Reading · romantic comedy

A JOURNEY OF SELF-DISCOVERY — A Review of “The Next Thing on My List”

A young woman gives another woman a lift—they’ve just met at a Weight Watchers meeting—and tragically, there is an accident and the passenger is killed.

This is how June Parker, an employee at a ridesharing company, finds a list belonging to Marissa Jones, her deceased passenger…in the personal effects afterwards. It is a list of twenty-five things Marissa wanted to do before her twenty-fifth birthday (she was twenty-four when she died). Two things are already crossed off. And to assuage her guilt and to possibly change the course of her own life, June decides to complete Marissa’s list. June’s own obituary, she decides, would say something like this: June Parker, on-and-off-again girlfriend, midlevel employee, and lifelong underachiever, died waiting for something to happen…

Following June’s journey through Marissa’s list is funny, exciting, suspenseful, and eventually…well, telling too much would spoil the fun. Anyone anywhere who has ever felt like nothing important has ever happened to them will totally relate to June’s task. And will root for her along the way, even while hoping that finally she will find whatever it is she is looking for.

The Next Thing on My List: A Novel was a quick read that I could not put down, so of course I’m giving it five stars.

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family drama · historic events · Reading

SMALL AND LARGE MIRACLES — A Review of “The Handmaid and the Carpenter”

Elizabeth Berg’s The Handmaid and the Carpenter: A Novel is a richly detailed saga of an historic time and a Biblical couple; it is a tale that she has imbued with her special skill of immediacy and an everyday voice, and as a result, we can visualize this young couple as they struggle with the effects of a miraculous conception on their relationship and their lives.

We follow them in their journey to Bethlehem and the events that unfold there, just as we come to see the other small and large miracles that accompany them throughout their lives together. And we watch as Joseph’s doubts rise up again, and how, finally, he comes to believe.

This brief and powerful account is memorable and evocative, and one which adds another dimension to Berg’s body of work.

Five stars!

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WHEN AN EPIPHANY CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE — A Review of “The Happiness Project”

What would happen if one day you had an epiphany in the unlikeliest of places—a city bus? “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Thus begins Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, in which, for one full year, she dedicates herself to making herself happier without significantly changing anything about her circumstances. Her changes came in the form of resolutions that would help her change her life, one step at a time. The first of her twelve commandments was “Be Gretchen,” an important lesson for all of us. If we know what we like and what makes us feel good, we should only pursue resolutions that are based on our own needs.

Rubin’s resolutions were based on the following actions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, and forget about results.

Illuminating and entertaining, Rubin speaks to us in the voice of a friend (or neighbor) as she details her progress. One important lesson she learned: “If I keep my resolutions and do the things that make me happier, I end up feeling happier and acting more virtuously. Do good, feel good; feel good, do good.” Most of what she describes is a way of taking specific actions that result in more positive experiences (and feelings).

Act as if, fake it `til you make it, etc. All are ways of changing and reframing events so that our actions lead to more positivity. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing a voice tone or the wording of a message…from a negative spin to a positive one.

Mindfulness is another aspect of her plan. Finding ways to notice and be aware.

Each chapter is dedicated to a specific month, and for each one, she outlines specific tasks. One of her initial tasks, for example, is finding more energy, which involves getting enough sleep and more exercise. Then she moves on to clearing out the clutter. This is important to her because disorder was a constant drain on her energy.

Chock full of great ideas, I couldn’t even imagine NOT doing this. So I’m thinking that I will dedicate one of my existent blogs to creating my own project. Probably my Obsessions and Compulsions blog!

This book deserves more than five stars.

family drama · Reading · Reading challenge

DECONSTRUCTING A MARRIAGE AND A LIFE

What kind of a couple throws a huge party on their thirty-fifth anniversary to celebrate, not the event itself, but the fact that the marriage is ending? This particular divorce party is marking the end of a coupling that others thought would survive anything—the Huntingtons come from a family of survivors on this island of Montauk. And Gwyn and Thomas seemed to be the perfect couple.

As the guests assemble for this lavish get-together, another couple, just beginning their journey together, is also coming from a home in Red Hook, near Brooklyn, NY. This will be Maggie’s first introduction to her fiancé’s family. Nate has said little about them; in fact he seems unusually reticent.

Then on their trip to Montauk, through a series of chance meetings along the way, Maggie first glimpses some of the secrets Nate has kept from her. The cracks in the thin veneer that protect them are spreading and threatening to burst. Her first doubts appear.

More is revealed in the first days in Montauk, and the journey may abruptly end unless something drastic happens.

Meanwhile, we see Gwyn’s story unfolding, layer by layer, as she relives through memories the journey she and Thomas have taken. And we slowly learn why Gwyn has chosen this particular venue—the divorce party—to mark the demise of the marriage.

Alternately told in Gwyn’s and Maggie’s voices, we discover what it means to build a life with someone and how, by making very different choices, two different women learn how to create the lives they most want to lead.

What are the secrets Nate has kept, that threaten his new relationship? And what motivates Gwyn to choose this very public setting to end hers? Is there more she hopes to unleash? And will she get the results she seeks?

These are some of the questions resolved in these pages, giving The Divorce Party: A Novel a resounding five stars, in my opinion.

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DECONSTRUCTING A FRIENDSHIP — A Review of “A Line Between Friends”

It is a tale of friendship, a story of growing up, and a nostalgic glimpse of the past through the eyes of the present-day characters.

Noelle and Joel were high school and then college friends. Theirs is a relationship of near-misses, bad timing, and immaturity. But for some reason, they each hold onto their friendship, which they describe as like an interrupted sentence.

Then one night, they cross a line. And nothing is ever the same again.

They move onto different pathways, choosing different locales for their adult lives, as well as marital partners. But they pick up the thread of that interrupted sentence in their occasional phone calls and letters.

Looking back and deconstructing their relationship, we come to know the past as it unfolds toward the present in the alternate voices of Noelle and Joel, as they seek to understand the aborted friendship—something that happens when Joel writes a letter to Noelle, cutting off all contact.

It is in the reexamination of this relationship from beginning to end that we come to fully know these characters, and it is this process that strikes a chord of familiarity for the reader. For don’t we all have past relationships that we still remember, still cling to in our minds? And understanding them is essential to closure.

That is the final feeling I had in this story—closure. A very satisfying book that almost feels like a memoir, “A Line Between Friends” is unforgettable.

A definite five-star read.

family drama · Reading · Reading challenge

DRAMA FOR BREAKFAST, LUNCH, AND DINNER — A Review of “Marshmallows for Breakfast”

“Kendra Tamale is looking for a fresh start and a simple life when she rents a room from Kyle Gadsborough.” This is from the front flap.

Well, you know that’s not how things are going to go, right? Trying to hide out, after the mess she left behind in Australia, Kendra’s settling down in the English village of Kent is sure to provide her with the respite she needs. Right? Wrong.

Almost immediately, she is thrust into the daily life of the single father and his adorable, yet feisty, six-year-old twins. It happens when her new landlord invites her to breakfast, and she is thrust into the midst of handling breakfast drama with Summer and Jaxon while their father takes a phone call. A very loud and obviously argumentative phone call.

Soon she is their daily go-to person, since their mother is somewhere else—oh, yeah, New York—and has some mysterious ailment.

We learn more of Kendra’s dramatic story, flashback by flashback, as we also learn about Kyle and his estranged wife Ashlyn.

Thinking this was going to be a light read was very erroneous on my part, but I was pleasantly surprised. It didn’t take long for me to thoroughly invest in Kendra and Kyle, as well as in the twins. The author’s skill at drawing the details of the characters in such a way that we could visualize and experience them had me hooked.

By the time I turned the final page, I felt as though these characters were a part of my life. Marshmallows for Breakfast earned five stars for me.

Reading · Reading challenge

TWISTED PSYCHODRAMA — A Review of “The Wrong Mother”

 

 

Whenever I finally thought I had it all figured out, the author threw another twist into the plot, until finally, as the intrigue seems to be falling into place, it knots itself up again.

A murder mystery, a psychological study—these elements are set against an almost comedic exploration of the police detectives assigned to the case to form a multilayered drama.

There is nothing ordinary about this tale that begins with an affair and ends in death. Whatever might seem to be a predictable scenario is soon found to be anything but, and as we struggle to add up the clues, hoping to finally understand what happened, we keep bumping up against the incongruities, the misdirection, until finally we are desperate just to understand what happened and why.

Sophie Hannah’s story is so brilliantly complex that I could not read it too late at night, for fear of nodding off and missing some key elements.

This is definitely not a pleasure read, despite some actually humorous aspects, like the relationships between the police detectives. A story that kept me on my toes and moving ahead to the final conclusion, The Wrong Mother: A Novel is definitely a five-star read.

 

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THE POWER OF OBSESSIVE LOVE — A Review of “The Thursday Woman”

 

Thursday Woman Covers 001Martha Sullivan appears to have it all—a loving husband and son, an interesting job, and all the comforts.

So what happens to turn her world upside down, so that one day she stumbles inadvertently into a murder trial and finds herself seemingly connected to the defendant?  Connected in a strangely obsessive way.

From the first moment that her eyes meet his, Martha Sullivan is enthralled with Everett Madison, on trial for the horrific murder of his wife Monica.  When he is eventually found guilty and sentenced to a psychiatric evaluation, Martha is totally focused on being with him.

Martha first visits him in county jail, and then risks everything to begin visiting him in prison.  Her husband, her boss, her friends—everyone tries to stop her.  But Martha cannot stop.

From there, she begins several strangely obsessive relationships, including one with an elderly and wealthy woman who pays her to participate in her sex parties.

All of this is directed towards finding the money and the right lawyer to win a new trial for Everett Madison and for his eventual freedom.

So that the two of them can be together.

What happens when she finally succeeds?  Will her faith in this man be realized, or will she, like other women before her, find herself in jeopardy?

In the TV movie based on this book, an interesting twist turned this story into a subplot for the primary tale of the author, Muriel Davidson, and her own psychosexual obsession with a former inmate.  I think I liked the movie better than the book.

There was a certain shock value in these pages, as an ordinary woman’s crumbling psyche transformed the character into someone almost unrecognizable.   And in the story’s end, we did find a ray of hope.  But this is not a book I would ever pick up again.  Therefore, four stars for this tale!

 

 

 

 

 

Blogging · Reading · Reading challenge

DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF CONTENTMENT — A Review of “Bird in Hand”

In a moment, everything changes. One misstep, one wrong choice—then the unthinkable happens.

Alison Granville is leaving a book party for her best friend Claire. In the story of their southern small-town beginnings, Claire has described and defined their relationships, while claiming it is all fiction. Much later, Alison will see all of this more clearly.

Now she is just devastated in the aftermath of a car accident on the way home. She’d only had two drinks at the party, but she took a wrong exit, she was slightly disoriented…and then the other car came barreling through the intersection, through a red light, and everything in all their lives has changed.

In the months that follow, Alison and her husband Charlie seemingly distance themselves from each other. Alison thinks he blames her for the accident and the fallout—but Charlie knows that he is more than a little bit responsible, because he has fallen in love with his wife’s best friend.

Over time, as events unfold and as everything changes, each of the four that were part of a tightly knit friendship circle, come to reflect on how they all began and how everything is transforming itself before their eyes.

The tale is told in alternately past-and-present fashion, with each character’s past and present slowly coming together.

Afterwards, Ben, Claire’s husband, reflects on it all. He thinks: “I could grow to like this life. Maybe all of us could live several lives, giving some things up and gaining others, assembling different versions of contentment. Here in Boston, it isn’t hard to imagine that Claire was simply a part of his life that is over, a stage he went through, a phase, a bloodless leaving—like graduating from college, or quitting one job and starting another, or losing touch with an old friend.”

And Allison, also contemplating the permutations of her life, thinks: “Each moment of loss, she has come to believe, contains within it the possibility of a new life. When the unimaginable happens, and your life changes irrevocably, you may find along with the pain a kind of grace. And in the place of certainty and fear–the fear of losing what you had—you are left with something startling: a depth of empathy, a quivering sensitivity to the world around you, and the unexpected blessing of gratitude for what remains.”

Between the past and the future lie the secrets that unfold to tell this tale—lest the ending seem like a spoiler, it is the pathway to the destination that makes this novel truly unique.

Bird in Hand is a memorable tale that resonates, inasmuch as it brings out the hidden thoughts and feelings that characterize most lives on a day-to-day basis. Definitely a five star read!

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REINVENTING THE PAST

When a young woman flees to New York after a terrifying encounter in the English countryside, she reinvents herself and embarks on a journey that will lead her to fame, love, and good fortune.

But just when everything is finally coming together for her, the mysterious “M” is about to encounter a dark figure from her past–a psychopath with deadly intent who has vowed to shatter her world forever.

As we finally learn M’s true identity and understand the complex dynamics of her famous family, we are intrigued by her history and captivated by the unfolding drama.

Will M find the strength to overcome her past once and for all? And will her unusual family dynamics give her the courage to fight?

What seemingly began as a fluffy, fashion story turned into a mystery, full of conspiracies and dramatic intrigue. We find in Breaking the Rules another masterpiece from the beloved Barbara Taylor Bradford.