REVIEW: CALIFORNIA GIRLS, BY SUSAN MALLERY

 

Finola, a popular LA morning-show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by the news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancé sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

 

My Thoughts: California Girls swept me up into the sisterly world of three women, and it didn’t take long to feel like I was connected to each of them.

Finola ‘s life in the spotlight as a TV host intrigued me…and then I felt sorry for her as she became part of the tabloid stories. Her husband was easy to hate because of the timing and the way that he informed her of his actions. But I did like that she was able to use their time apart to do some soul searching.

Zennie’s world turns upside down when she makes a choice to help her friend, and in the end, she learns a lot about herself.

Ali was my favorite character. Who doesn’t love the girl who goes through a horrific break-up only to find a great new friend to help her along? You know right away that the friendship will turn into something else at some point.

A predictable story that delighted me along the way and earned 4 stars.

***

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HUMP DAY READING: CURRENT, PAST, FUTURE READS

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Today I’m participating in Sam’s WWW Wednesdays Here’s how it works:

 

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next, and/or what are you eagerly awaiting?

***

Currently Reading:

This Must Be the Place, by Maggie O’Farrell, has kept me engaged so far.  Daniel Sullivan is the MC, but there are numerous other characters: family members and relationships from the past, as well as the present, and so far, we are diving into them one by one, which makes it hard to really connect to any one character.  Short snippets about each of his kids, from whom he has been separated for years, and moments in the present that spotlight his challenging life with his reclusive actress wife, are what I’m discovering so far.  I hope to finish it today.

 

 

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***

Finished This Week So Far:

 

The Girls of August, by Anne Rivers Siddons (click for my review) was an enjoyable read about friendship, loss, and finding ways to heal the broken bonds.  Not my favorite from this author, but I gave it four stars.

 

 

 

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***

Leave Me, by Gayle Forman, was a NetGalley read that will be released on September 6.  Can I just say I LOVED it?  Click the title for my review of this book that earned 5 stars from me.  A multi-tasking woman with a fast-paced career, active home life with four year old twins, and a husband who always works late and does little around the house.  Now imagine that woman having a heart attack…and needing help for once. 

 

 

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***

What Am I Eagerly Anticipating?

I have become a Robyn Carr fan only recently, so I am always eager to read more from her back list…but also every upcoming release.  Therefore, when I found The Life She Wants is coming on September 27, I had to bookmark it.

 

 

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Synopsis:  In the aftermath of her financier husband’s suicide, Emma Shay Compton’s dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients’ life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband’s crimes. She is left with nothing.

Only one friend stands by her, a friend she’s known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn’t easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she’d rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.

Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can’t escape her husband’s reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she’d ever ask for help—her former best friend. It’s an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they’ve made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants.

***

This one has the ingredients I love in a book.  A tragedy, rediscovering friendships, starting over, and moving beyond betrayal.

That’s my week so far.  What does yours look like?

***

FALLING, BY JANE GREEN

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Emma Montague may be British upper crust, with a boarding school and university education, and she may have done well in the banking world, both in London and later in Manhattan.

But what Emma truly wants and hopes to find in her new life in Westport, Connecticut, is something completely different. A homey and lovely life, with gorgeous interior designs. She starts out designing for local women, and creates a show place of her own in the little cottage she has rented. The cottage next door to her landlord, Dominic Di Franco, a bartender at the Fat Hen, and a sometime carpenter. And the father of six-year-old Jesse.

They become friends fairly quickly, and although Emma insists to her friends, like Sophie, who lives nearby, that he is not her type, something begins to happen between them.

Learning Dominic’s story, about how Jesse’s mother Stacy left them when Jesse was a tiny baby, Emma is drawn into this little family. Yes, there are times that Jesse is jealous and possessive, not wanting to share his father. But he clearly loves and adores Emma.

Falling is a beautifully rendered tale of unexpected love, the way life changes to accommodate that love, and how the past connections sometimes interfere and create conflict.

I loved the author’s descriptions of the developing love and family feeling between Emma, Dominic, and Jesse. I also enjoyed visualizing the before and after creations Emma brought to life. The settings made me feel as though I was visiting the lovely community, almost as if I were a part of it.

The unexpectedly dramatic and sad culmination left me in tears, but I also rejoiced at the way life brought the characters to a place of true discovery. A place of finding what they needed. Not necessarily what they wanted, but just what would feel like home for them. 5 stars.

REVIEW: BETTER OFF WITHOUT HIM, BY DEE ERNST

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It was just a normal April when Mona’s husband of twenty years, Brian, announced rather casually that he was moving out and wanted a divorce. He has fallen in love with a younger woman.

Their three teenaged daughters, Miranda, 16, and 14-year-old twins Lauren and Jessica, had just left for school, and Mona had settled in to think about writing her next novel. A best-selling romance novelist with the pen name Maura Van Whalen, she had decided to switch from historical romance to something contemporary.

Brian’s announcement and actions swept her off course a bit, but even after considering what a divorce would mean in her life, and not liking the upheaval, she had to admit that she wasn’t actually broken-hearted. In fact, wouldn’t it be a perfect novel to write about a woman in her forties who is dumped by her husband, and finds her happily-ever-after without a man?

Better Off Without Him was a delightful book about starting over, making better choices, and learning how to be who you want to be. Some of those choices included dating again, but with men who were already friends. Practice dating, as her daughters called it. A summer at the Long Island Shore house, which Mona had bought years before with her own money, would offer some opportunities to find men to date. And back at home in New Jersey, there was Ben the plumber, who was handsome, a good friend, and surprisingly available. So even though Mona plans to design her life to suit herself, does that mean she can’t fall in love again…someday?

I enjoyed the story, the dialogue, which was full of funny tidbits and movie references, and Mona’s humorous first person narrative. Brian was a despicable character who, predictably, thought he could still come and go in the house whenever he wanted. I liked how Mona was able to put him in his place. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: LOSING ME, BY SUE MARGOLIS

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From the very first pages, I was engaged with the MC Barbara Stirling, a woman approaching her 60s, satisfied with her teaching job, a bit less satisfied with her marriage…a woman with good friends and enough money to get along.

Just as she grew more involved with one of her more troubled students, the axe fell. Barbara was being made “redundant.” Suddenly, all the other aspects of her life seem more troubling, and her husband’s weeks and months away, making documentaries, begin to feel like abandonment.

These feelings remind her of her childhood and her emotionally unavailable parents. Rose, her mother, is in her eighties, and still seems to be demanding and ungiving.

A series of panic attacks bring these long-ago issues to the forefront…and Barbara must look into her soul to confront them. What will she do now? How can she change her marriage? What, if anything, can she do about her relationship with her mother?

Barbara’s narrative was engrossing, and I could relate to some of her issues. I enjoyed the dialogue and her thoughts about her grown children: Ben, who is unemployed, and still living at home; and Jess, married to Matt and the mother of two, who has embraced a “hippie” lifestyle that includes some questionable practices. Some of these moments were hilarious, and while I empathized with Barbara—who doesn’t want to knock some sense into their adult children?—I also could relate to the children wanting to do things their way.

Soul searching and some attitudinal changes made Losing Me a thoroughly compelling read. Set in and near London, I felt as though I were right there, along with the characters, several of whom were like people I wanted to know. I will be searching for more books from this author. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: AFTER I DO, BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID

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After eleven years together, Ryan and Lauren have reached the breaking point. The slightest little habit or action of the other person is so irritating that they each say that they are no longer in love. And in frustration, they make a startling decision. They will take a year apart, with no contact: no phone calls, no texts, and no e-mails. Then they will get together and reassess.

After I Do is a heart-rending story of what happens after the love and romance have died. Is there a way to ignite the passion? Can they discover what to do in the absence of these feelings? How will they find the special ingredient that has been missing?

In a somewhat underhanded attempt to rediscover who her husband is, Lauren takes drastic action. But she does find answers…and she arrives at some realizations.

It helps that she has close friends and a great family. I loved how each family member felt real, and the ways in which they communicated and supported each other were so loving: from Grandma Lois, who pointed Lauren in an interesting direction, to younger brother Charlie, who inspires Lauren with the surprising choices he makes. Sister Rachel, who offers support, but who also calls Lauren on her mistakes, feels just like the kind of sibling one needs.

A book I recommend for all who enjoy stories about relationships and family. 5 stars.

REVIEW: WHO DO YOU LOVE, BY JENNIFER WEINER

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They met in a hospital ER at the age of eight. In this moment out of time, they talked and kept each other company. Rachel Blum (she tells him it is pronounced “bloom” and not like “plum.”) She begins to tell her new friend Andy Landis the tale of Hansel and Gretel.

Even though Rachel is in for another problem with her heart, for which she has had numerous surgeries since birth, and Andy is in for just a broken arm, he seems the most pathetic and in need. She is used to hospitals and has had lots of parental hovering in her life. Andy’s mother has not even shown up…and won’t for several hours.

Then they are separated.

Over the years, they meet again and again, often in unlikely places. They do write to each other in between meetings. Their most notable connecting would be as teenagers when they are volunteering for Home Free, prepping the homes for the construction workers. Their relationship changes into something more…a romantic connection.

Rachel lives in Florida and Andy, in Philadelphia, but as they go off to college, she is in Virginia attending Beaumont and he is in Oregon. He is a track star, aiming for the Olympics.

Their get-togethers are not always good…misunderstandings and their very real differences assert themselves, leading to long periods of no contact.

What keeps pulling them together when they are so different? Her family’s comfortable circumstances and his single mom’s struggles accentuate the financial differences, and her love of reading and his obsession with running…well, what could they possibly find to share?

But they do keep going…and then something big separates them for years.

Who Do You Love is an engaging story that made me feel a lot of emotions. Luckily, there were plenty of funny moments, too, showing Weiner’s signature self-deprecating charms through the characters. Alternate chapters were narrated in first person by Rachel and third person from Andy. The passage of time is shown by dates on each chapter.

I loved the story once I got into it. The opening chapters, in the childhood years, were less interesting to me, but as the characters entered their teens and adulthood, I was there, rooting for each of them, even when they made typical relationship mistakes. Sometimes I cried along with them, hoping they would find their happiness. And I loved the paper clip heart that Andy made for Rachel in their early college years. It came to symbolize the uniqueness of their connection. An emotional journey, I give this one 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: ALL THE SUMMER GIRLS, BY MEG DONOHUE

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The three of them had met at the Philadelphia Friends School years before, and their friendship bonds had cemented during the summers spent at the Avalon Beach house. They were very different from one another, yet their connections came from a common bond developed in the school: Katherine (Kate) Harrington, whose twin brother Colin often joined them; Vanessa Dale, whose hippie parents were a constant reminder of how different her life was from her friends’ lives; and Dani Lowenstein, whose father owned the house on Avalon Beach and provided the backdrop to the fabulous summers.

Now, years later, they come together for one more summer, hoping to heal from the secrets of the past and a tragic event that left them all reeling, and the problems in their present. Kate’s fiancé Peter has just broken up with her only weeks before their wedding; Vanessa is still reeling from her husband Drew’s betrayal with another woman; and Dani is suffering from her own guilt and unable to maintain any kind of life out in San Francisco.

Will their secrets break them apart, or will they find enough strength in their friendship to help them heal? All the Summer Girls: A Novel (P.S.) is alternately narrated by the three friends, and the reader can jog along with them as they agonize over the past and try to carve out a future.

An enjoyable and somewhat predictable read, it was also very satisfying and the perfect ending to a summer. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: IT’S YOU, BY JANE PORTER

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Grief has followed Alison (Ali) McAdams around in the more than one year following the death of her fiancé, Dr. Andrew Morris. She stays busy working in the dental practice she shares with Andrew’s father, the same practice that now has a hole in it where Andrew once worked.

She believes she is moving along okay, despite the rage she still feels as she goes over the details of Andrew’s death: his suicide. It came out of nowhere, of course, and that is the hardest part for her. How did she miss the signs? Were there any signs?

On this particular day, however, her anger is further aroused by a stupid, hateful note left on her car: Learn to park: Asshole.

Was the note the impetus she needed to take a break from it all? Perhaps. Or could it have been her dad’s fractured wrist? Whatever the motivation, Ali is soon arranging for a flight to Oakland, and then a shuttle to Napa, where her father now lives. In a senior citizen home, in the independent living section. She’ll be taking a break from Scottsdale, AZ, and the life she lived there with Andrew.

In the days she spends in Napa, she meets several of her father’s cronies in the home, including a ninety-four-year-old woman named Edie. There is something compelling about Edie, but she is also crotchety, feisty, and a bit abrasive. Still, Ali can’t resist the connection she begins to feel for the elderly woman, especially after Edie shares some of her stories from the war years in Germany. There were secrets and betrayals…and the sadness and loss could have defined her. Instead, Edie seems more engaged in life than some younger people. And then there are the two handsome grand-nephews of Edie’s: Craig and Chad Hallahan.

It’s You is alternately narrated in the first person voices of Ali and Edie. Edie’s perspective is interesting, in that we also read portions of diaries she kept during the 1930s and 40s in Germany. She first went to Germany to study music, but over time, became entrenched in her life there. We learn about her lost love, Franz.

Why does Ali impulsively decide to fly to Germany, after reading Edie’s diaries? What does she hope to learn there? Can this be a journey of healing? Of starting over?

I enjoyed the characters and the brief appearance of Meg, Kit, and Brianna Brennan, from the Brennan Sisters novels. I kept rooting for a romance for Ali, but it probably made more sense for her to very slowly begin again. The ending was lovely…although it was a bit rushed, after the slow build of the rest of the story. Definitely a 4 star read.

REVIEW: A WEEK AT THE LAKE, BY WENDY WAX

 

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Friendships that go on for years can sustain a person, and when there is a break in the regular get-togethers and an absence of contact, feelings are hurt. People feel abandoned.

Emma Michaels grew up among Hollywood royalty, and was a child actor. She famously divorced her parents at a young age and lived with her grandmother. The cottage at the lake was a special gathering place for Emma’s friends, the ones she bonded with in their Manhattan days: Mackenzie Hayes and Serena Stockton.

Now, after a five-year absence, Emma has invited her old friends to the lake house for a week in the summer.

But when they arrive in Manhattan, before heading up to the Adirondacks cottage, they are stunned by the news that Emma is in the hospital, after sustaining major injuries. Her daughter Zoe, almost sixteen, is waiting for them at Mt. Sinai.

While Emma is in her coma, we see flashbacks of the friends over the years, learning about what kept them together…and pondering what might have separated them.

Mackenzie is going through her own angst, as her husband Adam is in LA, meeting with production companies about his screenplay. For the past twenty years, they have been living in Indiana, running a small theater. Mackenzie writes a popular blog.

Meanwhile, Serena, an actor, portrays a cartoon character, and she has received a lot of attention and some fame. But the loss of her long-ago love, Brooks Anderson, has left her bereft and making poor choices.

Why did Emma call her friends together? What does she have in mind? Explanations, or is there a deep, dark secret that will change everything between them?

Finally they are all at the lake, and as Emma heals, with the moments and days ticking away like a time bomb, we learn bits and pieces. I guessed the secret long before it was revealed. And it was a doozy. Despite that fact, I enjoyed seeing how the ramifications would all play out.

Will the friendships survive? Will Mac’s marriage go on after the decisions Adam made in LA? And what will Serena do when an unexpected brush with the past puts her in another quandary? A Week at the Lake was another novel from a favorite author that I enjoyed all the way to the end. 5 stars.