For My Ears: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Description (via Amazon) –

How much can a family forgive?

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’ youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year, a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact. 

But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood – villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace. 

Narrated by Molly Pope, this was an intriguing and at times heart-breaking story of two families and the events and love that bind them together. Unforgettable and as tragic as it is redemptive, this is one that you won’t soon forget.

I got mine through Audible.

THE FINISHING SCHOOL by Joanna Goodman

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I had heard about this book via the blogosphere, but I couldn’t get it via my usual sources; thus I was thrilled when the author kindly sent me a copy of it!

Here’s the overview via Amazon:

In this suspenseful, provocative novel of friendship, secrets, and deceit, a successful writer returns to her elite Swiss boarding school to get to the bottom of a tragic accident that took place while she was a student twenty years earlier.

How far would you go to uncover the truth?

One spring night in 1998 the beautiful Cressida Strauss plunges from a fourth-floor balcony at the Lycée Internationale Suisse with catastrophic consequences. Loath to draw negative publicity to the school, a bastion of European wealth and glamour, officials quickly dismiss the incident as an accident, but questions remain: Was it a suicide attempt? Or was Cressida pushed? It was no secret that she had a selfish streak and had earned as many enemies as allies in her tenure at the school. For her best friend, scholarship student Kersti Kuusk, the lingering questions surrounding Cressida’s fall continue to nag long after she leaves the Lycée.

Kersti marries and becomes a bestselling writer, but never stops wondering about Cressida’s obsession with the Helvetian Society—a secret club banned years before their arrival at the school—and a pair of its members who were expelled. When Kersti is invited as a guest to the Lycée’s 100th Anniversary, she begins probing the cover-up, unearthing a frightening underbelly of lies and abuse at the prestigious establishment. And in one portentous moment, Kersti makes a decision that will connect her to Cressida forever and raise the stakes dangerously high in her own desire to solve the mystery and redeem her past.

An unputdownable read as clever as it is compelling, The Finishing School offers a riveting glimpse into a privileged, rarefied world in which nothing is as it appears.

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So – if you read me, you know that I love novels that take place in boarding schools and that are suspenseful. This storyline pulled me in from the start and kept me reading. It does toggle back and forth in time, from the girls’ time there as students to Kersti in modern life, which I know some readers don’t like. I did figure out most of the mystery well in advance of its big reveal, but I enjoyed it anyway. At first I thought I would give it to my 8th grader to read when I was done, but sexual content and abuse included makes me say this one is really for adults or older YA readers.

Quick to read and with a story that can haunt you, The Finishing School is a suspenseful summer find! Thank you for my review copy!

Find it on Amazon where I am an Associate:

Kids’ and YA Quick Review: COUNTING BY 7’s by Holly Sloan

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I absolutely loved this middle to older grade novel about 12-year-old Willow Chance and the challenges she faced when her parents unexpectedly die in a car accident.  Willow already has her challenges with being a genius and a social misfit. This story was so beautiful and well-written that I fell in love with Willow right away. I actually read this through in two sittings (400 pages) as it moved so quickly.

Here’s what Booklist has to say about it:

*Starred Review* In a voice that is frank, charming, and delightfully odd, Willow Chance narrates the strange and heartbreaking circumstances that lead her to find an offbeat, patchwork quilt of a family. As an adopted, self-identified “person of color,” precocious genius Willow unabashedly knows that she is different, but her parents love and support her idiosyncrasies, such as wearing her gardening outfit to school, her preoccupation with disease, her anthropological curiosity about her peers, and her obsession with the number seven. That self-assuredness shines through Willow’s narrative and becomes crucial to her survival after the unexpected death of her parents, which makes Willow a prime candidate for life in a group home—an environment that could be disastrous for an unusual child like her. Luckily, she finds new friends who are compelled to protect her: Mai and her family, who live in the garage behind the nail salon they own, and Willow’s slouch of a guidance counselor, Dell. Sloan (I’ll Be There, 2011) has masterfully created a graceful, meaningful tale featuring a cast of charming, well-rounded characters who learn sweet—but never cloying—lessons about resourcefulness, community, and true resilience in the face of loss.

Grades 7-10. –Sarah Hunter —

Me again —

That blurb is an excellent take on this book which I will be recommending to my sixth grader (and her English teacher!).

Retro Review: LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan

Today for a “retro review” I’m throwing it back to 2009 and one of my first reviews. This book STILL haunts me!

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One of my book clubs recently chose “Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan as its January selection. This is the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s rather public affair with Martha “Mamah” Cheney shortly after the turn of the century. Horan has done extensive research in order to capture Mamah (pronounced “May-mah”) as her protagonist. The book covers their relationship from their first meeting (when Wright was employed to build a house for Mamah and her then husband, Edwin) to its tragic end.

To be honest, this was not a book that I would have chosen on my own to read. I doubted that 362 pages about two married people having an affair – no matter how well-known they were – could hold my attention or interest. However, this book was oddly fascinating. Mamah is portrayed as an intelligent, independent, unique woman, while Frank Lloyd Wright is portrayed as a self-centered, driven genius. I felt that I had come to know these people, and to be honest, I did not like them. Frank’s selfishness and lack of dealing with the realities of life made me irritated with him – though I recognize that genius often comes at such a price. He had no qualms about trying to leave his wife and the six children he had by her. Mamah, on the other hand, was portrayed as sympathetic and as the proverbial butterfly trapped in a bell jar. I would have had more sympathy for her, but I personally could not move past the fact that she chose to desert her two very young children (and a very normal, though somewhat boring, husband) in order to live openly with Wright. She is portrayed as aching for her children, however, leaving them was by her choice, and she made that choice more than once. Furthermore, she left it to her maiden sister to raise them with her former husband.

As I became intrigued with this story, I made the very big mistake of googling these characters to get more real information on them. What a mistake!! I discovered the ending of this tale before I reached it, and let me warn you – it is not pleasant. In fact, I finished this book at 10:00 pm one night and had trouble sleeping. The ending is not only tragic, but haunting and disturbing – made all the more terrible by the fact that it is true.

I would recommend this book to those who have an interest in FLW, in historical fiction with real characters, and/or those who like a love story. It is well-written and well-researched, and I found that it reads easily. I can’t say I loved it as it was too disturbing, but I can appreciate its merits, so I’m giving it: 4 Stars. I purchased my copy from Amazon. (book cover image courtesy of Amazon).