Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: A Summer Affair by Elin Hilderbrand

A Summer Affair: A NovelSummary: Good-natured Claire Danner Crispin seems to have it all: an adoring, handsome husband, four beautiful children, a gorgeous home on Nantucket Island, and a career as a renowned art glass blower. So, what could possibly make her -- the woman who has everything - take a chance that might shatter her entire world? How does she juggle her family's endless needs and her own personal desires? And how far is she willing to go to fulfill them all? New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand is back with a tantalizing story about a loving, overcommitted, under-indulged wife and mother who, in an uncharacteristic moment of vulnerability, begins ...A SUMMER AFFAIR. -- Little, Brown and Company

My Thoughts:
The covers of Elin Hilderbrand's novels always make me long for summer  - they generally feature sand, water and sun.  Although I always liked the covers, I had never read one of her books before this one but I am glad I jumped in - A Summer Affair: A Novel was the perfect combination of interpersonal drama and escape to a beach locale.

Against her better judgment, Claire agrees to chair the Annual Summer Gala on Nantucket Island.  As the planning for the gala progress, Claire begins an affair with one of the local benefactors, Lockhart.  Both Claire and Lockhart are married and the island is small so you can imagine the subterfuge that ensues as they try to keep their affair from their spouses, the Gala committee and fellow islanders.  In addition, Claire is struggling to keep all her balls in the air - husband, children, glass art creation for the gala and sundry other gala duties as co-chair.  Which leads me to what I found so difficult about Claire - she seemed a constant reluctant participant in her own life.  She didn't want to chair the gala and felt she already had too much on her plate but she did it; she didn't want to always serve as cook and cleaner to her family while her husband sat idly before the television but she did it; and, finally, she knew getting in to a relationship with Lock was wrong on many levels but she did that too.  It was frustrating to watch her unravel her own and other's lives all due to a lack of ability to say "No".

Despite my misgivings about Claire, I really enjoyed the book.  Hilderbrand creates a multi-layered cast of characters to surround Claire and each of their storylines drew me in and kept me quickly reading through the 400+ pages.  It would have been easy to make this book trite with the main storyline of infidelity but Hilderbrand brings much more depth to the story and creates characters whose lives interest the reader.  By the end of the book, I felt as if I were part of that Nantucket community!

For more stunning photos of Nantucket, click here

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review of Home for Broken Hearts by Rowan Coleman

The Home for Broken HeartsThe Home for Broken Hearts by Rowan Coleman tells the story of Ellen Woods whose husband Nick has recently died and left her and their son, Charlie alone and in a difficult financial situation.  Faced with the potential of losing her home, Ellen takes in an unlikely assortment of lodgers to help pay the mortgage.  Allegra Howard, an aging romance novelist, arrives and demands a room painted lavender; Matt has recently arrived from Manchester and is working as a columnist for a "lad's mag" while Sabine has left her husband behind in Germany while she contemplates whether they should stay together.  The three lodgers, of course, bring so much more to Ellen's life than just help with the mortgage - they force her to face fears and open herself and her home to others.

My thoughts
I have read and enjoyed a number of Rowan Coleman's  books - they are generally set in London and feature a girl going through some transition in her life.  This latest book is not my favorite of hers - I enjoyed it and looked forward to reading it but I liked her earlier books more.  There was a predictability to this storyline that left me underwhelmed.

Ellen is reluctant to bring people into her home - she is essentially introverted and has lived a solitary life (with the exception of the company of her son, Charlie) since her young husband's accidental death.  She is left with no choice, however, when she is faced with losing her home if she cannot continue to make mortgage payments.  The inevitable rejuvenation begins as Ellen starts to bond with her housemates and they slowly pull her from her shell.  She learns to depend on others and to trust herself as she shares not only her home but her life with the lodgers.  Along the way, there is a revelation about Nick, Ellen's late husband, that seemed obvious from the outset of the book.

Although this book disappointed me, I am still a fan of this author and encourage you to read some of her earlier books - they are among my favorites in this genre.  Perhaps if those had not been so good, I would not have been disappointed in this one!

For some other perspectives, please check out these reviews:
My Book Views

I received a copy of this book foe review from the publisher

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Sunday Salon: September 12, 2010

The Sunday


What a gorgeous day it was here in NYC yesterday - crystal blue skies and sun shining.  Unfortunately,  it only served to further remind me of what happened here 9 years ago - that Tuesday morning in 2001 started out beautifully with clear skies and the warmth of the sun shining down on many as they walked to work on a lovely late summer/early fall day.  Of course, we all know how that day was shattered by planes, collapsing buildings and a horrific loss of life.  Our sense of security was also shattered.

I did not write a post dedicated to September 11th yesterday - somehow, I could not find words to adequately express what I had to say.  I did, however, read some excellent posts on the topic (from fellow book bloggers and authors) and wanted to share them with you here:

Author Meg Cabot wrote about her experiences on September 11th while living in NYC  - her descriptions of what she saw and felt brought me back to that day and her observations about the manicurists offering flip flops to those walking from Ground Zero capture what is at once bizarre and wonderful about NYC

Author Matthew Dicks wrote about his experience on September 11th as a third grade teacher - his observations about the innocence of those children while he kept them insulated from the horror of what was happening in the world outside the school and his realization that they would be forever changed upon leaving school and learning what had happened that day was very powerful.  I had not considered the role of teachers in shepherding our children through such tragedies and realize, again, what an important job they hold.

Carin of Caroline Bookbinder recounted her experiences in NYC on September 11th; like Meg's, her descriptions of that day were so close to my own that I could see everything happening so vividly. 

Alison's of Alison's Bookmark's post was the most poignant and reminded me what is so important about this day of remembrance - she wrote a tribute to her brother in law who perished at the WTC on September 11th.  Remembering the horror that transpired on that day is important - we should not forget - but what is most important is remembering and paying tribute to those that lost their lives and the families they left behind.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Audiobook Review: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

The UnnamedThe Unnamed opens with the Farnsworths, a middle-aged couple living in an affluent NY suburb, as they face another bout of "it"  "It" is a mysterious illness that has beset Tim, a successful attorney and father to teenaged Rbebceca.  Tim is compelled to walk for extended periouds of time for no apparent reason.  He walks for days and days without rest and without heed to the elements; he is often found by the police or his family in the next state and collapsed in a parking lot or wooded area. He struggles as he tries to hide the disorder and its effects (mising fingertips from frostbite, long, unexaplined absences) from his co-workers and maintains a measured calm at the office.

Despite his best effors, Tim's career, marriage, relationship with his daughter and his physical well being are all threatened by this mysterious illness that comes in bouts without warning.  As with any other chronic, debilitating illness, the entire family is impacted as they cope with the fear of what may come next and try to protect Tim from himself when "it" reappears.

It's More Than Just the Walking . . .
I first found myself fascinated by the medical mystery and as I listened I tried to guess the obscure abnoramility that could be causing Tim to walk without end.  I waited for more to be revealed that would offer the significant clue to what ailed either Tim's mind or body which compelled him to walk until exhaustion.  However, I soon realized that the walking was really secondary to what the ailment revealed about Tim's relationships with those closest to him - especially his wife, Jane, and daughter, Becca.  As the family grapples with Tim's bouts, issues between the family members began to reveal themselves.  Becca, an overweight and troubled teen, resents the time her father spent working throughout her childood and clearly feels that his parenting has left something lacking within her.  Tim is forced to confront this when he is housebound (chained to bed in fact) in an attempt to prevent him from walking during one of his episodes.  Becca remains home to watch him and the two share some touching scenes over a couple of seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It is clear this is the first time Tim has really spent time to get to know his daughter and his recognition that he has somehow failed Becca is powerful.  It is a realization many parents likely face at some point even though the circumstances that force the realization are very different from Tim's.

As Jane and Tim cope with his illness, their marriage and its weaknesses are explored.  They face many of the challenges faced by some middle-aged couples including infidelity, a battle with alcholism and resentments that have accrued over the years.  Again, Tim's illness created unusual circustances by which these issues are revealed and also serves to amplify them.  But I couldn't help thinking that Tim and Jane's struggles are likely similar to many couples married for almost 20 years - the emotions and frustrations they face in their marriage are ones to which many can relate.

The writing is exacting and poetic at times and I often found myself thinking about a turn of phrase written by Ferris.  The author reads the book himself - he does not use a lot of inflection and seems "flat" at time but somehow it works for this book - he does speak with an urgency in certain passages which I found fitting for the urgency with which Tim is propelled during his bouts.  I also enjoyed the author's reading of the novel because I felt I was hearing it exactly as he intended as opposed to an actor's/narrator's interpretation; for this book, I appreciated that.

As Tim was compelled to walk, I was compelled to continue to listen and the audio kept me captivated until the end.  I will definitely go back and read Then We Came to the End: A Novel - I like Ferris's style and his use of language. If you enjoy complex family dramas with keen observations about life, marriage and middle age, you will enjoy this one!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Review: The Lies We Told by Diane Chamberlain

The Lies We Told The Lies We Told by Diane Chamberlain tells the story of sisters Maya and Rebecca - both are accomplished physicians but otherwise living very different lives.  Maya lives with her husband Adam and is a pediatrician in a local practice while Rebecca jets from catastrophe to catastrophe as a disaster relief physician and thrives on the her crazy, unsettled life.  As teenagers, they witnessed the brutal murder of their parents and that tragedy has created a bond between these very different sisters.

As the story progresses, however, we learn that their bond has some cracks and that they have told each other lies over the years to protect themselves but also to protect each other.  It also becomes clear that their parents' murder has influenced both of them in more ways than either admit until another crisis forces them to face their past, the lies they have told and how it has all shaped them today. 

This book is beautifully written and the characters are very well developed.  I really felt that I got to know Maya and Rebecca so that I celebrated as they evolved throughout the novel.  Despite the well developed characters, the story does not become predictable; in fact, I was quite surprised by a number of twists in the last third of the book.

The Lies We Told is an engrossing, pleasurable read and I will certainly pick up other books by this author. 

Thank you to Tricia at Media Muscle for sending me this book for review.