Marietta left Kentucky after high school, changed her name to Taylor, and become a mother through an unexpected incident, ending up in Tucson with a single mother roommate and a job as a tire mechanic for a woman who rescues undocumented immigrants. Selectively mute from obvious chronic abuse, her newly acquired daughter Turtle learns to trust Taylor, who learns to trust in her new friendships as she seeks a way to keep Turtle legally and build their life in Tucson.
Kingsolver carefully details a young woman’s journey to find herself, taking everything that comes at her and building a valuable life with it all. She’s brilliant at showing the depth of Marietta’s mother’s love at letting her daughter go and make her own decisions, including changing the name her mother gave her, and Taylor’s love in her determination to keep the daughter who was literally handed to her.
Fans of Willa Cather, Celeste Ng, and Elizabeth Strout will appreciate this novel and Kingsolver.
Lily loves Charlie more than any other human, for he rescued her when other potential adopters frowned at her limp. She’d been abused by her previous owner and her broken leg healed without veterinarian intervention. Now he’s being bullied and Lily must figure out a way to help him amid the chaos of Dad’s drinking, Mom’s sadness, his sister’s possible suspect boyfriend, and his big brother’s anger. The unique perspective of a cat gives readers a view from inside the family, but with a pure, some might say naive, but definitely less than jaded, outlook. Lily can be as surprised as a person by such things as Charlie’s choice of “mate” being another boy. Ward’s representation of a gender-fluid, gay teenager comes across as natural and inclusive, even as she shows the challenges he must face, especially from his own family. His mother and sister’s acceptance counter his father’s confusion and his brother’s resistance. Of course there’s a romantic interest for mom, who’s separated from dad and planning divorce. However, he immediately touches her intimately and insinuates himself into family issues, coming across as a bit creepy rather than romantic—too much too soon. This is the only part of the story that doesn’t flow organically, a small distraction. This story presents multiple serious subjects that are handled with compassion: alcoholism, addiction, chronic pain, divorce, and gender expectations. Ward takes her family down a path of resolution surprising, yet realistic. Readers who love main characters off the beaten path will appreciate this story; animal lovers will be vindicated.
This collection opens with a tale so convincing dear reader will be googling Count Darlotsoff of the Russian Revolution. Roorbach’s stories ramble along pleasantly, with wit and wisdom, from a unique perspective. Then BOOM! Something astonishing happens, sometimes indicated by a simple line, “And fell into a basement hole,” and sometimes portraying a much larger concept, such as patricide. The tales delve into history—the aforementioned Russian Revolution; plunges deep into socio-political culture—“His father was an important king or chieftain in an area of central Africa he refused to call a country, an area upon which the Belgians and several other European powers had long imposed borders and were now instituting ‘native’ parliaments before departing per treaty after generations of brutal occupation;” and parses human emotions and relationship dynamics—“sharks unto minnows.” There’s even a ghost story, with elements of land conservation, familial squabbles, and burgeoning love. As diverse as the themes are, and as broad the representation of people, one story stands out for its LGBT ignorance, as a main character tells the benefactor of her theater, a widower asking for a kiss, “Marcia had politely allowed just one, then explained that while being a lesbian might not mean she was entirely unavailable, her long-term relationship did.” He then proceeds to win over her wife, and they merrily cavort about town, all three holding hands, doing everything as a threesome. Lesbian relationships are real relationships, and lesbians are not toys for a man’s pleasure. That being said, this is a blemish on a set of otherwise fascinating and weird and brilliant stories. The book is dedicated to Jim Harrison, whose fans will likely appreciate Roorbach’s work.
Kate chose a lifemate over a soulmate. Her marriage comes to a crossroads in her mind, and she is given a literal chance for a do-over, a gift of time shifting via the Devil’s Triangle. She must choose between her soulmate and her wrecked life as a disillusioned wife and mother. Impellizzeri brilliantly portrays a woman who inadvertently contributes to the misery in her own life by refusing to let the past be and give herself fully to her present. She learns that no matter what choices are made, and invested in, some things cannot be controlled. There are so many layers to this story, including the parallels of the legendary tale told by the ship’s captain to Kate’s life and the tricky ending to her circular thinking, both impossible to escape from…or not. That ending, circling back to the beginning, is so clever. Fans of time travel, star-crossed love, and characters whose hearts grow three sizes will love this story.
Bhima recovers and moves on after her friend Sera’s betrayal, though she cannot think evil of her, even if her granddaughter Maya holds Sera in contempt. The sequel to The Space Between Us follows Bhima in her struggle to keep her emotions and memories from derailing her plans to put Maya through college. Her new jobs open up opportunities for both of them, and expose Bhima to a new Mumbai. She ends up with partners in a new venture. Bhima is always evolving and accepting new paradigms in her desire to remain relevant in her granddaughters’ world. Umrigar brilliantly represents a woman who holds herself above the slum in which she lives, who believes if she hasn’t dignity, she has nothing, that circumstances do not define her. This next chapter in the life of an Indian woman whose life has unraveled delves deeply into the cultural mores of socioeconomic levels and the caste system, and the slowly shifting philosophies of those mores that question the caste system. Secrets come to light and Bhima goes with the flow. She truly is an extraordinary character, and a continuation of her story would be a joy. A trilogy would perfectly round it out (hint, hint Thritty). Readers of Lisa See, Isabel Allende, and Louise Farmer Smith will appreciate Umrigar’s work.
Rachel wished her brother would get lost. And he did. So lost that their parents forgot him and explained him away as Rachel’s imagination, and then as her illness. Having repressed her wish-giving ability through to adulthood, Rachel runs away from her life when the wish-granting bursts forth to affect her best friend’s family. She ends up in Nowhere, NC, where she discovers others’ magic and how to control her own. Crispell’s talented in creating complex characters, with their roller coaster emotions and love-hate relationships with their talents. Like Sarah Addison Allan, the magic is a part of everyday life, including emotional trees and sometimes challenging townspeople. Readers who daydream of having magical capabilities can live out their fantasies through Crispell’s stories. Check out her website http://www.susanbishopcrispell.com/ to learn more about her and purchase her books.
Gilly has “visions” that she can’t control and often only frustrate her with their lack of useful details. Jake pushes her to help him find his daughter Zoe who’s been kidnapped, because he doesn’t understand how Gilly’s visions work. Both of their pasts come creeping in to haunt them, endangering Gilly as well. Sissell writes compelling characters with complex backgrounds, which are shared with beautiful and timely exposition, exploring how far-reaching the consequences of poor judgment and denial. The ending’s revelation is astonishing, and heartening, in its humanity. Fans of Diane Chamberlain and Kristin Hannah will appreciate Sissel’s work. It’s a definite must-read!
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.
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—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.