Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A Family Affair

A Family Affair
  A Family Affair
Author:  Robyn Carr
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2022. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0778331911 / 978-0778331919

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and HTP Winter 2022 Women's Fiction blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Anna McNichol gently grasped her mother's bent, arthritic hands."

Favorite Quote:  "When it was good, it was very good ... When it was bad, I became an overachiever."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Anna McNichol is a successful attorney, who has found her passion as a judge in domestic cases. She herself has just been widowed. Her husband Chad goes on a trip and is killed in an accident. She and Chad have been married for a long time. They raised three children who are now adults. Jessie is a physician and ever the over achiever. Michael teaches and coaches high school, and he is forever his mother's champion. Elizabeth faces her challenges, diagnosed with autism as a child; her parent's support and her own perseverance lead her to an independent life as an adult. All three have relationships in their adult lives to varying degrees of success. All three bear the mark of their upbringing.

From the outside looking in, Anna and Chad are "the" couple. Each successful in their own right. Each supportive of the other. Together with a wholesome family life and their love for each yet.

And, yet, as we all know, life when the door closes often does not match the vision. That is what this book explores. It begins with Chad's death and the fact that Anna sees a pregnant woman at the funeral. Who is she, and why is she there? Turns out Anna has history that cause her to worry. The reading of the will brings further surprise and another layers to what really lies beneath Chad and Anna's life.

The book then proceeds to examine these family relationships and the changes they undergo based on Chad's death and based on the discoveries after. Part way through, the book takes an unexpected left turn. It still explores the same things but adds the element of realization that each one of us has a limited amount of time - sometimes more limited than we think.

The setup works for a family drama and for real life relationships and emotions. Unfortunately, for me, the unfolding of the story seems less real. It feels forced as if the point being made takes over the telling of the story which would leave the same lesson. It is just all too much.

Each main character - Anna and each of her three children - have their own story line that centers on the dysfunctional past of the family. However, that becomes the only memorable facet of each character. Anna stays in a marriage and survives. Jessie cannot sustain a relationship. Michael is afraid of not living up to his idealized version of his father. While I applaud the attempt to include a neurodiverse character, that is about the only thing I learn about Elizabeth. The story ricochets between each of these character traits without developing the character or the story further. Scattered in between are a couple of graphic scenes which don't help.

The most interesting character in the book is perhaps Amy, whose story is sadly only told tangentially through the other four. 

The premise and the setup holds potential. Unfortunately, by the end, I am not the reader for this book.

About the Author

Robyn Carr is an award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than sixty novels, including highly praised women’s fiction such as Four Friends, The Summer That Made Us and The View from Alameda Island, as well as the critically acclaimed Virgin River, Thunder Point and Sullivan's Crossing series. Virgin River is now a Netflix original series. Robyn lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can visit her website at robyncarr.com.

About the Book

An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

When a woman notices a young pregant woman attending her husband's funeral she realizes his mid-life crisis went far beyond his weekend warrior lifestyle. But Carr's story of a family dealing with their grief is full of surprises and as everyone examines their own beliefs and behavior, they become closer than they ever thought possible. Carr tackles the serious issues women face with humor and heart.


Excerpted from A Family Affair by Robyn Carr. Copyright © 2022 by Robyn Carr. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The celebration of life was not held in a funeral parlor or church but rather in a fancy clubhouse in an upscale Mill Valley community. It was furnished with comfortable sofas, chairs, small round accent tables, thick carpet and carefully chosen art. Its primary purpose was for hosting parties. Residents in the community could rent it for events, which Anna had done. There was a huge viewing screen upon which the pictures of Chad’s life played, a hundred and fifty of them, carefully and lovingly chosen by Anna with a little help from the kids. Every picture had Chad in it, starting from old childhood prints she’d inherited from Chad’s mother years ago. She’d glance up to see one of him in a high school football uniform looking the worse for wear with a big grin on his dirty face; she caught a huge blowup of their wedding picture; there was one soon after of him with baby Jessie asleep on his chest. There were many pictures of Chad alone, a few of Chad and Anna, one of a young Anna gazing lovingly up into Chad’s face, several family groupings. The focus was Chad, his life, his accomplishments, his achievements, his happiness, a few of the important people in his life. Chad, Chad, Chad. Just like before he died.

Things had been tense lately, but she remembered those younger years fondly because, although it hadn’t been easy, they had been deeply in love. They met through what can only be described as fate, as destiny. In fact, their meeting was a legendary family story. Anna had been in San Francisco, shopping on her lunch hour down at Fisherman’s Wharf. Shopping but not buying, which was typical for her as she had been and still was very frugal. She loved the sea lions, enjoyed watching tourists, sometimes found bargains at Pier 1, enjoyed the occasional meal on the pier.

On that day, something strange happened. She heard a panicked cry rise from the crowd of tourists on the pier, saw a food truck trundling across the pier without a driver, picking up speed. A man in work clothes and apron was chasing the truck. She only had seconds to take it in. It seemed the food truck, its awning out and moving fast, was headed toward a group of people. Right before her eyes the truck knocked a man off the pier before the truck was stopped by a barricade.

The man, completely unaware, flew off the dock and into the water below, startling a large number of fat sea lions who had been sunning themselves nearby.

The sea lions scrambled into the water and the man was flailing around in a panic. Someone yelled, “He can’t swim!” Hardly giving it a thought, Anna dropped her purse, kicked off her shoes and jumped off the pier, swimming to the man. Getting to him was no challenge; she practically landed on top of him. But he was hysterical and splashing, kicking and sputtering. “You’re okay, come on,” she said, grabbing his shirt by the collar. But he fought harder and sank, nearly pulling her under with him.

She slapped him in the face and that startled him enough he could let himself be rescued. She slid her arm around his neck and began pulling him to the dock where a couple of men seemed to be standing by to pull him in.

There was a lot of commotion, not to mention honking noises from sea lions. Anna was shivering in her wet clothes and all she could think at the time was how was she going to locate a change of clothes for her afternoon at work. Then there were emergency vehicles and a handsome young police officer draped a blanket around her shoulders and took a report. The near drowning victim was taken away in an ambulance and Anna was given a ride to her apartment by the cute policeman. She was delighted and surprised when the police officer called her a week later. She almost hyperventilated in hope that he’d ask her out.

“The man you pulled out of the water has been in touch. He wants your name,” the officer said.

“He isn’t going to sue me, is he?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said with a laugh. “He seems very grateful. He won’t have any trouble tracking you down but I said I’d ask. He probably wants to thank you.”

The man’s name was Chad. He was finishing up his PhD at Berkeley while she was working in a law office in the Bay Area. She was twenty-three and he was twenty-seven and she was not prepared for how handsome he was and of course much better put together than when he was dragged out of the water.

He took her to dinner and, as she recalled, their first date was almost like an interview. He wanted to know everything about her and was utterly amazed to learn she’d had a job as a lifeguard in a community pool for exactly one summer when she was a teenager and yet jumped in to save him with total confidence. They fell in love almost instantly. The first time they made love, he asked her to marry him. She didn’t say yes right away, but they knew from the start they were made for each other. What they didn’t know was how many fights they’d have. Very few big fights but many small ones; she thought of them as bickering. They fought about what was on the pizza; a scrape on the side of the car that was not her fault, not even remotely; what kind of vacation they should have and where they should go. As Anna recalled, they always went where Chad wanted to go. They fought about what movie to see, where to eat, what was grumbled under his or her breath.

They fought seriously about his affair. That was in the distant past but it took a long time to get over. Years. But when they finally pledged to stay married, to do their best to make it good, they fell into bed and had the best sex of their lives. And they had Elizabeth.

That experience was how she knew that all the excuses for this current marital rift, no matter what he called it, was probably about another woman and not them growing apart or having divergent needs. He wouldn’t admit it and she had no proof, but she had better than average instincts. She believed he’d gotten all excited at the prospect of falling in love and was rewriting their history to make that acceptable. He was looking for an excuse that would make it reasonable to step outside the bonds of marriage. She could feel it; he’d been involved with someone else.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Letter to a Stranger

  Letter to a Stranger:  Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us
Editor:  Colleen Kinder
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1643751247 / 978-1643751245

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

Opening Sentence:  "We are born into a world of strangers."

Favorite Quote:  "These letters are gifts. The invitation to write a letter is a gift. The invitation to write a letter is a gift. The invitation of a fissure is a gift. It's a way of encountering the world that stays attuned to the incompleteness of our vision: the infinitude of what we can see, and the infinitude of what we can't. These letters say: I never had you. I never knew you. I am to see to it that I do not lose your."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


What a fascinating project! The author put a call out to other authors to "write a letter to a stranger who haunts you." She gets responses from around the world. She then compiles sixty five responses into this book.

The form and content of the letters are perhaps as diverse as the origins of the letters themselves. Nicaragua, Myanmar, Peru, Germany, Italy, India, China, Australia, France, Uganda, and several from the United States. Each letter is as individual as its writer and its individual audience; each one stands along. Yet, at the same time, there are common themes and a universality running through all of them. This book is yet another example that around the world, more unites us than divides us. A powerful lesson in a world so divided.

The letters are organized into sections:  symmetry, mystery, chemistry, gratitude, wonder, remorse, and farewell. All themes are ideas the reader can relate to, and all trigger an emotion. The form of the book itself triggers an emotion. A letter is contained. Yet, in this day of text messages, emails, and other forms of communication, a letter is at the same time expansive, allowing room to explain and breathe. The idea of writing to a stranger is expansive because perhaps in that anonymity more can be said. A letter is also intimate and personal. Reading someone else's letter can seem an illicit pleasure, or, in this case, an invitation into someone's world. That is the emotion of it.

"My letter ... wasn't the account of an entire life; it was an account of brushing up - just briefly - against the infinitude of another person, and feeling him brush up against my own. It opened up a seam in my memory and asked me to peer through it. It was a fissure. This is a book of fissures. They live in all of us."

Throughout this book, as I read letter after letter, strangers who touched my life come to mind. Who would I write to if I were to embark on this journey? What would I say? So, here goes one of mine...

Dear Fellow Book Lover,

Welcome. I do not know you, but I feel that you are a friend. A book lover who has found their way here surely must be a friend. I see you at the library and look to see what you are reading. I see you so engrossed in your book on a train. I see you on the park bench. I see you at story time perhaps passing your love of reading on. I see you at the bookstore mulling over choices. 

I do not know you, yet the book you hold is one I love. I want to ask you what you think of it. How did it move you... Were your surprised when... Could you believe that ending... What other books do you love.... I want to talk and get lost in a world of books.

I hope you enjoy what you read here and learning something about this stranger writing these words. I hope you walk away with a recommendation. I hope you come back.

Happy reading, fellow book lover!

How about you? Who is the stranger who comes to your mind?

About the Book

When Colleen Kinder put out a call for authors to “write a letter to a stranger who haunts you,” she opened the floodgates. The responses—intimate and addictive, all in the form of letters, all written in the second person—began pouring in. These short, insightful essays by today’s best literary minds are organized around such themes as Grati­tude, Wonder, and Farewell, and guide us both across the globe and through the mysteries of human connection.

Bestselling author Leslie Jamison, who provides the foreword, reveals she has been haunted for years by a traveling magician she met in Nicaragua. Journalist Ted Conover writes his missive to a stranger he met on a New Yorker assignment in Rwanda. From the story of Vanessa Hua’s shoe shopper in China to the tale of Michelle Tea’s encounter in a Texas tattoo parlor, these pieces are replete with observations about how to live and what to seek, and how a stranger’s loaded glance, shared smile, or question posed can alter the course of our lives. Moving and unforgettable, Letter to a Stranger is an irresistible read for any literary traveler and the perfect gift for anyone who is haunted by a person they met once but will remember forever.

About the Author

Colleen Kinder is an essayist and editor whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, National Geographic Traveler, Salon.com, and The Best American Travel Writing. She has taught writing at Yale University, the Chautauqua Institution, and Semester at Sea. A Fulbright Scholar, Kinder received her MFA at the University of Iowa and is the author of Delaying the Real World and the cofounder of the online magazine Off Assignment.

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