REVIEW: WOMAN LAST SEEN IN HER THIRTIES, BY CAMILLE PAGAN

 

At fifty-three, Maggie Harris has a good marriage and two mostly happy children. Perpetually anxious, she’s also accumulated a list of semi-reasonable fears: falling air conditioners, the IRS, identity theft, skydiving, and airbag recalls. But never once did Maggie worry that her husband of nearly thirty years would leave her.

On the day Adam walks out the door, everything that makes Maggie secure goes with him. Only then does she realize that while she’s been busy caring for everyone else, she’s become invisible to the world—and to herself.

Maggie cautiously begins to rebuild her life with a trip to Rome, a new career, and even a rebound romance. But when a fresh crisis strikes and an uncertain future looms, she must decide: How much will she risk to remain the woman she’s just become?

My Thoughts: From the beginning of Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, I felt connected to Maggie. Not because the events in her life were similar to mine. Her life was quite different from mine, but there was one common theme: that feeling of invisibility that somehow descends on a woman after a certain age. Especially if she has devoted her life to taking care of others. That feeling can be a common thread in the lives of wives and mothers.

To me, however, it seemed surprising that Maggie had not even thought of the possibility that her husband might leave her. The clues were there: his unavailability, the way he didn’t really listen, and how there was something missing. But with the passage of time, connections change, and it would be easy to chalk it all up to getting older.

What happens to a woman after an unexpected separation? Does she sink into a depression? Does she start drinking too much? Does she begin to probe into all of her life choices and connections? Maggie did all of those things…and then more. Slowly she begins to feel like herself again. Like the woman she hadn’t seen since her thirties.

But when something unexpected happens…will she continue on this course, or will she flail about, trying to decide if she needs to rethink her chosen path?

When I started this novel, I expected something light and predictable, but happily, there were many emotional issues to explore. By the end, I was deeply invested in what might happen for Maggie next. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: LUSH, BY KERRY COHEN

 

When Loose Girl author Kerry Cohen reached her early 40s, she realized she had a drinking problem. Yes, she could get up on time, bring her kids to school, make dinner, chat with friends, and all around have a normal day, but, throughout it all, Kerry was waiting for her five o’clock glass of wine. Maybe two glasses. Maybe a bottle. Just enough to blur the edges of her life that had become a monotony of vacuuming, carpooling, and disagreements with her husband. Kerry had replaced one addiction with another, instead of seeking sex she was seeking merlot. Instead of intimacy, she craved the fuzziness of a nice buzz.

What she also realized was: she wasn’t the only one.

LUSH is a gripping memoir that examines Kerry’s struggle with alcohol, a struggle that a rising number of middle-aged women are facing today as alcohol dependency amongst females drastically increases. A wonderfully poignant and relatable follow up to her memoir Loose Girl, LUSH follows Kerry as she attempts to rediscover the awe in her life, leaving past mistakes, regrets, and the bottle behind.

My Thoughts: With a story that was honest and gritty, revealing all the least flattering aspects of her life, the author of Lush kept me gripped with its intensity. I could not stop following her battles and conflicts, and discovering how she eventually chose a new path.

I could especially relate to how feeling unloved and unlovable drove her choices, leading to situations in which she was more likely to feel those feelings.

Since she is obviously an intelligent and educated woman, I liked how she described the struggles and how she eventually chose to take an unpopular path. With all the hoopla about the disease of alcoholism, I appreciated how she realized that, for her, moderation could be a choice. That particular path was not an easy one, as she faced criticism and raised eyebrows.

She also admitted that her love/sex addictions were as much a part of her problems as her drinking, and that she couldn’t just “quit” love or sex. But she had to learn how to make choices that brought her to a more peaceful place. She described that sometimes you just have to “sit” with your feelings, instead of chasing after something that might make you feel better.

An interesting look into one woman’s world of addiction, and how she dealt with it. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: PARIS EVER AFTER, BY K.S.R. BURNS

 

Can Amy’s rocky start in Paris turn into a happy ever after? Amy didn’t realize how stale her life was until she jetted off to Paris without telling a soul—not even her husband—and had the adventure of a lifetime. Now as she tries to establish herself in the City of Light, she finds that despite a fun (and quirky) group of friends and the ability to indulge in French pastries whenever she wants, reinventing her life is much harder than she imagined.

Then on Amy’s thirtieth birthday, two unexpected visitors leave her wondering if she will soon be saying au revoir to Paris and the new life she’s struggled to build. Her estranged husband, Will, shows up—but is he interested in reconciliation or separation? And a young woman who arrives on Amy’s doorstep unleashes chaos that could push Amy out into the street.

As Amy’s Parisian dream starts to fall apart, she must decide: return to the stability of Will and Phoenix (if that’s even still an option) or forge her way forward in Paris? Amid secrets and surprises, set in enchanting gardens, cozy cafés, and glittering Parisian streets, Amy must choose between two very different worlds. And each has a claim on her heart.

My Thoughts: In our first look at Amy Brodie in Paris Ever After, she is still reeling from the death of her best friend Kat. The death that sent her flying off to Paris on a trip that she and Kat had planned, but was derailed by her death. But then, after just a few weeks, Amy returned to Phoenix…to a bitter fight with William that catapulted her back to Paris. On her second day, she meets an older woman named Margaret, who offers a room, and in a short time she begins to feel at home.

Her life is now full of beautiful café lunches; soirees at Margaret’s, with her two friends Herve and Nanu; and a new pregnancy with baby daughter Catherine. Just before she left Phoenix that last time, William gave her a parting gift. He does not know, however, and now she faces a dilemma.

Can she share her news with him and see if there is anything left of the marriage? What will her future hold: Paris or Phoenix?

A lovely book full of scenes that I loved, some characters that were wonderful, and others that were not. Secrets come out and an unexpected reunion between Margaret and someone she thought she had lost would upend Amy’s plans. Where will she belong now? As the story drew to an end, I was hoping for a sequel so that I could spend more time with these characters. 5 stars.


***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: ALTERNATE SIDE, BY ANNA QUINDLEN

 

Some days Nora Nolan thinks that she and her husband, Charlie, lead a charmed life—except when there’s a crisis at work, a leak in the roof at home, or a problem with their twins at college. And why not? New York City was once Nora’s dream destination, and her clannish dead-end block has become a safe harbor, a tranquil village amid the urban craziness. The owners watch one another’s children grow up. They use the same handyman. They trade gossip and gripes, and they maneuver for the ultimate status symbol: a spot in the block’s small parking lot.

Then one morning, Nora returns from her run to discover that a terrible incident has shaken the neighborhood, and the enviable dead-end block turns into a potent symbol of a divided city. The fault lines begin to open: on the block, at Nora’s job, especially in her marriage. With an acute eye that captures the snap crackle of modern life, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife, and a woman at a moment of reckoning.

 

My Thoughts: Nora Nolan’s voice swept me along through Alternate Side, like a philosophical journey of life in New York City: a place composed of neighborhoods, marriages, and people moving on to other realities. The rhythm of Nora’s daily life felt like perfection…until it wasn’t.

How could street parking on alternate sides, with another option being a convenient parking lot, morph into a symbol of all that is wrong with the choices we make? Thoughts about the choices people make, like living in Manhattan vs. deciding on a suburban or alternate city kind of life, crept through the pages beautifully. The author’s prose captivated me, even as I felt drawn in by the situations in which the characters found themselves.

Quickly I couldn’t stand Nora’s husband Charlie, but then by the end, I just felt sorry for him. George was so annoying that I wanted to spit on him, but suddenly Jack Fisk earned most of my venom for his horrific actions.

I liked this quote about marriage: “The truth was that their marriages were like balloons: some went suddenly pop, but more often than not the air slowly leaked out until it was a sad, wrinkled little thing with no lift to it anymore.”

And so on and on, we looked at NY life in general: it moved along effortlessly, and then it transmogrified, turning into a renovation of a life that was built on the past. One character described Manhattan life as a city of the mind.

Could alternate realities rise out of what once was? This great story made me constantly think about life and about how we decide where to live and who we are. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

PERSONAL JOURNEYS: EXCERPTING “AN ACCIDENTAL LIFE”

Earlier today, I wrote a blog post over at Serendipity, The A-Frame House:  The Story Behind the Story.

An Accidental Life was created in that A-Frame house, and themes about my life and career while living there fill the pages.

On this blog, I feature the first chapter of each of my books.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter One of An Accidental Life.

CHAPTER ONE

Once upon a time, Karin Larson had believed in endless possibilities. In her childhood, all the adults had asked her the same question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Picturing a giant list from which she could choose, Karin had played with the task, picking out one thing or another, while watching the reaction of the grownups to help her know if her choices were right or wrong.

 

Much later, Karin had come to realize that selecting one thing meant giving up something else. A possibility lost…perhaps forever. Sometimes, not making any choice at all was just a different way of choosing.

 

Karin often wondered about those alternate paths. As a single mother and a social worker for the past fourteen years, she was a responsible and professional person. She had achieved some expertise in her field. On the surface, an observer might see her as a calm, reasonably attractive woman in her mid-to-late thirties.

 

So why did she wake up every morning of her life wishing she were somewhere else and anyone else?

 

Today was no different from any other. Karin heard the alarm and cringed. Then, to stave off the inevitable, she pretended to be on vacation in some tropical island. She could almost feel the breeze off the ocean, and the scent of suntan lotion wafted toward her. She could feel her body relaxing into the chaise lounge, while a handsome man approached with a tall, cold drink with one of those little umbrellas on top. “Mom!” Bridget’s voice interrupted her reverie with its irritatingly teenage quality, that tone that demanded immediate attention. As she pushed open the bedroom door, she continued. “I can’t find that book I’m supposed to take back today! Have you put it somewhere?” Her tone, almost accusing, brought Karin rudely back to reality.

***

I like looking back at my journey, and while I made many mistakes along the way, I don’t regret any of them, as I learned a lot from those choices, those missteps.

Do you find your mistakes have been a learning tool

***

REVIEW: DRIVING LESSONS, BY ZOE FISHMAN

81r6dSng3GL._SL1500_

 

 

When Josh and Sarah Simon decide to pack up and leave Brooklyn and their Manhattan jobs, Sarah feels a slight tinge of anxiety. After all, what does she know about life in the country? They are moving to Farmwood, Virginia, where Josh will be a professor in a small college. And Sarah will be at loose ends, not even sure what her future holds.

Additionally, Sarah hasn’t driven a car in many years. There really wasn’t a need for it in Manhattan. Her anxiety increases as she ponders the possibility of it, and how it will be necessary in her new life.

She is also anxious because she and Josh are contemplating having a child.

Are Sarah’s fears about driving, about her future, and about parenthood all part of the same thing? Is it all a huge fear of the chasm that has opened up, making her life a quandary?

Right off the bat, though, Sarah signs up for driving lessons…and then, she also takes a job as a salesperson in a kitschy store. What is that all about?

But before Sarah can truly analyze these events, she gets a call from her best friend Mona in NY…and everything turns upside down. Soon she is off to NY to help her best friend through a medical crisis. And while she is at it, perhaps she can sort through some of her own anxieties.

Driving Lessons: A Novel (P.S.) is a delightful book about a woman on the cusp of major life changes, and while she is anxious, she also has the opportunity to sort things out. I enjoyed the dialogue, the characters, and the “feel good” aura about it all. Despite its predictability, it is a perfect read for those who enjoy women’s issues and are seeking a comfort read. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE LAKE SEASON, BY HANNAH MCKINNON

23483731

 

 

As the older, responsible sister, Iris Standish has had a good run. A lovely home in suburban Boston, Massachusetts, three healthy children, and a part-time career as a literary agent. Yes, her oldest, Sadie, is now a teen and pretty sulky and occasionally rude, but the younger two are still lovely.Suddenly, Iris’s husband Paul tells her that he wants a separation. And in a flash, her world begins to unravel. She forgets things, her house becomes a mess around her, and her children are looking at her strangely.

Her sister Leah’s postcard with the cryptic message “Please come” couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Off she goes to the family home in Hampstead, New Hampshire…her children are at camp and she wants to get away from Paul’s disapproving, critical presence.

But home is not what she expected, and Leah is glowing, announcing her upcoming wedding preparations as the reason she needs her sister. While Iris is feeling unneeded at her own home, she is feeling even more like an outsider here as Leah, of the irresponsible past and the mood swings, overshadows her and makes her feel like a sore thumb. And then draws her needlessly into the wedding preparations, while she flits off to do whatever she desires.

Then Iris sees an old high school friend, Cooper Woods, the handsome guy she never had, and he asks her to help him with the barn restoration he is doing at her parents’ place. She feels needed again. But then Leah inserts herself once more, as if she must take up all the air in the room. In spite of it all, something begins to develop between Iris and Cooper. Can it continue? Will she finally move on?

“The Lake Season” grabbed hold of me and kept me turning pages, feeling a wide range of emotions, from enjoying the beautiful settings to annoyance and frustration with Leah’s behavior. Sibling rivalry takes a dramatic turn, and before long, Iris will discover the well-kept family secrets about Leah.

In the middle of all that unfolds around her, Iris begins to find herself again. Who she once was, and who she will become. A delightful read that earned 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE OPPOSITE OF MAYBE, BY MADDIE DAWSON

71rjsiR5s0L._SL1500_

 

 

 

In their circle of friends, Jonathan and Rosie have become the quirky couple that has stayed together for fifteen years without changing their lifestyle. Rosie teaches, while Jonathan collects antiques, like the teacups that are his latest obsession.

So when Jonathan joins forces with a man named Andres, who is planning to start up a museum in San Diego, CA, Jonathan doesn’t think twice about signing on.

But Rosie is not so eager to leave Connecticut, most especially since her eighty-eight-year-old grandmother, Sophie (Soapie), will be left behind.

But the two of them plan to marry and leave together, after Rosie arranges for a caregiver.

Despite the best laid plans, something happens to Rosie in the midst of moving things, and she sends Jonathan on his way, while she stays behind with Soapie. They have cancelled the wedding and she decides she needs a break from her life with Jonathan.

After all, Soapie has been her constant in life, after her mother Serena died.

Then Rose, who is forty-four, discovers that she is pregnant, and a whole host of issues present themselves, not to mention the hormones.

And then there is the little matter of her growing friendship with Tony, the “care provider” and friend, who is not at all queasy about pregnancy or kids. Something Jonathan has failed at again, when she tells him the news.

The Opposite of Maybe: A Novel was a quick read that engaged me from the beginning. There were lots of emotional, as well as funny moments. I enjoyed the relationship between Rosie and Tony, even if I didn’t know how that was all going to work out. Jonathan was annoying in many ways, and as some described him, “limited.”

He reminded me of someone totally tuned into his own needs, socially inept, and obsessive to the nth degree. I was not rooting for Rosie and Jonathan to reunite.

But there were surprises along the way, and even while I had my private hopes, I wasn’t quite sure how it would all turn out. In the end, I was pleased. 5 stars.

REVIEW: AND THEN I FOUND YOU, BY PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY

91JHT-VT6VL._SL1500_Kate Vaughn and Jack Adams have loved each other for as long as they can remember. But life, college, jobs…all kinds of things seemed to get in the way. Separate them.

Then one week together in Birmingham would change everything about their lives. But would it bring them together? Or separate them?

And Then I Found You: A Novel is a wonderfully layered story of the choices we make, the events that keep us apart, and how we sometimes can find our way back to each other. But even though we can’t change the past, can we pick up the pieces and begin again? Can we embrace and accept it, despite the pain that lingers?

The author has created wonderful characters I could root for and situations that resonate with me. I loved the settings, feeling as though I were walking along with the characters. While I had my own wishes for them all, I hung in there to find out what the characters would choose to do, and what their hopes and dreams would bring. In the end, the story left me with a wonderful feeling of satisfaction. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE ALL YOU CAN DREAM BUFFET, BY BARBARA O’NEAL

18248416

 

 

 

Lavender Wills, owner of Lavender Honey Farms in Oregon, and one of the Foodie Four bloggers, is having a party to celebrate her 85th birthday.

After she sends out her invitations, we meet the individual bloggers as they converge on the farm.

Ruby, young and pregnant, comes from SF, and writes A Flavor of a Blue Moon. Her lover Liam has left her, and she seeks healing and a fresh start.

Ginger, A Cake of Dreams, lives in Kansas and has never been anywhere. She longs to explore and have adventures. She buys an Airstream trailer and starts out, over the objections of her staid and cold husband Matthew.

Valerie, from Wine Dancer, heads out on the journey with her daughter Hannah. The two of them have lost the rest of their family, and are still suffering.

As we follow the foodies in their approach to the Oregon destination, we are privy to some blog posts from the road, with photos, and we can enjoy their e-mails to each other. I loved feeling a part of their adventures, almost tasting the delicious food and seeing the sights along the way. Especially Ginny’s view of the world, since she had been trapped in Dead Gulch, Kansas, her whole life. Now she is experiencing the mountains of colorful Colorado, and as she descends on the Willamette Valley, we can see the lavender fields spread out before her.

The All You Can Dream Buffet: A Novel is a lovely story that will reveal more about how their blogging and their connections to one another can have wonderful healing powers.

Each woman is a at turning point in her life. Lavender faces a big decision about her beloved farm. Can she control its destiny and assure that it falls into the right hands? Will Ginny be able to wrest control of her own life and make a new beginning? And what romance might be right around the next corner for her? What will Ruby discover at the end of the journey? And will Valerie find a new beginning at last?

As each of them turns the next corner, we wait with bated breath, while taking in the lovely views and tasting the delicious foods. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I want more from these friends. Like a sequel. I was sad when the book ended, but it left such a good feeling behind. Five stars.