REVIEW: HOW IT ALL BEGAN, BY PENELOPE LIVELY

 

When Charlotte Rainsford, a retired schoolteacher, is accosted by a petty thief on a London street, the consequences ripple across the lives of acquaintances and strangers alike. A marriage unravels after an illicit love affair is revealed through an errant cell phone message; a posh yet financially strapped interior designer meets a business partner who might prove too good to be true; an old-guard historian tries to recapture his youthful vigor with an ill-conceived idea for a TV miniseries; and a middle-aged central European immigrant learns to speak English and reinvents his life with the assistance of some new friends.

Through a richly conceived and colorful cast of characters, Penelope Lively explores the powerful role of chance in people’s lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet.


My Thoughts: From the very first page of How It All Began, we are caught up in a series of events, beginning with the mugging of Charlotte Rainsford, and rippling forward to people she knows…and then to total strangers.

How we can all be connected by an event was a fascinating exploration. I liked how the author showed us the various characters as they meandered down the pathways that were affected by this one seemingly irrelevant moment in one woman’s life.

There was Rose, Charlotte’s daughter, who takes her in after the mugging and whose life is changed.

Another random connection occurs when Rose’s boss Henry asks his niece Marion to attend a luncheon with him when Rose cannot. A text Marion sends to Jeremy, a married lover, upends his marriage.

Numerous vignettes that spotlight how these several lives are changed kept my interest up, and while the story was not one I loved, I definitely enjoyed it. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE IDEA OF YOU, BY AMANDA PROWSE

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.

But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah’s teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn’t have. Jonah’s love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy’s struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille’s presence straining the bonds of Lucy’s marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…

This heart-wrenchingly poignant family drama from bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: in today’s hectic world, what does it mean to be a mother?

My Thoughts: In an opening prologue, we are swept back to Lucy’s past and an event that will hover over everything that happens to her afterwards. The event is somewhat ambiguous, and we don’t learn all the details until later.

I felt such sadness for all of Lucy’s dreams that are lost, one by one, and also for the unfortunate timing of her stepdaughter Camille’s arrival. Camille is often rude and volatile, but then, just as we decide to hate her, she turns on a dime and becomes appealing and vulnerable.

What will happen when Camille faces her own troublesome crossroads, needing support from parental figures, and Lucy is in a position to offer a unique brand of assistance? How will Lucy’s revelations impact her own marriage? Will Lucy’s secret past open up the lines of communication with her mother?

Set in and near London, The Idea of You gripped my emotions from the beginning, as I rooted for Lucy and Jonah, and then for Camille, as they each hoped and dreamed for a cozy and happy life.

The characters felt like real people, all of whom I wanted to know. A 5 star read, and recommended for those who enjoy family drama, with plenty of issues to address.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

 

REVIEW: AFTER THE PARTY, BY LISA JEWELL

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Ralph McLeary and Jemima Catterick (Jem) began as flatmates, somewhat serendipitously, during the mid-nineties. Jem was actually the girlfriend of Smith, one of the others in the flat.

Then on one smashing night at the art gallery where Ralph showed his work, they got together in what they still often remember as a fabulous party, and they felt like soul mates. As if life before was nothing compared to what would come now.

Living in London, and moving from one flat to another, life was good. Ralph did a series of paintings featuring Jem that brought in quite a bit of money.

But then Jem got pregnant. Was that when everything started to change for them?

But the lovely Scarlett was adorable, and life continued to be good. But then there were more pregnancies and miscarriages, and finally Blake came along. But by then, the luster had faded from the sparkling duo of Ralph and Jem.

Alternately told by Ralph and Jem, the story of their relationship, which was a partnership but not a marriage, is revealed with all its flaws and cracks. Back and forth, during the eleventh and twelfth years of their time together, we watch the connections slowly disintegrate. We see the temptations, the choices that drive them further apart, and then, finally, we discover what will become of them.

What was the straw that finally broke them? Was it the inequities of their partnership? Was it other people, like the single dad from the playground that seems to be stalking them? Or was it time, and a failure to communicate?

Like many stories about long term relationships, After the Party reveals much about what makes a love story work, and what must be done to repair the connections. An enjoyable story that felt real, with characters I cared about. Parts of the story seemed a bit redundant, and I was often frustrated by their inability to do what was necessary, but it was definitely a book that I will think about. 4.5 stars.