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.

Lawyer For the Dog: review

Lawyer For the Dog
Lee Robinson
Thomas Dunne Books

DogThis was probably one of those times when I did choose a book by its cover. Take a look—how can you resist that little guy’s face?! (My first dog was a schnauzer, so that didn’t hurt either!)

Lee Robinson’s Lawyer For the Dog is pretty simple to summarize. It goes like this:

Main character is a woman of a certain age–finally a love interest who’s not a millennial! (check)
Said character is single and ready for love  (check)
Add a tangle of past love, regret and self-doubt  (check)
Enter a winsome schnauzer who is the center of a custody battle  (check)
Bonus: the knight in shining armor has grey hair! (check)

Sally Baynard is a family lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina. She’s been divorced and single for almost two decades, but her ex-husband has decided he’s still in love with her. So Judge Joe Baynard decides to insinuate himself into her life again by assigning Sally as lawyer—and ultimately guardian— for a dog in the center of a nasty divorce case where both parties demand that Sherman the pup live with them. Sally is not too sure about Joe’s unexpected declaration of love, but she is attracted to the dog’s vet, Dr. Tony Borden. Complicating matters is the fact that Sally’s ailing mother (she has Alzheimer’s) lives with her, so a love interest seems like just one more hurdle.

Shall I mention again that it was incredibly refreshing to read some chick lit where nearly all the characters all had grey hair and experienced the pangs of middle age?!

This quick and easy summer read would please any hopeless romantic or dog lover—especially those over forty. The story might not be complicated, but it is delightful.

The Sound Of Glass (review)

The Sound of Glass (NetGalley)
Karen White
New American Library

You’re strong at the broken places.

This novel starts with a bang–literally–on a hot summer night in Beaufort, South Carolina. Edith Heywood senses an eerie change in the night sounds as she works in her attic studio, then sees a flash of fire explode across the sky. A thump hits the roof and something scrapes along the shingles, sliding into the yard with a thud. Grabbing her young son C.J. from his crib, she opens the front door to chaos: neighbors running, sirens blaring, lights flashing. Still not quite sure what has happened, Edith locates the object that landed in her back garden: a suitcase. It’s then Edith realizes she had witnessed a plane crash. Nervously, fearfully awaiting her husband’s late night return, Edith almost seems to expect the knock at the dreaded knock on her door. The police officer. The chaplain.

Fast forward fifty years and we meet another Heyward widow, Merrit, in the office of the lawyer who is in charge of transferring that same house–her late husband’s childhood home– into her care. A Maine native (who is blissfully unaware of her Yankee-ness, at first), she has left everything to take on the job of restoring the three-hundred-year-old home and cataloguing its antiques. She must also take on the job of restoring herself after her brief marriage to a hard and difficult man. Merritt is a woman who doesn’t want to call attention to herself, content to blend into the shadows.

And then another widow enters the scene. Loralee Purvis Conners is packing her ten-year-old son Owen into the car and moving from Georgia to—you guessed it—South Carolina to meet his older sister for the first time. One Merrit sound of glassHeyward.  Loralee is a Southern gal through and through, right down to her high heels, big hair, and flawless makeup. She records bits of wisdom and lessons learned in the Journal of Truths she is writing, everything from “Sometimes it’s necessary to tell a lie when the truth will break a heart” to “Never give a lady a tube of lipstick without a mirror.” Loralee is as vibrant and alive as Merrit is bland.

And so Loralee and Merrit’s lives intersect, but not without some considerable conflict. Both women have secrets. Merrit’s secret has shattered her past and Loralee’s, her future. But like the sea glass wind chimes that hang on the porch of the Heyward estate, they tumble and toss together until they lose the sharp edges and become something beautiful. We learn about the death of Merrit’s mother and her estrangement from her father after his September-May romance with Loralee; we learn about the secrets Edith kept in her attic studio and buried in her garden. Throw in an adorable (and very precocious) little brother and a drop-dead gorgeous brother-in-law, and the novel is perfect summer reading.

This is a story about coming to terms with our past. Loralee and Merrit and Edith don’t suggest that we reinvent ourselves, really, but rather we come to find out the who our past may have obscured.

The Second Sister (review)

The Second Sister (NetGalley)
Marie Bostwick
Kensington Press

Lucy Toomey is a campaign staffer, jetting city to city as her boss makes a run for the White House. She works long hours, puts her love life on the back burner, and neglects just about everything that makes life wonderful—like food, friends, family, and fashion. (Her standard uniform is an almost wrinkled navy suit.)

Her sister Alice, on the other hand, lives alone in their family home on a Wisconsin lake. A year and a half older than Lucy, Alice suffered a brain injury in a swimming accident when the girls were teens. Alice is simple, very literal, often stubborn, and sometimes frustrated by her limitations. She’s an incredible quilter and loves animals and her 2ndsistersfriends with the same ferocity.

As you might expect, Lucy keeps Alice at arm’s length. She doesn’t go so far as to neglect her, of course. Rather, she fulfills every duty to her special sister to the letter of the law. Alice wants for little–Lucy makes sure they vacation at expensive resorts. Not a cent is spared when it comes to gifts. But what Alice really wants is Lucy to come home. For Christmas.  For her birthday. Home to Nilson’s Bay, Wisconsin, to the house on the lake.

And then, as life would have it, Alice is gone and Lucy must pick up the pieces. She plans only a brief stay for the funeral, but finds that Alice has some attached some strings to her will. Strings that Lucy intends to follow to the letter of the law … but of course ends up following with her heart.

Marie Bostwick’s new novel The Second Sister is my kind of chick lit. There’s no jet-setter boyfriend or model-perfect deb. It’s just a small-town girl who thought she escaped and made it big realizing that what really mattered  was what she left behind.

So if you like quilts and girlfriends and wine and dogs and cats and high-school sweethearts and houses by the lake and Midwest manners, this is your kind of chick lit, too.