Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: In Twenty Years

Summary: Twenty years ago, six Penn students shared a house, naively certain that their friendships would endure—until the death of their ringleader and dear friend Bea splintered the group for good. Now, mostly estranged from one another, the remaining five reluctantly gather at that same house on the eve of what would have been Bea’s fortieth birthday.

But along with the return of the friends come old grudges, unrequited feelings, and buried secrets. Catherine, the CEO of a domestic empire, and Owen, a stay-at-home dad, were picture-perfect college sweethearts—but now teeter on the brink of disaster. Lindy, a well-known musician, is pushing middle age in an industry that’s all about youth and slowly self-destructing as she grapples with her own identity. Behind his smile, handsome plastic surgeon Colin harbors the heartbreaking truth about his own history with Bea. And Annie carefully curates her life on Instagram and Facebook, keeping up appearances so she doesn’t have to face the truth about her own empty reality.

Reunited in the place where so many dreams began, and bolstered by the hope of healing, each of them is forced to confront the past. -- Lake Union Publishing

One my favorite books of the summer (so far!) is IN TWENTY YEARS by Allison Winn Scotch. Ms. Scotch has always been one of my go-to authors for entertaining novels, and this one is no exception. IN TWENTY YEARS is available tomorrow; and if you are a fan of women's fiction, they you won't want to miss it.

IN TWENTY YEARS tells the story of six Penn students who all lived together and thought their relationships with each other would never weaken. Unfortunately, they learn that's not the case when their group "leader" Bea unexpectedly dies. Twenty years later, Bea's lawyer asks them to come back to their college dwelling, and they all come (albeit reluctantly) out of respect for their friend.

Needless to say, many things have changed in the last twenty years. A few of the friends are estranged, some are still holding torches for each other, and their personal lives are far from perfect. Catherine and Owen were college sweethearts and ended up getting married and having two kids. Catherine is the CEO of her own company (think Martha Stewart) and feels so much pressure to be successful. It has ended up getting in the way of her marriage to Owen. Meanwhile, Owen is resentful that she is never home while he's given up his career to be with the kids.

Lindy is a famous pop star who is realizing that it's not easy to be 40 in this industry. She's pretty much a mess trying to decide what to do about her music career (she's tired of singing other people's pop songs), but she's also at a major crossroads in her personal life. She's seeing both a man and a woman, and she's not sure if she wants relationships with either of them!

Colin is a plastic surgeon to the stars. He is handsome, wealthy, and living in Los Angeles; and he also has his fair share of gorgeous women. However, things aren't as great as they seem! He is still reeling from the end of his relationship with Bea, and he's having a hard time keeping the secret to himself.

Finally, there's Annie. Poor Annie. She wants the ideal life with the perfect husband and young son so much so that she tries to capture every moment on Instagram and Facebook. Needless to say, sometimes the people with the "best" lives on Facebook are really trying to hide the truth. Annie knows her husband isn't faithful despite Annie's best efforts to look and act perfect, and she is still pining for what could have been...

Bea definitely knew her friends and what each one of them would need in their lives. By bringing them together for one weekend, they were each able to look at their own selves as well as discover the importance of each other in their lives; and ultimately, they were able to face the past while also looking towards the future.

I really enjoyed IN TWENTY YEARS. It had everything I've come to love about an Allison Winn Scotch book. It was entertaining, had great characters, and it was also insightful about life. I honestly couldn't put down this book!

As you can see from my very long book summary above, this book had some wonderful characters -- six if you include Bea. And I believe she should be counted because she was so integral to the story. I loved how I got to learn so much about each one -- from their college years to the present; and it was interesting to see how much they grew (or maybe didn't really grow) over twenty years. Granted, there were some characters that I definitely liked from the get-go, while other characters took me awhile. However, by the end of the book I had grown to love all of them!

As interesting as I found the characters, I thought their relationships were even more intriguing. I loved seeing how they interacted with each other (and sometimes the significant others in their lives), and I thought it was an extremely smart decision to have a married couple as well as other characters who were still "in love" with each other. I definitely appreciated how well the author portrayed these complex relationships, and I do think these characters and the way they felt about each other will resonate with most (if not all) readers.

And finally, I loved the messages in this story. They weren't heavy handed but they were there if you were looking. There were so many life lessons that readers can see through the lives of these characters, and I think that a few major events (like Bea's untimely death) had major impacts on them that lasted for years. What I enjoyed was seeing how this reunion weekend was almost an "ah ha" moment for each one of them. When they were together, they were forced to reconcile events from their past before they could move forward with their lives. It was both touching and hopeful, and frankly, made for a very good book.

I do think IN TWENTY YEARS would make an excellent book club pick... especially for those groups made up of women in their late 30s and early 40s. I am older than that age range and I loved this book, but I do think it will be especially relatable to women of those ages. I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, but rest assured, you won't need one. There are so many themes to talk about including grief, loss, marriage, friendship, career choices, abuse, second chances, feelings of inadequacy, parenting, and secrets.

IN TWENTY YEARS is on a lot of Best Books of the Summer lists and it would definitely be on mine too... if I had one. Highly recommended for fans of women's fiction!

Thanks to Get Red PR for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I've Got Sand in All the Wrong Places Giveaway

Summary: Lisa and Francesca are back with another collection of warm and witty stories that will strike a chord with every woman. This six book series is among the best reviewed humor books published today and has been compared to the late greats, Erma Bombeck and Nora Ephron. Delia Ephron said of the fifth book in the series, Have a Nice Guilt Trip, "Lisa and Francesca, mother and daughter, bring you the laughter of their lives once again and better than ever. You will identify with these tales of guilt and fall in love with them and fierce (grand) Mother Mary." This seventh volume will not disappoint as it hits the humorous and poignant note that fans have come to expect from the beloved mother-daughter duo. -- St. Martin's Press

One upcoming book release that I'm very excited about is I'VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella. I've read this mother/daughter duo's essays in the past, and I have found them to be both hilarious and insightful... and sometimes even touching. It's hard to believe that this is the seventh (yes, seventh!) book that they written together, but it's no wonder they keep writing these essays when they have had so much commercial success and have brought joy to so many readers.

I will be receiving I'VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES shortly and can't wait to share my thoughts with you. In the meantime, I have some terrific news. There is a ten winner giveaway going on until July 12th for signed copies of I'VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES and DOES THIS BEACH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? as well as a Lily Pulitzer bracelet and wrap. Of course, I would love to win signed copies of the books, but how adorable is that bracelet?

You can enter this great giveaway below or access it directly here. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review: First Comes Love

Summary: A pair of sisters find themselves at a crossroads in this dazzling new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Something Borrowed, Where We Belong, and The One & Only. First Comes Love is a story about family, friendship, and the courage to follow your own heart—wherever that may lead.

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious, relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing, Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes, their delicate bond splinters.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter is assigned to her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms, and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover that they need each other more than they knew—and that in the search for true happiness, love always comes first. -- Ballantine

I have always loved the way that Emily Giffin portrays women in her novels. She just gets it -- if you know what I mean. Her latest novel FIRST COMES LOVE is no different. This book explores the lives of two very different sisters who are still reeling fifteen years after a major tragedy hit their family.

Josie and Meredith are somewhat typical sisters, or at least their childhood relationship was fairly typical. They loved each other, but they sometimes annoyed each other... and they even disagreed. However, one night their brother was killed in an automobile accident, and their lives were forever altered.

Fast forward fifteen years... Josie is a first grade teacher who is still single and ready to give one more guy a chance before deciding, once and for all, that marriage isn't in the cards for her. She is desperate to have a baby, and when she ends up teaching her ex-boyfriend's daughter, she feels an even greater desire. She decides that with or without a husband, she is ready to explore other options!

Meanwhile, Meredith seemingly has it all. She has a generous husband, a successful career as a lawyer, and beautiful four year-old daughter. However, as often is the case with some women, Meredith doesn't feel fulfilled. She isn't sure she wants to have another child and she's not exactly satisfied in her marriage or her career. In fact, she's wondering if she chose the "right" path instead of following her heart and becoming an actress.

As the fifteen year anniversary of their brother's death approaches, secrets from their past come to light. The two sisters feel even more tension in their relationship than normal, and maybe that's because each one of them is struggling with some inner demons. As they both begin to learn about themselves and deal with their life choices, they realize that they actually do love and need each other in many ways.

I really, really enjoyed FIRST COMES LOVE. It's an easy-to-read book that's perfect for the summer months; however, it's definitely not light and fluffy. That's not to say that FIRST COMES LOVE isn't fun though. It's extremely entertaining and there are a lot of funny scenes, but it is also an insightful book about loss, grief, and families. I loved it!

One of the things I appreciated most about FIRST COME LOVE is how well developed both Josie and Meredith were. I honestly can say that I related much more to one of the sisters than the other, but I liked both of them. Having said that, they both drove me crazy too! There were times when I wanted to shake them because I thought they were being so short-sighted... and then I reminded myself that there was a lot of baggage there due to the loss of their brother.

Another aspect of this novel that Ms. Giffin nailed was the relationship between the sisters. Fortunately, my sister and I don't have quite the tense-filled relationship that Josie and Meredith did; however, I'm sure she'd tell you that I drive her crazy sometimes! We also don't have very different personalities, but I know many siblings who do. I'm sure there are a lot of women out there who will relate to the their relationship.

I haven't mentioned this until now, but I thought both Josie's and Meredith's relationships with the other people in their lives were also very well developed. Josie was dating one guy, living with another and trying to find a sperm donor for a baby. Needless to say, she kept things interesting; and I loved the dynamic she had with men in her life. Meredith, on the other hand, was much more stable (in appearances only); and it was very honest how her marriage and motherhood were portrayed.

And finally, I loved seeing how these two women grew throughout the course of the story. Needless to say, the loss of their brother affected them both deeply whether they admitted it or not. However, they also were responsible for a lot of their own decisions regardless of what happened fifteen years ago. It was interesting to see how both women looked closely at their own lives and eventually made decisions that would help them achieve what they achieve happiness. It was extra-special that these insights also helped them to forge a better relationship.

I think FIRST COMES LOVE would make a terrific book club pick! There is a reading guide on the author's website with fourteen questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include loss, grief, acceptance, marriage, motherhood, sisterhood, families, friendship, goals, career, love, and forgiveness.

Overall, FIRST COMES LOVE will be a treat for fans of Ms. Giffin's, and I'm certain it will bring some new ones into the fold. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an e-copy of this novel.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: City of Secrets

Summary: From master storyteller Stewart O’Nan, a timely moral thriller of the Jewish underground resistance in Jerusalem after the Second World War

In 1945, with no homes to return to, Jewish refugees by the tens of thousands set out for Palestine. Those who made it were hunted as illegals by the British mandatory authorities there and relied on the underground to shelter them; taking fake names, they blended with the population, joining the wildly different factions fighting for the independence of Israel. City of Secrets follows one survivor, Brand, as he tries to regain himself after losing everyone he’s ever loved. Now driving a taxi provided—like his new identity—by the underground, he navigates the twisting streets of Jerusalem as well as the overlapping, sometimes deadly loyalties of the resistance. Alone, haunted by memories, he tries to become again the man he was before the war—honest, strong, capable of moral choice. He falls in love with Eva, a fellow survivor and member of his cell, reclaims his faith, and commits himself to the revolution, accepting secret missions that grow more and more dangerous even as he begins to suspect he’s being used by their cell’s dashing leader, Asher. By the time Brand understands the truth, it’s too late, and the tragedy that ensues changes history. A noirish, deeply felt novel of intrigue and identity written in O’Nan’s trademark lucent style, City of Secrets asks how both despair and faith can lead us astray, and what happens when, with the noblest intentions, we join movements beyond our control. -- Viking

I decided to review the novel CITY OF SECRETS by Stewart O'Nan as part of Mystery Mondays, not because it was a traditional mystery but more because it was a unique type of thriller. Many would find that this novel is probably more literary fiction than thriller, but in many ways, it has all of the elements of a great suspense story. And since Mystery Mondays is "my" feature, I decided that it works!

CITY OF SECRETS takes place in Jerusalem in 1945 immediately following World War II. During this time, Jerusalem was under British occupation; and many Jewish refugees were sneaking into Palestine. The British Mandatory authorities were trying to track them down, so these people were forced to take new names and hope the underground provided cover for them. One such person was Jossi Brand, a Latvian Jew, who was the only survivor in his family after the horrors of the concentration camps.

Brand is now a taxi driver who works with the Haganah, a Jewish resistance group who is fighting for the independence of Israel. He is no longer the man he was prior to the war. He is wracked with guilt and loneliness, and he tries to find comfort in Eva, a prostitute who is also a survivor. He decides to focus his life on the dangerous missions that the Haganah carries out; however, he is never quite sure who or what to trust... or even what role he is being asked to play.

As tensions mount and Brand begins to realize the truth of his "friend" and leader, he realizes that it might already be too late. His cell plays a major role in an event that will forever change history in the battle for Jewish independence.

I thought CITY OF SECRETS was an excellent novel. There is no doubt that Mr. O'Nan is an amazing writer. His prose is eloquent and his characters are richly developed, and he managed to create a suspense filled novel. However, this novel rose to the next level for me because it was also incredibly interesting. I wasn't familiar with much of the history referenced in this novel including the bombing of the King David Hotel. (I probably should be embarrassed to admit that!)

I actually finished CITY OF SECRETS when I was in the car traveling to Washington, DC, for our vacation a few weeks ago. I was truly blown away by this book, so much so that I began researching the actual historical events that took place in this novel. I think I drove my family crazy reading to them what I was discovering about the British Mandate, the various Jewish resistance movements, and even the bombing of the King David Hotel and the potential political fallout. If a book moves me to start learning and continue thinking, then I consider that a great thing!

But that's not the only reason I appreciated this novel so much. Mr. O'Nan's writing is outstanding. I was deeply impressed with how he portrayed all of the historical parts of this novel. It was apparent that he did his research. I also loved how the tension in the story just kept building. Honestly, I couldn't put down this book once things got going!

However, even more impressive was how he created these intriguing characters and brought them to life. Brand was extremely complex and I definitely felt a great deal of compassion for him. Not only did he lose his entire family in the concentration camps, but he was attempting to move on... all alone, in a new country, hiding from authorities, with no one to trust. He was even forced to change his name. Brand was grasping to start over while also trying to hold on to the man he was before the war. It was extremely sad to consider Brand's new way of life, and I was desperate for him to find some happiness.

Another interesting dynamic in CITY OF SECRETS was the relationship Brand had with fellow cell members. On one hand, I was glad that he fell in love with Eva, and was able to learn a little about her past, but on the other hand, I wasn't sure about her real motivations. I certainly was hoping that she shared his feelings.

I also found his relationship with the cell leader, Asher, to be fascinating. Brand drove a cab that was used for many of the group's dangerous activities, and it appeared more and more likely that Asher was manipulating Brand for his own gain. As Brand began to realize things, it became apparent that he couldn't really trust anyone.

I do think CITY OF SECRETS would make a great book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find formal discussion questions; however, I think there's a great deal to talk about on your own. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include grief, war, the plight of the Jews and the Palestinians after World War II... and today, secrets, love, and many, many moral issues.

Overall, I think CITY OF SECRETS was an outstanding read. Highly recommended to fans of literary fiction, suspense novels, and literary fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Kid Konnection: Awesome America

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a terrific book that's perfect for the upcoming Independence Day holiday!

Summary: Discover what makes America unique in this comprehensive timeline and photographic overview of American history--pre-Columbus through the present--highlighting the milestone events and important people that have made America awesome.

Perfect for both dip-in reference and longer-form reading, Awesome America is organized into thematic sections, each comprised of bite-sized articles, engaging factoid sidebars, colorful charts, graphics and interactive quizzes to help make learning about American history interesting, interactive, and fun. From America's early history all the way to present day, kids will learn about what it was like to grow up in the 1700's, 1800's, 1900's and today and discover the inventions, innovations, and important social movements great American's have created over the years. -- Liberty Street

I don't know if you're a regular visitor to Booking Mama, but I have been featuring some fantastic kids' books lately if I do say so myself! Seriously though, I am so excited the share with you TIME FOR KIDS AWESOME AMERICA: EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE HISTORY, PEOPLE, AND CULTURE by Katy Steinmetz. This book has been a huge hit in my house. In fact, my son grabbed this book immediately when it arrived and proceeded to read it over the next few days. And that's really saying something for a relatively reluctant reader.

I wholeheartedly agree with Booking Son and I think AWESOME AMERICA is the ideal book to commemorate our great country. This big book makes learning about America fun. It has gorgeous photographs, interesting and fun facts, and easy-to-follow timelines. I truly believe you can read it the whole way through... like my son, or skim through it and just read the highlights.

AWESOME AMERICA really does encompass America's history from the pre-Columbus time period all the way to the present. I don't think I can adequately explain just how much information exists between the covers of this 200+ page book. The book is divided into the following chapters: Our Beginning, Our Government, Our Presidents, Tour the Fifty States, The Land, Coming to America, Moments That Changed America, Civil Rights, Great Americans, Growing Up in America, America's Role in the World, America's Home-Grown Gifts to the World, One of a Kind, and Year by Year. There are also a glossary and index in the back of the book along with some websites where you can visit to learn more!

Most of the facts in AWESOME AMERICA are aimed at kids; however, I am not embarrassed to say that I learned a great deal while reading this book. As a mom, I appreciate that the information is presented in such a friendly manner that kids won't even realize they are learning. Some of the specific things that I liked about the book include summaries of all of the fifty states as well as the brief biographies on famous Americans. I also appreciated the section that showed what life was like for families in each century. I truly could go on and on though about each and every page in this book. There is more interesting information than I can even begin to cover in a brief review of the book.

What I love the most about this book though is the way the information is presented. Every page is different. Some have timelines, some have charts, some have sidebars, some have brief descriptions -- you get the idea. However, what each page has in common are beautiful photographs. As I flip through this book, I am blown away by just how entertaining it is. I just keep turning the pages... it's that addictive!

Overall, I can't rave enough about AWESOME AMERICA. It's an educational book that also makes learning fun. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing review copies of these books.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Girls on Fire

Summary: On Halloween, 1991, a popular high school basketball star ventures into the woods near Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, and disappears. Three days later, he’s found with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand—a discovery that sends tremors through this conservative community, already unnerved by growing rumors of Satanic worship in the region.

In the wake of this incident, bright but lonely Hannah Dexter is befriended by Lacey Champlain, a dark-eyed, Cobain-worshiping bad influence in lip gloss and Doc Martens. The charismatic, seductive Lacey forges a fast, intimate bond with the impressionable Dex, making her over in her own image and unleashing a fierce defiance that neither girl expected. But as Lacey gradually lures Dex away from her safe life into a feverish spiral of obsession, rebellion, and ever greater risk, an unwelcome figure appears on the horizon—and Lacey’s secret history collides with Dex’s worst nightmare.

By turns a shocking story of love and violence and an addictive portrait of the intoxication of female friendship, set against the unsettled backdrop of a town gripped by moral panic, Girls on Fire is an unflinching and unforgettable snapshot of girlhood: girls lost and found, girls strong and weak, girls who burn bright and brighter—and some who flicker away. -- Harper

I actually read GIRLS ON FIRE by Robin Wasserman a few weeks ago but have hesitated in writing this review. I'm not really sure what to say, and I definitely don't think I have much to add to the bazillion raving reviews that are already out there. What I can say is that I found this novel to be extremely well written. However, I also found it to be one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. I am pretty sure that's because I am a mom to a teenage girl... and this book doesn't paint teenage girls in a very good light.

GIRLS ON FIRE tells the story of Hannah Dexter and Lacey Champlain. Hannah is a lonely teen who suddenly comes to life when Lacey befriends her after she was seriously bullied. Together they find common ground in their hatred of Nikki, the most popular girl in the school; and Hannah pretty much becomes a major follower of anything and everything Lacey does.

Hannah turns from a quiet girl into one who definitely pushes the envelope. She begins to dress in grungy clothes, listen to Nirvana, worship Kurt Cobain, and even change her name to Dex... because that's what Lacey calls her. As Dex and Lacey become closer, Dex finds that her life is becoming a dangerous "game" concerning both her relationship with Lacey and her hatred of Nikki. The tension builds as Dex finds herself in a dangerous situation, and she is forced to make a terrifying (and life-altering) decision.

I can't really say that I enjoyed GIRLS ON FIRE, but I can definitely say that I appreciated it. I honestly couldn't put down the book which is testament to the author; however, I will also add that it scared the living daylights out of me. The girls in this book were horrible -- a parent's worst nightmare; and their actions gave new meaning to the term "mean girl."

GIRLS ON FIRE isn't for the faint of heart. For most of the book, the characters' actions are bad, but they eventually become even more despicable. And there are more than a few disturbing and even shocking scenes. There is lots of foul language, sex, and violence; and if this book were a movie, it would definitely be rated R. There were times when I was reading this novel that I was downright uncomfortable, both by the language and the subject matter. However, I will admit that nothing made me more out of sorts than these two (or three) girls' behavior.

The story takes place in 1991, right at the height of Nirvana and the grunge movement. I was in high school a few years before this so I appreciated many of the music and fashion references. But that's where the "relating" to this novel ended! I knew "mean" and "bad" girls but they were no even close to the girls in this book -- they were more like sociopaths!

One thing I will definitely say about this book is that it is shocking. And by that, I mean the plot, the characters, and especially the ending. Even as I was reading this novel, I had no idea what was going to happen or what the characters would decide to do. And even when I thought the worst, it was even worse than that!

Overall, GIRLS ON FIRE in an interesting and well-written story about some very disturbed teenage girls. I definitely don't recommend it to those readers who shy away from violence, graphic sex, and bad language; however, I do think there's a big audience out there who will definitely love this twisted story!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: The Arrangement

Summary: Los Angeles, 1934. Mary Frances is young, restlessly married, and returning from her first sojourn in France. She is hungry, and not just for food: she wants Tim, her husband Al’s charming friend, who encourages her writing and seems to understand her better than anyone. After a night’s transgression, it’s only a matter of time before Mary Frances claims what she truly desires, plunging all three of them into a tangled triangle of affection that will have far-reaching effects on their families, their careers, and their lives.

Set in California, France, and the Swiss Alps, The Arrangement is a sparkling, sensual novel that explores the complexities of a marriage and the many different ways in which we love. Writing at the top of her game, Ashley Warlick gives us a completely mesmerizing story about a woman well ahead of her time, who would go on to become the legendary food writer M. F. K. Fisher. -- Viking

I probably shouldn't admit this, but prior to picking up THE ARRANGEMENT by Ashley Warlick, I had absolutely no idea who M.F.K. Fisher was. (Just in case you are in the same boat, she was a famous food writer.) This novel explores not only her life, but also her marriage and her affair with a man named Tim. THE ARRANGEMENT is a beautifully written novel that manages to capture Mary Frances' passions, and it also just happens to be very sensual.

Mary Frances and her husband Al are returning to the states after living in France. She is a bit restless and her marriage seems to be floundering. Her husband, also a writer, is having a hard time with his career; and he's not exactly supporting of Mary Frances' writing. It isn't long until Mary Frances finds herself looking to her husband's close friend Tim. Tim, who is also married, and Mary Frances have a one-night stand; and while they decide to put a hold on their feelings, he is extremely supportive of her writing.

When Tim's wife leaves him for another man, his life is turned upside down. After a trip to the east, he and Mary Frances eventually find comfort in each other and start an all out affair. As strange as it sounds, the threesome end up living together in Switzerland; and Mary Frances finds success as a food writer. Tim and Mary Frances try to conceal their feelings for each other out of respect for Al. They both love him dearly, especially since he's so vulnerable and sensitive.

THE ARRANGEMENT is one of those books that I definitely appreciated, but I'm not sure I loved it. I think had I known who M.F.K. Fisher was or even anything about her writings that it would have helped me to be more interested in her life; however, I did enjoy how well the author told her story. I got the sense that Fisher was a writer who explored the senses especially as they pertained to food, and I feel like this novel also played to the reader's senses.

There were a few stellar things about THE ARRANGEMENT. First and foremost, I enjoyed how well the author brought these three characters to life. They were all extremely complex characters/artists, and it was interesting to see how their lives mixed with their stories. It was apparent to me that the author researched the life of M.F.K. Fisher and was able to incorporate the real life events with her story. I found it extremely interesting to see how Fisher's life in both France, California, and even Switzerland contributed to her writings and eventual success.

But what I enjoyed the most about this novel was how it portrayed this complex love triangle. It was obvious that Mary Frances and Tim has a passionate love affair; however, it was equally obvious how much Mary Frances loved her husband Al... albeit in an entirely different way. I would also argue that Tim very much loved Al as a friend. It was definitely interesting to see the different ways that love was explored in this novel.

THE ARRANGEMENT would make an interesting book club pick especially for those clubs who appreciate literary and/or historical fiction. There is a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions that might help to direct conversation. Some of the themes you might want to explore include passion, appetites, food, sex, marriage, trust, loss, grief, friendship, infidelity, secrets, and of course love.

I can't go so far as to say I loved THE ARRANGEMENT but I did appreciate it a great deal. Recommended to fans of literary fiction as well as readers familiar with M.F.K. Fisher's writing.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.