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The Season of Second Chances – Book Review

I needed shelter and a place to work and grade papers. I don’t cook, entertain or invite people into my home. I have simple requisites, but I need a house that can take care of me, not a house I would have to feed, burp, dress and send to Yale. Clearly, this was not the house for me. – from The Season of Second Chances, page 10 –

Joy Harkness is a college professor working at Columbia in New York City. She lives in her own little bubble of academia and builds walls around herself so as not to be put out by friendships and personal obligations. And she is miserable. So when she gets the chance to “run from New York and Columbia, like a hound at the drop of a hare,” she takes it. She travels to the small town of Amherst, Massachusetts and goes to work for Bernadette Lowell, dean of graduate studies at Amherst College. Handpicked to be part of a team to develop a new curriculum, Joy at first sees the move as quick and easy. But, soon she finds the job of packing up her life and finding a new home to be a daunting affair.

If you have ever moved, you understand that people will stay in the most deplorable environments simply to avoid considering things that belonged to the people they no longer are. This is not just a job of hauling heavy belongings; this task confronts memories too painful to lift. – from The Season of Second Chances, page 15 –

Joy ends up buying a monstrous Victorian home that needs work at every turn. When the ceiling collapses from a water leak on the day she moves in, Joy realizes that she could use a little help. Enter Teddy Hennnessy, a self-made contractor and handyman with an eye for design. Teddy’s laid back attitude and brilliant understanding of exactly what Joy’s house needs to become a home, draw Joy in – and she soon discovers that beneath his gentle exterior is a man who is captive to his overbearing mother.

There are other wonderful characters in Diane Meier’s funny and sensitive novel The Season of Second Chances. Joy is befriended, in spite of herself, by a group of women who I adored. Josie, smart and in charge, is probably my favorite character. Married and with two children, she is a nonstop ball of energy with a heart of gold.

I could imagine legions of men, pious or superstitious, gullible or reasonable, believers and nonbelievers, lining up behind her and marching, like lemmings, right off a cliff. – from The Season of Second Chances, page 144 –

We sat there, her audience, drinking in the facts and accepting the opinions. Catsup and Dan, when he was around, and sometimes the girls and Teddy and me; we would snap the bottoms of asparagus, chop the herbs, pulverize anchovies or whip the egg whites into stiff peaks as she told her stories. We shoveled pasta into our mouths and mopped up sauces with crusty bread. We drank down her words with our wine and our lemonade, our iced teas and our Dark ‘n’ Stormies. We had no place we would rather be than caught in Josie’s web, learning more about the intimate world around us through the details she’d collected, like a Victorian naturalist with a table of specimen spiders pinned to cards. There she had them, annotated and marked:all the working parts of the people who touched our lives. – from The Season of Second Chances, page 162 –

The Season of Second Chances is a novel about women’s friendships, the ups and downs of life, and the idea that one is never too old to change. Joy begins as a forty-eight year old hardline feminist, fiercely guarded, and negative…and evolves into a character I grew to love. She makes a lot of mistakes. She lacks insight into her own flaws. But, all these things make her very human, and someone who the reader wants to see succeed in her personal growth.  When Joy discovers that friendship, although hard work at times, can be the balm to her sadness, the reader wants to congratulate her. And perhaps this is the heart of the story – that we do not go through this life alone. Despite our fears, despite the protective urge to keep ourselves from hurt, what really opens our worlds is allowing other people in. In The Season of Second Chances, it is the women’s friendships that sparkle.

“This is what women do,” Bernadette said to me as I apologized to her yet again for my schedule changes and the limits on my time. “This is what women have done all through history.” – from The Season of Second Chances, page 154 –

Meier writes with humor, something I always appreciate in a novel. By the end of the second chapter, I found myself laughing and sharing passages with my husband. Sardonic and insightful, Meier’s prose resonates as real life. The characters in Meier’s novel are lovingly wrought – flaws and all. If you can’t tell by now, I loved this book. I blew through it in just a couple of days, and was sad to say good-bye to the characters I had grown to adore.

Readers who love women’s fiction and terrific characterization (not to mention humor), will enjoy The Season of Second Chances.

Highly recommended.

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FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog.

14 Comments

  1. May 31, 2011    

    It is always a joy to see a review from a reader who likes your book. How could it not be? But it is far more rare (and wonderful) to find a reviewer who really ‘gets’ it.

    I so appreciate your v generous enthusiasm, but your insight to Joy and her pals, and the care and consideration you gave to SoSC were true gifts.

    Thank you, thank you —

    Diane

  2. Amy Amy
    May 31, 2011    

    It’s a wonderful treat to laugh while reading a good book! I love the themes here of friendhsip, the vagaries of life and change. Joy sounds like an intriguing character, a college professor who buys an old Victorian fixer-upper. I love this idea as well as that Joy is still learning about herself and life and how to enjoy both.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this book. I think I’ve found a perfect summer read!

  3. Flo Flo
    May 31, 2011    

    Aaaahhhh ! It’s horrible : I want this book right now !!! 😉

    I have discovered in my town (Toulouse, France) an english bookshop with very kind owners (one is English & the other is French). They can order a book & have it in a week. It’s terribly tempting as you can imagine !! I’m afraid I’m going to go there tomorrow. Can I send you the bill ? ;D
    Thanks for your high quality reviews ! I don’t stop regularly but read quickly your reviews with my Googlereader account.

  4. May 31, 2011    

    I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as you did — I found it uneven in spots and often annoyed at her relationship with Teddy. However, I did love the friendships she fostered at the college and was glad when Joy finally loosened up! 🙂

    Also adored the bits about restoring her house. Awesome!

  5. May 31, 2011    

    I love to read about women’s friendships and I like the fact that this book is about more “mature” characters.

  6. Pam Pam
    May 31, 2011    

    Oh this sounds delightful and I adore the very first quoute. Glad you enjoyed this!

  7. May 31, 2011    

    I’m with Kathy. And, I hadn’t heard about this book. Thank you for this lovely review.

  8. May 31, 2011    

    I’d seen this one off and on, but never such a good review….it’s definitely going on the TBR pile. So glad you enjoyed it.

  9. Kay Kay
    May 31, 2011    

    I think this one was making the rounds last year – perhaps in hardcover or maybe paperback. I know I got a copy, but it is packed among all the others until later this summer/fall when I can get them out and croon over them again!

    Great review, Wendy. I know I will like this one – great characters that I can relate to. That’s all I need.

  10. May 31, 2011    

    I loved this book too. I just think that the main character was so relateable in a way that many female characters are not these days. Great review!

  11. June 1, 2011    

    I read this last year and really enjoyed it. Great review!

  12. June 1, 2011    

    I love characters that grow and change over the course of a book, so I have to admit that this one sounds intriguing to me. I also think the premise sounds interesting. I think this is one for the wish list, and I thank you for your wonderful and thoughtful review!

  13. June 6, 2011    

    Diane: It is always a pleasure to me when an author takes the time to stop by and comment…thank you!

    Amy: I think this is a perfect summer read! Enjoy!

    Flo: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! SO great to hear you can get books that fast! Hope you will enjoy this one…and thank you for your kind compliment about my reviews!

    Andi: Sorry you didn’t love this one as much as I did … but it sounds like there was quite a bit that did work for you (I also loved the house restoration!)

  14. June 6, 2011    

    Kathy: Methinks you might enjoy this one!

    Pam: Me too – hope you get a chance to read it 🙂

    Beth: You are quite welcome – I saw you were looking for summer reads on your blog – this one would be a good one 🙂

    Tina: I was surprised by the mixed reviews of this book – but I really, truly loved it…hope you will too

    Kay: Yes, I believe it was out in hardcover last year, but now in softcover. I think women of our age 😉 will enjoy this one!

    Amused: YES! Exactly!

    Swapna: Glad to hear you also liked the book 🙂

    Heather: This book definitely focuses on the change of the primary character – hope you’ll love it!

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