GoodbooksToday Reviews hails Hello, Agnieszka!, Book 2 in the series, Between Two Worlds, as “… an intricate, heart-wrenching coming-of-age story about family and love.”
“…a captivating, bitter-sweet love story… flawlessly written with a unique plot developed to give the reader an emotional experience…. one of those love stories so phenomenal that it touches your heart forever.”–★★★★★Faridah Nassozi for Readers’ Favorite
A sequel/prequel hybrid to the first book, Hello, Agnieszka! starts with an attempted suicide that forces Elise’s mother to disclose secrets buried in her past, a past largely unknown to her children.
Her children learn that as a young woman, she suffered from knotty relationships with her conservative Polish mother and became an instrument in the rivalry between her mother and her talented, irrepressible grandaunt Jola who awakened her passion for the piano. That passion saved Agnieszka from the ravages of a repressed childhood and shattered dreams.
She tells them about Lenny Weisz, a consuming first love at the root of her secrets—a love that ended tragically but gave her strength to move on, grow, and look forward to the future.
Fortuitous encounters at a concert hall and at a music store presented her a second chance at happiness with Charles Halverson. But does Agnieszka ever forget that compelling first love?
The baring of her soul brings her closer to her daughter, Elise, a bright and independent-minded lawyer who knew her only as a caring mother with an exceptional talent for the piano.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
After writing Book 1, Hello, My Love!, I was so intrigued by the mother in that first book that I had to give her a history. It gave me a chance to explore concerns/issues about mother-daughter relationships and the different paths women take at different, but adjacent time periods. I do this in the context of love stories.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
This is essentially a prequel, so characters were, to a large extent, known to me. New characters were inspired by stories I’ve heard from other people like my husband who is Polish and lived in Philadelphia, the setting of most of the story.
Elise Halverson-Thorpe sat, perusing a client’s testimony at her desk in mid-afternoon, green highlighter in hand. She still had a half-inch thick of testimony transcripts to go through before she could stop for the day. She might have to bring some work home again.
She was about to mark a useful phrase in the transcript, but the cellphone in her shirt pocket vibrated and interrupted her. She groped for it as she dragged the highlighter across the phrase.
She glanced at the caller ID before she swiped the screen. She knew it couldn’t be Greg, who usually called sometime around noon. Her father? He rarely called her at work, aware that she might be arguing a case at court or taking testimony or deposition from a witness. What could he want from her at two in the afternoon?
“Dad. What’s up?”
“We’re at the hospital, but don’t be alarmed. Everything’s okay now. It’s Peter.”
Her father’s voice was low and calm, but she detected an edge to it. He was struggling to sound normal and in control.
She put the green highlighter down, next to a red one, and closed the two-inch thick folder of transcripts. The testimony came from the woman she was currently defending on a murder charge. Her third such case in as many years of working with the Public Defender.
She leaned against the back of her chair and gripped the telephone tighter. Her father was taking a while to answer, and she grew apprehensive with every second he remained silent.
“Yes. He swallowed a bottle of pills. Mom found him unconscious in the tub. But he’s okay now.”
“What? What are you saying? He tried to … kill himself? Peter?”
Her mind went blank; she couldn’t tell for how long. She began to breathe a little faster as a tangle of thoughts and emotions closed in on her: No, not possible. Not you, Peter. No. I don’t understand. Why? What’s going on with you? Why choose death over life? No! How could you? How could anyone?
“Elise, are you all right? Are you still there?”
She swallowed hard to clear her throat.
“He did it in your tub?”
“Yes, he came last weekend, said he missed us so much he wanted to stay a week. That was unusual, but we never wondered why. We were just so happy to have him with us for a while. He travels so much in his work, we hardly ever see him.”
“The pills, how …?”
“He must have had them. We don’t have any in the house.”
The disbelief, the confusion returned, and Elise was silent again. She could hear her father breathing over the phone.
“But … he’s okay now?”
“Yes. Yes. And he’s been seen by a psychologist. How were we to know that he was going to do it? Nothing was different about him.”
“That’s apparently not unusual.”
“How can anyone know then?”
“People serious about suicide don’t often say a thing, according to our psychiatric experts. We have defendants who attempt suicide and if they have no history of similar attempts, psychiatrists can’t always diagnose them early enough to put them on suicide watch.”
“He was in a good mood.”
“We’ve seen that, too.”
“I can’t help thinking we went wrong somewhere.”
“I don’t think it’s anything you did.”
“He made dinner for us twice this week.”
“I didn’t think he could cook.”
“I don’t know why we didn’t see it coming.”
“None of us might have.”
“I thought I knew my children very well.”
“I thought I knew Peter well.”
“I’ve never seen Peter so hopeless.”
“Neither have I. Nor so desperate that he’d try to end his life.”
“He’s kind of intense.”
“But people say that about me, too.”
Her father let out a long sigh.
“We have so many things we must work out. I still have to call Justin. Mom wants you both to come for dinner tomorrow. Greg, too, of course, and Goyo. Can you make it at three?”
“Yes, of course. How is she?”
“Worse than me, I’m afraid. As if she wants to take the whole burden of guilt on herself. Anyway, talk to her tomorrow.”
Greg reached out to put his arm around Elise, but she was not there. He jerked his groggy head up toward the clock on his side table—an hour after midnight. He looked around the dark bedroom. After three years of marriage, groping at that space in the middle of the night could still give him a start and a now-familiar sinking sensation in his gut. To his relief, it was only for an instant.
Five years ago, he had awakened to find Elise gone, leaving him alone on their first wonderful night together. He was left with feelings of misery and desolation he hadn’t been able to forget. Two painful years followed when he had to face some hard lessons about himself. Those were behind them now.
He saw her standing against the large window, bathed in the greyish yellow light of a partial moon streaming into the room. His gaze traced her silhouetted figure—from her profile crowned in a luxurious halo of golden hair, along the sinuous line of the throat that sloped gently toward her nipples and curved around her breast, then slid down to her belly, slowly swelling from the life she was nurturing in her womb.
His wife had grown more beautiful in his eyes, as the years went by. Maybe, that was what love did to people.
Elise was sipping water from a bottle, and even in the dark, she looked pensive. She crossed her arms in front of her stomach and bowed her head, strands of hair falling on her cheeks. He didn’t see much of her face anymore, but he could imagine her anxiety. She was worried; he knew that. Because of that phone call from her father, shortly before she left the Public Defender’s office that afternoon.
She had phoned to tell him about Peter. She was quite distressed and decided to take the rest of the afternoon off. He hadn’t seen her that upset in the three years they’d been married. He decided to come home early. She needed him.
He’d been shocked at the news. The Halversons seemed to be a well-adjusted, but earnest lot with a few quirks to occasionally surprise those who didn’t know them very well.
Elise tossed the empty bottle in a trashcan, walked toward the bed, and crawled in. As she lay down, Greg lifted the bed sheet and wrapped it around her. She snuggled into his warm embrace, shivering a little.
“Did I wake you up?”
“No, not really. You were quiet. But I can always sense when you’re not in bed with me. That’s what wakes me up.”
“I do have to get up sometimes, you know. And it gets worse as my stomach gets bigger.”
“I can’t help it.”
Her skin felt cold against his and he rubbed her arms and back gently with his palms.
“You’re cold all over. Your arms are almost icy.”
“Yes, it was probably stupid to get up without my robe on, but I was hot.”
“How long have you been standing there?”
“Not too long. I was burning and my mouth was so dry. I had to get me some water.”
He lifted her right hand to his lips and blew on it; he gave the left the same treatment. He tucked both hands inside the sheets, next to his warm chest.
“Aren’t you glad we have a little refrigerator in the study?”
“You think of everything.”
She planted a quick kiss on his chin.
“I can’t remember being that thirsty when I was pregnant with Goyo.”
“It’s not because you’re pregnant. You moan, you know, the whole time, with your mouth slightly open.”
He grinned, his eyes twinkling in the near darkness.
“Speak for yourself. I watch you, too. You’re worse.”
She slapped his bare buttocks playfully. Greg laughed softly and gathered her closer.
“Okay, okay, back to sleep. You’ll have a long day tomorrow. When are you going to Mom and Dad’s?”
It took him more than a year to feel comfortable calling Elise’s father “Dad,” who had always been “Charles” to him although he was at least 20 years older. They’d been good friends before they became family.
“Shortly after lunch. She wants us there by three, but I’d like to talk to her before Justin and Dad get there. What time do you think you’ll come with Goyo? You don’t have to, you know.”
“Don’t I? But I have to. Peter and I aren’t that close, unlike Justin and me, but he’s family. Besides, this sounds serious and you may need me. Are you very worried?”
“Not about any danger to Peter right now. He’s getting help. But I can’t shake this feeling some scary thing is going to happen. Like an emotional tsunami we can’t escape.”
“That is scary, but you may still be in shock. Give yourself time. Tomorrow night, you’ll wonder why you were so worried.”
“I hope so.” Elise didn’t sound convinced.
“You sure you don’t want Bob to pick you up at your office and take you? It’ll be quicker and he likes driving you around. It’s been a while since you’ve been on that train.”
“I rode that train from the East Bay all the time. I don’t think anything much has changed.”
“You’re carrying another precious life in here,” he said, caressing her belly.
“Goyo went through the same experience. He survived. Don’t be such a worrywart.”
She pulled his face down and kissed him.
I’m a realist in my writing, as well as my art. I don’t have as much imagination as many other writers–a handicap (or strength) that comes partly from my training (Ph.D.) and experience as a mental health program researcher/evaluator/developer. I’m also a flâneuse, a female observer-wanderer. So, I watch, and observe. And listen. That’s where the meat of my writing comes from.
As an author of love stories, I tend not to rely on broad shoulders and heaving bosoms. Instead, I go into the protagonists’ thoughts and emotions, and how those show their growth. My novels deal with protagonists’ insecurities and disappointments, love/hate relationships with parents, characters who seem to behave out-of-character, and even life events not typically included in romantic fiction. My stories do have happy epilogues, and I’ve tried to work in intriguing plotlines into them.
Have you read this book or others by this author? Tell us in the comments how you liked it!