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The Finer Things

Real Life & Liars: A Novel by Kristina Riggle (William Morrow Paperbacks; $13.99; 327 pages)

It seems to me that growing older means a growing collection of paths not taken.   More and more “what-ifs” left behind.

With the onset of Mirabelle (Mira) Zielinski’s thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and the anticipation of reuniting with her family, Mira has a great deal to be proud of:  a loving husband, three healthy children and three loving grandchildren.   But the reality of life and disappointments have settled in as Mira contemplates the past sixty years.

Katya, Mira’s oldest daughter, appears to have the perfect life.   A wealthy husband, a spotless home, a thriving business and three children who have everything they have ever wanted.   Yet Mira speculates that her daughter’s desire to always want to fit in and have the best of everything may have resulted in a mundane marriage to a husband addicted to his job and three spoiled, disrespectful children.

Ivan, Mira’s talented son, writes songs and works in a school inspiring children.   However, he has never been recognized as an artist and his abysmal taste in women has left him lonely and desolate.

Irina, the baby, is beautiful and spontaneous.   Yet when she comes for the weekend announcing that she is pregnant and introduces her husband, who is twice her age, Mira suspects she has hit her all-time low.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”   Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Mira clings to her hippie past as she rebels against conforming and endures her loving, yet distracted, husband who is engaged in writing a major novel.   Her ideals of life and self-worth are challenged with the recent tragedy she is refusing to deal with.

As the family reunites for a long celebratory weekend, each will have to face their own fears and realities as secrets are revealed and truths uncovered.   They will be challenged to redefine their understanding of one another and their own destinies.   Mira may experience the greatest surprise as she is forced to contemplate how blessed she truly is and how happiness and peace are found in even the most surprising of circumstances.

Kristina Riggle presents her story with sincere family dynamics that anyone with siblings or children can relate to.   Her characters are well-developed and so clearly defined that you will become attached to their story as if you’re part of the family.   Riggle writes with the ease and grace of a veteran writer.   It is hard to believe that this was her debut novel.   I look forward to reading more from Kristina Riggle!

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Funny, sad and utterly believable.”   Elizabeth Letts, author of Family Planning.

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Weight of the World

The Life You’ve Imagined: A Novel by Kristina Riggle (Avon; $13.99; 334 pages)

“…I’m thinking of making a change myself.”   She gapes up at me, searching my face as if she’s not sure who I am.   I know the feeling.

If you love the novels of Elizabeth Berg, and especially The Last Time I Saw You, you’re likely to feel a great sense of fondness for this book by Kristina Riggle.   As with Berg, she hits the sweet spot of human emotion in telling the stories of women who’ve arrived at the point in life where they must either evolve or accept their failure in life.   In the words of Bob Dylan, Riggle’s characters are either busy being born or they are busy dying.

Like Berg’s The Last Time, this is an ensemble piece…  The Life is about four women, three still relatively young and one clearly not, who are united by circumstances in the town of Haven, Michigan.   Haven is not to be mistaken with Heaven.

Anna Geneva is the high-powered Chicago attorney who returns home after being rattled by the death of an older male colleague and mentor.   Here she must deal with her mother Maeve, whose mom-and-pop convenience store is failing.   Morever, Maeve holds out hope of being reunited with the man who long ago abandoned her and Anna.   Anna will also encounter two of her best female friends from high school – Cami Drayton, who has come back to live with a monster of a father, and Amy Rickart, the now slender and beautiful bride-to-be who used to be overweight and socially ostracized.

Only Amy lives a life to be envied as she prepares to marry the loving and considerate man of her dreams.   But her husband-to-be’s career will place him in conflict with Anna and Maeve and Cami and she will soon come to wonder about his values in life.   She will even come to wonder if he loves her at all after he announces that their wedding must be postponed.

About three-quarters to four-fifths of the way through the telling of this tale, you – the reader – will figure out exactly what the resolution will be.   Except that Riggle has other ideas and soon you’re following unexpected twists and turns as you near the end.   In this fashion, it’s like real life which is never quite what we imagined it would be.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “A richly woven story laced with unforgettable characters…”   Therese Walsh, author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy

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