Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Book Review: COUNT THE WAYS by Joyce Maynard



Author:  Joyce Maynard

Read: January 2022

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


After falling in love in the last years of the 1970s, Eleanor and Cam follow their dream of raising three children on a New Hampshire farm. Theirs is a seemingly idyllic life of summer softball games and Labor Day cookouts, snow days and skating on the pond. But when a tragic accident permanently injures the family’s youngest child, Eleanor blames Cam. Her inability to forgive him leads to a devastating betrayal: an affair with the family babysitter that brings about the end of their marriage.

Over the decades that follow, the five members of this fractured family—and the many others who make up their world—make surprising discoveries and decisions that occasionally bring them together, and often tear them apart. As we follow the family from the days of illegal abortion and the draft through the early computer age, the Challenger explosion, the AIDS epidemic, the early awakenings of the #MeToo era, and beyond, through the gender transition of one of the children and another’s choice to cease communication with her mother, we witness a family forced to confront essential, painful truths of its past and find redemption in the face of unanticipated disaster.

With endearingly flawed characters and a keen eye for detail, Joyce Maynard transforms the territory she knows best—home, family, parenthood, love, and loss—into the stuff of a page-turning thriller. In this achingly beautiful novel, she reminds us how great sorrow and great joy may coexist—and frequently do.

My musings:


Every book I have ever read by Joyce Maynard managed to break my heart into a thousand pieces, and her latest is no exception to the rule! In an interview, Maynard stated that in COUNT THE WAYS she revisited the general concept of one of her earliest novels, WHERE LOVE GOES, which I read as a young mother and which remains one of my all-time favourite books. And yes, here again we have the themes of young marriage, parenthood, divorce and trying to survive the aftermath, but COUNT THE WAYS is set firmly in the present, making it extremely relatable.


Eleanor and Cam are a young couple in love, who settle on a small farm in New Hampshire where their three children are born in rapid succession. Life is simple but happy, until a terrible tragedy strikes, putting pressure on their marriage and ultimately being the catalyst for their divorce. In a broken family, blame and bitterness are often inevitable, which is a theme Eleanor in particular struggles with, whilst trying to protect her children from pain, even if it is at her own expense.


What lengths would you go to to protect your children? Fight dragons, put yourself in the path of a speeding car, sacrifice your soul to the devil? So does it come as a surprise that Eleanor will risk even losing her children’s love in order to shelter them from pain? I found this aspect of the novel the most heartbreaking, feeling pain and anger at witnessing Eleanor taking all the blame for the marriage breakup so her children will never be privy to the ugly truths leading up to it.


As we follow a young Eleanor from the 1970’s through to today, bearing witness to many of the historical events that touched her life (the explosion of the Challenger, Princess Diana’s and Michael Jackson’s death and more), this was both a family saga as well as a coming of age story of sorts, as her three children grow into adults. Having been around to live through some of these events myself, I found it easy to relate to all aspects of the story, and its characters took on the type of real-life quality that makes for the best reading experience. Full of heartfelt emotion, I found it hard to tear myself away from the story, and thoughts of Eleanor and her plight followed me into my dreams and thoughts for days after finishing the novel.


As I have said before, noone writes complicated relationships like Joyce Maynard! As with her previous books, Maynard shows an uncanny insight into the complexities of marriage and parenthood, again taking me on a true rollercoaster ride of emotions that left me heartsore and exhausted but so very glad that I was able to be part of these characters’ lives for a while.

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Audiobook Review: WHAT COULD BE SAVED by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz



Author:  Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Read: January 2022

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


Washington, DC, 2019: Laura Preston is a reclusive artist at odds with her older sister Bea as their elegant, formidable mother slowly slides into dementia. When a stranger contacts Laura claiming to be her brother who disappeared forty years earlier when the family lived in Bangkok, Laura ignores Bea’s warnings of a scam and flies to Thailand to see if it can be true. But meeting him in person leads to more questions than answers.

Bangkok, 1972: Genevieve and Robert Preston live in a beautiful house behind a high wall, raising their three children with the help of a cadre of servants. In these exotic surroundings, Genevieve strives to create a semblance of the life they would have had at home in the US—ballet and riding classes for the children, impeccable dinner parties, a meticulously kept home. But in truth, Robert works for American intelligence, Genevieve finds herself drawn into a passionate affair with her husband’s boss, and their serene household is vulnerable to unseen dangers of a rapidly changing world and a country they don’t really understand.

Alternating between past and present as all of the secrets are revealed, What Could Be Saved is an unforgettable novel about a family shattered by loss and betrayal, and the beauty and hope that can exist even in the midst of brokenness.

My musings:


I stumbled across WHAT COULD BE SAVED purely by accident and I am so glad that I did because I loved every minute of this book!


Forty years ago, Laura’s brother Phillip was abducted in Bangkok when his parents failed to pick him up after his judo lesson. The loss of their son and brother left lasting scars on the family, even long after they returned home to America. Now, decades later, Laura receives a phonecall from a woman in Thailand claiming that her brother has been found and is ready to be reunited with his family. With her father long dead, her mother suffering from dementia and her sister convinced that the call is a scam, Laura must trust her own instincts whether the man is her long lost brother or not.


Told in two separate timelines – the four years in the early 70’s leading up to Phillip’s disappearance, and today - WHAT COULD BE SAVED is the intriguing portrait of a family destroyed by tragedy. Or was the catalyst much earlier, before Phillip vanished? As Laura and her sister Bea are forced to confront the past, they uncover secrets about their family they never had to face up to – and come to terms with the way it has affected all of their lives.


I found WHAT COULD BE SAVED intriguing and captivating in equal measures, especially the chapters that tell of the family’s early days in Bangkok and the events leading up to Phillips disappearance. We hear very early on that Robert Preston, the children’s father, is working for British intelligence, even though his wife thinks they are in Thailand for a humanitarian project that is taking much longer than the three years they had initially signed up for. Both the descriptions of the ex-pats’ lives in Bangkok as well as the details regarding Robert’s posting were most interesting and kept me eagerly listening for more. Raised more by the servants than their absent and distracted parents, the siblings each adapt quickly to their new environment and each take on their own roles in the family they will keep long into adulthood. The events leading up to Phillips disappearance were tragic and as heartbreaking as the aftermath.


I often find that dual timelines don’t hold my interest equally, but this was not a problem in WHAT COULD BE SAVED. As much as I loved hearing about the children’s early years in Thailand, I was equally intrigued by their adult relationships and finding out more about Phillips fate. You know that your audio book is a winner when you pull into the driveway after your long commute and then sit in the car for ages in the dark because you need to listen just a bit longer.




Exploring some dark themes such as infidelity, drugs, alcohol, the sex industry, revenge and the trauma of losing a child, WHAT COULD BE SAVED was an emotional rollercoaster of a book that had me totally enthralled from beginning to end. Each character was authentically drawn and believable, and I was very quickly drawn into the story and found myself deeply emotionally involved.  The author also paints Bangkok as an atmospheric and vivid backdrop to her story, which provided some great (if often troublesome) armchair travel, both from the perspective of the expats as well as one of their Thai employees who was working for the family at the time of Phillip’s disappearance. WHAT COULD BE SAVED will appeal to readers who love a character driven family saga full of intriguing secrets and sibling relationships. Highly recommended!