Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

“I would like it very much if you were all here with me,” Hannah said, wheezing.  She coughed several times.

“Mom!” Abbi exclaimed, rushing to her side.

The coughing spell subsided, and Hannah shook her head, holding up a placating hand.  “No, no, it’s nothing.  Please don’t make a fuss.  There’s nothing to be done.  Just, please… be here with me.  And call my siblings, please.  They need to know.  Harry would be devastated if he couldn’t come in time…”

“I’ll make the calls,” Abbi said, trying to occupy herself.

Brenda exchanged a look with Abbi and nodded, drawing up a chair next to Glen.  Abbi left the room and made the calls she dreaded.  Irma said she’d be on the first plane out, but Abbi thought, with a sinking heart, that she would be too late.  Within the hour, Harry was at the door.

Abbi supposed she could have let Alan or Tom answer the door, but she was a bundle of nerves as she flitted about the house.  When she opened the front door and saw the pain etched in every line of her uncle’s face, she couldn’t compose herself to speak.  Harry entered and hugged his niece.

“Chin up, Abbi, child,” he said in his usual gentle manner he’d used with her since she had been small.

Abbi half-laughed, half-hiccupped.  “I’m not a child anymore, Uncle Harry, but thanks.”

“Ah, you’re a child to me, old fart that I am.  It’s okay to fall apart, to be like a child, especially right now.  Where is she?”

“This way.”  Abbi couldn’t help but smile.  Her uncle always knew how to make her laugh.

Harry fell silent as he followed his niece to his sister’s side.  He took Hannah’s hand in a similar manner as she’d held his all those years ago in the hospital after he had been in the accident.

“What’s this all about, then?” he asked.  “I always imagined the roles reserved here, sis.  What are you doing in this bed, hmmm?”

Hannah’s chuckle came as a rasp, then a cough, but her eyes shone with mirth.

Recovering, she said, “You never let up, do you, silly brother?  I guess the good Lord has use of you yet here.”

“Can’t imagine for what.”

“There you go again, selling yourself short.”

“You think you know what’s best for me, eh?  Leaving me ain’t it, Hannah-panna.”

“You never stop, do you?”

They exchanged their friendly banter for a little while longer before Hannah grew serious.  “But don’t ever stop, Harry.  Don’t ever stop making people laugh and smile.  It’s what you do, who you are.  You and that big heart of yours.”

Eyes shining with tears, Harry said, “There’s one person whose smile I haven’t seen in far too long.  You tell Kathy when you see her – you tell her I’m coming for her soon.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Then it’s settled.  Maybe you can leave after all.  Don’t let an old bugger like me keep you.”

Harry hugged Hannah one last time and said his farewells to her children.  After he left, Hannah’s eyes implored her youngest daughter, then her other children, to sit with her.  Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult, so she didn’t waste her words.  Each breath, each utterance, and each heartbeat were precious, now more than ever for Hannah.

Hannah’s eyes slipped shut, and her hands fell loose at her sides.  To her children, she appeared to be sleeping with difficulty, as every breath was labored, rattling through her chest and out again.

 

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 41)

While the first year without Edward was the most difficult, Hannah found strength she didn’t know she had.  There were times when she thought everything was fine, and then something would trigger a memory of Edward – a song on the radio, a line from a book, a phrase someone said.  Then Hannah was pulled back into grief.

She supposed she would spend the rest of her life susceptible to such turns of emotion.  According to Harry, he had similar experiences since losing Kathy. He joined Hannah at the cemetery some Sundays, and when the weather was nice, they slowly walked the well-trod path from Kathy’s grave to Edward’s grave to their parents’ grave and finally to Amy’s grave.

“You know, this may sound morbid, but I’m finding the cemetery oddly comforting,” Hannah said on a July day, a year after Edward’s passing.  “There’s a certain beauty about this place. I wouldn’t have believed it before, but coming here has been vital for me.”

“I’m glad you suggested I join you,” Harry replied.  The wind gently played with his silver hair, messing it in the manner he’d often worn it when he was much younger.  Behind thick glasses, his blue eyes crinkled as he smiled. “You know you must’ve been very convincing to get me to come here this often, sis, seeing as I avoided this place like the plague for years.”

Hannah joined in the laughter.  “Anything to get you to listen to me, Harry.  You know I’ve always known what’s best for you.”

Harry sobered.  “There’s more truth to that than you realize.”

Hannah reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze.  “Hey, you old geezer, you forget that you first came to my aid.”

“Who you calling old, Hannah-panna?”

“Don’t you remember how you related to me when I was angry about Amy dating?  For the first time, I felt like someone understood me, Harry.”

Brother and sister exchanged knowing smiles.

“I have a feeling my two younger grandsons are going to cause as much trouble as you and Erik did when you were boys.  Randy’s only seven months old and is determined to crawl. He’s getting into things, and I have to keep my eye on the little stinker around the outlets.”

“Ah, grandkids.  They keep us young, don’t you think?”

“I often forget my age, but keeping up with them is another thing entirely.  What I’d give to wake up just one morning without a stiff neck or back, and if it isn’t that, it’s my legs.”

“You sound like that one old biddy friend of yours you’re always complaining about.  What’s her name, Gertie? The one from church who goes on and on about what’s ailing her.”

“Yes, that’s Gertie all right, but don’t you even start, Harry.”  

The siblings walked on in perfect companionship to the pond and fed the geese, whiling away another lazy afternoon.

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 40)

After Tim pulled away, Erik, Lily, and Harry joined Hannah.  She was sad that Irma wasn’t able to make it, but she understood that her sister had her hands full with caring for Ross.  Lily and Erik embraced Hannah before saying they needed to return home. As Hannah watched her oldest brother go, Harry lingered by her side, his presence comforting and steady.  

Fresh tears filled her eyes as her brother pulled her to him.  “Oh, Harry.” She sobbed into his shirt while he rubbed circles into her upper back, and when Hannah finally withdrew, she looked up into his wise eyes.

“I won’t lie to you and say the pain ever goes away,” he said softly, “but in time, you’ll find peace.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think of Kathy.”

“And here I thought no one understood, that I was so alone,” Hannah said, half-laughing, half-crying.  “How could I have been so selfish to have forgotten? You’ve always been there for me, and I-”

“Shh,” Harry murmured.  “Grieve in your own way, in your own time, Hannah.  There are no rules for this sort of thing. No one can tell you how to feel, what to say or do.  And you forget that I wasn’t always there…”

Hannah shook her head.  “That was a lifetime ago, Harry.  We were all so young.”

“Sometimes, sis, when I’m low and feeling especially sorry for myself, I still go there.  Besides you, Kathy was my rock. Without her, the temptation to have a drink is stronger, but when I think of how it would break her heart, I know she’s alive inside me, and I hold back.  Edward will still be your strength and comfort when you don’t even know it.”

Hannah nodded.  “Thank you, Harry.  I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Harry looked like he was about to speak, but he only hugged her and smiled, turning as he went to join his own family.  Hannah gazed at the fresh grave one last time.

“Goodbye, Eddy,” she whispered.  “We’ll see each other again in Heaven, my love.”

She somehow found the resolve to walk away.  She knew Edward wasn’t really in that grave, so as she ambled across the freshly mown grass to join her family, she looked up at the heavens.  The sun brushed her cheeks and lips like a feather-light kiss.

Hannah returned often to Edward’s grave.  She brought fresh daisies every Sunday after church.  Sometimes her family joined her, but she was usually alone.  She took to keeping a folding chair in her trunk, and whether rain or sun, she’d sit with Edward for a little while and speak to him.  She sometimes read from her book of Psalms, but other times, she’d just sit quietly, listening. Closing her eyes, she didn’t have to think hard to imagine him in the rustling of the leaves, in the birdsong, or in the breeze that embraced her.  These days became Hannah’s path to healing.

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Chapter 48)

“I just don’t get it,” Hannah said, eyeing the many stacks of newspapers in Harry’s basement.  “You have way more stuff than I do, and Abbi is acting like I have a hoarding problem. She’d have a field day over here!”

Harry shrugged.  “I’ve thought about cleaning them out, but none of my kids will bother with them.  I’m too old to go at it myself, and I figured, what’s the harm?”

“It’s a fire hazard, Harry.  You really ought to consider getting rid of some of these.  I know I’m not one to talk about keeping things, but it makes me uncomfortable seeing all these papers down here and you living alone.”

“But some of them have stories in them I like, important historical events, old ads that are neat to look at.”

Hannah smiled ruefully.  “You sound like me making up excuses.  When Abbi asked why I had a couple hundred plastic bags, I told her that you never know when you might need a bag to carry something in.”  Chuckling, Hannah said, “She doesn’t know this, but after she left on Sunday, I went back out to the trash and brought half of the stuff back in.  Can you believe she threw out old Christmas cards? She told me she holds onto hers for a year, uses them to write out that year’s cards, and then throws them away.  Can you imagine?”

“Maybe she saw the way you are and decided to do just the opposite?”

Hannah shook her head as they ascended the stairs.

“That seems to be a pattern in my family.  I keep wondering where I went wrong with Glen…”

“Don’t beat yourself up, sis.  I could ask myself the same thing about my daughter.  Gloria never married and seemed so against it. Her mother and she argued all the time about it.  It’s not just sons that upset us, not that I had expectations that Gloria needed a man in her life.  Her mother thought differently, though. I know a thing or two about upsetting my parents.”

“Does that bother you, even after all this time?” Hannah asked as they took seats on the sofa.

“It’s always with me,” Harry said softly, meeting his sister’s eyes.  “When Gloria showed herself as independent and head-strong, part of me admired her for standing up for herself, but I was reminded of… Kat.  There were a couple of occasions when Gloria was in her twenties and she was dating a different guy every week when I was this close to grabbing a drink.  Kathy stopped me every time. Now, I’m about to be a great-grandfather, and that’s the easiest role I think I’ve ever played.”

“So, is Heidi expecting, then?”

“Yes, my oldest granddaughter is pregnant.  I teased her that she was making me feel old.”

“You’re pushing eighty.  You are old.” Hannah smirked at him.

“You’re right behind me, sis.  To be honest, I’m happy to see eighty.”

Hannah thought briefly about Erik and sobered.  “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yeah?”

“All this talk about families, we’ve spoken about our roles as parents, but as my brother, I want you to answer me honestly.  Was I an annoying younger sister?”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh.  “Oh, were you ever! But seriously, Hannah, you were there for me at times when most would’ve left.  Why?”

“I hear Abbi talking about her kids and how they fight, and I think about my own kids and how they just don’t see eye-to-eye as adults.  I feel like a hypocrite at times, Harry, when I remember how I failed you as a sister. I don’t care that it was years ago. You tell me otherwise, but I sometimes wonder if I’ve failed in other ways as well.”

Harry frowned.  “Is this mostly about Glen?”

“Yes…”

“He’ll come around.  I did.”

“Eddy’s father never did.  I told you his story.”

“But Glen’s circumstances are different.  I think he really is trying to do right for his family.  When you’re a son, Hannah, there are expectations to be ‘a man.’  I guess that means proving yourself, not showing weaknesses… stupid stuff at the end of the day.  I’m not one who’s all that wise, Hannah. I just know that if someone’s meant to be in your life, they will be at the end of the day.  You’re very strong, but somehow thought you were failing others. I’d say if anyone I know has earned the right to speak her mind, it’s you.  I didn’t want to hear the truth all those years ago, but you weren’t afraid to get in my face when I needed a good emotional slap. If your son has any sense, then he’ll be there.  I’m certain he loves you.”

“I hope you’re right.  Thanks, Harry.” Hannah squeezed his hand.  

“That’s what I’m here for.  I have all the time in the world, Hannah.”

“Like for cleaning out those newspapers?”

“We’re back to that again, are we?”

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

By Christmas, the First World War ended.  The children had decorated the pine tree with a popcorn-strung garland, an assortment of handmade ornaments from school, and a few carefully placed candles.

Both Christmas Eve and Day had separate dinners that were planned to the point of perfection.  Other than Lucy’s mother, only the immediate family gathered to partake in both meals. Everyone dressed in their finest, shoes polished, and under Ma’s eagle eye, not a hair out of place.  It was the one time of year when Erik and Harry would allow their mother to dictate what they wore.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, the family attended church to hear the story of the birth of Jesus, the miracle of light that came into the world.

The service ended, and the family walked the short distance down Madison Avenue to their home.  Snow was falling lightly. It had a magical quality when Hannah looked upward and imagined the angels dusting their wings off.  She skipped ahead, kicking up the fresh thin layer of snow on the sidewalk. She was laughing, when an icy wetness suddenly hit her in the back of the head.

“Ow!”

Her mood evaporated as she spun around to glare daggers at her brothers.  

“Hey, how dare you!” she said.

Harry had the audacity to look innocent, while Erik couldn’t help but chuckle.  The adults and Amy hung back farther, lost in conversation.

Hannah quickly knelt down and grabbed a handful of snow, formed a ball, and chucked it at her brothers.  It missed, flying between them and ended up smacking Pa in the side of the face.

Both boys were briefly shocked, before dissolving into laughter.

“Oh, you’re in for it now, Hannah-panna,” Harry teased.

“Be quiet!” Hannah shouted.  “You started it!”

The adults were upon them a few seconds later.  Pa was wiping his cheek with his gloved hand, but it was Ma who was angry.

“Who threw that?” she demanded.

“It wasn’t us.  It was Hannah,” Erik said.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t aiming for you, Pa” Hannah said.  “One of them hit me in the back of the head.”

“A likely story,” Harry said coyly, smirking.

Ma’s eyes shifted to her younger son.  “Actually, it sounds about right. Come.  We will discuss this once we’re inside.”

Pa pretended to be stern, but when he walked past Hannah and the boys, he half-smiled.  He winked at Hannah, and then his face was impassive once more. As Hannah watched her parents retreating down the road, she grinned.  

Once back inside their small home, Pa worked at starting a fire in the grate, while Ma sat Erik, Harry, and Hannah on the sofa to give them a brief lecture on how to treat each other with more respect, “most especially on Christmas.”

“How is pelting each other with snow when it’s already freezing outside a Christ-like attitude?”

Pa, finished with the fire, came to his wife’s side, and wrapped an arm around her.

“I think, perhaps just this once, we might excuse the children.  It is Christmas, after all. There will be plenty of time for extra chores in a few days.”  He smirked knowingly.

“Hmm,” Ma murmured, although her eye twinkled as she exchanged a look with her husband.  

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Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow (Opening Scenes)

To some looking back, the world seemed a simpler place a hundred years ago.  People left their doors unlocked. Neighbors waved and said hellos and how-do-you-dos.  Children could play outside all day, no matter the season, and return home safe for dinner at night.

        Several modest, nearly identical houses lined Madison Avenue, all constructed around the turn of the century.  There were the Foleys, the Thompsons, the Gardners, the Halleys, the Bradfords. And the Rechtharts.

Augustus Rechthart had met Lucille Grosner in the summer of 1899.  Gus had been delivering some goods to the local general store when he accidentally had bumped into a young woman coming out of the shop…

“Oh, excuse me, ma’am,” he said, lowering the wooden crate.

“No need for your excuses,” the young lady returned, her eyes challenging him.

Gus detected the slightest grin on her face.  He hastily set aside the load.

“Might I buy you a drink to make up for my carelessness, Miss-?”

“Grosner.  Lucille Grosner.  And yes, I suppose so, although if you’re thinking of getting me drunk-”

“No, not that kind of drink, Lucille,” Gus replied, laughing, a little embarrassed.  He was testing his luck by using her given name.

“Very well, then.  And my friends call me Lucy.  And you are?”

“Oh, right.”  Gus smiled easily, relieved.  “Augustus Rechthart, although no one in their right mind ever calls me that.  Plain, old Gus is just fine, Lucy. Are you Lucy to me?”

“Well, that depends on rather a lot of things, Gus.  Since I am in my right mind, I’ll call you Gus, and since I think we might well become better acquainted, yes, you may call me Lucy.”

After that initial conversation, the two had struck up a courtship that led to an engagement at Christmas.

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Review of Cobwebs of Youth by Rose Auburn

cobswebsofyouthSummary: ‘Cobwebs of Youth’ is a contemporary, romantic novel set in the London suburbs. It tells the story of Lara Cassidy who realises her dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator like her father. Yet her happiness is short-lived and she is plunged into uncertainty as Robert Kennedy, the mysterious stranger she first encountered ten years earlier, comes back into her life. Will Lara finally be able to lay her Father’s ghost to rest and fully embrace what the future holds?

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cobwebs of Youth is a lovely book, let me just say. Lovely is the first word that comes to mind and sticks with me as I recount my experience reading this novel.

I am quite familiar with British novels, having recently read The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10. I am also a fan of British shows, such as Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock. Being an American, I pick up on the differences in the English language when I step into a British novel. And it’s lovely.

The characters in this book are very realistic and relatable. Their dialogue reads so fluidly, so naturally. That is probably my favorite part of this story, and it’s a character-driven, dialogue-driven story told in third person-limited narrative, so what a pleasure to read Lara Cassidy’s journey of finding herself.

It may sound like another modern mundane romance story, like another journey of self-discovery. I admit, this arch is overdone these days, yet it works so well most of the time. When done right, as it is in Cobwebs of Youth (which is a great title, by the way), these types of stories can resonate with many people.

The book opens with an 18-year-old Lara visiting her father, against her mother’s wishes. Her parents are divorced. When she arrives at her dad’s house, she finds he is with a French woman. She feels betrayed, no longer the first woman in her dad’s life. She is at a vulnerable age. She and her best friend, Jen, go to a local pub to drink away their sorrows. While there, Lara meets an older biker man named Rob, who comforts her. She is both intrigued and put off by him.

A decade passes. Lara’s dad has died, and she moves into his house. She is in a relationship with attorney Ed, a guy who, according to Lara’s mum, has a good job and is a good match for Lara. Lara is an artist, an illustrator like her dad, and has a big project coming up to illustrate a children’s book called Puddle. It may be her big break where her career is concerned, but she finds herself severely unhappy. She attends one of Ed’s work parties, where everyone is only surface-level and rubbing noses. She has felt little affection for Ed for months, and he seems equally distant, more concerned with his job than their relationship. They finally end it.

Lara almost steps back in time by returning to the pub where she met Rob, unable to forget him all these years. As fate would have it, he is there again. They start talking and strike up a relationship. Rob is everything Ed isn’t. Jen and Lara’s mum don’t approve of her dating a biker, but she feels more alive with him than she has in her life. She rides a motorcycle for the first time and feels exhilarated. She meets new people. She is head-over-heels in love with this mysterious guy.

But life is never easy. As much as Lara wants to get away from the past, it’s still part of her. This story is a beautiful exploration of a young woman’s struggle to come into her own.

There are some grammatical errors in the book, but they don’t detract from the story or the great dialogue.

4 out of 5 stars

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