October 2006

It’s been awhile since I’ve had the chance to sit down and talk to you about my favorite subject… the books I’ve read. Since I have been traveling, I’ve done a lot of reading, and I won’t have either time or room to address everything here. But these are a few of the many books that have passed through my hands this summer.

I’d like to start by drooling all over Barbara Samuel’s MADAME MIRABOU’S SCHOOL OF LOVE. I’ve been a Barbara Samuel (Who’s also known as Ruth Wind when she writes for Harlequin.) fan for a long, long time. There’s something about the rich flow of her language and her close-to-the-bone insight into her characters that fascinates me. I love that her books are about life, not necessarily as neat and pretty as we wish it was, but as it is. She writes about the struggles regular people face with eloquence and compassion. MADAME MIRABOU’S SCHOOL OF LOVE tells another one of these wonderful, rich, fabulous stories.

Nikki Carrington is recently divorced and unwilling or unable to let go of her former life until her house blows up. Left with nothing, she is homeless, jobless, and out of sync with who she used to be. To try to recover from the loss and rediscover the woman within, Nikki gets an apartment that happens to be in a building with another divorced woman and a soldier’s wife, left behind when her husband is deployed. It is these women, and the women in the restaurant where Nikki gets a waitressing job, who encourage her and help her develop the courage to pursue dreams long set aside. As Nikki moves toward a life beyond her divorce and into a the tender beginnings of a new relationship, her neighbor Wanda, who helped Nikki regain her perspective, reveals the devastation that can occur when a woman refuses to grow and change.

Samuel recently won the Romance Writers of America® coveted Rita Award for her last book LADY LUCK’S MAP OF LAS VEGAS; I look for MADAME MIRABOUS SCHOOL OF LOVE to be a hot contender for next year’s Rita.

On a completely different note, I am just finishing THE BOOK OF TRUE DESIRES, by Betina Kranh. This is Krahn in top form, writing as she so often has, about the battle between the sexes and the sweetness of surrendering to love. This is a romantic adventure story that throws together strong, confident Cordelia O’Keefe who agrees in order to gain backing for a future archaeological expeditions, to undertake the pursuit of the mysteries behind some Pre-Columbian scrolls in the possession of her scheming grandfather. Hartford Goodnight, her grandfather’s starchy and sarcastic butler, is sent along on the trip to control the finances and look for (in his other guise as a chemist) plants with medicinal promise in the wilds of Central America.

Watching the conflict and attraction between Cordie and Hart is just one of the delights of this story as Cordelia acknowledges her softer side without sacrificing any of her grit. Hart is a revelation as his feelings for Cordelia turn him from a bitter prig into a man with self-respect and the ability to offer love and support to this brash and remarkable woman. Krahn’s writing fairly sparkles, and Hart’s entries in his own “book of true desires” add delicious humor and spice to this terrific tale of exotic lands and characters who are far from ordinary.

I also really loved Lynn Michael’s excellent, fast-paced romp MARRIAGE BY DESIGN. It was my airplane book on one of my trips this summer, and I was so absorbed I didn’t mind the cramped seating and long plane ride. Brilliant bridal gown designer Mia Savard works for Savard Creations, her family’s wedding design business. (One that takes the notion of nepotism to new heights.) When the design for the governor’s daughter is stolen by a rival firm, everyone of the Savard siblings, uncles, and cousins falls under suspicion. That’s when Joe Kerr, handsome private investigator, is called in to find the culprit — and from the moment he sets eyes on Mia’s it’s clear there’s going to be designing a wedding dress for herself in the not too distant future.

Populated by a cast of eccentric relatives and coworkers and friends, blessed with snappy writing that moves at the speed of light, MARRIAGE BY DESIGN is both witty and fun. It’s a delicious confection to be sucked it up in a single sitting or savored like the very best chocolate truffle you can imagine.

I admit I picked up THE READING GROUP, by British author Elizabeth Noble, because I’m in a reading group myself. And I’m glad I did. The story encompasses a year in the lives of a group of mostly upper middle class British women. As they discuss their books — everything from Ian McEwan’s ATONEMENT to Nora Ephron’s HEARTBURN — we watch the women reveal themselves, become supporters, and eventually friends.

Each one of them has problems and challenges to deal with in the course of the entwined stories. Clare and her husband are struggling with infertility. Harriet, an overwhelmed stay-at-home mom, is contemplating an affair. Susan is doing her best to cope with her mother’s failing health. Nicole is still in love with her serially unfaithful husband, and Polly’s college-age daughter has just announced she’s pregnant. Which gave the author and the characters a great deal to resolve.

One of the things I liked best about the story was that the problems the women faced were all accessible, real. There was nothing melodramatic or over the top in the mix. I liked that those problems were dealt with in a realistic way, by making the best of a difficult situation or finding a compromise. I also liked that even the most serious topics are infused with moments of humor. I liked that all the women in the story are resilient, that they dealt with things and then moved on. To me this seemed as if I was reading about real life and real friendships by an author who had both.

My one caveat is that it took me awhile to get into the story, to figure out who everyone in this large cast of characters was. The author does sketches of each of the women in a sort of prologue to compensate for this problem, but I found her efforts only so helpful. That said, once I’d established the women in my mind, I was drawn irresistibly into their lives and stories. I liked this book a lot — but the real test will be whether I recommend this to my own reading group for their delectation and discussion.

That’s all for now. Happy reading —

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