REVIEW: MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE, BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID

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Could each person live out different versions of his or her life in alternate universes?

This question is posited for the readers of Maybe in Another Life, and we watch this theory play out as Hannah Martin shows us that life can take different turns, with consequences following the choices made.

After living in various parts of the country, Hannah returns to LA where her best friend Gabby Hudson still lives. Gabby’s parents, Carl and Tina, have been like Hannah’s parents, too, since her own went to London with her sister Sarah when Hannah was in high school.

On a night when she first arrives back in LA, Hannah attends a party with Gabby…and reconnects with her high school boyfriend Ethan. At the end of the night, he asks her to stay with him…and Gabby invites her to go with her.

One version of Hannah leaves and another one stays. And in alternate chapters, we see how Hannah’s different “lives” play out.

The story was fun and it was easy to engage with each version of Hannah; I rooted for her, no matter which universe she inhabited. In the end, I liked how there were overlapping aspects in each incarnation, making it seem possible to imagine how other lives would unfold. 4 stars.

BOOK REVIEW: THE PERFECT STRANGER, BY WENDY CORSI STAUB

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The women connected on their blogs, recounting their battles with cancer, and finding support in the community.

But when one of them, Meredith Heywood, one of the few who used her real name on her blog, was murdered, fear cuts through the online community and turns them into frightened people, not sure who they can trust. Or even if they can trust each other.

Could someone evil be hiding behind an innocent screen name? Like Jaycee, the only one who doesn’t even post a profile photo? How do they even know who each person is, when their identity can be so anonymous?

When a small group of the women go to Meredith’s funeral and meet each other for the first time in person, they will feel a connection and start to trust. But then more things happen that make them doubt everyone again. Even each other.

Landry, Kay, and Elena all meet again in Alabama, at Landry’s home, but none of them feel safe, and the suspense ratchets up until, in the final pages, we discover the truth. The Perfect Stranger reminds us that just when we believe we are safe, we can be very wrong.

Alternating narrators drive the story and keep the reader hooked. We know all of the narrators…except the anonymous murderer. And in the end, could that anonymous person be someone we know, someone unexpected?

I loved turning the pages and trying to guess who was killing the seemingly random victims. 4.5 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: CATCHING AIR, BY SARAH PEKKANEN

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Peter and Rand Danner have had their problems over the years, most notably because of Rand’s often irresponsible behavior. Now that the brothers are married to their lovely wives, Kira and Alyssa, they are trying to get along.

But when Rand tells Peter and Kira that he and Alyssa have bought a B & B in Vermont, and want them to go in on it with them, they are stunned. And reluctant. They are used to their home in Florida, but then again, their jobs could use some improvements.

Kira is unhappy with the law firm she works for, and Peter is ready for a change, too.

When they arrive, they have a lot to learn and even more to do to set everything up. And for fun, they take in some snowboarding. Kira envies Alyssa’s carefree attitude. Alyssa shares how she can ski and snowboard with ease: “It’s like the mountain knows when you’re nervous. But gradually I learned to just be in that glorious moment of catching air. Once I began trusting that I’d land safely, I always did.”

Before they have scarcely gotten off the ground with the B & B, they take in Dawn, a young woman who obviously needs a place to stay, and who shows herself willing and able to work for board and room. What are her secrets? Who is she hiding from?

Narrated from several perspectives, Catching Air unfolds in a realistic fashion that shows the reader about their struggles, the mistakes they make, and how one huge job, a wedding, will take over their lives for weeks. But good things could be just around the corner…if they hang in there.

I enjoyed the story and came to care about the characters, who felt like real people I might have known. I loved how the mix of problems and joys made me laugh and even cry a little. Recommended for fans of women’s fiction…and the author. 4 stars.

A SERENDIPITOUS MOOD: MUSINGS

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Welcome to Monday!  I am feeling in a serendipitous mood today, which is why I’m posting here.  Be sure to visit Jen, at A Daily Rhythm, to see what others are musing about.

Here are some prompts:

  • I’m currently reading…
  • Up next I think I’ll read…
  • I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
  • I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I can’t wait to get a copy of…
  • I wish I could read ___, but…
  • I blogged about ____ this past week…

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: What fictional world would you love to live in, even if just for a day?

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Today I’m reading The Lake House, by Kate Morton, an e-ARC I received from NetGalley.

 

 

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My reading this weekend has been sporadic, but each time I return to this book, I am drawn into the story, the characters, and the settings (London, Cornwall).

This is my first adventure with Kate Morton, and while the book is long, I am savoring it.

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This past week, I made some changes in my office, the space where I blog and write.  My granddaughter helped me.  We moved the sofa bed from the wall along the side to the front wall, allowing it to unfold to a lengthier space.

Then I moved my bookshelf from the Nook (a closet space I’ve been using that way), took the empty shelf to the garage, redistributing some of the books, and adding others to my donation pile.  Now the space is my work station.

 

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To the left of the Nook is a bookshelf I moved from the opposite wall.

 

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I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner!  But isn’t that how things happen sometimes in life…serendipitously?

What are you musing about today?

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WHEN LIFE THROWS US A CURVE….

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Our lives are a journey, and they bring unexpected treasures—as well as obstacles and problems to solve.

My Blogging Journey has been like that, too, and over at Potpourri, I have detailed some of those moments.  In 2009, I created several blogs, and this one was originally An Accidental Life, in honor of the first book I published.  That premise was all about those moments in life that seem accidental…serendipitous.  We can choose to see them as annoying…or they can be viewed as gifts.

Here are some images, followed by a description of An Accidental Life:

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The cover was based on the A-Frame house in the foothills where I lived when I wrote the book:

 

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Summertime is hot and dull in the Central Valley of California and four teenage girls from very different families are determined to spice it up. With a single-mindedness that foretells disaster, they push aside all the rules and explore the underbelly of valley life. Drugs, sex, alcohol, adventure, anything to challenge the norm, yet all experienced without the benefit of maturity. As the girls become increasingly uncontrollable, their mothers–from dramatically diverse social backgrounds–are forced to work together to save their daughters. Like a tornado moving across the landscape, lives are wrenched from their foundations…

***

The young girls in my book were based on teenagers with whom I worked in my social work career…and I borrowed some of the characteristics from my daughter and her friends…embellishing them, of course, and fictionalizing them.

To this day, my daughter thinks the character Bridget is her…and she isn’t far off base.

The setting of the novel is California’s Central Valley, where I have lived for more than 40 years!  I cannot believe it even as I write the words.

I never intended to “end up” here:  another of life’s accidental moments…or unexpected treasures, depending on how you view it.

That’s what I am trying to share in the book.  Perhaps it seems as though life throws us challenges, accidentally, as it were.  But we do have a choice.  What we do with those unexpected events can inform our lives.  Are they a curse…or are they unexpected treasures?

***

I just changed the “look” of this blog again…the image of the blackboard on the header and background take me back to my favorite moments:  school.  Especially my early years, when my teachers wrote on those blackboards. 

I grew up on a farm and had little exposure to many of the ideas I would find in school.  I soaked them up, like the treasures they were.

***

What unexpected events in your life have transformed you, for good or bad?  Did you find that you could look at each thing from a different perspective?

***

 

 

 

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: THE SOUND OF GLASS, BY KAREN WHITE

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Our story begins in 1955 with Edith Heyward, in Beaufort, South Carolina, where she secretly works on a project up in the attic of the old antique home, worrying about her husband’s return from his trip. It is obvious that she is afraid of her husband, and the bruises tell us more.

Nearby, her young son CJ is playing. With the breezes come the sound of the wind chimes scattered all around; Edith makes them from sea glass.

When two tragedies occur that night, everything changes for Edith.

Fast forward to 2014: we meet Merritt Heyward, whose husband Cal, the grandson of Edith, has died. She has left her home in Maine, as she has inherited the family home in Beaufort. Merritt has her own secrets and fears, and she just wants to curl up alone in the old house and decide what to do next. But will the stream of visitors change everything for her? Why is her deceased father’s wife Loralee there with her ten-year-old son Owen? What is her agenda, and what are the secrets she is keeping?

The Sound of Glass is a lovely, atmospheric tale full of family secrets, revealing them one by one, like unpeeling an onion. But will the price of the revelations be worth it in the long run?

The characters were the kind that grip your heart and make you feel every available emotion, the ones you must feel for the mother (Loralee), who always has a bright smile and a humorous Southern saying, but who has taken a difficult journey for her son; for Merritt, leaving behind the dark shadows of her life with Cal, but holding tight to the secrets until her heart opens again in the presence of the wonderful new people in the life she has fallen into. And then there was Gibbes, who was the kind of brother-in-law who could see beyond the surface and realize what those around him needed.

Was everything that happened to them a coincidence? There were connections and threads that seemingly bound many of them together, some before they were born. What is the meaning of that kind of serendipity? A wonderful story that made me laugh and cry, and close the final page wishing I could read more about them all. Five stars.

 

REVIEW: THE GUEST COTTAGE, BY NANCY THAYER

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Zach and Sophie Anderson have the perfect life in their gorgeous Boston home, with their two wonderful children, Jonah, 15, and Lacey, 10. Or at least it seems to be perfect on the surface.

So when Sophie finds a suspicious notation on Zach’s calendar, she has to confront him about it. And he is all too eager to share that he is in love with Lila, his associate, and wants a divorce.

Reeling from the news, Sophie decides to pull an “Aunt Fancy,” a term she uses to describe the wild and crazy ways that her now deceased aunt dealt with things: she took some money from her inheritance from Aunt Fancy and rented a guest cottage on Nantucket for the summer.

In nearby Cambridge, Trevor Black, who runs his own computer business from his rented apartment, and whose wife has tragically died, is raising his four-year-old son and facing some challenges with Leo’s behavior. He decides that a change will be a good thing. So off they go to Nantucket…to a cottage they have rented.

Imagine their surprise to discover that they have each rented the same cottage–from the Svenson cousins who are not big on checking what the other is doing–and will have to find some sort of compromise. After they each check the other’s references, they give it a try.

What follows is an intriguing adventure that leads the adults and the children on an unexpected summer of discovery and a big start toward healing and starting over.

But there will also be lots of visitors to the cottage for each of them, from Sophie’s friend, the aggressive Angie, who makes a play for Trevor…and then tries to reel in Hristo, the wealthy Bulgarian who has his own yacht.

Then comes the mother of one of Leo’s friends, Candace, who boldly announces to Sophie that she and Trevor “belong” to each other. But is that the truth, or wishful thinking on her part?

Right away, I was intrigued and found The Guest Cottage: A Novel a lovely mix of nostalgic moments, possibilities of new love, and a wide variety of adventures that were fun to read about. What happens by summer’s end is the stuff of romance and the unexpected treasures of life. I enjoyed this one a lot, despite its predictability; it felt like a true comfort read that left me smiling. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: BALTIMORE BLUES, BY LAURA LIPPMAN

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In the first book of the Tess Monaghan series, Baltimore Blues (Tess Monaghan Novel Book 1), Tess is feeling adrift. It has been two years since her newspaper job ended, and she has yet to discover her new “true passion.”

Meanwhile, she does odd jobs and works in her Aunt Kitty’s bookstore, while living upstairs in a tiny apartment. She has regular routines, however, like daily exercise, including running and the occasional rowing with her friend Rock (Darryl Paxton).

One day, he asks her for a favor, for which he will pay her what will be a rather nice amount, so she agrees. He wants her to follow his fiancé, Ava Hill, who works for a well-known law firm in Baltimore. She is reluctant, but soon finds herself immersed in it all. Could this kind of work be her new passion?

But what Tess discovers leads to a series of unfortunate incidents. Ava seems to be having an affair with one of her bosses, Michael Abramowitz, and Tess somehow threatens Ava into telling Rock herself, before she does. What she hadn’t anticipated would be Ava lying and making it sound as if Abramowitz had “forced” her.

So when Abramowitz ends up dead, shortly after Rock had been to see him, Rock is arrested and charged with the murder.

His lawyer, another old rowing buddy, convinces Tess to continue working as an investigative assistant, searching for possible suspects or ways to create reasonable doubt.

From there, the story takes a number of somewhat curious turns as Tess follows one clue after another, revealing to the reader how much she still has to learn. Much of what she discovers could be considered accidental, and where it all ends up is rather serendipitous. But in the end, there is a satisfactory resolution. A few other casualties along the way make it all seem realistic for a novice detective.

I have read and enjoyed several books in this series, and my favorite parts involve Tess in her surroundings, with her friends, while enjoying an insider’s view of her world. This first outing was not my favorite, but I have added Tess to my list of intriguing detectives. 4.0 stars.