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: OUR HOUSE, BY LOUISE CANDLISH

 

When Fiona Lawson comes home to find strangers moving into her house, she’s sure there’s been a mistake. She and her estranged husband, Bram, have a modern co-parenting arrangement: bird’s nest custody, where each parent spends a few nights a week with their two sons at the prized family home to maintain stability for their children. But the system built to protect their family ends up putting them in terrible jeopardy. In a domino effect of crimes and misdemeanors, the nest comes tumbling down.

Now Bram has disappeared and so have Fiona’s children. As events spiral well beyond her control, Fiona will discover just how many lies her husband was weaving and how little they truly knew each other. But Bram’s not the only one with things to hide, and some secrets are best kept to oneself, safe as houses.

 

My Thoughts: In the opening lines of Our House, we are stunned by what Fiona Lawson sees, as she comes home after a few days away: moving vans and a strange family unloading them. They are moving into her house!

Flashback to the previous summer when Fiona caught Bram cheating on her. It wasn’t the first time. So the split would change their lives, but they thought their solution for the children was the perfect one. The so-called Birds’ Nest custody arrangement had the children permanently in the house, with the parents taking turns moving in and out. A flat nearby was where the off-duty parent would stay.

Next, our narrators take us back and forth in time: Bram’s Word doc reveals his story, while Fi’s podcast confessions on The Victim offer her perspective. Slowly we come to discover the intricacies of how Fi ended up losing her house, and what happened to Bram to take them there.

It is not a simple story, and there are so many twists and turns, with a final unexpected one at the end. But this story is not divided into villains and victims…unless we label some of the other parties. But someone has gone to a lot of trouble to unravel their lives. And both Bram and Fi have made choices that led them to this place.

Did the Birds’ Nest arrangement set this family up for what happened? Could secrets and lies from the past have added to their vulnerability? And would the final denouement leave questions unanswered, with more heartache ahead? Rapidly turning pages kept me guessing and wondering, and made me feel empathy for both Bram and Fi. They felt like people who might have been our friends and neighbors. 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: MULTIPLE LISTINGS, BY TRACY MCMILLAN

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Nicki Daniels, a single mother to 16-year-old Cody, has her life together in some major ways. Except for her relationships with men. Her current boyfriend, Jake, is eleven years younger, and even she knows that it won’t be long until it’s over. Because she keeps picking the wrong kind of guy.

Could her “daddy issues” have something to do with those choices? Her father, Ronnie, has been in and out of prison most of her life, with his last stint being seventeen years. Abandonment is definitely one of her emotional issues.

But life is about to change for them all: Ronnie is being paroled, and is on his way to Nicki’s house.

 
Before everything can get better, though, there will be a lot to sort through.

Multiple Listings is not what I expected. Yes, there is the real estate angle, since Nicki has a business as an appraiser. Plus, she loves going to Open Houses, and is in escrow for a big, beautiful dream house. But our story is mostly about making changes, learning how to deal with issues and relationships, and starting over. Our alternate narrators, Nicki and Ronnie, show us what is going on in their interior lives, and just when I think I am very annoyed with one of them, the other takes over, and we get to see another view of things.

Peaches is Nicki’s best friend, and she is another very annoying character who is blunt, abrasive, and makes a lot of mistakes. But instead of being remorseful, she acts judgmental with Nicki, as if she has all the answers. What will happen to change her attitude and behavior?

Then there is Melissa, the parole officer, who is totally unfit for her job, crossing all kinds of boundaries, but not accepting responsibility for her part in anything that happens. Until something brings her up short.

A novel full of realistic characters, set in the gorgeous Portland area, I felt myself completely immersed in this story until the very last page. Not predictable, although there were familiar moments that reminded me of life itself. 4.5 stars.

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

REVIEW: THE PASSENGER, BY LISA LUTZ

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Our story begins as Tanya Pitts Dubois contemplates the death of her husband Frank, as he lies at the bottom of the stairs. In her first person voice, we learn more about Frank than we care to know, and the humor underlying her narration, as well as my curiosity about her story, kept me reading.

Who is Tanya, and why is she running, taking on a series of identities, and moving from one place after another, always finding new ways to avoid whatever past events have propelled her onto this path?

Meeting a woman who calls herself Blue takes our protagonist on an entirely different trajectory, and her various incarnations become more interesting at this point. Will these two become cohorts on the journey? Or does Blue have a different agenda, one that will bring her onto Tanya/Amelia’s path again at some point?

As our narrator’s journey becomes more challenging, and as she encounters adversarial people and events, we also see a thread of narrative in the form of e-mails between “Ryan and Jo,” and come to conclude that these two represent moments from the past.

The Passenger was a story about mistakes, bad choices, wrongful accusations, and how one can never really correct those missteps. But sometimes one can overcome unthinkable obstacles with a little help. A shocking series of events draw the story to a close, with a final reveal that I did not see coming. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC was received from the publisher via NetGalley.