Book Review: “Finding Felicity” by Monica Marlowe

When Madeline O’Connor learns that her estranged sister is gravely ill, she leaves behind her life in Manhattan to be at her sister’s side in Italy. There, she discovers an ancient Benedictine monastery that accommodates travelers, and she decides to stay there, among the monks. Everything in her life turns upside down when she falls for Brother Anthony Lamberti, a soft-spoken Italian completely different from the men she knows in New York. Together Madeline and Anthony find love for the first time, and learn that life and love always find a way. When her sister dies, a new life for Madeline begins. A new life that she would never have imagined and yet is perfect for her in every way. (from Goodreads)

                                                     ————————–

Beginning a book review can sometimes present a challenge.  The urge is to jump right in with both feet, forgetting that the person reading your review has most likely not read the book yet!   

But in some ways this book is about jumping in with both feet.   

As read in the book description from Goodreads, the main character of this book – Madeline O’Connor – leaves her life in Manhattan and flies to Italy to be with her estranged sister, Carrie, who is dying.  Madeline is the Founder and CEO of Felicity International, whose business is high fashion lingerie.  What started as one store has grown worldwide and includes a mail-order division.  Felicity International has become Madeline’s family, her world, her one single interest in life.   

Within the first ten pages, we find that Madeline’s nephew Jonathan has written Madeline a letter, catching her up on family life, the news of his mother’s cancer, and asking Madeline to come to Italy.  So Madeline jumps in with both feet, and heads for Italy, and leaves her empire temporarily behind. 

Early in the book we learn the reason for the sisters’ estrangement: Jonathan’s father is David, Madeline’s ex-husband.  The truth is that Carrie and David had an affair, while David was ‘happily’ married to Madeline, and Carrie became pregnant with Jonathan.  Although his role in the novel is confined to only a few pages, it is important to note that Carrie was married, to Bobby, at the time of her affair with David.   It becomes quickly apparent why the sisters were estranged. 

While originally living in New York, once Carrie and David are married, they take Jonathan and move to Italy.  They were not married long when they divorced, and David moved away.   Carrie and Jonathan remained in Italy. 

It seems that within a couple of days, after receiving the letter from Jonathan, Madeline is in Italy, preparing to meet with her sister. 

While this may sound a little convoluted as I write this very brief synopsis here, the author of “Finding Felicity” – Monica Marlowe – accomplishes the telling of this story with a skill that is to be admired.

Vineyard - Italy

While we are getting involved in Madeline’s life, there is a shift in the time frame of the novel.  We find ourselves in 1943, during World War II, reading another story; reading the story of a young man who is on his way to becoming a priest, and falls in love with a beautiful young woman.  The young man finds himself at a crossroads, and must decide whether to continue to the priesthood, or change his world and find a way to marry this woman. 

As the book progresses the story of the young man is interwoven with the story of Madeline.  The time of the novel alternates between the present day and 1943.  Both stories capture our hearts and our minds.  The author seems to know just when to make the time shift.  While most of the book is dedicated to Madeline, and focus is on her life, it always seemed good timing when the story switched to 1943. 

The novel reader will know early on if this type of time shift is something they like, or something they dislike.   For me, I enjoy novels that switch time frames, as this one does.  Especially as I try to figure out how the two stories are connected.  It stirs up my brain a little bit more!  But, for some readers, transitioning back and forth between different decades and centuries can be a little bit more than they bargained for – everyone is different. 

In this case, I guessed very early on in the book what the connection was between the two interwoven stories.  But how it was going to play out was to be a surprise.  

An Abbey – Italy

As we know from the back cover of the book, Madeline meets a monk in Italy, who turns her world and her heart upside down.  Their love story is played out with a bit of a twist, which I found very enjoyable.  Theirs was not the black and white world of boy meets girl.  Monica Marlowe’s writing style came to the forefront with the story of Madeline and Brother Anthony.  Marlowe’s writing captured me completely and I became totally enraptured with the love story.  When another love interest was added for Madeline, this twist meant I could not put the book down until the last page!  I was so caught up with this book that my tears were flowing freely, by the time the path of every character’s life was laid out. 

Not that I completely liked the way the story turned out – I did not.   The journey of Madeline’s nephew Jonathan is also a very big part of the storyline.  Jonathan’s life is deeply connected with Madeline, and of course with his mother, Carrie.  And throughout the novel I was right there with Jonathan.  However, I was quite disappointed with the way his storyline ended, and also with the speed with which the author ended it.   I felt a little deserted by that part of the novel.  Almost as though the author suddenly realized she needed an ending for Jonathan’s storyline, and created one.  As I mentioned, that part of the book disappointed me. 

An Italian Landscape

 But, that was a small price to pay for the balance of the book, the bulk of the book, being well written and creatively capturing my heart!  For me, “Finding Felicity” was a wonderful wild ride, thoroughly enjoyable, and romantic.

Beyond the basic story, this book is so much more than a love story.  It is a story of life, of real life.   It is a story of choice, faith, decision, interpersonal relationships, discernment, moral values, the value of friendships, and the value of family.  “Finding Felicity” is jam-packed with human emotions, human struggles, and human kindness.  And Monica Marlowe captures and holds our attention through it all.

Monica Marlowe

Would I recommend this novel?  You can probably guess the answer, but just to clarify, yes, I would highly recommend this novel.  Read it and enjoy!

Outside of the storyline, I would like to briefly comment on the front cover of “Finding Felicity”.  I thought the colours, fonts, layout, and design, were beautifully chosen.  I even enjoyed the colour of the back cover and spine, (a shade of purple – my personal favourite colour).  My only negative reaction was the young woman pictured on the front cover.  To me, she does not look strong enough to be ‘Madeline O’Connor’.  Yes, during the course of the novel, we saw a softer side of business woman Madeline, but even so her strong personality held through the entire book.  For me, the young woman on the front cover did not match the woman depicted in the storyline. 

When I received “Finding Felicity” from the author, Monica Marlowe, Monica kindly autographed the book, including a few words.  The inscription reads:  “Patricia, to your Felicity!”  I was thrilled with Monica’s autograph and inscription. But I kept going back to it:  “to your Felicity”.  I felt that must mean something, and during my reading of the book, I thought it referred to ‘Felicity’ as my dream, the ‘thing’ that made me as proud as Madeline O’Connor was about Felicity International.  And maybe that is what Monica meant.  But, somehow, I just felt there was more.  So, tonight, as I finished up this review, I looked ‘Felicity’ up on a “What Does Your Name Mean” website.  ‘Felicity’ means ‘Happiness’, ‘Happy’, ‘Great Happiness’!    

“Patricia, to your Felicity!”    

To YOUR Felicity.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Book Review: “Finding Felicity” by Monica Marlowe

  1. Pingback: Six Word Saturday!! January 14, 2012 | The Joy of the Written Word

  2. Patricia, thanks so much for your thoughtful review! I agree about the cover, but an author only has so much control over the art. I think Julianne Moore would be a perfect Madeline! I, too, wasn’t happy about the way Jonathan’s story ended … the characters surprised me as I was writing! I found out what happened just as Madeline did … and had to accept that it was all just perfect exactly as it was.

    • Hi, Monica – Thank you for your comment!
      I am quite surprised that the author only has limited control on the artwork, it’s your book!
      Julianne Moore is a perfect suggestion, and exactly the look I was thinking of, but could not come up with an example.
      When your book is made into a movie, (which it should be), Julianne could take on the role.
      As far as Jonathan – I guess I should know by now that the author’s mind keeps ideas hidden until the right time.

      One of my sisters owns and operates a second book store, (a couple of hours from where I am). I have suggested she read Finding Felicity, and then get a few copies for her store. I think they would sell quickly.

      Wishing you Joys of the Christmas Season,
      Patricia

      • Monica, I meant to let you in on one of the pictures that I used in my review. The picture of the abbey is actually an abbey in Farfa! (which may have been part of your research). I just thought it was ‘cool’!!

        Patricia

        • Yes, Patricia! Farfa did come up in my research and was foremost in my mind as I was writing. All reviewers should be as thorough as you! I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with wishes come true.

          Monica

  3. Dear Patricia,
    Thank you for this informative review of the novel “Finding Felicity,” ie, finding happiness!!!! I so liked the way you presented both those aspects of the novel that appealed to you and those that were problematic–the cover and the ending of Jonathan’s story. Also, I appreciated your concern for readers who do not like the shift into a past time or life.

    I’m going to look for this novel. As a former Benedictine nun, I’m interested in finding out what happened to Felicity and Brother Anthony.

    Peace.

    • Yes, Dee, you must read this book!
      I still have it in my mind – some of the decision making sections are still in my heart.
      I would be interested to know how you enjoy the book. You could add a comment here and/or send me an email: madley(AT)cogeco(DOT)ca
      The comment just above yours in this thread is made by the author, Monica Marlowe. What she says is interesting.

      Wishing you Christmas Joy!
      Patricia

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