Book review: ‘The Good Wife’ by Jane Porter

The Good WifeWhat I love best about Jane Porter also happens to be what most punches me in the gut: her work really, really draws you in.

You’re not reading about the action, kindly removed from the situation with a cool beverage in an ivory tower; you are all up in the drama, standing sticky in the middle of the muck when things get serious. If you’re looking for an engrossing read you simply cannot put down (and who isn’t?), The Good Wife is awesome. But when your head is full of nonsense and you just want to escape from reality for a bit, it’s terrible.

But also terribly awesome. Because maybe you want to get involved in someone else’s disaster for a bit! Feel their anguish, their pain, their confusion! . . . But maybe you don’t. Maybe you want to just veg out, relax, decompress.

I could not decompress with this book.

Don’t let me give the impression I didn’t like it, however — definitely not true. This is the third in Porter’s Brennan Sisters series (preceded by The Good Woman and The Good Daughter), and suffice it to say I am emotionally invested in this complicated, realistic and loving clan. Picking up The Good Wife, which focuses on sister Sarah, felt like reuniting with family.

And just like family, it got messy. Sarah is the wife of handsome and successful baseball player Boone Walker, a charismatic man who spends more time on the road than with his young family. Left to single parent in Florida, far removed from her Californian crew, Sarah is reeling from two recent losses and struggling to move past Boone’s previous infidelities (not a spoiler — addressed much earlier in the series).

Happening alongside Sarah’s struggles is the story of Lauren, a 30-something baker and entrepreneur whose teen son died tragically the year before the story opens. Also fighting through grief, Lauren is trying to make sense of a new world in which she’s a mother without a child . . . and must try to find a way to move forward in the crumbling aftermath of her previous life. When a sweet, smart teammate of Boone’s expresses an interest in her, leading to the first glimpse of dating she’s experienced in decades, Lauren must dig through the wreckage of the past to walk shakily into the future.

I don’t know who I adored more: Sarah or Lauren. Though they initially live in different parts of the country and are marching into different battles, the two women are remarkably similar, too. I like that Porter doesn’t focus on the Brennan family to the detriment of every other character in the novel, rendering anyone peripheral to the background; anyone introduced in The Good Wife is real and interesting and totally flesh-and-blood, making it a dynamic and personal reading experience.

And it did feel personal. When Sarah hurt, I hurt; when Lauren hurt, I really hurt. It’s a testament to Porter’s skill that she has me so deeply involved with her characters that I can barely tolerate parting with them. It’s been a long time since I got hooked on a series, and the Brennan Sisters books have definitely done that for me. Though sometimes the attention to detail felt exhausting, I still can’t help but marvel at the way Sarah and Lauren’s lives were brought so beautifully to life for me.

If you haven’t read anything by Porter, do yourself a favor and start with The Good Woman. Meg has a big role in this one, too, and the impact of events won’t be the same without gaining your own history with the characters. Porter’s third installment is heartbreaking and thoughtful and touching, and I highly recommend this — and the series.

4.25 out of 5!

Pub: Sept. 3, 2013 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘The Good Daughter’ by Jane Porter

The Good DaughterIn a follow-up to her first Brennan Sisters novel, Jane Porter offers us the next chapter in the dynamic Brennan family’s story — focusing on Kit, a Catholic school English teacher and confidante to all. Single after ending a long, empty relationship and approaching middle age, Kit gives to everyone — her sick mother; her passionate but needy sisters; her students — without reserving any warmth for herself.

After a girls’ weekend at the family’s beach house results in a chance meeting with Jude Knight, a handsome, motorcycle-riding bad boy, Kit steps dangerously into the path of Delilah, a troubled young student in need of help. Wanting to follow her heart but afraid of where it might lead her, Kit tries to be everything for everybody — but needs to learn how to be there for herself.

Jane Porter’s The Good Daughter struck a chord with me, mostly because my life churns around a cycle of guilt. I believe this is, to some extent, just part of being a woman . . . because, you know, we really feel things. Sometimes I feel too many things. And this book? Didn’t help me turn my brain off.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? Porter has a true knack for creating big, boisterous and lovable characters who endear themselves to readers immediately. After finishing The Good Woman last fall, I really looked forward to reconnecting with the Brennans — even with inevitable tragedy on the horizon. Though complicated (which family isn’t?), their love and devotion for one another is obvious. I initially thought this story would center on Tommy and his wife, following their struggle to start a family, and was a little disappointed it was about Kit.


I said it.

Because Kit is . . . I don’t know. She blends in; she plays it safe. This is the whole point of this story, I know: Kit morphing from modest school teacher to impulsive, lively woman. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t recall much about Kit from the first book — and that was pretty telling. The other sisters? The woman with a husband playing baseball in Florida, the twin volunteering in Africa? I remember them. But Kit? She just seemed so . . . school-marmish.

And this book — her story, the titular “good daughter” — didn’t do much to change that. Though Jude posed a passing interest for me, he felt too much like a caricature — and the endless descriptions of his rugged appearance and rough-around-the-edges demeanor felt obvious. I liked him, but he was kind of . . . cardboard. He never felt real.

Blended into Kit’s story is the sad, sad saga of Delilah, the daughter of a meek mother and abusive stepfather. The scenes in which her jerk-face stepdad appeared made me physically uncomfortable, and I often found myself skimming those paragraphs because they were just really sad. Overall? That’s how this book made me feel: bummed. Super bummed. And I didn’t expect that, given how sucked into a story about infidelity I was with Porter’s first installment.

And yet.

Porter obviously has skills, and her writing kept me engaged. But the story itself? I found it much harder to get any enjoyment from the Brennans’ latest struggles, and Kit wasn’t as compelling a lead as Meg. I feel bad, like I’m further contributing to Kit’s marginalization here . . . but I just didn’t like it nearly as much. After finishing the story, I felt a little relieved to put it in my rearview mirror.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0425253422 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘The Good Woman’ by Jane Porter


On the outside, Meg Brennan Roberts is the very portrait of it. Attractive and successful, Meg manages to weave her three kids’ schedules in seamlessly with full-time work at a winery in scenic Napa Valley, California. Her husband, an architect, is a good provider — even if Jack is distant lately, a bit absent-minded. At work, Meg feels happy and sophisticated; at home, she feels like she’s drowning. And with three younger sisters battling issues and a parent facing illness, Meg feels . . . tired. Cold. Desperate for escape, for something more.

But there are consequences.

It’s been a while since I sank into a book like Jane Porter’s The Good Woman. From the description above, you might think, “Eh, great — another story about a mid-life crisis.” And to be fair? It sort of is. It’s obvious Jack isn’t paying Meg much attention. After 17 years of marriage, he’s just sort of . . . around. Not helping with the kids, not helping with things around the house. Not showing Meg any care and affection. Just there.

The events following Meg’s realization of discontent are gradual — so gradual it took me a while to realize what was happening. But I liked that about it. Porter’s pace is deliberate, and she lets us into Meg’s head often enough to feel the frustration and boredom without playing all her cards at once. Though I felt parts of the narrative became repetitive (Meg hadn’t felt this way in so long, Meg just needed something more), Porter’s in-depth exploration of her main character’s emotions made this book for me.

While The Good Woman stays firmly in the present, flashbacks to the Brennan sisters’ childhood and teenage years provide backdrop for how Meg — sanctimoniously called “Sister Mary Margaret” by a sneering sister — became such a control freak. Known as an extreme perfectionist, Meg is the quintessential “good woman”: a good wife, good mother, good daughter. She works so hard to maintain these ideals that she rarely pauses to figure out what she wants. And who hasn’t felt that way?

Honestly, as the eldest of five kids (four of them women), just about anyone born into that large Irish-American family would struggle under the collective weight of expectation. The Brennan sisters, all at various stages of their lives, are dealing with some heavy stuff — and Meg tries to be there for all of them (save free spirit Bree). When she finally cracks, succumbing to a handsome man’s advances, I didn’t feel nearly as annoyed with her as I should have. By the time the real stuff goes down, we’ve bonded with her. I felt like I knew her. And while not excusing the behavior, I just felt really sorry for her.

The Good Woman is more than mommy-breakdown-lit — and more than a book on infidelity. With three-dimensional characters, a captivating storyline and many emotional twists, Porter’s first in a new trilogy centered on the Brennan women held me hostage. I devoured the book in less than a week, picking it up whenever I had a few minutes, and will eagerly anticipate the next novel in the series.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0425253007 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Napa Valley comes to life in ‘The Good Woman’

A fellow blogger and fellow Meg created a feature I’m thrilled to run with: Literary Locale, which focuses on the settings of the books we’re currently reading. Visit A Bookish Affair to join in the fun.

Paging through Jane Porter’s The Good Woman, set in Napa Valley, it’s impossible not to feel the warm California sun on your face.

Main character Meg (good name!) works at a winery with an irresistible pair of brothers, offering tastings to tourists and marketing the vineyard’s signature wines. Having visited Napa and Sonoma last summer, I had such an immediate and visceral reaction to this story. It was really good — juicy and evocative and emotional and intense — but I’ll get to all that in a full review Monday.

For now? Let’s talk Napa. As I was reading The Good Woman, Nicholson Ranch was completely in my head. It was one of the early stops on our vacation — and couldn’t have been more picturesque and stunning. Hard to imagine what could have bee more “Napa”-esque than Nicholson, honestly, and I loved our visit here — from the tour of the wine cellars to the fabulous lunch to the walk among the vines.

Though I’m not the biggest wine drinker you’ll ever meet, I just love the atmosphere of a vineyard. It’s intoxicating. And for an East Coast girl used to the bustle and chaos of a metropolitan area, the free and easy vibe of vintners hanging out in the warm, dry heat is very alluring. More than once on that trip, I pictured packing up my books and boots due west. It’s just hard to feel unhappy in a place like that. And, you know, the copious amounts of wine don’t hurt.

Something the fictional Meg and I have in common!

So what’s up with Napa? Well, Napa County was one of California’s original counties — created along with California’s statehood in 1850. Though the first commercial vineyard was established in 1858, Napa has only been heavily promoting its bustling wine industry since the 1960s. Hard to believe an area so synonymous with vineyards has only been around half a century, but hey — they’re obviously doin’ something right.

The area’s wine prowess can be attributed to its unique combination of geography, Mediterranean climate and geology of Northern California, according to Wikipedia — all of which combine to grow quality wine grapes. Today, Napa is home to more than 450 wineries that grow many varieties of grapes, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and more.

By the end of our stay in Napa, it felt like we’d sampled them all — especially as we coasted along on the Wine Train, where I had the most delicious cheese platter of all time. I was actually wine-d out by the time we left for Sacramento, and that’s really saying something.

Not a bad one in the lot.