Friday, June 22, 2012

What Happiness Looks Like by Karen Lenfestey

What Happiness Looks Like, by Karen Lenfestey, is a moving story about two sisters and what their lives have become.  Joely is a single mother raising her five year-old daughter, Anna.  She is also dealing with the debilitating disease of Lupus, as well as her ex who has decided to make an appearance in her and Anna's lives after five years.

On the surface, Joely's older sister, Kate, seems to have it all.  She has a great job, a lovely home, and a perfect husband.  However, the one thing needed to complete the family her and Mitch desire is a baby, which doesn't seem to be in the cards for them.  What Happiness Looks Like carries the reader through Joely's and Kate's struggles and triumphs as they each try to find their own version of true happiness.

Joely has a picture in her head of what happiness is.  She dreams of a small, cozy house with a loving husband, who is a great father to Anna.  She would also love to pursue her dreams of being an artist.  Joely's reality is that she is an unemployed mother living with her sister, Kate.  She hasn't picked up a paintbrush since Anna was born, and she long since gave up finding 'the one' due to her Lupus.  Joely's one bright spot is Anna, who is a super bright and loving little girl that is full of life.

Kate's version of happiness is having her own baby with her husband.  However, it's normally your best laid plans that fall apart.  Kate and Mitch decided to wait until her career was established before trying for a child.  Once she was ready for a baby it seemed her aging body had other plans.  After miscarriages, IVF, and Artificial Insemination, Mitch and Kate have begun to drift apart.  Mitch is ready to try using a surrogate, but Kate isn't prepared to let go of the dream of having her own biological child.  

I really enjoyed Lenfestey's, What Happiness Looks Like.  She wrote an honest portrayal of the struggles many women face today.  I warmed instantly to the character of Joely.  She was fun, witty, and a wonderfully, loving mother.  I took me a little while to rally behind the character of Kate.  I believe this is because at times I could see a little of myself in her.  Kate was the older, responsible sister who worked as an adolescent counselor.  She was super opinionated and wasn't afraid to share what she thought you were doing wrong.  However, as What Happiness Looks Like unfolded,  I truly began to like and feel for Kate.  Beneath her cold exterior was a scared woman with insecurities just like everyone else.  I quickly latched on to her story and wanted the best for her.

At the end of What Happiness Looks Like, Lenfestey wrote a passage that has stuck with me since finishing her book.  Because it has resonated so deeply within me I felt I should share it with you in the hopes that it would do the same.

"All of this time she thought she knew what happiness looked like: building sandcastles on the beach, posing for the Christmas card family photo, hearing other moms say, "she looks just like you".  Only now, seeing the dimple return to Mitch's smile, [...] now she knew the truth.  She knew that happiness wasn't about any of those images.  It was a feeling.  And today everything felt right." (Lenfestey 261).

I am so glad I had the opportunity to read and review Karen Lenfestey's, What Happiness Looks Like.  It is a great read that will pull at your heartstrings and leave you rooting for both Joely and Kate.  It also has some nice romance throughout which is always a plus! If you order yourself a copy of What Happiness Looks Like, you won't be sorry! 

Karen Lenfestey has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book, What Happiness Looks Like, for the purpose of review. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sea Change by Karen White

Karen White's Sea Change is a welcome and pleasant departure from the books that I have read in the past few months.  I equate it to eating fast food for a week and then getting a home-cooked meal.  The fast food is sustaining and tastes good at the time, but it doesn't compare to your grandmother's Sunday dinner.  The same can go for books (OK, maybe I'm stretching it a bit with my analogy here but I think you get my point.)  I have enjoyed the recent books that I have read (I am not referring to any of the books I have reviewed) but by reading Sea Change it made me realize what I have been missing out on.  I discovered a terrific plot, believably flawed characters, conflict, suspense, emotional stirrings, and settings that could be vividly seen in my mind.  And let us not forget the all important quality of great writing.  Karen White's Sea Change has all of the above and more.

White's Sea Change is set on St. Simons Island off of the coast of Georgia.  She describes it as a lovely Southern island that is immersed in history.  Ava, a thirty-something year old Midwife, moves from Antioch, Georgia to St. Simons after a whirlwind romance to live in her new husband's ancestral home.  Ava met, fell in love with, and married the charming Matthew after an extremely short courtship.  She thought that by moving into his home she would just be dealing with the intricacies of a new relationship and living in a new town.  However, she found that she would also be coping with ghosts of the past.  

Sea Change is written from two different perspectives.  The first is present day Ava who is trying to adjust to her new life and is also working to uncover the mystery of Matthew's family history.  The second point of view is that of Pamela, an ancestor of Matthew's who lived in Ava's house from 1804-1815 before life took an unexpected and unfair turn.  A theme that is discussed frequently in White's novel is that some endings are really beginnings.  This holds true for Ava and Pamela.  While Ava and Pamela seemingly have nothing in common, the lives of the two women suddenly come together when Ava goes under hypnosis to uncover a childhood secret.  Ava then makes it her priority to right a wrong that was done long ago.

I felt that Karen White did a terrific job in transporting her readers back into the early 1800's.  From the vocabulary that White used to the clothes that were described, she had the period down perfectly.  It also seems that White put a lot of time into researching what was happening in St. Simons during this time period.  Being a history buff myself, I enjoyed where White led her readers.  Furthermore, with Southern charm White described the landmarks on the island that are there today such as the lighthouse and cemetery. 

Sea Change is one of the most well written novels that I have read in recent memory.  White was able to keep me on my toes as the suspense grew.  She also did a terrific job of entertaining me.  I definitely recommend Karen White's novel, Sea Change.  Reading it will take you on a mysterious adventure that will leave you wanting more.

NAL Books and has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book, Sea Change, for the purpose of review. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sorority Sisters by Claudia Welch

Breaking news: I am happy to report that I have found it!  Sorority Sisters, by Claudia Welch, is the book I have been looking and waiting for.  Let me explain...every year beginning in May I start looking for 'THE' summer read.  It needs to have great 3-dimensional characters, a memorable (and believable) plot, and in general be a fun read.  As the weather gets warmer I like to plant myself outside with a book as I work on saying 'Bon Voyage' to my pasty skin.  I always search for a fun summer read to lose myself in as my daughter plays in her sandbox and my feet dangle in her kiddie pool.  My hopes began rising as I started reading Sorority Sisters.  It only took me a chapter or two to realize that Claudia Welch had delivered my Summer 2012 read.   Thank you Claudia!

Sorority Sisters begins in 1975 and follows four diverse University of Los Angeles students.  For various reasons, strangers Karen, Ellen, Laurie, and Diane decide to pledge and join the Beta Pi Sorority.  In turn they form strong and loyal friendships with each other that last a lifetime.  The women are there for each other through hookups, breakups, midterms, and family strife.  They may not be blood related, but the four Beta Pi's form bonds closer than that of their own families. 

Each chapter is told in the view point of one of the girls.  It is through these different first person points of view that the reader is shown the inner workings of each character.  They may put up a barrier to the world but it is through their thoughts that you can see the depth of Karen's neediness, Ellen's sarcastic personality, Laurie's backwardness, and Diane's insecurities.  Welch did an excellent job in her smooth chapter/character transitions.  I was never in a Sorority but after reading Sorority Sisters I feel like I have a good understanding of how they work.  Claudia Welch took her readers through pledging, Rush, and sorority life in general.  I'm kinda sad I missed out! 

Sorority Sisters doesn't stop when the four graduate.  Instead, the novel continues on through marriages, divorces, and motherhood.  Let me stop right here and say that I LOVED this about Sorority Sisters.  Too many books focus on one point in its characters life.  Childhood, or young adulthood, or 'the best time of their lives.'  Sorority Sisters follows Karen, Ellen, Laurie, and Diane through life.  It was so rewarding for me as the reader to watch them grow and mature, all the while being there for each other.  I laughed with them and even cried with them.  The story concluded in 2001 in a VERY fitting way that tied everything together. 

I wholeheartedly recommend Claudia Welch's Sorority Sisters.  I give it 2 thumbs up...if I had 4 thumbs I would rate it that!  If there is only one book you read this summer, please let it be this one.  Trust me, it will not let you down! 
Berkley Books and has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book, Sorority Sisters, for the purpose of review.