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.

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: The Safe Place by Anna Downes

By Ekta R. Garg

July 8, 2020

Genre: Thriller

Release date: July 14, 2020

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A young woman gets the chance to start her life over when she loses her job and her acting prospects within the same day. Her new life, however, comes at a price. She just doesn’t know she’s paying it. Debut author Anna Downes amps up the thrill factor toward the end of her slow-to-start novel The Safe Place.

Emily Proudman thought she really could make a go of her newest temp job. She put in her best—well, maybe her second best—effort to get to the office in downtown London on time so she could answer phones and get coffee for people. It seemed like the perfect job for her, because she could take time off to go to auditions. Her acting career is on the cusp of taking off, she just knows it. She just needs the right role.

Unfortunately, that role isn’t coming any time soon. In fact, it’s pretty much long gone when Emily learns that her agent is moving and the agency isn’t retaining Emily as a client. Which wouldn’t be so bad if she hadn’t been fired. Or gone back to her flat only to find out she’s being evicted.

She could move back in with her parents, but she hates the way they doubt her abilities. Yes, it wouldn’t kill her to call home for something other than money, but her mom and dad just don’t get it. They never have. Maybe it’s because she’s adopted.

Everything is going downhill fast. Then the CEO of the company that just fired her approaches her with a new job. Scott Denny is handsome, charming, and seems genuinely worried about Emily’s situation. When he offers her the opportunity to get out of England and become his wife’s personal assistant in their ocean-front home in France, it seems like something out of the movies.

Emily arrives in France with the understanding that she’s going to take care of the house and help with Scott’s six-year-old daughter, Aurelia. Nina, Scott’s wife, welcomes Emily with open arms. Within weeks of arriving, Emily feels a sense of belonging at the house. Yes, she spends her days painting, weeding, and trying to make friends with Aurelia, but for once she knows her place and is completely content with life.

Except she can’t ignore the nagging feeling that Aurelia is not all right. It’s more than just the medical condition that Scott and Nina have described. The longer Emily stays in France, the more she realizes that she may have walked into a situation much bigger than she, Nina, and Scott can all handle.

Author Anna Downes presents readers with the charming bustle of London before moving Emily to the coast of France, a welcome change from the usual locations of Paris or another large city. The setting is ideal for keeping secrets. While Emily really doesn’t have any, she figures out that Nina does.

The pacing of the story, however, works against the book. Emily knows Nina is hiding something from her, and she suspects it might be something big. Yet for weeks she allows herself to get distracted by all the manual labor at the house. While Emily’s change of fortune is welcome after all the challenges she experiences in London, several chapters of her enjoying lunch on the back patio by the pool or her renewed sense of confidence don’t make for as compelling reading.

Downes manages to keep readers engaged by alternating chapters from the points of view of Emily, Scott, and an unnamed character. Readers won’t have much trouble guessing who the third person is, and as the book progresses even that third POV character’s issues become clear. What remains, then, is waiting for Emily to catch up to it all. The engagement might turn into impatience for some.

Once the ball starts rolling, it speeds toward the end. By that time, however, it might be too late for some readers to stay with the book. This novel might provide some with a pleasant distraction, but it doesn’t necessarily challenge readers. I recommend they Borrow The Safe Place.