Tag Archives: Fiction

Book Review: “Beatrice Munson” by Lorena Bathey

In Vista Heights, the women of the neighborhood have started to look like their homes, varying shades of beige.  Lost in this world of suburbia, Marissa Lyons learns her high school nemesis has bought the house right across the street from her. Afraid that her arch enemy, Beatrice Munson, will move in with Marissa’s high school crush as her husband and cause Marissa to relive the insecurity of high school in her forties, she decides to face the music and heads to Beatrice’s house with warm cupcakes. But what Marissa finds is something she never expected.  How will Marissa and the rest of the women of San Martino deal with someone like Beatrice Munson, whose defining moment in her life was to get a boob job or go on a trip to Egypt. This story is about friendship, love, learning to look at things differently, and great parties. Step into the world of Vista Heights where you might recognize the women, or you might be one of them. (from Goodreads) 

 

When Lorena Bathey was looking for reviewers, for her book “Beatrice Munson”, I jumped at the opportunity.  Many months ago, as I was cruising around on Goodreads, I came across “Beatrice Munson”, and immediately fell in love with the cover!  I think the cover is beautiful, and enticing, and is among my favourite book covers. Lorena Bathey generously mailed the book to me, in exchange for an honest review.  I could not wait for the book to arrive!!  And when the book did arrive, just holding the book in my hand brought a smile to my face.  Then I started to read about Beatrice, and all the ladies in the community of San Martino, a suburb of San Francisco. 

Lorena Bathey’s narrator, Marissa Lyons, is a character who captured my heart in the very first paragraph, (truly, she did!).  I identified with part of her story, of her high school experiences, and her challenge to find her true place in life. 

The character of Beatrice Munson moved into a house across the street from Marissa Lyons.  Once Beatrice settled into her home, decorated in her own personal style, Marissa came for a visit.  The vision of Beatrice’s house was described through Marissa’s voice.  I say vision, because that is the word that came to mind, as I read Lorena Bathey’s beautiful description of Beatrice’s house.  It was a house that I wanted to be in, a living room that I wanted to settle into a chair, with a cup of coffee, and a really good book.  Lorena’s talent with words drew me into the San Martino community, made me feel welcomed. 

Lorena Bathey

The action in this novel moved smoothly and quickly.  The only reason I did not finish the book in one sitting, was because family commitments called me away.  But I did finish the book in my second sitting – reading into the wee hours of the morning!  I could not go to sleep without knowing how everyone’s life turned out! 

In following the characters’ daily lives, the reader sees how each character develops. The enjoyable thing was that Lorena Bathey showed this development through conversation and action, rather than pages of description.  The humour in “Beatrice Munson” is at times elegantly displayed, in beautiful phrases that bring the reader further into the world of all the San Martino ladies.  Sentences like this:   

“….Graydon was like the high dive in the male dating pool, and on the female scale I was about halfway down to the deep end with floaties on my arms.” 

San Francisco – Lorena Bathey Facebook Page

I laughed out loud, and re-read the line a few times before moving on!  Lorena Bathey also brings humour and memories together: 

“Her hair was teased up to the level of a Jiffy Pop popcorn container,….” 

Ah, yes, Jiffy Pop foil container just about ready to burst, before Mom removed it from the stove, cut the foil, and we dived in – nice memories, and an excellent description of a hair style! The book description on the back cover, also part of the Goodreads summary, reads:  “Step into the world of Vista Heights where you might recognize the women, or you might be one of them.”   And that happened to me as I read through the book.  A couple of times I found myself thinking, “hmmm, that sounds like (insert name)” and “oh, my goodness, that’s me!”  Such is the gentle, yet powerful, word pictures created by this author.  Talent, pure talent. In my book reviews, I do not like to give books a ‘number rating’, or a ‘star rating’, rather I stay with word recommendations, (or not!).  And fiction is so personal; each person experiences the story through their own life experiences.  But with all that said, if I was to give “Beatrice Munson” a number rating, it would definitely be 5 out of 5, in my mind, without question, a 5 star rating.  So, my recommendation to my readers is to definitely read “Beatrice Munson” by Lorena Bathey, and enjoy!! 

photo – Gavin Hellier

Where is the Joy of the Written Word in this book?  The answer is: from cover to cover, from beginning to end. 

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Choose Joy!  

Patricia

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Book Review: “The Imitation of Patsy Burke” by John J. Gaynard

World-renowned sculptor and hell-raiser Patsy Burke comes to in a cheap hotel in Paris covered in blood and with a broken arm—and no idea what happened the night before. Thus begins a journey through the bars of Paris, during which Patsy, with the help of a few “friends,” including Caravaggio and the Scandal Man, attempts to unravel the events of the previous day and night. Along the way, he relives the major occurrences of his past, most of which involve a combination of women, drink, and violence. Has he ever been truly responsible for the man he is, whether for his successes or for another crime he suspects he may have committed? His “friends” take him to breaking point. If he does not wish his life to finally come full circle, he must make one final, possibly fatal choice. (from Goodreads) 

One of the classic lines in “The Imitation of Patsy Burke” must be:  “What came first?  Was it the overdrinking or was it the voices?”(page 10).  If the reader has not figured it out by this early point in the novel, this quote ensures a better understanding of the narration.  The “voices”, the “friends”, exist within the very compelling mind of the main character, Patsy Burke; in actual fact, the only true character in the novel.  The other characters exist, but they exist within Patsy’s very complicated mind.  It is from this perspective that John J. Gaynard spins this tale of emotion, action, and vivid description.  The tone is raw, irreverent, racy, provocative, and infrequently loving. 

When I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author, it was in exchange for an impartial review.  At that time, I thought I was about to read an action packed thriller, with a psychological bent.  That was not how it turned out!  But the writer’s style caught my attention after only a couple of pages.  Then the plotline caught my eye, and I was hooked.   

Due to the use of offensive language, there were times when completion of the novel seemed out of reach.  Throw in some graphic violence, and it is not my pick for summer afternoon reading.  However, the author still held my attention.  You see, each of the voices in Patsy Burke’s mind, made up an aspect of Patsy’s personality.  The skill of the author is in holding the reader’s attention to see how all the voices fit together, and how the author can actually create quite a storyline, all from the voices in the lead character’s mind.  Are you intrigued yet?? 

As a word of caution, I would suggest that the reader keep in mind that this is a work of fiction – even though at times it reads like history.  I choose not to expand on that comment, as I try to avoid ‘spoilers’ in my book reviews. 

One skill of Gaynard’s is the ability to remain neutral throughout this book.  By that I mean, the reader is left guessing about Gaynard’s own history and personal beliefs.  And I think in a book of this nature that is key to the plotline and readability of the book itself.  Keep your mind open, and your wits sharp, and this book may be just what you are looking for! 

Where is the Joy in the Written Word of this novel?  While not a ‘joy-less’ story, the word ‘Joy’ does not come to my mind in this instance.  If you have read, or do read, this novel, I invite you to leave me a comment on where you do, or do not see Joy.  And in all humility, John Gaynard, if you read this post, I truly welcome your thoughts on “The Imitation of Patsy Burke” and on where you see the Joy of the Written Word.

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Choose Joy! 

Patricia

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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)

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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.

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