SHARING LIFE’S MOMENTS WITH FRIENDS — A REVIEW

As they sit on an air mattress in an empty apartment drinking Tequila shots to celebrate their friend’s move to Boston, these best friends remind me of moments—and friendships–in my own life. Friendships I cherished and great times we had.

Throughout Girls in White Dresses, I found several vignettes that I could relate to, even though it has been many years since I was in that age group—twenty to thirty. But I remember it well, and laughed out loud at the dialogue between the characters.

As the chapters flipped from one set of friends to another, I sometimes had to check back to find out just who Lauren or Shannon was…or some of the others. They were not often clearly differentiated from one another in my mind. Probably the one who felt the most clearly defined to me was Isabella.

But throughout the book, themes of friendship, dating, careers, and marriage filled the pages—along with many weddings, showers, and assorted get-togethers. I liked remembering these kinds of events in my own life and laughed or smiled when I could identify with several of the feelings described.

I was interested all the way through, and especially enjoyed the ending. The relationships had not all been resolved, just like in real life. Things were still uncertain and the women were still floundering a little bit. I enjoyed this read, and gave it four stars…mainly because of the character confusion I felt at times.

DEFINING MOMENTS THAT ALTER OUR LIVES….

Seven-year-old Leo lies in a hospital bed, comatose, after a seemingly minor accident followed by surgery. By his bedside, his mother Nova recalls the moments of their lives together. But once upon a time, long ago in her own childhood, she and her best friend Mal were like two sides of one coin. Their bond was strong and one that they thought would never be broken.

Through flashbacks, we see the journey of Nova and Mal, how they gradually forged separate lives in their adulthood, while still maintaining a very strong connection. When Mal met Stephanie, however, things changed—just a bit. And when he married her, Nova knew that their relationship, with its strong friendship bonds, had morphed into something else—a friendship that now included the three of them.

The collision course that severs the connections between them begins when Stephanie and Mal want a baby, but Stephanie cannot have her own; they know that adoption will not be possible because of Stephanie’s history and emotional problems. They approach Nova, asking her to carry their baby. After much thought and considerable anguish, Nova agrees.

Eight years later, Nova is raising her son Leo alone. What happened and how did everything go wrong?

Answering those questions fills the pages of this compelling novel that probes below the surface, peeling back the layers to finally reveal the hidden motivations that altered all of their lives.

Will Mal finally meet his son and join the others at his bedside? Will his presence heal the wounds? And will the tragedy finally change the future for all of them?

The characters were richly detailed, with all the flaws and strengths of real people. Sometimes I felt very frustrated with each of them, as their inability to clearly communicate their thoughts and feelings to each other led to the breakdown of their relationships. None of them revealed the complete truth. When Mal told Nova that he and Stephanie had changed their minds about the baby, he would not (or could not) tell the whole story. When Stephanie said she no longer could take the baby, the reasons she gave were not completely true, either.

And afterwards, while Nova was raising her son alone, she didn’t share any of the details with her family, her husband Keith (whom she married after her son was born), or even her closest friends.

Told in the first-person narrative of Nova, and then Stephanie, we gradually come to understand each of the women. Alternating first-person voice is not unusual, but in this novel, each chapter began without anything to identify whose “voice” was spotlighted. Sometimes it took two or three paragraphs to figure it out, which altered my enjoyment of the story. The flow was not as smooth as I would have liked.

Because of this somewhat confusing writing style, I decided to award four stars. I would still recommend it to anyone who enjoys tales of friendship, family, and the defining moments that change our lives.

WHEN PAST AND PRESENT COLLIDE

When two distinguished guests are invited to a special ceremony, they will be meeting for the first time in three decades. In fact, neither of the two knows for sure that the other will be there.

In the beginning moments of the book, we meet one of them who is at a different event, presenting an award-winning book. We see that she is used to the spotlight—she is even boldly dressed and seems confident in her place at the podium. This woman is Ailsa Kelman and she seems created for public life.

Then we focus on the other one—Humphrey Clark—who is traveling toward the event on a train. He seems plagued by all kinds of physical manifestations of his anxiety about the event, although he seems convinced that he is coming down with a cold. But then he realizes that nostalgia may be at play.

Over the next few chapters, we then see these characters as they reflect on the past, on the childhood summers in England’s North Sea area, in the town where the special event will be held. Ailsa and Humphrey actually only spent one summer together in that town, along with Ailsa’s brother and another child, Sandy Clegg; as each character reminisces, we see quite divergent experiences from each person’s perspective.

Later in the book, we realize that their paths actually crossed again a few years later, when they were in their twenties. Something surprising happens between them, an event that few people know about.

We travel with these characters through their memories and also follow their moments toward the final ceremony, where much is revealed. Surprising secrets are unveiled.

Throughout the book, I enjoyed some of the stories and nostalgic moments. But sometimes these reflections went on so long that I was bored with the tedium of the past. I enjoyed most of Ailsa’s reflections, but Humphrey’s memories seemed laced with boring descriptions of scientific experiments. Perhaps these experiences were a mirror of his persona, which might explain the tedium. I did not like this character, and only minimally enjoyed Ailsa.

In fact, The Sea Lady felt like a long journey I had to get through, perhaps like the journey the characters were taking toward their ceremonial destination.

I probably would have abandoned the book at some point, except that I was curious. So, while I didn’t really enjoy most of it, I kept plugging along. For this reason, I will give the book a 3.5 starred review.

YES, YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN…

This book is part of a wonderfully cozy series by the author Adriana Trigiani. My very first one was Big Stone Gap: A Novel (Ballantine Reader’s Circle), so naturally, when I saw this one in the library, I had to have it.

In the story, Ave Maria Mulligan MacChesney is twenty years older than she was in the last one. Her daughter Etta is grown, she has lost one of her children in early childhood, and she is dealing with all kinds of losses.

Her daughter is living in Italy, which is too far away, as far as Ave Maria is concerned. Her husband is exploring work that she finds repugnant. And then, suddenly, he is faced with health issues.

Meanwhile, her best friend Iva Lou has been keeping a big secret for all the time they’ve known each other—and before—so finding this out causes Ave Maria to question everything about the friendship.

Then, a mysterious person appears…

Just as you might expect, this story, which plunks us right down in the middle of the beautiful Big Stone Gap setting, brings up painful issues that could seemingly threaten the very world of these wonderful characters.

I loved Home to Big Stone Gap: A Novel (Big Stone Gap Novels) just as much as the first book and I’m definitely going to be adding more books to my list. Five stars!

WHAT YOU FIND AFTER YOUR WORLD FALLS APART…

When your whole world turns upside down with three little words, you’d think that nothing else can affect you so deeply. But after her cancer diagnosis, Natalie Miller’s boyfriend Ned is out the door so quickly, it’s almost as if he wasn’t ever there. Plus, her high-powered job with a senator is “on hold” while she recovers, and then over the months that follow, with the ravages of chemotherapy and all the accompanying side effects to being ill, Natalie begins to look at everything in her life with new eyes.

Writing in a diary, something suggested by her therapist, she begins to look below the surface and reexamine all of her relationships, as well as many of the choices she’s made.

Rediscovering what remains after—it’s all kind of like going to a Lost and Found Department to scrounge through the assorted items and picking out long-forgotten treasures and tossing aside things that weren’t really important after all.

What I loved most about The Department of Lost & Found was the first-person voice of Natalie, who is brave, funny, persistent, and willing to really look at herself. Finding herself after cancer is a journey that offers unexpected rewards along the way.

This one definitely earned five stars.

EXPLORING THE BONDS OF FRIENDSHIP VS. FAMILY — “Surrender, Dorothy”

In a mustard-colored house in the Hamptons, four friends gather every August. They are thirty-something these days, and sometimes, they can scarcely bear to revisit the dilapidated and somewhat trashy house. But sentiment and habit draw them back every year.

But this year will be a very different one for Peter, Maddy, Adam and Sara. In the first week of this, their summer retreat, Sara will die in a car accident.

It happens when Sara and Adam are returning from buying ice cream at the Fro-Z-Cone shop. As the effects of this tragedy ripple through all their lives, the after shock also envelopes Sara’s mother Natalie more than any of them. Natalie and Sara have been like a “twosome” of us against the world, ever since Natalie split from her husband many years before. They share many intimate deals of each other’s lives in a way that suggests some boundary issues. They talk by phone almost every day, with a unique greeting—”Surrender, Dorothy.” Like a code, formed years before when they watched The Wizard of Oz over and over.

So now in her grief, Natalie impulsively goes out to the little house on the beach, just to see where Sara was in her last moments. And the friends invite her to stay on.

What unfolds in the weeks that follow will remind everyone of the fragility of life, the bonds that connect friends and family, and the boundaries that need to be rebuilt.

Will Natalie learn how to live without Sara? What will Peter, Maddy, and Adam discover about themselves without their friend? And finally, will they all grow up at last and put an end to what now feels like an extended adolescence?

Surrender, Dorothy: A Novel was a very quick and poignant read. I had already seen a movie based on this book a few times, and couldn’t read the book without envisioning Diane Keaton as Natalie (the mother). What I liked about the book that wasn’t part of the movie was how the author shared bits and pieces of back story for the characters as we met them, or in moments when they were pondering their lives.

Pleasant and enjoyable, and I would give it four stars…or 4.5.

WHEN FRIENDS BECOME FAMILY — A Review of “The Friday Night Knitting Club”

“The Friday Night Knitting Club,” by Kate Jacobs, is a book that invites you in, like a friend. You curl up right next to the others who are shopping and attending this club event at a yarn store.

Georgia Walker is a single mom to a biracial child named Dakota. She was abandoned before the baby was even born, twelve years before. When she had to support herself and her daughter, she worked odd jobs, but did knitting for people. Through some strokes of luck and financing, she managed to open her shop, which she calls Walker and Daughter, on New York’s Upper West Side. Her shop—and her apartment—are in a building whose bottom floor is occupied by Marty Popper and his delicatessen. He, too, is like family.

Anita Lowenstein happens to have been her benefactor who lent her money to start the business, and has become like her right hand/mother figure, etc. Anita found her crying on a bench all those years ago after her boyfriend James Foster left her.

Nowadays, the shop is a bustling business, but what sets it apart from other shops is the cozy atmosphere, which morphs into this gathering place for knitters (incidentally, on Friday nights). More than a club, the knitting group is a place where the women share their lives.

Then when Georgia’s ex and a friend from the past—someone who betrayed her!—show up out of the blue, she begins to think that her world as she knows it is coming undone.

What will Georgia do, and what surprises are in store for her? How will a trip to Scotland to visit her granny offer a unique perspective on her life and her choices?

When you reach the final pages of this cozy book, you won’t want it to end. Which is why I gave it five stars.

DESIGNING WOMEN — A Review of “The Way Men Act”

When Melinda LeBlanc returns home to Harrow after years away and approaching thirty, she is almost licking her wounds. Life after her high school popularity hasn’t turned out the way she’d hoped. She has moved in with her mother and started a career as a designing florist—but working for her cousin and his wife.

This last part sticks in her craw, but she relishes her creativity and popularity as a designer, and the venues she enjoys—weddings, etc.—and her proximity to a certain musician offer some consolation. While he is not The One, he is certainly Mr. Right Now.

Then she enjoys a one-night-stand with an old high school athlete and next-door businessman, Dennis Vaughan, but even though she wants more from their relationship, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Add to the mix her old high-school friend Libby Getchel, whose vintage dress design shop is next door, and there would supposedly be friendship and commiseration in large quantities. But not so much.

When disappointing events turn out to be devastating for her career and seemingly for her love life, Melinda has to reinvent herself as a designer. But unexpectedly, love turns out to be right in front of her.

What seemingly negative events turn into a positive for Melinda? And what confrontations lead to freedom?

The Way Men Act: A Novel was a surprisingly fun and quick read, earning five stars for humor, drama, and unexpected happenings.

A COZY TALE — A Review of “8 Sandpiper Way”

In this delightful book, “8 Sandpiper Way,” we are introduced to a cast of characters so charming and homey that they could be your friends and/or neighbors.  This one begins with a letter addressed to “Dear Reader,” from a distraught woman named Emily Flemming.  She suspects that her husband—the minister, no less!—is having an affair.

We are then launched into the day-to-day lives of this town’s residents, and with each snippet of their lives, we become more and more invested in them.  From their romances to their illnesses, from their wishes and dreams to their worries and troubles, we come to care about them.

This Cedar Cove tale is not the newest one of Debbie Macomber’s, since it’s been on my TBR stack for awhile.  But I enjoyed it tremendously, and at the conclusion, there were some loose ends and an announcement of the next book, which will pick up these loose threads and weave them into another cozy tale.  The next one will surely go on my wish list.

Like all of her books, this one of Macomber’s earns five stars from me!

FRIENDSHIP TESTED — CAN IT SURVIVE?

Four aspiring writers who met at a writers’ conference maintain their friendship several years later. Their individual writing careers are varied, but problems of one kind or another plague each of them.

Mallory St. James has “bestseller” status, but she has hit a glitch. Writer’s block. Kendall Aims has failed to win an award that would have made a difference, and her publisher is dumping her. And so is her husband. But she has to write one more book, in the midst of the chaos of her life. Tanya Mason, single mother, juggles two jobs, two kids, and a difficult mother. Faye Truett is the wife of a famous televangelist and writes inspirational romances, but beneath this pristine exterior is an explosive secret.

Imagine the furor that arises when the four collaborate on Kendall’s final novel for her publisher, and then the secret of this effort ( and so much more!) is unveiled in a most unfortunate way. And the fallout extends throughout all of their lives.

One of the most captivating aspects of this novel is the author’s ability to rein the reader into the lives of the characters, detailing every moment and unfolding snippets of backstory and motivation at just the right junctures. When we are totally invested in events, she drops each bomb for maximum impact. Reading late at night and waking up early each morning, I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

Winding down to a very satisfying conclusion, I was poised for more. There has to be a sequel!

For The Accidental Bestseller, I vote five stars—definitely!