate leaves a letter for Ian expressing her dying wish: “Be happy. Learn to laugh again. To joke. To wrestle together like you once did. Learn to be free again.” To achieve these things, Kate wants Ian to take Mattie on the trip the two of them intended to make to celebrate their fifteenth anniversary. A trip across Asia that would allow Mattie to experience what her parents once shared in so many diverse and wondrous countries: Japan, Nepal, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. But can Ian do it? Can he revisit a past full of memories of his wife in order to forge a future without her?
John Shors delivers a touching and bittersweet story of a husband and daughter embarking on a journey of self-discovery, healing, and enlightenment. Although deceased, Kate remains a prominent presence and central figure throughout the story. She has left handwritten notes inside twelve film canisters—six each for Ian and Mattie—which are to be opened upon the pair’s arrival in each country. Kate’s words of love and encouragement are a constant reminder of the tender and altruistic person so tragically torn from our main characters. Her careful planning of this trip, despite her weakened state, and her desire for her family to move on without her is heartbreaking in its selflessness and hopeful in its intent. What’s most striking is Kate’s constant encouragement for her loved ones to make a positive difference in the world. In one of her letters to Mattie, Kate writes of Buddha, “Do you know what Buddha says about happiness? He said, ‘Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.’” With each canister that is opened and with each note that is read, we can easily understand how indomitable a task it is for Ian and Mattie to emotionally recover from their loss.
The Wishing Trees is a beautifully written love letter to anyone who has ever lost a love and hungers for a sign—any sign—that they’re still with us. That they still see us. That they still remember us. It’s also a story about the power of kindness and the extraordinary healing powers in doing good. Numerous books have been written on research connecting helping others to health benefits or, simply stated, doing good is good for you. Perhaps Kate knew this all the time or perhaps she remembered an Indian saying during her travels, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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Swim to Me
Betsy Carter (Adult Fiction)
Delores Walker can vividly recall the moment her mother dropped her into the shallow end of a lake. She was just two, but she remembers the water’s temperature, plunging into its depths, and struggling to resurface. It was heaven. Twelve years later, she travels to Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida with her mother and father. It’s 1970 and the mermaids of Weeki Wachee perform a tribute to Apollo 11. They spin, twirl, dive, and glide, and Delores is fascinated and enthralled by these amazing creatures in the water. Now at sixteen, she boards a Greyhound bus to Florida with a suitcase, a handful of silver dollars, a letter from Weeki Wachee, and a dream of being a mermaid.
This book is a loving tribute to those wonderfully glorious quirky, kitschy, and sometimes tacky roadside attractions that are a part of our rich and unique history and culture. I totally immersed myself in this novel and loved reading about these aquatic darlings and their lives both in and out of the tank. Carter ensures a well-rounded story by giving equal attention to Delores; her struggling and self-absorbed mother, Gail; and her absentee and apathetic father, Roy. By offering readers a deeper insight into each of these characters separately, we gain a clearer understanding of their own personal thoughts, feelings, and struggles.
More than a loving wink and nod to days gone by, Swim to Me is a book about endings and new beginnings; about not being defined or confined by your present situation; and about taking what’s given to you and making the absolute most of it.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com
I Let You Go
Clare Mackintosh (Adult Suspense)
Jenna Gray hopes to escape the memories of a tragic hit-and-run accident by moving to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast. Meanwhile, two detectives are assigned to the case in hopes of finding justice. The unexpected occurs when both their worlds collide.
This book truly surprised me (in a good way) inasmuch as I had already determined what direction the story was taking and how it was going to end. The plot took such an unexpected turn, that I was left asking myself, “Wait. What just happened?” Very seldom does that happen so when it does, I relish it! And if that wasn’t enough, Mackintosh throws in a few extra twists at the end…just for good measure.
I rated this book four stars rather than five only because it did languish a bit at the beginning, but the extra care and attention to fully developing the story and characters do pay off in the end.
We are All Welcome Here
Elizabeth Berg (Adult Fiction)
I read Elizabeth Berg’s Open House as it was an “Oprah pick” and was left less than dazzled. Second time is clearly the charm! Set in 1964 Tupelo, Mississippi, the story of Diana Dunn and her paralyzed mother Paige is heartfelt and solid, yet at times painful and cruel. But the life they manage to forge together, along with Paige’s black caregiver Peacie, is unforgettable, therapeutic, and inspiring.