Category Archives: Women’s Fiction

Review: The Book of Someday by Dianne Dixon

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (September 3, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1402285728
  • Source:  Publisher

“No matter how painful your life has been, you have the choice to learn from your past and then leave it. You have the choice. Every day. To love and be loved. To find your purpose. To work and to give. And to shape your world into something that’s quite remarkable.”

Three women. Seemingly unrelated. What secret ties them together?

Livvi Gray, now nearly thirty, didn’t have a normal childhood. She spent her youth locked up in her family’s home, her monstrous father and wicked stepmother watching over her.  She wrote down her wishes in a journal she referred to as her book of someday. She dreams of marrying and having children, a normal life to make up for all that has been lacking. As an adult, she turned this journal into a fictionalized account of her life. Despite airing all her pain and loss in her novel,  she continues to have nightmares about a woman in a silver dress, pearl-button shoes and bright lipstick.  Then she meets Andrew and it seems as though her dreams are finally coming true.

Micah is a famous New York City photographer. Having just received a diagnosis of breast cancer, it becomes her mission to seek redemption for an act she performed in her past that continues to haunt her, decades later. It is the response she gets from old friends, and her parents, that will allow her to decide whether or not to receive treatment or to die a slow and painful death.

AnnaLee lives with her husband, Jack, and young daughter in Long Island. Despite having potentially lucrative job as an attorney, Jack ceases to find meaning in his career, often returning home to AnnaLee and their daughter before the day is halfway over. AnnaLee struggles to maintain a facade of well-to-do life, selling heirlooms to pay their bills. When Jack’s niece, Persephone, comes to stay with them for the summer, their relationship at first is tumultuous to say the least.  Yet, AnnaLee sees in Persephone love and potential that everyone else has ignored and overlooked. Most of all, she loves the bond Persephone has formed with her young daughter, Bella.  Little does she know, Persephone has sparked a chain of events that will destroy their family forever.

As the life of each of these women unfolds, the secrets that bind them together are revealed. Their stories, riddled by tragedy, a pain like fire that continues to burn decades later.

The Book of Someday is a novel rich with compelling characters, each haunted by a past riddled with painful, life-altering mistakes. While Livvi’s character seemed more developed and fleshed out than the others, readers will quickly become immersed in each character’s life. I personally found myself nearly obsessed with what connected these three women and, while it was not revealed until the end of the novel, the journey was well worth the wait. I stayed up far later than I should have, unable to fall asleep until all was revealed. And when that truth was revealed? Wow! Even I could not have predicted it!

Bottom line: The Book of Someday is a novel that will transfix you, captivate you, hold you hostage until you turn the last pages. A story of survival and the compassion to forgive. Highly recommended.

 

Review: The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank

    The-Last-Original-Wife

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (June 11, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062132466
  • Source: Publisher

Leslie Anne Greene Carter is just about to turn sixty. She married young to Wesley and a majority of her life has been devoted to being a good wife and a doting mother. In their Atlanta social circle, she is the last original wife. Wesley’s friends have all married young, stunningly beautiful women barely out of their twenties. She soon realizes that she has nothing in common with these women. Why must she try so hard to get along with women she doesn’t want to have anything to do with? To make matters worse, Wesley sees their marriage as more of a convenience. Leslie does everything for Wesley and their two adult children and finds that she has ignored her own needs and desires for far too long.

After a series of incidents pushes Leslie over the edge she decides to return to Charleston, her hometown, and stay with her brother in his stunning historical home. She takes the opportunity to do all the things she should have been doing all along. She is reunited with her old high school flame and together the two wine and dine in the luxurious and historical southern city. Finally Leslie discovers just what it is she wants out of life, a discovery that has been a long time coming.

Told in chapters alternating between Leslie and Wesley’s points of view, the intent of The Last Original Wife is to be a story of love, friendship, and self-discovery. I’ve been a long-time fan of this author’s work, relishing in the sweet southern setting. Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite the same reaction to this novel.

As a reader, I like a novel’s character to develop before my eyes, allowing me to make judgements and form my own opinion of that character as they are built up and revealed. In this case, however, I felt I was force-fed a character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I felt manipulated, in a sense.  I wanted to discover for my own what sort of character this man and I felt I missed out a lot by being forced to accept and honestly hate a character that was handed to me on a plate.

Additionally, I’m all about self-discovery and rebirth…but why is it that it has to involve a woman in an unhappy marriage with an absolutely despicable man? Anyone, even in the happiest of marriages, can undergo a need to discover oneself and embark on a journey to do so. In this novel, the intense distaste for Wesley’s character was so strong, I felt it really detracted from the story.  I wanted to celebrate Leslie’s journey with her but instead found myself shaking my fist and yelling each time I picked up the book. The overwhelming negative feelings prevented me from truly appreciate what I think was the author’s intended message in this novel.

This won’t deter me from reading Frank’s work in the future. She is such a talented writer that I would be missing out if I allowed one experience to detract me from reading her writing. While this isn’t the novel for me, perhaps other readers out there can overlook the issues that disturbed me so.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Please be sure to check out the other stops along the way.

Review: Porch Lights by Dorothea Benton Frank

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 23, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062211765
  • Source: Publisher

While Jackie McMullen is serving her country overseas as a military nurse her husband Jimmy, a fireman, is killed when the floor in a building he is attempting to save from fire collapses. Jackie and her and ten-year-old son, Charlie, are completely devastated. Jimmy was a wonderfully supportive husband and father and their grief seems as though it will never cease. Jackie reluctantly agrees to return to her childhood home on Sullivan’s Island to spend the summer with her mother, Annie.

Jackie and Annie have always had a tumultuous relationship with vastly differing opinions on nearly everything. Growing up, Jackie always assumed the battles her mother forged against her father were done out of spite with some underlying motive at hand. Now, her father is estranged, having walked out on her mother the day after Jackie’s wedding. Still, realizing the healing powers of the beautiful Lowcountry, she is certain the time spent with her mother will be a good change of pace for her and Charlie.

Within a short period of time, Charlie once again begins to resemble the happy and active ten-year-old boy he was before his father died. Jackie is determined to return to their life in Brooklyn once the summer ends but Charlie has other things in mind!

Having read every one of this author’s titles, I can state that she is truly an expert at portraying the lush setting of Lowcountry South Carolina. The beautiful seascapes, the quiet and laid back pace of life feel like home to me.  I swear I was a Lowcountry girl in another life!

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The addition of incredibly lush characters that one can’t help but love, Benton Frank has once again graced readers with a truly remarkable and heartwarming read. She won me over with quotes from Edgar Allen Poe (who was post in the United States Army at Ft. Moultrie on the tip of Sullivan’s Island in the 19th century) and a character (Annie) who had a vast knowledge of this talented writer.

All in all, if you are looking for an escapist read, one that will transport you to paradise, this is the title for you. Rich with endearing characters, a heartwarming story and a tinge of romance, Porch Lights has it all. Highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title! Be sure to check out the other spots in this tour, which features a read-a-long of four of this author’s books.

Dorothea-Benton-Frank-readalong

Review: And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (April 9, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0312610769
  • Source: Publisher

Kate Vaughan has a successful life: a caring family, a wonderfully devoted boyfriend and a thriving boutique. Yet when she imagines her life before her, she can’t help but remiss to the life she had before with her first love, Jack. Jack was the man she thought she would spend her life with yet in her indecisive youth, Jack moved on and married another woman.

In order to pursue her future with Rowan, her boyfriend, Kate feels she must visit Jack once more. The two share a secret that changed their lives, a secret only shared by their two families. A secret that she must share with Rowan if they are to have a happy life together. She knows that her life will never be happy if she does not confront her past, and the love she shared with Jack.  Once she transports herself back to her past, and her relationship with Jack, feelings she thought banished once again appear. The secret they shared becomes real, preventing them from continuing on with their separate lives without dealing with the life they brought into this world together.

Inspired by a true story, And Then I Found You touches on a number of issues, including young love, pregnancy, and adoption. Since it was based on fact, this element adds a dimension of believability to the story, creating a bond with the author almost instantaneously. The characters she creates in Kate and Jack are truly genuine, well-rounded and incredibly flawed.

While I wholeheartedly enjoyed reading the story of Kate and Jack’s relationship, and of the child they chose to put up for adoption, I couldn’t dismiss the irritation I felt with Kate’s character. An indecisive youth is something I can deal with, but Kate continues with this characteristic well into her adulthood. She loves Rowan and looks forward to spending her life with him, yet she can’t abandon or admit to the love she still has for Jack.  There were several instances in this novel in which I found myself yelling at Katie for her behavior and the way she treated both Jack and Rowan. She seemed genuinely shocked at Rowan’s behavior at times when his response to her actions was wholeheartedly valid.

Additionally, I did feel that the ending was pretty predictable but I feel that it did suit the overall tone of the novel. Going in, the reader understands that Kate will get whatever she desires, whether that be Jack or Rowan.

A character I truly adored was Luna/Emily, Jack and Kate’s daughter. Her adoption was never kept a secret and her family willingly permitted her to research her birth parents. Additionally, I feel that the emotions displayed by her adoptive mother were incredibly genuine and valid, given the circumstances.

Also, I could see why Kate felt such strong feelings for Jack. He was a wonderful man, devoted to her for most of his life. It was only when Kate could not commit and settle down that he moved on to pursue his own happiness. To me, Jack is the knight in shining armor that we all dream to find (and some of us are lucky to have caught.)

All in all, despite my issues with Kate’s character, I did enjoy this truly heartwarming and moving read. I definitely see it being discussed in book clubs or with close friends. Recommended.

I read this title as part of my involvement with the SheReads blog network. Interested in discussing this title? Be sure to tune in later this month for the official discussion.

Read the story behind this novel.
Find Patti on Twitter (@pcalhenry) and on Facebook.

Review: The Secret of Nightingale Palace by Dana Sachs

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (February 19, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062201034
  • Source: Publisher

Anna is shocked when she receives a phone call from her grandmother, Goldie. The two haven’t seen each other in five years after Goldie made it clear how she felt about Anna’s husband, Ford. Ford has since passed way to leukemia, yet the pain that caused the estrangement still lingers. Goldie’s sharp tongue and high resistance to mediocrity has caused a riff in their relationship. Anna is further stunned when Goldie asks her on a cross-country trip to San Francisco to return a collection of valuable Japanese art to its owner. The art, in Goldie’s possession since the 1940s, given to her by someone close to her heart before they entered a Japanese-American internment camp. For obvious reasons, the art holds a great deal of meaning to the elderly woman. Just how meaningful is unknown to Anna…until now.

Reluctantly, Anna agrees and the two embark on the cross-country journey in Goldie’s Rolls-Royce. As the journey passes, Anna’s strong feelings about her grandmother soften as Goldie reveals a terrible secret she’s kept hidden for over half a century. From her own struggles as a young Jewish immigrant to a love she was forced to abandon, Goldie realizes she must open up about her past in order to let Anna, still recovering from the loss of her husband, heal.

Alternating between Anna’s point of view in the present time to Goldie’s young adult years, The Secret of the Nightingale Palace tells a beautiful, yet also heartbreaking, story about the power of family, sacrifice, forgiveness, and ultimately, love. The journey Anna and Goldie takes is an incredibly enlightening one, Anna realizing the motive behind her grandmother’s pain and sharp conviction. Anna is certainly not a weak woman, but the loss of Ford, and the period preceding his death, has turned her into a shell of a woman. She’s unable to feel love or passion and instead throws everything into her job. Goldie realizes her granddaughter has so much more hope in her and is frightened that Anna will never live up to her full potential if she continues to dwell on the past.

The Secret of the Nightingale Palace is a truly rewarding novel that will pull at your heart-strings. The alternating timeline and point of view adds a completely new dimension of the story, showing a parallel in the lives of two women that are a lot alike, yet refuse to admit so. The historical aspect of this novel is incredibly well-developed, the reader given a glimpse of two cultures that are quite different, yet due to the treatment they received, ultimately have strong similarities.

What makes this novel so attractive are the incredibly strong, richly drawn-out characters. While they each had their faults and were incredibly fallible, both Anna and Goldie were characters readers can’t help but sympathize and relate to. Their relationship is rocky at best and it was tremendously rewarding to watch it grow, heal, and nurture during their journey. A truly strong and memorable novel, perfect for a wide-range of readers from fans of history to those drawn in by character-driven novels. Highly recommended.

 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the other stops in the tour.

Review: The Lion Is in by Delia Ephron

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (January 29, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0452298938
  • Source: Publisher

Three women are on the run. Tracee is a kleptomaniac, running from a life spiraling out of control. Her best friend, Lana, is alcoholic who just happened to be with Tracee when she decided to bolt. She stole a great deal of her father’s money and drank it away, so Tracee is really the only person of value in her life right now. Rita is a minister’s wife, desperate to escape her dull-drum life. She just happened to come across Tracee and Lana on the side of the road and joined in on their journey. When their car breaks down on a rural highway in North Carolina, they are forced to seek shelter in what they thought was an abandoned nightclub. Turns out, it wasn’t abandoned, just neglected. When they find a caged lion inside, everything changes.

Tracee, afraid that her past crimes will catch up with her, is unable to anyone to help with the broken down car. Instead, the three women agree to work at the nightclub, sharing a single salary, in order to earn the money to repair the car.  In doing so, each of the women embark on a journey of self discovery and healing, the impetus for such a grand transformation is the lion, Marcel, himself. Something about this caged king of the jungle sets each of the women free, allowing them to break through the restraints binding them to their current lives an allowing them to evolve into completely different, incredibly strong, women.

In each of these women, Ephron has created extremely flawed characters that readers can’t help but connect with. Compassion, friendship, and understanding are characteristics of this book that make it a truly heartwarming read. Personally, I read it in one sitting, sad when I finally turned the last pages. I wasn’t ready to let go of the characters quite yet. Days later, I still miss them, and I find myself wondering what the women (and Marcel!) are doing now.

If you are looking for a witty, humorous, uplifting read, The Lion Is in is the book for you. Highly, highly recommended.

Mini-Review: The Good Daughter by Jane Porter

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade; 1 edition (February 5, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0425253422
  • Source: Publisher
Kit Brennan has always been a good girl, the good daughter, as far as her family is concerned. She’s teacher at a Catholic school, attends Mass every weekend, and wants to go the traditional route as far as marriage and having children are concerned. Yet as her 40th birthday nears, Kit wonders if taking the route preferred by her family is the best one.  She both a man her parents would approve of (on the surface anyway) as well as a man she knows they would shun. An even more difficult question: Should she wait for the perfect man to enter her life in order to start a family, or does she have what it takes to have one, through adoption, on her own? As her mother deteriorates further due to cancer, Kit soon realizes that sometimes life is meant to be lived in the moment, that an individual truly can’t be happy if they are continuously trying to please others rather than themselves.

The Good Daughter
is the second book in the Brennan sisters trilogy. Once again, Porter continues to create a truly rewarding and insightful read. She tackles a number of pretty tough subjects so eloquently and respectfully, packing quite a punch. Readers are given a bigger opportunity to embrace and love each of the Brennan sisters, a truly remarkable set of siblings. Upon wrapping up title, much like her other books, the characters resonate, often taking on stronger roles in my life than I thought imaginable. As I closed each of the Brennan sisters books, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to a dear friend. Yet knowing that a reunion is in future with another Brennan sisters book I’m left feeling hopeful, looking forward to the next saga in this family’s story. Highly recommended.

Review: Everything Was Good-bye by Gurjinder Basran

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pintail; Reprint edition (December 31, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0143186817
  • Source: Publisher
Meena is the youngest of six daughters raised by a widowed mother. Her family, native of India, continues to hold on to many of their culture’s customs. A young woman in her last year of high-school, Meena struggles to continue to honor tradition while living the life of an American young woman. Her older sisters were restricted by these traditions but Meena refuses to become a victim of the same fate. She must decide what is more important: tradition or following one’s own heart. The choice Meena ultimately makes has lasting, irreversible effects.

Everything Was Good-Bye is, at its very core, a incredibly emotional, brilliant examination of a young woman trying to seek a voice, an identity, while living in two vastly different cultures. Basran excels at building a truly genuine character in Meena that is both challenging and sympathetic. She so masterfully details the struggles Meena experiences in her strict, traditional Indian home, struggles that many of us outside the culture cannot comprehend. The reader follows Meena as she matures from a young high school girl to a more mature, more independent adult. The growth she experiences is tremendous, solely made possible by her hard-headed desire to live beyond the life planned out for her by her mother. What Meena experiences at each stage of her growth is certainly not easy, for she is forced to overcome more challenges in the span of a few years that many don’t face in an entire lifetime.

Though this novel is brief in pages, the content within is vast, an epic story told in a condensed manner. My challenge as a reviewer is that I want to give much more detail about the storyline, but doing so may spoil the experience for readers. Though this review is brief it is certainly not due to my lack of feelings and response to this novel. My only qualm with this novel was the ending; I wanted to know more about Meena and her future. To me, the ending seemed a little rushed, abrupt, when I wanted more detail. Nevertheless, this title destined to make an appearance in book clubs for Basran’s debut novel will have a lasting effect on its readers. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; Original edition (June 19, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 145165539
  • Source: Publisher (for She Reads)

After their parents died in a car accident, June and Isabel moved into their Aunt Lolly’s inn on the Maine Coast, joining Lolly’s daughter Kat. This new living situation was a challenge for all of them especially Kat, who also lost her father in the deadly car accident. The three girls didn’t necessarily grow up with the strongest relationship but decades later, when Lolly requests that each of the girls return home to the inn, they each know the news must be major.

Each of the women have dramatically different lives. Isabel’s marriage is falling apart. She met her husband when she was a young girl, marrying young as well. They made a pact to have to children, a pact that she wishes she never made. June’s seven-year-old son, Charlie, is desperate to know more about the father he has never met, the father that walked out of June’s life before she had the chance to tell him about Charlie. She promises Charlie that she’ll find his father, a promise she has difficulty keeping. Kat still lives with her mother at the inn, serving as the local baker for the inn & the neighboring businesses.  She’s been best friends with Oliver since they were six; now she’s been asked to raise their relationship to a whole new, more permanent, status.  Finally, Lolly has always been the strong, perhaps cold, matriarch of the family. Her one soft spot: Meryl Streep movies.

When Lolly deals out bad news, news that will forever affect the lives of the three young women, they are forced to put aside their differences and do what is best for the family as a whole.  While they never really visited much over the years, the news has bonded them, the Friday night Meryl Streep movie nights providing them an outlet to share their inner thoughts and feelings. The discussions they have over movies like Kramer vs. Kramer, Mama Mia,  and The Devil Wears Prada allow them to find hope and a new direction and life.

While I did have a difficult time keeping track of all the characters at the beginning, within a few chapters I was able to differentiate them, with the help of a character map I created. Also, while I didn’t necessarily bond with any of the individual characters, they each taught me a important lesson: the value of family and understanding one’s own wants and desires.

The Meryl Streep Movie Club would make a perfect book/movie club selection for there is a wealth of subject matter to be discussed. The book includes an extremely resourceful book club guide at the end of the book to aid in/inspire discussion.

All in all, The Meryl Streep Movie Club was an incredibly heart-felt, rewarding read. It’s certainly a book that will give you a good cry, but like family, don’t we all need that every once in a while? Recommended.

Read an excerpt here.

If you have read this book, be sure to check out and participate in the She Reads September Book Club Discussion!

Review: A Simple Thing by Kathleen McCleary

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (July 24, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0062106236
  • Source: Publisher

Susannah Delaney, her husband Matt and two children Katie and Quinn, live a hectic life in busy suburban Virginia. Katie, a teenager, is showing signs of rebellion by sneaking out late at night and drinking. She’s involved with a young man who makes it a game to take the virginity of young girls. Quinn, an adolescent, has always been a bit different than other kids his age. An old soul, his interest lies in nature and learning (and spouting out) various facts about the world around him. He’s being bullied at school and unbeknownst to Susannah, Katie has kept secret just how far this taunting has gone.

Desperate to do whatever she can to protect her children, Susannah packs up their belongings in the middle of the school year and moves thousands of miles away to Sounder, a remote island in the San Juans. They leave Matt behind; Susannah is willing to put a strain on her relationship if it means her children are safe.

To say that Sounder is a remote island is an understatement. Residents must go to the mainland to obtain all necessities, many have opted to grow their own crops to sustain them. And, to the dismay of Katie, they are without electricity and indoor plumbing. Residents have survived on this island for centuries with just the basics, so Susannah believes this is the best course of action for her struggling family. Meanwhile, she remains devastated after an accident during her childhood took the life of her younger sister, Janie. Although it’s been decades since the accident transpired, the guilt Susannah feels continues to torment her and ultimately causes her to be overprotective of her own children.

Upon their arrival on Sounder, the Delaney’s meet a host of characters living on the island. Betty Pavalak, now in her eighties, moved to the island thirty years ago to escape a painful past as well. Her husband, Bill, craved the unique and exciting life of an Alaskan fisherman. Betty was hesitant to leave her life and family behind to follow her husband’s dream, but after finally giving birth to a son after multiple miscarriages, she compromised and moved to Sounder. By this time, their marriage was the shell of what it used to be. Bill was unfaithful a number of times, so Betty decided to treat their relationship like a business relationship. Bill would leave for months at a time, returning to Betty for the summer when the fishing season was over, the money he gained from these ventures would sustain the marriage. At first, the arrangement was pure business without marital relations. But after being alone on the island, raising a child on her own, Betty craved the affection and contact that lovemaking gave her.  Still, the time Bill was away was incredibly devastating and lonely for Betty.

One can’t help but find parallels in the lives of Susannah and Betty. While Betty has come to terms with the decisions she made and the pain she suffered, Susannah is just beginning. The two form an unlikely bond and Betty helps Susannah see that she must face her fears and forgive herself for what happened to her as a child. Doing so will not only benefit her, but the lives of her children and her marriage to her husband.  The following line stated Betty’s sentiments perfectly:

“Don’t confuse guilt and shame. It’s okay to feel badly about something you’ve done. But don’t let it make you feel badly about who you are.”

 

Susannah’s character is completely flawed in that her form parenting is built on reacting, oftentimes without thinking. This trait goes back to her early adulthood and served as a coping mechanism of sorts. That said, she gets after Katie for behaving the same way, acting impulsively. Granted, Susannah is an adult and Katie is her child, but the similarities between the two are remarkable. Additionally, seeing this flawed character, a mother that has faults and needs healing, sheds a bit of believability that will allow readers to connect with her even more. Countless novels have been published with mothers as perfect superheroes with the perfect life and no faults. It is refreshing to see a genuine character like that of Susannah.

A Simple Thing is an incredibly endearing and heartwarming story not only about a mother’s love but coming to terms with one’s own past. As a mother, I felt so connected to this novel, especially since my oldest son, John-John, was bullied. I remember feeling that I would do whatever it takes to protect him, but ultimately had to realize, like Susannah did, that there is a point that I must let go and allow him to protect and stand up for himself, to be his own individual.  I saw so many similarities between John-John and Quinn. John-John has always been fascinated with nature and would (and frankly, still does!) share unique and interesting facts with us. He always seemed to be a bit more mature than his classmates and would rather spend time researching a newly discovered animal or scientific fact than playing catch outside with others his age.

It is connections like this that form the very essence of this novel. I guarantee that readers of all types–single or married, with children or without–will form a connection with this novel. Highly recommended.