I Liked My Life: review

I Liked My Life (NetGalley)
Abby Fabiaschi
St. Martin’s Press
release date: January 31, 2017

Maddy is dead. Jumped, apparently, from the campus library where she worked. Or I should say, volunteered. Maddy’s full time job is was I liked my lifetaking care of her CEO husband Brady and their teenage daughter Eve. She was one of those Super Moms: dinner at the table set with china each night, PTA workaholic and team mom, cheerleader for a husband preoccupied with work. Maddy not only did it all, she did it well. And as if those accomplishments weren’t enough, she was kind, insightful, patient, and understanding. Then why did she jump?

That’s what Brady and Eve are trying to figure out as they make their way through their grief. They are angry and brittle. Short-tempered and quick to blame. Since Brady was so often at work, he and Eve never had to navigate the waters of their relationship. Maddy was always there to plan their time together, to smooth things over. Brady hasn’t ever managed household tasks, let alone a teenager. They eventually come together over Maddy’s journal where they discover that she often felt unloved and unfulfilled–and both realize they had taken her for granted.

Writer Abby Fabiaschi lets dad and daughter each tell their story in alternating chapters. And Maddy also narrates–you see, Maddy is dead, but stuck somewhere between her life on earth and the afterlife. She watches Eve and Brady and even “talks” to them which they somehow feel, if not hear. And once a Super Mom always a Super Mom: Maddy is also trying to choose her husband’s next wife.

I Liked My Life is the tale of a wealthy suburban family with its entitled kids and alcohol and swingers and more alcohol and corporate climbers. It’s not always pretty world. But even though Brady and Eve lost what held them together, they come to realize that Maddy not only liked her life, she loved her life.

Then why did she jump?

Fabiaschi’s first novel is a quick read that kept me turning the page. A perfect weekend read to escape from the busy workaday world.

I liked it.

 

Perfect holiday gift: Where’d you go, Bernadette (review)

Where’d you go, Bernadette
Maria Semple
Little Brown

Chick lit plots and characters are like so many cut-out cookies, after a while. You’ve got the caterpillar career girl, the stuck-up (but oh-so-handsome) object of her affections. The mishaps. Enter heart-of-gold True Love to sweep her off her feet. The same can be said of YA fiction, except you substitute “misfit” for “career” and throw in some parent angst and maybe a little bullying. Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette defies both categories. It could be chick lit, could be YA–but what I’m certain of is that the story is inventive and fun. The New York Times called it “divinely funny”, John Green, “A moving, smart page-turner,” and both were spot-on. where'd you go Bernadette

Bernadette, an LA transplant living in Seattle, was once America’s girl-architect phenom. Now she’s all but agoraphobic, living in an historic home for wayward girls she’s tried to thought about making into a home for her family. Bernadette has been hiding from the world for twenty years and thinks she likes it that way. (Her feuds with the stay-at-home moms at her daughter’s exclusive school and her rage at all things Seattle might lead the reader to come to another conclusion about her happiness, however.) Daughter Bee was dearly conceived and barely survived a life-threatening heart defect at birth; her first few years were touch and go. Bee is a gifted young woman with a heart of gold and a wit that’s sharp; she has soared through her first eight years of school and is on her way to Choate. Dad and husband Elgin Fox is a whiz at Microsoft and rarely at home. (If Semple is to be believed, I did learn that the Microsoft culture is creepy.)

There is conflict aplenty in Where’d you go. A battle royale with a neighbor–actually make that two neighbors; Bernadette has issues with people. An admin (that’s an administrative assistant in Microsoft speak) who’s also a home-wrecker. A house that has boarded off rooms and blackberry vines growing up through the floorboards. Top it all off with a trip to Antarctica that no one in the family really wants to take except Bee. Oh, and did I mention Bernadette that does her shopping and appointment making via a virtual assistant from Delhi, India named Manjula?

Now these unconventional characters also deal with some pretty serious matters and when Bernadette disappears (that’s the “where’d you go” part) I was a bit worried that the novel would take a U-turn and end up in A Lesson For Modern Times territory.

But no worries. It’s madcap. It’s zany. And you’ll smile the whole way through this read, I guarantee.

Vinegar Girl: review

Vinegar Girl (NetGalley)
Anne Tyler
Hogarth/Crown Publishing

vinegar girl I’m not one for modern novels that piggy back on a great work of literature. Chances are I’ve already read the classic, so the broad strokes of the contemporary retelling seem forced. And I tend to nitpick, as well: “Well, that didn’t happen in The Great Classic” or “Famous Classic Character would never say such a thing!” So the much acclaimed A Thousand Acres (King Lear) by Jane Smiley? I skimmed it. (I know, I know it won the Pulitzer …) I really don’t see Pride and Prejudice in Bridget Jones’s Diary, either. And while I did enjoy The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, once Edgar unravels his uncle Claude (hah!) and runs away, it was so over-the-top Hamlet, that the novel was spoiled for me.

So I wasn’t prepared to like Anne Tyler’s latest novel The Vinegar Girl, which is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. But here’s the deal. I’ve never read The Taming of the Shrew, so I had nothing to compare it to and Tyler’s story held up well enough on its own.

Kate Batista is stuck in a dead end job and still living at home. She’s 30, works in a preschool, and doesn’t even like kids. Her widowed dad is a stereotypical absent-minded scientist and her sixteen-year-old sister is a stereotypical teenager. Kate keeps house for them both and is either the glue that holds the family together or the door mat. Probably both. Until her dad decides he can kill two birds with one stone: marry off Kate and keep his Russian research assistant in the U.S. 

Kate resists and then she doesn’t. Because this just might be her ticket out of the house. Pyotr Cherbokov is at times charming, but most often rude and ill-mannered, at least by American standards. Will she go through with the marriage or not?

Anne Tyler’s twentieth novel doesn’t have the keen insight or the charming absurdity that her early novels had. Nor did her last, A Spool of Blue Thread which I read last year and liked well enough (link). But it’s a sweet story, well-told–and since it’s based on one of Shakespeare’s comedies, you know it ends well for our heroine.

And what’s not to like about happily ever after?

Canterbury Sisters (review)

The Canterbury Sisters
Kim Wright
Simon & Schuster

canterbury sistersChick lit for women of a certain age–it’s difficult to come by. Most of the chick lit I’ve read falls into the twenty-something-my-boyfriend-left-me or the twenty-something-I’ll-never-find-Mr.-Right category. And if you’ve read my last post (link) you understand that I’ve been there and done that.

But every once in a while I need that light and breezy read, something to make me smile and believe in falling in love again.

Kim Wright’s Canterbury Sisters was it. Che Milan’s mother passed away after fighting a horrendous battle with cancer. When her ashes are delivered, Che finds this note: “…per our agreement, you must now take me to Canterbury. Do it, Che. Take me there. Even if you’re busy. Especially if you’re busy. It’s never too late for healing.”  Now Che had agreed, in the early stages of her mother’s illness, to make the Canterbury pilgrimage with her. But the end had come too quickly for the two to set out on the trail and receive a blessing for healing in the cathedral.

Spurred by a loss of her own (which is quintessentially chick-lit-ish!) Che throws caution to the wind and almost immediately hops on a plane to England to join a group of women who are just about to embark on the pilgrimage.

Now Che doesn’t particularly relish the intimacy that such a trip implies. She’s a no-nonsense professional, a wine critic whose reviews are both sought after and feared. Heart-to-hearts with a BFF and touchy-feely girl talk just isn’t her thing. But her mom requested it from the grave, and who is she to deny such a demand?

At their initial meeting, the tour leader Tess suggests that maybe the group wants to travel like Chaucer’s pilgrim’s did–each telling their tales “to see who could best articulate the nature of true love”. The women draw cards to determine the order of the stories and as quick as you can say “Once upon a time” they are off and running walking the sixty miles to Canterbury.

So we hear each of their stories, from Becca’s adolescent love song to seventy-three-year-old Silvia’s  tale of love (and memory) lost and found. Some of the women have deceived themselves in matters of the heart and others followed their hearts. Some have had to come to terms with their own shortcomings, others the betrayal of their lovers. But the tales, and more importantly the women, are far from what Che expected.

Che also, we suspect, begins to discover that true love is also far from what she expected. And that the healing she was seeking just might have been her own.

Squeaky clean: The Brontë Plot (review)

The Brontë Plot (NetGalley)
Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson

Lucy Alling is Sid McKenna’s Girl Friday at Sid McKenna Antiques and Design–most days she straightens, dusts, rearranges, and parcel-posts for one of Chicago’s premier interior designers. But Wednesday was Book Day, a day Lucy could lose herself in the rare and sometimes just plain quirky books she searched for the world over–like the Jane Eyre first inscribed “To my darling Betty, 1898” and underneath this additional dedication, “Now to you, dear Laura, 1939.” Stories with a story are Lucy’s specialty and, sometime in the not-so-distant future, she hoped to make every day Book Day with a rare book business of her own.

Add a little love interest to go along with a story about an antique bookseller and I’m in–especially if I’m wanting a little light weekend reading. Enter one James Carmichael: single, good-looking, nice-as-nice-can-be lawyer.Bronte Plot

James confides in Lucy about his struggles making partner at the law firm and Lucy opens up about the shattered family of her childhood, including her ex-con dad whose sole contact with her over the years has been a book sent every birthday. Sparks fly and it begins to look like the love story is a wrap barely a quarter way through the novel.

With Lucy, though, it’s here a story, there a story, everywhere a story, and we begin to learn she has a habit she’d like to keep secret. Seems Lucy plays a little fast and loose with the truth sometimes. But only (of course!) when the end justifies the means. A dinner reservation, a few Brontë books, a vase or two, some fabric … and wouldn’t you know it would be James’s patrician grandmother who finds her out.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), that same grande dame immediately hires Lucy to accompany her on a buying trip to London?! Helen Carmichael needs a consultant to find silver services for each of her granddaughters, and she has a antique gold watch she needs to “return” to a family in London. It seems Helen has a few secrets of her own to resolve.

I have to say I chose this title from NetGalley when I read it involved a trip to England, the Brontës, old books, and Chicago–all among my favorite things in the world! But when the reader’s copy showed up in my Kindle queue, I saw the publisher: Thomas Nelson. Dun, dun, DUN and a bit of an inner groan.

Now Christian I might be, but a contemporary Christian novel is just about as appealing to me as contemporary Christian music. Go ahead and shoot me on either of those two accounts, but Christian fiction isn’t my cup of tea. (Granted, this probably has something to do with the fact that when I was recovering from a tonsillectomy at age sixteen, a family friend from out of state sent me a box, mind you, of books. And they were all from a religious publisher and featured teen girls who decided not to date and instead chose mission work or nursing because God had called them … I was bored to tears by the novels, but had nothing else to read, so read them I did. Probably in the same way a starving man would choose to eat lutefisk over starvation. So never again, unless it is a more reliable kind of “Christian” novel like Chronicles of Narnia or Swiftly Tilting Planet.)

But there was that trip to England and those Brontë sisters, after all–so on I read.

And happily so. To be sure the novel was squeaky clean and writer Katherine Reay made sure that her fallen characters had a moral reckoning and made amends, but in the end, I had a fun time.