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book review: The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

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Is the mark of a good book the depth of feeling, or is the mark of a good book the wanting to understand how it fits your life? The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer is the first book I’ve read in a long time that does not fit the standard pattern. You know, how romances and mysteries are predictable and always have a happy ending? I wasn’t sure if this one was going to; and I’m certainly not going to spoil the surprise and tell you whether it does or not.

In fact, as I begin this review, I haven’t even finished the book yet. I’m about 10 pages away. I can think I know what is going to happen, and I can feel okay with telling you it isn’t what I expected as I was reading the first 400-odd pages. And I really hope I accept what the main character does with her life. But it doesn’t really matter as long as she’s happy with it, and I sense she will be.

The premise of the book is the stuttering relationship of Carrie Bell and Mike Mayer. Carrie and Mike were high school sweethearts — in love since age 14 — and headed towards forever together in a generic Wisconsin town. In the first few pages we learn that Carrie had fallen out of love with Mike but didn’t know how to tell him or what to do next. It was all about expectations, you know? And then he dove from Clausen’s Pier and broke his neck. He lived but was permanently paralyzed.

And in a way, so was Carrie. She made some hard choices, mostly unconsciously, as she casted around in her new future. Her actions helped her start to move again. She made friends and broke up with friends. She found talents and surprised herself. She started to talk to people and ask questions… in a definitely un-Midwestern-like way. And then she had to decide if she was cut out for midwestern life… or not.

I think the book is about knowing yourself and the people in your life and being happy with how they fit together. I think it’s about making family where you are and with who you need. I think it’s about loving others even if you’re not sure how or why.

As I worked through the last few pages of the book (before I started writing, of course), I reached for the tissues several times. Probably because I feel that Carrie is a lot like me. Her Mike is like my Mike. Her Kilroy is like my Kilroy. And at this point in the book, I’m not sure that she’s meant to end up with either of them. (If you’re reading this and wondering if you’re Mike or Kilroy, you’re not. Neither of these characters in my life would care enough about me to read this.)

I knew this before, but love is tough. Carrie is tough, too, and I admire her. I still don’t know what is going to happen — in my life or in Carries — but I wish us both the best of luck. And I highly recommend this book.

(I’ve recently learned that there is a Lifetime movie made of this book. I recommend that you steer clear. I’ve read the reviews. It sounds like they’ve massacred the book. It is so rare that a movie can do justice to a book anyway.)

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book review: Marrying Daisy Bellamy

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The latest offering in the Lakeshore Chronicles by Susan Wiggs continues to follow the Bellamy family, this time focusing on Daisy. I’ve enjoyed other books in this series, and Marrying Daisy Bellamy was no exception.

Daisy’s story is familiar to many of ours… or at least to me. She met a wonderful boy at a young age (Julian) and they fell in love. Life, however, intervened, and she and Julian couldn’t exactly connect like they each wanted. Enter boy #2 (Logan) and the baby they had together. Unfortunately, boy #2 and Daisy did not have nearly the chemistry Daisy and Julian shared, and they were raising their son as single parents.

This is where the story began, anyway. When Julian came back into Daisy’s life, things became complicated rather quickly. I can’t tell you any more for fear of spoiling the ending. I know as well as you do that books like these always strive to end happily. But for awhile I thought the author’s view of “happy” and mine would be quite different. I really did not want Daisy to settle for the wrong man.

Okay. I better stop with the story now and tell you what else I liked about this book.

Susan Wiggs painted characters to feel like ones you know. Daisy’s character touched me because she is an artist — a photographer — and she is passionate about her art. I don’t think of myself as an artist, but I would love to make money from my writing, and I’m jealous of her a little bit. I can also relate to (and admire!) how Daisy reacts to trouble. She stands firm and does what is best for her son Charlie. What mother doesn’t do that?

I know I probably puddle up more than the average person. But my desire for certain things in my own life made me cry when I read that “they were both so damaged by all that had happened. She prayed that once they both healed, they could find their way back to one another.” But come on. I’m a woman. And a romantic. And why wouldn’t I want her to have her happy ending?

Yes, this book is somewhat of a fluffy read. And the ending is a happy one for Daisy. But how they get to the happy? And will you agree with the happy? That’s the surprise. And guess what… that’s what life is all about.

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