Bed and Breakfast by Lois Battle

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This was a sweet story about Josie, the owner of a bed and breakfast, whose Christmas holiday is off to a crazy start with her friend having a heart attack in the middle a bridge game in her home.  This reminder of the vulnerability of life triggers her to invite her estranged daughters to come home for Christmas, much to their surprise, and it invites a lot of nostalgia mixed with emotional eruptions.

I think I’d describe this book as benign;  it’s a decent read, quick, keeps one’s interest, the characters are likable, the writing is passable – but there is nothing imaginative about it.  I did not learn anything new from it.  There was nothing culturally unusual about it.

I do find stories about relationships interesting – mother/daughter, wife/husband, generational conflicts, etc.  This touches on some of this.  But I found that some of this is left undone, or kept at the surface.  There is never a deep unpacking of the deeper relationship or feelings.  There is never the huge explosion that there should be when emotions run so high.

I was left wanting just a little bit more.  And in this case, that was not a good thing…

 

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty

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I love Liane Moriarty’s books – they’re fun, smart, and usually tackle topics of some substance.  This book, unfortunately, is an exception…

Ellen is a hypnotherapist who prides herself in her work with people – she’s had many successful treatments, helping people in their relationships.  Unfortunately, she has not had many successful relationships of her own; that is, until she meets Patrick.  Patrick is handsome, kind, and fun – but complicated.  He is a widower with a young son, which would be fine, if it weren’t for his stalker…

I think if the characters here were just a little more likable, or the story were a little more believable, or the substance of the book was a little more solid, it would have come together and been ok.  But the characters were flat and strange, the story a bit outlandish, and the substance just too airy for my liking.

It wasn’t a book I gave up on, but it did feel just too long and I was glad to reach the end.  Not a rave review, this time.  Sorry!

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

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Little did Katey know that when she and her best friend, Evey, went out to ring in the new year of 1938 that she’d  be ringing in a new relationship that would introduce her to the moneyed Upper East Side social scene of New York City.  Meeting people with names like Tinker and Bitsy, Katey gets drawn into this scene, even as she continues to work her own way up the business ladder, using her wiles and wit.  But while Katey does hold onto her scruples – or her own rules of civility , if you will – she does become tangled in a web of love triangles that both highlight and transcend social class status.

There is so much to be said about this book.  Most importantly, the writing just downright beautiful.  This prose by Towles often verges on the poetic.  The phrasing and the images that are drawn with words are so vivid that I was forced to read some passages multiple times, just to really appreciate them fully.  The author has a true gift that he is generously sharing with us here.

The characters are also so gracefully drawn.  From their subtle tics to their happy or hapless (depending on the character) wit, you cannot help feeling compassion for each and every one of them.  And each and every one of them is neither all good or all bad – much like the real world.  And Katey is the kind, vulnerable, and yet steady heroine we all aspire to being.

What I appreciate most about this book is the underlying current of friction between money and honor.   As Katey mixes more with those of the upper class, she sees some who feel they should earn the money they have and others who feel they just deserve it.  And in this era of Trump and the Republican Party’s shameful and frightening abuse of both money and power, the statement of honor and kindness triumphing over greed in this story is particularly poignant.

A lyrical and delightful book – highly recommend!

 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

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This was one of those easy reads that have a little suspense, a little drama, a little heartbreak – but that you don’t have to take too seriously.  And in this moment of political unrest with enough daily drama and anxiety in real life, it was fun to sneak away to this bit of fiction.

It begins with the crash of a private plane going from Martha’s Vineyard to New York – right up front – with a very dramatic story of 2 survivors.  The rest of the story is a combination of the aftermath – trying to untangle the mystery of the crash – as well as the personal story of each of the characters leading up to the fateful flight.  As each of the personal stories unfold, the story comes to a fulminant crescendo, with the revelation of the cause of the crash.

While there are some inconsistencies and a few loose ends, the story is entertaining and actually travels in many divergent directions because of the various characters.  Each character has his or her unique story and each intertwines somewhat with the others.  In the telling of each story, though, the author manages to build up the suspense and create many more possible explanations for the crash.

If you’re looking for a distraction in these troubled times, this is a good place to hide!

Distant Shores by Kristin Hannah

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After 24 years of marriage, Elizabeth has finally come to terms with the fact that her husband, Jack, and her 2 daughters have all taken center stage in her life, leaving her to cast aside her own dreams and aspirations.  When Jack was a famous football star, she cared for her young daughters mostly by herself.  When Jack later became a smaller time sports caster, moving from town to town where opportunities arose, she duly followed. But now that the girls are both out of the house, she realizes that it is time for her to attend to herself – she just has to figure out whether that plan will include Jack or not…

This is a story that will, sadly, strike a familiar chord with many readers, I believe.  When the nest empties, it is often a challenge for couples to fill the void – or it is the time when the void has to finally be acknowledged.  Hannah describes this conflict with sensitivity, honesty and warmth, presenting both Elizabeth’s and Jack’s sides to a complicated story.

I think it was not good that I knew before reading this book that the author had written The Nightingale.  That book was so outstanding that I had elevated expectations for this one.  For example, some subplots were hinted at but then left undone.  One character, Kim, who Elizabeth met in a support group, was a mysterious, moodier member of the group.  It appeared that she was going to be more of a presence in the book (and it was an interesting possibility), but she was just sort of abandoned in a more underdeveloped state.

I would still recommend this book – it was a nice read – but manage your expectations if you’ve read The Nightingale!

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

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In this slightly outlandish story, Sophie finds herself sucked into the circumstances of her ex-boyfriend’s family, when his Aunt Connie has died and left her house on an island to Sophie.  This is no ordinary island, however.  It is on this island, where many years prior, Connie and her sister, Rose, walked into their neighbors’ house, expecting to have tea with their neighbors, Jack and Alice Munro, when they discovered their baby girl left unattended, with Jack and Alice having mysteriously vanished.  Sophie herself remembers visiting the island, now a shrine of sorts (and the source of a healthy income for the sisters), where the rooms were left untouched, still with bloodstains and an unfinished crossword puzzle, just as if they’d just deserted the room that morning.  As the events unfold, the family and their individual struggles and conflicts come to light and Sophie finds peace with her own life as she helps them with theirs.

As usual, Moriarty tells a tale that is alternatively amusing and tragic.  While the premise is a little far-fetched, the struggles that these quirky characters are coping with – relationship issues, depression, child neglect and worse – are quite realistic.  And Moriarty’s signature humor and warmth follow each character through to the end.

If you’re looking for a fun read with some substance, this is your book!

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

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Leo, Jack, Bea, and Melody are siblings awaiting the 40th birthday of the youngest of them, Melody — because on this day, they are slated to inherit what they’ve been calling for years, the “Nest.”  Unfortunately, when Leo gets into a terrible accident, their mother hijacks an ungodly percentage of it to rescue him (and the family name).  As the siblings come together, wondering if Leo will really pay them back what he owes, they find they get something more valuable than money in return.

The fun of this book is in the many, colorful characters.  Each of the siblings has his or her own personal drama and the telling of it is well-crafted.  The perspective switches frequently, keeping the pace brisk and the tension taut.  And when resolution comes, it does not get wrapped into a rainbow-perfect package, but stays very real and true.

I love that these characters define family in many different ways.  Love and allegiance are more important than traditional roles and family constructs.  I think we can all learn from this, as we all have our own biases and expectations – and this is not what should be imposed on anyone else.

Enjoy The Nest!  I did!