The Mercy of Thin Air

( 80 )

Overview

New Orleans, 1920s. Raziela Nolan is in the throes of a magnificent love affair when she dies in a tragic accident. In an instant, she leaves behind her one true love and her dream of becoming a doctor — but somehow, she still remains. Immediately after her death, Razi chooses to stay between — a realm that exists after life and before whatever lies beyond it.

From this remarkable vantage point, Razi narrates the stories of her lost love, Andrew, and the relationship of Amy and ...

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Overview

New Orleans, 1920s. Raziela Nolan is in the throes of a magnificent love affair when she dies in a tragic accident. In an instant, she leaves behind her one true love and her dream of becoming a doctor — but somehow, she still remains. Immediately after her death, Razi chooses to stay between — a realm that exists after life and before whatever lies beyond it.

From this remarkable vantage point, Razi narrates the stories of her lost love, Andrew, and the relationship of Amy and Scott, a couple whose house she haunts almost seventy-five years later. The Mercy of Thin Air entwines these two fateful and redemptive love stories that echo across three generations. From ambitious, forward-thinking Razi, who illegally slips birth control guides into library books; to hip Web designer Amy, who begins to fall off the edge of grief; to Eugenia, caught between since the Civil War, the characters in this wondrous novel sing with life. Evoking the power of love, memory, and time, The Mercy of Thin Air culminates in a startling finish that will leave readers breathless.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Entrancing and ethereal." — Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"This is that rarest of first novels — a truly original voice, and a truly original story." — Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of The Tenth Circle

"Through the alchemy of Domingue's rich, lovely prose we are transported back and forth through time." — The Boston Globe

"Filled with vivid descriptions of . . . marvelous human sensations that people take for granted and that spirits can only wistfully recall, this is a novel that gets under one's skin." — Library Journal (starred review)

"Domingue's vision of the shifting, shadowy world of the dead is convincing and surprisingly affecting . . . and stays just the right side of romantic." — Daily Mail (London)

Publishers Weekly
A gothically tinged historical take on The Lovely Bones, this debut novel manages to carve out some of its own territory. In late 1920s New Orleans, Raziela "Razi" Nolan carries on a passionate college love affair with Andrew O'Connell (while planning to be a gynecologist). She desires immortality ("One lifetime isn't enough to make all the trouble of which I'm capable") and gets her wish when she slips poolside, dies and finds herself in a state "between life and whatever comes next" in which she may observe the world she's left behind and even meddle mildly. As she learns the rules of "the between" Razi finds it too painful to keep track of Andrew. But 70 years after her death in 1929, she is curious to know what happened to her beloved and is drawn to a young couple, Amy Richmond and Scott Duncan. Domingue captures the equally repressive and uninhibited culture of 1920s America, creates a convincing world of "the between," and gives nice shape to the loving but troubled relationship of Amy and Scott as Razi uncovers her connection to them. The novel lacks a fully distinctive voice, but is certainly several cuts above the genre mysteries and historicals it most resembles. 16-city author tour. (Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Thin air, as it turns out, is actually populated with the spirits of the departed who have chosen to stay "between" heaven and earth. In Domingue's amazing first novel, Raziela Nolan is readers' guide to this great gray yonder. A most charming spirit, indeed, she graciously takes us back to 1920s New Orleans and recounts her passionate romance with Andrew, revealing the subsequent lives of the people she tragically left behind and the mischief that goes on in the spirit world. Razi is so enchanting that readers will gladly follow her anywhere. Filled with vivid descriptions of scents, sounds, and marvelous human sensations that people take for granted and that spirits can only wistfully recall, this is a novel that gets under one's skin. Mere mortals can only hope that Domingue has more stories to tell. Highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/05.]-Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut novelist Domingue weaves a tapestry of lost spirits and misplaced loves. Raziela Nolan, outspoken birth control advocate and determined future medical student, fell to her death in the swimming pool of her lover Andrew O' Connell. Raziela's death took place in 1920s New Orleans, but her spirit has hung around in a kind of between-space for nearly 80 years, leaving her to learn the rules of the spirit realm while keeping watch among mortals. And what haunts this ghost? In the years after her death, Andrew, Raziela's one and only true love, disappeared, and she still misses him. Her ghost is drawn intermittently over the decades to Andrew's memory: She can smell him in old furniture, in places that he frequented. When a young couple, Amy and Scott, buys one of Andrew's old bookcases at an estate sale, Raziela decides to follow them. ("I liked her," Raziela says of Amy, "because she reminded me of myself. I liked him because her brazen little nature didn't scare him. They were darling together.") While Raziela, the story's compelling narrator, lingers in their apartment, Amy and Scott are haunted by ghosts even she can't see. While watching them, hoping to find clues about Andrew, she also begins to take note of their deteriorating marriage. Amy, it seems, harbors long-buried feelings for a lost ghost of her own. Sweet, entertaining love stories that could have used a better ending.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743278829
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 6/20/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 246,555
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronlyn Domingue

Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Mapmaker’s War and The Mercy of Thin Air, which was published in ten languages. She lives in Louisiana with her partner, Todd Bourque. Connect with her on RonlynDomingue.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Simon Beeker had been dead four months.

I did not know this when I approached his house for a belated visit. Because I was no longer in the habit of skimming obituaries, I missed the announcement.

The last time I had seen Simon, in early 1991, he was seventy-four. He sat in his crimson study, his elbows angled on the arms of a worn leather chair. I watched him turn the pages of a new biography -- the spine crepitated under his grip -- and noticed his eyes taking in each paragraph, quick and hungry. That quality had never changed about him. As a boy, he had been a collector of knowledge who sneaked into Andrew's room to read books a page at a time between odd jobs.

There in the study was Andrew's bookcase. The piece was an outdated Eastlake-inspired design when Andrew's aunt willed it to him, but he loved it because the shelves held books two rows deep. Before he left to go to law school, Andrew gave his mother permission to sell or give away what didn't go with him. He left dozens of books, several fine suits, and the bookcase. When Emmaline, their housekeeper, asked for the historical texts, Andrew insisted that she take everything. Emmaline gave it all to Simon, her long-boned, far-sighted grandson.

On the day of that visit, when Simon was seventy-four, I stayed only a few moments. I had not been near the bookcase in several decades. The smell I detected in the closed spaces made me anxious, lonesome. With barely a stir, I left. His wife asked him if he felt a draft as she stepped into the room to hand him a cup of coffee. He turned his dark face and sage eyes toward her and answered he had not.

Now, twelve years later, he was dead. The urge to see him again had come far too late.

I knew Simon was gone when I neared his little bungalow and saw the hand-lettered sign: Estate Sale. Cars parked on the banquettes on both sides of the street. Books, kitchen items, blankets, knickknacks, and furniture cluttered the tiny front yard. People made claim to Simon's possessions, holding them tightly in their arms.

There was the bookcase, in perfect condition, the only antique on the lawn. A small man in pince-nez glasses approached it with arms wide. He dropped to his knees reverently and opened the two drawers to inspect them. Like a billow of smoke from a snuffed flame, a scent I had not smelled in many years escaped the cool, dark hollows. This time, I did not avoid it. The little man began to shiver.

Andrew's essence drew outward, then stalled. The particles suspended in a dense concentration of cold, still air. I held the salty tinge within me for the length of a breath, before anything more could make an escape, before I could linger on the question, What happened to him?

As the air warmed, I noticed a rich, mature scent, one that had more strength but less power. That was Simon, whose hands had rubbed a chestnut patina into the glass doors as long as I'd been gone. He would have wanted the bookcase protected. I stood guard with cold drafts, waiting.

By late morning, a couple wandered through the remaining odds and ends at the sale. The young woman spotted the bookcase, shadowed by a redbud tree in new leaf. She opened the doors. As she reached inside to inspect the shelves, she breathed deeply. A comforting aroma, almost a blend of pipe smoke and cinnamon, surrounded her.

"Scott. It's perfect for the room, don't you think? And it's not musty or mildewed inside. I like the scent," she said.

He pulled a tape measure from his pocket. "Good fit. We haven't seen a nicer one anywhere. Great condition."

"I see something in a crack." She stretched deep over the last shelf. As small as she was, she could have...

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Introduction

Topics for Discussion

1. The narrative structure of The Mercy of Thin Air alternates between the past and the present. How does this structure build suspense and pique a reader's curiosity about what will happen next? What insight do you get into the lives of Razi and the other characters because of the way the story is told?

2. How did Razi defy the conventions of society in the 1920s? If she had lived, do you think she would have fulfilled her dream of becoming a doctor, or set aside that ambition for marriage and motherhood? Given the time period, would it have been realistic for her to have done both?

3. Although she doesn't know it until after his death, Amy shares a pivotal experience with her grandfather. How did Amy reevaluate her life after she learned what happened to Poppa Fin? Does Amy come to better understand her grandfather after what she discovers about him?

4. Razi tells us, "Most of the ones who stayed between opted for the unknown — what was beyond — within weeks after their deaths." Why has Razi chosen to stay between decades after her death? What makes her decide it's finally time to go beyond?

5. Discuss Razi's friendship with Twolly. What is significant about the novel's ending, when Razi is at Twolly's bedside?

6. For years, Razi followed the life of a man she assumed to be her Andrew O'Connell. On some level, did she know he was the wrong person? She says, "I had never questioned whether I tracked the right person because — in name, action, and deed — the man had led the life I expected my Andrew to have, the life he had planned." Razi assumes that Andrew would carry along with the plans he had made before shedied. Did she underestimate the impact her death would have on Andrew?

7. How have relationships between men and women changed in the last hundred years, as illustrated in this book? Is it startling to see how limiting women's roles really were less than a century ago? Why do you suppose the author chose to set the earlier part of the story in the 1920s instead of in another time period?

8. When Andrew asks Razi if she would consider becoming a nurse instead of a doctor, is he in a sense stifling the very qualities that attracted him to her in the first place? If they had married, how do you think their relationship would have changed?

9. Neither Amy nor Scott "attempted to find the humility, or courage, to make amends. The silence, more than their physical separation, grew in its power to keep them apart for good." Would Amy and Scott have reconciled if not for Razi's intervention?

10. Once Razi had "learned to maneuver through the world without a body," she felt it was her duty "to help others adjust to our translucent realm." What motivates her to assist others in making the transition? Is it a continuation of how she acted in her previous life?

11.How do the five senses factor into the story, particularly smell and touch?

12. At the estate sale at Simon Beeker's home, Razi is drawn to Andrew's bookcase, which leads her to follow Amy and Scott to their home. Was it really Amy to whom Razi felt connected? In what ways are Razi and Amy alike?

13. Emmaline, Simon, and Andrew had unique relationships with one another. Why did Andrew show such concern for Emmaline and Simon? What motivated Simon to keep in touch with Andrew? What issues of race and class were revealed through these characters?

14. What stood out the most for you in this story? What, if anything, did you find yourself remembering days after you finished reading the book?

15. What are your thoughts on whether there is a between realm, a place where a spirit lingers after the body has died? Have you had experiences with paranormal phenomena?

16. The Mercy of Thin Air is Ronlyn Domingue's first novel. What makes you interested in reading her future work? Does this book remind you of other novels you've read? In what ways?

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Reading Group Guide

Topics for Discussion

1. The narrative structure of The Mercy of Thin Air alternates between the past and the present. How does this structure build suspense and pique a reader's curiosity about what will happen next? What insight do you get into the lives of Razi and the other characters because of the way the story is told?

2. How did Razi defy the conventions of society in the 1920s? If she had lived, do you think she would have fulfilled her dream of becoming a doctor, or set aside that ambition for marriage and motherhood? Given the time period, would it have been realistic for her to have done both?

3. Although she doesn't know it until after his death, Amy shares a pivotal experience with her grandfather. How did Amy reevaluate her life after she learned what happened to Poppa Fin? Does Amy come to better understand her grandfather after what she discovers about him?

4. Razi tells us, "Most of the ones who stayed between opted for the unknown — what was beyond — within weeks after their deaths." Why has Razi chosen to stay between decades after her death? What makes her decide it's finally time to go beyond?

5. Discuss Razi's friendship with Twolly. What is significant about the novel's ending, when Razi is at Twolly's bedside?

6. For years, Razi followed the life of a man she assumed to be her Andrew O'Connell. On some level, did she know he was the wrong person? She says, "I had never questioned whether I tracked the right person because — in name, action, and deed — the man had led the life I expected my Andrew to have, the life he had planned." Razi assumes that Andrew would carry along with the plans he had made before she died. Did she underestimate the impact her death would have on Andrew?

7. How have relationships between men and women changed in the last hundred years, as illustrated in this book? Is it startling to see how limiting women's roles really were less than a century ago? Why do you suppose the author chose to set the earlier part of the story in the 1920s instead of in another time period?

8. When Andrew asks Razi if she would consider becoming a nurse instead of a doctor, is he in a sense stifling the very qualities that attracted him to her in the first place? If they had married, how do you think their relationship would have changed?

9. Neither Amy nor Scott "attempted to find the humility, or courage, to make amends. The silence, more than their physical separation, grew in its power to keep them apart for good." Would Amy and Scott have reconciled if not for Razi's intervention?

10. Once Razi had "learned to maneuver through the world without a body," she felt it was her duty "to help others adjust to our translucent realm." What motivates her to assist others in making the transition? Is it a continuation of how she acted in her previous life?

11.How do the five senses factor into the story, particularly smell and touch?

12. At the estate sale at Simon Beeker's home, Razi is drawn to Andrew's bookcase, which leads her to follow Amy and Scott to their home. Was it really Amy to whom Razi felt connected? In what ways are Razi and Amy alike?

13. Emmaline, Simon, and Andrew had unique relationships with one another. Why did Andrew show such concern for Emmaline and Simon? What motivated Simon to keep in touch with Andrew? What issues of race and class were revealed through these characters?

14. What stood out the most for you in this story? What, if anything, did you find yourself remembering days after you finished reading the book?

15. What are your thoughts on whether there is a between realm, a place where a spirit lingers after the body has died? Have you had experiences with paranormal phenomena?

16. The Mercy of Thin Air is Ronlyn Domingue's first novel. What makes you interested in reading her future work? Does this book remind you of other novels you've read? In what ways?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 80 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(51)

4 Star

(18)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 80 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2011

    Amazing!

    Great charactors, especially the main charactor, great story line, wonderful romance, just a great read all the way around.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2011

    Not bad continued

    I suspect that like me you will cringe at the superfluous browbeating and social commentary, but you will also laugh when Razi laughs, and cry in agony when she hurts.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    Fascinating read!

    I found this book because of a Barnes & Noble booklet, it recommended the new author. Was I glad I bought it! It was back in 2005and I had just lost my grandfather, I was inconsolable. But after reading this book although it's a love/ ghost story, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It is my favorite book. I just wish the author would continue writing. I keep looking up her name and only this book comes up! This book is one of the best books I've ever read! Highly recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2012

    Slow Go

    I can find something enjoyable about most books; this, however, was an exception. I was very excited to read this book after all the great reviews, but it never sucked me in. Once I start a book, I have to see it through to the end. I found myself reading the same paragraph over and over and still not fully remembering or caring what I read. I will give the author credit for originality, but my opinion is that this book was slow and dull and a chore to get through.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2012

    ...the mercy of thin air.... Ronlyn Domingue....... my thoughts on this book

    Steve and Stacie, as you requested, here are my thoughts on Ronlyn Dominigue’s, ‘the mercy of thin air’. I don’t read many contemporary novels but Steve, as teens you recommended a few artists I still enjoy today so I was willing to give it a go. This 2005 novel is first rate, and the New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette settings make the story personal to me, a native of New Orleans. The nod to present day LSU’s Louie’s restaurant and the apartments on the south side of Campus was relevant for me today as an LSU Dad. And the USL/ULL connection was first rate too. Jung’s concept of synchronicity is a concept that I accepted long ago when we were teens. – A concept which Ken Kesey drove deep into my consciousness. And as a student of Physics I have been open to the idea of spirit realm since my college days. I had never before heard of Comstock law so I looked it up. Comstock law was extremely harsh. I had no idea what our great grandmother’s, and grandmother’s endured at the hands of late 19th and early 20th century legislatively adept social conservatives. Our grandmother lost a sister to a botched abortion during the great depression. The family could never speak of how she died. When grandmother died in the 90’s she kept her story that her sister died while having her appendix removed. So the idea of 1920's era mercy filled wealthy New Orleans uptown women activists risking jail time to secretly educate poor women on contraception made me feel grateful for those ‘20’s era activists. Comstock laws then, like prohibition, and marijuana law today was the legislative strangle hold of far right social conservatives. I am not a Tulane alum and I am not of New Orleans uptown wealth and lineage but I have been around both often enough to enjoy reading about their lives. And while all males – and females – have both good and bad traits, the author went out of her way to only show the better traits of the male characters. I’m sure it would have been quite easy for her to bash us males but she did not. The 75 year old family secret particularly hits home as my family has a still undisclosed secret that has lasted from the early 20th century into the 21st century. And the idea of remaining good friends from childhood to death, well we’re living that aren’t we? And lastly, the question of what unknown force makes a heart beat gets to the true center of universal love and the best part of this novel. ‘Why, it beats so I can love you.’ Steve thanks for suggesting this read.

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  • Posted January 4, 2011

    oh, so amazing!!!

    the mercy of thin air is now, i believe, my all time favorite book. it challenges the mind and makes you think. it draws you in so deep that you wish you could simply curl up forever to read and hope the story never ends. it's a love so deep that you inly hope for a quarter of the man andrew is. i recomend this book to everyone, you will not regret te decision to read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2010

    A must-read

    The plot sucked me in within a few pages, and I couldn't put it down. Being from New Orleans, I was immediately drawn to the descriptions of the city in the 1920s, which I adored. This book was a random grab from the sale section, and now it's one of my 5 favorite books ever.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2010

    The best book ever

    Like anonymous, this is my most favorite book ever. I have lent it out so many times and now I'm going to seal it into my nook forever. It's creativity really gets your mind wondering.

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  • Posted April 18, 2010

    An interesting read sure to spark conversation...

    In the simplest of terms, The Mercy of Thin Air is a modern ghost/love story. The main character, Raziella, is truly that-a character. She is whip smart, free-spirited and fun-loving and, her untimely death leaves a gaping hole in several lives. Razi's determined spirit endures for decades as she continues to search for her one true love, Andrew. As the story progresses, the reader is left wondering what became of Andrew's life. Though final revelations are not overly surprising, Ms Domingue weaves the story of overlapping lives and different eras to deliver a satisfying, thought-provoking read.

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  • Posted November 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    creative but slow

    The relationship between Andrew and Razi was portrayed in such a realistic manner that you find yourself pulled in immediately. Their romance is the type that everyone dreams of. However, the story skips around a lot. The list of minor characters grows and their names are difficult to keep track of because of sheer number. The plot gets murky at points and you have to read back over portions to comprehend. Fascinating plot line but so much more could have been done with it.

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  • Posted September 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A great ghost story!

    I love this book , it is the type of a book that I have been looking for in a long time.A very diffrent type of ghost story. For one it tells both sides of the story~~~!

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  • Posted August 19, 2009

    I liked the story very much, unpredictable and written nicely,

    I liked the story very much, unpredictable and written nicely, made me want to sit with a cup of tea and read it non-stop to find out if it had a happy ending....

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  • Posted August 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    slow but satisfying...

    The Mercy of Thin Air is a slow moving novel but ultimately well worth the read. It's narrated by Raziela Nolan, who is a young woman in New Orleans in the 1920's. She is in the midst of a wonderful love affair with Andrew and on the brink of going to medical school when tragedy strikes. She dies. But she doesn't pass on. She ends up staying "between", the realm before whatever comes next. From here she "haunts" a young couple, Amy and Scott, 75 years later. As Raziela struggles to learn what happened to her beloved Andrew after her death, we slowly discover what it is that draws Raziela to Amy and Scott. These two intertwined love stories from separate times are truly heartbreaking....but beautiful. It's not often a book brings tears to my eyes but The Mercy of Thin Air did.

    "From ambitious, forward-thinking Razi, who illegally slips birth control guides into library books; to hip Web designer Amy, who begins to fall off the edge of grief; to Eugenia, caught between since the Civil War, the characters in this wondrous novel sing with life. Evoking the power of love, memory, and time, The Mercy of Thin Air culminates in a startling finish that will leave readers breathless. " -taken from synopsis

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  • Posted March 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Left wanting more........

    I have too agree with the others who claim this as as a beautiful and well written story. This "love " story will haunt you for a long long time. It was one of those books you didn't want to put down yet you forced yourself simply for the fact that that you'd be finished with it. And then you'd be left wanting more. I just wish Ronlyn Domingue would write another book . But 'am grateful for this breath of freah air.........

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2008

    The mercy of thin air... is my favorite...

    This book had tears rolling down my cheeks every other page.<BR/>The writer makes the story so touching and heartfelt, you can't put it down.<BR/>The mercy of thin air will stay with you for a long time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2008

    Once in a Blue Moon there Comes a Classic

    I remember novels that start with a great first sentence. The Mercy of Thin Air starts with one and then delivers an ethereal love story that haunts and reminds us of how the past is really always with us. No, we do not get over the loss of someone we have loved. We live with it. And it can enrich our lives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2008

    I don't understand why anyone could not like this.

    I'm about to cry right now just thinking over the whole book.. I couldn't go five pages without shivers tingeling my back or tears running down my face. I love classics, like jane austin and the bronte sisters, but by far i enjoyed this one much more then those books. I read the whole book at once while listening to love songs on my ipod.. i wil defenetly be reading this one again, it's my favorite.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2008

    Ive literally just put down the book..

    and the first thing I thought to do was come on here and write a review on how much I loved the whole story outline from in and out. It's a beautiful story that takes you through the emotions of the characters and makes you feel what they feel. Simply amazing, I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially women ]]

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2008

    Disappointed & confused

    My book club chose this book because we all thought the synopsis sounded good. Out of 6 of us, only 2 finished it. I was one of the 2. I felt the story jumped around too much, too suddenly. I had to stop & think, 'Wait a minute, am I in the 20's or the 90's'. The consensus of our group was that the book took too much work. I felt it needed additional editing. I'm sorry to say this because I did like the storyline and the characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2007

    One of the best books I have ever read

    I love a book that is not easy to 'figure out.' This had a surprising ending. It was outstanding. I highly recommend it to anyone but especially anyone that has known real, true, mesmerizing love.

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