Book Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, by Kelly Harms

Dear Vi,

Summer reading season is upon us and I am all about the lighthearted, happy books right now.

Why? Because lately I’m finding all the unkindness in the world is wearing me down. Angst and anger shouts at me every time I look at social media, and sometimes it’s hard to get it out of my head. Seriously, sometimes it wakes me up in the night.

So all that disturbing soul-stealing stuff we’re surrounded with?  I don’t want any of it in the novels I read right now. No thank you, I want to be transported away from all of that this summer.

I want to live in Amy Byler’s world for a couple of weeks.

Overworked and underappreciated, single mom Amy Byler needs a break. So when the guilt-ridden husband who abandoned her shows up and offers to take care of their kids for the summer, she accepts his offer and escapes rural Pennsylvania for New York City. Usually grounded and mild mannered, Amy finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps.

This book fits the bill if you’re looking for a light summer read. It’s women’s fiction sharing the front porch swing with chick-lit… without all that annoying pattering talk that chick-lit usually comes with. It’s intelligent chick-lit. (Is this a category? It should be.)

Kelly Harms has written a character with depth. Amy Byler is an intelligent woman; a school librarian (yay!) who is besieged with doubts over being away from her kids for an entire summer. She’s given the unexpected gift of a “momspringa” – a summer of discovering another side of herself. What does she do with it? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out – I’m not gonna spoil it for you.

Sure the book has the expected tropes – fairy-tale romance, complete wardrobe makeover, insights into what’s really important in life. Of course it does! It’s supposed to! But it’s also got great conversations about things like library science and getting kids to read. And wine! That’s what makes it a great summer read.

I didn’t want War & Peace, folks… I wanted a well-written, intelligent woman rediscovering herself, and that’s what I got.

I received this book as an Advance Reading Copy. My opinions are strictly my own.

What’s on your summer reading list? Are you feeling the need to de-stress with a lighthearted novel, too? Let me know and we’ll compare notes.

On joining a book club and being surrounded by life experience

Dear Vi,

Last October I was invited into a book club by my friend Jean.

Call me a nerd, but I have always wanted to be in a book club!

It was a little intimidating at first, to tell the truth. I mean, this is a super-educated, well-traveled, well-read, well-spoken circle of impressive critical thinkers who can also cook like nobody’s business. They meet each month at a different member’s house, and you should see the spread each month’s hostess puts on! OMG seriously delicious…I could belong to this group just for the wine and “lunch.”

I am the youngest at 57. Our eldest member hosts 90 years with grace and a keen wit. I want to be just like her some day.

…Also, this is a long standing group of friends who have been reading together for decades. Yes, you read that right. Decades. (Did I say I felt a little intimidated? Yeah.)

And they have welcomed me. Which blows me away. I can’t even…

I’ve read four books with them so far: The Golden Age by Joan London; Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto; The Alice Network by Kate Quinn; and The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman. This month they are reading Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard. Quite the eclectic selection!

It is really interesting hearing their opinions, and especially–especially!– soaking up the stories they tell around each novel’s topic. For example, when discussing The Golden Age, the group reminisced about Polio. Uh huh. Reminisced. And after reading Forgiveness, they told their own stories about friends and acquaintances (of Japanese descent) who had been forced into internment camps during the Second World War.

Here’s the thing: I have lived most of my adult life surrounded by people my age or younger. It wasn’t until we moved to Salmon Arm that I had the opportunity to spend much time with the generation one up from mine, to listen to first-hand stories on subjects that are, well…historical from my perspective.

I feel the same about the quilters guild that I belong to, where eight members are turning 80 this year, and one will celebrate 100 years in April.

Being part of these two groups is like being surrounded by a room of older sisters, aunts, and even a grandmother or two. And the laughter! Let me tell you, these ladies like to laugh.

Seriously, if the collective life experience of these women could be transmogrified into electricity, it would power a small city.

Do you have the opportunity to participate in an activity with a diverse group of people including those a generation older than you?

And do you belong to a book club? If you don’t and you’d like to, ask at your public library. I’ll bet they can point you in the right direction.

Read on!

Good Grief: when the story is over

Dear Vi,

I just finished reading the Best Book. Really good. You should read it, too.

Except…I was nearing the end when I read the last two words on the left hand side: “It’s okay.” And then I shifted the book a bit in my hand as my eyes slid to the next page on the right and what I assumed was the next chapter.

But instead of the next chapter, I read the word “Acknowledgments,” and “First, thanks to Frank…“.

There was no blank page to signal the book was over. Not even a good old fashioned The End in fancy flowing script.

Here’s the thing: when I finish a book – especially a good book, I like to savour the ending.

I like to set the book down on my lap and gaze at the ceiling for a few minutes, absorbing what I just read, reflecting on it a bit. Maybe I have a little introspective smile on my face. Maybe I think about turning the book over and reading it again.

So, in the absence of a blank page following those final words, I was robbed of all that delicious savouring.

I tried to go back and read the ending again, capture the aborted moment, but it was gone. Forever.

In a funny little way that I’m embarrassed to admit, the entire book was diminished for me. Instead of that final minute of reflection, of easing back into the ordinary world, the transition was abrupt and jarring.

I need to take a minute to savour what I’ve read…then turn the page when I’m ready to ease myself back into the world, and read the author’s thank you’s to everyone who helped along the way.

However…the book really was excellent and I’m glad I found it in the library. Give it a read and see what you think.

How do you like to finish a good book?