Newest review: Waiting to Begin by Amanda Prowse

June 9, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: June 8, 2021

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A woman deals with memories of the past on her birthday and a secret she’s only shared with one other person. As she goes through the day, she tries to ignore her insecurities while also grappling with the reality that her marriage may not be in the best shape. Author Amanda Prowse builds another strong character in a book that needed a little bolstering in her latest release Waiting to Begin.

It’s her 53rd birthday, and Bessie Talbot feels every bit middle-aged. Her children have long since left the nest; one has just left on his honeymoon, and the other is wrapped up in her career. Now it’s just Bessie and her husband, Mario. At one time looking at Mario would make Bessie’s heart race. These days she’d be grateful for the odd palpitation.

The day brings hearty wishes from family and friends, but Bessie can’t shake the feeling that she’s stuck. In fact, she’s felt stuck ever since her 16th birthday. That day started out completely different than her current birthday.

At 16, Bessie woke up knowing she had the whole world ahead of her. Exams had ended, and she just needed the results so she could continue on her path to becoming a flight attendant and traveling the world. She had a boyfriend, although she hadn’t told anyone about him yet, and she and her best friend were all ready to make a splash at the rugby club later that evening for the end-of-term party.

Then everything slid downhill. One after another, her birthday brought so many shocks that Bessie wanted nothing more than for the day to end. She wanted to forget the day ever happened.

She may have physically moved on from turning 16, but Bessie’s never quite gotten over that birthday in her heart and mind. Worse, there are things about that day she’s never told anyone—not her parents, not her best friend (who is her former friend now,) and not even her husband. Those situations still lay claim to who she is, and she thinks about them every year.

As she starts looking around at her life on this latest birthday, Bessie just wants to walk away from it all. It seems like everyone has moved on to bigger and better things. She’s the only one who’s stuck in the past. Try as she might, she can’t seem to make any strides forward. Before the day is out, Bessie will find herself at a crossroads yet again. This time she’ll have to decide whether she can salvage her birthday for good.

Author Amanda Prowse’s latest novel showcases her writing skills in building sympathetic characters. Readers will understand Bessie’s reluctance to move on from the past. Prowse lays out the events of Bessie’s life one careful layer at a time, proving her ease with characters who could very well live next door.

The trouble with the book comes in its pacing and plot. As Bessie relives her memories, the story flashes back to her 16th birthday and intersperses moments from that day with her current birthday. Both feel much longer than they needed to be, both in time and the number of incidents that occur.

Bessie wishes, repeatedly, for the day to end. At some points, readers might be tempted to wish for the same. No doubt, the events on her 16th birthday were necessary to establish her character for later, but Prowse spends too much time driving the main point home. Multiple situations and multiple mentions of those situations come up when a few would have sufficed. As Bessie shares every thought, complaint, and tear, readers might be tempted to tell her to move it along already.

Some parts of the plot are predictable from the earliest pages, leaving readers to wait for Bessie to come to certain conclusions on her own. The result is a story that is much slower than it needed to be. Fans of women’s fiction and diehard Amanda Prowse fans will probably want to read this one. I recommend readers Borrow Waiting to Begin.

Newest review: The Last Piece by Imogen Clark

By Ekta R. Garg

August 19, 2020

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: July 28, 2020

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

After receiving some news, a woman takes an impulsive trip to Greece. When she comes home, her family will have to deal with the outcome of the journey and where it leads them. Author Imogen Clark tries hard to build the emotions but lets down character development in her latest novel, The Last Piece.

On an ordinary day, Cecily Nightingale gets a letter and plans a trip to Greece without consulting her daughters. She’s waited for this letter for 50 years. Now that it’s arrived, she’s not going to let anything stop her from making the journey from her home in Northern England to the Mediterranean.

Her husband, Norman, supports Cecily’s travel, but daughters Felicity, Julia, and Lily are shocked. Their mother has never mentioned going to Greece or knowing anyone there. Why the rush to go, they wonder. What could be there?

Cecily hopes the answer is “everything.” Fifty years earlier, as a teen mother, Cecily was forced to give up her newborn for adoption. Every day since then, she’s wondered what happened to her firstborn child. Now a letter has come, inviting her to a yoga retreat to meet her, and Cecily isn’t going to waste another minute.

The meeting doesn’t go quite as planned, though. Cecily meets Marnie Stone, the daughter she gave up, but Marnie is closed and stand-offish. Although she tries to reassure Marnie she would never have given her up if she had a choice, Marnie doesn’t seem convinced. After finding out that Marnie lives in London for most of the year, Cecily comes home exhausted but a little encouraged. Maybe living in the same country will give her the opportunity to see her oldest child again and introduce Marnie to her half-sisters.

Felicity, Julia, and Lily greet the news with varying reactions. Felicity, the oldest of the Nightingale girls—or so she thought, anyway—is indignant. How dare this woman try to barge in on their lives after all this time? Julia is skeptical. Why would Marnie insist that their mother come all the way to Greece? Lily, the family peacemaker, tries to encourage her sisters to keep an open mind.

Then Marnie reaches out to Cecily again; this time, she wants to visit Cecily and the rest of the Nightingale family at home. Cecily goes out of her way to make accommodations for her daughter, both physical and emotional, but Marnie still can’t seem to open up. Instead, her introduction to the family makes everyone question their place in it and with one another.

Author Imogen Clark brings to light a sad but true fact: in the 1970s, many pregnant teens in England were sent to Mother and Baby homes where they would live before they delivered. Weeks after giving birth, the girls would give up their babies for adoption and be expected to return to their lives with their families as if nothing had changed. With this idea as the backdrop of the book, the sections from Cecily’s point of view as a teen in the home are certainly the strongest and most compelling.

Less so are the other sections written from the other daughters’ points of view. Readers are given just enough information from each of them to start asking questions, but those questions are never resolved. The lack of completion of these subplots also plagues character development in the book. None of the daughters feel like three-dimensional people.

The biggest mystery of all is Marnie. Although she’s the one who initiated the interactions between herself and the Nightingales family, her behavior toward them is a mystery. Not enough information is ever given as to why she feels so much hostility toward Cecily, Norman, and her half-sisters. Even after Cecily’s impassioned recollection of what led to Marnie’s adoption in the first place, the woman seems unmoved. She doesn’t, in fact, act her age, and that makes it much harder to suspend disbelief that her reactions would be realistic.

Clark offers resources in her author’s note on where curious readers can find real-life accounts of women who gave up their children in the homes as well as the children who were adopted through them. Those might offer more engaging stories that hold together from start to finish. Readers wanting to read a women’s fiction book set in England that doesn’t revolve around London, this might be a good pick. Otherwise, I recommend readers Borrow The Last Piece.

Newest review: The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith

By Ekta R. Garg

May 20, 2020

Genre: Speculative fiction

Release date: April 14, 2020

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

In the near future, a nurse who helps people die discovers the truth about her birth mother. When she embarks on a mission to find the woman, she learns why she was given up for adoption in the first place. Debut author Eve Smith’s novel feels exceptionally prescient in our current times while balancing compassionate opinions in The Waiting Rooms.

In England Kate Connelly works in the Waiting Rooms—hospitals reserved for people over the age of 70. Decades into a worldwide outbreak of tuberculosis that is resistant to all antibiotics, and other health issues that leave the public at risk, senior citizens no longer receive medicines when they get ill. They’re simply taken to the Waiting Rooms where they wait to die.

Kate works to make the entire experience humane, but she still struggles with the emotional and psychological ramifications of what she does. Years earlier, before the TB pandemic, she took an oath to save lives. Now she does everything she can to help them end with as much dignity as possible.

These days her thoughts are turning more to her own situation: her adoptive mother, Pen, has recently died, leaving Kate, her husband, Mark, and her daughter, Sasha, in a wake of grief. While Kate has known for years that she was adopted, she never had an interest in finding out who her birth parents were. Until Pen leaves her a letter urging her to do just that. Curiosity overcomes her reluctance, and Kate begins the investigation process. It leaves her with more questions than answers, however.

In a home for the elderly, Lily Taylor is fearing her upcoming birthday: her 70th. She wonders if she’ll live as long as the home’s oldest resident who has managed to escape the Waiting Rooms by staying in relatively good health more than a decade past the milestone. She also wants to know who is sending her cryptic messages and why. Yes, Lily has made terrible mistakes, but most of that was long ago.

Clearly someone has other plans. Unsigned notes begin to appear, and they drive straight to those mistakes. Lily has paid her debt to society, and now she’s an old woman. She wants to stay healthy and live out her life in peace, a tricky prospect when even a simple cut can turn into a deadly infection. What could the mystery person possibly want from her?

As Kate and Lily try to unravel their respective mysteries, the world fights with the reality of illness everywhere. People remain in a state of constant vigilance: masks everywhere and disinfectant at every turn. The streets still teem with the sick, and protests outside the hospital remind people that the situation is both out of hand and could have been avoided.

Debut author Eve Smith describes a world that feels even more possible than ever before. In the novel, tuberculosis has advanced to the point of total drug resistance and other illnesses are on the same track. The fear, the paranoia, and, yes, the complacency of some will make some readers want to stay away. Others might find this exactly the kind of book they’d like to read during our strange current times.

Smith builds a likable, sympathetic main character in Kate. She grapples with her role as healer-turned-killer; even if she’s using medicines to help ease the suffering of the elderly, Kate has no compunctions about what she’s actually doing and how it could all have been different. Smith makes Kate a proactive protagonist, and readers will find themselves rooting for her and worrying about her all the way to the end.

Lily’s involvement in the plot is slightly more problematic, both from a story standpoint as well as a writing one. Readers might get the feeling they’re coming to Lily’s story too late in the day. All of the sins she’s committed have happened long ago, and while they had far-reaching effects she’s too old to change anything now. She’s been swept away by events and doesn’t have the means or the strength to fight the tide. The complications are fascinating and frustrating by turns.

The book overall possesses a more literary feel—the events described are supposed to have global implications, but readers only really get to see how they change Kate and Lily’s lives as well as the people around them. It would have been helpful if the narrative pulled back once or twice to show a broader worldview, but perhaps such a view would have compromised the emotional connection readers will feel.

Anyone brave enough to read a book about pandemics while enduring one will enjoy this. I recommend readers Bookmark The Waiting Rooms.