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Posts Tagged ‘Claire Cook’

summergirlsIn Philadelphia, lawyer Kate is jilted the same day she discovers she is pregnant. In New York, former art dealer Vanessa is looking after her toddler daughter but dreaming of an old flame. And in San Francisco, aspiring writer Dani has lost yet another job and is struggling with her novel — “a story about a group of childhood friends at the beach, the death of a charming but reckless twenty-one year old boy, and a narrator plagued by secrets.” Mmm. Dani’s book sounds an awful lot like Meg Donohue’s entertaining All the Summer Girls (Morrow, digital galley), in which Kate, Vanessa and Dani reunite at Avalon Beach, N.J., their old haunt from high school and college years. Eight years ago, they spent the last carefree summer before college graduation on the Jersey shore, and it was wonderful “right up until the day it wasn’t,” when Kate’s twin brother Colin died. Unbeknownst to each other, they all have secrets involving Colin.

Donohue unpacks the trio’s considerable emotional baggage in present tense, rotating perspectives among the three friends. Each emerges as a strong individual with quirks and flaws that both irritate and endear them to one another. For example, “Kate is a Kate is a Kate,” the others say of her bad driving and good-girl ways. Vanessa’s beauty masks insecurites. Dani’s a romantic rolling stone with addiction issues. Still, friends take care of friends, and men are on the side, as Donohue’s novel mixes the grit of beach sand with the warmth of the summer sun. Vacation reading par excellence.

timefliesSo, too, is Claire Cook’s Time Flies (Touchstone, digital galley), which is as easy-breezy as its title implies (and cover depicts). Melanie is an Atlanta metal sculptor who creates works of art out of found industrial or household objects. Her latest project involves cutting up her marital bed after longtime hubby Kurt leaves her for another woman.

Still, other challenges await — Melanie’s best friend BJ has convinced her to attend their high school reunion in New England. Single-nester Melanie is more than a little wary. Road trips are bumpy when you have a highway driving-phobia, and reunions are downright dangerous when you don’t really remember the guy sending you flirty e-mails.

Cook handles familiar themes of mid-life crisis and memory lane with her typical wit and flair, and Melanie is another of her bright, sassy heroines. Merrily we read along, and the pages fly by. Woot!

islandgirlsThe three sisters in Nancy Thayer’s satisfying Island Girls (Ballantine, digital galley) have different mothers, but each calls charming Rory Randall her father. When he dies of a sudden heart attack, a codicil in his will insists his daughters spend the summer together in his Nantucket house before selling it and  splitting the proceeds.

Arden, a Boston TV host, arrives with a chip on her shoulder dating back to her teenage years and her exile from Nantucket at the hands of Rory’s third wife, whose daughter Jenny is already in residence with all her computer equipment. Middle sister Meg, a community college professor, wants the quaint back bedroom with the desk so she can finish her biography of Louisa May Alcott’s younger sister. The bickering begins immediately before a tentative truce is declared. Arden becomes swept up in a round of island parties, well aware of the presence of her TV station’s owner. Jenny, having recently broken up with her boyfriend, is forced to work on an IT project with his best friend and her arch enemy. Meanwhile, frumpy Meg makes a mess of her relationship with a colleague back in Boston. Heaven forbid they take advice from one another, but they do agree to a council of war with their respective mothers when Rory’s past unexpectedly arrives. Oh, goody, fireworks! Plus tears and laughter. Rory Randall would approve. I sure do.

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Four beach books for the Fourth, or for whenever you want your reading lite.

I’ll never again watch Dancing with the Stars without thinking of Deirdre Griffin, the title character in Claire Cook’s lively Wallflower in Bloom (Touchstone, library hardcover). Deirdre, fed up with assisting her brother Tag’s rocketing career as a self-help guru and her own sorry love life, uses his fans and her social-networking skills to become the hit show’s first non-celebrity contestant.  Even as Deirdre, weighed down with extra pounds and poor self-esteem, struggles to learn the cha-cha with dance partner Ilya, Tag and the family begin to reevaluate her role in holding them together. Cook spices her cute Cinderella story with inside show trivia — I want some illusion mesh of my very own — and humorous self-help aphorisms.

Reality TV also figures in the plot of Wendy Wax’s Ocean Road (Berkley, paperback galley from publicist), a stand-alone sequel to last year’s Ten Beach Road. The three women — Maddie, Avery, and Nicole — who became friends renovating a Florida Gulf beach house — head to Miami, along with Maddie’s grown daughter and Avery’s estranged mother. They’ll be filming the pilot for a home improvement show called “Do-Over,” and the neglected mansion owned by ancient vaudevillian Max is badly in need of repair. But the film crew seems intent on capturing the women’s messy personal lives instead of their renovations, and outside forces, including an actor on location, a secret from the past and hurricane season, threaten to thwart the whole project. Pleasantly predictable, the book offers fascinating DIY details and a delightful supporting cast (the Oscar goes to Max) as the women hammer out their problems and shore up their friendship.

I felt completely at home reading Dorothea Benton Frank’s Porch Lights (William Morrow, library hardcover), and not just because it takes place in my part of the world — the South Carolina Lowcountry — and I know the author. I think it’s because I’m from a family of talkers, and Frank’s two narrators — Jackie, a widowed Army nurse, and Annie Britt, her opinionated mother — can talk a blue streak. After Jackie’s firefighter husband is killed in the line of duty, she takes their traumatized 10-year-old son from New York to the family house on Sullivan’s Island. Annie, who drove off her husband Buster with her meddling ways and constant chatter, tries to comfort Jackie and young Charlie with down-home meals and a heaping helping of good intentions. Fortunately, neighbor Deb, sister-in-law Maureen and Buster himself help  keep mother and daughter from driving each other crazy. At times, reading Porch Lights is like being on a conference call with two of your best gal pals, who hardly come up for air as they talk, talk, talk, skittering from subject to subject like a couple of water bugs. They entertain, overwhelm and keep on keeping on.

Kate Klise rotates among four narrators in her zippy In the Bag (Morrow, paperback review copy). Teenager Webb and his dad Andrew are in coach on the flight to Paris, while Daisy and her teen daughter Coco are in first class. On a whim, Andrew sticks a mash note in Daisy’s carry-on, but what brings the two single parents and offspring together is checked luggage. Webb arrives in Madrid with Coco’s black duffel bag, and Coco is dismayed to discover she has Webb’s duffel in Paris. The two tech-saavy teens soon find one another on the Internet and their e-mail exchanges propel the story fast-forward as the initial mix-up leads to comic complications and conspiracies.

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Chill out with your favorite cool beverage and a new novel. It’s summer, and hey, readers wanna  have fun.

So do the three women in Mary Kay  Andrews’ breezy Summer Rental, who used to channel Cyndi Lauper’s peppy anthem as Catholic schoolgirls in the 1980s. Now Ellis, Julia and Dorie have planned a reunion on  North Carolina’s Outer Banks, spending a few weeks relaxing in a rambling old  beach house.

But the likable trio arrives at Ebbtide towing extra emotional baggage. Career-woman Ellis has just lost her job in corporate banking and realizes she’s left with “a life as dull and colorless as the sand beneath  her toes.’’

Julia, a fashion model who lives  in London with a photographer, also is wondering what’s next, career-wise and relationship-wise. At least she  hasn’t been blindsided by a cheating husband like schoolteacher Dorie, who  impulsively invites a stranger to be a fourth housemate. Madison (not her real  name) is on the run from something or someone.

Andrews adds a grouchy landlord who only communicates by  e-mail and a good-looking single guy in the garage apartment. The mix makes for a sweet, refreshing cocktail of a tale – with a twist, of course, and an  unexpected punch when Madison’s past catches up with her.

Fans know that Andrews, who grew up in St. Pete, honed her skills with plot and pacing as mystery novelist Kathy Hogan Trocheck.  With such previous beach book hits as Savannah Blues, Hissy Fit and The Fixer-Upper, she’s not planning on  a return to crime. But e-reader owners can now find digital editions online of Lickety-Split and Crash Course, her capers featuring Florida senior sleuth Truman Kicklighter.  They’re replete with  Sunshine State color and characters. And Kicklighter is a kick.

Reading Claire Cook’s Best Staged Plans is like catching up with an old friend. You may not have talked in months, but you pick up right where you left off with what’s new and what’s next now you’re at mid-life.

This time, it’s Sandy Sullivan, a cheery Boston home stager with an early-retiree husband, a newly-wed daughter in Atlanta, and a slacker son in the basement of the renovated house she’s prepping for sale, even though she’s still wondering what’s her “postmom” mission in life.  She loves her tennis-playing husband — such a good guy — but she and Greg seem to be stuck in comfortable routines.

“Ah, the things you never thought to ask before you commited to a lifetime with another person. Will you get up with me to watch the sunrise, or will you snore the morning away? Will you write me poetry or take the easy way out with a Hallmark card for every occasion? Will you get the house ready to put on the market when I ask you to? Can you dance?”

Best Staged Plans begins slowly, as Sandy channels HGTV, obsesses over reading glasses, mourns past pets and family rituals. But the pace picks up when gal-pal Denise’s boyfriend Josh offers her a job staging a boutique hotel in Atlanta. Sandy’s Southern sojourn finds her getting to know her new son-in-law, meeting a homeless woman, and helping Denise deal with her bad boyfriend. It all helps her put her life in perspective as she picks out paint chips — you can’t go wrong with Benjamin Moore’s Million-Dollar Red.

Cook (Must Love Dogs, Seven Year Switch) spices her light-hearted tale with tips on home decorating and gourmet meal assembly.  At one point, Sandy notes that “the thing about staging is that you have to stay open to surprises, because they often turned out to be better the things you planned.” Good advice whether you’re making over a room or your life.

Open Book: This is my blog, and I can write about my friends’ books if I want to. St. Martin’s Press sent me an ARC of Mary Kay Andrews’ Summer Rental, and Hyperion Voice sent me a review copy of Claire Cook’s Best-Staged Plans. You girls have a blast on your book tours. I’ll just continue getting the popcorn off the ceiling and hum “Wanna Have Fun.”

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Hollywood calls them rom-coms, as in romantic comedies. Publishers label them chick-lit. I’ve always thought of them as beach books, even if I’m reading them in winter. They make me think of sun and porches and peaches and girl-talk. But now it really is summer, and I’ve been downing them like pink lemonade.

Jill Murray, the likeable heroine of Claire Cooke’s latest breeze of a book, Seven-Year Switch, is holding it together as a single mom, although her cottage’s porch railing is falling off. Husband Seth ran away and joined the Peace Corps seven years, leaving her with three-year-old Anastasia and no money. So she teaches around-the-world cooking classes at a community college and answers phones for a travel agency specializing in girlfriend getaways. Jill may cook exotic food and talk of faraway places, even be a culture coach for a cute guy who wants to open a bike-rental business in Japan, but she’s always there for her 10-year-old daughter. Suddenly, so is Seth. Or so he says.

Cook (Must Love Dogs, Life’s a Beach) covers a lot of emotional territory, plus a trip to Costa Rica, in less than 250 pages. And the ending, with a black zebra tarantula as Cupid, seems rushed. But this is pop fiction with the fizz of female empowerment. Jill is flawed and funny; that she doesn’t get her neighbor Cynthia’s sense of humor is a hoot in itself, as is her attempt to mold herself with Spanx. You’ll want her for a pal.

Also Dempsey Jo Killebrew of Mary Kay Andrews’ The Fixer-Upper, now out in paperback. That Dempsey, a young Washington lobbyist, is so clueless at book’s beginnings about her boss kicking her under the bus of a political scandal, makes you want to root for her more. The girl is in a mess. So, too, is Birdsong, the pink ancestral mansion in small-town Georgia, which her father suggests she help renovate and flip.  He provides the dilapidated house — including a cranky old cousin of a tenant — and then it’s up to Dempsey. But it’s going to take more than elbow grease, paint and power tools to fix things when a pitbull reporter and the Feds show up asking questions about Dempsey’s last job. Happily, there’s this good-looking young lawyer in town, not that Dempsey needs a guy to rescue her when she finds her inner steel magnolia.  

The Fixer-Upper is one of my favorites of Andrews’ Southern charmers, right up there with the hilarious and exhilarating Hissy Fit, and the one that jump-started it all,  Savannah Blues.

Katie Fforde is a like a British Mary Kay Andrews. Several of her light-hearted books, including Stately Pursuits and Saving Grace, involve young women and old houses. Wedding Season, the newest one published this side of the Atlantic, offers three appealing heroines: cynical wedding planning Sarah, and her two best pals, unassuming dress designer Elsa, and Bron, who can do hair and cakes with aplomb. You might think it would be their celebrity client, referred by handsome photographer Hugo, who would play the princess bride, but it’s Sarah’s sister, getting married on the same day, who keeps putting up the obstacles to true love. Not my favorite Fforde but worth a spin.

Ann Brashares, of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, reaches out to an adult audience with My Name is Memory, in which boy meets girl over and over again through time, but she doesn’t always remember him. Romance and reincarnation aren’t really my thing, but Brashares’ characters — Daniel and Sophia/Constance/Lucy — have more than their share of adventures. For a more conventional boy-meets-girl (and her sister) beach book, check out Brashares’ The Last Summer (of You and Me).  

Open Book: I’ve met Claire Cook, and she’s a Facebook friend and FOB (friend of blog). Her publisher sent me a copy of Seven-Year-Switch (voice/Hyperion). I knew Mary Kay Andrews when she was still Kathy Hogan Trocheck, and she’s a longtime friend and mentor, being Caroline Cousins’ mystery mom, as well as FOB. She sent me an advance reading copy of The Fixer-Upper (Harper) last year. I’ve never met Katie Fforde, but I’ve bought most of her books, including Wedding Season (St. Martin’s Press), over the internet in their British editions because I can get them a year earlier. Ann Brashares’ publisher sent me an ARC of My Name is Memory (Riverhead/Penguin), after I requested it in a web promotion. I bought my hardcover copy of The Last Summer (of You and Me), and would whoever I lent it to, please return.

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