By Catherine Mann
This is a special kind of book about how a family copes with grief, loss, and the trials of everyday life. It centers on the family of Allen McDaniel, a Commander in the Iraq war who is killed by a roadside bomb while protecting five of his charges (including his daughter Sierra’s ex- boyfriend, Mike Kowalski); and Trooper, a stray dog who bonds with Allen and the members of his troop in Iraq and later comes to live with the McDaniel family.
After learning of Allen’s death, the reader is immediately thrown into the lives of Allen’s family who are all dealing with their grief in unhealthy yet wholly natural ways. Sierra, Allen’s daughter is juggling multiple roles of student, teacher, and caretaker to both the members of her family and the abused and rescued animals on her mother’s Second Chance Ranch Animal Rescue. Sierra is fighting a multitude of feelings including the unfairness of her father’s death, and her conflicting emotions for her ex- boyfriend Mike Kowalski. Lacey, Allen’s widow and mother of his two children, is overworking herself, caring for her rescued animals and relying on alcohol to help dull her pain in thinking about life without her husband. Lacey is also concerned about her angry and confused teen son, Nathan, and her father-in-law, General Joshua McDaniel, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. In addition to learning about the story through Lacey and Sierra’s perspectives, the reader also gets to experience the inner worlds of Mike Kowalski, who is still head-over-heels for Sierra, and Trooper.
Aside from the painful effects of grief, Catherine Mann does not shy away from other difficulties the characters experience, such as: Mike having to unload his gun once he returns home from war for fear that he will shoot at a car if it should suddenly backfire or honk its horn; the effects of Alzheimer’s and war on individuals, as well as family members; and, the abuse and abandonment that many rescue dogs have experienced. However, even though Shelter Me is tough to read at times, Catherine Mann always leaves her readers with a glimmer of hope and a reminder of the power of family to always be able to provide a second chance to their loved ones.
Note to the reader: If you’re looking for a lighter read that still has some similarities to Shelter Me, try Rachel Lacey’s Love to the Rescue series beginning with Unleashed. It tells the story of Cara Medlen, who, like Sierra, has complicated feelings about how grief can often put a hold on living. She has no problem loving the dogs she fosters from Triangle Boxer Rescue but she can’t commit to adopting an animal of her own. Likewise, she loves taking photos of the dogs from the rescue to help increase their likelihood of adoption, but she’s not quite ready to turn her passion for photography into a career. Can her hunky neighbor Matt who has fears of his own help her learn to live again?
Both Shelter Me and Unleashed include heartfelt romance, strongly developed characters, and a host of lovable, furry, four-legged creatures. Find them both, as well as other books in the two series, in the Romance section:
Second Chance Ranch Romance: Rescue Me (Book 2)
Love to the Rescue: For Keeps (Book 2), and Ever After (Book 3).
February 23, 2016
By Hannah Kent
As I read Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites the one thought that repeated itself in my head was, “Is this really her first novel!?” This was thought with a mixture of awe and envy. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Kent’s debut is a home run. I was impressed by her use of the Icelandic landscape to create a haunted, gloomy tone for the story. From the stark coast of Illugastadir to the decaying state of the Kornsá croft to the ominous presence of ravens throughout, Kent paints a bleak, moribund picture for the reader. And it’s only appropriate given her subject: the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to ever be executed for a crime in Iceland.
Set in the late 1820s, this novel is an interpretation of the true events surrounding Agnes’s execution. She’s accused of murder along with two other individuals. History tells us that Agnes was found guilty and eventually faced the death penalty but Kent lets Agnes to tell her own story. Interspersed with translations from real government documents pertaining to the case, the novel allows Agnes to slowly reveal the details of both her life and the murders. She speaks with her spiritual advisor, Toti, as well as the woman in whose home she is quartered to await her death. Agnes has an extended internal monologue which permeates the book and her thoughts are both melancholy and poetic. It takes time for her to open up to the other characters and this gradual eking out details keeps the reader engaged. Even though the final outcome is known, you will remain on the edge of your seat through those final pages.
Recommended for fans of leisurely paced historical fiction and literary thrillers.
February 10, 2015
The Invaders: A Novel
By Karolina Waclawiak
According to author Tom Perrotta, the follow-up to Waclawiak’s excellent debut How to Get Into the Twin Palms, is a “gut punch of a novel—a scathing look at privilege.” This sums it up nicely. Like the work of Perrotta, Kate Chopin, John Updike and countless others, The Invaders unflinchingly examines the underbelly of wealthy suburbia and the results are not pretty. If you’re looking for an uplifting read, keep looking.
That said, between Waclawiak’s incisive writing and the plot itself, there’s much to appreciate here, especially for readers who don’t mind inhabiting a less than perfect world for a while. The setting is Little Neck Cove, Connecticut, an affluent beachside community. The story is conveyed through the voices of alternating protagonists: 44-year-old Cheryl, trophy wife turned desperate housewife, and her stepson, 22-year-old unemployed college grad Teddy. Having projected all her life’s escapist dreams onto her womanizing husband, the only thing keeping disappointed Cheryl tethered to reality is keeping an eye on pill-popping Teddy. Meanwhile, the once idyllic neighborhood has turned unpleasantly political as wealthy residents take sides for or against the fishermen and other working class “invaders” whose appearance in the once nearly-private enclave has precipitated the building of a border fence.
It is within this atmosphere of public and private unrest that Cheryl realizes the price she must pay for the choices she has made, and Teddy, more or less an innocent bystander, must find new meaning for the word “home.” Waclawiak has created a believable tale of modern classism and domestic despair. Recommended for literary fiction readers.
February 1, 2016
Lord and Lady Spy
By Shana Galen
Lord and Lady Spy
By Shana Galen
Shana Galen’s Lord and Lady Spy is a fast-paced, fun, and gripping Regency romance romp.
I knew this book was a keeper when I read the first scene and laughed so loudly that my husband said he could hear me from another room. The scene involves a “rider” and a “horse” neighing loudly behind closed doors, beginning when Agent Saint, a spy on a mission to find and interrogate Napoleon Bonaparte’s advisor, is investigating the quarters of the advisor’s mistress. Saint barely has a chance to finish surveying her surroundings when suddenly the mistress and a different lover burst in the room and begin to engage in roleplay, leaving Saint no other choice but to hide in the nearest closet. As Agent Saint crouches in the cramped closet awaiting the advisor, she hopes for two things: one, that her fellow spy and competitor Agent Wolf won’t find a way to get to the advisor first; and two, that she will be able to escape the closet before the “horse is…stabled."
Early on in the story we learn that Agent Saint and Agent Wolf have been unknowingly living together under the same roof for years as husband and wife (Lord Adrian and Lady Sophia, respectfully) when they are summoned by their boss to hunt down a murderer. Lord Adrian has no idea that the impassive woman to whom he is married is actually the fearless and brave Agent Saint, while Lady Sophia has no idea that her staid husband Adrian is actually the strong, strapping Agent Wolf who she greatly admires. Together, these two strangers discover and reveal their true selves to each other while facing danger at every turn and slowly falling in love.
A side note to the reader: this book is steamy. Steamy, as in melt the snow right under your boots in a Nor’easter. Steamy, as in even your mama will know why you’re blushing. As Adrian and Sophia try to track down the murderer, they spend a lot of time “getting to know each other” including on a garden bench (splinters anyone?), inside a fast-moving carriage while pursuing enemies, and during a night cap in their living room as an armed assassin tries to catch them off guard. However, there is no such thing as being caught off guard for these two--they excel at multitasking…a lot.
Aside from the steaminess though, this story also has a lot of heart and the reader comes to care very deeply for the characters, and the pains and struggles they each face. Lord and Lady Spy delivers romance, intrigue, and comedy, and you won’t be able to put this book down. Currently available in Overdrive as an eBook and other CWMars libraries, Lord and Lady Spy will soon be found in WPL’s romance stacks!