Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lighting the Way Home by EM Lynley and Shira Anthony

lightingthewayTitle: Lighting the Way Home
Author: E.M. Lynley and Shira Anthony
Cover Artist: L.C. Chase
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publisher Buy Link: Lighting the Way Home

Genre: Contemporary
Length: 206 pages


World-class chef Joshua Golden is homesick for Paris before he even arrives in New York, but he’ll endure it—his parents need him to help run the family restaurant while his mother recovers from surgery. Running a place so far beneath his talents is bad enough, but bad turns to worse when Josh discovers his former best friend and lover, Micah Solomon, is living at his parents’ house with his ten-year-old son, Ethan.

For ten years, Josh has done his best to forget how Micah shattered his heart into tiny pieces. Now Micah’s back, fresh out of prison, and helping out at the restaurant. Micah may not be the kind of sous chef Josh is used to, but he is more helpful and supportive than any of the other employees. But Josh finds it hard to keep his distance when, time after time, Micah proves himself a better man than Josh thought. Reluctantly, Josh realizes there is more to Micah than his lousy life choices… but that doesn’t mean Josh is ready to forgive him.

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This was a peek into a fully realized society for me—part of our American life but unique and with deep flavor. It’s not my background, but I wasn’t lost, and I was definitely intrigued. This is life in a New York Jewish community that’s accessible for those of us who aren’t of that background. The community was palpable but not overwhelming; Josh and Micah fit in but not in any predictable pattern.


There’s pain and longing that go way back, mixed with huge dollops of family expectation and broken hopes. And out of this potent mix, the authors bring the two protagonists through the mess into a place where they might be happy at last. Micah  couldn't possibly have hurt Josh so badly had Josh not loved Micah so deeply, and the authors make us watch how tattered love can become whole again.

Individually, each author has written books that I have sunk into and enjoyed, and together EM Lynley and Shira Anthony have created something seamless and vivid. However these two manage their collaboration, it works. The style is smooth and readable, and carries the story forward.

Josh grew up in the restaurant business, but has left kosher food and all it implies far, far behind. French food, luscious enough to tempt chefs with Michelin stars, is worlds away from the homey Eastern European kosher cooking he grew up on, and it’s his life now. An ocean between him and Micah, who broke his heart a hundred times over, is just barely enough. Now Josh is home to mind the store a while for his ailing parents. And Micah seems to have taken his place as dutiful son.

Watching Josh go from curled up in an emotional fetal position to open and loving is the great character arc of this book—he’s arranged his life to avoid dealing with pain that’s entirely in his face now. From his parents to his former lover, to the life he has and the life that he could have, Josh has to reevaluate everything. His mother and father have gone frail, Micah has a ten year old son, an ex-wife, and a prison record, and Josh is frothing at the mouth to get back to a kitchen that serves not-kosher food. It’s all as far from what he once had and hoped for as he can get. All driven by pain.

Micah doesn’t get any POV scenes, but that’s fine because he is unrolled in small doses as Josh can cope with him. Josh sees details as he can, and Micah is who he is, but slowly unveiled in all his complexity. Micah’s hurt everyone he loves, and is working through his amends. He’s a wonderful character, and in ways he’s deeper than Josh is, because he’s had to come to an ultimate understanding of who he is and what drives him. Fatherhood and the responsibility for another person adds to that. Ethan, his son, doesn’t steal any scenes or spout pages of adorable regurgitated wisdom; he’s just a ten year old who loves his father, wants to play basketball with his buddies, and accepts that his home is where his father is, not a house or apartment. He’s so normal I wanted to feed him pizza and check his homework.

There are a few plot issues that one can see coming, mostly because it has to work out that way else one character or another would be a selfish sub-human (It’s a roller coaster ride, sometimes I wondered—and that’s a good thing!), but the “how it works out” doesn’t disappoint in any way. Other issues make perfect sense after you read the passages and think a little, which adds a delightful complexity to the story. One or two instances I definitely didn’t see coming but given one of the authors’ legal background, I am prepared to believe entirely once it’s explained.

A few plot points are left open ended rather than extend this timeline as far out as total resolution would need. I anticipate a follow-up story more than wish every loose end had been tied here. There’s hope, and for where it’s needed, it’s enough. The rest, we’re left happy.

I enjoyed this story from top to bottom, and I can only imagine how someone more steeped in Jewish culture will see plot points in greater nuance than I can. There are the familiar trappings of Chanukah, but the latkes and candles aren't the plot here: they are the sense of family and continuity.  Beshert, judging from dreamy looks and secret smiles from those I asked who ought to know, has to mean more than “meant to be”, but for Joshua and Micah, it’s good. It’s a foundation for a lifetime.  4.5 stars.

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