Tessie always knew that getting old was part of life. What she didn’t expect was how quickly it happened. Or that she would be spending her golden years in Desert Twilights, the assisted living facility in Arizona, across the country from her home, her family, and everything she had ever known. As her 86th birthday approached, Tessie seemed to spend more and more time reflecting on the life that had led her here, even as those around her were often doing the same. She was comforted by memories of what was, as much as she was haunted by thoughts of what could have been.
The 86 Year Old Orphan by Caterine Bellizzi is a heartfelt, and sometimes heartbreaking, look at aging. It explores how hard this natural process can be to face, the different attitudes people take toward it, and the different paths that lead people to what is, eventually, the same place. When we’re introduced to Tessie, she has been at Desert Twilights for three years already, but faced with her upcoming birthday, falls into a bout of nostalgia that is stronger than usual. Via frequent flashbacks, Tessie’s life is shaped, from her tumultuous childhood as the daughter of immigrants, through her early hopes and ambitions, on to the expected role of housewife and mother. While Tessie expresses very little regret for her life’s decisions, she naturally wonders how things might have been different if her choices had taken other routes and different points. Her fellow residents at Desert Twilights are similarly introduced, both in their current situations and earlier years, and although they have all followed drastically different paths, they have all ended up spending the ends of their lives together.
The 86 Year Old Orphan touches on a variety of themes, ultimately focusing on acceptance, and the fact that life experience isn’t so much what happens to you, but your reaction to those events. Over the course of the story, Tessie has a renewed sense of self discovery, and comes to realize that the best way to live the last years of your life is to be as happy with the present as you were in the past, despite the gulf of differences that might exist between the two.
The 86 Year Old Orphan began a little slowly, and as a result I wasn’t sure if it would be very interesting, but it gained steam quickly and before long I was completely invested in Tessie’s life, wondering where it would go from here. I cried more than once as well! Bellizzi has written a beautiful story that will make reflect on your own life, past, present, and future.
Pages: 194 | ASIN: B0898K76SM
Readers who are looking for an intimate view into the life of a man who has been through rough times will find that in Freedom Justice are Both by Hendrick Jones. This is a memoir of sorts: Jones is giving readers a glimpse into his life story. He outlines what he has struggled with and how it has shaped his life. This God-fearing man wanted nothing more than to provide for his family, yet what he has been given is a season pass to pain and suffering. This is not a book to be taken lightly, as this is the very soul of Jones, stripped down and laid bare for all to see.
It is undoubtable that Jones feels he has been wronged. He outlines his life very carefully for readers and shows how he feels he has been given the short end of the stick. He reiterates over and over that he doesn’t understand why these turns of events happened to him and he laments the loss of loved ones whose loyalty he heavily questions. Jones bitterly lays out his interpretation of the events that lead him along the path towards medical retirement from seventeen years of police service. It is clear that he is profoundly affected by what has happened; with good reason. This is the story of his life, after all.
Pages: 148 | ASIN: B07C9D1NJ5
Posted in Book Reviews
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Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries follows an elderly amateur sleuth as she sets out to solve the various mysteries plaguing her retirement home. What was your inspiration for the setup to this engaging novel?
Thanks for the kind words. My inspiration came while I was hanging about in a Vancouver care home, preparing to help move an enormous television set into an elderly acquaintance’s bedroom. I wondered, what if I lived here? What on earth would I do with myself? How do you wake up every day knowing that people are responsible for you, but you are responsible for nothing (there seemed to be some possibilities for rebellion here.) We all need a good reason for getting out of bed in the morning. What would that be? Watching television? Complaining about the food? I thought Stella Ryman might come up with an intriguing Third Option.
Stella is a senior with a tenacity that I enjoyed reading about. What were some themes you wanted to explore while creating her character?
I love exploring these:
- Old or young, we need to serve the world somehow.
- Almost everything is funny from some angle, and nothing is ever quite what it seems.
- No life is over until the final breath passes (and maybe not even then, see Mad Cassandra Browning.)
- Even in dire circumstances, there are always new chances at happiness.
- Without connection to others, we’re all just bundles of cells in fleece warm-up suits.
I enjoyed the logical mysteries portrayed in the novel, they were always intriguing yet intuitive. What was the process like in developing the different mysteries in the book?
I’m glad you enjoyed them—they were fun to write. I wanted to explore ways Stella struggles to regain the symbols of power that she discarded from her world when she checked herself into Fairmount Manor Care Home: a handbag on her wrist, a best friend, freedom to walk outside if she likes, or fix herself a cup of tea, or enjoy solitude, and above all the power to help others and right wrongs. All the mysteries turn on these.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
The Extra: A Monument Studios Mystery, is next, in second edition on Amazon in April 2018 and, writing as Melanie Archer, Younger Men. a comedy, also on Amazon in April 2018. The second Fairmount Manor Mystery novel, Stella Ryman and the Mystery of the Mah-jongg Box, comes out this fall from Pulp Literature Press, along with the seventh of the Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries, published in Pulp Literature’s literary quarterly.
On this particular sun-and-shade April morning at Fairmount Manor, Stella Ryman no more entertained the idea of becoming an amateur sleuth than she did of entering next spring’s Boston Marathon. For not only was Stella eighty-two years old, but she had lately sold her home and a lifetime of gathered possessions and washed up at Fairmount Manor Care Home in such a state that she would have bet her remaining seven pairs of socks that she’d be dead in half a year.
But when money goes missing and an innocent woman stands to lose her job at Fairmount; when malicious poison pen letters find their way into the hands of staff and residents; and when a resident vanishes without a trace, Stella takes matters into her own hands. To hell with being elderly — Stella will break every one of the Director’s rules and slash all the institutional red tape in the place in her struggle to solve mysteries and protect the innocent. Over the course of the first five mystery adventures, Mrs Stella Ryman transforms from a woman on her deathbed to a force of nature and intellect. She’s a fish out of water, a stranger in a strange land, and an amateur sleuth trapped in a down-at-the-heels care home.
You’d be cranky, too.
Posted in Interviews
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