Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Book Review: In the Comfort of Shadows, by Laurel Bragstad

In the Comfort of Shadows
Laurel Bragstad
E-book: $3.99
Print: $12.99
Orange Hat Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1937165635
386 pp
Buy on Amazon

About the Book: 
In the Comfort of Shadows is a story of family secrets and the love and romance often found hidden deep within sins of the past. The novel follows Ann Olson, a big city professor, who longs to fill in the empty pages of her childhood. Unfortunately the only man alive who knows the whole story is Emmett Pederson, her adoptive dad’s crazy, poor, hermit cousin who never married and still lives on his run-down farm in rural Wisconsin. Disregarding her sister’s objections, Ann stubbornly sets out to prove that Emmett is their “father unknown.” Once she gets over Emmett’s shabby clothes and missing teeth, she senses a surprising connection to him. That changes when she discovers Emmett’s WW2 diaries which reveal the truth about her Austrian-born birth mother. As Ann struggles to sort out the facts of her birth parents’ forbidden romance and her own adoption, she finds herself falling in love with a man who has heart-breaking secrets of his own.

About the Author:
Laurel Bragstad was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As the oldest of five kids sitting around the dinner table, she learned very early that family stories are often better than any drama, mystery, or sit-com on television--with enough secrets and distinct characters to fill a book.

These days, she teaches at Alverno College in Milwaukee and has an online course with Ed2Go/Cengage Learning. When she's not teaching, writing, or reading, you might find her digging in her garden (weather permitting), where she's either working out an assignment for her class or shaping characters and chapters for another novel.

My review: 
Cleaning out the family closet is risky at best, heartbreaking at worst. All her life, Ann Olson barely contained her curiosity about her parentage after a disgruntled relative broke the news that Ann and her sister were adopted. Elise is content being the daughter of the only parents she knew, but Ann can’t let it go. After her father’s death, and now in her early fifties, divorced, and armed with an old letter, Ann sets off on a thinly-disguised sabbatical assignment studying family history’s effect on family relationships. First on the list is her own family, her father’s cousins.

Bragstad’s novel is a charming, genteelly-paced novel set in rural Wisconsin, with all the typical flavor of “up north.” Her characters never quite go over the top and their lives are all-too-true to life. Frank and Betty, Ann’s hosts, are eager to help Ann unravel the mystery of her and her sister’s parentage. Ann’s chief suspect, the letter-writer Emmett, is an old man now, an incongruous mystery of assumed poverty and dementia. As Ann works through the cast of family characters who might be the birth father, she meets a helpful and compassionate gentleman, John Bennett, who soon becomes more than a friend.

Picking through clues, packets of letters and the detritus of a lifetime in Emmett’s house is a peek through over fifty years of mistakes, lies, and secrets; angst, the gruesomeness and horrors of World War II. Ann must also sort out her own feelings and those of her siblings as the real story comes to light. Ulterior motives, family secrets and grumblings give Ann plenty to consider about her heritage and family relationships.

Filled with both charming conversation and introspection, quotes like “…truth lays bare what is or was; but it can’t fix everything” stays with the reader.

Told in third person solely from Ann’s view, The Comfort of Shadows is part voyeurism, part revelation. Lovingly told, engaging.
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