BOOKISH FRIDAY: “AFTER THE END”

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is a NetGalley ARC I’m enjoying:  After the End, by Claire Mackintosh. (Release Date: 6/25).

Beginning:  (Prologue):  Leila looks around the courtroom.  Only the handful of press given permission to attend are moving, their pens making swift marks in shorthand, recording every word the judge speaks.  Everyone else is quite still—watching, waiting—and Leila has the strange sensation of being frozen in time, that they might all wake, a year from now, and they will still be here in this courtroom, waiting for the ruling that will change so many lives.

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Friday 56:  (After) You cannot feel grief without first feeling love, and now my heart is filled with both.  For my son, for my husband, for my marriage.  Max turns to face me, lines around his eyes that weren’t there a month ago.

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Synopsis:  Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re best friends, lovers—unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors put the question of his survival into their hands. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son.
 
What if they could have both?
 
A gripping and propulsive exploration of love, marriage, parenthood, and the road not taken, After the End brings one unforgettable family from unimaginable loss to a surprising, satisfying, and redemptive ending and the life they are fated to find. With the emotional power of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Mackintosh helps us to see that sometimes the end is just another beginning.

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I am glued to the pages of this book.  What are you sharing today?

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REVIEW: ALL YOUR PERFECTS, BY COLLEEN HOOVER

 

Quinn and Graham’s perfect love is threatened by their imperfect marriage. The memories, mistakes, and secrets that they have built up over the years are now tearing them apart. The one thing that could save them might also be the very thing that pushes their marriage beyond the point of repair.

All Your Perfects is a profound novel about a damaged couple whose potential future hinges on promises made in the past. This is a heartbreaking page-turner that asks: Can a resounding love with a perfect beginning survive a lifetime between two imperfect people?

My Thoughts: They met on what could have been the worst day of their lives. In a hallway outside an apartment that would reveal a betrayal for each of them. But they turned those moments into a beginning. Of something more. Something better.

Quinn and Graham did connect after that horrible day, and what started in those moments would turn into something wonderful. And sad. Could they rise about the imperfections? Would all that was perfect between them lose its luster as they forgot the good they still could have?

I enjoyed how All Your Perfects flipped back and forth between “then” and “now,” and how a traumatic event that would definitely bring an end to one of their biggest dreams could be a turning point. Something that would take them back to the beginning and to a special box that contained treasures from times before. I came to care about these characters and how they managed to change the course of their relationship. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: HAPPY PEOPLE READ & DRINK COFFEE, BY AGNES MARTIN-LUGAND

 

Diane seems to have the perfect life. She is a wife, mother, and the owner of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, a cozy literary café in Paris. But when she suddenly loses her husband and daughter in a car accident, the world as she knows it disappears.

One year later, Diane moves to a small town on the Irish coast, determined to heal by rebuilding her life alone-until she meets Edward, a handsome and moody photographer, and falls into a surprising and tumultuous romance.

But will it last when Diane leaves Ireland for good? At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Diane’s story is deeply felt, reminding us that love remembered is love enduring.

My Thoughts: I loved the premise of the Paris bookshop/café, especially the name of it. I enjoyed the scenes with Diane’s best friend Felix…and how he helped prop her up after the death of her husband and daughter.

Moving to Ireland to escape the pain seemed like a good fix. But then we see her interacting with her grumpy neighbor Edward, and I knew that a tired trope of hate/love was on the horizon. A plot line that could easily turn boring.

The writing style of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee was a bit uninspiring, too. But I wanted to keep reading, to find out how it would all turn out. Would Diane’s time in Ireland bring her back to her real life, refreshed? Or would there be more sorrow ahead for her? Could she rebuild the life she once had? In the end, I did like how nothing was wrapped up and tied with a pretty bow. 3.5 stars.

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REVIEW: WHAT REMAINS, BY CAROLE RADZIWILL

A stunning, tragic memoir about John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette, and his cousin Anthony Radziwill, by Radziwill’s widow, now a star of The Real Housewives of New York.

What Remains is a vivid and haunting memoir about a girl from a working-class town who becomes an award-winning television producer and marries a prince, Anthony Radziwill. Carole grew up in a small suburb with a large, eccentric cast of characters. At nineteen, she struck out for New York City to find a different life. Her career at ABC News led her to the refugee camps of Cambodia, to a bunker in Tel Aviv, and to the scene of the Menendez murders. Her marriage led her into the old world of European nobility and the newer world of American aristocracy.

What Remains begins with loss and returns to loss. A small plane plunges into the ocean carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., Anthony’s cousin, and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Carole’s closest friend. Three weeks later Anthony dies of cancer. With unflinching honesty and a journalist’s keen eye, Carole Radziwill explores the enduring ties of family, the complexities of marriage, the importance of friendship, and the challenges of self-invention.

My Thoughts: In a non-linear fashion, the author tells her story. She begins by describing the horrific plane crash that killed John and Carolyn, soon followed by her husband Anthony’s death from cancer, and then takes us back to some beginnings. Back to childhood and her large extended family. Her childhood seemed chaotic, yet filled with loving moments with cousins and neighbors. Her grandmothers figured predominantly in her early years.

How she came to be an intern at ABC News, which took her to interesting places and stories, and eventually to Anthony Radziwill, would be a serendipitous journey.

What led to finding a real-life prince, a cousin to the country’s Kennedy “prince”? That story would take the reader on a fairytale journey. But then the fairytale turned into something else. A stunning diagnosis, and constant hospital visits and treatments for the cancer that would define their lives over the years, even while they optimistically tried to plan for a future by renovating an apartment on Park Avenue.

Along the way, the author completed an MBA, almost as if she knew the future they were planning would be hers alone, that Anthony, despite their optimism, would not make it. Her talents and her determination would serve her well, as she went on to reinvent herself and find a new journey.

Knowing how it would all turn out, it was difficult to keep turning the pages and finding more sadness as I neared the end of What Remains. But I had to admire the courage and the ability to keep moving ahead, despite it all. An inspirational story that earned 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE SWALLOW’S NEST, BY EMILIE RICHARDS

Three women fight for the chance to raise the child they’ve all come to love…

When Lilia Swallow’s husband, Graham, goes into remission after a challenging year of treatment for lymphoma, the home and lifestyle blogger throws a party. Their best friends and colleagues attend to celebrate his recovery, but just as the party is in full swing, a new guest arrives. She presents Lilia with a beautiful baby boy, and vanishes.

Toby is Graham’s darkest secret—his son, conceived in a moment of despair. Lilia is utterly unprepared for the betrayal the baby represents, and perhaps more so for the love she begins to feel once her shock subsides. Now this unasked-for precious gift becomes a life changer for three women: Lilia, who takes him into her home and heart; Marina, who bore and abandoned him until circumstance and grief changed her mind; and Ellen, who sees in him a chance to correct the mistakes she made with her own son, Toby’s father.

A custody battle begins, and each would-be mother must examine her heart, confront her choices and weigh her dreams against the fate of one vulnerable little boy. Each woman will redefine family, belonging and love—and the results will alter the course of not only their lives, but also the lives of everyone they care for.

My Thoughts: Lilia, Graham’s wife, and the woman who has been raising little Toby since he was three months old, was the narrator I came to root for. I liked the excerpts from her blogging posts, including her opening lines: “Feathering your nest with imagination and love.” I enjoyed her thoughts about family and growing up in Hawaii, and the feeling of betrayal she felt when she learned of Graham’s infidelity. Then I rooted for her as she came to love the little boy and eventually forgive Graham. She always seemed to put the little boy first, even when the challenges of the custody case sometimes made her struggle.

Despite the annoying characteristics we first see in Marina, the birth mother, eventually I started to feel a bit of compassion for her, especially after we were granted an up close look at her mother and how she grew up. But then she would do something that would make me wonder about her judgment and her ability to put the child’s needs first…and I would revert to disliking her, worried about what would happen to the child if she grew bored or frustrated with him.

The least sympathetic character, in my opinion, was Ellen, the paternal grandmother, whose coldness and judgmental attitude put me off. But then we caught a glimpse of moments from her past as she spent time in the home she lived in when Graham was a baby. The house she bought after they moved and which she hung onto for sentimental reasons, although she maintained that it was an investment. Despite the evidence that she regretted the mistakes of the past, however, I felt insufficient hope that she could make the child’s needs a priority.

I wasn’t sure how the custody battle would turn out…I had my wishes, and then I thought about how courts usually rule with regard to biological connections. Would The Swallow’s Nest end in a way that would serve the child best? Would the characters come to accept the decision? I couldn’t stop turning the pages, so this one earned 5 stars from me.

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REVIEW: THE HOUSEKEEPER, BY SUELLEN DAINTY

When Anne Morgan’s successful boyfriend—who also happens to be her boss—leaves her for another woman, Anne finds herself in desperate need of a new job and a quiet place to recover. Meanwhile, her celebrity idol, Emma Helmsley (England’s answer to Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey), is in need of a housekeeper, an opportunity which seems too good to be true.

Through her books, website, and blog, Emma Helmsley advises her devoted followers on how to live a balanced life in a hectic world. Her husband, Rob, is a high profile academic, and her children, Jake and Lily, are well-adjusted teenagers. On the surface, they are the perfect family. But Anne soon finds herself intimately ensconced in the Helmsley’s dirty laundry, both literally and figuratively. Underneath the dust, grime, and whimsical clutter, everyone has a secret to hide. And Anne’s own disturbing past soon threatens to unhinge everything…

MY THOUGHTS:
In the beginning, The Housekeeper seemed to be a book about one young woman’s love gone wrong, and how she found a way to start over as a domestic helper for a famous blogger and her psychologist husband.

But soon we are swept up into a gradual process of enmeshment, as the Helmsley family come to expect more and more from Anne, while making it seem as though they are doing her a favor by making her feel like family. But Anne does not notice the subtle expectations, since she admires Emma and Rob and the life they have created, and being a part of it all feels so good.

When Anne has some memory flashes, it seems natural that she would ask her boss, the psychologist, for his opinions. What will happen next? Will the horrors of her childhood change everything about the life she has recreated?

I was blown away by how the story played out, and could not stop reading it. I was furious with Emma and Rob, and how they played on Anne’s need for family. They seemingly brought her into the cozy circle that was developing between them, when, in fact, they were using her to carry out the façade of the perfect family/professional couple. She did a good job of glossing over their imperfections by keeping their lives running smoothly, and what they gave her in return was betrayal.

Skillfully wrought, the story aroused emotions, kept me engaged, and left me with much more to think about. In the end, there was a sense of closure that I didn’t see coming, and it felt good. A 5 star read for me.

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REVIEW: ALWAYS, BY SARAH JIO

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Enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner with her fiancé, Ryan, at one of Seattle’s chicest restaurants, Kailey Crain can’t believe her good fortune: She has a great job as a journalist and is now engaged to a guy who is perfect in nearly every way. As she and Ryan leave the restaurant, Kailey spies a thin, bearded homeless man on the sidewalk. She approaches him to offer up her bag of leftovers, and is stunned when their eyes meet, then stricken to her very core: The man is the love of her life, Cade McAllister.

Flashing back to 1996, and then fast-forwarding to 2008, “Always” is a gripping and emotionally thrilling novel of first love, lost love, and the power of healing.

Set in a Seattle that vibrated with the music scene of the 1990s, Cade McAllister and Kailey Crain were in the heat of new love: they were full of dreams, plans, and the building of connections. They were soul mates.

But then something happened. Something inexplicable. During that summer of 1998, Cade disappeared. For ten years, Kailey would wonder, would grieve, and then finally move on with Ryan Winston.

What did Kailey discover during the winter of 2008, after finding Cade on that sidewalk? How does she finally uncover the events of that final summer together in 1998? Who was responsible for Cade’s injuries? Will she be able to put the pieces together in such a way that Cade can be restored to her and to his life?

I could not stop reading this story, feeling the strength of that first love, despite the obstacles and the loss, and rooting for Kailey and Cade…while still feeling a bit sad for Ryan. Yes, I could predict a lot of what would ultimately happen, but that did not make it a “predictable” read for me, as there were numerous questions along the way. Mysteries to solve. So this book was another winning tale by this author. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: THE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE, BY MARYBETH MAYHEW WHALEN

 

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A hot summer day in Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, drew adults and children alike to the community pool, where they would chat with old friends, make new ones, and enjoy what seemed like the beginning of a perfect summer.

What looked like a perfect community at first glance was, like any neighborhood, imperfect, and while those who lived there all looked like nice people, some were more so than others. And most of them had secrets, old and new, that they worked hard to hide.

The Things We Wish Were True is an unveiling, in a sense, with our alternating narrators sharing the ordinary and superficial tidbits of life in Sycamore Glen, while gradually revealing just enough of the secrets they are holding…until finally, everything is unleashed.

Cailey is the first narrator, and she and her brother Cutter are new residents, drawn to the pool to keep boredom at bay, while their mother, Lisa, works hard to keep them fed and clothed. She is trying to ignore those who might steer clear of them because of their house, the “eyesore” of the neighborhood that has been home to a series of renters.

Zell Boyette, an older woman with an empty nest, takes the neighbor children to the pool while their single father, Lance Bryson, works. Zell feels a certain degree of guilt about why Debra, the wife and mother, left the family home a few months ago. But her lips are sealed.

Bryte, mother of three-year-old Christopher, and wife to the love of her life, Everett, holds tight to what she has…fearful that she could lose it at any moment.

Because her secret could lead to a great loss.

Especially once she realizes that Jencey Cabot is back in town with her two children, Pilar and Zara, and she could easily whisk Everett away…as she was his first love.

I loved the mix of characters with secrets, and I tried to guess them as I read along…but some were easier to guess than others.

At the dark end of the secrets was a big one right across the street from Zell’s cozy little house. Who would open the door on that one? Would any of the characters lose everything by the end? Could their secrets destroy them? And what near tragedy would start the spool unreeling, thus opening the door for revelations? A delightful book that I could not stop reading, I’m definitely recommending this for everyone who loves family stories and neighborhoods that seem too perfect. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE SLEEPWALKER, BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN

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When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing in the night, her daughters Lianna, 21, and Paige, 12, fear the worst. Their mother is a sleepwalker, and not only does she do bizarre things while in this state, she has put herself in danger.

But Annalee hasn’t had an episode in years, and she has had treatment at the sleep clinic. However, the usual set-up for her disturbance is present: her husband, Warren, an English professor, is away. In the past she has only taken her nightly excursions when he is gone.

Alternative narrators tell the tale of The Sleepwalker, and Lianna is the primary one. An anonymous narrator brings interesting and mysterious pieces to the story at the beginning of each chapter.

Set in small town Bartlett, Vermont, the reader will meet various friends and neighbors along the way, and there will be gossip, and the snippets of speculation that flow through the town will occasionally reach Lianna…and disturb her. The reader will learn more about the condition of parasomnia, which includes sleepwalking, night terrors, and even sleep sex.

In the beginning, the detectives will question each of the family members, focusing on the relationship between Warren and Annalee. They even look at Warren as a person of interest. Our narrator, Lianna, describes for us the occasional “fights” between her parents, and characterizes them as “quiet” skirmishes, “their barbs sharpened on whetstones of condescension and sarcasm.”

One of the detectives, a man a few years older than Lianna, is seemingly drawn into her orbit. What is the story of Gavin Rikert? Why is he so drawn to their family, and why does he seem to know so much about Annalee? Why does Lianna feel such a connection to him?

As the story wends its way through the time after, and some bits from before, we end up even more puzzled until…something quite astonishing happens. And then the final reveal unfolds in waves. First there is one discovery, and then another one, until I had to question everything I thought I knew about that alternate narrator. Another fabulous tale from the author that kept me intrigued throughout…and which earned 5 stars.    I received my e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

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REVIEW: THE LIFE SHE WANTS, BY ROBYN CARR

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Emma Shay Compton was blindsided by her husband’s fraudulent Ponzi scheme, his crooked ways that had upended their wealthy, upscale Manhattan lives.

Emma cooperated with the authorities, maintaining her ignorance of her husband’s actions, but the agents did not quite believe her. In the end, she refused any kind of settlement from the government once they had concluded their investigation. Then when Richard killed himself in their apartment, just before he was due for imprisonment, Emma knew that it would never be over.

Left with nothing but the few thousand dollars she brought into the marriage, Emma headed back to Sonoma County, where she grew up, and where her best friend Lyle and his partner Ethan ran a floral shop.

But going home also will resurrect old pain. The losses of her teenage years, like her father’s death; the loss of her best friend Riley, who hooked up with her boyfriend Jock, while she was away at college; and the final piece of sadness: Riley had gotten pregnant with Jock, too. Now, years later, she has a teenage daughter, Maddie.

The Life She Wants pulled me in from the very beginning, and I loved the characters, several of whom alternately narrated the story. Will Riley and Emma patch up their friendship? What will happen with Adam, Riley’s brother, who has carried the torch for Emma all these years? And will Emma find a home at last?

I loved watching the characters and rooted for them to find their way to healing. A feel-good story that brought tears of joy in the end.

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