Cassandra Higgins lives in a house overflowing with love and life…sometimes even more than she can handle. With a husband, four boys and a home daycare business, Cassandra has her hands full. But hovering beneath the surface of her “perfect” world, there are broken dreams and disappointments, and the residue of years of disapproval by her mother, “Bad Betty,” who has issues of her own. Cassandra’s one indulgence is a collection of animal figurines and an annual outing to the Collector’s Convention with her best friend, Margret. But this year, Margret can’t go, leaving Cassandra to attend alone.
Cassandra purchases a snowglobe displaying a young girl and three dogs, a scene that brings forth painful memories. Holding this object, she reaches out to God with a heartrending prayer, asking His forgiveness and help with overcoming her failings and disappointments. But there is more to this snowglobe than meets the eye. In what she refers to as a “flurrious moment,” the snow inside swirls like a blinding blizzard, obliterating the scene within. When the swirling stops, the snowglobe is empty.
STRAY AFFECTIONS is written from the perspective of several characters, all of whom are struggling with very believable challenges. Each brings his or her own voice, baggage and personality into a charming story that brims with second chances, renewed faith and forgiveness.
Cassandra was a little girl when her daddy committed suicide, leaving her in the care of her stressed and grieving mother. The only happiness in her life sprang from Grandpa Wonky and a stray dog she named Toby. The dog became Cassandra’s whole world, especially after Grandpa Wonky died. But money was tight for the widowed “Bad Betty,” and she took Toby to a shelter, promising Cassandra that a nice family would adopt him. Later they discover the dog had been euthanized. Cassandra’s initial pain and guilt over giving Toby away was tripled by the news of his death. A short time later, circumstances led her to believe she was responsible for the death of her best friend’s dog as well. To make matters worse, her mother’s stern looks and constant disapproval left her questioning her self worth.
As she grew older, Cassandra’s dream of becoming a veterinarian propelled her through years of sadness and low self-esteem, but when her babies came along, she knew that dream had faded into oblivion. Love for her husband and children blanketed the dark corners of her heart, until the scene in the snowglobe brought those feelings rushing back. She realized only God could help her now.
Best friend Margret knows Cassandra’s heart better than anyone. Together they experienced the joys and trials of growing up and getting married. But Cassandra had something Margret ached for and couldn’t have: children. As Cassandra contemplates the mystery of her snowglobe, Margret receives another discouraging phone call from her doctor. Uninterested in adoption, she decides to appreciate all the wonderful people and circumstances in her life and stop dwelling on what she cannot have.
Meanwhile, the winds of change are blowing around Cassandra’s mother. She doesn’t really want to be “Bad Betty,” but struggles with changing the mindset and personality that produced that nickname. It’s been 25 years since Betty’s husband committed suicide, an act that left her angry at God, reeling with guilt and struggling to support her three children. But a comment from her daughter and the affections of the local butcher have her searching her heart. Is God really a God of second chances?
Ken dearly loves his wife Cassandra, though her behavior since the Collector’s Convention has him concerned. The story about the disappearing scene in the snowglobe sounds crazy. Through the years, she has filled their house with collectible animal figurines, deeming herself unworthy to ever have another real pet. Could a puppy for Christmas heal her heart? When Ken embarks on a quest for a dog, he finds himself heading down an unexpected path.
Dearest Dorothy author Charlene Ann Baumbich has produced a delightful story with likable characters. My one disappointment was that Margret and her husband, both aching to be parents, were completely uninterested in adoption. Some readers, like me, may see this as a character flaw that makes them less likable. That said, it was still an enjoyable read with a variety of interesting subplots, believable dialogue and happy endings.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on September 15, 2009