Brand new review: I Thought You Said This Would Work by Ann Garvin

May 5, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: May 1, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

Two women go on a road trip together at the request of their mutual best friend. Despite not speaking for years, the women force themselves to work together for their friend’s sake. Along the way, they run into D-list celebrities, meet new pets, and old memories. Author Ann Garvin returns with her best work yet in the touching, well-rounded novel I Thought You Said This Would Work.

Samantha Arias would do anything for her friend, Katie. Absolutely anything. The two have survived life challenges together—the death of Sam’s husband; Katie’s infertility and divorce. Sam stood by Katie through her first cancer diagnosis and treatment; Katie made sure Sam remembered to eat when she was newly widowed and a new mother all at the same time.

The one problem the two haven’t cracked is what happened with their other best friend, Holly. Well, former best friend, for Sam at least. Inseparable in college, the three balanced one another like a tripod. When graduation came and went, though, so did Holly. Sam knows Holly was mad at her about something, but she has no idea what.

Katie has stayed in touch with both friends independently, and she’s tried broaching the topic with Holly. In typical Holly fashion, she cut off Katie’s attempts. Sam agonizes over the loss of her friend, but she can’t do much about it.

Until now. Katie’s cancer is back, and she needs everything good in her life from the first time she fought the disease. That includes her dog, Peanut, a Great Pyrenees that her ex-husband, Tom, took to California when they divorced. After Sam, Peanut was Katie’s closest companion. It might seem silly to non-pet people like Holly, but Katie can’t get through this latest round of cancer without Peanut.

Sam volunteers to bring Peanut home, but Peanut’s size and his diabetes make it impossible to fly him back. The only option is to drive. In fact, back when Katie and Tom were together, they’d bought a camper to drive Peanut around. It would be ideal if someone could bring back the camper with Peanut in it.

Holly points out that Sam won’t be able to make the trip. Sam suffers from a sleep disorder that forces her to nap at the most inconvenient times; there’s no way, Holly says, that Sam will survive a trip from California back to their native Wisconsin—about 2000 miles—all by herself while also managing Peanut’s condition.

Holly may be right, but for Sam not helping Katie isn’t an option. When Katie begs her to take Holly with her—Holly’s driving Katie and her hospital healthcare team nuts—Sam knows there’s no other way to do this. Because it’s for Katie, she agrees.

On the way to California, Sam meets minor celebrity Summer. Before anyone knows how, Summer invites herself along for the road trip. Between an unexpected detour to Utah, Summer insisting that Sam get her aura checked out, and Holly’s outright hostility toward Sam, the entire trip seems doomed. Yet along the way, Sam discovers things about herself that were hidden below the surface. She also figures out that getting back to a good place with Holly means getting back to a good place with herself first.

Author Ann Garvin’s strengths in writing are obvious from the opening pages of the book. Sam’s compassion and deep love for Katie are at odds with her confusion about what happened with Holly. Garvin doesn’t shy away from conflicted feelings. Sam wants Holly back in her life, but she also feels like Holly should have trusted their friendship enough to tell her.

Garvin makes what could be characterized as an off-the-wall premise feel organic. Early on, Summer becomes the mouthpiece for Sam’s hidden feelings. Readers will cheer her on, even as they urge Sam to find her own voice.

If the book can be faulted anywhere, it’s in Holly’s willfulness to stay blind to Sam’s friendship. While time and physical distance make it easy to hold onto grudges, Holly continues to do so when she, Sam, and Summer are together. At some point, members of the target audience might feel like telling Holly to grow up already. Sam clearly wants to work things out. Holly comes across as a high school “mean girl” stuck in an adult’s body. Her change in character, then, isn’t quite as turnkey as the rest of the novel.

Overall, the book is funny and sweet without being saccharine. Fans of road trip books and stories about friendships will definitely enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark I Thought You Said This Would Work.

Brand new review: Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

By Ekta R. Garg

March 3, 2021

Genre: YA fiction

Release date: February 16, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A high schooler mourns the loss of her best friend after a terrible accident. When she receives an unexpected gift, she traces it to its origin and discovers a secret. Debut author Ashley Schumacher uses innovative prose to explore the depth of grief and the healing power of love in her novel Amelia Unabridged.

High school senior Amelia Griffin knows two things: she’s the biggest fan in the entire world of the Orman Chronicles by author N.E. Endsley, and Jenna Williams is her best friend. In fact, the Chronicles are the reason the girls became friends in the first place. Now they’re inseparable.

Ultra-planner Jenna has it all mapped out: they’ll leave hot, sticky Dallas and go to college at the University of Montana, have practical careers, and always be by one another’s side. Amelia is beyond grateful for Jenna’s friendship. After her father left in freshman year, her mother has spent all of her time either at a part-time job or in front of the TV. Amelia craves family, and Jenna and her parents give it to her.

In the summer before college starts, the girls travel to California to meet the N.E. Endsley. Famously reclusive, the young author has agreed to an appearance at a book festival. The publication date for the third book in the Orman Chronicles has been pushed out, but no one knows when the book will drop. Amelia and Jenna, like hundreds of other fans, have come to the festival hoping for answers.

An hour before the event, though, Endsley cancels, and in the Uber ride to the airport back to Texas Jenna reveals she’s partly responsible. The girls fight, and Amelia struggles to forgive Jenna. Less than two weeks later, during a study abroad program in Ireland, Jenna dies in a car accident.

Amelia doesn’t want to accept this new reality. How is she supposed to go to college without Jenna? How is she supposed to read books without Jenna?

Days after the funeral, Amelia receives a gift: a limited edition copy of the first book in the Orman Chronicles. When she calls the Michigan bookstore on the return label, though, they claim to have no knowledge of where the book came from. According to them, they never processed the order. Amelia and Jenna aren’t even in their computer system. Something about the bookstore employee’s explanation doesn’t ring true to Amelia. She decides to go to Michigan to find answers. If Jenna ordered the book for her, she wants to know the story behind it.

Her trip brings her to a little town in Michigan straight out of a fairy tale. Not only does Amelia find the bookstore that shipped her the gift, but also she meets N.E. Endsley himself. As Amelia works through her shock and her grief at the same time, she rediscovers the power of stories to transform anything and the healing factor of love.

Author Ashley Schumacher shines in her debut novel. Although the events in the opening pages move at a brisk pace, Schumacher doesn’t compromise on Amelia’s depth of gratitude for Jenna’s friendship nor the grief from losing Jenna. The emotions feel so real that the events following Jenna’s death make complete sense in the story world Schumacher has constructed.

Schumacher sets for herself a huge challenge. Creating a fictional novel that readers in the story world love and adore and making it just as appealing to real-life readers is not for the faint of heart. Yet she meets the challenge and endears Amelia to readers all in the process. The Orman Chronicles come across as an old-fashioned fairy tale, exactly the kind an older sibling might invent to keep their younger siblings entertained. Given Amelia’s challenges, it’s obvious why this type of story would appeal to her and reiterates the power of a good book in all the best ways.

Like many YA novels, the adult characters are somewhat underdeveloped or absent altogether. Making them more three-dimensional would have enriched Amelia and Jenna’s story even more. It’s a testament to the novel that the lack of that character development doesn’t hurt the plot. It would have been a rich addition but doesn’t take away from the lovely writing already in place.

Readers who love a good story about good books and good friends should definitely pick this one up. I recommend readers Bookmark Amelia Unabridged.

Newest review: Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel

By Ekta R. Garg

August 12, 2020

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: July 21, 2020

Rated: Bookmark it!

A cellist arrives at her summer home ready for some alone time with her boyfriend. When events upend her plans and her family starts infringing on her space, she’ll have to figure out where the boundaries are—including her own. Author Amy Poeppel returns with a sweet story about the bonds that tie family to one another in the lightweight but well-written novel Musical Chairs.

The start of summer has Bridget Stratton grinning from ear to ear. She gets to spend three months with her new boyfriend, Sterling, in her Connecticut vacation home. Sure, the house needs some repairs—okay, a lot of repairs—and Sterling will have to spend part of the time working on his new book. But at least they get to leave behind the craziness of New York and their lives: the Forsyth Trio in which Bridget plays as premiere cellist and Sterling’s ex and young daughter. Bridget’s twins are grown and independent, and even though her famous composer father lives right down the street she knows she’s going to enjoy the quiet of the country.

Except Bridget didn’t count on her best-laid plans getting waylaid. Sterling breaks up with Bridget over email. Her daughter flies in from her corporate job in Hong Kong unannounced, stating she’s done with her life there. Her son comes to the vacation home limping, convinced his marriage is about to end. Both of them need handholding, and Bridget is flummoxed.

Fortunately, she knows she can call on her friend, Will. The second member of the Forsyth Trio, Will and Bridget have been close since their days at Juilliard. They founded the trio with a third student, Gavin, who has since moved on. Bridget and Will have tolerated their share of diva violinists through the years who have attempted to fill Gavin’s spot. None of them have stuck with the trio like Bridget and Will, though, and the two have bonded as only the best of friends can.

Will shows up in Connecticut dealing with a crisis of his own: his apartment building has just gone up for sale. Plus, he gets into an argument with the newest violinist he and Bridget have been courting, and she quits before she even starts. Without a violinist, the Forsyth Trio won’t be able to fulfill the performance schedule to which they’ve committed. Now Will has to figure out how to find a new violinist without making it sound like a big deal to Bridget.

Then Bridget shares news of her own: her 90-year-old father has announced that he’s getting married again. The lucky lady is a German socialite the family has known for years; Bridget and her sister think she’s lovely. Her son, however, is another matter, but Bridget and Gwen know they can handle him.

It falls to Bridget to host the wedding at her well-worn home, and she’s panicking. She can’t even get the washer and dryer to work, and her twins have managed to generate more laundry than she remembers from when they were kids. Also, with everyone bringing their pets and new friends coming over, the house is always full and always loud.

Will rolls up his sleeves and jumps in to help. As the best friends muddle through one challenge after another, they’ll rely on their friendship again and again. Through it all, their summer will bring them new opportunities, new love, and new music.

Author Amy Poeppel gives readers a rare occurrence in fiction: a man-woman friendship that stays just that. Readers might be tempted to look for signals that Bridget and Will have begun to fall for one another, but that never happens. It’s a refreshing change from other novels in the genre.

With the absence of the pressure of a looming romance, Bridget and Will have the freedom to support one another and admonish one another as the situation demands. They’re protective of one another, no doubt, and elements of jealousy do creep in but it’s minimal at best. Will and Bridget really do just want the best for one another.

Poeppel has created a cast of characters that will make readers grin, laugh out loud, and shake their heads by turns. Bridget’s famous father is as indulgent of his daughters as he is pompous about his work. The other characters in the book—Jackie, the personal assistant; Marge, the housekeeper; and even Gavin—fill their roles to perfection. They all feel like real people.

Readers looking for a light, easy read will definitely enjoy this book. I recommend readers Bookmark Musical Chairs.