Friday, July 31, 2015

The Marriage of Opposites

Title:  The Marriage of Opposites
Author:  Alice Hoffman
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2015. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1451693591 / 978-1451693591

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I always left my window open at night, despite the warnings I'd been given."

Favorite Quote:  "There are those who say that heaven and hell are not so far apart. They are not at opposite ends of the world beyond ours, only a step away from one another."

Rachel Pomié. Rachel Pomié Petit. Rachel Pomié Petit Pizzarro. Formidable names that track the trajectory of the life of a formidable woman. Rachel Pizzarro's claim to fame, so to speak, is the fact that she was the mother of Camille Pissarro, world-renowned artist who was one of the founders of the Impressionist art movement. Much has been written about Camille Pissarro, who was originally born Jacobo Camille Pizzarro in 1830 on the island of St. Thomas. (No, that is not a typo. Yes, he changed the spelling of his name.) Very little has previously been written on Rachel Pizzaro.

Note that this is a work of historical fiction not a biography. As the afterword of the book states, "Rachel Pizzarro's life in my imagined story mirrors the known facts about her as closely as possible ... The stories of the Pizzarros' West Indian employees, neighbors, and friends are invented..." But what a story Alice Hoffman builds off the few facts of Rachel Pizzaro's life!

The background of Rachel's life is the tropical St. Thomas setting, her Jewish faith, and her friendship with the African maid's daughter. Religious persecution, religious bigotry, mysticism, a small community, racism, slavery, and the business of rum and molasses provide the undercurrents to Rachel's life. A strong-willed nature, friendship, and love in its myriad, complicated forms provide the mainstay of her life. The story is one about rules and constrictions and about who choose to live by their own convictions, sometimes happily so and sometimes with dire results.

The first half of the book is entirely Rachel's story - her childhood, her acrimonious relationship with her mother, her young marriage that is more a business merger, her jump into motherhood when she is but a girl herself, the discovery of the love of her life, and the trials and happiness that love brings. Along the way are countless joys and sorrows.

Almost exactly halfway through the book, the story shifts to Camille Pissarro's perspective. The switch is abrupt and jarring. I almost step away from the book because I don't want to know about Camille Pissaro; I want to know more about Rachel. I persevere, and the threads of the story come together, coming full circle back to Rachel. The ending is not what I expected and not very satisfactory. I want more, but since that is indeed the history, it is what it is.

The story moves at a languid, tropical pace. Alice Hoffman's masterful writing brings the story together word by word. It's as if stitch by stitch, a whole tapestry emerges. I am submerged into the beautiful setting, feeling the heat of the sun, the wonder of the sea, and beauty of the jungle. I am also completely engaged into the joys and heartaches of not just Rachel but also this entire small community. This is true whether I agree with the characters of not or even whether I like them at the moment or not. Regardless, I am captivated by the writing and left wishing there was still more to read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Circling the Sun

Title:  Circling the Sun
Author:  Paula McLain
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2015. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0345534182 / 978-0345534187

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I've known, and somehow mine to fly."

Favorite Quote:  "'I think I'd always been looking for an escape route.'
'Escape from what?'
'I don't know. Any tight-fitting definition of what a life should be, I suppose. Or what I should be in it.'"

Beryl Markham was an unconventional woman, especially for the times in which she lived. Racehorse trainer. Adventurer. Bush pilot. Pioneer. Author. First woman to fly across the Atlantic from east to west in a solo flight. (The east to west is significant for that direction is considered to be much harder for the pilot flies against the currents.) These are some of the epithets that can be applied to her.

The content of this book has been compared to West with the Night, Beryl Markham's own memoir published in 1942 and the 1937 book Out of Africa written by Karen Blixen under her pen name Isak Dineson. The first I have not read and the second I read too long ago to offer a comparison. I do know that the main characters of Out of Africa, Karen Blixen and her lover Denys Finch Hatton, are both key characters in Circling the Sun. However, both West with the Night and Out of Africa are personal accounts of a period in each author's life. Circling the Sun is a work of historical fiction as was The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Read the book with that fact in mind for Beryl Markham's life does make for a great story.

The story focuses on two facets of Beryl Markham's life - her adventurous pursuits and her many relationships. Her adventures began early. Although born in England, Beryl moves to Kenya at a very young age with her parents. Beryl's life is forever altered when her mother deserted her at a very young age to return to England. Her childhood is spent surrounded by her father's love, his horse farm, and the native community who took to caring for the motherless girl. The book tells the stories of horse riding, lion attacks, hunting, and many other adventures. The ups and downs of life lead to Beryl reinventing herself many times over in her life, from farm owner to pauper to the companion of a rich man to a renowned horse trainer in her own right to bush pilot.

All along the way come relationships - a childhood friendship, marriages, love affairs, commitments of convenience, an abortion, and a child. Some are notorious, some shocking, and some just sad. Many become a means to an end - respectability, security, and a chance to pursue her adventures. For the most part, it is these relationships that become the focus of this book. More time is spent on the emotional ups and downs rather than the adventure story of Beryl Markham's life, which to me is the more interesting story.

Underlying her entire life, of course, is the story of Kenya, of Africa. Unfortunately, this book does not delve deeply into Africa - its beauty or its history. The characters of these settlers to Africa come alive in this book; the place unfortunately does not. The setting is there, but the focus of the book is clearly the characters and the emotional plot line.

Paula McLain has penned another wonderful description of a historical figure. Wonder whose life she will attempt next?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Americans

Title:  The Americans
Author:  Chitra Viraraghavan
Publication Information:  Fourth Estate India. 2015. 296 pages.
ISBN:  9351369854 / 978-9351369851

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The kid screamed as if someone had cut open a vein."

Favorite Quote:  "There always seemed to be a larger story in which they were minor characters. When would they be free to have their own stories?"

The back cover copy of this book reads, "a poignant and universal story about the immigrant experience and the search for identity." A hefty premise and one that has been beautifully handled in other books such as The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez. This book deals with immigrants from India.

This book unfortunately fails to deliver on the promise of insight into the immigrant experience. It does not work for me for several reasons.

First is the structure of the story. The book proceeds chapter by chapter through almost a dozen points of view. The dozen different stories have only one commonality - the young woman Tara who is a visitor to the United States. Other than that, the stories proceed independently. Often times, the connection is too tangential to hold the book together in a cohesive whole. I find myself getting lost and have to think back to remember the story line being picked up in any given chapter.

Second is the nature of the stories. The individual perspectives exhibit so many different facets of life - marriage, pull between motherhood and career, pull between parent and child, and a differently able child to name a few. While the issues are important ones to the human experience, in this book they overshadow the main thrust of the story which is supposed to be the immigrant experience. That gets lost in the other stories.

Third is how the immigrant experience is addressed when it is the direct focus of the book. For example, the direct statement "These damn people, was the problem with America" appears in italics and is attributed to the internal thoughts of a police officer. Does prejudice exist? Yes, of course it does. It exists everywhere in the world. In a book about the immigrant experience, that can be demonstrated in many different ways that would be considerably more effective than an overt statement such as this one. The fact that this statement occurs in the middle of an over the top absurd situation makes it even less effective as a depiction of true immigrant experience. Picture a woman in a robe rushing out, grabbing the first stranger to help find her niece, grabbing another young man to help, and then running into a police raid. Admittedly, people can act irrationally in a moment of panic, but this description goes a bit too far.

Finally is the writing style itself. This book is quite descriptive in nature. For example, a Mustang (the car) is described as it "sparkled in the afternoon sunshine, sweet as a jam tart." A jam tart. In another spot, a half a page is devoted to a character's groceries as he walks through the store and puts items in his cart. Another description states, "He could see roads come together and go apart like bright strands of spaghetti, and the cars on them crawling like bugs."

This book is not quite a collection of short stories, but it is also not quite a novel for it never comes together in a single whole. It also is not the insight into the immigrant experience that the cover seems to indicate. Ultimately, it is unfortunately not the book for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Last Bus to Wisdom

Title:  Last Bus to Wisdom
Author:  Ivan Doig
Publication Information:  Riverhead Books. 2015. 464 pages.
ISBN:  1594632022 / 978-1594632020

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The town of Gros Ventre was so far from anywhere that you had to take a bus to catch the bus."

Favorite Quote:  "Doubt was eating away at my courage pretty fast."

Ivan Doig was the author of fourteen books, a finalist for the National Book Award, and a winner of the Wallace Stegner Award for his contribution to writings about the west. Last Bus to Wisdom is his final book, soon to be published posthumously. Ivan Doig passed away on April 9, 2015 at the age of 75.

In an interview with The Seattle Times, Dr. Doig had this to say about his writing, "I developed an abiding interest in the trait called character and its even more seductive flowering into a plural form, characters.” Last Bus to Wisdom is the only of his works that I have read, but this focus on characters certainly holds true. In two bus rides and an eleven year old boy's story, the book covers a vast array of characters from the Montana Rockies to Wisconsin and back again.

The base of the story is eleven year old Donal Cameron. He is being raised on a ranch by his grandmother, who is the ranch cook. However, she is ill and about to be hospitalized. This character perhaps is a nod to Dr. Doig's own mother, who was a ranch cook and who died when he was only six years old.

Because of her illness, Donal's grandmother. is shipping him off to her sister's home in Wisconsin. By himself. On a bus. The choice is either that or foster care. Kate in Wisconsin is family, no matter how different she may be from her sister.

She packs him clothing, a little money, and a memory book. Donal collects autographs in a memory book. This becomes the anchor for people's stories all through his journey. His interactions with the people he meets almost become character vignettes, all about ordinary people living their lives and doing the best that they can. Along with the characters comes Donal's tall tales about his own background, which "came to me from somewhere, natural as drawing breath."

Wisconsin brings him Aunt Kate, or rather "The Kate", and her husband Herman the German. The transition does not go well for Kate is nothing like her sister. So, after only a couple of eventful weeks, Kate puts him on a bus back to Montana. Imagine his surprise when he finds Herman the German on the bus with him for he too has had enough. This leads to further escapades, as Donal and Herman fall from one misadventure into another. Each adventure introduces a cast of well drawn characters and even more inscriptions in Donal's memory book.

The premise of the book is far-fetched. The adventures Donal gets into are rather tall-tales. Yet, his escapades, the words people write in his memory book, and even his tall tales have me suspending disbelief and smiling throughout. Donal's situation is not one to smile about, but the story has a sweet charm. Somehow, all throughout I believe that things are going to work out for Donal. The slow pace and descriptive nature of the book keeps the focus solely on the characters. More than Donal's precarious situation, the 1950s time frame, the setting of the West, and the quirky characters become the lasting impression of this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Between the World and Me

Title:  Between the World and Me
Author:  Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publication Information:  Spiegel & Grau. 2015. 176 pages.
ISBN:  0812993543 / 978-0812993547

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness.

Opening Sentence:  "Son, Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body."

Favorite Quote:  "This is the core of so much hatred - hate gives identity. The ...., the ..., the ... [insert some hateful words here] illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, and by naming them we are confirmed within the consensus."

The back cover copy of this book poses a question. "What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?" In a letter to his teenage son, Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to describe an answer. An answer with centuries of history. An answer with questions and reflections for all of us. An answer that has me rushing through the book and at the same time pausing to re-read so that I can fully absorb what is being said.

I finished reading this book in a day. Immediately, I turn back to the beginning and start reading again. That is the power and emotion captured in these words. It leaves a lasting impression.

Ta-Nehisi Coates was born and raised in a segregated Baltimore. He grew up with family and love but also surrounded by and constantly aware of violence. Education brought him to Howard University, which he refers to as "the Mecca." He has since developed quite a reputation for his writing and journalism.

More than history, this book is a book of philosophy and a reflection on life. As such, the writing has a poetic, lyrical quality to it rather than a barrage of facts. The writing is meditative rather than an outright statement as to views, events, and policies. Are the facts there? Some but definitely not all. The book assumes a knowledge of events - current and historical, and it presents his views and interpretations on those events. Are the emotions there? Yes, absolutely. The book captures and presents them in a powerful way.

Several themes repeat throughout the book:
  • The Body - The idea of losing the body or being unable to protect the body. It reinforces the idea of a physical fear. This approach also makes the thoughts intensely personal and simultaneously universal. What can possibly be more precious than our own bodies, and yet, "the body" can refer to any and all people.
  • The Dream - The white picket fence and the house in the suburbs that is the epitome of America. The dream also symbolizes an idealism or a naivete that does not give recognition to the harsh reality of our world.
  • People who believe they are white -  The idea that awareness of race grows out of racism and a need to differentiate ourselves from others rather than the other way around. Physical differences do not create racism; people and ideologies create racism.
His ultimate advice to his son:  "This is your country, ... this is your world, ... this is your body, and you must find some way to live with all of it."

Mr. Coates acknowledges these words to be his reality. His views unapologetic and strongly stated. "My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own." Toni Morrison has deemed this book "required reading." This book will assuredly garner strong opinions - both from those who agree and disagree with the ideas presented. Therein too lies the power of the ideas. Whether you agree with his words or not, this book will leave you thinking.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Among the Ten Thousand Things

Title:  Among the Ten Thousand Things
Author:  Julia Pierpont
Publication Information:  Random House. 2015. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0812995228 / 978-0812995220

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Dear Deborah, Do you go by Deborah?"

Favorite Quote:  "We thought we were living in between-time, after this and before that, but it's the between-time that lasted."

What if you knew your husband was cheating on you for months? What if you did nothing? What if your husband's ex-mistress sends you a package full of letters and messages your husband sent her? What if many of these messages are explicit and filthy? What if your eleven year old daughter and your fifteen year old son are the ones to find the package? What if they read the contents? What if they bring it to you? What then do you do?

This is the powerful beginning of Among the Ten Thousand Things, the debut novel by Julia Pierpont. Unfortunately, the opening scenes are also the highlight of the book for me. The remainder of the book focuses on reactions and perspectives - Jack the husband, Deb the wife, Simon the fifteen year old, and Kay the eleven year old. The book becomes about a family who has fallen apart but who stays together, held together by children and history. It becomes a character-driven novel about survival and about how much you are willing to tolerate to hold a family together.

But do they stay together? Why or why not? Those are the questions that have me engaged and wondering through the first part of the book.

"The end is never a surprise. People say, Don't tell me, Don't spoil it, and then later they say, If only I'd known..." So ends Part 2 of this book, which is titled "That Year and Those That Followed." What it should be titled is "spoiler alert." Part 1 of the book sets up the heartache of this family and keeps the reader wondering as to the choices this couple will make. Part 2 tells you how it all ends and what eventually happens to each member of this family. It answers the question of whether or not Jack and Deb stay together. Part 3 picks up where Part 1 ends. Part 4 goes back to the end and what eventually happens.

I completely do not understand this structure. It seems a deliberate attempt to make the book more literally; unfortunately, for me, it makes it less of a story. In this case, I want the ending to be a surprise. If the objective of the book is a portrait of a family making their way through infidelity and betrayal, I want to experience that journey and then be caught up in where they end. Once I know the end, I have trouble engaging in how they get there.

The likelihood of being engaged in the story may be higher if the characters are likable or at least sympathetic. In this case, they are neither. Jack is a self-absorbed and narcissistic artist. It's all about him. Deb plods along; by not doing anything, she makes a choice. She learns of Jack's infidelity months before, but chooses to do nothing for she likes being married and cannot imagine a divorce. Her lack of action becomes a choice. Her realization when the package arrives is that by doing nothing, she has become equally guilty for the harm it brings to her children. Simon and Kay could be the heart-wrenching innocents in this situation except that other troubles - drugs, teenage angst, bullying - beyond their parent's marriage plague them already. Too much is happening in their little lives for the focus to remain on the impact of their father's betrayal. A character-driven book without characters that engage you emotionally is a tough sell for me.

The book has a beautiful cover, an intriguing title, an emotional premise, and a strong beginning. Unfortunately, the rest of the execution for me does not quite live up to the promise of the beginning.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World

Title:  Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World
Author:  Rachel Swaby
Publication Information:  Broadway Books. 2015. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0553446797 / 978-0553446791

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Blogging for Books.

Opening Sentence:  "This book about scientists began with beef stroganoff."

Favorite Quote:  "The idea of 'women and science' is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientists or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view." (quote attributed to inventor and physicist Hertha Ayrton)

The Apgar score for assessing newborns. A viable treatment for leprosy. Communication technology that forms the basis of today's GPS technology. Discovery of the world's first ichthyosaur fossil. The first American discovery of a comet and its orbit. Behind all these scientific discoveries are amazing scientists who dedicated their lives to their work. Amazing scientists who happen to be women. Amazing scientists who often struggled and who often did not get credit for their work because they were women.

The introduction of the book is clear as to its purpose. Its aim is to provide a breadth of knowledge about the contribution of scientists who were women. It takes a survey approach to introducing readers to fifty-two scientists. Each scientist's life and contributions is individually captured in a brief sketch, only a few pages long. Each individual sketch, in a few pages, presents some highlights of the scientist's career and some of challenges she faced as a woman in science. Should you want to learn more, the book provides notes and a bibliography listing a variety of additional resources organized by the name of the scientist as they appear in the book; the book unfortunately does not include any pictures of these scientists. It would be lovely to have a face to match the name, and I find myself looking up those images as I read.

The author does not claim an exhaustive list of scientists but rather applies the following criteria for inclusion in the book:
  • "Their ideas, discoveries, and insights made earth-shaking changes to the way we see the world."
  • "Narrative [the story of a scientist beyond her career] needed to be the twin pillar of achievement."
  • "The book includes only scientists whose life's work has already been completed."
The notable exception to these criteria is Marie Curie, who is not included in this book because she is such an iconic representation of women in science. This book seeks to address those not as well known.

With these clear expectations, the book jumps in to individual biographical sketches. The fifty-two scientists are grouped by major area of work:  medicine, biology and the environment, genetics and development, physics, earth and stars, math and technology, and invention. Within each section, the sketches are organized chronologically by the birth year of the scientist. I recognize some names. For many more, I recognize the scientific achievement but not the scientists behind them. I am sorry to say that this book has many names I do not know. That perhaps reinforces the author's premise that so many of these scientists have not gotten the recognition they deserve for their work. A short sketch is just enough to be introduced to them.

The book sets clear expectations on what it is - an introduction to the work of 52 amazing scientists - and what it is not - a detailed biography of any one scientist. It then proceeds to deliver concisely and precisely on those expectations. As such, it is a great resource "as girls in science look around for role models" or as anyone wishes for inspiration for scientific endeavors.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Rooted in Design: Sprout Home's Guide to Creative Indoor Planting

Title:  Rooted in Design: Sprout Home's Guide to Creative Indoor Planting
Author:  Tara Heibel, Tassy De Give
Publication Information:  Ten Speed Press. 2015. 224 pages.
ISBN:  1607746972 / 978-1607746973

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Blogging for Books!

Opening Sentence:  "Lush, living greenery is undoubtedly beneficial to so many aspects of our lives."

Favorite Quote:  "Living with indoor plants is a way to create a more calming and natural environment in your home."

Rooted in Design is the creation of garden designers Tara Heibel and Tassy de Give. Together, they head up the Sprout Home garden design centers, now located in Chicago and Brooklyn. Sprout Home provides design services for gardens and special events.

This book is not what I expected. The subtitle references "creative indoor planting." The back cover copy states, "Transform your home with one-of-a-king green creations." Based on the background of the authors and these descriptions, I expect to see creative uses of plants in room designs. The introduction however states a different goal, "This book focuses on the joy of choosing, caring for, and displaying indoor plants, while guiding you through some of their challenges so you can delight in all the benefits indoor gardening offers." In other words, this is a gardening book more than it is a book of design.

This book jumps into the details of gardening how to appropriate for a novice gardener - appropriate container, soil, drainage, light, pruning, etc. With the word "Design" in the title, I expected more ... well, more design in the book. I expected more of a discussion about topics such as how to incorporate plants into an overall design plan for a room or how to choose and design plantings for a particular "look." I expected more of a resource list beyond the Sprout Home locations and a very short list of websites. I expected the many images included in the book to have much more of a "wow" factor as design books do or at least be more than simply images of plants in a variety of containers. Those elements are lacking in this book.

The book is organized by where in your space you may want to place plants:  on the wall, on the ledge, on the floor, in the air, on the table, in the kitchen, or undercover in a terrarium. A final chapter presents the fundamentals of plant care for novice gardeners. The organization around plant placement assumes that the design decision about how plants may work best in a room has already been made. Much of the advice in each section takes the following forms - questions about what you (the reader/gardener) want, things to consider, and statements about if you want ..., then... Again, this structure is about the implementation of a design rather than the design process needed to determine what role plants may play in a room design.

Some of the information also appears relatively commonplace for a book on gardening design. For example, the book includes directions on creating a macramé plant holder. Is that look back in style? It also has a do-it-yourself project for creating self-watering planter out of a two-liter soda bottle - useful, perhaps; part of a artistic, aesthetically designed plant scape, probably not.

The authors clearly know their plants and how to create a garden; I would love to see a book that truly documents their design ideas or images of entire actual projects. This book is not bad, but it is not the inspiration the title implies.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Maybe in Another Life

Title:  Maybe in Another Life
Author:  Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publication Information:  Washington Square Press. 2015. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1476776881 / 978-1476776880

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It's a good thing I booked an aisle seat, because I'm the last one on the plane."

Favorite Quote:  "It doesn't matter if we don't mean to do the things we do. It doesn't matter if it was an accident or a mistake. It doesn't even matter if we think this is all up to fate. Because regardless of our destiny, we still have to answer for our actions. We make choices, big and small, every day of our lives, and those choices have consequences. We hat to face those consequences head on, for better or worse. We don't get to erase them just by saying we didn't mean to. Fate or not, our lives are still the results of our choices. I'm starting to think that when we don't own them, we don't own ourselves."

We think it's the big choices - home, job, relationship - that determine our lives. They do but only to an extent. The big decisions come along at certain junctures in our lives, but we make a multitude of small decisions every single day. What if I go left instead of right? What if I say yes instead of no? What if I stay in instead of going out? What if....? What if....?  How many of these small decisions forever alter the direction of our lives? Which of these little choices send us in a completely different direction than the opposite choice? Taylor Jenkins Reid looks at these question through the eyes of the character Hannah Martin.

At age 29, Hannah Martin is trying to find her perfect life. She has moved city to city, finally returning after a failed relationship to the place of her childhood. Hannah is back in California, reconnecting with her best friend Gabby and an old boyfriend. On her first evening home, she sees friends, including her school boyfriend Ethan. At the end of the evening, a choice presents itself. Does she go home when Gabby and her husband leave or does she stay out with Ethan? Little does she realize that her entire life depends on this one little choice.

The remainder of the book follows the two possible paths Hannah travels in her life, all hinging on this one seemingly inconsequential choice. In short alternating chapters, the book presents what happens along each path - not just for Hannah but for the people surrounding her. The ripple effects of Hannah's life reach far beyond her. In what is an easy to read, light hearted story, the author explores philosophical questions. Are our lives determined by choice or chance? Are certain things meant to be no matter what choices we make?

What makes this book really work is that the characters of Hannah and her best friend Gabby ring true. Hannah is perfectly imperfect. At times, her choices are deplorable. In her late twenties, she is drifting. She is indecisive and unsure of what she wants in life. She still dreams of a true soul mate and a happily ever after. She loves her family but sometimes cannot be around them. She has made big mistakes in her life, and then started over. She is slowly coming to conclusion that sometimes " don't need the answer. You just need an answer."

All throughout, she has had her best friend Gabby by her side. Unlike Hannah, Gabby has made the stable big choices - career, marriage, and a close knit family relationship. However, it appears that she is no less adrift than Hannah for our choices many times have unforeseen consequences. Sometimes, "life is unpredictable beyond measure."

Romance, love and relationships form a part of this story, but the main theme remains that of choices and consequences. The book is perfect for a casual, vacation read, but also has enough depth to make you think and leave you contemplating your own small choices.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.