I checked out this kindle book via WILBOR after a friend described reading it as “entering a bliss-coma.” Perfect for a vacation book, I expected. And if you want an unapologetically romantic, milquetoast, white bread – er, white cake – wish fulfillment fantasy with little and less conflict, Savor the Moment is perfect for you! Laurel McBane is the co-founder and executive pastry chef at Vows, an all-inclusive wedding planning service. Her best friends Mac (photographer), Parker (wedding coordinator), and Emma (florist and decorator) are her co-founders, and the four of them live together in the country mansion where they also host (and cook for) dozens of weddings every summer. Also living and working in their enclave are the soon-to-be husbands of Mac and Emma (see books one and two for their Happily Ever Afters) and Parker’s brother Delaney – the suitably handsome, rich, and dashing hero that Laurel has been in love with half her life.

Among a blur of other people’s weddings, and entirely too closely surrounded by friends and a woman called Mrs. G. who acts as nanny and short-order cook for reasons not made totally clear (is she an employee? a relative? a servant? does she owe them a debt!?), Laurel and Del begin dating. You know the rest. Since they’re already friends, there’s no getting-to-know-you phase. Their whole journey is about negotiating the way their friends and relatives will see them once they’ve transitioned from buddies to bedfellows. This thin love story isn’t a very sturdy backbone for the novel, but it doesn’t really need to be, surrounded as it is by love stories big and small, glorious descriptions of gowns and cakes and desserts and wedding ceremonies, and a lot of meaningful female friendships.

The business side of Vows is pretty interesting; I like reading about women who are smart and talented, and making this business run smoothly – coordinating dozens of vendors and hundreds of guests for almost daily events – requires the characters to be brainy and focused. It’s a tough job, and Roberts’ characters are good at it. It’s great to see an author really understand and illustrate the way weddings work instead of glossing over the details, but reading about those details – the stressed out brides, the last-minute changes, the groomsmen who show up late – can walk the line between boring (if you’re not interested in weddings) and stressful (if you remember these things too clearly from your own wedding). If you adore weddings, brides, cakes, and comforting, easy love stories, this series is the right choice for you.

The History of Love is a bittersweet novel that tells the intertwined stories of Alma Singer and Leo Gursky, a teenage girl and an old man whose lives collide under extraordinary circumstances.

When Alma explores her namesake, the main character of the book-within-a-book also titled “The History of Love,” she discovers a dense tapestry of love, heartbreak, and friendship that centers around another Alma, Leo Gursky, her deceased father, her bereft mother, an unknown writer from Poland by way of Chile, and the famous American author Isaac Moritz. Nicole Krauss makes this potentially convoluted tale feel truly magical by illuminating the long, tangled strings of time and events that bring her characters together. There are few detours from the plot and no wasted words, so the story is fully explored and feels deeper than its 272 pages. It’s sweet and sad and thought provoking, but doesn’t carry any depressing baggage to sour your mood. The ending is uplifting without being tidy and perfect.

I selected this book for my book club and I was delighted to see quotations from its pages popping up in my fellow members’ status updates and conversations. There are a lot of beautiful language moments and highly quotable passages (“her kiss was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering” – *swoons*), which help make the book such a joy to read.

Krauss is married to author Jonathan Safran Foer, and their novels make lovely companions. If you loved his novels Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or  Everything Is Illuminated, you will fall for The History of Love, and vice versa. Both authors employ lyrical language to explore the topic of Jewish history (to put it broadly) through the eyes of fictional writers. In Everything is Illuminated, the protagonist is a writer who travels throughout eastern Europe looking for the history of his family and their village. In The History of Love, every major character and almost every minor character are writers in one form or another. Both books are so beautiful that it’s hard to decide which one I liked better, but either or both would make a great springtime read.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a story about love and devotion and friendship, about hanging on and believing in yourself and trusting the right people. It’s about how we touch other lives, often without knowing. It’s a family drama and a survival story and a romance rolled into one can’t-put-down story.

When 17-year-old Sam meets Emily, his life is a mess. Worse than a mess – it’s hopeless. His abusive father snatched Sam and his little brother Riddle from their backyard a decade ago. Since then, Sam has protected Riddle (who is sickly and no longer talks), takes care of him and absorbs most of the punishment their father hands out. They aren’t allowed to go to school – Sam teaches himself as best he can – how to swim, how to play the guitar – and keeps up with the world by reading magazines discarded in dumpsters. They move constantly, one step ahead of the law, and making friends is impossible.

Emily Bell is mortified about singing a solo at church. It doesn’t matter that her father is a professor of music, she’s a terrible singer. Her Dad insists, she manages to muddle through the song (badly off-key) by locking eyes with the mysterious boy sitting at the very back pew. They make a connection and she gets through her ordeal – barely. The minute she’s finished she rushes outside to be sick. That’s where the mysterious boy (Sam) finds her, holds her hair and tells her it’s going to be ok.

It takes some persistence, but Emily finds Sam again and they become friends. Sam is wary and is protective of Riddle, and tries to shield Emily from his background but gradually, through kindness and attention, Sam becomes part of Emily’s family. Emily’s parents take to the boys – her father discovers that Sam is a musical prodigy and encourages his talent and her mother recognizes that Riddle needs to be treated for asthma and that both boys are desperate for love and family. For the first time in a long time, Sam and Riddle have some hope.

It all comes crashing down when their father discovers that the boys have made friends and he once again snatches them away and goes on the run. The story of the boys struggle to survive their harsh new reality and Emily and her parents search for them will keep you up reading very late at night – Sloan masterfully creates and maintains an almost unbearable tension throughout the book. (I have to make a confession. About two thirds of the way through, I skipped ahead to the end to find out what happened. The tension was just too high, the need to know just too strong. Then I went back and read the part I’d missed!) The characters she creates are amazing – complex and believable. I especially liked the various relationships – especially between Riddle and Emily’s Mom and between Sam and Riddle. They (and the whole book) show that love comes in all sizes and shapes and can save you no matter how bad things look. Read this book – you won’t be disappointed.

 

David Levithan is a prolific YA author whose books I normally enjoy, so I was very interested to see that he released his first novel geared towards adults, called The Lover’s Dictionary.  The format of this book is very unique, as the story is told in short “dictionary” entries.  In each entry, the unnamed narrator defines a word like “ubiquitous”, “autonomy”, and “idea” by describing profound moments (big and little) in his longtime relationship with a woman, who is also unnamed.  Since it’s told through dictionary entries, which are of course alphabetical, the story isn’t told chronologically and it is up to the reader to determine which events happened when.  It’s filled with romance, humor, and heartbreak.

The way this story is told reminds me a lot of the movie 500 Days of Summer, which I loved. The mixed-up timeline is interesting and makes sense with the story rather than feeling like a gimmick.  It allows Levithan to pair the sad moments in the story with the more lighthearted and fun moments of their relationship, which gives the story a nice balance and feels more realistic.  It’s no sugar-coated love story; it feels gritty and real, and Levithan knows how to make you feel it right along with the main character.  If you have enjoyed Levithan’s other books or are looking for a unique and realistic love story, I recommend picking up a copy of this book.

In Heart of the Matter, the latest novel by the popular Emily Giffin, Tessa is a former professor turned stay-at-home mom.  Her husband, Nick, is a renown pediatric surgeon, and in all appearances, the two seem to enjoy a charmed life.  On an evening out to celebrate their anniversary, Nick is suddenly called away to attend to a six-year old burn victim.  The boy’s mother, Valerie, is a high-powered attorney and a single parent, and though both families live in the same Boston suburb, the women seem to have little in common.  In the course of caring for Charlie, through several skin grafts and other surgeries, Nick ‘s devotion to his work soon becomes complicated by his attraction to Valerie.   Meanwhile, Tessa is left on the home front, trying to figure out why Nick is suddenly so distant, and imagining the worst scenario.

Giffin claims that she draws from her own personal experiences and this seems evident in the relationship the women have with their friends and other characters in the novel.  For example, the subtle judgment and conflict often felt by both career women and their soccer-mom counterparts is realistically portrayed.  Plus, one can’t help but wonder if Giffin used her own career days as an attorney in Manhattan to help flesh-out Valerie’s personality.  In all, an enjoyable read, with believable characters caught in untenable circumstances.

 Twenty notable directors collaborated on a wonderful movie that gives a great sense of the French capital, Paris, Je T’Aime, which celebrates Paris and Parisian life in eighteen short films.  Each film is located in a different neighborhood of the city so it gives the viewer a sense of life and love in the “City of Lights.” The films are very similar in that they each contain the same theme of love and explore the cosmopolitan feel of Paris, its residents and the tourists who fill the city.  Each film ends where the other begins and that gives the entire film a sense of continuity. In the chance that you don’t like the current selection all you have to do is wait 5 minutes for the next film. 

Paris, Je T’Aime has an impressive lineup of stars including Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Nick Nolte and Juliette Binoche.  Directors of the short films include Wes Craven, the Coen Brothers and Gus Van Sant.  Ces’t Magnifique! 

Happily settled into a comfortable retirement, Major Pettigrew’s cozy world is shaken up, first by the sudden death of his brother and then by his growing attraction to a local shopkeeper. Because the recently widowed Mrs Ari is of Pakistani descent and worse, is a tradesperson, the small English village where they live is scandalized. Major Pettigrew soon realizes that some things are worth fighting for, despite cultural and family obstacles.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is a charming, witty look at love, set in a seemingly idyllic country village. The humor here is the famously dry wit that has been honed to perfection by the English. Sharply observed issues of race, age and class, of the pull between tradition and modernity, and of the obligations of family create a lively and vivid story that you won’t soon forget.

Short on time?  With just a few minutes you can sneak a little literature into your day with the fourteen-line poems offered by Garrison Keillor in 77 Love Sonnets.  The topics range wider than the title suggests.  And the writings seem to be written off the cuff, not heavily edited, expressing Keillor’s momentary thoughts and takes on places and events.  In “Obama” he conveys his experience as one of the crowd on inauguration day.  In “October” he revels in the security and joys that fiscal security allow.  Among these pages you will discover sonnets that explore each of The Four Loves:  affection, friendship, eros, and charity.

In “Long Career,” Keillor states that “The secret of a long career is simply to not fade….”  This prolific author appears to be taking his own advice by publishing this collection the same year as novels Life Among The Lutherans, Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and A Christmas Blizzard.

moonligh in odessaOdessa is a study of contrasts – a beautiful city situated on the Black Sea whose residents are fiercely proud of its history and culture, it is also wracked by poverty, corruption and the lingering effects of Soviet rule. People are forced to “do what they have to do” to survive such as a doctor that works a second job as a taxi driver, a marine biologist who becomes a mobster, and multiple generations of families living together in tiny, rundown apartments.

Moonlight in Odessa is Daria’s story. Trained as a mechanical engineer, she must take a job as a secretary to keep herself and her Boba (grandmother) alive. Fearing the sexual advances of her employer, she introduces him to her friend Olga who then turns on Daria in a jealous rage. Thinking she’ll soon be out of a job, she agrees to work for a matchmaking service, where lonely American men can meet Odessan women, most of whom are desperate to find a way out of poverty.

Daria is desperate too and, despite her better instincts, gets pulled into a match with an American. What she finds in America – and in herself, her friends and her family – changes her forever and sets her life on a course she could not have imagined.

This is a fascinating look not only at another country and it’s traditions and manners, but at how other countries see America. Daria is smart, witty and gutsy and following the twists and turns of her life choices makes this a real page turner and a wonderful story of a strong woman finding her way.

every last cuckooEvery Last Cuckoo is a tender book which will pull at your heartstrings.  The protagonist is a 75 year old woman, Sarah Lucas, who is still very much in love with her husband, Charles.  When Charles dies unexpectedly (yes, even 80 year olds die unexpectedly) Sarah is left alone in her rural Vermont home, tentatively dealing with her grief and loss.  Yet she is not alone for long.  First, her rebellious granddaughter, Lottie, seeks refuge with Sarah away from her overbearing parents.  Lottie is quickly joined by a few of her friends with family problems of their own.

Others in the community begin to look to Sarah to shelter those in need — to harbor the young mother who has been beaten by her husband — to temporarily house those without heat — to offer quiet sanctuary for an author returned from Israel.  Each finds their way to Sarah’s doorstep and each contributes to the growing household in their own way.  Sarah finds time to take long walks in the woods and to reflect upon her life.  In doing so, the reader also comes to a better understanding of what it means to live, albeit imperfectly, a full and gracious life.  This is an easy read with book club questions included at the end.