what i hadOlivia Reed was fifteen when she left her hometown of Ocean Vista on the Jersey Shore. Two decades later, divorced and unstrung, she returns with her teenage daughter, Carrie, and nine-year-old son, Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Distracted by thoughts of the past, Olivia fails to notice when Daniel disappears from her side. Her frantic search for him sparks memories of the summer of 1987, when she exploded out of the cocoon of her mother’s fierce, smothering love and into a sudden, full-throttle adolescence, complete with dangerous new friends, first love, and a rebellion so intense that it utterly recharted the course of her life.

Olivia’s mother, Myla, was a practicing psychic whose powers waxed and waned along with her mercurial moods. Myla raised Olivia to be a guarded child, and also to believe in the ever-present infant ghosts of her twin sisters, whom Myla took care of as if they were alive–diapers, baby food, an empty nursery kept like a shrine. At fifteen, Olivia saw her sisters for the first time, not as ghostly infants but as teenagers on the beach. But when Myla denied her vision, Olivia set out to learn the truth–a journey that led to shattering discoveries about herself and her family.

In What I Had Before I Had You, Sarah Cornwell seamlessly weaves together the past and the present in this riveting debut novel, as she examines the relationships between mothers and daughters, and the powerful forces of loss, family history, and magical thinking. (description from publisher)

not my fathers sonDark, painful memories can be like a cage. Or, in the case of Alan Cumming, they can be packed away in a box, stuck in the attic to be forgotten. Until one day the box explodes and all the memories flood back in horrible detail.

Alan Cumming grew up in the grip of a man who held his family hostage, someone who meted out violence with a frightening ease, who waged a silent war with himself that sometimes spilled over onto everyone around him. That man was Alex Cumming, Alan’s father. When television producers approached Alan to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, he enthusiastically agreed. He hoped to solve a mystery that had long cast a shadow over his family. His maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, had disappeared into the Far East after WWII. Alan’s mother knew very little about him–he had been a courier, carrying information between battalions on his motorbike. The last time she saw her father, Alan’s mother was eight years old. When she was thirteen, the family was informed that he had died by his own hand, an accidental shooting. But this was not the only mystery laid before Alan’s feet. His father, whom Alan had not seen or spoken to for more than a decade, reconnected just before filming for Who Do You Think You Are? began. He had a secret he had to share, one that would shock his son to his very core and set into motion a journey that would change Alan’s life forever.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as the celebrated actor of film, television, and stage. At times suspenseful, at times deeply moving, but always incredibly brave and honest, Not My Father’s Son is a powerful story of embracing the best aspects of the past and triumphantly pushing the darkness aside. (description from publisher)

songs of willow frostSet against the backdrop of Depression-era Seattle, Songs of Willow Frost is a powerful tale of two souls – a boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past – both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness.

Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday – or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday – William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song. Determined to find Willow and prove that his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigate the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping novel will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home. (description from publisher)

thepropertyIn Rutu Modan’s The Property, Mica and her grandmother, Regina are traveling from Israel to Warsaw, Poland. Just before World War II Regina had married and moved to Israel. Years later, as the only surviving member of her family, she was contacted and inform that she was entitled to reclaim her family’s property.  For twenty years she left the property unclaimed, but following the death of her son and Mica’s father, Reuben, she decided to make the trip.

Returning to Warsaw, Regina is overwhelmed with the guilt and shame of a long hidden family secrets. Modan beautifully illustrates how our perceptions of ourselves and our world are shaped by cultural and personal histories, and The Property successfully (and subtly) exposes the generational divide in a family and in a city.  With charming illustrations reminiscent of Hergé’s Tintin and a witty sense of humor, The Property is a graphic novel sure to win over some skeptics of the genre.  I would recommend to fans of Maus by Art Spiegelman, Unterzakhn by Leela Corman, or Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi.