Book chat: ‘The Ramblers’ by Aidan Donnelley Rowley

The RamblersAs readers, we’re all looking for that magic.

The spark. The recognition. The connection. Whatever the special ingredient is that pulls us close, that makes it impossible to let go of a story and its characters . . . well, Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s The Ramblers has it.

I’ve been an ardent fan of Rowley’s since Life After Yes, her 2010 debut, and followed the progress of The Ramblers through the author’s Instagram feed. When I learned her sophomore novel was ready to be released in the wild? Er, I might have shrieked a bit. And then it arrived, I petted it, and we got down to business.

Set over the course of one autumn week in New York City, The Ramblers tells the stories of Clio Marsh and Smith Anderson — longtime best friends both set adrift by lovers, family and circumstances, clinging to each other through life’s changes before finally realizing they’re ready to inch into whatever comes next.

Smith and Clio are flawed. They’re struggling. Leaving her roots with a mentally ill mother and distant father, Clio is now a successful ornithologist who also leads bird walks through Central Park in New York City. Smith is Clio’s college cohort, a life organizer — a fixer — who grew up in a blue-blood family . . . but her advantages come with many costs.

Clio is in love with Henry, a hotelier who desperately wants her to move forward — and in — with him; Smith is still smarting from the cataclysmic break-up of her engagement to a doctor her father didn’t deem “suitable.” Clio believes it’s time to confront her grief at her mother’s recent death, but it’s actually her life — their shared lives, disrupted and distorted — that she’s mourning. And Smith has to learn how to snap the gilded strings her parents wrapped around her wrists . . . just in time to attend her younger sister’s wedding.

Here’s the thing about Rowley: her writing is gorgeous, lyrical, intentional. Each word is carefully selected; nothing is left to chance. This could come across as stilted, even condescending — but it doesn’t. The result is a novel of fully-formed characters that endear and irritate. They make an impression.

Described in the publisher copy as a “love letter to New York City,” the setting certainly has a starring role in this story. I knew nothing about the Ramble before diving in, but found myself picturing it beautifully as we moved along. I actually didn’t do any research until after I’d finished; I wanted to save my own mental pictures. They were pretty accurate, it turns out: the Ramble is a 36-acre “‘wild garden'” within Central Park where more than 40 species of birds perch year-round.

Clio’s occupation — and preoccupation — with birds was unique, interesting and never overdone. It’s her choice to lead birdwatching groups through the Ramble that brings her to Henry, crying quietly on a bench — a man who is also a little broken, a little scuffed . . . and the perfect match for her.

This is a love story, but it is not a love story. Though it could get steamy, even sexy, this is really a modern story of two women choosing to unshackle themselves from the past — and prior selves. There is growth, and when you finish? You feel like you’ve really gone somewhere. You’ve arrived.

Recently-separated Tate’s storyline was, in my opinion, the least interesting of the three — but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy getting to know him and how his life would come to intersect, however briefly, with Smith’s.

Fans of thoughtful fiction, lush New York settings and lyrical writing will find much to adore in The Ramblers. There is much more I could discuss, but it’s a novel best enjoyed on its own merits. And after adoring Rowley’s first work so much? Well, it was more than worth the wait.

4.5 out of 5

Pub: 2016 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher/TLC Book Tours for critical consideration


Book review: ‘Life After Yes’ by Aidan Donnelley Rowley

Fresh from a weekend in Paris and with a sparkly new engagement ring on her finger, lawyer Prudence Quinn O’Malley should be floating on cloud nine — dancing through the streets singing Disney tunes, twirling in a fit of ecstasy, calling everyone she knows to squeal and cry and start planning every minor detail.

But the reality is that while madly in love with Sage, a kind-hearted i-banker with whom she lives in New York City, Quinn is plagued by doubts as to what this new “yes” — to a new life, a new world, a new marriage — really entails.

Still grieving the loss of her father, a barrel of a man who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Quinn feels adrift. As a high-powered lawyer at a major firm, she’s used to being rational — examining the evidence, gathering as much information as she can. And as Quinn begins to take a hard look at what her life has become and what it means to love, lose and move forward, she runs headfirst into an emotional journey that will change everything.

Every now and then, a novel like Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s Life After Yes finds its way into my life, and it’s moments when I’m reading a book like this — where I feel like my own face is reflected back at me — that I experience what I can only call literary magic.

Maybe it’s that Quinn is a mere two years older than me, grappling with mortality and love and “prudence,” with safety. Maybe it’s that the book is set and firmly ensconced in New York City — and I started it on the train ride back from a long weekend there. Maybe it’s that, as I was reading last night, I had my own “Sage” napping next to me with one arm firmly around my back. And I felt happy. And safe.

Whatever it was, I’ll say this loud and proud: Life After Yes spoke to me. Shouted at me, really, in a way that I haven’t experienced with a novel in a long, long time. For all her moral issues, uncertainties, flaws, contradictions and need for direction, Quinn — or Prudence, as some know her — felt like a real person. Human. Blood. She felt like me.

I sped through this novel in record time, unwilling to put it down, and found myself dog-earing passage after passage about happiness, love, moving forward. Rowley’s prose was deft and poignant, always striking the perfect balance between telling and showing. Nothing is worse than a book that’s all thought and no action, a story where I’m told to care about the characters simply because it’s easier for the author.

This wasn’t that book.

Two of my favorite quotes, because my review can’t — and won’t — do this excellent book justice:

Growing up doesn’t just happen. It’s not a fact; it’s a decision.

This is how happiness comes — in small moments, in fierce flashes. It’s not a state of being, not remotely permanent.

What could have become a sad, maudlin tale — especially given Quinn’s emotional vulernability — became, instead, a story of perseverance, of unexpected moments of joy, of choosing happiness instead of just waiting for it to wash over you. Life After Yes also served as a big “screw you!” to conventional ideas about what our lives “should” be — filled with prudence, balance, careful thinking — and not being afraid to take the giant leaps. Those are the ones that matter.

Do I sound silly, over-the-top and way too excited about this book? Probably. But that’s just because I feel silly, over-the-top and excited just thinking about it. It’s rare to find a novel that seems to stretch its thin, cool fingers into the cockles of your heart and pull out every little thought and doubt you have in there, but Aidan Donnelley Rowley did that. For me.

Fans of women’s fiction, family dynamics, contemporary fiction, just plain good books — pick this one up. I think she’ll do that for you, too.


5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0451227999 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Blog


tlc_logo copy

Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours