The Good Woman (A Brennan Sisters Novel) by Jane Porter

The Good WomanBook Review
Title: The Good Woman (A Brennan Sisters Novel)
Author:  Jane Porter
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Released: September 4, 2012
Pages: 368
ISBN-10: 0425253007
ISBN-13: 978-0425253007
Stars:  4.5

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Jane Porter’s contemporary women’s fiction.  I’ve read almost every book in that line (she also writes for Harlequin) that she’s written.  So I was really excited to hear that she’d written a new series about the Brennan Sisters that’s been published by her new publisher, Berkley Trade.  The Good Woman is the first novel in that trilogy.

The first thing that struck me about The Good Woman is its exquisite cover – the model who was chosen to represent leading character Meg Roberts is exceptionally lovely and beautifully photographed – as well as its tag line, “sisters always know…”  I have two sisters who are among my best friends in the world so that phrase really rings true for me.

The Good Woman is the story of Mary Margaret Brennan Roberts, a.k.a. Meg, who on the outside would appear to have it all.  She’s married to a successful architect (Jack), has three children (Tessa, JJ and Gabi), a gorgeous home, drives a Lexus SUV, and has a great job as a publicist working at a Napa Valley winery called Dark Horse for a very kind, warm and ruggedly handsome boss, vintner Chad Hallahan.  We just know something’s going to happen between Meg and Chad, but it’s the way Porter reveals how her heroine feels, why she ends up doing what she does, and how she deals with the consequences that is remarkable.  Porter writes with such a truthful and authentic voice about the issues that women deal with, that her stories are always completely relatable.

Meg is the oldest child of a large Irish-American family.  She’s smart, ambitious and a perfectionist with control issues, but she’s also a faithful wife and loving mother who constantly makes the right decisions.  Her father Tommy is a sixth generation San Francisco firefighter and her mother Marilyn is battling breast cancer.  Meg’s brother Tommy is also a firefighter and he and his wife Cass are struggling with long-term fertility issues.  Meg is closest to her sister Kit, a Catholic school English teacher, who has been with her boyfriend Richard for 10 years and has never received a proposal.  Her youngest sister Sarah is married to professional baseball player, Boone (who has had an affair on her but she’s stayed with him), while Kit’s fraternal twin Brianna is the family wild child who has never married and is an activist who works in the Congo in Africa.

The sisters meet up with their mother for their annual Brennan Sisters’ Getaway at the family beach house in Capitola and it’s not long before Brianna and Meg are at each other’s throats.  They don’t get along and constantly rub each other the wrong way.  Meg’s relationship with her sisters is both rewarding and realistic and sometimes the family’s gossiping astounds her.  However, her family dynamics are an important part of her life and we see how they perceive Meg and how her decisions impact them too.

Years of being “the good woman” has left Meg feeling burned out, empty and lonely as she finds herself disconnected from a distant Jack.  A perimenopausal woman in her forties, Meg wants sex all the time, her husband barely wants it at all, and when they do have sex, it’s wham, bam, thank you ma’am, and Jack doesn’t seem to care that Meg never has an orgasm.  There’s no touching, no lingering, and no intimacy and Meg is not happy or satisfied.  However, rather than try to talk to her husband about it, she thinks that she has to just suck it up and deal with it, and that her role in life is simply to look after everyone else.  But we women know that you can only live like that for so long before something has to change.  And when it does for Meg, the shit really hits the fan.

Meg decides to attend the London Wine Trade Fair with her boss, Chad, who over late night business dinners and multiple glasses of wine, ends up revealing his deep-rooted desire for her.  At first she’s determined not to give in to her feelings for him, but ultimately she just can’t, and “the good woman” Meg becomes the wanton adulteress who risks losing her entire family because of her reckless and irreversible decision.

I love that Jane has brought up the issue of oral sex in Meg’s story and the fact that some men don’t seem to like to reciprocate although they certainly enjoy receiving it.  Every woman I know, including me, wouldn’t want to be with a man who wasn’t into oral sex, that’s for sure!

Infidelity is also an issue that has touched most of us at some time in our lives and as a woman in her late forties, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about men screwing around on the women that I know, and I’ve been cheated on as well, so it’s an issue that’s very close to the surface of my emotions.  In The Good Woman, Jane Porter writes about what drives a woman who would never be suspected of it to cheat on her husband, and rather than be angry with her, I found that I couldn’t blame Meg for her actions at all.  I cried while reading her story, but what I was amazed by was how she chose to accept the consequences of her actions and decided to fight to keep her family together after realizing that she really was meant to be a good woman after all.  That decision is something that I think that only married women with children can truly understand.

The Good Woman is a captivating page turner and one that I finished reading very quickly because I didn’t want to do anything else but read it.  Fortunately for Porter’s readers, the next book in the trilogy, The Good Daughter (available February 5, 2013), will focus on Meg’s sister Kit.  I’m fortunate to have received an ARC copy of it, so I’ll be reading it right away.  I think that the third book will be The Good Wife, but the sister’s story that I want to read the most is Brianna’s…because I’m more of a wild child than a good woman.

Happy Hour by Michele Scott Goes Down Smooth Like Fine Wine!

Book Review
Title: Happy Hour
Author: Michele Scott
Publisher: D Vine Press
Released: 2009
Pages: 318
ISBN-10: 1449505570
ISBN-13: 978-1449505578
Stars: 3.5

Happy Hour, by the author of the Wine Lover’s Mystery Series, Michele Scott, is a Sex and the City style (minus the fashion) chicklit novel featuring four female forty-something best friends who live in the Napa Valley and meet every Sunday for “friendship, good food and great wine.” The book opens three years before the story really begins, giving the history of each main character, so that we know what they’ve been through up until present day. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the four women: Kat, Alyssa, Danielle and Jamie and Jamie’s chapters occasionally offer one of her columns from the magazine she edits. There is a bonus section at the back of the book that includes each woman’s favourite recipe (I think I’m going to try Kat’s Fettucine, Goat Cheese and Pancetta!) and complementary wine mentioned in the story, an interview with the author, and book club discussion questions.

Kat McClintock is a sommelier who owns a restaurant with her second husband Christian. Together they endure the challenges that come with a blended family including Christian’s less than perfect connection with Kat’s sons from her first marriage, Jeremy and Brian, the addition of Christian’s young daughter Amber into their household, and Kat’s estranged new age mother, Venus who had left her father to find herself many years before.

Alyssa Johnson, an artist and gallery owner, is keeping a deep dark secret from her best friends. She left her fiancé Terrell three years earlier when she discovered that his best friend James was someone from her past who had changed her life forever. Now she must find the courage to let the skeleton out of the closet in order to overcome a life and death situation and decide who she really wants to spend her future with.

Danielle Bastillia is a divorced vintner whose rebellious teenage daughters Shannon and Cassie just can’t seem to communicate with her. Danielle’s high school crush Mark Murphy, who is now a doctor, reappears in her life just as she is shaken to her core when Shannon admits that she is pregnant and they later discover that her baby has Down’s syndrome.

Jamie Evans, the editor-in-chief of Wine Lover’s Magazine, is raising her young daughter Maddie alone after her husband Nathan died of cancer. Jamie, who finds herself financially challenged, is also stuck looking after her doddering mother-in-law Dorothy and understandably has trouble moving forward with her life. However, with the help of Maddie’s horseback riding coach, the handsome Tyler Meeks, Jamie slowly begins to join the land of the living once again.

These are strong female characters that you can truly empathize with and root for but there is no Mr. Big among the men. With the exception of Tyler Meeks, none of the men were particularly appealing to me and weren’t written with a lot of detail.

Together, these women find the strength to deal with the hardships of life within the protective bonds of their friendship and in the end it would seem that everyone gets to enjoy fine wine (Pinot Grigio for me please!) and live happily ever after which makes for good escapism. It was as hard for me to pick a favourite among them as it was with Sex and the City, which coincidentally, I just finished watching all 6 seasons of, back to back on DVD.

This is the first book I’ve read by San Diego’s Michele Scott and while I enjoyed it and think that the characters were well developed, the dialogue authentic, and the contemporary pop culture references very relatable, there is something about the flow of her writing style (somewhat staccato) that just doesn’t quite live up to the quality I’ve found in other contemporary women’s writers like Helen Fielding, Jane Porter or Maggie O’Farrell. However, I would read more of Scott’s work and can certainly identify with her personal philosophy and sense of humour. She left me wanting to take a trip to the Napa Valley with my best girlfriends so that we can enjoy our own Happy Hour. Cheers, Michelle!