REVIEW: BRIDGES, BY MARIA MURNANE

 

It’s a piece of news Daphne never expected to hear: Her globe-trotting friend Skylar, who vowed never to get married, is engaged! Time to celebrate in Manhattan—Skylar’s treat, of course. After years scaling the corporate ladder, she can more than afford it.

Daphne arrives in NYC with news of her own—the novel she’s finally finished appears to be going nowhere but the trash bin of every publishing house around. She’s devastated but plans to keep her disappointment under wraps, something that becomes trickier when she sees Skylar’s spectacular apartment. Could her life have been like this if she’d chosen a different path?

What Daphne doesn’t know is she’s not the only one with a secret. Skylar and their friend KC are also holding something back, but what? As the trip unfolds, the truth about each woman emerges, along with tears.

And laughter. And love.

My Thoughts: Who doesn’t love a great friends’ weekend? I definitely couldn’t wait to curl up with these three college friends for a Manhattan getaway, to celebrate something special, and to reconnect.

Bridges was the kind of story that resonated with me, as I have always enjoyed the special connections that I’ve felt with college friends. Add in the perfect setting of Manhattan, and there is nothing better. Girl talk, sharing secrets, and even trying new things.

Daphne was my favorite character, primarily because she was a single mother and an aspiring author. I loved watching her experience her first trip to Manhattan. I could see Skylar’s world from her perspective, including visualizing the fabulous apartment that she shared with her fiancé James. I walked the streets with her and her friends. From the Brooklyn Bridge to the cute boutiques and flea markets, I felt as though I was along for the ride.

I was a little intimidated by Skylar, and even by her soon-to-be stepdaughter Sloane…until one night when Daphne lost her cool and let Skylar have it. It was inevitable that old feelings of envy might creep into their moments together, but those conflicts made them all feel very real. When envy reared its head, the air was cleared and they grew even closer.

Events unfolded in unexpected ways, and by the end of the weekend, I wanted more. More of the friends and their unique connection, and more about Daphne’s writing experiences. 5 stars.

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

***

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REVIEW: IDAHO, BY EMILY RUSKOVICH

 

Ann and Wade have carved out a life for themselves from a rugged landscape in northern Idaho, where they are bound together by more than love. With her husband’s memory fading, Ann attempts to piece together the truth of what happened to Wade’s first wife, Jenny, and to their daughters. In a story written in exquisite prose and told from multiple perspectives—including Ann, Wade, and Jenny, now in prison—we gradually learn of the mysterious and shocking act that fractured Wade and Jenny’s lives, of the love and compassion that brought Ann and Wade together, and of the memories that reverberate through the lives of every character in Idaho.

In a wild emotional and physical landscape, Wade’s past becomes the center of Ann’s imagination, as Ann becomes determined to understand the family she never knew—and to take responsibility for them, reassembling their lives, and her own.

My Thoughts: In the very beginning of Idaho, we are introduced to Ann and Wade at a time in their lives when Wade’s memories are beginning to fade.

I could visualize the scenery of their mountaintop home and understood why they remained there, even though Wade had lived there with his first wife Jenny, and their two daughters, June and May.

The story goes back and forth in time, to Wade’s childhood, Ann’s younger years, and then leaps ahead to a time in the distant future, when Wade is no longer a part of the picture. We watch as Ann carefully arranges her life so that she can move on.

We see the life Wade and Jenny had together, and then we flash forward to Jenny in prison, how she copes, and the one friendship she maintains with a woman named Elizabeth.

The tragedy that led to Jenny’s imprisonment was one that left this reader with many questions, and by the end, hanging in there and hoping for clear answers. Through Ann’s searching and imagining, we think we have it figured out…but it is only guesswork.

No clear resolution made the book feel frustrating, although it was well written. It will be one that stays with me, mostly because the book felt like a puzzle I could not quite solve. We do have a sense of Ann moving forward, however, and can visualize some of what lies ahead for Jenny. A 4 star read.

***

REVIEW: LEAVE ME, BY GAYLE FORMAN

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Maribeth Klein was a multi-tasker. She had to be, juggling her very fast-paced job as an editor at a Manhattan celebrity lifestyle magazine, with her wife and mothering duties. The twins, Liv and Oliver, were four years old, and their preschool demanded a lot of her attention, too.

So when the pain hit Maribeth on a busy afternoon, she rationalized it away. It had to be something like indigestion, or the anger she was feeling toward her husband over something-or-other, or some other possibility. If she hadn’t already had an appointment with her OB/GYN for a mammogram, who knows what would have happened? They sent her to the ER, where she was told she’d had a heart attack and would need a stent. But somehow, that procedure failed, due to a nick in an artery, and she had to have a double bypass.

Home again a few days later, Maribeth is struggling. Those who were supposed to help her are somehow failing in that task, and her frustration leads to an action she could never have imagined she would take. She packed, withdrew cash from her account, the one with her inheritance in it, and took a train. To Pittsburgh.

Her anonymous journey and life in a strange city, in the subsequent weeks, would become a time of reflection, trying out her wings, and exploring the past. And trying to find her birth mother, because Maribeth had been adopted. Suddenly the need for some genetic history seemed necessary.

I loved Leave Me, which I could not put down. When I enjoy the characters in a novel, with their flaws, secrets, and unexplained behaviors, I find it almost impossible to stop reading. At first I decided I didn’t like Maribeth’s husband Jason. He had, after all, not been available to her, physically or emotionally. And then there was that time when they were first together, before they married, when he had just moved across the country. His poor communication skills could easily be misunderstood, of course, so what must happen to make it possible for the two of them to reconnect? And how will Maribeth’s somewhat detached relationship with her former best friend and boss, Elizabeth, start to heal?

I thoroughly enjoyed how someone like Maribeth, used to a life full of lists and technology, found a way to live a less pressured life, with no Smart Phone, laptop, or even a car. Using the library for its computers, and accepting the “kindness of strangers,” like her next door neighbors, became her new normal. A delightfully incredible read with a rating of:

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

REVIEW: WHERE WE BELONG, BY CATHERINE RYAN HYDE

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Our MC and first person narrator, Angie, is seven years old when we first meet her. She is happily constructing houses and villages with her playing cards…and her father is helping her.

When he leaves to get cigarettes, he will never return. His body is found…murdered.

Years later, we enter Angie’s life again, and she and her mother, with preschool sister Sophie, have just been evicted from another in a series of homes. On the verge of homelessness, they move in with Aunt Vi, who is not that happy to have them there. A sense of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” follows their every move. For Sophie has special needs—on the autism spectrum—and one of her unfortunate behaviors is shrieking endlessly until the neighbors call the cops, leading to yet another eviction.

One of the things we learn early on is that Angie is primarily the one in charge of making the plans, deciding how to handle Sophie, and finding their next move. She is only fourteen at this time, and suffering from the extra burden. But she doesn’t come across as resentful…just tired and sad and overly troubled about their future.

Then a reprieve comes their way. Next door is an older man, Paul, whose Great Dane Rigby has a powerful effect on Sophie. She watches him through the fence, he sits down near her, and they seem to connect. When she is near Rigby, Sophie is calm. There are actual hours in the day when she does not shriek.

But then everything changes. Paul is moving to the mountains…and Rigby will be gone. How will they cope?

Strangely enough, Angie’s mother takes charge of this one, and follows Paul up to his mountain home and stays nearby, waiting for the chance to reconnect with Rigby.

How does Angie manage to negotiate a new arrangement with Paul? What has brought the teenage girl and the remote man, who has always wanted his privacy, into a friendship? What will happen when life’s circumstances change again?

Where We Belong is the kind of book I savor. The pace was calm, with the only suspense coming from wondering what Angie will do next to make their lives better. I really rooted for Angie, and while I felt sorry for Sophie, I often wondered if the mother’s inability to be firm and in charge contributed to the problems. I know that I did not like the mother and felt exasperated with her behavior and her inability to be “the mother.” I thought it was interesting that we never find out her name…and there was also a sense of a long-held secret about her husband’s murder.

A book I recommend to all who enjoy the author…and stories about dysfunctional families. In the end, I felt really good about how things were turning out. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE BOOKSTORE, BY DEBORAH MEYLER

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When Esme Garland leaves England for a Ph.D. scholarship at Columbia, in New York, her life is mapped out before her.What she doesn’t count on is how her life is thrown into chaos after she meets Mitchell, a professor at a private school, and a member of a wealthy family. Then when she becomes pregnant, and when Mitchell walks out on her, I said to myself: “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

She finds a part-time job at The Owl, a neighborhood bookstore, and soon becomes immersed in the life of the staff, the customers, and the neighborhood. It is a small, untidy place chock full of books that almost topple, but lend their own special ambience to the place. George is the owner, and Luke is a laconic assistant who slowly becomes a good friend. It is a neighborhood place for homeless people and other eccentric individuals who frequent it, not necessarily to buy books, but to linger.

Just as Esme starts to find her own niche, and has settled into her routines, Mitchell wants back into her life.

But can she trust him, since he left before by saying he didn’t want her? Is he playing some kind of game that has more to do with his family than her? How will his demands on her change her plan for her life? And how will she resolve these issues?

I found it difficult to put up with Esme’s inability to see through Mitchell, and I especially could not stand him, his behavior, or his attitudes. There were so many red flags that I, the reader, could see…but naturally, the characters have their own perspective. The fact that they were all “people” at whom I could yell when they did not do as I thought they should, and the fact that I regularly tried to “warn” them of pitfalls, was definitely a testament to the strength of the characters. Even when I didn’t like what they were doing, I could not stop reading.

I liked how the true importance of the shop in the lives of the people who entered its doors stood out as a reminder that, despite the transitory nature of bookstores in this day and age, this particular shop was precious to those who loved it.

I liked how the story ended, and even though The Bookstore was more about the relationships of the people that came through the place, sometimes settling in for a bit, it was also a backdrop for their lives and their friendships. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THREE BROTHERS, BY PETER ACKROYD

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Their lives began in the place that came to define them: Born in Camden Town, in London, in a council estate, in the Mid-Twentieth Century.

Three Brothers: A Novel tells the tale of Harry, Daniel, and Sam Hanway, born one year apart on the same date (May 8); their distant and distracted father is scarcely a presence in their lives. They are also affected by the mysterious and unexplained disappearance of their mother Sally. Sam is the most strongly affected, apparently, but the actions of the other two speak of how the event informed their lives as well.

Coming to adulthood in the 1960s, they live completely separate lives, with Harry as a Managing Editor of a newspaper; Daniel is a lecturer at Cambridge, who also reviews books; and Sam as a compassionate man strangely drawn to the homeless and seemingly finds his path through doing good deeds.

As separate as they are, they are also connected in various ways, seemingly coincidentally. This story of corruption, bribery, and violence is narrated from the perspectives of each of the brothers. In the end, we see clearly how place and history have defined them.

A few mysterious elements left me dangling at the end, forced to come to my own interpretations of events. The character studies and the descriptions of the settings drew me in, but otherwise, the story left me cold. 3.5 stars.

REVIEW: TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNT ABOUT LOVE, BY SARAH BUTLER

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What if the whole of your life you were searching, struggling to find your place in the world?

As the youngest of three daughters, Alice is approaching her thirtieth birthday, but has yet to find her unique connections to the world and to others. She doesn’t mesh with her older sisters, who seem to look upon her as the black sheep. She can feel their criticism whenever they look at her, and they question her choices. Her relationship with Kal has also failed, yet a part of her wants to reconnect with him.

Meanwhile, she has come home to London, to the house near Hampstead Heath, because their father is dying. By the time she gets there, from Mongolia, he is very near the end. She doesn’t feel like she belongs here, and she restlessly longs to be away again. When she sits with her father, she feels as though she needs to ask him something. But does not.

Daniel is a man without a conventional home who has memories of a time and a love, and is now on a quest to find someone. Does he hope to find a place in the world too? Despite his apparent rootlessness, he sees the beauty in the world around him, and remembers love in all its wonder.

Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love is narrated alternately in the first person voices of Alice and Daniel, and as we watch them seemingly coming to a place of connecting, we also see Alice coping with clearing out her father’s house after his death, taking on most of the responsibility because she has been gone so much.

Why is someone leaving little gifts for her on the wall by the front door? Is the man named Daniel someone she has known? Is he trying to tell her something?

We are left with more questions than answers, although, at the end, there is a sense that Alice has come to some kind of decision about her life, and Daniel seems to have decided something as well. This is a story about love, loss, and finding connections, but it is also a story that reveals our connections to the places where we live and to the past we have left behind. A lovely and poignant tale that made me feel both sad and hopeful. I had wished for more closure for the characters, and then I realized that we can almost write our own ending. 4.5 stars.