Book Review: I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around By Ann Garvin

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i-like-you-just-fine-when-youre-not-aroundIn her new novel, Ann Garvin explores the many facets of loss, and the hope one must summon to fill in the empty spaces.

Tig Monahan’s life is unraveling right before her eyes. She is currently a therapist, but that may end soon. She uncharacteristically lost her cool, and shamed a client in front of his wife. Her boyfriend Pete decides to leave her behind when he moves to Hawaii for a research project. And at the root of everything is her mother’s mental decline.

Tig Monahan tried to imagine what it would be like to lose her mind. Was it like a quick, fully aware, terror-filled slip on an icy sidewalk, or slower, where a tiny skidding sensation goes unnoticed until suddenly you realize all four limbs are in the air and your face is in a ditch?

Tig’s mother Hallie has Alzheimer’s.  She’s always been the rock in Tig’s life, but her fierce independence has dissolved into the confines of her illness. Now the tables have turned. Tig has done everything in her power to take care of her mother, but after Hallie accidentally cuts herself while living with Tig, it’s clear she needs full-time care. Tig finally decides to place her mother in an assisted living facility. But will she ever be able to overcome the guilt?

Tig wonders what she’s done to cause the implosion of her universe. Everything she thought she had has dwindled right out of her life.  Then, unexpectedly, the wife of the shamed client offers her a job as a radio therapist. Against her better judgment, she accepts the position, and begins her new career.

In the midst of the chaos, her carefree sister Wendy finally returns to town. But she’s keeping a secret, one that will rattle Tig to her core.

Tig now struggles just to get through every day, much less try to figure out where the rest of her life is heading. Will she be able to pull things together? And who will be there to help her?

This novel made me consider the changing roles between parent and child later in life. It also made me realize we should keep our plans flexible enough to change them, because what we think we want, and what we find makes us happy, are sometimes two different things.

I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around is a novel about finding yourself. About discovering who you really are and where you want to go, and having the strength to get there.



A policy to protect the human rights of sex workers…

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safety-for-sex-workersAs a very relevant article to my novel, Life Before, which involves the sex industry in the early twentieth century, here is a very thought provoking article by Amnesty International entitled Sex Worker’s Rights are Human Rights which discusses their efforts to protect the rights of sex workers, trying to ensure their health and safety.

What we want is a refocussing of laws to tackle acts of exploitation, abuse and trafficking – rather than catch-all offences that only criminalize and endanger sex workers.

Surely a very controversial subject, but one that needs our attention and discussion.

Review of Lemongrass Hope by Amy Impellizzeri

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lemongrass-hopeKate Sutton’s life is not how she always dreamed it would be.  Yes, she has a husband and children – the picture-perfect family.  At least on the outside.  She works so hard to make it seem that way.  But on the inside, Kate isn’t sure she belongs in the life she’s led for the past ten years.

What if she’s suddenly given the chance for a do-over? Would she take it?

Ten years ago, Kate met two men – the adventurous travel journalist who was so easy to talk to, and the ambitious young attorney who always wanted more. When her passionate fling with one ended, the other stepped in to fill the emptiness. But had she made the right choice?

Now, ten years and two kids later, Kate’s marriage has become rocky; they’re like two strangers sharing the same life but living on different shores. Kate’s tried desperately to create the illusion of being the perfect wife, the perfect mom.  But she knows this is just a veneer for others. Her life is anything but perfect. And now her well-maintained façade is slowly cracking, the forceful elements in her world colliding with the beautiful picture of perfection she’s spent years painting.

As Kate tries to decide if her marriage is still even worth the effort, her former love reappears, and rekindles the passion she’d buried so many years ago. Then a mystical happening gives Kate the chance to re-live her life, and change the choices that had catapulted her into disappointment and confusion.  Now she must decide what is most important to her. Which losses can she deal with, and which can she not bear?

In Lemongrass Hope, Amy Impellizzeri gives readers a glimpse of the regret we sometimes feel from the choices we’ve made, and what it would be like to get another chance. We’ve probably all experienced the question what if? But given the opportunity, would we really do things differently? And what would we give up if we did?

Impellizzeri makes us understand that whatever life gives us, happiness is a choice.

Because sometimes you really do have to choose.  Clearly. Definitively.

And after the choice is made, we have to make it count.

Review of Echoes of Family by Barbara Claypole White

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Echoes of FamilyIn true Barbara Claypole White fashion, Echoes of Family takes us into the life of Marianne Stokes, a caring, giving wife and mother, and creative record producer. Who also happens to be bi-polar.

Marianne lived a carefree life in the small English town of Newton Rushford, the girl who always caused a stir and lived for the moment. But a tragic accident changed her teenage life forever, and plunged her into a bi-polar free-fall.

If purgatory exists, it comes without sound. Nothing to deaden thoughts.

Marianne had long believed that to be true, and the handful of compliant crazies in the waiting room proved her right.

After years of struggling with her illness and its by-products – alcoholism and suicide attempts – Marianne thinks she finally has her life back on track. But another devastating accident plunges her back into the past, and resurrects the guilt she’s held for a lifetime.  She’s compelled to leave her home in America and return to England, where it all started. A last-ditch effort in her search for the peace that has yet again eluded her.

Gabriel Bonham was her childhood best friend, and the love of her teenage life. That fateful accident years ago devastated him, as well. When Marianne returns to Newton Rushford thirty years later, she finds him in the least-expected place. And although Gabriel invites her to stay, Marianne is a most unwelcome visitor from his past.

Marianne’s family – Jade, a brilliant young lady she rescued from the streets and adopted, and Darius, her ex-rock-and-roll-star husband with his own mercurial moods – must find her to save her from herself.

Will Marianne and Gabriel be able to overcome the past tragedy they shared between them? And will they finally be able to forgive each other and themselves?

Love – a strange word. It tasted of dust.

Barbara Claypole White takes us inside the brain of a person struggling with mental illness. But even through her inner turmoil, we also see Marianne’s compassion, love, creativity, and talent.  And we’re thrust into the struggle of a family living with the mentally-ill, trying to weather the ugly while also protecting the beauty. We’re hurled into the push-and-pull of life with someone struggling to overcome the daily battle with their affliction.

Thank you Barbara for once again immersing us into the world of mental illness, and letting us know it can be controlled, and there is always hope at the end of the dark and desolate path to sanity.

Rebuilding Classroom Libraries

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Here is a wonderful article written by a middle school English teacher in Louisiana, asking for book donations to replenish what local schools lost in the flood.


I’ve been teaching middle school English for over 20 years and like other veteran educators have seen movements start, end, get repackaged, and begin again with renewed vigor.  One of the thi…

Source: Rebuilding Classroom Libraries

Review of Everything We Keep – A Novel by Kerry Lonsdale

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Everything We KeepAimee Tierney has a perfect life.  About to marry the man of her dreams, her best friend since grade school. A chef close to opening her own restaurant. Until the unimaginable happens.

On our wedding day, my fiancé, James, arrived at the church in a casket.

These first powerful words of the novel thrust us into the tumult that has become Aimee’s new and unexpected reality.

Then into Aimee’s grief and bewilderment enters Lacy, a mysterious psychic who tells Aimee that James isn’t really dead.  But Aimee saw the casket with her beloved lowered into the ground. A cruel prank, or a scam for money, she isn’t sure which.

Aimee robotically moves through her life.  The sweetness of the bread she bakes every day no longer gives her a sense of home and self.  She and James had been inseparable since they were little, and now she feels she’s missing half of herself.

Aimee’s best friends Kristen and Nadia try their best to get Aimee to move on.  But Aimee can’t get the psychic’s words out of her head.  What if James weren’t dead?

At Nadia’s request, Aimee checks out an art gallery Nadia is renovating, and meets Ian, a talented photographer preparing to show his work.  Ian is charming and friendly, and Aimee is shocked by the electrical spark between them, one she hasn’t felt since James was alive. But Aimee can’t bring herself to let Ian become anything more than a great friend.

After an unexpected twist of circumstance, Aimee makes arrangements to open her own gourmet coffee house and café, working hard to make her dream of owning a restaurant come true, and making life more bearable without James.  But soon, Aimee receives a postcard in the mail that changes everything, Could James still be alive after all, and living in Mexico?  What are the family secrets James had kept during all the years they’d known each other? And what would she do if she actually found him?

Torn between the memory of James, and the warmth and love of Ian, Aimee must decide what direction the rest of her life will take.

I looked across the ocean, my mind as chaotic as the fierce waves. Seeds of doubt sprouted in the pit of my stomach and grew thorny vines, twisting around my bones. No, I wasn’t sure. Not anymore.

Lonsdale keeps the suspense in the forefront as Aimee tries to uncover exactly what happened to James, while also trying to find herself. I kept turning pages, wanting to solve the mystery of James’ disappearance, and to discover the next twist in Aimee’s life.

And just as I was satisfied with what fate had planned for Aimee and James, Lonsdale’s last two pages threw me for a loop, making me actually say Wow! and wonder how in the world they would deal with the truth!

I recommend Everything We Keep for those looking for romance, friendship, mystery, and suspense all rolled into an entertaining page-turner.


Review of Novel: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks

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LemoncholyAnnabelle Aster, known as Annie, loves anything Victorian – vintage clothing, antique tea cups, hairstyles.  She even lives in a Victorian house.  Her best friend, Christian, loves her quirks and eccentricities, for he’s never fit society’s mold either. They seem to have been made for each other.

On May 17, 1995, Annie goes through her back door and is shocked to see a Kansas wheat field and cabin where her San Francisco neighborhood should have been.  As she marches to the house to investigate, she passes through a beautiful rose garden with a gate, separating her yard from the field, with an old brass mailbox peeking up through the flowers.  Annie is compelled to find out who lives in the cabin standing on the edge of the field. But when Annie tries to knock on the cabin door, she suddenly finds herself back at the mailbox.

On May 17, 1895, Elsbeth Grundy, a retired Kansas school-teacher, is just minding her own business, relaxing in her rocking chair, alone as always. She’d hoped to be surrounded with loving family in her older years, but that didn’t happen; she lives quite the solitary life out on the prairie. When Elsbeth makes her way to the well to draw water for her daily chores, she’s shocked to see a purple Victorian home sitting in the middle of her wheat field. She decides to give the owner of that house a piece of her mind, but when she tries to approach the porch, something strange happens. She finds herself back at the odd rose garden. She notices a brass letterbox sitting amid the roses, and decides to leave a letter for the owner of the purple house.

Lacking the disposition for subtlety, I’ll get directly to the point. Trespass is dealt with at the business end of a shotgun in these parts!

Annie and Elsbeth discover they can communicate by leaving each other letters in the mail box, and soon become friends. But Annie must figure out the mystery – how are she and Elsbeth sitting on either side of a rip in time?  After some investigation, Annie finally discovers the portal that allows her to see Elsbeth’s house, and Elsbeth to see hers. But her search also uncovers a murder which happened 100 years in the past, with their time-travel conduit at the center of it.  Annie and Elsbeth try to prevent the murder, but things get complicated, and both women must fight to save each other, and unravel the mysteries of Annie’s past.

There comes a moment, a precise instant, when your next move redefines you, erasing everything before it. You are a table upon which the future course of your life awaits instruction. This was Annie’s moment.

Wilbanks has seamlessly interwoven reality with mystery and magic. His characters are both quirky and endearing. His novel makes us consider the possibility of traveling to a different time, and connecting with our history.  What if we could meet the people who helped shape our lives? And Wilbanks reminds us that even with our eccentricities, our odd-ball moments, our unusual quirks, our differences, we all have a place that is truly home – where we truly belong.  Sometimes we just have to look harder to find it.

I recommend The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster to readers who love well written prose, excellent characterizations, and a unique story that forces the reader to ask what if?

You rock Annabelle Aster!