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: The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley

By Ekta R. Garg

May 26, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: May 25, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A young woman becomes a widow, and all of the town’s inhabitants go along with her delusion that her husband is still alive. When a journalist comes to the island searching for a story, he discovers one he never saw coming. Author Colleen Oakley offers warmth, romance, genuine affection, and kind characters in her newest novel The Invisible Husband of Frick Island.

The lifelong residents of Frick Island divide people into two groups: From Here, meaning those who belong to the island, and Come Here, those who migrated to it. While the residents treat everyone with politeness, the Come Heres have often felt a small difference. All of them except Piper Parrish, that is.

Piper and her scientist mother came to Frick Island when Piper was in the sixth grade. In the beginning, the other kids in school singled her out as a Come Here. When Tom stood up for her, though, people stopped bothering her. Through the years, her sunny disposition won them over to the point that they forgot—or forgave—her Come Here status and adopted her as a From Here. Tom did more than that, however; he fell head over heels in love with Piper, and she returned his love with eagerness.

It didn’t surprise anyone that they got married young. Piper loves Frick Island, and Tom’s family has always been in the crab business. Tom took it up like his relatives, but he also feels a little restless. Piper keeps him steady, and he challenges her in the best of ways. As corny as it sounds, they’re meant for one another.

When Tom’s crab boat capsizes during bad weather, then, everyone in town understands Piper’s longing to grieve. When she starts talking to Tom as if he’s still there—telling everyone she needs to help Tom with his tie for church, say, or that she’s going out to the beach to meet his boat when it comes in the way she did before the accident—no one has the heart to correct her. In fact, they go one step further.

Anders Caldwell moved to Maryland from Atlanta hoping for a break in his journalism career. The proximity to New York and his pluck were all he needed for big things to happen. Except Anders is stuck covering the dumb stories no one wants, like a Cake Walk on Frick Island, which he’s never heard of and where he really doesn’t want to go. The only way to get to the Island is by ferry, and Anders hates being on the water.

His editor doesn’t give him a choice, though, and Anders makes his way to the island expecting to see a bunch of cakes and gawking tourists. What he finds is an entire town of people pretending to see a dead man. They actually call out to Tom as if he’ll respond, leaving Anders incredibly confused at first.

The more questions Anders asks, the more an idea burns inside of him: what if he starts a podcast about the town and this bizarre situation? What harm could it do anyway? The town doesn’t even have a cell phone tower, and internet speeds are actually crawls. Maybe this will be the feature story that will catapult him toward success.

As Anders comes back every weekend to interview Frick Island residents and spend time with Piper, he finds out just how far the From Heres will go to protect their own. He also discovers something more valuable than his next big career move.

Author Colleen Oakley handles her situations and characters with a practiced hand. While in theory it might seem a tad precious that Piper gets married so young, within the context of the story world it makes complete sense. Piper’s grief and her longing for Tom will endear her to readers. Both ring true and loud for anyone who has lost a loved one.

Oakley’s plot stays well within the realm of its genre but doesn’t come off as saccharine. Moments meant to be solemn maintain their dignity. Those meant for a laugh will make readers chuckle. With the exception of the dialogue that comes off as unrealistic at times, the book leads its target audience through the entire range of emotions with precision. I recommend readers Bookmark The Invisible Husband of Frick Island.

Brand new review: Reluctantly Home by Imogen Clark

By Ekta R. Garg

May 12, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: April 29, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A young woman returns to the countryside after a terrible accident. As she tries to find a way forward in life, she meets a senior citizen who can relate to her situation. The friendship the two form gives them each courage to move on from their respective tragedies. Author Imogen Clark brings sweetness and heart to this quiet story in her latest novel Reluctantly Home.

Philippa “Pip” Appleby thought she had everything she needed for a high-flying life in London: the drop-dead gorgeous boyfriend, a flat in one of the most desired postal codes in the city, and a career as an up-and-coming lawyer. In an instant, though, all of that changes when she’s in a car accident that leaves a child dead. Gripped by panic attacks and unable to function in court anymore, Pip retreats to her childhood home in the country town of Southwold.

For six months, Pip finds herself restless yet also scared. She can’t drive anymore, that’s for sure, but riding her bike everywhere is just a constant reminder of the accident. Her parents love her dearly and are concerned for her, but they’re not quite sure how to help.

It was a huge change when Pip first went to the city with her dreams that were bigger than the family farm and her insistence that everyone start calling her by her middle name, Rose. Now she’s home and everything’s changed again. Her parents refuse to call her Rose; for them she’ll always and forever be Pip. And that, along with life in a small town, is driving Pip a little batty.

To keep herself occupied, she gets a part-time job in a local charity store where people drop off their used items for sale. As Pip sorts through a box one day, she comes across a diary from the year 1983. Desperate for an escape, Pip dives into the circumstances of one Evelyn Mountcastle. It seems like Evelyn was an actress at one point and then the mother to a young child, but then she experiences two major life changes. The story is left incomplete, though, by the end of the diary.

Driven to find out what happened to Evelyn, Pip goes looking for her and finds her still in Southwold. As the two form a tentative relationship that develops into a bond, Pip discovers that tragedy can strike anyone at any time. What matters most, though, is what the person does next.

Author Imogen Clark finds moments of gentleness and humor in this lovely tale about an older woman and a younger one meeting and forming a wonderful friendship. Pip’s constant guilt about her accident rings true. Her panic and her despair feel authentic, and readers will find themselves sympathizing with Pip in many places in the book.
Evelyn, too, is equally likeable. In a fresh twist, Evelyn takes responsibility for the events leading up to her own personal challenges. While the book touches on modern themes, Clark stays true to the attitudes of the book’s timeline. The result is a story that shares the truth of women like Evelyn without sounding preachy or apologetic.

If the novel can be faulted anywhere, it’s in the rushed opening and closing. Readers don’t get much of a chance to settle in with Pip before the accident that sends her home to Southwold. Likewise, toward the end, once her friendship with Evelyn is established, the plot moves quickly to resolve everything with nice, neat bows. Because the rest of the book is so enjoyable, however, readers will probably be willing to overlook the somewhat hurried pacing.

In the end, the book reminds its target audience that there’s nothing wrong with going home again. Fans of women’s fiction and books about friendships will like this one. I recommend readers Bookmark Reluctantly Home.