At Least You Have Your Health by Madi Sinha

In “At Least You Have Your Health” by Madi Sinha, Dr. Maya Rao is a gynecologist who isn’t completely satisfied with her situation but is working hard to set a foundation to move her career and her family forward. She writes a grant to host community outreach classes about women’s health. It gets rejected. She enrolls her 9-year-old in the best Philadelphia-area private school. Her daughter isn’t fitting in.

The day the grant is rejected, Maya blows up at a patient, who also happens to be the wife of the hospital’s new CFO. Her job at the hospital clinic is over. As luck would have it, another parent at the private school, Amelia DeGilles, offers Maya a job, almost on the spot, with a concierge wellness clinic she runs.

Maya begins making house calls to the wealthiest and most private women in the community. The lines between patient and client become blurred as Maya balances professional ethics with the demands of the clinic’s clients. Some of them insist on healing crystals instead of proven medical treatment. Others reject prescriptions and ultrasounds, in favor of vitamin supplements and good vibes.

As the child of immigrants, Maya has grown up with the expectation of that she must never stop working until she is the best. She is at a point in her life where she is trying to reconcile those expectations with her own desires. She is troubled to find her own desires may align. She has worked hard, why not want a better house, private school for her kids, and a car without a broken side mirror? Maya is flawed but relatable, trying to balance family and work, expectations and reality.

Easy to label as the villain, Amelia DeGilles is written with nuance and compassion. Her personal history of misdiagnosis explains her desire to empower woman to make their own medical decisions at her wellness clinic. It is easy to see why Maya and Amelia are drawn together into a fast friendship and business partnership.

Even though he was supposed to be an easy-going academic, Maya’s husband, Dean, did not appeal to me at all. They never have a conversation about him taking on any parenting duties. He doesn’t do kid drop-offs or pickups and whines the one time he has to take an afternoon off his work to attend to the kids. Maya subscribes to a meal kit service; Dean complains that no one eats the healthier food. Maya wants to switch the kid’s violin instructor; Dean says it’s too expensive. Dean doesn’t do anything but criticize Maya’s desire of upward mobility. Perhaps he’s supposed to be the voice of reason, but he comes across as dismissive. It’s easy to think, “We’ll be fine, stop worrying,” when your spouse is taking care of all the logistics of running a home and family, besides her own — more lucrative — career.

Overall, I thought “At Least You Have Your Health” was a face-paced, entertaining novel. There are nudges of the book that deal with classism, racism, and medical care access that give the story some weight. I loved the fluffier interactions between Maya and her entitled patients / clients. I found myself rooting for Maya, her career, and her kids. Even though she stumbled, she finds her way again.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

nightingaleAfter their mother dies and their father virtually abandons them, Vianne and Isabelle must learn to forge their own way. Vianne marries and starts a family in an idyllic country setting outside of Paris while Isabelle becomes rebellious, expelled from one boarding school after another. When the Germans occupy Paris in 1939, Isabelle is sent to live with her sister but the horrifying experiences of escaping with other refugees opens Isabelle’s eyes to the pain and suffering the war will bring.

The changes brought by the Germans are inexorable – the men are sent away to prison camps, food is rationed, soldiers are billeted in private homes, valuables ruthlessly taken, Jews and other “subversives” are persecuted then transferred to prison camps. Vianne, in the countryside, desperately walks a line between loyalty to her friends and neighbors while remaining unseen by the occupying soldiers. Isabelle joins the French Underground and risks her life again and again in an effort to make a difference. Their stories intertwine as they struggle to survive and protect those they love.

There are a lot – a lot – of books about World War II both fiction and non-fiction. It’s one of the most popular subject areas at the library. And while most of us learned the basic facts about the war from school and history books – dates, countries, famous battles – the stories of what it was like to actually live through the war are slowly disappearing as that generation ages and passes away. The Nightingale may be a dramatic, fictional account of living in war torn France, but the messages it sends are very real – remember for those that no longer can. What they did to survive, to change the course of events, whether big or small, mattered. We should not forget.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

first frostIt’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree… and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections – rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds – are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts. Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby – a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has. Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen’s enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins. (description from publisher)

Delicious by Ruth Reichl

deliciousIn Ruth Reichl’s first novel Delicious!, Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water – until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends.

Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills. To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love. (description from publisher)

Delicious  is also available for check out as a free ebook through the RiverShare Digital Library.

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

big little liesSometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . . A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest ( how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive. (description from publisher)

On the Rocks by Erin Duffy

on the rocksEver since she was a little girl, Abby Wilkes dreamed of her wedding, the day when she’d wear a pretty white dress and look like a princess. . . . But that was before her life fell apart for the entire world to see. Her longtime boyfriend-turned-fiancé, Ben, unceremoniously dumped her – changing his status to single on Facebook – while she was trying on the most gorgeous Vera Wang dress for the big day in On the Rocks by Erin Duffy.

Six months and twenty pounds later, the usual remedies–cupcakes, a freezer stocked with pints of Ben and Jerry’s, sweatpants, and a comfy couch–haven’t worked their magic. Worried about her best friend, Grace devises the perfect plan to get Abby back on her game. The two of them are going to escape sweltering Boston and its reminders of Ben and head to Newport for the summer. In a quaint rented cottage by the sea, the girls will enjoy cool breezes, cocktails, and crowds of gorgeous men. But no matter which way they turn, Abby and Grace discover that in this era of social media – when seemingly everyone is preserving every last detail of their lives online and prying eyes are everywhere – there is no real escape.

Truth to tell, dating has never been easy. But now that the rules have changed and the boundaries are blurred beyond recognition, will they ever find true love? And if they do, how can romance stand a chance when a girl’s every word and move can go viral with a single click? As the summer winds down to Labor Day, Abby will make some surprising discoveries – about love, men, friendship . . . and, most important, herself. (description from publisher)

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

calling invisible womenCalling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray is a delightfully funny novel packing a clever punch.

A mom in her early fifties, Clover knows she no longer turns heads the way she used to, and she’s only really missed when dinner isn’t on the table on time. Then Clover wakes up one morning to discover she’s invisible – truly invisible. She panics, but when her husband and son sit down to dinner, nothing is amiss. Even though she’s been with her husband, Arthur, since college, her condition goes unnoticed. Her friend Gilda immediately observes that Clover is invisible, which relieves Clover immensely – she’s not losing her mind after all! – but she is crushed by the realization that neither her husband nor her children ever truly look at her. She was invisible even before she knew she was invisible. Clover discovers that there are other women like her, women of a certain age who seem to have disappeared. As she uses her invisibility to get to know her family and her town better, Clover leads the way in helping invisible women become recognized and appreciated no matter what their role.

Smart and hilarious, with indomitable female characters, Calling Invisible Women will appeal to anyone who has ever felt invisible. (description from publisher)

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg

tapestry of fortunesElizabeth Berg’s newest is about Cece, a motivational speaker, and her  friendships,  Tapestry of Fortunes has a romantic thread but mostly it’s about Cece and her best friend, Penney,  and later about a new set of friends.

Cece decides to make changes in her priorities – travel more, work less, and downsize. She sells her house and moves into a house with three other women.

The book is also about change and renewal when one’s circumstances take an unexpected turn. Cece and her roommates take a road trip in order to deal with unresolved relationships – driving from Minneapolis to Winona and Des Moines and Cleveland, stopping along the way to visit diners, bowling alleys and oddball museums.

Berg writes with customary directness and immediacy.The reader gets a  motivational boost and a bit of bibliotherapy, too.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

The Chaperone is a captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922 and the summer that would change them both.

Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.

Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s,’30s, and beyond–from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers, and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women–Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them. (description from publisher)

Stay by Allie Larkin

This book is a lovely mix of what a romantic comedy should be – light and funny with some undertones of seriousness. Stay by Allie Larkin will make you laugh (out loud), think about some of the big issues in life (without sending you into a tailspin) and wrap it all up with a happy ending.

Savannah (“Van”) Leone has long been in love with her college pal Peter, but he falls for Van’s best friend Janie instead. Van is forced to stand by (as the Maid of Honor) and watch them get married, leaving her to her lonely life. In a fit of self-pity, she gets drunk while watching a marathon of Rin Tin Tin movies and gets it into her head that she needs a German Shepherd that will save her and always be with her. A little drunk-googling soon finds her the perfect puppy and before she can sober up, she’s bought a dog.

Imagine Van’s surprise when the expected cute little puppy turns out to be a huge, nearly full-grown, black, long-haired beast. Who only understands Slovakian commands. And takes over half the bed in no time flat. At first Van is terrified, but Joe (as she renames him) worms his way into her heart almost as quickly as the bed and he turns out to be exactly what she needs – someone who sticks with her no matter what, who makes life more interesting and a lot more fun, someone who will love her back. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Joe’s new vet is super gorgeous and available!)

The romance here is pretty predictable – girl-has-heart-broken, girl-meets-cute-guy, girl-and-cute-guy-have-issues, girl-and-cute-guy-overcome-issues, happy-ending. But the characters are likeable and realistic with messy, imperfect lives who try hard to be better. Van’s continuing struggle with her grief over her Mother’s death and her search for her own “family” adds depth and complexity.  The real charm of the book though is Joe with his cheerful personality and big heart. And in no time,  just like Van, you’ll fall in love with Joe too.