Tag Archives: Marriage

Book Review: Listening to Brahms by Rosemary Allen

Listening to Brahms by Rosemary Allen

  • Method of Obtaining: I received a copy from the publisher.
  • Published by:  Matador
  • Release Date:  06.01.2013

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“Then I hear it. The sound of the piano. And what’s more, as if it’s drifting up through time as well as space, the piece being played is Brahms’ ‘Rhapsody No 2’ in G minor.”

December, 1989. While Margaret is visiting her sister and her husband at Blackheath Vicarage for a family Christmas, she finds the diary she kept during a school exchange visit to Germany in the summer of 1954. Painful memories from that time come flooding back when she hears a Brahms rhapsody being played on the piano by Jonathan, a consultant at the local hospital.

At the age of 17, she believed she had found the love of her life when a young pianist, Peter, kissed her and quoted poetry to her. But the traumatic events that followed changed her life forever. Now, 35 years later, emotional feelings she thought she had suppressed for ever are once again awoken as she begins to fall in love with Jonathan. As the family gathers to celebrate Christmas and the New Year, it appears that her sister’s marriage is beginning to crumble.

While Margaret’s story is unfolding, the Soviet Union is collapsing. Ceausescu and his wife are executed in Romania, Havel becomes president of Czechoslovakia and the border dividing East and West Germany has come down, emphasising the pointlessness of the ever-changing divisions and alliances between peoples.

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My Review:
I finished reading Listening to Brahms a few months ago now, and I feel that it’s aged well enough for me to write a review that does it justice.  I initially picked this book up due to its name.  Being a classical pianist, and a huge fan of Brahms stormy, romantic music, I figured that Listening to Brahms would either be extremely good or I’d be putting it down by the third chapter or so (as happens all too often with books containing a music theme).  I was happy to find out that I not only wanted to finish the book, but I was suitably impressed with the delicate and knowledgeable way that Rosemary Allen handled the classical theme.


The story itself is not an unfamiliar type of setting.  Woman finds an old diary, written years before in her youth, and relives the past while still dealing with major issues in the present.  What made this book stand out though was the life being lived in that old diary and its connection to the present.  Turmoil, classical music, love, and political intrigue are present during both times and, together, culminate in a fascinating outcome that I didn’t predict happening.


Rosemary Allen handled some things extremely well.  The crumbling of Margaret’s sister’s marriage and the issues that led to that decline; the nuanced love that was nurtured not only by the 17 year old Margaret, but also by the 47 year old woman she has become.  Combine these events with a setting that is centered around the time of year I’m writing this review, and I’m struck by how powerful the story is in connection with the idea of family and love, lost and found.


Listening to Brahms is a book that will, more than likely, fly under the radar for its life.  But if you are the type who enjoys a non-hyped, beautifully written and set story, then I would recommend you pick this one up for the holidays.  I think it would make the perfect book to read while sitting in the quiet hours of the evening, warmed by a blanket and tea, and enjoying the time of peace this time of year tends to bring.


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Female First | Historical Novel Society


Book Tour: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

  • Method of Obtaining: I obtained my copy TLC Tours.
  • Published by:  Harper
  • Release Date:  11.05.2013

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Blending literature and memoir, Ann Patchett, author of State of  Wonder, Run, and Bel Canto, examines her deepest commitments—to writing, family, friends, dogs, books, and her husband—creating a resonant portrait of a life in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage takes us into the very real world of Ann Patchett’s life. Stretching from her childhood to the present day, from a disastrous early marriage to a later happy one, it covers a multitude of topics, including relationships with family and friends, and charts the hard work and joy of writing, and the unexpected thrill of opening a bookstore.

As she shares stories of the people, places, ideals, and art to which she has remained indelibly committed, Ann Patchett brings into focus the large experiences and small moments that have shaped her as a daughter, wife, and writer.

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My Review:

I’ve been a fan of Ann Patchett since reading her brilliant masterpiece of a book, Bel Canto.  I have an insane amount of longing to visit the bookstore she is co-owner of in Nashville, TN (Parnassus Books), and every time her name comes up in my email, on the internet, or in conversation, I have to hold myself back from squealing in delight and rushing insert myself into whatever is being talked about.

So I was thrilled when I received an opportunity to review this memoir, this very, very important memoir that spoke so loudly to me right now in my life.  In This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Patchett does not talk just about her marriage, but about other extremely important things.  Finding oneself, censorship, writing, schooling, job searching, living life, love, and most importantly, always pushing toward what makes one happy.  The message that came across loud and clear in Patchett’s memoir is that life is short and we have to make the most of it, doing what we love the most.

While Patchett’s life worked out for her in a fantastic way, it is by no means a model for everyone, and she readily admits that.  Moments came in her life, opportunities that she grabbed at and things worked out in her favor.  That is, I think, the message she was trying to get across.  There is no set pattern that can guarantee success in life; rather, one has to live life, grab opportunities, strive to be the best person they can be not only for themselves, but for those they love as well.  There is no need to cave to pressure (I really appreciated her staunch stance on having children.  I struggle with some of the same issues when people try to pressure me into believing that I am something less than normal for not wanting to get married), but stand firm in your beliefs and things will work out the way they work out.

I’m working on writing a novel for the first time in my life, thanks to NaNoWriMo this year.  It’s the first time I’ve even come close to approaching 10k words and I am watching as my own life heavily influences my writing.  Patchett took time in one of her essays to talk about this phenomenon and it re-assured me.  If a writer who is as magnificent as Patchett recognizes exactly what I’m going through as I start to explore my writing potential, then surely I am on the right path to finding something that works for me.  It was encouragement that I needed right then and I’m so glad this book came into my life at this time.

Another important essay included in this collection was Patchett’s convocation speech at Clemson University concerning her book, Truth and Beauty.  It’s a gorgeous speech and one that shouts loudly for people to read, to think, to make decisions for themselves and not cave to the overwhelmingly heavy hand of censorship.  That speech alone is worth the price of the book – but you will also get many, many beautiful essays that will make you laugh and cry.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is not just about marriage. It’s about life.  And this reader has no intention of ever marrying, but I found something in this book that spoke to me.  I suggest you give it the chance to do the same for you.

About the Author

Ann Patchett photo credit Heidi Ross

Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and State of Wonder. She was the editor ofBest American Short Stories, 2006, and has written three books of nonfiction,Truth & Beauty, about her friendship with the writer, Lucy Grealy, What now? an expansion of her graduation address at Sarah Lawrence College, and, most recently, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of essays that examines the theme of commitment.

A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Patchett has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including England’s Orange Prize, PEN/Faulkner Award, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Book Sense Book of the Year, a Guggenheim Fellowship, The Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, The Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the American Bookseller’s Association’s “Most Engaging Author Award”, and the Women’s National Book Association’s Award. Her books have been both New York Times Notable Books and New York Times bestsellers.  Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages.

In November, 2011, she opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, with her partner Karen Hayes.  She has since gone on to be a spokesperson for independent booksellers, talking about books and bookstores on “The Colbert Report,” NPR, “The Martha Stewart Show” and “The CBS Early Show.” Along with James Patterson she was the honorary chair of World Book Night. In 2012 she was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Ann Patchett lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Karl VanDevender, and their dog, Sparky.


For more reviews on This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, please visit the book tour.


Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon

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Reason for Reading:

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Summary from GoodReads:

Maybe it was those extra five pounds I’d gained. Maybe it was because I was about to turn the same age my mother was when I lost her. Maybe it was because after almost twenty years of marriage my husband and I seemed to be running out of things to say to each other.

But when the anonymous online study called “Marriage in the 21st Century” showed up in my inbox, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life. It wasn’t long before I was assigned both a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101).

And, just like that, I found myself answering questions.

My Review:

Okay, so if you are anything like me, you look at the title of this book and think this is a book about a man with multiple wives – 22 (at least) of them in fact.  Well.. that’s not what Wife 22 is about so throw those preconceptions out the window because what I’m about to tell you will, hopefully, have you rushing to the store or library to check this book out.

Wife 22 begins as one of your typical chick-lit type stories about a man and a woman and their marriage.  But what makes this one stand out from the crowd, and it is a crowd – there’s a lot of mediocre chick-lit out there folks, is the humor and intelligence displayed throughout the novel.

Alice Buckle is a modern woman – and this story is told through a variety of mediums: Facebook (status and messages), emails, acts of a play, short stories, and regular prose.  There is never a dull moment and the method of communication between Alice (Wife 22) and Researcher 101 teases the curiosity until the questions being asked just don’t matter anymore because you want to read the answers.  Kind of like Jeopardy – maybe…okay, so not but you get the idea.

Alice has a husband, a daughter (Zoe) and a son (Peter..er Pedro..er…, you’ll understand).  She deals with things that any modern mother would deal with, worries about eating disorders, the sexuality of her son (he’s 12.. but she’s trying so hard), and how to handle that first time that her daughter comes home drunk (it’s brilliant).  But behind it all she is struggling, and her struggle is so real, and her support system so incredible, that I could not help but feel pulled in and wanting to find out how it is all resolved.

This was a fun, quick read and perfect for a day at the beach, or sitting out on your porch enjoying some sunshine.  It’s a book that made me feel as if my time wasn’t wasted, and I count that a win when it comes to light fiction like this.


Don’t just take my word for it! Check out what these bloggers say!

Well Read Wife | S. Krishna’s Books | At Home with Books

The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge

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Reason for Reading:
  • I was in the mood for a little bit of chick lit, and matchmaking has always been a topic of interest to me.

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Summary from GoodReads:

Camille Hart, one of Manhattan’s most sought-after matchmakers, has survived more than her fair share of hardships. Her mother died when she was a young girl, leaving her and her sister with an absentee father. Now in her forties, she has already survived cancer once, though the battle revealed just how ill-equipped her husband Edward is to be a single parent. So when doctors tell Camille that her cancer is back—and this time it’s terminal—she decides to put her matchmaking expertise to the test for one final job. Seeking stability for her children and happiness for her husband, Camille sets out to find the perfect woman to replace her when she’s gone.

But what happens when a dying wish becomes a case of “be careful what you wish for”? For Edward and Camille, the stunning conclusion arrives with one last twist of fate that no one saw coming.

My Review:

When I read the summary for The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge, I got a little bit of a thrill inside. It’d been a while since I had read a straight-up chick lit book and I was craving some emotional, doesn’t-require-a-lot-of-thought, reading and thought this would fit the bill perfectly.

What I was unprepared for was the completely unseen twist that the book would take halfway through and send me spiraling into rage instead of pleasure.

But I cannot blame that on Eileen Goudge, or the story, because when all was said and done, the book delivered what it was supposed to deliver. There was romance, heartbreak, contemporary themes about marriage, struggles and triumphs – I just didn’t like who experienced some of these things.

Y’all, I’ve never been so disappointed in a character in my life. Just bad, bad choices and all I could think is – why? Why did you do this to these poor, innocent people in the book, Ms. Goudge?!

I think if you are looking for a summer read that has the potential to get you worked up in a rage sort of way, The Replacement Wife is a good choice. I didn’t cry while reading this book (I sob like a baby when I read Cecelia Aherns and was hoping for a similar reaction here), but it did inspire a reaction from me. I’m just glad I wasn’t on the beach when I started yelling at the pages.


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A Casual Reader’s Blog | Bibliophile By The Sea | Melissa’s Eclectic Bookshelf

Make It Stay by Joan Frank

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Reason for Reading:
  • The summary caught my eye.

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Summary from GoodReads:

In the tree-nestled Northern California town of Mira Flores, writer Rachel (“an aging typist with an unprofitable hobby”) and her Scottish husband Neil prepare dinner for a familiar “crew” of guests – among them Neil’s best friend, the burly, handsome Mike Spender, an irrepressible heodnist – and Mike’s wife Tilda Krall, a hard-bitten figure who carries her dark unknowability like an accusation.

Mike and Tilda have produced an enchanting daughter, Addie – who will also appear, unexpectedly, that night. As they ready the meal, Rae begs Neil to retell her the strange, twisted story of the Spenders – to include Mike’s secret life, and what happened once Tilda learned of it. Neil and Rae cannot guess how the shock waves from that story will threaten to destroy their own marriage – after a mysterious catastrophe propels all five individuals into uncharted realities.

Recounting three love stories, Make It Stay explores the vision of an era – and how perception expands, as mortal limits draw near.

My Review:

Make It Stay is a short, compact tale told through the recounting of stories between a husband and a wife.

Neil and Rachel are married – they met later in life than is the “norm”, and Neil comes with the “baggage” of friendship in the form of Mike and Tilda.

Mike is a larger than life character – vibrant, colorful, filled with character. The reader is introduced to him through Neil’s eyes, as the story between Mike and Tilda is told to Rachel.

So not only does Mike and Tilda’s relationship tie in to Neil and Rachel’s, then there is the addition of Addie (Mike and Tilda’s daughter) and her husband.

I found the description of this book to be somewhat misleading. I went into it expecting a sort of around the table story-telling session, but instead got a bit of a hokey retelling in the form of a story within a story (it’s hard to put into words, just felt a bit like a gimmick). The summary also promises three romance stories – but Addie’s was hardly present, and the two characters in that relationship were flat and one-dimensional.

The characters of Mike, Tilda and Rachel really carry the story. Even Neil I found to be a bit predictable and boring – but the story is worth reading just for those main three characters. It gave me quite a bit to think about – about friendship, legacies left behind, and the fleeting span of life.

About the Author

  • Information regarding Joan Frank:

For more reviews on Make It Stay by Joan Frank, please follow the book tour.



Delicacy by David Foenkinos

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Reason for Reading:
  • The cover has Audrey Tautou on it.  That’s a big hook for me.

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Summary from GoodReads:

Reminiscent of novels by Nick Hornby, Muriel Barbery, and Jonathan Tropper, internationally acclaimed novelist David Foenkinos delivers a heartfelt and deftly comedic tale of new love brightening the dark aftermath of loss–and of wounded hearts finding refuge in the strangest of places. After her husband’s unexpected death, Natalie has erected a fortress around her emotions–and Markus, clumsy and unassuming, will never be her knight in shining armor. Yet slowly but surely, an offbeat romance begins between these two mismatched, complex souls, and contrary to everything Natalie knows of affection, her perfect suitor may turn out to be love’s most unlikely candidate–the fool, not the hero, who is finally able to reach her heart.

My Review:

This is a beautiful, touching, whimsical, heartbreaking, and oh so very French story.

What do I mean by that last? It’s hard to describe – but I think it’s the combination of refined/whimsical/slightly stuck-up mixed with not-so-neatly wrapped endings.

Delicacy was all that. And, much like it’s title suggests, it’s a delicate story.

I loved so much about this book – I loved the way the relationships are wrote about, and the breaks in the story to feed the reader random facts about what is happening. I found it utterly charming, and laughed and cried my way through it all.

For such a thin little book, this one packs a punch, and I hope you give it a chance – now.. I need to get my hands on the film!

About the Author

  • Information regarding David Foenkinos:
David Foenkinos (born 1974) is a French author and screenwriter. He studied literature and music in Paris. His novel La délicatesse is a bestseller in France. A film based on the book was released in December 2011, with Audrey Tautou as the main character. (From Wikipedia)

For more reviews on Delicacy by David Foenkinos, please follow the book tour.



Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

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Reason for Reading:
  • The book blogger community got me interested in checking this one out.

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Summary from GoodReads:

Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day.

The reality, though, is far different. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And he’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious archnemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite coworker. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety.

Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. 


My Review:

Another smart, witty comedy by a male author – I am on a roll this year and loving it.  I fully admit to being one of those readers who is lured by pretty, magical covers and I dodged around this book numerous times in the bookstore because it just didn’t grab me – but then I started seeing reviews.. and those reviews spoke really, really well of this book.

So … I gave it a shot.

I am so glad I did.  Once again, I am reminded never to judge a book by its cover.  This story had me in tears, it had me groaning with pity, it had me just completely entertained for hours and hours.  I savored the story, enjoying how well-crafted it was and I felt like I was reading a book that didn’t pull its punches.  When I finally read the final page I felt as if I was saying goodbye to friends, and that, folks, is story-telling.  I connected with these characters and I wanted more.

I’ll definitely be looking for more stories from Mr. Norman – which I hope is soon, because I do not necessarily want to be reading his book on developing web applications!

Check this one out if you enjoy smart contemporary stories.

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Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

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Reason(s) for Reading:
  • I’ve seen this title around the blogosphere and wanted to give it a shot.

Summary from Goodreads:

When Frances accepts an invitation to visit Stiltsville, a community of houses built on pilings in Biscayne Bay, she has no idea that her simple “yes” to a new friend will determine the course of her life for the next two dozen years. Set in Miami from the late ’60s to the 1990s, Stiltsville is a sweeping journey seen through the eyes of one woman as she experiences love, motherhood, friendship, hurricanes, racial tension, and finally, a tragic death in slow motion. In her debut novel, Daniel describes the experiences of three generations in one family whose spiritual heart is centered in a modest bungalow built a few feet above the water.When Frances meets and marries Dennis, she learns to live her life on the water, from bay to ocean to everglade to bayou. She navigates through it all — infidelity, empty-nest syndrome, and debilitating illness — sometimes with grace and humor, sometimes with anger and bitterness, but always with the same people by her side.


My Review:

I love being surprised by a book.  When I first cracked open Stiltsville and read the opening chapter, I formed an opinion of the book and was a little hesitant to move forward.  The actions by the key character touched close to home for me and I didn’t know if this was a book I’d be able to get into, let alone give a fair shot.

But then I kept reading, because I needed to know more.  I needed to know why people were still talking about this book.  Plus, there was something about Frances and her friend Marse that hooked me.

So while I expected a book that would deal with a broken friendship, what I got was a look at everlasting friendship, a look at marriage that survives despite disappointing jobs, loss of children, debilitating disease, infidelity and more.  In short, in Stiltsville I got a dose of really hard reality told in the most gentle way possible.

Sometimes, books that deal with these heavier issues can seem a little “fairy-tale like”.  Things magically go right, the right events happen, the story is manipulated by the author to give the reader a sense of closure.  Susanna Daniel managed to give me that sense of closure without any of the fairy-tale nonsense.  Not only that, but she dabbled in things that had me dreading turning the page, but she didn’t go there – because she didn’t need to.  Just the touch, the very idea that a wrong choice might be made was enough to shock me into realizing just how precarious life can be and how fragile relationships are if not treated correctly.

While this isn’t a light summer read, the setting of Miami, the descriptions of the water, the house on stilts – all these add up to a read that will make you think, but still give you that summertime feeling.  Look Stiltsville up if you are wanting a break from fluff.

About the Author


For more reviews on Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel, please follow the book tour.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”