REVIEW: MONOGAMY, BY SUE MILLER

 

Graham and Annie have been married for nearly thirty years. A golden couple, their seemingly effortless devotion has long been the envy of their circle of friends and acquaintances.

Graham is a bookseller, a big, gregarious man with large appetites—curious, eager to please, a lover of life, and the convivial host of frequent, lively parties at his and Annie’s comfortable house in Cambridge. Annie, more reserved and introspective, is a photographer. She is about to have her first gallery show after a six-year lull and is worried that the best years of her career may be behind her. They have two adult children; Lucas, Graham’s son with his first wife, Frieda, works in New York. Annie and Graham’s daughter, Sarah, lives in San Francisco. Though Frieda is an integral part of this far-flung, loving family, Annie feels confident in the knowledge that she is Graham’s last and greatest love.

When Graham suddenly dies—this man whose enormous presence has seemed to dominate their lives together—Annie is lost. What is the point of going on, she wonders, without him?

Then, while she is still mourning him intensely, she discovers that Graham had been unfaithful to her; and she spirals into darkness, wondering if she ever truly knew the man who loved her.

From the very first page of Monogamy, I was captured by the prose, the characters, and the settings, in which I could imagine myself walking along with Annie and Graham, as their story unfolds. A bookstore, a beautiful gallery of photographs, and a cottage by a lake in Vermont to which Annie retreats after Graham’s death.

The small details of a life are presented in a way that grabbed me, and I could feel the moments that had defined them. I could see Annie in her childhood, go back with them to their first meeting, and remember with Annie how they built a home and a life, while raising the children.
Reconnecting with people from the past, and reliving those poignant bonds left an indelible mark.

As Annie moves through her days and weeks, the past rises to confront her and comfort her. Can she mourn the loss without going back in time to all that defined her? As Annie struggles to move beyond the death and the discovery of the betrayal, she learns to accept it all and rediscover the love they shared. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WINTER IN PARADISE, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

 

Irene Steele shares her idyllic life in a beautiful Iowa City Victorian house with a husband who loves her to sky-writing, sentimental extremes. But as she rings in the new year one cold and snowy night, everything she thought she knew falls to pieces with a shocking phone call: her beloved husband, away on business, has been killed in a plane crash. Before Irene can even process the news, she must first confront the perplexing details of her husband’s death on the distant Caribbean island of St. John.

After Irene and her sons arrive at this faraway paradise, they make yet another shocking discovery: her husband had been living a secret life. As Irene untangles a web of intrigue and deceit, and as she and her sons find themselves drawn into the vibrant island culture, they have to face the truth about their family, and about their own futures.

 

My Thoughts: As the story opens with Irene enjoying her beautiful home and her job with Heartland Home & Style magazine, a feeling of foreboding tells us that everything she holds dear will soon be put to the test.

Meanwhile, her sons Baker and Cash are being challenged in their own ways: Cash is facing reversals in his business and Baker’s marriage is on the rocks.

The phone call that changes their lives takes them on a plane to the Virgin Islands, to a place they might have loved visiting under other circumstances.

How will Irene and her sons deal with the death of their husband and father? What will they discover about the secret life he was living?

In alternating narratives, we learn more about the islanders who are now part of Irene’s story: Huck, a ship captain and stepfather to Rosie, who now has become part of their lives; Ayers Wilson, Rosie’s best friend; and Maia, the twelve-year-old girl who has lost her mother.

Set against the backdrop of the island retreat, Winter in Paradise captured my heart with the sadness, the joy of the setting, the delicious foods that tease our taste buds, and the sense of betrayal dealt by Russell, who is no longer alive to explain himself.

Just below the surface is the sense of a mystery, and as Irene reminisces about her life with Russell, she tries to piece together what signs she might have missed along the way. At the very end, however, another tidbit of information from the authorities adds a startling conclusion. Since this book is number one in a new series, I look forward to more from these characters. 5 stars.

***

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: 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.

FROM THE INTERIOR: INTROS/TEASERS – “SAVING GRACE”

y8ekqo13031746531

 

kitten button

 

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Today’s spotlight is shining on an ARC from Amazon Vine:  Saving Grace, by Jane Green.

 

 

81hb1jIq67L._SL1500_

 

Intro:  There are only so many hours Grace can stay away from home.  Her husband’s car is still in the driveway when she pulls in, her heart sinking at the sight.  As if she should be surprised.  Where did she think he’d be going at six o’clock in the evening?  It was the triumph of hope over experience, she thought to herself.

Luck is not on her side today.  It wasn’t on her side this morning when she woke up to hear a door slamming downstairs and her husband bellowing her name, and it isn’t on her side now.

Although perhaps it is, she thinks, gingerly pulling up alongside his car and steeling herself for whatever might meet her inside.  Perhaps his mood will have changed.  Perhaps he will be the loving attentive husband the rest of the world sees, as long as they don’t get too close.

***

Teaser:  The stack of bills have been piling up for weeks.  Last night, when the phone rang and it was an automated message saying their cable was about to be disconnected due to nonpayment of bills, Grace realized how disorganized things had become. (p. 73).

***

Blurb:  Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted’s rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue.  To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity.  With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late.

Powerful and riveting, Saving Grace will have you on the edge of your seat as you follow Grace on her harrowing journey to rock bottom and back.
***
What do you think?  Do the excerpts grab you and make you want to keep reading?  I know I am eager to continue…
***

ONE WOMAN’S EPIPHANY: A JOURNEY — BOOK REVIEW

81h96wecX8L._SL1500_After thirty years of marriage to Wesley, Leslie Carter has reached an epiphany. Is she the only original wife in their social set? When she looks around, she sees the changing landscape of marriage for those she knows…and must take another look at her life. The Last Original Wife: A Novel is the story of her journey.

Does she want to keep waiting on a husband who doesn’t appreciate or love her in the way she needs? What does her life mean when it’s all about Wes and his needs? What about hers? And is she obsolete in the world where she has lived for so long? And then she discovers a closely guarded secret of Wes’s about how much money they really have…a lot! And everything changes.

Les takes a trip to Charleston to stay with her brother Harlan—whom Wes has banned from their home during the marriage because he is gay—and as she settles into the comfortable world of the lowcountry, which is truly her home, she begins to see things more clearly.

I was immediately drawn into the story of Les and Wes, narrated alternately between the two of them in their first person voices. I could see how their marriage had started as a traditional union and stayed that way, with no adjustments to the changing world around them. I have known men like Wes, puzzled that their wives want something different. And I’ve been like Leslie, striving to find her own way.

A favorite part of the story for me was how I could visualize Charleston through Leslie’s eyes and fell in love with everything about it. I’ve never been there…but have read other books set there. And nothing feels more like home than a city described by someone who loves it.

Leslie’s friends were like people I’ve known and enjoyed through the years, and watching their lives unfold felt like walking alongside them. My first experience with this author will not be my last. This delightful book earned five stars.

THE INTERIOR WORLD OF A SHRIMPER — A REVIEW

3322In the lowcountry of South Carolina, in a small village by the sea, a shrimper’s life is one of exhaustion, long hours, and danger. And for the wives on shore, the loneliness and separations tear away at the fabric of their marriages.

Carolina and Bud Morrison have loved each other for many years, and the ebb and flow of their life has worn them down. But on this one day in September 2008, with the economic strains seemingly threatening them at every turn, Bud makes a decision that, by day’s end, will rock their world.

Last Light over Carolina is the story of the sea, of the shrimper’s life, and of a marriage.

What will happen to Bud alone on the sea, having decided to take a chance without his late partner? And what will be going on back at shore as Carolina struggles with her daily routines, but with a sense of doom hanging overhead? As each character’s point of view is shown, we see their lives through flashbacks, from young love through the years when they were shrimping together to the differences between them that almost severed their bonds.

I loved this passage that shows us a bit about the pull of the life for the shrimper. Bud describes his feelings to her in the beginning years, sharing how he doesn’t like leaving her in bed when he has to go:

“But I get up and get to the boat, because my absolute favorite things in the world are standing on the deck at first light when the sun fills you with hope, then again at last light when the sun lowers in all her glory. Those are introspective times. Peaceful times that give a man pause to reflect….”

A beautifully evocative tale that leads the reader through the interior and exterior lives of the characters, its intensity increasing as the day wears on and the danger for Bud on the waters increases. On shore, Carolina swears that, if given one more chance–for love and forgiveness–she will be by his side forever.

I thoroughly connected with the characters, even though I have no personal experience with this kind of life, and enjoyed the author’s style of slowly telling the story through flashbacks, giving us a glimpse of who the characters were before that fateful day. Five stars.

THE INTERIOR WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD STARS — A REVIEW

What happens to a popular sitcom star after the show is over? Georgie York is trying to make her own real-life love story come true, but being dumped by her husband Lance, and now being fodder for the paparazzi, is not what she had in mind.

When she tries to hide out in her best friend’s Malibu beachhouse, who should appear but the self-absorbed co-star of that now defunct sitcom. Running into Bram Shepard is the last thing she wants, and then stumbling upon him again in Las Vegas when she tries for a getaway a few days later, leads to some unexpected moments.

Like an elopement between the two of them, fueled by drinks someone drugged.

What happens next is sure to keep the reader turning pages, as the two of them try to turn what could have been a disaster into a public relations fix for their image problems.

A riotous and fun-filled romp had me guessing about what would happen next. Would the two of them fall in love for real, or would they sabotage each other for revenge? Will either of them find the self-acceptance to recreate their own lives? A predictable tale with some interesting twists and turns was delightfully surprising at times. Four stars for What I Did for Love: A Novel.

A CHAOTIC CAULDRON OF WARRING EMOTIONS — A REVIEW

When Andi met Ethan in her thirties, she knew he was just the man she’d been waiting for…and the fact that he had two daughters already felt like the icing on the cake. Andi had always wanted a family.

But family life did not unfold in the way that Andi had anticipated, and their “blended” family began to feel more like a chaotic cauldron of warring temperaments and unsolvable conflicts. At the heart of these conflicts was Ethan’s teenage daughter Emily, whose histrionic behavior and horrific tantrums began to define their daily lives. Sophia, on the other hand, despite being the youngest, presented as calm, mature, and easily loved.

Because Ethan had a neutral kind of personality, he found himself constantly mediating between Andi and Emily; and in trying to calm Emily down during her tantrums, he appeared to be taking her side.

Something happens during Emily’s seventeenth year that changes the dynamics and direction of this family. How will these unexpected events unfurl and cause them all to take another look at things? And what will be the ultimate outcome?

In the beginning, I could see much of the story through Andi’s eyes, and felt her frustration for Emily.

Toward the middle, the author brought Emily’s point of view into play through alternating chapters in first person narrative voice, so finally I could understand some of what she was feeling.

To say more would be bringing spoilers into the mix, so I will only add that I sometimes couldn’t breathe with the intensity of emotions churning up within Another Piece of My Heart. I could understand each of the characters, even as I felt frustrated with most of them at one point or another. In the end, I liked the way things came together, and while I hoped–and even expected–they would play out this way, the ending gave me a very good feeling.

Five stars!

A DISASTROUS FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE — A REVIEW

In this sad, yet poignant tale, we slowly watch the happiness of this newly married couple slip away.

The beginning paragraphs offer up a clue as to the root of their problems—sexual inexperience and lack of communication. But in the pages that follow, we see how the two met, how they gradually reached the point of marriage, and that the seeds of their future discontent sprouted long before that fateful night.

I liked the author’s style of gradually unfolding the actual events of that night: from the opener, followed by the courtship in its various stages, until finally we see the disaster on Chesil Beach.

The author then gifts the reader with the “near misses” of their lives afterwards, and we cannot help but wish that somehow, the two of them would find each other again—improved by age, wisdom, and experience. But alas….there is no happy ending here.

On Chesil Beach could be a cautionary tale for those who would ignore or choose not to engage in serious communication in the beginning of a relationship. But the time period (pre-sexual revolution) is an indicator of why and how these two failed at this task.

Five stars.