Ria lived on Tara Road in Dublin with her dashing husband, Danny, and their two children. She fully believed she was happily married, right up until the day Danny told her he was leaving her to be with his young, pregnant girlfriend. By a chance phone call, Ria meets Marilyn, a woman from New England unable to come to terms with her only son’s death and now separated from her husband. The two women exchange houses for the summer with extraordinary consequences, each learning that the other has a deep secret that can never be revealed.
Is “two women swap houses and their lives change” a subgenre of women’s fiction? Because I feel like it should be. I have a real soft spot for house swap stories, starting back when The Holiday came out (one of my favorite romcoms). I was excited to see one featuring both Ireland and New England (Connecticut, specifically), and I sensed that the drama would be pretty high in this story. I wasn’t disappointed.
I learned a lot about recent Irish history from this book. For instance, I had no idea that divorce wasn’t legal in Ireland until 1995! The whole culture, too, wasn’t just that divorce wasn’t legal but that young marriage was expected. This directly impacts Ria’s life and her decisions. Learning this recent Irish history through Ria’s eyes helped make it more real and reminds the reader that these cultural norms and laws have a real impact on real people.
The settings were beautifully rendered. From Tara Road to the home in Connecticut, I felt completely present in each. I could hear the noises and smell the cooking at Tara Road and feel the cool pool water in Connecticut. The rich settings helped me take the perhaps at times ridiculous plot with the grain of salt such a story warrants.
Many issues are covered without ever feeling like the book was written just to talk about them. Rather, the issues exist because they just happen to in real life so why wouldn’t they in this book. Among the issues: alcoholism, domestic violence, grief, infertility, and more that I can’t mention without being plot spoilery.
Still, though, in spite of the strong setting and interesting plot, I did feel that it ended a bit too abruptly. I felt as if I was left hanging, wondering what ultimately was going to happen with these women. Being left wanting more isn’t necessarily a bad thing but after investing so much into these two women, I would have enjoyed at least an epilogue.
Overall, a strong entry in women’s fiction. It’s a house swap story that stays unique with the house swap not being about romance but rather about dealing with personal issues and where you want your life to go.
4 out of 5 stars
It may perhaps seem odd to some given that my parents divorced when I was 15 (messily) and I’m not religious, but I actually view marriage with a real serious near-reverence. I think it’s important, and I don’t think it’s something to be entered into lightly. I think it’s something to be entered into with a clear mind of a fully-formed adult, and I view the commitment it entails very seriously. If your life is a wheel then your marriage is at the center of it with everything else flowing from it. Your decisions are no longer what is best for me but rather what is best for us and our marriage.
I know I’ve only been married for a year so it’s not like I’m some giant sage of wisdom. But I do think a year out I can answer some questions people who have never been married have about marriage and what it’s really like. And I think too that as the recipient of much (unasked for and asked for) marital advice that I can offer up the one that I’ve thought about the most over the year.
So first, to answer the questions: Yes, it does feel different. Being married is far different from being in a long-term relationship or living together. You are a family unit, one that is recognized by society. And there’s (for me anyway) a certain level of certainty. I can (and should) make decisions taking my spouse into account because he’s my spouse. I can 100% know that making this decision by taking into consideration his needs and desires is the right thing to do because he’s always going to be there.
And on the other side of the coin, I know if I have a bad day or if something awful happens that I can depend on him to be there for me because that’s what being a spouse is. It’s being there in the good times and the bad, and I can rest assured that he will be. It’s a sad fact that my father passed away in the first year of our marriage, and my husband was there for me. In the middle of his own grief, he put mine first. He held me. He brought me food and got me to eat. He helped clean out my father’s trailer, taking charge and much of the weight off of my brother and myself. And he gave me space to be angry about it too, and let me know that was ok and valid.
Another question people ask is: how hard is it really to change your name? Damn hard. In fact, I’m only halfway through it because it’s all awful annoying time-consuming paperwork and honestly I got a bit derailed when I was grieving. But I wouldn’t change changing my name for the world. So, I’ll tell you this: if you’re considering changing your name for any reason besides it’s what you want don’t do it. The only thing that makes all the hassle something I’m able to deal with is because of how very much I love being Amanda Nevius.
So what’s the piece of advice I’ve meditated on the most? It was from an article that a college friend posted, actually, and I can’t remember the name of it, but the gist was: don’t lose your marriage over a wet towel on the floor. What does that mean? The petty things can build up over time and make you start to resent each other. So if your spouse perpetually leaves a wet towel on the floor, choose how you react. Don’t let it annoy the crap out of you. Consider: is losing my marriage worth the fight over this towel? And if it’s not (and it shouldn’t be) then just pick it up and put it in the hamper yourself and choose not to be annoyed.
On the flipside of that, if you’re the spouse leaving a wet towel on the floor and you know it bothers your spouse even though you can’t for the life of you understand why (it’s the bathroom floor after all) consider: is losing my marriage worth the convenience of dropping this towel on the bathroom floor rather than putting it in the hamper? If it’s not (and it shouldn’t be) then just start putting the damn towel in the hamper because it’ll make your spouse happy and choose not to be annoyed about it. Obviously this extends to other things, and it makes a real difference on the whole tone of the relationship. It’s not “stop doing X annoying thing” it’s instead “I love you, so I’ll modify this small part of my behavior for you,” whether that’s picking up the towel for them or remembering to put it in the hamper in the first place.
I think it also an excellent reminder that there’s things that aren’t right or wrong; they’re preferences. And being aware of your spouse’s preferences and being sensitive to them is an act of love. I view it as an active meditation on love.
A year out, I feel closer to my husband now than I did on the day of our wedding, and that’s good and right and how it should be. I look forward to growing closer to him every day.
Book Review: Mindfulness and Grief: With Guided Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Restore Your Spirit by Heather Stang
Mindfulness & Grief is an eight-week guide using meditation, yoga, journaling and expressive arts, plus inspirational stories, to help you reduce suffering and emerge transformed on the other side of loss.
Most of my readers know that I lost my father suddenly and unexpectedly last November (my eulogy). I reached out for books to help me, as I have my whole life. I reviewed the first one I read here. The first book I reached out to was a more raw experience, and I think that’s reflected in that review. For the second book, I was particularly seeking something to guide me so I didn’t become stuck in any one feeling or place. I’m not religious, but I do consider myself to be both science-minded and spiritual, and I know mindfulness holds a lot of esteem in psychology. So when I saw this book offering basically an 8 week course in mindfulness specifically for grief, I thought it’d be a good match.
It’s obvious that it took me much longer than 8 weeks to complete the book. I think putting 8 weeks on there is a bit unrealistic. I often found at the end of the week in question that I wasn’t yet ready to move on to the next phase or that I hadn’t had time to do the activities in the book yet. I think the book often fails to consider how busy the person who is also grieving might be. There is much more going on in your life than the grief and so it must be compartmentalized and dealt with only periodically. That said, I did find the phases to be appropriate and in the right order, and once I gave myself permission to do them at whatever pace I deemed appropriate, I found working through them helpful.
Each chapter talks about where you might be emotionally at this point and offers stories from others who’ve gone through the grief process to help you feel less alone. Each chapter ends with some activities to do. Some of them are guided meditations, others are prompted journaling and still others are activity suggestions such as specific types of yoga or walking. I found the journaling prompts to be the most helpful. They were straight-forward and often pushed me to encounter an uncomfortable feeling I was trying to avoid in my grief and work through it.
The book said that the guided meditations could be accompanied by recordings on the partner website but at the time I was trying to do them I could not find them. It’s not easy to do a guided meditation that you must repeatedly open your eyes and read. I suppose I could have made my own recordings based on what the book said but my energy level was low at the time (due to the grief) and I instead tried to use them with the book, which wasn’t particularly helpful. I think this book could work really well if it came with a digital download of the meditations and maybe even some guided yoga sessions. There were a few written out yoga sessions as well, which I always find difficult to follow.
In spite of the shortcomings, I still found this book helpful in my grief. It wasn’t exactly the program to follow that I was expecting but it did provide timely journaling prompts and stories from others that helped me feel comforted.
4 out of 5 stars
Etienne has a mysteriously powerful changeling daughter no one else knew about who goes missing and now Toby must find her.
Goblin Fruit is being sold on the streets and Toby in her grief seeks to eradicate it only to discover the Queen is behind it. Then she gets hit in the face with a pie made of it and since it’s only addictive to humans and changelings she’s now addicted to basically the fantasy equivalent of heroin. Oh also she becomes fixated on reestablishing the rightful heir to the throne, and not just because she’s been exiled by the current Queen
So here’s the thing. I love reading a good series but generally so long as everything is continuing along at the same quality level as the first couple of books there’s not too much to say about them. But also if you just stop reviewing them it makes it seem like you stopped reading the series, which isn’t the case. So I’m going to be sticking to short reviews for my series reads, and I might start lumping them together, unless there’s one that’s particularly good or one that’s particularly bad.
I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I’m tired of the series looking for missing kids. This happens again in book 6, and yes it kind of bugged me, but it was different enough that I kept reading. I think having the added factor of learning more about how changelings work and also how Toby’s particular type of fae work helped keep it interesting.
I’d say that book 7 kept me more on the edge of my seat than book 6 because Toby is in more genuine peril and also she is more honest about her feelings for the King of Cats. I find overthrowing one royal person to instill another to be rather boring but Toby’s personal peril helped keep it interesting for me. I also really enjoyed one particular reveal about a longstanding character. That said, all of the political intrigue and the fact that the next book promises only more made me decide it was time to take a break from the series until I’m ready for a read that will be exactly what I am expecting. There’s always room for that in my reading but it can be a bit dull if you read a few too many in a row.
Both of these reads hold enough of what long-time readers of the series have come to expect and new information to be both engaging and not disappointing. It’s a good series but not one that builds intrigue over the course of each book throughout the series.
4 out of 5 stars (each)