Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

9780062425430_2354bFamily Tree will be published on August 9, 2016 by William Morrow. This is a perfect romantic story for Fall, set mostly in Vermont during maple sugar collection season. Finishing it on the first day of Spring made me long for Fall a bit.

Anna Rush Harlow is living in Manhattan, enjoying married life and her successful career. She is the producer of a hit cooking show starring her celebrity chef husband, Martin. She is unexpectedly surprised and ecstatic when she realizes she is pregnant. However, her life changes in the blink of an eye when there is a freak accident on the production set. A year later, she wakes up from a coma a divorced woman who has lost everything she built her life on in Manhattan. She moves back home with her mother, older brother and his wife, and her nieces and nephews on the family’s maple sugar farm in Vermont. As she tries to pick up the pieces and move forward with a plan in life, she realizes that the place she couldn’t wait to get away from when she was young might just be the place she is happiest. It also happens that Fletcher, her former love still lives in their hometown and is also divorced. Is it too late for Fletcher and Annie, or will they be able to get past the hurt they caused each other when they were younger and life’s plans got in the way?

The story switches between present day after Annie’s accident to when she first met Fletcher, her college years, when she first met Martin and started the cooking show, when she and Fletcher rekindled the flames years later, and finally to her marriage with Martin. Through the flashbacks, readers get to know the real Annie, smart as a whip, fun-loving, and dedicated to her lifelong dream and love of cooking.

Much of the story is heavily centered on family, forgiveness, and second chances. The ending is a little predictable, but I loved the story so much that I didn’t really care. Readers will feel like they are working alongside Annie and her brother as they harvest the maple sap, boil it, and make Sugar Rush, their famous maple syrup. Food and cooking play a big part in the novel as well, as many mouthwatering dishes are prepared and described in detail. I really loved this book, and I know you will too. Fans of romance, contemporary women’s fiction, and regular fiction rejoice – this novel has a little something for everyone.

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First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

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The bad news is that we have to wait until June 28th for this beauty to be published! The good news is that it is totally worth the wait! I love, love, LOVE this book. I’ll try to do it some justice with my review.

First Comes Love is filled with highly relatable family situations and candid conversations among the characters. The characters are likable, despite their flaws. They seem real, and Giffin goes a wonderful job of making them come to life. At times, the scenes are hilarious, while at others tender and heartfelt.

The story begins as the family is approaching the 15 year anniversary of Daniel’s tragic and untimely (at the age of 25) death due to an auto accident which was of fault to no one. Each character’s outlook on life and circumstances for the past 15 years demonstrate the different ways loss & grief can affect relationships between siblings, spouses, parents/children, and even best friends.

Sisters Meredith and Josie are about as opposite as can be, with regard to their personality and life choices. Yet, their tumultuous relationship is refreshing, as it proves that they can put love first despite their differences and overcome some major rough times. They likely wouldn’t have a thing to do with each other, save for Josie’s love for her younger sibling Meredith’s 4 year old daughter, Harper. Meredith is a high profile lawyer and busy mother, living with constant stress and strain in her marriage to Nolan, her late brother Daniel’s best friend. Josie is a 1st grade teacher, life of the party, but worried about finding “the one” because she is getting closer to 40 and has always wanted to be a mother.

Nolan & Meredith’s marriage is particularly true-to-life, because in reality no marriage is perfect. Marriage takes work by both parties, whether the parties love each other or are “in love,” or both. Giffin makes a point that with social media, everyone seems even more worried about keeping up appearances and appearing perfect in front of the world. It is mentioned by one of the characters that everyone assumes that everyone else has the perfect life and marriage, when in reality most everyone struggles at some point – and that’s ok. Life wasn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be lived. Much of the beauty found in life is revealed in times of tragedy and struggle. Everything about this book is relatable, which makes me love it more.

Emily Giffin has a knack for realistic fiction and she slams a home run with this one. I truly loved The One & Only (released May 2014), but I enjoyed this story so much more because of the message it sends – love truly does come first.

I already miss these witty characters, and wish I could spend more moments in their lives. I want to be there for Josie and Gabe, but also for Nolan and Meredith as they are all about to experience a major life change when the story comes to an end. Sequel, please? 

 

 

The Assistants by Camille Perri

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The Assistants will be published by Penguin on May 3, 2016. Alright! Something other than the primary election to look forward to!

This book is hilarious and fun. Imagine being a 30 something, overqualified assistant to a media mogul with more money than you would ever even dream of having. What if there was an honest mistake, and a $19,000 reimbursement check came across your desk. It would completely pay off your student loans, so that you might be able to save a little money and move out of your tiny, dumpy apartment where rats run in the walls and the ceiling leaks.

Meet Tina Fontana. This is her story. Her boss, Robert Barlow, is the CEO of Titan Corporation, and he lives and breathes money. She makes a decision to use money to pay off her student loans, which snowballs into a major mess as more and more assistants find out about it and want in on the benefits. Her boss spends thousands of dollars on a pair of socks without even a thought. He would never catch on to their scheme…or would he? The stress of trying to keep the secret and to keep from getting caught is turning her into a worried mess. Meanwhile, Kevin, the hottest guy in her building, whom she is scared to speak to and ogles from afar, starts to take an interest in her. As they start dating, she finds it even harder to keep things from him. Especially since Kevin works in the legal department at Titan. The group of women that Tina, who used to consider herself an island, becomes close to are quite hilarious and unique. Probably my favorite is Emily, Tina’s new best friend and roommate. Emily’s wit and sarcasm are enough to drive Tina mad, but she comes to love her anyway. As the women become more involved in their robin-hood like scheme, they realize that something has to give at some point, and it’s only a matter of time before the cat is out of the bag. The ending is not what I expected, but it’s great!

I found myself laughing out loud at the way the must mundane scenes and objects are described in this novel. Just wait until you read how Emily describe the rain bubble on Tina’s apartment ceiling! Also, the description of Margie, another employee at Titan is priceless. And, not to be forgotten, how Tina describes Robert when he props expensive shoe up on her desk.

Well done, Camille. I can’t wait to see what other stories you come up with in the future.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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I normally do not read much non-fiction, but I’m fortunate to have read and enjoyed this memoir from the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi. Paul’s writing is beautiful and his story is unforgettable. His passion for literature, neuroscience, the medical field, and living life fully shines through this memoir, written while he was terminally ill with lung cancer.

At the age of 36, as Paul was finishing with a decade of intense schooling and truly begin his career as a neurosurgeon, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After having been a doctor to so many patients with cancer, Paul found himself trying to serve in a dual role as both doctor and patient. His reflections of various operations and patients that stuck with him throughout the years in the operating room add an even greater richness to his memoir.

Paul was a man of many talents, extremely bright in the medical field, but also a very gifted writer, holding degrees in English literature and philosophy. He references many great authors, philosophers, poets, and even the Bible. Perhaps the most notable is that of Samuel Beckett, whose words, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” become Paul’s mantra as his remaining time diminishes.

As Paul comes to terms with the limited amount of life remaining for him, he attempts to find out what makes a life worth living. He comes to realize that the long-term goals he had set for his life are no longer attainable, and he must go on regardless. The last 8 months of Paul’s life were especially important to him, as he was able to spend valuable time with his newborn daughter. His descriptions of the time spent with her, as well as his wife Lucy, are both touching, and heartbreaking. Paul was a man capable of profound love, conviction, and dedication to his passions in life.

Both the introduction by Abraham Verghese and the epilogue written by Paul’s wife, Lucy, are heartfelt and beautiful. Knowing that Paul wrote such a moving story, while facing what he did, is truly humbling. One of my favorite reviews of this book was from author Ann Patchett, who wrote, “This is one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor—I would recommend it to anyone, everyone.” There you have it, folks, When Breath Becomes Air, is truly a book for everyone. Enjoy.

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

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Wilde Lake will be published May 3, 2016 by Harper Collins.

Wilde Lake is an atmospheric, family-centered, legal suspense novel which will keep readers interested with a quick paced plot, as layers of buried secrets are uncovered one at a time. Each family member:  Lu, AJ, and their father, is hiding secrets of their own, and they all come to light, some very tragically, in the final chapters.

The story line might sound familiar to an old classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. This was by design, according to the author. She wanted to portray the idea that a crime, namely rape, committed in 1980 is looked at differently at the time, both legally and socially, than it would be in 2015.

Setting plays a large role in the story, beginning with the way the Brant family ended up in Wilde Lake, back when it was a newly developed area, offering such promise for success. Lu’s mother was talked into moving there against her wishes. Interestingly, the Brant family has become very important to the area, and are well-known for having two state attorneys in the family, Lu’s father, and Lu herself.

The dynamic between Lu and her older brother, AJ, adds a richness to the story. From as far back as Lu can remember, she has been in AJ’s shadow, trying to measure herself to him, while others are drawn to him and his talents like a magnet. Their relationship is strained, and ultimately broken when Lu finds out the truth about the night when teenage AJ saved his best friend Davey’s life and was deemed a hero. Is he really the hero that everyone believes he is? Is Lu forgetting something important about those events; or was she not privy to what really happened during her childhood?

The story switches back and forth between present day Lu at age 45, all the way back to when she was only 6 years old. Lu’s mother passed away when she was 1 week old, so she was mainly raised by Teensy, a nanny hired by their family.  Her father was a prominent lawyer and political figure who spent more time in the courtroom than he did at home. As snippets of Lu’s childhood and her upbringing are revealed, readers may better understand Lu’s demeanor and outlook on life. In the present, Lu, the first ever female state’s attorney in the state of Maryland, is prosecuting a case against a young man who murdered a woman who comes home to her apartment to find him, a stranger, there. Their town doesn’t see many murder trials, so Lu wants to do her best to seek the truth and prove herself worthy as the newly appointed state’s attorney. The more involved she becomes in the investigation, the closer she gets to uncovering some long buried family secrets.

I enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it to any fans of suspense and/or legal suspense.