Book review: ‘Heaven Is Here’ by Stephanie Nielson

Stephanie Nielson led an incredibly blessed life. With a husband she adored and four happy, healthy kids, Stephanie’s days were filled with adventures in domestic bliss. She loved to run, hike and spend time in her beloved Utah mountains. Her faith was incredibly important to her, and she’d always known she wanted to care for a large family.

But if that were the whole story, we wouldn’t have much of a story. In August 2008, Stephanie and her husband, Christian, were flying with a close friend in a small plane when it crashed in a fiery wreck. While their friend was tragically killed, Stephanie and Christian managed to survive — albeit with severe burns that covered 80 percent of Stephanie’s body and more than 50 percent of Christian’s. Badly broken, bruised and devastated, the couple were taken to a hospital where Stephanie remained in a medically-induced coma for months. When she finally woke, she was in a nightmare.

But Heaven Is Here isn’t a tragedy. I can honestly say this is one of the most inspiring, tear-inducing, heartwrenching books I’ve read — the sort of story I pass around to friends and family, saying, “You have to read this.” Acknowledging the story as “incredible” in the subtitle really isn’t overstating the case. When all hope seems lost, the Nielsons’ faith and family support gets them through.

Once told she might have to have her limbs amputated, that she would never walk, that she would never live the independent life she’d loved again, Stephanie defies all logic. After many painful surgeries and endless weeks in the burn unit, her skin begins to heal. She starts to walk again, first to the nurse’s station and then to the end of the hall. And then beyond. She begins to eat and drink, to even try to type. Though she doesn’t look the way she used to — and her face is very changed — she is here. Among the living. Given a second chance and an opportunity to see her children grow up.

She doesn’t take it lightly.

I went into Heaven Is Here with limited expectations. Nielson is a blogger-turned-author, see, and I tend to look at those with a skeptical eye. But I’ve followed Stephanie’s journey for years at the Nie Nie Dialogues, an honest look at her life and family, and I find her to simply be an incredible mother and person. I didn’t know if the book would merely be a rehashing of blog posts, but that was not at all the case. I’m very familiar with her story, of course, but it was as if I were reading it all for the first time.

Though we do not share the same faith and I consider myself more spiritual than religious, the power of Stephanie’s beliefs in her healing process was hard to deny. Though religion permeated the book, I didn’t find it heavy-handed or preachy. This is Stephanie and Christian’s story, after all, and she couldn’t tell it without explaining how crucial her faith was in her recovery. Totally get it, and it didn’t bother me.

It’s hard to read the Nielson love story without tearing up a bit, too. Divided into three parts, Heaven Is Here first offers us a glimpse at Stephanie’s early life, her family background and her courtship with Christian, who bounded into her father’s business with an open smile and an interest in taking his daughter out on a date. Even after a whirlwind romance and marriage, life wasn’t perfect — and Stephanie’s honesty is to be commended. She doesn’t cover a plain white canvas with sparkly rainbows, puppies and butterflies. Even as a young and healthy mother, she faced challenges. But nothing compared to those to come.

The book’s second part details the plane crash and the Nielsons’ early months in the hospital, right up until Stephanie is well enough to go home. And here’s the spoiler-that’s-not-really-a-spoiler: Stephanie and Christian do get better. They heal. It’s incredibly hard and emotional and tough and awful, but somehow they manage to survive and even thrive in the face of tragedy. And just this past spring, Stephanie and Christian welcomed a fifth child, Charlotte. That she carried. Herself. In her own bruised-but-never-completely-broken body.

The most gut-wrenching portions of the book came when Stephanie’s four kids — two daughters, two young sons — finally come to visit their mother in the hospital. With a completely different appearance, Stephanie worries endlessly that she will “scare” them and doesn’t want them to ever see her . . . or even to see herself. I was on pins and needles waiting for their reaction, too, knowing how much a negative one could impact Stephanie’s recovery. For a woman who only ever wanted to take care of her children, not being able to do so hurts her to the core. And seeing the kids’ wide eyes and tears was hard to read.

But things improve. Things always improve. And reading about the love Stephanie and Christian share, their dedication to one another and their family, the way they hope and dream and struggle together . . . well, it was inspiring. It really was great. And I could probably write a few more paragraphs about why I love the Nielsons, but I wouldn’t want your eyes to glaze over. So I’ll skip to the end.

Fans of memoirs, tales of tragedy-turned-triumph or those who enjoy inspirational stories with just a dash of faith thrown in can look no further than Heaven Is Here. Stephanie’s raw and honest account of life as she knows it had me in tears time and again, but I ultimately finished the book with an uplifted heart and a desire to never take my own life for granted. The simple things — like walking, talking, seeing — aren’t always simple. We should all count our blessings, and make every day count.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1401341799 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers
in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘Bossypants’ by Tina Fey

What’s more awesome than Tina Fey? Having Tina Fey ride around with you while you run errands. Listening to the writer, actress and comedian’s memoir of life in and out of the spotlight was a delightful experience, especially for a reader who channels Fey’s “30 Rock” character Liz Lemon on a daily basis. Unintentionally, of course.

“Before Liz Lemon, before ‘Weekend Update,’ before Sarah Palin, Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.” (Goodreads)

It’s hard not to love Tina Fey, and Bossypants was exactly what I expected: an entertaining, mostly light-hearted look at Fey’s childhood, formative years and ascension to the superstar-level popularity she enjoys today. The title should have been a giveaway, I suppose, but I wasn’t expecting quite as much on how what it’s like to be a woman in power. The media peppers her with questions like, “Is it hard to be the boss?” — and Fey, with her trademark wit, speaks honestly. I liked her answers, but it was just . . . different.

Though I was completely immersed in the memoir, parts were more interesting to me than others. Not going to hate on my girl, but I didn’t find her details surrounding her stint on “Saturday Night Live” to be nearly as compelling as her tales of a fateful childhood with a bad-ass father and teacher mother. I might be alone in that, but I was hoping for more anecdotal over-shares from her youth. A “late in life” baby, Fey had a short-lived rebellious streak as a kid — and her teen years played out as an exercise in geekiness. I totally got that — as well as her uncanny ability to fall in love with unavailable (read: gay) young men. All right up my alley.

Part of me wishes we’d just stayed in childhood, though. I laughed the hardest as she described her dad’s charisma and cool factor, and as she detailed her nerdy exploits as a teen. That’s not to say I wasn’t still thick in the narrative as we got into adulthood, but for me? Much of Fey’s appeal is her bumbly championing of the Everywoman. She’s funny without really trying to be funny, and that’s my kind of humor. (And maybe yours, too.) Those stories shine best as she describes her awkward years, though I rooted for her as she entered the “SNL” fray and delivered her iconic Sarah Palin impression.

Bossypants will be especially intriguing to those who enjoy behind-the-scenes peeks at life in show business — and Fey delivers. Here’s the thing: if you like Fey, you’ve probably already read this book or have serious plans to obtain it. I listened to it on audio, a genius move on my part — because really. Tina Fey. Telling you hilarious stories while you drive to Target. Doesn’t get much better than that. And if you don’t like/care about Tina Fey, I’m probably not going to convince you Bossypants is up your alley . . . because it may not be. If you think Fey is hilarious, read it (it’s quick). If not, you may want to pass.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0316056871 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazon
Audio copy borrowed from my local library

Book review: ‘Apron Anxiety’ by Alyssa Shelasky

It’s rare that I finish a book with no clearcut reaction to it, but such is the case with Apron Anxiety, the latest in blog-turned-memoirs saturating the market. (Ignore the dig; I’m just jealous.) At various points in Alyssa Shelasky’s story, she upends her life, learns to cook and falls in love — and I alternated between fascinated and crazy turned off by her. But I never put the book down.

Successful writer Alyssa Shelasky’s New York is a glittery, shiny place — and one she never planned to leave. She’s very close to her family, has an excellent group of friends — and it’s her gig at People magazine that introduces her to celebrities and other influential people, including a “Top Chef” contestant who catches her eye.

After microwaving her meals for most of her life, Alyssa’s new beau — referred to only as “Chef” — pulls her into the wild and rollicking culinary world. As their tornado of a romance progresses, Alyssa upends her life and follows Chef to Washington, D.C., where he’s opening his own restaurant. Inspired by his profession and hoping to not look so obtuse to his kitchen-god friends and contacts, Alyssa uses her sudden influx of downtime to get serious about cooking. And the results are different than she anticipated.

My foodie background and love of all things dessert — plus, you know, those aforementioned that blogger-turned-author connection — inspired me to pick up Apron Anxiety, and Shelasky’s open writing style drew me in immediately. Regardless of how I felt about her decisions, Alyssa always seemed open about her motives. The stickier parts of the narrative came as her relationship with Chef progresses, and Apron Anxiety is one of those juicy books that felt like peeking into someone’s journal. Or, since this is 2012 and all, someone’s blog.

And that’s because it is. Shelasky detailed her adventures learning to cook on her website of the same name, and many of her stories had the feel of a woman hunkering down to tap out anecdotes over a 3 a.m. bottle of wine. Look, I’m not hating; I have a day job as a writer (albeit not for People magazine — holy crap) and blog in my “off hours,” too. It’s not always an easy thing, keeping up with both. But I guess many of the stories just came across as so emotionally distant I couldn’t relate to what Shelasky was going through. She’s so matter-of-fact about everything — even nasty break-ups — that I struggled to figure out how I was supposed to feel.

There were points in Apron Anxiety I thought, “I want to be her.” And then chapters would pass and I would think, “Wow, I could never do what she does.” And then my jealousy would nudge me again with an (ample) hip, and I would be back to envying Shelasky’s life. She seems to have it made: fantastic job; living in an incredible city; excellent support system; new hot guy who is obsessed with her and whisks her off to Greece just because.

And that’s what made it so hard to understand her actions.

I’ve written and re-written this review a few times, mostly because I’m going to try not to seem like a shrew. And Shelasky’s life? It’s hers, obviously. She wrote a book about it and I’m talking about the book, but the tricky thing with memoirs? Sometimes it’s hard to remember I’m not discussing characters, but actual people. People who really did these things. And what Shelasky does? Well, it was tough to fathom.

With the world in her metaphorical, New York-shaped oyster, Shelasky leaves it all — her career, her friends, her family — to move to Washington with Chef, a man with whom she’s crazy in love . . . but not completely compatible. When she gets to Capitol Hill, she has nothing to do. And then Apron Anxiety derailed for me, detailing how Chef is just too busy to spend much time with her and she has little to occupy herself aside from redecorating their apartment. That is when she learns to cook: out of necessity. Because she’s bored and lonely and embarrassed to know so little about the world in which her boyfriend is so entrenched. Because she’s far from home and needs something to fill her days until he comes home.

To which I say: why did that happen? Why did you throw everything away for a man?

On a heart level, I get it: she took a chance. She was in love and doing whatever she could to make her relationship work. I wouldn’t have done what she did, but that doesn’t matter . . . except it sort of does. It colored my perception of the narrative. It made me frustrated, and I couldn’t understand why we were supposed to sympathize with her and not Chef. She doesn’t make the guy out to be evil or anything — just, you know, overworked. Unresponsive. Unavailable.

And I’m from the Washington area. I’ve never lived anywhere else. Alyssa’s nose-in-the-air attitude about D.C. and its “scene” grated on me as badly as if you’d shredded my fingers on a mandolin. The word that popped up over and over, blinding me to anything else, was elitist. She seems so spoiled that any empathy I’d once felt for her evaporated. So Chef’s working all the time . . . and yeah, that sucks. But the man is starting a business. It’s hard work. He has a life — and Shelasky desperately needed to get one, too.

And she does. She most definitely does, but it was too little for me — and too late. As a reader, I’d become so disenchanted with her entitlement. For me, the book became a scramble of strange decisions and eye-rolling behavior. Apron Anxiety seemed less about the process by which Shelasky gained confidence as a home cook and more about celebrity name-dropping and promiscuous adventures. And it got a little tiresome.

That being said, I can’t act like I didn’t still enjoy Apron Anxiety. Snide remarks about D.C. aside, Shelasky’s memoir is very entertaining — and foodie fans who love hearing about delicious eats, great wine and the process by which it’s all created will find plenty upon which to feast their eyes. Shelasky’s demeanor was often a turn-off, but passages like this could reel me back in:

After all, everyone cooks for matters of the heart. We’re all in the kitchen because it fulfills a longing inside, whether it’s for inner grace, pure survival, a renewed sense of self, or just the thrill of it — these are the stories that get us there, keep us there, or sometimes take us away. But without the people who have moved us, pushed us, left us, maybe even hurt us, then really, it’s only food. (page 249, advanced reading copy)

And like everyone I’ve ever met who comes from or has lived there, New York City itself holds limitless appeal. Shelasky’s descriptions read like a love letter to the Big Apple and drew me in, too:

But that’s New York. The streets are filled with neon-lit restaurants that taste like nostalgia, glamour, guilt, and goosebumps. If you’ve lived here long enough, every corner booth, deli counter, dive bar, coffee shop, and critic’s darling becomes a Polaroid of your life. (page 30, advanced reading copy)

Nice, right?

So here I am: stuck in the middle. Part of me aggravated by a quick read that had me white-hot with annoyance but also still thinking about it after finishing. It inspired some real emotions, you know what I’m saying? I definitely felt something while reading. Shelasky isn’t always a likeable heroine, but she is a real person. Someone I could see sharing a beer and a chat. (Though I’m not sure she’d be up for either with me after this review? Eek.)

If foodie memoirs, bloggers-turned-authors, relationship voyeurism and the plights of 30-somethings finding their way hold appeal, Apron Anxiety is a fast-paced story that had me Googling the principal characters to see what became of them. Reading about real people is a pretty unique experience, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Shelasky’s paramours — especially Chef — feel about their starring roles in her narrative. Guess she owes them a delicious dessert as compensation — and she now has the skills to deliver.

Also: there are recipes. With chocolate.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0307952142 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review

Can one life story have two authors? Giveaway of ‘Being Flynn’

Can one life story have two authors?

Based on the memoir by Nick Flynn, Being Flynn is a new film I’m excited to see — and I’m pumped to have a copy of the book on which it is based up for giveaway. The movie stars Robert De Niro, Julianne Moore and Paul Dano — woo, wee! — and sounds like an emotional, fascinating ride. Here’s our premise:

Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) is a young writer seeking to define himself. He misses his late mother, Jody (four-time Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore), and her loving nature. But his father, Jonathan, is not even a memory, as Nick has not seen the man in 18 years.

Jonathan Flynn (two-time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro) has long defined himself as a great writer, “a master storyteller.” After abandoning his wife and child, Jonathan scrapes through life on his own terms, and ends up serving time in prison for cashing forged checks. After prison, he drives a cab for a number of years, but with his drinking and eccentricities now accelerating, he loses his job. Despite the occasional grandiose letter to his son, he has remained absent from Nick’s life.

Suddenly facing eviction from his apartment, Jonathan impulsively reaches out to Nick and the two come face-to-face. The older man is eloquent and formidable; overwhelmed, Nick nonetheless prepares to integrate his father into his own life. But, as quickly as he materialized, Jonathan flits away again.

Moving on, Nick takes a job at a homeless shelter, where he learns from Captain (Wes Studi) and Joy (Lili Taylor) how to relate to the guests who arrive night after night. Seeing the homeless — some permanently, some temporarily so — and hearing their stories, Nick finds purpose in his own life and work. He also sustains a romance with a co-worker, Denise (Olivia Thirlby). Then one night, Jonathan arrives, seeking a bed, and Nick’s senses of self and compassion falter. To give the two of them a shot at a real future, Nick will have to decide whom to seek redemption for first.

Evocatively told, ruefully funny, and moving in its depiction of the ties that bind, “Being Flynn” tells a story that reveals universal truths.

Writers! Family drama! Evocative stories! I’m in.

Want to win a copy of the movie tie-in book edition and $25 worth of Fandango bucks, all courtesy of the publisher? You’ve come to the right place.

Entries are limited to U.S. residents only, please. Contest is open today, March 16, through 12 p.m. EST on March 21. One winner will be randomly selected via and emailed by Meg for their shipping address.

Check out the film’s trailer below — it’s in theatres now.

EDIT on 3/21: Congrats to Bonnie, our randomly selected winner! I’ll be emailing you shortly.

The long-standing books on my nightstand

I used to be a book monogamist. When I picked up a novel, I read it to completion; and when I was done with that single story, I moved on to the next one. Before blogging, my “to be read” stack was about three or four books. As my stash depleted, I’d pop over to Borders (RIP, old friend) and grab another novel from the three-for-two table.

Not anymore.

Books line most surfaces of my room, listing to one side in awkward stacks. I recently combed my bookcase and donated about 70 novels to the public library for their Saturday used book sales (so if you’re in Maryland, it could be your lucky day). My bookcase is neater, for sure, and no longer double- and triple-stacked. But I will never, ever run out of books.

Beside the bookcase is a green and pink table. In addition to my journals, cosmetics and old photographs are the novels on my proverbial nighstand. Four books are always ready to provide my pre-sleeping entertainment. Or, more specifically, my non-entertainment. These are my soothing books.

I’m a skittish reader. Suspenseful stories, emotional stories — these do not make for a pleasant sleeping environment. And as I have to read before bed every night (without fail), I have to carefully choose which books to peruse before it’s lights out. Anything high-stakes or high-drama will likely keep me up until the middle of the night, determined to finish, so I have to choose books that amble along at a gentle pace.

And I have a few of them. Julia Child’s My Life In France is my ultimate bedtime read. Lush, evocative and brimming with enough fabulous food to make your stomach ache, her memoir of living and cooking with her husband in and around Paris is fabulous. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe she accurately recalled so many specific details of her time there (my own hang-up regarding memoirs), but I guess my time in France would be forever etched in my mind, too. I’m about 150 pages in and never want it to end, so I savor each morsel a page or two at a time. It’s been on my nighstand for about a year.

Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz is a novel I’ve been reading off and on for years, too. In the mood to read more non-fiction, I bought it on a whim and was sucked into the world of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who had a rather interesting love story. They’re not at the center of the book, though they are principle characters — and I’ve enjoyed reading more about an author I’ve loved so much.

At the Book Blogger Convention last May, I met Jim Higley at an author roundtable. There to discuss Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew, his own memoir, I was fascinated by Higley’s story as a columnist-turned-author and peppered him with questions about the process (sorry, Jim!). Beyond my interest in his publication story, Higley is a fascinating man who embraced life — and parenthood — even more fully after a cancer diagnosis and major change in his family. He was such a warm person and hugged me after I talked with him about my own life, which meant so much to me. His vignettes are very poignant, and I’ve also savored them slowly.

And what nightstand of Meg’s would be complete without a book on Niagara Falls? Long fascinated with the area, my boyfriend actually had a copy of Ginger Strand’s Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies that I pilfered years back. It’s not always the most compelling reading, being weighed down at points by an exhaustive history of the falls, but I’m still plugging away and hope to finish (and return it, Spence!) someday.

So there you have it — four books, all non-fiction. I’m actually more likely to savor and enjoy memoirs over a prolonged period than I am a novel; with fiction, either it grabs me or it doesn’t. I’m more forgiving with non-fiction. If it doesn’t capture my interest immediately, I don’t chuck it; the book is simply set aside for when I’m in more of a “mood” to enjoy such a thing. And I eventually do.


Do you have certain books you read before bed? Are you more forgiving with slightly boring non-fiction than fiction?

Book review: ‘Summer At Tiffany’ by Marjorie Hart

I’ll just come right out and admit it: I picked up this book solely — and I mean, solely — based on its cover. I may or may not have gone into my set-to-shutter Borders a few weeks back in order to make one last purchase at my beloved bookstore, and I wanted it to be something memorable. Something I hoped I would cherish.

I’m sort of obsessed with Tiffany and Tiffany blue; it’s so whimsical and exciting. I’ve had the pleasure of opening two Tiffany boxes in my life — one containing the ring I bought myself in Beverly Hills, and another with a necklace from my dear boyfriend — and each occasion made an indelible mark on my feminine heart.

Marjorie Hart’s Summer At Tiffany bears the trademark hue I know so well and immediately caught my eye. It’s a memoir set in 1945, a year that bears the distinction of seeing the end of World War II and a new era of life in America. Marjorie Hart is a young woman from Iowa who arrives in New York City seeking adventure and spends one summer in the city, where she gets a job as one of the first female pages at Tiffany.

Her months in New York are spent learning about the city, eyeing famous Tiffany patrons and searching to discover her true path in life. As new opportunities arise and threaten to take her farther from her close family and dreams in Iowa, Marjorie must decide whether she should follow the carefully-laid path or venture into unknown territory.

Summer At Tiffany, above all else, is a nostalgic feel-good memoir that had me eager to find a sailor to smooch in Times Square. Did it feel a little glossed-over and a tad too perfect? Sure. But we’re getting Marjorie’s story — and that of her best friend, Marty — some 60-odd years after that summer took place. Of course the author will peer at the past through rose-colored glasses. And of course she’s going to have selective memories involving the mostly good moments that encapsulated that time in her life.

So nothing tawdry happened, of course. Marjorie is a fine blond-haired beauty who experienced nothing more controversial than missing a bus back from the beach. After she and Marty dozed off during their first time seeing the ocean, police officers took pity on them and brought them back to their small apartment. And my favorite part was Hart’s descriptions of the post-war enthusiasm that overwhelmed New York City, drawing everyone into a state of euphoria that is unparalleled.

Hart’s writing is simple but not simplistic. I appreciated her clear anecdotes, interesting descriptions and way of immediately putting me into a scene. And did I salivate over the Tiffany descriptions? Absolutely. It was such fun to read stories about Tiffany’s famous customers, especially Judy Garland, and all the diamond talk had me hankerin’ for a new jewel or two.

Though Hart’s ohmygeegollygosh! talk could get a bit repetitive, I still enjoyed this fun remembrance of an important time in American history — and Marjorie’s life. It’s a fast and fun read that fans of World War II-era books and memoirs will appreciate.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061189537 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Tout Sweet’ by Karen Wheeler

Finding herself single and adrift in her thirties, Karen Wheeler is ready for a change. After some recon abroad, she throws away a lucrative career as a fashion editor to move into a dilapidated home in France. It’s there that she meets a colorful array of characters, attempts to find footing with her writing career — and just might get another shot at romance.

Karen Wheeler’s Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in France is candid memoir detailing the difficulties, excitement and intrigue of uprooting one’s life in the quintessential search for something more. Karen is like many heroines — especially Frances Mayes, author of Under The Tuscan Sun. As the film is one of my all-time favorites, I couldn’t help but compare Wheeler’s story to Mayes’. And though this tale brings us to France instead of Italy, the root is the same: single woman craving adventure buys an old home in a beautiful, rural country and must restore the property . . . and her own heart.

So what I’m saying? I’ve heard this one before. I don’t mean to seem callous and I appreciated Wheeler’s unique set of circumstances, but I struggled to find anything truly unique in Tout Sweet. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been nose-first in countless books taking place in and around France lately, but I felt like . . . I don’t know. Like I wanted something exhilarating to happen, and it really didn’t. Wheeler’s writing is strong and her descriptions solid, but I guess I just felt a little bored by the whole thing. The pacing was slow and didn’t invite anything unexpected.

I struggled to really feel for Wheeler, too; even as the author was describing past heartbreak, especially in a poignant scene in La Rochelle, I never felt a tiny twinge of empathy for her. The text seemed strangely devoid of emotion. I don’t need to read about the narrator throwing herself at the feet of an ex-lover, exactly, but I wanted to know more about how she was truly coping with the loss of her love. Though that seemed to be the impetus for her flight from London, it’s sort of . . . glossed over. Ignored. Swept aside.

Maybe she didn’t want to dwell or make this a dull catalog of heartache. I can appreciate that. But the result was a story that didn’t stir my emotions at all.

But what I did like? Wheeler’s descriptions of the people of Poitou-Charentes, France, her adopted home. And I liked Wheeler’s candor when projects didn’t go her way — like the time she believed her French good enough to communicate with a contractor (or “artisan” — isn’t that fancy?), only to return to a painfully white paint job in her new home. (Not the look she was going for.) Unlike books that seem to feature heroines who flit in and out of life with nary a trouble, Wheeler certainly faced her share of obstacles — but didn’t let them defeat her. I admired her tenacious spirit and willingness to make such a big, bold change.

As a book, though, her story didn’t translate to a page-turner for me. I found myself setting it aside for days at a time, returning only occasionally to read a few pages — an unusual experience for me. If I’m not tearing through a book, desperate for more, then I typically take that as a sign that a story and I aren’t clicking. Though I liked Wheeler’s sharp British wit and enjoyed experiencing life in France from an Englishwoman’s view, it wasn’t enough to really compel me onward. Probably best for Francophiles and serious travel memoir buffs.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 1402261187 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review