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review 2020-05-07 12:25
A feel-good, heart-warming, and moving read
Season of Second Chances - Aimee Alexander

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is another great find by Rosie and although I wasn’t familiar with the author (who also publishes under her real name, Denise Deegan), I’m convinced this won’t be the last time I read one of her books.

The description of the book does a good job of highlighting the main aspects of the plot: we have Grace, a woman escaping a difficult and dangerous marriage, with her teenage children, Jack and Holly, hopeful that returning back to the village where she grew up will offer them all a second chance. There awaits her father, Des, who is going through a major change in his life (he’s a recently retired family doctor suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s disease) and doesn’t know the ins and outs of Grace’s decision. Moving from Dublin to a small and sleepy village comes as a shock to Grace’s children, and she finds it difficult to confront the gossip and the expectations of having to step into her father’s shoes. But, this novel about second chances builds up slowly and we see that although not everything is ideal and there are misunderstandings and difficulties to be ironed out, Killrowan, the place and its community, is a place worth sticking with.

The novel touches on a variety of themes: abusive marriages and family relationships (and how difficult it is to walk out); starting over in a different place, picking up friendships and relationships, and rebuilding one’s life; the struggles of dealing with a chronic and debilitating illness; how much one’s self-identity can be enmeshed with our profession and our job; the differences between a big city and a small village; being a family doctor in a rural/village location; how teenagers feel when they have to move and be uprooted from school, friends…; the role animals play in helping us fit in a place and feel rooted; small community life, with hits highs and lows; and even a hint of possible romance(s). There are funny moments, plenty of heart-warming episodes, some scary and nasty shocks as well, some sad and touching stories, and even medical emergencies and action scenes thrown in. In her acknowledgements, the author highlights the process of her creation and her research and having read the novel, I can confirm that it has paid off. She manages to weave all the topics into a novel that brings the characters and the village to life, and I was delighted to read that she is thinking about a sequel. I’d love to go back to Killrowan and revisit the places and the characters that have also become my friends.

Alexander creates multi-dimensional characters easy to relate with. Grace doubts herself and is forever questioning her actions and doubting other people’s motive. Her self-confidence has suffered after years of being undermined and abused by her husband, and she feels guilty for uprooting her family, while at the same time experiencing the thrill of freedom. The novel is written in deep third person and allows us to see the action from different points of view. Grace’s point of view dominates the book, although we also see what her father, Des —another fantastic character who treads carefully and whose life suddenly regains a meaning when his daughter and grandchildren come to live with him— thinks and does, how both of Grace’s children, Jack and Holly, feel, faced with a completely different environment (Jack was the popular sporty type, while Holly had a hard time fitting in and had no friends other than her dog). We meet some fantastic characters in the community, like the scary (at least at first) receptionist at the doctor’s surgery; the butcher’s wife (a gossip with a big heart); Grace’s old pals, Alan (with some secrets of his own) and Ivonne; Benji, a wonderful dog that adopts the family; a handsome American writer; the wife of a local magnate (who reminds Grace of herself); Des’s old love; the local policeman; Grace’s partner at the doctor’s surgery and some of her patients, although not everybody is nice, don’t worry. We also get brief snippets of the events from some of the other character’s perspectives, not only the Sullivans, and that gives us access to privileged information at times. Although the different characters’ points of view aren’t separated by chapters, they are clearly differentiated, and I experienced no confusion while reading, quite the opposite. I enjoyed the opportunity to share in the bigger picture.  

The writing style is fluid and flows well, without rushing us through the events, allowing us time to reflect upon events, enjoy the wonderful settings (the sea, the beach, the island, the pub…) and become acquainted with the location, the emotions, and the characters. The author knows well the area, and although Killrowan doesn’t exist (or, at least I couldn’t find it), it feels real (and some of the comments and attitudes Grace and her family experience reminded me of similar events I had witnessed in a small village I used to visit when I was younger) and it leaps from the pages. I confess to enjoying the style of the writing and feeling emotionally engaged with the story (I’d recommend having tissues handy). I’ve selected a couple of quotes to share, but as usual, readers might want to check a sample of the book to see if it suits their taste before purchasing it.

Here Grace is thinking about the family dog and how his death gave her the strength to finally leave her husband.

Benji was more than a dog. He was family. And her defender. Tiny little ball of fur rushing to the rescue. Or trying. Tiny little ball of fur that brought so much comfort to all three of them, Holly especially. Benji knew when they needed love and he gave it in spades.

Here Des is thinking about retirement.

What fool started the tradition of watches as retirement presents? Any thinking person would know that the last thing a man would want is to count all the time he now has on his hands.

Holly had just told her brother that their mother wanted to start over, and Grace realises her daughter is right.

Minutes ago, it had been to escape Simon, shake him off. But escaping Simon is still all about Simon. Grace sees that now. What she must do is start over. Because that is about Grace.

The ending is more than satisfying as well. Yes, not everything is settled and sorted in the end, but this is a book about new beginnings, and we leave the Sullivans and Killrowan to carry on merrily, getting to know each other and discovering what new changes and challenges life will bring. As I mentioned above, the author hints at a possible sequel, and I hope it comes to be.

This is a novel full of heart, friendship, a strong sense of community, and also heartache and personal growth. It is inspiring and comforting in these times when we have been obliged to live pretty enclosed lives. I agree with the TV series mentioned in the description (Call the Midwife one of my favourites), and I’m sure fans of any of those will enjoy this novel, which fits perfectly in the feel-good category, although that does not mean it hides from the most unsavoury aspects of life. There are menacing and dark moments, none too explicit, and I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys stories with a heart, fond of Ireland and stories with an Irish background, and those who want a gentle read full of wonderful characters and a memorable community we’d all be happy to join.

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review 2019-10-13 02:49
Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Family and Friends of Abused Women
Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women - Susan Brewster

This was helpful for me in teaching me to let go of any expectations or judgments I have about my loved one leaving her abuser, and instead learn to be a better friend to her--so that she can leave him if she chooses to leave, or she can have me as a source of support and safety if she chose to stay.


I had an "aha moment" when this book talked about how my insisting that my loved one leave the relationship, and badgering her about it, was precisely what the abuser does to her--tries to exert power over her and control her actions, and implies that she cannot be independent and is not capable of making her own choices.


The book helps you to let go of your old goals for your loved one and form new, healthier ones that you have control over.

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review 2019-10-13 01:51
It's My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship
It's My Life Now: Starting Over After An Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence - Meg Kennedy Dugan,Roger R. Hock
Don't be dissuaded because the title implies that this book is geared toward life after leaving someone. In some ways I feel like it's especially helpful in the case of a person who is trying to choose between staying and leaving. I love the list-making and written self-exploration sections. Their detailed specificity makes it impossible for the survivor of abuse to let their brain sort of "look away" or to follow its usual, well-grooved paths.
The goal here is to guide survivors toward reclaiming themselves--to recognize your value and regain your self-worth and self-esteem--to be strong and independent (and maybe creative and fulfilled again), either while being in a challenging relationship, or after having left.
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review 2019-10-13 01:40
Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men - Lundy Bancroft

This is a must-read for everyone--for people who are being abused, people who are not being abused, family members and friends of people being abused, people who have escaped abusive relationships, people who want to understand angry and controlling men... EVERYONE. It demystifies partner abuse in a way that our society NEEDS to understand.

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review 2019-04-29 02:00
Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People - and Break Free by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis
Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break Free - Stephanie Moulton Sarkis

I read this hoping for some decent "dealing with gaslighters" tips. I requested it via interlibrary loan after one particular incident with my own personal gaslighter. I hadn't previously realized that the word "gaslighting" applied to that person's actions, but for some reason it suddenly clicked.

In her introduction, Sarkis asks that readers not succumb to the temptation to skip directly to whichever chapter seems most appropriate to their situation, and I'd have to agree. While Sarkis organizes the book into chapters that, for the most part, each deal with a particular situation (you're in an intimate relationship with the gaslighter, the gaslighter is in your workplace, the gaslighter is a politician, you're in a cult and being gaslit by everyone close to you, etc.), and those chapters often have advice that's only applicable in those situations, there are tidbits of advice throughout the entire book that could be more broadly useful.

I also want to mention that much of the advice specific to certain situations is also specific to US residents. Sarkis definitely wrote this book with US readers in mind. The laws and legal protections she mentions might have equivalents in other countries, but it's up to readers to look those up. That said, there's lots of other advice that would likely be helpful no matter where you live: creating physical and/or emotional distance between yourself and your gaslighter, documenting everything, suggested ways of responding to particular conversational traps and attempts to reel you in, etc.

Oddly, there was one chapter that I expected would be particularly US-centric that wasn't: the chapter on gaslighters in politics. Although Sarkis noted that there were "examples [of gaslighters] in our own country" (96), the only specific examples she mentioned were those in other countries, people like Nicolás Maduro and Kim Jong-un. Sarkis's introduction brought up the 2016 election and "fake news" but never actually named Trump or any of the politicians and White House staff members who made/continue to make his presidency possible. Perhaps this was a Da Capo Press editorial decision (fear of being sued?), or perhaps Sarkis decided to be vague on purpose.

At any rate, I could imagine the legal info included in the gaslighting spouse, gaslighting employer or coworker, and "divorcing a gaslighter, especially when there are children involved" sections to be particularly helpful to some people. They weren't very helpful to me, mostly because (thankfully) my own personal gaslighter isn't at a level where legal intervention is necessary. I have a feeling that, were Sarkis to categorize my gaslighter, she would say that person "exhibits gaslighting behaviors" (particularly when under stress) and is not a "true gaslighter."

One thing that really bugged me about the book is Sarkis's distinction between "true gaslighters" and those who exhibit gaslighting behavior. From Sarkis's perspective, true gaslighters are those who are incapable of experiencing real empathy. They either don't recognize what they're doing to those around them, or don't care. People who exhibit gaslighting behaviors may have been victims of gaslighters themselves, who picked up gaslighting behaviors as a form of self-defense. On the one hand, I could understand the need to distinguish between the two somehow. On the other hand, as someone who has struggled with my feelings about my own gaslighter, who I would generally describe as a nice person (no, really), the way Sarkis made "true gaslighters" a separate category was painful.

Whether someone is a "true gaslighter" or just someone "exhibiting gaslighting behavior" doesn't really matter to the person who is in the process of being gaslit. I don't know enough about my gaslighter's life to know if there are reasons why they do what they do, but even if there are, that doesn't excuse the harm that person does. The same goes for the moments when that person clearly feels bad about what they've done - those moments only matter if they lead to an effort at change and self-improvement.

Anyway, moving on. Sarkis's top piece of advice to all victims of gaslighters was to leave if possible. Unfortunately, that isn't always possible. In my case, it could be, but it would involve huge and expensive changes that currently seem out of proportion to the occasional gaslighting I deal with. Thankfully, Sarkis included lots of other useful advice that would work for those who can't or won't leave: keeping documentation (which I do, although not always as religiously as I should), avoiding being alone with your gaslighter, sticking to written communication when possible, creating emotional distance by mentally reframing your gaslighter as a particularly interesting specimen of gaslighter that you are studying, acting bored, blank, or confused when they try to stir up trouble, etc.

I also liked Sarkis's communication tips in her "What if I'm the gaslighter?" chapter, which I thought sounded like they'd be helpful in broader contexts, any situation where one might want to communicate with greater clarity and respect. In the final chapter, Sarkis went into detail on how to find a mental health professional, explanations of different counseling theories and forms of counseling (making sure to emphasize that there is no one "right" way - it all depends on what works for you), and a few things you can do on your own to improve your emotional health. I haven't looked into getting counseling before, so I appreciated her explanations.

The focus of this book was, at times, almost too broad. The chapters on gaslighting politicians and gaslighting cultists felt a bit out of place in what was largely a book about recognizing and dealing with gaslighters in one's day-to-day life. (Gaslighting cultists would be a daily problem for those trapped in cults, yes, but even Sarkis recognized that it would be an extraordinary achievement for someone trapped in a cult to somehow get hold of a copy of this book and not get caught reading it. I could see the book being therapeutic for someone after they'd gotten out, though.) And, like I said, I was unhappy with the way Sarkis distinguished between "true gaslighters" and people who practice gaslighting behaviors.

That said, there was a good deal of useful information here. I do wish it had been a bit less scattered, though. It'd be tough to track down a specific piece of advice unless it was directly related to a particular situation, like divorcing a gaslighter. There's an index, but that can only accomplish so much.


The book includes a "Resources" section with lists of potentially useful URLs. They're separated out into categories, like "Employee and Employer Rights," "How Congress Voted," "Legal Services," etc. Unfortunately, none of the resources are annotated.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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