Friday, November 22, 2013

Review: Love, Loss and Letting Go

Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes: A Novel
Visit Joanne DeMaio's website
By Joanne DeMaio

208 pages. CreateSpace (November 14, 2013)

When journalist Vera Sterling returns home to Addison, Connecticut for her sister’s February wedding, she did not expect to feel so at home. Recently laid off from her newspaper position in Boston, the comforts of her hometown promise a familiar reconnection to family, old friends and her roots. By September, she is still unemployed and returns to Addison, pouring her remaining savings into a historic colonial home walking distance from the town square. The drafty old house once hosted the local favorite Christmas shop in the barn out back.

Fixing up the rambling old home with a widow’s walk overlooking the cove, Vera heads to the local hardware store and meets Derek Cooper. Reluctantly, Derek agrees to help Vera with some repairs, and then reveals his struggle with the loss of a child in the cove five years ago. As Derek focuses only on the festival honoring his daughter, Vera searches for a way to support not only herself, but Derek’s grief and the festival as well.

DeMaio pulls in some favorite traditions of the holidays: a mother collecting ornaments for her young daughter, a family playing games on a winter night, the cheers of a community gathering in a familiar place. At only 208 pages, Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes illustrates the power of embracing what you have and finding what you seek in front of you. The story provides a perfect-sized holiday treat – a cozy story about love and loss, letting go of what was and opening up to what is.

Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes explores how we redefine ourselves through loss and how we find peace only through accepting life with all its detours. Laced with snowflakes, DeMaio urges her characters to stop and pay attention to the here and now – a gracious reminder during the hectic holiday season to appreciate the little joys in life, like the simple miracle of snow. 
“Snowflakes are so beautiful. Their symmetry and delicateness is something to behold. Especially the perfect crystals. But you know, Vera. Most snowflakes are actually distorted or disproportionately shaped. So much happens to any single one as it moves through the clouds and deals with the different elements, the humidity and wind and temperature. He stops then, watching those distant cirrus clouds for a long moment, then turning and looking directly at Vera. “Very, very few make it to the ground in perfect shape.”

Note: I received an Advance Reader’s Copy for the purposes of reviewing this book. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: Sea Air, Salt Water & Salvation

Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans: A Novel
By Joanne DeMaio

319 pages. CreateSpace (March 11, 2013)

Over a year ago, I first “met” debut author Joanne DeMaio through her blog. New to blogging myself, I reviewed her first novel, Whole Latte Life. I was honored when she asked me to review her second novel, Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans.
“Someone once told her that the sea air and salt water are cleansing. They cure what ails you.”
Visit Joanne DeMaio's website.
Maris Carrington first met Eva Lane on vacation at Stony Point Beach as a girl. Reconnecting each summer until graduation, the women remain good friends into their thirties. Maris returns home to Connecticut following her father’s death after twelve years away chasing a denim-designing career in Chicago. When on an impulse she decides to linger at the beach a few weeks and finalize her father’s estate, Eva is thrilled. Together Maris and Eva decide to gather old beach friends for a July 4th party. Then Maris plants flower seedlings at her rented beach cottage, needing time to reflect on more than her father’s death.

Eva married Matt Gallagher and stayed close to home as a pregnant wife at eighteen. Though happy as a wife, mother and realtor, she was adopted and obsessively searches for her birth family. Local cottage renovator and architect Jason Barlow lost his brother Neil and part of his leg in a horrific motorcycle accident six years ago. Kyle Bradford struggles to keep his marriage together and his family local after another layoff in the steel industry. Meanwhile, his wife Lauren longs for a lost lover and dreams of an easier life of painting seascapes on driftwood by the beach.

Told from the perspective of five characters, their stories wind through the regrets, memories, and distant hopes by the seaside of the Long Island sound. The novel, in keeping with its seaside setting, begins with a whirlwind of characters, present and past, then eases into a comfortable, soothing rhythm. Maris, Eva, Jason, Kyle and Lauren, though flawed, are highly relatable and complex people. Each faces either long-hidden family secrets or life-altering challenges.

In both novels, DeMaio excels with themes featuring loss and redemption, lasting connections and unconditional love. In Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans, her poignantly told story weaves the power our past holds with hopeful healing by the sea. It is a sensory story where simple images spark strong memories: looking out the window in a childhood home, a weathered rowboat moored on the beach, and the train whistling past a summer hangout.

Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans reconnects the beach and the past for old friends. In coming together they each find the solace and acceptance they need to rebuild their lives, their relationships, their careers, and their connections to each other.
“This beach has a way of casting its spell right through the windows under the guise of sea and salt, the call of the gulls, the sound of the waves.”
 And another passage I love.
“Time moves like the sea. She always felt so. Living right at the beach, time is placid and calm, soft waves of it rolling onto the shore of her days. One day follows the other, over and over, in a comfortable and reassuring way. No matter what she is doing, at any age, that awareness of the movement of the sea, and of waves of time, keeps her grounded."