Book review: ‘The Last Original Wife’ by Dorothea Benton Frank

The Last Original WifeAs her husband’s cronies begin trading in their middle-aged wives for buxom, younger versions, Leslie “Les” Carter feels her age, inadequacy and awkwardness in her bones. After several decades of marriage, her commitment to Wes has morphed her into little more than a housekeeper and meal-preparer as she sits in her empty nest without her two ungrateful children.

Just living the life.

When Les learns the bank account Wes has been safeguarding is far more substantial than he’s ever let on, the betrayal sends her over the top. It was enough that Wes had fobbed his wife off in Scotland after she suffers an accident, sending a friend’s wife to sit with her at the hospital while he keeps his tee time. But this? This bed of lies?

Without a word to anyone, Les escapes Atlanta to visit her brother in Charleston, land of their birth — and starts to do some rethinking of her own. She may be the last original wife among Wes’ power-player buddies . . . but is that really what she wants?

Dorothea Benton Frank’s The Last Original Wife is a summer read with heart. Though I didn’t fully connect to Leslie as a narrator, I felt for her situation and wanted to see her happy again.

The novel alternates between the viewpoints of both Wes and Les (how cute), and Wes came off as little more than a bully and a bore. As a woman, maybe my sympathy was just naturally with Leslie rather than her dull husband? I don’t know. But I found myself skimming Wes’ sections because he pretty much sucked, and maybe that was the point . . . but he just wasn’t entertaining.

Despite its rather serious subject matter (life, death, divorce), “entertaining” is a good word for The Last Original Wife. Frank’s playful tone makes Leslie a loveable character, even if I didn’t easily relate to her. She’s rich and sad and longing for connection, but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at some of her antics. I just . . . wasn’t there with her.

But did I still enjoy the story? I did. It’s a light read with some interesting secondary characters. I could have done with less of the odd therapy scenes when the Carters are trying to sort out their issues, but there were realistic glimpses of marriage — and humor — there. Though I found the ending bittersweet, I appreciated where Frank had started Les and where she wound up. There was a sense of closure and fulfillment.

3 out of 5!

Pub: 2013 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘Another Piece Of My Heart’ by Jane Green

Ugh, this book. This book in which I actively disliked almost every character. This book in which the person I most related to was a raging alcoholic. This book in which any ounce of sympathy I felt was erased by characters’ selfish behavior and awful personalities. I just . . . I can’t even.

But let’s dive in:

When Andi marries Ethan, a successful and handsome divorcee, she knows he’s a package deal — and that that package includes Sophia and Emily, his two young daughters. Though accepted by Sophia, a preteen searching for a maternal figure as her own mother battles demons, teenage Emily doesn’t warm to having Andi steal her father’s attention. Angry at the power shift in the family, Emily rebels against Andi in every way possible — and manipulates Ethan through guilt to get anything she wants. The stress in their home puts Andi on edge, threatening the marriage that once filled her with so much hope and joy.

To everyone’s surprise, then, it’s Andi who becomes Emily’s strongest supporter when the 17-year-old finds herself in a very difficult position. Stuck between trying to please his wife or his bitter daughter, Ethan vacillates between sticking up for Andi and allowing Emily to walk all over everyone. And when everything comes to a head, decisions must be made — ones that will impact their family forever.

Jane Green’s Another Piece Of My Heart was, for the most part, a novel that felt like a cheese grater to the eyeball. I only stuck with it because I’d received an audio copy and was determined to find if these characters would reach some peace, some redemption, but never felt invested in their journeys. Though I thought I was supposed to sympathize with Andi against monstrous Emily only to “get” what Emily was going through later in the story, all I felt was endless frustration at both women and lukewarm Ethan for being so blind.

Lest this dissolve into a rant, I spent most of the book wanting to put Emily in time-out — forever. The way she manipulated her father and did the whole “evil smile while hugging you” bit was so over-the-top, so cliché, that I often couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I haven’t read much fiction about blended families and can only begin to appreciate the difficult position in which many families find themselves while journeying toward becoming a happy family. That’s not easy. And if Emily wasn’t such a stone-cold, all-out, selfish little lunatic I might have felt something for her. I mean, Andi isn’t her mother; her own mom is passed out somewhere after going on another tear about how “fat” Emily has become, etc. and so forth. She’s in the bottom of a wine glass with no hope of climbing out . . . for a while, anyway.

Another Piece Of My Heart held few surprises and was painful to follow on audio. Aside from the strangeness of having the author herself narrate a story about an American family with her British accent, complete with British slang that would never fall from an American’s lips, I couldn’t stand the portions featuring Emily’s ranting and screaming. The story was so repetitive: Andi pretends to be nice to Emily, assuaging her guilt that she isn’t treating her right; Emily rebels against Andi’s attempts at said niceness, rightfully calling her out for being “fake” with her, “Emily, honey?” nonsense; the two get in a battle royale; Ethan admonishes the women to “talk it out” or some such, completely ignoring the fact that he’s part of the problem.

Oh, the angst. The angst.

After following Andi’s point of view in the book’s first part, we flip to Emily’s first-person accounts of everything going down — and if possible, I hated this even more than Andi’s portion. Emily comes across as so awful and annoying that my only reaction to anything she said or did was revulsion. She acts like such a petulant child that it was impossible to take her seriously, even when she finds herself in a very serious situation. Getting “her side,” if you will, did nothing but frustrate me. And bouncing around to other narrative voices in these sort of awkward monologues didn’t work for me.

I won’t go on. Suffice it to say I was not a fan. While other reviewers have proclaimed the story “truly realistic,” it was far too overblown for me to enjoy. I don’t welcome drama this epic in my own life, and it wasn’t entertaining or enlightening for me. I felt nothing for the characters and basically just wanted it to be over.

But two stars for Janice, the alcoholic mother who undergoes a transformation throughout the narrative. She’s the only one I liked.

2 out of 5!

ISBN: 0312591829 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audio copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘The Recessionistas’ by Alexandra Lebenthal

For these New Yorkers, life as they knew it — drowning in wealth, lacking in morals — is about to come to an end.

It’s an unsettling economic time when Grigsby Somerset, a primping socialite, is working tirelessly to get her 4-year-old in just the “right” private school — just as Blake, her investment banker husband, finds himself mired in a cataclysmic mess. He’s gotten himself on the wrong end of a deal with John Cutter, a caustic hedge fund owner, and the consequences could be dire.

Nearby is Sasha Silver, a powerful woman on Wall Street who only learns of serious changes within her company through office whisperings. Worried she’s being kept purposely out of the loop, Sasha has to wise up — and get some answers. Through the encouragement of her friend Renee Parker, John Cutter’s new executive assistant, she must struggle to keep afloat in a great period of financial stress. Like everyone in The Recessionistas.

Alexandra Lebenthal’s debut novel sets the stage beautifully: it’s the day after Labor Day in 2008, just before the U.S. markets seemed to spiral into a complete and utter meltdown. In 2010, hearing newscasters trumpet “The Great Recession” doesn’t seem to faze us too much; after all, we’ve been living in a period of high unemployment, foreclosures and instability for years now. But looking back to the “before,” it’s easy — for some of us — to remember those feelings of prosperity, and the misguided belief that the good times would  never end.

But they did. For many Americans, and for everyone in The Recessionistas.

What worked for me was Lebenthal’s way of dropping us into a story and immediately giving us enough background on each character to understand how and why they were acting as they did. Basically, I didn’t suffer from Too Many Character-itis because the author provided enough information for us to have a clear understanding of each person’s relationship to one another — and yes, they were all connected. Somehow. Though the first 100 pages or so were merely setting the stage for everyone’s inevitable downfall, it didn’t feel taxing to me.

But here’s my beef with this one. While I understood each character, I didn’t feel like I got to know them — on any deeper level. And because I didn’t know them well enough to hate or love them, this ended up being a pretty “meh” read for me. I was all gung-ho in the beginning, you know, waiting to really start to loathe these people — especially the ridiculous Grigsby Somerset — and ended up feeling . . . indifferent, sadly.

I would have enjoyed the novel far more had Lebenthal made Grigsby and her other socialite friends into larger caricatures than they actually were. Because Grigsby came across as human — and, subsequently, boring — it was hard to muster up the enthusiasm to despise or applaud her. I wanted to see her impulses strewn out onto the page, making us cheer with delight when she was forced to sell her expensive jewelry in order to afford her housekeeper (oh, the humanity!).

Of course, when you learn who that housekeeper is — and why she’s central to the story — it changes everything.

It was tough, too, for me to get past the stilted and very unrealistic dialogue, and that’s what soured me most on the book. Of all my reading pet peeves — and Lord knows there are many — the largest sin of all was committed in these here pages. Example, paraphrased for your convenience and mine:

“Grigsby, we’re going to have to cut back on some things.”

“But Blake, I don’t want to cut back. I like being a diamond-dripping trophy wife.”

“Well, Grigsby, I don’t know what to tell you. Life is going to get tougher.”

“I won’t accept it, Blake. I just won’t.”

See? See what I did there? See all those names floating across the page, included in just about every line of dialogue?

People don’t talk like that. I certainly don’t talk like that. And if you’re, um, married to someone and you still feel the need to address them by name every time you speak to them, some larger issues are at work there.

And yes, the whole book felt like that.

I’m not going to tell you The Recessionistas was a bad read — because it wasn’t. Huge paragraphs on intricate financial workings aside, this was a quick read that smacked of truth for me — mostly because it’s dealing with a time in American history that we’re all living in. It’s contemporary fiction at its most pure, because it’s still happening. And that, alone, was interesting enough to keep me reading. And wondering how it all will end.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0738715042 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy won from The Book Chick