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.