Book review: ‘Friday Mornings At Nine’ by Marilyn Brant

When Jennifer, Tamara and Bridget meet each Friday at the Indigo Moon Cafe, it’s to share a bevy of experiences. All mothers hovering gracefully around middle age, the three women — friends for years — turn to one another for support, guidance, perspective and, on one particular day, ideas on wish fulfillment. Because each, in their own way, is feeling stifled.

Jennifer is a mother of twin girls, two very different teens caught up in their separate dramas. Married to Michael, her one-time college rebound, she’s made a comfortable life for herself as a freelance web designer. But when an unexpected message from her ex-boyfriend arrives in her inbox, she has to make a risky choice. See him again — the first love who nearly broke her — or shut him out? And how can she possibly tell Michael about any of it?

Bridget is a harried mother of three who has recently reentered the workforce. Employed part-time at a dental office, she befriends Dr. Luke, a handsome dentist with a penchant for Italian food. Suffocated by her easy-going but aloof husband, Graham, Bridget finds her culinary senses reawakened at the dental office. How many dreams of kitchen perfection did she sacrifice when she married? Where did those dreams go? And, as her pots and pans begin to simmer in Luke’s company, what is it she’s really searching for?

Rounding out the trio is Tamara, the brash wife of a wealthy lawyer. When her only son heads off to college, Tamara is left alone with her thoughts . . . particularly since her husband, Jon, is constantly away on business. Lonely and bored, Tamara takes to her garden — a refuge in the otherwise hum-drum world — and often keeping her company is her neighbor, Aaron, an attractive writer who works from his living room. A living room that is dangerously close to Tamara’s . . . and way too enticing to ignore.

But this isn’t a novel about infidelity. Before you’re turned off and click away, screaming, this isn’t a book full of cheaters — and there’s no tidy synopsis for Marilyn Brant’s latest novel, a carefully crafted, entertaining and yet philosophical look at love, marriage and family.

Brant, author of 2009’s According To Jane, masterfully writes on the intricacy of female friendship. In Friday Mornings At Nine, we’re dropped into an inner circle of women who have spent years forging their bonds of trust  — but still remain skeptical of opening their hearts too much. Who hasn’t felt that way? That our inner lives are something to be guarded, something to be protected, even with close friends?

That’s what struck me most about this novel: how well Brant understands the complexity of women. Being one herself, of course, our author gives us three ladies who, for better or worse, we get. While I didn’t always agree with Tamara’s behavior, I understood completely where she was coming from. And though mousy Jennifer occasionally annoyed me by not sticking up for herself, I knew why she wasn’t able to rip her no-good ex a new one.

It all made perfect sense because of a little thing called character building. Though we’re tossed into a land with perfect strangers, they’re not too “strange” for long. By the end of the first chapter, I felt completely in tune with Bridget, Jennifer and Tamara, and I found myself thinking about them even when I wasn’t reading the book. It was a story to which I was always eager to return, devouring the pages quickly.

Friday Mornings At Nine has a little something for all lovers of women’s fiction, including my favorite plot: the return of an old love. Of the three storylines, Jennifer’s was the most compelling for me. This is a woman who, after being unceremoniously dumped by a man she loved more than a decade ago, still wonders what happened. Still harbors hurt feelings and misconceptions, all because she never got that mystical thing called “closure.” Though my situation isn’t just like hers, I felt very similarly as recently as last winter — in desperate need to let go of my first love but unable to figure out exactly what went wrong. I eagerly anticipated Jennifer’s chapters and wondered endlessly about what she would choose.

Brant’s dialogue is what really propels us forward here, too. Never one to “tell” rather than “show,” she lets most of her characters do the talking — literally. From the aloof husbands to the nagging children to the random Halloween partygoers, everyone in the novel was brought to life through consistently well-written conversations. I felt like I could hear the cadence of their speech without any modifiers, and that’s a mark of a great book for me.

My only (very minor) quibble? The length. By the end of Friday Mornings At Nine, I truly felt like I’d been on a long journey — and though it was one I really enjoyed, I found myself wanting the resolution to happen a little more quickly. But as I said, that’s a very minor complaint.

Fans of women’s fiction shouldn’t miss this novel full of wonderful insights into our friendship and family, people and topics always at the forefront of our minds. I was so pleased with the way this one turned out and highly recommend it and Brant’s debut novel, According To Jane.

4.25 out of 5!

ISBN: 0758234627 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘According To Jane’ by Marilyn Brant

according_to_janeEllie Barnett is 15 years old the first time she hears it: the clipped, unmistakable and disapproving voice of Jane Austen, famous authoress and, apparently, Ellie’s new mentor. Deep within her subconscious, Jane comes to be a sort of friend and guardian angel, helping Ellie navigate the turbulent years of her adolescence — particularly where Sam Blaine, the irresistably cute high school rebel, is concerned.

As the years go by and Ellie’s fragile heart is bruised time and again in her pursuit of true love, the constancy of Jane’s advice allows Ellie to learn from her mistakes and see each man for who he truly is. There are the Wickhams, like Sam, and the Bingleys, like classmate Jason. But where’s the one man Ellie wants to find more than anyone — her own Darcy? With Jane’s assistance, our heroine comes to find he may be in a very unlikely place indeed.

There’s much to like about Marilyn Brant’s According To Jane, a fresh and fun contemporary story with plenty of allusions to one of my favorite British authors. The idea of Jane as a sort of spirit guide for a modern woman was compelling enough for me to rush out and buy this one myself, and I definitely enjoyed reading the novel on long recent plane rides. More than anything, Brant’s novel felt realistic. Ellie, like many women in their mid-twenties and -thirties, is craving that One True Love — and relies upon her friends and family to help her discover him. Jane’s irreverent voice comes through in the book, guiding Ellie according to her personal morals. While some of her views are antiquated, particularly where “courtship” are concerned, most of Jane’s advice still rings true in the modern world!

I loved Ellie’s relationship with her older sister Diana, a one-time rebellious teen who taunted Ellie but comes to appreciate her little sister more and more as they reach adulthood. Their dynamic felt very honest! The book’s dialogue was believable, too — not stilted and awkward, like someone writing a parody of a “conversation.” The book did feature plenty of intimate scenes that really caught me off guard, to be honest — but not necessarily in a bad way. Those, too, felt realistic . . . and cringe-worthy. Ellie’s coming-of-age story — which, at its heart, is what According To Jane is — will probably ring true for many women. Her misadventures in dating definitely sounded familiar . . . unfortunately!

My only gripe with the novel was the “explanation” that accompanied Jane’s arrival in Ellie’s life. In some ways, I may have honestly preferred that no particular reason be given at all! It just felt random and at odds with my own perception of Jane, I guess, but that’s a personal feeling. Others don’t seem to have been as bothered by that as I am! And while I saw the ending coming about four hundred miles away, that didn’t keep me from enjoying it immensely when we got there.

A fun, light-hearted coming-of-age novel lovers of Jane Austen will appreciate — and women’s fiction readers will enjoy. Now, if only I had my own Jane to help me spot all the Wickhams in the world . . .

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0758234619 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy purchased by Meg