Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (2014)

lost lake

“There are not a finite number of things that can make you happy.” 163

The women in Eby Pim’s family are cursed. They are unhappy women, constantly furious that they do not have more — more money, more love, more admiration — and every one of them seems doomed to loose her husband while young. Upon these losses, generation after generation of women in Eby’s family come unhinged with grief, with all that they feel has been forever stolen from them, and they do not recover.

Eby, however, grows into a young woman who is steady and calm. When she marries for love, to a man named George who happens to be very wealthy; the jealous, grieving women in her life do everything they can to ruin her good fortune. So she and her new husband do they only thing they can think of: they buy a small set of cabins on a swampy lake in rural Georgia give all of the rest their money away.

“There was so much happiness in the world. It was everywhere. It was free. Eby never understood why some people, people like her family, simply refused to take it.” 6

With nothing to extort from her, Eby’s family disowns her but Eby and George build something better: they build a family made up of visitors and locals who are drawn to the magic of their Lost Lake resort. Lost Lake, run with love, acceptance, and understanding by the Pim’s becomes a place of refuge, happiness, and contentment for those weary souls who visit. Having spent a life of love with her husband, surrounded by so many in need her, Eby remains strong when George suddenly dies. The family curse to be ruined by grief seems to have passed her by.

Fast forward fifteen year, when Kate Pheris — Eby’s grandniece — losses her young husband in an accident, it seems that she may too fall victim to the grieving curse and crumble under her loss. But a rare bit of magic changes the course of her life; she finds a long-lost invitation to join her Great Aunt Eby at Lost Lake and knows instantly it is a place both she and her daughter, Devin, can go and heal.

So Kate and Devin arrive at Lost Lake and find they are welcome to come there to rest and heal, but sadly the resort is open for only one last summer. As the summer passes, Kate and Devin fall more and more in love with the aging, fading resort that has brought them back to themselves and one another, and they are determined to save it…for they know there are many more lost souls still in need of its healing magic.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand (2017)

identicals

In The Identicals Elin Hilderbrand cleverly re-imagines The Parent Trap for grown-ups; telling the story of two identical twin sisters who have lived completely separate lives until the death of their father brings them together. Harper and Tabitha Frost were inseparable young girls and best friends when, at the age of seventeen, their parents divorced and made the cruel decision that each parent would take and raise one sister, keeping the girls apart. That decision meant the girls relationship began to fray and by their mid-twenties they had split apart for good. Harper went to live with their father on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha remained on Nantucket with their mother; only eleven miles apart but out of each other’s lives for good.

When their father dies, the sisters — along with their cold and controlling mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter Ainsley — are brought back together with maximum drama. All their past hurts resurface, all that they have lost is brought back into focus, and neither woman feels as if the rift between can be bridged.

The universe, however, has other plans for Harper and Tabitha. Both women suddenly desperately need time away from their home islands and their messy lives and a solution presents itself: Harper will live on Nantucket with Ainsley for the summer and Tabitha will live on Martha’s Vineyard and put their father’s estate in order. Just like that the women swap lives and — of course — chaos ensues!

As the two women try restore order to their lives, they both grow stronger and freer in their new roles. Slowly but surely , the sisters begin to build new lives that have room for new adventures, new loves, and for one another. A great summer read!

Garden Spells & First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Garden Spells (2007),  and its sequel First Frost (2014) both by Sarah Addison Allen

garden spells

All of the Waverley women possess a bit of magic, never the same as her relatives, but interesting and exciting all the same. Their magic gifts and the special knowledge their magic gives them are well-known in their small North Carolina town, sometimes accepted and sought out, at other times scoffed at and feared. As a result, they are a family of women who always find themselves on the outside of things.

In Garden Spells, we meet Claire, Sydney, and Bay Waverley who all live in Bascom, North Carolina. Their ancestral home is surrounded by a magic garden where the plants can cast spells when prepared just right and in which a old apple tree stands. A tree rumored to show anyone who eats its apples the biggest moment in their lives; apples which the Waverley women who live in the house work constantly to prevent people from eating.

For Claire, who arrived in Bascom at age six, the town and her family who lived in it, were a refuge from the wild and often scary life her mother had lived with her on the road. Claire, like her grandmother before her, prepares foods from the magic garden that bewitch the people who eat them. “Nasturtium mayonnaise gave the ability to keep secrets, crystallized pansies made children thoughtful, honeysuckle wine when served on the Fourth of July gave you the ability to see in the dark, chicory and mint salad had you believing something good was about to happen.” (11) Also, like her grandmother, Claire is a bit of a recluse, fearful of change and wary of building relationships with people who might hurt her. Only through the family catering company, where she sells her magic food, is she a part of the town.

For Claire’s sister Sydney, Bascom was a prison where she was constantly avoided, and at times bullied, because of her family’s oddness. She left town at eighteen planning never to return but now finds herself back, living in Waverley mansion with her sister and her daughter Bay. Bascom, however small minded and mean she finds it, at least offers her and her daughter safety from her violent ex-boyfriend. Sydney’s gift is to be able to tell style a person’s hair and change the outcome of his or her day; a gift that makes her a sought-after hair dresser.

Bay Waverley is only five, but already she knows her gift: she can look at an object or a person and know exactly where it belongs. This means that Bay is always finding lost items, rearranging cabinets, and at times, nudging people towards to situations or relationships where they belong. Although young, she understands that she and her mother did not belong with her abusive father, but here in Bascom. And she also knows that her mother and aunt both belong with men who love them.

The sisters are faced with rebuilding their relationship and helping Bay find a place in a town that neither feels totally at home in. This means Sydney must share her secrets and find peace among the townspeople who mistreated her as a child. For her part, Claire must start to participate in the world more and accept friendship and love do not come with promises to never break her heart, but are worth the risk none the less. The curious nature of their magic blends together just so that all three of the Waverley’s draw good luck, love, and friendship to them all; and they are able to overcome their past hurts and heal.

first frost

First Frost (2014)

“On the day the tree bloomed in the fall, when its white blossoms fell and covered the ground like snow, it was tradition for the Waverleys to gather in the garden like survivors of some great catastrophe, hugging one another, laughing as they touched faces and arms, making sure they were okay, grateful to have gotten through it. It was a relief, putting their world back in order. They always got restless before the first frost, giving their hearts away to easily, wanting things they couldn’t have, getting distracted and clumsy and too easily influenced by the opinions of others. First Frost meant letting go, so it twas always a reason to celebrate.” 10

In a book set ten years after Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen brings back the magical Waverley women with another tale. In First Frost, our main narrator is Bay Waverley, now nearly sixteen and deeply entrenched in both her extended family and Bascom, NC. As October arrives, the Waverley women begin to feel wild and unteethered and cannot help but “want things they cannot have.” The magic tree that grows in the garden at Waverley mansion affects them all deeply, more and more the closer it draws towards the first frost.

In the intervening years since the first book, both Bay’s mother and her aunt have found love and built a loving family in the small town, but their hope to raise Bay without her being ostracized from the town’s non-magic residents were never realized.  Bay remains an outsider at school but resolutely refuses to let it hurt her. She knows, now even more so than when she arrived to Bascom in Garden Spells, that her magical gift — to know where objects and people belong — is exactly that, a gift. Even if it keeps people away from her, especially the boy she has fallen in love with from afar, Josh Matteson. A boy who has laughed at her claims that she belongs with him, spurned her love and left her humiliated.

“She belonged to him. That alone was hard enough to bear. But the fact that she knew he also belonged to her, that he was on a path he wasn’t meant for, was excruciating. Getting him to believe that was the hardest thing she’d ever tried to do. She finally understood that no matter how hard you try, you cannot make someone love you. You cannot stop them from making the wrong decision. There was no magic for that.” 17

Over the course of one month, all of the Waverley women — including now, Claire’s daughter Mariah — must hold the center while the tree and its magic tempts them to take too many risks and put their hearts too much on the line. Despite their sudden desire to keep secrets from each other, it is only together that they can get through the month without too much pain.

First Frost is just as magical and wonderful as its prequel, and it is so fun to see another generation of women in this powerful, loving family grow.

 

 

Forever Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Elsie Porter is a newlywed, dazzled with love for her new husband Ben Ross. The two are basking in the glow of their six-month, whirl-wind romance and marriage…and then Ben is killed in a car crash.

Elsie’s world is shattered. Suddenly she is not a bride but a widow, her grief at her lost future enormous. She also finds that her legitimacy to grieve Ben, and to make decisions about his affairs, is challenged by those who knew him longer — namely Ben’s mother, Susan — or those who feel her pain is disproportionate to the time she spent with Ben. It is as if her love with Ben has been erased from the earth, with only her left to have witnessed it.

So Elsie must work her way through her heartache and loneliness with only one friend to care for her. Her situation quickly wears on her colleagues and acquaintances, who all seem to want for her to get over Ben and get back to her “normal” life. But Elsie knows that her normal life is gone, and her new life will be slow to start.

The story has Elsie not healing by finding a new romance (as chick lit often does), but by following the advice of a widow who has experience in the process: Ben’s mother, Susan.

Susan has reached out to make amends after the horrible way she treated Elsie; namely denying her marriage to Ben and forbidding from being part of the funeral since neither she nor any of Ben’s family had ever even met her. Elsie is skeptical of Susan’s motives, but feels drawn to the only person on earth who seems to miss Ben as much as she does; a woman (it turns out) who has some very wise advice for a new widow trying to put her life back together.

A very sweet, non-traditional romance novel — the romance takes place completely in flashbacks — but also a good story of women helping one another through a crisis.

Summer Movie Series — A Family Quest

hello sunshine

In our family, summer is a time to accomplish some serious reading. Yes, its true that we read all year long (a lot) and that reading is at the center of all of our down-time. But in the summer, all that glorious free-time beckons us to read, and read, and read…by the pool, at the beach, on car trips, on rainy days, during half-time at soccer games and boring stretches of baseball games and any other free moment that we can find.

While reading is a major part of our summer, we realized last year that it is a solitary past-time, one that we can only share occasionally. So we instituted a Summer Family Movie Series: a list of summer-themed movies that we can watch together (some just the adults) to be entertained and spend time together. We went on a quest to make a list of all of the movies we could think of that take place during the summer, or that for some inexplicable reason seem “summery,” and decided we would watch as many as possible during the summer…whenever the familiar refrain of “there’s nothing to do” was moaned, we would go to the list and watch one.

Our goal is not to watch them all, but to see as many as possible each year and to save these titles for summer viewing only. We find that their designation as summer movies that we don’t watch otherwise during the year make them seem more special.

I thought I would post a list of our favorite summer movies on the blog, and I would welcome suggestions from readers about their favorites that we might have missed.

Enjoy!

FOR ALL AGES

  • The Parent Trap — both the original, which I love, and the Lindsay Lohan version, which my kids prefer.
  • Earth to Echo
  • The Sandlot
  • Holes
  • Aliens in the Attic
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Phineas and Ferb the Movie
  • Camp Rock
  • Teen Beach Party
  • Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
  • Cars and Cars 2
  • Finding Nemo and Finding Dory
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008 version)
  • Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012 version)
  • Bedtime Stories
  • Field of Dreams (this can be a bit boring for very young kids, but baseball lovers of all ages will enjoy it.)
  • All of the feature-length Scooby Doo Movies. My husband and I loved the show as kids and my kids all love it now. We own many of these movies and they are on a heavy-rotation every summer. (Side note: Scooby Doo Camp Scare takes place in summer.) Some of our other favorites include: Scooby Doo and the Samurai Sword, Aloha Scooby Doo, Pirates Ahoy, Blue Falcon, and Big Top. A full list of these movies can be found here http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070492058/

FOR TEENS AND UP

  • Super 8
  • Forrest Gump
  • Jaws — our teen is really into scary movies, this might not be a good fit for all teens. (Don’t be fooled by it’s PG rating, it was released before PG-13 designations were created.)
  • Jurassic Park 1, 2, 3 and Jurassic World
  • Indiana Jones 1-4 (our family favorite remains Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Independence Day and Independence Day Resurgence
  • Fever Pitch
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (our favorite remains #1)
  • A League of Their Own

FOR ADULTS (clearly some are more low-brow then others, but still watchable, some others which I watch alone because my husband refuses)

  • Rear Window
  • Endless Summer
  • National Lampoons Vacation and European Vacation
  • Before Sunrise
  • Die Hard with Vengeance
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Point Break
  • The Great Outdoors
  • Summer Rental
  • Weekend at Bernies
  • 50 First Dates
  • The Bird Cage
  • Stand by Me
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Friday the 13th (and to a lesser degree, Sleep Away Camp)
  • Thelma and Louise
  • The Hangover and Bridemaids — these are not an official pairing, but they are both wild wedding comedies that we seem to watch back to back every summer… definitely not for kiddos!!

Come Sundown by Nora Roberts (2017)

As I have mentioned many, many times on this blog, I have been a fan of Nora Roberts ever since I discovered her as a teenager and I have read (although it seems unbelievable) every book — more than 200 — she has every written. It is safe to say I am a super-fan. However, in the past two years, I have been disappointed by Roberts’ books. They have lacked energy, felt recycled, and I have had to work hard to finish some of them.

I am so happy to report that Come Sundown feels like a return to Robert’s best style of writing. This book contains all of the elements that make her works best-sellers: in Come Sundown readers find a missing person story, a murder mystery, and a series of steamy romances, all of which unfold against the stunning back-drop of rural Montana. Altogether, these elements make for a story that is equal parts exciting and terrifying…and altogether enjoyable.

In this novel, our main character is Bodine Longbow, the sexy and ultra-competent CEO of a luxury resort and ranch in Montana, which is run by her extended family. Her family is tight-knit and fiercely loving, but scarred by the disappearance of Bodine’s aunt Alice almost 25 years prior.

All at once, Bodine’s world is rocked when girlhood crush, Callen, returns to work on the ranch at the same time an employee of the ranch is found murdered. Shocked at the brutal crime, the community at the ranch tries to pull together but mistrust and suspicions run wild. Bodine’s family finds that the murder of the employee, and then the second murder of a local girl a few weeks later, stirs up their sadness and anger over her aunt Alice’s disappearance all those years ago.

Soon, Bodine is managing the ranch, a hot romance with Callen, and the growing unease that the killer has not been caught. She is a smart woman, more than up for the challenges that life throws at her, even when they grow more and more deadly.

Overall, a return to Nora Roberts at her best; perfect for a pool-side read.

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve (2017)

the stars are fire

In this somber novel, Anita Shreve paints a picture of one woman’s life of limitations and unmet needs that result from outdated and, at times, punishing social mores forced upon women in late 1940’s Maine. Our main character Grace is a women in her early twenties from a small fishing town on the coast of Maine, who — at the start of the novel — is a mother of two young children and the wife of a man named Gene. While Grace does all she is expected to for her husband, both in the home, for the family, and in the bedroom, her husband remains a cold and controlling man. Gene limits Grace’s activities, controls all of the family finances, and offers her nothing in the way of emotional connection.

This Grace realizes, is what a wife’s life is like, and she accepts — with some jealousy — that she will not have the passion or love some other young women seem to find with their husbands. She tries not to pine for a life with another purpose either; Gene would forbid her to work or spend much time outside of the house in any manner, and does not much care for Grace to read or listen to music. Grace tries not to panic at the thought of decades locked in this cold marriage, tries not to long for something more meaningful.

Then, wildfires race across Maine on hot and drought-plagued summer and everything changes. Gene leaves to fight the fires and Grace is left to make decisions about keeping her young family safe. When the fire consumes their town, Graces level-headed reactions save the lives of her and her neighbors. But they escape only with their lives, and absolutely nothing else. The house and its contents burned, all of the families papers gone, and Grace learns that her husband has never revealed even one hint as to their banking, insurance, or other information to her. Furthermore, as a woman her word is doubted by bankers and businessmen, and without proof of her marriage to Gene nor the fact that she is the mother to his children, their is nothing she can do to retrieve those funds.

After weeks pass with no sign that Gene survived, and sick of living like refugees, Grace takes her life into her own hands. What follows is not a easy path for her and her children, but one it which Grace is free to make decisions for herself and plot her own future, without having to consider her husband and his rules. Soon she is working, driving, and building a happy life for her family; something that seemed unachievable just a few months before she was widowed. What’s more, Grace is suddenly open to the idea that she might find the love and passion she so desperately longed for, now that her life is her own.

Shreve’s writing style is restrained and very solemn, and the characters in the story always feel on the edge of desperation; leaving the novel to feel rather heavy and intense. However, the struggles faced and the daunting circumstances are overcome, giving readers some sense of hope as the book concludes.