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In the aftermath of her financier husband's suicide, Emma Shay Compton's dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients' life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband's crimes. She is left with nothing.
Only one friend stands by her, a friend she's known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn't easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she'd rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.
Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can't escape her husband's reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she'd ever ask for help—her former best friend. It's an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they've made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Emma Shay Compton is living a nightmare. Her husband Richard turned out to be a crook who defrauded thousands of people of their life savings. Most of the country believes she knew and did nothing. Unable to get a job in New York, Emma returns home, hoping to build The Life She Wants.
The book features well-drawn characters, full of human failings but ultimately both believable and sympathetic. Emma and her childhood best friend Riley are the focal figures, the only two with real character arcs. Adam, Jock, and Logan, the major secondary characters, show little growth during the book; the first two have already done a lot of their maturing before the book begins, and Logan’s role doesn’t offer that much scope for change. Emma and Riley, on the other hand, both have significant work to do.
I have always felt so sorry for the families of people who embezzle or commit fraud. So often, the spouse and family had no idea what was going on, and that’s the case with Emma. When the novel begins, she’s wounded, but she hasn’t given up. She realizes that she has to move on from the mess her first marriage landed her in, figure out who she is, and stop thinking of herself as a victim. Emma is compassionate, smart, and willing to work hard and determined to build a new life for herself, but inside, she’s still dealing with the trauma—dealing with it courageously; she works hard on that, too. She needs to forgive herself for not knowing what her husband was up to, for closing her eyes. And she needs to forgive Riley, and Jock, and even herself for what happened 15 years ago, when they were all 18. I really liked Emma and cheered her efforts to build herself a backbone, take responsibility for her past, and forge a life she truly wants.
Former best friend Riley is a successful businesswoman who built her company from the ground up, but she’s also carrying a lot of hurt and anger over that long-ago betrayal. She has spent her adult life proving she’s a strong woman and a good person; I don’t think she realizes that she’s trying to prove it to herself as much as to the world. But she needs to get past her anger, resentment, and pride and take a clear-eyed look at the choices she made in the past, and the ones she could make in the present. Like Emma, Riley has to forgive herself as well as the other two. But she can’t forgive as long as she holds on to her anger. I admire her persistence, strength, and savvy, but not her ability to wrap herself up in past hurts.
Riley’s brother Adam is a little too perfect, but it sits well on him. Really, really well. *wink* Handsome, patient, and understanding, he’s the sort of hero many of us swoon over. I can’t really say much else about him, or about Jock, Logan, or Riley’s daughter Maddie, without giving away some significant plot points, but I found them all interesting and likeable—in one cases, with a single reservation which will be obvious when you read the book. In truth, with the exception of the dead-and-unmourned husband, there aren’t any really nasty characters in the book, except a few who are on stage only briefly (though memorably.)
The book is told in 3rd person limited, with scenes from Emma’s, Riley’s, and Adam’s point of view, and even some scenes from the POV of Logan, who is interested in Riley. But told is the operative word. There are scenes where Carr shows the action through description and dialogue, but there are a number of other scenes, both flashback and present-day, where she tells the reader about the events instead. At least a third of the book is this sort of “telling”—too much, in my opinion. Those scenes left me feeling distanced from the characters and the action, more of an observer than a participant. As a result, I kept contrasting The Life She Lives with Nora Roberts’s The Liar, which I read about a year and a half ago. The two novels share a similar premise: the unsuspecting wife/widow of a criminal tries to rebuild her life in the aftermath. However, The Liar felt much more immediate and involved me more deeply in the main character’s life because Roberts showed the action rather than telling me about it. Fortunately, there are enough scenes in The Life She Wants that did feel real and immediate that I was able to connect with the characters, but the number of “telling”-type scenes kept me from investing as deeply in them as I usually do in Carr’s books.
That stylistic frustration aside, I did enjoy The Life She Wants, and read it in only two sittings. (I would have stayed up to finish it, but I was exhausted.) It’s a good early-fall read; it holds something of the same sense of optimism and possibility, of “starting over,” that I still feel around the beginning of each new school year. I may not re-read it, but I’m glad I read it.
Recommended for: fans of Robyn Carr and Debbie Macomber