WomensFiction

Greatest Love Stories of All Time

 

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It’s the time of year when bouquets of flowers fill the stores, the gift of a box of chocolates takes on new meaning, and love songs (and movies) fill the airwaves. Swoonworthy stuff, ya’ll.

 

Instead of creating a post about current titles that inspire hearts to flutter, I put out an open call for men and women to name their favorite Greatest Love Stories of All Time. Thanks to Mari Barnes*, Sarah Bewley, Leah Canzoneri, Kait Carson, Peggy Clayton, Joy Ross Davis, Missy Davis, Laura Di Silverio, Saword Broyles Ellis, Terri Gault, Courtney Carter Girton, Sherry Harris, Cynthia Kuhn, Joyce Laferrera, Marj Lilley, Alice Loweecy, Gary Miller, Sylvia Nickels, Debbie York Parker, Nanci Rathbun, Jeanie Smith, Ellis Vidler, and Lynn Chandler Willis for their wonderful suggestions.  *drawing winner  :-)

 

Books are listed in alphabetical order by title, and where available, links to the Greatest Love Stories are included.  Click on the titles and read more about them.               

 

At Home in Mitford” by Jan Karon

“Cinderella Story” by Wendy Logia

Come Rain or Come Shine” by Jan Karon

Dr. Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak

Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry

Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

Persuasion” by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen

Shadow of the Moon” by MM Kaye

Somewhere in Time” by Richard Matheson

Soulless” by Gail Carriger

The Far Pavilions” by MM Kaye

The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper 

The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks

The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Orczy

The Second Coming” by Walker Percy

The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough

 

Are you thinking romantic, weak-at-the-knees thoughts?

Our work is done.  😉    

 

Photo credit:  Patti Phillips

 

 

“Thought I Knew You” by Kate Moretti

 

Book Cover - Thought I Knew You

Kate Moretti’s “Thought I Knew You,” relates the poignant story of a wife whose husband leaves on a business trip and never comes home. Imagine waiting for a loved one to walk through the door at the appointed time…and he doesn’t. Not an hour late or even a day late just because of flight delays. The key never turns in the lock.

 

Was he murdered? Is he lost? Has he walked out on Claire Barnes? What happened to him? This page-turner will keep you guessing all the way through as the life that Claire thinks she and Greg experienced together is revealed bit by bit.

 

Claire reports him missing right away, but everyone discounts her concern as unnecessary. She begins to make phone calls backtracking his movements, and the more she uncovers, the less she knows about the man she called her husband for so many years. While Claire knows something has been ‘off’ between the two of them, she is sure that his commitment to their daughters is sincere and he would not have left them behind.

 

Claire’s support system is strong: the helpful Police Detective who keeps searching, a life-long devoted friend, Drew, who picks up the pieces while the search is on, the mom that keeps the girls when Claire can’t handle any more.

 

But, as the months roll by and the search for Greg widens, Claire has time to reflect, alternately blaming herself for whatever happened and angry at the discoveries she makes. We see the layers of the marriage exposed as well as the truth of the relationship with Drew revealed, and the book intensifies in its hold on us. The ripple effect of the loss of one person changes everyone that comes in contact with the family left behind. Claire questions her own actions within the marriage a bit more, and we begin to recognize her flaws, even as she dismisses them.

 

Marriage vows are called into question and we, in turn, reflect upon what makes our own relationships tick. We feel the longing, the questioning, the justifications, the sadness of lives not fully realized. Do we compromise everything for something we think we want out of life? Does the safety in the picture of the white-picket-fence-and-two-children dictate our path? Must it take losing everything familiar in order to discover our own capabilities and the essence of who we are?

 

“Thought I Knew You,” stuns the reader with twists and turns and comes to an astonishing end with conclusions that may be shocking to some, if not heart-breaking.

 

This is a book perfect for book clubs, chock full of discussion points. I asked my adult son about some of the choices made by the men in the story and his surprising responses would spur on debates within those book clubs.

 

Moretti’s “Thought I Knew You” is exceptionally told, deeply felt. Haunting. Memorable.

 

While “Thought I Knew You” is a work of fiction, the tragic reality is that thousands of people go missing every year. Some of those missing people are homeless and nobody ever looks for them when they inexplicably disappear from the streets. All kinds of people go missing from intact homes, and though the families may search for years, no trace is ever found.

 

As sometimes happens, the true crime area of my other website (www.kerriansnotebook.com) overlaps with the case here. For more information about groups that handle a wide variety of missing persons cases, take a look at http://www.justice.gov/actioncenter/missing-person.html#persons

 

Please visit www.katemoretti.com for more information about Moretti and her moving, insightful work.

 

 

 

“The Dog Year” by Ann Garvin

 

Book Cover - The Dog Year

Surgeon Lucy Peterman loses her husband, unborn child, and her perfect life in a car accident. Six months later and back at work, she tells everyone she is fine. But, in Ann Garvin’s “The Dog Year,” Peterman is stealing anything in the hospital that can be slipped into her pockets. That’s no big deal, right? She more or less knows why she’s doing it and it’s not like she’s selling Band-Aids on the black market to make a profit. Who could it hurt?

 

Peterman is one of those doctors that is loved by her patients. She goes the extra mile to protect their dignity before they undergo the knife, a rarity in most hospitals where impersonal interactions are the norm. Because of this, the hospital staff ignores her thefts until they impact inventory. When records, witnesses, and cameras confirm that much more is missing than the odd bandage or two, Peterman is told to get help or lose her job. Returning the stolen supplies would be a good start, but she can’t bring herself to admit that she needs help, not even when it turns out that an entire room in her house is filled to the walls with the evidence.

 

The hospital administrator orders her to see a therapist who in turn, sends her to a local Twelve Step program. AA is not the answer for everyone and when Peterman is sent there, she knows it’s not going to work. She avoids the meetings, at first because she’s in denial, but later because it’s not a good fit.

 

“The Dog Year” is a moving portrayal of grief and its aftermath, exploring the raw emotions that can paralyze our hearts and bring us to our knees. While many of us might turn to coping mechanisms that can be hidden from the outside world – screaming behind closed doors or drinking to excess – we all do something to help ourselves get through the reality of being left behind. Faith helps some, social connections help others, but I have never met anyone that could go it entirely alone. And yet, that’s what Peterman tries to do.

 

Garvin provides a strong group of supporting characters that show sympathy for Lucy Peterman, grieve with her, and best of all, point out truths in the face of her re-creating the facts. The brother realistically enables her bad behavior until he can’t take it anymore, a high school acquaintance cuts her slack and stands by her when Peterman’s thefts become more public, and a convincingly written anorexic has no sympathy for this woman that leads a privileged life. There are assorted quirky souls that add depth and texture to this beautifully written story. Even the dog in “The Dog Year,” tugs at our hearts, plays a pivotal role, and brings people together in unexpected ways. There are astonishing discoveries and changes as Peterman begins to deal with her new reality – quite satisfying in a hopeful way.

 

There are so many things to love about “The Dog Year.” I cried, I laughed – it made me remember my own times of grief in softer ways. After a while, life does go on, even if we’re not ready for it. We just need to “Choose to find a way.”

 

Despite the serious nature of the topics, the book has many laugh-out-loud moments. Peterman has a wild, sometimes crude, sense of humor and much of that humor is directed at herself. She can be snarky, and sometimes mean, and oh, so very spot-on with some of the jokes. There are also many moments of tenderness toward the people in her life, something she finds hard to feel for herself.

 

Through Lucy Peterman’s character, Garvin makes several important points. Addiction takes over lives at weak moments in different ways. And while there are commonalities in addictions, if we want our loved ones to heal, there has to be a more conscious effort to match the treatment to the person and the addiction. “The Dog Year” bravely shouts that from the rooftops. 

 

Having spent her life in medicine, Ann Garvin brings a great deal of insight to “The Dog Year” about how hospitals and the health care world works. She is also crazy about dogs and it shows.

 

Please visit www.anngarvin.net for more information.

 

 

“Is This Tomorrow” by Caroline Leavitt

 

Book Cover - Is This Tomorrow

 

A sixth grader disappears in broad daylight from a 1950s Boston suburb in “Is This Tomorrow” and everyone is brought to a standstill by shock, grief and suspicion. The police investigate, but not thoroughly enough for anyone’s expectations. Even divorcee, Ava Lark, comes under scrutiny, just because she is single, Jewish, working, and the missing boy (her son’s best friend) spent time at her house.

 

Everybody that knew the missing boy, Jimmy, even in passing, is questioned without success. He seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. Neighborhood watches are organized, the woods are searched, parents walk the children back and forth to school, ‘stranger’ warnings are issued. Everyone is in denial; nobody wants to think the worst. His sister and best friend even choose to believe that Jimmy just left – that he went to a wonderful place on their ‘travel map’ – the route they had promised to take together when they got older.

 

Time passes and people adjust to the idea that Jimmy is gone. The friends and neighbors promise never to forget, to keep looking, but to most of the world, Jimmy becomes ‘the boy who went missing.’ But, not to his sister Rose, and his best friend, Lewis. Not even to Ava. Their world has been changed forever by Jimmy’s disappearance. We observe that changed world through Ava’s eyes, and then Lewis and Rose’s, in painful and insightful ways for years after the terrible day.

 

Leavitt explores the attitudes of society toward divorcees and the limited options available to all women in the 1950s and 1960s, truths still echoing today. In “Is This Tomorrow,” Ava struggles to make ends meet and feels adrift, loving her son, but not knowing how to help him or herself in a culture that perceives her as damaged goods. Lewis blames her for his father’s absence; Rose blames her own mother for not doing more to help herself after Jimmy goes missing. The ache is palpable.

 

The story unfolds as the children and the adults deal with paralyzing guilt and surprising revelations, both about Jimmy and themselves. As moments in that long ago day are relived through several character’s eyes and what-if scenarios are rehashed, we see how one person’s clueless stupidity can send a ripple of destruction in every direction. Even worse, the selfish reactions to that stupidity can cause even more harm, when kept secret for so long.

 

The children in “Is This Tomorrow” are drawn so well – their interactions, their need to belong, their missteps in social situations, their craving for an intact family. I knew kids like this in my teaching days, listened to their stories.

 

While the topics discussed are challenging and serious, there is growth and change in circumstances, as well as triumph along the way in this memorable novel.

 

Well done, Ms. Leavitt.

 

Read the review of an earlier novel, "Pictures of You," here.

Please visit www.carolineleavitt.com for the latest news about NYT Bestseller Caroline Leavitt’s work.

 

*Note from Patti Phillips:

As sometimes happens, Nightstand Book Reviews and my other website, www.kerriansnotebook.com have overlapped in this review of Leavitt’s perceptive examination of how families deal with the devastating case of a missing child.

The fact-based post “How long has your daughter been missing?” can be read at http://bit.ly/1enFF0k  

Go to http://www.namus.gov/ for more information about the U.S. Department of Justice program, a source of information regarding missing persons.

 

 

 

“Pictures of You” by Caroline Leavitt

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We all have certain expectations of our spouses. In the best scenarios, we picture loving each other robustly, tenderly and forever. In those pictures we raise marvelous children, and journey through life’s adventures with our best friends. ‘When we are not so busy’ or ‘when the children are grown’ we’ll have time to sort out all the nagging relationship issues. Unless the sand in the hourglass runs out before we get that chance.

 

In “Pictures of You,” two women’s lives intersect in a tragic auto accident. April dies when Isabelle swerves into her on an unfamiliar road in the fog. Isabelle, a photographer, is haunted by what she has done, even though she is cleared of any wrongdoing. She can’t forgive herself, so she doesn’t really blame anyone else in the community for ostracizing her; even welcomes being left alone. The fact of her husband’s infidelity has taken a back seat to her guilt.

 

The little boy, Sam, who survived the accident, has lost his mother and a grieving husband, Charlie, doesn’t understand why his wife, April, would have been on that road with their son at that time of day. Secrets are revealed about April that astound her husband. He no longer knows the woman with whom he shared his life. Charlie is helpless to comfort his son, ineffective in dealing with so many ‘after death’ issues. How many of us would be any better at it?

 

What follows is the tragic tale of three people aching for love; raw emotions and devastating truths revealed as they find a way to heal. No plot spoiler here, but photography plays an important role in the storyline.

 

Sam is so well written, with always age appropriate vocabulary, that the reader completely understands when he feels responsible for his mother’s death. Sam mistakes Isabelle for an angel and with his nine-year-old logic, mixes reality with his desperate wish to see his mother again. Leavitt creates a world in which the reader wants to hold this little boy, take away his heartache.

 

In an effective subplot, Isabelle suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which Leavitt depicts with insightful clarity. Isabelle shakes uncontrollably, sweats and feels nauseous when she sets foot in a car after the accident and for months afterward, must walk or ride a bike to go anywhere. Having been in a terrible car accident myself many years ago, I sympathized with the realistically intense stress the woman was going through, cringed at the nightmares she experienced. Leavitt herself, has an acute fear of being in cars, so brings considerable, painful  authenticity to the reading experience.

 

We tend to dismiss the importance of the small choices we make in life – not kissing a loved one goodbye or taking the time to listen when we’re running behind schedule – until it’s too late to get a do-over. We look back after a disaster and think: if only I had been a better dad, a better son, a better wife. If only I had stayed, or been there, or did what she/he asked. Everything would have been different. If only.

 

Beautifully written, exquisitely shared.

 

Caroline Leavitt’s latest novel, “Is This Tomorrow?” was published in May, 2013. Read the review here.

For more information about Ms. Leavitt and her books, visit www.carolineleavitt.com

 

 

“After the Rising” by Orna Ross

Book Cover - After the Rising

 

This lovingly written novel deals with the underlying subject of The Easter Uprising, a turnaround time in Irish politics. Ireland had been under English rule since 1169, an uneasy union at best, and at its worst, a blood-soaked thorn in the English side. Many in Ireland resented having to work in virtual servitude for English Lords who robbed them of their land or sent resources back to England. That resentment exploded in Dublin on a sunny Easter Sunday in 1916.

 

“After the Rising” begins in 1995, with Jo’s notification of her mother’s death. Jo travels to the village of Mucknamore, Ireland, all the way from San Francisco in the USA, filled with guilt and grief and anger. Jo hasn’t been back in twenty years. She hears the Will and at first, refuses to follow its directive: create a family history from the notes and letters left behind in a blue suitcase. Jo doesn't want to be in Mucknamore, let alone write about the very people that drove her crazy. But, she needs to exorcise her demons and the story begins in earnest, drawing us in as Jo tries to break free.

 

Three generations of women from Jo’s family tell their stories in the letters. Stories of the war between the Irish and the English, the formation of the IRA as well as other Irish  factions, the role of strong women in the fighting. This is a profoundly personal political book, bringing to life an aspect of 'the troubles' accepted, but not usually discussed: the divisions of families, lovers, neighbors, and neighborhoods. Best friends take sides and become enemies, each passionate about their view, each well meaning. Disagreements about the ‘English problem’ divide a nation within and blood is shed for decades.

 

Ross has woven a mature tale of forbidden love lost and remembered in sometimes explicit detail, of women who yearned to have a larger role in the fight for Irish freedom, of three generations frustrated by the fact that they had so few options in a male-dominated Irish culture. Each of the women faces a challenge unique to her generation and has to make a heart-rending decision.

 

Wexford County, Ireland, is beautifully described: a mix of new apartment blocks, old bungalows and cemeteries “with patchworks of crosses and slabs of stone staring over a low wall at the sea.” Ross’s word pictures happily reminded me of a road trip I had taken through that area a number of years ago.

 

“After the Rising” is remarkable in the spot-on glimpse into how we regard our own parents and grandparents. (Could my gray-haired great-grandmother who could barely take care of herself, ever have been a freedom fighter who carried grenades under her coat?) As Jo reads through the contents of the blue suitcase, she begins to understand her mother’s decisions, but grieves anew at the love left unspoken, at the memories never shared. She is staggered by the unbearable family mysteries revealed for the first time.

 

I downloaded an early version of “After the Fall,” initially self-published only in ebook form. My copy had formatting glitches, but Ms. Ross has re-issued the ebook and has promised that the problems have been corrected. A paperback version is now available as well. A sequel, “Before the Fall,” which continues the saga of Jo and her family, has been published in both ebook and paperback form.

 

Orna Ross, an Irish author, is the founder of ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors. For more information about Orna Ross, her work in self-publishing, and her novels, visit www.ornaross.com