Barbara Delinsky – Sweet Salt Air: A Novel

36. Sweet Salt Air: A Novel by Barbara Delinsky (2013)
Length: 404 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Started: 13 July 2016
Finished: 18 July 2016
Where did it come from? From Paperback Swap
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 11 July 2016
Why do I have it? I like contemporary fiction and have read and enjoyed several books by this author in the past.

On Quinnipeague Island – just off the coast of Maine – hearts open up under the summer stars and secrets float in the sweet salt air. Nicole and Charlotte had once been the best of friends. Spending summers together at Nicole’s island home off the coast of Maine was an idyllic time for both of them, but sometimes memories – no matter how sweet they are – cannot last. Too many years and too many secrets have begun to color the women’s friendship and have succeeded in keeping them apart.

Charlotte is a successful travel writer who spends most of her time on the road. She is single, but is happy living as she does – on the road and out of a suitcase. Nicole is a food blogger who keeps house in Philadelphia; and she has been happily married to her surgeon husband Julian for the past ten years. When Nicole is commissioned to write a book about island food, she decides to invite Charlotte back for one final summer, to the place where the women had spent so many idyllic summers together – Quinnipeague, Maine.

To Nicole’s mind, this could prove to be the perfect partnership between them. Outgoing and passionate, Charlotte has a gift for engaging people – talking to them and making friends with everyone she meets. Nicole could use her own expertise to interview the locals. So, dearly missing a genuine connection with her former best friend, Charlotte eagerly accepts Nicole’s invitation.

Yet what both women don’t realize is that they are each holding on to secrets that may change their lives forever. For Nicole, what comes to light could possibly destroy her marriage, but it could also help save her husband’s life. For Charlotte, the truth could ultimately cost her Nicole’s friendship, but the revelation could also give her a second chance to find love again. And Charlotte’s second chance for love may lie with a reclusive local man, with a heart to soothe and troubles of his own.

First of all, let me say that I genuinely enjoy reading anything by Barbara Delinsky – she certainly can write an intriguing story and creates well-developed, sympathetic characters. Having said that, I must also admit that Ms. Delinsky has a tendency to be a bit of a hit-or-miss author for me. Perhaps I have mentioned this before, but some of her work seems slightly over-written and tremendously – if minutely – detailed.

This particular story was certainly interesting and an enjoyable reading experience for me. However, I would also say that it was slightly longer than I thought that it needed to be to tell the story. In my opinion though, this story was still well worth reading. I would still give this book a definite A!

A! – (90-95%)

Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight

Alice McDermott – Charming Billy: A Novel

33. Charming Billy: A Novel by Alice McDermott (1998)
Length: 243 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Started: 27 June 2016
Finished: 1 July 2016
Where did it come from? From a Library Book Sale
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 21 November 2001
Why do I have it? I like contemporary fiction and Alice McDermott is a new author for me.

The people who knew and loved Billy Lynch the best have all come to comfort his widow Maeve, and to eulogize a man whom many considered to be one of the last great romantics. From all accounts, the late Billy Lynch was such a wonderful man – a man who was an extraordinarily unique soul. As forty-seven members of his funeral party gather together at a local Bronx bar to reminisce over their memories of the past; each trading their own tales of his legendary humor, immense charm, and deepest, most profound sorrow – Billy Lynch will be remembered most by the people whose lives were touched by his presence.

As the mourners linger on into this extraordinary evening, their voices will eventually blend together to tell Billy’s own tragic story. What is finally revealed to all present is a complex portrait of an enigmatic man; a loyal friend, a beloved husband, a functional alcoholic. While Billy’s loved ones continue to hold Maeve in the highest esteem and admire her strength, there are those among the mourners who cannot remember Billy without also recalling the source of his unfathomable grief and sadness: “There was that girl.” Their various stories weave together to become a gentle homage to all the lives in their close-knit community fractured by grief, shattered by secrets, yet sustained by the simple dream of love.

In a voice that is resonant and full of deep feeling, Alice McDermott tells the tale of Billy Lynch within the complex confines of a tightly knit Irish-American community. Charming Billy is a poignant masterpiece about the unbreakable bonds of desire and memory. Ms. McDermott’s striking novel, is an intricate study of the lies that bind and the weight of familial love, of the way good intentions can be as destructive as the truth they were meant to hide.

I must say that I really enjoyed reading this book. In my opinion, this was a poignant and well-written story; one that I found both intriguing and intricately detailed. Having said that, I will admit that I found the book somewhat confusing with regards to some of the relationships between the characters and the frequent shifts back and forth between the past and the present. I would still give this book an A! and am happy to note that I have three or four more books by this author on my bookshelf.

A! – (90-95%)

Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight

Elin Hilderbrand – The Castaways: A Novel

32. The Castaways: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand (2009)

Length: 359 pages 
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 
Started: 17 June 2016
Finished: 23 June 2016
Where did it come from? From a Library Book Sale 
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 7 June 2016
Why do I have it? I like contemporary fiction and Elin Hilderbrand is a new author for me.

On the picturesque island of Nantucket – just off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts – rumors always tend to flow fast and furious. In such a close-knit, yet isolated community, everybody soon gets to know everyone else’s business. For eight best friends – the Kapenashes, the MacAvoys, the Drakes, and the Wheelers – four prominent couples within their tiny community; secrets usually don’t stay secret for very long. And even the most innocuous of meetings can raise suspicions.

When the charming and talented music teacher, Greg MacAvoy, spends a rainy Sunday night with a beautiful high school senior named April Peck – the curiosity and rumors begin. Although Greg loves his wife Tess deeply, and has been happily married to her for over a decade; he just can’t seem to shake the speculative whispers of: ‘What happened between Greg MacAvoy and April Peck?’ The community rumor mill begins churning, and speculation is sent swarming around the island like tourists on Memorial Day.

With all the rumors floating around, the stress is beginning to show in the MacAvoy marriage. The troubled couple has begun experiencing an incredible amount of strain within their relationship – and all that strain has subsequently taken an enormous toll on Tess – who is dealing with her own issues. She is torn between her love for her husband and keeping a secret of her own.

With their twelfth wedding anniversary fast approaching, the MacAvoys decide to celebrate by spending some quality time on their sailboat. So the couple sets out on their anniversary trip to Martha’s Vineyard, hoping to rekindle the romance in their marriage – confident that the roughest waters are behind them. Yet, all of the MacAvoys’ dreams of a brighter future are soon dimmed by an inexplicable tragedy.

When the heartbreaking news eventually reaches the shores of Nantucket, the entire community is rocked to its very foundations. Greg and Tess have mysteriously drowned in a boating accident, leaving behind their two small children. Their closest friends – the Kapenashes, the Drakes, and the Wheelers – are absolutely devastated by the sudden loss of the MacAvoys.

For as long as anyone can remember, the four couples have done everything together. They have vacationed and celebrated together; confided in and depended on each other. However, tragedy tends to reveal both the best traits and the worst traits in people. Losing Greg and Tess so unexpectedly has reawakened long-simmering conflicts and brings deeply-buried emotions bubbling to the surface. The six friends, still reeling from their feelings of grief and denial, set out to answer the ultimate question: ‘What happened to Greg and Tess MacAvoy?’

A page-turning story of passion and suspense, The Castaways: A Novel is a poignant exploration of the boundaries of friendship and forgiveness. This is an extraordinary portrayal of love, loss and acceptance – playing out against the evocative backdrop of the summertime perfection of life spent on Nantucket. A masterful story which highlights so much of what makes Elin Hilderbrand a hallmark best-selling author.

I must say that I absolutely loved this book. In my opinion, this was such a well-written story; it was filled with a certain amount of suspense and mystery, as well as believable characters and a thoughtful, well-developed plot. This was just the type of story that I usually enjoy reading, and I will definitely be putting Ms. Hilderbrand’s name at the top of my wish list. I give this book an A+!

A+! – (95-100%)

Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight

Patricia Gaffney – The Saving Graces: A Novel

27. The Saving Graces: A Novel by Patricia Gaffney (1999)
Length: 394 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Started: 13 May 2016
Finished: 18 May 2016
Where did it come from? From a Library Book Sale
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 5 November 2000
Why do I have it? I like contemporary fiction and have read and enjoyed several books by this author in the past.

For the past decade, four friends – Emma, Rudy, Lee, and Isabel – have shared an abidingly deep affection for each other that has kept them strong. Their friendship has helped them all deal with the ebb and flow of various expectations and disappointments commonly experienced by so many women. Calling themselves the ‘Saving Graces’, this quartet is united by understanding, honesty, and acceptance – interweaving bonds of familiarity that have only strengthened as the years go by…

Emma, a sharp-tongued, soft-hearted skeptic, doesn’t believe in love – until she meets the one man she can never have. For her, the Saving Graces have become the fall-breakers extraordinaire. She firmly believes that, “bad news doesn’t hurt as much if you hear it in good company.”

A stunning beauty with an extraordinary capacity for love and a shaky, dysfunctional past, Rudy is desperately trying to hold on to her deeply troubled marriage. She has always viewed her friendship with the Saving Graces as truly life-affirming. She honestly has no idea where she would be without them all, although she freely acknowledges, “I don’t know why my friends bother with me, I’m so high-maintenance. I would run if I saw me coming.”

Lee, whom everyone else is certain is “the normal one”, longs to have a child of her own. Yet her overwhelming desire for motherhood threatens to destroy an otherwise idyllic marriage. The Saving Graces are the sounding board on which she unburdens all her hopes and fears. She fears that her inability to have children will eventually become an obsession for her, “I know I’m consumed by our infertility, and that’s not fair to Henry…He says I blame everything that’s wrong with us, everything that’s wrong with my whole life, on the fact that we can’t have children.”

Isabel, as the oldest member of the quartet, is a true survivor. Someone whose wisdom and strength were forged by her experiences of some of the worst trials life can possibly offer. Hers is the guidance and practical insight that propels and grounds the Saving Graces. Hers is the quiet, yet equally sustaining ‘voice of reason’ to which everyone listens.

Her view of the Saving Graces is profoundly simple: “We’re all productive, tolerably sane, functioning adults, we Graces, with no more emotional baggage – well, except for Rudy – than you would expect in a random sampling of aging yuppie women. And yet our childhoods were disasters. Occasionally, we four play the intriguing ‘What keeps us together?’ game, and the fact that we all survived our childhoods is mentioned early and often.”

Although these four sisters of the heart and soul have seen it all, as well as talked through it all; nothing can possibly prepare them for what comes next. Emma, Rudy, Lee, and Isabel will each face a crisis of such astounding proportions that the strength of the bonds of love, loyalty, courage, and friendship that these remarkable women share, will ultimately be tested like never before. Captivating from first page to last, this mesmerizing story illuminates the emotional links that define and join us together as women.

The Saving Graces: A Novel by Patricia Gaffney poignantly illustrates just how friendship sustains and enriches women’s lives in unique ways – ways no romantic or family relationship ever can. Seen by many as a source of solace, support, and spiritual nourishment, friendship is a tie that powerfully connects women to each other in unforgettable, joyous, sometimes painful ways. While men, jobs, and crises may come and go, nothing lasts like true friendship.

This is actually the second time that I have read this book – the first time that I read it was approximately ten to fifteen years ago. I must say that I enjoyed it just as much the second time as I did when I first read the book. I have always found Ms. Gaffney’s writing style to be highly evocative and tremendously sensitive to her audience. Her characterizations are always deeply grounded in reality; they are sympathetic, yet also very relatable in their respective reactions to certain situations.

I was completely immersed in the story in a relatively short period of time, and quite willingly lost myself in the story of these four remarkable women. I found the book hard to put down and was rooting for the Graces all the way through.  I would certainly give this book an A+! and will happily keep it to read again some time soon.

A+! – (96-100%)

Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight

Barbara Delinsky – A Woman’s Place

26. A Woman’s Place by Barbara Delinsky (1997)
Length: 405 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Started: 2 May 2016
Finished: 7 May 2016
Where did it come from? From a Library Book Sale
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 14 August 2001
Why do I have it? I like contemporary fiction and have read and enjoyed several books by this author in the past.

Claire Raphael is a woman who has everything – two great children and a husband who she adores; a thriving part-time business and a hectic yet extremely happy life. She has built her wicker furniture business from the ground up – basically from nothing – and made that business successful through her own imagination, creativity and hard work. In fact, everything that Claire has, she has legitimately earned. On her own; through benefit of her hard work and, as such, thoroughly well-deserved.

Then, one evening, Claire returns from a particularly difficult business trip and is utterly blindsided. Dennis – her seemingly loving husband – hands her divorce papers along with an order to vacate their house; effective immediately. He also wants sole custody of the children. He tells Claire that this is all for the best.
Claire is devastated by Dennis’ actions. She had always believed that even though they may have had their issues, the marriage was still strong. She had absolutely no inkling that her marriage was so close to the brink of disaster; nor any clue that Dennis could possibly be so devious. He was obviously planning this ambush for weeks, if not months – Claire is certain of her suspicions.

She has no idea just how quickly her happy but hectic life will change; how fast everything she has worked so hard for will come crumbling down around her. Claire doesn’t know what to do; where to turn or who to trust. Yet, over the next few weeks, Claire will discover something about herself: when everything she values is threatened, a woman is as tough as she needs to be.

First of all, let me say that this was a reread for me from approximately ten to fifteen years ago. I absolutely loved this book back then; I always enjoy reading stories about strong women dealing with difficult situations. Although I still enjoyed reading this book very much, I must admit that I didn’t find it quite as good as the first time around.

I can’t really put my finger on what was different about the story, but I did notice that the plot seemed slightly forced or stilted; at least in my opinion. I would still give this book an A!

A! – (90-95%)

Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight

Amy Hatvany – The Language of Sisters: A Novel

23. The Language of Sisters: A Novel by Amy Hatvany (2002)

Length: 312 pages 
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 
Started: 23 April 2016
Finished: 26 April 2016
Where did it come from? From a Library Book Sale 
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 1 June 2015
Why do I have it? I like contemporary fiction and Amy Hatvany is a new author for me.
It has been a decade since Nicole Hunter left her troubles behind her. Ten years since she made the decision to leave her dysfunctional family and troubled home, and search for contentment elsewhere. She loves her family deeply, yet also finds herself unable to cope with the demands of living a life with her severely disabled sister, Jenny. While she has always felt somewhat guilty for leaving, Nicole tells herself that at the time she was doing the right thing.
Although her continuing search for happiness – both in her career and in love – has fallen somewhat short of her dreams, Nicole still pretends to everyone that all is well. Then an earth-shattering phone call sends her rushing back home to be with her family. As Nicole’s world is turned upside down, she soon finds herself back in her hometown, caring for her pregnant sister and attempting to heal her contentious relationship with her mother. While it may be difficult for her to do, Nicole views her return to her hometown as a chance to reconnect with her family.
Reunited with her family and forced to confront the guilt that still haunts her, Nicole recognizes that she finally has the chance to be the sister she always wanted to be. A second chance to be the sister she always wished she had been when she was younger. She soon comes to the realization that her feelings of guilt are almost entirely subjective. And when she is faced with the most difficult choice of her life, Nicole rediscovers the beauty of sisterhood – and receives a special gift that will change her life forever.

First of all, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The story was well-written and sharply developed. I found myself connecting with the characters and really feeling for them and what they were all going through. In my opinion, Ms. Hatvany’s writing style is both compassionate and extremely poignant. Having said that, I also must admit that the story seemed just the slightest bit predictable. I would still give this book a very strong A!

A! – (90-95%)

Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight

Margot Livesey – Criminals: A Novel

19. Criminals: A Novel by Margot Livesey (1995)
Length: 271 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Started: 26 March 2016
Finished: 31 March 2016
Where did it come from? From Paperback Swap
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 29 January 2015
Why do I have it? I like contemporary fiction and have read and enjoyed several books by this author in the past.

Ewan Munro – a decent, yet harried young banker – receives a peculiar and disturbing letter from his sister Mollie. Already poised on the brink of his own personal crisis and desperately worried about Mollie’s troubled state of mind, Ewan travels north to Scotland to be with his sister in her time of need. Along the way, Ewan discovers a baby abandoned in a bus station rest-room and, unsure about what to do next, he takes the child with him to see his sister.

What follows next are the intertwining stories and motivations of five different people – and the poignant story of the many more lives caught up in binding nets of affection and responsibility, of sibling loyalty, romantic longing and maternal love. Ultimately, the question becomes, where does the line between doing the morally acceptable thing cross with the line that follows criminal behavior? And what is the true cost of having the best of intentions and acting on them?

First of all, let me say that this was an extraordinarily well-written story and I enjoyed it immensely. In my opinion, Ms. Livesey really captures the authenticity of her characters, and manages to make the reader care about them as people who are experiencing tremendous difficulties. That being said, I will say that this particular story seemed just the slightest bit far-fetched; although I would still give this book a definite A+!

A+! – (96-100%)

Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight