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The One That Got Away by Melissa Pimentel

Source: St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, 356 pgs.
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The One That Got Away by Melissa Pimentel is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  Ruby Atlas is a tough young woman making her career in advertising on her own, while Ethan Bailey is a young, handsome billionaire who made a revolutionary app.  It has been 10 years since they’ve seen each other when they broke up.  Ruby is filled with anxiety at the reunion because she harbors a terrible secret about why she broke up with him after a wonderful summer of love.  Like Persuasion, Ethan (our modern Frederick Wentworth) is barely in the novel with many of his appearances happening in the past.  The novel alternates points of view between Ethan and Ruby and between the present and the past.

Both have lost their mothers — Ethan’s mother ran off and Ruby’s mother died when she was a young girl.  When her sister Piper decides to marry Charlie, Ethan’s best friend, neither one can avoid the inevitable, being once again in close proximity.  Ethan is a quiet and passionate man, and his dark handsome looks and big bank account make him a bit target at Piper’s wedding, and Ruby is incredibly jealous.  It’s at the wedding that she realizes she never stopped loving Ethan.

Pimentel’s characters are all incredibly nice and adult, though there are a few moments of female jealousy (tame at best).  There are some fantastic turns of phrase and bits of humor as well.

“We were rebranding them as the ‘Airline of Adventure,’ complete with GoPro footage of various lunatics jumping off buildings and abseiling down crevasses.  Because surely, at this point, it was only those lunatics who would willingly board one of their rickety planes.” (pg. 3)

“…she would sit upright and alert, like a gopher peering up and out of its hole.” (pg. 208)

This was the perfect summer read.  I enjoyed traveling to Europe with Ruby’s family and friends, and seeing Ethan and Ruby navigate their reunion with kid gloves.  There are Austenesque misunderstandings between them, and of course, there is the healing of Ruby who has been lost for the last decade.

“I had forced myself to love that place for so long.  The idea that I didn’t belong there — that I couldn’t belong — had been so crippling that I’d molded myself into someone who did belong, sharpening my elbows and edges every morning before I left the house.” (pg. 348)

The One That Got Away by Melissa Pimentel is about a young woman who strove to make it in the Big Apple because it was the last memories she had of her mother, and because of her independence, she molded herself to a life that left her less than satisfied.  But it is equally about the enduring rock of love where you can break yourself against it like Ethan and Ruby or embrace its strength and move forward together.  Pimentel had my attention from page one this summer, and the novel was more than satisfying.

RATING: Quatrain

Photo Credit: Ryan Bowman

About the Author:

MELISSA PIMENTEL grew up in a small town in Massachusetts in a house without cable and therefore much of her childhood was spent watching 1970s British comedy on public television. These days, she spends much of her time reading in the various pubs of Stoke Newington and engaging in a long-standing emotional feud with their disgruntled cat, Welles. She works in publishing and is also the author of Love by the Book.  Visit her on Twitter and on Facebook.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews

Source: Tandem Literary
Hardcover, 464 pgs.
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The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews is a summer beach read in which the Belle Isle residents view the vacationers as “weekenders” and pay them as little attention as possible, but Riley Nolan’s family has been on the island since it’s inception.  Her marriage to Wendell Griggs may be rocky, but her family’s business has kept the destination raking in the tourists, even if Wendell has grander plans for the place than she or her family imagined.  Andrews’ books are usually fast-paced, romantic reads that are perfect for the beach bag and summer, but this one seemed too jammed packed with too many subplots and mysteries.

Riley uncovers a great many misdeeds by her husband after his death, and she’s forced to rethink her cushy life as a stay-at-home mom to a diabetic daughter, Maggy, who worshiped her father.  Much of the book is spent on the mystery involving her husband’s death, but there are also mysteries and reveals that seemingly come from no where.  They’re woven in so quickly to provide a new suspect that some are just not believable.  Maggy also is a pre-teen and she acts more like a teenager, sneaking out and hanging with the wrong crowd.  Her attitude is reprehensible, and while it might be believable to a certain extent given the sudden death of her father, readers may tire of it.

The quick reunion of Riley and her college crush at the end is sweet, but it’s the initial meeting and build up of their relationship that will leave readers breathless.  It’s clear that they are right for one another, and they want the same things, but will a broken-hearted child break them up for good?  The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews is a good read, and it’s entertaining with all the twists and turns in the mystery, but it seems as though some aspects could have been tightened up to keep the pace on track.

RATING: Tercet

Other Books Reviewed:

About the Author:

Mary Kay Andrews is the author of the New York Times bestselling SAVANNAH BREEZE and BLUE CHRISTMAS, (HarperCollins) as well as HISSY FIT, LITTLE BITTY LIES and SAVANNAH BLUES, all HarperPerennial.

A former reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she wrote ten critically acclaimed mysteries, including the Callahan Garrity mystery series, under her “real” name, which is Kathy Hogan Trocheck.

She has a B.A. in newspaper journalism from The University of Georgia (go Dawgs!), and is a frequent lecturer and writing teacher at workshops including Emory University, The University of Georgia’s Harriet Austin Writer’s Workshop, the Tennessee Mountain Writer’s Workshop and the Antioch Writer’s Workshop. Her mysteries have been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity Awards.

John Dies @ the End by David Wong

Source: Public Library and Audible
Hardcover, 362 pgs.
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John Dies @ the End by David Wong, which was our April book club selection, is like falling off the frame and into a Salvador Dalí surrealist painting and its topsy-turvy world where very little makes sense and there is no straight path to some kind of satisfactory resolution.

Wong is a long-time editor at Cracked.com, which from what I gather is a humor website, and Wong is really a pen name.  So should you take anything in his novel seriously, even if it is considered in the horror genre?  My answer would be no.

In this novel, the soy sauce is a drug that enables John and David to see ghosts, demons, and other underworld-like things, and these unsuspecting and slacker heroes are less-than-motivated to take action, unless they have to.  Our unreliable narrator, David Wong, is socially inept and ogles women everywhere he goes, but readers are not even sure if he is David or John or someone else because the names of been changed.  In B-horror movie fashion, plots are introduced, left hanging, and reworked into even more ridiculous adventures.

“‘I call it Dante’s Syndrome,’ John said.  I had never heard him call it any such thing. ‘Meaning, I think Dave and I gained the ability to peer into Hell. Only it turns out Hell is right here, it’s all through us and around us and in us like the microbes that swarm through your lungs and guts and veins. Hey, look! An owl!'” (pg. 7)

“‘But I can bless water to make it holy. The ice statue, I mean.’
John’s face brightened and he said, ‘That’s perfect!’ He thrust his index finger into the air. ‘We bless the ice, then we just have to somehow get all hundred or so of those monsters to lick the statue!'” (130 pgs.)

These examples should provide you with the humor in this book, but some of this just seemed inserted for humor’s sake and did little to add to the story.  My final impression of John Dies @ the End by David Wong — the narrator for Audible was Stephen R. Thorne — is one of being overwhelmed by the descriptive info-dumps and the absurdity.  Because of the overwhelming and topsy-turvy nature of the narrative, this one did not work well on audio at all, leaving me lost most of the time, which is why I switched to the book.

RATING: Couplet

What the book club thought:

Sounded like most everyone thought the book was OK, but was not overly excited about the book. One member who said they were not sad to have read the book, said that they were not interested in reading any of the sequels. Another member said that the book was humorous, but most members said that the book had a plot that went nowhere and where there were no consequences for anything that happened.

French Coast by Anita Hughes

Source: the author
Paperback, 304 pgs.
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French Coast by Anita Hughes is gorgeous and not just because its set at Cote D’Azur and the Cannes Film Festival.  Serena has come to France for the biggest opportunity of her journalistic career, even though her fiance Chase is set to announce their engagement and his bid for mayor of San Francisco.  Serena is going to interview Yvette Renault, the former editor of French Vogue.  Along the way, the life she expected is swept away from her and she has to contend with secrets she never saw coming.  While she remains as focused on her work as she can, she finds herself befriending Zoe, who is on a trip of her own to uncover family secrets and save her parents.

“‘At least you know where your father is,’ Serena said, adding cream and sugar.  ‘I haven’t heard from my parents in days. I keep expecting my father to call and say it was all a mistake.’

‘We’re the ones who are supposed to be falling in love with the wrong men and making our parents frantic,’ Zoe said as she tore apart an almond croissant.

‘Maybe we’re part of the wrong generation.’ Serena sipped her coffee.  ‘We should have been young in the sixties.'” (pg. 155)

Serena and Zoe are like ships passing in the night, but it’s clear they have an instant friendship that will last, and despite drifting since coming to France, Serena has a purpose and dives into her work.  Nick is a knight in shining armor of sorts, returning Serena’s lost wallet and phone, and eventually, they spend afternoons and evenings together talking about not only their work but their dreams.  Don’t be fooled, however, because this is not a straight-forward romance novel.  While there is romance for many of these characters, there is heartbreak and choices to be made about their careers and their futures.

French Coast by Anita Hughes is a delightful read for the summer months and beyond.  Serena is a strong woman who is sure about her career, but little else at least until fate plays its hand.  Hughes is a talent and her books are always delightful reads to pop in the beach bag or to read out on the deck or at the pool.  This one has the right amount of mystery thrown in as well, making it even more engaging.

About the Author: (photo by Sheri Geoffreys)

Anita Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia and had a charmed childhood that included petting koala bears, riding the waves on Bondi Beach, and putting an occasional shrimp on the barbie. Her writing career began at the age of eight, when she won a national writing contest in THE AUSTRALIAN newspaper, and was named “One of Australia’s Next Best Writers.” (She still has the newspaper clipping.)

She received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing from Bard College, and attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing program.

Other Reviews:

Rome in Love by Anita Hughes

Source: the author
Paperback, 320 pgs.
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Rome in Love by Anita Hughes is an enjoyable jaunt in Italy with a young actress, Amelia Tate, remaking Roman Holiday, a movie that made Audrey Hepburn famous.  She is thrilled to be making a movie, and while her fiance supports her, he also seems eager to be married and take her away from the spotlight so she can be at his side as he makes deals.  Italy is often considered a home for romance and love, but in Hughes’ hands, it also becomes a place of contemplation and pivotal life decisions.  Amelia’s beginnings in Italy on the set of Roman Holiday mirror those of Audrey Hepburn, including the love of acting, the break up with a fiance, and the entrance of a new love interest.  However, unlike Hepburn, Tate has decided to allow herself to be seen as a maid at the hotel, rather than the actress she is.  In her ability to blend in, she makes friends with a real princess, Sophie, and finds a friend in Philip, an expat journalist who is trying to make a career for himself away from his stockbroker father.

Like many of us who wish that our lives were different and can sometimes take on new personas online, Amelia is quick to masquerade as a maid because it gives her the freedom from the paparazzi and the other trappings of Hollywood, but it also doesn’t come with the financial or other stresses of being a real maid.  Sophie is similar in that she’s enjoying Rome’s arts and music and shopping before she returns home to marry her childhood friend, Leopold, in an arranged marriage.  In many ways, Rome becomes the home of imposters, with each of these characters trying out different lives and enjoying their time without the pressure of those lives.

Hughes easily builds the scene in Italy through food, art, music, and more, but in many ways, here characters here are lacking something.  Readers may find that they are more attached to Audrey Hepburn than they are Amelia, who spends a great deal of time waiting for things to happen, rather than acting.  Sophie’s story is intriguing, and readers may almost want to hear more of that story.  However, Amelia’s romance with Philip is one fraught with misunderstandings, which are by turns amusing and frustrating.  Rome in Love by Anita Hughes is entertaining and a great summer read that will take readers on a trip to Europe, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

About the Author:  (photo by Sheri Geoffreys)

Anita Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia and had a charmed childhood that included petting koala bears, riding the waves on Bondi Beach, and putting an occasional shrimp on the barbie. Her writing career began at the age of eight, when she won a national writing contest in THE AUSTRALIAN newspaper, and was named “One of Australia’s Next Best Writers.” (She still has the newspaper clipping.)

She received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing from Bard College, and attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing program.

Other Reviews:

The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli

tlc tour host

Source: St. Martin’s Press and TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs
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The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli is about learning how to change direction when the path you’re on no longer suits, makes you miserable, or merely a new opportunity presents itself.  Part environmental cause, part journey to happiness, Soli creates a multilayered story with deeply flawed characters who not only create havoc in their own lives but in the lives of others.  She brings to life the dream many corporate drones dream of, running away to paradise, but even that is fraught with contradiction and disappointment.

“As was her new habit, Ann got up early and walked to the far side of the island where the camera was.  She sat behind it and stared at the view that it stared at, a veritable Alice behind the looking glass.  It was the real thing and its abstraction.  She felt she was on the verge of some grand truth while being suckered at the same time.” (page 150 ARC)

Ann and her husband, Richard, must face the reality that their business partnership with Javi, El Gusano, is a pipe dream dragged down by their philandering, spendthrift partner who expects their assets to shoulder the debt burden.  As they flee Los Angeles in search of an escape, they end up on an island near Tahiti with no WI-Fi or outside connections.  Soli examines the idea of perception — the view we have of our lives as we live them and the view that we have of those lives when on vacation or examining our chosen path.  The two views either can be nearly identical or they can be vastly different.  It is up to ourselves to change the courses we choose and to create the lives we want.  While there will always be an obstacle that challenges us, we must be inured to rise up and take the horse by the reins.

The irony of The Last Good Paradise is that the only paradise we will have is the one we make ourselves.  It is not a place that can be arrived at by plane, bus, or train, but a sense of peace from within ourselves that must be fought for and cultivated over time.

About the Author:

TATJANA SOLI lives with her husband in Southern California. Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, won the 2011 James Tait Black Prize, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a New York Times Notable Book. Her stories have appeared inBoulevard, The Sun, StoryQuarterly, Confrontation, Gulf Coast, Other Voices, Third Coast, Sonora Review and North Dakota Quarterly. Her work has been twice listed in the 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories.

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 389 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson, our August Book Club selection, is part legal thriller and part historical fiction, as Ben Solomon recognizes that one of Chicago’s elite was a former Nazi SS officer Otto Piatek, the butcher of Zamosc, and his one-time brother.  Solomon’s family always strove to help their neighbors whenever possible, and one day take in a German boy, Otto, as their parents face the struggles of lost jobs and opportunities.  On the cusp of Nazi expansion, Poland seems like it is protected from outside forces and immune to Nazi takeover, but suddenly, things change and the Solomons are faced with a variety of tough decisions.  In the present Ben Solomon has aged and is on a crusade to bring Piatek to justice no matter the cost.

“‘Maybe for some.  Not for me.  It is why we must remain diligent and relentlessly pursue men like Piatek.  Evil is contagious.  Much like a pathogen, it must be snuffed out at the source.'” (page 139)

Balson has a great story to tell, but it’s too bad that the modern-day character of Catherine Lockhart is too much of a pain, with her constant interruptions about billable hours and urging Ben to get to the point.  She’s constantly bombarding Ben with questions about property and the basis for his lawsuit and always denying her interest.  While her backstory about a horrible conniving husband gives credence to her lack of confidence as a lawyer and her concern about keeping her current job, her story is pale in comparison to Ben’s Holocaust story.  Moreover, there are times when Ben appears to be spouting off facts in an effort to educate the reader, coming off more as a lecture than a man who is telling his life story.  Despite these flaws, the story is engaging — even if everything that could have happened during the Holocaust happens to Ben and his family — and readers will be sucked into the past, just as Catherine is.

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson is intriguing because of the Polish setting, and the story of Ben and his family is engaging, but the lawsuit portion is resolved very quickly and the relationship between Ben and Otto as children is only partially developed.  With that said, Balson knows his history and has created an engaging look into the past that will have readers examining the world today in a new light.  Are we beyond the evil the Nazi’s engaged in or is the potential still here among our own world leaders?

About the Author:

The author, Ronald H. Balson, is a Chicago trial attorney, an educator and writer. His practice has taken him to several international venues, including villages in Poland which have inspired the novel Once We Were Brothers.

What Book Club Thought:

Most of us were displeased with the attorney character and her sob story, which had not place in the book, especially in comparison to Ben Solomon’s holocaust story.  With that said, one member really enjoyed the legal maneuverings near the end of the book, though they were resolved very quickly.  While the novel was readable and went quickly, there seemed to be an abundance of bad things happening to Ben and his family, though like most of these stories there are many who die.  Otto also seemed to be “too” evil and there was little seen of his transformation, which could be because the story was told from Ben’s point of view for the most part.  One member suggested that the modern day characters be cut out or that they be only at the end when Ben makes it to modern day and begins his lawsuit, while another suggested the book be split between the “brothers'” points of view.  Overall, many thought this book could have presented the story in a better way.

20th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

 

 

49th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

15th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge(Set in Poland)

 

 

25th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

Source: Tandem Literary
Hardcover, 448 pages
On Amazon, on Kobo

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews came unexpectedly in the mail, but my mom decided to pick it up when she was here on vacation.  Rather than write a traditional review, I offered to ask her some questions about her reading experience.

Who are the main characters?

Cara, Brook, Jack, Bert, Gordon, Patricia, Cullen Kane, Marie, and Ryan.

Cara is a florist and wedding planner originally from Ohio who moves to Georgia.  She has issues with love after her divorce.

Ryan and Jack are carpenters who restore buildings.  Bert works for Cara in her shop.  Brook is supposed to get married to Harris, but has a bit of cold feet.  Gordon and Patricia and Marie are Brook’s parents.

Does Cara blend in well with Savannah residents?

She seems to fit in with everyone well, and she has a lot of friends.  She also gets a lot of referrals to her flower shop.  She does floral arrangements for weddings, funerals, graduations, etc.

Is it obvious who Cara’s love interest will be?

Yes.  She meets him at his brother Ryan’s wedding.  They hit it off for a bit and then end up going their separate ways, etc.

What’s the theme?

Love has a restorative power.

Overall impression?

Read to see what happens.  5-star reads.

Mom read this one in a couple of days.  Share your thoughts about this one.

Always Watching by Chevy Stevens

Source: Novel Books
Paperback, 352 pages
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Always Watching by Chevy Stevens is well-paced, building the suspense and tension to a boil at the same time that it builds the characters, creating three-dimensional people — who in some cases are utterly terrifying.  Dr. Nadine Lavoie, whose appeared in Stevens’ Still Missing and Never Knowning as a therapist, is the protagonist, and as she searches the streets of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, for her drug-addicted daughter, finds memories of her childhood are even more frightening than she first thought.  For those who have read the previous books and were intrigued by the therapist, this has been a long-awaited novel.  In true form, Stevens has built a believable world from which the current Dr. Nadine Lavoie has come, and although she cannot remember her most defining moments from childhood, it is clear they have helped shaped her into the woman and doctor she is.

“At first, the pain of the cold and the humiliation is excruciating.  I think I’m going to scream from it, but then I focus on the sound of the river, a bead of rain dripping off a leaf, chanting my mantra in my mind, until I’m able to separate from the pain, aware of it, but distantly.” (page 231 ARC)

Heather Simeon, Lavoie’s suicidal patient at the hospital, is not just depressed about being unable to make her parents proud, but she’s also devastated by the loss of her miscarriage and terrified by the commune people who are harassing her and her husband, Daniel, and who always seem to be watching.  Her interactions with the good doctor stir up something in Lavoie that she’s suppressed for most of her adult life — a childhood spent in a 1960s commune with her mother and brother.  As the memories resurface, she has little choice but to seek out former members to confirm events and look for clues about her past.  But what she stirs up is a relative hornet’s nest that not only swarms her and her family, but also those around her.

Stevens’ novel is finely crafted, full of twists and turns.  And while there is some predictability in what happens, she maintains her focus on the psychological impact of those events, detailing gripping breakdowns and triumphant rebounds of strength.  Always Watching is a book that’s hard to put down, and what happens in those pages will not stay there — the events will likely haunt readers for some time afterward.

About the Author:

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. At open houses, waiting between potential buyers, she spent hours scaring herself with thoughts of horrible things that could happen to her. Her most terrifying scenario, which began with being abducted, was the inspiration for STILL MISSING. After six months Chevy sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book.

Chevy enjoys writing thrillers that allow her to blend her interest in family dynamics with her love of the west coast lifestyle. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her husband and daughter in the local mountains.  Photo Credit: Poppy Photography

Market Street by Anita Hughes

Source: St. Martin’s Press
Paperback, 304 pages
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Market Street by Anita Hughes allows readers to take a peek behind the golden curtain of San Francisco’s social elite.  It’s a highly capitalistic society in which shopping among the women is a sport and those who fail to get the best clothes before everyone else are usually the losers.  Behind this facade, Cassie Blake, heiress to a shopping guru’s dream — the Fenton’s fortune — lives in Berkeley with her ethics professor husband, Aidan Blake, and shuns high society for her vegetable garden and wifely duties.  Her husband is by turns loving and controlling, and repeatedly tells her that even though Fenton’s is the family business, she doesn’t have to take it over.  His behavior toward her and her work (even just volunteer work) outside the home should send up red flags, but Cassie is blissfully unaware until she steps into a customer service role one day at her mother’s store.

Cassie has been taking care of others since she met Aidan, and as his wife, she falls easily into that role until she finds out about his infidelity.  Pushed to reassess her marriage, and by extension her life, she moves out and moves into her best friend’s mansion, while Alexis’s husband is off jet-setting as a hedge fund man.  While Cassie is endearing because of her down-to-earth nature and the duty she has to fulfill her mother’s dreams and take over Fenton’s, some of the other characters are harshly materialistic, very obsessed with image, and focused too much on sex.  If public displays of affection make you uneasy, there are some moments where Aidan makes advances toward Cassie at the most inappropriate times.  These moments may be for effect to demonstrate his hound-dog nature, but readers may wonder what Cassie was thinking staying married to the man so long.

“‘Alexis, you don’t need a discount.’ Cassie giggled.  ‘You’re married to a gazillionaire.’

‘But if I get a discount, I have to buy them.  It would be fiscally imprudent not to.'” (page 127)

“‘She’s going to give Derek a new title and make you store manager.’ Cassie buttered a baguette. ‘If you want the job.’

‘Of course I want the job!’ Alexis opened the freezer and took out a carton of ice cream.  ‘I haven’t had this much fun since Barbie summer camp.'”  (page 155)

Where Hughes really shines in characterization is her juxtaposition of Cassie and her best friend, Alexis.  One is materialistic and loves the high life, while the other would rather have dirt under her fingernails.  But when a crisis — even just insecurities — arises, both women support one another and know just how frank to be.  Even though their outlooks are different, they’re ready with the support and ice cream when necessary.  Market Street by Anita Hughes is a mixed bag of great friendship camaraderie, sex scenes, and some cardboard cutout characters, but the pages fly by, making it a fun trip to San Francisco.

About the Author:  (photo by Sheri Geoffreys)

Anita Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia and had a charmed childhood that included petting koala bears, riding the waves on Bondi Beach, and putting an occasional shrimp on the barbie. Her writing career began at the age of eight, when she won a national writing contest in THE AUSTRALIAN newspaper, and was named “One of Australia’s Next Best Writers.” (She still has the newspaper clipping.)

She received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing from Bard College, and attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing program.

Check out my reviews of Monarch Beach and Lake Como!

Lake Como by Anita Hughes

Source: St. Martin’s Press
Paperback, 274 pages
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Lake Como by Anita Hughes is a summer read that will sweep readers away to Lake Como, Italy, and wish they were being romanced and fed so well!  Hallie Elliot is part of a competitive interior design firm in San Francisco, Calif., and she has a journalist boyfriend, Peter, who dotes on her while wooing the famous and infamous to spill their secrets.  While her life is humming along in America, her half-sister Portia’s marriage is falling apart in Italy.  Hughes has crafted a novel about building and rebuilding family ties, particularly between sisters, and how unexpected events can change the course of one’s life in better ways.

Hallie’s mother, Francesca, was a carefree teen studying and playing abroad when she met Pliny and quickly married him.  Unwittingly, she had entered the old world of family politics, becoming a part of Italian aristocracy with their own ideas of motherhood and obligation.  As a teen, Francesca could not handle the pressure, leaving her two children, Marcua and Portia, behind.  Hallie has lived a privileged life in California, thanks to Francesca’s mother, Constance, a socialite and constant mothering presence.  Hallie’s life is not as cohesive as many family units with a mother and father and siblings living together, but she’s able to rise above and carve out her own life.  Hughes peppers the story with elements of Hallie’s growing-up years to ensure that readers understand her foibles.

Readers will be immersed in Lake Como’s romance — the glittering light playing off the waves and the sleek satin dresses hugging the curves of each woman — and swept up in the family drama caused by a clash of old world tradition and the realities of the modern world.  Portia is struggling with the pull between those worlds, but Hallie is there to pull her back to simpler times when they shared music and sleepovers one summer as kids.  She brings her back to life just by being her sister, and while at one point Hallie forgets that connection amidst her own troubles, these sisters have a concrete bonds.

Lake Como by Anita Hughes is about finding out who you are, even in the worst circumstances, and relying on the bonds you know to be true when you find yourself waffling.  Hughes is an exceptional dramatist, weaving in the past and present to create a fuller picture of the family.  The bonds tying these members together will last for many years to come, and some readers may even want to see a sequel. (I know I do!)

About the Author: (photo by Sheri Geoffreys)

Anita Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia and had a charmed childhood that included petting koala bears, riding the waves on Bondi Beach, and putting an occasional shrimp on the barbie. Her writing career began at the age of eight, when she won a national writing contest in THE AUSTRALIAN newspaper, and was named “One of Australia’s Next Best Writers.” (She still has the newspaper clipping.)

She received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing from Bard College, and attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing program.

Check out my review of Monarch Beach!

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes is one of those beach reads that barely scratches the surface about what divorce can do to a family, especially when one spouse cheats on the other and more than once.  To Amanda Blick’s credit she doesn’t go postal and take out her husband’s (Andre) French fondue restaurant in Ross, an exclusive, elite neighborhood, and she doesn’t have a nervous breakdown.  Rather, Blick takers their son, Max, out of the San Francisco area to St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort with her mother, Grace, who promises to quit smoking if they come stay with her for the summer in the Presidential Suite.

Pretty posh lifestyle, but nothing less can be expected from the offspring of a society family, whose friends used to call her parents’ home The Palace.  The relationship between Andre and Amanda is rushed, but that’s to be expected as she meets him just after graduating undergrad following a family tragedy.  When Andre’s restaurant partnership sours, he doesn’t turn to his mother-in-law or his wife for help, but a busty former high school classmate of Amanda’s and her husband Glenn.

Clearly blinded by lust or love, Amanda rushes headlong into a marriage and finds contentment with being a mother and wife, as her dream of becoming a fashion designer fades into the rearview.  But her world crumbles around her when she finds the chef’s legs wrapped around her partially naked husband in the restaurant one afternoon.  She’s forced to make a decision or have a meltdown.

“I pulled into the parking lot at the post office, threw my purse under the seat, and started walking.  I was still in my yoga clothes, so I looked like any other mother going for a morning hike.  I left the parking lot and took long strides till I reached the lake, a walk that usually took me half an hour.  That Tuesday I made it in sixteen minutes.  I sat on a bench watching the ducks and took deep breaths.  It was a beautiful spring day.  The sun was warm, the sky a pale blue, and beds of purple and white daisies surrounded the lake.”  (Page 2)

Hughes creates a woman who copes with heartbreak in the only way she knows: she asks her mother’s advice.  Amanda waffles, she indulges, she cries, and she wallows over the summer, and by turns she’s at the beach, eating, or at the bar, but most of all she’s spending time with her son and her mother, the people she cares most about.  Many readers will envy her lifestyle and wonder what she has to complain about, but upon further reflection, readers will find that heartbreak can transcend classes.

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes is beach read that will take most readers’ minds off their troubles.  A satisfying peak into the life of the elite, even when heartbreak is the order of the day.  The ending is a bit open-ended, which could leave readers wondering if there is a sequel in the works.

About the Author:

ANITA HUGHES attended UC Berkeley’s Masters in Creative Writing Program, and has taught Creative Writing at The Branson School in Ross, California. Hughes has lived at The St. Regis Monarch Beach for six years, where she is at work on her next novel.  Please check out her Website. (Photo by Sheri Geoffreys)

This is my 54th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.