Category Archives: Women’s Fiction

Book Review: ‘Freshly Brewed’, by Pamela Ford

About the Author

Reviews 2016 07 11 Book Review Overwasy Pamela FordPamela Ford is the award-winning author of contemporary and historical romance. She grew up watching old movies, blissfully sighing over the romance; and reading sci-fi and adventure novels, vicariously living the action. The combination probably explains why the books she writes are romantic, happily-ever-afters with plenty of plot – and often lots of laughter.

After graduating from college with a degree in Advertising, Pam merrily set off to earn a living, searching for that perfect career as she became a graphic designer, print buyer, pantyhose sales rep, public relations specialist, copywriter, freelance writer – and finally author. Pam has won numerous awards including the Booksellers Best, the Laurel Wreath, and a gold medal IPPY in the Independent Book Publisher Awards. She is a Kindle Book Awards finalist and a two-time Golden Heart Finalist. She lives in Wisconsin where she is working on her next novel.

About the Book

Fresh BrewedBreanna Mitchell is on her way to a relaxing vacation at the ocean. Maybe she’ll even have a beachside fling to help her get over a recent breakup.

ut when a tropical storm makes her destination hotel uninhabitable, a chance encounter at continental breakfast delivers a fabulous option—with a catch. She and her friends can stay at a privately-owned, three-story oceanfront home—if she pretends to be the girlfriend of the owner’s heartbreaker grandson, Ethan. Since he won’t even be there, how hard could it be?

Everything is going swimmingly until Bree drinks too much wine and regales the family with romantic tales about her relationship with Ethan. His adorable brother Adam gets suspicious. His marriage-minded grandma gets engagement fever. The beautiful woman next door gets teary-eyed.

And then, Ethan unexpectedly arrives. Suddenly Bree is about to get everything she’s ever wished for—but is it what she really wants?

Book Review

More believable than its predecessor, Pamela Ford’s “Fresh Brewed” brings back the characters from “Overeasy” with a small switch in roles.  This time the story focuses on Bree while Allie takes a back seat to the action.  Bree’s story is quite different and a little more believable than Allie’s, which makes this series all the more readable—nothing like an obvious copy-paste to discourage me from reading the second book in a series!  But not only the story is different, the main character is also quite different, although she and Allie share one major thing in common that kept both their stories going: the ability to make the wrong decision again and again.

A cute, fun, well-written and engaging quick read, Bree’s story is that of a series of unfortunate decisions, not a series of unfortunately events like Allie’s was.  Although I chuckled my way through the book, I have to admit that I also rolled my eyes a few times and groaned a many others as well.  I can’t help but wonder: do people like this actually exist?

There are two complaints I have, but they are not major enough for me to not recommend this book.  The first is that lack of deep enough realisation like Allie had; long time readers of my blog know how I like me some sort of deeper level understanding to emerge from any book that I read.  The second complaint is that although we get to meet a fun new character who will be featured in a future book, we don’t get to see Allie or Megan, Bree’s sidekicks who were also present in the first book featuring Allie’s adventure, as much as I’d like to.  But, again, these are minor quibbles that don’t take much away from the reading experience.

Add to Bookshelf?

If you are looking for an easy, fun, unrealistic read, then yes.

Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!

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Book Review: ‘OverEasy’, by Pamela Ford

About the Author

Reviews 2016 07 11 Book Review Overwasy Pamela FordPamela Ford is the award-winning author of contemporary and historical romance. She grew up watching old movies, blissfully sighing over the romance; and reading sci-fi and adventure novels, vicariously living the action. The combination probably explains why the books she writes are romantic, happily-ever-afters with plenty of plot – and often lots of laughter.

After graduating from college with a degree in Advertising, Pam merrily set off to earn a living, searching for that perfect career as she became a graphic designer, print buyer, pantyhose sales rep, public relations specialist, copywriter, freelance writer – and finally author. Pam has won numerous awards including the Booksellers Best, the Laurel Wreath, and a gold medal IPPY in the Independent Book Publisher Awards. She is a Kindle Book Awards finalist and a two-time Golden Heart Finalist. She lives in Wisconsin where she is working on her next novel.

About the Book

OverEasyAllie Parker’s had enough. Just because she’s a dog groomer, her overachieving family of doctors and lawyers treats her like a child. She’s convinced that a successful husband is all she needs to change their attitudes. So when she and her friends come up with a brilliant new way to meet eligible men, Allie squeezes into her sister’s stylish clothes and sneaks into continental breakfast at an upscale hotel to find herself the perfect guy.

Before Allie has taken her last bite of syrup-laden waffle, she’s met the man of her dreams. But what she doesn’t know is that he’s a jewel thief who mistakenly thinks she’s his contact—and so does everyone else who’s after his stash of diamonds.

Suddenly Allie’s world is crazily upended. And as she scrambles to prove her innocence and get back to her old life, she discovers happily ever after sneaks up when you least expect it.

Book Review

Well written, engaging, with a great flow and no hiccups of any sort that distracted from my reading, Pamela Ford’s “Overeasy” features a main character that is quite likable and sidekicks intriguing enough that the idea of sequels featuring them is appealing.  It is not meant to be a serious book; it’s a beach chick flick read, after all, featuring a series of incredible and sometimes hilarious events that build into an overall fun story that will leave readers shaking their heads incredulously.

But there are still some things that can be gleaned while reading this book.  For example, it can hit readers how the main character is 28 years-old and yet unable to take ownership of her career decision.  Sure her family isn’t happy with her being a dog groomer, but that was a decision she herself took.  It begs the question: if Allie was truly satisfied with her life, would her family’s disapproval weight that heavily on her?

Allie is hit with a realisation at the end of the book which I am purposefully not explaining here.  This realisation had great potential with regards to opening readers’ eyes.  However, it kind of came out of the blue and wasn’t too well explained, which is unfortunate as its impact becomes a little diffuse.

The ending was surprisingly real, despite the surreal nature of Allie’s overall experience.  Things in life rarely end cleanly; there are always loose ends and this to me made the book all the more enjoyable.

Add to Bookshelf?

If you are looking for an easy, fun, unrealistic read, then yes.

Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!

 

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Book Review: The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark

In this modern-day retelling of the classic My Fair Lady, Bridie Clark makes poor Lucy Jo, a sweet yet clumsy young lady from Minnesota, jump through all the hoops that Wyatt Hayes IV (a brilliant yet bored anthropologist and, as the “IV” in his name might have clued you in on, whose family is insanely rich) deems necessary for her to jump through to become a socialite.

Like so many others before her, Lucy Jo’s dream is to become a designer. And so she moves to Manhattan where she finds a job on a Garment District assembly line. After a particularly disastrous evening, which was supposed to be Lucy Jo’s first foray into the high-end fashion industry but ends up being her ultimate humiliation, she finds herself without a job. To make matters worse, the subway is down and in the mad rush to find a taxi, Lucy Jo’s honest attempts are foiled by the underhanded techniques of the rich to steal her hard-earned cab rides.

And so when Wyatt and his friend Trip seek shelter under the same bus shelter as her, she is more than insulted at Wyatt’s offer to take part in his experiment. But she soon hits rock bottom and decides to take him up on his offer.

As far as Lucy Jo knows, her three-month transformation, which is to culminate in her attending the Fashion Forum Gala, is the result of a bet between two rich and bored young men. However, Wyatt has much more than a mere bet riding on Lucy Jo’s success; unbeknown to her, he has signed a publishing deal with Harvard University to write a book about this social experiment.

At first, Wyatt isn’t bothered by the deal, as, in his mind, both he and Lucy Jo will be getting the boost their respective careers need: him, a book that is bound to appeal to both the general public and academic circles, and she, a much-needed foot into the door of the fashion world, by meeting the many contacts in Wyatt’s network of acquaintances.

However, as one can expect, Wyatt and Lucy Jo start developing deeper feelings one for the other, which (needless to say) complicate things. Lucy Jo’s unexpected close friendship with Trip’s longtime girlfriend Eloise also complicates matters, as does her mother Rita’s discovering Lucy Jo’s sudden good fortune, which she wishes to tap into. But all of these complications would be nothing without that of Wyatt’s ex-girlfriend, Cornelia Rockman, New York’s reigning socialite, whose superficiality is what initially inspired Wyatt to want to run his ‘study’ in the first place.

The Overnight Socialite is a great read, but also a bit of a disappointment, as Lucy Jo’s transformation is only covered in the most perfunctory fashion. The opportunity for the exploration of the social processes at work in creating a world where people are famous for just being seen wasn’t well taken advantage of, as the clashes between Lucy Jo and Wyatt are kept at the level of bumbling student and perfectionist teacher.

Had the psyche of the characters been examined a little more thoroughly – how her determination is helping her get over her humiliation, how she feels about Wyatt throughout the various stages of the transformation, how Wyatt’s perception of Lucy – as a project, then as a friend, then as more – crept up on him, this book would been a more enjoyable read. It would also have been a better examination of the social criticism that the author barely touches upon but is of the utmost importance: today’s rabid, raving celebrity obsessed culture, in which being a socialite becomes a self-serving career rather than an opportunity to carry on philanthropic work.

If you are looking for a relaxing, well-written chick flick, The Overnight Socialite  will answer your needs. And although the topics are not explored in depth, a book club can easily host lively discussions on the superficiality of the celebrity-obessions that currently imbibes many levels of our society. And for those of you who just want to read the story of a young woman defying the odds and making it, The Overnight Socialite is definitely for you.

First published here on Blogcritics.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 7 June 2013.

Book Recommendation: ‘Pear Shaped’, by Stella Newman

Happy Sunday! As you ready yourself for another great week, are you wondering what to take along with you on your commute? Take a peek at this week’s recommended commute companion!

Pear Shaped by Stella Newman on Sahar's Reviews‘Pear Shaped’, by Stella Newman

Review here.

Purchase here.

Synopsis:

‘A fabulous first novel by a British writer…Her writing is witty and snappy and she is hilarious on the food industry, with a wit that would not disgrace television’s The Office… I also found her fascinating on the methodology of contemporary dating.’ Wendy Holden.

‘Pear Shaped is the best sort of guilty pleasure, from the copious puddings our heroine Sophie tests in her day job, to the relationship she just knows is wrong for her but can’t seem to give up. You’ll shout out loud willing her to dump him, and cry with laughter as you recognise all the daft things we do when we’re in love. And then you’ll have a second helping of pudding and fall in love with Stella Newman’s quick wit and her clever portrayal of that delicate balance between food, love and insanity.’ -Kathleen Baird-Murray

‘It reminded me of a lemon meringue pie: sharp and sweet and satisfying all at once. It’s funny, sad and uplifting… Sophie Klein’s every woman who’s stood in front of a mirror and hated herself, and we adore her for that, and for finally delivering a Toxic Bachelor a good kick up the arse. It’s a belter.’ -Kate Long, bestselling author of The Bad Mother’s Handbook

‘Achingly funny, searingly honest, Pear Shaped is quite simply the freshest thing I’ve ever read. Take note of the name Stella Newman. A must for anyone who’s ever loved, lost…or eaten too much dessert.’ Claudia Carroll, bestselling author of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow

‘If you are a girl with a passion for food, this modern city heartbreak is the book for you.’ Heat

‘What a fantastic book. Really quite brilliant, way superior to standard chick-lit…so well written, fresh, insightful, funny…honest and very contemporary. Fantastic dialogue. Great characters. There’s so much that’s fresh and fun, including the food world which I loved.’ Henry Fitzherbert, Sunday Express

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Book review: ‘Little Earthquakes’, by Jennifer Weiner

If you’re looking for a great, humorous, realistic yet inspirational read, then Jennifer Weiner’s books are for you. Of her many (good) books, Little Earthquakes is definitely my favorite one.

While Jennifer Weiner is categorized as a Chick Lit author, the stigma associated with the genre is definitely challenged by books such as this one. To refer to Weiner’s book as Chick Lit is similar to calling Todd English a fast food restaurant owner. What both of these talented individuals have in common is the ability to create wonderful pieces of work that are sometimes taken for granted because they reach such a wide audience and make it look effortless.”

Little Earthquakes is of the Chick Lit genre in that it’s a book by a woman about women that is aimed at women. The book introduces us to four women who meet at a yoga class for expectant mothers. Becky is a chef who has an extremely loving relationship with her husband and an interfering mother-in-law who insists on trying to change everything about her. Kelly is an overachieving event planner who had a poor childhood and has since become intent on giving her own child a better life. Unfortunately, her newly unemployed husband isn’t living up to her ideals. Ayinde, a beautiful television reporter who is married to a professional athlete, has her life turned upside down because of her husband’s act of indiscretion. Finally there is Lia, a somewhat mysterious character who hides a heartbreaking secret involving her own brief experience of motherhood while bonding with the new mothers. Each of these women must struggle with the challenges of being new moms while at the same time balancing all of the other areas in their lives. They realize that becoming a new mother changes one’s sense of self and one’s relationships with others.”

However, if you define Chick Lit as having “an airy, irreverent tone and frank sexual themes, then you are in for a major disappointment. The story is definitely not airy and the tone, while light-hearted at times and humorous at others, is definitely not irreverent. It could have easily become so, as the four main characters become close friends, get embroiled in complicated situations and have conversations that are deeper and deeper. But Jennifer Weiner stuck to a brand of friendship that isn’t based on shoes and shopping, but rather on the character forming challenges of motherhood and those little traumatic obstacles of life such as unemployment and infidelity.

The character development is so deep one almost expects a full psychological review (and I’m certain a professional would have more than enough information from this story to develop four full profiles). But the book reads like anything but a medical chart.

And while the richness of the book is in large part due to this amazing character development, it is also in large part due to Jennifer Weiner’s particular brand of humor, which she injects throughout the entire story. Interestingly enough, her characters do not become four aspects of her own personality, but remain four distinct and very different women.

These differences aren’t limited to their background or their current situation; they are also very present when it comes to their attitude towards mothering. Lia and Ayinde are in between the two extremes portrayed by Becky’s extremely laid-back attitude and Kelly’s over controlling one. Ayinde struggles with her mother’s old school attitude towards parenting while Lia is nursing deep guilt over what happened to her son. Jennifer Weiner never presents any form of judgment towards any of these women, rather bringing out the positive and negative of each attitude, and focusing on her exploration ofthe power of love and self-acceptance in overcoming life’s obstacles. Her characters confront harshness and unhappiness with humor and self-confidence. They experience success without changing the essence of who they are and without subjugating their beliefs. Weiner has written a touching novel with wonderful characters and honest lessons about living a less than perfect life. (…) Little Earthquakes explores motherhood, friendship, marriage, loss, devastation, forgiveness and love. This is women’s fiction at its best.”

I was thinking about what makes Jennifer Weiner’s books so amazing, and I couldn’t quite put it in words. This in itself is ironic, since someone who blogs technically should be good with words. Anyhow! Thankfully, not all reviewers out there lack the savvy to do so, and here is the one description I love: “How does Weiner create such wonderful fiction time and time again? She pulls her readers into the world she has created and allows them to experience this world for themselves. She gives her characters difficult struggles and flaws. Weiner writes so vividly and creates such real human emotion through her words that she makes her readers truly care about the lives of her characters. (…) What is so wonderful about Weiner’s work is that she gives her characters undying hope, no matter how unfortunate their circumstances may be. Through her characters’ faith and persistence she creates happy endings that often can be difficult to find in fiction today.”

At the risk of sounding terribly cliché, the characters in this book are so real that they seem to leap out of the pages. Sometimes, especially on days when I’m tired and I haven’t had my morning coffee, I remain convinced that I know these women rather than having read about them. They are terribly human, full of flaws and strengths, are women we could look up to without being picture the perfect, pre-packaged superwomen we are often told to somehow emulate.

Which brings me to one of the other great things about this story is that the ending: isn’t happily ever after, but there is the feeling that these women are all better equipped to manage their lives than they were at the beginning of the book.” This makes the characters are the more real and, at the same time, all the more endearing.

Another great thing about being a Jennifer Weiner fan is that it doesn’t stop at her books; she also has a blog which, as opposed to some of the other blogs by authors out there, is quite entertaining and refreshing in itself. I would even consider publishing a collection of her best posts, that’s how great her blog is.

In her blog, she often discusses publishing foibles and challenges, her upcoming events (or her past events and how they went), and all-too-rare mentions of her children. But where her blog really shines is when she unleashes her considerable wit and irony on the publishing industry at large. Because she’s a female novelist whose books often have pink covers (these are her words), she is cast into the category called ‘chick lit’. She both bemoans this fact but also embraces it, because so many women authors are labeled with this rather dismissive term. She often mentions books she’s reading, and authors she loves. She discusses the hypocrisy of book reviewers, and gently admonishes other writers for their egos (particularly those authors that both court attention and revile it). Reading her blog can often feel like a ring-side seat into the deep, dark world of book publishing and all that goes on there. When I keep up with her blog, I feel much more connected to the world of publishing–even though I don’t yet have a book to publish.”

Jennifer Weiner published Little Earthquakes in 2004; her first book, Good in Bed, was published in 2001. In her Shoes was published in 2002 and is now a motion picture starting Cameron Diaz. She continued with Goodnight Nobody (2005), The Guy not Taken (2006) and Certain Girls (2008). There are more than 9 million copies of her books in print in 36 countries. Of all her books, only one was disappointing (Certain Girls); all the others were absolutely wonderful, and for a relaxing, easy, entertaining and inspiring read, I recommend them all – but do start with Little Earthquakes.

First published on Sahar’s Blog on 12 October 2008.

Book Review: ‘What Would Mary Berry Do?’ by Claire Sandy

Mary Berry is to Marie what idols are to many people: a touchstone of sorts to which we turn when we are in dire straits, gaining focus by centering our thoughts and actions on what would this person do in our position.

What Would Mary Berry Do CoverThe lovely tale that is What Would Mary Berry Do? features no big time drama, no reality television worthy scene, no mystery, nothing that would most probably never happen to you. What keeps you turning the page is empathy; because you don’t need to be a mother or even a wife to connect with Marie in her attempts to navigate life a little more elegantly. This connection with Marie made me turn the pages, cheering her on, and hoping she would be able to conquer the beast that is her kitchen (amongst other things).

The book starts with a typical my-neighbour-is-the-perfect-mom-and-homemaker-and¬-I-suck scene. I have to confess it made me a little uncomfortable, for it had the potential of leading the way for a superficial story featuring stereotypes. But only a few pages in, I am reassured by the author taking us into the mind of Marie’s teenage son, which is the beginning of some complexity. Although the book is centered on her, it isn’t just about Marie; we also get to glimpse the same household through the eyes of her husband, and her children, especially the oldest one. And while I did wish at times for the delving to go a little deeper, What Would Mary Berry Do? was still quite an enjoyable read.

Marie’s muse is a cooking genius, a little like Rachael Ray if you must. And while it might seem like wanting to learn how to bake for the reasons specified in the book is superficial, one only has to hang in there to see the positive effects Marie’s baking has on her own self, on her family, and on her community. After all, cooking is not just about making things; it is a way to bring a family together, a way to bring comfort and joy to others, a way to learn discipline, a way to build bonds of friendship. The kitchen is, in this book, the heart of the home, and what brings not only the members of Marie’s family together, but also some members of their community.

Some of the other things that Marie learns on her journey towards becoming a better baker includes the choice of not to judging someone without knowing them; it also includes the realization that once you know someone, you are no longer in a position to judge them after all. Another thing Marie learns is that jealousy has the nasty ability of blinding you, and becomes one of the reasons you would judge someone in the first place. We as the reader can see from very beginning that Marie’s attitude towards her picture perfect neighbour Lucy is heavily tainted by her feeling insecure because of her inability to keep as spotless a home. What Would Mary Berry Do? also chronicles Marie’s journey from blindly jealous to openly accepting, which it a good occasion for readers to pause and wonder how in our day to day life we are perchance making the same mistake.

Marie’s husband soon joins her on the path of learning more about life through learning how to bake. As a long-term employee with many years of successful experience, he knows his stuff and knows that he knows his stuff. But as a younger employee starts playing the game to get his job, he finds himself engaging in this same game. And while this, combined with his experience, put him in a safer position, the increasingly blurring lines between being professional and unprofessional make him increasingly unhappy. Again, readers are encourages to pause and reflect on their own actions which, although intended to keep them happy, just might be contributing to exactly the contrary.

As mentioned previously, What Would Mary Berry Do?’s plot is very simple, to the point that some turn of events can be predicted from the very first chapters, if not pages. From the get go, readers will probably figure out that a certain loyalty would develop, a certain confidence would be betrayed, and a certain secret would turn out to be the answer to the only remotely mysterious part of the plot. This predictability however does not make the book a boring read; rather, author Sandy engages us in such a way that we want to figure out how the predictable occurs.

A book that doesn’t attempt to patronize or to be condescending, What Would Mary Berry Do? is a book about a happy family trying to live life in a better way. It’s about a woman trying to become a better mother. It’s about a father trying to hold on to his job in a manner coherent with his personal belief system. It’s about a teenager navigating a difficult year in his life. It’s about two adorable little sisters – twins, at that – using their spotless reputation to help those they love the most. Claire Sandy’s contribution to your bookshelf is an enjoyable read that will make you grateful for the loved ones in your life, even the ones (or especially the ones?) that drive you nuts.

Claire Sandy is also known as Bernie Strachan, about whom more information is available on her website.

First published on Sahar’s Blog on 2 October 2014

Book Review Round-Up: Six Books to Gear Up for Summer

Yes, you read that right: I’m gearing up for summer.  You might wonder why, since there is a fresh blanket of snow covering everything every couple of days.  That’s because that blanket melts pretty fast and the smell of spring remains in the air.

And I refuse to believe that summer is that far away.

A Window Opens: A Novel, by Elisabeth Egan

Synopsis:

From the beloved books editor at Glamour magazine comes a heartfelt and painfully funny debut about what happens when a wife and mother of three leaps at the chance to fulfill her professional destiny—only to learn every opportunity comes at a price.

In A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor, and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker, or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers—an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life—seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up, and her work takes an unexpected turn. Fans of I Don’t Know How She Does It, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she—Alice Pearse—really want?

Book Review:

A simple, straightforward read written in an engaging voice, Alice is a protagonist readers will root for.  After all, we are living in a world where we are expected to have it all, but even as we struggle with our own balancing act, lost sometimes in a confusing haze, other people’s problems seem crystal clear to us; shedding light on their struggles helps us with our own.  Perhaps that is the most powerful aspect of this book, along with its ability to make readers laugh, smile, wince, and cheer as Alice figures things out in a way hopefully we will be able to as well.

Add to reading list?

Yes.

The Friends We Keep, by Susan Mallery

Synopsis:

In this insightful and compelling story from book club favorite Susan Mallery, three close friends test the boundaries of how much a woman can give before she has nothing left.

After five years as a stay-at-home mom, Gabby Schaefer can’t wait to return to work. Oh, to use the bathroom in peace! No twins clamoring at the door, no husband barging in, no stepdaughter throwing a tantrum. But when her plans are derailed by some shocking news and her husband’s crushing expectations, Gabby must fight for the right to have a life of her own.

Getting pregnant is easy for Hayley Batchelor. Staying pregnant is the hard part. Her husband is worried about the expensive fertility treatments and frantic about the threat to her health. But to Hayley, a woman who was born to be a mom should risk everything to fulfill her destiny—no matter how high the cost.

Nicole Lord is still shell-shocked by a divorce that wasn’t as painful as it should’ve been. Other than the son they share, her ex-husband left barely a ripple in her life. A great new guy tempts her to believe maybe the second time’s the charm… but how can she trust herself to recognize true love?

As their bonds of friendship deepen against the beautiful backdrop of Mischief Bay, Gabby, Hayley and Nicole will rely on good food, good wine and especially each other to navigate life’s toughest changes.

Book Review:

Finally.   Finally a book about relationships between good men and good women who are imperfect but not stupid.  What a breath of fresh air, guys.  No one is demonized in this book; rather they are all just treated as the flawed yet inherently good people that we all are.  There is nothing cliché about these women and their relationships, be it romantic or with each other; each of them come to life in a unique way, leaping off the pages and seemingly taking a life of their own.  Susan Mallery has two gifts that work very well together.  One is that she is able to write in an engaging tone that captures the attention from the get-go and doesn’t let go until the end of the book.  The other is to have a perspective on life that is both realistic but intriguing enough to make for a fascinating and inspiring story.  You will definitely miss your best friends after reading this one!

Add to reading list?

Yes.

Someone Else’s Love Letter, by Deborah Blumenthal

Synopsis:

Fixing your wardrobe is a dream job. Fixing your life is a work of art.

Sage Parker has the perfect occupation for a Manhattanite—she helps the rich and powerful keep their wardrobes current and suitable for every need. Her sense of fashion is impeccable, her connections are unsurpassed, and her eye misses not a single well-made stitch.

So when she discovers a love note left in the back of a cab, Sage admires the card stock and the ink, but also the heartfelt words. She sets out on a mission to find out who the love note was intended for—and who wrote it.

What Sage discovers will broaden her horizons and change her life, introducing her to an extraordinary woman who is revamping her entire world midway through life, a dashing Brit with a hive of secrets, and a free-spirited painter, whose brush captures the light in everything he paints, including Sage.

Fans of Isabel Wolff and Kathleen Tessaro will be hopelessly enchanted with Sage Parker and this mesmerizing, heartfelt novel of bold fashion and bolder choices.

Book Review:

There is a lot of potential in this book, but for me it felt a little flat.  There was no depth to Sage’s love story, depth that the author is clearly capable of.  The sections she wrote on the relationship between outer looks and inner feelings for example veer into gorgeous reflections.  I could tell that there was some depth to the relationship brought by these reflections, but not enough.  However, the light of that part of the book shone so bright that it is still well worth reading. In an age where clothes are unfortunately seen mostly as a way to portray status, it is refreshing to hear of a deeper meaning to the efforts we make into dressing our bodies.  I feel like some of these sections could potentially even change the way readers perceive the very act of dressing their body, elevating it into something much more than it is.

Add to reading list?

Yes.

Hidden, by Catherine McKenzie

Synopsis:

When a married man suffers a sudden fatal accident, two women are shattered — his wife and his mistress — and past secrets, desires, and regrets are brought to light.

While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son as well as contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members, and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother, who was her ex-boyfriend. Tish volunteers to attend the funeral on her company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life.

Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish, and Claire, Hidden explores the complexity of relationships, the repercussions of our personal choices, and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love.

Review:

This is a thrilling read although it is anything but a thriller.  It doesn’t go anywhere near what one would assume Catherine McKenzie will go.  It is not a drama-rama, typical romance book; it is actually about love in the broader sense of the word.  One finds out not just about the love between a husband and a wife or the one between a man and his mistress, but also the love of a mother for a child, the love of a family for its members as well as for its entity as a family—and ultimately, the power of love to overcome selfish desires and to let go of opening a potentially fatal Pandora’s box.  And kudos to Catherine for a certain twist which I will say nothing more about (but would love to hear other readers’ reactions to!)

Add to reading list?

Yes.

I Almost Forgot About You, by Terry McMillan

Synopsis:

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Waiting To Exhale is back with the inspiring story of a woman who shakes things up in her life to find greater meaning.

Review:

This book was challenging to read.  On the one hand, it is very well-written, engaging, and the characters are very lovable, especially the main protagonist.  On the other hand, I couldn’t connect with Georgia’s issues.  I think it’s mostly because so much of the book seems to be focused on sex.  While sex is an important part of any relationship, it isn’t its core, and similarly, when we have relationship issues, sex is only a part of it.  I felt that everything always came back to a crude version of sex—which long term readers of my reviews know is a particular pet peeve of mine.  Skipping these sections though didn’t ruin the book and actually helped delve into some really interesting questions about relationships, be they romantic or other.  How does one go about finding love again after one has been through so many painful relationships?  Should one be content with having had a full life culminating in healthy children and grandchildren, a career, a beautiful home, and financial security?  Or should one be willing and ready to take a step into building a life that also includes other elements that are lacking, whatever one’s age may be?

Add to reading list

Perhaps.

Sophie’s Throughway, by Jules Smith

Synopsis:

A unique novel that explores the effect Asperger’s has, not only on the individual, but on the family unit as a whole.

Sophie needs to find a way to balance the chaotic route she has been forced to walk down… a son she cannot control – diagnosed with Asperger’s and PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance), coinciding with the onset of raging hormones; a daughter she has to ensure gets attention so she doesn’t feel left out; and an ex-husband who comes and goes as he pleases.

At the same time, Sophie struggles to hold down her job as an interiors writer for a magazine. Her rambling house is in desperate need of upkeep – her garden is full of overgrowing plants; there’s no end of laundry, cleaning and cooking and there’s not nearly enough money.

Only wine, chocolate and good friends keep Sophie from tipping over the edge. That, and the mysterious voice of her cyber love. Could he be the saviour she’s been waiting for? Or has he been in front of her the whole time?

Told from the perspective of a mother who has to battle through life on a daily basis – fighting hard to keep her son in school, dealing with her marriage breaking up, giving her daughter her attention, maintaining her job and exploring her future love life.

Sophie’s Throughway is a heartwarming read, written to inspire empathy and compassion within the reader, as well as increasing understanding for a condition that does not have enough public recognition.

Book Review:

Oh, this was a tough book to read (do you even know what a mother of a child with Asperger’s and PDA can go through?!?!?) but such an important one in my opinion.  These are the books that demonstrate how fiction can both be an entertaining escape and a portal into new dimensions of understanding.  Sophie’s challenge, on top of normal challenges a woman with two teenage children has, is such a tough one that I can’t even imagine getting through one week with her son, let alone a day.  And as clearly demonstrated in the book (as well as on various news stories about similar issues), there is a huge lack in understanding at very important levels of what it entails to have a son with Asperger’s and PDA.  Reading books such as this one can really help open our minds and ready them for conversations on how, as community members, we can support a family in such a situation.  Because in this case especially, it will take a village to raise that child.

Add to reading list

Yes

Book Review: ‘In The Context of Love’, by Linda K. Sienkiewicz

About the author:

Reviews 2016 03 31 Book Review In The Context of Love Linda K. SienkiewiczLinda K. Sienkiewicz is a published poet and fiction writer, cynical optimist, fan of corgis, tea drinker, and wine lover from Michigan. Her poetry, short stories, and art have been published in more than fifty literary journals, including Prairie Schooner, Clackamas Literary Review, Spoon River, and Permafrost.

She received a poetry chapbook award from Bottom Dog Press, and an MFA from the University of Southern Maine. Linda lives with her husband in southeast Michigan, where they spoil their grandchildren and then send them back home.

About the book:

Reviews 2016 03 31 Book Review In The Context of Love CoverWhat makes us step back to examine the events and people that have shaped our lives? And what happens when what we discover leads to more questions?

Angelica Schirrick wonders how her life could have gotten so far off-track. With two children in tow, she begins a journey of self-discovery that leads her back home to Ohio. It pains her to remember the promise her future once held and the shattering revelations that derailed her life.

Can she face the failures and secrets of her past and move forward? Somehow she must learn to accept the violence of her beginning before she can be open to life, and a second chance at love.

My thoughts:

Angelica’s story is heart-breaking, but in a time and age where families are falling apart, it is so important to read about what happens to those of us unlucky enough not to have a strong fortress of well-being in the form of our parents to grow up in.

In the Context of Love is a well-written and well-paced book.  It delves into the story of Angelica’s series of bad mistakes following a discovery that shatters her sense of self-worth, sending her into a spiral of self-destruction.

One thing I liked about Sienkiewicz’ style is that she balances well explaining what is going on in Angelica’s mind enough for readers to understand her logic, despite the fact that it is a faulty one.  We are welcomed into Angelica’s thought process just enough to not be overwhelmed or bogged down.

One thing I didn’t like though is the emphasis on sex, which long-time Sahar’s Blog readers will no doubt not be surprised to read.  I think that the way Angelica degraded herself through various sexual acts, as well as the intensity of sex with her first love—all the more that she met him in her teen years—was a necessary and inevitable part of the story, but there was a lot of unnecessary description that I skipped without losing anything to the story.

Not quite as difficult to read as Heather O’Neill’s heart shattering Lullabies for Little Criminals, In the Context of Love is the kind of book those of us trying to understand the current conditions of the society we live in need to read.  It will no doubt help us understand that there are realities completely different from our own and enable us keep an mind open to possible ways of building a world in which no one has to go through what either Angelica or Baby went through.

Recommend?

Yes.  Although you might also want to skip some of the, erm, more descriptive pages.

Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing
a copy of this book for me to review!

Book review: The Friday Night Knitting Club (Kate Jacobs)

The reviewing bug has bit me in recent weeks; I find myself posting comments all over forums and blogs about the various books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen. So I decided to give regularly scheduled reviews a try; that way, I can share the good things I’ve experienced with my readers, and help them avoid the ones that still regularly give me the shivers.

About a week ago, I was bored and walked by a book store. Not a good combination; my feet forced me inside and the next thing I knew, I walked out with the equivalent of a week’s rent in books. One of them was purely an impulse buy; I love knitting and couldn’t resist the title The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacob.

I also happen to like well-written chick flicks with some substance, and this book seemed to have substance. The story revolves around the owner of a yarn shop, Georgia Walker. When she found out thirteen years ago that she was pregnant, Georgia thought her only viable option was to move back to her parents house. A chance encounter with Anita, a older widower, changes her luck as Georgia realizes that she can bank on her knitting talent to make a living for herself. From knitting on commission, Georgia opens her own yarn store, Walker and Daughter, where a group of women start meeting every Friday evening to knit. They soon become close friends and, while each admires the other for the seemingly perfect life she leads, they come to realize that none of them have a perfect life and they all need one another to survive.

The book is well written, easy to read and yes, with quite some substance. The storylines are touching and, because each character is at a different point in their life, every reader will find at least one character they can identify with.

A disappointing aspect is the relative lack of depth in character development. While the reader gets to know the characters pretty well, I didn’t feel like I knew them enough to get attached to them. I was interested enough in their lives to see where they were going and finished the book – but I wish the character development had been such that I would have felt their sorrow and joy more acutely, as their friend rather than a passive observer.

The other thing that I didn’t quite like about the writing is the constant changing of point of view (POV). One moment we are in the POV of one character then we jump to another and only a few lines later to yet another. I have the impression this might have in part caused the relative lack of depth described earlier. Choosing one POV per chapter and analyzing everything from it would not only have increased its consistency, but also aroused our curiosity by not revealing everything about everyone; it would have made the story less of a chronicle and more of a diary.

I would still recommend this book to anyone looking for a book with substance, but for readers looking for more depth, I would encourage them to take the time to digest each major event.

The book has an official website, but you’ll probably find the author’s official website more interesting. I , for one, prefer her blog.

Enjoy, and do drop a line if you read the book!

First published on Sahar’s Blog on 14 September 2008–I’ve come a long way since then!

Book Review Round-Up: Four Books to Read During the Four Weeks of Winter Left

Believe it or not, guys, there are less than four weeks of winter left! Not that I needed an excuse to read more books, of course, but being able to have an extra excuse always makes the reading so much more pleasurable.

We have been lucky in our little corner of the world in that we have had a relatively mild winter as well as a day or two of bright sunshine every week. Those are the days during which I will redecorate temporarily various parts of our place to follow the sun’s rays—I mean, we all need vitamin D, after all! And this of course makes reading even more pleasurable. Then add the coffee on top and… Heaven.

I’ve been in the mood for meaningful fiction in the last couple of weeks, so I picked up the following four books which I assumed, based on their description, would combine entertainment with inspiration.

“The Restaurant Critic’s Wife”, by Elizabeth LaBan

Synopsis: Lila Soto has a master’s degree that’s gathering dust, a work-obsessed husband, two kids, and lots of questions about how exactly she ended up here. In their new city of Philadelphia, Lila’s husband, Sam, takes his job as a restaurant critic a little too seriously. To protect his professional credibility, he’s determined to remain anonymous. Soon his preoccupation with anonymity takes over their lives as he tries to limit the family’s contact with anyone who might have ties to the foodie world. Meanwhile, Lila craves adult conversation and some relief from the constraints of her homemaker role. With her patience wearing thin, she begins to question everything: her decision to get pregnant again, her break from her career, her marriage—even if leaving her ex-boyfriend was the right thing to do. As Sam becomes more and more fixated on keeping his identity secret, Lila begins to wonder if her own identity has completely disappeared—and what it will take to get it back.

My thoughts: Even the best of marriages can go through some rough times. How a couple navigates it determines the outcome. Although Sam comes off as, well, not a very kind person (to put it nicely), it was easy to root for the marriage when I kept in mind that I was treated to only one side of the story, i.e. Lila’s. Sad at times, uplifting at others, ultimately The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is bound to make readers think about the qualities needed to make a marriage successful: honest, kind, and patient communication. And that some things need to be repeated a couple of times before the other actually gets it and compromises made. Oh, and that fear makes us do some really ridiculous things. Oh! And that fears can be sometimes completely unfounded. Oh yes, and that a community can make such a big difference. And it takes a village to raise a child.

I’ll stop now.

“Dear Thing”, by Julie Cohen

Synopsis: After years of watching her best friends Ben and Claire try for a baby, Romily has offered to give them the one thing that they want most. Romily expects it will be easy to be a surrogate. She’s already a single mother, and she has no desire for any more children. But Romily isn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings that have taken hold of her and which threaten to ruin her friendship with Ben and Claire-and even destroy their marriage. Now there are three friends, two mothers and only one baby, and an impossible decision to make…

Thought-provoking, heart-rending but ultimately uplifting, Dear Thing is a book you won’t be able to put down, until you pass it on to your best friends.

My thoughts: Heart-breaking at times, consistent throughout, and inspiring in the end, Cohen manages to tug on seemingly every emotional heartstring a reader may have with only a handful of characters. Well-written, engaging, and very easy to read, Dear Thing made me question the quality of a friendship in which one person doesn’t see the truth about the way the other person feels about them. In the tradition of Jodi Picoult, but without the sometimes stifling, lengthy extra chapters of some of her later works, Cohen manages not only to present a situation fraught with medical ethical lines that are being crossed again and again, but also to explore them in a non-patronizing way. I especially appreciated the light-heartedness Cohen managed to keep throughout the story despite the heavy emotions generated. My main take-away: a good idea is not always so, especially when it comes to deeply intimate experiences like pregnancy and even more so when all truths are not laid on the table beforehand.

“Enchanted August”, by Brenda Bowen

Synopsis: Set on a picture-perfect island in Maine, a sparkling summer debut that offers readers a universal fantasy: one glorious month away from it all.

On a dreary spring day in Brooklyn, Lottie Wilkinson and Rose Arbuthnot spot an ad on their children’s preschool bulletin board: “Hopewell Cottage, Little Lost Island, Maine. Old, pretty cottage to rent on a small island. Springwater, blueberries, sea glass. August.” Neither can afford it, but they are smitten—Lottie could use a break from her overbearing husband and Rose from her relentless twins. On impulse, they decide to take the place and attract two others to share the steep rent: Caroline Dester, an indie movie star who’s getting over a very public humiliation, and elderly Beverly Fisher, who’s recovering from heartbreaking loss. If it’s not a perfect quartet, surely it will be fine for a month in the country.

When they arrive on the island, they are transformed by the salt air; the breathtaking views; the long, lazy days; and the happy routine of lobster, corn, and cocktails on the wraparound porch. By the time of the late-August blue moon, real life and its complications have finally fallen far, far away. For on this idyllic island they gradually begin to open up: to one another and to the possibilities of lives quite different from the ones they’ve been leading. Change can’t be that hard, can it?

My thoughts: There is something endearing about each of the characters in this book. Granted it all goes a little too well despite the odds, but who is to say that doesn’t happen in real life? Well-written and engaging, Bowen weaves together the story of four very different characters, showing that even those who seem to have nothing in common can stand to learn something from one another. My take-aways include the important of diversifying one’s friendships for the sake of creating a stronger community. While four similar individuals might have starting enjoying their month at Hopewell Cottage much sooner, there is something almost magical about four dissimilar ones coming together that gives hope that, in the larger scheme of things, very different people around the world will be able to build strong, positive relationships.

“Witches of Cambridge”, by Menna Van Praag

Synopsis: Amandine Bisset has always had the power to feel the emotions of those around her. It’s a secret she can share only with her friends—all professors, all witches—when they gather for the Cambridge University Society of Literature and Witchcraft. Amandine treasures these meetings but lately senses the ties among her colleagues beginning to unravel. If only she had her student Noa’s power to hear the innermost thoughts of others, she might know how to patch things up. Unfortunately, Noa regards her gift as a curse. So when a seductive artist claims he can cure her, Noa jumps at the chance, no matter the cost.

Noa’s not the only witch in over her head. Mathematics professor Kat has a serious case of unrequited love but refuses to cast spells to win anyone’s heart. Her sister, Cosima, is not above using magic to get what she wants, sprinkling pastries in her bakery with equal parts sugar and enchantment. But when Cosima sets her sights on Kat’s crush, she conjures up a dangerous love triangle.

As romance and longing swirl through every picturesque side street, the witches of Cambridge find their lives unexpectedly upended and changed in ways sometimes extraordinary, sometimes heartbreaking, but always enchanting.

My thoughts: Coming straight off the heels of The Dress Shop of Dreams, I had high expectations for this book. I think that, had I not had any expectations, I would have enjoyed Witches of Cambridge a lot more. Just as its predecessor, it is beautiful written, combining a light literary touch with a heavy dose of introspection and reflection. There are a lot of important, universal take-aways from this book, enhanced rather than stifled by the supernatural aspect of witchcraft Van Praag chooses to add to the book: the importance of family, the importance of translating love into action, the importance of good and constant communication, the importance of not taking any for granted, and the importance of honesty as the foundation of any type of relationship, only to name a few. On a personal note however, there was one character whose selfish actions really frustrated me which I feel is the main reason why this book didn’t stand up to its predecessor. But since this is a highly subjective opinion, I am still very comfortable recommending Van Praag’s latest one.