Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

  • small blessings jacketTitle:  Small Blessings
  • Author:  Martha Woodroof
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  August 2014 – St. Martin’s Press
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  From debut novelist Martha Woodroof comes an inspiring tale of a small-town college professor, a remarkable new woman at the bookshop, and the ten-year old son he never knew he had. 

Tom Putnam has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. An English professor in a sleepy college town, he spends his days browsing the Shakespeare shelves at the campus bookstore, managing the oddball faculty in his department and caring, alongside his formidable mother-in-law, for his wife Marjory, a fragile shut-in with unrelenting neuroses, a condition exacerbated by her discovery of Tom’s brief and misguided affair with a visiting poetess a decade earlier.

Then, one evening at the bookstore, Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the shop’s charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to their home for dinner, out of the blue, her first social interaction since her breakdown. Tom wonders if it’s a sign that change is on the horizon, a feeling confirmed upon his return home, where he opens a letter from his former paramour, informing him he’d fathered a son who is heading Tom’s way on a train. His mind races at the possibility of having a family after so many years of loneliness. And it becomes clear change is coming whether Tom’s ready or not.

A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, Small Blessings‘s wonderfully optimistic heart that reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.  (publisher)

My take:  Small Blessings is filled with quirky characters who seem kind of like some people I know in my life. On the surface you’d think they don’t have a problem in the world. But when you get a glimpse of what’s actually going on in their lives you find they’re like many people who, for various reasons, are just trying to get by one day at a time.

My favorite character was Agnes, Tom’s mother-in-law. She was vibrant and unafraid – at least that’s how she appeared to most people. She reminded me of a character Kathy Bates might play in a movie version – strong yet sensitive in a no nonsense way. She had every right to be bitter because of how life had played out for her but she kept moving forward.

I loved the small twists Martha Woodroof slipped in when I least expected them. The plot would just turn on a dime! That kept me flipping the pages because I had to know what happened next. I was never disappointed. Also, I love it when I laugh out loud while reading – that happened more than a few times while reading Small Blessings.

So, read the synopsis above to get an idea of what the book is about and then grab a copy and read it. I bet you’ll like it! This is one I’ll recommend to my friends.

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If you enjoy listening to audiobooks check out this sample of Small Blessings:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

  • a man called oveTitle:  A Man Called Ove: A Novel
  • Author:  Fredrik Backman
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  July 2014 – Atria Books
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.  (publisher)

My take:  Although I don’t consider myself a cranky old woman, I share the quality of not going around “with a smile plastered to my face all the time” – and I’ve been asked “what’s wrong?” when absolutely nothing is wrong. So I kind of “got” Ove. 🙂

Fredrik Backman peeled back the layers of Ove’s story (no spoilers here) and pulled me into an understanding of what made Ove – Ove. I was unexpectedly charmed by Ove and the rag-tag group of neighbors and a stray cat that became family to him – although he’d never call them family. I think my favorite (after Ove) was Parvaneh, the pregnant neighbor. She didn’t take him seriously yet demanded answers from him. I felt she was a daughter figure to him (but he’d never admit that). It was lovely to see their relationship, such that it was, develop. It struck me that a few of the characters mirrored Ove in some ways  but I’m not sure he would agree.

A Man Called Ove will be on my 2014 Favorites list. It’s a story about a man who had a plan but despite everything he tried to put that plan in motion, life had a plan of its own. It’s a charming, touching and emotional novel that I definitely recommend!

Blog Tour and US Giveaway: After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

After-I-Do-Blog-Tour-Header copy

 

  • Title:  After I Do
  • Author:  Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  July 2014 – Washington Square Press
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes. Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for? This is a love story about what happens when the love fades. It’s about staying in love, seizing love, forsaking love, and committing to love with everything you’ve got. And above all, After I Do is the story of a couple caught up in an old game—and searching for a new road to happily ever after. (publisher)

After I Do (July 1)

 

My take:  This gem of a novel explores what happens to a relationship when the shine wears off. Lauren and Ryan have gone from being completely gaga over each other to a resentment that you can almost taste. The author paced the unfolding of their story perfectly and it was impossible to not feel for these two. They took a bit of an unorthodox way of trying to figure things out and make a go of it. I pulled for them all the way and enjoyed every page of the book.

I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid’s first novel Forever, Interrupted and wasn’t sure what to expect from After I Do. I loved it just as much as the first and have already thought of a few people I’ll buy it for. Do yourself a favor and read this book! You don’t have to be married to appreciate it. You can be married a long time (like me) and enjoy it. I think engaged and newlywed readers will learn from it. Highly recommended.

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Praise for the book: “Moving, gorgeous and, at times, heart-wrenching. Taylor Jenkins Reid writes with wit and true emotion that you can feel. Read it, savor it, share it.” – Sarah Jio, New York Times bestselling author of The Violets of March

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About the author:

taylor-jenkins-reid-author-writer (1)

Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist from Acton, Massachusetts. She graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Media Studies. Her first novel, Forever, Interrupted, was named one of the “11 Debuts We Love” by Kirkus Reviews. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and her dog, Rabbit.

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The Elephant Whisperer (audiobook) by Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence

the elephant whisperer

  • Title:  The Elephant Whisperer
  • Authors:  Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Narrator:  Simon Vance
  • Published:  December 2012 – Tantor Media (originally published 2009)
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of “rogue” wild elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival: they would be killed if he wouldn’t take them. In order to save their lives, Anthony took them in. In the years that followed he became a part of their family. And as he battled to create a bond with the elephants, he came to realize that they had a great deal to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom. (from Audible.com)

My brief take:  A friend recommended The Elephant Whisperer at a time when I was looking to read something a bit different from the genres I usually read. I’m so glad I did. It’s a remarkable memoir that left me grateful for people who can and will step up to be caretakers and protectors of wildlife around the world. Mr. Anthony agreed to take care of the “rogue” herd of elephants on his game reserve in South Africa and then wrote about his experiences. It’s a compelling story that had me wishing for a film version so more people would learn about the amazing elephants and other creatures on Thula Thula and elsewhere.

Simon Vance’s performance was wonderful. In my mind, he was Lawrence Anthony. I highly recommend the audiobook! The Elephant Whisperer was an Audie Award Winner, Biography/Memoir, 2014.

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

evergreen (July8)

  • Title:  Evergreen
  • Author:  Rebecca Rasmussen
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  July 15, 2014 – Knopf
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband into the wilderness of Minnesota. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a new baby boy named Hux. But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, the unthinkable happens: a stranger arrives, and Eveline becomes pregnant. She gives the child away, and while Hux grows up hunting and fishing in the woods with his parents, his sister, Naamah, is raised an orphan. Years later, haunted by the knowledge of this forsaken girl, Hux decides to find his sister and bring her home to the cabin. But Naamah, even wilder than the wilderness that surrounds them, may make it impossible for Hux to ever tame her, to ever make up for all that she, and they, have lost. Set before a backdrop of vanishing forest, this is a luminous novel of love, regret, and hope.  (publisher)

My brief take:  Oh, Rebecca Rasmussen, you did it again. You reached in and wrapped your hand around my heart with your lovely but heart-breaking story. I loved most of the characters – and the ones I didn’t you made me understand why. These characters leapt off the pages as did the settings (which played as big a part as the main characters). I should have been tipped off by the quote before the story begins: “Tell me the landscape in which you live, and I will tell you who you are”.

It’s a story about the need for love and acceptance, and what happens when those are missing in one’s life. The question of ‘nature versus nurture’ ran through my mind with each generation. I loved what a minor character says at one point in the story:  “Every time you think you need to hold on, let go“. Without spoiling the story I’ll just say I think book clubs would find a lot to discuss with Evergreen.

Earlier I mentioned the story is lovely but heart-breaking. I turned the final page feeling uplifted and hopeful and so glad to have read Evergreen.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

one plus one (july 1)

  • Title:  One Plus One
  • Author:  Jojo Moyes
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  July 2014 – Pamela Dorman Books
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You. . . Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.  (publisher)

My take:  Jojo Moyes is two for two in my experience with her novels. I loved Me Before You and now I can add One Plus One to the “loved” category. Through the entire book I wanted to hug Jess, her stepson Nicky and daughter Tanzie and tell them “hang in there. It’ll be ok”.  I felt the same way for a few characters in Me Before You. Moyes never makes her characters pathetic or maudlin – just truly human. And while she does that she writes incredibly funny scenes as well as heartbreaking ones. The car trip to the Math Olympiad had me laughing out loud most of the time. Ultimately the point is made that everyone deserves a second chance – and to never give up. I turned the final page with a satisfied smile hoping that Jojo Moyes’ next book won’t be too far away. I’m a fan. Highly recommended.

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax

the house on mermaid point

  • Title:  The House on Mermaid Point
  • Author:  Wendy Wax
  • Genre:  Women’s Fiction
  • Published:  July 2014 – Berkley Trade
  • Source:  Publicist

Synopsis:  Maddie, Avery, and Nikki first got to know one another—perhaps all too well—while desperately restoring a beachfront mansion to its former grandeur. Now they’re putting that experience to professional use. But their latest project has presented some challenges they couldn’t have dreamed up in their wildest fantasies—although the house does belong to a man who actually was Maddie’s wildest fantasy once . . .

Rock-and-roll legend “William the Wild” Hightower may be past his prime, estranged from his family, and creatively blocked, but he’s still worshiped by fans—which is why he guards his privacy on his own island in the Florida Keys. He’s not thrilled about letting this crew turn his piece of paradise into a bed-and-breakfast for a reality show . . . though he is intrigued by Maddie. Hard as that is for her to believe as a newly single woman who can barely manage a dog paddle in the dating pool.

But whether it’s an unexpected flirtation with a bona fide rock star, a strained mother-daughter relationship, or a sudden tragedy, these women are in it together. The only thing that might drive them apart is being trapped on a houseboat with one bathroom . . .  (publisher)

My take:  The synopsis tells you everything you need to know – especially if this is your first experience with Wendy Wax’s  Florida renovation series. I’m not sure if there’s a name for this series.

I loved The House on Mermaid Point. The women find themselves intrigued and challenged by the new project on the private island. They’re all getting along better than ever which helps when it comes to tackling the renovation as well as personal issues. With each renovation project the women have experienced personal growth and become more confident.

In this book, Madeline shines as she overcomes her shyness and reaches out to help the owner of the island, William. But will she be glad she took the chance? Deirdre and Avery (mother and daughter) are getting along better than they’d ever thought possible. Maddy’s grown daughter Kyra and her toddler son, Dustin, continue to try to ignore the paparazzi who hound them in hopes of getting photos. Dustin’s father is a famous film star that Kyra met on a movie project. Nicole is still in love with Joe but, given her two failed marriages, doesn’t want to marry him.

On top of all they’re going through they are expected to reno the buildings on the island in a few short months – the hottest months of the year. I loved how Wendy Wax brought the women back together and through the project. Their television show is titled Do Over – and, to a certain extent, that’s what each of the characters is doing with her life. The House on Mermaid Point is an entertaining novel that packs an emotional punch and left me hoping for another Florida project for the women ASAP.

If you haven’t read the previous novels in the series: Ten Beach Road; Ocean Beach; Christmas at the Beach (a novella) you won’t be lost in this book but I recommend reading them in order.