REVIEW: SEVEN LETTERS, BY J. P MONNINGER

 

Kate Moreton is in Ireland on sabbatical from her teaching position at Dartmouth College when she meets Ozzie Ferriter, a fisherman and a veteran of the American war in Afghanistan. The Ferriter family history dates back centuries on the remote Blasket Islands, and Ozzie—a dual citizen of Ireland and the United States—has retreated to the one place that might offer him peace from a war he cannot seem to leave behind.

Beside the sea, with Ireland’s beauty as a backdrop, the two fall deeply in love and attempt to live on an island of their own making, away from the pressures of the outside world. Ireland writes its own love stories, the legends claim, and the limits of Kate and Ozzie’s love and faith in each other will be tested. When his demons lead Ozzie to become reckless with his life—and Kate’s—she flees for America rather than watch the man she loves self-destruct. But soon a letter arrives informing Kate that her heroic husband has been lost at sea, and Kate must decide whether it is an act of love to follow him or an act of mercy to forget.

My Thoughts: As I followed along with Kate’s journey in Ireland, I was soon caught up in her unexpected love connection with Ozzie. The two of them were captivating, frustrating, and soon they were broken.

Seven Letters showed us the path to their love, their loss of each other, and how Kate tried to move on.

The story was one that revealed the beauty of Ireland, followed by the lovely cabin Kate bought in New Hampshire after she and Ozzie separated. At times, there were quick leaps between events, and I sometimes felt lost. But overall, I couldn’t stop reading and wondering what would eventually happen to the two of them. In the end, I was pleased by the culmination of events. 4 stars.

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

REVIEW: THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE, BY CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE

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Angela Russo is searching. Living alone in a Manhattan apartment, but drawn repeatedly back to her grandmother’s kitchen in Nutley, New Jersey, where she has learned how to cook the Italian dishes from her grandmother’s hometown in Italy, she hopes to someday have her own home, her own kitchen.

As an event planner, she has a career of sorts; one she fell into. So perhaps she shouldn’t have been surprised when an error derails that career, and leaves her sorting through options.

So at this particular time, she grabs for what she imagines is a soul mate, a man she met online and who runs a fishing boat on an island in Maine, Mount Desert Island. Driving north to find the life she had dreamed about, she is stunned to discover, after only a couple of weeks, that the man she thought was her soul mate is a player, and has been connecting online with many other women.

But she loves Maine. So she moves into a little cabin nearby and starts to live off of her savings. A friend, Flynn, who runs the local coffee house becomes a guide…even a mentor, and soon Angela is giving cooking classes and dreaming of opening a restaurant.

The Way Life Should Be is an inspirational story of going for the gusto. Starting over. And reinventing oneself. Colorful characters inhabit Angela’s new life and make it possible for her to carve out some new dreams. And as the characters, her new friends in Maine, bond over the classes, sharing their hopes and dreams as they tell their stories, she is reminded of a truth she has known:

“These are the chronicles of legend, the tales we tell over and over, the stories that remind us we are not alone.”

Will she find her dream? Can she connect with someone whose stories will mesh with hers? Is Maine where it will happen?

I enjoyed the colorful and sometimes quirky characters, the settings that came alive for me, and at the end of the book is a section of recipes like those Angela taught to her cooking class; the ones she learned from Nonna. A delightful and feel-good story that earned 4 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.

REVIEW: THE GIRL PRETENDING TO READ RILKE, BY BARBARA RIDDLE

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Poised in a moment in time marked by change, Bronwen, age nineteen, is eager to begin a research summer job in Boston. And with the job comes a reunion with boyfriend Eric, a graduate student at Harvard. For the summer, they will be living in Eric’s Cambridge flat.

The 60s had brought remarkable opportunities for young women. At any other time in history, could a young woman have obtained an internship with a Harvard Junior Fellow? Before Betty Friedan’s book hit the stores, had women ever realized all of the possibilities available to them?

But Bronwen is in a state of conflict, too. She is ready for love, but she also wants her life as a scientist.

Over the next few weeks, we watch as she deals with the conflicts in her life, including a less-than-attentive boyfriend, another possible love interest, and her life of commitment to her work. Just as she is ready to complete her summer, sad news erupts. And shortly afterward, she is forced to face another obstacle to her goals.

I enjoyed engaging with this young woman as she confronted her personal and work issues. I liked how she protected herself with her Rilke collection, for as much as she loved science, a part of her clung to another kind of inner life:

“Zipping up her Army surplus parka, she bent her head into the late afternoon breeze. In the pouch-like pocket of her jacket, next to the letter, she felt for the presence of her trusty ubiquitous Rilke volume, her shield against unwanted dinner conversation….”

The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke took me back to my own younger days, when I, too, had to consider my options and make choices. Sometimes impossible choices. 4 stars.

A LIFE OF LOVE & FRIENDSHIP — A REVIEW

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Callie Perry is a happily married photographer with two wonderful kids, a lovable sister, Steffi, and a best friend, Lila. Problems are minor: Steffi can never settle down, Lila has finally found love but the guy has a nightmare of an ex, and Callie and Steffi’s divorced parents, Honor and Walter, haven’t spoken in 30 years. But then Callie, a breast cancer survivor, is diagnosed with a rare and incurable complication of the disease. Suddenly realizing that she has only months to live, she begins the painful process of saying good-bye.

For most of the story, I was caught up in the lives of these characters that felt like people I would love to know. While Callie seemed almost too good, I enjoyed Steffi’s quirks and poor choices in men, and loved seeing her slowly find her niche in the little country house in Sleepy Hollow. I enjoyed that she was a chef who reveled in her cooking. Her nurturing side flourished and added dimension to her character.

Another rewarding aspect to PROMISES TO KEEP was seeing Honor and Walter meet each other again for the first time in years and begin to appreciate each other despite the differences and the enmity between them.

How will Callie find a way to celebrate the rest of her life? What special joining together will help them all find a way to deal with her loss? And what unexpected joys and discoveries will come along?

Predictably, there was sadness and loss…and in the end, hope. As some of the characters found love and new lives, we could revel in the whole “life goes on” theme. The author’s epilogue and her final tribute to a friend, Heidi, who died and to whom this book was dedicated, left the reader with feelings of closure.

After each chapter, there were recipes: a kind of homage to Steffi and how she brought joy to her family and friends through her cooking. A feel-good story with moments that brought me to tears, I enjoyed this one, even though it fell into place quite predictably. Four stars.

A CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVE ON DATING — A REVIEW

As Renee Greene approaches her thirtieth birthday, still single and not in a viable relationship, she and another friend, Mark, decide to give online dating a try.

Their experiences range from funny to horrific, with humiliation showing up all too often.

Even as Renee optimistically approaches each connection, open to the possibilities, she is also wary because of all the relationship “failures” of her life thus far.

Click: An Online Love Story is told completely through e-mails between Renee, her friends Shelley, Mark, and Ashley, and the potential dates.

It took awhile to get into the flow of this kind of story-telling. And then I did. But as I finally started to feel connected to the style, something happened midway through the book, and I lost the flow. It became difficult to focus, and I kept having to check back to see who each e-mail was to and from. There were a barrage of e-mails, with varying addressees, which felt confusing; my eyes started to cross.

The story and the characters were likeable, and I could relate to most of them. I think I would have found a combination of e-mails and ordinary story-telling more reader-friendly; but for those readers who can handle the format, I would recommend this very contemporary perspective on dating. I also liked the little surprise twist at the end leading to a “feel good” conclusion. 3.5 stars.