Book chat: ‘Catching Air’ by Sarah Pekkanen

Catching AirFor Dawn Zukowski, fleeing a life — and love — she thought she wanted is more than she bargained for. Marooned in the snowy wilds of Vermont, she happens to meet two couples — Kira and Peter, Rand and Alyssa — who have recently taken over a charming bed-and-breakfast in the mountains.

With nowhere to go and no plan for the next step, Dawn reluctantly agrees to accompany the crew to the B&B and assist in day-to-day tasks in exchange for her lodging. Though Kira senses there’s plenty more to Dawn’s story, she doesn’t push her — especially as plans ramp up for a coming wedding at their little lodge. Despite her strange presence, they need Dawn. And Dawn needs them.

Kira and Peter have traded their busy lives in Florida for the slower, snowier pace of Vermont. Rand, Peter’s estranged brother, proposes the four go into business as a way of rebuilding his relationship with his sibling. Babies loom large in the lives of the couples: Alyssa desperately wants to be a mother, but is having trouble conceiving; Kira knows Peter desperately wants to be a father, but isn’t sure she’s ready for a family.

Sarah Pekkanen’s Catching Air is a quick, engrossing story of a family finding their way back to each other — as well as the meandering paths one sometimes takes to motherhood. Though Dawn’s character always felt a little “off” to me, I fell in love with the cozy winter setting of the story and would have loved to take up residence on one of the B&B’s plush couches.

Of the two couples, I bonded most with Kira and Peter — two young professionals escaping their complicated work lives in the south. A hardworking lawyer by day, Kira finds it easy to deflect Peter’s overtures on having children when she has a grueling schedule . . . but in Vermont? Away from the hustle-bustle? Well, the conversations get more complicated.

I found Pekkanen’s exploration of marriage and compromise very interesting. Where Kira and Peter are serious and straight-laced, Alyssa and Rand are the nomads: free spirits, wanderers, travelers. The idea of having children with Alyssa — though something he professes to want — also scares Rand, wondering how children will impact their lifestyle. And with good reason.

Playing out against the marital dramas is their first wedding at the B&B: a lavish affair in the dead of winter, and the key to getting them all out of financial trouble. Ever the organized taskmaster, Kira spearheads the event coordination and handles the meals churning out of the lodge’s kitchen. As the details became more complicated, I felt my anxiety rising right along with Kira’s — and wondered how she was going to handle it all without collapsing. It felt like too much.

Pekkanen’s charm is her ability to create likeable, realistic characters and seamlessly interject readers into their lives. Her heroines feel like real people — women that could be your girlfriends — and her stories are always fast and compulsively readable.

Though this wasn’t my favorite of her works, I was engrossed in the story and invested in the characters’ fates. Though Dawn felt out-of-place, even she grew on me by the end. An entertaining read for fans of women’s fiction and stories exploring family dynamics.

3.5 out of 5

Pub: 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher for coverage consideration

Book review: ‘The Best of Us’ by Sarah Pekkanen

The Best of UsHurricane Betty isn’t the only storm a-brewin’.

“Following a once-in-a-lifetime invitation, a group of old college friends leap at the chance to bring their husbands for a week’s vacation at a private villa in Jamaica to celebrate a former classmate’s thirty-fifth birthday.

All four women are desperate for a break and this seems like a perfect opportunity. Tina is drowning under the demands of mothering four young children. Allie needs to escape from the shattering news about an illness that runs in her family. Savannah is carrying the secret of her husband’s infidelity. And, finally, there’s Pauline, who spares no expense to throw her husband an unforgettable birthday celebration, hoping it will gloss over the cracks that have already formed in their new marriage.

he week begins idyllically, filled with languorous days and late nights of drinking and laughter. But as a hurricane approaches the island, turmoil builds, forcing each woman to re-evaluate everything she’s known about the others — and herself.” (Goodreads)

Centering on the dynamics between four very different women, Sarah Pekkanen’s The Best of Us is a novel that reads like a daydream. Seriously, the scenery of Jamaica and the private villa where the group convenes? If the descriptions of sumptuous meals prepared by a private chef and the sunny, perfect beach don’t get you, imagine the comfort and relaxation of having an entire estate to yourself . . . you know, until stuff starts to get real.

And get real it does. Each character packs their own brand of baggage, and readers can only lounge in their favorite armchair and let it all unfold. While I didn’t feel as emotionally invested in the characters as I would have liked, Pekkanen’s quick pacing and non-stop action kept me reading to the dramatic conclusion.

Dramatic, I tell you.

I felt like a fly on the wall in The Best of Us — in a good way, I reckon. There’s so much happening that, at several points, I had to concentrate on who was mad at whom and why and where and what. Verging on being afflicted with the fatal Too Many Characters-itis, it took me a solid 70 pages or so to really get everyone’s stories straight . . . but once I did, it all clicked.

Of the four women, my favorite character was actually Savannah, the newly-separated fiery friend who seemed misunderstood. Though her flirtations with certain members of the group were a little silly, I felt like I got to know her the best — and understood her better than Tina, for example. The only thing I really got about Tina? She’s a tired, stressed-out mom carrying more weight than she’d like, and she and her husband have no intimacy issues. (Perhaps that explains the four kids, no?)

More so than the others, Savannah was dynamic and interesting. As she struggles with her husband’s infidelity and whether to divulge the truth to her friends, I felt like she was the most fleshed-out member of this party. Pauline was a compelling character, too, but I could never really figure out if she truly loved Dwight or was just a hopeless gold-digger. I think it was both — but Dwight was so sweet and nice, I couldn’t forgive her for that. Until Dwight went and did something nasty, and then I was like . . . UMWHATIDONT’KNOWTHESEPEOPLEATALL.

At some point or other, everyone in the book let me down . . . but perhaps that was the point. Regardless of past or present grievances, the couples find a way to move past old hurts. Love isn’t superficial, or transient, or blind. And even with the myriad of issues everyone is facing, they’re taking their marriages seriously. They’re a real commitment. They’re finding their way back to each other . . . even if it takes a hurricane to do so.

In terms of a storm, I guess I expected a little more from Hurricane Betty . . . though the real turmoil revolved around what was actually brewing in the house. The hurricane was a metaphor, of course, for a dozen issues all coming to a head at once. The scene centering on a crazy-butt decision Allie made felt a little over-the-top, but I went with it because of the realization — and resolution — that came after.

Overall, fans of Pekkanen and women’s fiction as a whole will find an interesting, pleasant diversion in The Best of Us. Anyone seeking a bit of afternoon escapism might get lost in the sun and sand of Jamaica, and I appreciated the interesting dynamics between couples. While I didn’t enjoy this one as much as These Girls, it was a fun read.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1451673515 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘These Girls’ by Sarah Pekkanen

Family secrets, friendship and the sparkle and grit of the magazine world converge in These Girls, Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel detailing the pains, triumphs and difficulties of family and friendship.

Newly appointed as features editor at Gloss, Cate knows she has her work cut out for her — and realizes purely deserving a position isn’t enough to keep the office gossips’ tongues silent. Her roommate Renee, a talented writer, has her own troubles at Gloss . . . and with her weight. At a (gasp!) size 12, her curves spark hateful comments when she’s up for a promotion. Throw in Abby, the damaged sister of star writer Trey Watkins, and you have a perfect storm of turmoil in one Manhattan apartment.

When each woman’s family troubles begin to take precedence over their day-to-day dramas, Cate struggles to bolster her divorced mother’s spirits; Renee deals with the sudden appearance of a half-sibling; and Abby must come to terms which what prompted her to flee Maryland. Through it all, the women learn it’s their bond — to each other — that will help them through life’s pressures.

In a relatively short time, Sarah Pekkanen has developed quite a reputation for her smart, sassy and realistic examinations of women’s friendships. Though this is my first experience with her work, I can tell she’s earned it: These Girls is equal parts heartbreaking, surprising and moving. Just as I felt the story was veering into comfortable, well-worn territory, Pekkanen’s plot curved in a new direction. I loved not knowing what I was going to get — and that the obvious tropes didn’t apply.

Not to, you know, beat a dead horse, but I really related to Renee in her pursuit to slim down. It’s funny the way weight can manifest itself in various parts of your life, and I thought her struggles — and what she ultimately sees as a “solution” — were well-drawn. The constant pushing of sweets in a workplace is something I can certainly understand . . . even when I’m the cupcake-pusher. I can’t imagine the tremendous pressure on those expected to look, think and dress a certain way just to maintain a certain “reputation” in their industry.

What really worked in These Girls was the scope of the interwoven plots. We’re not dealing with a trio of single girls taking on Manhattan; these women are smart, challenged and struggling to maintain their professional and personal roles. Cate, Renee and Abby’s individual family problems were detailed enough to invest me in the story, but not complicated enough to get frustrating. Though there were no easy solutions, this isn’t one over-the-top drama after another. Abby’s personal issues with her former job left me feeling a little cold towards her, especially as I felt she’d brought them on herself, but Pekkanen did a great job of creating sympathetic heroines I couldn’t actively dislike.

And Trey? He’s yummy. He’s savvy and paternal and suave and a total Chris Pine in my mind. I think Pekkanen’s overall moral — chicks over, um . . . guys — is a sound one, and I liked that we didn’t have a trio of otherwise intelligent women scratching each other’s eyes out over a man. I mean, really. We’re a little more evolved than that, right? I like my books to not be completely stereotypical and demeaning.

For fans of women’s fiction, novels centering on friendship and those looking for a good hook (each character’s back story is revealed over time, wrapping up only at the end), Pekkanen definitely knows what she’s doing. These Girls is a strong, well-paced book that dropped me off far from where I’d started. And I dug it.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1451612540 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review