Tag Archives: friendship

Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins

Emerson, Georgia, and Marley meet at fat camp, quickly establishing lifelong friendships. Their weight reflects backgrounds of abuse, neglect, and unrealistic expectations, leading to self-sabotage. One friend’s tragedy spurs the others toward their authentic selves.

Higgins digs deep into the transference of emotions into weight, using journal entries for immediate empathy. Along the journey to keep their promise, the two friends follow a rocky path to become true to themselves. This story reaches beyond friendship, beyond body acceptance, exposing the body shaming culture of western society, the misogyny of determining a woman’s worth by her appearance, the invisibility of women who don’t fit the mainstream idea of what a woman should look like, and the self-fulfilling prophecy of buying into that idea. Feminism needs a huge boost in this society where a thin woman is treated better than one who is overweight—even a little bit of extra weight (according to whomever) places someone in the undesirable category; when woman starve themselves or gorge themselves, or accept society’s norms to feel inferior.

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful book from the publisher for an honest review. The pretty cover and oft sarcastically used phrase as the title belie the substance and depth of this novel. I recommend this to everyone for the insight into the damage done by social cues demanding that all women look one way. Life is hard enough without finding derision in place of compassion. Kudos to Higgins for telling what women are too ashamed to share and the hypocrisy of the fitness industry.

One Lavender Ribbon by Heather Burch

Adrienne leaves an abusive relationship and divorce in Chicago and buys a fixer-upper in Florida, where she starts her new life of independence on the Gulf. A box of eloquently written letters from a WWII soldier in her attic sets Adrienne on a journey to friendship, potential romance, and matchmaking. She exposes decades-old secrets, changing lives and mending relationships while building strong bonds with her new “family.”

Burch’s novel reads like a Lifetime or Hallmark movie, with the romance of a soldier’s yearning juxtaposing the horror of his experience in war. The story veers away from the trope of the emotionally intelligent woman succumbing to the stubborn man, when Adrienne informs the romantic interest that his controlling behavior isn’t acceptable, a feminist move proving she learned from her previous relationship. Adamant in this assessment, she continues to nurture the friendships of (his) family. Read this novel to discover a treasure chest of secrets and to find out if the romantic interest redeems himself. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the author for an honest review.

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky

Before—she was Mackenzie Cooper, who had a loving husband and a beautiful daughter; After—she is Maggie Reid, a single woman with a secret past who lives with two cats and a dog and sells confidence through makeup artistry at her job in a resort spa. She can only move forward, away from her family, away from her “crime,” away from her former life…until her ex-husband arrives to manage the resort his business group just purchased, HER resort. At the same time, her friend and co-worker learns that her son hacked into his high school, their spa, and a prominent journalist’s computers, and her friend is terrified that her secret past—a powerful and dangerous man—finds her.

The two storylines, Maggie’s ex troubles and the crime of her friend’s son, seem more discrete than parallel, with Maggie spending considerable time repeatedly pushing and pulling the ex before remembering her friend’s distress. This makes scenes stand out every so often, instead of the story flowing. Though the novel reads well, the plan to bring down the influential man in the friend’s life doesn’t come across as quite credible, and it isn’t shown, but referenced after the fact, with the ending chapter summarizing the climax. Despite this, it is a fun read, and a peek into the different ways people process grief and trauma. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

The Heart of Aleppo: A Story of the Syrian Civil War by Ammar Habib—pub date July 27, 2018

“May 30, 2011

  • Protesters are galvanized by newly published images of the mutilated body of Hamza Ali al-Khatib, a 13-year-old boy from Darʿā who was tortured to death while in police custody. Photos of Khatib are distributed at protests, and the images become a potent symbol of the regime’s brutality.”–https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War/Uprising-in-Syria-2011

“That March, peaceful protests erupted in Syria as well, after 15 boys were detained and tortured for writing graffiti in support of the Arab Spring. One of the boys, a 13-year-old, was killed after having been brutally tortured.”—https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/syria-civil-war-explained-160505084119966.html

Thirteen-year-old Zaid and his friends, siblings Fatima and Salman, leave innocence behind when their parents send them away at rumors of rebel attacks. The teenagers discover that nowhere is safe, as they are besieged repeatedly by rebels, and learn that the military cannot be trusted—they are alone. Strangers sacrifice their lives; strangers betray them; strangers ask for help…evoking survival instincts and humanity’s courage in the darkest hours. They are children, separated from their parents, who must fear multiple, murderous factions and their own government, kids who days ago were living normal teenage lives, as any teenager in any country.

Habib’s portrayal of Syrian teens on the run from death, as well as their daily lives before the war, was supplemented by his friendships with native Syrians and interviews with Syrian refugees for accuracy. His hope is to bring more awareness to the world of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians who desire only the freedom he enjoys.

Here are a couple sites to learn about the war—how it started and why it’s ongoing:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Civil_War#Documentaries

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868

Here you can learn about the current situation and how you can help:

http://time.com/5159869/war-syria-entered-dangerous-new-phase/

https://syria.liveuamap.com/

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Ellis and Michael begin a lifelong friendship after Michael’s mother dies and he comes to live with his grandmother Mabel, both boys sharing the affection of Mabel and Ellis’ mother Dora. The delicacy of their first love romance shatters as Ellis yields to society’s mores after a turning point in France, and even Michael understands that Annie is “the one.” Loving Annie draws Michael into their orbit, expanding her idea of family to include him and his grandmother. Although readers are familiar with the horrific stories of gay men succumbing to AIDS, Winman carefully portrays Michael’s unique perspective on his friends’ deaths—he returns to France where he grieves for all that he’s lost in his life. The first half of the book focuses on Ellis after all of his losses leave him off-kilter, wondering what to do with himself. The second half flashes back through Michael’s journals, a candid look at a man whose fulfilled expectations disappoint. This is a gorgeous story of how love grows to include those who might be estranged by circumstances. I was fortunate to receive a copy through a Goodreads giveaway.

The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews—pub date May 8, 2018

Brooke Trapnell, the runaway bride in Save the Date, continues her story, having moved back to little town, Georgia, with her son, Henry. The resident wealthy socialite philanthropist of nearby Sea Island, Josephine Bettendorf Warrick, contacts Brooke to represent her against the state of Georgia, who wants her land for a state park. The secrets of nonagenarian Josephine slowly seep out as she lays out her plans to atone for her sins and defend her estate by passing it on to descendants of her long ago best friends. Brooke discovers a related family secret she would have never thought to guess.

Andrews’ description of friendships in the 50s deep South feels less like crossing a color line and more like pushing into an invisible, flexible barrier that they can’t quite break through. The re-emergence of The High Tide Club through the descendants of the original members is meant to be poignant, yet it’s hard to imagine the remaining original member at 95 walking naked into the ocean in chilly October. Though Andrews’ writing continues to be fully engaging, this novel seemed to go long, and it felt as though the author decided at one point to simply wrap up all the loose ends, with revelations coming fast and furious after the typical length of a novel, around 300 pages. There’s a contemporary would-be killer paralleling the murder mystery from decades past, and neither seems credible, nor true to character, even given the circumstances. Despite this, it’s an interesting story and worth it for a sandy good beach read.

I was fortunate to receive a pre-release copy from the publisher of one of my favorite authors.

Our Little Secret by Roz Nay—pub date April 17, 2018

This story opens in an interrogation room, with Angela prepared to tell her story to police, if they will only listen. Finally, Detective Novak allows her to share everything that she feels is relevant, beginning with her meeting H.P. in high school, where he changed her life. They became best friends who fell in love, or as Angela tells the story, soul mates. She leads Detective Novak through their complicated relationship, hampered by her lack of a healthy role model and his small town contentment, and further strained by Angela attending Oxford, where she’s befriended by Freddy, who dotes on her against her will. Detective Novak perks up at the entrance of Saskia, the missing wife, the reason for Angela’s interrogation, during H.P.’s visit to England. Misunderstandings ensue, emotions tangle, and new pathways are formed. Angela blames losing her first love on everyone else, spending her life from that point on waiting for him to do the right thing. When her mother moves in uninvited after leaving her father, she pursues an unhealthy friendship with H.P. as their houseguest and babysitter, which culminates in Saskia’s disappearance. Detective Novak pieces together the evidence through the long night of storytelling by Angela, who is either also an innocent victim or a truly unreliable narrator.

Nay leads the reader through a maze of Angela’s fears, internal struggles, unrealistic desires, and inevitable disappointments. Angela is brilliantly depicted as a minor character in her own life, for which she can then lay guilt at whoever she allowed to make the decisions for her, as she waits in vain for things to go her way without taking action herself. Failure to communicate is a key element in the derailment of Angela’s life, and Nay relays every misstep taken by those underestimating her. The ending is not as well captured as the entire novel leading up to it, subtlety left behind in the previous chapter.

I was fortunate to receive an early copy from the publisher through a giveaway.

A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev

Kimi spent her childhood in isolation due to an immune disease, her only friend, Rahul, the son of the police officer shot protecting her father, who sacrificed his own childhood to pay off the debt to her father for he and his siblings’ education. Love grew quietly, but was thwarted by class difference, complicated emotions, and, of course, things left unsaid. In this continuing story from the previous novel, the tone changes to the intimacy of an intense friendship created by Rahul supporting Kimi throughout her ongoing illness and eventual heart transplant. Switching from present tense to past tense when they first met, the reader watches their relationship grow and develop unevenly due to their differing class levels, and especially through the connection to her family through obligation on both sides. In the present, Kimi is in danger from the criminal operating the black market for stolen organs by murder. She must place all her trust in Rahul to aide her in finding out the truth behind her heart transplant, though in the end, it leads her back home to a horrifying secret.

The romance is deeply embedded in this suspense thriller, with hot and heavy hitting hard in intricate scenes of the back and forth of a couple who cannot allow themselves to be completely vulnerable. Dev does a superb job of crafting a relationship with obstacles seemingly too large to overcome, all the while ramping up the suspense of the danger to Kimi and the secret to which only the reader is privileged to know. The ending line will make the reader laugh out loud!

I was fortunate to receive this lovely novel from the author through a giveaway. Although it can be read as a standalone novel, A Change of Heart sets up the storyline and enriches the experience of this book. I highly recommend reading both.

Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman

Blackbird House witnesses unusual love stories throughout its lifetime, from the young wife waiting for her husband to return from the sea to the orphaned young woman who had no home coming to live with the disfigured man who believed he would never feel the warmth of a woman. Often the yearning is only fulfilled when it can later refuse to be acknowledged. The townspeople care for the inhabitants of the isolated home.

The characters’ circumstances are nearly as tangible as the people themselves and Hoffman has carefully shown these influences in every interaction. Each resident connects somehow with previous owners of the house, often as a relation, but always in spirit, sharing the strength to live in a harsh environment. The gorgeous prose draws the reader into the stories easily.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Maddie and Ellis are trapped by money—his family’s—while a second world war rages in Europe, as he cannot serve in the war due to a medical condition. When his father kicks them out of his family home for their unseemly behavior, Ellis determines to win back his love by redeeming the family name from his father’s loutish attempt to prove the Loch Ness monster. In Scotland, Maddie is alienated by her husband, whose loyalty is to his best friend and their travel companion Hank. She discovers more about her marriage and their friendship than Ellis does about Nessie, and she begins to question everything about her life, and even her husband’s “medical condition.” As Ellis and Hank display boorish behavior toward the locals, Maddie finds comfort in their compassion for her. She ends up caring for an injured employee of their inn, endearing herself to the innkeeper and his employees.

This story flows well, with characters who retain their integrity, as allies shift and secrets come to light. Gruen represents the complexities of emotions and relationships, with betrayals and revelations as catalysts. Class distinction in all its petty elitism is laid out perfectly, emitting its fear and paranoia. In the end, a love story emerges like a butterfly.