Tag Archives: Vacation

Book Buzz: Siracusa

Book Buzz: Siracusa

 

Book Buzz: Siracusa When People Magazine, Amazon and Publisher’s Weekly all named Delia Ephron’s Siracusa one of their top books of the year, that was enough to intrigue me about this novel, although I didn’t really need prompting to read the latest from an author whose work I always enjoy.

Two years ago I recommended Ephron’s Sister Mother Husband Dog . This time, Ephron switches gears and takes us to the town of Siracusa, located on the sun-drenched coast of Sicily. Vacationing together there are two married couples whose complicated relationships are as twisted and treacherous as the rocky paths on the island.

Siracusa

Meet New Yorkers Michael, a well-known writer, and his wife Lizzie, a freelance journalist. Lizzie had a long-ago affair with Finn, a restauranteur, whose control freak wife Taylor and strange 10 year-old daughter Snow (suffering from “extreme shyness syndrome”) accompany him. Although Finn and his family live in Portland, Maine, he and Lizzie have kept in touch platonically over the years. Why not travel to Siracusa, Lizzie suggests, as an homage to her deceased father who had spoken glowingly of the crumbling charm of the ancient town.

Note: vacationing with an ex-lover and your current spouse is probably never a good idea.

At the beginning, all seems benign enough. Four sophisticated, cultured Americans and one child are on vacation together. The plot is as languid as the Ionian Sea on a quiet morning. Everyone is guardedly happy to be on vacation together. The first stop is Rome for a few days. Tempers are under control until they arrive at Siracusa and Taylor is appalled at the primitive accommodations. That seems to be the point at which dark clouds begin to amass. Seemingly innocent flirtations become something more sinister … jealousy and betrayal lead to emotional warfare … infatuations and danger take the plot in a different direction.

Told in retrospect in alternating voices of the four adults, the narrations reveal earlier missteps of each character, and their desire to make sense out of lives that haven’t gone quite the way they expected. Lizzie, Michael, Taylor and Finn reveal hidden secrets and resentments by recounting the same incidents but with completely different interpretations. Gradually, we come to learn that things are not as they seem. Their secrets and lies bubble to the surface and position them for emotional upheaval.

Aha, you will think as the clues start to accumulate and the plot thickens. Maybe you will figure out the delicously macabre ending, but I was certainly surprised.

Ephron is a master storyteller. Her skewering take on marriage and mores, with a healthy dose of black humor thrown in to sweeten the pot, makes Siracusa a book you will not be able to put down. Now out in paperback, Siracusa is just the right blend of psychological thriller and expose of human nature that makes it a hugely satisfying read. No wonder it has found its way onto so many Top Book of the Year sites.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Siracusa. Please leave a comment below, and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Siracusa from Blue Rider Press for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Enchanted August

Who among us hasn’t felt a desire to get away from it all – the stress of our everyday lives – and escape to a blissful haven, bringing a suitcase but leaving emotional baggage behind?

I know I have experienced a “Calgon, take me away …” moment or two in my life, particularly as a young mother during those vexing times when my children were cranky and we had one too many meltdowns.

And they lost it sometimes, too.

What I would give to just run away and be alone for a while, I would fantasize as I dried tears (mine). No kids, no husband, no responsibilities. Just me. Me time.

And then the fantasy would evaporate.

But more power to the two harried moms from Brooklyn in Brenda Bowen’s Enchanted August who do indeed take that ball and run with it.

Enchanted August

Enchanted August

The story begins when Lottie and Rose come upon this notice on the bulletin board at their kids’ preschool:

Hopewell Cottage
Little Lost Island, Maine.
Old pretty cottage to rent on a small Maine island.
Spring water, blueberries, sea glass.
August.

It is a rainy morning and they have just dropped off their kids. Struggling with both rain gear and discontent, they pause to gaze at the notice in silence, each thinking the same thing. Oh, I couldn’t. Could I? Maybe?

Later that day Rose texts Lottie. “Do you think we could still go?”  Lottie responds, “I think we can.”

Whatever element of guilt they might feel about leaving their families is overshadowed by the enticement of this getaway.  It will be restorative, they reason, and by the end of the month they will feel reinvigorated, in much better condition to resume their real lives. They need two more renters to share the cost of the rental, and luckily they find Caroline and Beverly to sign on.

Four strangers, each leaving unresolved issues behind, set out for an adventure to an unfamiliar but alluring destination.

What I liked best about this book was the gorgeous description of Little Lost Island. Having never been to Maine, I could still feel the sea spray as I sat on the rocks. I smelled the salt air and felt the sun burning my shoulders. I inhaled the scent of the fragrant roses blooming in the garden.

The plot meanders languorously through daily discoveries of local nature and culture. The days are quiet and uneventful, and the biggest decision to be  made is what to have for dinner. Fresh blueberries are picked, lobsters are caught and cooked, salad greens from the garden are tossed. Pleasant enough, but I was about to doze off. I yearned for some action to break through the idyllic spell.

And then, maybe two thirds of the way through, the plot thickens when a philandering husband sets the stage for an embarrassing confrontation, and the back stories of the characters begin to collide with one another.

Based on the book The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Arnim (which was also a movie made in 1935 and again in 1992), Enchanted August is as light and refreshing as a vodka and tonic with a twist. If you are looking for a beach book this summer, this one fits the bill.

Enchanted August

Book groups will be happy to know that Viking is providing this excellent book club kit to facilitate discussions.

I am delighted to be able to give away a copy of each book — Enchanted August and The Enchanted April — to two of my readers. Please leave a comment below and winners will be selected randomly.

I received a copy of Enchanted August and The Enchanted April from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Sharing the Shakes: When You Both Have the Flu

Everyone has an opinion when I tell them that my husband has bronchitis.

“There’s something going around,” attest some. “It must be the change in weather,” pipe in others. “He pushes himself too hard,” chides the inner circle. Whatever the reason, my husband is home sick, and I’m trying to ignore my own scratchy throat and throbbing headache. We can’t both be sick at the same time.

Who will take care of whom if neither of us can face getting out of bed?

This situation, a bilateral meltdown, happened just once in our married life. It was while we were on vacation.

My parents had generously offered to stay with the kids, then 10, 4 and 1, so we could get away for a few days to sunny Florida. It would be our first time alone since the baby was born. All signs pointed to good weather, romantic evenings and many blissful hours on the beach.

The night before our departure had finally arrived. I finished writing a lengthy list of childcare instructions: what the kids would eat, what they would probably not eat but you never know, who tends to spit out vegetables and feed them to the dog, who is most likely to need “time out,” that kind of thing.  My brand new resort wear in shades of pastels was tucked neatly in the bags, and with a final review of my list I went to sleep tired but happy, with sweet dreams of wiggling my toes in the sand while sipping a frozen raspberry daiquiri. Child-free.

Something felt wrong when we woke up to the 4 a.m. alarm. “I feel funny,” I mumbled to my husband as I rubbed my eyes. “Am I coming down with something?”

I threw on my clothes and tried to tell myself, essentially, that I was nuts. “You’re nervous about flying. You’ll be fine. You did remember to pack everything. Don’t make yourself upset. You are not sick. You are not sick. You are not sick.” My husband carried the suitcases out to the car. “Take some Tylenol, honey. You’ll feel better,” he said. “Maybe it’s something we ate. I feel a little bit off, myself.” I am not sick was my mantra on the way to the airport.

The tropical resort was surrounded by swaying palm trees and lush pink and purple bouganvillea. According to the brochure, that is. I don’t think we noticed, since we were swaying ourselves. We walked staggered into the  sparkling lobby with doormen whose smiles froze when they saw our greenish faces.

The elevator ride seemed interminable. The porter opened the door to our ocean-facing room, as cheery as could be. “Here are the light switches to your closet. Can I show you the towels in your bathroom?” Please make this nice man leave, I prayed silently. The door shut behind him, and we collapsed.

Beach in Florida

Those beach chairs were calling our names.

The weather proved to be as predicted all week. A cloudless sky, perfect temperature, probably around 80. The slightest of cooling breezes to make beach goers comfortable.

So they told us in halting English, the housekeepers did, as they quickly changed our dampened sheets while we wrapped ourselves in blankets and tried not to shake. Ai yi yi, they murmured to each other as they made a hasty retreat from this room of doom.

My husband and I, afflicted with something akin to the  Bubonic Plague, were sick in bed every day of that vacation. We could have been in Gary, Indiana for all the beach going we did. Until the day we left, our sole foray was to the local clinic where we were prescribed antibiotics that actually made us worse. I don’t think we even stepped out on the lovely balcony to survey the activity on the beach.

The great restaurants we were going to sample? Nope, not a one. Room service? Couldn’t bear the thought of food. I could barely make it down the hall for bottles of water which I urged my husband to drink. We looked at each other not with desire, but with dismay.

Our journey home was infamous, too. My husband had to push me through the airport in a wheelchair. I felt the alarmed eyes of strangers judging me as I lay inert on the baggage claim floor. Finally home, we could only stumble to our bed with our kids clamoring to find out what we brought them.

It took us a few more days to recover from that nasty flu bug. It’s hard to be a caretaker when you want to be taken care of. Luckily for us, with youth and stamina on our side, we pulled it off.

My husband has bronchitis. But I am not getting sick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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