REVIEW: MY EX-LIFE, BY STEPHEN MCCAULEY

 

David Hedges’s life is coming apart at the seams. His job helping San Francisco rich kids get into the colleges of their (parents’) choice is exasperating; his younger boyfriend has left him; and the beloved carriage house he rents is being sold. His solace is a Thai takeout joint that delivers 24/7.

The last person he expects to hear from is Julie Fiske. It’s been decades since they’ve spoken, and he’s relieved to hear she’s recovered from her brief, misguided first marriage. To him.

Julie definitely doesn’t have a problem with marijuana (she’s given it up completely, so it doesn’t matter if she gets stoned almost daily) and the Airbnb she’s running out of her seaside house north of Boston is neither shabby nor illegal. And she has two whole months to come up with the money to buy said house from her second husband before their divorce is finalized. She’d just like David’s help organizing college plans for her seventeen-year-old daughter.

That would be Mandy. To quote Barry Manilow, Oh Mandy. While she knows she’s smarter than most of the kids in her school, she can’t figure out why she’s making so many incredibly dumb and increasingly dangerous choices?

When David flies east, they find themselves living under the same roof (one David needs to re-pair). David and Julie pick up exactly where they left off thirty years ago—they’re still best friends who can finish each other’s sentences. But there’s one broken bit between them that no amount of home renovations will fix.

 

My Thoughts: My Ex-Life brings together the past and the present as its characters try to sort through the pieces of their lives out of the detritus of their mistakes.

On the West Coast, David had been loving his little rented carriage house, but there was definitely something missing from his life. When his ex-wife Julie calls, needing help preparing her daughter Mandy for the right college, he sees an opportunity to use his career to help her, and perhaps a chance to heal some of the broken pieces of their past together.

Alternating storylines reveal what life looks like in the present for Julie, living near Boston and trying to get past her divorce to her second husband Henry, who seems to be in a punishing frame of mind. With a plan in place, David hopes to finally overcome the loose ends of his first marriage to Julie by helping her with the present issues in her life.

I enjoyed the writing style that added humor and insight to the characters’ discoveries as they spend time sorting through their past choices.

I had high hopes that the previous partners, David and Julie, would rediscover their former friendship and could help each other during a difficult time. Until the very end, I wasn’t sure they could overcome the past, but I was happily rooting for them. I loved how the story ended. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: BRING ME BACK, BY B. A. PARIS

 

Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone—never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.

Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him…even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.

Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla—hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive—and on Finn’s trail—what does she want? And how much does she know?

My Thoughts: A story told by alternating narrators that swings between “then” and “now,” Bring Me Back was a fascinating look at love, loss, and starting over. Except that when Finn starts over after Layla’s disappearance years before, he picks someone a little too close to home: Ellen, Layla’s sister, whom he had never met when he was with Layla. A part of him always wondered about what had happened to Layla, but Ellen has a way of showing a different kind of love. A nurturing kind that offers him care and comfort when Layla had been the needy one.

Just before Ellen and Finn start planning their wedding, a series of strange events begin happening: objects from the past that were significant to Layla and also to Ellen start showing up. Finn tries to protect Ellen and keeps some of these things secret and hidden. But the e-mails make him suspect everyone from his past, especially some who are part of his present life. When Ellen claims to have seen Layla in a nearby village, Finn goes on high alert. A neighbor’s claim to have also seen Layla adds some credence to the possibility that Layla is out there and coming back.

Why are the strange e-mails and sentimental objects appearing now? Who is behind these mysterious messages and sightings, and why does Finn feel a great sense of dread and imminent danger?

Intensity ratchets up as Finn becomes desperate for answers, and Ellen becomes more aloof…until she also disappears.

I had several theories about what was going on, from some kind of psychological disorder to an actual reappearance of Layla. But what actually happened stunned me and kept me off guard as I read. I couldn’t stop turning pages to see what would eventually unfold. A 5 star read.


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

COFFEE MORNING ON SATURDAY: REMINISCING…

Nothing tastes better than morning coffee, and I love having mine in this little office nook, with the new TV playing nearby…

***

***

On Thursday, I wrote a post called Coffee Morning:  Hot Day Ahead, and I mused about how I’ve lived in these parts for almost 46 years.

I wanted to share another photo from back in those early days, but couldn’t find it anywhere!  Which reminds me that I really need to better organize my online photos…by date, at least.  I’m doing that now, but the older ones were missing those vital details, so despite searching through endless folders, I couldn’t find the one I wanted.  What do you bet that I’ll find it now?  LOL

Meanwhile,  I went to the source of the photo:  the album.  I have a stack of old albums on a closet shelf.  I found and scanned this picture…to spotlight the three boys, with the youngest one in his ORANGE backpack.  We were spending the day in Roeding Park, where they have Storyland, the zoo, boat rides, etc.  This photo was snapped in May 1972.

 

***

I never go to that park anymore.  It has run down a bit…although I did read that the zoo was undergoing some improvements.

Back then, we were living in one of the outer small towns, 70 miles from the city…and I hated that town!  It was always surrounded by fog and tumbleweeds.  It reminded me of that town in Texas, the setting for the movie The Last Picture Show, which, incidentally, was playing then in the dust-filled theater in that town.

 

I couldn’t wait to get out…and we actually did move from there a few months later.  To the city with this park and a few other amenities I enjoyed.

A peek at the interior world back then….before we moved to the city.  Posters and beads…and leopard print pillows.

 

***

Avocado green was another favorite color back then…and note the stacking plastic bins.  They were old Carnation containers for products.  We got them from a dairy in Northern California before we moved.  We also used them for the kids’ toys.

 

***

Back to reality, the 21st Century.  I’m still reading The Sunshine Sisters, having finished Good Me, Bad Me yesterday (click title for review).

 

***

Earlier today I discovered an upcoming release from another favorite author:  Diane Chamberlain.    The Stolen Marriage is an emotionally captivating novel of secrets, betrayals, prejudice, and forgiveness. It showcases Diane Chamberlain at the top of her talent.

One mistake, one fateful night, and Tess DeMello’s life is changed forever. It is 1944. Pregnant, alone, and riddled with guilt, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly gives up her budding career as a nurse and ends her engagement to the love of her life, unable to live a lie. Instead, she turns to the baby’s father for help and agrees to marry him, moving to the small, rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows her no affection. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry but see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain. When one of the town’s golden girls dies in a terrible accident, everyone holds Tess responsible. But Henry keeps his secrets even closer now, though it seems that everyone knows something about him that Tess does not.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes Hickory, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess knows she is needed and defies Henry’s wishes to begin working at there. Through this work, she begins to find purpose and meaning. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle the truth behind her husband’s mysterious behavior and find the love— and the life—she was meant to have?

***

I love finding upcoming releases from old and new favorite authors.  What have you discovered lately?  What are you reading?

What moments in the past remind you of who you once were?

***

REVIEW: AMHERST, BY WILLIAM NICHOLSON

18775483

 

 

When Alice Dickinson takes time off from her job in advertising to write a screenplay about the late Emily Dickinson (no relative), she is excited. Her research takes her to Amherst, Massachusetts, and she almost immediately meets Nick Crocker, a fifty-something academic who has a bit of a reputation.

Somehow she finds herself staying in his huge house, and despite all of her best laid plans, she is soon involved in a love affair with him. But where is his wife, and why is she absent?

Amherst: A Novel is an engaging story that sweeps back and forth through time, showing the reader the little circle of friends (and some enemies) that surround Emily and her sister Vinnie, as well as her brother Austin.

Austin is married to Sue, but unhappily…and with Emily and Vinnie’s encouragement, he is soon involved with Mabel Todd, who seems to be in an open relationship with her husband David.

From journals she discovered in her research, Alice feels almost as if she is right there with the primary players in the scandalous and sexy liaisons of the past. Could the people from that time have been as free and easy as they seemed? Would her own values change as she learned more about them? And could her peek into the past have released her from her own inhibitions?

I did enjoy how Mabel seemed to be a champion for Emily’s poems, discovered after her death in a stuffed drawer. When some publishers turned her away, she kept searching until she finally found one. I liked this part of the story as much (or more) than the love affair, which may have been a bit scandalous for the times, but was nothing I hadn’t read about before, with other players. In some ways, that part of the story lagged for me, and even the alternating time periods didn’t really engage me.

Then, near the end, as Alice and Nick meet again after their love story ends, as Alice seeks closure, Nick’s thoughts to her on love seemed interesting to me:

“…We think there’s someone out there who can make us happy, someone who’ll make us complete, but that’s not how it works. We think not getting what we want is the problem, but it’s the wanting that’s the problem. We want the whole world to feed us…There’s no end to its hunger. We end up as slaves, chained to our hunger, doomed to service its bottomless need forever. There’s only one way out of that. You have to break the chain…”

I liked that twist on love, and in the end, Alice discovered a way of framing the events of her story about Mabel and Austin to give them an intriguing slant. These last moments elevated my take on the story to 4 stars.