Longbourn by Jo Baker – review

LongbournLongbourn Manor, rural England, early 1800’s, also the setting of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I’m a little ashamed to admit I have never read this classic, but may now need to.

This story centers around Sarah, the young house maid of Longbourn Manor and the other below floor servants who have been her family since she was orphaned as a young child. Sarah often dreamed of the world beyond the little town outside her neighborhood, but had comfortably reconciled herself to a life of repetition – each day the same as the last, for all the many years ahead.

The militia’s unexpected arrival in town, an eligible bachelor’s purchase of the vacant home next door, and the interesting stranger’s addition to the staff shake things up at Longbourn Manor, sending some of them down paths they’d never expected, bringing others full circle.

When Sarah is presented with every opportunity she thought she wanted, she has to choose between the life she’d dreamed of and a life of continued difficulty and hard times, with the chance of true love and happiness.

Some story twists and turns were a bit predictable, some completely unexpected, and some I thought improbable but still hoped for. I was not disappointed.

I loved this book. Should I now read Pride and Prejudice, or just leave well enough alone and stick to the story from the servants’ point of view?

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The Art of Arranging Flowers by Lynne Branard ~ Review

the art of arranging flowers

Flowers have the power to heal heart and body, mend broken relationships, bring together new love, and accomplish almost any other miracle or wish of the heart. That seems to be true when Ruby Jewell is arranging the flowers. After an early life filled with tragedy, Ruby uses her bouquets to bring hope, love, and happiness to the residents of small town Creekside, Washington. When all those she has helped through the years decide it’s time for Ruby to find love, amazing things happen.

I love the idea that flowers have power. If the color of the walls of a room can induce a particular feeling and essential oils can alleviate various ailments, then the look, feel, and smell of flowers must have similar qualities.

Although many of the twists and turns were predictable, I still really enjoyed the story.  Likely to be one I read again.

 

 

 

 

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin ~ Review

brooklynThis is a fairly charming coming of age story of a young woman in small town Ireland in the years after WWII. Following her family’s wishes, she boards a steamer to cross the Atlantic to build a new life for herself in Brooklyn NY.

Not until she returns to console her mother after a family tragedy does she realize how much she has grown and changed. The first few days she is surprised to feel so disconnected from her childhood home and longs for her life in New York. But as the days pass she realizes the new mature, Americanized version of herself fits into this little town better than the girl she used to be.

I enjoyed this book. There are a few areas that left me with questions, but perhaps they will be answered in a book to follow? Hope so.

Has anyone seen the movie? Should I go see it or stick with my warm thoughts of the book?

 

Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA by Ellen Meister ~ a review

Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTANothing bonds women quicker than a common enemy.

A film crew’s interest in using the local elementary school as set for the newest George Clooney movie ignites the imagination and brings out the claws of the PTA moms, but more than their fantasies are at stake when they offer to build a much needed stadium for the school as part of the movie set.

Four women with nothing obvious in common join forces to ensure the project moves forward, learning much about each other in the process. Don’t judge a book by its cover, the grass is not always greener, those who live in glass houses… all the common cliches apply – but still delivers a nice blend of humor and tears as they fight to bring the movie to their school, and to support each other through difficult personal struggles.

The story moved fairly slowly through the first several chapters, but gained speed quickly and finished with both predictable and unexpected conclusions. I enjoyed reading it and will keep it on the shelf – this is one I will likely re-read in the future.

 

The Good Neighbor by Amy Sue Nathan ~ review

The Good NeighborWhen I read The Glass Wives, Amy Sue Nathan’s first novel, the things that pulled me in were the believability of the characters and real life situations. The same held true in her second novel, The Good Neighbor (with one exception.)  She does a great job of crafting characters that feel as if I already know them, in realistic, familiar situations. Perhaps I am the lucky demographic that fits the mold? Would my twenty-something daughter, or someone a generation or two older, feel the same? I cannot say.

The story starts with Izzy Lane packing up her five-year old’s Spiderman backpack as her ex arrives to pick him up for a weekly sleepover. Amy does a good job of expressing the mother’s guilt – slight relief of having a moment to herself to gather her thoughts, combine with the overwhelming loneliness and sense of loss once he is gone. How do you balance that? How do you incorporate the once again single – aka ‘alone’ – woman, into your life as a mother? First instincts are usually to keep the two worlds separate. That can be difficult. And as Izzy learns, taking it too far can lead to some sticky situations, even to the point of no return.

Early on in the book I started noticing slight similarities to the classic 1945 movie Christmas in Connecticut (although I thought it was just because that is my all-time favorite movie!). I was surprised to learn that the author had gotten some inspiration from the movie. Make no mistake though – this is no remake – this is a story all unto its self.

As much as I enjoyed reading The Good Neighbor, I have to admit two areas that left me unsatisfied. The way Izzy resolved her ‘issue’ seemed overdramatic and unnecessary. Airing the dirty laundry in public just didn’t make sense to me. Pulling the involved parties together to come clean seems more likely, create just as many hard feelings to overcome, etc. The other has to do with Izzy’s neighbor, Mrs. Feldman. I would have loved to have found out if she was ever able to attain her heart’s desire.

All in all, a good story I enjoyed reading. I look forward to meeting Teddi, the catalyst for confusion in Amy’s upcoming third novel.

**I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher, thank you St. Martin’s Griffin!!

 

The Beach Trees by Karen White – Review

beach treesMurder, missing persons, and intrigue spanning four generations in New Orleans and Biloxi Mississippi. And yet this is not a murder/mystery novel, rather the story of a New Englander, via New York, trying to honor the last wishes of her close friend by delivering her five year old orphaned son to his family in New Orleans. This is more complicated than it sounds. They do not know he exists, having had no contact with his mother since she unexpectedly ran away at the age of 18.

The story jumps back and forth between 1950 and 2010, exploring the disappearance of four women and the sometimes unexpected relationship between them all.

The most well written books seem to paint a picture in my mind, allowing me to envision the story as a movie unfolding as I read. This novel easily accomplishes this. The author clearly illustrated the beauty, lushness, and mystery of New Orleans and Carnival; the peace and serenity of the beaches of the Gulf in Biloxi; and the devastation and stubborn spirit of both the land and the people after hurricane Katrina.

The characters were as well developed as the setting, I quickly came to care about them each. I was hooked from page one and completed the book in less than 48 hours, despite its 403 page length. Although the story did come to the expected resolution, the intrigue of the missing persons kept me guessing until the truth was finally revealed in the last few chapters.

I highly recommend this book, but suggest reading on a weekend or vacation – if you enjoy as much as I did you may miss some sleep. And be sure to have the tissues handy. I grabbed for the first one by page three.

Bound South by Susan Rebecca White – Review

south boundWhat is the definition of a Southern Lady?

The story consists of snippets of time through the decade of 1998 to 2008, as told by Louise – a forty-ish wife and mother living in a wealthy suburb of Atlanta; Caroline – her rebellious teenage daughter; and Missy – the young daughter of her housekeeper.

I have to admit I started and stopped this book several times over a couple weeks, unable to really engage in the story. The first several chapters, although filled with some comical moments, seemed random and disconnected. I am glad I suck it out. About a third the way in I became vested in the characters, curious to see where life took them. And I was a little surprised and pleased in the last few chapters when all the dots where finally connected and revealed nothing was as random at all.

Lots of truths in this story: Nothing in life is random, rather a long chain of purposeful events leading us to our ultimate destination; we are all connected, our actions have a ripple effect, touching others near and far; and almost any situation can be improved with a glass of wine and a good laugh.