REVIEW: NORMAL PEOPLE, BY SALLY ROONEY

Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town, but the similarities end there. At school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation—awkward but electrifying—something life changing begins.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

There was something very painful about watching the way Connell and Marianne came together and pulled apart over time. The push and pull of their connection to one another was like a dance, but one that was awkward and hurtful. Normal People felt so ironic, in that the two of them seemed to go out of their way to avoid connecting with each other.

Their inability to communicate their true feelings felt like a phase in the beginning since the young often cannot say what they truly mean to one another. Their near misses could “normally” be this off in the adolescent stages, but these two kept up their blundering and stumbling shuffle for many years, well into college and beyond.

Their disparate backgrounds and dysfunctional families did not help them learn better ways to be together, but in the end, I gave a painful sigh when they stumbled upon ways to talk to one another in a halting fashion. Finally.

This book was difficult to read, not only because of the constantly shifting emotions, but the writing style was off-putting, with its absence of quotation marks that made the communication seem even more challenging to follow. A worthwhile read, once the reader gets through the “stumbling” parts. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: “TWENTY-ONE TRUTHS ABOUT LOVE,” BY MATTHEW DICKS

 

 

Daniel Mayrock’s life is at a crossroads. He knows the following to be true:

1. He loves his wife Jill… more than anything.
2. He only regrets quitting his job and opening a bookshop a little (maybe more than a little)
3. Jill is ready to have a baby.
4. The bookshop isn’t doing well. Financial crisis is imminent. Dan doesn’t know how to fix it.
5. Dan hasn’t told Jill about their financial trouble.
6. Then Jill gets pregnant.

This heartfelt story is about the lengths one man will go to and the risks he will take to save his family. But Dan doesn’t just want to save his failing bookstore and his family’s finances:

1. Dan wants to do something special.
2. He’s a man who is tired of feeling ordinary.
3. He’s sick of feeling like a failure.
4. He doesn’t want to live in the shadow of his wife’s deceased first husband.

Dan is also an obsessive list maker; his story unfolds entirely in his lists, which are brimming with Dan’s hilarious sense of humor, unique world-view, and deeply personal thoughts. When read in full, his lists paint a picture of a man struggling to be a man, a man who has reached a point where he’s willing to do anything for the love (and soon-to-be new love) of his life.

 

 

My Thoughts:  While I am also a list maker, I did not connect that well with this book of lists. The narrator’s lists were intriguing, but after reading just a few chapters, I was feeling overwhelmed and a little bored.

I recommend Twenty-One Truths About Love for those who might enjoy this format. Perhaps I would love it at another point in my life, but right now, my own life is about lists and appointments. Need I say more?  3 stars.

***I received my e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

 

CAN SHE START OVER AFTER A BETRAYAL? — EXCERPTED FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

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Out of the blue, a former lover calls to invite Martha to lunch.  What is he up to?  Excerpted from Interior Designs.

***

Meeting up with Zach at our favorite little bistro reminded me of all those times in the past.

 
He was already there when I arrived, and waved me over.  He stood up and pulled out my chair in a way that reminded me of some kind of prince.  Or a gallant hero in a book I might read.

 
Smiling, I waited for him to outline the agenda.  Was this going to be a business lunch or something else?

 
“Okay, first things first,” he began and grinned.  “May I tell you how gorgeous you look today?  Even more luminous than I recall from the past, and you were definitely a shining example of womanhood then.”  His eyes twinkled.

 
“Thanks, Zach, but what’s going on with you?  I haven’t heard from you in ages…so why now?”

 
“You get right to the point, don’t you?  Okay, I missed you.  That’s all.  I can’t believe that I let you slip away.  There’s just something really special about you that reminds me of the beautiful moments in life….”

 
Not knowing how to respond, I just sat there.  My first thought was that he sounded too charming.  Like someone who was planning a coup.  Now why would I be so suspicious?  Was it just because he had abruptly stopped calling, or was it my own wounded pride from my marriage ending?  That feeling you get when someone betrays you.  Nothing can completely salvage the heart after such an event; the after effects include vulnerability and suspicion.

 
So, instead of responding, I smiled and shrugged, hiding my true feelings.

 
He leaned in and grasped my hand.  “Do you think you could forgive me for my poor judgment?  Is it possible that we can put together a relationship after all?”

 
“Maybe.”  I finally managed to form the tentative response that didn’t really promise much, but offered up the possibility.

 
Apparently satisfied, he began talking about how much he enjoyed the space I had recreated for him.  How guests always asked who his designer was, and how he was so happy to be able to refer many others to me.

 
I started to loosen up, and when the server approached, I ordered a martini.  Not one of my usual additions to a midday repast, but one I’d been enjoying from time to time.  My favorite, a Pomegranate Martini, was soon placed in front of me.  By then, Zach had his Scotch, so we toasted.  As if this were some kind of celebration.

 
Not completely won over, I began to come around.  Or maybe it was the second martini that turned my head.

 
Later I would ask myself how I could have succumbed to his charms…again!

 

But I was withholding judgment until more information was available to me.

 
We walked slowly to the parking lot afterwards, which reminded me of how this whole thing had started months ago.  That moment when he’d leaned in to kiss me.  Would he do that again?  I felt nervous, as if I were waiting for a first kiss.  My insides trembled.  But I thought I should act as if nothing would happen.

 
So I unlocked my car door and started to slide in.  But he leaned toward me, capturing my gaze before he placed the most spine-tingling kiss ever on my waiting lips.  Had that happened?  Had I been waiting for this, despite what I’d been telling myself?

 
He grasped my hand, held it gently, and kissed me again.

 
“I’ll call you,” he whispered.

***

 

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***

BOOK REVIEW: BROKEN HOMES & GARDENS, BY REBECCA KELLEY

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How does one fall in love and commit to anyone when everything in one’s experience shouts that nothing works? Nothing lasts?

Joanna Robinson has been flailing about, trying new places to live and new careers, and then she lands in Portland, Oregon, staying at first in her sister Laura’s laundry room/closet, until she finally finds an apartment. The description of the apartment as sparse and bare were understatements. It sounded grim.

Joanna’s ideas about love and relationships might have been born of her childhood experiences with divorced parents. But must the children of divorce be so afraid, so cynical?

Malcolm Martin is the friend of Ted, Laura’s fiancé, whom Laura marries shortly after the book begins. Malcolm leaves for the Peace Corps almost immediately after he and Joanna meet, and they write letters to one another. But what happens when he returns? Are they together, or are they just friends?

Finally Joanna buys a house, but it is also grim…until she and Malcolm arrive at an agreement to live together as friends, and he will help fix it up.

Broken Homes and Gardens tugged at my heartstrings…who wouldn’t root for Joanna and Malcolm, even though they seem to be their own worst enemies? When others enter the canvas and insert themselves between them, will they succeed? Or will Joanna and Malcolm arrive at some “When Harry Met Sally” moment? I really enjoyed seeing inside Joanna’s head and trying to understand how she arrived at her decisions.

Sometimes her choices seemed a little off the wall, but her quirkiness was fun. In the end, there were some predictable moments, but on the way to the denouement, I wasn’t entirely sure how things would turn out, which made the journey satisfying. 4 stars.

REVIEW: SMOKE, BY CATHERINE MCKENZIE

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Elizabeth Martin and Ben Jansen have struggled in recent years, as her firefighting and secrets from her past threaten to erode what they have. Now as an arson investigator, Elizabeth works closer to home, but her work still consumes her.

Mindy and Peter Mitchell have two children they adore, but since she stopped working, domesticity and her fears have taken up the spaces her job once held. She worries about her daughter Carrie who had a hole in her heart at birth, and about Angus, a teen whose sulkiness hints at something dark and frightening.

One night in the beautiful village in the Rockies, a wildfire takes on a life of its own, ravaging the hills and the nearby Cooper Basin, threatening their town and their homes.

When one man’s home is destroyed, Elizabeth is pulled into studying the origin of the fire, bringing out the town’s wrath as naming the suspects could shake their foundations.

Smoke is a story about families, about relationships, and about the physical and emotional events in life that can derail them. It also reveals much about friendships and the tests that cause them to unravel. I found myself caught up in the lives of the characters, wondering about their secrets and what had pulled apart these two formerly best friends, Elizabeth and Mindy. A book that captured me from the opening pages and held me until the very end, this one earned 5 stars.

***I received an e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: MY DEAREST FRIEND, BY NANCY THAYER

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Daphne Miller is suffering the many losses of her life, beginning with the divorce years before and complicated by the recent loss of her 16-year-old daughter, Cynthia, who decided to go live with her father in California. The same father who did not even bother to keep in touch for the fourteen years since the divorce.

Yes, the teenage years with her daughter had been difficult and challenging, but she’d never believed that Cynthia would betray her this way.

She moved to a small cottage in Plover, Vermont, less expensive than anything she could find in Westhampton, MA, where she works as a secretary for the university.

That is another loss that leaves a bitter taste…she had given up her own dreams of finishing her Ph.D., to support the family until her husband Joe’s career was secure. And with the divorce, she lost the family home.

Now that her new life offers her the opportunity to start over, she has made a new friend, Jack Hamilton, a young professor who lives in the A-frame down the hill with his wife Carey Ann and their toddler Alexandra. She enjoys talking to him, and he seems to seek her out as well.

Could more happen between them? Daphne has fought this, because she has been on the receiving end of betrayal, when her husband Joe had an affair all those years ago.

Weaving back and forth across time, we learn more about what happened between Joe and Daphne, and why the betrayal felt especially painful, and we see how the ordinary day in and day out hassles led to the erosion of the marriage.

My Dearest Friend unfolds to reveal characters who remind me of people I have known, and the situations in which they find themselves are all too familiar as well. I liked how vividly each character was portrayed, from the spoiled and petulant Carey Ann and her inability to see how allowing her toddler to control the lives of those around her was harming her, to Daphne’s manipulative best friend Laura, from back in the day, whose machinations were so well hidden that nobody could see them coming. And let us not overlook Hudson Jennings, head of the English department, who has had feelings for Daphne for years, but cannot leave his ill wife. Then there are the histrionics of teenaged Cynthia, whose behavior was very reminiscent of many girls her age that I’ve known. I felt as though I was part of the community that surrounded the characters, and connected with them emotionally.

Set some time in the 1980s, the absence of current day technology and devices made the story feel very nostalgic for me. And the fact that it was actually written during this time period made it all even more realistic. There were no cell phones and not that many answering machines. People could ignore the phone! Bliss…

Themes of choice, morality, guilt, and regret kept the story grounded in reality, and one that I will think of often. 4.5 stars.

FROM THE INTERIOR: INTROS/TEASERS – “THE WEDNESDAY GROUP”

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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.

It is time for our happy dance!  Let’s grab our books and share those excerpts.  Mine today is an ARC from Amazon Vine:  The Wednesday Group, by Sylvia True.

 

 

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Intro:  (Lizzy)

The wind howls, then quiets to a gray whisper.  Lizzy pauses in front of the bedroom door holding a bottle of wine and two goblets.  Her casual nightshirt shows off her long legs.  If this marriage is going to survive, they need to reconnect.

She opens the door and stands at the foot of the bed.  Though fifty-two, Greg could still pass for thirty-five.  He has a full head of dirty blond hair, a boyish grin, and healthy skin, no age spots, no circles under his brown eyes.

“Thought you might want some wine,” she says.

“What kind?”  He sits up a little.

“Chardonnay.”

“I guess.”

Although she senses his hesitation, she manages to smile and begins to pour.

“That’s enough.”  He holds out his hand.

There’s still plenty of time.  He’s always been a slow starter, although she’d thought that would change after he confessed.

***

Teaser:  She curls under the eiderdown.  The room smells like stale wine.  The beginnings of a migraine nag at her temple.  (p.4).

***

Amazon Description:  Gail. Hannah. Bridget. Lizzy. Flavia. Each of them has a shameful secret, and each is about to find out that she is not alone… Gail, a prominent Boston judge, keeps receiving letters from her husband’s latest girlfriend, while her husband, a theology professor, claims he’s nine-months sober from sex with grad students. Hannah, a homemaker, catches her husband having sex with a male prostitute in a public restroom. Bridget, a psychiatric nurse at a state hospital, is sure she has a loving, doting spouse, until she learns that he is addicted to chat rooms and match-making websites. Lizzy, a high school teacher, is married to a porn addict, who is withdrawn and uninterested in sex with her. Flavia was working at the Boston Public library when someone brought her an article that stated her husband had been arrested for groping a teenage girl on the subway. He must face court, and Flavia must decide if she wants to stay with him. Finally, Kathryn, the young psychologist running the group, has as much at stake as all of the others.

As the women share never-before-uttered secrets and bond over painful truths, they work on coming to terms with their husbands’ addictions and developing healthy boundaries for themselves. Meanwhile, their outside lives become more and more intertwined, until, finally, a series of events forces each woman to face her own denial, betrayal and uncertain future head-on.

***

What are your thoughts?  Does this one grab you?

***

REVIEW: THE OPPOSITE OF MAYBE, BY MADDIE DAWSON

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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: STILTSVILLE, BY SUSANNA DANIEL

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It was a sunny time in 1969 when Atlanta native Frances Ellerby attended a wedding in Miami and met a group of people who would become the center of her life for decades.

The community of houses built on pilings in Biscayne Bay would also be a part of their lives. Stiltsville: A Novel is the story of that life and those times, and the journey follows them as they change, as the world around them morphs into something quite different from what they knew in the beginning.

Hurricanes, racial tensions and violence, and the ebb and flow of relationships remind us all that life can be unpredictable, but at its core are certain blessings that can remain, even after loss.

The story was narrated in the first person voice of Frances, and we can feel the bonds she develops and sustains over the years: with Dennis, whom she marries; with Marse, the friend she met at the wedding, and an assorted cast of characters that feel real and substantial, including Margo, the beloved daughter who would enrich their lives.

In some ways, the story was revealed in a linear fashion over the years and the decades, but then there were the occasional flashbacks and anecdotal tidbits that helped fill out the moments. In the beginning, it was like a very slow opening of a flower, with not much action. Just the ordinary moments in life. I came to love the characters and feel a connection to them. I laughed and cried with them. The story is one I won’t forget. Five stars.


REVIEW: CIRCLING MY MOTHER, BY MARY GORDON

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As a way of knowing and understanding her mother, the author of Circling My Mother takes us on a journey through the various phases of her mother’s life. Her life in relation to her daughter, but also to various other people, including her parents, her siblings, her husband, her boss of many years, and even the priests she admired along the way.

As a young woman, a young mother, a child among many siblings, and in relation to the other people in her life, her world.

Also as a woman disabled by polio she contracted at age three. How her disabilities affected her life, her perception of herself, and her daughter’s perception of her.

How do the various experiences of the woman, Anna, child of an Irish mother and Italian father, come together to create who she was in her life? Did the pain and anguish of her life turn her into a bitter drunk? Was the senility of her last eleven years a way of coping, of distancing herself from the pain?

As suggested by the title, the journey is a circular one, beginning as the author visits an exhibition of Bonnard’s paintings in a museum. His painting called The Bathroom, was created in 1908, the same year that Anna was born. And on the day of this museum visit, the author is also planning her mother’s ninetieth birthday celebration. A celebration Anna will unlikely experience in any real way, because of her dementia.

In the end, and after her mother’s death, the author revisits Bonnard, and tries to make sense of the parallels she observes between the paintings and her mother’s life.

It is always difficult to truly understand one’s parents, and especially when there were challenges in the relationships.

Sometimes the ambivalence we feel for them distorts what we see. The author here has done a great job of trying to clearly deconstruct her mother’s life and world, including the contradictions in her world view. Her Catholic experiences juxtaposed against her love of pleasurable things. Her work ethic. Her sense of responsibility and independence. The fears brought on by her body’s betrayal, because of the polio, and then later, as she lost most of her abilities, and her awareness. When being independent is a strong value, the loss of it is especially painful.

Sections of the book were tedious, in my opinion, but to give dimension to her portrait of her mother, each part had its place. But nevertheless, because of the tedium, I am granting three stars.