The Life Intended by Kristen Harmel

LifeIntended

After her husband’s sudden death over ten years ago, Kate Waithman never expected to be lucky enough to find another love of her life. But now she’s planning her second walk down the aisle to a perfectly nice man. So why isn’t she more excited?

At first, Kate blames her lack of sleep on stress. But when she starts seeing Patrick, her late husband, in her dreams, she begins to wonder if she’s really ready to move on. Is Patrick trying to tell her something? Attempting to navigate between dreams and reality, Kate must uncover her husband’s hidden message. Her quest leads her to a sign language class and into the New York City foster system, where she finds rewards greater than she could have imagined.

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel
Published December 30th 2014 by Gallery Books
Fiction
Format: e-book from Netgalley for review; 368 pages
Also By This Author: The Sweetness of ForgettingThe Art of French Kissing
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts:

The Life Intended was such a refreshing read for me! It was deep and meaningful and it’s the type of book that makes you want to go out and do something good for someone. We need more books like that in the world, don’t you think?

Kate’s character was easy for me to relate to, despite the fact that I’m not a 40-year old therapist still mourning the death of a husband 10 years later. But, like Kate, sometimes I have a hard time of letting things go and moving on. In The Life Intended Kate’s late husband, Patrick, who was a really great guy and encouraging person, starts appearing to Kate in confusingly vivid dreams. At first she believes she’s experiencing an alternate reality of the life she was supposed to have with Patrick, and soon she begins distancing herself from the reality she is actually living.

But remember when I said Patrick was really encouraging? Seeing him again causes Kate to question the life she’s living–is she really happy? Is she doing anything meaningful? Why does she have the sudden desire to be a mother now that it’s too late?–and start focusing on the things that really make her happy. Suddenly she’s diving into the world of sign language and using her therapy skills to reach out to foster system kids and finally letting her past life coexist with her present and future instead of keeping them separate.

“So how did you do it?” I ask when she answers. “Move on. Get married to someone else. Have a child with someone else.”

“Oh,” she says sadly. “You just have to think of it as a different life,” she says after a minute. “Maybe not the life you were intended to have, or even the life you thought you were intended to have. But it’s still your life, just like the old one was.”

I really enjoyed reading about Kate’s experiences with the Deaf community. I know it’s just fiction, but it was very eye-opening and made me wish I knew how to sign language! (Now that I have a baby, I will actually be learning “baby sign language” in a few months) And the children Kate encounters during her music therapy sessions really touched my heart. I could sympathize with their situations: some were bullied, some abandoned, and others struggled with needing to belong. Hearing their stories, I wished I could jump into the book and hug them!

Read This Book If…

…you’re in the mood for a book that will make you feel something.
…you enjoy stories and movies like P.S. I Love You.
…you’re interested in sign language, the Deaf community, or music therapy.
…you’ve really enjoy books about orphans or foster children.

“The thing is,” she adds, “you have to listen hard to what your heart’s saying before you know what you’re supposed to do.”

Final Musings:

The Life Intended is a captivating story that will linger with you long after you’ve finished it. I’m really interested in reading Krisitin Harmel’s other books now, and I only wish I had gotten around to reading this one sooner!

Amelia Elkins Elkis by A. M. Blair

Amelia Elkins

“It’s more than it appears. Don’t step on it, and definitely don’t eat it. It’s called skunk cabbage for a reason.”

“What’s so special about it?” she said, mostly to herself.

“It’s exciting! It’s the harbinger of spring. Don’t hold its foul odor and toxins against it. It’s only doing what it needs to do to survive.”

“Aren’t we all,” Amelia concluded, suddenly feeling a certain affinity for the smelly plant her mother had loved so much.

Amelia Elkins Elkins by A. M. Blair
Published June 19, 2015
Adult Fiction/Adaptation
Format: e-book; 318 pages
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Synopsis:

In 1817, if childbirth didn’t kill a woman, then there were good odds that a “miasma” would. Now, thanks to modern medicine, a woman’s demise at the prime of her life is uncommon enough to deserve an investigation. That is what two lawyers at the Harville Firm promise to do when Amelia Elkins Elkins, a member of a prominent family with more baggage than money, contacts them in the wake of her mother’s untimely death.

In this retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Amelia and her sisters turn to the American court system to seek justice for their mother’s death. It’s too bad that their conceited, silly father is doing everything he can — inadvertently, of course — to hinder their success.

Thoughts:

One of my online friends who blogs over at The Misfortune of Knowing recently published this novel, which is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, one of her favorite novels (and mine as well!), and I saved it for Austen in August this month! Amelia Elkins Elkins follows Amelia, an emergency room doctor who comes from a historically prominent family, as she seeks the aide of a former boyfriend in her late mother’s wrongful death lawsuit.

Blair does a fantastic job at preserving the spirit of Austen’s Persuasion in her modern adaptation. Amelia is a sympathetic character who, like Anne Elliot, is tragically undervalued by her family. While Amelia is left to salvage her family’s estate and seek justice for her mother’s death, her family is more concerned with their own self-centered affairs. At times I felt that Amelia’s elder sister and father were even worse than their Persuasion counterparts! But rest assured, everyone gets what they deserve in the end :)

One of my favorite parts about this novel is how the romance, although thrilling and sweet, was not the main focus of the story. I loved diving into the legal world, which I know little about, and I appreciate how Blair clearly described all of the technical terms and documents. Being an attorney herself, I imagine that she’s had plenty of practice explaining legal practices to clients! If you’ve ever had any interest in the legal field, you’ll definitely enjoy following this fictional lawsuit as it envelops readers in mystery and intrigue.

Read This Book If:

…you’re a fan of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
…you enjoy reading novels with lawsuits and legal plots (especially when all of the jargon is easy to understand).
…you love stories that involve second chances.
…you long for a story with a bit of mystery and romance!

Final Musings:

If you are looking for a contemporary novel that is so much more than just an adaptation of a classic, Amelia Elkins Elkins should be on your To-Read list! A. M. Blair’s book evokes feelings of sympathy, anger, intrigue, and of course happiness as a former couple reunites in a quest for justice.

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

We Are Pirates

“All our days are numbered,” said Manny. “We just don’t know what the number is.”

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Published February 3, 2015 by Bloomsbury USA
Adult Fiction
Format: e-book; 288 pages
Also By This Author: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Why We Broke Up, The Basic Eight
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Synopsis:

A boat has gone missing. Goods have been stolen. There is blood in the water. It is the twenty-first century and a crew of pirates is terrorizing the San Francisco Bay.

Phil is a husband, a father, a struggling radio producer, and the owner of a large condo with a view of the water. But he’d like to be a rebel and a fortune hunter.

Gwen is his daughter. She’s fourteen. She’s a student, a swimmer, and a best friend. But she’d like to be an adventurer and an outlaw.

Phil teams up with his young, attractive assistant. They head for the open road, attending a conference to seal a deal.

Gwen teams up with a new, fierce friend and some restless souls. They head for the open sea, stealing a boat to hunt for treasure.

We Are Pirates is a novel about our desperate searches for happiness and freedom, about our wild journeys beyond the boundaries of our ordinary lives.

Thoughts:

Disclaimer: I know I gave this book a 2-star rating, but I do genuinely believe there are readers out there who would enjoy We Are Pirates, even if I am not one of them. That’s the reason I’m featuring this review on my blog.*

We Are Pirates, despite its friendly and attractive cover art, is not a happy book. For lack of better words, the characters are messed up. At the heart of the story lies a family of 3 self-centered people. Phil, the father, is the only one who shows some honest concern for someone else (specifically his daughter Gwen), but don’t let that fool you–he’s as broken as everyone else.

This novel is full of broken characters in broken relationships and hopeless situations. I feel like that is a current trend in novels at the moment. And despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy reading We Are Pirates, the story itself is intriguing simply because everyone is messed up and you can sense that everything will inevitably blow up. The plot was not predictable or clichéd. On the contrary, about 3/5 of the way through the book something so unexpected happened that I literally gasped out loud and I could feel my eyes widen in surprise (and I am not an easy person to surprise, you can ask my husband).

Read This Book If…:

…you’ve ever been curious about modern-day pirates.
…you enjoy books that focus on broken characters and relationships (the characters reminded me of the Sinclair family from We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, so if you liked that book you may enjoy We Are Pirates).
…you aren’t a queasy person and you like your novels a bit rough and vulgar.

Final Musings:

Even though I wasn’t a fan of this book, it is possible that you may be! I’d suggest checking out my “Read This Book If…” list before downloading a free sample for your e-reader.

*Normally I only publish blog posts for novels I’ve given a 3 or more star rating to, unless it is a book I read for a reading challenge. The reason for this is that I don’t like to rant online about books I didn’t enjoy, and although I might write a negative review on Goodreads, I don’t find it necessary to publish negative book reviews on my blog. I’m not condemning anyone who posts negative reviews on their blogs! It’s just a personal preference of mine :)

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault

Lonely Postman

“Bilodo lived vicariously. To the dullness of real life he preferred his infinitely more colourful, more thrilling, interior serial drama. And of all the clandestine letters that constituted this fascinating little virtual world, none mobilized or enchanted him more than the ones from Ségolène.”

 

 

 

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault
Published January 1, 2015 by Hesperus Press
Adult Fiction
Format: e-book; 128 pages
Also By This Author: The Iguana
Goodreads | Amazon
My Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

Bilodo lives a solitary daily life, routinely completing his postal rounds every day and returning to his empty Montreal apartment. But he has found a way to break the cycle—Bilodo has taken to stealing people’s mail, steaming open the envelopes, and reading the letters inside. And so it is he comes across Ségolène’s letters. She is corresponding with Gaston, a master poet, and their letters are each composed of only three lines. They are writing each other haikus. The simplicity and elegance of their poems move Bilodo and he begins to fall in love with her. But one day, out on his round, he witnesses a terrible and tragic accident. Just as Gaston is walking up to the post-box to mail his next haiku to Ségolène, he is hit by a car and dies on the side of the road. And so Bilodo makes an extraordinary decision—he will impersonate Gaston and continue to write to Ségolène under this guise. But how long can the deception continue for? Denis Thériault weaves a passionate and elegant tale, comic and tragic with a love story at its heart.

Thoughts:

From the moment I saw this book cover I knew that The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman was going to be an interesting novel. It’s a very short book (you can easily read it from cover to cover in one sitting) and I often prefer shorter works because everything is condensed. It’s like a can of soup before you add water to it; the flavor is more intense, the mixture is thicker, and you can’t see straight to the bottom of it until it’s been diluted. Thériault’s novel is like that. Every scene is important and each sentence is filled with beautiful thoughts that can’t be fully realized until you’ve read through the very last page.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman is a beautifully told story about a very awkward and idealistic postman who lives vicariously through the letters he steals. At first I was hesitant about trusting Bilodo as a narrator. Not only does he steal and read people’s mail, he makes copies of his favorite letters and he’s even fallen in love with one of the writers. However, Bilodo is not a stalker and after a while I realized he isn’t even dangerous; he’s just peculiar. As the novel progresses, Bilodo’s lonely life becomes more and more suspenseful. I felt such a wide range of emotions while reading this book: thrill, confusion, anger, fear, sadness, and even embarrassment.

Although the novel inflicts suspense on the reader, it is not plot-driven. For me, the book became more intense and more suspenseful as Bilodo slowly and irreversibly loses his identity and becomes more detached from society. The deep themes and character development in this novel are what really made me enjoy the book.

Read This Book If…:

…you enjoy poetry (many conversations in this book are told through haiku).
…you like the challenge of reading a book with an unreliable and even unlikable narrator.
…you love short, yet intense and powerful novels.
…you’re a fan of cross-cultural literature (The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman focuses on the languages and cultures of French Canada, Japan, and Guadeloupe).
…you’re longing for a book that speaks to you about love, life, and identity.

“So this was how we departed this world, Bilodo reflected: by accident, without making waves or leaving a lingering trail, like a swallow flashing across the sky, and as quickly forgotten as a squirrel inadvertently run over on the road.”

Final Musings:

Even though some people might be “creeped out” by Bilodo, I set those feelings aside so I could better focus on the major themes of the novel. The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman tells the beautifully tragic story of an overly idealistic man. Several instances in this novel made me reflect inwardly about the dangers of being too idealistic, but at the same time the novel as a whole reminded me of the importance of having dreams and wishes. At the end of the novel there is a Q&A with the author, and this is how he described the story of Bilodo:

“In my view, it is an intimist tale on the themes of loneliness, dreams, and imagination.” – Denis Thériault

I highly recommend this book to mature readers looking for a character- or theme-driven novel. Warning: there are one or two chapters with sexual imagery, which is why I say “mature” readers, but this imagery is depicted through the use of haiku, and it’s not necessarily crude.

If you do decide to add this book to your collection, please let me know what you think after reading it! It’s definitely a novel that requires some digestion afterwards, and I’ve been longing to have a discussion about it with someone!

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

dearmrknightley

“What do you know about me, Mr. Knightley? Really know? No matter what Father John told you or sent you, you can’t know it all. No one does. I alone carry it each and every day. And no matter how many characters I hide behind, how much work I bury myself beneath, my past still pushes me every day and haunts me every night.”

 

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
Published Nov 2013 by Thomas Nelson
Adult Fiction-Romance
Format: e-book; 328 pages
Also From This Author: Lizzy & Jane
Goodreads | Amazon
My Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature. After college, she receives an extraordinary opportunity: the anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him updated on her progress.

As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her–a damaged teenager and fellow foster care kid, her classmates and professors at Medill, and most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own–secrets that make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters.

Thoughts:

Dear Mr. Knightley is one of those novels that takes a little while to get into, but once you reach that point, it’s really hard to put the book down.

For me, there were two reasons I wasn’t fully invested from the beginning: the epistolary style and the e-book format. I was given this novel by the publisher in exchange for a review, but the e-book they sent me was so bad, and I’m not referring to the context of the story at all. The e-book was FULL of punctuation errors that would have normally caused me to not finish the book. So I highly recommend reading this book in print format, to avoid any e-book errors, but also because this story is told almost entirely through letters. It took some time for me to get used to Samantha’s letters, but fortunately she is a reliable narrator, one you start to root for after uncovering her past.

Samantha’s story is intriguing, especially when we finally get to see into her past. Because she’s writing these letters to an anonymous stranger, she doesn’t just jump into her painful back story. We have to wait a little while, just like all of the other characters, before she opens up to us. But once she finally does become vulnerable her story becomes so much more interesting. Before that moment the story is rather fluffy and sappy (especially with all of the classic literature quotes she throws in during daily conversations), but afterwards you start to understand how she uses these characters to hide behind because she’s too afraid to get hurt by others.

“I still fear judgement. Most days I feel cast off, dirty, and not worthy. Won’t others feel the same way about me?”

Which brings me to the secondary characters. To be honest, I was much more invested in their stories than in Sam’s, especially Kyle’s and the Muirs’s. Kyle is the wayward teenager who shares Sam’s foster system tragedy. Sam takes him under her wing when he’s abrasive and short-tempered and by the end you really just want to hug him. I loved how his character development panned out. The Muirs are a lovable older couple that bring warmth and comfort into the novel and into Sam’s life.

Dear Mr. Knightley surprised me because it was so much more than just an Austen-inspired novel. The themes cut much deeper: allowing oneself to be vulnerable after being hurt emotionally and physically, child rights & the pitfalls of the foster care system, and helping out others even in the midst of personal struggles and tribulations.

Read This If…:

…you enjoy books that surprise you
…you like reading books that talk about deep and painful things
…you sympathize with characters who stay pure and kindhearted in an ugly world
…you love a love story!

Final Musings:

I really enjoyed Dear Mr. Knightley because it surprised me with its deeper & unexpected plot points. This story made my heart break at times and my face light up in a smile at others. Please give this novel a chance! It’s much more than an Austen-inspired light read :)

“All this is a part of us. God, bad, and ugly, Sam, this is our story.”