Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy

I happened to pick up this book up out of a stack in a local Peddlar’s Mall for one dollar. The cover looked interesting, and it had the American Library Association’s Best Adult Genre Fiction seal of approval on the front. I flipped it over to the description on the back, and was surprised to note that the setting takes place in little ol’ Vermont, my home state. Moments like that- browsing for nothing in particular, casually exploring my relatively new surroundings, and still managing to find something that brings me back to my roots- never cease to amaze me. At the risk of sounding traitorous to my new state, Vermont will always be home, no matter what my address is. Therefore, this book was going to go be mine- and I almost felt like it was meant to be.

In Every Last Cuckoo, we are introduced to main character Sarah, a seventy-five year old woman who was living with her eighty year old husband, Charles. He was a doctor, a man who wanted to help people and his community, and earn an honest living. She was a modern housewife, who enjoyed intellectual conversations with her strong, whip-smart friends and husband. It was a steady and happy marriage, though there were plenty of obstacles to overcome: the loss of a child and depression that followed; the growing pains of raising three children; the struggles with intimacy as they aged. After decades of time spent together, Sarah is reminiscent of their relatively simple and routine lives, especially as their family and friends come together over the winter holidays. But then tragedy happens- Charles is hurt in a hiking accident, and Sarah becomes a widow. She finds herself wondering how she can possibly live her normal life without Charles in it, especially when all their memories flood to the forefront of her mind.

Slowly, Sarah starts to find peace with her sudden loss, and is determined to live the rest of her life in a way that would have made Charles and her young, ambitious self proud. She takes nature walks with Charles’ Nikon, trying to see through his eyes, and works in her garden as she contemplates her past and present. She is asked by her daughter to take in a boarder who would live in their little ‘vacation’ cabin in the back of their property, to which she agrees. Then, she takes in her teenage granddaughter, Lottie, who is having troubles with her overbearing mother. After some time, Lottie asks if a few of her friends can also move in to help settle their problems at home, and Sarah agrees. Then, a family in need also moves in. Soon, she realizes that this was what she was meant to do with the rest of her life- take care of others. With her house full, Sarah realizes that she is feeling stronger and more fulfilled- and more like the person she’s always wanted to be. In turn, her boarders become a blended family that care for her, help her make amends in wounded relationships, and heal her broken heart.

I personally don’t think I’m doing this novel justice in my summary, although I tried to, because it’s so much more complex than I can describe. Maloy has woven the story lines together so beautifully, and allowed all these tiny but pure details to bubble to the surface at the most exact and perfect time. Sarah is such a dynamic character, and she actually reminds me a lot of my spunky Grandma Rain! I also loved the setting, it’s spot on the Vermont I know and love. Overall, it’s honest, touching, and clever. I highly recommend Every Last Cuckoo. I actually think I’m going to try and find another copy to give to my grandma, and the copy I have is going right back on my bookshelf.

 

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Burn Town by Jennifer McMahon

“There is no someday. We spend so much of our lives waiting for someday, don’t we? There is only right now. This is our someday.”

Burn Town just made one of my top favorite books of the year so far. When I read ‘Winter People’, I remember liking it but not enthralled, but I’m glad I decided to try again with McMahon, because WOW.

Burn Town had me hooked in the first 10 pages. HOOKED. By page 35, I had a running list of questions, and by page 50, I couldn’t take my eyes off the page. There are very few books that I’ve read in one day, yet here I am, adding this suspense thriller to the list. I could not put it down.

The whole story starts with the murder of Elizabeth Sandeski, the grandmother of the main character, Necco (Eva). Necco’s father, Miles, witnesses the murderer take his mother’s life, and years down the road attempts revenge. Thanks to a machine that links the living with the dead, Elizabeth reveals who killed her, and Miles takes matters into his own hands- or so he thinks. Years after that, Necco’s mother has a sort of premonition that the family is in danger again, and Necco learns that she’s in danger just before things get foggy and her memories fade to black.

Now, Necco is on the run again with the help of a high school drug dealer, a circus-crazed cafeteria lady, and a part-time private investigator, trying to figure out who is after her and what happened to her family after “the Great Flood”. Everything Necco though she knew is nothing compared to the truth she uncovers.

Absolutely recommend the read, as long as you can handle the thrill of it!

 

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

It didn’t take much for me to sign this book out of the library. I pulled it off the shelf, opened the cover, and saw that the main setting was in Vermont. Done. Signed it out, and two days later, finished reading it. The Winter People is a ghost tale thriller, and it had me turning the pages to figure out what would happen next.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

The story revolves around main character Sara Harrison Shea and her daughter Gertie. Without giving too much away, Sara and her husband Martin lose their daughter in what was deemed an accident in 1908, and the aftermath of the way they handled the situation haunts to town for years to come. This tragedy sends Ruthie and her little sister Fawn, current residents of Sara’s old homestead, on a hunt for answers after they find a copy of Sara’s diary hidden in their mother’s room.

Now, I love a good ghost story, and as I said before, this book had me hooked. However, the review is that it’s not gripping enough to make my favorites lists. The plot itself is pretty good, as necessary information is leaked out with enough suspense that it doesn’t give everything away all at once. There were some good plot twists and although some might be able to predict the ending, I couldn’t with any certainty. However, the reading level leans towards more young adult, as it’s readability is a little simple and repetitive and I didn’t love the resolution as it seemed a little Hallmark to me, though it does have a bit of a cliffhanger in it, keeping the thriller theme.

If you want a quick, gripping read, I’d say check it out. If you’re from Vermont and are excited that an author decided to write about your pint-sized state, sure, pick it up. But if you want something that’ll truly scare you, or something more believable, move along.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

This is not my first Gruen read, and probably not my last. I tore through this 350 page book in two days, and I’m slightly angry that I didn’t pace myself. I pulled this off the shelf not only because of the author, but because the cover jacket mentioned the Loch Ness Monster.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Now, a little sidenote: As a native Vermonter, I grew up with the legend of Champ, the Lake Champlain monster. Toted as the United States version of Scotland’s own Nessie, Champ was the mythical water creature that captured the imaginations of locals and tourists surrounding the lake. So as a kid, I was naturally curious to learn more about both Nessie and Champ, and although I admit I’m a skeptic, I love to hear and read about the sightings.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

So, I indulged myself and thought I’d see what At the Water’s Edge had to do with the Loch Ness Monster. Although in the end (SPOILER ALERT) the only thing that the monster did was draw me into the book, and drive the story’s plot.

Gruen opens the novel with a tragedy. On Valentine’s Day of 1942, a Scottish woman is grieving the loss of her infant when she receives a telegram with news of her husband, gone missing and presumed dead in battle during WWII. With a heavy broken heart, she walks into Loch Ness, allowing herself to sink into a watery grave.

Fast forward to 1944, the author introduces the trio of Ellis and Maddie Hyde, and their best friend Hank. Raised in privilege but accused of being a disgrace to those in their surrounding high society, the trio end up aboard a ship heading for Scotland in search of the Loch Ness Monster, determined to prove otherwise. It wasn’t an easy passage as war wages around them; attacks from German U-boats and soldiers with significant wounds on stretchers prove to be a rude awakening. They arrive at their extended stay inn, a pub that is far below their high standards, and after a nights rest the men start plotting how to find the monster. Maddie, sea-sick and weak after the journey across the Atlantic, stays behind and is cared for by those running the inn. From there, she establishes a friendship with Meg the barmaid and Anna the housekeeper, and a respect for Angus the innkeeper.

Maddie starts to realize the world around her is far different than the one she grew up in, as well as the two men she grew up with. Her husband Ellis is so wrapped up in his efforts to find the Loch Ness monster- a creature his father searched for only to find embarrassment and failure- that he becomes reckless, getting drunk and disorderly night after night. Hank, ever the sidekick, follows. Both men feel the need to prove themselves to both the locals and their families, especially because neither could serve in the war efforts due to ‘hidden ailments’- color blindness and flat feet, respectively. In a time where everyone was doing something for the war efforts, to have two seemingly capable men not fighting on the front for their country was shameful.

Despite unsuccessful attempts to provide proof of the monster, the men still hold on to their sense of entitlement, and wear out their welcome quickly at the inn. However determined, their genuine efforts become fraudulent, and as Maddie catches on to their schemes, she simultaneously notes that her marriage is deceiving as well. In the end, Maddie’s story and the tragically drowned Scottish woman coincide, the war comes to an end, and (SPOILER ALERT) the Loch Ness Monster never makes it’s public appearance. But, as Maddie points out, “the monsters we seek may be right in front of us.” While searching for one monster, she uncovers a different one in her husband.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Now, if there is one thing I could complain about, it’s that I did find the character development pretty obvious. Maddie changes from privileged to working class, Ellis becomes the bad guy, and (SPOILER ALERT) Angus becomes the hero… all things I could have guessed about 50 pages in. But the story line is fast paced, and though at times predictable, the events that occur are just enough to keep the reader on the edge. Would I read this book again? No, probably not. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the read. At the Water’s Edge kept me so absorbed from the beginning that I barely put it down in 48 hours, and to be that engrossed is one of the things I look for in a good book.